Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 32

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…

Season 5 Episode 32

ANASTASIA

Thank the Lord, Gary and Marilyn are moving closer to resolution with their relationship issues. It’s a slow process as we expected that it would be, but slow progress is progress, nonetheless. We encouraged them to get back to a level of intimacy, simply because if they were unable to obtain a level of intimacy, they were fighting a losing battle. Marilyn was having none of it until she could secure birth control from her doctor who wanted to wait for two more weeks before prescribing her anything. She wanted to be sure that Marilyn was gaining healthy weight before she introduced hormones into her body. So, poor Gary has to wait before there will be any christening of the new relationship.

ea658bf74c2614af055e29a7fe6ebfc7They’ve decided to stay in separate places for a while. There’s still more healing to be done and all therapists agree that this is the best course of action. It also eliminates the urge to be intimate before Marilyn has secured birth control and is completely comfortable. To that end, they are courting again. He comes to see her, and they spend time together, or he comes to pick her up and takes her out on a date, then brings her back to the mansion. It’s kind of cute to watch them. He’s given her a beautiful sterling silver necklace with two intwined hearts—one made of silver and one covered in diamonds. She wears it proudly but hasn’t donned her promise ring again just yet.

Sophie and I exchange wonderful ideas for the villa through email several times a week, but our big powwow always happens on Sunday afternoon. She always makes delicious finger foods for our meeting after delivering Christian his weekly supply of chocolate truffles. It’s a good thing that my husband and I are both fit and athletic or we would both be expanding severely in the midsection.

Sophie and I have a wonderful time during our weekend decorating meetings. She has a pretty good eye for the baroque and rococo looks, even though they may be a bit modernized. She admitted that they looked the same to her and tries to find something that has the general feel of the period. She’s right, the looks are painfully similar as one is just a continuation of the other.

One Sunday, I ventured to ask about her visit with her mother, and she sadly admitted that it was about as fruitful as the others. She tried a different tactic this time, though. She turned her back to the visiting window and removed the receiver from the wall. Shalane is not allowed to tap on the glass or to raise her voice, so she sat there for the entire hour talking into the phone to no one and looking at the back of Sophie’s head. Sophie has decided that this will be the protocol for her visits to her mother from now on.

I feel sorry for Sophie. I have a horrible relationship—or really, a non-existent relationship—with my mother and I wouldn’t wish the absence of a female parental unit on anyone. Sophie, however, is coming to detest her mother, for all the horrible things that she did to Sophie and the bad predicaments that she put her in. Even now, Shalane is being unbelievably selfish. It’s like she doesn’t want Sophie to be happy at all. She almost sold her to her drug dealer, for Christ’s sake. What did she think would happen to the poor girl? She’s had to fend for herself for years, and even now when there’s nothing more that she can do for Sophie right now but sign some papers, she won’t even do that?

She should be spending her visits showing Sophie that she’s rehabilitating—physically and mentally. Sophie had to sit and watch her drug use knowing full well what she was doing. That child had the weight of protecting her mother when all she wanted to do was to see her father. After all that she’s done to this girl, she can’t even give her this?

I turn my thoughts to other things beside Sophie’s wayward mother and concentrate on the beautiful ideas that she has chosen for several beds in some of the rooms. I forward the beds to Aaron and tell him to place the orders for the beds and the area rugs that Sophie has chosen for eight of the bedrooms. However, when it comes to Italian beds for toddlers, she and I agree that there may not be anything particularly Italian that will keep my two little loves from having a fall. So, we change direction and keep looking.

We didn’t have to look for long. One Thursday afternoon, I’m eating a late lunch in my office at Helping Hands when my email pings with a new message.

To: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Re: Beds for the Babes
Date: April 16, 2015 15:16pm
From: Sophia L. Taylor

Aunt Ana,

I think I found the perfect beds for Minnie and Mikey. Most of the beds we liked were canopy, so what about this? Let me know what you think.

TTYL,
Sophie

Imbedded in the email is the cutest picture of a twin sized bed that’s built like a house but looks like the front porch of a cabin, complete with rails. It’s adorable, and just rustic enough to work.

024d40db08527e4f456bc3f92e340483

To: Sophia L. Taylor
Re: Beds for the Babes
Date: April 16, 2015 15:21pm
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

They’re perfect, Sophie! You’ve got a good eye. I’ll forward the email to Aaron to get them ordered.

TTYL,
Aunt Ana

Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey

Assistant Director, Helping Hands


I forward the email to Aaron to acquire the beds which my little helper found for a steal on Wayfair. Just as I’m finishing the email, my intercom beeps.

“Yes?”

“Ana, are you expecting anybody?” Chuck asks.

“No, but somebody’s always subject to come by. What’s up?”

“There’s a Malcolm Healy here to see you. His business card simply says Ventures Production and Marketing. He specifically asked to see you.” I sigh.

“Is he a reporter?” I ask.

“Not that I can tell,” Chuck asks, “but that doesn’t mean that he’s not.”

“I would be happy to apprise Mrs. Grey of the purpose of my visit if I could just have a moment of her time,” I hear someone say in the background. I sigh.

“If he’s brave enough to come in here and ask for me, we’re not going to get rid of him, and we need to keep unwanted publicity away from the Center. Make sure he’s not armed—or wired—and come back with him,” I reply.

“Will do,” Chuck says and ends the call.

What the hell is this? I haven’t even finished my lunch yet. I finish the email to Aaron and pull up Google just as Chuck and Mr. Healy are entering my office.

“Mrs. Grey,” Mr. Healy greets.

Dr. Grey,” I correct him. He nods.

“Dr. Grey,” he corrects himself. “This is a homeless shelter, a community center, a place where someone seeks solace and assistance, and your staff patted me down like a criminal. Is it usually this hard to get in?” I intwine my fingers in front of me.

“First of all, sir, you’re correct about our facility. What you left out is that it’s also a place where our residents may be seeking sanctuary from a violent or abusive spouse, which is why there’s security at the door and throughout the facility.

“Second, you didn’t come here asking for any one of those things. You came here asking directly for me. Having been assaulted on these premises before and having been required to pull my firearm to protect myself, I require that anyone requesting to see me under ominous circumstances be subject to a search. You would have been completely within your rights to refuse that search, but then we wouldn’t be speaking right now. What can I do for you?”

“Actually, Dr. Grey, it’s what can I do for you. May I sit?” Truthfully, he’s less of a threat if he’s sitting and Chuck is standing, so I gesture to the seat in front of my desk.

“By all means,” I say. He takes a seat and crosses his legs.

“I followed your trial on television,” he says. “That was really an awful thing that happened to you. It was quite the harrowing tale.”

“Yes, it was,” I agree. “Are you a reporter?”

“I’m not a reporter, Mrs… forgive me, Dr. Grey, but I am a storyteller. I’m a movie producer.” I frown.

“I have nothing to do with movies,” I say, typing his name into Google as I’m speaking. A short bio comes up. “Why would a movie producer be coming to see me?”

“I’d like to tell your story,” he says, “from your perspective, in your words. It would be the catalyst for conversation nationwide, maybe even worldwide, about bullying and the price of social acceptance. We’ve all seen or heard the story of the young misfit being bullied at school, but nothing like this! This is horrific and graphic, and the world needs to see this through your eyes, hear this story in your voice.”

I feel the room spinning a bit, like I’m stepping out of a vortex and the vertigo hasn’t quite worn off. This must be a joke, a terrible joke…

“You’re kidding, right?” I ask.

“No,” Healy says. “Your story is phenomenal and harrowing, but ultimately has a happy ending. It’s better than fiction, and I’d like to be the one to tell it for you.”

“You’ve got to be kidding!” I bark. “You’re trying to make a dime off of my suffering? Are you fucking serious?” He’s quiet, momentarily stunned. For the love of God, hasn’t he paid attention to headlines—to me—before he took it upon himself to barge into my office with this foolishness? He had to know this is how I would react.

“Well, of course, there’s going to be money to be made, but that’s not…”

“No!” I yell, before he finishes the sentence. “For God’s sake, no! Where do you people come from? It’s bad enough that they want to plaster my horror, my personal life and my tragedies all over the goddamn news; you want to put them on the silver screen! Are you insane? What if this was your daughter? Your wife? Your mother?”

“They’d want to tell their story, and I’d want to help them tell it,” he replies flatly.

“Well, I don’t want to tell my story. It’s been all over the fucking news already!” I declare. There’s silence for a moment.

“With all due respect, Mrs. Grey, I don’t need your permission to make this movie. All I have to do is change the location, the names, some of the key details and make it fiction. So, you can be a part of this, or you don’t have to.”

Oh, so now I’m Mrs. Grey again, and he wants to make an enemy of me… fine.

“Oh, I’ll be a part of it alright,” I promise, calmly. “You do that, Mr. Healy, but I want you to keep something in mind. I’m certain you’ve followed our life enough before you called me. Think hard. Think really hard. Who do you know anywhere, who can you find that can say they got one over on Christian and Anastasia Grey? I’ll wait.”

He doesn’t respond, nor does he break my gaze.

“Yeah, you’ve probably got a studio behind you or maybe you’ll be presenting the storyline to one. Maybe you’ve got the funding as I’m sure that just about anybody would be willing to get a piece of this, but I can guarantee that you’ll be ruining the lives and careers of anybody willing to touch this piece of shit including yours. We’ll start with injunctions against anybody involved in anything that looks remotely like my life—fiction or non-fiction, and that ‘purely coincidental’ shit won’t save you. But that’ll just be the start. You, or anybody else, who thinks they can go about the business of exploiting the most horrific part of my life to make a name for themselves will fall prey to such a personal crusade that will rival Armageddon in its magnitude. I will own the skin on their very balls they will have to get my permission before they can even take a piss!”

I say the last statement all in one breath without pausing.

“Mrs. Grey, in case you’re not aware, unauthorized biographies are published all the time. There’s really nothing you can do to stop this train from leaving the station.”

“Mr. Healy, try me.” I reply. I pause, gesturing to Chuck to get this piece of scum out of my office.

“Mrs. Grey…”

“Mr. Healy, this conversation is over. Now, you can leave on your own right now, or I can have you thrown out, and when I say, ‘thrown out,’ I mean physically. Thrown. Out.” I glare at him for a moment and he has three seconds to get out of that chair before I have Chuck drag him out by his collar. He stands and smirks at me and that’s enough for Chuck.

“Move your ass,” Chuck says, clasping his arm. He snatches his arm away.

“Get your hands…” Chuck opens his suit jacket.

“Let me rephrase—move your ass before I splatter your goddamn brains against that wall behind you!” Chuck threatens. Healy looks at his body and I assume he sees Chuck’s body holster. He raises his hands.

“You wouldn’t shoot an unarmed man, would you?” he says.

“I’d shoot a piece of scum like you any day, armed or unarmed.” Chuck grabs his arm and shoves him into the hallway. “Now, move your fucking ass!”

Healy stumbles into the hallway and I hear him hit the wall.

“Do you see this?” he says. “Do you see him manhandling me?” and now he has an audience.

“I don’t know what you did, but I suggest you move your fucking ass,” I hear Grace say. I want to laugh when I hear her say that, but I’m too damn mad. I dial the front desk and ask for Oscar.

“Yes, ma’am?” he answers.

“Get the year, make, model and plate number of that guy that just came back here with Chuck,” I tell him.

“On it,” he says. I disconnect the call.

“Ana, what was that about?” Grace asks.

“Movie producer,” I tell her. “Wants to make a movie of that horrible shit that happened to me and the trials. When I said, ‘No,’ he told me he would do it anyway.”

“Oh, dear God,” she says. “Does he have the means?”

“I’ll find out soon enough,” I say as hit Alex’s speed dial.

“Your Highness,” he answers.

“I’m anxious… and angry… I called you too soon,” I blubber.

“Oookay… too soon for what?” he asks.

“I need information… right now!” I bark. “On a guy. His name is Malcolm Healy. He’s supposed to be a movie producer, but I can’t find much of anything about him online.” I hear Alex typing.

“I’m looking, but may I ask why you’re looking for information on a movie producer?” Alex asks.

“Because he pissed me off!” I retort.

“That’s obvious,” Alex says, still typing, “but I’d really like… oh, shit! Were you approached by a movie producer?”

“Yes, and when I told him, ‘no,’ he had to be physically removed from my fucking office!” I snap.

“Oh, dear. Should we get more security down here?” Grace says, taking a seat in front of my desk.

“That’s not his real name,” Alex says. “He doesn’t have any hits online and I’m not getting anything for any kind of hits on the federal database of producers with that name. What were his physical characteristics?”

“He sat down kind of quickly but I would say 5’10” maybe 5’11”, 160 – 180, brown hair, brown eyes, white… I don’t have anything else.”

“Approximate age?” Alex asks. I sigh.

“Early 30s, maybe,” I say, uncertainly. Chuck comes back into the room.

“He really is a piece of scum,” he says.

“Why do you say that?” I ask,

“Just talking a lot of shit. That guy has no clout, I can guarantee you.” He hands me a piece of paper.

“Do you still have that business card that he gave you?” I ask. Chuck reaches into his coat pocket and gives me a business card that only has the name and phone number on it—nothing else.

“Okay, Alex? His business card boasts Ventures Production and Marketing. The phone number is 221-5…”

“221?” Alex interrupts me. “Wait, wait, 221? Are you sure?” I look at the card again.

“Yeah, 221,” I reply. I hear him typing.

“Do you have anything else on this guy?” he asks.

“Yeah, Chuck just gave me the possible year and the make, model, and license plate number of his car.”

“What is it?” I look at the paper and frown.

“Is this right?” I ask Chuck.

“That’s what I shoved his ass into,” he says. “The year may be wrong, but that’s the make and model and the license plate.” I shake my head and look at the paper.

“It’s a 2006 or 2007 Toyota Corolla,” I say incredulously. “Blue, license plate #S47R251S.” I hear Alex typing on his keyboard.

“I figured as much,” Alex says. “That guy is a total fraud.”

“Details,” I say. Alex types some more.

“That car is registered to Armando Ramos,” he pauses and types a little more. “Brown hair, brown eyes, 172, 5’11” … good guess…”

That’s what I do.

“That 221 area code, that’s a Senegal country code. It’s probably a burner phone, most likely forwarded to a local cell.”

“Why would he do that?” I ask.

“For clout, maybe—or so he thinks.” he says. “It’s part of the image. Nobody knows that his ‘international cell’ is a phony… and that’s a 2005 Toyota.”

“Or for the love of God,” I say.

“What?” Grace questions.

“He’s a fraud,” I tell her. “A nobody…”  and here I was hoping I’d have something to sink my teeth into. The nerve of that guy!

“I was wondering why someone would contact you about movie rights instead of GEH,” Alex says.

“Why would they contact GEH first?” I ask.

“Because you’re an officer now,” he says. “Everybody knows that. If they didn’t know it before, they know it from the trial. You are GEH. Interviews and news spots, you can do that on your own. Books and movie deals, you’re getting into proprietary information because you represent the company. There are all kinds of legal ramifications of that! Any amateur knows that… well, except for this amateur.”

I Google Armando Ramos and realize that this guy truly is less than nobody. He had a couple of below-D-list films, one that made the list of worst films of 2012 and the other that couldn’t even be bothered with bad publicity. He’s probably desperate for a hit since the information that I’m seeing says he’s been at this producer thing for years with nothing to show for it. I can’t help but wonder what this guy was thinking.

“You’ve gotten quiet, Mrs. Grey,” Alex says. Smart ass.

“Just looking at some general information on this asshole…” Sorry, Grace. “Have you found anything good on him?”

“A couple of average-joe arrest records, petty stuff. A few low-budget movies to his name. This is just some bottom feeder trying to make a name for himself.”

“Send me the information that you have. Were you able to get his cell phone number?” I ask.

“Yep, I’m tracking it as we speak,” he says.

“Send me that, too,” I say. “He isn’t still on the premises, is he?”

“No, he just pulled up at the museum at Union Park… We may want to keep an eye in this guy. He may be intending to come back when you’re off work.”

“I think that’s a good idea,” I say. “I’m not worried about him, but I have a feeling that he might be persistent.”

“Will do,” Alex says. “I just sent his preliminary information to your email. I’ll keep you updated as we find additional information.”

“Good, and Alex, I want personal information in case he decides to play hardball.” The line is quiet for a moment.

“I really don’t think he’s in that type of position, Ana,” he says.

“Just in case,” I reply. “You can’t be too careful. Also, he’s not the only one to get this cock-and-bull idea in his head. He’s just the first one to approach me. My story is gruesome, and gruesome sells. I might as well prepare myself.” I hear him sigh.

“Roger that,” he says and we end the call.

Less than nobody… coming to my place of work, interrupting my lunch, and telling me that he’ll make my story whether I give him permission or not. I look at his information again:

 Armando Ramos—alias Mani

In less than twenty minutes, I have his personal cell phone number, his location, his arrest record, his home address, and a short list of the crappy movies that he’s made and he really thinks he can fuck with me? He’s relaxing in the park, probably enjoying his lunch and celebrating what he thinks is a coup.

“Let’s go,” I tell Chuck. He frowns.

“Where?” he asks.

“Union park,” I reply, “and I’m not arguing. You can go with me, or I’ll go alone. Either way, I’m going… and I’m driving.”

“Ana…” I’m up and out of my seat before he can try to stall me. “Shit! Fine, but I’m calling Jay. I’m telling you that now.”

“I don’t care,” I tell him. “Walk while you talk…”

Ten minutes later, I pull up to the museum at Union Park with Chuck in the passenger seat and a back-up security detail in the back seat. I see Armando sitting on a bench near the fountain. He’s finishing a sandwich and he appears to be people watching. At least, I hope that’s what he’s doing and not some weird stalker shit.

“Give me your phone,” I tell Chuck. I’m effectively cutting off his ability to give a play by play, at least from his phone, but that’s not why I want it. He begrudgingly hands me his cell and I dial the asshole’s number.

“Hello,” he answers.

“This is Anastasia Grey.” I see and hear him scoff a laugh.

“Have you changed your mind, Mrs. Grey?” he responds cockily.

“No, I haven’t, Mr. Ramos,” I say, using his real name. I watch him stiffen immediately, nearly dropping the remainder of his sandwich on the ground as I begin to walk the trail around him, observing his reactions. The line is so silent, it seems like the traffic has stopped and the birds aren’t even singing anymore.

“And just so you know,” I continue, “I’m not using that phony number on the card with the Senegal country code that you left me. I’m calling you directly. This is what I can do in thirty minutes with little to no information. Please… give me a mission.”

The thick silence remains on the line and I have to check and see if he has disconnected the call.

“Did I lose you, Mani?” I ask.

“How much do you know?” he nearly growls after a few more moments of silence.

“Enough,” I say unfazed, coming around the trail behind him and closing the space between us. “And then some. You should really get to know your target before you start throwing your supposed weight around. Seriously, Mani, you’ve got a string of Z-rated movies and you want me to associate my name with you. Not that this is a venture that I’m even slightly interested in pursuing, but even if I were, you would be the last person I would want to tell that story.”

I’m still walking towards him, watching as he clenches and flexes his free hand, occasionally rubbing his fingers together and impatiently fidgeting in his seat.

“If you really want to play with the big boys, bring it on, Armando, but please remember this. That story is a very painful part of my life, but even if it’s published or televised, it could do no more than make me a bit uncomfortable. However, it could have a horrible future impact on my children. And by the way, you may want to turn around.”

I end the call and hand Chuck his phone just as I approach Armando’s perch. He spins around on his park bench and at first, he’s angry, but then his face pales. He knows that he left me in my office 30 minutes ago. I’m standing here interrupting his lunch in a public place where he most likely didn’t tell anybody that he was going.

“Surprised?” I say calmly, clasping my hands in front of me. He just sits there looking at me, stunned.

“So, what, you followed me,” he says, once he regains himself. I shake my head.

“Unless you’re as stupid as you look,” I give him a once-over, “and you just might be… you were in your rearview mirror for at least three blocks after you left my office, probably more. And even if you weren’t, you know as well as I do that I didn’t follow you. I tracked you, Mani.

He twitches a bit. His poker face is one big tell, and for him to threaten to do something that would displease me, he’s actually nothing more than a small-time manipulator. I want to punch him in his fucking face… literally punch him in his goddamn face, but since I can’t do that, I talk a figurative gut punch or two.

“Like I said,” I begin, “it won’t hurt me, but it could hurt my children. To that end, and this is where I need you to listen carefully, if I see or hear anything on the big or the little screen that even slightly resembles any of the horrific events of my life, I swear on my children… you’re going to wish you were dead.”

Clear horror flashes across his face for a moment, but he recovers quickly.

“I’ve taken down bigger fish than you,” he threatens.

“Where?” I ask incredulously, while opening my hands in a shrugging motion. “All I’ve seen associated with you is a string of psychotronic duds for which you weren’t even the front man!”

“You really think your money is going to get you far enough to stop me?” he asks, his voice condescending.

Money?” I scoff a laugh. “How many people do you intimidate with that line? Have you been hiding under a rock? Haven’t you heard, Mani? Money is just the gateway drug. Power is the real addiction. Do you want to find out how strung out I really am?”

I glare at him and await a response. When I get none, I don my Jackie O’s. I said what I came to say.

“What? That’s it?” he taunts with obvious false bravado as I turn to walk away. “No ‘you’ll never work in this town again?’” I stop and look back at him.

“Finding work should be the least of your concerns,” I say, still unfazed, and I can tell by his expression that those eight words made a bigger statement than anything I previously said. I know he’s heard all of the I’ll destroy you and you’ll never work in this town again lines, but I’m certain that what scares him the most is someone not telling him what they’ll do to him, particularly a woman with the power of scorn and a force of a mother’s vengeance who discovered exactly who you were from a phony business card in 20 minutes.

I let that sink in and turn to walk back to my car just in time to see two new black Audi Q7’s pull up behind Chuck’s car. Hmm, restocking the fleet, I see.

Christian nearly leaps out of the back of one of the SUV’s and four other members of security spill out of the two cars, including Jason. The five of them are walking to my car with purpose, but I never stop my leisurely stroll in his direction. My lack of urgency calms and bemuses him at the same time.

“Anastasia, what’s going on?” he demands once we approach each other.

“I can’t talk right now, baby. I need to get back to the Center,” I reply, and kiss him sweetly on the cheek. “Chuck will fill you in.”

I finish the short trek to the parking lot, leaving an even more bemused Christian Grey standing behind me. I glance over at Armando, and even under my Jackie O’s, I can tell that he’s a few shades paler than when I left him. After all, he was just confronted by me and two of my security staff, one of whom threw him out of my office earlier, and now I’m leaving him to answer to five more very tall, very determined men—one of which is my very protective husband, and he probably doesn’t even know that yet.

I get in my car, start it, and head back to the Center, leaving my husband and his confused entourage in the park to deal with Mani.

When I get back to the Center, I can’t concentrate at all. My adrenaline is up, but not in a way that makes me want to cry. It’s flying high in a way that needs to be burned off—and now! Knowing that I’m not going to be able to get anything else done, I let Chuck know that we’re heading home for the day.

Once there, I spend quite some time in the gym trying to release the adrenaline that had accumulated. I want this asshole to try something. I want to leave him crushed under my heel and I want to see his face while I’m doing it. Fucking jerk piece of shit nobody motherfucker.

I wail away on the heavy bag, but it’s only a slight relief. I head to my bedroom and my en suite for a scalding hot shower.


CHRISTIAN

Things had been quiet. The two biggest things in our lives that didn’t fall into the everyday drama of GEH or Helping Hands have been the counseling with Garrett and Marilyn and the recent developments with Shalane Deleroy.

Things are progressing slowly with Garrett and Marilyn, as we expected they would, but they’re progressing, nonetheless. Butterfly is right—I see a lot of us in them, what we would have been had I not been so fucked up and we had met at an earlier time. Garrett is headstrong like me. He just doesn’t display it as openly as I do, but if you brush him the wrong way or he becomes emotional, as he calls it, you’re in for a battle.

Marilyn is, for lack of a better word, bipolar. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I only mean that either this experience or some experience before this put her in a state of quiet resignation and acceptance. Most of the time, she has that whole it is what it is demeanor about her, even when she’s silently weeping. However, on those rare occasions where she wants to be heard, her back straightens and she becomes logical and frank. I’m actually happy to see the Marilyn who told me that she would quit if she had to put up with my shit as opposed to the silent, depressed waif who had been haunting the halls of Grey Crossing for the last several weeks.

As for Shalane Deleroy, Jason came into my office yesterday incredulously telling me that she had agreed to sign the papers for Sophie to get a passport. This is tremendous news. We can only hope that she doesn’t change her mind before she actually signs the papers. Sophie has been taking out her frustrations on her cooking, and I’ve been getting those delectable chocolate truffles every weekend, requiring me to happily put in a little more time at the gym or an extra-long run.

When he told Sophie the news last night at dinner, her reaction was appropriately muted, accompanied by a declaration that she’ll believe it when she sees it. I can’t blame her—I had a similar reaction when I heard the news. That woman is so selfish, catty, and unpredictable that anything could happen between now and the time that she signs on the dotted line.

As it stands, the document has to be notarized and Shalane doesn’t have any ID in prison. So, Jason has asked me to be a credible identifying witness to Shalane’s identity and we will utilize a prison notary. We don’t know any of Shalane’s friends, nor would we want to try to contact any of them for this assuming that she has any besides her drug dealer. Jason hasn’t been in touch with any of her family since the divorce, and a credible witness has to be able to identify the signer as the signer.

As a credible witness, I have to attest that I know Shalane personally, have had several interactions with her, and know that this is her legal name. In essence, I’m her ID card. I do know the cow; I have, unfortunately, had several personal interactions with her; and of course, I know her name. Oh, and I can’t have a personal interest in the transaction, meaning that I’m not named in or signing the document in question, which is the application for Sophie’s passport. We have an appointment to go to the prison next Wednesday to get the documents signed.

I asked Jason last night what he thought finally changed Shalane’s mind. He told me that his daughter is apparently a master at emotional warfare. At first, she would go to the visits and just stare at her mother. That graduated to turning her back, taking the phone off the hook, and just sitting there for an hour.

Shalane called Jason berating him in every language saying that he told her to do this. Jason says that he calmly told her that he wished he had come up with that brilliant idea, but that this was all Sophie. He told her that this situation was of her making and that she was the only one with the power to undo it. That must’ve done the trick because that’s when she decided to sign the papers. Now, we’ll just have to see if the passport carriage turns into a pumpkin before next Wednesday.

Luckily, Butterfly and I have already taken care of passports for Minnie and Mikey. That reminds me that I need to make the announcement that we’re planning the family vacation sometime in July or August so that anyone without a passport can get it secured.

I got a little comfortable in the serenity of the last couple of weeks, and this afternoon, Jason comes running into my office to tell me that Butterfly is on her way to the park about to meet some seedy producer about making a movie of her life.

What the fuck?

“Why the fuck would she do that?” I ask.

“I have no idea, but Chuck says they’re on their way down there right now. Her Highness insisted on driving.”

“I have so many questions right now, but they’re going to have to be answered in transit…”

I call Alex as we’re in the elevator to the parking garage to get the background information sent to me that Jason says Butterfly requested. Three more security detail meet us in the parking structure as Alex gives me the full breakdown of his and Butterfly’s conversation. The way that he left things, there appears to be absolutely no reason for Butterfly to be concerned, so I’m wondering why she went to meet this guy.

When we get to Union Park, I can see that body a mile away—well, maybe a few hundred feet—talking to some guy by the fountain. She looks like she’s walking back to the parking lot as we park, but then she stops and appears to say something else to the guy.

What the hell is going on?

I’m walking so quickly towards my wife and two of our security details that I feel the wind blowing through my hair. She’s walking towards me like she just had a leisurely conversation with an old friend. When she calmly tells me that she has to get back to the Center and kisses me on the cheek directing me to ask Chuck what was going on, I nearly lose my shit.

“She just wanted to strut,” Chuck says with a shrug. “I’ll call you.”

He steps double-time to get back to the car and I watch as Butterfly pulls out, waves sweetly, and drives off. I turn to the loser sitting on the park bench eyeing me and my security detail. I go over to talk to the guy and he’s damn near pissing his pants when we get to him. He guarantees me that he won’t bother my wife again and he doesn’t want the story. I don’t know what Butterfly said to him, but he’s scared shitless.

I go back to the office, hoping that this whole thing is a false alarm. Chuck calls as promised to tell me what happened in the park and that they guy turned out to be as big of a loser in person as he is on paper. He tells me something else that concerns me, though. Butterfly has cut her day short and now she’s at the mansion taking her fury out on the heavy bag.

Something else is going on.

I finish up what I’m working on, which takes another hour, and decide to head home to see what’s going on with Butterfly. When I arrive, she’s done in the gym and now she’s in the shower. I hope that means that she’s worked off whatever frustration the day brought on her and we can have a peaceful dinner. I take this time to shower as well since the day had me a little wound, too. I don’t rush with my shower. I wash my hair and let the hot water rinse away my stress. When I’m done, I dry myself thoroughly then take to briskly towel drying my hair. I head for my dressing room to change into some more comfortable clothes.

I don’t get that far.

My wife is standing in the doorway between our bedroom and the sitting room when I come out of the en suite… and she’s naked.

“Go in the sitting room,” she says. “Sit on the loveseat.”

Okay. She’s bossy, which means she’s hot.

I follow directions and sit on the loveseat only to find that she’s right behind me, dropping to her knees when my butt hits the seat. She takes most of my cock into her mouth and throat and sucks quickly and sloppily.

Whoa! Shit! Hard and wet in an instant. I move my hand to her cheek and she quickly grabs both my hands and slams them down on the cushion. She looks up at me with a mouth full of my dick, spiking my arousal to feverish proportions but warning me with her eyes not to touch.

Fucking yes, Mistress!

Still holding my hands down with hers, she bobs madly on my cock, fucking me deliciously with her throat. I don’t know how she’s doing it, but I don’t care. I just sit there like the sacrificial lamb being gobbled by my wife, insane amounts of saliva falling from her mouth and coating my dick—which is becoming angrier and veinier by the second.

The intense and building pleasure draws a groan from deep in my cock burning up through my chest. She releases my cock from her lips, and I can hardly breathe. I don’t know whether to lament the cessation of stimulation or to be grateful for the reprieve.

She stands to her feet and wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. She grabs both legs behind the knees and pulls my body so that my ass is on the edge of the loveseat. I’m so weak and disoriented from the flash blowjob that my body moves willingly with no protest. She straddles me and I soon discover when she opens her pussy exactly what kind of torture she has in store for me.

She wraps the lips around my hard, wet, angry cock, but she doesn’t allow me to enter her. She grabs the back of the sofa on either side of my head and begins to grind. She starts by looking down at us, watching the head of my cock appear and disappear between her legs. Her hips have a vicious roll—back and forth, hard and deep, up and down the outside of my cock. She’s riding me, grinding me, masturbating me with the lips and clit of her pussy.

Fuck, this shit is killing me! I can guarantee you I won’t get any harder, Mistress!

I hear her breathing become heavy as she continues to grind, now closing her eyes and riding for dear life. Dammit, she’s going to make me come like this!

I soon realize that’s her intention… or at least she’s going to come.

Back and forth, up and down, round and round, relentlessly she grinds against my cock. God, it feels so good and with no reprieve, I can feel it rising up in me and getting ready to blow. I’m trying to stay still, grabbing viciously at the cushions to keep from grabbing her. My pelvis is cemented to the seat, but my aching cock is reaching high for her ministration. My head digging back into the sofa and my cock trying hard not to succumb to her quickening hot, deep, and hard strokes and circular grind, I groan loud and cry out, surrendering completely to a throbbing orgasm sending thick, long strings of cum across my abdomen up to my chest.

She doesn’t slow or lessen her movements and my offering continues to stream from the head of my gloriously releasing dick. Her rhythm doesn’t stop and although my erection doesn’t wane, the head is becoming slightly tender from the intense orgasm and continuous friction. I keep my head back and grit my teeth, waiting to discover my Mistress’ purpose. I hear her whimper a few moments later, and my head is still tender—not as tender as it was before but tender. She keeps going, a few more strokes, then a few more, and I feel her tremble slightly. She only whimpers; she doesn’t cry out, and a few moments later, I feel her clit throbbing against the head of my cock. She’s pressing it hard against me, deep, moving only infinitesimally against me as her body jerks violently. Her head has fallen forward, and her hair covers us both in wild, wet, untamed strands as she grunts quietly through her orgasm, then breathes heavily through the aftershocks.

Oh, my fucking hell, that was so fucking hot.

Only a moment later, she masterfully moves her hips, taking my head inside of her.

“Fuck!” I hiss. She takes one hand, gathers her mane of hair, and tosses it behind her back. She puts one hand at the nape of my neck and the other on my shoulder and pushes herself all the way down onto my dick. I hiss again at the tightness—the depth, warmth, and wetness. Shit, I just came, and this is rushing me to round two.

She begins her grind again, long, melodic strokes like a fucking dancer making her way across the stage. She briefly makes eye-contact with me before she tightens her grip on the nape of my neck and plunges her tongue into my mouth.

Oh, God, help me.

She’s ravishing my lips with delicious sex kisses as she works my hard but helpless dick inside of her hot core. This is quite mentally and physically stimulating as my wife has taken the reins and is doing with me what she pleases, and Greystone isn’t protesting one bit.

However, I can’t have her gyrating on me like this and I can’t touch her.

I wrap my arms around her body, gently caressing her as she moves, closing my eyes and losing myself in kisses that speak to the very deepest part of my libido. For several moments, she grinds into me and I cautiously move my hands to her luscious ass. I don’t try to press her into me, I just need to feel it as she moves.

This woman is owning me… kissing and sucking my neck, licking my shoulder and ear, and pinching my nipples. I am being fucked—and well. I surrender to every sensation, my body completely on fire as I give it to her. She has owned me in several ways tonight, and this is no different. With my hands on her ass, my fingers pressing into her supple skin, I follow the deliciously deep, flowing movements of her hips over mine. For a moment, my mind separates the feeling of my cock from the motion of her pelvis against my hands. I love how she feels against my hands. I love the feel of her skin and the soft roundness of the meat. The movements are so sensual and sexy and I follow her with my wrists, palms, and fingers, delighting in the fluid rolling of her body that I love so much, physically and emotionally.

I’m caught up in the wonderment of this body, of this woman that belongs to me, all mine… and in my feelings for how much I love and revere her. I almost forgot about the physical feeling in my cock…

… Until I remember.

My mind immediately goes back to my dick, to the hot, warm friction and delight this woman is invoking upon me. I’m thrust right back in the middle of the pleasure at its highest level and I’m not prepared for it. My body can’t take it.

“Dear God!” I mourn against my Mistress’ mouth and Greystone begins a spectacular tribute to her skills. My balls are so tight that they’re painful and I slide back down onto the loveseat, clinching her ass, opening my legs, and pressing my cock as far into her as her ministrations will allow.

“Oh, God, yes!” she cries as she finally surrenders to her orgasm, her nails digging into my shoulder and her hips pressing as hard against mine as mine are against hers.

Jesus Christ, that was insane!

I can’t say that I mind being at my wife’s mercy. Even though she didn’t dominate me, she dominated me. Good God, did she dominate me.

We’re catching our breath, drenched in sweat even though we both just showered. The rise and fall of her chest and body on mine is making me want her again even though I just came. Between her panting, she locks her lips to mine again, kissing me deeply and causing the heat to rise between us again. I wrap my arms around her waist and sink into her kisses, allowing her to take me wherever she wants to go.

Sure enough, her hand moves from my neck to my cheek, and she positions her knees to ride again. I move my hand from her waist and gently stroke her round ass, cupping it delicately as she softly starts to move her hips again.

“God, baby, you’re so beautiful… and insatiable.”

“Mmm-hmmm,” she purrs, as she locks her lips to mine and begins her slow, delicious grind once more.

*-*

The final round lasted forever last night, for both of us. Butterfly took me several ways—cowgirl, reverse cowgirl, scissors with her on top, and one that I’m still trying to figure out… one of my legs over her shoulders. I don’t know how she came up with that one, but I was so deep inside her that I swear I could feel her tonsils on the head of my dick. I almost came with that one, but I didn’t want it to end. We finally met our end lying on the sofa—her on top, of course—and some kind of right angle where she was fucking me sideways from on top and causing my dick to do this deep in and out circular motion where every part of me was hitting every part of her. Once we got that right rhythm and movement, that position only lasted for about a minute before we were both locked in mind-blasting orgasms that lured us into immediate exhausted and satiated slumber.

And believe it or not, right now, sitting in my office, my cock is throbbing, thinking about fucking her again.

I almost can’t wait to get back to the Crossing and to my wife. It’s like we didn’t fuck at all last night and I need her now!

When I get home, I take the stairs—both flights—two at a time because I simply can’t wait for the elevator.

She’s in the shower. Fucking perfect!

I quickly go through my closet through the meditation room and to the playpen and get a pair of cuffs on a chain. I’m delighted to discover that the shower is still running when I come back. I remove my jacket, tie, socks, and shoes, and proceed to my wife’s bathroom.

Unaware that I’ve joined her, she continues to lather her body with the natural sponge. I watch her as the bubble coats and caress her curves, licking my lips in anticipation of touching her. I remain silent and motionless as she finishes washing, then rinses the soap from her body. When she begins to rinse the conditioner from her hair, that’s when I know that it’s safe to move in.

I’m come closer, not too close so as not to startle her when she turns the water off. Once she does, she wrings out her hair, then takes her towel and dries her face. After wrapping her hair in her towel, she turns and sees me and her breath catches.

I’m in uniform—not intentionally, it just worked out that way. She raises her eyes to mine.

“You’re home,” she says, her voice soft.

“Sorry I’m late. Work was hell,” I reply, slowly moving closer to her and allowing her to see the cuffs in my hand.

“Is everything okay?” she asks, somewhat cautiously. I nod.

“Everything’s fine,” I reply. When I get to the edge of the shower, I gesture to her to come to me with my finger. She slowly walks to me, her body glistening with water.

“You were so untamable last night,” I say, salaciously looking down at her. “I couldn’t wait to get home to take you again, maybe not as intense as last night, but one or two… maybe three… I don’t know how you’re feeling.”

“I’m fine,” she says, her head dropping a bit and the blue in her eyes darkening. I raise the cuffs.

“Not a full scene,” I say, “just a little play.” She nods.

“Good. Stand on the ledge.”

She moves to the six-inch ledge on the edge of the shower meant to keep the water from escaping. I loop the chain of the cuffs over the shower bar.

“Turn around. Hands up.” She turns around and raises her hands over her head. Seeing that the cuff is a little long, I twist the chain a couple of times and lock her into the leather cuffs. I remove the towel from her head and examine her. The ledge gives me just enough height to play with the little gap between her legs.

“Perfect!” I say. “Open your mouth.”

When she opens her mouth, I reach around her and put my first two fingers inside.

“Suck,” I command. She closes her mouth over my fingers and my cock immediately stiffens. I cup her breast with my free hand and run my thumb across her wet nipple. She shivers and begins to shamelessly felate my fingers.

Fuck! Enjoy that torment while you can, Pussycat.

I continue to tease her nipple as I know that it’s much more sensitive than my finger. Her nipple becomes pink and taut and she really begins to felate my finger. That’s enough, Pussycat.

I move my wet fingers from her mouth straight down to her clit. She gasps as I manipulate that precious little center of nerves with my wet fingers. Thank you so much for the lubrication, Pussycat. It’s just what I needed.

She licks her lips as she pulls at her cuffs a bit, slowly thrusting her crotch against my massaging fingers. I wrap her hair around my hand and give it a gentle tug causing her to gasp a bit and her head to lean over, giving me full access to her neck.

“Keep still,” I warn, and her hips still immediately. I begin the torment on her that she inflicted on me last night, tasting her neck, shoulders, ear, and skin, fondling her breast and masturbating her clit with my fingers, occasionally dipping my hand into her wet core to moisten them a little more. Her breathing deepens when I cover her mans with my palm and manipulate her entire pussy with my whole hand, my wet fingers stroking back and forth between her lips and over her clit much like my dick did last night.

My dick… no use in letting her have all the fun.

I watch her body—stroking, kissing, licking, waiting… I won’t let her climb too high. I’m not trying to punish or torture her. I just want to make her feel good… and have some fun in the process.

When that body and that sensual breathing tells me that she’s beginning to ascend, I slowly remove my finger so that it’s not too shocking. I release my cock from my pants and boxer briefs and use her juices on my hand to anoint the head. Fuck, that feels good. Greystone is good and ready.

I slide it between her legs, bending my knees just a bit to get the right angle, the head right between her lips and brushing against the clit. She moans as I hold her hips and grind against her from behind. She grabs the chains and her head falls back as she absorbs the friction.

I know, Pussycat, I feel it, too.

She steadies herself with the chains and begins to move again against my cock in small thrusts, dropping her head forward to watch it like she did last night. I slap her taut nipple firmly to get her attention and alert her of her malfeasance. She gasps audibly, her breath quickening and one leg trembles a bit.

What’s this?

I slap the nipple again and she whimpers through her breathing, her hips still moving slightly.

Well, I’ll be damned. She likes it.

I immediately set to the task of firming the other nipple, pinching and teasing it gently as I grip the first one, still grinding against her lips and clit.

“Since you can’t follow directions and keep still,” I begin, “grind that dick like you did last night.”

She clasps her hands together, stands on her toes, and begins to grind deliciously against an already very erect Greystone. She doesn’t have the angling that she had last night, so she has to use her feet to help her get the friction she needs. She’s moving like a beautiful and well-oiled piece of machinery, pushing her lips back on my cock and pulling them forward so that her clit gets the full benefit of head—and vice-versa—flat-footed when her ass comes back to me so that she can grind down on me as she pulls forward, rising to her toes as she reaches the head so that she can easily keep the cycle going.

To add to her stimulation—and my enjoyment—I alternate slapping and pinching both now-taut nipples, causing her to gasp at first, then cry out a couple of times. I wet both fingers and thumbs and reach around that beautiful body, teasing and gently pulling her nipples in that way that I know makes her want to cum. She intensifies her grind on my cock, tormenting us both incessantly, and her leg starts to tremble.

That’s it, Pussycat. I won’t wear you out, but we’re going to have some fun before this is done.

I continue fondling her nipples, trying not to concentrate on my burning cock, and she continues to grind, chasing this orgasm that I know is just at her fingertips. She whimpers and mewls again, grinding a little faster, and I know right when it hits. She won’t cry out at first, but as the wave moves through her, she succumbs and whines out her release.

I grab her collapsing body, glad that I get a reprieve. I don’t want to come yet. After last night’s escapades, I need dessert, but I probably only have one good shot in me… maybe two, but I don’t want to chance it.

Once she has caught her breath, I check in that she’s okay. When she confirms, I fall to my knees on the wet shower floor—still in my pants—and position my face at her pussy. She’s looking down at me to see what I’m about to do. I raise my gaze to her, lean in, and gently blow on her protruding clit. Her tongue shoots out of her mouth and caresses her top lip, so I do it again. She shivers, so I do it again, and again. Each puff brings a different, delightful response, so I combine them with a single gentle lick.

Now, the mewling starts, and I love it.

I don’t go in on a full attack on her clit. I just puff and lick for a little while, just until she’s squirming a bit. Then, I do a mini-assault on her clit and lips, just to make her hot again. Greystone has calmed, but he’s definitely still hard. The scent and taste of that sweet juice did nothing to soften him.

I rise to my feet and lick her lips so that she can taste herself on my tongue, then I tease her with my incredibly hard dick—just the head… top of her clit, over her clit, under her clit until the head just reaches the opening to pick up some juices there, then back over the journey to the top of the clit… and repeat. Each time the head pulls out and caresses the bottom of the clit before it starts again, she jerks and trembles, and I know this will be her second orgasm.

I keep that rhythm going and she closes her eyes and licks her lips. I don’t lose my stroke as I remove my shirt, watching her suffer in ecstatic agony as I tease her just right on her clit. She starts to move a bit and I know that she’s trying to control the stimulation.

“Don’t. Move.” I command, licking her lips again and she stills once more. I’m in front of her now, and I launch a full assault on her breasts, bending my body so that I can occasionally suck and bite the nipples without losing my stroke. She can barely stand that and her entire body trembles. I decide that I want her pulsing when I slide into her, so I craftily remove my pants and boxer briefs, still concentrating a stroke on that clit, and clamp down on those nipples.

It doesn’t take long. Ten or twelve more strokes and she’s detonating. Mid-orgasm, I lift one of her legs and slide into her.

“Fuck!” I hiss quietly, wrapping one arm around her to hold her up. I thrust deep into her pulsing pussy as she’s coming and she whines again this time, her head falling back with the climax. I hold her leg up and drill gently but deeply into her to get the full penetration. I am so fucking hard and horny, but denying my own orgasm means that as good as it feels, I have to coax it back to the forefront again.

I lock my lips to hers, my tongue invading her mouth in those same sensual sex kisses we did last night, and her tongue meets me lap for lap.

Yes, that’s it.

We’re feasting on each other’s mouth as my dick drives deep into the hot, velvet core. Several minutes of delicious, hot, wet sex and kisses later, I finally feel that hidden Nirvana begin to rise. My Pussycat is wet, and I don’t know if it’s from the workout, the impending orgasm, or her prior shower, but Greystone is about to give it to you.

Fuck, I need that ass!

I adjust the hand that’s holding up her leg to get a full and healthy grip of that beautiful ass, and Greystone approves immediately. With the invitation of an open ass, my other hand finds its way to Pussycat’s asshole and I breach the rosette without warning. She jumps a bit, protesting in my mouth, but quickly settles. I begin to wiggle my pelvis to get—and give—full friction as I squeeze that ass cheek and use it to push her hips against me, still finger-fucking her in the ass with the other hand. She’s been ordered not to move, so I feel her body stiffen and she moans a time or two in my mouth.

Give it to me, baby. I’m coming this time.

I continue to drill into her, grinding, manipulating, finger-fucking and kissing. The burn is delicious and I can feel my own sweat and the tug in my thighs signaling my pending release. I won’t stop it this time. It was too hard to bring it back and I want it. I’ll have to finish her off orally. That orgasm strikes me in the middle of my back and totally immobilizes me. I don’t know if I’ll be able to hold her up, but in a futile attempt, I tighten my hands on her… including the one in her ass, thereby thrusting my entire finger inside.

We cry out simultaneously in each other’s mouths, me gripping her with my hands and her gripping me with her pussy. MarysweetmotherofJesus!! Don’t fall, Grey, don’t fall. I have to release the kiss so that I can breathe.

“God! Oh, God!” I say through clenched teeth. I hear my wife… whining? Keening? Sobbing? I don’t know, but that pussy is still pulsing and throbbing and clenching my dick and literally sucking the life out of me!

“Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit,” I groan as this never-ending orgasm continues. Every muscle in my body is giving out on me and it’s torture to stay in an upright position, but I have to. My wife is still chained to the shower rack and if I let go, she might break an arm.

I don’t count the moments until the orgasm stops. I just practice yet another stamina exercise and stay there until it’s over. My wife is breathless and crying, and I reach up and undo one of the cuffs. The chain unravels quickly, surprising me, and I have to multitask, making sure the damn thing doesn’t hit us in the head and taking both of our weight on myself to break our fall. Luckily, we land on the marble floor with no casualties.


A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-misadventuresseason-v/ 

Pictures related to the progress of the Italian Villa can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/italy/italian-villa/

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

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 31

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…

Season 5 Episode 31

ANASTASIA

“How did things go with Sarah?”

I went into the office for a long overdue department head meeting this morning and learned that Sarah’s background check had come back clear, not that we had any doubt that it would. Upon hearing that, Sarah had to interview for the position just like any other candidate would. I was leaving the office when they were setting up the interview.

“She agreed to come in and interview this afternoon and I have to admit, she was stellar,” Christian says. “The interview took place in the first-floor conference room, so I watched from my office. I wanted to know if she was going to be a true asset to the company or if I was just going to be taking care of her… because I would if that was the case.”

I can’t argue with that. If he hadn’t, I would.

“I had nothing to worry about,” he says. “Sarah’s skills were being wasted at that parking structure. She has excellent leadership skills. She’s very quick on the pickup. She was answering questions and solving scenarios faster than they could throw them at her. I’d love to know where that Marsha bitch is now so that she can see what a goldmine I have in her place.”

“That’s a term that you seldom use,” I point out, surprised.

“I seldom have cause,” he replies. “This woman was really a bitch.”

“Please, explain,” I say, entwining my fingers over my laptop keyboard. “The only Marcia I can think of is Marlow’s mother and I know you couldn’t be speaking of her.”

“No,” he says, shaking his head. “Do you remember that incompetent security company that was assigned to your condo when David vandalized your car?” I twist my lips.

“I remember the car being vandalized and I vaguely remember something about the security company.” Even now, all this time after the accident, I still have problems with my short-term memory—at list with incidents that occurred a few years before that fateful day.

“Well, David vandalized your car and that security company—which I owned—was completely clueless even though the entire thing was caught on closed circuit TV. When I went about the business of finding out where the weak link was in the company, I discovered it was the director, Marsha Sims, who spent our entire meeting trying to illuminate that I was a chauvinistic man afraid of women trying to usurp her authority. Keep in mind that the entire time, the security company was going through an internal audit.”

“Hmm, and where is she working now?” I ask.

“Hell if I know, but not for me,” Christian replies, “hopefully for one of my competitors. I’ve got a real professional in the seat now. After that internal audit a few years back, I condensed the four companies into one and had them headquartered at GEH. With Sarah’s in-depth knowledge of security protocol, she’ll have the commercial security department in tiptop shape in no time.”

“I have to say that they weren’t one of the sore spots that we had been keeping an eye on… not that I know of anyway,” I point out.

“That’s because they weren’t that bad off,” he says. “They were fair to midland, but not slacking as badly as everyone else was. As fate would have it, that supervisor fell ill just after Christmas and took early retirement. Unfortunate for him, of course, but serendipitous for Sarah.”

“Is he okay?” I ask. “I hadn’t heard of any of the department heads falling ill.” Christian’s face turns solemn.

“Stage IV cancer unfortunately,” he says, “and he wasn’t the department head, Alex is. He would be just under Alex in the organizational chart as one of the subdivisions of security.” I twist my lips.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I say. “That leaves Sarah with quite the shoes to fill.”

“I have a feeling there’s a lot more fire to that woman than we think. She was just… meek to her husband, for lack of a better word.”

“Meek like… submissive?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“I think it was more than that,” he says. “I know there can be some assholes out there that try to use BDSM as an excuse to abuse women, but I don’t think that’s what this was. I think this was a powerless man—or a bully—who just took his frustrations out on a woman who didn’t have anybody else and he knew it. We find most of our strength from within and that’s understandable, but a lot of our strength derives from the fact that we’re not standing alone. It’s easy to victimize somebody who’s all alone. If I’m on my very last leg, I would draw more strength from the fact that you and the twins depend on me, so I can’t give up on whatever it is that I’m trying to do. If there’s no one standing behind me, I may not be so gung-ho to fight if the ship is sinking.” I shiver.

“That’s depressing,” I say. He shrugs.

“Be that as it may, a man standing on his own doesn’t have as much to fight for as a man who clearly has something to lose.” I shake my head.

“When does she start?” I ask, turning my attention back to my computer.

“Tomorrow,” he replies. “She wanted to get going as soon as possible. She feels like an imposition, staying at the Fairmont on our dime and all. She’s more than ready to stand on her own.”

“Well, it won’t be long now. All she has to do is find a place and she’ll be all set.”

“Yeah, she’s right, though—she’s not accustomed to handouts.” He walks over to my desk and looks over my shoulder. “What are you working on?”

“Answering emails and seeing what decorating ideas have… Oooohh!”

“What?” he asks.

“Aaron has sent me an email.” I click on the email and there’s no body to it, just a subject line that says, “Villa” and an attachment named, “Play me.”

“Play me?” I say, looking at the file.

“Huh?” Christian asks bemused.

“Aaron’s email has nothing in the body, but there’s an attachment.” I click on the attachment. “It’s an mp4.”

“Oh hell,” he says. “I’m going to let you watch it. “If he’s sending you a video, either it’s great news or terrible news. Either way, I see dollar signs. Let me know how that goes.”

He kisses me on the cheek and quickly leaves my study. I download the attachment and see that the video is 27 minutes long. Good grief. I settle in and prepare myself for him to hit me with the bad news.

He’s front and center when the video comes to life and I can tell that someone else is holding the camera.

“Hello, Ms. Anastasia,” he says, and he appears to be standing outside. “So, I know you looked at the virtual tour, but it really didn’t do this place justice. Also, it was furnished with all that other shit, so you really can’t see the beautiful bones you have to work with here. Forgive me if I start to sound a little effeminate, but this is what I live for.

“Look at this. Have you seen this?” He flourishes like Vanna White as the camera follows him to the front doors. “Look at this. Distress wood oversized double doors with iron hinges. That’s not metal, baby. That’s iron. Come on… come inside…”

He gestures to the camera operator to follow him into the house. He dramatically opens both doors with another large flourish.

“Look at this!” he declares. “Look. At. This!” He twirls with his arms held out to demonstrate the space. “Listen… lead glass windows, travertine stone floors, mahogany floors, 100-year-old pine floors, stone walls and fireplaces, antiqued walls…”

He’s rattling off the attributes of the house as he parades through it pointing at various amenities. His poor cameraperson doesn’t have an opportunity to get shots of the house. They’re just filming Aaron as he points in different directions.

“Designer plasterwork—look at these walls, girl… Are you getting all this?”

“No, I’m not, Aaron, you’re going too fast,” I hear a female voice say. Aaron waves her off.

“You just gone have to keep up,” he says as he keeps walking. “Get that! Do you see that?”

The camera pans up to a sight the totally warms my heart—low ceilings and large wood beams.

“That’s in this part of the house. Another part of the house has high ceilings and stone floors. Ana Baby, this house is three houses in one. Looka here! Looka here!”

He gestures to his right and the camera pans to a beautiful wood staircase.

“Solid wood staircase going up to the second floor, and there’s a wrought iron staircase on the other end going down to the wine cellar, which still has wine in it, by the way.”

Aaron spends several minutes telling me about the structure and attributes of the house, including the fabulous and luxurious indoor pool area.

“The bones are amazing!” he says. “You don’t need to paint or resurface anything the floors are fabulous no walls need to be knocked out it’s a decorator’s dream I’m never leaving!”

I laugh to myself as he says the entire last sentence in one breath.

He walks us through the parlors and bars and bathrooms and a stunning kitchen with medium two-toned oak wood, mullioned glass, brunette marble countertops, and deluxe appliances and fixtures that create the perfect mixture of traditional Italian and modern convenience. Not only does it not need any renovations, but also… it’s fucking gorgeous!

These walls are a classic sandstone finish. Magnifique, my dear, magnifique! I’d bet anything that those beams are walnut,” he says of the beams we see on the ceilings throughout the house.

The ceilings in this room are straw and plaster. I haven’t seen this technique before, but it works for the old-world look….

You’ve got a door in here that looks like it’s carved from cedar—Bolivian, I think. Hold on, look at this hallway floor.”

He gestures the camera to a small area where the walls look a bit like a stonewash Tuscan in the colors of a sunset and directs the camera to the floor.

Oh. My. God.

“Girl! Tapestry! Marble tapestry! I’ve never seen anything this beautiful!”

To be honest, neither have I!

“You’ve got a lot of wrought iron in the back and some of it is aged—distressed with a rusted look. I say you leave it that way, but that’s just my opinion. You got red sun onyx in one of the bathrooms back there. It’s like whoever had this house didn’t know what they wanted to do with it, so they did everything with it and sold it once they ran out of ideas.”

After running around on the first floor for at least 20 minutes, we finally make it to the second floor.

The good thing about Italian villas—small bedrooms. The concept of the bedroom to the Italian—sleep and sex, that’s it.”

He quickly dashes in and out of several small bedrooms only big enough for a bed, an armoire, and a bench… maybe, and a few others that were a little larger, but not by much. There are more rooms on the second floor including areas that he called the “Mr. Darcy” rooms. I don’t know how he made that connection since Darcy was English and we’re in Italy, but c’est la vie.

I know I’ve put you to work on ideas for the house but trust me on this one. You’re going to want a mix of Baroque/Rococo with a touch of the modern. You’ve got areas in this house that are screaming muted, neutral colors and old Italian flair. Then your areas that take advantage of the natural light need a bit of a modern touch without going overboard. Even still, you have other areas with rustic and organic textures and architecture that can be Tuscan or Old-World. And then you have the Mr. Darcy areas that require a more finished look that’s not Beverly Hills or Manhattan 5th Avenue. No one style is going to work in this house, Love, and I’ve got to get to work toot sweet calling my vendors and locking down some European connections. I’m so excited! I’ll be in touch. I’ll have some sketches for you tomorrow and I’ll add some ideas to the Pinterest page. TTYL!”

My head is spinning from all the information that he just gave me in the video, and I’m just as excited seeing the house without all that crap in it—what I could see, that is. I’ve got a wonderful feel of what it should look like and contrary to what I originally thought, the mix of modern and old world is just eclectic enough to work.

And what the hell is TTYL?

We have a 15-hour time difference between us. I have no idea how we’re going to do this in two different world zones! I shoot him an email back suggesting that we find a time to talk that’s not too early or late for either of us and directing him to the ideas that I’ve already included on Pinterest. I express my glee with his findings and excitement to see what we’re going to do with the place, and finish by asking him what the fuck TTYL is.

*-*

It was a full day at Helping Hands today. I took a look at the information that Liam Westwick was looking for while he was here, and nothing seems out of place. Hopefully, that means that he won’t be back. I didn’t tell Christian about his visit. I felt that there was no need to open that can of worms since I wasn’t here anyway, but if he shows up again for any reason—whether I’m here or not—Christian will be the first to know. Once is a coincidence. Twice is a mission.

I settle in to my study when I get home and open my email to see that Aaron has sent me several stills of the rooms and layout of the villa. This is good considering the fact that he was so animated in the video that although I got a very good idea of the “bones” of the place, I had no visual feel for the actual size and shape of the rooms. I’m getting more excited to get started on choosing the décor now that I pretty much know what I’m working with.

I think I’m going to want a bit of oasis décor in the room with the indoor pool. It’s not just a room with a pool. The large pool is off to one side and the other side is a large mosaic tile floor with natural light coming in from a wall of windows that leads to a patio. Yes, I have plans for that space.

After dinner, I invite Sophie down to the study to go over some ideas for the villa. Having gotten a smart aleck response from Aaron to “ask a teenager” for the answer to my question, I decided to pose it to Sophie. I’ll have an answer for him for that one.

“Sophie, do you know what TTYL means?” I ask.

“Talk to you later.” Um…okay, was it something I said?

“Oh… you have to go so soon?” Sophie frowns.

“No,” she says bemused, then she laughs. “No, TTYL means ‘talk to you later.’”

TTYL… talk to you…

“Oooooohh,” I say in realization. “Well don’t I feel dense… and old!” Sophie giggles.

“Who was talking to you in text speech?” she asks.

“My designer,” I reply. “He was so excited about the ‘bones’ of the house, I think he just forgot.”

“Okay, I speak text and food. I don’t speak designer. What are ‘bones?’” she asks.

“So, as creepy as it sounds, it’s just what it sounds like. Bones are the frame of the house—the walls, the floors, the ceiling, the stairs. He sent me some great pictures and I can pretty much go in any direction I want and not go wrong.”

I start by showing her the pictures that Aaron finally got around to sending me of the various spaces as well as the blueprints.

“Wow, there are a lot of bedrooms!” she says.

“Tell me about it!” I concur. “He must have meant for us to invite family because there’s only four of us. Even if each of us brought our own security, that’s only eight. At the most, that’s six, maybe seven bedrooms. This place has 14 bedrooms!”

“Geez! Fourteen?” she says.

“My sentiments exactly. Luckily, they’re small, so we can just toss a bed and some accoutrements in there and call it a day!”

“Ooo! Like a doll house!” she says.

“Yes!” I nod, “exactly like a doll house.” I secretly decide that this will be her primary job since she’s showing the most enthusiasm about it, and of course she’ll be able to help with the rest of the house.

“Look at the kitchen,” I say, showing her a picture of the kitchen. She does a slow gasp.

“Wow,” she says dreamily. “Oh, wow, Aunt Ana, that’s beautiful…” She gazes at the picture and almost drifts dreamily off into it. At this moment, I hate Shalane to my very core and hope beyond hope that one way or another, she finds a heart and signs the documents to allow Sophie to come to Italy with us.

“What do you think?” I ask her.

“That I hope I get to cook in it,” she says, her voice cracking slightly at the end. I reach over and squeeze her hand.

“I hope you do, too,” I say. “Not that I’m trying to change the subject, but I’m trying to change the subject. I knew you were interested and even knew that you had a little background knowledge, but I had no idea you would be so talented. When did you find time to hone your cooking skills so well?”

“I practiced a little before Dad bought me la kitchen extraordinaire. Now, I’ve been doing lunches for my friends at school. They’re my guinea pigs and they love it.”

“Really?” I ask. She nods.

“It’s only two or three of them, and I don’t do it every day. I change up some of the ingredients of traditional meals and see how it works. I’ve had some successes… and some flaming failures. Those don’t make it to school,” she laughs.

“Well, you never know until you try,” I say, “and I’m sure that some of the greatest chefs found their best recipes from what you’re doing right now.”

“I ultimately want to get Gordon Ramsay’s beef wellington exactly right. I’m too nervous to try, though,” she admits.

“I am absolutely positive that you can do it,” I confirm.

“It was so good, though… remember?” she says, dreamily, and I’m glad that I was able to be a part of a memory that she will no doubt cherish for life.

“Yes, it was,” I agree, “and he’s only human, so you can do it.” She smiles sincerely.

“Thanks, Aunt Ana,” she says. “I will, someday.” I squeeze her hand again and turn back to the computer.

“Now,” I say. “I don’t want to keep you up too late on a school night, but I’ve decided that to start with, I’m going to put you on chamber duty and see what you come up with…”

“Chamber duty?” she asks bemused.

“The bedrooms,” I clarify. Her face lights up.

“Oh, cool!” she says, turning her focus back to the computer.

We exchange emails and I send Sophie pictures of the blueprints and of the bedrooms. My only requirement is that one of the rooms closest to the master bedroom has to be for the twins. We go through a few pictures of baroque and rococo designs and I don’t expect her to remember them, but I’m just trying to put some ideas in her head. She heads off to her apartment not too late in the evening, promising to send some ideas to my email.

I sit back in my office chair and ponder my life and Sophie’s after she has gone to bed. She’s got quite the harrowing tale to only be 14 years old. Granted, it’s nothing like mine and if Jason has anything to say about it, it never will be—but harrowing, nonetheless. So many times in just the last few years, her story could have had such a different and more tragic outcome.

What if that burn had been deeper? The scar shows that it was a really bad burn and it was so close to her wrist.

What if one of those times Shalane was on her drug binge, that creep had taken Sophie? Where would she be now?

For that matter, what if it hadn’t been a drug bust that night and she was successful in handing Sophie over to that guy? What did Shalane think he was going to do with her? Did she even care? The thought of someone even attempting to hurt Mackenzie makes my blood curdle and I feel bile bubbling in the back of my throat.

And what if Jason’s contact hadn’t told him that Sophie was at the police station that night? She would definitely be in the system now, and that would be a tragedy in and of itself.

My story could have turned out much differently, too, but everything that happened to me—good or bad—led to the person that I am today. While I am a firm believer of the saying, “Everything happens for a reason,” I can’t help but wonder what hardships that I—or Sophie—could have bypassed on our journey and still came out on the winning side of the equation. I can only hope that her experiences will ultimately lead to a happy outcome. Despite her mother’s interference, it seems like she’s going to be okay.

I close my laptop and head towards the elevator.

*-*

“You seem a bit reserved today,” I say to Marilyn during lunch on Wednesday. She shakes her head.

“Introspective,” she says. “I’m thinking about me and Gary.” I raise my brow.

“Oh?” I ask. “Anything you care to share?”

“We had that talk,” she confesses to me and she sips her iced tea. Uh oh… that talk?

“You did?” I ask. She nods.

“Yeah,” she says. “It was pretty brutal. There was a lot of crying, some accusations… we got our feelings out.” She looks at her drink. “I could use something stronger… but it’s not part of my regimen.” That doesn’t sound good.

“How did it work out?” I ask.

“We were both hurt by some of the revelations,” she admits. “We still are. We’re letting things simmer for a while. Emotions are very high… and they need to settle.”

“You’re taking a break?” I ask, my hope diminishing.

“Something like that,” she says calmly, a little too calmly.

“Is it something like that, Mare, or is that it?” I ask.

“It’s something like that,” she repeats. “We agree that we want to be together, that we want to fight for our relationship, but emotions were extremely high, and a lot of things came out—things that were hard to say and to hear. I’m going to have quite the session with Dora tomorrow.” She sips more of her tea.

“We’ve decided that it’s better if we sort things out in our own space. Living together affects the energy when you’re trying to work things out. So, he’s going to stay in his apartment and I’m going to stay here… unless you guys are ready for me to go.”

“You can stay here as long as you like, Mare. We’ve already had this discussion.” She nods.

“Good, because I don’t have any prospects right now… We’ve also decided to take a couple of days to marinate over everything we’ve discussed so as not to have a heated conversation about our latest discoveries. We’ve agreed not to dismiss them and to have calm debates about our differences, but it’s just not possible right now. We’re way too emotional.” And you’re way too logical at the moment.

“So, you guys called a time out,” I say. She nods.

“Yep… until Saturday.” She drops her gaze into her tea. “I really hurt him,” she adds. “I knew I did, or at least my decision did. I just didn’t realize how much. I really love him, and while I understand and accept that he didn’t deserve to go through what he went through, I didn’t deserve to go through what I went through, either. And this relationship counselor is not helping.” I frown.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“I feel like she’s tiptoeing around us and she doesn’t know what to say,” she says.

“Maybe she’s taking it slow,” I defend.

“Maybe she is,” Marilyn concurs, “but that’s not what we need. We’re beyond the goal-setting ‘where would you like to be in five years’ state. I’m all for setting goals and breaking them down into tasks, but we have definitive, volatile issues that we need to deal with right now and she’s not helping us to address them.” I twist my lips.

“Maybe you need a couple’s perspective,” I say. “That’s what me and Christian needed—not that sterile ‘how does that make you feel’ bullshit, but that get-your-hands-dirty, no-nonsense, no-hiding, ‘why the fuck did you do that’ kind of therapy.” She raises her gaze to me.

“Where did you find that kind of therapy?” she asks.

“We didn’t, it found us,” I reveal. “Jason and Gail. That was brutal, but it was what we needed. We had referees to tell us when the conversation was over, because when it stops being productive, it’s over. But they also helped us face the hard truths about our relationship because they approached us as friends—no fear of getting fired, just getting in and getting the hands dirty. I believe it’s part of what saved our marriage because there’s so many steps in getting back.” She shakes her head.

“We don’t know Gail and Jason well enough to do that. I wouldn’t be comfortable with that.”

“But you know me and Christian,” I retort.

“I don’t think Gary would be comfortable with that!” she says.

“Marilyn, from what I’m hearing from you, Gary’s been talking to Christian more than you think,” Her brow furrows.

“You think so?” she asks surprised. I scoff.,

“Ask him,” I say. “See how he feels about having couples therapy with us instead of this loser that you’re seeing on Monday nights.” She shrugs.

“Well, it couldn’t hurt. I’ll see what he says.”


CHRISTIAN

“Jesus, man, where have you been hiding her?” Alex asks when he comes into my office on Wednesday. “She’s incredible. First day on the job and she could spot issues that have been issues for years with just one look. I better stay on my toes!”

“I haven’t been hiding her,” I say. “I just didn’t know she was out of work.”

“She’s got a case if she wants to sue the company that fired her,” Allen chimes in. “There’s every bit of a reason to argue mitigating circumstances in her actions. Time was of the essence—we knew that then, and we know it now. That asshole was planning to move Jewel…”

“I don’t think we’ll be pursuing that,” I cut him off. “What’s done is done. Let’s just let sleeping dogs lie.” Allen raises a brow at me.

“Mr. I-Want-Blood Christian Grey wants to let sleeping dogs lie?” he says, nonplussed.

“Oh, no, I’d sue them all the way down to their toenails, but I really don’t think that’s what Sarah wants. I think she just wants peace and to be independent again.” Allen twists his lips.

“You may be right about that,” he says. “I asked if she and her estranged husband had any community property that she wanted to attach, and she just shook her head. When I talked about his shop, she stopped me in the middle of the conversation and told me that she didn’t want anything from that man but his absence. It’s probable that if she doesn’t want to pursue anything from him, she most likely won’t want to drag anything out with her old employer either.”

“Exactly,” I reply. “It’s like pulling teeth just to get her to take what I think is due to her. She truly doesn’t want anything more, especially not something that may cause her trouble.”

“Well, I have work to do, so I’m going back to my office. I’ll talk to you guys later.” Allen dismisses himself and leaves the office. Alex watches as he gets on the elevator and stands and closes the door. I watch as he walks over to my desk and activates my scrambler.

“So, the governor was right about one thing,” he begins. “The heat is on with that particular ‘missing person’ because it has the whole ‘Hollywood Madam’ smell to it.”

“I figured as much. Any additional information?” I ask.

“In fact, there is. Her… most recent male companion is the one under the most scrutiny now. If you remember, he liked to watch, so Little Red Riding Hood had a favorite toy that used to come around and participate in the show. She’s the one that put out the APB on her missing girlfriend. She knew about Daddy, for lack of a better word, but when there was no word from Red for a couple of weeks, she rightfully became concerned.”

“So, where does it stand now?” I ask.

“Same place,” he replies. “Those closest to you are the usual suspects, so that’s why the spotlight is mostly on him as her plaything filed the missing persons’ report. The only reason the police are really sniffing this hard is because they’re hoping to find that big conspiracy buried under the disappearance, but all evidence leads to her packing up and leaving town—that maybe she got spooked when her source suddenly fell ill, but her car is gone, her ID, most of her personal belongings, and her bank accounts have been cleaned out.”

“So, what if this phantom manuscript they’re hoping to find pops up somewhere?” I ask.

“Sources say that they’re probably going to leak that they did find a manuscript to try to shake some loose fruit from the trees, so be ready. Even if there was a manuscript remaining out there, it would be like The Help—great reading, but still conjecture without the support of the characters or the author. Not only that, but anyone who tried to publish that book right now would have to have the physical backing of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and balls the size of Jupiter. The ghostwriter with all the information has come up missing and the source is suddenly drastically indisposed. And who are their prime suspects? Some of the most powerful men in the state—and if they look close enough, it’ll probably go further than that. Who wants that kind of uncertainty to publish a book? And even if it turns out to be a New York Times best seller, how much would you pay for a good night’s sleep?”

“Won’t you following the tracks and digging into the case shine the light back on me?” I ask.

“Not at all,” he replies, “for several reasons, the very smallest of which is that they pulled you into this. They questioned you first. You not wanting to know what the meaning of this was or wanting to get some answers is much more suspicious than you digging around in it.”

“Good point,” I say. “Does it look like they’re going to drop it anytime soon?”

“We won’t know until and if they say they’ve found a manuscript. Anybody who could possibly be in that book is going to be tearing their hair out trying to get more information on what’s in it. And I can tell you now that the word will be that forensic psychologists and profilers are deciphering the ‘Fleiss Code’ in the book to determine who all the big names are. So, when and if this drops, it’s important that you remain calm and undisturbed.”

“That won’t be a problem,” I reply. “It’s like I told Charlotte, anybody who thinks they could possibly publish anything about me would be looking at years and years of injunctions and lawsuits. Imagine what would happen if the boys in blue tried to build a case like this on me based on conjecture.”

Grateful for the update from Alex about the situation that I would have hoped would long ago be part of my past, I get back to work on the business of mergers and acquisitions. Lorenz and Ros primed two deals while I was in Vegas as I opened the floor for new prospects once the company started looking like what GEH should and the executive and administrative staff got their asses in gear. These two new prospects look deliciously ripe for the picking, and one of the companies is begging for a white knight, and with just a little direction, they can be totally stable again. A third looks like they’re going to need some work even if we do acquire them.

Speaking of acquisitions, I’m signing the papers for the sale of the final division of Fairlane LTD. I had to do a little clean-up to make them presentable, but I made a fortune on selling the company off bit by bit. Junior did everything he could to stop me—press releases, sabotage… He didn’t get that his father’s poison pill was the very worst that could be done and it didn’t make a dent in the situation. He hands over a soiled bride and then becomes angry when the groom chooses to take action.

What’s more, there hasn’t been a word from Fairlane, Sr. It’s like he took his payout and ran, leaving all the mess in Junior’s hands to deal with. With the way that his son behaves, I have a feeling that this was an expensive lesson that Sr. wanted to teach him. And what an expensive lesson to learn. He didn’t leave him broke—he still had his job and his position. He just had to play nice with the new boss, which he didn’t do.

I wouldn’t fire him, because that meant I would have to give him a severance package. He could only quit, and that meant leaving with nothing. So, he tried to make his presence unbearable for me. Little Boy, Fairlane was a subsidiary—a fast-fading subsidiary that was quickly being parceled and sold to the highest bidder, no string attached. Just show me the money and take it. What he thought was a bargaining chip quickly became a rotting potato rind, and all he did was kick and scream and have a temper tantrum, complaining to the press about an acquisitions king making an acquisition and selling the acquisition for a profit… Ooooo, hot news.

Now, with the sale of the last division of the company, his future is uncertain at best. Maybe he’ll play nice with the next owners, assuming they decide to keep him on.

While continuing through my emails for whatever other pieces of information may be vital, I see a communication from Mrs. Riddick in Nevada. It appears that the sensitivity training has begun for the staff at Summerlin Hospital. I would think that in this kind of environment, these professionals would already know how to treat someone going through something like this. Really, Carla could have died. Then, what would they have said to my wife after treating her so horribly?

Mrs. Riddick made it a point to tell me that the Stoic Sisters—the two shrews from the hospital board—were among the first to be required to take the training, along with the catty nurses who have been reprimanded for their treatment of my wife. I forward the email to Butterfly as I’m sure it’ll be a welcome bright spot to her day.

The rest of the week proceeds without incident, unless you count the surprise that my wife sprung on me on Thursday about being relationship counselors to Marilyn and Garrett.

“Are you serious?” I ask. “I hardly think they would want to break down the intimate details of their relationship to me.

“And why not?” Butterfly retorts. “I came home that night of the party to find you two chatting it up on the balcony. Oh, and I guess Gary came up with all these ideas to win Marilyn back all by himself—flowers and poems and, oh, the self-made serenade playlist of songs. You certainly had nothing to do with that, right?” I thrust my hands into my hair.

“We just kind of happened upon those conversations,” I protest. She twists her lips.

“Um-hmm,” she says. “I suppose Gary was just skipping through the house and you said, ‘Hey, Gare, let’s have a chat,’ right?”

Now she’s being sarcastic.

“Men are different than women,” I say. “They feel strange about… spilling their guts to someone else with all the dirty little details about their relationship.”

“Did you feel that way talking to Jason?” she asks.

“Jason was different. He knows everything there is to know about me… my lifestyle, my childhood, my business, everything.”

“Well, I’m that person to Gary,” she says, “but he needs a man’s point of view, and you’ve been the one giving that to him. I think they really need this, just like we needed Gail and Jason, but if you’d rather not…”

“No, no, you’re right,” I say, thrusting my hand in my hair again. “I’ve just… never been in this position before—counseling someone else on a relationship? It just seems like delicate territory and I don’t want to fuck up. What do I say to them? How do I do this?”

“You listen to what they have to say, and you respond with how you feel just like you have been with Gary on his own… except don’t reem him out like you did at the party. That would be counterproductive.”

“No, I know that,” I lament. She pauses.

“I’ll be there to help you,” she says, pushing the fallen strands of my hair out of my face. “We’ve learned a lot in the course of our relationship, and you’ve grown so much. We’ve grown. I see a couple who looks just like we did only a few months ago, desperately wanting to be together, but they don’t know how. I think they can benefit from what we’ve learned about relationships—about each other and about ourselves.”

“I’ve never had to deal with an abortion, though, baby,” I tell her. “I don’t know how to empathize with losing a child.”

“But you know how betrayal feels,” she interjects, “or at least your interpretation of it. That’s what we’re dealing with.” I sigh heavily.

“I’ll try,” I say. “I certainly don’t want to leave them out in the cold, so I’ll try.”

*-*

Monday and our first “session” with Marilyn and Garrett come only too quickly for my liking. My wife is right, though. If anyone is going to be able to help them get back on track with their relationship, it’s going to be someone that knows them well and won’t pull any punches. Both of those are true with me and Butterfly. I don’t know Garrett as well as Jason knows me, but I know him well enough… and he already knows that I won’t pull any punches with him. I’ll give it to him straight whether he likes it or not.

The four of us have gathered in my den after work, the same place where Jason and Gail counseled me and Butterfly. Butterfly and I are each sitting in one of the wingback chairs while Garrett and Marilyn are both sitting on the sofa across from us.

“So, we all know why we’re here,” Butterfly begins. “I’m glad that you guys decided to do this. I know it’s not an easy process, but it is necessary if you hope to move forward.”

“We’re going to start by setting a few expectations,” she says. “First, this is going to be a difficult process. It’s not going to happen overnight. Second, but should be first, we are going to respect each other’s feelings in this process. That doesn’t mean that you should bite your tongue and not express your feelings, but it does mean that you shouldn’t be disrespectful to anyone in this room. I expect for emotions to run rampant, but I still expect for respect and consideration to be the primary focus or there won’t be any progress.

“Third, Christian and I are not here to take sides. We won’t be arbitrators. At the most, we’re here to help you and to help interpret your feelings. We need you both to be receptive, because we know that some of what you hear is going to be tough to take.”

Those expectations help me to breathe easier. The last thing I want for them to think is that this is going to be a fix-all or that we’re here to solve their problems. Just like me and Butterfly, they’re going to have to work through what they’re feeling and come up with a solution. It wasn’t easy for us; it won’t be easy for them.

“The easiest place to begin is where you left off with your couples’ counseling,” she says, and Garrett scoffs an impatient sigh.

“Gary?” she says.

“It was a waste of time,” he says, frustrated. “She had us setting relationship goals like we had never met before. We’ve got real issues—real problems, and she acted like she wanted us to tell her what color our kitchen would be.” Butterfly frowns and we both look at Marilyn. She nods.

“Considering where we are and where we’ve been, her methods were just that ineffectual,” Marilyn confirms.

“Wow,” Butterfly says. “Well, she may have been on the right track to have you set goals for your relationship, but she clearly wasn’t going about it the right way. What was she telling you to do?”

“’Gary, I don’t like it when you’ and ‘Gary, it hurts me when you…’” Marilyn’s voice is syrupy and pretentious as she mimics the process of her previous couples’ therapy sessions. I squint and grimace so hard in confusion that Gary gestures at me as if to say, “Exactly.”

“Yeah… yeah, you’re way beyond that,” Butterfly confirms. “Did you tell her that you guys had just come off of a three-month break-up brought on by the termination?”

“We did,” Garrett says. Butterfly clears her throat.

“During your sessions with her, have you talked about the termination and how it has effected your relationship?” she presses.

“Briefly,” Marilyn replies.

“Briefly?” Butterfly mimics my previous grimace and looks at me.

“Where did this woman get her license?” she wonders out loud.

“You’re asking me?” I retort.

“No, I’m verbally expressing my horror,” she says before she turns back to Marilyn and Garrett.

“Eventually, we are going to talk about goals. It’s important to outline where you want to be when this is all over… but let’s back up a bit, shall we?”

“Fine by me,” Garrett says.

“Ditto,” Marilyn concurs.

“Marilyn confided in me that the two of you had a talk,” Butterfly says. “She didn’t give me the details, but she did tell me that the two of you were very hurt when the conversation ended—so hurt in fact that you decided to take a few days off.”

I didn’t know that.

“We need to talk about that—about that discussion and the revelations that were uncovered. You need to decipher how much of it was reality and how much was just painful outburst; what specifically brought it on and what you need to address to move forward.”

They’re both quiet for a moment.

“You have to talk to us,” I tell them. “We have to know where to start to be able to help you.”

More silence…

“I told her how I felt,” Garrett begins. “I told her exactly how I felt the day she came back to the apartment after the termination. I wasn’t politically correct. I wasn’t polite or respectful, I called her out of her name…” he trails off.

“What did you call her?” Butterfly asks.

“A murderous bitch,” Marilyn says when Garrett doesn’t reply. I try not to visibly flinch at the description. I don’t know how successful I am.

“Do you really think that?” I ask Garrett. His head is down as he answers.

“I did,” he says honestly. “That day when I saw her and she had killed my baby, that’s exactly how I felt.” Marilyn turns her head away from the group as she listens to Garrett.

“But do you still feel that way?” I ask, my voice even. He slowly shakes his head.

“I know… that it’s so much more than that… that there’s so much more to all of this… so, no… I don’t.” His words are slow and controlled. Not practiced, but controlled.

“Then I need you both to look at me,” I say. All three heads turn or raise in my direction. Butterfly is praying that I don’t say the wrong thing. Garrett is expectant and Marilyn is crying again. I sigh before I speak.

“Your tongue is the most powerful muscle on your body,” I say. “The tongue can heal and kill with a word, so remember this. If you don’t really feel that way, never say that again. There are things that you can say to someone that you can’t take back, and I can guarantee you, that’s one of them. Those two words on their own have connotations that dig deeper than a backhoe. How much more powerful do you think they are when you put them together and say them to the woman that you claim to love?”

Garrett sighs heavily and covers his face with both hands, dropping his head in dismay.

“I know you’re hurt,” I say. “You both are,” I add, turning to Marilyn, “but please remember that what you say—now and later—will have long and far reaching consequences. Don’t hold your feelings back, but don’t say anything that you don’t mean or that you don’t want to stick, because whatever you say, especially right now. Will. Stick.”

Garrett nods under his hands and Marilyn tries to wipe away her tears. I hand her my handkerchief and she nods her thanks.

“Gary,” Butterfly says, “it’s okay that you felt that way. It’s even okay that you said that you felt that way, but it’s not okay if you still feel that way. Do you?” He sighs and moves his hands from his face, now covered in tears.

“I don’t,” he says. “It still hurts that my baby is gone, but I don’t feel like it was murder… and I don’t think she’s a bitch. I’m going to therapy myself to deal with the loss… but no, I don’t feel like that.”

“What were you thinking when you called her that?” she asks.

“I felt like… I was very emotional,” he says. “I felt like the therapist wasn’t addressing what we needed to address, so I had to address it…”

“You said this at therapy?” Butterfly asks.

“No,” he says, shaking his head, “I said it the next day.”

“How did you feel when you heard that, Marilyn?” Butterfly asks.

“Like I didn’t want to see him again,” she says.

“I sensed that,” Butterfly says. Marilyn and Garrett both turn their gaze to her. “Forgive me, but I have to say this. When you were talking to me, even though you didn’t give me any details—you just said that you guys cried and things were said—I saw it. I saw it and I heard it. I’ve paid close attention to you for these last few months. I’ve been worried about you. I knew when nothing was working. But I saw something last Wednesday when you talked to me that I hadn’t seen the entire time you’ve been going through this. I saw the end.”

Marilyn doesn’t respond.

“You were a bit withdrawn like you had been, but not forlorn. When we talked, I could tell that your whole relationship was up in the air, hanging in the balance and totally dependent on what happened when you saw Gary on Saturday.” Garrett looks over at her.

“We were supposed to go out,” he says, “but you didn’t want to. We spent a little time together. We talked, and then you told me that you were tired.” Marilyn rolls her eyes.

“Did you hear what he said to me?” she asks, her voice incredulous. “Did you hear what he called me? Is that something that he’s going to throw up to my face when he’s angry? I’ve seen couples do that. I’ve seen them reach into the past and find a hurtful statement or a painful moment and throw it in the other one’s face to win a fight, or because they’re emotional!” She tearfully spits the word out with disdain, the word that Garrett used not five minutes ago to describe his mental state when he said those words to her.

“Is that what he’s going to do to me? Is that what I have to look forward to? Because I can’t do that. I can’t live like that—I won’t! I had my reasons for what I did—real, valid reasons. Women make this decision every day, and my reasons have consistently been dismissed by those who claimed to love me the most. I’m not even speaking to my parents right now because they blindly threw me in judgment. After being without you for months, feeling like I wanted to die every second of every day, enduring some of the most tortuous pain that I’ve ever felt in my life, then to have you come back and lodge those horrible insults at me… I’ll take being without you. It’s more than I can bear, and I won’t tolerate it… ever!

Go, Marilyn! The inner me is doing a fist pump right now that no matter what happened between them, she will not accept his abuse.

“What do you say to that, Gary?” Butterfly asks.

“She’s right,” he replies. “I’m hurt… I’m getting better, but I’m still hurt. No matter how much I hurt, she didn’t deserve that.” Marilyn sighs heavily, then uses my handkerchief to dry her face.

“So, what happens when you feel that way again—when you’re angry and you can’t control your tongue?” I ask.

“I’ll remember the things that she said that night… the things that she said tonight. I’ll remember her face,” he says looking over at Marilyn, “and I’ll remember that you can’t speak to people that way, that I can’t talk to her that way.”

He fucking better remember, because he’s seriously about to lose his woman.

“Can you love her after feeling this way about her?” Butterfly asks.

“I do love her,” he replies. “I love her so much. I just want to get past this and heal.”

“But you may never heal from this,” I interject. “Your feelings are raw, and they’re real. What do you do if you can’t heal?”

“I’m already healing, Christian,” he says, his eyes still full of tears. “It’s a slow process, but I am.” He turns to Marilyn. “I know you didn’t just kill my baby,” he says, “even though my baby is gone. You made a decision, a decision that you felt you needed to make. I need you to understand that decision hurt me, ripped me to my core. For months, I would venture to say that my pain was just as unbearable as yours. I cried and I cried, and there seemed to be no end in sight. I thought that pain would never go away. And then I saw you…”

He drops his head again.

“I was still hurting when I saw you, but it was like the world just stopped. You looked haggard and broken and sick. You really looked like you were dying and I couldn’t even think clearly. At first, I felt like your parents—like your sin had caught up with you and you were paying for it. God forgive me, seeing your pain soothed a bit of mine. I’m sorry, but it’s true. But seeing the effect that this was having on you…” He shakes his head.

“When you ran outside to the golf course and you fell on the grass, I thought you were going to die. I thought this was the last straw and you were just going to keel over and I had to get to you before you died. You screamed and I swear the heavens cracked open in anguish. I just wanted it to stop. I wanted it all to stop… all of it.”

He drops his head into his hands again. This is hard for him to talk about, and I feel like a first-class heel for all those times that I called him an asshole.

“I don’t know how to deal with these feelings,” he admits. “They’re all-consuming. It was bliss when the love was all-consuming, but the pain… I’m getting help, but this is really unfamiliar territory to me.” Butterfly sighs.

“You two are remarkably like Christian and me,” she says. “Mare, you have some guidelines on what a relationship should and shouldn’t look like and this is Gary’s first real relationship.”

I look incredulously over at Butterfly. Is she having one of her moments? Did she forget that disaster that Garrett brought to Escala at our first F&L? What was her name—Britany?

“You didn’t have any relationships before Ana?” Garrett asks incredulously, breaking my train of thought. I turn my gaze quickly to him.

“I had relations, but not relationships,” I clarify as I look back to Butterfly. “Aren’t you forgetting someone?” She raises a brow at me.

“Am I?” she asks, expecting.

“He’s talking about Bethany,” Garrett says. Bethany! That was her name.

“No, I didn’t forget Bethany,” Butterfly replies, matter-of-factly. “He met Bethany right around the time that I met you, and he broke up with her in our presence. Do you call that a relationship?” I twist my lips. No… no I would not. I’ve had submissives who lasted longer.

“That’s where you’re similar,” Butterfly says. “You had both had encounters, but they were very short—or meaningless—and never went anywhere. Christian was emotionally closed off with all of his females and you never sealed the deal before Marilyn.”

Okay, there’s a news flash! Never sealed the deal before Marilyn? Garrett was a virgin? I fail to hide my surprise.

“Yes, Christian, I was still a virgin when I met Marilyn, even though I had previously fallen for an obvious thot and brazen hoochie,” Garrett informs, adequately reading my thoughts. Whew! Yeah, they need us. This guy has absolutely no direction and I totally know how that feels. Had there been any real relationships in his past, he wouldn’t have dared let those words escape his lips about Marilyn.

“Marilyn?” Butterfly coaxes. “You look like…”

He was hurt!” she spits, interrupting Butterfly. “His baby is gone. He was emotional. This was my body… is my body! My health and nine months of my life—and then some!

“I’m 25 years old!” she declares. “I haven’t traveled. I haven’t done anything with my life yet. I’m going day by day, saving some money, but I haven’t made any concrete plans for my future. I don’t own a house; I’m not financially well-off. Nobody could understand why I didn’t want a baby right now? Were you ready to have a baby when you were 25?” she shoots at Gary. His face blanches and he doesn’t answer.

“Motherhood and childcare and medical expenses,” she continues, her voice rising with her emotions. “My whole life would change! My future was being written for me and nobody felt like I had a say in that. I can still have children! When I’m ready! But nobody felt like I had the right to say that I wasn’t ready right now!

We were using protection. I don’t know what happened. All of our behavior and actions said that we weren’t ready right now. But when it happened, suddenly all bets were off and all of our precautions meant nothing! I had the right to choose, all right—the right to choose to have this baby or lose everything important to me in my life… the man I love, my parents respect, my damn appetite and sense of self-preservation, everything!” She leaps from her seat and walks over to the window, sobbing fervently.

“You gave me the world and then you took it away!” she sobs. “I’m not just hurt—I’m angry! I’m completely undone! You showed me paradise and with no warning whatsoever you kicked me into hell! How could you?” she wails.

We’re all stunned for a moment. I’m not sure any of us have seen this level of fever and emotion from her in months. It’s been quiet disintegration or silent mourning, but not shouting from the rooftops hurt and angry.

“You wonder why I can’t be touched?” she wails. “You wonder why I can’t let you in? Why I can’t trust you… or anybody? My mother and my father—the two most important people in my life—turned their backs on me; shunned, disgraced, and condemned me—for the same reason you did!”

She’s screaming now. Gary stands to go over to her, but Butterfly catches his arm and shakes her head. He wants this to stop, but Marilyn needs to get this out.

“There was no right decision,” she cedes tearfully, “not for me, anyway. The decision wasn’t mine to make. It was everybody else’s. I had no say in the matter. I may never be able to speak to my parents again unless I want to hear about this each time that I talk to them, and now I have to worry about hearing it with you? No! No! I won’t do it! I’ll be alone. I’ll never let anyone touch me again. I’ll never let anyone near me again before I endure that! Any of that! Ever again!”

She buries her face in her hand and sobs and wails mournfully, the same hopeless crying that she was doing on the putting green a few weeks ago. Gary wrenches from Butterfly’s grasp and goes over to Marilyn, wrapping his arms around her shaking body from behind.

“Baby, I’m sorry,” Garrett says, his voice thick with tears. “I’m so, so sorry. I was hurt… I am hurt, but I didn’t think of you at all during this whole thing and that was so selfish of me. We could’ve gotten through this, but I didn’t care. I was only thinking about my own pain. It was hard, and this could’ve been a bump in our relationship—a big bump, but a bump nonetheless—and I’ve turned it into a cavern. I want to fix this… with my whole heart, I want to fix this. I don’t want to be without you, and if I haven’t completely destroyed everything, when and if you’re ever ready to have children, I want to be that guy. I know it’s going to take time and work to get past this, but we can do it, I know we can. Please, baby. Please, give us another chance, I’m begging you…”

Marilyn quickly turns in his arms and wraps her arms tightly around his neck, weeping on his shoulder. He holds her close and lets her cry. Yes, there’s a ton of work to be done here, jointly and severally, but I’d say tonight’s session is over. Butterfly leans over to me.

“The tongue is an organ,” she whispers to me.

“It’s a muscular organ,” I say, and I know of what I speak.


A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-misadventuresseason-v/ 

Pictures related to the progress of the Italian Villa can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/italy/italian-villa/

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 30

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…

Season 5 Episode 30

ANASTASIA

“I never thought I’d be having dinner in a place like this,” Sarah says after dinner. We’re sitting at the dining table having coffee as she gets to know everyone.

“Well, you’re family now, so get used to it,” Christian says, garnering a smile from Sarah.

“A month ago, you never could have told me I’d be here,” she says, looking down into her coffee, “physically or figuratively. I was… hopeless,” she says, her voice cracking a bit. “I couldn’t… I couldn’t see no light… no light at all. Fletcher just kept getting worse and worse…”

“Fletcher—that’s your husband?” I say, squeezing her hand. She nods but never raises her gaze.

“I never could have children,” she says. “He has two from his first marriage—a son and a daughter. His son used my credit to get three new cars. He wrecked two of them and the third was repossessed. So much for my credit. His daughter is the mouthiest, most disrespectful, ungrateful, assuming little brat I’ve ever met. She moved in with us and treated me like pure hell for three years… and he let her! I think he had started seeing her mother again. If it wasn’t her, it was some other woman. I knew he didn’t want me.”

“You said he had been abusing you for years,” I begin. “May I ask why you stayed?”

“I didn’t have anything or anybody,” she replies. “Every time I tried to leave, I lost my nerve. The thought of being completely alone was just too scary. I know it’s a screwed-up way of thinking, but… when you’re in it, you feel like it’s all you got. It was all I had. I’ve been trying to find another job for six months. For three of those months, his insufferable daughter was living there. He paid the rent on the house while she was there, but I didn’t know that he had stopped paying the rent until they came to put me out. I should’ve known something was going on because he hadn’t been home in four days.” She shakes her head. “If they hadn’t put me out, I would still be with him.” Christian sighs.

“I saw Helping Hands on TV before. I even went down there once but didn’t have the nerve to go inside. I never put it together that it was you,” she says to Christian, “but then again, why would I? I remember that day like it was yesterday… big, strong man sitting at my console, crying. You didn’t even know that you were crying… You told him,” she says, pointing at Jason.

“Yes, ma’am, I did,” Jason replies, and Sarah nods.

“Once you told me what was going on, I didn’t even think twice about helping you. It was the human thing to do, but when my boss found out… apparently, I had broken some rule or something that could have left the company liable, I don’t know. I figured all’s well that ends well, and I couldn’t turn you down in good conscience.”

“My only regret is that we didn’t know about this sooner,” Christian says. “We could have saved you a lot of distress.”

“Everything in its time,” she says. “Like I said, I may not have left. Most likely, I wouldn’t have. Whatever you did for me or however you helped me, Fletcher and his kids would’ve sucked me dry. Nope. This happened right when it needed to. I’m confused about something, though,” she begins, pointing at Jason. “I thought you worked for him.” Jason laughs.

“I do,” he says.

“Everybody at this table besides you and my wife works for me, and you will be, soon, too,” Christian announces.

“You always bring your employees to dinner at your home?” Sarah asks, puzzled.

“Well, no,” he says. “Jason has been with me the longest. He’s my head of personal security… and my best friend. He took a bullet for me.” Sarah’s eyes widen.

“Really?” she asks, turning to Jason and he nods.

“Two years ago, yesterday, in fact,” he says. Christian’s brow furrows.

“That’s right,” Christian concurs, and Gail looks a little uncomfortable.

“The lovely woman to his left, as you know, is Gail Taylor,” Christian says, moving the conversation away from the shooting. “She started shortly after Jason and began working for me as my cook and housekeeper. As luck would have it, she and Jason fell in love and got married.”

“Are you… still the housekeeper?” Sarah asks Gail.

“Yes,” Gail begins.

“She’s more than that,” I say. “She’s our home manager—she runs this place. And she’s helping to raise my children while she’s raising her own stepdaughter. It’s hard to put a label on Gail. She’s… the ‘do everything’ lady. We’d be lost without her—and she’s part of the family.” Sarah smiles and nods, and Gail returns her warm smile.

“And what about this cute couple snuggling here next to me?” she asks, causing Keri to blush.

“Well, Chuck is my personal bodyguard. Like Jason did for Christian, he saved my life. So, he’s also my honorary brother.” Sarah frowns.

“I thought the lawyer was your brother,” she says.

“He kinda is,” I say. “The lawyer is my best friend and he has been for a very long time. It’s very easy for us to call each other siblings because he has no other family and before my Dad had his son, I was an only child. We’ve been friends for many years, since we were kids.”

“More than 10?” she asks. I nod.

“More than 15,” I tell her. “That’s why it’s easier to just call him my brother.” She nods.

“That makes sense. And what about this beauty here?” she says gesturing to Keri.

“That beauty there is an inheritance… and a goldmine!” I say. “Shortly after my kidnapping ordeal, Christian took me on vacation to Anguilla. There, we met Keri and had no idea that Chuck would be so sweet on her. Long story short, she came to America to be with him and with her experience with children, we hired her as our live-in nanny as well.”

“You guys have adopted quite the family, haven’t you?” Sarah says.

“Like I said, what comes around goes around,” Christian says. “I’m adopted.” Sarah’s brows rise.

“Really?” she asks, her interest piqued. Christian nods.

“My start in life was horrendous,” he says. “My mother adopted me when I was four. She saved me…”

“And you save others,” Sarah finishes. Christian smiles a small smile.

“They save me, too,” he says, looking around at all of us. “Everybody at this table has saved me in one way or another—lovingly raising my children, protecting me and my wife, protecting my heart… and even you, helping me to get her back.” Sarah purses her lips.

“I count it an honor… to be counted among such a wonderful group of people,” she says, her voice cracking. Christian squeezes her hand.

“You’re my fairy godmother,” he says. “I wouldn’t have her if it wasn’t for you…”

“And you’re my savior,” I concur, gently taking her other hand. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.”

“Well, I must thank you both. For the first time, I…” she pauses and chokes up a little. I squeeze the hand that I’m holding. “I’ve never been so at peace… at least not for a long time. Thank you.”

We converse a little longer before Sarah declares that she’s tired. We give her the option to take one of the guest rooms or Ben could take her back to the Fairmont Olympic. She agrees to stay, and Gail retrieves something for her to wear to sleep. We bid her goodnight and she heads to the guest room to turn in. It’s still fairly early, but she’s tired from an emotional couple of days.

My baby time is interrupted when I get a call from Aaron. He’s preparing to fly to Lake Como in the morning to see the villa in person. Like me, he couldn’t get a feel for the space with the virtual walkthrough. He saw the plans, however, and wants to confirm what he thinks he sees in the layout before he commits to a design.

“This is what I need you to do while I’m checking this place out,” he says. “Google, Facebook, Pinterest, whatever. Start getting an idea of how you want this place to look. If you hit a brick wall, I’ll come up with some ideas myself, which I’m going to do anyway. We still have time to do some painting if you want, just no crazy texturing stuff. If you do it in one or two rooms, you’re going to have to do it in more and we don’t have time for that. Did you have anything in mind?”

“All I know for sure is that I don’t want a remake of this house in Italy,” I tell him. “When I go to Italy, I want to feel like I’m in an Italian villa, not like I’m in Grey Crossing… only in Italy.”

“Well, if there are already columns there, you’re not going to be able to avoid that,” he says.

“Yeah, I figured as much,” I reply, “but if any of the rooms have exposed beams, that’ll be a plus.” He’s quiet for a moment.

“In that case, I suggest you Google Tuscan or old-world Italian. I’ll let you know which style will work better in the space and we’ll go from there.”

“You know I’m totally out of my element here, right?” I sigh.

“I had a feeling that you would be, but just Google Italian Villa. I’ll make a Pinterest page and make you a contributor. Then you can upload anything that you see that you like.”

“Um, Aaron, what’s Pinterest?” I ask. He’s silent again.

“You’re joking, right?” he says.

“No,” I reply. I hear him scoff on the other end.

“Watch your email,” he says.

I come to find out that Pinterest is yet another social network, but it’s more like albums and boards to share ideas and interests. You gather these ideas from the internet or even from your own files and you upload them to the board. You can organize your page by different interests, then you pin pictures to the board related to the topic… hence the name Pinterest.

You can make the boards public so that the whole world can see them, or you can make them private, so that only the contributors can see them. Our board—Italian Villa Ideas—is private. He has put a couple of pictures on the board to get me started.

The first one is labeled European Modern. I twist my lips and examine it. It looks just like what I said I didn’t want—Grey Crossing, but in Italy. The next picture is labeled Classic Tuscan. It looks more promising, as does Old-World Italian. I type each of the styles into Google and Pinterest and see what I come up with.

After only a few minutes of browsing, I quickly come to learn that I have absolutely no interest in the European Modern, everyone seems to have classic Tuscan, and old world Italian is not what I thought it was, but of the three, it’s going to be my best bet.

During my browsing, I see one extremely expensive décor idea–square furniture, sheet covers, all white… everything was white. There wasn’t a splash of color anywhere. The only things that weren’t white were the hardwood floors and the black piano. The bedding, the walls, the sofas, the lamps, the tables, the chandeliers—everything was white. It actually hurt my eyes.

On almost every site that I visit that talks about any kind of old-world, vintage, or throwback design, for lack of a better word, I keep seeing the phrases Baroque and Rococo, so I decide to look them up.

They look the same to me. Even the descriptions are the same. Baroque came first and Rococo is like Baroque, Jr. only with less of the gold and gold-leaf flamboyance. Since the most important architecture of the time between the 16th and 18th Centuries was the churches and the aristocracy, each of these styles lends itself to one of these factions.

The Baroque style of furniture and architecture was used mostly for cathedrals and temples. Art, at the time, was either political or religious. In this case, religious of course. During our trip, we’re going to see some of the most decorative and theatrical cathedrals in the world, as the church paid for art that made a dramatic religious statement, and cathedrals and churches were all decked out to win souls and show mere mortals on earth what kind of heavenly riches awaited their immortal souls.

In slight—and only slight—contrast, the Rococo style of furniture toned down the Baroque just a bit by replacing its over-the-top gold décor with white and some pastel colors, muting the Baroque only in that way without taking away from the intricate stylings, curves, and swirls of the architecture.

So, which do I want?

I think a calmer version of Baroque but not quite Rococo. Rococo has a lot of white, and I’m not feeling that, but Baroque has a lot of gold and that seems too much. We need to meet somewhere in the middle. We need the air of aristocracy from the Rococo mixed with the majesty and romance of the Baroque. Do we have the time for all that?

“Planning on sleeping in, Mrs. Grey?” Christian’s voice breaks my concentration. I raise my head to see him standing in the doorway of my office, leaning on the frame with his arms crossed.

“That wasn’t my intention,” I say, “but Aaron’s headed to Italy tomorrow to check out the villa, and he told me to look at some styles and get some ideas for what I wanted to see in the house.”

“How’s that going?” he says, walking into the room.

“Oh, God, it’s so much more than I care to explain,” I lament. He frowns.

“Why?” he says. “Pick some furniture and let him do the rest.”

“You would say that,” I say, after twisting my lips. “Now I understand why you were so blasé when I freaked out about 14 bedrooms.” He shrugs.

“I’ve always just said, ‘This is what I want to see’ and set a decorator loose,” he says. “You picked a lot of what was happening in this house, remember?”

“I had a lot more time with this house,” I say, stretching and yawning.

“It can’t be that bad. Let me see what you’ve got.” He comes around the desk and I just sit back in my chair and let him see the Pinterest page covered in ideas and model rooms of both Baroque and Rococo as well as what I think an old world kitchen should look like, and a Tuscan room here and there. He pauses.

“Oh,” he says. “We’re going that route.” My brow furrows.

“What do you mean that route?” I ask. He looks at me, then back at the laptop.

“What you’re looking for is vintage stuff,” he says, “classic furnishings and things. It could take some time to pull that off.”

“Well, this is what I want,” I say, somewhat pouty. “If I wanted the whole clean, sleek lines thing, I could stay home.” Christian purses his lips.

“What does Aaron say?” he asks.

“I told you, he’s not going to Italy until tomorrow, but he told me to gather ideas for what I want, and I told him the same thing that I told you. I want to feel like I’m in Italy when we go to Italy… Jesus, what time is it?” I yawn and look down at the clock on my computer.

Three fourteen… Good Lord, I need to go to bed!

“Well, that’s it for me,” I say, locking my computer and standing.

“I was hoping you’d say that,” Christian says, taking my hand and leading me out of the office.

*-*

“Well, how did this happen?” I ask when I enter my kitchen on Saturday morning.

“Well,” Ms. Solomon begins. “I found Sarah here snooping around in my refrigerator. When I asked what she was doing, she said that she wanted to make breakfast for everyone. Well, I wouldn’t hear of it, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer. So, while we’re planning our menu, in walks Sophie begging to be part of the powwow. Since I knew you all weren’t due to emerge for at least another hour and a half, Sophie insisted on doing crepes and once I saw her technique… well, the rest is history.”

Sarah laughs, wearing my chef’s apron and taking a pan of fresh, homemade biscuits from the oven. Sophie happily adds another crepe to a mountain of cooked crepes and covers them with a teacloth, and Ms. Solomon continues to sauté what looks like mushrooms.

“It smells divine in here, ladies,” I say, taking a seat at the breakfast bar.

“Brunch will be ready in fifteen,” Sarah says while brushing melted butter onto the biscuits and causing my mouth to water.

“Sarah, I never asked, and I hope I don’t offend, but what exactly is your nationality? I can’t quite place it,” I say.

“You never would have, child,” she says sweetly. “I’m a mut. I’m a mixture of Asian, Polynesian, European, and African American.”

“Really?” I say. “You’re a walking melting pot.”

“That I am. My mother was Hawaiian, Asian, and European and my father was Samoan and African American. I’m told that there’s some Native American sprinkled in my bloodline somewhere, but I never traced it.”

“I knew the minute I saw her,” Ms. Solomon says. “My grandmother was Hawaiian—from Kauai, to be exact. She reminds me of her… when I was a kid.”

“Sophie’s cooking?” I hear my husband’s voice as he enters the kitchen from the dining room. “Whatcha cooking, Sophie?”

“It’s not just me, Uncle Christian. It’s all of us,” Sophie says with mirth.

“Sarah, this is very sweet, and totally unnecessary,” Christian says, sitting on the seat next to me.

“I tried to tell her,” Ms. Solomon says, pouring her sautéed vegetables into a small serving bowl.

“I wanted to,” she says, waving him off. “I haven’t been able to cook like this in years. I always dreamed of having grandkids all playing in my home while I baked their favorites in the kitchen. Even though I couldn’t have any children of my own, I was hopeful when I married Fletcher and he had children. Well… you know how that turned out.” Her voice falls a bit, but Sophie is quick to the rescue.

“What kind of baking do you do?” she asks. “Like traditional American? Cakes and stuff?” Sarah perks up a bit.

“Cakes, cookies, breads,” Sarah says. “I can cook just fine, but baking is my passion.”

“Then you should be here at Christmas,” Sophie says, her eyes large. “There’s all kinds of cakes and pies, but Aunt Ana bakes enough cookies to feed an army!” Sarah laughs and looks at me.

“You don’t say?” she asks. I shrug.

“It’s a tradition that I bake a lot of cookies and give some away. I know how to make the recipe bigger; I just don’t know how to make it smaller,” I tell her, spreading my hands apart from each other on bigger an bringing them closer together on smaller. Sarah laughs.

“You come from a big family?” she asks. I shake my head.

“Only child until a couple of years ago,” I reply.

“That’s right. You said that last night,” Sarah acknowledges. “Well, maybe we could share some secret recipes this year.”

“I would love that!” I reply.

“And that glutton is not getting a single cookie!” Christian declares, brooding. I scoff.

“Oh, my God, you’re still thinking about that?” I lament.

“I told you I wouldn’t forget,” Christian says, pouring a cup of coffee. My shoulders fall and I’m looking over at Sophie, pleading.

“I’m making a batch tonight, Uncle Christian,” Sophie says. “I’ll make sure you get your own.” My husband’s eyes sparkle for a moment, but then he remembers himself.

“Well… okay… I may let him have some cookies in that case,” he sulks. I almost expect his bottom lip to poke out in a full-on pout.

“Okay, I can’t take it anymore. I’m dying to know what this is about,” Sarah says. I chuckle quietly.

“Come, Ms. Sarah,” I say. “Let me help you ladies get breakfast on the table and I will bestow upon you the saga of the chocolate truffle…”

We sit down to a brunch of five different varieties of sweet or savory crepes, fried potatoes and onions, baby mushrooms sautéed in butter, fresh fruit and cream, scrambled eggs, and maple sausage as I tell Sarah the story about Sophie’s dinner and delectable chocolate truffles and two grown men behaving like toddlers over the remaining chocolates. Jason and Gail join us at breakfast at which time, Jason declares that Christian won’t get any if he sees them first. That’s when I tell him that I have “contracted” Sophie to make Christian his own batch of truffles. Christian then gives Jason that “game, set, match” look which elicits a grunt from Jason.

Marilyn joins us last, thanking Sarah for introducing her to a new method of meditating this morning and declaring that she had completely lost track of time. While noting that Sarah had been quite the busy little bee this morning, I also note that Marilyn eats a few more eggs than usual, some fruit, a bite or two of one of Sophie’s apple cinnamon crepes, and a healthy glass of orange juice. That’s the most I’ve seen her eat in months. Gary is absent from the table, but she informs us that he had to work today—some special event at City of Music.

“Well,” I say as we’re drinking our after-brunch coffees and beverages, “Sarah and I are going to do some shopping—just some necessities and maybe some fun stuff here and there. Anybody want to come with?” I look at Marilyn.

“You know it’s been a busy week for me, Bosslady,” she says. “I just want to kick back and relax a bit.” I nod. She’s right. We’ve been quite busy getting back into the swing of things, and her week has been full of doctor’s appointments and therapists and… Gary. She most like does need the rest. I turn to Sophie.

“That sounds like a lot of fun, Aunt Ana, but I gotta go see the egg donor today.” I flinch a bit when she says that. I look at Jason who simply shrugs. Shalane’s selfish behavior is destroying whatever relationship she could possibly have with Sophie and she doesn’t care. So, Sophie calls her the most spiteful thing that she can without cursing. Last weekend, she was, “a word I can’t say.” This weekend, she’s the egg donor.

“Be strong,” I say, squeezing her hand.

“Thanks, but I don’t need to be strong,” she says. “Second only to the whole drug-dealer thing, she’s doing the crummiest thing to me right now that she can ever do. So, I don’t need strength to deal with her. Patience, maybe, but not strength.” That’s confusing to me.

“Why would you need patience?” I ask, bemused.

“To sit through an entire hour-long visit with her, stare at her and not say a word,” Sophie responds. I form an “O” with my mouth.

“Do you know that’s what happens?” I ask Jason. He nods.

“Yeah, I can’t go in there alone,” Sophie continues. “Dad has to take me once or twice a month or something to prove to them that he’s not keeping me away from her. So, I just sit there and stare at her and wait until it’s over.”

That would rip my heart out if my kids felt that way about me.

“I don’t even know what to say about that,” I say.

“It’s a crummy way to spend a Saturday, so I’ll be glad to make the chocolate truffles when I get back,” she says. Jason sighs.

“It’s time to get ready, Baby Boo,” he says, regretfully. Sophie nods and stands from the table.

“Ms. Sarah, when you come over again, can you show me some of your baking recipes?” Sophie asks.

“I sure can, child,” she says, and Sophie smiles.

“Thank you. It was really nice meeting you. Bye, everybody,” and away she goes to prepare for her jail house visit with her mom.

“I won’t pry,” Sarah says, “but I see a tragic story there.”

“Very tragic,” I reply.

“She’s a good girl,” Jason says. “I’m trying to… undo some of the damage her mother did, for lack of a better word. She’s so grown up and she knows so much to be so young.”

“How old is she?” Sarah asks.

“She’ll be 14 in May,” Gail says. Sarah shakes her head.

“She’s seen too much to be so young,” she says. “It’s all in her face.” Jason twists his lips.

“Yes, she has,” he says, “but I’m blessed. When I say that she’s a good girl, she’s really a good girl.” He finishes his coffee and kisses his wife. “Sarah, Your Highness,” he says with a nod, then leaves the table. Sarah turns to me.

“He calls you Your Highness?” she asks incredulously. Oh, God… is that the first time she heard that?

“It started as a joke that I’m regretting to this day and I’ll probably be regretting it for the rest of my life.” I lament. “Let’s go shopping…”

Sarah and I head to Walmart where she chooses her toiletries and a few items of clothing and creature comforts to make her feel at home. She’s modest with her purchases, being mindful of what she has left on the prepaid card that we gave her. I don’t fuss since she’s staying in a hotel, but we’ll most likely furnish her apartment once she finds one. I try to convince her to move into Grey Crossing with us so that she won’t be alone at the Fairmont Olympic. She assures me that she’s grateful for the alone time. It helps her to sort out her thoughts and to wrap her mind around what’s going on.

We go to a few more stores for some other miscellaneous items before we stop to rest at Starbuck’s.

“Christian calls me his fairy godmother,” she says as we sit in the café, “but I really think it’s the other way around.” I sigh.

“I totally understand why you would feel that way,” I tell her. “My husband is very generous with his wealth. He doesn’t just hand it out, mind you, but he’s quite philanthropic. He also enjoys sharing his good fortune with the people that he loves, and he never forgets a debt. It’s important to him… to us… that you don’t see this as a handout, Sarah. There’s no dollar value that we could put on what you gave us, what you did for us with that seemingly small gesture that cost you your job.” I take a deep breath and steel myself for the story I’m about to tell her.

“The two men in the video who kidnapped me took me to a remote location and handcuffed me naked to a bed for several days,” I say, looking down into my coffee. “One of them wanted money; the other wanted me. His plan was to take me to an even more remote location and keep me prisoner there until I fell in love with him. Even then, he never intended to let me go.” Sarah gasps.

“What made him think that kidnapping you would make you fall in love with him?” she asks horrified.

“He was sick,” I reply. “He was an ex who couldn’t accept that I was moving on. We hadn’t dated for four years by the time this happened, so…” I push my hair behind my ears. “I’m a psychiatrist, Sarah, and I still can’t tell you what was going on in his screwed-up head.

“I wouldn’t eat while I was there—they had drugged me with propofol at the aquarium, and I was sure that he would put something in my food to subdue me again once he was ready to move me. I also thought that if I starved myself, then he would have to take me to the hospital unless he wanted to just let me die… either way, it would have been better than where I was.” Sarah’s brow furrows.

“Are you saying that you were trying to kill yourself?” she asks. I shake my head.

“No,” I say calmly. “I knew the bastard was unstable, but I knew he wouldn’t let me die. The thought had crossed my mind throughout the ordeal, though… not the thought of killing myself, but the thought of dying because my circumstances were so unbearable. I knew Christian would never stop looking for me, but I knew that David was crazy enough that it would be improbable that he would find me.

“When they identified David and his accomplice, it made him nervous. He gave me my phone and told me to call Christian and tell him that I had left, that David didn’t kidnap me. I didn’t know that Christian had seen the video of my abduction or how they knew that David and Harris had taken me. I heard the two of them fighting about it and that’s how I found out. When he gave me my phone, I was able to make an emergency call and fool David into talking about the kidnapping while a 911 dispatcher listened. I was only hoping that Christian was tracking my phone signal and would pick it up when my phone was turned on.”

“So, that’s how they found you?” she asks, “from your phone signal?” I nod.

“It was a chain reaction,” I tell her. “Seeing the video made it possible for them to identify what happened to me and who took me. As long as nobody knew who they were, they were safe. The minute their pictures and identities were released to the media—with and without their disguises—they weren’t safe anymore. This pushed David’s hand and he became desperate. They would either have to stay where they were or move me quickly. Harris was in it for the money. He was a disgruntled employee who got fired because of me, so he had a bone to pick, but he wasn’t going to sit still while the authorities closed in on him.

“He had beaten me several times while I was chained to the bed,” I continue. “He wanted the pin numbers to my credit and debit cards, and I gave them to him. I knew that Christian’s team would be watching my bank accounts, too. It all culminated in my rescue since we had current pictures of them with their disguises as well as pictures of their original appearances. They had to move fast, and they became sloppy, so…” I trail off.

“So, what became of them? Did they go to jail?” she asks.

“They’re both deceased now,” I tell her. “Harris died in a shoot-out with the police when they got to the house where they were holding me hostage. David was arrested, tried, and convicted. A few months later, they found him hanging in his jail cell.” There was no need to fill in the dirty little details of what led to David’s ultimate demise—or the fact that we’re still not totally sure it was a suicide.

“I didn’t know they beat you,” she says sadly. I purse my lips to force away the tears.

“It was pretty bad,” I reply. “I was hospitalized for a while. The bruises left me unrecognizable. Christian was so sweet,” I remember fondly. “He wouldn’t allow me to feel ugly or undesirable for one moment, even with my face all swollen and purple…” She covers her mouth at my description. I reach across the table and take her hand.

“Your actions saved me from that, Sarah,” I tell her. “This is why it’s imperative that you understand that this—none of this—is a handout. I was on the inside. I knew their plan; I heard it. If we had to wait for warrants to find out who had taken me or what had happened to me, I never would’ve seen Christian again. I’d be chained in some basement right now, going insane, being raped or beaten or God only knows what, assuming I had lived through the ordeal. You. Saved. Me, Sarah. I owe you my life, and I will spend the rest of my life showing you just how grateful I am.” She nods, wiping away a tear.

“It’s so hard to imagine one little action being a part of such a big thing,” she admits. “And I lost my job… I still wouldn’t have done anything different.” She raises her gaze and looks off into the distance at nothing in particular.

“That young man looked so distressed,” she says. “He was heartbroken and begging for my help. I tried to explain that to my boss, but it was no use. He couldn’t hear it. He was talking about how the guys in the video could have sued us. I never knew what happened in the end—I didn’t keep up with it, I’m sorry. There was so much going on in my life at the time…”

“I wish we had known,” I tell her. “We could have prevented so much of that.”

“Everything in its time, child,” she says, sipping her coffee. I take her hand again, just as I see Chuck gesturing out the window. I follow his gesture and see a very unwelcomed sight.

“Well,” I tell her. “We’re going to have to take our beverages to go. Being who I am and especially in light of the various events that have recently occurred in Nevada, I often find myself the object of unwanted attention. As such, the press is just outside.” She turns to look.

“I… don’t see anybody,” she says bemused.

“Black Celica two cars back across the street,” I tell her. “There’s a guy in the driver’s seat aiming a telephoto lens right at us. And the sandwich shop just over there,” I gesture with my head. “There are two of them in there sitting at different tables.”

“Don’t you find that intrusive?” she asks.

“Sometimes,” I reply. “As long as it’s not during a particularly rough time in my life or they’re not disrespectful, I don’t mind them getting a picture or two. Everybody has to stay employed. It’s when they make up stories or they’re vicious with their headlines that it bothers me.”

Chuck gathers our bags and leaves Starbucks. A few moments later, he pulls up in the Audi, and Sarah and I leave the coffee house without incident.


CHRISTIAN

“You don’t look happy,” I say when Jason comes into my office later Saturday evening. He shakes his head.

“Sophie’s making the truffles,” he says before he takes his seat.

“That’s what has you in a mood?” I ask. He’s silent for a moment.

“I can’t call her any more names,” he begins. “There are no words left to describe this person anymore. She’s never going to sign those papers. She sat there yammering and yammering for an entire hour like she and Sophie were having a wonderful visit, and Sophie never said a word. I don’t even think she blinked. It’s not going to happen, Christian. She’s not giving in. Sophie’s not going to Italy this year.”

“What are our other options?” I ask hopeful.

“Nothing that will be done by June,” he says. “Court orders, filing for sole custody… I’ve got Allen on filing court orders, but it probably won’t do us any good until next year. Sophie’s being so mature about it. She’s upset that she can’t go, but she’s not throwing any temper tantrums or anything—besides not speaking to her mother at the visits—but she’s resigned to her fate. She expects for anything involving her mother to be a disappointment and yes, we all know that life isn’t fair, and you have to take the good with the bad, but this is a lesson that she’s learning too soon. Some disappointments can be avoided, and this is one of them.

“So now she had to rise above the disappointment and try to function knowing that the family is going to Italy and she can’t go. Of course, this means that Gail can’t go either because one of us has to be here with Sophia.”

Wow, I hadn’t even thought of that.

“I offered to sign her up for cooking classes for the summer if she wanted them, but you’ve tasted her cooking. Her first meal… she’s a natural. She doesn’t need classes, but the experience would have been invaluable!”

“Don’t give up hope yet, Jason. There’s got to be something we can do,” I comfort. He shakes his head.

“Allen is looking into it, but trust me, I don’t think so. This is federal. This is beyond taking a kid across state lines—this is taking a kid out of the country. Either it’s done right, or it’s not done at all. If I do anything sideways with this, she’s got me by the balls even in jail.”

I know this, that’s why I have Allen making sure our twins are good to travel, but…

“If we need a court order, it’s only a matter of finding a sympathetic judge,” I point out.

“I know that, too, but it still has to be on the up-and-up, Christian, or this whole thing could blow up in my face.” I sigh.

“I wish there was something I could do,” I say.

“I wish there was, too,” he replies, “but this time, I don’t think so. Unless I’m looking to smuggle her out and smuggle her back in again, this isn’t happening.” He leans forward in his seat and I go over to the bar in the bookshelf. Retrieving two shot glasses, I pour us both a shot of bourbon. I hand him the shot and he throws it back like water. I offer him the bottle for another shot, but he shakes his head.

“It was a burn,” he says, looking out ahead of him. What was a burn? “All this time, she had me thinking it was a bike accident. It was a burn.”

He’s talking about the scar on Sophie’s hand. He’s still digesting that the terrible gash was a burn and not a cut.

“What child in the world deserves what this woman has put her through?” he asks. “She went on drug binges and left her alone for days. She had to hide money and things from that woman to keep her from taking them. She was in this house for three days before Shalane even knew she was gone! She could’ve been kidnapped, lost, hurt, dead, anything, and that woman didn’t even know she was gone.

“But then she takes my daughter on a drug drop, offers her as payment for a drug debt, then tells the police that I’m dead so that my daughter can end up in the system! What’s going on with this woman? I know that drugs fuck up your brain cells, but they can’t have her brain fried this badly!

“She’s systematically destroying this kid’s life! Sophie has done everything humanly possible to combat the things her mother has done to her, and she’s turned out to be a great kid in the process—a great kid! Even from jail, Shalane is reaching out to do whatever damage she possibly can. It’s killing me, man.”

He leans his elbows on his knees and shakes his head.

“You know what she said on the way back?” he asks, turning his gaze to me. “She said, ‘Thanks for not being anything she tried to say you were.’ She said that she already knew that her mother was lying, but she could never see for herself because she never spent enough time with me. Now that she could, she just thanked me for being a great dad. She told me that she would get over not going to Italy, and that she didn’t blame me, but that she’s never going to get over her mother doing this to her.

“So… her truffles are her way of dealing with the disappointment. She used cooking to escape when she was a kid… and she’s doing it now.”

I find interest in something on the bookshelf as my head of security and best friend chokes up a bit but quickly recovers.

“Sure you don’t want another drink?” I ask.

“I’m sure,” he says, clearing his throat. “Thanks for listening.”

“If there’s anything I can do…” I begin.

“I know, Boss,” he replies. He stands and I give his shoulder a firm squeeze before he leaves my office. I shoot over a text to Allen to beseech him to do everything legally possible to get this court order pushed through for Jason. I know that without calling in a favor or pushing someone’s hand that these things can take forever, and he’s right. This situation has to be completely clean and correct or he could end up in a really bad place because of it.

I realize that I’m a lucky ass bastard marrying the goddess that I married. She’s a wonderful woman, a fantastic mother, a brilliant doctor, a mind-blowing lover, an excellent cook… I can imagine that Jason must’ve felt most of those things for Shalane when they were together or he wouldn’t have married the cow. What on earth could make someone become so bitter and hateful to someone they claimed to love? I hope I never cross that threshold. I didn’t want to speak to my wife when I felt she betrayed me, but I didn’t hate her. I was hurt, but I could never hate her. These two clearly hate each other, and Sophia is becoming collateral damage.

With an unyielding urge to suddenly see my children, I take the elevator to the second floor to their nursery. I’m pleased to find that they’re alone in their room, fast asleep in their respective crib. I’ll take responsibility and tend to them if they wake up, but I have to hold them.

I scoop Minnie into my arms first since she’s closest to the door. She doesn’t even stir. It’s harder to get Mikey into my arm with his sister on my shoulder, but I manage it. He stirs a bit, but he settles once I sit in the rocker and get him in a comfortable position. I remember my wife sitting in this room, in that window, telling Minnie the story of Cinderella and how she didn’t like being Cinderella.

That will never do.

I don’t know any fairytales. I’ve seen them with my wife, and we’ve watched them with our children, but I can’t remember any of them… except the Gingerbread Man… and that one had a horrendous ending.

“I’m not as creative as your mother,” I tell them. “I don’t know what I’m going to do when you get older and you want me to tell you a story. The only one I remember is The Gingerbread Man, and he… heck if I’m going to be telling you that story.

“I can tell you this, though,” I say. “Monsters are real… and dragons are real… and bad guys are real… and there really are things that go bump in the night, but you know what? There really are knights in shining armor that save you from danger…”

Like bullets from a crazy blonde and cars used as missiles to destroy the one you love.

“And there really are fairy godmothers and princesses…”

Godmothers that risk everything to let you see a video to save your princess.

“And I’m still working on that ‘happily ever after’ thing, but I know for a fact that you can live a pretty darn happy life…”

Like living in a castle with a beautiful princess and two wonderful children and great friends with a king and a queen in the kingdom who saved you from the dragon that burned holes in your chest and back…

“I swear to God that I’ll never let anything bad happen to either of you,” I promise, and I feel a tear fall down my cheek. “I swear on my life that I’ll do everything I can to protect you from danger. I’ll slay every dragon and kill every bad guy…”

I can’t get any more words out of my mouth. I know that there may be something out there that I can’t protect them from. I can’t promise to keep them safe from everything because no human alive can do that, and the thought kills me. The thought that I can’t keep danger away from my children… dear God…

“I’ll fight with my last breath to keep you safe,” I sob quietly. “I swear that to you… I’ll kill anyone who tries to hurt you…”

What if I can’t? What if something gets to my precious babies and I can’t save them? What if I fail?

I hold my slumbering children close to me and cry about the monsters I may not be able to catch…

“Chteestin?”

I blink my eyes open at the sound of my name… or some version of it. I’m still holding my children and I’m leaning back in the rocking chair. The sun is peeking through the shades in their windows and Keri is looking down at me, gently rousing me awake.

“Keri,” I say sleepily. “What time is it?”

“Eight o’clock,” Gail says. “We came to check the children to see why they didn’t wake, and now we know why.”

I stretch as much as I can under my children to keep from waking them.

“Here, give them to us,” Gail says, reaching for Mikey.

“No,” I protest quietly, “don’t wake them.”

“Eet’s time, Chteestin,” Keri says. “Dey need dere bat an’ btekfest.”

Bat an btekfest? Oh, bath and breakfast!

“Oh,” I say stretching. “Oh, yes… of course.” I reluctantly hand my children to their nannies. “Is Butterfly awake yet?”

“Not that we noticed, but we came straight up here,” Gail says before carrying Mikey to the en suite. Jesus, I slept for a long time in the chair, and the children didn’t stir either… not once all night.

Still working the minor cricks out of my joints, I go to the owner’s suite to find that my wife is no longer in bed. She was here, but she’s started her day already. We headed in different directions last night after we came home from meeting with our mentors. Well, not immediately after.

Our training wasn’t intensive. We talked about our scene in Las Vegas, the first one that we’ve had since we started training. We confessed to not having as much Downtime as we should, vowing to correct that situation soon. Certain that we’ve garnered the most that we can at this point from our mentors, we agree to meet once a month, even if it happens to be a munch, just to stay on top of our relationship and lifestyle goals. Savvina and Artemis have helped us tremendously in redirecting our relationship as it relates to the Dominus/soumise dynamic, and I couldn’t be happier. I was never displeased when my wife took the reins and I don’t think I ever will be. I just hope she still chooses to do so since the focus has mainly been on her as the soumise.

When we got home, I showed her the pictures of our candle play from Las Vegas. I had them enlarged, printed in black and white and framed. Then I put them in the playroom. Butterfly agreed that they’re absolutely stunning… and hot! Good grief, they’re hot! They incited a fast, hard, and hot fuck in the playroom and then we went our separate ways, her to the shower and most likely to bed, and me to my study.

After a hot shower to loosen my muscles and bones, I go in search of my wife. I find her in the family playroom, doing yoga with Marilyn. It’s a welcome sight, and I watch for a moment, but decide not to disturb them. I go to the kitchen to find Ms. Solomon preparing breakfast.

“Good morning, Ms. Solomon,” I say as I pour a cup of coffee.

“Good morning, Mr. Grey,” she greets.

“Who’s awake?” I ask.

“I’ve seen everyone but the Taylors,” she says. I go to the refrigerator.

“Gail is with Keri and the twins,” I say. “Maybe Jason is still asleep.” I see Sophie’s truffles in the refrigerator and I take one.

“You’re not going to eat those now, are you?” Ms. Solomon scolds.

“Just one,” I say and pop it into my mouth before she can stop me. The confection is just as divine as it was the first night I tasted it. I take the bowl with the remaining chocolates and tuck it into a drawer in the refrigerator. These are not community chocolates and I won’t have a certain distressed glutton pilfering my treats.

“Can’t wait for breakfast, bro?” I hear off to my right. I lean back and see Elliot and Valerie walking into the kitchen holding hands.

“Mind your own business,” I say, closing the refrigerator. “Who invited you, anyway?” I add, throwing a glare at him. I walk over to Valerie and kiss her on the cheek.

“You’re in a good mood,” she says, smiling and maybe a bit surprised at the kiss.

“I spent the night with my children,” I say, sipping my coffee and heading to the dining table.

“Montana mad at you?” Elliot probes as he and Valerie follow me back to the dining room.

“No,” I say, “I just spent a little more time in the nursery with them than I intended and fell asleep.”

“Where did you sleep, in Mikey’s crib?” Valerie jests. I chuckle.

“No, I slept in the rocker while telling them a story.”

“Remind me not to let you tell me any stories,” Elliot says.

“Well, hey, look what the cat dragged in,” Butterfly says as she and Marilyn join us for breakfast. She kisses Valerie, then Elliot, and they exchange pleasantries.

“You didn’t come to bed. You okay?” she asks before kissing me on my forehead.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I assure her. “I went in to check on the ‘mini-me’s’ and our conversation was so riveting that I just fell asleep.” She twists her lips in disbelief.

“Seriously, Christian?” she accuses.

“Seriously,” I reply. “Ask Keri. She woke me.” Butterfly shakes her head and pulls out her phone as she takes her seat.

“Oh, well, this is just great,” my wife says as she swipes her screen.

“What?” I ask. She looks at the screen for a few more moments then hands it to me. There’s a picture of her and Sarah sitting in a Starbuck’s with the caption:

Anastasia Grey Enjoys Shopping Spree with Mother Figure While Bio-Mom Lies Paralyzed and Infirm in Las Vegas Hospital

“Are you kidding me?” I say.

“Tell me about it,” she replies.

“What is it?” Valerie asks and I hand her the phone.

“Hm,” she says. “Not enough going on in the news, I see.”

“Exactly,” Butterfly says, retrieving the phone from Valerie. “Carla Morton could not be reached for comment. Of course, she can’t. She’s infirm, you assholes.” She shakes her head. “Mother figure… They don’t even know who she is! She started out as an intake at Helping Hands. For all they know, they can be plastering her all over the news and endangering her life!”

“Okay, no more paparazzi at the table,” I scold. “They’ll always find something, Butterfly. You know that.”

“Or make it up if they don’t,” she says, swiping her screen and putting her phone away. “So, what brings you guys over today?” She puts her napkin in her lap and looks at Valerie.

“I needed the company,” she says. “It’s… Meg’s birthday.” Butterfly’s brow furrows.

“Meg’s birthday?” she says, bemused. “Oh! Meg!” she says, realization dawning. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she says. “It’s just unnerving any time Meg rears her ugly head—figuratively or physically.” I look at Elliot and he inconspicuously points at his head before scratching it. I nod just as inconspicuously, silently mouthing an “oh” at him.

“Was this… this was the day of the surgery, right?” Butterfly asks. Valerie nods. “You’re alright, aren’t you? There’s been no…” She trails off.

“Oh! Oh, no, I’m fine. There’s been no recurrences. I just… didn’t want to be… alone, you know? I was alone when I found out about it and when I went to surgery—except for El, of course… I just wanted to be around more friends and family, that’s all.”

“Of course,” Butterfly says, reaching out and grasping her friend’s hand. “I’m so glad you came over. We can hang out and talk all day like we used to before we had to start adulting.” She and Butterfly laugh.

“Yeah, I love El and George, but it’s hard to have a girl’s day with them,” Valerie says. Butterfly’s brow furrows.

“Um, who’s George?” Butterfly asks. Valerie scoffs.

“You didn’t tell them about George?” she says to Elliot.

“I told him,” Elliot says, pointing to me.

“George is only the most adorable mongrel you’ve ever seen!” Valerie proclaims. “We got him from the rescue a few weeks ago and he’s just too lovable.” She retrieves her phone, swipes the screen, and gives the phone to Butterfly.

“What kind of dog is this?” Butterfly says with mirth.

“We have no idea,” Elliot admits. “He’s a mutt—that’s all we know.”

“He looks like Benji,” Butterfly says, handing the phone to me. She’s right. He does kind of look like Benji.

“That’s what I said,” Valerie replies. “They didn’t know what kind of dog Benji was, either, but I did learn that a trainer once said that he was a mix between a Miniature Poodle, a Cocker Spaniel, and Schnauzer. So, that’s what we’re going with until someone tells us different.”

“Well, I think he’s adorable,” Butterfly says as Ms. Solomon begins to serve breakfast and I give Valerie back her phone. “How’s his temperament?”

“The most vicious thing on that dog is his tail,” Valerie replies. “He likes apples and he just wants to be loved. He licks everybody he meets than waits for treats.” She laughs.

“He sounds like the perfect little companion…”

We talk some more about Elliot and Valerie’s dog and the conversation wanders over to the Italian villa and the fact that Aaron has probably landed in Rome by now and will most likely get to the villa tomorrow. We shy away from the Gia Mateo as two people at the table would really rather not talk about her.

I look at my family sitting around the breakfast table and wonder why our story has to be so tragic. We’re all pretty much estranged from our original blood family—some by death; others because they’re just assholes. We all had to make a family—or were blessed with one—that’s not blood. And we all have a horrendous story or two to tell.

Branding…
Cigarette burns…
Cancer…
Miscarriages…

Is it true that the worst trials produce the best—and worst—people? I mean, look at Sophie. She’s striving and succeeding at being one of the best people I know at only 13 years old and look at the shit hand she’s been dealt so far. Seriously, who in God’s name deserves a mother like that?

Every time I think of her or I think of Carla or the crack whore, I just want to be the best father that I can possibly be. I want to show my children that there’s nothing that they can’t have or can’t do, and not because they’re rich, but because they’re loved. I want to chase away their Boogeymen or at least help them fight them. I want to celebrate their victories and comfort them in times of sorrow. I want them to know that as long as I’m alive, I’ll be there for them to comfort and protect them.

I want them to know that my horror story will never be theirs.


A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-misadventuresseason-v/ 

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, or you want to vent about something in your life, please feel free to visit the link on the left in the menu intitled “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

 

 

Speaking of Madrid…

I’ve seen on more than one comment that Ana and Christian need to address the Madrid Disaster (thanks for the name, Junie). So, I’m opening the floor to find out who still feels this way and why. I’m not saying that there will be another big discussion in the story. I’ll begin with my thoughts on the topic…

In chapter 41 of Raising Grey, they came to the painful realization that they were both wrong in the Madrid Disaster. Christian already knew; Ana didn’t like it. She was angry and she felt slighted and hurt and ran out of the room on a bad ankle, but they both accepted (though begrudgingly) that they were both wrong.

In chapter 42, she spills her guts to him, Taylor, and Gail about the feeling of impending doom and maybe never being able to get back to where they were again. He’s totally convinced that he has broken her and now he has to do everything that he can to fix her. They’re both disheartened but they still love each other.

In chapter 43, they face up to what they did to each other and realize that they have to make some changes:

“I’m saying that we have to grow,” she says. “We have to let go of what we were and we have to grow. We’ll never be who we were before because you can’t undo what’s been done. You can’t unhurt me and I can’t unhurt you. We can’t unlearn what we’ve learned. We can’t unlive the experiences and feelings of the last month. They’ll always be a part of us. So, we don’t have any other choice but to move on and grow from here, but this is like losing your virginity, Christian. We can’t go back… We can’t go back, and it’s not that we can’t go back to the love that was felt. We can’t go back to the naïveté that was our relationship. We just have to… move forward. There’s no going back.”

In chapter 44, he admits that he had his own Boogeyman, his own monsters, to Dr. Baker.

That unbearable sick feeling is coming over me again. The monsters are reaching their horrible talons out of the closet at me, and my monster slayer is the reason they’re advancing this time. I choke out the final words that I don’t want to admit.

“I feel like she wanted it, but she had to stop him because of me.”

That’s it. It’s out now. There’s nothing else for me to say about it. I’ve spilled my guts and the poison is all over the room, now—tainting the windows so the sun can’t shine in; coating the floor and threatening to pull me down into it; oozing from my hands, my arms, my mouth and burning every surface it touches.

Dr. Baker tells him:

“Then tell her how you feel, or you’ll never get past this!” she retorts. “Tell her everything, or you’re lying to yourself and to her. You don’t want to accept defeat. Fine—tell her that! You feel like her actions or lack of actions breached the understanding and trust that you two share—tell her that, too! Tell her everything that you’re feeling. Rip this open and lay it out there for her to see then tell her what you expect to happen from here—how you expect to recover and be whole again… or stay where you are and accept second-best.”

Later in that chapter, he tells Ana how he feels and she admits that she already knows. And for that entire chapter—after they had each talked to their shrinks—they had that painful crying session on the patio and then they talked about what they needed to do, about how they felt, about how they were going to get there.

Right before the viewing of the exposé in chapter 48, she had another attack of the Boogeyman, and he’s apologizing again.

For the next several chapters—and even now when they’re talking to their BDSM mentors—they’re talking to everybody about Madrid and its affects. They’re talking to each other, breaking the relationship down to its basest components. They’re talking to Jason. They’re talking to Gail. They’re talking to they’re respective shrinks. They’re talking to each other again and again. They’re talking to strangers on an Australian cruise that led to one of the biggest breakthroughs they every had. They talked about Madrid, its affects, their relationship from halfway through the last book and even chapters into the current book. And now, to help Marilyn and Gary, they’re sharing their experiences with it and what they learned. Exactly how many more times do they need to talk about Madrid?

I’m asking this question because I’ve seen that comment several different times on various different chapters, and I just need to know why there are so many readers who still like Madrid is “unfinished business.” Share with me why you feel that way.

~~love and handcuffs

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 29

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…

Season 5 Episode 29

CHRISTIAN

“Nope, they got nothing,” Alex told me when I called him from security central on my burner on Tuesday night. “The missing person’s report came from a friend of hers who normally sees her a couple of times a week and hasn’t heard from her. They can’t prove anything with Lincoln’s strokes. They just happen. Sometimes, very young people have strokes—they don’t know why. They linked the ghost writer through the warden because he thought the information would help his case—it didn’t. So, now they’re going to start sniffing up the asses of Seattle’s movers and shakers, ruffling all kinds of feathers on a hunch hoping something falls out. I can guarantee you have nothing to worry about.”

“What about Ellison?” I ask.

“Have you seen Dodd?” he asks.

“No,” I reply.

“Then I can guarantee that you won’t see Ellison either.” That’s enough for me. “And call the governor. You need to show some outrage.”

“Will do.”

That was Tuesday after Cagney and Baretta left my home. I figure I’d wait a couple of days before I called Charlotte to see if anybody else called her.

“Always a pleasure when you call me, Christian,” she says when she answers the phone. “Let me guess, Detective Burns and Detective Groomer.”

“Tell me they’re not going through with this,” I say, mocking disbelief. “What is this all about? Was this girl somebody’s long lost niece or something?” I immediately think of the Pedophile’s great-aunt showing up to tell me to call off the dogs.

“No, just another missing persons’ report. Unfortunately, this one smells of the whole Hollywood Madam thing. So, somebody’s trying to make a name for themselves. I haven’t gotten to the bottom of who, yet, but I need to know. What is your connection to this girl?”

“I’m going to tell you the same thing that I told them. I planned on fucking her before I married my wife, so I ran a background check on her,” I say.

“Christian, must you be so crude?” she asks.

“It’s the truth, Charlotte,” I reply. “I don’t have casual affairs and I don’t sleep with just anybody. You know the sordid details of my relationship with Elena Lincoln, but at the time, she was someone that I trusted. Knowing my need for discretion—and my type—I relied on her judgement when she introduced me to someone. That was around the same time that I met my wife. One came with a relationship which you know I didn’t want. One was no strings attached, only I realized later that there were strings attached.”

“Elaborate,” she says. I sigh.

“Let me start by saying that I fell head over heels in love with my wife before I even knew I was in love with her. As such, Gretchen didn’t even have a chance…”

“I think her name is Greta,” Charlotte corrects me. I laugh inwardly.

“And that’s the whole thing!” I say, mocking frustration. “The same thing happened when the cops were here. I kept messing up her name. That’s just how little an impact she left on me. I loved Ana. I wanted Ana. Even if she didn’t want me, I wanted her. So, when Gret-ta showed up, as perfect as she was, I couldn’t slide her into the slot because it wasn’t her slot. I wanted this other woman. I would have done anything I had to do to get this other woman. She was like no other woman that I ever met, and the same shit that I was doing before was not going to work on her. She wasn’t impressed with my money, my power, my looks, nothing. She fucking hated me, and I was already worshipping the ground she walked on.

“Gret-ta would have been perfect for a no-strings-attached steady fuck, which was exactly what I was looking for before I met my wife. The closer I got to winning my wife, the further I got from Gret-ta. Then, I found out that there was a large transfer of funds from Lincoln’s account to her account, and I felt like a damn John. I called the whole thing off and pursued my wife with gusto until I got her. That woman’s not even an ex, Charlotte. She was a hopeful, a wannabe that never made the mark. She doesn’t pose a threat to me because she doesn’t know anything about me. Anything that she could know about me—even from Lincoln—she can’t print or say, because before she would have even been able to be considered to be in my company, she would have had to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

“There’s nothing that she can gain from saying anything about me even if she knows anything about me. She was just somebody I thought about fucking and if she tells somebody that, that wouldn’t hurt. I thought about fucking Haley Berry, too, but that never happened and this just as relevant, if not less. She can’t hurt me. She poses no threat to me. So, why are they bothering me?”

“I believe you, Christian,” Charlotte says. “I’m glad you told me the whole story so that I have something to go on. Other reputable people haven’t been as forthcoming as you. Granted, I have several other people who say that they have no idea who she is, and others who I’m certain know who she is but they won’t tell me. I know they have something to hide. I’m beginning to wonder if this girl really is a high-class hooker.”

“She might be,” I say. “I was soliciting sex, I admit that, but I was doing it in a ‘meet you, see if we click, let’s do this’ type of way. Once I saw that money had exchanged hands and I had no explanation why, I was out, and if she says anything different, she’s a liar.”

“Well, unfortunately, right now, she’s not saying anything,” Charlotte replies. I sigh.

“How many people have they questioned so far?” I ask.

“I don’t know, but you’re the 16th person who called me.”

Sixteen! They’re chasing dust particles. They’re never going to get an answer.

“Charlotte, you and I both know that if this girl hit the right person at the wrong time, they’re never going to find her. All they’re doing is ruffling the feathers of a lot of high-powered people. They came to my home and interrogated me like a criminal with no grounds whatsoever. They disrupted my day; they upset my wife; they frightened my children… all on a hunch! They have no evidence, no probable cause—they wouldn’t even tell me why they were here until Jason threatened to call the chief of police!

“What do they think happened to this girl? Who do they think is responsible for her disappearance? Do they have any real leads besides hearsay and bits from the gossip columns, because that’s all they gave me?”

“From what I understand, yes, that’s all they have.” I sigh, actually from relief, but I don’t want her to know that.

“Charlotte, if they come at me again, I’m going to the press,” I say.

“Christian, please, don’t do that,” she pleads. “That could destroy their whole investigation.”

“Then, they need to have something more concrete,” I say. “A man who has something to hide is not going to stick his face in front of a camera. I will. I’m tired of cops treating me like shit just because they feel like they can. They treated me this way when Anastasia was kidnapped. They treated me this way when she was involved in that accident. Hell, they treated me this way when that crazy blonde bitch tried to kill me. I’m tired of this! And I’m as tired of calling you to fix it as you are of me calling you.”

They’ve got nothing on me. I know they don’t even though I know what happened to that bitch. This is a fishing exhibition with no bait, and I was their first target. I’m always their first target, so my frustration is real.

“I hear you, Christian, loud and clear… and I’m on it,” she replies.

“I’m sorry, Charlotte,” I say, for you getting involved in this and having to cover for me, even though I’m guilty.

“Don’t be,” she says. “We’ve had this conversation more than once, and you’re right. Each time you’ve called me, someone has stepped out of line in just this way, so I can’t be upset.”

Yes, you can, Charlotte. They’re sniffing up the right tree with me. They just don’t have any proof, and until they do…

“They just need to leave me the hell alone,” I say.

“Just don’t call the press, please,” she says. “Let me handle this.”

“Okay,” I reply. “I’ll keep my mouth shut, for now.” For always.

I wish her family well and end the call.

I feel badly for lying to Charlotte, but I did what needed to be done to that predatorial bitch and I don’t regret it… and I need for them to stop sniffing in this direction—not now, but right now!

I take several deep breaths then count for a while to get this crazy bitch off my mind. As much as I hate to admit it, I wish I had told Alex to get rid of her, burn the body, and dump it in the ocean somewhere.

It’s time to redirect my thoughts.

“Hello, handsome.”

“Hey, are you busy?” I ask.

“I’ll be meeting with a new intake in a moment, but nothing unusual,” she says.

“Can I invade on your day and bring you some lunch? I need a little sunshine in my life.”

“Mmm, that would be divine,” Butterfly replies.

“Any requests?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says. “I’d love a gyro and some fries.”

“I’ll be there shortly,” I promise.

“See you then.”

I stop by a Mediterranean restaurant and pick up a gyro and fries for my wife along with some chicken Shawarma, falafel, and baklava. I just want to be with my girl and forget about all this other shit.

Jason hangs out at the guard’s desk while I head back to my wife’s office. She said she had to meet with a recent intake, and I’m hoping she has finished the meeting by now. Her office door is open, so I walk in, but I discover that she’s talking to an older woman when I enter.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “The door was open…”

“It’s okay,” Butterfly says, “I’ll only be another minute or two.” I nod and turn to leave just as the woman turns her head and looks at me. I… think I know her. I don’t forget a face; I just can’t call a name. My mental Rolodex spins out of control as I feel as though it’s imperative that I know this woman’s name. Just as my wife calls my name to get my attention…

“Sarah!” I exclaim. Realization slapping me hard in the face. The woman nearly leaps out of her skin at the sound of my voice, almost appearing to cower in her chair.

“Christian!” Butterfly chastens. “You can’t do that!” I know what she’s talking about. I probably scared the poor woman to death and she’s here for some kind of safe haven.

“I’m sorry,” I say, softening my voice and turning my gaze to Sarah. “Sarah… Burnett, right? Do you remember me?” Sarah is still scared shitless and won’t say anything. “You helped me,” I add, softly. “You helped me at one of the worst moments of my life.”

Sarah’s gaze softens, and I can see that she’s trying to place my face. I rarely meet anybody who doesn’t know who I am. Then again, she didn’t know who I was then, either. Why is she here at Helping Hands?

“Sarah,” I say, softly, crouching next to her so that we’re at eye-level, “Please… look carefully. Tell me you remember who I am.”

“I’m… I’m sorry… I don’t,” she says, still frightened.

“That’s okay,” I tell her. “It’s actually refreshing that someone doesn’t know who I am. Tell me, do you still work at the parking structure on Alaskan Way?” Her brow rises.

“No…” she says tentatively, “not for a while.”

“Christian…” Butterfly protests, “you’re scaring her.”

“Baby,” I interrupt her, “I don’t mean to scare her and I’m not trying to prevent you from doing your job, but this is personal. This is Marlow-Marcia-Maggie personal.” She quickly throws her hands up in surrender and rolls her eyes.

“Sarah,” she says softly, “this is my husband.” Sarah’s shoulders fall immediately, and relief is evident in her eyes and her sigh. “Whatever insanity he may be suffering right now, I promise he won’t hurt you.” Sarah raises questioning eyes to me.

“How… did I help you?” she asks timidly.

“Three years ago, you let me sit in your booth and watch security tapes of the aquarium across the street,” I say. She pauses for a moment, then she gasps loudly and points to me, then to Butterfly, and I nod. Butterfly is bemused when I turn to her.

“If it hadn’t been for her,” I say pointing to Sarah, “when David kidnapped you, I’m certain I never would have found you.”    

Now, it’s Butterfly’s turn to gasp. Her fingers gently touch her lips as realization dawns and the pieces start falling into place.

“Oh, my God,” Butterfly breathes. “She… saved me, too.” I nod and turn back to Sarah, whose eyes are filling with tears.

“It’s a happy ending, Sarah,” I say, smiling and taking her hands in mine. “I found my princess—my Butterfly—I got her back, and it’s all because of you.”

“Oh! Oh!” Sarah reaches out to Ana. “I’m so happy!” she says, cherubically. “I never would have known that was you.” Ana takes her hand and crouches down to her.

“It looks like I owe you a huge debt of gratitude as well,” Butterfly says, fighting tears of her own.

“You don’t,” Sarah says. “Any good person would have done the same.”

“There were places on that dock that wouldn’t help me, Sarah,” I inform her. “So, no, they wouldn’t have.” She smiles softly.

“Then, they weren’t good people,” she says, and that’s the person I met in that parking garage, not the frightened woman cowering on the sofa in my wife’s office when I arrived.

“You have no idea, Sarah,” my wife says, unable to fight her tears anymore. “I was in a horrible situation and there was no hope… I can’t begin to thank you enough…”

“Well, I can,” I say, squeezing her hands. “Tell me why you’re here. Tell me what you need… anything you need!” I implore her. Her eyes grow large and Butterfly touches my hand.

“Christian…” Okay, Christian’s being intense. Bring it back a notch. I drop my head and take a deep breath, bringing beseeching eyes back to hers.

“Please…” I say softly. “You helped build my faith in people, in the kindness that people can show to strangers with absolutely nothing to gain for it.” I drop my head and keep talking. “You’re one of the very few people I’ve ever met who put herself on the line and did a hugely kind thing for someone with nothing to gain.” I raise my eyes back to hers.

“You’re in trouble now,” I say, “or something bad is happening and I won’t sit still. You were an angel from God for me that day, and you rescued me. Please, let me help you now. Anything,” I reinforce. “Tell me what’s going on. Tell me why you’re here. What can I do?”

She looks at me then at my wife. Then she closes her eyes and nods.

“I’m not accustomed to taking handouts,” she says softly.

“Believe me when I tell you, this is not a handout. You paid this forward… way forward. My wife could have died, Sarah. She was in a horrible way when we found her, and it took a long time for her to heal from those physical and emotional scars. She wouldn’t be here, be with me, if it weren’t for you. We owe you big time. Please, let us help you… please.” She sighs and shakes her head.

“It’s a big mess,” she says, breaking down into sobs.

I remove my coat, give Butterfly her lunch and give my lunch to Sarah as she explains to me how she ended up where she is now. She lost her job after she helped me because she broke the rules in letting me see the videos and sending them to my team before the subpoena had been secured. Ever since then, she had been working whatever odd jobs she could find to try to make ends meet. All she knows is security because it’s all she’s ever done, so she didn’t keep the odd jobs for long. She faced age discrimination, even though she’s not old—she’s just older, and she’s very healthy and smart.

Her husband became abusive because she couldn’t pull her weight. She’s horribly in debt and she has no children or family to turn to. She’s been evicted from her home just today and when her husband finds out, he’s going to beat her. What’s left of her stuff that hasn’t been taken is still sitting on the curb in front of her house and she’s afraid to go back and even look through it because her husband will probably be waiting for her there.

I drop my head. It physically hurts that someone who showed such kindness to me at her own detriment is now facing this kind of problem. If that asshole that she married would kick her when she’s down, maybe this had to happen so that she can get away from him.

“May I ask you some personal questions?” I say.

“You can ask me anything,” she says. “I’m so glad everything worked out for you two. It made all this worth it.”

“And I’m about to make it even more worth it if you let me. You sacrificed so much for us. It would be my honor if you let me help you… and the very least I can do,” I say.

“Mine, too, Sarah,” Butterfly says. “I really owe you my life. I was in a really bad way, and if it weren’t for you…” Butterfly holds her head down to fight her tears. Sarah takes her hand.

“Don’t cry, child,” she says, “it all worked out in the end.”

“Except for you,” Butterfly chokes. “Please… you have to accept what we give you as gifts… in gratitude… endless gratitude… for my life!” she sobs. Sarah squeezes her hand and looks at me, smiling, with tears filling her eyes.

“Who am I to turn down such a wonderful gesture… when I’m in need?” she says sweetly. “The Lord works in mysterious ways.”

“That He does, Sarah,” I concur. “That He does.”

The afternoon is now full of my mission of mercy. I put in a call to Alex to begin a standard employment background check on Sarah Burnett. I can tell that she may take initial gifts from me, but she won’t take endless handouts. She has to feel useful. Butterfly sets her up on her computer to complete a job application for GEH and I call ahead to Human Resources.

“Yes. Mr. Grey, what can I do for you?”

“I have a candidate here who is completing the online application as we speak, and her background check is in progress. She has…” I look at Sarah. “How many years of security experience do you have?”

“Twenty-five years,” she says. I raise my brow and nod in approval.

“She has 25 years of security experience. Are there any positions in our security sector that can use her?”

“Corporate or commercial?”

“Commercial,” I reply. Corporate is too dangerous. I hear typing on the other end.

“Yes,” she says. “Ever since we absorbed Vansteen into the corporate offices, there’s been a lot of attrition. With stricter guidelines, the slackers have mostly fallen off and we need some more people. With her experience, I suggest she replace the supervisor we just lost.”

“That’s perfect,” I say. “As soon as she’s finished with her application, I want you to pull it. Then wait for her background check to come from security…”

“Um, Christian?” Sarah calls me. I turn to her. “I don’t have a phone.”

Wow, really?

“Her application doesn’t have a phone number on it,” I say. “I’ll be updating that later.”

“What’s her name?”

“Sarah Burnett,” I say.

“Got it. I’ll keep an eye out for the application, sir.”

“Thank you.” I end the call and turn to Sarah.

“Tell me honestly,” I say to her. “Do you want to go back to your husband? Nobody’s going to blame you if you do…”

“No,” she says without hesitation. “I spent too many years being his punching bag. I’m better off alone.”

“Well, you certainly won’t be alone, Sarah, because you’ve got us now.”

And, of course, the Greys have a new family member.

*-*

We leave Helping Hands and go back to Sarah’s house. All of her things have been taken and what’s left isn’t worth scavenging through. Luckily, her husband never showed up while we were there, and she’s content to start over—a new life without him.

I put her up at the Fairlane Olympic for the next few days as I’m certain she needed some privacy—more than she would have gotten at Helping Hands. It’s a nice place for what it is, but she needs to lament her circumstances for the last time before she lets it go. I also set her up with a new cell phone so that she can get the call when HR gets her background check and security clearances.

I asked her to make a list of her debts so that we could get them squared away. She drew the line at me paying her debts, stating that once she was gainfully employed, she could pay them on her own. So, I made her a deal. I would pay her accumulating debt in one lump sum, and once she was stable and getting regular checks, she could pay me back in a no-interest loan. She agreed to those conditions. What she doesn’t know is that the money that she’s paying me back is going to go into her GEH retirement fund.

I give her a prepaid debit card with $1000 on it so that she can get toiletries, clothes, and have some meals over the next couple of days. I’ll be getting her a GEH expense card in the next couple of days to float her until she starts working and she gets her first check. She vows to pay that back as well, and I just nod.

Her last order of business is to find a place—a nice place—in the city close to the job, preferably in the Pike Place area. Her eyes widen when I mention the area.

“With what I pay my staff, you’ll be making enough to live wherever you want,” I say. “Pike Place is safe, it’s closer to the job, and your husband is not likely to find you there… but we’ll handle it if he does. I’ll pay your first and last month’s rent and security deposit so that you don’t have to worry about saving to move.” She drops her head.

“I want to get divorce proceedings started as soon as possible,” she says, sadly. Butterfly takes her hand.

“You don’t have to do that now if you don’t want to,” she tells Sarah. Sarah sniffs and wipes her eyes.

“Fifteen years, child,” she says, raising tear-filled eyes to Butterfly. “It’s time to break the shackles.”

“I’ll have our lawyer call you tomorrow,” I say. She nods.

“He’s also my best friend,” Butterfly says.

“You might even recognize him,” I add. “He was with us when we came to the parking garage that day.” She nods again and I realize the day has probably been too much for her.

“We’re going to let you get some rest now,” I say, rising to leave. “It’s been a very eventful day.” Without warning, Sarah jumps up and throws her arms around me. Butterfly’s eyes widen and she knows I’m prone to panic in this situation, but not this time. I gently wrap my arms around her as she cries softly on my shoulder.

“Just when you think things won’t get any better… God sends angels into your life,” she says.

Don’t I know it! I pull her back and look at her face.

“And you. Were ours,” I say definitely. “Thank you… from the bottom of my heart, thank you.”

“You’re most welcome,” she says. “And thank you.”

“Likewise,” I reply. She kisses me softly on the cheek.

Butterfly embraces her and tells her that we’ll check on her tomorrow, and we leave to allow her to get some sleep.

“Did you ever tell me about her?” Butterfly asks as Jason drives us home.

“I don’t know,” I admit. “I thought I did, but I don’t know.”

“What is the likelihood that she would show up at Helping Hands… in her time of need… right when you were coming to bring me lunch?” I sigh.

“Like she says, the Lord works in mysterious ways.” It occurs to me that her husband may somehow get wind of what’s going on and how well she’s doing and try to muscle in on her gig. I type a text to Alex to find out who he is and as much as he can about him.                                   

When we arrive at the Crossing, all I want to do is get out of these clothes. After stopping to coo at her children who made it home before we did since we took a detour to get Sarah squared away, Butterfly joins me in the bedroom. I’m pulling my T-shirt from my pants when she comes into the room, removes her suit jacket, and tosses it across a chair. I watch her as she’s unbuttoning her shirt.

“I have a question,” I ask.

“What is it?” she says, tossing her shirt onto the chair with her jacket.

“When is the last time we fucked?” She freezes, staring at me with both hands behind her back, no doubt about to unclasp her bra.

“Too damn long if you have to ask,” she says, squirming out of her bra and tossing it to parts unknown.

*-*

I think we both needed that. We fucked straight through dinner and just had something brought up to the suite. It was a very emotional day, seeing Sarah and the situation that she was in after what she did to help us. There’s nothing she can’t ask me for. I’ll never see her hungry, or homeless, or hurt, or in any financial trouble ever again. Had I known they fired her for helping me find my Butterfly, I would have jumped into action long before now.

Butterfly was a bit overwhelmed when she discovered Sarah’s role in her rescue as well. I was sure that I told her about Sarah. Maybe I did, but it was a while ago and she had no way of putting two and two together without me.

Sarah is matronly—not quite old enough to be my grandmother, but older than my mom. She didn’t need to be working at that place anymore anyway. With her experience, she could probably offer some great training and organization to the private commercial security sector of my company. She doesn’t need to be walking a beat or patrolling. She needs to be in charge, offering her expertise to a failing division.

My wife is fast asleep when I finally take the elevator downstairs to the ground floor to try to get some of the work done that I missed today while tending to Sarah. Once again, as I’m going through the entertainment room, I see Garrett out on the patio. Even from behind, he looks a bit forlorn. Part of me wants to just leave him to his thoughts. Then another part of me doesn’t want to just leave him out there. I twist my lips and roll my eyes, retrieve a couple of beers from the wet bar and go out the French doors.

“You spend a lot of time out here,” I say, but as I approach, I see that he’s wiping tears from his eyes. Um… okay.

“Would you rather I leave you alone?” I ask. He takes a shuddering breath as another tear falls from his eyes.

“I fucked up, man,” he says, dropping his head and leaning his elbows on his knees clasping his hands between them. “I fucked up really bad.”

“Okay,” I say, moving to the side of the sofa. “Elaborate.” He throws a tearstained glare at me and twists his lips as if to say, “seriously?” I shrug.

“I’m just wondering what brought you to this conclusion now,” I clarify, still standing there with the beers.

“She’s destroyed, man,” he says, dropping his gaze again. “I broke her. I really broke her. Serves me right that she doesn’t want me back.” Now, that’s a shocker.

“Did she say that?” I ask surprised.

“She doesn’t have to. I can’t get close to her. I mean, she’ll let me near her, but she won’t let me in.”

“Aaahh, that,” I say, remembering as I sit down next to him and put the beers on the ground. He turns a nearly hateful glare at me.

“What do you mean, ‘ah, that?’” he barks. “She’s not playing a game!”

“No, she’s not playing a game. And yes, you did fuck up. What, do you think you’re the only person who’s ever been through this?” I glare right back at him and wait for his response. He deflates and drops his head. He doesn’t want to fight with me. He doesn’t even want to fight.

“When you do something that knocks the wind out of someone, it takes a while for them to recoil. But when you suck all the air out of the room after you’ve knocked all the wind out of them, they may never recover. Which one do you think you did?”

“I know which one I did. That’s why I don’t think she wants me back,” he replies.

“So… now what?” I ask. “You sit here and wallow in self-pity? Because that’s what I think this is.”

He rolls his eyes.

“So, I was wrong for mourning the loss of my baby and now I’m not allowed to mourn the loss of my girl?” he challenges. I scoff.

“You didn’t lose her. You threw her away!” I retort. “She didn’t do anything wrong, Garrett. She made a choice—a choice about her body, but it turned out not to be the right choice for you. No one is discounting the pain, hurt, and disappointment that you felt, but you two should have worked this out together.”

“I thought we did,” he interjects.

“No, you didn’t,” I accuse. “You took her choice away. You made it such that either she have that baby or you leave. I don’t know if you considered the consequences of your decision—how it would affect her, how it would affect you, but it nearly killed her. It did kill her emotionally, and you can see for yourself what it did physically. Did you tell her that you would leave if she terminated the pregnancy?”

“No, but I didn’t tell her that I was going to stay.” That is a juvenile response.

Mmmm… kay,” I say, skeptically. “And you’re surprised that she’s feeling the way she’s feeling right now.”

“I’m not surprised,” he retorts.

“But you expected her to welcome you back into her life just because you showed up again?”

“I don’t know what I expected!” he shoots. “I didn’t even expect to see her, let alone wonder if she even wants me back, but is it too much for me to expect her to at least let me in? She won’t even come to my place. If I want to spend time with her, I gotta come here. And when I do, she’s… formal at best.” Is he serious?

“It’s been less than a week! What do you expect?” I declare. “You’re lucky she even agreed to see you.”

“Look, I really don’t need you to rub my face in this. I know I’m screwed.” My turn to roll my eyes.

“Garrett, I left my wife for three weeks and she nearly leapt off a cliff.” He turns a surprised tear-stained gaze to me.

“What?” he asks, in shock.

“Do you remember that random sprained ankle around her birthday?” He pauses, then nods uncertainly. “Yeah, I had a big kneejerk reaction to a big thing that happened between us and all I knew was that I couldn’t be around her. I took the clothes on my back, my telephone, my laptop, and my security, and I got outta Dodge without a word. She didn’t know where I was; she didn’t know if I was coming back; and I never spoke to her once. After trying a hundred times to get in touch with me to no avail, she had a drunken moment at a lookout point and if Chuck hadn’t been there to catch her, she wouldn’t be here right now.”

Garrett sits there looking wide-eyed and gaped mouth at me.

“No, I didn’t lose a baby. I don’t know how that feels, but I do know how it feels to feel like you’ve been so betrayed that you run away… and fuck up. So, no, you’re not the only person who has been through this. She had moved out of our bedroom and when I came back home, she didn’t move back in for a week.”

“Shit,” he says slowly in disbelief. “I can’t see that happening to you two.”

“None of us could see it happening to you and Marilyn either, but it did,” I reply.

“But you’re back, now. You’re fine,” he protests.

“It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t immediate. She had to understand what role she played in the situation and I had to understand what role I played. Figuring that out nearly ripped us apart. As much as we wanted it, we literally had to discuss if we felt like we could be together anymore or if we should just walk away—be co-parents and nothing else. That was one of the hardest things I think I’ve ever done in my life.” He raises a brow.

“You’ve had something harder than that?” he asks. I cock my head at him.

“Having to sit still and wonder where she was for four days while she was kidnapped,” I say. “Coming to grips with the fact that I may have to let her go after that accident that left her in a coma because she had a 60-day advanced directive. Fighting almost all of you when Maxine wanted to commit her when she was catatonic…”

“Okay, okay, I get it,” he says. “I never really thought about all the things you guys have been through. So… how did you get back to here?” he asks. I shrug.

“Butterfly had to get over her fear,” I tell him. “I could only help her so much, then she had to do the rest herself. We had severe trust issues that we had to overcome. Neither of us are perfect and we had to understand and accept that. We had to accept that there would be more problems, more issues, more mistakes, but we also knew that being without each other was impossible. Our relationship is not conditional—I’ll love you as long as you don’t hurt me anymore—but in the beginning, right after a really big hurt, it is. It’s like… loving to swim and sail and jet ski and surf but being afraid of the water after you nearly drown.

“The water can’t guarantee that you’re not going to drown if you’re not careful, but the only way to stay completely safe is to stay away from it and all the things that you love about it. Marilyn’s afraid of the water right now. You’re going to have to help her to love watersports again.”

“How do I do that?” he asks. “I fucked up so bad, I don’t know how to fix this.”

“It won’t be easy,” I confess. “You abandoned her when she needed you, and even though you needed the time to yourself as well, this just wasn’t the way to do it. Do you think that she, too, wasn’t ripped apart emotionally before she terminated that pregnancy?”

“The therapist said the same thing,” he admits, now looking at the ground.

“Mm-hmm, and you left her to carry all of this alone,” I say without apology. “She felt the confusion that came along with the termination, the pain of suddenly losing you without warning, the fear of uncertainty of what would happen next, the weight of all of her own insecurities…”

I’m drawing on everything I knew that my wife felt because even though there was no terminated pregnancy involved, I know from our talks that she was feeling the exact same things when I left.

“You wanted her to hurt, and she did… tremendously. Now, you want to come back and fix it—make it all better, and it’s not as easy as you thought it would be.”

“Okay, Christian, I accept that it’s not going to be easy. Just please, tell me what to do. Point me in the right direction.”

I sigh in frustration. I know what he’s feeling, but he’s got a long road ahead of him.

“You’ve got a painful conversation to have,” I tell him. “We all know that she wants the pain to stop, but does she really want you back? Does she really want a relationship with you? Does she trust you enough—or is she willing to trust you enough—to move forward from here? You’re not going to get back what you had, but is it possible for you to come together and build something else… hopefully something stronger and better than what you had before? Only time will tell if that’s going to happen, but is she… and are you really willing to try knowing that what you had before is gone?

“Experience makes it such that you can’t unwalk the road that you’ve already traveled. This is now part of your story. Will it be a milestone, or will it be the end? That’s the painful and brutally honest conversation that you must have. Depending on the outcome of that conversation, you’re going to have several moments where you will have to continuously show her how much you love her and that you understand what you lost. That sounds easy and fun, and sometimes it will be. Other times, not so much.”

“Okay,” he says with a heavy sigh. “So, where do I start? What do I do?”

I reach into my pocket and hand him a handkerchief. This wet face is killing me. Then, I retrieve the beers from the floor and give him one.

“Well, everything won’t work for everybody, but here’s what I did…”


ANASTASIA

“You are never going to believe this.”

It’s just before lunchtime on Friday morning and I’m in my study. Christian and I are planning to pay a visit to his travel agent this afternoon to get the ball rolling on our trip to Italy, so I worked from home today instead of the short day that I normally work on Fridays at Helping Hands. I’m signing off on some expense forms and calculating the latest distribution from the profit sharing from Miana’s that comes to Helping Hands when Marilyn comes strolling into the room with a goofy smile on her face. It’s a very welcome sight and I’m quite curious to see what’s brought this on.

“What?” I ask, my interest piqued.

“Are you ready for this?” she baits. “Gary made me a mixtape—well, a mix mp3,” she says, smiling giddily.

“Really?” I say, surprised. “How many songs?”

“Five,” she says, her voice full of mirth. “My Love is Your Love by Whitney Houston, Lost Without You by Robin Thicke, Can’t Let go by Anthony Hamilton, I Can’t Stop Loving You by Kem, and Have You Ever Loved Somebody by Brandy.” She’s giggling so hard. I can’t believe that these five songs have her so tickled.

“Five songs, huh?” I reply. He couldn’t find any more? She nods, laughter still lacing her voice.

“No, you don’t get it. He made me a mix tape. He sang all the songs himself,” she confesses. My eyes widen. He must’ve talked to Christian.

“He did?” I inquire, shocked. “I didn’t know Gary could sing.”

“He can’t!” she declares, laughter taking her over, tears now falling from her eyes. “He knows his music! He has all those synthesizers at work. He even played his acoustic guitar. The music is beautiful, but he can’t hold a tune to save his life! It’s the most wonderful thing I’ve ever heard!”

I raise a brow in slight confusion as she’s reduced to uncontrollable laughter, unable to contain a chuckle or two of my own. When she composes herself, she finally tells me the meaning of her last statement.

“Do you have any idea the guts it takes for somebody who can’t sing if the world depended on it to make a mixtape of five live songs against professional music—runs and all? He’s under absolutely no misconception about his lack of vocal ability! He has the ear—he just don’t have the pipes!”

She lets that statement hang in the air for a while before she breaks out in uncontrollable laughter again. This time I join her. Her laughter is infectious, and I haven’t heard it like this in months. It’s a wonderful sound.

We had talked earlier about her meeting with her shrink. It’s like she sees her doctors, then she comes to me for a second opinion, which I don’t mind. I’m a professional, and we are friends. She had shared with her shrink—I think her name is Dora—about her fear of getting close and letting her guard down, and how ridiculous it seemed to her since all she really wanted was for him to come back. Now he’s back, and she doesn’t know how to get comfortable.

Her doctor expounded on the dangers of jumping back into a relationship with Gary before she could clearly see where her own life was going—what direction she wants to take as an individual before she starts to plot her path as part of a couple.

“She told me that it was dangerous to see myself as Gary’s girlfriend before I had put myself back together and figured out who I really was,” she had said. I couldn’t agree more, but being on the inside of all of this, I have to admit that all I wanted was for her and Gary to get back together and for her to stop killing herself. As hurt as she was, she always seemed to have a brutally realistic grasp of the truth of her situation with her…

… Boyfriend? Ex-boyfriend? Whatever. She was under no misconception of the damage her decision had done to their relationship, and even if she had hope in the beginning, she was never delusional about the possibility—or lack of possibility—of him coming back. She was lost and forsaken without him. Granted, it was like horrible withdrawal symptoms from a drug, but Gary was the dose she needed to come back from the brink of hell.

But alas, ultimately drugs are no good for you, and even though the analogy is kind of harsh, Gary’s return is just a fix. Dora’s right. She’s got to repair the damage she did to herself on her own before she can let him in that way.

So, seeing her giddy as a schoolgirl over a mixtape is both refreshing and disturbing—disturbing because she’s getting that “quick fix” again, but refreshing because I haven’t seen her this vibrant in months… at least!

“Those are some very powerful songs,” I tell her.

“I know,” she says, taking a seat in front of my desk with her iPod Touch. “I know he wants me to hear the words, and I’m trying, but…” She’s still smiling but she trails off.

“What?” I ask.

“I’m just thinking a lot,” she says. “I was so independent before Gary. I had my own place. I had friends. I went out whenever I wanted to. Now, his friends are my friends and some of my friends that aren’t couple friends fell off. Without him, it was like I had no direction, no purpose, no life… and I can’t let that happen again. I’ll never go back to the person that I was before, but I need to find some small piece of me still here so that I can build on that.”

“How’s that going?” I ask. She does that kind of so-so ­gesture with her head.

“It’s a slow process,” she says, “and I have to thank you tremendously for meditation and yoga. They were helping me find my center even before he came back. Even with the shock of his return, I think I still took it better than I would have had I not had some kind of coping techniques.” I frown.

“I don’t know, Mare. You took it pretty hard. You ran out on the golf green in the middle of the night with no coat on in high heel shoes and fell to your knees in the wet grass.”

“Well, yeah, at first,” she concurs. “I agree that the initial shock and the immediate fear of getting hurt again was more than I could take. I had to—have to heal twice… once from him leaving and once from him coming back.”

“Okay, I’m the shrink and you lost me,” I say. She sighs.

“I know. I was lost when Dora explained it, but she hit the nail right on the head.” She adjusts in her seat. “Imagine some kind of trauma that causes you to stop breathing. Whatever the trauma, it has damaged your body immensely quite possibly beyond recovery. Now, someone around you performs CPR—chest compressions. If you do chest compressions correctly, you’re going to break some ribs, but the heart and the breath will probably start again.

“Whatever the trauma that caused you to stop breathing has to heal or you may stop breathing again, but that CPR caused damage, too… and that has to heal. Gary leaving was the trauma that caused me to stop breathing. Gary returning was the CPR. I can see now that the world isn’t ending, but both of those things have shaken me to my core. Both of those occurrences happened completely without warning, and I wasn’t prepared. And now I have to regroup before I can give myself to anybody.”

“Did you tell Gary this?” I ask. She shrugs.

“In so many words,” she says. “I didn’t tell him that I don’t want him, but I did tell him that after meeting with Dora, I realize that I have to get myself together. I made a life decision for my life. Whatever else it was, whoever else it affected, it affected me the most, and I feel like he made me pay for my decision. What if it happens again? Let’s not even talk about if I get pregnant again. What if I make a decision that could affect my life just as significantly and he doesn’t agree with it? Just for one moment, I need him to stop seeing ‘she killed my baby’ and start seeing that I had a reason for making the decision about my body that I did. And I don’t think he can. Can I live with him constantly feeling like I betrayed him, like I’m a murderer, instead of understanding even for a moment why I made the decision that I did?”

I don’t know who this Dora shrink is, but she’s damn good.

“I totally get it, Mare… and I get that Gary sees you slipping away.” She nods.

“I know he does, but I’m not slipping away from him. I just gotta find me, first.”

“That’s a massive undertaking you’re embarking upon right now. Would you be able to cope with it if you came out of it… single?” Her shoulders fall.

“I really hope that doesn’t happen,” she says sadly, “but the truth is… I feel like I went to the brink of hell and looked Satan right in his mouth, and I didn’t die. It may seem dramatic to someone else, but that’s how I felt. Even though my decision affected him, it affected me more… because it’s my body. So, now, I have to make another life decision—to concentrate on trying to heal myself before I can even think about healing us. I love Gary, but if he can’t understand that, then I don’t know where that leaves us.”

“Did he give you the impression that he wouldn’t understand?” I ask. She twists her lips and holds up her iPod Touch.

“Okay, let me rephrase,” I say with a chuckle. “When you two had this conversation, did you leave him feeling like you would completely step aside from you two as a couple to find you as a person?” She ponders the thought for a while.

“I don’t think I did,” she replies, “but I don’t know how he may have interpreted our conversation. I didn’t break up with him because that’s not what I want to do, but are we technically together? We never really did break-up, he just left…”

“Sweetheart, you broke up,” I say. “He didn’t say the words, but you broke up.”

“Okay, yeah, you’re right,” she says, “but that further proves my point. Where does that leave us now? We’re around each other, which is a hell of a lot more than what we were a month ago, but are we together?” She shakes her head. “If I don’t know where this puts us, I’m sure he doesn’t.”

“You two are floating around in limbo and you definitely need to put a label on what you’re doing,” I tell her. “If you’re going to work on your relationship while you work on yourself, tell him that. If you’re going to set him aside while you work on yourself, tell him that. But right now, Mare, you don’t even know.” She shrugs and shakes her head.

“No, I don’t,” she admits.

“Well, you’ve got a homework assignment, because this isn’t fair to either of you. Make a clear and concise decision about what you want to do, and then make sure that he knows what your decision is. It’s only right.”

“I know,” she says. “I know you’re right, but right now… I’m going to listen to my mixtape.” She smiles at me and waves her iPod at me. I return her smile as she leaves my office. Might as well let her have some enjoyment. She’s been miserable long enough.

*-*

It appears that my husband only deals with the very beautiful. After stopping by the Fairlane Olympic to check on Sarah, I meet my husband at an agency downtown called Glittering Adventures. When I arrive, he’s already inside, and his agent is hanging on his every word.

This woman is stunning.

She has a gorgeous mane of cherry blonde hair cascading over her shoulders in full, billowing curls. I can tell by her blended dark roots and dark brown eyebrows that this is not her natural color, but it’s the best bottle job I’ve ever seen! Beautiful, large brown eyes and perfect olive skin makes me think that either she’s Mediterranean, or she spent just the right amount of time in the tanning salon.

She’s sitting across from my husband wearing a pink blouse that’s unbuttoned just low enough not to be indecent. She coyly toys with a pendant hanging from a silver or platinum necklace, gazing at my husband as he speaks. I almost want to leave… I feel like I’m intruding.

“Here she is,” he says sweetly when he sees that I’ve entered the building. He stands from his seat as I walk over to the desk to join him.

“I stopped to check on Sarah,” I say after he kisses my cheek.

“How is she?” he asks.

“A little lonely, I think,” I reply.

“Maybe we should invite her to dinner at the Crossing?” It’s a question, not a statement. I shrug.

“It’s worth a shot,” I say, unbuttoning my coat. He removes it for me and hangs it on a coat tree with his as I take a quick moment to make eye-contact with Cherry Blonde over here. She doesn’t linger on my gaze for a second. She turns right to her computer.

Oh, okay. Can’t even introduce yourself, huh? I see.

“Butterfly,” Christian says, coming back to the desk. “This is Audrey Law. She handles all of my travel arrangements. Ms. Law, this is my wife, Anastasia Grey.” She smiles widely at me… now.

“It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Grey,” she says.

“Audrey,” I say with a knowing smirk. For a nanosecond, I can see the defense in her eyes, but it’s gone as quickly as it presents.

“So… Italy,” she says, now turning back to Christian.

“Yes,” he says. “We’re going this summer.”

“How long do you plan to stay?” she asks, still fluttering her eyelashes at my husband. I sigh inwardly. Must you be so fucking obvious?

“I’m thinking six weeks,” Christian replies. “The last two weeks will be spent in Sala Comacina on Lake Como.”

“Excellent choice,” she says, her voice suggestive. “Were you looking to rent a villa there?”

“No,” I interject, my voice a little too syrupy sweet. “I own one there already. Christian gave it to me as a push gift when I gave birth to our twins.” I smile a full 32-teeth fake smile at her, which she returns before turning her gaze back to Christian. I hear him scoff slightly in his chest as I move closer to him.

Yes, I’m pissing on my territory, dear.

“That was very sweet,” she says to Christian, still ignoring me. “Do you have any other specific plans for your trip? Any other destinations you particularly want to see?”

“Yes,” Christian replies. “We’d like to begin our trip in Rome. Then, at some point, we’ll get to Milan. I’ll be flying my wife’s stylist out with us during that week to take advantage of authentic Italian fashion for her fall and winter wardrobe.”

Audrey’s brow rises when he says that, and my smile becomes more genuine as I realize what he’s doing.

“Very well, I’ll be sure to arrange that,” she says, the warmth in her voice slipping slightly.

“Florence is a given,” he continues. “I’d definitely like to introduce my Butterfly to the birthplace of the Renaissance. Although I’ve seen it in person, she has yet to experience the magnificence of the David up close.” It’s Audrey’s turn to scoff.

“You haven’t seen the David?” she says, mimicking shock but relaying a bit of disgust. Oh, I know what you’re doing, bitch.

“No, I haven’t,” I say, regretfully. “I’ve always wanted to see many places and things, but unfortunately, my early life didn’t afford me that luxury. As fate would have it, though, I fell in love with a man who is determined to show me the world and loves to take me away to places on a moment’s notice. In just the last three years, I’ve been to Greece, Paris, Anguilla, Australia—even some of the best places right here in the United States. I barely get a chance to store away my memories of the last exotic destination before he’s whisking me off again.”

“Oh,” she replies, a bit deflated. “That must be quite the ordeal trying to be a good mother to infant twins,” she digs.

“Oh, not at all,” I retort. “My husband and I make every accommodation for our babies, including assuring that they have plenty of time with Mommy and Daddy. We just spent several weeks in Las Vegas taking care of some very trying events and even then, my husband had our twins sent to us for the last two weeks of the trip. The situation was very hard for me but having my babies with me made it so much easier to bear. I don’t know if you have children, but if you do, you know how hard it is for a mother to be without her children even for a day without suffering from separation anxiety.” She tries not to twist her lips.

“No,” she says, flatly, “I don’t.”

“Oh, well let me tell you,” I continue. “They’re not infants anymore. They’re actually toddlers now, but I still can’t stand being away from them. Even with two full-time, live-in nannies, it’s imperative that I be a part of their everyday life. That does mean that traveling can be a bit of a task. If I don’t Facetime with them every day, I can’t sleep…”

“Ditto,” Christian interjects, and I look lovingly over at him.

“That’s why the last leg of our trip has to be at my villa,” I add, “so that our children can come and join us.”

“Oh,” she says, deflating again. “Well, okay. Um, I’m not sure what activities to plan in Lake Como that can include two toddlers…”

“Don’t worry about that,” Christian says. “My wife and I will handle our children’s entertainment. I’m more concerned about having a clean itinerary for the rest of our trip that involves as little hassle and is virtually seamless so that my wife can see as much of Italy as possible. I’m sure you understand.”

The tone of the last sentence has a bit of a warning in it that I hope she heard, especially since her fees and commissions are going to be included in the excursions and trips that she plans for us. If she fucks this up, one-upping me is going to be the least of her problems. She’s going to have one angry bull on her hands.

I raise my brow at my husband acknowledging that I heard that tone, before turning a knowing look back to Audrey. He never takes his eyes off her, and she straightens in her seat and swallows.

Yeah, she heard it.

“Of course, Mr. Grey,” she says, her voice crisper and more professional, but still warm—to my husband at least. “Have I ever let you down?”

“No, you haven’t, Ms. Law. That’s why I keep coming back.” And if you want him to continue coming back, you’ll turn that simpering shit off and do your damn job. One word from me and we’ve got a new travel agent.

“Of course, of course, Mr. Grey. Any other specifics you have in mind?”

“Yes,” he says. “we must be in Venice no later than June 29 and we don’t want to leave before July 2.”

“Any particular activity or event for Venice?” she asks.

“Yes,” he says, looking over at me. “It’s our wedding anniversary. We must be in Venice.”

A shy blush reddens my cheeks and a girlish giggle that I can’t fake escapes in my chest as I consider what decadent and sexy plans my husband has for us in the most romantic city in the world.

Audrey can’t fake it either. The same thought is making her ill.

“Ah, yes,” she says, now turning to her computer and typing feverishly. “Gondola rides, I presume?” Her tone is condescending, but Christian either ignores it or misses it entirely.

Endless gondola rides,” he says, still looking into my eyes and now taking my hand. “A kiss under the Bridge of Sighs at sunset, hot chocolate at Café Florian, strolling the beautiful stone streets of the quaint back alleys, eating gelato in the shadow of the Palazzo Papadopoli…”

I’m now gazing into my husband’s eyes and imagining this wonderful scene that he’s painting for me… the cliché kiss under the famed Bridge of Sighs that’s making my heart race as we speak. I’m actually seeing scenes of Lady and the Tramp sharing the same piece of spaghetti and accidently kissing in the middle, if you can believe it. Once again, I look into this man’s eyes and see my future, full of love and passion, memories to be made, challenges to overcome…

“Yes, fine, okay, I can have an itinerary ready for your review by tomorrow morning.”

Unable to stand the electricity coursing between my husband and me, Audrey rudely and abruptly interrupts my lustful and longing thought processes. I fucking forgot she was even here.

“No waiting for tickets to attractions. All intercountry travel arranged in advance. I trust you can handle this in a satisfactory manner?” he says, turning his attention back to Audrey.

“Yes, of course, Mr. Grey. You won’t be disappointed.” She stands and extends her hand to my husband. He shakes it courteously and releases it. Then, he looks at me and back at Audrey. She plasters a phony smile on her face.

“Mrs. Grey,” she says, proffering her hand to me. Um, no.

“Audrey,” I say, turning to the exit and leaving without shaking her hand.

“That wasn’t very nice,” my husband says once we’re out of the office, failing to hide the mirth in his voice.

“No more than she deserved,” I reply. “Much less, in fact. I should have scratched her smartastic, condescending, whorish little eyes out… but I didn’t.”


A/N: Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-misadventuresseason-v/ 

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~~love and handcuffs