Raising Grey: Chapter 55—Untitled

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My mind…

Again, the email will go out later. It’s late as hell and I’m tired as fuck.

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 55—Untitled

CHRISTIAN

It’s evening now, and I haven’t left Tina’s house all day. Smalls called to tell me that Uncle Stanley has identified all the cars and located the keys and titles, but of course, the batteries are all dead and must be charged or replaced before the cars can be moved. I tell him to follow Uncle Stanley’s instructions on the cars as I have my hands full sniffing out espionage here in the Franklin home. I’ll have to deal with the storage facility when I get home… or tomorrow.

The bugs and surveillance devices planted around the house were pretty amateur devices, but there were a lot of them—cameras to catch every angle and listening devices to catch every word. They were so substandard that they had to be placed every few feet to catch conversations. A professional would have been able to set up the proper equipment with one camera—maybe two—and one listening device. These things were sprinkled all over the damn rooms, Harmony’s and Tina’s room in particular, and it turns out that the other two main rooms that Tina inhabits are the library and the parlor on the second floor, both hot as Jason calls it.

Once we’re certain that we’ve removed all the devices and we’ve done a final sweep, I send Roger to the bathroom with one of his guards to wash his face. He looks like shit, but the bleeding has stopped and there’s no need for stitches. I take him to the bar so we can have a little chat, pour him a shot which he refuses to drink, and then remove my suitcoat and vest. I roll up my sleeves and tell him that I’m prepared to beat him until every inch of his body looks like his mouth and then turn him over to the two very unhappy guards that had to babysit him all day if he doesn’t tell me every fucking detail that he knows, and to be careful not to leave anything out.

“You know every fucking thing that happens in this house. Nothing gets by you and I know you know about this, so start talking!”

He starts talking and doesn’t stop for a straight hour. I had to turn on the camera on my phone to capture everything. I didn’t intend to—I just wanted to know if he was working with anyone. Not only did I find out who he was working with and what their plans were, but I also got a complete recorded confession. It may not hold up in a court of law, I don’t know, but it’s enough for a bluff, and enough of an insurance policy to drive home the point that I’m about to make.

“Is that everything, you piece of shit? Because if I discover one tiny little detail that you didn’t tell me, I’m coming after you wherever you are in the world, because you sure as hell won’t be here. You got that?”

“Th-that’s everything,” he stutters. I stop the recording.

“I don’t like you,” I say. “I don’t trust you. I would gladly pay any amount of money to make you disappear—not to you, to someone who could make it happen for me. You took advantage of a very sweet woman who has done nothing but help people since the day I met her, and I can’t even fathom why, nor do I want to know. So, here’s what’s going to happen now, you goddamn parasite.

“I’m going to allow you to stand up and walk out of this room. The two gentlemen who have been your companions for the day are going to accompany you to your quarters where you will pack your things and leave this house. I never want to hear your name or see your face ever again in my life. So, that means that if you leave this house talking shit to anybody about me or this family, remember that I have a recording that can go viral and make your fucking life a living fucking hell, not to mention that I’m sure that my attorney can find some kind of charge or lawsuit against you for the invasion of this family’s privacy—an opportunity that I’m certain Harmony would be too eager to exploit once her mother has passed on.

“But if all else fails, let’s not discount the fact that I will hunt you down like the worthless dog that you are!”

I pause for a moment and glare at him, observing the beads of sweat forming on his forehead and the droplets sliding down his temples.

“I don’t know what kind of power you think you had, but you didn’t bank on a ruthless motherfucker like me… did you?”

I pause for a few moments more to let that sink in before deciding that I’ve had enough of this poser.

“Never darken this family’s door again and if you do, may God have mercy on your miserable soul. You have one hour to pack what you can and get the hell out of here. Any questions, Roger, or do I need to show you just how pissed off I really am?”

Roger’s face is clammy and pale when he leaves the house exactly an hour later. I’ll have him watched, but his tactics and techniques thus far show me that he’s not going to be a problem. A little while later, the rest of the staff returns and Aunt Tina—after having had a restful day and afternoon—is alert enough to explain to them that Roger is gone, and a temporary replacement will be here in the morning. Nothing else is said about the matter.

It’s after dinner when we wrap everything up and prepare to head to the Crossing. Jason has arranged for the shifts of security at Aunt Tina’s house and I’ll arrange for Windsor to come in the morning. The house isn’t in too bad a state of disarray, although there was a bit of collateral damage in the library and in Harmony’s room removing the video equipment. I’ve arranged for those repairs to be done over the weekend.

“Do we have any idea what he was doing with all this stuff?” Harmony asks. I don’t really know what to tell her right now. I have to process the information that asshole gave me and see if we can pull any footage from the equipment we’ve confiscated from him. No doubt, the little worm got pictures of her dressing and intimate moments when she was alone… who knows what else.

“Once I have my people analyze the information, we’ll have more answers,” I tell her. I know who he was in cahoots with, and I’m not really sure that I want to reveal that right now. In fact, I’m certain that I don’t.

“Well,” she begins, “I don’t know how to thank you for what you’ve done. There’s no telling what he would have done had you not found him out.” Her voice softens, and I see the change in her eyes.

Oh, shit, I lament inwardly.

“Tina means a lot to me,” I tell her. “I don’t know what his plans were after her passing, but they sure as hell couldn’t have been good.”

“Well,” she says, closing the space between us and flashing large, blue pupils at me, “If there’s anything I can do to make it up to you…” She allows her sentence to trail off. There’s no mistaking what she’s referring to, and I’m going to nip this shit in the bud right here and now.

“Harmony, I care very much about your mother, but I’m a very happily married man and you’ve met my wife. You must know this isn’t going anywhere.”

As if snapping out of a trance, her eyes change again, and her hands cover her face.

“Oh, God, what the hell am I doing?” she laments deeply. Ooooookay, is this like a multiple personality thing?

“Please… oh, please pretend that didn’t just happen,” she begs. “I… I don’t know what’s wrong,” her voice is sober as she turns away from me. “It’s been like this ever since I was twelve years old. Too young for sex, right? Wrong! I never figured out this need to have everybody want me, but it’s there… and I fight it every day. That’s how Ken was able to get in. He just showed me more attention than the other guys and that was all I needed. And you…” She turns around to face me.

“You’re extremely attractive, Christian, but really—I don’t want you that way. If anything, I might be feeling a little hero worship because you effectively saved us from the bad guy, but that whole bitch-in-heat thing…”

She shakes her head and sighs. She’s obviously embarrassed by her behavior… and she obviously has a problem.

“And Ana… Oh God, I would never hurt Ana,” she groans, shaking her head. “She’s been so nice to me.” She raises her eyes to me again. “Old habits are hard to break… dumb ones, even harder. Please, forgive me.” I sigh.

“You need to talk to somebody about this,” I tell her. She sighs.

“I think it may be too late for me,” she says.

“If you really believe that, then you’re studying the wrong thing,” I inform her. “It’s never too late, and you need to talk to somebody… although, under the circumstances, I wouldn’t recommend my wife.”

“Do I look insane to you?” she asks, her eyes wide. “I realize that judging by my recent behavior, I may appear a bit unstable, but off my rocker I am not. Probably not a good idea to tell my hopeful mentor that I came onto her husband like a classless hoochie. Yeah, no… Just please, forget this ever happened and never ever mention it again. I mean never ever ever ever… like ever!” She truly sounds disgusted with herself, and I believe she’s contrite.

“I won’t mention that this happened, as long as it never, ever, ever happens again! Like ever!” I say, pointing at her. “You need to understand that my wife and I just went through something almost identical to this and we’re still recoiling from the effects. The only reason why I’m not mentioning this to her is because I think it’ll do more harm than good but make no mistake. I will not hesitate to tell her every tiny little sordid detail if you ever do this again.”

“Christian, if I’m dumb enough to come onto you again, I’ll tell her before you get the chance,” she says.

“You’ve admitted you have a problem, Harmony. You’re going to be a target, because your about to be an heiress. Get some help before you fall into the clutches of another Ken. I’m very serious about this. She sighs.

“Any suggestions?” she asks.

“Unfortunately, no. I really think you should do some research and find someone that you feel comfortable with.” I stand and button my suit jacket. “I have to go. My wife is going to think I fell off the face of the earth.” She nods but doesn’t stand, dropping her gaze.

“If it’s okay, can Melinda show you out? I’m feeling a bit…” She lets her sentence trail off again.

“Don’t let this prevent you from calling me or Ana if you need something.” She nods and quickly wipes a tear away that has escaped from her eye. I think she’s suffered enough. I leave the room and head for the front door.

*-*

“I have something to tell you, Christian, and I really don’t want any shit from you about it.”

I’ve barely gotten into the house when I’m greeted in my study by my agitated wife. I haven’t even removed my jacket yet. I examine her stance and I’m more than surprised at her statement. However, noting her exasperated tone, I now want to know what she has to tell me.

“O… kay,” I reply reluctantly, taking my seat and unbuttoning my jacket.

“I went to visit someone today,” she says, walking into the office and taking a seat in one of the chairs in front of my desk. She looks around my office as if she’s examining the room. You’ve been in here a hundred times, Butterfly. Get on with it.

“And who did you visit?” I ask, trying to bring her back on track.

“Kenneth Carter,” she says, bringing her gaze back to mine while crossing her legs at the knee and sitting back in her seat. My brow furrows.

“Kenneth Carter?” I question. “Why the hell did you go see him?” She raises a brow at me.

“You know who he is?” she retorts. I fold my arms.

“I just found out today,” I inform her. How the hell does she know who he is?

“How did you find out?” she asks.

“We’re getting off track,” I say, reining in my impatience. “Why don’t you tell me why you went to visit Harmony’s husband first before we get into a second discussion…” and why the fuck am I just now hearing about this.

“I went to confront him,” she says. “I know that he’s holding out trying to get some money from Harmony’s inheritance. And if her previous lawyer was working both sides, he also knows that he can’t touch that money. So, his only other option is to antagonize her until she gives in and pays him off. I let him know that’s not going to happen and that he should just go on and sign the divorce papers.” Oh, for fuck’s sake.

“And how did he take that news?” I ask sarcastically.

“Not very well,” she responds, unfazed by my sarcasm. “He threatened to drag the divorce out indefinitely, holding her life hostage for as long as he felt so inclined.” Oh, this fucker is going to need a visit from me, I see.

“I know that look,” she says. “Your appearance won’t do anything that mine didn’t already do.” I raise my brow at her.

“No offense, Butterfly, but… you’re a woman—a beautiful woman, but a woman nonetheless. Guys like that who like to victimize women, you don’t scare him.” Butterfly laughs knowingly, causing me to frown. What so damn funny?

“And that, my chauvinistic husband, is the exact reason why he’s going to sign those divorce papers. He may not sign them until Tuesday or Wednesday morning, but he’s going to sign them.” She smiles victoriously at me. What in the hell?

“And what makes you so sure?” I ask, leaning forward on my desk and clasping my hands together.

“That bravado thing you’ve got going on, that’s exactly what he expects. He’s totally expecting for some goon to come up to him with the ‘leave the little lady alone’ gig. I’m willing to bet that he’s taken more than a few ass whippings in his day and it doesn’t faze him. If you can take a hit, the threat of another hit doesn’t do much. However…”

She leans forward in her seat, elbows on the armrest and both Louboutin-clad feet flat on the floor.

“A ‘little lady’ looking you square in your eye and telling you to back the fuck off because her dick is bigger than yours, that gives you cause for pause.”

I glare at her, my eyes wide. What in the ever-loving fuck?

“You said that?” I ask incredulously.

“I did,” she replies, sitting back in the seat again and crossing her legs. “I let him know that I once knew somebody just like him and made it no secret that the fucker is dead now. I advised him to sign the papers and move on or his next visit may not be flowers and a chat…”

“Wait, wait, wait… you sent him flowers?” I ask incredulously.

“From a street vendor outside his office,” she replies. “It was the only way to get him outside.”

“Flowers brought him outside.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“No, the accompanying note that said he’s a piece of shit brought him outside.”

Who is this woman and what has she done with my wife?

“So,” she continues, “Now you’ve got this cocky ass bitch in a $3000 Tom Ford suit and a $1000 pair of Louboutins with the backdrop of a $70,000 Audi—and two better-than-six-foot-goons—telling you that she won’t piss with you because you don’t have the equipment. That’s more than a little bit scary if for no other reason except fear of the unknown.

“You could be seven feet tall and show up dressed like Rambo with a bazooka strapped to your back and it still wouldn’t have been as effective as my visit today. I can guarantee you that. He knows what to expect when he’s confronted with the Bens and the Chucks and the Jasons and the Christian Greys. He knows what’s coming. He may not fully know how bad it can get, but he knows what’s coming. But a cocky woman? One who gets in his face and won’t stand down? He doesn’t know what to do with that. He’s accustomed to the young Harmony’s and girls like her who cede to his ‘wisdom.’ A ‘get in your face’ bitch who’s warning you off? Totally out of his league.”

I twist my lips. I think he was just ogling her body and she mistook his speechlessness for fear.

“And the signing on Tuesday?” I begin, still disbelieving of her effectiveness with this asshole. “Is there a court date on Tuesday?”

“Not that I know of, but he will have seen that special by then and me blowing the heads off targets several feet away.”

“And what if he decides to go public with your threat?” I caution.

“Who’s going to believe him?” she retorts. “He asked who I was, I told him to watch Monday night and find out. That night or the next day, he files a report that the girl on TV threatened him, much less Anastasia Grey. I’m questioning his mental capacity and I know I did it.”

I roll my eyes. I so want to chain her to a wall and flog her right now. This was ridiculous, and it could have been disastrous had this asshole had any balls.

“Now, how do you know who he is?” she asks. I shake my head.

“We found upwards of a hundred audio and visual recording devices in Tina’s house. Roger had his hand in the scheme, whatever it was in its entirety. I’ll give you one guess who his accomplice was.” She thinks for a moment, then her eyes widen.

“Kenneth?” she asks incredulously. “Kenneth Carter?” I nod. “He was spying on them? Why?” I shrug.

“Maybe to get some footage of Harmony that he could use in court; maybe to get his hands on Aunt Tina’s money. We don’t know. All the information that we gathered is on the way to the GEH lab.”

“And Robert… or Roger… or whatever his name is?” she asks.

“He was a good little puppy,” I reply. “I got a recorded confession from him that’s going to make it much easier to analyze any data we gather. He spilled his guts, so I’m sure that whatever we don’t know, we can figure out.”

“Hmm,” she says.

“Hmm, what?” I ask.

“Over a hundred recording devices. How did that guy do that all by himself with no help? I can’t see Kenneth strolling into the Franklin mansion and offering to help him plant bugs and listening devices without drawing attention to himself. Hell, I don’t see that narcissistic asshole helping with anything.” That’s a good point.

“All the rooms that were bugged are generally unoccupied most of the time except for Harmony’s and Aunt Tina’s bedrooms. Harmony’s bedroom was bugged before she arrived—Roger wouldn’t let her move into any other room except back into her own. Aunt Tina’s, we’re thinking that was bugged while she was in the hospital or seeing a doctor or even at a social event, like Mia’s wedding. We’ll be able to get a time frame once the data is organized.”

“How long will that take?” she asks.

“Barney’s going to have a team working on it, but there’s no way to tell right now. What’s most important is that we got that asshole and his bugs out of the house. So, Windsor will be starting over there tomorrow morning.” She nods. She stands from her seat and I think she’s about to leave, but instead she starts pacing the floor. She stops and put her hands on the back of the chair.

“Christian, that day that I was interviewing with your ex-submissive… what was her name?” Where the hell is this going?

“Sarah,” I say cautiously. “Bradley.” She nods.

“How long did it take you to find out who she was?” she asks.

“That’s hard to say,” I reply. “We had a preliminary background check on her, but…”

“No, no, no, that’s not what I’m asking,” she stops me. “You knew that Sarah Bradley was your ex-submissive, but you didn’t know that Ashanda Beasley was Sarah Bradley. So, how long did it take that information to trickle down to you?”

“Uh, I guess immediately,” I say hesitantly. “As soon as Jason discovered that they were one and the same, he brought it to my attention. You were already in the interview by then.” She nods.

“I see,” she observes. “So, I know that you’re just finding out about today because I’m telling you. But normally, you found out my comings and goings and situations immediately, as with the Sarah Bradley occurrence.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“Normally, yes.” She nods again.

“So… when did you find out that I had fallen off that cliff?” she asks, her words sounding like she had to push them out of her mouth. I don’t know what this has to do with what happened today, but I tell her the truth.

“The day before I left Madrid,” I say. “It took that long to get the plane ready to get back here or I would have been here sooner.” She frowns deeply.

“So, you got back here on Thursday, but you found out on Tuesday,” she deduces. She’s not wrong, so I don’t interject. “I fell off that cliff on Friday night. Why did it take so long for you to find out? They tell you everything else almost the very minute it happens, and it takes you four days to find out about my near-death experience?” I sigh.

“It’s hard to explain, but yes, it did,” I confess. “There really is no good explanation for it—not one that would appease you right now but know that I came home the moment I found out.” She twists her lips and nods. She turns and walks to the door.

“Butterfly?” She puts her hand up without turning around, signaling that the conversation is affectively over, and leaves my office.

Well, isn’t this just fucking great.

“Activate two-way communications,” I growl into the air. When the system comes to life, I summon a soon-to-be-dismissed CPO.

“Davenport…”

“Bring your boss and get to my office… now!”

*-*

“Nobody thought I should know about this?” I seethe at Jason and Chuck after I apprise them that I’m now aware of how my wife spent her afternoon.

“You realize that you two have us between a rock and a hard place, don’t you, sir?” Chuck replies.

“I don’t need your rhetoric right now!” I bark. “I want an answer to a very simple question.”

“It’s. Not. Rhetoric,” Chuck says, firmly, pulling himself up to his full height. “It’s a valid question, and it is an answer to yours.” I raise a brow at him. Is he looking for some time off because he’s pissing me off right now.

“She asked me if we tell her every move that you make,” he continues, unfazed, “and we don’t, and she knows that we don’t. So, her next question was that if she was supposed to be my boss just like you, then why should her every move be clocked back to you.”

“But you are supposed to clock her moves back to me,” Jason interjects. “That’s your job.”

“And I did,” Chuck defends. “My daily log shows where we went and who we talked to. I just didn’t tell you the moment that it happened. There was no violence. Nobody got hurt. No one was in danger. There was no need to notify anybody of anything, except for my log.”

“And that’s where you’re wrong,” Jason says. “You should have told me that you all were going into a volatile situation.”

“And that’s where we disagree,” Chuck retorts. “The situation wasn’t volatile. It was one guy who had no idea we were coming and three of us—all with guns…”

“Butterfly had her gun?” I interrupt. Chuck turns an incredulous glare at me.

“No offense, sir, but what do you think?” he replies. I roll my eyes. I so want to reprimand him right now.

“Regardless, Chuck, you were in a situation where you should have checked in,” Jason chides. Chuck shrugs.

“Once again, rock and a hard place. Had I checked in with you, you would have told him, and he would have called her,” he says gesturing to me. “You and I have been doing this long enough to know that if a subject doesn’t want to be guarded, they won’t be guarded; that there’s nothing worse than an uncooperative client; and that short of putting a microchip in her ear, she would be unmanageable and untamable if we tried to clock her every move and report her bathroom breaks back to you without allowing her some kind of freedom to move.”

“She has freedom to move,” I correct him firmly.

“Not if we tell you every little thing that she’s doing,” he interjects. “And if you think for one minute that that little ball of genius fire won’t find a way to give us the slip—putting herself and maybe even her children in danger—just so that she can have a moment of privacy, you’re wrong.”

I can’t even argue with him. She looked me square in the eye and told me that she’d shoot one of my guards in the foot if they followed her to the aquarium. It was the one time we let her out of our sight, and she got kidnapped. And we won’t even talk about her sneaking away and nearly falling to her death off a damn cliff when I skipped town. And now, she appears to be angry with me for not knowing that immediately. It looks like I didn’t care. It’s hard to believe that I didn’t know she fell off that cliff the moment it happened, yet it takes me nearly a week to get back home… for her to even hear from me…

“Sir?” Jason’s voice breaks me out of my inner musings.

“Do we already have a guy on Carter?” I ask, exacerbated.

“We’re putting him in place now. We had to ascertain where he spent the evening.” I thrust my hands in my hair.

“She confronted the fucker,” I say to no one in particular. I really don’t know whether to be proud or pissed. I look at Chuck. “How did he seem to you?”

“Perplexed,” Chuck replies without hesitation. “At first, he came out of the building all macho—looking into the car and trying to see who was in there. He certainly didn’t expect to see her. And when he did, he tried to act Cro-Magnon for a minute or two, but it fell to the ground really fast. First off, he’s a little guy—5’7’ or 5’8” maybe, 5”10’ at the tallest, so she was staring him right in the eye in those sky-high shoes she wears. Second, he’s all ‘open this goddamn door’ until Ben and I emerged from the car. I know that our presence only made him physically behave himself, but he was still a cocky asshole to Ana.

“She was having none of it. The way she laughed at his attempts at superiority and compared him to a currently dead man, he should have shrunk away quietly back to his desk. But when he asked who she was, and she didn’t tell him, just said, ‘Watch on Monday on channel 9,’ it was the biggest blow off you’ve ever seen. The whole conversation was reminiscent of Oren Ishii.”

Oren Ishii—I’ve heard that name, but I can’t recall it right now. My expression must have given away my confusion.

“Head of the Yakuza Council of Bosses? Kill Bill?” Jason says. I raise my brow to Chuck.

“When she quickly and calmly takes Tanaka’s head at the dinner table, then warns the rest of the council against crossing her?”

“That brutal?” I ask.

“No blood, but yes—the conversation was short, not so sweet, and just as brutal. If there had been any melee involved, he’d look like one of the Crazy 88 right now.”

Now, I know who they are.

“I’m confused,” I say. “Butterfly just left me with the impression that you two didn’t really have any effect on him. Even you said that your presence only made him behave himself physically. So, you’re telling me that this little woman, her mouth, her power suit, and her Louboutins made this man heel?” Chuck shifts his weight and sighs.

“There are two types of men in the world, sir. First, there’s the type that get hard when they see a hot woman with a nice rack and a gun holster wrapped around it—no offense. Then, there’s… the other guys, who have no fucking idea what to do with a strong woman standing in front of them, much less a very little one, packing heat and telling him that his Johnson is inadequate. Guess which one he is.”

“So… he saw her gun,” I conclude.

“No, he saw her rack… and then he saw her holster. She kept the gun hidden, but you knew what was in there.”

“And…?”

“Well, he’s already kinda pale, but he got paler,” Chuck confirms. “There were a few words exchanged, mostly from Ana, and then we left him there dumbfounded with his flowers all over the ground.” He turns to Jason. “There was no situation. She said what she had to say, and we left. We discussed the position that she was putting me in by telling me not to report in on the incident and she instructed me that just like you’re the boss…” He points to me, “… she’s the boss, and she doesn’t want her every move reported except on the log that I’m required to submit every day, particularly if there’s no immediate danger. Now, if that’s not the case, sir, you’re going to have to be the one to tell her.”

Pussy.

But he’s right. I’m the one who told everybody at GEH that she’s the boss just like me and to treat her the same way that they would treat me. We’re going to have to talk about some guidelines here or I’m going to be losing my mind every day worrying if she’s doing anything that will have consequences later.

But overall, I’ve chosen “proud” over “pissed.”


ANASTASIA

I don’t know which is worse—thinking that he didn’t know whether I lived or died, that he didn’t care, or finding out that he didn’t even know that I could have died until four days after the fact. What the hell was going on that he had no fucking clue? The man knows when I go shopping but had no idea that I nearly fell to my death off a fucking cliff?

I’m sitting in the small library that we never use looking out over the lake. I actually forgot this room was here. We turned the other library into Marilyn’s office and this room just seemed to cease to exist. It’s the perfect place to disappear until and if the babies stir.

They don’t… or the nannies were already nearby when they did, and I wasn’t disturbed by the two-way.

Either way, I have plenty of time to dwell on the latest version of the Boogeyman stalking me right now. What the hell was going on in Madrid that my husband had no idea that I nearly died until four days after the fact?

If this was some minute detail of some sort that slipped through the cracks, I wouldn’t be concerned, but this was big, and my husband is a goddamn control freak! Does that mean that had something happened to our children, he wouldn’t have known that either? Or was it just me? Did he just not care about me?

He could have called and checked on me; asked if I was okay; let me know that he had only just found out about my accident and apologized for not being here or not being available. He could have told me that he was looking to get the next flight out of there, but instead, he counted on the shock value of me seeing him—made me wait for two more days in uncertainty and agony while he made his way back to Seattle. He may have been able to help avoid some of the effects of the Boogeyman, but now we’ll never know.

And he wonders why I have such a hard time putting all my trust back in him.

Come on, now. He’s clearly seen the err of his ways and he’s trying to rebuild things with you. Why must you be so damn difficult?
I’m not being difficult. I’m being cautious. I’m trying to protect myself from falling into oblivion again should Christian Grey feel like I’ve committed some egregious crime that warrants his disappearing and incommunicado act again.
You’re being difficult! And you’re being ridiculous and paranoid! Shit happens! Shit will continue to happen! If you build a bubble around yourself to protect yourself from all harm and danger, guess what? Shit will still happen in that bubble! You need to do whatever you must to get your head out of your ass. This isn’t you and you know it! Are you going to spend your life hiding? Get your shit together! This has gone on long enough.

And the Bitch is the voice of Anastasia Steele. Jesus, she makes so much sense, but I just can’t seem to find her when I feel like the fucking sky is falling.

Get your shit together!
Get your shit together!
Get your shit together!
Get your fucking shit together!

Even the Bitch is trying to tell me to get my act together, but I don’t know what to do. One minute, I’m sitting on top of the world, the most powerful bitch in existence. The next minute, I’m falling through the abyss all over again. I’m afraid this entire situation has made me bipolar. That would be the very worst.

I don’t know how long I’ve sat in the library. It’s quite dark out and I don’t hear anything. I make my way to the kitchen and discover that everything and everyone has shut down for the night. It’s later than I thought. I make myself a sandwich and a cranberry spritzer and eat it quickly, taking my spritzer to my room with me.

For once, my husband has beaten me to bed and he’s fast asleep. I don’t shower. I’m suddenly very tired. I just put on a nightshirt and climb into bed. In no time flat, I fall asleep.

I don’t stir in the morning when he kisses my cheek. I can smell his shower gel and his cologne, and I know that he’s dressed for work. He can probably tell that I’m playing possum… he always could, but he doesn’t let on. He simply brushes my hair out of my face.

“I love you,” he says softly before kissing me on my forehead and quietly leaving the room. I open my eyes and continue to lie in bed, careful not to move in case he’s standing behind me waiting to see if I’ll stir once he’s gone. The thoughts from last night—all the unanswered questions—begin swirling in my head again.

Why didn’t he call to check on me?
Why didn’t he let someone know that he was on his way home?
Did he truly hate me that much—even for a moment—that he didn’t care if I lived or died?
What happens if I sincerely displease him again? Is this what I have to look forward to?

The two-way stops my inner questions and gives me a reason to stir.

“Ana,” I say into the air, my voice sounding sleepier that I really am. Minnie’s cooing comes through the two-way and I stretch long and hard on the bed. I throw my legs over the edge and step into my slippers. In only my nightshirt—and slippers—I go and retrieve my child.

Wade from the movers show up around noon and Luma and I show them what’s going to Helping Hands and what needs to be moved to another room to come back into the office once the space is finished. I’m in a bit of a fog, and I forgot that I must tell my husband that the contractor will be descending upon us tomorrow to redo my office. As it turns out, the bookshelves with get a serious overhaul, but we’ve decided not to rip them out.

Too bad the anticipation is doing absolutely nothing for my mood.

Luma has ordered all my furniture and décor and it will be delivered and assembled as needed. I don’t know if Marilyn will be back by then, but I totally suspect that she won’t, so I already plan to don my jeans and a T-shirt and get my hands dirty putting my office back together as I won’t keep Luma from Andrea for another day. I’ll tackle the problem of maybe needing a new assistant next week. Right now, I’ve got some bigger fish to fry.

I’m jumping out of my skin when Chuck parks the car in the parking lot. I need to talk to my shrink in the worst way. This latest development has me such that I don’t know if I’m coming or going.

“Hi, Ana,” Amber says, cheerfully. “You’re early.”

“Yeah, I just didn’t want to be late,” I tell her. It’s partially true. I just didn’t know what else to do and I really need to talk to Ace. She smiles. Her face is getting fuller with the pregnancy, but I dare not tell her that.

“Can I get you something?” she asks. “Coffee? Tea? Water?” She holds up a tray from her desk. “A cookie?”

“No, thank you,” I reply and take a seat in the waiting room, thumbing mindlessly through an old issue of Psychology Today. There’re some really good articles in this issue, but I never understood the thinking of doctors and shrinks who place practice-related magazines in their waiting rooms. I always had Time, Essence, People in my waiting room. The only people that want to read Psychology Today are mental health professionals. The professionals are in the office! Who’s in the damn waiting room?

Anyway, I get lost in an article about parents’ gross misconception of their children, how they always think their kids are brighter and better than others in some way and they often get it wrong. Of course, you love your own child more than any other child in the whole wide world, but this often leads to common misperceptions about who your child really is and what their future will be. The article is very informative to me as a new mother, but it’s written in a tone that I as a psychiatrist would understand—not a layperson. So, why would he subscribe to this magazine, obviously read the articles, and then leave it in the lobby for his patients to read and just go, “Well, they don’t understand my little Johnny, so I’m just going to ignore this?” On top of that, it kind of lights a fire under an already loaded powder keg just before an agitated patient goes into their session.

Like now.

“Your reading material is crap,” I inform him when I get into his inner office. He frowns.

“Excuse me?” he says, taken aback as he takes his seat.

“You’ve got a July issue of Psychology Today out there that basically says that parents don’t thoroughly understand their children. As a psychiatrist, I totally got what the article was saying and plan to apply the information to my own situations with my children in the future. As a mother, totally eliminating the whole med-school-psychiatry thing, my first response was, ‘This is a bunch of bullshit. How can these Harvard assholes think they know what’s best for me and my kids and they haven’t even met my kids?’ They’re saying that if I say that Mikey is gifted, I’m only saying it because he’s my child, not because I’ve seen some extraordinary display that may indicate that my son is actually gifted. Most parents would look at that and say, ‘You’re full of shit and you don’t know what you’re talking about’ and completely squash the whole thing.”

“And you seem to be taking that pretty personally,” he observes.

“Hey, I’m not trying to start a fight about it. I’m just informing you that it’s bullshit to be sitting in your waiting room,” I retort.

“You just said that you were going to put some of the information to use,” he defends.

“I also said that as a layperson and mother, I would find it to be crap, but as a psychiatrist, I understand. Exactly how many psychiatrists come through your waiting room?” I’ll wait.

He twists his lips and diverts his gaze from me. Ana—1, Ace—0.

“Point taken,” he says, crossing his legs. “So, besides dismantling my reading material, what are we discussing today.

I’m soon to discover that my victory will be quite short-lived.

“The Boogeyman,” I reply.

“Okay,” he says, unfazed. “Tell me what’s going on.”

“Well, there’s something going on with Grey House that had Christian come home and fuck me like he was never going to see me again right before Jason fucking quadrupled everyone’s security detail.”

Ace is a bit horrified.

“Um… okay,” he says, “and this obviously unnerves you.”

“They brought the security back to a reasonable increase instead of an entourage after I refused to go in to work, but I don’t know if that was because I wouldn’t leave the house or because Jason was overreacting, and we really didn’t need that much security. Nonetheless, that’s kind of hovering over me and making me feel nervous. But…”

“But what?” he asks, after I pause. I stand and start pacing.

“I’m worried that I might be bipolar,” I admit. “One minute, everything is okay and the next minute, I’m scared out of my drawers and won’t leave my room. I know that mood swings are normal, especially when something traumatic happens, but is it supposed to be this crazy?” Even as a professional, I can’t answer that question.

“I’m fairly certain that you’re not bipolar, Ana,” Ace says, “but that of course doesn’t dismiss that your drastic mood swings may need addressing. We both know that a hugely traumatic experience can cause a chemical imbalance, and it’s something that we may want to look at, but let’s not jump to that option just yet. Is it the unknown threat that’s causing you to feel so out-of-balance right now?” I both love and hate that my shrink can read me so well.

“Like I said, it’s kind of hovering over me but… not really,” I admit. “I carry my gun everywhere, you already know that. So, if someone were to approach me in a way that threatened me, or someone were to attack me… well, we both know how that would turn out. I don’t think it’s the threats that bother me so much. It’s the possibilities associated with the threat. The unknown, yes, but not insomuch that the threat is unknown, but the fact that all the octopus arms of what could come from that threat is so unknown. Am I making any sense?”

“You’re making perfect sense,” he says, “but you’re torturing yourself, and we have to find a way to make you stop. There will always, always be unknown threats out there. That’s why car insurance exists. However, you do what you can to protect yourself from those threats and then you move on. You’re stuck in ‘what if’ and you can’t move forward, because it’s got you paralyzed in fear. You’re going to have to find a way, or this is your future… and Ana? This is how drug habits usually start. Someone can’t cope with their reality, so they must escape it any way they can and I’m not afraid to tell you that you’re starting to sound like a shark’s tooth to me.” What the fuck?

“I didn’t come in here and tell you that I was going to kill myself!” I snap. “Where the fuck did that come from?”

“Yeah, he didn’t come in here and tell me that he was going to kill himself either, but he did!” Ace retorts. “You’re sounding very helpless to me right now, and coming from a psychiatrist, that’s even scarier than it is coming from a layperson.”

I ponder that thought. I guess I would be a bit alarmed if Maxie came to me sounding a bit hopeless.

“Get to the root of it, Ana, and snatch the root out, or it’s going to suffocate you… and even if you don’t commit suicide or even contemplate it, you’ll still end up a shark’s tooth. You’ll just be a walking, breathing shark’s tooth.” I roll my eyes.

“Please, stop referring to me as that,” I caution. “I don’t like it and although I get your point, it’s really not helping the situation.” He nods.

“Okay, so what’s say we get to the root? You recognize the root every time it comes up and you work to rip it out. Fight it and kill it like the weed that it is… or…” He trails off and puts his hands up in a mini-shrug.

Shark’s tooth.

“I did something that shook his faith in me and as a result, he shattered my trust in him,” I blurt out. “He left me at such a crucial moment, and maybe he wanted me to see how much I needed him, and he was right, but he was also wrong. He made me depend on him; he made me trust him; he made me make him my everything, and then he snatched it away with no warning and no word and although I survived, I was rudderless and lost. Now, I long for the days before I met him when I could stand firmly on my own two feet, and I can’t find them.”

“I see,” he replies. “But tell me, besides the whole ocean thing, what’s the difference between you going off to Montana and him going off to Madrid?”

Once and for all, I’m going to answer this question for him, for the Bitch, and for anybody else who wants to know.

“Me going off to Montana was a move for survival. Yes, it was selfish, but it was a move for survival—to try to preserve myself. Him going off to Madrid may have also been a move for survival, and it was also selfish, but he went out of anger and to get away from me. He did it to deliberately put space between us, not to get to himself and think about things. If you ask him, he’ll tell you that he didn’t think about me while he was gone, and if he’s honest, he may even admit that he did it to punish me.

“The other reason why this is so different is because of our relationship. I was his fiancée when I went to Montana. There was no marriage—no legal contract, no eternal promise, yet, and certainly, no children! We were not responsible for two other lives when I ran off and I didn’t leave that responsibility for him to handle alone…”

Well, maybe not alone, but without him.

“He could get to me,” I continue. “He found out where I was, and he got to me, and I knew he would eventually because of who he is. He came to that cabin, we talked about how we were feeling, and he left. I wasn’t afforded that opportunity. He left the country for weeks and wouldn’t even answer his damn phone. The one person who knew where I was was here and eventually spilled the beans. The main person who knew where he was was with him… the other was my best friend and his attorney, and both were sworn to secrecy by an NDA.

“Did you know that he didn’t find out that I had leapt off that cliff for four days?” I add. “I could have killed myself in a drunken stupor and he didn’t know for more than half a week. I nearly tumble to my death on a Friday night and control freak Christian Grey, who knows when I take a piss, didn’t find out until Tuesday! Then, instead of calling to make sure that I was okay, to reassure me that he did care whether I lived or died, he stayed incommunicado for two more days so that he could have that whole shock factor when he got back. I feel like I meant nothing to him! Absofuckinglutely nothing!

“Right or wrong, he’s completely shaken my faith in him and in everything I thought I knew! I put him on a pedestal—I know I did—and when he fell, my world was shattered. So, now, I’m trying to reconcile the fact that he’s only human, that character flaws that I saw before that I thought were so damn ginormous are nothing compared to the fact that he’s not the superhuman, superperfect, omnipotent being that I made him out to be. And that’s hell on me right now.”

“And now we get to the crust of things,” he says. “He didn’t shatter your trust in him. He shattered your fairytale. He shattered your image of this all-powerful man that was supposed to cloak and protect you from all things bad… until the bad came from him. He’s not God, Ana. He’s just a man, just like you’re just a woman.

“Your children are going to grow up looking at you like a woman who can right every wrong, until there’s a wrong that you can’t right, and then what? So, he’s not perfect He can’t make the sun stay in the sky and prevent night from coming. Do you love him any less for that?”

“No!” I shoot, somewhat offended that he asked that damn question.

“Well, then, act like it!” he shoots back. “Stop walking around behaving like you’ve lost your damn puppy! You’ve discovered that your perfect husband has the same flaw that you do—he’s not perfect. It’s not the end of the world; it’s just a harsh reality. If you’re looking for a perfect man, divorce Christian, go sit on the top of a mountain in Tibet and wait for him to come to you.” I’m getting angry now.

“That’s not what I’m looking for!” I hiss angrily.

“Then stop acting like it is. Stop punishing him and yourself for not being that man. Shrink yourself for one minute and think about what you would tell a patient about this situation if this were not you. People fuck up! They never stop fucking up! What are you going to do?”

I feel my blood pressure rising. Unable to handle the massive onslaught of logic and common sense flowing from my therapist’s mouth, I rush the door and burst out of his office. I jump in the back seat of the Audi and slam the door.

“Take me home,” I say, my voice shaking.

“Ana…” he begins.

“Take me home!” I yell, cutting him off. His eyes widen, and he looks at Ben. They both turn around and Chuck starts the car. I’m sobbing before we even leave the parking lot.

*-*

I don’t think my heavy bag—or any one before it—has taken this kind of beating ever before. I don’t know how to destroy or defeat this helpless, hopeless feeling and quite frankly, it’s starting to piss me off. I feel the burn and the ache in my muscles, sweat pouring from every pore in my body and I just keep pounding away at the damn thing. I don’t want to think or feel. I want take-no-prisoners Anastasia Steele back. I need her, because she wasn’t so dependent on Christian’s perfection. I know I’ll never be her again, but I need a piece of her—a large piece of her—to find myself and stop slipping into this Boogeyman shit.

I’ve never been this afraid of things that go bump in the night… except after the branding attack, and once when I thought those ghosts were coming to get me again, but those times were different. I had no one to lean on, no one that swooped in as my knight in shining Armani. I was alone and on my own both times. The first time, I was completely forsaken, so crying, dark nights, and monsters were really nothing new. The second time, well, not forsaken but still alone. Still no Christian who came in and promised to make everything better, to always protect me, and to never leave me…

Until he did.

The impossible happened and I can’t find a way to deal with it.

I don’t know when he got there, but I see movement out of the corner of my eye. I catch the heavy bag in my hands so that it doesn’t knock the shit out of me and turn to my left expecting to see Christian standing there.

It’s Jason.

I frown. This is new.

He’s standing against the mirrored wall in his shirtsleeves just looking at me. He tosses me the towel that he’s holding. I catch it and wipe the sweat pouring from my brow and sopping hair. I was ignoring the burn in my eyes until now, so I wipe my eyes trying to relieve it now.

“Heads up,” he says, and tosses me a bottle of cold water. I chug the whole thing down in seconds and he tosses me another one. I toss him back the empty bottle and nearly empty the second one. He takes a seat on one of the exercise machines and waits. I roll my eyes.

“He sent his representative?” I say with disdain, my brow furrowed as I take a seat on the weight-lifting bench.

“Sort of, but no,” Jason admits. “He spoke to me a few days ago, before I went overboard with the security thing… sorry about that, by the way. He brought some things up to me and I brought some things up to him and he asked me to talk to you. He was hoping that I could explain things a little better.”

Explain things? What things?

“Why did you quadruple security?” I ask. “I want to hear that from you.” He sighs.

“I hope he told you about Aragon,” he says.

“He did,” I confirm.

“That’s why I increased security,” he says. “He and his boss are unknowns to me and I don’t want to take any chances. He was right, though. I did go overboard. An extra guard or two is certainly enough, especially with you already being trained in firearms and self-defense. I just… couldn’t get the whole Usual-Suspects-Keyser-Söze thing out of my head. This guy is slimy. Every time I see him, I want to take a bath immediately afterwards. Knowing the guy that he is, I could put a bullet between his eyes and sleep soundly right next to his corpse.”

That bad, huh?

“So, do you really think he’s a threat to us?” I ask.

“Honestly, I don’t think he is. No matter how powerful he wants us to think he is, he won’t do anything without the go-ahead from his boss. I just don’t know where his boss’ head is.” I nod.

“Thank you for being so candid. So, to what do I owe the interruption of my workout…?” because I know he didn’t come down here to talk to me about Keyser.

“I won’t pull punches. If you walk away, then you just walk away and that’ll be that, but there’s something you need to accept. I don’t know how you’ve handled everything that’s happened to you in your life, but right now, at this moment, you’re suffering from PTSD.”

At first, I want to get angry. I’m certain that he and Christian have had some kind of conversation where Christian told him about my reaction to Dr. Baker’s prior diagnosis, and now, he’s coming to me with this shit.

“You’re constantly battling with the fact that you don’t know what’s coming around the corner,” he continues. “You have been hurt and completely discombobulated by something that has happened that shook the very foundations of your happy and safe place so that now, you’re expecting Armageddon at every turn. Even when things are calm and serene, you can’t get comfortable and even if you do, that peace only lasts for a moment. Today, you’re the Queen of the Amazons and tomorrow, you’re a helpless ant hoping not to get crushed. You can stop me at anytime if I’m wrong.”

I just stare at him. It’s like he was a fly on the wall during my session with Ace.

“Nothing has to happen to bring on the feelings of dread, but if something does trigger it, it’s worse. From your bulging biceps when I came into this room, I would say something triggered it. So, what’s up?” I roll my eyes. Not a-fucking-gain.

“I just had this conversation with my shrink I don’t want to have it again!” I bark in one breath. Jason shrugs.

“Fine,” he says nonchalantly. “Take it or leave it.”

Asshole.

I snatch the towel from the bench and stand in a huff. I’m walking purposefully to the door when another question comes to mind.

“He won’t tell me why he didn’t know about my fall for four fucking days… will you?” I demand. He doesn’t respond, so I turn around to see him looking at me impassively. He gestures to the bench for me to sit back down. I pause for several moments and he doesn’t speak. Desperate for an answer to my question, I go back to the bench and sit.

“Ana, it’s not Christian’s fault—well, not entirely his fault—that he didn’t know about your fall. I knew that Saturday or that Sunday… I just didn’t tell him.” I’m horrified.

“You tell him everything! Why didn’t you tell him that?” I nearly shriek. Jason sighs.

“The transformation…” The transformation? What the hell is that? “It was a rough time in Madrid,” he confesses, “for more reasons than one. We just don’t talk about it much. I can’t tell you everything. I wouldn’t anyway, but the old Christian Grey showed up. He was cold and distant. He was detached. He wasn’t my friend… the man that I know now. He was that man that employed me and paid me to protect him and stay the fuck out of his business. We were in a foreign country and for most of the time that we were there, I had no backup. I had to stay focused and I had to concentrate on his safety.

“That guy… the guy that was in Madrid… he didn’t care about women. They were a means to an end and when he was done with them, he was done. I didn’t know how to handle that guy with a wife. He was all business. He didn’t look left or right. If he… thought of you, he didn’t mention you once. I know that hurts to hear, but I had to turn my feelings off, too. I couldn’t afford to be sloppy or we could have both ended up dead. Gail’s used to it, but it was hard with Baby Boo here… but I digress.

“His mother called and demanded to know what was going on with you because you had been walking around like a zombie and you left the center one day without the kids. The way that I understand it, she ripped him a new one and she was the one who apprised him of your fall. It wasn’t until he asked me about it that I filled in all the blanks. That’s when we started preparing to come home.”

Throughout the entire conversation, I’ve got my head down. I’m letting everything sink in that he’s telling me about the end of the trip to Madrid.

“Why didn’t he call, Jason?” I ask. “Why didn’t he let me know that he still cared and he was concerned the moment he heard that I had almost died? Why did he let me suffer for two more days wondering if he even wanted me anymore?”

“I’m sorry, Ana. I can’t answer that question because I don’t know. I know that he was cursing and demanding that we get that bird ready to get in the air. We would have taken a commercial flight, but it would have attracted too much attention.” I drop my head again.

“Did he tell you that I was on the floor when he found me?” I ask. “I don’t even know how long he let me lay there. If you hadn’t called through the two-way to tell him where I was, I wouldn’t have even known he was sitting there. I was calling into the two-way thinking it was the babies.”

“I can tell you for certain that we had only been home for a few minutes when I discovered that you were in the guestroom. So, it definitely wasn’t more than that.” I shake my head.

“He wouldn’t have been able to get me off the floor anyway,” I recall. “I couldn’t stand for him to touch me. I talked to him like he wasn’t there for I don’t know how long. I couldn’t sleep in my own bed… even after he came back.” I scrub my face with my hands.

“I loved Edward,” I say, catching Jason off guard. “I loved him a lot, or whatever it was, it was some kind of emotion that mimicked love. He tormented me. He found a way to put me through a fresh, new hell every day. I thought I would never escape, but I did. I closed him out of my life. For a long time, I wanted him to come back. Had he come back, I would have taken that daily fresh hell as opposed to being without him, so I’m glad he didn’t come back until after I was over him. There’s no telling where I would be right now.” I take a deep breath and sigh heavily.

“When Christian left…” I swallow hard. “My husband left me… he left me… he left our home… he left our children… he left our life. I wasn’t prepared for him to leave—not at all. It was the very last thing I expected. I expected the rage; I expected the cold shoulder; I expected to be punished; but I did not expect him to leave.

“When I realized that he was gone, I was more confused than anything and I just wanted some answers. And then when he blocked my calls…” I trail off remembering the black hole of despair that swallowed me when I discovered that my husband had blocked my number. “He left me, and he blocked my calls. That meant that he didn’t want to see me, he didn’t want to hear my voice, he definitely didn’t want to be with me. Do you have any idea how that feels?”

“Actually, I do,” Jason says. I raise my eyes to him. “Shalane wasn’t always a raging bitch. Divorce was hard.”

I nod. He does know how it feels.

“I felt like my life was over,” I continue. “It was a hundred times worse than anything I had felt with Edward. The burning, searing, never-ending pain…” I sigh. I’ve never explained this to anyone in this much detail. It feels good to get it out.

“I had put it out of my mind to focus on my children, but it wasn’t a panacea… It was a temporary fix. It feels like I spent all my time in that window seat—hours and hours and hours, watching that damn bridge, zeroing in on every black SUV that crossed… and hoping…

“By the time I fell asleep in that guestroom, I could have slept eternity away, not because I wanted to die, just because sleeping meant that I didn’t have to feel or think—at least I didn’t have to when crazy dreams weren’t haunting me.

“When Dr. Baker tried to tell me that I was suffering from PTSD, I’m certain that she was wrong. She was trying to label what she thought I was going through and she didn’t know how. But this? Now? Yeah, this is PTSD. This is trauma that I keep trying to shake and it keeps coming back even though I’m seemingly out of danger and I don’t know how to beat it.”

“You’re doing the right thing now,” Jason says, “talking about it, how it makes you feel. Getting it out in the open. Don’t think that you can talk about it once, tell somebody how you feel and then, it’s solved. You’re going to have to keep talking about it. You’re going to have to keep revisiting these feelings, especially when they creep up on you again, and they will creep up on you again. You’re the doctor, you know this, but it’s hard to diagnose yourself. It’s hard to take your own advice when you’re the one feeling the pain.

“I’m not a doctor, Ana, but I am a combat veteran, and I know all about the effects of PTSD. I know that the anguish, the fear, the pain that you feel, it doesn’t just go away. It’s going to take some time. However, if it holds on for too long or it becomes too crippling, you may have to consider some medication.” I twist my lips.

“Jason, really, that’s a bit extreme,” I protest.

“People are prescribed different drugs all the time for PTSD. Men and women have been prescribed tranquilizers when they’ve lost a spouse. What makes your trauma any different? I’m not in combat anymore, but that doesn’t erase what I felt and what I saw. It’s the same thing for you. Christian is back, but did his return immediately make the pain, fear, and uncertainty go away?”

Of course, it didn’t, that’s why we’re having this conversation.

“When those feelings attack, you attack back. You go grab somebody—anybody—and talk it out. Marilyn, Gail, Keri, myself, your husband, your shrink—whoever’s near. Don’t wait. It just gives the feelings time to fester and get worse. This is step one. I know you know this, but it’s hard to hear it when you’re on the receiving end. Ana Grey the doctor knows that I’m right, but Ana Grey the person can’t see it. It’s evading you because you’re feeling all this anguish and pain, but you have to trust me. I speak from experience. You have to talk about it the second that despair hits you.”

I roll my eyes and fight tears that threaten to fall. I want to talk, but I don’t want to cry.

“It must be very tiring having to hold all his secrets,” I say, matter-of-factly, raising my eyes to his and getting back to the reason for my PTSD.

“It used to be,” he admits, “but he doesn’t have as many secrets anymore. His family knows about his lifestyle now; that terrible woman is no longer an issue anymore; and I no longer have to carry screaming subs and wifey hopefuls from the penthouse, because he has you, now. It can be difficult managing him and his flailing emotions, but I’ll take this Christian to the old ‘Mr. Grey’ any day—emotions and all.” He stands.

“We do need to finish this conversation. It’s far from over, but Chuck says you came right in and started swinging away. That was hours ago. You need to get in some hot water… really soon.”


A/N: I called this chapter “Untitled” because I couldn’t think of a title for it. My mind was drawing a total fucking blank. I couldn’t come up with anything… so there you go.

The Crazy 88 is also a reference to Kill Bill. This is the team of bodyguards that “The Bride” left in pieces and in pools of blood in the “House of Blue Leaves” as she’s trying to get to Oren Ishii.

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

Raising Grey: Chapter 54—Digging Out The Leeches

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 54—Digging Out The Leeches

CHRISTIAN

“Oh, shit. Stay here with Aunt Tina. Jason…” Just as Harmony enters the room, I take the scrambler from my pocket and place it inconspicuously on the back of a lamp on the table near the door. That should give Aunt Tina some relief from the humming while I’m out of the room.

Jason and I take the spiral marble staircase two at a time to see what the big emergency is. When I get to the first floor, I’m surprised to find the very last person in the world that I would expect to become violent pinning Roger against the wall by his collar with his feet dangling in the air… and nobody’s stopping him.

Oh, shit, this is bad.

“Barney,” I say calmly from behind him, attempting to tame my head of IT, “put the ugly man down.”

“You broke a scanner,” Barney says through his teeth, “a fucking scanner! Do you know how hard those things are to get? How much they fucking cost? Do you know how much time it takes to calibrate one of those things, you ignorant piece of shit?” Barney isn’t paying any attention to me. He’s hissing in Roger’s face like a rabid dog and he looks like he wants to rip Roger’s skin off with his bare hands.

“Barney,” I say. “I’m rich. We’ll get you another scanner.”

“I got another scanner! It’s the fucking principle!” he says. Barney is very serious about his electronics. They’re his children. You’d be better off kicking his kid sister than you would to fuck with one of his babies.

“He didn’t trip,” Barney seethes. “He kicked it. I saw him! He has no respect for technology, particularly for shit he can’t afford to replace. Now I’m going to take all the time I’ve taken to calibrate that thing to beat his ass!” I raise a brow and look over at one of the other techs trying to pry Barney’s hand from Roger’s jacket.

“How long did it take him to calibrate that thing?” I ask out of curiosity.

“With all the tweaking he did on it? About a month,” the tech replies. I raise my brow.

“Hmm,” I say before going back to Barney’s ear. “Um, Barney, you can’t beat the man for a solid month,” I say calmly.

“I can sure as hell try,” he says, never taking his eye off Roger who, in turn, never takes his terrified eyes off Barney. I must admit, I’d like to see that.

“No, Barney,” I say calmly, halfway wanting my head of IT to rip this pompous fucker’s head off. “No, if you do that, you’ll kill him… or maim him… or something really bad…”

What was my point? Oh, yeah…

“… And then you’ll go to jail, and that can’t happen because I need you.”

Barney still has the look of death in his eye when he drops the asshole on the floor. Roger unknots his bowtie and massages his neck. Barney had him pretty tight against the wall.

“Stay. Out. Of my way!” Barney growls in a voice that I’ve never heard before, garnering the attention of everybody in the room before turning away.

“Crazy barbarian!” Roger mumbles to Barney’s back. It wasn’t meant for Barney to hear, but he heard it. In fact, we all did. Barney spins around and delivers a prize-worthy right cross that sends Roger sailing right over the scanner he had just broken.

CRASH!

It’s destroyed now.

“Barney!” I say in mock scolding.

“He fell,” Barney says, looking at Roger’s unconscious form. “You heard him. He tripped over a several hundred-thousand-dollar scanner and broke it. Ain’t that what that looks like to you?”

“Looks that way to me,” his tech says.

“Me, too,” someone else adds. “Fucked it up real bad, too.”

“Same here,” comes another response. “Tripped right over the damn thing and did a face-plant on the marble.”

“Alright, alright everybody back to work,” I say. “Jason, we gotta clean up this mess.”

“How do you suggest we go about doing that?” he says. “We’ve got an unconscious asshole in the middle of said mess.”

“Take pictures?” someone jests and a few of the staff laugh. I consider the situation.

“Actually, somebody does need to take a picture of him,” I confirm. Before the words are out of my mouth, camera phones are flashing like crazy.

“Why?” Jason asks, curiously.

“Because when he wakes up, he’s going to want to press charges. I’ve obviously got witnesses who’ll say he tripped over that thing. Now, we’ve got proof.” I take a few pictures of my own.

“What’s to stop him from suing for his injuries?” Jason asks. I smile.

“Have you forgotten how persuasive I can be?” I question.

“No, but your persuasion doesn’t seem to have an effect on him,” Jason points out. “He’s a real haughty motherfucker and he’s too full of his own imagined self-importance to show any reverence to anybody… not even Tina.”

I twist my lips. Jason’s right. This horrible sonofabitch pretends that Aunt Tina has the reins, but I wonder how long she hasn’t known that she’s really not in control… he is.

“That’s because I’ve been using the wrong kind of persuasion,” I note, more to myself than anybody, “but I’m about to rectify that situation. Now, how do we wake this fucker up?”

“A bucket of water,” Jason says, “but smelling salts would be more effective.” I gesture to one of the other security detail.

“Go upstairs to Tina Franklin’s room. Knock before you enter. Ask her daughter if there are any smelling salts in the house.” He nods and heads up the winding staircase. I turn around and look at the arrogant, pompous fucker laid out on the floor. One of his teeth has been dislodged and he’s bleeding all over the marble floor. I gesture to one of the other staff members and instruct him to find towels and to make an ice pack in the kitchen. I hear a groan below me and see that the pompous asshole is slowly coming around.

“Bring a bucket of cold water, too,” I instruct him. Jason raises his brow.

“Opting for plan A, I see?” he asks.

“He’s coming out of it. We don’t need smelling salts,” I reply. It takes a few minutes, but both staff members return with the requested items… even though we won’t need the smelling salts. I take the bucket—it’s a small bucket, only about two gallons—and dump the water on Roger’s head and face. He jolts to full consciousness, coughing and sputtering… and cursing. He looks up and sees me standing over him with the bucket, glaring down at him. He immediately falls silent. I crouch down to him. Filled with about two dozen men, this room is so quiet that you could rock a baby to sleep in here.

“You alright, Roger?” I ask, my voice deceptively calm, fury radiating from every pore of my body… and I’m sure that he can feel it.

“I… I…” No full sentences yet, I see.

“That was a nasty fall you took,” I say, stressing the word fall, “when you tripped over that very expensive scanner that’s now destroyed.” I point to the shattered scanner at his feet.

“I didn’t twip,” he protests, quickly bringing his hand to his mouth.

Yep, Jeeves, you’re a-missing a tooth.

“Dat guy…” He’s looking around for Barney, who walks in with another scanner. “Him! He hit me!” Barney glares at him with a murderous look.

“Trip over this one,” he threatens. “I dare you!” Roger shrinks a bit at Barney’s tone.

“He hit me, I thay,” Roger declares. I take the towel from the tech—or whoever it is—and hand it to Roger. He snatches it from me and puts it against his mouth, wincing at the pain. “I’ll thue him for thith. I’ll thue all of you!” he threatens through his towel.

“Oh, Roger, Roger, Roger,” I mock lamenting. “You’re outnumbered. Several people here have pictures of you sprawled over the floor, face down, with feet dangling over that destroyed scanner.” I gesture to the scanner and he looks over at it. I hold my hand out to help him up and he refuses. I raise a brow at him. “Take the hand, Roger, or would you rather Barney helped you?”

He looks over at Barney and quickly takes my hand instead. I lift him off the floor like a puppy. The guy weighs nothing.

“Now,” I say, walking with Roger over to a nearby sofa. “You’ve been underfoot quite a bit today. I, with Tina’s permission, asked you to leave and you refused. We now have a nurse coming to check her vitals to make sure that you haven’t worried her to the brink of a stroke, and you’ve inconveniently tripped over two very expensive pieces of equipment, completely destroying one of them.”

“I didn’t twip…”

“What was that?” I ask, putting my hand to my ear. “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that. Are you saying that you didn’t trip over that spectrum analyzer and that scanner that you busted? Is that what you’re saying?” The room gets quiet again.

“No,” Roger says. “I did twip over that sthpectwum thingy, but your guy there hit me, and I fell over the sthcanner!”

“Well, that’s strange,” I mock misunderstanding. “It was my impression that you indicated that you tripped over it, and that’s why Barney was so upset.”

“Well, yeth… well, no…” He doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going.

“Have a seat, Roger,” I say, looking down at him and gesturing to the sofa just behind him and to the left. He straightens his back and stands defiantly, glaring at me.

“Sit the fuck down!” I demand, shoving him hard and causing him to fall back and over onto the sofa. His feet fly up as his butt hits the cushion, and his eyes widen. I close the space between us and look down at him.

“Let me explain something to you,” I say, my voice rumbling in a Satanic-like Dom voice. “I don’t give a fuck who you think you are. I don’t care how long you’ve worked here. I don’t care what you think your station is. You’re nothing to me. I have a company to run, and yet, I’m here checking for recording devices and babysitting your ass. I don’t give a fuck about anything in this place except that woman upstairs in that room breathing her last breaths, and anybody who fucking interferes with her comfort will have to deal with me personally!

“You’re up to no good. I know you are. You want us out of here too badly. You’re afraid of what we’ll find. You badgered that poor woman to the point that she needs medical assistance. You’re walking around here haughtily destroying equipment that costs more than your entire fucking net worth, and you didn’t expect somebody to put their hands on you? You’re lucky I haven’t personally beaten you within an inch of your worthless fucking life, or better yet, have one of the many ex-military men you see in front of you do it for me!

“So, here’s what we’re going to do, Rog.” I say, crouching down so that we’re eye-level. “You’re going to sit your weasely little ass right there until I tell you to move, and you’re not going to make a fucking sound—not a rumble, not a grumble, not a sneeze. If you do so much as sigh too loudly, I’m instructing that big man right there to give you a good solid gut punch.”

He turns his head to see one of the many members of my six-foot-plus security team standing with his hands clasped in front of him, looking down at Roger and smiling.

“I’m going to find every little piece of shit hiding in this house and then you’re going to give me some information, because if you don’t, I’m going to make your life very fucking uncomfortable.”

“But…” he begins.

“I didn’t say you could speak!” I hiss. He shrinks back in his seat and timidly raises his hand. I have to work at it, but I succeed in holding my stern expression at his gesture.

“You may speak.”

“With all due resthpect, thir, there’th a lot of sthaff in thith houth. Why would I be the only one under thusthpithion?”

“Well, that’s what you’re going to tell me,” I say to him, “as soon as we’re done with our sweep. See, I dismissed everyone on Tina’s instruction, even the housekeeper and the cook, and everybody left when they were told—everybody, that is, except you. You, my ‘thisthpithious’ little friend, are behaving like a terrified child on report card day—destroying equipment, harassing a woman in completely diminished health… I really should just beat the shit out of you right now, but I won’t, because we’ve got a job to finish here. So, if you have any cohorts in your little foiled coup, you’re going to tell me, but I can guarantee you that I’m going to find everything. The only question in my mind is are you going to come clean before or after I find all your dirt.” I lean in to his face.

“I don’t know if you remember me, but I was the little boy who used to hide under the porch and drink lemonade and eat cookies.” His eyes widen. “Yeah… you remember. Time sure does fly, doesn’t it? So, you know that I was a troubled little boy, and that woman upstairs showed me compassion in a world where I thought there was none. So, believe me when I tell you that she means a whole fucking lot to me and my family, and so does her daughter. So, you need to get your shit together, because as far as I’m concerned, you’re public enemy #1, and I will gladly fuck you up, wash my hands, walk away, then go and have dinner. Are we clear, Roger?”

He nods feverishly as he swallows, probably a mouthful of his own saliva and blood. I gesture to the guy who handed me the towel to hand me the ice pack I requested. When he put it in my hand, I pass it over to Roger.

“Now, you’re going to have a nasty bruise on your face and that lip is going to swell up something terrible. So, we’ll keep the ice coming—try to keep the damage to a minimum except, of course, for that tooth, but you asked for that, and you know it. Any questions, Rog?”

He shakes his head like a good little puppy as I stand. I turn to the detail that was supposed to be watching this worm in the first place. At first, he’s smirking. I continue to glare at him and his smile falls instantly as he nervously clears his throat.

“When I say,” I begin through my teeth, “don’t take your eyes off him, that’s what the fuck I mean. If he has to use the bathroom, you go with him and watch him until he shakes the last drop. If you need a bathroom break, you don’t leave without relief. If no relief is available, piss on him!” I point to the weasel who jumps back to avoid getting hit by my swinging hand. I turn to the other guard.

“The same thing goes for you,” I tell him. “Don’t keep an eye on him, keep both on him. If he squirms, I want to know why. Are we clear?”

“Yes, sir,” they answer simultaneously. I turn to the first detail.

“You’re sure this time?” I say sarcastically. “I don’t have to draw a picture for you or anything like that?” He swallows.

“Yes, sir, I mean, no, sir… I’m sorry, sir. It won’t happen again.”

“Damn straight,” I said, giving him a hard glare eye roll before leaving. When I walk pass Jason, he’s scratching his stubble and twisting his lips. I know the entire display was quite theatrical, and I don’t want to talk about it. As we’re about to ascend the stairs, there’s a knock at the door. Roger instinctively moves to stand but freezes when three sets of eyes lock onto him—the two details now assigned to babysit him… and mine. I turn to the guy standing closest to the door.

“Get that,” I tell him. He goes to the door and opens it, asking about the person’s business. A woman chats with him for a moment before he turns to me.

“It’s a nurse,” he says.

“Oh… yes, yes, please, let her in.” I go to the door to meet the nurse who looks more than a little confused at the circumstances. She’s looking around the room and she spots Roger with his towel and ice.

“Does he need assistance?” she asks before looking at me. I look over at Roger and wave him off.

“No, he’ll be fine,” I say. “He took a nosedive when he tripped over that very expensive piece of machinery right there,” I add, pointing to the mangled scanner. “He would have been fine had he left when we asked him to, but I guess you can’t beat instant karma.”

The nurse laughs and snickers before turning her attention to me. She does a double-take before introducing herself.

“I’m Monica Summers. Ms. Carter called for a nurse.” Ms. Carter? I frown. Oh! That must be Harmony’s married name.

“For Aunt Tina, right?” She raises a brow.

“You’re Mrs. Franklin’s nephew?” she asks. I shake my head.

“Surrogate nephew, so to speak,” I reply. “She helped… take care of me when I was young. I’m Christian Grey.” I extend my hand to her.

“That’s the face!” she says, taking my proffered hand. “I was trying to place you. I knew I had seen you somewhere.” I smile.

“Please, Ms. Summers. Follow me,” I say, walking to the stairs.

“Oh, no, please call me Monica—or Nurse Monica, if that makes you more comfortable. Only people that I don’t like call me Ms. Summers.” She falls in step behind me. When she, Taylor, and I get to the top of the stairs, she touches my arm. I try not to jump out of my skin at the contact but raise my eyes to her.

“Mr. Grey, may I have a word before we see Mrs. Franklin?” she says, her voice low as she looks over her shoulder at Jason.

“Yes, of course… and don’t worry about Jason. He’s the most trusted member of my staff.” She nods.

“That guy—Roger—he’s no good,” she says. “I wouldn’t tell Mrs. Franklin’s business to just anybody, but I feel like you’re in a position to do something about it. I can’t put my finger on it and I can’t tell you what’s going on because I don’t know, but he’s sneaky—and possessive. He’s always lurking around a corner somewhere and I know he’s up to no good.” I nod, someone else to confirm my suspicions.

“Have you seen anything in particular?” I ask. She shrugs.

“He never leaves her alone. Whenever she gets comfortable, he comes barging in—he never knocks. He badgers the woman relentlessly, cajoling her into decisions that she really doesn’t care to make.” This piques my attention.

“Such as?” I press.

“Well, I’m not just Mrs. Franklin’s hospice nurse. I’m also private duty—trained in hospice. I was already coming around on a regular basis when her diagnosis first became critical, and I just changed to hospice after it became terminal. He would try to get me to leave the room so that he could talk to her. At first, I did, but then I started listening to the things that he was talking about and refused to leave—things like who would get her China set when she passed on and who should be in charge of the house. Before Harmony got here, he even tried to convince her to sign a power of attorney for him. That’s when I intervened because I just knew he would wipe her out.”

“Well, what did you do?” I ask, intrigued and pissed at the same time.

“I marched right back into that room and told Mrs. Franklin not to sign anything without talking to her daughter or her attorney. He got pissed off and told me to butt out because this was none of my business. I told him that this was none of his business either. Just like me, he’s nothing but the help and he needed to leave and go do his job so that I could do mine.”

“What happened next?” I ask.

“He left in a huff and I asked Mrs. Franklin for Harmony’s number. I called her and told her what he was doing. She was planning to come later the next week but instead, she came immediately.”

That’s one of the reasons he’s so bitter to Harmony. She foiled his plans.

“Mr. Grey…”

“Christian,” I correct her. She nods.

“Christian, I’ve threatened that man more times than you know. I’ve threatened to call the police for a wellness check because he wouldn’t let me in. I’ve threatened to call Adult Protective Services because I had to undress and bathe Mrs. Franklin and he wouldn’t leave the room. I asked Mrs. Franklin if he was once a lover or something because he’s more than possessive—he’s obsessed. She laughed at me and assured me that he’s never been anything but her butler, but he’s had that position for a long time.”

“I can attest to his tenure, but it doesn’t explain his behavior,” I tell her.

“He just gives me a bad vibe all the way around,” she says. “I don’t trust him one bit and I don’t think he should be left alone with her. He’s horrible to Harmony and he walks around like he owns the place. Sometimes, he’ll even try to interfere with my care—lurking around and talking to her while I’m trying to medicate her or give her daily care. I didn’t want to dump this on Harmony—she’s got enough on her plate, but none of Tina’s other children are coming around. I was going to ask Hospice to assign someone else to her because he’s out of control…”

“No, please don’t,” I press. “I appreciate your honesty. I completely understand about Roger and don’t worry. I have a feeling that he won’t be a problem after today.” I reach in my inside pocket and retrieve a business card.

“You report directly to Harmony. If you have any problems at all, call me. My cell is on the back.” She looks at the card like it’s the holy grail.

“I appreciate that,” she says. “You know Mrs. Franklin doesn’t have long…”

“I know,” I reply. “And we really need to make these last days as comfortable as possible. Now, let’s go on in and check her out. He worked her into a tizzy this morning, which is why I had Harmony call you. Do you mind if I come in with you? I’ll leave whenever you say.” She nods.

“Not at all. Please,” she says, and I follow her to Aunt Tina’s door. She knocks, and we wait. Harmony answers the door.

“She’s asleep,” Harmony says softly, stepping aside to let us in. We walk over to Aunt Tina and she almost looks like she’s smiling.

“She doesn’t look stressed out to me,” Monica whispers.

“She’s been peaceful ever since you put Roger out,” Harmony says to me. “He’s always badgering her about something, trying to make it seem like it’s for her own good or for the good of the estate or something. He tried to get her to sign a POA before I got here. He doesn’t listen to anything I say—it’s like I don’t even exist. He’s so frustrating and I really wish I could get rid of him. Someone else can be trained to do exactly what he does, and they won’t pester my mother. I can get her whatever she needs, do whatever she needs, be whatever she needs. I’ll drop out of school if I must, but I want him gone…”

“You don’t have to do that, Harmony,” I tell her. “I’m certain that by the time this whole thing is over, Roger will be leaving all on his own.” Harmony and Monica both look at me.

“How can you be so sure?” Harmony asks. I smile.

“I have my ways,” I say.

“Do I even want to know the details of this?” Monica asks.

“Probably not,” I inform her. She smiles and turns to Harmony.

“Roger’s downstairs sitting on the loveseat with a bloody towel and an icepack on his face,” she says. “He also has two big guys standing on either side of him like Nutcracker soldiers, just staring at him. I imagine that he won’t move without their permission.” Harmony’s mouth falls open.

“You’re kidding,” she says. Monica shakes her head. “God, I wish I could have been there to see that.”

“Well, you were actually,” I inform her. “You were there to see him ‘trip’ over the scanner, right?”

“I didn’t see anything,” she admits, “but he says he tripped and we heard the crash.” I nod.

“Yeah, well, he took a nosedive into the marble right after he tripped… or I should say a mouth dive. He lost a tooth.” I do the finger quotes around “tripped” and both women cover their mouths to stifle a laugh. I turn to Monica. “I don’t know how trustworthy you are, but the fact that you came to me with everything going on with Roger and what he does to Aunt Tina and how he treats Harmony, I’m putting a lot of faith in you right now.” She raises a brow at me.

“I have an obligation to my patients,” she says. “If I see something going on that could potentially harm them, I have to try to help—first through the family and then through the authorities. What he’s doing is unethical, but not illegal. I just… did what I could.” She shrugs. “Besides, I know who you are, Christian. I’d be a fool to cross you.”

That makes this easier. I turn to Harmony.

“Would you be able to rest if you had a constant hum in your ear?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“You’re talking about the hum in her hearing aid,” she says. I nod. “I’ve told her to take it out or turn it off when she hears that hum, but she doesn’t want to. She says she feels too vulnerable without one of her senses.”

“This room is bugged,” I tell them both. “I don’t know when or how many bugs. I don’t know if there’s video surveillance, but I know there’s audio. I planted a scrambler behind that lamp before I went downstairs. It scrambles any signals coming into this room—that’s why we can’t use our phones in here.” Monica discretely checks her phone to confirm what I’m telling her. “She’s resting because that humming is gone. It’s probably the best rest she’s gotten in months.”

Monica creeps over to Aunt Tina and feels her wrist while Harmony and I watch. She puts a stethoscope on Aunt Tina chest and listens careful. She nods and puts the stethoscope around her neck.

“Breath sounds good and even. Pulse is steady. With her resting like this, I would say her blood pressure is probably normal or close to it. I’d have to say you’re right. I certainly haven’t seen her this peaceful in quite some time.”

“Harmony,” I say, “we won’t disturb her right now, but we need to get her out of this room. How easy, or hard, would it be to temporarily move her to another room after she wakes—just long enough to sweep the room and remove the bugs… and cameras, if there are any?”

“Oh, God… cameras… in my mother’s bedroom…” Harmony looks to be turning a little green. I put my hand on her shoulder.

I’m running over everything in my head, how it was just happenstance…

… That Aunt Tina spoke to me out of all the millions… and millions… of people at Mia’s wedding reception.

… That we found out that Harmony was interested in social work and we connected with her.

… That Harmony’s unfortunate life changes occurred right at the untimely moment of her mother’s progressing illness.

… That I just happen to come and see my Aunt Tina and something that my security team wears every day tipped us off to listening devices in her home.

I shudder to think what would have happened had one thing—one single event—not fallen into place for me to be here at this moment.

“I swear to you, we’ll get to the bottom of this, okay?” I promise her. She visibly shudders, nodding as she wraps her arms around herself. That fucker downstairs…

“Harmony?” She raises her eyes to me. “How hard would it be?” She sighs.

“We can move her to the room next door for a while, but we would have to ask her how she feels about it first,” Harmony replies. “I won’t force anything on my mother.” I nod.

“We’ll gently explain to her what’s going on—that it’s not a permanent move. Whatever has been planted, it can’t be too intense, unless it was done while she wasn’t here… like when she was hospitalized.”

“I knew I should have moved next door,” she says, shaking her head. I frown.

“Next door?” I ask. Does she mean the house next door?

“Yes, I wanted to be closer to Mom, and there’s an adjoining door from that room to this one, but Roger insisted that I stay in my old room. When I protested, he went on about the delicate balance of the house and my hours likely disturbing Mom’s rest and blah blah blah. I didn’t feel like arguing with him, so I just let it go and went to my room.”

Well, her being next door wouldn’t have prevented the room from being bugged, especially since it was done before she got here, but it does keep her that much further away from her mother…

Before she got here…

Shit!

“Harmony, which room is yours?” I ask.

“Um, if you turn left and pass the first two doors, mine is the last room on the end,” she says. I nod.

“I’ll be right back,” I tell her. I leave the room and Jason is standing in the hallway.

“What is it?” he asks.

“Give me your scrambler,” I say. His brow furrows.

“Did you lose the first one?” he asks reaching into his pocket.

“No, it’s in Tina’s room.” I hold out my hand to him and he puts the scrambler in my palm. “Follow me.”

We open the door to the first room, the one next door to Tina.

“Go in, walk around. Tell me what happens.” He raises a brow at me but follows my directions. About a minute and a half later, he returns.

“Nothing,” he says. “If there’s anything in there, I can’t detect it.” I nod, and we proceed to the next room.

“Nothing,” he repeats, coming out of the room in just as much time. We open the door to Harmony’s room and turns his gaze to me.

“Oh, this room is lit,” he says before he even enters and closes the door again. “I don’t even have to step in there. That space is hot.”

I know for sure that it’s Roger now.

“What about those rooms?” I ask.

Jason and I walk around testing all the rooms on the second floor. The only other room that comes up lit is a small sitting room just across from Aunt Tina’s room.

“Get me a team up here,” I tell him. “Check for surveillance in the rooms on that side of the hall starting with the room next door to Tina’s. We’re going to move Tina so that we can get the devices out of her room, but not until I’m sure that we’re not taking her from the frying pan into the fire.” I give him his scrambler.

“You got it, boss,” he says, and heads down the stairs. I take my phone out of my pocket and call my wife.

“Hey,” she answers.

“Hey, Butterfly. I have a favor to ask.”

“You want to ask me for a favor? That’s strange… and a bit ominous.”

“I know, but it’s nothing like that. I want to know how you would feel loaning Windsor out for a while.”

“What? What do you mean ‘loaning him out?’ He’s a person, not an umbrella!” She sounds a little perturbed.

“Baby, it happens all the time…”

“Yes, with those unfeeling socialites who treat their staff like possessions instead of people!” she hisses.

“Butterfly, please let me explain. This is nothing like that. It’s a bit of an emergent situation.” She’s silent for a moment.

“I’m listening,” she says begrudgingly. I sigh.

“To tell you the entire story would take your whole afternoon, but Reader’s Digest version, Tina’s butler is up to no good in a major way and I have to get him out of here today. Windsor is good at his job, and I trust him. Would you mind terribly if we lent Windsor to Aunt Tina until we can find a suitable replacement for her current butler? I’ll ask her and Windsor if it’s okay.” I hear silence again.

“God, I don’t know how Windsor’s going to feel about that,” she says. “You know how carefully we chose our staff and I don’t want to lose him.”

“It’ll only be until we can hire a suitable replacement,” I promise her. “Hell, once she’s gone, I don’t know if Harmony will even want a butler.”

“Well, if this other guy is up to no good, what about Windsor’s safety while he’s there?” she protests.

“I’ve already thought of that, Butterfly. Trust me on this. I just don’t want Aunt Tina to be in harm’s way while she’s still with us.” Butterfly sighs.

“I’ll find Windsor. You talk to him about it while I’m here with him. I want him to see my face so that he’ll know how important he is to us.” She’s still working from the house? I nod as if she can see me.

“Okay.” I wait and listen while she pages Windsor and asks him to come to her office. It takes a few moments, but I hear when he comes to the office. She puts the phone on speaker.

Yes, ma’am?” I hear Windsor say.

“Windsor, Christian is on the speaker. He has a favor that he wants to ask you. Now, before he asks you, I need you to understand something. You are not obligated to say ‘yes.’ If this makes you the slightest bit uncomfortable, you can say ‘no’ and you won’t jeopardize your position with us in any way. You’re very important to us…” Geez, Butterfly, I’m just asking him to be someone else’s butler for a couple of weeks or so, just down the road and across the bridge. I’m not asking him to move to a third world country and take care of starving children!

“Very well. What is it, Mr. Grey?” he asks.

“Windsor, there’s a dear friend of mine who is on hospice. Her butler is about to leave and I just want to know if you’d be willing to take his place for a couple of weeks or so, just until we find a suitable replacement. I wouldn’t be willing to give you up, even for a couple of weeks, but I need someone that I can trust.” I hear him chuckle a bit

“Certainly, sir. This kind of thing happens all the time. It’s no big deal,” Windsor says.

“Mrs. Grey was concerned that you would feel like we were loaning you to someone like an object,” I say. “I think her comparison was an umbrella.”

“Christian!” my wife scolds. I think she would rather I didn’t share that part.

“Mrs. Grey, it’s not like you said, ‘You’re going to this person’s house for a while.’ I’ve had that happen before. Mr. Grey asked me, and in effect, so did you. I’d be more than happy to help out.”

“Thank you, Windsor. You have no idea what this means to me,” I tell him with a sigh.

“Thank you, Mr. Grey. It’s humbling that you trust me to help care for someone that apparently means so much to you, and I thank you both for wanting to treat me like a person and not a possession.”

Good grief. I almost don’t want to let him come. Tina’s going to fall in love with him!

“I’m going to talk to Mrs. Franklin, but it could be as soon as tomorrow morning,” I inform him.

“I’ll prepare myself,” he replies.

“Thank you, Windsor,” I hear my wife say. I assume he leaves.

“Jesus, I almost don’t want to lend him out,” I lament.

“He can still hear you, dear,” my wife says.

“Good! I almost don’t want to lend you out!” I say louder. I hear him chuckle.

“Then, I’m doing my job,” he says, and I hear a door close.

“Baby, what are you doing at home today?” I ask. “Are you still worrying about that situation that I told you not to worry about?”

“No, I’m really taking care of some things,” she says. “I’m sorry and I should have told you first, but I’m stealing Luma from you for a couple of days.” I frown.

“Is everything okay?” I ask.

“I just need some help—the usual stuff—and Marilyn’s a bit under the weather. I told her to see how she feels on Monday and let me know.”

“That’s pretty under the weather to need two days and the whole weekend,” I say. “It’s nothing serious, I hope.”

“When is the last time you ever saw that woman take a day off?” she asks. Yeah, there is that.

“Duly noted. You had to take one of the best, huh?” I jest.

“I just called Andrea and asked how I would go about getting a sub for a couple of days… oops, wrong choice of words, but you know what I mean.” I raise my brow.

“Yes, I know what you mean.”

“She said that you all normally just shift people around in the office, but since they would be coming to the house, she only trusted Luma and she would snag someone from another department for a couple of days.”

And that’s why Andrea is irreplaceable.

“Duly noted once again. So, what’s got you staying home that you couldn’t go into the office today?”

“I’ll have to fill you in later, and I’ll expect you to give me details on Aunt Tina’s situation, too, but I really need to get back to it.” I nod.

“I will. I love you.”

“I love you, too.” I end the call just as Jason is coming back up the stairs with one of the teams.

“Keep it down, fellas,” I tell them. “The lady of the house is resting in this room and I need this room, that room and that room swept first.” I point to each room and get them started on what needs to be done.

“Jason, come with me.” I descend the stairs and look around the room. Roger’s blood and tooth and the pieces of the very expensive scanner have all been cleaned from the marble floor. Most of the staff have moved on to other parts of the house. Roger is still seated on the love seat with my two sentinels watching carefully over him.

“We need a security detail here, at least two officers, 24/7—whatever you feel is needed,” I say to Jason within earshot of Roger.

“You were reading my mind, sir,” Jason responds. I nod. Now to deal with this little worm.


ANASTASIA

“Mrs. Grey, it’s Alex.” I don’t think I’ll ever get that man to call me Ana. He has on occasion, but I think for the most part, he’s more comfortable with Mrs. Grey.

“Hi, Alex. What do you have for me?”

“If you’ll kindly check your email, I’ve sent you some preliminary information on Kenneth Carter, Harmony Franklin’s estranged husband.” I open my email.

“That was fast,” I say, opening the attachment and scanning over the file.

“From what I can see, unless he has some deep, dark past that’s going to take some real digging, it’s pretty cut and dried. Born and raised in West Seattle; very unremarkable life; no criminal history—got caught shoplifting when he was thirteen, a pack of chewing gum. He’s had four traffic tickets in his whole life. Harmony Franklin is his second wife. The first marriage did not end equitably. He has a kid that he never sees, seven years old. He’s paying child support and spousal support, and he’s in arrearage for both…”

… Which is most likely why he’s trying to get his hands on Harmony’s inheritance.

“He works at a marketing firm downtown as you can see on the report.”

“He’s thirty-two,” I say more to myself. “How old is his first wife?”

“She’s twenty-six now.”

“Twenty-six?” I say, somewhat appalled. “That means she was nineteen when she had his son.”

“And he was twenty-five. And they were married. My money’s on shotgun… literally.” I shake my head.

“He sure likes ‘em young, doesn’t he?” I mumble.

“That he does,” Alex says. “His last two extramarital affairs were twenty-one and twenty-three.” Jesus.

“This guy has ‘sleaze’ written all over him,” I declare. “How did you find out this much information in so little time?” I ask.

“It’s what I do, Mrs. Grey,” he replies. I sigh. Mrs. Grey again…

“Thanks, Alex,” I say, and we end the call.

“Ana, what do you think about this color?” Luma says, garnering my attention once I hang up the phone. “In a semi-gloss or flat, it is the perfect earth tone to capture the light.”

Luma’s looking at paint samples to help me pick a color for the office. She’s showing me a muted green, not quite olive, but in the right light, it looks like gray. She’s right—it’s just what this room needs.

“It’s perfect, Luma,” I tell her. “The walls and bookshelves can be painted that color and we can go with natural fibers for the décor.”

“I was thinking that exact thing,” she exclaims. “I’ve seen some ideas for furniture. They may look a little mixed-matched when you first see them but give them a chance. I’m sure you’ll see where I’m going with it…” As she’s talking, my phone rings. Our song… it’s Christian.

“I need to take this, Luma,” I excuse myself. After greeting my husband, imagine my surprise when he tells me that he wants to lend Windsor to Tina… lend… like a cup of sugar. Seriously?

After he convinces me that it’s a security and trust issued, I summon Windsor to my office and we explain the situation to him, after which he gladly agrees to work for Tina until a suitable replacement can be found.

Suitable replacement… my mind goes back to Marilyn.

She was a real bitch this morning for no good reason, and I’m 100% sure that she’s crabby as fuck, has a brain tumor that’s causing her to act like Val, or goddammit, she’s fucking pregnant.

I look at Kenneth Carter’s information once more. Marketing firm downtown. Hmmm…

I inform Christian that I’ve commandeered Luma and why before I end the call with him. I think there’s someone who might need a little visit from a concerned friend… of a friend…

*-*

The building is pretty nondescript to be downtown. It’s kind of close to the Marketplace, though. I don’t know what I was expecting. The guy’s whole fucking life is nondescript. I walk over to the street vendor selling roses. Strange place for a street vendor. There’s no one on the street, but hey, if it works for you… Just when I note to myself that no one’s around, I see a teenager walking by across the street. Perfect timing.

“Hey, kid, come here.” He comes over to me. “You wanna make a quick 50 bucks?”

“Sure,” he says. I purchase two dozen of roses from a street vendor and ask for a piece of paper. I scribble a note on the piece of paper and put it inside the roses.

“Go into that building and let the guard know that you have flowers for Kenneth Carter. You can leave them at the desk if you want. Just let the guard know that a very pretty lady wanted to make sure that he got them. I’ll be standing right there at that car when you come back, and I’ll give you your $50 once you deliver them.”

“Sure thing, lady.” The kid takes the flowers and goes into the building while I walk back over to the Audi. About 10 minutes later he comes back out and walks over to me.

“Okay, lady, it’s done,” he says. “The guard was calling upstairs somewhere to the guy before I left the building.” I nod, pull out a $100 bill and hand it to him.

“Good job. Thank you.” He looks at the $100 bill and his eyes widen.

“No, ma’am!” he exclaims. “Thank you!” He takes off down the street while Chuck, Ben, and I all get back into the Audi… and wait.

It doesn’t take long.

This scrawny, average looking guy comes barreling out the door looking up and down the street like he’s going to find his answer. He looks across the street and spots the Audi. Then he comes barreling across the street just like he came barreling out the building. He bends down to the tinted windows, hoping to get a look inside. Having donned a pair of very large blacked out Jackie O’s, I let my window down only slightly.

“May I help you?” I ask sweetly.

“Did you send me these?” he demands.

“Why would you think I sent them?” I say, my voice still sweet.

“Don’t be cute, bitch. Just answer the damn question!” he hisses.

“Yeah,” I say nonchalantly, “that was me.”

“Who are you?” he shouts, flinging the roses to the ground. “Why are you here and what the fuck do you want?”

“Oh, I just wanna chat,” I say. “See, I have a friend who would really like for you to just go away and I thought we might talk about it.” He laughs.

“My wife musta sent you,” he smiles. “I was waitin’ to see what she might try.”

“No,” I reply opening my window a little more, “she didn’t send me. In fact, she has no idea that I’m here. Hell, she never even told me your name. I had to find that on my own. I just have problems with little boys with small thoughts, small minds, and small dicks thinking they can take advantage of women, especially women who once foolishly loved them.”

“Open this goddamn door!” he demands, violently pulling the handle. Chuck and Ben calmly step out of the car

“I’d step away from the car if I were you.” My voice is menacing now. He takes two steps back from the car, looking cautiously from Ben to Chuck and back. Ben walks around to my side of the car and I unlock the door just as he reaches me. When I step out of the car and come face to face with the bane of Harmony’s existence, I’m not impressed at all. I look him up and down and note that not only is he not very attractive, he’s not well-built and he’s short because we’re eye to eye in my Louboutins. Hmm, I expected more of someone who likes to bully women. Then again, maybe not.

“What? Did you think I was just sitting in the backseat because I like the view from back there?” I ask, looking tougher in my Tom Ford than he does in his little blue power suit. He doesn’t answer.

“I don’t have a lot of time, Ken,” I say his name with disdain, “so, I’ll make this as short as possible. You took advantage of a young girl and you know that’s what you were doing when you met her. What are you doing with that kid anyway? What are you, like 40?” His eyes narrow.

“If you found out my name all by your little lonesome, you know how old I am, too,” he shoots.

Oh, we’re playing this game? Okay.

I open my jacket slightly and put my hands on my hips, just enough for him to see the strap of my holster, but not my Glock. His pupils dilate when his eyes go first to my breasts but constrict almost immediately when he zooms in on the leather of the holster.

Yeah, asshole, want to see what else I can do all by my little lonesome?

“I knew someone like you once. He’s no longer with us, though,” I say, glaring at him through my shades. I let that statement trail off and leave David’s demise to his imagination.

“I’m here to give you some free advice,” I say clamping my hands in front of me. “You can do with this information whatever you please, I really don’t care, but I suggest you take it. Harmony wants to be done with you, and you want nothing else to do with Harmony. So, the best thing for you to do would be to sign the divorce papers and let her get on with her life. Harmony is fully aware of the fact that you’re not entitled to a dime of her inheritance…”

His lips form a straight line. He’s not pleased at all that Harmony is aware of this. I’m certain he was counting on a payoff to make him go away.

“… And since I already know that you’re aware of that, you can see that your stalling tactics are useless and in case you don’t know, you’re starting to piss people off.” Of course, he decides to change tact when he sees his cash cow running out to pasture.

“What if I don’t?” he says. “What if I decide to drag this out? There’s nothing you or anybody else can do to make me sign those papers. I can just drag this out for as long as I want, and she’ll be part of my life until I decide to let her go.” I laugh

“Yeah,” I begin, my voice sinister, “He was just like you.” I smile but then the smile fades. “Luckily, I never have to see his ass again because he’s burning in hell now.” I close the space between us.

“Notwithstanding the fact that there are two men standing next to me that could squash you with a breath, you’ve got a woman standing in front of you wearing a suit that costs more than your monthly salary with a Glock on her side looking you square in the eye and telling you to back the fuck off and you’re asking, ‘What if I don’t?’” I mimic the most condescending male voice that I can muster. “You’re funny! That’s really funny!” I chuckle. That smug look falls off Ken’s face and he sucks his teeth.

“I’m not here to have a pissing contest with you, little boy, because my dick is bigger than yours,” I say without blinking. He’s taken aback by the statement, but then again, who wouldn’t be? “Just sign the damn papers. Walk away and let that girl get on with her life. Leave her the fuck alone or I can’t guarantee that the next visitor you get will be delivering flowers.” He glares at me for several seconds.

“Who the fuck are you?” he asks and it’s really a question. I smile.

“Monday night, 8 o’clock, channel 9. Nobody would believe you anyway.” I turn around and walk back to the car. Ben opens the door and I look over my shoulder at Ken right before I get inside.

“You might want to pick those up,” I say, pointing to the discarded roses. “Littering is illegal in Washington.”

I step into the car and Ben closes the door behind me before he and Chuck get back into the car. Chuck starts the car and slowly drives off down the road with Ken still standing in the middle of the street.

“That was so fucking gangster,” Chuck says as we drive down the road, leaving Ken standing there staring at the retreating vehicle. I laugh.

“What did the note say?” Ben asks.

“It said, ‘The beautiful woman in the black car downstairs thinks you’re a worthless piece of shit.’ I knew he would expect it to be Harmony, and gauging by how he came storming out that building and marching across the street to the most expensive car on the road peering shamelessly into the window, I was right.”

“So… why not send me or Chuck to give him that message?” Ben asks. Chuck snickers as if he already knows the answer.

“He would just look at you like a couple of goons coming to rough him up. You may already know this and if you don’t, ask your boy. A pissed-off woman is a very bad thing. A woman scorned is even worse. That asshole now thinks that a woman scorned sent a pissed-off woman who may or may not have sent a joker just like him to the other side to chop him off at the knees and piss all over him with a dick she doesn’t even have. Yes, I had my ‘goons,’ but you guys are pure bravado. There’s no mystery. ‘They’ll beat my ass and hurt me real bad.’ He doesn’t know what I’m capable of, and the mystery is what makes me scarier.”

“Okay, so this I have to know,” Chuck says. “Why guide him to the interview that’s airing on Monday?”

“He asked who I am,” I say. “That’ll answer his question. That’ll also show him me and my husband blowing shit to bits on the shooting range with Glocks and pump rifles in an interview that pretty much says, ‘Come at me.’” Ben shakes his head and Chuck laughs again.

“Classic,” he says. “Fuckin’ classic.”

For the rest of the ride back to the Crossing, I think about how easy it seems to solve other people’s problems and yet my own seem so unmanageable. Harmony’s issue is just a matter of letting a bully know that he’s not the biggest dog in the yard. Marilyn’s problem—though a bit more complicated—is at first as simple as taking a damn pregnancy test. She’s tormenting herself because she doesn’t know what’s happening right now. If she at least arms herself with the facts—positive or negative—she can come to some kind of conclusion or formulate a course of action. But without knowing, she’s just delaying the inevitable and unnecessarily extending her torment.

The fuck if she’s going to take that out on me, though.

As for me, it’s times like these—facing off with Ken—that make me feel powerful, like the independent Ana Steele that I used to be. Yet, it only takes a moment for me to be cowering from the Boogeyman once again. For example, Christian wouldn’t have allowed me to confront Kenneth on my own had I forewarned him that’s what I was planning to do. He would have shit bricks, told me to let him handle it, and went barreling up to this guy in all his Christian Grey-ness, which wouldn’t have been nearly as effective as the 5-foot-3-inch menacing little ball of feminine hell that just told the guy that her masculine genitals are bigger than his.

Now, he’s probably going to shit bricks when he finds out, and I’m in no way looking forward to lectures or punishment fucks. I’m a grown ass woman…

“Don’t tell Christian about this encounter,” I say, firmly. You can cut the pregnant pauses in the front seat with a knife.

“Um, Ana…”

“Don’t. Tell. Christian. About. This. Encounter,” I repeat. They look at each other before Chuck pulls the car over to the curb. I guess I’m going to get my lecture now.

Like hell.

“Is your security team or any member of GEH security required to tell me every single move that Christian makes?” I ask before he says anything. He looks over at Ben, then back at me.

“No,” he says.

“Why not?” I ask.

“Because he’s the boss,” he says.

“And so am I,” I reply, “not because I’m married to him, but because I’m 50% owner of GEH. I don’t have his tenure, so you don’t see me as the boss yet, but guess what? I have his power—maybe not his presence, but his power. I can’t make things happen the way that he can. I can’t pull the same strings that he can… yet. However, I am also The Boss, and if security is not prepared to tell me everything that he does, do not tell him everything that I do.

“No one was in any danger. Nobody got shot, maimed, killed, or fell off any cliffs—and when I did fall off a cliff, he didn’t even care…”

“He didn’t know,” Chuck interjects. I frown.

“What do you mean he didn’t know?” I ask. “You didn’t report that and yet you’re acting as if you have to report this?

“I did report it,” he replies. “I reported to Jason, like I always do, and I reported in the daily security logs. It took a couple of days to report to Jason because someone had to keep an eye on you in the hospital, but I told Gail since I knew that she would speak to him. I don’t think he found out until way after the fact.”

Okay, now I’m confused, and it must be written all over my face.

“It’s hard to explain, Ana,” Chuck adds. “Honestly, if you want to know exactly when Christian found out about your fall, you’re going to want to ask him, but I report everything to Security Central in my daily logs. It’s a requirement to tweak security protocol as needed. You have to understand that.”

“Okay but reporting things in your security logs is a lot different than calling Jason the minute I do something and filling him in so that he can tell my husband, because you know that’s what he does. Do what you must to keep me safe and follow protocol as you are instructed to keep your job, but unless you want me to be petulant and unbearable—and you know that I can be—respect my wishes as one of your employers and don’t tell my husband my every move.”

“I don’t tell your husband your moves, Ana…” Chuck begins.

“But you report them to Jason. Jason is Christian’s eyes and ears, and you’re Jason’s. I’m your boss, too, and I want my freedom. Get used to it.”

Chuck glares at me for a moment before turning around and putting the car back in gear. We pull out into traffic and the ride is silent for several minutes. My thoughts are going a mile a second as we approach the bridge back to Mercer Island, a feeling of doom slowly creeping over me. Through the fog, I suddenly remember one long-forgotten malfeasance.

“By the way,” I say softly, “thank you… for saving my life… again.” Chuck’s eyes rise to the mirror and meet mine, his expression clearly bemused.

“On that cliff,” I continue. “I could have died. Thank you for saving me… and staying with me.”

His expression softens—a mix of pity and sympathy and a bit of understanding.

“You’re welcome,” he replies just as softly, and we continue our trek across the bridge.


A/N: I used a little creative license here. Most audio/visual detection devices are usually pretty small—some are maybe small enough to fit in your hand. For the sake of Roger’s ass whoopin’, we’re pretending that he first kicked over a device that stood upright on the floor, and as for the second device that supposedly cost more than his net worth, think mother-brain-oversized cathode ray tube. I just needed him to fuck something up so that we could beat him up.

“Millions… and millions…”—Christian was being facetious about the number of people at Mia’s wedding, but there were quite a few people in attendance. Wrestling fans will recognize this phrase from the Rock who used it to refer to his huge fan base and the high number of viewers who tuned in to wrestling.

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

 

 

Shade on Old School

So, my chapter is coming, but I had to get this out. If there are mistakes, just look over them. This is unedited.

Y’all know we lost our Queen this week. giphy1

That makes me very sad. In fact, it was a sad, sad day for lovers or quality music everywhere. I find myself posting this little ditty before I post my chapter because it almost became the email. Then I realized that it’s not relevant to the story… it’s just one of those random rantings of BG. So, read if you want and don’t if you don’t.

In the wake of Aretha’s passing, there’s been a bit of shade surfacing on music. For example, Fox News posted a picture of Aretha Franklin announcing her passing, with an inlaid picture of Patti LaBelle! I can’t even begin to tell you how wrong that was.

An interview with the Queen herself surfaced with her choosing not to throw shade on Nicki Minaj, which inadvertently came out as shade since she chose to “pass on that one” when asked about on Nicki’s talents. One of those moments when no answer is the most powerful answer of all.

giphy2

“Nicki Minaj, hmm… I’m going to pass on that one.”

Okay… get to the point, Lynn.

As I always do, I go into all my social medias to clean things out and see what’s going on–try to respond where I can, yada, yada, yada, before I post my chapter and send out my emails. As I was going through Twitter, I saw that Tevin Campbell was trending.

“Hmm, is the Tev coming out with a new CD?” I thought to myself. “That would be nice.”

I was delighted to discover that that he was being considered to perform in a tribute to the Queen of Soul. Go, Tevin! But that wasn’t why he was trending.

He was trending because some womanI don’t know or care who she is or is supposed to bewas throwing shade on Tevin for being considered for the tribute. All I know is that her name is Luvvie and she’s from Nigeria… I think.

giphy3

Now, either her ass don’t know who Tevin Campbell is or she’s acting like she doesn’t know who Tevin Campbell is. Either way, she need to take her ass somewhere and sit down. And this is the problem with a lot of people right now. They’re talking out the side of their heads and have no idea what they’re talking about. The tweet is gone now–or else I just can’t find it–but it said something like, “Tevin Campbell, under what rock did they pull that name from?”

Y’all, I laid my “ratchet” down a long time ago, but I almost went back and picked it back up to respond to this wretched not-to-high and not-mighty-at-all piece of flesh. Instead, I just ask, “Where the hell were you when this man with a nearly five-octave vice was working with some of the greatest musical minds alive, i.e. Quincy Jones and Prince?” I saw you wrote a book called I’m Judging You. You better judge yourself, because you’re out of line! What the hell rock have you been hiding under to say some crap like that?

And in case you are unaware, little lady, Tevin has not been hiding under a rock. He was on Broadway in the play Hairspray for several years. He put out a single in 2016 and he’s rebooting his career as we speak.

It turns out that I didn’t have to pick up my “ratchet” because Twitter and BlackTwitter when nuts on this woman. They buried her ass to the point where she posted a somewhat retraction, and they buried her on her retraction.

Of course, Tevin took the high road. He thanked everyone for their support and posted his own little tribute to the Queen.

We’re talking about a tribute to Arethathe Queen of Soul for many, many decades. Y’all better reach back and go old school for her tribute! I just wish y’all would talk about doing a tribute and bring up some of these bippity boppity hippity hoppity new wave “singers” that don’t have no damn talent! Y’all better go back to the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s and find some of those real crooners that are still alive. In fact, if you need to turn over some rocks to find them, well then y’all better get to turning.

And Luvvie, shut the hell up. You obviously don’t know what you’re talking about.

All hail the Queen,

~~love and handcuffs

 

Fifty Shades Golden: Chapter 13

Wine is a deep and beautiful thing.

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

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

Fifty Shades Golden

Chapter 13

Eric Dane--Chapter 13 Small

TREY

I’ve negotiated the harvesting rights with three of the main eastern hardwood timberland families that supply Lincoln Timber and I’m working on the western softwoods. Lincoln has had harvesting agreements with these families for over a decade and never saw the need to renegotiate or to lock in exclusivity, mainly because these families didn’t fight for a better price per hectare of commercially harvested wood. As a result, Lincoln took advantage of their naïveté and opted not rock the boat as he was basically clearing their land for a song.

This won’t break Lincoln, but it will place quite the strain on his main lines of business as well as dip heavily into the insane profits he has been enjoying over at least the past several years. Raw, treated, or processed, he now has to buy the timber—or the right to harvest it—from me. As I have negotiated handsome compensation with the families—far more than Lincoln was offering but still enough to turn a profit—he would have to do some major reorganizing to make an offer that would meet mine, much less beat it.

With the coup that I’ve pulled in securing the eastern timberland—and the western softwood is pretty much just a formality now—I’m set not only to make handsome amounts of money from Lincoln Timber now having to purchase its main supply from me, but I could also go into the lumber business myself as one of this asshole’s competitors. As it stands right now, this development may not put him out of business, but it’ll make his company pretty fucking uncomfortable and wreak havoc on his profits for the next couple of years no matter what his contingency plan.

Maybe I should look into acquiring some of his expiring contracts…

“Can you tell me why the hell we’re suddenly clawing at Lincoln Timber’s main babies?” Rockford asks when he brings me the finalized contracts for the eastern timberland families.

“Isn’t it obvious?” I respond to my head of legal. “I’m picking a fight.”

“I can see that,” he says. “I’d just like to know why.”

I used to like this guy. I used to like his cockiness, his arrogance, and his balls the size of Texas, especially in negotiations. Now, he’s just irritating as fuck.

“As long as you’ve been my attorney, you honestly don’t recognize a cockfight when you see it?” I ask with a frown.

“Don’t insult my intelligence, Christian,” he retorts, somewhat affronted. “Of course, I recognize a damn cockfight. I just want to know why him and why now?”

Rockford may be my attorney, but the hell if I’m telling him that putting this frosted fucker in his place is another way of paying tribute to my Mistress while getting back at a nemesis at the same time.

“I’m not ashamed to say that it’s somewhat personal,” I say, flatly. “He calls me all cocky and demanding answers after his wife tried to kill me with a fucking concrete flowerpot, and now it’s wafting back to me in social circles that he’s talking about me at parties, balls, and social events.” His brow furrows.

“I haven’t heard anything,” he says, accusing.

“That would be because we don’t travel in the same social circles,” I reply, my voice condescending. It doesn’t get by him. I follow up with another jab. “If you think for one moment that you have your ear to the ground on every little thing that goes on in my life, you’re wrong. You know a lot, Phil, but you don’t know it all.” Hell, you don’t know the half of it. He raises a brow at me.

“Fine, it’s your funeral,” he says, stacking the papers in front of him. What the fuck…?

“And just what do you mean by that, Mr. Rockford?” I ask crisply, trying not to refer to him as the asshole that he’s being right now.

“Why would you want to push the hand of the most powerful timber producer and processor in the country?” he retorts. Who the hell is this pussy standing before me? Careful, Rockford, your slip is showing!

“Are you serious?” I ask incredulously while sitting back in my seat. “Do you realize that with 30 days of intensive negotiation, aggressive acquisitions, and concentrated redistribution of resources that I could be the most powerful timber producer and processor in the country? While Lincoln must constantly stay on his toes to hold his position, I do this shit for fun! I could stop production on the thousands of lines of business and acquisitions that I have my hand in right this very moment and there would still be enough passive income, liquid assets, and capital for my entire living family and three generations to come to live like kings and queens, and you’re standing here insinuating that I should feel some kind of reverence or fear for that glorified Paul Bunyan?”

Rockford sits in the chair across from me, examining me like I’ve just given him a bit of information that he was never fully aware of. Have you been asleep all these years? Exactly how many supposed industry giants and wannabe moguls have you watched fall at my feet?

“For the sake of argument, let’s assume that platinum-haired lumberjack released his worst, most fearsome wrath upon me. What could that be?” I question. “What could he do to me that I couldn’t flick off my shoulder like a worrisome fly? Go ahead, tell me. I’ll wait.”

Rockford clears his throat and loosens his tie. Apparently, he’s forgotten just how cutthroat I can be.

And, so has Linc, but he’s soon to revisit that lesson in spades. Closing those sawmills put a huge cramp in his production for nearly a year. This undertaking will make our last encounter look like a grammar school dance. Once I’m done with his largest east and west coast suppliers, I plan to target his oversees productions next. Sure, he’d be able to make up for the lost American timber with his European sawmills and providers, but not if he doesn’t see the attack coming, and no matter what the strategy, the solution won’t be cheap… or easy.

Having no comeback for my question, Rockford sits mutely facing my desk.

“Have we met…” you sniveling little weasel? “If you strain your little brain and think really hard, you can probably count on one hand the negotiations that were not favorable for me in all the years you’ve worked for me, and not once was any of those failures by any fault of my own. Now, unless there’s something that you know that I’m not aware of about that silver haired, washed-up phantom trying to wield power that he clearly doesn’t have, I suggest that you keep your angst-ridden opinions to yourself, be sure that my transactions are legal and airtight, and continue to make a fortune off me by doing exactly what you love.”

And now, I’m weary of this conversation.

“What’s happening to you?” I ask. “You sat in negotiations with Cross and let a woman show you that her balls were bigger than yours… and I’m not even talking about the attorney. She lopped your dick off and fed it to you! Now, you reach into that imaginary bag of courage on your hip and you have the inkling to confront me about my business tactics while cowering in fear to that washed-up old woodchuck? Who the fuck are you and what have you done with my cutthroat legal counsel?” He looks at me in sincere distaste.

“That’s… um… harsh and unnecessary, sir,” he grovels.

“Yeah, and you’re pathetic and pitiful. Get out of my sight, Phil,” I say, disgustedly breaking my gaze with him, “before I discover that you’ve totally lost your killer instinct, at which time, you’ll be completely useless to me.”

He knows not to say anything else. He knows that I’ve heard enough. He silently rises from his chair and leaves the room.

I’m going to have to secure new legal counsel, sooner rather than later. I toy with the thought of hiring Golden, but I already know that’s a lost cause. I wouldn’t even approach her like that. She wouldn’t want to work for me in that capacity, nor would I want her to. It’s just… not good to mix that kind of business and personal relationship.

*-*

So, I’ve committed myself to giving a speech at the Seattle Businessmen’s Conference this evening and I almost dread the idea of even showing up. With the coup I have in the works, anybody with half a brain and their eye on the boards can see that I’m acquiring the gathering rights to several of the national timber suppliers. It’s been a week since I secured the eastern timberlands and today, I locked down one of the western softwoods. I’m confident enough in my holdings so far that I’ve tiptoed into the Canadian lumber market. This quiet activity has caused small shifts in lumber stocks across the NASDAQ and NYSE with stockholders wondering what’s in the buzz and will it remain a buzz or turn into chopper blades.

Between that and quietly keeping my ear to the ground for new legal talent, the social-business scene is the second-to-last thing on my mind, and the last thing being targeted by some colleague’s young granddaughter looking to snag a guy just like dear old dad… or granddad.

“Hello, Christian.” Her smooth Brazilian voice answers. “I was wondering if you would wait until the last minute to call me. You know I don’t like to be rushed.”

“Hello, Gisela. My apologies. I forgot about it until the last minute.”

“As always,” she says.Uma história provável…”

“English, Gisela,” I scold. “I’m bilingual and Portuguese is not one of those languages.”

“No matter, why do you call, Christian?”

“You know why I call, Gisela,” I retort, using her choppy English. “Are you available?”

“Last minute again. Will you be sending me a gown… and jewelry?” I roll my eyes. It’s a good thing I have these things already in the guest room for just such an emergency.

“Of course, it’s not a crime to call and check with me, you know,” I scold. “You know I may forget, but you always seem to remember.”

“And miss the opportunity to give you a hard time? Why would I do that?” she asks matter-of-factly. “Besides, in my country, the woman does not approach the man; the man approaches the woman. You will send a car for me, no?”

“No,” I say, “I and my driver will pick you up at eight. And Gisela, don’t make me wait. I have to give a speech tonight.”

“Nem!” she exclaims. “How you say, keep your shirt on. You have gown here and I’ll be ready. Tchau.” She ends the call. I call Mrs. Jones with instructions to choose the white gown and emerald jewelry set and have it couriered to Gisela immediately.

Gisela Serra (Adriana Lima), Christian's go-to date for red carpet affairs--Chapter 13Gisela Serra is much like me in many ways. She graduated with a master’s in finance, but instead of going to work for one of the big firms, she invested her own money and became a self-made millionaire. Like me, she knows her shit, has no interest in a long-term relationship, and is always up for a good fuck once in a while. Unlike me, she’s never worked a day in her life and enjoys these red-carpet outings and hanging on the arm of whatever mogul chooses her as a bracelet that evening.

I’m her mogul of choice, however. She’ll wait for me, even break a commitment for me. Once, for the Carpenter’s Guild dinner, Ron Baristol of Baristol, Freedman, and Young requested her company and she accepted. Then I called, and she cancelled with Ron. It was nearly a brawl when we got to the dinner because apparently, she didn’t tell Baristol that she was cancelling with him to attend the dinner with me. When he approached me, I had no idea what he was talking about. When he told me, I couldn’t help but laugh.

That didn’t go over well with Ron.

I stated that I merely asked Gisela to accompany me. I didn’t know that she had prior arrangements or that she had cancelled them. He called me a cocky asshole and took a swing at me. I stepped aside, and he went sailing into the table with the ice sculpture. We were both asked to leave.

Needless to say, the Carpenter’s Guild didn’t get a donation from me that year and I declined their invitation the next year. The president and chairman both showed up at Grey House to ascertain what the problem was and when I reminded them of the mishap that had me removed from the festivities two years prior when I didn’t confront the guy and never raised a hand to him, they apologized profusely and had Baristol, Freedman, and Young removed from the guestlist completely. I can imagine that a similar conversation occurred at the Carpenter’s Guild headquarters when Mr. Freedman and Mr. Young discovered they were no longer welcome at the annual dinner.

I have nonetheless asked Gisela not to cancel any further engagements for me. If I haven’t contacted her by noon the day of an event, which is cutting it very close, I won’t contact her at all, leaving her free to accept any invitations that she may have on ice. Gisela is the only woman who has ever been seen with me on the red carpet—well, except Juliet when we were dating. So, of course, there’s a lot of speculation, but neither she nor I will entertain any of it. She’s beautiful, she’s smart, she’s rich—so I don’t have to worry about her latching onto me for my money—she doesn’t want a commitment, and she’s a great occasional fuck. Who could ask for more?

Me and my Brioni tux show up promptly at 8pm to retrieve Gisela. She’s prompt for once, as I was fully prepared to leave without her this time. I hate being late. It’s tacky.

“You said you had speech to give,” she says. “I only like being center of attention when is good for me. Fashionably late is no good when you are on the program.”

I told you that she was smart.

Dinner was uneventful. They always serve something pretentious at these dinners like lobster tail or filet mignon in tiny little servings, instead of choosing something classically delicious like veal or lamb chops, or even chicken. Hell, I’d even go for shrimp linguini if I knew I didn’t have to stop at a burger joint or something when it was all over to keep from gnawing my arm off! I always signal Taylor a half-hour before I’m ready to leave so that he can stop and get food before I and my date even get in the car.

I’ve made my speech, the usual mumbo-jumbo about responsible business and helping the community and growth through change… blah blah blah. I believe in all those things. It’s just that the conference never wants to hear anything else—like avoiding the common tricks of the market, interpreting trends so that you don’t end up losing your life savings or your business slosh fund, determining a good acquisition prospect from a lemon. I could use the same fifteen minutes that they have me speaking this gobbledygook and hit all three of those topics and probably save at least 50% of the businesses in attendance from making at least one of those three mistakes.

But, they’d rather hear that I’m building up small businesses in underprivileged neighborhoods. Anybody with a dime can do that. I want to tell you how to keep or multiply your dimes so that you can build up more businesses… but okay.

After the food and the speeches comes the networking. Time to hob nob and mingle with other CEO’s, each of us trying to finagle information out of the other about the next big cash windfall. Gisela and I are in a group talking shop with Stan Warren, Arnold Fishburn, and Felix Martindale—all CEO’s of their own companies, and at the moment, my date has the floor.

“Well, while all of the traders were trying to play the bull market, I made a mint on LAM and FDC… buying low and selling high,” Gisela says, sipping her champagne through the mingling and networking time after dinner.

“Now, how do you know?” Warren asks. He’s hanging on her every word. Not only does she look hot as fuck with this elegant gown wrapped around that beautiful ass, but when she opens her mouth, advice from the finance gods spews forth.

“You have to watch the trends,” she says. “You have to be willing to read the charts and look for the candlesticks in the buy-sell cycle…”

“Now, that’s where you’ve lost me,” Martindale says. “This is why I let my broker handle all of that.”

“If that’s so, I hope you don’t plan to get rich off the market. He’s doing that for you and fifty to a hundred other people or more and your returns are mediocre at best. Am I right?” He nods.

“I do alright,” he says, not wanting to admit his mediocre returns. She nods.

“If alright is okay with you, then you’re doing fine.”

She’s further captivating her audience with terms that I would also much rather leave to my broker when I see an ashen-faced beauty heading in my direction on the arm of another of my colleagues. He’s an attractive man, but an older attractive man… and she’s much too young for him. I know this, because I’ve known this woman Biblically.

“Gentlemen,” Reginald Hornsby says as he approaches. “Are we having the same boring conversations that we have every year?” His date clings to his arm and does everything she can not to make eye-contact with me.

“Right now, Ms. Serra is telling us how lousy we’re doing at the stock market,” Fishburn says, and we all laugh.

“I’m doing no such thing, sir,” Gisela says, mocking disdain. “I was just explaining to the gentlemen…” and she goes into the short version of Investing 101 with Hornsby, whose date is carefully avoiding mine and Gisela’s gaze now.

“So, when do you plan on sharing your talents with the rest of us?” Warren says. I know I’m not the only one who caught the double-entendre, but I don’t let on. Gisela doesn’t belong to me—she’s just my date for the evening, and the last thing I want is yet another scene.

“I only watch my own picks, Mr. Warren,” Gisela says sweetly. “I’m successful because I stick with the best and sell the temporary risers. It takes stamina and fortitude, but it’s a small sacrifice for the payoff in the end. I didn’t succeed by putting a little bit in every pot. I concentrated my efforts and shot the big guns, so I landed the big game.” Gisela coyly sips her champagne, having totally understood what Martindale was getting at and simultaneously shooting him down in front of his colleagues.

“I think what Stan was aiming at…” Oh, she knows what Stan was aiming at, “… is do you have any plans on trading professionally so that others can make the kind of profits that you are,” Martindale says.

“I’m afraid not, Mr. Martindale…”

“Call me Felix,” he corrects her.

“Felix,” she corrects. “Focusing on a few lucrative investments is what put me in the position that I am. So, now I don’t have to work for my money. My money works for me. Watching a trend and getting out before it tanks, I can do that for myself. I can’t do that for a group of people. For me, it’s a recipe for disaster. I’d be spreading myself and my own assets too thin and I wouldn’t be able to do other investors any justice.”

“Is that how you got so rich, Grey?” Warren asks. “Taking tips from this little beauty here?” He’s such an ass.

“I dabble in investing, Warren, but as you know, I made my fortune in mergers and acquisitions.”

“Yes,” Hornsby says. “There’s a little murmur on the wire about you and lumber.” And it begins.

“There’s always a murmur on the wire,” I say, dismissing the topic.

“Come on, Grey,” Warren coaxes. “Let us in on it. How about a little insider trading?” Fishburn frowns deeply.

“You’re kidding, right?” he says, distastefully. “You trying to get us all arrested?” And now, it’s time for me to text Taylor about those burgers.

“Come on, we’re just talking shop,” Warren excuses. “People do it all the time. No harm done.”

“Stock tips are one thing, Stan. Inside information is something else entirely. Geez, did Raj Rajaratnam, Martha Stewart, and Angelo Mozilo teach you nothing, man?” Fishburn scolds.

“Oh, for the love of God! Lighten up, guys,” Warren chides. “It’s not like Grey here is working for the SEC. Right, Grey?” He rips the air with a garish laugh and I just glare at him, sipping my champagne. “C’mon, Grey, we’re waitin’… You’re not spying for the SEC, are you?”

He’s still smiling, but his voice is accusing like he’s speaking for the entire group.

“You never know who’s listening… Stan!” I hiss his name before taking a swallow of my champagne. The group falls silent as eyes shoot from me to Warren.

“You know, I don’t know much for a silly little master’s degree holding female,” Gisela says, “but I do know that companies that are pegged as SEC whistle-blowers don’t do well on the corporate scene. That kind of slander can be very damaging to an established corporation.” She takes a sip of her champagne.

“I don’t think that matters to Mr. Warren, Gisela,” I say, still glaring at his now paling face. “He’s already shown everyone present that he has the tact of a goat and the class of a toad. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit to find that he doesn’t have the common sense of a toothpick.”

Warren looks very uncomfortable now and starts to do a little shuffle on his feet.

“Well, look what I’ve started,” Hornsby says. “Excuse me while I go curb my nicotine habit. You’ll be okay?” he says to Caramel. I had forgotten she was among us. She nods and gives him a sweet smile. He kisses her cheek and leaves the group. If he’s her Dom, he’s not acting like it. She would have had to follow him for the smoke break. She watches attentively as he leaves the room as if she’s urging him not to stay away long.

“You all are a bunch of pussies,” Warren says. “One mention of the SEC and insider trading and a bunch of powerful businessmen turn into a bunch of bed-wetting pansies! I’m going to smoke.” And he’s off behind Hornsby. I wonder what that conversation is going to be like.

“Excuse me,” Caramel says, and she leaves the group as well. Maybe she’s decided that she needs a cigarette after all.

“For the record, Grey,” Martindale begins, “none of us think you’re an SEC snitch. He’s full of shit.” I sip my champagne again, bottoming out my glass.

“It wouldn’t do me any good,” I reply. “I have investments in other companies, but GEH is not publicly traded. That fuckface has completely forgotten that in whatever plight he’s on. What would it serve me? I mean really… what?

“Nothing at all,” Gisela says, “Now go on over and get us a refill of champagne.” I look over my shoulder to flag a waiter, but none are close by. I locate the bar and see Caramel standing there, most likely waiting for her own refill. I turn my gaze back to Gisela who gives me a knowing look, raises her brow, and hands me her empty flute.

“Must I?” I say, lowly, while taking her empty glass.

“Yes,” she says with a smile. “Go on.” I roll my eyes and walk over to the bar. I sigh softly and speak.

“Hello,” I say, trying not to startle her.

“Hello,” she replies, finally making eye-contact with me.

“Two champagnes, please,” I tell the bartender. He nods and takes my empty glasses, setting them to one side. “I didn’t know Hornsby…” I trail off. She glares at me.

“He doesn’t!” she snaps. “And he doesn’t know that I ever did, either.” I flatten my lips and nod.

“You know, you not saying anything and avoiding my gaze is more conspicuous than you just acting natural,” I warn.

“That’s easier said than done,” she says and turns away from me. This close to her, I can see a gash near her eye. It’s healed, but the scar looks pretty fresh, and I’m certain that it wasn’t there before.

“What happened to your eye?” I ask, wondering if her new not-quite-Dom likes it rough.

“It was…” She looks around conspiratorially to make sure no one is listening. “It was from Mistress,” she hisses, quietly. “She punished me… repeatedly… when I tried to return.” I frown deeply.

“She hit you in the face?” I sneer. She nods.

“One night while I was on my knees, she slapped me… with her big ring.” She closes her eyes as she remembers. “Blood got in my eye, but she was just disgusted and told me to go to the hospital. I did. They stitched me up, only two stitches.” She points at her eye. “It was so much blood, I would have thought it would have been more. I didn’t go back to her after that.”

“I’m sorry, Car…” I stop myself as she raises her eyes to me. “Tammy. I never meant for any of that to happen.” She drops her head.

“My friends made it seem so glamorous, but it never was,” she admits without raising her head. “Mistress had me crawling on the floor and doing unthinkable things. It’s like she wanted me because I was beautiful, and she hated me for the same reason.” She shakes her head again. “Even with you,” she begins, “you were never physically cruel, but you treated me like just what I was… a whore. Reggie does, too,” she says, looking for her date. “He buys me nice things, he gives me money and takes me places. He just doesn’t know what I used to be. I always dread him finding out…”

“He won’t find out from me,” I assure her. She twists her lips but says nothing. She looks at Gisela.

“She’s not a submissive,” she says with finality.

“No, she’s not,” I confirm.

“Figures,” she says. “I have to go before Reggie comes back. Goodbye… Trey.” She takes her champagne from the bar and walks away. Wow. Elena got pissed at Caramel and tried to disfigure her. That sounds like something that twisted cow would do. I take my two champagne flutes and go back to Gisela. She seems to have loosened up since Warren left with his insider trading and double-entendrés.

“How are you?” I say, handing her a champagne flute. She takes a large sip.

“Can we go now?” I look at my watch. It’s been twenty minutes since I texted Taylor. I look at my phone. Sometime during my talk with Caramel, Taylor texted that he’s outside.

“Yes, we can go now,” I say. She throws back her champagne and hands me the empty glass. I bottom out my glass as well and extend my elbow to her.

“Well, well, well, looks like somebody’s got a hot date!” and Warren returns just as Gisela takes my arm. She squeezes just a bit as a sign of her ire. I roll my eyes.

“Goodnight, gentlemen,” I say. Warren is sharing a private joke with Martindale who seems none too amused. Warren continues to laugh garishly as he stinks up the area with the lingering odor of cheap cigar smoke. He couldn’t even buy the good kind.

“Oh, and Stan?” I say, garnering his attention as well as that of the others in the group.

“You’re an asshole.” His boorish smile turns into a sneer as I lead my date away from his presence.

“Go, Mr. Grey,” she says, quietly, as I drop our flutes off at the bar on our way out.

*-*

Gisela and I are comfortable on the white rug in front of the fire in my apartment. I’ve shed my tuxedo jacket and vest and undone my bowtie and she’s shed her shoes. We feed our raging hunger while discussing the evening’s events and other minutia.

“You have met someone,” she says, before taking another bite of her burger. I raise my brow at her.

“No one that I want to marry,” I admit, “but… she can grow on you.”

“Was it the mulatto woman?” she asks. What mulatto woman?

“Oh, God, no,” I tell her. “She was just an ex-bedfellow.”

“And a bit bitter,” Gisela observes.

“Bitter? I didn’t notice.”

“You wouldn’t,” she says. “She would wait until you are talking and stare with disdain. She would much rather not see you again, much less to see you with a woman on your arm.” She takes another bite of her burger.

“How did you know there was someone?” I ask. “There’s always someone…” A sub, a fuck-buddy…

“Not like this one,” she says after she swallows her food. “The others, they take the edge off. This one, she has found your… key. She is your ground.” I frown.

“My ground?” I ask, bemused. She ponders her words.

“I say it wrong,” she says, and thinks for a moment. “She… grounds you.”

“She grounds me?” I ask incredulously. “She’s a hot little number and I love her company, but I hardly say she grounds me!”

“Um-hm,” she says, taking another bite of her burger. “You have sex with this woman?” she asks while shielding her mouth. Hmm…

“Not in a matter of speaking, no,” I reply. She won’t let me fuck her.

“Let me rephrase,” she says after a moment. “You come with this woman?” Dammit, just how much does she know?

“Yes,” I say, after hesitation. She nods.

“She have your key,” she says. I shake my head.

“What are you trying to say?” I ask frustrated. What the hell does she have your key mean?

“She… know you. She know your combination… she know your buttons…” Goddammit, Gisela!

“You’re trying to say she knows what makes me tick,” I say for her. She waves her hand.

“You Americans and your expressions. You know what I mean.” She takes another bite of her burger. “Our arrangement will soon end,” she adds, her mouth full. I glare at her.

“I’m not in love, Gisela,” I protest. “I enjoy myself, as always, but she’s not different than the others.”

“She is different,” she retorts, “and she makes you different.”

And now I see. Having Golden as my Domme has changed my demeanor in some way. Gisela sees it… and she doesn’t want it. Fair enough.

“Should I call for Taylor to take you home?” I say, gathering my trash to dispose of it.

“What?” she confronts. “Has your new dominant lover now robbed me of my tryst?” She’s frank. “Surely, you don’t think I just turn down dates for your company.”

I raise my brow and extend my hand to her to assist her off the floor.

“You know the way,” I say to her as I gesture towards my fuck room. She saunters to the room like she owns the place, reaching back and undoing her zipper as she walks. Oh, Ms. Sierra, you have no idea what you’ve unleashed. Then again, maybe you do.

I eat that pussy until her brain seeped from her vagina, then fuck it back up into her head again. She’s totally useless when I send her home. Make you think twice about kicking me to the curb, minha querida, but if you choose to do so, then it’s your loss.

*-*

A few weeks later, I’m knee deep in negotiations with the Canadians for softwood when I get a call about a “terrible ruckus” in the lobby.

“Caldwell Lincoln, sir,” Taylor informs me. “It’s to the degree that we may have to call the police.”

Where’s the safest place to meet this asshole? I thought the first-floor conference room would be safe, but his psychotic wife hurled a potted plant at me in there and broke my fucking arm.

“Make sure there are no projectile objects in the first-floor conference room and take his ass in there,” I say. “If he moves in the wrong way, shoot him, and tell him I told you so.”

“Yes, sir.” I have no doubt that Taylor will shoot that fucker before I even get downstairs. Fuck, are there any other precautions that I should take before I go down there? I call Welch.

“Sir,” he answers.

“I need high alert. Linc is downstairs causing a commotion, and I swear I won’t hesitate to drop this fucker…”

‘The police have already been alerted, sir,” he says. “I’m on my way to the first floor.” I end the call. There’s no use in playing with this man. I remove my suitcoat, vest, and tie and leave my office, headed for the executive elevator.  

Jason isn’t the only one surprised to see me enter the first-floor conference in rolled-up shirt sleeves.

“Casual day at the office, Grey?” Linc seethes. He’s certainly locked and loaded, but so am I.

“I don’t need to ask why you’re here, so cut the shit,” I say. “You wanted my attention, you got it, so handle your fucking business.”

“You think you’re fucking big shit,” he hisses. “You don’t think I know who you are? What you do? You don’t think I know that on top of trying to take my business, you fucked my wife?” Old news.

“Linc, I don’t know what you think you know, but more importantly, I don’t care. I don’t care if you think I fucked your wife in your bed,” which I have. “All I care about is that you continually think you have power over me and don’t seem to realize that you have none,” I growl as I shamelessly close the space between us.

“What the fuck are you trying to prove, you stupid piece of shit?” I continue. Are you that fucking dense? You’re a small dog trying to play in a yard that’s way too fucking big for you. You’re too thick to realize you’re out of your league and you need to stay in your goddamn place! I’m a rottweiler and you’re a beagle. You’re in the wrong cage, you Napoleonic fuck!

“Three weeks,” I say, holding up three fingers. “Three weeks, and I’ve secured 60% of your western lumber interests. Do you think you have the capital to match the Canadian government’s softwood lumber regulations? In a month—or less—you’ll be buying your domestic lumber from me. There’s your business savvy, Linc. What’s next?”

“You’re such the big man,” Linc taunts. “You can talk major shit with a whole battalion of security backing your ass up.”

“Everybody step the fuck back—now!” I demand, and the security staff in the room all slowly spread toward the door and windows. “Even if he’s beating my ass, nobody touch this asshole unless he pulls a weapon—any weapon. You all know how his wife likes potted plants.” I turn back to Linc and move to the middle of the conference room with my arms open, waiting.

“You want to take a swing, you old fuck? Take your best shot. You wanna go mano-e-mano, me and you? You go for it. I can guarantee you, none of these men will fuckin’ touch you. I’ll lay your ass out like the geezer you are. C’mon, you old fuckin’ goat. Stop talking that shit, because I’ve already shown that I’m better than you in the business world, so c’mon. Stop talking that shit and bring it.”

He’s standing there staring at me like I’ve already hit him. He didn’t expect this. I don’t think he knew what to expect. He got that corporate posturing that he was expecting, but it was more than he could bite, so this was his back-up plan? And he won’t take advantage of it? You gotta be kidding.

“You need some encouragement, Linc?” I taunt mercilessly. “You need some help on that road? That journey you started and can’t finish? Look me in the eye, Linc. Have I really fucked your wife?”

I glare at him with the carnal knowledge of that once-blonde-bombshell that he once coveted as his beautiful wife and he lunges at me. His move was so predictable that I only have to step out of his way to leave him sprawling past me and into the opposite wall. I shake my head. It’s Baristol all over again. True to my command, the security detail parts and allows him to splat into the wall without touching him. He turns around, enraged, glaring at me and regrouping for another attack.

He lunges at me again, more controlled this time and with a lot of force, but his right cross is wide and wild. I duck and come up with a left to the gut and a right to the side, finishing with a flat kick to the solar plexus with a size-12 Berluti sending him squarely back to the wall he just vacated with a hard “thud.”

“C’mon, Silver Fox,” I say, clenching my fist and preparing for his next move. “You can do better than that.” His eyes narrow and he comes at me full force, his shoulder and all his weight hitting me square in the abdomen and nearly knocking all the wind out of me as he slams me hard against the opposite wall. He gets some good gut and kidney punches in on me—enough to hurt a bit, but not enough to disable me. I clench my fist and clasp my hand over it, bringing it down hard on his spine, which I know hurt like hell, the second hit bringing him to his knees, allowing that same size-12 Berluti to connect with his jaw, producing a satisfying “crack” and flipping him over and onto his back.

He coughs and spits blood onto my conference-room carpet—that pisses me off—but fights to catch his breath and no doubt, gather his wits.

“That’s all you got, old man?” I ask, a little winded with my fist clenched and ready. “You talk all that shit and all you got is a bum-rush and a couple of gut punches? No wonder your wife was fucking me. Is your game as weak as your fight?”

He glares at me from the floor. He wants to retaliate, but his attempts to get off the floor fail.

What? That’s it? I’m just getting started.

“Yeah, that pussy was good once upon a time,” I jeer, “while you were jet-setting the world, fucking young models and getting young Jamaican girls pregnant.” As if it could, his face turns whiter than it already was.

“What? You didn’t think I knew? You don’t think I know everything you do, everywhere you are the minute you leave the states? Your shit is fucking easier to find than ‘Where’s Waldo’ because you’re too goddamn cocky to cover your fucking tracks. Go ahead, Linc, do your worst. Once I’m done kicking your ass, I can guarantee that you, your business and your name will be shit no matter where you turn!”

I can see the defeat when it settles in his eyes. The fight is over—the physical fight and the cock strut, and I barely broke a sweat. I roll my sleeves down and brush the wrinkles out. Stepping right over him, I head to the door of the conference room and open it to leave.

“Say something!” I warn turning back to Linc. “Say something to the cops. Say something to the press. Say something to anybody. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Breathe my name in any direction ever again and I will fucking bury you!” I turn to Taylor.

“Get him the fuck off my floor and out of my goddamn building and get somebody in here to clean up his bodily emissions.” I pull my cufflinks out of my pocket and walk to the elevator. I don’t push the call button since I see that it’s already on its way down. As the elevator rings, I see Linc walking out of the conference room with security walking behind him. I see the elevator begin to open, but I turn my attention to the frosted fuck about to leave my building.

One more thing.

“Lincoln!” I bark, gaining the attention of everyone in the lobby, including Linc.

“Stay the fuck away from Olivet!” I hiss. “You don’t know who you’re fucking with and I can guarantee you that at least nine people of power in this state will bury you… twice. I may or may not be one of them!”

He shows no fear, but that cockiness that he’s famous for is buried behind a swollen, bloody face and somebody’s handkerchief. He walks to the revolving glass door as I insert and snap my second cuff-link. Once he’s out of the doors, I turn around to see Phil Rockford standing in front of the closed elevators.

“Balls,” I bark to him and he jumps at my voice. “Remember those? That’s what they look like. Grow them back… or quit!”

He stares at me for a moment and I realize that he’ll never grow his balls back. I brush past him and get on the elevator.

“Andrea!” I shout, almost before the elevator doors open.

“Yes, Mr. Grey?” she says calmly, no reaction whatsoever to my ire. I hate and admire that at the same time.

“Get in touch with Bonde and Associates. I’m going to need feelers for a new head of legal. Cutthroat—tell them to keep the pussies to themselves.” I breeze past her to my office.

“Yes, sir,” she says, unfazed, momentarily typing on her keyboard. When I look back, she’s already on the phone.

Never shaken.
Never stirred.
Why can’t my head of legal be that way?

I go straight to the en suite and wash my hands. I feel dirty. That fucker bled, but he didn’t bleed on me. I still feel dirty.

I grab my suitcoat, vest, and tie and walk back out of my office.

“As soon as possible,” I hear Andrea say. “We will begin vetting as soon as we get the candidates information.” I call the elevator and realize that someone has called it before me and it’s not waiting for me. I’m irritated again, not that I wasn’t before.

“Confidential, as always. I am your sole contact… Special instructions? Yes, sir. Cutthroat. Keep the pussies to yourself.”

I have the best PA in creation.

The elevator opens, and Taylor moves to step off. Seeing me standing at the door, he maintains his position in the back of the elevator. I get in the elevator and push the button for the parking garage since Taylor’s express key is already in the keyhole.

“Did you make sure that asshole got his ass out of my building, into his asshole car and on his asshole way?” I hiss.

“Yes, sir,” Taylor responds. The remainder of the ride is silent, as is the ride back to my apartment. The moment he pulls into the parking garage at Escala, I leap out of the Audi SUV and into my Spyder. Without a word, I start the car, throw it into gear, and take off.

I pull up in front of the club, my hands a fearsome grip on the Audi’s steering wheel. I can barely contain my anger, visions of Linc’s snarling, smirking face taunting and pissing me off. None of my normal calming techniques are working and I’m certain that working over a submissive won’t work tonight either. I will fucking kill a sub right now. I call Golden instead, almost praying that she’s available.


Briana Evigan Chapter 13small

GOLDEN

“You’re awful limber today,” Kevin says as we hold another of our impossible poses.

“Not as tense as I usually am,” I say, trying to concentrate on my count.

“You get laid?” he asks.

“None of your business,” I retort. It’s time to release and, as usual, he holds me there. “Let me down, Kevin.”

He drops me with a grunt, like he always does—dick still hard, but he’s not groping me. He hasn’t since we had dinner. When I asked him why, he told me that we’d agreed to be friends and he wasn’t going to jeopardize that by being a gropy asshole. He can’t do anything about the erection, though. Holding me in those unreal poses that showcase my flexibility with nothing but dancer’s ass staring back at him is more than he can take. He won’t apologize for the physical reaction, but he can try to behave himself otherwise.

“You hungry?” I ask as I get up from his pounding erection.

“Famished,” he says, and I catch his double meaning.

“Lunch, you caveman,” I scold.

“I know what you’re talking about,” he says, sitting up and drying the sweat from his face with his shirt. “I’ll meet you back here after showers.” I raise my brow at him.

“Why aren’t you getting up?” I ask.

“Because I’m going to sit here and watch you walk away. Isn’t it obvious?” Geez, he has no shame since I sucked his dick. I shake my head and give him the show he’s waiting for as I turn and leave the studio and head to the showers.

We enjoy a late lunch at Dueminuti Pasta, an Italian restaurant on Capitol Hill that specializes in homemade pasta and fresh sauces with ingredients from local growers.

“He did that in the middle of a grocery store?” Kevin asks as he loads his fork with pasta. I nod.

“He grabbed me like they do in those corny romance movies and he kissed me, right there in the store, like I was supposed to swoon when he was done.” I shake my head. “Does that happen in real life?” I ask. “Guys kiss girls and they just swoon and fall into their arms and their beds?”

“It’s never happened to me,” he says, filling his mouth with pasta.

“Well, it wasn’t going to happen to him either,” I reply before taking a mouthful of
Ragu’ alla Bolognese. I love this place. Mom used to bring me here all the time.

“Do you want me to tell him that I’m hittin’ it?” Kevin asks. I frown and swallow my pasta.

“Hitting what?” I ask bemused.

“Hittin’ it,” he repeats over a mouthful of pasta. “He saw us at dinner once. If I tell him I’m hittin’ it, he’ll back off.”

“Oooh! You mean hittin’ this!” I say, pointing to myself. “No, don’t tell him that.”

“Might solve your problem,” he says, before drinking his soda. Silly little man.

“He saw us sitting at a table eating dinner. He walked up and spoke to me like you weren’t even sitting there. He left when he was damn good and ready. When he saw me in the grocery a few days ago, the thought that I might be fucking you never even crossed his mind. If it did, the only thing he was thinking was, ‘How can I snatch?’ He wasn’t concerned that you may have been there first or even that you may be still hittin’ it. All he was concerned about was ‘Can I get in?’ And that may be all he wanted—to hit it once, but he was trying, and you didn’t make one bit of fucking difference. There’s no honor among men. If you saw me and you wanted me, you wouldn’t have any honor for him if you thought he was fucking me, and you expect him to have honor for you?”

“Who the fuck said anything about honor?” Kevin retorts. “He’s a hoe. And if I tell him that I’m hittin’ it and he pursues you, that gives me a reason to beat his monkey ass.”

“Oh, yeah, that’ll help,” I say sarcastically. “You see the really big white guy over there with his arms folded that just scarfed down enough Pomodoro for four people?” Kevin looks over at Jesse. “If Don Juan Jake decides that he wants to fuck with me again, that’s what he’ll be hittin’, or I should say that’s what’s going to be hittin’ him. The only reason he didn’t get pulverized the first time is because I stopped Jesse from killing him.” I smile and eat my pasta.

“You don’t let a guy have any fun,” he pouts.

“I do,” I correct him, “but that’s not the nature of our relationship.”

*-*

“Step back, ma’am,” Jesse says. “I don’t want to have to restrain you.”

“You won’t do a damn thing to me, you gorilla, or I’ll have your ass arrested for assault!”

“You’re trespassing right now, you stupid bitch!” I retort behind Jesse. “He could break you in half right now and be within his rights.”

“You shut up!” she screams. “You shut the fuck up! I don’t want to hear anything out of your goddamn mouth right now!”

“Then why the fuck are you in my office?”

A few days after my lunch with Kevin, I get a text from him just as I’m entering my office to a very unwelcome visitor.

**Elena was here looking for you. She’s pissed. **

“You’re a little late, there, Kev,” I mumble.

“I’m going to wring your little neck, you fucking cunt!” she hisses and attempts to lunge at me. Jesse’s long arm of the law stops her before she can move two centimeters, his large hand pinning her firmly against the wall.

“I said. Step. Back. Ma’am,” he reinforces, his voice low and calculated. At first, she’s appalled and shocked, but she finds her composure and smiles at him.

“Are you one of her submissives, pet?” she says in a sweet, condescending voice. Jesse doesn’t flinch. I’m sure he’s heard worse. She turns her gaze to me. “You need your dog to protect you, you little pussy?” she taunts. God, you have no fucking idea what you’re dealing with.

“Stand down, Jesse.” I say coolly. Jesse looks back at me without moving his hand from her chest.

“Ana…”

“Stand. Down,” I growl. Reluctantly, he moves his hand from Blondie’s chest and takes a few steps to the side. I close the space between us.

“Now,” I say steely, “there’s no Jesse between us, but be careful, Elena,” I spit her name with disdain. “Because if you touch me, what I do to my clients will be a walk in the park compared to what I’ll do to you.”

Her eyes narrow but she doesn’t fucking touch me.

“I’m not one of your fucking toys, Goldie.”

“And I’m not one of your little slaves, Blondie,” I retort with just as much contempt. She reaches into her way-too-large bag and Jesse reaches into his holster. Without looking at him, she snatches a folded piece of paper and thrusts it in my face. I don’t move to take it, so Chanelle snatches it from her hand. She turns on Chanelle.

“What the fu..?”

“Bitch you don’t know me I will slap the white offa’ you,” Chanelle snaps all in one breath while still glaring at Elena. I don’t think anyone has ever said that to her and she doesn’t quite know how to take it, so she stands there in stunned silence while Chanelle examines the document.

“It’s a summons,” Chanelle says, throwing the paper back in Elena’s face. “Your ass is being sued. You must have pissed somebody off.” The paper falls uselessly to the floor as Elena continues to glare at Chanelle.

“Thank you!” she hisses hatefully. “I already knew that.”

“Then why the fuck did you ask what it was?” Chanelle snaps before going back to her seat. Elena watches her walk to the reception desk and sit down, but she doesn’t say anything else to her. I guess she thinks better of going toe-to-toe with a sistah from the hood who just warned her that she would slap her into another nationality.

“What I want to know is what the fuck this is all about,” she spits at me.

“Oh, that part’s easy. This is from your previous clients—women who were rendered damn near dysfunctional from getting services at your infested establishment.”

“My salons were not infested!” she screeches. “I was cleared by the board of health!”

“Well, according to these women, they’ve had nervous itches, some of them for weeks at a time,” I say calmly. “They have medical bills to prove that they couldn’t rest for fear that their homes were infested with bed bugs. They’ve had to pay for costly inspections and exterminations and one woman actually did find bed bugs in her home. There was no other connection except for you and she’s included in the class action suit.”

With such a large demographic, the bed bugs could have come from anywhere, but civil cases just need a preponderance of evidence, not proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Her biggest admission of guilt was her lack of proactive counter measures. The innocent scream it from the rooftops. She kept quiet in an attempt to keep publicity away from her. It worked, but eventually, it backfired.

“You’re such a spiteful little tramp,” she seethes. “I know you were in on this entire thing from the very beginning. I just know it.” Well, you know wrong, Blondie, and I’ve had enough.

“Now, what I want you to do is dig deep into your brain and pull out some of those logic cells that haven’t been bleached beyond use, assuming that you still have some left. Once you find them, I want you to summon them forward to your ears and allow them to comprehend the words that are coming out of my mouth. Are they there? Are you listening? Let’s hope so.

“I. Had nothing to do. With the fall. Of your funky-ass salons!” I say slowly and forcefully. “At the time of your demise, I hadn’t spoken to Christian for several months. I didn’t know anything had happened to your dime-store face-painting and hair-cutting nickelodeons until well after you lost your shit and broke his arm. By the time I saw him again and knew that anything had happened, it was healed!

“Bedbugs? Seriously? Bedbugs? Five-star restaurants have been closed for rodents, roaches, flies, unsanitary conditions. They clean it up and they’re open in a month. And you got shut down for bedbugs—all your salons in the greater Seattle area for fucking bedbugs! And you think I had something to do with that. That’s one of the most amateur attacks I’ve ever seen in my life—and it worked! I’m astonished that it worked, because you’re an idiot.

“If I wanted to do you in, Blondie, you wouldn’t have to guess. You would have no doubt that it was me because I would have left my mark all over it. We wouldn’t even be standing here talking, missy, because you. Would be. Completely. Destroyed. Your name, your license, your reputation, your money, everything! I would have completely decimated you. Bedbugs? Have we fucking met? That’s laughable. If I wanted your ass that badly, when they came to investigate you, they fucking would’ve found something, and it would’ve been more than any goddamn rodents! They would have found shit on you that would have left you unable to talk your way out of a paper bag.

“Damage control, you stupid blonde bitch. This entire thing could have been avoided by damage control, not by throwing a fucking cement pot at Seattle’s most influential citizen! You’re such a fucking fool! You were so busy plotting my downfall that you never saw that I could have helped you! You could have combated this entire thing with just a few strategically placed press releases. Instead, you had your head so far up my ass trying to find some shit that you could use that you couldn’t even see the forest for the trees. You left that door wide open, and your prior clients are taking full advantage of it. Who am I as a capitalist in America to pass up this opportunity?”

I bend down, pick up the summons, and shove it in her face.

This is what I do, Elena!” I say, shaking the summons in her face. “I don’t know or fucking care who all was involved in spreading a goddamn rumor, but this is what I do. I take on cases when people come to me with valid legal issues. You wanna be pissed at me, be pissed about the right thing. Be pissed about this!”

I fling the summons in her face and she catches it this time.

“Now, get the fuck out of my office and never speak to me or come near me again. If you do, I’ll have him shoot you and her beat you Moroccan, assuming I don’t get to you first. I’ll see you in court.”

She stands there for a moment, the three of us waiting for another word to come out of her mouth so that we could draw straws on which of us would get to shoot or beat her. She must’ve seen the killer instinct in one—or all—of our faces, because she scurries out of my office without another word.


A/N: Raj Rajaratnam, Martha Stewart, and Angelo Mozilo all had big cases in insider trading.
“Minha querida”—loosely translated, “My dear.”

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 53—Big Brother

I KNOW THAT YOU HAVEN’T GOTTEN AN EMAIL YET BECAUSE I HAVEN’T SENT ONE. I JUST WANTED TO GET THE CHAPTER POSTED BEFORE I GO TO WORK.

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 53—Big Brother

CHRISTIAN

I’ve gone back to wearing my tailored holster. The one I borrowed from the security office turned out to be a laughable failure.

I’m running over all the conversations I had with all the people that I spoke to today as I secure my Glock in its case and step out of my clothes in my dressing room. I’m accustomed to doing a lot in a day, but this has been quite the extended sprint.

Shut down any communication from Aragon and rein in my crazy head of security’s absurd attempts at trying to shield my family from the affects of dust.

Try to figure out exactly what’s in those storage bins. I’m so close on that because I don’t want Freeman to get word of the movement and try to do something to hold things up. I and my father and uncle aren’t there to stop him from trying something, so I’m trying to wrap things up as quickly as I can. I was going to have them try to distribute things from the storage bins. Now, I’m thinking to go with my first mind and ship everything here unless there’s something that’s just too fragile to travel.

Mission accomplished getting Aunt Tina to understand that she needs to cherish these last moments with Harmony. It’s a gift that her daughter will treasure for the rest of her life. As I step into the shower and allow the water to run over my head and face, I recall the conversation we had in her room, the one that brought her relief and caused her a bit of grief at the same time.

“Aunt Tina, Harmony, you don’t have to worry about that asshole getting any of Harmony’s inheritance. He’s not entitled to any of it.”

“I thought he was if I get it while we’re still married,” Harmony protests. “Isn’t it considered assets acquired after marriage?”

“Yes, but inheritances are protected as long as you don’t put the proceeds in a joint account.”

“Like hell that’s going to happen,” Harmony says without thinking. “Sorry, Mom.”

“Oh, thank God,” Aunt Tina says, breathing like the weight of the world has been lifted from her shoulders. “I so didn’t want that wretched man to get anything from my Harmony.” I sigh.

“Now, I have some not-so-good news,” I tell her. Harmony sits up straight, still perched on the floor at her mother’s knees.

“What is it?” she asks. Tina’s attention is now focused on me as well.

“My bodyguard, Jason—he wears an earpiece that keeps him in contact with the rest of our security team. Different frequencies of signals interfere with his earpiece… just like they interfere with your hearing aid.” She raises a brow to me.

“I don’t know what any of that means,” she admits.

“He was fine when we walked into the house,” I tell her. “The closer he got to your room, the worse the interference became. He alerted me of his suspicions and I asked if he could scramble signals.” She’s still frowning.

“Suspicions?” Harmony questions. “Of what, Christian?”

“We think your room is bugged,” I admit.

“That’s preposterous!” Tina declares. “Who would want to bug my room? Why?”

“I don’t know, but Jason warned me that the scrambler would interfere with the signal on the bug and it would interfere with a regular signal from a cell tower, meaning that I wouldn’t get a signal from my phone.” Harmony pulls out her phone.

“He’s right,” she says. “I don’t have a signal.”

“As soon as you said the humming in your ear stopped, I checked my phone and I had no signal.”

“Well, that could mean anything, Christian,” Aunt Tina says. “There are satellite boxes and all sorts of things in this house.”

“You could be right. Aunt Tina, but none of these things interfere with Jason’s communications earpiece.” She’s still shaking her head. “If you would just humor me, I’d like to have a team come in tomorrow and do a sweep of your home. If we find nothing, then all is well. If we find something, then we take action.”

“What kind of action?” she asks.

“Trying to find out who bugged your room and where the signals are going.” She twists her lips.

“It’s worth looking into, Momma,” Harmony says. “At the very least, we can find what’s making your hearing aid hum…”

So, now, Barney and a team of techs will show up at Aunt Tina’s house with an insane security detail with instructions to break Roger’s ankles if he tries to get in their way.

He’s the butler. What the hell is he expecting? Is he in line for some kind of inheritance, too? Luckily, even though Aunt Tina wasn’t involved in any kind of alternative activity, her staff was still required to sign confidentiality agreements upon accepting employment because I have a feeling that his days are numbered once Tina passes on.

I lather my hair and scratch thoroughly, trying to erase some of this day from my memory. It seems like too much happened at once. I don’t do well with death and it’s written all over Aunt Tina’s face.

I don’t know how long I stay in the shower trying to rid myself of all the remnants of this day. It’s somewhere around nine when I get to my office—brandy in hand, hair still wet—and open my laptop. I open my email and begin to respond to and clean up emails as quickly as I can—deleting those that aren’t important and shooting off answers to those that only need short responses. About one-fourth the way through my emails from today, I see one from Smalls simply labelled “Cars.” I click on the email and there are no preliminaries, just several pictures. I click on the first one:

36b707283494f724eda3cdd7676197bb

“Oh, a glove… I get it.” I open the next one.

98c50b5e0e3e66f38daf219a1ed98e11

I have to think about this one. Lives in the light but dies if the light shines on me. I have no idea. I look at the next one.

901f26075134d929053ab138fd13dc03

I totally have no idea. And these are supposed to lead us to the keys and titles to the car? I open the next one.

52ce5fcf1567b1411aeb6d17e0a86bb6

I try to see the logic in each puzzle like the logic in the first. Of course, it’s logical—I know the answer to it already. Nonetheless, I have no idea what the answers are. I open the next picture expecting to find a fifth riddle. I find something quite different.

“Fuck me.”

It’s still mostly covered by the tarp, probably to protect it from the dust and whatnot in the storage bin, but I get a very clear picture of a beautiful classic car underneath. The cover is pulled back to reveal about one-third of the car, and it’s fucking gorgeous.

“Hell, Pops,” I say, opening the next pictures to reveal another… and another… and a fourth. Four presumably fully-restored classic cars. Cherry was right. These cars have to be worth a fortune. Still not too late. I dial Uncle Herman.

“Hey, Christian. What’s up? You’ve got some news about the storage bins?” I suppose that’s a safe assumption. I don’t really call for much else.

“Yeah, Uncle Herman. You remember I told you there was a car in one of the bins, right?”

“Yeah, I remember,” he says.

“Well, I was wrong… there’s four.” Uncle Herman is silent for a moment.

“Four cars?” he says. I nod as if he can see me. “Four damn cars? In storage? Rick!” I can hear shuffling like he’s moving around. I don’t say anything, but I can hear him mumbling something about cars and still calling my father. “You sure, man? Four cars? Shit! Rick!”

I don’t get a chance to answer him at all. I think his questions were just rhetorical.

“I’m here! Keep your shirt on! Where’s the fire?” Dad says, his voice getting closer to the phone.

“Rick, four cars! Four damn cars in that storage facility.”

“What? What are you talking about?” Dad asks.

“Dad’s storage facility. In Detroit! There are four cars in there!” Dad is silent for a minute.

“You’re shittin’ me!” he barks.

“I’ve got Christian on the phone. He says there’s four cars in that damn facility!” I hear the phone rustling.

“Christian? Four? What kind of cars are they?” Dad asks me.

“I don’t know, Dad. I don’t know cars like that. But they’re classics, and they’re all restored.”

“Shit! Seriously?” he exclaims. “How do you know?”

“I’ve got pictures… well partial pictures…”

“Send them to me. Can you send them to my phone?”

“Can you access your email from your phone?”

“I’m already there…” I forward the pictures to Dad’s phone. The line is silent for a minute then I hear Dad’s voice again making some kind of strange exclamation.

“I can only see pieces, but these are some cherried-out cars, Herm,” he says to his brother. I assume they’re passing the phone back and forth and looking at the cars.

“I can tell by the frames that these are all Fords,” I hear Uncle Herman say.

“No shit, Sherlock?” Dad says. “I don’t know exactly what the hell they are, but I know Dad’s not going to buy anything else.”

“I don’t either. We should call Stan,” Uncle Herman says.

“It’s midnight in Detroit,” Dad protests.

“So, what? Wake his ass up. This is important! Hold on, Christian…” The line goes dead for a minute and when he returns, I can hear another line ringing.

“This better be important,” Uncle Stan’s sleepy voice says.

“It is,” Uncle Herman replies. “So, Stan, what do ya know about Fords?”

“You’ve got jokes at a quarter to one in the morning?” Uncle Stan replies.

“Take a look at your phone,” he says. I assume Uncle Herman texted him the pictures from Dad’s phone.

“I see riddles,” he says. “You woke me for riddles?” Shit, I forgot about the riddles.

“Riddles? No, look for pictures,” Uncle Herman says. After a few more moments, Uncle Stan comes back to the line.

“Okay, you woke me for old Fords,” Uncle Stan says.

“Not just any old Fords, Stan—classics, four of them, all in Dad’s storage facilities.”

“Are you serious!?” Uncle Stan is awake now. I can see him in my mind’s eye sitting straight up in bed. “These are in Dad’s storage? How long have they been there?”

“If you don’t know, we sure don’t,” Uncle Herman says. “I didn’t even know he had these things.”

“So, what’s with the damn riddles?” Uncle Stan asks.

“Yeah, about that,” I interject. “Hi, Uncle Stan. It’s Christian. So, you can’t move the cars out of the storage because we can’t find the keys. Apparently, these riddles are Pops’ way of leading you to the keys and the titles.”

Uncle Stan and Uncle Herman laugh at the same time and Dad asks what’s funny.

“You missed some files in that email. Here—open these.”

“We’ve got a regular party line going on here,” Uncle Stan jests. “I got the first one. It’s a glove.”

“Yeah, but do you know what it means?” I ask. “My men figured out the riddles for the manifest to find the cars, but they can’t figure these out. So, we had instructions to ‘ask the boys.’”

“Yeah, Dad and his riddles,” I hear Dad say. “You’d think he would have gotten some new ones.”

“So, you know what these mean?” I ask.

“Well, that third one kinda got me stomped,” I hear Dad say.

“Let me see,” Uncle Herman asks. I hear shuffling. “Poison without touching… no clue. I’m getting nothing from this.”

“Yeah, me either,” Uncle Stan says. Well, that’s not helping.

“The last one has something to do with Christmas.” Uncle Herman says.

“Uncle Herman, I’m dying to know how you figured that out,” I say.

“Flies when it’s born, lies when it’s alive, runs when it’s dead—snow,” he says matter-of-factly. “Dad did these with us all the time. It was his way of forcing us to think outside the box.”

“Pops was a smart man,” I say, not really meaning to say it aloud.

“Yes, he was,” Uncle Herman confirms softly. “Now, let’s figure out the ones we know. A glove, snow, and…”

“A shadow!” Dad says. “Live where there’s light but die if the light shines on me… a shadow.” There’s silence for a moment.

“Yeah, Rick, that’s it. A shadow. So, what does this stuff mean?” Uncle Herman says. I can tell that he has now put me and Uncle Stan on speaker.

“Well, the glove would have to either be work gloves or baseball gloves,” Dad says. “I didn’t know Dad to keep work gloves, did you?”

“No, but he kept every one of our baseball gloves from little league,” Uncle Herman says.

“Now all we have to do is find the baseball gloves. That’ll be like finding a needle in a haystack,” Uncle Stan complains.

“Maybe not,” I interject. “We’ve got a manifest of the stuff in storage. We might be able to find some of these things on the manifest.”

“Okay, so we’ve got somewhere to start. What about the Christmas one?” Uncle Herman says.

“The Christmas decorations?” Dad says. “You know we hated sorting those things every year, but Mom loved them, and I can guarantee Dad kept them.”

“Oh, I’m certain Dad kept them,” Uncle Herman says. “We put them on the tree the last year we were in Detroit. I had to help him sort them by myself because certain slacker brothers were MIA!”

They rib each other for a while over the Christmases they had to sort these old-fashioned Christmas decorations—homemade, some with moving parts, strings of lights with the giant light bulbs. I’m certain this is exactly what Pops wanted them to do after he was gone.

“Alright, you slackers, what about the third one? The shadow?” Dad asks.

“Oh, that’s easy. That has to be the silhouette pictures Mom did of us. Is there any other possible thing you could think of?” Uncle Stan says. There’s silence for a moment.

“I’ll go with you on that one, Stan, because I’m drawing a blank,” Uncle Herman says.

“Same here,” Dad concurs. “Now this fourth one, we’re never going to figure this out…” I don’t tell my father and my uncles, but I’m already typing the riddle into Google:

We hurt without moving.
We poison without touching.
We bear the truth and the lies.
We are not judged by our size.
What are we?

When the answer pops up, I already know what Pops wanted. It was never going to happen, and in the end, I’m sure he knew that, but there was nothing he could do about it by then.

“Pops wanted you to work as a team to get these answers,” I inform them.

“We know that. We are,” Dad defends.

“Uncle Herman figured out the baseball gloves. Dad, you got the Christmas decorations. Uncle Stan, you were right on top of the silhouettes… There’s a teammate missing.”

Silence.

“Shit,” Dad hisses. “Well, I’m not calling him.”

“We may have to if we want to figure this out,” Uncle Stan interjects.

“The hell we do!” Uncle Herman barks. “Each one of us may have figured out what the riddles meant, but a different one of us figured out each riddle. We work as a team, we figure this shit out. Fuck Freeman!”

Okay, Uncle Herman is pissed. I almost want to tell them the answer to the riddle, but I have a feeling Pops wants them to do this themselves.

Nobody said anything about hints, though.

“Why don’t you guys try to brainstorm about each line?” I ask. “And try to think like Freeman, if that’s possible.” I hear sighs of impatience from each brother, and the brain-storming starts.

“They bear truth and lies—people?”
“People are always judged by their size. What’s not judged by its size?”
“Oh, shit, that could be anything.”
“Poison without touching. What the hell can poison you without touching—air?”
“I can’t think of anything else, but what’s with the size thing? Air is infinite unless you’re in a vacuum.”
“Think Freeman. He doesn’t bear lies, necessarily, but he’s poison as shit.”
“Attitude? Could it be attitude?”

They go on like this for several minutes and I just want to blurt out the answer. That’s when Uncle Stan brings the conversation around to the right direction.

“Books tell truth and lies.”

That’s it, Uncle Stan, we’re on the right track.

“Dad has a billion books. He wouldn’t put that key in a book. That would be inhumane.”
“Remember this is Freeman’s clue we’re talking about.”
“Well, like I said, he’s poison as shit.”

What does he use to poison?

“Yeah, his mouth gives new meaning to ‘loose lips sink ships.’”

You’re getting there, boys.

“Loose lips… mouths bear truth and lies… but they can’t poison without touching…”

“Mouths can’t,” Dad speaks up, “but words can!”

Everyone gets quiet.

“Dad once told Freeman that his words were venomous. Poison without touching—they bear truth and lies, and kill is a small word with a really big meaning, while infinitesimal means small. And they don’t move, but they can cut you down like a mighty tree.”

Bingo. You got it, Dad.

“God, that’s perfect for Freeman,” Uncle Herman says, “but what does it mean?”

“Uncle Herman, when did you guys first realize that Freeman was kind of venomous with his words?” I ask. “Was it when he lost his girlfriend?”

“No, it was well before that,” he replies. “He would say little snide things that really hurt, even as a kid. Remember, Rick? Dad gave him that book Harriet the Spy?

“Yeah, I do,” Dad says. “He was supposed to learn a lesson from it, but I think the asshole used it as a bible. He’s a perfect example of why the book is banned. He totally missed the…” Dad trails off.

“What’s the matter, Rick?”

“That’s where the fourth key is,” Dad says. “That book was banned from school libraries in the eighties and it pissed Dad off, remember?”

“Vaguely,” Uncle Herman says.

“I always wondered why that one little white book was in Dad’s library with all his leather-bound books,” Uncle Stan points out. “It makes perfect sense.”

“So, now we have somewhere to look. What about the cars?” Dad says.

“I can’t tell what these are from these pictures,” Stan says. “I can’t see the tail lights and most of the cars are covered.”

“Well, get your ass down to that storage facility tomorrow and get a look at those cars,” Uncle Herman says. “You can give the guy in charge the info we discovered and see if they can find that stuff on the manifest. His name is Terry Smalls.”

“Um, I have to work,” Stan protests. “Screw it, I’ll take a sick day. This is more important. You still could have called me at a more decent hour.”

“Then you would have missed the opportunity to take a sick day because you would have been at work already. Goodnight, Stan. Love ya, buddy.”

“Goodnight, ass,” Stan says, and ends the call.

“I’ll text Smalls tonight to tell him to expect Uncle Stan in the morning,” I say.

“Christian, it’s after midnight in Detroit,” Dad protests.

“That’s why I’m texting him instead of calling him,” I say. “Goodnight, Dad, Uncle Herman.”

Goodnight,” they both say, and we end the call.


SUNSET

The black Lexus pulls up to the circular drive at the sprawling estate in Bloomfield Hills. Black Italian leather shoes exit the back seat of the car as Ricardo steps out as strides to the portico. The glass doors open before he has a chance to ring the bell.

“Mr. Aragon,” the butler says as he steps aside. Ricardo walks past him, ignoring his greeting and walking the route he does nearly every day—through the lavish formal living room, past the overly masculine entertainment room, down the hall decorated with ridiculously expensive works of art. The house is a statement in overcompensation, but Ricardo would never admit it.

At the last door on the right, Ricardo Aragon turns the knob and enters his boss’s lair. More ostentatious than the rest of the house, this room is decorated in lush fabrics and imported leathers and textiles, boasts a full service wet bar, and a media section that would be the envy of any sports enthusiast.

“How was your trip?” the lone voice says from behind a luxurious easy chair.

“He refused our request,” Ricardo replies. A hand with well-manicured nails presses a button and silences the many screens on the far wall.

“I’m aware,” the voice says. “You were your usual persuasive self, I presume.”

Sunset“Even more so,” Ricardo hisses as he pours himself a scotch. “Arrogant prick made it clear that he’s not afraid of death.” He throws back the shot. Ricardo’s host turns in his chair, his own scotch in his hand. Ricardo is always amazed by the fact that this guy looks so young to have amassed so much power.

“Hmm, he would rather die than bow,” Sunset observes. “He’s got real balls. I admire that.”

“I think we should teach him a lesson in respect,” Ricardo shoots, not at all pleased that his boss appears to be idolizing the bastard who basically tossed him out of Seattle with his ass in his hands.

“And that’s why I’m in charge and you take the orders,” Sunset retorts. “You put on a good show but I’m the one that gives the command. You don’t chop off a finger because somebody showed you up.”

“He didn’t show me up. He showed you up. I represent you!” Ricardo retorts, trying to incite his boss. Sunset laughs.

“That may be true, Ricky, but you need to understand that sometimes, it takes a gentler hand to catch the big fish. I sent you to Seattle to tell someone to let me know when they come to the city. You failed. Why? Because a goddamn billionaire thinks some thug in Detroit is trying to tell him where he can and can’t go. I could have sent Chev or Mumford to try to strongarm the guy. I knew that wasn’t going to work. I needed suave and smooth, handle with care, and you came strolling in there like fucking Fredo Corleone. It’s a wonder he or one of his men didn’t shoot you on the fucking street! I would’ve reacted the same way he did.

“Now, you want to make an example of him because you sashayed into his city throwing threats and making demands that you’re in no position to make like a goddamn amateur! I’m not trying to overthrow Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, or the Koch Brothers, and I’m sure as fuck not trying to overthrow Christian Grey. I’m looking for one red-headed, big-mouthed, motherfucker and he ain’t him! Keep an eye on him like I told you. I can guarantee you tomorrow he’ll be riding around in a fucking armored truck! He’ll have the goddamn Presidential cavalcade behind him. Ant won’t come anywhere near him now and we probably lost the best decoy we’ve ever had!!

“Let me explain something to you that you don’t seem to understand. Power is nothing more than glorified respect. Your power only goes as far as your respect, and more than 50% of power is imagined. My power comes from the fact that people fear me. They know what I’m capable of. My reputation precedes me, and people know what I can do. To achieve the kind of power and respect that I have, they would have to overthrow me and none of them have the gumption to try because they know that I’ll gut them like pigs.” Aragon swallows hard.

“Grey doesn’t know that,” Sunset continues. “He’s an international mogul with connections and ties that we don’t even know about. He has a dollar just like I have a dollar. He knows people just like I know people, or do I need to remind you about Ratzinger?” Aragon is visibly uncomfortable.

“The difference between his power, my power, and your power is that your power comes from me and he knows that. His power is his own. He took Myrick’s kid down by himself. The Feds just came in and cleaned up the mess. And there are still a couple of hackers and a company informant involved in that job that we can’t locate. They’ve dropped off the face of the earth, and I’m willing to wager that no one anywhere will ever hear from them again.

“I know guys like him. I’ve met guys like him. I’ve dealt with guys like him. I am guys like him. He most likely has no idea whatsoever what happened to those two and he doesn’t get his hands dirty unless it’s personal… and you threatened to go to his house where his treasured wife lives and his babies sleep. You feel like a big man now?” Aragon’s lips form a thin line. He’s not surprised that Sunset knows the details of his visit before he even had the chance to reveal them.

“You told me to make sure he doesn’t come to Detroit without permission. How did you expect me to do that?” he protests.

“See, that’s your fucking problem!” Sunset barks. “I did not tell you to make sure he doesn’t come to Detroit without permission! You heard what you wanted to hear, and you acted accordingly! I said advise Grey to inform us when he’s coming to Detroit as Myrick may be tracking him and we want to be prepared in case he decides to engage—or did you conveniently forget that Grey is not my damn concern?”

“No, sir, I haven’t,” Aragon replies through his teeth.

“This is a business first and foremost and I am a goddamn businessman, not a fucking thug. You want to throw around that fucking gang mentality, go on out in the streets, just don’t ever fucking cross me. I fear no man, but I also don’t pick useless fights. Why would I do that? Bullies only hold power for a minute, Rick, and then they’re shot dead in the street. Is that what you want?”

“No, sir,” Aragon says flatly.

“Good, because you’re valuable to me and I don’t want to lose you. What did I expect you to do? Be the fucking advisor and representative that I groomed you to be. You’re behaving like a common street punk. They’re a dime a bushel and that’s not what the fuck I need.

“Make no mistake, everyone has a target on their chest, Ricky, even you, but I’m counting on that target that Myrick has on Grey’s the pull that rat out the woodwork. His hate for that guy is deep and personal, and he’s not going to go down without taking Grey with him. That’s what I’m waiting for. He’s the first and the last person I allowed to get that much information on me and my business—a crucial mistake. You don’t even have as much info as he does, and priority number one is to take his ass down, not make Grey bow. Like I said, you’re valuable to me, so stop acting so goddamn cocky and act smart like you used to!

“Don’t think for a second that he hasn’t instructed his men to shoot your ass on sight. What do you think Seattle Police is going to do when your body dredges up from a drain on the Alaskan Viaduct or worse yet, the coroner comes and scrapes your remains off Grey’s marble floor? They’re coming straight to me, wondering why my number one guy was harassing one of Seattle’s finest citizens. I will have lost my best man and much less, I don’t need that headache. Don’t forget—your actions all come back to me, Ricky. So, consider him protected, in case you get any ideas.

“I don’t apologize, and your apology is useless right now. Get the fuck out of my face so I can try to figure out some kind of truce to send this man, so he can call off his fucking dogs. Thanks to your performance, I can guarantee you that unauthorized air can’t get to Prince and Princess Grey, let alone some revenge attempt by that little worm.”

Ricardo purses his lips and leaves the room while Sunset presses the button near his hand, and the screens come alive again.


ANASTASIA

I awake on Thursday and Christian is already out of bed. He came in last night, took a shower and went straight to his study. I know he came to bed last night because his side of the bed is rustled and doesn’t have that cold, nobody’s-been-here-all-night feeling. I throw my legs over the edge of the bed and the day’s task start rushing at me as soon as my feet hit the floor.

Decide on a layout for my home office. I have a feeling that I’ll be spending more time there than I planned. Christian is trying to tell me that everything is okay and although I still don’t want a fucking wagon train following me to work, it’s safer for me and the twins inside the walls and gates of Grey Crossing, whatever’s going on. I won’t tell Christian that I’ll be doing most of my work from home, but not willingly dragging my precious babies into unknown peril helps to fend off the Boogeyman feeling a bit. I’m happy with my decision.

Talk to Harmony and Marilyn about their respective problems. I didn’t get a chance to see Harmony at all yesterday and Marilyn acted as if everything was just honky-dory, so I didn’t press the matter. Babies don’t just go away, and if she is pregnant and decides to keep the baby, it’s going to change our dynamic, too. She’s at my beck and call right now, and that’s certainly not going to be the case with her being a mom.

And Harmony… I haven’t heard anything from Al about her divorce case, but I know she’s a nervous wreck with this greedy asshole slithering around waiting for her mother to die. It’s bad enough that she has to contend with her mom’s impending demise, but now this? It’s inhumane.

I don’t watch much television, but last night, I did see one of the promos for our segment on Monday. Looking at it with not such a critical eye, it was pretty good. It gives just enough bait for you to want to see more on Monday if you already know us, and enough to have you chomping at the bit to see the whole segment if you don’t. It brings to mind another task that I should do before Monday.

Release a statement about those sexual misconduct charges levied against me.

Without some kind of prelim, the little bit that we’ve said about the charges leaves a lot to the imagination. I don’t want to come off as some spoiled rich socialite who thinks she’s above the law or punishment. This kind of thing, of course, has to be investigated. However, the way I was treated by that board was completely unprofessional and uncalled for. I’ve touched on the issue in some of my interviews, but I haven’t really delved into anything substantial.

It’s time to call Vee.

Genie pants and a wrap-around today since I’m not leaving the house. My abs seem a little loose, so I’m going to have to focus on them a bit. I’ve been lazy with my workouts since Christian’s escape to Madrid. I need to get back into the routine again. Finding my Zen is great and all, but it won’t help me if I’m 175 pounds and flabby—not a good look for someone barely over five feet tall.

I don’t bother questioning the staff where Christian is when I come downstairs for breakfast.

“Not going in today?” Ms. Solomon says with a frown. I shake my head as I eat my bagel. “Are you feeling alright?”

“I feel fine,” I say. “I’m getting some work done on my office downstairs and I need to make some decisions about it, so I’ll be here today.” I chomp on my bagel and look at the information Courtney forwarded about projected staffing needs. She’s becoming quite valuable to the Center and I think paring her with Harmony might help them both with direction a bit. Courtney has the grit and Harmony has the schooling, so they’d make a great team.

I can’t help but notice Gail and Ms. Solomon whispering to each other. I don’t want to feel self-conscious about it, but what’s with the whispering?

Just in case they are talking about me or something that I don’t need to hear, I gobble the last bit of my breakfast bagel, pick up my gourmet coffee and my phone, and slide out of the stool at the breakfast bar. I make my way down to my office and stand in the doorway, looking at the space. Earth tones are good, but the over-abundance of wood darkens the room and overtakes the beautiful natural light in here. The bookshelves look overpowering and boxed-in. I need to have them ripped out or redone… how long will that take?

I sit down at my desk and start strolling through Google for ideas for my office. I’m sure that the bookshelves are going to have to go, so I text Marilyn to get in touch with the contractor who did my office at the Center. If she’s already on her way to Helping Hands, she can work wherever her butt lands. No use in making her drive to the Crossing if she’s already there.

“I can come to the house, it’s not a problem.” She called me after getting my text.

“I thought you would be at the Center already by now,” I say.

“I’m in my car—a few minutes down the I-5 and across the bridge and I’m there. Do you need anything on the way?” She sounds agitated.

“Um, no. I’ll… see you when you get here.” She ends the call abruptly, causing me to look at the phone like it just bit me.

What the hell was that all about?

Deciding not to spend too much energy on whatever bug is up Marilyn’s butt, I call Vee and explain my concerns about the interview and the topic of my sexual misconduct accusations.

“Ana, the interview covered it fine,” she assures me. “You totally made the point that you needed to make. The charges are false; the claims were made anonymously and not by the supposed victim; the board treated you like shit and then disavowed any responsibility for their actions. You want people to take notice, but anything more is going to be overkill. Leave it like it is.”

“If you’re sure,” I say, still not certain that we’ve covered enough ground on the topic.

“I’m positive,” she says. “This is what I do. If it doesn’t pick up momentum all on its own, which I suspect that it will, we’ll revisit it, okay?” I sigh. She’s the expert.

“Okay, fine,” I cede. “Can you transfer me to legal? I want to talk to Al.” She’s silent for a moment.

“May I ask about what?” What the fuck?

“Um, since when do I have to have your clearance to speak to my best friend?” I nearly bark. “Or to my head of legal?”

“Ana, no! Don’t take it that way,” she interjects. “You were just talking to me about the interview and the sexual misconduct charges, then you immediately turned around and asked to speak to Allen. I thought the two were related and since one of those is a media situation and I am the head of PR, I thought it was something I needed to know. Nothing more.” I shake my head.

“I’m a little wired, Vee,” I tell her. “Christian’s acting strange. Jason’s bumped-up security, which is something he never does lightly. So, I know something’s going on and if you know, you can’t tell me because of your NDA. I have a friend of the family who’s having some trouble—which is why I want to speak to Al—and my assistant is acting all snippy. The whole thing is irritating me and it’s really starting to mess with my Feng Shui!” Vee is silent for a moment.

“I’m… sorry… I’ll get Al for you.” And she’s gone. Jesus, this negativity all around me has to fucking go! It’s driving me absolutely crazy!

“What’s up, Jewel?” Al answers. “Vee says you sound a bit perturbed.”

“I’m fine,” I nearly hiss. “Any word on Harmony’s situation.”

“What about it?” he asks. Et tu, Allen?

“I asked you if she had any recourse against her snaky husband trying to wait out Tina’s death so that he can weasel in on her inheritance and I haven’t heard anything from you!” I snap.

“Chris didn’t tell you?” he asks. Well, that explains a lot.

“Well, I haven’t spoken to Chris!” I say sarcastically. “I haven’t even seen him since he left for work yesterday.”

“Are you two fighting again?” Al asks cautiously.

“No!” I retort angrily. “He’s just in a mood about something that’s going on down there.”

“Nothing’s going on down here,” he replies. “Nothing out of the ordinary.”

“No, it’s going on—you just don’t know about it… or you can’t tell me,” I correct myself. Al sighs.

“Jewel, there’s nothing going on that I know of. If there were, I could tell you, because you’re one of the owners. Unless there’s information that I’m specifically directed not to share, the NDA doesn’t apply to you…”

“Like when Christian went to Madrid,” I point out. He sighs.

“Yes, like when Christian went to Madrid,” he replies.

“So, like I said, something’s going on down there. You may not know about it, but something’s going on. Now… about Harmony please?” It’s time to change the subject before I start to get angry about secrets.

“Harmony’s inheritance is safe,” he says. “It’s protected assets. Her husband can’t lay any claim to the money unless she put the money in a joint account and comingled it while they were still married. As long as anything she receives isn’t mixed with their marital assets, he can’t get to it. He was probably leading her to believe that so that she would pay him off to go away. And the fact that her attorney was actually working for him explains why she didn’t know this.”

That’s exactly what I was prepared to do, too—pay his ass off.

“So, why did Christian hear about this and I didn’t when I’m the one who came to you with it?”

“Because Christian came to me yesterday and asked me about it. I told him what I found out and he said that he was going to see Tina last night and asked if he could be the one to tell her and Harmony the good news. I assumed he told you, too. I don’t see why he wouldn’t.”

I forgot he went to Tina’s last night, but he didn’t even try to find me when he got home. I could tell that he took a shower, but he just went to his study after that.

“I don’t know what’s going on with Mr. Grey,” I say under my voice.

“Well, I can tell you this,” Al says. “Something’s happening at Tina’s because he took an entire security team over there this morning, complete with IT techs.” I frown.

“IT techs?” I repeat. “What the hell is going on over there that they need IT techs?”

“I don’t know, but him, Jason, and a whole shitload of people and equipment are at Tina Franklin’s right now. He told me to be ready, but he hasn’t said for what.”

“Is Alex with him?” I ask.

“No, Alex is here.” Good.

“Will you be representing Harmony in her divorce?”

“No, Jewel. I don’t do divorce. It’s my understanding that Carrick has agreed to do it, though.”

“Okay, thanks for the info. Transfer me to Alex.” There’s silence.

“Jewel, please don’t harass that man about what’s going on at Tina’s,” Al begs. “I’ll never hear the end of it.”

“I’m not going to harass him about anything,” I say. “Can you transfer me to him please?” Al sighs and I hear the hold music while I’m transferred to Alex.

“Alex Welch,” he answers.

“Alex, it’s Ana. I need some information.”

“What kind of information?” he asks.

“I need a background check and current contact information for someone, but I don’t know his name.”

“That’s a problem,” he says. “I do need to know who I’m looking for.”

“Well, I know who he is—I just don’t know his name. It’s Harmony Franklin’s soon-to-be-ex-husband. I don’t even know her married last name. Franklin is her maiden name.”

“Franklin?” he asks. “The same Franklin whose house we’re combing right now?”

“You’re combing her house? Why?” I ask.

“The boss went to see her last night and J got feedback in his earpiece. That means the house is bugged. We’re just trying to find out where, who, how long, why… you get the idea.”

“Seriously?” I say. “Who would want to bug Tina Franklin?”

“She’s not the only one who lives in the house,” he says.

“Do you think Harmony did it?” I ask.

“We won’t know until we find the bugs,” he says. I shake my head. I hope it wasn’t Harmony, or this campaign I’m about to begin will be all for naught.

“Can you get me the information on her ex-husband?” I ask.

“It might take a day,” he warns.

“That’s fine. I’m in no hurry,” I tell him.

“Very well.” We end the call. I raise my eyes to see that Marilyn has joined me.

“Have a seat,” I say, gesturing to one of the chairs in front of my desk that will soon be replaced. She marches in and sits in the chair like a petulant child. Okay…

“Did you call the contractor?” I ask.

“I just got here!” she replies snippily.

“Well,” I say, gearing myself for battle, “You were standing there in the door looking at me like you were awaiting instruction, and since I had already given you that instruction before you got here, I assumed you already did it!”

“I was in the car when you called. Did you expect me to speak to the contractor while I was in the car when you knew I was already on my way over here?”

What the fuck is this? I told her she didn’t have to bring her ass over here in the first place and now she’s acting like it’s some kind of fucking inconvenience? I don’t have time for this shit! I fold my hands in front of me. She can be snippy on her own time.

“Maybe you should take the day off,” I say, removing my glasses. Marilyn glares at me.

“Are you firing me?” she says in shock.

“Are you quitting?” I shoot back.

“I didn’t ask for the day off!” she snaps. “I’m just asking if you’re letting me go!”

“Take. The day. Off. Marilyn,” I say, slowly and firmly. “In fact, take two and get your shit together!”

She glares at me but knows that if she quips at me one more time, she won’t have to ask if she’s being fired. She stands haughtily, turns on her heels, and marches to the door.

“And Marilyn,” I call to her. She stops. “Take a damn test. You’re pregnant.” She turns slowly to me.

“I don’t need you to tell me what to do with my personal life!” she shoots.

“Or don’t!” I shoot back. “Wait ‘til your stomach blows up to the size of a basketball before you’re willing to accept that you’re with child. Just leave that nasty ass attitude at the door, or don’t bother coming in Monday, either!”

She stands there looking at me for a long time before she turns and indignantly walks out the door.

Well, shit.

I may have just lost my assistant, because if she is pregnant and she keeps it, there’s going to be no working with her like this.

I scroll through my contacts on the cloud and find the name of the contractor who did the work on my office. I could call Elliot, but he’s doing the Miller home and I wouldn’t want to set him back for something this small. I’m not looking for an overhaul. I’m just looking for a fresh coat of paint and to revamp my bookshelves… and I’m back on the phone.

Once I tell the guy what I want, he tells me that he can have the work done in a day if the space is clear.

The space is not clear.

I make an appointment for him to come over this afternoon to see the office, then I call a moving company. I need all the items in my office packed up, and some of them shipped… where? Charity? The Goodwill?

Charity.

Helping Hands. I’ll donate the furniture to Helping Hands.

The soonest the movers can get here is tomorrow. Great. The almighty Anastasia Grey can’t get everything she wants. I call Christian’s office.

Christian Grey’s office. Andrea Fairchild speaking.” Just who I needed.

“Andrea, hi, it’s Ana Grey.”

“Hello, Mrs. Grey.” My teeth grind. I want to say, “Call me Ana,” but I know that years of training will prevent that from happening. “Mr. Grey is out of the office right now…”

“Oh, I’m not calling to speak to Mr. Grey. Andrea, I have a strange request. Does GEH have a temp agency or pool that they use when they need extra administrative help?”

“You mean like executives?” she asks.

“No, like assistants,” I clarify.

“Oh! Well, it depends on who it is,” she says. “If it’s a project that needs extra hands in one of the non-classified departments, we may use a temp agency. If it’s one of the departments that handle more sensitive information, like legal, accounting, or R&D… or Mr. Grey… we commandeer one of the more-trained assistants on site.” I nod. That makes sense.

“I need an assistant for a couple of days.” I tell her. “It may be longer, I don’t know, but for right now, it’s just a couple of days. Marilyn’s indisposed and I pretty much need someone that’s just going to be underfoot, kind of at my beck and call.”

“Will they be coming to your home?” she asks.

“Today, definitely. Tomorrow, maybe. If not, they’ll be coming with me to Helping Hands. I need somebody very professional and very well-trained.”

“I’m sorry to say that I don’t think we have anybody in-house that I would be comfortable sending to your home, Mrs. Grey. Although we have a stringent vetting process, this is the boss’s mansion we’re talking about. No matter how professional, these women… wait a minute…” She pauses mid-sentence. “Luma would fit the bill. She’s probably the only one that would fit the bill.”

“Oh, no, I can’t take one of Christian’s assistants,” I say.

“I’m Mr. Grey’s assistant. Luma is my assistant. I can get one of the assistants in-house to take her place while she’s gone. If it turns out to be more long-term, then we can post a position with our usual recruiters and get you someone… I hope Marilyn’s okay.”

“I’m not at liberty to say. Please find out if Luma is okay with this. I don’t want her to feel like she’s being shuffled about like a board piece.” I can hear her saying something to someone in the background before coming back to the phone.

“Luma’s happy to help. She’s on her way now.”

“Thank you, Andrea. I hope not to keep your right-hand girl for too long.” After a few pleasantries, I end the call with Andrea and begin to pack the books in my office.


CHRISTIAN

“How many?” I ask Tibbs when he comes to me with an update.

“Seven, sir, just in the library, and there’s a feed going somewhere. We picked up the digital transmission—we just haven’t found out where it’s planted and where it’s going. I’m going to have to call back to Barney to get special equipment for that.”

Seven bugs in the library. Seven fucking recording devices. Why do they even need that many for one room?

“Why so many?” I ask. “How big is the library?”

“Pretty big, sir,” he says. “They’re cheap technology—not the state of the art. They would have needed one for every twenty feet or so to get a good transmission.”

“Wouldn’t they have interfered with each other, like they did with Tina’s hearing aid and Jason’s earpiece?”

“Well, keep in mind. Tina’s hearing aid is high-tech, much like Taylor’s earpiece. They pick up sounds and frequencies from longer distances. Comparing these devices with Tina’s and Taylor’s technology would be like comparing a professional singer’s cordless mic to a speakerphone.”

Jesus! If it’s that important to bug somebody, wouldn’t you think they’d spend a little money?

“Could these be decoys?” I ask. “Hide the junk in plain view so that we don’t go looking for the state of the art stuff?” Tibbs shrugs.

“They could, but when it comes to audio equipment, we’ve got the tools to find the jewels and the junk, and so far, we’ve only found the junk.”

“And the visual?” I press.

“We’ll be able to close in on that when I get Barney on the phone.” I nod.

“You may want to consider doing shifts,” I tell him. “I don’t want you all to leave until every device is located.”

“Yes sir.” He goes back to work and I ascend the stairs to Tina’s room. I hear raised voices inside—Harmony’s and Roger’s. I step to the door and open it. Their conversation is so heated that they don’t even notice when I enter the room

“I told you to leave my mother alone with this! You’re upsetting her! You were told to do what I say, and you don’t seem to understand that I can fire you!” Harmony chides.

“Ms. Tina, they’re destroying the house. It’s a complete shambles. You have to make them stop this right now!” Roger is completely ignoring Harmony’s request and Tina looks exhausted.

“Jason, get up here right now,” I say into the earpiece that I’m wearing, now also getting feedback since I’m in Tina’s room. I step inside and make my way over to them.

“I said leave her alone!” Harmony demands again. “And get the hell out of her room. You’re going to drive her to her death faster by stressing her out like this!” Roger straightens his back and faces off with Harmony.

“I don’t have to take orders from you, little girl!” he hisses. I’m behind Harmony in moments.

“That’s a grown woman, not a little girl and yes, you do!” I exclaim. He doesn’t take down. In fact, he’s haughtier than ever.

“Who do you think you are—coming in here like you’re running things, ripping her home to shreds like garbage? Have you no respect?” I move Harmony behind me and step to Roger’s face.

“Get out, now!” I hiss. He raises his nose to me.

“I will not!” he declares. “You can’t make me go anywhere, and I don’t have to do anything you say.” The interference in my earpiece stops and Tina reacts with slight relief. I know this means the scrambler is active. I look over Roger’s shoulder and Jason steps into the room. I look at Roger again.

“Get. Out. Now!” I growl getting right in his face. I could strangle this worm, but I don’t know if there are cameras in here. His fear is now palpable, but he regains himself quickly. Just as he’s about to speak, Jason comes behind him and whispers in his ear.

“I and my men have ways of seriously hurting people that don’t leave evidence.” Roger turns a horrified, pale face to Jason. “Are you going to come quietly, or should we demonstrate?”

“You… you can’t hurt me. There are other people here—downstairs, all over the house. People will see you…” Roger stutters.

“Everybody downstairs works for me or him. Everybody else had the good sense to leave when we told them to, except you. Now are you coming quietly, or do you need persuasion?” Roger looks from Jason to me and then to Tina.

“Ms. Tina…” he begins.

“I think he needs persuading,” I tell Jason. Jason closes in.

“Don’t touch me I’ll go!” Roger retorts, trying to hide his fear. He walks out of the room where another of my security staff is waiting for him.

“Don’t let him out of your sight,” Jason says. “I’ll be down in a minute to chat.” The guard takes his arm and Roger flinches away from him.

“Snatch that arm away from me again and I’ll break it!” I hear him say before he escorts Roger away. I turn to Jason.

“Do you have a scrambler on you?” I ask. He frowns.

“Don’t you?” he says. I shake my head. He takes a small device out of his jacket pocket and hands it to me.

“No cell service while you have it. This is how you turn it off.”

“Good man. This room needs to be swept soon. She spends too much time in here.” Jason frowns.

“That’s going to be very inconvenient for her,” he says.

“How much of the house is done—for audio?”

“Almost all of the first floor,” he says. “We’re trying to get Barney’s second team here quickly because it’s a whole new sweep for the visual.”

“Tell me, what are you talking about?” Tina’s frail voice says. “Are you destroying my house like Roger says?” That fucker. He’s got her all worried when we’re only doing this for her protection. I need to talk to her alone for a minute—even without Harmony.

“Harmony, does she have a nurse here?” I ask.

“I can get one, quickly,” she says.

“Good. Get her one. Have them check her vitals and make sure she’s okay. I’ll sit with her while you go. You won’t have cell service in here.” She looks at her phone.

“You’re right,” she says. “I’ll be right back, Mom,” she says touching Tina’s hand before leaving.

“Aunt Tina,” I say, kneeling down to her, “I swear to you, we’re not destroying your house. Remember we talked about the reason your hearing aid stops humming, right?” Tina nods. “Well, we found seven audio recording devices in your library. Someone is listening to and recording what’s happening in your home. We just don’t know why they’re recording.”

“Oh, no,” she says, forlorn. “This can’t be.”

“Roger’s been jumping around like a bunny on speed ever since my men got here,” I tell her. “He has already damaged two major pieces of equipment, claiming it was an accident, and he’s been up here more times than I know trying to get you to call this off. Is he normally this intolerable?”

“Never,” she says. “It’s like he’s completely inconsolable…” like a kid who doesn’t want you to see a bad report card.

“What about Harmony?” I ask. “How has she been through this process?”

“Calm, for the most part, except when he comes in and starts demanding that I make you all stop what you’re doing. That’s the only time she gets upset.”

“How has she been since she’s been home?” I ask. Tina shrugs.

“Attentive. She’s been… Harmony. Roger’s been antsy. I just attributed it to the fact that he knows that I’m going to die soon, and the house will go to Harmony.” My eyes widen.

“He knows that?” I ask. Tina nods. “How does he know that? Have you revealed the content of your will to him already?” She frowns.

“I don’t recall, Christian,” she says. “I don’t think so. I thought maybe Carl said something to him…”

“Who’s Carl?” I ask.

“My attorney,” she says. I shake my head.

“Carl can’t say anything to him. It’s against the law. When did you last tweak your will?” She has to think about it.

“About a month ago,” she says. “Maybe a little longer. It was right before your sister’s wedding… a few weeks maybe. I just gotten the news about… you know. Harmony was the only one who came back. She had already moved out of the house from her husband—she didn’t have to come back, but she was the only one who did. When I heard that she was coming, I called Carl and updated my will. I think I did it right before she got here. I told Roger that she was coming and to prepare her room. I told him what I was doing… that I was updating my will, but I don’t remember discussing the contents with him. I do remember him voicing some concern at one time about what would happen to the house once ‘that girl got her hands on it.’ Harmony is the only one of my children that he calls ‘that girl.’”

So, Roger knows about the will. Unless Carl is pure smut and broke attorney/client privilege, we know who’s listening to the bugs.

“Where and when did you have this conversation with Carl?” I ask. “In here?”

“Of course, not!” Aunt Tina replies. “A lady doesn’t entertain a gentleman in her bedroom… except now,” she jests, pointing to me and Jason. “No, I always accept Carl in the li… brary. Oh, dear.”

Oh, dear is right. Harmony wasn’t here yet when Tina changed her will, but that library had to already be bugged. Harmony and Roger are like oil and water and unless they’re the best actors known to man, they can’t be working together on this. Yet, Roger knew the contents of her will before she made anything public.

Just as Tina and I are both putting this information together, we hear glass breaking downstairs. I look at Jason, who looks at me and we both make to move towards the door when we’re distracted by Harmony’s small form.

“Um, Christian?” I hear Harmony’s voice in the doorway. “The nurse is on her way to check Mom out, but I think there’s a problem downstairs with Roger… a pretty big one.”


A/N: Fredo Corleone is from The Godfather. Fredo wanted to have the power of the Godfather and felt that he should have risen into the role before Michael Corleone since Fredo was the older brother, but Fredo was weak and irresponsible and his father knew that Fredo couldn’t handle being Godfather. Sunset compares Aragon to Fredo Corleone because of a dumb move Fredo did inviting a bunch of girls to Michael’s room in Vegas when Michael was there to discuss business. Fredo was throwing around weight he didn’t have, and this was the beginning of the rift between the brothers that eventually cost Fredo his life.

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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.

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 52—Just In Case…

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 52—Just In Case…

CHRISTIAN

“You told me not to talk about it anymore, so I’m not talking about it. However, I am a professional, and my concerns are real, tangible, and valid. That asshole got way too close last night, and you got way too comfortable. You may not see urgency in this situation and you may be right, but I’m not going to take any chances.”

Just as I’m finishing my coffee, my head of security informs me that we’ll have another detail following us today. So, instead of just me and Jason, it’s going to be me, Jason, and two other guards in a separate vehicle. I understand urgency—I felt it last night, but I fucked it out with my wife and I’m fine now. Apparently, Mr. Professional here didn’t fuck it out with Gail, and now I have an entourage.

“Don’t you think this is a bit drastic, Jason?” I ask. “I’m all for increasing security. I totally get it, but three guards in one car for one man?”

“You told a hired killer that you were getting your affairs in order last night. You’re inviting him to do something. You’re testing his hand, basically telling him, ‘Come and get me.’ It’s like you want to die.”

“I don’t want to die,” I seethe, “I’m just not afraid of death.”

“I’m not afraid of death either, Christian, but I’m not gunning to meet my Maker anytime soon. I have a wife, and I have a child, and I’d like to see her go to college, get married, maybe punch out a couple of grandkids for me. I know that my job comes with certain hazards, but I’m not jumping in front of bullets that don’t have to be aimed at you. So, as many times as you warn your wife to be careful, you need to do the same thing because last I checked, you got a couple of nuggets that you’d like to see get through college, too!”

“Does my wife know about this?” I demand.

“She’ll know that security has been increased when she leaves for Helping Hands, but she won’t know why. I thought I’d let you tell her, or if you prefer, I’ll have Chuck do it.” I look in his eyes and I realize that he’s not backing down on this.

“Shit,” I hiss. I stand from the breakfast bar to go find my wife.

I dread having to tell her this, but whenever I try to keep something from her, it causes so much angst between us and ultimately turns out to be a disaster. When I find her, she’s helping to pack up the twins.

“Hey, beautiful,” I say, when I walk into the room. Mikey is already buckled into his carrier and Butterfly is buckling Minnie into her seat.

“Hey, yourself,” she says after she gets my squirming daughter securely into her seat. “I thought you were already gone.”

“About to,” I say. “I need to talk to you about something before I go.”

“Oh?” she asks. “Is everything alright?” I look at Keri and Gail.

“Can you two excuse us for a moment?” I ask. Gail puts a diaper bag on her shoulder and lifts Mikey’s carrier. Keri does the same with Minnie.

“Ah’ll see ya downstehs,” Keri says as she’s the one who always goes to the Center with Butterfly and the twins. Butterfly was talking about getting Keri her own car. We may have to revamp that decision for a while. In fact…

“What’s wrong, Christian?” Butterfly asks.

“Chuck may have to drive you into town for a while… in your car, of course.”

“Why?” she asks. “What’s happened?” I sigh.

“Do you remember me telling you that Myrick made some enemies in Detroit which is why he’s in witness protection?” She tilts her head.

“Vaguely… really bad guys, that I remember.”

“Well, one of those really bad guys came to see me yesterday,” I confess. “He found out that I was in Detroit and decided to fly out here to tell me to get his boss’s permission the next time I decide to travel to Detroit.” Butterfly raises her brow.

“I see… and you said?” she inquires.

“I told him to kiss my ass,” I reply. “I feel like it was nothing more than a dramatic show of bravado for him to fly all the way across the country to try to get me to bow to his will. I was in Detroit for 24 hours. They found out that I was there, but never confronted me while I was there—probably because I was never alone. They would have had to barge into my uncle’s home, an attorney’s office, or a PI’s office to talk to me. Instead, he shows up at Grey House in a black car, his goon opens the door and tells me to get in… fuck you!” I say that last part more to myself than to Butterfly.

“So… did he threaten your life?” she asks.

“Not overtly, but it was easily implied,” I admit.

“Ah… hence the fuck me like it was the last time fuck last night,” she says, a little perturbed. Why is she perturbed? Didn’t she enjoy it? “And that confused look on your face says you don’t have a clue why I’m irritated.”

“Um… no,” I admit.

“What if it was the last time, Christian?” she scolds. “You don’t think I deserved to know something was up?”

So… um… now I don’t dare tell her that I was afraid of her being taken away from me as opposed to being afraid of me leaving her.

“I can only say that I’m sorry, Butterfly, but there’s a condition to that. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you immediately, but I couldn’t—not because the time wasn’t right, but because I was physically unable to talk about it. It was on me so hard that I couldn’t even think to talk about it. I was too stressed out and I had to release it before I could even approach it. I was going to go to work and talk to our security team and come up with a plan of action. Then, I planned on talking to you about it. Jason beat me to it and beefed up security.”

“So, if Jason hadn’t beefed up security…” she begins.

“I would have told you after we had a plan of action,” I interrupt her.

“What if something had happened before you had a plan of action?” she snaps. I don’t have an answer for her, and I’m getting drawn and tense again.

“I was wound tighter than a dollar store watch when I came into this house last night,” I say, forcing my voice to be calm. “I simply cannot regurgitate everything that’s going on with me when I’m wound that tight. You have to give me time. My options were to fuck you or avoid you, and I needed you so badly…” I trail off and clench my fists, trying to relax and not lose my temper. “I wasn’t fucking you like it was the last time. I was loving you until I could think again, until I could breathe again. And the burden was so heavy that when I finally released it, I could do nothing else but sleep. I would have told you. I just. Needed. To think. I thought after being with me all this time and knowing me and knowing how I handle things…”

“You’re right,” she says, her hands moving quickly to cup my cheeks. She kisses me firmly on my lips. “You’re right. I’m sorry,” she says, rubbing my arms and furrowing her brow. “Boogeyman.”

Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?

“I’m sorry, too,” I say. “This is not the Boogeyman, baby. We’re just being careful, okay? With all my heart, I think this man is all hot air or he would have done something by now. He even said as much.” She sighs heavily and drops her head.

“What do you mean he said as much?” she asks, somewhat resigned.

“He told me that if he meant me harm, it would have been done by now.” She sighs again.

“Well, that’s comforting,” she says sarcastically.

“That’s why Jason has added extra security,” I tell her. “We’re being cautious, not taking any chances.” She nods.

“Okay… what about Marilyn?” I roll my eyes. I forgot about Marilyn.

“We probably want to get another guy on her, too,” I say. “You’ll let her know or do you want me to do it?” She shakes her head.

“I’ll tell her,” she says. “Now, I’m having second thoughts about the exposé.”

“Not that I’m trying to scare you, but you have to know… there’s nothing that the exposé will show that these people didn’t already know. The biggest trump card that I have in my pocket right now is that we have a mutual enemy and quite frankly, that’s all we have in common…” which makes me even more fucking anxious to find Myrick wherever the hell he’s hiding.

“Okay, so… yeah, I better get to the office. I guess the sky is falling for all of us.” She mumbles the last part. I don’t bother asking what she means.

“I need to get going, too, baby,” I tell her leaning down and kissing her on the cheek. “Are we okay?” She touches my cheek again.

“Yes, we’re okay,” she says, but I’m not convinced. “I’m working on chasing away the demons. They don’t leave overnight, you know.” She smiles weakly.

“Yes, Butterfly,” I say, cupping her face. “I know.” I kiss her lips gently, then leave to join Jason. I can’t help but notice what looks like a convention of black suits in the garage. I don’t even bother asking.

“Let’s go,” I say, listlessly while climbing into the back seat and closing the door behind me.

My mind wanders to everything happening right now that requires my attention. The implications of Aragon’s visit and the subsequent need for two men in the car with me; whatever the hell is going on with the storage bins in Detroit—I have to call Smalls. He didn’t call me back yesterday and I can only assume that either Uncle Herman was able to get all the authorizations needed or it was just too late to do anything once and if clearance was given. So, that will be the first thing I deal with when I get to the office. While I’m pondering what other dilemmas will most likely confront me, Jason answers his phone through his earpiece.

“Taylor… fuck!” He snatches his earpiece from his ear and swerves a bit to regain control of the car.

“What the hell, Jason?” I demand, our passenger holding on to the door handle and glaring at Jason as well.

“My apologies, sir,” Jason says through his teeth, his fingers rubbing feverishly at his ear. “It’s your wife.” Well, shit, he doesn’t sound happy. I turn to the other guard.

“Put his phone in the cradle. Put her on speaker.” He really didn’t need to because the moment he picks up Jason’s phone, I can hear Butterfly screaming.

“Shit,” I whisper before Butterfly’s screaming voice is piping through the car speakers.

“Ana,” I say, trying to get her attention. She’s still screaming.

“Ana.” Still no acknowledgement from my screaming wife.

“ANASTASIA!”

“WHAT?” she shoots back at me.

“You know Jason is driving, Anastasia. What the fuck are you doing calling him screaming in his ear?”

“So, he hands the phone to you so that I can scream at you?” she asks sarcastically.

“No, your voice is piping through the whole damn car. Jason nearly killed us getting his earbud out of his ear!” There’s sweet silence, but only for a moment.

“There’s a goddamn caravan following me to work, Christian,” Butterfly complains. “What the hell is that? Is all of this really necessary?”

“There’s no need to be dramatic, Butterfly…”

“Don’t patronize me and I’m not being dramatic! I work at a fucking shelter, for Christ’s sake! You know, sanctuary? The press is going to be all over me!” I throw a look at Jason, who looks everywhere but at me. “What aren’t you telling me, Christian?” my wife demands.

“I’ve told you everything. There’s nothing else,” I say. I see Jason’s posture shift. He knows I haven’t told her everything, but there’s no way in hell I’m telling her that man said that he would come to my house.

“There’s apparently something you missed!” she declares. “I look like the French delegation driving across the bridge. The only thing that’s missing are the damn flags. What’s going on!”

“I’ve told you what’s going on,” I reinforce. “Jason just feels that we should have more protection for a while since that guy came to Grey House last night.” Jason’s shoulders relax a bit. I’m certain he thought I gave her some sugar-coated version of what happened. I told her exactly what happened… except that I told the guy that I wasn’t afraid of death, and that he threatened to come to my house.

“What the hell happened, Christian?” she barks. “There are eight people following me! In the other vehicles!”

“What?” I exclaim, my eyes widening. She’s not exaggerating. That’s fucking ridiculous. “Jason…!”

“It’s because there’s four of you,” Jason interjects impassively. “We’re just trying to keep you all safe, Your Highness.”

“This is bullshit and you both know it!” she says, most likely convinced that I knew the entire Delta Force was going to be following her this morning. I kinda did know. The MIB convention in the garage somewhat gave it away. I just chose to ignore it.

“Jason is just being extra cautious,” I hiss through my teeth, mostly at Jason.

“Well, guess what? I don’t give a fuck how cautious Jason is right now. This is fucking ludicrous! Every time you make some kind of change to security, I go along with it. There are eight fucking people following me! This is outrageous!”

She’s right. It is outrageous, but there’s nothing I can do about it right now. They’re headed across the bridge. It’s not like I can tell them to go away. I guess I was pondering the situation a little too long because the next thing I hear is…

“You know what? Never mind.” She ends the call abruptly. She. Is. Pissed.

“Fuck!” I hiss loudly. I look over at Jason who refuses to make eye-contact with me and we ride silently to Grey House.

*-*

“Fix this. Now,” I say to Jason once I’ve had a macchiato and a glazed apple fritter and calmed my nerves. “What the hell, sticking eight guards behind her? She’s more of a target with all these people behind her than she was before. You must see that.”

Jason and Alex are sitting across from me in my office, a unified front against my demands about this insane increase in security, I suppose.

“She’s got some of our best men around her, sir,” Alex replies. “Nobody’s getting near her and those babies…”

“At this point, I couldn’t get near her and those babies!” I retort angrily. “Don’t you see the problem with that?”

“Sir, Russo is mafia. There’s no other way to put that. This is big time. If he wants you dead, you’re dead. Your family’s dead. Your friends are dead…”

“And if that’s the case, eight guys surrounding my wife and drawing attention to her isn’t going to stop him, now is it?” I interrupt. “I’m not highly impressed with his techniques or intimidated by his reach and ability. He hasn’t presented me Myrick’s head on a platter, yet.”

“Myrick’s in hiding. You’re not,” Jason points out.

“Which further proves that he’s not as omnipotent as both of you seem to think he is!” I snap. “When I had a message for Myrick, I went to Ionia—I didn’t send Jason. When I had a message for Elena, I went to the Washington State Prison—I didn’t send Jason. When I had a message for Courtney after she threatened my wife, I trapped her in the ladies’ room—I didn’t send Jason. When I had a message for Loverboy Investigator, I went to the State building—I didn’t send Jason. Hell, when Butterfly had a message for David before he offed himself, she went to the prison—she didn’t send Chuck. She went to some hick hole trailer park in California to personally confront the bitch that was responsible for her beating in Vegas. She had security, but she went, and I’m supposed to be shaking in my boots from some motherfucker that doesn’t even have the guts that my wife has?

“He keeps sending his consigliere every time he wants to make a point. Big fucking deal! I’m not talking to that guy anymore and I mean that! If Russo wants a war, he can do it, and I can’t win it, but these scare tactics are not fucking going to work with me!”

I’ve had enough of this shit. I’ve had enough of all of it. I know that these men sitting before me can do more than what they’re doing without sending the fucking A-Team around with my wife.

“I want my wife and family secure as much as you do, but this? No. If those bozos in the FBI can keep Myrick hidden and safe, you can keep my wife safe without drawing this much attention to her. You’re doing a fan dance for this fucker and you know it, and I’m not going to play his game. I’ll accept reasonable security enhancements, but this is overkill. Whatever point you’re trying to make, you’ve made it. You’re pissing me off and you’re scaring the fuck out of my wife. Call them off.” Jason finally decides to speak.

“With all due respect, sir, the threat that’s facing us is a real and present danger. I’m not trying to make a point; I’m trying to keep you safe!”

“I don’t think you heard me,” I say crisply. “Call. Them. Off. This is not a request.”

Jason glares at me and I don’t back down. He’s going overboard, and my wife is right. This is ridiculous.

“If imminent danger comes at my wife or our children, there can be ten men coming at her and as long as someone’s got her six, two to five of them will fall at her hand from her bullets. She doesn’t need eight people and you know this. Call them off.” Jason’s lips purse as he visibly prepares his retort.

“Two extra guards, one extra vehicle when the children are with her. That’s it. Make it happen or call them all off besides the regulars. Your choice,” I say.

“Less vehicles means a lower tactical advantage,” he warns.

“It’s all chance, Jason,” I inform him. “You and I both know that tactical advantage won’t mean shit if they really want her.” My words are grave, but true. Everything we do is a precaution. My home is a fortress, but if anyone is willing to risk their life to get to her, they can do it. Jason shakes his head.

“What’s going on with you?” he asks. “You’re usually the most cautious guy I know. Now it’s like you’re staring death in the face like you really don’t care.”

“Oh, make no mistake, I care. If anything happens to my wife, I will personally find whoever’s responsible, shoot them in every extremity several times and watch them bleed out. I can’t very well do that if I’m dead, so yes. I care very much about life. But my wife is teetering on the edge of a proverbial cliff every damn day. We’ve had this discussion. I don’t have time to be meek. And after she and I have both confided in you about her fears and how she’s feeling, I can’t for the life of me fathom how you thought it was a solid idea to trail her with three vehicles and eight damn guards!”

The military man in Jason suddenly slips away and his expression is now unreadable. I have no idea what’s going through his head, but just like that…

“I’ll take care of it,” he says. I know you will. You were bordering on insubordination and I was about to suspend your ass.

“Thank you,” I nearly hiss before turning to Alex. “What’s the word on Myrick? Anything?” He shakes his head.

“The trail is cold, sir. No new leads at all,” Alex replies.

“Well, heat it up!” I say firmly. “Put some pressure on whoever you need to put some pressure on—the ex-wife, the offspring, that kid in the service, the FBI, the CIA, the fucking President, I don’t care! I want this motherfucker out of my hair! Start turning over some goddamn rocks and I guarantee you’ll see some bugs start running! And I never want to fucking see Aragon again!”

Alex’s eyes widen, and Jason sits up straight.

“That’s what I said,” I reinforce. “I never fucking want to see his ass again. Put his mug on facial recognition so that if he shows up within ten feet of my building, this place lights up like a fucking Christmas tree! I will wear my harness and that gun that he seems to think is useless every damn day and I’ll make sure that my wife stays strapped like Calamity fucking Jane, but he gets nowhere near any of us and you don’t need eight extra guards to make that happen. He’s starts shooting, you shoot back! And aim for his fucking head!”

I am totally beyond reason. I want blood, and I want it now. This situation has gone on for way too long and I’m tired of it taking over my goddamn life.

I don’t even think I hear them when they leave my office. I’m seeing red. I know that my station puts me and my family in a position of danger on a regular basis, which is why I want that exposé to air. That’s only a small message to the somewhat little fish that we won’t sit around and be fucked with anymore, but what about the big fish? How do you get that message to them?

Every time Russo sends that fucker out here, he’s acting like a cat playing with a mouse.

“Mr. Grey, if I was looking to cause you any harm, the deed would have been done by now…”

Well, fucking do it, then, you pussy ass bastard, because I’m not running, hiding, or cowering from you anymore.


ANASTASIA

“Turn this fucking car around.” Chuck looks at me in the rearview mirror, bemused.

“What?” he asks, his eyes wide. That’s when I realize that we’re still on the bridge.

“As soon as you can, turn this fucking car around and take me back home. There’s no way in hell I’m taking all this attention to Helping Hands.” He’s silent for a minute.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says, and I’m not even pissed that he’s calling me ma’am. I am pissed, however, that half of GEH security appears to be following me to work. Where are they supposed to stay while I’m working and meeting with residents—on the goddamn bleachers?

I’m fuming. Something’s going on and he’s not telling me what it is. I call Grace and try not to sound too agitated.

“Grace, I’m working from home today. There seems to be some kind of development that I need to get sorted with my husband.” There’s silence.

“I’m not prying but is everything okay?” she asks.

“I’m not sure, but it’s nothing you should be worried about. I’m certain we can figure out what’s going on with the situation. Is Marilyn there yet?”

“I don’t think so. If she is, I haven’t seen her.”

We get to the end of the bridge and Chuck takes the exit and makes to get back on the bridge headed home.

“If you see her, tell her to come to my house,” I say. “I’ve been thinking about something since I had to recruit members of security to help move office furniture yesterday. What do you think about having a full-time custodial crew instead of a contracted cleaning service? I know we would need consider the financial implications like benefits and whatnot, but I think the benefits of having someone in-house would outweigh those of having a service. You know, building maintenance, per se.” There’s a pause.

“I hadn’t considered it,” she says. “Have you done any research on it?”

“Well, no,” I say, “but I was thinking that with the problems that we had a couple of years ago with the cleaning service not covering certain areas of the building and having to inspect their work all the time and renegotiate the contracts, it’s worth looking into for several reasons. There are going to be more people in the building that are not just residents. The classrooms are now going to be utilized. There’s obviously going to be a need to have someone around that can fix things in a pinch—be a handyman, a janitor… Not only that, but having a staff makes people more accountable for the work that needs to be done.”

“Yes,” she says. “I can see where you’re going with that. And we’re going to have to look into offering benefits for staff anyway because we’re expanding. We’re going to be eligible for federal funding and grants now with our accreditation and we’re not as slim as we were before on our donations with the publicity we’ve been getting from your appearances and from the PSA that I’ve learned is still airing in some areas. We should probably put together a PSA of our own once we have the foundation of our programs in place.”

“Oh, that’s a fantastic idea, Grace,” I tell her. “It’s great that we have the Faces of Abuse campaign still airing, but now we’re going to be offering many more services, and we definitely need to get that word out there.”

“When is your segment with Christian supposed to run again?” she asks. “Cary and I don’t watch much television and I don’t want to miss it.”

“It runs on Monday night,” I tell her. “I thought about a little viewing party, but not on a Monday night.”

“Why not?” Grace says. “With a few minor exceptions, we basically write our own schedules. I think a viewing party is a great idea.” I shrug.

“I’ll talk to Christian about it. See what he thinks.” I was so critical in my viewing of the segment before that I didn’t really see it. I was just watching for “bloopers,” so to speak. Our conversation has gotten our caravan back across the bridge and onto Mercer Island.

“Marilyn and I will start researching the pros and cons of a service versus in-house custodial staff and see if we can come up with the numbers for you. Keri’s looking into her teaching credentials in the states, by the way. She informs me that she should have some solid information by the end of the week.” I look to Keri for confirmation and she nods.

“Okay. I’m going to start looking into some benefit packages for the employees of the center. Who was putting together the grant paperwork and request for funding?”

“That would be Courtney,” I tell her. “She’s also supposed to be getting us some kind of presentation by week’s end. She’s been pretty diligent with it and her studies.”

“Speaking of studies, Harmony is here today. I saw that she was here yesterday, too.” I told her to spend time with her mother. She doesn’t have much time left.

“Did she tell you about Tina?” I ask.

“Yes, and her unfortunate situation with that wretched husband of hers,” she adds. “Unfortunately, this is the way the divorce game is played, my dear. I don’t know anything about divorce law, but I know that divorces have held up lives for decades from people who don’t want the divorce and won’t sign the papers. A lot of cases have been won—or lost, depending on which side you’re on—because one party is just tired of fighting and simply gives up and gives in. I’m not sure there’s much that she can do but let him wait it out and give him want he wants short of paying him off to hurry up and sign the papers so that Tina can die in peace.”

“I have Al on it,” I reply. If all that needs to be done is he sign the papers and this is over, I’m not beyond paying this bastard off to go away. Maybe I’m getting too involved, but to me, this is just another way that the Boogeyman is bearing his teeth, even though he’s not bearing them at me. “What’s Harmony doing there anyway? I told her to spend some time with her mom.”

“Tina shooed her away and she doesn’t know how to deal with it. She’s young and going through some things herself right now. Handling two major life changes is taking its toll.”

“What about her classes?” I ask.

“Not until this afternoon.” I shake my head.

“Where is she now?”

“She’s helping Michelle out in the dorms—busy work for the most part.” We drive into the gate at the Crossing.

“Well, keep her busy until it’s time to go to school. I’m sure something’s going to give. Maybe have her help you with researching benefit packages.”

“Oh, yes, that’s a good idea,” she concurs.

“I’m going to touch bases with my husband and have him get in touch with the guy who did the Faces PSA—see if we can get a meeting.”

“Excellent, and I’ll get to work on Project Harmony and the benefits research.”

“Indeed, you know where to find me.” I end the call and text Marilyn to meet me at the mansion before I exit the car.

“Is everything okay?” A frowning Gail is walking quickly through the portico to help get the twins from the car. I gesture to the train of vehicles behind me.

“Imagine this driving up to Helping Hands,” I say. “We’d have news helicopters hovering over the Center!” She looks back at the Caravan of Love while I try not to slam the door after Keri has removed Mikey from the car. Chuck has already unbuckled Minnie’s seat and hands the carrier to Gail.

“Oh,” she says with a frown, looking at the line of Audis. “Why the entourage?” she asks. I shake my head.

“Ask His Highness,” I say, waving my hand disgustedly while breezing past her into the house.

*-*

“I don’t know if I’ve told you, but I’m redoing my office here, too,” I say to Marilyn as she types away on her MacBook while sitting in one of the seats across from my desk. She raises her eyes to me.

“Why?” she asks. “It’s so comfy and pretty.”

21d54a5af21611b9705d7f44ebc4c980

“It served the original purpose, but now, it looks too executive. It’s not Zen enough.”

“Oh… the Zen,” she says, tapping at her MacBook again. “How’s that working for you?”

“Some days it helps. Others, I’m struggling,” I admit.

“Well, you just started. Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know.” Yeah, I know. I just wish the Boogeyman would stop rearing his ugly head at me. I’m fighting him. I’ve decided not to take his abuse lying down anymore. But damn, it’s exhausting! I’m trying not to internalize Harmony’s issue; Christian has the entire Intergalactic Force following me; and I haven’t even bothered to ask Marilyn if she’s taken a pregnancy test. She seems in better spirits, but who knows what that means. I need to talk to Ace in the worst way and I’m trying to wait until my appointment on Friday, but it’s hard as hell. I need some damn guidance.

For some reason, my need for guidance leads me to call my husband instead of my shrink.

“Butterfly… are you okay?” he answers frantically, another reason for me to believe that something more is going on than he’s letting on.

“Why wouldn’t I be okay, Christian?” I ask, keeping my voice even. He sighs.

“Don’t read anything into it,” he cautions. “I just got the word the you went back to the house instead of going in to work and just as I was about to call you, you called me. It startled me, that’s all.” I raise my eyebrow in disbelief.

“Well, I couldn’t take the Observation Committee to the Center,” I say stoically. “It would be counterproductive.”

“Yeah, about that,” he says. “Jason went all commando-special-ops on me and pulled that shit, but I straightened it out. You’ll have a couple of extra details with you, but that caravan shit is a wash. I’m sorry if it scared you.”

It didn’t scare me, it pissed me off.

“We’ll keep the detail to your car and one additional with the usual guards and maybe two others, and Butterfly, it’s just a precaution. You know me—I’d rather be safe than sorry any day, but even I know when too much is too much.”

I try not to react, but I can’t help the sigh of relief I release knowing that Jason was just going overboard and that there was no sniper or something waiting to pick me off at the Center.

“You do still carry your firearm with you, don’t you?” And just when I was starting to relax…

“Yes,” I reply.

“Good, because I had to remind him that you’re a proficient shot and that you stay armed so that he would back off a bit. Hell, you’d probably pick off somebody coming at you faster than any of them would… I’m reminded of a certain Monster Bitch.”

I can’t help but laugh, and the tension is broken again, which I’m sure was his intent.

“I have a purpose for my call,” I say, not noticing that Marilyn has left the room. Where did she go?

“What is it?”

“Well, first, I want to see if you can set a meeting with that guy who did the Faces of Abuse PSA. We’re thinking of doing one for the new services at Helping Hands and we need direction.”

“I’ll give him a call,” Christian says. “And second?”

“I don’t know if you’ve been informed, but Tina Franklin has taken a turn for the worst.” I hear him sigh.

“Really?” he says, his voice deflated.

“Unfortunately, yes. She’s at home on hospice. Harmony’s not doing very well, so this portion kind of has a two and a three.” He pauses.

“I’m listening.”

I tell him about how Tina is pushing Harmony away in her last days. I’m certain she thinks it’s an attempt to spare Harmony the pain of watching her fade away. The problem is that she’s going to need these last moments to cling to when her mother is gone, and Tina is unintentionally taking those away from her. I beseech Christian to go and see her, maybe see if he can talk to her since he knows Tina so much better than I do. When he hesitates, I ask him how he would feel if this were Grace and he was in this position. He sighs.

“I’ll stop by after work,” he says, surrendering.

“There’s more,” I tell him.

“More than this? Sweet Jesus, what else?”

“Harmony’s divorce isn’t final. She had an attorney, but it turns out that the asshole was a spy for her husband. I’ve talked to Al about helping but he hasn’t gotten back to me yet. Her husband is stalling the proceedings waiting for Tina to die. He knows that Harmony is going to get an inheritance and if she gets it before they’re divorced…”

“He may be entitled to half,” Christian finishes. “Yes, the dirty business of divorce. Dad always talked about hating to see two people who once loved each other rip one another apart in court.”

“Isn’t there something that can be done?” I ask. “Can’t the court force that asshole to sign the papers? If not, Tina’s going to die or Harmony’s going to give in and—either way—he’s going to get what he wants.

“Short of busting the guys kneecaps and making him sign the papers, there’s no way around this.”

“Can we bust his kneecaps?” I ask, only half-serious.

“Butterfly…” my husband scolds.

“I know, I know,” I say, “it’s just that this guy has been dirt from the very beginning…”

I tell him the whole story about how the marriage was a farce from day one, the whole time the soon-to-be-ex-husband hoping to get his hands-on Harmony’s money not knowing that the money wasn’t Harmony’s. I explain that Harmony is not a trust fund kid like Tina’s other children may have been; that Harmony is the adopted great-granddaughter that her parents didn’t want and how Tina kept her money out of the snake’s hands when she saw through him. I told him about the guy’s philandering and how horribly he treated Harmony once he realized he wasn’t getting a hold of her money, forcing her to leave to avoid the terrible treatment and infidelity.

“Now, it looks like he’s going to get what he was after all along,” I conclude.

“Well, that explains a lot,” Christian says. “I was wondering how Tina could have a daughter so young. I’m also wondering if all of her children are going to come home now that she’s in hospice, or if they’re all still too busy with their lives.”

I don’t say what I’m thinking… that they’ll all show up after she’s dead looking for their cut.

“So, we have a parasite on our hands,” Christian says, “and short of going the old-school route and giving him the beating that he so richly deserves or making him an offer he can’t refuse, he’s going to get off Scott free with half of Harmony’s inheritance. I’m not buying that. There’s a way around that somehow.”

“I don’t see that there is, Christian, except for Harmony not to get the money… and that’s punishing Harmony for her asshole ex-husband’s actions.”

“I’m a businessman. There’s always a way,” he says confidently. “I don’t mean to rush you, baby, but there’s a ton of shit that I have to get to today and you just gave me a couple of additional projects to add to the pile. Was there anything else you needed?”

“No, that was it. I’ll call you if I think of anything else.”

“Okay… now I’m going to see Tina after work. Unless I can get out of here early, that means I’ll be home late today.” His voice is placating, like he thinks I’ll break—not that I can blame him.

“Okay, that’s fine. I won’t wait up,” I say.

“Not that damn late!” he adds.

“I get it, Christian. You’ll be home later. I’ll see you when you get here.” We exchange I love you’d and end the call. So, the threat’s not so bad that I need eight people following me, but he wants to make sure that I’m carrying my gun. Like he said, Ana, don’t read anything into it.

The whole thing with the adoption has made me think about my biological family—or the lack thereof—and I go to that website I logged into last year. The damn thing’s been charging my account every month for a year and I haven’t even been paying attention to it. I think I remember Mare saying something about it right before the twins were born and I said that I would get to it, but nothing since then.

Nothing from Marilyn anyway.

When I log into the website, it’s full of hits and notifications. Holy cow, Batman! Are these all people who are related to me? Shit, it’s going to take me months to get through all this data and all these people!

I log out of the site. My brain can’t even absorb that shit right now. Is this a box that I really want to open? After nearly 30 years, here comes cousin Ana? And are these people legit or are they just people on the site who may know who I am and are trying to get a piece of the rock?

“Dear Jesus, not now,” I say, opening my email program instead. I see the email from Mia that I’ve been avoiding, the one with the link to her wedding site. I roll my eyes and sigh.

“Might as well look,” I say aloud and click on the link.

The site opens to a background of Mia and Ethan on their wedding day, all smiles and gleefully posing as Mr. and Mrs. Kavanaugh. There are so many links and features that I don’t know where to begin. My first destination is the guest list. I have no idea who put this together, but each person who signed the guest book is featured in this section—pictures with their scribbled names underneath and their relation to the bride and groom, if any. I quickly find the picture of me and Christian. Someone caught us walking into the ballroom together, I have no idea when. We’re very casual and he’s holding my hand. It’s a simple picture of us and I like it—not posed or phony, just me and Christian as we are… well, most of the time.

Most of the other pictures of the guests were either pictures from the photo booths or candid shots like me and Christian. I don’t know if Adelaide will peruse Mia’s website, but if she does, the guestlist will alert her that her granddaughter is still in town, or at least was for the wedding. Her photo is with Vickie, protectively holding her around the waist. Her smile is large and genuine. She looks radiant, and Vickie’s adoration of her clearly shows through the photograph. I won’t alert her that the picture is here. I think it’ll only cause her undue anxiety. She travels in some of the same circles as her grandparents. If it’s meant to be that they bump into each other, then they will.

I get lost in the website, reliving the night through many of the photographs and enjoying the journey. I even get a little miffed watching Marlow dance with his little walking-fart-dress-wearing date. Geez, I hope she’s not a girlfriend. Then there’s the picture of Carrick holding Grace close to him on the dancefloor and planting a tender kiss on her cheek. Elliot and Val didn’t escape the smooch-cam either. And of course, me and Christian. There’s even a picture of Christian placing a tender kiss on Tina’s cheek when she and Harmony were about to leave the reception.

A kinder, gentler Christian Grey…

I didn’t, however, expect to see a video clip of us singing for Mia. I guess somebody couldn’t resist.


CHRISTIAN

I hope I’ve convinced my wife to resume going into the office. I haven’t had a cooking lesson from Gail in over a week and I’m certain that I’ve completely forgotten how to crack an egg… which is ridiculous. I proceed with what I was about to do when my wife called me and interrupted my thought process.

“Terry Smalls here.”

“Smalls, Grey. I’ve been waiting for an update on my grandfather’s storage bins. What’s the news?”

“We’re still sorting, sir,” he says. “It’s like one of those boxes where you open it and there’s another box and you open it and there’s another box and you open it and there’s another box. I think you or your uncle should look at these manifests…”

“Why don’t you just tell me what’s in there?” I ask impatiently.

“Where do I start?” he laments. “We’ve got about five bins full of antique furniture—real quality stuff. We’ve got at least two and maybe three bins of knick knacks, and when I say ‘knick knacks,’ I don’t mean ‘whatnots.’ I mean old fashioned baby clothes, bronzed baby shoes, somebody’s wedding dress—According to the manifest, there’s a collection of Waterford Crystal somewhere in one of these bins. You know they don’t make that anymore, right?”

“Yes, I’m aware,” I say.

“Oh! Yeah, and three more cars.” I nearly drop the phone.

More cars?” I ask.

“Yeah, three,” he confirms. “We haven’t located them yet.”

“Then how do you know they’re there?” I inquire.

“They’re on the manifests,” he says.

“Classics? Restored, like the Mustang?”

“I don’t know, sir. We haven’t found them yet…”

“Goddammit, drop everything and find the cars first! My grandfather was sick well before he died. Those things might have been sitting there for years!”

“Will do, sir.” I end the call and push my hands through my hair. My grandfather was fucking rich, or he spent his money in such a way as to accumulate an array of valuable things that he must have horded for his sons—four classic cars, four brothers. That’s got to be what that is.

I must shake the thought from my head about the cars because there’s nothing I can do about this until I know what the cars are and what kind of shape they’re in.

I spend the morning and part of the afternoon pretending to concentrate on the business of mergers and acquisitions, but it’s no use. I want to know what the fuck is taking Smalls so long to unearth those damn vehicles. Then, I get the news that one of my safe havens is about to fall prey to the worst type of vermin and, like I said, short of breaking his kneecaps, I don’t know that there’s much I can do to help her.

Short of breaking his kneecaps… I’m not beyond breaking his kneecaps, but let’s see what we can get done legally first.

“Well, truth be told, Chris,” Al says once I summon him to my office, “I know about assets and I love a good juicy fight, but I never really got into divorce law.”

“It’s a contract,” I tell him. “It’s the same thing. Think about a merger that’s about to happen. We’ve got assets that we want to hide without tipping off the buyer or the SEC.”

“I didn’t say that I didn’t know what to do. I said that basically, this isn’t my area of expertise.”

“Okay, so get to the point. What does this all mean?” I ask, impatiently.

“Nothing. He can’t touch her inheritance. If they were still in love and planning to be married for life, he still couldn’t touch her inheritance. The only way that he could touch her inheritance is if she intermingled the money together with the marital assets somehow, like if she put the money in a joint account or if it was property and he paid to repair it. Other than that, he can hold the divorce up until hell freezes over. He’ll never get that money.” I just stare at him.

“I thought all money that came into the marriage after the vows was automatically community property,” I protest.

“Nope,” he says. “Even in community property states, inheritances are not ‘his, hers, and ours.’ If that money is deposited into an account that belongs only to Ms. Harmony, Mr. Harmony can’t fuck with it.” Well, I’ll be damned.

“Have you told Harmony yet?” I ask.

“I haven’t had the chance.”

“Let me do it,” I say. “I’m going to see Aunt Tina this evening and I’d love to be able to put both their fears to rest simultaneously.”

“Be my guest,” he says.

That fucker better be glad I’ve discovered that he can’t get any of Harmony’s money. I’m not the vigilante-save-every-damsel-in-distress-that-crosses-my-path guy, but any discomfort I’ve ever inflicted on any woman with few exceptions has been consensual. I hate for men to take advantage of women, especially emotionally and even more so financially, but I hate it even more when a jerk or a crook gets over on the good guy, and that seems to happen a lot.

Hearing the news about Harmony and Tina helps me to relax a bit and I get a little more done during the afternoon than I do during the morning. I decide to leave the office early to go see about Aunt Tina, but not before I touch bases with Smalls. How fucking hard can it be to find four whole ass vehicles?

Just when I’m about to lose my complete patience with Smalls and send someone else to Detroit to get the job done, my intercom comes alive.

“Mr. Grey, I have Terry Smalls on line 2.”

Without even answering her, I pick up line 2.

“It’s late afternoon here, so I know it’s after dark there. What took so long?” I bark into the phone. “They’re cars. What took hours to find cars?”

“Well, sir, all the cars are parked behind packed boxes like the first one was. Knowing that at least one of them has fine crystal in it, I’m sure you didn’t want us to go tearing through them like a bull in a china shop.” His voice is crisper than I would like, but he has been rummaging through storage bins all day. I bite back the urge to reprimand him.

“Oh, you found the damn cars?” I ask.

“Oh, we found the cars. Your grandfather apparently has a wonderful sense of humor,” he says mirthlessly. Watch it, Skippy.

“Meaning?” I say, nearly growling.

“Meaning,” he begins, softening his tone, “finding the cars meant going through riddles on the manifest. We unpacked at least two rows in four bins before we found the last car. One of my guys apparently likes logic problems, so he was quickly able to figure out the last two saving us a massive amount of time.”

“Riddles?” I ask incredulously. “Like what?”

“Oh, God, sir, please don’t put me through that again,” he laments, but continues anyway. “Things like two farmers go to the market to buy wheat one buys 45 bags the other buys 75 bags when they get home they split it evenly between three farmers but only one farmer paid for it and… you get the idea.” He says the entire thing without stopping. “When you solve the riddle, you get the number of a manifest or a storage bin, only we didn’t figure it out until after we found the second car. We’ll be here all night putting these boxes away.”

“You’ve got the boxes out already. Why not work in shifts getting some of that stuff sorted instead of shoving it back into the bins? I only suggest that because it’s got to be a better use of time than to shove it all back in there just to pull it back out again.”

“My guys are tired. I’ll run it by them, but I’m worried about accuracy with an exhausted crew.”

“You’re right. Not a smart idea. What can you tell me about the cars?”

“Well, we can see the cars, but we can’t move them. They’re open, but the keys and the titles are all hidden in RiddleLand again, and I have a feeling these are personal.” Oh, dear Lord.

“Please, explain,” I sigh.

“Well, in the glove box of each car, there’s a riddle. After each riddle, it says, ‘Ask the boys.’” I wish I had more patience for this. I’m not flying back out to Detroit. I don’t care if he finds gold bullion in one of those bins.

“Can you give me an example?” I ask.

“’What has four fingers and a thumb but is not living?’ That one was easy enough, a glove. But what does that mean to me? At first, we thought it meant look in the glove box of the other cars, but there were just more riddles. That’s when we saw the words, ‘Ask the boys.’ So, like I said. I think these are more personal.” Now, I’m exhausted and I haven’t even done any of the work.

“Send me pictures of the cars and the riddles, please. I’ll talk to my uncle. By the way, what kind of condition are the other cars in?”

“Cherry,” he says. “You have to see them. There’s no way I can explain it.” Cherry… that’s pretty ripe.

“Email them, pack up the boxes. Go have dinner and get some rest. I’ll be waiting for your call tomorrow.” My way of telling him that I won’t bother him since I know it’s going to take forever to get the boxes back into the bins.

“Yes, sir.”

*-*

It’s about five thirty when we arrive at Aunt Tina’s. The butler doesn’t recognize me when he opens the door, not that he has any reason to, but at first, he denies me entry or access to see her.

“I know what condition she’s in and she’s a very dear friend of mine. I’d like to see her please. Tell her it’s Christian,” I insist.

“I’m afraid that’s impossible,” he says, his nose in the air. “Mrs. Franklin is not seeing visitors.”

“She’ll see me,” I persist. He doesn’t relent. “Is Harmony here?” His face distorts in distaste. What the fuck is that all about?

“No, she’s not,” he announces. As if in answer to his question, a late model Jetta drives up the round drive. One of the other staff opens the driver side door and Harmony steps out.

“Christian,” she says, recognition setting in as she approaches the door. “How are you? It’s good to see you.”

“I wish I could say the same,” I complain. “I mean to say that it’s good to see you, but I can’t seem to get in to see Tina.” Harmony frowns.

“She’s not doing very well,” she says.

“Yes, I know. My wife told me. She explained her condition to me at Mia’s wedding and she asked me to come by and see her. Here I am, but I can’t get in.” She looks at the butler.

“Roger, what’s the meaning of this?” Harmony says. Roger looks at her but doesn’t acknowledge her. “Let Christian in. What’s wrong with you?”

“Ms. Tina is not in any condition to see guests,” he says snootily.

“That’s not for you to decide!” Harmony retorts. “Are you her doctor, now? Move.”

He says nothing but refuses to grant me access.

“Roger, I know you’ve worked for my mother for many years and you know the lay of this property like the back of your hand, but this. Is not. Your. House!” she hisses. Roger’s lips form a straight line. “Now, step aside, and please allow multibillionaire and mega-entrepreneur Christian Trevelyan Grey into my home!”

She’s glaring at him and he glares right back at her like she’s nobody. I’ve had enough. I shove this fucker aside and step into the house.

“Harmony, where’s Aunt Tina?” I ask, ignoring Roger’s appalled gasps and scoldings.

“She’s upstairs in her room,” she says. I take the spiral stairs two at a time. I don’t know why I feel such a sense of urgency, but I need to get to her to tell her what I’ve discovered and to let her know not to push Harmony away.

“Which room?” I ask Harmony when we get to the top of the stairs.

“Third door on the right,” she says.

“You can’t just go barging in on someone like this!” Roger protests. I whirl around on him in an instant.

“I’ve had all I’m going to take from you!” I hiss. “Now, if you don’t shut up…” I let the words hang in the air. Jason comes casually up the stairs behind me and stands behind Roger. He deflates at the sight of Jason and shrinks back a bit.

“How do you get anything done with him around?” I ask.

“It’s a trial,” Harmony admits.

“Let me guess. He knows more than you do and won’t listen to anything you say because he’ll only take orders from Tina. What’s more is that he walks around with a haughty ass entitled attitude looking down on everybody even though he’s nothing more than the help.” I’m staring at him waiting for a response or reaction from him. I get none.

“You’ve hit that nail right on the head,” Harmony says. Yes, I said the help. Gail, Jason, Chuck—that’s my family that happen to be my employees. They don’t act entitled and they certainly don’t treat my guests like vermin. So, yes, he’s nothing more than the help.

“Does he have any idea that everything he gazes upon and holds dear is going to you when your mother dies?” Roger’s eyes widen and his face pales. Harmony’s eyes widen as well.

“How do you know that?” she asks, surprised.

“I’m Christian Grey. I have my ways.” I say, never taking my eyes off Roger. I don’t know that, but he doesn’t know that I don’t know. “The very reason for my visit is to let you know that I’ve discovered some information about your inheritance and your asshole husband that should put your and Tina’s fears to rest.”

“I… I thought Ana had her friend Allen working on it,” Harmony says. I finally break my gaze with Roger and look at Harmony.

“She did,” I tell her. “Allen’s my head of legal. He’s a specialist in asset law, but he’s not a divorce attorney. No worries, though. I spoke to my father, too. He’ll be representing you in your divorce. But, first, I need to share some news with you and Aunt Tina.” I gesture to her to lead the way. She steps in front of me and walks to Tina’s door. As we’re about to enter, Roger makes to enter with us. I hold my hand up at his chest.

“We won’t need you, Roger,” I say. “Jason?” Jason steps in front of Roger as Harmony and I step into the bedroom.

“Sir!” Jason stops me somewhat urgently. He leans in to me.

“Sir, I’m getting feedback on my earpiece,” he says lowly. My brow furrows and I shake my head. What does that mean?

“This room is bugged,” he informs me. I’m instantly horrified.

“You’re sure?”

“I’m positive,” he confirms.

“There’s no way to scramble the signal?”

“Don’t dawdle there at the door! Come in!” Tina demands, her back to us. I look to Jason.

“I can call Alex. It’ll probably fuck up your cell signal, too.” I nod and put my hand in the small of Harmony’s back.

“Careful what you say,” I whisper to her as we walk across the room to Aunt Tina.

“Mom?” Harmony says softly. Tina takes her hand.

“You just don’t listen, do you, child?” she says sweetly. Harmony can’t control her emotions.

“It’s my fault, Aunt Tina,” I say, emerging from behind the chair. Her face is worn and tired but lights up when she sees me.

“Christian!” she says with excitement. “Are you being a bad influence on my Harmony?” Harmony kneels at her mother’s feet and lays her head in Tina’s lap. She weeps quietly, and Tina gently strokes her hair.

“This is why I don’t want you here,” she says, trying to comfort Harmony.

“This is exactly why she needs to be here, Aunt Tina,” I say softly touching her shoulder. “These will be her last moments with you. She needs every one of them.” Aunt Tina looks up at me and nods, still stroking Harmony’s hair.

“At least do your mom a solid and don’t cry every time you see me,” Aunt Tina says to Harmony, who tries to control her sniffles.

“Yes, ma’am,” she says, her voice soft. Tina shifts a bit in her chair.

“See? I’m not gone yet,” Aunt Tina says. “I just saw a commercial that you’re going to be on that program next Monday—you and your wife. What’s that about?” I look at my phone and I still have a very clear signal.

“We did a segment somewhat introducing ourselves to the world.” Aunt Tina tsk’s.

“You don’t need to be introduced to the world,” she says. “They all know who you are.”

“No, they don’t,” I smile. “They just think they do. Your butler certainly doesn’t know me. And he doesn’t like me either.”

“He’s just protective,” she says. “He’s been with me for a long time.”

“Is that why he doesn’t respect Harmony either?” I ask. Harmony raises her head from her mother’s lap.

“Christian…” She shakes her head.

“My dear, if Tina is the only one he’ll listen to, then Tina is the one that has to let him know he can’t treat you that way,” I inform her. Tina’s frail hand lifts Harmony’s chin.

“Is this true?” she asks. “Is he disrespectful to you?”

“He just doesn’t know me, Momma,” she says sweetly.

“Nonsense!” Tina says, pressing a button on the table next to her bed. Roger bursts through the door almost immediately, pushing past Jason and appearing before Tina.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says, making eye-contact only with Tina.

“Roger are you being a pompous asshole again?” she says. His brows furrow.

“Ma’am?” he says.

“You treat my daughter as if she were me, today and from now on, or you can pack your things and leave this house tonight! Are we clear?” His eyes widen.

“Ma’am!” he says shocked. “Ma’am, I assure you…”

“I’m not looking for any of your English butler-school-taught bullshit right now, Roger. I am looking for a yes or no answer. Are. We. Clear?” He straightens.

“Yes…” he says. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Now, apologize to my daughter for how you’ve apparently been treating her when my back is turned.” He turns to Harmony.

“Ms. Harmony, I’m deeply sorry for my behavior…”

“Your insolence!” Tina demands. Roger clears his throat.

“For my insolence,” he corrects. “I humbly beg your forgiveness and assure you that it will never happen again.” Harmony turns away from him and rests her chin on her mother’s lap.

“It’s my understanding that you were rude to my guest as well,” Aunt Tina says. “I’m appalled, not only because he’s a dear friend of my family but also because you felt you have the right to treat anyone who visits my home that way. I’m dying, Roger, but I’m not dead yet! You should be glad I don’t fire you right now. I’m waiting.” Roger raises his gaze to me and I raise my hand to stop him.

“I don’t want his apology,” I say. Aunt Tina looks up at me.

“Christian, is that the behavior of a gentleman?” she scolds.

“No, ma’am,” I say, “and I don’t feel the need to be a gentleman in his presence.” I turn back to Aunt Tina while he continues to glare at me. “Forgive me, Aunt Tina.” She covers my hand and nods.

“You can go now,” she says to Roger. When he leaves, she opens her mouth as if to yawn. “Ah,” she says.

“What is it, Mom?” Harmony asks.

“There’s almost always a constant humming in my ears,” she says. “It’s gone.” I look at my phone. There’s no signal. Jason has found a way to scramble the signal in the room. I examine Aunt Tina.

“Aunt Tina, do you have a hearing aid?” I ask. I can’t see one, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have one. Sure enough, she pulls a device out of her ear that’s no bigger than a fingertip.

“I’ve had it calibrated a hundred times, but it doesn’t help.” I sigh.

“Both ears?” I ask. She nods. “Aunt Tina, I have some things to tell you.”


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

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 ~~love and handcuffs