Raising Grey: Chapter 57B—Christian and Ana’s Interview

All of the same disclaimers apply. Have fun and enjoy…

Chapter 57B—Christian and Ana’s Interview

<The interview opens with the camera panning into the large wrought iron gates of Grey Crossing>

MARIA NARRATING: Here in the exclusive neighborhood of Mercer Island, Washington—a ten-mile island reserved for the crème de la crème—Christian and Anastasia Grey enjoy the trappings of wealth and luxury afforded to only the most elite of high society.

<Cut to and pan various rooms of the Crossing while Maria narrates>

Aptly named “Grey Crossing,” this beautiful home boast 13,721 square feet of pure opulence and elegance complete with a full staff on hand at all times, sure to turn even the most discerning among us green with envy. From the marble-floored grand entrance to the Grecian formal dining room to the splendid luxury infinity pool, there’s no question that Mr. and Mrs. Grey enjoy only the best of the best. However, neither of them spends their days lazing away by the pool eating truffles and sunbathing. No—to get the full picture of who the Greys really are, you have to look outside the gates of Grey Crossing.

<Film rolling quickly in reverse of the opening wrought iron gates>

The best place to delve to begin this story would be here at the glass tower known as Grey House—world headquarters for Grey Enterprises Holdings, Incorporated.

<Cut to a pan of Grey House from the front door and up the glass building against a partially-cloudy but sunny sky>

Easily one of the most fascinating people in America and arguably, the world, master businessman and entrepreneur Christian Grey started his company just over a decade ago and within a very short time, became a financial and industrial powerhouse. Revered and respected by many, Christian runs his company with the wisdom, effectiveness, and efficiency of much more experienced captains of industries. Underestimating his shrewdness because of his youth has been the downfall of many unsuspecting rivals.

<Cut to Christian having a conversation with Allen in the glass boardroom>

He prides himself on choosing the best of the best to run his company beside him, recently securing a highly sought-after executive to extend his impressive repertoire.

<Cut to Ana strolling confidently through the lobby towards the elevators>

Gone are the days of the haughty businessman and his “trophy wife,” now being quickly replaced by what we can clearly see as “the power couple.”  Grey House is a state-of-the-art smart-high-rise that boasts sleek lines, opulent design, open work spaces with lots of natural lighting, sophisticated systems that ensure the most efficient processes, and lots… and lots… of security.

<Pan through various work areas of GEH, then the front lobby desk showing a visitor being checked in, then cut to several of GEH’s security team lined up in black suits, the camera panning across each of them quickly>

In fact, GEH probably boasts the most stylish security squad in the country, but don’t let the good looks fool you. Hailing from various backgrounds including military and special training, GEH’s security team prides themselves on proficiency and effectiveness. These gentlemen run a tight ship, working as a synchronized team and utilizing some of the most sophisticated security protocols and equipment in existence.

Facial recognition software and hardware prevents unauthorized persons from accessing any area beyond the main lobby, allowing for the continual tracking of the location of any GEH employee as well as all visitors while on the premises. And speaking of visitors, if you don’t have an appointment, forget about it.

<Maria continues to narrate as Christian and Ana show her through various departments of the building, giving a quick synopsis of the activity occurring in each area>

Mr. Grey seems most at home in his seat at the helm of GEH in its executive offices. After a tour of the impressive organization, I sit down to have a short tête-à-tête with the head and founder of Grey Enterprises Holding, Inc.

<Christian is seated in a large white chair in his office while Maria sits across from him on one of the white sofas>

MARIA: I won’t ask that cliché question “To what do you owe your success.” I can imagine that’s pretty old and, at this point, redundant. So, I guess I’ll just ask what made Christian Grey the Christian Grey?

CG: Well, nobody wants to know the rags-to-riches story—you’ve heard that already, many times and from different people, and not all that interesting. Even though my story is a story of rags to riches, it’s old news. If you don’t know the tale already, you won’t hear it from me.

I wasn’t old enough to drink when I started my company with a small loan and an idea. I was both exhilarated and terrified to be branching out on my own. My parents were horrified that I dropped out of college—Harvard, no less—to follow this pipe dream as my father called it, but I was… exhausted.

MARIA <frowning>: Exhausted? Before you started your business?

CG <nodding>: Yes. I was Christian Grey. I was the orphan from the streets of Detroit who was granted a silver spoon—and there’s the rags to riches story I was trying to avoid. <He shrugs> Yet, it’s a terrible burden. It’s even more of a burden, I think, than to be born with that silver spoon in your mouth, because you’re expected to be grateful, and not to step wrong—to take advantage of the opportunity given to you and to do your very best to be perfect, or at least that’s the way I felt.

MARIA: And were you perfect?

CG: Far from it. I gave my parents hell, not because I was a bad kid, I just had a rough start and I didn’t know how to respond to certain things. So, when I came to my parents and told them that I was dropping out of Harvard after everything else that had already occurred in our lives, my father wasn’t hearing it. He was having no part of it, he was totally against it, and he was ready for me to either return to Harvard or move out. And he had every reason to feel that way—who in their right mind throws away the chance at a Harvard education?

MARIA: So, you didn’t resent your father for not supporting you.

CG: Absolutely not! At the time, I wished he would have had more faith in me, but as time progressed, I understood why he didn’t. But then there’s always that drive to make your parents proud and I was already on the uphill climb with that battle, so I had no other choice but to succeed. Yes, the odds were very much against me. Nonetheless, I followed that pipe dream, and my instincts paid off and helped get me to where I am today.

MARIA: Well, we see the obvious wealth and power and people easily see and paint you as a tyrant, and economical dictator. So, when you reference where you are today, exactly where are you today, Christian?

CG: One-hundred percent self-made billionaire whose name commands respect with many in the business world and strikes fear in many others. How did I get to where I am right now? Raw grit—pure unmitigated drive and determination and a learned and complete lack of fear. Do I want to find myself homeless and broke? No, but I understand more than anyone that you can lose everything with one wrong move. Hell, today, you don’t even have to do anything to lose everything. All you have to do is blink and not see something coming.

To further answer your question, GEH has controlling interests or substantial participation percentages in 28 industries comprised of 419 subindustries in 165 countries on all seven continents, including funding to one of the scientific research stations in Antarctica, and that’s just our for-profit endeavors. I haven’t calculated our impact and involvement in philanthropic work. Am I cocky? Absolutely. It takes pure brilliance and unshakable will to build what I built and be able to flaunt that success without anyone being able to take credit but me—and my competitors know it. Yes, I have an amazing executive team, and I wouldn’t be able to function without them, but GEH—the brain child—that’s mine. I’m not afraid to lose a battle or three. I’m not afraid to sacrifice the small things for the greater good, because sometimes, lost battles result in ultimately winning the war, and there’s always a war going on, Ms. Sanchez.

MARIA: And what’s the war right now, Mr. Grey?

CG: Oh, make no mistake—there’s always a war. When you are in a position of power, someone’s always looking to get that position. Now, if there’s another position available that’s like your position, then you may be safe because both of you can be in that position of power. However, if yours is the only position of power available, make no mistake—they’re gunning for you.

Immediately, however, we’re fighting domestic threats. I’m cutthroat with my business—mercilessly brutal and unapologetic about it. I’ll show up to negotiations for a hostile takeover with a virtual Samurai sword, walk into the room with my weapon hidden, but end up swinging two-thirds into the meeting. I’ll walk out of that room with a signed contract in hand, with high-handed, puffed-up executives lying across the boardroom table and slumped over in chairs bleeding from vital organs and left to die.

I proclaim this with no small amount of caution. I know that people are going to be gunning for me. They were gunning for me before and they’ll be gunning for me after this program airs. But no man worth his salt became great by being afraid—cautious, yes; wise, of course; prudent, no doubt, but afraid? Not a chance. A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once.

MARIA <raising her brows>: Shakespeare!

CG: I’m well-read, and I did go to college for two years before I dropped out, although Shakespeare was required reading in high school.

MARIA: So, you mentioned the threats being domestic. Care to elaborate on that?

CG: Close to home, where they think I’ll be weak due to my emotional involvement. We have media personalities attacking us for no reason, just looking for the next sensational headline at our expense, no offense…

MARIA: None taken.

CG: False accusations against me and my wife, perpetuated solely to destroy our reputation and careers; internal assaults on my company that I’m not allowed to expound upon at this time; physical attacks on my wife and her family—you saw those on the news and they’ve left devastating effects on us. We bounce back, yes, but none of these attacks have left us unscathed.

Yet overall, none of these people have succeeded. Some of them just go away. Others go down as flaming failures—but they just keep coming. For every failure, there’s 20, 30, a hundred more behind them waiting for their shot at the Greys. Everybody wants the dream—to be financially secure enough not to be worried about the future—but many are spitefully angry with those of us who have achieved it. They want to take what we have or destroy us completely. What sense does that make?

MARIA: Maybe they feel like you’ve taken something from them—like you owe them something because of who you are and what you have… or what they feel you’ve done.

CG: They all feel that way! They all feel like I should divvy out what I’ve earned to them in one way or another—frivolous lawsuits, false accusations, Grey babies that aren’t Grey babies…

I can count on one hand—one hand—the number of people who may have had cause to feel that I had wronged them and came after me in some way for it. Not only did they fail, but their accusations were unfounded. Everyone else just has some delusional reason for wanting to bring me or my family down. I’m in this business to make a profit—to take sick companies and make them well again or to pull the plug on those that are hopelessly dying; to expand my interests and make sure that GEH remains the international powerhouse that it is in the most ethical manner imaginable. But I don’t pull punches. There’s no slight of hand when you see me coming. I conduct business like a businessman and if you get my iron fist, it’s because you earned it and you know it. So, these personal attacks on my family for business reasons or whatever reasons they are, they’re going to stop because we’re pulling out all the stops from this point forward.

MARIA: You haven’t been pulling out the stops to this point?

CG: We have, but apparently the message hasn’t been clear enough.

MARIA NARRATING<pan to Christian overseeing a meeting of his department heads with Ana sitting in the seat to his immediate right>: Christian Grey has unequivocally thrown down the gauntlet. He’s fearless in his business dealings but appears to be an even more formidable opponent if you cross him in terms of his family. With a net worth of more than 14 figures, he commands the boardroom with little effort, and is the quintessential example of self-made power and success. <animation of several magazine covers featuring Christian including Forbes, Money, Time, Entrepreneur, and People>.

The jewel in his crown, Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey.. Dr. Grey is a successful psychiatrist in the Seattle area who put her career on hold to become assistant director for Helping Hands, a Seattle-based charity that helps displaced families and victims of domestic abuse.

Image result for Genie FrancisHeaded by Dr. Grace Trevelyan-Grey—Christian’s mother—the charity hopes to soon offer continued learning, tutoring, and early learning classes for displaced families as well as members of the community. Helping Hands was featured in a public service announcement last year known as “Faces of Abuse” where many local celebrities, civic leaders, and everyday citizens confessed to being abused at one point.

<Portions of the “Faces of Abuse” campaign play>

HH Resident: They actually have security, so I feel safe bringing my kids here. Dr. Ana started a self-defense class after she had her babies. I can’t do all the stuff that she does, but I can handle myself pretty well after taking her classes, such that I’m not afraid anymore.

MARIA NARRATING: Dr. Grey confided that her aim in her chosen profession was to help others overcome frightening and adverse situations in their lives. Dr. Grey experienced her own trauma as a teenager, fueling her desire to assist those who need it most at a time when they’re most vulnerable.

<Scenes of Anastasia and Grace assisting families at Helping Hands>

However, in the hallowed halls of Grey House, it’s quite a different story. Armed with a minor degree in business and finance, Anastasia is hardly merely the “boss’s wife” in these walls. Walking through the lobby, it’s easy to see that she—like her husband—is also revered and respected. Having been gifted half of GEH as a wedding present, she takes her responsibility as part owner very seriously. She rightfully walks around like she owns the place, but I wanted to be sure that this wasn’t an act for the reporter. So, I randomly chose a department that I felt the boss’s wife would have no reason to frequent.

When I ask her to take me to Quality Control, she laughs. I mistake it for nervousness. I’m soon to realize how wrong I am. A short elevator ride later, we find ourselves in the Quality Control department. Here, Anastasia is giving me a brief rundown of the different products in testing and I’m already astounded by her level of knowledge of simply what’s on the floor.

AG: Mr. Braxton…

<A gentleman in conversation with someone at one of the stations raises his head and, upon noticing Anastasia, excuses himself and joins the ladies in the middle of the room>

I’m sorry to interrupt you, Omar. This is Maria Sanchez. You may have heard that she’s doing a human-interest piece on myself and Mr. Grey. Maria, this is Omar Braxton. He’s the head of our quality control department.

MARIA NARRATING: Omar is friendly and accommodating, and after we talk for a short while, Ana decides to flex her GEH muscles a bit.

AG: Omar, that information that I gave you about that transmitter a while back—you never got back to me on the final findings. I know it was pretty cryptic, and I know we saw some anomalies, but did it help break any codes? Were any of our questions answered, particularly the biggest one?

<Omar’s face lights up and he’s become quite animated>

OB: Like you wouldn’t believe! Breaking codes is an understatement. I’ve had an entire team working on those figures since you brought them to our attention. It’s amazing how the slide of a number or three can make such a huge difference, but it did… all the difference in the world. We never would have caught that without running those extra tests. I’d really like to show you the data… <looking over at Maria> … when you have a moment.

AG<smiling>: Of course. We understand. There’s just been so much going on, I haven’t had a chance to get in here and ask you about it. I’ll set up a meeting as soon as I can to go over your findings.  I’d love to see your progress.

<They smile at each other before Anastasia and Maria move to another area>

AG: Proprietary information. You understand.

MARIA NARRATING: Of course. I won’t lie. I was hoping to catch the queen snoozing at the switch. I should have known something was afoot when my request to visit QC was followed by a giggle.

Having seen Anastasia outside of the corporate world in her natural habitat at Helping Hands, so to speak, I wanted to get an idea of who she was before she was the glamorous and sophisticated billionairess we see now—not that she wasn’t sophisticated before, but she wasn’t always a billionairess. Imagine my joy when I find out that she still owns the condo where she lived before she met Christian. I would have expected the space to be vacant, maybe a college space like a small apartment or a loft that was shared by a group of struggling students.

Not in the slightest.

Anastasia’s condo is large, spacious and beautifully decorated. I asked her if she had remodeled it once she was married, and she assures me that it’s in the same condition she left it in when she moved out to live with Christian in his penthouse at Escala downtown, complete with a very masculine guestroom—which we’ll get to later.

<Maria walking towards the camera while she addresses the viewing audience>

MARIA: So, here we are in Ana’s pre-Christian condo overlooking Elliot Bay. It’s obvious that she’s no stranger to posh surroundings as exhibited by the stunning décor and open floor plan, semi-gourmet kitchen with stainless steel appliances, and a view of Mt. Rainier that was certain to attach a heavy price tag to this property. As it turns out, Ana secured this property for a steal from a divorced wife trying to unload it—that “steal” nonetheless resulting in a 7-figure price tag.

<Cut to Maria and Ana sitting across from each other in Ana’s living room>

MARIA: So, Ana, tell me—how does a girl from Montesano suddenly find herself a businesswoman and half-owner of one of the largest corporations in the world?

AG: Well, I’m no Christian Grey. I was somewhat catapulted into this situation. It’s kind of like a baby bird being slapped out of the nest and either you fly, or you die. When my husband first told me that he was making me part owner of GEH, I thought he had lost his mind. Yes, I minored in business and finance, but that’s only because I knew that fresh out of med school, I wouldn’t have enough money to hire business managers, financial planners, and accountants and such once I was ready to start my practice. So, I took some business classes and one thing led to another and boom—minor in finance. I never in a million years would have thought that I’d be even partially at the helm of a multibillion dollar conglomerate.

MARIA: How did this come about? I mean, did he just come home and make the announcement?

AG <rubbing the side of her head>: It was somewhat like that, but there was so much more involved. It’s kind of gray when I try to put it all together, but I remember that I had inherited—for lack of a better word—a company as part of a settlement. We had intended to absorb the company into GEH. However, closer examination revealed that it wouldn’t be prudent to do so. While we were sorting out the particulars of disposing of the company, the precariousness of my position with GEH came to a head and that’s when we decided to make it official. I was a figurehead up to that point, and not even that. The story is far too long and tedious for me to repeat it, but let’s just say that the transition was anything but seamless.

MARIA: Were you met with resistance? <Ana ponders her answer for a long while> Animosity? Resentment? Jealousy?

AG <sighing>: Those are strong words and remember, I’m a psychiatrist. So, words mean a lot. Amazingly, I can’t really put into words what I was met with because I’m not inside anyone’s head, but I can tell you what I think it felt like.

Imagine being part of an organization where you have a clearly-marked figurehead. Strong, powerful, knows exactly what he wants, successful, he gets things done—there’s no doubt who’s in charge. He’s “take no prisoners” and you don’t cross him. Suddenly—out of nowhere, literally—you’re getting marching orders from the little woman who is not only in actuality a petite woman but has already been pegged a gold digger. Now imagine being on the receiving end of those feelings when you’re trying to get something done. <Maria blanches>

MARIA: How do you do that… not mince words and still remain so politically correct? <Ana scoffs>

AG: It’s a blessing and a curse.

MARIA: So, tell us about Ana before Christian.

AG: You mean besides what’s splattered all over the tabloids?

Independent, driven, self-sufficient. I had my own practice, and it was successful. I even had a waiting list. I was doing volunteer work as well, but it wasn’t really satisfying. That’s because I wasn’t in the right place and I wasn’t contributing what I felt I needed to contribute, so I had to move on.

MARIA: Someone’s going to ask, so I’ll ask first. You speak like this was no big change for you, but your life wasn’t nearly this extravagant before Christian, right?

AG: You mean the life of a billionaire’s wife? Of course, not, but I wasn’t a pauper, either. This condo is decorated exactly as it was when I met Christian. <She gestures around the room> Nothing has changed except that I have a friend staying here so that it doesn’t fall to disarray. But look around you.

<Pan of various rooms and décor of the condo>

Does this look like the digs of some poor struggling woman waiting to be rescued?

I drive Audis now, but when we met, I was driving a current-year Chrysler 300. I was a fashionista, just like I am now, although my shoes may not have been Louboutins. I hadn’t dated anyone for four years and I wasn’t looking to date. When I met Christian, I didn’t know who he was and when I found out, I didn’t like him. I wanted him out of my presence as quickly as possible and I tried to do that, but he was persistent. One thing I learned about Christian Grey. When he wants something, he doesn’t give up easily if at all.

MARIA: It almost sounds like you loved him against your will.

AG: I did! I wasn’t looking for any kind of relationship, least of all with Christian Grey, but look what happened.

MARIA: Is it really that simple? Is it really just look what happened or was there more to the story?

AG: There was quite a bit more to the story. Most of the story was plastered over the news—in trials and kidnappings and attacks and accusations… bitter lies and just plain hatefulness. We couldn’t get any peace. I’ve always considered myself just a regular girl, you know—no frills, nothing special… just me. Suddenly, I become half of AnaChris and everything about me was different. It was like…

<Anastasia pauses here, trying to find her words>

I just got lost in the whole billionaire-ness of it all, and it wasn’t that it went to my head. It was just that I wasn’t me anymore. Suddenly, I had to justify every decision I was making—from what I was wearing, to who did my hair, to what I was driving, to the precarious timing of my pregnancy.

MARIA: Okay, but besides the obvious wealth and dollar signs, where did the ‘more’ come in? <Anastasia frowns>

AG: The more?

MARIA: Yes, the ‘more.’ You said that there was more to the story than just look what happened. <Ana sighs>

AG: Christian is nothing if not cautious and thorough. I was in a position to cause him distress, and I wanted nothing more than to just be out of it… by any means necessary. Our relationship was no accident. How we came into each other’s presence may have been chance, but the events that followed were anything but. Everything that occurred to lead us to become a couple was planned, and believe me, he’s not ashamed to admit it.

It wasn’t that way at first. He wanted me out of his hair and I wanted out of his hair. But one action led to a series of events that, in the beginning, I felt weren’t supposed to happen, but now I feel they were destined.

MARIA: Forgive my bluntness, Ana, but you’re speaking in riddles. <Anastasia shrugs>

AG: Well, you must know that I have to be careful what I say. Before I expound on how this particular portion of our lives played out, I have to talk to Christian first.

MARIA: Are you afraid of how he’ll react? <Anastasia raises a brow> Okay, let me rephrase. Are you concerned that his reaction would be less than favorable?

<Anastasia leans back in her seat, placing her fingertips delicately under her chin>

AG: I’m always concerned about Christian’s reaction, not because I’m anxious that his reaction may be less than favorable, but because I don’t want to be the deliberate cause for his duress. My job is to be his helpmate, his life-mate, to love him and bring him comfort and solace. I can’t effectively do that if something that I’m doing is a source of angst, now can I?

My husband has always been a very private person. There are parts of our personal lives that the public will never know, just like there are parts of everyone else’s personal lives that are not subject to public scrutiny. So, yes, I will need to discuss with my husband how much of this story will be revealed during this segment.

MARIA<nodding>: That’s fair enough. So, let’s move on to this Judd Rossiter thing. What can you tell us that won’t put you in a bad position?

AG: Nothing, unfortunately. It’s an open case and there’s a gag order. I’m afraid that anything I say could compromise the proceedings or definitely put me in contempt of court. I’ll just say that I know when to keep my mouth shut <an obvious shot at Rossiter>

<The setting changes to the backseat of the converted Audi>

MARIA: So, how have your relationships changed, Ana? How do your friends feel about the new life you lead? Was it a rough transition? Did you have to make new friends?

AG<sighing>: It had its bumps every now and then. It’s no secret that my sister-in-law was battling a brain tumor shortly after my husband and I married. That was a trial for us all because she was my friend before she was my sister-in-law. But she came through it with flying colors, thank God, and she’s doing better than ever. That was probably the biggest transition we had to deal with in terms of friendships. My core support circle is the same as it was before I got married. It even merged a bit.

MARIA: Merged? Do elaborate

AG: People who had been dating got married, and people who weren’t dating each other started dating. As you know, my friend Valerie whom we were just speaking about married my husband’s brother and became my sister-in-law. As for making new friends, my husband’s sister Mia—I would consider her now part of my core group of friends along with her husband, Ethan. I have friends at Helping Hands… so, yeah, I’ve met more friends, but my core friendships have remained the same. The original group call ourselves the ‘Scooby Gang.’

MARIA<chuckling>: Why the ‘Scooby Gang?’

AG: It’s simple, cute, unassuming, maybe a little naïve because the Scooby Gang never fought, and we’ve had the occasional tiff or falling out, but we always find ourselves back at the core again. When the chips have really gone down, there’s never been a time where we haven’t been there for each other. We’ve had segments in time where something may have gone down that we weren’t aware of, but when the situation was revealed, we all came together like we usually do. I don’t know if you remember that when I was kidnapped, it was my best friend Allen who made the call to arms with Christian.

MARIA<nodding>: I do remember that. So, what’s the makeup of the Scooby Gang?

AG<smiling>: Without getting into detail, there’s me, of course. Then, there’s Allen, Valerie, Maxie and Phil, and Gary.

MARIA: So, there’s six of you… like a real-life episode of Friends. 

AG<making a face>: Yeah, we’re… friends, of course, but… well, there are more people that are in the core by default, like Marilyn and James… even Christian and his brother Elliot…

MARIA NARRATING<while Anastasia continues to explain the ‘core’ dynamic>: I could tell that she didn’t necessarily agree with the comparison to Friends even though she didn’t really protest. She just went about the business of illustrating how different from Friends her inner sanctum really is.

MARIA: So, do you get to see your friends as much as you used to?

AG: Not as much, but that’s because of life events on the part of all of us. Most of us were single before, and now, we’ve all coupled-up or married. Two of the couples have had children <she raises her hand>, we’ve had career changes, health issues… you know, life events. But what I love about our friendship is that the minute someone says, “I need you,” or “Hey, let’s get together,” we’re together or have a party or F&L planned within a couple of hours.

MARIA<grinning>: FNL? What is that, Friday Night Live?

AG<laughing>: No! Not FNL, F-and-L… Food and Libations. I love to cook. When I was a single girl in that beautiful condo with that gorgeous kitchen and open floor plan, at least once a month and usually more, I and my friends would come together for Food and Libations. It was usually on a Saturday night. I would cook, and they would bring the drinks—libations—whatever they wanted. We socialized and caught up on the week’s events, and they would clean up. That’s why you saw the other bedrooms at the condo. In case someone drank too much, they could crash. Allen is my right arm; he has been for 14 years. So, he has a permanent room at my condo and a key.

MARIA: Does he have a permanent room at Grey Crossing?

AG<rolling her eyes>: Everybody has a permanent room at Grey Crossing. Have you seen the size of that place? What can one nuclear family do with all that space?

MARIA NARRATING: All that space indeed…

<Cut back to the opening gates of Grey Crossing from the beginning of the interview and pan to various rooms as Maria narrates>

Eight bedrooms, double-digit bathrooms—not including the staff’s apartments on the lower levels—a gourmet kitchen, two-story formal living-room and Grecian dining room, a ginormous family room, several outdoor patios on multiple floors, and an outdoor dining room and barbeque kitchen and a small private beach in the backyard leading to an enviable view of Lake Washington, and we haven’t even scratched the surface.

Two working elevators, a fully-loaded workout room, an infinity pool with jacuzzi, a private spa, and an outdoor sauna and shower; a theater room that would put some theaters to shame; a lush parlor for her and a decked-out den for him as well as his and her offices with posh furnishings and an aquarium in between.

And speaking of aquariums…

Full-wall aquariums greet you not only at the entrance to a massive entertainment room on the ground floor, but also in the private spa where Mrs. Grey goes to have her beauty treatments every now and then.

And Ana was correct when she mentioned room for everyone at Grey Crossing.

<Cut to shots of Valerie and Elliot in the dining room, and Elliot later in the family room>

Christian’s brother and sister-in-law are a regular fixture at the Crossing, a bit of a home away from home, you could say. And good luck sneaking onto this estate uninvited. The Crossing is equipped with all of the state-of-the-art security devices as Grey House and a few extras including a combination location and two-way communication system.

We could spend another hour just touring the beautiful rooms, furnishings, and amenities of the gorgeous estate, but we’d much rather talk to the couple who call it “home.”

<Cut to Anastasia and Christian on the sofa in the formal living room with Maria sitting on the opposite sofa>

MARIA: So, let’s get to the question that everyone wants to ask. How did a local psychiatrist land Seattle’s most eligible bachelor?

CG and AG<simultaneously>: Well…

<They look at each other and Anastasia gestures to cede the floor to Christian>

CG: Let’s start by clarifying your question. She didn’t land me—I landed her. People think that there’s some formula to this—there isn’t. My life is and always has been very private, so although I had interactions before, they weren’t plastered all across the news. This one only became news because my wife—then girlfriend—was kidnapped, but we very much would have preferred to keep our relationship private.

The truth of the matter is that when the right person comes along, all bets are off. There’s no amount of conniving, scheming, hoping, wishing, praying, or plotting that you can do that can make you be that one. There has to be an emotional and physical connection and at some point, there has to be a willingness on the part of both parties to engage.

In our case, this was truly cosmic intervention. We hated each other—unquestionably, undeniably, and unequivocally. She correctly had me pegged as an arrogant, egotistical, narcissistic donkey’s butt and she made it no secret… and she wanted nothing to do with me. I thought she was a pompous, stuck-up, headstrong, disagreeable female and I wanted nothing to do with her. She had my fate in her hands and I resented it. I tried to bully her, and she was having none of it. She pretty much told me what I could do with myself and where to go and stormed out… and I fell in love.

So, if you ladies want to know the answer to the age-old question “how to land a billionaire,” call him names and tell him the truth about his crappy behavior, and then leave him to marinate in it and refuse to speak to him… but know that if you’re not the one that supposed to end up in his life, you may end up landing a restraining order and jail time as opposed to landing a billionaire.

<Maria looks at Anastasia, who simply shrugs>

AG: I told you, I wasn’t looking for love, and even after I met him, I wanted anything but a relationship with him. You know how the boys in grade school would kick you or hit you or tease you if they liked you? <Maria nods> He was worse. He tormented me. I thought he hated me and I certainly could do without him.

MARIA: So, how did you end up crossing that thin line between love and hate?

CG: It was… tricky.

<Maria cocks her head at Christian, waiting for the rest of the tale>

CG: My life was very private before I met my wife. I did have relationships, but they were very structured and very formal. From my side, they were very dispassionate, very unemotional. Although they were monogamous, they were only a means to an end. The women involved were legally sworn to secrecy. Believe me, there are legally binding non-disclosure agreements all over the state of Seattle.

MARIA: What if one of these women decides to come forward with this information? Like if they felt as if they had nothing to lose?

CG: Well, first of all, everyone has something to lose. They just don’t know what it is until they lose it. In all honesty, I can say this—it’s no secret that I’m a powerful man. If you come after what’s near and dear to me, to any man, he’s going to come at you with all he’s got. Do you really want that? In terms of the legal system, I’m a businessman. I’ve never had a board of directors—I am the business. Wherever I was, the business was—in my building, in my cars, in my penthouse, in my shower, on my private jet—you get the picture? I discuss and conduct business in all those places. To that end, any information heard or discovered in any of those places is protected business information including the color of my underwear, and the language of the contract is such that revealing that information is a punishable criminal act.

MARIA: Oh, come on, seriously?

CG: Corporate espionage.

MARIA: Revealing the color of your underwear is corporate espionage, Christian?

CG<shrugs>: They should have read the contract. So far, no one has been brazen enough to attempt to breach a signed NDA, but should they try, they’re in for a rude awakening because they’ll most likely find themselves in cuffs. All I can say is that if they would like to test that theory, they can try.

MARIA: What about you, Anastasia? How do you feel about this whole NDA thing?

AG<shrugs>: I never signed an NDA. Our relationship is far from dispassionate, quite emotional, and to hell with structure.

MARIA: Well, alright, then. So, Christian, why were you so secretive about your relationships?

CG: I have a lot to lose. My reputation is at stake. People wanted to easily paint me as a playboy or they wanted to marry me off. I wasn’t serious about anybody. I really couldn’t afford to be half of a whole until I was half of a whole.

MARIA: And that happened when Anastasia was kidnapped.

CG<sighing and taking Ana’s hand>: Yes. Nothing else mattered then but getting her back. I didn’t know where she was. I didn’t know if she was hurt; what he was doing to her. I didn’t know if I would get her back alive or at all. <Holding his head down> I couldn’t see past the moment. I could only see getting her back, and I had to make sure that people paid attention. So, that’s why I put my face to the plea. <A clip of the plea plays silently as he speaks> At the time that we had recorded the call for help, we hadn’t gotten any clues yet except who took her, so we didn’t know where they were or what the next move was.

MARIA: Then there was the daring helicopter rescue. What were you thinking, Ana?

AG: I honestly don’t remember most of it. It’s partially because of the trauma and it’s partially because of my later accident where I’ve lost some of my memories. I remember the gunshots and I remember the lights of the hospital. Then I remember going home. The rest of it is kind of a big fuzz. I remember the smell of mildew and the feeling of hopelessness…

<Anastasia trails off>

MARIA<reaching over and squeezing Ana’s hand>: Well, we don’t want to take you back down that road again. I think we’d all like to know when you first realized that you were in love.

AG<she and Christian are looking at each other>: It just happened. We were in my apartment and I remember thinking this can’t possibly be happening this fast.

MARIA: You’re smiling, Christian.

CG: I didn’t feel that way.

<Anastasia’s glaring at him>

It was happening for me. I didn’t know what it was at first, but it was happening, and I knew it was.

<Anastasia’s glare softens>

MARIA: Who said it first?

CG: That’s why I didn’t feel the way she did. She said it first. I felt it first. I felt it long before she did. I would go so far as to say that I think she was still hating me when I first felt it.

AG<amazed>: That can’t be right!

CG: Oh, I think it was. The first time you said you loved me, you were asleep in my apartment. By that time, I was deeply in love with you, but I hadn’t said it yet. You said it again in your sleep, this time in your apartment and I said it back, but you were still asleep. The first time you said it to me awake was the third time you had said it to me.

AG<in awe>: Are you kidding?

CG<shaking his head>: And the first time I said it to you while you were awake was the second time I had said it… that I know of.

AG: You said you knew… while I still hated you. How could you have known? I mean, before me? How…

CG: Honestly, I think I loved you as far back as when Allen and James came to pick you up from the community center.

AG<stunned speechlessness>: Wha…?

<Maria watches in gleeful anticipation>

CG: I was still trying to figure it out <Christian laughs>

MARIA: This is so adorable. So, this totally shoots down the whole gold-digger theory…

AG<still stunned>: Huh?

MARIA: Well… you know there are still the hangers on with the gold-digger theory that Ana was looking for a billionaire and snagged Christian and got pregnant to keep him and… you know the rest.

CG: Once again, I say, Anastasia didn’t chase me, I chased her. Anastasia didn’t even want me. Anastasia didn’t even like me. When she says that she hated me, let me tell you… she hated me! She saw me at my worst… my very worst. As it turned out, she was on a disastrous date saying goodbye to the same guy that later kidnapped her. She had a little too much to drink and I made sure that she and her car got home safely. The rest is history.

MARIA: Now, how did you end up getting to her exact location that night?

CG: I shamelessly stalked her on her date. Then I sent a bottle of wine to her table to apologize for being such a jerk. I just wanted to make my presence known. I didn’t know she was breaking up with the guy.

AG: It’s a long story, but I had already broken up with the guy. He was asking for another chance.

MARIA: Needless to say, you said, “no.”

AG: Needless to say.

CG: Anyway, we fell in love because I pursued her. I had to have her. We’ve always been completely open and honest with each other, even about our secrets…

MARIA: Secrets… Elena Lincoln.

CG: Yes, Elena. I can’t talk about her too much. She was a mistake in my life that lasted for many years. I can’t begin to tell you the effects she had on me and my family. I just can’t talk about her. I can only say that my wife is slowly undoing the damage that woman has done to me. <Anastasia smiles>

MARIA: How so?

CG: It’s very personal, but she’s doing it by loving me… unconditionally, flaws and all. She’s undoing all the bad and replacing it with good. It’s scary and sometimes painful, but she chases all my monsters away.

MARIA: Wow, that’s very deep. Ana, does he do anything like that for you?

AG<Her voice incredulous>: Are you kidding? He’s my ultimate protector. I fear nothing with this man around. Nothing. I feel like if there’s anything that he can’t do, he’ll find a way to get it done. I and my children have nothing to fear as long as he’s alive.

MARIA: Those are big shoes to fill, Christian.

CG: I’m up to the task.

MARIA: So, you mentioned early on that you were secretive about your relationships because of your reputation. Couldn’t the details of a past relationship still ruin your reputation?

CG: Yes, they may damage my reputation, but here’s something to remember. I have enough resources right now to retire every member of my family including my infant children. Me going after someone for damaging my reputation could destroy them completely, but how much would it really hurt me? The most that anyone could ever hope to gain by trying to expose me in any way would be homelessness because I would spend all of my energy on injunctions and gag orders. By the time they had any hope of collecting anything from me, we would both be dead. That’s the big and the little of it. If anyone tried to do anything to ruin my reputation, I would adapt. If they tried to do anything to harm me or my family, just know that I’m coming at you with everything that I have. It’s that simple.

MARIA: I can understand that. Now, we may not be able to talk about the relationship with Lincoln, but can you elaborate a bit on the attempted murder?

CG <sighs>: Not really. It’s not because I can’t talk about it. It’s because I don’t know what the hell happened. To this day, I’m still not sure what was going on. I really thought I knew, but I don’t. The woman is some kind of crazy—that’s all I know.

MARIA: Ana, this is your area of expertise. Care to elaborate?

AG: Well, this is delicate territory for me, but since the case has already been decided, I can offer a bit of opinion. From what I saw, long story short, all of her actions were justified. In her eyes, everything she did was justified—it didn’t matter what it was, she was justified in doing it. So, she went about the business of doing what she wanted to do, and the court didn’t agree with her. There’s just no other way to explain it.

MARIA: But why did she want to kill Christian?

AG: She said it in the courtroom—to free him from me.

MARIA: I don’t get that.

AG: You and me both. Neither did the jury.

MARIA: So, let’s back up a bit. Before the wedding… you left for a while.

<Christian drops his head>

AG: Yeah, I did.

MARIA: Why?

AG: Because I was having a hard time dealing with rejection.

CG: I wasn’t rejecting you.

AG: I didn’t know that.

MARIA: How do you know that now?

AG<shaking her head>: I still don’t. <Christian raises an amazed gaze at her> The heart is fragile. He knows that now more than ever. <Christian drops his head again> My man disappeared for several hours, and when he returned I heard, “Let’s not get married,” and that’s all I heard. I couldn’t take it, so I left. I left to try to clear my head and deal with the heartbreak that I was feeling. There was a bit of back and forth—he found me, we fought, we talked, he left, he kind of fell apart. I came back and saw what it was doing to him. We talked again. He told me that he didn’t say, “Let’s not get married.” He said, “Let’s not get married right now.” I understood what he said the second time. The problem is that I still only heard, “Let’s not get married,” and I saw all my dreams dying.

CG<barely audible>: You still feel that way?

AG: We’re married now, but that’s still what I heard.

<Christian wraps his arms around his wife>

MARIA: So… you made it down the aisle and you go on this lovely honeymoon, and it’s cut short…

AG: Yes, crazy ex-boyfriend decides that he wants his speedy trial right in the middle of our honeymoon. We’re sure that he planned it. You saw how that turned out.

MARIA: It’s my understanding that during that case, you discovered that you were pregnant with your children.

AG<grimacing>: You understand correctly. There was an unfortunate incident involving the defense attorney that prompted me to take a pregnancy test.

MARIA: An unfortunate incident… care to elaborate?

AG<her eyes wide>: No.

MARIA NARRATING: At the request of our hosts, we move the interview to their spacious and well-equipped family room. Though they looked quite majestic in the formal living room, our couple is much more relaxed in this setting.

MARIA: Okay, Ana, let’s move to something that I hope is a little more palatable than the last few moments of our previous discussion. I know that one of the main reasons for your appearance today and other appearances before now is centered on the allegations of sexual harassment against you. Just a quick synopsis. Someone made an anonymous call that you behaved inappropriately with a patient and that opened an investigation into the allegations. Tell us about that.

AG<straightening her posture>: Yes. The medical profession is based largely on trust. People trust us with their bodies. In my case, they trust us with their minds. It’s a huge responsibility, so accusations like this must be taken very seriously. Of course, I was devastated when I heard that someone would even think I would do something like this. But when I saw who the victim was, I knew it was a personal vendetta.

MARIA: Are you allowed to reveal who the victim was at this point?

<Christian slowly raises his hand>

MARIA: Yes, Christian? Who was the victim?

<He sits there in the same position>

MARIA<horrified>: You??

<Christian nods>

AG: My sentiments exactly. I was anonymously accused of sexual misconduct with my husband.

MARIA: Dear God, how did that come about?

AG: Well, we’re still trying to get to the salt of the matter. Anything that we say about the person who made those calls would be pure conjecture. Even though we have our theories, those claims are anonymous for a reason… to make sure that the accusers—valid accusers—are protected. The problem is that the system also protects those who just want to throw smut.

I’m going public with the accusations against me because not only were they totally untrue and unfounded, but they were completely ludicrous! And the way that I was treated at that inquisition that they called a hearing was preposterous and the most blatant display of unprofessionalism I had ever seen. They dragged in people from my past—colleagues, patients—they chose completely irrelevant questions even down to questioning my attire. They locked me in a room for hours without my phone, my purse, or any type of timepiece with a guard who never said a word to me the entire time, like I was a common criminal.

They subjected me to this board of stuck-up elitists who all looked down their nose at me and refused to refer to me by my title. All doctors themselves, they all knew how offensive it is to strip a doctor of her title. So, as a continuation of their emotional warfare, they all called me “Mrs. Grey” instead of “Dr. Steele-Grey,” no matter how many times I corrected them and informed them that I still had my license.

I could go on forever about how unjustly I was treated by the board, and quite frankly, I’m lucky that I escaped that witch hunt with my license still intact. I’m not some pompous, pampered little doctor-person who got her little feathers ruffled because the big bad men didn’t pat me on my head. <Anastasia feigns baby talk> I just want to see people treated more fairly when they’re required to present their cases in situations like this. Even killers get a right to a fair trial—I was convicted before I even stepped in that room on zero evidence and a rumor.

So, my campaign is not to toot my own horn and proclaim that they’ve hurt the feelings of the great Anastasia Grey. My purpose for going public is to hopefully appeal to others who may have experienced this kind of treatment. When the board was confronted about this incident, they swept the whole thing under the rug like nothing happened. So, how many other people have been subjected to this?

My voice is loud because I refuse to remain silent about this, but two voices are better, four is a lot louder, The more, the better, of course. So, how many people within the sound of my voice has been treated unfairly by this board or knows someone or of someone who has? If this is you, you can reach me at my office at Helping Hands. Yes, we have security screening, but it’ll be worth it if we can shed some light on this situation.

MARIA: So, you’re looking for a class action?

AG: It’s more like a call to action. If I’m the only person who was treated this way by the board, well then, I’m just one person. This is my battle to fight and mine alone and we don’t have to worry about other people being treated this way. However, if this is the usual treatment of people who are accused of this kind of action, then we need some kind of investigation—maybe an examination of the archaic ideals of the board and possibly replacing its members.

MARIA: Are you up to that job, Ana… possibly being a member of the board?

AG<her eyes wide>: Oh, God, no! I don’t want someone’s fate in my hands like that. With everything I’ve been through, they don’t even bother picking me for jury duty!

<Christian laughs>

MARIA: So, if the board approached you, would you turn them down?

AG: First, I highly doubt that the board would ever approach me, but second, I’ve never even given the concept any thought. I just want people to be treated fairly. I don’t necessarily have to be the one to do the job in order for that to happen. And third, to answer your question—no, it’s not something that I want. I have no dreams or aspirations whatsoever of being on the board.

I felt like the views of the board were quite antiquated in the questions that they asked me and the way that they treated me. I have no problem with the traditional values being part of this process. In fact, I support it. However, I feel that the board and its members and guidelines need to incorporate more of the forward-thinking concepts that define the passing of time as well as modern medicine and practices.

I seriously felt like I was in that movie, “Twelve Angry Men,” and I was the accused awaiting the verdict. I left those proceedings, went home, and waited for them to tell me that they were stripping me of my license. Had I done something wrong, I could do nothing but hang my head in shame, but I really, really did nothing wrong. So, I think something needs an overhaul here, and if I remain silent, it’s not going to happen…

MARIA NARRATING: The seriousness of the conversation is interrupted by cooing babies in the background, Christian gestures to someone to come forward.

MARIA: Oooohh, this is such a treat!

CG: Hello there, Minnie Mouse! <Christian takes his daughter>

AG: How’s Mommy’s handsome man? <Anastasia takes her son>

MARIA<brimming with excitement> Please! Please! Introduce us!

CG: Well, this redhead beauty is Mackenzie and that handsome prince is Michael, and these are the heirs to the Grey estate. <Mackenzie looks adoringly at her father>

MARIA: Is she a daddy’s girl?

CG: She’s definitely a daddy’s girl.

MARIA: And what about Michael—is he Mommy’s boy?

AG<examining Michael>: I don’t know. Mikey is laid back. He likes everybody. Mackenzie is more expressive, so while I can tell that she loves Mommy, she coos more at Daddy.

<Watching Mackenzie do just that while Christian makes faces at her>

MARIA: Most Moms say that parenting comes naturally. Is that how it was for you?

AG<twisting her lips>: I think that’s a broad statement, Maria. I don’t think parenting comes naturally to anybody; that’s why some children are taken away from their parents. I think the connection that you feel while carrying a little life around in your body for nearly a year can’t help but to extend to the living breathing human being once they’re no longer in your body. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

<Cut to the scene of Anastasia in the rocker in the nursery with her back to the camera nursing Mikey and singing to him>

AG<while the scene is still playing>: I can’t speak for anyone else. I can only speak for myself. The moment I discovered that I was pregnant, all I wanted was to love and protect my babies. I was afraid that the world would gobble them up and mistreat them, and I knew that the only way to prevent that from happening was to nurture them, shield them from what harm I could and prepare them for the world ahead. It’s a frightening and daunting task, but it’s also one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Minnie’s first smile and Mikey’s first babble… I can’t even describe the feeling that comes over you when you witness the smallest milestones.

<The scene continues for a few moments more, the only sound being Anastasia serenading her baby>

<Cut back to the family and Maria in the family room>

MARIA<with a broad smile>: Minnie and Mikey… was that intentional?

AG: Yes and no. We mulled over our children’s names, each of us making suggestions about what we wanted to name them.

<Cut to a picture of Minnie and Mikey each in their Minnie and Mickey Mouse swim suits earlier that summer>

I had always had my son’s name picked out since before I was even pregnant, and Christian insisted on naming the girl after me.

MARIA<frowning>: But her name is Mackenzie…

AG: Her middle name is Anastasia. I drew the line at the first name. One “Anastasia” is enough! <Christian shrugs>

MARIA<laughing>: I see. Well, I can say that they seem to be two well-behaved babies.

<Cut to scenes of Christian playing with Mikey; Keri rocking Minnie to sleep; Anastasia playing an animated game of peek-a-boo with her son; Christian bouncing his daughter on his knee while she laughs gleefully>

AG: I’ll be the first to tell you that my children are blessed. They have a lot of people around them that love them—their mom and dad, two wonderful nannies, their grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles, and friends… We have quite the village for these two.

MARIA: You realize that you’ll probably come under scrutiny from traditional moms because of your nannies.

AG: Even traditional moms have babysitters. Mine just happen to live with me. We have two children and there are two of us. We both work, so we need help. Even if we had one child, we’d still need help. You saw the nursery at Helping Hands—my children go to work with me every day. I personally come and feed them at lunchtime and I check on them several times during the day. There’s also a day care at Grey House. So, if I need to spend the day there, my babies can come with me there. My nannies are at my disposal, so if I decide that I want the babies to stay home, they can stay in the comfort of their own space. I won’t allow people to guilt-trip me about having help with my twins when I have such a busy life.

MARIA: Christian, how did you feel about having nannies to help with the children.

CG: I suggested it. While there was a condition with both of us that nannies wouldn’t raise our children, we both agreed that we would need help. It would be unrealistic not to seek that help since we readily had the resources. Mrs. Taylor had already been in my employ for several years and was delighted to help out, and Ms. Illidge has been a friend of the family since before we were married. Her qualifications stem back to before we even met her. Circumstances landed her in our laps and we couldn’t be happier with the outcome.

We get to spend time with our children, watch them grow, love and nurture them without having to worry if they’re in good hands when we’re not around. Make no mistake, my wife and I raise our children. Our nannies are back-up.

MARIA<nodding>: Very well said, Mr. Grey. So, Ana, on the topic of parenting, Ray Steele… he’s adopting you. <Anastasia nods> You’re 28. <She nods again> Why now?

AG: It’s long overdue. My father has done the honorable thing by me for as long as I can remember—even years before. He’s the only father I’ve ever known, and he’s never made me feel unloved or unwanted. Whenever he was able, he was always there for me.

MARIA: Whenever he was able? <Anastasia sighs>

AG: I won’t smear anybody because it’ll get me nowhere, but my father and I were kept apart for a long time. We did what we could to stay in touch, but it was hard.  I know my father. If he had the foresight that he does now, if he had any idea that forever was not really forever, he would have adopted me when I was a child—before all the hardships and nightmares that I suffered because we were forcefully ripped apart and kept from each other.

MARIA: You’re talking about your mother.

AG: I’m talking about my childhood. Daddy adopting me now is closure for us both on so many levels, I can’t begin to explain them all to you. Everybody has their theories and some of them are correct, but the bottom line is that I love my Daddy and he loves me. We just want to make it official.

MARIA: Ray has a son of his own. You’ll have a brother soon.

AG: I already have a brother. The adoption is just a formality.

MARIA NARRATING: As you can see, the Greys have a strong and enviable sense of family. Christian is fiercely loyal to those he loves, and Ana makes it no secret that she’ll go to the wall for the ones she holds dear.

On the flipside of this wholesome, loving family picture is a fearsome twosome with a hidden talent, so to speak. We’re here at the West Coast Armory where Christian and Anastasia have decided to showcase yet another aspect of their personalities. I could easily see Christian in this setting, but I was surprised by what I discovered about Anastasia.

So, here’s this tiny woman in black jeans and a black, long-sleeved muscle shirt with a three-foot ponytail hanging out of a fitted baseball cap looking every bit a miniature SWAT member in safety gear for the shooting range and some of these firearms are bigger than she is.

MARIA: Not that any of us would really understand, Ana, but tell us what you’re working with here.

AG: This is a Mossberg 500, 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun. Now this is normally a pretty big gun…

MARIA: It’s still a pretty big gun compared to you.

AG<laughing>: Well, not as big, because it’s been modified with the Mossberg Flex system. In laymen’s terms, the huge deer hunting stock has been replaced with a pistol grip, the larger barrel swapped out for a shorter barrel and the camo fore-end removed and replaced with this tactical fore-end, which is better used for home defense. Trust me, in its original form, this gun is probably as long as I am tall. Now, the pistol grip takes about four inches off the length of the gun, and it makes it easier to handle. You can hold it comfortably in your hand and shoot from the hip.

A double-barrel does a lot of damage and the recoil can be really insane. I took a dare once and pulled both triggers of a double-barrel when I was about 22 and dislocated my shoulder. Got a pretty nasty cut on my hand, too.

Where a double-barrel allows you to shoot two rounds, you would have to pop out the shells and manually reload. A pump action, on the other hand, allows you to pop out the shell and reload immediately, which is crucial in an emergency. So, more rounds, more opportunities to hit your target, but I rarely miss.

<Cut to scenes of Anastasia in gear and goggles, pumping the Mossberg and hitting the targets every time>

MARIA NARRATING: She’s definitely proficient with this firearm and with others as we discover during the course of the day. Though Christian’s an excellent shot <cut to Christian in goggles firing off his Glock and shredding a target several feet away while Maria continues to narrate>, I was quite stunned to discover that Ana is a more precise marksman than her husband. While he truly decimated his target, enough to strike fear into any aggressor, Ana put twelve rounds nearly perfectly into the same bullet hole.

<Shot of Anastasia standing with feet apart, wearing headphones and goggles and firing her Glock rapidly in front of her>

That’s impressive.

Me, on the other hand, not so much.

<Cut to Maria in gear and Anastasia showing her how to hold and fire the Mossberg>

I’m proud to say that I hit one target, but that was after firing off about nine rounds and taking at least 10 seconds to ‘pump’ the gun after each discharge. I think I’ll leave this to the experts.

<Cut to Anastasia and Maria standing on the open gun range>

MARIA: Now, Ana, with gun violence on the rise, you won’t have immunity from the criticism that you’re promoting acts of violence by glorifying the use of weapons. How do you respond to that?

AG: I can’t be held accountable for the behavior of every gun owner in America. My father is a Marine. He trained me in knife throwing, self-defense, and the proper way to handle and discharge a firearm, as you just saw. I’m responsible with my guns. They’re well-maintained and kept under lock and key when they’re not on my person. I’m adequately licensed to carry my weapons and they’re all legally registered. I’m not contributing to the wretched state of affairs where illegal guns make it into the hands of lunatics or, worse yet, children, and mass or accidental shootings occur.

MARIA: Yes, but what about your children?

AG: What about them? As I said, our firearms are always under lock and key when they’re not on our persons, so my children are in no danger of our guns. And for the record, when they’re of an appropriate age, they’ll learn to shoot, too.

MARIA: There are those who are going to say that the safest gun is no gun at all. Look at the countries who have successfully banned guns or have very strict gun-control laws. Violent deaths in those countries are exponentially lower than here in the United States and sometimes nearly, if not completely, nonexistent.

AG: To be honest with you, Maria, I would love to live in a country and an environment where this wasn’t necessary. I would love to raise my children in a society where they didn’t have to worry about one day having to defend themselves or their home with a deadly, projectile weapon. Unfortunately, I have no intention of moving to the UK, Australia, Japan, or Germany anytime soon. It’s a lovely concept, but unfortunately not feasible for my family at this time. We live in a country where we not only exercise our constitutional right to bear arms, but also—unfortunately—some of us abuse it. I’m not one of those people who abuse that right, and I will not be held accountable for those who do. As for those countries who have successfully implemented gun-control laws—bravo! You got it right. As for America, I don’t know what to say about that. I’m not speaking for the entire country, but in my mind’s eye, I can see law-abiding citizens turning in their firearms while gang members and criminals retain theirs, leaving us vulnerable and defenseless… a country even more gripped in fear than we already are. It would be a 24/7/365 version of The Purge. It’s sad and unfortunate that guns fall into the wrong hands, but I feel that it would be completely counterproductive to remove guns from the right hands, and that’s my opinion.

MARIA: That’s a lovely speech, Ana, but you know that you’re still going to come under fire, don’t you?

AG: Let ‘em come! I use my firearms for recreation on the gun range, or for self-defense, and that’s all. When they see me brandishing my gun in public or using it for any illegal means, then I may feel some conviction from naysayers. In the meantime, I’m exercising my second amendment right to bear arms in America and I apologize, but I’m not going to try to sway to opinions of the portion of viewing public that feels like I shouldn’t be able to do so. When and if America bans guns, I as a law-abiding citizen will turn in my firearms. Until that day, I will continue to take advantage of my right to be a responsible gun owner. Those who don’t like it and want to put me in judgement, c’est la vie, I can’t hear you.

MARIA NARRATING: Very powerful words. And, there you have it. If you’re looking for a scapegoat, you won’t find it here. Mrs. Grey stands firm on her rights and refuses to be held accountable for the unscrupulous acts of others. You have to admire her gumption.

<Back at the Crossing in the family room>

MARIA: So, Christian, I’ll direct this to you. If you wanted one thing to be a major take-away from this segment, what would that one thing be?

CG<sighing heavily>: Good grief, we’ve covered so much, I don’t know that there could be one takeaway.

For starters, it needs to be known that I and my family will no longer be a target, not that we ever were. In terms of our physical well-being, my wife and I are both very well-trained in self-defense. In addition, we are both licensed to carry concealed weapons. This information is only pertinent should you get past the several military-trained men that protect us.

Now, we’ve had other attacks on us—financial, emotional, attacks on our character, things of that nature. These attacks will no longer be tolerated either. In the end, we’re still just people. We just want to live our lives.

I’ve worked hard to become the man that I am. Nobody handed me anything. I didn’t have a trust fund from Daddy to start my business. I had a loan that—like any other businessman—I had to repay, with interest. I took that loan and parlayed it into a billion-dollar corporation and somehow, that’s a bad thing. Well, too bad. I’m sorry that hurts the feelings of people who for whatever reason think I don’t deserve what I have or I owe them something. I owe no one but creditors, the IRS, and my family to take care of them. Know that anybody who comes at me, my family, or anything that I’ve worked for and love, I’m coming back with both barrels loaded.

My wife and I were a chance meeting. We were the last person on each other’s radar. Her formal impression of me was that I was an egotistical, narcissistic bastard and she put that in writing, so let me tell you. If she was trying to woo or trap a billionaire, that’s a very strange way to do it. I’m ashamed to admit that my first intention was to destroy her. As you can see, fate had other plans for us.

Once and for all, she was not ever and never will be a gold-digger. She didn’t “make it big” when she met me. She was financially well-off before she became Anastasia Grey.

Hopefully, this answers those questions of the prying minds and the ignorant, unless you just choose to remain ignorant. And if you see us out having dinner, at the park with our kids, at the grocery store, leave us alone. I’m not the President of the United States and we deserve some kind of little bit of a normal life. I get that you’re curious, but we don’t deserve to be abused because of your fascination.

MARIA: I couldn’t agree more. I have to say that when we first discussed doing this interview, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I mean, you have your theories and so you prepare yourself for what you think may happen, who you think you may meet, or who may be presented to you because everybody has a person or persona that they present to everyone else, but the real part of themselves, they keep private. We often shield the real person from the public, so that you really don’t know who you’re dealing with in front of the camera. But I will have to say that it’s been a pleasure speaking with the two of you, getting to know your family and your children, getting to see what you do on a day to day basis and being able to show the viewing audience that it’s not necessarily what they think. It’s really hard to humanize someone, especially when all you’ve ever seen of them or known of them is dollar signs. When all you know of someone is money, that’s all you see is money—you don’t see the human being.

<Slow motion news clips play of every scene Maria describes>

We saw the protector in full glory carrying his damsel from the hospital, her face shielded by a jacket after she had suffered the brutal beating during her kidnapping.

We can probably name every sacrificial lamb whose career has fallen at Anastasia’s hands.

We were all broken hearted when Christian announced that Anastasia was “the one” at the first press conference we had ever seen him in addressing his personal life.

And each milestone—and heartbreak—since then, we’ve been with you every step of the way… in the trials, with the announcement of the pregnancy, with the Faces of Abuse campaign…

From the fairytale wedding to the mourning of a loss of a patriarch, we’ve all felt your pain, your tears, your happiness and your frustration.

<Cut back to Anastasia and Christian holding their children, and Maria looking into the camera>

So, I humbly thank you very much for allowing me to introduce and present to the world the human beings that are Christian and Anastasia Grey. Thank you, and goodnight.

<Fade to black>


~~love and handcuffs

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Raising Grey: Chapter 57—A Whole Lotta Doors Openin’

Many of you may not know this, but I lost the use of my right hand for about a week. It was a terrifying experience, but believe it or not, my biggest concern (not the only concern, but the biggest) was that I wouldn’t be able to write anymore. I soon found out that wouldn’t be an issue even without the use of my right hand, but thank God, 95% of the function has come back. Thank you to those of you who knew and expressed concern. I really appreciate it.

So, I may have been a bit unclear in the last chapter. Christian wants Ana to redo his office at home, not at GEH. He was using his office at GEH as an example, because it has glass walls and is mostly white and there’s a lot of light in there. His office at home is very dark, very oxford, and very cave-like, and he wants her to brighten it up like she did hers—but maybe not as bright.

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

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

Chapter 57—A Whole Lotta Doors Openin’

CHRISTIAN

“Have you heard anything from your ex?” I ask Harmony, knowing but not revealing that Butterfly paid him a visit last week.

“No,” she admits, “which is a good thing. We would only fight since we have nothing else to discuss. I’ve got enough on my plate these days. The housekeeper and the cook said that Roger tried to call and get some information on what was going on.”

“What did they tell him?” I inquire.

“Nothing,” she says. “They don’t like him either.” I nod.

“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” I say. My phone buzzes and it’s a text from Lanie.

**Burtie’s stoked about the car. Sweet ride! Where did you find it and how much? **

“Lanie’s texting me about the T-bird,” I tell Dad. He frowns.

Lanie?” I raise my head.

“Nollie.” His mouth forms the “ah” word.

“I keep forgetting.” I turn my attention back to my phone.

“Excuse me for a moment,” I say as I shoot a text back to her.

**It’s free. It was Pops’ car and Uncle Herman and the brothers want to give it to Burtie. **

I’ve already excused myself, so I step out of the conference room and dial Lanie’s number.

“Does it run?” she asks when she answers the phone.

“Look at it!” I reply. “What do you think?”

“Who’s going to drive it out here?”

“I don’t want to put cross-country mileage on a car like that. He can if he wants to, but we won’t. We’ll have it shipped with the others.”

“Others?” she asks.

“There are three more—all classics. Dad’s getting one and Uncle Herman, so we’re shipping those two out here. The Mustang is staying in Detroit with Uncle Stan.” After a pause, she asks,

“So, they each got a car. I take it this was supposed to be my sperm-donor’s car.” I almost choke on air hearing her call Freeman her “sperm donor.”

“The brothers decided that this was the car that Freeman would have wanted the most,” I confirm.

“Stellar!” she exclaims “This is going to burn his butt so badly. Burtie will love that!”

“How is he doing?” I ask. She sighs.

“He’s better… still dealing with some anger and disappointment, and the scars don’t help. He’s scheduled to have the first of three reconstructive surgeries just after Thanksgiving. I suggested that he wait until after Christmas, but he just wants to get it done.”

“His father deserves to rot for that,” I seethe.

“On that, we agree, cousin,” she concurs.

“How’s Leo?” her tone changes immediately. I can almost see the sparkles in her eyes through the phone.

“Wonderful as always,” she exalts. “I don’t know how I ended up with such a wonderful man, but I’m glad I did. He’s looking out for Mom so well, and you know she’s still dealing with her feelings for my lecherous, no good, vicious, cheating father. I mean, really, it’s bad enough that he’s a horrible person all around and that he looked down on her, but to cheat on her, too? It’s probably best that I never see him again because I won’t be responsible for my actions.”

“Well, just stay out of Detroit. God knows I do,” I add. I see Al step off the elevator and I know it’s time to get back to Harmony.

“I’ve got a meeting to get back to. I’ll make arrangements for the shipping right away. Text me an address.”

“You got it.” We end the call as Al approaches.

“Chris,” he greets. “Let’s get this party started.”

“Do you know you’re the only person who regularly calls me Chris?” I say as we walk to the conference room.

Aunt Tina and her attorney are on Skype on a large monitor on the wall when we enter the room and Harmony is talking about the way the house is being run—how much more peaceful things are now that Roger is gone and how even the staff seems happier with Windsor.

“You can’t keep my butler,” I interject, and everyone chuckles a bit.

“Harmony will be making the decisions on the staff from now on,” Aunt Tina says. She looks at ease, more at ease than I’ve seen her in the last few days—probably because that dreadful buzzing isn’t in her ears anymore. “Christian, this is my attorney and old friend, Carl Richardson. Carl, this is a very close friend of my family, Christian Grey.”

“Mr. Grey, a real pleasure,” Richardson says. He’s a much older gentleman, obviously an Oxford blueblood or some other Ivy league type who only has clients like Aunt Tina, and not because he needs the money.

“The pleasure is mine, Mr. Richardson,” I reply. “You know Harmony, and if you haven’t met, this is my father Carrick Grey. He’ll be representing Harmony in the divorce.

“We’ve met,” Richardson replies. “In court… kicked my ass once or twice,” he jests.

“You’ve given me a run for my money, Carl,” Dad responds mirthfully. Whew! At least that relationship is cordial.

“And this is my friend and the head of my legal department, Allen Forsythe-Flemings.”

“Ah, new blood,” Richardson says. “Very nice to meet you, Mr. Forsythe-Flemings. I dabbled here and there in the law of the concrete jungle. How’s the corporate world these days?”

“Cutthroat as ever, Mr. Richardson,” Al replies, with a nod.

“I see no harm in dropping the formalities,” Richardson says. “We’re all on the same team. Is that okay with you gentlemen?” Al nods and I concur.

“Yes, sir, I think that would be just fine,” I reply.

“Good. Now, let’s get to the business at hand. I hope you all don’t mind, but I don’t mince words and Tina’s well aware of that. We’ve got quite a bit of ground to cover and not a lot of time to do it. Tina has five living children, including Harmony, 17 grand-children, and innumerable great-grandchildren because she hasn’t even met them all. Her parents and siblings have all passed on. She was diagnosed with cancer years ago and it became aggressive within the last 18 months. Since the diagnosis, she has seen each child once except for Harmony who kept in touch when she left home and eventually became her caretaker and Ilsa, who visited her twice, once to request a loan that she yet to repay.

“Tina doesn’t have much time left now. None of us know exactly how much, but she has made it clear that she wants to live these last days in comfort without having to worry about her assets.”

Harmony wipes a tear from her eye from the reference to Aunt Tina’s death and Tina nods gently, signaling Carl to continue.

“Her will is complete and will be filed with probate court after this meeting. Through a court injunction that will be served in the next three business days on each living sibling, none of Tina’s assets—money, jewelry, personal belongings, automobiles, etcetera—can be commandeered or claimed until the reading of the will, which will outline the proper distribution of the assets.”

“Smart move,” Allen interjects. Dad is nodding, too.

“What exactly does that mean… in laymen’s terms?” Harmony asks.

 meme“It means that once Tina passes, your sisters and brothers won’t be able to show up at the door and say, ‘I want my daddy’s records.’” Dad says. Harmony frowns.

“No, Dad,” I shake my head at him. Harmony would have absolutely no idea what that means.

“It means,” Allen says, stifling a laugh, “your brothers and sisters won’t be able to lay claim to any of your mother’s assets until the will tells them exactly what they’re getting without being held in contempt of court. It also means that you won’t be able to dispose of or claim anything that doesn’t have your name on it.”

“I’m… not really concerned about the stuff,” she says, her head down.

“But you will be once she’s gone,” Dad says. “Certain things will have significant sentimental value.” Harmony sighs and nods, never lifting her gaze. It’s clear that the very last thing she wants to discuss is where her mother’s material possessions will go once she passes away. This is the very reason she needs protection right now, because she’s clearly not going to protect herself.

“To expedite that process, the reading will be scheduled for two weeks after her passing since all affairs are already in order except one… the house.”

Tina made reference to the house being left to Harmony, so I don’t know how that could be considered a loose end at this point.

“The house is one of her assets, and by strict interpretation, Harmony would have to leave until after the will was read. Tina has already expressed that the house will go to Harmony. As such, I will be filing a quitclaim deed today, turning the house over to Harmony immediately.” Now, Harmony raises her head.

“What?” she asks, stunned. “Mom?”

“Don’t argue with me, child,” Aunt Tina says softly. “The house is going to be yours when I’m gone. If you take it now, they can’t come and put you out.”

“But Mom…” Harmony protests weakly, “… your house…”

Your house,” Aunt Tina corrects her. “Are you gonna put me out, Baby?”

“Moooom!” Harmony says, appalled.

“Then it’s still my house as long as I’m living. When I’m gone, what use do I have for it? Can you tell me with total certainty that your beloved siblings won’t try to come and put you out?”

Of course, she can’t. And just like that, the fight is over.

“How long does it take for a quitclaim deed to file with the county?” I ask.

“Usually about a week,” Allen announces. “If there’s no other claim to the property like a lien or a mortgage…” He looks at Carl who shakes his head.

“No one else has any claim to my home but my dearly departed husband, who paid for that house with his blood, sweat, and tears, for me… and my ungrateful lot,” Aunt Tina laments.

“Well, then, you should be able to go get a copy of your deed in about a week,” Allen tells Harmony. She nods in resignation. It’s going to be necessary, or her siblings will steamroll her.

“What if her sisters and brothers try to bully their way in anyway?” I ask. “They can claim that they don’t know…”

“I can almost guarantee that Tina’s children will all be calling me within the next 4 – 5 days,” Carl says. “Those court orders that each of them will be receiving will direct them to contact me. They all know who I am, so they’ll know this is legitimate. When they call, I’ll substantiate what the court orders say and simultaneously inform them that Harmony is now the owner of the house. I can’t guarantee they won’t show up on the doorstep, though.”

“I’ll take care of that,” I say.

“Also,” Carl continues, “Tina will be prosecuting Roger for embezzlement and misappropriation of funds as well as a civil suit for invasion of privacy. We’re hoping that your team can determine if the audio/visual equipment that you located lead to recordings that can be used in court.”

“If they haven’t been destroyed, we’ll find them,” I assure Carl.

“Can I get in on that? He invaded my privacy, too,” Harmony asks.

“Well, the prosecution will definitely need you,” Carl says. “We’ll be taking Tina’s deposition as soon as possible as these things have a way of getting stuck in the legal system for a while, and her testimony…” he trails off. Aunt Tina will most likely be dead by the time this thing gets to court.

“Bearing that in mind,” I ask, “won’t the civil trial have to wait until after the criminal trial?” Please, understand what I’m asking without me having to spell it out for you.

“The estate will continue with the suit,” he says, and nothing more. Thank you!

“Where is Roger now?” Dad asks.

“I have my team keeping an eye on him,” I reply. “He lived in the house, so he’s just holed up at a hotel right now.” Dad purses his lips.

“Didn’t you tell me that he was in cahoots with the husband?” Dad asks.

“That’s what he said,” I confirm.

“But we need proof,” Dad concludes.

“Roger’s word won’t be enough, but it might get a warrant to search the guy’s house,” Carl says.

“That’s a slippery slope, fellas,” Allen interrupts. “Invasion of privacy is tort law, not criminal. We can’t get a search warrant for something like that.”

“We can if we can convince a judge that we think they were in this whole thing together,” Carl says. “If we can get proof that he knew that house was bugged, you leave it to the court to determine the level of guilt. We just get the evidence. It’s like raiding someone’s house for drugs and finding illegal firearms or some other illegal activity. You don’t ignore the evidence for one case because it doesn’t point to the other.” Good point. Another pin to put in my day.

Get the cars to the west coast.
Talk to Jason about full security for the Franklin house.
Find out where the footage is for the surveillance Roger was doing.
Find some way to tie Kenneth into the gig.

“Harmony, when is your next court date if Kenneth doesn’t sign the papers?” Carl asks.

“Just after Christmas,” she says, and she sounds utterly exhausted. It’s not even lunchtime yet.

“That would definitely be a load off if he would just grow some balls and let go,” Dad says. Harmony shakes her head.

“Not likely,” she laments. “I’ll probably be stuck with this fucker in one way or another for the rest of my life! Sorry, Mom.”

“No apologies necessary,” Aunt Tina says. “He’s an asshole. I knew something was wrong when you brought him home.”

“I really should’ve listened to you,” Harmony says.

“Don’t worry about it, baby,” Aunt Tina says. “You live, and you learn. Learn from this, baby… please.” Harmony nods, wiping another tear.

We bang out a few more issues that must be sorted before Aunt Tina and Carl disconnect to put this operation into effect. I have Andrea summon Jason, Alex, and Barney to the conference room once that part of the meeting is over. Harmony still looks a bit stunned.

“You okay, Harmony?” Dad asks. She shakes her head as if shaking off a thought, then nods with her eyes closed.

“I’m not dense,” Harmony says. “I knew Mom was going to leave me some money—we all knew. I was just going to buy a little house somewhere and just be happy. I had no idea… the Big House… Jesus. What am I going to do with all that room?”

“I’m sure you’ll think of something,” I tell her. “Something that will make you happy and that will make Tina proud.” She doesn’t look convinced. “Why don’t I order us some lunch?” I add, pressing the button to summon Andrea once more.

“I can’t stay,” Harmony says, rising from her seat. “I have an appointment in about twenty minutes and then, I have class this afternoon.”

“Appointment?” I ask concerned. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes, everything’s fine,” she assures. “I’m starting therapy today.” She raises her eyebrow and twists her lips in a knowing manner at me. I immediately remember our conversation about her overly amorous behavior with me and the need to talk to someone about her somewhat automated responses to attention.

“Ah, good on you. I won’t keep you, then, but I will tell you that security is going to be increased at your house and it may include a thorough inspection of the grounds, so I’ll have Taylor get in touch with you.” She nods as she puts her purse on her shoulder.

“Thanks again, for everything,” she says as she turns to my father. “Carrick, I’ll of course be in touch.”

“Drive carefully,” Dad says as Harmony leaves the conference room.

“I just talked to Lanie before the meeting,” I tell Dad. “Burtie’s really excited about the car, so we’ll arrange for them to be transported within the next few days.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Dad says, rising from his seat as well. “I have to be going, too. I have a lunch date with my wife and then I have court this afternoon.”

“Will you guys be coming by to watch the special with us tonight?” I ask.

“I think we’re going to sit this one out, son,” my father says. “I think I want to spend some time alone with my lady this evening.” I nod.

“Duly noted, Dad. I’m sure Butterfly will understand.” I shake his hand and he leaves just as Jason, Alex, and Andrea are entering.

“Andrea, can you order us a lunch spread from the deli? A tray or two and an assortment of sandwiches—any preferences, guys?” I ask the other gentlemen in the room.

“I’m not picky,” Alex says.

“I can do anything from the deli,” Allen pipes in.

“Me, too,” Jason concurs. “Make sure they throw some corned beef in there.” I nod at Andrea and she leaves.

“So, we’ve got some marching orders, gentlemen,” I say, swiping my phone. “Tina’s attorney is securing injunctions to serve on her children to keep them from picking the house clean after she dies. She’s also deeding the house to Harmony with a quitclaim… like immediately.” I fire off a text to Smalls to get the Coup, Fairlane, and T-Bird moving out west to Seattle and California respectively. Uncle Herman will have to handle the titles once they get here.

“We’re going to need to get a lay of the land as soon as possible,” I continue. “Once those vultures get a whiff of what’s happening, they’re going to descend on Washington like fighter jets. Alex, if you can do some kind of quick family tree for me, that’ll be great. I mean, quick and dirty. We’ll do background checks later and only if needed.” Alex is nodding and typing into the phone. “And Alex, I need that family tree to go as far as possible—any adults, including great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews, whatever you can find quickly.”

“When you say quickly, how quickly do you mean?” he asks.

“I’d like an initial report in 24 hours,” I say. He nods.

“That won’t be much, but it’ll be a start,” he replies.

“Lay of the land,” Jason says. “We’re doing full house security coverage?” I nod.

“Nobody in or out without permission, just like Grey Crossing,” I confirm.

“Do they have any kind of monitored security system?” he asks. “We didn’t check for that when we were there.”

“I would say, ‘No,’ but you’re going to find out what they have and tell me what you can do within a few days and then within a longer span of time, but we need to get some tighter protection over there soon.” He sighs and looks at Alex.

“Any chance you can get me a floorplan of that house?” he asks. Alex sighs heavily.

God to the rescue,” he says and starts typing into his phone. I wouldn’t go that far, Alex. On cue, Barney and his second come strolling into the room.

“Good, just who I wanted to see,” I say, turning my attention to Barney. “What information have you gotten on the devices that we retrieved from the Franklin home?”

“Not much, sir,” he says. “Short-range stuff that looks like the data may have been going to a cell phone or somewhere in the Cloud. I would say the Cloud with the number of devices that we found, but to where, that’s harder to say since the signals aren’t active anymore.” Shit! We won’t be able to get any information without getting it directly from the source.

“There’s nothing we can find out?” I ask.

“The feed is gone, sir,” he says. “And this stuff is so low tech, there’s no guarantee we could have traced the feed even before we killed it.” I sigh.

“This guy is going to get away with it,” I lament.

“Not if we shake him down,” Jason says. I shake my head.

“That information can’t be used in court,” I say. He frowns.

“What are you trying to do?” he asks.

“Criminal prosecution for embezzlement and misappropriation of funds, civil for invasion of privacy,” I reply.

“Then yes you can,” he says. “The rules for chain of evidence for civil court are much less stringent than those for criminal court. Ask him,” he says, pointing to Allen. I look up at Allen.

“What?” he asks when the room falls silent.

“Pay attention, oh head of legal,” I say sarcastically. “Chain of evidence for civil court? Shakedown Roger for information—do we have to go through all this again?”

“I’m sorry… Christian… I…” Something’s wrong. I just noted that he only calls me Chris, and now Christian?

“What is it?” I ask.

“I just got a text from Chocolate…” Yeah, something’s wrong. I know who Chocolate is, but he doesn’t call him that in public. “He… somebody’s died. I don’t… I can’t… I need to call him…”

“Go! Go! Use my office,” I say, shooing him out of the room. He won’t move. I stand to my feet and walk over to him, nearly lifting him out of the chair.

“Go, now,” I say, my voice softer. “Find out what’s wrong.” I gently usher him to the door. “Andrea!” I call as I open the door. She comes around the corner and I gesture to Allen who’s walking slowly not taking his eyes off his phone. I close the door behind them once he gets to Andrea and turn back to Jason.

“I guess I’ll have to take your word for that one,” I tell him.

We come up with a plan for security for Tina’s house and I call Windsor to get Tina prepared for the invasion. Jason will have the team do a thorough sweep of the entire house based on the plans that Alex was able to secure and identify rooms that we didn’t hit when we were looking for bugs. It’s a big house and we’re hoping that we may have missed some that might still have an active signal, but the team is fairly certain that we got them all.

“Where’s that asshole now?” I ask, chomping on olives, coleslaw and deli sandwiches.

“He’s been at the Fairmont all this time,” Jason says. “Living with Mrs. Franklin, he hasn’t had any expenses. So, he can certainly afford it.”

“Not to mention he’s been skimming off her money all this time,” I add.

“Uh, yeah, there is that,” he says.

“We need to arrange a conversation with him, but it needs to be private.”

“I don’t know how we can,” he says. “He’s not in the house anymore, so we don’t have that kind of control over him. Short of kidnapping him, I’m not sure what we can do.”

“We need to see if we can get some more information from him,” I say. “There has to be a way and we need to find it.” There’s a knock at the door and Andrea sticks her head in.

“A message for you, sir,” she says.

“Is it private?” I ask.

“No, sir. It’s from Mr. Forsythe,” she says stepping into the room. “He said that he had to leave due to a family emergency and he’ll touch bases with you later.” I nod.

“Thanks, Andrea,” I say. She nods and leaves the room.

“Who do you think passed away?” Jason asks, and Barney’s interest is piqued.

“I can’t even begin to speculate,” I reply. I should probably let Butterfly know that there will be some news from Allen soon, but I don’t know what exactly.


ANASTASIA

“My husband has given me the daunting task of redoing his office,” I say to Marilyn after we’ve looked in on the volunteers and how they’re doing with Courtney.

“You’re probably the best candidate,” she says. “Nobody knows him better than you.”

“Have you seen his office?” I complain. “It’s like the Oxford Black Hole!” Marilyn tries to suppress her giggle.

“No,” she snickers, “I can’t say that I have.”

“Dark brown marble flooring, huge oak desk with black leather chairs, imposing bookshelves all around the room with wood darker than mine, dark wood ornate deep tray ceilings and a huge marble fireplace—also dark—sitting between the only two small windows in the room… small compared to mine. He even has black-out glass on the French doors that lead to his den!”

“Yikes,” she replies. “Was he trying to hide?”

“I don’t know, but he looks in my office, sees the ‘light,’ and suddenly, he wants to see it in his office, too.” Marilyn frowns.

“He wants his office to go from ‘Oxford dark’ to yours?” she asks, astonished. My sentiments exactly.

“No, he claims he doesn’t want it as bright as mine but not as dark as it is. Then, he tells me I have carte blanche. That means, ‘You do all the work and then if I don’t like it, I’ll keep it for a while because you did it, then change it when I’m ready.’ Bullshit. Tell me what you want in that room. And if you can’t tell me what you want, tell me what you don’t want, or I’m not touching a thing in that space. It can stay Oxford Black from now on.” Marilyn laughs.

“Are you sure you’re not pregnant?” she jibes. I look over at her.

“Don’t start, Mare,” I warn. “It’s a tender topic for you, so I haven’t approached it, but I haven’t forgotten about it.” She purses her lips.

“Point taken,” she says, with no malice. “You have Ebony Carson arriving in about fifteen minutes, and Jewel Lawson later this afternoon…” she says, drawing our attention to the interviews this afternoon and quickly changing the subject. I look at Ebony’s resume. She’s way too qualified for a job babysitting preschoolers and babies, but you never know what someone’s story is. This is why I agreed to interview her. I want to get in her head, see what the deal is and why she’s looking for a job beneath her skill set. Depending on the circumstance, we may be able to put her knowledge and abilities to use elsewhere.

Grace walks into my office as Marilyn and I are preparing for the interview. We agreed to have them here since my office is bigger. She falls onto one of the sofas.

“You look tired,” I say. “It’s barely past lunchtime.

“Just weary today,” she says. “It could be the whole menopausal thing… you know symptoms come and go at will.” I raise my brow.

“You can call it a day if you want,” I tell her. “Marilyn, Courtney, and I can handle the interviews and you can go home and have a bubble bath and a glass of wine, try to relax… maybe that’ll help?” I suggest. She sighs heavily.

“I’ll do the first interview and see how I feel,” she says. “Maybe this will pass. If it doesn’t, I think I’ll take that bubble bath.” I smile and put my hand on her shoulder.

“Your health is most important, Grace,” I remind her.

Ebony is delightful. She’s bubbly, knowledgeable, resourceful, and admits that she’s hiding from an abusive ex-boyfriend in prison back east. She blanches when we mention the background check. I tell her that it’s customary for all volunteers and potential employees, and she expresses her concern that it may tip her ex off to where she is.

“If he’s in prison, how can he hurt you?” I ask.

He’s in prison,” she says. “His… colleagues aren’t. I don’t know who’s watching and waiting for something to show up and tell them where I am.” I sigh.

“We deal with this kind of thing all the time,” I tell her. “If anything happens, just let us know. That is why we’re here in the first place.”

She sighs heavily and agrees to the background check, but I can tell that she’s not totally convinced. I ask for the name of her ex so that we can be on the lookout, but she doesn’t want to reveal it.

“It’s going to be difficult looking for potential threats if we don’t know what we’re looking for,” I tell her. She shrugs uncertainly.

“Can I think about that?” she asks. “That’s just… a can of worms that I so don’t want to open.” She drops her head. “This happens every time I apply for a job somewhere. I try to tell the truth because I want people to be careful in their checks. The moment they hear that I may have trouble following me, they suddenly lose interest. I have a degree in child psychology that I can’t use because I have a psycho ex in prison in New York who may or may not have someone following me. It’s doubly hard because I’m black, so I’ve already got something to prove. I could be a school teacher, a guidance counselor—there’s so many things that I could do, but people are afraid to hire me when they find out about Ge… my ex-boyfriend.”

That was enough of a slip and I hope Marilyn caught it and wrote it down, because I may not remember. Ge-something in her background—I’ll have to ask Christian the best way to handle this.

“We are a center for at-risk families, Ebony. Give me a chance to see what we can do.” She smiles, but I can tell that it’s forced.

“Yeah… sure,” she says, and I can’t tell what’s hiding in her tone. Disbelief? Defeat? Frustration? I have no idea. Nonetheless, we end the interview and shake hands before she leaves.

“What do you think is behind all that?” I ask.

“I don’t know, but she certainly has a past,” Grace says. “What’s exactly with this ex-boyfriend that she came all the way across the country to get away from him? And what colleagues would be looking for her? Is he in a gang? Drug affiliated? The mob?” I shrug.

“I hope that’s what the background check will tell us,” I say. “Did you catch the slip of the boyfriend’s name?” I ask Marilyn.

“All I caught was ‘Ge,’” she confirms. “That could be anything, Bosslady.” I sigh.

“I don’t know how to proceed with this,” I admit. “Is it too complicated for us to get into? I mean, isn’t this what we do—help at-risk women and families make a fresh start? We’d take her on if she showed up running from said boyfriend as a resident… why not as an applicant for a job?”

“Why does it sound like you’re trying to convince yourself?” Grace asks.

“Because I am,” I admit quietly. “I’m not ashamed to say that I’m not as fearless as I once was. I’m battling some new insecurities—not about myself, but about situations and circumstances. This thing could have two many outcomes to name, ranging from nothing at all to complete and total disaster. Do I step out on faith and react like the fearless woman I was before my life took a serious left turn, or do I err on the side of caution and run away from this situation admitting that we may be biting off more than we can chew with a psychotic boyfriend hiding in the wings?” Grace sighs.

“You’ve got a point there,” she says. “We haven’t taken an oath to help every wayward soul that crosses our doorstep, you know.”

“Okay, but she came to us for a job. Would we react this way if she came to us for help?”

“Probably not, but we would limit how deeply we got involved in her situation. Hiding someone out and providing them a safe haven until we can help get them to a better place is one thing. Digging into their past and possibly opening Pandora’s box is something else entirely.”

I seriously don’t know what to do. My instincts are going in all sorts of directions.

Help this poor girl—at least give her a chance.
Avoid this situation—you have no idea where it’s going to lead.
Could helping her lead danger to the Center?
Who is Ge and why won’t she at least give us a name?
Is this some small-time drug dealer or neighborhood gangster that just has her scared to death or was this some kind of high-profile case?

I immediately type her name into Google to see if anything comes up.

Ebony Carson.

LinkedIn profiles, Facebook profiles, Instagram profiles—more than I can count, but nothing that comes up that could probably be attached to some large gang case or mob case. I don’t know what I expected to find typing a name that common into Google.

“I’ll have to see what Christian can find on her. Then I’ll decide if we should dig deeper, run with what we have and hire her, or leave well enough alone and drop the whole thing. It’s too… open to make a decision right now. Fair enough?” Grace nods.

“It seems logical. I can’t give a definitive answer right now myself with so many unanswered questions.” She stands. “Can you handle the other interviews? This one was a bit more than I was prepared for and I think I’m going to take you up on that bubble-bath suggestion.”

“Yes, by all means, go take care of yourself,” I encourage her. She nods.

“I’m afraid that means we probably won’t be at the house for the viewing party. I know I was the one who suggested it in the first place…”

“Think nothing of it,” I tell her. “It was a good idea and I’m glad you did suggest it. I’m sorry you won’t be able to join us, but I understand. Go home. Rest.” She nods and leaves without another word. Before I can catch my breath from the huge indecision set before me, my phone comes alive with Love All the Hurt Away. It’s melancholy when I hear that song now. I waited so long to hear it while he was in Madrid that I almost didn’t assign it to him again when I got the new phone. I’m considering changing the ringtone to something else, then I realize that I’ve pondered the situation for too long and I better answer before he hangs up.

“Hello?”

“Butterfly are you busy?” he sounds in earnest.

“Between interviews. What’s up?”

“I just thought you should know. Allen left here about half an hour or so ago, I’m not sure. He was very distracted during a meeting and said that he got a text from James about somebody dying.”

“Somebody dying?” I ask, sitting straight up. “Who died?”

“I don’t know,” he says. “He went to my office for some privacy and then he left. We were still wrapping up details about Tina and Harmony’s situation and he wasn’t even paying attention.”

“Well, I don’t have any missed calls, so he hasn’t called me yet. He didn’t give you any clue who had passed away?”

“No, he just said that James said someone died.” I don’t know what to do here. If he hasn’t called me yet, he’s either deep in whatever he has found out, or he hasn’t found out anything yet. Should I call him and find out what’s going on?

“I just told you so that you wouldn’t be blindsided when he calls you. I think you should wait for his call. He’s probably trying to get details as we speak,” he says as if reading my mind.

“He has until I’m done with this next interview and then I’m calling him. That’s what friends do, Christian,” I inform him. He’s silent for a moment.

“Okay.” And that’s all he says.

“While I have you on the line, I need some guidance.”

“Really?” I can almost see him perking up on the other end of the phone.

“Yes. I’ve sent over some information on candidates to Alex for background checks. One of them is for a young lady named Ebony Carson…”

“Ouch. That’s a somewhat common name. He’s going to get a thousand hits on that name.”

“Well, he’s got a date of birth and a social security number. Here’s my dilemma. She’s hiding from a psycho boyfriend in jail in New York. She’s afraid for us to proceed too deeply into her past as our prying may tip off her ex and his ‘colleagues,’ as she put it, as to her current location. I tried to get some information on the ex, but all I got was that he’s currently incarcerated and his name starts with ‘Ge’ like ‘G,’ ‘E,” and I only got that because she nearly slipped and said his name. She doesn’t want us to have that information, either.”

Well, she’s going to get a thorough background check and this guy may come up as a person of interest anyway.”

“I hope so,” I admit. “I don’t want to bring any trouble down on the Center, but neither Grace nor I am sure where to go with this one. Of course, we’re a Center to assist at risk women and families, but we don’t want to bite off more than we can chew by inadvertently welcoming in a gangland snitch or something and end up bringing down the wrath of Al Capone or some shit.”

“Don’t take any unnecessary chances, Butterfly,” he warns. “I know you want to do good, but you can’t save the world.”

“I’m not trying to save the world, Christian. I just want to make sure that I’m not turning away someone that needs our help who can really be a great asset to us at the same time. I also don’t want to invite danger into our little safe haven here.”

“I understand both of those… the latter more than the former. I say err on the side of caution—that’s always my motto.”

“But… once again, I don’t want to see the Boogeyman where he’s not there.” Christian falls silent.

“Yes, there is that,” he concurs. “Why don’t we wait and see what Alex comes up with. The guy could just be some small-time hood that has her scared shitless and she just doesn’t want him to know where she is.” I nod as if he can see me.

“I hope you’re right. I’ll wait and see what Alex says. By the way, we’ll probably be two short for the viewing party. Your mom left a few minutes ago. She wasn’t feeling very well.”

“Hmm… Dad already told me that they weren’t going to be there, but he said so much earlier. He said he just wanted to spend some quality time with his wife.”

“Well, I hope she feels better by the time he’s looking for that special moment. She was kind of worn down when she left.”

“Are you sure she wasn’t just setting you up to ditch tonight so that she wouldn’t feel bad about it?” he asks.

“I don’t think so,” I respond. “It’s not impossible, but she was looking a little worse for wear and I suggested that she leave. She insisted on sitting in on Ebony’s interview to see if the feeling passed, but it didn’t. She said that the interview was more than she thought it would be and went home. I’m not going to dwell on it because I really don’t care. They can spend time alone if they want—it’s no big deal.”

“We may not have Al and James either. We don’t know how serious their situation is,” he reminds me.

“Well, then everyone will just have to tell us what they think of the segment when we hound them tomorrow,” I say with a shrug. I’m really looking forward to watching the segment as a spectator instead of with that watchful “Where’s the Boogeyman” eye, and I won’t let anything spoil it for me. I don’t care if it’s just me and Christian in the viewing room—I really want to see it in a relaxed state of mind this time.

“Well, good, then. There are quite a few things I need to put into motion before I can leave the office, but I promise I won’t overstay. Don’t be late coming home.”

“I won’t. I love you.”

“Love you, too.” I end the call and look over at Marilyn. She’s daydreaming.

“Earth to Mare,” I say. She looks over at me and snaps out of her trance. “What’s up?”

“Same thing,” she admits. “I’m going to have to face this soon, I’m just…” She trails off. “Not today… just, not today.”

I twist my lips but say nothing. I also agreed not to give her shit about it… today.

“So, who’s next on the interview circuit today?” I say, looking down at the resumes in my hand.

*-*

“He was more rudderless than anything, Jewel,” Al says to me. We’ve both made it back to the Crossing, and James is having a beer and conversation with Chuck, who’s sipping on a soda. I’m in the kitchen being utterly useless and picking at the fruit salad that I didn’t know would be part of tonight’s spread.

“When he sent me the text, I couldn’t even read it,” he says. “I knew I had to get to him because he wasn’t going to be able to tell me what was going on. He got a message from some guy in Arizona, but the message was cryptic.”

“Isn’t that where his mother lives?” I ask, popping a strawberry slice into my mouth.

“His entire family is down there. We weren’t even sure who called him, and we certainly weren’t sure why. But, Lord, when we found out…” We both look over at James who is continuing a more than civil conversation with Chuck.

“He looks pretty calm,” I point out.

Now,” Al stresses. “He was fit to be tied earlier. I had to put that magic touch on him to calm him down.” I giggle at his terminology.

“Why would he be so distraught about that news?” I ask. “Not to suggest that anyone should be glad that someone died, but…” says the woman who popped champagne when I heard that Edward David had hanged himself.

“It wasn’t that,” Al says. “I’m sure had this news been presented to him differently and the aftermath not been what it was, we would have seen quite the alternate reaction. First off, family didn’t call him—some stranger did. When they spoke to him, they initially made it seem like he had lost a loved one. Here he is preparing himself for the news that his mother or another immediate family member had died only to find that the one who did kick the bucket was the woman who had abused and raped him for years.”

Around five o’clock this evening, Al finally touched bases with me to tell me that he and James would definitely be at the viewing party as the “somebody who died” was none other than Debra Perkins—the live-in babysitter and not-so-honorary “aunt” who had a penchant towards young boys and molested James and other lads for several years in the basement of his mother’s home.

“Did anybody ever find out what that woman did?” I ask.

“His mother knew,” Al says in a deep, accusing voice. “She knew all along. I could tell when we went down there. I could see it in the way Debra avoided Chocolate and his mother pretended not to notice. I could tell in the way his mother snarled at me and tried to treat me like shit, but I wouldn’t let her. I could see it in the way that she looked at Jimmy…” He says the word with disdain, and I’m certain that someone else called him that while they were there. “She wouldn’t acknowledge that I was there as James’ companion and she kept referring to Debra like she was some old flame. That woman… Jesus, she just… I can’t even talk about her. That is still his mother.

“When he finally discovered who died, he was livid. He asked his mother who the fuck called him to tell him about that bitch’s death—his exact words. She started going on about his language and some shit about having more respect for the only woman he ever loved that way. James. Lost it. When I tell you he lost it, I mean he completely lost his shit. He blasted his mother out so badly about never believing him when he told her that Debra raped him. He accused her of feeding little boys to her like you feed ‘Puppy Chow’ to a dog. He let her have it for never accepting him for who and what he was and proudly informed her that he and I are now married. I could hear parts of her conversation and I heard her say that our marriage wasn’t real, and God doesn’t recognize it.”

I sigh. I’m surprised to find that a mother who would turn a blind eye to children being raped in her home would also turn out to be a homophobe. I know what the Bible says about homosexuality and as a Bible believer, I’m a firm proponent of “To Each His Own.” I just don’t get how you can clearly see and openly criticize homosexuality but turn a blind eye to pedophilia and rape, especially if one of the victims is your own child. She’s lucky James didn’t turn out to be a fucking serial killer!

“What did he say to that?” I ask.

“He said that it didn’t matter if God recognized it. We recognize it, the people who love us recognize it and now, so does the state, and that’s all that matters. He asked her how many boys she fed to Debra before Debra finally died. He asked her why she played blind to what Debra was doing and why she let the witch do it for so many years and in her own house. He told her that she may not have touched a single boy but that she’s just as guilty as Debra because not only did she do nothing to stop it, she facilitated it. He asked her how it felt to rape her own son for several years, and the conversation stopped right there.

“He was so upset that he cursed her as a woman and a mother and told her to never call him again. He had been carrying that for years and years and years and she knew it and never even acknowledged it. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I don’t know if he’ll ever recant what he said to her, but I know that he meant every word.”

He takes in a deep breath and lets it out like he’s trying to control himself.

“Boys didn’t tell. Most boys still don’t. They hide in that shame and try to pretend it never happened, but it follows them for the rest of their lives. They caught her… they caught her red-handed and still pretended it never happened, that James was just in the basement fucking his adult babysitter. And this… bitch… has the nerve to talk to him like he wasn’t there. Like this never happened to him.” Al shakes his head and closes his eyes. “He’ll be healing from that for life, and now all these years later, she calls him with news acting like his first love died. ‘Your rapist keeled over. Come back to Hell and honor her.’”

Al is so angry that he’s trembling. I grab his hands and try to help douse his fury. He holds his head down in a vain attempt to calm himself, but his curls are shaking terribly. I’m so focused on my best friend and brother that I don’t see James walking up beside him. He slides his arms protectively around his husband’s waist and gently kisses his temple several times. Al doesn’t release my hands but leans slightly into the kisses of his love.

“It’s over now, Allie,” James says softly. “It’s really over. She can’t hurt any more boys now. She’s walking hot coals in hell as we speak paying for the pain she caused on Earth several times over.”

Al lays his head on James’ chest. James gently cups his head and kisses his hair, and Al’s grip loosens. Christian chooses that moment to come barreling into the house like a freight train but stops cold when he sees the display at the breakfast bar. Al and James don’t react to his arrival, and Al is still gripping both my hands.

Christian pauses for a moment, then holds both hands up and open nodding at me, signaling that he’ll be ten minutes. I nod, and he goes back the way he came, most likely to the elevator to go to our room and freshen up.

Al finally loosens his grip and wraps his arms around himself so that one arm covers James’ arm around his waist. Silent tears stain his face as he appears to disappear into his husband’s embrace. We sit there for several minutes before Val and Keri appear in the family room with my babies.

My babies.

I rise from my perch at the breakfast bar, leaving James to comfort his husband. I know some may think it should be the other way around, but I know how Al feels. I know the feeling of wanting to wrap my fingers around the neck of the selfish and disgusting bitch that hurt my man and watch her die slowly and the anguish of knowing the pain that he must have felt at the times when he felt his most helpless.

Luckily, I don’t have to share the pain of him having to deal with a heartless mother through it all. I’ve got Carla, but that’s a whole different story.

“Give him to me,” I gently coax Keri. I need my son… my boy…

“Boys didn’t tell. Most boys still don’t…”

Keri puts my son in my arms and I look at his sweet face. Dear God, please don’t let that kind of harm come to my babies. I’ll kill a bitch that ever tries to harm my babies… ever!

I kiss Mikey solidly on his forehead and coo at his sweet, cherubic smile. I don’t know how much time I spend lost in my baby, but Christian has joined us, and Al has become his usual jovial self again.

“So, my Jewel is about to be a star,” he says. Let’s get this party started. Boss, I don’t pull punches, so I’ll tell you now. I feel a sick day coming on tomorrow. I’m in need of libations tonight.” Christian laughs.

“Will you also be needing your usual accommodations, sir?” Christian jests, referring to the guest room that’s always prepared for him. Al pauses.

“The night is young. I’ll keep you posted.” This means that unless James objects, we’ll be having additional house guests tonight.

“Okay, people,” Gail says garnering everyone’s attention. “Food and entertainment await. Let’s make our way to the theater room. The show will be starting in a few minutes.” We all start to file toward the theater room and Christian puts his hand in the small of my back.

“Is everything alright?” he asks. “Who died?”

“Debra,” I whisper. “The woman who…” I gesture my head towards James and Christian’s mouth forms an “o.”

“Al was busted up about that?” he asks, bemused.

“There’s a lot more that I have to tell you about it… after the party, okay?” He nods.

“Okay, baby.” He kisses my forehead, then kisses Mikey and we walk into the theater room.



UNKNOWN

Grey Crossing. That goddamn place is a fortress. That fucker doesn’t deserve all that money and comfort. What the fuck did he do—have a few garage sales with other people’s hard work and suddenly he’s the fucking bee’s knees. Bullshit. He’s nothing. He’ll find out soon enough just how worthless he really is.

Grey House. What kind of pretentious, over-compensating bullshit is this? Big, powerful man has a big glass building in downtown Seattle named after him. How fucking cliché can you get? None of this is nothing I didn’t already know, but seeing it spread out live and in living color shows just how much of a fucking joke he and his family really are—like the rest of the world really cares about this shit. Look at my mansion. Look at my really big building. Look at my money and power. You are truly a sad little man.

Now, we’re getting to the meat of things. That’s a pretty little wife you’ve got there. She’s fucking beautiful. Hmmm, half owner of Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc—that must be some dynamic pussy. I guess it must be. She fucked his weak ass and pulled out twins.

“I was Christian Grey. I was the orphan from the streets from Detroit who was granted a silver spoon—and there’s the rags to riches story I was trying to avoid.”

Orphan from the streets of Detroit—you pretentious little fuck. I took something from nothing and clawed my way to the top… Is that the story, Grey? Like fuck you did. You had shit handed to you and you took what you wanted. If your going to be a thief, at least be an honest thief.

One-hundred percent self-made billionaire… Kiss my ass! You’re hiding behind those fucking dollar signs, but you can’t hide forever.

giphyI drag off my cigarette and take a swig from my bottle, watching this asshole parade his money and woman and his presumed power all over the screen. He doesn’t even have the common sense to appear humble. He’s taunting his enemies and challenging his adversaries to try something. Why? Because he thinks his money will protect him. He’s fucking laughable!

And that hot wife with that big ass—she must’ve been chasing the money. Everything else in his fucking life is so ostentatiously overexaggerated and huge, his dick must be the size of a baby carrot. No way in hell he can land all that ass with a carrot dick.

“They actually have security, so I feel safe bringing my kids here. Dr. Ana started a self-defense class after she had her babies. I can’t do all the stuff that she does, but I can handle myself pretty well after taking her classes, such that I’m not afraid anymore.”

Aw, the sexy little bitch can throw a fist or two. Isn’t that special? And why am I not surprised that she’s the stereotypical charity wife? Nothing else to do but spend hubby’s money and pretend like she cares about worthy causes. Figures. I was surprised when that accident didn’t take her out last year, though. I was sure Grey was about to lose the supposed “jewel of his crown” when that car was T-boned. I swear, she must have fucking magic surrounding her. She was beat all to hell when she was a kid; she was kidnapped; her car was nearly split the fuck in two with her in it, and she’s still walking around like a fucking bug landed on her shoulder and she just brushed it off. I want to be mad at her, too, but every time I look at her, all I want to do it fuck her.

Hmm, she’s got her own place. Sublet my ass—she’s got a real dick squirreled away in there for when she feels the need to really be fucked. I’ll be your real dick, baby, show you how it’s really done.

This whole pretentious display is getting on my fucking nerves and I don’t even want to watch it anymore. I turn off the television and open my file on his ass—information that I’ve been gathering for years.

Yeah, I know about his adoption and his rich family, but I don’t give a fuck about them.

Every time I turn around, it’s Christian Grey bought this; Christian Grey did that; Christian Grey donated this; Christian Grey, philanthropist; Christian Grey, husband and father; Christian Grey, entrepreneur and billionaire; Christian Grey, most eligible bachelor lands girl next door, Christian Grey, Christian Grey, Christian fucking Grey!

Christian Grey, liar!
Christian Grey, coward!
Christian Grey, thief!
Christian Grey, fucking no good piece of shit!

His last adversaries disappeared without a trace—except for one. My guess is that they “sleep with the fishes,” and the one, he didn’t make out too well, either. That won’t be me, though. You thought you had problems before, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. I’m going to bring you to your knees, you little shit!


A/N: “I want my daddy’s records.”—It’s a black pop culture reference to an old episode of Sandford and Son. Fred donated some records to a music society of some kind, but when the artist died, the records became valuable and Fred wanted them back. The music society wouldn’t give them back, so he had to find a way to get them. Younger people may or may not know the reference, but it became a catchphrase with some of us old fogeys. I’ve included the clip on my Pinterest page.

FYI, the person talking at the end of this chapter is not the same person who was talking at the end of “Becoming Dr. Grey.”

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

The new question and answer thread is always open for questions about the story. be sure to read it and please adhere to the rules when asking questions. You can find it on the left, second from last in the menu our you can click HERE.

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 56—Back In The Saddle

This is my five-year anniversary on WordPress. That means that five years ago today, I decided to take my readers and get the hell off FanFiction and leave all their haterade behind. I lost a few readers since then, but I’ve gained more. Thank you all for hanging on for this wild ride with me.

There most likely will not be a chapter next week as I’m splitting my time between preparing to publish and updating, and I have to work next Saturday. We’ll have to play those working weekends by ear.

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

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

Chapter 56—Back In The Saddle

CHRISTIAN

“It came this morning,” Alex says, placing a bottle of 1964 Glinlivet Winchester single malt scotch on my desk. I’m just getting into the office on Friday morning and this is what greets me.

“It’s been scanned, and the bottle has been chemical-tested and tamper-inspected. It’s clean and intact.”

“Who’s it from?” I ask. He twists his lips.

“You should probably read the note. It’s been tested, too.” He hands me the note and I’m remiss to take it. He lays it out on my desk so that I can read it.

Mr. Grey,

I am not a man of apologies and I hope you can understand and respect that. I will concede, however, that my employee ghastly misspoke when he met with you earlier this week. You and I want the same thing—to rid ourselves of a certain pebble in our respective shoes. To that end, we are not rivals with nor subordinates to one another in any way.

What my employee was intended to relay is that it would be appreciated if my organization knew when you plan to visit the area. As you know, this problem has escaped solution to date on more than one occasion. As such, an unexpected visit may tend to flush out certain attempts at contact and possibly make an agreeable solution to our shared problem more viable. The notification is only a means to a mutual end, nothing more.

Please accept the enclosed token as a gesture of goodwill along with the sworn promise that, no matter what the prior implications, no harm will come to you or your family at the hands of my organization. You have my word. 

Russo

“Get the fuck outta here,” I say out loud. “So, how good is the word of a gangster?” I say, looking up at Alex. He shrugs.

“I don’t know, but I will say this. Aragon is his gopher—his messenger boy. Maybe a bit more than that, but I think you get the idea. He’s not going to make a move without his boss’ approval and when he left here, he was pissed. If Sunset had given him the go to take you out, he would have come back here and done it himself. I’ll also tell you this. With his organization and ability, he can’t afford attention. He’s got enough of that already. A hit on Christian Grey, billionaire and international businessman?” He whistles. “That’s way more attention that he wants. What’s more?” He picks up the bottle of liquor partially wrapped in high-end paper that previously came in a high-end box, “he’s certainly not going to try to wipe you out with a $25,000 bottle of single malt scotch made 50 years ago, sent with a letter with his signature on it, which can most likely be traced by its purchase. Take it how you want but, in my experience, he definitely means this as a peace offering.” I look at the bottle in Alex’s hand.

“Well, I ain’t drinkin’ it,” I say, looking at the note on my desk again.

“What should I do with it?” he asks. I really don’t know.

“Put it in the safe with the note,” I tell him. “Seal them both in plastic. I don’t know what else to do with it right now.” He nods and takes the bottle and the note with him before leaving my office. I mean really—what are you supposed to do with a $25,000 bottle of whiskey and an apology note from a gangster? What’s the protocol here? I’m not fucking versed on Mafia Etiquette 101.

I suddenly feel the need to watch Goodfellas or The Godfather or Casino or something.

“You got a love note from a gangster?” Jason says walking into my office.

“It appears that way,” I reply. Jason shakes his head.

“You pretty much tell his consigliere to fuck off and get lost and in response, he sends you a prized bottle of whiskey and a letter he personally signed.” He whistles.

“Should that mean something to me?” I ask.

“Yeah, it means that we should keep security tight,” he responds, “not crazy, but tight.” He takes a seat. “You were never in any danger of Sunset. I knew that. His messenger boy, I wasn’t so sure… until now. The way that he spoke to you on Tuesday, he didn’t have any fear of you, but he was upset that you didn’t have any reverence for him. That hothead could’ve taken you down in a minute. That was my concern. Now, Sunset is guaranteeing your safety. You’re not now, nor were you ever, in any danger from his organization. But make no mistake—you’re still in danger.”

“Why?” I ask. “From whom?”

“You’re bait, Boss. That’s what you’ve always been. You took down that asshole’s son. Russo is hoping that he comes for revenge himself. And when he does—when he rises from his hiding place—that’s when they plan to get him. But he knows that Myrick isn’t coming anywhere near you if you’re 50 guards deep. So, he wants you to do what you’ve been doing all along in the hopes of luring Myrick in. You’re in no more danger than you were before, but you are still in the same danger.”

“That’s why I want to find this fucker,” I tell him. “I need this to be over in the worst way. I need this man and everybody associated with him out of my life and I swear to God, the minute I see him coming, I’m going to put one right between his eyes.” Jason examines me.

“I believe you will.”

“Believe it!” I confirm. “He’s a dead man if he comes anywhere near me or my family, so he had better shoot first. Keep security as it is and find that asshole. You military geniuses come up with some way to smoke this bitch out. I’ve had enough of this shit. I don’t care what laws we break just find his ass!”

I knock something off my desk in my anger and begin to count. Jason has left the office by the time I’ve calmed down enough to get my day started.

*-*

I’ve wrapped up a meeting with my M&A team and decide to head down to the cafeteria for a late lunch. I order a grilled chicken sandwich and an endive salad and cranberry juice. When my food is ready, I plan to head back up to my office, but I spot Marlow toiling over some papers.

“What’s got you so perplexed?” I ask as I approach the table and put my tray down.

“The future,” he laments. I frown as I take a seat.

“Care to elaborate?” I say as I take a welcome bite of my chicken sandwich. He shrugs and sighs.

“Truth?” he says. “I’ve finally started getting some kind of social life, but this is my last year of high school, and I really have to start planning what I’m going to be doing. I really wanted to go away to college, but I want to stay close to GEH…”

“GEH can follow you wherever you go,” I tell him after I swallow my food. “We’re worldwide remember?”

“It’s not the same. You know that,” he says. “You’re my mentor. I’ve learned a lot from you and there’s more that I have to learn. I can’t get that hands-on experience that I want and need if I’m at school in Georgia or New England or upstate New York somewhere, but I must admit. Having GEH on your resume makes you look really good to the ivy league schools.”

At least he’s thinking big.

“But I’m finally making some friends… people that don’t look at me funny or treat me funny or try to meet you.” He rolls his eyes. “People who don’t think I’m not black enough… or too black. Girlfriends…”

“Girlfriends?” I ask. “Plural?” He shrugs.

“Nobody steady, just people I see. That’s why it’s plural. I haven’t settled in on anybody being a girlfriend and they know that. I’m no Tiger Woods, don’t get me wrong, but I have a few.”

“I hope you’re using protection,” I say, tucking in to my endive salad. Marlow twists his lips.

“Have we met?” he asks. “Do you really need to ask that question?” I didn’t, but nonetheless…

“Then there’s Mom and Maggie. I’m the man of the house and I’m just not comfortable leaving them alone yet…”

“Scratch that off your list,” I say. “You told me that your mom was seeing someone, and you can’t stay home and be the man of the house for the rest of your life. You’re going to have to be the man of your own home one day. Besides, your mom still has security details since that crazy ex-husband of hers isn’t dead yet.” I take another bite of my sandwich.

“That’s easier said than done,” he says. “Mags is still so young…”

“Stop making excuses,” I interrupt, my mouth full. “Choose the college that’s best for you. Remember this, though,” I swallow my food. “Washington has some good local colleges if you just want to stay in the state. You’ve got U-Dub, Washington State, the directional colleges, Seattle Pacific…” He nods.

“Yeah… I really think that’s what I want to do, for a lot of reasons. I’ll have plenty of time to travel. Now’s just not the time for me.” I raise a brow at him.

“Don’t get too attached,” I tell him. “You’re young, and life is going to take you in a lot of different directions. Working for me is going to take you in a lot of different directions. Your roots aren’t set yet—you have no idea where you want to go. Don’t cling to one thing too much until it’s time… and it ain’t time yet.”

I finish my lunch and talk to Marlow a bit longer about his plans. He knows that he has an ongoing internship here with me, and I’m priming him to do big things in GEH someday, but he’s going to have to decide exactly what he wants to do with his future. He may decide that he doesn’t want to work for me, and that’s fine—as long as he’s successful and doesn’t take any of my trade secrets to other companies.

I’m just getting back to the office when Andrea informs me that Smalls is on line two. I had completely forgotten about Pops’ storage bins until this moment as I was totally preoccupied with getting Windsor over to Aunt Tina’s, making sure that the covert watches were on Kenneth Carter and Roger Servant—yes, I discover that is really his last name—and pondering the “make-up” gift sent to me by one “solar” gangster in the Detroit area. I point to my office, indicating that I’ll take it at my desk.

“What do you have for me, Smalls?” I ask.

“We’ve identified the cars and gotten them all started. I’ve taken better pictures of them and sent them to your uncle at his request. He says that he wants to do a little research on them before sending the deets to you and his brothers. We were able to catalogue the items that were in the storage units with the cars and we’re working on the other two. We’re trying to put the cars in units by themselves, but it may require securing another unit for the extra items that were stored with the cars.”

“Talk to Herman about that,” I advise. “See if that’s something that can be done. How soon before we get the rest of the items catalogued? This is going on much longer than I expected.”

“End of the day, maybe,” he says. “It may go into Monday, unless you want us to work on Saturday.”

“I had no intention of you being here this long as it is. Wrap this up as soon as possible and let us know what’s in those units so my father and brothers can dispose of it how they want.” Money isn’t an issue, but it’s beginning to cost me more than this trip is worth for that crew to be there cataloguing items that should have been done in a couple of days. Now, he’s saying they may be there over the weekend.

“Yes, sir,” he says, noting my agitation. “I’ll get it done.”

“Thank you,” I reply before abruptly ending the call. This shouldn’t be taking this long. One storage bin, then two, then riddles, then four, then cars that won’t start, then six. Now, we have to work through the weekend. Geez, this is ridiculous. Do I have to fly back to that hellhole and get this done myself?

*-*

I’m at my dad’s house looking over his shoulder at his computer monitor. Uncle Stanley asked that we all be together when he called with details about the cars, so I came straight here after work. Williams brought me out to the Manor while Jason went back to the Crossing to have the past due conversation with my wife that he and I had discussed last week. I wanted to go home with him, but he assured me that my presence wouldn’t really help the situation right now and told me to go to my father’s but come home immediately after. He thinks that Butterfly will understand. I’m not so sure based on the report that she’s currently decimating a heavy bag and has been for a couple of hours now. However, remembering a black eye from my first encounter with that delicate little flower and a heavy bag, I take Jason’s advice and go to my father’s.

“He’s being dramatic,” Dad says about Uncle Stan as we wait for his email. “Just send the damn email and let’s get this going.”

“You know Stan,” Uncle Herman says, “Not many opportunities for the spotlight. He’s going to take advantage of this one…”

The brothers continue to rib their youngest sibling when Uncle Herman’s phone rings.

“Stan, come on, man. We don’t have all night,” Uncle Herman answers. Simultaneously, Dad’s email shows an incoming message. He opens it and they begin to examine the contents as Uncle Herman puts Uncle Stan on speaker. Dad opens the email and clicks on the attachment. It’s a PowerPoint presentation.

“PowerPoint, Stan?” Uncle Herman scolds. “This is what took you so damn long?”

“Trust me, brother, you’ll see that it’s worth it,” Uncle Stan says. They start the presentation and pictures of the first car begin to scroll over the screen. The first one is the Mustang—1969 Mach Fastback, cherry red with a white stripe with black leather interior.

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“God,” Uncle Herman says, “that’s even prettier than I thought it would be.”

Picture after picture scrolls over the screen of this classic automobile, completely refurbished. The stats for the Mustang appear on the screen once 16 or so pictures from every angle stop scrolling—4-speed transmission, 4-barrel carb, clean like it was brand new—even the engine. Current value, $28,500.

“Shit,” Dad says. “And there’s four of them?”

“I take it you guys just saw the Mustang,” Uncle Stan says.

“You take it correctly,” I reply.

“Well, sit back, gentlemen. There’s three more.

“Excellent presentation, Uncle Stan,” I say, knowing that his brothers are a bit too dumbfounded to speak.

“Thank you, nephew,” Uncle Stan replies. “I’m glad somebody appreciates my work.”

“Shit!” Dad exclaims. “It can’t be!”

We look back at the screen to see what has Dad all a-flutter. A black cherry classic comes across the screen and I can’t tell you anything about it except that it’s really old.

“Is that a Coup?” Dad says in awe while pointing at the car on the screen. “That’s not a Coup, is it? Is that a five-window Coup?” Uncle Herman looks at the screen and examines the vehicle.

“We have to wait until the end and see,” Uncle Herman says.

“Yeah, Rick, that’s a Coup,” Uncle Stan confirms. Dad puts his hand over is mouth. About nine pictures of this classic vehicle with shiny chrome accessories and black leather scroll across the screen and my dad doesn’t even blink.

1932 Ford Five-Window Coup,” Uncle Herman reads when the pictures are done. “Yeah, that’s what it is.” Automatic transmission in the floorboard, 350-crate engine with a dual carb 671 blower and estimated 600 horsepower. Current value, $78,000.

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“Shit,” Dad hisses and he’s silent for several moments. “That’s the first model car me and Dad ever put together.”

“Really?” Uncle Herman says in awe. “Then it’s yours. Any objections, Stan?”

“None here,” Uncle Stan replies.

Dad looks over at Uncle Herman and simply covers his mouth again. His eyes are glassy, and he’s struck dumb for a moment.

“Thank you,” he whispers when he finds his words. “Thank you so much.”

“I’m certain Dad would have wanted you to have it,” Uncle Herman says. “It’s too much of a coincidence.”

Dad just nods, hiding his face from me and Uncle Herman. It’s no doubt that he’s crying.

“Give us just a minute, Stan,” Uncle Herman says, reaching over to the computer and pausing the PowerPoint. It takes a little more than a moment for Dad to pull it together, but he does, and I can tell that he’s still fighting with his emotions.

“You’re a pussy, Rick,” Stan teases, trying to lighten the mood when Dad stops crying.

“Fuck off, Stan,” Dad jibes back, reaching for the mouse and clicking to continue the slideshow. Next, we see a blue and white, square convertible straight out of American Graffiti.

“What is that?” Uncle Herman asks. “’57 Chevy?”

“Chevy, Herm? Seriously?” Dad chastises. “Dad’s rolling over in his grave.” Uncle Herman raises his brow. I know he wants to comment that Pops isn’t in a grave—I can see it all over his face—but he gets the idea. Technically, he is, he’s just been cremated before he was interred.

“Blasphemy, Herm, it’s a Fairlane!” Uncle Stan chides.

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“A Fairlane?” Uncle Herman laughs. “Do you know I actually thought those cars were jokes?” he adds.

“You’re kidding, right?” Uncle Stan says mirthlessly.

“No. You remember the movie The Adventures of Ford Fairlane? I thought that was just the guy’s name. I didn’t think the car was real.”

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“And you call yourself a Ford man,” Uncle Stan retorts. “Dad really is rolling over in his grave now.”

“Okay, it’s a car, Stan. It’s not the solution to world peace or the cure for cancer. Lighten up…”

As my uncles argue the attributes of the Ford Fairlane, I continue to watch the slideshow until the specs sheet pops up. It’s not as cherry as the other cars, but it’s in amazingly good condition. It’s a colonial white 1959 Ford Fairlane/Galaxy 500 Skyliner with a retractable hard top, original police interceptor 352ci V8 engine with 300 horsepower, and a 3-speed automatic transmission. It has blue tuck and roll seats and comes complete with a white leather steering wheel; red, white, and blue aluminum hub caps, and wide whitewall tires. Current value, $39,000.

Uncle Herman finally cedes the argument to Uncle Stan, informing him that he wasn’t bad-mouthing the car. He just didn’t know that it was a real car. As it turns out, Uncle Herman likes this car more than the other two cars he’s already seen. He says it reminds him of making out in the back seat at the park.

TMI, Uncle Herman.

“Now, that’s pretty,” Dad says. Our attention is drawn back to the computer screen and the final car.

“That’s a T-Bird,” Dad says. “I’d know that car anywhere. That was my first car.” Uncle Herman looks at Dad.

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“Do you think Dad meant for you to have this one?” he asks. Dad twists his lips.

“I don’t think so,” he says. “Look at that car. That’s a kid’s car. Besides, I prefer the Coup.” I look at the pictures of the truly pimped-out Thunderbird scrolling across the screen.

“What makes you think that’s a kid’s car?” I ask Dad, curious.

“I’m not saying a 16-year-old kid, but a responsible twenty-something. Look at it,” Dad says, pointing to the screen. “It’s probably in better condition than when it first rolled off the showroom floor—black exterior so black, it looks like it has six clear-coats on it. Purple lighting kit—purple, gentlemen! White leather interior with purple piping. This car would scream overcompensation for anybody over 40 years old.”

“I have to agree with Dad,” I interject. “I’m a young billionaire, and that would scream overcompensation for me, and not in the penile sense that I’m sure my father means it.

The gentlemen all laugh as we continue to observe the 21 pictures that Uncle Stan compiled of the Thunderbird. Pops must have really liked purple—purple suspension, purple-accented engine, purple trim, and when Dad said purple light kit, I don’t think he knew the light kit is inside and outside the car. To me, this car would scream overcompensation at any age.

“It’s a beautiful car…” Dad says, trailing off, his voice having that but tone to it.

“Yeah,” Uncle Herman says, his voice carrying the same tone.

The specs sheet is way too much to read on this one, but skimming through it, I catch that it’s a 1964 Thunderbird convertible retractable with a 5.0 coyote 430 horsepower upgradeable engine and a 6R80 transmission. There are too many upgrades in this car to even mention and Dad’s right—it most likely looks much better than it did when it rolled off the showroom floor. It’s a classic car, but it’s been completely modernized without losing its classic appeal. Current value, $95,000.

“Hmm…” Uncle Herman says and trails off.

“What is it?” Dad says, examining my uncle’s expression.

“Four cars,” Uncle Herman says. “Four sons.” Uncle Stan makes a disbelieving “pst” sound in the phone. Nobody says anything for several seconds as Uncle Herman drops his head in contemplation.

“I’m not giving him one of those cars,” Uncle Herman says finally. The other brothers know who he’s talking about and they both remain silent as Herman raises his head. “Call me a terrible person, but I’m not giving him a car. That may have been Dad’s original intention, but I don’t think he’d want me to do that now.”

“What do you plan to do, keep the extra car?” Uncle Stan asks. Uncle Herman shakes his head.

“What am I going to do with two classic cars?” He scratches his beard in contemplation.

“Sell it?” Dad suggests.

“No way in hell I’m selling Dad’s car.” He continues contemplation. “If Freeman were to pick one of those cars, which one do you think he would pick?”

“He’d want that T-Bird, hands down,” Dad says. “The other cars are nice in their own right, but that T-Bird—he’d physically fight us to get that car.” Herman nods.

“Then the T-Bird goes to Burtie,” he says. “Any objections?”

“Yeah, Burtie,” Dad says in that “Eureka!” kind of way. “Freeman’s going to piss tar. That’s gonna eat him up! Yeah, no objections here.”

“You got my vote,” Stan says, “but can I keep the Mustang?”

The brothers laugh.

Dad, Uncle Stan, and Uncle Herman wrap up the call and I make a mental note to call Lanie and talk to her about Burt getting Pops’ T-Bird. Once I’ve sent myself reminders to arrange the shipment of the three cars to their respective locations—two to Seattle and one to California—I notice that my father has disappeared. I wander the house looking for him a bit, then find him outside in the backyard on the infamous advice bench. I exit the French doors and begin walking over to him. Even in the dark, I can tell that he’s crying—weeping in fact, as his body is shaking pretty violently.

“Dad?” I say, concerned as I approach cautiously.

“I miss him,” Dad chokes. “I miss him so much. I never thought anything could hurt this badly. God, it hurts so much.” His body shakes with sobs as he mourns.

I sit down next to my father. I don’t know what to say to comfort him because although I’ve filled my time with so many other crises and issues to the degree that I haven’t thought much about Pops, I miss him, too—especially in quiet time. I wipe a tear that has escaped from my eye and sit next to my father.

“I know, Dad,” I say, trying to steady my voice. I hate to see my father cry. His breakdowns have been huge—deep, heart-wrenching weeping and mournful sobbing fits. I saw him cry once before like this—at my breakfast bar at Escala when the full realization of what the pedophile had done to me finally sunk in and he hadn’t done anything to prevent it, not that he could have. He was broken just like he is now; just like he is anytime he has to handle something that deals with Pops. I can imagine that this is how I would be if something happened to him.

I put my arms around his shoulders and try to comfort him. It has the opposite effect. He crumbles into a ball and nearly falls off the bench, his sobs more woeful than before. He’s utterly grief-stricken and I have to catch him before he hits the ground. I sit there, holding and crying with my father on a chilly fall night, as he weeps the cries of the truly broken.

*-*

I’m exhausted when I get back to the Crossing. I don’t know how Butterfly deals with everyone’s emotions all the time like this. Just dealing with Dad has completely wiped me out. Then again, I can imagine that my wife doesn’t fall into crying fits when she deals with people either.

I can tell the house has just shut down. The sink is still damp—Ms. Solomon’s last wipe-down before bed. I wonder how Windsor is doing at Tina’s. I must say that his absence was felt when I came in the door tonight.

I go to the kitchen and retrieve a cranberry-apple juice from the refrigerator. Brandy has been my go-to drink on hard nights and I think I need to lay off for a while. I take several large swallows of the refreshing drink before walking into the dark family room and falling onto the sofa like a sack of potatoes. I’m so tired. Crying is exhausting.

I fire off an email to Lanie with a picture of the Thunderbird, telling her to show it to Burtie and ask if he wants it. She’ll see it in the morning.

I’m just laying my head back on the sofa when the lights come on. I look around the room to find Butterfly in her recliner with the remote to the lights in her hand. Why in the hell is she sitting here in the dark?

“I couldn’t sleep,” she says as if in answer to my question. “You’re late.” She stands from her chair and walks over to me, her face falling as she approaches. “And your eyes are swollen. You’ve been crying! Why have you been crying?” She stands protectively over me, and I simply evade the question.

“I’ve convinced my father to get grief counseling,” I say, “He hasn’t really dealt with Pops’ death completely and it’s becoming too much for him to handle.” She frowns, but quickly recovers.

“I imagine so,” she says. “With Grace’s breakdown so soon after Burt’s funeral, he hasn’t had time to grieve the loss or recoil from it. That has to be pretty rough on him… and you.”

I raise my gaze to her and the light hurts my eyes, so I deflect my gaze and she sits next to me. The truth is… I’m just tired. I’m tired of being the know-all businessman. I’m tired of being the problem-solver. I’m tired of being the rescuer, the righter of wrongs, the “make-it-all-better” guy. I’m tired in so many ways that I can’t even explain how many ways that I’m tired. I’m the fix-it man, the “find-the-bad-guy” man, the “chase-away-the-Boogey” man—and when my Dad started crying, all I could do was cry with him. I feel the pain of loss like he does… but not. I miss Pops… a lot, but my dad is still alive. The great Christian Grey can’t pull out his trusty Amex Black and fix this one. I’m just tired. Some days, this fucking superman cape is hard to wear, and today, I’m just tired.


ANASTASIA

How do you deal with your own crises when everyone else’s crises seem so prevalent? Marilyn, Harmony, Christian, the world… is this innate in my nature or a result of being a shrink? I came home in speechless tears yesterday, wailing on a heavy bag until every part of my body ached, and finally accepted the fact that I’m suffering from PTSD brought on by the shock and pain of Christian’s disappearing act but most likely aggravated by all the bad things that have happened to me—who wouldn’t have PTSD after living with Carla and all the subsequent bad shit that has happened to me? After a long soak in a very hot jacuzzi tub, I go to the family room to wait for my MIA husband and to ponder my situation and course of action in darkness and silence. When he gets home, he looks like shit, and he’s been crying.

Who can ignore that?

Suddenly, my problems which had been consuming all my thoughts seconds before didn’t seem so prevalent anymore. Get him undressed, get him to bed, massage his scalp until he falls asleep. We’ll tackle whatever this is in the morning. It’s too late to deal with it now… though his fingers were tapping madly on his screen in the dark and I’d like to know what that was about. Nonetheless, not two minutes after the scalp massage begins, he’s fast asleep—hard—on my stomach. I fall asleep shortly thereafter.

He’s snoring hard when I climb out of bed and come to check on the children. Keri and Gail are preparing them for their morning bath, and I decide that today is probably another good day to spend with the twins. Jason let the contractor in to get started on the shelves and painting of my office, and I almost instinctively call Marilyn to discuss… whatever, until I remember that she’s off until Monday on a mission to check her attitude. I’ve decided that if she ever gets her shit together, I’ll put her on the task of finding out who’s real and who’s fraud on my family tree. If she doesn’t, well, who the fuck knows what’s going to happen.

I forgot to tell Christian that the contractor was coming to do my office today. It’s just a matter of revamping the shelves behind my desk and doing a little paint. Maybe he’ll be finished before too long. In the meantime, I go to the kitchen and prepare breakfast for us—pancakes, bacon, sausage, eggs, buttery and cheesy grits, coffee, juice, and toast. I load it onto the food cart and go to the elevator.

He seems to be stirring a bit when I open the door. That’s good. I really didn’t want to have to wake him for breakfast. He says that he had planned to go for a run, but upon seeing breakfast, admits that a change of plan never hurt. He’s in better spirits this morning as we eat in bed, telling me about the contents of Burt’s storage units, including four very expensive classic cars, one of which prompted another seriously emotional breakdown from Carrick.

During the course of the conversation, he tells me that he sent an email to Lanie last night about one of the cars, which answers my question about the typing in the dark. He also informs me of the olive branch he received from a certain Detroit gangster. Jason’s theory of the situation, as explained by Christian, put a few of my fears to rest, but still makes me feel quite uneasy about the situation at hand—a situation that really hasn’t changed from a week ago.

“I agree to the current security situation,” I tell him, “but shouldn’t I know what this asshole looks like? In case he approaches me to get to you?”

A visible chill goes through my husband as he agrees that I should be able to identify Myrick.

“I’ll get you information on him before the end of the day,” he says. We finish our breakfast, then indulge in a shower and a midmorning quickie before we go and get our children.

“Jason told me that I have PTSD,” I tell him as Minnie plays with a plush toy in my lap and Christian entertains Mikey on the playmat.

“How do you feel about that?” he asks, raising his eyes to me. I sigh.

“In light of my reactions to certain events and the trauma that I experienced through all this, I tend to think he may be right,” I admit, avoiding eye-contact with my husband. I can feel the air suddenly become a bit thick.

“So… what now?” he asks.

“Right now, we’re going the talking route,” I reply.

“To Jason?” he asks. “Jason’s going to be your shrink now?”

“To anybody,” I tell him, “to whomever will listen when I hear the voice of doom. And I wonder why my shrink didn’t think of this… PTSD, I mean. We could have formulated a treatment plan by now.”

“You know very well why he didn’t approach you with that,” he replies. “You became borderline violent the last time someone suggested that you were suffering from it, and I’m sure you told him about it.”

“Yes, but if that really is what I’m suffering from, avoiding the diagnosis isn’t going to help anything,” I protest.

“So, now, you do realize that the man is ‘damned if he do and damned if he don’t,’ right?” Christian points out. God, I hate when he’s this fucking logical.

“Maybe he did tell me,” I admit, “in so many words, just not outright. He sure didn’t hesitate in calling me suicidal.”

“What?” Christian says sharply enough to make the babies jump. Minnie’s looking at him like, “What the hell, Dad?” while Mikey gives him a “Dude, seriously?” stare.

“Okay, he didn’t say that I was going to kill myself. He just called me a shark’s tooth.” Christian squints his eyes and furrows his brow in confusion. “You had to be there; I can’t explain it. He’s trying tough love on me, but as a professional, I really don’t think it’s working.”

“Is that why you destroyed the heavy bag yesterday?” he asks, pulling his wandering son closer to him on the playmat. I nod.

“I’m not sure if what he was saying really helped me, but it pissed me off. I’m beating myself up enough for not being able to snap my fingers and overcome this situation without also being beat up by my shrink.” He nods.

“So… now you just talk.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“Well, there are two professional treatments for PTSD—psychotherapy and medication. Hopefully, I’m not so bad off that I need medication…”

“Do you think you are?” he asks. “I mean, you are a professional.”

“I’m also not objective. This isn’t happening to someone close to me, this is happening to me. So, I’m not really the one to ask about that, but I’m a huge proponent of psychotherapy, as you already know. So, I’m going to go with cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure.”

“Okay, and those are…?” he asks.

“CPT is going to help me understand and deal with exactly how events changed my way of thinking and my feelings. ‘Something bad happened and the Boogeyman is coming to get me’ is not a logical thought process. That’s where prolonged exposure—or talking to whomever will listen—comes in. That’s where I keep talking about situation and about my thoughts and my feelings so that I can gain some control over them and they’re no longer upsetting. I’m going to start journaling again, too, for those times when no one is there to listen.”

“Butterfly, I’ll always be there to listen,” he says somberly.

“No, you won’t,” I say. “What if it’s 11 o’clock in the morning and you’re in a meeting? Or it’s the dead of night and I wake from a bad dream? There are going to be those times when I have to have my journal, and the people around me who claim to love me are going to have to understand that they might be mini-therapist throughout this time. It’s that simple.” He nods.

“You got all this from your conversation with Jason?” he asks.

“I got some of this from my conversation with Jason. The rest I had to get on my own.” He nods but says nothing. “What is it?” I prod.

“I want…” he starts but trails off, sighing and shaking his head. “I want to say or do something that’ll make this all go away. I know I’ve apologized numerous times, but had I known… had I had any idea that this…” He trails off again unable to finish his sentence. He doesn’t look at me while he’s talking. He looks at Mikey, and I’m afraid that he’s going to start crying again. The funny-not-so-funny thing about crying is that once the damn bursts, it’s hard if not impossible to plug it again.

“One thing that useless shrink of mine did make me swallow,” I say softly while stroking Minnie’s hair. “Once something has happened, it’s happened. You can’t undo it and you can’t take it back, but it’s important not to live in it. You have to move on—promise to do better and not make the same mistakes. There’s really nothing else you can do. It’s a tough commitment as memories are hard and sometimes impossible to erase, but sometimes, what’s done is done, and we just have to find a way to let go and move on. And I’m trying… I’m doing my best… You should, too.”

He raises his eyes to me and they’re glassy, but no tears fall.

“I’m sorry, Butterfly,” he squeaks, dropping his gaze again.

“I know,” I say. “I forgive you. Forgive me, too… and yourself.” He doesn’t respond.

Forgetting is the problem, not forgiving.

*-*

I never realized how large my office was until it was empty. It’s pretty ginormous. Apparently, I must have felt the need to fill every bit of space in here when we first moved in, because you would never know that there was so much room in here until it was empty. It could also be that the imposing wood shelves are gone, replaced by a stylish and delicate glass shelving system on a greenish-gray backdrop. The space is brighter and lighter, and I’m glad that Luma and I chose natural textures and fibers to outfit the room.

We spend Saturday with our babies, but Sunday, I spend putting my office together. Between the house staff and some of the security personnel, the furniture is organized in a couple of hours and the boxes are unpacked. I meticulously decide what stays and what goes in terms of décor, books, and accessories. It’s time to get rid of the large, chunky pieces and the books that I never read that can also be donated to the Center.

My office at home is a bit sleeker than the office at work. Although the chunky, space-hogging furniture has been replaced with natural straw rugs, a wicker coffee table and ottoman combination, natural fiber light fixtures and lamps, and a woven basket or box here or there, the glass shelves have been filled with contemporary metal, steel, and glass décor as well as strategically placed books with white or bright earth-tone colors—including my new set of journals. Soft, textured curtains with stylish drawbacks line the bookshelves while Antigua Froth rolling shades allow the light to bathe the room from the floor-to-ceiling windows.

The once almost-mission-style seating area has been transformed with the round wicker coffee table that holds four white incognito triangular ottomans, flanked by two white tufted chairs with a matching chaise across from them. The chairs and the chaise are arguably the bulkiest pieces in the room and would normally look out of place as they are made for a more formal setting. However, the wicker coffee table with the white ottoman cushions help to tie the tufted furniture, straw rugs, and other natural fibers together. The combination is eclectic and amazingly compatible at the same time.

I take a moment or two to admire my work once everything is in its place, and I’m loving the fact that I can have my retractable shades open to half-mast and watch the sun setting over the lake. When it appears that my work is done, I take some time to break in my new set of journals. Meditation and yoga are still on the menu to help keep me grounded, but when I’m floundering, it’s going to take the journals and talking.

I start my first entry by describing how I felt the day I realized that my husband had left me. Even now, I’m not really sure when that happened. I know that he left on that Wednesday night after he found me with Liam in the community room, but I don’t know if I knew that he left me that Friday when he wouldn’t answer my calls after two days of trying or that Sunday when I realized he had blocked my cell number. They were both harrowing days for me. I remember feeling like the bottom was falling out from under my world that Friday, and then actually feeling that bottom fall away that Sunday. So, I elaborate on both days.

I move from my desk onto the floor of the sitting area and use the coffee table to write on. Before I know it, I’m pouring my heart out about the bridge and the window seat in the nursery. I wipe away a tear or two when I remember how I felt sitting in that window and waiting—and hoping—for an Audi. I remember giving up hope and trying to focus on the twins… but not, because I still sat in that window. I still sit in it now sometimes, only I have no idea what I’m looking for when I’m looking out that window, watching and waiting.

I remember losing my senses and driving to that lookout point with a bottle of whiskey. That was truly a dumb thing to do. So many other bad things could have happened and I’m only just now realizing how tragic that whole thing really could have been. Then the whole disaster at the hospital and nearly ending up in the psyche ward. Geez, that would have been a stellar gossip-rag headline! I still don’t know how we managed to keep my fall out of the press.

I keep writing, because I can’t seem to find the appropriate words to describe the pain that I felt during that time—seething, burning, agonizing, unbearable, abysmal, like someone was slowly cutting off my limbs with a dull butter knife—nothing seems to adequately capture the way that I was feeling. It was one of the darkest times of my life. It seems so long ago and yet, it feels like yesterday. That’s why it’s so hard to let go… because it hurt so badly.

A gentle knock on my open office door causes me to raise my head. My husband is looking around the room in awe, and I’d forgotten that he didn’t know what kind of transformation had taken place in this room.

“You did all this in one day?” he asks incredulously.

“It was more like four days,” I say, closing my journal and deciding that there were no more synonyms for excruciating that I would find tonight. “I, um, took a page from Grace’s book… picked my colors, picked a look, and ordered the furniture. It wasn’t as hard as planning my office at work.”

“Your office used to look so… full. Now, it doesn’t. It looks more open and… airy.”

“You’re struggling to be PC. Let me help you. My office was sophisticated—neat, professional—but it was cluttered… chock full of stuff. Now, it looks more relaxing, more inviting.”

“Yeah,” Christian says, still looking around the room in awe. “It’s… brighter in here…”

“Less encumbering,” I assist.

“Yeah,” he replies before bringing his gaze to me. “You missed dinner.”

I figured it was kind of late, but not that late.

“I was journaling,” I admit. “The first entry, it… sets the tone, so to speak.” I arise from the floor and close my journal. Walking behind my desk, I put it on the bookshelf with the others.

“What did you do with all your books?” he asks. Not about the furniture, not about the huge makeover of the bookshelves, the books. He’s searching for conversation.

“I’m donating them to start a library at Helping Hands,” I say, turning around to face him. He nods, still looking around the room.

“Can you do my office?” he asks. My eyes widen. What?

“You want your office to look like this?” I ask, amazed.

“Yeah,” he says. “Well, no,” he retracts, shaking his head quickly like he’s shaking off a bad thought. “My office at work has various colors and a lot of white—sleek lines… it doesn’t look like the space is closing in on you, but that’s because of the corner office and the glass walls. The only windows in my office are behind me, and I can’t really see them. You’ve made it look like Sunday morning in here, literally, and that’s a lot to say after nightfall. My office has all the Oxford-ness—the heavy woods and dark atmosphere…”

Jesus, I don’t think he understands what must be done to lighten that room and still stay in sync with Christian Grey. The room is all dark. The natural lighting is almost nonexistent. He has a large, dark marble fireplace sitting between the only two medium-sized windows in the room. We would either have to rip out the fireplace or cover it with lighter marble. Does he ever even use that fireplace? If we decide that we’re not going to use it, we have to cap off the gas line. Demo, capping, too much trouble.

The fireplace stays.

We would need to get rid of the chunky furniture and the big, imposing chunks of architecture. Keep some of the bookshelves and lose some? The window coverings would have to be pale or non-existent. The bookshelves would have to be painted or completely rebuilt, just like mine. We’re definitely not ripping up that flooring, but there would need to be some area rugs to break up that dark marble.

And light! He needs more light. It would need to be track lighting or recessed lighting, and track lighting tends to look so damn tacky.

Recessed lighting with solar bulbs…

“That’s a massive undertaking, Christian,” I warn. “Your office is completely dark, and to lighten it, the space would end up totally different than it is now. Lighting changes, textures and materials, we still want it to look masculine…”

“You had an idea in mind for how you wanted your space to look. I don’t expect for my transformation to take a week. It’s okay if it takes a month or two—although I’d like to be able to use my space…”

“Which means that no work can begin in there until we have a solid idea…” which is what I did in my office. We could utilize the French Doors between the den and the office to take advantage of the natural light from the den…

“Let me give it some thought,” I tell him. “I’m sure I can come up with something that you like… as long as you give me time.” He smiles.

Take all the time you need.”

That’s exactly what I intend to do.

*-*

“Dad is coming to my office today with Harmony,” Christian says at breakfast on Monday morning. “We’re having a powwow today about the divorce and whatnot.” I raise my brow.

“Do you have some kind of plan in mind for her loser husband?” I ask, chomping away on eggs benedict.

“We’ve got plans, but I don’t know how they’re going to play out just yet,” he says. “This entire thing made me consider all the people who have something to lose—or gain, from Tina’s death. Windsor called me yesterday and apprised me of how the house was run before Roger left. It was… not a happy place to work. He’s finding proof that Roger was skimming off Tina’s money when it came time to pay bills or buy groceries or necessities for the mansion, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. His cash cow is completely dead, and if she so chooses, Tina can totally sue for embezzlement.

“Not only that, but the moment the doctors announce time of death, Tina’s children that currently have no time for her, along with nieces, nephews, and any other relatives who come up out of the woodwork, are going to swoop in and try to clean her house out, if they don’t try to put Harmony out of the house completely. So, we need to do something about that. To that end, Allen will sit in on our meeting and we’re going to Skype with Tina and her lawyer at Tina’s house to come up with possible solutions.” I shake my head.

“Shouldn’t her will take care of all of this?” I ask. “I mean they can’t just come in and start laying claim to her shit if she has a will.”

“Yes, they can,” Christian corrects me. “If they show up at that house and push Harmony out of the way, who’s to stop them from physically taking whatever the fuck they want? They’re Tina’s children, too. So, we’re trying to make sure that there’s a way that we can legally prevent them from doing something like that. Once we get that in place, my security team will take care of the physical part.”

“Geez, what a mess,” I comment. “If our children behave this way when we’re gone, I’m going to come back and haunt them for eternity.” I finish my breakfast and take a drink of my coffee. “I’m going down to my office now, and don’t worry. I’ll be going into Helping Hands a little later today. We have some new volunteers and some interviews that need to be conducted for key positions to get ready for the new semester next spring.” I give him a kiss.

“Since I’ve been deemed your new interior decorator, I want you to think about colors and textures that make you comfortable—or uncomfortable. I’m going to do this how I think you’ll like it, but a bit of your input might help.”

“Do whatever you want, Butter…” he begins.

“Oh, no, Grey,” I interrupt. “You’re not going to put all this off on me. Colors or textures that you definitely don’t want in the office. That’s all I need since the task seems so daunting.” I kiss him again, on his forehead this time, and head down to my office. “Have a good day, Dear.”

Courtney emails me that she and the staff are getting the volunteers sorted while Grace is preparing for the interviews that we have this afternoon. We’re still waiting for background checks on two of the applicants, but we see no harm in getting the interviews out of the way since the preliminary background checks are already done. Security will, of course, be a little beefed up, but not so that those who aren’t in the know would see anything different than usual.

We’ve decided that an inhouse maintenance team is definitely the way to go. So, we’ll be doing a hiring campaign for that. Our cleaning contract with Clean It Up for You is up for renewal in January and we’ll look to be filling positions for a handyman and staff around that time. To that end, we’ll need to review the proposals soon submitted for insurances by the various benefits coordinators that Grace and Harmony spoke with last week.

I must admit that I’m almost excited to let that Sherwood cow know that her days are numbered. As far as I’m concerned, her company never did come up to the expectations they should have after they dropped the ball charging us for areas that they never cleaned. Handing them their walking papers will be one of life’s little joys for me.

Our special airs tonight, so we’re having Vee and Josh over to view it along with Al and James, Val and Elliot, Grace and Carrick, and our usual household suspects. Mia took a pass on the whole “gathering” thing, opting to watch it from home as did Dad and Mandy.

I review the refreshment menu with Ms. Solomon, which will include gourmet chicken tenders, a loaded-potato-wedge bar, a nacho bar, a variety of popcorns, concession stand candies and treats, and a drink bar—alcoholic and non-alcoholic. We’ll be viewing it in the movie room, of course. I watched with such a critical eye the first time that I’m somewhat looking forward to seeing the finished product this time with a more relaxed mindset.

At about 11am, shortly before I’m preparing to head to Helping Hands, there’s a knock at my open office door. I raise my eyes to see Marilyn standing there awaiting permission to enter.

“Come in,” I say, clasping my hands on the desk in front of me. Her stance and demeanor show that I’m not dealing with the haughty woman that was kicked out of my office on Thursday.

“You finished it,” she says, looking around the office in awe. “The whole thing… in one weekend.”

“Yes, I did,” I confirm, with no malice.

“Without me,” she adds softly. “I thought you’d be kind of rudderless without me.” Her voice has a tinge of regret.

“I am rudderless without you, Mare,” I admit, then sigh heavily, “but life has to continue.”

“I don’t know what was going on last week,” she begins. I do—you’re pregnant. “It just felt like the world was closing in on me.”

“Did you take a test?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No… not yet.” So, you still choose to put it off—not my business. I will address the part that is my business, though.

“You have sick time,” I remind her. “You’ve probably accumulated at least a year at this point. I don’t keep up because you never take time off. Take it when you need it.” I pause, and she says nothing. “There’s also this thing called the Family Medical Leave Act. It assures that if you need an extended period of time off for a medical purpose that your job will still be waiting for you when you return…”

“I was a bitch,” she interjects without raising her head. “I know that you would never fire me unless I did some really crazy shit. You promised me job security and I believe you. I was just being a bitch last week… and I’m sorry.”

That’s all that needs to be said.

“And now,” I continue, “you can see that I won’t disintegrate if you have to leave for a while.” We both chuckle. “It’ll be hard without you, but not impossible, as long as I know you’re coming back.”

“‘Only death could keep me from it,’” she jests, quoting Nettie from The Color Purple. Death or motherhood, I think to myself. “Right now, I really need to work.”

“Good, because we’ve got interviews today and new volunteers coming in at Helping Hands. I also have a project for you that could take some time.”

“I could use the distraction,” she says, pulling out her iPad. I really want to lecture her on the dangers of waiting to get medical attention while she’s pregnant no matter what her decision will be. Nonetheless, I decide that it’s still early and we can put it off a little while longer, but not too long.


A/N:I have noticed that on my last three chapters, there was no link to my Pinterest page. I have rectified that situation. My apologies…

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

For those of you who are also muscle-car-heads like me, there is another Pinterest link so that you can get a closer look at those beautiful classic cars. https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/classic-cars-for-raising-grey-chapter-56/

The new question and answer thread is always open for questions about the story. be sure to read it and please adhere to the rules when asking questions. You can find it on the left, second from last in the menu our you can click HERE.

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 55—Untitled

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My mind…

Again, the email will go out later. It’s late as hell and I’m tired as fuck.

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

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

Chapter 55—Untitled

CHRISTIAN

It’s evening now, and I haven’t left Tina’s house all day. Smalls called to tell me that Uncle Stanley has identified all the cars and located the keys and titles, but of course, the batteries are all dead and must be charged or replaced before the cars can be moved. I tell him to follow Uncle Stanley’s instructions on the cars as I have my hands full sniffing out espionage here in the Franklin home. I’ll have to deal with the storage facility when I get home… or tomorrow.

The bugs and surveillance devices planted around the house were pretty amateur devices, but there were a lot of them—cameras to catch every angle and listening devices to catch every word. They were so substandard that they had to be placed every few feet to catch conversations. A professional would have been able to set up the proper equipment with one camera—maybe two—and one listening device. These things were sprinkled all over the damn rooms, Harmony’s and Tina’s room in particular, and it turns out that the other two main rooms that Tina inhabits are the library and the parlor on the second floor, both hot as Jason calls it.

Once we’re certain that we’ve removed all the devices and we’ve done a final sweep, I send Roger to the bathroom with one of his guards to wash his face. He looks like shit, but the bleeding has stopped and there’s no need for stitches. I take him to the bar so we can have a little chat, pour him a shot which he refuses to drink, and then remove my suitcoat and vest. I roll up my sleeves and tell him that I’m prepared to beat him until every inch of his body looks like his mouth and then turn him over to the two very unhappy guards that had to babysit him all day if he doesn’t tell me every fucking detail that he knows, and to be careful not to leave anything out.

“You know every fucking thing that happens in this house. Nothing gets by you and I know you know about this, so start talking!”

He starts talking and doesn’t stop for a straight hour. I had to turn on the camera on my phone to capture everything. I didn’t intend to—I just wanted to know if he was working with anyone. Not only did I find out who he was working with and what their plans were, but I also got a complete recorded confession. It may not hold up in a court of law, I don’t know, but it’s enough for a bluff, and enough of an insurance policy to drive home the point that I’m about to make.

“Is that everything, you piece of shit? Because if I discover one tiny little detail that you didn’t tell me, I’m coming after you wherever you are in the world, because you sure as hell won’t be here. You got that?”

“Th-that’s everything,” he stutters. I stop the recording.

“I don’t like you,” I say. “I don’t trust you. I would gladly pay any amount of money to make you disappear—not to you, to someone who could make it happen for me. You took advantage of a very sweet woman who has done nothing but help people since the day I met her, and I can’t even fathom why, nor do I want to know. So, here’s what’s going to happen now, you goddamn parasite.

“I’m going to allow you to stand up and walk out of this room. The two gentlemen who have been your companions for the day are going to accompany you to your quarters where you will pack your things and leave this house. I never want to hear your name or see your face ever again in my life. So, that means that if you leave this house talking shit to anybody about me or this family, remember that I have a recording that can go viral and make your fucking life a living fucking hell, not to mention that I’m sure that my attorney can find some kind of charge or lawsuit against you for the invasion of this family’s privacy—an opportunity that I’m certain Harmony would be too eager to exploit once her mother has passed on.

“But if all else fails, let’s not discount the fact that I will hunt you down like the worthless dog that you are!”

I pause for a moment and glare at him, observing the beads of sweat forming on his forehead and the droplets sliding down his temples.

“I don’t know what kind of power you think you had, but you didn’t bank on a ruthless motherfucker like me… did you?”

I pause for a few moments more to let that sink in before deciding that I’ve had enough of this poser.

“Never darken this family’s door again and if you do, may God have mercy on your miserable soul. You have one hour to pack what you can and get the hell out of here. Any questions, Roger, or do I need to show you just how pissed off I really am?”

Roger’s face is clammy and pale when he leaves the house exactly an hour later. I’ll have him watched, but his tactics and techniques thus far show me that he’s not going to be a problem. A little while later, the rest of the staff returns and Aunt Tina—after having had a restful day and afternoon—is alert enough to explain to them that Roger is gone, and a temporary replacement will be here in the morning. Nothing else is said about the matter.

It’s after dinner when we wrap everything up and prepare to head to the Crossing. Jason has arranged for the shifts of security at Aunt Tina’s house and I’ll arrange for Windsor to come in the morning. The house isn’t in too bad a state of disarray, although there was a bit of collateral damage in the library and in Harmony’s room removing the video equipment. I’ve arranged for those repairs to be done over the weekend.

“Do we have any idea what he was doing with all this stuff?” Harmony asks. I don’t really know what to tell her right now. I have to process the information that asshole gave me and see if we can pull any footage from the equipment we’ve confiscated from him. No doubt, the little worm got pictures of her dressing and intimate moments when she was alone… who knows what else.

“Once I have my people analyze the information, we’ll have more answers,” I tell her. I know who he was in cahoots with, and I’m not really sure that I want to reveal that right now. In fact, I’m certain that I don’t.

“Well,” she begins, “I don’t know how to thank you for what you’ve done. There’s no telling what he would have done had you not found him out.” Her voice softens, and I see the change in her eyes.

Oh, shit, I lament inwardly.

“Tina means a lot to me,” I tell her. “I don’t know what his plans were after her passing, but they sure as hell couldn’t have been good.”

“Well,” she says, closing the space between us and flashing large, blue pupils at me, “If there’s anything I can do to make it up to you…” She allows her sentence to trail off. There’s no mistaking what she’s referring to, and I’m going to nip this shit in the bud right here and now.

“Harmony, I care very much about your mother, but I’m a very happily married man and you’ve met my wife. You must know this isn’t going anywhere.”

As if snapping out of a trance, her eyes change again, and her hands cover her face.

“Oh, God, what the hell am I doing?” she laments deeply. Ooooookay, is this like a multiple personality thing?

“Please… oh, please pretend that didn’t just happen,” she begs. “I… I don’t know what’s wrong,” her voice is sober as she turns away from me. “It’s been like this ever since I was twelve years old. Too young for sex, right? Wrong! I never figured out this need to have everybody want me, but it’s there… and I fight it every day. That’s how Ken was able to get in. He just showed me more attention than the other guys and that was all I needed. And you…” She turns around to face me.

“You’re extremely attractive, Christian, but really—I don’t want you that way. If anything, I might be feeling a little hero worship because you effectively saved us from the bad guy, but that whole bitch-in-heat thing…”

She shakes her head and sighs. She’s obviously embarrassed by her behavior… and she obviously has a problem.

“And Ana… Oh God, I would never hurt Ana,” she groans, shaking her head. “She’s been so nice to me.” She raises her eyes to me again. “Old habits are hard to break… dumb ones, even harder. Please, forgive me.” I sigh.

“You need to talk to somebody about this,” I tell her. She sighs.

“I think it may be too late for me,” she says.

“If you really believe that, then you’re studying the wrong thing,” I inform her. “It’s never too late, and you need to talk to somebody… although, under the circumstances, I wouldn’t recommend my wife.”

“Do I look insane to you?” she asks, her eyes wide. “I realize that judging by my recent behavior, I may appear a bit unstable, but off my rocker I am not. Probably not a good idea to tell my hopeful mentor that I came onto her husband like a classless hoochie. Yeah, no… Just please, forget this ever happened and never ever mention it again. I mean never ever ever ever… like ever!” She truly sounds disgusted with herself, and I believe she’s contrite.

“I won’t mention that this happened, as long as it never, ever, ever happens again! Like ever!” I say, pointing at her. “You need to understand that my wife and I just went through something almost identical to this and we’re still recoiling from the effects. The only reason why I’m not mentioning this to her is because I think it’ll do more harm than good but make no mistake. I will not hesitate to tell her every tiny little sordid detail if you ever do this again.”

“Christian, if I’m dumb enough to come onto you again, I’ll tell her before you get the chance,” she says.

“You’ve admitted you have a problem, Harmony. You’re going to be a target, because your about to be an heiress. Get some help before you fall into the clutches of another Ken. I’m very serious about this. She sighs.

“Any suggestions?” she asks.

“Unfortunately, no. I really think you should do some research and find someone that you feel comfortable with.” I stand and button my suit jacket. “I have to go. My wife is going to think I fell off the face of the earth.” She nods but doesn’t stand, dropping her gaze.

“If it’s okay, can Melinda show you out? I’m feeling a bit…” She lets her sentence trail off again.

“Don’t let this prevent you from calling me or Ana if you need something.” She nods and quickly wipes a tear away that has escaped from her eye. I think she’s suffered enough. I leave the room and head for the front door.

*-*

“I have something to tell you, Christian, and I really don’t want any shit from you about it.”

I’ve barely gotten into the house when I’m greeted in my study by my agitated wife. I haven’t even removed my jacket yet. I examine her stance and I’m more than surprised at her statement. However, noting her exasperated tone, I now want to know what she has to tell me.

“O… kay,” I reply reluctantly, taking my seat and unbuttoning my jacket.

“I went to visit someone today,” she says, walking into the office and taking a seat in one of the chairs in front of my desk. She looks around my office as if she’s examining the room. You’ve been in here a hundred times, Butterfly. Get on with it.

“And who did you visit?” I ask, trying to bring her back on track.

“Kenneth Carter,” she says, bringing her gaze back to mine while crossing her legs at the knee and sitting back in her seat. My brow furrows.

“Kenneth Carter?” I question. “Why the hell did you go see him?” She raises a brow at me.

“You know who he is?” she retorts. I fold my arms.

“I just found out today,” I inform her. How the hell does she know who he is?

“How did you find out?” she asks.

“We’re getting off track,” I say, reining in my impatience. “Why don’t you tell me why you went to visit Harmony’s husband first before we get into a second discussion…” and why the fuck am I just now hearing about this.

“I went to confront him,” she says. “I know that he’s holding out trying to get some money from Harmony’s inheritance. And if her previous lawyer was working both sides, he also knows that he can’t touch that money. So, his only other option is to antagonize her until she gives in and pays him off. I let him know that’s not going to happen and that he should just go on and sign the divorce papers.” Oh, for fuck’s sake.

“And how did he take that news?” I ask sarcastically.

“Not very well,” she responds, unfazed by my sarcasm. “He threatened to drag the divorce out indefinitely, holding her life hostage for as long as he felt so inclined.” Oh, this fucker is going to need a visit from me, I see.

“I know that look,” she says. “Your appearance won’t do anything that mine didn’t already do.” I raise my brow at her.

“No offense, Butterfly, but… you’re a woman—a beautiful woman, but a woman nonetheless. Guys like that who like to victimize women, you don’t scare him.” Butterfly laughs knowingly, causing me to frown. What so damn funny?

“And that, my chauvinistic husband, is the exact reason why he’s going to sign those divorce papers. He may not sign them until Tuesday or Wednesday morning, but he’s going to sign them.” She smiles victoriously at me. What in the hell?

“And what makes you so sure?” I ask, leaning forward on my desk and clasping my hands together.

“That bravado thing you’ve got going on, that’s exactly what he expects. He’s totally expecting for some goon to come up to him with the ‘leave the little lady alone’ gig. I’m willing to bet that he’s taken more than a few ass whippings in his day and it doesn’t faze him. If you can take a hit, the threat of another hit doesn’t do much. However…”

She leans forward in her seat, elbows on the armrest and both Louboutin-clad feet flat on the floor.

“A ‘little lady’ looking you square in your eye and telling you to back the fuck off because her dick is bigger than yours, that gives you cause for pause.”

I glare at her, my eyes wide. What in the ever-loving fuck?

“You said that?” I ask incredulously.

“I did,” she replies, sitting back in the seat again and crossing her legs. “I let him know that I once knew somebody just like him and made it no secret that the fucker is dead now. I advised him to sign the papers and move on or his next visit may not be flowers and a chat…”

“Wait, wait, wait… you sent him flowers?” I ask incredulously.

“From a street vendor outside his office,” she replies. “It was the only way to get him outside.”

“Flowers brought him outside.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“No, the accompanying note that said he’s a piece of shit brought him outside.”

Who is this woman and what has she done with my wife?

“So,” she continues, “Now you’ve got this cocky ass bitch in a $3000 Tom Ford suit and a $1000 pair of Louboutins with the backdrop of a $70,000 Audi—and two better-than-six-foot-goons—telling you that she won’t piss with you because you don’t have the equipment. That’s more than a little bit scary if for no other reason except fear of the unknown.

“You could be seven feet tall and show up dressed like Rambo with a bazooka strapped to your back and it still wouldn’t have been as effective as my visit today. I can guarantee you that. He knows what to expect when he’s confronted with the Bens and the Chucks and the Jasons and the Christian Greys. He knows what’s coming. He may not fully know how bad it can get, but he knows what’s coming. But a cocky woman? One who gets in his face and won’t stand down? He doesn’t know what to do with that. He’s accustomed to the young Harmony’s and girls like her who cede to his ‘wisdom.’ A ‘get in your face’ bitch who’s warning you off? Totally out of his league.”

I twist my lips. I think he was just ogling her body and she mistook his speechlessness for fear.

“And the signing on Tuesday?” I begin, still disbelieving of her effectiveness with this asshole. “Is there a court date on Tuesday?”

“Not that I know of, but he will have seen that special by then and me blowing the heads off targets several feet away.”

“And what if he decides to go public with your threat?” I caution.

“Who’s going to believe him?” she retorts. “He asked who I was, I told him to watch Monday night and find out. That night or the next day, he files a report that the girl on TV threatened him, much less Anastasia Grey. I’m questioning his mental capacity and I know I did it.”

I roll my eyes. I so want to chain her to a wall and flog her right now. This was ridiculous, and it could have been disastrous had this asshole had any balls.

“Now, how do you know who he is?” she asks. I shake my head.

“We found upwards of a hundred audio and visual recording devices in Tina’s house. Roger had his hand in the scheme, whatever it was in its entirety. I’ll give you one guess who his accomplice was.” She thinks for a moment, then her eyes widen.

“Kenneth?” she asks incredulously. “Kenneth Carter?” I nod. “He was spying on them? Why?” I shrug.

“Maybe to get some footage of Harmony that he could use in court; maybe to get his hands on Aunt Tina’s money. We don’t know. All the information that we gathered is on the way to the GEH lab.”

“And Robert… or Roger… or whatever his name is?” she asks.

“He was a good little puppy,” I reply. “I got a recorded confession from him that’s going to make it much easier to analyze any data we gather. He spilled his guts, so I’m sure that whatever we don’t know, we can figure out.”

“Hmm,” she says.

“Hmm, what?” I ask.

“Over a hundred recording devices. How did that guy do that all by himself with no help? I can’t see Kenneth strolling into the Franklin mansion and offering to help him plant bugs and listening devices without drawing attention to himself. Hell, I don’t see that narcissistic asshole helping with anything.” That’s a good point.

“All the rooms that were bugged are generally unoccupied most of the time except for Harmony’s and Aunt Tina’s bedrooms. Harmony’s bedroom was bugged before she arrived—Roger wouldn’t let her move into any other room except back into her own. Aunt Tina’s, we’re thinking that was bugged while she was in the hospital or seeing a doctor or even at a social event, like Mia’s wedding. We’ll be able to get a time frame once the data is organized.”

“How long will that take?” she asks.

“Barney’s going to have a team working on it, but there’s no way to tell right now. What’s most important is that we got that asshole and his bugs out of the house. So, Windsor will be starting over there tomorrow morning.” She nods. She stands from her seat and I think she’s about to leave, but instead she starts pacing the floor. She stops and put her hands on the back of the chair.

“Christian, that day that I was interviewing with your ex-submissive… what was her name?” Where the hell is this going?

“Sarah,” I say cautiously. “Bradley.” She nods.

“How long did it take you to find out who she was?” she asks.

“That’s hard to say,” I reply. “We had a preliminary background check on her, but…”

“No, no, no, that’s not what I’m asking,” she stops me. “You knew that Sarah Bradley was your ex-submissive, but you didn’t know that Ashanda Beasley was Sarah Bradley. So, how long did it take that information to trickle down to you?”

“Uh, I guess immediately,” I say hesitantly. “As soon as Jason discovered that they were one and the same, he brought it to my attention. You were already in the interview by then.” She nods.

“I see,” she observes. “So, I know that you’re just finding out about today because I’m telling you. But normally, you found out my comings and goings and situations immediately, as with the Sarah Bradley occurrence.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“Normally, yes.” She nods again.

“So… when did you find out that I had fallen off that cliff?” she asks, her words sounding like she had to push them out of her mouth. I don’t know what this has to do with what happened today, but I tell her the truth.

“The day before I left Madrid,” I say. “It took that long to get the plane ready to get back here or I would have been here sooner.” She frowns deeply.

“So, you got back here on Thursday, but you found out on Tuesday,” she deduces. She’s not wrong, so I don’t interject. “I fell off that cliff on Friday night. Why did it take so long for you to find out? They tell you everything else almost the very minute it happens, and it takes you four days to find out about my near-death experience?” I sigh.

“It’s hard to explain, but yes, it did,” I confess. “There really is no good explanation for it—not one that would appease you right now but know that I came home the moment I found out.” She twists her lips and nods. She turns and walks to the door.

“Butterfly?” She puts her hand up without turning around, signaling that the conversation is affectively over, and leaves my office.

Well, isn’t this just fucking great.

“Activate two-way communications,” I growl into the air. When the system comes to life, I summon a soon-to-be-dismissed CPO.

“Davenport…”

“Bring your boss and get to my office… now!”

*-*

“Nobody thought I should know about this?” I seethe at Jason and Chuck after I apprise them that I’m now aware of how my wife spent her afternoon.

“You realize that you two have us between a rock and a hard place, don’t you, sir?” Chuck replies.

“I don’t need your rhetoric right now!” I bark. “I want an answer to a very simple question.”

“It’s. Not. Rhetoric,” Chuck says, firmly, pulling himself up to his full height. “It’s a valid question, and it is an answer to yours.” I raise a brow at him. Is he looking for some time off because he’s pissing me off right now.

“She asked me if we tell her every move that you make,” he continues, unfazed, “and we don’t, and she knows that we don’t. So, her next question was that if she was supposed to be my boss just like you, then why should her every move be clocked back to you.”

“But you are supposed to clock her moves back to me,” Jason interjects. “That’s your job.”

“And I did,” Chuck defends. “My daily log shows where we went and who we talked to. I just didn’t tell you the moment that it happened. There was no violence. Nobody got hurt. No one was in danger. There was no need to notify anybody of anything, except for my log.”

“And that’s where you’re wrong,” Jason says. “You should have told me that you all were going into a volatile situation.”

“And that’s where we disagree,” Chuck retorts. “The situation wasn’t volatile. It was one guy who had no idea we were coming and three of us—all with guns…”

“Butterfly had her gun?” I interrupt. Chuck turns an incredulous glare at me.

“No offense, sir, but what do you think?” he replies. I roll my eyes. I so want to reprimand him right now.

“Regardless, Chuck, you were in a situation where you should have checked in,” Jason chides. Chuck shrugs.

“Once again, rock and a hard place. Had I checked in with you, you would have told him, and he would have called her,” he says gesturing to me. “You and I have been doing this long enough to know that if a subject doesn’t want to be guarded, they won’t be guarded; that there’s nothing worse than an uncooperative client; and that short of putting a microchip in her ear, she would be unmanageable and untamable if we tried to clock her every move and report her bathroom breaks back to you without allowing her some kind of freedom to move.”

“She has freedom to move,” I correct him firmly.

“Not if we tell you every little thing that she’s doing,” he interjects. “And if you think for one minute that that little ball of genius fire won’t find a way to give us the slip—putting herself and maybe even her children in danger—just so that she can have a moment of privacy, you’re wrong.”

I can’t even argue with him. She looked me square in the eye and told me that she’d shoot one of my guards in the foot if they followed her to the aquarium. It was the one time we let her out of our sight, and she got kidnapped. And we won’t even talk about her sneaking away and nearly falling to her death off a damn cliff when I skipped town. And now, she appears to be angry with me for not knowing that immediately. It looks like I didn’t care. It’s hard to believe that I didn’t know she fell off that cliff the moment it happened, yet it takes me nearly a week to get back home… for her to even hear from me…

“Sir?” Jason’s voice breaks me out of my inner musings.

“Do we already have a guy on Carter?” I ask, exacerbated.

“We’re putting him in place now. We had to ascertain where he spent the evening.” I thrust my hands in my hair.

“She confronted the fucker,” I say to no one in particular. I really don’t know whether to be proud or pissed. I look at Chuck. “How did he seem to you?”

“Perplexed,” Chuck replies without hesitation. “At first, he came out of the building all macho—looking into the car and trying to see who was in there. He certainly didn’t expect to see her. And when he did, he tried to act Cro-Magnon for a minute or two, but it fell to the ground really fast. First off, he’s a little guy—5’7’ or 5’8” maybe, 5”10’ at the tallest, so she was staring him right in the eye in those sky-high shoes she wears. Second, he’s all ‘open this goddamn door’ until Ben and I emerged from the car. I know that our presence only made him physically behave himself, but he was still a cocky asshole to Ana.

“She was having none of it. The way she laughed at his attempts at superiority and compared him to a currently dead man, he should have shrunk away quietly back to his desk. But when he asked who she was, and she didn’t tell him, just said, ‘Watch on Monday on channel 9,’ it was the biggest blow off you’ve ever seen. The whole conversation was reminiscent of Oren Ishii.”

Oren Ishii—I’ve heard that name, but I can’t recall it right now. My expression must have given away my confusion.

“Head of the Yakuza Council of Bosses? Kill Bill?” Jason says. I raise my brow to Chuck.

“When she quickly and calmly takes Tanaka’s head at the dinner table, then warns the rest of the council against crossing her?”

“That brutal?” I ask.

“No blood, but yes—the conversation was short, not so sweet, and just as brutal. If there had been any melee involved, he’d look like one of the Crazy 88 right now.”

Now, I know who they are.

“I’m confused,” I say. “Butterfly just left me with the impression that you two didn’t really have any effect on him. Even you said that your presence only made him behave himself physically. So, you’re telling me that this little woman, her mouth, her power suit, and her Louboutins made this man heel?” Chuck shifts his weight and sighs.

“There are two types of men in the world, sir. First, there’s the type that get hard when they see a hot woman with a nice rack and a gun holster wrapped around it—no offense. Then, there’s… the other guys, who have no fucking idea what to do with a strong woman standing in front of them, much less a very little one, packing heat and telling him that his Johnson is inadequate. Guess which one he is.”

“So… he saw her gun,” I conclude.

“No, he saw her rack… and then he saw her holster. She kept the gun hidden, but you knew what was in there.”

“And…?”

“Well, he’s already kinda pale, but he got paler,” Chuck confirms. “There were a few words exchanged, mostly from Ana, and then we left him there dumbfounded with his flowers all over the ground.” He turns to Jason. “There was no situation. She said what she had to say, and we left. We discussed the position that she was putting me in by telling me not to report in on the incident and she instructed me that just like you’re the boss…” He points to me, “… she’s the boss, and she doesn’t want her every move reported except on the log that I’m required to submit every day, particularly if there’s no immediate danger. Now, if that’s not the case, sir, you’re going to have to be the one to tell her.”

Pussy.

But he’s right. I’m the one who told everybody at GEH that she’s the boss just like me and to treat her the same way that they would treat me. We’re going to have to talk about some guidelines here or I’m going to be losing my mind every day worrying if she’s doing anything that will have consequences later.

But overall, I’ve chosen “proud” over “pissed.”


ANASTASIA

I don’t know which is worse—thinking that he didn’t know whether I lived or died, that he didn’t care, or finding out that he didn’t even know that I could have died until four days after the fact. What the hell was going on that he had no fucking clue? The man knows when I go shopping but had no idea that I nearly fell to my death off a fucking cliff?

I’m sitting in the small library that we never use looking out over the lake. I actually forgot this room was here. We turned the other library into Marilyn’s office and this room just seemed to cease to exist. It’s the perfect place to disappear until and if the babies stir.

They don’t… or the nannies were already nearby when they did, and I wasn’t disturbed by the two-way.

Either way, I have plenty of time to dwell on the latest version of the Boogeyman stalking me right now. What the hell was going on in Madrid that my husband had no idea that I nearly died until four days after the fact?

If this was some minute detail of some sort that slipped through the cracks, I wouldn’t be concerned, but this was big, and my husband is a goddamn control freak! Does that mean that had something happened to our children, he wouldn’t have known that either? Or was it just me? Did he just not care about me?

He could have called and checked on me; asked if I was okay; let me know that he had only just found out about my accident and apologized for not being here or not being available. He could have told me that he was looking to get the next flight out of there, but instead, he counted on the shock value of me seeing him—made me wait for two more days in uncertainty and agony while he made his way back to Seattle. He may have been able to help avoid some of the effects of the Boogeyman, but now we’ll never know.

And he wonders why I have such a hard time putting all my trust back in him.

Come on, now. He’s clearly seen the err of his ways and he’s trying to rebuild things with you. Why must you be so damn difficult?
I’m not being difficult. I’m being cautious. I’m trying to protect myself from falling into oblivion again should Christian Grey feel like I’ve committed some egregious crime that warrants his disappearing and incommunicado act again.
You’re being difficult! And you’re being ridiculous and paranoid! Shit happens! Shit will continue to happen! If you build a bubble around yourself to protect yourself from all harm and danger, guess what? Shit will still happen in that bubble! You need to do whatever you must to get your head out of your ass. This isn’t you and you know it! Are you going to spend your life hiding? Get your shit together! This has gone on long enough.

And the Bitch is the voice of Anastasia Steele. Jesus, she makes so much sense, but I just can’t seem to find her when I feel like the fucking sky is falling.

Get your shit together!
Get your shit together!
Get your shit together!
Get your fucking shit together!

Even the Bitch is trying to tell me to get my act together, but I don’t know what to do. One minute, I’m sitting on top of the world, the most powerful bitch in existence. The next minute, I’m falling through the abyss all over again. I’m afraid this entire situation has made me bipolar. That would be the very worst.

I don’t know how long I’ve sat in the library. It’s quite dark out and I don’t hear anything. I make my way to the kitchen and discover that everything and everyone has shut down for the night. It’s later than I thought. I make myself a sandwich and a cranberry spritzer and eat it quickly, taking my spritzer to my room with me.

For once, my husband has beaten me to bed and he’s fast asleep. I don’t shower. I’m suddenly very tired. I just put on a nightshirt and climb into bed. In no time flat, I fall asleep.

I don’t stir in the morning when he kisses my cheek. I can smell his shower gel and his cologne, and I know that he’s dressed for work. He can probably tell that I’m playing possum… he always could, but he doesn’t let on. He simply brushes my hair out of my face.

“I love you,” he says softly before kissing me on my forehead and quietly leaving the room. I open my eyes and continue to lie in bed, careful not to move in case he’s standing behind me waiting to see if I’ll stir once he’s gone. The thoughts from last night—all the unanswered questions—begin swirling in my head again.

Why didn’t he call to check on me?
Why didn’t he let someone know that he was on his way home?
Did he truly hate me that much—even for a moment—that he didn’t care if I lived or died?
What happens if I sincerely displease him again? Is this what I have to look forward to?

The two-way stops my inner questions and gives me a reason to stir.

“Ana,” I say into the air, my voice sounding sleepier that I really am. Minnie’s cooing comes through the two-way and I stretch long and hard on the bed. I throw my legs over the edge and step into my slippers. In only my nightshirt—and slippers—I go and retrieve my child.

Wade from the movers show up around noon and Luma and I show them what’s going to Helping Hands and what needs to be moved to another room to come back into the office once the space is finished. I’m in a bit of a fog, and I forgot that I must tell my husband that the contractor will be descending upon us tomorrow to redo my office. As it turns out, the bookshelves with get a serious overhaul, but we’ve decided not to rip them out.

Too bad the anticipation is doing absolutely nothing for my mood.

Luma has ordered all my furniture and décor and it will be delivered and assembled as needed. I don’t know if Marilyn will be back by then, but I totally suspect that she won’t, so I already plan to don my jeans and a T-shirt and get my hands dirty putting my office back together as I won’t keep Luma from Andrea for another day. I’ll tackle the problem of maybe needing a new assistant next week. Right now, I’ve got some bigger fish to fry.

I’m jumping out of my skin when Chuck parks the car in the parking lot. I need to talk to my shrink in the worst way. This latest development has me such that I don’t know if I’m coming or going.

“Hi, Ana,” Amber says, cheerfully. “You’re early.”

“Yeah, I just didn’t want to be late,” I tell her. It’s partially true. I just didn’t know what else to do and I really need to talk to Ace. She smiles. Her face is getting fuller with the pregnancy, but I dare not tell her that.

“Can I get you something?” she asks. “Coffee? Tea? Water?” She holds up a tray from her desk. “A cookie?”

“No, thank you,” I reply and take a seat in the waiting room, thumbing mindlessly through an old issue of Psychology Today. There’re some really good articles in this issue, but I never understood the thinking of doctors and shrinks who place practice-related magazines in their waiting rooms. I always had Time, Essence, People in my waiting room. The only people that want to read Psychology Today are mental health professionals. The professionals are in the office! Who’s in the damn waiting room?

Anyway, I get lost in an article about parents’ gross misconception of their children, how they always think their kids are brighter and better than others in some way and they often get it wrong. Of course, you love your own child more than any other child in the whole wide world, but this often leads to common misperceptions about who your child really is and what their future will be. The article is very informative to me as a new mother, but it’s written in a tone that I as a psychiatrist would understand—not a layperson. So, why would he subscribe to this magazine, obviously read the articles, and then leave it in the lobby for his patients to read and just go, “Well, they don’t understand my little Johnny, so I’m just going to ignore this?” On top of that, it kind of lights a fire under an already loaded powder keg just before an agitated patient goes into their session.

Like now.

“Your reading material is crap,” I inform him when I get into his inner office. He frowns.

“Excuse me?” he says, taken aback as he takes his seat.

“You’ve got a July issue of Psychology Today out there that basically says that parents don’t thoroughly understand their children. As a psychiatrist, I totally got what the article was saying and plan to apply the information to my own situations with my children in the future. As a mother, totally eliminating the whole med-school-psychiatry thing, my first response was, ‘This is a bunch of bullshit. How can these Harvard assholes think they know what’s best for me and my kids and they haven’t even met my kids?’ They’re saying that if I say that Mikey is gifted, I’m only saying it because he’s my child, not because I’ve seen some extraordinary display that may indicate that my son is actually gifted. Most parents would look at that and say, ‘You’re full of shit and you don’t know what you’re talking about’ and completely squash the whole thing.”

“And you seem to be taking that pretty personally,” he observes.

“Hey, I’m not trying to start a fight about it. I’m just informing you that it’s bullshit to be sitting in your waiting room,” I retort.

“You just said that you were going to put some of the information to use,” he defends.

“I also said that as a layperson and mother, I would find it to be crap, but as a psychiatrist, I understand. Exactly how many psychiatrists come through your waiting room?” I’ll wait.

He twists his lips and diverts his gaze from me. Ana—1, Ace—0.

“Point taken,” he says, crossing his legs. “So, besides dismantling my reading material, what are we discussing today.

I’m soon to discover that my victory will be quite short-lived.

“The Boogeyman,” I reply.

“Okay,” he says, unfazed. “Tell me what’s going on.”

“Well, there’s something going on with Grey House that had Christian come home and fuck me like he was never going to see me again right before Jason fucking quadrupled everyone’s security detail.”

Ace is a bit horrified.

“Um… okay,” he says, “and this obviously unnerves you.”

“They brought the security back to a reasonable increase instead of an entourage after I refused to go in to work, but I don’t know if that was because I wouldn’t leave the house or because Jason was overreacting, and we really didn’t need that much security. Nonetheless, that’s kind of hovering over me and making me feel nervous. But…”

“But what?” he asks, after I pause. I stand and start pacing.

“I’m worried that I might be bipolar,” I admit. “One minute, everything is okay and the next minute, I’m scared out of my drawers and won’t leave my room. I know that mood swings are normal, especially when something traumatic happens, but is it supposed to be this crazy?” Even as a professional, I can’t answer that question.

“I’m fairly certain that you’re not bipolar, Ana,” Ace says, “but that of course doesn’t dismiss that your drastic mood swings may need addressing. We both know that a hugely traumatic experience can cause a chemical imbalance, and it’s something that we may want to look at, but let’s not jump to that option just yet. Is it the unknown threat that’s causing you to feel so out-of-balance right now?” I both love and hate that my shrink can read me so well.

“Like I said, it’s kind of hovering over me but… not really,” I admit. “I carry my gun everywhere, you already know that. So, if someone were to approach me in a way that threatened me, or someone were to attack me… well, we both know how that would turn out. I don’t think it’s the threats that bother me so much. It’s the possibilities associated with the threat. The unknown, yes, but not insomuch that the threat is unknown, but the fact that all the octopus arms of what could come from that threat is so unknown. Am I making any sense?”

“You’re making perfect sense,” he says, “but you’re torturing yourself, and we have to find a way to make you stop. There will always, always be unknown threats out there. That’s why car insurance exists. However, you do what you can to protect yourself from those threats and then you move on. You’re stuck in ‘what if’ and you can’t move forward, because it’s got you paralyzed in fear. You’re going to have to find a way, or this is your future… and Ana? This is how drug habits usually start. Someone can’t cope with their reality, so they must escape it any way they can and I’m not afraid to tell you that you’re starting to sound like a shark’s tooth to me.” What the fuck?

“I didn’t come in here and tell you that I was going to kill myself!” I snap. “Where the fuck did that come from?”

“Yeah, he didn’t come in here and tell me that he was going to kill himself either, but he did!” Ace retorts. “You’re sounding very helpless to me right now, and coming from a psychiatrist, that’s even scarier than it is coming from a layperson.”

I ponder that thought. I guess I would be a bit alarmed if Maxie came to me sounding a bit hopeless.

“Get to the root of it, Ana, and snatch the root out, or it’s going to suffocate you… and even if you don’t commit suicide or even contemplate it, you’ll still end up a shark’s tooth. You’ll just be a walking, breathing shark’s tooth.” I roll my eyes.

“Please, stop referring to me as that,” I caution. “I don’t like it and although I get your point, it’s really not helping the situation.” He nods.

“Okay, so what’s say we get to the root? You recognize the root every time it comes up and you work to rip it out. Fight it and kill it like the weed that it is… or…” He trails off and puts his hands up in a mini-shrug.

Shark’s tooth.

“I did something that shook his faith in me and as a result, he shattered my trust in him,” I blurt out. “He left me at such a crucial moment, and maybe he wanted me to see how much I needed him, and he was right, but he was also wrong. He made me depend on him; he made me trust him; he made me make him my everything, and then he snatched it away with no warning and no word and although I survived, I was rudderless and lost. Now, I long for the days before I met him when I could stand firmly on my own two feet, and I can’t find them.”

“I see,” he replies. “But tell me, besides the whole ocean thing, what’s the difference between you going off to Montana and him going off to Madrid?”

Once and for all, I’m going to answer this question for him, for the Bitch, and for anybody else who wants to know.

“Me going off to Montana was a move for survival. Yes, it was selfish, but it was a move for survival—to try to preserve myself. Him going off to Madrid may have also been a move for survival, and it was also selfish, but he went out of anger and to get away from me. He did it to deliberately put space between us, not to get to himself and think about things. If you ask him, he’ll tell you that he didn’t think about me while he was gone, and if he’s honest, he may even admit that he did it to punish me.

“The other reason why this is so different is because of our relationship. I was his fiancée when I went to Montana. There was no marriage—no legal contract, no eternal promise, yet, and certainly, no children! We were not responsible for two other lives when I ran off and I didn’t leave that responsibility for him to handle alone…”

Well, maybe not alone, but without him.

“He could get to me,” I continue. “He found out where I was, and he got to me, and I knew he would eventually because of who he is. He came to that cabin, we talked about how we were feeling, and he left. I wasn’t afforded that opportunity. He left the country for weeks and wouldn’t even answer his damn phone. The one person who knew where I was was here and eventually spilled the beans. The main person who knew where he was was with him… the other was my best friend and his attorney, and both were sworn to secrecy by an NDA.

“Did you know that he didn’t find out that I had leapt off that cliff for four days?” I add. “I could have killed myself in a drunken stupor and he didn’t know for more than half a week. I nearly tumble to my death on a Friday night and control freak Christian Grey, who knows when I take a piss, didn’t find out until Tuesday! Then, instead of calling to make sure that I was okay, to reassure me that he did care whether I lived or died, he stayed incommunicado for two more days so that he could have that whole shock factor when he got back. I feel like I meant nothing to him! Absofuckinglutely nothing!

“Right or wrong, he’s completely shaken my faith in him and in everything I thought I knew! I put him on a pedestal—I know I did—and when he fell, my world was shattered. So, now, I’m trying to reconcile the fact that he’s only human, that character flaws that I saw before that I thought were so damn ginormous are nothing compared to the fact that he’s not the superhuman, superperfect, omnipotent being that I made him out to be. And that’s hell on me right now.”

“And now we get to the crust of things,” he says. “He didn’t shatter your trust in him. He shattered your fairytale. He shattered your image of this all-powerful man that was supposed to cloak and protect you from all things bad… until the bad came from him. He’s not God, Ana. He’s just a man, just like you’re just a woman.

“Your children are going to grow up looking at you like a woman who can right every wrong, until there’s a wrong that you can’t right, and then what? So, he’s not perfect He can’t make the sun stay in the sky and prevent night from coming. Do you love him any less for that?”

“No!” I shoot, somewhat offended that he asked that damn question.

“Well, then, act like it!” he shoots back. “Stop walking around behaving like you’ve lost your damn puppy! You’ve discovered that your perfect husband has the same flaw that you do—he’s not perfect. It’s not the end of the world; it’s just a harsh reality. If you’re looking for a perfect man, divorce Christian, go sit on the top of a mountain in Tibet and wait for him to come to you.” I’m getting angry now.

“That’s not what I’m looking for!” I hiss angrily.

“Then stop acting like it is. Stop punishing him and yourself for not being that man. Shrink yourself for one minute and think about what you would tell a patient about this situation if this were not you. People fuck up! They never stop fucking up! What are you going to do?”

I feel my blood pressure rising. Unable to handle the massive onslaught of logic and common sense flowing from my therapist’s mouth, I rush the door and burst out of his office. I jump in the back seat of the Audi and slam the door.

“Take me home,” I say, my voice shaking.

“Ana…” he begins.

“Take me home!” I yell, cutting him off. His eyes widen, and he looks at Ben. They both turn around and Chuck starts the car. I’m sobbing before we even leave the parking lot.

*-*

I don’t think my heavy bag—or any one before it—has taken this kind of beating ever before. I don’t know how to destroy or defeat this helpless, hopeless feeling and quite frankly, it’s starting to piss me off. I feel the burn and the ache in my muscles, sweat pouring from every pore in my body and I just keep pounding away at the damn thing. I don’t want to think or feel. I want take-no-prisoners Anastasia Steele back. I need her, because she wasn’t so dependent on Christian’s perfection. I know I’ll never be her again, but I need a piece of her—a large piece of her—to find myself and stop slipping into this Boogeyman shit.

I’ve never been this afraid of things that go bump in the night… except after the branding attack, and once when I thought those ghosts were coming to get me again, but those times were different. I had no one to lean on, no one that swooped in as my knight in shining Armani. I was alone and on my own both times. The first time, I was completely forsaken, so crying, dark nights, and monsters were really nothing new. The second time, well, not forsaken but still alone. Still no Christian who came in and promised to make everything better, to always protect me, and to never leave me…

Until he did.

The impossible happened and I can’t find a way to deal with it.

I don’t know when he got there, but I see movement out of the corner of my eye. I catch the heavy bag in my hands so that it doesn’t knock the shit out of me and turn to my left expecting to see Christian standing there.

It’s Jason.

I frown. This is new.

He’s standing against the mirrored wall in his shirtsleeves just looking at me. He tosses me the towel that he’s holding. I catch it and wipe the sweat pouring from my brow and sopping hair. I was ignoring the burn in my eyes until now, so I wipe my eyes trying to relieve it now.

“Heads up,” he says, and tosses me a bottle of cold water. I chug the whole thing down in seconds and he tosses me another one. I toss him back the empty bottle and nearly empty the second one. He takes a seat on one of the exercise machines and waits. I roll my eyes.

“He sent his representative?” I say with disdain, my brow furrowed as I take a seat on the weight-lifting bench.

“Sort of, but no,” Jason admits. “He spoke to me a few days ago, before I went overboard with the security thing… sorry about that, by the way. He brought some things up to me and I brought some things up to him and he asked me to talk to you. He was hoping that I could explain things a little better.”

Explain things? What things?

“Why did you quadruple security?” I ask. “I want to hear that from you.” He sighs.

“I hope he told you about Aragon,” he says.

“He did,” I confirm.

“That’s why I increased security,” he says. “He and his boss are unknowns to me and I don’t want to take any chances. He was right, though. I did go overboard. An extra guard or two is certainly enough, especially with you already being trained in firearms and self-defense. I just… couldn’t get the whole Usual-Suspects-Keyser-Söze thing out of my head. This guy is slimy. Every time I see him, I want to take a bath immediately afterwards. Knowing the guy that he is, I could put a bullet between his eyes and sleep soundly right next to his corpse.”

That bad, huh?

“So, do you really think he’s a threat to us?” I ask.

“Honestly, I don’t think he is. No matter how powerful he wants us to think he is, he won’t do anything without the go-ahead from his boss. I just don’t know where his boss’ head is.” I nod.

“Thank you for being so candid. So, to what do I owe the interruption of my workout…?” because I know he didn’t come down here to talk to me about Keyser.

“I won’t pull punches. If you walk away, then you just walk away and that’ll be that, but there’s something you need to accept. I don’t know how you’ve handled everything that’s happened to you in your life, but right now, at this moment, you’re suffering from PTSD.”

At first, I want to get angry. I’m certain that he and Christian have had some kind of conversation where Christian told him about my reaction to Dr. Baker’s prior diagnosis, and now, he’s coming to me with this shit.

“You’re constantly battling with the fact that you don’t know what’s coming around the corner,” he continues. “You have been hurt and completely discombobulated by something that has happened that shook the very foundations of your happy and safe place so that now, you’re expecting Armageddon at every turn. Even when things are calm and serene, you can’t get comfortable and even if you do, that peace only lasts for a moment. Today, you’re the Queen of the Amazons and tomorrow, you’re a helpless ant hoping not to get crushed. You can stop me at anytime if I’m wrong.”

I just stare at him. It’s like he was a fly on the wall during my session with Ace.

“Nothing has to happen to bring on the feelings of dread, but if something does trigger it, it’s worse. From your bulging biceps when I came into this room, I would say something triggered it. So, what’s up?” I roll my eyes. Not a-fucking-gain.

“I just had this conversation with my shrink I don’t want to have it again!” I bark in one breath. Jason shrugs.

“Fine,” he says nonchalantly. “Take it or leave it.”

Asshole.

I snatch the towel from the bench and stand in a huff. I’m walking purposefully to the door when another question comes to mind.

“He won’t tell me why he didn’t know about my fall for four fucking days… will you?” I demand. He doesn’t respond, so I turn around to see him looking at me impassively. He gestures to the bench for me to sit back down. I pause for several moments and he doesn’t speak. Desperate for an answer to my question, I go back to the bench and sit.

“Ana, it’s not Christian’s fault—well, not entirely his fault—that he didn’t know about your fall. I knew that Saturday or that Sunday… I just didn’t tell him.” I’m horrified.

“You tell him everything! Why didn’t you tell him that?” I nearly shriek. Jason sighs.

“The transformation…” The transformation? What the hell is that? “It was a rough time in Madrid,” he confesses, “for more reasons than one. We just don’t talk about it much. I can’t tell you everything. I wouldn’t anyway, but the old Christian Grey showed up. He was cold and distant. He was detached. He wasn’t my friend… the man that I know now. He was that man that employed me and paid me to protect him and stay the fuck out of his business. We were in a foreign country and for most of the time that we were there, I had no backup. I had to stay focused and I had to concentrate on his safety.

“That guy… the guy that was in Madrid… he didn’t care about women. They were a means to an end and when he was done with them, he was done. I didn’t know how to handle that guy with a wife. He was all business. He didn’t look left or right. If he… thought of you, he didn’t mention you once. I know that hurts to hear, but I had to turn my feelings off, too. I couldn’t afford to be sloppy or we could have both ended up dead. Gail’s used to it, but it was hard with Baby Boo here… but I digress.

“His mother called and demanded to know what was going on with you because you had been walking around like a zombie and you left the center one day without the kids. The way that I understand it, she ripped him a new one and she was the one who apprised him of your fall. It wasn’t until he asked me about it that I filled in all the blanks. That’s when we started preparing to come home.”

Throughout the entire conversation, I’ve got my head down. I’m letting everything sink in that he’s telling me about the end of the trip to Madrid.

“Why didn’t he call, Jason?” I ask. “Why didn’t he let me know that he still cared and he was concerned the moment he heard that I had almost died? Why did he let me suffer for two more days wondering if he even wanted me anymore?”

“I’m sorry, Ana. I can’t answer that question because I don’t know. I know that he was cursing and demanding that we get that bird ready to get in the air. We would have taken a commercial flight, but it would have attracted too much attention.” I drop my head again.

“Did he tell you that I was on the floor when he found me?” I ask. “I don’t even know how long he let me lay there. If you hadn’t called through the two-way to tell him where I was, I wouldn’t have even known he was sitting there. I was calling into the two-way thinking it was the babies.”

“I can tell you for certain that we had only been home for a few minutes when I discovered that you were in the guestroom. So, it definitely wasn’t more than that.” I shake my head.

“He wouldn’t have been able to get me off the floor anyway,” I recall. “I couldn’t stand for him to touch me. I talked to him like he wasn’t there for I don’t know how long. I couldn’t sleep in my own bed… even after he came back.” I scrub my face with my hands.

“I loved Edward,” I say, catching Jason off guard. “I loved him a lot, or whatever it was, it was some kind of emotion that mimicked love. He tormented me. He found a way to put me through a fresh, new hell every day. I thought I would never escape, but I did. I closed him out of my life. For a long time, I wanted him to come back. Had he come back, I would have taken that daily fresh hell as opposed to being without him, so I’m glad he didn’t come back until after I was over him. There’s no telling where I would be right now.” I take a deep breath and sigh heavily.

“When Christian left…” I swallow hard. “My husband left me… he left me… he left our home… he left our children… he left our life. I wasn’t prepared for him to leave—not at all. It was the very last thing I expected. I expected the rage; I expected the cold shoulder; I expected to be punished; but I did not expect him to leave.

“When I realized that he was gone, I was more confused than anything and I just wanted some answers. And then when he blocked my calls…” I trail off remembering the black hole of despair that swallowed me when I discovered that my husband had blocked my number. “He left me, and he blocked my calls. That meant that he didn’t want to see me, he didn’t want to hear my voice, he definitely didn’t want to be with me. Do you have any idea how that feels?”

“Actually, I do,” Jason says. I raise my eyes to him. “Shalane wasn’t always a raging bitch. Divorce was hard.”

I nod. He does know how it feels.

“I felt like my life was over,” I continue. “It was a hundred times worse than anything I had felt with Edward. The burning, searing, never-ending pain…” I sigh. I’ve never explained this to anyone in this much detail. It feels good to get it out.

“I had put it out of my mind to focus on my children, but it wasn’t a panacea… It was a temporary fix. It feels like I spent all my time in that window seat—hours and hours and hours, watching that damn bridge, zeroing in on every black SUV that crossed… and hoping…

“By the time I fell asleep in that guestroom, I could have slept eternity away, not because I wanted to die, just because sleeping meant that I didn’t have to feel or think—at least I didn’t have to when crazy dreams weren’t haunting me.

“When Dr. Baker tried to tell me that I was suffering from PTSD, I’m certain that she was wrong. She was trying to label what she thought I was going through and she didn’t know how. But this? Now? Yeah, this is PTSD. This is trauma that I keep trying to shake and it keeps coming back even though I’m seemingly out of danger and I don’t know how to beat it.”

“You’re doing the right thing now,” Jason says, “talking about it, how it makes you feel. Getting it out in the open. Don’t think that you can talk about it once, tell somebody how you feel and then, it’s solved. You’re going to have to keep talking about it. You’re going to have to keep revisiting these feelings, especially when they creep up on you again, and they will creep up on you again. You’re the doctor, you know this, but it’s hard to diagnose yourself. It’s hard to take your own advice when you’re the one feeling the pain.

“I’m not a doctor, Ana, but I am a combat veteran, and I know all about the effects of PTSD. I know that the anguish, the fear, the pain that you feel, it doesn’t just go away. It’s going to take some time. However, if it holds on for too long or it becomes too crippling, you may have to consider some medication.” I twist my lips.

“Jason, really, that’s a bit extreme,” I protest.

“People are prescribed different drugs all the time for PTSD. Men and women have been prescribed tranquilizers when they’ve lost a spouse. What makes your trauma any different? I’m not in combat anymore, but that doesn’t erase what I felt and what I saw. It’s the same thing for you. Christian is back, but did his return immediately make the pain, fear, and uncertainty go away?”

Of course, it didn’t, that’s why we’re having this conversation.

“When those feelings attack, you attack back. You go grab somebody—anybody—and talk it out. Marilyn, Gail, Keri, myself, your husband, your shrink—whoever’s near. Don’t wait. It just gives the feelings time to fester and get worse. This is step one. I know you know this, but it’s hard to hear it when you’re on the receiving end. Ana Grey the doctor knows that I’m right, but Ana Grey the person can’t see it. It’s evading you because you’re feeling all this anguish and pain, but you have to trust me. I speak from experience. You have to talk about it the second that despair hits you.”

I roll my eyes and fight tears that threaten to fall. I want to talk, but I don’t want to cry.

“It must be very tiring having to hold all his secrets,” I say, matter-of-factly, raising my eyes to his and getting back to the reason for my PTSD.

“It used to be,” he admits, “but he doesn’t have as many secrets anymore. His family knows about his lifestyle now; that terrible woman is no longer an issue anymore; and I no longer have to carry screaming subs and wifey hopefuls from the penthouse, because he has you, now. It can be difficult managing him and his flailing emotions, but I’ll take this Christian to the old ‘Mr. Grey’ any day—emotions and all.” He stands.

“We do need to finish this conversation. It’s far from over, but Chuck says you came right in and started swinging away. That was hours ago. You need to get in some hot water… really soon.”


A/N: I called this chapter “Untitled” because I couldn’t think of a title for it. My mind was drawing a total fucking blank. I couldn’t come up with anything… so there you go.

The Crazy 88 is also a reference to Kill Bill. This is the team of bodyguards that “The Bride” left in pieces and in pools of blood in the “House of Blue Leaves” as she’s trying to get to Oren Ishii.

The new question and answer thread is always open for questions about the story. be sure to read it and please adhere to the rules when asking questions. You can find it on the left, second from last in the menu our you can click HERE.

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

~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 54—Digging Out The Leeches

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

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

Chapter 54—Digging Out The Leeches

CHRISTIAN

“Oh, shit. Stay here with Aunt Tina. Jason…” Just as Harmony enters the room, I take the scrambler from my pocket and place it inconspicuously on the back of a lamp on the table near the door. That should give Aunt Tina some relief from the humming while I’m out of the room.

Jason and I take the spiral marble staircase two at a time to see what the big emergency is. When I get to the first floor, I’m surprised to find the very last person in the world that I would expect to become violent pinning Roger against the wall by his collar with his feet dangling in the air… and nobody’s stopping him.

Oh, shit, this is bad.

“Barney,” I say calmly from behind him, attempting to tame my head of IT, “put the ugly man down.”

“You broke a scanner,” Barney says through his teeth, “a fucking scanner! Do you know how hard those things are to get? How much they fucking cost? Do you know how much time it takes to calibrate one of those things, you ignorant piece of shit?” Barney isn’t paying any attention to me. He’s hissing in Roger’s face like a rabid dog and he looks like he wants to rip Roger’s skin off with his bare hands.

“Barney,” I say. “I’m rich. We’ll get you another scanner.”

“I got another scanner! It’s the fucking principle!” he says. Barney is very serious about his electronics. They’re his children. You’d be better off kicking his kid sister than you would to fuck with one of his babies.

“He didn’t trip,” Barney seethes. “He kicked it. I saw him! He has no respect for technology, particularly for shit he can’t afford to replace. Now I’m going to take all the time I’ve taken to calibrate that thing to beat his ass!” I raise a brow and look over at one of the other techs trying to pry Barney’s hand from Roger’s jacket.

“How long did it take him to calibrate that thing?” I ask out of curiosity.

“With all the tweaking he did on it? About a month,” the tech replies. I raise my brow.

“Hmm,” I say before going back to Barney’s ear. “Um, Barney, you can’t beat the man for a solid month,” I say calmly.

“I can sure as hell try,” he says, never taking his eye off Roger who, in turn, never takes his terrified eyes off Barney. I must admit, I’d like to see that.

“No, Barney,” I say calmly, halfway wanting my head of IT to rip this pompous fucker’s head off. “No, if you do that, you’ll kill him… or maim him… or something really bad…”

What was my point? Oh, yeah…

“… And then you’ll go to jail, and that can’t happen because I need you.”

Barney still has the look of death in his eye when he drops the asshole on the floor. Roger unknots his bowtie and massages his neck. Barney had him pretty tight against the wall.

“Stay. Out. Of my way!” Barney growls in a voice that I’ve never heard before, garnering the attention of everybody in the room before turning away.

“Crazy barbarian!” Roger mumbles to Barney’s back. It wasn’t meant for Barney to hear, but he heard it. In fact, we all did. Barney spins around and delivers a prize-worthy right cross that sends Roger sailing right over the scanner he had just broken.

CRASH!

It’s destroyed now.

“Barney!” I say in mock scolding.

“He fell,” Barney says, looking at Roger’s unconscious form. “You heard him. He tripped over a several hundred-thousand-dollar scanner and broke it. Ain’t that what that looks like to you?”

“Looks that way to me,” his tech says.

“Me, too,” someone else adds. “Fucked it up real bad, too.”

“Same here,” comes another response. “Tripped right over the damn thing and did a face-plant on the marble.”

“Alright, alright everybody back to work,” I say. “Jason, we gotta clean up this mess.”

“How do you suggest we go about doing that?” he says. “We’ve got an unconscious asshole in the middle of said mess.”

“Take pictures?” someone jests and a few of the staff laugh. I consider the situation.

“Actually, somebody does need to take a picture of him,” I confirm. Before the words are out of my mouth, camera phones are flashing like crazy.

“Why?” Jason asks, curiously.

“Because when he wakes up, he’s going to want to press charges. I’ve obviously got witnesses who’ll say he tripped over that thing. Now, we’ve got proof.” I take a few pictures of my own.

“What’s to stop him from suing for his injuries?” Jason asks. I smile.

“Have you forgotten how persuasive I can be?” I question.

“No, but your persuasion doesn’t seem to have an effect on him,” Jason points out. “He’s a real haughty motherfucker and he’s too full of his own imagined self-importance to show any reverence to anybody… not even Tina.”

I twist my lips. Jason’s right. This horrible sonofabitch pretends that Aunt Tina has the reins, but I wonder how long she hasn’t known that she’s really not in control… he is.

“That’s because I’ve been using the wrong kind of persuasion,” I note, more to myself than anybody, “but I’m about to rectify that situation. Now, how do we wake this fucker up?”

“A bucket of water,” Jason says, “but smelling salts would be more effective.” I gesture to one of the other security detail.

“Go upstairs to Tina Franklin’s room. Knock before you enter. Ask her daughter if there are any smelling salts in the house.” He nods and heads up the winding staircase. I turn around and look at the arrogant, pompous fucker laid out on the floor. One of his teeth has been dislodged and he’s bleeding all over the marble floor. I gesture to one of the other staff members and instruct him to find towels and to make an ice pack in the kitchen. I hear a groan below me and see that the pompous asshole is slowly coming around.

“Bring a bucket of cold water, too,” I instruct him. Jason raises his brow.

“Opting for plan A, I see?” he asks.

“He’s coming out of it. We don’t need smelling salts,” I reply. It takes a few minutes, but both staff members return with the requested items… even though we won’t need the smelling salts. I take the bucket—it’s a small bucket, only about two gallons—and dump the water on Roger’s head and face. He jolts to full consciousness, coughing and sputtering… and cursing. He looks up and sees me standing over him with the bucket, glaring down at him. He immediately falls silent. I crouch down to him. Filled with about two dozen men, this room is so quiet that you could rock a baby to sleep in here.

“You alright, Roger?” I ask, my voice deceptively calm, fury radiating from every pore of my body… and I’m sure that he can feel it.

“I… I…” No full sentences yet, I see.

“That was a nasty fall you took,” I say, stressing the word fall, “when you tripped over that very expensive scanner that’s now destroyed.” I point to the shattered scanner at his feet.

“I didn’t twip,” he protests, quickly bringing his hand to his mouth.

Yep, Jeeves, you’re a-missing a tooth.

“Dat guy…” He’s looking around for Barney, who walks in with another scanner. “Him! He hit me!” Barney glares at him with a murderous look.

“Trip over this one,” he threatens. “I dare you!” Roger shrinks a bit at Barney’s tone.

“He hit me, I thay,” Roger declares. I take the towel from the tech—or whoever it is—and hand it to Roger. He snatches it from me and puts it against his mouth, wincing at the pain. “I’ll thue him for thith. I’ll thue all of you!” he threatens through his towel.

“Oh, Roger, Roger, Roger,” I mock lamenting. “You’re outnumbered. Several people here have pictures of you sprawled over the floor, face down, with feet dangling over that destroyed scanner.” I gesture to the scanner and he looks over at it. I hold my hand out to help him up and he refuses. I raise a brow at him. “Take the hand, Roger, or would you rather Barney helped you?”

He looks over at Barney and quickly takes my hand instead. I lift him off the floor like a puppy. The guy weighs nothing.

“Now,” I say, walking with Roger over to a nearby sofa. “You’ve been underfoot quite a bit today. I, with Tina’s permission, asked you to leave and you refused. We now have a nurse coming to check her vitals to make sure that you haven’t worried her to the brink of a stroke, and you’ve inconveniently tripped over two very expensive pieces of equipment, completely destroying one of them.”

“I didn’t twip…”

“What was that?” I ask, putting my hand to my ear. “I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that. Are you saying that you didn’t trip over that spectrum analyzer and that scanner that you busted? Is that what you’re saying?” The room gets quiet again.

“No,” Roger says. “I did twip over that sthpectwum thingy, but your guy there hit me, and I fell over the sthcanner!”

“Well, that’s strange,” I mock misunderstanding. “It was my impression that you indicated that you tripped over it, and that’s why Barney was so upset.”

“Well, yeth… well, no…” He doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going.

“Have a seat, Roger,” I say, looking down at him and gesturing to the sofa just behind him and to the left. He straightens his back and stands defiantly, glaring at me.

“Sit the fuck down!” I demand, shoving him hard and causing him to fall back and over onto the sofa. His feet fly up as his butt hits the cushion, and his eyes widen. I close the space between us and look down at him.

“Let me explain something to you,” I say, my voice rumbling in a Satanic-like Dom voice. “I don’t give a fuck who you think you are. I don’t care how long you’ve worked here. I don’t care what you think your station is. You’re nothing to me. I have a company to run, and yet, I’m here checking for recording devices and babysitting your ass. I don’t give a fuck about anything in this place except that woman upstairs in that room breathing her last breaths, and anybody who fucking interferes with her comfort will have to deal with me personally!

“You’re up to no good. I know you are. You want us out of here too badly. You’re afraid of what we’ll find. You badgered that poor woman to the point that she needs medical assistance. You’re walking around here haughtily destroying equipment that costs more than your entire fucking net worth, and you didn’t expect somebody to put their hands on you? You’re lucky I haven’t personally beaten you within an inch of your worthless fucking life, or better yet, have one of the many ex-military men you see in front of you do it for me!

“So, here’s what we’re going to do, Rog.” I say, crouching down so that we’re eye-level. “You’re going to sit your weasely little ass right there until I tell you to move, and you’re not going to make a fucking sound—not a rumble, not a grumble, not a sneeze. If you do so much as sigh too loudly, I’m instructing that big man right there to give you a good solid gut punch.”

He turns his head to see one of the many members of my six-foot-plus security team standing with his hands clasped in front of him, looking down at Roger and smiling.

“I’m going to find every little piece of shit hiding in this house and then you’re going to give me some information, because if you don’t, I’m going to make your life very fucking uncomfortable.”

“But…” he begins.

“I didn’t say you could speak!” I hiss. He shrinks back in his seat and timidly raises his hand. I have to work at it, but I succeed in holding my stern expression at his gesture.

“You may speak.”

“With all due resthpect, thir, there’th a lot of sthaff in thith houth. Why would I be the only one under thusthpithion?”

“Well, that’s what you’re going to tell me,” I say to him, “as soon as we’re done with our sweep. See, I dismissed everyone on Tina’s instruction, even the housekeeper and the cook, and everybody left when they were told—everybody, that is, except you. You, my ‘thisthpithious’ little friend, are behaving like a terrified child on report card day—destroying equipment, harassing a woman in completely diminished health… I really should just beat the shit out of you right now, but I won’t, because we’ve got a job to finish here. So, if you have any cohorts in your little foiled coup, you’re going to tell me, but I can guarantee you that I’m going to find everything. The only question in my mind is are you going to come clean before or after I find all your dirt.” I lean in to his face.

“I don’t know if you remember me, but I was the little boy who used to hide under the porch and drink lemonade and eat cookies.” His eyes widen. “Yeah… you remember. Time sure does fly, doesn’t it? So, you know that I was a troubled little boy, and that woman upstairs showed me compassion in a world where I thought there was none. So, believe me when I tell you that she means a whole fucking lot to me and my family, and so does her daughter. So, you need to get your shit together, because as far as I’m concerned, you’re public enemy #1, and I will gladly fuck you up, wash my hands, walk away, then go and have dinner. Are we clear, Roger?”

He nods feverishly as he swallows, probably a mouthful of his own saliva and blood. I gesture to the guy who handed me the towel to hand me the ice pack I requested. When he put it in my hand, I pass it over to Roger.

“Now, you’re going to have a nasty bruise on your face and that lip is going to swell up something terrible. So, we’ll keep the ice coming—try to keep the damage to a minimum except, of course, for that tooth, but you asked for that, and you know it. Any questions, Rog?”

He shakes his head like a good little puppy as I stand. I turn to the detail that was supposed to be watching this worm in the first place. At first, he’s smirking. I continue to glare at him and his smile falls instantly as he nervously clears his throat.

“When I say,” I begin through my teeth, “don’t take your eyes off him, that’s what the fuck I mean. If he has to use the bathroom, you go with him and watch him until he shakes the last drop. If you need a bathroom break, you don’t leave without relief. If no relief is available, piss on him!” I point to the weasel who jumps back to avoid getting hit by my swinging hand. I turn to the other guard.

“The same thing goes for you,” I tell him. “Don’t keep an eye on him, keep both on him. If he squirms, I want to know why. Are we clear?”

“Yes, sir,” they answer simultaneously. I turn to the first detail.

“You’re sure this time?” I say sarcastically. “I don’t have to draw a picture for you or anything like that?” He swallows.

“Yes, sir, I mean, no, sir… I’m sorry, sir. It won’t happen again.”

“Damn straight,” I said, giving him a hard glare eye roll before leaving. When I walk pass Jason, he’s scratching his stubble and twisting his lips. I know the entire display was quite theatrical, and I don’t want to talk about it. As we’re about to ascend the stairs, there’s a knock at the door. Roger instinctively moves to stand but freezes when three sets of eyes lock onto him—the two details now assigned to babysit him… and mine. I turn to the guy standing closest to the door.

“Get that,” I tell him. He goes to the door and opens it, asking about the person’s business. A woman chats with him for a moment before he turns to me.

“It’s a nurse,” he says.

“Oh… yes, yes, please, let her in.” I go to the door to meet the nurse who looks more than a little confused at the circumstances. She’s looking around the room and she spots Roger with his towel and ice.

“Does he need assistance?” she asks before looking at me. I look over at Roger and wave him off.

“No, he’ll be fine,” I say. “He took a nosedive when he tripped over that very expensive piece of machinery right there,” I add, pointing to the mangled scanner. “He would have been fine had he left when we asked him to, but I guess you can’t beat instant karma.”

The nurse laughs and snickers before turning her attention to me. She does a double-take before introducing herself.

“I’m Monica Summers. Ms. Carter called for a nurse.” Ms. Carter? I frown. Oh! That must be Harmony’s married name.

“For Aunt Tina, right?” She raises a brow.

“You’re Mrs. Franklin’s nephew?” she asks. I shake my head.

“Surrogate nephew, so to speak,” I reply. “She helped… take care of me when I was young. I’m Christian Grey.” I extend my hand to her.

“That’s the face!” she says, taking my proffered hand. “I was trying to place you. I knew I had seen you somewhere.” I smile.

“Please, Ms. Summers. Follow me,” I say, walking to the stairs.

“Oh, no, please call me Monica—or Nurse Monica, if that makes you more comfortable. Only people that I don’t like call me Ms. Summers.” She falls in step behind me. When she, Taylor, and I get to the top of the stairs, she touches my arm. I try not to jump out of my skin at the contact but raise my eyes to her.

“Mr. Grey, may I have a word before we see Mrs. Franklin?” she says, her voice low as she looks over her shoulder at Jason.

“Yes, of course… and don’t worry about Jason. He’s the most trusted member of my staff.” She nods.

“That guy—Roger—he’s no good,” she says. “I wouldn’t tell Mrs. Franklin’s business to just anybody, but I feel like you’re in a position to do something about it. I can’t put my finger on it and I can’t tell you what’s going on because I don’t know, but he’s sneaky—and possessive. He’s always lurking around a corner somewhere and I know he’s up to no good.” I nod, someone else to confirm my suspicions.

“Have you seen anything in particular?” I ask. She shrugs.

“He never leaves her alone. Whenever she gets comfortable, he comes barging in—he never knocks. He badgers the woman relentlessly, cajoling her into decisions that she really doesn’t care to make.” This piques my attention.

“Such as?” I press.

“Well, I’m not just Mrs. Franklin’s hospice nurse. I’m also private duty—trained in hospice. I was already coming around on a regular basis when her diagnosis first became critical, and I just changed to hospice after it became terminal. He would try to get me to leave the room so that he could talk to her. At first, I did, but then I started listening to the things that he was talking about and refused to leave—things like who would get her China set when she passed on and who should be in charge of the house. Before Harmony got here, he even tried to convince her to sign a power of attorney for him. That’s when I intervened because I just knew he would wipe her out.”

“Well, what did you do?” I ask, intrigued and pissed at the same time.

“I marched right back into that room and told Mrs. Franklin not to sign anything without talking to her daughter or her attorney. He got pissed off and told me to butt out because this was none of my business. I told him that this was none of his business either. Just like me, he’s nothing but the help and he needed to leave and go do his job so that I could do mine.”

“What happened next?” I ask.

“He left in a huff and I asked Mrs. Franklin for Harmony’s number. I called her and told her what he was doing. She was planning to come later the next week but instead, she came immediately.”

That’s one of the reasons he’s so bitter to Harmony. She foiled his plans.

“Mr. Grey…”

“Christian,” I correct her. She nods.

“Christian, I’ve threatened that man more times than you know. I’ve threatened to call the police for a wellness check because he wouldn’t let me in. I’ve threatened to call Adult Protective Services because I had to undress and bathe Mrs. Franklin and he wouldn’t leave the room. I asked Mrs. Franklin if he was once a lover or something because he’s more than possessive—he’s obsessed. She laughed at me and assured me that he’s never been anything but her butler, but he’s had that position for a long time.”

“I can attest to his tenure, but it doesn’t explain his behavior,” I tell her.

“He just gives me a bad vibe all the way around,” she says. “I don’t trust him one bit and I don’t think he should be left alone with her. He’s horrible to Harmony and he walks around like he owns the place. Sometimes, he’ll even try to interfere with my care—lurking around and talking to her while I’m trying to medicate her or give her daily care. I didn’t want to dump this on Harmony—she’s got enough on her plate, but none of Tina’s other children are coming around. I was going to ask Hospice to assign someone else to her because he’s out of control…”

“No, please don’t,” I press. “I appreciate your honesty. I completely understand about Roger and don’t worry. I have a feeling that he won’t be a problem after today.” I reach in my inside pocket and retrieve a business card.

“You report directly to Harmony. If you have any problems at all, call me. My cell is on the back.” She looks at the card like it’s the holy grail.

“I appreciate that,” she says. “You know Mrs. Franklin doesn’t have long…”

“I know,” I reply. “And we really need to make these last days as comfortable as possible. Now, let’s go on in and check her out. He worked her into a tizzy this morning, which is why I had Harmony call you. Do you mind if I come in with you? I’ll leave whenever you say.” She nods.

“Not at all. Please,” she says, and I follow her to Aunt Tina’s door. She knocks, and we wait. Harmony answers the door.

“She’s asleep,” Harmony says softly, stepping aside to let us in. We walk over to Aunt Tina and she almost looks like she’s smiling.

“She doesn’t look stressed out to me,” Monica whispers.

“She’s been peaceful ever since you put Roger out,” Harmony says to me. “He’s always badgering her about something, trying to make it seem like it’s for her own good or for the good of the estate or something. He tried to get her to sign a POA before I got here. He doesn’t listen to anything I say—it’s like I don’t even exist. He’s so frustrating and I really wish I could get rid of him. Someone else can be trained to do exactly what he does, and they won’t pester my mother. I can get her whatever she needs, do whatever she needs, be whatever she needs. I’ll drop out of school if I must, but I want him gone…”

“You don’t have to do that, Harmony,” I tell her. “I’m certain that by the time this whole thing is over, Roger will be leaving all on his own.” Harmony and Monica both look at me.

“How can you be so sure?” Harmony asks. I smile.

“I have my ways,” I say.

“Do I even want to know the details of this?” Monica asks.

“Probably not,” I inform her. She smiles and turns to Harmony.

“Roger’s downstairs sitting on the loveseat with a bloody towel and an icepack on his face,” she says. “He also has two big guys standing on either side of him like Nutcracker soldiers, just staring at him. I imagine that he won’t move without their permission.” Harmony’s mouth falls open.

“You’re kidding,” she says. Monica shakes her head. “God, I wish I could have been there to see that.”

“Well, you were actually,” I inform her. “You were there to see him ‘trip’ over the scanner, right?”

“I didn’t see anything,” she admits, “but he says he tripped and we heard the crash.” I nod.

“Yeah, well, he took a nosedive into the marble right after he tripped… or I should say a mouth dive. He lost a tooth.” I do the finger quotes around “tripped” and both women cover their mouths to stifle a laugh. I turn to Monica. “I don’t know how trustworthy you are, but the fact that you came to me with everything going on with Roger and what he does to Aunt Tina and how he treats Harmony, I’m putting a lot of faith in you right now.” She raises a brow at me.

“I have an obligation to my patients,” she says. “If I see something going on that could potentially harm them, I have to try to help—first through the family and then through the authorities. What he’s doing is unethical, but not illegal. I just… did what I could.” She shrugs. “Besides, I know who you are, Christian. I’d be a fool to cross you.”

That makes this easier. I turn to Harmony.

“Would you be able to rest if you had a constant hum in your ear?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“You’re talking about the hum in her hearing aid,” she says. I nod. “I’ve told her to take it out or turn it off when she hears that hum, but she doesn’t want to. She says she feels too vulnerable without one of her senses.”

“This room is bugged,” I tell them both. “I don’t know when or how many bugs. I don’t know if there’s video surveillance, but I know there’s audio. I planted a scrambler behind that lamp before I went downstairs. It scrambles any signals coming into this room—that’s why we can’t use our phones in here.” Monica discretely checks her phone to confirm what I’m telling her. “She’s resting because that humming is gone. It’s probably the best rest she’s gotten in months.”

Monica creeps over to Aunt Tina and feels her wrist while Harmony and I watch. She puts a stethoscope on Aunt Tina chest and listens careful. She nods and puts the stethoscope around her neck.

“Breath sounds good and even. Pulse is steady. With her resting like this, I would say her blood pressure is probably normal or close to it. I’d have to say you’re right. I certainly haven’t seen her this peaceful in quite some time.”

“Harmony,” I say, “we won’t disturb her right now, but we need to get her out of this room. How easy, or hard, would it be to temporarily move her to another room after she wakes—just long enough to sweep the room and remove the bugs… and cameras, if there are any?”

“Oh, God… cameras… in my mother’s bedroom…” Harmony looks to be turning a little green. I put my hand on her shoulder.

I’m running over everything in my head, how it was just happenstance…

… That Aunt Tina spoke to me out of all the millions… and millions… of people at Mia’s wedding reception.

… That we found out that Harmony was interested in social work and we connected with her.

… That Harmony’s unfortunate life changes occurred right at the untimely moment of her mother’s progressing illness.

… That I just happen to come and see my Aunt Tina and something that my security team wears every day tipped us off to listening devices in her home.

I shudder to think what would have happened had one thing—one single event—not fallen into place for me to be here at this moment.

“I swear to you, we’ll get to the bottom of this, okay?” I promise her. She visibly shudders, nodding as she wraps her arms around herself. That fucker downstairs…

“Harmony?” She raises her eyes to me. “How hard would it be?” She sighs.

“We can move her to the room next door for a while, but we would have to ask her how she feels about it first,” Harmony replies. “I won’t force anything on my mother.” I nod.

“We’ll gently explain to her what’s going on—that it’s not a permanent move. Whatever has been planted, it can’t be too intense, unless it was done while she wasn’t here… like when she was hospitalized.”

“I knew I should have moved next door,” she says, shaking her head. I frown.

“Next door?” I ask. Does she mean the house next door?

“Yes, I wanted to be closer to Mom, and there’s an adjoining door from that room to this one, but Roger insisted that I stay in my old room. When I protested, he went on about the delicate balance of the house and my hours likely disturbing Mom’s rest and blah blah blah. I didn’t feel like arguing with him, so I just let it go and went to my room.”

Well, her being next door wouldn’t have prevented the room from being bugged, especially since it was done before she got here, but it does keep her that much further away from her mother…

Before she got here…

Shit!

“Harmony, which room is yours?” I ask.

“Um, if you turn left and pass the first two doors, mine is the last room on the end,” she says. I nod.

“I’ll be right back,” I tell her. I leave the room and Jason is standing in the hallway.

“What is it?” he asks.

“Give me your scrambler,” I say. His brow furrows.

“Did you lose the first one?” he asks reaching into his pocket.

“No, it’s in Tina’s room.” I hold out my hand to him and he puts the scrambler in my palm. “Follow me.”

We open the door to the first room, the one next door to Tina.

“Go in, walk around. Tell me what happens.” He raises a brow at me but follows my directions. About a minute and a half later, he returns.

“Nothing,” he says. “If there’s anything in there, I can’t detect it.” I nod, and we proceed to the next room.

“Nothing,” he repeats, coming out of the room in just as much time. We open the door to Harmony’s room and turns his gaze to me.

“Oh, this room is lit,” he says before he even enters and closes the door again. “I don’t even have to step in there. That space is hot.”

I know for sure that it’s Roger now.

“What about those rooms?” I ask.

Jason and I walk around testing all the rooms on the second floor. The only other room that comes up lit is a small sitting room just across from Aunt Tina’s room.

“Get me a team up here,” I tell him. “Check for surveillance in the rooms on that side of the hall starting with the room next door to Tina’s. We’re going to move Tina so that we can get the devices out of her room, but not until I’m sure that we’re not taking her from the frying pan into the fire.” I give him his scrambler.

“You got it, boss,” he says, and heads down the stairs. I take my phone out of my pocket and call my wife.

“Hey,” she answers.

“Hey, Butterfly. I have a favor to ask.”

“You want to ask me for a favor? That’s strange… and a bit ominous.”

“I know, but it’s nothing like that. I want to know how you would feel loaning Windsor out for a while.”

“What? What do you mean ‘loaning him out?’ He’s a person, not an umbrella!” She sounds a little perturbed.

“Baby, it happens all the time…”

“Yes, with those unfeeling socialites who treat their staff like possessions instead of people!” she hisses.

“Butterfly, please let me explain. This is nothing like that. It’s a bit of an emergent situation.” She’s silent for a moment.

“I’m listening,” she says begrudgingly. I sigh.

“To tell you the entire story would take your whole afternoon, but Reader’s Digest version, Tina’s butler is up to no good in a major way and I have to get him out of here today. Windsor is good at his job, and I trust him. Would you mind terribly if we lent Windsor to Aunt Tina until we can find a suitable replacement for her current butler? I’ll ask her and Windsor if it’s okay.” I hear silence again.

“God, I don’t know how Windsor’s going to feel about that,” she says. “You know how carefully we chose our staff and I don’t want to lose him.”

“It’ll only be until we can hire a suitable replacement,” I promise her. “Hell, once she’s gone, I don’t know if Harmony will even want a butler.”

“Well, if this other guy is up to no good, what about Windsor’s safety while he’s there?” she protests.

“I’ve already thought of that, Butterfly. Trust me on this. I just don’t want Aunt Tina to be in harm’s way while she’s still with us.” Butterfly sighs.

“I’ll find Windsor. You talk to him about it while I’m here with him. I want him to see my face so that he’ll know how important he is to us.” She’s still working from the house? I nod as if she can see me.

“Okay.” I wait and listen while she pages Windsor and asks him to come to her office. It takes a few moments, but I hear when he comes to the office. She puts the phone on speaker.

Yes, ma’am?” I hear Windsor say.

“Windsor, Christian is on the speaker. He has a favor that he wants to ask you. Now, before he asks you, I need you to understand something. You are not obligated to say ‘yes.’ If this makes you the slightest bit uncomfortable, you can say ‘no’ and you won’t jeopardize your position with us in any way. You’re very important to us…” Geez, Butterfly, I’m just asking him to be someone else’s butler for a couple of weeks or so, just down the road and across the bridge. I’m not asking him to move to a third world country and take care of starving children!

“Very well. What is it, Mr. Grey?” he asks.

“Windsor, there’s a dear friend of mine who is on hospice. Her butler is about to leave and I just want to know if you’d be willing to take his place for a couple of weeks or so, just until we find a suitable replacement. I wouldn’t be willing to give you up, even for a couple of weeks, but I need someone that I can trust.” I hear him chuckle a bit

“Certainly, sir. This kind of thing happens all the time. It’s no big deal,” Windsor says.

“Mrs. Grey was concerned that you would feel like we were loaning you to someone like an object,” I say. “I think her comparison was an umbrella.”

“Christian!” my wife scolds. I think she would rather I didn’t share that part.

“Mrs. Grey, it’s not like you said, ‘You’re going to this person’s house for a while.’ I’ve had that happen before. Mr. Grey asked me, and in effect, so did you. I’d be more than happy to help out.”

“Thank you, Windsor. You have no idea what this means to me,” I tell him with a sigh.

“Thank you, Mr. Grey. It’s humbling that you trust me to help care for someone that apparently means so much to you, and I thank you both for wanting to treat me like a person and not a possession.”

Good grief. I almost don’t want to let him come. Tina’s going to fall in love with him!

“I’m going to talk to Mrs. Franklin, but it could be as soon as tomorrow morning,” I inform him.

“I’ll prepare myself,” he replies.

“Thank you, Windsor,” I hear my wife say. I assume he leaves.

“Jesus, I almost don’t want to lend him out,” I lament.

“He can still hear you, dear,” my wife says.

“Good! I almost don’t want to lend you out!” I say louder. I hear him chuckle.

“Then, I’m doing my job,” he says, and I hear a door close.

“Baby, what are you doing at home today?” I ask. “Are you still worrying about that situation that I told you not to worry about?”

“No, I’m really taking care of some things,” she says. “I’m sorry and I should have told you first, but I’m stealing Luma from you for a couple of days.” I frown.

“Is everything okay?” I ask.

“I just need some help—the usual stuff—and Marilyn’s a bit under the weather. I told her to see how she feels on Monday and let me know.”

“That’s pretty under the weather to need two days and the whole weekend,” I say. “It’s nothing serious, I hope.”

“When is the last time you ever saw that woman take a day off?” she asks. Yeah, there is that.

“Duly noted. You had to take one of the best, huh?” I jest.

“I just called Andrea and asked how I would go about getting a sub for a couple of days… oops, wrong choice of words, but you know what I mean.” I raise my brow.

“Yes, I know what you mean.”

“She said that you all normally just shift people around in the office, but since they would be coming to the house, she only trusted Luma and she would snag someone from another department for a couple of days.”

And that’s why Andrea is irreplaceable.

“Duly noted once again. So, what’s got you staying home that you couldn’t go into the office today?”

“I’ll have to fill you in later, and I’ll expect you to give me details on Aunt Tina’s situation, too, but I really need to get back to it.” I nod.

“I will. I love you.”

“I love you, too.” I end the call just as Jason is coming back up the stairs with one of the teams.

“Keep it down, fellas,” I tell them. “The lady of the house is resting in this room and I need this room, that room and that room swept first.” I point to each room and get them started on what needs to be done.

“Jason, come with me.” I descend the stairs and look around the room. Roger’s blood and tooth and the pieces of the very expensive scanner have all been cleaned from the marble floor. Most of the staff have moved on to other parts of the house. Roger is still seated on the love seat with my two sentinels watching carefully over him.

“We need a security detail here, at least two officers, 24/7—whatever you feel is needed,” I say to Jason within earshot of Roger.

“You were reading my mind, sir,” Jason responds. I nod. Now to deal with this little worm.


ANASTASIA

“Mrs. Grey, it’s Alex.” I don’t think I’ll ever get that man to call me Ana. He has on occasion, but I think for the most part, he’s more comfortable with Mrs. Grey.

“Hi, Alex. What do you have for me?”

“If you’ll kindly check your email, I’ve sent you some preliminary information on Kenneth Carter, Harmony Franklin’s estranged husband.” I open my email.

“That was fast,” I say, opening the attachment and scanning over the file.

“From what I can see, unless he has some deep, dark past that’s going to take some real digging, it’s pretty cut and dried. Born and raised in West Seattle; very unremarkable life; no criminal history—got caught shoplifting when he was thirteen, a pack of chewing gum. He’s had four traffic tickets in his whole life. Harmony Franklin is his second wife. The first marriage did not end equitably. He has a kid that he never sees, seven years old. He’s paying child support and spousal support, and he’s in arrearage for both…”

… Which is most likely why he’s trying to get his hands on Harmony’s inheritance.

“He works at a marketing firm downtown as you can see on the report.”

“He’s thirty-two,” I say more to myself. “How old is his first wife?”

“She’s twenty-six now.”

“Twenty-six?” I say, somewhat appalled. “That means she was nineteen when she had his son.”

“And he was twenty-five. And they were married. My money’s on shotgun… literally.” I shake my head.

“He sure likes ‘em young, doesn’t he?” I mumble.

“That he does,” Alex says. “His last two extramarital affairs were twenty-one and twenty-three.” Jesus.

“This guy has ‘sleaze’ written all over him,” I declare. “How did you find out this much information in so little time?” I ask.

“It’s what I do, Mrs. Grey,” he replies. I sigh. Mrs. Grey again…

“Thanks, Alex,” I say, and we end the call.

“Ana, what do you think about this color?” Luma says, garnering my attention once I hang up the phone. “In a semi-gloss or flat, it is the perfect earth tone to capture the light.”

Luma’s looking at paint samples to help me pick a color for the office. She’s showing me a muted green, not quite olive, but in the right light, it looks like gray. She’s right—it’s just what this room needs.

“It’s perfect, Luma,” I tell her. “The walls and bookshelves can be painted that color and we can go with natural fibers for the décor.”

“I was thinking that exact thing,” she exclaims. “I’ve seen some ideas for furniture. They may look a little mixed-matched when you first see them but give them a chance. I’m sure you’ll see where I’m going with it…” As she’s talking, my phone rings. Our song… it’s Christian.

“I need to take this, Luma,” I excuse myself. After greeting my husband, imagine my surprise when he tells me that he wants to lend Windsor to Tina… lend… like a cup of sugar. Seriously?

After he convinces me that it’s a security and trust issued, I summon Windsor to my office and we explain the situation to him, after which he gladly agrees to work for Tina until a suitable replacement can be found.

Suitable replacement… my mind goes back to Marilyn.

She was a real bitch this morning for no good reason, and I’m 100% sure that she’s crabby as fuck, has a brain tumor that’s causing her to act like Val, or goddammit, she’s fucking pregnant.

I look at Kenneth Carter’s information once more. Marketing firm downtown. Hmmm…

I inform Christian that I’ve commandeered Luma and why before I end the call with him. I think there’s someone who might need a little visit from a concerned friend… of a friend…

*-*

The building is pretty nondescript to be downtown. It’s kind of close to the Marketplace, though. I don’t know what I was expecting. The guy’s whole fucking life is nondescript. I walk over to the street vendor selling roses. Strange place for a street vendor. There’s no one on the street, but hey, if it works for you… Just when I note to myself that no one’s around, I see a teenager walking by across the street. Perfect timing.

“Hey, kid, come here.” He comes over to me. “You wanna make a quick 50 bucks?”

“Sure,” he says. I purchase two dozen of roses from a street vendor and ask for a piece of paper. I scribble a note on the piece of paper and put it inside the roses.

“Go into that building and let the guard know that you have flowers for Kenneth Carter. You can leave them at the desk if you want. Just let the guard know that a very pretty lady wanted to make sure that he got them. I’ll be standing right there at that car when you come back, and I’ll give you your $50 once you deliver them.”

“Sure thing, lady.” The kid takes the flowers and goes into the building while I walk back over to the Audi. About 10 minutes later he comes back out and walks over to me.

“Okay, lady, it’s done,” he says. “The guard was calling upstairs somewhere to the guy before I left the building.” I nod, pull out a $100 bill and hand it to him.

“Good job. Thank you.” He looks at the $100 bill and his eyes widen.

“No, ma’am!” he exclaims. “Thank you!” He takes off down the street while Chuck, Ben, and I all get back into the Audi… and wait.

It doesn’t take long.

This scrawny, average looking guy comes barreling out the door looking up and down the street like he’s going to find his answer. He looks across the street and spots the Audi. Then he comes barreling across the street just like he came barreling out the building. He bends down to the tinted windows, hoping to get a look inside. Having donned a pair of very large blacked out Jackie O’s, I let my window down only slightly.

“May I help you?” I ask sweetly.

“Did you send me these?” he demands.

“Why would you think I sent them?” I say, my voice still sweet.

“Don’t be cute, bitch. Just answer the damn question!” he hisses.

“Yeah,” I say nonchalantly, “that was me.”

“Who are you?” he shouts, flinging the roses to the ground. “Why are you here and what the fuck do you want?”

“Oh, I just wanna chat,” I say. “See, I have a friend who would really like for you to just go away and I thought we might talk about it.” He laughs.

“My wife musta sent you,” he smiles. “I was waitin’ to see what she might try.”

“No,” I reply opening my window a little more, “she didn’t send me. In fact, she has no idea that I’m here. Hell, she never even told me your name. I had to find that on my own. I just have problems with little boys with small thoughts, small minds, and small dicks thinking they can take advantage of women, especially women who once foolishly loved them.”

“Open this goddamn door!” he demands, violently pulling the handle. Chuck and Ben calmly step out of the car

“I’d step away from the car if I were you.” My voice is menacing now. He takes two steps back from the car, looking cautiously from Ben to Chuck and back. Ben walks around to my side of the car and I unlock the door just as he reaches me. When I step out of the car and come face to face with the bane of Harmony’s existence, I’m not impressed at all. I look him up and down and note that not only is he not very attractive, he’s not well-built and he’s short because we’re eye to eye in my Louboutins. Hmm, I expected more of someone who likes to bully women. Then again, maybe not.

“What? Did you think I was just sitting in the backseat because I like the view from back there?” I ask, looking tougher in my Tom Ford than he does in his little blue power suit. He doesn’t answer.

“I don’t have a lot of time, Ken,” I say his name with disdain, “so, I’ll make this as short as possible. You took advantage of a young girl and you know that’s what you were doing when you met her. What are you doing with that kid anyway? What are you, like 40?” His eyes narrow.

“If you found out my name all by your little lonesome, you know how old I am, too,” he shoots.

Oh, we’re playing this game? Okay.

I open my jacket slightly and put my hands on my hips, just enough for him to see the strap of my holster, but not my Glock. His pupils dilate when his eyes go first to my breasts but constrict almost immediately when he zooms in on the leather of the holster.

Yeah, asshole, want to see what else I can do all by my little lonesome?

“I knew someone like you once. He’s no longer with us, though,” I say, glaring at him through my shades. I let that statement trail off and leave David’s demise to his imagination.

“I’m here to give you some free advice,” I say clamping my hands in front of me. “You can do with this information whatever you please, I really don’t care, but I suggest you take it. Harmony wants to be done with you, and you want nothing else to do with Harmony. So, the best thing for you to do would be to sign the divorce papers and let her get on with her life. Harmony is fully aware of the fact that you’re not entitled to a dime of her inheritance…”

His lips form a straight line. He’s not pleased at all that Harmony is aware of this. I’m certain he was counting on a payoff to make him go away.

“… And since I already know that you’re aware of that, you can see that your stalling tactics are useless and in case you don’t know, you’re starting to piss people off.” Of course, he decides to change tact when he sees his cash cow running out to pasture.

“What if I don’t?” he says. “What if I decide to drag this out? There’s nothing you or anybody else can do to make me sign those papers. I can just drag this out for as long as I want, and she’ll be part of my life until I decide to let her go.” I laugh

“Yeah,” I begin, my voice sinister, “He was just like you.” I smile but then the smile fades. “Luckily, I never have to see his ass again because he’s burning in hell now.” I close the space between us.

“Notwithstanding the fact that there are two men standing next to me that could squash you with a breath, you’ve got a woman standing in front of you wearing a suit that costs more than your monthly salary with a Glock on her side looking you square in the eye and telling you to back the fuck off and you’re asking, ‘What if I don’t?’” I mimic the most condescending male voice that I can muster. “You’re funny! That’s really funny!” I chuckle. That smug look falls off Ken’s face and he sucks his teeth.

“I’m not here to have a pissing contest with you, little boy, because my dick is bigger than yours,” I say without blinking. He’s taken aback by the statement, but then again, who wouldn’t be? “Just sign the damn papers. Walk away and let that girl get on with her life. Leave her the fuck alone or I can’t guarantee that the next visitor you get will be delivering flowers.” He glares at me for several seconds.

“Who the fuck are you?” he asks and it’s really a question. I smile.

“Monday night, 8 o’clock, channel 9. Nobody would believe you anyway.” I turn around and walk back to the car. Ben opens the door and I look over my shoulder at Ken right before I get inside.

“You might want to pick those up,” I say, pointing to the discarded roses. “Littering is illegal in Washington.”

I step into the car and Ben closes the door behind me before he and Chuck get back into the car. Chuck starts the car and slowly drives off down the road with Ken still standing in the middle of the street.

“That was so fucking gangster,” Chuck says as we drive down the road, leaving Ken standing there staring at the retreating vehicle. I laugh.

“What did the note say?” Ben asks.

“It said, ‘The beautiful woman in the black car downstairs thinks you’re a worthless piece of shit.’ I knew he would expect it to be Harmony, and gauging by how he came storming out that building and marching across the street to the most expensive car on the road peering shamelessly into the window, I was right.”

“So… why not send me or Chuck to give him that message?” Ben asks. Chuck snickers as if he already knows the answer.

“He would just look at you like a couple of goons coming to rough him up. You may already know this and if you don’t, ask your boy. A pissed-off woman is a very bad thing. A woman scorned is even worse. That asshole now thinks that a woman scorned sent a pissed-off woman who may or may not have sent a joker just like him to the other side to chop him off at the knees and piss all over him with a dick she doesn’t even have. Yes, I had my ‘goons,’ but you guys are pure bravado. There’s no mystery. ‘They’ll beat my ass and hurt me real bad.’ He doesn’t know what I’m capable of, and the mystery is what makes me scarier.”

“Okay, so this I have to know,” Chuck says. “Why guide him to the interview that’s airing on Monday?”

“He asked who I am,” I say. “That’ll answer his question. That’ll also show him me and my husband blowing shit to bits on the shooting range with Glocks and pump rifles in an interview that pretty much says, ‘Come at me.’” Ben shakes his head and Chuck laughs again.

“Classic,” he says. “Fuckin’ classic.”

For the rest of the ride back to the Crossing, I think about how easy it seems to solve other people’s problems and yet my own seem so unmanageable. Harmony’s issue is just a matter of letting a bully know that he’s not the biggest dog in the yard. Marilyn’s problem—though a bit more complicated—is at first as simple as taking a damn pregnancy test. She’s tormenting herself because she doesn’t know what’s happening right now. If she at least arms herself with the facts—positive or negative—she can come to some kind of conclusion or formulate a course of action. But without knowing, she’s just delaying the inevitable and unnecessarily extending her torment.

The fuck if she’s going to take that out on me, though.

As for me, it’s times like these—facing off with Ken—that make me feel powerful, like the independent Ana Steele that I used to be. Yet, it only takes a moment for me to be cowering from the Boogeyman once again. For example, Christian wouldn’t have allowed me to confront Kenneth on my own had I forewarned him that’s what I was planning to do. He would have shit bricks, told me to let him handle it, and went barreling up to this guy in all his Christian Grey-ness, which wouldn’t have been nearly as effective as the 5-foot-3-inch menacing little ball of feminine hell that just told the guy that her masculine genitals are bigger than his.

Now, he’s probably going to shit bricks when he finds out, and I’m in no way looking forward to lectures or punishment fucks. I’m a grown ass woman…

“Don’t tell Christian about this encounter,” I say, firmly. You can cut the pregnant pauses in the front seat with a knife.

“Um, Ana…”

“Don’t. Tell. Christian. About. This. Encounter,” I repeat. They look at each other before Chuck pulls the car over to the curb. I guess I’m going to get my lecture now.

Like hell.

“Is your security team or any member of GEH security required to tell me every single move that Christian makes?” I ask before he says anything. He looks over at Ben, then back at me.

“No,” he says.

“Why not?” I ask.

“Because he’s the boss,” he says.

“And so am I,” I reply, “not because I’m married to him, but because I’m 50% owner of GEH. I don’t have his tenure, so you don’t see me as the boss yet, but guess what? I have his power—maybe not his presence, but his power. I can’t make things happen the way that he can. I can’t pull the same strings that he can… yet. However, I am also The Boss, and if security is not prepared to tell me everything that he does, do not tell him everything that I do.

“No one was in any danger. Nobody got shot, maimed, killed, or fell off any cliffs—and when I did fall off a cliff, he didn’t even care…”

“He didn’t know,” Chuck interjects. I frown.

“What do you mean he didn’t know?” I ask. “You didn’t report that and yet you’re acting as if you have to report this?

“I did report it,” he replies. “I reported to Jason, like I always do, and I reported in the daily security logs. It took a couple of days to report to Jason because someone had to keep an eye on you in the hospital, but I told Gail since I knew that she would speak to him. I don’t think he found out until way after the fact.”

Okay, now I’m confused, and it must be written all over my face.

“It’s hard to explain, Ana,” Chuck adds. “Honestly, if you want to know exactly when Christian found out about your fall, you’re going to want to ask him, but I report everything to Security Central in my daily logs. It’s a requirement to tweak security protocol as needed. You have to understand that.”

“Okay but reporting things in your security logs is a lot different than calling Jason the minute I do something and filling him in so that he can tell my husband, because you know that’s what he does. Do what you must to keep me safe and follow protocol as you are instructed to keep your job, but unless you want me to be petulant and unbearable—and you know that I can be—respect my wishes as one of your employers and don’t tell my husband my every move.”

“I don’t tell your husband your moves, Ana…” Chuck begins.

“But you report them to Jason. Jason is Christian’s eyes and ears, and you’re Jason’s. I’m your boss, too, and I want my freedom. Get used to it.”

Chuck glares at me for a moment before turning around and putting the car back in gear. We pull out into traffic and the ride is silent for several minutes. My thoughts are going a mile a second as we approach the bridge back to Mercer Island, a feeling of doom slowly creeping over me. Through the fog, I suddenly remember one long-forgotten malfeasance.

“By the way,” I say softly, “thank you… for saving my life… again.” Chuck’s eyes rise to the mirror and meet mine, his expression clearly bemused.

“On that cliff,” I continue. “I could have died. Thank you for saving me… and staying with me.”

His expression softens—a mix of pity and sympathy and a bit of understanding.

“You’re welcome,” he replies just as softly, and we continue our trek across the bridge.


A/N: I used a little creative license here. Most audio/visual detection devices are usually pretty small—some are maybe small enough to fit in your hand. For the sake of Roger’s ass whoopin’, we’re pretending that he first kicked over a device that stood upright on the floor, and as for the second device that supposedly cost more than his net worth, think mother-brain-oversized cathode ray tube. I just needed him to fuck something up so that we could beat him up.

“Millions… and millions…”—Christian was being facetious about the number of people at Mia’s wedding, but there were quite a few people in attendance. Wrestling fans will recognize this phrase from the Rock who used it to refer to his huge fan base and the high number of viewers who tuned in to wrestling.

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

The new question and answer thread is always open for questions about the story. be sure to read it and please adhere to the rules when asking questions. You can find it on the left, second from last in the menu our you can click HERE.

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 53—Big Brother

I KNOW THAT YOU HAVEN’T GOTTEN AN EMAIL YET BECAUSE I HAVEN’T SENT ONE. I JUST WANTED TO GET THE CHAPTER POSTED BEFORE I GO TO WORK.

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

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

Chapter 53—Big Brother

CHRISTIAN

I’ve gone back to wearing my tailored holster. The one I borrowed from the security office turned out to be a laughable failure.

I’m running over all the conversations I had with all the people that I spoke to today as I secure my Glock in its case and step out of my clothes in my dressing room. I’m accustomed to doing a lot in a day, but this has been quite the extended sprint.

Shut down any communication from Aragon and rein in my crazy head of security’s absurd attempts at trying to shield my family from the affects of dust.

Try to figure out exactly what’s in those storage bins. I’m so close on that because I don’t want Freeman to get word of the movement and try to do something to hold things up. I and my father and uncle aren’t there to stop him from trying something, so I’m trying to wrap things up as quickly as I can. I was going to have them try to distribute things from the storage bins. Now, I’m thinking to go with my first mind and ship everything here unless there’s something that’s just too fragile to travel.

Mission accomplished getting Aunt Tina to understand that she needs to cherish these last moments with Harmony. It’s a gift that her daughter will treasure for the rest of her life. As I step into the shower and allow the water to run over my head and face, I recall the conversation we had in her room, the one that brought her relief and caused her a bit of grief at the same time.

“Aunt Tina, Harmony, you don’t have to worry about that asshole getting any of Harmony’s inheritance. He’s not entitled to any of it.”

“I thought he was if I get it while we’re still married,” Harmony protests. “Isn’t it considered assets acquired after marriage?”

“Yes, but inheritances are protected as long as you don’t put the proceeds in a joint account.”

“Like hell that’s going to happen,” Harmony says without thinking. “Sorry, Mom.”

“Oh, thank God,” Aunt Tina says, breathing like the weight of the world has been lifted from her shoulders. “I so didn’t want that wretched man to get anything from my Harmony.” I sigh.

“Now, I have some not-so-good news,” I tell her. Harmony sits up straight, still perched on the floor at her mother’s knees.

“What is it?” she asks. Tina’s attention is now focused on me as well.

“My bodyguard, Jason—he wears an earpiece that keeps him in contact with the rest of our security team. Different frequencies of signals interfere with his earpiece… just like they interfere with your hearing aid.” She raises a brow to me.

“I don’t know what any of that means,” she admits.

“He was fine when we walked into the house,” I tell her. “The closer he got to your room, the worse the interference became. He alerted me of his suspicions and I asked if he could scramble signals.” She’s still frowning.

“Suspicions?” Harmony questions. “Of what, Christian?”

“We think your room is bugged,” I admit.

“That’s preposterous!” Tina declares. “Who would want to bug my room? Why?”

“I don’t know, but Jason warned me that the scrambler would interfere with the signal on the bug and it would interfere with a regular signal from a cell tower, meaning that I wouldn’t get a signal from my phone.” Harmony pulls out her phone.

“He’s right,” she says. “I don’t have a signal.”

“As soon as you said the humming in your ear stopped, I checked my phone and I had no signal.”

“Well, that could mean anything, Christian,” Aunt Tina says. “There are satellite boxes and all sorts of things in this house.”

“You could be right. Aunt Tina, but none of these things interfere with Jason’s communications earpiece.” She’s still shaking her head. “If you would just humor me, I’d like to have a team come in tomorrow and do a sweep of your home. If we find nothing, then all is well. If we find something, then we take action.”

“What kind of action?” she asks.

“Trying to find out who bugged your room and where the signals are going.” She twists her lips.

“It’s worth looking into, Momma,” Harmony says. “At the very least, we can find what’s making your hearing aid hum…”

So, now, Barney and a team of techs will show up at Aunt Tina’s house with an insane security detail with instructions to break Roger’s ankles if he tries to get in their way.

He’s the butler. What the hell is he expecting? Is he in line for some kind of inheritance, too? Luckily, even though Aunt Tina wasn’t involved in any kind of alternative activity, her staff was still required to sign confidentiality agreements upon accepting employment because I have a feeling that his days are numbered once Tina passes on.

I lather my hair and scratch thoroughly, trying to erase some of this day from my memory. It seems like too much happened at once. I don’t do well with death and it’s written all over Aunt Tina’s face.

I don’t know how long I stay in the shower trying to rid myself of all the remnants of this day. It’s somewhere around nine when I get to my office—brandy in hand, hair still wet—and open my laptop. I open my email and begin to respond to and clean up emails as quickly as I can—deleting those that aren’t important and shooting off answers to those that only need short responses. About one-fourth the way through my emails from today, I see one from Smalls simply labelled “Cars.” I click on the email and there are no preliminaries, just several pictures. I click on the first one:

36b707283494f724eda3cdd7676197bb

“Oh, a glove… I get it.” I open the next one.

98c50b5e0e3e66f38daf219a1ed98e11

I have to think about this one. Lives in the light but dies if the light shines on me. I have no idea. I look at the next one.

901f26075134d929053ab138fd13dc03

I totally have no idea. And these are supposed to lead us to the keys and titles to the car? I open the next one.

52ce5fcf1567b1411aeb6d17e0a86bb6

I try to see the logic in each puzzle like the logic in the first. Of course, it’s logical—I know the answer to it already. Nonetheless, I have no idea what the answers are. I open the next picture expecting to find a fifth riddle. I find something quite different.

“Fuck me.”

It’s still mostly covered by the tarp, probably to protect it from the dust and whatnot in the storage bin, but I get a very clear picture of a beautiful classic car underneath. The cover is pulled back to reveal about one-third of the car, and it’s fucking gorgeous.

“Hell, Pops,” I say, opening the next pictures to reveal another… and another… and a fourth. Four presumably fully-restored classic cars. Cherry was right. These cars have to be worth a fortune. Still not too late. I dial Uncle Herman.

“Hey, Christian. What’s up? You’ve got some news about the storage bins?” I suppose that’s a safe assumption. I don’t really call for much else.

“Yeah, Uncle Herman. You remember I told you there was a car in one of the bins, right?”

“Yeah, I remember,” he says.

“Well, I was wrong… there’s four.” Uncle Herman is silent for a moment.

“Four cars?” he says. I nod as if he can see me. “Four damn cars? In storage? Rick!” I can hear shuffling like he’s moving around. I don’t say anything, but I can hear him mumbling something about cars and still calling my father. “You sure, man? Four cars? Shit! Rick!”

I don’t get a chance to answer him at all. I think his questions were just rhetorical.

“I’m here! Keep your shirt on! Where’s the fire?” Dad says, his voice getting closer to the phone.

“Rick, four cars! Four damn cars in that storage facility.”

“What? What are you talking about?” Dad asks.

“Dad’s storage facility. In Detroit! There are four cars in there!” Dad is silent for a minute.

“You’re shittin’ me!” he barks.

“I’ve got Christian on the phone. He says there’s four cars in that damn facility!” I hear the phone rustling.

“Christian? Four? What kind of cars are they?” Dad asks me.

“I don’t know, Dad. I don’t know cars like that. But they’re classics, and they’re all restored.”

“Shit! Seriously?” he exclaims. “How do you know?”

“I’ve got pictures… well partial pictures…”

“Send them to me. Can you send them to my phone?”

“Can you access your email from your phone?”

“I’m already there…” I forward the pictures to Dad’s phone. The line is silent for a minute then I hear Dad’s voice again making some kind of strange exclamation.

“I can only see pieces, but these are some cherried-out cars, Herm,” he says to his brother. I assume they’re passing the phone back and forth and looking at the cars.

“I can tell by the frames that these are all Fords,” I hear Uncle Herman say.

“No shit, Sherlock?” Dad says. “I don’t know exactly what the hell they are, but I know Dad’s not going to buy anything else.”

“I don’t either. We should call Stan,” Uncle Herman says.

“It’s midnight in Detroit,” Dad protests.

“So, what? Wake his ass up. This is important! Hold on, Christian…” The line goes dead for a minute and when he returns, I can hear another line ringing.

“This better be important,” Uncle Stan’s sleepy voice says.

“It is,” Uncle Herman replies. “So, Stan, what do ya know about Fords?”

“You’ve got jokes at a quarter to one in the morning?” Uncle Stan replies.

“Take a look at your phone,” he says. I assume Uncle Herman texted him the pictures from Dad’s phone.

“I see riddles,” he says. “You woke me for riddles?” Shit, I forgot about the riddles.

“Riddles? No, look for pictures,” Uncle Herman says. After a few more moments, Uncle Stan comes back to the line.

“Okay, you woke me for old Fords,” Uncle Stan says.

“Not just any old Fords, Stan—classics, four of them, all in Dad’s storage facilities.”

“Are you serious!?” Uncle Stan is awake now. I can see him in my mind’s eye sitting straight up in bed. “These are in Dad’s storage? How long have they been there?”

“If you don’t know, we sure don’t,” Uncle Herman says. “I didn’t even know he had these things.”

“So, what’s with the damn riddles?” Uncle Stan asks.

“Yeah, about that,” I interject. “Hi, Uncle Stan. It’s Christian. So, you can’t move the cars out of the storage because we can’t find the keys. Apparently, these riddles are Pops’ way of leading you to the keys and the titles.”

Uncle Stan and Uncle Herman laugh at the same time and Dad asks what’s funny.

“You missed some files in that email. Here—open these.”

“We’ve got a regular party line going on here,” Uncle Stan jests. “I got the first one. It’s a glove.”

“Yeah, but do you know what it means?” I ask. “My men figured out the riddles for the manifest to find the cars, but they can’t figure these out. So, we had instructions to ‘ask the boys.’”

“Yeah, Dad and his riddles,” I hear Dad say. “You’d think he would have gotten some new ones.”

“So, you know what these mean?” I ask.

“Well, that third one kinda got me stomped,” I hear Dad say.

“Let me see,” Uncle Herman asks. I hear shuffling. “Poison without touching… no clue. I’m getting nothing from this.”

“Yeah, me either,” Uncle Stan says. Well, that’s not helping.

“The last one has something to do with Christmas.” Uncle Herman says.

“Uncle Herman, I’m dying to know how you figured that out,” I say.

“Flies when it’s born, lies when it’s alive, runs when it’s dead—snow,” he says matter-of-factly. “Dad did these with us all the time. It was his way of forcing us to think outside the box.”

“Pops was a smart man,” I say, not really meaning to say it aloud.

“Yes, he was,” Uncle Herman confirms softly. “Now, let’s figure out the ones we know. A glove, snow, and…”

“A shadow!” Dad says. “Live where there’s light but die if the light shines on me… a shadow.” There’s silence for a moment.

“Yeah, Rick, that’s it. A shadow. So, what does this stuff mean?” Uncle Herman says. I can tell that he has now put me and Uncle Stan on speaker.

“Well, the glove would have to either be work gloves or baseball gloves,” Dad says. “I didn’t know Dad to keep work gloves, did you?”

“No, but he kept every one of our baseball gloves from little league,” Uncle Herman says.

“Now all we have to do is find the baseball gloves. That’ll be like finding a needle in a haystack,” Uncle Stan complains.

“Maybe not,” I interject. “We’ve got a manifest of the stuff in storage. We might be able to find some of these things on the manifest.”

“Okay, so we’ve got somewhere to start. What about the Christmas one?” Uncle Herman says.

“The Christmas decorations?” Dad says. “You know we hated sorting those things every year, but Mom loved them, and I can guarantee Dad kept them.”

“Oh, I’m certain Dad kept them,” Uncle Herman says. “We put them on the tree the last year we were in Detroit. I had to help him sort them by myself because certain slacker brothers were MIA!”

They rib each other for a while over the Christmases they had to sort these old-fashioned Christmas decorations—homemade, some with moving parts, strings of lights with the giant light bulbs. I’m certain this is exactly what Pops wanted them to do after he was gone.

“Alright, you slackers, what about the third one? The shadow?” Dad asks.

“Oh, that’s easy. That has to be the silhouette pictures Mom did of us. Is there any other possible thing you could think of?” Uncle Stan says. There’s silence for a moment.

“I’ll go with you on that one, Stan, because I’m drawing a blank,” Uncle Herman says.

“Same here,” Dad concurs. “Now this fourth one, we’re never going to figure this out…” I don’t tell my father and my uncles, but I’m already typing the riddle into Google:

We hurt without moving.
We poison without touching.
We bear the truth and the lies.
We are not judged by our size.
What are we?

When the answer pops up, I already know what Pops wanted. It was never going to happen, and in the end, I’m sure he knew that, but there was nothing he could do about it by then.

“Pops wanted you to work as a team to get these answers,” I inform them.

“We know that. We are,” Dad defends.

“Uncle Herman figured out the baseball gloves. Dad, you got the Christmas decorations. Uncle Stan, you were right on top of the silhouettes… There’s a teammate missing.”

Silence.

“Shit,” Dad hisses. “Well, I’m not calling him.”

“We may have to if we want to figure this out,” Uncle Stan interjects.

“The hell we do!” Uncle Herman barks. “Each one of us may have figured out what the riddles meant, but a different one of us figured out each riddle. We work as a team, we figure this shit out. Fuck Freeman!”

Okay, Uncle Herman is pissed. I almost want to tell them the answer to the riddle, but I have a feeling Pops wants them to do this themselves.

Nobody said anything about hints, though.

“Why don’t you guys try to brainstorm about each line?” I ask. “And try to think like Freeman, if that’s possible.” I hear sighs of impatience from each brother, and the brain-storming starts.

“They bear truth and lies—people?”
“People are always judged by their size. What’s not judged by its size?”
“Oh, shit, that could be anything.”
“Poison without touching. What the hell can poison you without touching—air?”
“I can’t think of anything else, but what’s with the size thing? Air is infinite unless you’re in a vacuum.”
“Think Freeman. He doesn’t bear lies, necessarily, but he’s poison as shit.”
“Attitude? Could it be attitude?”

They go on like this for several minutes and I just want to blurt out the answer. That’s when Uncle Stan brings the conversation around to the right direction.

“Books tell truth and lies.”

That’s it, Uncle Stan, we’re on the right track.

“Dad has a billion books. He wouldn’t put that key in a book. That would be inhumane.”
“Remember this is Freeman’s clue we’re talking about.”
“Well, like I said, he’s poison as shit.”

What does he use to poison?

“Yeah, his mouth gives new meaning to ‘loose lips sink ships.’”

You’re getting there, boys.

“Loose lips… mouths bear truth and lies… but they can’t poison without touching…”

“Mouths can’t,” Dad speaks up, “but words can!”

Everyone gets quiet.

“Dad once told Freeman that his words were venomous. Poison without touching—they bear truth and lies, and kill is a small word with a really big meaning, while infinitesimal means small. And they don’t move, but they can cut you down like a mighty tree.”

Bingo. You got it, Dad.

“God, that’s perfect for Freeman,” Uncle Herman says, “but what does it mean?”

“Uncle Herman, when did you guys first realize that Freeman was kind of venomous with his words?” I ask. “Was it when he lost his girlfriend?”

“No, it was well before that,” he replies. “He would say little snide things that really hurt, even as a kid. Remember, Rick? Dad gave him that book Harriet the Spy?

“Yeah, I do,” Dad says. “He was supposed to learn a lesson from it, but I think the asshole used it as a bible. He’s a perfect example of why the book is banned. He totally missed the…” Dad trails off.

“What’s the matter, Rick?”

“That’s where the fourth key is,” Dad says. “That book was banned from school libraries in the eighties and it pissed Dad off, remember?”

“Vaguely,” Uncle Herman says.

“I always wondered why that one little white book was in Dad’s library with all his leather-bound books,” Uncle Stan points out. “It makes perfect sense.”

“So, now we have somewhere to look. What about the cars?” Dad says.

“I can’t tell what these are from these pictures,” Stan says. “I can’t see the tail lights and most of the cars are covered.”

“Well, get your ass down to that storage facility tomorrow and get a look at those cars,” Uncle Herman says. “You can give the guy in charge the info we discovered and see if they can find that stuff on the manifest. His name is Terry Smalls.”

“Um, I have to work,” Stan protests. “Screw it, I’ll take a sick day. This is more important. You still could have called me at a more decent hour.”

“Then you would have missed the opportunity to take a sick day because you would have been at work already. Goodnight, Stan. Love ya, buddy.”

“Goodnight, ass,” Stan says, and ends the call.

“I’ll text Smalls tonight to tell him to expect Uncle Stan in the morning,” I say.

“Christian, it’s after midnight in Detroit,” Dad protests.

“That’s why I’m texting him instead of calling him,” I say. “Goodnight, Dad, Uncle Herman.”

Goodnight,” they both say, and we end the call.


SUNSET

The black Lexus pulls up to the circular drive at the sprawling estate in Bloomfield Hills. Black Italian leather shoes exit the back seat of the car as Ricardo steps out as strides to the portico. The glass doors open before he has a chance to ring the bell.

“Mr. Aragon,” the butler says as he steps aside. Ricardo walks past him, ignoring his greeting and walking the route he does nearly every day—through the lavish formal living room, past the overly masculine entertainment room, down the hall decorated with ridiculously expensive works of art. The house is a statement in overcompensation, but Ricardo would never admit it.

At the last door on the right, Ricardo Aragon turns the knob and enters his boss’s lair. More ostentatious than the rest of the house, this room is decorated in lush fabrics and imported leathers and textiles, boasts a full service wet bar, and a media section that would be the envy of any sports enthusiast.

“How was your trip?” the lone voice says from behind a luxurious easy chair.

“He refused our request,” Ricardo replies. A hand with well-manicured nails presses a button and silences the many screens on the far wall.

“I’m aware,” the voice says. “You were your usual persuasive self, I presume.”

Sunset“Even more so,” Ricardo hisses as he pours himself a scotch. “Arrogant prick made it clear that he’s not afraid of death.” He throws back the shot. Ricardo’s host turns in his chair, his own scotch in his hand. Ricardo is always amazed by the fact that this guy looks so young to have amassed so much power.

“Hmm, he would rather die than bow,” Sunset observes. “He’s got real balls. I admire that.”

“I think we should teach him a lesson in respect,” Ricardo shoots, not at all pleased that his boss appears to be idolizing the bastard who basically tossed him out of Seattle with his ass in his hands.

“And that’s why I’m in charge and you take the orders,” Sunset retorts. “You put on a good show but I’m the one that gives the command. You don’t chop off a finger because somebody showed you up.”

“He didn’t show me up. He showed you up. I represent you!” Ricardo retorts, trying to incite his boss. Sunset laughs.

“That may be true, Ricky, but you need to understand that sometimes, it takes a gentler hand to catch the big fish. I sent you to Seattle to tell someone to let me know when they come to the city. You failed. Why? Because a goddamn billionaire thinks some thug in Detroit is trying to tell him where he can and can’t go. I could have sent Chev or Mumford to try to strongarm the guy. I knew that wasn’t going to work. I needed suave and smooth, handle with care, and you came strolling in there like fucking Fredo Corleone. It’s a wonder he or one of his men didn’t shoot you on the fucking street! I would’ve reacted the same way he did.

“Now, you want to make an example of him because you sashayed into his city throwing threats and making demands that you’re in no position to make like a goddamn amateur! I’m not trying to overthrow Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, or the Koch Brothers, and I’m sure as fuck not trying to overthrow Christian Grey. I’m looking for one red-headed, big-mouthed, motherfucker and he ain’t him! Keep an eye on him like I told you. I can guarantee you tomorrow he’ll be riding around in a fucking armored truck! He’ll have the goddamn Presidential cavalcade behind him. Ant won’t come anywhere near him now and we probably lost the best decoy we’ve ever had!!

“Let me explain something to you that you don’t seem to understand. Power is nothing more than glorified respect. Your power only goes as far as your respect, and more than 50% of power is imagined. My power comes from the fact that people fear me. They know what I’m capable of. My reputation precedes me, and people know what I can do. To achieve the kind of power and respect that I have, they would have to overthrow me and none of them have the gumption to try because they know that I’ll gut them like pigs.” Aragon swallows hard.

“Grey doesn’t know that,” Sunset continues. “He’s an international mogul with connections and ties that we don’t even know about. He has a dollar just like I have a dollar. He knows people just like I know people, or do I need to remind you about Ratzinger?” Aragon is visibly uncomfortable.

“The difference between his power, my power, and your power is that your power comes from me and he knows that. His power is his own. He took Myrick’s kid down by himself. The Feds just came in and cleaned up the mess. And there are still a couple of hackers and a company informant involved in that job that we can’t locate. They’ve dropped off the face of the earth, and I’m willing to wager that no one anywhere will ever hear from them again.

“I know guys like him. I’ve met guys like him. I’ve dealt with guys like him. I am guys like him. He most likely has no idea whatsoever what happened to those two and he doesn’t get his hands dirty unless it’s personal… and you threatened to go to his house where his treasured wife lives and his babies sleep. You feel like a big man now?” Aragon’s lips form a thin line. He’s not surprised that Sunset knows the details of his visit before he even had the chance to reveal them.

“You told me to make sure he doesn’t come to Detroit without permission. How did you expect me to do that?” he protests.

“See, that’s your fucking problem!” Sunset barks. “I did not tell you to make sure he doesn’t come to Detroit without permission! You heard what you wanted to hear, and you acted accordingly! I said advise Grey to inform us when he’s coming to Detroit as Myrick may be tracking him and we want to be prepared in case he decides to engage—or did you conveniently forget that Grey is not my damn concern?”

“No, sir, I haven’t,” Aragon replies through his teeth.

“This is a business first and foremost and I am a goddamn businessman, not a fucking thug. You want to throw around that fucking gang mentality, go on out in the streets, just don’t ever fucking cross me. I fear no man, but I also don’t pick useless fights. Why would I do that? Bullies only hold power for a minute, Rick, and then they’re shot dead in the street. Is that what you want?”

“No, sir,” Aragon says flatly.

“Good, because you’re valuable to me and I don’t want to lose you. What did I expect you to do? Be the fucking advisor and representative that I groomed you to be. You’re behaving like a common street punk. They’re a dime a bushel and that’s not what the fuck I need.

“Make no mistake, everyone has a target on their chest, Ricky, even you, but I’m counting on that target that Myrick has on Grey’s the pull that rat out the woodwork. His hate for that guy is deep and personal, and he’s not going to go down without taking Grey with him. That’s what I’m waiting for. He’s the first and the last person I allowed to get that much information on me and my business—a crucial mistake. You don’t even have as much info as he does, and priority number one is to take his ass down, not make Grey bow. Like I said, you’re valuable to me, so stop acting so goddamn cocky and act smart like you used to!

“Don’t think for a second that he hasn’t instructed his men to shoot your ass on sight. What do you think Seattle Police is going to do when your body dredges up from a drain on the Alaskan Viaduct or worse yet, the coroner comes and scrapes your remains off Grey’s marble floor? They’re coming straight to me, wondering why my number one guy was harassing one of Seattle’s finest citizens. I will have lost my best man and much less, I don’t need that headache. Don’t forget—your actions all come back to me, Ricky. So, consider him protected, in case you get any ideas.

“I don’t apologize, and your apology is useless right now. Get the fuck out of my face so I can try to figure out some kind of truce to send this man, so he can call off his fucking dogs. Thanks to your performance, I can guarantee you that unauthorized air can’t get to Prince and Princess Grey, let alone some revenge attempt by that little worm.”

Ricardo purses his lips and leaves the room while Sunset presses the button near his hand, and the screens come alive again.


ANASTASIA

I awake on Thursday and Christian is already out of bed. He came in last night, took a shower and went straight to his study. I know he came to bed last night because his side of the bed is rustled and doesn’t have that cold, nobody’s-been-here-all-night feeling. I throw my legs over the edge of the bed and the day’s task start rushing at me as soon as my feet hit the floor.

Decide on a layout for my home office. I have a feeling that I’ll be spending more time there than I planned. Christian is trying to tell me that everything is okay and although I still don’t want a fucking wagon train following me to work, it’s safer for me and the twins inside the walls and gates of Grey Crossing, whatever’s going on. I won’t tell Christian that I’ll be doing most of my work from home, but not willingly dragging my precious babies into unknown peril helps to fend off the Boogeyman feeling a bit. I’m happy with my decision.

Talk to Harmony and Marilyn about their respective problems. I didn’t get a chance to see Harmony at all yesterday and Marilyn acted as if everything was just honky-dory, so I didn’t press the matter. Babies don’t just go away, and if she is pregnant and decides to keep the baby, it’s going to change our dynamic, too. She’s at my beck and call right now, and that’s certainly not going to be the case with her being a mom.

And Harmony… I haven’t heard anything from Al about her divorce case, but I know she’s a nervous wreck with this greedy asshole slithering around waiting for her mother to die. It’s bad enough that she has to contend with her mom’s impending demise, but now this? It’s inhumane.

I don’t watch much television, but last night, I did see one of the promos for our segment on Monday. Looking at it with not such a critical eye, it was pretty good. It gives just enough bait for you to want to see more on Monday if you already know us, and enough to have you chomping at the bit to see the whole segment if you don’t. It brings to mind another task that I should do before Monday.

Release a statement about those sexual misconduct charges levied against me.

Without some kind of prelim, the little bit that we’ve said about the charges leaves a lot to the imagination. I don’t want to come off as some spoiled rich socialite who thinks she’s above the law or punishment. This kind of thing, of course, has to be investigated. However, the way I was treated by that board was completely unprofessional and uncalled for. I’ve touched on the issue in some of my interviews, but I haven’t really delved into anything substantial.

It’s time to call Vee.

Genie pants and a wrap-around today since I’m not leaving the house. My abs seem a little loose, so I’m going to have to focus on them a bit. I’ve been lazy with my workouts since Christian’s escape to Madrid. I need to get back into the routine again. Finding my Zen is great and all, but it won’t help me if I’m 175 pounds and flabby—not a good look for someone barely over five feet tall.

I don’t bother questioning the staff where Christian is when I come downstairs for breakfast.

“Not going in today?” Ms. Solomon says with a frown. I shake my head as I eat my bagel. “Are you feeling alright?”

“I feel fine,” I say. “I’m getting some work done on my office downstairs and I need to make some decisions about it, so I’ll be here today.” I chomp on my bagel and look at the information Courtney forwarded about projected staffing needs. She’s becoming quite valuable to the Center and I think paring her with Harmony might help them both with direction a bit. Courtney has the grit and Harmony has the schooling, so they’d make a great team.

I can’t help but notice Gail and Ms. Solomon whispering to each other. I don’t want to feel self-conscious about it, but what’s with the whispering?

Just in case they are talking about me or something that I don’t need to hear, I gobble the last bit of my breakfast bagel, pick up my gourmet coffee and my phone, and slide out of the stool at the breakfast bar. I make my way down to my office and stand in the doorway, looking at the space. Earth tones are good, but the over-abundance of wood darkens the room and overtakes the beautiful natural light in here. The bookshelves look overpowering and boxed-in. I need to have them ripped out or redone… how long will that take?

I sit down at my desk and start strolling through Google for ideas for my office. I’m sure that the bookshelves are going to have to go, so I text Marilyn to get in touch with the contractor who did my office at the Center. If she’s already on her way to Helping Hands, she can work wherever her butt lands. No use in making her drive to the Crossing if she’s already there.

“I can come to the house, it’s not a problem.” She called me after getting my text.

“I thought you would be at the Center already by now,” I say.

“I’m in my car—a few minutes down the I-5 and across the bridge and I’m there. Do you need anything on the way?” She sounds agitated.

“Um, no. I’ll… see you when you get here.” She ends the call abruptly, causing me to look at the phone like it just bit me.

What the hell was that all about?

Deciding not to spend too much energy on whatever bug is up Marilyn’s butt, I call Vee and explain my concerns about the interview and the topic of my sexual misconduct accusations.

“Ana, the interview covered it fine,” she assures me. “You totally made the point that you needed to make. The charges are false; the claims were made anonymously and not by the supposed victim; the board treated you like shit and then disavowed any responsibility for their actions. You want people to take notice, but anything more is going to be overkill. Leave it like it is.”

“If you’re sure,” I say, still not certain that we’ve covered enough ground on the topic.

“I’m positive,” she says. “This is what I do. If it doesn’t pick up momentum all on its own, which I suspect that it will, we’ll revisit it, okay?” I sigh. She’s the expert.

“Okay, fine,” I cede. “Can you transfer me to legal? I want to talk to Al.” She’s silent for a moment.

“May I ask about what?” What the fuck?

“Um, since when do I have to have your clearance to speak to my best friend?” I nearly bark. “Or to my head of legal?”

“Ana, no! Don’t take it that way,” she interjects. “You were just talking to me about the interview and the sexual misconduct charges, then you immediately turned around and asked to speak to Allen. I thought the two were related and since one of those is a media situation and I am the head of PR, I thought it was something I needed to know. Nothing more.” I shake my head.

“I’m a little wired, Vee,” I tell her. “Christian’s acting strange. Jason’s bumped-up security, which is something he never does lightly. So, I know something’s going on and if you know, you can’t tell me because of your NDA. I have a friend of the family who’s having some trouble—which is why I want to speak to Al—and my assistant is acting all snippy. The whole thing is irritating me and it’s really starting to mess with my Feng Shui!” Vee is silent for a moment.

“I’m… sorry… I’ll get Al for you.” And she’s gone. Jesus, this negativity all around me has to fucking go! It’s driving me absolutely crazy!

“What’s up, Jewel?” Al answers. “Vee says you sound a bit perturbed.”

“I’m fine,” I nearly hiss. “Any word on Harmony’s situation.”

“What about it?” he asks. Et tu, Allen?

“I asked you if she had any recourse against her snaky husband trying to wait out Tina’s death so that he can weasel in on her inheritance and I haven’t heard anything from you!” I snap.

“Chris didn’t tell you?” he asks. Well, that explains a lot.

“Well, I haven’t spoken to Chris!” I say sarcastically. “I haven’t even seen him since he left for work yesterday.”

“Are you two fighting again?” Al asks cautiously.

“No!” I retort angrily. “He’s just in a mood about something that’s going on down there.”

“Nothing’s going on down here,” he replies. “Nothing out of the ordinary.”

“No, it’s going on—you just don’t know about it… or you can’t tell me,” I correct myself. Al sighs.

“Jewel, there’s nothing going on that I know of. If there were, I could tell you, because you’re one of the owners. Unless there’s information that I’m specifically directed not to share, the NDA doesn’t apply to you…”

“Like when Christian went to Madrid,” I point out. He sighs.

“Yes, like when Christian went to Madrid,” he replies.

“So, like I said, something’s going on down there. You may not know about it, but something’s going on. Now… about Harmony please?” It’s time to change the subject before I start to get angry about secrets.

“Harmony’s inheritance is safe,” he says. “It’s protected assets. Her husband can’t lay any claim to the money unless she put the money in a joint account and comingled it while they were still married. As long as anything she receives isn’t mixed with their marital assets, he can’t get to it. He was probably leading her to believe that so that she would pay him off to go away. And the fact that her attorney was actually working for him explains why she didn’t know this.”

That’s exactly what I was prepared to do, too—pay his ass off.

“So, why did Christian hear about this and I didn’t when I’m the one who came to you with it?”

“Because Christian came to me yesterday and asked me about it. I told him what I found out and he said that he was going to see Tina last night and asked if he could be the one to tell her and Harmony the good news. I assumed he told you, too. I don’t see why he wouldn’t.”

I forgot he went to Tina’s last night, but he didn’t even try to find me when he got home. I could tell that he took a shower, but he just went to his study after that.

“I don’t know what’s going on with Mr. Grey,” I say under my voice.

“Well, I can tell you this,” Al says. “Something’s happening at Tina’s because he took an entire security team over there this morning, complete with IT techs.” I frown.

“IT techs?” I repeat. “What the hell is going on over there that they need IT techs?”

“I don’t know, but him, Jason, and a whole shitload of people and equipment are at Tina Franklin’s right now. He told me to be ready, but he hasn’t said for what.”

“Is Alex with him?” I ask.

“No, Alex is here.” Good.

“Will you be representing Harmony in her divorce?”

“No, Jewel. I don’t do divorce. It’s my understanding that Carrick has agreed to do it, though.”

“Okay, thanks for the info. Transfer me to Alex.” There’s silence.

“Jewel, please don’t harass that man about what’s going on at Tina’s,” Al begs. “I’ll never hear the end of it.”

“I’m not going to harass him about anything,” I say. “Can you transfer me to him please?” Al sighs and I hear the hold music while I’m transferred to Alex.

“Alex Welch,” he answers.

“Alex, it’s Ana. I need some information.”

“What kind of information?” he asks.

“I need a background check and current contact information for someone, but I don’t know his name.”

“That’s a problem,” he says. “I do need to know who I’m looking for.”

“Well, I know who he is—I just don’t know his name. It’s Harmony Franklin’s soon-to-be-ex-husband. I don’t even know her married last name. Franklin is her maiden name.”

“Franklin?” he asks. “The same Franklin whose house we’re combing right now?”

“You’re combing her house? Why?” I ask.

“The boss went to see her last night and J got feedback in his earpiece. That means the house is bugged. We’re just trying to find out where, who, how long, why… you get the idea.”

“Seriously?” I say. “Who would want to bug Tina Franklin?”

“She’s not the only one who lives in the house,” he says.

“Do you think Harmony did it?” I ask.

“We won’t know until we find the bugs,” he says. I shake my head. I hope it wasn’t Harmony, or this campaign I’m about to begin will be all for naught.

“Can you get me the information on her ex-husband?” I ask.

“It might take a day,” he warns.

“That’s fine. I’m in no hurry,” I tell him.

“Very well.” We end the call. I raise my eyes to see that Marilyn has joined me.

“Have a seat,” I say, gesturing to one of the chairs in front of my desk that will soon be replaced. She marches in and sits in the chair like a petulant child. Okay…

“Did you call the contractor?” I ask.

“I just got here!” she replies snippily.

“Well,” I say, gearing myself for battle, “You were standing there in the door looking at me like you were awaiting instruction, and since I had already given you that instruction before you got here, I assumed you already did it!”

“I was in the car when you called. Did you expect me to speak to the contractor while I was in the car when you knew I was already on my way over here?”

What the fuck is this? I told her she didn’t have to bring her ass over here in the first place and now she’s acting like it’s some kind of fucking inconvenience? I don’t have time for this shit! I fold my hands in front of me. She can be snippy on her own time.

“Maybe you should take the day off,” I say, removing my glasses. Marilyn glares at me.

“Are you firing me?” she says in shock.

“Are you quitting?” I shoot back.

“I didn’t ask for the day off!” she snaps. “I’m just asking if you’re letting me go!”

“Take. The day. Off. Marilyn,” I say, slowly and firmly. “In fact, take two and get your shit together!”

She glares at me but knows that if she quips at me one more time, she won’t have to ask if she’s being fired. She stands haughtily, turns on her heels, and marches to the door.

“And Marilyn,” I call to her. She stops. “Take a damn test. You’re pregnant.” She turns slowly to me.

“I don’t need you to tell me what to do with my personal life!” she shoots.

“Or don’t!” I shoot back. “Wait ‘til your stomach blows up to the size of a basketball before you’re willing to accept that you’re with child. Just leave that nasty ass attitude at the door, or don’t bother coming in Monday, either!”

She stands there looking at me for a long time before she turns and indignantly walks out the door.

Well, shit.

I may have just lost my assistant, because if she is pregnant and she keeps it, there’s going to be no working with her like this.

I scroll through my contacts on the cloud and find the name of the contractor who did the work on my office. I could call Elliot, but he’s doing the Miller home and I wouldn’t want to set him back for something this small. I’m not looking for an overhaul. I’m just looking for a fresh coat of paint and to revamp my bookshelves… and I’m back on the phone.

Once I tell the guy what I want, he tells me that he can have the work done in a day if the space is clear.

The space is not clear.

I make an appointment for him to come over this afternoon to see the office, then I call a moving company. I need all the items in my office packed up, and some of them shipped… where? Charity? The Goodwill?

Charity.

Helping Hands. I’ll donate the furniture to Helping Hands.

The soonest the movers can get here is tomorrow. Great. The almighty Anastasia Grey can’t get everything she wants. I call Christian’s office.

Christian Grey’s office. Andrea Fairchild speaking.” Just who I needed.

“Andrea, hi, it’s Ana Grey.”

“Hello, Mrs. Grey.” My teeth grind. I want to say, “Call me Ana,” but I know that years of training will prevent that from happening. “Mr. Grey is out of the office right now…”

“Oh, I’m not calling to speak to Mr. Grey. Andrea, I have a strange request. Does GEH have a temp agency or pool that they use when they need extra administrative help?”

“You mean like executives?” she asks.

“No, like assistants,” I clarify.

“Oh! Well, it depends on who it is,” she says. “If it’s a project that needs extra hands in one of the non-classified departments, we may use a temp agency. If it’s one of the departments that handle more sensitive information, like legal, accounting, or R&D… or Mr. Grey… we commandeer one of the more-trained assistants on site.” I nod. That makes sense.

“I need an assistant for a couple of days.” I tell her. “It may be longer, I don’t know, but for right now, it’s just a couple of days. Marilyn’s indisposed and I pretty much need someone that’s just going to be underfoot, kind of at my beck and call.”

“Will they be coming to your home?” she asks.

“Today, definitely. Tomorrow, maybe. If not, they’ll be coming with me to Helping Hands. I need somebody very professional and very well-trained.”

“I’m sorry to say that I don’t think we have anybody in-house that I would be comfortable sending to your home, Mrs. Grey. Although we have a stringent vetting process, this is the boss’s mansion we’re talking about. No matter how professional, these women… wait a minute…” She pauses mid-sentence. “Luma would fit the bill. She’s probably the only one that would fit the bill.”

“Oh, no, I can’t take one of Christian’s assistants,” I say.

“I’m Mr. Grey’s assistant. Luma is my assistant. I can get one of the assistants in-house to take her place while she’s gone. If it turns out to be more long-term, then we can post a position with our usual recruiters and get you someone… I hope Marilyn’s okay.”

“I’m not at liberty to say. Please find out if Luma is okay with this. I don’t want her to feel like she’s being shuffled about like a board piece.” I can hear her saying something to someone in the background before coming back to the phone.

“Luma’s happy to help. She’s on her way now.”

“Thank you, Andrea. I hope not to keep your right-hand girl for too long.” After a few pleasantries, I end the call with Andrea and begin to pack the books in my office.


CHRISTIAN

“How many?” I ask Tibbs when he comes to me with an update.

“Seven, sir, just in the library, and there’s a feed going somewhere. We picked up the digital transmission—we just haven’t found out where it’s planted and where it’s going. I’m going to have to call back to Barney to get special equipment for that.”

Seven bugs in the library. Seven fucking recording devices. Why do they even need that many for one room?

“Why so many?” I ask. “How big is the library?”

“Pretty big, sir,” he says. “They’re cheap technology—not the state of the art. They would have needed one for every twenty feet or so to get a good transmission.”

“Wouldn’t they have interfered with each other, like they did with Tina’s hearing aid and Jason’s earpiece?”

“Well, keep in mind. Tina’s hearing aid is high-tech, much like Taylor’s earpiece. They pick up sounds and frequencies from longer distances. Comparing these devices with Tina’s and Taylor’s technology would be like comparing a professional singer’s cordless mic to a speakerphone.”

Jesus! If it’s that important to bug somebody, wouldn’t you think they’d spend a little money?

“Could these be decoys?” I ask. “Hide the junk in plain view so that we don’t go looking for the state of the art stuff?” Tibbs shrugs.

“They could, but when it comes to audio equipment, we’ve got the tools to find the jewels and the junk, and so far, we’ve only found the junk.”

“And the visual?” I press.

“We’ll be able to close in on that when I get Barney on the phone.” I nod.

“You may want to consider doing shifts,” I tell him. “I don’t want you all to leave until every device is located.”

“Yes sir.” He goes back to work and I ascend the stairs to Tina’s room. I hear raised voices inside—Harmony’s and Roger’s. I step to the door and open it. Their conversation is so heated that they don’t even notice when I enter the room

“I told you to leave my mother alone with this! You’re upsetting her! You were told to do what I say, and you don’t seem to understand that I can fire you!” Harmony chides.

“Ms. Tina, they’re destroying the house. It’s a complete shambles. You have to make them stop this right now!” Roger is completely ignoring Harmony’s request and Tina looks exhausted.

“Jason, get up here right now,” I say into the earpiece that I’m wearing, now also getting feedback since I’m in Tina’s room. I step inside and make my way over to them.

“I said leave her alone!” Harmony demands again. “And get the hell out of her room. You’re going to drive her to her death faster by stressing her out like this!” Roger straightens his back and faces off with Harmony.

“I don’t have to take orders from you, little girl!” he hisses. I’m behind Harmony in moments.

“That’s a grown woman, not a little girl and yes, you do!” I exclaim. He doesn’t take down. In fact, he’s haughtier than ever.

“Who do you think you are—coming in here like you’re running things, ripping her home to shreds like garbage? Have you no respect?” I move Harmony behind me and step to Roger’s face.

“Get out, now!” I hiss. He raises his nose to me.

“I will not!” he declares. “You can’t make me go anywhere, and I don’t have to do anything you say.” The interference in my earpiece stops and Tina reacts with slight relief. I know this means the scrambler is active. I look over Roger’s shoulder and Jason steps into the room. I look at Roger again.

“Get. Out. Now!” I growl getting right in his face. I could strangle this worm, but I don’t know if there are cameras in here. His fear is now palpable, but he regains himself quickly. Just as he’s about to speak, Jason comes behind him and whispers in his ear.

“I and my men have ways of seriously hurting people that don’t leave evidence.” Roger turns a horrified, pale face to Jason. “Are you going to come quietly, or should we demonstrate?”

“You… you can’t hurt me. There are other people here—downstairs, all over the house. People will see you…” Roger stutters.

“Everybody downstairs works for me or him. Everybody else had the good sense to leave when we told them to, except you. Now are you coming quietly, or do you need persuasion?” Roger looks from Jason to me and then to Tina.

“Ms. Tina…” he begins.

“I think he needs persuading,” I tell Jason. Jason closes in.

“Don’t touch me I’ll go!” Roger retorts, trying to hide his fear. He walks out of the room where another of my security staff is waiting for him.

“Don’t let him out of your sight,” Jason says. “I’ll be down in a minute to chat.” The guard takes his arm and Roger flinches away from him.

“Snatch that arm away from me again and I’ll break it!” I hear him say before he escorts Roger away. I turn to Jason.

“Do you have a scrambler on you?” I ask. He frowns.

“Don’t you?” he says. I shake my head. He takes a small device out of his jacket pocket and hands it to me.

“No cell service while you have it. This is how you turn it off.”

“Good man. This room needs to be swept soon. She spends too much time in here.” Jason frowns.

“That’s going to be very inconvenient for her,” he says.

“How much of the house is done—for audio?”

“Almost all of the first floor,” he says. “We’re trying to get Barney’s second team here quickly because it’s a whole new sweep for the visual.”

“Tell me, what are you talking about?” Tina’s frail voice says. “Are you destroying my house like Roger says?” That fucker. He’s got her all worried when we’re only doing this for her protection. I need to talk to her alone for a minute—even without Harmony.

“Harmony, does she have a nurse here?” I ask.

“I can get one, quickly,” she says.

“Good. Get her one. Have them check her vitals and make sure she’s okay. I’ll sit with her while you go. You won’t have cell service in here.” She looks at her phone.

“You’re right,” she says. “I’ll be right back, Mom,” she says touching Tina’s hand before leaving.

“Aunt Tina,” I say, kneeling down to her, “I swear to you, we’re not destroying your house. Remember we talked about the reason your hearing aid stops humming, right?” Tina nods. “Well, we found seven audio recording devices in your library. Someone is listening to and recording what’s happening in your home. We just don’t know why they’re recording.”

“Oh, no,” she says, forlorn. “This can’t be.”

“Roger’s been jumping around like a bunny on speed ever since my men got here,” I tell her. “He has already damaged two major pieces of equipment, claiming it was an accident, and he’s been up here more times than I know trying to get you to call this off. Is he normally this intolerable?”

“Never,” she says. “It’s like he’s completely inconsolable…” like a kid who doesn’t want you to see a bad report card.

“What about Harmony?” I ask. “How has she been through this process?”

“Calm, for the most part, except when he comes in and starts demanding that I make you all stop what you’re doing. That’s the only time she gets upset.”

“How has she been since she’s been home?” I ask. Tina shrugs.

“Attentive. She’s been… Harmony. Roger’s been antsy. I just attributed it to the fact that he knows that I’m going to die soon, and the house will go to Harmony.” My eyes widen.

“He knows that?” I ask. Tina nods. “How does he know that? Have you revealed the content of your will to him already?” She frowns.

“I don’t recall, Christian,” she says. “I don’t think so. I thought maybe Carl said something to him…”

“Who’s Carl?” I ask.

“My attorney,” she says. I shake my head.

“Carl can’t say anything to him. It’s against the law. When did you last tweak your will?” She has to think about it.

“About a month ago,” she says. “Maybe a little longer. It was right before your sister’s wedding… a few weeks maybe. I just gotten the news about… you know. Harmony was the only one who came back. She had already moved out of the house from her husband—she didn’t have to come back, but she was the only one who did. When I heard that she was coming, I called Carl and updated my will. I think I did it right before she got here. I told Roger that she was coming and to prepare her room. I told him what I was doing… that I was updating my will, but I don’t remember discussing the contents with him. I do remember him voicing some concern at one time about what would happen to the house once ‘that girl got her hands on it.’ Harmony is the only one of my children that he calls ‘that girl.’”

So, Roger knows about the will. Unless Carl is pure smut and broke attorney/client privilege, we know who’s listening to the bugs.

“Where and when did you have this conversation with Carl?” I ask. “In here?”

“Of course, not!” Aunt Tina replies. “A lady doesn’t entertain a gentleman in her bedroom… except now,” she jests, pointing to me and Jason. “No, I always accept Carl in the li… brary. Oh, dear.”

Oh, dear is right. Harmony wasn’t here yet when Tina changed her will, but that library had to already be bugged. Harmony and Roger are like oil and water and unless they’re the best actors known to man, they can’t be working together on this. Yet, Roger knew the contents of her will before she made anything public.

Just as Tina and I are both putting this information together, we hear glass breaking downstairs. I look at Jason, who looks at me and we both make to move towards the door when we’re distracted by Harmony’s small form.

“Um, Christian?” I hear Harmony’s voice in the doorway. “The nurse is on her way to check Mom out, but I think there’s a problem downstairs with Roger… a pretty big one.”


A/N: Fredo Corleone is from The Godfather. Fredo wanted to have the power of the Godfather and felt that he should have risen into the role before Michael Corleone since Fredo was the older brother, but Fredo was weak and irresponsible and his father knew that Fredo couldn’t handle being Godfather. Sunset compares Aragon to Fredo Corleone because of a dumb move Fredo did inviting a bunch of girls to Michael’s room in Vegas when Michael was there to discuss business. Fredo was throwing around weight he didn’t have, and this was the beginning of the rift between the brothers that eventually cost Fredo his life.

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 52—Just In Case…

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

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

Chapter 52—Just In Case…

CHRISTIAN

“You told me not to talk about it anymore, so I’m not talking about it. However, I am a professional, and my concerns are real, tangible, and valid. That asshole got way too close last night, and you got way too comfortable. You may not see urgency in this situation and you may be right, but I’m not going to take any chances.”

Just as I’m finishing my coffee, my head of security informs me that we’ll have another detail following us today. So, instead of just me and Jason, it’s going to be me, Jason, and two other guards in a separate vehicle. I understand urgency—I felt it last night, but I fucked it out with my wife and I’m fine now. Apparently, Mr. Professional here didn’t fuck it out with Gail, and now I have an entourage.

“Don’t you think this is a bit drastic, Jason?” I ask. “I’m all for increasing security. I totally get it, but three guards in one car for one man?”

“You told a hired killer that you were getting your affairs in order last night. You’re inviting him to do something. You’re testing his hand, basically telling him, ‘Come and get me.’ It’s like you want to die.”

“I don’t want to die,” I seethe, “I’m just not afraid of death.”

“I’m not afraid of death either, Christian, but I’m not gunning to meet my Maker anytime soon. I have a wife, and I have a child, and I’d like to see her go to college, get married, maybe punch out a couple of grandkids for me. I know that my job comes with certain hazards, but I’m not jumping in front of bullets that don’t have to be aimed at you. So, as many times as you warn your wife to be careful, you need to do the same thing because last I checked, you got a couple of nuggets that you’d like to see get through college, too!”

“Does my wife know about this?” I demand.

“She’ll know that security has been increased when she leaves for Helping Hands, but she won’t know why. I thought I’d let you tell her, or if you prefer, I’ll have Chuck do it.” I look in his eyes and I realize that he’s not backing down on this.

“Shit,” I hiss. I stand from the breakfast bar to go find my wife.

I dread having to tell her this, but whenever I try to keep something from her, it causes so much angst between us and ultimately turns out to be a disaster. When I find her, she’s helping to pack up the twins.

“Hey, beautiful,” I say, when I walk into the room. Mikey is already buckled into his carrier and Butterfly is buckling Minnie into her seat.

“Hey, yourself,” she says after she gets my squirming daughter securely into her seat. “I thought you were already gone.”

“About to,” I say. “I need to talk to you about something before I go.”

“Oh?” she asks. “Is everything alright?” I look at Keri and Gail.

“Can you two excuse us for a moment?” I ask. Gail puts a diaper bag on her shoulder and lifts Mikey’s carrier. Keri does the same with Minnie.

“Ah’ll see ya downstehs,” Keri says as she’s the one who always goes to the Center with Butterfly and the twins. Butterfly was talking about getting Keri her own car. We may have to revamp that decision for a while. In fact…

“What’s wrong, Christian?” Butterfly asks.

“Chuck may have to drive you into town for a while… in your car, of course.”

“Why?” she asks. “What’s happened?” I sigh.

“Do you remember me telling you that Myrick made some enemies in Detroit which is why he’s in witness protection?” She tilts her head.

“Vaguely… really bad guys, that I remember.”

“Well, one of those really bad guys came to see me yesterday,” I confess. “He found out that I was in Detroit and decided to fly out here to tell me to get his boss’s permission the next time I decide to travel to Detroit.” Butterfly raises her brow.

“I see… and you said?” she inquires.

“I told him to kiss my ass,” I reply. “I feel like it was nothing more than a dramatic show of bravado for him to fly all the way across the country to try to get me to bow to his will. I was in Detroit for 24 hours. They found out that I was there, but never confronted me while I was there—probably because I was never alone. They would have had to barge into my uncle’s home, an attorney’s office, or a PI’s office to talk to me. Instead, he shows up at Grey House in a black car, his goon opens the door and tells me to get in… fuck you!” I say that last part more to myself than to Butterfly.

“So… did he threaten your life?” she asks.

“Not overtly, but it was easily implied,” I admit.

“Ah… hence the fuck me like it was the last time fuck last night,” she says, a little perturbed. Why is she perturbed? Didn’t she enjoy it? “And that confused look on your face says you don’t have a clue why I’m irritated.”

“Um… no,” I admit.

“What if it was the last time, Christian?” she scolds. “You don’t think I deserved to know something was up?”

So… um… now I don’t dare tell her that I was afraid of her being taken away from me as opposed to being afraid of me leaving her.

“I can only say that I’m sorry, Butterfly, but there’s a condition to that. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you immediately, but I couldn’t—not because the time wasn’t right, but because I was physically unable to talk about it. It was on me so hard that I couldn’t even think to talk about it. I was too stressed out and I had to release it before I could even approach it. I was going to go to work and talk to our security team and come up with a plan of action. Then, I planned on talking to you about it. Jason beat me to it and beefed up security.”

“So, if Jason hadn’t beefed up security…” she begins.

“I would have told you after we had a plan of action,” I interrupt her.

“What if something had happened before you had a plan of action?” she snaps. I don’t have an answer for her, and I’m getting drawn and tense again.

“I was wound tighter than a dollar store watch when I came into this house last night,” I say, forcing my voice to be calm. “I simply cannot regurgitate everything that’s going on with me when I’m wound that tight. You have to give me time. My options were to fuck you or avoid you, and I needed you so badly…” I trail off and clench my fists, trying to relax and not lose my temper. “I wasn’t fucking you like it was the last time. I was loving you until I could think again, until I could breathe again. And the burden was so heavy that when I finally released it, I could do nothing else but sleep. I would have told you. I just. Needed. To think. I thought after being with me all this time and knowing me and knowing how I handle things…”

“You’re right,” she says, her hands moving quickly to cup my cheeks. She kisses me firmly on my lips. “You’re right. I’m sorry,” she says, rubbing my arms and furrowing her brow. “Boogeyman.”

Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?

“I’m sorry, too,” I say. “This is not the Boogeyman, baby. We’re just being careful, okay? With all my heart, I think this man is all hot air or he would have done something by now. He even said as much.” She sighs heavily and drops her head.

“What do you mean he said as much?” she asks, somewhat resigned.

“He told me that if he meant me harm, it would have been done by now.” She sighs again.

“Well, that’s comforting,” she says sarcastically.

“That’s why Jason has added extra security,” I tell her. “We’re being cautious, not taking any chances.” She nods.

“Okay… what about Marilyn?” I roll my eyes. I forgot about Marilyn.

“We probably want to get another guy on her, too,” I say. “You’ll let her know or do you want me to do it?” She shakes her head.

“I’ll tell her,” she says. “Now, I’m having second thoughts about the exposé.”

“Not that I’m trying to scare you, but you have to know… there’s nothing that the exposé will show that these people didn’t already know. The biggest trump card that I have in my pocket right now is that we have a mutual enemy and quite frankly, that’s all we have in common…” which makes me even more fucking anxious to find Myrick wherever the hell he’s hiding.

“Okay, so… yeah, I better get to the office. I guess the sky is falling for all of us.” She mumbles the last part. I don’t bother asking what she means.

“I need to get going, too, baby,” I tell her leaning down and kissing her on the cheek. “Are we okay?” She touches my cheek again.

“Yes, we’re okay,” she says, but I’m not convinced. “I’m working on chasing away the demons. They don’t leave overnight, you know.” She smiles weakly.

“Yes, Butterfly,” I say, cupping her face. “I know.” I kiss her lips gently, then leave to join Jason. I can’t help but notice what looks like a convention of black suits in the garage. I don’t even bother asking.

“Let’s go,” I say, listlessly while climbing into the back seat and closing the door behind me.

My mind wanders to everything happening right now that requires my attention. The implications of Aragon’s visit and the subsequent need for two men in the car with me; whatever the hell is going on with the storage bins in Detroit—I have to call Smalls. He didn’t call me back yesterday and I can only assume that either Uncle Herman was able to get all the authorizations needed or it was just too late to do anything once and if clearance was given. So, that will be the first thing I deal with when I get to the office. While I’m pondering what other dilemmas will most likely confront me, Jason answers his phone through his earpiece.

“Taylor… fuck!” He snatches his earpiece from his ear and swerves a bit to regain control of the car.

“What the hell, Jason?” I demand, our passenger holding on to the door handle and glaring at Jason as well.

“My apologies, sir,” Jason says through his teeth, his fingers rubbing feverishly at his ear. “It’s your wife.” Well, shit, he doesn’t sound happy. I turn to the other guard.

“Put his phone in the cradle. Put her on speaker.” He really didn’t need to because the moment he picks up Jason’s phone, I can hear Butterfly screaming.

“Shit,” I whisper before Butterfly’s screaming voice is piping through the car speakers.

“Ana,” I say, trying to get her attention. She’s still screaming.

“Ana.” Still no acknowledgement from my screaming wife.

“ANASTASIA!”

“WHAT?” she shoots back at me.

“You know Jason is driving, Anastasia. What the fuck are you doing calling him screaming in his ear?”

“So, he hands the phone to you so that I can scream at you?” she asks sarcastically.

“No, your voice is piping through the whole damn car. Jason nearly killed us getting his earbud out of his ear!” There’s sweet silence, but only for a moment.

“There’s a goddamn caravan following me to work, Christian,” Butterfly complains. “What the hell is that? Is all of this really necessary?”

“There’s no need to be dramatic, Butterfly…”

“Don’t patronize me and I’m not being dramatic! I work at a fucking shelter, for Christ’s sake! You know, sanctuary? The press is going to be all over me!” I throw a look at Jason, who looks everywhere but at me. “What aren’t you telling me, Christian?” my wife demands.

“I’ve told you everything. There’s nothing else,” I say. I see Jason’s posture shift. He knows I haven’t told her everything, but there’s no way in hell I’m telling her that man said that he would come to my house.

“There’s apparently something you missed!” she declares. “I look like the French delegation driving across the bridge. The only thing that’s missing are the damn flags. What’s going on!”

“I’ve told you what’s going on,” I reinforce. “Jason just feels that we should have more protection for a while since that guy came to Grey House last night.” Jason’s shoulders relax a bit. I’m certain he thought I gave her some sugar-coated version of what happened. I told her exactly what happened… except that I told the guy that I wasn’t afraid of death, and that he threatened to come to my house.

“What the hell happened, Christian?” she barks. “There are eight people following me! In the other vehicles!”

“What?” I exclaim, my eyes widening. She’s not exaggerating. That’s fucking ridiculous. “Jason…!”

“It’s because there’s four of you,” Jason interjects impassively. “We’re just trying to keep you all safe, Your Highness.”

“This is bullshit and you both know it!” she says, most likely convinced that I knew the entire Delta Force was going to be following her this morning. I kinda did know. The MIB convention in the garage somewhat gave it away. I just chose to ignore it.

“Jason is just being extra cautious,” I hiss through my teeth, mostly at Jason.

“Well, guess what? I don’t give a fuck how cautious Jason is right now. This is fucking ludicrous! Every time you make some kind of change to security, I go along with it. There are eight fucking people following me! This is outrageous!”

She’s right. It is outrageous, but there’s nothing I can do about it right now. They’re headed across the bridge. It’s not like I can tell them to go away. I guess I was pondering the situation a little too long because the next thing I hear is…

“You know what? Never mind.” She ends the call abruptly. She. Is. Pissed.

“Fuck!” I hiss loudly. I look over at Jason who refuses to make eye-contact with me and we ride silently to Grey House.

*-*

“Fix this. Now,” I say to Jason once I’ve had a macchiato and a glazed apple fritter and calmed my nerves. “What the hell, sticking eight guards behind her? She’s more of a target with all these people behind her than she was before. You must see that.”

Jason and Alex are sitting across from me in my office, a unified front against my demands about this insane increase in security, I suppose.

“She’s got some of our best men around her, sir,” Alex replies. “Nobody’s getting near her and those babies…”

“At this point, I couldn’t get near her and those babies!” I retort angrily. “Don’t you see the problem with that?”

“Sir, Russo is mafia. There’s no other way to put that. This is big time. If he wants you dead, you’re dead. Your family’s dead. Your friends are dead…”

“And if that’s the case, eight guys surrounding my wife and drawing attention to her isn’t going to stop him, now is it?” I interrupt. “I’m not highly impressed with his techniques or intimidated by his reach and ability. He hasn’t presented me Myrick’s head on a platter, yet.”

“Myrick’s in hiding. You’re not,” Jason points out.

“Which further proves that he’s not as omnipotent as both of you seem to think he is!” I snap. “When I had a message for Myrick, I went to Ionia—I didn’t send Jason. When I had a message for Elena, I went to the Washington State Prison—I didn’t send Jason. When I had a message for Courtney after she threatened my wife, I trapped her in the ladies’ room—I didn’t send Jason. When I had a message for Loverboy Investigator, I went to the State building—I didn’t send Jason. Hell, when Butterfly had a message for David before he offed himself, she went to the prison—she didn’t send Chuck. She went to some hick hole trailer park in California to personally confront the bitch that was responsible for her beating in Vegas. She had security, but she went, and I’m supposed to be shaking in my boots from some motherfucker that doesn’t even have the guts that my wife has?

“He keeps sending his consigliere every time he wants to make a point. Big fucking deal! I’m not talking to that guy anymore and I mean that! If Russo wants a war, he can do it, and I can’t win it, but these scare tactics are not fucking going to work with me!”

I’ve had enough of this shit. I’ve had enough of all of it. I know that these men sitting before me can do more than what they’re doing without sending the fucking A-Team around with my wife.

“I want my wife and family secure as much as you do, but this? No. If those bozos in the FBI can keep Myrick hidden and safe, you can keep my wife safe without drawing this much attention to her. You’re doing a fan dance for this fucker and you know it, and I’m not going to play his game. I’ll accept reasonable security enhancements, but this is overkill. Whatever point you’re trying to make, you’ve made it. You’re pissing me off and you’re scaring the fuck out of my wife. Call them off.” Jason finally decides to speak.

“With all due respect, sir, the threat that’s facing us is a real and present danger. I’m not trying to make a point; I’m trying to keep you safe!”

“I don’t think you heard me,” I say crisply. “Call. Them. Off. This is not a request.”

Jason glares at me and I don’t back down. He’s going overboard, and my wife is right. This is ridiculous.

“If imminent danger comes at my wife or our children, there can be ten men coming at her and as long as someone’s got her six, two to five of them will fall at her hand from her bullets. She doesn’t need eight people and you know this. Call them off.” Jason’s lips purse as he visibly prepares his retort.

“Two extra guards, one extra vehicle when the children are with her. That’s it. Make it happen or call them all off besides the regulars. Your choice,” I say.

“Less vehicles means a lower tactical advantage,” he warns.

“It’s all chance, Jason,” I inform him. “You and I both know that tactical advantage won’t mean shit if they really want her.” My words are grave, but true. Everything we do is a precaution. My home is a fortress, but if anyone is willing to risk their life to get to her, they can do it. Jason shakes his head.

“What’s going on with you?” he asks. “You’re usually the most cautious guy I know. Now it’s like you’re staring death in the face like you really don’t care.”

“Oh, make no mistake, I care. If anything happens to my wife, I will personally find whoever’s responsible, shoot them in every extremity several times and watch them bleed out. I can’t very well do that if I’m dead, so yes. I care very much about life. But my wife is teetering on the edge of a proverbial cliff every damn day. We’ve had this discussion. I don’t have time to be meek. And after she and I have both confided in you about her fears and how she’s feeling, I can’t for the life of me fathom how you thought it was a solid idea to trail her with three vehicles and eight damn guards!”

The military man in Jason suddenly slips away and his expression is now unreadable. I have no idea what’s going through his head, but just like that…

“I’ll take care of it,” he says. I know you will. You were bordering on insubordination and I was about to suspend your ass.

“Thank you,” I nearly hiss before turning to Alex. “What’s the word on Myrick? Anything?” He shakes his head.

“The trail is cold, sir. No new leads at all,” Alex replies.

“Well, heat it up!” I say firmly. “Put some pressure on whoever you need to put some pressure on—the ex-wife, the offspring, that kid in the service, the FBI, the CIA, the fucking President, I don’t care! I want this motherfucker out of my hair! Start turning over some goddamn rocks and I guarantee you’ll see some bugs start running! And I never want to fucking see Aragon again!”

Alex’s eyes widen, and Jason sits up straight.

“That’s what I said,” I reinforce. “I never fucking want to see his ass again. Put his mug on facial recognition so that if he shows up within ten feet of my building, this place lights up like a fucking Christmas tree! I will wear my harness and that gun that he seems to think is useless every damn day and I’ll make sure that my wife stays strapped like Calamity fucking Jane, but he gets nowhere near any of us and you don’t need eight extra guards to make that happen. He’s starts shooting, you shoot back! And aim for his fucking head!”

I am totally beyond reason. I want blood, and I want it now. This situation has gone on for way too long and I’m tired of it taking over my goddamn life.

I don’t even think I hear them when they leave my office. I’m seeing red. I know that my station puts me and my family in a position of danger on a regular basis, which is why I want that exposé to air. That’s only a small message to the somewhat little fish that we won’t sit around and be fucked with anymore, but what about the big fish? How do you get that message to them?

Every time Russo sends that fucker out here, he’s acting like a cat playing with a mouse.

“Mr. Grey, if I was looking to cause you any harm, the deed would have been done by now…”

Well, fucking do it, then, you pussy ass bastard, because I’m not running, hiding, or cowering from you anymore.


ANASTASIA

“Turn this fucking car around.” Chuck looks at me in the rearview mirror, bemused.

“What?” he asks, his eyes wide. That’s when I realize that we’re still on the bridge.

“As soon as you can, turn this fucking car around and take me back home. There’s no way in hell I’m taking all this attention to Helping Hands.” He’s silent for a minute.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says, and I’m not even pissed that he’s calling me ma’am. I am pissed, however, that half of GEH security appears to be following me to work. Where are they supposed to stay while I’m working and meeting with residents—on the goddamn bleachers?

I’m fuming. Something’s going on and he’s not telling me what it is. I call Grace and try not to sound too agitated.

“Grace, I’m working from home today. There seems to be some kind of development that I need to get sorted with my husband.” There’s silence.

“I’m not prying but is everything okay?” she asks.

“I’m not sure, but it’s nothing you should be worried about. I’m certain we can figure out what’s going on with the situation. Is Marilyn there yet?”

“I don’t think so. If she is, I haven’t seen her.”

We get to the end of the bridge and Chuck takes the exit and makes to get back on the bridge headed home.

“If you see her, tell her to come to my house,” I say. “I’ve been thinking about something since I had to recruit members of security to help move office furniture yesterday. What do you think about having a full-time custodial crew instead of a contracted cleaning service? I know we would need consider the financial implications like benefits and whatnot, but I think the benefits of having someone in-house would outweigh those of having a service. You know, building maintenance, per se.” There’s a pause.

“I hadn’t considered it,” she says. “Have you done any research on it?”

“Well, no,” I say, “but I was thinking that with the problems that we had a couple of years ago with the cleaning service not covering certain areas of the building and having to inspect their work all the time and renegotiate the contracts, it’s worth looking into for several reasons. There are going to be more people in the building that are not just residents. The classrooms are now going to be utilized. There’s obviously going to be a need to have someone around that can fix things in a pinch—be a handyman, a janitor… Not only that, but having a staff makes people more accountable for the work that needs to be done.”

“Yes,” she says. “I can see where you’re going with that. And we’re going to have to look into offering benefits for staff anyway because we’re expanding. We’re going to be eligible for federal funding and grants now with our accreditation and we’re not as slim as we were before on our donations with the publicity we’ve been getting from your appearances and from the PSA that I’ve learned is still airing in some areas. We should probably put together a PSA of our own once we have the foundation of our programs in place.”

“Oh, that’s a fantastic idea, Grace,” I tell her. “It’s great that we have the Faces of Abuse campaign still airing, but now we’re going to be offering many more services, and we definitely need to get that word out there.”

“When is your segment with Christian supposed to run again?” she asks. “Cary and I don’t watch much television and I don’t want to miss it.”

“It runs on Monday night,” I tell her. “I thought about a little viewing party, but not on a Monday night.”

“Why not?” Grace says. “With a few minor exceptions, we basically write our own schedules. I think a viewing party is a great idea.” I shrug.

“I’ll talk to Christian about it. See what he thinks.” I was so critical in my viewing of the segment before that I didn’t really see it. I was just watching for “bloopers,” so to speak. Our conversation has gotten our caravan back across the bridge and onto Mercer Island.

“Marilyn and I will start researching the pros and cons of a service versus in-house custodial staff and see if we can come up with the numbers for you. Keri’s looking into her teaching credentials in the states, by the way. She informs me that she should have some solid information by the end of the week.” I look to Keri for confirmation and she nods.

“Okay. I’m going to start looking into some benefit packages for the employees of the center. Who was putting together the grant paperwork and request for funding?”

“That would be Courtney,” I tell her. “She’s also supposed to be getting us some kind of presentation by week’s end. She’s been pretty diligent with it and her studies.”

“Speaking of studies, Harmony is here today. I saw that she was here yesterday, too.” I told her to spend time with her mother. She doesn’t have much time left.

“Did she tell you about Tina?” I ask.

“Yes, and her unfortunate situation with that wretched husband of hers,” she adds. “Unfortunately, this is the way the divorce game is played, my dear. I don’t know anything about divorce law, but I know that divorces have held up lives for decades from people who don’t want the divorce and won’t sign the papers. A lot of cases have been won—or lost, depending on which side you’re on—because one party is just tired of fighting and simply gives up and gives in. I’m not sure there’s much that she can do but let him wait it out and give him want he wants short of paying him off to hurry up and sign the papers so that Tina can die in peace.”

“I have Al on it,” I reply. If all that needs to be done is he sign the papers and this is over, I’m not beyond paying this bastard off to go away. Maybe I’m getting too involved, but to me, this is just another way that the Boogeyman is bearing his teeth, even though he’s not bearing them at me. “What’s Harmony doing there anyway? I told her to spend some time with her mom.”

“Tina shooed her away and she doesn’t know how to deal with it. She’s young and going through some things herself right now. Handling two major life changes is taking its toll.”

“What about her classes?” I ask.

“Not until this afternoon.” I shake my head.

“Where is she now?”

“She’s helping Michelle out in the dorms—busy work for the most part.” We drive into the gate at the Crossing.

“Well, keep her busy until it’s time to go to school. I’m sure something’s going to give. Maybe have her help you with researching benefit packages.”

“Oh, yes, that’s a good idea,” she concurs.

“I’m going to touch bases with my husband and have him get in touch with the guy who did the Faces PSA—see if we can get a meeting.”

“Excellent, and I’ll get to work on Project Harmony and the benefits research.”

“Indeed, you know where to find me.” I end the call and text Marilyn to meet me at the mansion before I exit the car.

“Is everything okay?” A frowning Gail is walking quickly through the portico to help get the twins from the car. I gesture to the train of vehicles behind me.

“Imagine this driving up to Helping Hands,” I say. “We’d have news helicopters hovering over the Center!” She looks back at the Caravan of Love while I try not to slam the door after Keri has removed Mikey from the car. Chuck has already unbuckled Minnie’s seat and hands the carrier to Gail.

“Oh,” she says with a frown, looking at the line of Audis. “Why the entourage?” she asks. I shake my head.

“Ask His Highness,” I say, waving my hand disgustedly while breezing past her into the house.

*-*

“I don’t know if I’ve told you, but I’m redoing my office here, too,” I say to Marilyn as she types away on her MacBook while sitting in one of the seats across from my desk. She raises her eyes to me.

“Why?” she asks. “It’s so comfy and pretty.”

21d54a5af21611b9705d7f44ebc4c980

“It served the original purpose, but now, it looks too executive. It’s not Zen enough.”

“Oh… the Zen,” she says, tapping at her MacBook again. “How’s that working for you?”

“Some days it helps. Others, I’m struggling,” I admit.

“Well, you just started. Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know.” Yeah, I know. I just wish the Boogeyman would stop rearing his ugly head at me. I’m fighting him. I’ve decided not to take his abuse lying down anymore. But damn, it’s exhausting! I’m trying not to internalize Harmony’s issue; Christian has the entire Intergalactic Force following me; and I haven’t even bothered to ask Marilyn if she’s taken a pregnancy test. She seems in better spirits, but who knows what that means. I need to talk to Ace in the worst way and I’m trying to wait until my appointment on Friday, but it’s hard as hell. I need some damn guidance.

For some reason, my need for guidance leads me to call my husband instead of my shrink.

“Butterfly… are you okay?” he answers frantically, another reason for me to believe that something more is going on than he’s letting on.

“Why wouldn’t I be okay, Christian?” I ask, keeping my voice even. He sighs.

“Don’t read anything into it,” he cautions. “I just got the word the you went back to the house instead of going in to work and just as I was about to call you, you called me. It startled me, that’s all.” I raise my eyebrow in disbelief.

“Well, I couldn’t take the Observation Committee to the Center,” I say stoically. “It would be counterproductive.”

“Yeah, about that,” he says. “Jason went all commando-special-ops on me and pulled that shit, but I straightened it out. You’ll have a couple of extra details with you, but that caravan shit is a wash. I’m sorry if it scared you.”

It didn’t scare me, it pissed me off.

“We’ll keep the detail to your car and one additional with the usual guards and maybe two others, and Butterfly, it’s just a precaution. You know me—I’d rather be safe than sorry any day, but even I know when too much is too much.”

I try not to react, but I can’t help the sigh of relief I release knowing that Jason was just going overboard and that there was no sniper or something waiting to pick me off at the Center.

“You do still carry your firearm with you, don’t you?” And just when I was starting to relax…

“Yes,” I reply.

“Good, because I had to remind him that you’re a proficient shot and that you stay armed so that he would back off a bit. Hell, you’d probably pick off somebody coming at you faster than any of them would… I’m reminded of a certain Monster Bitch.”

I can’t help but laugh, and the tension is broken again, which I’m sure was his intent.

“I have a purpose for my call,” I say, not noticing that Marilyn has left the room. Where did she go?

“What is it?”

“Well, first, I want to see if you can set a meeting with that guy who did the Faces of Abuse PSA. We’re thinking of doing one for the new services at Helping Hands and we need direction.”

“I’ll give him a call,” Christian says. “And second?”

“I don’t know if you’ve been informed, but Tina Franklin has taken a turn for the worst.” I hear him sigh.

“Really?” he says, his voice deflated.

“Unfortunately, yes. She’s at home on hospice. Harmony’s not doing very well, so this portion kind of has a two and a three.” He pauses.

“I’m listening.”

I tell him about how Tina is pushing Harmony away in her last days. I’m certain she thinks it’s an attempt to spare Harmony the pain of watching her fade away. The problem is that she’s going to need these last moments to cling to when her mother is gone, and Tina is unintentionally taking those away from her. I beseech Christian to go and see her, maybe see if he can talk to her since he knows Tina so much better than I do. When he hesitates, I ask him how he would feel if this were Grace and he was in this position. He sighs.

“I’ll stop by after work,” he says, surrendering.

“There’s more,” I tell him.

“More than this? Sweet Jesus, what else?”

“Harmony’s divorce isn’t final. She had an attorney, but it turns out that the asshole was a spy for her husband. I’ve talked to Al about helping but he hasn’t gotten back to me yet. Her husband is stalling the proceedings waiting for Tina to die. He knows that Harmony is going to get an inheritance and if she gets it before they’re divorced…”

“He may be entitled to half,” Christian finishes. “Yes, the dirty business of divorce. Dad always talked about hating to see two people who once loved each other rip one another apart in court.”

“Isn’t there something that can be done?” I ask. “Can’t the court force that asshole to sign the papers? If not, Tina’s going to die or Harmony’s going to give in and—either way—he’s going to get what he wants.

“Short of busting the guys kneecaps and making him sign the papers, there’s no way around this.”

“Can we bust his kneecaps?” I ask, only half-serious.

“Butterfly…” my husband scolds.

“I know, I know,” I say, “it’s just that this guy has been dirt from the very beginning…”

I tell him the whole story about how the marriage was a farce from day one, the whole time the soon-to-be-ex-husband hoping to get his hands-on Harmony’s money not knowing that the money wasn’t Harmony’s. I explain that Harmony is not a trust fund kid like Tina’s other children may have been; that Harmony is the adopted great-granddaughter that her parents didn’t want and how Tina kept her money out of the snake’s hands when she saw through him. I told him about the guy’s philandering and how horribly he treated Harmony once he realized he wasn’t getting a hold of her money, forcing her to leave to avoid the terrible treatment and infidelity.

“Now, it looks like he’s going to get what he was after all along,” I conclude.

“Well, that explains a lot,” Christian says. “I was wondering how Tina could have a daughter so young. I’m also wondering if all of her children are going to come home now that she’s in hospice, or if they’re all still too busy with their lives.”

I don’t say what I’m thinking… that they’ll all show up after she’s dead looking for their cut.

“So, we have a parasite on our hands,” Christian says, “and short of going the old-school route and giving him the beating that he so richly deserves or making him an offer he can’t refuse, he’s going to get off Scott free with half of Harmony’s inheritance. I’m not buying that. There’s a way around that somehow.”

“I don’t see that there is, Christian, except for Harmony not to get the money… and that’s punishing Harmony for her asshole ex-husband’s actions.”

“I’m a businessman. There’s always a way,” he says confidently. “I don’t mean to rush you, baby, but there’s a ton of shit that I have to get to today and you just gave me a couple of additional projects to add to the pile. Was there anything else you needed?”

“No, that was it. I’ll call you if I think of anything else.”

“Okay… now I’m going to see Tina after work. Unless I can get out of here early, that means I’ll be home late today.” His voice is placating, like he thinks I’ll break—not that I can blame him.

“Okay, that’s fine. I won’t wait up,” I say.

“Not that damn late!” he adds.

“I get it, Christian. You’ll be home later. I’ll see you when you get here.” We exchange I love you’d and end the call. So, the threat’s not so bad that I need eight people following me, but he wants to make sure that I’m carrying my gun. Like he said, Ana, don’t read anything into it.

The whole thing with the adoption has made me think about my biological family—or the lack thereof—and I go to that website I logged into last year. The damn thing’s been charging my account every month for a year and I haven’t even been paying attention to it. I think I remember Mare saying something about it right before the twins were born and I said that I would get to it, but nothing since then.

Nothing from Marilyn anyway.

When I log into the website, it’s full of hits and notifications. Holy cow, Batman! Are these all people who are related to me? Shit, it’s going to take me months to get through all this data and all these people!

I log out of the site. My brain can’t even absorb that shit right now. Is this a box that I really want to open? After nearly 30 years, here comes cousin Ana? And are these people legit or are they just people on the site who may know who I am and are trying to get a piece of the rock?

“Dear Jesus, not now,” I say, opening my email program instead. I see the email from Mia that I’ve been avoiding, the one with the link to her wedding site. I roll my eyes and sigh.

“Might as well look,” I say aloud and click on the link.

The site opens to a background of Mia and Ethan on their wedding day, all smiles and gleefully posing as Mr. and Mrs. Kavanaugh. There are so many links and features that I don’t know where to begin. My first destination is the guest list. I have no idea who put this together, but each person who signed the guest book is featured in this section—pictures with their scribbled names underneath and their relation to the bride and groom, if any. I quickly find the picture of me and Christian. Someone caught us walking into the ballroom together, I have no idea when. We’re very casual and he’s holding my hand. It’s a simple picture of us and I like it—not posed or phony, just me and Christian as we are… well, most of the time.

Most of the other pictures of the guests were either pictures from the photo booths or candid shots like me and Christian. I don’t know if Adelaide will peruse Mia’s website, but if she does, the guestlist will alert her that her granddaughter is still in town, or at least was for the wedding. Her photo is with Vickie, protectively holding her around the waist. Her smile is large and genuine. She looks radiant, and Vickie’s adoration of her clearly shows through the photograph. I won’t alert her that the picture is here. I think it’ll only cause her undue anxiety. She travels in some of the same circles as her grandparents. If it’s meant to be that they bump into each other, then they will.

I get lost in the website, reliving the night through many of the photographs and enjoying the journey. I even get a little miffed watching Marlow dance with his little walking-fart-dress-wearing date. Geez, I hope she’s not a girlfriend. Then there’s the picture of Carrick holding Grace close to him on the dancefloor and planting a tender kiss on her cheek. Elliot and Val didn’t escape the smooch-cam either. And of course, me and Christian. There’s even a picture of Christian placing a tender kiss on Tina’s cheek when she and Harmony were about to leave the reception.

A kinder, gentler Christian Grey…

I didn’t, however, expect to see a video clip of us singing for Mia. I guess somebody couldn’t resist.


CHRISTIAN

I hope I’ve convinced my wife to resume going into the office. I haven’t had a cooking lesson from Gail in over a week and I’m certain that I’ve completely forgotten how to crack an egg… which is ridiculous. I proceed with what I was about to do when my wife called me and interrupted my thought process.

“Terry Smalls here.”

“Smalls, Grey. I’ve been waiting for an update on my grandfather’s storage bins. What’s the news?”

“We’re still sorting, sir,” he says. “It’s like one of those boxes where you open it and there’s another box and you open it and there’s another box and you open it and there’s another box. I think you or your uncle should look at these manifests…”

“Why don’t you just tell me what’s in there?” I ask impatiently.

“Where do I start?” he laments. “We’ve got about five bins full of antique furniture—real quality stuff. We’ve got at least two and maybe three bins of knick knacks, and when I say ‘knick knacks,’ I don’t mean ‘whatnots.’ I mean old fashioned baby clothes, bronzed baby shoes, somebody’s wedding dress—According to the manifest, there’s a collection of Waterford Crystal somewhere in one of these bins. You know they don’t make that anymore, right?”

“Yes, I’m aware,” I say.

“Oh! Yeah, and three more cars.” I nearly drop the phone.

More cars?” I ask.

“Yeah, three,” he confirms. “We haven’t located them yet.”

“Then how do you know they’re there?” I inquire.

“They’re on the manifests,” he says.

“Classics? Restored, like the Mustang?”

“I don’t know, sir. We haven’t found them yet…”

“Goddammit, drop everything and find the cars first! My grandfather was sick well before he died. Those things might have been sitting there for years!”

“Will do, sir.” I end the call and push my hands through my hair. My grandfather was fucking rich, or he spent his money in such a way as to accumulate an array of valuable things that he must have horded for his sons—four classic cars, four brothers. That’s got to be what that is.

I must shake the thought from my head about the cars because there’s nothing I can do about this until I know what the cars are and what kind of shape they’re in.

I spend the morning and part of the afternoon pretending to concentrate on the business of mergers and acquisitions, but it’s no use. I want to know what the fuck is taking Smalls so long to unearth those damn vehicles. Then, I get the news that one of my safe havens is about to fall prey to the worst type of vermin and, like I said, short of breaking his kneecaps, I don’t know that there’s much I can do to help her.

Short of breaking his kneecaps… I’m not beyond breaking his kneecaps, but let’s see what we can get done legally first.

“Well, truth be told, Chris,” Al says once I summon him to my office, “I know about assets and I love a good juicy fight, but I never really got into divorce law.”

“It’s a contract,” I tell him. “It’s the same thing. Think about a merger that’s about to happen. We’ve got assets that we want to hide without tipping off the buyer or the SEC.”

“I didn’t say that I didn’t know what to do. I said that basically, this isn’t my area of expertise.”

“Okay, so get to the point. What does this all mean?” I ask, impatiently.

“Nothing. He can’t touch her inheritance. If they were still in love and planning to be married for life, he still couldn’t touch her inheritance. The only way that he could touch her inheritance is if she intermingled the money together with the marital assets somehow, like if she put the money in a joint account or if it was property and he paid to repair it. Other than that, he can hold the divorce up until hell freezes over. He’ll never get that money.” I just stare at him.

“I thought all money that came into the marriage after the vows was automatically community property,” I protest.

“Nope,” he says. “Even in community property states, inheritances are not ‘his, hers, and ours.’ If that money is deposited into an account that belongs only to Ms. Harmony, Mr. Harmony can’t fuck with it.” Well, I’ll be damned.

“Have you told Harmony yet?” I ask.

“I haven’t had the chance.”

“Let me do it,” I say. “I’m going to see Aunt Tina this evening and I’d love to be able to put both their fears to rest simultaneously.”

“Be my guest,” he says.

That fucker better be glad I’ve discovered that he can’t get any of Harmony’s money. I’m not the vigilante-save-every-damsel-in-distress-that-crosses-my-path guy, but any discomfort I’ve ever inflicted on any woman with few exceptions has been consensual. I hate for men to take advantage of women, especially emotionally and even more so financially, but I hate it even more when a jerk or a crook gets over on the good guy, and that seems to happen a lot.

Hearing the news about Harmony and Tina helps me to relax a bit and I get a little more done during the afternoon than I do during the morning. I decide to leave the office early to go see about Aunt Tina, but not before I touch bases with Smalls. How fucking hard can it be to find four whole ass vehicles?

Just when I’m about to lose my complete patience with Smalls and send someone else to Detroit to get the job done, my intercom comes alive.

“Mr. Grey, I have Terry Smalls on line 2.”

Without even answering her, I pick up line 2.

“It’s late afternoon here, so I know it’s after dark there. What took so long?” I bark into the phone. “They’re cars. What took hours to find cars?”

“Well, sir, all the cars are parked behind packed boxes like the first one was. Knowing that at least one of them has fine crystal in it, I’m sure you didn’t want us to go tearing through them like a bull in a china shop.” His voice is crisper than I would like, but he has been rummaging through storage bins all day. I bite back the urge to reprimand him.

“Oh, you found the damn cars?” I ask.

“Oh, we found the cars. Your grandfather apparently has a wonderful sense of humor,” he says mirthlessly. Watch it, Skippy.

“Meaning?” I say, nearly growling.

“Meaning,” he begins, softening his tone, “finding the cars meant going through riddles on the manifest. We unpacked at least two rows in four bins before we found the last car. One of my guys apparently likes logic problems, so he was quickly able to figure out the last two saving us a massive amount of time.”

“Riddles?” I ask incredulously. “Like what?”

“Oh, God, sir, please don’t put me through that again,” he laments, but continues anyway. “Things like two farmers go to the market to buy wheat one buys 45 bags the other buys 75 bags when they get home they split it evenly between three farmers but only one farmer paid for it and… you get the idea.” He says the entire thing without stopping. “When you solve the riddle, you get the number of a manifest or a storage bin, only we didn’t figure it out until after we found the second car. We’ll be here all night putting these boxes away.”

“You’ve got the boxes out already. Why not work in shifts getting some of that stuff sorted instead of shoving it back into the bins? I only suggest that because it’s got to be a better use of time than to shove it all back in there just to pull it back out again.”

“My guys are tired. I’ll run it by them, but I’m worried about accuracy with an exhausted crew.”

“You’re right. Not a smart idea. What can you tell me about the cars?”

“Well, we can see the cars, but we can’t move them. They’re open, but the keys and the titles are all hidden in RiddleLand again, and I have a feeling these are personal.” Oh, dear Lord.

“Please, explain,” I sigh.

“Well, in the glove box of each car, there’s a riddle. After each riddle, it says, ‘Ask the boys.’” I wish I had more patience for this. I’m not flying back out to Detroit. I don’t care if he finds gold bullion in one of those bins.

“Can you give me an example?” I ask.

“’What has four fingers and a thumb but is not living?’ That one was easy enough, a glove. But what does that mean to me? At first, we thought it meant look in the glove box of the other cars, but there were just more riddles. That’s when we saw the words, ‘Ask the boys.’ So, like I said. I think these are more personal.” Now, I’m exhausted and I haven’t even done any of the work.

“Send me pictures of the cars and the riddles, please. I’ll talk to my uncle. By the way, what kind of condition are the other cars in?”

“Cherry,” he says. “You have to see them. There’s no way I can explain it.” Cherry… that’s pretty ripe.

“Email them, pack up the boxes. Go have dinner and get some rest. I’ll be waiting for your call tomorrow.” My way of telling him that I won’t bother him since I know it’s going to take forever to get the boxes back into the bins.

“Yes, sir.”

*-*

It’s about five thirty when we arrive at Aunt Tina’s. The butler doesn’t recognize me when he opens the door, not that he has any reason to, but at first, he denies me entry or access to see her.

“I know what condition she’s in and she’s a very dear friend of mine. I’d like to see her please. Tell her it’s Christian,” I insist.

“I’m afraid that’s impossible,” he says, his nose in the air. “Mrs. Franklin is not seeing visitors.”

“She’ll see me,” I persist. He doesn’t relent. “Is Harmony here?” His face distorts in distaste. What the fuck is that all about?

“No, she’s not,” he announces. As if in answer to his question, a late model Jetta drives up the round drive. One of the other staff opens the driver side door and Harmony steps out.

“Christian,” she says, recognition setting in as she approaches the door. “How are you? It’s good to see you.”

“I wish I could say the same,” I complain. “I mean to say that it’s good to see you, but I can’t seem to get in to see Tina.” Harmony frowns.

“She’s not doing very well,” she says.

“Yes, I know. My wife told me. She explained her condition to me at Mia’s wedding and she asked me to come by and see her. Here I am, but I can’t get in.” She looks at the butler.

“Roger, what’s the meaning of this?” Harmony says. Roger looks at her but doesn’t acknowledge her. “Let Christian in. What’s wrong with you?”

“Ms. Tina is not in any condition to see guests,” he says snootily.

“That’s not for you to decide!” Harmony retorts. “Are you her doctor, now? Move.”

He says nothing but refuses to grant me access.

“Roger, I know you’ve worked for my mother for many years and you know the lay of this property like the back of your hand, but this. Is not. Your. House!” she hisses. Roger’s lips form a straight line. “Now, step aside, and please allow multibillionaire and mega-entrepreneur Christian Trevelyan Grey into my home!”

She’s glaring at him and he glares right back at her like she’s nobody. I’ve had enough. I shove this fucker aside and step into the house.

“Harmony, where’s Aunt Tina?” I ask, ignoring Roger’s appalled gasps and scoldings.

“She’s upstairs in her room,” she says. I take the spiral stairs two at a time. I don’t know why I feel such a sense of urgency, but I need to get to her to tell her what I’ve discovered and to let her know not to push Harmony away.

“Which room?” I ask Harmony when we get to the top of the stairs.

“Third door on the right,” she says.

“You can’t just go barging in on someone like this!” Roger protests. I whirl around on him in an instant.

“I’ve had all I’m going to take from you!” I hiss. “Now, if you don’t shut up…” I let the words hang in the air. Jason comes casually up the stairs behind me and stands behind Roger. He deflates at the sight of Jason and shrinks back a bit.

“How do you get anything done with him around?” I ask.

“It’s a trial,” Harmony admits.

“Let me guess. He knows more than you do and won’t listen to anything you say because he’ll only take orders from Tina. What’s more is that he walks around with a haughty ass entitled attitude looking down on everybody even though he’s nothing more than the help.” I’m staring at him waiting for a response or reaction from him. I get none.

“You’ve hit that nail right on the head,” Harmony says. Yes, I said the help. Gail, Jason, Chuck—that’s my family that happen to be my employees. They don’t act entitled and they certainly don’t treat my guests like vermin. So, yes, he’s nothing more than the help.

“Does he have any idea that everything he gazes upon and holds dear is going to you when your mother dies?” Roger’s eyes widen and his face pales. Harmony’s eyes widen as well.

“How do you know that?” she asks, surprised.

“I’m Christian Grey. I have my ways.” I say, never taking my eyes off Roger. I don’t know that, but he doesn’t know that I don’t know. “The very reason for my visit is to let you know that I’ve discovered some information about your inheritance and your asshole husband that should put your and Tina’s fears to rest.”

“I… I thought Ana had her friend Allen working on it,” Harmony says. I finally break my gaze with Roger and look at Harmony.

“She did,” I tell her. “Allen’s my head of legal. He’s a specialist in asset law, but he’s not a divorce attorney. No worries, though. I spoke to my father, too. He’ll be representing you in your divorce. But, first, I need to share some news with you and Aunt Tina.” I gesture to her to lead the way. She steps in front of me and walks to Tina’s door. As we’re about to enter, Roger makes to enter with us. I hold my hand up at his chest.

“We won’t need you, Roger,” I say. “Jason?” Jason steps in front of Roger as Harmony and I step into the bedroom.

“Sir!” Jason stops me somewhat urgently. He leans in to me.

“Sir, I’m getting feedback on my earpiece,” he says lowly. My brow furrows and I shake my head. What does that mean?

“This room is bugged,” he informs me. I’m instantly horrified.

“You’re sure?”

“I’m positive,” he confirms.

“There’s no way to scramble the signal?”

“Don’t dawdle there at the door! Come in!” Tina demands, her back to us. I look to Jason.

“I can call Alex. It’ll probably fuck up your cell signal, too.” I nod and put my hand in the small of Harmony’s back.

“Careful what you say,” I whisper to her as we walk across the room to Aunt Tina.

“Mom?” Harmony says softly. Tina takes her hand.

“You just don’t listen, do you, child?” she says sweetly. Harmony can’t control her emotions.

“It’s my fault, Aunt Tina,” I say, emerging from behind the chair. Her face is worn and tired but lights up when she sees me.

“Christian!” she says with excitement. “Are you being a bad influence on my Harmony?” Harmony kneels at her mother’s feet and lays her head in Tina’s lap. She weeps quietly, and Tina gently strokes her hair.

“This is why I don’t want you here,” she says, trying to comfort Harmony.

“This is exactly why she needs to be here, Aunt Tina,” I say softly touching her shoulder. “These will be her last moments with you. She needs every one of them.” Aunt Tina looks up at me and nods, still stroking Harmony’s hair.

“At least do your mom a solid and don’t cry every time you see me,” Aunt Tina says to Harmony, who tries to control her sniffles.

“Yes, ma’am,” she says, her voice soft. Tina shifts a bit in her chair.

“See? I’m not gone yet,” Aunt Tina says. “I just saw a commercial that you’re going to be on that program next Monday—you and your wife. What’s that about?” I look at my phone and I still have a very clear signal.

“We did a segment somewhat introducing ourselves to the world.” Aunt Tina tsk’s.

“You don’t need to be introduced to the world,” she says. “They all know who you are.”

“No, they don’t,” I smile. “They just think they do. Your butler certainly doesn’t know me. And he doesn’t like me either.”

“He’s just protective,” she says. “He’s been with me for a long time.”

“Is that why he doesn’t respect Harmony either?” I ask. Harmony raises her head from her mother’s lap.

“Christian…” She shakes her head.

“My dear, if Tina is the only one he’ll listen to, then Tina is the one that has to let him know he can’t treat you that way,” I inform her. Tina’s frail hand lifts Harmony’s chin.

“Is this true?” she asks. “Is he disrespectful to you?”

“He just doesn’t know me, Momma,” she says sweetly.

“Nonsense!” Tina says, pressing a button on the table next to her bed. Roger bursts through the door almost immediately, pushing past Jason and appearing before Tina.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says, making eye-contact only with Tina.

“Roger are you being a pompous asshole again?” she says. His brows furrow.

“Ma’am?” he says.

“You treat my daughter as if she were me, today and from now on, or you can pack your things and leave this house tonight! Are we clear?” His eyes widen.

“Ma’am!” he says shocked. “Ma’am, I assure you…”

“I’m not looking for any of your English butler-school-taught bullshit right now, Roger. I am looking for a yes or no answer. Are. We. Clear?” He straightens.

“Yes…” he says. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Now, apologize to my daughter for how you’ve apparently been treating her when my back is turned.” He turns to Harmony.

“Ms. Harmony, I’m deeply sorry for my behavior…”

“Your insolence!” Tina demands. Roger clears his throat.

“For my insolence,” he corrects. “I humbly beg your forgiveness and assure you that it will never happen again.” Harmony turns away from him and rests her chin on her mother’s lap.

“It’s my understanding that you were rude to my guest as well,” Aunt Tina says. “I’m appalled, not only because he’s a dear friend of my family but also because you felt you have the right to treat anyone who visits my home that way. I’m dying, Roger, but I’m not dead yet! You should be glad I don’t fire you right now. I’m waiting.” Roger raises his gaze to me and I raise my hand to stop him.

“I don’t want his apology,” I say. Aunt Tina looks up at me.

“Christian, is that the behavior of a gentleman?” she scolds.

“No, ma’am,” I say, “and I don’t feel the need to be a gentleman in his presence.” I turn back to Aunt Tina while he continues to glare at me. “Forgive me, Aunt Tina.” She covers my hand and nods.

“You can go now,” she says to Roger. When he leaves, she opens her mouth as if to yawn. “Ah,” she says.

“What is it, Mom?” Harmony asks.

“There’s almost always a constant humming in my ears,” she says. “It’s gone.” I look at my phone. There’s no signal. Jason has found a way to scramble the signal in the room. I examine Aunt Tina.

“Aunt Tina, do you have a hearing aid?” I ask. I can’t see one, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have one. Sure enough, she pulls a device out of her ear that’s no bigger than a fingertip.

“I’ve had it calibrated a hundred times, but it doesn’t help.” I sigh.

“Both ears?” I ask. She nods. “Aunt Tina, I have some things to tell you.”


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

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