Raising Grey: Chapter 48—’Round and ‘Round… and ‘Round

THE MUSE HAS GONE CRAZY!!!!

So, unless the layout and the flow of the story as I see it changes somehow, you can expect for “Raising” to be longer than the typical 80 chapters. I may find a place where I can break the story and start a new book, but if it’s flowing well and there’s nowhere for a cohesive time break, I’ll just keep it going.

HOWEVER…

Golden is currently on hold because Lynn is overwhelmed. I still know where I want it to go, and it’s definitely going to be a shorter story than the Butterfly Saga, but if I can’t give my best, I’m not giving anything at all, and the nuances of the story aren’t flowing as well as I would like with all that I have on my plate. So, Golden fans, I apologize for not updating as much as I should, but I can only do so much at once.

My darling Falala, you are the only one who has indicated that they’ve had that problem with having to re-follow the blog. I hope that’s not a trend and I hope you haven’t had further problems. Anybody else having any issues? I got two emails that said, “falalax is now following your blog.” I was like, “Huh? I thought she was already following my blog. Gotta love the world wide web…

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.

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 48—’Round and ‘Round

ANASTASIA

I take a quick shower and change into something more suitable for travel. When I exit the bathroom, I’m headed towards the living room area when I hear Christian’s voice.

“Hi, little man. Daddy loves you. Take care of the house until I get back, okay?”

I back away from the doorway so as not to interrupt his cooing time with the Prince of Grey Crossing.

“I miss you, Mikey. I miss you so much and I love you. Take care of your sister for me…”

I can imagine that seeing his father and brothers in such turmoil is causing his emotions to flip like crazy. I hear silence for a moment, then I hear,

“Hey Lelliot… yeah, it’s done. It was brutal, man… Listen, you know when I’m giving you shit, I’m just giving you shit, right? I don’t mean anything by it… Yeah, it’s just…” He sighs. “This place, man—this place fucks with me, and watching Freeman and Dad… Just know that I love you, man. I’ll always be there for you even when you act like a fucking jerk, but don’t act like a fucking jerk, okay?… Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s the whole married thing, I guess.”

I’d love to know what Elliot said that elicited that response.

“I’m ready to get out of here. Nothing is jogging any memories with me, but this place seems to bring out the worst in my family and I’m ready to shake it off… She didn’t go to the reading with us, which I’m glad that she didn’t. If Freeman had said anything to my wife…” He trails off. “Having her here has been a tremendous comfort for me though. She dropped everything just to be here and sit in a hotel room while the Grey brothers battled it out… Dad’s at Uncle Stanley’s with Uncle Herman. They’re going through the contents of a safe deposit box that Pops had at Chase Bank. Apparently, Uncle Herman’s name was on it, too, but he didn’t know until we went to the bank today. It was a big fucker with another big box inside, and they decided that they didn’t want to go through it in the bank in case—you know—there’s sentimental shit in there. Dad broke down in the car after the reading…”

He didn’t tell me that part.

“Well, I’m just waiting for the go-ahead from Jason that the jet is ready, and from Dad that he’s ready, and we’ll be the fuck out of here.”

I begin making noise and moving around because my entrance right when he ends the call will look very suspicious. I make sure that we haven’t left anything—toiletries in the bathroom, things in the drawers or nightstand. I wonder if Jason and Christian got everything from the first room.

“Okay, man, I’ll see you when I get back… I love you, Lelliot.” Christian ends his call when he sees me puttering around the room.

“How’s Elliot?” I ask. “Is everything okay?” I reach in my purse for pink lipstick and apply it to my lips.

“Yeah, everything’s fine,” he says, coming into the bedroom. “I just wanted to touch bases with him, you know, after our last conversation.” I put my lipstick away and raise my eyes to him.

“This has been hard for you, hasn’t it?” I ask, my brow furrowed.

“In more ways than one,” he admits, his hand pushing through his hair. “Pops is gone. He’s not coming back. Why wouldn’t the brothers pull together during this time? Bury the hatchet and kill all the ill feelings? Yeah, Uncle Stan and Dad and Uncle Herman are clinging to each other like glue, but Freeman…” He raises his head. “Freeman is a monster. On my worst days—back when I didn’t give a fuck about anything or anybody—I could never treat Elliot that way… never!” I gently touch his cheek.

“Of course, you wouldn’t,” I say softly. “Freeman is a broken man. He’s miserable inside and there’s no telling how long he’s been that way, so he makes it his business to make everyone else as miserable as he is.” Christian shakes his head.

“That sounds a lot like you’re making excuses for his behavior, baby,” he says. I twist my lips.

“No,” I reply matter-of-factly. “I’m a psychiatrist. I’m just shrinking him. All I’m saying is that hurt people hurt people, and he never got over his hurt. It just festered and festered until it made him the miserable human being that he is now.”

“Yeah, that sounds more like Freeman. Rotten ass bastard.”

Christian and I sit in the room for several more minutes. We’ve got the room reserved for two nights, just in case something happens, and we need to stay another day, even though we both—no doubt—silently hope that won’t be the case. Just after Christian gets word that the jet and pilot will be all set and on standby in the next thirty minutes he gets a call from his father. His voice is accommodating, but his facial expression shows deep displeasure.

“What is it?” I ask when he ends the call. He doesn’t respond. He just calls Jason.

“Meet us downstairs,” he says. So, we’re leaving. “There was a key to a storage facility among the things in the safe deposit box. Dad asked that we bring the truck in case there’s a lot of shit in there.”

What? It’s nearly nightfall! So… we’re not leaving.

I sigh heavily. This is not what I was hoping to hear. Not only is Maria supposed to be coming into town this weekend so that we can view the interview, but I miss my babies and I want to go home. This place is fucking with my goddamn chi!

“Come on, baby,” my husband says as he ends the call. “I don’t care what’s in that storage bin. We’ll be on that plane tonight.”

Music to my ears.

*-*

The storage facility is in a city called Oak Park, just on this side of Detroit. A code activates the large sliding gate and we drive to Burt’s storage bin.

It’s huge. We’ll be here all night.

Christian tells me to stay warm in the car, but I refuse. I want to see what’s in there, too. I get out of the car and follow my unhappy husband to the rolling door of the storage bin. Herman removes the lock and rolls the door up. We all stare at the contents in dismay.

Boxes. Lots and lots of boxes. This is going to take days to go through, not hours. Maybe even weeks. Herman sighs.

“My father’s whole life is probably in this thing,” he laments. “He probably had the monthly rents coming off a credit card or something. It’s still not closed.”

“Jesus, I forgot all about this,” Stan says. Herman and Carrick look at him. “When you guys went to Washington, Dad had the house packed up. I saw some of what was happening, but I didn’t see everything. I didn’t even stick around for most of it. I never even knew what happened to the key. When Dad died…” Stan gestures to the stuffed storage unit, “… this was the last thing on my mind. I’m sorry, guys.”

“No need for that, Stan,” Carrick says, squeezing his brother’s shoulder. “We were all a bit rudderless when Dad died. It would have come out eventually… and it did. I assume Freeman didn’t know anything about it or it would be empty by now.” Stan shrugs.

“I don’t know… I guess not. I didn’t keep it a secret from him or anything. You know how either you’re involved in the action or you’re not and if you’re not, you don’t have any information?”

Carrick and Herman nod.

“So, what do you want to do?” Stan asks. “The office is closed, so we can’t talk to anybody right now.”

“It wouldn’t matter,” Herman says. “I didn’t think to bring Dad’s death certificate with me or my executor documents. I thought we were just reading the will.” He rubs the back of his neck.

“It’s your call, Herm,” Carrick says. “Dad says you disperse the stuff as you see fit.”

“That was the safe deposit box,” Herman says.

“And the key to the storage facility was in the safe deposit box,” Carrick points out. “By extension, that means the storage facility, too.”

“We’ll support whatever you want to do, Herm,” Stan says, looking at Carrick, and Carrick nods. Herman sighs again.

“Mom’s jewelry was in the safe deposit box. Those model cars are most likely in there,” he says, pointing to the wall of boxes. Now Carrick sighs.

“What do you want to do?” he says, his voice soft, and I can tell that whatever “those model cars” are, they mean a lot to him.

“We have to go through this stuff, guys,” Herman says. “This is Dad’s stuff. We can’t just dispose of it, but I can’t do this now. I need to regroup in the worst way, and I know you guys do, too.” He looks at the boxes in front of him. “These boxes are sealed well, and I didn’t bring anything to cut them open.” He rubs his face.

“I’ll call the storage facility in the morning,” he continues, “find out what kind of arrangement my dad had with them and get them a copy of the death certificate and such,” he sighs. “But right now, I need my Luma.”

I know what that means. We’re going home.

“You go home, Herm,” Stan says, putting his hand on Herman’s shoulder. “I know exactly how you feel.”

“Yeah,” Carrick chokes, rubbing the back of his neck. “Me, too.” Christian reaches over and takes my hand in his, bringing his lips to my temple.

“Me, three,” he says against my forehead. Herman closes and locks the storage facility and we all head back to the cars. Stanley says his goodbyes and gets into his car while the rest of us get into the two rentals. Jason and Carrick have a quick conversation before we take off for the airport.

Now, I don’t know Michigan very well, but I know enough to know that we are driving back in the direction that we came from… away from the airport. My husband realizes it, too.

“Jason, where are we going?” Christian asks.

“Mr. Grey asked me to follow him. I thought he had already spoken to you,” Jason says, occasionally glancing into the rear mirror. I look over at Christian who doesn’t look pleased.

“My dad wouldn’t lead us into danger,” he says, “but next time, consult with me first.” Jason’s ears pinken.

“Yes, sir,” he says. “My apologies, sir. I, um, took the liberty of arranging for dinner options to be served on the flight, sir,” he adds. Christian nods, somewhat appeased by the gesture.

“Good man,” he says, and sits back in his seat. “I just don’t want anything to delay us getting the hell out of here,” he adds, more to himself than to anyone else.

We turn down an expressway labelled “I-696” and head west. I know we’re not headed back to Stanley’s house, because his house is further north. Christian squeezes my hand a bit as we drive down 696 for a few minutes, not comfortable at all not knowing where we’re going. After a few more minutes, we connect to another expressway called “I-275” and head south. I know that the airport is south, but we had to go through Detroit to get there. Now, I’m curious.

I gently nudge my hand from Christian’s and pull out my phone. Opening Google maps, I enter our current location—696 and 275, Michigan. It’s a spaghetti bowl of freeways, but I can make out what direction we’re headed. I’m seeing a lot of the streets on the map that I saw when we were headed to Stanley’s house, but we’re in the suburbs now where before, we clearly were not. From the scenery and my husband’s reaction, we were in Detroit.

Further satisfying my curiosity, I enter our destination—DTW.

Google maps shows me that we should be at the airport in thirty minutes. It’s a straight shot down the I-275 to the I-94 and we’re there. It also showed me the route Carrick drove before… I-94 east to the 39—Southfield Freeway—and right through Detroit.

Carrick found another way to the airport that didn’t take us through Detroit. I sigh.

“What is it?” Christian asks. I hand him my phone. He examines it carefully and his shoulders fall. The tension he was carrying moments earlier has slid off his shoulders and back and he almost looks like a totally different man.

“I’m… sorry, Jason,” he says, surprising both me and Jason.

“Sir?” he says, his eyes darting from the road to the mirror and back.

“My father…” Christian trails off. “We’re taking a detour to the airport—one that avoids Detroit.” Realization dawns on Jason’s face.

“Oh,” he says, softly. “No apology necessary, Boss. You were right, I still should have said something to you.” Christian nods and lays his head back on the seat. I take his hand and we ride in silence—and comfort—to the airport.

*-*

“After you talk to the management at the storage facility, I can arrange for the things in storage to be shipped to Seattle,” Christian says to Herman during dinner on the flight. “We can put the things in storage here and you can go through it at your leisure. I can even arrange for my shipping staff to go through the boxes and catalog everything in my warehouse if you like. It’s such a daunting task and if that storage facility is filled to the ceiling with boxes, you can be guaranteed that Pops had someone doing something like that.”

“He did,” Herman says after swallowing a mouthful of steak. “I had forgotten that right after we moved to Seattle, Dad had the house packed up. It didn’t even occur to me.” Christian frowns.

“You two stayed in that house before you moved to Seattle?” he asks. Herman nods.

“It wasn’t as bad as you think,” he says. “The house doesn’t look like much now, but Dad kept it up the best he could. Seriously, Christian, it seems like the minute we left, the house deteriorated. It was like it was holding on for Dad and when he left, it just gave up and died.”

Wow, that’s somewhat profound.

“Well, what do you say?” Christian presses. “I can have a crew in there probably as early as Tuesday. Depending on what’s in there, they can probably have that stuff cleaned up, packed up, and on its way back here by day’s end.” Herman pauses then looks at Carrick. “I would only trust staff who have seen me personally. So, I would send a crew directly from here.”  Dad nods at Herman.

“I think I may have to take you up on that, Christian,” he says. “Let me talk to Stan and see how he feels about it and I’ll let you know, okay?” Christian nods and tucks into his food. We all eat in relative silence until the meal is over, after which, the flight attendant brings us all drinks. A few minutes later, Jason is quietly reading, and Herman has reclined his seat and fallen quickly into a nap. Christian excuses himself and heads to the back of the plane. I assume he’s going to the restroom. Carrick has moved to a lone seat on the other side up the plane and is staring out the window at the black night sky. He doesn’t even notice when I take the seat across from him.

“How are you holding up?” I ask, breaking his solace. In my professional opinion, it’s not a very good idea for him to be sitting here mulling over the day’s events alone, especially since Christian said he broke down earlier.

“Isn’t it a terrible weight on your shoulders to be the ear for the entire family?” he says, his smile soft. I shrug.

“It’s what I do,” I reply, “and I’d rather do it for my family than some of the losers I’ve had to listen to over the years.”

“That’s not very professional,” he says, raising a brow at me.

“No, it’s not,” I admit, “but it’s true. I’ve had some real losers over the years.” My mind immediately goes to those attention whores at the community center who pretended to need help, but only wanted someone to whine to. “It’s why I stopped doing volunteer work at the community center. Those people didn’t need help—true, they needed therapy, but not the type that I was offering.” I shrug.

“I thought you left the community center for an entirely different reason altogether,” he confronts, and I know he’s talking about my initial battle with his son.

“That, too,” I confess, “but that wasn’t the reason. That was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.” I sigh. “So, as you can see, listening to family is not as daunting as you think.” He nods and looks out the window again.

“I feel like I’ve cremated my father again,” he says. Whoa, that serious. “I went through all these feelings and the hatred that Freeman feels for me, being back in the city where we grew up, seeing the places where my father worked—he was so proud. He was proud to be a Ford man, and he passed that down to our family, but I didn’t want to be a Ford man. I wanted to be a lawyer. More than anything, I wanted to be an attorney and throw around that word ‘Esquire.’” He laughs mirthlessly.

“Dad never gave me a hard time—not once. He paid for me to go to college. He mostly paid for law school. Then, I met Grace. She insisted on paying for the rest, telling me that she was investing in our future together. Dad had a problem with it at first, but once we were married, he understood.

“Our lives took several turns, and Dad was there the whole time. We always held each other together, all of us. Freeman wasn’t always a miserable bastard. He was always miserable and selfish, but he wasn’t always a bastard. Even he was there to help hold us together, especially when Mom died. But after that girl left him…” He shakes his head.

“Now, I’m here again. I hated going back to that place and I hated the reason I was there. If Christian hadn’t convinced me to come, I wouldn’t have. Now, I’m glad that I did, because if I hadn’t, Freeman would have gotten over again, and Herm and Stan wouldn’t have their money.”

He’s correctly assuming that Christian has told me about the life insurance. I want to keep him talking until he gets as much of this anger and pain off his shoulders as he can.

“Is it true that he can hold the money up for a long time and affect everyone’s share?” I ask. Carrick does a half-nod, half wobble of his head.

“The only thing that’s going to effect everyone’s share of the money is Dad’s final arrangements,” he says. “Once that’s dispersed, then it’s the waiting game to see how far Freeman wants to take this. But he’s not holding anybody up but himself, because my brothers got their money already… from me. Once he loses this fight, which he will, the remainder of the money after Dad’s affairs are settled will be dispersed to the sons, and Freeman will have gotten the short end of the stick.”

“How so?” I ask. “If all the sons are getting the same amount, even after Burt’s final arrangements and whatnot, that’s still going to be a hefty sum for each of you.”

“This is what that idiot doesn’t understand, and this is why I let him go ahead and do this. I’m one of my father’s four sons and all his sons got a portion of this policy. Now, if he was contesting that Herman and I were the only beneficiaries, I could get where he was coming from and halfway understand him contesting that—but we all got an equal portion of it. This was clearly Dad’s wish. Now, here he is contesting my portion knowing but not knowing that he’s actually contesting the entire policy.

“So, let’s say that he loses the contest, which I’m sure that he will. He will have spent time and money on an attorney to contest the beneficiaries of this policy. Let’s say that he only spends $200,000 in attorney, court, and probate fees and five years contesting the will…”

Only?

“He has now wasted five years of his life, done irreparable damage to the relationships that he had left with his family, and now, he gets to replace the $200,000 that he spent on a worthless fight out of his share of the money. Only, $200,000 in five years is not going to be worth what $200,000 is worth now. So, while my brothers can invest my portion of the inheritance and double their money if they choose the right investments, Freeman’s share is dwindling away to nothing… and speaking of nothing…

“If he gets his way and he wins this contest, he foolishly thinks that he’s going to walk away with a larger share and I—or Herm and I—are going to walk away with nothing. No, if he wins, he’s contesting the validity of the entire policy. He said so at the reading. He first declared that I didn’t deserve anything, then he paints a picture to Stan and tries to get the attorney to cosign that Herm and I brought Dad out to Seattle to die and got a life insurance policy in his name. I don’t know how long my father had that policy, so if he’s right and that policy popped up right about the time that Dad was about to die, it’s going to look suspect. He can’t protest me being a beneficiary because all four of us are beneficiaries, so he’s going to resort to that.

“Well, dear brother,” he says sarcastically, “if you win that fight, you’re not going to walk away with any of the money… none of us are!”

Shit, really?

“So, if he can convince a judge or whoever that you all bought the policy and waited for Burt to die, then nobody gets anything?” Carrick shakes his head.

“Not a nickel,” he confirms. “It’s fraud. The good news is that they would have to actively prove that we did that in order to press criminal charges, but I’m certain that the minute this goes before anybody with an ounce of common sense, they’re going to see right through it, and some unscrupulous attorney somewhere is going to take the case and let the fees mount up knowing that not only is this an unwinnable situation, but also that Freeman is going to get his share of that money. And when he does, he’s going to have to pay up if he hasn’t already.

“So, when I saw what he was doing, I immediately had the money transferred to my brothers’ accounts. I wanted Freeman to see what I was doing. I wanted him to see that I wasn’t going to allow him to ruin my brothers’ lives and what’s more, I don’t even need the money. One point five million dollars just flying around the room in a matter of minutes. What better way to foil your plans than with the very thing that makes your stomach turn?”

I’m making an observation that I’m not sure Carrick has made, but I can see it clearly.

“You refer to Herman and Stanley as your brothers,” I tell him, “but when you talk about Freeman, you don’t, unless you’re doing it sarcastically. You do realize that he’s still your brother, don’t you?” Carrick shakes his head sadly.

“Make no mistake, dear girl,” Carrick begins, “I know that man was born my brother, but my brother’s been gone for a really long time, and I miss him terribly. I’ve missed him ever since he left, even more so now that my father’s gone. When I cried in Seattle after our fight, it was because I knew that my brother was gone for good and he was never coming back. He came to my home and insulted my entire family—my wife, my children, you…” He trails off and shakes his head. “No, that man is truly dead to me. He was already a non-entity as far as I was concerned, but after today, after this…” He wipes away a tear. “I cremated my father again today, and I buried my brother.”

And now he’s broken again.

I sit there with Carrick for a long while as he weeps silently and mourns the loss of his family once again. When Christian finally emerges from the rear of the plane, he’s changed and freshly showered, no doubt washing the visit off him once and for all. He frowns questioning when he sees his father crying. Not willing to subject Carrick to Christian’s endless “What’s wrong” questions, I squeeze his hand to get his attention.

“Carrick, why don’t you go on into the back room and rest?” I suggest. “We’ll wake you when it’s time to land.” Carrick nods and stands from his seat. He walks to the back of the plane, nearly bumping into Christian on the way. Christian just grabs his arm to steady him, then squeezes his shoulder as he passes by.

“What’s wrong with Dad?” he asks once Carrick has left the room. “Is he okay?” I sigh heavily.

“It’s a good thing we’re leaving Detroit,” I say. “That place was taxing on all of you.”


CHRISTIAN

I spend the night buried in my wife again, so glad to be home in my own bed in my own city where I somewhat feel like myself again. I had intended on maybe getting some mile-high loving when I was finished with my shower on the plane, but Dad looked like shit and definitely needed some sleep. He didn’t wake until it was time to land.

We all seemed to have gotten back to ourselves once the jet landed at SeaTac. I didn’t expect to see the women there, but there they were. Dad wrapped himself around Mom and Uncle Herman just folded over Luma. My uncle is so in love with that woman. I don’t know why he won’t just marry her already.

I felt like I was falling asleep in the car on the way back to the Crossing. Chuck and Jason were whispering about something and I didn’t bother trying to eavesdrop. I was so relaxed being back in Seattle, back in one of my own cars, back home…

When we drove up the driveway into the Crossing, it was like someone hit me with a shot of adrenaline and all I wanted to do was fuck—not necessarily rabbit fucking or hard fucking… just fuck. So, fuck we did.

And I slept like a damn baby until noon.

When I wake, my wife is gone—well, not gone, just not in bed. It’s noon, why would she still be in bed? I sincerely stretch like a cat and lie eagle-spread on my bed—my bed. I can’t believe how content I am to be home… just to be here. My body relaxes into the mattress and I could truly just lay here all day. My solace is interrupted by one of the best interruptions ever. My wife unceremoniously enters the room with a wiggly pink bundle in her arms. They were asleep when we got home, so we didn’t wake them.

“Oh, please… give me that,” I say, sitting up and reaching for my daughter. My wife pauses.

“Are you dressed under there?” she asks.

“No, I’m totally commando, and she’s nine months old!” I protest.

“Yes, but Keri and Gail are not,” she retorts, raising her brow. I grunt and get out of bed. So much for lying in. I go to the dressing room and quickly slide into a pair of sweat pants.

“There!” I say, emerging from the dressing room. “Now give me my child!” I hold my hands out again and Minnie squirms in her mother’s arms, smiling widely and reaching for me. Butterfly laughs and places her in my hands. Good Lord, it’s like salve on a terribly stinging and painful burn.

“How’s Daddy’s girl?” I say, kissing her repeatedly and climbing back into bed. She coos and giggles as Keri enters with Mikey and Gail enters with a tray of food.

“I thought I would have to wake you, so I thought the twins might ease the ache a bit,” Butterfly says, placing Mikey on the bed next to me.

“I just woke, but you were right about the ache,” I say, adoring the smiling faces of my children.

“Let me know if you need anything else,” Gail says as she and Keri excuse themselves. I’m starving, but I don’t want to put my daughter down. I need her. I need to be close to my children. As if reading my thoughts, my wife begins feeding me the omelet and toast on my plate.

“You’ve already eaten?” I ask after swallowing, noting that there’s no food for her.

“Hours ago,” she says. “The trip sucked, but it wasn’t as taxing on me as it was on you.” I nod.

“I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t there,” I admit. She puts another large forkful of eggs in my mouth.

“Jack off?” she teases and I almost choke. She hands me a glass of orange juice and I take a couple of healthy swallows.

“Not just the sex,” I say with mirth. “Going to sleep with you and waking up with you; eating breakfast with you and just know that you were there.”

“I know what you meant. I was just teasing you.” She gives me more omelet and toast. “That place is draining—or maybe it was just seeing the effect that it had on you and Carrick and his brothers, but I’m glad we’re home.”

“Me, too,” I say, swallowing the delicious eggs. It immediately makes me think of the egg massacre incident that was my first cooking lesson. I need to get back in the kitchen soon if I want to cook something for my wife anytime soon. “What’s the plan for today?”

“Not a thing on the agenda until tomorrow,” she says. Yeah, Maria Sanchez is coming into town so that we can view the interview. For some reason, I’m not looking forward to this even though it was my idea in the first place, but what’s done is done now.

“Well, I think I want to spend time with these two today.” Minnie is laying on my chest, wide awake, but just lounging there. Mikey has pulled himself into a standing position, supporting himself on my leg. He appears to be babbling something to Minnie, no more than “ba-ba-ba” or “na-na-na” or something like that, but she is unfazed and just watching her brother’s performance. Mikey is not to be ignored. He continues his babbling, now bouncing and becoming more animated.

Minnie still doesn’t respond.

Mikey is getting louder with his babbling and bouncing even harder. His sister finally gives him the attention he’s seeking. She pulls her little grubby hand back and brings it down right on top of his head.

Smack!

“Oh!” I exclaim. “They’re doing that now.”

“No!” Butterfly scolds, pointing her finger at Minnie. Mikey is silent for three seconds, just long enough for the sensation to set in, before he falls down on his butt and releases a yowl. Minnie sticks her bottom lip out, gazing at her mother, then her yowling begins a second after Mikey’s.

“Oh, there, there, now,” I say, patting her on the back.

Don’t do that, Christian!” my wife scolds. I’m a bit stunned. Don’t do what?

“Put her down,” she says, her face stern and her voice firm.

“What? Why? She’s crying,” I point out as if it’s not obvious.

“Yes, that’s because I scolded her. Now, put her down.” Okay, fine, don’t scold me. I put my daughter on the bed and her cries become more urgent. “Do not hit your brother!” Butterfly says to a wailing Minnie before turning to me. “If you coddle her after I scold her, she’s going to run to you every time I try to punish her. She’ll be impossible, and then I have to kill you!” I put my hands up.

“Okay, okay, I get it!” I say. “But what about Mikey? Clearly he was yelling at her…”

“And clearly, she slapped the shit out of him, and now, he’s crying, too. That’s why I’m not picking him up, either.” She’s got a point there. I sit there helplessly watching my children cry as they learn a lesson, also learning a lesson myself. This is hard. I hate to see them cry. Butterfly allows them to cry for what feels like forever, but I’m certain that it’s only a couple of minutes.

“Are you two ready to behave?” she says to our children, and almost like they understood what she said, their cries subside a bit, but don’t cease. She folds her arms and looks from Minnie to Mikey.

“I can wait as long as you can,” she says. Minnie calms a bit, her plump tearstained face gazing at her mother as she begins her after-crying sniffles. Mikey calms a little thereafter, but only after he shoves his two middle fingers into his mouth. My brow furrows.

“When did he start doing that?” I say, pointing at my son.

“Since about three months,” Butterfly responds. “He just doesn’t do it all the time.” Both children have calmed now, and Butterfly turns to Minnie. “Are you going to behave now?” she asks. Minnie just looks at her. She holds her hands out and Minnie scurries to her arms, laying on her chest like she was laying on mine a moment ago.

“Get your son,” she says as she rubs Minnie’s back. I hold my arms out to Mikey and he stretches his hands out to me, trying to come to me without the aid of his arms to help him stand or roll. He’s quickly getting frustrated and I don’t want him to start crying again, so I pick him up and sit him on my leg. Using my fingers, I gently wipe the tears from his face.

“Don’t use your hands,” she says, softly, leaning over to the rolling tray and retrieving a burping cloth. She hands it to me and I begin to wipe my son’s face.

“She’s a real tyrant,” I tell him, low enough for only him to hear. “If you ever cross her, you’re on your own… but don’t cross her. I don’t like it when you cry.” I clean his face and put him on my chest where his sister was moments before. They look at each other as if challenging each other. They can’t be fighting this early. And they’re twins! I thought twins were inseparable!

“And this from the man who’s a proponent of spanking,” she says with a smirk while patting Minnie on the back. I look up at her and she raises her brow at me. Oh, yeah, I did say something like that, didn’t I?

Hmm, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do that.

“We… may have to come up with alternative methods of discipline,” I say without making eye-contact with my wife.

*-*

The thought of spanking my two little bundles had me clinging to them all day. Watching them cry and being unable to stop them was a bit more than I was willing to accept. Maybe once they’re older and ornerier, I might feel differently about the concept, but right now, I can’t even fathom it.

My clinginess doesn’t get past my wife. She even makes a papoose for me from one of her belly wraps so that one of the babies could be close to me the entire day. I think I needed it. Detroit took a lot out of me. Sure, I didn’t fall apart except for the mini-meltdown during the trip from the airport. I even did okay going to the private-eye’s office, which was in a city that was in the middle of Detroit. But the entire experience was just taxing as hell.

Seeing Dad and his brother snarling at each other like dogs…

The emotional strain of being in a city that broke me completely at an early age and could have broken me forever…

Watching my father break down all over again from the loss of his father and the total decimation of his relationship with Freeman…

No matter how much he may hate what that man is doing, he’s still Dad’s brother and this is truly taking a toll on him. How can anybody be so hateful towards their own family?

My mind immediately goes to Chuck’s brother, Joe, and a trip he has to make to his hometown for a lawsuit against his own flesh and blood merely for being an asshole.

Good God, are people really this unbelievably asinine? Was I ever this way? I may have been aloof, a bit obtuse at times, but I was never deliberately vicious to my family… never intentionally hurtful. For the love of God, who does that? I pull my phone out of my pocket and press speed dial.

“Hey, Bro, what’s up?” Elliot answers.

“Hey, what are you and Valerie doing for dinner?” I ask.

“Nothing,” he says. “We were probably going to order something in. We’ve gotten spoiled to having a cook,” he jests.

“Well, why don’t you come on over and get spoiled some more?” I say.

“You guys just got back. I thought you might have wanted to unwind and relax a bit. We didn’t want to be underfoot… I know how you feel about Detroit and all.”

How do I tell my brother that I need to see him without sounding like a pussy?

“Yeah, well, the familiar is kind of necessary right now.” That was it. Perfect. He pauses again.

“What time should we be there?” he asks. I sigh quietly.

“Six is good, and can you call Mia for me and see if she and Ethan can make it? I’ve kinda got my hands full with the babies.” He pauses again.

“Sure thing, Bro. We’ll be there.”

My brother and sister arrive promptly at 5:45, and I can’t help but wonder what Elliot said to Mia to get her to dinner on time. We sit down to a dinner of baked pork chops, Brussel sprouts and tomato-bacon linguini. I can’t bring myself to remove my papoose just yet, so Mikey sleeps comfortably on my chest throughout the meal while Minnie “purrs” nearby in her Pack-n-Play.

“Oh, everyone,” Mia begins, “our wedding website went live this morning.”

“Wedding website?” Butterfly asks. Mia nods.

“Yes. I wanted to approve everything that went onto the site, so they had to wait until we got back from the honeymoon to make it active.”

Oh, dear God.

“Mia…” I begin.

“Keep your shirt on, Big Brother,” she says. “The only media that is posted of you and Her Highness…” she says Butterfly’s nickname in a playful manner, “… are pictures and videos of you dancing, a bit of canoodling, her speech, and the two of you singing. Do you want me to take any of those down?” I look over at Butterfly who shrugs.

“Send me the link and I’ll let you know,” I say. Mia laughs.

“I sent you the link this morning,” she says. “You never go a day without checking your email. What gives?”

“I was spending time with my family,” I reply. “I’ll check it later.”

“I’m sure it’s fine, Christian,” Butterfly says. “We have an exposé airing soon. It can’t be any more intrusive than that.”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. When is that supposed to be aired?” Elliot asks.

“The journalist who interviewed us is coming tomorrow morning so that we can see the final viewing, and we’re supposed to be part of Sweeps Week,” I say.

“Sweeps Week?” Valerie says. “That starts a week from Monday. Isn’t that cutting it kind of close?”

“Kind of?” Butterfly says. “Don’t get me started. If I see something that I don’t like tomorrow, they’ll have to scrap the whole damn thing!”

“You seem a bit intense about this, Steele,” Valerie says. Why does she still call her that?

“Well, that would be due to the faux pas that have already occurred, and the damn thing hasn’t even aired yet!”

Oh, hell. Butterfly isn’t very happy about this viewing, it appears. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s a good idea. Should I tell Maria to send us a digital copy to review instead?

“What kind of faux pas, Montana?” Elliot asks. Butterfly begins to explain our experience with the grip boy and the “preview that got away,” when Valerie turns her attention to me.

“Elliot tells me that you convinced him to tell me about Gia,” Valerie says while Butterfly occupies Elliot with her tale.

“It… was a collaborative effort between me and my wife,” I admit.

“Well… thank you,” she says. “That would have been something terrible to hear through the society grapevine or on a gossip rag or something.” I raise a brow.

“Have you met Gia?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No,” she admits, “but I’ve heard of her. Her reputation precedes her. I don’t know what her general M-O is—there usually is one for appearing to be a scathing whore who will fuck anything with a dollar sign attached to it—but hell, she could just be mindlessly sleeping around, I don’t know. Whatever the case may be, I’m aware of Ms. Mateo’s character.” She sips whatever is in her glass.

“Are you… concerned about her?” I ask. “Because Elliot loves you more than life.”

“I know that,” she smiles. “It’s why he thought there was no need to tell me about her. I have no doubt the she’s old news as far as he’s concerned, but there are some things that you just need to hear from your man and not from some gossiping cows at the beauty shop or out in the grocery store somewhere or heaven forbid, at some social function where you have to smile and pretend it doesn’t bother you. It’s the Miller mansion, for Christ’s sake. Somebody somewhere is going to say something. Hell, they may end up in Architectural Digest or something. Then what?”

“Alright, Bro, my wife’s face is not looking too pleased over there. What are you talking about?” I raise an eyebrow at Valerie who shrugs.

Architectural Digest,” I reply. Well, we were. Elliot frowns.

Architectural Digest?” he repeats. “Your face is all frowned up about Architectural Digest?” She nods.

“I was just telling Christian that your work on the Miller mansion may end up in Architectural Digest,” she says with no malice. Elliot’s face falls and he turns to me. I hold my hands up in surrender, shaking my hands to signal that I didn’t start this conversation. He closes his eyes and nods.

“Yeah, it could,” he admits. “Does it bother you, Angel?”

“No,” Valerie replies. “It doesn’t. I think you’ll do great.” She reaches for his hand and he entwines his fingers with hers.

“I’m sorry,” Mia says, “but if I may ask, why would Val have a problem with you being in Architectural Digest? Isn’t that an esteemed honor?”

“Yes, it is,” Elliot replies, “but the designer on the project is Gia Mateo.” Mia looks at him as if she’s waiting for the punchline. Then the penny drops.

“Oh,” she says almost inaudibly. “Oh… o-okay.” And she doesn’t say anything else. Ethan leans in and no doubt, asks about the punchline, and she hushes him quickly.

“It’s fine,” Valerie says. “I’m just glad that I heard about their prior relationship from Elliot and not some third party. That’s all I was telling Christian.”

“Well, I’m glad she didn’t really get her claws into my brother,” Mia nearly hisses. “She’s an A-1 skank and she’s lucky some jealous wife hasn’t plugged her one by now!” Butterfly looks over at me and raises her brow.

“Okay, I’m all for changing the subject now,” I say. Mia looks at me and realization dawns.

“Oh!” she says, pointing at me. “Oh, yeah! That’s right!”

“What?” Valerie says. “Please tell me not you, too. That’s just trashy!” Oh, good grief.

“No, not him, too,” Butterfly interjects. “But that lovely parlor and the his and hers bathrooms and those beautiful women’s touches that you see all over the Slayer? Courtesy of one Gia Mateo.”

“Oh, I see,” says Valerie. “Well, that explains a lot. I was wondering why a floating bachelor pad had a fully pimped-out she-cave on the main deck. No offense, El, but I was wondering how she managed to bed you and not capture the attention of my billionaire brother-in-law.” Elliot puts his hand on his chest in mock insult.

“Whatever are you trying to imply?” he asks. “I’m just as good a catch as my loaded little brother.” Valerie smiles.

“Better, baby,” she says, snuggling up to his arm.

“Balderdash!” Butterfly chimes in. “She has to say that! She’s your wife!”

“And you have to disagree, because you’re his,” Elliot taunts. “Nice papoose, bro,” he teases, causing an outburst of laughter and instantly breaking the tension in the room.

Thank God!


ANASTASIA

As I’m getting ready for bed, I’m mentally cataloging all the things that I’ll have to do in the next few days when I realize that I’ve forgotten to disclose one detrimental piece of information to my husband.

“There’s something I need to tell you,” I say as I climb into bed with him. He raises his gaze from the phone to meet mine. “I found out last week, but with the Detroit trip coming up, I knew you needed to focus.”

“What is it?” he says, placing his phone on the nightstand.

“It’s about John.” Christian’s brow furrows.

“John Flynn?” he asks. I nod. “What about John?”

“He and his family are in England, and they may not be returning to the States.”

“What?” he responds, clearly displeased. “Why?”

I explain to him what Grace told me about MERS and the CDC and the government not wanting his son to return until he has a clean bill of health.

“Well, then, I’ll give him a call. We’ll get him the best doctors and get him well so that he and his family can come home.”

“I don’t think it’s the money, Christian,” I tell him. “I think it’s the principal. John may have become a citizen from marrying Rhian, but his sons are all American-born citizens and one of them is being denied re-entry. He’s quite disenchanted with that.” Christian’s expression softens, and he nods.

“I guess I would be, too,” he says. “I’ll call him anyway and see if there’s anything that I can do, but from what you’re saying, America may have lost a few citizens.” I nod.

“Yeah, it looks that way.”

Christian and I make love again a few times that night, and I know that we’re not only making up for lost time, but my husband is also trying to regain some of the control that has slipped away from him over the past couple of weeks. Pretty soon, I’m going to have to tap out. I don’t think my coochie can take much more.

“I don’t think the promo has gotten to many outlets,” Vee says on Sunday morning. We asked her to join us for breakfast so that we could be prepared for when Maria shows up with the footage of our interview. “We’re usually alerted when something airs about you guys for purposes of damage control. This thing must have truly only aired once and then it was pulled. We can’t even get a lead on where it aired.”

“And it’s not like I can go knocking on Old Lady Miller’s door and ask her where she saw it,” Christian points out.

“It’s kind of a moot point,” I add. “With sweeps being next week, whatever we approve will be splashed all over the network in promos. If there’s anyone in America who didn’t know who we were before now, they’ll know soon.” Christian finishes his eggs and bacon.

“Well,” he says, after swallowing his last bite, “how do we handle this? I already know that there’s no way that she’s going to show us a final cut that we’re going to be completely satisfied with. I almost want Allen to be present for the meeting, but I’m not trying to intimidate her to the point of pulling the segment.” Vee nods.

“No, we don’t want to do that, but we do want her to know that we mean business. We need to get a copy of what she shows us and what she plans to air. They have to be the same thing. Once something makes it to the airwaves, it’s immortalized. At one time, it wasn’t that way, but with technology being what it is today, your most embarrassing, humiliating, or painful moment could be trending on Twitter or Instagram tomorrow.” I sigh.

“Well, why trust anybody, then?” I ask. God knows I’ve had my own run-ins with reputable members of the press—the ex-submissive cable girl and the Pussy DJ, just to name a couple.

“Because you have to trust someone or remain in obscurity. That’s the name of the game,” Vee says. “Anyway, it’s like I said, I really think the leak was just somebody jumping the gun for Sweeps Week promotion and remember—she didn’t have to bring that shit to you that Roger, or whatever his name was, did. She could have swept that mess under the rug and you never would have been the wiser. It’s a testament to her integrity.”

“Or she could have been covering her ass,” I retort, skeptically. “If that footage had somehow gotten out later, she would have to account for how it was acquired.”

“She could claim ignorance,” Vee counters.

“It’s her production. Responsibility is assumed. I know that much,” I conclude. Vee twists her lips and nods her head.

“Ana, would you prefer this doesn’t air?” she asks. I turn my gaze to her.

“What?” I ask, bemused. Vee sighs.

“I understand a healthy dose of skepticism,” she begins. “In fact, when it comes to an exposé of the most intimate parts of your life—your home, your family, your children, what you do in your private time—I would be concerned if you didn’t show some level of trepidation. But you have disputed nearly every point I’ve tried to make so far when it comes to this viewing and anything that I’ve said in any possible defense of Maria and her actions. I’ve been in this business for a long time and I’d like to believe that my instincts aren’t dull or untrustworthy when it comes to people. I haven’t steered you wrong yet, but I can’t ignore your level of mistrust and discomfort the closer we get to the time to meet with Sanchez. I won’t try to force or influence you to do anything that you feel uncomfortable with no matter how good my instincts may be. So, I’m asking you honestly before this woman gets here. Would you prefer this doesn’t air?”

Christian and Vee examine me closely like they’re expecting and alien to pop out of my chest or something. I don’t want to pull the plug on the production this close to airing, but there’s something that I can’t sweep under the rug.

“I. Have had a bad time. Trusting people,” I say, looking only at Vee. “My instincts are not as sharp as I once thought they were. When I look back on all the things that I thought I was certain of that turned out to be something completely different, I have nothing left in the end but, ‘Shit, I wish I had seen that coming.’ People seem one way  when you meet them, when you deal with them, when you interact with them, and when you put your fate in their hands—on a large or a small scale—one way or another, you end up getting burned.

“I’m just trying not to get burned,” I tell her. “I’m trying to see the fire before it explodes through the forest and consumes my home. Twice, somebody has dropped the ball—grip boy and now this. We should have seen this footage weeks ago…” although that might have been a bit difficult with my husband hiding out in Madrid. My scar starts thumping a bit and I stick my hand in my hair and drop my head.

“I just don’t want to get burned again, okay?” I say without raising my gaze to anyone. “One more incident, and you can put an apple in my mouth and serve me up at a luau.”

There’s a long moment of silence.

“Ana, do you trust me?” Vee says, and now, the spotlight is on me. I sigh.

“Yes, Vee, I trust you,” I say, honestly, deflated and still not raising my head.

“Good. Then let’s see the viewing and see how we feel. I won’t pull any punches if I think something’s not right. I swear that to you.” I nod.

“Okay,” I cede. I don’t want to debate it anymore. I guess I won’t be able to shake the feeling until I see the viewing and in what light Maria has presented us. There’s another long moment of silence.

“Mac, can you excuse us for a moment? I need to talk to my wife,” Christian says softly.

“Sure,” I hear her say, and I don’t know where she goes, but I know that she leaves the dining room.

“Butterfly look at me.” I finally find the strength to raise my eyes to him though my head hurts so badly that I just want to lie down.

“Was that speech for me?” he asks. What? What is he talking about?

“Huh?” It’s the only thought I can formulate.

“You’ve been burned. You don’t trust anybody. Things you thought you were certain of; putting your fate in someone else’s hands—that’s more than just a couple of bad media experiences. Was that speech for me?”

I play the words over in my head, then review my feelings about them. Had this happened before the whole Liam/Madrid Mayhem—when the footage was recorded—I would feel differently. I was bad-ass when I discovered Grip Boy had filmed me in the nursery. I was ready to put him on the platter and serve him at the luau. Now, I’m fucking afraid of shit that goes “bump” in the night when I wasn’t before. I was able to deal with adversity and handle myself in tough situations and now, I kind of prefer to just hide in the corner until the adversity passes. That’s not me. That’s never been me… except when someone talked about or uncovered something about Green Valley.

Scary, vicious teenage mobs that attack you from behind, torture you, and leave you for dead…

Uncertainty of where in America—or the world—these bastards have landed…

The Boogeyman…
The Boogeyman…
Fuck, the Boogeyman…

I gaze at Christian and I’m unable to answer him. In all my pondering and wondering and trying to figure out an answer for him, all the fear and uncertainty and pain and anguish and the Boogeyman all go into the three-second funnel and come out with one word.

Yes.

I don’t have to say it. He reaches over to me and gathers me in his arms, holding me close to him and kissing my hair.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispers. “I’m so, so sorry…”

I want to respond that it’s not all his fault, that my actions—or lack thereof—were the catalyst for his behavior; that we’re both human and we make mistakes and that’s okay, but none of that will chase the Boogeyman away.

We sit there for several minutes with Christian kissing my hair and trying to reassure me that everything will be alright. As sweet and sincere as his gestures are, I know that I and the Boogeyman have several more rounds to spar, and I’m under no misconception that I’m not going to win them all. I’m just terrified at the concept of how many of them that I could lose.

I hear Vee clear her throat from the hallway before Christian releases me and allows me to sit upright in my seat. I drink the rest of my orange juice and try a few calming breaths as Vee enters the room with Maria close behind her.

“I’m sorry,” Vee says. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“It’s fine,” Christian excuses her. I still feel like shit. “Maria, I must inform you that my wife is quite concerned with how this matter has been handled thus far. Things have been sloppy; there has been no show of any kind of level of care when it comes down to the footage of our personal lives. We found out through word of mouth that footage of our home had already been aired. We should have heard that from you. You should have been contacting us with reassurances that this situation was a one-off and well in hand. We don’t feel that way now, and my wife is more uneasy than I can describe. I don’t like that… not one bit!”

I hear the protector coming out. I can see that he’s ready to battle for me, but I need more than that. What, I don’t know, but more.

“Ana,” Maria’s voice begins. I don’t make eye contact with her, “no amount of apology that I can offer can possibly restore your faith in me. All I can say is let me show you. Let me show you the promos and what I’ve done—even the promo that was accidentally shown last week. Even though you didn’t approve it beforehand, I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed with the presentation. We’ve gotten off to a rocky start and I and my network didn’t handle things like we should have, but please, give me a chance to make this up to you… to show you that you didn’t make the wrong choice.

“A story like this could make or break someone in this business, but I swear to you—getting a big story and shock value is not worth a lawsuit or losing my credibility or my career. I swear to you on my honor and my integrity, I won’t let anything be aired that you don’t approve. I give you my word. I’ll sleep with the reels if I need to if that will convince you.”

I almost want to demand her ass to sleep with the reels, but right now, I just need to see what’s on them.

“You need to understand that I’m not the only one that’ll be affected by what’s on that film,” I tell her, trying to steady my shaking voice. “My father, his wife, my brother… my children… our friends and family…”

I’m getting choked up by the magnitude of what could happen if this interview material is abused or misconstrued in any way.

“Ana, I know this hasn’t been the most reliable situation that you’ve dealt with so far, but I have the entire network’s attention on this one. There will be no more mistakes, I swear to you.” I hope the fuck you’re right.

“Maria,” I say, my voice shaking and unable to mask my fear and uncertainty any longer, “those are powerful words, but if you betray me, so help me…”

My sentence trails off, but that’s only because there are no words to explain the extent of hell that I would unleash on this woman if she does anything deceptive whatsoever. And these little faux pas that her network keeps doing, I will fucking own my own media outlet after this.

“Anastasia, you have my word,” she says, never breaking eye contact with me. I don’t acquiesce in any way. I don’t want her to think she has won me over other that I am even giving her the slightest chance to fuck me. It’s exactly the opposite. As far as I’m concerned, she’s the fucking enemy until this show airs.

“Let’s see what’s on these damn reels,” I say, standing up and heading for the theater room.


A/N: So that no one will be disappointed or say that I led them on, the next chapter will not reveal the interview. They will discuss what will and will not stay, but the full interview will not be posted/shared until the day it is aired, and everyone sees it at the same time.

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

The new question and answer thread is always open for questions about the story. be sure to read it and please adhere to the rules when asking questions. You can find it on the left, second from last in the menu our you can click HERE.

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

 

 

 

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Raising Grey: Chapter 47—Getting to the Bottom of Things

I’m so happy that you guys liked that last chapter. I didn’t mean to cut your hearts out with the cliffhanger, but with word counts and this particular storyline, that’s the only place I could end it. Having said that, I’ll quickly address a couple of things from the last chapter.

I don’t think things are going to occur the way everyone thinks they are, but I will say that in the end, I think you guys will be satisfied. I won’t lie and say that it’ll be by the end of this chapter, but when all is said and done, I think you’ll like it.

Now, about the cold room… years ago—I can’t remember where I was—I was in a room just like that. The vent was in an area that was about 10 feet wide so that the heat would come out and hit this other wall ten feet away and it was right in front of the window. The room never got warm and I never forgot that room. I just don’t remember where that room was.

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.

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 47—Getting to the Bottom of Things

CHRISTIAN

“To my second son, Freeman…”

“About goddamn time!” Freeman hisses, almost inaudibly, but I hear him through the wall. Neither of his brothers react to his selfishness.

“Impatient as always, weren’t you, Freeman? That’s why I saved you for last.

“It’s hard for a father to realize that he’s done everything that he could and still, it wasn’t enough. In all the years I’ve been on the earth, I can honestly and fretfully say that I’ve never met another human being in my life who was as bitter as you. You’ve never taken responsibility for any of your circumstances and although I understand that life dealt you a massive emotional blow, that’s life. It does that to all of us.

“I’ve got diabetes. I need a kidney, but I’m not blaming anybody else for that. You blamed your shunning sweetheart and her rich boyfriend for your unhappiness. Although she was responsible for the original blow, she was not responsible for everything else that happened thereafter. That was all you—your unending need to be the center of attention and have everything exactly your way or else!

“When the world didn’t bow to your will, we were all wrong. Rick was a monster because he found a rich woman who loved him and wanted to marry him. Nollie was a disappointment because she wasn’t your precious firstborn son. Nellie was a failure because you, my son, did not provide the Y-chromosome, or did you forget that’s how that worked?

“So, now I’ve found my way to greener pastures and if you’re hearing this now, it means that you still haven’t changed. I can see that the people around you are slowly beginning to see you for what you are. My final wish for you is that I wish you the best, son. I hope you find whatever it is that you’re looking for, because at the rate that you’re going, you’ll end up with no one and nothing.”

Wu pauses at this moment, having read Pops’ words with the fever and fire that Pops himself would have delivered had he still been alive. Freeman says nothing. His expression is hard to read—either stoicism, impassivity, or he’s doing a really good job of hiding his pain. I completely expect him to say, “Come on, get on with it,” but he doesn’t. He sits silently waiting for Wu to continue.

“On more than one occasion,” Wu continues, “I’ve heard you bickering about that house with the rest of the boys. You win, Freeman. You get the house. If I know my sons, none of them want it anyway, and I only ask their forgiveness if I’m wrong about that, but you made it quite clear that the house meant more to you than I did. So, now that I’m gone, you get what you’ve been waiting for. It’s all yours. Let him have it, boys. It’s truly worthless—physically and emotionally.”

Dad, Uncle Herman, and Uncle Stan all look at each other and a silent conversation passes between them. Uncle Herman twists his lips, Dad does a non-committal shrug, and Uncle Stan just waves it off, each of them signaling in their own way that they don’t give a damn about the house. Uncle Herman and Dad told him before he left Seattle that they didn’t care, but he still chooses this moment to gloat.

“You got a toy car collection. I got a house,” he taunts. Dad just shakes his head.

“Enjoy,” he retorts.

It only takes a moment for the impact of that word to hit Freeman.

Whatever condition it’s in, that house is a family house, and he no longer has a family. So, he really can’t enjoy it. I know from having the house guarded for about a year that it’s in a terrible state of unrepair and is pretty worthless. It’s in an area of Detroit that’s considered a historical area, but the property values are way down because it’s Detroit. If he wants to sell it, he’s going to have to sink a mint into it to get it back to its former glory, or he’s going to have to sell it as-is and get maybe one-fifth of the value.

And let’s not forget the back property taxes.

His victory really isn’t a victory at all and just like Pops predicted, he’s losing everything. The house is a consolation prize and not even that.

“Although you have proven almost up to my last day to be a disappointment, I’m still a fair man and you’re still my son. To that end, you will still get your share of my monetary worth upon my passing,” Wu adds.

“Monetary worth?” Herman interrupts. “What is he talking about?”

“Herman, apparently, your father made preparations that he didn’t even tell you about,” Wu says as he turns his attention back to the will. “Because Burton’s medical bills and final arrangements have all been handled by you and/or your brother, Carrick, there’s no demand on the proceeds from the life insurance policy.”

“Life ins…” Dad trails off. “Dad had a life insurance policy?” Freeman perks up immediately at the thought of money.

“Who’s the beneficiary?” Freeman intercepts. Even Wu looks like he’s had enough of Freeman.

“I’m getting to that,” Wu says, impatiently, “if you would all give me a moment to do my job…”

“Just tell us who gets the money!” Freeman demands.

“Man, just shut up!” Uncle Herman declares. “By law, that will must be executed exactly as Dad wanted, and if you keep flapping that hole in your face, we won’t know, and nothing you say is going to change what’s in there.”

“You gettin’ ballsy, too, brother?” Freeman rises from his seat across from Uncle Herman. Oh, shit.

“Freeman, you have disrespected our father and our family name in every way imaginable and unimaginable. With his final words, he declared just how worthless you really are and the fact that he meant nothing to you and he knew it—that you were just waiting for him to die so that you could get his house. Now, I am a breath away from beating the hell out of you with every inanimate object in this room that’s not nailed down. So, sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up.”

Uncle Herman’s voice sounds like a gentle and menacing growl coming from his chest, and it unnerves me… even from behind this glass. Freeman’s resolve cracks for a moment, and when he looks like he’s about to reload, Dad pipes in.

“Make that two of us,” he says. Freeman looks shocked to hear my dad collude with his brother to kick Freeman’s ass, but not nearly as befuddled when Stanley’s voice adds…

“I’m in.”

Just like that, like he was anteing up for poker! Freeman looks at the snarling eyes of all three of his brothers sitting across from him at the conference table, their hands all clasped in front of them in the exact same pose, glaring at him and waiting for him to make a decision. Common sense that I thought the man never possessed appears to influence his actions, and he quietly takes his seat. No doubt, the thought of a violent beatdown from his three angry brothers is enough to cool the narcissism of even this asshole.

Wu reads the remainder of the legal jargon—and there’s a lot of it—including a no-contest provision and concludes the reading of the will. Afterwards, he retrieves another document from the file and begins to describe it.

“Herman, you are the primary beneficiary of the policy. You were to handle your father’s final arrangements and present the billing to me so that I could see that the mortuary was paid. Apparently, your notification of this information, which I sent right after your father’s death was… lost or rerouted, I don’t know…” He doesn’t raise his eyes to Uncle Herman or Freeman. “As a result, you and your brother took care of all of your father’s final arrangements. There are no demands on his estate from creditors and as a result, the entire proceeds of the life insurance policy will split four ways.”

“So… how much was it?” Uncle Stanley asks.

“Two million,” Wu says. “You each get $500,000.”

“Five-hund… fuck me…” Uncle Herman whispers. Uncle Stan is stunned into silence. Dad sits there with his brow furrowed. I know exactly what he’s thinking—he doesn’t need the money.

Apparently, he’s not the only person who feels that way.

“I’m contesting,” Freeman says, matter-of-factly. Four heads in the room rubberneck towards Freeman.

“Contesting what?” Stanley nearly shrieks. I can tell by his expression that he sees his dreams going down the drain like a toilet. “Dad had four sons. He split the life-insurance evenly—we all get $500,000. You’re fucking ruining this for us all!”

“That bastard was absent for the last 25 years!” Freeman shoots, pointing at Dad. “He doesn’t deserve a goddamn thing from Dad!”

“And you do?” Herman shoots. “When Dad was dying, your suggestion was to bring him back to Detroit and put him in a goddamn nursing home! You didn’t care that he was happy in Seattle, only that he was in Seattle. Why do you have to be such a miserable bastard all the time!”

“He can’t do that!” Stanley protests, almost sounding like he wants to cry. Freeman is dug in, trying to make it appear that it’s Dad’s fault that none of them will get their money, but he’s crazy like a fox. First of all, he knows that contesting means that nobody gets any money. Not only does it hurt Dad—so he thinks—but he’s hoping to turn the other two brothers against him for holding up the life insurance payout, even though it’s not even Dad’s fault.

Second, the longer he holds up that payout, the more likely it is that the divorce will be final, and the IRS audit will be complete, meaning that Nell and the Feds won’t be able to attach the funds from the policy.

“I hate to tell you this, little brother, but yes, I can,” Freeman says, celebrating in his immediate victory. “Herman and that asshole dragged my dad all the way across the country away from the protection of the rest of his family. He was on dialysis; he was on the list for a kidney. He was holding his own for years while he was here, then they get him out there and a year later, he’s dead and there’s a mysterious two-million-dollar life insurance policy. That’s awfully convenient and I can contest the validity of the whole damn thing. Isn’t that right, Mr. Wu?”

“You can,” Wu says, “but you need to hire your own attorney. I’m the second executor of the estate, and I have no intention of going against my client’s final wishes. Know that contesting the beneficiary of the life insurance policy is very expensive and almost impossible to win.”

“You fucking piece of shit!” Uncle Herman seethes now standing from his seat. “Are you suggesting that I let my father die for a life insurance policy that I didn’t even know existed?” Uncle Herman’s tone and expression is murderous and I’m certain that Freeman’s next words are likely to determine his immediate fate on planet Earth at the hands of the oldest Grey brother.

Freeman’s expression indicates that he’s got the same feeling.

“I thought there was a no-contest clause,” Stanley interjects, trying to diffuse the situation and no doubt, keep Herman out of jail and avoid another Grey funeral. “Didn’t you say there was a no-contest clause that says if he contests the will, he loses his share?”

“That’s if he contests the will,” Dad says, “not the life insurance policy.” Stanley looks at Wu, who nods. Stanley deflates immediately.

“Son of a bitch,” he hisses uncharacteristically.

Dad and Freeman are silently facing off with each other as Uncle Stanley and Uncle Herman vehemently voice their displeasure with his selfishness. As Freeman sits there with a cat-who-caught-the-canary sneer on his face, Dad’s eyes narrow and the corner of his mouth slowly begins to rise.

“Valued at about $500,000 apiece, you said, Mr. Wu?” Dad says, without breaking his glare from Freeman.

“Yes, Mr. Grey, that’s correct.” Dad pulls out his phone and presses one number. “Isabelle, yes, can you please prepare two transfers, each for $750,000?… Yes, one in the name of Stanley Grey, and one in the name of Herman Grey… Yes, I’ll contact you back with the account numbers…”

I already know that Uncle Stanley and Uncle Herman are going to protest the transfer, so I get on the phone with Alex.

“I need both of my uncles’ bank account information as soon as you can get it to me—like three minutes ago. Stanley Grey and Herman Grey.”

“I’m aware of your uncles, sir. Give me fifteen.” I end the call and continue to watch the soap opera unfolding before me.

“We can’t let you do that, Rick,” Uncle Herman says. “This is all of our fight. We’ll fight it… and we’ll win.”

“And I believe you,” Dad retorts, “but as long as the money is stuck in probate and you guys aren’t using it to live, he’s winning,” he says pointing at Freeman.

“But our share is only 500… why 750?” Uncle Stanley asks.

“Because I don’t need the money, but you do,” he says. “If I took that money, it would be like taking a handful of popcorn and throwing it on top of a bucket of more popcorn. It would just sit there. You guys take it. You can use it.”

“You’re our brother,” Uncle Stanley says. “You’re entitled to it, too.”

“In a pig’s eye,” Freeman shoots.

“And I appreciate that and accept it,” Dad says to Uncle Stanley, ignoring Freeman’s comment, “and now, I’m doing what I want to do with it…”

Uncle Stanley and Uncle Herman continue to protest Dad’s gesture when my phone buzzes. It’s an email from Alex and he has sent me the bank account information for my uncles. I forward it to my father. He ignores his buzzing phone, so I tap on the two-way glass. He looks in my direction even though I know he can’t see me, then he reaches in his pocket and pulls out his phone, swipes the screen a few times, and begins typing into it.

“Well. Gentleman, my son has just forwarded me your bank account information and I’ve just sent it to my assistant. You’ll have the money within twenty-four hours.” They both look at the two-way glass and Freeman now knows that he has an audience.

“Who’s in there?” he demands. “Who the fuck is in there?”

“My son is in there,” Dad says. “He’d be in here, but he has to maintain a safe distance from you,” Dad smirks.

“You mean the little bitch that has a restraining order against me?” Freeman hisses.

“Careful,” Dad says, unfazed. “Anything you say could be a violation of your court order.”

“I can say whatever the fuck I want, as long as I don’t say it to your little prick son,” Freeman shoots. Dad smiles.

“Is that true, Mr. Wu?” Dad says, folding his hands on the tabletop and flashing a knowing smile. “Can this insensitive asshole say whatever the fuck he wants in front of my son who currently has charges pending against him for harassment?” Wu clears his throat.

“No… that’s not true,” Wu says. “Anything that he says or does that can be seen or heard by the complainant can be construed as harassment. It’s part of the cyberbullying law.”

“Cyber…” Freeman begins, incredulously.

“Shut the fuck up, Freeman. You’re being recorded,” my father says, menacingly. Freeman sighs angrily resigned.

“You have ruined my entire goddamn life,” he says to Dad. “My entire fucking life! From childhood, all the way ‘til now, you’ve been nothing but a goddamn problem. You’re a fucking thorn in my side and I just wish you would disappear.”

“I didn’t ruin your life, Freeman. You ruined your own damn life. Your wife is divorcing you. Your children left the state to get away from you. None of the family will speak to you. You missed your final goodbye to your father because you were being an ass. You have charges pending against you and you could be facing jail time for beating the hell out of a perfect son in the airport! Of all places, the airport… where they detain you for sneezing! You left several threatening messages on my son’s voicemail, calling him so much that he couldn’t even conduct business to run his billion-dollar empire on his cell phone until the police told you to cease and desist and I ruined your life?” Dad laughs incredulously before continuing.

“You’re going to get your wish, Freeman. I’m going to walk out of this room and never think of you again. You will only be topic of conversation if somebody brings you up or you continue with this stupid fight. But you’ll just burn through your portion of Dad’s life insurance, because it’ll be frozen during the fight with probate. You’ll be coming out of your pocket to pay any attorney to contest this policy, and I’ve got money to burn. I won’t allow my brothers to suffer because you’re being an asshole as usual.”

Stanley reaches for his buzzing phone and I can only assume by the look on his face that he received notification of Dad’s wire transfer. He interrupts Dad and Freeman’s arguing.

“You did it…” he says incredulously. “He did it…” he says to Freeman. “Seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars was just deposited into my account.” He turns to Dad. “Rick, you can’t do this.”

“Yes, I can,” Dad says. “It’s my money and I’m rich. I’ll do with it whatever I want.” He turns his glare back to Freeman. “I won’t allow this selfish bastard to ruin Dad’s final gift to the two of you. When he finally loses his contest and you get your share of Dad’s policy, you can pay me back then… if you want to.”

“If that’s what you want to do, that’s fine, but I’ll only accept five-hundred from you, Rick,” Uncle Stanley says. “That’s my share.”

“I would have given you guys my share anyway,” Dad says, looking between Uncle Herman and Uncle Stanley. “If Freeman wasn’t such an asshole, I would have given him a share, too,” he adds as if Freeman wasn’t even in the room. “I appreciate and accept what my father did for me. Even in his last days, he remembered me and showed me that he still loved me. That’s priceless. That’s all I need. You two can do so much more with this money than I could.” He turns to Uncle Herman. “The woman you love has two little girls that are going to need college funds. You may want to take a vacation. God knows, you deserve one. And you…” He turns to Uncle Stanley. “I’m sure you can find some use for that money. Isn’t Kevin about to graduate high school?” Uncle Stanley sighs.

“Rick…” he begins to protest.

“Please, Stan… let me do this,” he beseeches his brother. “Please?” Uncle Stanley sighs again.

“You got a heart of gold, Rick,” Uncle Stanley says. Freeman scoffs, but Dad doesn’t acknowledge him. Dad smiles and squeezes his brother’s hand before standing from the table.

“Mr. Wu, please make sure that any other fees for my father including your own are all paid promptly and keep me informed of the progress of this other matter.” He takes out his business card and hands it to the attorney. “Don’t use any of the funds from the estate for this issue. As my brother Herman is my father’s executor, you can send your bill care of my brother Herman to this address. I can assure you that after today, there’ll be no more tampering with our mail. Oh, and by the way, there will be demands on my father’s life-insurance policy. Although my father’s final arrangements were covered by me and Herman, they should have been covered by the life insurance. I will be submitting certified and notarized documentation from the mortuary to be reimbursed for the cost of the services rendered before the proceeds are divided between me and my brothers.”

Freeman sneers at my father and probably at the thought that Dad is still going to be getting a share of the policy before anyone else.

“I had services, too!” Freeman barks. Dad doesn’t acknowledge him, but Wu turns his attention to Freeman.

“What services did you have?” he asks.

“We had a memorial for him here… after that asshole had him cremated against my wishes!” Freeman retorts. Wu turns to the other three brothers.

“Not that I have to explain this,” Uncle Herman said, “but Dad said that those were his final wishes. Three brothers were present and weighed in on the matter before Dad was cremated. We called Freeman and tried to include him, but he refused.” He turns to Freeman. “He’s finally learning—the hard way—that he doesn’t have the power to control everybody’s lives, and it looks like he doesn’t even have the power to control his own.” Wu sighs and turns to Freeman.

“You can submit documentation for reasonable expenses for any mortuary preparation or services that you had here in Detroit. Private memorial services are not subject to reimbursement from the life insurance policy,” Wu informs him. The magic words…

Reasonable expenses… which means don’t submit documentation for $10,000 since Pops’ remains were already cremated, and in an urn, when you received them.

Mortuary expenses… again, the remains were already prepared when you received them.

Private memorial services… that means don’t present a bill for a $20,000 rave you had to celebrate the fact that your father has finally kicked the damn bucket!

“But he gets to write off his memorial services?” Freeman nearly screeches.

“I’m only submitting documentation for mortuary services, transport of my father’s remains from home to the mortuary, to and from the church, to the crematorium, and back here to Detroit. I’m not submitting any documentation for the repast or any private memorial services.” Dad looks at the glass and I know that I need to get him an invoice from GEH for the transport of Pops’ ashes back to Detroit on the jet.

“Any more questions, Mr. Grey?” Wu says to Freeman. Freeman stands angrily mute. “Please note… reasonable mortuary services. I’m not sure what else could have been done by a mortuary once Burton Grey’s remains had been cremated and his ashes had been sealed in an urn, but you’re free to submit documentation.”

I can see Freeman’s blood boiling right before our very eyes. Wu takes Dad’s card and they shake hands before Dad leaves the room. Freeman’s ready to reload, but before he gets the chance to retort at all, Uncle Stanley turns his glare to Freeman.

“Lose my number, Freeman,” Uncle Stanley says. “I’m done with you after this.” He stands to leave after my father.

“Stan…” Freeman begins but trails off.

“You’re toxic, Freeman!” Uncle Stanley shoots, whirling back around to face him. “I don’t know how I didn’t see it before! I always thought you were just hurt and angry—like you felt deserted or somehow wronged, but you’re just spiteful, hateful, and wicked. You destroy everything you touch, and Dad was right—you’re going to die a lonely old man and it has nothing to do with Rick! It’s you! You let something that happened to you when you were a kid effect your whole goddamn life and you still won’t let it go. You blame everything and everybody for your situation and you have for years and here’s a newsflash for you, brother. There are people who have been through far worse than you have and turned out to be much better people. You have no excuse for decades of bitterness and selfishness, and I’m through with you!”

Stanley glares at his brother for only a moment more before he storms out of the room after my father. Dad enters the room with me right after Uncle Stanley leaves and watches the screen as Herman wordlessly examines Freeman before standing himself and walking out of the room.

“Let’s go, Dad,” I say, putting my hand on his shoulder. He turns without a word and we leave the room.

The ride is silent for the first several minutes as we begin to head south towards Detroit. This trip doesn’t make me happy, but I’m more concerned about the expression on my father’s face. It’s completely unreadable. It started out as stoicism, but is now morphing into something else completely… anger? Dismay? Complete and utter discontent? I have no idea.

“Dad?” I ask after the car has been silent for way too long, each brother lost in his own separate contemplation. There’s no response or reaction from my father.

“Dad? Are you okay?” I try again. My voice causes Uncle Herman to turn around in his seat and look at Dad. Uncle Stan is driving since he knows the area better than anyone, but even he glances in the rearview mirror to see what’s going on with Dad.

“You alright, Rick?” Uncle Herman asks. Dad shakes his head.

“When did he do it?” Dad asks. We all look at each other and back at Dad. We have no idea what he’s asking. Herman makes to say something, but Dad continues.

“I hadn’t seen Dad for over two decades until my son got married last year. He had no way of knowing whether I was dead or alive. He knew I had married Grace. He knew I had married money…”

What is he getting at?

“I was fine,” he continues. “I’m a successful lawyer who married a trust fund girl who ended up being a successful doctor. I’m rich. I’m very rich. When he came out to the wedding, he knew I was rich. Granted, I didn’t pay for the wedding, but it was in a goddamn castle!”

Is he angry with Pops? Uncle Herman and I exchange quizzical looks, but we all know that we have to let Dad work through whatever this is. He raises tear-filled eyes to Uncle Herman.

“Look how we were living,” he says. “My home is called ‘Grey Manor.’ My son’s home is ‘Grey Crossing.’ We have more money than we know what to do with.” His voice is starting to tremble. Uncle Herman is the first to engage.

“I… I know, Rick,” he says cautiously.

“Then why?” Dad says, his voice cracking and tears falling down his cheek. “Somewhere during the last year, he changed his will. Did you listen to the tone of it? It sounds like he was talking to us the day right before he died! He got a life insurance policy—a two-million-dollar life insurance policy, and then he made me—a rich man—one of the beneficiaries.” He’s weeping now. “He wouldn’t let me buy him a goddamn kidney! I could have bought him a kidney! I could have saved his life! He left me half a million dollars…”

I knew it! Pops alluded to it, but I knew it. I knew Dad wanted to buy him a kidney. I knew because I wanted to buy him a kidney. Now, I have to ask why, too. Why would Pops leave money to Dad knowing that Dad didn’t need it and probably wouldn’t accept it?

“A two-million-dollar life insurance policy,” he says. “For the love of God!” Dad’s weeping has become nearly hysterical.

“Dad…?”

“My father had a two-million-dollar life-insurance policy,” Dad said. “He even included that ungrateful ass bastard that he knew was just waiting for him to die. That worthless piece of shit! I never want to see his face again as long as I live!”

I don’t know how serious Dad is about not wanting to see his brother again or if he’s just feeling super emotional right now. I just know that Freeman better stay the hell away from the vast majority of Grey males at this time if he doesn’t want to breathe his last. My father drops his face in his hands and weeps bitterly.

“I love you, Dad,” he sobs. “I love you so much…”

*-*

Dad is in no condition to confront the private investigators who were following him, so Uncle Stan decides that we should have lunch first. I put a call in to Jason to have the jet on standby because we may be leaving later than anticipated. We pull up to this restaurant with a giant guy in red and white checkered overalls standing in front of it. I can’t imagine getting a decent meal at this place, but when Uncle Herman sees where Uncle Stanley has taken us, he turns around in the seat to get Dad’s attention.

“Rick… look.”

Dad raises tired bloodshot eyes and looks out the window. When he sees the giant chunky guy in the jumpsuit, he smiles a wide smile and attempts to dry his tears.

“You’re an asshole, Stan,” Dad laughs.

“I know,” Uncle Stan acknowledges. “Now, let’s go get a Big Boy.”

I discover a few things about my dad and his brothers during lunch. First, Big Boy is the name of the restaurant—hence, the giant “boy” in the front wearing the checkered overalls. Second, Big Boy is also the name of the famous burger served at the restaurant. They serve a lot of other food, but apparently, the franchise is best known for the burger. I mistakenly said that the Big Boy must have come from the Big Mac, but the Grey brothers quickly corrected me by telling me that the Big Boy came first. While McDonald’s opened in 1940, Big Boy opened the prior decade.

Most importantly, Big Boy burgers were a treat, and often used as rewards or bribes in the Grey household—like good report cards, finishing chores first and, in Dad’s case, no longer wetting the bed.

Apparently, Uncle Stan gave him a really hard time about it even though Dad stopped wetting the bed long before Uncle Stan was old enough to know that he was doing it.

The outing brought back good memories for the brothers of their childhood, but it also reinforced the fact that they don’t remember Freeman in many of those memories. He was in some of them. Apparently, he and Dad were really very close at one point, but now, they’re a perfect example of the thin line between love and hate.

With new resolve after his breakdown in the car and the subsequent lunch with his brothers, Dad is now able to face the owner and investigators at Best Shields Family Investigations. Upon realizing the severity of what his brother had done, he decided to initiate the steps to get a restraining order against him as well. He knows that Freeman won’t try to contact him, but he wants to be sure that the asshole knows that he can’t do anything else either.

The agency is in a small city called Hamtramck—which happens to be right in the middle of Detroit. It’s one of two cities surrounded on all sides by Detroit. I don’t know whose bright idea that was, but…

Uncle Stanley took a route the went straight up Dequindre, so that I didn’t know we were in Detroit until we were leaving and entering Hamtramck. Uncle Stanley really is quite sensitive to other people’s feelings.

Best Shields is housed in this unimpressive storefront-type building on Conant, right down the street from one of those jailhouse-looking schools… a junior-high school, no less. We enter, and I immediately see a receptionist that looks way too young to be a receptionist.

“Hi,” she coos at me. I immediately step forward.

“Hi…” I trail off waiting for her to fill in her name.

“Lori,” she purrs. I smile.

“Lori. We’re here to see your boss about an assignment.” I say the words like it’s a top-secret mission.

“Mr. Westcott? Sure. Why don’t you gentlemen have a seat.” While my father and uncles have a seat, I lean over the counter turn on my best flirt with Lori while she informs her boss—Brad Westcott—that he has clients in the waiting room.

I learn that Westcott owns the business.

I learn that sweet little Lori wants to be a private eye one day but doesn’t know when to stop talking.

I learn a lot of useless bits of information, including the fact that Lori has big dreams of leaving Hamtramck one day and that Brad always makes new clients wait for a few minutes because he doesn’t want to appear desperate.

Lori’s not very smart.

I drop my name and GEH more than once to see if this little chatterbox is going to do me any good. I often get what I want when people know who I am, but I get the feeling that in this state, it doesn’t make a damn bit of difference. She keeps mulling over the name as if she should already know who I am. I’m not the Grey that you know, Darling.

He doesn’t bother coming out to greet us. He has Lori to show us into his office. It’s something I would do, but I’m a multibillionaire businessman who runs my worldwide empire from a glass tower in downtown Seattle, not a small-time private dick in a brick, one-story storefront office in a small city hiding in the middle of the east side of Detroit.

“Gentlemen,” he says, standing to his feet. “Bradley Westcott. What can I do for you today?” He extends his hands to no one in particular. Uncle Herman raises one eyebrow and steps forward to be the mouthpiece.

“Herman,” he says, taking Westcott’s hand firmly. “This is my brother, Stanley; my nephew, Christian; and my other brother, Carrick.” Westcott nearly has to wrench his hand away from Uncle Herman.

“You look familiar,” he says, looking from Uncle Herman to Dad.

“We should,” Dad says, extending his hand to Westcott. “You may know our brother.” Just as Westcott takes his hand, Dad drops the bomb. “My surname is Grey. Carrick Grey, Esquire. This is my brother, Herman Grey. The brother that’s not here that you may recognize on sight is Freeman Grey. Ringing any bells yet?”

Dad’s grip on Westcott’s hand must be tighter than Uncle Herman’s, because it takes Westcott more jerks and extra effort to free his hand from Dad’s.

“I don’t know why you’re here, esquire,” Westcott mocks. “If you’re not looking for my services, you can walk right back out the door you walked in.

“I was hoping to appeal to your sense of reason,” Dad says, his voice menacing. “My worthless brother has become Public Enemy #1 to most of my family. He’d do better to walk around with a target on his back, but it doesn’t matter, because we’ve all disowned him. That’s one of the reasons why his payments to you stopped so abruptly.” Westcott’s lips form a thin line at the mention of losing his cash cow.

“My brother’s behavior and activities have been atrocious, and I was merely hoping that you would be willing to share the information that you gathered on me and my brother. You see, I plan on getting a restraining order against Freeman Grey for the invasion of my privacy and the fact that he attacked me in my home then tried to have me arrested, subsequently hiring a private detective to spy on my life for no reason at all. Even certified mail intended for my brother and I have been intercepted and we now have proof that those letters were signed for and received by someone other than us. I’m sure you can see our dilemma in trying to collect information for possible prosecution. And if your man was any good at all, he knows who I am, what I have, and maybe some of who I know and what I can do. So, once again I say that I was hoping to appeal to your sense of reason.”  Westcott folds his arms.

“You already know, esquire, that I don’t have to tell you a goddamn thing. And I don’t care who you are or where you come from. You’re not going to get me to openly admit to committing a federal crime,” he jeers. That’s enough for me. I may have left my suave and attitude back in Seattle, but I have no problem stating cold facts.

“Look,” I begin, matter-of-factly, stepping in front of my father, “I’m not saying this to scare you. I’m giving you information. We both know that you’re not obligated to give my father anything, but there are two things that you should know.

“First, my father is a very, very wealthy attorney from Seattle. You’ve probably dealt with wealthy clients before and they’ve probably thrown some weight and some threats around at you, and my father could most likely do the same thing. He could tie you up in litigation and it would go on forever and ever and it would be inconvenient and that would be about it. It would most likely exhaust your legal fund and put you in a bit of a bind, because my father’s very wealthy and this is personal.

“I, on the other hand, am not only an international businessman, but I’m also one of the top three most powerful entrepreneurs in the country. If you don’t believe that, ask your receptionist. I deliberately dropped my name and my business name with her when I walked in the door. I’m not sure how thorough your investigations are, but had you looked into my father’s children, you would already know who I am. Hopefully, you didn’t since I have a restraining order against your client, and you would have been an accessory in his harassment if you had.

“Nonetheless, if your receptionist—and aspiring PI—did her job, she can most likely give you a decent dossier on me right now. Having said that, I should say that if my father doesn’t get what he’s looking for by the time we leave this office today, then we’ll leave, and I’ll wish you luck getting any clients anywhere in the United States from this day forward.”

“I don’t respond kindly to threats, Mr. Grey,” Wescott says. I shrug.

“Okay,” I say with no malice, and nothing else. I’m not trying to throw my weight around. I just want Dad to get what he needs. If he doesn’t, this little speck will just be wiped off the radar and I’m just going to go about my day. Whatever he has on Dad will be useless anyway, so it won’t make a difference to me. He laughs at my response.

“That’s good. I’ve never seen that tactic. Are you trying to intimidate me, Mr. Grey?” he taunts. I shrug again. He’s so minor league that he has no idea just how minor league he is.

“See, we’re not doing this,” I say calmly. “I’m not here to prove that I’m a rottweiler and you’re a poodle. I’m here so that my father can get what he came for. If he can’t get it, we’ll leave… but you’ll certainly know that we were here. So, I’m going to leave and go into the lobby, because I’m not having a pissing contest with you. Either you’ll tell my father what he wants, or you won’t but you and I, we have no business… yet.”

I walk out of his office and back to the lobby where I comfortably take a seat right in front of the aspiring PI and slide my finger across the screen of my phone.

“Sir,” Alex answers on the second ring.

“How quickly can you blackball Best Shields Family Investigations?” I ask aloud. I can see Lori’s head pop up in my peripheral. That’s right, listen carefully, little girl.

“How quickly do you want it?” he asks.

“Good answer. Not yet, but I do need a message sent like five minutes ago. Something loud and clear, fairly harmless, but with implications that bigger things are to follow. I’m not playing with this guy. I don’t feel like doing the one-two step of who’s the bigger dog in the yard. My father has taken about all he can take right now and I’m ready to wash my hands of this whole thing.”

Lori’s fingers are typing madly on the computer. Either she’s doing the research that I accused her of before, or she’s warning her boss that I’m drawing battle lines in the sand… or both. Either way, I know that Alex is thorough, and my message will be heard loud and clear. I can also hear Alex typing on the other end.

“Brad Westcott, not too many high-profile clients, family business… consider it done, sir.”

“Thanks, Alex,” I say and end the call. I start running through my emails and before I can respond to the fifth one, Westcott’s door opens. I can hear him bitching up a storm in there, but Uncle Stanley’s head pops out.

“Christian, can you come in for a second?” he beckons me. I stand and put my phone away. I raise an eyebrow at Lori who immediately looks down at her computer screen. When I enter Westcott’s office, he immediately falls silent and turns his tirade onto me.

“Who the fuck do you think you are?” he barks. “What the hell is this shit? Is this supposed to fucking scare me?”

I did scare you, buddy—that’s why you’re screaming, but I don’t have the strength to be the usual cutthroat that I am. I’m not looking for reverence or respect. I’m looking for results. I put my hand on my father’s shoulder.

“Come on, Dad, let’s go,” I tell him. Dad looks at me, bemused. “You’re getting a restraining order against Freeman, so he can’t do anything with any of the information that he has. He’s cock-strutting and posturing and throwing weight around that he’s too dense to know that he doesn’t have, and we don’t have time for this. He’s playing a game that I refuse to play, and you should refuse to play it, too. The jet is already fueled and waiting, and my pilot is ready at any moment to take us out of this God-forsaken place. Let’s just go.”

I’m resolved. Whatever damage can possibly be done by whatever information this asshole has, I can undo it. Freeman’s reach stops here and now. I’ve had all I can take.

“He just went from being cool, calm, and cocky to going into a kindergarten tirade. What is he looking at?” Uncle Stanley asks.

“I have no idea what he’s looking at,” I say to Uncle Stanley. “I called my head of corporate security five minutes ago. Whatever he’s looking at, that’s how long it took Alex to get it.” I turn my gaze to Westcott. “Imagine what he could do with unlimited time and resources.”

For the first time since we’ve walked into the office, Westcott looks… cautiously contemplative, although some of the color has left his cheeks. I never threw a single threat at him. I only used inuendo and insinuation—not my usual style, but then again, I’m not my usual self in this place.

Westcott narrows his eyes and rises from his seat. He goes to a file cabinet behind him and pulls out a file that’s about an inch thick.

“Here,” he barks. “That’s everything.” He slams the files down on his desk. Dad moves the file over to him and begins to thumb through it.

“Take it with you,” Westcott hisses. “I don’t want anything else to do with you or your family.”

“We don’t want anything else to do with you either, Mr. Westcott, but that’s not all of it,” I respond calmly. I put my business card on the desk in front of him. “You already know how to reach my father and uncle. Here’s my information. We’ll be expecting the rest of your findings by the end of business today, including your digital documentation. Remember, sir, unlimited time and resources, and very little patience.”

I don’t wait for a response or a reaction. I’ll admit that I usually gloat in staring someone down and knowing that I’ve intimidated them. Not today… not here. I just want to get out of here. I turn around and walk out of the office without another word.


ANASTASIA

I don’t know what’s happening with Christian at this very moment, but I’m totally unable to relax. Even meditation didn’t help much. It helped, but not much.

We didn’t meditate before he left, either. We fucked, but of course, that was my idea. And the thought of feeling him inside of me calms my racing mind right down. I hope it does the same for him.

I order a few bonsai trees—some for my Zen office at work and some for home. I like the Zen gardens, too, so I order a couple of those. I didn’t get a chance to tell Dad what was going on, so I call him and let him know that Christian and I are in Detroit and why, but that I’ll be home before Monday and wouldn’t miss our court date for the world. He puts Harry on the phone and we have a conversation where he’s sprouting his usual baby jabber and I answer like I know exactly what he’s saying. It’s good practice for when I must translate what my own children are trying to say. I’m told that I’ll know, and people will constantly be asking me. We’ll have to see.

Of course, cooing at my little brother made me realize that I hadn’t spoken to my own children. Even though we’ll be home in a few hours, I miss them. So, I Facetime Gail so that I can wave at my little darlings and blow them kisses.

Mommy misses you! I’ll be home soon.

Courtney missed her calling as an organizer and coordinator. I’m glad that she’s going to school and has a direction that she wants her life to take, because she can whip any situation into shape if you set her to task for it. She has set up interviews for PRN relief staff on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. She’s collecting information for interpreters and looking into hiring bilingual and multilingual staff for obvious reasons, and she has emailed me a general format of needs for the additional counseling and support services that we want to initiate.

Keri is contacting the necessary parties in Anguilla and here in the states to make sure that she has the teaching and possible child care qualifications to be certified here. We talked briefly, and she informed me that Chuck asked her to marry him again. She declined… again. She wants to get her own footing in America and make sure that she can’t be asked or forced to leave on her own before she agrees to become Mrs. Davenport.

“Why are you waiting?” I ask her. “You love him, and he loves you. You obviously can’t live without each other. He was a basket case the minute you stepped on that plane to go back to Anguilla—the minute—and you nearly starved yourself to death. You’re not going to be without each other, so why not make it official?” Keri sighs.

“Ah con’t explen it to yah, Anah,” she says. “Et’s sometin Ah jes gottah do. Den I can marry me Choonks wit a clean conscience.”

“How does he feel about it?” I ask. She laughs.

“Yah knoh hah he feel,” she chuckles. “He tek meh today, he tek meh tomorrah, as long as I let ‘im tek me.”

I love Choonks, too, so I’m making it my business to be sure that Keri gets her certification in the states, no matter what it takes, and a permanent job is waiting for her at the Center as well as being my nanny for as long as she chooses.

I skype for an hour with Ace. Because of the time difference and the fact that I expect to be in the air on my way back to Seattle when our regular session is supposed to be, he agrees to take his lunch when he should be meeting with me and have a session with me earlier in the day. We rehash some of the things that we talked about on Monday, and he scolded me thoroughly for making Christian feel like we had to start over with our relationship and would never get back the love and the bond that we had before.

“I’ll admit that you may come out of this relationship with something totally new and different, but to make him feel like he has to start from square one? Have you met your husband?”

I try to rationalize my thinking by telling him that I felt a fresh start would be good for us, something to wash away the old ways of thinking and behaving and introduce new and more productive ways of dealing with issues and with each other… and he promptly called me on my bullshit.

“That’s all well, fine, and good if that’s what you were doing, but we both know that you weren’t. You were scared to death of the concept of having to face rebuilding yourself from the first healthy techniques that you learned for coping with problems and you wanted to drag Christian in there with you. You know that there’s nothing wrong with your relationship and the way that you love each other. What’s wrong is the way that you two handle controversy. That’s the thing that needs a revamp, not the whole damn relationship.”

It’s no fun being handed your ass twice in the same week by your therapist.

Just after lunchtime, there’s a knock at my door. I answer it and find Jason on the other side.

“I was just checking on you,” he says. “You’ve been quiet all day and I wanted to make sure that you were still alive in here.” I raise my brow at him.

“I haven’t been quiet. You just haven’t heard me. I’ve been quite busy, in fact.” I leave the door open for him to come in. He’s probably going stir crazy down there in the room by himself with nothing to do and just being on standby if I want to go somewhere. “Have you had lunch yet?”

“I was going to get something after I made sure that you were okay,” he says.

“Why don’t you order something up for room service for us both? Unless you had other plans…”

“What other plans?” he says. “We’re in this God-forsaken place with nowhere to go and I’m glad we’re only here for a day.” I twist my lips.

“It’s not that bad,” I protest. Jason scoffs.

“Anything in this area—in the general vicinity—is Detroit to Christian Grey. Detroit is hell to him and he’s a completely different person when he’s here. I hate it almost as much as he does when we have to come to this place. The spirit is suffocating, and even though the surrounding cities and even many areas in Detroit are not as bad as the slums he was born in, it’s all bad to me. There’s nothing good about it. If there is, I can’t find it.”

“That’s because you’re not looking for it, but then again, why would you?” I smile at him. “Lunch.”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

*-*

“Jason, how did we end up in this room?” I ask as we’re eating. I’m having a turkey club with fruit and French fries and Jason opted for a burger large enough to feed four people. “Did Mr. Grey go down there and threaten someone’s job?”

“Not directly,” he says, after swallowing a bite of his burger. “I went down and had a chat with them.”

“With whom?” I ask. “What did you say to them?”

“I went down and asked for the manager on duty. I told him to listen to me if he wanted to and if he didn’t, don’t. I warned him that there is a self-made billionaire and international businessman on the third floor in a cold room with a cold wife on a cold night and a bedsheet on his bed posing as a blanket. He’s in the state on a very sensitive matter but has avoided this place like the plague for the last twenty-five years. He just called down to the desk to get some assistance and relief from the cold and was pretty much told, ‘tough cookies, freeze your ass off—this is Michigan.’ I warned him that said businessman has very deep pockets, a short temper, and a far reach and that his fortune was made by acquisitions and hostile takeovers and that right now, while he’s between a rock and a hard place in a cold room with a cold wife freezing her pretty little toes off that when he gets back to Seattle at the top of his beautiful, climate-controlled glass palace, he’s going to remember this trip and this cold room, and he’s going to start making calls. That may not make any difference to him because this is just another guest complaint, but he might want to see who’s complaining.”

He scrolls through his phone and shows me GEH’s LinkedIn page, maintained by the PR department. The damn thing is a testament of perseverance, money, and power. I raise my eyes to Jason.

“And that’s just the LinkedIn page,” he says. “You know that if you Google him, you’re going to get a whole lot more shit. That’s why he’s always telling people to Google him.”

“Yeah, I know,” I respond, recalling our first meeting with distaste and the day Mr. Money Man told me to Google him. Jason chuckles.

“Well, anyway, it didn’t take much after that to get you this room with the fireplace already heating so that you didn’t catch your death trying to get a good night’s sleep after taking a bath.” I nod.

“Well, thank you,” I tell him. “And you’re right, Christian is totally not himself right now.”

We talk a little more, finish our lunch, and shoot the shit about nothing and everything while I’m telling him about what I’m working on at the Center. We’re also conspiring on Chuck and Keri to try to make things easier for them to finally tie the knot when my husband comes breezing into the room looking very emotionally heavy-laden.

Shit, what kind of day was this?

“Call Metro,” he says to Jason. “Notify me the moment the jet is ready for takeoff.”

“Yes, sir,” Jason says. He nods to me and leaves the room without another word. I turn to my husband, afraid to ask how things went.

“It was a bit of a disaster,” he says, removing his coat and tossing it into a nearby chair before falling onto the sofa. I just sit down next to him and curl my knees under me. That’s when he drops the two-million-dollar bomb on me.

“There’s no way Dad would have accepted that money. We both wanted to buy Pops a kidney, and he said “no.” I didn’t want to rob some kid of his chance at life, I just wanted more time with my grandfather. I didn’t even want a black-market kidney, just bribe a match to give up one of theirs… maybe… I don’t know. Is that the same as a black-market kidney?”

“No, but it’s unethical, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a doctor that would agree to it if you found one at all.”

“Well, it’s moot now. Pops is gone, he wouldn’t take the deal anyway, and Dad’s in shreds again because he left him $500,000… which Freeman is protesting.” My head pops up like a chicken.

“What?” I ask. “Why is Freeman protesting?”

“The same reason as always… he’s an asshole,” Christian says.

“Well, couldn’t he use that money right now?” I ask incredulously.

“Right now,” Christian says. “Yeah, that’s another thing. As long as the money is locked up and nobody gets a share, his creditors can’t attach the money—neither can the IRS or Nell’s attorneys. So, he’s got a win-win from this… sort of.” My brow furrows.

“What do you mean sort of?” I ask.

“Well, he wins because Dad won’t see the money anytime soon, but it costs a lot to contest a life-insurance policy and Wu won’t help him. So, while he’s contesting, he’s going to have to pay for those services, which means that when he does get his share of the money, it’s going to be significantly less than it was before if there’s anything left at all. Not only that, but Dad and Uncle Herman are submitting funeral costs to the attorney to be reimbursed, which means I have to give him a billing for flying Pops’ remains and at least one brother back to Detroit. I could actually charge for Uncle Herman going both ways, saying that he was the one that delivered the remains.

“Nonetheless, Dad and Herman will see some of the money first, and a portion of their reimbursement will come from Freeman’s share. He tried to say that he had services, too, but Wu told him that the life insurance policy will only pay for verified services for the remains. That deflated him quickly. To add sprinkles to this Karmic sundae, Dad had $750,000 transferred to Uncle Herman’s and Uncle Stan’s accounts right while we were standing in the office.” My mouth falls open and my eyes widen.

“Christian, are you serious?” I ask incredulously. “I thought each son’s share was $500,000.”

“It is, but I know Dad was probably rubbing salt in Freeman’s wounds,” he says. “Dad said that his other brothers shouldn’t have to suffer because of Freeman, and split his share between the two of them, so that if Freeman keeps that money tied up for a long time, they can still do what they want with their share. And like I said, Dad wouldn’t have accepted that money. He announced that if Freeman wasn’t such an asshole, Dad would have split his share with him, too.

“But the pièce de résistance, Dad’s getting a restraining order against Freeman, too, in case he gets the bright idea to have Dad followed again and all of the brothers wrote him off at the reading of the will, including Stan. Nobody’s speaking to him now.” I shake my head.

“That won’t do anything,” I tell him. “Freeman is one of the most extreme narcissists that I’ve ever seen. All he’ll do is keep doing the same things that he’s doing and keep blaming someone else for his problems.” Christian shrugs.

“Well, he’ll be doing it alone, because no one who counts is going to be there to hear him,” he says. My husband runs his hands through his hair. “Get changed, Baby, unless you want to wear your yoga pants to the airport. I’m ready to get the hell out of this place as soon as possible.”


A/N: I miss Big Boy. It was Elias Brothers when I lived in Detroit. I don’t know if it’s still there.

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 46—Roots

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.

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 46—Roots

ANASTASIA

Even though we left Seattle in the morning, it’s well into the evening when we get to Michigan, and after dark when we get to Stanley’s house. My husband held his breath almost the entire ride here from the airport, looking out of the window like he was examining exotic animals…

More like he was watching the apocalypse pass by before his very eyes.

We make our way to a suburb of Detroit called Farmington where Stanley lives. It’s a small town—I wouldn’t even consider it a city. The entire place is less than three square miles and again, I feel like I’m in Anguilla. Not to be confused with its neighboring—and much larger—city of Farmington Hills, Farmington is a tiny little municipality that looks as if it were cut right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Downtown Farmington is not more than three blocks total. The buildings all look like libraries and the restaurants like general stores. 5a5a714c6175252a2e3b3f07fb3bf20b

About a minute and a half from downtown, we turn down a quiet street and arrive at Stanley’s house. Unlike the sprawling estates of neighboring Farmington Hills, this small town of about 10,000 people boasts quaint, comfortable family homes. It reminds me a lot of Montesano, only I have no idea how they fit so many people in such a small place. Montesano is about four times the size with only one-third the population.

We drive up the driveway of this small house and park in front of the two-car garage. I swear I expect for Florence Henderson to greet us at the door complete with Jan in the background whining, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” Well, only if Carol Brady was married to James Bond. I’ve never told anyone, but Carrick and his brothers look a lot like James Bond!

Sure enough, the James Bond from Goldeneye opens the door and ushers us inside, and I stand firmly by my conclusion.

“God, am I glad to see you guys… I hadn’t heard anything, so I thought you just decided not to come.”

Stanley and his brothers—including Freeman—are all carbon copies of Burt at various stages of his life. They couldn’t be more different though. Carrick screams power while Herman has this contemplative reservation about him. Stanley, on the other hand, makes you want to just hug him and bake him cookies.

Freeman can eat shit and die.

“What smells so good?” I ask as Stanley welcomes us into his home and closes the door behind us.

“That would be the lovely Lana whipping up some of her magic in the kitchen. Let me take your coats.”

We each hand Stan our coats and take seats in the living room. Christian and I sit on the loveseat while Carrick and Herman take a seat on the sofa.

“The rest of the ladies decided not to come?” Stan says. Carrick shakes his head.

“Grace had to work and Luma needed to get the children off to school. It was too short notice. Christian only informed me of this on Tuesday.” Stan’s brow furrows.

“Tuesday?” he says, bemused. “I’ve known about this for weeks!”

“Have you spoken to our dear brother?” Herman asks. Stan shakes his head.

“Not since he attacked Burtie,” Stan says.

“Well, we can’t prove it just yet, but we have reason to believe that Freeman intercepted our notices for the reading,” Carrick says.

“Come on, guys,” Stan says, smacking his lips. “Don’t you think you might be a bit paranoid? That’s a bit of a stretch.”

“Well, under normal circumstances, I would agree with you,” Carrick retorts, “but we learned about a month or so ago that Freeman was having me followed.”

“Followed?!” Stan exclaims. “What the heck for?”

“I have no idea…”

Carrick and Stan talk for a moment about the agency in Detroit that had been following Carrick, which doesn’t ring any bells with Stan. I listen to the brothers chat for a while with Christian interjecting about Lanie and Burt and their progress in California. He’s vague about details, not knowing how much Lanie and Burt would want to disclose. Stan knew nothing about the divorce, the IRS audit, or the piece of ass that Freeman has had on tap for God only knows how long throughout his marriage. His distaste for the whole situation is written all over his face, and you can easily tell that he would do well not to be involved in any of Freeman’s sordid lifestyle—such as it were.

“Jesus, Lana would have my neck if I even looked at another woman… not that I would want to,” Stanley acknowledges.

Looked at another woman…

Suddenly, thoughts of Liam and the disaster that he… I caused over the last several weeks spring unwelcome to my mind and I need to move around, be useful, or simply leave the space.

“I’m… going to go see if Lana needs any help in the kitchen,” I say, rising from the loveseat. Christian squeezes my hand with a bit of urgency. You don’t need me here, baby. You’re safe here.

“We didn’t mean to exclude you, Ana,” Stan protests. I wave him off with my free hand.

“Nonsense,” I say, still trying to free myself from my husband’s near-death grip. “You gentlemen have a lot of things to talk about. I’ll go help dinner along. She’s cooking for four more people, after all. I’m sure she could use some help.” I turn my most comforting smile to Christian.

You’ll be fine. I, on the other hand, may just spontaneously combust. Let me go on out to the kitchen with the womenfolk.

He wants me as a security blanket, but he doesn’t need me in this room. His lips form a thin line and an unreadable expression flashes over his face before he brings my hand to his lips and kisses it gently.

“Don’t be long,” he says softly.

“I’ll just see if I can help. We can get dinner started faster.” I smile and escape to the kitchen, the Bitch breathing a huge sigh of relief as my feet start moving. I follow the heavenly smell to a double-swinging door. I push it gently and stick my head in. Stan’s wife is donning an apron and standing over the stove.

Again, Norman Rockwell.

norman-rockwell-freedom-from-wantShe looks over her shoulder and makes eye-contact with me.

“I hope I’m not interrupting,” I begin. “I just came to see if you could use any help.”

“Are you kidding?” she exclaims. “Yes! Please!” She puts the top on whatever pot she’s stirring and wipes her hands on her apron, then proceeds towards me with open arms.

“Ana, right?” she says before we embrace. “I remember you from Burt’s funeral. You’re kind of unforgettable… you look so much like Shannon.” She smiles at me. “I bet you’re tired of hearing that.”

“No,” I admit, “only because I’ve only heard nice things about her.”

“All true,” she says, releasing me and fetching another apron from a drawer in the island. “Are you sure you want to help in that lovely dress?” she asks. “It might get ruined with sauce or something.” I wave her off. If she only knew.

“It’s fine,” I assure her as I take the apron and tie it around my waist. “Not a family heirloom or anything.” We both laugh as she goes back to stirring the pot.

“I was just about to start chopping vegetables for the salad, but you know sauce. When it’s time to stir, it’s time to stir,” she laughs.

“Allow me,” I say, and I move to the chopping board and begin to quickly chop the vegetables for the salad. The kitchen is silent for about three minutes as Lana concentrates on her sauce and I concentrate on not losing a finger. It’s not that I can’t chop vegetables; I just chop really fast.

“Wow,” Lana says, turning around after she has turned off the fire under her sauce, “are you a cook?” I smile. Most of the vegetables are chopped and I’ve tossed a few of them in the salad while arranging a few others on top to make a gourmet-looking creation.

“No,” I chuckle, “I just have a litany of tiny skills that I’m barely ever able to utilize. There’s a lot going on in my life with my work and my twins…”

“Twins! Seriously? With that body!? God, I’m jealous.” I laugh at her envy.

“Well, thank you,” I say, arranging the last of the vegetables.

“What’s your secret?” she asks, taking fresh garlic bread from the oven and brushing butter on top.

“I try to eat right as often as I can, and I exercise—weights, yoga, dancing, sparring…”

“See, that’s too much for me,” she admits. “I can do the eating right part, if forced, but the exercising—I’m just too damn lazy.” We share a giggle again. “So, what are the boys doing? Scratching themselves and talking about sports or cars?” I chuckle again.

“No, actually they’re powwowing about how much of an asshole Freeman is,” I say. She examines me for a moment, then turns back to whatever else is warming on the stove—asparagus, I think.

“Well, that’s old news,” she says. “I didn’t like him the day I met him, and nothing’s changed. “You know how some people just have a bad spirit and you can spot it a mile away? That’s Freeman. He’s a monstrous type of man, so much so that I can just see it in his face. At the risk of sounding spacey, I’m very in-tune with inner auras and chis. His is very dark and disturbed. It’s like a demon entered the womb just as he was being born. I don’t doubt that his mother had a very hard labor with him, and the he did some questionable things as a child—not necessarily evil, just questionable…”

“Such as?” I ask, finishing the salad and wiping my hands.

“I don’t know, little things, like kicking puppies,” she says. It would be funny if I didn’t think it were true. I could see young, spoiled Freeman doing just that.

“Yeah, I wouldn’t put that past him, I say. She’s putting pasta in a bowl while I put meat on a platter just as I hear a disturbance in the corner.

“Smells good, Mom. Need some he…” A handsome teenager enters a door from the rear of the kitchen that I can only assume is the basement. “Aunt Shannon?” he asks with uncertainty. Lana and I laugh simultaneously.

“No, Deon, this is cousin Ana,” she says, walking over to me.

“Cousin?” he says. “None of my cousins look like her. She’s hot!” I blush and scoff a laugh.

“Deon!” his mother scolds. Deon shrugs.

“Sorry, Mom. It’s true.” He extends his hand to me. “Nice to meet you Ana. You’re my cousin how?”

“I’m Christian’s wife,” I say, shaking his hand. He shakes his head to tell me he doesn’t know Christian.

“She’s Rick’s daughter-in-law,” Lana clarifies. Deon’s eyes light up.

“Uncle Rick’s here?” he says. “I’ve never met him.”

“He’s in the living room with your father and Uncle Herman.”

“Cool. Can I…?” He points to the door leading to the living room.

“Go on but take this with you and put it on the dining table.” She hands him the platter of meat that I just loaded, and he heads out of the kitchen to the dining room.

“Showtime,” she says with a smile. And we each grab a dish to head to the dining room, I ask, “Lana, you make your own bread and your own sauce?” She smiles.

“No, I make Ruby’s bread and Ruby’s sauce,” she corrects me with a smile. “I found her recipes at the old house after Burt and Herman moved to Seattle. Burt was having the house packed up and we were trying to preserve some of the things since the house was vacant. We had no idea how dilapidated the place had become.” We place the dishes on the set table in the dining room and go back for more. “I thought the brothers might like having their mom’s sauce and bread during this… time.” I nod.

“It’s a beautiful gesture,” I say, taking another dish and heading to the dining room. “Question… If the house is in such bad shape, why is there such a big fight over it?” I ask.

“Nobody’s fighting over the house but Freeman,” she clarifies, placing the last dishes on the table. “Stan just wanted to get his parents’ things out of there and get them safely in storage. That’s where I found the recipes. I copied them and put them back, of course, but I’ve made some of the things for Stan a few times. All their valuables—they’re still in storage. They’ve been there for over a year. Herman and Stanley had planned to divide everything amongst the brothers, but things just got crazy and they never got to it.” We go back to the kitchen and wipe our hands once more on the aprons before taking them off and placing them on the counter.

“Ready?” she asks. I shrug.

“Ready,” I reply. We go into the living room and announce to the gentlemen that dinner is ready. They all pile into the dining room and sit down. Everyone serves themselves and conversation flows freely at the table, everyone laughing and enjoying themselves like a good old family reunion. The spirit in the room is jovial, despite the solemn reason for the visit, but the funniest part of the evening was yet to come.

In Stanley Grey’s household, Lana may do the cooking, because she’s good at it. However, in the spirit of fairness and teamwork, that’s where her evening’s duties end. The gentlemen are required to put the leftovers away and do all the cleanup.

My favorite Dom was none too pleased to hear that.

I tried to get him out of it by telling them that I only lifted two fingers to help with the meal and would be happy to assist with cleanup, but I think Herman and Carrick wanted to see my husband suffer and shooed me out of the kitchen when I tried to assist.

It was hilarious.

I heard one crash, several loud voices, and not ten minutes after they entered the kitchen, Christian was kicked out. Wearing an irritated, puppy-dog expression, he walks over to Lana and explains that he broke one of her plates and would be happy to replace it. Lana chokes back a laugh and tells him to have a seat and relax, thanking him for his effort and scolding the other men for being so intolerant. I think that makes him feel better.

Once dinner is over, Christian and I say goodbye to everyone as Herman and Carrick will be staying at Stanley’s and Christian and I will be going to the hotel. Not only did Stanley’s house not have enough room for everyone, but Christian didn’t know what kind of night he would have sleeping in Michigan for the first time since his childhood, and didn’t want to have to explain violent, audible nightmares to his extended family.

The Townsend Hotel is not what I expected from the outside—a large, rather imposing brick building that looks like it could be historic, but not very impressive. I’m extremely surprised when I get inside and the accommodations are anything but historic. Posh décor, sleek designs, marble everywhere. That’ll teach me to judge a book by its cover.

It’s extremely cold this time of year in Michigan—frigid even. The cold is different here than it is in Washington. I don’t know what it is, but this cold goes into your soul and takes up residence there. I need a fireplace, but there’s nothing in this room but a thermostat and what looks like a furnace that’s built into the wall.

That doesn’t look very cozy.

The room is cold—posh, but cold! There’s no climate control in this place? I realize that people may want their areas to be at custom levels, but the room should at least be room temperature! Christian’s face immediately says that he has drawn the same conclusion that I have.

This place is cold as fuck, what the hell?

I run my hand over the monogrammed blanket on the bed. Blanket… if you can call it that. It’s pretty, and thin. I pull the “covers” back and it’s nothing but this thin bedspread and top sheet to sleep under. Good Lord, I’m going to freeze to death!

I begin to rummage through the closets in the suite to see if there are extra blankets. There’s one… flimsy like the one on the bed. I look around in dismay, realizing that the only thing I brought to sleep in was a comfy little nightie. Christian is tinkering with the settings on the “furnace” in the corner, and I hear it come to life.

“You gotta be kidding,” he murmurs. I join him near the heat source to discover that there’s a very small vent on the thing and even at its highest setting, it’s not blowing out much heat. I walk around the suite to see if there are any other furnaces…

None. Just the one.

For this giant ass suite? One furnace?

I see the terrycloth robe at the end of the bed. It’s thicker than the goddamn blanket.

No fireplace, one furnace, and it’s cold as fuck. That’s it—bath to get the cold out of my bones, then I’ll sleep in my yoga pants, whatever warm shirt I have, and that terrycloth robe.

I go to the bathroom and turn on the water in the tub. There’s a lot of marble in here. It takes the hot water several minutes to get hot, but when it does, it’s scalding. At least something is hot in this joint. I get the water to the right temperature and plug the tub. The bathroom fills with steam and that makes me happy.

When I come back to the bedroom, Christian is typing into his phone. I can’t help but wonder who he’s trying to contact at this hour.

I go back to the bathroom, terrycloth robe in hand, and decide to strip in there. It’s warmer with the hot water running. When I take off my boots and socks…

“Shit!” I hiss.

“What?” Christian says, his voice full of alarm.

“Nothing. I’m sorry. The floor is like ice!”

Wrong thing to say.

“Goddammit!” I hear him pacing around or something while I finish stripping and climb into the tub.

Nirvana.

A few minutes into my bath, I hear my husband’s agitated voice.

“This suite is freezing,” he says. “There’s only one temperature control and it’s in the bedroom. I can’t even use the rest of the rooms at this temperature.”

There’s silence for a long time and then I hear…

“My wife is in a steaming bath trying to boil the cold out of her bones. When she gets out, her pores are going to be open and she’s going to be walking on a subzero marble floor, after which she’s going to enter an arctic bedroom to wrap herself in this bed sheet that’s passing off as a blanket and try to get a good night’s sleep in a room that’s about as cozy as the North Pole and hope she doesn’t wake with pneumonia.”

Another long silence.

“Why yes, I am from the west coast—Seattle, in fact. You know, snow advisories? Winter storms? Freezing rain?”

Uh oh… whoever is on the line with my husband just pissed him off. I don’t have to hear the other side of that conversation to know that they’re basically telling him that he doesn’t know how to handle Michigan weather.

“Never mind. This was a mistake,” and just like that, the call ends. Quiet resolution? Oh, shit. That’s worse than angry ranting.

“Jason, can you see if you can find me a duvet or a real comforter for my wife? This room is -17 degrees and she’s in the bathtub trying to warm up. Whether she decides to stay in tomorrow or go out, she’s going to be sick by the time we get on the plane.”

There’s a long pause, and then he says some other things that I can’t hear because he goes off into the living room. I add more hot water to my bath and sink into the comfort. If this is going to be the only warmth that I get, I’m going to enjoy it for as long as I can.

*-*

I stay in the tub until my skin starts to shrivel. The room is bone quiet and I actually fell asleep for a while. I finally decide to brave the arctic floor and dry off quickly, struggle into my yoga pants and t-shirt and wrap myself in the terrycloth robe. I gather my clothes and exit the bathroom to find Christian sitting on the edge of the bed still in his street clothes.

“Here, baby,” he says, dropping a pair of house slippers at my feet. “Put these on.” I slide into the slippers as he takes my clothes from my arms. He takes my hand and leads me out of the room and down the hall.

Where are we going?

We turn the corner and Jason is standing outside of another room like a good tin soldier.

“Thanks, Jason,” Christian says as Jason opens the door. “Get some rest.”

“Goodnight, sir, Your Highness.” He turns and walks down the hall. I’m glad nobody heard that. Paparazzi would be at our door just to find out who the fuck I am not knowing that’s just a private joke between Jason and me.

I walk into another suite and I’m immediately enveloped by warmth. More marble, including a beautiful black marble fireplace that’s already lit—very cozy surroundings, and a real comforter on the bed.

“Thank God,” I exclaim, pulling off the now too-hot terrycloth robe. “What happened? What was the deal with the arctic bedroom?” Christian shrugs.

“I don’t really know,” he says. “I asked Jason to go see if he could find us a real comforter. When he came back, we were here with apologies from the staff that we were booked in the wrong room.”

“Wrong room?” I ask. “Nobody should have to sleep in that icebox. What is this… three, four-hundred a night?” He nods.

“Four,” he confirms. “It was short notice, but it comes highly recommended, so…” He shrugs. My husband is a bit too reserved for my taste. I’m used to take no prisoners, get me what I want or this place will be closed by Friday Christian Grey, and right now, he seems… resolved. I don’t like it.

I go to the bathroom—heated floor bathroom this time—to finish my nighttime routine. I just want to go to bed now, since the room is all comfy and toasty. Intent on wearing my nighty now, I strip naked and put the robe back on. Once I’m done, I go back to the bedroom to find Christian sitting on the edge of the bed again, now in his boxers and T-shirt, gazing at nothing.

He’s looking rudderless like he has no idea what he should be doing right now. It’s bad enough that we’ve been going through our own turmoil for the past several weeks. Now, he’s here in this place—maybe not right in Detroit at the moment but being this close—he probably can’t even find himself right now.

Maybe we should meditate? Try to help him find his center? No, I have a feeling he needs much more than that.

I walk over to him and stand in his line of sight. His eyes slowly rise to mine, and he looks like a lost child—really, like a lost child trying to find his mother. It’s more than my heart can handle. I gently caress his hair, begging him with my eyes to tell me what he needs. He says nothing. He just keeps gazing into my eyes, his gray orbs glassy and almost clear.

I’m lost. I usually know what to do to help him, but right now, I don’t. We’ve been struggling to connect over this last week after our most recent realization. We’ve been tender, attentive, but not sexual, and to be honest, that’s usually how we decompress. I sigh heavily and reach into myself to try to find the me… the us… or some piece of it, before all this shit happened.

I climb onto the bed and straddle him, thrusting my hands into his hair and caressing his scalp. He closes his eyes and sinks into the comfort for about a minute or two. When he opens them again, his eyes are gray fire and I feel him thicken and his body harden underneath me.

He kisses me… more like he launches a sneak attack on my mouth and devours my lips, his hands roaming all over me. It’s like a goddamn stick of dynamite. His body ignites, as does mine and I can feel the inner struggle, the fight to satiate ourselves without ripping each other to shreds.

I forcefully pull his hair, trying to get as much of his mouth as I can, hungrily lapping his kisses. He groans and rises slightly off the bed with me still in his lap. When he sits again, we’re further up the bed, but he’s without his boxer briefs now. I struggle with his groping arms to get his T-shirt off and once I’m successful, he quickly undoes my belt and rids me of the terrycloth robe. My legs are now wrapped around him, my core open wide, and his thick erection rubs against my cleft, again and again.

We haven’t been intimate in what seems like forever and I’m rising quickly… very quickly! He’s grabbing at my naked body, taking as much from me as I’m taking from him. Good God, I feel like I’m going to combust!

He gasps and actually whimpers once he enters me. My body releases an involuntary tremor. My response to feeling him—thick and hard inside of me—is swift and sure, and almost immediately, I come. I rest my forehead on his and ride out a shivering orgasm, fighting the tears behind my eyelids because I don’t want him to stop, especially since he just got started. He groans in his throat and holds me incredibly close to him as he grinds sensually into me. My body is craving him, aching for him, weeping for him. I need him so much…

Oh, God, love me… love me, please…

He leans back and opens his legs further, causing my ass to drop between his thighs. I use my feet to steady myself on the bed which only causes my legs to fall open farther… and him to slide in deeper.

Oh, good God…

He grunts as he slips deeper into me, leaning back a bit to get a deeper grind. I don’t know how he’s balancing himself without putting his hands on the bed and quite frankly, I don’t fucking care. With my legs open like this, I’m getting the most delicious stimulation of my clit while he’s drilling me.

His left hand moves to my nape to hold me in place and his right hand cups my hip and ass cheek to guide me, and he’s grinding—stroking and drilling and driving me quickly to a second orgasm.

My God, what’s going on with me?

I feel the sweat building quickly on my body… our bodies. I wrap my arms around his neck—my forehead still pressed against his—and hold on, thrusting my fingers into his hair. I’m looking into his slate gray eyes and he’s watching me, closely, pushing me… pushing me…

My mouth is open and my uncontrolled breathing is almost embarrassing. He’s rocking into me with purpose, stimulating my clit each time and minutes after my first orgasm…

I whimper through my second release, unable to stop the tears from falling down my cheeks this time. I see the ends of my wet hair shaking through my tremors, and my husband never breaks our gaze. He’s still intense, still rocking and drilling into me, holding me down onto his insistent cock.  God, he’s so hard and he feels so good. How long has it been? Shit… only a week, I think. It feels like forever.

He groans deep in his chest and his stroke becomes more intense. He’s kissing me with those hungry sex kisses, slowly and intently chasing his orgasm. My body is mush—trembling, shivering mush, and he holds me tight and pushes his hard, hot cock up into me over and over and over…

“Sweet Jesus,” I whimper, and I only realize that I’ve said it out loud when his mouth latches onto my neck and sucks very hard, his stroke going deeper and deeper.

“Oh mon Dieu!” I cry out, resting my elbows on his shoulders and pulling hard on his hair. He growls again and grabs my ass cheek roughly, his long fingers slipping in to caress my rosette.

I’m so tired and weak that I’m a little loopy. I can only hold on as he guides me roughly, intently, and sensually over his thickening dick, repeatedly. His fingers are sinking into my skin to the point of pain, his left hand still holding me firmly at the nape of my neck. I almost can’t breathe when a finger the hand that’s violently grabbing and guiding my ass and hip slides between my cheeks and into my rosette.

And I’m rising again—swiftly.

I start to tremble almost immediately, his grunting sex sounds urging me on along with his rhythmic upward strokes into my core. His mouth covers mine just as his finger thrusts into my ass and before I can control it….

“Mmmmmmmmmmhmmmmmhmmhmmmmhmmmmmmmmm!”

I’m screaming into his mouth, shaking more violently than I did with the first two orgasms. He’s a fucking machine and I can’t fucking take much fucking more of this! As if his dick heard me…

“God! Fuck! God! Shit! Shit! Shit!” He’s cursing out a violent diatribe against my mouth as his cock throbs so viciously that the thickness of it is a bit uncomfortable. Thank God! I’m going to pass out here on his lap! My orgasm subsides long before his does, but he’s still pumping up into me and pushing me down on his cock, his fingers still inside my clinching ass. I close my eyes tight and wait until he resorts to the breathless, post-orgasmic gasps, not wanting to interrupt his release. Once I hear the panting begin…

“Ow! Ow! Ow! Ow!” I sound like a cat. My ass tightening around his finger is very uncomfortable. He quickly removes his finger from my ass with no warning, causing me to yowl. That was the best way to do it, but it was still not pleasant. He peppers soft kisses on my lips and it feels like an apology. I melt into his lap and his arms, unable to protest in any way. As my body falls heavily on him, I can feel his erection still standing strong inside of me.

That’s impossible! He came! I felt him come! I know he did, but his cock is still as hard as steel.

At first, his kisses are tender, like he’s thanking me, worshipping me. A few minutes of that, and they become more intense, more demanding and hungry. I have no energy left and my legs fall to the sides of him. Noting my surrender, he lifts me from his lap and lays me on the bed on my side. God, I’m exhausted. I think he’s finally going to let me rest.

I think wrong.

Standing next to the bed, he leans over and sinks into me from behind. Fuck, I’m so sensitive from three orgasms that I hiss when he enters me. He leans on my right hip which pushes my left hip into the bed and presses my legs together, and he is thrusting, fucking me with long, deep, intense strokes intentionally massaging his entire dick with my tender pussy. With my legs pushed together, his dick is hitting every inner wall of my core. He wants to come again, and he’s fucking with just that specific intent.

And it’s hot.

As tired as I am, I feel myself rising again. I didn’t think that shit was possible, but here it is. My pussy lips feel hot as he’s using my body to get off, and his dick sliding into me sideways is hitting the most delicious sweet spot each time he sinks in balls deep. All I can do is lay here and enjoy the process, because if he doesn’t come first, I’m surely going to come again.

He drills and drills and thrusts and thrusts, never changing his stroke, and from the way he’s standing over me, I know that he’s watching his cock disappear into my pussy and reappear before he buries himself inside of me again. I grab the sheets as I feel his hips roll, chasing his release. My body responds involuntarily to his heightened, pre-orgasmic arousal and as his thrust quickens and his grind intensified, I grab a pillow and scream out my fourth orgasm.

Fourth! Dear God, man, arrête s’il-te-plaît!

Several punishing strokes later, Christian clenches my hip tightly with both hands and explodes violently inside of me. I’m too tired to even react. I’m exhausted and sore and I can’t keep my eyes open anymore…

*-*

Sunlight breeches my slumber and I open my eyes. I slept straight through the night without turning over once, as did my husband… I think. He’s still asleep. He’s spooning me, and I can feel his breath on my neck… and his morning wood right at my anus. Shit, I’m instantly hot, even after all that fucking last night. He’s hard as a rock and breathing that rhythmic, content breathing that indicates a deep sleep. We have about another hour before we even have to stir for breakfast and I am wet and on fire.

Should I wake him?

He had such a rough time yesterday that I just want to let him rest. He did his best not to complain, but he was definitely not a happy camper.

The Midwest morning sun seems a whole lot different to me. It’s not as comforting as the sunrise back home, although I’m biased. This place holds terrible vibes for my wing of the Grey family, and those vibes are rubbing off on me.

But right now, there’s something else rubbing off on me. It’s poking me in my ass, extremely close to a dripping wet and hot opening and try though I might, I can’t ignore it. If I just…

With my legs still together, I adjust my hips just a bit. I’m so wet that the head of his cock slips right into me. I gasp, then bury my mouth in my arm to muffle the sound.

He doesn’t move. His breathing remains even, but his cock twitches just a bit… too much for me.

I close my eyes and push back on him—slow and steady and taking him all the way to the balls. He groans deeply, then grunts, and when I pull back and push down on him again, he grabs my hip and moans, his fingers digging into my meat. I stroke him deep, riding him sideways hard and sweet, my eyes rolling back in my head as I cling to the sheets and savor each sensual, deep thrust. His hips remain still, but his cock gets harder… and harder… each breath releasing a lustful moan as I push my ass against his pelvis, taking his full shaft with each stroke. It’s fucking divine—and primal… unplanned and feral and sweet.

I’m getting wetter and hotter, and his cock is so hard that I feel him on every wall of me, his shaft rubbing perfectly against every hot spot with each entry and exit, just like last night. I roll my hips for massive stimulation and I get it, but he gets it, too. He forcibly grabs my shoulder and bends me slightly forward in the bed, causing my ass to stick out further. I oblige and use my hands to steady myself as I ride harder and faster against him. The friction is delicious and he’s filling me and filling me with every backwards thrust, bringing me higher and higher until…

“Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!”

I hear a primal, chesty, throaty growl behind me and a fearfully strong grip holds my hips in place. He’s pulsing and throbbing and coming inside me… a lot! Shit! I wasn’t done yet!

I can hear his teeth grinding as he holds me still and continues to squirt inside of me. I didn’t know he had that in him after last night! I try not to be frustrated with my interrupted and shortened ecstasy and allow him to ride out what is apparently a stiffening and crippling orgasm.

After several moments of grunting, pulsing, and coming, he grabs a handful of my hair with one hand—shocking the shit out of me, by the way—and pulls my head back. His lips and teeth lock down on the tender meat between my neck and shoulder and I gasp. With his dick still pulsing inside of me, he releases my hip and brings his hand to my breast, squeezing the mound and pinching my nipple… hard!

He pushes himself further into me and pulls out, then in again, and out—our intermingled juices coating his cock as he thrusts. He hisses through his nose with each stroke, his cock still tender no doubt as he squeezes out the last few moments of his orgasm. Thankfully, the onslaught is too much for me.

My chest releases its own sensual growl as the orgasm that I had been chasing crashes down on me. Christian releases something that sounds like a whimper and immobilizes me against his body, his mouth still locked on the same spot on my neck.

That’s going to leave a mark.

I quake through my orgasm, feeling my milk squirt involuntarily onto the sheets as it often does when I’m extremely stimulated… or coming violently. When the orgasm wanes, finally, we both lay there in breathless splendor, weak and completely spent—useless.

That moment lasts for about fifteen seconds before Christian wrenches his now-flaccid dick from my very tender vagina, the motion and the friction causing my body to twitch and protest madly. He leaps from the bed and darts to the en suite without even closing the door. I hear him relieve himself with a loud groan and a hiss and a whimper or three. It’s not really funny, but I still have to stifle a giggle.

I hear the water running—a little longer than usual—but assume that he’s washing his hands. I hear the water stop and a few moments later, the bed dips behind me. I’m shocked out of my post coital bliss by a bitterly cold cloth on my genitals.

Fucking hell!

“I figure if I needed it, you probably needed it more,” he says, coolly.

“A little warning next time?” I complain. He nods.

“Sorry,” he apologizes as he gently cleans my crotch with the cold cloth. It actually feels good—once you know it’s coming, that is.

“My muscles were so weak after that session,” he explains as he cleans. “I was afraid that I was going to piss us both.” I chuckle, noting to myself that I’ll have to use the facilities soon, too. “Don’t think I didn’t hear you laughing at me.”

“Is that why you assaulted me with a cold washcloth with no warning?” I ask. There’s momentary silence behind me.

“I hadn’t thought of it, but it serves you right,” he says. He completes his cleanup and slaps my ass. I jump.

“Ow!” I protest as I leap out of bed. He sits there looking at me impishly and I roll my eyes at him as I go to the en suite.

*-*

About an hour after our morning tryst, I’m sitting at the dining table wild-haired and wearing the white terrycloth robe, chomping on pancakes, bacon, and croissants just like Julia Roberts while talking to my billionaire. giphy

“So, what are you going to do today?” Christian asks, as he sips his coffee. We decided that he would go to the reading with his father and uncles without me. Giving him a task will keep him focused and he won’t be in Detroit. I think just having me here gives him strength… and our animal sex over the past several hours certainly didn’t hurt the situation.

“I’m in Michigan,” I say. “I hadn’t considered any social activities while I was here.” He nods.

“Jason and the Navigator will stay here with you,” he says. “Dad, Uncle Stan, and Uncle Herman are coming to pick me up before we head to the attorney’s office. Wu, I think his name is. After that, we’ll head to that investigator and see what we can find out. With the four of us together, I think we’ll be alright. I would prefer it if you didn’t go to the city, though,” he says without raising his eyes from his breakfast. There are a lot of cities in the area, but I know which one he’s referring to.

“I know there’s good shopping around, but I don’t know details, so you may want to ask Lana if she’s available. I’ll touch bases with you after we’ve talked to Best Shields Family Investigations.” Shit… didn’t he tell me that Best Shields is in Detroit? I reach across and take his hand.

“I can go with you if you want,” I remind him. “It’ll only take me a minute to get dressed.” He smiles.

“It’ll take you more than a minute, and I’ll be fine. I’ll be concentrating on Dad and my two uncles and the business at hand. I won’t have time to feel sorry for myself.”

“And Freeman,” I add. He twists his lips.

“Yes, and Freeman,” he admits. His cell phone rings and I can tell by his end of the conversation that his father and uncles have arrived. He finishes his coffee and gives me a deep, searing kiss before retrieving his coat and leaving the room.

Now, I’m alone.

I have no desire to explore Michigan. The place holds no splendor for me. So, once I’ve showered and dressed, my day will consist of working virtually with Helping Hands, ordering bonsai trees and Zen gardens for my office, and skyping with Ace.


CHRISTIAN

“Have either of you met this guy before?” Uncle Stan asks as we head to the attorney’s office.

“I have,” Uncle Herman replies. “He’s been Dad’s lawyer for years. We didn’t have much cause to talk to him—or so I thought—but when we did, he seemed like a real stand-up guy.”

“So, why didn’t you get your letters about the reading?” I ask.

“That’s what I intend to find out,” Dad says. I get the feeling that he’s ready to rip his brother apart and I only hope that he doesn’t do anything that will get him arrested.

We arrive at this beautiful, tall building in Troy about fifteen minutes later. Uncle Herman seems friendly with the receptionist and asks her to summon “Nathan,” but not to tell him who’s here. The eyelash-fluttering receptionist makes a call and we wait for the attorney.

“Who’s that handsome hunk of youngness?” she asks, gesturing towards me. Oh, dear God.

“That’s my nephew, Christian,” Uncle Herman say. I want to murder him. Why the hell did he tell this woman my name?

“Mm,” she says, examining me like a piece of meat. “He single?” Uncle Herman laughs.

“No,” I reply. “Very happily married with nine-month-old twins.”

“Mm,” she says again, twisting her lips. “Too bad. Denise is still single, you know.”

I wonder if Denise knows that you’re pimping her out to strangers.

“Herman…” A dark-haired Asian gentleman greets my uncle. “It’s good to see you again.” Uncle Herman takes his extended hand.

“It’s good to see you, too, Nathan,” he says, shaking his hand. “I wish it was under better circumstances.”

“Yes, I know,” Nathan agrees, “but his last conversation with me was pretty strained. It must be better than he’s not suffering anymore.”

“Hear, hear,” my father says softly, garnering the attorney’s attention.

“Nathan, this is my brother, Rick. Rick, this is Nathan Wu, Dad’s attorney.”

“Rick,” Wu says as if testing his name. “Carrick, yes.” He proffers his hand to Dad. “Burt spoke very fondly of you.” Dad raises his eyebrows.

“He did?” he asks.

“Yes, he did,” Wu says. “You made him a happy man.” Dad twists his lips. I don’t know if it’s disbelief or if he’s trying to keep from crying.

“This is my son, Christian Grey,” Dad says, turning the attention away from himself. I extend my hand.

“It a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Wu,” I say. He accepts my hand and shakes firmly.

“The pleasure is mine, Mr. Grey,” he says with a smile.

“This is Stan,” Uncle Herman continues. “I don’t think you’ve met him.”

“No, I haven’t. Stanley?” Wu extends his hand to Uncle Stan. “A pleasure, sir.”

“Thank you, Mr. Wu. Likewise,” Uncle Stan says.

“So, gentlemen, if you’ll follow me, we’ll get to the business at hand.” We fall in line behind Wu and just as we’re stepping off the elevator on the floor were the conference room is, I remember one crucial piece of information.

“Dad,” I say, catching his arm. “Restraining order.”

“Shit!” Dad hisses, and all three men stop and look at us. “Christian has a restraining order against Freeman.

“Shit, that’s right. I forgot,” Uncle Herman says.

“Christian has a restraining order against Freeman?” Uncle Stan asks incredulously.

“It’s a long story. I’ll tell you about it later,” Dad says. “Should he go back downstairs and wait?” he asks Uncle Herman.

“You’re here on official business,” Wu says. “He can stay on the floor,

but I wouldn’t recommend that he come in the room.” Dad nods.

“Is there a waiting room up here or something?” he asks. Yes, please don’t send me back down there with the matchmaking receptionist with the 50’s hairdo and way too much blue eye shadow.

“Do you want to watch the reading?” Wu asks.

“If I could,” I respond, “without violating my own restraining order.” Wu nods.

“You have no idea how many times this happens. Follow me.” We all follow Wu down the same hallway and through a door into a small room.

“This is our deposition room, but it doubles for family members who can’t stand being in the room with one another. I think this is one of those times.”

It’s a utilitarian room, with a table and comfortable chairs, and what looks like a large screen on one wall. In the screen, I see Freeman sitting at a table with his fingers entwined, almost looking like he’s the king of the world. God, I hate that jerk.

“You can see and hear what’s going on in the room next door. We can’t see or hear you unless you push that button over there to speak through the intercom… or bang on the wall.”

I nod, then must reassure my father that I’m fine.

“Dad, go,” I tell him. “I came out here for you, not for you to worry about me.” I shoo my father and uncles away and settle in to watch the show.

Moments after they leave the room, I watch Wu walk back into the conference room. The first in the room behind him is Uncle Stan, which doesn’t seem to affect Freeman too much. However, when my father and Uncle Herman walk into the room behind him, Freeman’s ears turn red and his face turns stark white.

“What’s the matter, Freem?” Uncle Stan says. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Yeah, Freem, what’s the matter?” Dad asks. “Surprised to see us?”

“Yeah, darndest thing happened,” Uncle Herman chimes. “We almost didn’t make it.”

All three brothers stand there waiting for a response from Freeman. He just tightens his lips and turns to a slightly confused Wu.

“Let’s get this done,” he barks, like he’s the only one in the room.

“Yes, let’s,” Dad says. “I’m anxious to see what Dad has to say.” Uncle Stan, Uncle Herman, and Dad all take seats next to each other and on the opposite side of the table from Freeman. My vantage point is right at the head of the table where Wu is sitting.

“Gentlemen, I must inform you that these proceedings are being recorded for legal purposes. If any of you object to being recorded, you may leave at this time.”

No one moves to leave, so Wu continues.

“No matter what you’ve seen on television and in the movies, there is normally no open and dramatic reading of the will,” Wu begins. “It is often determined by the executor that the will is valid with its authenticity and any question thereof established by a solicitor, attorney, or other legal expert. As I was present at the creation of this document, I can and do hereby attest to its validity. In addition, any beneficiaries are normally separately notified of their entitlements so that they can raise any questions or challenges early in the process. Burton’s final wishes were that you all be present for a formal reading of his last will and testament so that each person knows what the other is getting and hopefully eliminate the need for any challenges. Before we begin, are there any questions?”

“Yes. Can you tell me how I and my brother Herman were notified of the scheduled reading of my father’s will?” Dad asks. Wu’s brow furrows.

“By… certified mail,” he says, thumbing through the file. “I have a signed return card to indicate that you received it.” He hands my father a green card and Dad examines it.

“That’s not my signature,” he says. “What about my brother, Herman?” Wu rifles through the file again and hands a card to Uncle Herman.

“Nope, not me,” Uncle Herman says. “That’s not even how I sign my name.” He hands the card back to Wu. Wu examines the card and then looks through the file in front of him.

“You’re right,” he says, comparing the signature to something in the file. “That’s not the same signature.” Wu probably has at least a dozen documents signed by Uncle Herman.

“You’re going to want to hold on to those,” Dad says, handing his card back to Wu. “They’ll most likely become part of a criminal investigation.”

“A criminal investigation,” Freeman scoffs as Wu puts the cards away. “Why, because you threw back one too many and don’t remember signing for the letters? You probably signed for Herm’s, too, and now you’re too ashamed to admit that you don’t know what you did with them. What’s the matter, Rick? You paranoid?” he taunts.

“No, but you should be, Freem,” Dad retorts. “The criminal investigation is because somebody tampered with the US mail, and I intend to do everything in my power to find out who. Does (Private Eye) ring a bell?”

Freeman turns as pale as he did when Dad and Uncle Herman walked into the room with Uncle Stan.

“Yeah, we knew about you long before Nollie’s trust stopped paying for your dick!” Dad shoots.

Good one, Dad.

“I knew you had something to do with this,” Freeman hisses.

“No, who had something to do with it was your daughter,” Dad corrects him. “From what I hear, you never gave her enough credit and now, she’s languishing in your slow demise.”

“Nollie’s not smart enough to do this on her own,” Freeman shoots. “There must have been some help from your meddling ass bastard son.” God, he’s such a Grade-A asshole.

“That’s why you’re losing your family, Freeman,” Dad says, shaking his head. “You’re a walking, talking piece of shit. You’ve underestimated Nollie for years, and when she finally shows you what she’s made of, you take it out on your son. You’ve treated your wife like garbage for as far back as she can remember, and when she stands up to you, you destroy her most precious memories. And you have the nerve to talk badly about my son. I hope that little piece of ass that you’ve got stashed away keeps you warm at night, because that’s all you’ve got left!” Dad nearly growls the last words at his brother before turning to face the attorney.

“Mr. Wu let’s get this done,” he says. “I don’t want to be in the room with this man any longer than I have to.”

For the first time since I’ve known him, Freeman is stunned into silence. I don’t know if it’s because everything that Dad said about his family was right, or if he realized that his little twat isn’t going to keep him warm at night once she discovers that her sugar daddy well has run dry. He better hurry up and sell Pops’ house and hopes he gets some money from it. Then again, the IRS is probably going to suck that money from him and when they’re done, Nell will get a nice share of anything that’s left… I think.

Wu just opens his file and starts reading, completely unfazed. I’m sure he’s probably seen a whole lot more than this during his career as an estate attorney.

“I, Burton Jefferson Grey, with a place of residence of 1452 SE Shoreland Drive, Bellevue, Washington, 98004, being of sound mind and not acting under any duress or undue influence while fully understanding the nature and extent of all my property and of this disposition thereby, do hereby make, publish, and declare this document to be my last will and testament, and hereby revoke any and all other wills and codicils heretofore made by me, hereinafter known as the ‘Testator.’”

I watch Uncle Herman’s brow furrow.

“What’s wrong, Herm?” Dad asks.

“Excuse me for interrupting, Mr. Wu,” Uncle Herman says, “but the address on that will is Bellevue? Not Detroit?” Wu nods.

“Yes, that’s correct.” Uncle Herman falls back in his seat.

“What?” Uncle Stanley says.

“Dad did this within the last year,” he says.

“So?” Freeman nearly barks. “He was dying. It’s common for a man to get his affairs in order when he knows he’s dying.”

No one turns any attention to Freeman. They all know what Uncle Herman is saying. Yes, Pops was dying, but he had something to say and he knew that his will would be the last time that he would be heard. You can see each of the brothers steel themselves for whatever is about to be revealed while Freeman still sits haughtily on his side of the table… alone.

“I am not married,” Wu continues. “I have four children: Herman Grey, Freeman Grey, Carrick Grey, Stanley Grey. My children will be included as heirs in this last will and testament.”

“Hmph!” Freeman grunts. When no one reacts, Wu continues the reading with the usual legal inclusions—Uncle Herman as his executor and Wu as his second giving them all power to dispose of and execute his estate; that all of Pops’ estate expenses, medical bills, final arrangements and such should be covered from his estate; and that all beneficiaries must survive him by 30 days. Freeman perks up when he gets to the section of special bequests.

“To my eldest son, Herman: you have been my diligent caretaker and constant companion since I fell ill after your mother passed. There is no monetary sum or physical value that I can place on the love and never-ending devotion that you have shown to me all these years, never asking for anything in return and often putting my needs before your own. My biggest comfort besides the fact that my suffering is now over, and I can finally rest is that you will be able to live a full life in your golden years and love Luma and the girls freely and without reservation.”

Uncle Herman audibly chokes back tears, his body physically jerking. Stanley puts his hand on his brother’s back in obvious concern, but Uncle Herman slightly raises his own hand to indicate that he’s okay and signals Wu to continue.

“To you, Herman, I bequeath the contents of the safe deposit box at Chase Bank to retain or distribute as you see fit.”

Uncle Herman simply nods quickly, never raising his head, and I see a tear fall on the wood of the large oak table.

“To my third son, Carrick…”

“Third son?” Freeman interrupts angrily. Wu raises his eyes impatiently to Freeman.

“To my third son, Carrick…” he repeats, his eyes piercing. He appears to have had enough of Freeman’s attitude. “You welcomed me into your home even after we abandoned you for twenty-five years…”

“We didn’t abandon him! He left!” Freeman barks.

“No matter how your older brother, Freeman, feels about it,” Wu continues, “we let you down. We followed blindly and didn’t take action when we should have and because of that, I nearly missed meeting my grandchildren and their families.”

“He should…” Freeman starts.

“Shut up!” All three brothers bark at Freeman in one voice, and the shock causes him to shrink in his seat.

“Nonetheless, you and Gracie opened your arms, your home, and your heart to me as if no time had passed and your beautiful children and their families showed me more love than my heart could hold, no questions asked. I know it hurt you and Christian not being able to use your resources to extend my life, but my time had come, and you made my last days some of the best of my life, besides my time with my Ruby. You all gave me one of the most precious and treasured gifts I could ever imagine, and know that as I take my rest, I take that love and gratitude with me to share with Ruby when I see her again. Please give my Mia the biggest hug and kiss you can when you see her again and tell her that Grandad loved every second he spent with her, even those horrible vitamin drinks, because I knew she was doing it because she loved me.”

“Oh, Dad,” my father breathes heavily, barely able to sit up in his seat. Nobody says anything. Even Freeman’s smart mouth is sealed shut.

“To you, Carrick, I bequeath my model car collection. Nobody appreciated it like you and I hope you have as many fond memories of it as I do with you.”

Dad smiles widely as Wu reads that he’s receiving the collection. A look of warm nostalgia falls over his face as he gazes off in front of him. When the brothers look at him questioning, he turns to Uncle Stanley and Uncle Herman and coos, “You had to be there.” I’m dying to know the story behind these cars.

“To my youngest son, Stanley…”

“What the fuck?” Freeman hisses, and all three brothers throw a simultaneous death glare at him. He doesn’t respond, but his ire still shows on his face.

“My dear, sweet, gentle Stanley, I know I haven’t seen you much in the recent months, but I must tell you, son. It’s time to stand up and be who you need to be. You have a heart of gold and a flame of love and creativity that has the ability to burn brighter than the brightest wildfire, but you’re hiding it under a bushel. Lana adores you and you have proven time and again that you are a kind, loving, caring and doting father. Stop allowing people to turn your kindness into weakness. You deserve better and I know that you can achieve it. No matter what, my gentle prince, I’m proud of you. Know that I was proud of you them moment I breathed my last breath, and Ruby and I will be looking down on you waiting for that greatness that I know is inside you to be released. You know what I mean, son.”

“Yeah, Dad,” Stanley whispers, “I know what you mean.” After a brief moment of silence, Wu continues to read.

“To you, Stanley, I bequeath your mother’s pearl jewelry collection and her antique ring. I’ve seen the way Lana admired them when Ruby was alive, but I was unable to part with them while I was living. Now, I’m sure Ruby will be proud to see her precious pieces gracing the neck of your beautiful wife. I also bequeath you your mother’s collection of her original paintings. I’ve kept them in preserved storage all this time, also unable to part with them before I shed my earthly coil. Now that I’m with my Ruby, I know in my heart that you’ll appreciate your mom’s work. As always, hang loose, son.”

“Mom’s paintings,” Stanley says, wistfully awestruck. “Oh, dear God… he kept Mom’s paintings… for me!”

He says nothing about the antique and probably priceless jewelry that will be gifted to his wife—only the work of his mother’s hands that lived on as her legacy after she has passed away.

“To my second son, Freeman…”


A/N: “Oh mon Dieu”—”Oh, my God “

“Arrête s’il-te-plaît!”—”Stop, please!”

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 ~~love and handcuffs