I HAVE A QUESTION!!!

So, one of my readers came up with a really good idea so I’m going to try it out and see how it works. Here goes….

Since my Muse is playing Hide-n-Hide right now (unless I’m in bed trying to sleep so that I can work in the morning), I’ve decided to give this option a whirl. This is the Q&A thread. You can ask nearly any question here and I will attempt to answer it. There are going to be some stipulations and I will be updating them as I go along. The number one stipulation…

Be respectful.
I try not to be too sensitive about things these days, but if I feel like I’m being beat down because someone doesn’t like the direction of the story or want to slam the characters, I’ll kill this thread as quickly as I started it. Next…

No revelation of plot lines. 
If you feel inclined to ask questions that equates into spoilers (i.e. “Is Christian going to do such and such?” “Are you going to split them up?” “Is Ana going to forgive him?” “Are they going to talk to their shrinks?”), you’ll most likely get the same answer from me repeatedly. “You’ll have to wait and see.”

Feel free to ask questions of the characters.
I or the characters will answer the question (you can include your preference, but the characters will choose what questions they will answer). Please bear in mind the personality of the person whom you are questioning. For example, remember that Christian is an arrogant, egotistical asshole and if you rub him the wrong way, that’s how he’s going to come off on you.
Fuck you, Sharon.
Nobody here knows who “Sharon” is, Chris. Keep fucking with me and I’ll slam an adrenaline shot in my Muse’s chest and we’ll find a way to keep your ass in the doghouse for much longer than I intended.
<Silence>

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Like I said, Christian is an arrogant, egotistical asshole, so tread with care.

 

~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 40—Searching for Remedies

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
~~Ali McGraw and Jennifer Cavalieri in Love Story, 1970.

Yeah, that’s not true. 

Just let that marinate for a bit.

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 40—Searching for Remedies

ANASTASIA

There’s too much emotion… more than I can take at once. My head and heart are full, and I can’t think. I can’t function. It’s just too much…

My chest hurts. As much as I wanted him to come back, wanted to see him, wanted to talk to him, I wasn’t ready for it when he did. When he touched me, all of my feelings were raw and burning and bubbling up in me and I couldn’t control them. They were consuming me and taking me over and I couldn’t think. I thought I would explode, die, disintegrate… something, but I just couldn’t take it. God, help me. How can you want something so much and then can’t stand it when you get it? I’m normally very good with describing and identifying the seven stages of grief, but I don’t know which stage is “He’s-back-please-don’t-touch-me.”

My ankle hurts like fuck, but I learned when I came home from the hospital that the pain medication affects my breast milk, so I won’t take it. I heard Jason say over the two-way that I’ve been sleeping for more than 36 hours. I sure don’t feel like it, but my exploding breasts in the bath confirmed that my soccer players hadn’t emptied me in quite some time. Why didn’t the two-way notify me when they stirred?

Keri wordlessly gathers the clothes that I ask her to get for me and I get dressed, tackling my hair last. I’ve had enough of this fucking hair. It’s time to make a change.

“Keri, would you please call Miana’s and ask for Franco. Tell him that a spa day is needed at Grey Crossing… for… five… maybe six people and find out when he can arrange it? Marilyn has the number… or she can do it… or…”

“It’s okay, Ahna,” Keri says sweetly, cutting me off. “Ah’ll take care of it. Any deh in particuleh?”

“As soon as possible… today if he can swing it, but I’ll understand if he can’t.” She nods and pauses.

“Heh’s back, Ahna,” she says, like his return is going to solve all our problems. I can understand why she feels that way because returning to Chuck solved all of hers. I smile weakly and nod, sending her off to her task.

I want to go and see my babies, but I know Christian is there with them, and I don’t want to run into him right now. I don’t feel like working, although I know that it’s irresponsible of me to shirk my responsibilities to the Center. I sigh and try to use my cane to stand again, and of course, it hurts like hell. With no specific direction as to where I’m going right now, I sit back down on the bed and ponder my situation.

He’s back… I’ll have to talk to him sooner or later. How do I do that without my emotions running all over me and negating any progress that I hope to make?

Put yourself in his shoes. What would you have done if you had walked into his office and saw some woman about to kiss him?

I understand that, but I didn’t kiss the guy! I stopped him!

Do you think he saw that? Do you think he could see anything through his rage except the man closing in on your lips until he grabbed the guy by the collar?

But he didn’t even ask me! He just left and cut me off. He didn’t even give me a chance to explain.

Yeah, about that… as far as you’re concerned he saw something completely different than what was happening, right?

What are you getting at?

He saw you and this guy about to kiss, but that’s not what was happening, right?

Well, no, not really. I was expecting it to be Christian kissing me and knew that it was wrong.

So, you weren’t leaning in or anything, right?

No, I wasn’t leaning in! I mean, I could have moved away faster, but I wasn’t leaning in!

So, he interpreted something that you didn’t intend… something that really didn’t happen.

Yes, exactly! And then he left me without even talking about it!

Something like you interpreted a postponed wedding for a cancelled wedding and ran off to Montana without talking to him.

That was different…

How?

Yeah…
How?

*-*

The next twenty-four hours are full of tension, neither of us knowing what to say to each other or even if we should be in the same room together. I get the same quickening I’ve always gotten when he’s around, but something’s wrong… something else is there with it… a dread or a caution of some kind that makes me stiffen and guard myself. I don’t know what it is… Who am I kidding? Of course, I know what it is. I just won’t admit it, won’t say it out loud, because if I do, then it makes what I’m feeling real. It gives this horrible theory a pulse, and that means that things will never be the same.

So, I can at least identify this stage of grief… denial.

“You’ll be happy to know that the new acting director of the board of licensing approved our accreditation,” Grace says when she calls Friday morning to check on me.

“That’s good to hear,” I say noncommittal.

“We can start our curriculum whenever we like,” she adds. How wonderful. We got our preschool, our continued education, our tutoring program, college prep testing preparation… and it only cost me my marriage… maybe.

“I’m really glad to hear that,” I say, trying to show some enthusiasm. She’s silent for a moment.

“How are you, dear?” she asks. I won’t lie, but I still don’t want to talk about it.

“The same,” I tell her. More silence.

“I hear that Christian is back,” she says.

“Yep,” I answer, still not offering any additional information.

“Do you know where he was?” she asks.

“Madrid… I think,” I tell her. I only know from what I’ve picked up in passing conversations. He still hasn’t told me himself where he was. I would have loved to go to Madrid someday. Now, it’s the furthest thing from my mind. A waste, too, since I’ve heard that it’s a beautiful city.

“Will you be okay, dear?” she asks. I know that she means well, so I try to give her something.

“I’m fine, Grace,” I concede, though I’m far from fine. “It really is a good thing that we can move on with our plans for the Center. I’ll be in on Monday morning to bang out some more or the details. I’m sorry that I was so lost in my own thing that I lost sight of what needed to be done. I promise, I’ll do better.”

“Think nothing of it, Aa,” she chides. “I know it must have been difficult for you. I can only speculate what was going on and you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, but know that I’m here for you, okay?” I nod as if she can see me.

“Thank you, Grace,” I say sincerely. What she doesn’t know is that the Center is my purpose and all I really have now except for the babies. I don’t know what’s going to happen with me and Christian.

Christian…

God, why did any of this have to happen?

Franco put together a special team to come over this evening for a pamper session. Keri had explained that I had sprained my ankle and asked that he bring any kind of aroma therapy that could help with the healing process. He rightly said that the best thing for it is elevation and ice. So, while the others—Gail, Keri, and Sophie—all enjoy other treatments, I soak in a eucalyptus bath with my earbuds in listening to Buddhist meditations with my injured leg elevated on the edge, padded underneath with a towel, and packed in ice.

It’s easy to slip away to nowhere when you allow your mind to clear and listen to the chants. I wasn’t nearly focused enough to do this over the last few weeks, when I was certain that my marriage was over. Now, I just clear my mind and float away to much-needed nothingness.

I’m brought back to the here and now when one of the technicians rouses me to get out of the tub before I shrivel and come to the chair for my hair treatment. I truly dread getting out of the warm cocoon that is the relaxing water, the first time in weeks that I’ve allowed myself to just be. When I sit in the chair, Franco gives instructions for the hot essential oil conditioning that I normally get.

“Wait,” I say, stopping him from mixing the oils. “Not just yet. I want you to clip all of the dead hair.” Franco frowns as the hair stylist carefully examines my hair.

“Mrs. Grey,” she says skeptically, “That’s easily eight inches of hair… most likely because it hasn’t been cut in so long.”

“At least a year,” I tell her, “and cut a foot.” The women in the room all fall silent and I hold my head down, avoiding their judgmental glares. The only one not afraid to speak is the child.

“Wow, Aunt Ana,” Sophie says. “That’s a lot. I would cry if they cut off a foot of my hair.” I raise my eyes to the blue-eyed unassuming angel and smile.

“My hair is so long that I can sit on it, Sophie,” I say sweetly. “I can afford a foot.” I wink at her and she smiles. I turn to Franco. “Mix my treatment for Sophie,” I tell him. “It’ll leave her hair shiny and luxurious and she’ll love it.”

Sophie smiles widely as Franco still looks from me to the stylist in uncertainty. He begins to mix the oils while the stylist stands a bit stunned. I look over my shoulder at her.

“I know what I’m doing,” I reassure her. “It’s time.” I turn back around in the seat and wait.

“Yes, ma’am,” she says, and begins to wash my hair.

For the first time in weeks, I take care to pick something to wear. Most days, I would just grab a suit and go to the Center. I think I alternated between the same three suits for two weeks… I think. I’m still sleeping in the guest room, unable to bring myself to partake of our bridal bed just yet, but I do go to my dressing room and choose a mint green airy  two-layer skater dress with a halter neckline and a cutout back. I wanted to wear a maxi-dress, but with the bad ankle, I could see myself doing a face plant.

Back in the guest room, I examine myself in the mirror. The stylist has given me a thorough facial, saying that my skin looked dull and a little blanched—nothing like she was accustomed to seeing me. It’s strange to me how you can be suffering the most agonizing pain—nearly dying inside—and be able to hide it from the world… for the most part.

Except Al and Grace, I suppose.

I had invited Grace to the impromptu spa evening, but she was on-call at the hospital and couldn’t join us. Maxie was still at work, and Val and Elliot are still out of town along with Mia and Ethan. I really didn’t want to have to explain my current situation to my girlfriends and I hope my ankle is back up to par before Val gets back so that I don’t have to relay that situation to her. They’re both going to be pissed as hell that I kept it from them, but I just couldn’t talk about it. Dragging it out in conversation won’t make me feel any better about what was going on.

Now that I’ve been boiled, milked (in the tub), soaked, plucked, cleaned, clipped, waxed, exfoliated, kneaded, sandblasted—or at least it feels like it—I’m standing here looking at myself, my hair in huge barrel curls still cascading down my back and over my breasts after Gina the reluctant stylist clipped over 13 inches of dead hair from my ends. I don’t know what to do or where to go. I don’t feel particularly sociable, but I guess these four walls have seen enough of me for the past few days. Ballet flats are the safest thing for me to wear, even though I feel like I’m about three feet tall compared to everybody else in the house except Sophie.

I need to see my babies.

I hobble down to the nursery, my ankle still really sore, and enter the room. I scan the normally happy space, Dumbo, Bambi, and Scuttle all looking back at me when I enter. I make a note talk to security about why the two-way hasn’t been notifying me when the children stirred over the last couple of days. To my dismay, my children aren’t in the nursery, so now I must go and find them, but the room isn’t empty either.

Christian is sitting in my window seat, staring at me.

I suddenly feel like an intruder in my children’s room. I’m very uncomfortable and I want to make a quick getaway but leaving without saying anything would be just plain rude.

“I… was…” I stumble over my words and the fact that I’m caught in his intense gray gaze, the one that always made me weak in the knees. Even from this distance, I can see his pupils dilate. I swallow hard and lean on my cane. “Where are the children?” I ask.

“Gail and Keri…” he begins, “they… um… rescued them from me and Jason shortly after they came from the spa.” He never breaks his gaze from me. “You look beautiful.”

I drop my gaze, unable to even correctly accept a compliment from him.

“Thank you,” I say, barely audible. He stands from the seat and walks slowly over to me. I feel wobbly and a little lightheaded watching him walk towards me. Sensations arise in my body that I thought were dead because I hadn’t felt them in weeks. I only felt grief and loss, so when my heart speeds up and my breath quickens slightly, I don’t know how to handle it. I can feel myself panicking a bit.

“I’m told that you spent quite a bit of time in that window,” he says, his voice soft and deep. “What were you looking at?”

“Nothing,” I say in the same barely audible voice. It’s not a total lie. The entire time I watched the bridge, nothing came across it that I was looking for.

“There’s not much to look at,” he says. “The sky, the treetops… and the bridge.” He’s closed the space between us and I don’t respond to his last statement. I swallow as I look at his feet, clad only in sweat socks poking out from under his jeans. The proximity is making it hard to breath. I don’t know how to handle this closeness again, yet. I flinch when he touches my hair, but he doesn’t stop.

“You cut it,” he says, his voice a little dreamy.

“It was time,” I confess. It was stringy and dead and way too long. It was holding too many burdens… too many memories. I’m suddenly hearing that song from South Pacific talking about washing that man out of my hair. Only right now, while he’s touching it and admiring the softness and the curls, I realize that man ain’t going nowhere… and do I really want him to? I’m having a hard time with my feelings right now, but I was miserable while he was gone. Now, he’s back… and everyone thinks that should fix everything. His return fixes nothing… he’s just here.

“It’s been a long time since I saw your hair this way,” he says, his voice breaking my inner contemplation. “It was almost this length when we first met… a little shorter at the time, maybe…”

My mind goes back to the time I caressed him with my hair, very shortly after we met. I remember the look on his face and the sound of his voice… he was in Nirvana.

My short spot isn’t so short anymore. It’s grown enough to curl it and camouflage it back into the rest of my hair with a clip or some bobby pins. Ironically, it’s being held back a mint-green flower that matches my dress… while I’m hearing songs from South Pacific.

“Are you coming down for dinner?” he asks, still caressing my tresses in his fingers. I swallow hard, but nod without raising my head. Yes… I should eat.

“Yes,” I breathe wistfully. “I…” His hand lifts my chin so that he can look at me… and I can look at him.

Oh, God…

My lips part to get more air so that I don’t pant like a silly little breathless puppy. Breathe, Ana, breathe. My feelings are still so conflicted when he brushes his lips against mine. Oh, God, the soft kiss on my skin, his smell in my nostrils, his hand gently steadying me at my waist. I feel like a girl getting her first kiss in school from the captain of the football team. I can’t move… not my body, not my lips… not anything as he gently grazes my mouth with his own. He’s soft, barely touching, lightly tasting, snatching small breaths from me as I close my eyes and try to remember… try to remember who we are and what we were…

My head lulls back and his kiss deepens, but only slightly as I just let him take what he wants—not reciprocating but lost in the sensation nonetheless. The kiss lasts for an eternity and ends too quickly, both at the same time. I’m suspended for a moment, still feeling his kiss even after his lips are gone. I keep my eyes closed, committing that feeling to memory, his warm lips on mine.

I’m catapulted back to the first time he kissed me in his office. It was nothing like this. That kiss was hot, hungry, and demanding, but it stirred the same intense feelings of need and longing that I feel now. I’m taking in short breaths and I feel the room tilt a bit and Christian’s hand tighten only slightly on my waist, steadying me.

I blink my eyes open and look into the face of the man that I love… that I long for… that scares the shit out of my heart right now. He gazes into my eyes, no doubt glazed over and confused looking back at him. I know he wants to kiss me again, but instead, he sidesteps and leaves the room.

Thank God!

I slowly release the breath I was holding, able to think more clearly now that he’s not in the space anymore, but I have to hold on to Minnie’s empty crib to steady myself so that I don’t slide down to the floor in a mountain of goo.

My skin is… crawling? Tingling? Whatever it is, it’s alive, and I’m hearing more songs in my head from South Pacific…

Bali Ha’i…
I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy…
Some Enchanted Evening…
Younger Than Springtime…


CHRISTIAN

My God, she’s so beautiful.

I don’t know what was happening in that room, but I had to get out of there. I wanted to consume her tiny little body in one bite and it was taking me over. The way she looked at me… lost and… submissive and… totally fucking mine, if even just for that moment, totally fucking mine. I don’t think she’s ready for the intensity of what I was feeling in that room. Looking all hot and delicious in that tiny little dress like she did the very first time I saw her—her hair cut almost the exact same way and she’s looking so vulnerable and giving off these needing, yearning vibes. The Dom and Protector in me is bristling to care for her and I’m fighting to get him under control. She’s walking around here hobbling on a cane, physically and emotionally hurting… I couldn’t even touch her the first day I came back…

But a moment ago, in the nursery… I touched her… and kissed her… and she opened to me, helpless, needy, and speechless. Fuck, she’s torturing me. I know her well enough to know that she’s not doing this on purpose, but fuck!

I thrust my hands in my hair and try to contain myself. I didn’t even ask if she needed help getting downstairs. Hell, I can’t go back in that room right now. I can’t be responsible for what happens if I do. I can’t carry her downstairs and I certainly can’t be caught in that tiny ass elevator with her right now.

I make it down to the family room where the Taylors, Keri, and Chuck are all cooing at my children. Little Sophie likes to help care for the twins and it appears that Mikey has taken quite a liking to her, so she has Mikey in her lap, occupying him with his sock doll why Gail and Jason look on. Keri has Minnie in her arms, rocking her to sleep while Chuck gazes longingly on the sight. I’ve got a feeling he’s got baby fever. Jason has his arm around his wife, but frowns when he sees me. He rises from the sofa and follows me into the kitchen.

“You okay?” he asks as I uncharacteristically go to the refrigerator for a beer.

“Yeah,” I say, popping the cap off a Budvar and drinking right from the bottle. I walk out to the family room patio and sit in one of the chairs, watching the sun go down over the lake.

“You wanna talk?” Jason says, sitting in a nearby seat. I take another swallow of my beer.

“That window you told me that Keri said she sat in all the time… the window seat in the nursery… treetops, sky, and the bridge.” I swallow more beer as a knowing look comes over his face. “It didn’t take me long to figure out which one she was watching for hours at a time.” Jason sighs.

“Yeah, that’s what my wife thinks, too,” he says. “She’s been pretty mute the whole time… taking care of the babies and escaping away to whatever corner she chose. It’s my understanding that she finally totally snapped when people kept asking her what was wrong, and she didn’t want to tell them. The consensus is that the only people who know what happened are the two of you and no one’s going to ask.” I nod as I look at the floor.

“I feel like I shouldn’t say anything before she does,” I tell him “When she’s ready, we’ll talk about it.”

“Okay… but… isn’t that kind of what got you where you are now?” he asks. I just shake my head.

Once I finish my beer, we go back into the house to find both of my children asleep in the nappers of their Pack-n-Play. Gail has gone to the kitchen to see about dinner with Ms. Solomon and Chuck and Keri have moved their canoodling to the dining room. Sitting with her gaze fixed on the two bundles in the Pack-n-Play and humming that same lullaby is my wife. Her cane sits idly by her, leaning on the sofa, as she stares longingly into the Pack-n-Play as if she would crawl inside with them if she could.

I watch her for several moments, unaware that Jason has left me on my own until Butterfly finally stirs and struggles off the sofa to hobble to the dining room, totally unaware of my presence.

“Jason,” she says when she gets to the dining room, “can you please find out why the two-way system hasn’t been alerting me that the children are awake for the past few days?” She moves to pull her chair back from the table, but I beat her to it, sliding the heavy chair from the table to give her access. She looks up at me with the bottomless blue eyes before taking her seat.

“Thank you,” she says, softly, before dropping her gaze to the table. She spoke with such authority a moment ago, and suddenly, she’s back to being a mouse. I can’t hide my confusion.

“That’s my fault, Ana,” Gail says, coming into the dining room. “You hadn’t been sleeping well, so when you finally got to sleep…” Gail shrugs. Butterfly looks at her and nods.

“I understand,” she says, “but can we… fix it… please?” Jason nods.

“I’ll have it recoded right after dinner,” he says.

Dinner is pretty uneventful. Sophie talks about how much she loves her hair and that Butterfly told the staff to use her treatments in Sophie’s hair. Now, Sophie wants to do the treatments herself once a month if she can’t get to Miana’s. Gail has promised to pencil in an appointment for them to have a beauty day every four weeks. This pleases young Sophie immensely as I’m certain that she hasn’t had anything like this with her mother.

Butterfly looks a bit uncomfortable throughout the meal until Keri asks if she’s okay. She simply indicates that her stomach has been upset and her digestion hasn’t been very good for the last few days but assures the table that she’s fine and very shortly thereafter, escapes to the family room with the children, who still haven’t awakened yet.

Conversation continues as usual at the table, but I watch Butterfly as she stares into the Pack-n-Play at our children. Soon, everyone heads in their separate directions and I go to the family room to check on Butterfly. She hasn’t moved for several minutes and I soon discover why. She has curled up on the sofa—her head lying on the back of the sofa and her legs curled under her—and she has fallen asleep. She looks so small and I recognize the shrinking immediately, but she looks adorable, too. I put a blanket over her and kiss her lips gently. She doesn’t react. Noting that it would be criminal to move any of them right now, I sit in her recliner and watch over all of them until someone stirs.

“Ana!” She startles me out of a daydream several minutes later when she pops up from the sofa like a Jack-in-the-box, saying her name and frantically trying to remember where she is. She’s groggy, like she’s drugged… it’s like she was on the very edge of consciousness. I realize that she heard the two-way activate in the kitchen and thought it was for her. What the hell was she dreaming about?

“It’s okay,” I say, moving carefully next to her and trying to calm her breathing. I can feel her racing pulse through her skin. “They’re not awake yet; they’re right here in front of you.”

She squints and rubs her eyes, scratches her head, the realizes where she is. She glances at her children in the Pack-n-Play, still fast asleep, then nods. Her head falls sideways onto the back of the sofa and she’s asleep in seconds. How does she do that?

Defense mechanism.

I gently stroke her hair and I’m again transported back to when we first met. She was fucking beautiful. She took my breath away… still does. I couldn’t fucking resist her. I remember seeing her that night at the nightclub. My God, it was outer-worldly. I couldn’t have escaped if I tried. I think that was the first real transformation for me—either that day or the day that I followed her to the New Orleans with Allen—either way, I knew I had changed and there was no turning back for me. Even now, when she doesn’t know what to do with herself and I don’t know what to do with myself, there’s no hope for me. I’m a fucking goner.

*-*

I’m not sleeping well if at all with Butterfly still sleeping in the guest room. Another night has come and gone, and we still haven’t talked, still haven’t made it to the same bed. It’s Saturday morning now and the only way that I can explain her mood today is… crabby. In the early afternoon, however, I get a notice from Windsor that we have a guest that just might change the course of things.

“Ace, hey. Did Ana call you?” His lips form a thin line as he examines me.

“No, she didn’t,” he says. “She cancelled her last three appointments without explanation and I got worried. She’s one of my most complicated patients. I hope you don’t mind me just dropping by, but she won’t answer or return my calls.”

Mind? I welcome it right now!

“No, not at all,” I say, taking a seat in the formal living room with him. “I don’t want to elaborate on what’s going on; I think she should start by telling you what she feels you need to hear. Activate two-way communications.” The system comes alive. “Locate Anastasia Grey.” A few moments pass, and I hear her raspy, whispering voice.

“Ana.” She’s in the nursery again.

“Ace is here,” is all I say. A few moments of silence pass.

“I’ll be right down.”

“End two-way communications.” Ace and I sit in expectant silence until Butterfly…

Butterfly…

… until Butterfly bends the corner, still on the cane from her newly injured ankle. Ace looks on in confusion as I take her reluctant hand and help her down the stair into the living room.

“What happened to your leg?” Ace asks, no prelim or greeting.

“Blazing stupidity,” she replies as she hobbles to the sofa, anger lacing her voice, “And it’s my ankle.” Ace twists his lip. I can see his skepticism. “To answer your question, I fell off a cliff… could’ve died.” She says it so matter-of-factly as she seats herself on the sofa opposite Ace. “So, what brings you here? Did someone tell you that I finally cracked up, or was it the missed appointments?” Her voice is laced with heavy sarcasm, which doesn’t escape Ace.

“The missed appointments,” he responds flatly while taking his seat. “As you know, extended periods of absence make me nervous.” Butterfly nods.

“Well, don’t worry. I’m not hunting great whites,” she responds. What the hell does that mean? “I’m sorry that I put you through that. It wasn’t intentional.” Ace looks somewhat side-eyed at her.

“Do you want to tell me what was going on? Are you okay?” he presses.

“My husband left me.” The words just jump out of her mouth like “We’re having chicken for dinner.” I try not to tense up at her stoic tone, though I know she’s anything but.

“Oh,” Ace says, looking from me to Butterfly. “Maybe this is a bad time, then…”

“No, you’re here because you care, and I appreciate that,” she says shifting her leg, obviously uncomfortable.

That makes two of us.

While she and Ace talk, I make quick work of moving the table closer to Ace and away from Butterfly. I move one of the armchairs in front of her and layer it with pillows. I chance lifting her ankle—touching her again—and gently placing it elevated on the chair and pillows. She winces when I touch her, but I soon realize that she’s wincing from the pain.

“You don’t… look like you fell off a cliff,” Ace says while Butterfly continues to wince in pain. It’s visible the moment the comfort sets in.

“What about painkillers?” I ask cautiously.

“I’m not taking them they taint my milk,” she says in one breath without raising her eyes to me. So, all the time she’s been in pain, she hasn’t taken any painkillers. That’s a double stab. “I fell off the cliff sometime last week,” she says to Ace. “Tuesday or Wednesday, I think. Maybe Friday… I don’t remember.”

“That’s a long time, Ana,” Ace observes. “You should be much better by now.”

“Well, I would be, but in a mad dash to not quite make it to the restroom, I leapt out of bed and tweaked it again. So, here I sit, in pain and irritable and really just wanting to go back to sleep.”

“You should really take something for the pain,” I press.

“I can’t they make my milk sour and my children won’t nurse.” She says it again all in one breath as if speaking to me is a task.

“Would you like a session?” Ace says. “Or not…”

“No, you’ve come all this way. We should at least talk,” she says to him. Ace looks at me expecting, silently asking me to give them privacy.

“If she doesn’t mind, I’d like to stay,” I say, humbly. I’ve been home for days and we haven’t talked, and it has to start somewhere. We both look at Butterfly who doesn’t react.

“I don’t care,” she says, impassively. “He can stay if he wants. I have nothing to hide.”

And another jab—whether or not it was supposed to be, I’m not sure, but it was. Ace nods.

“Okay, where would you like to start?” he asks.

“I have no idea,” she says.

“How about why you cancelled your sessions,” he presses.

“Because I didn’t want to talk about it,” she says without hesitation. “Because I was embarrassed, and I didn’t want anyone to know that my husband had left me; because talking about it meant that it was real and I didn’t want to hear myself say it. I didn’t want to discuss it or give it life. It was alive and burning inside of me—day after day, all-consuming, numbing, burning, aching pain, and talking about it wasn’t going to help.” Her eyes stay planted on her swollen, aching foot.

“I didn’t leave you,” I say, almost inaudibly. I don’t know if she heard me, but Ace did.

“What made you think Christian left you?” Ace asks.

“He wasn’t here,” she says flatly. “I was here. I was in this house taking care of our children, for days… weeks…” She starts to rub her leg as if she could feel new pain radiating up from her ankle. “I was here, and he wasn’t. No one knew where he was and if they did, they wouldn’t tell me. No one told me, so I didn’t talk to anyone.”

“Ana, it sounds like you think everyone else knew where Christian went and you were the only one who didn’t,” Ace says. She doesn’t answer. Oh, God, is that what she thought… that everyone was conspiring against her and she was the only one who didn’t know where I was?

“Did you think they knew where Christian was while he was gone?” Ace asks the question burning in my head.

“I didn’t think anything, Ace,” she says with the same cold indifference she’s had throughout the entire conversation. “I was in some of the most excruciating pain of my life and if I was thinking anything at all it was, ‘get up, relieve myself, turn on the shower, get in, use soap, lather my body, lather my hair, rinse, lather my hair again, rinse…” She recites her day in detail while Ace listens like it’s the most fascinating thing he’s ever heard. It is for me, because she outlines every single step, including…

“Eat so that my babies could eat…”
“Cry…”
“Stare aimlessly out some window…”
“Cry…”
“Sit in the nursery and wait for my babies to wake up…”
“Cry…”
“Go to bed and pretend to go to sleep…”
“Cry…”
“Watch the sun come up from whatever window I’m staring out of at sunrise…”
“Cry…”
“Get up and repeat.”

Again, the entire story recited with cold indifference like she’s giving a police debriefing about directing traffic. I sigh. What was the purpose of this exercise? Was I trying to put her through what she put me through when she went to Montana? If so, why? We had gotten past that and there was no point to be made, so why repeat the pain? Was the sadist in me coming out to prove to her that I could hurt her as much as she hurt me?

I never talked to Dr. Baker once while I was gone, never tried to work through any of my feelings or thoughts… I just left and worked, broke all communication and worked. I only thought about what I saw with her and Westwick as I was leaving Helping Hands, as I was drinking, as we boarded the plane, as I vomited my guts in the bathroom on the jet. It’s all I dreamed about that first night during the long flight to Madrid. When her name came up on my phone, I only knew that I didn’t want to talk to her. When I finally blocked her calls, it was because I wanted to focus and not think of her. Once I blocked her calls, I didn’t think of her and Westwick once—not once—until I felt the helplessness of not being able to save those teenagers being loaded onto that truck.

The conversation goes on for a while without my attention, Butterfly talking about nothing in particular. Her voice is monotoned and the only time she talks about what she was feeling is when she described the “all-consuming, numbing, burning, aching pain” that hung on day after day after day and the description of her day that involved lots and lots and lots of crying.

“I went to Madrid,” I say finally. I don’t know why I say it at this moment. I think… or I thought… I may have heard something about her still not knowing where I was. “There’s a factory and a hotel based there that were part of an acquisition in progress. I used the opportunity to liaise with the boards of directors and tour the properties.”

“Opportunity…” she says, like she’s testing the word, but says nothing else.

“Ana,” Ace says after a long pause, “Christian says he didn’t leave you. What do you think of that?”

Another long pause…

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” she says, flatly. “Windsor!” That last word is the most emotion she’s shown since Ace first got here.

“You’re never going to resolve what’s going on between you two if you don’t talk it out,” Ace warns. She still says nothing until Windsor enters the room.

“Can you please look in the closet of my bedroom and get my crutches?” Her bedroom. She plans on staying there, even though I’m home.

“There’s obvious tension between you two,” Ace continues after Windsor nods and leaves the room. “I’ve never seen this much animosity between you two in all the time I’ve known you. I’ve only seen love and respect even when you’re angry with one another. I’m afraid that you’re standing on the precipice and if you don’t talk this out, the damage could be irreparable.”

“Please, Butterfly,” I add, and she flinches again.

“The time for talking was before you left… or when I left you twenty messages begging you to call me or come home so we could work this out, right before you blocked my calls. I’m having a hard time finding my words now.”

It’s the first time I hear a twinge of emotion in her tone, but it’s gone as quickly as it comes. She and Ace say a few more words and I show Ace to the door.

“I won’t hide the fact that I was concerned that this may be a case of domestic abuse, which is why I had to see her for myself,” he says when I walk him to the door. I never even considered that he thought that. I frown deeply.

“You thought I hit my wife?” I ask, my voice low and menacing.

“I had no answers and I had to allow for every eventuality. Then I saw that she was injured, and that only fueled my suspicions. Be angry with me if you want, but my first obligation is to my patient, especially if I think she’s in a dangerous situation… and she is, and so are you.”

Somehow, I don’t think he’s talking about domestic abuse anymore.

“She never got to tell me what caused the hiatus of yours.” I push my hands through my hair.

“I walked in on her kissing… about to kiss another man.” Ace’s expression changes to horrified surprise. I shake my head. “No… no, let me…” I roll my eyes. “He was about to kiss her, but…” For the first time, I replay the scene in my head as describe it to Ace.

I walk into the room and see my wife and a man sitting on a sofa. She’s looking into his eyes and he’s gazing at her, gently caressing her cheek. Everything is moving in slow motion, even slower than his lean into her to eventually press his lips against hers. I see a red haze before me and I want to kill him.

He’s going to kiss my Butterfly… my Butterfly! And she’s not resisting!

Rage flows through my body and I barely register… only just this moment… that at the last minute, she puts both hands on his chest and halts his movement.

“No,” she says, “I’ve told you. I’m married.”

I’m already barreling towards them in blind fury, intent on pummeling this man within an inch of his life, but as I get to him, Butterfly jumps between us… she’s protecting him, telling me that she has this under control and instructing me to leave.

Leave… she wants me to leave…

So, that’s what I did.

I tell Jason to get the jet ready for an immediate overseas flight. It only took a few moments to decide where I was going as I was already working on the acquisitions in question. I went home, waited for Jason to pack and say goodbye to his wife and daughter, and was gone before she got there. I didn’t even say goodbye to my own children. I spent hours in the airport’s private lounge waiting for the plane and pilots to be ready. We almost didn’t have a flight attendant, but I didn’t care.

Leave… she wants me to leave… she wants me to leave…

So, I left.

Ace sighs when I finish my story.

“I hope you two work this out soon,” he says and turns to leave.

“Wait a minute,” I say, “I’ve told you why I left and what I felt and that’s all you have to say?” He turns back to me.

“Let me ask you this,” he says. “What if you had come home and Chuck hadn’t caught her from falling off that cliff? What if you had come back and your wife was seriously injured, crippled, or worse—dead? What if she never recovers from what she’s feeling now? What if she can never find her words and you can never get your relationship back together? What if you look up and one day you find her willingly in the arms of someone else, because this one sounds like she stopped him and told him that she was married. And it doesn’t sound like she was protecting him; it sounds like she was protecting you. Didn’t you two meet because of anger management classes that kept you out of jail?”

Shit! I forgot all about that.

“If she was protecting him, she would have sent him away to talk to him later. She had to wrap up what was happening with him right there and then and she couldn’t do that with you charging at him like a bull. She was going to talk to you later… until you cut her off. The two of you have huge abandonment issues and the minute things get too tough to bear, that’s exactly what you do to each other. You deflect her attempts at contact and she gets wine drunk. She tells you to go to hell until she wants you to come back and you don’t eat for five days. You postpone the wedding and she runs to Montana. You see an advance by another man—a spurned advance, I might add—and you run off to Madrid, and she damn near falls off a cliff. I thought you all covered these bases in marriage counseling—how you would handle it if one of you thought the other was unfaithful or if either of you had an inclination towards someone else. You’re not doing a very good job.

“You know as much as I do that when she told you to leave that she didn’t mean for you to get on a plane and fly to Madrid, leaving her with no explanation or no idea if you were coming back to your family. I don’t know what’s going to happen to the two of you, but I thought you had love locked down. It looks like the only thing you two are skilled at is abandoning each other at the worst possible times, because Christian, right now, she is gone… and I don’t know if you’re going to get her back.”

He glares at me for a moment, unapologetic, and proceeds to the door.

“I’ve breeched many confidences during this conversation with you, but it’s only because I’m concerned. If she wants to fire me and report me to the board, I understand.” I shake my head.

“That won’t happen,” I assure him. He doesn’t respond.

“Tell her to call me if she wants to talk, but I’m not sure there’s much else that I can do.” As he leaves through the front door, Windsor passes me in the grand entry with Butterfly’s crutches.

“Ana,” I hear her say, and realize that the two-way must have chimed in the living room. I hear our children cooing through the speaker system as I return to the room. Windsor is helping her to her feet and she winces in pain as she tries to balance on the crutches.

“I hate these things,” I hear her murmur, as she tries to adjust to the crutches. Had I been here, she would never have to use crutches. I would carry her everywhere. Hell, had I been here, she never would have fallen in the first place. She wouldn’t have been drunk on that cliff. She won’t let me touch her and when she has no choice, or I touch her before she can protest, she flinches and stiffens

I move over to where Windsor is standing, and he immediately steps aside. I look at Butterfly who refuses to make eye-contact with me while she pretends not to struggle while adjusting the crutches. I steady her petite body with one arm behind her back, move the crutch closest to me and hand it back to Windsor, and scoop her up in my arms before she has the opportunity to protest. The second crutch falls uselessly onto the floor and she lie in my arms like a wet rag, one hand placed over the other in her lap. Windsor follows behind me with her crutches as I carry her up the winding staircase.

“My children,” she protests when I turn the opposite direction from the nursery towards the guest room where she has set up shop.

“I’ll have them brought to you,” I say without breaking my stride. When we get to her room, I place her gently on the bed. I prop her swollen ankle up on another pillow before instructing Windsor to tell Gail to bring my wife her children… and an ice pack for her ankle. She says nothing; she just rubs her leg, low near her ankle.

Several moments of silence pass before Gail and Keri bring the children to us with the accompanying bottles for feeding time. She reaches for Mikey, who—as I have discovered—hasn’t had much breast time because Minnie always beats him to it. Keri puts Minnie in my arms and they leave without another word except for Gail to tell us that she’ll be back with the ice pack. My wife gently caresses our son’s mahogany hair and she looks as if her life begins and ends in his little eyes as he hungrily nurses. I’m feeling guilty for the small twinge of jealousy that I feel that she used to look at me that way so effortlessly. When she looked into my eyes yesterday after I kissed her, there was that longing… that familiar yearning in her eyes. I knew all was not lost, but… what do we do to get back what we had?

Mikey is nearly finished nursing both breasts and I have fed, burped, and changed my daughter and cooed her to sleep before Gail finally returns. I want to ask her what took so goddamn long, but she answers my question with a stainless-steel cooler in her hand.

“Chuck says you should use this,” she says. “It’s a cryotherapy unit. It’s intense cooling therapy and it’s going to be really uncomfortable for the first minute or so, but he says once you get used to it, you’ll never want to take it off… but you’ll have to or else you’ll freeze your veins.”

I frown at the double explanation she just gave and Butterfly looks just as confused.

“Let me explain,” Gail says as she puts the cooler on the floor. “Christian, can you help me?”

I put Minnie in her napper and follow Gail’s instructions. I gently lift Butterfly’s foot and leg, allowing Gail to wrap some kind of cold pad wrap around her ankle.

“This is filled with ice water,” she says, pointing to the cooler. “The cold water circulates through these tubes and through tubes in this pad to help with the swelling and discomfort around your ankle. You know how ice packs might feel uncomfortable and cause an ice burn if they sit on your skin?”

“Yes,” Butterfly nods.

“You won’t have that with this because the water is constantly circulating,” she says. “You’ll feel that discomfort right at the beginning, but the ice will soon give you a bit of a numbing feeling and you won’t feel the pain. That’s why he said you shouldn’t leave it on for too long because it can do damage.”

“Well, how long should she leave it on?” I ask. It’s going to give her great comfort, but she can’t wear it?

“Start with fifteen minutes and see if you’re comfortable,” she says to Butterfly. “If you’re still comfortable, then you can leave it on for half an hour to forty-five minutes, but then you should turn it off for a while to see how you’re doing—at least five or ten minutes, preferably more if you’re not in too much pain.” She turns her gaze to me. “If she falls asleep in it, turn it off.”

“I can hardly see myself falling asleep with cold water running around my ankle,” Butterfly protests.

“Chuck assures me that you will,” she says. “Christian, take Michael please. I don’t want any casualties when I turn this thing on.” I take Mikey and put him in his napper, hurriedly coming back to Butterfly’s side.

“This is how you turn it on and off; this is how you adjust it,” Gail says, showing us the controls. “Are you ready?” she asks Butterfly. She nods, and Gail turns the power on. At first, there’s no reaction from Butterfly, but a few moments later, she sucks in a large hiss. A few moments after that, she’s nearly crawling backwards on the bed.

“Shit shit shit shit shit!” she proclaims in quick succession as the coldness surrounds her ankle. She’s fighting to keep still and grimacing at her ankle.

“Turn it off!” I demand, unable to withstand the discomfort on her face.

“Wait a second,” Gail protests. “Chuck said it takes a minute, but it’ll help her. It’s much more effective than an ice pack… even my alcohol packs.” I watch as Butterfly continues to grimace looking at the pad on her ankle like it’s some kind of flesh-eating amoeba sucking the blood through her skin.

“Fuck!” she exclaims, several moments later.

“Turn it off! It’s not getting any better.” I move towards the cooler and Gail puts herself between me and the apparatus, putting her hand up defiantly to stop me.

Dr. Grey,” she says to me, a bit perturbed, “will you please give this device an opportunity to do its job before you proclaim it ineffectualness?” She glares at me, daring me to move forward and I’m having one of those Jason Taylor “you’re fired” moments. “Ana, how are you doing?” she says.

Butterfly gasps and relaxes her arms that were holding her off the bed moments ago. She settles a bit on the bed, taking in deeper breaths now.

“It’s better,” she says, her voice shallow, “It’s feeling better.”

“Good. Give it a few more moments and you should be feeling relief.” She nods, but still looks uncomfortable. I can’t believe she wouldn’t take the pain pills. We have enough breast milk frozen to feed an entire hospital nursery. She’s worse than Chuck and his AA concerns to go through this kind of pain. Could this be why it’s taking the ankle so long to heal? That’s what it was with Chuck. If this thing will give her any relief, I’ll get one in every fucking room.

“Ana… how about now?” Gail asks as the discomfort starts to leave Butterfly’s face and she begins to relax.

“Better,” she breathes. “Much better.”

“Is it giving your relief, or you can just tolerate the cold?” Gail asks.

“A little bit of both,” she says. “The throbbing pain was replaced with the unearthing cold, but once the cold started to settle down, the pain didn’t come back. So, yeah, it’s good,” she nods.

“Thank you,” she says, then turns to me and gestures to the seat over by my children. “Dr. Grey, if you will.” I roll my eyes at her.

“You’re picking up bad habits from your husband,” I say as I take my seat and check on my sleeping son and daughter. They’re getting a lot bigger, too big for their nappers. It’s time to bring out the second Pack-n-Play.


A/N: For those of you who have strong opinions on how this segment should end… sorry, but it was written months ago and I’m not changing it, so you just have to sit tight and wait it out. If you’re disappointed, angry, or disenchanted with the outcome, can’t help you there.

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at 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

 

 

 

Weary Muse

That picture describes the situation perfectly…

You know how as a kid, if you thought about doing something wrong, you knew that if you did it, you would get a spanking? But then you do it anyway—and when you get the spanking, you get mad.

You knew you were going to be punished, so why are you mad?

So, you go to your room, and you pout, and you grumble, and you cry yourself to sleep because Mama gave you a spanking that you knew you were going to get.

That’s my Muse.

This “Madrid” storyline was written months ago—thousands of words over several chapters that was just waiting to be inserted into the story, and they are still a few prewritten chapters left. I knew when I wrote it that reactions would be volatile. Yet, when the different reactions started flowing in, my Muse saw it and closed up shop, and nothing that I said or did made her want to come out and play anymore. In addition to that, I just got tired. I got physically tired, so I just shut it down for a minute.

As a result, when I was ready to approach “the story” again, I had to resort to the mechanical route—writing outlines and doing voice recordings of bits and pieces of storyline, when normally, I always went the creative route—sit down at the computer and let my fingers and my mind go wherever they want to go… and that’s how you guys got these stories. So right now, because she’s “gun shy,” there’s nothing after Madrid. There are bits and pieces of storylines and things that need to happen and even entire storylines with nowhere to go—but there’s no timeline after Madrid. It just falls off a cliff like Ana almost did.

Well, while my Muse is very sensitive about her work, she’s also very vain and doesn’t like to be left out. So, when I got up today and said, “I should probably post a chapter,” she sat in a corner with her arms folded like she wasn’t going to participate. I didn’t want to edit the chapter—I just wanted to post it with all its errors and no pictures. Well, of course when I went to do that, the chapter has not title. All of my chapters are in Word like this…

Chapter XX—AA

… where “XX” is a chapter number and “AA” is just “AA,” so I have to read the chapter to give it a title.

Well, shit. Fine.

So, as I’m editing and reading the chapter, I get a few chapters in and my Muse goes, “Wasn’t there a picture to go with that line?”

Oh, you’ve decided to speak!

So, now I go off into my bookmarks and my Pinterest to find this picture of this cute dress that Ana is wearing (which I still haven’t found yet), and I discover that there are pictures in my Pinterest “Holding Tank” from the last chapter that I never posted.

Well, shit. Okay.

So, I go to post the pictures to the correct pages and end up landing on my Pinterest home page—suggestions for Tupac, Barack and Michelle…

… and butterflies.

“Ooo, pretty butterflies! Your author’s page is a little old. Shouldn’t you update that?”

Shouldn’t you go back to shutting up if you’re not going to give me some content?

Turns out that she’s only sensitive to what other people say. She don’t give a fuck about my opinion… much like The Bitch.

Fine.

I start playing with pictures of butterflies, many of them very pretty on Pinterest, but they suck on my Facebook author’s page. I find these really gorgeous blinged-out hands encompassing a blinged-out butterfly and oh yes! We’re in business! But something’s still not quite right…

“Those chained-up hands don’t really fit the theme.”

Well, shit. Okay.

So, now I’m looking for another profile picture. I changed it out three times and I finally find my heart’s content in a beautiful bronze butterfly with a sunset background, also with releasing hands.

“You’ve got that same dark picture on your website page.”

Well, shit.

I liked it better when you were in the corner quietly pondering life and trying to find an angle for the story. Can’t you go back and do that?

Okay.

I used the same bronze butterfly from my author’s page profile and put it on the website. It turns out The Bitch—er, I mean, my Muse was right, and it really brightened up the page. I even found another butterfly for my website welcome page that doesn’t look as janky as the previous one did.

Also, I’m going to be moving my website to another location—a paid website—but that’s not going to be for quite a while yet.

Anywho, now she’s all in “coming out of cocoon” mode, but she still hasn’t given me any new content. She’s just looking over my shoulder right now and poking me in the brain at the most inopportune moments—like at the beginning of this post. I said that I would post the chapter and run away. She said, “No, tell them what’s going on.”

I don’t wanna tell them what’s going on! I want to drop the chapter and dash!

Well, shit. Fine.

So, three pages later, now you know what’s going on.

I’ve always try to have “real-life” stuff happen with Christian and Ana, even if this kind of “real-life” stuff may not have happened to everyone who reads the story. However, I think the drama and the realism may be a bit too real for the fantasy that we’ve developed for Christian and Ana over the years. As such, just like television series in real life have to take a break over the summer and come back in the fall with fresh ideas and good storylines, you will find that I will be taking a break every now and then to give my mind—and this temperamental fucking Muse—a rest.

I don’t want anyone to feel like they can’t comment or can’t say how they feel. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but where I was once known as the “Zinger Queen,” I’ve retracted my claws just a bit when I don’t agree with what you’ve written, and most often, I just remain silent. But please know that I love and hate dramatic reactions. When you write a comment, I feel what you feel. I am often in tears when I’m writing some of these storylines, so I’m very invested. In the end, it’s emotionally and physically exhausting.

I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m not looking for pats on the back or rubs on the head. I’m not looking for anybody to blow rainbows up my ass. I’m certainly not asking anyone to shut up and withhold their opinions. I’m just saying all this to say that it takes time and energy to absorb this stuff; and if you see that the story is moving slowly and/or I’m slow to post from here on out, this is why.

I still love you all… really, and thank you for sticking it out with me.

~~love and handcuffs

Fifty Shades Golden: Chapter 11

This is a work of creativity. As such, you may see words, concepts, scenes, actions, behaviors, pictures, implements, and people that may or may not be socially acceptable and/or offensive. If you are sensitive to adverse and alternative subject matter of any kind, please do not proceed, because I guarantee you’ll find it here. You have been warned. Read at your own risk.

Explicit details of sex and BDSM scenes from here on out. Some may be hot while others may not be to your taste… and not necessarily CG with Ana together. Proceed at your own discretion, but don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

Fifty Shades Golden

Chapter 11

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GOLDEN

In my line of work and with what I do, vulnerability is not a favorable quality. However, when it comes to thoughts of Mommy and Daddy, I have no defense. I was 10 when I lost my parents. My last memory of Daddy was this tall, handsome, beautifully mocha-colored giant who could take on the world. He fought the bad guys and won! He caught the Boogeyman! I was never afraid of the monsters under my bed as long as Daddy was alive. They dare not show their faces to Officer Steele’s baby girl or he would banish them to parts unknown, and I knew this without a doubt. I knew that officers died in the line of duty all the time, even at that age, but not my Daddy. Bullets couldn’t pierce his impenetrable armor, and no one could convince me otherwise. My Daddy was unstoppable.

My mother… Oh, my mother was the kindest, sweetest, most beautiful woman I had ever known. She never coddled me or treated me like a kid who couldn’t handle the truth, so she always told me the truth—well, except about a few things, like Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy. But she taught me about discrimination, about racism, prejudice and bigotry. She taught me what to say when the kids in school taunted me because my daddy was a “nigger.” She even taught me what to say when I changed schools and the black kids called me “whitey” and “cracker” and “honkey.” She taught me that their ignorance and hatred made them say those things, and that I should never let those words hurt me because hatred is painful, and it really hurts them more than it hurts me since they carry it and have to walk around with it—I can walk away from it.

She also taught me that if someone ever put their hands on me to beat the ever-living shit out of them!

My mother was a sweet, kind, and beautiful woman, but she was a white woman married to a black cop most often living in a black neighborhood, and she could fuck you up! My mother fought like a street brawler, and if you were ever unlucky enough to get into a fight with her thinking you were going to “beat this little white bitch’s ass,” you got more than you bargained for. Mommy was a “scrapper,” and after an altercation with her, that’s most likely all that was left of you…

Scraps.

I adored the two faces of Mommy—the soft, sweet, gentle caretaker that hugged and kissed me; showed me so much love and affection that it overflowed from my tiny little soul every day; kissed my boo-boos when I was little and taught me the rougher lessons of life as I began to grow; and the strong, alabaster queen that wouldn’t take shit from anybody. The woman who told you where to go and how fast to get there and would give you directions if you needed them. She was amazing and magnificent, and when I looked up at her, beams of light burst from behind her head like a sunlight halo and she could always right the wrongs of my day… of my life! There’s no woman in the world like my Mommy, and there never will be again.

So, in times like these, when thoughts of them come flooding back to me like a tsunami, I become that same little girl riding in that car with my aunt and uncle, trying to grasp the fact that my beloved Mommy and Daddy are never coming back and not being able to embrace it all. It’s like no time has passed at all and I’ve just lost them just this minute, and the pain is going to swallow me whole and devour me alive.

I don’t cry… but today, I weep. I cry and cry until my chest hurts and my head aches. I cry until my eyes feel like they’ve swollen shut and I can barely breathe or see or think. And when I feel like I can’t cry anymore, I cry more. I miss my parents so much at this moment that I could literally lay down and die without them. Maybe it’s the fact that Uncle Richard has popped back into my life and won’t go away. Maybe it’s the fact that Elena’s creepy ass husband with his creepy ass eyes physically gave me the heebie-jeebies and Daddy wasn’t there to chase away the Boogeyman. I don’t know. All I know is that I miss them so badly right now that my entire body hurts and I just want it to stop…

“Mistress…”

I raise my eyes and Blake has entered my room without permission. I don’t know if he knocked or not, but his expression says it all—sorrow, pity, helplessness. My body shakes with grief and I can’t focus. My caretaker comes over to my bed, toes out of his shoes and removes his jacket, placing it on a nearby chair. He climbs into bed with me and gathers me in his arms. I fall helplessly onto his chest, sopping and waterlogged in my tears that start anew at his display of concern and tenderness.

“Déjalo salir, Señora,” he coaxes as he strokes my hair. “Even the strongest among us cannot keep it in forever.”

*-*

Once Blake and a hot toddy helped me relax and get to sleep, I awoke at dusk ready to cook. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, and cornbread… and that one packet of grape Kool-Aid that I keep around for emergency purposes, although we never called it grape when I was staying with my aunt and uncle. We called it purple. So, when I went to college and tried to find purple Kool-Aid, I was hesitant to buy grape, not really sure it was the same thing. Blake will replace my pack tomorrow.

We eat in relative silence although a million thoughts are going through my head right now. I want to talk… somewhat, but I never talk to anyone about Mommy and Daddy. Those are my private thoughts, my private memories, the one and only thing I’ve ever kept for just myself. Although Blake knows that my parents have passed away when I was very young, he doesn’t know the whole sordid tale of my childhood. It’s not really sordid—it’s more pathetic, if anything. And to be honest, my childhood was fantastic. It’s my teenage years that sucked.

“My uncle is the damn D.A.,” I say while picking at my chicken. “My father’s brother. I would have thought the fucker was dead all these years. I wouldn’t have lost any sleep to find out that he was.”

I push my food around on my plate, angry that my appetite has left at the thought of dear old Uncle Richard.

“When did he become the District Attorney?” Blake asks. I shrug.

“I don’t know,” I reply. “I haven’t seen him. Let me rephrase. The first time I saw him was in juvenile court about seven or eight months ago—a 14-year-old kid, Tommy Dietrich, hanging out with the wrong bunch of boys and they ripped off some store at the mall. Tommy was innocent; I knew it, but there’s dear old Uncle Richard passing judgment on yet another kid without all the facts.” Blake frowns.

“Richard?” he asks. “Richard Steele? That’s your uncle?” I raise my eyes to him.

“That’s my father’s brother, yes. It’ll be a cold day in hell before I claim him as my uncle. You know him?” Blake shrugs infinitesimally.

“I know of him,” he says impassively. “I know that he’s with the State’s Attorney’s office. I never made the connection. Then again, I’ve never really referred to you as Steele,” he points out.

“How do you know of him?” I ask.

“One of those pieces of useless information,” he replies. “I know of several people in office… judges, senators, congressmen, assemblymen. Some I know personally, some I don’t. Some I’ve learned of in passing, in background checks, others I may have personal knowledge… like Officer Stanley Hamilton, the man who never gave me a breathalyzer the night my Danielle was killed. If he had, I might have been charged with murder. And Dr. Helga Valdemot, the medical examiner who could pinpoint the exact moment my Danny took her last breath, as if I don’t have that moment forever etched in my memory. Kevin Peterson, the paramedic who caught my wife when she fainted when they told her our daughter had expired and how. Eric Scholls, a nobody, and one of two men driving a car that I’ve paid for, spending my money, and fucking my wife so that she’ll one day forget that I killed our daughter—an impossible task. So, yes, I know of Richard Steele, but he’s barely a corner of my mental real estate.”

What makes this situation so fucked-up that he gives that entire dissertation like he’s giving me the recipe for chicken soup.

“You have to face Steele tomorrow?” he asks, as if he hasn’t just recounted the most tragic event of his entire life. I nod.

“I’m pretty sure that I do,” I reply. “I’ve been in juvenile court many times, but I hadn’t seen him at all before Tommy Dietrich.”

“He could have been assigned to other cases,” Blake says. “You know the state’s attorney covers all kinds of cases—criminal, family court, even some civil matters depending on the case. Otherwise occupied?” I twist my lips.

“Well, he sure the fuck hasn’t been otherwise occupied these last few months,” I point out. “I’ve had four cases come before him in front of four different judges. Of course, they were all garbage. Three of them were thrown out. One of them went to trial and we still won. It’s like he’s on some kind of mission to persecute the unfortunate youth of Washington. One kid he tried to get thrown in juvenile was a clear case of mistaken identity! And the case that I won, the state’s key witness identified someone sitting in the audience! It’s like taking candy from a baby. The cases are almost an insult to my intelligence, but left to the public defender, these innocent kids would be locked up right now.” I shake my head. “As if that’s not bad enough,” I continue, “he’s been unsuccessfully trying to get an audience with me for the last several months. Blake frowns again.

“An audience?” I nod.

“Yes,” I confirm. “He wants me to sit down and talk to him or listen to him. He won’t just come out and fucking tell me whatever it is he wants to tell me. He spit out that Aunt Sheila is dying of cancer, so I thought that’s what he had to tell me. Now, he’s acting like there’s something else that he has to tell me, but he won’t just fucking spit it out. He’s trying to orchestrate this whole ‘Forgive me family reunion’ bullshit for him abandoning me when I was a kid, and I won’t hear it. So, whatever it is that he’s trying to tell me, I’ll never find out because it’s not important enough for him to tell me without the condition that I forgive him first and accept him back into my life.”

“Well, then, it’s not important,” Blake says dismissively.

“Apparently not,” I say, turning my attention to my cold meal. “Although… he’s my father’s brother… and I can’t help but wonder if he’s holding something back about Daddy.” Blake pauses.

“Why don’t you just ask him?” he says. I raise my eyes to him. You know why I won’t ask him. That puts me in a position of vulnerability—of subservience—with that fucker, and I won’t have that. Blake raises his eyebrows and tips his head in that knowing way before standing from the table and removing both our plates. He knows our meal is over; neither of us could stomach another bite. “So, what are you going to do?”  he asks. I sigh heavily before pushing my hair out of my face.

“The same thing I always do,” I say. “Go in that courtroom tomorrow and kick ass.” I scratch my eyebrows as I listen to Blake prepare after-dinner cappuccinos.

“The ball was particularly difficult last evening,” he says without raising his gaze to me. I roll my eyes.

“It wasn’t the fucking ball,” I hiss. “Well, it was, but it wasn’t.” Shit, what the fuck was it?

I was feeling all raw about missing Mommy and Daddy. I still do.

I was extra sensitive with the thought that Blake was going to bolt under the impression that I was outgrowing him.

Then, of course, there was Blondie and her Bald Eagle!

“Ugh!” I say aloud, recalling Linc’s overall creepy persona and the discomfort he left upon me. Blake’s gaze darts towards me in surprise at my reaction. “Elena was there.”

“Elena is always there,” he says puzzled as he continues to prepare to coffee.

“She wasn’t alone,” I add. “Her husband was with her.”

“Her husband? Really? He’s in town?” Blake asks.

“Yes. Do you know of him?”

“Only by name. Owner of Lincoln Timber. I’ve never seen him.” I twist my lips.

“Well, the Senator calls him Linc,” I hiss. “He better hope I never see him again. Have you ever seen The Chronicles of Narnia?”

“That’s an odd question, but yes, I have,” he replies.

“That fucker reminds me of Jadis, the White Witch… not as cuddly and just as warm.” Blake frowns deeply.

“Those are strong words, Mistress,” he says as he pours the cappuccinos. I sigh. I’ve opened Pandora’s Box, but hell, it’s open now. It’s not like I’m trying to protect the asshole.

“He introduced himself by insulting me, which he continued to do for the rest of the night until I assured him that his unfounded and slanderous declarations would land a summons on his desk first thing in the morning. I managed to extinguish that fire—lit by his manipulative, trouble-making wife… who, by the way, was dressed like a goddamn hooker—only to ignite another blaze in which he thought he was going to pick me up like that cheap, slut, harlot, bride of Frankenstein of his. When I wasn’t as forthcoming as he wanted me to be, he assaulted me twice in a matter of ten seconds!”

Blake is frozen at the table with both cups of coffee in his hands. I can tell that his temper is rising very quickly as I can hear the delicate cups clattering ever so slightly on their tiny saucers.

“Put the coffee down, Blake,” I say firmly, and he obediently places both saucers and cups on the table, having only spilled a minimal amount.

“Jesse was on him at second eleven,” I assure him. “He didn’t hurt me.”

“And where was your security during seconds one through ten?” Blake asks, his voice controlled. I sigh.

“In the restroom,” I say, without apology. “I ditched him and went to the balcony to get some air.” Blake closes his eyes.

“Mistress…” he whispers, slightly perturbed. He, like Jesse, knows how quickly disaster can strike. What he doesn’t say speaks louder than what he could say.

“The jerk saw his opportunity and took it,” I continue, without acknowledging Blake’s discontent. “The moment he made his move, Jesse was on him and had him subdued—painfully—and ultimately removed from the premises.” Blake pauses for a moment, then lifts one of the coffees and sets it down in front of me. “The Senator has assured me that he plans to send Mr. Lincoln a message to stay far, far away from me. I’ve already threatened to chop his dick off if he comes near me again. Jesse had him partially paralyzed on the balcony and promised to do permanent damage if he didn’t get the hint to behave himself. Now, you look like you’re ready to tear him apart with your bare hands. It appears I bring out the worst in people.” Blake takes a sip of his coffee and says nothing.

“Not so,” he says, after a pause. “He appears to need a lesson,” Blake adds calmly.

“I have a feeling that there are several people in line willing to give him one,” I say, sipping my coffee. “I get the impression that I’m not the only person in town that he’s rubbed the wrong way.”

“We shall see,” Blake says, his voice still an eerie calm. “Mr. Steele… Richard Steele, how will you find out what he has to say?” and we’ve come full circle.

“I may never find out what he has to say,” I admit. “If he has information about Daddy, I’ve lived all these years without it. I won’t allow him to pop back into my life after he’s done Jack shit for me for nearly two decades and then try to use some possible imaginary information to emotionally blackmail me. No, he can keep that shit and stay away from me. Jesse has orders to keep him at least fifty feet away from me at all times unless we’re in the courtroom.”

Blake raises an eyebrow at me and I almost hate the way my submissive can have a conversation with me without having to say a word. Yes, Blake, I know. Jesse can’t protect me if I fail to follow protocol. We’ve already had this damn discussion.

“You are not that person,” he says. I frown.

“What?” I ask.

“That weak, soft, person who can’t hold it together—that’s not you. Don’t let anyone take you there again.” I drop my head.

“Do you think I wanted to do that?” I retort. “Do you think I wanted to come in here and fall apart? I was bombarded with memories of my parents and I don’t make apologies for being vulnerable when it comes to them.”

“And that’s fine if that’s what it is, but that wasn’t what is was and you know that. You’ve been in that place before, and while it brought you to a melancholy place, it never broke you down… not like that. Whatever it was, only you know. You can’t allow that to happen again. That’s not you. This weak, fragile, lost, floundering woman is not my Mistress. Whatever you’ve done with her, she needs to come back. You’ll hate yourself if she doesn’t.”

He’s right and I know he is. Ever since I discovered who I really am, I’ve never wallowed in self-pity. Ever. Even when I felt the loss of Mommy and Daddy, I didn’t let it drag me into the depths of despair. I know why it happened this time. It was a combination of things and I didn’t handle them well, but he’s absolutely right. I can’t let this happen again.

“No man—or woman—is made of stone, Blake,” I admit. “You have to allow me one moment of painful pause in all the time you’ve known me. Imagine what kind of cold, bitter, unfeeling monster I would be if there wasn’t at least the slightest bit of vulnerability… even if the rest of the world doesn’t get to see it.” I close my eyes and try to gather myself… try to find Golden again

You are your biggest strength… and your biggest downfall. No one can defeat you or penetrate your armor unless you allow it.

Lanette’s mantras are playing in my head. I didn’t hear them last night or this morning, when I was feeling forlorn and sunken in despair, but even I know that no one survives alone. Elena is painful proof of that. No one loves her. No one even covets or admires her. As a result, she has to pay for loyalty and attention, and she foolishly thinks that her pennies, tokens, and trinkets can get her the same unconditional devotion that I get from my clients.

Elvin was stalking her, ready to ruin her and God only knows what else simply because I refused to see him anymore.

The Senator was ready to shut down Seattle at the mere mention that Linc was giving me problems at the ball last night.

Trey was buying me priceless gifts before he even got the Golden treatment. When I finally put a whip to his skin, he’s giving me Beyoncé-sized emeralds!

And let’s not even get started on the man who has never seen, smelled, or felt my pussy or had a taste of the end of my crop, but takes better care of me than any human being alive.

Elena couldn’t buy that kind of loyalty for all the tea in China, and she is painfully alone. She’s even more alone with her husband around because he’s an asshole. He makes it agonizingly obvious that he’s not even slightly romantically interested in her anymore if he ever was, and I’m totally convinced that her telling him about me and Trey was her way of throwing him off the scent because she knew he wanted me before he even saw me.

“Blondie’s going to be a bigger problem than I thought,” I lament, as Golden slowly begins to stiffen my backbone once more.

“What do you mean?” Blake asks, his voice low, and I hear the military man lurking behind his concern. To be honest, I might need him.

“Last night at the party, Linc came on to me—hard. He did a full 180 on me,” I say as I sip my cappuccino . “He took liberties that no civilian, for lack of a better word, would ever take with me. Trey is seasoned in the game—money, power, good looks, dominant—the whole nine yards. And even he didn’t take the liberties with me that Linc took last night. Linc thought I was Grey’s ‘woman’ and that didn’t deter him one bit. If anything, it egged him on,” I observe.

“I still don’t see how that makes Elena a problem,” Blake says.

“Don’t you see?” I tell him. “She uses me as bait for whatever situation she sees fit. She’s busy talking about me and I have no idea what she’s saying—what kind of damage she’s doing. First Trey, then Linc. Who the fuck else is she talking to and what the hell is she saying? Her failed beauty shops are proof positive that the wrong word in the wrong ear can destroy you, and now she’s out there talking to anybody who’ll listen. Slander and libel suits will only get you so far and they can take forever to produce results. She’ll have dragged my name through the gutter by then based on a delusion of competition, jealousy of her husband’s attraction to me, and some crazy self-imposed fabrication that I had something to do with her goddamn demise.”

I cross my arms and lean on the counter. If she thinks I’m going to stand around and wait for her to destroy me and my reputation, try to use me as a puppet and then get mad because the game doesn’t turn out the way that she wants—boy, is she in for the surprise of her life.

Make sure that they know—all of them—that there’s none other like you.

Blondie just may need a lesson or three.

“I see… my Mistress is back,” Blake says.

“She is indeed,” I reply, contemplating my next move. “However, would it be too much to ask for you to… stay tonight, Blake?” Something flashes in his eye, but only momentarily before his says,

“Of course, Mistress,” he replies. “Whatever you need.”

*-*

As I suspected, I’m facing Uncle Richard for the kid yanked from playing street ball and charged with a B&E. This poor kid is pale as a ghost, afraid that the court is going to throw the book at him. I would be, too. Had I not arranged for bail for him, he would have sat in juvenile detention until his preliminary hearing since his mother was in no condition to post his bond.

As we prepare to face the judge in this motion to dismiss, Richard drags his ass into the courtroom looking haggard, like he had a few too Martinis the night before and unsuccessfully tried the hair of the dog cure. I quickly divert my gaze before he looks over at me, but it didn’t really do any good as the exasperated sigh he emits is the “shot heard ‘round the courtroom.” Several people give him a puzzled look, but I don’t even bother to entertain his theatrics.

“All rise.” When the judge enters the courtroom, I see that Judge Grey is sitting again. I sigh inwardly. I know him to be a fair man, but I make a mental note to see if he’s any relation to Chopper. Wouldn’t that be a hoot?

The bailiff reads the docket number and proceeds to open the floor for the case. As I’m preparing to present my points that my client wasn’t mirandized and didn’t have the presence of legal counsel or his parents for the first seven hours, making this entire arrest and case invalid, I hear the most shocking request from the prosecution.

“Your Honor, there’s a conflict of interest here. Ms. Olivet can’t be assigned to this case.”

I lean forward and look at my uncle like his head just exploded and his brain is dancing a jig in the middle of the courtroom floor, because surely, he’s lost his mind.

“Excuse me?” I exclaim, before I can catch myself.

“Counselor,” Judge Grey warns me before turning his attention back to Richard. “Explain, Mr. Steele.”

“Ms. Olivet’s interests are in direct conflict with the interests of the office of the state’s attorney,” he says firmly. My mouth falls open. He’s not serious.

“In what way?” the judge presses.

“She’s my niece,” he confesses. Judge Grey looks over his glasses at Richard in that way that he does when he’s pondering information.

“She’s your niece?” the judge clarifies. Richard nods.

“Yes, Your Honor,” Richard says. Judge Grey clasps his hands.

“So, her conflict of interest is not with the state’s attorney’s office. It’s just with you,” he clarifies. Richard says nothing. “Counselors, please approach,” Judge Grey instructs. Richard and I approach the bench. Judge Grey examines us both for a few moments. “You’re not looking well, counselor,” he says to Richard.

“Just a little tired, Your Honor,” he says. “Family troubles.”

“I’ll say,” Judge Grey retorts. “How long have you known your niece was assigned to this case?” He looks at Richard, who doesn’t answer, probably because he has no answer. The judge turns to me. “Did you know that your uncle would be assigned to this case?”

“I suspected that I might be facing Richard in this case,” I admit, not willing to refer to him as my uncle, “but no, I didn’t know for sure.”

“Have you two discussed this case outside of the courtroom?” he asks.

“We don’t discuss anything outside of the courtroom,” I clarify. Judge Grey looks at me over his glasses.

“Not for lack of effort,” Richard retorts, causing the Judge to turn his gaze to him.

“I take it this is not a cordial relationship,” His Honor observes.

“You take it correctly,” I inform him. “Richard Steele is my adopted father’s brother, and that’s where it ends. Though he put forth a good show for a while, he made it clear that any obligation he may have had to me died with my father. There’s no avuncular relationship here whatsoever… Your Honor.”

“He didn’t need to know all that,” Richard hisses.

“You’re the one who referred to me as your niece. I’m just setting the record straight,” I say impassively without glancing in his direction. “I have no problem doing my job. He’s like any other adversary I would face in the courtroom. If he has a problem facing off with me, he needs to take that up with his employer.”

“I tend to agree,” Judge Grey says. “Examine your dockets carefully, counselor. You’ve made it clear that you don’t want to deal with your niece in a professional manner, so if you find yourself arguing a case where she’s the listed counsel, you may want to pass that off to someone else.” Richard nods.

“Understood, Your Honor.”

“So, how do you want to proceed today?” the Judge asks. “This young man shouldn’t have to suffer because you have a conflict of interest. Are you able to perform your duties today, or should we call to the prosecutor’s office to get someone to take your place in this matter? I can request a recess until this afternoon.”

“That won’t be necessary,” Richard says. “I can handle it. I’ll just be more discriminating in the future.” I don’t like his tone when he says that, but it only makes me sharpen my claws. The judge raises his brow at him.

“You do that,” he says to Richard. “Then I guess we can proceed.”

He should have called to the office for a replacement. I chewed Uncle Richard up and spit him out like nasty tobacco. I could have argued this case blindfolded, but he made it easy for me. Not only was he ill-prepared, but he appeared to get the facts from this case mixed up with some other case he was trying, and when it came time to make a recommendation, he had none. I was so outdone with the whole useless waste of time that I actually made a “What the fuck” gesture at the judge at one point. I fully expected him to stop the proceedings and make us reschedule with fresh representation from the D.A.’s office. Instead, he shut the whole thing down. I had presented my case well and the prosecution failed to argue probable cause and had no leg to stand on in terms of the Miranda issue. The case was dismissed… again.

I couldn’t even bask in my victory because he gave me no fight. While my client is thrilled to put this behind him, I’m wondering why the hell Richard showed up to court at all if he’s going to give that less than lackluster performance. I sure as hell don’t need his help to win a case and that better not be what this was all about. I’m suddenly very angry, thinking he may have thrown the case in an attempt to get into my good graces. I notice that while I’m gathering my things and saying goodbye to my client, the judge has summoned him to the bench again—probably to chastise him for that weak ass performance he just gave. I want to march right up there and ask him what the fuck that was.

“Ms. Olivet? A word?” Judge Grey says, once I’ve gathered my things. I grab my briefcase and purse and approach the bench where Richard is still standing.

“I’m not sure what happened here today, but this had better not be some kind of plan on the part of the two of you to get your client off.” Richard raises appalled eyes to the judge and I have never been so humiliated in all my life.

“With all due respect, Your Honor, I’m sure that you saw that I gave my defense my all. I’ve never come to this or any other courtroom unprepared or given my clients less than 100%. I don’t know what’s going on in Mr. Steele’s family or personal life, but I truly do not appreciate being accused of any misconduct or even having it implied because of his dreary performance and lack of preparation. You can rest assured that from this point forward, I will be filing advanced motions with the court and the state’s attorney’s office to have him removed from any of my cases. I refuse to have my integrity brought into question because of his behavior or his conflict of interest!”

I have to stop talking before I say something that will have me held in contempt of court, but this is the first time that I’ve wanted to climb the bench and slap a judge upside the head. I realize that Richard’s performance was so terribly bad that one can hardly believe it was real, but dammit, don’t disparage me because he’s a fuck up.

I actually feel my bun getting tighter on my head and I know that my blood pressure is rising. So, there’s going to be some yoga in my schedule later, and some poor fuck is going to get the hell beat out of him tonight, right before he comes violently all over the goddamn floor.



TREY

“Umph!”

Apparently, the last time I was in Golden’s dungeon, I talked too damn much. So, this time, I’ve been commanded not to speak. I can make sounds, but no words unless I’m spoken to. I had to remind the gilded goddess that I’m not a submissive, at which point she reminded me that she is a Dominatrix and this is her dungeon and her rules and that I was free to leave if I chose not to follow them.

Needless to say, I’m not going anywhere, but the fact that I agree to punishment if I speak out of place baffles even me…

… Until this moment.
… Until I remember.

She’s vicious today, fucking brutal with those damn whips and crops and floggers. Her torment is exquisite, and I remember with fondness why I returned.

My libido is insane. I’ve always been insatiable. I don’t apologize for that. It’s why Juliet and I didn’t work out. My sex drive was way too high. Even though I wanted to explore outside of our relationship, I never did. I was unhappy, but never unfaithful. I wanted more. I needed more. I was bored and unsatisfied—not only could Juliet not give me what I wanted, she didn’t even give me what she had to offer often enough. I was fond of her, but I don’t know if I loved her… I think not. Breaking up with her was only sad for me because I had to find someone else to fuck, and we had been together for two years. I have no idea how it lasted that long.

When I walked in on my father fucking a thoroughly flogged and bound Bunny, my dick was hard in an instant. To say that I was intrigued was the understatement of the millennium. That shit was the hottest thing I had ever seen up to that point. I’m a red-blooded adult male, but I thought they only did that shit in movies. Thoughts of my mother and the obvious betrayal were the furthest thing from my mind. In fact, telling Mom would have been the worst thing I could have done. I would have never have been introduced properly to the lifestyle and I would have been the direct catalyst of my mother’s broken heart—a lose/lose situation as far as I was concerned, but Dad didn’t know that. He would have done anything—fucking anything—to keep me from revealing his activities to my mother.

Seeing what the Dominants were doing to the submissives when my father first took me to one of the exclusive BDSM clubs that I often frequent now, I knew that I didn’t want to be on the receiving end of that shit. However, watching those beautiful nymphs squirm in chains and leather binds, silk scarves, spreader bars, and Japanese ropes, then watching horny men with pulsing, angry dicks bruise and use them in various way until those cocks exploded in hot erupting orgasms—yeah, that shit was for me. I was so ready to flog and fuck one, or several, of those beautiful girls that I almost didn’t make it through Dom training.

And then, along comes Golden. I didn’t want her to be my submissive. I just wanted to taste her—wanted to sink my dick into that hot little pussy and grab that big, golden-clad ass she kept teasing me with. Domination isn’t about causing the pain and beating the women for me. That’s a means to an end. I like the control of seeing them squirm and making them do what I want, bend to my will, and satisfy me, but fuck—what man doesn’t?

I don’t judge people’s different reasons for getting into the lifestyle, but I don’t beat women until they’re black and blue. I don’t get off on that. A few pretty stripes or a nice shade of pink turns me on, and it’s usually good enough for them, too. A lot of them just want to be dominated sexually—bound and erotically used and misused with a little S&M thrown in. That’s perfect for me. That’s what I had in mind when those golden thighs sauntered past me for the first time—maybe no S&M since she was obviously the Domme, but I certainly had plans on fucking that tight little body until my dick was temporarily dysfunctional.

Things certainly don’t normally work out how we expect, do they?

Since our first encounter, I’ve had the best fucking sex of my life. The ass-virgin Hazel was dizzily delicious. She loved that shit so much that she prefers it in the ass now more than the pussy. I have to switch it up to remind her who’s in charge… but she blew my fucking mind when she showed up with another submissive from Crimson for one of our scenes. She knew it was insubordinate and cause for punishment, and I certainly obliged her that—turning that large, juicy, beautiful ass a lovely shade of pink with a leather flat paddle while she’s bent over and bound to a spanking horse right before I slowly and deeply drilled hard into it, all while our third nearly swallowed my balls in her hot and talented mouth.

I came so hard that my legs nearly gave out on me.

This and several other subsequent fiery sexual encounters are peppered with memories of the feeling of Golden’s whips on my back… her paddle on my ass… her crop on my chest…

Her mouth on my balls…

Fuck! I never in a million years thought pain would turn me on at all, let alone turn me on this much, but every time I think about the combination of one of her pain-inducing methods coupled with her pleasure-eliciting techniques, I have to fight to keep from coming no matter where I am. If my hands are gasping a thick ass while I’m pushing a tight, wet pussy down on my dick, I lose that fight almost immediately, but my libido is so untamed that I’m usually ready for action again just a few minutes thereafter.

Imagine trying to fight off a woody and an involuntary ejaculation in a room full of businessmen.

The days that followed our last scene have been filled with immeasurable pleasure—violently throbbing and crippling orgasms into bodies bent in half and open fully to my ample, anxious, veiny meat. That’s my favorite position—knees in their chests, feet up in the air, me squatting over their wide-open cunts, and no restrictions. They’re helpless to escape that way and they can take me balls deep. I usually come several times inside of them in this position because I fuck through each climax—which is agonizingly orgasmic and extends the pleasure—and then thicken right back up and keep going right into the next one.

Not one orgasm since that night with Golden has occurred without thoughts of our encounter. Yes, the sex with the subs is unreal. I have two—and Hazel’s little friend—on tap when I need to fuck, and it’s amazing, but as soon as I get in the zone… the last leg of the race, so to speak… I see her… I feel her… her whip, that fucking bullet, her mouth, the painful burn on my ass, the shocking pinch of the crop on my chest…

… And I explode—majestically!

This is what I was looking for all this time. I need the spark both ways. I never would have known… and my submissives never will…

… Which is why our scenes must always take place in her dungeons. I’ll work my submissives over in the clubs. I’ll watch Golden work over a client in the club if I feel so inclined. I learned my lesson about calling her clients submissives. I’m beginning to think that many—if not all of them—are just like me. They just need a fix—a hit of Golden, pun intended—to assist their mental and physical stimulation. And why not, she certainly is just like a drug.

Which would explain why I kept that fucking necklace for six months when I truly had no intention of seeing that woman again.

My subconscious knew that I was full of shit, knew that somewhere, somehow, our paths would cross, and she’d work her way back into my life or I would find a way to get her back into my life… and I would give her that necklace again. Now, I know her purpose. I still want to fuck her. God, do I still want to fuck her! But right now…

My dick is hot and hard and aching to come. I swear it feels like it’s going to burst out of its skin right now. I basically immobilized on Golden’s submissive table, eagle-spread and face down. Her submissive table is more like a converted massage table—soft, luxurious leather for your comfort and a hole for your face when you’re face down…

… and one for your dick.

I had to inform her of the aftermath of our last session, that my arm hurt so badly that I was in discomfort for a few days thereafter and still feeling a bit of discomfort now. There’s no way I could withstand being suspended from the ceiling again without safewording simply from that pain alone.

As a result, my golden Mistress introduced her adjustable “torture table” and strapped me to it, face down. My genitals are fully exposed and accessible through what I can only describe as a “glory hole.” It’s been a couple of weeks since our last scene and my memories of her were getting a little fuzzy. I needed new ones or a refresher of the old ones.

I watched her work over a client last Monday at Club Syndrome and it was not pretty—hot as usually, but sadistic as fuck! She was really feeling it that day. She was untamed and vicious, and it turned me on like crazy, but she was merciless to that guy that she had wrapped up so tight in latex that I didn’t think he could breathe. His dick was hers and she knew it and so did he. He came so many times and so hard that I was out of breath, but not before she tormented him so badly that I started to feel sorry for the guy. Obviously, she knows what each client wants because he was jizzing like a fucking fountain all night, but damn—I knew not to fuck with Mistress that day. It was not the time for me to venture into that territory with her.

Nonetheless, she had me sweating with pleasure as I watched her work him over. Good God, she’s a fucking maestro. He was tied down to some sort of frame and couldn’t budge—and his dick was so fucking big that it looked deformed! I’ve never seen anything like it in my life, and the more she tormented it, the bigger that fucker got! And each time he came, the dick torture was ungodly! I’ve stayed buried inside a hot, tight pussy and allowed it to continue to stimulate me after I’ve come on several occasions, but that’s a controlled action.

To have a sadistic Madam attached to your freshly ejaculated dick after you blown a load large enough to choke a horse—literally? That is sincerely cruel and unusual punishment.

She loved it… and he loved it even more… and I decided to wait a while before allowing her to get a hold of me, but I came so hard in that observation room—twice—watching her torment Long Dick Don that I had to send her tribute. It was the very least I could do.

Later that week, I watched another client groan unbelievably hard just from her tying him up—basic Shibari, I discovered later—where the rope is tied in intricate patterns, but he looked really uncomfortable, bent in this strange pose.

His dick didn’t seem to mind, though.

Then she attached bamboo nipple clamps to his breasts and tormented the pink protruding peaks with a wartenberg wheel.

His dick loved that shit! He squirmed and grunted in what looked like agony, but his dick darkened and hardened, jutting straight up and the skin tight and shiny. Did I mention that he was on the floor? Yeah, so he could squirm all he wanted. Oh, and at least two passes of the rope went across his mouth acting as a gag, so I don’t know how he was supposed to safeword, but he showed no sign of wanting to do so.

Next, she used what looked like a super-long, narrow shoestring and began some same sort of Shibari on his dick and balls—around the base a few times, then around the shaft right at the base of the dick above the balls, then between the balls a time or three… She’s meticulous, paying close attention to her work, but his genitals were at least four shades darker than his body and his balls were as shiny as large glass marbles, ready to burst out of the skin.

Nonetheless, she kept right on wrapping and tying until she was satisfied. Then she pulled the ends of the long strings between his legs and attached them to the rope somewhere at the ankle so that his restrained and painfully erect dick sticks straight out. Now, if that’s not bad enough, she did the same thing to the tip of his dick—right at the hood, where the frenulum is, so that the head was shining like a marble, too. I can bet that air was stimulating the fuck out of him and making him want to come!

But that’s not all!

Two passes over the slit—you know, where relief is supposed to come when he ejaculates? Yeah, that looks bound and covered now. Then, the tiny rope was wrapped around the base of the hood again and crisscrossed down and back up his shaft in the most artistic—and restricting—manner, then fashioned in a bow right at his frenulum.

Once again, oh, the humanity!

Then she’s back at the nipples with the wartenberg wheel—and he’s grunting again, and his dick is throbbing and jumping as she torments him. Bound the way that he is, you can only see the ripple of his abs and the curling of his toes to know that he’s reacting to the stimulation.

Oh, and the seeping of his dick.

She scratched her nails through his pubic hair several times, stimulated his nipples with her fingers and the wartenberg wheel, rubbed his abs and talked sexy to him like she does with all her clients. Never once did she touch his dick except to bind it.

About twenty minutes after she bound his dick, he’s coming—long, hard, violent, and seemingly painful squirts… endless shots, over and over again around the bounds over his slit. The fucking floor should be bearing his goddamn children!

And she never even touched his dick.

Now here I lay, glutton for punishment that I am, strapped face down to her submissive table after she has tormented me in more ways than one.

First, she strips down to suspenders, stockings, and stilettos, climbs on top of me and rubs her naked body all over the back of me… while I’m tied down to this damn table. She’s digging those damn nails into my back, biting me in various places… I can smell her naked pussy and feel it rubbing over my ass and thighs. That shit was so fucking cruel that I was shaking when she finally removed that delectable body from mine. She knows I want her, then she does that shit to me. That’s just disrespectful.

She makes up for it, though, by striping the hell out of me with that damn flogger. She’s not as timid as she was the last time. There’s a little more force in her blows and I have to close my eyes to focus, because with every third or fourth strike of that flogger, she strokes my dick with a soft, oily hand. It’s confined in a metal cockring—something I never wear—and it’s pretty effective in holding back a premature ejaculation, because her body is so fucking soft…

“Umph!”

The flogger whacks at my ass again and my dick, anticipating the stroke, jerks in excitement. Even with no direct stimulation, my body can’t seem to separate the two, and my nuts feel like they’re going to burst.

I try to brace myself for the next blow. My body is dripping in sweat as she has used various instruments on me today. I’m not so sure that I like electrostimulation yet, although she only used it on my back, so we’ll have to see about that. Ass play is a slow-go for me as well. I just don’t know how I feel about it. She’s attentive enough to know what works for the moment and what doesn’t. Getting that cockring around my dick and balls was no small task and now the restraint of the device is agony. Not too sure if I want to repeat this exercise either. We’ll see how it turns out.

I hear her drop the flogger and release the breath that I was holding. I try not to pant, but it’s no use. I’m gasping in air quickly, sucking in precious oxygen and trying not to relax as I don’t know what she’s going to do next or when she’s going to strike. I flex my hands in their leather cuffs a few times. My fingers are sore from keeping my fists clenched to bear the pain.

It seems like an eternity has passed, and just as I’m preparing myself to brace for the next assault, she appears in front of me, wiping the sweat that has dripped into my eyes so that I can see. I didn’t even notice the sting until that moment. My eyes were shut so tight and she didn’t bother with a blindfold. I’m face down, so I can’t see anything anyway.

When I’m finally able to focus, there she is—brown hair fanned out on the floor, still completely naked except for a very flimsy garter and flimsier pair of string panties with gold chains in precarious places. That must be what took her a while… she was pantyless when she massaged me with her body, and I know for certain that I didn’t feel those gold chains against my ass. So, I get to feel her, but not see her. So not fair.

The garter is attached to a pair of sheer, shimmering gold thigh-high stockings, her petite feet adorned in jeweled golden stilettos. Her perfect pink breasts are sitting on top on her chest like ripe melons just staring at me, and I feel my mouth watering. And she’s wearing my tribute—a golden, reflective, bib-choker necklace. It looks like a collar and I’m certain that she knows that it’s not only my way of exercising a bit of my own dominance, but also of topping from the bottom.

She’s fucking gorgeous, and if only for this moment in time, she’s mine. I would give her anything. Do anything for her. Fucking anything.

She could destroy me.

“How are you holding up, Chopper?” she asks in that sexy, sing-songy voice of hers. Chopper… there’s that name again. I keep meaning to ask her about that.

“Fine… Mistress!” I choke, and every bit of cool I thought I had just skittered away on little mice feet. Fuck it, this woman has my body and dick at her mercy. What the fuck do I care about cool right now? She raises a knowing eyebrow at me and rolls over onto her stomach with the grace of a ballet dancer. That ass makes my dick throb painfully in this cockring, and more and more, I’m thinking that this thing will probably be a no-go.

Golden curls up onto her knees like a cat and changes position. Her bare ass framed by the golden suspender and chains with the thong disappearing into her cheeks is right in my fucking face and I just want to bite it. I groan mournfully before I can catch myself, and she chuckles a bit. I’m certain she thinks I didn’t hear her and I dare not call her on it—now or ever. I gasp when I feel her hand on the tight skin of my balls, then her mouth on the even tighter skin of my dick.

I groan deep in my chest as she takes an ample length of my cock into her mouth and ghosts her hot, moist orifice over my skin. Though I’m immobile on her sub table, the entire apparatus shakes with my desire and arousal. She repeats the motion, eliciting the same response. She does it again and again and again—the gentle ghosting all the way to the tip. It’s agony, and she knows it, because my dick is throbbing and bobbing all on its own, and this fucking cockring is killing me! I swear to God if I ever find out who created this thing, I’m going to find them and kill them with my bare hands!

I’ve seen her abilities, but to experience them firsthand is a mind trip that I can’t begin to explain. She’s flexible as fuck, because somehow, that beautiful ass is right in my face—spread out and round and begging to be fucked—and that mouth is on my dick in a soft, slow torturous stroke from base to tip, repeatedly. It’s fucking agony! The warmth of her mouth on my entire shaft, taking me almost all the way to my balls with what appears to be no gag reflex. I’m fucking dying here. And now, the sweat begins again.

Oh, fuck. No. If it goes into my eyes, I’ll be blinded, and I won’t see that beautiful ass. Shit. I’m powerless to stop it. I examine her ass as she continues to fellate me in the softest, cruelest way possible. I memorize every curve, every slope, the beauty of that thong covering the mound of her plump pussy then disappearing between two gorgeous alabaster globes. I imprint the images on my brain and close my eyes just in time to stop the sweat from stinging my pupils.

And now, the image is plastered on the back of my eyelids.

Oh, fuck, I groan inwardly as her mouth wraps around my shaft once again. With one of my senses gone and the picture of her ass firmly in my head, my dick is taking on a mind of its own. Her hot, wet mouth becomes those two beautiful globes in my mind’s eye—round and oiled—and my angry, pulsing dick is rubbing against them and between them, hard and anxious and ready to fuck. I feel the skin tighten as I grab her hips and grind my dick against and between her cheeks and she pushes back against me, beckoning me to take her, to sink into her and fuck her. I want to, but every time I try, my dick just rubs against the outer globes again. I groan and curse in frustration, the skin on my dick burning so hard that I can hear my teeth grinding.

The next thing I know, my dick slides into her… where, I don’t know… ass, pussy, I can’t tell. All I know is that it’s tight and it’s disappearing into some hole beyond those luscious globes and she’s backing that ass up onto my painfully throbbing dick over and over again. I moan in such relief and satisfaction that I feel dizzy again with the pleasure, and when I close my eyes to concentrate on my dick, I realize that is not her pussy or her ass that’s wrapped around my cock. It’s her mouth, wrapped tight around the first two or three inches or so and working feverishly on the head.

“Umph! Umph!” I grunt as I remember where I am. “Umph! Umph! Umph!” I want to swear and pray and cry and groan because she’s working my head so feverishly and masterfully that I’m certain she’ll start a fire down there.

My dick approves. It’s fucking her mouth without me being able to move my hips. I can feel the damn thing bobbing and throbbing up and down and back and forth until…

“Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm! Mmmmmm! Mmm! Mm! Mm! Mm!”

Release, goddammit! Release!

My dick is coming so hard in this woman’s mouth that I don’t know how she’s not being smacked by it. I feel it pulsing so hard that it’s actually bending a bit between her lips, fighting to give up its offering around this cockring.

“Mmmmmmmmmm! Mm! Mm! Mm! Mm! Mm! Mmmmmmmmmmmm!”

And now I know the purpose of the cockring. It holds back premature ejaculation and prolongs your erection, but when you finally do release, greatfuckingscottbreadandbutteronabiscuitwithcheeseandcrackersandfuckingcaviar! The table is definitely shaking now, and I could shatter this fucker to pieces! This shit will give your brain damage!

And fuckinghellonearthhadescrossingtheriverstyksinthemorning, is she swallowing? Because her mouth has not released my dick the entire time it has been bouncing, bobbing, bending, and hemorrhaging in her mouth! Son of a bitch, I need to get off this table before my dick detaches from my body and runs away whimpering in surrender.

I’m tapping out, goddammit, I’m tapping out!

I finally feel her release my dick and I don’t know what’s going on down there, but all I can say is thank God for air!


A/N: “Déjalo salir, Señora”—”Let it out, Mistress”

B&E—Breaking and entering

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~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 39—Shattering Dreams

So I got a little sensitive with the last couple of chapters. However, this storyline was written several months ago and it’s not like I’m going to change it, so I think I’ll just shut up and let you guys read it.

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 39—Shattering Dreams

ANASTASIA

I’m horrified to discover that my husband has flown the proverbial coop when I return to the Crossing. Liam apologized for his forward behavior and ran, embarrassed, from the Center. We’re lucky that he didn’t want to press charges against Christian for grabbing him that way. Christian was incensed and ready to kill that man. I had to put that fire out quickly or I would have been trying to bail my husband out of jail. He’s already got one strike against him—a big one, and it’s on the books!

As much as tempers were flaring, I couldn’t allow it to happen again. Allowing Liam to leave without talking to him might have led to just that. Even though he’s a bonehead for trying to kiss me in the first place, he would have been within his rights to make a police report because he was in the course of his job duties when this shit all happened. I would have defended my husband by telling the powers that be that Liam was making an advance at the time, but who needs that shit? Put the fire out now and deal with Christian once I’ve successfully kept him out of jail.

Or so I thought…

I knew there would be no talking to him at that moment, and I knew that he wouldn’t calmly wait around while I tried to talk to Liam. So, I asked him to go home and wait for me…

Then I get here, and he’s gone.
No note…
No explanation…
Just gone.

I’ve called him like a hundred times and he won’t even answer my calls—won’t yell at me, won’t tell me to go to hell, nothing. Gail only knows that he and Jason are gone. So, I know that means that he’s leaving town. She doesn’t know where; she doesn’t know how long… or at least she’s not telling me. She just knows they’re gone.

“What happened?” she asks. “What’s going on?”

Nobody was privy to what happened in the community room tonight but me, Liam, and Christian… and he hasn’t told anybody. At least, I don’t think he has told anybody.

I’m not telling them either.

I leave message after message after message on his phone until it finally just goes straight to voicemail…

“We said that we would talk about it if anything like this ever happened and you’re shutting me out. Please… call me.”

“How can you do this to us? To our family? Our children? I didn’t even kiss him! I’m being punished for something that never happened!”

“This is really fucking mature, Christian. Really mature! You need to stop acting like this and call me so that we can talk about this.”

After leaving something like twenty messages until his voice mail is full, I revert to text messages, still calling and hoping that he’ll answer the phone…

**Please, Christian, this is getting out of hand. It’s been four days… you can’t just cut me off like this. I’m your wife. **

I discover on the fifth day that he could, in fact, just cut me off. I dial his number like I do every five minutes or so of every day and after a while, I’m greeted with the same message that I got when Daddy blocked my number.

My heart clenches. That can’t be… this can’t be. I dial the number again, slowly choosing each digit to make sure that I’m dialing the right number.

“The party you have dialed…”

I sit frozen in my seat at my desk, my throat constricting, my vision blurred, and my chest feeling like a giant hand is squeezing the life’s blood from my heart and it’s literally bleeding onto the floor. He’s blocked me. He’s gone and he’s blocking my calls. He doesn’t want to talk to me. Doesn’t want to hear my side. Doesn’t want to work this out. He’s gone… and he’s cut all contact. The words I said to Liam that last night come back to me in haunting relevance…

I know a hopeless situation when I see one.

I dial his number once more and when the haunting voice begins to tell me that my communication is unwelcome, I let out a soul-shaking scream and mightily launch my phone across the office until smashes hopelessly against the opposite wall and disintegrates into a thousand tiny little pieces. I drop my face into my hands and wail my dismay.

He’s left me.

*-*

I spend the next four days locked in the office at the Center, still trying to revamp our plans for accreditation. I don’t feel any hope for anything, but I must keep up the façade that I’m functioning just fine because if I don’t, I have to answer questions about me and Christian, which I utterly refuse to answer right now.

I made the mistake of calling Jason a few times to see if I could get any information from him or try to get him to talk to his boss on my behalf. My attempts at both were flaming failures though he made a point to let me know that my estranged husband was okay, and he would do his best to keep Christian safe.

Fucking yippee.

I can’t taste food and at this point, I don’t know how many of my own tears I’ve ingested. I just know that I must feed my babies and if I don’t eat, I can’t feed them.

One day runs into the next as I spend my days in my office at the Center, doing my job and my nights in the nursery with the twins. I’ve become a permanent fixture in their window seat, looking out over the water with a perfect view of the bridge to and from Seattle. I think I’m subconsciously waiting to see if a familiar black Audi will come across the bridge at any moment. I know better, but I watch anyway, holding the phone that Marilyn replaced for me in her ever-present efficiency. I dare not dial the number again. I can’t stand the automated voice repeating that my husband doesn’t want me anymore. So, I just hold the phone and hope that he’ll have mercy on me and call me one day.

By the second Friday, I’ve had enough of waiting for that mercy. The walls are closing in on me and I need to get out of that house—away from the Crossing, the happy memories, even our beautiful children. I just don’t want to think or feel anymore. I’m so tired of this never-ending dismay and I just want it to stop. On my way out to the garage, I stop at the bar in the entertainment room and grab a bottle of Tennessee whiskey. Then I get into my car—my beautiful scuba blue metallic Audi with the huge moonroof that my once-loving husband bought me as a push gift and drive to the gate. After I threaten to drive through the gate if whatever guard on the night shift didn’t open it in three seconds, he opens the gate and I punch the gas.

I open the moonroof and turn IheartRadio to the driving station. This is not the kind of music that I normally listen to. The problem is that the kind of music that I do listen to would only remind me of Christian or love or love lost or some other sappy shit and I just can’t deal with that right now.

Years ago, I found an old access road at Discovery Park that no one seemed to know about and it looks to still have gone undiscovered. I happily go down the road and park at the lookout point over the water. I turn off the engine and let my seat back. I stare out the moonroof at the stars and crack open the bottle of whiskey. Taking it straight to the head, I throw back a large gulp. It burns like hell going down and I welcome the singe in my throat.

Just last week he was making love to me nearly all night long… or was that the week before last? It doesn’t matter, he does it all the time. Well… he did it all the time. Now, he can’t stand the sight of me… or the sound of me. As I feel the tears building up behind my eyelids, I hear my phone ringing in my purse. Hope springs in my chest as I answer the phone without even looking at the caller ID.

“Hello?” I say with anticipation.

“Ana? Are you alright?” It’s Chuck. My heart sinks immediately, like someone hit me in the chest.

“Oh, God, leave me alone,” I say before ending the call. I take another large gulp of the whiskey attempting to burn away the pain and disappointment that call caused me. It doesn’t help. I should have known it wasn’t Christian anyway. It wasn’t our ringtone.

Oh, God, this pain…

I swallow another gulp of the whiskey, hoping to burn away the slicing agony—or at least get so drunk that I forget it for a while. My riding music is beginning to sound like typical angry instrumentals, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a perfect contrast to my sorrowful maudlin mood, so I just let it play.

I feel myself begin to settle in the seat and the several swallows of alcohol are beginning to kick in. Of course, it only makes me relax, because except for wine, I’m a logical drunk. If I want to forget, I have to keep drinking.

Chuck’s face in my moonroof scares the shit out of me and for a moment, I think I’m hallucinating.

“Son of a bitch!” I cry out, startled almost to the point of pissing myself.

“You can’t do that, Ana,” he scolds.

“I can do whatever the fuck I want,” I say. I really don’t give a damn what he thinks. Really… I really don’t give a damn.

“You leave the Crossing without telling anybody where you’re going. Now, you’re sitting out here on a goddamn cliff, keys in the ignition, drinking whiskey straight from the bottle. You’re lucky the police didn’t catch you!”

“What are they going to charge me with? Drunk in public? I’m not in public, I’m in my damn car. Driving under the influence? I’m not driving, I’m sitting still.”

“How the fuck were you going to get home?” he scolds.

“I was going to call you! I’m not a complete idiot!” I say, taking another swallow from the bottle.

“Give me that.” He reaches for the bottle and I snatch it away before he can get to it.

“No!” I declare. “Get the fuck away from my car.” He glares at me in disbelief. “Somebody knows where Christian is,” I say, unwelcome tears falling down my cheeks. “Somebody knows what’s going on and nobody’ll tell me. So, get the fuck away from my car!”

He examines me for a moment, then nods.

“Fine,” he says. He opens the door, reaches in and takes my keys from the ignition.

“Hey!” I protest, stumbling out of the car behind him. “Give those back! I can’t listen to my music!”

“Nope. When you’re ready to go, I’ll take you home. Until then, these stay with me.”

“Asshole,” I say, now sobbing.

“I’ll give you that one, because you’re hurting, but you’re still not getting the keys.” I shake my head. I couldn’t possibly hate this man any more than I do right now. I stumble away from him and sit on the hood of my car, having a few more swallows of whiskey and lamenting my situation even more now that I don’t have music to occupy my mind. I feel my body shaking with sobs before I hear them, and the sound of my crying breaks my heart even more and makes me want to cry harder. I feel like Luma when I took her to the woods and let her wail and mourn Richard’s death—a deep-seated, burning, consuming pain that truly makes me want to die just so that it would end.

And the whiskey is only amplifying it—dulling my reflexes, but not the pain.

Angry that it’s not doing its job and lost in a sea of pain and confusion, I leap off the hood of my car and chuck the damn bottle over the cliff, hoping it’ll shatter into a thousand pieces…

When I open my eyes, I have no idea where I am. It takes me only a few moments to realize that I’m in the hospital—head spinning, ankle throbbing, but no worse for wear.

Ankle throbbing. What happened?

I try to remember what happened the night before, but I can’t. I only remember chucking that damn bottle off the cliff and then, nothing. I must have slipped somewhere, because my ankle is wrapped tight. Besides a horrible hangover, there’s nothing else wrong with me that I can tell.

But there’s definitely something wrong.

When I look around the empty room, the fact that I’m here alone isn’t the only indication that whatever happened to me didn’t incite him to come. It’s the empty feeling, the lack of fullness to my spirit that lets me know that he’s still miles away. I begin to remove the electrodes from my chest and the other monitors hooked up to my arms, my fingers, my wrist…

A doctor, a nurse, and Chuck all rush into the room—Chuck’s face full of worry. Not the face I was hoping to see.

“Mrs. Grey, please,” the doctor says, “we want to keep you for observation.”

“I’m fine,” I say, now ripping the wires from myself. I need to get out of here. “I’m leaving.”

“You took a really nasty fall, Mrs. Grey. You were lucky. It could have been worse. With your prior brain injury…”

“I’m going home!” I demand. Home… is there any such place anymore? Now, I know how Christian felt when I went to Montana. Now, he knows how I felt… betrayed. And he felt lost… lost and empty and lifeless with nothing to offer anyone. I get out of the bed only for my head to spin like thunder and my weight to crumble under the pain in my ankle. I’m suddenly overcome with uncontrollable anger and release a string of curse words that would make a sailor cringe.

“I’m fine!” I yell, as the anger is quickly replaced with remorse, sorrow, hopelessness, emptiness, and despair. “I’m fine,” I weep as I try to push myself off the floor, the pounding in my head and throbbing in my ankle making it impossible for me to get up. I crawl over to a chair and try to lift myself into it and off the floor, constantly repeating my mantra…

I’m fine… I’m fine… I’m fine… I’m fine…

If I say it enough times, maybe I’ll believe it.

I finally give up, both angry and forlorn that I can’t get off the floor on my own. I bang my fists angrily against the tile, throwing a tantrum like a little girl. My hands hurt, but my brain doesn’t register that I should stop beating the floor. In moments, Chuck is on the floor with me, trying to wrap me in his arms. I feel myself beating my fists on his chest, hear my mantra squealing from my throat and burning in my ears until the blackness surrounds me.

I’m fine… I’m fine… I’m fine…

*-*

I awake alone in my hospital room again. I don’t know how long I’ve slept, but I just want to see my children now. I turn on my side and face the window… away from the clock. I don’t see what time it is. I curl up into myself and gaze out the window—at the sun, the clouds in the sky… at nothing. My mind is clear, and I don’t formulate any thoughts. No conclusions. I just think about my babies… about Minnie and Mikey… and that I ache to just go home and sing to them… and hold them… There’s nothing else left.

The sun has moved some more in the sky and I still don’t know what time it is, still haven’t eaten anything, and still haven’t moved. The door finally opens and I don’t even turn or stir to see who it is. By the movement behind me and around the monitors, and by the empty feeling in my gut, I already know who it is.

“When can I go home?” I say softly after several silent moments. The movement behind me stills and the nurse finally says, “I’ll get the doctor.”

She leaves, and I never even saw her face.

The door opens again, and the room shifts to an air of familiar… still empty, but familiar.

“When can I go home?” I repeat. I have no more energy left to fight. Another moment of silence.

“Are you feeling any better?” Chuck asks.

“No,” I respond flatly. “When can I go home?” Chuck sighs.

“Ana, I know you didn’t try to hurt yourself on that cliff, but I had to convince the doctors that you were drunk, and you slipped and didn’t need to be put on a 72-hour hold. They’re watching you to make sure I was telling the truth.” I sigh as he walks around the bed to the front of me. I slipped… off the cliff… oh.

“I feel like I’m going to die, Chuck, but I don’t want to die, okay? If nobody else needs me, my babies need me.”

“I’m not the one that needs convincing,” he says as the door opens and the room fills with yet more emptiness.

“Mrs. Grey,” the doctor asks. I don’t even know his name. “How are you feeling?”

“The same as before,” I respond truthfully. “When can I go home?” He looks at Chuck, then back at me.

“We… would like to keep you for a few days,” he says, approaching the topic cautiously, “for observation.”

“Observation of what?” I ask without raising my head.

“Can you tell me what happened on the cliff?” the doctor asks.

“Can you tell me what’s wrong with me?” I retort, calmly. “Do I have internal bleeding or another head injury?”

“No, you don’t,” he responds.

“Then what do you need to observe?” I ask again.

“Mrs. Grey, can you please tell me what happened on that cliff?” I sigh heavily.

“Doctor, we can go around in circles until I finally call my attorney. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that when I tried to leave earlier, you sedated me for no other reason but that I was having an anxiety attack on the floor.”

“You were assaulting your bodyguard,” he says in a non-threatening tone.

“She was not assaulting me!” Chuck interjects. “And if you say that’s why you’re holding her, I’m going to call you a liar!”

“Two other people saw her attack you, Mr. Davenport.”

“Two other people saw her having an anxiety attack, just like she said, but you’re not listening to anything I say and now you’re not listening to her. What, are you trying to make a name for yourself? Forget it, I’m calling her lawyer.” Chuck pulls his phone out and proceeds to touch the screen.

“Please, Mr. Davenport, I assure you that’s not necessary. We’re just looking out for her well-being.”

“Then tell her why you’re holding her here instead of causing her additional stress! She’s had enough! Or can’t you tell… Doctor?” he snaps. The doctor sighs.

“Please, Mrs. Grey, I swear I’ll tell you everything if you can just tell me your version of what happened on the cliff.”

“I can’t,” I reply. “I was drunk. I know that I was drinking whiskey. I remember Chuck took my keys. I remember throwing the bottle off and that’s the last thing I remember before I woke up here. Is being drunk in public suddenly an offense to be held prisoner in a hospital? Do you haul all drunks in for observation?”

“No, but not all drunk people find themselves hurt on the side of a cliff,” he points out with no malice.

“Oh, and I suppose I’m the only person in history who has ever done something stupid while under the influence,” I retort. “You know, that’s why they don’t let us drive.”

“Mrs. Grey, I can assure you…” and here it comes. The politically correct mumbo jumbo line of bullshit where I have to listen to him tell me why he has to keep me locked in this room—or better yet, on the psyche ward. I really don’t have the strength to convince this fucker that there’s nothing wrong with me when there really is something wrong with me. I’m sick with grief and pain and confusion and no fucking sense of direction with no hope or light at the end of the tunnel, because my husband has left me. I’m sad, angry and clumsy, and apparently not too bright sometimes—but I’m not fucking suicidal. The trouble is that I’m not willing to fight the necessary battle to persuade him that I’m at least of sound mind. I put up my hands and slash them across the air. I don’t have any fight left in me.

“You know what? I don’t care. Do what you have to do,” I concede.

“Ana!” Chuck protests.

“I don’t care!” I say, looking at him. Nothing’s going the way that I want it right now; just fucking let me stay. I’ll consider it a mini-sabbatical in a horrible hospital room. Nobody needs me but my babies anyway.

My babies… I sigh heavily.

“Just call my nannies and get me a breast pump,” I say, laying back on the bed and facing the window again.

“Oh! You’re nursing!” the doctor exclaims. How the fuck did he not know that? Now, I show the only little bit of emotion that I can muster.

“Yes!” I snap. “I’m nursing! And I don’t want my milk to dry up while you’re observing! So, can I please get a breast pump?”

*-*

It turns out that my ankle is only sprained and should be back to normal in a few days. The doctor sends me home on Sunday with crutches and tells me to stay off it for a few days. As it turns out, my impromptu request for a breast pump when no one seemed to know that I was nursing prompted Dr. Whatever-His-Name-Was to let me the hell out of there, noting that someone intent on self-destruction wouldn’t readily be concerned about her milk drying up.

How the hell did he not know I was nursing? I only lactate every four hours! Like a goddamn faucet! Although I didn’t lactate while I was in the hospital… I wonder why. Nonetheless, needing to be the milk factory for my twins got me sprung from the pokey.

Lucky me.

I thought I wanted to come home to my own bed and lay down, just to recuperate in my own space, but when I get to the bedroom—our bedroom—the sight of it sickens me… I mean, physically sickens me. I literally become light-headed and I’m afraid I’ll vomit. I turn under the watchful eyes of my brother and bodyguard and go to the children’s room instead.

Minnie is the first to spot me. She starts this wail like she’s fussing at me for leaving her. Gail and Keri look up and watch me hobble over to her crib on my crutches.

“There, there, Mouse,” I comfort her, “Why all the fuss?” I rub her little tummy and she calms immediately. Mikey must have just settled for his nap, because he lay in his crib, eyes closed, totally content and occasionally sucking on his binky. I hobble over to the rocker and Chuck helps me sit down.

“Bring her to me,” I ask. Keri brings the squirmy little thing to me and sets her in my arms. She settles almost immediately, but still looks up at me with her questioning little eyes.

“I know, Mouse,” I tell her. It’s been hard to settle her with Christian away, but she—like me—is settling into discontent acceptance. “We’ll be fine soon.” I start to rock her and sing my babies’ lullaby until she finally falls asleep.

“Gail, can you help me, please?” I say, when I leave the children’s room. Gail looks at me with questioning eyes.

“Sure,” she says, her gaze sympathetic. I go into the owner’s suite, straight past the bedroom and into my dressing room.

“Can you please look in the drawer right there and grab three nightshirts for me?” She examines me, then complies with my wishes. I go over to my lingerie drawer and retrieve three bra and panty sets. With no idea of what I’ll be doing, I retrieve three random business outfits, some jeans and sneakers and then go in search of sweatshirts, yoga pants and T-shirts.

“Will you get the toiletries out of my shower? And two bath blankets from the main bathroom?” She hesitates.

“Ana… are you going somewhere?” she asks. I smile a reassuring smile.

“Yes, but I’m not going far,” I tell her.

Once we’ve gathered everything I need for right now, I ask her to have someone help her move the things to guestroom one. She smiles sadly.

“Ana…” she protests.

“Gail, my husband is gone,” I say, bravely fighting tears that I probably don’t have left to cry anyway. “I don’t know if he’s coming back and if his behavior is any indication, he’s probably not. This was our room… and I can’t sleep in here anymore.”

There’s no argument after that, just a silent nod of concession.

“Let me know when those things are moved, please. I’ll be in the nursery.”

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Gail had more of the things that she knew I would need moved to the guest room. I feel the same stab of burning rejection in this room that I felt in Escala when he ignored me for those weeks after the fundraiser fiasco. The difference is that he was there with me, in the same house even if not in the same bed, and now, I don’t know where he is… and no one will tell me.

I run a bubble bath in the tub that’s just about half the size of mine, strip and carefully climb in. Of course, the tears start. My nerves are stretched to their very ends. It’s no wonder the doctor thought I was trying to kill myself. I couldn’t put a cognitive thought together if I wanted to. At first, all I wanted was for my husband to come back… to forgive me for having the slightest moment of weakness when Liam looked into my eyes, even though I didn’t let him kiss me. Now, I don’t know what I want. I didn’t do anything wrong. Yes, I was tempted by an attractive man, but I didn’t cross the line. And now, I’m suffering consequences for something I didn’t even do.

Can I ever forgive him for that?

Isn’t this the same irrational behavior that he pulled on me when he thought I was sleeping with Elliot? Of course, Elliot wasn’t breaths away from me trying to kiss me. Oh, fuck, I can’t think about this anymore. It’s all I’ve thought about night after night after night since this shit started and I just can’t do it anymore.

But I can’t stop the tears either.

I just let them fall into the bubbles, dissipating them with the heaviness of my sorrow.

*-*

“So, as it turns out, you were right about Gloria Felton,” Al says, while visiting my office at Helping Hands a few days later. “I delivered your conflict complaint to the Office of the Director with the threat of a possible personal discrimination lawsuit, and they pulled Helping Hands’ file. It was unreasonable how she was spending the taxpayer’s money to personally persecute you guys. The reports, inspections, and compliances that she was asking for were way out of line. Organizations with more quote-unquote violations than Helping Hands were accredited in one-quarter of the time that you all have been struggling for validation. You guys should have been accredited months ago.” I sigh, though not as relieved as I should be from the news.

“So, in effect, Liam’s presence was totally unnecessary.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“Not really,” Al says, “although his report helped to put it over the top that you all should have your accreditation by week’s end. No more stalling.”

That’s just great. The man inadvertently ruined my marriage and we didn’t really need him. Oh, joy. Gloria should be proud of herself. I gained accreditation and lost my happy home in the process. I may have won the battle, but she won the war. Maybe that was her M-O all along.

“Well, there is that, I guess,” I say with little enthusiasm. “What about Gloria?”

“Administrative leave,” he says. “It doesn’t look good for her. It’s very serious to let personal feelings interfere with your job, especially on the licensing board where you have people’s lives and businesses in your hands. The director already had complaints about her on his desk. He just couldn’t do anything with them and they weren’t official complaints because the people had gotten what they wanted. It was an ear-to-the-ground type of thing and he had no power until he got an actual complaint. You with your valid complaint that spread across seven departments and, as it turns out, could have been more, gave him exactly what he needed.”

“Well, that’s just great. What’s to stop her from talking badly about us after she’s fired or disciplined?”

“Way ahead of you.” He pulls out some papers and hands them to me. “A gag order—if she says anything about the current situation or you or any member of Helping Hands, we will ruin that bitch… and she knows it.” I smile weakly, looking at the paper.

“My knight in shining armor,” I say, patting him on the shoulder.

“Jewel?” I raise my eyes to him. “What’s going on?”

I knew it was coming. I look and feel like hell these days, no matter how I try to put myself together. It’s not like I could avoid his questions, but I just don’t want to talk about it… not even to Al. I guess not saying it makes it seem like it’s not really real, but it can’t get any more real than my empty bed.

“I just need you to be a friend and not ask, okay?” I say, almost beseeching.

“I just can’t stand seeing you like this,” he says. “Nobody sees what I see and it’s unbearable.”

“Just be a friend… please,” I repeat. “I’m holding it together by a thread.”

“But you don’t have to…” he continues.

“Al… please?” I beg, my voice shaking. I can’t do this. I can’t do this. He pauses for a moment.

“Okay,” he says, finally. “You’ll… call me if you need me?” His voice is beseeching, too. I nod, unable to look at him as he leaves my office. I take a deep breath when he has cleared the door and rein back the tears that threaten to fall. My heart still aches—a dull ache that never goes away—but I’m getting used to it now. It’s become a constant companion along with the occasional dream of Edward David taunting me that my marriage has fallen apart. The mind is a funny thing. At least it’s not fucking Harris.

It’s like that old Billie Holiday song tragically playing on repeat in my head…

Wish I’d forget you, but you’re here to stay,
It seems I met you when my love went away, 
And now I start each day by saying to you,
Good Morning, Heartache, what’s new?

The heaviness in my breasts signals me that it’s time to feed the twins or pump. I’m on a cane now since my ankle is much better, but still a little weak. So, I hobble to the nursery to see if either of the little angels are awake.

Keri is there helping with some of the other children while the twins are asleep and, just like clockwork, Minnie starts to stir. I open my suit jacket and gather my pink little bundle from her crib.

“Hey, there, Mouse,” I say, cradling her and slipping a nipple into her eager mouth. “Did you know it was lunchtime…?”

Several minutes later, Minnie had drained both breasts, burped, and fallen back to sleep, which means Mikey will have to take a bottle when he wakes. I was hoping that we could keep them on the same sleep schedule, but as it is, if we wake them before they’re ready, they’re irritable and cranky and hard to get back to sleep. So, we let them set their own schedules, which means that lately, one is awake around 1am while the other isn’t awake until about 4am. I could lament the situation since they had begun to sleep through the night, but hell… I don’t really sleep much anyway, so it’s fine with me.

Grace is waiting when I get back to my office.

“You’ve been hiding,” she says.

“I’ve been working,” I respond, as I take my seat behind my desk. “Al just let me know that Gloria has been placed on administrative leave and we should have our accreditation by the end of the week. I’ll say that’s pretty impressive.”

“Yes, it is,” she says, “but it doesn’t explain why you’ve been hiding.”

“I just wanted some peace so that I could work. Is there anything wrong with that?”

“No,” she says, accommodating. “Not at all, when you’re working and not hiding.”

“Grace, I appreciate your concern, but please understand that there’s just some things I don’t want to talk about.” There’s that thread again.

“Like why you were fighting to get out of the hospital and Christian was nowhere in sight?” I grimace at her discovery. “I work at that hospital, Ana, and you’re family. Of course, I was going to find out.” I sigh.

“Again, there are some things that I would like to keep to myself,” I repeat. Grace sighs and I know that she, like Al, is reloading the gun to try to get me to tell her what’s going on. I haven’t told anybody—no one. I’m carrying it all myself. I don’t want anyone to know that I’ve possibly chased my husband away, broke up our family, and destroyed our happy home. I hear her saying some comforting word—or words that are meant to be comforting—but all they really translate into is “tell me what’s going on, I can’t stand the suspense anymore.” Before I know it, I’m up at out of my seat.

“Why does everybody have to know what’s going on in my head?” I shriek. “Why can’t I just for once be unhappy and everybody just respect my wishes and leave me alone?” And I’m out of the office and into my car, without my cane, without my purse, without my kids—racing towards Grey Crossing.

*-*

“Ana, where the hell are you?” Chuck is livid. I still have my phone in my jacket pocket, which is the only reason that it didn’t get left behind.

“At home… in bed.” I’m surprised the guards at the desk didn’t tell him that I tore into the gate, almost taking the iron off the damn hinges if the gate hadn’t opened fast enough. He sighs.

“I’m bringing Keri and the twins home,” he says, his voice that sympathetic tone that I’m beginning to hate.

“Um-hmm,” I say, before ending the call. I close my eyes and fall asleep.

I awake to the sound of the two-way communications beckoning me.

“Ana,” I say, my voice raspy and my throat dry. I hear my babies stirring. I throw my legs out of the bed and test my foot. I’m still fully dressed and exhausted.

“Ana,” Keri’s voice comes over the two-way. “You rest. We got the babies.” I nod as if she could hear me and lay back in bed.

“Okay…”

I wake again, and the sun has gone down. There’s a U-Dub oversized jersey and some yoga pants at the foot of my bed—one of my favorite lounging outfits—and a note from Grace to call her if she can help in any way. I quickly strip out of my suit and shoes and put on my comfort clothing before climbing back into the bed and falling asleep again almost immediately.

This time when I awake, it’s daylight again. I know that I need to get up, but I can’t bring myself to get out of the bed. I have to feed my babies. I have work to do. I have to…

“So… Billionaire Boy left you high and dry after all. I knew he wouldn’t last…”

Edward emerges from into the white fog, dressed in his prison garb, his face stark white and devoid of life. Around his neck is a sheet twisted into a noose. I can imagine this is how they found him hanging in his cell.

“Why the hell can’t you fuckers stay dead once you die?” I ask no one in particular.

“Because we have to remind you of your mistakes. You should have stayed with me, Rosie. I knew the poor little rich boy would tire of you sooner or later—see you for the sloppy seconds that you really are. Right, Steve?”

“Of course…” Stephen Morton’s emaciated frame joins us in the fog. “Ann never could accept that she was nothing and will always be nothing. Maybe now, she’ll learn her lesson.”

“Oh, look, it’s Moonshine,” I say, unmoved. “Boy, my subconscious is really pulling out the heavy hitters tonight.”

“Not just yet. We’ve got one more,” Edward says. “Oh, Bob!”

My terrorizer joins the threesome in the cloud of white and now they surround me, taunting me.

“He left you for a kiss you never even got. How does that feel? I guess that twat isn’t as deadly as I thought it was. What a pussy!”

Robert Harris doesn’t look as intimidating as he once did, either—oozing bullet wounds all over his body. What the hell is this supposed to represent?

What’s so bad is that I’m not afraid of any of these apparitions. They’re just irritating the fuck out of me, circling me, and teasing me…

“You’re nothing. You always were, and you always will be.”
“Nobody’s ever going to love you or want you. What did you expect—happily ever after?”
“Your head got too big, Rosie; you should have stayed with me. I was the best you could hope for…”

And the obvious…

“He’s left you. He doesn’t want you anymore. You fucked up like you always do, and without even trying this time.”

Suddenly, a fourth figure joins us in the white fog, and I feel a warmth… a connection, the connection that I only feel… felt… with one other person. This is the closest I’ve felt to him since he’s been gone. Christian comes through the mist in that same suit he was wearing when he left. He walks to me with no concern for the apparitions around me. They keep taunting me, but with a wave of his hand, they’re gone—their taunts still echoing in the air…

“He’s left you…”

Christian cups my face with his hands and looks into my eyes.

“I haven’t left you… I’ll never leave you…”

I slowly open my eyes and it’s dark again. I’m not willing to get out of bed right now. There’s really no need. Someone’s been in to check on me. There’s fresh ice water in a pitcher on the night stand and my cane is leaning against it. I pull the covers up around my neck, trying to shake the cold, but the cold is inside, and I’ll never shake it. I’m unmoved by anything that happened in my dream except for one thing…

“I haven’t left you… I’ll never leave you…”

“Yes… you have,” I say aloud. I get out of the bed to go to the bathroom and fail to test my ankle before putting any weight on it.

And down I go.

“Shit!” I exclaim as I hit the floor with a thud, pain radiating through my body and from the fact that I think I twisted my ankle again. I feel helpless and useless and particularly unloved. The tears all come down on me at once and the feeling of loss and hopelessness is more than I can bear.

He’s left me.
My husband is gone, and he’s left me.

Suddenly, the urge to use the restroom floods out of my body as quickly as it came, replaced by the gaping emptiness, the never-ending pain of the abyss that’s swallowing me whole.

Able to do nothing else, I lay on the floor in the fetal position and weep.


CHRISTIAN

“Grey.”

“I’m fragile right now and I don’t need this damn stress. Now would you please tell me what the hell is going on?” Oh, good fuck, it’s my mother. I should have looked at the caller ID. I stopped after I blocked her calls and she could no longer call me nonstop.

“What do you need, Mom?” I ask stoically.

“I need to know what the fuck is going on with you and your wife and I don’t want to hear any bullshit about this being none of my business!” she demands. “I’ve never seen her like this before in my life!”

“You’ll have to ask her,” I respond.

“I have asked her and she’s not talking! Nobody’s talking! You’re nowhere to be found and nobody’s telling anybody anything—not even Ana. Nobody knows what’s going on and she’s walking around here like an apparition! A shadow of herself! Not even that! She’s hiding behind closed doors and when I finally corner her to talk to her, she sounds like a damn toddler! She looks like she’s about to have a goddamn nervous breakdown and nobody can fucking help her! At least tell me what the hell is going on so I can try to help her!” My throat tightens and almost feels like it’s closing on me. “Where the hell are you?”

“Europe,” I tell her honestly. “I had two deals that needed my attention and there’s a third one that I need to take care of.”

“Well, when do you plan to be home?” she asks, demanding. Boy, she’s really pissed.

“I don’t know,” I tell her. I’ve been trying to work through what I saw… what I think I saw, but I can’t. Right now, I just need to focus on the next deal. There’s really not a third deal and the first two could have waited—well, maybe not the first one, but I can find a third. After a long pause, I hear my mother sucking her teeth.

“I see,” she says, and I hear movement on the phone. “Well, like I said, I have no clue what’s going on, but from Ana’s reaction and your disappearance and likewise wish not to be forthcoming, I can pretty much guess.” I hear things slamming around and know that all diplomacy has left the woman on the other end of the line. “Not that you care, but your wife ran out of here after screaming at me to leave her alone and let her be unhappy in peace. She left her purse, her briefcase and her security detail behind… oh, and her children!”

“The twins?” I ask horrified.

“Charles got in touch with her back at the mansion,” Mom continues without reacting to my question. “Since it’s clear that you can take care of yourself, I’m following Charles and the rest of the security detail to the Crossing to see if there’s anything that I can do for Ana. She took the SUV and I have built-in car seats, so I’ll take the twins and Keri. It’s unfortunate that she drove home on her own as she’s not supposed to be driving since she was released from the hospital!” I leap to my feet at this revelation.

“Hospital?” I gasp. “What the hell was she doing in the hospital?”

“Oh, you didn’t know?” she asks sarcastically. “Don’t worry, Christian. Obviously, she didn’t die!” my mother shoots, anger radiating through the phone at me from 5000 miles away. “I’m sure you would have come home after that… then again, maybe not. Nonetheless, she’s fine. She’s still here functioning and taking care of your children—that is, when she’s not in the midst of what appears to be total, complete, and utter self-destruction. If you want to know why she was in the hospital, why don’t you ask her?”

She throws my words back at me and the line goes dead.

She dangles this news in my face and then ends the call like we were talking about the goddamn weather. The last person that had anything to say at all about possible concern for my wife was Allen, and I shot him down hard…

He was talking to Jason when we conferenced back to Seattle for some legal documents for Casa del Escudo Sagrado when Allen asked to confirm that I actually was in Madrid. When Jason confirmed the information with no further explanation, I felt the need to gently nudge my employee to keep his mouth shut.

“Please inform my head of legal,” I said into the air so that he could hear me, “that although his loyalties may be split, he has signed a non-disclosure agreement as a condition of his employment and I do expect him to honor it. If he has any issue with that, I assume he will let me know.”

The line was quiet with one of those pregnant pauses that Allen often accuses me of. Jason makes to speak, but Allen beats him to it.

“Well, that explains a lot,” he hissed into the line. “Please inform my employer that although I love my best friend like my own flesh and blood that I am a professional first. That although I am sick to my stomach watching her suffer physically and emotionally the way that she is right now, that I am not only fully aware of my job duties and description as well as the conditions of my employment, but also of the letter of the law in terms of attorney/client privilege, and he would do well not to insult my intelligence or integrity in the future. Also inform my esteemed employer that whatever may be occurring between him and my best friend affords him no purchase or right whatsoever to be an asshole towards me!”

The words hung in the air as both a chastisement and a warning for me to check my attitude when dealing with Attorney Forsythe, but there was also information there that I’m just now putting together with what my mother said…

“That although I am sick to my stomach watching her suffer physically and emotionally…”

She’s suffering physically. How the hell is she suffering physically?

“It’s unfortunate that she drove home on her own as she’s not supposed to be driving since she was released from the hospital!”

Released from the hospital… That means that this wasn’t an emergency-room visit. She was admitted!

“Jason!” I yell through the suite we share at the Eurostars Suites Madrid. He doesn’t answer right away, and I know he’s not asleep. He doesn’t sleep until I dismiss him and it’s not quite eleven yet.

“Jason!” I call again, exiting the first bedroom of the suite and crossing the span of the living area just as he’s making his way to me.

“Yes, sir,” he answers calmly.

“Where were you?” I demand.

“I was speaking to my wife and daughter,” he says, impassively. Speaking of which…

“Ana was in the hospital,” I inform him. He doesn’t react. “Did you hear me? Ana was in the hospital!”

“Yes, sir, I heard you. I know she was in the hospital.” What the hell…?

“When?” I ask in horror.

“This past Saturday,” he says, still unmoved. “It may have been Friday for them…” He ponders for a moment. “No, it was Saturday.”

“You knew?” I accuse. He nods. “That was the call you got at breakfast… when you left the room. That’s why you looked at me.” He nods again. “Why the fuck did I have to find out from my mother that Ana was in the hospital and not from you?” I roar.

“Why would I tell you?” Jason replies impassively. “Every time I came to you and told you that she had called repeatedly, or she was crying or hurt or upset, couldn’t sleep, forced herself to eat so that she could feed her children, you didn’t flinch. I thought she was calling me because you wouldn’t answer. I only just found out from that call from my wife that you had blocked her calls. I’ve seen this guy before. I know who he is. He’s the same guy that I knew when I had to drag crying, kicking, screaming submissives out of his house who didn’t bat an eye at their pain. After all these years with you, I know not to cross him.

“Yes, I got the call that she was in the hospital. Yes, I got the call that she had a breakdown while she was there, and they wanted to keep her for observation for fear that she would hurt herself. They finally allowed her leave when she asked for a breast pump so that she could feed her babies. Yes, I got the call that she was home. Her life wasn’t in danger, but only because she had angels looking out for her because she could have fallen to her death off that cliff.”

“Cliff…?” The word slips from my lips with disbelief.

“Oh, yeah, you didn’t know that either. She got drunk, stood on the edge of a cliff, lost her balance as she was throwing a bottle of whiskey over and fell. She could’ve died, but she didn’t. Chuck caught her, and she only slipped along the ledge about four feet. She awoke with a sprained ankle and bad hangover. Luckily, nothing’s broken except her heart. Nothing major.”

“Nothing major…?” I’m still at a loss for words. Why is he just delivering this shit like a basic debriefing? My wife could have died!

“No, sir,” Jason says, matter-of-factly. “For weeks, she’s been sitting in various places just staring at nothing. At first, it was that water swing outside over the lake. But lately, she’s been spending the night in her children’s room in the window seat looking out the window—for what, nobody knows. It got to be so bad that Keri just started taking pictures of her with her phone. She calls the series ‘A Tribute to Sadness.’

“She knows that if she doesn’t eat, she’ll not only hurt herself, but the babies, too, so she eats… but only what my wife brings to her. Marilyn keeps me posted on what she does when she’s at the Center. Mostly, she stays locked in her office working on whatever until it’s time to feed the twins again. The inspection is complete, and the inspector is gone. It looks like the center will finally get its credentials.” He pauses for a moment and takes a breath.

“Is that all? Oh, no, it’s not. If she doesn’t sleep in the window seat in the babies’ room, she sleeps in one of the guest rooms now. She doesn’t talk to anybody, not even Marilyn and only Al in an official capacity. So, your secret is still safe. Nobody knows that you’ve left her.”

“Left her?” I finally find some words. “I haven’t left her.”

“Coulda fooled me,” Jason says with a shrug. “Definitely fooled her.”

Shit, that stings.

“I’ve put covert surveillance on her because even though she convinced the doctor that she didn’t want to harm herself, the absent-minded things that she’s doing and the obvious absence of self-preservation will end up causing her more harm than anything that she can do to herself on purpose. The fact that she keeps running off alone without telling anybody is dangerous all by itself.

“I was hoping to go to sleep soon, so I was calling my wife to tell her goodnight and that I love her, and she was telling me that Ana’s back at home shut-up in the guest bedroom in the middle of the day without the babies. I didn’t get a chance to find out what was happening because you summoned me.”

Jason’s not offering me any of his usual sarcasm or opinions. He’s just giving me cold, hard facts in the most impassive manner possible. He won’t tell me that he thinks I’m an asshole for leaving and staying away without a word. He won’t offer any insight into how she’s feeling except broken-hearted and she thinks I’ve left her. No “you’re killing her” or “this is agony for her, don’t you care” or none of the protective emotion that he normally feels when it comes to her or the concerned friendship that he usually gives me as of late… well, not on this trip, though. Is he trying to be here for me… as my best friend, or has he really stoically detached himself from the situation?

“Are you angry with her, too?” I ask, trying to pull the truth from him.

“I wouldn’t know what to be angry with her for, sir—you never told me, but it doesn’t matter,” he says. “We’re in a foreign country and I have a job to do and that’s to protect you. I can’t allow anything to interfere with that.”

Stoic detachment. The fact that he knows so much about what’s going on with her indicates to me that he’s not angry with her, but I can’t tell if he’s angry with me. He has a job to do…

“Tell me everything…”

*-*

It takes a full 24 hours to get the GEH jet to Madrid and another hour and a half to get it refueled. Four pilots, three flight attendants, and this is probably one of the most expensive emergency flights I’ve ever taken. There’s no way I was taking a commercial flight to possibly get leaked to the Paps. I probably wouldn’t have made it out of the airport.

We don’t make it back to Seattle until 4am, two days after I had spoken to my mother. The house is a tomb when we arrive because no one is expecting us. I dismiss Jason straight to his suite and climb the stairs to find Ana. He said that she was in one of the guest rooms, so I don’t even bother going to our bedroom. I start with guestroom one thinking that she would opt to be as close to the twins as possible.

I was right… but she’s on the floor.

My first instinct is to rush to her and make sure that she’s alright until I see how she’s lying—in the fetal position with her hands under her face, pressed together and protecting the skin of her cheek from the floor. She’s curled into a ball so small that she looks like a child. I haven’t seen her this small since her shrinking days. I don’t think I even saw her this small back then.

Shrinking…

I walk around her and take a seat in the leather chair across from the bed. I remove my jacket and set it on the matching bench next to me and examine her lying there on the floor. The room is still dark, and dawn is threatening off in the distance, but there’s enough light in the room to make out her comfort clothes, the ace bandage around her right foot and ankle, and the tortured expression marring her face.

Her right foot…
Her driving foot…
She drove home with that ankle…

There’s a note on the floor at the foot of the bed and I pick it up and read it.

Ana,

I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but I have a good idea. Keri and Gail said that you haven’t been sleeping, so I didn’t want to disturb you. Please call me if I can help you or if you want to talk. I’m here for you, dear.

Grace.

She didn’t tell anybody anything. All this time, she just kept it to herself… why I wasn’t here… that I wasn’t here. Even my parents didn’t know.

Did she talk to Ace?

I watch her sleeping on the floor for a few more moments before the two-way communications system comes to life. She pops off the floor with a gasp, a wobble, and a whimper—discomfort and confusion evident in her posture and positioning. She mumbles something like she’s coming out of a disturbing dream before she remembers herself and cracks out her name.

“Ana…”

Her voice is frail, high and unrecognizable, but the two-way should still know that it’s her. She clears her throat and it actually sounds painful, then she tries again.

“Ana…”

That was worse than the first time… breathy and painful and aching. She sighs when there’s still no response and scrubs her face with one hand, holding herself up and leaning on the other. Then I remember that she’s not the only person in the room.

“Christian.”

She whirls around in her seat on the floor to the sound of my voice like somebody hit her. She stares at me in shocked amazement, more like dismay, and Jason speaks through the two-way.

“Sir, my wife says that Ana is in guestroom one and she’s been asleep for more than 36 hours.” Shit. I remember when I slept like that… when she went to Montana. The psychotic break. That’s why he told me. He knew I’d come looking for her, but he wanted me to know that she had been asleep for more than a day.

“I’ve found her. Thank you, Jason. End two-way communications.” The two-way system deactivates, and Ana and I stare at each other for several moments. She’s the first to move. She crawls to the bed and retrieves the cane leaning against the nearby nightstand. Using the bed as leverage and the cane for support, she pushes herself off the floor and stands upright. It takes a lot of effort and she doesn’t ask for help. When she gets to her feet, she starts to walk, and I can tell that she’s in pain. Without a word, she hobbles to the en suite and closes the door.

I sit there for a while, pondering what to do next. Knowing her—knowing me—I knew there would be no warm welcome or running to each other’s arms for reconciliation. I don’t know how long I sit there before I realize that there’s no sound coming from the bathroom and she’s been in there for a while. I walk over to the door and knock softly. When there’s no answer, I knock again. Still no answer, so I try the door. She hasn’t locked it. When I open the door, she’s curled up inside the tub, her arms wrapped around her knees. Her hair is wet, and her head is resting on her knees, her face buried.

She looks helpless and broken and I haven’t seen her like this is quite some time.

I pull off my sweatshirt and walk over to the tub. This is a marble tub, too, not as big as hers—raised, so that I can sit along the side of it. I take one of the washcloths from the towel rack and wet it with water from the tub. I squeeze the rag so that the water trickles over her skin. She doesn’t move. I continue to do this until I’ve wet every exposed part of her body. I lift her hair to wash her nape and she cringes.

“No! Please don’t,” she weeps. What? She doesn’t want me to touch her? I put my hand on her shoulder and try to speak, but she protests again, more insistent this time… heart-wrenching…

“Please!” she cries, her voice cracking and broken. “I can’t take it right now… please…”

I can tell by the agonizing sound of her voice that if I touch her again, she’s going to fall completely apart. I put my own pride aside and move away.

“Okay,” I concede, and she sighs heavily, whimpering sorrowfully.

She sighed… she sighed because I stopped touching her.

“How are you going to get out of the tub?” I ask, examining her foot still wrapped in the ace bandage and submerged in the water.

“I’ll get on my knees,” her shaky voice says.

“You could fall.” She doesn’t respond. “Would you rather I leave?”

“You already did,” she squeaks, hugging her knees tighter. Okay, I had that one coming. I stand, moving to leave and thinking this might be better.

“I’ll be in the bedroom,” I say, a bit rejected, but not. “Call me if you need help.”

“I did,” she says, weakly. “You didn’t come…”

I sit in the bedroom, playing her words over and over again in my head.

I did… you didn’t come…

It’s only at this moment that I realize what my leaving really meant. I maintain that I needed some time away from her, from the situation, from how I was feeling, but just like Montana, I left her with nothing. No hope, no explanation, no lifeline. I had my phone. I just didn’t answer when she called. She escaped and we had to find her. I took somebody with me and she still didn’t know where I was. We weren’t married yet when she left, so her answering to me was a courtesy—one that I deserved as her fiancé, but a courtesy nonetheless. We’re married now; we’re next of kin over and above even our parents. We have a bigger responsibility to one another… and we have children.

She was in the hospital and I didn’t even know. Nobody thought I needed to be informed. If the people who know me and knew where I was thought I didn’t care about my wife falling off a cliff and having to be taken to the hospital, imagine how she felt.

Most of all, two wrongs don’t make a right.

Two wrongs? Or was it three? Four? Eleven? Twenty…?

I don’t know how long it is before she comes out of the en suite, but I know it’s a long time—so long that I stop watching the door and waiting for her to emerge… so long that I’m immersed in my own thoughts of the situation and forget where I am, surprised to see her exit the bathroom haphazardly wrapped in a bath blanket. Her long, wet hair hangs in a stringy mess down her back, some of in wrapped under the bath blanket. She’s just as surprised to see me still in the bedroom when she emerges as I am when she comes out. She probably thought I had given up and left by now.

I have to suppress the urge to just take care of her right now—to wrap the towel properly around her body, or better yet, unwrap it; to dry and untangle her extremely long hair; to pick her up and carry her to the bed and get the weight off that ankle and the now-wet ace bandage that may cause her to fall.

I lose the battle with that last one.

“No!” she says in a panic when she sees me coming towards her, my intent evident in my eyes. I stop just as I’m about to scoop her small body up in my arms.

“Please,” I say softly. “At least lean on me so that you don’t fall again. You were on the floor when I came in.”

Our faces are so close together. Her eyes are more empty and lifeless than I’ve ever seen them… ever. Her pupils are tiny, constricted—almost non-existent. I try to remember a time when I’ve ever seen this barren color of blue in her eyes… like an old pair of jeans that’s been washed too many times. I can’t. Not even when she checked out after watching the video of her attack were her eyes this pale. They’re normally deep blue… ocean blue… the bluest right at her height of passion. Right now, they look blanched and devoid of life.

Empty Eyes

I must have been staring too long, because she drops her eyes, then her head, breaking our gaze. I gingerly bend down and put my arm around her waist and she allows me to help her to the bed while she winces every time she tries to put the slightest weight on her ankle. She sighs again when she’s finally on the bed and out of my grasp. I feel a stab of rejection, but quickly push it back because there are too many other emotions swimming around in my head right now… and I really don’t deserve to feel rejected.

“Activate two-way communications,” I say, and the system comes alive. “Locate Keri Illidge.”

“Yes?” Keri’s disembodied voice answers.

“Keri, it’s Christian. I hope I haven’t disturbed you.” There’s a pause.

“Christian!” she says, surprise obvious in her voice. “Um, no, you haven’t disturbed me. I’m with the babies.”

“I’ll relieve you. Can you please come to the first guestroom and help Ana get dressed? Her ankle is bothering her.” Another pause.

“Yes, I’ll be right there.”

“End two-way communications.” The system shuts down and I bring my eyes back to my wife. She’s leaning forward on her hands sitting stock still on the bed and looking down. I sigh and leave the room. I meet Keri in the hallway.

“I don’t think she needs any help getting her clothes on, just getting what she needs to her… maybe combing her hair…” I trail off, still dejected that she wouldn’t let me touch her, but what did I expect?

“Yes, okay, no problem,” Keri says, and walks past me to the guestroom while I proceed to the nursery. An exhausted Gail is tending to Mikey while Minnie fusses in her crib. She smiles weakly when I enter the room. I look at her with apologetic eyes and force as much of a smile as I can. I know that she and Jason were probably making up for lost time when the babies beckoned. I reach into the crib and gather my fussy daughter in my arms. When I cuddle her against me, she settles immediately, nuzzling against my chest.

Sorry, little one, there’s nothing in those to sustain you. It’ll have to be a bottle.

I retrieve a bottle from the warmer and she suckles it hungrily, obviously fighting between hunger and sleep. I sit in the window seat that Jason informed me Ana sat in many days and look out at the view while I feed my daughter. There’s not much to see out this window… the same uninteresting view of Seattle and the bridge…

The bridge… She was staring at the bridge.

Fuck.


A/N: The song Ana is hearing in her head is Good Morning Heartache by Billie Holiday. The video is on my Pinterest page. 

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at 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 38—An Untimely Shift

I couldn’t, in good conscience, leave you guys hanging with that cliffy, but don’t get used to this… This will be the last time I do back to back chapters of Raising in the same weekend. Well, maybe not the last time, but not this frequently. 😉 

Having said that, go easy on me on this one. It took a lot of work and I’m not sure I got everything right, including the laws as they relate to the storyline. Some of this is “shooting from the hip” and trust me—it was hard to write. So, just this once, I’ll ask that you be kind. 

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 38—An Untimely Shift

CHRISTIAN

“They may be stalling,” Ros says, looking over the last numbers from Albien Manufacturing. This doesn’t please me. The numbers from Capito Industries have shifted yet again, and they’re not looking any better than they have been over the last several weeks. Now, it appears, we might have narrowed down the source.

“We’ve been over this and over this. I thought we hammered out all the technicalities. Didn’t we address all their issues or is there something that I missed?”

“That overseas factory,” Lorenz says. “That has to be it. Capito is holding out to see if you’re going to relent on it.”

“What’s so damn important about a small factory in Madrid?” I ask. “It’s barely a blip in comparison to the entire corporation, which is about to crumble into the sea if he doesn’t make a decision soon. These numbers are horrendous by any standards no matter how he tries to dress them up.” Does this asshole think he’s playing with an amateur here?

“That’s what we need to find out,” Ros interjects. “If he’s so reluctant to let it go, it’s not as small as we think. There must be something else.”

“Of course, we need to find out what that something else is… fast!” I tell her. She nods and makes a note in her iPad.

“Speaking of Madrid, have you heard anything else about Casa del Escudo Sagrado?” Lorenz interjects, referring to the Spanish hotel chain we’re considering, also based in Madrid. “There’s been a bit of uncomfortable radio silence on that front, too.”

“No, and I’ve noticed,” I tell him. “Look into that. We may need to put a fire under them, as well. I don’t want any mistakes, so make sure that we’re armed with all the information that we need.”

“On it,” Lorenz nods, now typing information into his own iPad. We’re deep in pulling apart the current mergers and acquisitions on the table when Andrea interrupts us.

“Mr. Forsythe is here to see you, sir,” she says. He doesn’t interrupt meeting unless it’s important.

“Can you two get to work on those projects that we discussed and get back to me as soon as possible?” They both nod and leave my office. Al strides in once they’re gone.

“I’m sorry to interrupt you,” he says, closing the door. “This’ll only take a minute if you want to call them back.” I shake my head.

“There’s only so many fires I can put out at once,” I tell him. “They’ve got two to douse already. The rest can wait.”

“Well, I hate to put another fire in your lap, but I just want you to be prepared.” He drops an envelope on my desk. I open it and pull out a hefty, multi-page packet of documents.

“What’s this?” I ask as I begin to examine the document.

“That’s your copy. I’ve been working on it all morning. Jewel called me hysterical about four hours ago.” I frown. Hysterical? What the fuck? “She’s fed up with the hoops the licensing board is putting Helping Hands through and now, she wants to file a complaint against the director.” I’m thumbing through the document a bit blindly.

“Does she have grounds for her complaint?” I ask.

“And then some,” Al says, pointing at the documents in my hand. “Universities endure less stringent regulations than that. This is harassment, plain and simple, and now I know why.”

“Why?” I ask. “Is it that Felton woman?” He raises his eyebrows at me.

“You know?” he asks. I nod.

“Butterfly vented a few times. So did my mother, once or twice. I didn’t know that it was to this extent.”

“Read that report,” he says, heading for the door. “They’re being harassed—put through unnecessary rigors for no good reason, so much so that I can effectively argue that her actions are not only personally against Jewel, Grace, and the Center, but also against the common good. I know Jewel doesn’t want your involvement in this, but the services that this woman is preventing are detrimental to the community and I would consider it a personal favor if you could somehow get this investigation rushed for me—no special dispensation, just don’t let it get caught up in the bureaucratic red tape.”

“Butterfly won’t be happy if I interfere,” I argue.

“You didn’t hear her on that call, Christian.” Christian, not Chris. “She was devastated. It was like she spent two years on a thesis and the professor failed her work.” The two of them being intellectuals, I can only imagine how painful that would be. I was never a scholar, myself, so I can’t really empathize. “If there’s any fallout, I’ll take the heat—I’ll tell her that I couldn’t stand her crying and that I pulled the strings.”

Crying… enough said.

“I’m on it. I’ll see what I can do.” He nods and exits my office. Licensing… for accreditation. Good fucking grief. As if we haven’t had enough trouble with licensing. Who do I call? I know a lot of people, but I’ll admit that I’m out of my realm on this one. This wouldn’t be the same licensing board that called her into review, I know that much. There are seven agencies named in this complaint—he’s leaving no stone unturned. I start in the only place I know to start.”

“Hello, Christian, how are you? I haven’t heard from you since the wedding, which was beautiful, by the way. How goes things?”

“Getting used to family life,” I say to Charlotte. The Governor and I go way back. She helped to get evidence rushed when David kidnapped Butterfly. It doesn’t hurt that I discovered that she and her husband are also into kink, but we’ve had such a friendly relationship, I’ve never had to strong-arm her, not that I ever would. “You know we have twins now, right?”

“Who doesn’t know that you have twins now?” she responds with mirth. “The collective heartbreak heard ‘round the world when admirers of all ages, colors, and religions discovered that the fair Anastasia was not just the flavor of the month. I laugh.

“I think you exaggerate,” I tell her.

“I think not,” she retorts. “So, to what do I owe the pleasure of this communication?”

“I need some help,” I tell her. “If you can point me in the right direction, I’d be grateful.” Her tone turns serious.

“Point you in the right direction… this is new,” she says. “What is it?”

“I’m holding a 19-page complaint addressed to several different government agencies—the Department of Early Learning, Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Department of Health, the Workforce Training & Education Coordinating Board, the Department of Licensing, the Department of Revenue and the US Department of Education.”

“That’s a lot of departments,” she says. “What’s this about?”

“It’s about the accreditation of Helping Hands,” I tell her. “They’re claiming harassment and discrimination due to a person conflict… one Gloria Felton…”

“Oh, God, her,” Charlotte laments and I fall silent for a moment.

“You know her?” I ask.

“No, but I know of her,” Charlotte replies. “There’s been… rumors… about her tactics, but nothing that can be proven. I don’t know if she’s trying to make a reputation for herself or what, but screwing around with people’s licenses is not the way to do it.”

“Elaborate,” I say. Charlotte sighs.

“I really can’t,” she says. “It would mean breaching confidentiality that even I’m not privy to betray. Let’s just say that I would very much like it if that complaint is filed as soon as possible and with as much detail as possible. She has the tendency to make things disappear or come up missing… especially if they weren’t relevant in the first place.”

“Well, my wife keeps meticulous records and she can tell you every date, time, and meeting they’ve had and every written document exchanged since they’ve been trying to get accredited. My attorney informs me that the requirements and inspections that are being imposed upon this little center are stringent even by university standards.”

“Inspections?” she asks, bemused. “Why inspections? What did they do?”

“Nothing that I know of,” I respond, curious of her reaction.

“Unless there’s something illegal or some kind of threat to the community, there’s no need for an inspection,” she informs me. “I’m not entirely versed on this, but of that I’m certain… inspections are so rare…”

“Well, my wife and mother are going through one of those rare inspections right now!” I inform her. There’s another pause.

“Oh, this is fantastic! In progress? Right now?” she asks, like she’s getting a Christmas gift.

“As we speak and for the last two and a half weeks.”

“Oh, God, we almost missed it,” she says. “The inspection only lasts for three weeks and I can guarantee all traces of it would disappear once it came back clean.”

“You’re certain it would come back clean.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“Oh, yeah, I’m certain. Dr. Grace Trevelyan-Grey and Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey? Mother of billionaire businessman and not-so-secret philanthropist, Christian Grey, well-known humanitarian who runs a help center by day and saves children’s lives by night along with Seattle’s sweetheart and one-half of AnaChris…” There’s that fucking name, “… who involuntarily lives in the spotlight and appears to be a walking, talking, breathing damsel in distress, but always comes back from some horrible tragedy swinging and takes every opportunity to promote Helping Hands when a camera is shoved in her face, including admitting on television in a public service announcement that she was a victim of abuse? Do I expect that inspection to come back clean? Sparkling!” Okay, since you put it that way…

“My wife doesn’t want me getting involved in this,” I tell her. “She’s certain that the reputation and credibility of the Center would be at stake, but I need this case not to be put in the stack or placed on the back burner. It needs to be pushed to the front. It has to be legit—if my wife’s accusations are unfounded, so be it and we’ll take the fallout from it, but this complaint cannot be left sitting on someone’s desk. Take it on its merit, talk to whomever you need to in order to get to the truth, but please move quickly. This undertaking has caused more disagreements in our home because she has been so diligent in this task. I’m only asking for what’s fair—no special treatment, just don’t let it sit.” There’s a pause.

“And you’re asking me if I think the inspection will come back clean.” Another statement, not a question. “I know just who to turn this over to…” She’s dialing so frantically that I can hear it over the phone. “Nicholas… Charlotte… there’s something I need you to look into for me…”

She goes about explaining the situation to whomever Nicholas is and asks me to rattle off all of the departments involved once more, which I do. There’s a back and forth with her and the person on the other phone. “Let me know as soon as you’ve got the documents in your hands. I want everything airtight and legitimate. If what you say is true, then we need her out of there, soon. She’s a ticking time bomb.”

Damn… What did he say?

“As it turns out, you’re doing the state a favor,” she says to me and I’m assuming she has ended the call with Nicholas. “As I suspected, the rumors that have drifted to my office are most likely true. She’s using the office and its employees as her personal henchmen. No complaints have gone through because she harasses people and small businesses so badly and just when they’ve reached their limit, she gives them what they want. The only thing is that now, she holds power over their heads that they only think she has.

“If any one of those complaints had made it to the right desk, she would have been gone by now. As it stands, it usually only takes a threat to get that woman to fall in line. Apparently, your wife jumped right over the threat and went straight to the complaint. There’s been evidence that she has abused her position before—as most people in power do, unfortunately—but we haven’t been able to catch her on anything because the moment the threat of exposure is revealed, she pushes through whatever initiative she’s been holding up, thereby eliminating the problem. By your wife filing the complaint before the investigation is even finished, she can’t pull the file and the accreditation has to wait until the complaint has been investigated. It appears that she’s been on a personal crusade to terrorize people whom she feels may have wronged her in the past that need licenses for anything in the greater Seattle area. Apparently, she’s ruffled quite a few feathers over the course of time, but no one filed actual complaints. When is this one being filed?”

“My attorney is on his way to file it this moment. He’s probably at his destination now.”

“Stop him,” she says. “He needs a detour. I don’t want Felton getting any warning that this is coming.” I dial Allen on my cell before the words are out of her mouth.

“Chris, what’s up?”

“Allen, where are you?”

“I’m at the complaint desk. There are about four people in front of me and one of them is holding a file as thick as a phone book. This could take a while.”

“Not anymore—change of plans.” I turn back to Charlotte on my landline, just as I hear Allen say, “What?”

“Where should he go? He’s at the complaints desk now.”

“Tell him to go back downstairs to the guard’s desk and ask for the Office of the Director. Nicholas Winslow’s secretary is expecting him. His full name?”

“Allen Michael Fleming-Forsythe, Esquire,” I tell her. She chuckles.

“People still use Esquire?” she says.

“It’s handy in certain situations,” I say, remembering when Dad exercised the Esquire when the police showed up at our house right before Pops died. God… I haven’t even had time to dwell on that loss. I feel a clinching in my chest at the thought of my grandfather before I turn back to my cell and give Allen the instructions Charlotte just gave me.

“Office of the Director,” he repeats. “You’re a goddamn fairy godfather, Chris. I’ll have to think of something really good to convince Jewel that this was my doing and not yours.”

“If you must, tell her that you met the Governor at our wedding and when you introduced yourself, she told you to contact her if you ever needed anything. You’re a concerned citizen worried about the impact of the situation on the community and thought she might be interested, too. You were right.”

“You’re too good of a liar,” Allen warns.

“No, I’m a businessman, and I know how to get out of sticky situations. It was your idea to tell Jewel that this was your idea and not mine, and you did meet Charlotte at our wedding…”

“I did?”

“Yes, you did. You are a concerned citizen and yes, Charlotte is generally concerned, too. The only fudge here is that she told me to contact her if I ever needed anything, not you.”

“Fair enough. The director knows my name?” I turn back to the landline.

“Is he all set to go, Charlotte?”

“I just texted his name to Nicholas, so he shouldn’t have a problem,” she replies.

“You’re all set,” I tell him.

“I’m on it. I’ll let you know how it goes.” We end the call.

“He’s on his way,” I tell her.

“Nicholas was very happy to hear that we have something in progress against Gloria Felton. He’s as certain as I am that she’s been destroying documentation, but we just can’t prove it. Thanks for the heads up.”

“Thank you, and remember… everything on the up and up. Give her no reason to go to the press and call ‘foul’ and no ammunition to discredit my wife, my mother, or the Center.”

“Oh, don’t worry. There are no other complaints against her ahead of you, remember? This will be like shooting fish in a barrel.”

*-*

I spend the afternoon in my office doing my own research on the Madrid companies when I receive a text from Butterfly telling me that she’ll be staying a little later at the Center. I decide to call her and her voice is visibly shaken and irritated.

“I’m going over our initial plans for the Center and trying to find some other ways that we can put these renovations and hopes and dreams to use,” she had said, her voice full of disdain. “I can’t let all our work be a fucking waste!”

She’s livid and more than a little disheartened about the possibility of a long, drawn-out investigation. I want to tell her not to worry, that I was able—with very little effort—to get her investigation fast-tracked because the licensing division and the powers that be already had their eye on the thorn in her side, but now isn’t the time to reveal my interference with her already being so edgy. Since she would be working late, I decide to put in a few extra hours as well and just go by the Center and pick her up when my day is done so that we can ride home together. As I continue to examine the Madrid situation, my desk phone rings.

“Grey.”

“I found out what the delay is,” Ros says into the phone. “It turns out that all of the positive numbers from Capito’s financials stem from that little textiles factory in Madrid. It’s the only thing that’s been barely keeping the company afloat. You wouldn’t know it unless you dissected the financials into basest cash flow, which we wouldn’t do unless we were breaking the company apart.”

“Why didn’t I see this when I asked for the breakdown of the financials last month?” I ask. “And why would he think he could get away with something like this? Of course, he must know that if he holds out on this one factory, we’re going to investigate.”

“You did see it,” Ros says. “You repeatedly said that those numbers didn’t look right. The financial analysis that it took to see the sleight of hand that he did with those statements was damn near rocket science. Once you were able to figure out the algorithm behind one formula and change, he set another into play on another statement or subsidiary and you had no idea what he was doing. Where one set of numbers looked like they should have fed into the next statement, they didn’t. They were close, but not exact. Once one house of cards fell down, the whole deck crumbled.”

“Okay, so he has one strong subsidiary and a garbage company. Sell off the rest of the company or shut it down and keep the subsidiary. Why hide it? Any idiot making an offer is going to look at this one thing you’re hiding behind your back.”

“Maybe he thinks we won’t since the factory is so small, or…” she trails off.

“Or maybe he’s sending us on a wild goose chase,” I intervene in her pause, “drawing attention away from something else.” I rub my chin in contemplation. “You know what to do.”

“I do,” she says and ends the call. I may need to pay a visit to Albien Textiles. Nothing like an unexpected inspection to put things into perspective. Butterfly won’t like the idea of me popping out of the country on such short notice, so I’ll put it off as long as I can—wait to see what information Ros and Lorenz can drum up for me.

My eyes are actually burning and the numbers and words on the pages and screens I’m attempting to read are all running together. Even the computer glasses aren’t helping and now, I know why. I’m reading a bunch of gobbledygook! I rub my eyes and stand from my desk. Shutting down my computer, I summon Jason and let him know that we’re calling it a night. On my way to the garage, I try Butterfly’s cell. There’s no answer, so I call my mother.

“She was still at the office when I left,” Mom tells me as we maneuver through traffic towards Helping Hands. She sounds just as disheartened as Butterfly. “She’s trying to find some way to re-appropriate all of our preparations and renovations. She’s been at it for hours. I wouldn’t be surprised if you walked in to find her face down on her desk fast asleep.”

“Mom, I probably shouldn’t say this. I know that you didn’t want me to get involved, but I made a call today…”

“Christian…” she begins, knowing what I’m going to say.

“Just hear me out, please. I talked to Charlotte…”

“The governor!?” she asks in dismay.

“Yes, Mom, the governor. I only wanted to know who I needed to contact to make sure that the complaint didn’t get buried in a stack of we’ll get to it later. I made sure that she knew I wanted no special dispensation. It turns out that Gloria Felton is a thorn in a lot of people’s sides and if I hadn’t called, the situation may have gone unchecked and unrecognized.” She pauses.

“What are you talking about?” she says, a bit perturbed now. I explain to her how Felton has been antagonizing business owners and license seekers since she got the job at the licensing board, but the slightest threat of an investigation or complaint usually resulted in missing referendums and disappearing proof of harassment as well as the license in question hurriedly being granted.

“As a result, there are no other complaints in front of yours,” I tell her. “People are either glad to get her out of their hair or too afraid to rock the boat once they get the licenses they applied for, but the Office of the Director has been waiting for something in progress so that he can investigate. We had to forego the regular complaint process, or she would have gotten a hold of it and made all of your evidence disappear. Granted, you would have gotten your accreditation—we think—but if any recertification process came up, you’d be going through this again, and God help the next man who couldn’t afford to wait. This is one time where you needed me to make this call, Mom, even though neither of us knew it.”

“My God,” Mom says into the phone. “I thought the woman just had a bone to pick with us. She’s on a crazy power trip.”

“It looks that way. So, yes, your complaint may delay your accreditation for a little while, but most likely not nearly as long as you thought.” She pauses again.

“You should tell Ana,” she says. “This thing has been ripping her apart all day.” So much for Allen taking the fall for me, but hell, I couldn’t have my mom and my wife in unending dismay over this thing.

“I will, Mom,” I promise, “the moment I see her.” We exchange a few more words and I end the call with my mother. A few minutes later, we pull into the parking lot of Helping Hands. Sure enough, Butterfly’s and Chuck’s Audis are still here.

“Stay here,” I tell Jason. “I won’t be long. I’m going in to get her and we’re going home.” He nods at me and begins texting on his phone, no doubt telling Chuck that we’re here. I take the short route to her office and find her light on and her cell sitting on her desk. I’m not alarmed since I see that her laptop hasn’t gone “to sleep” yet, so I know she must have just left the office. My first assumption is that she’s gone to the restroom, so I wait for a minute or two.

Or ten…

Unless she fell in, she’s not in the restroom. I start to make my way around the community areas of the Center until I get to the main community room. Only the lights near the vending machines and the accompanying sofas at the far end of the room are on, but it’s enough light for me to see clearly the last thing in the world that I ever wanted to see.

I take in every detail of the moment like a freeze frame of a motion picture…

The empty sandwich wrapper and tall can of green tea on a nearby table;
The florescent light with one bulb dimmer than the other above the seating area;
The click of someone’s shoes on the floor off in the distance;
My wife with mussed hair sitting stock still and gazing in front of her;
And the man gently caressing her cheek and leaning in for a kiss.

My feet don’t move. They can’t move. My breathing stops and I can hear my heartbeat in my ears, feel it in my eyes. My fists are clenched so tightly that they hurt and I almost feel light-headed.

What. The. Fuck.

She puts her hands on his chest and the picture somehow zooms to close-up. Somehow, I’m now in the frame cursing and yelling and grabbing this fucker by the jacket and demanding to know what the fuck he’s doing with my wife. Her voice rips through my subconscious and stops me just as I’m about to pummel this fucker within an inch of his life.

“Christian! Please! Stop!”

My hand stops inches, and I mean inches, away from his face. I look over at her and she’s crying and shaking, her hands on the arm that’s holding his jacket in my fist.

She’s crying. She’s crying for him. She’s trying to save him.

“Please, Christian, calm down,” she beseeches me. I feel like… fuck, I don’t know what I feel like. I can’t believe she’s saving this fucker. Time feels like it goes in slow motion when she tells me to leave… to go home. She’s saying something else, but I can’t hear her. I see her mouth moving, but I only hear, “leave… go home.” I’m shaking in fury… and hurt and disappointment. I release the fucker’s jacket and walk quickly out of the community room and out the front door. I stride without looking, without thinking to the waiting Audi with Jason.

“Let’s go, Jason,” I huff, getting into the front seat of the Audi and slamming the door behind me.

“Is everything alright?” he asks.

“Drive!” I bark, never turning to face him.

 *-*

Several hours later, I’m sitting in the private lounge at SeaTac, waiting for my pilots and for the jet to be fueled and ready for take-off. The only thing I took from the house when we got there was my Glock. I know that Jason will make the necessary arrangements and get the necessary clearances to get our firearms into the country if he hasn’t already. After I told Jason to prepare for an overseas flight, I gave him exactly fifteen minutes to pack and say goodbye to his family. He knows the drill—a trip can come up at any second. This is the second. This is the goddamn second! I didn’t even pack. I’ll buy what I need when I get there.

My phone is ringing wildly, playing that goddamn song over and over again. I want to launch the damn thing across the room. Instead, I just send each call to voice mail and nurse another glass of bourbon. I don’t know exactly where Jason is, but I know he’s trying to make preparations for the flight and probably for the firearms.

Liam about to kiss AnaShe told me to leave. She told ME to leave—not the fucker that was about to kiss her, me! I throw back the rest of the bourbon and ask for a refill, the scene of this preppy-looking, young motherfucker leaning in to my wife playing over and over and over and over again in my head… for hours! I should have gone down to the gym and worked out before I left the mansion, but that would mean staying there possibly until she came back, and she told me to leave.

“Sir.” I turn around to see Jason standing in the doorway of the lounge. “Everything is ready.”

“It’s about damn time,” I say as I stand from the chair and wobble a bit on my feet. Shit, too much to drink. Jason catches me before I hit the floor.

“Will you be okay to fly, sir?” Jason asks, knowing exactly what my problem is.

“Just get me to the goddamn plane,” I hiss, leaning on him like the worthless drunk that I feel like right now.

Thankfully, I’m able to turn off my phone and stop that fucking song from playing once I get on the plane. It warbled in my pocket all the way through the airport and all the way up the stairs to the jet. It’s daylight by the time we board, and I don’t bother looking at my watch—my beloved Hublot that she bought me as a wedding present. I need a shower and to sleep off this goddamn alcohol. I sit in my seat impatiently waiting for the plane to take off and get me the fuck out of Seattle, away from this shit so I can clear my fucking head.

A hundred years later, the pilot—Norman, I think his name is—announces that it’s safe to move about the cabin. I can’t get to the bathroom fast enough. Endless flows of alcohol stream up my throat and out of my mouth. I empty every possible thing I ingested over the last 24 hours until I’m on my knees on the floor in dry heaves. After the inadvertent tears that follow unending vomiting begin, I turn on the shower and strip out of my suit, underwear and shoes and walk right into the blast of water.

Nothing can wash away this feeling of betrayal and emptiness… or the taste of bile in my mouth…

“Sir, we’re about to land at JFK for refueling.”

I’m asleep naked in the bed and my head feels like lead. Where the fuck am I? Oh, yeah, the jet.

“Where are my clothes?” I ask, my throat feels like gravel.

“Um, the suit is ruined, sir. You don’t want to wear that.”

“Well, I have to wear something unless you suggest I give our flight attendant a peep show.”

“There are no other clothes on the plane, sir. I can only suggest that you wrap yourself in the blanket or bedsheet.”

“Don’t you have something I can borrow?”

“Most likely, but my bag is in the cargo hold.”

“Fuck it, I’ll wear the pants and a T-shirt…”

TogaSo, I find myself awaiting landing strapped in the seat dressed in a toga. The flight attendant doesn’t even blink.

*-*

Jason has secured ground transportation for us in the form of a black Audi Q5. He probably called every rental car agency in the country to find that car. We get to our suite at high noon on Friday morning after he has lent me some of his workout gear. Our insteps are drastically different, so I can’t wear his suits, but sweats are universal. I have to acquire suits of my own if I don’t want to walk around the streets of Madrid looking like a goddamn dork…

… Which is exactly what I do when the valet parks the Audi and Jason and I enter some nameless store in one of Madrid’s shopping districts. To say that I couldn’t care less about my appearance right now is a massive understatement. I walk right into some store where I see Armani in the window in this ridiculous pair of sweats and a T-shirt that Jason has lent me. I proceed right to the counter like I own the joint, pull out my Amex Black and toss it down.

“I need five suits,” I tell the clerk who examines me like an alien from outer space. He takes a moment to take in my attire before showing his obvious distaste for my apparel, his nose and lip rising in that way like he’s smelling something bad.

“Don’t look at the clothes, Skippy. Look at the card,” I growl, irritated, and I think my voice actually scares the guy. As diplomacy totally evades me at the moment, Jason rightfully sees the need to take over as chief communicator. He, of course, is wearing a designer suit as usual, since I allowed him to pack. Obviously, he’s more appropriately dressed to talk to this high-nosed fucker.

“Do you like American cinema?” he asks the fucker.

“It is good enough,” the fucker replies in a heavy accent, as if American movies are beneath him.

“Have you ever seen Pretty Woman?” Jason asks. The fucker frowns at first. Seeing that Jason is serious, he says,

Pretty Woman, yes, Julia Roberts.” Jason points to me as says,

“That’s Edward Lewis.”

It takes a moment for the words to sink in, but the commission dollar signs begin to shine in this fucker’s eyes as he looks down at my Amex Black. When he raises his eyes to mine again, his whole demeanor changes.

“Mr. Grey, of course,” he croons, “What can I do for you, sir?”

“Don’t simper,” I growl again, “it’s too late to impress me.”

He swallows hard and looks over at Jason, who is apparently my diplomatic interpreter. I don’t hear or see what Jason says to him, but the guy turns back to me with the same simpering smile and gestures for me to follow him.

“Right this way, Mr. Grey. You said you needed suits?”

“Five,” I repeat, “Armani, Tom Ford, Corneliani—I at least recognized those on your floor. Black, blue, gray—this is a business trip. And somebody tell me where I can get some goddamn Cesare Paciotti’s…”

I’m led away to a private room and shown several suits while Jason chats with the simpering fucker about God only knows what. Hours later, we leave the shopping district with a hell of a lot more bags than the five suits I asked for.

“What’s all this shit?” I ask Jason.

“Underwear, pajamas, handkerchiefs, shirts to go under those expensive suits you just bought, ties, cufflinks, toiletries, workout gear, three sets of casual clothes, Nikes, and your Amex Black was able to get you three pairs of Cesare Paciotti’s delivered to the store before we left.” He says the entire spiel with a straight face and I almost want to hit him. “Just wanted to save myself another trip, sir.”

I say nothing during the ride back to the hotel. I didn’t really think this trip through. I just knew that I needed to be away from the Crossing… away from the situation.

Away from her. 

Luckily, I was smart enough to bring my laptop when I left the office Wednesday night, so everything that I was working on is at arm’s reach. Otherwise, I would have had to have Andrea overnight the damn thing to me.

“I need your phone,” I tell Jason. He digs in his pocket and hands me the phone. I call mine to see if there are messages from the office. I don’t want to turn my phone on and hear that incessant song anymore. Of course, there are numerous messages from her. The moment I hear the beginning of her number being recited back by the automated voice, I delete the message. I don’t have the strength to even deal with it, with what I saw, with what I felt… what I’m feeling right now. A message from Andrea and two from Ros managed to get through between her calls before she filled my voicemail. I’ll have to write the numbers down when I get back to the hotel.

I ask for Jason’s phone so much over the course of the weekend that he asks if he should just get me a burner. There’s no way that a burner would be able to handle all the business I need to handle, so that’s out of the question. On Sunday night, I finally decide to plug my phone into the charger and contemplate how I’m going to handle the situation at hand.

“You’re calling from Jason’s phone,” Welch says when I speak to him that evening.

“Yes,” I say, with no explanation. “Are you in the office?”

“Yes.”

“I need something, and I don’t know how to get it.”

“Okay,” he says. “Let’s hear it.”

“Is there a way to get me blueprints or a detailed layout for a small factory in Madrid?”

“You’re asking for miracles here,” Alex says. “When do you need it?”

“Yesterday,” I tell him. “Seriously, like right now.” I can see him shaking his head in my mind’s eye.

“I don’t know if I can do that,” he says. “What factory is it? Where is it located.”

“Albien Textiles.” I give him the address.

“Christian, I don’t know if I can do this, but I’ll try. Any specific reason? It might help with the task.”

“Long story short, I think Capito is hiding something. I’m going to try to get into the factory for a standard tour of interest, but I totally expect him to resist. If he doesn’t, he’s going to do his best to keep me out of key areas. I want to know what those key areas are before I meet with this man.”

“I’ll see what I can do, but I can’t promise anything,” he says.

“Just do what you can.” I end the call. There’s no piano in the suite, so there’s nothing for me to do for my insomnia but work out. I go to the gym downstairs in the hotel and run until my legs feel like mush.

It’s Monday morning in Madrid. I’ve barely eaten anything all weekend and slept even less. I order room service so that I don’t keel over from hunger. Jason garners enough nerve to ask for his phone back, forcing me to turn mine on and sure enough, it’s full of voice mails and text messages again… from her. You would think she would get the message that I need to be left alone right now, but apparently not. I’m not going to get any peace if I don’t talk to her and I don’t want to talk to her right now. I consider doing something that I never thought I’d do, but I’m immediately concerned that something may happen with the twins and no one can get in touch with me. Then I remember that Gail and Chuck… and even she… can contact Jason. I delete all the voicemails and text messages and send her cellphone number to the block list. It’s the only way I’ll get any work done while I’m here.

It doesn’t help, though. Jason makes it a point to tell me that Gail has called, or she has called crying and upset wanting answers. I tune him out whenever he mentions her and proceed to try to get some work done.

Ros, Lorenz, and I work tirelessly over the next few days gathering inside intelligence on Capito and the mystery factory, nothing much coming out of the woodwork. I have to get into that factory. I know I’m missing something and the key is inside that factory. The team and I set the factory aside for a day and review documents for the hotel instead, but Ros is chewing on that bone that something is going on with Capito and that factory that he doesn’t want to let go of.

Like the miracle worker that he is, Alex somehow manages to get schematics for the Albien factory. It’s a standard operation except for a section near the back that looks like it might be sleeping quarters. I assume it’s for workers that want to stay the night because of crazy shifts. I don’t like sweat shops myself and I refuse to use them for any GEH manufacturing operations, but if that’s what’s going on, that can easily be rectified once GEH acquires the company. Armed with this knowledge and my possible conclusions about the company, I decide to pay a visit to Capito on Friday morning.

“Mr. Grey, a pleasant surprise… Antamonides Capito,” he says with a heavy Spanish accent while extending his hand to me. Fuck, I’m going to have to tie my tongue in a goddamn knot to say that name.

“Mr. Capito,” I say formally, accepting his proffered hand.

“To what do we owe this unexpected visit?”

“I make it a point to try to visit any company that I plan to do business with on this level, particularly those of special interest to me.” He raises an eyebrow.

“Special interest?” he says, gesturing to one of the seats in front of his desk. I undo the button of my jacket and take a seat.

“Yes,” I say as he sits in the seat placed next to me. “I’m particularly interested in Albien Textiles. It seems to be the only… hiccup in our negotiations and I would like to see why.”

“Of course,” he says, the comfort level he exuded moments ago slipping just a bit. “We can schedule a visit to the facility, say, Monday morning?” And there’s the stall.

“I’d like to visit the factory today,” I press. “Unscheduled visits are much more informative than the pomp and circumstance I would expect to see after a weekend of preparation.” He frowns.

“What is this pomp and…” He’s shaking his head. More stalling…

“I would like to see the factory today, preferably immediately. My time in Madrid is limited.” I look at the clock as if in a rush. I’m in no rush. There’s nowhere else in the world for me to be at this moment.

“I… can schedule something this afternoon,” he says. Still stalling. Still time to destroy important information or stage a visit. “You have given us no notice, Mr. Grey. This is highly unusual. It emits an air of distrust.”

“How long have you been in business, Mr. Capito?” I ask, hypothetically, and continue speaking before he has an opportunity to answer. “The business of mergers and acquisitions is cutthroat. The information you receive is only as good as your own eyes. You’re new to this arena, so you may not be aware of the treachery and deception that can occur with a novice in this industry. I have personally had my share of rotten apples passed on to me during my extensive tenure, as has anyone with any extended experience in this line of work. If I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned not to believe what’s on the surface—to dig deeper and see for myself what kind of package is being handed to me.

“I don’t charm my way through my business dealings. I didn’t become this wealthy and successful by trying to make friends. I’m shrewd, I negotiate, and in necessary situations, I bully, but I don’t charm. I see things for what they are, so if you feel an air of distrust, go with that. Trust no one. ‘Believe half of what you see and nothing that you hear.’ Always approach a negotiation with a bit of scrutiny and know that the party to which you are speaking is never exercising full disclosure… ever.” I fold my hands in my lap before I add one last bit of information.

“Also know that the fact that I am unable to secure an impromptu visit to this factory that appears to be the jewel in your crown will tell me worlds more than anything I could possibly see when I get there.” He straightens a bit, much more formal than he was when we met moments ago.

“Surely, you can give me until this afternoon,” he says firmly. “A VIP strolling through my factory would be disruptive and may cause mistakes during production, uneasiness and destruction of moral. I would at least like some time to warn my staff of your arrival. As a businessman, surely you can understand the importance of accuracy and precision in any manufacturing operation.” He’s intimidated, but I can tell that he’s dug in and I won’t get into that factory before this afternoon. I push a little harder.

“I can give you until 11am. I have other appointments I need to attend.” I’ll go as late as 1pm, but I won’t tell him that. No matter what they can do, not much can be done between now and 1 o’clock.

“Impossible. You can come at five,” he insists.

“That’s not afternoon, Mr. Capito. That’s evening,” I retort. “As I said, I have other appointments to attend.”

“I can pull it to 3pm, then.” Nope, still too late.

“Unacceptable,” I say. “Noon at the very latest.”

“As you said, Mr. Grey, that’s not afternoon. That’s noon.” And now, he’s being sarcastic. Well played, Mr. Capito, but not well enough. I put my hands on the armrest and make to stand. Never let them believe the you won’t walk away. “I can do 1pm,” he says quickly, halting my progress. I pause before rising out of my seat as if contemplating his offer. I rise anyway.

“One PM,” I confirm. “My driver and I will be here at 12:30.” I walk to the door.

“Please allow me to provide the transportation,” he says. I turn to face him.

“Thank you, but no. My security team follows strict protocols for very good reason. I trust them with my safety,” I say, stressing the word, “so I dare not alter their procedures.”

“Team?” he says, no doubt noting that Jason is the only one he has seen.

“Yes, team,” I reinforce. “My team is with me all over the world and knows where I am every second.”

“Are you fitted with a microchip, Mr. Grey?” he says coolly, and now, he’s trying to get under my skin.

“No, Mr. Capito,” I say, unmoved. “My team is just that damn good. I’ll see you at one.” I leave his office and meet Jason in the lobby. “Did you get that?” I ask inconspicuously as we leave the building.

“One o’clock. We’ll follow him to the factory.”

“Let’s get some lunch,” I say, as we leave the building.

Promptly at 12:30, we’re back at Capito’s building waiting for him to come down. He waits until 12:45 to emerge from the building. Strike one.

“My apologies, Mr. Grey,” he says as the window to the Audi descends. “I was in a meeting that ran over.” I nod once, but don’t respond, noting his glance around the car and realizing immediately that he’s taking stock of its occupants.

Strike two.

We drive for about twenty minutes and I realize that we’re heading out of town, not to the factory. I look at Jason in the rearview mirror.

“We’re not going to the factory,” I tell him.

“I’m aware,” he says, his brow furrowing as he dials a number in his docked phone. A phone on the other end rings twice before someone answers.

“Cox.”

“Where are you?” Jason asks.

“At the warehouse waiting for you. Thought you were supposed to be here by now.”

“We were. There’s been a detour. I don’t know where we’re going.”

“Backup?” I ask. He nods.

“Call Alex. Tell him to initiate satellite tracking on my pendant and the boss’s watch.” There’s tracking in my watch? How did I not know that?

“I’m not wearing my watch,” I tell him. I left it at the hotel in my newly acquired accessories bag. I won’t take off my wedding ring, but I’m not wearing that damn watch. I normally look at it during various intervals during the day and contemplate just how much I adore its gifter. That’s not the order of business for today… probably this entire trip.

“Shit!” Jason hisses. “You wear that goddamn thing everywhere and today you decide to take it off!” He says it under his breath. “Track my second harness. The boss isn’t wearing his watch.”

“Ten-four,” Cox says, and Jason lifts his feet slightly off the gas, causing our lead to pull ahead.

“We don’t want to lose them,” I tell him.

“We’re not going to lose them,” Jason says as he reaches into the console and hands me a harness. “Put this on,” he says. I quickly remove my jacket and slide into the harness, adjusting it around my back like Jason taught me. “Let me know as soon as satellite tracking is activated,” he says to Cox.

“What should we be doing?” Cox asks.

“Hang tight. Surveillance.”

“There’s nothing to survey, sir,” Cox says. “A couple of guys have gone in an out of this place, but besides that, it’s a ghost town. There aren’t even any cars in the parking lot.” I frown.

“Okay. Stand by. Get Welch on the phone.” Jason ends the call.

“This is not adding up and it doesn’t look good,” I say.

“No, it doesn’t,” Jason says. “I can get away with carrying my gun inside of a factory because I’m security. You have no reason to carry yours. I’ll assess the situation when we get to our destination and decide if you should put it in that harness.” I nod as he comes off the gas even more and our lead pulls further ahead of us.

“What are you doing?” I ask him.

“One of two things is happening in that car up there,” he tells me. “Either they’re not paying attention to us at all or Capito is wondering what the fuck is going on back here. If they lose us, we probably want it that way because they just want to get us out of the city. If they slow down or stop, they have something they really want us to see, and it’s obviously not the factory. We’ve got five more miles before cell reception is going to be compromised even though the satellite will pick us up wherever we are. So, four more miles and I turn around.”

“I want to see where he’s taking us,” I protest.

“Is this deal worth your safety, sir?”

He’s right. I can’t be stupid about this. I’m not thinking self-preservation right now. Hell, I’m not thinking at all.

“At least one of us is thinking,” I say, looking out the window at the passing landscape.

Jason has now slowed to a crawl and the sleek silver sedan that shuttles Mr. Capito is slowly disappearing from sight. I guess we won’t be seeing where he’s leading us after all. We pull off by the side of the road.

“About three more miles and we’ve got questionable and possibly no cell reception,” Jason says, looking over the seat at me. Well, this was a wasted trip… maybe not so much. I learned that I’m dealing with someone sneaky and probably don’t want to do business with him.

“Turn around,” I concede, “There’s nothing ahead of us for miles that I can see. Get us back to the main road before they find us out here in the tall grass somewhere.” He nods and makes to turn around when the phone rings.

“Taylor.”

“Satlink is established, sir. We have you on CM-2004 just outside of Madrid,” Cox says.

“Well, would you lookie here,” Jason says, drawing my attention to the silver sedan speeding back in our direction. “Ceej, call me back in exactly two minutes.” Jason tells him to repeat that information and add some additional information to the conversation.

“You got it.” The call ends.

“Ten’ll get you twenty he’s going to say that we made a wrong turn,” Jason says.

“He can’t be that stupid. This is his factory,” I protest.

“But we’re not going to his factory,” Jason points out. “No matter what he says, I refuse to follow him any further out of town, sir. I’ll run him over in the road first.” I nod.

“I concur,” I say, sitting back in my seat and waiting for the show. The sedan screeches to a halt next to the Audi and Capito gets out of the back seat, walking quickly to my window. I don my sunglasses and let my window down.

“Is everything alright, Mr. Grey?” he asks.

“We should be asking you that question,” I say. “My information indicates that we’re heading in the complete opposite direction of the factory. I agreed to follow you to the factory as a courtesy. I could have just met you there at 1pm. I’d like to know where we’re going.” Before he has a chance to respond, the phone rings. I hold up a finger to silence Capito.

“Taylor.” Cox’s voice is piping through the car speakers.

“Satlink is established, sir. We have you on CM-2004 just outside of Madrid en route to one Albien Textiles with Antamonides Capito as indicated in briefing. Intelligence indicates that you’re headed in the wrong direction,” Cox says.

“We’re aware,” Taylor says. “Stand by.”

“Ten-four.” Jason looks back at me and I look up a Capito.

“We’ve… taken a wrong turn,” Capito says. It’s a good thing I didn’t take that bet. “We need to turn around.”

“This is your factory, Mr. Capito,” I accuse, “one that you swore you needed to make preparations before I could see it, and you don’t know how to get there?”

“This is why we wanted to wait for you to see the factory, Mr. Grey,” Capito says. “The main factory is undergoing renovations. We had to set up operations at a temporary location. We have only been their once or twice, which is why we were turned around. A simple error in direction. It can happen to anyone.” I’m losing my patience.

“Where are we going?” Jason asks, his voice completely devoid of emotion.

“If you would just follow me…” Capito begins.

“Where. Are. We. Going?” I repeat slowly. Capito stares at me for a moment and I stare right back as he rattles off an address in Valdilecha, some 18 miles back from the direction we just came.

“Satnav that, please,” Jason says, and we wait for about 20 seconds before Cox responds.

“Location tracked, sir. Directions have been uplinked to your GPS.” Jason looks back at Capito.

“This way, in case we have another wrong turn, you can follow us. I understand how these things happen.” He turns back to face the windshield. Capito doesn’t say another word but goes back to the silver sedan and climbs into the back seat.

“So where are we going?” I ask Jason.

“Cox, any ideas?”

“It’s some kind of storefront in a barred-up part of town,” he says. “It could be a factory. Then again, it could be a grocery store. Alex is working on it. I just Googled it.”

“What about Capito’s story,” I ask. “Could they be undergoing renovations?”

“I suppose they could, but the workers must have Friday off. Like I said, it’s a ghost town out here.” 

“Well, we’ve got about 15 minutes to find out where the hell we’re going,” I say.

“We’ll get something for you, sir.”

The drive was quicker than I anticipated. Sure enough, we drive up to some unmarked building with three large, industrial doors and no information from Alex.

“Sir?” Jason says, awaiting instruction.

“It’s like you said, you can wear your gun without suspicion if we go through metal detectors. I can’t. Besides, Capito knows that we’re Satlinked and we mentioned his name particularly. Unless we’re dealing with the Mexican Mafia, which I highly doubt, we should be okay.” He nods and exits the car.

Sure enough, where given a tour through some small non-descript sweatshop operation, and these women look to be making some kind of plastic bottle tops or something. And I’m supposed to believe that this tiny operation is what’s holding up a billion-dollar merger.

Yeah, okay.

The drive was more exciting than the goddamn tour, but I don’t let on to Capito that I know he’s full of shit. I don’t really have to; he already knows it. I thank him for the very informative tour before Jason and I get back on the road to Madrid.

“So… what now, boss?”

“Is Cox alone at that warehouse?” I ask.

“No, sir. He and Williams took commercial flights in on Wednesday. You can never be too sure with foreign security and I didn’t have enough time to set anything up on our way out of the States.” He’s been very professional about this whole thing. He hasn’t asked me any questions about what may have happened, and I haven’t offered any information. I want to focus on work, not my questionable marriage.

“Thanks for taking care of that,” I say. “Maybe we should pay a visit to the actual factory.”

“I hardly see a need, sir,” Jason says. “With Cox and Williams staked out there, we’ve already got eyes on the location. I can let them know to stick around for a while and let us know if they see anything worth reporting. Tomorrow, maybe? Maybe they are just off on Friday.”

“Yeah, I believe that like I believe the world is flat, but you’re right. There’s not much we can do.”

“Yeah,” he says, somewhat distracted. I watch him for a moment. He continues to drive but keeps looking in the mirror.

“What is it, Jason?” I ask.

“And we’re being followed,” he says, drawing out the and. Goddammit, as if the decoy warehouse wasn’t enough, this asshole wants to keep fucking with me. He must have gotten the same idea that I did, that I would go to the warehouse on my own if he didn’t want to give me a tour. “They’re not professionals,” Jason adds.

“How do you know?” I ask.

“They’re following too close,” he says. “Either they’re amateurs or they’re trying to scare us. Either way, their surveillance sucks.”

“Suggestions?” I ask. He reaches into the glove box and retrieves my Glock.

“Put it in your harness and fasten your seat belt…”

You can only go so fast in the narrow streets of a Spanish town. There are a lot of little alleys, though, that make for good hiding places. Maybe they’re streets, too, but they’re still good hiding places. After what could be considered a chase down the narrow Spanish streets and a detour into one such alley, we exit the car and duck into two nearby doorways, Glocks locked and loaded and waiting for our pursuer to follow. Just as we get into position, a black VW Polo pulls into the alley and blocks our Audi in. Two men get out of the car and walk to the Audi, looking into the windows.

 

Jason and I both come out of the shadows with our weapons drawn. I’m trained right between the eyes of the first guy and Jason walks right up behind the second, placing cold steel to his skull.

“¿Estás perdido amigo?” Jason says in perfect Spanish as both men cautiously raise their hands.

“Mr. Capito requested that we see you back to your hotel safely,” the second guy says to Jason.

“As you can see, we don’t need an escort,” I hiss. “We can take care of ourselves. I made that point very clear to your boss. Should I send him another message?”

The guy staring down the barrel of my Glock catches my meaning loud and clear and although he attempts to remain unshaken, his fear and uncertainty are quite evident.

“Eduardo, vamos. Deberíamos irnos,” the second guy says, his voice betraying his nerves.

“Listen to your friend, Eduardo,” Jason says, his voice cool. “Sal de aquí.” With his hands still in the air, Eduardo inches slowly away from the barrel of Jason’s gun while the unknown man backs away from me, meeting his friend at their vehicle. They hurriedly get into the car and back out of the alley, speeding away down the street with our guns still pointing at them until they’re out of sight. I turn to Jason.

“You’re right, total amateurs,” I say, putting my gun back in it harness. “I need to see what’s in that damn factory.”

“Yes, sir.”

We agree to allow Cox and Williams to remain on the stakeout to see if anything happens while we go back to the hotel and change. I bring Ros and Lorenz up to speed on what happened with the tour of the “factory” and the exciting events thereafter. Ros is as ready to drop the deal as am I, but morbid curiosity won’t allow me to let go of what might be going on at the actual factory.

I get my chance to kill the proverbial cat when we get a call from Cox right after sundown.

“Apparently, it’s a nighttime operation, sir,” Cox’s disembodied voice reports. “Once the lights went out, the building came alive. It’s buzzing with activity, so if you want to see something, now is the time.” I look at Jason.

“How can we get in without being seen?” he asks.

“You can’t, but there’s a back-access road right off the M-20 before you get to the exit for the factory. Take that to the end and it comes up to a hill on the side of the property. We have a clear view of the loading docks and everything going on in front of it.”

“I guess we’re going on a stake-out,” Jason says.

*-*

“Are you shitting me?” I hiss as Cox, Williams, Jason, and I all lay in the grass watching the comings and goings from the warehouse.

“Right before you got here,” Williams says. “Those two on the end made the drop; those two on the dock got the money.”

“Why the fuck does this always seem to happen to me?” I lament, looking through the high-powered binoculars that Cox was using moments before. “The covered trucks, what about those?”

“They arrived about ten minutes ago. I’ve only seen those used to transport people—like troops—but nobody’s gotten out of them yet. Maybe a big job coming, and they need back-up.”

“God. Dammit!” I hiss as I realize exactly what I was looking at on those schematics that Alex sent me. “Nobody’s getting out.” I hand the binoculars to Jason just as Williams silently hisses a curse. “Somebody’s getting in.”

“Fucking hell,” Jason breathes, disgusted.

“Aw, shit,” Cox says as he commandeers Williams’ binoculars. “What are they, teenagers?”

“If that,” I say, running my hands through my hair. The sleeping quarters on the schematics had to be temporary dormitories where their human stock was housed until it was time to move them. Tonight is the night and there’s no way that Capito could let me get to this factory. I’m having flashbacks of the nightmares that were the miscellaneous subsidiaries and the headaches and trauma we had getting out of those situations. Fuck if I’m getting involved with that shit again.

“Let’s get the fuck out of here. Now!” I say, crawling backwards down the hill.

“Boss, we gotta do something!” Jason hisses.

“You’re right! Get the fuck out of here!” I repeat quietly to his dismayed face. “I’ve got a Glock. So do you. Williams? Cox? I assume the same. What do you think they’re carrying?” I wait for a moment for his answer. “They’re. Moving. People! And I can guarantee you that there’s more than four men in that warehouse and they ain’t packing BB guns. Go! Now!”

He doesn’t want to move, but they all know that I’m right. We climb back down the hill and drive back down the access road to the M-20 with no lights. We meet back in mine and Jason’s suite for a debriefing.

“Did you get any kind of pictures or surveillance documentation?” I ask Cox.

“No, sir,” he laments. “We didn’t have those instructions. We had no idea…”

“I know,” I stop him. “Right now, it’s the word of four trespassers against a local, distinguished businessman who has already moved his inventory.” I push my hands through my hair. “Alex will know who to contact. Unfortunately, I know this from experience. Have him get in touch with the proper authorities and drop an anonymous tip… assuming they’re not in on it.”

Everyone at the table nods and leaves with maudlin expressions, myself included. For the first time in ten days, my thoughts settle on my wife. I want to hold her, and my children, and keep them safe from monsters like this—from a horrible, cruel world with no justice. I take a moment to lament that situation before my mind goes back to that fucker closing in on her about to kiss her…

And the wall goes back up.

While Jason is calling Alex, I call Ros and Lorenz and tell them that we’re washing our hands of the deal because something illegal is going on at that warehouse and I don’t want to get involved in it.

“You’re sure about this?” Lorenz says. “I mean about the illegal activity?”

“I’m positive, and I’ve had my share of dealing with companies that were doing similar shit.”

“This is not going to look good—that we’re just pulling out like this with no explanation,” he adds.

“Oh, I have an explanation, and a valid one at that, but I have nothing to prove to this man,” I say, definitively. “There’s nothing that his company or his factory has that I can’t get somewhere else without the hassle and possible headache that I see landing in my lap if I acquire his organization. ‘Know when to hold ‘em; know when to fold ‘em.’ He’s dirty. We’re walking away.” I hear Ros sigh on the other end.

“Okay. You’re the boss. What about the hotel chain?” she asks, not wanting to show her relief.

“I’ll be paying them a visit on Monday morning. Let’s hope that goes better than this did.”

The next morning after a workout and a shower, I’m sitting in the dining room of our suite going over the protocol of our visit to the hotel with Jason. I must admit that I’m glad that he brought back-up as he and I alone now made me feel at a disadvantage, knowing what Capito is up to. Who knows what kinds of ties that man has? I was joking about the Mexican Mafia, but after this, I don’t know who he’s in bed with… I just know it won’t be me. As I’m finishing my egg-white omelet, Jason’s phone rings.

“Hello, Love,” he says, as he takes a sip of his coffee. He’s quiet for a moment before he stands from the table. “How is she?” he asks, pacing a bit around the dining area. “Geez, are you serious?” He must be getting some news about Sophie, but apparently nothing too upsetting since he’s not having a cow. Only… what time is it in Seattle right now? Like, two or three in the morning.

“Well, why didn’t she ca…?” Whatever the question was, he’s cut off mid-sentence. After hearing his wife’s response, he raises his gaze to me and examines me for a moment.

What?

“Oh, okay,” he says, breaking his gaze with me. “Keep me posted. So, everything else is okay?” he says as he goes into his bedroom, most likely to have to private time with his wife. I shrug off the conversation and go back to eating my omelet and reading the financial news.


A/N: ‘Believe half of what you see and nothing that you hear.’ Edgar Allan Poe’

¿Estás perdido amigo?”—”Are you lost, friend?”

“Eduardo, vamos. Deberíamos irnos,”—”Eduardo, come on. We should go.”

Sal de aquí.”—”Get out of here.”

Although all of the pictures from this chapter are actually in this chapter, pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at 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 37—In Other News…

I’ve been going through and “liking” posts and for some reason, I’ll go back, and WordPress is removing some of my likes. I may have to look for blog hosting elsewhere. This thing is getting on my nerves!

Also, in going through my mailing list, I’ve noticed that a lot of people with “me.com” or “icloud.com” emails have been bouncing a lot. These mediums may have something in place to prevent you from getting a lot of unwanted or junk email and mine may be getting caught in that. I’ve had about five people so far with those extensions tell me that they haven’t gotten emails from me since 01/04/18. With only a few exceptions, I’ve been sending out emails for every chapter. I’ve counted, and that’s five emails that you’ve missed, and my emailer is saying that they’re bouncing. Once again, be sure to add my contact emails—bg.holmes@butterflysaga.com AND bronzegoddess@butterflysaga.com—to your contacts list. It may help in curtailing the misdirection of the emails. 

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 37—In Other News…

ANASTASIA

Souvinier Bouquet

Christian is antsy as hell trying to get Mia alone and find out what she’s going to do with the leftover food. In the meantime, there was nearly a barroom brawl over the bouquet when she tossed it, wine-colored bridesmaids elbowing guests left and right to get their hands on that souvenir bouquet. Sure enough, one of those cows emerged with it, and I’m almost positive that she wrenched it from someone’s hands.

The garter toss wasn’t quite so brutal. In fact, it was very tame and moved along quite quickly. Marlow’s little fart-dress-wearing girlfriend appeared to be a bit perturbed that he didn’t take part in the ritual. Had I been her, I would have been relieved as she’s no more that 16 years old and wasn’t the one who caught the bouquet.

I’m still looking for my husband and wondering if he has cornered his sister yet when an extremely pale-faced Courtney catches my attention.

“I know it’s bad form to leave before the bride and groom, but I have to go. Will you please make my apologies to Mia?” She looks like she’s just seen a ghost and Vickie is ready and set to get her out of here. I grasp her arm and she panics. What has her so shaken?

“Wait. What’s wrong? What happened?” I ask concerned. “Whatever it is, we can take care of it.” Her shoulders fall and she looks as if she’s going to cry.

“My grandparents are here,” she says, resigned. “I don’t think they saw me. It’s a big place and they wouldn’t expect me to be here.” Her voice cracks on the last word. I put my hand on her shoulder.

“You really should at least let them know that you’re still in town,” I tell her. “You’ve come so far. You’re about to start school. You work so hard at the Center. We’re actually friends. You’re nothing like the person you used to be.” She shakes her head quickly as tears escape down her cheeks.

“We’ve hurt each other enough,” she says, just above a whisper. “It’s better to just leave it be.” Vickie puts her arm protectively around Courtney’s waist.

“I’ve told her the same things,” Vickie says. “She’s become a remarkable young lady. Mia even smiled at her in the receiving line.” The corner of Courtney’s mouth rises, her gaze fixed to the floor.

“It’s the joy of the wedding,” Courtney excuses. “She’ll come to her senses tomorrow.”

“It’s you,” I say, rubbing her arm trying to comfort her. “You’ve changed and we all see it.” She sniffles.

“You’re all really sweet,” she says, crossing her arm over her body and grasping Vickie’s hand. “I don’t… I don’t want a scene. If there ever will be a time for reconciliation—and I’m not saying that there will be—this isn’t that time. I’m just going to go. Please… just tell Mia everything was really beautiful…” She’s breaking down again and Vickie goes into protection mode. She’s very feminine, but she becomes quite the stud when it comes down to Courtney.

“I’m going to get her home. Please, make our apologies,” Vickie beseeches. I smile.

“Mia’s so enthralled, she won’t even notice, but I’m sure she’s happy that you came.” Vickie smiles and turns her attention to Courtney.

“Come on, baby,” she says, as she guides Courtney towards the exit. I watch them leave, then scan the room for Addie. I promised that I wouldn’t tell her that Courtney was still in town and I won’t. It wouldn’t matter. I don’t see her anywhere.

“Hey, you,” my husband’s voice breaks my concentration. He looks like an entirely different man!

“You look a lot better!” I observe. “Did you work something out with Mia?”

“I didn’t have to,” he says, handing me a copy of the program and pointing to something on the bottom of one of the pages. It’s a very long list of charities where the food from the reception is going to be sent.

“See?” I sing. “You were worried for nothing. She had it taken care of all along.”

“Yeah,” he says. “My whole family knew about my food issues and I had no idea. I feel kind of stupid.”

“Don’t,” I tell him, wrapping my arms around his waist. “You’re still trying to open yourself to people. It’s going to take some time.”

“Yeah.” He looks just past me as he kisses my forehead. “So, um, either he has to pee really bad or Marlow is itching to talk to you,” he says. I raise my gaze and sweep the room, my eyes falling on a twitchy Marlow. He’s not looking this way right now. He’s talking to his twitchy date.

“How do you know he wants to talk to me?” I ask.

“Because his eyes have been darting over here for the last few minutes,” he says. I sigh.

“Well, he’s your protégé. He could want some of your time,” I retort.

“Ten will get you twenty he wants you,” Christian counters. I frown.

“He doesn’t want to talk to me!” I retort. “Not after that ‘time of the month’ comment.”

“Well, he’s been talking to me all night. I think he wants you.”

“Ugh!” I kiss his lips and sit in my seat. “Okay, the doctor is in.”

“I don’t think it’s the doctor he wants. It’s Ana,” Christian says, taking his seat and raising his gaze to Marlow, who is now making his way towards us. “Five, four, three, two…”

“Hey… Ana… you wanna dance?” Marlow asks quietly. Christian leans in to me.

“Not the doctor.” I roll my eyes at him.

“Sure, Marlow,” I say as I follow him to the dancefloor. I don’t even pay attention to what song is playing. I hold my arms up for him to take me in hold and he looks at me, puzzled.

Oh, dear God.

I put his hands in the proper position and we begin to sway in that terrible two-step that everyone does who can’t dance. He can’t lead. He can’t even do a box step.

“So, the wedding was nice,” he begins.

“Yes, it was beautiful,” I agree.

“I didn’t know you and Christian could sing,” he adds.

“It’s not something we do often,” I say lightly. “The vocalist bailed. It was an emergency.”

“You guys sounded great together.”

“Thank you.” There’s silence for a moment or two.

“Maya seems to think you hate her,” he blurts out. Ah, the plot thickens.

She’s flattering herself,” I retort, without hesitation. “I’d have to care about her to hate her.” Marlow’s eyes roll around.

“Okay, she was right,” he says. “What did she do?”

“She didn’t do anything,” I tell him. “I don’t like her air of entitlement. Everyone here is here because they were invited. Sophie was invited. You were invited. Even she was invited. The only two people entitled to be here are the bride and groom. The rest of us are privileged to be allowed to share their day because in some way, we are a part of their circle. But look around you, Marlow. That’s circle’s pretty damn large. And the larger that circle becomes, the further the people in that circle get from the core and your date is about as far from the center of that circle as anybody can get. So, I just think she has a lot to learn about guest etiquette and I truly hope she plans on taking a lesson or three if you plan on bringing her to any family gatherings at my home.”

Translation: train your dog or leave that bitch in her cage.

“Okay,” Marlow says after a swallow. “I’ll… talk to her,” he says, uncomfortably.

“You do that,” I say, “and while you’re at it, you should probably use a little more discretion when you speak as well, young man,” I scold. Sweat sheens on his forehead and I know he’s even more nervous than before. He should be.

“Um, yeah, about that…” he begins.

“Yeah, about that…” I say, mocking him, “how can you be so evolved about everything else and be so archaic about that? You bend my husband’s ear about everything else—you had better bend it about women. You’ve got the best source in the world for it. I swear, that was the most insensitive thing I’ve ever heard you say. I was being flippant about that time of the month because I knew that most guys understand that’s when we’re wacky, but I never would have said that if I thought you’d blow it off that way.”

“I wasn’t blowing it off,” he protests, weakly.

“Don’t give me that, Marlow, that’s exactly what you were doing. And okay, you don’t have any knowledge yet on how to handle these things, but I’m telling you—get some! You’re coming into manhood, quickly! Time out for games. Be the person that I know you can be. You’ve come a very long way, and I’m proud of you even though you pissed me off today, but you still have a long way to go. Go ahead, be young, have some fun, live your life, but there are times when you have to develop and let go of some of that stuff—and let me tell you something. Introducing a young lady to your mentor and his wife is a time when you and she should know that she should be representative of you. If she’s not, don’t introduce her. If she is, and she acts like that, then you need a lot of work. Do you get where I’m coming from with all of this or do you think I’m just giving you a hard time?”

“No, no, I get where you’re coming from,” he says, his voice a bit defeated.

“Good, because I can understand a diamond in the rough and if that’s what she is, she needs a hell of a lot more polishing, and if she’s not, throw that lump of coal back.” I’m almost relieved when the song is over because I’m tired of the back-and-forth swaying, and I’m sure that Marlow can do without any further berating. I take a step back out of his grasp.

“And take some dance classes,” I say, and his expression is horrified. “You’re going into the business world. You don’t know what situation you’re going to find yourself in or when, but I can guarantee you that dealing with him…” I point at my husband, “… you’re going to find yourself at more than one black tie affair. You may even find yourself trying to seal a deal in a setting like this. I can guarantee you that Soul Train one-step-two-step is not going to cut it. You need to learn a proper ballroom, a foxtrot, and waltz… at least.”

I glance over at Maya, who’s sitting at their table examining us on the dancefloor with her hands clasped in her lap. I look back at Marlow.

“You want to play around with these flighty little high school girls, fine. You’re young. You’ve got time, but prioritize.”

I’m actually transmitting Sophie’s frustration and I know this, but I can’t help it. I detest girls like Maya. She’s Mia’s catty bridesmaids in training, and I hate being around them. I hope either she gets a clue or Marlow does. Christian’s expression is bemused when I get back to the table.

“You don’t look particularly happy,” he says. I shake my head.

“Mold him, Christian,” I demand. My husband frowns.

“I… thought I was,” he says.

“You’re molding the mind,” I tell him. “Mold the man,” I say, folding my arms.

“Um, okay. Elaborate.”

“Men like you and my father have me spoiled,” I admit. “You’re chivalrous; you’re gentlemen; you’re considerate; you know how to dance!” He frowns.

“That last one was kind of random,” he points out.

“It may have been random, but it’s still true,” I tell him. “Can you imagine going to one of your acquisition meet-and-greets, holding one of your new colleagues around the waist and doing a two-step?” He grimaces.

“Duly noted.”

“And that comment about not being concerned about a woman’s time of the month? Really? He’s how old?”

“He’s only seventeen, Butterfly,” he protests.

“And what were you doing at seventeen, Christian?” His face hardens.

“My story is so different than his,” he points out.

“All of our stories are different,” I tell him. “What was I doing at seventeen?” He’s silent for a moment. I was hiding in a woman’s shelter trying to go to college. “It’s never too soon to break bad habits, to teach him more productive ones. And if I’m giving bad advice, then I’ll shut up. Let him do what he wants.” I clam up, suddenly feeling like I shouldn’t be having this conversation.

“Don’t be like that,” my husband says, pulling me closer to him. “I’m only saying let him be a kid for a little while longer. We’ve both had experience with having our childhood snatched away from us a bit too soon. Adulthood will creep upon him soon enough, and when it does, he’ll have all the guidance he needs to make sure that he goes in the right direction and does the right things. In the meantime, let him have a little fun. There’s still time, baby. He’s not a bad kid. You know that.”

I do know that. I’m just pissed because Sophie was slighted.

“Yes, I do,” I sigh. “I made him feel a little shitty.”

“He’ll get over it,” he says. “His girl was kind of frosty to Sophia. I’d say they’re even.”

“You saw that, too,” I say, making eye-contact with him.

“Sophie is 13,” Christian points out. “The comments that girl made to her had obvious sexual overtones. Even I heard them. Why? Just why?” I shrug.

“I have no idea why, but Sophie’s presence threatened her. And if the presence of a 13-year-old girl threatens you, you’ve got some serious problems.”

“No kiddin’… uh oh.” My husband’s conversation is cut short when his gaze is drawn to something just across the room. I follow his eyes and see Ethan looking a bit lost in the sea of guest and wandering around the room.

“That doesn’t look like a happy groom,” Christian observes.

“No, it doesn’t,” I concur, “and don’t look now, but I think he’s headed this way.”

His head still darting from side to side, Ethan is indeed headed towards us. He doesn’t stop scanning the room until he gets to our table.

“I seem to have misplaced my bride,” he says, his face a bit verklempt.

“Excuse me?” I say, perplexed. That’s physically impossible.

“I know, right?” he says, catching my obvious meaning. “You’d think with all that dress and those damn sparkly things, I’d never miss her. She’s the brightest thing in the room.” I can’t help but note a slight bit of ire in Ethan’s voice, but I do my best to stamp down Dr. Grey. Nobody asked for her right now. Ethan falls into a nearby chair and scrubs his face.

“You alright there, Ethan?” Christian asks, examining him.

“Yeah,” Ethan says from under his hands. “It’s just been a helluva day, man. No way in hell Carrick could foot the bill for all this by himself. He must’ve hocked the family jewels for this. I have to give him something. Did you see those cakes?” He raises wide eyes to us. “I fully expected people to pop out of there! Or for the damn things to open and reveal the real cakes! I didn’t even know they could make cakes that big! And a castle? A damn castle? With lights!” His eyes are a bit wild now. “We cut the cake with a sword,” he adds incredulously. “Where have you ever seen that? A sword!” he repeats as if he’s waiting for it to make sense.

“A groom’s cake… that’s a castle… big enough for me to walk into… that we can cut with a sword. What, no knights to stand guard? No moat? No drawbridge?” He really doesn’t sound pleased about the cakes at all. This may have been a bit too much. He’s shaking his head when he reaches into his pocket and retrieves his phone. He powers it on and waits for a moment or two, saying nothing.

“You didn’t know about the cakes?” Christian asks Ethan, breaking the silence between the three of us.

“I knew they would be big,” he says without raising his head. “She told me that hers would be seven layers, so I was thinking, you know, the seven-layer cakes that would be like, you know…” and he’s trying to gesture his hands in a fashion to demonstrate a normal to somewhat large wedding cake. “We went to the bakery together,” he says finally, giving up on attempting to describe what he expected to see. “We chose the flavors—Nutella, pink champagne, and amaretto—and I chose Italian cream for the groom’s cake. And yeah, I chose the castle. I thought it would be kind of cool, but the model in the bakery was about 14 inches by 12 inches and it stood about a foot and a half tall. I didn’t expect that!”

The moment he turns his body to gesture over his shoulder at what’s left of the colossal castle cake, our attention is drawn to Mia “holding court” in the middle of a small crowd of guests heading in our direction. She’s beaming as the center of attention, like she always does, and Ethan shifts gears immediately like he hadn’t been bitching moments earlier about the sheer enormity of a cake he really didn’t expect.

“Oh, shit,” he quietly hisses as he slides his phone back into his pocket, straightens his hair, and rises from his seat to face Mia. Christian and I stand with him.

“E,” Mia chirps, closing in on her husband, who now has the brightest smile plastered on his face for her benefit. “What’s the name of that restaurant that you took me too that had the great food and the sake drinking contest…?”

“Umi,” Ethan answers, his voice subdued.

“That’s it!” Mia declares. “I couldn’t remember it for anything. C’mon, Nae wants to hear the story, but I don’t tell it nearly as well as you do.” She takes Ethan’s hand and moves to walk back to her crowd of guests, but Ethan hesitates, his head rolling around in frustration until his chin lands in his chest. Mia stops and turns back to Ethan.

“Hey,” she says, her voice concerned. “You okay?” Ethan sighs.

“You go on and talk to your friends. I’m going to go and get a drink,” he replies. Mia frowns.

“E… what’s wrong?” Mia presses. I can see in his face that Ethan doesn’t want to have this conversation right now, but he sees that he doesn’t have a choice.

“This,” he says, his eyes rolling around the theater. “I can’t take anymore. It’s a lot. I need a break. There’s a whole bunch going on and this is quite a bit to drink in. I don’t know what else is going to pop out at me next.”

“There’s nothing else, Ethan,” Mia says softly.

“Good, because I don’t think I could take anything else,” he says, the words rushing out of his mouth. Mia’s eyes are on the floor now. Ethan puts his hand under her chin and lifts her face so that their eyes meet.

“Mia,” Ethan says soberly. “I love you very much, and I don’t want you to be unhappy on our wedding day. I agreed to any and everything you wanted because you wanted it. All I want is you, and I have to be honest. I’ve had enough of all of this, and if you want to stick around for this production any longer, I’m going to go get a drink and find a quiet corner somewhere to be alone. My head is spinning from all this. I feel like a debutante being presented to society and not in a good way.”

He leans in and kisses her gently on the cheek, holding her there for a long moment, then he reaches in his pocket and retrieves his phone again. He turns the phone around to her so that she can see her smiling face—his screen saver.

“My phone is on, now, if you need to find me. Go. Mingle with your friends.”

There’s no malice, anger, or resentment in his voice when he speaks. He’s just… tired of all this. He’s going to let her have what she wants, but he’s played along for hours and he doesn’t want to play anymore. He kisses her on the cheek again, releases her hand, and walks away. Christian looks at me, then falls in step behind Ethan. As they head towards the bar, I look over at Mia and can’t quite read her expression.

Is she hurt?
Embarrassed?
Upset?
Angry?
Ashamed?

She wordlessly watches her new husband walk away from her and a single tear escapes from the corner or her eye.

“Mia?” I say softly. She sniffs and sighs heavily.

“I need to make my final rounds,” she says, her voice cracking. “It’s time to say ‘goodnight.’” She laughs tragically. “My maid of honor was kicked out—can you help me?” I know what she means. She needs to put on the happy face and try not to fall apart. There will also be the unending question of, “Where’s Ethan” as she’s making her way around the room. I take her hand and nod.

“C’mon, sis. Have you lost those shoes yet? Because if you haven’t, now would be the time.” She nods and reaches under her yards of skirt to remove the insanely embellished shoes… still the sharpest pair of shoes I’ve ever seen in my life.

“Let’s make it happen,” she says, carrying the magnificent creations in her hand as she screws up the courage to face her guests.

The ordeal takes 45 minutes… and I really don’t think she enjoys a second of it. She’s the quintessential lady, smiling and thanking everyone for coming. Half the people she’s speaking to, she’s never met in her life.

When she has spoken to the last guest she plans to greet, Mia finally makes her way out of the main ballroom

“Can someone call my husband, please?” she asks, her voice exhausted and—if I’m honest—a bit defeated. I pull my phone out of my clutch and quick dial my husband.

“Hey, Butterfly,” he answers.

“Are you still with the groom?” I ask.

“I am.”

“Is he sober?”

“Quite. He only had one drink. He’s not maudlin, he just wanted to get away from the crap… and to vent,” he says.

“Good, because his wife has made her rounds and is ready to go.” I hear him saying something, probably to Ethan, then he’s back on the line.

“They have a helicopter,” he says.

“Seriously?” I ask.

“Can you see them getting out of here any other way?” he asks. Actually, I can’t.

“Good point.” I turn to Mia. “You have a helicopter?” She nods.

“It’s just taking us to the plaza. We have a limo waiting there for us.”

“How do you get to the helipad?” Like magic, her wedding planner—who I now know as Skye—appears with Ethan, and my husband who is still on the phone with me. I end the call since the proximity is now giving me feedback.

“How did you we were out here?” I ask.

“Low background noise,” he says. “It was either here or the restroom.” He moves next to me as Ethan closes in on his wife.

“You look exhausted,” he says softly.

“I’m fine,” she replies, raising doe-like eyes to his.

“I just bet,” he says, sliding his arms around her waist and placing a soft, sensual kiss on her lips. Mia visually melts into his arms and closes her eyes at his touch, her sigh signaling that she wishes to be any place but here at this moment.

“Soooo… it’s a wrap,” Skye says. “Let’s get you kids airbound.”

Ethan gives Mia another squeeze before they turn to face us. Christian hugs his sister and I give Ethan a hug and congratulate him again. When they switch, Christian and Ethan shake hands and Mia takes me into a firm hug.

“Thank you… for everything. God couldn’t have blessed me with a better sister.”

I have to fight back the tears.

“You’re welcome… for everything. Enjoy your honeymoon and your new life, Mrs. Kavanaugh.”

“I know, right?” she giggles happily. We share one last hug before she releases me and turns back to her husband. Ethan scoops his wife up in his arms—sparkly dress and all—and falls in step behind Skye to wherever they will board the helicopter. I turn to my husband and release a sigh.

“They survived!” I exclaim.

We survived!” he corrects. He takes my hand and leads me back to our table.

“I envy them being able to take the helicopter and escape,” I admit. “This is one of those times I wish we could employ Charlie Tango.”

“Yes, the old boy would be quite handy right now, wouldn’t he?” Christian agrees.

“Ethan seemed much better,” I observe. “He was nearly fit to be tied when you guys left us.”

“Yeah,” he says. “He took his share of responsibility for enabling Mia—for giving her a free hand in the wedding planning and allowing her and Mom free reign in whatever they wanted to do, but he admits that this was nothing like what he expected. This was exactly what I expected. He turned a little green when I reminded him that the belly-dancers and pink flamingos had been nixed and we have no idea what else got the axe.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s right!” I say in horrified realization. “There was a lot more on the menu, so to speak.”

“Indeed,” he replies. I shiver to think what else was planned that didn’t make it to the ceremony and how poor Ethan would have reacted to that.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the bride and groom have left the building,” is announced over the loudspeaker. I look up at Christian and we share the same incredulous, disbelieving look before bursting into laughter.

“I’m ready to go,” I say. “I’ve had enough of this for one day.”

“It’ll be at least an hour before Jason can get the car around to get us,” Christian laments.

“I don’t care how we get out of here. Let’s just get out of here,” I whine. He nods and takes my hand. He pulls me through the crowd, through the dressing room area in the back and to one of the back exits.

“You might set off the alarm!” I warn.

“Who the fuck cares? The reception’s over.” He pushes the door and to our delight, no alarm. “Service entrance,” he says, with a wink. There are several members of the staff wandering around, smoking cigarettes and chatting.

“Don’t mind us,” Christian says, and I giggle as he weaves me through the inquiring faces in the alley. He pulls out his phone and dials a number.

“Jason, bring the car around to the front. Call me when you’re there.” He ends the call and I frown at him.

“I thought you said it’ll take an hour for Jason to get the car around,” I protest.

“I might have exaggerated. It’ll probably take about 25 minutes, but while he’s moving, he’s drawing the Paparazzi’s attention. And, where are we?” He talks while he’s rushing me along. I giggle again.

“Escaping down a back alley, like fugitives,” I chuckle as my heels click against the concrete. We get to the end of the alley and I find myself scurrying behind my husband down the street adjacent to the freeway to evade the Paps. It’s not an easy escape as there is a fence and a curb that we must negotiate. However, once we clear the perils that are the alley and Convention Place, we cruise easily down Pike Street, where Christian effortlessly hails a taxi. He helps me into the back seat and climbs in behind me.

“Slater Park, Mercer Island,” he says to the cabbie. No sooner he turns around and starts driving, Christian descends upon me, covering my lips with hungry kisses. I ignite immediately, thrusting my hands into his hair. My husband is hot anyway, but when he’s clawing hungrily at me like this, he sets my soul on fire. I’m trying to be satisfied with just the kisses, but I’m burning as his hands wander over my body and ignite me in all the right ways and places. My euphoria is interrupted when we feel the taxi jerk suddenly, and our attention is brought to the darting eyes of the cabbie in the rearview mirror as well as his dangerous proximity to the car in front of us.

“Sorry,” he says, meekly. Christian reaches into his pocket and pulls out his wallet. He takes out a few bills which I’m sure are hundreds because that’s all he carries, and throws them into the front seat.

“I know you’ve seen more than this, so keep your eyes on the road and try not to fucking kill us all!” he snaps. The cabbie’s eyes grow large as he retrieves the cash.

“Yes, sir!” he says obediently and pins his eyes firmly in front of him.

And my husband descends upon me again.

His kisses become more intense, more purposeful, and I melt in his arms. I whimper into his mouth as his hand wanders down to my breast and pinches my nipple. Oh, God, I’m going to lose it.

Just then, he groans and pulls his lips from mine, fishing his phone out of his pocket.

“Yeah,” he grunts, then listens. “Get out of the car and wait for about twenty minutes, then pick us up at Slater Park.” He ends the call, shoves his phone back into his pocket, and turns his attention back to me.

“Where were we?” he growls as his mouth covers mine again.

By the time we get to the bridge, I’m trying for all I’m worth not to wrap my leg around him while he continues to deliciously devour my flesh. I’m so hot that I could combust at any moment. Noting my dilemma, he puts my leg around his hip and continues to grope and kiss me.

“Stay calm,” he breathes into my mouth as his hand travels up my dress and between my thighs. Oh, shit. “Don’t let on…”

His hand slides effortlessly into my panties and he begins to gently stroke my burning clit.

“Don’t come yet,” he whispers as he licks the corner of my mouth. “Hold on… let it build…”

I bite my lip and try to close my legs a bit more to fend off the building intensity.

“Ah, ah, ah,” he scolds. “If you do that, I’m going to make you scream in the back of this car.” I gasp as his finger strokes meticulously, rhythmically, over and over, building and burning until…

“We’re here, sir.”

The cabbie’s voice pulls me back from the edge of my orgasm as I only just now remember that we aren’t alone, despite Christian’s prior threat.

“Thanks,” my husband barks before opening the door and leaping from the taxi, nearly dragging me behind him. We stand there in silence and wait until the cabbie pulls away and is out of sight. Then, my husband drags me behind him again, looking for something. He finds what he’s looking for in a nearby cluster of trees.

I have to run on my tiptoes to keep up with him, my spiked heels occasionally sinking into the grass. He pins me against a large tree and kisses me hungrily again. I’m still hot from the fondling in the taxi. He pulls his lips from mine and slowly descends to his knees. He kisses my exposed inner thigh through my split and I almost lose my balance. His hands travel under my dress, pushing it up just enough for him to inhale deeply and smell his prize. He closes his eyes as if in ecstasy and licks the outside of my panties. I gasp at the feeling of his tongue against my outer lips. He probes deeper and his tongue is licking and massaging my clit through my panties. My head falls back against the tree trunk as the fire he was igniting in the back of the taxi burns once more. I feel him grab my panties and pull them down, just past my hips to reveal my pussy, and his head is buried again between my legs.

“Oohh,” I whimper as his hungry, hot tongue makes contact with my clit. He tastes me over and over, moaning each time his tongue runs across the sensitive bundle of nerves. It feels so good and I have to lean on his shoulders to keep from sliding down the damn tree. My legs start to tremble and he lifts one, throwing it over his shoulder to help me stay upright… and opening my pussy wider to his talented tongue. His hands reach up and cup my breast roughly, kneading them sensually as he continues to feast delectably on my aching clit.

His hungry licks turn into determined sucks and devouring mouthfuls and I know it won’t be long now. He reaches up and caresses my lips with his fingers. I realize this is the hand he used to finger me in the car, and I suck his fingers into my mouth, fellating them hungrily as his technique on my clit becomes more determined. I’m panting wildly, his fingers deep in my mouth and his hand firm on my tit when it happens.

“God! Christian!” I nearly scream when the climax hits me. He groans into my pussy and squeezes my tit a little harder, sucks my clit a little deeper and I explode magnificently, clutching his hair while he holds me up against that tree. His wet fingers move from my mouth across my face, down, and to my neck as I whimper and pant through this intense pulsing and burning. Once the orgasm has waned to a gentle throb, he kisses my clit gently and replaces my panties. He rises to his feet and thrusts his tongue into my mouth. I’m high and still aroused, tasting my juices on his tongue. I move my hands to his belt and try to unbuckle it, intent on returning the favor, but he halts my progress.

“No,” he says firmly. “Jason will be here any minute.”

Shit, I forgot about Jason.

Christian helps me put myself back together and leads me from the bunch of trees. I’m nearly composed when we get back out to the lighted area and a stretch of road where Jason will be able to see us. He puts his hand on the small of my back and pulls me over to him.

“You taste mighty fine, Mrs. Grey,” he mumbles, the scent of my arousal on his breath. Don’t get in Jason’s face, I think to myself, or he’s going to get a whole lot more than he bargains for.

“You bring that out in me, Mr. Grey,” I say, carefully watching his lips as he licks them, knowing I can smell myself on his breath. For the second time, I move to reach for his crotch and I see headlights shine at the end of the road.

Fuck! Jason. Dammit.

When the Audi approaches, Christian moves quickly to open the door for me so that Jason doesn’t exit the car.

*-*

He’s out of his jacket before we even cross the threshold. I instinctively leap into his arms and he catches me, as usual, with two handfuls of ass. Squeezing tightly while devouring my lips, he carries me up the stairs to our bedroom. I can feel the tip of his erection protruding through his pants and I try to grind down on it, but he’s holding me firmly.

“Anxious?” he growls.

“Yes!” I pant over his lips. He bursts into the doors and slides me to the ground, kicking the doors closed behind him.

“So am I,” he groans, his lips never leaving mine as he unclips the hook-and-eye at the back of my neck and unzips my zipper. I make quick work of the buttons on his shirt, ripping it out of his pants while he pushes my dress from my shoulders. I quickly remove the dress and let it fall to the floor while he unbuckles his belt and unzips his pants. He removes his shirt and I push my hands inside the back of his pants and boxers and squeeze his tight, firm ass. He does the same thing to my ass while his tongue plays seductively with mine. He grinds me against his erection and I don’t want to wait any longer. I push his pants and boxers past his hips, reach between us and grab his cock.

“Ugh!” he groans loudly as I squeeze it hard in my fist. He toes out of his shoes and pushes his pants and boxers to the floor, removing them and his socks at the same time. He quickly removes his T-shirt and pushes me down on the bed. Climbing over me, naked, he grinds his hips into my panty-clad clit and I groan loudly.

“Christian! Please!” I protest, trying and failing to remove my shoes.

“Leave them on!” he commands, his voice throaty and full of lust. He pulls my panties aside and positions his head at my opening. Before I can say anything, he pushes inside me, his cock burning my walls and making me dizzy.

“Yes! Oh, yes!” I exclaim as he penetrates me and his hips immediately begin to move with purpose. He grabs both breasts, still in my bra, and kneads them roughly as he plunges into me.

“Shit, you feel so good,” he groans, his hips rolling and thrusting and pushing me quickly to my second orgasm. I don’t speak. I just enjoy. He’s lost in his own passion right now and he’s taking me with him… and I fucking love it! He undoes my bra and nearly rips it from my chest, concentrating his gaze on my tits as he plunders into me over and over. It’s so hot, that hungry, lustful look in his eye as he watches my breasts wobble while he fucks me.

“Fuck!” he hisses as he drops his body over mine, his hips pushing my legs open wider. His hands travel to mine and his fingers entwine with my fingers. He holds my hands down and buries his face in my neck as his hips and dick grind deliciously into me. He groans louder and louder into my neck as I feel him getting thicker and harder, his thrust more intense. I can barely breath as the orgasm attacks, ripping a scream from my throat and a tear or two from my eyes as my husband holds me down and punishes me with his dick.

“Fuck! So tight! Too… tight… fuck! Fuck!” he gasps as I feel him begin to pulse and throb inside me while I ride out this wild orgasm.

I’m coughing and gasping for air when he cups the side of my face and peppers the opposite cheek with tender kisses… while he’s still fucking me! I know he came. I know he did! But he’s still fucking. He raises his eyes to mine and yes, I can even see in his eyes that he came… but he wants more.

He pushes off my body—still inside me—and rips those useless, soaked panties off me. Lifting my hips off the bed, be begins to plunder me again, methodically—hitting that magic spot even though he knows I’ve just come.

“Don’t move your hands!” he commands in a harsh whisper. “I don’t want to stop to tie you up, so stay. Right. There.”

And I don’t fucking move.

He hits that spot over… and over… and over… and in about ten minutes, I’m back at the mountaintop, ready to blow. When he senses the change in my body, he puts his arms under my knees, holding my legs wide and pummeling my poor little pussy.

“Oh, God,” I protest again, arching my back and keeping my wrists plastered to the bed.

“That’s it, Baby,” he growls. “Feel it. Show me that you like it. You look so fucking good… so fucking beautiful…”

That’s all it takes to start the ascent again, and it’s burning deep, so much so that at first, I didn’t know that I wasn’t actually having an orgasm… until the real orgasm hit.

“Oh, Go-o-o-od!” I weep as my body starts the tremble. Christian fights to hold me in the position so that I can finish… but he loses the battle.

“Fuuuuck!” he exclaims as one stiletto-clad foot flies to his shoulder, the other still suspended from the knee in his hand, and he thrusts hard into me… several times… causing the explosive orgasm that I was already having to go on and on and on.

“Oh, God! Please! Stop!” I cry as the intensity becomes too much for me, but my husband is gone, his body violently chasing his orgasm. I don’t think I can hold out much longer and several strokes later when I’m at my wits end…

“Fuuuuu-uuu-uuu-uuuuck fuck-ing hell fuuuck!” I don’t recognize his voice as he appears to be crying for mercy, his body stiffening and trembling wildly at the same time. He’s weak with pleasure and unable to hold his body up, only the unforgiving stiffening of his muscles holding him in place as his head hangs helplessly from his neck, sweat dripping from the ends of his curls and his body jerking impulsively with each throb of his finally emptying dick.

Thank God!

I prepare myself for the inevitable, for him to fall helplessly on top of me once nirvana releases him and allows his muscles to relax… it takes a long, long, time. I’m worried for a moment, but then he collapses—helpless, spent, and breathless, still inside of me and unable to move. I reach down and stroke his wet hair, bringing him slowly back to earth. Several minutes later, I think he’s fallen asleep on me when he says,

“That was incredible.”

“Yes, it was,” I concur. “What got into you?”

“I don’t know,” he admits. “The playfulness of running down that alley, being in the back of that taxi… I just… felt free… and I wanted to get into you!” He growls the last word.

“I’m glad you did,” I say, still stroking his hair.

*-*

Liam didn’t come looking for me Monday morning. He went straight to Grace. That left me able to get some real work done instead of this babysitting shit. Granted, he has gorgeous blue eyes and he’s really nice to look at, but I resent his presence here and really want him gone as soon as possible. Not only that, I’ve felt the need more than once to remind him that I’m taken. It’s been nothing particularly forward, but he tried to get me to go to lunch with him again and he even went so far as to ask me out for a drink once.

“It’s a harmless drink,” he had said, “just to unwind from all this damn work we’ve been doing.”

Since he insisted on diverting the conversation away from any romantic interest, I did the same when I declined, noting that I’m breastfeeding. It doesn’t help that we slip into a relaxed comfort and sometimes even a playful banter when we work together. I have to concentrate when I talk to him—on looking into his eyes just long enough to get my point across, but not staring as it’s very easy to get lost in those lipid pools on any human being. I also have to avoid gazing at the bridge of his nose, because that offends him. So, I’m a little more relieved than I should be when Tuesday comes around and he goes straight to Grace again.

“Come on, Friday… come on, Friday…” I think to myself.

Ever the hopeful optimist, I forget that forces beyond my control are constantly at work to destroy my little world and crumble my happiness and very existence. One such force that I erroneously failed to acknowledge at the moment got its modern identification in 1949 when a development engineer at Edwards Air Force Base named Captain John Murphy became frustrated with a malfunctioning electrical component. About the lab technician would had wired the component, he remarked “If there is any way to do it wrong, he will.” Although there is more evidence that the concept was born well before this time, supposedly, this was the first assignment of Murphy’s Law…

Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.

Still praying for Friday, but once again lulled into a false sense of comfort, I’m dismayed—for good reason—when Liam approaches me on Wednesday morning while I’m working in one of the classrooms.

“I see you’ve been meeting with Grace for the earlier part of the week. What’s the order of business this time?” I ask when I see him. He scratches his cheek.

“You,” he answers. I’m taken aback.

“Me?” I ask, bemused. He nods. Why the fuck…?

“Besides that first week, I’d like to know when exactly she plans on you investigating the Center,” I say with distaste. “Exactly why am I the focus of the investigation now?” He sighs.

“The financial report was just as flawless as the first week,” he says. “It shows consistent growth in the Center and no reason or cause for concern for future stability. When the board didn’t see a problem there, they shifted focus.”

The Board,” I say incredulously, “I’ll just bet the board saw me as a potential problem!” He sighs again and drops the pretenses.

“She let it slip that there’s some bad blood between her and the Center,” he admits. “When I waited for an explanation, she hinted at cutting corners and shabby qualifications—detrimental positions that could affect the outcome of the investigation being filled due to nepotism instead of choosing a qualified candidate for the job.” And now we get to the crust of things. She opened the door, so…

“She had her eye on this position for several years and I showed up and stole it from her,” I say with no remorse. “There had to be a reason why Grace hadn’t filled it all that time. She was overwhelmed with work, unable to pay attention to any of the smaller duties necessary to keep the Center running. There were areas of the Center knee-deep in dust and I just started cleaning them—yet, we had a cleaning crew. The first day I started working here, there was an angry young man who wouldn’t speak to anybody. Most of the staff here treated him like he was contagious. I got through to him, took him on, and now, he’s at Seattle Prep, getting great grades and making a huge difference in the area he grew up in.

“I have more success stories of families that have been mended and reunited or moved from dangerous situations and able to move on with their lives than you have time to hear, yet because she didn’t get the job, she feels that I wasn’t qualified? It’s sour grapes and nothing more. I’m a doctor with a medical degree; I spent my internship working with broken families. What has she done? What are her qualifications? Does she have experience or education in social work or administrative management that I’m not aware of?”

“Social work, no. Management, yes,” he says.

“Well, congratulations for her, but it doesn’t give her the right to besmirch my qualifications.” I slam my pen down on the table, angry that this woman has found a way to control us because she didn’t get a job all those months ago. God, how much time has passed? She probably combed through every application since she got that job, waiting for something with our name on it.

“Well,” he’s sounding a little nervous now, “it’s just that accreditation is a huge responsibility. We can’t afford to let anything slip through the cracks, that’s all.” I stare at him, my mouth agape.

“Slip through the cracks?” I repeat, my voice several octaves higher than normal. “There are several schools in Washington State that don’t even deserve to be considered schools—federally accredited schools who don’t make the mark on local scoreboards. Do you investigate those schools, too, or is this a privilege reserved only for those people on Ms. Felton’s radar?” He shifts uncomfortably in his seat and if this were a fight, I would have him on the proverbial ropes right now.

“It’s just my understanding that with you being the assistant director and with new twins and your husband that there may have been some cutting corners in the licensing process and she says that she just wants to make sure everything has been completed properly.” I gasp, and he immediately knows that he has said something wrong.

“It’s…” he stumbles. “You know how people may look for fulfillment in things other than their home life and may throw efforts into outside projects… and the importance of the success of those tasks may overshadow proper protocol—skipping important steps and using connections, as it were, to push different initiatives through the system…” Well, that didn’t make matters any better. Careful, Liam, you’re choking on that foot.

“I like. My life. Just fine,” I say, succinctly. “And tell your boss that she would do well to keep my personal life out of this professional matter. Make no mistake, Mr. Grey does have the power to make this whole thing go away—push things through the system, as you so delicately put it—but I don’t want that and neither does Grace. We want this whole thing to be legit and on the up and up, and Christian’s intervention would only take away from our credibility. This is a place for people to get help, to get education, to feel safe, and if they see that a dollar can sway our opinion one way or the other, they won’t feel that way.” Liam’s eyes sharpen and he’s a bit taken aback.

“I’m… sorry,” he begins, “I didn’t mean to demean or discredit you in any way, and I certainly didn’t mean to offend you.” He’s sincere, I can tell, but for now the damage is done.

“Unfortunately, Mr. Westwick, your boss doesn’t share your sentiment,” I state, gathering my things. “Her entire intention in this exercise in futility is to hold up our goal, discredit us and find fault with us. She has used every single tactic that she could to keep us from getting our final stamp of approval, and I personally don’t feel like playing her game anymore.” I stand, stacking my papers and files, while closing my laptop.

“I swear that I’m doing everything that I can to make sure that this isn’t a personal attack,” he says. I raise my eyes to him again, this time, in scrutiny.

“Have you seen anything in the time that you’ve been here that indicates that we need an in-depth investigation as to whether or not we were following the rules?” I accuse. “Does anything look rushed, unnatural, or staged to you? Does anything here look like we haven’t been working for years to get to where we are now? Has anybody had anything contrary to say about the Center except your boss? Have you had cause to question my qualifications anytime during any of our conversations? You come here armed with information about my personal life that has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the Center and you don’t see this tactic for what it really is? You really think this is just somebody doing their job?”

Again, he’s stunned to silence, examining me. I gather the rest of my things in my arms.

“You let your own eyes and ears tell you what you need to know. Talk to whomever you need to talk to; draw whatever conclusions are necessary. Then, you tell the boss whatever the hell you want, because I’m done with this charade.” I march indignantly out of the room and towards my office to find some lunch.

I’m back in my office, going over our paperwork for the hundredth time looking for any loopholes we might have taken, any ammunition that Gloria would have to use against us to justify the charade of jumping through hoops that she’s putting us through. Knowing that I’m not going to find one and that this will never end if I don’t take action, I push the reports, my laptop, and my iPod away from me and make the call that I said I would wait until the end of the investigation to make.

“Al, I need you to file a formal complaint against Gloria Felton of the Washington State Licensing Board. I also want a complaint lodged with the Department of Early Learning, Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the US Department of Education.”

“Whoa! Jewel, wait… what’s going on?” Al protests.

“This woman has done everything that she can to discredit the Center and to hinder our progress for becoming a fully-accredited learning facility and day-care center because of her own personal conflicts and I’ve had enough! She’s still holding a grudge because she volunteered with the Center years ago when I first got here, and Grace chose me over her as the assistant director because she wanted another licensed doctor on the administrative staff! Gloria has never gotten over it; she threatened us way back then and now, she’s making good on that threat. She’s even gone so far as to send an inspector down here armed with details about my private life. This is personal—stemming from when she was released from the Center years ago, and she shouldn’t be in charge of this!”

“Okay, okay, I get it. It’s crystal clear. I’ll file whatever you need with whatever agency you choose, but you know that with an open investigation, it’s going to set back your accreditation.”

“We’re not going to get it anyway!” I yell the painful truth into the phone. “We’ve followed every rule, every regulation, every tiny little bullshit request she’s given us and every time we pass with flying colors, she finds something else!” The adrenaline tears begin and I can’t stop them. I’m so angry and disappointed that I could hit something right now. “A chip in the wall paint; a crack in a floor tile; a teacher with a less-than-perfect grade-point average… There’s always going to be something that she can pick at—some small thing that she can scrutinize use to hold us up! She wants us to give up, but I’m not going down without a fight! I’m kicking and screaming until there’s nothing left!”

The adrenaline tears turn into angry wrenching sobs as I go over to the window and unsuccessfully attempt to compose myself. “All this work,” I weep, “all this time, these years we’ve invested… I can’t believe all our efforts can be shot to hell by some spiteful bitch with a bug up her ass!” I sob into the phone in the most unladylike fashion.

“Jewel, I really need you to calm down,” Al pleads. “I’ll get right on it, okay?” I nod as if he can see me and end the call, weeping into my hands. A few moments later, Grace and Chuck come barreling into my office.

“Ana! What’s wrong?” Grace asks.

“We’re not going to get it!” I sob. “He could go back to that office shitting rainbows out his ass about how great we are and we’re still not going to get our accreditation.” God, I’m so frustrated that I feel like I’m just going to explode—literally explode! “I’ve already called Al. I know what this is. She’s the boss! She can keep us tied up in bureaucracy for years! She has no intention of giving us accreditation because I got this job and she didn’t! And when it’s conveniently leaked to the news that we were denied accreditation and some puffed-up story as to why, what do you think that’s going to do to us? To our reputation? To our credibility? All this fucking work!”

I’m screaming now and attracting an audience of people not afraid to approach the mayhem—security, Jesse, Marilyn…

Liam.

I fall into Chuck’s arms, weeping for the demise of the dream Grace and I had for a full-functioning help and educational center. This investigation is going to take forever—years, maybe. Any decision for or against our accreditation will be withheld pending the outcome of the investigation. Great, just fucking great!

*-*

I’ve sent the twins home with Keri and Marilyn so that I can strategize about restructuring what the Center has to offer since our accreditation will be indefinitely tied up in the complaint process. So much was riding on our being accredited—continued education, the day care and preschool, a form of home schooling so that children of families in hiding would still be able to learn without falling behind. We can still run the day care center, we just can’t do anything related to early learning in the process. It makes me so mad that one woman’s vendetta can so easily ruin something that could have been so useful and helpful to the community.

I guess it’s back to the drawing board.

Intent on working a few more hours on formulating a whole new game plan that didn’t stray too far from the one we had been working on for the last year and a half, I go to the community room to see if there are any sandwiches left in the vending machine.

“You’re still here,” I hear a voice say from behind me. I turn around to see Liam sitting on one of the sofas in the community room, his tie undone and his shirt open to the top two buttons.

“So are you,” I say, turning back to the vending machine. After finding a turkey sandwich, I make my purchase along with some green tea.

“Why are you working so late?” he asks. Why do you care?

“I’m trying to revamp our plans for the community center since it looks like we won’t be getting our accreditation anytime soon.”

“Oh, ye of little faith,” he says, and I’m not amused. “Don’t you want to know why I’m still here?”

Not particularly, I think to myself.

“Well, I was trying to save my investigation and your accreditation,” he says. “After witnessing what I did today, I did a little research on your accusations, which turned up quite a bit that I’m not at liberty to dispose right now, but I can say that I think you were right.” I glare at him.

“You doubted?” I ask, turning now to face him. “You thought I was making this all up?”

‘You’d be surprised what I’ve come across, so I had to be sure.” He leans forward, clasping his fingers together with his elbows on his knees. “You’re very passionate about your work.”

You have no idea.

“The thought of someone needing help and not being able to get it is unacceptable to me,” I say, taking a seat next to him on the sofa. “In particular, children in bad situations is a real sore spot. Why should a child be held back or fall behind in their class because Mom is afraid to let them go to school for fear that their abusive husband will get to them? Why should someone who was dealt a bad hand or has made a bad decision not be able to pursue their high school diploma or GED? These women—and, yes, men, too—may be running from horrible, or even life-threatening situations. They come here for sanctuary, for help to start over, to find shelter, maybe a job and a new life and they may need daycare.  There are so many opportunities I wanted to bring to the community, but this selfish cow has decided that’s not a good idea because she has a bone to pick with us. It’s my understanding that she volunteered here for years and she knows what we do. How she could deny these services to people that need them in good conscience is beyond me.”

I open my sandwich and the accompanying mayo packet and spread a healthy amount on the bread. I just realize that I’m starving and take a healthy bite. God, it tastes like filet mignon.

“Well, I wouldn’t give up hope just yet,” he says. “You never know what may happen.” I scoff before taking another large bite of my sandwich, chewing hungrily before I swallow it. He’s strangely silent while watching me eat.

“I’m no stranger to bureaucracy, Liam,” I tell him. “And I know a hopeless situation when I see one. I’m not one to easily admit defeat, but I am realistic. We’re just going to have to rethink our strategy and find another way to help people in the forever-time it takes the licensing board to address our complaint. It hurts, terribly, but it’s not the end of the world.” I continue eating, lost in thought for a moment and thinking that one of the things we could provide is an after-school program—something besides tutoring—some kind of latchkey program or something where kids can just chill out and unwind after school. We don’t have that, and I was so concerned with the accreditation portion of things that I wasn’t thinking about the simple community services that we could provide.

I’m pondering the new idea for so long that I’ve finished my sandwich and most of my tea. I raise my eyes to see Liam staring at me.

“What?” I ask. He points at me.

“You, um…” he stutters, then points. “You… have a little…” He reaches to my face and brushes what I assume are crumbs off my cheeks. The touch is soft… intimate… and in a moment, I’m caught in his gaze—those otherworldly blue eyes that capture me with an emotion that I can’t identify. They change and they look like cool water, clear and refreshing. My lips part slightly as I’m caught, trapped, motionless, waiting… I feel him coming closer, see him coming closer, his warm hand on my cheek, and I relax. A familiar warmth settles through me as I gaze into his deep, blue eyes.

Blue… blue… no… something’s wrong here. Something’s very wrong here.

I press my hand to his chest to halt his progression. He’s going to kiss me.

“Liam, no,” I stop him. “I’ve told you. I’m married.”

He pauses inches from my face, from his goal, and it’s only now that I hear the determined progressing thud of expensive, Italian leather shoes. I turn my gaze towards the sound and right into the steely, blazing eyes of my angrily charging husband.


A/N: She did it again… another juicy cliffy. Don’t kill me… but hold on to your seats. It’s about to get bumpy.

The Paramount Theater doesn’t have a helipad, but for the sake of the story, we’re pretending that it does.

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