Raising Grey: Chapter 90—Phantoms

Four more chapters after this one…

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 90—Phantoms

CHRISTIAN

“Look, I know I haven’t seen you in a while, Grey, but marriage has made you awfully soft. Get your head in the game, man!”

Bastille’s right. I fucking hate that he’s using the same words about marriage making me soft, but he’s right… well, partially right.

“I’m not soft, you asshole,” I jeer. “I’m out of practice, that’s why I called you.”

“You called me because you’re weak and you need me to toughen you up. Now, get on your fucking feet.”

I’m pissed now. I pay this bastard to spar with me, not disrespect me.

“And get that fucking power-play chastisement outta your eyes!” he shoots. “I’m not going easy on you, Moneybags. I never have and I never will! If that’s what you’re looking for, you can go find someone else to train your billionaire butt! You’re flabby, your muscles are weak, and your form is horrible. So, you can either put ‘em up, or you can get your ass outta my gym. Either way, get it off my mat.”

I’m going to beat the fucking hell outta this asshole.

I get up, take my stance and lunge at him. He does a sweeping kick at my feet and I land flat on my face. Shit, that hurt.

“Amateur move, Grey,” he says. “Have you forgotten everything I’ve taught you?” I rise to my hands and knees to get some much-needed air in my chest since the full-frontal faceplant just knocked the fucking wind out of me.

“I think I have,” I cede. He walks over to the front of me and stands there with his wrapped hands on his hips.

“Well, at least you finally fucking admit it,” Bastille barks. “You don’t stay sharp if you don’t practice and you don’t stay fit if you don’t do the work. I can tell just by looking at you that your body fat percentage is higher than it’s ever been since I’ve known you. I don’t give a fuck about those six pack abs—you’re in shape, but you’re not in Christian Grey shape. We have to start from square one until you learn to ride that bike again.”

He walks over to the corner of the ring, wipes his face and takes a swig from his water bottle.

“I’ve beaten your ass enough today. If you want to get back on your game, I’ll see you here next week, but it doesn’t matter to me either way.”

He bends and exits the ring between two of the ropes and I’m left there on the mat, feeling soft.

You know that feeling that you get where you think everybody is looking at you? Well, I scan the gym, and nobody’s concerned about my flabby ass, but I still feel like shit. I thought I was in pretty good shape, but there’s no arguing with an Olympic kickboxer.

And the body bag at home doesn’t kick back.

I’m standing in the shower in the men’s locker room thinking about the meeting that Butterfly and I will attend tonight. I’ve sunk back into my old ways in the workplace, and it brings back thoughts of my old ways all around. My talk with Flynn when I was in Anguilla comes back to me…

“You need to put playtime on hold for a while and learn to control yourself.
“It’s time to graduate a bit, Christian.”
“You need to take a page from this remarkable woman’s book and start handling your demons in a more productive way now.”
“It’s okay to exercise the lifestyle that the two of you enjoy, but the moment that one of you doesn’t enjoy it, it’s not okay anymore.”

We promised in Anguilla that we would do research and we never did. Then we promised again after the menopause situation with my mother. Today is the day. Today we start our active research by meeting with our mentors.

When I return home, I find my wife still in her yoga gear in the middle of the family room floor with our children. Our children… it seems like ages since I spent any quality time with my kids. A wave of guilt jolts through me as I watch my wife, smiling and attentive with my son, holding both his hands as he stands on the floor in front of her bouncing on his heels to some tune on the television. Minnie is thoroughly occupied in the Pack-n-Play with an array of various toys. They look happy and carefree and I almost feel like and interloper as I enter the family-room-turned-playroom.

“Hey,” I say softly as I walk in. She frowns when she sees me.

“Your hair is wet,” she observes. I touch my hair and remember that it’s still a bit damp from the shower at the gym.

“Yeah, I took a shower after my workout. I went straight to the car, though,” I confess.

“Christian Grey, did you forget that bug that hit you after your brother’s housewarming?” she scolds. “Are you trying to catch your death?”

“No, I’m fine,” I reply, sounding like a petulant child. I lean into the Pack-n-Play and retrieve Minnie before sitting on the sofa with her. “Your mommy sounds like she’s going to spank me,” I say to Minnie and she coos as I bounce her on my knee.

“Your daddy’s going to kill himself if he doesn’t dry his hair before going out in the cold,” she retorts to Mikey, who has graduated to full-on twisting and dancing with his mother’s help. Jesus, they look so big. It’s only been a week… two if I count Australia, but I’m sure I’ve seen them in between there.

“What should I wear tonight?” she asks. I raise my gaze to hers and she’s still looking at Mikey. I know she’s asking because I told her how to dress when we went to the club.

“Dinner attire,” I say. “Not too formal, not too conservative, but nothing flashy or too provocative, either.”

“Something in between,” she says, and I nod. “How was your workout?”

“Brutal,” I admit. “Claude beat my ass, then let me have it for being out of shape.” She raises her gaze to me, her brow furrowed.

“You’re not out of shape,” she protests.

“Remember, I used to work out every weekday,” I remind her.

“Which you’ve been doing lately,” she points out.

“Lately,” I say. “I’m not in Bastille-kick-boxing shape. The bastard even called me flabby,” I lament. She glares at me and clears her throat. “What?”

“You said the ‘B’ word in front of the children,” she chastises. I frown.

“What ‘B’ word?” I protest. I didn’t say bitch.

“B-A-S-T-A-R-D,” she says. Oh, that “B” word.

“Sorry,” I say with a shrug. “Did you even catch that, Minnie?” I say to my daughter. She touches my face and babbles something incoherent, and all is right with the world.

*-*

My wife presents herself in an ensemble that I’m certain is from my grandmother’s collection. It’s a red, strapless knee-length sheath dress with an open skirt attached to the back, making it look like one of her Lindy-Bop dresses. There’s a bow right in front at her breast, and she has complimented it with a red and gold choker necklace. I’m not sure what it’s made of, but it has red balls between large gold links with what looks like charms all around it. If it’s a costume piece, it matches the dress very well. Her hair is swept up in a chignon with flirty tresses falling around her face and she’s wearing my grandmother’s ruby earrings.

She looks absolutely stunning.

“I said not too formal,” I say when I see her. She looks down at her attire.

“This isn’t too formal,” she protests. “It’s like a cocktail dress. Should I change?”

“No,” I say, taking her coat from her arm and holding it open for her. “You look beautiful.”

“Thank you,” she says as she closes her coat around her. She checks her makeup in the mirror in the grand entrance as I put my coat on, then I lead her through the mudroom to the garage.

“We’re taking the RS7,” she observes as I press the key fob and the alarm chirps. I smile and lead her to the car. I open the passenger door for her, and she gets in. Once I close the door behind her, I walk over to the driver’s side. I really love this car. It’s got a lot of power behind it and I never considered getting rid of it once that drunk driver totaled my Spyder, but…

“It’s time for an upgrade,” I say as I start the car. “I love this car, but it’s a couple years old now.”

“Is that the only reason you want to upgrade?” she asks. “Because of the age?”

“Isn’t that enough?” I ask.

“It’s basically new, Christian. You hardly ever drive it,” she says. “Besides, I have some pretty fond memories of this car… especially the hood.” I feel my mouth involuntarily forming a smile.

“Well, that’s enough reason to keep it,” I say suggestively, dropping a gear and heading to Kirkland.

We arrive at this perfectly square contemporary house in Kirkland. I’ve never been here, although I know the couple very well. Butterfly will most likely loosen up a bit when we get to the door. I pull into the driveway and turn off the car.

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“Are you ready?” I ask. She takes a deep breath and sighs.

“Let’s do this,” she says. I get out and go over to her door. She’s all legs when she steps out of the car and I’m already fighting my primal urges as I take her hand and lead her to the front door.

“Christian,” a familiar face greets me. “It’s good to see you as always. Come in, come in, it’s cold out tonight.”

I put my hand in the small of my wife’s back and usher her in out of the cold.

“Artemis,” she says with realization. “Right?”

“Guilty,” he says with a flourish and a small bow. “May I take your coat?”

“Yes, please,” she says and allows him to take her coat.

“Oh,” he says upon removing her coat. “I’m afraid we may be a bit underdressed.”

“It’s my fault,” Butterfly says. “I didn’t know how to dress for the evening. I hope I don’t make you feel uncomfortable.”

“Nonsense,” I hear a woman’s voice and we both turn to see a beautiful blonde woman approaching us.

“And this beautiful creature is my wife, Savvina,” Artemis says, welcoming his wife into his arms and kissing her cheek gently. “You’ve met Christian, of course, darling. And this is his lovely wife, Anastasia.” Savvina extends her hand.

“It’s lovely to meet you, Anastasia,” Savvina says.

“Likewise, thank you,” my wife replies taking Savvina’s hand. Hmm, no call me Ana. She’s still a bit uncomfortable.

“Let’s go and make ourselves comfortable, shall we?” Savvina says. Savvina tucks my wife’s hand into her elbow.

“My dear, you are exquisite,” Savvina says, leading Butterfly into the den. Butterfly looks back at me and I don’t say or do anything. These are our mentors and she needs to trust them without my prompting. She’s a good judge of character, so I don’t worry.

The den is an open room with two sofas facing each other and a wall of glass facing Lake Washington. The backyard is lit with track lighting and recessed ground lighting, so we get a view of the highly manicured lawn with the lake as the backdrop.

“Let’s get right to it,” Savvina says as she and Butterfly take a seat on the sofa across from me and Artemis. Oh, okay. I assumed that I and my wife would be sitting together. I didn’t think they would separate us this soon, but okay.

“So, we know why we’re here, right?” Savvina asks. I think she wants Butterfly to answer, but I’m certain that she’s not comfortable enough yet.

“We all know my history in the lifestyle,” I begin. “My wife basically doesn’t have any…”

“I have a little,” she protests. I frown and turn my gaze to her, and she looks back at me. “What you mean to say is that I don’t have any before you, but I have some now,” she corrects me. I nod.

“I stand corrected,” I cede. “We’ve… had some playtime. Some of it can get a little intense…”

“Meaning?” Savvina probes.

“There have been some punishments,” I say. “There have been more than a few times when her limits have been tested, but she’s not a seasoned submissive and I think she may be taking more than she should in a healthy BDSM relationship.”

“Which means you feel like you may be giving more than you should,” Artemis says, and it’s not a question. I shrug.

“Yes… I think I might,” I confess.

“Why do you go as far as you do?” he asks me.

“I look to her for signals, like I’ve always done with any submissive, and she doesn’t give them to me. I only know or get the sense that I’ve gone too far when her body betrays her. I didn’t really realize that she was doing this until our cruise.”

“You had absolutely no warnings before then?” Artemis accuses.

“There may have been warning signs…” I pause, “there were warning signs, but I kept thinking that we were getting it together.”

“You’re quiet, Anastasia,” Savvina says. Butterfly begins to fidget a bit.

“I just want to be what he needs,” she says. “It’s not that bad…”

“Not that bad,” Savvina repeats, “that should not be a phrase that you use to describe your relationship at all.” Butterfly rolls her eyes.

“I’m trying to say that he doesn’t abuse me,” she clarifies.

“No one suggested that,” Artemis says. “Why would you immediately feel the need to point that out?”

“Because of what we do,” she defends. “People tend to get the wrong idea…”

“Are you forgetting that you’re here because we do the same thing?” Savvina interjects.

“It’s just… when he talks about pushing my limits. I haven’t passed out. He hasn’t beaten me and drawn blood or broken any bones, so I don’t know what he means when he’s talking about pushing me past my limits.”

“Your limits mean a lot of things, Ana… may I call you Ana?” Savvina says, and it’s the first time that anyone has ever had to force the nickname. Butterfly nods. “You mentioned breaking bones and drawing blood. Have you ever seen anything like that in the lifestyle?”

“Well, yes and no. I haven’t seen breaking bones, but I did visit a BDSM club in college and I saw blood play.”

“Do you consider that abuse?” Savvina asks. Butterfly grimaces.

“To each his own, I guess,” she says, finally. “It’s not for me.”

“So, he hasn’t done anything to you that you would consider abusive, but yet, you’re here because he thinks he’s pushing you past your limits.” Butterfly sighs.

“He went to see his trainer today,” she begins. Huh? Where’s this going. “The guy told him that he’s out of shape because he’s been out of practice. Look at him!” She gestures over to me. “You can pick any part of his body and not be able to pinch a centimeter of fat. Yet, his trainer says he’s out of shape. Why? Because he’s supposed to be at a certain level of performance, and he’s not there.

“That’s how I feel,” she continues. “I feel like I just need the conditioning to be what he needs when he needs it. And yes, I know that there’s a point called ‘too far,’ but if I don’t allow him to push my limits, how will I know what that point is?”

“I see,” Savvina says to Butterfly. “So, it sounds to me that you may have a bit of a grasp of the physical, but you don’t clearly understand the mental.”

“I understand the mental,” she says, clearly affronted. “He’s a Dominant—he needs to regain or maintain control.”

“That’s not all he needs,” Savvina replies. “But what about you? What about what you need? What about your mental? Does the pain get you off?” She shrinks a bit. She’s shrinking?

“Sometimes,” she admits.

“And the other times?” Savvina presses. Butterfly crosses her legs and begins to look very small, shrinking more and I repress the urge to leap over and gather her in my arms. I hate that shit. She looks down, then casts a glance in my direction, though she never makes eye contact with me.

“In another life, you would have been a great pain whore.”

No, she wouldn’t! Pain whores absolutely get off on pain. I know that’s not Butterfly.

“We need to be alone,” Savvina announces. My back straightens.

“Why?” I ask. I thought we were in training together.

“Because you came to us for help,” Savvina says. “She’s a submissive right now and she’s clearly not going to talk with you in the room, much less be receptive to anything I’m going to be telling her. We need to be alone.”

“Come on, Christian,” Artemis says, standing. “Let’s go get a drink.”

Savvina doesn’t break her gaze with me and Butterfly won’t meet my gaze at all. I reluctantly stand and follow Artemis to another part of the house.

“What’s your poison?” he asks, and I notice that his normally heavy Greek accent is significantly smoothed out.

A double shot of Scotch…

“Sparkling water with lime,” I say. “I’m driving.” He nods and begins to fix my drink. “Your accent suddenly doesn’t seem as heavy.”

“It’s a practiced dialect,” he admits, “when I want to make sure that my English is fully understood. Thank you for the confirmation.” He places a soda water with lime in front of me and prepares one for himself.

“You don’t have to abstain from drinking just because I am,” I observe.

“It’s better to keep a level head,” he says. “I may have one drink with dinner, but nothing more.” I nod.

“Why did you offer me a drink, then?” I ask. He raises a brow.

“I offered you a drink, not the bottle,” he says, sipping his soda water. “How does it feel to be ushered from the room that way?”

Like I’ve totally lost control and I want to beat something until my arms ache.

“Fucking helpless,” I admit.

“Good,” Artemis says. “You’re going to have to let her grow on her own and that means letting go. As you both said, she had no experience before you, so you were okay to introduce her, but you’re not okay to teach her… and even though she’s on her way, she has a lot to learn.”

“I’m aware of this now,” I say. “That’s why we’re here…”

Artemis and I talk for a while about balancing life with being a Dom and a husband—a husDom—and after a few minutes, he reaches into his pocket and looks at his phone.

“Dinner is ready,” he says, “and we’re being summoned.”

I raise my gaze to him. I guess that last part means that our wives have finished their conversation and it’s safe for us to go back. I feel a bit powerless and, in light of current events, it’s not a good feeling. Not a good feeling at all.

Artemis and I go back to the den to join our wives and I get a surprise.

“Ana, why don’t you go on in and get settled for dinner with Artemis? Give me a moment with Christian, do you mind?” Butterfly is clearly hesitant.

“Um, okay?” she says and it’s more of a question than a statement. Artemis gestures with his arm and smiles warmly. She looks at me then at Artemis and leaves the room with him. He mimics placing his hand in the small of her back, but doesn’t actually touch her as they exit. Savvina turns to me.

“You’ve always had submissives that were already primed,” she says. “They knew who they were, they knew what they wanted. They had contracts, they underwent negotiations, and they knew exactly what to expect. They knew what they would and wouldn’t take from you, and it was all spelled out in black and white. They had been thoroughly trained, and some of them were pros. You’ve never had feelings for any of them except your Mistress when you first began as a submissive…”

God, I hate that she refers to that woman as my Mistress.

“You’ve never had a submissive in training, much less one that you’re in love with—seasoned or not. Do not badger that girl about what we discuss. You’ll set her all the way back and undo any progress we possibly make. My suggestion is that while she’s going through her initial submissive training that you go to your husDom training until you’re needed for her sessions. You’ve known me for years. You know she’ll be safe with me.”

“So, you won’t tell me about the progress of the sessions?” I inquire. She shakes her head.

“You’ll only know what you need to know and nothing more. I will tell you this—she needs a lot of training. She’s balancing on a delicate rope right now and she’s full of more uncertainty than you think. I’m only telling you this because if you push her too hard, it’ll be disastrous.” I nod. I can’t do anything but train and wait.

Fuck, this is going to be tough as fuck!

I’m contemplative throughout dinner, talking as much as is necessary to be social, but lost in my own thoughts. Don’t ask about training; don’t push too hard; I won’t get any updates. How the fuck am I supposed to know what to do and what not to do? I’m going to lose my goddamn mind trying to gauge what’s appropriate and what’s not. I thought I truly had a handle on this whole Dom thing. If I didn’t know anything else, I always knew how to read a woman’s body—what buttons to push, what things to say, how to touch her. To some degree, I’ve even been able to read a woman’s thoughts…

I know when she’s displeased; I know when she’s aroused; I know when she’s angry or sad.

Now, suddenly, with my own wife, I feel like I’m completely out of my league. And it doesn’t help where now I’m fighting with my company as well, where at one time I had total and absolute control and now, it just seems like things are going haywire!

Everybody is telling me that I’m going soft, including my fucking trainer. Even my executive staff don’t respect my decisions anymore. I feel like I’m losing my grip on everything and it’s unbelievably frustrating.

We’ve spent dinner mostly in an effort to make Butterfly more comfortable with the journey we’re about to embark upon, but the entire time, I’m feeling more and more rudderless. By the time we return to the den for drinks and to discuss our next steps, I’m wound tighter than a dollar-store watch.

I’m having visions of the less-controlled things that I once did to faceless submissives in the playroom that’s now being dismantled at Escala. I’ve been having these visions ever since I held my wife down and forced her into two orgasms… or was it three?

I’m remembering with a regretful fondness the days when I was looking forward to the weekend when some fit but bony waif would call me Master and I would work her over until all the pressures of the week had been released. I wasn’t kind to those women—I respected their limits and their safewords if they used them, but I wasn’t kind.

If they ever left me feeling empty or unsatisfied in any way, I punished them. And if they did it again, I ended their contract. It was a means to an end, and it worked out nicely, until…

“Christian, you’re quiet,” Artemis says, bringing me back to the here and now. I know he’s asking what I’m thinking because I haven’t contributed anything to the conversation since we returned to the den. Well, if I’m looking for help with this husDom thing, I have to be honest.

“This week, I found myself fighting my old… urges,” I admit, and Butterfly rubbernecks to me. Oh, hell, this may have been a bad idea, but the elephant is in the room now.

“Your old urges?” he asks, curiously. He knows what I’m talking about. He’s outfitted both of my playrooms and broke down the one at Escala.

“The pressures of life and the corporate world,” I continue without looking at anyone. “They’re… unearthing the memories of my prior coping techniques.”

“I see,” he says. “Can you elaborate for Ana?”

“I’m aware of his prior coping techniques,” my wife says, turning from me and dropping her gaze to the floor.

“Okay, then elaborate for me,” Artemis presses. I glare at him and he doesn’t falter. He’s not allowing either of us to hide. If this is what we want, we have to face up to it.

“The caning and the whipping,” I admit. “The orgasm refusal and striping the skin with a cat… the things that use to calm my frustration with… life.”

I don’t look at Butterfly, but I can see her deflate out of the corner of my eye.

“You miss those things, Christian?” Artemis asks. I shake my head.

“I just… recall my fascination with them, that’s all,” I admit. “I remember anticipating the weekend and imagining a scene, then carrying it out with a submissive. Yes, the release was liberating. When the days become more stressful than you’re accustomed to—stressful like they used to be—you remember your old coping techniques. That’s all this is.” My wife scoffs, drawing the attention of everyone in the room.

“Ana, is there something you want to add?” Artemis adds. She shrugs.

“What’s to add?” she asks, her voice laced with sarcasm. “He’s feeling nostalgic about the days when he used to beat submissives. His business is stressing him out and he’s thinking about going back to the old way of doing things, just like he did with his company.” I roll my eyes and sigh.

“I’m not thinking about going back to the old way of doing things,” I defend. “I was honest about remembering those times because the stress and the angst that I’m feeling now is similar to the stress and the angst that I was feeling then. It’s no different than smelling my mom’s chicken soup and remembering my childhood, Anastasia. It’s just something that struck a memory.”

“Oh, there’s a comparison—your old BDSM lifestyle and Grace’s chicken soup.”

Yep… yep, that sounds ridiculous.

“Okay… alright, that was a bit too simplistic, but it’s the same premise. It’s something that struck up a memory and that’s all,” I retort.

“Um-hmm,” she says, her gaze back to the floor.

“Ana, what’s going through your head?” Artemis asks.

“I knew that’s what he wanted,” she blurts out. “No matter how he tried to convince me otherwise, I knew deep down that’s what he wanted all along.”

What?

“That’s what I wanted, yes!” I say finally, firmly.

“Then why didn’t you just say that?” she nearly shrieks. “Why play these games with me like I’m what you wanted all this time?”

“Because you are what I want!” I snap back harshly, feeling attacked, “and I don’t want to be that way! It’s what I wanted! It’s what I was accustomed to! And when things get rough, it may be what my mind recalls as a coping technique. It does not mean that’s what I want now! If you, of all people, don’t know and understand that, then I don’t know what to tell you!”

“We need to back up,” Artemis says. “We’re getting into pointing fingers and losing sight of the purpose here. Ana,” he says, turning to my wife, “you’ve heard that Christian may be having some of his initial primal urges…” I move to dispute him, but he raises his finger to silence me. I fucking hate that shit, but in this setting, it’s different—another means to an end.

“How do you feel about that?” Artemis continues. “Would you be able to satisfy those urges for him?”

“No,” she says, after a pause. “I can’t be that woman. I don’t like whips and I don’t like canes, and he knows that.” Her voice is cracking.

“Christian,” Artemis turns to me, “how do you feel about hearing that?”

“I don’t want to do those things to her, and she knows that,” I retort. “That’s why we’re here—to find that compromise that works for us both without her having to push herself to limits that I know she can’t take.”

“Then when he needs the really hard stuff, he’ll just go find someone else that’ll take what he’s dishing out!” She hisses through her tears.

“Fuck! Seriously?” I roar. “You seriously think I would fucking do that?”

I launch from my seat and walk away from the conversation, over to the wall of glass and just look out at the darkness. I don’t even bother counting. It won’t help this time. I really can’t believe what I’m hearing. Does she really think I would do that to her? To our fucking family? Seriously?

“Ana, that’s not fair,” Savvina chimes in. “Has Christian ever given you any reason to believe that he would venture outside of your marriage?”

“No,” I hear her sob, “but I can’t be that woman for him. I know who he was, what he did, and I can’t be that woman! So, what is he going to do—pretend like he doesn’t have those urges? Pretend like he doesn’t want to chain me to the ceiling of the playroom and cane me until my entire body is striped pink?”

I’ve never fucking whipped any woman until her entire body was striped pink. That is abuse. Hell, I had a hard time with B&D after I spanked her until she had purple bruises on her bottom. Remember that, Anastasia?

Come to think of it, even if I was that much of an asshole to want to cheat on my wife, I could never inflict the kind of damage on any woman that I used to before I met Ana, for more reasons than I can count.

I can’t hear anything now. I’m so fucking pissed that I can barely breathe. How dare her! How fucking dare she think I would want someone else—for any reason whatsoever! Yeah, I skipped out to Madrid when things got a bit much for me to bear, but has that situation completely negated everything that I’ve ever done in our entire relationship to prove that she’s the one that I really want? Jesus H. Christ, this is a fucking nightmare.

I feel angry, I feel appalled. I feel every type of burning rage a man can feel when he’s innocent and being accused of a crime he didn’t commit. But beyond all that fury and ire, there’s one emotion that’s sticking out the worst, and I can’t put a name to it? Is it rejection? Do I feel slighted? What is this?

“What did you say?” Artemis says and apparently, I said something, but I wasn’t aware of it. I close my eyes and open my mouth and just let the word flow out on its own.

“Hurt.”

The room is silent, and I don’t turn around. I’m leaning on the wall next to the wall of glass—or I should say that it’s kind of holding me up right now. I don’t want this. I don’t want any of this. I’ll turn my back on the whole lifestyle, on everything it means to me or does for me if it means I’ll lose her. I’ll work out until every muscle in my body feels like steel before I jeopardize my family. But I think what bothers me the most is the fact that she feels like I could so easily throw that all away.

“Christian, you’re moving backwards. That’s not good…”

We’re moving backwards!” I say finally, interrupting Artemis’ statement. “We’re moving backwards in every way!”

“That may be what’s needed,” Savvina interjects and I glare at her. “To pull back all the layers of everything you’ve built in terms of your practices and dispel all the disillusions.”

I take a moment to think about what she said when Butterfly left the room; that all of my submissives have already been primed; that she’s pretty much at a precipice right now and if I push her too hard, it may set her back. I just wish I knew how the fuck this equates into I want someone else just because I confessed to feeling the same lack of control that I used to.

“I really think we’ve gone as far as we can today,” Savvina says. Both Artemis and I look questioning at her and she gestures to Butterfly. I look over at my wife and she’s as still as a statue, tears falling almost endlessly onto her beautiful red dress. I push my hands through my hair and shake my head.

“I think you’re right,” I say, unable to hide the anger in my voice. I leave the den and head to the front room and the closet where our coats are kept. I’ve never needed time alone more in my life than I do right now.

The three of them come from the den into the front room where I’m standing. Butterfly isn’t crying anymore, but she’s eying me leerily. Oh, for fuck’s sake.

“You can ride with me if you like,” I say, failing miserably to contain my ire, “or if you rather I call someone to come and get you, I can do that, too.”

She immediately drops her gaze and shakes her head, and I immediately feel like shit. I hold her coat open for her and she walks into it without raising her head.

“Next week?” Savvina asks. “The Munch?”

“Yes,” I say, my voice clipped. No way in hell I’m going to put myself or her through this without seeing it through.

The ride back to Mercer is deathly quiet. I don’t even bother to turn the radio on. I’m concentrating hard on the road and trying to get us back home in one piece. Total silence for twenty minutes and plenty of time for my thoughts to bang themselves against my skull over and over again until I can at least find the solace of my goddamn piano…


ANASTASIA

He bolts to the elevator without a word the moment we hit the mudroom. He doesn’t even bother to remove his coat… or mine.

Weeping, I take the stairs to our bedroom. I cry the entire time I rip the red dress from my body, truly hoping to never see the beautiful piece of fabric again. I kick off my stilettos and I’m careful with his grandmother’s earrings, not so much with the costume necklace from one of my prior Ana Steele collections. My hands are trembling so much as I try to remove it that I break the clasp. I reach for a nightgown, then realize that I’ll most likely be spending the night alone, and not in that bed, so I opt for a pair of yoga pants and my U-Dub sweatshirt instead.

I always feared the day would come where I wouldn’t be enough for him. In the back of my head, I always dreaded the day would come when he needed something that I couldn’t give him. That’s why I took the heavy play. It was never something that I couldn’t take, and I knew it wasn’t abuse. I knew that I could stop any of it with just a safeword, but I knew he needed more. No matter how he tried to convince me or himself, I knew he needed more, so I convinced myself to take more—to be what he needed.

The truth is that the whole thing is an unknown to me, and I’m putting characteristics on him that were never ever there… like infidelity. Mistrust is a poison pill and I can’t allow that to creep into our relationship. It’s more than the running away to Madrid because he can’t take the heat or deal with what he saw. This is actively believing that my husband would venture outside of our marriage and find satisfaction in the arms of another woman, or with another woman at the end of his whip.

I’m fighting the urge to pack my things and my babies and leave just because I don’t want to be here and I don’t know what to feel, but I know that won’t solve anything. If anything, it’ll make everything that much worse, and it’s the wrong thing to do for so many reasons. I don’t even know why I want to leave. Even now, my mind is ping-ponging back and forth between rational and irrational thoughts, and I really need to talk to somebody.

I need a friend—a confidante in the worst way.

I open my phone to Facebook and look for Laura’s name. I can instant message her and she’ll contact me when she’s online.

Hmmm, I have to download Facebook Messenger. Fine. I download the app and look for Laura. She has to approve me to message her. That’s strange. Shouldn’t I already be approved if I’m her friend? Whatever. I type a short message:

Mercer Doctor Lady: Hey, what’s up?

Short and sweet. What time is it in Sydney right now anyway? Is she even awake? I’m fucking bright-eyed and bushy tailed since my husband refuses to come to bed after I foolishly accused him of wanting to whip other little brown-haired girls if I refused to cooperate. God, the thought is so repulsive, and if he had even the slightest reaction close to mine, I certainly understand why he’s livid and needs his space right now.

Ellen Degeneres it is…

I watch three clips of her scaring her guests and playing silly games that she made up when my phone chimes with a notification.

LauraLee Kelly: You’re up late. Can’t sleep?

Very perceptive.

Mercer Doctor Lady: How’d you guess? Exactly what time is it in Sydney? Did I wake you?

LauraLee Kelly: Not even. Has it been that long, dear? It’s barely dusk here.

Oh. Well, at least I didn’t wake her.

LauraLee Kelly: I know it’s past dusk in your neck of the woods. Why the night owl?

I can’t tell her everything, but I’ll give her the basics.

Mercer Doctor Lady: I had a fight with Christian.

LauraLee Kelly: Uh oh. Can you elaborate?

She knows me well.

Mercer Doctor Lady: Only a little. Old ghosts preyed on my insecurities.

LauraLee Kelly: The Boogieman?

Hmm… no.

Mercer Doctor Lady: Honestly, no, not this time. I was just insecure about his nostalgia of the man that he used to be before he met me.

LauraLee Kelly: Okay, so I’m a little lost. Why was he nostalgic?

Mercer Doctor Lady: Because work is stressful, and he began thinking about the things he used to do as a single man.

LauraLee Kelly: I’m not trying to open a can of worms, but work stress usually doesn’t make you think about something like that. There has to be something more. You know I’m your friend and I’d really like to help you out with this, but I don’t want you to tell me more than you think you should.

Shit, should I tell her anything? I’ve already told her so much. I would normally talk to Ace about things like this, but he’s not available and I’ve pretty much told him to kick rocks until I need him…

As I’m pondering my options, my phone makes this horrible ringing-clanking sound. It sounds awful. I look at the screen and discover that Laura is calling me. That’s not my ringtone, though. I look closer and realize that she’s calling me through Messenger. Hm, you learn something new every day.

I swipe the screen and accept her video chat.

“I figured this would be easier, whether you wanted to elaborate or not,” she says when her face appears on the screen. Jesus, she’s a sight for sore eyes.

“I didn’t think I’d miss you guys so much so soon,” I admit. “It’s been a rough week ever since we’ve been home.”

“Obviously,” she says. “Why are you sitting in the dark?” I turn on a lamp on the end table. “There you are. You don’t look so good…  do you want to elaborate or would you rather not?”

I look over into our bedroom at our undisturbed bed and sigh.

“Yeah,” I cede weakly.

Without giving her too much information on our background and why we partake, I explain to her that we’re active in the BDSM lifestyle and that Christian would most likely blow a literal fuse if he knew that I was telling her. I give her the short version of our mostly vanilla relationship with the kinky fuckery thrown in, but that my most recent uncertainty stemmed from the fact that my husband was—once upon a time—into some of the more sadistic stuff.

“You’re afraid that he wants to go back to that?” she asks.

“I don’t know, Laura,” I admit. “I know he thinks about it even though he won’t do it with me. I know he would never hurt me… well, beyond what I can take and what I consent to, but he used to be into some heavier shit than what we do. This week has been stressful with some things that have been going on with the business and in our personal lives, and he admitted that he had been thinking about some of the things that he used to do with those other women.”

“Did he say he wanted you to do those things?” she asks.

“No,” I say, shaking my head.

“Did he give you the impression that he wanted to start doing those things again… with you or other women?” I clear my throat.

“Not as such,” I admit. “He just… talked about remembering those things—his old ‘coping mechanisms’—and he made it sound like he missed them.” She nods.

“Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. So, did he in any way, shape, or form make you feel like you were falling short because you weren’t doing what these other women did?”

“No,” I admit. “He didn’t, but…” I trail off.

“But what?” she presses. I roll my eyes and sigh.

“This horrible woman that he used to… be involved with, she told me when we first got together that he would tire of me—that one day, he would miss his old lifestyle and that I wouldn’t be enough. As soon as I start remembering what she said…” with the help of a nocturnal visit from the bitch, “… he comes out and admits that he misses that lifestyle.”

“He said that?” she asks in horrified awe.

“Well, no, not that. He said that the stress of the week is making him nostalgic for his old coping mechanisms.” She frowns.

“What else did he say?” she asks.

“That was pretty much it—that he was just thinking about his prior activities and the way that he used to cope.” She rubs her chin.

“Okay, I see. So… some bitch planted a seed in your head a few years ago when her time was apparently fading and yours was just beginning to bloom, and now when things aren’t so perfect, her words have come back to haunt you and you suddenly believe that your husband is no longer satisfied with your relationship. Have I just about summed it up?”

Wait a minute, whose side are you on?

“You do realize that you’re subjecting yourself to insecurity because he’s remembering the familiar, don’t you?”

God, she makes it sound so simple. It’s got to be more than that.

“We were seeing another couple in the lifestyle to try to help us find a middle-ground between our kinky fuckery and the really hard stuff.”

“Why would you need that if you guys were already practicing?” she asks. “I thought you said he didn’t expect you to do all that hard shit.”

“He doesn’t,” I clarify. “We’re seeing this other couple because he feels like he may be pushing me beyond my limits and that I’m letting him because I don’t want him to seek satisfaction elsewhere. So, we sought out some guidance.” She frowns.

“You realize that you’re proving my point, right?” she says. “If he had the slightest inclination of going back to the lifestyle that he was living before, you think he would have said anything about it while you were present? He has a woman who is clearly willing to take more than she can bear to help him stay grounded, but you guys are meeting with someone because he feels like you’re going beyond your limits. How this equates to ‘he wants his old life back,’ I have no idea, so you’re really going to have to help me with that.”

You should see him, Laura. He’s nearly inconsolable!” I say, my voice desperate. “Most people devote eight or nine hours of the day to work. If you’re the boss, maybe ten or twelve. This thing with the business has turned him into someone else entirely. This is the guy he used to be before he met me, only it’s worse—or maybe it’s not worse, because I wasn’t around then. Maybe this was who he was all the time—unapproachable for 16 – 20 hours out of the day, but nobody cared because he didn’t have a wife and children. Nobody was looking or nobody cared if he slept for maybe four hours each night, but when he did that, he let his frustrations out on the weekend on women who were trained and professional and could take a whole lot more than I can.”

I’m choking back the tears that are welling up in my throat again. My husband is nostalgic about the old days not because he wants another woman, but because life is guiding him to where he was before. If something doesn’t change, what’s to stop him from wandering into his old way… again, not because he’s unfaithful, but because it’s what’s familiar?

“Ana, my high school years were outstanding—I was popular, I had friends, and the prom was phenomenal. I remember those days with fondness, but I don’t want to go back! It was a time before all my problems started. I was carefree and young and happy, but I still don’t want to go back. All kinds of things have happened that makes me a different person now than I was then. So, this person now won’t fit in that time, no matter how great it was. Do you really think that this person that Christian is now would fit in the time of the person that he was then? Because if you do, you’ve got a bigger problem than you think.” I choke on a gasp and cover my mouth.

“No,” I sob. “No, he’s nothing like he was before… nothing at all. I don’t think he could ever be that person again if he tried. He’s… come a really long way, and the biggest part of the journey was… in the first few months that we met. The Christian Grey that I first met could never have… been a husband, let alone a father. Yes, he has his imperfect moments, but… he’s not that guy. He’s… just not that guy.”

“I’m glad you see that,” she says. “So, why are you talking to me and not to him?”

“He needs some time,” I say, wiping the tears from my cheeks. “He’s a proud man. He told me how he felt… and I told him how I felt. I don’t think either of us could really take it.”

“Mm,” she replies, “his version of sulking?”

“Brooding,” I correct her, “but he gets a gimme on this one… a big gimme.”

Laura and I talk a little more and I thank her for listening to me and helping me get my thoughts together. The incident wasn’t Boogieman status—only because I think I’ve learned how to deal with the Boogieman—but it was pretty steep, and the way I feel about Ace these days, I don’t think he would have been able to help me.

Quite some time after I began my call with Laura, I go to the nightstand in my bedroom and retrieve my iPod. I take the throw from the bottom of the bed and go back into the sitting room. Still fully dressed, I wrap the throw around me and lay on the loveseat. I’m surprised that my iPod is still charged, but I haven’t used it in a while. I turn it on and open my files. That one big file is still there of course. I open it and allow it to play. I lay my head on the pillow as I listen to him play his piano and sing to me. I finally fall asleep as his deep voice sings about being in love with me and feeling brand new…

I slept like the dead. It must have been the emotional overload from last night. I’m in the fetal position on the love seat, wrapped in the throw from our bed. I’m listening to the last bars of one of the songs Christian sang to me on my iPod—I think it’s Michael Franks, Now I Know Why. I stop the iPod and sit up. It’s obvious that he didn’t come to bed last night since I’m still on the loveseat.

It’s also obvious that he’s been in this room.

On the floor next to the loveseat is a single flawless long-stemmed rose.

I pick up the rose and take it to the en suite with me. While I’m in the shower, I think about the conversation Savvina and I had before my husband dropped the “nostalgia” bomb…

“You say that you know about the mental,” she says. “So, what do you know?” I straighten my back.

“I know that different people deal with stressful situations in different ways,” I say. “I know that my husband has been mentally preconditioned to deal with unfettered circumstances in a physical manner. It helps him to regain control and yes, it gets him off.”

“Unfettered,” she says, repeating my word. “God, you sound so clinical.”

Well! Should I be offended?

“Why are you making this relationship sound so sterile?” she asks.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“How long have you actively partaken in a BDSM lifestyle of any kind?” she asks.

“Since the beginning,” I reply. “Well, almost the beginning. We might have been a week or two into our relationship, I don’t remember exactly…”

“And how long have you been together?” she presses.

“Two and a half years,” I confess.

“So, you two have been dabbling for two and a half years, and you don’t find it strange that your husband has not been able to identify your limits?” My defenses drop and I shrug.

“Christian was a different man when we met,” I tell her. “If you already knew him, I’m sure you’re aware of this.”

“I have helped my husband outfit a few dungeons for him. I’m aware of this,” she replies. Dungeons. He’s never called it a dungeon… but she just did.

You seem unnerved,” she says. “Does it bother you that I’ve had a hand in decorating his dungeons?”

“No,” I reply honestly, “it’s unsettling that you call them ‘dungeons.’ It conjures other impressions for me.”

“Well, that’s what they are, dear, but I’ll refer to them as playrooms if it’ll make you more comfortable.”

“Yes, please,” I reply.

“Earlier, you said the pain gets you off… sometimes. Is that why you allow him to push your limits so far?” I raise my gaze to her.

“I will speak to Christian about our progress and things that I feel he needs to know throughout our encounters, but whatever you say to me will remain in confidence,” she assures me. I stare at her for a moment or two.

“I’m not sure… what my husband wants,” I tell her. “He’s beautiful and powerful and he has spent a good portion of his life in the BDSM lifestyle, both as a submissive and as  a Dominant. He’s very good at being both. His pain threshold as a submissive is beyond anything I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“So, you’ve dominated him, too,” she observes.

“Like you said, we’ve dabbled,” I inform her. “But when he’s on the other side of the crop…” I trail off.

How do you feel going into a scene?” she asks. “When you know that he’s in full Dom mode, when he binds you or restrains you in any way, when you don’t know what’s coming, but you think you might, how do you feel? What are you thinking?”

I try to think about all the scenes we’ve done. Some of them have been passionate while others have been somewhat brutal. And yet others have been a combination of the two.

“It honestly depends on the situation,” I confess.

“Do you know what’s coming before it happens?” she asks.

“Not unless he tells me,” I reply.

“And how often does he tell you?”

“Not often,” I say.

“So, again I ask, how do you feel going into a scene… overall?” I pause.

“I trust him,” I reply. “I know that if I tell him to stop, he’ll stop. I know that he won’t hurt me beyond what I tell him that he can and can’t do.”

“That’s all wonderful, Ana, but you still haven’t told me how you feel,” she points out. “He’s in full Dom mode and you know it’s coming. You know what he’s done before, but you don’t know what he’s about to do now. How do you feel?” I swallow hard.

“It depends,” I reply honestly. “Excited sometimes, or… terrified…”

“Terrified?” she questions, frowning deeply.

“Of the unknown,” I add. “I want to be what he needs, but sometimes, I don’t know what he needs. I know he can be intense, and I just don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if he’s going to do something that I like or if he’s going to need something more than I can take. It’s a balancing act and sometimes, it can be terrifying…”

I tell her about punishments that I don’t feel I deserved or where I think he actually may have gone too far, like the time I went outside without a jacket to stop Keri from leaving when I was pregnant. I didn’t feel like it was a huge malfeasance and could have been easily settled by a verbal lashing about going outside without a coat—like he went outside with wet hair or ran through the rain and actually did get sick—but he spanked me in the shower until my butt was purple.

Or the first fiasco in Anguilla where I was left shaking and nerve-wrecked after being ordered not to come.

“So, it’s not that you’re concerned if he’ll hurt you because it sounds like you expect him to hurt you anyway. You’re simply afraid that you won’t be able to sustain as far as he might be willing to go.”

Bells ring in my head not to respond, not to let this woman know that she’s hit this nail on the head. What does that say about my husband—that he will one day take things too far? That I will have to safeword to get him to stop? When will I know when to safeword if I keep telling myself to go further and further… for him? When will that moment come when he really does need more, and I can’t give it to him?

“No response is a response, Ana,” Savvina says. “You don’t understand the mental and what it means for you; and if you don’t find enjoyment in it, or relief, or release, then it is abuse, even if it’s unintentional.”

“But I do find release…”

“No, you don’t,” she interrupts me. “You don’t find Nirvana, peace, or even subspace until it’s over and he makes you come. This. Is. Not. Just. For. Him. As his wife, this is for you, too. Until you fully understand that, you’re in a dangerous place.”

We went in to dinner shortly after that revelation with Savvina promising to help me understand what healthy limits are as opposed to allowing myself to be brutalized—for lack of a better word—for the sake of keeping my husband from straying. And then came the timebomb…

“The pressures of life and the corporate world, they’re… unearthing the memories of my prior coping techniques… The caning and the whipping, the orgasm refusal and striping the skin with a cat… the things that use to calm my frustration with… life. I just… recall my fascination with them, that’s all. I remember anticipating the weekend and imagining a scene, then carrying it out with a submissive. Yes, the release was liberating. When the days become more stressful than you’re accustomed to—stressful like they used to be—you remember your old coping techniques…”

Who wouldn’t feel at least even the tiniest bit of doubt upon hearing that their very dominant-previously-sadistic husband is recalling his fascination with his previous BDSM lifestyle right at a moment when he’s telling me that he may need to pull back because I might be pushing myself too far?

He expressed his feelings and I expressed mine. Mine were apparently the very wrong ones…

“You can ride with me if you like… or if you rather I call someone to come and get you, I can do that, too.”

He was pissed, not that I could blame him. I let the insecurities that I got from a dream—a phantom—materialize into the real, and I threw that insecurity at my husband. That ride was probably the longest twenty minutes of my life.

That’s a lie. The seconds passed like hours when he was in Madrid, but that’s another situation entirely.

I’m blaming a bout of dream-induced temporary insanity for my feelings of insecurity. I truly don’t think Christian wants another woman, not even to release his frustrations. However, I’m not at all convinced that he doesn’t want the release of the intense playroom scenes that he once had with his prior submissives, and I don’t know what to do about that.


A/N: 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 on the menu or you can click HERE.

There has been yet another development where if you feel the need to talk to fellow readers about personal issues, you need a sounding board, you want to vent about something in your life, please feel free to visit the link on the left in the menu entitled “Do You Need To Talk.” No subject is taboo. I just ask that you approach the link with respect for those who have concerns as well as those who respond. You can also get to the link by clicking HERE

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

~~love and handcuffs

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Raising Grey: Chapter 89—Still Minding the Monsters

I passed my CE. Now, I get to keep those 44 licenses!

One and a half months…
6 classes…
31 credit hours…
3 days of testing…
My scores: 96, 96, 92, 88, 84, 82

Thank you to all of you who encouraged and prayed for me. I couldn’t have done it without you and I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.

Thanks to my mommy who, even though she was sick, was encouraging and rooting for me the whole time.

Especially thank you to my Daddy, who catered to my every need while I studied and wouldn’t allow me to doubt myself for one moment!

We did it, y’all! ❤ 

FYI—four more chapters in book four after this one and a new era begins for our couple!

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 89—Still Minding the Monsters


CHRISTIAN 

I awake in the middle of the night again and discover that Butterfly has left our bed. I go in search of her and find her in the yoga room, sitting on the floor and assembling her Lego model of the Sydney Opera House.

“Why are you awake?” I ask. She raises her gaze to me for a moment, then turns her attention back to the Lego model.

“I couldn’t sleep,” she admits. “I got up and journaled for a while, then I decided to meditate a bit, but I’m still not tired. So…” She gestures at her Lego model.

“What’s keeping you awake?” I ask. “Something on your mind?”

“The usual stuff,” she dismisses. “Nothing and everything.”

So, something’s on her mind but she doesn’t want to talk about it.

“Do you need some help?” I ask.

“No,” she says. “It’s therapeutic, but you can come and sit with me while I finish if you want to.” I graciously accept the invitation, sitting on the floor lotus-style in front of her and the Lego pieces. We had already talked about our day, so we just sit quietly—me watching while her dexterous fingers snap the little pieces into place. It’s not an exact replica, but it’s enough to remind her of our trip.

She put it on one of the shelves in the yoga room, and now I realize that she’s been quite busy in here. The shelves are neatly arranged with paraphernalia from different stages of our lives.

Seashells and souvenirs from our trip to Anguilla, including the dolphin globe…

A picture of me and Gail walking down the aisle on her wedding day…

The picture of us from our first press conference standing in front of the elevator at Grey House…

A picture of her and Marlow—I don’t know from where or when…

Many, many more pictures—Christmases, birthdays, wedding and bridal showers, weddings…

Her promise ring sealed in what looks like an acrylic box… I can’t be upset about it, considering the carats she has on her hand now.

A miniature Eiffel Tower and what looks like a map of some of the ruins from Greece…

A cork from one of the bottles of Screaming Eagle wine from Napa Valley…

A picture of her henna-ed hands over her henna-ed baby bump…

A picture of Minnie and Mikey only hours old in the bassinets in the hospital nursery…

Two dried roses and a few stray rose petals…

“What are these from?” I ask, pushing the dried rose petals around.

“Our engagement,” she says softly, and then I remember the incredible rose ceremony I engineered to propose to her. I turn to her and smile before turning back to examine the many mementos that she has assembled on the built-in shelves.

A picture of us singing at Mia’s wedding…

Her and Allen dancing at his wedding…

A captured shot of her and Valerie in the guest room, talking about God knows what right after Valerie and Elliot moved into the Crossing…

The first ultrasound pictures of our babies… the gender reveal. I take the picture off the shelf and examine it, creepily caressing the point where the technician pointed out Mikey’s penis.

“I was a real jerk when we first got this picture,” I say, looking down at the picture of the first ultrasound, when we found out the sex of our babies.

“I…” She trails off and I raise my head to look at her. “I… only vaguely remember.” I look down at the picture again.

“I hope you never remember,” I lament. “I was a real asshole, Butterfly. We were at odds and I robbed you of what should have been one of the most joyous moments of our lives because I was pissed.” I raise my gaze to her again. “When and if you do ever remember it, please also remember that I’m so, so sorry.” She takes the picture from my hand and put it back on the shelf.

“Sometimes, I feel like the accident may have been a blessing in disguise,” she says, adjusting the picture so that it’s straight. “That I know of, I haven’t lost any long-term memories, and God knows I’d love to shed some of those, but I seem to have shaken some of the short-term memories that I probably didn’t need anyway.” She turns to me.

“I remember you passing out,” she says. “I think it was when you found out that we were having twins, but… I don’t remember a bad reaction to the gender reveal.” I swallow hard and put my arms around her.

“Let’s hope it stays that way,” I pray, “but I am sorry.” She nods and ends the conversation. She smiles faintly and turns away, walking to the French doors and looking out. I don’t ask her what’s on her mind. I have a bit of a sinking feeling that she actually does remember the gender reveal. She’s just letting me off the hook. I move behind her and wrap my arms around her waist, and we watch the stars beyond the trees through the glass of the French doors.

*-*

Butterfly is still asleep when I get dressed. We were up late stargazing, so I don’t bother to wake her. I just quickly and quietly eat my breakfast and sneak out to go to Grey House.

I don’t even raise my gaze from my phone as I walk into the building with the usual “I don’t give a fuck” attitude I’ve been sporting all week. I hear the chatter cease as the crowd silences and in my peripheral, I can see it part like the Red Sea.

Yeah, that’s what I’ve been looking for.

I don’t need to be liked; I need reverence. If having these peasants like me means that my company is going to fail, they can hate me until eternity rolls as long as they respect me.

“You look like a man with his mind on his money and his money on his mind.”

I raise my head to see Josh standing at Andrea’s desk as I step off the elevator.

“Coffee, Mr. Grey?” Andrea asks.

“Black,” I say. I nod at Luma before I walk into my office. “You have information for me?”

“That smokescreen flew up faster than I ever thought it could’ve,” he says following me into the office.

“Details,” I say walking over to my desk and taking a seat while pressing the button to scramble the signals in my office. Jason enters and closes the door behind us.

“Sometimes you have to shake a cage to see what falls out,” Josh says, handing me his tablet. “Just a little bit of innuendo, you can cause a fucking avalanche.” I look at his tablet to see a Google search on Elena Lincoln autobiography. Harmless enough… but not.

“Wow! What the fuck?” I ask, scrolling down the headlines in the search. They range from thought-provoking questions like, “How far up does this go?” to the completely and utterly ludicrous… Lincoln Brings Children from Third World Countries to Staff Her Pedophile Sex Rings.

“Jesus, seriously?” I shoot. “Most of this shit is fucking nonsense.”

“Maybe so, but not to the reading audience,” Josh defends. “There hasn’t been this kind of buzz since the government wanted translation of Heidi Fleiss’ black books.” I frown. What the fuck is he talking about?

“That’s a bit before your time,” Josh says, “but let’s just say that one little woman had a whole bunch of powerful men by the balls, even though we never really found out who they all were. Nonetheless, a whole lotta twigs and berries were in a knot over the Hollywood Madam.”

There’s a knock on the door and Jason opens it to reveal Andrea standing there with my coffee. I gesture her in, and she places it on my desk in front of me.

“Careful, sir,” she says, “It’s fresh.”

“Thank you,” I say, and she turns and leaves the office. “We’re about the same age, Josh. How do you know about the Hollywood Madam?”

“It’s part of pop culture, believe it or not. It’s my job to know… just like the O.J. trial.” I shake my head.

“You wanted a smokescreen, by golly, you got one. My advice would be if you want to get to him first, you better move fast.”

“I don’t care who gets to him—or her or them—as long as this whole thing is shut the fuck down,” I say, scrolling through tagline after tagline of suggestive innuendo about Seattle’s Pedo-Madam and her rich and powerful clientele.

“This innuendo isn’t that discreet,” I say. “I can see myself and a whole bunch of other fucking people in this nonsense. Don’t you think this might be overkill?”

“Is it?” he asks. “Do you know every single person in the Seattle area that practices the BDSM lifestyle? I can guarantee they don’t all know about you. And the fact that there are so many in the smokescreen makes it even better for you, especially since so many people are already in an uproar ‘in the interest of the public good’ trying to find out what she knows.” He does the finger quotes around the public good comment, so I know that it’s a quote.

“But why shine a light on me?” I ask.

“Because not shining a light on you would be more obvious than shining a light on you,” he points out. “To be honest with you, sir, with the way this is being spun, you’re old news. You were splattered all over the headlines when she tried to kill you and Jason last year. They know your story. They want more chapters now—more players. That’s why her book can be so compelling and successful, and that’s why so many men in high places are squirming and demanding answers. Nobody knows just how deep this goes…”

“Very deep, Josh, believe me. Her pedophile activities go back more than a decade just that I know of, and the community… you’d be surprised how many people have something to lose if their involvement in that lifestyle is discovered. There’s a whole fucking lot of people that need this bitch to shut up.”

“And hence,” he says, bowing dramatically, “your smokescreen.”

“Excellent work, Josh,” I say. “Keep your ear to the ground and be as visible as possible in your freelance persona. We don’t want to give away your alter ego.” He nods and leaves my office. I look over at Jason.

“So, it begins,” he says. I nod.

“Apparently. What about Holstein and Lincoln?” I ask. “If the smokescreen is already up…” Jason nods and calls Alex on his cell.

“The boss wants an update on Alcatraz,” he says into the phone and ends the call a few seconds later.

Alcatraz?” I question. “You guys have code names for everything?”

“Yes, we do,” he says seriously, and I just shake my head.

“I guess I should expect it,” I reply. A few minutes later, Alex is in my office.

“So, now that the smokescreen is effectively in place, our friend is going to get a very expensive bottle of peroxide-laced champagne.” I frown.

“Peroxide?” I ask. “Can’t that kill him? I said start small.”

“This is small,” Alex says. “In high doses, it can be fatal. We’re not using that much—just enough to make him pretty damn uncomfortable.”

“What if he doesn’t drink it?” I ask.

“He’ll drink it because it’s odorless and tasteless,” he replies. “Since it’ll be his first… delivery, he’s not suspicious yet. He’s so cocky that he’ll probably think it comes from a secret admirer or something and down the whole damn thing. Once his stomach starts burning and his mouth starts bubbling like Alka Seltzer, he’ll take his ass to the hospital where they’ll most likely try to pump his stomach to see what the hell he ingested. He’ll put two and two together after a rough night.”

I nod. I’m accustomed to just going in and flattening shit like a steam roller. When it comes to the subtle art of revenge, yeah, I can’t do that. I’ll have to leave that to the experts.

“He’s going to receive an untraceable package at his home next week right around Christmas,” Alex continues. “It’ll be a dead fish with a rose in its mouth.” I roll my eyes.

“Oh, dear God, that is so cliché,” I lament.

“Exactly, which is why he’s not going to suspect that it came from you,” Jason says. I raise my brow.

“That’s so ridiculous that it’s genius,” I reply, shaking my head.

“During this time, he’ll get the standard phone calls, messages, little shit like tampering with his car. The real fun starts after the New Year. He’ll be tied up in a nice little bow and most likely out of commission in a month or less.”

“Sounds good. What about Lincoln?” I ask.

“Her punishments have already begun. She doesn’t know where they’re coming from, though,” Alex informs me.

“I thought she had Holstein’s protection,” I inquire. “If he hasn’t gotten any of his threats yet, isn’t he still protecting her?”

“Remember when I told you that it’s easier to get to someone in the pen than it is to get to them on the streets?” he says. “It’s easier to get to someone in the pen than it is to get to them in the streets.”

“So, humor me and tell me what’s going on,” I say, folding my arms and smiling.

“Well, yesterday, she got her hand slammed in a very large door—actually fractured a finger. This morning she took an accidental spill down a flight of stairs, clumsy thing that she is. Nothing fatal, but very uncomfortable. She’s got little mishaps, accidents, and bad luck as well as a beatdown or twelve lined up for her until you say the word that something different happens.” I chuckle deviously.

“Excellent. Let her stew in that for a while. What about Ms. Ellison?”

“Hers has to be very subtle,” Alex says. “For now, she gets to watch. She gets to enjoy her anonymity until we get all the information we need from her. Her apartment was bugged yesterday, but we didn’t get the chance to plant the trackers, keyloggers, and other hacking tools before…” He looks at his phone.

“Speak of the devil,” he says. “She just left her apartment dressed like a bald man, so no doubt, she’s on her way to see Holstein or Lincoln. She’ll find out that Lincoln’s in the infirmary when she gets there and can’t have visitors, so she may talk to Holstein. We’ll get the rest of the equipment into her apartment while she’s gone.”

“How do you know how much time you have?” I ask.

“Do you remember going to Walla Walla?” he asks. I shrug. “Do you remember how far away it is? Of course, you don’t, because we flew. She’s driving. Walla Walla is a five-hour drive. Once she hits the 90, she won’t be back until tomorrow.”

“How do we follow her that far without her catching on?” I ask.

“Drones,” he replies, typing into another phone he pulls from his pocket. “Remember, I have unlimited resources. Once we figure out her comings and goings, there’s nothing she can do to get away from us… especially after the Vashon Island disaster.”

Oh, dear God, I definitely don’t want to think about that. The rest of this situation is moving along rather nicely, however. It’s almost too easy.

“What about the receptionist?” Alex asks. “Do you want us to move on her yet?”

“No,” I say. “Not yet. Let her watch for a while, too. She’ll be wondering what the hell is going on and when her little payback comes, she’ll be pissing herself wondering just how bad it’s going to get.” There’s a light tap at the door.

“Come in,” I say. Andrea sticks her head in the door.

“Mr. Grey, I don’t mean to disturb you, but William Kavanaugh is on hold on line three. I told him that you were in a meeting, but he insists. You didn’t give me any specific instructions on what to do if he calls.”

“Thank you, Andrea,” I say. She turns to leave.

“Oh, and just FYI, Mr. Holstein’s secretary is on hold on line two.” I frown.

“His secretary?” I haven’t started anything on her yet. “Why is she calling me?”

“My guess is that Mr. Holstein has caught on to the fact that he’s going to be on hold indefinitely, so he makes her do it.” That fucker. He’s made a bed that he’s trying to make everybody else lie in but himself.

“Have fun with it,” I tell her with a shrug. “Leave her on hold and hang up at your discretion, every time she calls. He’ll get smart to it and he’ll start calling, then handing the phone off to her. You can do the same thing to him if you like.”

“Yes, sir.” She nods and leaves. I’m not sure why she didn’t use the intercom, but it’s a moot point.

“You gonna talk to Kavanaugh?” Jason asks.

“When I’m ready,” I say, leaning back in my chair. “Holstein is shitting his pants because I tried to contact him and then I went quiet. Now, the smokescreen is up and he’s slowly realizing that he’s about to make a whole lot of enemies if he hasn’t already, and he’s looking for an ally.”

“Do you seriously think he’s trying to find an ally in you?” he asks. “Hasn’t he been trying to reach you for days?”

“Yeah, but I went up there asking for a favor. I’ll bet my last dollar that he’s stupid enough to think that he gets to cash in since he did me a favor. Never mind the fact that he betrayed me, totally stabbed me in the back by siding with her and protecting her. If he were to talk to me now, his conversation would go along the lines of blowing the whistle about our little agreement. The only catch is that he can’t prove anything without throwing himself under the bus. If he’s protecting Lincoln—and anybody with half a brain knows that he is—the powers that be are going to be gunning for him very soon, so he needs a friend in the worst way.”

“Ellison just crossed the bridge headed to Mercer,” Alex says. Mercer… where I and my family live. That bitch might just drive by my house. She had better fucking not.

“You’ll make sure she’s sealed up tight?” I ask.

“As a drum,” he promises. I shake my head.

“Tighter,” I say with no mirth. “Airtight. A fucking submarine 50,000 fucking leagues under the sea tight.” His lips form a flat line.

“Do you really know what you’re asking?” Alex says.

“I know exactly what I’m asking,” I confirm. “It’s the same thing I asked for when we first started talking about this situation, and I’m asking for it again. Can you make it happen?” He looks at Jason who shrugs slightly.

“I can make anything happen that you need. I just want you to be 100% certain of what you’re asking for.”

“Have I ever asked you about those hacker fuckers?” I ask. His face immediately turns to stone.

“No, sir,” he says frostily.

“Have I ever heard from them again?” I ask matter-of-factly. He sucks his teeth.

“No, sir,” he says again, just ask frostily. I cross my arms.

“Do you still think I don’t know what I’m asking for?” I ask. “He just told me that Holstein was getting a dead fish with a rose in its mouth—cliché, but effective. I know what that means and I’m sure that he will, too. This situation needs to be handled delicately, but it needs to be airtight. All I’m asking for is untraceable creativity and I don’t give a fuck about plausible deniability.” Alex raises his brow.

“But you will still have it,” he says finitely, “for the safety of all parties involved.”

“Then once again I say make sure the situation is airtight,” I repeat.

“It will be, sir,” he says, coolly. I nod.

“Now, go on and let me talk to this asshole,” I say. “I need to deactivate the scramblers… unless there’s something else that we need to discuss.” Jason shakes his head.

“I got nothing at the moment,” he says. Alex stands.

“I don’t know if I’m concerned or if I like you better when you’re like this,” he says and heads for the door. “I’ll keep you posted.”

“Do that,” I say. He nods and leaves the office and Jason falls in step behind him. I deactivate the scrambler and push the button for line three putting Kavanaugh on speaker phone.

“Grey,” I say, infusing as much boredom into my voice as possible.

“So, first your new little flunky was chomping at the bit to get a bid in with me, and now he’s not returning my calls. You do all your business like this, Grey?” Kavanaugh barks.

“We don’t have business, Billy,” I say in a condescending tone. “You decided that you didn’t want to dance with me, and I obliged. So, why are you bugging me now?” I take a seat at my desk.

“You know why,” he says. “To be honest, I know that Grey Enterprises is going to be the best bed for this company. Yeah, I was giving you a hard time because I didn’t want to play ball, but GEH with a major media outlet? Think of the possibilities!”

“I did,” I say, leaning back in my seat, “and I’m no longer interested.”

“Come on, Grey, don’t play hard to get,” he presses. “You can name your price within reason.”

“Is that the same line you use on all these women spitting out your babies left and right?” I ask, growing weary of hearing him grovel. He’s silent for a moment. “What’s the deal, Kavanaugh, the media business not paying enough for you to pay off all these skanks you keep impregnating? I suggest you keep your business and build it back up because the way you’re laying seed all over the state, you’re going to need the income.”

“That’s none of your fucking business,” he says, his voice low, “and it has nothing to do with buying the company.” I scoff.

“I know the old saying is that men tend to think with their dicks, but did you shoot your brains outta your cock and into one of your baby mamas?” I ask incredulously. “It has every fucking thing to do with the business. You’re coming to me because everybody that you had your sights set on turned you down, and now you’re desperate. You know me well enough to know that normally I would jump on an opportunity like this. But there’s one problem, Billy.

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and GEH… well, she’s very sensitive. She doesn’t like the fact that you rejected her advances when she used her wiles on you, that you turned your back on her like she was one of those worthless whores that you fuck and make babies with… you know, those treacherous pieces of trash that don’t respect the sanctity of marriage that are now entrusted with the task of raising a child when they probably shouldn’t be trusted with a goddamn gerbil, but I digress.

“But, GEH… no, she’s not one of your whores. She’s a 20-carat diamond set in a split-shank halo thrice-polished platinum band—priceless, and you treated her like glass. So, no, Kavanaugh, she’s not just ‘playing hard to get.’ She doesn’t want to dance with you. She doesn’t want to be courted by you. She doesn’t want to fuck with you at all.

“And besides the fact that you insulted the lady, have you totally forgotten how media outlets make their money? Or did you just hope that I would be so starstruck with the acquisition that I wouldn’t remember? Your name is shit, Kavanaugh. Your company is shit. By the time I paid $1 for that sinking ship, I would have to pay the sponsors to advertise on any of your mediums before they would ever think to pay me.”

I can almost hear his temper brewing on the other end.

“You’re full of shit, Grey,” he hisses. “You say GEH is a woman, then she’s a fucking tease! She waves her little ass in your face and if you don’t bite immediately, then all of a sudden, she don’t want you, is that it?”

“Call it what you want,” I cede, “but I no longer want any part of your dying empire.”

“What’s the matter, Grey?” he taunts. “What’s the real problem here? You feeling a little inadequate because I can snag ‘em hot and young and you’re stuck with the same piece of pussy?”

He’s not serious, is he? Does he really think he’s some kind of stud dropping babies all over the state? These women are using you as a meal ticket! They don’t really want anything more to do with you once they’ve got the babies except your wallet.

Any other day, I would sit here and spar with this man about how delusional he is about his virility, but today, I don’t have time for it. I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

“That’s the difference between me and you, Kavanaugh,” I say. “You’ve got big resources, but you think small. You built a legacy with your wife, and then you destroyed it with opportunistic whores. Katherine is cunning and intelligent, if she would only learn to use those resources properly. Ethan is a financial mastermind and surprisingly considerate, in spite of his bloodline. You were a corporate media giant, and you allowed the very thing that you had the reins of to destroy you—the media. Why? Because you couldn’t keep it in your pants.

“You have a slew of bastard children running around and what—you expect them to become great and somehow elevate you again? Are any of them even carrying your name or are they all living off hush money? And surprise, Kavanaugh, you’re not at your lowest point; you can still fall further, but even now, when you’re flailing and gasping for air, you’re still walking around like the king of the hill. You’re ridiculing me for being a happy and faithful husband while you’re out there being the epitome of the rolling stone, dropping your seed in any hole that’ll take it, including your daughter’s friend. You’re not even in my league anymore, Kavanaugh. At this point, I don’t think you ever were.”

“Don’t give me your high and mighty shit, Grey,” he seethes. “You’re one broken condom away from where I am right now, so don’t try to play me stupid. Do you want the company or don’t you?”

And apparently, he doesn’t know how far he can fall.

“No, Kavanaugh, I don’t want your company,” I say, honestly. “In fact, I’m dumping all your stock. I thought I was interested in the media, but I’m not. Moreover, I take failing companies and rebuild them—make them well again. I can’t do anything with a company that’s already dead in the water. Your stocks are dropping miserably, your name is being smeared over every media outlet except your own, and your business and reputation has been totally destroyed. Anybody with their eye on the market and even the slightest bit of common sense is dumping your stock as we speak. I’m sure someone can pull you out of this hole, but it won’t be me. I wish you luck.”

I end the call and shoot off an email to Lorenz, Ros, and the M&A research team that all communication with Kavanaugh Media and Kavanaugh himself will cease immediately. Then I send notice to my investment team to dump his stock as quickly as possible. He’s worse than a poison pill. He’s a festering bucket of disease and I’m certain that he’ll infect my company with an incurable ailment if I take him on. I’m already in the process of flushing out corporate cancer and suturing oozing wounds in GEH. The very last thing I need to do is introduce a new bacteria.

“Andrea, get me an appointment with Bastille…”


ANASTASIA

I didn’t mean to sleep this late. I mean, I did mean to sleep late, but not this late. I’m scrambling around trying to get dressed and trying to put my day together at the same time. We’ve decided on our new hires and the members of the cleaning crew are shadowing the maintenance supervisor as needed. Keri’s finalizing the preliminary curriculum and we’ll be presenting it to the teaching staff at the beginning of the year. She’s preparing to test for her American teaching credentials at the same time and…

God, do I miss Marilyn.

Half of the things that I’m scrambling to organize right now she would have had organized before I awoke this morning. Each day without her and without hearing from her is making me lose hope that she might be returning. No offense to Courtney—she’s a great help, but she’s no Marilyn.

No bad hair day today—I put it in a quick messy bun before I run down to the kitchen and grab a cream cheese and jelly bagel and coffee to go. Since I’m only going to be at the Center for an hour or so, I don’t bother taking the twins in with me. I usually never take them in with me on Fridays anyway since that’s the day that I go to see Ace.

Ace… hmm.

I’ve had more success texting and Facetiming with Laura than I have with standing appointments with Ace. And even when Pamela Whitmore called, I didn’t fall into the big, black abyss. She called and she scared me. I cried, it shook me up, but I didn’t fall apart. I pulled myself together and the Boogeyman didn’t show up.

There were no sightings of Chicken Little, Armageddon, or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The world didn’t end… and I don’t expect it to any time soon.

I haven’t seen Ace in six weeks. I think it’s time for a session.

“You’re not bringing the babies to the Center anymore?” Ebony asks as I pass by the day care sans Minnie and Mikey.

“I never bring them in on Friday,” I reply. “It’s a short day for me.” Her brows raise in acknowledgment.

“Oh,” she replies, walking along with me towards my office. “I just hadn’t seen them for a couple of days. They’re the only twins that come to daycare. I just like seeing how alike and different they are. I love babies at that age. I kinda wanted to have some of my own but…” I look over to her and her head is down.

“But what?” I say, she shrugs and smiles tragically.

“I have bad taste in men,” she says. “It’s kind of a blessing that I haven’t had any children. What kind of life would I give them? I’m on the run from a psycho gang member and his psycho ‘family…’” She does the finger quotes around the word family and I’m aching to do the finger quotes around the word gang member. I think he took her for a ride. We can’t even find the guy.

“When and if the time comes, Ebony,” I say, my voice softening, “you’ll meet the right guy and you’ll have babies.” She smiles weakly.

“Well, I’ve taken up enough of your time. I’ve got other munchkins to look after. I just wanted to see what happened to my two favorite Mouseketeers. I’ll see ya later.” She turns around with a wave and heads back towards the nursery. I feel so bad for her. I really think she’s running from a phantom, but when someone is that scared, you can’t un-scare them. They have to see it for themselves.

Believe me, I know.

*-*

“I thought you may have fallen prey to the shark’s tooth… or some other traumatic experience.” I narrow my eyes at Ace. Needless to say, he’s a bit surprised to see me in his office, but he sure as hell kept that appointment open and kept charging me for it.

“And yet, you never called once to see if I was okay, only to cancel our appointments. Oh, wait… you didn’t call. Amber did, that is, when I did get a call.”

“Well, you’re obviously fine, so there really was no need,” he retorts. I glare at him. “What’s wrong? Did you expect to come in here and I’d be falling over myself?”

I hired him for his straight-shooting and I stayed with him because he doesn’t pull any punches, but this is bordering on disrespect.

“I don’t need your bad attitude or your smart mouth right now,” I warn.

“Then why are you here?” he asks, matter-of-factly. I purse my lips and tilt my head.

“Good question,” I say, standing to my feet and grabbing my purse. With my latest discovery, I seriously don’t need this shit, you smug bastard, I think to myself as I head for the door.

“Ana!” he calls out forcefully, causing me to stop in my tracks without turning around. “I cancelled two appointments with you. You cancelled the rest.” Now, I turn around to face him.

“I have displeasure in enough places in my life,” I tell him. “I don’t need to experience rejection from my shrink.”

“Nobody was rejecting you,” he retorts. “Other people have things that happen in their lives, too, Ana. It’s not always about you…”

“Well, excuse me, Dr. Avery, but I couldn’t tell,” I say finitely. “You basically throw me out of your office the first week, which somewhat pissed me off, but I understood it. The second week, you have Amber call me an hour before my appointment to tell me not to come. The third one, you send me a text… a text, for Christ’s sake. Forgive me if I didn’t feel particularly welcome in your establishment!” He looks a little chastised standing in the middle of his office.

“I see your point,” he says, gesturing to the chair. “Can we try this again?”

I don’t even know if I want to try this again. I’ve had more success without you than I’ve had with you, which is kind of why I’m here.

I reluctantly move back to the chair and sit down.

“I’ve just come back from a week in Australia,” I say.

“I know. Amber showed me the picture of Christian with the snake around his body.” I twist my lips.

“Yeah, well…” I quickly change the topic. “Notwithstanding my husband’s fascination with deadly creatures, the trip was very enlightening in many ways, good and bad.”

“Elaborate,” he says, crossing his legs.

“My first night off the plane in Sydney, I was nearly attacked by bats.” I pause. “I exaggerate, they probably weren’t attacking me. They probably weren’t even concerned about me, but they were swarming around my head and I felt totally attacked. I even milked all over myself.” His brow furrows in confusion.

“I’m breastfeeding?” I say. His mouth forms and “o” and he nods. “That was a scare and kind of funny after the fact, not particularly traumatic.

“I found out that women in general don’t like me,” I continue, “at least the ones that just see the outside. I thought it was just Seattle and everyone who knew that I was one-half of AnaChris, but I’ve discovered that my looks, my shape, my face, the fact that they see my husband, something—I don’t know, but whatever it is, I bring out the bad in a lot of women. And they’re not ashamed to say so, often in public places. I could understand if I had harmed or offended them in some way, but these women just snap for no reason. I’ve decided that although I may bite back every now and then, I’m just going to take the high road, because I have other things to do than entertain petty jealousy.”

“That’s a very progressive and mature way of looking at things,” he comments.

“I’m working on it,” I admit. I’m not being mature at all about Ms. Deanna Bitch and my immediate plans for revenge, but that’s another topic. “My husband and I are taking a deeper look at our roles in our marriage as it pertains to our lifestyle…”

The lifestyle?” he asks. I nod.

“We’re meeting with trusted friends of his that have been in the lifestyle for many years to help us adapt a practice that’s more suitable to us.”

“I thought it already was suitable,” he presses. I shake my head.

“Most of the time, it’s really great, but there are times when he’s really intense and I think he needs a little more so I would push myself further—sometimes a little beyond my limits—and he noticed it on the trip.” His brows rise.

He noticed it?” he asks. “What happened? Were you hurt? If I may ask that…” he adds.

“I wasn’t hurt, per se, but I was really worn out—like if you do too much exercise, and that’s not how it’s supposed to be. There’s a certain amount of exhaustion that comes with the activity, the exertion, and the release, but it’s not supposed to be like that.”

“Help me understand,” he says, shifting in his chair, “You seem to understand so much about this, and yet you were pushed beyond your limits?”

“I pushed myself,” I tell him. “I have safewords when I’ve taken too much, but I won’t use them. My husband was a sadist when he was in the lifestyle before me. He liked to punish women and whip them and watch them squirm and fuck them hard then send them home. That’s how he was able to regain control of himself when he felt that he lost it. From the very beginning, our relationship was different—but even then, I felt like I needed to be more for him when he needed that control. I needed to give more of myself and I needed to take more, and he would give me whatever I would take. But on this trip—and one other time in Anguilla—it was too much for me. Only this time, he realized it before I did.” Ace shakes his head.

“I get the concept, but I don’t think I’ll ever understand the participation,” he says. I shrug.

“Most people don’t,” I say. “That’s why the lifestyle is so secretive, but that’s one of the many breakthroughs I had while I was away. We visited the MONA, a museum in Hobart that has some of the creepiest art exhibits that you’ve ever seen. It caused Christian to become quite reflective about his biological mother. But I think the most impactful visit was when we toured Port Arthur.” His brow furrows again.

“Port Arthur was a prison settlement and has now been turned into an open-air museum. Some of the buildings have been reconstructed. Port Arthur is also the site of a terrible massacre orchestrated by some asshole who went on a shooting spree throughout the town and killed several men, women, and children.

“The place is full of death,” I tell him. “It’s like the hundreds or thousands of people who have died there, the spirits don’t leave. They’re all still there on the island and they emotionally ambush you when you get there. Nothing but anguish and sadness and despair… I couldn’t wait to get away from that place.

“I had to cleanse myself of the demons that I took with me when I left Port Arthur, and in the process, I had to face my own head on.” I drop my head and smile a tragic smile. “It’s amazing how you sometimes don’t want to let go of your fears and sometimes, they have to be ripped from you like a favorite toy.” I shake my head before I raise my gaze back to Ace.

“I identified my Boogieman, and then I faced him. He’s a fairytale, just like he always has been, but he’s very real when he shows up. The rest of my trip was very pleasant and relaxing for the most part, and when I returned, Pamela Whitmore called me at the Center.”

“Who’s Pamela Whitmore?” he asks.

“Cody Whitmore’s fucking mother,” I reply. His eyes widen.

“Cody… why the fuck was she calling you?” he inquires.

“I found that out the next day. I’m going to Vegas at the beginning of the year. One of the fuckers who directly burned me is going on trial, and Whitshit and his girlfriend Madison-Pussy took a plea to testify against him. So, once again, his jailtime and just desserts are my fault.” I shrug.

“How did the call go?” he asks. “I’m certain it had some kind of impact on you or you wouldn’t have brought it up.” I sigh. Here goes.

“I’ve had to hold people up and help them through their crises. I’ve had to battle ghosts and monsters—old and new. I’ve cried and I’ve been afraid and uncertain. I even quit my job—temporarily, maybe, but I still quit. People and things have challenged me, and you know what? I survived. I survived without running to a shrink every week and without having to cry on somebody’s shoulder every few minutes. I still have my journals, and I have my family to talk to if I need to, and I’ve even made a new friend with amazing insight, but I’m stronger now than I have been in a very long time.

“I did what you told me to do. I took responsibility for my own mental health. I took a really hard look at what I was really afraid of, and while some of those monsters are still very real and very scary, I was able to see that bad shit happens all the time. While some pretty fucked-up shit has happened to me, it’s still not the worst that could happen and even if fucked-up shit continues to happen, all the worst of it still won’t fall on me.

“I’ve been holding my friends and family together, being there through their tragedies, fighting for ‘truth, justice, and the American way,’ and the entire time, the only time I focused on my own issues was when it was time to come and see you. Outside of that, I think I may have done it three times. And then it struck me—like a boat out of the blue. If I can be strong for everybody else, why the hell can’t I be strong for myself?

“I’ve dealt with more tragedy than I want to, and if I’ve learned nothing else, I learned that trouble is not convenient. It doesn’t make an appointment to drop into your life—it just shows the fuck up. So, I can either watch the horizon and wait for it, or I can live my best life and work through it when it shows up. Guess which one I choose?

“So… Dr. Avery, if you’ve had some misfortune over the past weeks, I truly hope it has been or will be resolved in your favor. However, the time apart has helped me understand that I really do have to stand on my own two feet. I hope I can call on you in an emergency or if I find the need to speak to a professional, but I’m requesting an end to our weekly sessions.”

He’s quiet for a long time as he examines me. I don’t know what he’s looking for, but I give him a minute or two.

“So,” he finally says with a sigh, “it looks like in trying to take some time off to handle my personal issues, I’ve cut off my nose to spite my face.” I pause for a moment.

“No,” I say, “I would more say that by cutting the apron strings for a while, you made me stand on my own. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, you removed the training wheels, and I had to ride or fall… or maybe I removed the training wheels when I came in here and accused you of not doing your job. But you can rest assured that one way or another, you did your job. I’m standing on my own… for now. And this won’t be the last time you see me. Hell, I’m about to go to trial for the Green Valley cases—I’ll have you on fucking speed dial, but I think it’s time to disconnect the machines… Ace.” He twists his lips.

“Thanks.” I raise my brow at him. “If you had called me Dr. Avery one more time, I think I would have put you out of my office again.”

“Oh, I owed you a few with all the times you called me doctor during our sessions.” I stand. “I think that’s our time, doctor.” I extend my hand to him. He rises and takes my proffered hand.

“Try not to be a stranger,” he says. “And don’t wait to call me when you’re falling completely apart. Keep me up to date, okay?” I nod.

“If I don’t see you before then, make sure I get pictures of the baby.” I smile and release his hand and we head to the door.

“Oh, one more thing,” I say with my hand on the door handle. “I have two beautiful children and a wonderful life. In the midst of all my turmoil, I have no desire to kill myself. Don’t ever refer to me as a shark’s tooth again.”

I make eye-contact with him and wait for a response.

“Deal,” he replies.

*-*

I arrive at the Crossing with plenty of time to get some baby time before Christian gets home. I don’t want to face the bear, so I sleep late on mornings when he has to prepare to be the asshole, then take my chances on an early morning rendezvous after the bear has settled. Other than that, I opt to do what he does… work later, work out when I get home, have a later dinner once he’s a bit more docile, then go to bed early or escape to my office or the twins’ room. This usually means that I do nocturnal wanderings, which is a good time for extra meditations, planning for the next day, or journaling.

I remember lamenting that I would probably have to wait until the wee hours of the morning to get any quality time with my husband without having to worry about dealing with Mr. Asshole CEO, and it looks like that’s inadvertently exactly what I’m doing.

And I’ve effectively fired my shrink.

Was that the right thing to do? I really think that the good that he was doing was barely measurable. He pissed me off more often than not, then after he kicked me out of his office—with good reason—he just started cancelling my appointments without advanced notice or without telling me why. Even though he may have been going through something of which I was not aware, he made me feel unwelcome. He forced me to look at my problems through my own eyes or seek help from someone else. Where did he think that would leave him?

He made me feel like he didn’t want to be bothered, so I said, “Okay.”

I, of all people, can completely understand when real life gets in the way of helping other people. I was kidnapped, hospitalized, and jet-setting several times when I had my own practice. However, when I returned, I reached out to my clients to apprise them of what was happening, assuming they hadn’t already seen something on the news. Not only that, but I don’t remember once ever kicking someone out of my office except Melanie when I found out that she was the videographer of my attack. With our “relationship” being on tenterhooks after that, one would think that my therapist would have handled the next few meetings with a little more tact and consideration, even if it was necessary for him to cancel for personal reasons.

It’s a moot point anyway. I’ll now be using my Friday afternoons to spend more time with my children.

Speaking of which, Minnie and Mikey have just finished their afternoon snacks, and I’ve come to discover that Mikey likes the colorful snacks like strawberry and mushed up mangoes or pineapples. My strange little girl on the other hand likes anything green like kiwi or of all things, broccoli. She prefers the broccoli—can you believe that?

We’ve now cleaned up the colossal mess that my children always seem to make when they’re eating their finger snacks and now, we’re in the family room watching the end of, of all things, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse…

Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggety dog
Now we got ears, it’s time for cheers
Hot dog, hot dog, the problem’s solved
Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggety dog!

Mikey’s clapping in the Pack-n-Play and Minnie has pulled herself up on the sofa and is bouncing while bending her knees. I’ve decided that I’m going to buy or download all of the songs from the various kids’ shows that we watch because my kids absolutely love them.

Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggety dog
It’s a brand-new day, whatcha waiting for?
Get up, stretch out, stomp on the floor
Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggety dog!

Minnie has released the sofa and is now clapping and waving her hands in the air… completely oblivious to the fact that she’s standing on her own. I quickly whip out my phone before the final choruses of the Hot Dog Song finish playing and record my daughter bouncing on her little feet and attempting to mimic the words to the song.

That’s it. The Hot Dog Song is officially my favorite song now… although it’s going to be hard to decide between that and the Outside Song from Bubble Guppies.

“Hod hod hod hod…” and that’s all she’s saying, but it’s music to my ears. Mikey turns in his Pack-n-Play and says something to his sister, and I swear that she understands him, because she bursts out laughing. Then she turns to me and reaches her arms out to me, taking a few giggly and wobbly steps before I drop the phone and she falls into my arms.

“Minnie is a big girl!” I say, praising her accomplishment. I pick up the phone and turn it to us. “Say ‘bye-bye,’ Minnie Mouse!”

“Hod hod hod hod hod hod,” she repeats trying to reach for the phone. Mikey spits out a full sentence of baby gobbledygook, and I turn the camera to him.

“Say ‘bye-bye’ Mikey.” More babbledy-wabbledy and I end the video.

Time gets away from me while I’m spending time with the babies and I hear the mudroom door open and feel the chill of the bear breeze into the house. Shit, I intended to be in my office working or hiding or something when he got home. Instead, I’m sitting here hiding on the floor with Mikey asleep on my chest and Minnie knocked out on the sofa. I had slipped into the serenity of the moment and forgot my mission.

My husband doesn’t even come into the main part of the house. He sheds his outerwear and boots and turns straight towards the elevator. I don’t know whether to feel affronted or to breathe a sigh of relief. Jason comes in right behind him, looking like he’s more than ready to shed the burdens of the day. He comes through the family room and into the kitchen and kisses his wife.

“Hello, Love,” he says sweetly, and I feel a tiny twinge of jealousy at the sentiment. “I see the car—where’s Her Highness?” I don’t hear anything for a moment, but Jason’s purposeful stride tells me that Gail most likely pointed to the family room. Sure enough, Jason peers around the sofa.

“What are you doing hiding down there?” he accuses.

“I’m not hiding anywhere,” I lie. “I was tending to my children until they fell asleep.”

“They’re asleep?” Gail says as she comes into the family room. “Would you like some help taking them to the nursery or do you want them to stay here?”

“The nursery,” I say. She takes Mikey from me, allowing me to stand,  and walks to the elevator.

“What’s up with him?” I ask Jason. He sighs.

“It’s been a day,” he replies, “a… pretty full one.” Enough said. I nod and retrieve my daughter from the sofa, then follow Gail to the elevator. I’ll put the babies down first, then go and do some yoga.

*-*

“Enjoy it while you can, because he’s going to wake up one day and realize that he misses what he had…”

I’m standing at Grey Manor in the backyard by the gazebo. She’s standing there in her usual black funeral garb with that halo of bleached blonde hair and that blood red lipstick that looks like she’s been feeding all night. I know she’s not real. I know she’s locked in that cell in Walla Walla, so why is she coming to me now?

“This is just a phase for Christian. You’ll see…”

These are the same words she said to me that night two years ago on the back lawn of Christian’s parents’ house—the same words that she used to try to scare me away, only then she was frantic and trying to make her point. Now, she’s confident, standing there in a skintight catsuit with her arms crossed and her legs in that stupid Angelina Jolie Oscar pose. 

“You’re nothing long-term or even worthwhile. He’s wasting his time on you…”

She continues to taunt me as she closes the space between us, a sinister smile marring her face. I want to say something back to her, tell her that she’s wrong as usual, but my lips won’t move. I can only stand there as she comes closer, taunting me and exploiting my fears…

My fears…

“You’ll never be enough for him. Face it. You’re just a plaything. And when he’s done with you, you’ll be no more important to him than one of his ex-subs, Number 16…”  

Of all the things that I had to remember word for word like it was yesterday, I fucking had to remember this… now…

“Give it up, little girl,” she says as she stops in front of me. “Playtime is over—literally. You’ve had your fun, now move along. You’ll never be able to give him what he really needs and the more you pretend that you can, the harder it’s going to be on all of you, including your bratty little children.”

I want to swing on her, do anything to shut her up, especially since that last part is new and it’s all a manifestation of my fears, but she just laughs a hideous laugh and walks right through me…

I open my eyes slowly, not startled by the dream, but totally unnerved. It’s about two in the morning, and Christian still isn’t in bed as usual…

As usual…
Only not…

This isn’t usual. It’s only been this way since he’s gone back to being the ballbuster at work that he used to be… before us.

I throw my legs out of the bed and put my robe on. As always, I look in the nursery to see if the children are stirring. They’re not, but I go into the nursery anyway. I look into the cribs at my sleeping babies…

“… Including your bratty little children.”

Christian would never do anything to hurt our children… but why didn’t I first think that Christian would never do anything to hurt me?

I shake my head and curl up in the window seat in the twins room. This is another attempted manifestation of the Boogeyman, I know it. It’s a manifestation of my own fears that I must deal with.

The million-dollar question is… how?


A/N: Hollywood Madame—for those who may not know, Heidi Fleiss was an upscale madame who ran a high-priced call-girl ring in California. When she was arrested, they did everything they could to find out who her clients were in her infamous black book, but to my knowledge, they never did. There was a lot of rumor that Charlie Sheen was one of her clients, but I don’t know if it was circulated by her or by him, or if there was any truth to it.

Book IV will be coming to an end soon and I will have any announcement about how the story will proceed after that. I think many of you will be pleased.

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 on the menu or you can click HERE.

There has been yet another development where if you feel the need to talk to fellow readers about personal issues, you need a sounding board, you want to vent about something in your life, please feel free to visit the link on the left in the menu entitled “Do You Need To Talk.” No subject is taboo. I just ask that you approach the link with respect for those who have concerns as well as those who respond. You can also get to the link by clicking 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 88—Coming Around the Stretch  

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 88—Coming Around the Stretch  

ANASTASIA

Of course, something about me would send him into a rage. Was it the tight ass comment, the fact that they said I was holding out on him, or the fact that they were talking about me at all? Either way, Iron Fist Grey was able to flex his iron muscles.

“Excuse me,” I say, deciding to go to the kitchen to see what’s holding dinner up now that His Highness has finally joined us.

“Ana, what are you doing in here?” Gail says, pausing from feeding Mikey his dinner.

“Just coming to see if you all need any help,” I say. “I know that waiting for Christian threw our clock off a bit.”

“Ya fehd Minneh,” Keri says. “We gawt the bebbies. I hep wit da dinnah ef dey need…”

“She’s escaping, Keri,” Gail says, wiping her hands and handing Mikey’s spoon and bowl to a confused Keri. “Come with me,” she says, guiding me into the family room where Jason and Chuck are watching television. They look up at me and no doubt wonder why I’m being led into the family room when we have guests in the dining room.

“You’re going to need to be a tough soldier for the next few days,” Gail says with her hands on my arms near my shoulders. “He’s going to take at least that long to find his center. If it’s too much for you, nobody will blame you for being scarce or hiding out. It’ll be easier for him—and for you—if you can help him ride it out, though. No matter how he tries, he’ll never be able to be the asshole that he once was, but he’s going to give it the old college try, and it’s going to be rough until he finds the formula that works for him. You may need a moment or three to yourself throughout this time, just don’t run away. Remember the Vampire Lestat you found when you returned from Montana?”

I shiver when I recall how dead he looked walking into the penthouse that day. It was the creepiest thing I had ever seen… well, second only to that room where I was chained to the bed for four days. Why the fuck did that come to mind? I quickly shake off the memory.

“That’s who he’ll become if you disappear,” she warns. I shake my head.

“Let’s… just get dinner started,” I say. The dinner guests have opened the floor to Lestat and I don’t think I can take much more of hearing about his day tonight.

By the time we get the chicken cordon bleu and sides plated, the conversation has thankfully shifted to something else. I place his plate in front of him and take my seat to his right.

“You okay?” he asks quietly while everyone else is being distracted by dinner.

“Mm-hmm,” I say quickly, placing my napkin on my lap and preparing to eat my dinner. “Elliot, has Grace said anything about Christmas?” I ask. Elliot shakes his head.

“I assumed that we were all going over there like we normally do,” he says. “Did something happen?” I shake my head.

“I just hadn’t heard anything,” I say, trying not to open a can of worms.

“Are you guys still fighting?” he asks. “Since Thanksgiving?”

“No,” I reply. “We’re not fighting anymore.”

“You made up?” he asks. I twist my lips.

“More like called a truce,” I say. His brow rises.

“Oh,” he says. “That’s why you wanted to know if anything had changed.” I nod.

“Yeah… I wasn’t so sure,” I admit.

“If I know my mom, she expects everyone to be there for Christmas,” he says softly.

“Yeah,” Val chimes in. “She even welcomed me when Meg had control of my brain. I’m sure she expects you to be there.”

I don’t say anything. I get the feeling that Grace is just tolerating me right now because I’m what’s good for the Center. It seems like every time something goes wrong, it has to do with me and her. With everything that’s been going on in my life, it’s a battle that I just don’t have the strength to fight. I’m looking for simple, not more complicated.

“So did Al tell you guys the news?” I say, and I have everyone’s attention. “I’m going to trial in February. I’ll finally be able to tell my story against those Green Valley bastards.”

“Really?” Christian says, looking over at Al. “How did I miss this information?”

“You were a bit distracted today,” Al says unapologetically. “Besides, I knew that we were coming over today and that you would find out about it tonight.” Christian nods and tucks into his chicken. I keep the conversation going on the upcoming trial.

“One of the defendants took a plea last year—or whenever it was—to keep from having to go to trial. Two others—the main ring leaders—took pleas as well to turn state’s evidence against anyone else who comes to trial. So, now, someone’s coming to trial and these assholes get to testify, making good on their plea deal.” I take a bite of my chicken. Mmm, it’s really delicious.

“So, who’s going to trial?” Elliot asks. I look over at Al.

“Vincent Sullivan,” he replies. “He’s…” He clears his throat. “He’s one of the guys who… branded her.”

I don’t stop chewing even though the Bitch is fighting not to hurl. I have to face these people in court. I’m not going to let them see me sweat, so I might as well start practicing now.

“When are you going to Vegas?” Val asks. “When is the trial?”

“February 2nd,” Al replies. “The papers in Vegas are already on fire with the story… and some not-so-flattering assumptions about my girl.” My head pops up. I didn’t know that.

“Assumptions like what?” I ask. Al’s ears turn red. He thought I knew.

“Just people talking shit, Jewel. Don’t pay it any attention,” he says, trying to downplay it.

“You just said Vegas is on fire with the story and now you’re telling me not to pay it any attention?” I ask.

“What kind of shit?” Christian says firmly. Al rolls his eyes.

“The same shit they’re always talking,” he says, “that she’s a pampered princess that’s just trying to get attention and now that she has money, she just wants to get revenge on a group of kids for some harmless teasing.”

Don’t blow your top, Ana. Keep cool.

“Harmless teasing?” Christian nearly roars. “They call what they did to her ‘harmless teasing?’ Are they out of their fucking minds?”

“Oh, good grief,” I say, after swallowing my food. “The evidence is horrendously graphic, and it’ll speak for itself. Let them say whatever the hell they want.” I’m sipping this cranberry spritzer and it’s pissing me off. I want a shot of vodka!

“Okay, so, that’s enough of that,” Val says, quickly sensing my tension. “We came over to talk about my godchildren. Why the hell you two think you’ll kick the bucket at the same time is beyond me, but let’s get on with it.”

“It’s not that we think we’ll die at the same time,” Christian says. “It’s just that we’ve realized that we didn’t have provisions for our children in case something happens to us. We’re certain that no one would fight over the kids, but in the unlikely event that we both depart, we just want things to be… in order.”

“What brought this on, Bro?” Elliot asks.

“Watching Tina’s children act like savages after she died and realizing that we didn’t have a will,” I answer, and I’ve had enough of this damn spritzer. “Gail!” I yell. She comes scrambling into the dining room.

“What? What is it?” she asks, frantically.

“I’m sorry,” I say immediately. “That was a bit dramatic. Please forgive me. Would you uncork a Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc?” She raises a knowing brow at me.

“Coming right up,” she says and walks out of the kitchen.

“Continue,” I say, turning back to my meal and ignoring the gawking faces at the table.

“So, are you saying that whomever gets the kids will suddenly become billionaires?” Elliot asks.

“That’s a possibility,” Christian says. “As you know, our children will be very well provided for, and even though our entire fortune wouldn’t pass down to them upon our demise, whomever takes them on will be pretty much set as their caregivers. There will, of course, be large trusts for when they become adults. But let’s face it, if I were to retire right now and travel the world every day of my life, I would still have money to burn for decades to come. So, of course, I want my children to be cared for if something happens to me.”

“So, what’s the idea?” Val asks. “The children’s care will be written into your will?”

“Definitely,” he replies. “If something happens to me and Butterfly before they reach 18,  definite provisions will be made for their care and custody. And that’s where you guys come in.”

“Well, there’s two kids and two couples, but… there’s no way I would want to split them up,” Val says.

“Ditto,” Al replies. “If something that horrible was to happen, they would already be traumatized enough with losing their mom and dad. They would never recover.”

“So, what do you suggest we do?” Elliot says. Val and Al ponder the situation, and I’m sure that neither of them wants to raise their hand to be first in line for fear of hurting the other. Val comes up with the tiebreaker.

“El and I will have our own bundle of joy soon. I think it would just be greedy for us to ask for first-standing with Minnie and Mikey if something happens to you guys, heaven forbid.” Elliot twists his lips and nods.

“I have to agree,” he says. “It’s not like you’re going to take my niece and nephew and skip town.”

“Are you kiddin’?” Al exclaims. “If something happens to Chris and Jewel, I’m gonna have a little girl on my hands. I’m going to have your ass on speed dial!” he says to Val.

“Well, then that settles it,” Val says. “If something happens to you guys—and by the way, nothing’s going to happen to you guys—Al and James become daddies and El and I will be happy back-ups. Is everybody cool with that?” James and Al look at each other and James nods. Elliot is nodding, too.

“Good,” I say. “I know this is the whole reason we called this tête-à-tête, but I would very much like to stop talking about my demise now… and where’s my wine?”

“It’s here,” Gail says, entering the room with Windsor behind her. “I was just letting it breathe.”

“Good,” I say, noting the large-bowl wine glasses. “Sorry, Val, but I need this.”

“Don’t mind me,” she says, holding up her cranberry spritzer, Windsor pours me a respectable amount in my glass and I almost want to hit him.

“Um, you might want to keep pouring, Benson,” Al says.

“His name is Windsor,” I correct him. “Don’t be a queen, Al.” I turn to Windsor. “Please?” I say holding up my glass. Windsor fills it to nearly 75% and I thank him. He goes to fill the other glasses and Al informs him that only he and I would be drinking the red. The gentlemen would most likely want the white.

“I’m sorry if I offended you,” he says to Windsor. “I can be a jerk, but I’m not an asshole.”

“No offense taken, sir,” Windsor says. I don’t know if he’s offended or not, but he wouldn’t show it if he was, consummate professional that he is.

My glass is empty in no time and Windsor is refilling it before I even ask. Iron Fist Grey, the Green Valley nightmare, and my imminent demise all in one conversation… It’s a bit much for one evening.

“You okay, Ana?” Val asks. I nod without looking at anyone.

“Mmhmm,” I say, swallowing more of my wine. Cabernet is the answer to all the world’s problems and I’m going to sit here and drink until I have answers to mine.

Once the evening winds down, I’ve killed three large-bowl glasses of Cabernet and I notice that people are careful what they say to me if they venture to say anything at all. I say my goodnights to everyone once they’ve had coffee and Christian heads to the door to show everyone out. I head upstairs and don some exercise gear. Before he has the chance to get away from the door, I’m across the house and in the elevator. When I get down to the exercise room, I murder the elliptical until my arms and legs ache and I’m swimming in sweat. I just want to fall into a coma-like sleep and forget this day. Tomorrow is a do-over and I’m hoping that it’s going to be much better than this.

My husband, the asshole—who can’t shed the asshole before he gets home. I know that I’ve understood and labeled the Boogieman, but are we ready for this kind of test?

Once I’ve beaten myself all to hell and my muscles all feel like rubber, I abandon the elliptical and go to my room. I run a bath in my marble tub and climb in quickly so that my muscles won’t lock. It feels really good and I’m hoping to fall asleep the moment I get out of the tub…

“Butterfly… wake up.”

I open my eyes, still in the tub. The bubbles have dissipated, and the water is cold. I look up at my husband, my eyes questioning.

“It’s about 3am,” he says. “You fell asleep. I assume you were pretty tired after you climbed Mt. Rushmore, but had I thought you’d be napping in the tub, I would have come to check on you sooner.”

Wouldn’t you know it? At three in the morning, my docile Christian finally returns after still being a bear at nine at night. So, now what? He’ll go to sleep and wake at six to gradually go into bear mode again? To be that cold soul I had breakfast with yesterday? What should I do—swap my schedule so that I’m awake in the middle of the night to spend some time with the man I’ve come to know?

“What are you thinking?” he asks. Do I tell him? Do I say that I don’t know how to be married to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and that, by the way, I spent my entire college tenure wondering which one was really the crazy one and which one was sane?

“That this water is cold, and I feel like a saturated, useless sponge at the moment.” It’s true. He retrieves a bath towel and opens it. Tossing it over his arm, he extends his hand to help me out of the tub. I drag my waterlogged ass out of the tub, and he wraps me in the bath towel. My hair is wet even though I didn’t wash it and I don’t feel like dealing with it in any capacity right now.

He carries me to the bedroom wrapped in the bath towel, sits me on the bed, and begins to dry my skin. I try to accommodate him, but I’m just too tired to sit up. I lay down on the pillow, wet hair and all, and allow him to finish drying my body. I must have drifted off to sleep because I awake with him gently sucking my nipple. It feels so good, but I’m so tired.

“Christian…” I protest.

“I need you,” he replies, his intense gray eyes meeting my sleepy blues. I surrender and allow him to do what he wants. It’s not like I have the strength to protest anyway.

Mr. Grey works his usual magic, working my body into a fevered frenzy with his hands and mouth before mounting me.

And, dear Lord, does he mount me!

He pushes my legs open and thrusts into me—hard! My upper body rises off the bed and he grabs both my wrists and pins them down on the sides of my head to prevent my escape. He’s grinding and stroking into me mercilessly, with force and purpose. I can’t move anything. My hips are pinned down by his forceful motion and his hands are clasped to my wrists, fastening them to the bed. His eyes are silver fire, staring down at me as he thrusts into me, my ladyparts completely open and at his mercy. I see torment and passion in his eyes at the same time and my entire body rolls with each thrust. I’m helpless to fight him when he says…

“Don’t come yet.”

Yeah, sure.

“I… I can’t… Christian!”

I detonate in orgasm, my entire pelvis flexing painfully. I cry out from the intense pressure and vibration, but he just keeps pounding.

“Christian… please…” but he’s gone. He sees me… but I think his mind is somewhere else. He grinds and rolls his hips and begins to stimulate me again. I groan in my chest, knowing what’s coming.

“Christian…” I breathe.

“Feel it!” he nearly growls.

And feel it, I do. His dick is wide and demanding, and he’s thrusting deep, rhythmic strokes as if he’s digging for buried treasure—forceful and intensive, still holding my hands down and still looking in my eyes. Shit, I feel it in my chest.

“Oh, God,” I groan, the ecstasy and agony almost too much to bear. I feel the force of his weight on my wrists, but he’s using his knees for leverage, occasionally stretching his lips and making primal noises in his throat and chest. His pecks are flexed, and I can see the top of his eight-pack abs, both sets of muscles beginning to glisten with sweat.

I’m wrung out, only able to lie there and take what he’s dishing out. My body is on fire and after several minutes of intense manipulation, the heat reaches into my core again. I think I hear him say something, but the resulting orgasm is ringing in my ears and blocking out all light and sound. I feel myself struggling under his grasp, but not to get away, just from the intensity of the climax.

I’m wheezing when the second one wanes, but the fucking nymph in me just won’t tap out. My body is shattered, wracked from exhaustion and intense orgasms, but the little inner whore is naked, squatting on the bed salivating and cheering me on.

No, hoe, I’m tired!

But neither she nor my husband can hear me. He’s still stroking like this marathon has just begun, and the inner whore is squatting behind him encouraging like a coxswain…

“Stroke! Stroke! Stroke! Stroke…”

Cunt!

“Christian…” I whimper.

“You can do it,” he hisses.

No, I can’t!

The inner whore is nodding feverishly and if I could move, I’d throw something at her head and knock her ass unconscious. Christian must be hearing her.

“Please…” I beg.

“One more!” he commands and keeps stroking into my core. I’m certain that no matter what he and my inner whore says, I don’t have one more in me.

Somebody forgot to tell my pussy.

A few minutes later, my crotch it on fire again. He feels different inside me—not wide, but his ministrations are leaving no area untouched. Dear God, his cock is so hard… so hard and stroking every wall inside me, every secret spot…

“That’s it… give me one more! I need one more!”

He needs it? Why does he need it? It doesn’t matter, because my body obeys his command and gives him the third orgasm he demands. I’m covered in both our sweat as my core vibrates angrily in a final crippling showdown. I can’t scream as the pleasure—and exhaustion—has snatched my voice away, and I can’t move as most of my muscles are locked in the orgasm.

My husband grunts and thrusts and I feel his legs stiffen, but he continues to grind into me a few more times until I hear an inhuman sound rip from his chest. I open my eyes to see him just as he expresses his climax. He stretches his body backward and straightens, his chest and head up like a wolf howling at the moon. My core is still pulsing around him and he jerks with each flex, his entire body stiff, sweating, and trembling.

If I wasn’t so fucking tired, the sight would turn me on again.

My body falls completely limp as he finally drops his head, sweat dripping from his hair and face, panting and gasping to catch his breath, his arms straight, his muscles bulging, his hands still clasped at my wrists.

I’m wiped out while he’s catching his breath, I can’t even keep my eyes open anymore…

When I’m semi-conscious again, he’s coiled around me, spooning me and kissing my back over and over again. I fall back into a deep sleep.

*-*

I didn’t hear him leave. I was worn out from the morning’s exertions and quite frankly, I’d rather not be greeted by the morning bear anyway. I roll over and stretch, trying to pop the kinks out of my muscles. I had a double workout last night—first the elliptical, and then Christian and his trifecta of orgasms. I can barely get out of bed.

I take a quick shower since I smell like sweat and sex and quickly get dressed in something simple—a white button-down shirt with black pants and Chanel suspenders with black and white stilettos. When I look in the mirror, my hair looks like toddlers have been playing in it.

No amount of combing and brushing is helping it, so I put it in two wild and sad looking braids and put a hat on it for the day, Odd for me, but I just don’t have the strength to fight with it.

Strange… I actually look ten years younger.

I stop by the nursery to see that my children are asleep and decide that I’ll let them stay home today. I stop by the kitchen to make myself a strawberry and cream cheese bagel and to grab a black coffee to go.

“Are you in a hurry?” Gail asks. I’m chewing my bagel and looking at my phone.

“I slept longer than I intended,” I say, looking at my watch and noting the time. “I need to get going and make sure everything is moving along for the new semester. Plus, I have some calls to make and some interviews to do this afternoon.”

“Busy day, huh?” she asks.

“Yes,” I reply, eating the last of my bagel, “that’s why I didn’t intend to sleep in so late.” I text Chuck to meet me at the car so that we can get going.

“The twins are staying,” I add as I’m leaving. “I can’t breastfeed for 24 hours anyway. Call me if you need me!” I wave behind me and head out to the mudroom.

“New look?” Courtney asks when I get to the Center.

“Bad hair day,” I admit. “I must have been insane to wear stilettos today. My feet are freezing.”

“Uh, yeah,” Courtney comments. “It’s all wet and slushy. You’re going to ruin your shoes and freeze your toes.” I shake my head.

“What’s on my calendar today?” I ask, stomping my feet to warm my toes.

“You’ve got the interviews for housekeeping this afternoon, and you told me to remind you to call Ms. Sherwood from the cleaning company. Are you going to have her train the new employees?”

“Hell, no,” I say, taking a seat at my desk. “I had to watch that woman like a hawk the entire time her company was here. There’s no way in hell I’d let her train new staff to do the same thing they were doing. Besides, they’re contracted so they most likely wouldn’t do it anyway.” Courtney twists her lips.

“Yeah, there is that,” she says.

“How are classes going?” I ask.

“Pretty good,” she says, “except that there was a pop-quiz in Psych 101 yesterday. Who gives a pop quiz right before Christmas?” She shakes her head and I laugh.

“Welcome to the wonderful world of higher education,” I tease. She shakes her head again.

“Gimme a break,” she retorts. “I’m regurgitating psychology vocabulary in my sleep. My girlfriend’s going to leave me if I don’t stop talking shop when I get out of school.” She changes her voice to mimic a female announcer.

Behaviorism, inhibition, suppression, configurationism, Galton and Freud and Gestalt and dear God in heaven how did you even remember your name when you were in school?” I chuckle.

“Do you regret your decision?” I ask.

“No,” she says, going over to the Zen area to retrieve her laptop from its case. “It’s rough, but I want to help kids, and this is what I need to be able to do that, so…” She trails off after she pulls her laptop from the case.

“That’s a very noble undertaking.”

We’re both caught off-guard by a voice from the doorway.

“Grandmother,” Courtney greets Addie. “H… Hi.” I can tell she’s still trepid about seeing her grandmother.

“Courtney… you look lovely, darling,” Addie says.

“Thank you,” Courtney replies.

“Hello, Ana. You’re looking beautiful as ever,” Addie greets me. I smile warmly.

“Thank you, Addie, and so are you. Won’t you come in and have a seat?”

“Well, I really didn’t intend to stay long. I just came to ask Courtney what her plans were for the afternoon.” She turns to Courtney.

“Um, Ana’s assistant is off sick, so I’ve been helping her. We have to interview some candidates for the cleaning staff this afternoon,” Courtney replies.

“Oh, that’s too bad. We were hoping you would be able to join us for lunch,” she says softly.

We?” Courtney asks. After a short pause, Fred enters the office and stands next to his wife. Courtney’s mouth falls open and she’s stunned pretty speechless.

“Hello, Courtney,” Fred says.

“G… Grandfather,” Courtney says, clearing her throat to find her words, but still finding none.

“Courtney, I can do the interviews alone or have Mr. Collier or Grace sit in with me if you want to go to lunch with your grandparents.” She turns uncertain eyes to me.

“You’re sure?” she says. There’s hope in her voice.

“I’m sure,” I say. “I’ll be fine.”

“Can I leave my school stuff here?” she asks.

“Of course, you can. Go, have lunch with your grandparents.” She raises her brow and sigh.

“I’m… I’ll be right back,” she says to Addie and Fred. “I have to go get my coat and purse.” She smiles and leaves the office. I turn to Addie and Fred.

“Fred wanted to see it for himself,” Addie tells me turning to Fred. “I think he got more than he bargained for.”

“Not really,” Fred replies. “She looks like she’s doing well and she’s trying to turn over a new leaf, but she was always a good actress… a very good actress.” I drop my head and scratch the nape of my scalp. If he gives her that attitude at lunch, she won’t go to lunch with them again because she’s come to learn that she doesn’t need discouragement in her life.

“Ana, what is it?” Addie inquires, noting my change of expression.

“Nothing,” I say, not making eye contact with Fred.

“That means it’s me,” Fred says. I frown and look at him.

“How would you know it was you?” I ask incredulously.

“Because I’m an old dog with a wife, dear,” he replies. “I’ve been married for 43 years and I’ve been around a female or three in my day. Trust me, I’ve been in the doghouse more than a few times and I fully know the meaning of ‘Nothing,’ ‘Fine,’ and ‘Never mind.’” He looks at me knowingly and cocks his head. I sigh and put my hands on my hips.

“I’m not going to try to sell you on your granddaughter,” I say. “To me, her progress speaks for itself. I will tell you this, though, and I’m only saying it as a friend. If you’re taking that attitude to lunch with you, it’s not going to fly. She will Uber her way out of that meal. She knows who she was and that she put you through a lot, but she’s been through some things, too, and she’s not going to allow herself to be berated anymore. I only said it because you pressed, Fred.”

“That, I did,” he says with a sigh.

“And she’s right.”

We all turn to see Courtney standing at the door in her coat with her purse on her shoulder. There’s no sign of her prior shyness.

“I don’t have anything to prove to anybody else anymore but myself,” she says. “I’m a horrible person and I know it… or at least I was. I was so wretched that I don’t expect anybody to believe that I’m not that person anymore, but you know who does have to believe it? Me! So, I love you, Grandmother, and I love you, too, Grandfather, but if this luncheon is to put me under the microscope, I respectfully decline the invitation.”

I can’t remember being prouder of Courtney than I am at this moment—well, maybe when she told me that she was going to school. Now, she stands here before her grandparents with her shoulders squared and her head held high pretty much telling them that if they don’t want to accept her, she’s fine with that. Before, she was self-centered and didn’t care about other people, only for what she could get from them. Now, she’s self-driven, and she has a purpose. She’s more concerned about what she sees in herself when she looks in the mirror than what other people see when they see her.

Addie walks over to her and smiles.

“I want to have lunch with my granddaughter,” she says, “and you will be under the microscope with me, but only because I want to catch up with everything going on in your life and with school. If your grandfather doesn’t want to behave, then he’s uninvited.”

Courtney is nearly pushed to tears, but instead she straightens her back and extends her neck, blinking the tears away. Then she turns to Fred.

“The Uber app is almost instantaneous, Grandfather,” she says. “The moment I feel that either of us is causing the other discomfort, I’ll leave. I can always study or come back and help Ana with the interviews. And if you think I’m acting, then this is going to be an Oscar-worthy performance.” She awaits acknowledgement from her Grandfather, who reluctantly nods. Addie sighs and puts her hands on Courtney’s shoulders.

“So, would you like to go to the club?” Addie asks.

“We can, if you want,” Courtney says, “but there’s a little restaurant not far from here that has the best Mediterranean food… and quiet tables.” Addie tilts her head at Courtney.

“Well, then,” she says, “that’s sounds nice. Lead the way.” The corners of Courtney’s lips rise slightly, and she nods before she leaves with Addie in step behind her. Fred turns to look at me and I raise my brown and tip my head in a gesture that clearly says, “Balls in your court.” His lips form a thin line and he leaves to join his wife and granddaughter. I smile to myself, knowing that Courtney has effectively exercised her independence to her grandfather. I go back to my desk and make the call that needs to be made before month’s end.

Clean It Up for You, what can I do for you?” the receptionist answers.

“Good morning, Anastasia Grey calling for Sonia Sherwood…”


CHRISTIAN

I’ve barely gotten any sleep, which is something that hasn’t happened in quite some time. There’s been a sleepless night here and there, but none of the 2-hours of sleep nights since I stopped having the nightmares. When I left this morning, Butterfly was still in an exercise, wine, and sex-induced coma.

When I saw that Butterfly was on the elliptical after dinner and three large glasses of wine, I thought it best to leave her alone and go to my study and get some work done. I approved the initiation of the random drug testing on 50% of Grey House staff to be done in three waves tomorrow, Friday, and Monday. The results will begin to come in on Tuesday, but I couldn’t get a guarantee that I would have them all for the sake of accuracy.

Ros has taken immediate advantage of her impromptu vacation, which means that Lorenz and I must weed through the findings and analysis of the audit teams while she’s away. There’s quite a bit in a short time—red flags that I asked to be notified of immediately instead of waiting for preliminary or final reports. To be quite honest, my company is a mess. We’re not on the brink of collapse, failure, or bankruptcy, but I was right. Complacency is running rampant through the departments and the ship is nowhere near as tight as it used to be.

That’s my fault.

When I shut the system down somewhere around three o’clock and came upstairs and she was still in the tub, I knew that I had to get her out of there. She was exhausted and shattered and I had every intention of drying her off, braiding her hair, and putting her to bed. Then, she passed out face up on the bed and I knew I would never be able to get that hair braided. I straightened her body and kissed her lips goodnight and the animal in me just suddenly came alive.

I didn’t intend to fuck her. I really didn’t, but when I kissed her neck, the valley of her breasts, and then her nipple just to tame the beast a bit, the taste of her skin sent me into blind passion and I just had to have her. Determined not to fuck her while she’s asleep, I fix my mind to back away… and then she spoke.

And I pounced.

It was like something else completely had taken over me and I was going to turn into a werewolf or the Hulk or something if I didn’t have her! I feasted on her body, touching her in all the right places to get her ready, but when I entered her, the beast was back.

I know what it was. I just didn’t want to admit it.

Dominant Christian was alive and kicking in the early morning hours. Fucking her was not enough, but even in my primal state of mind, I knew I couldn’t dominate her when she was so exhausted, so I had to improvise.

I imagined her shackled to the bed, blindfolded and completely immobilized after a good flogging, with a pair of clamps biting into her nipples. Her breasts were wobbling wildly, dripping with water, sweat, or milk—I didn’t know which—and she couldn’t move, so it wasn’t a far stretch. I fucked her and fucked her and fucked her until my cock burned, forcing three orgasms from that exhausted body until I was paralyzed in ecstasy myself.

Once I came down from my climactic high, I saw that the third orgasm had wrung my wife unconscious and, to be honest, I felt guilty. I wrapped her in my arms, kissing her back and neck while silently begging her forgiveness for being so thoughtless and selfish. I only got a couple of hours of sleep and then quietly got dressed and left the house before she woke.

Now, I’m here in the office, still feeling as aggressive as ever as I continue to comb through my emails and examine the notes of the auditing teams. Word is definitely out that Grey is on the warpath. The elevator was completely silent when I got on it this morning and some people even got off once I boarded. Others refused to get on when they saw that I was in the car.

I don’t care if you like me. Just do your fucking jobs, and do them right or I’ll have you out on your asses before you get the chance to gasp.

I’m a bit irritated when I’m interrupted mid-morning by a knock on my door.

“Sir, a word?” I look up and see Jason standing in the doorway. I gesture him in and remove my glasses. My eyes are getting tired more often. It might be time for another trip to the eye doctor.

“I know this is short notice and I apologize, but I need Monday off,” Jason says. I frown. It sure is short notice, short as fuck.

“May I ask why?” I inquire, coolly

“Well, it won’t be the entire day, sir, just enough time to go to Shalane’s sentencing.” I raise my brow.

“Shalane’s… as in your ex-wife Shalane?” I ask. Why would he want to be there for her?

“Yes,” he says. “I’m not letting Sophie go, but someone has to be there to speak on my daughter’s behalf if they ask.”

I see. I guess that would have an impact on her sentence… if they ask.

“What time is it?” I ask him.

“Ten A.M.,” he replies. I nod.

“Then we’ll both be there.” His eyes widen.

“Sir, you don’t have to… it’s Monday morning,” he protests.

“And you’re my best friend, so yes, I do have to.” If I’m trying to find a balance between asshole and nice guy, I better start somewhere.

“So, it looks like she’s going to be spending Christmas in jail, huh?” I add. Jason nods.

“Yeah, looks that way,” he says.

“How do you feel about that?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“I hate the things Shalane has done, but I don’t hate Shalane. It’s hard to feel any sympathy for anyone that has just proven to be rotten to the core, but I’m not a bad guy. So, I think I’ll just keep my answer to myself on that one.”

I nod. I can understand that. I’m on the opposite end of that spectrum. If I can’t stand you, you’re going to know about it. If I wish you would burn in hell, you’re going to know about that, too.

“Mr. Grey, Lorenz is here to see you,” Andrea’s voice says through the intercom. Did we have a meeting this morning?

“Send him in,” I tell her. “What time is the sentencing again?” I say, turning my attention back to Jason.

“Ten AM,” he repeats as Lorenz enters.

“We’ll be there, then,” I say. He nods, then nods at Lorenz and leaves.

“Something I need to know?” Lorenz asks.

“No,” I respond, “except that you’ll be holding the fort down alone for a few hours on Monday morning. I have an appointment.” He nods noncommittal.

“So, we found out what the big ruckus is about Kavanaugh,” Lorenz says. He has my attention, but only slightly. I have my own fish to fry.

“And what’s that?” I ask.

“The next heir apparent? ‘Baby Momma’ is one of Katherine’s friends.” My eyes widen.

“You’re shitting me!” I respond. This is fucking juicy.

“I’m not,” he says. “The wife found out through a damn text!” he adds. “He’s taking a paternity test, but whether it’s his or not, Mama Kavanaugh has had enough and is taking him to the cleaners.”

“Fuuuuck, really?” I say, sitting back in his chair. “Does Ethan know?”

“I don’t know that he does unless he’s been keeping up with the gossip rags or the specific financial news that deals with his father, but I don’t think he cares. He’s been completely mum about the whole thing.” He probably doesn’t. From what I’ve heard, he got his trust right after he married Mia and hasn’t spoken to his father since. If he doesn’t know, I’m sure as hell not going to tell him.

“What about Katherine?” I ask. It’s more out of curiosity than anything. I don’t plan to do anything with the information.

“Well, she was in Martha’s Vineyard for a while, but now word has it that she and young Kevin are now living in Paris…”

“Paris? How could Kavanaugh afford that?” I ask.

“Well, he can’t that I know of, but she secured employment there with one of the fashion magazines, so… she’s officially a Parisian now.” I shake my head.

“If I were her, I’d get as far away from this shit as possible, too,” I say. “That man has a tribe of illegitimate children now. How many is this?”

“I’m sorry, sir, I’ve lost count. Can I get back to you on that one?” he jests, and I chuckle.

“Have you seen the latest emails from the auditing team?” I ask. He sighs and crosses his legs.

“I have,” he says.

“It’s only been a couple of days. You still think I’m being paranoid?” He shakes his head.

“No, sir, I don’t,” he replies. “I never did, I just thought you might have needed to rethink your approach a bit, but now…” He trails off.

“Yeah, now,” I say, putting my glasses back on and looking at the screen. “I just basically had a meltdown yesterday about our customer satisfaction and retention processes and our internal process quality and then I see these findings? I’m certain that I’m not the only one that sees the drastic change in three years in these areas.”

“No, sir, you’re not alone,” Lorenz replies.

“The only reason we’re not bleeding from the jugular right now is because we have other divisions and operations that’s taking up the slack. I shudder to think what would have happened had I not thought to do something about this now!” I shoot. “So, are there any answers to any of the questions I had yesterday?” He nods.

“Yes, sir,” Lorenz begins. “The drugs from the pharmaceutical mishap have obviously been recalled. This sort of thing happens all the time and we’re looking into the ramifications of it now. Concerning the fire, thankfully, representatives from the EAP were on that as soon as it happened, so we’ve already got damage control and assistance in place for that.”

“And what about the late shipments?” I ask.

“I think client services is putting that fire out now,” he says.

“Don’t think. Know! Find out how often this has happened and if this is a one-off or a regular occurrence. Get some impromptu surveys going to see what the customers are feeling right now. See how many we get back. Get on this! Now that I know for sure that I’m not Chicken Little running around exclaiming that the sky is falling, I want this ship tight as soon as possible, and spare no fucking expense!”

“Will do, sir,” he says, and he stands and leaves my office. Sometimes, I hate that he’s so goddamn cool, but if I’m the hothead, and Ros is getting all sensitive and running off when there’s controversy, I need someone to be the voice of reason.

*-*

“Mr. Holstein is still trying to contact you, sir, and there’s a Herbert Larson on line three for you.” Larson… why the hell is he calling me instead of Al?

“Grey,” I answer.

“Mr. Grey, Herbert Larson here…” he begins.

“I know who it is. What can I do for you?” He pauses.

“You obviously know why I’m calling,” he says, coolly.

“Honestly, I don’t. I thought all of your contact went through our attorney or if not him, through my wife if utterly necessary. You have no reason to be contacting me,” I point out.

“I’m calling because harassment is a serious offense in the state of Nevada, Mr. Grey,” Larson says.

“And I’m not in the state of Nevada, so your point?” I retort.

“Mrs. Pamela Whitmore contacted the police this morning,” he says. “Apparently, several gentlemen have been following her around.”

Good, she knows that she’s being tailed.

“And you’re telling me this because?” I ask.

The gentleman that she described follows closely to the description of the gentleman that accompanied you and Mrs. Grey during your visit and they have Washington driver’s licenses.” I laugh loudly in his ear.

“Well, don’t this just beat all?” I say, with pretend mirth. “It took less than a day for you to finger who you might think is harassing Pamela Whitmore, but it only took the great state of Nevada more than a decade to pinpoint who brutalized my wife.”

The line is silent for several minutes.

“That woman called my wife at her place of business and insulted and threatened her and my family, and you’re calling me about some random men following her because they live in my state? If they’re breaking the law, then I suggest you arrest them, but don’t you dare interrupt my life with any nonsense that you have no actual basis for. You all didn’t follow any hunches to find my wife’s attacker before she came to you with a damn video. Don’t come to me with any half-baked, unfounded accusation. Yes, I will do whatever’s necessary to protect my family, but you do know that we have a restraining order against her, right?”

“I’m just letting you know that Mrs. Whitmore…”

“You don’t need to let me know shit about Mrs. Whitmore unless you’re telling me that you’ve arrested her for harassing my wife,” I say, cutting him off. “Nevada seems to be quite prevalent with going easy on and protecting violent criminals and offering no protection for the victim… that is, until you think those criminals are the victims.”

“You need to know that following Mrs. Whitmore could be considered obstruction of justice,” he points out, ignoring my prior statement.

“Oh, you mean like what that Henderson officer Sullivan did?” I counter. “Both when the incident happened by hiding evidence to protect his brother and by seizing the police report I presented to him two years ago without knowing that I had several copies? Yes, Mr. Larson, I’m very aware of the laws concerning obstruction of justice—that is, when your state deems it necessary to enforce them. By the way, what was the fate of Officer Sullivan? The victim here still hasn’t gotten any word that he’s come upon his just deserts, yet.”

The line falls silent again, and I know that he’s searching for a retort.

“I’m not saying that I’m following anybody and I’m not saying that I’m not,” I continue. “I will say that when you try to accuse someone of something, you better fucking well have enough evidence to do it instead of calling someone and trying to sniff them out. I play chess with multi-billion-dollar companies and more money than you’ll ever see in your life. I don’t have time to bluff.”

“So, you’re saying that you’re not having her followed?” he prods.

“I’m not saying anything,” I reply. “I will say, however, that if she comes anywhere near Seattle and my wife and children, I’ll know before you do.” I can feel his frustration through the phone.

“You’re preventing me from doing my job,” he says, his voice low. “Ever since this started, I’ve been doing my best to bring justice to this situation, and the only thing I’ve seen from you at all is this vigilante attitude like you’re running things, and nobody can tell you anything. Now, I’m warning you, Mr. Grey, if you interfere with this case or its participants in any way, I will have a warrant issued for your arrest!” Wrong move, Skippy.

“Save your goddamn threats for those assholes who beat my wife!” I seethe.

“Mr. Grey, that language is totally unnecessary,” he retorts.

“It’s completely fucking necessary, and if you fucking don’t want to fucking hear it, then you can fucking hang up the fucking phone!”

I’m so pissed at the audacity of this fucker that if I could teleport to Vegas right now and personally beat his ass, I would! I think he gets the hint.

“Good day, Mr. Grey,” he says.

“Fuck you!” I retort before slamming the receiver into the carriage.

One… two… three… four…

*-*

Butterfly isn’t home when I get there. I’m still fuming over Larson’s nerve. The fuck with that guy! I’m watching the cunt who birthed the fucker who raped my wife then had the nerve to call her and threaten her because she knows the trial is coming up, and this sonofabitch has the nerve to call me and tell me that I’m breaking the law by making sure that I know if this hoe crosses state lines. That place has the most backwards system of justice I’ve ever seen in my life, and the people who live there must be as fucked up as their sense of justice.

My wife is raped as a teenager and nobody blinks, not even her damn guardians.

She’s beaten within an inch of her life and her baby is killed, and nobody blinks.

The mother of the fucking rapist and baby killer calls and threatens my wife and our children, and nobody blinks… but then they call me and tell me that I’m breaking the law by following that cunt.

I hate to think I and my wife are flying all the way to Vegas to find out that the entire justice system is so fucked up that the whole lot of those fuckers are still going to get off easy after they’re convicted—if they’re convicted!

I run a punishing rhythm on the treadmill for quite some time before I take to Butterfly’s heavy bag to burn the rest of the aggression from the day. I’m finally starting to cool down—and tire—around 8pm, and I take a quick shower and change into a pair of sweats and a T-shirt.

I look for my wife in the nursery, but find that my children are fast asleep. I check the yoga room, the dining room, the family room—no Butterfly. Where is she?

“Did Ana come home?” I ask Gail. She frowns.

“Yeah,” she says. “She spent some time with the babies and then she went downstairs.” Downstairs… her office or her parlor. “Should I hold dinner or just put something away for you two to eat?” You two?

“She hasn’t eaten yet?” I ask. Gail shakes her head. I go to the elevator and take it to the ground floor. Chuck and Keri are on the patio sitting on the sofa. He has his arm around her and they’re gazing across the lake.

I need to find my wife.

I glance in the parlor as I pass and confirm that she’s not in there, then I go to her office. I’m about to walk in when I hear her talking on the phone.

“I really can’t wait to see you. It’s been a long time.”

Now, I trust my wife implicitly, but walking in on that statement would send a lesser man into terrible suspicion. I stay back and listen a little longer.

“I’m in no hurry to come, but at least there’s one bright side to it.”

That sounds a little crazy.

“No, I haven’t heard anything at all, but who knows what’s going to happen on that front.”

I should really just walk into the room instead of trying to decipher who she’s talking to, not to mention, it’s not polite to eavesdrop.

“No, I’m not going to any of those places. I might see some of the casinos with my best friend and his husband because they’ve never been there, but that’s all. I have no interest in the whole ‘Vegas experience.’ I’ve already had it.”

So, she’s talking to someone in Vegas. I know it can’t be Carla…

“So, I’ll let you know when we finalize our travel arrangements and where we’ll be staying. Hopefully, I’ll get to meet your husband this time.”

This time. That’s her aunt. What’s her name? Cynthia, that was it.

“That would be very nice. I’m sure Christian would like that.”

I walk into the office as she’s finishing her call with her aunt. She looks like a kid! She’s wearing suspenders… and a hat! Over pigtails! I walk over to her after she has ended her call and begins typing into her laptop.

“Fashion statement?” I ask. She looks up at me.

“My hair wouldn’t cooperate,” she says and stretches. “My dad wants to come to Vegas when we go for the trial.” I raise my brow.

“He does?” I ask. She nods.

“I suppose he needs some kind of closure, too,” she says. “This whole thing was so traumatic for us both—going through hell, finding peace, then having it ripped away from us again. I’d say he definitely needs some closure.”

“Well, you’ll get no argument from me. I’ll get a block of rooms so we don’t have to worry about it.” I sit down in front of her desk. “How was your day?” She raises her head again, somewhat in surprise.

“Busy,” she replies still looking at me. “We hired a couple of people for the in-house cleaning staff. They start shadowing Mr. Collier on Monday. I fired our cleaning crew as of the end of January. The head bitch in charge wasn’t happy to hear that, so now we have to keep an eye on them until the contract ends.”

“Were they slacking?” he asks. I shake my head.

“Not since the first time, but we weighed what we were paying them compared to the cost of having a cleaning crew of our own. The costs were comparable, but having someone on staff makes them more accountable to us than having an outside company come in. Plus, we’ll need people available at a moment’s notice instead of just at a certain time.”

“I see you’ve thought about this,” I say, sitting back and crossing my legs. “You’re still working?” She twists her lips.

“No Marilyn,” she says. “Courtney helps as much as she can, but she’s still no Marilyn… and she took the afternoon off to spend with her grandparents.”

She did?

“Really?” I ask. She nods. “Last I spoke to Fred, he wasn’t sold.”

“He’s still not sold,” Butterfly says, “and Courtney’s okay with that. She told him that she knows that she was a horrible person and that if he didn’t want to be bothered to not waste her time.” I raise my brow again. She has changed.

“Larson called me today,” I say. She stops typing and looks at me.

“Why did he call you?” she asks.

“To tell me to call off my security team that’s watching Whitmore.”

“You have a team watching Pamela Whitmore?” she asks. I nod.

“And I want her to know that she’s being watched.” She goes back to typing.

“Figures,” she says. “Serves her right… that backwards ass town. It’s okay to harass the victim, but not the victimizers.” She shakes her head.

“That’s what I said,” I reply, standing. “Come. We need to eat.” I hold my hand out to her. I know that she wants to work more, but I’m hungry and she needs to eat, too. She closes her laptop and takes my hand.


A/N: 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 on the menu or you can click HERE.

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~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 87—Exactly Who’s In Charge here?

Taking a break from my studies to commune with my peoples…

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 87—Exactly Who’s In Charge here?

ANASTASIA

I’ve decided not to go into Helping Hands on Wednesday since the Pamela Whitmore thing shook me up a bit. I send a text to Grace and Courtney that I won’t be in, but that I’ll be available and doing some work from home. Al is in the process of filing a restraining order against Whitmore, and she has officially made it to the “watch list.” I often wonder how the company can keep an eye on so many people at once. It must be a very incredible—and tedious—operation. I’m sitting at the dining table not quite sure what direction my day will take when I see—and feel—a shadow approaching me.

I look up and see my husband, fresh from the shower in a crisp—super crisp—black suit. His hair is neater than usual, but most likely because it’s still wet. His beard is thickening a bit from the usual designer stubble… and he totally looks like he means business. This fresh Master of the Universe look normally causes a little heat in my nether regions, but today, it feels a bit ominous.

“You’re not going in?” he asks as he takes a seat at the table. I shake my head, partially as an answer, but also to break my gaze from him.

“No,” I reply. “I’m working from home today.” I take a sip of my coffee and Ms. Solomon places a plate in front of Christian.

“Are you afraid?” he asks as he loads his fork with eggs. I shrug.

“A little shaken, maybe,” I admit, “but I’ll be fine. Al is getting the restraining order if he hasn’t already gotten it and that cunt doesn’t even have the resources to get within fifty feet of me, unless there’s something I don’t know.” Christian shakes his head as he swallows his eggs.

“No, we got surveillance in place last night. We’re pretty certain that call came from her home and confirmed that she’s there and hasn’t left. She’s going to have covert and visual surveillance. I want that bitch to know she’s being watched.” He takes a sip of his coffee.

“I see you… mean business today,” I say, sipping my own as he tucks into his breakfast. He doesn’t raise his head for a moment, but nearly clears half his plate before he speaks.

“I do,” he says, unapologetically. “I tried something new with my company and it didn’t work, so I’ll go back to the old way of doing things.”

The old way… That doesn’t sound good.

“What are you thinking?” he asks.

“That I miss Marilyn and I’m really wondering what’s going on with her right now,” I say. It’s partially true. The other part is that my husband may go back to the old way of doing things and I might lose him completely.

“When was the last time you heard from her?” he asks, finishing his breakfast.

“Two weeks ago,” I reply. “She emailed me before we left for Australia.”

“And Garrett?” he presses.

“I haven’t heard from Gary,” I admit. “I know he’s alive and I know he’s working, but he won’t speak to me.” I roll my eyes. “We’ve been friends for years—longer than he’s even known Mare and this is really making me feel shitty.” He reaches over and squeezes my hand.

“I know it feels shitty, but you can only do what you can do, Butterfly,” he says. “It’s only been a couple of weeks, right?”

“Yeah,” I say. It’s been three, but it feels like an eternity!

“You gotta give them time,” he says. “I don’t know if they’re going to bounce back from this, but you gotta give them time.” I look over at him and see a hint of the tenderness that I know of the new Christian Grey tucked into the mask of the old. I sigh and pretend to straighten his tie.

“Go,” I say. “Run the world and show them who’s boss. I’ll be fine.”

He examines me and I can see it in his eyes that he clearly thinks I’m full of shit, but he kisses me on the cheek anyway.

“I love you,” he says, looking into my eyes and waiting for me to respond.

“I love you, too,” I reply. I touch his cheek and kiss him quickly on the lips. “Go.”

He glances at me again before standing from the table and leaving to start his day.

I don’t feel like I have any direction today. I appreciate Courtney’s help immensely, but if Marilyn was here, I would truly know if there’s anything that I should be doing that I’m not, anything that I had forgotten about, such as the guest that walks into the dining room as I’m lamenting my situation.

“Fuck!” I exclaim as Harmony bends the corner and freezes.

“Oookay, should I leave and come back?” she asks.

“No,” I say, waving her off. “I totally forgot you were here.”

“Well, that’s easy,” she says. “I wasn’t here when you got back from Australia and we’ve been missing each other the rest of the time. I’ve been taking a lot of time going through my mother’s house.” She sits down at the table and almost like clockwork, here’s Ms. Solomon with another plate of breakfast.

“How’s that been going?” I ask.

“Tedious,” she says. “Sad. My mother loved her kids. She’s kept every christening gown, every award, every trophy, scads and scads of pictures—graduations, marriages, babies being born, track meets, recitals, you name it—and look how they thanked her! I hate selling the house, Anastasia. There are literally lifetimes of memories in there, but I don’t want to keep it. If any of my mother’s children had any kind of heart, I would just give it to them, but they’re all cold and heartless, so it’s going up for sale.”

“Have you heard from any of them?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No,” she said. “They only wanted what they could get from her estate. Once Carl has tended to all of her bills and wishes and everyone gets their cut, I’ll probably never hear from any of them again… except for my father when he needs money.”

I can’t help but think how sad this situation is as I watch her sip her coffee.

“What about all the pictures and the memories and stuff?” I ask. “What are you going to do with those?”

“I’m having them packed and labeled as we speak,” she says. “Each kid can have their respective shit and if they don’t want it, it’s trash. I’ve taken what I want from the house—whatever there is that would remind me of my momma. It’s just a matter of properly disposing of the rest. I plan to have an estate sale the first week of January to see if anyone wants any of that stuff. If not, whatever’s left, I’m donating to charity.”

“That seems so sad that so much of the life that your mother built will be going to strangers and charity,” I say.

“I know, but what else can I do? The mansion has way too many rooms in it. She spent her life decorating it and although the things are nice, they’re quite dated. There’s really nothing I can do with it, and I’m certain that Momma only put the house in my name to keep the Gruesome Foursome from kicking me out once she died. I’m sure that she would be pleased that I’m at least handling things as respectfully as possible.”

I have to agree. There’s no telling what her other children would have done had they been in charge of Tina’s property.

“I don’t cry as much,” she says, “but I’m still sad. I still really miss my Momma, but she’s gone now, and I can’t bring her back. Some days, I can deal with it. I can move forward, and everything is okay. Other days, it’s hard to even breathe. I have to concentrate just to get out of bed…”

I talk to Harmony for a while—something to give me some purpose—and I allow her to vent about losing her mother and her horrid siblings who couldn’t care less if she lived or died. She’s letting the real estate agent handle the staging of the house once she has the estate sale. Inventorying everything is what’s taking so long. Carl also told her that the auction for Tina’s jewelry will be on Friday and informed me that I’m welcome to attend if I want. I don’t know. I’m not sure what I’m doing with today, let alone Friday.

She’s excited about moving into the penthouse once it’s finished. I’m excited for her and I’m just now realizing that Christmas is right around the corner and this will be her first Christmas without her mother. I’m also realizing that with about a week to go, the Greys don’t seem to have solidified any plans either. We all normally go over to the Manor, but this year, we haven’t heard anything.

I really need to know what the plans are, because I have no problem whatsoever having Christmas right here in my home with my babies and my husband. Chuck’s parents are supposed to be coming, too, and I don’t know what the plan is for them when they get here. Were we all planning to get together again? I would certainly love to see Maddie and Nelson. I have a bit more Christmas shopping to do, but I did most of it on Black Friday, and picked up a few things here and there throughout the year.

“So, do you plan to decorate the penthouse when it’s done, or are you going to hire a decorator?” I ask Harmony, feeding her excitement about moving into Escala.

“I don’t know,” she admits. “I haven’t even gotten that far.”

“I recommend hiring a decorator,” I tell her, “because you’re in school. Just don’t give them carte blanche.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. Courtney and Vickie have been really cool about letting me impose on their private time. I think I’ll hang around here tonight instead of going over there. Give them some time alone. I don’t want to wear out my welcome.” I nod.

“Have they said anything?”

“No, but I’m an adult. I know when grown folks need their time.” I laugh.

“Well, it won’t be like you’re in the way here,” I tell her. “We’ve got more room than we know what to do with.” I rise from the table. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’ve got to get to my office and get some balls rolling.”

“No worries. I’m headed to class. I’ll see you later.”

“Laters,” I say as I head to my office.

I now appear to have emails from nearly every department head in GEH—some of them two or three—about whatever minutia they could email or CC me on. I roll my eyes and shake my head, thinking how too-little-too-late this gesture is. I create rules to send everything from GEH to one folder with the exception of Christian’s and Al’s emails. I don’t know how wise that is since I don’t intend to check it that often. As I’m filtering the emails, I see that Alex has forwarded me some information that I’d completely forgotten I had requested. The sensitive information on Deanna Corman.

Corman—I never knew that was her last name.

There’s delicious dirt in here on her.

She’s a research assistant at GEH, which I already knew, but apparently, she’s pretty damn good at her job. However, she’s been fired from her last three jobs, twice for insubordination and once under unknown circumstances, and she’s only been with GEH for less than a year.

Did they consider this a pass of a background check?

She’s currently cheating with three different married men, hoping that Christian would be the fourth. All of them are well-to-do or wealthy, so she’s definitely trying to sleep her way to riches.

And she likes to party… a lot. She’s been caught twice with marijuana, but not enough to get arrested and again, only during the last year. Once you hire people and do the initial background checks, unless you continue to update background checks or something happens that causes a red flag, you won’t know if something new has arisen.

So, here’s Deanna… two citations for small amounts of marijuana, three episodes of disturbing the peace that went nowhere—two of which involved two of the married men that she’s currently fucking. I need to talk to my husband about who he’s hiring, but for now, I’m calling Alex.

“Mrs. Grey,” he answers.

“Will you ever call me ’Ana?’” I ask.

“Sorry, force of habit,” he says.

“I’m looking at this file that you sent me on Deanna Corman,” I say. “How does someone with this much shit pass a background check?”

“It depends,” he says. “The company isn’t so much concerned with young people fired for insubordination. Nobody’s perfect and no one could besmirch her work ethic, not to mention that there’s only so much information you can get from a previous job no matter how good your resources. The information that we’ve received after the fact is enough to dismiss her, though.”

“No, I have a better idea,” I say. “How did you find out about the marijuana?”

“You asked for a background check with detailed personal information. That requires digging and investigation. She has a tail.” I nod as if he can see me.

“Affairs with three married men,” I note. “That seems to be her flavor. Current?”

“Yes,” he confirms. “It’s not necessarily her flavor. That’s just who wants her. It’s been my experience that single men with money are not interested in hoochies. Married men in unhappy marriages will often take it from anybody who’ll throw it at them, money or not.” That make sense.

“Well, to be bargain basement, she’s setting her sights awfully high with Christian,” I point out.

“No offense, Ana, but as the saying goes, a closed mouth never gets fed. When you have nothing to lose, you never know unless you try.” I shake my head.

“Well, she tried the wrong one,” I say. “Keep gathering info. I’m about to put my plan into action.”

“Will do, Boss Lady,” he says, and hangs up. And I immediately miss Marilyn. I have a few emails to compose.

To: Marilyn Caldwell
Re: Disabled
Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 10:02
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

Hi Mare,

I’m writing to tell you that I’m officially a fish out of water without my right hand. Not pressuring you or anything, and I’m holding on to hope that once things settle in your heart and mind, you’ll be back. In the meantime, I’m completely disabled without you.

I hope you are putting things together the best that you can and that you are finding some modicum of peace in the midst of this mess. I hope you took my advice and got out of the house instead of sitting there being religiously bullied by your parents.

Talk soon… please?

Love, Ana

Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Assistant Director, Helping Hands

The next one is to one prodigal friend that I feel owes me more than the silence that he’s giving me. I had to write it, read it over, and rewrite it four times before I sent it as it started out as, “You troll, you monster, does no one else matter in this but you and your selfish feelings?” and became something with just the right amount of sympathy and the correct dose of venom.

To: Garrett Pope
Re: WTF
Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 10:29
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

Dear Gary,

I’ll start by saying that I hope this email finds you well—as well as can be expected, anyway. I realize this is hard for you and as your friend, I hope your heart can heal from this emotional trauma and that you can successfully move on from it, whatever “moving on” means for you. Having said that…

What the fuck, man?

So, you don’t want to see my PA anymore, and you may never want to see her again. Fine! What does that have to do with me and the rest of your friends? I told you the day that this happened that I had nothing to do with this. I didn’t convince her to do this, nor did I know this was happening until the clinic called me to pick her up.

You may not even read this email since your voice mail is apparently disabled or you’re simply not speaking to me, but my not hearing from you will at least not be from lack of effort.

If you’re still too raw, I get it. There’s no time limit on grief and healing, but at least drop a line that says, “Hey, bitch, I’m alive, leave me alone,” or something. It’s not fair to leave people hanging that care about you… or did you forget the whole ordeal that we had with Val?

I really thought nearly ten years of friendship meant as much to you as it does to me. I’m hurt and disappointed to find that I was wrong. At least get in touch with the others.

Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Assistant Director, Helping Hands

That’s the best I can do. I’m feeling extremely “raw” myself that he would just leave me hanging when I know all the details of everything and could possibly help him even more than Maxie could right now. And the fact that we’ve been friends for so long. Does that mean nothing?

After having gotten sidetracked with my email to Gary, I get my thoughts together and send the third email that I intend to send.

To: Christian Grey
Re: Idea?
Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 10:51
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

Mr. Grey,

When was the last time your company performed random drug testing?

Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Assistant Director, Helping Hands

Since Ms. Corman likes to party, let’s see if we can get lucky.

I volley an email or three with my husband and go over some of the work that I have for Helping Hands when my phone rings.

“Yes, my beloved?” I answer when I see that it’s my best friend.

“Jewel, are you sitting down?”

“Yeess, what’s up? What’s going on? Is something wrong with Christian?”

“Nothing is wrong with Christian. I’m calling about Pamela Whitmore.”

“Oh,” I sigh. “Okay. Did you get the restraining order?”

“I did,” he replies. “It applies to all matters outside of the courtroom.”

“Okay, so why do I need to sit down? Did you call Larson? What did he say about her contacting me?”

“Yes, I’ve spoken to Larson, but I really didn’t need to. I know why she’s contacting you,” he replies. “I got a package today. Jewel, you’ve got your court date.” My brow furrows.

“What court date?” I ask.

“Are you serious? You can’t be serious…”

“Al, I’m losing my patience. What court date?” Al sighs heavily.

“Grab your traveling clothes, baby. We’re headed to Vegas.”

My brain skips for a minute, but then it kicks in. Oh, hell. I completely forgot about that. I mean I didn’t forget, but with all the shit that’s been going on in my life over the last year, I totally blanked out those assholes from Vegas until Whitmore called, and even then, my brain wasn’t focused on the trials.

“Our court date… we got our court date?” I ask in disbelief.

“We got our court date,” he repeats.

“Who’s going on trial?” I ask.

“Vincent Sullivan,” he replies. “He’s fighting this thing to the bitter end, so we’ll have to appear in court for this one.”

Yeah, of course not Whitshit or Madison-Perry. No, those assholes got plea deals, but I’ll still get to look them in the eyes when they testify. They’ll still get to see what I did with their horrible scar. You didn’t break me, bitches. You came fucking close, but you didn’t break me…

“Jewel?” Al’s voice snaps me out of my daydreaming.

“Hot damn, when do we leave?” I exclaim.

Al is talking about getting the jet ready and spending some time on the Strip even though he knows that this is going to be a very serious situation and suddenly, his voice turns into the teacher from Charlie Brown when I note that I’ve gotten a response to one of my emails.

To: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Re: Hey Bitch
Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 11:49
From: Garrett Pope

I’m alive.

Leave me alone.

I do love you; I just can’t talk about this or anything right now.

Gary

Well, fuck. I didn’t mean literally say, “Hey, Bitch,”… but I get it.

“Jewel? Did you hear what I said?” Al says.

“Um, no, I got distracted. What did you say?” he pauses.

“Nothing important, what’s wrong?” he asks.

“I sent Gary an email this morning and I just got my response.”

“Well, what did it say? Or can you tell me?” he prods.

“Hey Bitch I’m alive leave me alone I do love you I just can’t talk about this or anything right now Gary,” I say all in one breath, my voice downtrodden.

“Oh, you sent him the ‘Hey, Bitch’ speech,” Al acknowledges.

“Yeah,” I say, still disappointed. He’s silent for a moment again… clearly a pregnant pause.

“So, dinner at seven, right?” he says, clearly trying to get off the phone.

“Al don’t harass the man. He’s probably got enough on his plate…”

“Yep, and he’s my friend, too, and I don’t deserve to be treated this way any more than you do, nor does he deserve to be going through this pain alone and thinking he can handle it when he clearly can’t. So, Jewel, my love, I’ll see you at seven, but I gotta bust a mission.”

“See ya, Al,” I say, knowing that it’s no use trying to talk him out of whatever he’s about to do.

I look at my phone, then look at the clock. Hearing this news makes me want to call a few people. I dial the first number.

“Sunflower, hey! A little too long-time-no-hear. How was Australia?”

“It was great, Daddy,” I reply. “How is Mandy and Harry?”

“Mandy’s beautiful, but she’s always beautiful. Harry’s getting too big too fast. The time seems to fly, doesn’t it?” he says.

“Yes, it does,” I tell him. “Don’t blink. It’ll be over in a second,” I laugh, just realizing that in about a month, my twins will be a year old. “I have news, Daddy.” The line is quiet.

Are you expecting again?” he asks. I frown as if he can see me.

“Daddy! No!” I whine. I mean, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but I haven’t prepared myself for that yet. I’m still on birth control, for Christ’s sake. “No,” I say, recovering quickly, “but it is good news nonetheless.”

“Well, out with it,” he says playfully. “I can always use good news.”

“I’m going to court,” I tell him. “I get to tell my story about what those bastards did to me in Nevada.” Daddy falls silent and I hear a loud noise like someone dropping a bag of clothes.

“That is great news, Sunflower,” he says, his voice sounding like a continuous sigh. “Finally! Finally, your voice is going to be heard! I’m going with you.”

“You don’t have to do that, Daddy,” I tell him. “You’d have to put your business on hold and what about Mandy and Harry?”

“We’ll work it out, baby,” he says. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world, and I mean that.” I sigh. I know when my father says he’s going to do something, he’s going to do it.

“In that case, I’ll keep you posted. You can fly down in the jet with us.”

“That’s right! You do have a jet, don’t you?” he exclaims.

“Yes, sir,” I say. “You’re little girl has hit it big!” I jest.

“No,” he says, “you may have married a really rich guy, but he hit it big when he got you.” My cup runneth over.

“Thank you, Daddy,” I whisper.


CHRISTIAN

Apparently, my attitude is illuminating around me the moment I hit the building. People bypass the usual sycophantic “Good Morning, Mr. Grey” and scurry around, away from, or to avoid me like roaches. Three people even exited a crowded elevator to avoid having to ride in it with me.

Get used to it, troops. The Iron Fist is back.

“Andrea, what meetings do I have on the books today?” I ask when I breeze into my office and past her desk. Ever efficient, she’s behind me in moments and is probably the only person in the whole building who’s immune to my asshole tendencies.

“You’ve got Ros and Lorenz at noon and the auditing meeting at two. Nothing else that I know of.” I nod.

“Have a fresh pot of black coffee sent up from the cafeteria. I feel the makings of a long ass day ahead.”

It’s time to shave some operations to make room for the intensive audit that’s about to take place in my company. Not keeping my eye on basic housekeeping is what allowed that keystone cop motherfucker to get in the castle and eventually kidnap my girl; a mole to be hired in right under our noses; miscellaneous subsidiaries to engage in human trafficking for God only knows how long; and a sympathizer to give classified information to a couple of fucker hackers, which included the biological son of the only real nemesis that I have in the world. Some of these stagnant mergers and acquisitions are going to have to wait until I can give them the attention they need.

In my Research and Development department, there are five sub-divisions—marketing infrastructure, product safety, operations, program development and evaluation, and research and technology services. Each of these divisions are coming under the microscope severally as well as how they relate to each other division in the department and the company. I decided to start with R&D since they have been in the center of my ire thus far.

I’m doing audits internally as well as employing an outside auditing firm to identify weak spots in my company. The last time I did an overhaul, it seems like there was a lot of hefty talk and not a lot of action. Wait til they see what happens this time.

I’ve already set the stage for the upcoming internal audit and I’ll be meeting with Al, Alex, my accounting department head, and the members of the external audit team this afternoon. I’ve also requested that all executive emails be forwarded to my wife. As half-owner of this company, I can’t afford for her to be completely uninformed even if she doesn’t plan to take part in the operations of the company. I really wish she would, but I can’t force her hand. I do like her way of thinking, however, when I get an email from her today.

To: Christian Grey
Re: Idea?
Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 10:51
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

Mr. Grey,

When was the last time your company performed random drug testing?

Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Assistant Director, Helping Hands

What a fantastic way to weed out a bunch of people that I wouldn’t want in my company anyway! I know for sure that the possibility of random drug testing was introduced in the employment packages of each employee, right along with the NDA’s and releases to perform background checks. My company is zero tolerance, so even though we haven’t had random tests in quite some time, this should come as no surprise.

To: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Re: Idea?
Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 11:17
From: Christian Grey

Dr. Grey,

Capital idea! May I ask what brought about this stroke of genius?

Christian Grey
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc

“Andrea, can you come into my office please?” I summon through the intercom.

“Yes, sir,” she says. A few moments later, she enters the office and I inform her to close the door.

“Who handles our requests for random drug testing?” I ask. She raises her brow in surprise. Yes, this is going to be exactly what’s needed to shake the company up a bit.

“I’m not sure, sir,” she says. “It’s been a while. I don’t think we’ve had random drug testing since I’ve been employed here.”

“Well, that’s about to change,” I tell her. “Find out who does them for me—the most accurate without blood. I don’t want anything invasive. I think hair will be the best option.”

“Yes, sir,” she says, and she leaves the office. I check my computer and there’s another email from Butterfly.

To: Christian Grey
Re: Idea?
Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 11:39
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

It’s just a hunch I’m following, but it would surely weed out the unwanted element from the company. And in all honesty, a company your size should have this kind of thing regularly, especially with your zero-tolerance drug policy.

Have you also considered enacting a policy of follow-up background checks just to stay on top of things? You also might want to look into how the yearly evaluations are done. I have some ideas.

Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Assistant Director, Helping Hands

She’s right about that. And the fact that Andrea has just informed me that we haven’t had drug testing at least since she’s been here is pretty significant. It adds to the complacency of the staff. However, the follow-up background checks could be a massive undertaking. That would require an entire protocol of reminders and possibly another team dedicated to nothing but that. I know that we have procedure in place in case someone gets an arrest after they’ve been hired, but I don’t think we have anything much more than that. Maybe it’s something I should look into…

“Black,” Ros says when she enters my office. “I haven’t seen black in quite some time.”

“It’s just a suit, Ros,” I reply as she and Lorenz enter the office.

“It has a presence,” Lorenz says, taking his regular seat in front of my desk.

“That’s what he’s going for,” Ros remarks, taking her usual seat as well. “R&D is shitting their pants. The other department heads are turning in status reports as we speak. My guess is that they want to get ahead of the upcoming audits and see what they should concentrate on.”

“Hmm,” I say, opening the file she just sent me from her iPad. “It may be too little too late,” I observe as I scroll through the project titles from the various departments.

“Isn’t that what you wanted,” she says, “to put some fire under the departments?”

“No,” I reply. “I’ve been putting fire under them for the last two years and it hasn’t helped. It’s time to clean. It may even be time to introduce some new talent. I’m all for keeping someone with tenure who has demonstrated continuous progress and improvement in the company, but if that’s not what I’m getting, I’m not going to continue to pay people to sit on their laurels and decide to jump when I start breathing fire. That’s what they always do, and I’m tired of it now.” I minimize her list of projects and go back to the spreadsheet of pending acquisitions I was reviewing when they entered.

“I see that we’re currently courting six companies, we got four on the hopper, and three in negotiations. Tell me what’s cooking with the four.”

“Same thing, different day,” Ros says. “They’re looking over the offer and seeing how it fits into the future of their companies…”

As Ros drones on about the four companies we have approached for mergers, I hear no urgency in her voice. I feel the same complacency that I’m getting from my department heads. I truly hope I’m wrong.

“Drop ‘em,” I say once she’s finished. Her eyes widen.

“Sir?” she asks in horrified amazement.

“Drop ‘em,” I repeat. “I’ve heard nothing that indicates that any of those companies have any real intentions of moving forward. They’re just biding their time to see what I’m going to do.”

“It’s just before Christmas, Christian,” Ros protests.

“Yep, it’s just before Christmas now, and we’ve been doing the one-two step with Hanes and Bristol since just before my grandfather died. What’s that—six or seven months, and no bite? Drop ‘em.”

“And the others, too?” she asks, still horrified.

“Yes, and the others, too. I’ve made serious offers to all of these companies. I don’t have time for them to consult their ancestors to ask what their next move should be.” She shakes her head and types into her tablet. “What about the three in negotiations?”

“Finney has that,” Ros says flatly.

“Firm counter-offers on two,” Lorenz says, “I actually CC’ed you on that this morning. The last one is still giving some ridiculous numbers but is ripe for the picking.” I twist my lips.

“Hmmm,” I ponder. “I’ll take a look at that third one and see if it’s worth the trouble. And stop the courting with the other six.”

Lorenz and Ros both look at me.

“Christian, Veston is prime for acquisition. If we let this go, we may completely miss this opportunity…”

“And there will be another opportunity,” I interrupt Lorenz. “There’s always another opportunity. Right now, I have bigger fish to fry right here on my own front door. Let’s lock down the ones we already have in negotiations. Any others can wait until after the audits.

“Yes, sir,” Lorenz responds skeptically, tapping into his iPad.

“And by the way,” I say, looking through the emails being sent to me and forwarded to Butterfly, “I want executive level emails to be sent to my wife, not all this junk that everyone has decided that they want to send all of a sudden.” They look at each other again.

“Um, how do you suggest we screen what goes to Mrs. Grey?” Ros asks.

“Her name is Dr. Grey, Ros,” I correct. “And you screen it the same way I just did—executive emails only. Keep the junk mail; pass the word—intentional violators will be disciplined. Any other questions on the matter?”

She purses her lips and looks down at her tablet. I know what’s happening with all these random emails. These assholes are trying to prove a point and teach a lesson since Butterfly indicated that she didn’t get a response to her email. All they’re really doing is pissing me off, and that’s something that they really don’t want to do right now.

I go through several more minutes of handing down instructions and deliberately ignoring a barrage of “But, sirs” when Andrea knocks on my open door.

“Sir, I’ve got that information that you wanted,” she says, and I know that she’s talking about the random drug testing. I gesture her in.

“Who’s the company?” I ask, right in front of Ros and Lorenz.

“DISA Global Solutions, sir,” she says, handing me a piece of paper with some information on it. I don’t have to look at my executive team to know that they’ve suddenly become more alert.

“What are the next steps?” I ask.

“We send our specs to them and get a quote,” she replies. I nod.

“Correspond with human resources. Get an approximate head count of the building. I want a 50% sampling of highly reliable testing and if we can get results by Monday or Tuesday, that would be superb. I don’t want this spilling into the holiday.”

“Yes, sir,” she says with a nod and leaves. The silence is so thick in the room you can cut it.

“Drug testing, Christian?” Ros says. “Is that what you think is causing the problems in GEH?” I raise my gaze from my computer screen.

“I know what’s causing the problems in GEH, Rosalind,” I reply, “I am. I’ve been at the helm of a successful company enjoying high profits and low problems for years until I got married. Now, I’m a family man and everyone seems to have forgotten the formula that got us to where we are—myself included. I plan to rectify the situation.”

“Hmm,” she says, twisting her lips. “Rosalind. Okay. Since we’re being frank, I should tell you that random drug testing is simply an unnecessary outlay of funds. And 50%? In three business days? Are you serious? It’s an unnecessary scare tactic.”

“On the contrary, I think it’s very necessary. If I order a 50% random sampling and five people come back with a positive test in a zero-tolerance company, then that’s five people that I can get rid of and replace with employees who will follow directions and remain drug-free. If I order that same sampling, and 300 people come back testing positive, I know it’s time to clean house and I have very well found one of the problems with GEH. One or one-thousand, Ros, this is a necessary operation. The only way it’s unnecessary is if every random specimen comes back completely clean.” Ros huffs loudly and shakes her head.

“Out with it, Ros,” I say. She fixes her gaze on me.

“There are so many other things that we need to be focusing on—operational flaws, problem solving and risk management, flow of information, management and integrity—and we’re deciding to turn our focus to drug testing,” she states incredulously.

“Is there a problem with drug testing?” I ask. “Why are you so dead set against it.”

“I’m not against it,” she retorts, “I just think there’s a better use of the resources, including preventing the downtime of 50% of our staff.” I do the Butterfly bobblehead thing.

“Are we broke and I didn’t know it?” I ask, incredulously. “First of all, no expenditure is too high to ensure that I find any drug-addicts in my company or to ensure that I do not! You know why I have a zero-tolerance for drug use, which is a perfectly logical reason for me to request random drug testing, especially in light of the costly mistakes we’ve had in the past few months. And yes, I do intend to implement and exercise random drug testing across the GEH industries. Now, I’ve told you why I feel like this is a very necessary initiative. Besides the completely irrelevant issue of cost that you keep raising, can you tell me why you’re so against it?”

Ros’ head jerks back like I just hit her. Something I’ve said shocked her and I’m not sure what it is. My points are very relevant, and I’ve supported them with facts. That’s when Lorenz decides to chime in.

“Sir, I don’t see anything wrong with taking a firm hand if the company has taken such a drastic turn. There’s nothing obvious to the naked eye or in the financials that indicates that the company is declining, but again, I whole-heartedly agree with nipping things in the bud—getting behind the problem before it affects the bottom line. However, you don’t want to come off as a small man swinging a big stick because someone broke his favorite toy.” I turn my attention to him and frown deeply.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“One of the first thing you said when we walked into the room was ‘Stop sending junk mail to Anastasia.’ I don’t know what happened between the time you dismissed us yesterday and the moment you walked in this morning, but things have certainly changed. Ros brought up a very valid point yesterday about nepotism that the other department heads are very likely to concur with if the legal department isn’t ripped apart like the rest of the company. Hate it or love it, that’s the truth, and you can’t shoot the messenger.

“If you’re making any decisions that either of us may feel are irrational, we would be doing you a disservice not to bring it to your attention. Now, although we know that the company is going through internal investigations for what appears to be one too many mistakes, a lot of the decisions for measures and guidelines being handed down appear to be personal, and I can’t be ashamed to tell you at the risk of my silence being damaging to the company.”

I can’t fucking win for losing.

I can’t be the ball-buster.
I can’t be the nice guy.
I can’t be the billionaire concerned about his fucking business.
I can’t turn my back for a moment and say, “Hey, let this operation run on its own,” without having to worry about the walls falling down.

What’s more, I can’t initiate a practice or a policy with my own money without being concerned about nepotism, personal feelings, or scrutiny from inside or outside of my company.

Now it’s time to put my foot down… hard.

I straighten my chair and steeple my fingers over my lips, my gaze focused in the space between my two head executives. This is a look that Ros knows well, because it usually means that the next words out of my mouth may have a ripple-effect that reaches from sea to shining sea.

Yes, the asshole is back.  

“While I value your input on these issues, let me clarify something for both of you. I don’t care if I come off as a toddler having a temper tantrum in a sandbox. I’m the one who stands to lose the most if this company isn’t productive. When the ink dries on every audit, every test, every document, guess who’s name is going to be on the lips of every man and woman in the industry if this company is found lacking? Guess who’s ass is ultimately going to be on the line if some outside source discovers that this company—my company—is hemorrhaging somewhere and we didn’t even know it?

“They’re not going to say, ‘Oh, that fucker Finney really fucked up over there at GEH!’ No, they’re going to say, ‘What the hell? Is Grey’s head up his ass?’ And there goes my company, my family and my children’s future, my reputation, everything I built—we built over all these years. Gone—just like that! I could give a fuck less if these assholes think I’m a baby in a crib screaming with a bottle in one hand and a rattle in the other. I’m going to do whatever I feel is necessary to sniff out weakness in my company and eliminate it.

“Can either of you tell me—when you thought I wasn’t listening—the exact cost of the supplies that didn’t make it to our warehouses on time? Can you tell me if it cost us any clients? Can you tell me if anybody reached out to those clients to offer our apologies for the late shipments?

“How about the fire in the New York building? Has anyone reached out to any of the injured parties? Any of the families? It’s my understanding that fire happened while I was in Australia—what was the outcome? Have we offered anything besides health insurance to these people? With this happening right before Christmas, has anybody even made the suggestion to send a representative or to go out to the east coast to see about these people?

“And just how costly was that pharmaceutical fuck up? Do we even have an inkling about that?

“And the piece de resistance, SEEKNID… which has been lying dormant for a whole fucking year and would still be lying dormant now had I not come in the office breathing fire, and we’re really having hissy fits about internal drug testing at my company headquarters?”

“Hissy…” Ros trails off. Her statement is cut short and her body language indicates that I’ve hit a nerve. She looks at Lorenz in disgust and then turns her attention back to me.

“I think I need to take some time off,” she says matter-of-factly. “Christmas is next week and not a lot happens during the holidays. This may be just the time for me and Gwen to get away, maybe see some family.”

She knows that I’m about to implement some changes and that there might be some terminations with the results of the drug test. You want to jump ship, Ros, you do that… but I don’t easily forget.

“I just came back from a vacation and I have no immediate plans of going anywhere else. So, Ros, if you feel that now is the time that you need to make an escape, be my guest. We all need time to reflect sometimes.”

I don’t take my eyes off of her as she raises her brow, excuses herself, and walks behind my desk toward my bathroom.

“You probably don’t want to piss her off,” Lorenz says.

“That’s just it, Lorenz,” I reply. “I don’t care if I piss her off. The name of this company is Grey Enterprises Holdings. I built it from nothing, and although I sincerely value the work, abilities, and dedication of my executive team, I will not now nor will I ever allow them or anyone else in my company to undermine me or disrespect me even if they attempt to do it in a professional or covert manner.

“I don’t want to see my company go belly-up and I’m doing everything in my power to keep that from happening, but this organization can go to zero net profits by day’s end and I’ll still be a billionaire. So, the last thing I need to do is suck anybody’s ass or deal with anybody’s insolence.

“Ros isn’t the only one in this company right now with an I’ll show him attitude, and I know it. And that wasn’t the case two years ago. I get more kickback now from my department heads—all of them—than I have ever gotten since this company began and that’s going to stop right now.

“The heart and pulse—the very life’s blood—of this multi-billion-dollar conglomerate is right here in this building, in the hands of these people. This ship has to be tight, unshakable and able to weather any storm. I cannot and will not tolerate weakness in any area.

“I’m combing through this entire building, department by department, after which I may be doing something similar with my entire organization. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again. I’ll be making sure that we are as close as humanly possible if not spot on with the vision of what I had when I started this company, before everyone became comfortable, complacent, and sloppy. And if I have to shut down major operations for a year to get it done, I’ll do it. My hope is that I don’t have to deal with kickback from my executive team, because that means that the process will just be prolonged, but I’m still proceeding as planned.

“Each one of us will be knee-deep in responsibilities over the next several months and I expect each of us to hold our own as I intend to do just that. If there’s any problem with that, then I will begrudgingly accept resignations. I will say that with that entire dissertation that I just gave about late shipments, injured employees, pharmaceutical lawsuits, and a possible multi-million-dollar software sitting useless on some shelf for over a year, I’m quite surprised that the only phrase that had any real impact…” I turn around and look into Ros’ face as I knew that she was standing there the entire time…

“… Was ‘hissy fits.’”

I glare at her, because I’m disappointed. I tore myself apart most of the night last night, sneaking out to get some time on the piano before Butterfly awoke, pondering how I was going to balance the old asshole with the new family man because my company can’t seem to appreciate the new guy. They need the old me. If that’s what they need, that’s what they’ll get. And if “hissy fitswas the only thing she heard out of that entire conversation, then she needs some time off.

She stares at me impassively for a moment, then marches ceremoniously around my desk, across my office, and out the door.

I don’t flinch. I need her not to quit; I really need her around, but I’ll do without her if I must.

“Lorenz, do you need time off, too?” He raises his brow.

“No, sir,” he says. “Looks like you may have a lot on your plate.” I nod.

“I’m sure that I will,” I say after a frustrated sigh.

*-*

Three other men are in the elevator with me and Jason when we’re leaving for the day. I usually ride alone, but I didn’t put the code in to make the elevator “express,” and they boarded at the 11th floor. They were jesting with each other when the doors opened; now the car is completely silent. The doors open and Jason and I exit on the first floor. As we’re walking to the front doors, the idiots in the car decide to make a crack loud enough for me to hear it.

“Big Dollar Grey is uptight. The wife must’a withheld that tight ass last night.”

There’s laughter in the elevator as the doors close and I stop at the front desk.

“Stop elevator car #3,” I say to the guard. He frowns and looks at his panel.

“There are people in it, sir,” he says. I just glare at him. He’s got about five seconds to stop that car before the doors open and the idiots get out. He makes that “ooookay” face and stops the elevator.

“Bring up the elevator camera,” I say. As he’s bringing it up, the emergency bell from the elevator comes on.

“From left to right, tell me who they are,” I say to no one in particular. Jason immediately goes behind the desk and starts typing into the computer. The bell is still ringing, and Jason looks at one of the guards and just points at it. The guy pushes a button and the ringing stops but a light on the panel keeps flashing.

“Good evening gentlemen,” he says into an intercom. “Sorry for the inconvenience. We’ll have you on your way in just a moment.”

“Seriously?” one of the voices protests. “With all the money this place makes, the elevators are breaking down? What the fuck is going on?” Jason raises his head.

“Last names only,” I say. He looks at the guy, who nods at him.

“Carter, Jenkins, and Pack, in that order,” he says. I nod and head to the stairwell. Jason says something to the guards at the desk and he knows me well enough to know what’s about to happen. He’s close behind me in the stairwell and in a few moments, we’re in the parking structure in front of elevator car #3.

“Open the doors,” Jason says into his wrist, and I clasp my hands in front of me glaring at my reflection until the angry faces of three detained assholes fill my view. I silently stand there glaring at each one of them.

I’m what the fuck is going on, you stupid assholes.

After standing there for at least a solid minute in total silence and probably wondering why the doors aren’t closing, Pack and Jenkins both turn their gaze to Carter, who hasn’t looked left or right since the elevator opened.

That’s called snitching without saying a word.

I lock my gaze on Carter and give him another 30 seconds of the stare game, which really isn’t the stare game at all because he’s blinking madly and starting to sweat a bit. I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the walls of the elevator. I look like Satan at the moment.

“For your information, Mr. Carter,” I begin, my voice menacing, “I get more pussy from that tight-assed wife of mine than you’ve seen all year.”

He swallows hard but doesn’t respond. Jenkins and Pack stand there with their mouths hanging open in stunned amazement.

“Get the fuck out the elevator,” I add. “You’re holding up the car.”

Jenkins and Pack scramble out quickly, maneuvering around me and being sure not to touch me since I’m standing right in front of the elevator and won’t move. Carter is still stunned stiff.

Say that three times fast.

“Are you waiting for a bus?” I hiss, jolting Carter out of his stupor. I see Jason’s reflection in the elevator wall. He shakes his head, his expression disgusted, as Carter scurries out of the car behind his friends. We step into the elevator and ride back to the first floor.

“What are you going to do?” Jason asks as we walk out to the Audi parked in front of the building.

“Nothing,” I reply as I get into the car. He knows as well as I do that the fear and anticipation of retaliation is more affective that any actual retaliation could ever be.

“Diabolical,” he says, closing the door behind me.

*-*

I don’t feel the relief that I normally feel when I arrive home. I feel relief, it’s just not that huge, weight-lifting sigh that I normally get when we get to the garage.

Weight-lifting sigh…

I go to the workout room instead of heading up to greet my wife and children. Butterfly understands when it’s been a rough day and I just need to unwind.

There’s already workout gear in the gym and I quickly change and begin to pound the treadmill.

I was hoping that my wife and I would be the power couple that we presented in that blasted exposé that we did. Unfortunately, it looks like it was all for the cameras. The company is not relating her to me, but they are relating me to her. They’re not seeing her as an extension of me, which is what I had hoped; they’re seeing me as an extension of her—which is a good thing most times, but not in the boardroom. They see me as Anastasia’s husband and Michael and Mackenzie’s father, but they don’t see her as Christian’s wife, a bit of a savvy businesswoman with a keen eye. They just see her as coming in and shaking things up with Daddy. That will never do.

The treadmill doesn’t seem to be burning enough and I’ve got about an hour before our children’s godparents are supposed to be here. This is why I worked out every day and beat submissives every weekend. Even my physique looks different since I got married because I don’t work out as much. Can I be the iron-fisted businessman that I need to be at work and still be the loving husband and doting father at home? Or is this going to be an impossible task?

“Good of you to finally join us, Bro,” Elliot jabs when I enter the dining room after my shower. “We waited so long I thought the chicken would come back to life.”

“Yeah, well,” I retort, and that’s it. I’m still wound a bit tight from the day and I’m afraid that if we get into our usual banter, I might say something highly inappropriate like telling him to stick his head up his ass and inhale.

It doesn’t get by him.

“You alright, Christian?” he asks, and every eye is on me, including my children—as if they understood what Uncle Elliot said.

“Just a fu—… messed up day at the office,” I say, trying to take the focus off of me.

“You wanna talk about it?” Elliot prods, his voice laced with concern, and I can tell by the expressions from everyone else that the concern is widespread. Okay, get it together, Grey.

“Naw, it’s just work shit…” I look at Butterfly, who stops feeding Minnie to throw that glare at me

“Sorry,” I say. “It’s just work stuff. I don’t want to bore you with it.”

“This is your home, Christian,” Val says, “your dinner table. If you need to let it out, this is your sanctuary to do that. You’ve had a hard day—you shouldn’t have to hold onto it.”

Butterfly raises her brow to Val then turns to me and gives me that “she’s got a point” look. I sigh heavily.

“I’m just frustrated with the company… the people,” I begin. “I used to be able to hand down a policy or a command and it was done yesterday. Now, I’m getting kickback from everybody, including my executive staff.”

“What changed?” James asks.

“He became a kinder, gentler Chris,” Al points out. “He goes home at five o’clock; he doesn’t work on Sundays anymore; he gave half the company to Jewel; he changed.”

“It would have been half her company anyway,” I protest. “We’re married, remember? What’s the big fu… freaking deal?”

“Not the corporate assets, Chris,” Al says. “Those still belong to the company.”

“But the company belongs to me,” I point out. “I’m not publicly held, remember.” Al nods.

“I remember, but it’s still a different animal. And even so, a lot of the people in the trenches and even the department heads don’t know that the assets could fall under community property to some extent without a prenup. They just see that you gave your lady 50% of your toy and now, you’re trying to give her the reins, too… or at least one of them. Kinder, gentler Chris.”

“So, basically, when you were a butthole, they all said ‘how high’ when you said ‘jump.’ Now that you’re human, you can’t get anything done,” Val summarizes.

“Basically,” I concur.

“So, no offense, but why not just go back to being an a… a-hole, at least at work?” Elliot said.

“Yeah, did that today,” I inform him. “It’s not hard to sink into that persona. In fact, it can be quite liberating when you need to get things done and people want to treat you like your commands are jokes and you won’t fire their… butts on a moment’s notice. Hell, one of my executive officers announced an impromptu leave because I think I hurt her little feelings. It’s coming out of it that’s the hard part.”

“Her?” Butterfly says, Minnie’s baby spoon suspended in air. “Ros?” I nod just as Minnie protests that her dinner is being delayed.

“Yes,” I say as my wife silences my daughter with a spoonful of food. “We had an entire conversation about issues in the company and the only thing she heard was ‘hissy fit.’ I swear, if I didn’t know that she was married to a woman, I would think she was pregnant.” Butterfly raises her brow at me.

“Were you referring to her when you said, ‘hissy fit?’” she asks.

“Yes, Anastasia, I was referring to her.” Butterfly’s expression changes a bit, from questioning to surprise, then she turns her attention back to Minnie and her meal.

“You’re going to have to find a middle ground, Christian,” Val says, calmly. “If you keep trying to swing from one extreme to the other—one person at work and the complete opposite when you’re at home or with your family—you’re going to have a stroke. Not only that, but that kind of thing never works. You’re going to forget who you are in one place or the other and the results are going to be… less than pleasant,” she adds gesturing her head and eyes inconspicuously towards my wife who pays studious attention to my daughter and her meal.

Shit, what did I say?

“Ugh!” Unable to even remember what I just did that has landed me in what appears to be Silent-Treatment-Ville, I grunt in mock agony and drop my head to the table with a thud that causes the dishes to clatter a bit. I’m certain that I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to be the asshole that I need to be at work and then come home and be the family man. I have to start turning the asshole on before I even leave the house for work in the morning. Then as I leave the office, I now have to figure out how to turn the asshole off?

“I’m sure there was a gradual change from asshole to Mr. Nice Guy,” Val says. “You just have to find that medium.”

“It’s too late for that,” I say, my voice echoing off the wood of the dining table. “They only respond to ‘asshole’ and even then, the transition is a nightmare. I’m going to have to go through at least a month of increased sick days, time off, and so-you-don’t-think-fat-meat-is-greasy directives before this company is even slightly back on the right footing.”

“So, what happened in the elevator today?” Al asks. I lift my head and look at him.

“How did you find out about that?” I ask. He shrugs.

“News travels fast,” he says, matter-of-factly.

“Well, that’s pretty fucking fast!” I shoot. That didn’t happen three hours ago, and everybody was on their way home. It’s now that I realized I’ve dropped an F-bomb and moments before, Val dropped the A-bomb. My head snaps over to my wife who’s looking impassively at me. Our children have been removed from the room. Pretty soon, I’ll be banned from them, too. I roll my eyes and… thud, rattle.

“So,” Al prods, “the elevator?”

“When they thought I was out of earshot…”

“We can’t hear you, Bro,” Elliot says. I raise my head and turn to him.

“When they thought I was out of earshot, three idiots from whatever department is on the 11th floor…”

“Telecommunications,” Al says.

“Thank you,” I reply sarcastically. “Three idiots from telecommunications decide to jest about how uptight I am today. So, I stopped the elevator between floors, met them at the ground level and let them know just how uptight I really was.”

“Did you fire ‘em?” James asks.

“No,” I say, “I called them each by name, succinctly made my point, and then told them to get the fuck out of the elevator since they were holding up the car.” The table is silent.

“That’s it?” Val says. “No rolling heads or anything like that?”

“He didn’t need to after he said each of their names,” Al points out.

“I don’t get it,” Elliot says, and my wife still hasn’t said a word.

“He called out each of those jerks by name,” Val says. “They know that he knows who they are.”

“And…?” Elliot says, still not quite catching on.

“All three of them are going to be waiting for the ax to fall, an ax that’s never coming… Am I right, Christian?” James says. I nod.

“You’re right,” I confirm.

“The terror of waiting for what might happen to them is scarier than anything that he could actually do to them. They may just quit or stress themselves out worrying,” Val finishes.

“Especially if I see any of them anywhere and call them out by name,” I say. Elliot shakes his head.

“And… you’re worried about what?” he says. “That’s the assholest move I’ve ever seen.” Val elbows Elliot. “Ow, what?” he asks quietly, but Val doesn’t respond.

“What did they say?” James asks. Oh, shit. I knew this was coming. What the hell? That hole can’t get any deeper.

“’Big Dollar Grey is uptight. The wife must’a withheld that tight ass last night,’” I say. Elliot scoffs.

“Heh, that’ll do it,” he says without missing a beat.


A/N: 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 on the menu or you can click HERE.

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~~love and handcuffs

 

Fifty Shades Golden: Chapter 20

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 necessary CG with Ana together. Proceed at your own discretion, but don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

This ain’t your everyday Christian and Ana story. Don’t expect anything. Just read it as it goes along or go away. 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 new saga continues…

Chapter 20

Eric Dane 20

TREY

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve spoken to my Mistress. I’ve had more than a few mind-blowing orgasms since our last encounter. Angry sex is quite fulfilling and as it turns out, every time I stick my dick in some dark orifice lately, I think of Golden and become angry. Then, of course, I end up fucking someone into oblivion. I still get a little enjoyment from my Dom activities, such as they are—controlling a woman’s orgasm; tying her down and fucking her until she begs me to stop; having her ride me until my head nearly explodes; drilling into her ass and feeling my dick thump hard while pumping that hot cum into her… yeah, that shit still gets me off, and well!

But there’s also those times when I’m just fucking, just thrusting into some hot pussy and grabbing a big ass, and I feel it… that fucking whip across my back. That shit makes my dick so hard and my balls so tight. Then I see her curled up with that Kevin fucker, talking shit to me that last time that I saw her, and that shit pisses me off. So, even though I may lose the image and feeling of the whip, that anger drives me harder and further into that pussy until I and the poor waif that’s beneath me are both howling to the moon in climax.

I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

This woman fucking controls everything I do. I can’t even have a climax without her.

I’m still building my lumber empire while Linc and his remaining minions are doing everything they can to head me off. He’s countering my bids with some of the holdouts, like a couple of large mills in Texas, Maryland, and New York. I was able to acquire the contract of one of his largest interests overseas, but I’m not going to get into a bidding war with him. He’s offering higher contracts to the holdouts, which is why they’re hesitating.

They’re hoping for more money. What they don’t know is that I can take a bite out of the industry with what I already have. If they want to go with Lincoln Timber, they can. The larger contracts will have the same effect on Linc’s bottom line as it would if he had to buy the timber from me. It would still take a bite out of his profits. The biggest downfall is that I wouldn’t recognize any income for GEH.

Linc is a sleeping giant. He has a big name because of tenure, not power. So, he’s actually prime for picking right now. Truth is, if I hadn’t done it, sooner or later, someone else with an ounce of sense would have.

Word trickled down to me a couple of weeks ago that Elena Lincoln is in hiding… somewhat. Apparently, she pissed someone else off and was sporting a new set of bruises for a while. It’s only hearsay since no one got any pictures of her, but I’m wondering if Linc snuck up on her again, or if she just got on someone else’s bad side like she always does.

The past few weeks, I’ve been going to the park for lunch more often. The sunshine—when the sun is out—actually helps to improve my attitude. I’ve run into my new friend Veronica a few times, if you can call her that. We just sit, eat lunch, shoot the shit, then go back to our jobs in our respective glass towers. It’s kind of good to see her when I do, though.

“Getting in touch with you is like trying to contact Her Majesty the Queen,” my father chides when I absent-mindedly answer my cell one day.

“What is it, Dad?” I say. I’m still raw from our last conversation about my search for legal counsel.

“Always a pleasure to talk to you, son,” he says. “I just wanted you to know that your sister has been having more episodes.”

Episodes? He must be talking about her diabetes.

“She should probably monitor her levels more closely, then,” I say, “instead of trying to chase the next conspiracy theory. She needs to prioritize.”

“Have you even spoken to your sister since your mother’s birthday?” he asks.

“Why? Is she dying?” I ask impassively.

“Not that I know of,” he retorts, sarcastically, “but that is your sister, Christian.”

“Have you forgotten, Dad? Mia and I don’t speak—we fight. And that’s only when we get together at your house. Do you really think I’m inclined to call her and chat to sign up for an extra dose of that? No, thanks. What does her doctor say?” He pauses.

“The same thing he’s been saying,” Dad says.

“Which means nothing has changed, right?” I conclude. “If she’s been having episodes, it’s because she’s probably not measuring her insulin correctly and not watching what she’s eating. I know that diabetes can be properly managed with diet, medication, and lifestyle. She’s most likely concentrating on all the wrong things—like another corporate conspiracy—instead of concentrating on her health. What does her doctor say about it?” My father sighs.

“Never mind,” he says. “I thought you might want to know about your family. Forget I called.” He ends the call abruptly.

Well, that’s not like Dad. He usually wants to fight and taunt. My first instinct is to call my mother, but while I’m considering making the call, I get a text from him.

**Don’t bother your mother with this. It’s apparently nothing that Mia can’t fix with a little diet and medication, so no use upsetting your mother, right? **

That only makes me want to call Mom more, but since I don’t have any information, I tend to agree that calling her and drilling her about it would only stress her out. I’m sure as hell not calling Elliot. He’d find some way to hold it over my head if there is a way. Gosh, gotta love family.

I head to Crimson to see what mischief I can get into tonight. I need a little spice since I haven’t seen Golden for weeks. I walk around and examine the flavors on the menu. I’m on the hunt and they know it. They nearly offer themselves up to me as I walk past them. There’s quite the buffet on display tonight, from the sexy, beautiful, tasty morsels strolling around half-naked and ready to fuck to the Goth-painted bondage freaks and partially-bound pain whores. Whatever your pleasure, it’s present tonight, except…

I have to admit that the asses are leaving a bit to be desired. There are taut, tight asses on display and even wide asses to be had; fit asses and flabby asses alike… but none of the round and juicy bubble asses that I’ve become accustomed to. I like to watch my dick slide between those cheeks whether I’m fucking that tight rosette or edging myself between two juicy globes. I love to grip that ass meat fiercely while I’m pumping into a tight, hot hole—front or back, it doesn’t matter. My dick is thumping with anticipation

I can’t help but wonder what Elena does for entertainment these days since she’s been banned from any reputable club. Does she frequent the back-alley clubs that just don’t care, or has she given up on the scene completely? She only comes to mind because I’m reminiscing of big asses and Caramel comes to mind…

And ultimately, Golden.

I’ve prowled the entire place, and no one seems to fit my taste tonight. Who am I fooling? I haven’t felt her whip; haven’t come like she makes me come in weeks. I know what I want and it’s not here. I reluctantly text her phone, fully expecting rejection if any answer at all. After another hour of walking around Crimson dissatisfied, I get in my car and make plans to contact my service and fuck til I’m blind.

Just as I’m entering my parking garage, I get a response to my text.

**Be in the dungeon in an hour. **

*-*

As instructed, I’m in her dungeon within the appointed time. She greets me in a gold robe and insanely high black high heels.

Black… that’s different.

She’s wearing some kind of hat—antique gold, not the shiny or flaxen gold I’m accustomed to seeing. It’s tilted and it has fringe on the brim so I can’t really see her face. She’s wearing red tassel earrings and antique gold gloves protrude from her gown. Lace, I think… I can’t help but wonder how those are going to feel on my dick.

She’s silent as she guides me to her table and begins to undress me… slowly and sensually. When I’m naked, she wordlessly directs me to lie on the table, which I do, my face and dick protruding through their usual orifices. As she touches me, I realize that her gloves are not lace. They’re latex, painted to look like lace.

Shit, that’s hot as fuck.

She straps me down—securely—using wrist and ankle restraints that are lined in fur or fuzz or something, but they’re so tight that they damn near cut off my circulation. She extends another strap across my waist and secures it in place.

That’s different.

I feel the table turn, then tilt. When it’s done, I and the table are vertical, and my feet are flat on the floor. My dick is hanging out of the glory hole in her table, and I can see myself.

She has position me so that I’m facing a mirrored wall. That wasn’t there before. I know there was a mirror, but not an entire wall. I see her standing next to the table, still donning a robe with her head slightly tipped on an angle in the direction the long tassels are hanging.

Are we taking a fucking picture? C’mon, let’s get on with this.

She slowly undoes the sash of her robe, opens it, and allows it to fall off her shoulders. Holy Mother of God, where did she find this outfit?

Her entire outfit is latex, most of it that same antique gold except for the latex stocking which are a semi-transparent black with antique gold lace toppers and red seams and heels. Those lace toppers are held on to a beautifully structure latex corset by a set of gold suspender garters, a pair of deliciously-tight latex panties underneath. There’s a small latex cape on her shoulders, obviously tailor-made for her just like the rest of this ensemble—with fringe on the edges just like the fringe of her hat and red tassel earrings. The red in the earrings is made to bring out the red accents in the stockings, the gloves, and on the back of the garter.

I won’t deny that I’m a bit unnerved. Not only has she restrained me in a manner that I’ve never been restrained before and I am quite immobile, but also her usual sunshine-gold garb has been replaced with the exquisite antique gold, black, and red creation. I’m feeling a little anxious waiting for her next move.

I see it all. Whatever I can’t see from just looking around is on complete display in the full mirror in front of me. That delicious ass strolls over to the implements, and Mistress picks her weapon of choice. I’m immediately transported to the state of mind I’m always in when I come to her dungeon—the willing subject ready and able to take whatever she dishes out.

She chooses her flogger and walks back over to me. I brace myself for her strikes, but when they begin, they’re gentle. I open my eyes and I can’t see her, because she’s behind me, but I can see the tails of the flogger—going back and forth rhythmically on my back. Even though I can’t see her, it appears that she’s doing a figure-eight flogging.

I don’t particularly like this. It’s like an incessant tickle on my back and I’m not digging it at all. Just when I’m about to protest, the strikes become a little harder, providing a scratch to the itching previously caused by the flogger tails.

Okay, that’s better, a little relief.

The strikes get harder still and now, it’s starting to sting. This is the feeling that I associate with those massive orgasms, so I sink into it. The strikes are continuous on alternating sides of my back and I clench my jaw to bear the pain as there is no relief from the continuous blows. She doesn’t let up and I’m starting to feel the burn in other parts of my body. Jesus, it must have been longer than I thought because this is really beginning to hurt. I’m gritting my teeth now to withstand the torment of the tails of the flogger and I can feel the sweat forming on my brow.

At last, she stops, and the air brings welcome relief to my skin. Shit, that was intense! I don’t know how much more of that I would be able to stand.

Next, I see her reach for her crop. I prepare myself for the impact, but instead, she begins with light repetitive taps on the top of my ass.

Okay, that’s like a ruined fucking orgasm… to go from whacks back to taps. My adrenaline is up and now, she’s cooling it down again. It’s aggravating. What the fuck is this shit?

Just as I am beginning to come down from the adrenaline rush and my breathing becomes more regulated, the blows of the crop become more intense. They move from the light taps to more intense flickers. Moments later, she graduates to long, fast, and hard vertical strikes—up and down on my ass cheeks like a paintbrush.

Where the fuck did she learn this technique?

The sting is more intense again and I clench my fists once more to bear the pain. Now, the sting in my back returns and intermingle with the sting on the tops and bottoms of my ass cheeks. The way that she’s striking, it’s not hitting the meat. It’s just hitting the tops and bottoms… and that shit stings.

I’m grunting now from the pain, sweat forming quickly on my forehead this time. I tighten my cheeks, but that actually makes the pain a little worse. That’s not supposed to happen. What’s going on with me?

Her next tool is a cross between a crop and a paddle. I’ve never seen it before—braided handle like a crop or a cat with a narrow paddle that looks more like a 12-inch cane wrapped in a leather ruler. She stands to the side of me and starts with those like fucking taps again right on the meat of my ass.

What the fuck is this anti-climactic shit! You can’t work a man up to a painful frenzy, then bring him back down just to work him back up again. That shit will cause him to have a heart attack!

I’m trying to concentrate on the pain I was feeling before, the intermingling of the flogger with the crop and the sting that caused me to grunt in agony, trying not to lose the rush, but it’s no use. She continues this tickle-flicker-spanking thing until my body and breathing are calm.

She’s blowing my high, and I don’t like it. And she’s not talking to me. She usually says something to me throughout this process, but this time, she’s silent—like she’s denying me the stimulation of her voice. As I’m pondering the significance of that factor, her strikes go from gentle flickers to…

“Fucking hell!”

It feels like she has every intention of fusing that damn thing with my ass. I know I verbalized my surprise and agony, but she doesn’t stop to chastise me for speaking. She just keeps going…

Whap!
Whap!
Whap!

Sonofabitch! My eyes are squeezed so tightly that I’m seeing stars. This shit hurts, and once again, it’s blending with the pain of the other two instruments.

Shitfuckinghellsonofafuckinghellshitmotherfucker! This shit is bordering on inhumane. What the hell did I do to deserve this?

Oh… I know what I did. I pissed her off, and now she’s making me pay.

My main consolation in this exercise is that I’ll have a session to recall in the coming weeks when I’m fucking some poor wench within an inch of her life… and that I’ll come like a rocket when this is all over.

My brain and body is slipping into this spacy kind of acceptance of my fate and the pain as Golden rains blow after blow after blow on my tender ass. I feel my muscles relax even though I’m not telling them to do it. It’s like I’m in some kind of subconscious state that’s absorbing the pain, only I’m quite conscious. My body is warm… hot… it feels like it’s on fire all over, and I’m floating, or at least it feels like I’m floating, somewhat outside of myself when…

“Aaaaaaaahhhhh!”

I cry out involuntarily when I feel a very narrow leather strap or tail stripe my back from the left shoulder down to my mid back. What the ever-loving fuck!?

It appears that I had somehow disconnected from our session and my Mistress wished to bring me back—and oh fuck, did she! I didn’t even see or feel the paddle stop or see her retrieve another instrument. So, I don’t even know what she’s using. I just know it’s some kind of whip.

Thwap!

“Aaaahhh!” I cry out again. Her strikes are slower, more calculated this time. My back is already bruised and tender from the flogger, my butt still aching and stinging from the paddle and the crop, and now this… my favorite thing, but not so favorite right now.

Nonetheless, my cock can’t seem to distinguish that.

I feel the rush of blood going through my shaft with each strike. It’s like a heartbeat…

Thwap! Pump! Thwap! Pump! Thwap! Pump!

I know I’m getting hard. I can’t stop it. But after several thwap-pumps, apparently, I’m not hard enough for my Mistress.

“Shit! Aahh! What the fuck!”

Well, she’s not hitting me anymore, but without warning, she has thrust a latex-covered lubed finger into my ass. That shit hurts and my erection wanes immediately. I’ve had enough of this sadistic shit. Now, I’m about to safeword until…

Her finger begins to move—methodically, rhythmically—and I know what this is, I’ve just never experienced it before. I’m trying my best to hate it because I’ve always felt like no straight man—no man’s man—really wants a finger in his ass. But her touch is firm and gentle at the same time, masterfully rubbing that magic gland or moving in circles, in and out and around, causing and involuntary reaction from my body. Her free hand firmly squeezes my painful ass or strokes my burning back, enhancing that pain/pleasure experience that I’m accustomed to. I close my eyes and grunt, biting my lip to suppress any further outbursts from the combined experience. This shit is fucking magical.

I’m completely immobilized, and I can’t move—to thrust, to roll, to move out of the way, nothing. I’m totally at her mercy and she’s about to show me just how true that statement is.

She moves her hand slowly, methodically, massaging my asshole and all the sensitive nerves, adding lube occasionally and often turning attention to my prostate. I am so aroused that I can barely think. The feeling is incredibly erotic, and she’s keeping me just on the edge as my cock gets harder and harder.

I’m nearly shaking with anticipation when she stops the anal massage. My eyes fly open in horror and surprise and immediately focus on my red, veiny cock standing impressively upright and staring back at me from the mirror.

Damn… he’s pissed.

She walks around her table to the front of me and turns to face me. Her face is still totally covered by this hat with the tassels and if it wasn’t for the thick bubble ass wrapped in latex staring back at me from the mirror, I wouldn’t even know this was Golden.

She removes one latex glove—probably the one that was in my ass—and gently begins to caress my cock. The fucker is on fire. I thought a good stiff wind could make me come, but I’m discovering that my sadistic Mistress can draw that process out forever…

And ever…

I groan inwardly as her soft hand outlines the veins on my straining, angry dick, causing just enough stimulation to keep him aching and hard. After a few moments of playing with my immobilized, thumping cock, she produces a small leather apparatus and begins to attach it to my nether-regions. Once she has snapped the thing in place, I look in the mirror to see that my junk is tightly restrained in a highly-restrictive cock and ball harness—the kind that goes between your testicles, wraps around each ball, and snaps around your dick like a cockring. My balls are shiny and straining and my dick is harder and protruding farther than it was before.

She uses her nails to gently scratch and tease the tight skin of my balls and I’m losing my fucking mind. A shiver runs through my entire body and I can’t even move. What’s worse is that I can clearly see this shit in the mirror as she taunts my balls—over and over again. My cock can’t even bob and flex like it usually does because of this damn leather contraction.

She kneels down and, while still tickling my balls, she takes my cock into her mouth. Fucking hell, her mouth is hot! I’m unable to stifle my groan as she takes my cock all the way to the base and slowly drags her lips to the head. She doesn’t even have to hold it because it’s so fucking hard that it’s protruding straight out for her.

And I. Am. In. Agony.

Once, twice, three times she does this and the third time, she locks her lips on the aching head and suckles like she’s capturing the flavor of a delicious lollipop.

Her tongue and lips wrap repeatedly around the strained head, the skin now shining like my restrained balls. She holds her head back just enough for the tassels to fall apart, only giving me a view of her crimson lips suckling the very head of my cock. I then see her talented tongue lick lazily over the tight skin, then sensually over the slit to collect the tiny offering of precum.

Fucking hell, I’m going to die.

Her tongue flicks several times over the frenulum before she sucks one more time as if to clean the head, then replaces her mouth with a thoroughly oiled latex glove.

Oh, God. Oh, dear God…

I can say that I’ve never felt anything like this before. It kind of reminds you of a condom, but not. With condoms, the stimulation is outside of the latex. This is direct—slippery rubber up and down your cock, pumping you to orgasm.

Shit. Fucking hell.

I close my eyes tight, because the burn is unbearable. When I come, it’s going to be fucking explosive, and if she keeps this up, it’s going to be any second now.

As if she was reading my mind, the gloved hand stops its stimulation, and I take in deep breaths to try to calm my frazzled nerves. Fuck, that was hot as fuck! Fuck!

My reprieve is temporary, as I expected, and the soft skin of a bare hand caresses my cock again. I open my eyes and look down at her to see both her hands are latex free now, but she’s only using one hand—one well-oiled hand—to torment my aching dick.

Mistress has decided that she wants to play today and play she does… and play and play and play, much to my eternal torment. My dick was hard just from her putting the cockring on, but I know that she has a thing for dicks. She admires them and adores them and right now, she’s paying very special attention to mine. She’s treating it like a treasured pet and dear God, I’m losing my mind in the pleasure and the teasing.

My dick is fully cooperating with her, reaching out to her soft yet powerful perfectly manicured hands. I can feel it pulsing against her grip as she forces the blood to the very sensitive and swollen head of my very sensitive and swollen cock. She now sits comfortably on a stool next to me, wearing this golden Domme outfit and paying extra special attention to my dick.

Did I mention that I’m not blindfolded, and I can see?

Yes, I can see her as she perfectly edges my anxious shaft with just the right amount of smooth oil—not too much to make it too slippery or too little to cause too much friction… or even enough friction. My muscles hurt from tightening with the pleasure of this near-coming-not-quite-enough stimulation, and she knows it. She repeatedly runs her fingertips from just under the base of my hood over the rim—my fucking nerve center—and up the overstretched skin of the head, her nails scratching just enough to cause painful tremors to rack my body as her fingertips close over the tip.

“Uuuuuuuggghhhh!” I groan in agony and ecstasy each time her nails gently scratch the head of my cock, my balls screaming to come. She always works me into a mindless frenzy until I break out in an unbelievable sweat. I’ve even begun to train myself to bear the sweat in my eyes so that I don’t miss the show.

“Please, Mistress!” I beg. “Please! I need to come!”

“Sssshh,” she chides softly. “Not yet, Chopper.”

She spoke! She spoke to me and it causes ripples of pleasure to flow through my body. I groan involuntarily and she stops her stimulation again. I look down to see a long stream of precum hanging from my dick and dripping onto the floor.

And that’s hot.

My dick is aching so badly; my balls are about to burst, and she takes that oily hand and strokes slow and hard from base to tip and back again—achingly slowly, causing a burn deep in my abs that almost makes me want to cry.

She does it again… and again… and again… and…

“Aaahh!”

My body jerks from the unexpected pain of a cat, wrapping around my back and butt. My eyes shoot open.

She’s standing next to the table, pumping my dick with her oily left hand, and a cat o’ nine tails is hanging from her right.

She’s going to cause a fucking nuclear explosion.

She strokes my cock again, base to tip, causing that rumble in my body when her hand passes the head and her palm strokes my frenulum, then…

Thwap!

Pleasure and pain; heaven and hell; agony and ecstasy. I’ve never been so on edge, so aroused, so ready to blow in my life! She strokes again…

Thwap!

And again…

Thwap!

And again…

Thwap!

And just when I thought the sensation couldn’t become any more intense, she removes her hand. When it returns, it cups my head again and this time, she’s got that fucking bullet in it, rolling it over my head in different areas as she strikes me with the cat once, twice, three times. My head is about to explode from pleasure overload, and so are my balls. I can’t take it anymore; I’m losing my mind. I’m about to give her the spectacular candle-lighting ceremony that she’s been building up to and I just might break that mirror. My eyes roll back in my head…

And she stops.

I’m dizzy, mindless. My body is mush and my dick is throbbing so hard that I can hear it! I feel her undoing my ankle restraints, the waist restraints, and one of the wrist restraints. I can feel her remove the cock-and-ball harness, and when I open my burning, weary eyes, she’s standing in front of me. She has removed her hat and she’s looking impassively at me.

“Not yet, Chopper,” she says as she raises a brow, gazes at me and walks away. I watch her ascend the stairs, her ass tauntingly switching from left to right.

Wait a minute. That’s it? She’s just going to leave me here? She’s going to leave me with my dick thumping and aching like this—my balls ready to explode with a good wind? What the fuck?

Is this a fucking joke? She can’t possibly intend to leave me like this. She can’t!

I wait for a moment before I undo my last restraint. She probably left that one so that I wouldn’t lunge at her ass.

This is the cruelest, most disrespectful thing I’ve ever seen. The torment of each of her implements—slow rise just to let my adrenaline drop again, then start the torture over all the way from the beginning to drop me down again… repeatedly…

That’s like a ruined fucking orgasm…
She’s blowing my high, and I don’t like it…
And she’s not talking to me… like she’s denying me the stimulation of her voice… 

As my prior thoughts flash through my head, I think hard to all the times I’ve watched her in action. In all the time that I’ve seen her… watched her… been in her dungeon… I have never seen her leave a man unsatisfied. I’ve seen other Doms or Dommes do it, but in the year that I’ve been dealing with her—visually or physically—she’s never done this… to anybody! She has beaten them, tortured them, done some pretty unthinkable things to them and their dicks, but they always came. Often, they came several times. And she just worked me up, worked me over and left me hanging—literally.

What the fuck is this anti-climactic shit!

She’s fucking turning me into a sub.

I grab my T-shirt and slide it over my head and onto my sweating, stinging back. I slide my boxer briefs over my aching ass, followed by my jeans. Angry adrenaline is pumping through my veins so quickly that I can barely get them zipped and buttoned.

“These games,” I hiss quietly as I slide on my socks and step into my boots. “These fucking games!”

I grab my jacket and ascend the stairs two at a time. In my angry haze, I know he’s there, but I don’t really see him.

Don’t worry, Belvedere. I know my way out.

I breeze past him and out the door, slamming it hard behind me.

*-*

I come and I come and I come, in several different positions, with more than one woman, and each time the only thing that comes back to me is that horrid woman’s face and the torment that she put me through tonight…

Cruel, sadistic bitch.


Briana Evigan 20

GOLDEN

Waking up in Blake’s lap a few weeks ago was an eye-opener. First, it felt good—not that it was Blake, but that it was anybody that close to me. Waking up and smelling the scent of a man, feeling his strong hand resting in my hair… it was a good feeling… too good. It brought me to my second realization.

That I forgot who I am.

I’m Golden—often imitated and never duplicated; highly coveted, but never acquired; sought and lusted after; craved and never forgotten…

And Trey’s text reminded me of that.

I had been saving the Atsuko Kudo couture latex ensemble for a special occasion. I would give him an evening that he was sure never to forget.

You may not be a submissive, Chopper, but I’m still a Domme.

That night, I made sure that he didn’t forget it. I flogged him, cropped him, paddled and whipped him in a manner to keep him on edge all night—start with just enough tenderness to bring the blood to the surface of his skin, then give him the intensity he craves and subsequently bring him all the way back from the precipice, just to do it all over again.

And again.

And again.

He squirmed and he cried out as his nerves were so exposed, he was losing his mind. It was magnificent.

The prostate massage was a last-minute decision. He was so far into subspace, I don’t even think he felt me massaging and lubing his asshole, because he never responded. He only reacted when I breached his rosette. That’s when I knew I had to bring that lovely little member back to attention once more. So, I did.

He came so close to exploding that I had to end more abruptly than I intended.

But the cock-and-ball harness was magnificent. It made me remember why I nearly lost myself in his kiss. His dick is beautiful. It’s God’s work of art—exquisite, superb. I never looked at his face once; I only concentrated on the cock. It’s breathtaking.

Watching it throb, tasting it, playing with it, feeling it on my fingers, seeing it change and grow before my eyes—it was glorious.

Then I remembered…

Watching it blow is what made me kiss him in the first place… and he was insolent the last time he left.

No, you’re not a sub, but I’m still your Mistress, and I deserve your respect. For your malfeasance…

Your orgasm is mine.

That’s the only time I looked in his eyes, to let him know that he didn’t even control his own dick.

When I walked up the stairs and to my room, refusing to see him that night, I knew that would leave a lasting impression on him. No matter who he goes to, no matter what he does, no matter who he fucks, no matter how hard or how many times he comes, it still won’t be what he would have gotten had I got him off that night, and he knows that.

So, he’ll stew in his brew for a little while, but he still won’t forget Golden. And maybe the next time he sees me, he’ll have a little more respect.

*-*

Several weeks have passed since Canciana’s attorney, Greg Beasley, darkened the door of my office. He’s called me several times since then and more than once, I’ve inquired about what his client thinks would be a suitable settlement, only to have them come back with ridiculously unrealistic numbers. I pretended to continue to confer with my client, throwing out possible counteroffers and negotiating. I was only buying time to execute our ultimate coup.

Blake has footage from long before he ever expected to get a divorce. Using the resources at our disposal, we were able to secure names, places, receipts, pictures, and videos, including a few bonuses I’m certain that Mr. Beasley and the soon-to-be ex-Mrs. Haviland have no idea are in store for them. Promising a settlement that would appease “all parties involved,” we set a meeting for today.

“I’m sorry, Mistress,” Blake says as we head to my office. “I never meant to drag you down in this.”

“I’m not dragged down in this, Blake,” I comfort him. “I offered to help a good man and a good friend, and a whore and her unscrupulous attorney are taking advantage of that. Now, they’re about to get more than they fucking bargained for.” I look over at him. “Chin up, my friend. Today, you’re going to be free.”

We walk into the office, deliberately ten minutes late. I’m suited, booted, and bunned in my regular “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble” garb while Blake looks sharp—and three levels of pissed off—in a tailored black suit and white shirt with no tie. Canciana Haviland and Greg Beasley are standing in my lobby awaiting our arrival. Blake doesn’t even make eye contact.

“Forgive our tardiness,” I say insincerely. “We’ll be with you in a moment.”

“Being late for a meeting is very bad form, Ms. Olivet,” Beasley says sharply. Is this fucker scolding me? I slowly turn to face him, every bit of Mistress rising up in me, no doubt displayed in the glare I give him.

“We can reschedule if you like,” I say, my tone sharper than his. I offer no other explanation and wait for his response.

“No need,” he counters. “We’ve come all this way now.”

“Then, like I said,” I say, my voice low and my words crisp, “we’ll be with you. In a moment. Chanelle, please offer Mr. Beasley and his client something to drink while they wait.” I over-emphasize the “t” on “wait” and never break my gaze with Beasley. We’re having a stare contest until I hear Jesse’s voice.

“Ms. Olivet,” he says, knowing that I’ll stand here and stare at this fucker until his dick falls off. I don’t break my glare with him until I turn hard on my heels and my designer stilettos click loudly across the lobby floor. Jesse holds my office door open for me and he and Blake follow me into the office.

“Don’t let him unnerve you, Ana,” Jesse says.

“I’m not unnerved,” I say, opening my briefcase and setting it up on the conference table. “I’m ready to scrap.” I gesture to the large leather seat beside mine for Blake to take a seat as I prepare for the meeting with the snake and the Mrs. I’m taking files out, preparing disc drives and firing up my tablet and laptop, along with two sets of prepared documents. I go to my desk and press the button that records depositions in my office and head back to the conference table. Blake is still standing behind his chair.

I should have known. He won’t sit before I’m seated.

I nod and walk over to my chair, allowing him to pull it out for me to take my seat. Once he is seated, he rests his arms on the armrests and fixes the most stoic expression on his face that I’ve ever seen.

“Jesse, let them in and remain in position.” Jesse opens the door and informs Canciana and Beasley that they can enter. Once they’re inside, he closes the door behind them and takes his place by the window.

“Who is this?” Canciana balks in a slight Spanish accent.

“That’s her bodyguard,” Beasley says in a condescending tone. “Wherever she goes, he goes,” he mocks.

“Hmph,” Canciana grunts unimpressed. Oh, I’m going to love this.

“I take it you and your client have had a chance to review Mrs. Haviland’s request,” Beasley says confidently. Requests… more like outlandish demands.

“We have,” I say, “and we’re prepared to make an offer.” I slide the papers over to him and his client with Blake’s signature already on them. He frowns.

“This is the same offer as before,” he says, shaking his head. “Is this some kind of joke?”

“Oh, I think it is,” I retort, “but that’s for you to tell me. You see, I don’t take kindly to blackmail at all, especially when someone wants to go about the business of completely fabricating a story and besmirching someone’s good name just a get a dollar they don’t even deserve.”

“Ms. Olivet!” Beasley says, feigning shock, “such harsh words! I wouldn’t call it blackmail. I’d much rather refer to it as a bargaining chip.”

“A bargaining chip,” I say with a nod. “What a nice way to phrase extortion.”

“Extortion, please!”  Beasley says. “Our clients have been married for several years. She’s at least entitled to what she’s asking for.”

“First, how do you know he even has what she’s asking for?” I retort. “He’s living in my guest room, not the Fairlane Olympic. And second, are you really planning to go to court spouting about how many years they’ve been married?”

“I thought we were here for a settlement hearing—to avoid dragging this out in court,” Beasley shoots.

“Well, that’s going to be up to you and your client,” I say. “I mean seriously, my client walked in on her screwing another man in his home in the bed that they once shared, and she didn’t even have the modesty to be embarrassed. She just barked at him to close the door and you really think we’re going to capitulate to your demands for more money? I’ve seen some real pieces of work in my day, but you take the cake.”

“You’re hardly in a position to insult my client, Ms. Olivet,” Beasley taunts.

“Oh, on the contrary, Mr. Beasley, we’re in a position to do whatever we want. You have pictures of my client coming in and out of my home, fully dressed in a business suit just like he is now. Whatever that may imply, it proves nothing, besides that my client was at my home…”

“A judge may not see it that way, Ms. Olivet,” he retorts. I shrug.

“They may, they may not.” I pull the first file from my briefcase, “but how do you think a judge would see this?” I open the file and remove one of the very graphic pictures of Canciana and one of her lovers, handing it to Beasley. An unreadable expression crosses his face as he hands the picture to Canciana. She looks at it then raises a hateful gaze to Blake.

“Me estabas mirando, gilipollas enferma?” she barks.

“This changes nothing, Ms. Olivet,” Beasley says. “We would simply contend that Mr. Haviland’s indiscretions occurred first, and there’s no telling what that could do to your reputation,” he smiles that slimy smile.

“I thought you might feel that way,” I say. “I can see the importance of having a smear-free name as an interpreter of the law. However, I was hoping that we could keep the smearing between our clients instead of involving each other. Since that doesn’t appear to be the case, tell me, Greg. Is there a Mrs. Slimy Attorney?” I ask. His smirk falls.

“That’s really none of your business,” he says curtly. My turn to smirk.

“Maybe it is, and maybe it’s not,” I say, my voice low, “But you’re the one who dragged my reputation into this, and a girl must protect herself. Now, what was that phrase you used earlier? Ah, yes, I remember now… bargaining chip.” I pull three more stills from the file. “I’m pretty certain that Desiree wouldn’t be too pleased to see these.”

His pupils constrict at the mention of his wife’s name, and I push the pictures across the table to him. He examines the pictures and all the color leaves his face. He looks at the pictures, then at Canciana, then at me.

“Where did you get these?” he seethes. I cross my arms.

“A little birdie gave them to me,” I say. “She’s got some pretty good moves, wouldn’t you agree? I mean, I was thoroughly impressed watching the videos.”

“Videos?” he barks angrily.

“Lots. And lots of them,” I say confidently, “dating back through several of those ‘years’ they’ve been married. It’s really not a good idea for you to fuck your clients!” I add viciously as Greg is currently looking at pictures of him and Canciana in various sexual positions.

That gets Canciana’s attention.

“Oh, there’s more,” I say, opening the file and laying picture after picture in front of them—all stills of Canciana in compromising positions in the bed that she once shared with her husband. “And if you like those, you’ll love this.”

I hit the auxiliary then play buttons on the remote to activate the feed going to the television. A live action video of Canciana at her hoe finest, wildly riding some guy who is not Greg. His face shows intense displeasure. Blake doesn’t even turn to face the screen.

“You’ve got impressive moves, Canciana,” I compliment. “I thought it was the expensive gifts that you were showering on your boytoys that kept them coming back. I stand corrected.”

“Pendejo!” she hisses. “Perra!”

“Likewise, puta,” I respond without flinching. She narrows her eyes at me. She spoke two of the very few Spanish words that I understand. Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.

“Two out of the other five guys that you’ve been fucking… they’re married, too.” Greg glares at her. Apparently, he’s unaware of the extent of his lover’s infidelity, if you can call it that, since he’s cheating on his wife with her. “I hope you’ve been having protected sex, Greg, because you’ve been fucking the ‘good time girl.’” I turn back to Canciana.

“I understand that you’ve been hurt, but you took advantage of a man’s guilt to the fullest extent. You never once thought of his suffering—not once. You spent years and years punishing him for a terrible mistake, and he was already punishing himself. I can tell you now that if your daughter is looking down on this right now, she’s ashamed of you. Your behavior has been reprehensible in more ways than one. Even the law of the land allows a man to pay his debt to society and move on with his life. You just want him to pay over and over and over again while you behave like a mindless floosy, a senseless harlot, and a heartless and soulless charlatan draining him dry until he’s dead.”

“I lost my child,” she says softly but firmly. “You don’t know that pain.”

“Then you should have gotten help instead of extorting the husband and father that was hurting right along with you!” I hiss. “I lost my parents as a child—both of them at the same time, almost exactly the same way you lost your child. No, I didn’t lose a child, but you lost one person that you loved, and I lost two. I guess if there was someone there that I could have extorted, maybe I would have turned out like you!”

I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Attacking her won’t help at this point.

“You get the house, you keep your car, and you get what’s in your prenup. Sign the papers now and go away, or this footage—and there’s a lot of it—gets released to every slimy, sleazy, back door porn site and gossip rag I can find. And the wives of your married fuckboys will get packages of their husband’s extracurricular activities…” I turn to Beasley, “including yours.”

He turns an accusing glare to Canciana.

“Five other guys,” he hisses. “Five fucking other guys. I could understand one, or even two, but five… you’ve got a fucking problem—literally! Sign the goddamn papers,” he barks. “I’m not going down because of you! I’ve got way too fucking much to lose and if I do, I’ll bury you, you slut.”

I raise my brow. Diplomacy has flown the coup, not that it was ever present. Canciana clearly sees all of her options—her opportunity to get more money—flying out the window.

“Tu matas a mi hija. Me quitaste la vida. ¡Lo único que queda es el dinero, y ahora también quieres tomar eso. Bastardo¡” she barks at Blake before lunging a huge glob of spit at him that lands right on his cheek. I’m disgusted, but he doesn’t even flinch. He gazes unaffected at her and he removes a handkerchief from his pocket and wipes the saliva off his face.

“I have been punished,” he says calmly. “My suffering ends today. Take your money and leave me, and never darken my door again.”

Further angered by his lack of reaction, Canciana yells a few more statements in Spanish before Greg interrupts her.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, he’s a horrible wretched person he’s going to burn in hell sign the goddamn papers!” Greg demands, the volume in his voice causing Canciana to nearly leap from her seat. She knows that she has no other options, so she continues to hurl insults at Blake in Spanish for at least another minute and a half. In the middle of her rant, I see Blake do something I have never seen him do.

He loses his temper.

Blake silences his estranged wife by simultaneously slamming his fist into the conference table and rising to his feet, glaring at her with a look of death. I have no idea what she said to him since I don’t speak fluent Spanish—just the few words that I’ve picked up from Blake—but either she said something that just pissed him the fuck off or he has simply had enough.

“I. am giving you the chance. To walk away from this situation. With your money. Your house. And your car. Which is more than you’re entitled to in our prenuptial agreement. I. Have suffered. Enough. Now, take your trinkets. And get out of my life. Or I swear on the holy virgin that it’ll be your turn.”

Blake glares at her without blinking, his gaze more menacing than I’ve ever seen. Canciana is leaning back in her seat in utter horror. Either she has seen this side of him before and she doesn’t want to see it again, or she has never seen this side of him before and it’s shocking the shit out of her. Greg is just as surprised at the situation, but not horrified. He just sits there with a surprised frown on his face waiting to see what his client is going to do.

I’m completely shocked by what I’m seeing, but I don’t show it. I just pretend like this is another day at the office and I show no emotion. I’m certain that no one saw me when I flinched at the noise since we were all focusing on Blake.

No one moves. No one says another word. The next move belongs to Canciana.

She blinks several times, gazing at Blake in fear. I don’t dare look in his eyes. I’m afraid of what I’ll see. I’m not afraid of Blake because I’m certain that I would never have to fear him. However, he feels nothing but contempt for this woman, for what she has done and put him through over the last few years. Even criminals serve their time and at some point, are released. She never intends to release him. She intends to punish him indefinitely as if he had just committed the crime yesterday. He, on the other hand, feels like his sentence is over.

We sit there for what feels like an eternity, Canciana waiting for someone to speak and come to her rescue, but it’s not going to happen. The three people at the table with her all want her to sign the papers, and at this point, I’m certain that Greg would have no problem leaving her in the room alone with Blake to allow him a few minutes to make good on his promise that it’s her turn.

Seeing no assistance from anyone or reprieve from Blake, she straightens her back, picks up the pen, and signs every page of the divorce decree, pushing it back towards her attorney. He pushes them to me, and I check each page.

“You need to sign here, here, and here, and initial here and here,” I say, pointing out the pages she forgot to sign. She signs and initials the missing pages, sighing like we’re inconveniencing her. I review the documents again.

“Are we finished?” Greg asks, perturbed.

“We’ll see,” I say. He turns his glare to me. “I don’t appreciate my privacy being violated for your game of cat and mouse. You have nothing on me, nor will you get anything on me, besides the fact that I enjoy my male company and that this man lives in my home. I can live with the world knowing that, but I still have footage of you, and it’s a whole lot more than just your ‘comings’ and goings, pun intended. Call off your dogs and don’t darken my door again or I promise you…” I lean forward on the conference table. “If you think he’s scary, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” I sit back in my seat. “Deal?”

Greg swallows, but doesn’t move while Canciana’s gaze snaps back and forth from him to me.

“Deal,” he says, his voice low. “I would shake on it, but I don’t assume you’d want to shake with a slimy lawyer.”

“Not necessary,” I say, standing, “especially since I can be pretty fucking slimy myself—when needed.” I stand and hand the papers to Jesse. “My secretary will make you a copy to take with you and you’ll have court certified copies in a week. Jesse, please show these people out.”

Greg stands first while Canciana seems to be planning some kind of exit strategy—one last crack.

“I suggest you stand and leave silently,” I warn her. “I will not be responsible for your safety if you stay a moment longer.” She turns her gaze to me, and Jesse steps in.

“Ma’am,” he says, coming very close to her chair—more of a threat than Blake is at the moment—who, by the way, is still staring venomously at her, “if you’ll come with me, please.”

It’s not a request.

“Oh, and Missy?” I say as the bitch finally stands. “I would caution you against getting another lawyer and trying to contest. This…” I gesture around the files and papers, “only scratches the surface of what I’m capable of if you ever come after me again!” Yes, bitch, this is personal.

She sighs angrily and walks out with Jesse and her slimy attorney.

When I look over at Blake, he’s still leaning on the conference table with his fist clenched. His eyes are closed and he’s breathing deeply. He does that for several moments before he slowly lowers himself back into his seat.

“I’m sorry, Mistress,” he breathes, his voice gravelly. Approach with caution, Olivet.

“Blake… is there anything I can do?” I ask carefully.

“Just please, don’t dismiss me for my behavior,” he beseeches. I sigh inwardly. He wants to stay. This is good.

“Of course, not,” I say, softly. He turns a cooling gaze to me, his eyes red with repressed anger. I gently place my hand over his and raise my brow as if asking for permission. He closes his eyes and nods.

“Thank you, Mistress,” he breathes.


A/N: “Me estabas mirando, gilipollas enferma?”—“You were watching me, you sick asshole?”

“Pendejo! Perra!”—this translates a couple of different ways depending on where your from, but in this instance, Canciana is calling Ana an asshole and a stupid bitch or whore.

“Puta”—also translates a few different ways, but in essence, it’s just what it sounds like; whore, pussy, or cunt.

“Tu matas a mi hija. Me quitaste la vida. ¡Lo único que queda es el dinero, y ahora también quieres tomar eso. Bastardo¡”—”You kill my daughter. You took my life All that’s left is money, and now you also want to take that. Bastard!”

The Pinterest board for this story can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/fifty-shades-golden/.

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 86—Going Soft?

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 86—Going Soft?

CHRISTIAN

Butterfly agrees that Wednesday is a good day for us to meet with the godparents of our children to solidify our plans for the twins. She’ll talk to Valerie since I’ve already told Al. In the meantime, I’m back in my glass and steel fortress about to let some folks have it.

I’m sitting in the usual department head meeting, putting together some thoughts concerning the four people at the center of my ire. While I’ve been sitting here, I’ve listened to discussions about shipments of supplies to some of our warehouses that had to be rescheduled because the shipping dock simply misplaced the materials, resulting in a horrible delay of delivery of product to our end users; a fire in one of our buildings on the east coast that resulted in injuries; and an extremely costly error with one of our pharmaceutical subsidiaries that could result in a lawsuit.

While I’m sitting here quietly fuming at our shipping, quality, and safety teams and waiting to hear what the plan of action is to keep these situations from becoming international incidents, one of the department heads from some department is expounding on some question that Lorenz has asked about something. I half-heartedly pretend to listen and jot down notes in my ledger—something I never do—when I decide that I’ve heard enough of the useless rambling. I have a shift in my seat that I do that signals the person speaking that they should wrap it up soon.

“What’s the progress with SEEKNID 1.0?” I ask casually once I hear that the discussion about… whatever it was… has ended. I hear throats clearing but no answers. So, I raise my gaze to my R&D department head. “Mr. Hammond, was my question unclear?” He clears his throat and rubs his eyes.

“No, sir, your question was clear,” he replies, his voice tired. I narrow my gaze at him.

“Well?” I hiss, waiting for an answer.

“I… haven’t had a chance to review it, sir,” he says. My brow furrows and I look over at my wife, who shrugs, before I look back at Hammond.

“What do you mean you haven’t had a chance to review it?” I ask. “I sent an email requesting immediate research and testing on Tuesday… while I was still on vacation with my wife.”

“I sent one as well,” Butterfly chimes in, “wanting to know why it was taking so long for the project to be initiated.” I look over at her.

“You sent one, too?” I ask. She nods.

“I questioned the delay of a very important product both to GEH and the industry and requested additional information on the normal timeline concerning the processing of a project from presentation to production. I never received a response.”

“To whom did you send this email?” I ask frostily.

“I did a blanket reply to all of the people on the original email that you sent out… even you. Maybe I did something wrong,” she says. All heads know that I’m now going to go in search of this email, because if I received it, their asses received it, too. I may not look for an email from my wife because I’m with her every day and she can just tell me what’s up… or text me. As soon as I swipe the screen of my phone, people start speaking up.

“I received that email, Dr. Grey,” Ros says. “I’m sorry I didn’t respond. I made the error of thinking that one of the heads closer to the project with more detailed information would provide an explanation for you. I apologize for that oversight on my part…”

“Same here,” Lorenz excuses. “Granted, I wouldn’t have had the immediate information that you needed, but I—or someone—should have responded to your email. I hope you’ll excuse the oversight.”

“It’s an oversight on your part because you and Ros have an entire company to run,” Butterfly says as I’m searching for her email. “I appreciate the acknowledgement and hope that in the future, I can expect a response to an email when I send it. ‘I don’t know, let me find out for you’ is a perfectly good response. It’s just very disheartening feeling like I’m being ignored.”

“Understood, Dr. Grey,” Lorenz replies. “Thank you for understanding.” My wife nods just as I find her email that she sent minutes after I sent the email to my chief officers, Barney, Hammond, and R&D.

“That explains why my company heads didn’t respond. However, in this instance, I can understand why they would have expected the experts in the area to have said something.” I turn to the people who would normally have their hands on the pulse of the situation… or who should, that is.

“I have no excuse, sir,” Barney says, his response a mixture of unapologetic but humble, if that’s possible. “I have quite a few irons in the fire in IT and since the product hadn’t made its way through R&D yet, there’s really nothing I could do with it at this time. I apologize, too, An… Dr. Grey, for not at least responding to your email. Please charge it to too many balls in the air and not disrespect, ma’am,” Barney finishes, and I can see my wife cringing inwardly at the ma’am sentiment.

“So, that leaves my $15-million R&D department,” I say, turning back to Hammond and the man sitting next to him. “We’re all waiting for you, gentlemen. Was my executive and IT staff supposed to respond to these emails that were clearly in your court and control?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Hammond says a bit half-heartedly. “I just saw the email this morning before I came to the meeting. I didn’t have a chance to look into the matter thoroughly.”

“This morning?” I frown. “Why did it take so long?”

“I’ve been in the hospital, sir,” he says. “I was just released yesterday. I had a severe upper respiratory infection.” I glare at him. Is this fucker contagious? “It’s cleared up now, sir,” he adds, reading my thoughts. “I’m just still a little weak from the illness.”

“How long were you hospitalized?” I ask.

“Twelve days, sir,” he replies. Shit! That was some infection!

“And who is your second in command?” His eyes widen and I see the guy sitting next to him suddenly get fidgety.

“I take responsibility, sir,” Hammond says, “I should have left stricter instructions…

“That’s admirable of you,” I interrupt. “But I sent instructions to the team to get going on this last week while I was on vacation and you were hospitalized recovering from a severe infection. Now, who. Was your second. In command?” He sighs heavily and drops his gaze.

“Nathan Burgess, sir,” he says without making eye-contact. I look over at the sweating worm next to him.

“I take it you’re Nathan Burgess,” I say, watching the man’s forehead become shinier and shinier.

“Yes, sir,” he squeaks then clears his throat. I lean back in my seat.

“Let me ask a question to all people within earshot… Should I call an ear, nose, and throat specialist in to have you all examined?” I bark, and everyone suddenly sits up straight. “I’m sure that I made the announcement months ago that Dr. Anastasia Grey is 50% owner of this company and you all are still treating her like a goddamn outsider! Don’t you all realize that with or without my authorization, she has the power to fire any and everyone in this room? And she can’t even get a response to a goddamn email?”

I see my wife squirm infinitesimally, then plaster an impassive expression on her face.

“A week goes by and she couldn’t get a specific answer to a specific question that she asked and all I’m getting is a bunch of ‘I’m sorry’s,’ but what’s more, did you all suffer from fingerous brokitis? Because no one responded to me, either!”

The looks of discomfort that everyone donned moments ago have now been replaced by expressions of horror. This lets me know that even after this last announcement, they still won’t regard my wife as 50% owner of this company.

“I sent an email to at least five people within the sound of my voice and to the research and development team a week ago, and not one person thought it might have been important to stick your head in the door and ask, ‘Hey, what’s going on with the thing Mr. Grey asked about?’ Not one of you? None of you?”

Now even my executive staff is looking a little green in the face, as they should. I sent this email out to several people, because I expected if one person didn’t see to the situation, someone else would have. I didn’t send that information out for show. Even my wife had the good sense to respond and acknowledge the email and none of these highly-paid assholes thought they should even bother?

Even though Hammond knows that he’s off the hook for this situation because he was sick in the hospital, he still shrinks in his chair. That only makes me more pissed at this Burgess fucker.

“And you,” I say, focusing my attention on him, “if anyone was at the root of finding out where this project stood, it’s you, because your boss was out sick. Tell me, did you not see the emails?” He’s so scared right now, he could shit his pants.

“I… um… I remember… seeing the reports on… the projects we were working on…”

“It’s a simple question, Mr. Burgess,” I interrupt this stuttering fool. “Did you see the emails?”

“I… I think… I may have seen the email from you, sir,” he stutters.

“So, you did see one of the emails,” I confirm, and he nods. “And not only did you not see fit to respond, but you also don’t have any information about the content.”

“I was trying to get some information for you, sir,” he excuses. “I didn’t want to respond without at least having some kind of input…”

“So, you didn’t respond at all,” I interrupt. “Nothing.” And I get no response. “To add to that, you knew that you were the one in charge when the command came down, and you sat there quietly willing to allow your boss to take the wrap.”

“No, sir,” he interjects, “that… I wasn’t…”

“You all. Are getting. Sloppy,” I say, my voice threatening. “I lighten up on you for a minute and you act like you don’t remember who the fuck I am. Do I need to go back to being that iron-fisted fucker I was before I met the love of my life for you slackers to remember that I will fire you at a sneeze? Did you all conveniently forget all the crazy shit that I and my family have been going through? Shit that’s been plastered all over the goddamn news? You idiots are in charge! I trust you to run my company when I’m not here! Did I make the wrong decisions? Should I be coming in here taking my frustrations out on you? Or do I need to babysit each one of you fuckers to make sure the work is getting done? If I must do that, why the fuck do I need any of you?

“Two years ago, I told you all that I didn’t become who I am today by turning a blind eye to weaknesses in my company. You didn’t believe me then, but you better fucking well believe me now. I will be revisiting those protocols that were put in place at the last company-wide review. Anybody who I find lacking will find themselves immediately on the block. Depending on the severity of the situation, that means one of two things. First, your position may immediately become interim. This means that you will have to reapply for your position, and I personally will decide based on your qualifications and the talent pool if you get to keep your job or find yourself replaced—sound familiar?

“The second outcome is that your performance has shown no improvement in your department since the last protocol review or you have fucked up so tremendously that you just lose your job. I will be completely within my rights because with the exception of two or three departments that have new heads, you have been given two years to get your acts together and put your best foot forward. If I discover that you’re still doing the same haphazard, lackadaisical work that you were doing at the last protocol review, I’m getting rid of your ass.

“And make no mistake, this will not be a review of what you’ve done in the last couple of months. There’s nothing you can do in the next week or so that can repair the shabby ass job you’ve already done, if that’s the case. So, don’t bother putting any extra credit projects on the hopper or searching for a scapegoat, because it’s not going to help you.

“Mr. Burgess,” I say, turning my attention to the second man in charge of R&D, “effective immediately, you are being placed on administrative leave without pay for a period of three weeks. I have documentation from both owners of this company specifically asking about a program that should have been in production months ago.

“Although you may not have seen the email from Dr. Grey, you admit that you saw the email from me and a week later, you haven’t even pulled this extremely important and potentially profitable project off the shelf yet. I promised the developer that we would have some information for him, and you have nothing for me to give him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled the project away from us since our company apparently doesn’t want it!

“Your position will be under review as well and the only reason you’re not being fired is because I don’t think you disobeyed a direct order. I just think you’re being sloppy, and you dropped the fucking ball, which is almost just as bad by the way. I’m running a multi-billion-dollar company with holdings and subsidiaries worldwide. I don’t have time to micro-manage and I can’t afford for anybody to be sloppy.

“Hopefully, three weeks without pay and a bit of uncertainty about your future will help to alleviate that situation. After your three-week administrative leave, I and Dr. Grey will have reviewed the departments and you will be notified if you do or do not still have a job.

“Mr. Hammond, I want a preliminary report on the SEEKNID software in my email within three days, and cc Dr. Grey’s company email with those findings as well. Don’t rush and don’t fuck this up, Mr. Hammond. A preliminary report shouldn’t be too difficult to generate. If you have questions, contact James Forsythe-Fleming directly. His contact information is in the project file.” I stand to my feet and turn to my wife.

“Is there anything you’d like to add?” I ask.

“No, I think you’ve covered it quite thoroughly,” she replies, crossing her legs. I turn back to the department heads in the conference room.

“You’re dismissed,” I tell them. They begin to scramble out of the office, and I gesture to Jason to handle Burgess. He nods once and walks out the door behind Burgess. Ros and Lorenz stay behind and everyone else leaves the room.

“So,” Ros begins, “does this mean that Finney and I are under review as well?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I say, taking my seat. “I work closely with you two every day. I’m very well acquainted with your job performance, although I do expect you to treat an email from my wife as if it was an email from me.” They glance at each other. “Is that a problem?”

“No, of course not,” Lorenz says. “Again, Dr. Grey, my apologies for not responding.”

“Accepted,” Butterfly says softly, “and when it’s just us, I prefer Ana if you don’t mind.” Lorenz nods.

“And what about legal?” Ros asks.

“What about legal? I retort, my brow furrowed.

“Will legal undergo the review that the other departments are being subjected to?” I know what she’s asking.

“As a matter of fact, it will not,” I say finitely. “Much like you and Lorenz, I work with my head of legal nearly every day. I have had no problems from my legal department and as such, I’m not in the habit of fixin’ what ain’t broke. And in case you’re wondering, my accounting department won’t be subjected to that protocol review either as they already undergo an audit annually. Are there any other departments that you have questions about?”

“I’m not trying to start a fight, Christian,” Ros says. “It’s just that you know what they’re saying about your head of legal since he is your wife’s best friend.” Butterfly sits up straight and glares at Ros, who doesn’t return her gaze.

“I hired Allen Fleming-Forsythe because he is very fucking good at what he does, not because he’s my wife’s best friend. And those people that you’re talking about, tell them to get their Doctor of Jurisprudence Degree, and then maybe they can say something!”

Ros shrinks a bit in her chair at the same time that Butterfly leaps from hers.

“Baby…” I say, trying to halt her escape.

“I’m going back to the Center,” she says, retrieving her purse.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“Darling, they’re never going to revere me as you—none of them,” she says. “Some of them will get it in their heads that they need to respect me. Others will resent me. Still others will try to fuck you while I watch,” she says disdainfully, and I know she’s talking about that little trick from the new projects meeting a few weeks ago. “But they’ll never ever treat me like they treat you. It’s simply not going to happen.

“Your best friend is your bodyguard, but nobody’s asking if our security is going through an overhaul, just legal. You want them to treat me like you because you hold their destinies in your hand, but that’s simply not going to happen. They can’t wrap their heads around someone else wielding your omnipotent power. So, there will be sometimes when I’ll be able to take the reins with some people, and sometimes when I definitely won’t. You trying to shove it down their throats is just going to cause them to question and resent me, even at the risk of their jobs. It’s that simple.”

Without another word or any malice, she puts her purse on her shoulder and strolls out of the conference room, Chuck silently falling in step behind her. Ros and Lorenz have a silent conversation—again—which is really starting to piss me off. I thrust my hands in my hair, close my eyes, and begin to count.

She’s right. They’re never going to revere her like me. My two executive heads—or at least one of them—just proved that. We had a goddamn mole in the building for three years that everyone was certain that I fast-tracked through the system without even so much as an actual word from me, but I can’t openly hire an extremely qualified head of legal without being questioned about nepotism because he’s my wife’s best friend.

I don’t know if I really wanted them to revere her like me, though. At the most, I want them to respect her and recognize her authority, but it appears that I can’t even get one of them to do that until I get my hairs up. Then, they respect her for the moment and it’s back to business as fucking usual.

Dear God, I’m trying so hard to temper the new husband and family man with the hard-as-stone businessman, but it’s damn near impossible to be those two people. I was always the cold-hearted, unfeeling asshole everywhere I went—business and professional—and people sat up and paid attention; never questioned my judgement or authority. I need to get that back, but fuck if I’m going back to being that asshole that I was before…

“Christian?”

Ros’s voice breaks into my thoughts and the darkness behind my closed eyes. Without realizing that I was still counting, I now notice that I’ve gotten somewhere in the 300’s. I hope I was counting quickly.

“You can go now,” I say without opening my eyes.

“Christian, I…”

“I need. You to leave,” I hear myself nearly growling. After a brief pause, I hear the two of them stand and leave the room. I don’t know how many more minutes I stand there before I head to my office.

“Has Holstein called today?” I ask Andrea as I pass her desk.

“Twice,” she says. “He’s on hold as we speak.” I nod.

“Get Welch and Shaler in here…”

“The smoke is rising quickly on the internet,” Josh says once he and Alex are seated in my office. “All it takes is a rumor to get the fire going online. By the end of the week, if that, there will be quite a few high-powered people with ruffled feathers from nothing but a little innuendo.”

“Good, and what can we do with Holstein by the end of the week?” I ask Welch. He looks over at Joshua. “Nothing drastic,” I add. The real hell will come later.

“We’ve got a few things in the hopper for him,” Alex says, revealing nothing. “We’ve already got great information on him. It appears that our dear warden has been a very bad boy as of late.” I raise my brow.

“Excellent,” I say, turning back to Joshua. “How long before the average reader will be able to see the smokescreen?”

“Keep your eyes on the regular news outlets. When you see it, everybody else will, too.” I nod and look at the screen just to my left scrolling the NASDAQ and NYSE for selected stocks.

Kavanaugh Media has dropped significantly in the last week and still dropping, and that asshole is still holding out. Well, good luck to you.

“Start to sprinkle some inconvenience on Holstein,” I instruct Alex. “I want him jittery as fuck. If I know the kind of people he’s pissed off like I think I do, he’s going to be getting it from so many different directions that he’s not going to know where it’s coming from first.” Alex nods and I turn to Josh. “Any new news for me?” I ask him. He shakes his head.

“Not since yesterday,” he replies.

“Well, good work so far,” I comment. “Keep it up.” He stands, taking his cue to leave.

“Thank you, sir. You know where to find me,” and he leaves. I turn to Alex.

“Ellison and Lincoln,” I say after flipping the switch on the scrambler.

“We’ve of course put a tracker on Ellison’s car, but we expect her to get wise to that pretty soon. She has another… partner who requires her to carry a specific cell phone everywhere she goes…”

“How did you find that out?” I ask with a frown. He just twists his lips and cocks his head at me.

“I mean…” I stutter, then sigh. “I did this shit for years. Can people find out this crap about me?”

“Your operation was a whole lot more Mission Impossible than a lot of these amateurs out here,” he says, and yet another Mission Impossible reference. “She went to see Lincoln yesterday and was forced to leave said phone at the guard’s desk… with one of my colleagues. It’s being tracked as we speak, along with the small device that has been placed on her car. We figure that no matter what disguise she wears, she has to either carry that phone, drive that car, or both.”

“Have we found out anything else on her besides who she’s playing with and that she can disguise herself to be anybody?”

“Nothing much, except that her Dom likes to watch.” I frown. That’s one thing that I could never get into—watching my women with someone else. I’m too damn possessive for that shit… and I immediately think of Butterfly leaving my office a little while ago.

“Can we use that to our advantage at all?” I ask.

“We will,” he says, “when it’s time for the confrontation. For now, we’re watching her every move and trying to get as much information as we can on that book, and if there’s a plan of action if she doesn’t publish or check in with anybody.” I don’t react. I know what he’s getting at and I don’t want to admit that I anticipate the day that Greta Ellison is no longer a blip on my radar.

Butterfly has arrived at the Center by now. I wonder what she’s doing?

“And Lincoln?” I say, trying to keep my mind on the matter at hand. “What’s the word on her since she’s obviously still visiting with her ghost writer?”

“I still have friends in low places,” Alex says. “Lincoln’s life can become ‘uncomfortable’ as soon as you say the word…”

“’The word,’” I reply sarcastically, and he nods. It seems that I should have never gone through Holstein in the first place to get what I needed. I should have just kept the job in-house. Hell, I don’t know the ins and outs of this kind of thing anyway.

“How uncomfortable do you want her to be?”

Very!” I say before I think about it, “but not yet. Just uncomfortable enough for now… enough to know that something’s not quite right. Shit Holstein can’t prevent, right?”

“Shit Holstein won’t even know about,” Alex confirms.

“She could tell him,” I warn.

“She could, but by the time she realizes that she’s targeted, he’ll have his own problems to contend with. He won’t know which way is up with all the people that’ll be pissed at him by the time Josh’s plan is put into action. He’ll be clawing and begging for vacation time by the end of the week from the publicity alone.”

This is good news. I’m so sick of bullshit, I could literally scream. I actually just want to go home and daydream about our trip to Australia and all the fun and sex that we had… the wines we tasted, karaoke and game night, and deciding that we’ll begin BDSM training this weekend…

“Still with me, sir?” Alex’s voice breaks in, and my visions of butterflies leave my head.

“Yeah, I’m still here…” just barely.

“Thinking about the meeting?” he asks.

“Amongst other things, yes,” I admit. “I have no idea how my life became such a mess.”

“There are several answers to that question, sir.” I glare at him.

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” I snap.

“Simply that it depends on which question you’re asking. How did your life become such a mess… from which point of view? As a child? We know the answer to that. As a teenager? We’re fighting that demon right now. As a man, same demon, only she had you believing that you were in charge when she was actually the one in charge all the time.”

“How the fuck did you know that?” I bark.

“We all knew it,” he replies. “You were the only one who didn’t. Now, you’re a husband and a father, and that’s the real fucking mess.”

“Are you trying to get fucked up? And fired? In that order?” I threaten. He shrugs unfazed.

“You asked a question. I’m just answering it,” he replies. “Love is the messiest situation you’ll ever encounter in your life, and I don’t have to ever have been in love to know that. You had a nice little plan of things, a place for everything and everything in its place, including each of your Jennifer Love Hewitt wannabes. And then along comes this 5’3” fireball and knocks you right out of your Cesare Paciottis and onto your billion-dollar ass. There was nothing clean and tidy in the world about that transition. You fell instantly, and then she got kidnapped—what—two weeks after you sealed the deal?”

“Something like that,” I mumble.

“The next year of her life plays out in the press with you as nothing more than honorable mention in several of the headlines. Then you spend more money than you’ve ever spent on any one purchase in your life except your penthouse maybe—notwithstanding your business acquisitions—to marry her in a castle, to let the world know that the infamous Christian Grey is finally off the market. You take an ass beating like I’ve never seen you take since the day I met you to prove that you’re worthy of her love, and you went soft in that fight…”

“I did not fucking go soft!” I interject, ready to leap at the fucker.

“Yes, you did,” he retorts unapologetically. “You could have flattened that fucker in three hits, and you know it. I know him. I know his skill. And I know that he could have done the same thing, but he wanted to beat your ass and leave a mark, and that’s exactly what he did. He landed your ass in the hospital. You couldn’t see. You had to have your teeth wired. You were unrecognizable. He won! But you… you were worried about what Butterfly would say if you laid him out; how she would react if you sent her father’s best friend home out cold in five seconds. At the same time, you wanted to teach that fucker a lesson, but you wanted to play fair. Ain’t shit fair in love and war and this was both, and you conveniently forgot that, but you want to stand there and tell me that this shit ain’t messy? Seriously?

“You want to know what’s going on with your business? You’re going soft. People can see you going soft. You’ve found love and it’s the most beautiful, life-changing thing in the world, but that’s what it’s doing—it’s changing your life, and people can see that. Why do you think that Spanish asshole thought he could pull that shit over your eyes? Why Fairlane LTD sold you a poison pill? Why the Pussy DJ, as you affectionately call him, tried to drag that shit out as far as he could? Why two ex-submissives and one wannabe felt like they could push limits they knew would set you off? One is back to being afraid of you, one is more afraid of Ana than of you, and one isn’t afraid of either one of you.

“The old Christian Grey would have had each one of those bitches crushed under his heel. The new Christian Grey—the husband and father—is soft, and that’s a good thing when it comes down to your wife and family, but not a good thing when it comes to your business and dealing with your adversaries. You even showed that today. Two years ago, that guy from R&D, Burgess, would have been out on his ass. You put him on administrative leave. You gave him and everybody in that room hope when you should have struck fear into them. You’re in a cutthroat business and you’re turning into a teddy bear. So far, the most Christian Grey thing I’ve seen you do is go after Lincoln and her crew of Merry Men.

“Christian Grey gives half his empire to a woman? Any woman? Everybody everywhere is wondering what the fuck is going on. You have to figure out what you’re going to do here, sir, because what it looks like you’re doing is giving the reins to everyone else—Ros, Finney, your wife—while you sit back and watch. Of course, no one is worried about showing your wife Christian Grey respect. They’re not even showing you that respect right now. Nobody responded to your email? Seriously? You don’t find that strange?”

Shit. Shit, shit, fucking shit, fucking hell, shit. Having that anvil hit me in the face is the most painful and shocking thing I’ve felt since Pops died. Even more shocking than finding my wife locked in a gaze with another man, and that says a lot! Besides Lincoln, my biggest concern these days is trying not to curse around the twins.

“I’m going soft,” I say.

“You’re going soft,” Alex confirms. “You built this empire with a ‘take no prisoners’ attitude. You’re not going to be able to maintain its momentum being ‘father of the year.’ You’re going to have to choose one or be satisfied with a compromise… and all the drawbacks that come along with that.”

My company and my family are the two single most important things in my life, and my head of security is telling me that I have to choose between them? That’s not possible. There has to be a compromise that doesn’t leave me looking like a pussy.

“Get started on our prison posse,” I tell him. “I’ve got some things to ponder.”

Once Alex goes and I’m in the office alone, I give some serious thought to the man that I used to be. He was a real fucking asshole—in and out of the office. I didn’t have to be one person during the day and another at night and on weekends. I was just Christian fucking Grey, striking fear and reverence into businessmen and submissives everywhere. Now, I have to prove that I’m not a pussy without ostracizing my wife or mistreating my family. How the fuck am I supposed to do that?

My thoughts are interrupted by my cell phone buzzing in my pocket. I’ve been standing at the window pondering my situation for I don’t know how long, but the call is coming from inside GEH. What the…?

“Grey,” I say answering the phone.

“Sir, it’s Alex. I don’t have time to explain, but I think you should get down to Helping Hands right now!


ANASTASIA

I’ve had enough of trying to be Mrs. GEH. If those fuckers don’t want to acknowledge my authority, so be it. And why would they? Christian’s been at the helm of that company for more than a decade, then I show up with a marriage license and a minor degree trying to throw my weight around and take over. No thanks. If the day comes where I have to take the reins of GEH—and I truly hope that day never comes—then I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. In the meantime, Christian can have it. I’m done locking horns with people who don’t think I should be there.

Courtney is filling in as well as can be expected for Marilyn, but I do still miss her, as a PA and a friend. I’m still not very comfortable at the Center right now. I want to make the executive decisions that need to be made, but I’m in constant concern that Grace’s instincts will somehow undermine whatever decisions I make. I make a list of everything we need to go over—which is nearly everything since I no longer want to make any final decisions on my own. Geez, why am I even here? I’m nothing more than a middleman at this point.

I’m lamenting my situation when a knock at my open office door causes me to raise my head. Speak of the devil…

“If you have a moment,” Grace says in a formal tone. I gesture to the chairs in front of my desk, inviting her to sit. She takes a seat and for some reason, I immediately prepare myself for a showdown.

“I’ve given it some thought,” she says, her hands in her lap. “You shouldn’t leave Helping Hands… I should.”

Okay… I certainly wasn’t expecting that! I frown.

“What?” I say, surprised.

“I’m a figurehead, Ana,” she says. “You’re the voice. You’re the face. You’re doing all the work. We’re starting classes because of you. We’re getting more donations and attention than ever because of you. We got past that whole thing with Gloria and the licensing board because of you and it nearly cost you everything. Helping Hands cannot afford to lose you. It would be the worst thing that could happen to this organization.”

“Grace, I can’t run this place alone… or full-time. I’ve got twin babies at home. I quit my practice just so that I could work here part-time. Did you forget that?”

“No, I haven’t forgotten that,” she says. “There’s no reason why you couldn’t remain part-time with the right person in the position as assistant director… or as director if you choose to remain the assistant. I think… I think I’ve truly damaged the professional relationship too much and we just can’t be effective if we’re here together.”

I won’t deny that the professional relationship is terribly damaged, but it’s more than that.

“Here’s the thing,” I begin. “You and I being here together is not the problem. It never has been the problem. We’ve bumped heads before. We’ve had disagreements before. We’ll have them again. The issue—the very big issue—is you disregarding my professional opinion and authority.

“It’s like you take temporary leave of your senses, and you’re a doctor, Grace. It’s not like you don’t understand the importance of confidentiality and trust in a doctor/patient relationship.”

“That’s not how I saw this,” she defends. “You and Courtney are friends. Addie is my friend. We’ve been friends for decades. I wasn’t stepping on your professional toes! You were looking out for your friend and I was looking out for mine!”

“I made it clear to you that our relationship was personal and professional! If you didn’t know that, then it’s because you ignored me—not because you weren’t informed. And that brings to light yet another very vital piece of information. You felt like your friendship with Adelaide was more important than my friendship with Courtney. And if my relationship with her was destroyed, that was fine as long as you got what you wanted. So, basically, what you’re telling me is that what you did wasn’t just a bad judgment call—it was just you being completely selfish?”

Grace sighs heavily, drops her head, and puts her hands on her hips.

“Yes, Ana, that’s what I’m telling you,” she says flatly before raising her eyes to me again.

And I’m floored.

I wasn’t expecting her to just come out with it. I was expecting her to stutter a bit, beat around the bush, stall, try to explain herself, something. She just spit it out and I’m pretty taken aback by it.

“I don’t have an explanation for it,” she says as if reading my mind. “I don’t have a justification for it. I can’t wrap it up in a pretty bow and make it what it’s not. I felt that my longtime friend needed to see her granddaughter—needed to see the changes that she made in her life, and I orchestrated it… by any means necessary. I wasn’t taking into consideration any other relationships, friendships, promises, nothing. All I knew was that this woman needed to see that Courtney had changed, really and truly changed.

“I watched Tina die and her crazy, ungrateful children swarm in on the house like rats. She went to her grave with nothing but regrets for those children—nothing but regrets! And then I see Adelaide feeling like her granddaughter is a lost cause when she’s not 20 miles away every day making something of herself and being a better person. I couldn’t live with that!

“Just telling her that Courtney was here—that she had changed—wouldn’t have worked. She had to see it! So, I put the picture—one picture—in the slideshow. It was in a slideshow with at least 100 other pictures from several different agencies, and I told myself that if she saw it out of all those pictures, then it was meant to be, and if she didn’t, then I would walk away… and she saw it.”

Grace is showing a bit of passion as she tells this story, so much that I can somewhat understand why she did what she did, especially in light of Tina’s recent death… but she still betrayed me, professionally and personally.

“I apologize,” she says further, “for disregarding your professional authority, and I also apologize for jeopardizing your relationship with Courtney. But I don’t apologize for helping my friend. I feel like it was really, really necessary under the circumstances.” I sigh.

“And therein lies the problem, Grace,” I point out. “If you don’t feel any remorse or conviction for what you actually did, then you’ll do it again. I pour myself into these people’s mental well-being, and I can’t have someone look at the situation and just say, ‘This is how it should be,’ and just make an executive decision without even thinking to consult me first simply because you knew I would say, ‘No.’ You’re playing a dangerous game of chance with people’s lives and your solution to that problem is that you should just pick up and leave simply because you don’t want me to leave.

“With or without me, you built this place. You had the idea; you bought the property; you funded it; you built it from the ground up—and you have a responsibility to this place and the people in it. You can’t just throw your hands up and walk away…”

“But you can?” she asks incredulously. “I want what’s best for the Center and like it or not, you have a responsibility to this place, too. You’ve started all kinds of programs, hired staff and created different departments, got our accreditation so that we can do schooling—people depend on you!”

“I’m an employee!” I point out.

“You are assistant director!” she retorts, pronouncing each syllable. “This place will survive without me, but it won’t survive without you.” I’m being battered with logic here.

“I won’t be blackmailed into keeping this job, Grace,” I say finitely. “I won’t be forced to move into a position that I can’t handle because we don’t see eye-to-eye and you don’t want to be here anymore.”

“Will you listen to yourself?” she nearly barks. “That’s the exact reason you’re leaving! And it’s not that I don’t want to be here. The Center needs you, and if it’s going to be a choice between you or me, then the choice needs to be you.”  I’m not going to coddle her.

“If you want to leave Helping Hands, you can, but I’m not running this place full-time. It’s everything I can do to be here when I’m here. I’m not going to take on the role as director.”

“I’m not saying that I want to leave Helping Hands!” she shoots back. “Of course, I don’t want to leave! I love the work that I do here, and I love what the Center does for the families and the community, so much that I’m willing to step down if I’m going to be a hindrance to its progress. We’ve accomplished so much over the last two years and I’m under no misconception, Anastasia. I know that’s because of you. If the Center loses you, it will certainly lose that momentum that it has gained over that course of time, and we may never get it back. I’m just trying to do what’s best for the Center.”

Well, fuck. I hate to admit it, but I know that she’s right. It’s not that no one else can do my job or even step in and pick up where I left off, but will they have the passion, drive, and vision that I have for this place? Even only part-time, I get a lot of shit done in this joint, and lately, part-time has been feeling a lot like full-time.

I don’t think the Center would crumble and die without me, but I have to agree that it could possibly take a substantial blow.

“Understand me clearly,” I begin. “My responsibilities are very important to me, and I will not shirk them. That’s the reason I came back here in the first place. But Grace Trevelyan Grey, make no mistake. We don’t have to agree, and you don’t have to kiss my ass, but if you ever cross me this way again—if you ever again disregard my professional opinion and authority or dare to treat me with the complete and utter lack of respect that you’ve shown me throughout this situation, I am outta here—with no notice!

“I understand and appreciate that there’s a lot going on—with this place, with your job, with your recent diagnosis. I get it. However, that does not give you license to treat other people like they don’t count and if you think it does, then I’m here to tell you that you are sorely mistaken.

“If you feel strongly about something, you need to find some kind of way to talk it out and find out if there’s a solution to the situation, just like you’re supposed to when you have bouts or episodes with your menopause. You knew this situation had repercussions and you completely ignored them. Do that again, and this ball is all yours. Have I made myself perfectly clear?”

“Must you be so cold and harsh in making your point?” she retorts, coolly.

“Yes!” I nearly hiss. “You were cold and hard in making yours and I want to make sure that there is no misunderstanding here. I want to see Helping Hands succeed and continue to assist the community as much as you do, but not at the cost of my dignity, self-respect, or peace of mind. Now I repeat—have I made myself perfectly clear?” She pulls herself up to her full height.

“Perfectly,” she says. We stare at each other in silence for several moments, each of us waiting for the other to say something.

“I… think now would be a good time for me to call it a day,” she says formally. “I’m on call at the hospital tonight and I should probably get a couple of hours rest before I go in.”

“I think that’s probably a good idea,” I reply. Don’t go home and tell your husband or mine that I bullied you, or I won’t be back tomorrow, and you can sell the place for all I care. She sighs.

“Goodnight,” she says just as formally. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” She walks out of my office.

Sakes alive, this woman is going to be the death of me.

Almost the second that she walks out of the office, my desk phone rings. I sigh heavily and lift the receiver.

“Dr. Anastasia Grey,” I answer wearily.

“Hello, Mrs. Grey. How are you today?” a woman replies.

“I’m fine. May I ask to whom I’m speaking?”

“Oh, you don’t know me, but I just wanted to talk to you myself, to ask you how it feels.”

“How what feels?” I ask bemused.

“To be sitting on top of the world,” she says. “To have your family around you and your friends and your husband. To have more money than you know what to do with. To have the life that many people only dream about while you go about the business of ruining the lives of others.”

I’m taken aback by the accusation of this unknown woman. I want to know who this is and she’s giving me the creeps at the same time. As I’m trying to formulate some kind of response, I see Courtney walking past my door. I wave frantically to get her attention, then cover the mouthpiece of the phone when she enters my office.

“Get Chuck!” I whisper harshly. She doesn’t hesitate. She darts out of the room and I turn my attention back to the mystery caller. “Who is this? What do you want? What are you talking about?”

My husband is dead, Mrs. Grey,” she continues. “I’m sure that you know that. After nearly thirty years of marriage, I’m a widow now. My children are all gone. One of them is in jail. One of them is a public figure and just wants to stay as far away from this as he can. One of them won’t even speak to me because she’s convinced that I had something to do with this.”

“To do with what?” I ask almost frantically. “I don’t know who you are, and I don’t know what you’re talking about! I’m going to hang up now.”

“No, you won’t, because you’re dying to know who I am,” she says calmly. “You’re aching to know why I said you’re ruining people’s lives.”

“You’re right, I do want to know, but I’m not about to play a cat-and-mouse game for your entertainment,” I hiss.

“Aren’t you the little indignant one!” she hisses back. “You walk around all high and mighty like nobody’s important but you. Nobody matters but you and your precious little family. How are your babies by the way—growing up healthy and strong like Mommy and Daddy, I take it?” I suddenly feel a sharp chill and then seething, searing rage.

“Lady,” I say with as much restraint as I can muster just as Chuck walks into the room, “I don’t know who the hell you are, but you better hope for your own sake that you didn’t just imply a threat to my children.” Chuck freezes and when I raise my eyes to him, all the color is gone out of his face. He’s on his phone in moments talking very low while I try to ascertain who this woman is.

“You’re right about one thing. You don’t know me. You have no idea who I even am, so save your high-handed threats, you lying, pompous, pampered whore! You’ve never even met me, but don’t worry, you will. Every time I see your picture in the paper or see your face in the news, it makes me just want to gag. It’s bad enough that I have to stand by and watch you get over on other people’s pain and tragedy. Now, I had to be subjected to a two-hour vomit-fest about how special and perfect you are. You hit it big because your gold-digging ass landed a big fucking fish and all of a sudden, that’s supposed to make you something? You’re nobody! You’re nothing! You always were nothing and you’ll always be nothing!”

God, if I didn’t know better, I would swear that I was talking to Elena Lincoln, but this is not Lincoln. I’d know She-Thing’s voice anywhere.

“You don’t know shit about who I’ve always been, bitch!” I nearly shriek. “You don’t know shit about what I’ve been through, so don’t you dare try to pretend you know me!”

“Oh, I know exactly who you are!” she shoots. “You’re the same lying little cunt you always were! You were the same fortune-seeking, gold-digging, attention-hungry, lying bitch that you were when you were a teenager. I see you have those same social-climbing tendencies as your worthless mother! My only regret is that they didn’t kill you!”

Fucking hell. This is not happening. This is fucking not happening. I take out a pen and scribble on my desk pad:

Green Valley.

Chuck raises his eyes to me and mutters something into his phone.

“I know you’re still there,” she snaps. “I can hear you breathing…” I’m trying to quickly put together who this could be. She talked about Carla, so she has to be one of the socialite-bitch parents. She keeps calling me a gold-digger and a lying bitch. I don’t say anything as she continues to rant and I’m putting together the things that she’s already said. One child is in jail, probably the one that helped in the beating. There are a lot of people that were arrested, but I don’t know who all is still in jail besides the main players. I sit at my desk and start typing facts frantically—whatever I can remember from the conversation:

Her husband is dead; they were married for 30 years.
Her children are gone—jail, public figure, and incommunicado, none of them apparently speaking to her or readily accessible.
She’s pissed off about my money.
She called me a lying, pompous, pampered whore. Pompous and pampered obviously comes from the money and she clearly thinks I’m lying on her kid, but where did whore come from? Was she there? Is that a reference to the brand?
Fortune-seeking, gold-digging, attention-hungry, social-climbing… None of this is helping me. They’re just angry words. Who is this woman?

“Are you fucking typing??” she asks, horrified.

“Yes, I am, because you’re boring me,” I reply quickly out of frustration, “I’ll admit that I’m dying to know who you are, which is the only reason why I’ve stayed on the phone for your useless drivel. So, you can either tell me who you are and what the fuck you want and get it over and done, or you can continue to sit here and drone on that whatever role your offspring played in my torture was somehow my fault! Either way, I’ve got shit to do, so while I sit here and listen to your self-victimized, delusional babbling, I’m going to type until I feel this conversation is going nowhere and then I’ll hang up.”

“You self-righteous bitch!” she exclaims.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Move on,” I say, pretending to have no interest. Nothing pisses off an already pissed-off person more than acting like you truly don’t care that they’re as pissed off as they are.

“How dare you trivialize my suffering!” she screams into the phone. Is she serious?

“You mean like you trivialized mine?” I respond calmly. “I was beaten within an inch of my life. I was 15 years old in a coma for three weeks. I lost my baby. I’ve got brands on my back, lady, haven’t you seen the video?” She momentarily gets quiet. Maybe she hasn’t seen the video, but she certainly heard about it while I was in the hospital.

“It serves you right,” she says, indignantly, and I have to stop myself from laughing in her ear though a tiny scoff does manage to escape. No one’s suffering is important but our own.

“That’s what I get for trying to reason with the unreasonable. Your child is in jail right now because you passed down to him or her the same privileged thinking that you’re trying to push off on me right now. You push the blame off on the victim so that they—and you—don’t have to take responsibility for what they did. If I had my way, all of you stuck-up, snobby, voluntarily blind ass parents would be sitting in jail and going on trial with your criminal children for raising a bunch of spineless, socially irresponsible, uncaring, amoral, juvenile delinquent bastards!” I bark. I hear her gasp on the other line. Yes, lady, you really pushed the button, now.

“It’s okay, though,” I continue. “It’s okay that your child participated in a crime that killed one person and temporarily maimed another, but you think that’s fine because it’s your child. You wouldn’t feel that way if your daughter was on the receiving end of this brutality.”

“My daughter would never be in your situation, because my daughter is not a lying, gold-digging cunt!” she spits.

“How would you know?” I ask. “According to your victim rant, she’s not even speaking to you…”

And then it hit me, like a boulder from the sky…

Her daughter won’t speak to her because she thinks Mom had something to do with this. In fact, she moved away to New York and she’s not speaking to the whole family because of this incident.

One child is a public figure, like a newscaster—or whatever he is—in Texas.

One child is in jail, the fucker that started this shit in the first place.

Her husband is dead… because he killed himself on Christmas Day right before the family fortune went completely belly-up and eventually took more than half of Green Valley’s wealth with it.

Whitmore!

I didn’t know that I had tuned her out until I come back to myself and she’s ranting and cursing in my ear again.

“This concludes our conversation,” I interrupt her unceremoniously. “I know who you are. I’m calling the district attorney to tell him that you’re harassing me, so leave me alone. Please know that if you come anywhere near me or my family that I am armed and licensed, and I will defend myself up to and including deadly force.” She’s quiet for another moment.

“You don’t know who I am,” she says, confidently. “Don’t pull that shit on me, you little twit!” Oh, well, at least I’ve gone from a cunt, a whore, and a bitch to a twit.

“No?” I say confidently, both in response to her and to Courtney’s and Chuck’s questioning eyes. “Tell me, exactly how many other girls accused Cody of rape?” I say calmly.

She falls silent. I know there were more. He was too cocky, and Carly was too ready to defend him. They were all in a state of self-imposed blindness, like if they didn’t see it, it didn’t happen.

“How many parents did you all have to pay off?” I continue. “Are there any little illegitimate grandchildren running around that you may or may not know about? Hell, your son and his friends beat my baby out of me. How many of his other victims didn’t get that privilege?” She gasps loudly, then screams into the air on the other end.

“You’re a lying bitch!” she screams into the phone, and now I’m a bitch again. “You were a lying bitch then and you’re a lying bitch now!”

“Yeah, I’m sure that we all were,” I say, referring to his other victims. “Goodbye, Mrs. Whitmore. You’ve been warned. Don’t contact me again.” I hang up the phone and take a deep breath. The adrenaline drop is almost immediate. I open the drawer of my desk and retrieve my purse. My hands shake as I search frantically for the card.

“Ana?” Courtney’s voice is thick with concern, but I just put my hand up to silence her. I think a whimper escapes in the gesture, but I’m not sure. Locating the card, I shakily dial the number and wait for an answer.

“Anastasia Grey for Herbert Larson,” I spit all in one breath when the receptionist answers. I’m shaking uncontrollably now, and the tears start to flow.

Herbert Larson. Ms. Ste… Mrs. Grey?”

“Mr… Larson…” I can’t get my words out.

“Mrs. Grey! What’s wrong?” he asks alarmed.

“Whit… Whit… Whitmore! Pa… Pamela Wh… Whitmore…”

“Mrs. Grey, please. Breathe. I can’t understand you…” I’m starting to hyperventilate. I push back from the desk and drop my head between my legs. Chuck kneels in front of me while Courtney retrieves the phone.

“Mr. Larson?… Yes, I’m Courtney Wilson, I’m Mrs. Grey’s temporary personal assistant… May I ask who you are, sir?… Oh, okay. I understand now. She just received a call here in her office at the Center from one of the parents of someone who has been arrested in her attack. From what I understand, it was Pamela Whitmore and she mentioned someone named Cody…”

Thank God for Courtney. I’d certainly be lost without her right now.

“Yes, sir, I’m sure that can somehow be arranged… She’s very upset. I’m sure she’s probably going to go home for the rest of the day. From what I could understand from Mrs. Grey’s end of the conversation, this Whitmore woman may have made some kind of derogatory reference towards Mrs. Grey’s children and their safety… Yes, sir, I’ll have her give you a call as soon as she’s able… Thank you, Mr. Larson. I’ll tell her.”

She ends the call. Although I’m no longer hyperventilating, I’m still sobbing. I feel sick to my stomach. The adrenaline that kept me collected on the phone with that witch has left my body all too quickly and all I can think about are my children. I’m still laboring a bit with my breathing and my sobbing when I focus, and Chuck has suddenly become Christian.

Did that just happen? Am I crazy?

I look around the room to make sure I’m not hallucinating… you know, head injury, grief, adrenaline? I identify Chuck and Jason both standing nearby. I don’t know how he got here so quickly or when he took Chuck’s place but thank God he’s here. I throw my arms around his neck and weep with abandon. He’s rubbing my back and trying to soothe me, but it’s no use.

“My babies… my… babies…” He stands effortlessly with me in his arms and without a word, proceeds to carry me out of the center.

*-*

“I’m not coming to the department head meetings anymore,” I tell Christian once I and my babies are home and settled and someone has explained the Pamela Whitmore situation to him. He frowns.

“May I ask why?” he asks.

“I’m a distraction,” I say. “They’re not going to treat me like you and the more you try to make them do it, the more they’re going to kick against you. I’ll be present for really big announcements and super important meetings that can shift the direction or position of the company as I am part owner now, but in terms of the operations, you don’t need me and neither does the company. I’m a hindrance, not a help.” He sighs.

“We never would have found the flaw in the XRC90 transmitter if you hadn’t caught it,” he protests.

“Yes, you would have,” I inform him. “You have a lot of smart people working for you—Ros, Lorenz, Barney, somebody would have found the error. I was just the one focused on it at the time. It’s okay to come home and be a husband and father, but you need to run your business when you’re at your business, and everyone has already told you that I’m one of your biggest weaknesses. You need to see that in this situation right now.” He rolls his eyes and runs his hands through his hair.

“I love you,” he says. “I love our life together. I don’t want to see that change.” I frown.

“And it won’t,” I say. “Why would you think…”

Then it dawns on me. Somebody has already had this conversation with him, or something like it.

“Why would you think our life would change?” I finish my question.

“Because I have,” he blurts out. “I’ve changed since I’ve been with you. I’m not the man I used to be in any shape or form. You’ve permeated me—my blood, my soul, my very being, everything that I am, you’ve permeated me, and I’m a different man… and everybody knows it.”

As much as I love him and as much as I love hearing that I’m in every cell of him, I don’t need him to tell me that this is a bad thing for him as a businessman.

“Well, fuck,” I breathe.

“I have a hard-enough time trying to be one person,” he laments. “I don’t think I can successfully be two.”

“I know,” I respond. It’s then that I realize that part of the old Christian Grey may need to return in order to save his company, his legacy. I’m going to have to be understanding and let him do what he needs to do. This isn’t going to be easy.

“You gotta do what you gotta do, Christian,” I say, resigned. He rolls his eyes.

“There’s no way that I can be that guy I was before,” he says firmly, “nor do I want to.”

“And you don’t have to,” I point out. “But you need that iron fist that you used to rule with, and if it means that you need to put on that asshole persona when you enter GEH, then so be it. I saw you be two different people in one night, Christian. I know you can do it.” I’m referring to the night he turned into the Dom with Greta Ellison and nearly broke her wrist. His pupils constrict as he realizes what I’m referring to.

“Yes… you have, haven’t you?” he says, none too pleased. I nod.

“You gotta do what you gotta do,” I repeat. He sighs heavily.

“God, this shit is going to be difficult as fuck,” he hisses.

“I know,” I assure him. “Difficult, but not impossible. Just picture yourself walking into your building and everybody around you is trying to destroy your company. Who would you be?” His brow furrows, then one rises.

“Yeah, this ain’t gonna be as hard as I thought,” he says frankly.

I’m certain that it won’t. It’s a necessary evil… but will we survive it?


A/N: 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 on the menu or you can click HERE.

There has been yet another development where if you feel the need to talk to fellow readers about personal issues, you need a sounding board, you want to vent about something in your life, please feel free to visit the link on the left in the menu entitled “Do You Need To Talk.” No subject is taboo. I just ask that you approach the link with respect for those who have concerns as well as those who respond. You can also get to the link by clicking HERE

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~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey:Chapter 85—Business As Usual? 

FThis 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 85—Business As Usual? 

CHRISTIAN

“I still think you overacted about the snake,” I say coming out of my dressing room while straightening my tie.

“Whatever,” she replies, “be glad I don’t cut you off,” she threatens.

“I’d find a way to make you give in,” I say confidently

“You think so, huh?” she challenges. I raise an eyebrow.

“You want to test the theory?” I retort just as haughtily, daring her to try me and begging her to do it at the same time. I’ll have your pretty little ass clawing at the walls. She ponders the theory for the moment, then turns and leaves the bedroom.

“I thought not,” I say under my breath as I follow her out of the room.

“You’re going back to the Center?” I inquire, noticing that she’s dressed for work as we descend the stairs. She sighs.

“Yes,” she says, “for now. I have responsibilities, but I don’t know what the future holds yet. I still don’t appreciate being disregarded that way, so we’ll just have to see.”

“What will you do if you leave the Center?” I ask. “Stay at home?”

“We both know I’d lose my mind,” she replies. “I haven’t gotten that far yet. I gave some thought to starting my own cause, but… that seems so catty and that’s certainly not my M-O. I just wish she could truly see what she did. It’s unacceptable and I just can’t tolerate it… and I won’t keep talking about it with you because I don’t want you to feel like I’m trying to make you take sides against your mother.”

“I don’t think that,” I say, placing my hand in the small of her back and leading her to the kitchen.

*-*

“Ronald Holstein on the line, sir,” Andrea says through the intercom. “I’ve been telling him all week that you were out of the country and expected back today. He’s been calling every day nonetheless.”

“Whenever he calls, tell him that I’m in meetings until further notice,” I reply. Let his ass stew for a while until I decide what I want to do with him… and we won’t be doing some simple shit like kidnapping his fucking dog, either.

“Yes, sir,” Andrea says.

“I know you’ve got a hundred meetings today, but you’re going to want to hear this,” Josh calls in my office from the reception area before I close the door. I gesture him in, and he closes the door behind him.

“Sir, let me start by saying that it’s not my business what you do in your private life, but I’m sure that you hired me because I’ve always got my ear to the ground and because I’m more insightful than most.” I already don’t like the sound of this.

“I’m listening,” I say as I gesture to the chair in front of my desk.

“Well, the puzzle is falling together, sir,” he says taking the seat. “Elena Lincoln is still talking to whomever will listen, but now she’s starting to say a little more.” I frown.

“A little more like what?” I ask.

“She’s saying things like people in high places are going to fall when her book is published,” he says. “She insinuated these things before, but she didn’t come out and say them. Now, she’s saying them—to other reporters and it’s filtering back down to me. I was going to make another trip back up there to see her, but I really don’t think I need to. Her diarrhea of the lips along with Ron Holstein’s foot-in-mouth syndrome has pretty much given me all I need.

“I should tell you that her conversation is not nearly as cloaked as she thinks it is. I only say that because it wouldn’t be wise to give away her story before publishing, or her book would be worthless. Bearing that in mind, I can only assume that she’s not fully aware of how much information she’s leaking and, sir, anybody with even the slightest inside hook would have no problem finding you in her code speak. What’s more is that they would probably find a few others, too… I did.”

Oh, fuck, this just keeps getting worse and worse.

“Okay, Josh, I need you to give it to me straight,” I say. “I can’t follow any more riddles.”

“Nineteen out of 20 journalists don’t have the background information or resources that I have,” he begins. “They could get it, but it would take a lot of work and even more time. By then, the story would be blown wide open. She didn’t give me the name of her ghostwriter, but she gave me her pen-name—BD Simmons. There’s no risk in giving me that because there’s nothing else published in that name. However, these ladies aren’t as savvy as they pride themselves to be.

“I don’t know what they’re expecting, but I can almost guarantee that Lincoln is counting on the safety of the prison walls, as ironic as that sounds. Her ghostwriter has anonymity on her side. For whatever reason, they’re both underestimating the danger of the situation. Knowing what I know about Lincoln—the public information and the inside information, you should know that it doesn’t take too much ingenuity to figure out what BD Simmons is an acronym for.”

No, it doesn’t. I figured it out the minute he said the name. BDSM.

“So, of course, the first thing I did was check her old haunts, her old sources, her submissives…” Jesus, this is so much more of this conversation than I really want to have with Josh. “The logical paths lead to three of her girls—two still studying journalism and one with a degree in literature. They all have other… interests at this time, according to Alex, but one has been visiting her at the prison, quite freely I might add.”

“And who is that?” I ask.

“That would be one named Greta Ellison. It didn’t take much more than context clues to figure out that she was BD Simmons.”

“Fucking hell!” I hiss, trying not to curse too loudly or crash something against the nearest wall. Why the fuck do I keep letting these people get away and the minute I let them out of my sight, they bite me?

“Get Welch in here!” I bark into the intercom.

“Yes, sir,” Andrea replies.

“You’re sure that Ellison might not be just filtering the information through to her? Like being a liaison between Lincoln and the ghostwriter?” I ask, not wanting to believe that I was gullible enough to set this bitch free instead of crushing her when I had the chance.

“Sir, to be able to stand in a court of law and tell you that Greta Ellison is Lincoln’s ghostwriter, I can’t. To look you in the eye and tell you with at least 95% certainty that Ellison is her ghostwriter, that I can do. No matter what your content, you can’t get a decent feel for the story—for what the real author wants to portray—without a face-to-face meeting. Even with every fact airtight and recited to you, you wouldn’t be able to relay a successful story without meeting personally with the subject, and Ms. Ellison does that a lot.”

She has no other reason to meet with Lincoln. There’s nothing for her to gain from the acquaintance, and I threatened her the last time we met. I let her ass go, but I threatened her…

And she threatened me.

 “You think you’re so much. You’re not untouchable, Mr. Grey, and I’m just the one to prove it!”

This should come as no surprise to me. I remember our first meeting. She wasn’t just an airhead when I interviewed her. She was brilliant. She was perfect. She knew all the right things to say and do to get me where she wanted me and that can’t be taught. She’s wily, cunning, sly, and conniving… and she’s smart. Now, she seems dead set to destroy me and my family by any means necessary. I’ve got to destroy her first.

The gloves are off… all the way off.

“I won’t say, ‘Good Morning,’” Alex says as he opens my office door. “I can already tell it’s well past fucked up.”

“That’s an understatement,” I say coolly, my mind travelling more miles per hour than I can clock. “Close the door and have a seat.” Alex enters and closes the door behind him.

“This thorn is never going to go away,” I say, standing from my chair and walking to the window. “She’s on the watch list. How was it that she was seeing Lincoln and we didn’t know?”

“The same way that she stole Her Highness’s gun, sir,” Alex says. He scrolls through his tablet and hands it to me.

“She’s like Ethan fucking Hunt, sir. She can physically turn herself into anyone, male or female. There’s no way to tell who she is when she leaves her home. We didn’t even know that she was visiting Lincoln until we worked our way backwards and reviewed Lincoln’s visitor logs…”

Do I even want to know how he got access to Lincoln’s visitor logs without Holstein’s cooperation?

“Then we coordinated the people leaving the apartment with the people returning. She hasn’t gotten smart enough to change disguises before she gets home. Then again, she doesn’t need to.”

I scroll through the pictures and see men and women of every nationality identified as Greta Ellison. I even had to turn the tablet around to confirm the person was her a few times. Height and build don’t change. Shape can be masked by clothing, but she’s definitely different people.

“A few times, she logged in to see Ron Holstein, so he’s definitely in on it,” Josh adds.

“Yeah, I figured as much,” I say, still swiping through the many faces of Greta. She’s dangerous—extremely dangerous—and she must be stopped.

“Josh, who have you deduced could also be in this book?” I ask. He twists his lips. He doesn’t want to tell me.

“High-profile officials,” he says. “Some politicians, philanthropists, businessmen like yourself…” That’s all I need.

“Any way to get word to them without totally letting the cat out of the bag?” I ask. “You know, they don’t need to know where the information is coming from and I don’t even need to know who they are… it’s better that I don’t. Just a little tip-off that they may soon be in a tell-all book about their dirty laundry that may make it look even dirtier than it really is.” His brow rises.

“I see what you mean. I may need your help, Alex,” he says.

“I’m at your disposal,” Alex says.

“Then, get on it,” I tell Josh. “I’ll have more questions for you once I sort my rambling thoughts.”

“I’ll keep you posted,” he says as he stands to leave.

“Alex, you stay. I need more information from you.” Josh pauses, but only briefly before he leaves the room. I go over to the desk and flip the switch that scrambles recording signals in my office, even my own.

“She’s a chameleon,” I say, once I know that I’m no longer being recorded. “She’s a fucking dangerous, pestilence ass chameleon that’s not going to fucking go away.” I walk to the window.

“Do you know that I presented her with proof that I knew she was the one that stole my wife’s gun?” I continue. “I had her pinned in a BDSM club between three people that could have killed her with our bare hands, confronted her, threatened her, and let her go and she still came back?” I hiss angrily.

“Yes, sir, I do,” he says. Of course, you do. It’s your job to know. It only takes a minute to ponder what needs to be done.

“Ellison is smart. She’s cunning and she’s brilliant. She gave that gun to a woman that she knew was unstable, delusional, desperate, and had a bone to pick with me. She knew what that woman was going to do with that damn gun, and she gave it to her anyway.”

“Yes, sir,” Alex concurs.

“That woman tried to kill me with that gun,” I say, handing him the tablet, “and had it not been for Jason, she would have succeeded. As an accessory, Ellison tried to kill me.” Alex cocks his head and ponders.

“With the right evidence, a court of law would say that you’re absolutely correct…”

“Fuck the court of law!” I bark. “Because of those two conniving, murderous cunts, my bodyguard and best friend took a bullet for me and that’s the only thing that saved my life and nearly cost him his!” Alex examines me.

“What do you propose?” he asks.

“Get started with Josh to alert the other officials that they’re technically in the hot seat. Between my world-class security team and my extremely savvy PR department, I’m sure innuendo can be circulated to the press without upheaval or suspicion.” Alex casts a knowing gaze upon me.

“You’re creating a smokescreen,” he says.

“I wouldn’t call it a smokescreen,” I reply, “just more people of interest. I was the center of her last trial. The spotlight is already going to be on me. I want to see how many other people we can cast center stage.”

“I know we’re not being recorded,” he says. “I need to know what you have in mind.”

“You know what I have in mind!” I retort sharply. “She’s a thorn, a deadly thorn in my side and she needs to be extracted… and her little dog, too.”

“Are we talking Lincoln or Ellison…”

“We’re talking both!” I say before the words are completely out of his mouth. “But we can’t be sloppy. The minute that smokescreen starts, I need shit to get rolling on the lot of them… Lincoln, Ellison, Holstein, and his haughty ass secretary, too.

“Why the secretar…?”

“Because she pissed me off!” I hiss… and she doesn’t know who she’s fucking dealing with. Alex straightens his back.

“What are we talking here, and in what order?” he asks.

“Punishments for Lincoln begin immediately—subtle at first, but by the time it’s over, she’ll know who it is.” I’ll come up with something creative for her at the end so that she won’t be willing or able to fuck with me ever again. “Save the secretary for last. I just want her seriously inconvenienced, extremely uncomfortable, and if I forget while pursuing the bigger fish, it’ll be your responsibility to make sure those wishes get carried out.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Holstein? Thorough retaliation—annihilation, if possible. My only requirement for him is that he gets to live,” I growl. “His begins the moment the signals start to rise from the smokescreen, so get that going now.”

“And Ellison?” he asks. I only glare at him. Ellison… big, little bitch with too much power, real and assumed. She’s become more than an inconvenience! I don’t know if she’s chasing money, fame, or revenge, but whichever it is, it’s going to cost her dearly. She has no idea how far this woman has taken her down the rabbit hole, if for no other reason but the information that she’s given her, let alone how she plans to use it.

My silence answers his question.

“Duly noted,” he says, rising from his seat. “Anything else?

“I want to be there for every step of what happens to Ellison until I tell you that I don’t,” I say.

“Yes, sir,” he says coolly before opening the door to leave the room. I know that I’ve already missed a meeting and Andrea didn’t inform me. She knows me so well that she probably knew to reschedule with me in a meeting with Josh and growling for Alex. Just as Alex reaches the elevator, I hear something I don’t think I’ve heard in all the years that she has worked for me.

Andrea raises her voice.

“Mr. Holstein, I don’t care who you are or who you think you are, but I am a professional, and unless you can conduct your calls to this office with a little professionalism and decorum in the future, I will disconnect your calls every time I hear your voice. How’s that for a short-skirted, pencil pushing answering machine… sir?

Whoa! Holstein said the wrong thing to the wrong person and Andrea’s giving him what-for on this end of the line.

“Well, if you think you haven’t gotten through to him before, let’s see how successful you are now!” She slams the receiver down and closes her eyes, taking a deep breath. Alex and I make eye-contact before he nods and boards the elevator. When Andrea opens her eyes, I’m peeking around the door jam at her.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Grey, but you don’t pay me enough to put up with the names he just called me.” My face falls.

“More than a ‘short-skirted, pencil-pushing answering machine?” I ask, as if that wasn’t bad enough.

“Much more,” she says, her voice low.

“The next time he calls, put him on hold,” I say. It’s time to put my plans into action for this fucker as soon as possible. I don’t disrespect Andrea and I won’t allow anyone else to do it, either. His dick has gotten way too big for his pants, and I’m about to whack it down a couple of inches.

*-*

Al was two steps ahead of me and conferred with my accounting department about the best way to itemize and categorize my assets for a will. He’s slowly working his way through the process, setting up a trust for each of the children and placing other items in a revocable living trust, and several other terms of mumbo-jumbo that I trust he’ll handle and explain to us when it’s time to sign the final documents. I inform him that we’ll plan to have dinner with him and Valerie and their significant others sometime this week to discuss some of the particulars and to get some things in writing should I and my Butterfly meet an untimely simultaneous demise. We set aside Wednesday for the meeting, pending Valerie and Elliot’s acceptance of the invitation and, of course, Butterfly’s approval.

It’s later than usual when I get home and all I can think is that I can’t wait to be in my wife’s arms. Today was packed full of catching up with whatever work and catastrophes that simply couldn’t be solved without my presence not to mention plotting revenge on my enemies. I didn’t even eat lunch, so I’m hungry in more ways than one. Just as we’re pulling into the garage, my cell rings.

“Grey,” I say without looking at the phone.

“Hello, Christian,” my mother’s voice says. I try not to sigh loudly into the phone. My last conversation with my mother involved her trying to get the inside scoop on what my wife’s plans are in terms of the Center. Now, she has spent an entire day with my wife… and she’s calling me. What is it now?

“Hey, Mom,” I say, trying to sound casual. “What’s up?”

“Is Anastasia home yet?” Why would she call me and ask me that? Why wouldn’t she call Butterfly? And yet…

“No…” I say, slow and uncertain, as I look over at the bin where her vehicle usually is and it’s empty. “Is everything okay?”

“She’s probably just still at the Center,” Mom says. “You may want to go down there and get her. It’s been a long day.” I’m noticing that my mother’s tone is a bit labored, like she’s extremely tired.

“What happened, Mom?” I ask. “Did you two have a fight?”

“No, we didn’t have a fight,” she says, slightly exasperated, “and you said that you were going to stay out of it, so that’s what you should do.”

Well!

“I didn’t call you for that reason, anyway,” she continues. “I called you because, like I said, it’s been a long day and she was still closed in her office when I left, so it might be a good idea for you to go and get her.”

Jesus Christ. This day has already been horrific. The last time I popped up on my wife at the Center unannounced… no, I won’t think that way. Mom says I should probably go and get her, so I’m going to get her.

“Okay, Mom, I’m on my way now,” I say, and Jason looks over the seat at me.

“Okay. Goodbye now.” And just like that, she ends the call. What the hell happened at the Center today? I’m just looking at my phone wondering what’s going to be waiting for me when I get to Butterfly.

“Sir?” Jason says, reminding me that we’re still sitting in the car.

“We’re going to the Center,” I inform him.

“What’s wrong?” he says with concern.

“Nothing that I know of, but Butterfly isn’t here and she most likely still has the children with her. I’d like to go and bring them home.” He twists his lips at me. “While we’re on our way, you can call Chuck and make sure that everything is okay, but my mother just called and told me to go get my wife, so I’d like to see her, okay?”

There. I’m not trying to catch her in anything, nor do I think I would. I just want to go get her.

“Very well, sir,” he says, and starts the car again. As we’re crossing the bridge, he put Chuck on the speaker.

“As far as I know, she’s fine,” Chuck says through the speakers. As far as he knows…?

“Why wouldn’t you know?” I ask.

‘Because she’s been holed up in her office all afternoon,” he says. “She hasn’t come out and when I went to check on her, she called through the door, ‘Leave me alone! I’m busy!’ So, knowing that she’s okay, I did what she asked and left her alone. I do know—through the grapevine—that she and Grace had an intense conversation today and Grace didn’t look happy when she left. She stayed all day, but she was less than pleased.”

“Why are you telling us this?” Jason asks.

“Because I think that’s why she’s still in the office,” he said. I sigh.

“She fought with Mom,” I say. Mom said they didn’t fight. Jesus, the day was at least as hard for her as it was for me and now, she’s hiding out. “Thanks, Chuck,” I say.

“You’re welcome, sir,” he says and ends the call. Jason looks at me, questioning.

“The mission hasn’t changed. Get me to my wife.” I wonder if she’s hiding from me thinking her argument with my mother is going to cause us a problem? I’m even more eager to get to her now than I was before.

Hurry up, Jason. She needs me…


ANASTASIA

“She hasn’t given you any idea when she’s coming back? Or if she’s coming back?” Courtney asks.

“Neither,” I tell her. “She’s never taken a day off in her life that I can remember, not even for doctor’s appointments…” which makes me question when she ever went before the whole pregnancy scare. “Then she takes them all at once. I’m still depositing her check into her account because she has nearly a lifetime in sick time accrued and she only ever used vacation time when I did so…” I trail off.

“Well, I’m certain that I won’t be as efficient as Mare was, but I’ll be happy to fill in for her the best that I can.” I sigh.

“Thank you, Courtney. Every little bit helps. I know that you have your own set of responsibilities here and I won’t interfere with your work, but of course I’ll pay you extra for helping me out. If Marilyn hasn’t decided what she plans to do at least by the new year, I’ll look into hiring someone more permanent.” It hurts to say that.

“I hope everything is okay with her. This is so out of her character. It had to be something really bad, and no, I’m not pumping you for information.” She looks down at her notepad and writes something on it.

“How are things with you and Addie?” I ask. Courtney raises her gaze to me.

“Still a little tense, but we’re talking,” she says. “Grandfather has made it clear that I’m still not getting any money from them and I’ve made it clear that I never intended to see them again, so the last thing I expect from them at this point is money. I don’t think I would want it even if they offered it to me. It reminds me too much of who I was and what I was doing… and how I felt when Grandmother disowned me. No… I think I’ll be happier earning my own way and making a life with Vick, whatever that life may be.”

“I’m glad that the two of you are talking, but you know I had nothing to do with this, right?” She rubs my forearm.

“Yes, Ana… I know,” she says. “Grandmother says you only talked about it after she confronted you. I know you would never betray my trust.”

“That’s what’s most important to me,” I tell her. “I’m all for a happy ending, but I won’t take credit for a victory that means you think I betrayed your confidence.”

“I know better,” she says with a smile. “I knew from the very beginning that it wasn’t you. I knew when I saw your face when I walked into your office. I may have been focused on Grandmother, but you were clearly horrified,” she adds matter-of-factly. “We’ve… got a long way to go. I don’t know if it’ll ever be back the way it was. Maybe it’s better if it’s not. Scratch that—it’s definitely better if it’s not.” She folds her arms around her body. “I… don’t like that Courtney. I don’t know how I lived with her for so long. No matter what happens, I don’t think I could ever go back to being her. For one thing, I’m sure I’d lose Vick. She won’t take any of my crap. She calls me on my shit any and every time I try to pull it, and she supports me in everything I do. What’s more, she knew me when I was that other crazy bitch, and she still loves me. Can you imagine?”

“Your grandmother knew and loved you, too,” I point out.

“No, she didn’t,” Courtney corrects. “She may have loved me, but she didn’t know me. She thought she knew me. She knew the façade. When she saw the real me, she thought that was the façade. When she found out that it wasn’t, she couldn’t take it. That’s why she sent me away.” She sighs and stands.

“I’m going to find something to do now,” she says. “I’ll be at your beck and call of course, but as you know, there’s lots that need my special attention… and I do better when I’m moving around.” She goes to the door, opens it and steps out. I follow her to the door.

“You’re sure this isn’t going to be too much for you,” I reinforce.

“Nah,” she says, hugging her laptop. “Outlook isn’t a foreign language for me. We use it in school for the syllabi and to keep up with our classes. I just have to spend a little time deciphering Mare’s hieroglyphics and we’ll be fine. Plus, I get an up close and personal look into the super-secret life of Anastasia Grey.”

She does a spooky little wiggle of her fingers and smiles before walking away down the hallway. I turn to go back into my office, but a shadow catches my eye. She doesn’t move or speak, but I can see her standing in her doorway, or at least her shadow cast on the floor of the hallway. I say nothing. I just go into my office and close the door.

Now, she’s lurking. She won’t even face me. Yet another reason why I feel this is no longer the place for me. There was a job that needed to be done here—some things that needed to be fixed. I fixed them. I did my job, but the job isn’t completely finished. So, I’m going to finish my job here and then I’m going to find something else to do.

What, I have absolutely no idea. Maybe I’ll get in touch with Josephine Kennedy, our sponsor for Broadmoor. She’ll probably have some suggestions. I don’t need to be in any kind of executive position. I just want to be somewhere that I can do some good and my opinion is valued.

Knowing that I don’t have much time to implement the learning programs needed before the school year starts, I immediately get to work researching the necessary requirements for a learning coordinator. I fire off a text to Keri to meet me in the office as soon as she has a moment.

Every time someone knocks at my office door, I get the willies. I don’t want to talk to Grace at all, to have her confront me about my absence or to rehash why I feel like she should treat me with more respect and consideration. These things should be understood. You hired me to do a job; then let me do it and don’t interfere with it. If you’re going to interfere and do things your way, what do you need me for?

Anyway, this time, it’s Keri at my door.

“Ya wanted ta seh meh, Annah?” she asks cautiously when she enters the room.

“Yes, please, come in,” I say. She slowly walks in and takes a seat. I can tell that she’s nervous, so I get straight to the point. “I need your help.” She looks shocked.

“You do?” she says, her surprise evident. I nod.

“First, I need to ask how the process is going with getting your teaching certificate here in the states. Were you still planning to do that, or had you changed your mind?”

“Noh! I mean, yes! I mean…” She’s terribly nervous. I’ve never called her into my office in an official capacity, ever, and she’s not quite sure how to handle it.

“Keri,” I say, rising from my seat and walking over to her. “Relax. You’re not in any trouble or anything like that. I just… I’m trying to kill two birds with one stone. I need some information and I just want to know what your immediate plans are.” Keri sighs heavily and rolls her eyes a bit.

“Ah’m sawtty, Annah,” she says. “Ah jus feel lak Ah’m bein’ cawled to da ptincipal’s awfice!” She laughs. In effect, she is, but only because the principal needs her help.

“I understand,” I say.

“Yes, I steel plan on gettin’ mah teachin’ cehtificate heyah. Ah cahl de school bohd ahnd dey sey Ah got ta tek de necesetty exams foh residency. Ah alreaty apply foh the exams since mah degtee is enough foh da requyment. So, Ah’m wehtin’ foh dem ta tell meh when da test gwine be and Ah should be okay.”

“They didn’t say anything about your citizenship or anything like that?” I ask.

“Ah’m heh on a work visa. Ah can keep dah sem visa or get a new one if I choose to teach. Ah wold luv to teach, Annah. I miss me bebbies.” I know that she’s talking about her students in Anguilla.

“Have you thought about becoming a resident?” I ask. She shrugs.

“Anguilla ask de sem ding when I cawled for mah recohds an cehtifications. Dey say, ‘ahe ya gwine stey dere in da states or ya come back to Anguilla?’ I tell dem it not my immediate plan ta stey, but don know what happen in de furtah.” I frown.

“You may go back to Anguilla?” I ask sadly.

“Me don know,” she says honestly. “Anguilla me home. I could nevah leave hah forevah. But me heart wit me Choonks. Das wheh Ah mus be.” That’s an enigmatic response.

“Does Chuck know that you’re somewhat on the fence about returning to Anguilla?” I ask. She nods. “How does he feel about it? He can’t be happy.”

“He not,” she says. “He tinks me run out da doh anyday wit mah bags. I tell him, ‘Choonks, don tek it dat weh. Ah jes not wannah lose meh woots, das all. Jes like yah not wannah stey in Anguilla becuz yah home heyah, I no wannah be in Anguilla witout yah, but Anguilla me home, too. Meh woots deyah. I don wanna lose dat.’”

“So, we’re not talking about packing your bags and moving back to Anguilla when your visa is over. We’re just talking about being able to go back to Anguilla as you please so that you don’t forget your roots.”

“Yeh,” she says, confidently. “I noh move back to Anguilla. Lek I seh, mah heart wit me Choonks. Ah havta be wheh he is.” I sigh heavily. It would be a devastating day all around if we lose Keri.

“Well, that’s good to hear,” I admit. “My second question is more detailed. You worked with small children in Anguilla, right?”

“Yeh, all me bebbies primery school, some younga,” she says. I nod.

“I’m trying to come up with a plan of action to get started with our early-learning program when the school year starts. I have some good solid ideas that we presented to get our licensing and accreditation, but now we need to tweak it and get it ready to roll out. I could really use some help.”

I confer with Keri about what direction we should take in terms of curriculums. I know that the subjects in Anguilla will most likely probably vary from the subjects in America, only because of the difference in culture and the direction of the curriculum as it relates to the region, but I’m certain that the basis is the same. I’ve done a little research to get a basic framework, but I’m definitely going to need some help in nailing down the particulars.

Keri turns out to be invaluable. We’re at it for hours fine-tuning our curriculum and learning plans. We’ve already done some interviewing for teachers and tutors, and we’ll have to make some decisions this week, which means that whether I want to or not, I’ll have to meet with Grace.

There’s no use putting it off.

Once I’ve finished with the basic curriculum, I ask Keri to look it over and see if there’s anything else that we may need. I don’t want to present this outline and framework to the teachers and tutors that I plan to hire, and it turns out to be total garbage. Then I send a text to Grace that we need to chat about the teaching staff and to let me know when she’s available to do so.

It was like carving my tooth out with a chisel just to send the text.

Not half an hour after I hit send, Grace is at my door.

“May I come in?” she asks. I sigh inwardly.

“Please,” I say, standing and gesturing to the seat in front of me. She enters and sits down, and I close the door behind her. I jump right in.

“The school year is starting in a few weeks and I don’t want to be caught unprepared like we have these last terms,” I say, picking up the papers showing the progress that Keri and I made and handing it to her. “We already conducted several interviews and with where we plan to start, I would think we don’t need too much staff right now—a few teachers and a tutor or two and someone to act as principal or superintendent just over the scholastic portion of the program…”

I continue discussing what I think would be the best direction for the preschool and tutoring program—afterschool classes, playgroups, and eventually, a possible part-time homeschool, particularly for at-risk families, namely residents in the dorms while Grace looks over the proposals and plans that Keri and I have collaborated on so far.

“You’ve been quite busy,” she says raising her eyes to me. “I’m glad the Center won’t suffer because of our disagreement.”

I wouldn’t say that just yet, Grace.

I continue the conversation as if nothing had been said about our disagreement and make suggestions as well as request input on who would be the best candidates for the positions we would like to fill as we really need to get the ball rolling like right now. Grace gives her opinions on who she thinks will fit the immediate bill and luckily, except for one, they were the same people that I think will work best. I cede to her judgment for the last person, selfishly thinking that if they didn’t work out, I wouldn’t have to be the one to contend with it. She would.

It’s a bit late in the afternoon when we bang out our initial steps and final choices, and I’m more than ready to discontinue the conversation. I’m not, however, ready to pick up the conversation that she wants to have.

“I really feel I did the right thing,” she says with conviction.

“Grace, this conversation is moot,” I say matter-of-factly. The time for us to have this conversation has passed.

“You won’t even discuss it with me?” she asks, her voice rising an octave in disbelief.

“No,” I say finitely. “I don’t want to fight with you or dispute this with you anymore. What you did could have had disastrous results, and if you can’t understand that, there’s nothing for us to discuss.” She sighs.

“Fine. I was wrong,” she says, almost like a petulant child. I shake my head.

“You don’t get it,” I say. “I’m not looking for capitulation. I don’t need you to admit that you were wrong. I need you to see that you were wrong. Courtney had come miles from where she started. Her progress was fucking immeasurable. Addie barely recognized her as the hell that she sent back to her hellhole hometown. What you did could have set her back far beyond her starting point, and what would you have to say had that happened? What could you have possibly said to me—to Courtney—had you, in your self-proclaimed omnipotence, destroyed all the work that she put in to achieve what she achieved?”

“Can’t you see that sometimes, everything isn’t answered by theory and book-smarts? Sometimes—oftentimes—there’s emotion involved, and you just have to go with your gut?” Her voice is beseeching.

“I can see that, Grace, but can you?” I retort. “Logic dictates that the strides made by Courtney should have had her running back to Addie to present her new self—to show her grandmother that she was nothing like the person Addie last saw. The fact that her grandmother felt that she was nothing, she had to prove her wrong—for herself, but in the process, she made it clear that she wanted nothing to do with the source of her uncertainty. When they parted ways, Addie pretty much told her that she was better off dead. She cremated and buried Courtney’s mother this past summer with no pomp and circumstance, and you just take it upon yourself to say, ‘Oh, it’s a good idea to shove these two into each other’s faces!’ If you can’t see what’s wrong with that, just how fucked up a judgment call that was, then you’ll do it again and I can’t tolerate seeing all my hard work destroyed that way. I might as well go back to my practice.”

“I… I… I didn’t know…” she stammers.

“Of course, you didn’t know!” I bark. “There’s a lot you didn’t know! I’m the psychiatrist! I have all the inside scoops on what’s going on in these people’s minds because that’s what I do! And you had the audacity to be offended because I pointed that out! I don’t diagnose the intricate illness of children—that’s your specialty, not mine! But they share their deepest, darkest secrets with me because of my station and I act accordingly! She trusted me! She trusted me with her secrets and her feelings, with her life! And you exploited that! Can’t you see that? Can’t you see that you orchestrated a train wreck that could have destroyed them both and they just got lucky and walked away?”

“I… was just… following my instincts,” she says, resigned.

“Well, congratulations, doctor,” I say, clasping my hands on the table. “This time, your instincts were correct, and in the process, you undermined everything I do. The very basis of my profession is privacy and trust—respecting the rights of the patient. You know the Hippocratic Oath, and you totally disregarded mine, then haughtily walked away smiling when you did it. I can’t work like that. I can’t have someone’s mental well-being in my hands and in the back of my head, constantly fearing that you’re going to make a decision that’s going to unravel the intricate tapestry that I’ve taken months… or years… to create with one of my patients based on your instincts.” I silently shake my head, indicating that this is definitely a no-go for me.

Grace bites her lip and takes a seat, humbly clasping her hands in her lap.

“Can you, for just a moment, see where I’m coming from?” she says, her voice shaking slightly.

“No…” I begin.

“Please… let me finish,” she beseeches without raising her eyes. It’s my turn to be petulant, but I just defiantly fold my arms and sit mute.

“Addie… is my friend,” she begins. “She’s been my friend for a long, long time—even longer than that crazy bitch who victimized my son.”

That kind of stings… and causes me to let my guard down a little.

“You may have known how Courtney felt, but I knew how Addie felt. She felt hurt and betrayed, and that’s what made her say the things she said to Courtney, but most of all, she was heartbroken. She felt that she would die and have nothing to show for her bloodline. She had such high hopes for Courtney, and when she saw those hopes dashed to the rocks…” She stops and swallows.

“I’m not saying that you wouldn’t understand,” she says. “You’re a mother, so you have to know that we only want what’s best for our children. Courtney’s mother was such a disappointment and Addie had her hopes in Courtney even when everybody told her that it would be a lost cause. When she finally accepted that those hopes were destroyed, it was the most traumatizing thing that had ever happened to her. She tried to move on, but she was crushed.

“That’s the reason I advocated for Courtney in the first place,” she adds. “After everything that she had done and all the problems she had caused, I just wanted to help my friend. It was wonderful seeing the progress that she was making, but Addie was still hurting… deeply hurt. We didn’t hear anything about her daughter because she couldn’t mourn her daughter. To her, it was all a lost cause.

“I found out about Adele—that’s her daughter’s name—at Mia’s wedding. I had been trying to indirectly arrange a meeting ever since. I knew Courtney was at the wedding, but by the time I had heard about Adele, Courtney had already left.

“When I say that I was trusting my instincts, Ana, I’m not just saying that I thought it was a good idea. My friend was suffering, and I just didn’t want to see her suffering anymore… and I knew that seeing Courtney—how beautiful she is and how far she’s come—would do her some good.” I roll my eyes nearly to the point of agony.

“Why. Didn’t you. Explain that to me?” I nearly seethe. “Why didn’t you come and talk to me?”

“Because just like you had confidences, I had confidences…” she begins.

“But it was okay for you to disregard mine!” I nearly shout, causing Grace to jump a bit in her seat.

Settle down, Grey.

I take a deep breath and address the situation again.

“The progress that I made with Courtney in eleven short months is more than I’ve done with a lot of people in years, and you could have undone all of that. That’s what I need you to see. This situation is the epitome of that old saying about the road to hell and good intentions. I can appreciate that you saw your friend suffering and you wanted that suffering to stop, but your. Methods. Were wrong. You threw a blowtorch into a vat of gasoline and prayed that it wouldn’t explode, and instead of alienating one person, you could have alienated three—one of which was your very close friend.

“As much as I want to say that the biggest betrayal here was to Courtney’s right to privacy and to Addie’s suffering, I can’t even say that,” I say, and she raises glassy eyes to me. Yeah, this is going to sting, Dr. Grace, so get ready for it. “The biggest betrayal is that you dismissed me. You dismissed my expertise and my feelings. It caused friction in my marriage and discord in my professional life. But you know what’s even worse, Grace? What you probably never even considered even up to this very moment? You. Destroyed. My trust! Did you think about that? Did you think about the fact that I have to trust the person that I work with and I don’t trust you anymore?

“I can’t be effective under those conditions, and I can’t just wave that off. When you’re dealing with the human mind, at any given moment someone’s sanity can be hanging in a delicate balance. One wrong word, one wrong action, can be the difference between a breakthrough and suicide—and I’m not exaggerating.” I immediately think of Ace’s shark’s tooth.

“I should have come and talked to you,” she says just above a whisper, her voice cracking.

“Yes,” I say softly, but firmly. “You should have…” and now, it’s probably too late. Grace takes a deep, shuddering breath and stands.

“Let me know what you decide to do,” she says without raising her eyes to me. “I’ll understand either way.” She turns and quickly walks out of my office. I hear her heels clicking at a quick pace down the hall and just before she closes the door to her office, I hear her begin to weep.

Dear God in heaven, I think to myself as my face falls on my arms on my desk, my hair splayed wildly over my hands and arms like a blanket. What am I going to do now…?

*-*

“Hey…”

My head feels like lead and my eyes hurt from crying. I can only imagine that I look like pure hell from having cried myself to sleep at my desk and when I turn towards the soft, melodic voice, my husband is looking lovingly at me while stroking my hair out of my face.

“Hey,” I barely squeak out. “What are you doing here?”

“It’s late… and Mom called me,” he says. “She told me that you were still in your office when she left and that it might be a good idea if I came to get you.”

“I don’t know what to do, Christian,” I lament, on the brink of tears again.

“Well, you won’t think about it tonight,” he says cupping my cheek. “Right now, I’m going to take you home, bathe you, feed you, and make love to you. Then, you can conquer this in the morning.”

I don’t have the will or desire to fight him. I’m tired of thinking, dreaming, fretting about this whole thing. It’s getting on my nerves. I stand and proceed to leave the building and had it not been for Chuck, I might have left without my children. Mom of the year.

My husband keeps his promise, making sure that I was fed, bathed, and loved. Nonetheless, at 2:49 in the morning, I find myself staring at the ceiling while he’s sleeping comfortably next to me. I don’t know how long I’ve been lying here, but I decide that I don’t want to lie here anymore. I quietly roll out of bed and retrieve the first shirt that I can find. It’s the linen shirt that Christian wore to work, and it smells like him. It’s comforting. I put it on and button it before leaving our suite.

The children are sound asleep and I don’t want to disturb them, so I go to the kitchen to get something to drink. After I fix a spritzer, I sit at the breakfast bar, trying to think of something to do. I look at my phone and begin to scroll through it. Some time between the time I got home and now, my contacts, calendar, and apps had all been moved to the new phone.

When did he find time to do that?

I had already forwarded my calls to the new phone, but it’s probably time to leave the new number on the old message so that I can retire my 4S soon. I decide to take a look at my emails. I had cleared most of them at work, but I hadn’t looked at the junk mail to see if anything had been misrouted.

Sure enough, something had.

To: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Re: Web Presence
Date: Saturday, December 13, 2014, 14:14
From: Laura Kelly

Hey there, Sheila!

Just a little nudge from down under to remind you to finish setting up your social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—but start with Facebook. It’s probably best for social media virgins. I know you said you had to talk to your PR people before you could pull the trigger. Remember what I showed ya!

Jax was a little depressed after visiting his mum’s grave, even more depressed when we got back to the ship and there was no Chris to shoot the shit with. You’ll have to come back and see us sometimes, or we’ll look you up next time we’re in the States.

Look for LauraLee Kelly on Facebook. You can’t miss me!

Missing you guys already!
Laura

Laura showed me the basics while we were on the cruise and we ran around her social media accounts a bit, but we never actually set up an account for me.

Social media. Facebook. Hmmm…

Screw PR. I’ll just create an alias.

I go to iTunes and download the Facebook app. Sign up with an email.

Back up.

I go to Gmail and create an alias email just for this purpose. You can’t be too careful.

First name… Anastasia

Last name… hmmm.

Lambert.

There’s no taboo attached to that name for me anymore. It’s a name that I used to escape, and I escaped, so…

Welcome to Gmail!

Back to Facebook.

Sign up. What’s your name?

Anastasia Lambert.

Hmm… it still feels too obvious.

Mercer Mistress… Hell, no!

Mercer Doctor Lady.

Good enough for now.

Upload a profile picture…

Butterflies!

I do a quick internet search and find a picture of a black and white butterfly that reminds me of Marty.

Perfect!

I download it to my phone, then upload it as my profile picture.

Invite your friends… well, I only have one that I know of on social media…

LauraLee Kelly. I need her email. Nah, I’ll look her up and invite her to be my friend. It’s faster.

I have access!

LauraLee Kelly.

She’s right. I find her quickly and send a friend request. I create the same account with Twitter, then I make the mistake of going to Facebook and Twitter and doing a search for my name.

There are a million of me!

I could make a page with my real name and no one would be any wiser, but no. I’ll hide behind Mercer Doctor Lady. Not very creative or catchy, I know, but it’ll fit the bill. I answer a few questions about books and hobbies.

There’s nothing on my timeline since I don’t have any friends, so I see what Facebook has to offer.

Videos… relationship advice… reality TV snippets… groups that might interest me… comedy…

I like comedy.

I watch several comedy videos and share many of them to my timeline.

I’m dying laughing over Steve Harvey and Family Feud…

Ellen Degeneres, well, I love her. I follow her and Steve on Facebook.

The Real Housewives of what? Where? What real housewives behave this way? And you’re still married? These women need to get a damn life!

“What are you doing down here?”

I’m startled by Christian coming to the kitchen in his pajama pants. I’m even more startled by something else…

Daylight.

“I was just… I couldn’t sleep,” I say. Hell if I’m telling him I spent all night on Facebook. His gaze softens.

“I didn’t do my job, then,” he says, closing the space between us. I put my phone down and sigh.

“It’s not you,” he says, “and I don’t want to pull you into the middle of what’s happening between me and your mother.”

“She said you didn’t fight, but I have a feeling you did,” he says. I look up at him.

“You thought I fought with your mother and you still brought me home and took care of me?” he shrugs.

“She’s my mother and I love her very much, but she went home to her husband. You’re my responsibility.” I wrap my arms around his waist and lean on his chest.

“I love you,” I say, breathing in his scent.

“I love you, too,” he says. I sigh. “You’re holding it in. You have to tell somebody.” I lean back and look up at him, twisting my lips.

“She looked like a broken puppy when she left my office, and I heard her crying,” I say. “She broke us… plain and simple. She broke us as a team. I have to trust who I’m working with. That’s it. I don’t expect you to take sides here, I really don’t, but I have to say it out loud. She broke us. She broke the team, and I don’t know if it can be fixed.”

“Any idea what it would take to be fixed?” he asks.

“Time, for one,” I admit, “and I’m not sure I’m willing to put it in.” She begged me last year to give Courtney a chance and I did, and we built something, and then she tossed it out like trash. Fuck how Courtney was feeling; fuck what Courtney wanted; Addie was more important.

“You’re taking it really personal, baby. Can you tell me why?” he asks.

“Because this could be anybody,” she says. “This could be a scared and battered wife and mother hiding from her abusive husband. I put in the work and get to the core of this girl’s deepest, darkest secrets—get her to where she’s not afraid to fall asleep at night; to where she finally sees that she’s out from under the oppression of her abusive husband and can do something with her life… move forward like Marlow’s mother did. And then Grace somehow brings the abusive father back into the picture. All that work I’ve done for nothing, and her only excuse and reasoning is that she’s following her instincts.

“Yes, that’s more graphic. Addie wasn’t abusive, but Courtney was crushed, crushed enough to never want to see her grandmother again, and Grace disregarded that… disregarded her feelings, disregarded her wishes, disregarded my work as a person and a professional. It’s very personal, Christian. How can I work with someone like that?”

“Then… why were you crying?” he asks.

“Because I obviously hurt her, and I didn’t mean to. We didn’t fight, but I was merciless in my explanations. She put her friend’s feelings over all professionalism and trust, the very basis of my profession. If she’s going to make decisions over my head without any consideration for my wishes, opinions, or input, then why am I there? I feel strongly about that, but I didn’t mean to hurt her—and I don’t know if she was hurt over understanding what she did to me or the concept of losing me.” He hugs me again.

“You’ll figure it out, baby. I know you will,” he encourages, “but doesn’t it feel better to get it out?”

“A little,” I say, sinking into his embrace.

“What have you been doing down here all night?” he asks. I twist my lips and look up at him, then push my phone over to him.

“Facebook?” he says, mirthfully. “You’ve been on Facebook all night?”

“Watching videos,” I say. “I don’t have any friends online.”

“You’ve got one, Mercer Doctor Lady,” he says and hands my phone back to me.

Laura accepted my friend’s request.


A/N: Ethan Hunt is Tom Cruise’s character in Mission Impossible. He was a master of disguise and could make himself or anyone else look like anyone anywhere.

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~~love and handcuffs