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
“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.
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.
“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…
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
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