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 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/ 

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 28

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 28

ANASTASIA

“Hey, Baby Boo, if you make me a batch of those chocolate truffles, I’ll do the dishes for you.” Sophie’s eyes light up.

“Deal, Dad!” she says. She opens the refrigerator and produces a healthy bowl of truffles, handing them to her father. Jason’s mouth falls open.

“You little sneaky mouse,” he says, and Sophie giggles.

“Are there any more leftovers, Sophie?” Christian asks from the counter. “I’d love more of the coq au vin.”

“Yes, Uncle Christian, there’s leftovers of everything.”

“May I have a doggy bag?” he asks.

“Me, too,” I chime in. “The tart is basically a memory, now, but I’d love servings of whatever you’ve got left.”

“C’est un sac gastronomique, Oncle Christian,” Sophie corrects. Christian and I both raise a brow at her.

“Tu peux parler Français?” I ask in awe. Sophie puts her finger and thumb together.

“Un peu,” she admits. “I’m learning at school; some on my own on the internet.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Don’t take all my food, you gluttons!” Jason warns.

“Pipe down, you blow hard,” Christian says. “Besides, it’s not your food, it’s Sophie’s food. Don’t worry, we’ll leave some for you. And while you’re balking, give up some of those truffles!”

“Not a chance!” Jason retorts. “I bartered for these! I earned them! Get your own, you loafer!”

“You haven’t washed a single dish, yet!” Christian protests. “Who’s the glutton now?”

“But I will, so stay away from my chocolates!”

Sophie giggles at two grown men fighting over her food as she artfully crafts foil swans just like they do in the fancy restaurants and fills them with servings of what’s left of dinner while Christian and Jason bicker about the chocolates. I have to tear Christian away from the brawl and scoot him out of the apartment, bidding Gail goodnight and offering my apologies to a giggling Sophie for her Uncle Christian’s immature behavior.

When we get to the elevator, Christian pushes the button for the second floor. My brow furrows.

“You don’t want to put the food away?” I ask.

“Oh, I intend to,” he says with a nod. Catching his meaning, I laugh.

“And here I was wondering how I was going to maneuver a midnight kitchen run.”

*-*

“She was very happy with the outcome last night,” Gail says as we sit at the breakfast bar the next morning.

“Well, the food was really good,” I reply. “It’s not like we had to lie about it. Those foil swans went right up to the suite last night. We ate our leftovers and watched TV.” Gail and I laugh.

“I thought Jason was going to get downright violent over those chocolate truffles,” she laughs.

“Tell me about it!” I say with mirth, “Two grown men fighting over chocolate.”

“That’s okay,” Christian says coming into the kitchen. “I know he’s bringing some of those chocolate goodies to work today and if he doesn’t share them, he can’t have any more Christmas cookies.”

“Are you serious?” I gasp a laugh. “Christmas is nine months away! How are you even going to remember that?”

“Oh, I’ll remember,” he says. “The minute I smell that goodness baking in the air, I’ll remember.”

“Oh, this is ridiculous,” I say. “I guess we’re going to have to bribe Sophie into making a batch of those truffles every week or we’re going to have civil war here!”

“That works for me,” Christian chimes in shamelessly. I smile to myself, then shake my head.

“Shalane is really doing a huge disservice by keeping Sophie from going to Italy!” I hiss. “She’s a natural talent, and now she wants to go to the motherland of Italian cooking where she can learn the background behind the food and take advantage of the culture and her mom is trying to hinder her. She can’t do much else for the girl while she’s locked away. Why wouldn’t she do this?”

“I don’t think she’s concerned about all that,” Christian says. “I think she’s concerned about her own selfish things and hurting Jason. Maybe she wants to make Sophie beg some more.”

“That’s just ridiculous!” I snap. “That girl could turn out to be magnificent and this is her chance to help her and she won’t do it. What a despicable human being.”

“Talking about my mom?” Sophie says, surprising us all and coming around the corner from the family room and into the kitchen. We’re all in stunned and ashamed silence because none of us expected her to still be here.

“Pumpkin, what are you still doing here?” Gail asks.

“We’re running a little late,” she says. “I think Dad was in a sugar coma.”

“He ate ‘em all?” Christian exclaims, dismayed, and Sophie shrugs. “No Christmas cookies! Not one!” he declares finitely. I sigh.

“Sophie, I will pay you to make those truffles once a week,” I declare. Her eyes widen.

“Once a week? Really?” she asks.

“Yes, because if you don’t, these two are going to kill each other over those chocolates!”

“Sure,” she says. “They’re so easy to make. And, yeah, my mother’s a… word that I can’t use.” Sophie puts her bookbag on the counter and goes to the refrigerator. She opens the Subzero and stops.

“You didn’t… like the food?” she asks me and Christian. I frown.

“Why would you think that?” I ask.

“The swans aren’t in here,” she says sadly. Christian and I laugh immediately.

“No, Sophie, we loved that food… so much, in fact, that it never made it to the refrigerator.” Sophie’s brow furrows.

“You ate it for breakfast?” she asks.

“We ate it for an after-dinner snack,” Christian clarifies. “Boy, that would have been a sight to see… two grown billionaires in their pajamas eating mashed potatoes in bed with their fingers!” Sophie bursts out laughing.

“You ate with your fingers?” she giggles.

“I didn’t feel like coming back downstairs for utensils,” he explains. Satisfied, and still giggling, Sophie removes the orange juice from the refrigerator.

“Sophie,” I say tentatively, “since you already know what we were talking about, I want to ask you a question. I know that I asked if you wanted to help decorate the villa, but… I don’t want to make you feel badly about… you know, helping to decorate it and then not getting to see it.” Sophie’s eyes widen.

“Please, let me help you decorate the villa, Aunt Ana,” she beseeches. “It may be the closest I get to Italy this year. Please?” I sigh. I hate that she’s going through this.

“Of course, you can, Sophie,” I say. “I just didn’t know if you would still want to.”

“I still want to,” she says, “even if I don’t get to see it in person.” I try not to shake my head.

“You’re such a grown-up girl,” I say. “You surprise me every day.”

She giggles into her orange juice and I catch a glimpse of Jason out of the corner of my eye. He is fuming, and I’m not really sure why. I inconspicuously elbow Christian, but he has the tact of a goat sometimes and rubbernecks his head right over to Jason.

Fuck.

Jason sees the possible problem brewing and comes out of his hiding place. What the hell was he doing eavesdropping back there anyway?

“Ready to go, Baby Boo?” he says in his normal voice. “I’m sorry we’re going to be late. I told Jeff I would take you to school and then I dropped the ball. Too many chocolates, I guess.”

“Stingy hog,” Christian says under his breath before finishing his coffee. He stands and kisses me on the cheek. “Love you.”

“Love you, too,” I reply. “Drop the word to those loafers not to get too comfortable. I’ll be back to bring some hell next week. I just need to make sure the center is running okay.”

“Will do,” he says, walking past Jason.

“I’m ready, Dad,” Sophie says. She finishes her orange juice and puts her glass in the sink.

“Bye, Momma Gail,” she says, kissing Gail on the cheek.

“See you after school, Pumpkin,” Gail replies.

“Bye, Aunt Ana!” she says, dashing past her Dad.

“Bye. Sophie,” I say to her retreating back. Jason falls in step behind her, and I suppose Christian will find out why he’s fuming.

*-*

It’s business as usual at the Center. Courtney informs me that things are still touch and go with her grandfather, and she’s not hopeful that it’ll change any time soon, but that he has agreed not to harass her as long as she doesn’t do anything to hurt Addie. She had already written off the relationship, so nothing that he said to her had any merit as far as she was concerned. So, in her own words, she’s no better off than she was before and no worse.

Ebony didn’t come in today. She hasn’t missed a day since I hired her, so this gives me cause for concern. She’s not answering her cell phone, and I don’t want to send someone to her address on file simply because she missed a day of work. I’ll just have to wait and see how things pan out.

Marilyn didn’t come in today either. She and Gary went back to her doctor to see if her condition needs any further intervention since she’s unable to keep food down.

There were a couple of residents who needed to chat today and work through some fears and problems, but besides that, like I said, business as usual.

I left the Center a couple of hours early to go to my annual checkup with Dr. Culley, my OB/GYN. After the usual pap smear and the regular barrage of tests, she informs me that since I’ve stopped breastfeeding, my normal periods should begin again in about a month or so.

Christian has made it home by the time I get there and he’s down in his study working on God only knows what. I’m hoping that I don’t have to roll through GEH again and rattle some cages, because I don’t have a problem doing just that if my husband turns into a bear again. However, it looks like the same old thing for him—business as usual.

I go to my study to get a look at the blueprints for the villa. Pop’s death last year put everything on hold and to be honest, so much has occurred in the nine months since that date that I haven’t given any thought whatsoever to the place. Who’s been taking care of it? Has it just laid vacant all this time? I would imagine that someone is looking after it just like they are his other properties when he’s away—which, by the way, I’m still not sure of all of them after the years we’ve been together. I think there’s one in New York, one in Hawaii, and a ski resort somewhere, but I’m not sure. I’ll have to ask him one day.

I never even got to look at the Villa last year. I don’t even know if the link to the virtual tour is still available. I know I have the floor plan and blueprints though. That’s somewhere to start. I open the file where I saved the basic floor plan.

Holy cow, Batman.

Is this right? This can’t be right!

“Christian!” I bellow.

“What?” My husband comes barreling into my office a few moments after I call him. He looks anxious. Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you, but…

“The villa, Christian,” I say. “This place is bigger than my house!”

He glares at me for a moment. Then he puts his hands on his hips.

“Woman, you just screamed like you were being attacked and it’s about the villa?” he asks incredulously.

“It’s got 14 bedrooms, Christian! What the fuck am I supposed to do with 14 bedrooms?”

“Rent ’em out!” he snaps. “Invite the homeless to stay! Open a museum and charge admission for all I care!” he adds, throwing his hands in the air. “Woman screaming bloody murder. Scared the shit outta me!” He leaves the room mumbling and fussing at no one.

I didn’t mean to startle him, but fuck. Fourteen fucking bedrooms? What a colossal waste of space! Fourteen bedrooms for two people. It’s going to cost a fortune to decorate this place and then we’re only going to stay there for two weeks out of the year… and not every year! Damn straight, the family’s coming. I thought this was going to be fun. I’m going to have to move fast—real fast. And I have to find someone to decorate this damn place overseas! For fuck’s sake. I would have started this last year had I known. I get up and stomp into Christian’s study.

“Is this place at least empty?” I ask.

“For the most part, yes, Anastasia it is,” he says without raising his head.

“Don’t Anastasia me!” I bark. “I’ve got to find a decorator overseas—or one that we plan to fly overseas—that can decorate a 14-bedroom villa in two and a half months. Don’t you think you should have told me?” Now, he raises his gaze to me.

“We’ve owned that villa for longer than our children have been alive,” he retorts coolly. “Forgive me if I thought you already knew by now.”

Probably a hundred snappy comebacks attack me at once about the crazy couple of years we’ve had and how the last thing on my mind would be the floor plan of a villa a million miles away. As soon as the comebacks pop to mind, my thoughts get all jumbled like they often do with a three-second funnel…

I should be grateful; he bought me a villa.
This asshole could’ve told me it was 14 bedrooms.
I’m being petty I should have fun with this.
How the hell am I supposed to decorate all this space in three months!
We’ll have our own space to relax in while we’re in Italy. It’ll be so romantic.
I’m not even going to be there! Who the fuck is going to oversee this shit?

I know I do the bobble head and at the end of the three-second funnel, all I get is, “Get the fuck outta this room.”

So, I do.

I march my confused ass back to my office and slam the door. I drop back down in my seat and look at the blueprints on my laptop screen… forlorn. I hope the virtual walk-through still works, because if it doesn’t, I’m completely screwed. I have to find a decorator that’s willing to decorate the home… overseas… without me being there… and it has to be someone that somebody in the family knows or else they have to be vetted and that could take a fucking month.

I drop my head in dismay on the laptop and groan my displeasure. After I lament for a moment or two, I realize that I have no time to waste if I want to get this damn thing decorated before June. I really can’t be mad at Christian, but I can… but I can’t… but I am. Had I known what I was dealing with, I would have chosen paint colors, textiles, and flooring long ago. Now, my only option is to choose a style and run with it. I click the link for the virtual tour and, thank God, it still works.

I can get a feel of what the villa looks like, but not what I’m really working with since the rooms are all full of this Metro-Euro-Contemporary-Americano-Modern whatever this crap is so I can’t even get a good look at the walls or the floors, only the layout. This whole first-person tour thing is not really working for me. It’s the whole 3D, virtual reality thing instead of watching a movie, which gives you a better feel for the space. It just looks like a big ass house that I need to decorate.

So, yeah, I’m screwed. I groan again, retrieve my cell and call Elliot.

“Montana, what’s the word?” he answers.

“Help me,” I groan.

“Well, you sound sorrowful,” he says. “What’s up?”

“Did Christian tell you that he bought me a villa in Italy?” I say.

“He may have mentioned it, yeah,” Elliot says.

“We’re taking a Roman vacation in June,” I tell him. “I don’t know when we’ll end up in the villa, maybe July. I have to decorate it before that!”

“Okay, well, three months, that’s good time,” he soothes.

“Elliot, the damn thing has 14 bedrooms.” The line is quiet for a moment.

“Fourteen?” he nearly shrieks. “What the fuck are you going to do with 14 bedrooms?”

“My sentiments exactly!” I concur. “You know Christian’s motto—go big or go bigger!” I can almost see Elliot rubbing the back of his neck.

“What are you gonna do?” he asks.

“I was hoping you could help me with that part,” I admit. “Know any designers—good and discreet designers—who are willing to take on this overseas job with a bottomless budget and decorate my villa for me?”

He’s quiet again.

“Come on, Elliot, you gotta know somebody,” I reply.

“I know a few that might be able to do it. Getting them is going to be the problem. Spring is right around the corner and they’re in high demand right now.”

“Elliot, when I say bottomless, I mean bottomless,” I tell him. He sighs.

“Will there be any blasting, demo, and rebuilds?” he asks.

“Not that I know of, but even if there was, we wouldn’t do it now. We don’t have time,” I reply.

“There’s always time. Why don’t you know?”

“When’s the last time I’ve been to Italy, Elliot?” I ask. “I haven’t seen this place. I’ve only seen virtual tours and blueprints and you know how helpful those are.”

“So, you’re actually going to need someone to go over there and do a walkthrough—probably a designer and an architect…”

“Not an architect,” I tell him. “Whatever we can’t hide is just going to have to wait.” He’s silent again.

“There’s always Gia,” he says. “Where I or Christian are involved, she’ll jump at the chance.”

“Gia who? Oh, wait… Gia Mateo? The Mrs-Grey-Hopeful that decorated his boat? How about, ‘no?’ How about, ‘hell, no?’”

“Your pickings are kind of slim, Montana,” he says. “Short notice and they’ve got to drop everything they’re doing to fly overseas and check out your villa in one of the busiest decorating seasons of the year. Do you realize what you’re asking?” I groan inwardly. Of course, I realize what I’m asking… the impossible.

“What about the guy that helped decorate the crossing?” I ask. “What was his name?”

“Aaron,” Elliot says. “He was going to be one of my suggestions, but he’s a hot commodity.”

“Bottomless…”

“Be that as it may,” he interrupts, “he may still be unavailable, and you’d have to go with Gia.”

“I thought you said you had some others,” I quip.

“Those are two of the best and I trust them,” he counters.

“You trust Gia?” I accuse.

“Yes, Montana, I trust Gia. We used to fuck, but that’s not why. She’s good at what she does; she’s a consummate professional; and she dare not cross the Greys—any of us.” I think that last part was for me.

“She’ll be a last resort,” I say.

“She may be an only resort,” he replies.

“Call Aaron first,” I say. “Let him know that I have a huge, profitable job for him, but let me explain what it is.”

“Okay,” Elliot says with skepticism, “but you might want me to put in a call to Gia, too.”

“Aaron, first,” I insist. “I have to go now. I’ve got to lament over blueprints and textiles some more.”

“Talk to you later, Montana.” I end the call.

Gia Mateo. I’ve never met her, but in my head, I’m seeing a busty blonde or redhead with way too much makeup and really tight clothes. A woman you would definitely want to keep your husband away from… and who won’t be decorating my villa if I have to pay Aaron three times his normal fee!

I don’t even know what to look for in terms of style for my villa, so I begin to shut everything down. No use in beating myself over the head. I haven’t talked to Marilyn all day and she promised to give me an update on her doctor’s appointment today. Did she get bad news? Is she hiding? Only one way to find out.

**Hey Mare, come see me in my office when you get a chance. **

Either she’ll come immediately, or she won’t come at all. So, I continue getting things together, clearing my desk, and shutting down. Maybe she’s not home, yet. Maybe she decided to spend the night at Gary’s. Maybe…

“Hey,” Marilyn says as she enters my office.

“Hey,” I say, after shutting down my laptop. “How goes things?”

“Okay, I guess,” she says, noncommittal. Hmm, not sure how to interpret that.

“I was expecting you to tell me how the doctor’s appointment went,” I say. “Mine went fine. I’m not pregnant,” I jest. Marilyn laughs weakly.

“I’m sorry. I just forgot,” she says, coming further into the room. She seems a little depressed, not as bad as before, but not particularly happy.

“Is everything okay?” I ask. Maybe the doctor gave her some bad news.

“Not great, but as well as can be expected,” she begins. “As it turns out, the meal replacement shakes and smoothies kind of helped to get me back to where I needed to be. I’m not there, yet, but I’m coming out of the danger zone since I haven’t lost any more weight. Since I’ve gotten over the possible risk of just wasting away, the doctor says that now is a good time to get a structured dietary plan. So, I’m now seeing a nutritionist to whom I have to report every week. She will report to my doctor every week, and if we don’t see some significant improvement, then I may have to be hospitalized before my vital organs start shutting down.”

“Are you still at risk for that?” I ask.

“Not that we can tell, but we’ll have to see.” She replies. I nod.

“Where’s Gary?”

“He’s back at his place for the night,” she says.

“He’s not running, is he?”

“No,” she says with uncertainty.

“You don’t know,” I say.

“No, I don’t think he’s running.” I examine her.

You’re not running, are you?” I ask. She raises her gaze to me but doesn’t answer. “I thought this was what you wanted.” She sits on the chest in front of my desk.

“Have you ever felt a pain that was so bad and so deep that you would do anything not to feel it again?” she asks.

“I have,” I say. It made me afraid to love for half a decade. “You’re afraid.”

She turns her gaze from me, sighs heavily, and nods.

“Mare, what you were doing to your body—starving yourself and not eating—that wasn’t healthy, and that wasn’t normal. But this, what you’re feeling right now, this is totally normal. I felt this way when Christian returned after he left me and went to Madrid. I love him endlessly, but when he came back, I sat waiting for several days for the other shoe to drop… for something horrible to happen and he leaves me again. I couldn’t get comfortable. I couldn’t let him touch me. I couldn’t let him love me… I couldn’t trust him with my heart anymore. Things were perfect and then… they weren’t.”

It hurts just thinking about that time of our lives let alone talking about it.

“How long did it last?” she asks. I sigh.

“It’s hard to say,” I reply. “I was still uncertain when we went on our Australian cruise. We had to talk to people… therapists, friends… we had to learn to trust each other again.”

“That’s exactly what this is,” she says, drawing her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around her legs. She looks like she’s shrinking, but I can’t say for sure that she is.

“I love him so much,” she says, looking off into the distance. “I want to be with him, but I’m so afraid that it I get comfortable again, it’s all going to crumble and I’m going to back where I started from. I’d be better off alone than to let that happen.” There’s a revelation.

“Would you rather be alone?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No,” she replies, “I want Gary.” I stand and walk over to the front of my desk.

“Then it’s a chance you have to take, Mare,” I tell her. “Nothing lasts forever, you know that, but we live our best lives and we glean what happiness we can from it while we’re here. A wise woman once told me that as long as we’re alive, the fear of something going wrong—the monsters—will always be there. We have to decide if we’re going to let the monsters run our lives.” I sigh.

“Mare, the foundation of my entire world was shaken… shattered when Christian left. Hell, I damn near leapt off a cliff, for God’s sake. When he came back, I was scared frozen. I didn’t know how to let him in. It took a while for things to get back to normal and took a while for me to understand exactly what I wanted. I knew that we were never going to get that perfect, untarnished love back because it was now stained with reality. So, did I want to build from where we were or did I want to let go?

“That’s the first question that you have to answer for yourself. Do you want to start from where you are right now and build on love from there, or are you too hurt and too afraid and you want to let go? And Mare, there’s nothing wrong with needing to be with yourself, by yourself, to find yourself again if that’s what you need to do. But you’re going to have to ask yourself if you want to do that without Gary, because honestly, you weren’t doing so well without him.”

“I already know that I don’t want to be without him,” she confesses. “I know it.”

“Well, then you’re going to have to face up to your fears and fight the monsters,” I reply. “Yes, it’s scary, and it won’t be easy. Anything we have can change in the blink of an eye. Do you sit and wait for the monsters to gobble you up, or do you grab those sons of bitches by the throat and you show them who’s boss?” I ask, using the same words Laura used with me about the Boogeyman. Mare takes a shuddering breath.

“I’m going to bed,” she says as she stands. “This entire thing is exhausting.”

“Have you been sleeping?” I ask.

“With him, yes. Tonight will be by myself. We’ll see,” she confesses.

“Did you eat?” I press.

“Yes, Bosslady,” she says. “I’m on a strict ‘or else’ regimen with my doctor and I really don’t want to end up in the hospital.” That’s a healthy attitude.

“Have you decided if you’re going to talk to someone?” I continue.

“Gary and I have an appointment with a counselor tomorrow,” she says. “I have an appointment of my own on Thursday. And before you ask, I’m going to meditate now before I go to sleep.” I laugh.

“Okay, okay, I’m pushing too hard. I just worry about you, Mare,” I admit.

“I understand, and I appreciate that. One way or another, I’ll be fine,” she says with a weak smile before leaving my office.

One way or another.

She hasn’t fully decided to take Gary back… or at least she hasn’t fully settled into the idea. I can’t blame her. As much as I love him, it took me months to settle back into “happily ever after” with Christian.

*-*

“I’m sorry I didn’t call yesterday,” Ebony says when I get to Helping Hands in the morning. “I was hiding. I had a little scare this weekend. It was a false alarm—very silly on my part but it sent me into hiding for a moment. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“If you’re ever frightened or whatever might be going on, please let me know. I’m sure we could help you, Ebony.”

“I believe you,” she says. “It’s just… old habits are hard to break. I saw someone that I thought I knew, and I thought they saw me and… It was all just a silly misunderstanding. I’m very embarrassed about it.”

“Well, we don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, but again, if you need me…”

“I know,” she says. “Thanks.”

I’m tying up a few loose ends in the afternoon when a number comes across my cell that I don’t recognize.

“Dr. Anastasia Grey,” I answer.

“Ana! Hey, it’s Aaron,” he replies.

“Aaron, hi! Thank you for calling me back,” I say.

“You sounded a little desperate on my voicemail. What’s up?”

“I am,” I admit. “Aaron, I have a huge project that you probably won’t even want to do, but I have to ask you first before I go somewhere else, and since you did such a great job on the mansion…”

“Okay, way to scare me off before I even hear about the job,” he jests. “What’s the job?”

“My husband has purchased an Italian villa on Lake Como,” I say. He whistles.

“Abroad!” he says. “Near George Clooney?”

“I don’t think so,” I say. “Christian doesn’t like attention and being near George Clooney would definitely draw attention.”

“Well, exactly where is your villa located?” he asks. I pull up the email with the blueprints.

“Sala Comacina?” I say, a question instead of a statement.

“Hmm, you’re not that far from him… about seven miles,” he says. Well, I hope he keeps the paps on his end of the lake.

“So, can you do it?” I ask.

“I can do it, I just have to figure out how,” he says.

“Well, at this point, it’s either you or Gia Mateo…”

“That bitch?” Aaron nearly squeals. “No. She’s mediocre at best, she steals ideas from other designers, and she gets most of her jobs through her pussy. No. Hell, no. Italian villa for the Greys? The fuck if I’m letting her get that prestige piece.”

“I don’t know, Aaron. This is a big job in a little bit of time.”

“How big and how little?” he asks.

“Fourteen bedrooms, 1210 square meters, two months, two and a half tops,” I reply.

“Shit!” he exclaims. “Any blasting?”

“You and Elliot asked the same question,” I say.

“That’s because it’s going to be exponentially longer if we have to take out walls.”

“Well, no. I won’t approve knocking out walls. I haven’t seen the place and you have to tell me what you can do with the bones.” There’s silence.

“You haven’t seen the place?” he says.

“No,” I reply. “It’s in Italy, so I’ll be totally dependent on you!” I hear him scoff.

“Make no mistake. You know I’m going to charge you out the ass for this, right?” he says.

“Yep,” I reply without hesitation. “Mr. Grey will pay for it all.” Serves him right. I hope this is what he expected buying a 14-bedroom Italian villa sight unseen. I sure hope he trusts the real estate agent that oversaw the purchase and we haven’t bought a money pit.

“Ah, to have money to burn,” he says. “I’ll see who I can delegate my current projects to and I’ll be looking for a flight out this weekend. Should I go commercial or will Mr. Grey be flying me out on his private jet?”

“It’ll have to be commercial,” I tell him. “I’ll have my assistant make arrangements for a Saturday flight. I don’t know what the villa looks like, so I’ll have her make nearby accommodations as well.”

“Sounds like a plan, and don’t call that bitch, Gia—not even for suggestions!” he reinforces.

“Jesus, Aaron, did she steal a boyfriend from you or something?” I ask. Aaron laughs.

“I can see why you would assume that,” he says. “I’m straight as an arrow, baby, but I will turn into Elsie de Wolfe at the flip of a coin when it comes to decorating and I can get catty with the best of them. Ask anybody in the industry. She got to where she is on her back and off other people’s ideas.”

“That wreaks of bitterness,” I point out. “Has she ever stolen anything from you?”

“She tried,” he says. “When I saw her using the design, I didn’t even confront her. I filed an immediate cease and desist and prepared for a civil battle. When she discovered that I wasn’t going to negotiate, she paid me off and stopped using my design. Now, she’ll take a design, tweak it a bit and put her own spin on it, then say it was hers. Since she’ll have all the design work for her design, you can’t nab her on it. They could smell her coming a mile away at NeoCon and the AD Design Show. She’s gonna cross a real cutthroat one day and they’re going to give her what for. We work too hard to get here for some thieving, whorish infringer to come and steal our designs.”

He’s pretty passionate about this.

“Well, I’ll take your word for it. I’m forwarding the email with the blueprints and a walk-through and I’ll have travel plans for you by the end of the day. Would you prefer to fly morning or afternoon?”

“Morning,” he says. “I’ll lose a day and a half flying to Europe. Oh, and tell Mr. Grey that I’m not after your ass, just your money.”

“What?” I ask in horror.

“Tell him,” he reinforces. “He’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. Talk to you soon!” And he ends the call.

What the hell was that about?


CHRISTIAN

“Sir, Ben informs me that the police are at the front gate.”

Jason has called me on my cell. I’m in my office looking over the final details of a merger that we’re planning on completing this week when I get this unwelcome interruption.

The police?

“Did they state their business?” I ask.

“No, sir. They won’t do it until they speak to you.” Without knowing why they’re here, I can’t turn them away. I just hate it when they’re all secretive. I don’t like cops anyway and they don’t like me.

“Let them in,” I reply.

“Would you like for me to accompany you, sir?”

“No,” I say, “not yet, but keep an eye on things.”

“Yes, sir.” I end the call and ponder the situation. I have no idea why they’re here… asking for me. I don’t want to alarm my wife, so the best thing to do would be to just go and see what they want. I stand from my desk just in time to hear the two-way communication system come to life.

“Christian.”

“Windsor here, sir. Detective Burns and Groomer here to see you.”

“Show them to the living room and stay with them there. I’m on my way up.”

“Yes, sir.”

I take the south staircase that leads to the front of the house and immerge near the formal living room. I see two detectives—one guy in that stereotypical trench coat and a woman in a dark designer pants suit—standing in the living room and looking around at their surroundings.

“May I help you?” I ask when I enter the room.

“Christian Grey?” the guy says.

“Yes?”

“We have some questions for you about Greta Ellison.” Oh, shit. Showtime.

“Who?” I say, my brow furrowed.

“Gre-ta El-lis-on,” he repeats slowly and sarcastically. I’m already pissed that the guy didn’t reintroduce himself. He told Windsor who he was. He didn’t tell me. So, he’s already starting this meeting off with hostility. I chuckle-scoff in his face.

“I heard you the first time, Skippy,” I say with mirth and equal sarcasm. “I just don’t know who you’re talking about.”

“That’s odd, because we have evidence of a background check you did on her a little while back.” He shows me a picture of Ellison. I study it for a moment.

“Oh, her,” I say in fake surprise. “A little while back?” I frown. “You mean like three years!”

“Oh, now you remember,” he comments.

“You showed me a picture,” I reply. “I don’t keep every girl’s name on the tip of my tongue that I planned to fuck.” I turn to Windsor. “Did you see a badge?” I ask.

“Yes, sir,” he says.

“Thank you,” I say. Windsor nods once and leaves the room. The guy raises his brow at me.

“Is that what it was, Mr. Grey?” he asks. “You planned to fuck her.”

“That’s exactly what it was,” I reply, unoffended.

“You do background checks on all the women you plan to fuck?” he probes.

“Considering the fact that I don’t plan to fuck anybody else but my wife, the answer to your question would be ‘no,’” I say matter-of-factly.

“Let’s try this another way,” he says.

“Yeah, let’s,” I counter, folding my arms. You set the tone. I’m just following your lead. He glares at me.

“Those were your words, Mr. Grey, not mine,” he defends.

“No, they were not,” I retort. “I said planned to fuck—planned… past tense. You said plan. Those were your words, Detective, not mine.” Seeing that I’ve thrown his words back at him, he regroups.

“Were you in the practice of doing background checks on women with which you had planned…” he stresses the word, “… to engage in a sexual relationship?”

“I certainly was,” I reply. “I’m a very important man, Detective. I can’t blindly interact with just anybody, especially on a sexual level. Women are very unscrupulous…”

“As are men,” the female detective retorts. I turn my gaze to her.

“Well, I wouldn’t know. I don’t fuck men,” I reply calmly. Her cheeks redden a bit.

“Women are unscrupulous,” I repeat. “When it comes to men like me, there’s always somebody looking for a payoff or a lawsuit. I had to be very careful with whom I interacted.”

“Doesn’t sound very romantic,” she shoots.

“It wasn’t,” I inform her, “and I didn’t care. I wasn’t offering romance and I wasn’t looking for love. I was looking for a clean, stable, steady fuck, because I may be an asshole, but I’m a monogamous asshole.”

“What happened with Ms. Ellison?” the guy asks.

“She obviously didn’t work out,” I reply.

“Why not?”

“Because I found a better fuck,” I reply. He raises his brow.

“You do background checks on all your women? Did you do one on your wife?” he asks.

“Yes, I did.”

“Does she know that?” the female asks.

“Yes, she does. She was the better fuck.” I stare at her while that answer sinks in.

“Better?” the guy asks.

“The best!” I stress, still staring at the female, who purses her lips and rolls her eyes. “Why are you asking me all these questions?”

“We’ll be asking the questions here, sir…”

“Well, you won’t get any more answers until you tell me what this is about. All I know is that you’re asking about Greta Ellis, and I have no idea what this has to do with me,” I say firmly.

“Ellison,” he corrects.

“Ellis, Ellison, Bueller, I don’t care! What does this have to do with me?” I shout.

“Christian!”

I look over the detectives’ shoulders and my wife is descending into the living room.

“You’re scaring the children! What’s going on?” she demands.

“Well, I have two of Seattle’s finest standing here interrogating me about my personal life and I have no idea why. They’re asking me about background checks, including the one I did on you.” She does a mini-head-bobble and turns to the officers.

“Are background checks illegal?” she asks surprised.

“I hope the hell not! I run at least a hundred background checks a year! I run a multibillion-dollar, multi-national company!” I bark.

“Christian!” Butterfly scolds again. “Keep it down… the twins!” she adds firmly.

“It depends on what you do with the information,” the guy replies to my statement.

“He married me!” Butterfly counters. “I had one done on him, too.” The guy appears impatient and a bit perturbed.

“Mrs. Grey, if you’ll excuse us…” he says. Butterfly’s glare sharpens and her brow furrows deeply.

“I beg your pardon!” she retorts, putting her hands on her hips, clearly affronted. “Are you trying to dismiss me from a room in my own home?”

The tone of her voice catches us all off guard and now, she has forgotten about frightening the children.

“I most certainly will not!” she says, folding her arms and rolling her neck angrily. “You’re asking my husband personal questions about our life in our home you’re scaring my children and you haven’t told him why,” she says all in one breath. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Making her leave right now would make it appear that I have something to hide from her, so I let her stay and hope that she doesn’t react when she finally hears that this is about Greta Ellison.

“We were just talking to your husband about his ex-lovers. You may find this conversation uncomfortable,” the female cop says. Butterfly chuckles.

“Ex-lovers?” she says with mirth. “You want some coffee? You may be here a while.”

She-cop is taken aback by my wife’s candor.

“You know how many lovers your husband has had?” she asks.

“Yeeeeaaaahhh,” my wife answers as if it’s obvious, which it is.

“And you’re okay knowing that?” Butterfly’s head bobbles a bit again.

“Are you a virgin?” she asks the female cop.

“No,” she replies, somewhat offended.

“Neither was my husband when we met, Cagney,” she replies, pointing her thumb at me. I have to hide my smile at the nickname. Again, neither of them introduced themselves to us, so they get whatever nickname we call them. Cagney rolls her eyes again.

“We can always finish this conversation at the station, Grey…” and now I’m Grey, “you would just have to come with us,” the guy informs me.

“Uh, no I don’t,” I reply. “You don’t have a warrant, I’m not under arrest, and you don’t have probable cause. So, either you tell me what this is about, or you can leave the premises… now.” He closes his notebook.

“You’ve been prepped,” he accuses.

“No, I haven’t,” I reply. “I’m a billionaire with a misdemeanor charge. Look me up. I know the drill.” I fold my arms. “So, do you tell me what this is about, or do you leave?”

“I don’t understand why you’re being so hostile, Mr. Grey, if you have nothing to hide.”

And now I exercise my right to remain silent.

“Oh, pleading the fifth, now, huh?” he taunts.

“Activate two-way communications,” my wife says into the air. I look down at her as the intercom comes alive. “Locate Jason Taylor.” There’s silence for a moment.

“Taylor.”

“Jason, will you please come to the formal living room? We’re having a bit of a problem with two detectives here.”

“On my way. End two-way communications.”

“Who’s Jason?” the guy asks and now, neither of us are speaking. “Oh, now they’re both silent.” A few moments later, Jason enters the room.

“Ma’am? Sir?” he says, “what seems to be the problem?”

Cagney and Baretta here are asking me personal questions and they haven’t told me why,” I begin. “They say it’s about one of the girls I did a background check on three years ago before I met my wife, but they won’t tell me what it has to do with me. For all I know the girl is laid-up somewhere fat and out of shape with two kids in a loveless marriage. Since they won’t tell me what this is about and they don’t have a warrant for my arrest, I asked them to leave, which they refuse to do.” Jason’s face looks distastefully at the detectives, then at me.

“Cagney and Baretta?” he asks. I shrug.

“They didn’t think I deserved to know their names,” I inform him.

“We told your butler…”

“You didn’t tell me!” I interrupt him. He glares at me.

“I’m Burns, she’s…”

“I’m no longer interested, Baretta!” I cut him off again before turning back to Jason. “I told them to leave,” I repeat.

“Detectives, I’m Jason Taylor. I’m head of security here at Grey Crossing. I’m sure you know the protocol. If you don’t have a warrant, I’ll see you out.” He gestures to the grand entry.

“We’re not leaving until we get some answers… Mr. Taylor,” Baretta says in a condescending tone.

“That’s fine,” Jason says, unfazed. He pulls out his phone and swipes the screen. “I’ll just make a quick call to the chief at headquarters and tell him that two of his detectives are on private property without a warrant harassing one of Seattle’s most prominent citizens and refusing to leave after you’ve been asked at least twice, subjecting yourselves to criminal trespassing charges and the department to a possible lawsuit…”

“For scaring my babies!” Butterfly chimes in. Cagney suddenly looks a bit uncomfortable.

“You have the number directly to the chief of police,” Baretta says skeptically. It’s a statement, not a question. Jason turns his phone around for the detective to see.

“On. Speed. Dial,” he says, his voice low and firm. “And in the interest of full disclosure, detectives, nearly every inch of this property is under audio and video surveillance.”

He points to the chandelier in the ceiling, indicating that there’s a camera inside. Baretta looks at Cagney and then back at Jason, who has now taken the stance and is waiting for the detectives to make a decision.

“A missing person’s report has been filed on Greta Ellison,” he says finally. “No one close to her has seen her since just after the new year.” I look at him expecting, then gesture my hand for him to continue when he doesn’t.

“Did you hear me, Mr. Grey?” he asks.

“Yes, I heard you,” I reply. “I’m still waiting for you to tell me what this has to do with me.” He narrows his eyes at me.

“We’re questioning every person of interest in this matter,” he replies. My eyes widen.

“Person of…?” I look over at Jason who doesn’t react. “Person of interest?” I ask, turning back to Baretta. “I did a background check on that woman three years ago. That makes me a person of interest?” I ask incredulously.

“No, the fact that she was authoring a book—an exposé—about Seattle’s elite makes you a person of interest,” he says. I furrow my brow in perfect pretend confusion.

“She was writing a book?” I ask. “What could she possibly say about me? I met with her for maybe 30 minutes sometime in… 2012. She doesn’t know enough about me to write a book.”

“She wasn’t the source—she was the writer,” Cagney says. I look at her expecting, the same way I looked at Baretta early.

“Waiting for the punchline here,” I say when I get no further information.

“Someone with a great personal knowledge of you was feeding her information, Mr. Grey,” Baretta says. “She was a ghost writer.”

“Was,” I say. “Is she dead?” I ask.

“I don’t know… is she?” Baretta retorts.

“You’re the one who’s talking about her in the past tense, Detective,” I shoot back calmly. “If you haven’t confirmed that she’s no longer with us, then you may not want to talk about her in the past tense. And while you’re standing here wasting time on me, why don’t you talk to her source? Wouldn’t they have more information? Maybe she’s gone into seclusion or something to finish this so-called book.”

“Her source is currently indisposed,” he replies. I frown again.

“What?” I say incredulously. “Who is it?”

Nothing.

“Okay, so since you want to play cat-and-mouse to try to find out what I know without telling me what you know, let me answer all your questions.” I begin counting on my fingers. “I don’t know where Greta Ellis is, who she was talking to, what she was doing, or what she was supposedly writing. Nobody has any permission to write anything about me—biographical or autobiographical. If I see anything with my name or any characters that even resemble me, there’ll be court orders and injunctions, and someone will be buried so deep in litigation that there’ll be nothing left to do but read the eulogy. Now, since I have nothing else for you and you have nothing else for me, get out of my house!”

“Mr. Grey, the source is Elena Lincoln. I’m sure you remember her! And the girl’s name is Ellison,” Baretta says perturbed.

“Haven’t you figured out yet that I don’t give a fuck what the girl’s name is?” I reply, gesturing for emphasis. “I don’t know where she is. I haven’t spoken to her in years. And Elena Lincoln? For fuck’s sake, are you serious? I saw that in the tabloids! I thought that was a bunch of hearsay. No reputable publication printed it. The places where I saw any mention of it was right next to, ‘I’m having Michael Jackson’s post-mortem love child.’ Why would I think that held any salt?

“And isn’t there a law somewhere that she can’t profit from her crimes? Doesn’t that fall under this category? She can’t write about anything but her crimes! That book would never get off the ground. No publisher in their right mind would touch it. That’s real? She’s really going to try to do that? So, what did she say about me that has you on my doorstep right now?”

“That’s classified, sir,” Cagney says.

“Is it?” I ask. “Well, then we’re back to the cat-and-mouse-game, aren’t we?” I say folding my arms.

“Wait a minute,” Butterfly says. “Ellison… I remember that name.” My head snaps over to my wife. Where are you going with this, Butterfly?

“You do?” Cagney asks, her interest piqued, and now Butterfly has everyone’s attention.

“Yeah,” she says, turning to me. “Wasn’t that the girl who accosted us in the Market?”

I try not to let the detectives see me breathe a huge sigh of relief.

“Oh… yeah…” I say in honest recollection. “I forgot all about that.”

“Accosted you?” Cagney asks.

“Yeah,” Butterfly replies. “We were at Pike’s Market—it used to be a weekend haunt of mine before the Paparazzi started following me everywhere…”

Butterfly tells the story casually like she’s talking to a couple of old friends, complete with a couple of tangents about what she thinks we bought that day. I couldn’t be prouder of her performance.

“Anyway, we’re walking to the car with our goods and there she is with all her wares on display.” She laughs and gestures to her breasts in a way that imitates triple-G cups.

“She’s telling my then-boyfriend…” she gestures to me, “… how much better than me she could be for him and various other sexual propositions, and he pretty much blew her off, told her to get lost, and we went on to the car. I was a bit miffed because I didn’t like the fact that random girls… well, girl… was walking up to us in the Market basically offering herself like she was some of the fruit there on the stands! I remember saying something like she’d fuck him right there on top of the oranges if he let her. She had this gross underboob thing going on where her shirt was really short, so you could see the bottom of her breasts. That is so tacky! Who does that in public…?”

And the Oscar goes to…

“Mrs. Grey, Mrs. Grey,” Cagney says, an attempt to break her tangent, “had you seen Ms. Ellison any time after that?” Butterfly gets a confused look on her face, then shrugs and shakes her head uncertainly.

“I don’t know,” she replies. “I could’ve. I mean, I couldn’t pick her out of a crowd. All I remember was her tits!”

Cagney has rolled her eyes so many times listening to my wife that I swear they’re going to get stuck that way.

“You need to talk to Lincoln,” I interject. “If this girl is writing her story, then Lincoln knows where she is.”

“Unfortunately, Mrs. Lincoln suffered a stroke… around the same time that Greta Ellison is reported to have come up missing.” My mouth falls open, mocking disbelief.

“Well, isn’t that convenient!” I exclaim. “I don’t believe that for a second,” I say. “That woman has balls bigger than mine. She has a heart of stone and I‘ll bet my fortune that she’s faking. You better keep an eye on her.”

“Well, as you can see, we can’t really talk to her,” he says. “It was all over the news.”

“Well, I have a multibillion-dollar company to run, so I’ve got bigger fish to fry than to be concerned about a woman who’s spending the rest of her natural life behind bars and deserves to be there. But you can best believe I’ll be keeping my eye on the news, now, because I don’t believe this stroke shit for a second! If she could figure out how to get somebody on the outside to write this story for her, she’s up to something. Like I said, you better keep an eye on her.” I certainly am.

After several moments of silence, something else suddenly dawns on me.

“Wait a minute,” I say, pondering parts of the conversation. “You said that she’s writing a book about Seattle’s elite and that makes me a person of interest?”

“That’s what I said,” Baretta says.

“Seattle’s elite,” I repeat. “Are you also going to be questioning Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Steve Ballmer, Paul Allen, Gabe Newell?” I ask. “Any judges or senators on that list or am I the only lucky bastard you get to harass today?”

“We have several people that are going to be questioned,” he replies.

“All members of Seattle’s elite?” he doesn’t answer. “You guys really drew the short straw, didn’t you? Who the hell did you piss off to pull this detail?” I laugh out loud. “I mean seriously,” I say around my laughter, “this is your plan of action? You’re going to walk into affluent homes in the greater Seattle area with absolutely no evidence, throw out conjecture and suggestion, and hope somebody trips over their tongue and tells you something about this girl? You have nothing else but that she disappeared supposedly sometime after her meal ticket became ‘indisposed…’” I use the finger quote around the word while saying it mockingly, “and now, you’re going to go to the private homes of the most influential people in the state, trying to bully them, upsetting their wives and scaring their children—and you have absolutely nothing concrete to go on?“

I’m laughing hysterically now, my laughter partially in relief, but mostly because it’s really very funny that they have absolutely nothing to go on and they’re knocking on my door. I thought they may have found some substantial piece of evidence that pointed them to me besides a three-year-old background check.

“I hope you guys have a really good retirement plan that doesn’t involve the police department,” I say, my voice mirthfully mocking. “The governor’s office is about to be flooded with calls on you two, one of which will most likely come from me. She was a guest at my wedding, for Christ’s sake!

“How many people do you intend to send over the edge today? My advice is that if you want to find any substantial evidence or leads, or if any of the people you’re questioning had anything to do with this girl’s disappearance, you had better rethink your strategy, because you’re headed down the wrong road… backwards!

“I want you out of my house now. I have nothing else to say to you. If you want to talk to me in the future, get a warrant or contact my attorney, Allen Forsythe. He’s in the GEH directory. Jason?” I gesture to Jason to show the detectives out and put my hand in the small of my wife’s back to lead her out of the room.

“Mrs. Grey?” Cagney calls as we’re walking away. “Do you really feel safe with this man knowing that he could possibly have something to do with this girl’s disappearance?”

Oh, dear God. If they only knew. Butterfly stops in the grand entry and turns around to face the detectives.

“You know, you guys may get a little further with this investigation if one of you pretends to be the good cop,” she says, matter-of-factly, before turning around and walking out of the room with me. When we bend the corner and are out of sight of the detectives, I turn around to face my wife, still walking backwards. I hold my hand up in front of her. She smirks at me and we clap hands in a victorious high five before joining our children in the den.


A/N: I think I made a reference to Cagney and Lacey before in reference to female cops where we don’t know their names. Baretta was another cop from a cop show back in the 70’s.

I don’t think underboob really became a thing until 2016 and for my story, Greta had underboob going on around 2012 or 2013. Again, creative license.

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 entitled “Do You Need To Talk.” No subject is taboo. I just ask that you approach the link with respect for those who have concerns as well as those who respond. You can also get to the link by clicking HERE.

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 27

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 27

ANASTASIA

I’m sitting on the loveseat in the sitting room in our bedroom, patiently waiting for my husband to finish his lunch and join me. I should have had a drink or something while I wait. I’m not nervous or anything. I’m just trying to find the best way to say what I have to say without disregarding his feelings or completely capitulating to his behavior. I want to explain his error while recognizing his counterpoint about his concerns as valid.

We’re at a precipice with this conversation though. Christian Grey can be, and usually is, very passionate about his convictions. I could actually see that passion beginning to surface earlier today while we were talking, but almost as soon as it had risen, it was gone. It was like he was resolved to be the bad guy as evidenced by his comment about me taking Gary’s side and the subsequent question about why we were still having the conversation if that was the case.

He admitted that he felt he was in a lose-lose situation. Anyone constantly in that position wouldn’t bother fighting anymore. It’s not that I think he’s immature or anything, but I totally feel that if I don’t say the right thing, he’s going to shut down and that’s the last thing I want.

While I’m still pondering the best approach to the conversation, he casually strolls into the room with a spritzer in his hand and takes a seat in the chair opposite me on the other side of the fireplace.

Geez, this is going to be fun.

“I’m going to ask that you listen to what I say with an objective ear and not a defensive ear,” I begin. “I was forced to look at both sides of the coin and I ask that you please do the same thing.” He ponders the thought for a moment then nods.

I sigh and think about the best way to say what I want to say without setting off a disagreement. I guess I ponder a little too long.

“Is what you have to say that harsh?” he asks. “Do I need a real drink?” I roll my eyes, more at myself than anything.

“I’m trying to find a way to tell you that your feelings do matter; that I’m sorry that I discounted them, but that you still have to measure your reactions and your temper and that you can’t pop off and expect for it to be okay. You can’t just have an emotional response and not expect to get any fallout from it. None of us are afforded that luxury.” He pauses and furrows his brow.

“You just did,” he says.

“I just did what?” I ask, bemused.

“You just said what you needed to say,” he says calmly. “I know that my actions and my words have consequences. I wasn’t born yesterday. I don’t expect for people to be pleased when I have something harsh or unpleasant to say. They don’t even have to accept it. My problem is when my feelings are pushed aside or stomped on and not even considered. More times than I can count, people are more concerned about my actions towards other people and nobody’s concerned about how I’m affected. Yeah, I can do and say some pretty shitty things sometimes, but I need the people in my life to start putting themselves in my shoes and start saying to themselves, ‘Hmm, what might he have been thinking’ instead of ‘What the hell was he thinking?’”

He says both questions with the emphasis and the lack thereof needed to make his point.

“Garrett was hurting. He didn’t know what the hell he was going to do. He had an opportunity ripped from him that he wanted just like Elliot and Val. The only difference is that Elliot and Val didn’t have a choice in the matter.

“Marilyn had a choice and she made it. She made the choice that she felt was best for her and the people closest to her made her pay for it… repeatedly! She was beat down and ripped up by her parents and left for dead by Garrett. She finished the job by punishing her body—hopefully not beyond repair—and I have no doubt that she’s punished herself mentally more than once as well.”

He hit that nail on the head.

“Enter you and me. We do everything short of giving that girl one of our vital organs in an attempt to bring her back from the brink of destruction. Now, I don’t know if you’ve heard from Gary throughout the course of this exercise, but I sure as hell didn’t. All I saw was this poor girl suffering, and don’t think for one minute that I wasn’t concerned about suicide.”

I hadn’t even thought of that. Speaking to Marilyn, I know that she doesn’t have any suicidal tendencies, but it’s not impossible.

“So, now we have four people, just these four people—me, you, Marilyn, and Garrett. Marilyn’s feelings were all out on display for everyone to see. The remaining three of us made our feelings known last night. Being stuck between the two of them, you had to split your feelings because you were concerned about both of them. I was only concerned about one—the one I saw.

“Both Garrett and I said some things to each other that probably shouldn’t have been announced in a public forum, but they were. Marilyn had taken her feelings and was off somewhere waiting to leave the premises. Garrett took his feelings with him to go to Marilyn. You made your feelings very clear and all parties present were concerned about yours. Where did that leave me? Everybody avoided me like the plague, including you, and I’m sitting there wishing I had kept my mouth shut and knowing the entire time that I was entitled to what I felt.”

“I understand that, and you’re absolutely right,” I say sincerely. “I promise to be more mindful of your feelings in the future and not to shut you down that way. But you have to promise to try to be more mindful of what you’re saying and not to pop off so quickly even when your emotions are running wild. I guess we both seriously have some habits we have to work on.” He’s quiet for a moment.

“I can go with that, but I need you to take something away from this conversation. I’m not trying to get my way with this situation. I say what I mean, and I won’t apologize for it. I didn’t apologize to Garrett and I’m not going to apologize to you, because I meant what I said. The takeaway that I want from this conversation is that—depending on the situation—I’m going to do my best to dial it back a bit and think before I speak. However, right or wrong, whether the hearer likes what I’m saying or not, I’m entitled to how I feel, and people are going to have to respect if they except the same from me.” I nod.

“I get it,” I say. “I really do.” He nods, then runs his hands through his hair.

“So, how are they?” he asks. “I know that you saw them this morning.”

“Solemnly in love,” I respond. “That’s the best description for it. Gary went back to his place to get some clothes. They’ve been locked in her room all day after that, so I think they may be making up for lost time.” He purses his lips.

“Somehow, I doubt that,” he says. My brow furrows.

“Why do you say that?” I ask.

“I ignored women’s feelings for a long time, Anastasia, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t recognize what they were feeling. She’s too fragile for sex right now. She may get past that in a day or a week or so, once her heart can accept that he’s back, but right now—after one night, nothing sexual is happening in that room.”

“How can you be so sure?” I ask incredulously.

“I’ve broken the heart of more than one submissive,” he says, “and more than once, they didn’t show up on the ‘scene’ for a week or more. And have you forgotten that I broke your heart, too? I couldn’t touch you for days, let alone have sex. The first time I touched you, you nearly begged me not to. The next few times, you allowed me to touch or help you, but you went limp like a dead fish. Sex was utterly out of the question.”

I clear my throat. I had nearly forgotten that he couldn’t touch me. I didn’t forget the helplessness that I felt, but the sting of his touch… yes, I recognized that only too well in Marilyn’s reactions.

“Well,” I say, “I can’t imagine what they’ve been doing in that room all day since she won’t allow him to touch her.” I try to hide my discomfort.

“Maybe they’re talking,” he says. “They’ve got quite the road ahead of them if they expect to get back together. They may want to be together, but they still have the same problems they had when they broke up.” I look at him skeptically.

“Since when did you become so insightful?” I ask.

“Years and years of therapy,” he replies. “Just because I thought it wouldn’t do me any good doesn’t me that I didn’t listen.”

Well, sometimes, you coulda fooled me.
Shut the hell up.

“So,” I say, nervous and a but rudderless.

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I was serious about vegging out for the day.” He stands, retrieves his spritzers and heads back towards the bedroom. “You’re free to join me if you want.”

I get up and follow him to the bedroom wondering what’s good on television.


CHRISTIAN

“I take it by your expression that the visit did not go well,” I say. It’s early evening and Jason has joined me in my study, having returned from taking Sophie to visit her mother in prison.

“It did not,” he says emphatically. “I couldn’t hear the entire conversation since it’s the whole receiver-screen thing, but I heard Sophie’s side, begging her mother to sign the papers and telling her how crazy her arguments sound, and I don’t even know what her arguments were. She talked to her for a few more minutes and I could tell the exact moment she gave up. Her entire posture changed, and she just said, ‘Fine.’ She didn’t say anything else for a long time. After several minutes of silence and waiting for her to say something, I heard her say, ‘This is what you want.’

“She told Shalane that even being in jail hasn’t meant anything to her; that she’s still the most selfish person that Sophie has ever met, and it’ll never change, and that Sophie has given up on hope that it ever will. Sophie didn’t say anything else for the entire visit and it lasted like 45 more minutes.

“When we left, I asked her if she was okay. She said that she didn’t want to talk about it, and she cried the whole way home, and that’s a pretty long ass drive.”

I can tell he’s very pissed about this. Shalane is being a spiteful bitch just because she can, but she doesn’t seem to realize that she’s only destroying any hope that she has of repairing her relationship with her daughter.

“So, what now?” I ask. He sighs.

“I’ll try to get a court order,” he says. “Sophie would be an adult before the custody permission part of it would ever be sorted out. I guess until then, vacations are just going to have to be the US and its territories,” he laments.

“We can still do things that can be fun for her in the US,” I say, trying to ease the blow.

“It’s not just her, Boss,” he says. “Sophie not being able to go overseas means that Gail can’t go either. She’s taken on quite the responsibility raising a child that’s not hers. I know she helps to raise the twins, but their mother is here. If the sky falls, Sophie is all her. She’s a wonderful woman, and I would have loved to show her Lake Como, and I would have loved for Sophie to have authentic Italian food, but it looks like that’s not going to happen for another four years.”

Try though I might, I know that there’s nothing I can do to get that passport for Sophie. This has to be completely on the up and up—no strings—or he could lose custody of his daughter.

“I’m sorry about this, Jason,” I tell him. “I wish there was something I could do.”

“This is one time that I wish there was, too.” He scrubs his hands over his face. “Do I want to know how things are going in this house?” I know he’s desperate to change the subject.

“I know that Garrett and Marilyn are still here, but no one has seen them since breakfast.”

“Making up for lost time?” he asks, his brow raised. I shake my head.

“We don’t think so,” I say, dispelling his thoughts. “Marilyn’s pretty fragile. I would venture to say that he’s having a hard time just holding her right now let alone trying to get some ass… not that I even think he’s trying.” Jason twists his lips.

“What about you and Her Highness?” he asks. “Still radio silence or should I even ask?”

“No, we talked,” I say. He examines me. “We talked. It was a good talk. Then we watched TV. Then I came down here. I slept most of the day.” His neck jerks.

You slept most of the day?” he asks.

“I did,” I reply, typing into my laptop. “I wanted to go to sleep last night, but I couldn’t. I finally went for a run this morning, came back, took a shower, had part of a conversation with Anastasia, then I fell asleep. By the time I woke up, it was well after lunch. I was tired, man, just… tired.”

“I see,” he says. “So, you said you had part of a conversation…”

“Yeah,” I say. “I said my piece this morning and then when I awoke, she said hers. Then, we said ours and that was it.”

“And you guys are speaking now?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I say. “I was quite aware of her feelings, but I needed her to understand mine. I’m tired of taking the rap all the time and she needed to know that.”

“You were pretty passionate last night, Boss… and verbose,” he points out.

“But I wasn’t alone,” I say. “Emotions were high for more than one of us, and yet, I was the one singled out.” He twists his lips and nods.

“Yeah,” he replies, “I see where you’re coming from.”

“I didn’t want to be ostracized anymore and that’s why I left. I didn’t want to fight anymore, and I believe that’s why my body wouldn’t let me go to sleep. The only reason we talked is because she caught me coming out the shower and she had to initiate the conversation. I just didn’t want to fight… I’m tired.”

“And that, no doubt, came out in the conversation,” he says. I shrug.

“Most likely,” I reply. “I didn’t have to be right, but I needed her to hear me. If she didn’t, I wasn’t going to talk anymore and I made that clear. I wasn’t angry or… anything. I was just tired.”

“I can honestly say I’ve never seen that in you,” he says. “You were resolved. Either she heard you or she didn’t. Every other time, either they heard you or they were fired… or blackballed… or their contracts were terminated, and I was carrying them kicking and screaming out of the penthouse. Never this resolved, ‘that’s it, that’s all,’ and move on.”

“Well, I guess I’m a different guy,” I say, tapping away at my laptop. Even I know that. “I’m looking at puppy farms, for Christ’s sake.”

“You guys are really going to do that?” he asks.

“Yes, we are,” I reply.

“You’re going to get some flak for not getting a rescue,” he says.

“Well, it’s just like I told my brother. My wife wants a pit. Somebody else can rescue a pit. I’m not having a rescue pit around my children and I don’t care who doesn’t like it,” I inform him.

“You’ll get no argument from me,” he says. “My kid lives here, too.”

“We’ve got appointments to visit a couple of places tomorrow,” I tell him.

“Whereabout?” he asks. I type into my laptop.

“Rochester and Rainier,” I say.

“Geez, you couldn’t get any further?” he complains.

“Actually, I could,” I say. “Butterfly wanted to have puppies shipped in!”

“Shipped?” he asks. I nod.

“There are places around the country that breed the puppies, get their shots and papers and ship them to you when they’re old enough.”

“That doesn’t sound to… legit,” Jason says.

“Some are, some aren’t. I did my homework on the ones that she was eyeing and one of them is definitely out. Total scam, pulling pictures from reputable sites to build their own. That made me dig a little deeper to find local breeders that we could actually visit and see the facilities before we make a purchase. However, Rainier is the closest we’re going to get.”

“Road trip… who’s driving?” I look over my glasses at him.

“You are,” I say, “or you can arrange for someone else to do it since you drove all the way to Prisonville today.” He shakes his head.

“No, I’ll do it, but you get to tell Chuck that we have a Sunday road trip,” he adds.

“Jesus, you act like we’re leaving town. The furthest distance is 80 miles away. We’ll be back before dinner.”

“I’m just saying, you get to tell Chuck,” he says, rising to his feet. “I’m going to go check on Baby Boo.” He leaves my study and I text the information about the breeders and our appointment times to Butterfly. What’s the big fucking deal?

*-*

I soon find out that the big deal was that Chuck had plans on spending his Sunday with Keri, knowing that Butterfly had no plans, and my last-minute appointments quickly put the kibosh on that. We’re traveling down the I-5 south towards Rochester and he’s as sour-faced as I have ever seen him and silent as a rock. Butterfly spent the first half-hour journaling and has now fallen asleep with her legs curled underneath her. I, of course, am on my laptop examining possible mergers on the fire and reading emails. Jason begs to put some music on to cut through the silence and opts for Rachmaninoff’s angry concerto, perfect for Chuck’s mood.

Ironically, I found the two local breeders on Facebook. I had to do some digging after seeing how many backyard breeders and puppy mills there are out there, and I didn’t want anything to do with those places. With Alex’s help, I even discovered that one of the places that looked quite reputable was actually a huge scam—dogs kept in bad conditions and not correctly pedigreed, and a basic Google reverse search showed that they pictures they used were actually copied from other sites.

That’s how I found the Facebook sites.

I had to create a dummy email and a fake Facebook ID to get to the Facebook pages. These two local Facebook pages led to websites that checked out okay and offered appointments to tour the facilities, see the conditions, and meet the puppies and parent dogs. The pups you meet may already be promised to someone else as puppies aren’t given sent to their permanent homes until they are 9 to 11 weeks old. So, they try to get the puppies adopted out as soon as possible. The litter is often already promised when the mother is still pregnant.

I didn’t want them to know who I was before I got there, so I gave them a fake name and had Jason secure nondisclosure agreements before we made the trip. They will have to sign them before we do any type of business.

Fifteen minutes outside of Rainier, I wake my wife so that she can “put her face on” if need be. She really doesn’t need makeup. She’s absolutely gorgeous without it. Nonetheless, she smooths her hair a bit, checks her face, and adds some lip gloss. We’re both casual in jeans and sneakers, and she has opted for the Raybans instead of the Jackie-O’s today, her hair pulled back in a large clip.

We arrive at our first appointment and we’re not that impressed. It’s a pretty large operation, but it looks more like a puppy mill. There are rows of cages stacked three and four high with several dogs inside them. The dogs don’t look abused or mistreated. In fact, they look pretty healthy and well kept. I just don’t have the best feeling about this place. I tell them that we have another appointment, but we’ll keep them in mind. After all, the dogs do look healthy, but the place looks like an assembly line.

We drive on to Rochester, and Butterfly’s a bit disheartened as she leaves Rainier. She comments about wanting to take one of the puppies just to get them out of there. I tell her that’s the very reason we don’t want the puppy, because if it hasn’t been bred well, there’s no telling what we’re going to get.

We arrive at the breeder in Rochester about half an hour later. We pull up to what looks like a farm with several animals. There are some chickens and pigs and a goat or two from what we can see. When we get to the house, there’s an older couple standing on the porch. They look fit and well-preserved, but quite rustic. They meet us in the walk after we exit the car. The woman greets us first.

“I’m Agatha,” she says with a big smile, proffering her hand to me. “You must be Trevor.” I shake her hand.

“Yes, ma’am, nice to meet you, Agatha,” I respond. “This is my wife, Roseanne.”

Butterfly looks at me like I just hit her. I failed to tell her about the whole assumed names thing.

“Call me Aggie,” she says, then extends her hand to Butterfly. “Roseanne.”

“Call me Ana,” she says, shooting a look over at me as she shakes Aggie’s hand. “It’s very nice to meet you, Aggie.”

“This old coot is my husband, Lee.” Aggie gestures to her husband who shakes Butterfly’s hand first since she’s closest, and then mine.

“Welcome to our little neck o’ the woods, ma’am, sir…” As he takes my hand, he pauses and examines me. “Do I know you?” he asks.

“I’m not sure,” I say. I know their full names even though they only gave me first names. “Do you ever get to Seattle?” He shakes his head.

“No, can’t say I do. Most of the dogs we deliver are out this way or headed towards Spokane you know, farmland where they can run. Some in Idaho, a few in Montana, Oregon… We don’t get many orders from the city. Most of those folks want toy breeds or something else. They’re scared o’ pits, but that’s all we do—bullies and nothing else. They’re wonderful dogs…”

Lee goes off on what great dogs pit bulls and bulldogs are for a moment, and I can see that he’s passionate about his pups.

“You with the government or something?” he prods. “I swear I know you from somewhere.” I laugh.

“No, just a businessman from Seattle,” I say, glad that he can’t quite place me behind my Raybans.

“Let’s go on out to the kennels,” Aggie says.

We follow Aggie and Lee to the back of the house and the first thing we see is what looks like a pasture. There are about five adult dogs running around with horses.

“I take it you don’t just breed dogs,” I ask.

“Oh, no,” Aggie says. “We’re a fully operational farm. We’re just one of the smaller ones. We supplement our income with the breeding.” She lets us into the pasture and the dogs are all jumping on her looking for affection.

“At any given time, I have 10 bitches and four studs on the farm, sometimes five. All of my breeding dogs have come from the same line.” She pets the dogs as we cross the pasture and head to one of four large outbuildings. Inside looks like a dog hotel. There’s a section where the dogs sleep, where they play, where they’re fed, and what looks like a clinic.

There are cages in the boarding area, but they’re extremely large—like 5×5—and they look more like fancy dog houses with picket-fence-type walls. The floor of each cage is insulated with what looks like turf and there are dog beds and toys inside. The play area is full of pups, about 10, and they’re running around playing with each other and nipping at one another’s ears. My wife turns into a cooing fool when she sees them.

“These are all that remains from two litters about six weeks ago,” Lee says. “We lost two, they don’t always make it, but these are all promised to a new home. We keep ‘em until they’re at least nine weeks old, usually 11. Get the ones spayed or neutered that ain’t gonna breed, get all their shots and health certificates. We keep the vet here pretty busy,” he laughs.

“I bet,” I comment.

“These are all blue nose and moo moos. We’re expectin’ a couple of litters in a month or so—red nose, gottis, and brindles.”

“Are they already adopted, too?” Butterfly asks.

“We’ve got a couple of folks interested, but we have to see how many pups we get.” Lee leads us into the boarding area and down towards the end where the pregnant bitches are. He shows us the moms of the red nose, gottis, and brindles. There’s a fourth dog who appears to be quite miserable, though she’s in a very comfortable kennel. She’s panting and she looks up at us with sad eyes.

“What’s happening with this one?” I ask, pointing to the anguished dog.

“That’s Charmaine,” Aggie says, squatting down to the dog and gently stroking her head. “She’s a blue fawn and this is her first litter. She’ll only have about five pups max, maybe two or three.”

“Are her dogs for sale?” Butterfly asks. Aggie shakes her head.

“We always keep the first litter,” she says. “They become breeders in a couple of years. Charlie here is ready to pop. Hey girl,” she says stroking her head once. Charlie’s tail wags once and she licks Aggie’s hand. “Ronnie!”

“Yes, ma’am!” What looks like a skinny young boy comes running from around the wall from the play area.

“How’s Charlie lookin’?” she asks.

“I’d say tonight. Tomorrow morning at the latest,” he says. “Indigo and Jessup won’t be too far behind.”

“Keep an eye on Charlie,” she says. “She looks like she’s having a harder time than usual.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Ronnie says, and he’s back off to whatever he was doing.

“There are a lot of dogs pregnant at the same time,” Butterfly says. “How does this work?”

“Females can do three litters a year,” she says, “but we don’t breed them that often. I prefer to do one, maybe two depending on the dog’s health. I really like to let them rest for about a year before they breed again, but sometimes the dogs have other plans,” she laughs. “That’s why I keep so many bitches around, because the males can breed repeatedly for their entire life span.”

“Really?” Butterfly says. “How many litters do you hope to get out of each dog in a lifetime?”

“Three or four, but no more,” Lee says. “We spay ‘em shortly after that. We feel like they’ve done their duty.” He laughs. “The studs can go indefinitely, so they may get studded to private owners who want puppies.”

“Do you stud them out to other breeders?” I ask. Lee shrugs.

“Once in a while,” he says, “only if I like how the dogs are being kept.” He moves further into the kennel. “As for the adults, we keep some of ‘em. Some of ‘em, we sell. Not everybody wants a puppy.” He winks at me.

“How many have you kept?” Butterfly prods.

“Hmm,” Aggie ponders the thought. “We’ve been breedin’ about 30 years. I got about four spayed girls runnin’ ‘round right now. I got 11… no, 12 girls laid to rest in the Road to Rainbow Bridge in the back. I’ve given away a couple to good homes. Sold a lot. I’ve got nine breedin’ right now. The boys we keep until the end because they can just keep breeding. I’ve laid maybe… six to rest; I got three as farm dogs, five as breeders, and one old boy that just don’t leave the house.”

“The other sheds there are for farmin’,” Aggie says as we leave the kennel. “Stables in there, food and supplies and such in the other two. Not real interesting, but you can go see ‘em if you want, make sure we’re not harmin’ any animals.” I look over at the outbuilding that she identified as a stable and I see another woman—probably our age—brushing a horse just outside the open door.

“Your operation is very thorough,” I say. “You get a lot of flak for what you do?”

“PETA, ASPCA,” Aggie says, “they tend to lump all breeders into one category, especially the ones that breed in bulk. You see my operation. I have a manageable number of dogs and pups at any given time, and if the dogs don’t find homes, they stay here with us. It’s a lucrative business, yes, but not that lucrative if it gets out that you’re mistreating the animals or that your product is substandard—mutts, diseased dogs, and the like.

“The humane society has come more than once to buy up my pups for fear that they’re being mistreated, and I grill ‘em—what are you going to do with ‘em; do you have homes for ‘em already; what happens if they don’t get adopted? They still come around once in a while, but not as often, because I refuse to sell them my dogs unless they tell me definitively where my dogs are going. I don’t mind ‘em using my services for placement—you know someone that wants a bully pup and you come to me to find one, but you’re not going to come in here and just buy a slew a pups and I don’t know what’s going to happen to ‘em.”

Aggie becomes a bit passionate when she discusses the possibility of her puppies having uncertain futures. I think I’ve heard enough. I look over at Butterfly.

“What do you think?” I ask. She looks up at me and nods.

“Well, Aggie, Lee, let’s talk puppies,” I say.

“I thought that’s what we were doin’,” Lee laughs and leads us to the house.

It’s what you would expect from a large farmhouse—lots of natural wood, décor that’s the right mixture of modern, country, and rustic. We go into the country kitchen—white and wood—with a large island in the middle with a marble countertop and wood and wicker stools around it. This is where they do business—not the dining room, not an office, right here on the kitchen island.

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There’s a laptop in the middle of the island and Aggie positions herself in front of it, gesturing for me and Butterfly to take the stools across from her. As we take our seats, a pudgy—for lack of a better word—pit bull comes meandering into the kitchen and literally flops down at Lee’s feet.

“And who is this?” Butterfly asks.

“This here ‘s Nails,” Lee says, bending down to give the dog a healthy scratch on the head. “Nails has been with us now goin’ on 18 years. He’s outlived all his brothers and sisters, and the old boy just keeps holdin’ on.”

“What’s the usual lifespan?” I ask, curious.

“Eight to 15 years depending on their health and livin’ conditions,” he replies. “Nails is a real old timer, so we just let him live out his golden years here in the house. He’s studded many a litter, so he’s done his duty. Time for ‘im to relax now.” I nod and take off my glasses.

“Is that the normal size for them as well?” I ask.

“No,” he says. “Grey lines can get to be 60 pounds. They average 35-45 like most bully breeds. Nails here is about 80—big for his frame.”

“Are there any larger breeds?” Butterfly asks.

“Gottis,” Lee says. “They can easily get to a hunnerd.”

I look over at Butterfly and she shakes her head. She has the same thought I do—a hundred-pound dog… I don’t think so.

Aggie looks up from her laptop and immediately does a double take at me once I’ve removed my glasses. Then she looks at Butterfly and back at me. Then, she gasps.

We’ve been made.

“You’re…” she pauses. “You’re Christian Grey!” she says in realization. Lee looks at me, then at Butterfly, just like Aggie did, then back at me.

“I knew that face was familiar!” he says. “I just couldn’t place it!”

“Yes, sir,” I reply. “I apologize for deceiving you, but I hope you understand why. Our privacy is very important to us.”

“Oh, no, I get it,” Lee says. “It’s gettin’ to where folks can’t go to the store without gettin’ mobbed these days. I can’t even imagine what you too have ta go through.” He looks over at my wife. “May I say you’re just as pretty in person as ya are on the pictures.” My wife blushes.

“Thank you, sir,” she says bashfully.

“She kinda looks like Millie, dudn’t she, Aggie?” Aggie examines my wife.

“Yeah,” she says, “a bit around the eyes.” Butterfly looks at her curiously. “Millie’s our niece, my sister’s girl. She’s off in college back east right now. I hope we didn’t make you uncomfortable.”

“Oh, no, not at all,” Butterfly says.

“Well, if you’d like, we can talk about gettin’ you folks a dog,” Lee says.

“If you don’t mind…” I gesture to Jason and he reaches into his jacket. “I require a nondisclosure agreement to do business.”

“Oh, yeah, the ‘keep your mouth shut’ paper. No problem,” Lee says, reaching into his own jacket pocket and pulling out a pen. I raise my brow.

“You’re familiar with them,” I say, a statement, not a question.

“We use ‘em,” Aggie says. “There are more puppy mills around than you think—horrible places, just horrible. Unsanitary, the bitches and studs are sickly, no tellin’ what kinds of illnesses those pups are carrying once they’re born. My advertisin’ is mostly word of mouth. Those folks on the Facebook page are all satisfied customers. We don’t want the press pokin’ ‘round here trying ta find a story, and believe me, knowin’ that you got a dog from here would probably bring us more attention than we’d like, so where do we sign?”

“Just so we’re clear, by you signing, this means that none of your staff will disclose you’re doing business with us?” I ask.

“Not if they want to keep their job,” Lee confirms. “Like I said, we use ‘em, too. If you want, you can leave six more of ‘em, and I’ll have ‘em signed and faxed back to you by Monday afternoon.”

This is easier than I thought.

“That sounds good to me, Lee,” I respond. Lee and Aggie each sign and NDA and Jason gives them six more, tucking their signed copies back into his jacket.

“Okay, so let’s get down to business…”

We talk about how soon the newest litters are expected, how long they stay with the mother and littermates before they can be sold, and just how formal the whole process is. There are birth announcements once the puppies are born, and you get pictures of the new litter and more pictures every couple of weeks. You pick the sex of your pup and they try to match it when the pups are born.

Once they reach eight weeks old, you get to see which puppy will be yours. From there, you make arrangements for delivery or to pick the pup up when they’re 10 to 11 weeks old. By the time you pick them up, they’ve been dewormed, microchipped, spayed or neutered if that’s what you want, and they had their first round of vaccinations. They come complete with the generational pedigree, registration with the American Kennel Club, a health guarantee and lots of doggie goodies to get them started.

Aggie and Lee make themselves available after you get your pup in case you have any problems or questions, and even have references for trainers in your area. I’m feeling a lot more solid about this place than I did about the place in Rainier. That other place seemed a whole lot more like, “When do you want your dog? Where do we ship ‘em? Will that be cash, check, or charge?”

Now comes the hard part—picking a breed.

“Well, we know the gotti’s out, so it’s between the red nose and the brindle, and I can’t choose because they’re both so beautiful,” Butterfly points out.

“I have to tell you, Ana, that each dog is different,” Aggie warns. “There’s no guarantee that they’re going to come out looking like their moms.”

“That’s not necessarily true, Peach,” Lee interjects before turning to us. “The brindles can come out to be just about any color, but the red noses near about guaranteed to come out that golden brown,” he corrects her. Aggie nods.

“He’s right… have you ever seen a calico kitty?” Aggie asks.

“Once or twice,” Butterfly replies. I’ve never seen one.

“You ever seen two together?” she asks.

“I don’t think I have,” my wife responds.

“Google ‘em,” she says. “Even online, I can guarantee you won’t find any two exactly alike. It’s the same with the brindles. They kinda like the calico of the pit bull.”

“Can we get one of each?” Butterfly asks. Immediately, everyone in the room glares at her, including Chuck and Jason. She jerks under our stare.

“Sorry,” she says, more chastised than she should be and shrinking a bit. “It was just a suggestion.”

“Don’t misunderstand, Ana,” Aggie says, “you can have as many pups as you want. It’s just that two new pups are a big responsibility.”

“Yeah, sure, okay,” she says, and she’s quickly shutting down. “I only raised two live human beings for more than a year,” she mumbles, and I think I’m the only one who heard her.

“So, um, we’ll need complete contact information—emails included—and a deposit of $250 per dog…” Aggie just gets right down to brass tacks without missing a beat. She doesn’t even reference the conversation that we just had regarding how many pups Butterfly wanted. She just gets right down to business without finding out how many pups we’re going to get. I complete all the paperwork as Butterfly appears to have no interest in the transaction at all.

What the fuck? She’s the one who said she wanted the pit puppies!

“So, which do you want?” I ask when I get to the section about breeds, gauging to see if she’s still interested in two puppies or if she’s just going to pick one.

“You pick,” she says, noncommittal… and now, she’s pouting. Very mature, Anastasia.

I’m certain there’s going to be a volcanic eruption down the line if I don’t reserve two puppies, so I silently do that without letting her know. I mark that I’m looking for one of the brindles and one of the red noses, a boy and a girl—sex of the breed to be determined by the litters—and I hand her my Amex.

I’m not bowing down to Butterfly. I truly believe that if she wants two puppies, she should have two puppies. Besides, she’s right about one thing. We have managed to keep two tiny humans alive for more than a year. I’m sure we can manage two dogs. We will, however, have a discussion about this childish behavior.

Once the transaction is complete and I’ve secured our two dogs, we thank Aggie and Lee, get in the car and head back to Mercer. Anastasia is silently staring out the window, still behaving petulantly, and I’ve had just about enough.

“Okay, Anastasia, what exactly is the problem?” I ask.

“I raised two children. Why the hell would any of you think I can’t raise two dogs?” she blurts out. “And I don’t plan on leaving the dogs with anybody for months at a time, but I’m certain that I won’t be the only one caring for them… or will I? Did I miss something?” Whoa, back up, Grey. Those guns are loaded.

“No, baby, you didn’t miss anything,” I say, trying to soothe her, “It’s just that it’s like Aggie said, two dogs are a big responsibility, and this is the first time we’ve had pets.”

“Just like we had no children… before our twins, that is,” she retorts, “and I don’t have to breastfeed the dogs!”

Oh, dear God, I didn’t need that visual!

“I was shocked,” I defend. “There was no indication before now that you were even interested in getting two dogs. I’m not allowed to have a reaction to that being sprung on me right when we’re about to sign the papers?”

“You all glared at me like I cursed in church, like I had absolutely no idea what I was talking about. It was humiliating!” she counters emphatically.

So, she’s not really upset about thinking she’s not going to be able to have two dogs. She’s more upset about being made to look like a fool in front of everyone.

“You’re overreacting, Anastasia,” I begin. “No one glared at you that way. We were just caught off guard by your request.”

“Yeah, okay, sure. I imagined the whole thing,” she says, taking out her phone and swiping the screen.

“I didn’t say that,” I reply. “I wasn’t prepared for you to ask for two dogs.”

“Yeah, um-hmm,” she says, typing into her phone without making eye-contact with me. And there she goes. She’s shutting down again and it’s really starting to piss me off.

“You really need to stop this,” I retort. “You’re behaving like a child.” I hear Chuck in the front react like someone gave him a swift gut punch. Anastasia, on the other hand, narrows her eyes at me.

Uh-oh…

“A word of advice, Mr. Grey,” she seethes. Oh, geez, now I’m Mr. Grey. “When you treat someone like a tweener, don’t be surprised when they behave like one!”

She stares at me for a while, then turns her attention back to her phone… and that’s the last bit of conversation that we have for the entire ride.

*-*

“Anah!”

Keri’s voice catches us just as we’re stepping out of the mudroom. We turn around to look at her and she has what looks like an invitation in her hand.

“Ah hav sumtim foh yoh,” she says with a smile and hands Butterfly the invitation. “Ahn foh yoh,” she adds, turning to me and handing me an invitation as well before skirting off happily in the direction she just came from. I sigh inwardly and unfold the invitation.

Sophia Taylor cordially invites you to her
Freshman Dinner
You are among the distinguished guests
To enjoy culinary delights at
Sophie’s first four-course meal
Sunday, March 15, 2015
Cocktails 6:00pm – 6:30pm
Jason and Gail’s Apartment
Grey Crossing
Mercer Island, WA
Formal Attire

I look over at Butterfly suspiciously and she returns the gaze, twisting her lips and looking back down at the invitation.

“Freshman Dinner,” I say, “that’s cute.”

“It’s her first dinner. Get it… freshman?”

“Yeah, I get it.”

I look at the invitation again. A 13-year-old is going to cooking her first dinner, and we’re going to be her guinea pigs. I’m trying to find some enthusiasm here. I scratch my neck and look over at my wife again. Are we headed to the gallows?

The look on her face says that she’s thinking the same thing that I’m thinking. She listed the things that she could cook in Las Vegas, but if this is a freshman dinner, I doubt that any of those things are going to be on the menu. I scratch the back of my neck in contemplation. Whatever it is, it won’t kill us. My wife looks over at me, and we appear to have come to the same conclusion at the same time.

We’re being ridiculous.

We both chuckle slightly and look at the invitations again, printed on heavy invitation card stock.

“What do you think?” I ask.

“I watched this girl taste a pasta dish at an Italian restaurant, ask if the pasta was imported or domestic, and tell us what kind of cheese they used. I think she’ll do fine… more than fine, in fact.”

“Look,” I say with a sigh, putting my hands gently on her hips, “let’s not do this. I’m sorry that you felt embarrassed or humiliated. That certainly was not my intention, and I’d venture to say that wasn’t the intention of anyone present. We were just surprised, all of us. We both know—all know that you’re completely capable of caring for two dogs, and everything you said was totally correct. You’ve kept two tiny humans alive—you’re not going to have the slightest problem with dogs, and we have quite a bit of help here when we need it. If you want two pups, you should have two pups. That’s why I put a $500 deposit down for a red nose and a brindle.”

Her eyes light up like the light from a full moon, and she throws her arms around me.

“I was being sensitive,” she says, still embracing me. “It was… shocking having everyone glare at me simultaneously that way, but I should have handled it better.”

“I totally understand why you felt that way,” I reinforce. She pulls back from me.

“Wait a minute,” she says, looking at me with her hands still on my shoulders. “You didn’t cave in because I was behaving like a brat, did you?” she asks. To be honest…

“Partially, yes,” I admit, “but mostly, no. It’s like I said, I didn’t appreciate the childish behavior at all. That’s why I didn’t tell you at first that I ordered two pups. I know that would have put the fire out immediately, but I had no intention of cosigning your behavior.”

“I get that,” she says, expectantly.

“However, also like I said, you can have two pups if you want them. I decided that immediately. We have more than enough room for them to run and play, though there’s going to be quite a bit of Scotchgarding in our future…”

She bursts out laughing.

“The partial yes part is because I knew once the puppy got here that you would revisit in your head the fact that you said you wanted two puppies, and a new addition to our family would be overshadowed by a disagreement or whatever you want to call it when we ordered the puppy. I didn’t want that.”

“You’re a wonderful man,” she says. “Sometimes I wonder how you put up with me.” I look at my watch. Plenty of time. I scoop her up in my arms.

“You can make it up to me by showing me just how wonderful I am,” I say as I carry her bridal style to our bedroom.


ANASTASIA

I had no intention of wearing an evening gown to dinner, but the invitation did say formal. I pick a comfortable creation from the Ruby collection—a black cotton Fit and Flare halter dress with a champagne lace illusion bodice that has a sweetheart neckline. It’s a simple dress—no fancy material or anything, but I’m jazzing it up with shoes and jewelry. My necklace is a cute black and pearl costume piece with crystals on a silver-toned chain. My earrings are Cristina Sabatini dripstone pearls with intricately woven black rhodium plating accented with cubic zirconia stones and smaller pearls—also costume.

My three, layered bracelets, however, are Chanel. Although they have some pieces that I think are gaudy and unattractive, Chanel is still my favorite designer for jewelry. Cartier is a close second, however. My three completely non-related bracelets, except by brand, are the black pearl embellished logo cuff, the rhodium tone black and white bracelet with faux pearls, and the Coco Crush white gold diamond bracelet.

And, of course, we can’t forget the black Louboutin stilettos.

As for my husband, he would make a paper bag look good, but he has opted for a black suit and turtleneck.

“So, my dear,” he says as I exit my dressing room, “are you ready for a culinary masterpiece.”

“I am,” I chuckle. “She actually did very well at our class at Sur La Table. Maybe she’s making the brick chicken. I’m actually looking forward to this.”

“Well, let’s go see what’s in store for us.” He puts his hand in the small of my back and leads me out of the bedroom. Before we pass the staircase, we spot Marilyn coming towards us.

Holy cow, Batman.

Marilyn finally decided to take us up on going to Miana’s and having a spa day, which is the equivalent of “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” in my book. Anyway, she’s in full make-up and a really cute new dress, and what once was a full head of brown and blonde hair is now an extremely short pixie cut. I didn’t even know who she was for a minute.

“Marilyn!” I say trying to hide my shock.

“Hey, she says shyly.”

“Hi,” I respond, still somewhat in awe. “You cut your hair.” Cut may not be the right word. She went from having a full head of hair—stringy though it may have been—to nearly nothing at all.

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“Yeah, I know. We tried to save it,” she says shyly. “It was dead and unrevivable—dry, split ends… I’m lucky they didn’t shave me bald and start all over.”

Dear God, no! That was shocking enough with Harmony! What is it with women and cutting their hair after a tragedy? Harmony went GI Jane, Marilyn pulled a 1960’s Mia Farrow, and even I wacked off a foot of my hair after “Escape to Madrid.” Granted, I had a few feet to work with but still. It’s shocking, but…

“It’s cute,” I say.

“You really think so?” she says, gently stroking her nape. I nod.

“Yeah,” I say honestly. “It’s fun and flirty, and it’ll be a whole lot easier to manage than this!” I say dramatically pointing at my hair. She chuckles.

“Gary hasn’t seen it yet,” she says. “I don’t know how he’s going to react when he does.”

“Do you like it?” I ask. She smiles softly.

“I do,” she replies. “I won’t keep it short like this forever, but for right now… it’s perfect.”

“Whoa!”

Moment of truth.

Gary walks down the hall staring at Marilyn’s hair. She’s so nervous that I hear her swallow.

“You look… great!” he says, after a pause. Marilyn almost looks like she’s going to collapse from relief.

“You like it?” she asks, begging for approval.

“It looks really good… like I can play in it,” he says a bit seductively. Marilyn blushes. Gary looks down at her dress and frowns a bit.

“Have you eaten yet?” he asks, no doubt examining her small frame, which is draped in a pretty dress, but still way too small. She raises disappointed eyes to him. Nice going, Gary.

“You wanna go out?” he asks, his voice sounding like he’s asking his teenage crush on their first date. Marilyn’s eyes sparkle and she’s beaming again.

“Yeah,” she says, her smile wide. He holds his arm out and she takes his elbow. They’ve completely forgotten that we were standing there as the descend the stairs to embark upon their “date.” I look over at Christian, and he holds his arm out to me.

“Shall we?” he asks. I smile and take his arm, and we head towards the elevator.

*-*

“Welcome to our humble abode,” Jason says as he opens the door to let us in.

“Cut the crap,” I say. “I haven’t decided if I’ve forgiven you for this afternoon.”

“Forgiven you?” Gail asks, looking from me to Jason. “For what?”

“Butterfly…” Christian cautions. I roll my eyes.

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“Forget it,” I say. “It’s not worth repeating.” I stick my tongue out at Jason as I pass him and he does the perfect “Spock” eyebrow at me.

“Whatever,” Gail says leading me to the table. It’s beautifully set for four complete with linens, flatware and stemware… and two bottles of wine, one of them open.

“Started cocktail hour without us?” Christian asks.

“This one was open when I got here,” Jason says. “This one my daughter asked me to pick. She specifically asked for a pinot noir… whose kid is this?”

“I opened that one and poured a portion for her to cook with,” Gail says, gesturing to the open bottle of wine. Jason’s eyes widen.

“You didn’t tell me that,” he says.

“Trust the cook, dear,” she says, rubbing his arms. “She even asked me if anyone had any food allergies.” He raises his brow.

“I guess I should trust the cook, then,” he says, his voice a bit lamenting.

“By the way, Jason. You bought your daughter a serving cart today,” Gail adds. Jason raises his brow.

“Do I want to know what it cost me?” he asks. Gail scoffs.

“What happened to Mr. Spare-No-Expense Taylor?” she teases. “Don’t worry, it was reasonable… and necessary. You told me to get her whatever she wanted.”

“You’re right. I don’t even know why I asked that question,” he says, kissing Gail on the cheek.

We can see into the kitchen and Keri is there with Sophie, but she’s not doing anything. She’s just standing there and every so often, Sophie gives her a direction or instruction and she complies.

“Bonsoir, mesdames et messieurs,” Sophie says coming out of the kitchen. Okay, I’m impressed. “I am your chef, Sophia Taylor, and I thank you for accepting the invitation to my freshman dinner. Sit down, relax, have some hors d’oeuvres, and the first course will be served in about twenty minutes.”

She bows and heads back off to the kitchen. The four of us look at each other like, “Who just left the room?” Little Sophie was wearing the full chef’s outfit—double breasted white jacket, checkered pants and the slotted hat. From the stains on her jacket, I put together that we’re having something with a rich sauce, and I can smell food cooking although I have no idea what it is.

“Well, I guess we should be seated and have some wine,” Christian says.

“Yes and no,” Jason says. “You can have wine if you drink from the open bottle. The unopened bottle is to be served with dinner. Or Chef says we can always get a drink from the bar.”

“Oh, excuse me,” Christian says, mocking a snooty voice. “I’ll just wait for dinner then. What’s this?” Christian retrieves something from one of the place settings and begins to read it.

“Oh, this is clever,” he says. To satisfy my curiosity, I go over to the table. There’s a 5×7 card at each table setting and I retrieve one.

It’s our menu.

“Very good!” I say as I review what’s in store for the evening:

 

Truffes au chocolat maison

Crostini—Brie et Figue, Boursin et Steak, Rillette, Servi avec salami dur et olives tricolores

Gratinee de soupe à l’oignon Français garnie de pain Français grillé et de fromage gruyère.

Coq Au Vin, pommes de terre à l’ail, petite laitue gemme avec vinaigrette à la moutarde

Tarte aux pommes Tatin avec de la crème fraîche et café

 

“Can you tell me what I’m eating here?” Jason says, and I laugh.

“Your daughter wants us to have a French experience tonight,” I say with mirth.

“Oh, I gathered as much,” he says. “I recognize French when I see it. I just can’t read it.”

“Hav a set, evyone,” Keri says. “Yoh stahtahs ah hehr.”

Christian pulls my seat out for me and Jason does for Gail.

“Well, I’m going to have wine with my hors d’oeuvres,” I say as I reach for the wine. Christian beats me to it and pours a glass for me.

“Mrs. Taylor?” he says, gesturing towards her with the bottle.

“Yes, thank you,” she says, and he fills her glass.

“The chef wud lek foh me to tell yoh tat evyting is homemed,” Keri says as she places a large cutting board on the table and leaves.

“Here are your starters, Jason,” I tell him. “The first thing on the menu is homemade chocolate truffles. That’s the confection you see there in the glass bowl covered in Swiss chocolate. The second thing you see is crostini. This one is brie and fig. This one is boursin cheese and steak. This one is rillette. It’s like a confit or a patte, for lack of a better word, but this one is pulled pork. And if she did that on her own, it took forever. You already know that’s hard salami and olives.”

Jason nods and goes for the crostini and olives, now that he knows what he’s eating. I go for the truffles.

I’m nearly shocked out of my senses.

“These are homemade?” I ask no one in particular. “She made these?”

“That’s what Keri said,” Christian says. “Are they good?”

“You have to try these!” I tell him like I just struck gold. Everyone takes a truffle and bites into it as I sip my wine.

“Wow,” Christian says, equally surprised. “These are delicious.”

“Yes, they are!” Gail says, finishing her chocolate while Jason reaches for a second.

“Don’t eat ‘em all up, you Neanderthal!” Christian scolds.

“There’s plenty!” Jason retorts, popping the second one in his mouth and reaching for a third. Gail slaps his hand.

“Ow!” he complains.

“You’ve already had two, Jason!” she scolds. “Let everyone else get a second one before you grab a third. Try the crostini.”

“I have tried the crostini and it’s delicious. You guys should try the crostini and let me have some more chocolate.” I quickly load my hors d’oeuvres plate with one of each crostino, some olives and salami and another truffle, because there’s going to be a riot in a minute. Christian does the same while Gail scolds Jason.

“Don’t fill up on chocolates before you get the main course, you toddler,” Gail teases.

“That’s okay,” he says, defiantly. “I’m going to get Baby Boo to make me my own batch of truffles.” He sticks his tongue out at his wife and Christian and I chuckle. We also here Keri and Sophie giggling in the kitchen as they, no doubt, heard the truffle exchange. Compliments to the chef.

A few minutes later, the chocolates and the crostini are all gone. Keri rolls out the serving tray—lovely gold and glass with wood—and serves the next course. It smells like home, a fire in the fireplace, and a warm sweater all rolled into one.

“So, this is the next item on your menu, Jason. It’s French onion soup gratinee topped with toasted French bread and gruyere cheese.”

“Wow,” he says. “This looks just like it does in a restaurant,” he adds, amazement in his voice.

“And it feels like a hug from the inside,” Christian chimes in.

“Tastes like one, too,” Gail says. I stop observing and letting everyone else have the fun and taste my soup. They’re right. It’s delicious. I know that you really can’t go wrong with a French onion soup, but when it’s right, it’s really right.

We refrain from licking our bowls clean when Keri comes to clear away the soup bowls and Sophie brings out the coq au vin.

“Alright, my French translator. I don’t need you to tell me what this is,” Jason says, opening the pinot noir and pouring us each a glass.

“Bon appetit,” Sophie says once she has placed the plates on the table, then leaves the room with her serving cart.

Okay, now here’s the real test. Coq au vin isn’t that hard for someone who already knows how to cook, but it can be a disaster if it’s not done right, especially if someone has a heavy salt hand.

I take a forkful and put it in my mouth. I look at everyone else, trying to gauge their reactions. We all look around at each other, and I’m the first to speak.

“This is really good!” I whisper.

“You didn’t help her?” Jason says to Gail, his voice low. Gail shakes her head in awe.

“I had given her some basic lessons before, but nothing like this!” she says. “She told me that she was making French onion soup and coq au vin, so I open and measured the red wine for her, but that was all, and that reduces when you cook it, so…” She takes another forkful of the chicken and potatoes.

“This is divine!” she exclaims quietly. I look over at Christian and he’s shoving forkfuls of chicken and potatoes in his mouth, nodding the entire time. When he raises his gaze to us, his expression screams, “Can’t talk… eating.”

I’m trying not to gobble down my dinner, but it’s kind of hard when the food is so damn good!

My dinner has settled well on my stomach and I know that we still have dessert. Keri clears the table and brings the dessert plates out to us along with the coffee service. She pours us each a steaming cup of coffee and goes back to the kitchen. Sophie comes out with a beautiful apple Tarte Tatin where the first slice has already been cut. She gives the first slice to her father and tops it with a dollop of crème fraiche before moving around the table to serve the rest of us.

“Oh,” Jason moans before we even get served. “This is so good.”

Sophie beams with pride as she serves the rest of us.

“Leave the tart, dear,” Gail says. “Your father’s almost finish with his first piece and I don’t want to have to hose him down because he wants another one.” Sophie laughs and Jason gives a good healthy “harrumph” behind his tart-filled mouth.

Dessert has been eaten and bellies are full all around the table. We drink our coffee and quietly converse about the upcoming week. Sophie comes shyly out of the kitchen and stands at the table near her father.

“So…” she says tentatively, “how did you like it?”

Each of us looks at someone else for a moment, then we break out in applause.

“Superbe!”
“Très magnifique!”
“That was outstanding!”
“Magnífica!”
“Delicioso!”

We stand to our feet and compliment Sophie’s meal in three different languages. She beams with pride as she shyly takes a small bow for a job well done.


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