Fifty Shades Golden: Chapter 12

Golden hasn’t died. She’s just been asleep for a while. The Muse will update as she feels inspired.

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

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

Fifty Shades Golden

Chapter 12

ericdane

TREY

I’m puffing and panting, trying to get air in and after a few moments of a reprieve, she has latched back onto my dick.

Goddammitmotherfuckinghellshitballsoffire!

I squeeze my eyes closed and hold my breath. Just a few minutes of this sensitivity and I’ll be ready to go again, just a few minutes… a few minutes…

“Well, that doesn’t look like the face of pleasure,” Golden’s voice says breaking through my concentration, “or even of pleasurable pain.”

What do I say? It’s not.

“No, Mistress,” I say in all honesty.

“So, why didn’t you safeword?” she asks, a bit perturbed.

“Because it wasn’t painful,” I admit. “Just uncomfortable.” She examines me for a few moments, then raises her brow at me.

“You’re multi-orgasmic,” she deduces. How the fuck…?

“Yes…” I respond slowly. She nods.

“Most of my clients are multi-orgasmic,” she says, now fondling my dick gently, a much more pleasant feeling, “but you all get to your… second coming… a little differently.” Shit, it almost feels like she’s tickling me.

“We’re still getting to know each other, Chopper,” she coos. “It’s only our second scene. You’ll have to be more forthcoming with what doesn’t please you.” She grabs the cockring and yanks it. I grunt loudly. That shit hurt.

“Yes, Mistress,” I croak, assuming that was some sort of punishment. I feel her hands on my dick again—they’re oily this time—and my cock is somewhat flaccid. She yanks again. Fuck! And again! Fucking hell! And a third time and…

Pop!

My balls are free. The cockring is still at the base of my shaft, but my balls are free. A gentle hand cups my tender testicles and roll them back and forth in the oily palm. God, that feels good—not erotic…yet, but soothing. I almost fucking purr. The blood flow to my dick is restricted and now, it’s involuntarily getting hard again, even though it was bound to happen with her ass still in my face and her soft hand still down there cupping my balls. I bite my lip to suppress a moan.

“There,” she says. “That’s more like it.” What she’s really saying is, “I so own you,” because she knows, right now, she does.

That soothing feeling on my balls is slowly beginning to become arousing, and I’m resenting being strapped down to this table. I want to grind my hips into her hand and feel some friction on the skin of my dick to match the soothing, aching, taunting of my balls. I close my eyes and try to focus on relaxing, but even with my eyes closed, I’m seeing her naked ass behind my eyelids… and I’m thinking about fucking it… something I’ll probably never have. Why am I torturing myself this way? Why am I letting her tortu…

Fuck! What the fuck is that?

I feel something at the head of my dick that feels like fresh pussy. My eyes jolt open, because I’m sure I still feel her hand on my cock. What the fuck?

Her ass is still in my face, so I know it’s not her pussy. Dammit.

It’s not her mouth. I know what her mouth feels like. Only after two scenes, I can pick that mouth out of a crowd. You can line up ten women and tell them to suck my dick, and I would know which one was Golden without even looking. I just ought to; every time she sucked my dick, I was blindfolded.

So, this ain’t her mouth.

What the fuck is it, then?

She holds my now very stiff dick in one hand and pushes the head of it inside of this thing… slowly… tightly… fuck!

It’s a Fleshlight.

Let me explain the dynamics of a Fleshlight. I have a Fleshlight. I’ve used a Fleshlight more than once. It’s not something that I would use on a regular basis, mostly because pussy is plentiful in my life and I don’t really need to, but when I was first discovering just how powerful my sex drive really was, most of my girlfriends couldn’t keep up with me.

Enter Fleshlight.

Fleshlight will spoil you for women. Why? Because fucking Fleshlight is almost like fucking a virgin every time. Granted, you don’t get the thrill of holding a woman, slapping an ass, kissing, and all the other perks that come with fucking a warm body, but if you’re looking for the ultimate nut and that’s it, Fleshlight is definitely the way to go. It can come with the opening to pussy lips, an asshole, a mouth, or ass cheeks and the inner texture can be smooth, ribbed, bumpy, swirly, you name it. If you spend your money on the real thing and not the knock-offs, every time you stick your dick in Fleshlight, that fucker is tight.

Every. Single. Time.

So, if you fuck it all night long, it’s tight while you’re in it. Then if you pull your dick out and stick it back in, you still get that first entry feeling every time—you know, that feeling when you’ve been away from your girl for a while and you’re about to tear the walls down and that pussy is so tight that you have to work your way into it, and she grimaces while you’re doing it? Yeah, Fleshlight is like that every time.

Every. Single. Fucking. Time.

So, imagine having this Temptress of Torture with your dick in one hand and the real thing Fleshlight in the other working your cock over like the master that she is. I nearly lose my fucking mind. She’s got one hand guiding my dick and the other controlling the Fleshlight. Her torment begins by rolling the head around the mouth of this thing, and I think this opening is an asshole. Life-like, fleshy, silicon massaging the head of my dick. I can feel my body trembling.

Next, instead of pushing the Fleshlight down on my dick, she uses her hand to push my dick up into the Fleshlight. First entry… tight as fuck…

“Uuummmph!”

It’s nearly fucking unbearable. She pushes and pulls my dick and I’m fucking this Fleshlight, wanting to climb the hell off this comfortable ass table, but completely immobilized and unable to move. Just a few tormenting strokes and she pulls my cock out of the Fleshlight. Fucking hell! My dick is fucking aching now. She gives it no reprieve from her gentle hands and I’m licking my lips, trying to soothe the dryness in my mouth. This is inhumane!

That damn thing is on my head again, massaging like first entry, and then…

“Uummmpppphh!”

First entry again. It’s so fucking tight, squeezing and caressing the head of my dick again. If I could move, my back would be arching right now. The head of my dick fucks this Fleshlight for several minutes until my cock is hot and hard and very, very excited.

She repeats this torment several times—the Fleshlight edging me, my cock fucking the Fleshlight, a long and slow stroke that leaves me gagging to come. Each agonizingly slow pull threatens to have my cock blow its load any second. I’ll never look at a Fleshlight again the same way as long as I live!

I’m clawing at the leather by the time she releases my dick this time, I won’t make it through another ruined orgasm like that.

Ruined orgasms. Fuck! Is that what she’s doing?

That new entry hits my dick again and the feeling is nearly excruciating. She knows exactly what she’s doing, and the tension has the rest of my body so tight and wracked with pain that I don’t think I’ll survive another entry, but first, I have to survive this fucking edging.

“Fuck!” I whisper. I can’t help it. My body aches and my cock is on fire.

“Did you say something, Chopper?” she taunts, but my mouth won’t work now. I can’t open my eyes right now as they are locked shut along with my gritting teeth and clenching jaw. My dick is on its own now. None of my muscles are listening to me. I’m at their mercy. Just when my balls are about to give up the fight, she pulls that fucker off the head of my dick. The opening caresses the tender frenulum, and I’m certain that she got a little jizz with that move.

“Fuck!” I grunt out again between grinding teeth. I think she’s scolding me… or something… but I can’t hear her. I can only hear the blood rushing through my ears; I can hear the sweat bursting from every pore and rolling down my body to the soft leather table, to my balls, in my face to my eyes; I can hear my muscles flexing and contracting each time that fucking portable asshole tortures my dick; I can hear my balls screaming for release and cursing me every second for subjecting them to this treatment…

But I can’t hear Golden.

First entry comes again, and I groan mournfully, unable to take even the slightest touch, and she knows it. She knows the man’s body too fucking well, because she knows exactly when you’re about to come. She holds the Fleshlight still—tight on my dick. I feel my shaft throbbing inside of it—not coming, just throbbing. I can hear my ragged breathing, feel my pulse accelerate, and I can still hear my blood, sweat, and muscles, too.

She just stays there for a few moments while my cock throbs and my balls tighten. I’m completely out of control of this situation, and she’s going to make me suffer. Maybe this is my punishment for speaking.

I’m ready to tap out.

Just as my muscles begin to relax only a bit, she pulls that fucking Fleshlight, and my body is alight again. Fuck punishment.

“Aaaww, shit,” I groan, somewhat resigned to my fate, but not liking it one bit. I’ve never had to come so bad that my body hurt. I’ve chased an orgasm before until I ached from the workout, but never this. When the Fleshlight starts to move again, I almost want to cry. I’m ready for this to stop, now. I’ve never been denied an orgasm and I’m certain that I don’t like it—the tightening of the muscles in my back, my balls feeling like they’re going to explode, and my dick as hard as a sausage about to burst from its skin, burning and aching so badly that…

“Aahh! Aahh! Aaaaaaahhhh shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!”

She has pulled the Fleshlight off my dick now, but her mouth is stroking up and down over the skin of my frenulum while her tongue massages the tender, sensitive bundle of nerves. I’m exploding fantastically—painful jolts coursing through my cock as that powerful mass of muscle at the base of my balls pushes stream after hot stream of cum from my dick. I can’t see it; I don’t have to. I can feel every painfully pleasurable contraction, each one several seconds long. If nothing is coming out of my dick, it just ought to be, and I can’t open my eyes even if I wanted to.

She gives my dick that fantastic oral massage until the very last contraction, and I’m sure that she has emptied my scrotum for days to come! I’m choking on air, trying to get precious breath into my lungs. I can’t. I can’t concentrate on this one simple thing… breathing.

“Settle down, Chopper,” a soft, seductive voice says to me. “Relax. In through your nose, out through your mouth…”

I follow the instructions of the goddess’s voice, afraid that I’ll suffocate if I don’t. In through my nose, out through my mouth….

I feel the restraints release from my ankles. For some reason, that calms me a bit… and saddens me at the same time.

In through my nose, out through my mouth…

I can feel my muscles relaxing and my thoughts coming together now. Focus, Grey.

In through my nose, out through my mouth…

The restraints release from my wrists and I breathe a deep sigh of relief. I also lament the release a bit, because I know that our scene is over.

“Take all the time you need,” she coos. “I’ll see you upstairs…”

I don’t think I’ve fallen asleep, but I’ve clearly lost a little time. What the hell happened? I know she talked about transcending, but this was ridiculous.

I slowly lift my exhausted body from the table, first turning onto my side, then rolling onto my ass—still painful from playtime. That’s going to sting longer than the last one did.

God, I came so hard that I have to check under the table to see if brain matter is left down there.

Not even my cum. Did she cover the floor with something? Did she clean before she went upstairs? That’s not likely.

“Did she swallow?” I ask no one. That would have been impossible. Her mouth was sideways on my frenulum until my orgasm stopped. I know I came… good God, did I come! So, where’s the evidence?

My shaky legs carry me over to the valet where I retrieve my clothes and haphazardly get dressed. I was wrong—my dick and balls are tender, light, and so empty that she can do this to me anytime! I drag my ass up the stairs and Mr. Belvedere is just beyond the door, as usual. That creeps me the fuck out.

“Do you need anything?” he asks again and waits for instructions.

“Where is she?” I ask. “Why is she never here when I come upstairs?” Belvedere doesn’t react to my question.

“The lady’s visitors usually understand that any aftercare would be administered by me,” he says. “I’m a licensed home health care professional able to tend to any surface or subcutaneous wounds that do not require immediate medical attention. I understand that a level of trust and familiarity is required to allow a stranger—much less, another man—to administer your aftercare, in which case, you can feel free to employ someone else to do so at your discretion.”

That’s his subtle way of saying that I can forget about getting the Golden treatment for my aftercare.

“Did you…?” I don’t even know how to ask this question. “Did you come down there… after…?” His brow furrows, but his mask is soon impassive again.

“No,” he replies. “I don’t enter the dungeon until it’s empty.”

Then what the hell happened to my cum?

“Where is she?” I repeat my question.

“The parlor,” he says, gesturing in that direction. I don’t entertain his company anymore. I head straight for the parlor. I can hear music as usual. She’s listening to her revolutionary. I don’t know the song, but I know his voice. Is he all she listens to, or is this what she listens to after a scene? This song almost sounds like a love song. His voice is mellow and he’s talking about wanting to be with someone, then a woman’s voice comes in talking about having faith. It hardly sounds like the revolutionary she described.

I noticed his lyrics often talk about destiny, but he drags the word out… like “destineeeee.” What’s that all about?

It’s this moment that I realize that she’s wearing that same golden dress that I dry-humped her in. Hmmm…

“Are you coming in or are you just going to lurk there in the doorway?”

Jesus! Her voice startles me. What the fuck is going on with me tonight? It was just an orgasm, for fucks sake.

“I was listening to your revolutionary,” I admit. “That doesn’t sound like what I would expect from him.”

“That’s a sign of true genius,” she says, impassively. “They can change up seamlessly and still make good music. Sit.” She gestures to the sofa and turns to the bar. It’s amazing to me that she assumes that I can sit after one of our scenes. She makes a drink and when she turns around, I’m still standing.

“Rebellious man, aren’t you?” she says, holding a mixed drink of dark liquor. That’s odd for her. She’s a vodka drinker.

“Tell me, Mistress,” I begin, “just how many of your clients can sit after a scene?” She twists her lips.

“Point taken,” she says, “but more than you think. Many of them accept the aftercare.” I nod.

“And of those, how many are Dominants?” I inquire. She raises an eyebrow at me.

“It may surprise you to know that you’re not my only dominant personality, Chopper,” she informs me. “They may not all be Dominants in the playroom sense, but when it comes to being in charge, I have a few that can give you a real run for your money.” She hands me the drink. There’s a switch. The drink is for me. She made me a drink… she wants something.

“Are you going to let my arm fall off?” she chides. I take the drink from her and sip. Jack and Coke. Did she watch me? Did Belvedere tell her? What does she want?

“You’re right,” she says, and I’m wondering what she’s talking about. “I want something from you.”

Fuck, am I that transparent?

“You need to sit, because I want to sit and I’m not accustomed to people standing over me.” She gestures to the sofa again. “The cushions are memory foam—for just such an occasion as this.”

Well… okay.

I sit on the sofa. It hurts, of course, but then the cushion melds to my form and it doesn’t hurt so much. Why didn’t I notice this when I sat on this sofa before?

“I want information,” she says, taking a seat on the sofa across from me. Her revolutionary begins talking about belief in a higher power and she begins her questioning. “I know that you said Elena asked you to help her when her businesses were failing. I need you to give me more details on the matter.”

Okay, where the hell is this going?

“Exactly what details to you need?” I ask. “She wanted help, I refused. I didn’t consider us to be friends anymore and I owed her nothing. I was appalled and offended that she had the audacity to come to me in the first place.”

“Why would she think you had something to do with her demise?” She presses.

“Why are you so curious about this?” I ask. Her brow furrows.

“Why are you so evasive?” She retorts.

“I’m not evasive. There’s nothing to tell.” She examines me carefully, then her face changes.

“Oh, my God,” she says, her hand moving to her cheek. “You did do something to her, or you at least had something to do with her business failing.” How could she possibly know that?

“I never said…”

“You can’t bullshit a bullshitter, Trey!” she snaps, rising from her seat. “I can soft-shoe with the best of them, in and out of the courtroom! Why do you think I’m so fucking good at what I do, in and out of the courtroom?” She walks away from the sofa and begins pacing around her parlor.

“Look, Elena is the reason for her own destruction,” I press, and it’s the truth. “She’s too goddamn cocky and that’s what caused her demise.”

“Tell me what the hell you did, Trey,” Goldie insists.

“Tell me what this is all about,” I retort. I’m not giving her any information until she gives me some first.

“Goddammit, this is not some boardroom positioning game!” she yells, spinning around on me. “This is my fucking life! This woman broke your goddamn arm and now, she’s coming at me with her talons drawn and I don’t even know what the fuck I’m up against. Now, you give me full fucking disclosure right now or I’ll use my resources and find what I need on my own, and you can get the fuck out of my house and never darken my goddamn door again!”

Dammit to hell, I thought I was a Dominant until this moment. Her tone, the firmness in her voice, and the thought of leaving this house and never seeing her again would have me confessing to the Kennedy assassination.

“I. Did not. Destroy. Elena’s. Business.” I say firmly. “I will admit to one rumor. One rumor. Her demise after that was all her own doing.”

Goldie examines me further, then comes back to the sofa and sits across from me.

“Full disclosure,” she says again, crossing her arms and legs while glaring at me expecting.

“I’ll give you full disclosure, but that leaves me wide open. You have to give me something, too. That’s only fair… Mistress.” She played that card on me and she knows she did, so I’m playing it back.

“Fine, but you give me full disclosure first,” she retorts, quickly without flinching. She’s not going to back down from this. I throw my drink back and put the glass on the end table.

“A long time ago, right after I got into the lifestyle, Elena and I used to have a thing,” I begin. “We fucked a few times and that was it.” I raise my eyes to Goldie. Her gaze is impassive.

“Go on,” she says, giving nothing away.

“We stayed friends,” I continue, “fucked once in a while, shared submissives, but the sexual part of the relationship just faded. She tried to get it back every now and then, but it never happened.”

“How long?” I look at her again. “The last time, how long ago was it?” I strain to think, then shrug.

“Four or five years, maybe, I don’t know exactly.” She nods.

“Continue,” she demands.  I clear my throat, more than a little miffed that she’s ordering me around outside the dungeon… not that she orders me around inside the dungeon. Nonetheless…

“She did challenge me to get you,” I say. “She knew that I would never have you the way that I wanted and she taunted me about it. The more she taunted me, the more I wanted you. The more she told me that I would never have you, the more determined I became to get you. You became an obsession, but you already knew that. You drove me out of my mind and you weren’t even there…”

I’m straying from the story.

“Anyway, the day you shot at me, I should have become discouraged, but I wasn’t. I just wanted you more. The whole series of events that followed that is why Madame Petra is so convinced that I solely orchestrated her downfall.” I pause.

“I’m listening,” Goldie says, and I continue.

“I saw her the day after you and I shared our… first orgasm,” I say. “That’s when she told me about the guy who raped you.”

“He didn’t rape me,” she hisses. “Rape indicates a violent act—some poor waif getting held down, beaten, and some asshole tearing into her while she cries and begs him to stop. That’s not what happened to me. I said, ‘no,’ he forcefully persisted.  He was stronger than me, so I stopped resisting. You can’t very well be a Domme with your face beaten all to hell because some asshole wanted some pussy and you refused. When he was done taking what didn’t belong to him, I made sure that he fucking well wasn’t ever going to do it again. So, while I understand the concept of ‘no means no,’ and the rape laws are what kept me out of jail, I wasn’t raped—I was robbed. He took my body without my permission, so I took his fucking legs.”

Ooookay. Well, I won’t get into the logistics of that with the counselor. The details are still the same.

“Um, okay. So, when she told me about the incident with the gun, I became enraged and ended our friendship. Then I spread one rumor to a submissive or three that her salon had a bedbug infestation. It gave women the heebie-jeebies and that was enough to alert the health department to go check her out. They found nothing, but it did no good. Her reputation was already on a downward spiral.” Goldie examines me with narrowed eyes.

“That’s it?” she questions. “There’s nothing else?” I shake my head.

“There’s nothing else,” I confirm. “Rumors happen all the time. Restaurants get bad grades from the health department, close up shop, clean things up and reopen for business. They don’t shut down. She was so busy with the ‘deny’ game that she didn’t bother with any kind of damage control. That’s why her businesses failed—not because of me.”

“You’re telling me that the entire fall of the Salons to the Elite was an imaginary bedbug problem?” she asks in disbelief. Before I can nod, she speaks again. “Things are starting to make sense now, but that doesn’t explain the broken arm. How did she figure out that it was you?”

“She put two and two together,” I admit. “I still denied the whole thing, but she wasn’t deterred. She’s totally convinced that I had something to do with it, but she doesn’t know what. She came to ask me for help and I refused. Somehow, at that moment, she knew. She launched a potted plant at me and I put my arm up to shield my face. The rest is history.” Goldie shakes her head.

“With a good ad campaign and a few strategically placed testimonials, she could’ve avoided all of this. Yet, she’s trying to find scapegoats…” Goldie is up and pacing again. “While she rightly has you penned for whatever role you played in this, she now has her claws pointed at me.” I frown.

“What?” I ask confused.

“Once she discovered that we’re engaging, I became your partner-in-crime in her downfall.”

“How did she find out that we’re… engaging?” I ask. I sure as hell don’t talk to her ass anymore.

“I told her,” Goldie says. “And you know that if you two were still friends, you would have told her, too. So, don’t judge me.”

Well, she got me dead to rights there.

“Her hope was that you would dethrone me, for lack of a better word, so I called to gloat, that I had you and we had reached an agreement, and that I was still sitting on the throne. She flipped out. Started calling me names, declaring that we were in this together all along, threatening me… It probably didn’t help that I stopped going to her salons shortly before the rumor circulated.”

“Well, I certainly wasn’t trying to implicate you in all of this. Hell, I thought we’d never see each other again.” She raises and eyebrow at me.

“That’s why you kept that necklace for six months?” she inquires. “Or found another one just like it.” Dammit to hell!

“I’ve asked myself the same question,” I admit.

“Whatever the case may be, I could give a fuck less what goes on with her. Nobody died, but she’s convinced that I’m in on it and now she and her psycho husband have their sights set on me!”

Wait… what?

“What are you talking about? What do you mean she and her psycho husband?”

“Yeah, I had the displeasure of meeting that freaky frosted fuck at the Civil Community Fundraiser a couple of weeks ago. She thinks I have something to do with whatever it is that you did. I’m sure she’s told him about it, too. No doubt, they’ve had lovely conversations about me. Why do you think Jesse is following me around? Did you think I just suddenly found the need to hire a bodyguard?”

“But why the fuck would Linc care? Yeah, he’s probably pissed about the businesses, but not enough to come after you, I wouldn’t think…”

“Oh, no, I think that may have had something to do with you. At least in the beginning, I’m sure it did. He made a huge display of referring to me as your ‘new piece of ass’—in front of Senator Earnhart, I might add, and probably to several other attendees of the fundraiser until I threatened him with a lawsuit. From there, he cornered me on the smoker’s balcony in the goddamn cold and proceeded to feel me out to be his own concubine. When I was less than receptive to his advances, he assaulted me by blowing smoke directly in my face.”

I feel my blood pressure rising. Linc actually went after her because he thought she was with me. Then, when he found out that she wasn’t, he actually went after her—aggressively! I don’t know which of those pisses me off the most. He’s calling me out. I don’t know why, but he is. He hasn’t had enough of Christian Grey making a fool of him, I see. I guess I’ll have to give that platinum-headed pencil-dick what he’s asking for.

“That fucking asshole,” I say out loud. “Me and Linc, it’s personal, Golden.”

“Personal in that you were fucking his wife?” she asks coolly. My mouth forms a thin line.

“He never knew,” I tell her. “He suspected, but he never found out…”

“But he did know, Trey,” she retorts. “You don’t have to see someone’s dick in your wife’s pussy to know they’re fucking, and he knew. So, what did he do?”

“The only thing he could. He started a rumor. Had the press knocking at my door.”

“Well, like you said, damage control could have taken care of that…”

“I didn’t need damage control,” I reply. “A well-placed ‘What the fuck are you talking about’ here and a ‘What the hell do I look like to you’ there was enough to throw those dogs off the scent, especially since our sexual relationship was headed downhill by that time anyway.”

“That’s damage control, Chopper,” she says, and there’s that fucking name again. “And what did you do after that?”

“I facilitated the closing and/or acquisition of seven of his subsidiaries. Three of them were crucial to his business.” She nods.

“And that’s why it’s personal,” she says, “why he’s after me. I’m an acquisition… or so he thinks.” I raise my brow at her. “He found out the hard way that it doesn’t really do to fool with me, and I didn’t even have to draw my firearm.”

Draw her firearm… that leaves me a bit uncomfortable.


Briana Evigan Ch 12 small

GOLDEN

That dick has had all it can take right about now. I can’t even describe the angry throbbing and pulsing each time I swirl that head around the opening of the Fleshlight and push it in, not to mention the shivering and painful groans Chopper emits with each new entry, each slow and agonizing stroke, and each teasing withdrawal. He’s going to come like a fucking rocket. And as soon as I see that tension just under his balls and at the base of his dick, I pull that Fleshlight off and…

“Aahh! Aahh! Aaaaaaahhhh shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!”

I wrap my mouth sideways around that dick and frenulum and tickle and manipulate ferociously, and there’s my 21-gun salute—no disrespect intended. He’s shooting off long, impressive streams of hot white passion, making me glad that I remembered to put a disposable lining on the floor before the fireworks began. I wouldn’t want to clean it up and I just feel funny leaving it for Blake to do, even though I know that he would. But damn, the release is so hard that he could put somebody’s eye out!

I continue to manipulate and watching the magnificent show out of my peripheral. God, I wouldn’t have missed that for the world. I stroke and suck and lick until the long, purposeful, concentrated streams become short, forced spurts, and then oozing drips squeezing the last iotas of pleasure from his body and balls.

His orgasm was massive, and I have to coach him to breathe properly so that he doesn’t hyperventilate. I know he’ll most likely have a short period of incoherence once he catches his breath since I still have him strapped down, and he’s in the perfect position for sleep. He came so fucking hard that I’m certain that the massive release of prolactin, oxytocin, and melatonin he’ll feel in about 20 seconds will have him loopy and punch-drunk as fuck. So, after I release his binds and see his body relaxing into total submission, I whisper, “Take all the time you need. I’ll see you upstairs.”

I don’t even know if he heard me. His body has sunk into the soft leather of the table and he’s floating somewhere in the cosmos in a state of semi-consciousness that grasps every man after he’s had an orgasm… well, almost every man.

I quietly slide the floor cover from under the table, roll it up, and dispose of it, quickly cleaning the spots where Mr. Impressive shot his load too far and missed the cover. God, that dick is something else and should be registered as dangerous with the ATF!

I dressed a bit for his fantasy. He didn’t fool me one bit with this necklace. He’s a Domme and this has “collar” written all over it. He knows I’ll never be his submissive, but to make him come so hard while I’m wearing it that he thinks he shot pieces of his brain out of his dick, so much so that he has to lie helpless on the table until his muscles regain some of their strength—yeah, that’s about as close to the fantasy as he’s going to get…

Lying there, face down on my submissive table. From where I’m standing, I can see his body rise and fall from the regulated breathing that comes right at the point of subconscious relaxation. It’s that point where a man would normally fall asleep right after sex, but he has the proverbial “one eye open” because he’s in a place where he knows he can’t stay. I can also see the pink and red welts on his back from the one tool I used tonight—my flogger. Masterful, artistic stripes adorn his back and ass, and for him not to be a submissive, he achieved subspace at least three times in the process.

Last, but certainly not least, I can see his dick—flaccid from a severely intense orgasm but hanging impressively through the hole in the table nonetheless. I lick my lips looking at it, thinking about it…

And totally forget where I am.

He talks about me teasing men with my body and my charms—that thing is enough to dicktimize any woman alive. Elena was right in using him to try to get me to heel. If he fucked me with that tool, I’d be completely ruined.

It’s not that it’s the biggest I’ve ever seen. He’s well-endowed, but I’ve seen bigger. I have one client who’s so big that I wouldn’t allow him anywhere near my pussy with that wall of meat even if I was into fucking. But Chopper, that piece of meat is beautiful, and the way he responds, and it responds when he’s aroused… good God. To call it a masterpiece is a massive understatement.

I shake myself out of my inner musings, wrap my body in golden silk, and ascend the stairs. I was wearing something different when he arrived. He’s sure to recognize this dress when he sees it. With a nod to Blake, I go to my parlor and pour myself a drink. I’m in the mood for something mellow, but it has to be Pac. My endorphins and hormones are always on the wild when I’m done with a scene, even if I come. That’s why I need a few moments of silence with a vodka and a lollipop at the clubs. People think it’s all part of this untouchable image that I portray, but it’s not. It’s the equivalent of what Trey is doing down there on my table right now—regrouping; basking in the splendor of the moment and slowly coming down from a high. That’s why I don’t want to be disturbed when I go to my table, but someone invariably does, anyway. It’s the nature of the beast.

Here at home, in my parlor, it’s vodka and Tupac—any Tupac. He speaks to the rebel and the poet in me. He was so misunderstood because of the genre of music he chose to record. Only those of us who peeled back his layers and truly saw what was underneath—the activist, the philosopher, the poet, the revolutionary—could even understand his struggle or what he was trying to accomplish in his short life.

I choose a playlist that I always considered Tupac’s love songs, even though none of his music was… is particularly romantic in any way. As my mind and body descends from its hormone-induced high, a million thoughts swirl through my head and I have to try to narrow my thinking down to one or two. The two most prevalent thoughts right now—Trey’s dick… and Elena and her frosted phantom husband.

Talk about different ends of the spectrum.

I haven’t heard anything from the blonde bitch or her white-haired counterpart since the party, but the truth is that I’ve never truly faced her has a nemesis, so I have no idea what to expect. Her husband is so fucking transparent that he doesn’t scare me. The tidbits that Mrs. Lincoln likes to drop, however, can be more dangerous than anything that he could do to me and I need more information on what I’m up against, because I’m ready to go balls to the walls with this bitch if I must.

And I’m getting the feeling that I must.

She’s too damn quiet, and I don’t trust her.

I feel him before I see him, and I turn around to see him gazing at me. Don’t fall in love, Trey. It’s bad for your health.

“Are you coming in or are you just going to lurk there in the doorway?” I ask, snapping him out of whatever daydream had him standing there staring at me…

*-*

After I threaten to stop seeing him, he tells me everything that happened between him and Blondie. I probably wouldn’t have fucked with him at all knowing that they were once intimate. I don’t like sharing anything with that plastic bitch, but what’s done is done, and ending our situationship at this point would truly be and exercise in futility. I did, however, get some valuable information on why Mrs. Lincoln thinks I’m in on the conspiracy that destroyed her salons. Trey’s right. He really didn’t destroy her business. Her stupidity and lack of action did that. Why didn’t she go about the business of damage control when the rumors broke? Rumors are just rumors—they don’t become truths unless you give them life—or do nothing and just let them fester.

However, I stopped frequenting Esclava very shortly before the rumors started. Then she doesn’t see me for several months, during which time, her and Trey’s friendship is terminated, her salons fail, and she gets into a physical altercation with him where she breaks his arm and ends up getting arrested. Then, I pop back up on the scene, and Trey and I are suddenly a thing.

I would think something was rotten in Denmark, too, if I were her, but that’s one of Blondie’s fatal flaws. She’s transparent and she doesn’t strategize. Anyone in any line of business needs that simple skill. Nonetheless…

Here I sit in my parlor with Trey getting that same angry gleam in his eye that the Senator got when I told him that Linc accosted me. The Silver Specter is making a lot of enemies in a short span of time. I hope he got the hint to stay the fuck away from me as I have a feeling that my wrath will be the least of his worries if he doesn’t take heed.

“What do you mean he found out the hard way?” Trey asks about Linc’s lesson to leave me alone.

“You mean besides the fact that I told him I’d cut his dick off and he reacted as if it would be a pleasurable experience?” I ask. “Jesse had him suspended in pain for a few minutes before he was unceremoniously escorted from a very exclusive party.”

“Jesse?” Trey asks with a frown.

“My bodyguard,” I say as I refresh my drink.

“Suspended in pain? Do elaborate.” I shrug.

“Some type of pressure point hold on his shoulder when he grabbed my wrist,” I say, waving him off. “He’s harmless. The big bad brutes don’t scare me, but the two of them together—that might be a problem.” Trey scoffs. What’s so damn funny?

“Elena and Linc don’t work together on anything,” he says. “They’re like oil and water and I don’t even know why they’re still married.” I raise my brow at him.

“Have they ever had a common nemesis?” I ask sipping my drink. Trey shrugs.

“I don’t think so,” he says. “Not that I know of, anyway.”

“And now they do,” I point out. “Two, in fact, depending on how you look at it. Blondie wants to see you fall, and the Silver Dog wants to see me bow.” I put my drink on the bar. “It looks like we’re going to be co-conspirators whether we want to or not.”

“That doesn’t seem so bad to me,” he says suggestively. I twist my lips at him.

“Down, boy,” I chide.

*-*

Armed with the information that I now know about Blondie’s salons, I decide to go on a bit of a fishing expedition. No use in Trey having all the fun. You want to accuse me of having something to do with closing down your salons? Send that frosted ice king of a husband of yours after me like I’m some cheap acquisition? Okay, bitch. You want to see what dirty looks like? I’ll show you what it looks like. Let the punishment fit the crime.

I start with Bowie, then Chroma. Then I move to Stella and Circa. Once I explain my plight, no one really wants to talk to me. No one wants to get involved… or they know Blondie and don’t want to cross her. Nonetheless, I leave my card with instructions to contact me or pass the word along if they should come across any information.

It’s not until I get to Gene Juarez that I get any luck. After having spent the morning with a big goose-egg of co-conspirators, I decide to take a different tact going into Gene Juarez. Since I’m usually wearing some sort of wig during my jaunts and scenes at the clubs and my daytime hairstyle is the Miss Trunchbull bun, I haven’t bothered with any kind of cut and condition since I stopped going to Esclava. So, needless to say, I’m in desperate need of some TLC, not to mention that my feet are barking from being all over downtown Seattle this morning.

 

Managers and appointment takers may not want to talk, but pedicurists and stylists, yeah… they’re chatty.

“I know I don’t have an appointment, and I’ll take anybody who can squeeze me in, but it’s been a looooooong morning at the courthouse and my feet are in agony. I would kill for a deluxe pedicure right now. I’ll even pay in advance…” I reach into my wallet and pull out my Amex black. I’ve already scoped the basic price list on the other side of the counter. A classic pedicure is $55. By me saying that my feet hurt and I want a deluxe, they can easily work me for $200, not to mention the sparkles in the hostess’s eyes at the sight of my Amex.

“No problem, ma’am,” she says to my Amex—er, I mean, to me. “I’m sure we can fit you in.” I sigh like she’s saving my life.

“Thank you,” I breathe dramatically. I’ll save my hair for the next salon. She looks at her book and makes a quick call.

“Eve will be ready for you in about ten minutes. Do you mind waiting?” she asks.

“Not at all,” I say, pulling out my phone and texting Blake to call me in five and again in fifteen. With me standing at her podium, she has no choice but to talk to me.

“So, what do you do at the courthouse?” she asks. I’m dressed like a court reporter, but unless I’m fucking an extremely generous judge, she knows there’s no way I can be a court reporter, waving an Amex black around.

“I’m an attorney,” I say, slightly over-exaggerated exhaustion lacing my voice. I’m tired, but I’m not that tired.

“Really? What kind of law do you practice?” I laugh and wave her off.

“What don’t I practice?” I jest. “Corporate, defense, family law, civil litigation… all of it.” She raises a brow.

“I thought attorneys usually specialized in one area,” she said. I twist my lips as if in consideration of her statement.

“Generally, yes,” I tell her, “but I’m a wretched overachiever. All you have to do is pass the bar, then you can go in whatever direction you please. My specialization is criminal law. Everything else from there is continuing education, extra classes in college, and basically being self-taught.”

The hostess, whom I discover is called Venus, is visibly impressed.

“Really?” she probes. “You must be in pretty high demand. Sounds pretty lucrative.”

“Yes, and it can be,” I say with a chuckle. “The fees on one of my corporate cases alone paid for my house…” That’s the truth, “… but most of my criminal cases, I take pro-bono, especially if I’m dealing with a family who is underprivileged or living paycheck-to-paycheck and just can’t afford an attorney. I have to believe the defendant, too.”

“Why would you take them pro-bono?” she asks. “Why not just let the public defender handle it?”

“Because at the risk of hurting someone’s feelings, public defenders suck!” I say emphatically and Venus laughs. “I would never want to put an innocent person’s fate in the hands of a public defender. Not only that, I think the real criminal act is in requiring someone to pay for decent representation to defend themselves in court for something that they didn’t do.” And Venus is impressed again.

“That’s extremely noble,” she says, unable to hide her awe. “Doesn’t that cost you a lot though?”

“I can afford it,” I dismiss her. “What’s really bad is some mother having to put her house up to pay for a defense attorney because her son was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.” My phone rings and I retrieve it.

Blake. Right on time.

“Hello, Darling,” I say into the phone.

“Hello,” Blake says without missing a beat. “Should I call you ‘darling,’ or will the normal greeting suffice?”

“The usual. Thank you,” I say in a playful, coy voice.

“Very well. And what can I do for you, Mistress?”

“You already have,” I reply. “Thank you so much. I found someone to do my pedicure. I thought I’d be completely lost after that last experience.”

“Ah, I see,” he says. “A plan is afoot?” Nice play on words.

“Oh, definitely,” I reply. “I left that establishment so quickly, I didn’t take time to find another one. Now I think I have.”

“Very well. Is there anything else you need me for, Mistress?” I smile.

“I always do, but you’re a sweetheart for calling. Talk to you soon.”

“Goodbye, Mistress…” I can hear him smiling through the phone.

“Bye-bye.” I end the call and smile at the phone.

“Your sweetheart?” Venus says. I giggle coyly.

“I’d be lost without him,” I reply honestly without answering her question. Her brow furrows.

“You had a bad experience at another salon?” she asks. I roll my eyes dramatically and scratch my arm.

“Oh, you have no idea!” I say, my voice heavily lamenting. I lean in to Venus like I’m about to reveal a secret. “I had a client secure my services for being traumatized at a local salon. One of the big ones!” I whisper the last words.

“Really?” she says, completely sucked in to the conversation.

“Yes,” I say, looking conspiratorially over my shoulder as if to be sure no one else heard me. “Imagine my horror when I discover that it was the same salon chain that I had been frequenting for at least a year prior. Unsanitary conditions, rumors of being closed by the health department, possible bedbugs…” I shiver.

“Oh, yes!” Venus says, realization dawning. “Esclava!” A few heads turn in our direction. Jackpot.

“Yes!” I say, gesturing in a motion for her to keep it down. No, Venus, talk louder! Talk louder!

“I heard about her,” Venus says. “I think she ended up closing, didn’t she?” I nod.

“Yes, she did,” I confirm. “Supposedly, the claims were untrue, but that wretched woman never released a statement confirming or denying any of the accusations unless I missed it!” She didn’t, I’ve already checked and confirmed with Trey. She was too busy trying to put the fires out to be concerned with a little thing like damage control.

“I don’t know, I never saw one,” Venus says.

“Neither did I,” I say leaning in again, “and let me tell you. I’m an attorney and I know from experience that the innocent scream their plight from the rooftops! The guilty stay silent and hope not to get caught. That’s why they often ‘plead the fifth amendment.’ It protects them from incriminating themselves.”

I can see the wheels turning in Venus’ head, just now putting two and two together about one Mrs. Elena Lincoln. And with all the heads turning this way, someone is bound to stop and ask her about the conversation we were having when they come to cash out.

“It has wreaked havoc on my nerves ever since I heard about it!” I say, scratching my neck and arms intermittently. “I’ve been to my doctor for a thorough examination… twice! I’ve had my home inspected at least three times. All the professionals say that there’s absolutely nothing to worry about, but the whole thing still gives me the heebie-jeebies. Oh God, just the thought of it…!” And I’m scratching again. Venus also begins to scratch instinctively. Bingo.

“Venus, I’m ready for the next client.” An exuberant woman a little younger than me comes from the back. She smiles widely at me, silently welcoming me to the salon.

“Well, Ms. Olivet, I can guarantee that you won’t have that experience here. Now, you go on with Eve and relax. Let us take care of you.” She smiles a winning smile in my direction as well.

“Thank you so much,” I say, flashing my own array of perfect pearly whites. “And please, call me Ana…”

Moments later, I’ve struck up the same conversation with Eve after faking a second call with Blake, assuring him that I’ve found a “clean” salon with wonderful staff who have really made me feel welcome. By the time the conversation is over, Eve has put the bits and pieces together and questions what bad experience I had, and the staged conversation ensues again. She confides in me that several of their clients were previously clients of Esclava. I feign concern of breaking attorney/client privilege. However, first, there’s no client—yet… but she doesn’t know that. Second, I’m only talking about my own experiences. I can produce a bill for a home inspection in a second if I need to, but if my plan falls into place, I won’t have to.

“You’re right, though,” she says as I sit there letting my toes dry, “if none of that stuff was true, she would have denied it… hard. This was her business, after all. Have you ever seen any bugs in her salon? My understanding is that everything was white, so you couldn’t miss them.”

“Well… no,” I admit, truthfully, “but I got a really bad feeling about the place and I stopped going. Then, I heard about the infestation and…” I start scratching my arms again.

“Oh, God, please stop,” she says grabbing my hands. “It’s psychological, honey. You’re fine. You dodged a bullet. Look, why don’t I see which of my friends are available and we’ll give you an afternoon of beauty? Unless you have to get back to the courthouse…” I wave her off.

“The good thing about being a highly sought-after attorney is that you basically make your own hours… unless there’s a case scheduled…” and I’m working on one right now.

“Well, then it’s settled. What’s your budget?” I laugh good-naturedly.

“Sweetie, there is no budget. Do your worst.” Eve beams at me and I can see the dollar signs in her eyes. What the hell, might as well. It’ll all be money well-spent if I can bring Blondie to her knees.

She should have left well enough alone. She already made Trey into an enemy. Then she turns around and attacks the man. As if siccing him on me like some rabid dog in heat wasn’t bad enough, then she throws threats at me because her plan actually worked, and Trey and I struck an intimate agreement. Then she goes to the fundraiser, smears my name all over the room, and sets yet another beast loose on me in that eerie, classless, creepy arctic wolf that she calls her husband!

This bitch has gone too far, and even though I have several minions and clients who want a piece of her and Linc, I want her to know that I’m after her ass. I want her to wonder what the fuck is going on now then look up and see me. You want the blade, bitch, you got it, and I’m about to slice you in two.

“Okay,” Eve says after ending a phone call that I didn’t even know she was on. “We’re going to start with a lemon verbena skin treatment, because you’re going to scratch the skin off your arms. This mixture and massage will make you forget all about that other place, and the aroma therapy will be good for you in helping to ease your heebie-jeebies. We’re going to free that hair of yours and give it a revitalizing conditioning treatment and once that’s done, you’ll get our skin-refreshing facial and I’ll give you a modest manicure to compliment your hands. You’ll feel like a new woman…”

Three hours of being plucked and pampered and I spill my guts to anyone who’ll listen about how horrified I was by the rumors of “that woman’s” shop after I had been frequenting her establishment for so long. When I go back out to settle my bill, I have to admit that Eve was right. I do feel like a new woman. I have a flawless makeover showcased by a full halo of lush brunette curls with soft honey highlights… nothing too dramatic. I step into the reception area to see Jesse sitting impatiently on one of the posh sofas. Shit, I had forgotten all about him

“That gentleman claims to be waiting for you,” Venus says as she tallies my bill. “Stalker?”

“Something like that,” I say. “Bodyguard.” Venus raises a brow at me and I hand her my Black card again. “Please include a tip for my operators—$50 each. They were incredible.”

“Each?” Venus clarifies. “How many were there?” I start counting on my fingers.

“Shelly, Lena, Raye, Livy, Dawson, and…” I’m trying to think of the other member of the team that helped rejuvenate this body. “Oh! Sage! That’s her name. And don’t forget yourself—I appreciate you fitting me in. And Eve, for heaven’s sake, Eve! Make it $75 for Eve! It’s like she made one call and an entire troop of people showed up and made my life worth living.” I giggle.

“Ms. Olivet!” she gushes. “Ana… you’re too generous!”

“Think nothing of if,” I say, throwing my shiny, beautiful mane over my shoulder. “I was an itchy, scratchy mess when I came in here. Your staff put me at ease and made me feel like a million bucks…” which they really did. “Can I set a future appointment right now?”

So, in looking to pluck the hen who caused me so much grief, I actually found a new salon. I hadn’t been going to one since I left Blondie… I didn’t see the need. My own grooming practices are pretty meticulous, and my nails never stay the same past the weekend. I can’t very well show up in a courtroom or boardroom with golden nails. As I’m leaving, she gives me my biggest payoff yet.

“Did you happen to bring any extra business cards with you?” she asks. “It appears that some of our clients… well, they may have overheard our conversation and they’d like to… talk to you about any recourse they may have against that woman. Apparently, we’ve gained quite a bit of her clientele.”

And now I realize just how fortuitous the situation is. The other salons most likely had nothing to lose or gain by talking to me about Elena because they didn’t gain any of her clientele—one or two, maybe, but not enough to rock the boat. Most of her clientele most likely came here.

“I’m certain that I do,” I say, digging through my purse. “If I don’t, I’ll bring more.” I dig into my inside pocket and retrieve the wad of business cards that I had there for just such an emergency. I hand her the cards and thank her again for the wonderful service.

Jesse’s pupils dilate when he sees me.

“I was going to ask if you fell in, but… damn…” He examines me as I tie the belt to my coat around my waist. I walk out of the salon and the winter sun catches the glints of highlight in my hair. I look good and I know it. I open my phone and call Chanelle.

“Offices of Olivet, Attorney at Law. How can I help you?”

“Shut it down, Chanelle,” I tell her. “I won’t be back to the office today.”

“So, I guess you didn’t get my message that Richard Steele is here again,” she laments. I sigh.

“No, I didn’t, and tell him that I won’t be back into the office and you have to shut down. If he gives you too much trouble about it, call the cops.”

“Will do. Have a great afternoon.” I end the call and look at Jesse.

“Take me to Community. After all that grooming and shaving, no one fed me. I want something quick and fresh.”

Community Grocery and Deli is a little place that’s tucked away inside of the opening to a parking garage. It’s a gem in Seattle and if you didn’t know it was there, you’d never know it was there. They have the best teriyaki anything in the whole damn city. Although you can’t pay me to eat soy, their teriyaki tofu even looks delicious.

While Jesse waits for our orders, I walk around the establishment and grab a few things. Not the hugest selection in this little store, but great for a quick grab. As I walk around to the other side of the coolers, who do I find standing there looking at the organic sodas? Organic sodas? I digress.

Jake.

Hmm, he works downtown, so I guess I had to run into him somewhere down here. It would be at one of my best-kept secret holes in the wall hiding in plain sight.

“Ana! Wow,” he says, his voice breathy. “You look… great.” Yes, I know this. I try not to roll my eyes.

“Hello, Jake,” I say impassively, reaching past him in the cooler to get my not-organic soda.

“What are you doing here?” he asks. I fold my arms.

“I could ask the same thing of you,” I retort.

“Well, I work here,” he says. I raise my brow.

“At the deli?” I ask. He chuckles.

“No. Downtown.”

“Well, so do I.” That’s when I realize that when he asked what I was doing here, he wasn’t talking about the deli. He was talking about the city. The nerve of him! Like I need his fucking permission to be in my own hometown.

“Is there something I can do for you?” I ask, with my arms folded.

“I didn’t know you were still in town,” he says. “I thought you left.”

“I did,” I say. “I came back. I’ve been in town for quite some time, now.”

“Why?”

“Because this is my home,” I reply. “My parents are buried here. My roots are here.”

“Home is where the heart is…”

“Exactly,” I say, unaware that I’m making his point for him.

“You never thought about us?” he asks. I frown.

“What about us?” I ask, shaking my head. He sighs.

“I liked you a lot,” he says, perturbed. “It was really shitty how things went down.” I drop my head and sigh.

“It… was a long time ago,” I say with a shrug. “It was a dumb thing that happened.”

“What dumb thing happened?” he asks, closing the space between us. “All I knew was my bike got fucked up and my parents said that I couldn’t talk to you anymore.”

I try not to react. He could have asked me. Somehow, he could have asked me what happened, but he didn’t. I’m not all bruised about it. I never really was. Yeah, I liked him, but I had bigger fish to fry—like staying alive.

“It’s been almost twenty years, Jake. Is it even important anymore?” I ask.

“Twenty years,” he says, coming even closer to me, “and here you are—different name, but same city. Something brought you back here and we just keep bumping into each other.”

“You want to know what brought me back here?” I ask. “I love Seattle. I love everything about this city, and my mom and dad are buried here.” He frowns.

“I thought the Steeles were your mom and dad,” he says, “That you were adopted…”

“I was adopted,” I tell him. “My dad adopted me, and then he and my mother were killed in a car accident. The living Steeles are my adopted aunt and uncle.” And why am I telling you this? “Anyway, it’s moot. If you’ll excuse me…” I try to walk away, and he puts his arm around my waist, pulling me back to him.

“Ana, please…” he says, his voice soft and coaxing. What? You’re kidding, right? “Don’t leave yet, please?”

I’m angry when I spin around to face him and give him a piece of my mind. Back when I liked you, when I really needed someone, you didn’t want to be bothered with me. You didn’t ask me what happened—not even in secret. You just dismissed me because your parents said that you had to. That’s what everyone did—my uncle, my aunt, my cousins, you—nobody asked me what happened. Nobody gave me the benefit of the doubt. Now, I’m grown, and everybody wants to get in my face. Good God, just go away!

I haven’t said anything aloud. I don’t get the chance. Jake’s lips are on mine right there in the grocery area—next to the organic sodas. My back is against the cooler door and he’s holding me gently around my waist, his other hand cupping my cheek. His lips mold gently into mine, soft and coaxing, and his tongue glides across my bottom lip. When he pulls back from my mouth, there’s pure desire in his eyes, and I’m a bit stunned.

What. The fuck. Is this?

“I’m sorry,” he says, breaths away from my face. “I had to do it… just once.”

“And now you have,” I say, my voice low and controlled. “Now, back up off me.” He’s crestfallen.

“Ana…” he begins, his voice laced with disbelief.

“Back. Up. Off. Me.” I enunciate each word, trying to relay to him that my next request will be physical. He gets the hint and releases me, putting some space between us. “Jake, what the fuck was that? Do you just randomly walk around kissing girls in grocery stores?”

“I… couldn’t resist. I’m sorry…”

“Try harder next time,” I warn. “We seem to keep bumping into each other and I can’t explain that, but if you think that gives you license to ‘reach out and touch’ me without my permission…” My voice is rising, and I’ve now attracted the attention of the two other shoppers in the grocery area of the deli. Now, Jesse has come around the coolers and is staring at me in awe.

“Three other people in the store… I can’t leave you alone for a minute!” I think the words are out of his mouth before he considers what he’s saying. Jake examines him critically.

“Gee, Kevin, you’ve changed,” he says sarcastically before turning his attention back to me. “He’s not what you usually go for.”

“What the fuck do you know about what I usually go for?” I hiss, openly offended by his insinuation. “Meet Jesse, my bodyguard. And you may want to be careful about touching me without my permission. He doesn’t take too kindly to that.” Jake looks back at Jesse.

“How ya doin’, Jess?” Jake says.

“Get yo’ smart ass outta here, man,” Jesse says, and nothing else. His tone indicates that he’s not in the mood for any bullshit and Jake takes the hint.

“Hopefully, I see ya ‘round, Beautiful,” Jake says haughtily before leaving the grocery area. Conceited, egotistical asshole.

“What is it about you that brings out the worst in men?” Jesse asks. I don’t say it aloud, but I know what it is. Pure animal magnetism. They don’t know what to do with themselves; they just know they gotta have it.

They’re literally like dogs. They see it a mile away, then they smell it, then they attack. After getting all dolled-up at Gene Juarez this afternoon, no doubt I’m emitting the Golden vibe, and he had a moment of weakness—just like Linc—since he has no fucking idea who Golden is.

“Get used to it,” I retort as I sashay around him into the deli area to retrieve my late lunch.


A/N: Golden’s after-scene Tupac Shakur playlist:

Who Do U Believe In?
Whatcha Gonna Do?
Still Love U
Gave U My Heart
When Thugs Cry

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~~love and handcuffs

 

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Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 36—Business as Usual?

Hello my darlings. Sorry about the delay, but the hell never seems to end in real life. If you were supposed to receive an email from my mailing list with this update, but didn’t (not from the website, from the mailing list) I got notification that about seven emails “bounced.” That means that I can’t email to you unless you verify that I have the correct email. So hit me up and let me know if you’re not receiving emails.

I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy, or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. If something that I say displeases you, please, just leave. If you don’t like this story or me, please don’t spoil this experience for everyone. Just go away. For the rest of you, the saga continues…

Chapter 36—Business as Usual?

CHRISTIAN

“Gail, Elliot is sending some of his guys over to knock out the wall in the pantry…”

“Christian! Seriously?” she gasps. “A little less notice next time?” I put my hands up in surrender.

“I know. I know. I’m sorry. The best place for your office turns out to be a hollow between the laundry room and the pantry. If we don’t want construction possibly bumping up against the birth of the babies, they’ve got to knock that wall out as soon as possible…”

“… For an office that I don’t even need!” she protests. I put my hands on her arms.

“Gail, believe me. You don’t think you’ll need it now, but trust me, you’ll need it!” She sighs and shakes her head.

“Dammit, Christian!” she says, flailing her hands like she doesn’t know what to do with them.

“Tell me what the biggest issue is,” I say, not knowing what the problem is right now. She turns a horrified expression to me.

“Oh! Absolutely nothing, Master Grey!” she says sarcastically. “Except for the tiny little issue of the food!”

Oh, shit!

“Have you seen the size of that pantry?” she continues. “I’ve only just gotten it to the point where it’s only semi-organized, and now I have to rip it apart again… in an hour or so… and find somewhere to put the food!” Oh, boy. We didn’t consider this when we looked at the blueprints.

“Activate two-way communications!” I yell into the air.

“I’d like to know who thought up this plan of action!” Gail huffs, walking into the pantry. “How am I supposed to clear out all this food in an hour?”

“Jason?” I call like a drowning man, thrusting my hand into my hair.

“Sir?”

“Kitchen!”

“Yes, sir.”

“And who exactly do you expect to move all of this stuff?” she gripes coming out of the pantry, “because if you’re expecting me to do it, you’re sorely mistaken! There’s enough food in there to fill a small grocery!”

It seems like it takes forever for Jason to get to the kitchen and Gail is ranting the entire time! I think I have a few more gray hairs. Jason stands next to me frowning and looking between me and his ranting wife.

“Wha…?” He’s at a loss for words.

“The spices alone are going to take a week to pack!” She’s still ranting and I don’t even know what she was talking about from the time I called Jason to this moment. Various members of the staff have gathered in the kitchen, but none of them dare engage her. What have I done?

“I told Gail that Elliot’s guys were coming to knock out a wall or two of the pantry,” I say, slowly. He’s frowning at me. He hasn’t gotten the full thrust of what I’m telling him yet. “… This afternoon.” I see three heads rubberneck in my direction from the staff members now watching Gail’s frantic tantrum.

“You… what?” Jason says, soberly.

“Oh, no, don’t act like I came to this decision on my own! I had two other accomplices here!” I protest.

“You didn’t tell me they were knocking out walls today!” Jason defends. Way to throw me under the bus, Jason.

“You knew about this?” Gail barks at her husband.

“I knew about the office,” he concurs.

“You knew about the construction!” I roll that bus right back at him. “I told you they were coming! I told you to inform security because I had an appointment at the dentist…” I look at my watch. “… Which I’ll probably be late for!” Jason narrows his eyes at me.

“You told me they were making preparations; you didn’t tell…” He stops mid-sentence and pulls out his phone. “I need as many of the guys as you can get in here. I need some serious manual labor…”

“You’re gonna need more than manual fucking labor. I need someplace to put the goddamn food!” Gail barks, and back into the pantry she goes. Jason stares at the pantry door for a moment without blinking.

“Never mind,” he says into the phone and ends the call before he turns to me. Never mind? What great idea has he come up with? “You need a plan B… now,” he says, calmly.

“What?” I ask bemused.

“We need to leave in about twenty minutes if you want to get to the dentist on time and my wife is cursing. My wife never curses. I don’t know what’s going on with this whole pantry thing. Have you ever been in there?” I shrug.

“I saw it once when we looked at the house, but I didn’t really commit it to memory,” I respond.

“Maybe we should go in there,” he says.

“It’s just a pantry, Jason,” I protest.

“My wife is cursing!” he reiterates. “My wife does not curse. I can count on one hand the times my wife has cursed since I’ve known her. Whatever is going on in that damn pantry, it’s not that big to us, but it is to her!”

I sigh. This is ridiculous. She doesn’t even want the damn office. I’m ready to call the whole thing off.

“Fine,” I say, walking to the pantry for this exercise in futility.

Fucking. Hell.

Slanted produce bins in front with fresh fruits and vegetables, including fresh herbs growing in aluminum buckets. Jarred preserves, oils, rice, legumes, bushels, bottles and baskets of organic God only knows what and shelf after shelf of floor-to-ceiling painstakingly organized dry and canned goods as far back as the eye can see.

“You ever see that movie Sleeping With The Enemy?” I say, thinking of Julia Roberts’ OCD husband who had to have every label in the cabinets in alphabetical order and facing forward.

“Not funny,” Jason hisses. “We need a plan B.”

“We need a plan B,” I concur. My brain is running through spaces in the house that don’t require knocking out a wall. I can’t risk having this same kind of blow-up with Butterfly about the aquarium or something. Maybe working at the counter isn’t such a bad idea, it’s just that she’s going to be right in the middle of all of the activity when things are happening in the kitchen. Jesus, maybe we could just put a desk in the damn pantry…

Then it hits me.

“The dining room,” I say. Jason frowns.

“You want to put her in the dining room? She’ll have to move every time we have a meal,” he protests.

“Not that one, the little one—the round one with all the windows… we never use it.” He’s pondering the idea.

“Didn’t Her Highness says something about having cozy meals in that room?” he says.

“And how many have we had?” I retort. He’s silent. “If she wants cozy meals, we have a sitting room off our bedroom where we can have a cozy meal surrounded by moonlight naked! Trust me, when she finds out how Gail reacted to tearing down that wall in that pantry, she’ll be glad to give up that informal dining room.” Jason’s scoffs a bit.

“I’ll let you handle that,” he says.

“Oh, that’ll be easy,” I tell him. “She can either give up the informal dining room or Gail can stay at the counter in the kitchen.” Jason shrugs.

“I think my wife will like those options.”

“I honestly think my wife will opt for the formal dining room without griping,” I say.

“I’d like to take a wager on that,” Jason says.

“Oh, no,” I say, “you remember what happened the last time you made a wager on something that my wife did!” I warn. He grimaces. “Mm-hmm. Tell your wife that she doesn’t have to lose her pantry.” He immediately turns his attention away from me.

“Oh, Love…”

*-*

According to the dentist, I’m lucky that my teeth weren’t knocked completely out in the fight. The fact that I went to the hospital and literally didn’t eat solid food for the first 48 hours actually did me some good. The fact that I didn’t come to the dentist sooner—not so good. I had to have my teeth splinted together to keep them from falling out. That was fun! Normally, that’s something that has to be scheduled for a return visit, but I had already waited long enough to give him cause for concern, so he performed the procedure for me right then. Luckily for me, the splint is a polymer that goes on the inside of my teeth instead of the outside like braces. It holds them all together, binding the loose ones to the stable ones, thereby making them all stable.

And it hurts like hell.

I also have to sleep with one of those God awful mouth guard-looking things to protect me from myself in the middle of the night. Butterfly is going to find this whole contraption so attractive. Oh, the lisp is even harder to control, now, because there’s this thing on the inside of my teeth. So I have to just keep talking and talking and talking—even to myself—until I conquer this thing again as I refuse to walk around talking with this damn lisp.

I promised to stop by to see Pops before Moms gets home. When I walk into the house with the greenish-yellow-blackish-bluish face, Leona almost burst into tears. I can tell that she has to control the urge to throw her arms around me. She wants to keep waiting on me and I actually have to tell her to leave me alone with my grandfather. We talk for most of the afternoon, during which time I have to explain to him what happened to my face. When I’m done telling him the story, he tells me a similar story when he beat the snot out of a kid who was picking on his high school sweetheart—who wasn’t Dad’s mom, by the way. She came later, but Pops took a real beating that day and gave as much as he took. So he completely understood why I had to put the paws to Cholometes.

“Sometimes, all we have is our honor, Christian,” he says. “That’s what separates the men from the boys, and the gentlemen from the scallywags.”

“Well said, Pops,” I tell him, “well said.”

We talk for I don’t know how much longer before Jason tells me that it’s getting to be time for us to leave. I look at my watch and realize that my mother can possibly be walking in anytime in the next hour or so. I say goodbye to my grandfather and leave with Jason.

“I have some news, sir,” Jason says as we get into the car.

“What is it?” I ask, swallowing two of the painkillers the dentist gave me.

“Alex found Chuck’s parents.” It actually hurts to frown.

“Oh? Has he spoken to them yet?”

“No, sir. He’s waiting for instructions from me on how to proceed and I’m a little stumped.” My phone buzzes with a notification of a water wall that I was observing earlier. I quickly forward the picture to Butterfly with two more and a quick email asking for her opinion. My email to her is much more playful and flirty than I actually feel.

“Tell him to forward the information to you and proceed exactly as Chuck told you to. Don’t get involved—business as usual. You’re only contacting them as his boss to inform them that he has requested that they be added as his next of kin in case of his demise. Keep it as informal as possible. There is the likelihood that they will decline if the relationship is as strained as it appears. At that time, he can name you or Keri or even us as his next of kin and we’ll make sure that he’s taken care of.” He sighs heavily.

“I sure as hell don’t feel like dealing with this,” he says. “That Joseph is some fucking piece of work, man. If his parents are anything like him…” He trails off and starts the car.

“Yeah, I know,” I say as I try to ignore the pain in my mouth. I attempt to meditate for a moment while the car cruises from Bellevue towards Mercer Island. It works for a while until I feel my blackberry vibrating in my pocket again. It’s Butterfly. She’s sent me a picture of a fireplace… for the rooms behind the wall! Surely she knows that we don’t have enough ventilation in those spaces for a fireplace! I send an email back to her pointing out her malfeasance and the fact that there’s no way those spaces could accommodate a fireplace! I find myself getting way too irritated to continue this or any conversation because my mouth is in way too much pain and these pain killers are not working fast enough.

“Take this, Jason,” I say, handing my blackberry to him over the seat. He looks at it, then at me through the rearview mirror.

“Sir?” he asks incredulously.

“Take it!” I hiss. “I can’t tolerate it right now!” He takes it without another word.

“Yes, sir.” It buzzes before he puts it in his inside pocket. “Her Highness is texting.”

“She wants to talk about a fireplace. I’ll talk to her later,” I respond as I lay my head on the headrest and try to think comforting thoughts.

My head and mouth aren’t throbbing quite so much when we arrive back at Grey Crossing. It’s just after 5pm and Butterfly hasn’t made it home yet. I go straight to my den, stretch out on the sofa, and enjoy the silence.

“How do you feel, Sir?”

Jason’s cautious voice wakes me and I realize that I slipped off into a short nap. I look at my watch. It’s 5:30. Only about twenty minutes. I feel worlds better. He must not have known I was sleeping or he never would have disturbed me.

“Less like pygmies are dancing on my temples and incisors,” I tell him as I move to a sitting position. There is what is known as a pregnant pause for a moment. “What is it?”

“I’ve contacted Chuck’s parents,” he begins. “I didn’t speak to them. I left them a message—very short and professional. I only said that I was Charles’ employer and that he would like for them to be listed as his next of kin in case of extreme emergency and I left my contact information.”

“Well, that’s about all you can do, Jason,” I say. He doesn’t respond. “There’s more.”

“I haven’t told Chuck yet,” he says, “and to be honest, I don’t want to tell him alone.”

“Why not?” I say, frowning deeply.

“He gets all weepy when you start talking about his parents and his family!” This fucker is whining! “I don’t feel like handling that alone, man! I need some more testosterone in the room.”

“Yeah, because you’re turning into a pussy,” I declare.

“Whatever. Are you coming or what?”

“Sure, Jasonia,” I say as I stand from the sofa.

“Fuck you, man,” he replies, turning around and walking out of my den.

*-*

“How long ago did you leave the message?” Chuck asks, carefully eyeing his and Keri’s entwined fingers.

“About twenty minutes,” Jason says.

“And they’re in South Dakota?” Chuck presses. Jason nods.

“They own a house in Rapid City… since just after you went to rehab. To be honest, I don’t know what could be happening that they could need money. Rapid City is one of the best places to live in the state.”

“I don’t either,” he says without raising his head, “but apparently they do since they sent my barracuda brother out here to do their bidding.” He still sounds more hurt than angry, but yes, a little angry.

“You still have us, Chuck,” I say as an attempt at consolation. He raises his eyes for the first time since we came into the apartment. “You know, just in case.” He nods.

“I know,” he says. “Well, enough of this melancholy shit. Wanna see what I can do?” Jason and I look at each other.

“Sure,” Jason says. Chuck nods at Keri and she disappears into another room.

“Now, I have to take this slow, so be patient with me,” he says. What the hell is this man about to do? He locks the wheels on his wheelchair as Keri returns with a pair of metal crutches.

Oh, shit.

“Ready, baby?” he asks Keri.

“Reaty, Chatles,” she replies. He hoists himself out of the chair, using his arm strength, his good leg, and Keri for support. It takes a while, but he’s careful and meticulous. When he is balancing on the good leg, she positions the crutches under each arm and pushes the chair away. She stands nearby as he situates the crutches properly under his arms to help support his weight, then releases a breath once he can rest from balancing on one foot.

“Tada!” he says a bit breathlessly. Keri is standing nearby, smiling from ear to ear beaming with pride. “I know it’s not much…”

“Are you kidding?” Jason says. “It’s great, man! With the injuries you sustained and you just started taking your pain pills a week ago… you’re not overdoing it, are you?”

“Naw. The doctor said I should really start moving around and getting out of the chair. I should have been doing it before now, but… well, you know.” He drops his head to keep from finishing the thought.

“You shud seet, nah, Chatles,” Keri warns. “Not too moch too soon.” He nods and allows her to help him shift his weight from the crutches back to the arms of the wheelchair before he labors to take a seat.

“I’m really impressed, Chuck,” I tell him.

“Thanks,” he replies. “I’ll be glad when I can get back to work. I’m starting to get a bit of cabin fever. Not that I don’t love being here with my gorgeous girlfriend, but a guy like me, I’ve got to get out.”

“In due time, Tiger,” Jason teases, “in due time.”

“How’s Ben doing?” he asks. “I don’t get much feedback from Ana except that he’s not me. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.” I look over at Jason and the look on his face tells me that there’s clearly something that I don’t know.

“Well,” I begin, “Butterfly’s less-than-stellar experience at the Mercer hospital lets me know that somebody dropped the ball and since I’m not firing anybody yet, I’m assuming that Mr. Taylor has taken care of the situation, or that I will hear about it at a later time.” I throw a pointed look at Jason.

“I’m taking care of it, Sir,” he says succinctly.

“And the hospital staff?”

“In the works as we speak, sir,” he further confirms. “You and Her Highness will be glad to know that heads will certainly roll and pipers will be paid when this is all over.” I nod.

“Good. That’s what I want to hear. And from now on, make every possible effort to ensure that in an emergency, my wife and I are taken only to Seattle General Hospital.” Jason chuckles.

“Sir, Her Highness nearly made us swear a blood oath to that fact!” he informs me. That’s my Butterfly. Speaking of Her Highness…

“Where’s my phone?” I ask Jason.

“You lost your phone?” Chuck asks, doing a dramatic double-take.

“No, I gave it to Jason.” His puzzled glare turns to Jason, who reaches into his inside pocket.

“I know, right?” he says to Chuck as he hands me my blackberry.

“Did hell freeze over?” Chuck asks.

“I was in pain,” I say as I thumb through my emails, noting one response from Butterfly about the fireplaces.

“You couldn’t even talk and you still kept your blackberry… twice!” Chuck protests. “What kind of pain made you give up your phone?”

“My teeth are wired together,” I tell him without raising my eyes from my blackberry. The fireplaces are electric—and she’s scolding me for not knowing that she wouldn’t suggest real ones. “The painkillers were taking too long to kick in. It felt like Beelzebub and his minions were playing Chopsticks with pitchforks on my gums… the long version!”

“That’s not a good visual,” Jason says, and although I don’t see him, I know he winced. Butterfly has sent a picture that I would otherwise find quite interesting, but right now, I surprisingly find it a bit unnerving. It’s a bondage frame for the playroom. I hadn’t thought about anything for the playroom recently, not since… not since I spanked her. It’s obvious that we will want to continue our lifestyle; it’s just that I haven’t been able to reconcile the bruising on her butt after that last exercise. I didn’t really push it out of my mind—it just hasn’t been in the forefront of my thoughts and we never really talked about it. Well, we did. She told me that she understood why she received the punishment and she tagged me spot on that I needed her to safeword once I saw that bruising. I apologized to her sleeping frame because she made it clear that she didn’t need an apology, but I still needed to apologize to her. I talked in great detail to Dr. Baker about how I was feeling after the punishment, but not to Butterfly. As a result, I have a lot of unreconciled emotions floating around about the incident. Did she talk to Ace about it? She never mentioned it again and we don’t act strangely around each other, so why do I feel the way I feel right now upon considering furnishings for the new playroom?

“Earth to Christian,” Jason says, and I realize that I was in the middle of a conversation with two other people. I raise my head distractedly.

“What?” I say, my voice sharper than I intend.

“Damn, where were you?” Chuck asks as Keri re-enters the room. I didn’t even know she had left.

“Butterfly’s ribbing me for not knowing these fireplaces were electric. I got a little engrossed in the email.” It’s half true. “How the fuck was I supposed to know they were electric? They look real.”

“A fireplace had you that mesmerized?” Jason says in disbelief.

“No, her email did, you soon-to-be-unemployed asshole,” I quip. Jason throws his hands up in mock surrender.

“Well, you’re just going to be a bundle of joy and laughter, aren’t you?” he responds. I glare at him. “There’s no pain like mouth pain,” he laments. Nope, and I’ve got four more weeks of it. Fuck this macho shit—I need pain killers on an IV! There’s nothing in the world like this pain and I’m not trying to endure this shit for anybody.

“Well, my work here is done. I’ll see you assholes at dinner.” I turn to leave and hear Chuck’s final lament before I breach the doorway.

“He’s going to be a bear.”

You’ve got that right.

I don’t have time to rearrange my thoughts when I come into the entertainment room and find Butterfly gazing at her aquarium. That’s usually not a good sign.

“Bad day?” I say, approaching with caution. She turns to me briefly, then back to the aquarium.

“Just trying to release some bad vibes,” she says. “Gail’s in a mood.” Oh hell, I forgot about Gail.

“Um, yeah. About that office…” She turns her gaze back to me. “Would you mind terribly losing the informal dining room?” I ask. “The perfect space for Gail’s office would have been a hollow we located between the pantry and the laundry room. It would have meant emptying the pantry to have a wall knocked out… today!” Butterfly’s eyes immediately widen. “It was like Hiroshima. Whatever you see now is considerably tamer than what Jason and I had to contend with this afternoon.”

“You told that woman that she had to empty the pantry?” she asks in calm disbelief. “Have you seen the pantry? It’s like a goddamn general store in there—a well-stocked general store.”

“I’ve seen it now,” I tell her, “but not before today, no, I hadn’t seen it.”

“And just how well did that woman hand you your balls today?” she asks, her voice still calm.

“Enough for me not to be afraid to ask if you would mind terribly losing the informal dining room,” I repeat. “It’s ideally placed, the lighting is great, we don’t have to worry about the ventilation issues, we don’t have to rush with construction before the babies are born…”

“You don’t have to convince me, we never use it,” she says, repeating what I said earlier. “If it makes everyone’s life easier, I say go for it. How does Gail feel about it?”

“You know she had to warm up to the idea of an office anyway, but as long as we don’t fuck with her pantry, I think she’d use one of the patios if that was the last available space.” Butterfly nod and turns back to the aquarium.

“Then it’s settled,” she says, folding her arms over her baby bump. I close the space between us.

“So what has you in a mood?” I ask quietly. She turns indecisive blue eyes to me.

“Where do I begin?” she sighs.

“Wherever you want.”

“First of all, I feel like I’ve been pregnant for five damn years! I’m ready to have these babies already.” She reaches under her hair and rubs her head where her scar is.

“Is it hurting?” I ask, concerned. She frowns.

“What, the babies?” she asks, bemused.

“No, your head,” I say, pointing to my own head. She subconsciously snatches her hand away from her head and I’m only just realizing that this has become another tell. She has no idea she was rubbing the scar.

“No, it’s not hurting,” she says dismissively. I examine her for a moment, then choose my words carefully.

“Next week, Christmas will be here. Then, we’ll be celebrating the new year. Before you know it, Valentine’s Day will be here. By the time we are celebrating our love on our first Valentine’s Day in our new home, our children will be here.” She raises impatient eyes to me. “I know it feels like forever, and I wish I could empathize with you, but I have no idea what you’re going through. All I can say is that I’m just as impatient for them to be a part of our lives as you are and that you already know that I’ll be by your side every step of the way. I’ll try to make things as easy as possible and hopefully I won’t get in your way too much.” Her resolve breaks a bit and she almost wants to smile. I can’t even imagine how tiring and exhausting this must be for her. I’ll give her a nice foot rub after dinner.

“I spent the afternoon with Courtney Wilson today.” I frown. Courtney Wilson?

“Adelaide and Fred’s granddaughter?” I ask. She nods. The same classless female that came on to her at the Affair? “Why in the world did you do that?”

“Because she’s a spoiled, entitled, amoral little brat and I’m trying to teach her some kind of values before she’s set loose on the world!” she snaps back. “I have control of how, when, and if she’ll get her trust fund while she spends a yet-to-be-determined amount of time with me at Helping Hands.” At first, I’m stunned. Then, I’m amused.

“That’s brilliant!” I exclaim. “Whose idea was that?”

“It was a collaboration,” she says a bit dismissively.

“I take it Courtney wasn’t part of this collaboration,” I observe.

“Of course not! She showed up in an angora sweater and Jimmy Choos. She was trying to convince her grandmother that she didn’t need to be there before her feet were even past the threshold all the way. Helping Hands has to replace nearly an entire set of dishes because she deliberately broke them to keep from having to work, not to mention that she’s rude and elitist to everyone she comes in contact with, including some of these frightened and battered mothers. The only thing that makes her fall in line is threatening her trust fund, and I just don’t think there’s any hope for someone like that. She’s rotten to the core—not just surface-rotten, rotten all the way down to her soul. I may have thought there might have been some shred of possibility of a transformation until I heard about the whole shoplifting thing with Mia…”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. That was her,” I recall. “We had to keep her and Mia separate for the entire summer and for several years thereafter. We were afraid Mia would kill her if we didn’t.”

“That bad?” Butterfly asks. I scoff.

“Mia is the most adorable, annoying little kitten you’ll ever meet until she gets around Courtney. If you ever see those two together, grab some popcorn and a drink and take a seat, because you’re about to see a show.”

“Really?” Butterfly says with a giggle.

“Really,” I confirm. “She becomes vicious and seething. Her words cut; it’s like she’s in the presence of pure evil and she has no other choice but to make it known to all parties in the room. Courtney’s just lucky that Mia wasn’t at the table when she came sashaying by at the affair.”

“Mmm. Well, Addie wants me to try, but I have to say that I don’t have any hope for this girl. I think I lean to the side of optimism too often when it comes down to human nature and I often find myself disappointed.” She taps on the glass and as if summoned, a black and white fish comes to the front of the aquarium.

She’s the fucking pied piper.

“You can only do what you can do, Butterfly,” I tell her. “Look at me. You turned my whole life around.”

“Our relationship is different. It wasn’t based on a payoff. It’s based on a lifetime.” Her hand caresses her scar again.

“Please don’t stress too much about this,” I beseech her. “This girl is not worth it. If she turns out to be a lost cause, make that observation early and let it go. I know you want to save the world. It’s in your nature, but some people just can’t be saved.” She sighs.

“I know,” she says, her voice laced with defeat. “Hey, why didn’t you respond to my last email?”


 

ANASTASIA

“Actually, I just got your last email a few minutes ago.” I look at him skeptically. “Jason had my phone.” Okay, I believe that… not!

“Jason had your phone.” It’s a statement, not a question. He nods.

“I didn’t feel like talking or concentrating or anything,” he says, flatly.

“Why not?” He bears his teeth at me. That’s the best way that I can put it. It’s not a smile; he just bears his teeth at me. I’m lost.

“What is it?” I ask.

“The fact that you have to ask means that he did a good job,” he says. “My teeth are wired together.”

“You mean, like braces?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says, “exactly like braces except there’s a polymer over wire behind my teeth instead of in front of my teeth.” I reach for his cheek and he flinches away from me.

Um… okay.

“I’m sorry. It’s a reflex. It hurts like hell. That’s why Jason had my phone.” I nod.

“How long is it going to take? How long will it hurt like this?” I ask.

“I’m told it’ll hurt considerably for the first 24 hours, considerably less after that.” I’m having flashbacks of when he had the flu. My God, he was unbearable. Now, he’s going to be in pain. Oy!

“Did it help with your speech? You sound better.”

“Lots of practice,” he says. “If I don’t pay really close attention to what I’m saying, I’ll sound like Daffy Duck… probably look like him, too.”

“You really look so much better than you did before, Christian,” I tell him. “I know you haven’t looked in the mirror, but a lot of the bruising has gone down and your skin tone has even improved slightly since this morning—except that eye, I’m afraid. The swelling has subsided, but I think you’re just going to have to let the coloring run its course.” I reach up to touch it he winces and withdraws. I’m a little taken aback by the gesture. I know it’s a reflex because of the pain he’s experiencing, but I can’t help the slight pang of rejection that I feel at his reaction and I pull my hand back.

“I’m… sorry, Butterfly,” he begins.”

“I know,” I nod, dismissively, waving him off. “It’s the pain. What did they give you for it?” I ask, directing the conversation away from my quickly diminishing feelings. It’s childish, really. He’s not rejecting me; he’s just in pain… and I’m too damn emotional. Fucking pregnancy hormones!

“Vicodin,” he says softly. “Only for the first two days, and I should only need them for one. Ibuprofen as needed after that.” I nod and force a smile.

“That’s good. How are you feeling now?” Focus on him. Keep the focus on him.

“Not too bad,” he says. “The Vicodin kicked in about an hour ago. I can still feel the residual pain because my gums ache, but it’s nothing like it was before.”

“So what’s next?” Why do I feel like crying? It wasn’t that serious, really! This is ridiculous!

“I go back in a month and the dentist checks to see if the teeth have reset themselves. If not, he’ll check again after eight weeks and then six months. Since I don’t have gum disease, he’s not concerned about them setting again as long as I don’t take any more hits to the jaw.” I nod. I’ve got to put some distance between us or I’m going to be a waterfall soon.

“That’s good, Christian. I’m going to go up and get some tea. Can I get you something while I’m in the kitchen?” He pauses for a moment, trying to feel me out. Dammit, not now. “Christian?”

“No,” he says finally. “No, I’m fine, I don’t need anything.”

“Okay,” I say with a tight smile before I escape to the elevator. Once I’m inside, I release a heavy sigh along with the tears that were threatening to fall when I was standing there with Christian. No use in going to the kitchen right now. There are too many people there to ask me what’s wrong. I take the elevator to the second floor and walk to our bedroom.

Several minutes later, I’m standing half-naked—in bra and panties—in front of the full-wall mirrors in my dressing room. Ten-ton Ana stares back at me from every angle. I rub my baby mountain and it seems that I’m just getting bigger and bigger every day. I’ve been pregnant for like ever and my due date is what? Valentine’s Day. I’m not even going to be able to bake my cookies on Christmas Eve. The thought suddenly depresses me and I cover my face and weep.

Weepy, whiny, crying Ana. Boy, I’ll be glad when she’s gone.
You’re being too hard on yourself, you know. It’s the hormones; you can’t help it.
I know that, but I don’t have to like it. This is really becoming ridiculous.

I remember the first time the Bitch talked to me. I thought I was crazy. I knew I was crazy. We all are, to some extent, but me more than others… and I’m a shrink. Unfortunately, with the voice she’s taken, I can’t help but yearn and wish that I had a mother like other women do during times like this. I understand how Mandy felt carrying Harry now. I think I’ll call her later. I don’t know if my father’s friend is still staying with them, but I’ll call her anyway.

I’m having a hard time trying to pick something to wear for the rest of the evening as I can’t stop the steady flow of tears streaming from my eyes. The children have mostly settled during this part of the pregnancy as they are now in cramped quarters and their movements are more succinct—more turning and stretching as opposed to jungle gyms and soccer games. I try on about five different outfits, sick to death of yoga pants. I settle on a gray T-shirt dress that clings to my body—totally out of season with an extremely indecent split up my thigh… well, it wasn’t indecent when I bought it. Christian won’t look in the mirror and I won’t step on a scale… a luxury that will be snatched away from me when I go to the doctor on Thursday. Ain’t we a pair.

It makes me cry harder.

After I squeeze my way-too-big body into this way-too-small dress, I only end up covering the thing with an oversized cowl-neck sweater. I’m still weeping as I try to find a headband to tame my hair. Geez, you would think somebody died!

“Baby?” His concerned voice wrings more emotion from me, and another volley of tears starts anew. Dammit! “I’m sorry…”

“It’s not you!” I wail, uncontrolled. I can only think right now that I want him to hold me, but he can’t even put his arms around me like he used to. I have to poke my butt out to embrace him. I can’t get one of those tight, firm, Christian Grey “you’re my everything’ hugs for another two months because I’m just too fucking fat!

“Talk to me, baby,” he says, kneeling on the floor in front of me, but I can’t. I don’t know what to tell him. Your mouth was hurting and you wouldn’t let me touch your face so it started the tears and now the floodgates are open because I’m as big as Montana?

That’s about it, isn’t it?
In a nutshell, but I’m not telling him that.

“I’m emotional,” I tell him truthfully, “I can’t make it stop.”

“What can I do?”

“I don’t know,” I whine.

Instinctively, he lifts me in his arms like I’m weightless. My brain is screaming, “Put me down before you break your back!” Yet, he carries me effortlessly, like a handkerchief, into our sitting room. He sits in the large chair that faces the windows and situates me on his lap. He curls me into his chest and wraps his arms around my back and the babies.

“Let it out, Butterfly,” he says, soothing, rubbing my back… and the waterfall flows. This time, it flows because he’s so loving and caring and I’m so lucky to have him. After only a few more minutes, I’ve cried myself out and we sit there in silence—the only sound being my occasional shuddering breath. After several moments, his caramel voice breaks the silence.

“Activate two-way communications.” Beep. “Locate Gail Taylor.”

“Yes?” She still sounds perturbed.

“Mrs. Grey isn’t feeling well,” he says, unmoved by her terseness. “Please bring some ginger tea to the sitting room off the master suite.”

“Oh!” Her terse tone is immediately replaced with concern. “Okay.” I swear it seems like that woman teleported because only moments later, she’s in the room with tea. I don’t want tea right now. I want to stay here nestled in my husband’s chest. I can hear her preparing the tea, but I don’t open my eyes.

“Thank you, Gail. Just leave it there… and please, have dinner brought to the sitting room. We’ll dine here tonight.” He’s so thoughtful.

“Yes, sir,” she says, her voice laced with that concern I know only too well before she leaves the room.

*-*

I fell asleep before dinner arrived last night, but Christian woke me and fed me before letting me go right back to sleep. We were still fully dressed when I awoke this morning and my head felt like lead, so I took a shower as warm as I could stand it—warmer than usual, but not too warm for the babies—and let the warmer water caress the fogginess and pain from my head. It was very refreshing. That’s another thing I can’t wait for once these babies are born. I’m going to take the hottest swim in that marble bathtub my body can stand.

After a quiet breakfast and having to repeatedly assure my husband that I was past my emotional breakdown from last night—for now, that is—Marilyn and I set out to begin our day. Our first stop involves a tour of the Harbor Club. It’s a luncheon club located in Seattle’s financial district on the top floor of the Norton Building. The club opened in the mid-1900’s during the dawn of the Mad Men era. While this time has been romanticized by some as the blooming of fashion and culture of the mid-century with beatniks, loud music, and Lucky Strike cigarettes in every hand, this era was also a time of casual or blatant sexism, immense racism and bigotry, and rampant adultery with the textbook executive/secretary relationships. To that end, the fabulous view of Mt. Rainier had very little effect on me as did the historical significance of the landmark business deals sealed within the club’s walls, the stunning décor, or the fact that Craig—the club’s general manager—tried to sell me on the frequent family and social events sponsored by Harbor Club.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not holding it against the club that it blossomed during the heyday of sexism, bigotry, and adultery. I do, however, feel like the ideologies of the founders may still be evident in the club’s current philosophy. What was prevalent to me was the absence of an inviting atmosphere for young or professional or influential women as I toured the facility.

While the space is very elegantly furnished, it’s more geared towards businessmen—i.e. the Mad Men executive. Even now, every room leans towards more masculine furnishings with a hint of unisex flavor. To add to that, current members present are mostly male meeting for mid-morning coffee or some other informal or preliminary conference. The occasional female sits with her male counterpart as either an assistant of some sort, a companion that was more of an onlooker to the proceedings, or in one case, an obvious offering to seal the deal. How barbaric! I tried to pretend that I didn’t know that’s what was going on, but you really couldn’t miss it.

I had already made my decision upon seeing that exchange, but Craig’s proud announcement that the club offers a regular businessman’s lunch and his beaming pride that there was even an impressive walk-in humidor clinched it for me. Why? Because he had an extremely incurable case of the stutters when I asked if there were similar accommodations for ladies who lunch or a spa retreat or even an exclusive parlor for afternoon tea. I thanked him for the tour and his time and told him that I would be in touch after I toured the other clubs in the Seattle area. He tried to pin me down to a time frame for my decision and I couldn’t help feeling like he—like many of the men while I was touring the facility—only saw me as the little woman who came to take a look at the big country club.

“Mr. McCrone,” I begin, “Harbor Club is only the second club I’ve visited and I’ll be going to a third this afternoon and a fourth later this week. As you’ve noticed, my assistant has been taking thorough notes about your facilities and its accommodations, but I’m nowhere near making a final decision on which club I’ll be choosing to join as I have at least twenty more to visit.”

I know Marilyn said make each one feel like they’re on the top of the list, but for me, Harbor Club is at the bottom, and the last thing this pretentious asshole is going to do is rush me.

“Will Mr. Grey be making this decision… with you?” I smile widely and very pretty.

“Please be assured that should Harbor Club make the very short list of finalists once my tours are complete; you’ll be the first to know.” I proffer my hand to him. He takes it like a wet fish, so I squeeze like a fighter. He’s caught off guard and I can see it in his eyes. “Your club is very impressive,” I say sweetly, my voice totally contrary to the death grip his hand is getting right now.

“Thank you, Mrs. Grey,” he says, his voice showing the tiniest bit of strain.

“Dr.,” I correct him. “Steele-Grey.” I hold his hand until he corrects himself.

“Dr. Steele-Grey,” he says. I nod once and slowly release his hand.

“Until and if we meet again, Mr. McCrone,” I say with a smile and turn away.

“Ten will get you twenty that he’s calling somebody that’s calling Christian right now,” I say when Marilyn, Ben, and I clear the door of the club.

“You can count on it,” Marilyn says as we walk to the car.

Ten minutes later, we find ourselves in the exclusive community of Broadmoor. Our visit to Broadmoor is much more pleasant and when I say exclusive, I mean exclusive! Their membership is diverse, but Broadmoor is actually a residential community with a golf course inside. Membership requires a member sponsor and clubhouse has a dress code—jeans or denim of any kind is prohibited.

“Do you already have a sponsor, Dr. Steele-Grey?” Ilene Claiborne asks as she and her assistant, Marco Williams, begin to show us around the club.

“I’m afraid not,” I confess. “It appears we may have overlooked that small bit of vital information in our preliminary research,” I add, throwing a pointed look at Marilyn. She raises her eyes from her iPad and mouths “Wait for it.”

“No worries, Dr. Steele-Grey,” Ms. Claiborne says. “I’m certain that should you decide that you and Broadmoor are a right fit, we’ll have no problem whatsoever finding you and your family a sponsor.” I smile at her warmth.

“Thank you, and please call me Ana. That hyphenated name is going to become very cumbersome after a while.”

“Okay, Ana. Ilene,” she says, returning my smile.

Broadmoor prides itself on its golfing history and its sense of community. Marco banters on about the many professional golf tournaments that have been hosted on Broadmoor’s greens, particularly proud that Arnold Palmer has been famed to have played on the course. Having absolutely no interest in golf myself, I have to apologize to him that his conversation is going completely over my head, but commend him on his knowledge and the fact even under a blanket of snow I can tell that this is quite a beautiful and impressive golf course. He smiles and nods, but I can see he looks a bit deflated.

“Marco, can you tell me, is golfing good for fitness? I mean, to me, it just looks like swinging a club.” I make a haphazard motion with my hands. Marco perks up again.

“Oh, yes ma’am,” he says, coming to life again. “Not many people know it, but golfing is more of a workout than you think. First, there’s the cardiovascular benefit because there’s a lot of walking involved. Walking up the hills and down the valleys assists in toning of different muscles, so there’s strength training involved. Of course, we have caddies, but if you opt occasionally to carry your golf bag, that will also assist in your workout. The twisting and swinging also help with your balance and flexibility, and focusing on your drive helps with concentration.”

He says it all at one time, like he’s been waiting for someone to ask him that question. At first, I was trying to placate him, because I felt like I took the wind out of his sails. Now, I’m standing here completely stunned. I look at Marilyn and bark at Marco.

“Wow!” I say in honest amazement. “Do you golf, Marco?” He straightens his back.

“Yes, ma’am, I do,” he says, proudly.

“A lot?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“Is that your only form of workout?”

“Yes, ma’am, in season. I use the club fitness center in the winter.” I lean in to Ilene and point to Marco.

“You should put that in your pamphlet!” I tell her conspiratorially, but not quietly. They both laugh good-naturedly, and Marco beams with pride. Crisis averted.

We tour the fitness center, various formal and casual dining facilities, the clubhouse and ballroom, and three terraces with views of the greens, the Cascade Mountains, and Lake Washington. I joke with Ilene that if I knew in which direction I was looking, I might be able to see my house across the lake from here. The membership is very diverse—male and female, family friendly, all ages and ethnicities. I feel more at home in this atmosphere, much more so than at Harbor Club, and I know that Craig fucker was just itching to get us in there—more specifically, Christian.

Broadmoor has a stricter vetting process for non-proprietary member hopefuls and those who don’t own property in the community, which is why the club is so exclusive. It’s another reason why those wanting membership require the endorsement of two sponsors. I’m certain that we wouldn’t have any problem getting sponsors or passing the vetting process. I leave Broadmoor with a lot of information in my briefcase and a more secure feeling that this would be one of the clubs on my short list of finalists.

Courtney was less trouble today when we got to Helping Hands. I’ve decided that she needs to rotate what she does instead of just one thing. So today, she would be reading to the children and helping with the tutoring. I didn’t really expect her to teach anybody anything, especially since we don’t have our certifications yet. She was just helping out in the classroom and such. I knew that it was going to be harder than she thought because a lot of these children are troubled. Some of them are loud, some are afraid, others are chatty and others are quiet. It’s a veritable mish-mosh in there and she’s required to stay in there all afternoon and assist the staff as needed.  Nobody came to get me to tell me that she wasn’t doing what she was told for the entire afternoon, but she looked like hell when I came back to get her at the end of the day.

*-*

Oh, God, I’m aching to feel normal again. I want to see my feet and straighten my back and dance and box and sit in a hot tub and eat a burger and drink wine…

Wine… oh my God, wine!

I’m going to spend a whole day pumping breast milk so that I can spend another whole doing nothing but eating tiramisu, ground chuck cheeseburgers with sharp cheddar cheese, and drinking bottle after bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon!

I walk away from Atlantis where I’ve been standing for the last few minutes watching Marty give a command performance of one of her best ballets before I head back to my office. As I’m passing the community area headed towards my office, I hear a scolding voice off in the guest quarters. It’s Chuck. Is he arguing with Keri? Oh Lord. If he is, should I get involved or should I keep walking? I move a little closer to confirm my suspicions.

“That was a basic mistake, man. What was that? You fresh out of training or what?” he scolds. Well, it’s not Keri.

“Chuck, you know I know protocol, but I was trying not yo rock the boat, okay?” That’s Ben. “I thought that if I just did what these fuckers said and waited in the waiting room, it was only a few feet away. I could be there if she needed me—which I was right there when she called.” He’s right about that part. “If I had been arrested, nobody would have been there if she needed help. This was a strange hospital; these people didn’t know who we were. They were ball-busters. Real fucking ball-busters.”

“They’re going to travel the world,” Chuck says calmly. “If Christian doesn’t fire you, you’re going to be a lot of places where they are not going to know who you are. You always, always stand your ground!”

“I know that now,” Ben says, defeated. “I wasn’t that far away, man.”

“But you weren’t at the door,” Chuck scolds. “Don’t let that shit happen again.” There’s silence and I can only assume that Ben is nodding. “Do you have any idea how much jewelry that woman owns?”

“Oh, hell, not this again,” Ben laments. This is about my rings.

“Do you want this gig or no, because we can assign somebody else to her if it’s too much for you.” I don’t hear Ben’s answer. Am I too much for him? Am I a bitch? Should I ask Christian if Jason can be assigned to me until the babies are born and he can take Chance? “I can’t hear you, man.”

“Of course, she’s not too much for me!” Ben snaps. “I just heard all this from Jason already…”

“And now you’re hearing it from me!” Chuck snaps. “That’s not just my boss we’re talking about, that’s my friend! I almost died protecting her! I could have lost everything! Now, because of her—because of them—I’m able to get things back together. Every good thing happening in my life is either directly or indirectly because of her, and I’ll be goddamned if she’s caused any hurt, harm, pain, or discomfort because you’re not paying attention or can’t follow protocol!”

He’s mad. He’s fire-breathing mad. This isn’t about the hospital. This isn’t about my rings. He’s having flashbacks of Harris.

“Her rings were in the safe, Chuck. I watched them open it, take them out and give them to me.”

“They weren’t supposed to be in the goddamn safe!” he hisses. “If Christian is not sitting next to her with those rings on her finger, then they are supposed to be in his possession or your possession—nowhere else. There are more zeroes on those rings than you’ll ever see and she owns just about every diamond Chanel ever made. You’ve got the Billion-Dollar-Baby here when it comes down to net worth and she’s priceless every other way. Can you handle it or not?”

“I respect you, Chuck, but you’re not my boss…”

“But she is my charge. Can. You handle it. Or not?” he repeats.

“Yes,” Ben says curtly, “I can handle it.” There’s a brief pause.

“I swear to God, Benjamin… on my life,” Chuck says, his voice strained, “if anything happens to her…” he trails off. There’s silence again, for a longer period this time.

“I got it, Chuck,” Ben says, his voice softened. I sigh and walk to the hallway towards my office. As I bend the corner, I hear the familiar sound of dress shoes on a tile floor coming in my direction. I turn around to see Ben passing the bar headed toward the entertainment area.

“Ben…” I call his name to stop him before he gets out of sight. He turns around, a bit stunned and surprised to see me. My hands are resting on my stomach and I examine him, trying to relay understanding without pity.

“I know—” I sigh. I can’t figure out what I want to say to him. I don’t want him to know that I was listening, but it’s too late for that now. “You did the best you could… under the circumstances.”

Hazel eyes stare at me for a moment before his shoulders relax and he nods.

“Thank you,” he says, just above a whisper. It was something that he needed to hear.

“You’re welcome,” I say softly. He nods again and continues through the entertainment room, most likely to the elevator. I walk down the hall to my office.

I don’t know what I want to do. I’m still feeling the “God-I-wish-these-babies-would-be-born-already” blues. I check my iPad and see that I have notifications from Marilyn that most of the items that I have ordered for the Radcliffs is ready and all that needs to be scheduled is the grocery delivery and account. I send an appointment to my husband to confirm our visit to the Radcliffs on Sunday to make sure everything is delivered and available before Christmas.

Christmas.

We’re having Christmas at the Greys again this year—Grey Manor, that is. No fancy New Year’s Eve party this time. Everybody has families and no one’s getting married. I send off an email to Al.

To: Allen Forsythe
Re: New Year’s Eve
Date: Tuesday, December 17, 2013, 18:47
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

Hey Al,

Any plans for New Year’s Eve? I’m thinking Food and Libations—an all-nighter at Grey Crossing. Let my hair down once more before the soccer players get here. What do you think?

Ana

Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Assistant Director, Helping Hands

F& L—I’d love to lazy around with my friends and talk shit all night and forget about all the crap that happened this year; all the crazy things that turned my life upside down and caused me to completely forget about just plain Ana Steele. Did I really know what I was getting into when I agreed to become Mrs. Grey? When I agreed to become a mother? When I agreed to give up my simple, boring life as a psychologist with the crazy, unhelpable people at the community center? Would I do it all again had I known that I would be faced with all this confusion and mayhem?

I rub my scar. Of course, I would. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have Christian… or the beans. God, we haven’t called them “beans” in so long. They were “soccer players,” and now, they’re just “my children” or “my babies.” I could fit my clothes when they were still “beans.”

And I’ve come full circle… back to lamenting about hamburgers, Cabernet, and bullshitting in my condo with my friends. And my email pings.

To: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Re: New Year’s Eve
Date: Tuesday, December 17, 2013, 18:59
From: Allen Forsythe

Hi Jewel,

No plans for New Year’s but to veg out in front of the TV and watch the ball drop in Times Square. F&L slumber party sounds great! Let me know the deets.

Al
XOXO

Allen Forsythe, Chief Legal Officer, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

Well, that was pretty easy. I forward the email to Gary, Maxie and Phil and CC Christian and Marilyn. I also invite Mia and Ethan. Just as I hit send, Christian enters the doors adjoining our offices.

“Hi,” he says, closing the doors behind him.

“Hi,” I respond. “I just sent you an email. I didn’t know you were over there. I thought you might have been out.”

“I was on a call,” he says, taking a seat in the chair in front of my desk. “You were quiet. I didn’t know you had come in. You okay?” I rub my scar again.

“Yes, I’m fine.” It’s only a half-tale.

“What was the email about?”

“I sent you two things actually. I sent an appointment to see the Radcliffs on Sunday—our Adopt-A-Family. I talked to the wife and just made arrangements to have some much needed things ordered and delivered by Friday—some to their house and some here. We can take them over this weekend. The other was about Food and Libations on New Year’s Eve. I may have jumped the gun by planning it before asking you, but I just thought about it went for it. I hope you didn’t have any other plans for us.” He shakes his head.

“No, no other plans,” he says. “At least it’s not a wedding. We couldn’t pull that off in two weeks.

“No, we couldn’t,” I say, rubbing my scar again. After a few more moments of silence, he asks,

“So, you want to join a country club?”


 

A/N: I won’t assume everyone knows, so I’ll explain. On August 6, 1945, Hiroshima, Japan became the first city to be targeted by a nuclear weapon when the US Air Force dropped the atomic bomb “Little Boy” on the city, causing the immediate or eventual deaths of approximately 170,000 people and the destruction of nearly 80% of the city. Some people still maintain that the bombing was a direct response to the unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese four years prior. Pearl Harbor marked America’s entry into World War II as we had not declared war and weren’t in the fight until that attack. The Mushroom Cloud over Hiroshima was nearly the end of World War II, and this is the event to which Christian is referring when he says that telling Gail that she would have to clear the pantry in a couple of hours was like “Hiroshima.”

Harbor Club and Broadmoor are actual clubs. My historical information is correct, but I’ve taken some creative license with my current descriptions as Harbor Club is closed now and Broadmoor is actually that exclusive that you can’t get much inside information.

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/becoming-dr-grey/

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 🙂 
Lynn X

 

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 20—More Normalness!

I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. If something that I say displeases you, please, just leave. If you don’t like this story or me, please don’t spoil this experience for everyone. Just go away. For the rest of you, the saga continues…

Chapter 20—More Normalness!

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CHRISTIAN

It’s about 7:30 when I get home. I didn’t have a chance to get everything done that I had on my agenda, but I didn’t want to stay at Grey House all night. I have Jason drop me at the front door. When I get inside, the house is quiet.

“Hello?” I call out from the grand entry. No response. If Butterfly were in the bedroom, she would have heard me as the suite is right at the top of the stairs and the door is actually visible in the two-story grand entry.

I make my way to the kitchen. Dinner is in the oven—chicken Cacciatore over pasta, still warm. It smells wonderful. I take my plate, some flatware, and a bottle of wine to my study. I had hoped to find Butterfly in her office, but she’s not there when I get to mine. The light is still on and after I put my dinner on my desk, I go inside.

I don’t spend much time in her office. I think this is the first time I’ve actually been in here since we’ve moved in. It looks like her… like a shrink’s office, but… not. I touch her mouse pad on the laptop and the screen comes to life. She didn’t lock it, but then again, why would she? It looks like she was looking at recliners, nice ones.

She wanted a damn burger. I wonder if she’s still salty about me saying “no.” I’m not going to let her eat a burger. I don’t care how mad she is with me—no burger. She thought she was dying the last time she ate a burger and now she has the nerve to want one.

b1377fa4449ae8dc261bc96767679291I go back to my office and sit down at my desk. My office is a real man’s space, a powerful man’s space. With dark woods and dark brown marble, I have to say that it’s totally alpha male. I take a wine glass from the bar and fill my glass. I enjoy a quiet and comfortable dinner alone while I finish the work I didn’t complete in the office.

It’s quite some time later when I turn off my computer and take my dishes back to the kitchen. Gail must have cleaned because the lights are all turned down now and the house really feels like a tomb now. I climb the stairs to the bedroom, taking off my jacket and tie along the way.

I find my wife sound asleep on her side of the bed in a camisole and a pair of black satin sleep pants. A tall non-spill tumbler of ice water sits sweating on a coaster on her nightstand. Ice water has become a necessity for her during her third trimester as she gets quite parched in the middle of the night. Another necessity is the pillow between her knees. The twins require a pillow as well. They sleep more soundly when she has the pillow under her stomach, which is poking out from under her camisole. I strip down to my boxer briefs and relieve myself before I climb into bed behind her, wrapping my arm around her and resting my hand on our children. She whimpers quietly before falling back into slumber, and I follow her in no time.

The alarm wakes me at 6:00 sharp. I reach over and Butterfly is already out of bed. What the hell? I get out of bed and go to her bathroom. I can tell by the temperature of the room that she was in here not long ago. It’s still steamy. I keep searching and find her in her dressing room, sitting at the vanity fussing a bit with her hair. She doesn’t see me when I enter and I stay a bit out of sight and watch her toil with trying to hide her semi-bald spot. With the rest of her hair being so long, no matter what she does with it, it falls off her face and there’s no way for her to cover the spot with it. Her frustration is palpable and she sighs heavily and slams her brush down on the vanity.

It’s time to make my presence known.

She’s slightly startled to see me as I come up behind her, making eye contact with her in the mirror. Subconsciously, she pulls her hair over her shoulder so that it covers the spot where it has only just started to grow back. I kneel next to her and remove her fidgeting hands from her hair and put them in her lap. Brushing the hair back off her shoulder, I kiss her gently on the cheek, moving up to the somewhat bald spot that she keeps trying to hide and kissing it several times. Her shoulders fall, the tension from moments ago flowing out of them. Maybe it’s surrender, I don’t know.

I pick up her brush and gently work the slight tangles out before using her comb to make a precise part down the center of her head. I meticulously style her hair in two long braids on either side of her head and fasten the ends with two ponytail holders. I bring the braids forward so that they fall over her shoulders and the spot with no hair is barely visible at all. I kneel behind her as she admires her reflection, smiling softly and fondling her braid as it drapes down her breast.

My little Pocahontas“My little Pocahontas,” I say softly as I stroke her hair and kiss her head. She looks into my eyes in our reflection.

“Thank you,” she says, gratefully. I smile tightly, more distressed that this small patch of missing hair is causing her so much angst.

“You’re welcome, beautiful girl,” I tell her, kissing her again on her head. “I have to go shower, okay?” She smiles widely, her big beautiful blue eyes filled with gratitude.

“Okay,” she says before bringing my hand to her lips and kissing it reverently. Although the gesture is so warming, I know that she’s tormented about what people think of her when they see this bald spot. We’ll have to do something about that.

I take a quick shower and dress in jeans and a comfortable sweater with a pair of casual Oxford shoes. Butterfly comes out of her dressing room similarly dressed—maternity jeans and a sweater with a pair of sneakers. She must have been suffering from wardrobe indecision.

“You’re going to work?” she asks.

“Yes,” I reply.

“In that?” She frowns, pointing to my overly casual attire. I chuckle light-heartedly.

“I’m not working the entire day,” I tell her. “I have some errands to run and I won’t be in the office too long. In fact, I’ll be home early and maybe I can help you with some of what you need to accomplish.”

“How do you know I have anything to do?” she folds her arms.

“Because I know my Butterfly and it’s the day before Thanksgiving. We’re going to have a house full of people in our new mansion for four days and there’s probably more things on your to-do list than you have time to do.” She pouts her lips.

“I hate you,” she lies.

“No, you don’t.” I kiss her lips and lead her out of the bedroom and to the elevator.

“Um, I want to buy Marilyn a car,” she says out of nowhere. I frown. A car? Why?

“I’ve closed my practice, Christian.” Whoa! That caught me off guard.

“Why? I thought you loved your practice.”

“Well, since the accident, I’m having a bit of a problem with recall. I thought it would be more important to focus on my own recovery than with someone else’s. I only had a handful of patients that were draining more than I needed, and I want to focus on the needs of Helping Hands without spreading myself too thin. The twins will be here soon and… it was just the right thing to do.” I shrug.

“Well, I can’t argue with that logic,” I respond. “Are you sure you’re going to be okay with that?”

“I’m more than okay with it,” she says as the elevator door opens to the first floor. “One of my patients felt that I was her own personal psychiatrist and I had no right to quit. Those apron strings definitely needed to be cut!” I pause and examine her.

“Do I need to put this character on the watch list?” I ask. I twist my lips.

“I don’t think so. She’s quite self-centered, but I wouldn’t label her as violent or dangerous.” I nod, but I still might need to look into this person who didn’t want to let go.

“So why the car for Marilyn, just out of curiosity?”

“She’s going to remain my personal assistant and I’m going to have her running my errands and taking care of most of the things I can’t. She was just driving to downtown Seattle, now she has to cross the bridge. I’d like for her to have an expense card, too, for her own expenses and for anything I need her to pick up for me… oh, and a new phone, because that little Android she has drives me batshit! It’s gotta be like four years old!” Everything she’s asking for makes sense, and if it means that Butterfly will be more at ease, I’ll buy the girl a house. They’re all tax write-offs anyway.

“What did you have in mind?”

“She likes the Hyundai Sonata.” I purse my lips and nod.

“That’s a pretty reliable car—good specs, nice reviews, good mileage. Any particular color?” Butterfly ponders the question.

“I’ll have to ask her, but I think she likes the gold one. I’ll find out for sure and let you know.”

“I’ll get her a card on the Amex account and she can get the phone from there.”

“Thank you, Christian,” she says, hugging me and kissing me on the cheek just as we enter the kitchen.

“Good morning,” Gail greets as we walk in. “Oh, Ana, your hair looks darling like that!”

“Thank you,” she says with a wide smile. “Christian did it.”

“Did he?” Gail says in that “well, well, well” tone that she has.

“Yes, Mrs. Taylor, I did,” I say proudly. “Is there anything wrong with me braiding my beautiful wife’s hair?”

“Not a thing,” she says in a knowing tone with a smirk. “Eggs and bacon?”

“Sounds good,” I say as Butterfly hands me a steaming cup of coffee. Good God, it’s delicious.

“Mrs. Taylor, the grocery delivery should be here by 11:00. Thankfully, the turkeys will already be thawed.” Around the corner from the pantry, I think, comes a woman in her forties—maybe, black hair tied up in a bun in black slacks and a white blouse.

“Ms. Solomon, this is Mr. Christian Grey. He’s the man of the house. Mr. Grey, this is Regina Solomon. She’s one of the additional cooks hired on the staff. You’ve already met Mrs. Grey.” She nods to Butterfly and turns her attention back to me.

“Mr. Grey, pleasure to meet you, Sir,” she says in a tight, professional voice, her hands clasps together in front of her as if she’s waiting for instruction.

“Ms. Solomon,” I nod. “I hope you like it here.”

“Thank you, Sir,” she says with a small smile before shifting her eyes back to Gail.

“Yes, make sure that there’s plenty of room in the pantry for the dry goods and the turkeys can go in the Subzero over there with the rest of the perishable items. I’ve already made room. The prepared items can go in the Subzero over there…” Gail goes off giving Ms. Solomon instructions for the mountain of food expected to be delivered to stock up for this weekend. Butterfly quickly takes over and cracks two eggs in a frying pan, beginning to scramble them quickly.

“We have two cooks now and you’re cooking breakfast?” I scold

“Actually, we have four… and they’re just eggs, Christian. Keep your shirt on.” The eggs are scrambled soft and plated with bacon, cheese, salt and pepper and buttered toast before I have a chance to protest.

“Mrs. Grey, I could’ve done that for you,” Ms. Solomon says, rushing back into the kitchen.

“It’s no problem. Ms. Solomon,” Butterfly says, handing me the plate. “Mr. Grey is going to need to get going soon. Besides, you had your hands full with instructions from Mrs. Taylor.”

“Well, it’s just that… in your delicate condition…” she stutters and Butterfly smiles warmly.

“Thank you for your concern, Ms. Solomon. I’ll be fine and I promise not to overdo it.”

“Ah, yes, someone else to be concerned about my lovely wife!” I smile triumphantly as I shovel the delicious fluffy eggs into my mouth.

“Oh, God, you’ve made another ally,” Butterfly says, shaking her head.

“Well, can I get you anything, Mrs. Grey?” Ms. Solomon asks.

“Yes, please. There’s fruit salad in the bowl in the refrigerator. I’ll take some of that, and a big bowl of ice cream.” I frown and look at her.

“Ice cream… for breakfast?”

“Yes,” she hisses. “I didn’t get my burger last night so I’m having ice-cream for breakfast!” She says the entire thing through her teeth.

“Yes ma’am one big bowl of ice cream for Mrs. Grey please,” I say all in one breath while stuffing more food into my mouth. The kitchen is quiet for a few moments while Ms. Solomon gives Butterfly her fruit salad and proceeds to scoop out her ice cream. Gail comes into the kitchen and frowns at Ms. Solomon, who has a quick but silent conversation with Gail involving eye signals and hand gestures and nothing is said. Gail proceeds to fry more eggs and in a moment, Jason is scrambling into the kitchen sliding into his suit jacket.

“Why didn’t you wake me, Love?” he says, kissing Gail on the cheek.

“I did,” she says in confusion. Jason must have slept like the dead. “Ms. Solomon, this is Jason Taylor, my husband and Mr. Grey’s personal security. This is Regina Solomon, dear. She’s one of the new cooks on staff.”

“Ms. Solomon,” he says with a nod. “Forgive me if I’m already a bit familiar with you. I’m in charge of the background checks for the residential staff.”

“Not a problem, Mr. Taylor, I’m accustomed to it. It’s nice to meet you, sir.” She’s very professional. I can see why Butterfly chose her. She hands Butterfly her ice cream and a spoon. “Mrs. Grey.”

“Thank you, Ms. Solomon,” she says and digs into the ice cream.

“Is that ice cr…?” Before Jason can get the words out of his mouth, Gail has silenced him with a series of half-words and grunts and a pointed glare. He purses his lips like a scolded child as she puts a plate of food in front of him.

“Eat your breakfast, dear.” He quickly starts to swallow his food as he is trying to fill his mouth with food so that there won’t be enough room for his foot. I can’t help the small chuckle that escapes my lips.

“Hi everybody,” Marilyn breezes into the room. “Ana, the adjustable beds will be delivered on Friday. I know Chuck’s coming tonight and Mr. Grey will be here tomorrow, but it’s the best I could do and I had to name drop to get that.”

“God, I hate that!” Butterfly hisses.

“What, name dropping?” I say with a frown. “I do it all the time. That’s how you get things done.”

“I see that, I just hate it,” she says. “If someone wants to spend their money in your establishment, why can’t we all get the same treatment?”

“That’s a very noble thought, Butterfly, but that’s not the way it works. How do you think I got the Bentley for our wedding when Tamara couldn’t?” I say. “Unfortunately for most, status does mean something.”

“God!” she whispers, disgusted. “That’s why people don’t like the rich. They think we’re all stuck up and entitled, and this fact just reinforces that theory.” Butterfly goes back to her ice cream.

“Ooo, is that ice cream?” Nobody caught Marilyn in time. Butterfly just glares at her while she stares at the ice cream. “Can I have some?” She sounds like an eight year old and I nearly choke on my coffee trying not to laugh.

“Did you have hamburger last night?” Marilyn frowns.

“Um… no, I had chicken,” she answers confused.

“Good, then you can have some of my ice cream.” Ms. Solomon gets another bowl for Marilyn, who is still sporting a very confused expression.

“Mrs. Grey couldn’t have a burger for dinner, so she’s having ice cream for breakfast,” I inform Marilyn.

“You wanted a burger!?” she says, turning appalled eyes to Butterfly. Now it’s my turn to grunt and do hand signals. Marilyn immediately gets the message.

“Okay. I get it. No burgers for Ana. Burgers bad. Ice cream good. May I enjoy my ice cream now?” Ana says sarcastically. Nobody answers and Marilyn quickly tears into her ice cream, also avoiding Jason’s prior near-collision with foot-in-mouth disease.

“I’m leaving now, dear,” I say, kissing a once-again salty Butterfly on the cheek. “Ms. Solomon, more ice cream for Mrs. Grey, please,” I add before leaving the kitchen.

“Jason we need to make a stop,” I say when we get to the car.

“Where to?” he says.

“A mall.” He turns around in the seat.

“A mall?” he repeats.

“Yes, a mall. Hurry up and drive. If you hurry, we’ll beat the rush and the paparazzi.”

“Yes, sir,” he says uncertainly as he starts the car.

*-*

My impromptu shopping spree was a blazing success, and I make it to the office before 10:00 to wrap up what business I plan to do before Thanksgiving. I haven’t decided if I’m coming in on Friday or not. I did that last year and things didn’t go well with Butterfly and the harpies at Miana’s. Luckily, this year, the treatments and technicians will all be coming to Grey Crossing and the spa downstairs. The fitness room has also been temporarily converted to spa space so that the ladies can have their privacy. Around noon, an angry Jason comes storming into my office and starts talking before I get a chance to ask him what’s wrong.

“I just talked to Chuck’s brother,” he says. “I know I was out of line, but I wanted to know why he hadn’t come to see Chuck. I thought it was financial, so I was going to offer to fly him out as a surprise for my boy. Do you know what that sonofabitch said to me?” Sonofabitch… okay.

“What?” I ask.

“He said, ‘I’m not going to fly across the world every time Chuck gets into a drunken rage and crashes his car.’ I almost fucking lost it, man. When I asked him when he last saw his brother, he said over ten years. That’s when I snapped. I said, ‘Obviously, because he’s been sober for about thirteen!’” Jason barks. He’s pissed. I wonder if he’s told Charles about this conversation.

“Does Charles know that you spoke to his brother?”

“No,” he laments. “He’s down as the emergency contact. I didn’t know they hadn’t spoken in over ten years. Chuck didn’t mention it. It gets worse,” he says, rubbing his forehead.

“Worse, how?” I ask. How could it be any worse than this?

“I started rambling on about Chuck’s recovery and how good he is and how diligent he is about not taking a drink. I might as well have been talking to this man about the color of bricks. When I realized I was talking to a wall, I just stopped and asked him if he knew who I was. His answer was ‘one of his friends, I suppose.’ So I tell him, ‘To answer that question for you, I’m his boss, and no—I’m not an alcoholic. We are both highly-paid private bodyguards and personal security for one of the richest, most high-profile couples on the west coast, mostly likely in the country and probably in the world.’ I told him that Chuck wasn’t drunk when he had that accident. He was protecting Mrs. Christian Grey from a psychotic, jealous woman who aimed her car directly at theirs in an attempt to kill Mrs. Grey. I told him that his brother that he hadn’t spoken to in ten years could have died not because he was drunk driving, but because he courageously wrapped his body around Mrs. Grey’s to minimize her injuries.”

“What did he say after that?”

“Nothing, the line just went quiet,” he says.

“Did he hang up?”

“No, he just got quiet. After I got tired of listening to dead air, I apologized for taking up his time and assured him that I wouldn’t call again. Then I hung up the phone. If he bothers to talk to his brother at all, he’ll let Chuck know.”

“Jason, you don’t know what happened between them,” I tell him.

“No, I don’t,” he says, “but having been a victim of a near-death experience more than once myself, I know that it changes you and it changes the people around you. I would think that at some point in your life, you might want to bury the hatchet with the people that are important to you, but then again, that’s only me.”

Yes, Jason, unfortunately that is only you. Butterfly, too, had a near-death experience and I recently learned that my brother, who hasn’t missed a Thanksgiving in the 27 years that I have been a Grey, won’t be joining us this year because his catty ass girlfriend and one of my wife’s former best friends still doesn’t want to be in the same room with her. I don’t know what’s going on with that woman and I really want to nail her to the wall because not only is she affecting my wife, but now she’s also affecting my extended family.

“The bitch is letting Sophie come over for Thanksgiving if you can believe it.” My facial expression must have let him know that this is unbelievable news. “Yeah, I know, hell has officially frozen over.”

“She’s surrendering a major holiday? You’re fucking kidding me!”

“Oh, there’s an ulterior motive,” he tells me. “I think she needs a sitter, but also, she knows that we’ll be having dinner at Grey Crossing and ten will get you twenty that she’s hoping to get in.”

“Get in?” I ask. “God, she’s about as bad as those harpies that showed up at my mother’s house last year.”

“Yeah, I may never get Sophie on a holiday again, but that bat isn’t getting into Grey Crossing. I’m meeting her at the gate.”

“She’s not going to like that,” I laugh.

I’m tying up a few loose ends and preparing to go to Boeing field. I text Butterfly for Marilyn’s choice of Sonata and what she plans to do with her Camry. She texts me back confirming that Marilyn likes the gold and hadn’t thought about disposal of the Camry. I inform her that someone will be bringing a Sonata by the house by day’s end and to have one of the staff park her car in the empty parking bin. We’ll sell it for her and she can keep the proceeds. I then call Hyundai of Kirkland and arrange to have a gold 2014 Hyundai with all the amenities delivered to Grey Crossing. My last call is to American Express to have an expense card cut for Marilyn. I’m just about to wrap it up and wish Andrea a happy Thanksgiving when Jason stops me at the door.

“Sir, there’s someone here that you need to meet.” I frown at him.

“Okay, who?” He steps aside, the bear of a man that he is, and there is a petite blonde standing behind him.

“Hello, Mr. Grey,” she says softly. She’s familiar… very familiar.

“I’m sorry, do I know you?”

“No, sir, but you knew my sister.” I still can’t place her.

“Please, come in, sit down.” I gesture to a seat and she nods, taking the seat dutifully. Jason closes the door and stands just inside. I take the seat next to this mystery woman and examine her closely.

“You look familiar,” I confess.

“Yeah… I know,” she replies, dropping her head and fidgeting with her fingers. “My sister left after her first year of college. She dropped out and just disappeared without a trace. She never seemed happy. She was restless, discontent. She wanted to be free. She wanted to spread her wings and be more than a little town said she could be. So she just left and didn’t say a word. It was like she dropped off the face of the earth… and now I know why.”

She raises her eyes to me, and now I’m certain that I know her. I can’t stop staring until I figure it out. Those eyes are familiar to me—same, but different. A different color maybe? Yes, a different color… the same eyes, but a different color. Where do I know her from?

She’s fallen silent as I examine her face and try to figure out who she is. Blue eyes… brown, they should be brown. Suddenly, I feel a chill—a bitter, freezing, cutting chill slicing through my body like somebody is fucking standing on my grave having a coffee break.

“We always dreaded this call,” she sighs, “but we knew that we would get it.”

Naomi! Naomi has an identical fucking twin and she’s sitting two feet away from me in my goddamn office. A fucking twin!

“You identified her as Naomi. Why?” she asks.

“That’s…” I can barely find my words. “I… she… that’s her… she told me that was her name.” I finally get a sentence out of my mouth.

“I’m Vera Moore, Mr. Grey. Her name is Vernetta. She was named after my grandmother, and I was just named after her.” She folds her hands in her lap. “She was only twenty minutes older than me, but you would have thought she was God. She was Netta, and I was Netta’s sister.” She swallows hard. “I spent my whole life in Netta’s shadow. Nobody knew who I was. Nobody cared, but I never blamed her. I loved her. I still love her.” She sighs and brushes away a tear.

“I dyed my hair in high school. We’re identical, but everybody could tell us apart. She was the social butterfly, the popular one, and I was Netta’s little sister. I finally kind of got my own identity when I went blonde, though.”

She stands and walks over to the window. She’s nothing like her sister—her frame, her carriage, her voice, nothing. Nothing’s the same except for her eyes and even those weren’t the same.

“How did you know Netta?” she asks. “The coroner said that you wanted her body if nobody came to claim her. That’s how I found you.” She turns back around and Naomi’s eyes bore right through me. A few short days ago, I looked into this same face—pale and lifeless. Now, it is staring back at me looking for answers.

“We were very close for a very short amount of time,” I tell her. “I’m sorry, she told me that she didn’t have any family.”

“That doesn’t surprise me. She gave you a fake name,” she says, sadly. “How did you know about West Virginia?”

“That part, she told me,” I confess. She had a whole new identity by the time she met me. Even her background check was rewritten. Maybe she took on someone else’s identity. That’s the only way her background check could have checked out.

“Her picture was in the local paper,” she says. “I think it was her driver’s license. She still looks the same as she did the last time I saw her. It was a really simple ad—“do you know this woman?” and a number to call. It was like she was looking for bail or something. My brothers and sister were hopeful, but the minute I saw it, I knew.” She shakes her head. “I knew that whatever she was trying to catch had finally meant the end of her.”

You have no idea how right you are.

“I think Nao… Vernetta was still chasing that thing that made her drop out of college,” I say. “No matter what she had, she always wanted more. She had a thirst that couldn’t be quenched. It turned out to be too much for me. She wanted something that I couldn’t give her, so eventually, she left me.” I’m not going to tell this girl that her sister was a submissive and she wanted a relationship and I wasn’t willing to commit. If she ever hears that, she won’t hear it from me.

“He said she bled to death,” she says, begging for me to tell her why. I tell her what I can.

“She had an accident. She ran a red light and hit another car—hard. She left the car and fled the scene on foot. I think she panicked. By the time she sought medical attention, it was too late. She probably walked to the nearest hospital, which may or may not have been that close to the scene of the accident. I think she was just scared and she didn’t know what to do… and it turned out to be catastrophic.”

“Why didn’t she just come back home?” Vera weeps.

“She couldn’t,” I tell her. “She was chasing something bigger than her, so big that she cut all ties, changed her name and left everything that she knew and loved. She was like Icarus flying too close to the sun. If you told her not to, she just flew closer.” I drop my head, recalling how disobedient and rebellious she was. We were together for such a short time, but she left a huge impression on me, even more so now that she’s gone. “I thought I knew her… but it turns out that I didn’t know her at all.”

“Do you think she ever caught was she was chasing, Mr. Grey?” Vera asks, her eyes hopeful. “Do you think she’s finally at peace?”

No, I don’t. I think she left this world in pain and torment and whatever hell or limbo she’s in now, she’s still being tormented.

“I don’t know,” I lie, “but at the very least, she’s not running anymore.” That’s the only comfort I can give her. She pulls a tissue from her purse and tidies her face as much as she can.

“I’m going to take her home, now,” Vera says. “She’ll be laid to rest with family, for what it’s worth.”

“Does she have more family… alive?” Vera nods.

“We’ve got two brothers and another sister. My dad passed away before we started high school. My mom is suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s. She keeps calling me Netta…” she starts weeping again, but quickly composes herself. “There’s a lot of extended family. I just don’t understand this. She could have come home…”

“She had ambitions too big for home. Don’t torment yourself trying to figure out what could have prevented this, Vera. No one knew, and now, what’s done is done. We have to deal with it and move on.”

“That’s easier said than done, Mr. Grey,” she says. “Have you ever lost anyone close to you?”

“As a matter of fact, I have,” I retort, flatly. “My mother died when I was four. I was adopted very shortly thereafter. I wish I could tell you that it gets easier, but it doesn’t.” Her face falls immediately and now I’ve made this grieving girl feel badly. Way to go, Grey.

“I’m sorry, I had no idea.”

“There’s no way that you could,” I say. “I don’t mean to be rude, Ms. Moore, but I do have an appointment that I can’t reschedule. Is there anything that I can do to help—transport or final arrangements? Anything?” She shakes her head.

“It’s enough that you would have given her a proper burial. We’ll get home okay.” She puts her purse on her arm and takes a few steps towards the door. “Even though it didn’t work out between you, I can only hope that she was someone special to you for you to want to do something like that for her… even if only for a short while.” I can’t answer her. I can’t tell her who Naomi… Vernetta was to me. She’ll have to remember her as she was when Vera last saw her. “Goodbye, Mr. Grey.”

“Goodbye, Ms. Moore.” She turns around and Jason escorts her out of the office and to the elevator. I run my hands through my hair. I’m shaken, stirred, and rattled. A dead girl just walked into my office—a girl who is dead because of me, directly because of me! She sat here and showed me who she could have been had she stayed in school, had she never come to Seattle… had she never met me! I want a drink in the worst way right now. I feel my insides trembling, my own personal earthquake.

“Sir?” I turn my attention to Jason, my trusted friend and bodyguard who basically just threw me into purgatory.

“What. The fuck. Was that?” I growl at him.

“I know, right?” he replies.

“No, Mr. Taylor, we’re not sharing a moment here! I want to know what the hell you were thinking!” He’s a bit horrified.

“I just… sir, I thought you really needed to meet her,” he defends.

“You did, did you?” I ask, my fist clenched at my sides. “You thought it was a good idea for me to look into the twin eyes of the dead, cold face that I identified about a week ago on a slab in the morgue? The same face that met her demise because I couldn’t give her what she wanted? That almost murdered my wife and children? What in God’s name made you think that was a good idea?” I’m nearly yelling now. “Then you parade her in here with absolutely no warning like she’s my long lost relative showing up for a family reunion! Have you lost your fucking mind? Have you truly lost your goddamn senses?”

“No, sir,” he says, his voice truly chastised. I don’t think he really thought it would be this bad. “She said that she would be taking Ms. Adams… Ms. Moore home in a couple of hours. I thought you… would want to talk to her before she left.” He’s floundering. I’ve never seen him floundering. I want to explode. I want to destroy something, to hurt someone, but Jason is floundering.

I count. I don’t know how high I count or how much time passes, but I count. I count and I keep counting until my rage subsides; until my personal earthquake stops shaking; until my nails stop digging into the hands that soon have to operate Charlie Tango. I raise my eyes to my bewildered bodyguard.

“Don’t you ever fucking let something like this happen again,” I hiss. “You’re my friend, but it’s your job to make sure that I don’t get blindsided by things like this! I have to fly a helicopter in less than an hour. Did you forget about that?”

“No, sir. I didn’t think. You’re right, I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

“I fucking well hope not, because if another one of my ex-submissives turns up dead and her twin sister shows up in my office, it’s a goddamn bad day in the neighborhood!” I shake my head in a vain attempt to rid my mind of what just happened. “The car, please!” I bark.

“Yes, sir,” he says and walks out of my office. I roll my eyes and proceed out behind him. I mutter something to Andrea and walk to the elevator. He must have taken the stairs, because he’s not out here. Just as well. Goddamn lookalike pedophile aunts and nieces and murderous, dead, submissives with identical twin sisters—my life is a fucking Greek tragedy! I step into the elevator and press the express code, hoping that with my luck, the goddamn thing doesn’t plummet to the ground floor!

*-*

“Christian! It’s good to see you again!” I must admit that Keri is a very pretty woman and I can’t help but wonder how long she plans to stay in the states. I’ve landed Charlie Tango at the fire department and paid the fee to have an ambulance transport Charles from his home back to the landing site. It’s less than a mile, but it’s highway robbery what they’re charging me.

“Hello, Keri. It’s good to see you, too. Are we all ready?”

“Yes! I can’t wait!” She seems giddy. Charles comes rolling out of a room in the back of the house.

“Sir!” he says, surprised. “I didn’t expect you.”

“Who did you expect?”

“Ana, maybe… some of the guys.”

“Well, that would have been a little difficult.”

“I can imagine.” No, you can’t.

We get him situated in the back of the ambulance and I ride with him and Keri while Jason rides in the front seat with the driver.

“There’s a couple of things I failed to tell you, Charles,” I tell him during the short ride to the fire department.

“What? Besides that my carriage is an ambulance?” he chuckles.

“Something like that. Your carriage is not actually the ambulance.” We pull up into the parking lot and I point to Charlie Tango.

“The whirly bird!” he exclaims. “You’re taking me to the mainland in the whirly bird?”

“I’m taking you to the mainland in my helicopter, yes. There’s a condition, though.”

“What’s that?” he asks.

“You have to ride Medivac.” He frowns.

“I don’t get it.”

“The only way that I could get clearance to land here was to tell them that my helicopter is a certified Medivac and that I was transporting an injured patient for treatment. So I have to transport you like a Medivac.” The penny drops.

“You mean I have to be immobilized on that hard board and shit?” he whines.

“Yes, you do. You do have a choice, though.”

“And what’s that?”

“There’s a helipad on top of Escala. That’s where I’ll be landing. The converted Audi is waiting there for us to take us to Grey Crossing. That same Audi—very comfortable, I might add—can come and get you and take you straight to Mercer. So, your options are waiting here for the Audi and then ride the ferry back to the mainland—and hour and ten minutes from here to Mercer Island, about 55 minutes of that spent on the ferry. Your other option, seven minutes on Medivac and 15 minutes from Escala to Mercer. Your choice.”

“Medivac it is. Let’s go.” He answers in less than a second. Jason has already retrieved the backboard and straps.

“We won’t need to put you in the immobilizer, but we will need to strap you onto the backboard.” He nods as the driver and Jason help him onto the backboard. He winces in pain as they get him situated. “Charles, did you take something for pain?”

“I’m fine,” he grunts. I furrow my brow.

“In the future, whenever you’re being transported, you need to make sure you’ve taken something for pain.”

“I’ll be fine, really,” he replies and I just shake my head. As Jason and the driver secure a wincing Charles to the backboard, I look over at Keri who is wringing her hands and looking nervously at Charlie Tango. I walk over to her and touch her elbow and she nearly jumps out of her skin.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

“I’ve nevah been in a helecuptah befoh,” she confesses, and I can tell she’s terrified.

“It’s perfectly safe, I can assure you,” I tell her. “I’ve been flying her for many years now. We’re old friends.”

You fly heh?” she says, and it’s weird to hear someone else call Charlie Tango “her.”

“Yes, I do. It’s the fastest, least painful way to get Charles to the mainland.” This is not convincing her, so I try another tactic. “He saved the lives of my wife and children. I owe him a huge debt. You are very important to him, so I personally guarantee your safety. I promise I won’t let anything happen to you, because doing so would be a disservice to Charles. I need you to trust me.” I hold my hand out to her and she takes it.

Charles is secured to the flat seats in the back of my EC155. I help Keri into the cabin.

“Buckle her in as close to Charles as you can get her.” I tell Jason and he nods once. He’s been more subdued than usual since we left Grey House, for good reason. More than once, Charles has had that silent conversation with his eyes with Jason as well as me, but neither of us gives anything away. This is going to be an interesting ride.

The trip to Escala was so quick, no one had time to get comfortable, or uncomfortable. Keri even exclaimed, “Was that it?” Glad to have gotten you here in one piece, Madam.

During the ride across the bridge, however, Charles looks absolutely miserable.

“Charles, please,” I hear Keri whispering to him. “Just take one. It’s too much, please Charles…”

I see Charles might need some coaxing to take his pain meds.

“When we get back to the house, talk to Marilyn and find out what beds they were trying to get this morning. See what you can do about getting them there sooner than Friday.”

“Yes, sir,” he answers, robotically, most likely still smarting over his earlier faux pas.

There’s a lot of handshaking and smiling when we get back to Grey Crossing. The security staff basically greets Charles with the same reverence shown to Jason when he left the hospital after taking Elena’s bullet. He soon forgets his pain and gets caught up in the camaraderie of being around his colleagues again. I think being here at Grey Crossing will be very beneficial to his recovery.


 

ANASTASIA

The house is buzzing with people just after Christian and Jason leave this morning. There’s a bit of Thanksgiving decorating going on to make the house look more festive and less… museumish! There are horns of plenty, harvest baskets, dried corn and harvest wreaths all over the place. Spiced candles, pumpkins, acorns abound and beautiful tall vases in fall colors filled with wheat stalks.

The dining room has been revamped with two large banquet tables sporting fall runners, festive place settings and harvest centerpieces. A separate natural wood table that seats ten will serve as the children’s table. It’s funny… I’ve never had a children’s table before…

I love and hate that I’m so pregnant the first year that I get to host Thanksgiving in my new house with my new husband. Love it because I get to feel my babies moving and count down to their debut; hate it because there’s so much that I have to do and I don’t have the strength to do it.

“Make sure that there are extra linens in all of the guest bathrooms,” I hear Gail instructing the new housekeeping staff that we hired yesterday—a few men, but mostly women. That was quite the experience. I try to trust my judgement when it comes to people because my instincts are hardly ever wrong. I also try not to be such a hard ass, but when it comes to the staff that is going to have access to my home, there’s no such thing as “giving someone a chance.” They have to be impeccable. They have to be trustworthy and have unshakable references. I can’t risk having another Ginger Creepy Guy working in our home.

At first, I observed the interaction of the candidates with Gail. She had already interviewed them and screened them down to the twenty or so that showed up yesterday. Not that I don’t trust Gail’s judgement, but I know all too well that a person is very likely to send their representative to the interview and someone else is very likely to show up for the job.

A word to the wise… never try to psyche out a shrink.

There was a plethora of people that actually made it to the final stage—two, real-life English butlers, a retired Beverly Hills concierge, a young woman who claimed to have been Bryan Forbes’ maid—recently unemployed due to his death. That never checked out. One lady seemed to be perfect for the job, too perfect in fact. She knew everything that there was to know about AnaChris including my early graduation from college, my birth father’s name, and the address Christian lived at as a toddler in Detroit. I don’t even have that information. I don’t think Christian does either. I asked Gail how Single White Female managed to make it to the final interview. She informed me that this was why Christian wanted me to make the final decision because this nutcase didn’t reveal herself at all until she met me. Needless to say, with her NDA securely in hand, I had her escorted off the property and added her immediately to the “watch” list.

Some people weren’t as transparent as SWF, but just left a bad taste in my mouth—the young, clean-cut guy who undressed me with his eyes; the older gentleman who was actually perfect for the job except that he was a bit of a snob acting as if he was interviewing me. I won’t need to tell him that he wasn’t chosen because I’m certain that he simply won’t return.

Then there was the young brunette who was the picture of decorum in the group setting, but turned into a predatory whore when we were alone. She was a raging nymphomaniac just oozing sex. She kept touching me and each time, her touches became more exploratory, more intimate. It was like she was testing her waters to see how far I would let her go. She was highly inappropriate, implying ménage à trois, not so subtly referencing her sexual prowess… I mean, damn! At least wait until you actually get the job before you reveal your ulterior motives, you slut! She took a bit too many liberties when I spoke to her alone and quite frankly, I wouldn’t trust her around my husband.

Although we are extremely casual with Gail and Jason, that’s a different relationship than what will be with the rest of the staff. I’m certain that Christian will expect a more professional and respectful demeanor from anyone that we hire to work in our home. I discovered that the most professional candidates were the older ones, those in their forties mostly. I would have liked to have chosen some of the younger people—those closer to mine and Christian’s age—but either their references seemed shady or they said something or acted inappropriately. I have to say that I was happy that there was much more security on site and visible while the interviews were taking place. I think Christian planned it that way so that those who weren’t hired were not tempted to come back to the property without an invitation.

“Mrs. Grey?” I hear my name being called over the estate’s intercom system. I engage to intercom from a panel on my desk.

“Yes?”

There’s a delivery for you, ma’am,” one of the new guards inform me. I thought there were supposed to call Gail for deliveries… unless it’s the recliners, then they were supposed to call Marilyn.

“Food or furniture?” I ask.

“Neither, ma’am. It’s personal.” I frown and look at Marilyn, who looks up from her tablet long enough to shrug and go back to what she was doing.

“Has it been checked?” Should I be concerned? I’m not expecting anything personal.

“Yes, ma’am, but there was no need. We were expecting it.” Huh? What were they expecting that I wasn’t?

“Um, okay, well bring it to my office,” I instruct him.

“It’s kind of a big box, ma’am. You might want to start with it in the front of the house and then decide where you want it after you see it.” Oh, for Christ’s sake…

“Okay. The living room?”

“Yes, ma’am.” I get up from my desk and the planning and instructions for the new staff to go investigate this “kind of a big box.”

He’s right, it’s pretty big. I get closer and the box is from Claire’s.

fao_schwarz1“Claire’s?” I exclaim is disbelief. “I didn’t order anything from Claire’s! I didn’t even know Claire’s delivered.” I look over at Marilyn.

“Don’t look at me. I didn’t know Claire’s delivered either.” I shrug and rip the tape off the box.

“What in the world…?” I open the box and it’s full of colored material. “What is all of this?” I begin to remove the colorful pieces and realize that I’m holding headbands. I start to rummage through the box and find headbands, head scarves, and wraps of every color and variety—beautiful colors and fabrics just bursting out of this box! I look up at the guard… I still don’t know his name… and he’s handing me a small envelope. I open it and there’s a card inside:

I don’t think you need it, but I hate to see you feeling bad about yourself.
If you need to, use these. You’ll make them beautiful.

“Dammit!” I exclaim as the tears start to fall. He must have bought every headband and head scarf in the state of Washington!

“Christian,” Marilyn says in an obvious tone.

Jewel-toned headband“Who else?” I say weeping. I reach into the box and pull out a jewel-toned deco headband that will go absolutely perfect with my Pocahontas braids. “How does it look?” I ask Marilyn after I get it situated over my forehead.

“It’s adorable,” she says, laughing at my calamity.

“This man doesn’t know how to do anything small,” I say, wiping my eyes with a CTG handkerchief that I always keep handy. I immediately remember him drying his eyes with one of these when I awoke in the hospital. He was right, I use a lot of these lately, but so far, they’ve been happy tears or meaningless tears—nothing heartbreaking.

“Where would you like them, ma’am?” the guard asks.

“Upstairs in my dressing room,” I tell him. “Put the box on the island in the middle of the room.”

“Yes, ma’am,” and off he goes.

“I bet you Claire’s had to close and restock the damn store,” I tell Marilyn when we get back to my office.

“What a strange purchase!” she observes. “Headbands?”

“Not so strange,” I tell her. “I was trying to do my hair when he came into the dressing room this morning. I was trying to hide the bald spot.” She nods.

“Oh.”

“I was getting a little frustrated… a lot frustrated… and he came in and did this.” I fondle my braids.

“That man worships you, Ana,” she says, smiling. I sigh.

“I know… I feel the same way about him.” I spin my chair and look out the window. “I was terrified when I woke up,” I say, rubbing my babies who have now become quite restless. “Can you imagine waking up, not knowing where you are, not seeing anything familiar…? All I saw was this guy—an incredibly handsome guy, but still this guy I didn’t know. I’ve always appreciated good looks, but I’ve never just been bowled over loopy by them. I wasn’t this time either. I recognized that he was attractive and just moved on, but for some reason I was immediately drawn to him. It was like I couldn’t be without him… I couldn’t breathe without him. Whatever was going on, he had to be a part of it and I didn’t even know who he was! It’s hard to explain…”

“Well, you’re doing a pretty good job,” Marilyn encourages. I glance at her and laugh, then turn my attention back to the landscape of the grounds.

“He’s my everything,” I tell her. “I mean, I know my babies are everything, too, but my babies are here because of him. I can’t wait to be a mom. I can’t wait to see him with his children. Our life is going to be perfect. No matter what comes at us, our life is going to be perfect.”

“You have a lot of faith for what you’ve already been through,” she says and I can tell that she’s remiss to say it.

“That’s because whatever happens, I know we’ll be okay as long as we’re together,” I say with certainty.

“I don’t mean to be a negative Nancy, but… how can you be so sure?” It’s a genuine question.

“I don’t know, I just am,” I tell her. “It’s strange, too, because three months ago when I found out that I was pregnant, I was terrified. I didn’t want to bring new life into this horrible world—jealous, murderous pedophiles; psycho kidnapper ex-boyfriends; vicious teenagers who beat you within an inch of your life; mothers who rip away you peace of mind and are willing to sell your soul for a dollar. We’ve still made it through all that. Even now, with everything else that threatened to tear us apart—my shrinking and running away; Brian and ex-lovers trying to come between us… or trying to kill me; the hackers, the fund-raising fiasco; that horrible man that tortured Christian on the loose somewhere; best friends who turn their backs on you and insult you for no reason—everything dictates that we should be afraid or worried, but I’m not. For one thing, I trust my husband. He’s a wonderful man, a brilliant businessman, and he’s going to be a magnificent father. He’d give a vital organ to keep me safe and I know he would, so I trust him implicitly—with my life.”

“That’s a lot of faith to put in one person,” she says. “Not that I don’t think he’s worthy of it. Like you said, he’s a really great man. In all honesty, he’s one of the best men I’ve ever known… him and Ray… and Gary. I just feel a bit of pause in putting so much faith in one person, you know?” I feel her resistance and I almost want to ask her if we’re still talking about me here, but I don’t. I try to guide the conversation in a direction that’s part conversation and part advice.

“Don’t get me wrong, I still have my own mind. I’m level-headed and I know how to make good decisions, but there are times when I know I need to revert to my husband. For instance, he’s more knowledgeable on matters of security, so when he tells me that certain things have to be done certain ways, I have to revert to his knowledge and do it. He’s had security ever since he’s been Grey Enterprises Holdings. I’ve had security for maybe a year. I know that he wants to shit bricks every time I do one of those impromptu interviews. Yet, I know that he’s been very obtuse towards the press, so I try to offset that because you can’t make the press your enemy. I don’t let him lead me around by the nose, Mare, but I do have a lot of faith in him and in our happiness.”

“Oh, Ana! I wasn’t suggesting…” I put my hand up to silence her.

“I know, honey,” I say with a smile. “I know when you’re full of shit.” That lightened our mood a bit. The intercom fires up again and security is asking for Marilyn at the front gate. Just as she excuses herself, my cell rings. It’s Chuck.

“Hello?”

“Anah, it’s Keri,” she says.

“Hello, Keri, what’s up?”

“We have a few more tings tan we tought. Charles refuse to be witout his X-box, his blanket, his favorite slippuhs…” She’s naming things off and you can tell she’s a bit exasperated. “You know sick men ah much like bebbies!” I laugh heartily. We actually sent two of the security guys to Bainbridge earlier to help them get things together. Now, I imagine that they’ll need a moving van to bring all of the things that Chuck simply can’t live without. Luckily, I already planned for this contingency.

“I’m sending a moving truck—not the huge one, but it should be big enough. Tell the ’bebby’ that he has that much room to fill and once he’s done, he’ll have to live without his other toys.” She sighs and laughs lightheartedly.

“Tank you, Anah. You’ve offehed so much already, I didn’t know how to ask.”

“You can ask me anything, Keri. Please, don’t hesitate.”

“Tank you so much,” I can hear her smile. “I’m going to go back to de bebby now.” We both giggle.

“See you this afternoon,” I say before ending the call. The moment I end the call, I get a text from Christian about Marilyn’s Sonata and what she planned to do with her Camry. I have to ask her, but after texting Marilyn to confirm the color, I text Christian back to let him now that she’s partial to gold. Apparently, her new car will be here before she leaves. She’ll love that!


 

A/N: There was a commenter who said that Keri sounded a bit slow. I’m trying to get the written look of the accent right and I would gladly accept your help in that area. Just click the “contact me” link and let me know how I can email you. 

If “Anne Crowe” is still one of my readers, please email me. Your email address bounced. 😦 

 Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/becoming-dr-grey/

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 🙂 
Lynn X

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 14—You’re Going Where?!

So my beloved daughter whom I love ever so much BLACKMAILED me on Facebook into posting a chapter for her 21st birthday (Love you, Nooka. Happy Birthday!). So this will have to be my compromise. I can’t promise a bonus chapter because you guys know that the chapters have to be edited and ready before they get posted. A bonus chapter right now would put a horrible rush on me, so as a compromise, I’m posting this week’s chapter early as a present to my baby. This, of course, means that the wait between chapters will be longer this next week, so if I can get the next chapter edited as a bonus chapter, I’ll do it… but please don’t pressure me. I can’t make any promises that will happen. The next chapter is a very KEY chapter to the story–the whole story–and it has to be right.

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. I hope you—as a fellow fan—enjoy it, too.

Chapter 14—You’re Going Where?!

CHRISTIAN

I’m sitting on the GEH jet waiting for takeoff and pondering how I find myself taking this trip. The events of the last two days—hell, the last several months—have led to this possible conclusion… more unanswered questions, more secrets to be revealed, more mysteries to unfold. I’m only one person—how can I be surrounded by this much fucking chaos?

Tuesday morning…

“He hasn’t moved since yesterday, sir,” Welch tells me. “We’ve gathered all of the evidence from the computers and based on the destinations of the funds transfers from the other occurrences, if he got one year for each of the charges he could rack up, he’d still be in jail for the rest of his life.”

“If the fucking police would do their jobs for once,” I hiss.

“Well, your favorite person is taking it straight to his sources the FBI. He’s says he’s keeping copies to be delivered to my sources in other agencies and to be leaked to the press in case Myrick’s involvement in the case that has him in witness protection is so important that the evidence comes up ‘misplaced.’ There’s no way he’s going to avoid prosecution on at least some of these counts. Each occurrence is airtight on its own. Together, he’s lucky if he sees this side of prison ever again.”

“For his sake, he better hope he doesn’t,” I say. I’m making it my personal mission in life to make sure he never has another peaceful day for as long—or as short—as he lives.

I filled my day with more meetings and closed on another acquisition before ending the day with still no positive ID on Myrick. Butterfly and I filled the night with Disney and popcorn and I must admit that Jungle Book and Tarzan really did make me feel better before falling asleep in her arms. I was just about to give up hope on catching this fucker when I get the most fabulous news around lunchtime on Wednesday.

“He’s moved the money,” James informs me. “We followed the wire transfers from a branch in Ferndale, Michigan and we’ve found his accomplice there.”

“Alex and Brian have taken the liberty to contact someone at the corporate offices of Comerica and inform them of the illegal transfer and the delicate nature of the situation, including the fact that the FBI is involved in a possible ‘sting’ on the account holder,” Barney continues. “Once he was able to verify the transfer and the fact the worms are still filtering money to the account, he was more than happy to assist us.”

“This is excellent! Who is this person?” I ask.

“A bank manager in Ferndale named Alice Witherspoon. She’s been doing this with him for years! It’s amazing that she hasn’t gotten caught by now.”

“Not to me,” I say with my usual cynicism. “I’m only too acquainted with police incompetence.”

“Only… this has the nothing to do with the police,” James points out.

“Yeah, well…” I wave it off.

“You really don’t have a high image of law enforcement, do you, Christian?” I turn to look at them.

“I’m sorry,” I say sarcastically. “It’s a byproduct of always being a considered a suspect when I need their assistance. Apparently, being wealthy is a crime in the state of Washington.” James shakes his head.

“Well,” Barney says, “the bank manager is currently being detained until the police arrive. Comerica Corporate ensures discretion as this is still an ongoing investigation. They’re also allowing the worms to continue to transfer the money to the two accounts until Myrick is apprehended on this end.”

“Two accounts.” It’s more of a statement than a question.

“Yes,” he continues. “The lion’s share is going to a larger account under the phony corporation. A smaller amount is being routed to a second account. We assumed it was the payoff account for your hackers.” Oh, yeah. As they aren’t a factor anymore, I forgot about them.

“How much time is…” Before I get my statement out, Jason interrupts me.

“Sir! We have visual identification of Robin Myrick!”

My heart starts palpitating and I can feel the sweat beading on my brow.

“Where?”

“He’s leaving an apartment building in the perimeter. He’s blonde now.” Why do they all go blonde? “We have the three-mile sting set up. What would you like to do?”

“Follow him. Find out where’s he’s going. Barney, James, keep me posted.” I walk out of Data Central with Jason close behind. “What are we waiting for now?” I ask.

“I think all we need is Cholometes’ or Alex’s word that the FBI is going to move forward and we can apprehend him.” I’m dialing Welch before he even has his words out of his mouth.

“Sir.”

“Welch, Myrick’s on the move. What’s going on with the takedown? Please believe me, I’m more than willing to take matters into my own hands.”

“That won’t be necessary, sir. The FBI has actually been looking for him since he fled witness protection about a month ago. He’s not required to stay in the program, but they do like to ‘persuade’ you not to exit without fulfilling your civic duty. Since they have this bit of information, any deal he could cut with them is now void. Since you have his location, they can pick him up now—on criminal charges, this time. Make no mistake, he’ll negotiate a deal with them if he can, but he has so many charges against him that he’ll probably only be able to talk his way out of ‘life.’” I have to take what I can get, but that fucker has to know that it was me who caught him and not the FBI.

“We’re tailing him now,” I inform him. “He’s on the move. Can you let your contacts know that we’re tailing his location and movements?”

“Yes, sir. I’m sure they’ll let me know as soon as they know where he’s going,” Welch says.

“Can you give me a minute with him before they apprehend him?” I ask.

“I can’t guarantee that, sir, but I’ll see what I can do. If you’re in a public place, don’t assault him or they’ll take you into custody, too.”

“Understood.” I end the call just as the elevator gets to my office.

“You may want to get to the car, sir,” Jason says. “He’s packed and looks to be on his way out of town.”

“Shit!” I hiss as we scramble back into the elevator.

*-*

“You’re not going to believe this,” Jason says as we exit the car in the parking lot at SeaTac.

“What is it?”

“We’ve established where he’s going and what alias he’s using to travel. He’s so fucking careless that we didn’t even have to use our equipment. One of the guards looked right over his shoulder.”

I’m waiting.

“He’s going to Nepal—Kathmandu, to be exact.” Of course, he is.

“I thought they were meeting in Cancun,” I tell him.

“So did I, but apparently, he’s going to Kathmandu.”

“He could live like a king in Nepal,” I say. “No extradition treaty with the U.S. and with the money he’s taken from me and several others, he could live out his lifetime and several others in Kathmandu. With the right connections, he could set up shop there and never get caught.”

“That’s not all,” he says as we cross the street and weave through travelers loading and unloading at the curb. “He’s using the alias ‘Victor Grey.’” I freeze where I stand.

“You’re fucking kidding me,” I nearly growl.

“I’m fucking not,” he says solemnly. You steal my money. You steal my peace. And as you’re leaving town, the final twist of the knife is to steal my name.

“Is the FBI here yet?” I ask.

“FBI ETA is about 10 minutes, but there’s always someone here to stop him from getting on the plane.”

“That’s not my concern,” I say as I push through the doors. “Where is his flight leaving? Which gate?”

“This way—Cathay Pacific.” Two designer suits go running through the airport as we won’t be able to stop him once he gets pass the TSA checkpoint. We know that he just got here and has to check his bags. With the money he’s stolen, I don’t even know why he bothered to pack. Luckily for us, we’re both extremely fit and we get to his location before he even exits the line from checking his bags.

“FBI is in place at the checkpoint, sir,” Jason informs me. “Some are heading this way. Whatever you want to say, you better say it now.” I smile to myself. The takedown is about to happen, and I’m going to be here to see it. To the dismay and disapproving looks of some of the travelers, I position myself at the beginning of the line and stand there with my feet at shoulder width, hands clasped, and staring directly at Myrick. When he raises his head, he makes direct eye-contact with me.

Checkmate.

He smiles as if he has the upper hand and proceeds to check his bags and get his boarding pass.

“You know, it’s faster to do that online, or in my case, have someone do it for you,” I say smoothly.

“Oh, someone did do it for me, dear brother. You did,” he says with a wide smile, while waving his boarding pass. “Thanks for the tic. You’re always a day late and a dollar short. I’m getting on a plane now. I have your money, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Coming to see me off?” He begins to proceed out of line and in the direction of the checkpoint.

“Oh, I wouldn’t say there’s nothing,” I say calmly. “Your problem is that you continue to underestimate me, and I don’t blame you. It’s my fault. I listened the heart of a beautiful and kind woman and I let you get away. I won’t make that mistake twice.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard all this macho alpha bullshit before,” he says, turning to face me and waving me off. “’You’ll rue the day you ever ran into me.’ ‘I’ll make your life a living hell,’ blah, blah, blah. I’ve heard it before from you and puffed-up blowhards just like you. It’s getting a little old. Any last words before I board my plane? Sunnier climes await.” Just over Jason’s shoulders, I see the jackets with the yellow lettering, the wool coats and suits and I already know that Myrick’s escort is here. It’s frightening how close he got to getting away. If the FBI hadn’t listened, I’d be going to prison for killing this man.

“Oh, on the contrary, I think you’re headed somewhere else,” I inform him with a smile. On that cue, FBI suits start swarming in from every angle. Myrick looks around and smiles.

“I think these guys might disagree with you, and you might want to step back. They don’t like it when people get too close to me.”

“Oh, you’re right about one thing. I do want to step back.” I take a step back and three of the FBI agents flank Myrick. He’s still smiling when they cuff him until I walk back towards him.

“You’re wanted for 116 counts of fraud, embezzlement, and extortion in 14 states,” I say just above a whisper. “The FBI doesn’t take too kindly to people in witness protection committing white-collar crimes.” His face falls and his skin turns white. He wants to struggle, to run, but he allowed them to cuff him and now, there’s nowhere for him to go. I lean in close to his ear.

“Just in case you manage to weasel your way out of this one, let me make something clear. The first time, I set you free. As a result, you tried to have me killed, try to steal from me, even stole my name Victor Grey, and threatened the safety of my wife and children. Now, I’m turning you over to the authorities. Try again… come at me once more… just once. I swear it will be your last time… your last anything! That’s a promise.” I pull back and glare into his eyes.

“I’m related to a key witness in the Sunset case!” he says to one of the agents, trying to bargain his way out of the mess he’s in. He wasn’t even a witness! He was being protected by association.

“Which doesn’t offer you immunity!” the agent responds. He looks from face to face until his eyes rest on mine.

“That’s okay,” he says with a shaky voice. “My father will get me out of this. He did it before, he’ll do it again.”

“You have a lot of confidence in your Dad. Last I checked, he’s still locked down for a long time.”

“Check again,” he says calmly. “You shouldn’t believe everything you hear, Grey, or in this case, everything you see.” The agents lead him away and start to read him his rights, and I suddenly get a sinking feeling. I should have had this fucker killed when I had the chance. He’s making my life a living fucking hell.

“Dad, I need you to email me all of Anton Myrick’s prison records—everything you have and anything you can get your hands on. I need it as quickly as possible,” I say into the phone when my Dad answers.

“Well, hello to you, too, son…” Dad begins.

“Dad, please, I’ll apologize later! Just get me the fucking information, fast!” I end the call and look at a quickly approaching Jason. “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, yet, but you look like you’ve seen a ghost,” he says.

“I’m about to,” I sigh. “Get me a pilot and get the jet ready, now!”

Present…

So now I’m on the jet about to fly back to the last place on earth that I ever wanted to visit, and I realize that I haven’t told Butterfly that I leaving yet. I pull out my phone and dial her number.

“Hey, baby.”

She sounds tired and I want to hear about her day, but I know that we’ll be taking off any minute and I have to get out what I need to tell you.

“Hey, Butterfly. I don’t have much time. I’m on the GEH jet.” There’s a pause on the line.

“You’re what?” she exclaims. This is certainly not good news for her.

“On the jet,” I reconfirm. “There is some information that I have to check out. I think everything I’ve been told up to this point has been wrong.” I feel a chill going through my body. If this man could possibly set up some shit like this, it’s going to be hell on me and my family if he’s actually free, especially when he finds out that I orchestrated his son’s demise.

“How did this come about?”

“It’s such a long story and I don’t have time to tell you right now, but I promise that I will. Butterfly, I’m going to Detroit.”

“You’re going WHERE?!” she nearly yells into the phone.

“Detroit, baby,” I tell her. “We apprehended Myrick today. If what he has implied is true, then this isn’t over. I have to go and find out for myself before the news of his arrest makes it to the east coast.”

“Christian, don’t go,” she pleads. “I don’t feel good about this. Something’s going to go terribly, terribly wrong if you go. I feel it in my bones.” She’s terrified and I hate to put her through this.

“I have Jason with me and I promise, I’ll be careful. I won’t take any unnecessary chances. I’m mostly going on a fact-finding mission and that’s it. I swear nothing’s going to happen to me, baby. I swear.” The captain’s voice comes over the speaker’s letting us know that we’re about to take off. “I have to go Butterfly.”

“Christian, please…” she’s begging.

“Baby, I have to do this, and I can’t talk anymore. We’re about to take off.” She immediately starts to weep.

“I love you,” she breathes through her tears.

“I love you, too,” I say before quickly ending the call. I bury my face in my hands and silently curse the day these men were born. On top of everything she’s been through, everything I put her through, I made Butterfly cry. I feel like shit.

“Did you call Gail?” I ask Jason as the plane taxis down the runway.

“Yes,” is his one word reply.

“Good,” I say, never removing my hands from my face.


ANASTASIA

Son of a motherfucking goddamn fucking ever-loving fucking bitches and bastards from hell!!!!

“He’s going to Detroit! Why the fuck is he going to Detroit?” I wail from the back seat.

“He’s going WHERE?!” Chuck exclaims from the driver’s seat of my car.

“Detroit!” I scream, all rationality flying right out of the window. “He’s going to goddamn motherfucking Detroit!” There’s nothing good about this. Nothing at all. I don’t care that they’ve caught Myrick. I don’t care that the hacker situation is over. This is ghastly wrong. There’s nothing good about this, nothing at all!

“Why the hell is he going to Detroit? Why didn’t Jason call me?”

“I don’t know, but he’s going!!” I scream, my cries turning to hiccups. Chuck pulls the car to the side of the road.

“Listen to me, Ana. I need you to calm down. This is not good for the babies. I need you to breathe. If you don’t, I’m driving this car straight to the emergency room.” I look up and his blue eyes are looking right at me. I try to breathe, but I’m too upset. “Breathe with me, Ana,” he says, and his coaching helps to calm my breathing. “I’m getting you home right now,” he says as he puts the car in gear and drives us back to Escala.

“I take it she’s heard,” I hear Gail say as Chuck carries me into the penthouse.

“Yeah, she’s heard,” he says, and the next thing I feel under my body is our soft bed.

“They take trips all the time, Ana,” Gail tries to comfort me. “They’ll be fine.” I forgot that Jason is with him and Gail is probably no happier about this than I am. I can’t share my feelings with her. It will only make her worry.

Something horrible is going to happen. I just know it is.

*-*

I wake the next morning and I’ve been divested of my coat and boots though I’m still wearing my clothes from yesterday. My head feels like lead and the beans are quite upset with me for not eating dinner last night. I roll out of bed and strip on my way to the en suite. After relieving myself, I stand under the water and attempt to let it wash my troubles away. It’s not the hot shower that I truly need, but the lukewarm water will have to do for now.

My long hair and I have become friends, now. Christian loves it so much that at this point, I would only trim it a few inches, but I wouldn’t dare cut it off. He’ll even style it for me if I’m having a bad hair day. It’s cloaked around me when I get out of the shower after I’ve wrung it, and it’s surprising easier to dry at this length since I can lay it over my shoulder. The hair closer to my scalp presents a bit of a problem, but no more than it did when it was shorter. These days, I just tie it in some sort of knot and go.

I get dressed in my silk butterfly maternity shirt, a pair of black pants and my black suede fold-over high-heeled booties with the zipper on the side—no make-up today, I don’t really need it.

“Are you feeling any better, sweetie?” Gail asks when I sit at the breakfast bar. I put my head down.

“Not particularly,” I respond. “May I have some orange juice please?”

“That’s all you want?” I can hear the concern in her voice.

“No, I’d like a dozen scrambled eggs and two loaves of toast, but for right now, I need orange juice so that I can take these Tylenol.” She chuckles a bit.

“Just eggs and toast?” she says with mirth as she pours me a glass of orange juice.

“Bacon or sausage, some hash browns… don’t be shy with the helpings, either.” I hear the glass placed on the counter next to me. I raise my head slowly to pop the pills into my mouth, and drink half of the orange juice down. It helps instantly with a bit of the throbbing.

“Ana, they’ve gone on many trips before. Nothing bad has ever happened before, except for a lost business deal or something.”

“They’ve never gone to Detroit,” I protest. “Absolutely nothing good can come from my husband going to Detroit. I’m telling you, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I have a horrible feeling of impending doom. I’m not just being a naysayer. It’s not the pregnancy hormones. It’s not because Christian left town and it’s not because he’s going to Detroit. I’m not being dramatic. I’m telling you that I have a horrible gut feeling and I’m going to do my best to flood my mind with positive thoughts because I don’t know why it’s there.” I rest my head in my hands.

“I hope you’re wrong, dear,” she says. “I think we’ve had just about all we can take this year.”

“Hear, hear!” I concur.

“I have to keep my gut feelings at bay sometimes,” she says. “When Jason and I started dating, I was slow to get too involved with him. Let’s face it—he’s personal protection for a high-profile billionaire with a lot of enemies. I didn’t want to get my heart involved. Companionship, yes. A good time every now and then, maybe. More than that, I was afraid. The job is just too high risk, but then years went by and nothing really happened but empty threats and failed attempts and I thought I was just being too cautious.” She puts the hash browns on a plate while the sausage finishes and starts the toast.

“So I let my guard down. I married him because I love him and there didn’t seem to be a reason why we couldn’t share our lives together. I’ve been blissfully happy since I’ve married Jason. Not happier than I was with Doug, maybe just different. The love you have for one doesn’t compare with the love that you have for the other. They’re just different, but he’s a remarkable man and I’m blessed to have him. Everything looked like it was going to be okay, and then, there was the shooting…” She trails off and I know that this is difficult for her to discuss.

“I’m sorry, Gail,” I say. “I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories.”

“It’s okay,” she says. “It’s not like I don’t think about things like this all the time.” She shakes her head as she plates the rest of the food. “I’ve just learned to keep the monsters at bay.” She puts the plate of food in front of me.

“I don’t know what Christian is doing in Detroit. I don’t know what’s taken him there. I do know that he’s a very smart man and he’s not prone to making foolhardy decisions or dumb mistakes. You have to trust him, Ana.”

I do trust Christian, it’s the rest of the world that I don’t trust.

“Thank you, Gail,” I tell her. “I’ll do my best.”

*-*

“Christian, I’m trying to understand what’s going on here and you’re not making this easy for me,” I tell him when he finally calls me around 11am. That’s 2pm Detroit time, so I’m a bit perturbed that it took him this long to contact me when he flew out last night. He didn’t even call me to let me know that the jet landed safely.

“I’m sorry, Butterfly. I just didn’t have time to explain to you what was going on. Then, things were moving so fast with the FBI involvement and all these cryptic messages I keep getting…”

“What cryptic messages?” I interrupt him. He sighs heavily.

“Myrick said something to me that left a really bitter taste in my mouth.”

“So, you saw him.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“Yes, I saw him,” he confirms. “The FBI apprehended him and let him know that being involved in what I now know is ‘the Sunset Case’ doesn’t make him immune to the law. To that, he responded that his father will get him out of this. When I told him that his father can’t do anything from behind bars, he told me to check again—that I shouldn’t believe everything I see and hear.” I’m still confused.

“Let me see if I’ve got this straight. You allowed the rantings of a desperate and clearly delusional man who has been manipulating you and stealing from you for the last several months send you across the country to a place that you swore you’d never visit again voluntarily? For what?” I’m trying to keep my temper at bay, but it’s slowly rising and fighting against me.

“He was in witness protection, Ana,” he informs me. Okay, now he’s got my attention. “That’s why we couldn’t find him! That’s how he faked his death! That’s why he could move around and not be spotted because he had fifteen different aliases that we know of! Witness relocation is random—how the fuck does someone who clearly thinks he’s my brother and has an ax to grind end up in witness protection in Seattle?” I’m pondering the situation and, although I know nothing about witness protection, I know that the relocation is random and that he shouldn’t be in Seattle.

“Okay,” I sigh, “so something is fishy, but he’s back in police custody and they know what he’s done. He’s no longer a guest under their hospitality. He’s a prisoner now. I still don’t understand the trip to Detroit.”

“He’s related to a material witness. He’s not the material witness. That person is still in hiding.” I gasp loudly. I see what he’s getting at.

“His father,” I breathe.

“Exactly,” Christian confirms. “Why would I allow you to lock me up in prison for an undisclosed amount of time if I’m your key witness in bringing down a major drug lord?

“Anton Myrick’s been in jail for years, but his son has been in protective custody. I’m not going to testify if you put me in jail, so you’ve got to get me out. I can’t leave my son exposed because they can use him to get to me.” The wheels are turning very quickly.

“His son is in protective custody and he can’t be protected if he’s in jail. Drug lords have friends in high and low places,” he says.

“That means that we both need to be protected, which means that the man in the jail cell…”

“…Can’t be Anton Myrick.” He finishes my sentence. I sigh and drop my head.

“When will this be over?” I lament.

“I don’t know, Butterfly,” he says, and I can hear the defeat in his voice. “Every time I think I’ve taken away an obstacle, three more pop up in its place. That island is sounding better and better.” I can see him in my mind’s eye running his hands through his hair.

“So are you going to see him? Is that why you’re there?”

“Yes. I need to see for myself that this is not the man in the jail cell. He set all of this in motion. He’s the one that caused all of this to happen. He planted those thoughts in Robin’s head that I was his brother, that I was the cause of all of their problems. He wanted all of this to happen. If that’s true, then he’s sitting back somewhere lying in wait, preparing to strike and I have no idea how he’s planning to do it.”

“How would you know if it’s him or not, Christian? You haven’t seen him in years!” I say.

“Oh yes, I have,” he corrects me. “That man has haunted my dreams for the last 25 years. I could pick him out of a line-up in the dark if he had plastic surgery and changed ethnicity!” I guess that’s means he’ll recognize him.

“How will you get in to see him, Christian?” I ask. “If he’s protected by the feds, they’re not going to let you just walk in there and prove that he’s not Anton Myrick.”

“I’ve got friends in high places, too,” he replies. “I’m waiting for the okay to see him now.” I sigh.

“What happens if he’s truly is the man in the cell?”

“Then I come home and rest easy.”

“And if he’s not?” He sighs.

“Then I come home and amp up security,” he responds.

“Christian, no,” I lament. I’ve already got Chuck attached to my hip. I know there’s going to be at least one more when the babies get here–probably two. I’m going to be a circus sideshow!

“There’s no other way, Butterfly. After 25 years, this man has infiltrated my life and is causing all kinds of discord and problems. Who do you know that holds a personal vendetta against a four-year-old? How could I possibly have been the root of this man’s problems so much so that he turned his son into a weapon to come after me after all these years?”

“This is truly never going to end,” I murmur, accepting my plight as Mrs. Christian Grey.

“Please, don’t give up on me, Butterfly,” he begs. “You’re all I have left…”

“I’m not giving up on you, Christian, I just…” I sigh again. “I have to adjust, that’s all.” Adjust my whole life, that is… my entire way of thinking… everything I thought my life would be as the wife of a billionaire… just… everything.

“I’ll make it up to you, baby. I promise.”

“I know,” I respond, my voice lacking conviction.

“I have to go, baby.”

“Okay.” I don’t have much else to say.

“I love you.”

“I love you, too.” We end the call and I just feel like the bottom has fallen out from under everything I knew. I should have known that catching Myrick would open several cans of worms. It just couldn’t be that easy. I sit back in the chair and lay my head on the headrest, watching all of life’s simple freedoms run out the door and far away from me. Thank God I have an appointment to see Ace tomorrow. I really need to unload on somebody.

Maybe Val is right. Maybe I have changed too much. I’m so damn untouchable that in a minute, none of my friends are going to be able to come within ten feet of me. Will I be able to live like that? I’m accustomed to coming and going as I please and doing what I want. I know there will be some restrictions, not only because I’m Mrs. Grey, but also because I’ll be a mother soon. But what will those restrictions entail? Either the paparazzi is following me or the boogeyman is after me, or Christian has to know my every move. My friends with regular lives have to be tired of dealing with that just to spend time with me.

Would I want to go back to the life I had before? I wasn’t unhappy. I just needed a few changes in my life—but the life I had before had no Christian. That thought is unbearable. I rub my stomach to draw that extra strength I’m always looking for.

“Bean One and Bean Two, things are not going to be quite like we thought they would.”

*-*

That afternoon, I throw myself full-on into the activities and duties at the Center. There’s more that I can get involved in than I thought and I’m only too happy to participate. I come to find out that we’ve begun a reading circle with younger children. I just sat and watched as they learned to read with each other and listened to one of the volunteers read at story time. I am pleased to see that Luma brings her girls to the circle while she volunteers with the families in the shelter. This is a new development, which is why I didn’t know about it, and she only volunteers after the children get out of school so that it doesn’t interfere with her job as Christian’s assistant’s assistant.

“Ana, what did you do?” Grace comes into the classroom with her laptop. I frown.

“Is something wrong?” I ask, trying to stay quiet and not interrupt the reading circle. She gestures for me to come into an empty classroom.

“Donations have been pouring in for the last two days!” she says, bringing up our website as well as the account for the Center. “They’ve been coming from everywhere! All across the state! Most of them make a reference to your interview?” The last part is a question instead of a statement. I frown and shake my head.

“What interview?” I ask. “I didn’t have an interview!”

“Well, that’s what they say.” She clicks on one of the comments attached to a $50 donation. “Anastasia Grey could choose to do whatever she wants as the wife of a billionaire, yet her choice is to help the less fortunate on a regular basis by donating her time and her salary to a help center. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is.”

She clicks on another one. “I’m so glad that Seattle’s elite doesn’t have another one of those useless trophy wives. We should all take a page from the book of Ana Grey. Beauty, brains, and compassion. Christian really hit the jackpot with this one.”

“Let me see that,” I say, turning the laptop to me. There they are—hundreds of donations ranging from $5 to several thousand from leaders of the community, housewives, students, blue-collar workers, you name it. “How did this happen?”

“I thought you could tell me,” Grace says. I open a new window and Google “Anastasia Grey Interview.” What looks like a YouTube video pops up of me outside the baby boutique yesterday in my white swing coat.

“Is that what they’re talking about?” I ask. Boy, Myra was right! Talk about using the spotlight to your advantage.

“Let me see.” Grace clicks the video and I start talking about helping needy families this holiday season. Some reporter is commentating and then the camera goes back to me.

“Dr. Grey is very particular about where the donations come from and where they go. She wants to make sure that all of the programs get the funding that they need to be able to continue and to benefit the families that use the services. She also wants the respect of the community—a charity by the people, for the people, so to speak. That’s why she doesn’t mind getting her hands dirty… digging in and doing the hard work. I respect her for that. I strive to be as dedicated as she is, which is why more of my time is dedicated to Helping Hands than to any other project, even my private practice.” Grace looks up at me.

“You said that?” she says, her eyes glassy. I shrug.

“I guess,” I respond. I don’t remember what I said. I was just talking.

“That’s one of the nicest things anybody has ever said about me and the Center,” she says, humbly.

“Well, it’s true, Grace. You have a practice—you’re a pediatrician—and you dedicate so much time and energy to this place. I don’t know how you do it, but’s it’s amazing. I know you wouldn’t let the place go under instead of taking help from Christian and me, but I also know that you do everything in your power to have this place be self-sufficient. They’re always following me around, shoving a camera in my face. All I’ve done is marry a rich man. How about we redirect the focus to something more important?”

“My son is a very lucky man,” she says with a big smile. “He has married the perfect girl for him.”

“Yeah, I tell him that all the time,” I jest, attempting to make light of the situation.

“Speaking of which,” she closes her laptop. “I’m told by Cary that he’s gone back to Detroit in search of that man.” I nod.

“Yes. It’s a long and detailed story,” I confess. She covers my hand.

“I can guarantee that whatever he’s looking for, whatever he finds, it’s going to be very disturbing. Nothing good can come from this quest even if he finds all of the answers that he’s seeking. The man was horrible—unfeeling and cold. He was hideous and cruel to Christian and had I known at the time that we were questioning him that he was the one who had tortured Christian, I would have publicly flogged him myself and then had him arrested.” There’s fire in her voice when she speaks of this, and I can only imagine the picture of this frail boy—one that she has come to love as her son—when the burns and scars were fresh on his tiny little body.

“He’s going to need you more than ever, Ana,” she says, her eyes filling with tears. “I can almost guarantee that his night terrors will return, and…” She chokes on a sob and I squeeze her hand to silence her.

“I’ll be there,” I promise her. “I’ll be there for him, Grace. We’ll work through it together. We’ve done it before, we’ll do it again. He’s stronger now,” I say in a soothing voice. “He’s overcome so much just since I’ve known him, and if his worst fears return, he’ll overcome those, too. I’ll be there, Grace. I promise.” She nods and collapses in tears on the table. I just hold her hand, rub her back, and let her cry for that poor four-year-old bruised and broken boy who just flew back to Detroit to find answers.

It’s been a long day, and I haven’t heard from Christian again. I turn out the lights in my office and Chuck and I head for the car to head home. We’re talking about the donations to the center and the obvious effectiveness of the impromptu interview when “Love The Hurt Away” starts to play in my messenger bag. I scramble to get it out of my purse.

“Christian?” I answer.

“Ana, where are you?” His voice is hurried.

“I’m in the car. What’s going on?”

“I’m at the airport in Michigan. I’m about to board the jet. Ana, I was right. The man in that cell is not Anton Myrick.”

“Are you sure?” I ask. “It’s been twenty-five years…”

“I’m positive!” he reinforces. “When someone looks you in the eye and brands your skin, you don’t forget what they look like!” You’re telling me! “He didn’t even know who I was. That’s not him. I’m telling you, that’s not him!”

Okay, okay, that’s not him.

“I want you to go to my Mom’s house until I get there,” he tells me. “I’ve locked his son away. I don’t want him coming after my family. Please go to my mom’s house. Please don’t fight me on this…”

“I won’t fight, Christian,” I tell him. “We’re on our way to Escala now. We’re almost there. I’ll grab some things and we’ll go. Is that okay?”

“Yes. Yes, that’s fine.” The relief is evident in his voice.

“Get on that plane and get back to me,” I beseech him. “I need you.”

“I’ll be there before sunrise, baby.” I nod.

“I love you, Christian. Please be careful.”

“I love you, too, Butterfly. I’ll see you soon.” I end the call, holding the phone tightly in my hands.

“What is it?” Chuck asks.

“He… um…” Breathe, Ana, breathe. “He wants me to go to his mother’s house. The man in the prison is not Anton Myrick.”

“Shit!” Chuck hisses. “That’s a whole new barrel of mess.”

“Yes,” I sigh. “I told him that I would get some things from Escala and then go to his mom’s house.

“Okay, we’ll do that. Try not to be too long, okay?”

“I won’t.” We’re almost home—just at the corner of 4th Avenue and Stewart—when I look over and see Chuck coming at me in a bright haze, then… nothing.


CHRISTIAN

I’m doing my best not to leave a puddle of sweat in this seat as a wait for this monster to come into the room. I waited all day for clearance to see this fucker and it was truly like it took an act of Congress to get it done. I try not to remember him as the man who had so much control over me as a scared little boy; the man who dragged me from the closet, tied my hands and feet, and held me down while he taunted me with lit cigarettes before he put them out on my chest; the man who got my mother strung out on crack and ultimately killed her with that shit. I’m going to face him as a man now, a grown man. I’m going to look him in the eyes and confront him for the horrible shit that he did to me. Except…

What is this?

The guard walks in with this gray-haired man who sits down at the table in front of me. I examine him thoroughly—his eyes, his frame, his bone structure. As a child, I may not have remembered these things, but he never left me alone. For twenty-five years, he never left me alone, so I remember these things now. He’s considerably shorter, but that could be because I was about two feet tall the last time I saw him. This isn’t right.

“Anton Myrick?”

“Yeah, who wants to know?”

“Grey. My name is Grey.” There’s not one bit of recognition in his eyes. I would say that he has no idea who I am. This could be an act, but I would bet my fortune that this is not Anton Myrick. I don’t know if I want this to be him to put my mind at ease or if I don’t want this to be him to show that my instincts aren’t completely wrong.

“Do you know who I am, Mr. Myrick?” I ask. He sits back in his seat.

“Can’t says I do,” he says, clasping his hands in front of him.

“I may have the wrong person. Do you mind if I ask you some questions?”

“Fire away,” he says nonchalantly.

“Your hair is gray. What’s your natural hair color?

“Brown.”

“You ever dye it?” I ask.

“I’m an old man, son. Men didn’t put bottles to our hair in my day unless they were a little funny.” He does that hand wiggle I’ve seen before when older people are discussing homosexual men.

“How old are you, Mr. Myrick?”

“Sixty-five.” Sixty-five?? That would have made him forty when I was four and I’m certain that Myrick was not that old.

“Why are you in here?”

“Drug charge at first,” he says. “Then I beat somebody up, then anoddah one, then anoddah one—hell, I don’t even know how long I’m going to be here.” His eyes are the wrong color.

“Are you wearing contacts?”

“What for?”

“So brown is your natural eye color.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“Yeah, what’s this all about?” He’s getting restless now.

“Ella Fields,” I reply, and still no recognition whatsoever.

“Ella Fields?”

“Yes, do you remember her? It would have been a long time ago.” He looks like he’s truly going through his mental Rolodex to see if he remembers her.

“I remember a Ella Williams from some years back, but can’t says I know a Ella Fields.” Physical description doesn’t match and this guy doesn’t even send off alarm bells in me much less bring up bad vibes of the monster who abused me.

“Ella Williams, where is she now?” He scoffs.

“Hells I know,” he says. “Last I heard, she married some black man, spit out a coupl’a kids. I don’t know where she is now.”

“Why are you saying you’re Anton Myrick?” I ask.

“Because that’s my name.”

“Do you have a life sentence or something?” I ask. “Nothing to lose?” He just looks at me frowning. “Fine, Mr. Myrick, have it your way. Here’s your final test. Ella Fields was my mother. We lived in a trailer park about twenty-seven years ago. I was four at the time. Any of this ringing a bell yet?”

“No,” he says hesitantly, shrinking a bit in his chair.

“She was a young woman, very young, long brown hair. She was a crack addict. She used to sell her body for money and drugs. You were her pimp. Still no recollection?”

“W… What’s this about?” he says, his voice quivering.

“I’m telling you what this is about, Mr. Myrick, since that’s your name.” I stand and remove my tie, handing it to Jason. “Ella Fields was my mother. I’m her only child. My name is Christian. Christian Grey! It used to be Christian Fields, but you probably wouldn’t remember that since you only ever called me ‘you little shit!’”

I’m unbuttoning my shirt as I tower over him, this helpless looking little old man that was convinced to say that he’s someone else.

“My mother overdosed on drugs and killed herself to get away from you. You came in and found her dead, kicked the shit out of me with a pair of combat boots and left me there for four days with her decomposing dead body!” I snatch open my shirt and lift my T-shirt up to my neck.

“Do you see this?” I hiss at his cowering frame. “These are cigarette burns! I’ve got several on my back, too. You did this to me when I was four years old! Four years old!” I bark.

“F-f-four?” he’s stutters.

“Christian!” Jason brings me back to my senses and I look down at the shivering, shaking, little man who looks like he’s pissed his pants.

“No problem. We’re done here,” I say coolly, never taking my eyes off Myrick while I button my shirt and tuck it back into my pants. Jason bangs on the door, calling for the guard while I lean down close to the little actor.

“The next time you decide to play the role of another prisoner, you might want to know about all of his crimes first.” He’s shrinking away from me with tears in his eyes. I don’t feel any sympathy for this man—none whatsoever.

“Christian, let’s go,” Jason says, tugging forcefully at my arm.

We move quickly through the jail, through each checkpoint and guard station until we get to the front window. While we’re retrieving our phones and identification, the warden greets us at the door.

“Did you find what you were looking for, Mr. Grey?” He says in a cocky, self-assured tone.

“Oh, I found exactly what I was looking for,” I tell him, looking him square in the eye. His self-assured smugness slowly slides off his face as I stare at him. By this time tomorrow, he will know exactly who I am and why I was here. He will also know that he fucked up in pushing that old geezer in my face and trying to pass him off as the man who has haunted my nights every day of my life. For once, I don’t have the desire to play the stare game. I leave him there uncertain as Jason and I make our way off the premises.

I don’t say a word as we get into the car and wait for the gates to open to signal our freedom. The gate slowly slides open, and Jason guides the sedan onto the two lane road and away from the prison. I’m wound so tight that I can barely think. I immediately call Butterfly and tell her to go to my mother’s house until I can figure out what we’re going to do next. I explained to her earlier about my theories and why I was here. Finding out that I’m right is a bittersweet moment—sweet because my instincts were correct, and bitter because I don’t know what this fucker is up to or where he is.

The FBI can’t be this sloppy to put someone in the goddamn cell that doesn’t even look like Myrick. What took all day? Why didn’t they just say “no” to my request and save us all this headache? My theory is that they weren’t prepared; that the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing and that the contact here in Ionia had no idea whatsoever that I was even on the way, much less that I was responsible for the takedown of the prisoner’s son in Seattle. Most likely, Myrick is holed up or hiding out somewhere in witness protection like his son, and Robin is expecting for Myrick to use his pending testimony in the Sunset Case as a bargaining chip for Robin’s freedom. The problem with that thinking is that he has most likely used it as a bargaining chip for his own freedom.

I never even looked into Myrick’s charges myself. I always had Dad do it. I never thought of the FBI angle at all. Even now, I’ve flown off to Detroit to discover that the man in the cell wasn’t Myrick. I haven’t even examined this angle.

“So you knew all along that guy wasn’t Myrick?” Jason asks.

“From the moment he sat down.”

“So why all the theatrics?”

“In case someone was watching… and I know that they were,” I respond.

“Why didn’t you just go to the warden?” I look at my head of security like he has two heads.

“Because he’s in on it,” I tell him. “There’s no way they have a man in this jail and the warden doesn’t know that he’s not Anton Myrick. They’re all in on it and I just needed to get out of there before they have me locked up and saying that I’m someone else.”

“What do we do now, boss?” Jason asks.

“We get the hell outta here. Call whoever you need to call and get that jet on the runway.”

“Already there, Sir, waiting for your go-ahead and you just gave it to me.” He dials a number—the pilot, I assume—and gives the okay to get that bird in the air. In the meantime, I call Welch.

“Sir.”

“Myrick Sr., have we attempted to locate his whereabouts?”

“No, sir. From the intel from Mr. Grey, we always assumed that he was in Ionia. That’s not the case?”

“No, that’s not the case. I have no idea who’s in Ionia, but it’s not Anton Myrick. It was the worst switcheroo I’ve ever seen. We need to get any information that we can on the Sunset Case in Detroit, Michigan, then we need to use it to find out where Anton Myrick is. He’s in witness protection, too. Robin was being protected because of him.”

Whoa,” is his only reply. “I’ll get on it, sir.”

“Good. Oh, and Welch?”

“Yes, sir?”

“I want you to clean out the attorneys,” I tell Welch. Jason frowns.

“Sir?” Welch questions.

“I am officially making an example of anybody who fucks with me. By the time the Myrick story hits the mainstream media, anybody who has crossed me will know that I’m coming for them—starting with those fuckers that tried to screw me over with that goddamn prenup. Now make it happen! I want their stocks, bonds, bank accounts, retirement funds, Christmas club accounts, everything! If they’ve got nickels hiding in a jar on a shelf in a hut in Zimbabwe, I want ‘em! I want those fuckers looking for work in the Thrifty Mart by Monday. Am I clear?”

“You’re gonna make a lot of enemies, sir,” Jason warns.

“I’ve already got a lot of enemies,” I bark. “I’ve been too easy on the fuckers up to now. That’s why Dodd and Myrick thought it was okay to pull this shit!” I turn my attention back to the phone. “You haven’t answered me, Welch.”

“Consider it done, sir,” he says without hesitation and I end the call.

When 911 happened and I awoke to the news that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center, I remember my world tilting on its axis for so many reasons. I was wondering who could be so brazen or desperate or angry or suicidal or hateful to do something like this… to crash a plane into a building. Most of all, I thought about all those people—all those people who were going to die that day.

Not once did I think that the buildings would come crashing down that way. I’m not sure that the people who did this thought that would happen. I think the collapse was just a fucking bonus for those monsters. Although the tragedies happened hours prior to when I actually saw them, for me, they were happening right then, live and in living color before my very eyes. The news spoke of thirteen more planes that were unaccounted for. I had no idea what was going on.

My first thought was that I couldn’t understand why a plane would be flying that low in the first place, a commercial jet no less. I didn’t have enough time to process the news about the first plane when I heard about the second plane because, again, these things had happened hours before I awoke and got the news. As smart as I am, I was still confused, but suspicious when I heard that the second plane had hit the second tower. By the time the news of the destruction of the Pentagon reached me, I knew that we were under attack.

I didn’t know if there was any rhyme or reason to whomever was attacking us. I just remember feeling like one of those missing planes was going to come through my window and get me at any second. As illogical as it might have been, I expected to see the nose of a 747 headed straight for my dorm—right into my bedroom window aimed right at me. I was at Harvard, and I wanted to go home—to my family. I remember being worried about Mia, about Elliot, about my mom and dad…

…and about Elena.

I have that same feeling now, like one of those planes is aimed at my home and my wife and children, and it’s going to hit any minute. I don’t know what we’re going to do. The new house will be a fortress. They’ll be safe there, but what about until the house is finished? I don’t want them at Escala, that’s all I know for sure. I want them safe. They have to be safe.


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

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Love and Handcuffs!
Lynn x

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 11—Your Time Has Come!

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. I hope you—as a fellow fan—enjoy it, too.

Gun and Shoulder Holster

Chapter 11—Your Time Has Come!

CHRISTIAN

Welch is upon me the moment I get to the office on Friday. I’ll admit that I still have pictures of my angelic Butterfly asleep in my arms as I attempt to explain the psychological significance of Dumbo. “Sir, we’ve got the word from James. With your permission, we need to get the teams in place. We’re close enough. It’s time to move on Dodd.”

This is music to my ears. I’m so tired of waiting to put this thing to rest. I’m anxious to get this behind me.

“What do you need me to do?” I ask. Like I said, I’m anxious, but I have to be careful to follow instructions or I might blow the whole thing.

“We need to get him separated,” Welch says. “He needs to be away from Grey House. We have somewhere that he can be interrogated and the Ops team is ready, but judging by his appearance and demeanor, we won’t need Ops for him.” I nod.

“So you’re saying that I need to lure him to this other location.” He nods. “Any suggestions?”

“We looked into his work history and of course his background check. He’s had several ideas that he’s brought to the table that got axed before they even got to the planning stages.” This means I never even saw them. “I would use one of these to get his attention.” He hands me a list of Dodd’s rejected business ideas.

“No wonder they were rejected. These are really awful. I can’t even pretend to be excited about any of these!” I’m nearly gagging at how bad these are.

“You have to try, sir. We need to get him to that warehouse.” I’m feeling a bit nauseous about these ideas.

A robotic painter. Not an automated or android painter. No, a real robot that paints. The damn thing looks like a transformer.

Voice-activated alarm system—is he serious? There are so many of these already on the market, I can’t begin to name them all!

Fingerprint technology that operates your computer—now he’s just being ridiculous. Even if GEH had accepted any of these ideas when they were originally presented, we would have been technologically years behind the competition in research and development. There’s many, many more on the list that are just as bad and from what I can see, he’s been trying to get ideas on the R&D table for years.

“Is this why this guy agreed to conspire against me—because we wouldn’t support this drivel?” Welch shrugs.

“It’s highly likely, sir, but you’re going to have to pick something in some of that drivel that’s going to make him comfortable enough to leave the premises without tipping anybody off.” I twist my lips. I can probably do something with that robot, but not as a painter. That’s just ludicrous.

“The robot,” I say. “Maybe we can pitch it as something to assist with security.” As soon as I say it, Robocop immediately comes to mind. It’s just as ridiculous, but no more ridiculous than the other ideas he’s presented. Welch shrugs.

“I don’t know how a robot would assist with security, sir,” Welch protests.

“That’s because you’re an expert. We don’t really want the damn thing to assist with security. We just want him to think we do, right?” Welch twists his lips and nods. “It fits in perfectly. With everything going on right now, of course I would be looking into methods—even unconventional methods—to secure the safety of my family and my home. Sure, we know it’s ridiculous, but he doesn’t have to know that.”

“That’s actually pretty genius,” he says. “Now, how do we sell him on it?”

“Well, I’ll need your help on that. I know basically what to do to stay safe and I can just about tell you the watered-down version of what you guys do, but I don’t know anything specific about security protocol in terms of what a new person would be doing. I guess we would treat this thing like it was a person—with special abilities—and go from there.” The more I talk, the more this sounds like a bad science-fiction movie.

“Weapons, armor, size would be a factor—you know they already have things like this,” he says.

“Who does?” I ask.

“The government. Ever heard of drones? It’s the same technology.” Drones. Of course.

“We’ll convince him that it’s something different,” I say. “Let’s be real—two of his original ideas include voice-activated alarms and fingerprint technology. How smart could this guy really be?” Welch nods again.

“True.”

Welch and I quickly bang out some ideas and draft a few plans for prototypes from Dodd’s illustrations that look like real plans for a real product. We even put it in planning folders and Welch takes the liberty to jot a few notes on the copy that we will show to Dodd. After a few hours and certain that our mock-up is complete, he goes to set the wheels in motion to make sure the site and necessary staff are in place. I call Jason on his burner.

“Richard Maverick. What can I do for you?” he answers.

“Henry Walsh here. We need to move forward with our dinner plans. Let’s get going and tell Godiva and Rapunzel.”

“You got it. Meet you in five.”

We’ve rehearsed that so many times that it sounded odd saying this time. Dodd is dinner since I plan to chew him up and spit his ass out and Godiva and Rapunzel are Gail and Butterfly. We don’t know what this operation is going to lead to or what’s going to be required or come from it. So, now, all communication has to be on the burners and we might be away from home for a while. The ladies will not be pleased.

Gail is there when we get to the apartment, but Butterfly hasn’t made it home yet. I’m not surprised. It’s only four in the afternoon, but I’ll admit that I wanted to see her before I go “undercover.” I don’t want to call her because I don’t want to tip her off and I know that I will. I change into jeans and a T-shirt with hiking boots and grab a jacket before leaving the bedroom. I was trying to stall a bit, but we don’t have any more time. By the time I get to back to the great room, Gail is quite pale and holding two burners.

“We’ll be fine, Love,” Jason assures her. “We are more protected than I have time to explain to you.” She doesn’t look convinced, but she nods anyway. I stand there looking at them, longing to hold my wife, but trying not to look so forlorn. Jason kisses his wife deeply before heading in my direction.

“Did he give you the names?” I ask, and she nods uncertainly.

“Yes, I have them right here.” She shows me a small piece of paper. I nod.

“Good. Tell her… tell her I’ll call and that I love her.”

“I will,” she says forcing a smile. I feel like she’s the only connection that I have with Butterfly right now and I don’t want to leave yet, but I know that I have to. It’s the unknown that makes this shit so scary.

“Boss, we can handle this without you, you know,” Jason says, giving me a chance to back out. I shake my head.

“No, but give me a minute. I need one more thing.” I turn around and walk to my office. I open the safe and the lockbox, then the attaché. Removing my gun, I put it in one pocket and the loaded magazine in the other before joining Gail and Jason back in the great room. I was caught unprepared once before. It won’t happen again.

“Let’s go. The sooner we get this started, the sooner it’ll be over,” I say, walking pass Jason and Gail and out the door to the elevator. The damn thing seems to take forever, but it finally arrives and we step inside.

“You got your piece, didn’t you?” he asks. I turn to him and say nothing. He just nods and doesn’t say anything else. When we get to the car, he opens the trunk and pulls out what looks like a belt.

“That’s a pretty big piece to have in your pocket. Take off your jacket.” Um, okay. I remove my jacket, but I don’t put it down since my gun is in the pocket. Jason straps this thing around my shoulders and I soon discover that it’s a body holster. He takes the firearm out of my pocket and loads the magazine.

“How does that feel?” he asks once he puts the gun in the holster. I squirm a bit.

“Loose,” I tell him. He tightens the holster.

“Draw,” he says and I pull out my firearm. “Now put it back.” I sink it back into the holster. “Easy enough?”

“Yeah, that’s a better fit,” I tell him while putting my jacket back on. We’re in the parking garage, for God’s sake.

“Good. Close that,” he says, gesturing to my jacket. ”You haven’t mastered how to conceal yet, so you’ll just have to hide it under your jacket.”

“Not a problem,” I say, zipping my jacket and getting into the car.

“Ben and Chance and going to be stationed at the penthouse in my absence,” he tells me as we drive back to Grey House. “I just talked to Chuck and he said that Her Highness is at the hospital with Philip and Maxine Guest. Apparently, Mrs. Guest had her baby.” Well, that’s good news, and now I don’t feel so bad about not waiting around to see her as she’ll probably be at the hospital until visiting hours are over. “Chuck is going to stay at the penthouse, too…”

“Do we need that many people?” I ask, knowing that the sheer magnitude is going to scare the shit out of my wife.

“We don’t know what we’re walking into. Better safe than sorry. And just so you know, there are a couple of mobile units at the apartment, too. I know how you feel about Her Highness and I feel the same about Her Majesty, so to answer your question—yes, we need that many people.” I see the slightest crack in Jason’s normally unshakable resolve and I realize that he’s just as uncertain as I am about leaving his wife to do this. I won’t give him a hard time about it.

When we get back to Grey House, Welch meets us at the door, indicating that everything and everyone is in place and Dodd is giddily waiting in the conference room. I take a moment to go over everything that Welch tells me about our performance before I enter the conference room.

There he is, sitting there looking over his plans like he doesn’t have a care in the world. He stands when I enter the room and smiles at me. I want to pull his teeth out one by one.

“I don’t think we’ve formally met outside of the department head meetings,” I say, coolly. “Christian Grey.”

“Maurice Dodd. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you one-on-one, sir.” I would be moved by his reverence if I didn’t know the fucker was stealing from me and potentially threatening the safety of my company and family. I gesture for him to sit and I take the seat at the end of the table with him to my right. “I was surprised to hear from you, sir. This particular project was submitted over a year ago.” That’s because it’s a piece of shit.

“Well, you never know what little tidbits you find right up under your nose,” like a traitor in your own camp.

“Yes, indeed.” He smiles wider.

“As you know, I have an intruder in my network. When I find the son-of-a-bitch, I’m going to make him wish he had never heard of Christian Grey.” I glare into his eyes and see his resolve break, a bit of uncertainty creeps up and his posture falls a bit. Welch clears his throat to get my attention and get me back into character. He pours himself a bit of water and utters an apology for the interruption. “To that end,” I continue, “I will need to upgrade some of the security protocols.”

“Security, sir?” he says, puzzled. The asshole was sitting here looking at the plans and couldn’t ascertain that it had something to do with security? I don’t know how Myrick picked him out of everybody in the company, but he sure picked the right idiot.

“Yes,” I reply rising out of my chair and walking around a bit. If I stay in close proximity of this piece of shit, I’m surely going to hit him. “This fucker is threatening my life’s work, my company, my fortune, the safety of my wife and children… for a few extra bucks.”

“I…” He pauses and swallows, taking a gulp of water. “I’m sorry, sir. I hadn’t realized that things were this… serious.” Yeah, you’re not sorry now, but you will be. “How can I help?” You can tell me where that fucker Myrick is so that I can choke the living shit out of him and rid the world of him once and for all.

“Apparently, Mr. Welch feels like your robot here could be useful in the overhaul,” I lie.

“For security?” he asks surprised. “I never thought of that.”

“Yes. As you can see, with the correct modifications and some appropriate outfitting, your little creation could be quite the unique piece of machinery.” Unique as in useless.

“Thank you, sir. I can see how it would be. I couldn’t imagine an automated painter being used as a security droid.”

“Nor could I,” I say honestly. I let a little too much time pass after that statement and Welch jumps in.

“We actually have a prototype built already and we’d like your take on it. You know how it’s supposed to function and we just want to see what you think about what we’ve done to it.” He smiles widely again.

“Yes! Yes, that would be splendid!” He’s so easy. If I were face-to-face with the man who I am currently stealing millions of dollars from, I would show a little caution—maybe just a bit of trepidation. No, this idiot is walking right into the lion’s den with the King of the Jungle circling him and preparing for his next meal.

“You’ll have to forgive me if this whole thing seems hush-hush and undercover, but I don’t know who I can trust these days and I have to be careful,” I throw in.

“Of course, Mr. Grey, I completely understand. You can never be too careful.” I want to snatch his teeth out of his mouth. You can never be too careful. You should know, you sniveling little piece of shit.

“The prototype is in another location. I don’t want anyone to have a clue what I’m planning, so I had to be very discreet about it. I’d like to take you there so that you can see exactly what comes next.” Welch throws a look of caution over at me, but this is the best I can do without beating this little weasel to a pulp right here and now.

“I’d love to see what you have planned, sir.” Actually, you wouldn’t, but that’s okay.

“Good. I’ll have you follow us in your vehicle to a secured location and we’ll go from there. Is that okay with you?”

“Yes, sir, absolutely!” he nods frantically.

“Mr. Welch will ride with you and we’ll rendezvous in a few short minutes.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, again, sir. I didn’t think anyone was paying attention to any of my ideas. It’s a little disheartening to be the Director of Planning and can’t even get one of your own plans onto the production floor.”

“Well, persistence pays, Mr. Dodd,” I say as I leave the conference room. Jason is standing just on the other side of the door and I nod at him, signaling him to the car. I take a deep cleansing breath and prepare myself for what’s about to happen. It’s very likely that someone may not come out of this ordeal alive—I’m unusually okay with that. All I have to think of is the fact that anything or anybody in this operation could have jeopardized my family—my beautiful Butterfly and the beans. After a few moments, Welch and Dodd walk out of the conference room.

“I’ll see you gentlemen in a few minutes,” I say before leaving.

A few minutes later, we’re outside of an empty building waiting for Dodd and Welch. I’m impatient for the asshole to get here. I couldn’t chance him riding alone just in case he might decide to call Myrick. Any idiot with two nickels worth of good sense would know that this jackass is walking into a setup…

Except for this jackass.

After Dodd pulls around the back of the building where his blue Lincoln is out of sight, he and Welch meet me and Jason at the SUV.

“The need for secrecy is very important, Mr. Dodd. You and Mr. Welch will ride with us from here. Where I’m taking you is going to be pretty dirty. I should have warned you in advance, sorry about that.”

“It’s no problem at all, sir,” he says, chomping at the bit.

“You’re not about to walk into some CSI sparkly clean top-secret shiny lab. These guys get down and dirty with what they do and where you’re about to go is just that—down and dirty.”

“A little dirt won’t hurt me. I’ll be fine, Mr. Grey…” or so you think. I nod and we all pile into the SUV.

Several minutes later, we are outside of a warehouse that happens to belong to Welch located just outside of Seattle. I have no idea what else may have gone on in this location, nor do I want to know. Welch leads us into the warehouse that is very dimly lit on the inside. He bolts the door behind us and we walk through a large empty area to a platform at the far end of the warehouse that turns out to be an elevator.

Up we go to the second floor and a well-lit room in the middle of another room. A few chairs and a table are inside along with what appear to be two of Cholometes and Welch’s friends.

“You’ll want to take a seat there, Mr. Dodd,” Welch says, pointing to a chair near the middle of the room. Dodd sits like he’s about to see a Broadway show.

“These are the gentlemen that I was telling you like to get down and dirty,” I say, gesturing at the two ominous figures standing at the far side of the room who now make themselves known. “They’re handling a particularly delicate situation for me. Now, you did say that you were willing to help in any way. I certainly hope you meant that, because this is where it gets a little sketchy.”

“Absolutely, Mr. Grey. What can I do?” Dodd says eagerly.

“As you know, a few months ago, we discovered that there is an intruder in GEH’s systems,” I begin.

“Yes, sir, I’m well aware of that,” he replies.

“Oh, I’m sure that you are,” I comment. “You see, we’ve been watching the activities of these hackers very closely. We’ve been able to map their patterns, determine their destinations, and for the most part trace their current locations.” Some of the color leaves his face.

“You have?” he says nervously.

“Yes, we have,” I continue. “We have a few blanks to fill in, but we’re certain that we’ll get the answers that we need very soon.”

“Well… the last that I heard, there was possibly another intruder in the system,” he says nervously.

“No, that was just a piece of propaganda fed to key players to see how quickly it would filter down to our hackers. It moved very quickly because we could even see a change in their patterns when we released that story, just like we did when we released the lie that we had arrested someone else for the crime.” He swallows hard. He remembers all of this because he was deliberately present for every meeting.

“If I may ask, sir, where do I and my robot come in with this?” he says nervously.

“I so glad you asked. Mr. Welch?” He nods.

“Gentlemen, would you please bring the prototype of Mr. Dodd’s robot so that we can show him our plans for it?” Without a word, the two gentlemen disappear out of the room.

“I need you to pay close attention because you will determine where we go next with this project,” I tell Dodd. “I’m a bit stumped and I don’t like being in the dark. In fact, I particularly fucking hate it. But with your help, I’m certain that I can get to where I need to be.” He’s silent now, waiting for the finished product of his creation to be brought to him. I sit on the edge of the nearby table examining him while he takes in his surroundings.

The two men come back into the room with a large box and I ceremoniously remove a robot from the box—a very small, white robot way too small for the box with no function whatsoever. Dodd frowns.White Robot Toy

“Um, sir… there must be some mistake. That’s not my robot.” I look at it curiously.

“It’s not?” I question, feigning surprise. He shakes his head.

“No, sir. That looks like… a child’s toy.” I twist my lips.

“Hmm, so it does.” I take the thing by the feet and bang it on the table several times until it shatters into tiny pieces, throwing the legs across the room before turning back calmly to face a very startled and afraid Mr. Dodd.

“You want to know something?” I say as I remove my jacket. “I saw it in your eyes. I saw it more than once. You were questioning my intentions. You were wondering what was really going on, but you didn’t have the common sense or the self-preservation to think about your current situation and step back and look at all of the possibilities.”

He’s justifiably afraid now. His face is as white as a sheet and the expression of horror painted on it at this moment is priceless. His eyes don’t leave mine, but I know he’s already seen the weapon. I lean closer to him.

“You walked right into danger based on the hint of a promise. You had no guarantees, nothing concrete, but some phony mock-up of your pictures. I gave you several chances to see what was going on and you couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I gave you innumerable hints just tonight and you ignored them all. Every phony meeting you sat in on, you had an opportunity to pull out or come clean, but you chose to continue—to follow blindly into the depths of hell. Well, welcome… you’ve arrived.”

I can see him eyeing my gun in my holster. Go ahead. Try it. I’ll have you on the floor before you can blink. Just as I thought, he lunges for my gun. I only wanted an excuse to hit him since I plan on leaving that work to the professionals. With little effort, a good right cross lands him on his ass.

“Tie his ass up,” I say, and the two guys drag him back to the chair and secure his hands with a cable tie.

“Mr. Dodd, you haven’t worked for me for very long, so you don’t know me very well. You haven’t seen the worst of me… but you’re about to.” I take a chair from the wall and place it in front of him. I take a seat and cross my legs at the knees.

“What I really want to do right now is torture you slowly—me, with my bare hands. I want to watch you beg for your miserable fucking life because you have no idea what I’ve been through these past few months… no idea what you nearly cost me. I want you to suffer physically what I’ve suffered mentally and emotionally.”

“Please…” he says, his voice trembling, “think of my wife.” Before I could catch myself, I plant my foot squarely in his chest, sending him and the chair sailing several feet backwards. He’s gasping for breath when I get over to him, still bound to the chair and lying backwards on the floor.

“Your wife?” I hiss, looking down at him. “Your fucking wife? Did you think about my wife when you gave that asshole access to the pictures of her pregnancy? Did you think about the stress that she’s been through because of this whole ordeal? Did you think about the fact that she’s carrying twins, which is stressful enough on her body without having to deal with this shit? Did you think about the fact that helping that asshole get into my system threatens her future? My children’s future?” I snatch him and the chair off the floor and sit them upright—hard!

“No,” I say so close to his face that he can feel my breath and spit. “All you thought about is that nobody paid any attention to those ludicrous and useless ideas of yours–things that have been in production for years already, if not decades. Nobody licked the literal shit out of your ass, so you thought of me as nothing but another fucking dollar sign. A few measly pennies won’t hurt billionaire Christian Grey! Well, you’re right about that. A few measly pennies won’t. Too bad this is not about money!” I smack him hard enough to knock a tooth loose—I hope.

“Sir.” Welch chides gently. No bruises. We agreed. Well, too bad, because he’s already got a few. I stand up straight and count to compose myself. I’ve got a mission here and I have to tame my anger to accomplish it. When I’ve composed myself, I turn to Welch.

“I reserve the right to knock the shit out of this motherfucker anytime I so choose,” I growl, “but I’ll pull the reins back.” Jason wisely brings me a chair. I’m slower to hit him if I’m sitting.

“I don’t give a fuck about your wife, Dodd, and I don’t give a fuck about you. Let’s get that clear. You’re a traitor in my own circle and treason is punishable by death. For right now, I choose to spare you, because I need information. I know who’s behind this and I need you to help me get him. Don’t mistake that word ‘help,’ because as you can see, I have ways to persuade you if you resist, and if I don’t get what I want from you, I’ll just rid the world of your miserable existence and find the fucker on my own.

“Yes, I will admit that the success of this entire situation lays in your lap. This means that if that fucker gets away, I will take my revenge for him out on you. I don’t know what he’s told you or what he’s led you to believe, but even if the police fuck up and he gets away, you get to suffer his share of my wrath. He keeps coming after me. He’ll come again. He’ll just find another expendable fucker like you to get inside. Believe me, I know there’s plenty of you.”

He’s breathing hard and sweating, completely panic-stricken and probably about to have a fucking heart attack.

“Any health concerns?” I ask Welch.

“None, sir, he’s healthy as a horse.” I turn back to Dodd.

“Good, because if you just so happen to develop asthma and have a fatal attack, I will gladly let you die.” I lean my arms on my knees. “Now, this is how this is going to go. I’m going to ask you some questions, some very direct questions, and you’re going to give me very direct answers. If I feel like you’re holding anything back from me, I’m going to redirect my question. If you continue to hold back from me, then I’ll resort to more persuasive measures. Like I said, you will determine where we go next with this project. Is there anything unclear, Mr. Dodd?” I ask like we’re holding an average job interview.

“No, sir!” he gasps, his eyes wide and wild.

“Good. Now the first thing I’d like to know is how you got involved with this in the first place.” I fold my arms and wait for the story.

“This guy approached me in the coffee shop down the street,” he begins, his voice trembling. “He just started talking to me out of nowhere. He seemed friendly enough.”

“What did he look like?”

“Young, red hair…”

“That’s enough.” Myrick approached him in person. “What did he call himself?”

“Victor,” he answers. Another alias, no doubt.

“Continue.”

“He asked what I did and I told him. It was harmless at first, but then he started talking about how far I had advanced in the company and I started thinking about…” he trails off. I don’t say anything. I want him to finish the sentence, but he’s already been warned about withholding information. So we wait for a few moments. “I started thinking about all of the ideas I submitted and no one even looked at them.” I didn’t bother to respond to that comment. I’ve already told him how ridiculous and antiquated his “ideas” were. If he’s that unimaginative, I don’t even know how he was hired.

“So, basically, he talked to you until he found your vulnerability and you allowed him to exploit it. Got it. Continue.” That took the wind out of his sails. I think he was looking for some sort of sympathy and now he realizes that there is none here for him. He drops his head.

“He… he convinced me that he had done this many times before and never got caught, that there was plenty of money in it for me and if we did get discovered, we could get out before anybody actually caught us…”

He continued with his story about how he only met Myrick in person once, but has constant contact with the other two sides of the triangle, whom he calls Nick and Roc. The information he’s giving me still seems sketchy and there’s a lot missing, but I think he fills in some of the blanks as much as he can. We spend quite a bit of time together that night and I realize that he’s particularly exhausted after our… discussion. He’s going to have to be in better form for his performance tomorrow, so somewhere in the wee hours of the morning we decide to call it a night. Mr. Dodd is fed some kind of oatmeal porridge mush shit and handcuffed to the wall in another room where he can get some sleep and ponder his circumstances.

“We’ve got a lot more to go on than we did before, sir,” Jason says in an attempt to calm my angst.

“We still don’t have Myrick,” I say, unsettled. “I’ll breathe easy only when we catch that fucker.”

“Hear, hear,” Welch concurs. My staff has been invaluable during this time. I’m tempted to give them each all-expense-paid vacations to the destination of their choice when this is over, but I know that many of them won’t accept it—particularly Welch. I’ll offer it anyway, though.

“I guess there’s nothing else for me to do here tonight, is there?” I ask. Welch shakes his head.

“No, sir. Let us analyze the information that he gave us and calibrate our next move. Try to get some rest. I would say come back around eleven or noon. I’ll call you if anything develops before then.”

“Good man,” I say. “Um, we’re taking the only car.”

“No, you’re not,” he says and smiles. “Goodnight, sir.”

“Goodnight, Welch.”

*-*

“Christian!” She leaps into my arms and I’m almost afraid that we’ve hurt the babies. I hold her close and breathe in the fragrance of her hair. I hate being away from her, even for a day.

“Butterfly,” I breathe before I close my lips over hers, devouring her in a sweet, sensual kiss.

“I was so worried,” she says when we stop to breathe. “Is it over?”

“No, Baby, it’s not over.” Her face falls. “We still have some work to do, but there’s nothing else that Jason and I can do tonight and I had to see you.” Her eyes travel down my chest and she opens my jacket. I’ve gotten used to wearing the damn thing and forgot that I had it on.

“Your gun,” she says, softly, with a sigh. “I don’t know whether to concerned, terrified… or turned on.”

Oh shit! Greystone jumps to attention in my jeans immediately and need to fuck her—not make love, we’ll save that for later. Fuck!

I grab her hair and slam my mouth into hers. Reading and responding to my need, she challenges my tongue with her own, pulling my hair at the same time. I groan into her mouth, lift her by the ass and carry her to our room. She hastily gets me out of my jacket and doesn’t remove anything else. She pushes me down on the bed and swiftly undoes my jeans, freeing my aching dick. She grabs it and strokes it—hard—while treating me with more sensual kisses. She is on fire! Over a gun holster?? Damn. She quickly slides down my body and treats Greystone to the warm caress of her mouth. I’m so hard that I almost can’t take it. She climbs back on top of me and I’m pleasantly surprised to find that she is naked under that robe. She throws it open and slides down onto my throbbing cock.

“Aahh!” I gasp as she wraps around me, tight and warm. Shit, she feels so fucking good. When she rolls her hips, it’s everything I can do not to blow immediately. I groan in agony trying to control my orgasm.

“You look so hot wearing it,” she breathes. “So hot…” and she grabs the holster with the gun still in it. Thank God I unloaded it or the damn thing just might go off in all this heat.

“Baby, shit!” I hiss, the heat between us almost too much to bear as she grinds into me, harder and faster. I’m watching those round tits wobble and I’m rising and losing control. “Yes, Baby. Fuck me!” I command. “Fuck me harder!” On command, she uses the holster for leverage and begins to bounce wild and fast on my dick.

“You’re so hard,” she breathes. “You feel so good.” I’m holding her ass and with her head held back, I can feel her hair brush against my fingers. It’s so hot and I am going to come. I grasp her ass hard, separate the cheeks and play with her asshole. She shudders at the sensation.

“Stick it in, Baby,” she coos. “Stick it in.” I gladly thrust my finger in her ass and she cries out. With each stroke on my dick, her rosette tightens around my finger. It’s unbearable.

“I’m going to come, Baby,” I growl. “Fuck me, Baby. Make me come.” She holds the holster more firmly and rides with purpose. I stick my finger further into her ass and in no time, I’m gushing endlessly inside of her, my dick burning as she continues to bounce on my viciously ejaculating member. I want her to stop because the pleasure is unbearably blinding, but I know that she can’t because that last deep thrust of the finger has her well on her way to her own orgasm. I hold my breath through the pulsing and burning and moments later…

“Aaaahhaaaahaaaaa!” she cries out as she convulses on top of me. I have to hold her down to keep her from gyrating off the bed. I don’t mind holding her because my dick is still pulsing and I really need her to keep still. Now comes my favorite part—the steady contraction of her muscles. That shit feels so good, even better during an orgasm, but I couldn’t wait. The babies make it impossible to reach her mouth unless she leans down to me, so I take her nipples in my mouth instead since she’s holding her head back. She’s breathing hard and my dick is still cocooned inside of her, enjoying the warmth and the vibration. She starts to moan as I suck her nipples, first one, and then the other. Her hips start to roll, alerting me that we’re not done yet, and she’s already ready for round two.

Who am I to deny my wife?

*-*

The sun is rising now and Butterfly looks gorgeous lying next to me. I would do all this and more to keep her and my children safe. They mean the world to me and nothing is more important to me than they are, especially not worthless thieves following behind a madman hell-bent on my ruin because he has an imaginary bone to pick with me. It’s like I told Dodd last night—it’s not about the money. That fucker tried to kill me by orchestrating the delivery of Ana’s gun to that psycho blonde bitch. Now he’s up the ante by extending the threat to my family. We hadn’t even discussed additional security for Ana or the children before it was leaked to the press that she was pregnant. It’s bad enough that you attack my company, but my family—he better hope I don’t find him when he’s alone.

Butterfly snuggles into me and I hold her close, enjoying her warmth and essence and watching the sun come up. This is a tough position to be in. I have no idea where I would draw the line when it comes to her safety. Is one life more important than another? When it comes to Butterfly, yes, it is. Her life is even more important than mine. I’m fully aware that everyone involved in this could end up dead, and I don’t care. To them, their lives were more important than Butterfly’s. To me, her life is more important than theirs.

Butterfly finally rouses around 9am and does that lovely every-bone-in-her-body stretch that I love to see her do in the morning. She uncurls like a cat, then lies flat on her back to let her body settle into the bed again.

“Good morning,” she says sweetly.

“Good morning,” I reply. “How did you sleep?”

“Like the dead,” she says. “The beans didn’t even wake me with early morning soccer,” she laughs. I smile and kiss her.

“You know I love you more than anything in this world, don’t you?” I say. She examines my eyes.

“Yes, Christian, I do,” she says honestly. “I know that there’s nothing that you wouldn’t do for me and the babies, and I love you for that.” She touches my face reassuringly. I turn my face to kiss her palm. “What time do you have to leave?”

“In about an hour,” I respond, and she sighs.

“Well, that’s enough time to get you some breakfast,” she says before getting out of bed and heading to the bathroom. I watch her walk away and again, remember why Cholometes calls her Helen of Troy. I lie in bed for a few minutes and she comes out and of the bathroom in a super large Seahawks jersey. She retrieves a pair of leggings from the chest of drawers and quickly winds her hair into a messy bun, securing it with some hairpins.

“Get up. You don’t have much time,” she says before leaving the room. I roll out of bed and take a quick shower. I’m in the kitchen after donning more jeans and a T-shirt with my boots. In the short time it took to get dressed, Butterfly has pancakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, toast, coffee and orange juice all waiting for me.

“How did you do that?” I ask, sitting at the breakfast bar ready to tear in.

“I multitasked,” she says sweetly, laying the plates in front of me piled way too high for one person. “I’m going to eat with you while you tell me what you can about what happened yesterday. Leave out any gory details.” I look at her as she pours the coffee and juice and takes a seat, smothering our pancakes with syrup.

“Dodd sang like a canary with little persuasion,” I begin, while loading my fork. “We’ll most likely be confronting the hackers before day’s end.”

“Well, that’s good,” she says filling her mouth with food.

“We don’t have Myrick yet.”

“That’s not good,” she says around her food and I nod.

“We’ll have to see what information we can get from these guys when we apprehend them—or from their computers and phones. The night shift is regrouping and planning the next course of action, which is why I came home.” She nods.

“Does he know you’re on to him?” she asks, eating more.

“I don’t know, yet, but he will soon. The way Dodd was talking, he thought this was all about money.”

“Did he try to use that as a bargaining chip?” she asks. I shake my head and swallow my food.

“No. I made it pretty clear that it was a futile attempt. By the time I left, he was a mixture of uncertain and afraid. I’m hoping the team will have something for me this morning.” She smiles faintly.

“I’m sure they will,” she says softly. “I won’t pretend that I don’t know what’s going on, but hopefully you’ll be able to get the information you need from the computers and phones if these guys are not forthcoming when you catch them.” She eats more of her food and she appears to be concentrating on chewing. I cup my hand around hers.

“Are you okay?” I ask, concerned. She swallows her food and pauses for a moment.

“I don’t like this at all,” she says honestly without raising her head, “but that man declared war on us, and I understand and concur that all bets are off. So, you do what you have to do and don’t worry about me. I’m behind you one hundred percent.” She looks up at me with those last words to make sure that I heard and understood her. She’s not pleased with the tactics, but she supports me in doing what I need to do.

“I swear that we’ll wrap this up as soon as we can,” I promise her. She smiles and nods.

“Eat your breakfast before Jason comes out.” I soon decide that I don’t want breakfast. I want to kiss her and hold her as much as I can before I have to leave. Walking around the breakfast bar, I hoist her up on the counter and kiss her feverishly. She wraps her arms around my neck and returns my fervor, our tongues dancing a sensual tango. I need her strength and her love, and she’s giving me every bit of it. Our souls speak to one another, proclaiming our love as we seal it with our kisses. I feel his presence before I hear him as his essence is an intrusion on our connection.

“I’ll be with you in a minute,” I tell Jason before he gets a chance to clear his throat, never turning my head to him.

“Yes, sir,” he says, and I hear him disappear off somewhere. Butterfly is clutching me tightly, holding me close to her and the babies and saying nothing.

“Please be safe,” she whispers while clinging to me. I hold her tight and kiss her hair.

“I belong to Anastasia Grey,” I breathe. “I am not allowed to take chances. This is your body. This body belongs to you.” I move her hair and kiss her ear. “I must follow instructions and stay safe. I’m not allowed to take chances and I’m not allowed to get hurt.” I kiss her neck. “I belong to Anastasia Grey.” She chokes out a sob and swallows it.

“And don’t you fucking forget it,” she says tearfully, still clinging to me.

“I fucking well won’t,” I say returning her embrace. A few moments later, she calms herself and takes a deep breath.

“You better go,” she says releasing her death grip, but still embracing me and stroking my nape.

“I love you, Butterfly.” I don’t want to let go.

“I know,” she breathes. “Believe me, I know. I love you, too, Baby.” With those words, I take a deep breath and release her, kissing her once more before I get her off of the counter and go back to our bedroom. I put my shoulder holster back on and go to the study to retrieve my gun and clip. Jason is waiting for me at my desk.

“Have you checked your emails?” he asks, looking blankly at my computer screen.

“I haven’t had time,” I confess.

“Scroll through them. See if anything requires an answer. You need to establish location—show normal routine… just in case.”

“Have you?” I ask.

“I have. Come on, we need to get going.” He rises from my desk and gestures for me to sit. I fire off an email or two to Ros, some to Andrea, and a few to department heads and board members of committees expecting meetings this week. About twenty minutes later, I holster my loaded weapon and grab my jacket from the bedroom. When we walk through the great room to leave, Butterfly is still in the kitchen.

“I’ll meet you at the elevator. One minute—no more,” I tell Jason. He nods and leaves. I walk over to the breakfast bar.

“Baby?” She looks up at me like I startled her.

“I thought you were already gone,” she says.

“No, I’m leaving now.” I look into her eyes.

“I’ll be fine, Christian,” she says. “I was… just daydreaming.”

“For half an hour?” She looks at me and fights the tears.

“I just want to be in our new home with our babies and our new life. I just want all of this to be over,” she sniffles.

“It will be, and we’ll have all of that. Don’t worry. I promise you that this is coming to an end. Do you trust me?”

“You know that I do,” she says, catching a tear before it falls.

“Good, then try not to worry. It’s bad for you and the babies.” She purses her lips and sighs.

“Okay,” she says reluctantly. I cup her face and kiss her lips once more.

“I love you, Mrs. Grey.”

“I love you, Mr. Grey.” I kiss her forehead and her hand before walking through the great room and out the front door.


ANASTASIA

I don’t know why even bothered trying to sleep. I’ve been staring at the ceiling for I don’t know how long trying to calm the babies and it’s not even midnight yet. Even they know something’s not right. Jason has already proven that he’ll protect my husband with his life, but I don’t want Jason to get hurt any more than I want Christian to get hurt. I’m terrified that they’re going to get caught in some kind of crossfire or something and I keep having the worst visions in my head of my husband lying dead somewhere. I hope I’m just being paranoid, but I can’t help it. He’s my everything and right now, he’s on some kind of undercover mission to confront the guy who hacked into his computer systems.

It’s no use. I’m not going to get to sleep. I get out of bed and go to the bathroom, hoping that a warm shower will help to calm my nerves.

Feeling no better than I did before the shower, I go to the kitchen to make a cranberry spritzer. It’s dark and quiet except for the lights above the breakfast bar. I tie my robe tight in case one of the security guys are on the night shift doing patrols or something. I don’t know that Chance guy very well, but he’s been on duty with Christian a lot and I don’t doubt that he knows what he’s doing.

I make my spritzer and sit at the breakfast bar. Maybe I should watch television or read. I know it won’t make a difference. All I’ll do is think of Christian and what might be going on with him. I don’t want to think about it, but I can’t help it. If I could will him home with me, I would. I don’t want him out there chasing the bad guys. I want him here with me.

I must be daydreaming because moments later, I see him walking towards me. Am I delirious? I blink my eyes a couple of times to adjust to the light. He is coming towards me.

“Christian!” I run over to him and jump into his arms. I just need him to hold me. I need to know that he’s real. My elation is dampened by the news that the ordeal is still not over, but while he’s talking, I see the holster under his jacket.

He carried his gun. Fuck! He really could have gotten caught in some kind of crossfire. I’m suddenly awash with fear and concern, but the most prevalent thing I feel is… lust! He looks abso-fucking-lutely hot in that holster—hotter than I ever remember him looking before. It does something to me and the next thing I know, I’m on top of him holding on to that holster and riding him like a fucking rodeo princess! I don’t know what I was thinking! Was the damn thing loaded?? I don’t know, but three orgasms later, neither of us had taken a bullet, so I guess not.

I don’t know how long I stand in the kitchen the next day after he and Jason have left. He tells me that he’ll be careful. He even recites my mantra to me—the one that I made him memorize. I know that he’ll do everything in his power to stay safe, but I just can’t shake the feeling of impending doom. I try to clear the dishes, but all I can do is stand there and cry. I have to be strong for him, but when I’m alone, I don’t have to be strong. I can cry all I want.

The problem is… I’m not alone.

“Come on, dear,” Gail says putting her arms around me, no doubt trying to get me to sit down. I don’t move. I don’t want to be taken care of right now. I want to cry. I’m afraid that something terrible is going to happen to my husband and I want to cry.

“He’ll be fine, Ana,” Gail comforts, realizing that I’m not going to move. “He has so many people to protect him and he’s a smart man. He’s not going to do anything to put himself in danger.”

“He has his gun!” I wail, weeping from my chest and letting the tears fall.

“Well… you carry yours. Every day!” she tries to retort.

“That’s right!” I tell her. “I carry it every day. He doesn’t! He never carries it! Ever!” I weep harder.

“Darling, you’re going to have to calm down,” she warns. “Your blood pressure is going to shoot to the roof.” I hold my babies and cry right there in the middle of the kitchen. I want my husband. I want Christian. I want him here—safe with me. I don’t want him out there fighting the bad guys. I want him in my arms so that I can love him and tell him what he means to me. I don’t know what it is, but something bad is about to happen and I know it. I feel it deep inside, not because I want him here and he’s in a dangerous situation, but because there is the feeling of impending doom floating all around me and I can’t shake it. Gail wraps her arms around me and lays her head on my back and shoulder, trying to comfort me, but I’m inconsolable. Something’s coming. Something really bad.

“Please, God,” I weep from my soul, “Please, keep him safe… please…”

I spend the day doing some of the most ridiculous things to keep my mind occupied, one of which was putting together absolutely out-of-this-world names for my baby boy—names that I know Christian would never agree to…

Einstein Hillsboro Grey
Wallingford Fitzgerald Grey
Charleston Eggbert Grey

After about an hour of that, I thumb through this app on my phone that sells a boatload of useless things and try to find something to buy. Something for the house, maybe…

Wall tattoos
Artwork
Floor lamps

I’ve picked out all the tacky things I can think of, then empty my cart, certain that I won’t purchase any of them. By lunchtime, I’m going stir crazy wondering what’s happening with Christian. I can’t talk to anybody about it. All I can do is sit here and lose my mind. Then, like angels falling from heaven, Mandy calls and asks if I felt up to babysitting Little Harry for a few hours.

Oh, boy, do I!

In twenty-five minutes, she brings him over, declaring that she has a bridal shower to go to for one of her friends and forgot to find a sitter for him. My heart is lifted immediately when I see his cute little pudgy face.

“Hi Harry,” I coo and she smiles.

“You’ll be alright?” she asks and I nod.

“Gail’s here if I fall on hard times. Besides, it’s good practice,” I reply, bouncing my baby brother on my hip.

“Okay, well, my cell is on. There’s plenty of breast milk in his diaper bag and I’m only twenty minutes away if you need me.”

“No problem. Go. Have fun. We’ll be fine.” She kisses Harry then give me a half-hug before leaving. “So, little guy, I guess it’s me and you, huh?”

I show Harry around the apartment as if he has any idea what he’s looking at. I look longingly at the playroom door as I pass by. We haven’t been in there in months and I miss it. I know Christian wouldn’t dare do any scenes with me in my current state, but still…

I rip myself from the melancholy of wanting to go into the playroom and turn my attention back to my active and playful little brother.

“Do you want to go see what’s happening in the kitchen?” I ask him and he just smiles obliviously up at me. I take him downstairs and into the kitchen where I find Gail preparing deli sandwiches, and lots of them!

“Are we feeding the homeless?” I ask, and I clearly startle her. She turns to me and makes to say something before she settles her eyes on Harry.

“And who do we have here?” she coos with a genuine smile. “Hello, little fella. I haven’t seen you in a little while.” She smiles and pokes his little stomach and he rewards her with a smile of his own.

“What is it about babies that make things right with the world?” I ask, admiring my little brother.

“They’re untarnished,” she says. “They represent fresh starts and new life… and they’re so damn cute!” She tweaks Harry’s cheeks and he giggles again. I have to agree. Having Harry around makes me feel all fluffy and hopeful inside.

“It’s wonderful having him here,” I say, kissing his soft cheeks. “He gives me comfort.” She smiles.

“Are you hungry?” I look at her deli trays. Actually, they’re just plates with sandwiches and crudités, probably lunch for the guys. Another little platter is covered with various little cakes and cookies.

“I want that,” I whisper to Harry, pointing at the cakes. “How about you?” More oblivious smiling. I’m certain he’s too small to have the sweets, but it’s fun to play anyway.

I sit Harry in his bouncer and take my sandwich and goodies to the great room. He’s sucking on his binky while I’m eating a delicious turkey and Swiss sandwich in front of the fire. He’s a captive audience while I talk about anything that comes to mind—the babies, the house, Helping Hands. Thanksgiving is coming soon and we are supposed to be having it at our house this year since Elliot and Aaron assure me that everything will be ready by then. Harry gets a little fussy after lunch and I deduce that he might need a diaper change and a feeding of his own. The diaper change goes more smoothly than I thought it would. Gail warms a bottle for him while I cuddle him on the sofa. The entire time he’s nuzzling and trying to get under my shirt.

“Sorry, buddy,” I tell him. “Nothing there just yet.” He fidgets a bit almost like he understood what I said and wants his instant gratification. I can’t help but laugh, wondering what Daddy must have been like as a baby. Probably just as adorable as Harry.

He devours his bottle when I finally give it to him and follows his lunch with two healthy burps. Almost immediately, he releases a huge yawn and I lament over the fact that I have to release my little companion to the Sandman.

“Okay, Harry,” I say rocking him in my arms. “I can’t sing my lullaby to you, so what should I sing?” I think for a moment and the perfect song comes to mind:

Frère Jacques,
Frère Jacques,
Dormez vous?
Dormez vous?
Sonnez les matines,
Sonnez les matines,
Din, din, don!
Din, din, don!

Are you sleeping,
Are you sleeping?
Brother John?
Brother John?
Morning bells are ringing,
Morning bells are ringing,
Ding ding dong,
Ding ding dong.

Two more choruses of Frère Jacques and little Harry is out like a light. I can’t bear to put him down yet. I don’t want to be alone again. So I hold him for a little while and just watch him sleeping. New life and fresh starts… hope… That’s a lot to put on a kid.

“I wonder if your mom felt the same way about you,” I say to my sleeping baby brother. “I know I’ve already lived a wonderful life, some good and some bad, but I feel like I won’t even start living until the babies are born. That’s a pretty big responsibility to hang on their shoulders and I try not to do it, but it’s no use. You guys have a power over us that make us helpless and useless. Might as well get used to it.” I sit there for I don’t know how long holding little Harry until a familiar voice breaks me out of my trance.

“Getting in some practice, huh?”

I look up and see my best friend standing there in his casual best—jeans and a polo shirt. How did I not hear him come in?

“Hi, Al,” I say before turning my attention back to Harry. “I guess you can say that. I love this kid so much and he’s not even mine. I think it’s the fact that he’s part of Daddy.” Al sits next to me.

“Yeah, he is a cute little guy, and he looks just like Ray.” I finally decide to put little Harry in his bouncer and let him rest.

“So what brings you by, Darling?” I say, taking my seat back on the sofa.

“Bored,” he says. “We’re always kind of doing something. Now that our significant others are all tied up with cracking this… thing, I figured we would keep ourselves occupied.” He pulls out a bag of my most favorite chocolate.

“Lindor!” I exclaim quietly so as not to wake Harry. “Give it to me!” He snatches it away from my grasp.

“What do you say?” he taunts.

“Give it to me now or I’ll break you face!” I say stoically. He jerks his head.

“Alright, alright,” he says in his whiny voice. “Testy!” He gives me the chocolates and I quickly open one of the individually wrapped truffles and bite into it, moaning with ecstasy as the smooth center coats my tongue. “Damn, Jewel, you make that sound like sex.”

“It’s a close second,” I say after allowing the chocolate deliciousness to slide down my throat.

“You look right at home with the little guy,” he says as I finish my truffle.

“He’s easy to love,” I say, looking admiringly at my little brother, “and it’s a distraction.” Al nods.

“I heard,” he confirms, “as much as I want to hear anyway. Anything he does with me is protected by attorney/client privilege, but there are certain things that I still don’t want to know.”

“And things that I already wish I didn’t know,” I add forlorn. “He’s carrying.” Al frowns.

“Carrying what?” My turn to frown.

“His gun!” I announce matter-of-factly.

“Christian has a gun?!” he exclaims in surprise.

“How can you be his lawyer and not know that he has a gun?” I ask.

“I don’t know what he doesn’t tell me, Jewel,” Al defends. “How long has he had a gun?”

“Since right after Jason was shot in his office,” I inform him.

“Okay, so not that long, and how often does he carry it?”

“Never,” I respond.

“That would be why I don’t know,” he says. “Attorneys are just like wives. We’re either the first to know or the last to know.”

“Goddammit, Allen,” I whine as I go to the kitchen to get some water. I didn’t need that analogy, at least not right at this moment. I can’t think about what I don’t know. I have to trust my husband and let him do what is best for our family, even if I may not agree—but I have to admit. The waiting—and the not knowing—is agony.


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

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Love and Handcuffs!
Lynn x

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 7—Birthday Bliss?

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. I hope you—as a fellow fan—enjoy it, too.


Chapter 7—Birthday Bliss?

ANASTASIA

“This is my first time having a massage like this. I guess I shouldn’t have waited so long,” I say to the girls. We’re having our lunch in a private lounge, still wearing our terry cloth robes. We’re in something like a jungle room—lots of exotic plants all around, plenty of natural light or at least what looks like natural light, and mists of water spraying in over the plants and in the air a bit like they do in the supermarket vegetable aisle.

“Well, an outing with Mrs. Grey almost always involves a massage, so what was different about this one?” Val asks.

“It was just different,” I tell her. “Instead of relaxation, it focused on all of the areas that are tight or sore because of the pregnancy. Maxie fell asleep.”

“I wish I could train Phil how to so that,” she says, popping a strawberry in her mouth. We’re lunching on fresh fruit, croissants, juices, pasta salad, chicken kabobs, steak fajitas, and lots of water since we just got massages. I still have a small issue with beef, but it hasn’t caused any problems yet—I just won’t eat any of it.

“So, Valerie, it looks like you’re the last of the red-hot single girls. Any wedding bells in your future with Elliot?” Gail asks.

“No,” Val replies. We’re waiting for the rest, but nothing comes.

“Not ever?” Mandy asks. Grace is quite attentive at this point.

“I won’t say ‘not ever,’ but not likely,” she replies, before taking a bite of pasta salad, and now the room has gone silent. “Okay,” she continues after she swallows. “Elliot and I have talked about this. We love each other very much. I even want to have kids with him, but neither of us feels that it’s necessary for us to have a piece of paper to give us permission to share our lives. We’re basically living together, we share a mutual love and respect for one another. Neither of us plans on running to the hills—no offense, Ana…”

“None taken,” I say quickly.

“… And if we spent all that money paying for a wedding, it would be for everybody else, not for us. Again, no offense, Ana.”

“Now you’re getting a little offensive,” I stop her. “Is that what you think my wedding was—a show for everybody else?”

“Or mine?” Maxie pipes in? The other ladies all sit silently waiting for an answer as everyone else in the room is married. Val looks from face to face and puts her plate down.

“That look,” she points to each of us, “that’s exactly what I’m talking about. I didn’t say your wedding… or yours… or any of yours… meant anything. I said ‘us!’ I didn’t say Maxie, I didn’t say Ana, I said ‘we!’ The only reason why I specifically said ‘no offense’ to you is because you just got married. You had this huge massive blowout paid for by you and your billionaire husband that made you feel like a princess because that’s what YOU wanted! My boyfriend and I don’t need that. If we did that, it would be for everyone else, not for us because we don’t want that. Do I need to make that any clearer or do I stand and wait for the daggers to fly?” Sheesh! She’s awful sensitive.

“Well, excuse me, but it did sound like that’s what you were saying,” I defend.

“You’re just too sensitive, Steele. That wasn’t what I was saying at all,” she retorts, a bit defensive herself. I’m sensitive? I frown and load the guns and just as I’m ready to open fire, Grace steps in to defuse the situation.

“Okay, we’ve had a wonderful day and we’re enjoying a fabulous late lunch. Let’s not spoil it with a little thing like misinterpretation.” She pats my hand and gives me some orange juice. I pout a bit and let out a puff of air. I really wanted to let her have it… well, maybe not let her have it, but no matter. I just quench my anger with healthy swallows of orange juice.

“Okay, so no marriage,” Maxie says. “Are you trying for children?”

“Definitely not!” she replies, gesturing to the group. “We’re surrounded by babies! Mandy, you, she’s having two… we can wait.”

“How long do you think you’ll wait?” Mandy asks. Val shrugs.

“I don’t know, thirty, maybe. Whenever he says he’s ready to have children, I’ll be ready.”

“Even now?” Maxie asks.

“We’ve already talked about now. It won’t be now, but yes, even now. He’s still reeling from that ‘Kate’ thing. He was preparing himself to be that child’s father and trying to get his mind set on what direction his life was going to go. Then it turns out to all be bullshit. That’s a lot to deal with, so I’m just going to be there for him and when he’s ready, I’ll be ready. We don’t want to get married. We’re fine. We like our relationship the way that it is, but we’re buying a house because we don’t want to pay mortgages at two places.”

“Really?” Grace asks and Val nods. “Where?”

“We’re still looking. We’ll probably stay in Seattle. We want to have something together, so we’ve decided to consolidate. We want something different instead of either of our places…”

“It’s a buyer’s market,” Maxie tells her. “Finding something will be easy, but unloading your places will be a pain.” I remember having the same conversation with Al about him and James.

“I know, but it’s what we want and we’ll just have to be vigilant about asking prices and hope for the best. I’ll be happy if we could just break even.” I’ve pretty much fallen silent. I’m still a bit bruised from the wedding conversation. I’ll admit that I’m pouting and probably being a bit sensitive, but I’m entitled. I’m pregnant and hormonal and she just trivialized my wedding day. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I stab at my pasta salad as I remember mine and Christian’s special day. I didn’t see anything wrong with it even though it was a bit over the top. Maybe I am being too sensitive, but that day was really special to me and I thought it was special to everyone in attendance. I guess I may have been wrong about that…

“So, Ana, you went MIA for a little while. What’s going on? Is everything okay?” Maxie no doubt notices my attempt to be invisible and includes me in the conversation. Grace gets very quiet and I sigh. “Did I say something wrong?”

“No, Maxie, you didn’t,” I reply. “I did something very stupid and selfish. It almost cost my marriage. I don’t really want to go into what it was because I’m still very ashamed of it, but I acted irresponsibly and subsequently slipped into a bit of a depression. It was easier for me to deal with it on my own than to try to explain to anyone what was going on. Christian was very displeased and it was a very difficult time for us, but we got through it okay and we’re fine now.”

“Good grief, Ana, so soon after you married. That must have been rough,” Maxie says. “I’m glad things are good now.”

“You didn’t cheat, did you?” Val asks. I glare at her.

“No, but you did hear the part where I said I don’t want to go into it, right?” I point out. She returns my glare.

“God, Ana!” she snaps. “I’m sorry about what I said about the wedding! I wasn’t trying to say that it meant nothing. I was just saying that it’s not what Elliot and I want.”

“I didn’t say anything else about the wedding!” I defend. “I shared with you all that I did something stupid that almost cost my marriage and I didn’t want to talk about it and you proceeded to ask me if I cheated on my husband!”

“Fine,” Val says, standing. “I’m sorry I said anything at all. Excuse me.” She turns around and walks out of the jungle room. Great, just fucking great. The room is silent now and nobody knows what to do. Should someone go check on Val? Should we call it a day because she ran out or should we just keep talking and eating like nothing happened? Marilyn, who had been quietly sitting by all this time, makes the decision for us.

“Finish your lunch, guys. I’ll go see about her,” and she’s out of the jungle room. This wasn’t my sensitivity this time. I specifically said that I didn’t want to talk about it and she asked if I was cheating on my husband. Nobody’s saying anything and I suddenly feel like the villain. In moments, I’m crying—not because I’m upset, but because I’m pissed. Now there’s that silence that closes in on the room and wraps around the sound of someone weeping.

“For God’s sake, somebody say something!” I sob.

“Sweetie, what do you expect us to say? You’re crying,” Mandy says and I just weep harder. Gail gives me water while Grace rubs my back. Nobody really says anything for quite some time and then we see Marilyn come back into the room. Val comes in behind her, yet the moment she sees me crying and Grace comforting me, she throws her hands up in the air, turns around and walks back out.

Now, I’m mad.

I may have been perturbed about the wedding thing, but she’s the one who asked if I had cheated on Christian. Not only was that completely out of line and way too personal a question, but I made it clear that I didn’t want to go into detail about what happened. My tears stop immediately. I use my towel to dry my eyes and pick up my plate of pasta salad and chicken.

“You guys should probably finish your lunch, because I’m sure as hell going to finish mine,” I say taking a forkful of the pasta salad. Everyone watches me for about ten seconds and then slowly starts to eat their lunch. I don’t think that I and five other women should eat in silence because one is… well, whatever’s going on with Val, so I ask Marilyn about her and Gary. She works for me. She has to talk to me. She looks around and then starts telling us about how she and Gary are doing—taking it slow and enjoying the relationship. They’re both so young that there’s really no rush to do anything. So they’re just moving along being girlfriend and boyfriend and having a good time. Val never came back to the jungle room.

We all go to the changing room after we finish eating our lunch and get dressed. When we get to the cars to go back to the vacation houses. There are only two cars and two guards when at first, there were three of each.

“Ben took Ms. Marshall back to the vacation house,” Chuck says. “She didn’t want to wait.” I roll my eyes. I weary of this whole thing and I suddenly want nothing more than a nice, long nap.

“Fine, let’s go,” I say, opening the door and allowing Chuck to help me into the front seat of the car. Maxie does the same with Chance in the front seat of the other car while the rest of the ladies pile in the back seats. In just a few minutes, we’re back at the vacation houses. I work my way out of the car and straight into the house without saying anything. I hear Grace and Gail come in behind me, but I’m already on my way up the stairs and to the master bedroom.

I take off my shoes and tie my hair in a knot as I’m too lazy to look for a ponytail holder. That would only mean that I would have to put this thing in some kind of bun and I don’t want to do it. Getting into bed is harder these days, but I manage to do it. The soccer players are thankfully peaceful right now, so I lie on my side and sing their lullaby. I don’t remember getting to the second verse.


CHRISTIAN

It’s been a while since I’ve been on the side of a mountain. It’s pretty brisk up here and snowy in patches, so we have to watch our footing. Elliot and I love hiking, no matter what season, and we’re taking the hills in stride. This is not Jason’s favorite pastime, but I know he appreciates the workout.

Elliot and I talk about the renovations that still need to be done on the house. He’s thinking that it will actually be done by Thanksgiving. That would be fantastic! Our first Thanksgiving as man and wife in our new home. He’s telling me that he and Valerie are looking for a house or a lot to build a house when he gets a call on his cell. I’m surprised he’s got reception up here.

“Hey Angel,” he says, answering the phone. “What?… Wait a minute, babe, you have to slow down…” Slow down? Why is she talking fast? Is something wrong? Is it Ana? Jason and I simultaneously pull out our phones. Nothing.

“Baby, it’s okay. I’m sure it’s just her hormones or something.” Okay, something is going on with Ana. “Now why did you do that? You know she’s going to come looking for you… Oh… well, okay. I’ll be there soon. We’re still on the mountain… call me if you need me, Angel… Love you, too.” He ends the call. “Your wife and my girlfriend had a little spat.” Oh, for fuck’s sake, this is her birthday weekend.

“About what?” I ask.

“I’m not really sure. Something was said about your wedding and then a falling out you guys had—probably the same one that had Mom pissed at you—and they started bickering. Val is back at the vacation house. Ana and the rest of the women are still at the spa.” Go, Baby, go. Don’t let her ruin your day.

“You going down?” I ask. He frowns.

“Why? She’s not hurt, she’ll still be there when I get there, and I’m chilling with my brother,” he says, patting me hard on my shoulder.

“While I love and appreciate our time together—and I really mean that—I hope you know that I’m off this mountain if Ana calls.” I tell him He scoffs.

“Your wife’s pregnant,” he says. “I expect you to hit the bottom of this mountain in one leap if she calls.” I so appreciate that my brother understands how important my marriage is.

“Let’s hope she doesn’t call,” I say, squeezing his shoulder. He smiles at me and we share a moment on the side of the hill.

“Alright, come on you pussies, before I start growing tits here,” Jason scolds and trudges up the mountain ahead of us. I shake my head and Elliot just snickers at him.

“So, I hear there are some nice houses on Puget Sound and the property values are going up. Were you thinking about something along those lines or closer to the city since you guys don’t have any kids yet?” I ask.

“Definitely the city,” Elliot replies, and the conversation and the climb continue uninterrupted.

*-*

Dad has fired up the grill and is grilling a mountain of steaks, chicken, and jumbo shrimp when we get back to the vacation house. It’s a good thing Butterfly isn’t out here. She’d probably be hurling all over everything. I go inside and find Gail and my mother in the kitchen working on side dishes and dessert. I was sure Butterfly would be in here, but…

“Hey,” I say as a greeting to them both. My mom smiles at me and Gail waves. “Where’s But… Ana?”

“She’s upstairs. I think she’s taking a nap. She went straight up when we got back from the spa and we haven’t heard a peep since,” Gail informs me.

“When was that?” I ask. Mom looks at her watch.

“About three hours ago.” Okay, that’s enough napping. She’ll be up all night if I don’t go get her. I nod and head up the stairs as quietly as I can. I walk down the long hall to the master bedroom and peek my head in.

As always, she looks delectable. She’s wearing this really cute gray T-shirt mini-dress with a baby girl and a baby boy looking through the stomach and a caption that says “Peekaboo! We see you!” I’ve come to know her sleeping patterns. When she’s dog tired, she sleeps with both hands under her cheek. When everything is okay and she’s just going to sleep, she sleeps with one hand under her cheek and the other arm draped over the babies. That’s the hand usually covering mine when I spoon her. When she’s troubled in some way, both arms are wrapped around the babies.

That’s how she’s sleeping right now.

I can imagine that she probably sang to them until she fell asleep. I figured out long ago that she’s actually singing to comfort herself. I sometimes wonder how she’s going to survive after delivery. She depends on them so much right now because they’re inside her. There’s going to be a void once they’re born and I hope that she’s going to be okay. We may need to talk about that soon, but for now…

“Butterfly,” I say as I gently stroke her hair. She’s got it tied in a knot and it looks really good… unique. I’ve never seen it like that. “Butterfly, wake up.” Her eyelashes flutter and she slowly wakes and starts to focus. “There’s my beautiful girl.”

“Hi,” she says sleepily. “What time is it?”

“About five thirty.” She nods and stretches. “Did you enjoy your day?”

“Most of it,” she replies. “I know someone told you—Chuck or Ben or…”

“Elliot,” I complete for her. She twists her mouth.

“Figures,” she says, attempting to sit up. I help her the rest of the way and put my hand on her back to steady her while she continues to wake.

“Do I want to know what happened?” I ask cautiously. “Elliot said that she said something about our wedding and then she said something about our argument. I didn’t know you were telling people about that.”

“I didn’t. That was the problem,” she says. “Val can be very intrusive if you’re not forthcoming with information. So when I was vague about my ‘absence’ and made it clear that I didn’t want to talk about it, she started asking questions when I clearly said that I didn’t want to talk about it!”

“Like what?” What could she have possibly asked that sparked this kind of argument?

“Like if I cheated on you!”

“What!?” What in the fuck did Butterfly say to prompt that response?

“When Maxie asked why I was MIA, I said that I had done something that was detrimental to our marriage and I went into a depression. I said that I didn’t want to talk about it, but that everything was okay now and Val asked if I had cheated on you.” I’m a bit stunned. I can see how the omission of information may make one curious about what happened but…

“She asked you this after you said you didn’t want to talk about it?”

“Yes, and then got upset because I repeated that I didn’t want to talk about it. Then she started making reference to the wedding conversation and I hadn’t even said anything else about the wedding conversation…”

“Wait a minute, wait a minute. Back up, you’re moving too fast. What wedding conversation?”

“She and Elliot are never getting married. Okay, that’s fine. We don’t care. If you like it, I love it, but—she starts making comments that were clearly directed at me because every time she made one, she’d say ‘No offense, Ana…’” Oh, fuck. That’s one of the deadliest “excuse me’s” that you can ever say.

“Comments like what, Baby?” I ask.

“The first one was something like ‘he knows I’m not going to go running to the hills.’ I let that one slide because I did go running to the hills. But when she said that if they got married, it would be just a show for everybody else, then followed that shit with ‘no offense, Ana,’ try again! I found that very offensive. I’m the first one to say that our wedding was quite ostentatious, but it’s what we wanted, and to have her trivialize it that way because she and Elliot are not getting married…” She rubs her eyes.

“Okay, Baby, okay. I see what’s going on,” I say taking her hand.

“And don’t do that either!” she says, snatching her hand back from me.

“What did I do?” I ask.

“Treat me like the little lady because I’m pregnant. People seem to be chalking my feelings up to ‘oh, she’s hormonal and pregnant,’ and I don’t appreciate it. I know that some of my reactions and feelings are because I’m hormonal and pregnant, but not all of them, and I don’t want them to be dismissed that way.” She stares at me and waits for my response. What can I say? That’s exactly what I was doing.

“I’m sorry, Ana,” I tell her. “I don’t want you to ever think that your feelings aren’t important. They really are. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t know when I’m dealing with ‘pregnant, hormonal Ana’ or when there’s a real issue, but if you feel that I’m dismissing a true concern of yours, let me know and I’ll try to set it right.” That did it. She’s weeping again and slobbering all over my shoulder as I hold her.

“Hormonal Ana?” I ask cautiously.

“Hormonal Ana,” she responds through her sobs.

We manage to get her dried up and downstairs for the rest of the barbeque. It’s getting cold out, so everything has been moved to the kitchen with the exception of a few of the shrimp Dad is still grilling. Everything smells delicious—fresh grilled vegetables and baked potatoes smothered in butter, rolls fresh from the oven and chicken and shrimp right off the grill. The smell hit us both at the same time and while those succulent cuts of beef are heaven to my nostrils, they are hell on Butterfly’s stomach. She stumbles her way to the bathroom and I am so glad that it’s unoccupied.

“What’s wrong?” Mom asks.

“Oh, I should have thought of it!” Gail scolds herself. “Beef! The smell of red meat causes violent reactions ever since she’s been pregnant—even before we knew she was pregnant! Remember the murder burger?” Who can forget the murder burger?

“The what?” Mom asks.

“The murder burger,” I say. “Ana had a burger at what we now know was the beginning of her pregnancy and she was sick for two days.”

“Oh, yeah, I remember that,” Amanda pipes in. “She was still a little queasy at the baby shower. She tried to pretend that she wasn’t, but we knew. She was a little miserable.”

“I thought she was going to go into convulsions when the couple next to us had blood sausage in Paris.”

“That’s not beef, is it?” Jason asks. I shrug.

“Some of it is beef. I don’t know if this was or not, but it was enough to cause a reaction.”

“Heaven forbid anything messes with Her Highness’ delicate stomach.” I turn my head and the comment came from Valerie—not loud and boisterous, pretty low in fact, but loud enough for everybody to hear. I glare at her, then at Elliot, who turns to her and chides her quietly while she just rolls her eyes. Butterfly comes out of the restroom looking a little sheepish.

“I’ve gotten to where I can control it when I know it’s coming. It was a sneak attack,” she says be means of an apology. “We had steak fajitas for lunch and I was fine.”

“You ate steak fajitas?” I ask in horror.

“Oh, no, I’m not that brave. They were just near, but I was fine. I’ll be fine, now. I know they’re here and I’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure, dear?” Mom asks.

“I’m positive,” she says, waving her hand. “Nobody heard me, did they?”

“No, nobody heard you,” Elliot says. Valerie stays noticeably silent.

“Here, Butterfly, sit in your chair. I’ll bring you something. Do you want food or something to settle your stomach?”

“No, I want food,” she says. “There’s nothing in my stomach now.” Vomit, then eat. Pregnancy is strange.

Butterfly heartily eats some of everything except the steaks and snuggles comfortably in her chair. Everyone is back in the great room of our vacation house talking about babies and houses and jobs and plans and whatever else we’re talking about. Valerie and Butterfly are clearly not speaking to each other. However, every time Butterfly speaks, Valerie sighs audibly like a spoiled 12-year-old. I noticed it first, then Elliot. When other people began to notice it, I had had enough. Just when I was about to say something, Butterfly stands and Valerie sighs again.

“Valerie,” she announces, “if my presence irks you that much, feel free to leave.” Valerie is unmoved by her declaration, but still states, “You’re kicking me out?” I move to stand, but Butterfly holds her hand out to me to signal that she has this under control.

“No, you’re kicking you out, you and that sighing, wheezing, dog-panting shit you’re doing every time I speak that the entire room is trying to ignore. You clearly still have a bug up your butt from this afternoon and I have no intention or desire to reach up there and dig it out! So like I said, if my presence bothers you so much, you can leave.” Oh, shit. This is serious. Everyone looks from me to Val and waits to see what’s going to happen.

“You know what? You’ve changed,” she says, flatly. “Since you’ve got money, you’re stuck-up and elitist now. You only do certain things and you only talk to certain people. We’re not good enough for you to talk to anymore unless you feel like being bothered with us. Your boyfriend didn’t want us in his penthouse, so we were exiled to the condo for food & libations!”

“That’s not true!” I protest, but Valerie keeps right on talking.

“We used to get together and go to book signings and antique shows, to regular old dives for lunch and to yoga. Now we go to spas and nothing much else. You’ve got your tin soldier with you everywhere we go and we can’t even go to the thrift shops or boutiques we used to visit. We don’t even go to the Marketplace anymore, and we used to do that just about every weekend.” She closes the space between them and that’s when I stand.

“You want to know what irks me, Steele? It’s that when you were crying over that loser Edward, I was the one that listened to you cry most nights. Yes, Al did a lot of the heavy lifting, but it was me and Maxie on the phone listening to you blabber about how much you loved him and how badly he mistreated you. Now, you get your billionaire and not only are we not privy to any of the information anymore, but we’re not even good enough for you to talk to us. If we say the wrong thing or ask the wrong question, you check us like children. Then you have the nerve to walk around acting all bruised when someone checks you on your shit. All hail the Queen, your highness!” She spit the last word with so much venom that I’m surprised Butterfly’s face isn’t scorched.

Butterfly is shaking as if that’s exactly what happened. Valerie is staring her down, smirking as if she has scored some huge victory. Butterfly swallows hard and speaks clearly.

“Now, I’m throwing you out. Get your things and leave. Never speak to me again unless you’re coming to apologize.”

“Hold your breath for that one,” Valerie scoffs. “I’ll be in our room,” she says to Elliot before leaving. Butterfly is shaking so hard, I think she’s going to explode. When I touch her, she does.

“Noooooooooooo!” she screams, jerking away from my grasp like my touch shocked her. “Leave me be! Leave me be!” She’s running up the stairs, sobbing from her soul. I know that she’s inconsolable, but I can’t stand the pain I hear in her cries.

“I guess the night is over,” Marilyn says, rising from her seat.

“I guess so,” Phillip says helping his wife from her seat. She makes as much of a bee-line to me as her belly will allow.

“Christian, I don’t share Val’s sentiment,” she assures me. “Everything she said was taken out of context and…” She swallows hard. “I love Ana. Please make sure she knows that.”

“I’m sure she already does,” I tell Maxine, but after tonight, she needs reinforcement. “If she’ll let me near her, I’ll make sure to tell her what you said.” She nods and kisses me on the cheek.

“I’m sorry, Christian,” she says. Phillip stands next to her.

“I feel the same way,” he reinforces. “Ana hasn’t changed beyond her circumstances, and all the changes she made were necessary for her safety and survival. I don’t know what’s gotten into Val.”

“Same here, Chris,” Garrett says. “Make sure she knows.” I nod at what’s left of the Scooby Gang.

“I’ll make sure she knows,” I assure them. They start to leave, but Marilyn stalls.

“Please call me if she needs me,” Marilyn says before leaving with Garrett. I fall into a nearby seat. I can’t stand it. She’s wailing from her gut! I jump when my mom puts her hand on my shoulder.

“What do I do?” I ask her. “I can’t take that. What can I do?” She runs her fingers through my too-long hair and smiles sadly.

“You let her cry,” she tells me. “She just suffered a breakup, a very severe one. There’s nothing you can do but let her cry and be there for her.” I hate Valerie right now. I want her out of here, but I can’t go over there starting a fight with her. That would start a fight with my brother and I certainly don’t want that. I sigh and drop my head in my hands.

“How long am I supposed to let that go on?” I ask, referring to the animalistic wailing coming from the master bedroom and praying for an answer that says I can run to her rescue. “It can’t be good for her or the babies.”

“Christian, you have to just let it happen,” she tells me. “She’s in severe pain right now and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. You tried and she told you to leave her alone. You have to do that.” I nod and try to think of something else besides my tiny little wife up there feeling pain that originates from her feet and resonates through the cabin and no doubt, across the hills of Washington.

*-*

She cried for hours. At one point, I ignored her demands to leave her alone and held her tight in my arms, laying my head and her shoulder and willing her to stop crying. She finally did and fell hard to sleep, whimpering the whole time. I didn’t sleep a wink the whole night. You would have thought Valerie died, though in a way, you could say that she has. She kept waking up and crying again, one time beseeching me to tell her that it was all a dream. I couldn’t give her that comfort, and she cried herself to sleep again.

It’s almost dawn and I’m exhausted, not because I stayed up all night because I’ve done that before, but because I sat vigil over my wailing wife and I couldn’t make her stop. She once told me that emotional pain is worse than physical pain. She’s right. This is agony for me and I’m not even the one suffering the loss.

I’m sitting at the fire pit having a beer—yes, a beer, at four in the morning. Fuck coffee!

“Hey.” I look up and see my brother. “Long night?”

“One of the longest ever,” I lament. “Is she gone yet?”

“Not yet. We’ll be leaving soon.”

Very soon, Elliot. I don’t want her here when Butterfly wakes.”

“I know, Christian. I understand. She was out of line. I wish I could tell you what’s going on, but I can’t. I have no clue. All she keeps saying is that she’s said what she has to say and that’s it.”

“Well, congratulations to her, because she’s just gained Kate status with me,” I say flatly.

“Come on, Bro. It can’t be that bad.” I glare him.

“It’s worse!” I exclaim. “I’ll never forgive her for this. Butterfly’s heartbroken,” I tell him. “She won’t stop crying. This is not one of those hormonal cries, this is cry, go to sleep, wake up, cry some more, go to sleep, wake up, cry some more…  She cried for hours before I forced her to go to sleep. She even woke up once and begged me to tell her it was all a dream. My very pregnant wife who’s already been through enough now has to go through something like this at the hand of one of her dearest friends?” I shake my head and drop it in my hands for the hundredth time tonight.

“I’m going to have to force-feed her when she gets out of bed,” I say not looking at him. “She’s going to wake up vomiting and then she’s going to want to crawl back in bed. It’s what she did while we were fighting. She lost eight pounds, she was dehydrated—I didn’t even recognize her when I saw her…”

“When you saw her?” he asks. I shake my head.

“That’s a whole other story, man,” I tell him.

“What happened?” he asks.

“We don’t talk about it,” I say, shutting him down. “We talked to each other and that’s enough. The only other person that did know was Mom and she cut us off for a minute.” I’m recalling having to carry my wife out of Helping Hands last week.

“You can’t tell me? I’m your brother.”

“That’s how this whole thing started!” I tell him. “She wouldn’t tell Valerie, or maybe it started with the conversation about the wedding-for-show, I don’t even know really.”

“Wedding for show?” Elliot doesn’t know anything about why they were fighting and I’m wondering why Valerie cut into Butterfly so deeply without even telling her boyfriend the whole story.

“You have to ask your girlfriend. I’m having a really hard time seeing the logic in any of this. I can’t see how Valerie could possibly make any of this about her. Unless I’m misunderstanding, they bickered about our wedding and our argument. On top of that, she took everything out of context and threw it back in Butterfly’s face.

“She has a ‘tin soldier’ with her all the time because she was kidnapped, and she’s in more danger now as my wife than she ever was as Ana Steele. She has to go different places now and act differently because the paparazzi follows her everywhere. She didn’t ask for that—it came with the territory. I’m sure she’d love to do all the simple things she used to do and not have to follow all this goddamn protocol, but unfortunately, that’s not her life anymore. As my wife, she has a target on her back! She’s worth more than Trump now!

“And the way she oozed contempt with that ‘Her Highness’ shit—that was a joke that she shared with Jason while I was sick last year and it just stuck. Now, she probably won’t want to hear it again. And she chose to have Food & Libations at her condo so that they could be more comfortable. I didn’t banish them! Oh, and that shit about David—that’s the lowest blow of all! You help a friend when they’re down and then you throw it in their face later? Like that? With that kind of contempt? After everything that fucker put her through—the cheating, the stalking, the kidnapping, the trial…” I have to pause because I’m getting too angry to control it.

“She may not care about this, but I don’t think Butterfly will ever recover from this. She’ll heal, and she’ll get back to herself because she’s strong. She’s the strongest woman I’ve ever known, and she’ll put her own feelings aside so that she can be strong for those babies. That’s who she is, but she’ll never forget this. She’ll never forget this night and she’ll never forget how Valerie made her feel—another birthday ruined. Next year, we’re going away, just the two of us—somewhere sunny and secluded so that she can finally have a good memory of her birthday. I guess we have to find a new godmother for our children, too.”

I hear a gasp and look past Elliot. There’s Kate—er, I mean, Valerie—standing there in the shadows eavesdropping on our conversation.

“You might want to go check on your girlfriend,” I say, pointing at her. “I don’t know how long she’s been standing there.” He follows my point to where Valerie is standing. I think she’s crying, too, but right now, I really don’t give a fuck. I extend my hand to Elliot and he takes it.

“Thanks for coming, Elliot,” I say, shaking his hand.

“Anytime, Bro.”

“Now please get her out of here before my wife wakes up.” He nods once and walks toward her. I walk into the house.


ANASTASIA

I’m lying in bed alone watching the ceiling and hoping that an answer will fall down on me like magic. I’ve lost one of my best friends. I’m sure of it. The problem is that I don’t even know what happened. I know for certain that I didn’t do anything wrong. I had a right to ask her if she was trivializing my wedding. Maxie felt the same way about hers. Then she gets testy because she asked me for details about my and Christian’s fight when I asked her not to.

She says I’ve changed. Of course, I’ve changed, but not because of the money. I’ve changed because of all of the shit that has happened to me and all of the things that are currently going on in my life. I didn’t have a choice! I’m Mrs. Grey now and it hasn’t been an easy road getting here–ex-subs, crazy blonde pedophiles, psycho ex-boyfriends, the press in my face all the time, twins! I thought if anyone would understand, it would be my closest friends. I’ve confided everything in her. She’s the closest thing I have to a sister… had to a sister. I’m going to be sick.

I make it to the bathroom, but not in time to the toilet. It’s a horrible mess and I’m on my knees in it. I’ve cried all night but I still appear to have plenty more tears left for the day shift. Dinner and tears mingle in the commode as I say goodbye to my friend—my sister—all back over again. I don’t know what brought this on, but I know when Valerie Marshall is done and she is done with me. Those final daggers and that knowing smirk right before she left let me know that she wants nothing more to do with me. So without cause or explanation, we are no longer friends.

When I got to dry heaves, Christian wanders into the bathroom and is horrified by my condition. He puts me in the shower still dressed in my nightclothes and peels me out of the gown I managed to get into before I cried myself to sleep the first time. I hear him calling Gail and after I’ve stood in the shower crying for about five minutes, I smell the familiar smell of disinfectant in the bathroom. I’m surprised to see that it’s my husband cleaning the toilet and the floor where I lost the contents of my stomach. He’s still wearing his clothes from yesterday. Did he sleep at all?

Once he’s cleaned up my mess, he strips and gets into the shower with me. I’m exhausted. I don’t feel like I’ve slept a wink all night. Do I have patients on Monday? God, I hope not. As I lean helplessly on his chest, my husband lovingly washes my hair and body, kissing me gently on my forehead several times in the process. I appreciate that he understands what I’m feeling and haven’t tried to talk to me about it. I don’t think I can stand it.

He quickly washes himself, then wrings my hair dry before helping me out of the shower and wrapping me in a robe. He looks like he can wring his own hair. He really needs to get that shit cut soon. He gently combs my hair. It’s really very long and I’m thinking about cutting it, too, but he plays in it so much that I think he might not be happy with that decision. I’m so tired of being maudlin and depressed all the time. I don’t know how long this is going to last, but I sure hope it doesn’t last long. If Valerie doesn’t want to be my friend, I’m going to have to let it go, but for right now, I’m crushed.

“What would you like to wear, baby?” He’s trying so hard to take care of me. Christian is always taking care of me. It soothes him as much as it soothes me. I just wish he didn’t have to do it so much. I feel useless and helpless and I don’t want to feel this way all the time.  I sigh and fall into his arms.

“I love you, Christian,” I tell him, more tears seeping from my eyes. He kisses my forehead as he strokes my back.

“I love you, too, Butterfly,” he says softly. I wipe my cheeks and tell him I want the maternity jeans and a warm sweater with my Ralph Lauren heeled black boots. He helps me get into my underwear and quickly slides into his as well. A few minutes later, we’re both in jeans and sweaters and he has braided my hair in two long braids.

“My little Pocahontas,” he says sweetly. It makes me smile. I know that we’re going to have to be getting back to Seattle soon, so I try to start packing our things. “Gail says she’ll do that for us, Baby. I want you to try to eat something since I know your stomach is empty.” I couldn’t possibly hold anything down right now, but he’s so hopeful that I don’t dare say “no.”

As I descend the stairs, the room is full–everybody is here, even Mr. Grey and Uncle Herman.

“Good morning, dear.” Grace is the first to speak.

“Good morning,” I say and force a smile.

“How are you feeling?” she asks. How should I answer that? Like shit? Like I just lost my best girlfriend? Like the world is conspiring to take my happiness before I can even sink my teeth into it? I guess my pause was enough for her not to expect a response. “There’s breakfast,” she says. “We have some pancakes and eggs, or just some fresh fruit if you prefer.” I smile at her.

“The fruit sounds good. Thank you, Grace,” I say as I cross the great room. It’s silent, like a funeral.

“There aren’t any patients tomorrow,” Marilyn says, sitting across from me. She knew I would be concerned.

“Thanks, Mare,” I say, smiling weakly. Everyone meanders around, most likely at a loss as to what they should be doing now. Soon, they all relax into eating breakfast and things almost seem normal, until there’s a knock at the door.

The entire room falls silent and we all look at each other. Is it Valerie? Did she come back to apologize? Was this all just a bad case of PMS?

Christian goes to the front door to answer it and I think everyone holds their breath. When he comes back around the wall, James is behind him…

…and Al.

I want to cry again, but I won’t–not because Val didn’t come back, but because Al did. He’s my true blue to the very end. He would never desert me.

“Hey, Jewel,” he says, coming to sit next to me at the breakfast bar.

“Hey, Al,” I say weakly.

“Val called me.”

“I figured as much.”

“You okay?”

“No,” I say as he pulls me over to his shoulder. “I don’t even know what happened.” He looks at my eyes.

“You’ve been crying. A lot.” I nod.

“All night,” I lament, “and all morning. I’m tired of crying now.”

“I know, Jewel,” he says, squeezing my free hand while I eat the fruit salad with my other. It sure makes my mouth taste better.

“Al, did she tell you what happened… I mean, why she went off on me the way she did?” Al frowns.

“She said that you went off on her,” he says bemused. My eyes grow so large that I can imagine that my brows disappear somewhere under my hairline.

“What!?” I roar, slamming my fork down and gaining the attention of everyone in the room.

“She said what!?” Gary exclaims, no doubt as horrified as I am. Al looks from me to Gary to other people in the room and back at me.

“Okay, clearly, I’ve been misinformed,” Al says calmly.

“Al, I told her to leave and not come back unless she was ready to apologize. That was only after she said some of the nastiest things that anyone as ever said to me—ever!”

Al is kind of stunned as he waits for someone to confirm or dispel what I’ve said. Maxie just nods.

“I don’t know what she told you, but it was brutal, Al,” Phil says. “It was aimed totally at Ana and all of us knew that she was being unreasonable, but we didn’t know why.” Al’s shoulders fall.

“This is really fucked up,” he says. “This is really, really fucked up.” I throw my hands in the air and I am instantly filled with rage.

“Yes, it is,” I say, trying not to yell. “She wants to write me off. I have no idea why, but she’s getting her wish.” I push the fruit away. “Where’s the pancakes and eggs?” Gail looks at me surprised and springs into action.

“Baby, are you sure?” Christian asks, putting his hand on my shoulder. I nod.

“I might lose it later. I admit that, but right now, I’m hungry!” Ravenous, even. She wants to write me off, she wants me out of her life, I’m out. “Everything happens for a reason,” I mumble.

“So, just like that, it’s done?” Al asks. “Ten years of friendship gone, no trying to get to the bottom of why she’s acting this way?”

“You guys can if you want to,” I tell him. “You’re still her friends. She doesn’t want me. She’s made that crystal clear. It’s one thing to stomp away with bruised feelings and misinterpret the situation. It’s another thing to massacre me in front of everybody…” I gesture around the room as all of the people present now were present during the bloodbath, “…and then lie on me altogether. I don’t care what she says anymore. I’m done! If these are the things that I’m going to hear coming from her, then I don’t want to hear it. Sure, I’ll cry. I’ll be brokenhearted, I’ll have moments of weakness—because I love her, but I’m done.” Gail places two fluffy pancakes and some scrambled eggs in front of me with a tall glass of orange juice. I take a bite and food has never tasted so heavenly, except when I was eating the “last supper” with my mother. I wonder if this is as symbolic.

“Jewel, are you sure that you want to wash your hands like this?” he asks.

“No, Allen, don’t put this on me,” I say after I swallow my food. “It wasn’t my decision. It was hers. I didn’t do anything to bring this about. I asked a simple question about the meaning of her statement when she was talking about weddings and it went downhill from there. I thought I may have misinterpreted her, but even if I had, Maxie clearly felt the same way. No, I’m not picking this apart right now—maybe some other time when I want to get to the bottom of it, but not now.” I shove more eggs and pancakes into my mouth and eat heartily. If Ms. Marshall has some kind of bug up her butt, she’s knows where to find me when that fucker crawls out. If it never crawls out, c’est la vie.

I have banned further conversation of Valerie Marshall and we all finish breakfast without any major catastrophes. I get into a girlie conversation about decorating the new house and the babies’ room. I have a quick flash of melancholy thinking of how I had intended on asking Valerie to be my children’s godmother. I had even discussed it with Christian to see if he may have had another suggestion, but he was cool with it. The melancholy is gone almost as soon as it hit, and I’m on to another topic. I see Christian off in the den talking to James and I already know that they’re talking about the cyber-attack at GEH. That’s something else I don’t want to hear about right now. I see a light dusting of snow begin to fall outside.

Hmm, fresh snow. It falls early here in the mountains, but it’s not sticking. The “powder” on the slopes is fabricated snow, but these little flurries are the real thing. I put on my coat and go out to the deck to enjoy it before it hits the ground and disappears completely. The air is clean, just a bit brisk, but not too cold. I wrap my arms around my babies and warm myself. One or both of them move as if in response to the warmth. It gives me comfort to feel them move. I’m a little concerned about once they’re born. This particular warmth and connection with them won’t be there anymore. I guess I shouldn’t worry. Holding those two masterpieces in my arms will make up for not having the nights and days of soccer tournaments inside of me.

A cliché cool breeze blows my hair behind me and I remember the days I spent in Montana trying to get over being jilted. Not all of them were bad. The mountains of Montana are beautiful country and I’d like to go back one day under different circumstances. My mind goes back to this weekend’s events. I don’t dwell on the events themselves, just the outcome. Two birthdays, back to back, ruined. I just can’t catch a break.

“Well, beans, we’ll find you a new godmom, I guess, but don’t be too mad at me if I don’t do it right away, okay?” I rub my stomach and start to softly hum our lullaby. I hear the door open behind me and wait for Christian to hold me or rub my arms.

“That’s pretty,” I hear, but it’s Grace’s voice, not Christian. “What is it?”

“Billy Joel,” I tell her as she walks next to me. “It’s called ‘Goodnight, My Angel.’ It’s a lullaby that he wrote for his daughter.”

“So you sing to the children?” I nod. “Very healthy. It helps you form the bond with them even before they’re born, but I’m sure that I don’t have to tell you that.” I smile and look off over the yard.

“You came out here for a reason, but you’re struggling for conversation,” I observe. “You can say what you like. I’ll be okay.” She sighs.

“Everything has been so tense for you lately. I’ve been worried about you and the babies. I know I don’t have to ask if you’ve been seeing your doctor regularly.”

“I have,” I confirm. “She scolded me for not coming to the hospital sooner when I wasn’t able to keep anything down. She said that there’s something they could give me for that, but I knew it was just my nerves. I still have that problem sometimes which is one of the reasons why I try to eat often, especially after I have just vomited. I don’t pay attention to the taste of food anymore—not right now, anyway—just on getting it down and keeping it down.” Maybe that’s why breakfast tasted so good today. “No offense, but I can’t wait to have a glass of wine.” Grace laughs.

“I can imagine,” she says. “Have you been doing okay with keeping enough food down? I see your coloring has returned to normal.” I nod.

“I only vomit occasionally now, and then only mostly when I’m upset. I faint more than I’m comfortable with…”

“That’s normal. It doesn’t happen to all women, but it happens. Can we sit?” She gestures to the chairs and I gingerly sit in the uncomfortable apparatus. “In the interest of maintaining your good mental health, I wanted to have an open conversation with you about this disagreement that you and Christian had.” And now we get to the point. The baby talk was just more filler conversation.

“It wasn’t a disagreement, Grace,” I correct her. “We have those all the time, they’re no big deal. This was definitely a big deal.” She nods.

“I agree, but I never know what word to use—fight, disagreement, argument… No matter which term you use, I think we can both agree that it caused an enormous state of unrest.” I can’t argue with that. “I’m just wondering—again, only in the interest of your happiness and mental health—why you’re taking all the responsibility. I agree wholeheartedly that what you did was wrong, but it doesn’t excuse what Christian did. The way that he shut you out and didn’t even pay attention to your deteriorating health… I just need help understanding that if you don’t mind my prying.”

I can’t really call it prying because I told everybody at the spa yesterday. She won’t understand, but I’ll try to tell her anyway.

“Christian didn’t have a serious relationship before me. I recognize that I have more experience with emotions and dealing with another person in your life than Christian does. In that context, what I did was more selfish because I know better. He didn’t, he’s still learning. He leans on me to lead and guide him on how to be considerate of the other person and I reneged on my own words. A lot my punishments or lessons are pretty brutal when he does something selfish, but I turn round and do something unacceptable after all the times I tell him how unacceptable his behavior is and how he has to be considerate of other people, namely me. I knew better. I have no excuse. He’s still learning.

“We’ve been together for more than a year, but we’ve only been married for a little over four months. I was feeling rejected so I completely threw his feelings out the window—pushed him aside entirely, thinking that if I didn’t think about him or he didn’t see me, it wasn’t wrong.”

“And I agree with you on that, but if there’s another lesson to be learned here, shouldn’t it be that he shouldn’t have responded as drastically as he did?” she asks. I chuckle a bit.

“Oh, Grace, my responses are so much more drastic than Christian’s, if you can believe that. You’ve seen some of them.” Montana, Flynngate, the whistles incident in Greece… “Hindsight is 20/20, and what I did was basically retaliation for him not showing me any attention. His reaction was a combination of things, some of which I had no knowledge. Please don’t ask me to go into detail, and please don’t mention this to Christian. I’m only telling you this because you got pulled into this when you really shouldn’t have and because I want you to better understand what’s going on between us.”

“Are you sure you should tell me?” Grace cautions.

“I won’t betray any confidences, but I just want you to see the bigger picture.”

Without getting specific, I confide in Grace that there is detrimental stuff that I’m not allowed to talk about happening with the business. During this time, Christian was dealing with this issue and I was acting like a needy brat. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it was enough to cause him great distress. After the fact, I understood why he couldn’t give him the attention that I craved. I’m not excusing the way he acted, but it doesn’t make what I did okay. I ended up having to pay for the decisions that I made because where his actions indirectly affected me—he was distracted by and concerned about what was going on with GEH and I inadvertently took a back seat—my actions directly affected him—I was a married, pregnant woman going out scantily dressed and looking for attention. He wasn’t deliberately ignoring me until after I went out and tried to get attention and money for strange men.

“Yes, but the effects were nearly disastrous,” she protests. “I mean, a few more days in the state you were in and you and the babies could have been irreparably damaged. This is why I scolded Christian so badly that time that he didn’t eat and had to be rushed to the hospital. When things aren’t going well, you two don’t take care of yourselves.”

I hadn’t realized that I basically did the same thing he did when I shunned him the very first time last year. He didn’t eat because his brain just didn’t tell him to eat. I couldn’t hold food down because I was so upset that no matter how much I ate, most of it just came back up.

“I didn’t do this on purpose, though, Grace. My body was just responding to a bad situation,” I defend.

“May I ask why you didn’t go to the hospital when you realized that you couldn’t keep food down?” Grace asks.

“At first, I didn’t think it was that serious until you told me that I had lost weight. Most of all, though, I didn’t want to go to the hospital as a pregnant woman vomiting because all pregnant women vomit—and I didn’t want Christian to think that I was doing this as a ploy to get sympathy. If he thought that, then when I really needed to go to the hospital, I would become the girl who cried wolf.”

“That’s the biggest reason, isn’t it?” Grace called me out and I just look at her and twist my lips.

“Grace, I realize that it’s difficult and sometimes impossible for you to understand our dynamic—and I couldn’t even begin to explain it to you…”

“No, I don’t think you could,” she admits. “The last glimpse I got into my son’s personal life was horrifying and cost me who I thought was one of my dearest friends.” I nod.

“This is why you would have a hard time understanding the man that is Christian Grey,” I tell her. “As his mother, there are so many things that you may know or see that may never be revealed to me. As his wife and lover, there are many, many facets of his being that will be revealed to me that will remain an anomaly to everyone else. Again, I’m not excusing his behavior, but as we are still both learning, I understand it. He never had a serious relationship before me and I’ve never been married before. We’re still both learning.”

“I guess I can understand that to some degree. I just don’t think I can ever grasp how extreme things are. As a mother, it’s hard not to get involved. I try not to interfere or butt in, but I guess there are a few things that I’ll just never get.”

“We appreciate that you care and we don’t ever want that to stop, but you do have to know where to draw the line between scolding a grown man and his wife and being concerned. I’m not a mother—yet—but I already know that there are some things that I’m not going to be able to change or fix. There are some bumps that the beans have to take on their own and though I may want to pad the world and soften all the sharp edges, that’s just not going to happen. That bruised and abused little boy is still in there, but not all the time, and you can’t treat him that way. You have three decades of marital experience that we will depend on a lot, but please don’t expect us to be like you or to live up to an expectation that you’ve set because I’m telling you right now, we won’t do it.” She purses her lips and nods.

“I’m still learning, too, dear. Christian is my first child to get married, so go easy on me.”

“Only if you do the same.” She nods and looks down for a moment, contemplative.

“Beans?” she smiles. I furrow my brow and smile, bemused.

“Now how did you not know we called them that?


CHRISTIAN

“I’m not sure if you’re up for talking shop with the weekend you’ve had…” James begins. I run my hand through my hair.

“Only if you’ve got good news,” I tell him.

“Well, Barney leaked to the necessary parties that we think we have another intruder. The response was immediate. They didn’t do anything different with their attack, but the lines of communication have been on fire. Somebody’s getting sloppy. We got two hits from the same tower that trace to the same location. I would bet my last dime that we have the location of the guy in Belfair. Based on that information, we’re trying to correlate communication from the Belfair location to the one in Spokane. Without knowing for sure what direction we should be looking in, it’s a long shot—a bit of a needle in a haystack situation—but at least we have a needle.” I sigh heavily.

“That is good news, James,” I tell him. “We’re one step closer to this whole thing being over!”

“Yeah. Alex has a bone he’s gnawing on. He says that if he’s correct, he may have hit the mastermind—or one of them—behind this whole thing. He wanted me to pass the message on, but he says that he doesn’t have anything concrete. He’s correlating with that Clomdese guy.” I chuckle when he mispronounces Cholometes’ name. I know he’s probably had that happen more than he’s been called Colostomy.

“He’ll call me as soon as he knows for sure,” I say, but I can’t help but wonder what he’s collaborating on with Cholometes. Is he all of a sudden all in our corner?

“This Ana/Val thing… it’s big,” James says. I shrug.

“I can’t even tell you. I don’t know what happened at all. As far as I know, there was a small difference of opinion at the spa yesterday and by the end of the day, it was nuclear.”

“No, I’m not asking, I’m telling you… it’s big. She called Al and was ranting like a maniac—angry one minute and crying the next. He asked her if she could be pregnant and she just hung up on him.” Oh, God, no, please don’t let it be that! Not only will I be perfectly surrounded by infants, but then that would mean that this whole thing is because of jealousy and competition. I know that’s the last thing Butterfly wants. I run my hands through my hair again. “Your hair’s really long, man,” James throws in. I roll my eyes.

“Yes, I know. People keep telling me that like it’s not on my head,” I say, shaking my head. “Unless Ana wants to cut it, I can’t do anything with it until at least tomorrow. I’ll probably have Franco come to my office if he has the time.” James cocks his head at me.

If he has the time?” he says in disbelief. I’m waiting for the punchline. “The great Wave-My-Hand-And-Get-What-I-Want-Christian Grey is going to see if someone has the time?” he says mockingly. I fold my arms.

“He’s over the shops,” I clarify. “If I pull him away every time I want a fucking haircut and he has a full day, what’s going to happen to the salons?” He twists his lips.

“So this is a business decision,” he says, more of a statement than a question. “One Christian Grey haircut is going to cause the entire Miana’s chain to go under.” I know what he’s getting at, but I’m not giving it to him.

“Shut the fuck up, James,” I conclude to his bellowing laughter.


A/N: Theories about Val? Let ’em rip!

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Love and Handcuffs!
Lynn x