Raising Grey: Chapter 36—Kavanaugh Celebrations 

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 36—Kavanaugh Celebrations 

ANASTASIA

Boys can be such doodyheads!

Geez, did I just say doodyheads?

Well, I didn’t say it, but I thought it…

Have I been drinking?

After last night? Hell, no!

I’m just pissed as fuck at one Marlow Johnson. How could he be so damn insensitive? Well, he really wasn’t insensitive. He has no idea how Sophie feels about him. It’s just a childhood crush, and it’ll pass, but what he said about periods. I know teenage boys don’t give a fuck about things like that and they’d like to think it’s none of their concern, but damn, I guess I just wanted to think that Marlow might be different from other teenage boys in that aspect. I mean, he is different from other teenage boys in a lot of ways, but… well, nobody’s perfect.

“Permission to engage,” I hear my husband’s voice say from behind me. I turn around to see him waving a gray napkin in surrender.

“Wrong color,” I say, crossing my arms.

“What was that all about?” he asks. I shake my head.

“Reverse hero worship,” I admit. “I have high hopes for your young protégé. Sometimes, I forget that he’s still a bonehead kid with raging hormones.” I look down at my phone and close Jason’s text.

“Sophie get going okay?” he asks. I nod.

“Yeah. Chance took her home.” I raise my eyes to him.

“I didn’t think Marlow would bring a date,” he says. “He told me he was escorting his mom.”

“Where is Marcia?” I ask. I noticed that Marlow and Maggie are present, but no Marcia.

“She wasn’t feeling well, so she stayed home. Marlow secured a date at the last minute. He said he didn’t want to bring anybody because girls get kind of clingy at weddings.” I shake my head.

“And apparently, guys get kind of stupid,” I retort. Christian raises an eyebrow.

“It appears that girls are a bit more out of character,” he recounters. I look at him expecting. “Well, look at Sophie. I’ll have to admit, she was darling in her dress. I’m glad there weren’t more boys her age here or we may have had to beat Jason off with a stick. Her knowledge of food is phenomenal, and her dinner conversation was extraordinary—well beyond her years. But the banter between her and Maya… where did that come from?” I raise my eyebrow at him.

“Where indeed,” I say, as I see the little tart just over his shoulder emerge from the ladies’ room. Pretending not to see her, I continue the conversation with my husband just loud enough for her to hear.

“Why that high-school girl took a veiled cheap shot at a tween’s dress in front of people who consider her family, I have no clue. However, why Sophie sliced that horrendous fart of a dress that she was wearing from two seasons back, I get that. I realize that she’s young and inexperienced, but she should probably remember her place when she’s a guest at someone’s wedding around people that she clearly doesn’t know.” I glare at my husband and see the little cow shift uncomfortably in my peripheral before she scurries back into the ballroom.

“And… you weren’t talking to me just then,” he observes.

“I certainly was not,” I confirm. He shakes his head and puts his arm around my waist, ushering me back into the reception.

“Come. Champagne and dancing for you…”

A glass or two of champagne later, and I’ve loosened up a bit. After last night, I steer clear of the hard stuff. Couples are canoodling here and there all over the room waiting for the bride and groom’s first dance, Christian and I included, when we’re interrupted by some guy trying to talk shop over Christian’s shoulder.

“Not talking business at my sister’s wedding reception,” Christian says flatly.

“Oh, come on, Grey. Everybody talks a little business at social functions,” the guy coerces.

“Not talking business at my sister’s wedding reception,” my husband repeats, never changing his facial expression or even making eye contact with the guy. The guy glares at Christian. Then he turns to me and his gaze softens.

“You should get him to loosen up,” he says, with a smile. “He’s far too intense.”

“Oh, he loosens up just fine,” I retort. “He just didn’t come to his sister’s nuptials with intentions of turning them into a business meeting.” I smile softly at the asshole, who adjusts his tie, raises his drink, and walks away.

“Nice comeback, Mrs. Grey,” Christian says, nuzzling me behind my ear.

“I learned from the best,” I coo with a wink. “I need the restroom, dear.” I kiss him on the cheek and he reluctantly releases me. I quickly relieve myself and return to the floor as I don’t want to miss any of the festivities—and I do mean quickly—I’m not gone ten whole minutes, and yet…

I turn my back for an iota of a second, just long enough to piss and wash my hands, and this Lily bitch is all up in my husband’s face. She must think I won’t stomp a mudhole in her ass because we’re at Mia’s wedding. If you’re bad enough to try me, bitch, I’m bad enough to fuck you up. I make a B-line over to where this cunt is trying to put the moves on my man.

“Christian,” I hear her purrs as I approach, “it’s been so long since we’ve talked.” She closes in on my husband with outstretched arms, her dress only a breath away from a nip slip. Christian steps away from her grasp.

“We never talk, Lily,” he says coolly, avoiding her embrace. She pouts seductively.

“Just one hug, Christian,” she says, nearly rushing him and about to catch him in a bosom hug.

Oh, enough of this shit.

“Oh, no, I don’t fucking think so,” I say, putting first my arm, then my entire body between her and my husband.

“Excuse you!” she hisses at me.

“No, excuse you,” I retort. “You have clearly lost your mind if you expect me to stand here while you attempt to put those sacks of silicone all over my man! You might want to put those things away because he clearly doesn’t want you,” I say to the scandalous tramp standing before me offering herself to my man like free leftovers.

“She’s right,” Christian says. “I clearly don’t want you, so you might want to cover yourself up.” She giggles. She actually giggles.

“Don’t be coy, Christian,” she says in a sultry voice. Christian just shakes his head and pulls me close to him.

“Let it go, baby,” he says softly in my ear. “You won’t have to see her ever again after this.” Just as I’m nodding my acknowledgement, she retorts,

“But you will.”

“He’s married, you sow!” I whip around on Lily, finally having had enough of her blatant disrespect and overt flirting with my husband. She almost doesn’t acknowledge my outburst until Christian looks over at me. Then she turns affronted attention to me.

“Excuse me?” she says, as if I have no right to say anything to her at all.

“There is no excuse for you!” I seethe, no longer able to restrain myself. I won’t yell. I won’t make a scene, but I’ll beat her fucking ass if she doesn’t get away from this table. “He has a wife… and children! You desperate cunt!”

“How dare you!” she says, doe-eyed and surprised.

“How dare you, you indiscreet guttersnipe!” I feel my blood pressure rising. Someone should intervene before I get to the tears.

“Steele?” Val’s voice floats to my ears. “You okay?”

“Someone needs to remove this piece of trash from my presence before I do it myself!” I say through my teeth. I can feel Christian’s arms tighten around my waist. He’s preparing for the inevitable. Lily scoffs and Val decides now is a good time to intervene.

“I really think you should go away,” she says to Lily. Lily’s hands rest defiantly on her hips.

“I’m part of the wedding party. You can’t make me leave,” she says, rolling her neck on every word.

“I’m part of the family and yes, I can,” Val says, closing the space between them. Now, I’m chomping at the bit to get closer to this girl, but Christian is holding me tighter and tighter. Just as she’s about to rebut, big brother Elliot steps in.

“Look here, girlie,” he says to Lily, “you need to be anywhere but right here at this moment, because if you touch this one, I’ll fuck you up.” He pulls Val to his side. “And if you touch that one…” He points to Christian, “… she’ll fuck you up.” He points to me. Lily laughs loudly.

“Oh, please. Whatever,” she says incredulously. Now it’s Christian’s turn to speak.

“Lily, I don’t want to embarrass you, but what’s more, I don’t want to ruin my sister’s wedding. So, I’m going to grace you with my conversation by saying this to you one time.” She smirks victoriously at me and turns her attention to Christian. He leans in close to her and says,

“Get. The fuck. Out of my face. I don’t want you. I never have. If you come near me again… ever… I’m going to have my security remove you from my presence and then, I’ll get a restraining order against your ass. Your unwanted romantic overtures are bordering on harassment.”

Her face falls immediately and the smirk she wore moments before is now plastered on my face.

“You are worse and more persistent than any stalker I’ve ever had, and my stalkers have tried to kill my family. That makes you a danger to me, my wife, and my children. I never gave you the slightest bit of encouragement, and I don’t know what ever gave you the idea that you ever had a chance with me, much less that I would leave my wife for you. I’m not even attracted to you. I never have been and even if I ever was, what makes you think I would leave my wife and family for you? Now do yourself a favor and tuck your tits and what’s left of your dignity back into your bra and get the hell away from me!”

And there’s that look again… My God, she has that hideous look perfectly.

“You’re just saying that because she’s here,” Lily responds. Father in heaven, help us. Another delusional bitch. What the fuck, do they grow on trees?

“I’ve always said that, Lily,” he reinforces. “I don’t have to put on a show for my wife. Name one timeone time—when I gave you the slightest hint that I ever wanted you. Go ahead, I’ll wait.”

Lily knows that she can’t name any times because she would have to call Christian a liar to his face. I’ve seen her be forward at Grace’s house, on Christian’s boatbut I can’t believe that she would do this at Mia’s wedding reception. Isn’t she supposed to be, like, Mia’s best friend or something?

“Christian, if you would just give me a chance…” Her voice is haughty. She’s not even embarrassed enough to sound humble in her indiscreet and unbecoming begging.

“Oh, God, somebody make it go away,” Christian says mocking despair. I will! I will! If you just let me go…

“Lily, what are you doing?” Mia says, making her way over to us.

“Shamelessly coming on to my husband while I’m damn-near sitting in his lap,” I say before I can stop myself… and regret it immediately. Mia reacts, but not like I expected.

“You said you wouldn’t,” she says flatly to Lily. “You promised you would behave.” Lily stands mute. Mia sighs. “I should have known,” she says, shaking her head. “You weren’t even speaking to me for a while, then all of a sudden, we were best friends again. I should have known it was all about Christian. And what did you do to the maid of honor dress? You look like a stripper!” she exclaims. Finally, she just shakes her head and waves to someone. “You need to leave,” she says. Lily frowns.

“What?”

“You need to leave, Lily!” Mia reinforces. “I want you to leave now before you embarrass me more than you already have.”

“Mia, please,” Lily beseeches. “I was just talking, I swear…”

“Is that why my sister-in-law looks like she’s ready to crawl out of my brother’s arms and scratch your eyes out? Because you were just talking? What the fuck did you say?” Lily falls guiltily silent this time.

“Just about any inappropriate thing that popped into her head,” I add, “while offering her fake double-D boobs plated and served to my husband while I’m standing here. She didn’t even acknowledge my presence until I called her a cunt. She’d fuck him right here on the floor while I and the reception watched if he let her!”

Okay, my mouth needs a leash and my anger has already gotten loose and is running around the room. Mia’s reaction is swift. Her arm is up in the air, gesturing to someone to come over to us. Two suited members of someone’s security come over to our table.

“She’s leaving… now!” Mia gestures to Lily. “Please show her out.” Lily’s mouth falls open.

“You said you would give me a chance,” she says. “I was just talking.” I’m about to say something when Mia puts her hand up to silence me.

Yeah, it’s probably best that I keep my mouth shut come to think of it.

“We will talk about this later, but right now, you’re ruining my reception and I want you to leave. People are looking at you!”

Sure enough, I look around the room and we now have the attention of more than a few party-goers.

“We’ll talk once I’m back from my honeymoon, but please… just leave now, please.” Lily frowns deeply, then moves to hug Mia. Mia is a statue.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I really was just talking to him.”

“He’s married, Lily,” she says flatly. “They’re in love, in case you’re the only person in the world who’s blind to that. This isn’t news. You’re making a fool of yourself throwing yourself at my brother. He’s not being cruel or playing hard to get. He just doesn’t want you.” She holds her head down. “And I was a fool to think you really wanted to mend fences with me.” Lily now looks terrified. Why, I’m not really sure.

“Mia, I did…” she protests. “I do, I really do.”

“Why?” Mia asks, “so that you can have the opportunity to get closer to my brother?” She shakes her head before continuing. “Just leave, Lily. Leave now. We’ll talk about this later.” Mia won’t make eye-contact with her and Lily finally turns to leave.

“And Lily,” Mia calls out. She turns around. “There are a lot of people outside waiting for a story. The story is me leaving on my honeymoon with my husband. If you give them anything else besides you’re leaving because you don’t feel well, not only will I shun you for the rest of your life, but I’ll also make sure that you’re quite persona non-grata. Not a social circle on the west coast will come anywhere near you. And if you say anything adverse about my family including my sister-in-law, I’m sure my brother could make that nationwide and more than just social circles.”

Worldwide,” Christian throws in, to Lily’s dismay. She looks at him with the most crestfallen look I’ve ever seen, except for maybe the one on the Pedophile right before they took her away. “I told you to leave me alone. You should have listened.”

That’s when she turns that horrible sour face to me.

“And stop looking at my wife that way!” Christian snaps, startling everyone in the general vicinity. “You look like that ugly rock fish.”

“Stonefish,” I correct him. I was trying to place what that face looked like and that’s it!

“Whatever. It’s ugly.” Christian gestures to Jason, who walks over to us. “Keep an eye on her,” he says. “She keeps throwing stinkfaces at my wife.” Lily gasps.

“I’m not going to do anything to your precious Anastasia!” She knows my name! Who knew? All this time, she acted like I didn’t exist.

“I know,” Christian retorts. “I’m just making sure you know, too,” he hisses. Lily and I both glare at him.

“How much money do you spend just watching people?” I blurt out before I think about it, but Christian and Jason are unfazed.

“Apparently, not enough,” he replies, “and I’m going to start giving the order to shoot first and ask questions later if the wrong person comes near you,” he adds without taking his eyes off Lily. Now he gets the stink face.

“You’re not all that, Christian,” she says. “I was just talking.”

“Yeah, well, my sister said she doesn’t want you here anymore, so talk while you’re walking.” She huffs indignantly and heads toward the entrance to the ballroom.

“You’re giving her more credit than I would,” I say to Mia, noting that she said she would talk to Lily later.

“I’m not giving her shit,” Mia says. “I just want her out with the least amount of drama possible. I never plan to see her again. We fell out because she was mad that I didn’t hook her up with Christian in the first place. She fell back in when she found out I was getting married. I should have known what she was really up to, that trifling skank.” Mia drops her head. “Now, I have no one to do my damn maid of honor toast.”

She stomps back towards the bride’s table and I feel totally responsible for this since I’m sort of the reason the tramp was kicked out of the reception.

“Mia!” I call after her. Mia stops midstride and turns to face me. “I’ll do it.” Her brow furrows, then her gaze softens.

“I can’t put you on the spot like that,” Mia says. “You already had to fill in for a vocalist who will never get another job again if I have anything to say about it!” she hisses. “Thank you for that, by the way. You guys were wonderful. You sounded better than the people we hired.”

So we were told.

“It’s no trouble, Mia,” I say softly, closing the space between us. “It’ll be something short and impromptu, but it’ll be sincere. Can you even imagine what Lily might’ve said if what you said about her is true?” Mia thinks for only a moment.

“Yeah, you’re right,” she says. “I have no idea what I would’ve have done without you today,” she says with a sigh. “I’ll let Skye know there’s a change in plans.” She smiles at me and heads to her wedding planner. I watch her walk away and roll my eyes. God, this day just keeps getting better and better.


CHRISTIAN

Well, once we rid ourselves of one Lily in heat, my wife then volunteered herself to do the maid of honor toast. I don’t know why they couldn’t just let the best man do his toast and call it a day, but far be it from me to piss on somebody’s wedding. My baby had an idea to fix what was broken, and that’s fine by me.

As it turns out, Mia had come looking for Lily because it was time for the toast, so my wife is whisked away to charm the guests once more.

“For those of you who have been living under a rock and have not seen the tragedy that is my life unfolding for the last two years, I am Anastasia Grey.”

A huge round of applause and laughter fill the room at Butterfly’s not-so-flattering self-introduction and she curtsies on the stage.

“Thank you, you’re too kind. As you know, Mia is my sister-in-law through my husband, Christian. And it appears that I’m going to be pulling double duty tonight as the maid of honor unfortunately had to leave. I’ll apologize in advance because I was not prepared for this, so I’m just shooting from the hip, so please bear with me.

“First, I will, of course, begin by thanking our wonderful waitstaff who kept the food coming and the drinks flowing, our band, our wedding party, the wedding planners, the staff and security of Paramount Theater and of course, of Grey Enterprises Holdings for stepping up in a pinch, and certainly and not least of all, Carrick, for the bottomless checkbook!”

Another rousing round of applause and laughter as Dad stands and takes a dramatic bow while Mom and Mia laugh hysterically.

“The first time I met Mia, it was just over two years ago,” Butterfly begins, as the laugher dies down. “We bonded over the French language and Jimmy Choos.” Mia smiles at her. “Her brother called her ‘Meelo’ and she called him ‘Cwis’ and I thought it was the cutest thing I had ever heard. It made me long for a sibling, but more so, it helped me see that true love could never be tarnished.

“Mia likes to play. She’s a fun-lover, but make no mistake. She’s loyal to the point of murder.” More laughter fills the room. “I wish I was kidding about that. I’ve seen this little kitten turn into a wildcat when it comes to the people that she loves. I’m just glad to be one of the people that she loves.” Butterfly turns to Mia, who is clearly fighting back tears.

“I remember the night of their engagement,” Butterfly says. “Mia was doubting Ethan’s feelings for her and Ethan had planned to propose all along. The entire family was there. Mia screamed and we came running into the house like it was on fire…”

More laughter.

“Even then, Ethan proved that nothing was more important to him than Mia’s happiness and everything that I’ve seen since then has shown me more and more of the same. So, ladies and gentlemen, raise your glasses to Ethan and Mia. We wish you all the love and happiness your hands and hearts can hold, and Ethan, she’s a real handful… and she’s all yours now!” There’s even more laughter as the theater raises their glasses and spouts various congratulations to my sister and her husband. Her speech was short and sweet and to the point. I’m sure whatever Lily had planned was going to be nothing like that.

My wife makes her way back to our table—and my arms—and I kiss her gently on the lips.

“You were eloquent and gracious as always, my love,” I tell her.

“Thank you, darling,” she says, sweetly. As I kiss my wife, the lights go down and there’s an announcement that the bride and groom will now have their first dance. A fog machine begins to fill the room with fog and an image of a night sky is projected over the floor and fog. It gives the room a blue, ethereal hue. A soft female voice begins to sing Mary Lambert’s version of “She Keeps Me Warm” and we see Rita Oro emerge onto the stage with the band as Mia and Ethan take their place on dancefloor and glide effortlessly through the fog.

I coax my beautiful wife from her seat and bring her to my lap, cuddling her in my arms and holding her close to me while pressing gentle kisses to her neck as we watch my sister and her new husband share their first dance. I think about our first dance in our castle and I’m filled with that same love all over again, that same newness I felt when she first became Mrs. Christian Grey.

“And I can’t change, even if it I tried…” I whisper in her ear, repeating the words to the song that I feel in my heart, that I couldn’t stop loving her no matter what happened in this life; that she would always mean the world to me and losing her would break me down to nothing. She melts in my arms and I feel so much love and warmth that I could just burst. She wraps her arms around my neck and snuggles into me, swaying with me in our seat as Mia and her husband—and now her wedding party—dance to Rita Oro’s serenade. I love her so much. I can’t see my life before or without her. Rita stops singing and I can’t seem to untangle myself from my wife.

“I won’t bother with the wisecracks. I’d be wasting my breath,” I hear Elliot’s voice.

“I think you would,” I retort. She uncurls herself from me and kisses me softly on the cheek.

“I love you,” she whispers.

“I love you more,” I reply.

“Not likely,” she says, and I smile.

“We’d be debating that one all night,” I say, stroking her cheek. she laughs, too.

“Yes, we would.” She strokes my hair. I kiss her on the cheek.

“Alright,” Mia says, breaking our lovefest, “enough of the sucky-kissy. Get on the floor and dance.”

“With. Pleasure,” I say, taking my wife’s hand and leading her to the dancefloor as yet another love song begins to play.

Dancing with my wife is one of my most favorite things to do—for several reasons. For one thing, I love to watch her move. It doesn’t matter if she’s gyrating that little body to a funky pop beat, or grinding to a sultry love song against me, I adore seeing her sway her hips back and forth and swirl those dainty hands in the air, and fling her hair to and fro. And when she touches me, when she pushes her hands up my chest under my jacket to the thump of some tribal beat, her when her fingertips caress my nape as I’m holding her close and we’re dancing to a slow song, I’m gazing in her eyes and seeing my future and every good thing that every has and could happen to me…

And one stupid fucker after another comes wandering up to me trying to get my attention. One after another, I ignore them until I just can’t take it anymore.

“Grey, how are you, man?” McFarley says, yet one more interruption while I’m trying to dance with Butterfly, and I continue to sway with my wife without acknowledging his presence.

“I say, Grey, how ya doin’ there?” He’s fucking not going to go away. Did he think I didn’t hear him? I’m looking at my wife like I’m starving and she’s lunch. Does he really think I prefer to look at him instead of her? I lift my gaze from my wife and turn my head to him.

“I’d be doing much better if you’d leave me the fuck alone,” I inform him. “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m dancing with my wife. I’m not deaf, I’m ignoring you. Now, will you please take your rude ass to another part of the dancefloor and intrude on someone else’s space?”

I turn a fierce glare to him that silences him immediately and he almost scampers away from us. I turn my attention back to my wife.

“You know it’s just going to continue all night,” she says. “If they could have gotten away with interrupting you at dinner, they would have.” She gently strokes my nape to comfort me. I have to admit, it’s working.

“I know,” I reply, “and I know that I may end up talking business with someone before the night is over, but I choose that discussion. They’re not going to swarm in on me like I’m Don Corleone and this is Minnie’s wedding.” I tighten my arms around her waist and deliberately rest my hands on the top of that luscious ass. “And they certainly aren’t going to interrupt me while I’ve got this body in my arms.”

And I’m a man of my word. Dance after dance after dance I spend on the floor ignoring probably dozens of interruptions until my wife declares that her feet hurt and she can no longer trip the light fantastic. We walk gingerly back to our table and I put her feet in my lap. I remove those delicious sandals from those dainty little feet and begin to massage those dainty little toes. My poor wife is doing her best not to make sounds of ecstasy in the seat next to me, but she’s not doing a very good job. So, she just closes her eyes and lets the chips fall where they may. It’s a good thing Herman and Luma have taken the girls home, because these sounds are a bit obscene, and I can’t help the smile that creeps over my lips at the looks we’re getting from other people who aren’t dancing.

“I see you’re a little too big to fit under my porch.”

I look over my shoulder and see the kindly old face of the woman that used to leave me lemonade and cookies, that is, before I took up with the Pedophile.

“Aunt Tina,” I say, with fond affection. She laboriously bends and kisses me on the cheek. “I would stand, but…” I gesture to the feet of my nearly catatonic wife.

“Oh, don’t you dare,” she says, making her way to the chair next to me. “What I wouldn’t give to have Samuel around to massage my feet, God rest his soul. She’s a pretty little thing,” she says, gesturing to Butterfly.

“She’s my whole world,” I say, gazing at my wife, “her, and my children, that is,” I correct, looking back at my childhood confidante. “How are the kids? I know they’re not kids anymore.”

“Hardly,” she says. “Have kids of their own, and some of them have kids of their own,” she laughs. “It’s been a good life for me, Christian. These old bones are tired.” My brow furrows.

“Why are you talking like that, Aunt Tina?” I ask. “You’re not well?” She shakes her head.

“Doctors give me six months, maybe a year if I do chemo, but my body’s just too weak for it. Look at me, I can barely stand. My children want me to do the chemo, but what kind of quality of life would that be for me if I’m going anyway?” I sigh, my heart suddenly heavy.

“Oh, Tina,” I lament.

“Now, none of that!” she scolds gently. “I’m 91 years old. I’ve had a wonderful life. I couldn’t have asked for more. I have beautiful children and grandchildren and even some great-grandchildren. None of my babies died before me. Yes, my Samuel went home, but it was his time to go, and he had a good life, too. We built a home and a good life; he left me comfortable. We’re leaving our children and their children comfortable. I have no regrets, not one! So, don’t you be frettin’ me and feelin’ sorry for me and makin’ me feel sorry for myself, okay?” she scolds. Aunt Tina always had a way of putting me in my place. If I had continued to come to her porch more often, maybe I wouldn’t have fallen into the clutches of a child molester, but then there’s a string of what if’s in my life.

“So… are any of the kids back home with you right now?” She nods.

“Harmony came home,” she says. “She and her husband separated last year. Things just didn’t work out. She was on the fence about what she wanted to do anyway. She finished school and the divorce still isn’t final, yet, so there’s that. She’s doing some work-at-home thing so that she can be close in case I need her. She doesn’t need to work—she just wants to stay busy, I think.”

“What is her degree in?” I ask.

“She’s got a BS in social work.” I look over at Butterfly, who appears to have drifted off into a massage-induced nap. I reach into my jacket and pull out my phone. Swiping the screen, I open my contacts.

“Can you put her information in there?” I ask. “Helping Hands may be able to use her services, if she’s interested. I’ll pass her information onto my wife and mother and they can give her a call.” Tina smiles and takes my phone, enters Harmony’s information, and hands it back to me.

“Your commercial still runs sporadically,” Tina says, handing the phone back to me. I examine the information to familiarize myself with it before saving it. “She saw it once and mentioned that she’d like to get involved in something like that. She’ll be glad to know that you offered to have Ana and Grace give her a call.” Almost on cue, Mom and Dad return to the table.

“Tina, you look lovely,” Mom says, bending to kiss Aunt Tina on the cheek. “I’m so glad you could make it. How are you feeling, dear?”

“This is one of my better days,” Tina smiles. “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. I would have had Harmony roll me in her if I hadn’t been up to it,” she adds with a laugh.

“Where is Harmony?” Mom asks.

“She’s around,” Tina says, scanning the room for her daughter.

“Oh, she’s here,” I ask, in surprise. Mom looks at me, bemused. “Tina was telling me that Harmony has finished her bachelor studies in social work. I have her phone number and was going to pass it on to you or Butterfly to talk to her about possibly being of some use at Helping Hands.”

“Being of some use? Are you serious?” Butterfly is awake as if she’s been taking part in the entire conversation the whole time. “Who are we talking about? A bachelor’s degree in social work? Where?” She’s as bright as bunny like she wasn’t out cold just seconds earlier. I can’t help the laugh that escapes me.

“Butterfly, I don’t think you’ve formally met Tina Franklin. She’s a dear friend of the family.” Aunt Tina extends a shaky hand to my wife. Butterfly removes her feet from my lap and reaches the distance across me to ease Tina’s difficulty.

“It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, dear,” Tina says.

“The pleasure in mine, Ms. Franklin,” Butterfly smiles.

“Tina, dear, please,” she says.

“You may remember that I told you I used to sneak under Tina’s porch and she would give me lemonade and cookies,” I say. No realization comes across Butterfly’s face.

“Did you tell me this before or after…?” She trails off. I take her hand.

“Before,” I say softly. She nods and smiles sadly at Tina.

“He’s probably told me the story,” she says. “Unfortunately, as you most likely already know, I had a terrible accident last year and I’ve lost a lot of my memories.”

“Don’t you worry your sweet little heart about it, dear,” Aunt Tina says. “We hold on to the important stuff.” She winks at Butterfly. “We were talking about my daughter, Harmony. She’s back home now to take care of me and may soon be looking for some way to put her degree to use. I’ve already given Christian her number in case you or Grace want to contact her…” My wife glances over at me.

“I asked for it,” I tell her, fearing that she may be having flashbacks of “the mothers and the daughters.”

“I didn’t say anything,” she says with a laugh. Tina chuckles.

“With a face and bod like that, I’d watch him like a hawk, too, dear,” Tina says impassively. Mom and Butterfly burst into laughter. Dad just shakes his head.

“I’m so glad that you two are having such fun at my expense.” My wife turns a scrutinizing eye to me, still laughing.

“I have one word for you,” she says, crossing her arms. “Lily.”

Point. Taken.

“Oh, that’s why she’s not here,” Dad says.

“Yeah, that’s why she’s not here,” Butterfly confirms.

“Lily,” Tina chuckles. “There’s a piece of work… and did I see Courtney here?”

“You… may have,” Butterfly says nervously.

“I thought Addie sent her home,” Tina says.

“She did,” Butterfly says. “Courtney decided to stay and make it on her own. She’s asked that I don’t inform her grandparents.”

“That may be a moot point if they bump into each other,” Tina points out. I look at Butterfly, who shrugs.

“I won’t engineer a meeting, but I’ve told her several times that I think she needs to talk to her grandparents,” Butterfly begins.

“As have I,” Mom chimes in. “She’s quite a different woman from who she was a year ago.”

“Yes,” Tina says, “anyone can see that just from looking at her.” Butterfly looks at her in amazement.

“You can?” Butterfly asks. Several surprised eyes turn to my wife. “Well, think about it. I’m with her all the time. I know there’s an emotional and a character change, but if there’s a physical change, it’s been gradual, so I wouldn’t notice it.”

Courtney

Courtney

“Well, there has,” Tina says. “I only observed her for a few minutes with her companion, but she carries herself much differently. She looks, behaves, and speaks like a lady. I’ve watched her for years and I’ve never seen this Courtney…” She turns to me. “… Just like I’ve never seen this Christian.” She looks at my wife. “You have an amazing effect on people, dear. My Harmony doesn’t need any fixing, but if you have this kind of effect on the people who do, I’d love for you to meet her.” Butterfly smiles shyly.

The Butterfly effect… I keep telling people just how powerful it is.

“Tell me, why doesn’t she want to talk to Addie and Fred? I won’t say anything—it’s not my place, but I’m just curious.”

“I’m not at liberty to say,” Butterfly responds. “When people talk to me, a lot of what they say falls under doctor/patient privilege. It’s hard for me to draw a line, so to be safe, I’m mum on all of it.”

“Well, there’s no privilege here,” Mom says. “I’ll still be discreet, though. I’d hate to betray her confidence. Short version, there was some very hurtful things said and Courtney thinks it’s just better to let sleeping dogs lie than to open old wounds.” Tina shakes her head.

“She couldn’t be more wrong,” she says. “Life is too short, too precious. You never know which day is going to be your last. She’s going to have to rectify this or she’s going to regret it for the rest of her life.”

“Hear, hear,” Mom says.

“I couldn’t agree more,” Butterfly says.

“There you are.” Our attention is drawn to an attractive, young brunette with a very short haircut who has made her way to our table. “I was talking to Greg and Lisa, and I turned around and you were gone.” Tina smiles an accommodating smile.

“And now I know how she felt when she was six years old,” Tina jests, eliciting a laugh from us. “This is may daughter, Harmony, everyone. Harmony, you remember Grace and Carrick…” Harmony extends her hand.

“Yes, I do. It’s good to see you again,” she says, greeting them both with handshakes and cheek kisses.

“And I don’t know if you met Christian,” Tina says. Harmony extends her hand to me.

“A little out of my age rank, but of course, I’ve heard of you. It’s nice to meet you, Christian,” she says, shaking my hand. She’s considerably younger than me, maybe early twenties at best, and already separated… that’s sad.

“Likewise,” I reply, politely.

“And this is his wife, Anastasia,” Tina completes the introductions.

“The other half of the famous AnaChris,” Harmony says, extending her hand. “You’re even more beautiful in person,” she adds sincerely.

“Brownie points for you!” Butterfly exclaims, accepting her hand while everyone chuckles. “We were just talking about you. Your mom informs us that you’ve recently completed your bachelors studies in social work.” Harmony throws a loving glance at her mother.

“Mom’s very proud of that,” she says, and I can imagine that Tina has probably mentioned it to anyone who will listen. “Yes, I just finished my studies in June. It was… difficult, but I got through.”

“So, what are your plans from here?” Butterfly asks.

“Well, I need my master’s before I can be licensed, so I start those classes next week. Luckily, since I’ve already secured my bachelors, I can complete my master’s in a year instead of two.”

“Tina says you’re working,” I ask. “You’re going to do them both?” And take care of your mother.

“No,” she admits. “I was only working to fill the time. An idle mind and all that,” she says, waving off the topic. Butterfly and Harmony are off on the topic at hand and I scan the room looking for Courtney. I admit that I can’t find her anywhere. Granted, the venue is huge, but I know what she looks like and I should be able to pick her out of the crowd. Tina puts her hand over mine on the table.

“Elena has been writing to me from prison,” she says. My chest immediately tightens at the mention of that woman’s name. “She’s talking about being reformed and such. She’s quite destitute.”

I don’t react. I don’t really want to know how Elena’s doing at all.

“She asks about you often,” Tina says. “I put together that years ago, you were one of her boys.” My eyes widen.

“You did?” I ask in horror. She nods.

“Yes,” she says. “I don’t blame you. Teenage boys think with their dicks. As a man though…” She trails off.

“I know,” I say, pushing my hands through my hair. “I know, Aunt Tina. I want you to know that as soon as I figured it out, I went on a mission to bring her down. I’m the reason she was caught. I found the boys that she was molesting.” Tina nods.

“I know, and I think she knows, too. She’s not certain, but you know that she never takes responsibility for anything that she does. I truly believe that she’s no threat up there in prison, and her letters are the rantings of a crazy woman, but I don’t know who else she’s writing to.”

I hear her warning loud and clear. Elena’s reach from prison is what caused Butterfly to be called before the licensing board on trumped-up charges of sexual misconduct. I may need to find out just who she’s been talking to in the weeks since our last visit.

“Thanks for the heads up, Aunt Tina,” I tell her.

“Anytime,” she says with a smile. “And now, I think it’s time my chaperone got me home. It’s getting to be past my bedtime. And if you get a chance, come on by and have some lemonade and some cookies for old times sake, okay? I’ve always got ‘em. And I’ll understand if you don’t, but always remember that Aunt Tina loves you… and I’m so proud of you.”

She leans forward and places a tender kiss on my cheek. I close my hand over hers.

“I’ll never forget you, Aunt Tina, and you’ll always have a place in my heart.” She cups my face and smiles. I help her out of her seat and Harmony is by her side in a moment.

“We’ll talk. You have my card,” Butterfly says.

“Sure thing,” Harmony nods. “Come on, Mom, let’s get you home.” I put my arm around my wife’s waist and watch Harmony lead Aunt Tina out of the theater, knowing that this may be the last time I see her.

“Why is it that the only time family and friends really come together is for events like this?” I ask. “Weddings and the like?” I never take my eyes off Tina’s retreating back.

“We get caught up in the mundane tasks of life,” Butterfly says after a pause. “We keep meaning to call someone, meaning to catch up with someone or go have lunch, drop by or say ‘hi…’ and then we get that call.” I turn my gaze to her. “That call that there’s bad news or the doctors don’t have any hope…”

I turn back to the exit and Aunt Tina and Harmony have left.

“… That there’s been an accident,” I say, my voice cracking, “or they need a kidney… or there’s cancer…” I feel my wife’s hand on my chest and I turn back to look at her, her beautiful blue eyes full of sympathy. I wrap my arms around her and bask in her love, so glad that I didn’t lose her last year when that crazy submissive T-boned her car.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for the bride and groom to cut the cake!”

Good Lord, I thought they had already cut the cake. It’s late! Let’s just get this over and done.

So… now, I see that two of the huge things hiding in the corners behind these huge drapes are cakes—not just any cakes, the bride’s and groom’s cakes. Now, I’m one of the most ostentatious fuckers that ever lived. I am the epitome of go big or go home, but these cakes are the most extreme displays of largess and waste that I’ve ever seen in my life. Whoever created these monstrosities should be ashamed of the man-hours and materials invested in their manufacture with the level of starvation going on in the world right now. These two monstrosities are unveiled from the corners and the crowd rightfully gasps in amazement.

The cakes are on platforms that are rolled to the center of the floor in front of the stage on cranes. The cakes are nearly impossible to describe. Ethan’s WTF expression says it all.

Mia’s cake is a seven-layer intricate creation of flowers, columns, and tiers. The base of the cake is at least five to six feet in diameter and the first layer is quite possibly two feet thick. Each additional layer gets thinner until the top layer is about a foot thick—maybe the thickness of an average cake. All in all, the cake itself without the platform, is probably about ten feet tall, with realistic flowers and columns and bridges and balustrades and intricate details that are probably all edible. I don’t even know how they assembled the damn thing.

The groom’s cake is worse. It’s a castle—a fucking castle, complete with blue towers… several towers, something like twelve or fifteen of them! The castle is white with bricks and windows and doors and battlements and stairs and more flowers at a base that’s wider than Mia’s. Oh, and there are lights inside.

The cakes are so large that Mia and Ethan complete disappear behind them and must make their way around to the front of the bride’s cake in order to cut it. And what utensil is presented to them to cut the cake?

A sword… a fucking sword. Nothing else is long enough to reach the cake.

I shake my head in pure disgust. If every guest on Mia’s insane guest list took home a serving of cake equal to an entire normal cake, there would still more cake left over than anybody knew what to do with. There still must be enough filet mignon and duck confit prepared in the kitchen to feed a fucking army because I sure as hell didn’t order lobster until I got here, so there had to be enough food on hand to handle contingencies. This level of waste is abhorrent, and I have to find out what they’re going to do with the leftovers from this wedding.

“You don’t look happy at all,” my wife observes. I shake my head.

“Look at those cakes, Anastasia,” I say, my face hurting from frowning. “I spent the first four years of my life in squalor—starving, in agony—and somewhere, right now, in this city, there’s another child feeling that same pain and she’s got those.” I point in dismay at the ridiculous cakes. “I understand wanting the best—I really, really do, but this…” I gesture at the monstrous creations again. “There’s no explanation or excuse whatsoever for that.”

My brain immediately starts running through the calculations of what the pounds and pounds of flour it took to make those cakes could have done for the homeless—bread for sandwiches and pasta for entire meals. It’s probably a ridiculous concept right now, but with all the philanthropic causes that I support behind the scenes, this is exactly where my mind goes when I see something so utterly wasteful. Yes, I spend extravagant money on things for myself and my wife and children, but I am equally generous in my humanitarian endeavors, because they’re just that important to me.

“Maybe we should step outside,” my wife says, turning around in my arms, her expression serious, “or out in the lobby and take a picture or three—get away from this scene for a while.” I shake my head, more to shake off the figures of what I know those insane cakes costs and how that money could have been put to such better use.

“No, I’ll be fine. I’m fine,” I say, attempting to appear normal.

“No, Christian, you’re not,” my wife says firmly. I look down into her eyes and she stares at me. “You just called me Anastasia.

Shit, did I? I try to review my words in my head, but I can’t remember. I just… I can’t believe those fucking cakes. I look back at my sister and her husband and they’re beaming, laughing and feeding each other hunks of what had better be the most luscious and delicious cake ever made by human hands!

“I’m sorry, baby,” I say, running my hands through my hair, “I expected a three-ring circus, but as God is my witness, I didn’t expect this.”

“Don’t apologize,” she says, gently rubbing my chest. “Shots were fired for the goddamn wedding kiss, for fuck’s sake. When the minister said, ‘You may salute your bride,’ she was literally fucking saluted!” That makes me chuckle a bit, but did little to comfort my unease about the level of excess I’m witnessing tonight. I hold my wife close to me and sigh into her hair. I wonder how often shit like this was going on when I was hungry, hiding under the kitchen table or in the closet, praying that fucker wasn’t lighting another cigarette…?

“Bro, you okay? You look sick.” Elliot’s voice brings me back to the here and now, and I have to say that I’m glad it did. I had no idea I had slipped back into the squalor of the lost boy because of a fucking wedding cake.

“I’m fine,” I lie. I’m anything but fine. I have to find out what she’s doing with this leftover food. I will personally spend the night having this shit sent to a GEH facility for storage and distributed to the homeless and hungry tomorrow if I have to.

“He’s not, but there’s nothing that can be done about it, so don’t ask,” my wife says, her tone serious as she wraps her arms protectively around my waist and lays her head on my chest. It’s comforting, and it keeps the monsters away.

“That’s some cake, huh?” Elliot says, holding Val close to him.

“Yeah,” I sigh, “that’s some cake.” Elliot turns to look at me.

“She always was over-the-top, bro,” he says, and I hear the sympathy in his voice. “You couldn’t expect this to be any different.” I look over and meet his gaze.

“Yeah, I know.” I look back at the ridiculous cake and watch as it appears that they are setting up for some other performance or something in the middle of the room.

“It’s the food thing… isn’t it?” he asks. I look at him again and he doesn’t break his gaze. “You used to take food from the table and shove it in your pockets. You hid it in your room. You hid it in the treehouse. You hid it places and forgot about it. Mom would find it all the time. I didn’t know what was wrong with you, so I asked Mom. She told me that before you came to live with us, you didn’t have enough to eat, that you were often hungry, and that you were afraid that you were going to be hungry again. It explained why every single time at every single meal you ate every single thing on your plate. That’s why I always slipped you my Brussel sprouts when Mom wasn’t looking.”

I remember that.

“You never took more than you could eat; you never left anything behind; and you often got irritated with anybody who did. Even now, you still clean your plate. You don’t leave a morsel behind.”

I never knew my brother paid that close attention to me. I didn’t know that I still exercised those practices, either. I have serious issues with wasted food, but I try not to impose my issues on others, and I try not to be anal about them in my eating habits, but apparently…

“And now…” He gestures at the two obscenely large edifices that pose as cakes behind Mia and Ethan, and I’m just realizing that in our back-flashing of my food issues, we’ve missed the bouquet toss. No matter—I wouldn’t have been able to watch it with the lavish wasteful confections as a backdrop anyway.

“Well, that’s our cue, bro,” Elliot says. “The Caribbean is calling our names. If we wait any longer, we’re going to miss our flight.”

I almost forgot that he’s going to be leaving on his honeymoon as well tonight. All of our lives were put on hold when we got word that Pops didn’t have long left to live. I was planning to take my wife to Rome this summer for our first anniversary. That was a big no-go.

“You guys have a great time and a safe trip,” I tell him, shaking his hand.

“Tell her we stayed as long as we could, but it was either sneak out or crash the garter ritual.” He shrugs.

“I’ll tell her. Get going.” I pat him on the back in a bro-hug. Butterfly is hugging Valerie and wishing her a safe trip, making her promise to take lots of pictures. We send them off to say goodbye to Mom and Dad as we turn out attention back to floorshow of the girl who caught the bouquet and the guy who caught the garter. Apparently, I missed them both. How, I have no idea.

My wife attempts to comfort me throughout the minutiae of other things occurring in the next several minutes of the reception or so—bubbles appear from somewhere and there’s a dance line of some sort. I’m glad to see that those monstrous cakes are wacked up all to hell, but there’s still a whole lot of them left, and I do get to see those solid gold inscribed boxes Elliot referred to earlier. I’m waiting for an opportunity to get my sister alone, just a moment or two, and it’s like the girls on the sidewalk when I was a kid waiting for a chance to jump in on jump-rope. As soon as I get my chance though…

“Mia, a minute?” She examines me.

“I know that face, big brother. What did I do?’ Geez. I don’t want to scold her on her wedding day. How do I approach this? I suddenly feel like a kid about to ask his mother for a forbidden lollipop.

“I… um… if you don’t have prior arrangements… there’s… quite a few leftovers and… well… that’s a lot of cake, and…” I sigh. She chuckles.

“This is about the food thing, isn’t it?” she asks, and now I’m gape-mouthed.

“You know about the food thing?” I ask, amazed.

“Of course, I know about the food thing,” she says, obviously. “We all know about the food thing, Cwis, we love you.”

I’m standing here literally scratching my head. How did I not know they knew?
Because I never let them in.

Mia puts her hand on my arm.

“Did you think Mom didn’t know you were eating Elliot’s Brussel sprouts?” she asks, raising her eyebrows. I just shake my head and scratch my eyebrows.

“If you don’t mind me asking, what are you going to do with all the leftover food?” I ask. She smiles.

“Find a program,” she says. “Page ten, bottom left.” She kisses me on the cheek and walks away into a crowd of guests.

I nearly have to scour the entire theater to find a program that hasn’t been claimed by someone. I quickly flip to the back of the book and go to page ten and scan to the bottom left.

**Remaining food and confections from today’s festivities will be donated and distributed among the following charities:
Operation Nightwatch
Compass Housing Alliance
Pioneer Square’s Union Gospel Mission
St. Martin De Porres
Mary’s Place
Sacred Heart Shelter
Helping Hands…

The list is so long that I don’t have time to read all the names. I fall into a large seat nearby, a huge weight having been lifted off my shoulders. I felt like it was my responsibility and mine alone to be sure this food didn’t go to waste. It’s. So. Much. Food. And somebody somewhere is painfully hungry like that little boy under the kitchen table while all this food is sitting here going God only knows where.

But it’s not going God only knows where. She’s going to make sure that it goes to someone who needs it. It won’t go to waste.

I breathe.
I breathe again.
I feel light.
I feel so much better.
Thank you, Mia.
Good God, thank you.


A/N: Christian references Don Corleone because in movie The Godfather, the Don is required to receive anyone who requests an audience on the day of his daughter’s wedding.

Part II of the wedding is complete. On to part III! 

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be foundat https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 35—Grey Festivities!

So… Ethan. I should tell you guys that unless you come at Ethan directly with something—like his bachelor party or like his father when he was trying to use Ethan to spy on the Greys—or you come at his “Kitten” directly, he’s pretty much a standoffish kind of guy. I’m thinking that his overall lack of action up to this point may have painted him in a bad light. I’m saying that because I see more than a few people throwing verbal daggers at him (I’m not angry, I find this kind of funny) and I haven’t even developed the character yet.

So, I’m sitting here like, “Oh, dear God, what have I done?”

Somewhere down the line, I’ll have to try to develop him as I see him, because I’ve left his character kind of open for interpretation and the interpretations are like, “Yikes!” LOL.

He’s not a bad guy, folks. I’ve just left that door a little too open. 😉

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 35—Grey Festivities

ANASTASIA

What the hell. He’s here? But he’s not spying on me? Don’t flip out, Ana. Don’t make a scene. Just go see what this is about.

“Val, I need you, hon,” I say, sliding back out of the booth. Val’s brow furrows.

“Is everything okay?” she asks concerned. I don’t want to draw any attention to us.

“Yeah, everything’s cool,” I say, flippantly, taking her hand. “I just need you for a sec.” She reluctantly follows me out of the club and into the wide hallway of the hotel. I take two steps away from the door and hear,

“Jesus Christ, Angel, are you trying to give me a heart attack in that dress?”

We both turn to the sound of the voice and see Elliot standing against the wall across the hall.

“El!” Val says. “What are you doing here?” Good question.

“Ethan’s party is at the Four Seasons. Lover Boy over there could see the party bus from the penthouse balcony and just had to see if it was the party bus.” Just as I’m about to look over there, I feel two strong arms slide softly around my waist.

“I’m sorry,” he purrs in my ear. “I shouldn’t have come.”

Every tiny bit of ire that was in me just melts away in an instant.

Lover Boy, huh?” I say, turning around to the puppy-dog look in my husband’s beautiful gray eyes.

“I’d much rather be with you than with this gaggle of drunken fools drooling all over themselves and…” he trails off.

“And…” I coax.

“That’s why we were on the balcony,” he says. “Live entertainment.” I open my mouth.

“Aahh, okay,” I say. I slide my arms around his neck. “You know I can’t stay.”

“I know,” he says, brushing his lips against my cheek. “I wish I hadn’t seen you in this dress. You look delectable.”

“Is that why you left from Grey House?” I ask. He nods.

“I didn’t want you to feel uncomfortable getting dressed. You look so good and I know that other men look at you.” There’s no use in trying to dispel that. I know that other men look at me, too.

“Other women look at you, Mr. Grey,” I protest softly. “You should hear these poor girls in here talking about you—’the one that got away.’ They’re a sorrowful bunch.” His eyes widen and his mouth falls open.

“They’re talking to you about that?” he asks in amazement and I nod.

“One of them has been watching you since puberty,” I inform him. “She’s probably got pictures of you in her hope chest. You’d be surprised how far a little liquor will go in loosening up some normally tight-assed bitches… and they like to use that word a lot. It’s a term of endearment, did you know that? They call each other all types of degrading things—hoes and cunts and whores and bitches and…”

His mouth is on mine in an instant, silencing and devouring me, his lips massaging mine, his tongue lapping into my mouth until I feel my pussy getting wet and my clit start to throb. I melt as he captures me by my nape, and I groan into his mouth. His body hardens against mine and I completely give in to him. He rewards me with a groan of his own and I have to fight to keep from climbing him right here in the hallway of this hotel.

“Do you know what you do to me?” he breathes against my lips. “Do you have any idea? God, you make me mindless.” His arms tighten around me as he pulls me closer to him. “You were so cute on the floor dancing with Val. I was going to leave after I saw you, saw that you were having a good time and I felt a little guilty, because I didn’t want you to think I was spying on you. I just wanted to see you…”

I know he’s telling the truth.

“When you were singing that song, I knew you were singing it to me. I knew that every word was for me. I felt it in every cell of my body and I wanted to run in there and fall at your feet. I was still trying to convince myself to leave when you started to sing the second song, only… you weren’t singing that song to me. I was singing that song to you.”

What was the second song? Oh, yeah… “I Have Nothing.”

I feel a tightening in my chest and I almost want to cry. He’s so sweet, I could just die.

“When you finished, I just stood against the wall and kept willing myself to leave, but I couldn’t move. I knew I couldn’t leave without seeing you. I’m sorry…”

I stand on my toes, grab the nape of his head and pull him down to me, pressing my lips hard against his. He groans against my lips and wraps his arms tight around me, pulling me close to him and infusing me with love and heat and passion. When we finally break our kiss, there’s need and longing in his eyes.

“I love you so much, Christian,” I whimper, my voice so heavy with emotion that I don’t even recognize it.

“I adore you, Butterfly,” he whispers, his voice gravelly and betraying his slipping control. We could probably drop and do each other right here on the posh carpeting but for the fact that someone would see us. I thrust my hand into his hair and my tongue back into his mouth, wanting to climb him and ravish him so badly while his hands wander wildly all over my body. My temperature is rising quickly and I’m feeling heat in all the right places…

“I knew it! I just knew it!”

I rip my lips from Christian’s and gasp, startled at the proximity of Mia’s voice. Dammit, Mia!

“Hi, Meelo,” Christian says coyly.

“Don’t Hi Meelo me,” she snaps. “I knew you guys were going to sneak out for some suck-face time. It’s so damn typical, as if you don’t live together. And where’s Val? She’s supposed to be counting holes.”

“She’s right there and nobody’s doing holes!” I exclaim pointing behind me.

“Doing holes?” Christian says bemused.

“Pub Golf,” I say, not realizing that I just made a big mistake in front of my very protective husband, but before he has the chance to berate me, Lily scoffs.

Valerie is the secret scorekeeper?” she says with that same horrible expression she wears all the time. “With her best friend playing?” she adds in an accusatory tone. I turn in Christian’s arm to face the group, who have all come out of the bar now.

“I’m not playing,” I announce. “Val let it slip that she was the secret scorekeeper and that I was losing. I told her I wasn’t playing. I can’t keep up. I’m having drinks with you guys, but no Pub Golf for me. I won’t know my name by morning!” I’m still slightly drunk as we speak!

“See… I’m drunk, not crazy!” Monica announces, pointing a tell-tale finger at me. “I knew you were a couple o’ shots short!” She can barely get the words out of her mouth as she laughs at my supposed calamity. “We’re still gonna get you liquored. We’ve got three more holes!” Oh, hell.

“Looks like you’ve made some friends,” Christian says in my ear.

“Just for tonight,” I reply, so that only he can hear me.

“So, where the hell is Val?” Mia says impatiently, trying not to slur her words. “We don’t have much time left to get these last three holes in!” I sigh.

“She’s right the…” I look over to where she and Elliot were when I last saw them, and the spot is empty. “Okay, they were there.”

“Oh, great,” Mia says, throwing her hands in the air. “You sneak away for suck-face-time and she crawls away for a 10-minute quickie. Just stick around, girls. She’ll be out any second now with JBF hair…”

The words are no sooner out of her mouth when around the corner comes a very disheveled Elliot and Valerie. Val is unsuccessfully trying to smooth the JBF hair that Mia rightfully said she’d be sporting while Elliot, who is now wearing most of Val’s lipstick, didn’t even bother trying to straighten his hair. He looks like cats have been playing on his head and his zipper is undone.

“See? See?” Mia says, pointing to exhibits A and B. I stifle a laugh.

“Dude, your fly!” Christian says. Elliot pauses, looks down at his pants, and closes his zipper.

“What was your rush?” Mia scolds. “It’s not like everybody didn’t know what you were doing. You could’ve taken a moment to make yourselves presentable.”

“Yeah, scorekeeper,” Lily snarls. Geez, is she always that ugly? Even a hot dress and make-up doesn’t help that grimace. Val glares at me.

“Nice going, Steele,” she accuses. I point to Mia.

“I didn’t out you, she did,” I defend. “Then Lily tried to out me, but I announced that I wasn’t playing, so…” I trail off and shrug without looking at Lily, who I know is turning her snarling grimace on me.

Christian says that Lily looks like a gargoyle in Chapter 34 RG“Jesus!” Christian says. I raise my gaze to him and he’s turning away. “That woman looks like a goddamn gargoyle!”

I can’t even stifle my laughter on that one.

“Sorry, sis,” Elliot apologizes. “It was the dress.” Mia grunt.

“Ugh! To the bus, bitches!” she says, a bit perturbed and begins to lead the way, then she stops and turns to face us. “Bitches… not horndogs!” she says to her brothers, before proceeding to the front door.

“It looks like we’ve pissed off your sister,” I say to my husband.

“She’ll get over it by the eighth hole.” He takes my chin and turns my face to his, placing such a soft and succulent kiss on my lips that I have to put my hand on my chest to steady myself.

“Go, have a good time. Make my sister forget I crashed her party.” He kisses me on the nose. “I love you.”

“I love you, too…”

“Are you guys that touchy-feely all the time?” one of the girls asks when we get back to the bus. I don’t bother trying to remember everyone’s name. I won’t see most of them after tomorrow.

“Every waking fucking moment,” Mia chimes in before I can answer.

“Of every damn day,” Val adds. I gasp.

“Says the girl who got a nooner at midnight in the hotel bathroom!” I retort, appalled. The bus breaks into loud laughter, including Mia.

“You heard him,” she defends. “It was the dress.”

“He must really love that dress. It was the only thing intact when you came out the bathroom!” I shoot. More laughter. Val is trying to comeback and she’s usually pretty good with it… except when I’m drunk. When I’m liquored, they’re just lined up waiting, like darts, and anybody’s a target.

“Well, at least, I wasn’t necking in the hallway! You guys didn’t even see us leave!”

“Yeah, we would have snuck away to the bathroom, but it was already taken!” A couple of the girls are on the floor now. Even though the jokes by themselves aren’t that funny, the continued reference back to the bathroom is just enough to keep a bunch of drunk women laughing. Even poor Mia can’t hold it together. I don’t even know if Val and Elliot actual went to the bathroom, but she must have because she’s not saying anything to dispel it.

“Steele, you’re a real piece a shit, you know that?” Val laughs.

“Yeah, and I still couldn’t get to the bathroom…”

*-*

With time ticking away even before suck-face-time and the midnight nooner, there would not be enough time to get three holes in before “last call.” So, we go to one more bar, content to do two holes on the party bus, and the girls don’t let me out of the last three holes. So, hole seven is done on the bus. Hole eight is done in the last bar we go to—with the rowdy “fooooooooouuuuuurrrrr” announcement that a bunch of drunk women are playing Pub Golf. I always thought you yelled “four” before barfing. We never found out. Nobody barfed, not even me and not even after doing the ninth hole on the party bus.

I don’t remember getting home, though.

I remember swirls and swirls of alcohol… three shots in under an hour and quite possible more, I’m not sure.

Then I remember music and pretty, pretty lights.

Then I remember Mia crying and thanking me and telling me and Val how much she loved us and what a great time she had. I think Val and I are crying, too… or at least I am…

Then I remember… the Audi, I think… and nothing after that.

Now, I’m kind of floating in the arms of this fire-haired god I can’t quite see…

“No,” I protest weakly. “I’m married…” The god chuckles softly.

“I know,” he says. “To me.” I force one eye open.

“Christian?” I squeak, still unable to focus.

“Ssshhhh,” he says softly while carrying me to our room. “Come, you inebriated goddess. Let’s get you to bed. You need rest…”

*-*

I’d say it was somewhere around noon when I finally opened my eyes, and only because I was forced to do so against my will.

“If you want any hope of possibly getting to Mia’s wedding, you need to get up now.”

My husband’s voice gently rouses me from sleep and I want to hit him in the head with a sledgehammer! I want to sleep! Until next June! Dammit!

“Mia’s probably not going to make it to her own damn wedding,” I grumble, remembering just how toasted she was… while I was still coherent, that is.

“Oh, contraire, my love,” he informs me. “My baby sister called three hours ago to tell me to make sure those ‘cows are out of bed and at my wedding at three,’ her words exactly. I don’t know what secret elixir she has coursing through her veins, but she was as bright as a bunny.”

“She and the bridal party had some kind of detox treatment at Miana’s,” I groan.

“That’s a good idea,” he suggests.

“I’m not going to Miana’s,” I grumble without raising my head. He twists his lips.

“Whatever treatments Mia had for the ladies, we can have here in an hour.” I raise my head slightly.

“Make it happen.”

*-*

This is one of those days when it really pays to be rich.

I don’t feel the slightest bit of guilt as hot towels, massaging hands, fresh vegetable trays, vitamin-B-infused shakes, and plenty of water slowly begin to bring the life back into my alcohol-ravaged body. No, I’m not setting a good example for Sophie, who has joined me in the lower-level spa, but at this point in time, it doesn’t matter. I need help.

“How is Operation She’s All That?” I ask as I begin to get my wits about me.

“It’s okay,” she says. “It was a pretty good idea. I’m not so scared to approach people and I can spot the phonies from the real ones in the first few minutes.” I nod.

“Very good,” I say. “And what about that other situation?” She frowns, bemused. “The guy?” She drops her head.

“Still pretty much the same,” she says. “I haven’t thought about it much until today.”

I bet I can guess why.

“Why today?” I ask, hoping I can get her to open up. She looks at me like a cornered rat for a moment. Then, she drops her head and sighs. Just when she’s about to open her mouth…

“Time for fresh towels, Mrs. Grey!” One of the girls from Miana’s pipes in loudly, bringing a fresh set of steaming towels into the spa. I don’t know whether to hug her or slap her as I need fresh towels for my detox, but one look at Sophie, and I can tell that the moment is lost. I just roll my eyes.

“Thank you,” I say as she removes the lukewarm towels, wipes my skin down, and replaces them with hot ones. I have to admit that I can feel the toxins leaving my pores and I can’t be too upset. I turn back to Sophie and change the subject.

“In moderation, a drink every now and then is a good thing,” I tell her. “It helps adults to loosen up after a long day or to celebrate the moments of their lives. It can even be medicinal. But in excess, everything is a bonehead move, and drinking is no different.” I put my hand on my head.

“I don’t get the idea of bachelor parties,” Sophie says. “Why get drunk the night before the wedding? You have to stand up at the wedding. You’re sick and hung over in a church. That doesn’t make any sense.”

“Grown-ups are stupid,” I groan. “I didn’t even drink as much as some of those women. I wonder how they even got out of bed this morning!”

“You were watching what they were drinking?” she asks.

“We played Pub Golf,” I confess. “They had drinks at every bar we went to. I skipped some!”

“Steele!” Val bellows and I realize that my headache isn’t quite gone yet.

“Oh, fuck!” I hiss quietly.

“Ana!” Sophie scolds. I open one eye.

“Oh, fudge,” I say begrudgingly.

“There you are,” Val says appearing in the doorway of the spa. “You didn’t have to tell me we were having spa day.”

“We’re not,” I tell her. “I’m detoxing and you weren’t drunk.” She put her hands on her hips.

“How many drinks did you have, Sophie?” Val accuses.

“She wouldn’t judge me,” I throw in. Sophie giggles and Val just shakes her head.

“Now, I don’t feel so bad about showing you this,” she says, scrolling through her tablet and thrusting it in my face. There’s a link that says Headline—And she sings, too.” I click the link to see a recording of myself singing All The Man That I Need. I sit up straight on the table.

“Oh, shit!” I say, looking at the video. It has clearly been taken with someone’s cell phone. I thought we had gotten away with it last night. Nobody said anything. Nobody let on that they knew who I was, but somebody got me on camera.

“You guys did karaoke?” Sophie says, looking over my shoulder. “I didn’t know you could sing.”

“Dammit!” I hiss. “We’ve got a primetime interview coming up! Christian’s going to shit bricks.”

“No, he’s not,” Val says. “He’s already seen it.” I raise bemused eyes to her.

“Excuse me?”

“He’s already seen it.” She shrugs.

“What did he say?”

“Nothing. He just laughed and said he saw it live.”

“Did he think this was your recording or did he know this was online?” I press.

“He knows it’s online,” she replies. “You’re singing karaoke, Steele, you’re not stripping.”

“You’re very good,” Sophie says. “Is there anything you can’t do?”

“Apparently, stay out of the press,” I say, lying back down on the table.


CHRISTIAN

No tie.

I don’t even want to go to this damn thing and if I could get out of it, I would. However, it’s my baby sister’s wedding and I do want to be there for her. I’m going to forego the tie, though. I’m going to be comfortable and I’m going to hope for the best, that she was able to curtail most of the over-the-top things that Mom put in place and that this is going to be a classy affair and not the three-ring circus that I fear it will be.

One can always hope.

A caravan of Audis will be leaving from the Crossing since everyone going to the wedding will be leaving at different times. The twins are too young to sit still through a wedding and reception, so they will be staying behind, but Sophie will come to the wedding with Butterfly and me. Valerie and Elliot will be on a plane very soon after Mia and Ethan cut the cake, and I’m going to be trying to leave before the bride and groom even get out of the reception hall if I can.

I thought I’d be waiting forever, but I’m very happy to see my wife and my honorary niece come around the columns from the formal dining room, dressed and ready for the wedding. Sophie is wearing a skater dress with an embroidered top and a flare, teal skirt with modest heels while my wife is wearing a sultry forest green bodycon dress with a plunging v-neckline and an overlapping v-split that shows just enough of a flirty thigh to make me hungry, attached to nude sandals that wrap around her ankles giving the image of mile long legs… again.

Down, Grey. Sophie’s with her.

“Ladies, you look lovely,” I say, trying to behave myself and wanting to tell my wife that I’m going to have my hand in that split all fucking night.

“Thanks, Uncle Christian.” Uncle Christian. When did that happen? Hmmm. Oh, well. I did call her my honorary niece. I guess it’s not too weird to be Uncle Christian. I step between them and present an elbow to each of them.

“Shall we?”

My ladies smile and each take an arm as I escort them to their chariot.

*-*

Getting to the door of the Paramount Theater is impossible. The streets are blocked and you can’t get past the Paparazzi to get to the cleared portion of the road to get where you’re supposed to enter. At this rate, Mia won’t have any guests at her wedding.

“This is ridiculous,” Butterfly says. “They can’t block the only entrance to the only street that we can get through.”

“They can and they have,” I tell her. Mia’s wedding is set to start in about an hour and all of her guest are outside on the perimeter. I’m thinking fast. They’re not playing fair and now, neither am I.

“Jason, I need every member of GEH security out here in twenty minutes.” His eyes grow large.

“Every member?” he says.

“Everybody you can get here in twenty minutes.” Jason makes one call and I get a little perturbed at first, but I realize that he must know what he’s doing. In ten minutes, black suits begin to surround my car. Jason gets out and I see my wife and Sophie getting a little nervous. Five minutes later, my phone rings. It’s Jason.

“Yes?”

“I’ve got 35 and more on the way.” Well, damn. I end the call and get out of the car. When I look back, there is a sea of black suits behind me. Fucking hell. They’re my men and I’m intimidated.

“Who has cameras?” I ask. Starting from the front, they each start raising their hands moving all the way to the back.

“Start recording and follow me.” I say and make my way to the front line where the Paps are blocking the cars from getting through.

“Jason, either you go or send somebody back to the car with my wife,” I say. He nods and gets on the phone.

“Chuck’s back in the car,” he says. I nod.

“Bring three and come with me.”

Jason, three other guards and I walk into the very front of the crowd of Paps while pictures flash and cameras are rolling from both sides.

“Once again, my security has cameras trained on this event and the fact that you are blocking private property and my sister’s guests cannot get to her wedding. That’s a problem that I and the fifty plus and counting trained men behind me can rectify and I am willing to fight lawsuits to do so. Are you willing to risk injuries, broken bones, disfigurement, and destroyed equipment to stop me?”

These bravado motherfuckers don’t think I’m serious, so I give a signal for security to move in and start pushing these fuckers back. Now, I realize that there’s a lot of money in getting the right shot for the Paparazzi, but I can’t help but wonder what goes through one’s mind when they see a wall of about 50 black suits coming at them—thick and big enough to block out the sun and not one of them is less that 1.9 meters tall. Yeah, needless to say, these “they-better-not-touch-me” assholes started backing the fuck up. Several members of my security staff had to form walls from one road block to the parking lot and valets just so that cars could get through while other members just had to direct traffic. I swear to God, I had no idea that people could be this disrespectful and inconsiderate. Some of the vendors couldn’t even get in… which may have been a blessing in disguise.

I’m outside for a full half hour just waiting to see if most of the guests are at least going to be able to get inside the venue. When I see that things are moving as smoothly as they can without my assistance, I go in search of my wife.

As expected, the marquee outside announces the wedding of Mia Grey and Ethan Kavanaugh. Come one, come all—big, extravagant, over-the-top, crazy event happening here! No wonder the Paparazzi had the only opening to the venue locked up tight!

When I enter the lobby, it almost looks like the staging area for the Oscars, minus the giant gold statues—opulent seating areas and wall dressings, the crème de la crème dressed in their designer best mulling about and conversing in clusters. Pictures are being taken everywhere! There are booths set up for what appear to be souvenir shots and what look like publicity photographers. I almost expect Jimmy Kimmel or Billy Crystal to pop out any second, or someone from E! asking everyone “Who are you wearing?”

Mia has employed her own security for the event and they’re everywhere as well. I wonder why these assholes weren’t outside helping the guest get inside? Fucking amateurs.

The lobby doors open to the huge main venue and when I get inside of the theater, I swear I’ve walked into another dimension. The walls are completely carpeted with flowers and the theater chairs have been removed, transforming the entire main floor into an ethereal garden-like ballroom. The space is reception ready, decked out in Mia’s colors of wine and slate gray, with strategic uses of shades of white to offset the darker colors. A wine-colored, red-carpet aisle stretches down the middle of the room where the wedding party and guests can enter, leading to a dramatic yet elegant arch in the front of the theater, where the wedding will take place. The stage is set for a band and entertainment, and there are several large movie screens high on the walls, currently displaying slideshows of Mia and Ethan at different stages of their relationship.

Mia and Ethan

Ethan and Mia

The décor is still a bit over the top. There are luxury media stations situated all over the place. Uncertain of their intended purpose, I investigate and discover that they have many functions including but not limited to menu selection, printing pictures, and finding your seat—which is how I find my wife. After locating my place in this huge mass of craziness, I weave through the crowd taking in the splendor—for lack of a better word—of everything I couldn’t possibly describe in a million years.

There’s a large tree in the middle of the room just off to the side of the aisle, draped with thousands of crystals and ribbons.

I feel sorry for anyone with allergies, because between the crazy centerpieces adorning the tables and hanging from the ceiling in some cases, not to mention the floral-carpeted walls, I won’t even begin to guess how many flowers are in this room.

I could be crazy, but I’m probably not… but I think I see small cannons in the floor. Why there would be cannons in the floor, I have no idea. They can’t shoot off fireworks indoors, though I wouldn’t put it past Mia, or Mom during her moments of “looney.”

I’m counting at least four displays hidden behind curtains that will, no doubt, be revealed later. I can only imagine what awaits us behind these swags.

The bridal table is nowhere to be found, and these four displays are way to small to conceal something like that. That big reveal has me frightened.

Mulling around among the guests are waitstaff in costumes. One of them is obviously Marilyn Monroe. Another could be Michael Jackson, but I’m not entirely sure. A third might be… Morticia Addams?

What theme is this?

  I won’t even begin to figure out the oddly placed floating votive candles with colored pearls or beads in the water.

I finally spot my wife pondering the surroundings with Sophie, Luma, Mariah, and Celida.

“I wonder where the pink flamingos were supposed to fit in all of this,” I say when I take my seat next to my wife. She scans her eyes around the room and shakes her head.

“I have no idea,” she admits. “Were they supposed to be in a pen somewhere or roam freely among the guests? And belly dancers?” she questions. “Where in the hell would belly dancers fit in this situation? Why?” She shrugs.

“Remember, she wasn’t herself,” Luma reminds us. “And this isn’t all of it. Mia stopped a lot of it.”

“Have you seen this?” Elliot and Valerie join us at the table with magazines in their hands. When they hand one to me, I realize that it’s not a magazine. It’s Mia and Ethan’s wedding program. It just looks like a magazine, glossy cover and all.

“Are your serious?” Butterfly says, taking the book from Valerie’s hand and beginning to thumb through it. “Wow, I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s like the 25th anniversary edition of People Magazine.”

“No kidding,” I say, thumbing through what appear to be advertisements, yet another history of Mia and Ethan’s life, more instructions on the stuff you can get from the media centers, and a play-by-play of the evening beginning with “guests enter” and ending with “reception ends.” I’m at a total loss for words.

“This is way over the top,” Elliot says. “This is the toned-down version of the reception? I got a sneak peak of the wedding favors. Do you know what the hell they are?” I frown.

“What?”

“Inscribed, gold boxes. I don’t know what’s in them.” My eyes widen.

Real gold?” I ask. He nods.

“Real gold. Party favors, man. Dad’s going to be paying for this shit until he’s dead.” I shake my head. I’m going to ask my father if he needs some help footing this bill. There’s no way he can pay for all this shit. I know my dad is loaded, but this is crazy even for me.

“I know what you’re thinking, man,” Elliot interrupts my thoughts. “He’s not going to accept it.”

“This is ridiculous,” I tell my brother. “There’s no fucking way he can foot all this. He’s probably hocked up to his fucking eyeballs. I’m going to find out.”

“Well, good luck with that, because here they come.”

I look over my shoulder and spot my mother first, a vision in a stunning wine gown that I know had to be custom made for this event. Elliot and I stand to greet our mother.

“Mom,” I say, taking her hands and kissing her cheek, “you look breathtaking.”

“Thank you, Christian,” she says, her smile bright and sincere. Elliot leans in and kisses her.

“You really look beautiful, Mom,” he says.

“Thank you, son. I don’t know what to do with all these compliments,” she gushes. Dad pulls her chair out and she takes her seat.

“They’re right. You’re gorgeous,” Butterfly says. “I feel a bit underdressed.”

“Nonsense,” Mom waves her off. “You look adorable. It’s perfect. I’m the mother of the bride. I’m supposed to look like the opening act.” She and Butterfly laugh lightheartedly. “Really, though, I had it made during that time, so…” She trails off and waves her hand flippantly when she says “that time” in an attempt to explain the extravagance of the dress.

“Well, you look absolutely stunning,” Valerie says, “and I’ll try not to look like a troll in your presence.”

“You kids,” Mom laughs. “Thank you all very much.” She looks around the room. “Mia did a good job toning things down, but there’s still quite a bit going on.”

Yikes, she admits it! So, I’m not crazy.

“It’ll be fine, dear,” Dad says, taking Mom’s hand. We all engage in conversation about the venue and wild decorations when a frantic little woman comes skittering up to my mother.

“I’m sorry I don’t mean to bring you problems right now but we’ve got a problem,” she says all in one breath while frantically clapping the tips of her fingers together repeatedly.

“The wedding is beginning in fifteen minutes. We can’t have a problem!” Mom snaps at her. It only takes a moment to figure out that this is the wedding planner.

“Well, we do! The soloist for the march song isn’t here!” Mom turns in her seat.

“What do you mean she’s not here?” Mom squeaks. Dad takes her hand again.

“She couldn’t get past the blockade, so she left!” Mom’s eyes widen.

“She’s been paid!” Mom shoots. “All these people could get past the blockade and she couldn’t? Where the hell is she?” Mom’s getting pissed.

“On a plane back to California!” the planner says. “I’ve called in every favor I can. I can’t find a replacement on this short notice.”

“Shit! Shit! Shit!” Mom hisses. “Can’t the guy sing the song by himself?” The planner sighs.

“I’m sure he could, but it won’t have the same effect,” she says, her voice defeated. “Mia wanted the image of her and Ethan singing to each other.”

“I am going to ruin this woman,” Mom growls under her voice. The planner looks panicked again, then her eyes fall on Butterfly.

“You!” She points at my wife. “I saw you on the internet! You can sing!”

“What?” my wife exclaims. “Me?”

“Yes, you! I saw you! I heard you! Do you know ‘To Have and To Hold?’” Butterfly is stunned.

“Well… yeah, but, that was karaoke! I can’t sing professionally!” she protests.

“You’ll have to do! Come with me! You’ve got fifteen minutes to practice.” Butterfly is terrified.

“I can’t!” she squeals her protest. “Mia will hate me forever if I destroy her song.”

“Mia will die a thousand deaths if she doesn’t get her song!” the planner exclaims. My mother looks at Butterfly and clasps her hands together, begging.

“Please please please please please please please…” That’s it. Umgawa… come, wife. I stand up and take my wife’s hand.

“Come on, baby, you can do it,” I say, not giving her any more opportunity to protest. We don’t have any time to waste. “You sounded like an angel last night and I’m not just saying that because I love you. Pretend like you’re singing to me.” I pull her along behind me as we follow the wedding planner and I hear her sighing behind me. We get backstage to where the band is and she makes quick introductions of the band, the male singer, and my wife… not me.

Hmpf.

The singer smiles widely and comes over to my wife, closing his hand over hers and telling her not to be nervous. The band runs through the instrumental of the song and the male vocals so that Butterfly can hear where she’s supposed to come in. I know this song pretty well. It’s by Christian Baustista. It’s one of the songs I thought about for our wedding. The words are pretty, I just thought they were too generic. I remember them, though.

Partner, companion, lover and friend
Keeper of all things I hold dear
I see you before me and my heart is filled with joy
For everything that has brought me here
And I have tomorrow to look forward to
For God has given me you…

And suddenly, I’m not real comfortable with the way this fucker is looking at my wife singing these words.

“You sing that better than Madge,” he says to my wife in a tone that I really don’t like.

“Thank you,” she says, and she glances at me. I can tell that she’s uncomfortable.

“You sound good, but you look like you’re gonna fall off the stage,” the planner comments. “You need to loosen up.”

“Maybe if I hold your hand,” the guy suggests, and reaches for my wife. That’s it. I walk towards my wife and her eye is on me the moment I move in her direction. She looks as if she almost wants to leap off the stage. I can see it in her eyes, but I’m on her before she can move.

“Give me the mic.” I hold my hand out to the guy and he doesn’t move. I turn a menacing look to him.

“You want her to loosen up, give me the mic, Skippy.” He begrudgingly hands me the mic and I turn to the band.

“Hit it.” They begin the soft lilting chords of the song and I look into my wife’s eyes as she starts to sing…

“This very moment right here and now begins the journey of my dreams…”

She relaxes into the song and the word come easily and smoothly. She sounds like the angel at karaoke that sang that Whitney Houston song last night. When Skippy’s part comes, I don’t give him the chance to intercede. I just start singing…

“Partner, companion, lover and friend, keeper of all things I hold dear…”

I know how I sound. I don’t sing often, but you can’t play a musical instrument without being able to hold a tune.

Our voices together sound celestial and when we harmonize, it’s like we’ve been practicing for years. Our chemistry is hot enough to burn the damn room down. When we’ve finished, the room falls silent and no one can speak.

“You two,” the planner says, breaking the silence. “Get out there. You’re singing that song.” I turn to my wife, who’s now smiling coyly at me.

“We’re up,” I say softly, rubbing my nose on hers.

“Wait a minute,” Songboy protests. “I’m the vocalist here. I can still do my job.”

“Yeah, but we need her and he makes her relax, so we need him,” the planner says.

“I can make her relax,” Songboy says. “You just didn’t give me a chance.” She looks at him like he has two heads.

“Are you missing something here?” she says, pointing between me and Butterfly. Songboy looks at me, then Butterfly, then the planner.

“What?” he says, perturbed. Butterfly leans around me and shows him her left hand and the obscene diamond and platinum rings on her fingers. Once he gets a good look, I flash the art deco ring on mine. He twists his lips as if our marriage is nothing more than an inconvenience to him. You better step back, junior.

“Well, you said Madge wasn’t getting paid for not singing. I’m getting paid,” he protests. “He’s not blockin’ my money.”

“Nobody’s blocking your money. You’re just not singing with my wife!” I hiss. “Fucking pussy,” I add, under my breath.

“If I was such a fucking pussy, you wouldn’t be worried about me singing with your wife!” he retorts. I whirl around on him.

“Are you trying to get fired and get your ass kicked?” I challenge.

“Make your move, Money,” he taunts. Oh, Mr. Melody is feeling lucky. I remove my jacket and hand it to the first set of hands near me, which happens to be my wife. Suddenly, the songster’s eyes widen and he starts to back up. People don’t seem to realize that under these tailored suits, I’m a thick motherfucker.

“You were saying, Tweety?” I ask, closing the space between us. I’ll leave you an ink blot on the fucking floor.

“Naw, n-nothin’, man, we cool,” he stutters, his hands up in a defensive position as if to push me away. I feel my wife’s hand on my arm, and the calming effect is instantaneous.

“Christian, come on, let’s go. The wedding’s starting any minute. We don’t have time for this.” I glare at Songboy and back away, reaching for my jacket and taking a few deep breaths.

“You ready to do this, baby?” I ask, stroking her cheek. She takes a few deep breaths of her own.

“I’m ready.”


ANASTASIA

Ethan's face when he see's Mia

Ethan’s face when he sees his bride

I don’t know who created streak-free mascara, but they made a mint today. There isn’t a dry eye in the building as Christian and I sing that song. Mia’s dramatic entrance from behind large drawn wine-colored velvet drapes was even more dramatic when she actually removes her veil at the top of the aisle to make sure that her eyes aren’t playing tricks on her, after which she cries the entire trek down the aisle when she realizes that her brother and sister-in-law are serenading her entrance. Ethan is stunned by his bride’s beauty, but is also amazed along with the bridesmaids who are all stunned into a very unattractive, drooling, hungry stupor as no one expected to see Christian on stage with a microphone. This will be one for the record books, but apparently Eric was getting a little to comfortable in rehearsal and I was already nervous about fucking up the song without his flirtatious overtures.

“You sing that better than Marge…”
“Maybe if I hold your hand…”

Geez, can you be more transparent? And how the hell did he and the rest of the band get through the roadblock and this bitch that was supposed to be singing with him didn’t get through? I’m with Grace, I want her ass on a platter.

After Mia’s tearful entrance, Christian and I hastily make our way off the stage to get to our seats to see the rest of the wedding. Grace never stops crying. I don’t know if it’s the menopause or the song or the wedding or what, but she weeps the whole time.

Even though the decorations are insane and I’m sure that there are many other extravagant surprises in store for us, the ceremony is traditional and beautiful… but that’s where the traditional ends. As it turns out, I’m glad that I didn’t bring my children to the wedding because they would have been traumatized by the kiss. Once the minister announces that Mia and Ethan are husband and wife and that he can salute his bride, Ethan takes the lovely Mia into his arms and kisses her passionately, after which several explosions ensue and the wedding guests are showered with thousands and thousands of white rose petals. I can only assume that they were shot from some kind of mechanisms in the floor. However, they were ignited with no warning. So, instead of being enchanted by the fairytale aura of raining rose petals, the room was full of screaming women all wondering what the hell is going on for the first few seconds until we realize, “Oh… flower cannons.”

I can just envision my poor inconsolable babies right now, jerking in terror and then screaming, staring at me like, “What the fuck, Mom?”

Another reason we had to get the hell off the stage so quickly is because it somehow or another dismantles itself so that Mia’s table can emerge. Ask me how, I don’t know, but, yeah… during the receiving line from hell, the archway is scooted away, the stage extends out into the room somehow and Mia’s table “appears.” Flowers, flowers, and more flowers—a floral centerpiece the length of the table that dangles from the ceiling with floating votives in globes hanging from the flowers. I noted the random floating votives throughout the reception, an homage to Mia’s conversation with Pops before he died.

“Nix the candle stands. I like the floating votives better. And the stones on the bottom should be gray—not iridescent. The iridescent stones look like dollar store dressing!”

She chose various colors—pearls, gray, rose, red, white, flowers, or nothing at all… but no iridescent.

 

Ethan and his groomsmen all wear classic, no-button formal length tuxedos, with wine-colored vests and ties while Mia’s innumerable bridesmaids—well, I’m certain they picked their own wardrobes. Their dresses look more like Jessica Rabbit than Mia’s does. They’re sharp as hell… deep wine, off the shoulder, lace illusion necklines with push-up breasts, lace-sleeves, empire-waist, mermaid-cut, floral lace trains, and vamp make-up—smoky eyes with silver shadow and deep wine lipstick with sparkles. These dresses had to cost a fortune. Someone should have told them that you don’t outshine the bride…

 

 

 

Not that they could.

Mia’s dress is a totally hand-sewn Haute couture one-of-a-kind masterpiece in Egyptian silk, exquisite beading, appliques, and Swarovski crystals; dark African mesh around the deep and plunging sweetheart neckline attached to a dramatic jeweled, choker collar and cutout back outlined in pearls and crystals. Delicate and intricate floral appliques are handstitched over the dress from the bodice to the knee, silver filigree complimenting many of the flowers in the mermaid-cut gown with its modest three-foot train. I can see little old ladies with needles sitting on the floor and ottomans surrounding this creation sewing flowers for weeks. No machine in the world could master stitchery this intricate and delicate without damaging the stones or the beading.

I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if that dress went into seven or eight figures.

I’ve spoken to a guest here or there, but when I make my way back to my seat, Sophie looks as if she’s tasted something bad. Dinner hasn’t been served yet, so I know that couldn’t be it. I lean down to her.

“Soph? You okay?” I ask.

“I’m fine,” she says, flatly, her eyes trained on her plate and her arms folded. I put my hand on the back of her chair.

“You’re clearly not fine,” I say. “Talk to me. You don’t look so good.” Her eyes quickly flash up, then back down and again, and I see the object of her affection… and dismay. Two tables over and down a bit is Marlow, and he has brought a date with him. Christian has his attention right now and the poor, awestruck girl at his side is drooling over my husband at the moment, but Sophie is so upset right now that you could fry an egg on her head! She focuses her gaze everywhere but on Marlow and I can’t let on that I know about her crush because she hasn’t confided that part in me yet, but I can’t just let her sit here like this. Just when I’m trying to figure out how to get her out of her funk…

“Sophie, come take a picture with us!”

Maggie, Mariah, and Celida all come barreling over to the table to retrieve Sophie, totally unaware of her inner turmoil over her crush. Without paying any attention to the expression on her face, they drag her from her chair and off to parts unknown to take the picture of which they speak. She doesn’t look left or right. She just mindlessly follows as the girls lead her away.

This is going to become a problem.

“Hey, beautiful,” my husband says, sneaking up behind me.

“Hey, yourself. When are they going to start serving some food in this joint?” I ask.

“Once they’re done with the pictures, I suspect,” he says, taking his seat next to me.

“Well, I’m famished and I’m ready to eat. I didn’t know I was going to have to sing for my dinner,” I jest. He chuckles.

“Neither did I, but you did well.”

“As did you,” I say, gently stroking his chin.

“Oh, geez, get a room,” Elliot says as he and Val make their way back to the table with Grace, Carrick, Luma, and Herman.

“I’d much rather get a plate,” I say, leaning back into my husband’s chest.

“I’ve put the word into the planner’s ear to try to wrap up the important photos before dinner gets cold,” Grace says. No sooner the words are out of her mouth is the announcement made that dinner is about to be served and everyone should take their seats.

“Thank God,” I declare, straightening in my chair. A few moments later, the guests from our table all return, including a very sullen Sophie. After a short “welcome and thank you” speech from Ethan, the first course is served. I tear into my salad like a starving man. I have no idea why I’m so hungry… oh, wait, yes, I do. I slept all morning due to a hangover and only ate crudités in the early afternoon. I haven’t had any real food all day and the first thing they bring me is salad. Bring on the meat, man!

“Settle down, killer,” my husband jests.

“The butterflies have vacated and this stomach needs sustenance, now!” I tell him. He laughs.

“Pun intended,” he teases. Butterflies. Ha, ha.

“Very funny. Make them bring me food before I gnaw my arm off,” I threaten.

The wait staff clear away our salad dishes and pepper our table with dishes of nearly every variety. Our food is nearly as diverse as the people serving it. I pay closer attention to our servers and realize that they’re not just in costume. There’s a theme.

Antony and Cleopatra…

Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy… There’s controversy for you.

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton…

Sonny and Cher…

Baby and Johnny from Dirty Dancing…

Sandy and Danny from Grease…

Gomez and Morticia from The Addams Family…

And there are several more, but all our servers are dressed as famous couples. That’s pretty neat. I’m still stuck in the novelty of the concept when a small voice next to me makes a very adult request.

“Excuse me, but, please take this back. This is not what I requested.”

I turn to the young voice next to me and Marilyn is looking at Sophie like she’s has no idea what she’s talking about.

“I beg your pardon?” she says in her practiced Marilyn voice.

“This is not what I ordered,” Sophie repeats. “I ordered coq au vin. Can you please take this back and bring me coq au vin?” She’s holding the plate out to the server as if it’s offensive and Marilyn is eying it like she has no intention of taking it back.

“That is coq au vin,” she purrs, and she sounds as if she wants to add “Little girl.”

“No.” Sophie hands the plate to the blonde-wig-wearing server who doesn’t want to take it, forcing her to relieve Sophie of the plate. “That’s duck confit.” She walks over to Elliot and points just over his shoulder, careful not to come near his plate. “That’s coq au vin.”

Marilyn looks at the entrée in the plate in her hand, then at the entrée on Elliot’s plate, then at Elliot. He nods.

“She’s right. I asked for coq au vin,” he confirms.

“I’m sorry,” Marilyn purrs. “I’ll be right back.”

“Thank you,” Sophie says with no malice as the server goes to correct her mistake.

“How did you know you had the wrong dish?” Elliot asks Sophie. “I wouldn’t have known just by looking at it.” Sophie raises her brow then shrugs slowly.

“I… like food,” she says. “I watch cooking shows.”

“But you know food like duck confit?” Grace asks amazed. “That’s impressive.”

“Do you know all these dishes?” Luma asks. Sophie’s face lights up slightly and suddenly, there’s no more shadow of her disappointing crush.

“Um, I think so. Ms. Grace has fennel salad; Mr. Carrick, filet mignon. Mr. Herman has the lobster and mash and Ms. Luma has the broiled salmon. The girls all have the barbeque chicken and macaroni and cheese. Aunt Ana has the lamb with mint sauce, Uncle Christian, the lobster. Aunt Val has the blackened catfish and Uncle Elliot the coq au vin.”

Everyone is looking around the table at each other’s plates and asking what each of us is eating.

“Did she get it right?” Carrick asks, and so far, everyone nods. Sophie smiles coyly. “Very impressive, Sophie,” Carrick praises her. “Do you have an interest in cooking?”

“I didn’t at first,” she says. “I just liked watching the food channels. Then, I was watching them with my mom and we would try some of the stuff, and it was kind of fun…” Marilyn comes back to the table with a fresh steaming hot plate of coq au vin and set it in front of Sophie, apologizing for her mistake. Sophie smiles and nods as Marilyn leaves.

“Now,” Sophie continues, placing her napkin in her lap, “I just watch them because I like them and I want to try to cook some of the dishes I see. Plus, I like seeing how the dishes turn out and where they come from. I hadn’t thought about cooking, but I know so much about it that now, I probably will.”

The table engages Sophie in a conversation about food for quite some time as we enjoy a meal, quite frankly, fit for royalty. We clean our plates and thoroughly enjoy being enthralled in food conversation with a 13-year-old girl who knows more about wine parings than I do. Once the evening wears on to more food courses and dessert courses, drinks and music, the table starts to thin a bit and couples begin to pair, bringing Sophie’s attention back to her original ire.

It doesn’t help that her ire brings his date over to our table to introduce us.

“Hey, everybody, this is Maya. Maya, this is… everybody.”

I extend my hand and introduce myself and Maya smiles at me. Sophie stiffens next to me. Maya’s pretty—petite, and round… very round in all the right places. I don’t want to be the one to tell her that she’s wearing a dress that’s not very flattering on her. It’s an A-line dress with an empire waist. The problem is that she’s short and the dress is dating her. Not only is the cut wrong, but the color is wrong. It’s like gray, green, and mauve all mixed together and I have no idea who came up with this design. It makes her look old and instead of looking elegant and flowy, it makes her look frumpy.

Sophie twists her lips and turns away, but Maya zeros in on her. It’s almost like she can smell it—the possible competition that’s not even there because Marlow doesn’t even know that Sophie feels this way about him.

“Hi,” she extends her hand to Sophie. “You are?”

“Sophia,” Sophie says, taking her hand. Maya smiles.

“That’s a cute dress. My kid sister has one just like that. I think hers is pink, though.”

And there’s first blood.

“It does come in different colors,” Sophie says coolly while slowly withdrawing her hand. “I have teal and purple. Speaking of which, I’ve seen your dress before, too. Fashion week. 2012.”

Shots fired.

“The original was shorter, though,” Sophie continues, “or I think the model was just taller… and skinnier. And the color was definitely different. More vibrant, I think.” Maya’s lips tighten for a moment, then curl in a smile.

“Well,” she says, “I guess I’ll just have to… take it off, then.” She raises her eyebrows suggestively at Sophie before turning to Marlow. “I need the ladies room, babe. I’ll be right back.” She leaves without excusing herself.

Game.
Set.
Match.
Against a 13-year-old girl. Nice going, Maya.

“Uugh,” Sophie grunts and grimaces, placing her hands over her stomach.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“My stomach feels yucky,” she says, frowning. “I probably should have stuck with the duck.” No, Love, that’s the angry flip flops when the guy you have feelings for doesn’t feel the same way about you and the girl that he’s probably fucking just ran you over like a freight train. “I’m going to call my dad and see if one of the guys can take me home.” She rises from her chair and starts walking towards the door.

“I’ll take you home, Soph,” Marlow says. Sophie momentarily throws a seething look at him, which quickly softens.

“No,” she says. “I wouldn’t want to put you out, especially after your date went through all that trouble securing that dress.” Without another word, she turns around and walks out of the reception, and I have to move swiftly so that the blazing arrow that just went flying in Marlow’s direction doesn’t hit me.

“Did she just throw a shot at your date?” Christian asks, bemused. Marlow’s brow furrows.

“I think she did,” he replies. “What was that all about?” Seriously? Did you two miss the entire heavyweight fight that just took place in front of you when Maya wiped her feet on Sophie’s face then escaped to the bathroom to clean the blood off her shoes?

“Temperamental teenager,” I say, rolling my eyes and waving it off in an attempt to divert the conversation. “Who knows? It could be that time of the month.”

“TMI, Ana,” Marlow says. I turn my gaze to him.

“Um, don’t you date?”

“Yeah, but that part has nothing to do with me.” What the…? I hear Christian groan next to me.

“Well, you had better make it have something to do with you, young man, because unless something’s wrong with her insides, every woman you date is going to have that time of the month. And if you so callously shut it down like it has nothing to do with you, you’re going to find yourself awfully lonely on many a Saturday night, whether Aunt Flo is visiting or not!”

I stand, turn on my heels and march away from this young whippersnapper before I really give him a piece of my mind. How dare him just dismiss a woman’s period like it’s some kind of inconvenience and he just has to wait until it passes. I mean, I know most little bonehead boys who are just now figuring out what the heads of their dicks even look like feel that way, but don’t say that shit around me.

I go in search of Sophie, but she must have already found Jason, because she’s nowhere in sight. To be certain, I text him to see if she’s touched bases with him and he confirms that one of the staff has already taken her home as she looked a little green in the face.

Yeah, green with envy.


A/N: Part I of the wedding is complete. On to part II! 

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be foundat https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 34—Girls and Boys

Chapter 34—Girls and Boys

ANASTASIA

I come into the office the following Monday morning prepared to move on to the dorms and show Liam around the residential facilities and the services that we provide for temporary residents when…

“Change of plans,” he says, his expression apologetic. “I need to see the Center’s financials for the last three years.”

“Three years?” I exclaim. “What does our financials for the last three years have to do with us wanting to be accredited now?”

“To make sure the Center has shown consistent sustainability and isn’t only looking for accreditation in order to be able to secure federal funds,” he says.

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I demand. “The Center’s director is independently wealthy! The assistant director is a billionairess! If this was about money, we would infuse our own funds! How could this possibly be relevant?”

“I have no idea,” Liam admits, “but these were the new directives I was handed this morning—determine if the Center is self-sustaining and can raise enough capital to function without federal funding.”

“She knows we’re not!” I admit. “She knows that every year we have to beg businessmen and community leaders for donations just to stay afloat! She was a part of this organization as a volunteer for years! She’s well aware of this!” Liam frowns.

“But… the new desks and the remodeling you spoke of… where did the funding come from for that?” he asks.

“We had a very large donation last year—$20 million. It allowed for a lot of much-needed repairs and the hiring of very necessary staff. It was that donation that made us realize that there was so much more that we could offer the community. Then, there was a second influx of cash when the PSA went live last year and a third when…” I trail off.

“When what?” he asks. I swallow hard.

“When I had the accident.” He frowns.

“What accident?” Imagine that—somebody in the State of Washington, the city of Seattle no less, who doesn’t know what happened to me. I sigh heavily. It’s not like he can’t fucking Google me and find out what happened.

“An ex-lover of my husband T-boned my car—hard. We don’t know if she was aiming for me or she thought she was getting Christian. We’ll never know; she died shortly thereafter as a result of  injuries she sustained in the accident. I was in a coma for nearly two weeks; my bodyguard also sustained major injuries. I was pregnant with my twins at the time. The day before the accident, I was shopping at a small baby boutique for a gift for a friend who had just had her own baby and I was mobbed by the Paparazzi as I was leaving. I took the opportunity to promote Helping Hands. In fact, I’ve done several appearances on local television and radio shows where I’ve done the same thing. Anyway, when word got out that I was fighting for my life, donations started pouring into the Center. It was a blessing born from tragedy, but as much as it was, it’s not an unending till of money. We’ll have to seek donations from other sources and, yes, federal funding will be one of those. She already knows that! So, what does that mean?” He scratches his cheek.

“If the board can prove that your only reason for seeking accreditation is to secure federal funding, they can delay your license for up to a year.” I throw up my hands.

“And you still don’t think this is personal?” I retort. “You’ve seen what we do! You’ve seen the plans. We’re just waiting for the correct licenses to proceed. We didn’t have the money before, and although we have the money now, there’s no guarantee that we’ll have the money later! All charities function this way—they have to raise the money…”

“Yes, but charities usually have some money in reserve in case of emergency. Schools even more so or they would all close down at the beginning of each school year.” I sigh heavily and drop my head.

“Unless you’re full of bias, I know that the report that you turned in on Friday was stellar. I know that you couldn’t find a problem if you looked for one. She read that report; she saw it, too. She knows more of the same is going to come in the next two weeks. She won’t have a reason to hold us up, so she has to find one and she’s using you to do it! You need to ask her what the hell she’s looking for and what are her intentions with these ridiculous stalling tactics and you would find that she’s dirty!

“I did,” he says, to my surprise. “That’s why I’m late this morning.” I put my hands on my hips.

“And?” I ask, expecting.

“She gave me nothing,” he says. “She even chastised me for questioning my superiors, so I know something’s going on now.”

“And you’re going to proceed with this, knowing what you know now?”

“I don’t have a choice,” he says. “I’m an inspector. That’s my job. That’s what I have to do. Your only hope is to give her what she needs and show her increased or steady sustainability so that she can leave you alone.”

“She knows that for the first year and a half that she’s asking for, the Center was barely making it. I was walking around here personally cleaning offices when we met—something that she was too good to do—because Grace couldn’t even afford to monitor the cleaning staff to make sure that they were doing their jobs. Hell, Grace and I have been donating our meager salaries back to the Center ever since we’ve worked here…”

“You have?” he asks, surprised.

“Yes, we have!” I exclaim. “I’m married to one of the richest men in the free world. Before we were married, I had a thriving mental health practice and Grace is married a very successful attorney and is one of the most sought-after pediatricians in the greater Seattle area! We have money—what do we need with the money from the Center that could be put to better use in the Center?

“Why take a salary at all if you’re just going to donate it back?” he asks.

“To appropriately account for the expenses of the Center,” I tell him. “If one of us falls ill tomorrow and can’t continue our job duties, there would have to be accountability for the funds dispersed for a new director or assistant director, although you would be hard pressed to find anybody with the experience needed to run this place on the piddling amounts that we list and are paid as our salaries.” He scratches his cheek again. That’s his tell—he’s about to say something that I don’t want to hear.

“I need you to show me, Ana,” he says. “I need to see the financials.” I march, angry and indignant off towards Grace’s office, calling her while I’m walking.

“Ana?” she answers bemused.

“Oh, you’re not going to believe this…”

*-*

Once I explain to Grace the ridiculousness of what’s going on now, I hand Liam the financials and walk away. I’ve completely had enough of this charade and I won’t sit by while he has to tear apart why we bought felt-tipped pens instead of ball point.

Knowing that Sophie’s lunch is at 11:00, I stop by the deli and get the kabobs I introduced her to that we both love so much, then dial her number.

Hey,” she answers.

“Hey, where are you?”

“In school?” she says, with that teenage obvious tone.

“Duh!” I respond with the same sarcasm. “Where in school?’

“The cafeteria.”

“It’s a nice day. Come out to the courtyard. I’ll meet you there.” There’s silence.

“Okay… it begins,” she laughs.

A few minutes later, Sophie and I are having kabobs, hummus and pita bread, and sodas under the watchful eye of several teens and tweens. Halfway through our lunch and my rant about the “dork” combing through our records at the Center, two harpies that I can only label as “mean girls” stroll past our table.

“Lunch with mom,” one of them teases. “Cool points there.” Her friends laugh. I scoff.

“You don’t keep up much, do you?” I say. “I’m not her mother. I’m Ana Grey.”

The one that made the comment has no idea what that means. The other two are now gawking in realization.

“That’s not the real Ana Grey!” some girl barks from the next table. I look over at her and she sneers at me. I turn and lean in to Sophie.

“I have imposters?” I ask, mocking concern. Sophie shrugs dramatically.

“If you’re the real Ana Grey. Where’s Chuck?” the same girl hisses. I look at her and slowly point over my shoulder to the Audi where I know Chuck is standing. About seven surrounding heads turn to where I’m pointing and spot Chuck, and now, the whispers begin.

“Oh, my God,” someone else giggles. “The new girl hired Ana Grey so she could look popular.” I gasp. I’m highly offended.

“Hired Ana Grey!” I repeat, a little louder than I intended before turning around to face the little wretch that said that. “Hired Ana Grey!” I repeat appalled, as I make eye-contact with the only person whose face has flushed stark white, so I know who said it. “I could buy this school and most likely the house you live in, and you suggest that I need to be hired to have lunch with a friend? You better Google me, little girl!”

Did I just say that?

“C’mon Soph, let’s finish our lunch somewhere else before I say something that’ll get me sued!” I roll my eyes at the little cow.

“Vale… you offended Anastasia Grey!” her friend says in amazement. “You’re crazy!” I’m packing our food, acting more offended than I really am.

“Geez, thanks.” Sophie says to Vale, playing right into my game, gathering her things as well.

“I’m… I’m sorry. It was a dumb thing to say,” the girl whimpers. I put my hands up, disgusted.

“Whatever,” I say in a dismissive tone and begin to march away from the table. Sophie falls in step behind me. She catches up and when we’re a safe distance away, we stifle the laughter in our throats.

“She’s going to be kissing your ass for the rest of the school year,” I say in a muffled voice.

“I know, right?” Sophie confirms inconspicuously. We find a patch of grass and finish our lunch. I advise her how to play out the rest of the afternoon, all bruised and offended that Vale treated me that way, and slightly embarrassed that I came to have lunch with her and her schoolmates acted that way. I’ll probably make some gossip column for coming to Sophie’s school, but I don’t care, as long as they don’t lie on me and spell my name right. I give her a hug and a kiss as I get in my Audi. To drive home the camaraderie, she and Chuck have some kind of secret fist-bump-handshake that they perform in front of everyone before he gives her a hug and we head back to the Center.

I’m in no hurry to see Mr. Westwick or to hear about his progress. Instead, I talk to Courtney about her upcoming classes next week and ask if she needs anything for the condo. She surprises me by responding that she’ll be at Mia’s wedding—that Vickie accepted the extended invitation and told Mia that Courtney would be her “plus one” and Mia was okay with it. To say that I’m shocked is an understatement.

I’m dreading the weekend, quite frankly, not only because of the circus that’s going to be the weekend, but also because my sister and friend Valerie will also be leaving for her long-awaited honeymoon once Mia and Ethan have gotten safely down the aisle. She’ll be gone for an entire month on a Caribbean cruise. I’m a little jealous, but more anxious that we’ll be separated for a month. I wonder if she felt this way when I went to Greece?

Sophie tells me all about the royal treatment she received from Vale once she got back from lunch. She didn’t feel so much like an outsider, but she’s still scrutinizing about who she’ll allow in her inner circle. That’s what I was aiming for. I don’t want her to let everybody in, but I want her to know that she has the option to let somebody in.

I’m very standoffish from Liam all day Tuesday. By Wednesday, he’s coming to me with his sleeves rolled up, begging for me to help him with some interpretation of expenditures. Again, I remember his speech from last week…

“You want me out of here as quickly and seamlessly as possible. You show me what I need to see over the next three weeks, we work together, and I’m gone.”

That option is looking more and more appealing.

“What do you need?” I ask.

We bang through the financials, the fluctuation of the figures and the explanations of the expenditures for several hours before Liam is finally ready to take a break.

“How about we discuss this more over lunch? I’m famished,” he says, stretching his arms over his head and popping the kinks out of his neck.

“Good idea. I’ll have something brought in. What do you have a taste for?” I ask.

“Don’t you get tired of being in these walls all the time?” he questions. I shrug.

“Why would I? This is what I do. I have to make sure everything is in shape. Besides, you have to report back to Ms. Felton about our financials. I wouldn’t want you to catch us slipping,” I say with a playful but irritated laugh.

“I was thinking I could treat you to lunch,” he continues. “There’s a little bistro I go to when I want some peace and quiet and the food is excellent.” I raise my eyes from my reports and look at him for a moment. Is he…?

“That’s not a good idea,” I say, turning my attention nervously back to the papers in front of me.

“Why not? It’s just lunch. I’m not asking you to marry me,” he protests.

“Which would be futile, since I’m already married,” I respond, not looking up from my papers.

“It’s two professionals going to lunch to discuss a business matter. Doesn’t your husband take his colleagues or business associates to lunch once in a while?” I finally raise my head and look at the wall. I sigh, a bit impatiently, but more at the naiveté—or blatant obtuseness—of this poor little civilian.

“You don’t understand,” I clarify, bringing my eyes to the oceans of blue staring back at me in his eyes. “I’m followed by the Paparazzi everywhere I go. They know when I buy an ice cream cone. I will not be seen alone in public with you. The scandal and spins on that story would be endless.” I gaze at him for a moment and wait for a response. When I get none, I turn my attention back to the documents on the table.

“I couldn’t live that kind of life,” he says contemplatively. “No privacy, no peace… no wonder there are so many people with you when you arrive.”

“It goes with the territory,” I say. “So, we can order lunch in and go through some more of these figures, or you can go to your bistro and I’ll meet you back here in an hour,” I say. He shakes his head.

“Who delivers?” he concedes.

Thursday, I eliminate his urge to join me for lunch by going out and picking up something for myself, dropping by Sophie’s school once more for an appearance. This time, I’m too late for her lunch, so I stop by the office and find out what class she’s in asking if it’s okay for me to interrupt for just a moment to give her a private message. Once I obtain the information I need, I make my way down the halls to her classroom and knock on the door lightly before the teacher beckons me to come in. Her face flushes a bit when she recognizes me as well.

“I’m so sorry to interrupt your class, ma’am,” I say reverently.

“Oh, no, it’s quite alright. Mrs. Grey, right?” I smile widely.

“Yes,” I say sweetly. “Can I borrow Sophie just for a minute? I promise I won’t keep her long.”

“Oh, by all means. Take all the time you need. Sophia?” she says, urging Sophie to join me. I smile as Sophie rises from her seat, her brow raised, and her expression bemused. I put my arm around her shoulder and begin to talk before we leave the room.

“We’ve got to change our plans a bit,” I say, before we leave the room. I close the door behind me.

“What’s up?” she says.

“Not a thing,” I say. “Just a little something to drive home She’s All That for people who may not have seen it. How’s your day going?”

We chat for a minute or two, then I tell her to tell anyone who asks that we’re planning something important and had to change our meeting spot. I came to tell her that security will take her to the club this evening, so she’ll have to change out of her school clothes. Of course, if it were true, that information couldn’t wait since the club has a dress code. Her teacher would understand.

Friday is upon us before we know it, and I’m more than satisfied that we have shown Mr. Liam Westwick that although we were not sustainable when dear Gloria was on staff, we have more than made up for that shortcoming in our fundraising efforts over the last year and a half. I vent to Ace that evening about the disaster that is becoming our hopes of accreditation before going home to prepare for the evening and wild weekend with the family. No matter what happens, next week will be the last week that I have to put up with this investigation.


CHRISTIAN

“You’re fucking kidding, right?” I say to my brother when he calls me on Wednesday at the office.

“Afraid not, bro,” he says. “Ethan just let me know that his frat brothers and groomsmen will be throwing a stag party on Friday night right after the rehearsal dinner and you and I are expected to be in attendance.” I take off my computer glasses and rub my eyes. I fucking hate bachelor parties. I haven’t even been to that many and I still hate them. I think I just hate the idea of them. They’re nothing but trouble.

“Don’t they get the idea that bachelor parties are for bachelors and we’re not bachelors?” I protest.

“Apparently not,” he says. “Between me, you, and the lamppost, I have a feeling that Ethan’s brothers can get to be a rowdy lot and Mia wants us around to try to help keep them in line.”

“Oh, I hope the hell my little sister does not think I’m going to try to get in between a bunch of frat boys, a keg, and a stripper. That won’t be happening!” I declare.

“Well, hopefully, it won’t get to be all that bad, but maybe with the bride-to-be’s brothers in attendance and a few of his trusty members of security, the super rowdy and uncontrollable among them will just be slightly wild and untamed.” I roll my eyes.

“I have no intention of being a babysitter, nor do I plan to have my security staff act as crowd control. We’ll be talking to Ethan before this night even happens. I have no problem being uninvited from this event!”

“Okay, but as much as you may bark about it, you don’t want to be uninvited from the wedding, so tread lightly, bro.” I groan inwardly. He’s right. I’ve made little snide comments about the three-ring circus that I expect Mia’s wedding to be, but I still don’t want to miss seeing my baby sister get married.

“That’s why you’re going to be there with me,” I say, recruiting him for the task, “and don’t even think of backing out. You and Val are going to be hightailing it out of here on your cruise after the wedding and I’ll be left to deal with any fallout from this situation. So, the least you can do is talk to this man with me before the fact.”

“Okay, you got me there. Let me know when you want to set it up…”

“Tonight. I’ll let you know where,” I tell him.

Several hours later, Jason and I arrive at the Men’s Club, the nondescript building on the Alaskan Viaduct near the waterfront that James introduced me to a few years ago for Boys’ Night. I haven’t been here in a while and it’s the perfect place to discuss a damn bachelor party!

The place kind of reminds me of that bar on that show that my mom used to watch, where everybody yells out your name when you walk in the door… only there’s no women here. 51qe55rkril

“Well, look what the cat dragged in,” the bartender says as Jason and I take a seat at the bar. “Hey, Jimmy, your friend finally decided to join us again. What’ll you have, Chris?” Speak of the devil, I look in the direction that he’s gesturing in and James is at a table talking to a few guys. I wave him over when he raises his head.

“I’ll have a beer,” I tell the bartender.

“And your friend?”

“Club soda,” Jason says. “I’m driving.”

“Will do,” he says, and goes to get our drinks.

“Hey, Christian, long time, no see. What brings you here tonight?” James puts a hand on my shoulder and offers his free hand to Jason and they shake.

“Elliot and Ethan are coming,” I tell him as the bartender returns with our drinks. “It appears that my soon-to-be brother-in-law has plans for a bachelor party. Somehow, I think Elliot and I are supposed to be chaperones or something with my security staff apparently being drafted for some type of crowd control and I’m not necessarily on board for this plan.” James raised his eyebrows.

“Neither am I,” Jason chimes in.

“Oh, really?” he says. “And when is this merriment supposed to ensue?”

“Oh, that’s the best part… two days,” I inform him, taking a swallow of my bear.

“Two days! Okay. Well alrighty then. And whose grand idea was this?” James asks.

“Well, I’m thinking it might have been Mia’s, but I’ll find out when Ethan gets here,” I say.

“And when will Ethan get here?”

“I’d say in about 10 to 15 minutes,” I reply looking at my Hublot.

“Good, because I’ve got something I’d like to run by you if you don’t mind, so it’s kind of good that I ran into you.” He takes the seat next to me at the bar.

“Do you need some privacy?” Jason asks. James shakes his head.

“No, it’s okay, but thanks for asking.” He turns his attention back to me. “Do you remember that talk that we had last year when I first told you that I wanted to be a part of your PSA?” he asks.

“I vaguely remember some of it,” I reply. “There’s been a lot going on, you know.” He nods.

“I told you that I wanted to volunteer at some kind of charity to help kids like me that had been or are being abused and suffering in silence.” He looks down into his beer. I nod. Oh, yeah. I remember that conversation. We talked in detail about it.

“I remember now.”

“Well, I’ve changed my mind.” I raise my brows. “It’s a worthy cause, don’t get me wrong, but it’s not my cause. My cause is to find an organization that helps LGBT kids identify with who they really are and not be afraid of that identity. That was the root of my problem in the first place, right?”

“I see where this is going,” I reply. “Have you found it?”

“I think I have,” he says, looking up at me. “It’s kind of cliché,” he laughs. “At first, I was hoping to get involved with Helping Hands when I saw the work that the Center does, but then I stumbled on this organization called Seeking Self. I know the name is cheesy and I’m pretty certain that they may have seen the PSA for Helping Hands and gotten the idea of the name from Helping Hands and from the work that they do. It’s a fairly new operation—only a few months old. Right now, we’re only dealing with teenagers beyond the age of consent. You know it can get a little tricky dealing with sexuality and minors.”

“Only too well, my friend,” I say, taking a drink of my beer. “Tell me about Seeking Self…”

James and I talk a while about his project. He’s right about the taboo and the stigma associated with trying to get the word to a minor that there may be a safe haven for youngsters who may be struggling with their sexual identity or orientation. They are so many gray areas and legalities and moral issues to consider. The LGBT topic is so controversial as it is, just when discussing LGBT rights among adults. He’s talking about a whole new can of worms when he thinks about approaching open discussions among minors. It’s not until I look at my watch again that I realize that half an hour has passed and neither of these slackers have shown up yet. I’m just about to get on my phone and find out what hole they’ve fallen into when I see Elliot finally grace the doorway with Ethan close behind him.

“Where the hell have you two been?” I ask as they approach the bar.

“Ethan got lost,” Elliot says. “I was just talking him in. This place is hard to find. I got a little turned around for a second, too.” He gestures to the bartender and asks for a Coke.

“Whatever’s on tap,” Ethan says.

“I’ll let you guys get to it,” James says. “We’ll talk more later, Christian.” I lift my beer to him and he nods before joining his friends back at the table. I turn around to face Ethan.

“Okay, so, what the hell? I get two days’ notice that I’m supposed to be at your bachelor party with your frat brothers and your groomsmen? Have we forgotten, A, who I am? B, I ain’t no bachelor? C, who I’m married to? D, frat brothers? Are you high? E, two days?”

I sit waiting for Ethan to answer and he turns to Elliot as if for backup, who is sipping his Coke and looking expectantly at Ethan. When the groom-to-be doesn’t answer in a timely fashion, Elliot adds, “Are you expecting me to bail you out? I’m married, too, bro! And you’re hoping to marry my kid sister. What’s the deal?” Ethan swallows hard.

“Okay,” he puts his hands up defensively. “It’s just a bunch of guys getting together to have a good time. What’s the big deal?”

“A bunch of guys,” I say nodding. “Frat brothers and groomsmen. Guys getting together for a bachelor party. A bunch of guys getting together for your last night of freedom and you didn’t tell me until two days before… in fact, you didn’t even tell me… he told me…” I point to my brother, “… that I’m expected to be in attendance. Why the delay?”

“It just… slipped my mind,” he lies. My lips form a thin line.

“You’re sinking fast, Ethan,” Elliot says, turning around in his stool. “Look, somewhere during the course of your lifetime, you’re going to need to have us on your side. Male solidarity and all that. You might want that to start now.” Ethan rolls his eyes and sighs heavily.

“Alright, alright. So, we’ve… had some stories in college…” he trails off.

“Mm hmm,” I coax.

“Some of the guys… have gotten a little rowdy…”

“Mmm hmm…” I knew it.

“There may have been an incident or three… I just didn’t want you to get all Christian Grey and start running background checks and shit! Passing out NDA’s and telling people where they couldn’t go, what they couldn’t do and say,” he says, flailing his hands about. “It’s my bachelor party, after all!” I frown.

“Then, why did you invite me?” I ask, perplexed.

“Well, hell, it would have been rude not to!” he retorts. “I mean, you’re a cool guy and shit, you’re my fiancée’s brother! Why wouldn’t I invite you?”

“But you don’t expect the situation to be vetted because it’s your bachelor party?” I ask. He looks at me aghast.

“Why would my bachelor party need to be vetted? Will the strippers need to be strip-searched before they strip, too?” He exclaims.

“Ooooooohh, dear God,” Elliot groans into his glass. I just shake my head and laugh. This poor kid—he can’t be this naïve.

“You’ve been with my sister for how long?” I ask the rhetorical question. “You’re about to marry her in three days and you still don’t get it? I’m sitting in an unmarked club having a beer with my brother and my soon-to-be brother-in-law and my security guard is sitting next to me and you’re asking me why your bachelor party that I’m attending has to be vetted?

“Each time that I, my wife, her PA, and each of our children leave our respective homes, each one of those people has to have a separate guard with them everywhere they go and you’re asking me why your bachelor party that I’m attending has to be vetted?

“Half of downtown will be blocked because of your wedding! You have no idea what I have been through because of people who can’t come to your wedding and you’re asking me why your bachelor party that I’m attending has to be vetted?

“My wife’s near-death, coma-inducing accident, the birth of my children, and my grandfather’s funeral were all televised events and now some private eye from Detroit has been following my father around and you’re asking me why your bachelor party that I’m attending has to be vetted?”

“They have?” Elliot interrupts. I turn to him.

“Yes, they have. I’m supposed to have the details tomorrow.” I turn back to Ethan. “I know that you’re not privy to every little detail of every little thing that happens in my life, Ethan, but you have seen enough to know that I’m not just worried about tabloid fodder and gossip rags. While everything may not be a dangerous situation or a safety issue, some things are. My wife and her father went to a harmless baseball game and he ended up being accosted and arrested. I’m not just being paranoid, here! Give me a break, man!”

Ethan’s lips tighten as he looks around the club in contemplation. He doesn’t look pleased at all. The wheels are grinding in his head and I can tell that he’s considering his options as he’s sitting here. He wouldn’t lose a bit of sleep uninviting me from that party and I wouldn’t blame him for a second, nor would I bat an eyelash, especially since I now know that there will be strippers present—my very least favorite aspect of the festivities. He slides from his barstool and pulls his wallet from his back pocket.

“It’s going to be a private party,” he says, his voice going from casual to almost CEO tone. He pulls a few bills from his wallet and tosses them on the bar, way too many for one beer. “In the penthouse of the Four Seasons. I’ll email you the guestlist, the entertainment company, the caterers, and security before the night is over. Vet away.”

He shoves his wallet back into his pocket and looks as if someone stole his lollipop.

“Thank you,” I say, “I don’t know any other way to put this that doesn’t sound like I’m telling you to tell you tell your friends to behave, but…”

“I know, tell my friends to behave,” he says, and he sounds like a petulant child who has just been told that he can’t stay out past curfew. He walks to the door and stops just as he opens it.

“Oh, by the way, did Mia tell you that Ana and Val are going to the hen party?” he says before he exits the club.

Wait… what?

*-*

“Did you know they were going to the bachelorette party?” I ask Elliot when we arrive back at the Crossing. He shakes his head.

“Val never mentioned it to me,” he says. “I mean, I guess I kind of assumed…” He shrugs. I roll my eyes. Shit, I guess I really should have assumed, too. Butterfly and Mia are pretty close for the most part. Why wouldn’t she go? I turn to Jason.

“Is there any way to find out where Mia’s hen activities are going to be without me having to grovel to her and find out myself?” Jason winces.

“Probably not this late…” Just as he’s denying me, my phone buzzes and it’s Mia. Let the groveling begin.

“Hello…”

“Ethan just called me and he’s pouting,” she says, and she sounds a little whiny herself. “We’re doing the party bus thing and we’re going club hoping. Do you want to send some of your goons with us?”

Oh, shit fucking hell motherfucking grass-eating goats from Hades. That went so fucking well when Butterfly did it.

“There’s no way I can rent the most exquisite suite in the state, cater the most expensive food in the country and fly in the Thunder from Down Under and convince you to move your party to a private locale, is there?” I say almost begging. My sister bursts out in hysterical laughter.

“You’d do all that to keep Anakins out of public?”  she cackles.

“Yes!” I declare. “Bad things happen when people see her. They’re not nice or they try to grope her or hurt her or steal her in their Butterfly nets!” I lament. Mia laughs again.

“I’m afraid not, big brother, but I’ll make you a deal. I’ll agree to whatever security measures you put in place to make sure Anakins doesn’t fall prey to any Butterfly nets.” She’s still laughing, but I’m serious. I sigh. It’s comforting that she’s willing to cooperate with me.

“Thanks, Meelo,” I say, still deflated.

“Anytime, Cwis. I’ll text you the limo service and you can coordinate security and transportation.” We end the call. I look at Elliot.

“Party bus,” I say. “Club hopping.”

“Oh, shit,” he says, with mirth. “That didn’t go so well last time.”

“Tell me about it. Mia agreed to let me provide security, though. I have to run it past my wife… because of last time…”

“Yeah, I remember,” he says. “I didn’t get the whole story, but Val says it was kind of tense.”

“Kind of?” I say, throwing an incredulous look at him. “Tight as a vise and cold as Antarctica!” I shiver at the thought of the disaster that was the night before my wedding.

“That doesn’t sound like a pleasant combination,” my wife says as she rounds the corner from the kitchen into the family room where Elliot and I are talking. Our expressions must give us away, because she eyes us cautiously. “And I’ve interrupted something.”

“Not really,” I say, holding my arms out and beckoning her to me. She comes over to me and I sit her on my lap. “Mia’s rehearsal dinner and hen party are Friday night. I’m assuming you’re going,” I say.

“Oh,” she says, as if she had forgotten. “Yeah, I… guess. I mean, there’s no reason for me to go to the rehearsal dinner, but yeah, she did mention the hen party. So, I’m assuming I’m going.” She looks over her shoulder at Elliot. “Val, too.”

Elliot does that bobble-head-nodding thing.

“Well… she’s doing the party-bus-club-hopping thing,” I say. Butterfly’s brow rises.

“Ooohh,” she replies.

“And… I’m… doing security,” I add warily. Realization dawns and she says nothing.

“And I wanted to know if you were okay with that,” I say finally. I sit quietly without breaking eye-contact with her. Our last situation involving a hen party, a party bus, and security was Butterfly’s bachelorette party, where I sent extra security with them to the clubs, one of which had the express instructions to report Butterfly’s every move to me. Not only did it result in one of the most humiliating punishment fucks I had ever given her, effectively ending her hen party, but it nearly destroyed our relationship of mutual trust as it turned out to be one of the dumbest decisions I’ve ever made even to this point of my life.

I’m hoping that she can see that I still realize that even now.

“Yes,” she says, gazing back at me, “yes, I’m fine with that.” I sigh deeply. I know I fucked up, and she knows that I know I fucked up. Crisis averted.

“Anybody in particular you want?” I ask.

“Chuck, of course,” she says. “He and Ben usually work well together. I let you decide the rest.” That makes me feel good.

“Very well, Mrs. Grey,” I say with a smile.

“Was that the Antarctica you were speaking of?” I purse my lips.

“Yeah, it was a pretty chilly night,” I admit, remembering the cold shoulder she gave me when I approached her in the castle after the parties were over. I never felt so rejected in my life. I remember trying to pray that night… at least I think I did, I don’t know. I was pretty drunk.

“Well, I’ll go find my friend and tell her we’ll have an entourage. I’m sure she didn’t expect anything less,” she says with mirth. She leans down and kisses me on the lips before gazing in my eyes for a few moments more. I know that she’s trying to tell me that it’s really okay, and I believe her. Thank God. She rises from my lap and I watch her walk back through the kitchen and disappear through the dining room.

“You’re so gaga over that woman,” Elliot teases.

“And you’re not gaga over Val,” I say in a disbelieving tone.

“Fucking loopy, man,” he confirms. “Fucking loopy.”

*-*

“Well, this just keeps getting better and better,” I say, as Alex reveals the story to me why it has taken nearly two weeks to make any headway on who the asshole is following my father. Dustin Carver is—was—employed with Best Shields Family Investigations in Highland Park. Was is the operative word here as being made is not a preferable quality for employment. Hence, Mr. Carver’s employment was terminated. Dad never said he saw anybody else following him, but that doesn’t mean that no one else was following him, so we put a covert officer on him again last Thursday, and yes—he had another operative following him.

Alex let the guy keep following him throughout the weekend because we were never going to find anything if we kept pinching the private eyes. Same company—Best Shields. Pulling the private eye’s records wouldn’t give us anything. We needed the company records. So, a scan of incoming transactions for the past three weeks gave us a familiar hit. One we never would have expected.

Of course, a Detroit Mafioso wouldn’t be using a family investigative detective agency when he has Egyptian-silk-clad consiglieres at his disposal. So, no, it’s not Sunset.

Federally-protected witnesses would know better than to put themselves out there and risk exposure. So, no roads point to either of the Myricks.

But, yes, there is a blaring Grey name showing bank transfers in large amounts for fees and expenses over the last several—several—weeks. And the name…

No, not Freeman.

Nolanda.

Nolanda Grey.

Now, this would normally give me cause for concern. Why would my beloved cousin whom I helped get out of Detroit be funding the spying on and investigation of my father?

Therein lies my answer.

First, my beloved cousin is no longer in Detroit. She’s in California now.
Second, there’s no one on this earth named Nolanda Grey anymore. My cousin’s name is now Yolanda Carpathia.

Further examination of the account used to transfer funds to Best Shields indicates that it’s a trust in Nolanda’s name that she never got. Freeman is the grantor and the signatory. He’s been dwindling it away since the divorce and the audit has been in progress.

It’s time to call Cali…

“Hey, cousin! How are you?” Lanie answers when I call.

“Not too bad. How about you?”

“We’re hanging in and holding on,” she says. “What’s new?”

“Well, I promised that I would keep you abreast of developing stories and I have a new one, but first I have a question for you.”

“Okay, shoot.”

“Do you have any idea why Freeman would be having my dad investigated or followed?” The line falls silent.

“Okay… can you say that again?”

“Is there any reason that you can think of that your father would have my father investigated?” It’s like I can hear the wheels turning and smell the smoke.

“Uh… did they share any assets?” she asks.

“I don’t think so,” I say. “Dad’s been gone from Detroit for decades. If they had, Freeman would have come to Seattle and claimed them long before now.”

“What about Grampa’s house?” she asks. “I know there was some question about that.”

“Okay, I probably need to be a little more specific,” I tell her. “Your father’s dropping a bundle on having my father followed by a private investigator.” I hear her gasp.

“A bundle from where?” she nearly shrieks. “All his money should either be tied up in the divorce or the audit!”

“Oh, that’s the best part. His money is tied up. This is yours… or at least it should be.”

“Mine?” she asks, confused. “I don’t get it.”

“No, and you won’t either,” I say. “He has a trust set up in the name of Nolanda Grey that you were supposed to get, but he’s the grantor and he’s been spending it. Right now, he’s spending huge chunks of it on private investigators following my father around Seattle for God only knows what reason. Now, I don’t know how long he’s been spending that trust or what else he’s been spending it on, but that trust is being spent and it’s in your name. So, when tax time comes, who do you think is going to be responsible for that money?”

“He can’t make me responsible for that money if he’s the grantor and he’s spending it!” she declares.

“Oh, I can guarantee you, he’ll find a way. And even if he can’t, he’s spending huge chunks of money right now that should probably be going to you or you mom.” The line falls silent again.

“I gotta go, cousin. I need to call my mom’s lawyer and the IRS.”

“I thought you would, and I need to call my dad. Keep me posted.”

“Always a pleasure, cousin Christian.”


ANASTASIA

For some reason, I’m not at all excited about going to Mia’s bachelorette party tonight. My mood could be attributed to any number of factors. It could be the ongoing investigation at Helping Hands that has me wound so tightly that I can’t relax to save my life. It could be the fact that venting to Ace about it and how uncomfortable I am with the whole thing for an entire hour didn’t help to relieve any of the tension one bit. It could be the fact that I’m about to spend an evening with a bunch of catty women who are all going to smile in my face, but would love nothing more than to clock me over the head, tie me up in a corner, and fuck my husband senseless while I watch. Or it could be the discomfort that I feel taking part in yet another party-bus-club-hopping hen night after the fiasco that was my own.

I had a terrible time choosing my wardrobe tonight. There was a battle going on between refusing to half-step around these debutant bitches and not wanting to cause my husband to have a coronary. He somewhat made that decision easy for me by telling Elliot to meet him at GEH and they, along with a chosen entourage of security, would rendezvous with Ethan and his groomsmen at the location of the bachelor party. At least this way, I could choose something to wear and not have to worry about the fallout until I got home.

I needed something sexy—a party dress that was hot, but not trashy. I chose a sassy wine mini-cocktail dress with a black lace halter floral overlay and plain black Louboutin platform stilettos. My hair is falling in large barrel waves and less will be more tonight as the only jewelry that I’m wearing are some modest earrings hiding under my hair and my wedding and engagement rings. Val, on the other hand, is all dolled up in a red bodycon bandage dress that hugs her tiny frame like a glove. She couples her dress with a pair of nude stilettos and a large, gold, link bracelet and earring in a matching motif. She and I are in the back of one of the Audis headed to Palisade to meet the party bus for the festivities. As intended, we skipped the rehearsal dinner and will meet the bride’s party as they are finishing up.

“You’re awfully quiet, Steele,” Val says. “What’s running around that head of yours?”

“You know I’m not Steele, anymore, right?” I tease. She’s been calling me that even though I’ve been married for over a year now.

“Force of habit,” she says. “Besides, if I call you Grey, it’ll be like talking to myself. Now, stop evading the question.” I rub my chin.

“Isn’t it obvious?” I ask. “I’m not looking forward to tonight on any level. I don’t want to see Mia’s catty friends, I’m distracted with what’s going on at Helping Hands, and I don’t want a repeat of what happened at my own bachelorette party. And I’m letting it be known right now—if anybody recognizes me and tries to start any trouble, I’m leaving immediately.

“I get it,” she concurs. “I’m starting to get those ugly glares in public myself. I knew it would happen sooner or later, but I thought it would be later rather than sooner since El is nowhere near as popular or famous or whatever as Christian. But nope, I’m getting the stinkface,” she says. “So, if you go, I go. And I don’t think you have to worry about this party turning out like yours did. From what I do remember, there were more than a few mistakes made that night by more than one person—present company included—that won’t be made tonight.”

I know she’s referencing the fact that she and my other best friend basically pimped me out for dollar dances to every guy in the club, an action that caused me a lot of grief with my then-fiancé and basically ruined my entire evening.

“Well, it’s water under the bridge now,” I say, trying to change the subject.

“No, it’s not, or you wouldn’t be uptight about it now,” she confronts. “But I won’t dwell on it. Let’s just do our best to have a good time, even if we have to do it alone, okay?” I flash her a weak smile.

“Okay.”

We meet with Mia’s group and discover that the party began before we even got there. Mia is in fantastic spirits and I’m certainly not one to be a Debbie Downer. Now, what I had was luxury, but more like a party… shuttle, for lack of a better word. What Mia has is an opulent party coach! There’s going to be some serious celebrating tonight!

“Okay, bitches, listen up,” she says, garnering our attention once we’ve all boarded. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the affectionate use of the term “bitches” in the way they’re using it nowadays. I mean, we’ve used it sarcastically for years, but it’s just different the way they use it now. “I know most of you whores have seen The Wedding Date, so you’re familiar with a little game called ‘Pub Golf…’”

Oh, hell.

I throw a cautionary look over at Chuck and he just nods once, so I try to keep my panic at bay.

“Traditionally, we would play 18 holes, but we got a late start, so in the spirit of fairness and with the hopes of my brother’s security not having to scrape anyone off the floor, we’ll attempt nine.”

The girls all yelp and scream like wild zoo animals as some bottle of some amber liquid is produced from some bar somewhere and shot glasses are being filled.

“Now, pay attention, because this is the important part. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to finish all nine holes lowest under par. The rules are placed all over the bus…” She gestures to the pieces of paper scattered around the party bus, “and I have enlisted secret scorekeepers to tell us at the end of the night who the winner is. That winner will get a secret prize at my reception. Now, the two biggest keys to winning pub golf—no barfing, finish your drink in one gulp. More than one gulp, you lose strokes, which will, of course, fuck up your par. Since I went to prep school with all of you and college with most of you, I know you tricks know how to swallow.”

Whoooo-hooo-hoooaa, good shot, Mia!

“In the event of a tie, there will be a dance-off at my reception, so be prepared.” I round of laughter fills the room and a bit of heckling of some of the girls for their obvious lack of skills. A shot glass wanders into my hand and I discover that it’s Armagnac. We’re shooting Armagnac? Alrighty, then.

“This is the first of nine holes,” Mia says, holding her shot glass in the air. “Those of you in the wedding party will have your detox treatments at the spa in the morning, so I only ask that you avoid trips to the ER tonight for alcohol poisoning. Those of you who aren’t are on your own, so know your fucking limits. I swear to God, I’ll disown you cunts if you ruin my hen party.”

I should have had this conversation with the cows at my hen night.

“Alright, bitches, let’s get this party started! One! Two! Three…!”

“Fooooooooooouuurrrr!” They all scream—and scare the shit out of me, I might add, before we all throw back our shots. This must be a little thing they added to the game themselves. I’ve never seen anybody yell, “four” before taking the shot. Then again, I’ve never seen anybody do shots of Armagnac, either… except Christian, after a really bad day.

“Good God! What the fuck is this fire water?” one of the girls exclaim after swallowing the brandy. Some of the others are coughing a bit as well.

“What the hell did you pour, Monica?” Mia says. She grabs the bottle from Monica’s hand. “Oh, hell, you’re banned from bartending duty. We’re gonna be sloshed before the fourth hole!”

We get to the first club and what the hell is it? Yep, you guessed it, a male strip joint. Debbie Downer dawdles in the back until the rest of the party unloads, then I stay on the party bus. Mia and her friends stick around for about an hour, then admit that the scene is dead before they’re back on the bus—a little liquored now—and headed for the next club. We hit at least four more clubs and four more “holes” before midnight and I have to say, we’re really having a good time. The cats are keeping their claws retracted and nobody recognizes me or Val, or at least they’re not paying any attention to us with Mia and her friends stealing the show, which is fine by me.

By now, the liquor is settling in quite nicely and I’ve danced and loosened up a bit. Val and I are at one of the tables with three of the girls from the wedding and one other of Mia’s friends and of course, someone brings up my husband.

“You know,” she says, slightly slurring her words, “Christian really is one hot guy. You can’t blame us for turning into blubbering hunks of stupid girliness when he shows up.”

“Yeah,” another pipes in, just as tipsy as the first. “We mean no disrespect, we… just can’t help it.” She does this snorting-giggle thing in her throat that lets me know that she totally serious. There’s no malice in what she’s saying. They just don’t know what to do with themselves when he’s around.

“How does somebody stay so hot for so long?” a third one asks, sipping her drink. “Just… he hit… like, puberty or something, and he just got… hot. And then the older he got, he got hotter and hotter…” She looks like she’s going to start drooling on herself any second. “Does he wake up like that?”

“He’s even hotter when he’s asleep.” The words are out of my mouth before I can catch them. Val’s neck snaps over to me and my hand flies to my mouth involuntarily. I’ve had too much to drink. I need to stop talking. Raucous laughter erupts at the table as I realize I verbalized my thoughts and the girls are having a ball at my expense.

“I knew it!” one of them exclaims. “He’s a god 24/7. The world is so unfair.” She tosses her drink back and slams her glass onto the table. “And Elliot… Kate really had some nerve showing up at the shower like that,” she adds in a semi-sober moment.

“I’ll say,” the first girl slurs. “Whatever happened to that baby? Once it came out that he wasn’t a li’l Grey, she disappeared, until recently. What gives?”

“Ethan’s wedding,” Val chimes in and the girls turn to her. “She’s hoping it’ll soften the Greys up and give her an ‘in.’ She’s wrong. They hate her now more than ever.” I scoff.

“She killed any possible chance of that when she tripped you at that damn garden party,” I say, my head still a bit fuzzy. I need some water. I look over at Val who seems as sharp as a tack. “You’re not drunk,” I accuse. She leans in to me.

“I’m the secret scorekeeper… and you’re losing,” she says with a smile.

“I’m not playing,” I say, bottoming out my drink in two dramatic deliberate gulps. “That was two gulps, did you count them?”

“That wasn’t a hole,” she laughs, “but I’ll put two on your par since you’re such a smart ass.”

“Fuck you. Bitch,” I say, sticking my tongue out at her.

“C’mon on, girls, it karaoke time!”

*-*

Two holes later, I’m sitting in a karaoke bar downtown in the lower level of one of the hotels. A group of girls are on stage belting out the worse version of B-52’s “Love Shack” that I’ve ever heard in my life and I can’t believe I’ve agreed to sing something. I can hold a tune, but I’m no Mariah Carey. I’ve mixed a little water with my liquor so that now, after a few trips to the bathroom, I’m not as loopy as I was before. Still loopy, just not as much.

“You look a little scared, Steele,” Val teases. I put my finger and thumb together and close one eye to confirm her statement. “Don’t worry, you can’t be worse than that.” She jerks her head to the obviously drunk group screaming into the microphones.

“Love shack! Lo-lo-love shack! Love shack! Lo-lo-love shack!” Oh, God, please make it stop. If my high wasn’t blown before, it is now.

“Whose great idea was this?” I lament as my ears start to sting from the screaming.

“Aw, c’mon Steele, karaoke is a blast when you’re drunk, especially watching other drunk people making a fool of themselves,” Val teases.

“Well, I must not be drunk enough because this isn’t fun at all!” I tell her. She laughs and looks back at the stage. The song thankfully ends, and the screaming banshees actually bow and leave the stage as someone down front cheers and whistles.

“Don’t encourage them,” I yell out, but not loud enough for them to hear me. I’m not trying to start a fight, after all. The DJ calls the next singer and I’m happy that it’s not me, not only because my song is a slow song and I wouldn’t want to follow that riveting version of “Love Shack,” but also because I just don’t feel like singing yet. I picked a song that jumped out at me as soon as I saw it, probably because we were talking about Christian earlier.

Once they’re liquored up, Mia’s catty friends are actually kind of nice on the inside. We talked more at the other bar and this one and I discovered that a lot of them are just looking for Mr. Right and not finding him. They would have loved for Christian to be their Mr. Right—gorgeous, rich, powerful, sexy, and I don’t dare tell them that he’s a beast in bed. They may just become suicidal… or homicidal. I can’t help but feel sorry for them in their plight. I got him. I’m in love with him and he’s in love with me. That’s what made me choose the song I did. So, we’ll be friends in my sympathy for the poor things tonight, then tomorrow, after the reception, we’ll all avoid each other again.

Except that Lily girl. Drunk or sober, she’s intent on avoiding me like the plague.

The next singer starts to belt out a not-so-bad version of “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” and that’s what I feel like doing.

“C’mon, secret scorekeeper,” I say, grabbing Val’s hand and dragging her from her seat. “I wanna dance with somebody.”

She follows me to the dancefloor and we leap around, giggling and singing like we’re in a mosh pit. A few of the other girls from our table join us and soon, we’re clustered on the floor like the B-52 bunch taking over this poor girl’s song…

“Don’t you wanna dance? Say you wanna dance? Don’t you wanna dance?”
“Don’t you wanna dance? Say you wanna dance? Don’t you wanna dance?”

We’re hugging and giggling and panting out of breath… until the DJ calls my name.

“C’mon, Ana, you’re next.”

Oh, shit.

Val turns to me and giggles, tossing a napkin to me.

“Take this with you. You’re sweatin’ like a pig.”

“Bitch,” I hiss as I walk to the stage. For me not to like the affectionate use of that term, I’ve used it a lot tonight. I dab the sweat from my forehead and eyes and much as I can and stand in front of the mic. The light is shining in my face and I can’t see anybody, just a bunch of shapes and shadows. I smile, shrug, and nod at the DJ. The music starts playing and the lyrics start scrolling running on the screen. I don’t need the lyrics. I know the song…

“I used to cry myself to sleep at night, but that was all before he came;
“I thought love had to hurt to turn out right, but now he’s here, it’s not the same;
“It’s not the same…”

The bar falls silent as I begin to sing my love song to my husband. I imagine I must look a fright all sweated out and streaked, and as for my voice, well… they’d have to tell me how that sounds.

“He fills me up, he gives me love, more love than I’ve ever seen;
“He’s all I’ve got, he’s all I’ve got in this world, but he’s all the man that I need.”

Slowly, one couple, then two couples work their way to the floor to sway softly to the music.

Hmm, I guess I must be doing okay…

“And in the morning when I kiss his eyes, he takes me down and rocks me slow;
“And in the evening when the moon is high, he holds me close and won’t let go;
“He won’t let go…”

By the time, I get to the second chorus, the dancefloor is full, and by the time I get to the key change, our table is going crazy and singing backup from where they sit. Mia is beaming, her eyes glistening with tears and I almost can’t finish the song. The crowd cheers as I sing the last note and protests when I hand the mic back to the DJ.

“Sing another one!” someone yells from the audience. The DJ still hasn’t relieved me of the microphone and other people join in with the first person requesting a second song.

“Go ahead, sing another one.” I grimace.

“I don’t want to be rude!” I protest. Other people are waiting to sing.

“They want you to. Go ahead.” I look questioningly at the small crowd on the dancefloor and they’re gesturing and chanting for me to sing another song. I know my voice isn’t that great, but it’s not bad, either. Maybe they’re just trying to avoid a replay of “Love Shack.” I shrug.

“I don’t know what to sing,” I tell him. He looks at his music for a moment.

“Another Whitney song?” he asks. “’I Have Nothing?’” I nod.

“I know that one, yeah. That’s a good one.” So, I go back up to the stage, and the crowd starts to cheer. The music starts, and I sing…

“Share my life, take me for what I am ’cause I’ll never change all my colors for you…”

I’m really wiped out when I get back to the table after that one. Mia’s all weepy and hugging me, telling me that she didn’t know my voice sounded like that. I didn’t think it was anything special, but it made her happy, so I’m happy. My best friend knew that I would need water when I got back to the table, so she had it waiting for me. I dry the remaining sweat off my forehead and neck and bottom out the bottle. Jesus, that tastes good. Mia’s friends all tell me how well I did and that I’ve motivated them to try even though a few of them can’t hold a tune. B-52’s, here we come. I lift my hair off my neck to get some cool air back there and I feel my phone vibrating in the small purse that I brought with me. I retrieve it and swipe the screen.

**I swear to God that I’m not following you or spying on you. Come out to the hallway and bring Val with you. ** 


A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be foundat https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

Goddess Day

Goddess Day
Subtitle: How To Lose Friends and Piss People Off

So, today is President’s Day in the United States, and since I personally don’t have a President (sorry, I didn’t elect that clown), I’ll honor our Presidents past while celebrating another national holiday of my own.

IT’S MY BIRTHDAY! giphy

So, 49 years ago, God split the sky and dropped another goddess in the midst of many, and here I am. Very happy to be alive and kicking. I partied like a rockstar all weekend, which many of you saw on my Facebook pages. This is why I haven’t posted. More and more lately, real life has been stalling my posts, but they still come, so no harm, no foul, right?

Speaking of harms and fouls, my weekend wasn’t all bottomless drinks and birthday cake. I broke one of my golden rules (pun intended), that being to never discuss politics or religion. I became very passionate about the horrible incident in Parkland, Florida, and made my opinions known in a three-line Facebook status that invariably sparked controversy.

Maybe I’m not versed on the rules of engagement, but this person began to make little comments that were insulting to me and my country. I tried to tell her, please choose your words wisely because that comment was offensive and this is why. She came back at me telling me that her comments were not offensive, they were truth, and kept trying to shove them down my throat.

What do you guys think I did? You guessed it—my claws came out!

Unless you set out to offend someone, you may not know that something you said was offensive. However, when they bring it to your attention, TAKE HEED! Just because you think something you’ve said is not offensive doesn’t mean it’s not offensive. If someone points out that they were offended by what you said, examine your words and roll that back. You can make your point without being offensive! At least three other people presented the same view that she did—and we still disagreed—and they never became offensive. We just agreed to disagree.

Needless to say, when my claws came out to defend myself and my country and explain her error in communication, she called me a diva, a bully, and all kinds of other crap, and the entire conversation just got completely lost. The bottom line was she asked me for my opinion and when I gave it, she spit on it, and I was supposed to stand still for it.

The REAL bottom line was that I never should have sparked the conversation in the first place.

I know people are going to say, “Hey, Goddess, it’s your right to speak your mind,” and that’s true, too. However, in reality, you should pick your battles—and politics and religion will always result in you losing a friend. Yes, there are people that you can discuss these things with, but there are people that you cannot discuss these things with because the topics are so passionate that views differ widely across cultures, beliefs systems, practices, what have you. And that’s okay—our differences are what makes us interesting. If we were all the same, this would be a boring ass place.

So, I’ve learned my lesson (again), because it didn’t matter if she was right or I was right or we both we wrong, that conversation was going to end badly. I was too passionate about how I felt; she was dug in about how she felt; and no matter how many times we point the finger at and place the blame on each other, both guns started firing (terrible analogy under the circumstances, I know, but it’s the best one) and as a result, I lost a reader and a Facebook friend on both ID’s.

C’est la vie, right?

So, from this point on, I’ll keep my political views to myself and let my vote speak for me—even though it appears that my vote had absolutely no impact in the last Presidential election. Nonetheless, that’s all I can do. That which does not kill me…

Anywho, Happy Goddess Day to all of you, and to the reader that I lost, I apologize that our views differed so drastically that we had that bad a debate, specifically in a public forum. Although I still feel very strongly about what I said, and I won’t renege on my opinion, I’ve learned my lesson again about those kinds of opposing views. Any other time, I would have walked away—and I did when I saw the views getting heated again in other conversations because I was exhausted with the topic, but no matter the circumstance, I still refuse to let people insult me directly or indirectly (i.e. insult my country) and think it’s okay. I don’t apologize for that.

Happy Goddess Day!
tenor

Raising Grey: Chapter 33—Just When You Thought It Was Safe…

NO EMAIL SENT YET!

So, if you were on my Facebook, you know that I’m introducing a new bit of a storyline, but I lost the damn picture of the actor that was supposed to represent the character. It was perfect, too! So when you read me say something about the guy that doesn’t really fit what we’ve seen or know of him, just try to picture it, because the picture was perfect and I wrote part of the storyline based on that particular picture… which was somehow gobbled up and destroyed by the internet! 😦 

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 33—Just When You Thought It Was Safe…

ANASTASIA

There are quite a few targets with destroyed heads and decimated balls at the armory that day. I don’t get any real satisfaction, though, until I decide to go to the open range and play with the semi-automatics and the pump-rifles. Then, I’m really able to release some steam. Fucking sick pervert standing there trying to get his jollies watching me breastfeed my kids. I hope his testicles shrivel up and fall off!

So that I don’t appear to be a total psychopath, I convince Maria to don a vest and some safety gear and instruct her on firing a few amateur rounds, just to show her how easy it really is. She has more fun than she expects and she’s a really quick study, especially since a lot of the newer, higher-powered firearms can be modified to be more lightweight and easier to handle.

Once Maria is satisfied with all the footage she has acquired, she and the crew wrap things up and head back to the hotel to get ready to go to SeaTac and New York while we head back to the Crossing. She informs us that she’s very happy with the footage she got and hopes to have everything edited and ready for sweeps week. We retain the right to see the finish product before it gets aired, a condition to which she heartily agrees.

I spend the afternoon trying to decompress from my moment in the spotlight because, quite frankly, it was a lot of fucking work and very fucking stressful. Now, I just get to sit and fret until the shit hits prime time and hope that Maria presents us in a great light and that the nation—the world—doesn’t misconstrue the message we’re trying to send, like the lovely Ms. Stanton.

Bitch.

The truth is, however, I would have taken a hundred Raynell Stantons and her snotty, superior ass attitude to what I discover is in store for me next. I had just settled in my office at the Center on Monday and was about to formulate my next move in Operation Accreditation when Grace steps somberly into my office.

“We’re going to have a visitor for the next few weeks,” Grace says. My brows furrow.

“Who?” I ask.

“Apparently, the licensing board feels that we need a close eye in finalizing our preparations for the school,” she says. “They’ll be sending a representative right over to make sure that we wrap things up properly.”

“You mean a babysitter,” I huff. “We’ve done every single thing they’ve asked—every single thing! Why do they feel like we need a babysitter now?”

“You know why,” Grace says. “Gloria… she’s still juicing that vendetta. I wish we didn’t have to go through her on the licensing board. She’s going through everything with a fine-toothed comb and anything that’s not perfect is going to hold us up.” I sigh angrily.

“It’s the letters,” I say. “It has to be. I sent twenty certified letters to the board detailing everything that we’ve done and questioning the delay. She probably has to justify that delay now. We need to file a complaint against her, Grace. You and I both know that this is a personal conflict of interest and discrimination and so does she. We’ve brought in experts and consultants to make sure that we have everything tight and she still finds ways to delay our final approval. I’m calling Al.”

“Ana, please,” Grace beseeches. “We simply can’t afford any more delays. A complaint would drag this thing out forever. This inspector only needs three weeks of close observation, then they’ll see first-hand that we’ve done everything that we’re supposed to do. Once that’s complete, this entire mess will be over. I’m certain of it.”

Poor, optimistic Grace. This will never be over until our licensing is out of the hands of Gloria Felton. Once this investigation is completed, she’s going to find another reason—some other loophole—to hold us up.

“I need you to take point on this one, Ana,” Grace adds apologetically, “be the first point of contact for the inspector.”

I sigh. Of course, I have to take point on this. I wouldn’t dream of having Grace do it after what she’s just been through, not to mention that Carrick, Christian, and the rest of the family would most likely have my neck.

“Three weeks, Grace,” I concede. “I’m giving this inspector three weeks to see that we have all our ducks in a row and that our ship is tight. If she doesn’t report back to that haughty bitch that everything is as it should be, I’m calling in the cavalry.” Grace nods.

“Fair enough, but there’s something that you should know about the inspector…” There’s a knock at the door. Grace and I both turn our attention to the open door and the figure standing there expectantly. I’m greeted by otherworldly blue eyes that make me gasp involuntarily.

Liam's EyesAre those things real??

“Hi, I’m looking for Grace Grey. I’m Liam Westwick from the Washington State Licensing Board.” Grace leans in close to my ear.

“The inspector is a guy.” I look over at Grace in horror.

“You want me to take point??” I whisper harshly. This man is fucking gorgeous—as tall as Christian, striking blue eyes, playful brown hair, glistening white teeth that even in a half-smile looks like sunshine, athletic build, and wearing a charcoal suit that looks as if it were hand-painted to fit his physic. Oh, and the biggest feet I’ve ever seen in my life—feet too big for his body, but still aptly camouflaged in designer leather shoes. Who has feet that big?

“Excuse me, do I have the right place?” he says, breaking my trance and apparently, Grace’s, too. I swallow hard and turn back to Grace. You gotta be fucking kidding me! Three weeks’ close work… with this? I mean, he’s no Christian… but damn!

“Yes,” Grace proceeds forward with her hand extended. “I’m Grace Grey. It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Westwick.” She shakes his hand politely.

“Liam, please,” he says politely, just like me… “Ana, please.”

“This is my daughter-in-law and the assistant director of Helping Hands, Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey. She has basically spearheaded our entire project.”

“Dr. Grey.” He extends his hand to me, his voice friendly, but professional. I take his proffered hand.

“Liam,” I say, shaking firmly. “And everyone calls me Ana.” I decide to steer away from my usual Ana, please. Well, we might as well get this circus over with. “I’ll be showing you around and answering your questions.”

“So, you’ll be my tour guide,” he says with a wide smile. More like your charge, I think to myself, trying not to project any venom in his direction.

“So to speak, yes,” I say, clasping my hands in front of me.

“Why don’t we show you around, Liam?” Grace says, no doubt, noting my obvious discomfort.  She holds her hand out in front of her, gesturing for him to take the lead, which he does. She falls in step next to him and I walk behind the two of them, resenting his very presence. He must know why he’s here. He can’t think this is some routine investigation if he’s reviewed our file at all.

“It’s quite the operation you have here, Drs. Grey,” he says halfway through the tour. I guess my silence must have been deafening and he has finally decided to engage me in the conversation.

“We’ve come quite a long way since Ana has been on board,” Grace says. “A year ago, I couldn’t see all of the improvements she’s helping put into place. Now, it just seems like the natural order of things.

“Grace, please,” I say, shunning the recognition. “A lot of people have had their hand in the changes taking place around here—Courtney and Jesse and the daycare staff, just to name a few. The volunteers…”

“Don’t be so modest, dear,” Grace says. “Most of those people are success stories from the Center, and who do we have to thank for that?” She smiles widely and I just hate that she’s shining the spotlight on me, but I just smile graciously and pray that this will be over soon.

“Exactly what will you be looking for during your visit, Mr. Westwick?” The question comes out more like “What are your intentions with my daughter?” He raises those unrealistically blue eyes to me.

“Liam,” he corrects me. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that you must have some idea of what you’ll be investigating,” I press. “Surely, you’ve read our file and there must be some indication as to why this investigation is necessary.” My tone is accusing, as it should be.

“No indication,” he admits. “Sometimes, these investigations are just random.”

“Random,” I say, my voice dripping with skepticism. “Is that what we are… random?”

“Um, I’m sure that what Ana means to say is that we can’t figure out why we were chosen for this particular investigation. We’ve done everything that’s been asked of us to the letter and now we’re being…”

“Subjected to an unnecessary investigation,” I say, no longer willing to exercise Grace’s diplomacy in the matter. “There’s absolutely no reason for our accreditation to be delayed any longer than it already has. We’ve gone above and beyond the needed state and federal requirements. We haven’t even requested government funding yet and we’ve far exceeded the preparations of institutions that have. Believe me, I’ve done my homework.”

Liam examines me curiously, like a fish in a bowl, and it only serves to piss me off. I give him a distasteful glare and he finally breaks his gaze.

“I only take the assignments given to me, Dr. Grey,” he says, reverting back to formalities. “It’s not for me to question why my superiors request an investigation. It is only for me to do my job.

“And may I be so bold to ask who your superior is?” As if I didn’t already know.

“I have different supervisors for different cases,” he responds.

“For this case,” I insist. He pauses.

“This comes straight from the top,” he says, as if that would pacify me. “Gloria Felton.”

I turn a knowing and disgusted gaze at Grace, who shares a glance with Liam, then turns her eyes back to me.

“It’s probably best if I don’t take the lead on this one,” I say. “I wouldn’t want to say or do anything to compromise the investigation.” I turn on my heels and march indignantly back to my office. Attractive though he may be, I have no intention of playing hostess to Gloria’s little lap dog. I see no reason for this circus and I refuse to be a part of it.

I order lunch in and spend the afternoon combing through reports, proposals, plans, and applications sent to the licensing board, trying to see if we’ve missed anything. I want all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed when I call Al to sue this bitch for discrimination and harassment. I get angrier and angrier sitting there dissecting our work with a critical eye looking for the slightest misstep—my reports, Marilyn’s research, Grace’s proposals—hours and hours of hard work and diligence just thrown to the dogs because some spiteful cunt has an ax to grind. I feel a little better after feeding the babies, but the moment I get back to tearing down our blood, sweat, and tears, I’m pissed off again. I’m pulled out of my angry inner tirade about how I wish I could just rip this bitch’s throat out by a knock at my door.

“Come in,” I call out. An excuse to take a break. I need something to break this flow of negative energy anyway. I raise my head to see Liam Westwick walk into my office.

So much for breaking the flow of negative energy.

I want to ask him if he’s lost, but I save the sarcasm. No use in antagonizing the lap dog.

Once in the office, he stands there staring at me for a moment and it makes me uncomfortable—not only because those striking blue eyes aren’t moving and he almost looks extra-terrestrial, but also because his gaze holds something else. Curiosity, maybe, I don’t know, but I want him to stop looking at me that way.

“Is something wrong?” I ask, trying to hide my sarcasm. He flinches as if my voice startled him and now, I want to know what the fuck he was thinking while he was staring at me.

“You’re…” he pauses before he says anything. “I didn’t know you wore glasses.”

Glasses? My glasses? He’s staring at my glasses? There’s nothing remarkable about my glasses. When I first saw them, I immediately thought of Buddy Holly, but when I tried them on—God only knows why—they really looked good on me. They drive Christian crazy…

Drive Christian crazy…

No! He couldn’t be…! I snatch my glasses off my face, certain that they’re having the same effect on Mr. Westwick. Fuck! That would be a disaster…

“Yes. I wear glasses,” I say, rubbing my eyes as they adjust to vision without the help of magnification. “What can I do for you, Mr. Westwick?” I hear him sigh.

“Mr. Westwick,” he repeats in slight dismay. “Nobody calls me ‘Mr. Westwick,’” he says in slight dismay. Well, there’s a first time for everything. “I’m not the enemy, Ana.”

Dr. Grey, I think to myself as he stands in front of my desk with his hands clasped in front of him.

“I was sent here to do a job. That’s all I’m trying to do. I’m not a henchman. I’m not on a witch-hunt. I’ll complete the investigation that’s required of me and I’ll be on my way. However, I’m not stupid or obtuse, either. I saw the looks that passed between you and Grace when I mentioned Gloria Felton. She’s mum about it, so I was hoping I could get some insight from you. Is there something that I should know?”

His blue eyes are sharp, now—piercing and serious—and if my ability to read people hasn’t faltered, he really doesn’t know what’s going on here. Nonetheless, he’s from the enemy camp as far as I’m concerned, and I need to proceed with caution. There’s nothing worse than sleeping with the enemy.

Fuck… bad analogy.

“Mr. Westwick…” I hear a short, frustrated gasp. “Liam,” I correct myself. He relaxes a bit. “I think you should proceed with your investigation with the information that you have at your disposal. There’s nothing that I can say that would be productive to your purpose unless it directly relates to the Center. Anything else that you need to know, you should ask Ms. Felton.” He twists his lips. After a moment, he gestures to the seat in front of my desk. I nod once.

“I just may have to do that,” he says, taking a seat. “There’s obviously something going on and I don’t want the investigation tainted in any way.” His eyes soften from the piercing, questioning glare he held before. His eyes change with every mood, every conversation. It’s like you can see right into his soul. If I was trying to read his thoughts, I would sit there and stare at them all day. Instead, I look between them so that I don’t get lost in them.

“And then there’s that,” he says, dropping his gaze with a slightly sorrowful laugh. I frown.

“There’s what?” I say. I didn’t say anything.

“Nine out of ten people focus on the bridge of my nose to keep from looking me in the eyes,” he says sadly while raising his gaze back to mine. “I’m thinking about getting contacts.”

I’m a little taken aback by his confession, not only because he caught me doing just that; not even because so many other people do it; but because he can tell when it’s being done and it actually bothers him.

“You have to know that your eyes are quite haunting,” I say before I think about it. The words were out of my mouth before I can stop them, but hell, it’s true. The corner of his mouth raises in a somewhat mocking smirk.

“Haunting as in intriguing or haunting as in scary?” he asks. My turn to twist my lips.

“Haunting as in… haunting,” I say, giving him nothing. He raises an eyebrow at me and I raise one right back.

“Okay,” he says, raising his hands in mock surrender. “Enough about my eyes.” He sits back in his seat. “The way I see it, I need direction so that I don’t go wandering aimlessly around this place. You want me out of here as quickly and seamlessly as possible. You show me what I need to see over the next three weeks, we work together and I’m gone.” I roll my eyes.

“Fine,” I concede, “but can we start tomorrow, please?” I need some time to regroup. He nods.

“Fair enough,” he says, extending a hand to me. “Good evening, Ana,” he says as I shake his hand.

“Liam,” I respond. He nods and leaves. I pull the ponytail holder from my hair and massage my scalp wildly, leaving my hair in that “attacked by wolves” mess that lets the onlooker know that today has been a bad day. Of course, Grace walks into my office just as I have mussed my hair and massaged my scalp.

“You know,” she says, “you and Christian both have a version of JPF hair.” I glare at her. Did my mother-in-law just say this to me? And she got it wrong, too.

“Don’t you mean JBF hair?” I correct her. She laughs, letting me know that she knows what I’m getting at.

“No, I mean JPF… Just Plain Frustrated. His hair normally looks like pygmies have been playing with it, and when your hair looks like that…” She trails off. “Look, I asked you to take point on this because you have your finger on the pulse of everything that has to do with the accreditation. I would have to research certain things, but if this is too much for you, I’ll do it.”

She’s right. I know this stuff like the front and back of my hand and asking anyone else to take point on it would be truly unrealistic and may even delay the investigation.

“No, I can do it,” I tell her. “We’ll give him the information that he wants and he can tell this woman that we’ve done everything that we need to do.”

“Really, Ana, you’ve got the babies, Christian, your life… I can do it,’ Grace presses.

“Yes, and I also have the accreditation of this organization,” I protest. “This is my ‘baby,’ too. I need to go on and see it through to the end.” She nods.

“I’ll help in any way that I can, and if it gets to be too much, let me know and I’ll take over.”

“I will,” I tell her. “Right now, I just want to get home to my husband and my babies.”

“Your babies are here,” she says knowingly.

“Yeah, and I want to get them home.”

Christian pounces on me right after dinner, citing that I’m wound so tight that he knows I’m in need of a few orgasms. He’s right. I’m so frustrated with this whole Gloria Felton witch-hunt and I just want it to go away. After my third orgasm has left me like butter, I tell him about the unnecessary rigors she has put us through and now, we have to suffer through this damn investigation, which is just going to put us off for three more weeks.

“You know I can make a call and find out what’s going on, maybe even make this whole thing go away,” Christian says, kissing my neck just under my ear.

“I know, and I love you for wanting to help, but I fear that any intercedence from you will be viewed as special dispensation and I don’t want anything to get in the way of valid accreditation for the Center. Don’t think I haven’t considered it, though,” I say as his lips gently meet mine. “It’s just… what was I saying?”

“Special dispensation,” he says, kissing my cheek and biting my chin.

“Oh… yeah,” I say breathily, “I understand why… she didn’t want the donation from you now. I didn’t before, but now I get it.”

“Um hmm,” he says, taking a nipple into his mouth and biting gently.

“Ah! Christian…” Three orgasms… is he trying to kill me? I thrust my hands into his hair just as he thrusts his cock into my core. “God!” I breathe out harshly. He takes my hands and entwines his fingers in mine, pinning them on either side of my head.

“All you have to do is say the word,” he says, softly, breaths away from my lips as he drills slowly into me, “and I’ll take care of it.”

“I know,” I pant, getting lost in the sensation of him stroking me, filling me.

“Good.” He bites my chin again. “As long as you know,” and his lips cover mine.

*-*

After waking to yet another orgasm from my insatiable husband, I go to the Center feeling refreshed—and thoroughly well used—ready to start the day and get on with this blasted investigation. Grace greets me the moment I get there.

“Remember,” she says, “I can always take over…”

“I know,” I say, thinking about how she and her son are so ready to rescue me, “but you know that I’m the right person to do this, right?” She smiles and squeezes my shoulder, heading off towards her office. I make sure that the twins and Keri are comfortably tucked away in the day care center. She likes helping with the other children while the twins are asleep, so this is a win-win for her and all parties involved. I can’t help but wonder at our luck that she agreed to come back to the States with Chuck every time I see her with the twins. I wonder if they’ll get married now that she’s staying?

Liam is a little late today and the moment he arrives, we go about the business of his investigation. He has specific things on his list that he wants to see in terms of the operations of the Center, which I have no problems showing him. Each section that he has to observe involves interviewing residents or clients, randomly picking employees and volunteers and reviewing their qualifications for the areas in which they work or the jobs they perform, and finally, reviewing records and reports to see how we keep track of progress, milestones, and projections. It’s all very professional and quite seamless for the most part.

Once the first week is over and Liam submits his initial findings, I’m sure that Ms. Felton will call off the dogs. The remainder of the investigation would only show more of the same and she would have to see that this was a waste of taxpayer’s money.


CHRISTIAN

“This is an excellent proposal, Marlow,” I praise my young protégé. He has come a long way from the angry young man Butterfly described to me the first year that we were dating. He goes quite the distance to protect his mother and sister since they escaped his abusive father two years ago even though he doesn’t have to as I have assigned a security detail to the entire family. Marlow had to work on his anger issues and learned to channel his focus to more productive tasks, such as taking on projects to help rebuild his community. He has since brought me several ideas on community outreach programs and revitalization efforts in his old neighborhood. His efforts have even encouraged other young people in the area to get involved now that they see that someone cares and wants to give back to the community.

His latest proposal involves reopening a recreation center that had been closed for several years due to lack of funding. It’s an ambitious endeavor, but not impossible. With GEH as a sponsor, he’s hoping to get the community center reopened by next summer. It doesn’t come without its drawbacks, though.

“I saw him again yesterday,” he says, looking down at the proposal in his hands and twisting his lips. I know he’s talking about his father, who still lives in the neighborhood, or at least he still frequents the neighborhood. I’m sure he just wants Marlow to know that he can still get to him if he wants.

“And?” I ask. “Did he say anything?” Marlow shakes his head.

“Naw,” he responds. “It’s like I said, ever since I visited him in jail and told him I’d lay him out if he ever came near me, Mom, or Mags again, he doesn’t say anything to me. He just wants me to see him. I think he tried to approach Mom though…” I sit up straight. Why did no one tell me about this?

“When did this happen?” I ask, my brow furrowed. He shrugs.

“About…” His eyes narrow as he tries to remember. “… A couple of weeks ago, I think. He got a surprise, though. Mom met this guy. Zack or something, they’ve been talking… nothing serious yet. She told me she thinks she saw Dad while she was out with Zack.” He chuckles. “Zack’s not a small guy.” I raise my eyebrow at him.

“You’ve spoken to Zack?” I ask. “You’re not a small guy, either.” He scoffs.

“I’m not a short guy,” Marlow correct me. He’s nearly as tall as I am, but not as muscular. “Granted, I’m working out and I’ve put on some weight, but I got a long way to go. I can take on my dad, but Zack…” He shakes his head. “I’ll still kick his ass if he fucks with my Mom, though. I didn’t come off all macho, because I know he wouldn’t believe me if I did, but yeah, we talked. I told him that I didn’t know how much Mom has told him, but that we’ve had a rough time and Mom doesn’t need any shit and if that’s what he’s bringing or ever thinking about bringing, he better turn around and take it somewhere else.”

“What did he say?” I ask.

“He asked me if I was threatening him,” Marlow responds. Classic power play. Let’s see if my protégé has learned anything.

“And what did you say?” he shrugs and sighs.

“I told him I didn’t have time for threats,” he says, his voice exasperated. “I told him to take it however he wanted, but that my family has been through enough and we don’t need anymore drama. As long as he’s cool, we can be friends. The minute he brings drama, the moment he’s trouble, I ain’t ya friend—and you don’t wanna know me when I ain’t ya friend no more.”

He raises cool, green eyes to me and fixes his gaze on mine. Not necessarily the words I would have used, but pretty much the same sentiment—and if he added that glare, Zack got the message loud and clear and young Marlow is not just some young buck hothead lion cub trying to keep the next male cat away from his mom. He still needs a little buffing around the edges, but he’s polishing up very nicely.

“You’re still calling him Dad,” I say. He frowns. Yeah, I changed gears mid-conversation. “Your father. You call him Dad.” He shrugs again. I’m trying to break him of that habit. He does it a lot when we’re alone, but less when we’re around others.

“That’s just because I don’t know what else to call him,” he says. “Calling him by his first name, or even his last name seems like too much of a show of respect. I won’t ever call anybody else Dad because of what it means. Dad used to mean that I loved him, that I couldn’t wait for him to get home, you know. It was reserved for only him. Then, it warped into a word of hatred, contempt, and fear. So, yeah. My kids, they’ll call me Pop or Pops or even Daddy, but never Dad. That word is still reserved just for him… only him.”

I feel bad for Marlow detesting his father so much, but I guess it’s no more than I detest the crack whore, so…

“Well, he seems like a coward to me,” I say, “lurking in the shadows, trying to use fear and intimidation tactics. I think he’s more afraid of you than you are of him.”

“He should be,” Marlow confirms. “When I say I’ll take him down, I mean it, so he better not test me.” I nod and decide it’s definitely time to change the subject.

“You’ve got a date for the wedding next Saturday?” I ask. He rolls his eyes.

“God,” he nearly whines. “You know how much guys hate weddings?”

“Actually, most times they don’t,” I tell him. “They usually use them as an opportunity to hit on the bridesmaids.”

“The groomsmen use them as an opportunity to hit on the bridesmaids. Guys don’t want the girls they’re seeing to start getting any ideas,” he protests.

“Well, are you seeing anybody seriously?” I ask.

“Do I ever see anybody seriously?” he retorts. “I’ve got school and work and my projects… I have fun, but the girls I hang out with, they all know that we’re just hanging out. If I take somebody to that wedding, they’re gonna get all starry-eyed and stuff. I don’t have time for that.”

“So, you don’t have any female friend that you can just say, ‘I need a casual wedding date. Wanna go?’” He shakes his head.

“I don’t have any female friends,” he says.

“Well, if I have to go, you have to go. So, figure something out, young man,” I say, patting him on the shoulder. He rolls his eyes.

“I’ll escort my mom,” he says sorrowfully. “It’s not like I want to be there anyway. It’s gonna be a nightmare.” You’re telling me. As we’re still lamenting having to attend whatever shahoolawhatagans will be Mia and Ethan’s wedding, Andrea buzzes my intercom.

“Mr. Welch would like a moment,” her disembodied voice says. Alex normally just walks in. Why the formality?

“Send him in, and have you heard back from Capito’s camp for a conference call between our companies for some time in the next week?”

“Not yet, sir.” I shake my head. I turn my attention back to Marlow. “Get the information on the coding and ownership of the property. See if there’s been any interest in it since the community center was closed down or if it’s just been sitting dormant all this time. Get some background information on the surrounding businesses, too. It goes a long way to determine the future success of the project.”

“I’ve already started on that part,” he says. “A lot of the local businesses are struggling because traffic from the center diminished. Reopening it could be just the boost the neighborhood needs, in more ways than one.” My office door opens and Alex breaches the doorway, then stops, obviously expecting me to be alone.

“Get back to me as soon as you have that information,” I tell Marlow. He nods and stands, greeting Alex before leaving. “What’s with the announcing yourself?” I ask. “You don’t usually do that.”

“I didn’t know who you were meeting with,” he says, walking further into the office. “I’ve got some information and I don’t know who you want to hear it.”

“Information about what?”

“Not what… who.” He hands me a piece of paper. He’s talking to me as I’m reading the paper. “Dustin Carver, the PI who’s following your father. Pretty unremarkable guy, as you can see. He’s an everyday, average private dick, somebody that wouldn’t and shouldn’t arouse any kind of suspicion even for what he does. Just that typical type of guy that you might hire if you were trying to catch a cheating wife. He’s not highly sought, no special set of skills, nothing at all that would give even a child cause for concern—except one little thing…” I shake my head as my eyes land on the obvious glaring red flag that is definitely a cause for concern.

“His agency is based out of Detroit.” I walk over and toss the paper on my desk taking a seat in my desk chair, frustrated, Fuck! Will that place ever leave me alone? “Goddamn motherfucking shithole-in-the-wall God-forsaken Detroit!” I hiss.

“Well, shit. Tell us how you really feel.” Jason joins us, quickly entering my office and closing the door behind him. “I take it you told him,” he says to Alex.

“I did, and he’s not taking it very well,” Alex confirms.

“Of course, I’m not taking this shit well!” I bark. “A private eye from Detroit is all the way out here on the Pacific seaboard following my father! You know this can only be Sunset or fucking Myrick.” Alex sighs.

“There’s a third possibility,” Jason says. My neck snaps to him like someone hit me. Well, fucking out with it, man. “This is your father this guy is following, not various members of your family. It could be your uncle.”

My uncle? Why the fuck would Herman have a private eye following Dad around the city? It doesn’t make any damn sense… Then, while I’m trying to figure it out, Alex’s words come floating back to me.

Just that typical type of guy that you might hire if you were trying to catch a cheating wife.

Or if you were a cheating husband. Herman’s not my only uncle…

“Freeman,” I hiss. “Why the fuck would Freeman have somebody following my Dad?”

“Turnabout?” Alex says, with a shrug. “I can’t even begin to tell you what the guy was hoping to find, and we haven’t even established that it was Freeman who hired the private eye. We’re not sure who it was.”

“So, how do we find out?” I nearly growl. “I’m a resourceful fucking guy. So are you. What’s the fucking problem?”

“So, how far do you want to go with this?” he asks. Well, let me think. Not too long ago, three guys who had something to do with hacking into my company mainframe disappeared never to be heard from again. I’m currently suing a DJ for rightfully accusing me of having his ass kicked for talking too damn much, and you just delivered a dog back to a judge that you dognapped for giving my company fleet too many damn traffic tickets. Just how far do you think I want you to go? I fold my arms and wordlessly glare at him.

“Okay, let me reword that,” Alex says. “If I ruffle too many feathers and turn over too many rocks, I might find Sunset. What then?” He has a point, but in all honesty, what now?

“If Sunset is already under the damn rock, then what are we running from?” I retort. “It’s not like he can’t get to me if he wants to. And give this some serious thought. Detroit-based Mafioso searching for a man in federal protection sends an average loafer-wearing flatfoot-type private dick all the way from Motown to Seattle to follow my father? After he sends that Egyptian-thread-wearing consigliere out here last year? If that’s the case, then he wants the fucker to get caught. Shake that asshole down and find out what the fuck he wants. And if that’s not the case and this asshole is not from Sunset, shake that asshole down and find out what the fuck he wants!

Hopefully, these instructions leave nothing unclear to my heads of security. Alex nods and leaves my office without another word. Jason, however, stays behind, silently examining me.

“You’re tense,” he says, matter-of-factly.

“You think?” I snap. “Every time I put out a fire, another one is right behind it. I can’t get any goddamn peace. Has anybody investigated what the hell is going on with that fucker Freeman? My money’s on him. This doesn’t smell like Sunset at all. He doesn’t play amateur games. I don’t know much about the guy, but I know that much.”

“I’ve got someone on the way out there now,” he says, “the minute I thought it might be him. Sources say that things aren’t looking too good for him with that audit and the divorce. He could be looking for some kind of shakedown, maybe. Didn’t your father and Herman leave him the house?”

“I think it has to go through probate or something…” My intercom buzzing interrupts my statement. What now? “Yes?”

“I’ve left a message with Mr. Capito’s secretary, sir. However, the nine-hour time difference could pose a problem,” Andrea says through the intercom. She’s right. I forgot about that. This is becoming a nightmare. I’ve never had this much problem dealing with an international company before. I’ve always accommodated them, and they’ve always accommodated me. What the fuck it up with this guy? Is he just not familiar with international business etiquette? Getting information out of him has been harder than finagling pussy from a virgin and he wants me to do business with him?

“We may have to shoot for an early-morning-late-afternoon session, then, Andrea,” I tell her.

“Yes, sir.”

“Capito,” Jason says. “The Spanish company?”

“Madrid, yes,” I reply. “On the surface, the company looks prime for picking, but you know I didn’t become who I am by being a fool. This guy is hiding something and if this were anybody else, I’d just walk away.”

“Why not this guy?” Jason asks. “What’s different with him?”

“I have no fucking idea,” I tell him. “His financials were so damn cryptic that even our systems couldn’t analyze them. You know—garbage in, garbage out. Now, the arrows are starting to point in a direction and we’re trying to find out what it is. So, we’re hoping to get some more information from him… and he’s MIA.” Jason shakes his head.

“You’re like a dog chasing a bone, boss,” he says. I frown.

“What do you mean?” He hesitates before answering.

“I’ve seen you like this before,” he says. “Your fuse is short. You’re not snapping at anybody—at least, no more than usual, but you’ve got all these little firecrackers around you and they’re all poppin’… pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. They’re not really huge ones except maybe the thing with your mom; Ray getting arrested was no party; your grandfather died. Then, you’ve got the small-to-midland things—Rossiter, Ana’s adoption, the situations with the licensing boards. And then, we have those things we have yet to classify—this PI thing, the outcome of the interview, I don’t know where to put Mia’s wedding…”

That makes two of us.

“And that’s not all of it. Then, here comes Capito, an interesting little problem that’s right up your alley—an unsolved mystery that’s like a game of Clue, a company that you would normally not waste your time on because if he’s hiding one thing, he could be hiding a whole lot more, and there’s just too many fish in the sea for you to be chasing this one elusive rainbow fish only to catch it, gut it, and find out that you’ve opened Pandora’s Box. You’ve had that discussion with me many times on many deals that you’ve bypassed for less and yet, you’re chasing this one—like you need to keep your mind occupied. I don’t know what’s up, boss. If there’s some appeal that your great business mind sees in this company that I don’t see, I’m just going to step back and let you handle it. This isn’t my area of expertise, after all. But if you’re chasing something because you’re running away from something else or something’s going on in your head that you can’t sort out for some reason, you might want to get a handle on it. Just from what you’ve told me, something stinks about this company. And you said it many times… if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a damn duck. I don’t know what you’re looking for, boss, but it looks like a duck to me.”

He pauses for a moment to let his words sink in before he walks to the door.

“I’ll let you know what I find out about Freeman,” he says. I nod and he leaves. I hate when he’s so damn logical. I just think something else is going on with Capito and I want to know what the fuck it is, and maybe he’s right. Maybe I do need a distraction from all this other shit that’s going on in my life, but business is what I do. It’s what drives me, it always has—that, and being a Dom, and I can’t be a damn Dom 24/7. Who would really want to? I mean, I know some people who would, but I’m not one of them.

*-*

The day seemed to drag on forever and I’m only too happy to be home. Of course, the dragging part was only exasperated by the fact that Lorenz and Ros showed up in my office at a quarter to four with yet another urgent matter that required my immediate attention and didn’t get resolved until well past seven in the evening. The good news, another acquisition is signed, sealed, and delivered, and GEH’s net worth has increased yet again… a good day, overall, I would say.

Now, I’m wiped out… so, why am I headed down to my study?

When I get there and put my briefcase on the desk, I see why I was led to the lower level. Beyond the bubbles and the fish in the freshwater aquarium, I see a mass of mahogany hair leaning over a file or a notebook or something on her desk. She pushes a strand or two behind her ear to reveal her glasses, but it only falls back in her face as she continues to study whatever she’s reading. I’m drawn to her. Of course, I am. With 14,000 square feet of house, I’m drawn to this room because she’s next door.

I remove my jacket and tie, tossing them both onto my desk chair before leaving my study. I pull my phone out of my pocket and log into the Crossing’s communications systems. Syncing the sound system with my iTunes, I choose the song I want and select Butterfly’s office as the destination. When I hear the sultry introduction begin, I open her office door to meet her surprised gaze. Closing the door behind me, I slowly walk over to my wife, drinking the sight of her and her initial deer-caught-in-headlights gaze that slowly morphs into wonder.

I’m, I’m so in love with you,
Whatever you want to do,
Is alright with me…

I take her hand and coax her from her seat. Those sexy as fuck glasses… damn! How does anybody make nerd glasses look so damn hot?

‘Cause you make me feel so brand new,
And I want to spend my life with you…

I caress the skin of her arms and watch the gooseflesh rise before moving my hands to her hips. Her lips part as she lifts her eyes to my face. The song is perfect as the words express exactly what I’m feeling. I love her so much that I don’t know what to do with myself sometimes. The feelings are scary and overwhelming and frightening all at the same time.

Let me say that since, baby, since we’ve been together
Loving you forever
Is what I need
Let me, be the one you come running to
I’ll never be untrue

I pull her body close to me and sway back and forth to the music, closing my eyes, breathing her in and absorbing her warmth. Her hands slide up my chest and she leans into me as the music wraps around us.

Oh baby, let’s, let’s stay together
Lovin’ you whether, whether
Times are good or bad, happy or sad
Whether times are good or bad, happy or sad

My hands slide up her back and into her hair. A sound escapes her throat that almost sounds like a purr and strikes something right in the center of me. I move my hands to her face, cup her cheeks and lean in, closing my lips over hers. She tastes as sweet as she always does, and I drink her in thirstily, my tongue lapping hungrily through her mouth.

Why, why some people break up
Then turn around and make up
I just can’t see
You’d never do that to me, would you, baby?
Staying around you is all I see…

Her fingers tangle in my hair and she pulls gently, again strumming that heat in the center of me. I crouch down and wrap my arms around her, lifting her as she wraps her legs around my body and we’re lost in the heat of each other. It’s like every movement, every action, every minute of the day was to bring us to this moment… to each other.

“Christian…” she breathes, as she quickly undoes the first buttons of my shirt. I don’t even know that’s what she’s doing until her mouth is on my throat. Fuck, her tongue is hot. I gasp out a breath and manage to fall back into one of the large seats in her office with her in my arms. She quick undoes the remaining buttons of my shirt, kissing, licking, biting, sucking, and nipping my neck and chest the entire time. I’m actually lightheaded with arousal as I realize the song has ended and started over. Thank God for that!

She’s hands, lips, mouth, tongue, and teeth all over me when I thought I was coming to her office to seduce her! My head is back on the chair and my mouth is open, gasping for air in extreme arousal as my wife makes quick work of my belt and zipper and I’m out of my pant and boxer briefs before I have the chance to protest. Well, they’re down at my ankles anyway.

“Gah, fuck!” I hiss as she bites the tender meat of my thigh before quickly settling in between my legs, and taking my cock in both hands. She doesn’t even take off those damn glasses! She just grabs the base of my hard shaft with both hands and shoves the whole goddamn thing in her mouth.

“Mother of God!” I yell before I even know it. I damn near lift out of the fucking seat. She hits my dick with such immediate suction that my eyes roll back in my head and I literally gag with pleasure, gripping the armrest fiercely to keep from climbing away from her.

“Goddamn! Goddammit!” I curse as her mouth and hands piston back and forth over my cock, viciously, with fervor and purpose! I can’t even move my hips to match her stroke.

“Baby! Fuck! Baby!” I choke. I’m not going to last long if she keeps this up. I was already a little anxious when I got home and didn’t know it. When I saw her, I graduated to heated. Now, I’m volcanic!

“Oh, God, baby, fuck!” I warn, mournfully as I feel that familiar feeling quickly creeping up in my back and my balls tightening. Just as my dick starts to thicken and lengthen and that vein starts to pulse, she releases me with a loud and vigorous “pop” causing me to cry out from the sensation.

“Fucking shit!” I hiss as I gulp in several deep breaths, trying to find my equilibrium. I realize quickly that it’s a futile exercise, as while I’m catching my breath, my limber wife has quickly stripped from the waist down and is now situating that luscious body on top of me.

“Oh, hell,” I lament, as I open my eyes, just as she positions the head of my weeping cock at her hot, wet opening. Situating her legs where she wants them, she drops that warm, tight pussy down onto my waiting dick, sheathing me all the way to the balls and moving nothing but her hips and ass, begins to ride me a rocking horse.

And again, I can’t move.

“Ha! Ha! Oh, shit! Oh, shit! Oh, shit!” Her hands are gripping the back of the chair on either side of my head and that pussy is dominating my dick, sliding effortlessly and masterfully up and down and up and down and up and down, faster and hotter and tighter and wetter with each stroke. I was just about ready to blow when she released me from her mouth, but now…

“Fu-fu-fu-fuck fuck fu-uck…” Shit, shit, shiiiiiit, what she’s doing to my dick! I swear to God, no other part of her body is moving but that ass and those hips and that pussy and she’s just staring at me through those fucking glasses while she’s milking the fuck out of my dick. I’m. Afraid. To move!

And here comes the burn.

I close my eyes and feel it creep my back and to my prostate, ready to blow.

“Watch me!” she hisses. I open my eyes and she’s glaring at me, her hair untamed, her blue eyes wild and feral behind those glasses. I’ll never be able to look at them the same again. I don’t know if my lips part or if my mouth was already open, but she rims my lips hungrily with her tongue, then bites my bottom lip to the point of pain.

That does it.

My balls explode maddeningly and almost unexpectedly into that enthusiastically pistoning pussy and I finally find the strength to grab her hips in an attempt to stop her movements and ease the searing burn.

“Don’t hold me down! Don’t hold me down!” she says against my lips, before thrusting her tongue into my mouth and kissing me passionately. I have to fight not to hold her bouncing pussy against my burning, throbbing, aching, emptying dick. It’s fucking agony and it feels so goddamn good that I want to fucking cry. I groan deep and hard in my mourning until the orgasm stops, and she’s merciless as she never stops riding me until the last drop is spent, claiming my cries as her prizes as she gives me sexy kisses, over and over, until I catch my breath.

“You… didn’t come,” I pant into her mouth.

“You’ll make me come later,” she purrs. “I know you will. I needed to feel you… needed to see you come apart beneath me… inside me…” and come apart I did. I’m still gathering sated shards of myself from the atmosphere.

“You’re unreal,” I breathe.

“As are you,” she replies, rubbing her lips gently against mine as she pushes the hair from my forehead. I kiss her softly, then gaze into her eyes.

“I need to take care of you,” I whisper…

And take care of her, I do… several times.


ANASTASIA

By the time the weekend arrives, I need to unwind like nobody’s business. Christian has been insatiable throughout the week and it’s been enough to get me through each day with this irritating and highly unnecessary investigation, but I’m always wound back up by the end of the day. The up and down and back and forth has me in a total state of confusion and disarray, so I grab my younger partner in crime, Sophie, and head to Miana’s on Saturday for a manicure and pedicure.

Sophie and I spend a lot of time together. Well, maybe not a lot, but enough. She talks to me about a lot of personal matters. I thought Gail would have a problem with her opening up to me more than her, but she admits that she’s just happy that Sophie finally has someone that she can relate to and that she only wants Sophie to be happy. Her and Sophie’s relationship is solid enough that she doesn’t feel threatened by our friendship, so when Sophie can steal a moment of my quiet time, she uses the opportunities to approach sensitive subjects.

“Ana, how old were you when you started… liking guys?” And here we go.

“Well, I don’t really remember,” I answer honestly. “My story is much different than yours, Sophie, but I guess my first real crush, I was much older than you. But the first guy I liked, I was probably a little younger… like eight or ten, maybe. How old are you now? Thirteen, right?” She nods. “Well, you’re certainly due. You’ve got a guy? Someone on the horizon?”

“Well, no… yes… well…” She sighs. “You know how girls go all crazy over One Direction, but they’ll probably never really fall in love with Harry Styles and get married and have kids unless there was a nuclear holocaust and they were the last two people on earth? Yeah, it’s kinda like that.” Her voice is laced with frustration. Young Sophie is under no misconception of her position in this situation, and I briefly recall the way she adoringly eyed Marlow at Elliot and Val’s reception.

“Ah, the ever-present ‘unattainable’ crush,” I confirm.

“Yeah, that guy,” she says. “’Forever just out of reach.’ My mom used to say that all the time about Uncle Christian.” Forever is right, and more like way out of reach for that bitch! “So, let’s just say that it got me thinking about guys and stuff, even though this guy may never be the one…” She says the last part with a touch of melancholy and I’m almost certain that it’s Marlow. They’re about four years apart in age. He’s nearly seventeen, and those are dog years to teenagers.

“So, is this guy Harry Styles or somebody that’s actually attainable?” I ask. She purses her lips.

“Not Harry Styles, but he might as well be, so definitely unattainable,” she says.

“You probably need to resolve your feelings for this guy, then,” I tell her. “Unrequited love sucks and it has a way of festering and making you bitter. Does he go to your school? Do you see him every day?” She shakes her head.

“No, thank God,” she says. “I only see him once in a while, but then when I do, it’s like no time has passed at all.”

Yeah, it’s Marlow.

“Have you told him how you feel?” I ask.

“Oh, God, no!” she answers in horror. “He’d probably laugh at me… and our relationship isn’t like that. It never was, and it most likely never will be, so it’s like you said. I just need to resolve my feelings for him. It’s just hard to do when I see him. I get all fluttery and girly and stuff and I don’t know what to do with myself…”

And she’s going to the wedding, so she’ll probably see him next weekend. Hence, the nervousness and agitation.

“So, what do you do when you’re around this guy?” I ask.

“Usually just gaze at him like a dork,” she says. Yep, definitely Marlow. “He has no idea, so I’m safe. I’ll just have to find some kind of way not to trip over myself whenever I see him. It’s not that often, so I should be able to survive it.”

“You already sound so grown up,” I tell her. “Are you making friends?” she shrugs.

“Not really,” she says. “I just started the new school, so I don’t really know anybody and it’s not like I really had friends at the old school.”

“You should use this new opportunity to make some new friends, Sophie,” I tell her. She looks at me.

“No offense, Ana, and I know you guys don’t treat me that way and don’t look at me that way, but in this neighborhood, I’m the help.” Oh, shit. I hadn’t even thought of that.

“Has somebody said that to you?” I ask.

“They don’t have to,” she says. “It’s how they act. I already know that if I approach any of them and they find out who I am, they’re going to shun me or their parents are going to shun me.” She’s right, too. People are cruel, heartless snobs, and I can’t stand the way that they think.

“Can I ask you a question?” she nods. “Would you care if anybody knew that you live here?”

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “Not really.”

“Would you mind that people knew that you and I are friends?” she frowns.

“Why would I mind that?” she asks.

“Now, here’s the big one, Sophie,” I say as I adjust in my seat and choose a nail color, handing it to the technician. “Are you ashamed for people to know what your father and your stepmother do?” She twists her lips.

“Not really,” she answers, choosing her own color of blushing pink and handing it to her technician. “They make good money and love their jobs. You guys treat us all really well. It’s just that the kids at school, they’re still going to see it as the help. I’d rather be on my own than to deal with that,” she admits. I see now.

“So, it’s not that you don’t want your friends to know what they do. It’s that you’d rather not deal with snobby ass, fake friends,” I conclude.

“Exactly,” Sophie responds. “I’ve been a loner for years. It’s not that hard.” So was I. It’s not the kind of life I want for Sophie.”

“What if you were popular?” I ask. “Could you handle that?” She laughs.

“That’s not going to happen. You have to approach people and be outgoing. You know, go to parties and malls and giggle… I don’t do much of that.” I shrug.

“You never know what might happen,” I say. Sophie examines me.

“You thinking about doing a She’s All That?” she asks. I cock my head at her.

“What do you know about that?” I ask. “That’s before your time.”

“Just a little,” she says, “and misfits tend to watch movies about misfits.” I examine her.

“You consider yourself a misfit?” I ask. She looks down at her hands, now transforming to the pretty pink color.

“Not like an outcast or anything,” she says. “I just really didn’t get a chance to fit in. Seriously, look at my life.” I nod.

“Yeah, I get it.” I look at my own nails and consider my own situation when I was in school. I could take being a misfit. It was being a target that was unbearable.

“Well, to answer your question, I do plan on doing something on the order or She’s All That, but maybe not so dramatic, so just be prepared.” She laughs.

“This is going to be funny,” she says, shaking her head. “Okay, I’m game.”


A/N: She’s All That is a movie from 1999 starring Freddie Prinze, Jr where he accepts a bet and attempts to turn nerd Rachel Leigh Cook into the prom queen.

So, the feature picture of Bradley Cooper AKA Liam Westwick is a backup that I had to find to serve my purposes. The one that the internet gobbled up completely fit the description that I wrote of Liam—charcoal gray suit, tall as Christian, outer-worldly blue eyes, cute half-smile, and feet as big as Texas. This picture was as close as I could get to the description and I’m lucky I still had a second picture that I found of his eyes! It might have been photoshopped by someone, but I don’t care. 

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/

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 ~~love and handcuffs