Grey, Continued: Season 5, Episode 14

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

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

Season 5 Episode 14

CHRISTIAN

Lunch manages to end on a high note with Butterfly showing Cynthia and Larry pictures of the twins at Christmas and their first birthday and talking about the accreditation at Helping Hands and all the things the Center will be able to do now that they’re licensed. I’m very happy to move the conversation away from the trial. We’ve decided to stay, and now we need to make the best of our time while we’re here awaiting this damn verdict. Much to my surprise, Butterfly suggests that we all go to Karaoke since most of our party will be returning to Seattle tomorrow. Cynthia and Larry decline, but it looks like our party will be going to make fools of ourselves on stage.

Although we’re in better spirits as we watch the living statues perform in the middle of the mall/casino, our spirits take a nosedive the moment we see him.

“Brian? What the…?” Ray begins.

“I swear I’m not following you,” he says with his hands up. Butterfly and I are both glaring at him like we could shoot him where he stands.

“What, did you come for a shopping trip?” I nearly hiss. He turns his glare to me.

“As a matter of fact, I did,” he says. He reaches into his jacket and just as Jason is reaching into his, Cholometes pulls out a mirrored box. Inside the mirrored box is another box—blue… Tiffany blue to be exact. He opens the box to reveal what looks like a 2-carat solitaire stone set in a platinum band with eight round brilliant diamond set in the band.

“I’m going to ask Shawna to marry me,” he says to Ray.

“Thank God,” my wife says, probably a little louder than she intends and never making eye-contact with Brian. He brings his gaze down to her and I’m immediately on guard.

“I see that’s good news to you, Ana,” he says. “I’m glad to hear that.” Butterfly raises a hateful gaze to Cholometes that doesn’t even faze him.

“You’re here in Las Vegas to attend the trial of the bastards that beat and burned me 15 years ago. Yet, you say that you’re here to support my father. The last time I saw you, you tried to announce to a room full of my family and friends—particularly my father—that I and my husband engage in an alternative lifestyle. Forgive me if I question your motives, Mr. Cholometes!” she spits, her voice full of venom, before she turns to her father.

“We’re going to the car, Daddy. You can meet us there when you’re done talking to your friend.” She marches away with Chuck right behind her. I glare at Cholometes for a moment, then fall in step behind my wife. I hear Ray talking to him as we leave.

“Bri, I appreciate your support and friendship, but in the future when you want to drop into town, you may want to call first.”

“Good idea,” I say to myself as I catch up with my wife.

“Baby…”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she says. “I want to go to the Fashion Show Mall and buy a skimpy dress to wear to karaoke tonight.”

“We’re in the middle of a mall right now, baby,” I point out.

“I don’t want to risk running into him again!” she says. Duly noted… then I pause.

“How skimpy?” I ask.

“Nearly non-existent,” she says. “I’ll be with my husband.”

And she wasn’t kidding.

She bought a short cobalt-blue, spaghetti string dress that fit her like a second skin that she plans to wear without a bra. What’s more is that she found a pair of cobalt-blue thigh-high soft suede stiletto boots to wear with the barely-there dress. To make matters worse, she bought a white bridal cape trimmed in fur with a hood, so that you were sure to see her coming.

Fucking hell.

“Your dad is going to be there,” I protest, trying to get her to reconsider her wardrobe choice.

“And I’m a grown ass woman with twins,” she replies. “If he’s never considered the fact that I’m a sexual being, now would be the time to get over it.”

I had to buy something, too, because I hadn’t planned on attending any social events. So, all I brought are suits and sweats, and hell if I’m wearing either of those out with her tonight. So, what do I buy?

I find the most Beckham-esque pair of black slacks that I can find in that they fit a man’s muscular legs, ass, and groin area very nicely and leave nothing to the female imagination. I pair them with a thin muscle turtleneck T-shirt and a pair of Mahogany brown ankle boots that pretty much sends the message that my wife is not the only one who’s going to look tempting on the streets of Vegas. She examines me with a scrutinous eye before we leave the suite and simply laughs as we head for the elevator.

Everyone comes out with us tonight, including Mac’s husband, Fergus, which unfortunately means that Marilyn is the only dateless person this evening. At first, that gives me cause for concern, but she assures me that she’s okay and plans to have a good time. She even intends to sing a song.

Jason’s eyes bulge from their sockets when he sees my wife’s attire. Ray is equally speechless when she removes her cloak. Of course, Allen can be counted on to fan the flame.

“Well, well, well, Hot Mama, what’s gotten into you?” he asks.

“A little bit of hell from Sin City, that’s all,” she replies taking a seat. Jason looks at me and I just raise my brow and shrug. He, on the other hand, sighs and rubs his forehead. He knows that dress has the makings for a long night.

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We’re at a local bar in a casino called Ellis Island in downtown Las Vegas, as if we hadn’t spent enough time down here already, but this place is rumored to be one of the best karaoke spots in town. If I’m honest, the food’s not bad either. We arrived early and commandeered one of the large tables that look like picnic tables. We’ve deliberately skipped dinner to partake of the greasy bar food, because that’s what Butterfly wants—chicken wing dings, loaded steak fries, jalapeno poppers, fried mushrooms… all the things that usually mean a night of indigestion, not to mention a steady flow of a drink called “Adios.” Hopefully, I won’t have to carry her into the suite at the end of the night, but even if I do, she deserves to let loose after the week that she’s had.

When the massive amount of food arrives, everyone digs in and I’m thrilled beyond words to see that Marilyn takes a few bites of a wing ding! That was worth the trip all on its own.

More than one man has eyed my Butterfly in this delectable fucking dress with her nipples at full attention. I’m trying not to go all Neanderthal on the fuckers, but they’re getting on my fucking nerves. The women eyeing me are a bit more discreet, but the gesture offers me little to no comfort.

The first to be called up from our little group is Fergus. He gives his wife a kiss and mounts the stage.

“Hold on a minute there, lad, before ya start,” Fergus turns to the crowd. “Do any of ya Americans know anything about good Irish drinkin’ songs?”

I don’t know anything about Irish drinking songs. I look over at my wife and she shakes her head and shrugs, but his question receives a bit of a reception from the crowd.

“Well, let’s give it a lil shot. If I say, ‘And it’s no, naaaay, neveeeerrrrr…” He pauses and several people in the bar clap four times.

“Oooooohh! I see ya do!” he says with his jolly Scottish accent. “Well, let’s do a round of The Wild Rover!” He turns to the DJ. “Okay, lad, let’s give it a go.”

A rousing introduction of what sounds like banjos and violins pipe through the speakers, and Fergus begins singing about spending all his money on drinking but coming home with gold in store. When he gets to the first round of the “No, nay, never” chorus, a few people in the bar clap with him.

Now, here’s the thing about Irish drinking songs… well, I should say this Irish drinking song, because I haven’t heard any other ones. It’s a very happy song. In fact, in a room full of drinking karaokers, it’s infectious. So, by the time he gets to the second round of the chorus, more people are clapping with him. By the third chorus, my wife and I are clapping with him. By the fourth and fifth chorus, the entire bar is singing along with him.

He gets a rowdy round of applause when the song is over and an enthusiastic roar to sing it again… which he does, and it’s just as much fun the second time around.

After a few other performers, Ray goes to the stage and sings Lionel Ritchie The Only One. Apparently, Mac hasn’t had enough to drink yet to show her vocal skills, but James is beckoned to the stage a while later and belts out a very good version of Michael Bublé’s Save the Last Dance for Me.

To my dismay, three or four songs later, my scantily clad wife is called on stage and sings a very animated version of Katy Perry’s Roar.

And Christ, did she roar!

I’m sure that a good portion of the power behind that song was fueled by alcohol, but she doesn’t seem impaired at all. Of course, the catcallers are yelling shit like, “Yeah, baby, roar on over here,” and “I’ve got something to make you roar,” but they were largely drowned out by the power of She-Women waving through the crowd and “roaring” along with my wife.

No sooner the little “tiger” is ready to take her seat that the DJ beckons her back to the stage with Al. They cling to one another and sing That’s What Friends Are For. I see my wife getting misty-eyed when the song is over, and she hugs her best friend. So, I’m happy when one of the other patrons belts out Sweet Caroline, which is one of those songs that unites people across all genres.

A few songs later, Amanda produces an amazing rendition of Celine Deon’s Because You Loved Me, and now Allen is looking for a song to sing for James since everyone seems “so sappy and sentimental” as he put it—everyone, that is, except…

At first, you can’t tell what the song is because you just hear the guitar strumming a single tune for a few beats, but when she opens her mouth…

“There’s a fire starting in my heart, reaching a fever pitch and it’s bringing me out the dark…”

Marilyn’s voice has so much soul in it that everyone at the table is taken aback. We’re all listening intently as she finishes the first verse, and if you close your eyes, you don’t know that this isn’t Adele.

“The scars of your love remind me of us, they keep me thinkin’ that we almost had it all…”

I look over at Butterfly and she’s staring at the stage like she’s never seen this person before. Marilyn’s eyes are closed as she sings the song and when she hits the chorus, her voice reverberates through that place like she’s giving a concert—and the crowd reacts as such, but Marilyn is in her own world belting out this song like a pro.

“Did you know she could sing like that?” I ask, leaning over to Butterfly.

“Not a clue,” she says, still gazing at Marilyn, who continues to captivate the crowd.

“Turn my sorrow into treasured gold. You’ll pay me back in kind and reap just what you sow…”

She’s clapping with the rhythm of the clapping in the song as she sings this part, almost like it was rehearsed, but each time she gets to that chorus, she belts it out and the women in the bar transform into backup singers.

“You played it, you played it, you played it, you played it to the beat.”

She ends the song perfectly as the music ends and steps quickly off stage to thunderous applause. She proceeds pass the table, not stopping to look at any of us.

“Marilyn!” Butterfly calls behind her.

“I’m fine,” she calls back. “I just need the restroom.” Butterfly moves to stand, but I prevent it, shaking my head when she looks at me strangely.

“Let her go,” I tell her. “She obviously needs a little alone time.”

Butterfly at first gives me a look that screams how dare I hold her down like that, but deflates when I point out that Marilyn needs to be alone.

“Well, that explains a lot,” Mac says, taking a sip of her drink. I frown.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“I knew that crying was more than just a bad dream,” she says. “I just didn’t want to be intrusive. Bad breakup?” I look at Butterfly who shrugs. I can see Ray looking over at us expectantly, especially after he saw Marilyn kiss me on the cheek.

“The worst,” Butterfly says. “It’s not like we can keep it a secret anymore. I can’t reveal the details, but… it’s pretty brutal.”

Physically brutal?” Ray presses. Butterfly purses her lips.

“Daddy, I love you, but that’s none of your business. Bad break-up, that’s all you get, which is more than I should have said.”

“No offense, Ana, but it’s the elephant in the room,” Amanda says. “I don’t know her very well, but every now and then, a bit of personality shines through. She’s not usually this quiet girl that everybody’s seeing now, is she? And it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that she doesn’t eat. I thought she was bulimic, but like Vee, I didn’t want to intrude.”

“What made you think bulimia if you hadn’t seen her eating?” Mac asks.

“I don’t know, maybe I’m thinking anorexia…” Amanda says.

“Can we please not talk about her this way?” Butterfly interjects fervently. “It’s rude and intrusive, not to mention narrow-minded to draw conclusions without knowing the entire story!”

“Thanks, Bosslady.”

We all turn to see Marilyn standing just at the end of the long table where we’re sitting. Amanda’s face pales and she chokes out her apology.

“Marilyn! I’m sorry… I didn’t mean…” Marilyn holds her hand up to silence Amanda.

“It’s okay,” she says. “It’s easy to get the wrong idea. I and my boyfriend didn’t see eye-to-eye on a very important matter and it resulted in our break-up. I wasn’t ready, not that I think I ever would have been, but it can’t be fixed now. I’m doing better with it now than I was before, but as you can see, I’m still not taking it very well. I’m ingesting what I can—doctor’s orders—but apparently, the first thing to leave after you lose your heart is your appetite… along with a bit of your sense of self-preservation, so…”

She trails off, and Mac and Mandy look more than a bit sheepish.

“So, I’m not bulimic and I’m not anorexic. I’m just broken-hearted,” Marilyn says with a shrug.

“I’m so sorry, Marilyn,” Amanda says again.

“Really… it’s okay. I totally understand. To be honest, I’ve become a bit accustomed to being Sideshow Bob… and I know Bosslady’s not going to tell you guys anything, so you heard it from me.” She mocks a half-bow. “Jason? Can one of the guys take me back to the hotel? I think I’ve had enough fun for the night.”

“Maybe we should all go…” Mac begins.

“Oh, please, don’t,” Marilyn protests. “I already feel bad that I put a big damper on the night. If everybody leaves because of me, I’m going to feel really shitty.” She turns to Jason and he nods to Lawrence.

“Christian, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll take you up on that separate room for the night,” she says. I look over at Mac who’s staring at me wide-eyed and beseeching. I clear my throat.

“I… took the liberty of getting a separate room for Mac and Fergus,” I say. “I know how it can be for married couples who haven’t seen each other in a week, so I thought… you know… just in case?” She nods.

“Goodnight, everyone,” she says as she retrieves her coat and purse and leaves with Lawrence. Mac releases a breath she was holding.

“Thank you, Christian!” she sighs heavily. “I feel twelve types of shitty now.” Butterfly doesn’t say anything. She just leans back into me. Everyone is quiet now and the tension can be cut with a knife.

“Okay,” I announce. “We’ve all had a pretty shitty week, and although what has happened to Marilyn is indeed tragic, she has requested that we don’t end the night on her account. So, Jason, please flag down a waitress so that we can get another round of drinks, and Mrs. McIntyre, I believe since you initiated the event that has thrust us into this current state of melancholy…” I’m speaking with an exaggerated tone to lighten the mood of the revelers, “… that it’s only fair that you turn in one of those little sheets and get up there and get to performing.” Mac twists her lips and snatches one of the song books from the table.

“I didn’t see you grace us with a performance, Mr. Grey,” she shoots.

“Oh, my request is already in,” I correct her. “I’m just waiting for them to call my name.” Butterfly turns to look at me.

“Really?” she asks.

“Yes, really,” I reply. “Did you think I was going to let you have all the fun?” She rolls her eyes.

“I’ll prepare myself,” she says.

“For what?”

“For all the women that are going to rush the stage when you start singing,” she replies.

I think I owe an additional debt of penance, too,” Amanda says as she begins to thumb through the song book.

I watch as Amanda and Mac begrudgingly submit their selections and Butterfly thumbs through the book. I don’t think she plans on singing another song. I think she’s just trying to find something to do with her hands.

“Jewel?” Allen says, garnering her attention. When she looks up, he just gazes at her. She looks back down at the book.

“I don’t know what to do,” she says quietly. “She’s so sad and I know this will pass, but I know from experience that it could take a really long time. In the meantime…”

She trails off and she continues to thumb through the song book. I slide my arm around her waist to try to comfort her.

“I know it’s not the same, Jewel, but she’s got you. She couldn’t ask for a better friend or Bosslady at a time like this…”

“But is it enough?” she interrupts, firmly but quietly. “I swear to God, she looks like she’s dying.”

Allen can’t counter because he knows that she’s right.

“We’re doing everything we can, baby,” I tell her, “and she’s doing what she can to get through this. I know it’s hard to watch, but we’ve just got to give her time.” Butterfly sighs and nods. Just as I’m about to say something else encouraging, the DJ calls my name. I kiss my wife on the cheek and go to the stage.

I chose a song that’s clearly out of my range, but I’ll make it work. The familiar intro plays, and my wife raises a questioning gaze to me as I begin to sing…

“I could stay awake just to hear you breathing, watch you smile while you are sleeping, while you’re far away and dreaming…”

Butterfly’s mouth falls open as I croon the lyrics. After a few lines, her face softens, and she sinks into the music.

“Lying close to you feeling your heart beating, and I’m wondering what you’re dreaming, wondering if it’s me you’re seeing…”

I’m no Steven Tyler, but I adjust the high keys to fit my voice and continue singing to my girl.

“I don’t wanna miss one smile, and I don’t wanna miss one kiss…”

She’s looking at me with those big ocean blue eyes that I could just fall into and I’m trying very hard to finish the song. It’s just a song, I know, but it reminds me of how much I love her and how lucky I am to have her.

“I don’t wanna close my eyes, I don’t wanna fall asleep ‘cause I’d miss you, Baby, and I don’t wanna miss a thing.”

As the lyrics end and the music is still playing, I can hear someone saying something over the applause, but I just want to get back to my girl. I sit down and pull her onto my lap, and she kisses me sweetly on the cheek. It’s tender and special and if I’m honest, I’m a little verklempt by the gesture.

“Jesus, Chris, you could’ve said ‘excuse me’ before you nearly knocked the poor girl down,” Allen scolds as he returns to the table after turning in more song requests. What the hell is he talking about?

“I didn’t knock her down! She’s on my lap!” I protest.

“Not that girl… that one.” He points to some girl just on the other side of the stage. She’s with a group of what I assume are her friends and she does not look happy.

“Who the hell is she?” I ask. I look at Butterfly and she shakes her head and shrugs.

“Oh, don’t ask her,” Allen chides. “She was just as moonstruck as you were. She was one of the fan club that gathered at the stage when you started singing.”

“Oh, you can’t be serious,” I say and Butterfly laughs.

“I told you,” she says, still giggling.

“I wasn’t even that good,” I point out.

“You were good enough,” Allen says. “You had a party of about five meandering at the stage.

“Couldn’t they tell I was singing to her?” I ask, gesturing to my wife.

“I’m sure they could, but I don’t think it mattered,” Mac says. “When you finished your song, that girl threw herself right in your path, and you politely pushed her right out of the way like a saloon door.” Butterfly sputters a laugh again.

“And I missed it,” she chuckles.

“You were otherwise occupied, dear,” Mandy chimes in.

“I should go apologize,” I say.

“No, you shouldn’t,” Butterfly says. “Vee says people could tell that you were singing to me, but she obviously didn’t care. So, I’ll tell you what. I’ll try to smooth things over since it was rude to knock the girl out of the way, because if you go over there, she’s going to see it as an invitation.” I raise a brow at her.

“It’s that or nothing,” she says. “I’ll be happy to sit here and drink and order more wing dings and watch my family sing.” She shrugs. I guess it couldn’t hurt to let her try to apologize for me. She didn’t shove the girl.

“Chuck is going with you,” I condition.

“Chuck can stay right where he is,” she retorts. “It’s 30 feet away. If she’s got a gun, she can shoot us from here,” she adds, throwing back her drink, then strolling over to the table with the women. I watch as she animatedly talks to the women and the one in the pink and white dress sneers at her a bit. They have a brief exchange then Butterfly shrugs, says something else and proceeds to leave.

She looks like she’s about to come back to the table when I vaguely hear something come from one of the women at the table that makes her stop in her tracks. Her mouth opens slightly in surprise before she turns around and takes the two steps back to the table. She says something to the girl, whose face transforms into a mask of horror. Her friends’ faces all range from shock and awe to badly hidden amusement. Butterfly stops the waitress and says something to her, and the waitress nods and leaves. Butterfly then smiles, waves, and walks back to the table.

“Do I even want to know what just happened?” I ask. She shrugs again with a smirk on her face.

“I apologized on your behalf, or at least I tried,” she begins. “She was surprised that you’re my husband; I didn’t bother to ask why. She didn’t accept my apology, so I just shrugged and said, ‘Well, I tried.’ Just as I was about to leave, she said that my husband shouldn’t have let me leave the house like this.”

“Oh, Lord,” Mac says.

“Oh, don’t worry,” she tells Mac. “I just told her that her friends shouldn’t have let her leave the house like that. Then, I bought them a round of drinks.” Allen nearly chokes on his drink and James has to pat his husband’s back and hand him a napkin.

“I guess I missed the thrust here,” I say.

“That, my dear Chris, is called shade,” Al says. “Friends don’t let friends go out looking like crap and that pink and white dress that she’s wearing looks like it came from the dollar store.” I shake my head.

“I can’t take you anywhere,” I jest to my wife.

“Hey, it’s not my fault that other people don’t know how to act around me,” she says.

“None of this has anything to do with the number of ‘Adios’s’ you’ve consumed, right?”

“Maybe,” she replies, “a little bit. Hey, you were the one who swerved her on stage. I was just trying to soften the blow.”

“The hell you were!” I accuse. “You were trying to rub it in.” She smiles.

“Maybe… a little bit,” she repeats.

“And what the hell is a ‘swerve?” I ask. She and Al laugh.

“Google it,” she says, “along with shade. Be sure to look for the urban dictionary definitions.” She resumes her perch on my lap.

“You really can’t blame me,” she says. “You do this to women wherever we go. It’s like they’ve never seen a handsome man in their lives, and they don’t know what to do with themselves when they see you.”

“Oh, like you don’t have the men in here sniffing the floor just to get a whiff of the soles of your boots,” I counter. She laughs heartily.

“More chicken wings,” she demands mirthfully, “and another Adios… and a glass of water.” The waitress actually waves at her from across the room and Butterfly nods.

“Did she just actually take your order?” I ask and she nods.

“We have an agreement,” she replies. “Daddy, are you having a good time?”

“Actually, I am,” Ray says. “It’s been quite a while since we’ve been out… what with the business and Harry. I thought I’d feel a little out of place with all these young people, but this is really fun, as long as no one says anything about the old coot sitting at the table with all the youngsters.”

“They better not,” Amanda says, leaning over to kiss Ray tenderly on the lips. “If they think Ana defended her man, they ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” Ray smiles at his wife suggestively as she caresses his cheek, and I kind of get what Jason means when he says we need to get a room.

After a few more drinks and a lot more chicken wings, Mac is finally called to the stage to… grace us with her version of Hit Me Baby One More Time… and now I know why she had to be tipsy to sing, because she can’t carry a tune with a bucket!

Not long after that, Amanda gives us a moving rendition of Come Away with Me, although that song is already a bit melancholy and moving on its own.

We sit and listen to several other songs—both good and bad—and I’m really ready to call it a night when the DJ calls my wife’s name again.

“What?” I ask. “When did you turn in another song?”

“Al took it up there for me,” she says, rising from my lap. Oh, dear God, here come the catcalls again. She goes up to the stage and a song begins that I’m familiar with, but… there’s no way she can sing this song alone.

“I finally found someone who knocks me off my feet, I finally found someone who makes me feel complete…”

She effortlessly begins to sing a song—a duet, no less—and she’s singing both parts! Of course, she sounds fantastic, even singing the guy’s part. I don’t think the crowd really knows what to make of it.

“My favorite line was can I call you sometime…” Although she sounds good, the song sounds empty. She’s looking at me and singing and… Okay, I know what she’s doing now. Why didn’t she just say so? I rise from my chair and walk up to the stage and begin to sing with her on the second verse.

“Did I keep you waiting?”
“I didn’t mind…”
“I apologize.”
“Baby, that’s fine.”

It’s funny that this is where I came in on the song because I actually did keep her waiting while I was trying to figure out what she was doing. I’m getting flashbacks of us doing the impromptu duet at Mia’s wedding. We really surprised everyone and it’s not an experience that I’ll soon forget.

“This is it! Oh, I finally found someone, someone to share my life…”

I slide my arm around her waist and pull her to me in this nothing shred of a dress. She                                       feels fucking divine. I can inconspicuously caress her curves as we sing the song, but it’s getting a little hard to concentrate… literally.

“My life has just begun, I finally found someone.”

I nearly want to jump her fucking bones as the music dies, but her father would probably beat the hell out of me. Instead, I plant a passionate kiss on her lips right there on stage. There’s a reason to catcall, you fuckers.

“They didn’t have Love All the Hurt Away,” she breathes against my lips.

“Just as well,” I reply, kissing her softly. “Things might have gotten indecent.”

I step off the stage and take her hand, helping her down as well before we hear the dreaded and predictable suggestion about a room. We’re just sitting back in our seats when the DJ calls Allen to the stage. I nip and nibble at my wife’s ears, neck, and exposed shoulders while Allen sings to his husband about starting Back At One. When the song is over and Allen returns to the table, Ray confesses that he’s ready to go back to the hotel.

“This is really a lot of fun and I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but I really need some shut-eye.”

“So, do I,” I concur. “Being merry and shoving off girlfriend-hopefuls is hard and stressful work and I’m beat!”

The rest of the karaokers concur that it’s time to call it a night and we head for the cars.

*-*

She drops her cape right on the living room floor when we get back to the hotel. She doesn’t even bother to turn on any lights. She just walks over to the window where I can see her silhouette. I retrieve her cape from the floor and toss it over the back of a nearby chair, my jacket joining it. I close the distance between us just a little, leaving a few feet so that I can admire her body. She turns around and slowly walks toward me, closing the remainder of the space between us.

Neither of us speaks, and she never looks into my eyes. She only raises her gaze to my lips. The moon or the lights from the Strip or something is shining into our suite. I don’t know and I don’t care. I only know that it’s just enough light for me to see her—watch her tempt me.

She leans in just a bit, closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. She holds it for a few seconds, then blows it softly out of her mouth. She’s… smelling me. Shit, that’s hot.

I still don’t move because I want to see what she does next. She opens her eyes, still focused on my lips.

Don’t breathe, Grey. Don’t fucking move.

She raises her hand and moves to touch my lips… but she doesn’t. Instead, she touches her own, her fingertips barely ghosting over the skin before she replaces them with her tongue, only faintly licking where her fingertips have been before disappearing back into her mouth.

Fuck, this is unbearable.

Her teeth worries that same lip only for a moment and her hand drops back down to her side. She leans in as if she would kiss me, but stops—a breath away from my face and her mouth not quite high enough to kiss.

She just stands there with her hooded eyes still looking at my mouth and licking her own lip. I’m so busy concentrating on her mouth as much as she’s concentrating on mine that I don’t realize where her hand has gotten to until she nearly breaks me. She reaches out and teases my dick with a single finger, stroking it only once from tip to base. Her touch is like hot fucking fire and it’s one of the most grueling endurance exercises I’ve ever experienced not to react to her surprise caress.

Without saying a word, she turns away and walks toward the bedroom, her ass a magnificently animated display in that illegal dress. As she struts across the floor to the boudoir, she slowly removes her dress with her back to me, skillfully sliding the thin material down her torso, past her hips, and off her luscious ass, bending over to pick it up just as she crosses the threshold of the bedroom and tossing it somewhere off to the side. She’s still wearing those sinful suede thigh-high boots and a nearly nonexistent blue thong.

I walk to the room behind her pulling my shirt over my head as I go, totally intent on a wild, hard, and deep stand up and deliver when I get my hands on her. I won’t even need to take off my pants for the first fuck.

ANASTASIA

“Christian…! Please…! No more…” I beseech as I’m panting beneath him. We both came so many times last night that I completely lost count, and now, I’m awakened by an incredibly hard dick and my husband’s need to pound into me once more… or, I should say several times more.

“No more…” he pants into my neck, his hands entwined with mine as he’s resting his weight on me and chasing his own breath. The room is silent for several moments, save the sound of our breathlessness. Then, he turns his head and plants tender kisses on my cheek.

“What’s gotten into you?” I ask, finally able to speak, but still a little winded.

“You know what got into me,” he says, planting open-mouthed kisses on whatever part of my face and neck he can reach. “That goddamn dress… I wanted to fuck you right there on stage. That shit drove me fucking crazy. That damn thing was barely brushed onto your body and your damn nipples were sticking out of it like you were fucking freezing the entire time. I had to talk my cock down for half the night.”

“Mmmm,” I purr both at his words and his kisses. “Maybe I should wear it more often then.”

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“No, the hell you won’t,” he threatens. “Not unless you want me to follow you everywhere you go with a medieval mace. Then I’d literally be beating them off with a stick.” I scoff gently.

“Says the man who physically shoved a woman out of his path last night,” I tease.

“She liked my voice,” he jests.

“Oh, I’m just so sure that’s all that it was,” I retort. “It had absolutely nothing to do with those Triple H pants you were wearing.” He raises his head and looks at me.

“What the hell is a Triple H?” he asks.

“Not what,” I giggle. “Who… Triple H is a professional wrestler.” He frowns.

“I didn’t know you liked wrestling,” he says.

“I don’t,” I reply, “I just know who Triple H is.”

“Well, how do you know who he is if you don’t like wrestling?”

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“I saw him somewhere,” I admit, “on a poster or a commercial or something… and he can really fill out a pair of jeans!” Christian growls at me deep in his throat.

“Oh, come on,” I accuse, “there’s some starlet somewhere that gets your boxer briefs in a wad.”

“No, there’s not,” he says confidently. I twist my lips at him.

“You’re telling me that you never had a celebrity girl crush?” I say incredulously.

“Well, yeah, but they’re all old now,” he says.

“Well, Triple H is no spring chicken,” I jest.

“But he’s not as old as mine… and I bet he’s in better shape, too,” he defends.

“I’ll be the judge of that,” I say playfully. “Who are yours?” He clears his throat.

“Mine were Katherine Deneuve and Jane Fonda—when they were both much younger,” he confesses.

“You’re an old soul, Christian,” I say.

“And you’re not, Ms. Motown?” he defends. I shrug.

“Yeah, but… is Katherine Deneuve even still alive?” I ask. He shrugs.

“I think so,” he says. “I hadn’t heard that she died. If she is still alive, she’s like 80 now.”

“Well, Jane Fonda still looks good,” I say.

“Not as good as she did when she made Barbarella!” he points out. I laugh heartily.

“So, you don’t have any current girl crushes at all?” I inquire.

“Yeah, you,” he says, going back to kissing my neck and jaw.

“Very cheeky, Mr. Grey. I guess I should find that dress in red, huh?” he raises his head again and gazes at me.

“Okay, keep it up, Mrs. Grey,” he says, grinding his hips with his cock—though flaccid—still inside of me.

Okay, okay,” I surrender. There’s absolutely no way I can withstand another round, much less a possible punishment fuck.

When he finally rises off me, the separation is agony. I have been thoroughly well-used, and I can barely walk. I’m in need of some cold water in my nether regions, but who the hell wants to sit in a cold bath?

Me if I want to cool the fire in my loins.

I sit on the edge of the tub and use the shower head to spray some cool water on my crotch. Jesus Christ, that feels good. That man isn’t going to be able to touch me for a week if he keeps this shit up.

Once I’m cooled down a bit, I don a terrycloth robe and go to the bedroom. I check my phone since I haven’t spoken to the twins this morning and I see that I have an instant message from Laura. She probably wants to know how the trial went. I didn’t call her on Friday with any updates. I swipe the phone and check the message.

You made the tweets again, my dear. Nice dress!

Oh, shit. I click on the link Laura provided and there I am—several pictures of me, in fact—singing with Al, singing with Christian, singing alone, even talking to the table of girls before I ordered their drinks—and that dress is screaming “fuck me!”

What was I thinking?

Oh, well, it’s done now. I’m sure I’ll hear some hell from Vee or Christian any second now. I suddenly realize that there are no pictures of Christian in his come-hither gear besides the picture of us singing together—just me. And there’s that damn double standard…

Fuck ‘em. I look good.

I unwrap my hair and pull out the hair dryer. It takes forever to dry this shit now, but I let it grow this long, so…

Christian enters with wet hair and draped in a towel, so I assume he used the other bathroom while I was dousing my pussy in the en suite. He chooses a pair of jeans, some boxer briefs and a T-shirt, and he’s ready in about 10 minutes. I silently curse him for being able to allow his short hair to air dry, but my only other option is to cut mine, and that ain’t happening.

Fifty-eleven-trillion years later, I’m finally done with my hair and I’m now wearing a jersey and yoga pants as we have no plans of going anywhere today. I go to the kitchen to see if there’s any coffee in there, pondering what I want to do for breakfast. Christian isn’t out here, but there is a pot of coffee.

Egad! His Highness can work a coffee pot! I never knew!

I pour myself a cup—black—and allow the warmth to flow through my body. It feels good, but I need food. As I’m reaching for the room service menu from the dining table, Christian comes from the other side of the suite where I assume the office space is.

“Mac is on her way over,” he says, looking at his phone. “Apparently, someone at the bar knew who we were and now, we’re on someone’s Facebook feed.”

“Yeah, mostly me,” I say, drinking more of my coffee. He raises his gaze.

“You already know?” he says. I nod.

“I saw them when I got out of the shower. Laura sent them to me.” He scoffs a laugh.

“Why do we need Mac when we’ve got her?” he laughs.

“I tend to believe that, depending on the source, things hit social media before they hit the mainstream,” I reply. I take another sip of my coffee and there’s a knock at the door. No doubt, it’s Vee. Christian walks across the suite to open it and she breezes in with her tablet in her hand.

“I knew that dress would be trouble the minute I saw it,” she says as she and Christian join me in the dining room.

“Trouble in what way?” I ask. “I’m not running for office!”

“No, but you are the representation of a multibillion-dollar conglomerate,” she retorts, “not to mention that we’re here waiting for the verdict on a very sensitive case.”

“From a sequestered jury,” I point out.

“And the fact that you had to point that out means that if they had seen you last night, you know that there would be a problem…”

I’m trying not to look gape-mouthed at this woman as she seems to be lecturing me on my choice of dress! No one has ever lectured me on my choice of dress! Even Christian, who may have a word or two to say every now and again, didn’t lecture me last night. He just got in on the fun.

“Understand something, Vee,” I interject, attempting to diffuse the situation before I really begin taking it too personally. “I dress for no one. I never have and I never will. The only time I wore what someone besides my husband suggested I wear was when I came out of the closet as his girlfriend. Fifty to 75% of my wardrobe is imitation or genuine vintage. None of my shoes rise less than four inches—preferably six—including my wedges and some of them are platforms, more affectionately in some circles referred to as stripper heels. If I wore what other people thought I should wear, I’d never wear anything I liked!”

“Well, that may have to change…”

What? What the fuck did she just say?

I’m flabbergasted. She’s droning on about something and Christian his completely mum. Have I stepped off into the fifth dimension or something? Signed a prenup—check. Legally changed my name—check, check. However, the memo that indicates that PR gets to tell me how to dress must’ve gotten lost in the mail.

I’m certain that my husband’s silence means that he’s waiting to see how I’m going to react. He’s about to see right now.

“Okay, Vee? Stop,” I say, putting my hand up in the “halt” position. I think she’s stunned.

“I. Am a grown woman,” I begin. “I went out on a Saturday night to a bar in Las Vegas. I wore a party dress to that bar in Las Vegas. I had a good time at that bar in Las Vegas, which is something that I didn’t expect to do in Las Vegas. I don’t regret anything that I did, wore, or said last night. Although I have no intention of dressing like a hoochie every night, I may decide sometime in my lifetime to once again wear something provocative!

“I wasn’t acting unseemly. I wasn’t drunk in public. I didn’t get arrested. I wasn’t in a girl fight, although the possibility was pretty good. If I wore a habit or a burqa, someone would still have something to say. So, whatever damage control you feel you may have to do for ‘Anastasia’s Sultry Little Blue Dress…’ do it!”

I think she’s even more stunned than she was when I told her to stop. When she looks over at Christian, his hands quickly fly up in surrender, so she turns back to me.

“You do realize that if you dress like that on a regular basis, I’m going to be putting out fires all the time,” she advises me.

“Number one,” I say, crossing my arms, “I don’t dress like that all the time and you know it. You’re just uneasy because, as a consenting adult, I see nothing wrong with what I wore last night and because I won’t agree with you that there was something wrong with it. Number two, if I do decide to dress like that all the time, get your buckets ready. Nobody tells me what I can and can’t wear, not even him,” I say pointing to my husband.

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6470905e01ecf8f5b2d132729de4607c“I know how to behave in public, Vee. I didn’t wear that dress to a country club or to meet the mayor. I wore it to a bar. J-Lo and Beyoncé have both worn less, on the red carpet, no less—in front of many entertainment cameras and national news outlets. We all talked about how scandalous it was, said our ‘ooo’s and ah’s’ like Smurfs and got over it. If my dress is the talk of Wall Street today, there’ll be another story tomorrow. Get a grip!”

Vee is still stunned, and I know why. I don’t want her to think I’ll be difficult, but we’ve got to get one thing straight.

“Vee, in most cases, I lean to your expertise and I will continue to do that, but unless I’m walking down 4th Street in a string bikini bottom and pasties on my tits, don’t tell me what to wear.”

She finally seems to be coming around to the crust of the conversation.

“Well, then,” she says, pursing her lips, “think I’ll just go on back to my room and… fuck my husband.” She makes some kind of goofy face and just leaves after that. I turn to Christian who’s making a face of his own, more like, “It wutn’t me.”

“Well?” I say defiantly.

“Well, what?” he asks, trying to hide his mirth.

“You don’t have anything to say?”

“I didn’t have anything to say last night. Why would I have anything to say right now?” he points out. I roll my eyes.

“What I don’t understand is why every little thing we do ends up being front page news before we’ve even had our coffee!” I say, throwing my hands in frustration. “You were on the other side of the world holding a giant reptile and the news was stateside before we were. Twice now, Laura’s told me about my day—from Australia—and I’m still here in Vegas!”

“I think you said it yourself, baby, it’s the nature of the beast,” he says calmly while refilling his coffee cup. He’s awfully cool for a conversation centered around my state of dress—or undress, as it were.

“Hey,” I say, “what gives? You’re usually in a tizzy about my Lindy bop dresses and you’re not having a cow over this?”

“Well, first, when I saw the bobble-head, I knew the conversation was already over.” I furrow my brow deeply at him, so he does this wild shaking thing with his head that looks like he’s having a fucking seizure!

“What the fuck is that?” I ask, wide-eyed.

“That’s what you do when someone says something that you can’t believe,” he says. My mouth gapes.

“I do not do that!” I defend.

“Ask. Anyone!” Christian says, firmly standing his ground. “The minute that neck starts working, I step back… even if I’m the reason that neck starts working.”

“Asshole,” I mumble.

“Be that as it may,” he says unfazed, “there are also a lot of other reasons I’m not flying off the handle, not the smallest of which is that you were with me,” he begins. “Not only that, I was with you when you bought the dress and the boots. I knew what to expect. I also had another realization.”

“And what’s that?” I ask. He sips his coffee.

“I think I’ve always known it, but I’m still amazed to see it in action. Women are very brazen when they see something they want. I’ve seen men try to make a move, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them as brazen as I’ve seen women. You could be at the park with your woman and your entire family and some female will come right up and try to put the moves on you.

“From what I’ve seen, men are subtle. They’ll wait until your guy’s not looking, then they’ll try to slip you a number or get you alone. As soon as the guy steps up beating his chest and telling them, ‘Woman, mine,’ they generally go away, but not women. Women will argue with you and taunt you, try to get the man at a later date… what’s that all about?” I shake my head.

“I don’t know,” I tell him. “I’m a shrink and I don’t fucking know. I’m one of those women who feel that there are certain things that should say that a man is off limits,” I begin counting on my fingers, “a wedding ring, an announced commitment, the fact that a woman is hanging on his fucking arm… but no. They do it with you all the time, they did it with David—they just walk right up like they don’t fucking see me! The girl on the wine train, Greta, Deanna, this bitch at the bar. Or I become America’s Most Hated just because I’m with you.

“There’s no way to combat that shit, and these women are becoming more and more brazen as time goes on. They look at me and convince themselves that I’m nothing and no one, that I’m a trophy wife and they step right in.” Christian sighs.

“Well, the point that I was making was that your dress, although it got a lot of attention, it wasn’t a threat to me. The catcalls came from the audience just like they came from the pool when you were in the bikini contest on the cruise. Except for the crazy couple that approached us—and the female approached us first—I didn’t have to worry about it. Nobody walked over to you, sending you margaritas; nobody asked you to take walks with them on the promenade, and even last night—nobody sent a drink to the table with ‘regards.’ Even earlier this week in the Skybar, the moment I made my presence known, that guy thanked me for the drink and went on his way.”

“He was harmless,” I say, waving him off, “and your presence didn’t make him leave.” He scoffs.

“Really?” he says. “And what did?”

“When he noticed that you were there, he made a comment about how intense you looked. He acknowledged that he thought you might have wanted him to leave, but he didn’t leave. When I told him that you were my husband, that’s when he left,” I say.

“Exactly!” Christian says. “The presence of your husband. Made. Him. Leave. And baby?” he leans in to my ear. “They’re never harmless. Women may be brazen, but men are smooth. No matter how polite they are, they have one goal, and Westwick should have shown you that.”

He raises a quick brow to me, then kisses me on the cheek before he goes back to the office area. I want to be pissed, but I can’t. If I can use Greta, Deanna, and a random stranger bitch in a pink and white dress as an example, he can certainly use Liam.

I sit at the table with my coffee looking into the cup, and somehow transport back to a time when I realized that women were brazen…

We were meeting a large group of friends at a martini bar. I had arrived first and sat at one table with a group of friends. More of our group were sitting at various other tables. Eddie arrived shortly after I did. Even though we were living together, we had driven separate cars because we were coming from separate locations.

Chelsie was there. She had disappeared for a while, right after I caught them the first time. Well, I hadn’t caught them. I saw the evidence and I confronted her with it. Her guilt made her leave, but she returned. And when she came back, she was stronger, different…

Brazen.

He greeted her before he even greeted me. He leaned down and whispered a conversation in her ear. I watched as her hand with insanely long acrylic nails reached up and caressed his face next to hers. I watched them for a long time, wondering and knowing at the same time that she was fucking my man again. I asked myself, “Could this be true?” But I knew that no one behaved that intimately if they were just friends.

I still played dumb to it, all the way until some of my other friends said that she was bragging about having him, that I knew who I was living with—knew what I had gotten into. I played dumb for the longest time, but she flaunted it in my face, and when I confronted her about it again, she threw a veiled threat at me.

She was brazen and I had lost.

“Butterfly?”

My reminiscence of one of the many women my ex had fucked is broken by my husband’s voice. I was a different woman, then, too. I was weak, and tired, and I couldn’t fight anymore.

“Are you okay?” I nod.

“Yeah,” I say, abandoning my now cold coffee. “I’m going to check on Marilyn,” I add, standing from the table. I move pass him and he catches my arm.

“The dress really wasn’t that big a deal, baby,” he assures me. I nod.

“I know,” I say, and I do. “What’s she gonna do—issue and apology for my attire?” He still examines me.

“You haven’t eaten anything,” he presses.

“I’m going to order something in Mare’s room… see if I can’t tempt her to eat a little something.”

Unable to argue with that logic, so he kisses me on the cheek and releases my arm. I smile tightly as I go to the bedroom to retrieve some shoes.

I fucking hate dominoes.

A/N: I don’t know if anyone else does this, but when my thoughts begin in Vegas and end up in Germany, I call that a “domino.” I start with one thought that leads to another one and another one and another one until I end up somewhere completely different than where I started. Ana and Christian started with a dress and Ana ended up in a recollection of her no good, lying, cheating ex-boyfriend.

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

Pictures from the trip to Las Vegas can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-las-vegas/

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

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

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~~love and handcuffs

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 13

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

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

Season 5 Episode 13

ANASTASIA

Dear God, I just couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t stand it! I seriously felt the walls closing in on me listening to this elite club of fuckers somehow try to make what this asshole did to me okay. Then, here comes this brainless fucking cum-sucker with the nerve to get in my face and accuse me of “doing” something to the snot rag who tried to kill me! And then, to top it all off, my beloved husband who watched me battle with this shit for years asked me if I was losing my mind.

What the fuck do you think?

Do you know anybody who would be able to keep their mind throughout this shit? And how many times do I have to go through this to get all the motherfuckers that did this to me? How many more times do I have to hear that my accusations are besmirching upstanding and stellar members of society… at least after 2001, that is. Am I wrong for wanting to just line them all up and use their glutes for target practice? Just empty several clips into their ass meat until I feel justified?

I couldn’t say that I didn’t care what happened in this case… I did, I really did, but if I had to listen to one more shining testimonial of this fucker, I would have leapt over that half wall and ripped his eyes out myself. And everything that accompanied my attempt to take a breather made it all the more necessary for me to get the hell out of that building.

Daddy silently walked with me as I wandered through the interactive aquarium that was almost identical to the one we visited in Australia. I didn’t look at the fish. I just walked around the aquarium enjoying being near the water. There’s no water in Vegas, except Lake Las Vegas which is quite a way from here. We’re in the middle of the city, in one of the not-so-desirable neighborhoods to be exact… not that being downtown was any safer. Nonetheless, this was as close to my kindred element that I was going to get without a 45-minute drive.

Yet, after about an hour of communing with the deep blue, I realized that I needed to get back into that courtroom, as much as I didn’t want to. So, I had Chuck take us to Chipotle, then we headed back to the Justice Court.

I had walked in just in time to hear the last part of Larson’s cross-examination of Vincent Sullivan, which shed a whole new light on why the fucker burned me, and now it’s time for closing arguments. I half listen to what the counselors are saying, reviewing a lot of the relevant testimony and what I thought the jury might be thinking…

“So, you’ve heard a lot of conflicting testimony over the past several days,” Larson begins. “You’ve heard Anastasia’s mother admit that she was an unfeeling, uncaring social climber who wanted nothing else but to fit into a society where she never belonged. You’ve heard damaging testimony from Amber Whitmore that she clearly remembers the defendant meeting up with a group of kids that night at her home dressed all in black, and seeing her brother coming home in a black cape like the cape we saw on the video and smelling like he had gone camping. Among other things, you’ve heard the defense paint a picture of an unscrupulous young gold digger looking to snag a rich boyfriend.

“Let’s just assume for a moment that Anastasia Steele was that person. Let’s just say for the sake of argument that you agree with everything they said about Anastasia Steele Grey. Did she deserve what you saw in that video? At any point, did anything you heard during these proceedings in its worst interpretation indicate that she deserved what you saw happen to her? I’ve been horrified during my tenure by stories and images of ostracization, by ill-fated misfits being teased and bullied—but I have never in my life seen anything this disturbing except in the movies. Attack her from behind, knock her unconscious, strip her naked and throw her in the trunk of a car, drag her begging and screaming to a bonfire, beat her, burn her, kick her, spit on her, urinate on her, and kill her baby, then leave her for dead? Really?

“They want you to believe that Cody Whitmore was this innocent young rich boy who was targeted by this young girl trying to make a name for herself on his back. Even if by some stretch of reality that could have been true, where and when does that make this act warranted and acceptable? Where and when does the alleged scheming of a teenage girl equate to attempted murder? At what point was Cody’s alleged victimization equal to Ana’s?

“And after hearing and seeing all this, this man…” he points to the defense attorney “wants you to classify this situation as unfortunate.” He says the last word slowly and with deep contempt, then pauses for effect. “What’s more, he wants you to view one of the alleged aggressors as the victim.”

He holds up a picture of Cody’s mugshot and the unrecognizable picture of me in the hospital after the beating, both retrieved from the Henderson Police Department.

“I would have to say that if any one person with any small amount of intelligence and capability of logical thinking can look at these two pictures and say that this man is the victim of the two, I’ll quit my job and never sit at the prosecutor’s table again, because I’m clearly on the wrong side of the law. If there’s anything that you heard that can justify that kind of violence against a young girl based on a theory of what they think she was doing at the time, my argument is futile and there’s really nothing else to be said.

“He took a plea for a lighter sentence,” he adds holding up Cody’s mugshot, “and anybody—anybody—who had anything to do with this…” he holds up the picture of me, “… is just as guilty as he is.”

That line of defense confused me. I’m clearly the victim—that’s indisputable. Clearly, if I were the worst and most opportunistic slut who ever existed, it still wouldn’t excuse what they did to me. I just corroborated what the video said… what happened to me, but Whitshit is testifying against Vincent Sullivan, talking about his participation in the attack. Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to try to discredit Whitshit as opposed to trying to discredit me? Why make Whitshit look like the victim? He took a plea. What was the logic behind this defense?

“Now, we have new evidence—verbal, but evidence, nonetheless. No one would have known that the defendant had feelings for Cody Whitmore, and he doesn’t deny it. His entire defense was built on the claim that he was afraid of the Bonnie and Clyde combination that was Carly Madison and Cody Whitmore. Yet, his story changed to say that Cody made him feel at ease, smoothed things over once it was revealed that the defendant was romantically smitten with him.

“So, which version of his story should we believe? He said he didn’t know Anastasia Steele. Yet, he pressed that brand into her back with so much vigor—listened to her scream, watched her squirm… and then he did it again, after he gleefully participated in viciously beating her and humiliating her. He said he didn’t know her, but he gives a detailed description of a nobody… a social and fashion misfit, a Plain Jane in the wrong place, but he didn’t know her.” Larson shrugs.

“Some guy screwed some nobody in high school. Wasn’t that a regular occurrence? Didn’t that happen all the time? Why would you care… unless you had feelings for that guy? And now, she has to pay, right? That’s how Carly Madison felt. Why wouldn’t Vincent Sullivan feel that way when he admittedly had the same feelings for Cody Whitmore?”

This argument goes on for at least another 40 minutes, after which Drake takes the floor to dispel it. I barely listen as Drake paints Vincent Sullivan as a young misguided kid afraid for his life when he took part in my mutilation. Maybe he was afraid for his life, I don’t know. They did it to me; why wouldn’t they do it to him? Nonetheless, that night, he made the decision that his life was more important than mine, and today, I make the decision that mine is more important than his.

I’m elated when the judge gives the jury instructions on the interpretation of the law and dismisses them to deliberate. This leg is over, and now the waiting begins. I watch Christian exchange some words with Larson as Jason stands nearby. The courtroom begins to clear, and I get a better view of him. His hair looks like he’s been pulling at it for the last several hours. He looks down at his phone, then raises his eyes to me. He does a double take when he sees me in the back of the courtroom with Daddy and Chuck. Daddy is talking to Mandy and Chuck is quietly sitting next to me like the professional that he is. Christian walks away from Larson, who’s still talking to him, and makes a B-line for me.

“Hey,” he says, cautiously.

Hey? I guess I really can’t expect him to say anything else, can I? I wave a gloved hand at him. Daddy and Chuck correctly read the temperature of the conversation and move away to give us privacy.

“How much did you hear?” he asks.

“Enough,” I say, my legs crossed, and my gloved hands clasped in my lap.

“Are you angry with me?” he asks. I roll my eyes and sigh.

“I don’t know how I feel,” I say folding my arms. “I’m tired of being the goddamn damsel in distress! For once, I want people to look at me and say, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t fuck with her,’ instead of saying, ‘Oh, poor Anastasia Steele,’ or making me out to be a perfectly horrific villain. Twice now, someone has done something unimaginably violent to me, and twice the defense has tried to make it look like I set upon these poor boys with my toxic pussy! I mean, Jesus, I was 15! Who in their right mind deliberately plots to get pregnant at 15? And I was a virgin! He admitted it on the stand!

“There are so many unscrupulous, promiscuous girls out here who don’t care about their bodies or who they hurt or whose life they ruin. Carly Madison was a perfect example… but me? I was a good girl. I was an honors student who minded my own business and just wanted to be left alone. My biggest concern was getting away from Carla and Steven and getting back to Daddy. I was raped and then brutalized, and this is what I get? What the hell is the world coming to when the bad girls are protected and the good girls aren’t safe?

“A lesser person or just someone else who hasn’t enjoyed the good fortune that I have later in life would go completely insane trying to figure out the logic or the fairness in all this. I completely understand firsthand how something like this could cause someone to become a drug addict or continue a destructive cycle because this could drive you out of your fucking mind!”

I drop my gaze and shake my head, unable to see the reasoning in anything that’s happened in the last five days. What if the jury comes back and they believed Sullivan? Or Whitshit? What if they come back with a not guilty verdict because they bought his story about being afraid for his life. He wasn’t afraid of me, so why did I get punished?

I’m worrying my scar and as I raise my head, I catch a glimpse of Drake looking back at me in the courtroom. I don’t even look at him long enough to read his expression. I scoff and divert my gaze, standing up and walking out of the courtroom.

I’m almost at the elevator when I hear my name. I cringe at the sound of it. Christian and I turn around to see Larson quickly walking towards us.

“Dr. Grey, I really feel that things look good in our favor,” he says, humbly. I try not to shake my head.

“What did he get?” I ask, flatly. Larson’s brow furrows. You know what I’m asking you, fucker. What did he get? Larson straightens his back.

“He got the same thing Madison-Perry got,” he says. “Thirty years on various counts, including kidnapping, battery, and manslaughter. The only difference is that he has a possibility of parole in 18… because he didn’t brandish one of the irons.”

I twist my lips. That’s something. I expected them all to get away with it.

“Your final performance was very good,” I say, unfazed. “Let’s see what the jury thinks.” I turn to the elevator and Chuck pushes the down button before I do. I put my sunglasses on and watch the doors.

When the elevators open on the first floor, the press is clamoring outside. The police are gone now that the trial is over and it’s our own duty to get safely from the door to our cars. The three members of our security are standing at the door waiting for us to get there and our three SUV’s are waiting out front. However, standing at the end of the hallway on the other side of the building, I see someone that garners my immediate attention.

I ignore my husband’s call and march down the hall to where I see Pamela Whitmore standing. She straightens her dress, retrieves her purse and turns to leave, nearly bumping right into me. I’m clearly shorter than she is, but in my stilettos, we’re eye to eye. I stand there glaring at her for several moments, one hand clasped over the other. She doesn’t look nearly as menacing as she sounded over the phone, but I’m living proof that looks can be very deceiving. When I finally speak, my voice is very controlled.

“Your son. Raped me. And then he and his piece of shit girlfriend orchestrated my abduction, brutal beating, and torture, and the subsequent death of my unborn child, nearly killing me in the process. Then, your audacious husband paid off my worthless stepfather and my unscrupulous mother to keep me quiet. I suffered tremendous physical and emotional pain and torment at the hands of all of you, and you have the unmitigated gall to call my place of business and taunt me? Make veiled gestures towards my children?”

I pause for a moment and allow the words to sink in. Her skin blanches a bit, but there’s no other indication that what I’m saying is having an effect on her. So, let’s try this.

“If you dare come anywhere near me… anywhere near my family… I. Will kill you.”

I look her square in the eyes and I don’t blink, waiting for a reaction from her. At first, I get none, and then…

She swallows.

That’s all I need. I turn around and march back over to my husband.

“We can go now,” I say, walking past him and heading for the door.

I get my wish.

Apparently, when I open the door, the chill that I emit is colder than the outside. I dash down the stairs in my stilettos to near silence and easily get into my awaiting chariot with my husband very close behind me. The paparazzi must have known that if they approached me right now, I’d chop ‘em up and feed ‘em to my dog.

Dog.

“I want a pit bull,” I say once the car is loaded and we’re on our way back to the hotel.


CHRISTIAN

What the fuck did she just say?

“You want a what?” I ask in horror.

“A pit bull,” she repeats. “I want a pit bull.” I look over at Ray and his expression lets me know that I’m completely on my own.

“You want a pit bull?” I ask incredulously. “When you said that you wanted a dog, I was thinking a Chihuahua or a Shih Tzu or a Pomeranian… I wasn’t thinking a pit.”

“Well, that’s what I want,” she says defiantly.

“We have children,” I protest. “Pit bulls are dangerous dogs, Anastasia…”

“No, they’re not,” she retorts. “They’re family dogs. They’re only raised and trained to be dangerous and ours won’t be raised that way. And because we do have children, I want a thorough-bred, pit-bull puppy… with papers, but I want a pit. And we’ll hire the best trainer to train us and the puppy.” She’s thought about this and I can’t argue with logic.

“Thorough-bred, top of the line, and we all get trained,” I confirm.

“That’s what I said,” she replies.

“Okay, you’ve got a deal, but Ana?” She raises a brow to me. “If that dog even snaps at one of my children, I’ll shoot it myself.”

“You’d have to get to it before I do, but that won’t be necessary.” I sigh.

I guess we’re getting a dog.

Butterfly and I have a vigorous workout in the hotel gym. I find it very difficult to keep up with her, and I finally have to stop her workout and force a cooldown so that we can meet the rest of the family for dinner. She has to shower unless she wants to sit at dinner all sweaty.

We all meet up for dinner in my and Butterfly’s suite to discuss what would be happening next. Ray wants to be here for Butterfly but admits that he has a business that he needs to check on and wants to get back to Washington by Monday. Mac needs to get back to GEH as well to make sure Josh hasn’t burned the place down. James needs to get back as well, but Al is on the fence about going with him. He wants to be where Ana is through this ordeal and I can understand that. I’ve given instructions to Jason to have the jet ready to fly back to SeaTac on Sunday afternoon. Butterfly is reserving her decision for Sunday morning.

The plan is for us to stay until the verdict, but we don’t know how long that’s going to take. Getting back to Las Vegas in time for the reading once it’s announced that the jury has reached a verdict could be almost impossible, but Butterfly’s mood has changed significantly with today’s events—including her confrontation with Pamela Whitmore. So, we’re definitely playing it by ear right now. As we speak, she’s sitting in her chair to my right in a terrycloth robe with one foot up in the seat. She’s picking at a chicken Caesar salad, looking as though she’s a million miles away.

“Butterfly?” I say, trying to get her attention.

“What about security?” she says without raising her eyes. “I’m sure they’d like to see their families, too. We surely don’t need ten people here now.” I look over at Jason and he nods.

“Jason will coordinate who needs to go and who needs to stay and who can leave,” I reply.

“What about him and Chuck?” Butterfly says, still looking at the crispy junks of Romaine lettuce. “Gail and Keri must be pulling their hair out, not to mention Sophie.”

I look over at Jason, beseeching for him to help me out here.

“Your Highness…”

“Please,” Butterfly says, cutting him off and raising her eyes from her salad for the first time to look at him, “call me ‘Ana…’ just while we’re here.” She sounds like she’s pushing her voice from her chest with great effort. Softness covers Jason’s gaze.

“Old habits are hard to break,” he confesses.

“Please,” she repeats, “try.” He nods.

“Ana,” he says, “this is what we do. We know how this works and we’re accustomed to it…”

“The ladies shouldn’t suffer because you have to be here for us,” she protests. “When you were both out mending due to occupational injuries, we each had a different detail.”

“We’ll work it out,” he says.

“Don’t just say that to appease me,” she says. “I don’t want anyone in my life to suffer just because I have to be here, and Gail, Keri, and Sophie are in my life, too.” Jason nods.

“Duly noted,” he says. “We’ll work it out… Ana. I promise.” She nods and turns her attention back to her salad.

“I miss my babies,” she says. That gets my attention.

“We can have that jet ready in twelve hours,” I say, looking at Jason, who nods.

“No,” she says. “I’ll get some nice, long Facetime tonight before I go to bed, then spend the weekend with my family and friends here. We’ve got lunch with Auntie Cynthia tomorrow. I really want you to meet her, Daddy. I don’t know if you guys met at the wedding or not,” she says raising her gaze to Ray. “She’s the biggest reason I survived once they brought me back here.”

“You never told me that,” Ray says. Butterfly shrugs and turns back to her salad.

“There wasn’t much reason to talk about this place once I left,” she says, “wanting to put it all behind me, you know. I really should have done a better job of keeping in touch with her but…” she shrugs and trails off.

“I understand, Annie,” Ray says. “I’d love to meet her. I don’t think our paths crossed at the wedding unfortunately.” Butterfly smiles weakly and turns back to her salad. I throw a knowing glance at Ray, who twists his lips and turns back to his meal.

I can’t help but glance over at Marilyn, who doesn’t appear to look any healthier than she did when we left Seattle. Although we’ve all had our choice of meal, Marilyn only ordered a bowl of consommé and I’m beginning to get a little more than concerned about her. Jason assures me that her lunch smoothies are packed full of as many green vegetables that he can camouflage in there as well as half a scoop of organic protein. It makes me feel better, but I’m still very concerned about her. Butterfly told me that the doctor gave her the go-ahead and some instructions to work her way back into eating more, but something’s got to give soon, or this girl is going to waste away to nothing.

“Does anyone have plans for this Friday evening?” Mac says, taking a forkful of her salmon.

“Ray and I are going to see Penn and Teller,” Amanda says. “I’ve always wanted to see them, and the tickets are almost impossible to get, but the concierge was able to score some for us.” Mac nods.

“What about you, Al?” she asks.

“Oh, Cirque du Soleil, baby,” Al says. “The minute I knew we were coming to Vegas, I booked tickets.”

“Which show?” she asks.

“O,” he says, and it sounds like Eau, “I really think you would like it, Jewel. It’s a water show.” Butterfly raises her gaze to him.

“A water show?” she asks. “Really?” Al nods.

“Yeah,” he says. “A giant pool sets the stage and there’s synchronized swimming and aerial acts—dramatic costumes and original music… I can’t wait to see it.” Butterfly smiles faintly.

“Then, I await your review, Mr. Forsythe,” she replies, and Al returns her smile.

“What about you, Marilyn?” Mac asks. “Any plans tonight?”

Nobody has shared Marilyn’s latest emotional dramas with Mac, and this is one of those times that I wish we had given her some kind of heads up. She shares a suite with Marilyn, so I thought she may have some kind of idea, but if I know Mac, she’s plugged into GEH every night or getting updates from Josh or the internet on all things Christian, Ana, and Las Vegas Hazing Trial. So, she probably hasn’t seen what Marilyn may or may not be doing.

“No,” Marilyn says softly, “no plans for me besides binge-watching Game of Thrones.” Seeing the need to pull attention away from Marilyn, Al jumps in.

“What about you, Vee?” he asks.

“Sleeping!” she chimes in quickly, causing gentle laughter to rumble across the table. Even Butterfly chuckles a bit. “Once I do the regular check-ins of all the spots and the home office, it’s me and the sandman. Fergie’s flight gets in at 4:26am and I want to be awake to meet him at the airport.”

“Fergie?” Amanda asks, her brows furrowed.

“Fergus,” she says, “my husband.”

I knew that she was married, but I didn’t delve since he gave me no cause for concern.

“Fergus,” James says. “Do you mind if I ask the origins of that?”

“Not at all,” Mac says. “Fergie’s a full-blown, red-blooded Scotty! “

“No kidding!” James says. “With a kilt and everything?”

“He wore it to our wedding,” she says, with a smile.

“Now, is it true that the kilt has to be made a certain way, or can they just go buy one?” Ray asks.

“Anybody can just go buy one,” Mac says, “but any old body had better not wear any old kilt to Scotland or to any traditional ceremony of any kind…” and off my head of PR goes talking about the different types, colors, and measurements of kilts. How did we get into this conversation? Once I get a chance, I interject.

“Would you and Fergus like a private room for the weekend?” I ask, considering that she’s sharing a room with Marilyn.

“Oh… no, we’ll be fine. Fergie and I have been married for many years, Christian. We know how to behave.” I smile and nod at her. “But if we’ll bother Marilyn…”

Uncomfortable that the attention is back on her and her half-empty bowl of consommé, Marilyn shakes her head quickly and diverts her gaze from anyone at the table. The gesture mainly goes unnoticed.

After dessert and a bit more conversation, the group begins to disperse for their Friday evening plans. Butterfly goes to the bedroom to begin her long session of Facetime with the twins and I’ll join her in a moment, but first I steal a moment with Marilyn.

“How are you?” I ask, not knowing how to ask the question that I want to ask.

“I’m fine,” she says, looking at me questioning.

“Is there anything you need?” I ask. “Anything I can do to make you more… comfortable?”

Her questioning gaze slowly morphs into one of understanding, and the corners of her mouth turn up slightly.

“No, Christian,” she says, “I’ll be fine.”

“You… haven’t been eating,” I say, broaching the conversation carefully.

“The doctor says I have to take it slow,” she replies. “Smoothies, vitamins, water-based soups… I always vomit when I try to eat solid foods. It’s because my body, unfortunately, has become accustomed to eating itself. So, introducing regular food again is a process. She prescribed me Ensure and Pedialyte to be sure that my body is getting all the nutrients that it needs, and I’m getting in the smoothies and consommé so that Bosslady doesn’t have me involuntarily hospitalized…”

Or me.

“So… it’s almost like… tube-feeding…” I say cautiously.

“That’s exactly what it is,” she admits, “only I’m consuming voluntarily.” She drops her head. “I’m trying to get back to ‘normal’ as quickly as I can. My… situation has just been harder on me than I ever thought it would be.”

“I understand,” I reply. Without any respect to my personal feelings about her decision, I still think Garrett’s an asshole for leaving her like this. “Did you want me to get you a private room for the weekend?” I ask. She smiles and surprises me by taking my hand.

“No,” she says. “I’ll be fine. I’m a big girl. I live in the real world and I know that it doesn’t revolve around me. There’s plenty of space between Mac’s bedroom and mine. I’m sure that I won’t hear anything if she and Fergie decide to have some alone time, okay?”

I nod. I just want her to be comfortable. She surprises me again by standing on her toes and giving me a kiss on the cheek.

“Thank you, Christian,” she says sincerely. “You’re like the overbearing big brother I never had.” She gives my hand a squeeze before leaving the suite. I catch a glimpse of Ray, who frowns at me, then excuses himself from his wife.

“What was that about, son?” he asks, and I know that I owe him an explanation since he doesn’t know the nature of this relationship besides the fact that Marilyn is Butterfly’s personal assistant.

“Can you keep a secret?” I ask him in all seriousness. He raises his brow.

“It depends on the secret,” he says, his voice a bit sharp.

“Well, I can,” I reply, “and all I can tell you without betraying Marilyn’s confidence is that my wife and I are concerned about her health. She’s lost an unhealthy amount of weight in the last few months and no one in our group can attest to her eating any solid food all week. Can you?”

I see the wheels turning in Ray’s head, but he doesn’t answer.

“She’s important to my wife, so that means that she’s important to me. Whatever you see from me is nothing but concern and what you see from her to me is most likely gratitude. Anything else that you want to know, you’ll have to ask my wife or Marilyn.” He twists his lips and nods.

“I see,” he says. “You’re a strange man, Christian.”

“So I’ve been told,” I concur. “Go… you’ll miss your show.” He nods once. I’m certain that he’s not really sure what to make of the situation as he leaves and joins his wife.

“Christian,” Mac is getting my attention once the suite is nearly empty. “I don’t want to hurt Marilyn’s feelings, but I did book a room for tomorrow night. I’ll let you know what the room number is as soon as we check in.” I nod.

“Make sure you expense it,” I tell her.

“Thank you. It’s no offense to her. She’s a wonderful girl, but she cries at night… almost incessantly! I went in to comfort her the first night and she swore that she was okay, that she had a bad dream… but I’ve heard her crying other nights. Trust me, it doesn’t bother me except that I want to go in and talk to her, but I get the feeling that she doesn’t want to talk. The only thing is… that it doesn’t lend to set the mood for romance when you haven’t seen your guy for a week.”

“I totally understand,” I tell her. “Believe it or not, I think she would, too. Let me know what room you got when you check in and we’ll put it on our bill, too.”

“Thank you, Christian. You’re a prince among men,” she says before leaving the suite.

“So,” Jason says, sliding in for his chance for alone time, “do you agree that we should get back to Seattle some time during this trip?”

“I think it’ll help with her stress levels if she knows that you and Chuck are getting some time in with your ladies during this ordeal.” He sighs.

“She’s going to have to get some time in with her babies or she’s going to lose her mind. We both know that.”

“Yes, I know,” I reply. “Facetime helps, but it’s not the same. You know, those little munchkins have the most healing hugs…”

“Yes, I do know,” he says, fondly, “and it doesn’t change as they get older.” I smile.

“We’ll play it by ear,” I say. “I figure once it gets to the twelve-day mark, one of you will have to go home for the weekend. Hell, at that point, we may have to go home for the weekend.”

“Then, it’ll work out perfectly,” he says. “If we all go home for the weekend, no harm, no foul. As much as I respect Her Highness, you know that I’m not going to leave you in another state without me, right?” I feel a sudden warmness in my heart for my bodyguard and best friend.

“I know,” I acknowledge.

*-*

I’m sitting the in the living room of the suite at about 2am. We Facetimed with the twins for hours, even watching one of the Disney movies with them until they fell asleep. My wife fell into a contented rest—finally—after Facetiming with our children. After Jason gave me a report on Carla Morton’s and Pamela Whitmore’s uneventful Friday evenings, I worked for a few hours, played the piano for about twenty minutes and now, I’m as bright as a bunny, staring at the fire in the gas fireplace.

I’m wound so tight by all the mental stress of everything going on that I can barely think. My method of dealing with stress has always been to work out or fuck. I’ve already worked out and I’m back where I started from, and I don’t want to put myself upon my wife right now. I have to read her moods and when she finally fell asleep, her mood was not screaming, “Take me, take me now!” But I need something very physical right now or my head’s going to burst.

I get on the floor in front of the fire with my back against one of the chairs and shed the only piece of clothing that I’m wearing, my sweatpants. My cock is limp, not flaccid, but not hard either. I’m going to have to give him some motivation, but what? Pornos have never been my thing since I’ve always been so sexually active. I don’t have one of those Tenga eggs I used after Butterfly had the twins. Those damn things needed no motivation whatsoever. All I have is my hand and my imagination. I don’t even have anything to use for lube.

My cock looks so pitiful that I don’t even take it in my hand. I close my eyes and think of a time that I was so hot and so hard that I couldn’t stand it. The Tenga experience comes to mind, but it’s not enough to get me hard. Butterfly in the playroom… yeah. She always looks delicious in the playroom. The problem is that my mind keeps flashing from scene to scene to scene and although it’s a wonderful replay, I can’t concentrate on any one scene. Just when I’m about to give up, I think about the “red” photo shoot, and the perfect memory pops up behind it…

Santa Baby!

Fuck, that night was so hot! Our first Christmas Eve together. Her goddamn skills were lethal… are lethal. She hasn’t fucking lost her touch. In no time, one hand is rubbing my chest while the other wanders down to my balls, cupping and rubbing them firmly as my cock slowly firms to attention.

I see her ass peeking out of a red Santa skirt and shimmying at me in my mind’s eye and my cock throbs in appreciation of the memory. I move my hand from my balls to the base of my cock and squeeze, feeling it thicken in my hand. The anticipation that I felt waiting for her that night was driving me out of my mind. She was rolling and stripping and singing—long red boots on mile-long legs and a delicious ass that’s even thicker and juicier now than it was then.

I groan in my chest as I imagine that ass wiggling in my face, causing my shaft to lengthen and thicken even more. I grip it hard and give it one firm stroke.

“Fuck!” I hiss, looking through the gap between her legs at her beautiful mound clad in sexy red panties. I give my cock a slap, and another one immediately thereafter. I feel pleasure shoot through my groin almost blinding me. I stroke it again… and again… avoiding the head and feeling the shaft getting harder and harder in my hand. My breathing is becoming more labored as my dick gets hotter and the skin gets tighter. I want to grab the head, but that means I’ll come too soon, and the pressure of the week will still be trapped and needing to release.

I need to edge. I don’t want to, but I need to…

Still remembering the sensual show my wife-then-girlfriend gave me on Christmas Eve, I stroke my cock a little faster, a little deeper, a little harder. God, I wish I had some oil or some lube, but my saliva and precum will have to do.

On one of the strokes, I get the picture of her pulling my hips to her, dropping to her knees, and sucking my cock into her mouth. My hand runs over the head and collects the precum there, causing me to arch my back and thrust into my hand once. I thought I would come, but I quickly move my hand back to the shaft and away from the sensitive head, spreading the small amount of precum that I gathered over the tight skin of my cock. Fuck, this shit is torture…


ANASTASIA

I open my eyes and I’m in bed alone. My husband is nowhere to be found. I remember that we’re in Vegas, explaining my unfamiliar surroundings. I slept like the dead, but it’s still dark. What time is it?

I look at the clock—2:18am. I throw the covers off and see that I’m wearing the terrycloth robe and a pair of panties. I must’ve fallen asleep in them, but the room is dark, and the suite looks dark beyond the bedroom door. Where’s Christian?

I get out of bed and go in search of my husband. When I come out of the bedroom, I see the fire is lit in the fireplace. Noting that the living room is dark, I head towards the office area, but stop in my tracks when I hear moaning to my left.

What the fuck…?

I quickly turn around and head towards the sound, surprised to find my husband sitting alone on the floor in front of the fire. His eyes are closed and he’s naked. His legs are spread wide and he’s leaning back on the loveseat, his other hand rising up and down slowly on his erection.

I watch him lost in his passion; his expression strained as he pleasures himself. He looks amazing—a masculine deity in human form pleasuring himself on the floor of my Las Vegas suite. In the middle of all this hell, I get to watch this beautiful hunk of man working his gorgeous hunk of meat while his pecks, abs, and biceps flex involuntarily to the sensation in his cock.

I lick my lips, then bite the flesh of the bottom one. I have no idea why he’s masturbating in the living room, but he looks so sexy. I open my robe and rub my heating skin as his breathing becomes louder. He’s going to come soon… but then I watch as he moves his hand from the head, halting his speedy ascent to orgasm.

Do it again, I think to myself as my hand caresses my abdomen.

He looks lost… lost in his own little world, gripping his cock and stroking it with such force that it looks as if he may just yank it right off!

I reach down into my panties and find my clit. With each slow stroke of his cock, I stroke my clit, working myself into a heated frenzy.

He groans as he draws pleasure from his grip, and I shiver as I imagine what he must be feeling. His breathing becomes rhythmic matching his sliding hand and I close my eyes, my own orgasm not too far on the horizon. When I open my eyes, he has opened his eyes and he’s looking at me, still stroking his member. I’m shocked. I don’t know what to do. I feel like an intruder… on my own husband!

“Are you just going to stand there and watch?” he growls. What else am I supposed to do? You’re out here beating your meat instead of in our bed fucking me and I have no idea why. What’s more, I just got caught wiggling my bean watching you.

“Come here,” he commands me as his hips rise to meet his slowly stroking hand. I walk over and stand over him.

“Get rid of the robe… and the panties.”

I drop the robe to the floor and slide my panties down my thighs until they fall at my feet.

“Straddle my thighs.”

He’s breathless, very near orgasm, but I hear his Dom voice hidden in his arousal—not full Dom, but commanding. I stand over him and begin to drop down on him.

“I didn’t say straddle my dick. I said straddle my thighs.”

Fuck. He sounds mad! Is he mad? I straddle his thighs further away from his dick.

“Move back.”

Huh? Oookay… I slide further back toward his knees.

“Lean back on your hands.” Um, okay. I lean back on my hands. “Further! As far back as you can go!”

Okay! Bossy much?

“Feet flat on the floor. Knees up—spread ‘em wide!”

I do as I’m told, and I see what he’s doing now. I can’t easily lean forward, my legs are open wide, and I’m completely exposed to him. Without another word, he begins to stroke my clitoris with the head of his penis. The fire I had started a moment ago is beginning to roar again. I bite my lip as my clit starts to throb.

“Keep your hips still. Don’t move unless I tell you to.” I nod. His aim is so controlled. He fucks his hand deep and slow while using it to guide the head and a very small portion of the shaft to the bottom, tips, and sides of my clit. Only the head occasionally dips inside of me for lubrication, but the bulk of the stimulation are my inner and outer lips… and my clit… my entire clit!  Shit, it feels so good—a sensual massage with the head of his dick on my completely exposed clit.

“Yeah. That’s it. Feel it, baby,” he groans. I can’t control my breathing or my tongue as it darts in and out of my mouth, over my lips and teeth trying to absorb the immense pleasure he’s bringing to me. I want to grind against him, but not only is it difficult to move, but he also told me to keep still.

My breasts feel so heavy. Even though I stopped breastfeeding a week ago, I’m still producing milk—not as much, but it builds up if I don’t pump. It aches to be released when the children need to be fed… and when I’m aroused as my breasts are one of my erogenous zones… very erogenous zones!

He reaches between us with his fingers on my butt cheek; he opens my lips and strokes the side of my clit. The pleasure is almost unbearable. He’s so hard and each time he rises into his hand, his hard cock hits the underside of my clit just at the opening of my vagina… and my G-spot. I’m nearly blind from the friction and satisfaction. I don’t know what to do with myself. I throw my head back and get ready for the tsunami that’s about to hit.

“Christian! Christian!” I’m almost afraid of the orgasm that approaches. My legs are weak from this position and I won’t be able to keep still. My arms begin to tremble, and my legs start to shake.

“Fuck, you’re beautiful!” he groans as he continues to thrust and torment me. “Can you be any fucking hotter?”

Soon the sheer force of the climax that wracks my body causes my elbows to give way.

I’m going down.

Just as quickly, Christian wraps his arms around me and snatches me onto his exploding erection. Some of his semen squirts outside of me, but most of it is emptying into me as he holds me prisoner against his body, grunting like an animal.

He catches his breath very quickly, then lays me down between his legs, opening them wider so that I can lay my back on the floor. He brings my legs forward so that my knees are around his hips.

Whew! Thank God! I felt like a contortionist for a minute there.

While I’m resting and catching my breath, he licks his thumbs and rubs my tender nub. It hurts at first, but he’s gentle, coaxing me back to arousal with his cock still inside of me. When my tongue licks the inside of my lip and my knees rise higher widening my legs, he begins a slow stroke—only short enough to thrust his head and a portion of his dick into me. His ass doesn’t leave the floor. He licks his own lips sensually as he watches his cock slide in and out of me.

“Yes,” he says carnally, hissing as he breathes in. “That’s what I need… right there.” I feel his legs widen, but his stroke never changes. He takes my hand and puts my fingers in his mouth, licking them salaciously.

Fuck, that’s hot.

He takes my fingers out of his mouth and brings my wet fingertips down to my clit.

“Stroke it, baby,” he says in that same animalistic tone he came with. “Stroke it good. Don’t be shy…”

Yes, sir!

I begin with the slow stroke I did while I was watching him, rubbing deeply on every thrust, only I don’t have to imagine this time. He’s inside of me. I reach down a little further to caress his dick on the upstroke.

“No!” he hisses. “Just yourself! Only touch yourself. I want a full view of that glorious clit.”

Oh, God, he’s making me so hot! This is a three-finger job.

I wet my fingers again, tasting our intermingled juice and strumming my libido even further, then stroke my clit with my new moistened fingers, moaning when my wet tips may contact.

“Yeah, baby,” he says, just above a whisper, his hot cock seeming to thicken with the next mini-thrust. “That’s it right there, baby. Work that clit… you look so good.”

Knowing that he’s watching me and loving it has to be the biggest mind-trip I’ve ever felt. I close my eyes and thrust my breast forward, taking one of my nipples in my free hand and pinching it hard. The sensation shoots right to my clit and the other hand and I groan loudly. I feel a small amount of milk escape, but I don’t care.

“Oh, baby,” he says, his tone a mixture of arousal and reverence. “Keep going, baby. Don’t stop.”

I pinch my nipple again, teasing it and arousing it to firmness, remiss that I can’t easily reach the other one. Christian gasps deeply and snatches me off the floor.

“Don’t stop,” he hisses, his whispered voice thick with his arousal. “Keep touching yourself.”

It’s hard to reach my nipple, but there’s still enough space between us to stroke my clit, so I keep stroking, stroking myself into blind pleasure. He sucks my neglected nipple into his mouth and I nearly scream, stifling the sound as it escapes my throat.

“Do you feel that?” he says in that same aroused whisper as he mini-strokes into me. “Do you feel it?”

Fuck yeah, I feel it. From this angle, he’s at the perfect depth and aim to hit my G-spot, and I’m wiggling my bean.

“Uh-huh!” I answer helplessly.

“Fuck me just like that,” he breathes. “Can you do it? Can you fuck me like that?”

“Uh-huh! Uh-huh!” and I begin the stroke that where he left off. I only have my knees because one hand is on my clit and one was on my breast, but has now abandoned that task to concentrate on clit and fuck. It takes a minute, but I get the mini-stroke back… better, in fact, because I have to wiggle a little bit to reach my g-spot.

“Oooooh, my God,” he groans, “ooohh, my God, yes!” His hand travels up my thighs to my hips, grasping them firmly but not hindering my movement. He bites my nipples again—first one, then the other before taking it into his mouth and sucking hard. I’m fucking going to come. I have to slow down the stroke on my clit to stop the rise before the game is completely over!

“Kiss me,” he hisses, “Fucking kiss me like you mean it!”

Before I can even think about it, I take a handful of his hair with my free hand, snatch his head back and slam my mouth to his, thrusting my tongue inside and licking feverishly like I’m searching for buried treasure. He moans hard as his grip tightens on my hips and we share a kiss that last almost a lifetime. He breaks the kiss and looks into my eyes, his own hooded.

“Are you still stroking it?” he asks whispered. “Are you still stroking it for me?”

“Uh-huh,” I pant, now wildly wiggling my clit while I ride him, and he thrusts into me.

“Make it come, baby… make it drip all over me.”

I wiggle my bean slightly harder and before I know it, my knees lock in the “up” position so that I’m just gripping the head of his cock and I squeal out a crippling orgasm that has me gripping his shoulders for support.

“Fuck! Fuck! Ana, fuck!” he yells as he squeezes my thighs, holding me in place as my core torments the head of his cock, milking his cum in an equally violent orgasm.

“Oh, God,” he pants as I fall helpless into his lap and onto his still throbbing cock. “Oh God oh God oh God oh God oh God I needed that so bad.”

“Why… didn’t you wake me?” I pant.

“Ssssshhh, Ssshhh, shh,” he silences me as his head lolls then lies in my breasts, his arms firmly around my body now. “Sssshhhh…” I’m assuming he doesn’t want to lose the moment. It’s not really important now anyway, is it?

*-*

“Daddy, this is Cynthia Crestwood. Auntie Cyn, this is my father, Raymond Steele.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Steele,” Cynthia says, extending her hand to my father.

“Ray, please,” he says, accepting her proffered hand. “The pleasure is all mine, really. This is my wife, Amanda.”

“A pleasure, Cynthia,” Mandy says. “Is it okay if I call you Cynthia?”

“Of course,” Auntie Cyn says, shaking Mandy’s hand, “and call him Larry.” She points to her husband with a smile who shakes Daddy and Mandy’s hand.

“A pleasure, Ray, Amanda,” he says kindly.

“Mandy, please,” Mandy says. The six of us—and our security—have convened at the Cheesecake Factory in Caesar’s Palace for lunch. Of course, we immediately talk about the elephant in the room.

“So,” Larry begins says once we’re seated and have placed our orders, “I’ve been following the trial on Court TV. That was quite the revelation near the end there.”

“I didn’t know Court TV picked up the trial,” I say, looking over at Christian, who shakes his head. “I thought channel 13 was there—KTNV.”

“KTNV is affiliated with Court TV,” Auntie Cyn says. “The trial was on replay most of the night.” I shake my head.

“So, once again, America got to see me carried out of a courtroom. That’s just great.” They would have seen it on the news anyway, but a cable network with national affiliates? Yeah, groovy.

“You had us worried there, dear,” Auntie Cyn says. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” I tell her. “I don’t do well in high anxiety situations. Try though I might, something always happens. Nonetheless, here I am.”

“I’m not an insensitive jerk,” Larry says, “but I have been known to miss a cue. So, if I happen to take the conversation somewhere that you would prefer it doesn’t go, please feel free to tell me to shut the hell up.” The rest of us laugh.

“I appreciate that, Larry…”

Lunch is filled with talk about the trial, how we think the jury might sway. We all gave our honest opinion based on the presentation of the evidence. No one came out and said that they believe the jury is going to come back with a not guilty on all counts, but everyone has a doubt or three.

Auntie Cyn feels that the kidnapping charge may not stand because they didn’t definitively prove that Vincent Sullivan physically had anything to do with the kidnapping. Daddy says that if he gets off on the kidnapping charge, he’ll probably get off on the conspiracy charge, too.

While Larry feels that Sullivan should get whatever they charge him with and more, he feels that the guidelines surrounding attempted murder may mean that the jury is going to come back with a not guilty on that one. While he’s definitely guilty of assault, battery, and manslaughter, Larry feels that attempted murder might be a stretch.

Amanda feels that the whole “diminished capacity” thing is bullshit. As a court reporter, she doesn’t buy it for a second. She’s seen the defense a lot—some succeed and some fail—and according to her, his case holds about as much water as a fishing net.

“It’s the criminal equivalent of ‘the dog ate my homework,’” she says, somewhat disgusted. “People who fall back on that as a defense take away from those who may truly have been in a diminished capacity. The guidelines to prove diminished capacity are so strict now that you basically damn near have to prove that you were either clinically insane or that you were not only in imminent danger, but also immediate danger at the time of the commission of the crime, and it’s all because people are so busy crying wolf!”

“What’s the difference?” Christian asks.

Immediate danger or peril is imminent, but not all imminent peril is immediate. Immediate danger is not a written doctrine or legal concept yet, but it’s one of the things that certain people may look for—and informed jurors are aware of—before a defendant takes the stand.

“Being mugged at gunpoint is immediate danger. It’s also imminent danger. Being threatened about a crime that’s going to happen tomorrow, that poses possible imminent danger for something that’s going to happen tomorrow and something that may happen to you in the future. You’ve got time to do something about it!”

“I felt that way, too!” Christian says. “Even if he really felt that he was in danger of retaliation, by his own admission, he had a whole day and possibly more to tell somebody what was going to happen, but he didn’t. He said he thought it was going to be a harmless brand like his brother’s frat brand, but even that’s assault if it’s against your will.”

“Exactly,” Mandy says. “Even if he really thought it was going to be harmless, he made a bad judgment call. Even though he knew in advance that this harmless thing was going to happen, he decided not to tell anybody. He sat on it for a whole day and didn’t breathe of a word of it to anyone who could’ve prevented it. He also made it appear that he was afraid of Carly from the very beginning. Why was he so afraid for his life if it was supposed to be this harmless thing?

“Good point,” Larry says.

“I’ve heard of sudden peril, though,” Auntie Cyn says.

“That’s a totally different type of law and a completely different concept,” Mandy says.

“Indeed,” Ray says.

“And back to the concept of imminent danger,” Mandy continues, “he could’ve told somebody what was going to happen the next day and prevented this whole thing from happening. He thought it would have put a target on his back—or at least he claimed he did, but it would have put a target on Cody and Carly’s back if anything happened to him or Ana. As diehard as his brother was to protect him—had something happened to Vincent, he wouldn’t have rested until those responsible were under the jail. And if he was really in danger, he could have relocated or his brother could have arranged some kind of protection for him—something, but those options were not dangerous. They were inconvenient! As a result of his lack of action, a girl was brutally beaten and burned, her baby was murdered, and he’s claiming the dog ate his homework.”

“Bravo!” Auntie Cyn says quietly clapping her hands.

“Very well said, baby,” Daddy says, quietly clapping as well.

“Hear, hear,” Larry says, raising his soda.

“Now let’s just hope the jury agrees with you,” I say, and the celebration stops. Everyone turns to look at me.

“See, here’s where I’m the Doubting Thomas,” I admit. “We’re talking about a group of people who share the community with this man. They share all the same values, the same beliefs, the same thought processes. There’s no doubt that he did these things to me. The question is his intent and state of mind. Two psychiatrists gave us the entire lowdown of the feeling of imminent danger. Neither doctor fully corroborated his claim that he felt he was in imminent danger, not to mention immediate danger. Was I the only one to see that?”

“No, you weren’t,” Christian replies. “I saw that, too.”

“So,” I continue, “unless those magic twelve people have the same thought processes that you do and not the same thought processes that he does, he’s getting off.”

“It only takes one, Ana,” Mandy protests gently.

“And then the best we get is a mistrial,” I say, “at which point, we’re going through all of this again. I hope we have—as you said—a panel of informed jurors. Otherwise, this whole thing was a waste of my time.”


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

Pictures from the trip to Las Vegas can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-las-vegas/

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

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

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~~love and handcuffs

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 9

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

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

Season 5 Episode 9

ANASTASIA

“Your witness, Mr. Drake,” Larson says. “Your honor, the state reserves the right to redirect.”

“Yes, sir. Mr. Drake?” Drake comes around the defense table and prepares to face off with my wife.

“Mrs. Grey, you said that you’re the executive director of Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc., is that correct?” Drake asks.

“Yes, it is.”

“What does that mean?” he asks.

“I’m 50% owner of the company and I participate in overseeing and directing the daily operations.”

“I see—the only thing is that executive directors are generally part of a non-profit organization. Is Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc. a non-profit organization?”

“No,” I answer flatly.

“Then, why do you have a title for an incorrect business structure?” My brow furrows.

“My husband is the CEO of a corporation that doesn’t have a board. Do you want to pull him up here and ask him why he gave himself that title?”

“Oh, so you gave yourself that title?” I fold my arms.

“I’ll be glad to answer that question if you can tell me what it has to do with this case,” I say.

“Well, if you have nothing to hide, Mrs. Grey, it’s an easy enough answer,” he says with a shrug. I sit there looking at him with my arms folded. That doesn’t sound like a reason to me.

“Your honor, can you please direct the witness to answer the question?” he asks.

“In all honesty, counselor, I’d like to know what it has to do with the case myself,” the judge asks.

“It speaks to her character, your honor,” he replies.

“In what way?” the judge asks. Drake has no answer. “Okay, I’ll rephrase. She also said that she’s assistant director of a charity and a psychiatrist. How does being the owner of a company reflect on her character any more than anything else she says she does?”

Drake is still at a loss of words.

“That information is no more relevant than what she had for dinner last night. Please, move on, counselor.” Drake purses his lips and turns back to me.

“Mrs. Grey, for the benefit of clarification for the court, please tell us the nature of your previous relationship with Cody Whitmore.”

“We didn’t have a relationship.”

“No?” he asks. “Part of this case is that your unborn baby was killed during the attack. Do you know who the father was?” He knows exactly who the father was.

“The father was Cody Whitmore.” I reply. Small murmurs can be heard in the court.

“But you said you didn’t have a relationship with him. How could you have been pregnant with his baby if you didn’t have a relationship with him?” I raise my brow.

“Do you want me to answer that? Because I will,” I threaten.

“I asked, didn’t I?” he taunts. You got it, asshole. Wording is everything…

“As I said before, Cody Whitmore offered to give me a ride home from school one day. That harrowing encounter that I spoke of… he then forced me to have sex with him in the back of his jeep in the middle of the desert,” I say succinctly. There are more murmurs in the courtroom.

“Objection, your honor. She’s accusing Mr. Whitmore of a crime for which he has not been convicted.”

“You asked,” the judge says.

“Your honor, she can’t bring conjecture from another case into this one…”

“There’s no case,” the judge retorts. “You repeatedly asked her about her relationship, and she answered your question. Would you rather she perjured herself?” The attorney raises a brow. “Don’t answer that question. Your objection is overruled. Continue.” Drake turns his glare back to me.

“Mrs. Grey, when Mr. Whitmore forced you to have sex with him, did you tell him to stop?”

“Repeatedly,” I reply.

“A simple yes or no will do,” he says in a condescending tone. “Did you tell anyone?”

“I did,” I say, deliberately ignoring his simple yes or no instructions. He shrugs.

“There was never a case. Mr. Whitmore was never arrested. What happened?” I purse my lips. I don’t want to go through this. We’re not arguing the rape case.

“Isn’t it true that you lied when you accused Cody Whitmore of raping you?” he asks. There it is… he said it…

“No,” I say, forgetting about ignoring yes or no.

“Isn’t it true that your father confronted Cody and Franklin Whitmore in their home about this alleged rape and discovered that you were lying?” he presses.

“I…”

“If your own father didn’t believe you, why should we?” he barks. I lean forward in the seat.

“Are you going to let me answer a question or are you going to narrate a story that you weren’t even present for?” I retort. Drake is taken aback, but recovers quickly.

“By all means, Mrs. Grey, we’d love to hear your story. We’re all ears,” he says sarcastically.

“No, you’re all mouth, but I’ll speak whenever you’re ready,” I say.

“Mrs. Grey?” the judge warns.

“Apologies,” I say to the judge before turning back to Drake. “May I speak now?” He smirks at me and gestures for me to speak.

“No, my father did not confront Cody and Franklin Whitmore. My father didn’t find out what happened to me until years later. My mother didn’t even tell him. The man who was married to my mother at the time, now he confronted Cody and Frank Whitmore. And no, they didn’t discover that I was lying, because I wasn’t lying. They decided that I was lying. And remember, counselor, I never used the word ‘rape.’ I used the word ‘forced.’ You put the label on it. Then again, a rose by any other name, right?

“And to answer your final question, I don’t care if you believe me or not. Nobody else did, why should you? The baby’s not here anymore—there’s no DNA. So, there’s no way to tell if the baby was even Cody Whitmore’s. There are two important things, though. There’s a video and there are pictures—lots and lots of pictures. So, don’t believe me.” I turn to the jury. “None of you have to believe me… but believe the video.”

“That’s very convincing, Mrs. Grey, but the fact remains that when your relationship with Cody Whitmore…”

“I was raped,” I interrupt him.

“Objection, your hono…”

“I. Was. Raped!” I bellow. All my cool is gone, and if this fucker says that I had a relationship with that asshole one more time…

“You said it,” I continue furious. “You know that’s what it is. No little box that you try to put it in is going to change that. Your truth is not my truth! I was there! I was present when my virginity was unceremoniously and painfully ripped from me without my consent. The fact that you don’t have a nice little piece of paper or a case or a complaint or a conviction from a 15-year-old girl whose stepfather and mother silenced her for a fee won’t erase or undo the fact that I. Was raped!

“You can hold me in contempt of court. You can throw me in jail. You can fine me. You can do whatever you see fit, but what you’re not going to do is call what that man did to me a relationship. I was raped—and they can try him for it and convict him of it, or they can forget this conversation ever happened, but it doesn’t change the facts! Sex without consent is rape, and I was raped… Your Honor!” I turn to the judge on the last two words before turning my gaze back to Drake.

“Your honor?” Drake says, as if Butterfly had said nothing.

“Counselor, you purposely opened this can of worms. Now you need to deal with it. The witness answered your question about the ‘relationship…’” He physically does the finger quotes around the word relationship, “… that she had with the person in question. If there’s something unclear about the answer, you may ask for clarification—which you did, and you received it. She has made an accusation and the court may choose to act on those accusations, but you can’t make her change her answer. Objection overruled.” Drake rolls his eyes.

“Did your alleged rape have anything to do with this case?” Drake probes.

“Do you want me to answer that?” I say, folding my arms and crossing my legs. “I’ll gladly answer that question if you really want me to if for no other reason but to hear you bark another objection.” Drake looks at the judge.

“Your move, counselor,” he says.

“Yes, Mrs. Grey, answer the question,” he replies flatly. I cock my head at the counselor.

“If you ask the 15-year-old ostracized teenager who was hit over the head, thrown into the trunk of a car, spit on, ridiculed, beaten, fearing that they were going to throw her—bound—into that bonfire and burn her alive, she wouldn’t have an answer for you. She was screaming for her life, begging for her mother, and asking what she did wrong. She had no clue what was going on.

“However, if you ask the educated M.D. and psychiatrist sitting in front of you now, well-trained to identify the psychopathic mind, able to look back on the incident with 20/20 hindsight and knowing who perpetrated the act—well, she would give you a whole-hearted ‘yes,’ that her rape had everything to do with that attack!”

“Ob…” I cackle loudly at the beginning of his objection.

“You. Asked!” I abruptly and loudly interrupt his objection. “You should be objecting to your line of questioning if you don’t like my responses, counselor, and not my responses!” Drake looks at the judge.

“She’s got a point,” the judge says. “Mr. Drake, a bit of advice. You can direct your questions any way you see fit as long as it’s not in contempt of this court. You cannot, however, direct the answers of the witness because they answer ‘yes’ when you want them to answer ‘no.’ Your continued objections because you’re not getting the answers that you wish for will drag this case out for weeks and justice will not be served. That is why we’re all here, right?”

He narrows his eyes at the judge like he’s going to leap over the bench at him I’m shocked that he has that much hutzpah… or stupidity, whichever fits.

Drake turns his attention back to me and proceeds to ask me the same questions over and over again. He just rewords them, but they’re pretty much the same. I repeatedly tell him that I didn’t see anybody that night. I saw several figures in black outlined by a bonfire. I heard Carly Madison when she got in my face right before she slapped the stars out of me. I couldn’t identify anything through my tears or through lights being shined in my face and afterwards, through my eyes being swollen shut. After a while, I just begin to give him monotoned answers until he finally changes up a question on me.

“So, you have no idea who hit you, who burned you, who raped you…” Good grief, is this guy the defense attorney for Whitshit, too? He must be, because it’s imperative to him that I slip up on that rape accusation, which has nothing to do with Sullivan.

“Ah, ah, ah,” I interrupt him. “I know who raped me—that came first, but who hit me, who kicked me, who burned me? No, I had no idea from my recollections of that night except Carly Madison for certain. For all I know, it could have been you.”

He recoils a bit at my accusation, then he laughs.

“Mrs. Grey,” he says, his voice filled with mirth, “are you now insinuating that I was part of the attack that night?” He looks at the jury as if to say, “She’s lost her marbles.”

“I’m not insinuating anything, counselor,” I say, folding my arms again and sitting back in the seat. “It’s like I said, I have no specific recollection who attacked me that night because I couldn’t see. So, for all I know, it could have been you… but you’re not in the video.” There’s a pause and an eerie silence follows for a few moments.

“Well, you couldn’t see… maybe I was there,” he taunts.

“Were you?” I ask coolly, resting my elbows on the armrests and entwining my fingers together. “Because if you were, you’re occupying the wrong chair.”

My final words roll out with a low, vicious gravel and I stare at him intently, waiting for him to throw his next question at me. Instead…

“No further questions, your honor,” he says.

“Mr. Larson?” the judge says.

“Redirect, your honor,” Mr. Larson says, and the judge nods.

“Dr. Grey, it’s clear that you didn’t see anyone that night. However, your description of what happened was very thorough. Yet, when the police asked if you remembered anything, you said that you didn’t. How is that possible? Did the video jog your memory?”

“I… remembered… everything,” I say slowly. “I didn’t remember it immediately upon awaking, but I remembered. Every kick, every spit, every stream of piss—the ones that hit my back, my chest, and the ones that went into my eyes and mouth,” she spits with disgust.

“I told my mother that I didn’t remember. I told my father I didn’t remember. I knew who had done this. I could hear their voices. They were taunting me and tormenting me. They were celebrating! But what good would it have done to tell? No one believed me, I was nobody! I was nothing! No matter what happened to me, nobody believed me. I almost died, and nobody would believe me if I told them what happened. If I had died, no one would have mourned me but my best friend and my father. There probably wouldn’t have even been a funeral!

“Tell somebody… for what? For what? I tried once to tell the truth and look what it got me. I told what happened before and look what happened. Where did it get me? Damn near dead at a bonfire where a bunch of teenagers beats me beyond recognition while countless others watched! They already thought I was dead, you heard them. If I tried again, they might really kill me. I was nothing! I was no one! Nobody believed me, nobody ever believed me! Why would I say anything after that? What good would it do?”

I look over at Drake.

“Then he has the nerve to accuse me of practiced regurgitation? Is that something he made up, because I’m a doctor—an MD—and I’ve never heard of it. I’ve heard of self-induced regurgitation, which usually involves a finger. I’ve heard of involuntary regurgitation, which you usually have no control over, but practiced regurgitation? Yeah, my Ph.D. didn’t cover that one, so I may have to go Google it!”

I wonder if that phrase sounds as ridiculous to everyone else now as it does to me.

“And by the way, I don’t have to practice regurgitation with that video because I lived that horror, and anybody who can look at that without some kind of physical or emotional reaction has a heart made of steel and a stomach lined with it!”

Drake isn’t fazed at all by what I’m saying. He doesn’t even bother to look at me. He’s probably heard much worse. He just looks down and scribbles something in his legal pad. I scoff, cock my head, and gesture to Drake to prove my point.

“My mother wasn’t even there. If nobody else in the world believes you, isn’t your mom supposed to believe you? Even after she got all that money, she didn’t believe me. You would think that after that kind of confirmation that something wasn’t right that something would have clicked in her head and she would have realized that I was telling the truth, but no. If anything, it made her treat me even worse for making her look bad in proper society!

“So, I lied. I was a non-person, and nobody was going to believe me anyway. So, I told everyone I didn’t remember, including the police. They questioned me and questioned me… No, they interrogated me—George Sullivan, in fact.”

“Objection—an open case, your honor,” Drake says.

“Sustained,” the judge says. I sigh.

“You said the police interrogated you,” Mr. Larson says.

“Yes,” I say. “I don’t know what I’m allowed to say, but this officer kept at me from the time I woke up in the hospital to the time my father took me back to Montesano. I was gone for months—starting a new life, and when they came and brought me back to this hell, there he was.” I gesture violently with both hands.

“I couldn’t get into any of the schools in Henderson, because I was so damn untouchable. They came up with whatever reasons they wanted to, but they wouldn’t let me in, and I sure as hell wasn’t going back to Green Valley. I went to a completely different school in a completely different district under a completely different name, and he still found me. He asked me at least eight times over the next year and a half if I remembered anything, and I gave him the same answer every time.

“Then my boyfriend came down here and shit started hitting the fan… And that’s when I knew.”

“Knew what, Mrs. Grey?” Mr. Larson asks.

“What they won’t let me say,” I reply matter-of-factly. “What he’s going to object to if I mention his client’s brother’s name and what he’s currently being charged with. So, I may not be able to say that, but I can say this. George Sullivan found me no matter where I was. I didn’t leave a forwarding address or a phone number when I ran away from Vegas. I just ran… but he found me. My daddy didn’t even know where I was, but George Sullivan did.

“For the first few years, he called me repeatedly trying to find out if anything had come back. No, nothing, I would tell him. I was trying so hard to push the entire situation as far back into the recesses of my mind as I could get it. It wouldn’t do any good for me to speak up. Nobody cared, just this one diligent cop from Henderson… right?”

“What did you do, Mrs. Grey?” Mr. Larson asks.

“I lived in fear,” I reply. “My father taught me to shoot… well! I can hit a mosquito off a soda can at 20 feet, and I still lived in fear. I had a total meltdown when George Sullivan called me three years ago and told me that someone was looking around in my alias. I was afraid they were looking for me again. He was afraid someone was going to find out what really happened.”

“Objection,” Drake says. “She can’t speak to the state of mind of someone who’s not here to confirm or deny.”

“Sustained,” the judge says. I roll my eyes.

“It doesn’t matter,” I say.

“It does matter, Mrs. Grey,” Larson says. “That’s why we’re here.”

“No, it doesn’t,” I say raising my eyes to him. “They can’t hurt me anymore. But I will tell you this. If anybody believes me or not, I know they’re listening. George Sullivan nearly went into a rage when my boyfriend came down here and started sniffing around. He threatened me—threatened me to call him off—pretending that he was protecting me all this time.” I scoff. “Protecting me… that’s rich.” I shake my head. Mr. Larson sighs.

“That’s all I have for this witness, your honor.” Mr. Larson says.

“Redirect, Mr. Drake?” he says.

“No, your honor,” Drake replies. Thank God! I’m ready to get out of here.

“Very well. It’s later than I thought, but we’re going to take an hour recess for lunch and resume testimony this afternoon. Court is in recess until 2:30pm.” He bangs his gavel and the jury is led out of one side of the courtroom while Vincent Sullivan is led out of the other side. Christian says something to Jason as I make my way over to our group. He holds the half-gate open for me and gently grasps both biceps the moment I pass through the gate.

“Are you okay?” he asks, examining my eyes intently. “What do you need?”

I can’t lie to him. I’m not okay. This whole thing is driving me nuts and I’m a nervous wreck… and it’s nowhere near over. So, I ignore the first question and answer the second one.

“A double-shot of vodka,” I reply. He envelops me in his arms and embraces me warmly.

“When we get back, I promise,” he says. I sink into his chest and just stand there for a while. I wish I could just stay like this and not have to deal with this crap, but…

“Jason is retrieving our lunch. It’s already downstairs. Come on, let’s go eat.” I nod and reluctantly pull myself away from my husband’s chest. He cups my cheek again and gazes into my eyes, raising his brows. I nod once and we proceed to the door.

“Mr. Grey?”

It’s Mr. Larson. He catches us just as we’re stepping away from the seats. He allows the people closest to us to file out of the room before he speaks.

“I want you to know that I was only doing my job when I contacted you about Mrs. Whitmore. I don’t regret that, and I’d do it again.”

My husband glares at him, but says nothing. He’s holding my hand firmly and I can tell that he wants to say something, but he doesn’t. This is the wrong place and time for you to bring that shit up.

“But… for how I behaved when we first met,” he continues, “sir, I am sincerely sorry. I truly hope you’ll accept my apology.”

My husband is clearly taken aback by his statement. I can tell that the anger is knocked right out of him and he’s a bit confused.

“Maybe one day, I’ll explain my reaction to you. Just know that I’m sorry, sir,” he says before he turns back to the prosecutor’s table to gather his things. I look up at my husband and he gazes back at me questioning. I don’t know how to take this either, so I just shrug.

“Mr. Larson,” he says. He has just finished stacking his materials and he turns around.

“I accept your apology,” he says, proffering his hand to Mr. Larson, who nods once and accepts the shake.

“Thank you,” he says, his voice low.

“Now, fry this guy,” Christian adds.

“Beyond recognition,” he confirms. “I’ll nail his ass to the wall.” Christian nods and releases his hand, then opens the gate for Mr. Larson to exit.

“Have a good lunch, Mr. Grey, Dr. Grey.” He steps out and leaves the courtroom.

*-*

We lunch on Capriotti’s subs, chips, and sodas, and although they are quite tasty, I’m hoping this isn’t what our lunch is going to look like every day. I can’t tolerate much more than this anyway on my nervous—and recently emptied—stomach. However, I ask Jason if he can find somewhere close that may deliver kabobs or chicken wraps or something else light, just in case I have another bout with practiced regurgitation. He vows to get on it.

I notice that Marilyn only sips on a Gatorade and a meal replacement shake for lunch. I also notice Christian’s reaction to her lack of real sustenance, but he doesn’t press the matter, probably because he’s too concerned about me. It doesn’t get past me that she didn’t eat anything at dinner yesterday either.

I feel like I’m headed to the gallows when we go back to the courtroom. The only good news about this whole thing is that I don’t have to testify anymore. We’re seated, Vincent Sullivan is seated, and the jury comes back in…

And Mr. Larson calls his next witness to the stand.

“The state calls George Sullivan to the stand.”

George Sullivan 02

The murmurs begin immediately. George Sullivan is led in through the same door that his brother Vincent came through moments ago. For the first time since he’s been in the courtroom, Vincent raises his head and a disbelieving gaze to his brother. George takes a seat on the witness stand and is sworn in. He’s wearing a dark blue suit just like his brother, and they’re sporting matching bracelets courtesy of the Department of Corrections.

I know that he’s about the same age as Jason, maybe only a couple of years older, but he looks older than my dad. He’s got the whole gray sideburn thing going on with the rugged thinning gray beard look. He would be attractive for an older gentleman… if it wasn’t for that whole obstructing-justice-evidence-tampering thing.

Vincent is just as horrified as I am surprised to see George on the stand. He’s going to testify against his own brother? After everything he’s done to protect him?

“State your name for the record, sir,” Mr. Larson says.

“George Randolph Sullivan.”

“And your current address?”

“Currently the Clark County Detention Center.”

“Mr. Sullivan, can you tell the court what your occupation was on March 10, 2001?” Mr. Larson asks.

“I was a police officer in the city of Henderson,” he says.

“And what’s your relation to this case, Mr. Sullivan?”

“I was the first officer on the scene of the attack,” he replies. Mr. Larson raises a brow.

“The first officer?” he asks. George Sullivan clears his throat.

“The only officer,” he clarifies. Mr. Larson nods.

 “Were you responding to a call of a disturbance?” he says.

“No, sir.”

“Was there an emergency or crime in progress that you were immediately aware of?” Mr. Larson presses.

“No, sir.”

“So, what brought you to this particular gathering?”

“I saw the fire from the street,” he says. “It’s illegal to open burn anywhere in Clark county.”

“That’s not what he told me,” Christian whispers to me.

“Did you expect him to tell you the truth?” I whisper back.

“So, what happened when you saw the fire? Did you investigate?” Mr. Larson continues his questioning.

“Yes, I did,” George Sullivan says.

“And then what?”

“As soon as I drove up to the fire, everybody ran away.” Mr. Larson retrieves another document from the evidence table.

“Your honor, the state is entering into evidence exhibit 104,” Mr. Larson says and hands the document to George Sullivan. “Mr. Sullivan, can you please tell the court what you’re holding?”

“It appears to be the police report from March 10, 2001,” he replies.

“Can you please read the highlighted section to the court,” Mr. Larson says. George Sullivan sighs.

“’There were several school age children surrounding the victim. When I arrived, they dropped her and ran away. Upon closer investigation, I discovered that she was unconscious and unresponsive.’”

“What did you do after that, Mr. Sullivan?”

“I called for paramedics,” he says.

“And then?”

“And then they came,” George Sullivan answers, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

“Let me rephrase my question. Was the victim naked?”

“Yes.”

“Did you try to cover her?”

“No.”

“Did you attempt to administer CPR?”

“No.”

“Did you do anything at all to assist Anastasia Steele in any way when you saw her lying nearly lifeless on the ground?” Mr. Larson presses. George Sullivan sighs heavily.

“No.”

“Did you check for a pulse…?”

“You asked me if I did anything to help her. I said, ‘No,’” George Sullivan snaps. Mr. Larson pauses.

“So, I just want to make sure that I have this correct, Mr. Sullivan,” Mr. Larson retorts firmly. “You saw her naked; you saw the burns; you saw the bleeding; you saw the bruises. You were still an officer of the law at the time, and you did nothing. Correct?”

Ouch! Double ouch!

“Correct,” George Sullivan nearly growls.

“How long did it take for the paramedics to arrive?”

“It’s Henderson. Three minutes, maybe?” he says.

“Are you asking me or telling me, Mr. Sullivan?” Mr. Larson says.

“About three minutes,” he replies.

“And how did you know where to tell them to come? Did you see an address? Did you know where you were?”

“The GPS in my squad car,” George Sullivan replies.

“So, you went back to your squad car to call the paramedics,” Mr. Larson presses.

“Yes.”

“Did you call for backup?”

“No.”

“Did you collect any evidence?” There’s a pause.

“I refuse to answer to avoid self-incrimination.”

And here we go. He satisfied his subpoena by showing up. He can corroborate what evidence they may have, but any of the circumstantial or uncorroborated evidence that can possibly be used against his brother, he can plead the fifth.

The judge has to call order to the courtroom, because several separate conversations have ensued.

“You’ve already said the perpetrators ran from the scene. Did they leave their cars behind? Did you gather any license plates?”

Of course, he did. He confessed that to me when he was trying to get me to call Christian off, but of course…

“I refuse to answer to avoid self-incrimination.”

“You show up at a bonfire where a girl is being brutalized beyond recognition. It’s your duty to protect and serve, sir. If you couldn’t do it, then you should have stepped down and let somebody else do it who could. You could look at that young girl and do nothing? You can even look at this now and feel no conviction for your actions, or lack thereof?” George looks over at his brother and his gaze softens before he says,

“I refuse to answer to avoid self-incrimination.”

Even now, he’s throwing himself on his sword for his brother. It would be admirable had I not been the girl at the receiving end of the brand.

“Thank God you didn’t work in my jurisdiction,” Mr. Larson seethes.

“Objection, your honor,” Drake says.

“Sustained. Counselor?” the judge warns.

“I have no further questions for this witness, your honor,” Mr. Larson says, his voice dripping with disgust. “It’s not like he’s going to answer them anyway.”

“Your witness, Mr. Drake,” the judge says.

“Mr. Sullivan, did you positively identify any of the teenagers who fled the scene that night?”

“I did not.”

“Did you personally examine any evidence that placed any perpetrators at the scene that night?” George Sullivan ponders the question.

“I did not.”

“Did any witnesses come forward to you with any information about the attack?”

“No.”

“When she was conscious, did Anastasia Steele give you any information about her attackers?”

“No.”

“Did you ask Anastasia Steele any time after the attack if she knew who her attackers were?”

“Yes.”

“Did she tell you?”

“No.”

“No further questions for this witness.”

The bailiff leads George Sullivan out of the courtroom, and he stares at his brother the entire time with sad eyes. I don’t know what to feel right now—anger, betrayal, sympathy… what the fuck, who cares?

The next witnesses to be sworn in were the paramedics. This is the first time I’ve heard this part of the story.

“I expected to find a full-on crime scene,” one of the paramedics explains, “or the area taped off or something, cops walking around checking things out… I only saw one guy. He walked right from his car and took us over to where she was. I thought she was dead. I wondered why he called us instead of the medical examiner. When I saw that she was still alive, we got to work.”

“What did you do?” Mr. Larson asks.

“We put a halo on her first, and then we had to get her onto the backboard. We couldn’t roll her over because her skin was hanging off her back. She was in really bad shape. I’ve seen people cut from cars with the jaws of life with less injuries than she had. Everywhere… just everywhere. She was bruised up and swollen all over. She smelled heavily of urine. Her hair was matted and sticking to her face and head. We had to put the IV in her foot.

“Like I said, we couldn’t roll her over to transport her. We put clean, wet gauze on her back before we covered her with a sheet and transferred her to the stretcher. It was pretty cold, and she was already at a risk of hypothermia. We had no idea how long she had been lying there, so we did try to cool the burns. The officer said he had only been there moments before he called us, but she was freezing.

“We had her face-down on the backboard, but we couldn’t put her face in the pillow, or she would suffocate. Rolling her on her side was too risky because she could roll over on her back. So, we had to fashion a head rest for her, like a massage table, so that she wouldn’t suffocate or get hurt further in transport. I called in a hot response priority 2 emergency—non-responsive female, approximately 16 years old, evidence of multiple blunt force trauma—and we got her to the ER.”

“Can you tell the court what ‘hot response’ is?” Mr. Larson asks.

“Lights and sirens,” he responds.

“What happened when you got her to the hospital?”

“Well, you know how those teams are. They want to roll you out and get you into trauma as quickly as possible, but we had to stop them and explain to them how we had her rigged in the ambulance…”

Drake didn’t have many questions for the paramedics. He asked them the same ridiculous questions that he asked George Sullivan—was anybody else at the scene when they got there; did they see anything; blah, blah, blah. Now it’s time for the doctor to testify. His story pretty much picks up where the paramedics left off…

“We couldn’t just yank her out of the ambulance, but we didn’t have any other way to transport her but to roll her onto her side. We could prop her body forward a little on pillows and stabilize her neck on the halo the same way. Then we just held her in place until we got her to the examination room.

“The paramedics told us that they took no pictures of her at the scene—that there was only one cop there and they thought he was waiting for backup, but he never touched the girl. For liability purposes and possible chain of command and evidence, we took pictures—before and after we cleaned her up.”

“You cleaned her up before you treated her?” Mr. Larson asks.

“We had to. We couldn’t see the scars or bruises except for those awful second-degree burns on her back. We couldn’t see who she was but cleaning her up didn’t help much. She didn’t have any fingerprints on file, no DNA. We had no way to identify her.” Mr. Larson goes to the evidence table and retrieves another document.

“Your honor, the state is entering into evidence exhibit 119,” Mr. Larson says and hands the document to the doctor. “Doctor, if you could, please tell us the extent of Ms. Steele’s injuries as indicated in this report.” The doctor clears his throat, pulls a pair of reading glasses from his pocket and put them on.

“The patient suffered from multiple contusions all over her body.” He reads a little more. “She had five broken ribs, a collapsed lung… two dislocated shoulders, a badly sprained ankle, several cuts and scrapes of unknown origins.” He flips the page.

“She suffered from two hematomas—acute subdural and epidural, the second of which caused the coma. Both hematomas were treated in the hospital. She had three second-degree burns on her back, and she was pregnant—approximately five weeks. The fetus ejected before she came out of the coma.”

Jesus, I had subdural and epidural hematomas? How did I never know this?

“How long was Ms. Steele in a coma?”

“Three weeks,” the doctor says.

“And what happened during those three weeks?”

“We were waiting for the police to come up with a missing person’s report, but nothing came up for days. One officer came almost every day, asking if she had regained consciousness. I thought it was pretty strange that he didn’t ask for any evidence.”

“Objection, your honor,” Drake says.

“Grounds?” the judge says.

“The doctor is testifying to the issue of whether the police collected evidence. He doesn’t know what they did or didn’t collect.”

“Your honor, the doctor is only stating that the police didn’t ask him for evidence,” Mr. Larson interjects. “The police would have had to consult with the attending physician or the parents before collecting evidence from an unconscious minor.”

“He’s right, Mr. Drake. Objection overruled. Continue, Mr. Larson.”

“Doctor, were you finished with your answer?”

“Well, only that we waited a week before we washed her hair in case they wanted evidence. After that, we had to wash it. It was putrid.”

“What happens next?” Larson asks.

“We wait,” the doctor says. “A couple of weeks later, this lady shows up and says she’s the girl’s mother. She gives us the name Anastasia Steele, shows us her birth certificate, and she’s Carla Morton. We asked why she hadn’t come forth sooner. She indicated that she thought the girl had run away. A few days after that, Anastasia wakes up. We had already released whatever findings we had to the police. That was pretty much the extent of our involvement except to make sure that she recovered—physically, that is.”

“Can you tell us what you mean by that?” Mr. Larson asks.

“You didn’t see this kid,” the doctor says. “I’m not a psychiatrist. I didn’t know what to say to her. Her mother had showed up and while I could suggest care, I couldn’t do anything without permission. This girl was messed up pretty bad. Had that been my daughter…” He trails off shaking his head.

“This kid was messed up pretty bad,” he repeats. “We could make sure that her body was healed. We couldn’t do anything else.”

The doctor finishes the story of my healing, indicating that I was discharged to Daddy and that was the last he had heard about it. Drake only asks if he’s certain about the length of my pregnancy, to which the doctor replies that in his professional opinion, I was five weeks pregnant.

I am exhausted, and I want to go to bed. Had he not called a recess until tomorrow, I would have walked out.

We gather outside of the courtroom and prepare for the building exit. Knowing the formation my family is going to take to keep me from being hounded by the press, I have to make an announcement before we get on the elevator.

“I want to thank every single one of you for making this trip. I couldn’t do this without each and every one of you.”

“You’re welcome, Annie.”
“Of course, Ana, we love you.”
“Sure thing, Bosslady.”
“Don’t mention it, Jewel.”

*-*

Home, sweet home… at least for the moment. I’m stepping out of my shoes as soon as we walk into the suite. I look back at my husband and he’s looking at his phone and frowning.

“Shit,” he hisses and sits down at the dining table, swiping his phone and putting it to his ear. “Lorenz… what happened?”

Lorenz? Did he say Lorenz?

“When did that happen?”

Jesus, they’re going to bother him while he’s here? Seriously? This is like one of the most stressful and most important moments of my life, and they can’t give him this time to be with me? I’m utterly surprised that these fuckers didn’t call him while I was in Labor and Delivery with my goddamn twins!

“Christian,” I say, intent on letting him know that I’m displeased with them contacting him unless the building is burning the fuck down. He’s listening intently on the line, his expression impassive, but he doesn’t acknowledge me calling his name.

What the fuck?

This is my time and, dammit, I want my time. I need to decompress from the shit that happened in court and I need his moral support more than ever. And now, I find that I have to share him with GEH during this time? These fuckers got my Christmas. They’re not getting this time.

“Christian!” I say more forcefully. He turns an intense glare to me that unnerves me a bit.

“This is my time, Christian,” I say firmly, my voice relaying a confidence that I had a minute ago but has faltered a bit with that glare.

“I just need a few minutes to get this straightened out,” he says, just as firmly.

“Why can’t they handle this on their own?” I say, trying not to whine. “We’re not on vacation…”

“I just need a few minutes,” he says again, his irritation rising. I can hear Ros through his phone, and she hasn’t stopped talking, so he must have muted the phone.

“God, I’m so tired of them not being able to make a decision without you!” I’m whining now. “This is my time and I need you!”

“Anastasia! I only need a few minutes!” he shouts, and I do mean he shouts.

He doesn’t wait for me to answer him. He turns his attention right back to the call, unmuting it so that he can interject with a question. If I respond to that, there’s going to be a fight. I know it, and I’m sure that he knows it, too.

I gaze at him in horror for about five seconds after he starts talking again. Then, I turn around and leave the room. I pick up my purse and shoes and march out of the suite, closing the door behind me.

I suddenly deflate once I leave the room. I suddenly feel… useless… no, meaningless. I probably shouldn’t, but I do. If there’s one time where I feel that I should take precedence over anything else, it’s now.

I can’t even lift my head. It’s like a boulder came out of nowhere and knocked all the wind and the fight right out of me. I watch the carpeted floor as I walk to the elevator. I mindlessly push the button and listen for the “ding” that’ll take me away from this floor. I don’t hear it, but the doors open, and I step inside, pressing the button labelled Sky Bar.

I put my shoes on while I’m in the elevator. I want to throw a temper tantrum. Part of me feels like I’m being unreasonable. The other part of me feels like my feelings never count. I’m supposed to understand, and the fact that I hurt or don’t like something doesn’t matter, whether it’s reasonable or not.

The elevator opens and I exit to a bar with floor to ceiling windows and an enviable view of the Las Vegas Strip, that is, if I didn’t totally resent being here. Fuck it, I need a drink.

I have to go to that courtroom every day and put on the strong façade, pretending that this stuff isn’t ripping me apart from the inside out. I have to listen to them portray me as a wanton slut at fifteen who was asking for it from Cody Whitshit and deserved to be tortured by a gang of ruthless, vicious teenagers. I have to relive the agonizing loneliness I felt and the bone-trembling fear that I was going to die that night; the feelings of wishing that I had died that night instead of having to stay here with the people who called themselves my parents.

All those horrible feelings are coming back to me. They’re rushing in on me—in the morning when I get up to get dressed to go to the courtroom; when I walk into the courtroom; when I have to sit and listen to this garbage—and today, I’m barely holding on by a thread.

As I sit here sipping my vodka rocks that Christian promised me when we took a break for lunch, determined not to get drunk since I must be in court again tomorrow for yet more abuse, I’m slowly—and finally—coming to grips with the fact that I and our family will always come second when it comes to GEH. Part of me feels that it shouldn’t be that way, that I and the twins should be first and foremost on his list of priorities. The other part of me feels as though things are just as they should be.

GEH was always his first real love. He built that company on nothing but a loan and an idea, and he’s become one of the most powerful men in the country—arguably, the world. Of course, he would want to nurture it and make sure that it remains well and profitable. Even I put everything in my life on hold to go down there and bang out some of the problems in the company.

As logical as that sounds, I still feel the churning in my stomach and the sinking and burning that comes along with ultimate rejection. I’m sensible; I know that’s not what’s going on, but I can’t ignore it… I’m undeniably jealous that she gets first billing.

I refuse to let the tears fall that burn my eyes right now, but the Bitch is inside bawling her eyes out and having a full-on temper tantrum.

“You look like you could use a friend.”

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A deep, smooth voice with a British accent breaches my thoughts, and I look over to see a very handsome black man sliding into the bar stool next to me.

What am I supposed to do? I could use a friend, but I really don’t want to engage some stranger. I can’t even think of a snappy comeback right now, but…

“Oh, the silent type, I see,” he says as he gestures to the bartender. “Can you make a bramble, mate?” he asks. The bartender nods and proceeds to mix gin with lemon and something else. I’m not really paying attention.

“It helps to talk,” he presses while the bartender mixes his cocktail. I sigh.

“I hope you don’t take this as me being rude, but I’m very married,” I say, looking at him only long enough to make my statement, then turning back to my drink.

“I gathered as much,” he says. “That rock you’re wearing can probably be seen from a space station.” The bartender brings his drink and sets it in front of him. “I’m not trying to bed ya, love. Like I said, sometimes, it helps to talk.” I push the short part of my hair behind my ear.

“That’s very kind of you, but I’m not in the practice of talking intimately to strangers.” He nods and takes a drink of his bramble.

“Well, talking to strangers is how you make friends,” he says. “Do you live here?” he asks, apparently still trying to break the ice.

“No,” I reply. “I’m here on business…” so to speak.

“What type of business?” he presses.

“That’s one of those intimate details that I’d rather not share,” I reply. Part of me wants to call Chuck for help. I shouldn’t have left the floor without him anyway. The other part of me is glad that he’s not here macho-ing up on this guy. I’m not really sure I could even tolerate it at the moment.

“I see,” he says, taking another healthy sip of his drink. “Well, I’m on vacation. I’ve always wanted to come to Vegas, to see what all the fuss was about. It’s pretty—lots of lights and things to grab your attention, but besides that, I’m afraid it’s not much.”

I could have told you that.

“My name’s Roland,” he says. What’s yours?”

“Anastasia,” I reply, not really sure I should have given him my name, but my innate good manners kicked in before my brain could tell my mouth to stop.

“It’s nice to meet you, Anastasia,” he says, lifting his drink in a salute. I just nod. I don’t have the strength to beat them off with a stick every time they approach me, especially not today. If I tell you that I’m married, that should be enough. Even though I know it’s not for some people, it’s enough for me.

I continue to sip my vodka rocks until it’s gone, then I ask the bartender for another. Roland is still chattering about something, but I’m only half paying attention—something about the shows on the strip and the cost of everything in Vegas, I’m not completely sure. I’ve already decided to leave the bar once I’ve finished my drink… I’m just not in any hurry to finish my drink.

At that moment, the bartender comes back to us with a second drink for Roland. Okay, I’m not drunk—he didn’t order a second drink.

“What is this?” Roland asks.

“Another bramble, sir,” the bartender replies.

“I… didn’t order this,” Roland protests. “I intended to, but I didn’t order it.”

“It’s compliments of the gentleman at the end of the bar.”

We both look to the end of the bar to see who ordered the drink for Roland.

“Very intense looking bloke,” Roland says. For some reason, his accent makes me think of Australia. We had our moments, but the trip was fun overall. I wish I was there now instead of here.

“I think he’s trying to get me to leave,” Roland says, his voice smooth. I raise my eyes to the “bloke” at the end of the bar and calmly turn back to my drink, taking a small sip.

“I think he is, too,” I say, pushing the short part of my hair behind my ear before turning to look at the handsome black man. “That’s my husband.”

Roland raises a brow at me, then looks at Christian. He raises his fresh drink to Christian again and nods before turning his attention back to me.

“It was nice talking to you, Anastasia,” he says, his voice still honey smooth. “I hope that whatever situation has you feeling and looking so defeated is rectified soon.” I purse my lips and fight back the tears that threaten to fall.

“Thank you,” I say, just above a whisper without raising my gaze from the glass. He stands up and walks away. I take a moment to compose myself, quickly wiping away the tear that falls just as Roland leaves the bar. I feel and hear him take the seat next to me.

“What’s his name?” he asks, with no malice. I look over at him briefly and he’s looking at me with kind eyes.

“Roland,” I say, taking another swallow of my drink before staring back into the glass.

“He’s attractive,” he observes. I don’t answer. “What does he do?”

“I don’t know,” I reply, without looking up from my glass. “I’m sure you’ll find out though.”

“Okay,” he says. “I guess I deserved that. You can’t be angry with me for wanting to protect what’s mine,” he adds. I look over at him.

“No, I guess I can’t, can I?” I say before turning my gaze back to my drink.

“You two talked for a little while. He doesn’t know who you are?” he asks.

“He did the talking,” I say, still staring down into my drink. “If he knows who I am, he didn’t let on.” He sighs.

“I protect what’s mine, Butterfly. GEH is mine, too,” he defends softly.

“I am very aware of that,” I reply, still coming to grips with the fact that no matter what happens, GEH will always be first. I’ve been jockeying with GEH for position for quite some time now. It’s high time for me to realize that’s a battle I’m not going to win. I’m not angry about it, just a little disappointed. Had I accepted it sooner, I might not have felt so forlorn at Christmas. It’s my own fault. How could I expect him to change just because he married me?

“You know you’re important to me, don’t you?” he asks. I nod. I know.

“You know that you and the twins are the most important things in my life, don’t you?”

What do I say? Do I lie to him? Of course, I know we’re the most important things to you, more important than your precious company that you’ve poured years of hard work, sleepless nights, and blood, sweat, and tears into to get it to where it is today…

“You don’t know?” he says after I’ve taken too long to answer. I shake my head as if to shake off a bad daydream. He turns his stool to me and leans his arm on the bar.

“I would give it all up for you. Don’t you know that?” he asks with earnest.

“I would never ask you to do that,” I emphasize, evading the question.

“But you know that I would,” he reiterates, waiting for me to acknowledge his confession. Maybe it’s the stress of the case, or maybe it’s the alcohol, but I can’t hold the tears back anymore.

“Sometimes, I don’t,” I say, my voice soft with tears falling down my cheeks. “The business that you’ve built provides us with an incredible life. It provides me and the twins with everything we could possibly hope for, possibly ever need… but I still feel like I come second to GEH. Isn’t that the most selfish thing you’ve ever heard?”

I bury my face in my hands and cry silently. I don’t want to draw attention to myself. If he doesn’t do what he does, how can we live the life that we live?

“How can this be?” he says earnestly, but quietly as he puts his arm around the back of my seat. “How can you possibly not know that everything I do, I do for you and the twins?”

“That’s not true,” I say, turning my tear-streaked gaze to him. “The twins and I benefit greatly from what you do, but you would do it whether the twins and I were here or not. I’m not asking you not to do it; I’m not asking you to change at this point. I know it would be impossible. I’m just trying to find a way to deal with this discovery…”

“What discovery?” he interrupts.

“That GEH always comes first!” I say firmly. “You say that we come first, and you may even think that, but it’s not true. I’ve always known that; it just didn’t affect me like it does right now. The only reason that I’m feeling extra sensitive at this moment is because I need you. I selfishly want all of your attention while I’m trudging waist-deep through bullshit, and I’m not going to get it. If anything of any importance happens at GEH, she’s going to get it first and I just have to stand in line!”

My voice is getting louder and I don’t want to make a scene. I stand from my seat and scurry out of the bar. I see Chuck standing to the right of the entrance as I brush past.

Of course, he is. I wonder how long he’s been standing there. Probably as long as I’ve been in the bar.

I’m not running away from the conversation. I just don’t want to have it in the bar.

I uselessly try to wipe the falling tears from my face in the most unladylike fashion and begin to search my purse for a tissue or something when I see a handkerchief in my peripheral. I take the hanky from my husband and attempt to dry my face. It’s completely illogical for me to feel this way. I know where I stand, and most days, I can deal with it, but today, I’m insanely jealous.

“I can’t believe that you don’t know you’re the most important thing in my life,” he says, his voice low. I don’t raise my gaze to him, and I don’t respond. Like I said, I know where I stand.

When the elevator arrives, I see an extra set of feet enter with us and I know that it’s Chuck. He wasn’t with me when I came down the elevator, so they most likely tracked my phone. We ride in silence until we get to our floor, and Chuck wordlessly leaves the elevator headed to the security suite. Christian moves in front of me, unlocks the door with the card key, and holds it open for me. I walk in and drop my purse on the nearest surface before taking a deep, cleansing breath and shakily releasing it.

“I call Downtime,” he says, his voice even. I turn to face him, glaring at him in disbelief.

“You’re calling Downtime now?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says. “We need the rules of Downtime, right now.”

I almost want to decline, but I know that would be a huge setback in so many ways. He removes his jacket and tie and tosses it onto the sofa. Then he comes over to me and unbuttons my shirt and pushes it off my shoulders. He reaches around me and unzips my skirt and lets it fall to the floor. He takes my hand and helps me to step out of the skirt, still crumpled on the floor, and leads me to one of the large chairs. He sits down first, then gestures for me to sit on his lap.

I roll my eyes inwardly, but I’m too tired to resist at this point. Still dressed in my underwear, shoes, and stockings, I take a seat on his lap. He removes my shoes and then adjusts me so that I’m somewhat cradled in his arms. It takes no time at all, and I’m in a submissive state of mind. My body relaxes and my mind rests and releases the tension of being second in line and of being in this place.

He strokes my arm with one hand and the outside of my thigh with the other, and we just sit here for several minutes in total silence. The sun has already set, and I have no idea what time it is. I’m just sitting here in the lap of my Dominus enjoying the moment, however long it lasts.

“Tell me why you feel that you’re not the most important thing in my life, Pussycat,” he says softly, and the words flow easily.

“Because I’m not, Sir,” I reply effortlessly. “Your company is more important. It always has been, and it always will be. Even when you left me and went to Madrid, you took your company with you. When I left and went to Montana, you came home and threw yourself into your company.

“No matter where we go, no matter what vacation we take, there has to be somewhere that you can set up and work. You may spend one day and maybe a night on your boat, but there’s an office on your boat. She tags along with us wherever we go. It’s so second nature to you that you may not even see it, but I do. I see it loud and clear; I know it’s true, and you just have to let me accept it.”

I hate that I have to be more self-sufficient, especially right now. I want to be the center of attention; I want everyone around me to have the sole purpose of making me forget why the fuck I’m here, but the truth is that the world doesn’t rise and set on me even when I feel like shit and I want it to be that way. And in this case, GEH will always be in the shadows, or maybe I’m in the shadows of GEH. Either way, she’s a bedfellow; it’s a reality and I just have to deal with it.

“I hate that you call it she,” he admits.

“Don’t you?” I ask, and I don’t need an answer. I already know.

“It’s like I’m cheating on you and that’s not what’s going on.”

No, it’s not. She’s the wife. I’m the mistress. She was here first and she got your name before I did. It’s a fact of life, and I’m not trying to change it anymore.

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” he beseeches gently.

“You’re not cheating on me,” I reply truthfully, “but I know my place. It’s just that at this moment, I don’t like it.”

“This is going to become a real point of contention for us,” he laments. “Yes, my company needs me, but I need you…”

“And I need you,” I reply, “I just have to learn how to share.”

He sighs. He doesn’t understand that I’ve accepted my fate even if I don’t entirely like it. I can live with it… sometimes. Other times, I just have to tolerate it. As much as he loves his company and he devotes time to it, he can’t admit the fact that it has first pecking order over me. I don’t want to say me and the twins, because I would hate to think anything has pecking order over his children. So, I choose to be willfully blind to that little detail.

“I’m going to prove to you that’s not true,” he says. “I’m not going to be that guy where you think my company is my life and you’re not.”

I know that he’ll try not to be that guy, but when his baby bellows, he’s going to come running, as well he should.

“You don’t have to prove anything to me,” I say, growing weary of the conversation. “May I get a glass of wine, please, Sir?” I ask.

“No,” he replies. “You had two vodka rocks already. You’ll have a hangover.”

He’s right, but I’ll need something if we’re going to continue this conversation and since he’s said that I can’t have a drink, I’m not going to continue this conversation.

I fall silent and allow him to talk about how he’s going to reprioritize his life. I hope that doesn’t mean that he’ll neglect GEH in an attempt to prove a point to me. It’s like I said, I’ve accepted my fate and I know my place, and more often than not, I can deal with it. It’s during those times that I need him that I have a hard time swallowing that pill.

“There was an unexpected situation that would seriously take too long to explain…”

There’s always and unexpected situation that would seriously take too long to explain. It’s the nature of the beast.

“It was time-sensitive, but I had to take the time to listen to what was going on. It was so urgent that neither of them bothered to email me. They couldn’t call, because they knew that I was most likely in court. So, they texted me… both of them! The decision had to be made quickly.

“There were two options—both options were extremely costly, but each option had its own set of circumstances and consequences. Ros and Lorenz were divided on which option was the best, and honestly, for good reason. No matter which option we took, there were huge opportunity costs involved, some of them involving tangling with foreign governments. I’m not trying to keep you out of the loop, but again, this is way too detailed to have to explain again…”

He didn’t have to explain that part. If there was a situation that had three members of the executive team with their level of experience at odds on how to solve it, that information was way over my head anyway.

“I had to be the deciding factor. There was no other way, and even I had a hard time deciding which course of action would be best. Even the time that I took to get back to them was critical.”

“Did you make a decision?” I ask.

“Yes, and even now, I’m not sure that I made the right one,” he admits, “but we had to do something. We couldn’t wait any longer. Under any other circumstances…” He trails off. “It was a difficult decision for me,” he admits. “I know it was impossible for them.”

I sit on his lap for a few more moments, reviewing yet another reason in my mind to put on my big girl pants.

“I’d like to take a bath now, Sir,” I request. I need to soak or something.

“You don’t want to sit with me anymore?” he asks. I don’t want to continue this conversation. I get it. I really do.

“I want to boil off this day,” I say, imagining that huge bath full of lemon grass or vanilla, maybe a candle or two…

“Okay,” he says, patting me on the thigh. I stand from his lap and head to the en suite and the huge sunken tub.


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

Pictures from the trip to Las Vegas can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-las-vegas/

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

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

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~~love and handcuffs

Grey Continued: Season 5, Episode 6

No email this time. Still training for my promotion. I’ll post as often as I can.

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

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

Season 5 Episode 6

ANASTASIA

It’s my babies’ first birthday!

I’m walking on sunshine making mental plans for their first birthday party tomorrow. I’ve counted the guests and I’m going through my phases of Better Homes and Gardens again, only this time, it’s the birthday edition—if there is such a thing—and I’m not depressed or running from dread. I’m so filled with glee that I could just burst. There’s no GEH or Helping Hands today as I have to be sure that everything is just right for Minnie and Mikey’s birthday.

My guest list is all set—small but large for a birthday for a couple of one-year-olds, but who cares? Nothing could ruin my mood today, but surprisingly, something pretty damn morbid made it a whole lot better. The television is playing in the family room and I’m listening to the local news channel. I’m sitting at the breakfast bar working on the menu for tomorrow’s party when something on the news catches my attention.

“Within the last hour, we’ve learned that Washington State Penitentiary inmate and former Seattle socialite Elena Lincoln has suffered a massive stroke…”

I rubberneck to the television and feel my body floating into the family room. I don’t even remember getting out of my seat. I watch as a picture of an extremely much older-looking Elena Lincoln flashes across the screen. She didn’t look like that when she went in. I know she didn’t. Her natural hair had grown out, and it was brown. This woman, though she looks much older, has blonde hair… and she’s smiling… and she’s outside! And she looks like she’s wearing makeup! Where did this picture come from?

I’m pondering what the fuck is really going on in that goddamn prison when this bitch is supposed to be in maximum security and she’s able to get her hands on hair dye and makeup… and she’s fucking outside! I can’t see the surroundings behind her or if she’s wearing prison garb, so she could be in the exercise yard for all I know, but hair dye? And makeup? Tupac couldn’t even get a decent haircut when he was in jail!

I’ve missed the entire newscast lost in my wondering, and I scramble for the remote to rewind live TV. I’d die of suspense waiting for the story to come back on.

“Ana, what is it? You look like you’ve seen a ghost!”

I hear Gail’s voice, but I’m too focused on getting back to the story that I don’t even respond to her. I get back to the point where I see She-Thing’s picture on the screen and stop the rewind just before the story begins. I listen to the last bits of a story about the homeless people under the viaduct before the story begins to play again.

“Within the last hour, we’ve learned that Washington State Penitentiary inmate and former Seattle socialite Elena Lincoln has suffered a massive stroke. Lincoln was administered a routine flu shot when shortly thereafter, she began to show symptoms of a stroke. Prison officials indicate that Lincoln complained that she was dizzy, so she was instructed to lie down. Her symptoms became increasingly worse until she became unresponsive…”

“Is she dead?” I ask aloud. The words shocked me coming out of my mouth, but I don’t regret it. I want to know if the Pedo-Bitch is dead!

“Lincoln appears to have been in a coma since Wednesday, but has regained consciousness a short while ago…”

The Bitch is stomping her feet like Rumpelstiltskin while I attempt to appear unaffected.

“Although she is awake, Lincoln appears to have suffered extreme paralysis as a symptom of the stroke. At this time, she is unable to walk, move, or speak. There is currently no information on if the condition is permanent.”

Well, that’s something. The Bitch settles a bit.

“Questions arose as to whether Lincoln could have had an adverse reaction to the flu shot. Toxicology reports tested for the flu vaccine and revealed that she was given the same strain of the virus given to all the inmates and staff of the prison. Reports indicate that there was no way the flu shot could’ve caused a stroke.

“Lincoln will be moved to a minimum-security prison where a special team will oversee her care in hopes of a recovery.”

“She had a stroke from a flu shot?” I ask aloud.

“That’s impossible,” Grace says, and I forget that she was in the room. I look over at her.

“Not that I really care what happens to the bitch,” I tell her. “To be honest, it would have been good news had they said she was dead, but a stroke from a flu shot? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“Well, they clearly said it couldn’t have been caused by the flu shot,” she replies. “It has to be coincidence. Maybe she got some really bad news, or she had high blood pressure or something. There has to be an explanation.” She shrugs.

There is.

It suddenly dawns on me—my husband’s words a few days ago when I asked how things went with Greta Ellison.

“Nobody’s dead… except the book, and it won’t be back.”

Nobody’s dead except the book, and it won’t be back. That is so ominous, but I guess he’s right. The book, indeed, will not be back.

“Damn,” I say, gazing at the television, the news moving on to another story. “Karma’s a real bitch.”

“You look relieved,” Gail says, her brow raised when I turn to look at her.

“I am,” I reply. “There’s no use in lying. That woman is pure evil, and I’m surprised that it hasn’t consumed her from the inside out well before now.” Gail twists her lips.

“You’ll get no argument from me,” she says matter-of-factly, “the bitch shot my husband.”

Once I get over the initial shock of Elena’s fate, I walk around for the rest of the day on a damn cloud. I consider whatever happened to that bitch a necessary evil. She’s one miserable person who was hell-bent on destroying the lives of potentially dozens of families. I wholeheartedly believe that the world would be a better place without her, and I don’t regret those feelings. I only regret that the stroke didn’t finish her off.

Second only to my two darling bundles of joy, it’s the best present I’ve gotten in a year.

My husband didn’t seem surprised.

“Did you hear about She-Thing?” I ask when he gets home.

“I sure did,” he says, coming into the family room as I’m decorating for the birthday party. “I wish the bitch had died.”

“I said the same thing,” I reply. “Maybe we should ease up on that before we bring some bad Karma onto ourselves. “

“No problem. I don’t want to talk about her anyway. So, a month ago, Santa Claus shit all over the house. Now, we’ve got Minnie and Mickey Mouse droppings.” I glare at him.

“First of all, you better be glad my children aren’t down here to hear you cursing or I’d find some way to make you pay for it, and I don’t mean a swear jar. Second, I’m having a great time, so don’t you come raining on my parade, Christian Grey!” I’m pointing at him with a Minnie Mouse wand made of a black glitter Minnie head with a pink glitter bow on it attached to a wooden dowel.

“Careful where you shake that thing!” he warns. “I don’t want fairy dust all over me!”

“Fuck you, Dr. Killjoy,” I declare.

“Oooh! Who needs the swear jar now?” he teases, capturing me in his arms and tickling me, his fingers madly manipulating my ribs.

“Christian, stop!” I giggle helplessly.

“What? What was that? I don’t think I heard you…”

“Stop or I’ll pee myself!” I warn. He stops tickling me and pulls me into his arms.

“Well, we don’t want that,” he says, kissing me softly.

“You seem in a better mood today,” I observe, closing my eyes as he peppers gentle kisses on my lips, my neck, and my jaw.

“It was a better day,” he says between kisses. “Somebody came in there and put the fear of God into my staff and they’ve been getting their shit together.”

“Mmm… have they now?” I say, still absorbing his tender kisses.

“Mmm-hmm,” he says, gently tasting my skin.

“Sheesh, get a room,” Jason says, coming from the mudroom and through the family room.

“We don’t need a room. We have a house,” Christian retorts, “and you’re in it.”

“Along with a very impressionable teenager,” he remarks. Oops, he’s right. Sophie should be around any minute to help me with the hors d’oeuvres and sandwich fixings for tomorrow.

“Look who’s talking,” I say as Christian releases his embrace. “You come in kissing Gail every day.” He pauses as he reaches his wife to do just that.

“I kiss her,” he concurs, “I don’t maul her in the middle of the family room. We’re not making out amongst the Disney paraphernalia. Hello, Love,” he says, turning to his wife and kissing her sweetly.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Christian says, forcefully pulling me back into his arms. “I’ll maul my wife whenever and wherever I damn well please… but I will be mindful of the teenager.” He looks at me again and pops a fast, hard kiss on my lips eliciting a giggle from me.

“So, what’s going on at the Ivory Palace?” I ask my husband. “Finney and Ros finally get their asses in gear?”

“Among other things,” he says. “Everybody’s waiting for the Queen of Hearts to come breezing into the office… ‘Off with their heads!’” he jests, still holding me close to him while ceasing his kissing. “It’s one thing to have one hardnosed boss, but two… and then whatever gets pass me or—heaven forbid—you, is now being picked up by the executive team who are also afraid of having their craniums severed.” He raises a brow.

“Aha! Now we’re getting somewhere!” I declare. “That’s all we needed in the first place. Why the fuck did I have to come down there and put some fire under these assholes? And what’s with the Queen of Hearts analogy? That woman was insane. I’m not that bad.”

Queen of Hearts

“Well, get used to it because that’s what the ‘peasants’ are calling you,” he says. “And the Queen of Hearts may have been insane, but she was powerful. Insane or not, if she said a head came off, a head came off, and you proved that by sending Mosele home for a short ‘vacation’ to ponder his position. And let’s not forget the fact that you came breezing in there that Monday morning in this fierce red dress daring someone to test you. And those who did were made quick examples—not down the line, but in that same meeting. I think these people know who their dealing with.”

“Must we refer to them as peasants?” I ask. It sounds so unpleasant and elitist.

“If they can call you ‘Queen of Hearts,’ I can call them ‘peasants.’ And trust me, they have a plethora of unsightly names for me, so I’m being kind.”

Jesus, I would prefer not to have the company have the us/them mentality, but unfortunately, it looks like it may be what we need to get things done.

“Speaking of the executive team, how’s Ros doing with her dilemma?” I ask.

“I have no idea,” he tells me. “I don’t want to be in her personal life that way. While I truly do sympathize with her familial woes, I’m sure that I would prefer not to be in her proverbial bedroom that way. I can’t empathize with her at all because she made a vow to one woman when her heart was with someone else. I can’t speak to what she should have done or what she should do now. I can only say that it’s not my arena.”

I try not to frown. Ros is his second in command, so he very well should be concerned about her familial woes. However, I guess as the psychiatrist between us, I’m going to have to keep an eye on the situation myself. However, his reaction—though very calm and PC—is not getting past me.

“What?” he asks, obviously noting my contemplation.

“You have some very distinct opinions about this,” I say. He raises a brow. “I live with you. I’m married to you. I fuck you. I can read between the lines,” I say, answering his unasked question. He adjusts his posture, about to make a point.

“I can clearly say that’s something that I would never do,” he says. “When I asked you to marry me, that’s where I wanted to be. I had the choice to stay in my lifestyle and be with whomever I chose whenever I chose—that’s not what I wanted. I wanted you. I want you. So, the concept of wanting someone else after I said that I wanted you is something I can’t fathom. But you…”

He pauses. What the fuck? What about me?

“I’m with you. I love you. I know you well enough to know that this is where you want to be. That whole Westwood bullshit was a blip in the radar for a few different reasons, but I know this is where you want to be. The thought that you would marry me while you still had unclear feelings for someone else only to have those feelings resurface years after we said our vows—I would be murderous. I wouldn’t even know how to handle that.

“So, right now, while I am concerned about Ros, I have to compartmentalize this whole thing. What she did was selfish and cruel, and now she’s trying to find the easiest way out of the situation she created. She totally created this monsoon, and now she’s trying to get out of it without getting wet. And where the fuck does that leave Gwen?”

He’s beginning to get angry, but I can see him visibly trying to shake off his anger with Ros.

“I see,” I say, calmly. “So, your empathy strikes again, but this time, it’s striking with Gwen. How does that feel?”

He raises his gaze to me and I’m looking at him with soft but inquisitive eyes, nothing confrontational. He couldn’t empathize with Ros because he would never do that. The only thing that he could do is put himself in Gwen’s shoes, and it’s infuriating him.

“Pretty pissed off,” he says, his voice calmer, “which is why I can’t talk to her about it. When her personal shit interfered with her job, I got involved. Where it doesn’t interfere with her job, I’m out of it.” He shakes his head. I nod and put my hand on his cheek.

“I think that’s best,” I tell him. “I’ll handle it. Like you said, as long as she does her job, right?” He closes his eyes and nods, leaning into my hand.

“Thank you for not getting mad,” he says. I scoff a laugh.

“You almost had me for a minute there, Grey, but luckily, I learned to listen,” I say with a wink and a smile. We hear the clearing of someone’s throat, and we turn to see Marilyn standing there.

“Um, I hope I’m not disturbing you,” she says. Christian laughs. I turn to him.

“What?” I ask.

“She just did a ‘Jason,’” he says with mirth. My brow furrows.

“A ‘Jason?’” I ask. Christian cocks his head at me.

“If we’re in the midst of a conversation—or anything else—when Jason walks into the room, what does he do to get my attention?” I roll my eyes.

“You mean besides tell us to get a room?” I say, turning to Marilyn. “You’re not interrupting, Mare, what’s up?”

“I got a call from Alex. He said he tried to call you twice but no luck.” I begin looking around for my phone. Where is my phone?

“Hell, I don’t know where my phone is. Is everything okay?”

“Yeah. He said that you were looking for a final background check on Jade Goldwin. He emailed it to you,” she says. Oh, yeah, her.

“Thanks, Mare. Did he say that there was anything to be concerned about?”

“Not to me,” she says with a shrug. “I would think if there was cause for concern, he’d ask me to get you to the phone, so I would say not.” I nod.

“I agree, but I’ll look at it anyway,” I say. She nods and smiles before heading back off towards the elevator.

“Jesus, has she lost more weight?” I was hoping he wouldn’t notice that, but she has. My silence is enough for him. “Butterfly, this is not good. She’s really going to hurt herself if she doesn’t stop this!”

“I know, I know,” I lament. “I’m the doctor, remember?” He gazes at me for a moment.

“Her parents aren’t here,” he says, firmly. “She doesn’t have a significant other anymore. I hate to do this, but it’s you, baby. It’s all you.” I roll my eyes.

“I know, Christian, I’m just trying not to ambush the girl right now…”

“You may not have a choice. She’s slowly killing herself!”

“She just got back…” I excuse.

“Nearly three weeks ago!” he counters. I deflate. He’s right. She needs to eat.

“I’ll talk to her,” I say.

“You may need to do more than that,” he cautions.

“Like what?” I recounter.

“I don’t know, but you may need to do more than that! This is serious! She’s really hurting herself right now.”

“Okay, okay, I get it,” I say, hoping to halt the conversation. Jesus, I’m not the one starving myself for crying out loud. I just have to figure out what to do.

“So…” he says, stalling, “what’s with this Jade Goldwin?” Holy cow, that’s the way to change gears.

“She’s coming to the party,” I tell him. “She’s in Maxie and Mindy’s Mommy and Me class, and she has a son the same age as Mindy. I just wanted to vet her before she came to my house and head her off if necessary.”

“Oh? How did you meet her?” he asks. Now he’s interested. Good grief.

“Maxie and I were shopping, and we bumped into her at the Marketplace.” He nods. I know he wants more information. I roll my eyes for the umpteenth time. Where the hell is my phone?

“Keep doing that and they might get stuck that way,” he says, swiping his phone and touching the screen. I’m about to roll my eyes at him again when I hear the muffled sound of our song playing. I look around and back at him, and he’s holding his phone up, showing me that he’s calling me. Where the fuck is my phone?

It goes to voicemail and he calls it again… and again. It took four times for me to find the damn thing between the sofa cushions. How the hell did it get there?

I swipe the screen and the battery is nearly dead. It’s a good thing I found it, or I may have never found it.

“Don’t you have a case or a clip or something for that?” he asks.

“No, Mr. Grey, I keep it in my purse, and I didn’t go anywhere today!” I snap.

“Touchy,” he teases.

“Annoying,” I counter in the same sing-songy voice. I open my email and click on the pdf attached.

“Yeah, she’s Jane Q. Housewife,” I say, scrolling through the document. “Twenty-nine, married, four boys just like Maxie said.”

“And her husband?” Christian asks.

“Sells insurance for a local company,” I tell him. “Small beans.” He nods.

“Who’s coming?” he asks.

“Just Jade and her youngest,” I say, closing my phone. “Maxie vouches for her, so she can’t be all bad.”

“Who all is coming?” he asks.

“All the grandparents, the godparents—Mia bowed out this time, the Scooby Gang… except for Gary, Luma and Herman and the girls, Marlow’s bringing Maggie and probably a date…” Sophie will love that, “… and our newest guest Jade and her little boy, English.”

“English?” Christian says in horror.

“I didn’t name the kid,” I say, with a shrug.

“Dear Lord,” Christian says. “That poor kid is going to be teased incessantly.”

“You don’t know that, Christian,” I scold.

“Baby, I’ve traveled the world and I’ve never met anybody anywhere named English,” he points out.

“Okay, so he has a unique name,” I argue, “It’s not wild or crazy, like Fallopion or something. It’s just different.”

“You’re so sweet,” he says, stroking my cheek. “He’s going to get teased. Whoever came up with that name, that’s grounds for divorce.” I gape at him.

“You’re kidding, right?” I ask in horror. He raises a brow.

“Am I?” he asks, impassively.

“You’re saying that when we have another kid, if for some reason you’re indisposed and I come up with a name that you don’t like, you’ll divorce me?” My voice rises to a squeak on the last two words and I think hearing it come out of my mouth makes him realize just how ridiculous he sounds.

“Well, no, but you wouldn’t name our child something ridiculous like English!” he quips.

“And what if I did?” I say, putting my hands on my hips.

“Then there would definitely be some papers filed somewhere,” he says, “maybe not for divorce, but we would be changing that kid’s name. And anyway, it’s a moot point because we sat down and picked our children’s names together, months before they were born. So, why are we arguing about a kid who isn’t even ours?”

I twist my lips and fold my arms. The argument does seem a tad ridiculous.

“You were the one who started talking about divorce,” I pout.

“Yeah, and you were the one to actually take it literally,” he retorts. “Divorce you? Over a name, even? Seriously?” Asshole.

“Be useful and grab that garland,” I pout.

“Hey, wait, I’m not getting roped into decorating,” he protests.

“Oh, yes, you are!” I whirl around on him. “You came in here pissing on my happy place then we’re talking about everything from Elena to Queen of Hearts to Ros to Westwood to Marilyn to some random kid named English to divorce and dammit I want my happy place back!” I say the entire sentence without breathing and he just gazes at me.

“I got your happy place right here,” he remarks, matter-of-factly and I roll my eyes for the 101st time today.

“Grab the damn garland, Christian.”

*-*

It’s Saturday, the day that we meet with Artemis and Savvina, but that’s not until much later. Right now, Minnie and Mickey Mouse decorations are exploding all over my dining room and family room much like yuletide exploded all over my house for Christmas. I’m definitely in the mood to celebrate.

There are two giant Number One balloons to greet you at the door. One has a Mickey Mouse head and the other, a Minnie Mouse head. There’s also a Minnie and Mickey sign that reads, “Welcome to the birthday clubhouse.” Once they don their Minnie or Mickey Mouse party hats, the kids get to munch on “Daisy’s garden vegetables,” “Goofy grapes,” or various melons cut in the shape of Mickey’s head and garnished with blueberries and pineapple. There’s always a way to get kids to eat healthy if you make it fun.

They also get to build ham and turkey sandwiches out of bread, turkey, ham, and cheese all cut in the shape of Mickey’s head with choices of lettuce, tomato, pickles, and condiments as well—or they can choose to have Mickey shaped chicken nuggets or a hot dog from the “Hot Diggity Dog” bar. There are games and bubbles and prizes to keep them occupied, but let’s face it—who’s not going to have fun in Mickey Mouse land?

I was smart enough to know that “Hot Diggity” dogs and chicken nuggets wouldn’t cut it for the parents. So, we have the option of what I call “Chicken Bacon Crack Pinwheels,” Rueben pinwheels, quinoa salad, and seven-layer dip, along with the aforementioned fruits and vegetables. The drinks were either “Pirate Punch” or “Sea Water” from the Pirate Mickey drink bar, and various Mickey and Minnie Mouse cupcakes are spread around the house, along with the Mickey/Minnie birthday cake on the kitchen counter.

Sophie has help me with most of the same-day preparation, like she always does. She wants to be a chef or a caterer, and she loves preparing the food and decorating the house. She’s so grown up for her age that I’m a little afraid that she might be missing her childhood. With a mother like Shalane, though, she’s probably already missed it. She’s seen too much for her age, and once you see certain things, you just can’t unsee them.

Sophie shed her purple tresses shortly after her last altercation with Marlow’s most recent date on Christmas, and after a visit to Miana’s, Jason is glad to see her enter with shiny, beautiful, billowing blonde waves. She actually looks a little older, but it’s most likely because that purple hair made her look so much younger to me.

She gleefully helps me finish setting up for the twins’ party which, as we all know, is really a celebration for the parents, but I don’t care. My little brother will be here. Max is bringing Mindy and I even told her that she was clear to bring Jade to the party since they’re such good friends. I should definitely get to know her if they’re that close.

Celida and Mariah will be here. At the tender age of 6 and 8, they love parties for whatever reason. Maggie’s coming, too. I don’t know if Marlow will be bringing a date this time, but I almost wish that he wouldn’t. It usually ends miserably for him and for Sophie. Until she gets over this crush that she has on him, she’s not going to behave. She’s a woman scorned at 13, and most women scorned don’t even know how to behave as adults!

Mia has decided to sit this one out, but the grandparents and godparents will be here, and of course, our resident waif, Marilyn. I hope I can get her to eat some cake or something before Christian declares martial fucking law!

The guests are now arriving and surprisingly, Maxie, Phil, and Jade arrive before Al.

“Forgive me,” Jade begins, “if I seem a little out of place today. I can’t believe I’m here—this place is absolutely astonishing. And the decorations—dear God! Did you do this all yourself or did you have help?”

“Well, both, actually. I did it myself, but I had a little help, too. My biggest helper was this young lady right here…” I snag Sophie as she’s walking by. “This is my resident party helper, Sophia. Sophie, this is Jade, and you know Maxie and Phil.”

Sophie smiles and waves shyly.

“Hi,” she says sweetly.

“Hi, Sophia,” Jade says, “or do you prefer Sophie?”

“Sophie’s fine,” she says. Jade smiles.

“This is my son, English,” she says. English is older than the twins, but he manages a smile and a wave from his mother’s arms.

“English,” Sophie says, as if testing the word, “I’ve never heard of that as a name before.”

“He’s named after his paternal grandfather,” she says. “My husband insisted.”

“Oh,” I say, “so it’s a family name.” She nods.

“I would have chosen something normal, like Chad, or Blake, or Worcestershire,” she says, rolling her eyes, and I know the last one was a joke, but with a name like English, you can’t be too sure.

“It’s unusual,” I say, “but it’s nice.”

“Thank you,” she says. “It does sound distinguished at the very least.” I see my husband and decide to poke a little fun at him.

“Christian, come, meet our guest,” I say loudly so that he can’t ignore me or try to get away. He raises his brow at me because he knows what I’m doing, but I don’t care.

“This was my other helper,” I say to Jade when he comes over to us. “He hung a piece of garland or three.”

“A piece of…” My husband trails off in mock horror and I pretend to ignore him.

“Christian, this is Jade and her son, English,” I say, introducing them.

“It’s very nice to meet you,” he says with a nod of his head.

“Likewise. Thank you for having me,” Jade replies cordially.

English is an unusual name, isn’t it, Christian?” My husband throws a side gaze at me. “It’s a family name,” I tell him. “He’s named after his grandfather.” Still grounds for a divorce, Sir?

“Is that so?” Christian says. “Tell me, what is the origin of that name.”

“I have no idea,” Jade says. “As ridiculous as it sounds, I’m assuming it’s English! I can’t even derive a nickname from that, so I just call him Eddie.

My knees buckle and I’m literally choking on nothing. Christian catches me as I’m going down and makes an excuse to get me away from Jade. He takes me over to the pirate bar and I sit down.

“I’m fine. I’m fine. I just wasn’t ready. It caught me off guard,” I excuse.

“Okay, so you can just sit here until you’re back on guard,” he says, kneeling in front of me.

“Really, Christian, I’m fine,” I assure him. “That’s just the last name I expected to hear at my children’s birthday party.”

“Well, maybe Maxine should tell her friends to do some homework before she brings them around,” he states.

“Oh, please,” I lament, “aren’t I considered enough of a prima donna to the public without people having to know my life history before they visit me? Besides, what would we do, tell her to change her son’s nickname because of my ex-boyfriend? Just let it go.”

I raise my head just in time to see Maggie giggling with Sophie, and a few moments later, Marlow enters… with a date, and not the girl from Christmas. Jesus, what was that, a month ago?

“You may need to talk to him,” I say to Christian while gesturing to Marlow. He looks over his shoulder at Marlow, then back at me.

“What?” he asks

“The girls,” I whisper harshly. “He brings a different girl to every event.”

“He’s young, Butterfly,” he excuses. “He’s not attached to anybody and I know he practices safe sex.” I know that too, but…

“He brought one girl to Mia’s wedding in September; another one to Thanksgiving; another one to Christmas; and now another one to the twins’ birthday. That’s four girls in five months! You don’t see anything wrong with that?” Besides the fact that it’s totally tormenting Sophie, it just doesn’t look good… and it’s not smart!

“He’s a young boy sowing his oats like young boys do. He’s no dummy. He won’t get caught up in a bad situation. I don’t see the problem.” I cock my head at him.

“Oh? So, if Michael brings a string of girls home from the ages of 15 to 18, you wouldn’t have a problem with that?” I ask.

“No,” he says matter-of-factly. Is that so, Mr. Grey? I fold my arms and square off.

“And if Mackenzie brings home a string of boyfriends?” I say, and just let the words hang in the air. His face blanches and he begins to look a little ill.

Mm-hmm, that’s what I thought. What’s good for the goose is going to be good for the gander in this house, Grey. So, if you don’t want to see your little princess doing it, don’t think I’m going to allow little Master Grey to get away with it either.

“Talk to him,” I say, firmly before rising from the breakfast bar and going back to the dining room.

I greet my guests and assure everyone that I’m okay, chalking my coughing spell up to an unexpected bout with my own saliva. Marlow introduces me to his date—Tasha, I think her name is. It doesn’t matter. I’m sure that I won’t see her again after today.

Sophie and Maggie have taken to getting the children situated and playing “Pin the bow on Minnie” when Al finally decides to grace us with his presence.

“Sorry we’re late,” he says, and that’s all he gives me by way of an explanation, not that I need one. He and James are both as loose as a noodle and look like fresh, new daisies. I’m sure sex was involved.

“You nearly missed your godchildren’s party, you sex fiend,” I say, my voice low.

“Don’t be so dramatic,” he says waving me off. “You haven’t even opened presents yet.” I roll my eyes. “Who’s the bird with Maxie?”

“That’s Jade,” I tell him. “She’s in a Mommy and Me class with Maxie, which they probably had to miss to come to this party.” He looks at me.

“You sound a little snippy,” he observes. I glare at him.

“Jealous,” I say, honestly. “Maxie got married before me; had her baby before me; and now she’s moving on to new friends without me. Yeah, I’d say I’m just a little snippy.” I look over at Jade and Maxie having a conversation with Val.

“Jade calls her Max,” I say with disdain. “Her son’s name is English.” Al frowns.

“English? That’s his name?” he asks. I nod. “That’s odd. Where did that come from?”

“Apparently, it’s a family name. And get this, his nickname is Eddie.” Al literally winces at the mention of the name. “Yeah, my sentiments exactly, only a little more graphic.”

“Well, she seems like a nice enough person,” he says.

“She is,” I admit. “I just resent the fact that she’s apparently taking my place.” Al scoffs.

“Darling Jewel, she may be friends with our Maxine, but trust me—nobody can replace you.” He puts his hand on my shoulder.

“You’re sweet,” I tell him as we go to join the party.

Everything is going well, and the children are having a really good time playing games, opening prizes, and blowing bubbles. I’m with Minnie most of the day, standing her on her feet and coaxing her to walk with me, which she does. She’s doing very well keeping her balance and standing for several moments until she realizes that she’s standing, or she moves too fast to get to some new toy or adventure. Then she’s back on her hands and knees again. I think it’s adorable and, sure enough, after a few hours of guidance, she’s toddling around more than she’s crawling. Christian gets a few videos on his phone since I’m detained with entertaining. We’re just finishing singing “Happy Birthday” to the twins and I’m cutting and serving cake when I hear it.

“Is constantly twirling your hair an art form or can anybody do it?”

Oh, dear God. I raise my gaze to see Sophie, once again, facing off with Marlow and his date. Tasha looks at Sophie, appalled.

“Is this little brat talking to me?” she asks Marlow while pointing at Sophie. Marlow appears to be trying to smooth things over while Sophie stands there looking like she had nothing to do with Tasha’s current mood.

“No, Marlow! Does she speak to any other adult in this room that way?” Tasha shoots. I know what that means. Marlow is 17, so this girl is probably 18, and by pointing out that she’s an adult, she most likely just turned 18 and she’s smelling her adultness. I sigh.

“Nice one, Sophie,” I lament quietly.

“I don’t care,” I hear Tasha say. “In our house, children know to stay in a child’s place. Someone apparently forgot to teach her that!” She is furious. She throws a murderous look at Sophie and walks away.

“Seriously, Sophie?” Marlow hisses. “Jesus Christ, what’s going on with you?” and now, he’s livid, too as he goes after Tasha. I take this opportunity to make my way over to Sophie.

“Sophia!” I say quietly, “seriously, you’re going to have to stop this. Marlow is going to despise you if you keep this up.”

“I wasn’t trying to tease her,” she excuses, “it just slipped out. She stood there the entire time twirling her hair around her finger. Jesus, is she that flighty or is it a nervous tick?”

“And if it wasn’t her hair, it would be her shoes, or her dress, or her voice. This is getting out of hand!”

“What does it matter what I say?” she says. “He still going to do her.”

“Sophie!” I exclaim appalled.

“They’re so obvious! How can he not see it?” My question is how can you see it so clearly? “How can he even like these girls? They’re scatterbrains. They have the attention span of a goldfish. None of them even show up again after the first time!”

That’s what I said, but that could have a lot to do with you.

“Well, for whatever reason he likes them, he likes them, and you’re going to have to stop being rude to them. For one thing, it’s not very ladylike at all. And for another thing, I defended you when that girl passively aggressively insulted you at Mia’s wedding. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to see how she made you feel although Marlow was clueless. What ground do I have to stand on right now when you’re behaving the same way she did? And third, and most important…” I put my hand on her shoulder and hold her gaze.

“I’m very fond of you, Sophie,” I say. “I consider us good friends, but I don’t like for anyone to insult the guests that come to my home and you do that repeatedly with Marlow’s dates. If they lash out at you first, I completely understand your need to defend yourself. But when you say disparaging things against them for no reason, that’s unacceptable behavior, Sophie.”

This is the first time that I’ve had to scold Sophie and I really don’t like it, but it’s necessary. She shrinks a bit as my words sink in.

“I really didn’t think about it that way,” she says. “I still think they’re flighty little thots, but I don’t want to make you guys look bad. I’m sorry, Ana.” I nod.

“You might want to apologize to Marlow and his date,” I tell her. She grimaces.

“I can’t do that,” she squeals quietly. “He already hates me, and I couldn’t face him right now… or her. Please don’t make me do that I’ll die!” She says the last part all in one breath, and I really believe she would just keel over and die if she had to face Marlow right now.

“Well, I can’t and won’t force you to do anything, Sophie, but you might want to think about your behavior and what damage has already been done.” She sighs heavily as if I’ve just pardoned her from the death penalty.

“Sophia!”

I discover that I may have spoken too soon. Gail’s voice interrupts our conversation and she is none too happy as she comes marching over to us.

“Sophia, is it true that you said something unkind to Marlow’s date?” Gail accuses. Sophie’s mouth falls open and she looks in horror over at Marlow. When I glance at him, he and his date are looking in our direction like they’re waiting for the ax to fall. Oh, this is just great.

“I can’t believe it,” Sophie says incredulously, her voice three octaves higher than normal. “He snitched on me?”

“So, that means that it’s true,” Gail accuses, a statement not a question.

“I was just kidding around, Momma Gail,” Sophie excuses. “It’s not my fault she can’t take a joke.”

“That’s because she didn’t find it funny,” Gail says. “You can’t say mean things about people and think it’s okay. It’s very unbecoming, and you owe them an apology. You march over there right now and apologize.”

As if Sophie’s face could show any more horror, she glares over at Marlow and his date then turns her gaze back to Gail.

“No,” she says, calmly, her voice resolute. You could knock Gail over with a feather right now.

“Excuse me, young lady?” Gail says in disbelief.

“I’m sorry, Momma Gail, but I’m not going to apologize. He already won. He snitched on me for hurting his girlfriend’s feelings, and now they’re staring at me waiting to see what kind of trouble I’m going to get in. So, he won. I’m in trouble, I already know it, but I’m not going to apologize.”

Sophie stands firm on that sinking boat that she’s not going to apologize. To already be convicted of the crime, she pled her case very well for a 13-year-old kid. Right now, Sophie would rather run naked down the I-5 than to go over there and apologize to Marlow and that girl. Gail looks at her stepdaughter and knows that it’s a lost cause to try to make her apologize.

“The party is over for you, young lady,” Gail says firmly. “Go to your apartment. You’re grounded for the rest of the weekend.” Shit, there goes my helper.

“Yes, ma’am,” Sophie says dutifully, and marches past Gail without looking back at me or at Marlow and his date. I roll my eyes before Gail turns around to look at me.

“What?” she says. “She was wrong. She’s going to turn out to be a bully if we don’t nip this in the bud.”

“I highly doubt that,” I say, “but don’t be too hard on her. You know, teenage angst, sibling rivalry… She was probably just giving her ‘brother’s’ date a hard time, nothing more.” I do the finger quotes around the word brother knowing damn well that it’s more than that, but she’s not a bully. She’s lashing out because she’s jealous.

“I don’t know,” Gail sighs. “I hope you’re right.” She walks over to Marlow and his date and says something to them. I turn away and head over to the food table. I can’t help but empathize with Sophie again. Even though she was clearly wrong, he told Mommy on her. There’s no better or more thorough way to drive home the fact that he looks at her as nothing more than a child than to tell Mommy that she said something wrong. There’s no way in hell Sophie was going to apologize after that. She’ll most likely gladly take the grounding and hide under her bed for the next two days.

“Trouble in the happiest place on earth?” My husband’s voice breaks me out of my thought process as I fill my plate with a few pinwheels.

“I just lost my party helper,” I say, taking another pinwheel. “Sophie was poking fun at Marlow’s date, something about twirling her hair on her fingers, and Marlow didn’t like it. Apparently, he told Gail and now Sophie’s grounded.” Christian frowns.

“He snitched on her?” he says. I raise a shocked gaze at him.

“That’s exactly what she said!” I say, surprised.

“Well, yeah, me and Mia used to do shit like that to each other all the time—me and Elliot, too—but we didn’t snitch on each other.” I smile and shake my head.

“I think it might be a different dynamic here, Christian,” I say before I realize that I’m saying too much.

“How so?” he asks, and before I get the chance to trip over my tongue, he continues. “He considers her a little sister and that’s just how she’s acting, like a bratty little sister trying to embarrass him in front of a girl. But hell, he snitched. He broke the sibling code.” I frown.

“There’s a sibling code?” I ask incredulously.

“Well, apparently not with him,” Christian says. “I know there are some siblings who’ll squeal if you left the top off the mustard, but in our family, Vegas rules applied—what happened outside of Mom and Dad’s knowledge stayed outside of Mom and Dad’s knowledge.”

Well, that’s scary. Stuff was going on right under their nose and they didn’t know it. That’s probably why Pedo-Bitch could so easily get to Christian and almost to Elliot. Everything was so hush-hush.

At this point, I don’t know who’s side I’m on.

“Yeah, well, I’d say the lines are drawn in the sand now,” I say, eating a pinwheel.

“I’d say you’re right,” my husband concurs.


CHRISTIAN

“When you are in a submissive role, your duty is to serve. However, it cannot only be your duty. It must be your desire. You cannot force this relationship–it has to be something that you want… crave or desire, even. Some soumises are born, some are cultivated. Either is fine, but this must be something that you want to do for yourself, or you’re wasting your time.”

Pussycat and I are sitting in our mentors’ den. The sessions with them and our attendance at the Munches have been highly rewarding and very informative. Pussycat has done lots of research on her own along with several assignments given to her from Savvina. She has brought several questions to our sessions, and today’s question has to do with tasks.

Tasks are generally set in a 24/7 D/s relationship, which ours is not. However, Pussycat points out that she can see how having a task or even several tasks would help her to maintain a submissive mindset. It doesn’t mean that she is releasing any of her independence. It just means that she’s acknowledging that I’m her Dominus and she, my soumise—and that in that role, she has the attitude of service, which is why Savvina is speaking on the duty of a soumise to serve.

“Service is a relative term,” Savvina continues. “It may mean that you perform direct duties required by your Dominus or it may not. It may also mean that you make yourself available for what he needs, or that you assist him with a skill or ability that he may not have. The possibilities are endless, and the two of you will set the guidelines for how you will serve him or what your specific tasks will be, if any.” Pussycat looks at me.

“Are there any specific tasks that come to mind that you think you may require of me?” she inquires. I ponder for a moment.

“None come to mind immediately,” I admit, “but I’m certain that we’ll come up with something.”

As we’re speaking, the coffee service arrives and is placed on the table in front of us. Savvina dutifully prepares two cups of coffee—one for Artemis, and then one for herself. She prepares Artemis’s cup with cream and sugar, and then her own before she sits back to enjoy the coffee. Pussycat’s and my cup remain empty.

I immediately see this as a test from our mentor if Pussycat is willing to serve—literally, although I’m not sure this is what she meant when she asked about tasks and service.

Noting that Savvina didn’t pour any coffee for us, Pussycat pauses only for a moment before retrieving the silver coffee pot and pouring a small amount into her cup. She replaces the coffee pot and takes a sip of the coffee. Then she retrieves the coffee pot again and fills my cup nearly to the brim. She adds a bit of cream and sugar before stirring it and handing me the cup and saucer, which I graciously accept. She then prepares her own cup and relaxes in her seat to enjoy her coffee.

“Why did you pour your cup first?” Savvina asks.

“I didn’t pour my ‘cup’ first. I poured a tasting in my cup,” Pussycat responds.

“And why would you do that?” Savvina asks. “Why would you pour coffee for yourself before pouring coffee for your Dominus?”

“Because I didn’t make the coffee, and it wasn’t made in my home,” she says. “How he takes his coffee is dependent on the brew, so I had to taste it to know what to put in it.” Savvina raises a brow and looks at me.

“Does she normally serve your coffee at home?” Savvina asks.

“Never,” I reply. “As of late, I’ve been leaving the house very early–before she wakes. It’s not something that I require her to do. Our staff makes sure that the coffee is prepared before either of us wakes. I sometimes leave so early that I just get coffee at the office.”

“How do you know how he takes his coffee if he’s never home or you’re not awake when he drinks it?” Savvina asks Pussycat, and she’s at a loss for words. If I didn’t know better, I would swear that she was affronted.

“If you are serving your Dominus, you should never drink or eat before he does,” Savvina says, and crosses her legs definitively. Pussycat is silent for a moment, her brow furrowed, and just as Savvina begins to speak again, she interjects.

“I disagree,” she says, crossing her legs as well. Savvina’s brow rises again.

“And why is that?” she prompts Pussycat.

“If I make my own coffee, then I want it strong and black. If he drinks my coffee, he wants it black, too. It’s been that way since the first cup of coffee he drank at my apartment more than two years ago. Coffee in restaurants or at the office are a good, robust blend, but not as strong as mine—as is the coffee made by my staff at home. In that case, he’ll take a little creamer, but not sugar. Designer coffees usually have a flavor of their own, so he won’t take anything in those either, unless he opts for a shot of espresso. If coffee is particularly weak, it’s nothing but English tea to his palette. So, he takes it with cream and sugar. So, I beg to differ with you, because if it’s coming from a strange pot, unless he’s pouring his own coffee, I don’t know what’s in the pot. So, I have to taste it before I serve him.”

Touché.

“Well,” Savvina says, “The teacher has been duly chastised.” She takes a sip of her coffee. “This is a perfect example of service being a relative term and the two of you setting your own guidelines for your definition of service. You came to me with a question about tasks and service, and you ended up educating me on one of the most important aspect of the D/s relationship—that it’s totally a la carte, and that each couple writes their own rules and guidelines for their relationship.” She turns to me. “You should be proud.”

I look at Pussycat, who’s unsuccessfully resisting the urge to smile. I reach over, take her free hand, and kiss it gently.

I am, very proud.

*-*

“I’m going to stop breastfeeding.”

I’m shocked to hear this announcement come from my wife as we’re riding into GEH on Monday morning. She lives to breastfeed our children and now she wants to stop?

“May I ask why?” I probe. She drops her gaze.

“There are so many reasons to stop,” she admits. “I’m more active outside of the home, with GEH and all, and even without GEH, I’m going to be more active with Helping Hands. We’re going to Vegas in a week and we don’t know how long we’re going to be there. I can’t go to the bathroom and pump every few hours and I don’t want to risk leaking all over my clothes. Most importantly, our children are drinking out of sippy cups and eating solid food. They just turned a year old. It’s time.” I twist my lips.

“You don’t seem too happy about it,” I tell her. She sighs. Breast-feeding was how and when she bonded most with the children. Now, she’s not going to be doing it anymore.

“We all have to be weened in one way or another,” she says with a shrug. “We might as well start doing it now before I start suffering from separation anxiety.” I take her hand and kiss it gently.

“I’ll be here for you,” I say. “And if I’m honest, I’m being a little selfish, too. Watching that nectar drip from your breast when you’re full and you come is very sexy.” That elicits a giggle from her.

“I know. I guess we’ll just have to ween you, too.”

I try not to stare at Marilyn throughout the morning, but she’s getting thinner and thinner and it’s not looking good on her. When she catches me staring at her, I ask her for a moment of her time.

“You’re going to Las Vegas with us, right?” I ask.

“That’s my understanding,” she replies.

“You know Las Vegas has some of the best cuisine in the country,” I inform her. “World-renowned chefs have restaurants there in some of the casinos and hotels. Have you possibly thought about which ones you may want to visit?” She sighs and rolls her eyes.

“I hadn’t given it any thought,” she says, her voice a bit perturbed, but I don’t allow it to sway me.

“Butterfly and I are hoping to go to Americana one night while we’re there. You’re welcome to come. I hear the food is exquisite…”

“I know what you’re doing, Christian,” she says. “You haven’t talked about any of the shows, none of the sights, not the nightlife or even the spas. You’re only talking about the food.” I purse my lips.

“I’ve known you as long as I’ve known my wife,” I say. “I’ve never seen you this thin… and you’ve gotten thinner just over the last couple of weeks. You barely touch your food at dinner if you eat anything at all and I have no idea what you’re eating throughout the day. You’re fading away in front of us…”

Marilyn hugs her iPad to her body like a shy schoolgirl as I drone on about eating and meals, and I get the feeling that I’ve lost her, so I stop talking.

“I’m not trying to preach to you,” I say, softening my voice. “That’s the very last thing I’m trying to do. I just don’t want to see you cause undue harm to yourself.”

She nods, and a single tear falls down her cheek. Shit.

“I’m sorry if I spoke out of place or if anything I said offended you,” I add.

She nods again, but doesn’t raise her head.

“Can I get you anything?” I ask.

“I just need to go to the restroom,” she says, her voice small.

“Yes, of course, by all means…”

She’s out of the office before the words are out of my mouth. My en suite would’ve given her more privacy, but I get the feeling that she wants to be as far away from me as possible. She brushes past the reception desk and nearly runs into Butterfly on her way to… the restroom.

“Mare?” Butterfly calls after her, but she continues her bolt down the hallway. Butterfly turns to me and storms into my office.

“What did you say to her?” she demands, Momma-Bear loins girded for battle. I roll my eyes and thrust my hands into my hair.

“I didn’t say anything wrong,” I say, my voice squeaky as I explain myself to Mistress. “I just informed her that Vegas has a lot of good cuisine and world-renowned chefs and that she was free to try any of them. I just thought that something may awaken her palette again and encourage her to eat.” Mistress deflates immediately.

“Oh… that,” she says, her voice somewhat small as she falls onto my sofa. “I don’t know what to do, Christian. I know this isn’t good for her. I can’t force feed her, but she’s got to stop this.”

“At the risk of sounding insensitive,” I say, sitting down next to my wife, “she’s going to have to address this before she gets on that plane. She’s going on this trip in an official capacity. She’s flying on a GEH jet, and she’s staying on a GEH dime. There’s all kinds of liability involved if something happens to her while she’s on this trip. Though it was small, she had a medical procedure two months ago and she’s not looking well at all. She needs to be medically cleared to travel, not to mention her doctor needs to see what’s become of her.”

“Don’t you think that may be a bit drastic?” she replies. I can’t even find the words to respond to that. My face must display utter horror as I scoff and gesture wordlessly to the door that Marilyn just hastily exited.

“Alright, alright,” she says, raising her hands in surrender. “You’re right. I’ll talk to her. I’ll get it done.” I lean over and kiss her.

“It’s for her own good, Butterfly,” I say. She drops her head and worries her scar.

“I know,” she says, her voice full of defeat.

Son of a bitch, where the hell is Garrett? The girl could die, and he wouldn’t even know. Would he even care? He’s a real fucking prince among men, I swear!


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

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

Grey, Continued: Season 5 Episode 4

So, this is what my weekend looked like.

I’ve always known that if you’re staying in someone else’s house, you must live by their rules. If you break one of their rules—even if you don’t know you broke it—they can fuck up your whole world.

I had to work yesterday, but I’ve been working on Season 5 as I move along. I’ve been having a “Mommy” weekend (as in “I miss my Mommy”), and writing has been helping me through it. Imagine my horror when I woke up Saturday and discovered…

MY PINTEREST PAGE HAS BEEN SUSPENDED!

Thousands of pins, albums that I’ve worked on for FIVE YEARS that I can’t even access. Why? Because I was in “somebody else’s house,” and I supposedly broke the rules. They said I was spamming. How the hell do you spam on Pinterest??? I post something, you look at it… or you don’t. I don’t send anything out!

They sent me a nasty email saying that they don’t like it when people try to “game their system.” What the fuck? I write Fanfiction. I post pictures to my Fanfiction. How the fuck am I gaming your system?

Nonetheless, I realize that I was in Pinterest’s house, and they felt like I broke one of their little rules somewhere, and now they have locked me out, took away my key, and are holding my shit.

So, I went trolling Google and Pinterest (with a new ID) to see if I can at least get some of my content back, and I discover that I have a HUGE presence on Google and it’s time to put some money behind my name (more to come on that).

Luckily, I woke up this morning and got an email that basically said, “Oops, we’re sorry. We made a boo-boo…” Fuckers!

I’m in the process of trying to find another forum for my pictures.

All the same disclaimers apply.

Season 5 Episode 4

CHRISTIAN

Stress can have a huge impact on your life. It doesn’t matter how you try to manage it—one way or another, it has an impact on you.

Your family…
Your job…
Your goals…
Your peace…
Your relationship… D/s or vanilla.

I confided in Artemis that the clusterfucks going on with the company have impacted me more than I want to admit. Although I’m not looking to divert back to the old Master ways, grab some brown-haired waif, and beat the hell out of her, I have thought more than once about the relief I felt after one of my intense sessions with a well-trained submissive who could take a hit. I realize like sharing that information with my wife and soumise, in hindsight, was probably a bad idea. True, we should be able to discuss anything, or at least that’s how I feel, but right or wrong, some things are better left unsaid.

Artemis and the other Domini at the Munch informed me that I first need to understand and accept the massive amount of stress that my company’s condition is placing on me and my relationship; then, I need to fix it. Forget simply having my way with my soumise—I’ll fuck around and lose my wife and family if I don’t get a grip. The underlying relationship must be solid before the extras can be added or practiced. Otherwise, the D/s portion of our relationship will only be a means of escape from whatever issues we’re facing, and once the whips and butt plugs are stored away, all the same problems will still be staring back at us.

I had no idea that going to BDSM mentoring would involve a good, healthy dosage of relationship therapy. Butterfly and I basically didn’t talk to one another for nearly a week until Christmas and by that time, she was having a Yuletide-theme nervous breakdown and I was completely clueless until a holly jolly Christmasland exploded all over my goddamned house!

Communication.

Every meeting we’ve had so far, they’re banging into our heads the importance of communication.

I understand how important this is, but if they keep banging it into my head, I’m going to resent the concept. And I’m 99% sure that Artemis thinks I’m doing the “yeah, yeah, sure, sure, I get it” nod when he starts talking about it, especially since I may have verbalized my after-the-fact reticence about mentioning my nostalgic mind-wanderings in front of Butterfly.

“Even if it’s something painful, you have to be honest with your feelings, Christian,” he had said. “Now, that doesn’t mean that you must be hurtful. Being hurtful is just plain mean and vicious. Sharing something painful means that it may not be pleasant, but it still has to be shared. Do you understand?”

I understand alright, but if he only knew how much I try to avoid negative confrontations in this household—in this relationship!

“Your avoidance is only making it worse,” he warns. “It only means that what you feel is going to build up until you can’t hold on to it anymore, at which time, it’s going to come out at the most inopportune time in the most unfortunate manner.”

I personally think that’s what happened anyway, but I try to see the validity in what he’s saying. I’ve never been much of a communicator… ever. That’s why I’ve always had a fucking shrink, although I can’t remember the last time I’ve been to see mine, and Butterfly has effectively fired hers. Nonetheless, I think this whole Downtime thing will be helpful to our communication. It’ll help me not only be more receptive, but also be able to share more since we’ll be in our D/s roles.  

The D/s relationship is a team. You may think you already know that, especially since every relationship should involve teamwork, but the D/s dynamic is even more so because you can’t fake it. You can fake wanting to be with someone for a while so that you can bide your time until you can get out. Or you pretend to love someone or want to be with them until you get what you want. Not so with BDSM. You’re all in or you’re not. I’m sure there’s someone out there who could probably fake it, but I’ve never seen it. You must be invested in something like this—in it for the long haul or you’re just playing house.

There are a few times when I really felt like my wife and I were a team—when she put the Pedophile in her place at my parents’ house that first month we were together; when she let Natalia know that she had absolutely no power over us no matter what she thinks she accomplished by masturbating at the table in the club last year; and Monday in my office.

My wife effectively took a huge bite—and rightfully so—out of the asses of my executive team right after she steamrolled over my management team. I felt like I needed eyes in the back of my head, trying to monitor everything that everyone was doing and I’m losing my fucking mind trying to do it myself. The Butterfly Sword swung through that room slicing asses and taking names. I don’t think I’ve ever seen those people scramble out of that room that fast after I had a meeting with them.

However, the piece de resistance was when she unapologetically read Ros and Lorenz the riot act. I fucking loved it. Once again, she took one look at the situation with fresh eyes and immediately knew what the problem was. She had seen everything I saw in the departments and must have deduced that these fuckers knew I had my hands full with every department that there was no way for me to keep my eyes on them all.

And what did she do?

She did the exact opposite of what I did. I’m trying to overhaul the departments to get the bullshit out and make them become more productive. She read emails—emails—and discovered the most important projects that needed to be completed in each department. Now, she’s making them prove to her that they’re getting them done.

Today, she’s wearing a tan suit that’s every bit of 1930’s Katharine Hepburn minus the penny loafer shoes and including my wife’s signature platform stilettos.

Ana's Suit

The meetings began almost immediately with her first three being today. I watched from the eye in the sky just like I did for her department meeting, not because I was spying on her and thought she would fuck up, but because I personally wanted to watch her kick ass.

I sat and watched her rip procurement a new asshole. I knew it was coming because Yi was her first example in the meeting, having back-talked her about the sign-in sheet. How this doctor with a medical degree and license knows this much about directing purchasing and buyers, evaluating and negotiating with suppliers, and selecting and managing vendor contracts, I’ll never know. Yet in a manner of just a few minutes, she pinpointed direct flaws in the process, suggesting solutions for some and expecting Yi to report back to her with answers for the rest. That poor woman was left standing there holding those papers in awe.

Along the same lines, she visited Theodore Mosele, the one who made the toddler comment. I almost felt sorry for him. He’s the head of the Supply Chain, which includes category management, Yi’s department—procurement, shipping and receiving, and the warehouse. This idiot made an elementary mistake. He handed my wife some never-ending stack of papers with a cocky smile and the words, “This is what I’m responsible for. This is what I do.” I knew without even being able to see these documents that he was handing her bullshit.

Butterfly looked at the enormous stack of papers without taking it and looked back around to Marilyn. Without words, Marilyn handed her an iPad. She scrolls through the iPad for a moment and begins to speak to Mosele without raising her head.

“Mr. Mosele, you’re head of the supply chain.” It’s a statement, not a question. “That means that you should be intimately aware of the fiascoes that I found in procurement a moment ago.” She hands the iPad back to Marilyn without looking back at her and instead, raising her gaze to Mosele, who has now lost that smug look he had on his face.

“Please show me in that useless stack of printer paper that you’re trying to shove at me exactly what your plan is to correlate with Ms. Yi on the issues that I found in her department. Show me what you do.

Her last words were clipped and cold, leaving Mosele scrambling and excusing that he’s not certain what she discussed with Ms. Yi.

“So, let’s try this again,” she says, her voice cool. “The correspondence I’ve seen from Mr. Grey to your department directly referenced wanting to see strategies to improve productivity, quality, and efficiency in the supply chain, especially considering that shipping screw-up last year that nearly cost one of our long-standing clients. That’s also what I asked you for. So, Mr. Mosele, show me in that gibberish that you’re handing me where the directives are that I asked for.”

Mosele shifts from one foot to the other and flips through the several-hundred-page document, trying to find something to show my wife. Just like me, she knew it was garbage the moment he handed it to her.

“That’s what I thought,” she says, and he raises what looks like an accusing glare at her. She doesn’t back down for a moment.

“I have several departments to visit, Mr. Mosele, and I don’t have time for your games or your showcasing. You have one hour to get me what I asked for or you’ll find yourself on indefinite and unpaid administrative leave for insubordination and failure to follow instructions, and we’ll see if the next person can get me the information that I asked for!” She looks at her watch. “Your hour starts now.”

She turns around and marches out of the department, and Mosele stands there glaring at her departing figure until she’s gone, at which time, he angrily slams the documents on the floor that are in his hand.

That’s what you get, asshole.

I can barely pay attention to what department she visits next because I’m eager to see what’s going to happen when she gets back to Mosele. I halfheartedly watched her talk to heads of Marketing and of Business Logic, two meetings that went much smoother than the two that she had before, then after an hour and ten minutes, she heads back to Supply Chain with two more members of security in tow.

“I trust that you have what I asked for,” she says. Mosele’s 1000-page book of gobbledygook has now been reduced to what looks like a five-page synopsis of the exact fucking information that I asked him for two weeks ago. Butterfly has him explain his logic on several of the directives before she hands the papers to Marilyn, who places them in a portfolio that she’s carrying.

“Thank you for the information, Mr. Mosele. I knew you could do it. Take the rest of the day off. In fact, take the rest of the week off. I’ll let you know on Friday if we’ll expect you back on Monday.” She turns to leave.

“I did what you asked!” he snaps.

“No!” she says, whirling around to face him. “You didn’t! I gave you instructions and you cockily gave me some 500-page Yellow Pages bullshit thinking I wouldn’t know what I was looking at. What was that, a shipping manifest? Last month’s inventory? The Employee Code of Conduct?

“Do you think I’m stupid, Mr. Mosele, or were you just deliberately trying to piss me off? I really hope it was the latter because you have effectively succeeded at that! Maybe next time you’ll think twice about trifling with me.

“Yes, I’m a ball-buster when I need to be, and I’m proud of it. And, now, yours are cracked and on the floor. Pick ‘em up and get the fuck out of my building. Ben?”

She glares for a few moments at Mosele then turns around and walks out of the department, leaving him standing there staring at Ben and another of my security staff.

That show was fucking better than Netflix.

That afternoon, I had a meeting with Ros and Lorenz about the KPI report that was delivered to me.

“We have four major segments failing half of their critical KPI’s and nobody thought that this was something that we should investigate?” I inquire. So far, no one has any answers for me. “I have an entire quality assurance department whose sole purpose is to sniff out problems and set metrics to find solutions and what do I discover? They’re one of the departments that has the fucked up KPI’s. Who’s watching the company if the watchers are fucking up? You know what that’s the equivalent of? A dirty cop—someone who’s supposed to be keeping the peace and not doing his fucking job.” I drop the files on my desk and walk to the window, disgusted.

“I want stats and metrics on the department heads and the managers of that department to the auditing team in the next 24 hours. Give them the guidelines and tell them I want an analysis of the data by the end of the week. Let the powers that be know that they’re going to be coming before me to tell me why they should keep their jobs.”

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Ros asks. “We could be jumping from the frying pan into the fire.” I turn to her.

“Have you missed something?” I ask. “We’re already in the fire. This company is dying a slow death, and nobody can see it but me? I’m putting the IV’s in the veins and putting the defibrillators on the pulses and you guys are looking at me like, ‘What the fuck is he doing?’” I turn back to Ros.

“Tell me, Ros. Do you remember when we found the hacker?” She raises her brow.

“I do,” she says.

“Right before that happened, what would have been the takeaway if I had found out that quality assurance was sub-par? What would you have told me if we had discovered that while someone was running through our systems, moving money and wreaking havoc, quality assurance wasn’t making the mark? Be. Honest.” She blinks a few times and sighs.

“I would have said somebody would have needed to be reprimanded or fired,” she replies honestly. I nod.

“Now, imagine in that lovely condo that you own across the street from my penthouse that you have rats running around chewing your wiring, eating your food and leaving their rat shit turds all over the place for company to see. Also, in the midst of all this, you’ve got an exterminator on-call that comes out every week to eliminate this problem. You’re paying him handsomely and you still have the problem with the rats. Are you going to ponder whether or not this fucker is doing his job?” I stand there with my hands open in a shrugging motion, waiting for an answer.

“No,” she says, “I’m not.”

“Are you going to keep paying him while the rats are nibbling at your charger cords and your Lindor chocolates?” I ask folding my arms. She looks down at her tablet.

“I’ll get right on it,” she says, swiping the screen and tapping on it.

Later that night, I tried to talk to Butterfly about her day:

“How was your day?” I had asked last night when I got home.

“You know exactly how my day was,” she retorted. “I don’t know how you know, but I know that you know.” I twisted my lips and smirked.

“True,” I replied. “I don’t know if I should feel a little professional jealousy over the fact that I asked that fucker Mosele for answers two weeks ago and you were able to get them in an hour.” She raised her brow at me.

“Actually, it took me two days,” she said, her tone betraying what her words weren’t saying…

How the fuck did he know that?

“Nonetheless, it still wasn’t two weeks,” I countered. She gazed at me for a moment.

“Do I have to worry about you going behind me undoing everything that I’m doing?” she asked frankly. I was a bit taken aback.

“Why would you think that?” I asked surprised,

“Because I know that it’s safe to assume that no one is reporting every single thing I do in GEH back to you because I’ve already made it clear that that would piss me off. So, the only other explanation is that you must be watching me somehow. I really don’t care—it is your company. I just want to know if I have to worry about you going back and undoing everything that I’m doing.” I scoffed.

“First of all, it’s our company,” I corrected her. “And second, you’ve made it perfectly clear to all observers that you don’t need my help or permission to get shit done. The very last thing you need is for me to walk behind you gumming up the works.” She nodded.

“That’s good to hear,” she said, “because I guarantee you that the head banging has only just begun.”

Of course, she was right.

Did you see this?” Butterfly asks, marching into my office on Wednesday afternoon. She’s spent more time at GEH than she has at Helping Hands this week. As she’s marching into my office with her tablet in hand, I already know what she’s about to throw at me.

“The email from Ros?” I ask calmly.

“So, you’ve seen it,” she says, a statement not a question. She drops some files on my desk and reads from her iPad. “It’s becoming increasingly unclear as to whom I should be reporting as of late. I have directives that need to be rectified. To whom should I be directing my responses?” She reads the email with disdain. “To us both, you smarmy ass bitch!” she hisses. I suck in a breath between my pursed lips.

“I see that she has rubbed you the very wrong way,” I say, removing my glasses and looking at my wife.

“She’s testing me, Christian,” she threatens. “I don’t know how far my reach is with her, but she’s trying to see how far she can go with me, and I’m telling you, she’s going to fail.”

“Your reach goes as far as mine does, baby,” I tell her. “I only ask that before you decide to terminate one of our executive team that you discuss it with me first.”

“I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that,” Butterfly retorts, pacing the room. “She’s valuable to the company and I’m very well aware of that, but she’s aware of it, too, and she’s really smelling her own ass right now.”

“Yes, I know this. I can see it, too,” I say calmly. “What would you like for me to do about it?”

“You just did it,” she says, stopping in front of the same window where I stand to get my thoughts together. “You told me how far my reach goes, and you gave me a guideline. That’s what I needed.” She folds her arms but doesn’t turn around.

“She likes being the only woman on campus that can command a room full of men in her pencil skirt. I’m the new girl on the block who showed up with a whole bunch of power and she can’t stand it when the truth of the matter is that had she wielded the power she should have wielded in the first place I wouldn’t be here.” She turns around to face me.

“Exactly where do you see in my schedule that I have time to come to GEH and perform a job that I’ve never been trained to do? That I didn’t even ask for? We’re getting to a point with this business and our marriage where most women would be giving you an ultimatum—this business or me; where a lesser woman would be out looking for extracurricular activities to soothe the ache of what might be missing in the relationship because you’re GEH 20 hours out of 24 of every single day including weekends! But did I do that?

“No!

“I rearranged my entire fucking life and came in here and got my hands dirty! I did some basic research on what you were trying to get from each department and I came in here and rattled a couple of cages, asking these idiots why they needed repeated commands to do their goddamn jobs and yes, I asked Ros and Finney exactly what the hell they were supposed to be doing, too. I wanted to know if they were working as hard as you are, as stressed as you are right now trying to run this company; if their spouses are on a plane, train, or automobile on their way down here to find out what the fuck is going on in this place.

“She wants the power, but she acts like she doesn’t want the responsibility that comes with it, and now she’s getting all haughty because I’m being forced to come down here and exercise them both because she won’t do her fucking job? Are you serious?

“I’ve got another job and two children that require my time and energy and I’m not here because you can’t do this on your own. I’m here because you shouldn’t have to!”

Her eyes are glaring a glass blue, almost gray, and any idiot can see that she means business. When I’m able to break the trance of her eyes glaring back at me, I gaze past her and see Ros and Lorenz standing at Andrea’s desk looking into my office. I wonder how much of the conversation they’ve heard. My wife follows my gaze and turns around. Upon seeing Ros in the doorway, she fully turns to face her, pops her neck, and folds her arms. She’s preparing for battle. Ros straightens her back and marches into the room.

“We have the talks for Northwest in twenty,” she says crisply, keeping her eyes on me without acknowledging Butterfly. Dear God, why is she so intent on fanning that flame? Butterfly glares at her for a moment, then turns and retrieves the files and her tablet from my desk, shaking her head the entire time.

“Stay,” I say, hoping she’ll take part in the discussion.

“Can’t. Meetings,” she says, her voice clipped before turning to glare at Ros. “Otherwise…” She walks purposefully out of my office, Marilyn standing from her perch near Andrea’s desk and falling in place behind her as the click of her angry stilettos warns subordinates of her approach. I shake my head.

“If you think poking this angry bear is bad, keep poking that one and see what happens,” I warn her, organizing some things on my desk. Ros’s mouth gapes.

“Didn’t you hear what she just said about me?” Ros says. “I’m supposed to come in here all smiles and open arms while she’s talking about me behind my back?”

“Was she wrong?” I ask, pointedly, raising only my gaze to Ros and she looks like I just slapped her. “And make no mistake, Ros, anything that she’s says when you’re not here, she’ll say when you’re present…” and I’m pretty sure that she did the last time she spoke to you, “and it’s not because she’s the boss’s wife or half owner of this company. It’s because that’s who she is. She doesn’t mince words and she never has. When I first tried to put her in her place nearly three years ago, she mercilessly let me have it with both barrels even after she found out who I was.

“I’m not telling you to kiss her ass—she’d see right through you, but whatever issues you have with her presence, you need to work them out. Not only is that woman your boss, but she has identified a weak link in the infrastructure and she’s trying to compensate for it, and she’s right… she shouldn’t have to. Her personal assistant is sitting in with her on these department head meetings when one of you should actually be there, observing and supporting her as well as gathering valuable information needed to run this company. I’m going to have to get her an office, because like it or not, she’s part of the executive team now.

“You’re a valuable asset to this company, Ros, but I advise you not to put yourself in a position where you’re pitted against my wife. I’m sorry to tell you that you will lose, not only because she’s a formidable opponent and more resourceful than you think, not only because she’s half-owner of this company, but also because she’s my wife. Do you understand that?” She straightens her back and clasps her portfolio with both hands.

“Yes, sir,” she says dutifully.

“Ros? That’s not a ‘yes, sir, no, sir’ question and I’m not looking for capitulation. If you continue to cross her, that woman will flatten you with a steamroller and not look back. She’s got a lot more to lose here than you think. If worse comes to worse and this company folds, you’re out of a job, and you have to find another one. Where does that leave me? Or her?

“My life’s work is destroyed; my children’s legacy gone… Yeah, they’ll have plenty of money, but eventually, money runs out unless you find some kind of way to make more of it. That’s what I’m trying to do for my children. I’m trying to have something to pass down to them so that they can have something to pass down to their children. And when shit goes wrong in this place, I take that shit home where it ends up getting dumped in her lap one way or the other.

“She didn’t come in here waving her little handkerchief and saying, ‘Look everybody, I’m the boss!’ She came in here with hard facts, looking for answers, calling everyone to task. Why? Because I did come home and dump that shit in her lap and she, as half owner of this company, wanted to know what the fuck was going on. She has that right! She has the right to confront you about anything that’s happening in this company; she has the right to ask you questions and get answers; and she is entitled to respect from you as your boss even if you have to bite your tongue until it bleeds and choke on your own blood to give it to her!”

It appears that some of that blood I was just talking about has left Ros’ face and is sliding down her throat as we… I speak.

“I’m not going to be the one that you have to contend with,” I warn. “If you fuck up with her, then you have to deal with her and she. Can. Fire. You. The moment that you feel that she is out of line, off the mark in some way, or behaving unprofessionally, then we can sit down and have an executive meeting where we can discuss that behavior and you can present your evidence. But at the moment, it just looks like you’re miffed because apparently, something in this mix isn’t going the way that you feel it should. I knew it when you took that cock-and-bull vacation, and it’s still evident now.

“State your fucking grievances or shove them up your ass because none of us have time or patience for this sidestepping, round-and-round, high-handed-one-minute-then-pretend-acquiescence-bullshit you’ve got going on here. We’ve got a company to run and we’re trying to patch the cracks before they become full-on fissures and fault lines. We are a team—all of us! What you need to decide is if you’re on this team with us, and if not, I will take your resignation whenever you’re ready, that is, if she doesn’t get sick of your crap and hand you your walking papers first.

“Whatever issues you have, you better solve them quickly, because we won’t have this conversation again,” I say, my voice cool. “This is your final warning and you can interpret it however you want. Do you really understand what I’m saying to you?” I speak with no malice, but she needs to understand what a precarious position she’s in right now. She sighs heavily. Her shoulders fall and she’s less defensive.

“Yes, sir,” she cedes, “I understand.” I sigh heavily and look at my watch.

“Northwest in ten,” I say, stacking some files on my desk and putting some items inside my portfolio. “I’ll meet you down there.”

“Yes, sir,” she says, crisply before turning and walking out of my office. I sigh again, counting to myself as I get my notes ready for the meeting. I don’t know what’s going on with her, but she has to get that shit together and get it in gear because my wick is running short with her crap and Butterfly’s wick is even shorter. I’m quickly coming to grips with the fact that Butterfly just may give her some unpaid time off, assuming Ros doesn’t leave first.

I’m just realizing that Lorenz is still in the office.

“Is there something you need, Lorenz?” I ask.

“Not an enviable position to be in, sir,” he says, “stuck between a member of your executive team and your wife.”

“Correction,” I say, raising my eyes to him, “two members of my executive team, one of whom happens to be my wife. And owner, wife, or otherwise, if she was walking around here behaving the way that Ros is, with what I can only characterize as unfounded jealousy, I’d be checking her on it, too.”

“Are you sure that’s what it is, Christian?” he asks.

“Aren’t you?” I say, fixing my gaze on him. I already know the answer to that question because I remember his parting words to Ros when they left my office after that meeting on Monday. “Whatever this is or whatever brought it on, I have no idea, but it’s been brewing for a while. I had seen the ways that she did—or didn’t—address my wife before, but she confirmed for me that something was wrong when she asked me if legal was getting audited with my wife standing right there looking at her and wasn’t afraid to tell me why she asked.

“She knows damn well that legal is tight as a fucking drum and didn’t need to be audited. She didn’t ask about security, where the head of my personal security lives in my house with his entire family, breaks bread at my table, was best man at my wedding, and I walked his bride down the aisle and gave her away. No, she asked about legal. And even if Allen wasn’t my wife’s best friend and godfather to my children, I know from experience that he could still run circles around any legal mind this side of the continental divide and probably beyond. That’s why I hired him.

“She had a point to prove and proved it, and all parties involved heard it loud and clear. She’s testing the waters, and if she doesn’t stop, she’ll be boiled alive.” I pause and take a deep breath. I need to count, but I don’t have time.

“Lorenz,” I begin, “I gave that woman half of my company, not only because she’s my wife and I love her, but because I trust her. I trust her to take care of my home, my children, and my life. And if something happens to me, I trust her to take care of my company. I trust her to know that if she can’t handle the reins, that she’ll put them in the hands of someone who can.

“Take a good look at her. She’s not running around here playing house. She’s kicking ass and taking names and she’s getting things done, and right now, there are people in this building who’ll follow her orders before they’ll follow yours or Ros’ and that says a lot.

“Man to man, that’s a powerful pussy between those legs, but right now, that’s not what I’m looking at. I’m looking at the fact that within a matter of days, she’s pinpointed weak spots that I’ve been pointing out to you and Ros since last year. In that short period of time, she came in here and she’s having executive meetings that you and Ros haven’t initiated or conducted since you’ve been working here unless you did so directly under my instruction.

“What does that say to me about my executive team? And now, every time Ros gets a chance, she wants to get yet another bug up her butt because someone wants to call her on her bullshit? How long do you think that’s going to fly? How long do you think I’m really going to sit here and watch her play King of the Hill with my company? How long do you think my wife is going to sit here and watch that?

“You once told me that if you thought I was about to shoot myself in the foot that you would be remiss not to tell me. She’s not hearing me and she’s certainly not hearing my wife, so maybe she’ll hear it from you. You better tell her that she’s got the gun aimed at her own toes, and quite possibly, her fucking skull.”

Lorenz has fallen silent, pursing his lips before they form a flat line.

“Let’s get going,” I say. “We’re late for Northwest. 

*-*

I watch my wife sleeping peacefully in the bed next to me. She was still on fire when she got home from GEH today. She’s getting a small taste of how I was feeling last year when I was dealing with all this shit on my own. She now sees for herself that it’s not so easy to come home and turn off the heat when you’ve been dealing with it all. Her presence this week has had several profound results and revealed some important facts.

She showed up to GEH and she became me—only worse, because she added the flavor of a woman scorned—and these people quake when they see her coming.

Her being there this week and taking the reins on several of the departments, taking small but hard bites out of my workload has made things a whole lot easier on me. I was able to come home and flog, then pamper, love, suck, and fuck that body until she was able to let go of all things GEH. However…

She’s going to burn out real fast at the rate that she’s going. No doubt, Artemis and Savvina’s talk about us being a team made her walk into that place and rip the walls down. Now, she’s trying to make sure that they’re rebuilt correctly, and she can’t do that by herself. She’s going to fry and have a nervous breakdown, especially with the Green Valley trials coming up in a few weeks.

I’ve been rattling cages, but now, the big ones need a shake or three.

I’ve made Ros and Lorenz cancel anything they had on the books and meet with me first thing Thursday morning. I’m sitting behind my desk when they enter and dutifully take the two seats in front of me.

“The gloves are coming off,” I begin. “I’ve had enough of this shit. Things are going to change today, as of this moment, in fact. Lorenz, I recognize the hard work that you put in while it was just the two of us over the last two weeks, but for the most part, I still had to lead the horse to water, and that’s unacceptable. If you two need me to tell you what to do, I’ll do that. I’ll treat you just like I treat my management team. I’ll hand you a list of directives and a date by which I expect them to be fulfilled. You’ll go through semi-annual evaluations just like everyone else does. Oh, and since you won’t be performing all the duties of the initial jobs that I hired you for, this will effectively be a demotion and you’ll take a significant cut in pay.”

That gets their attention.

“You see, my wife just walked in here and showed me that anyone with determination, common sense, and a solid grasp of business, armed with a little authority and the information that I’ve been sending you guys from the very beginning can come in here and whip these fuckers into shape and get the job done. My wife is right—if I have to do this on my own, I might as well have a board.”

They share a knowing glance.

“And she’s right about another thing,” I say, rising to my feet and looking down at them. “I see everything that goes on in my office…” I turn my gaze to Ros. “Everything!” I glare at her for a moment to let that sink in. That ‘I-know-something-you-don’t-know’ glance that you two keep sharing with each other like a private joke in my presence, I share that glance with Jason at least five times per day, maybe more. I know what it means.

“She told you that’s sending a message to me and you didn’t listen, so you better fucking hear it from me. I know the two of you have conversations outside of my presence, I expect that. However, if you keep up that silent-conversation-eyeball shit, I’m going to start feeling the need to reach behind me and find out if there are any knives in my back. And if you make me feel that way, I sure don’t fucking need you around me.”

They appear to grow in front of me, straightening their backs like two students called to the principal’s office. Good. Now, back to the purpose of this meeting.

“You two are highly educated in management and thoroughly experienced. There’s absolutely no reason whatsoever why you couldn’t do exactly what she did, and yet you…” I turn to Ros, “are resentful that she came in here and did what you should have done a long time ago. And you’re right, Ros. Maybe every department does need to be audited, including my executive team.”

Her eyes grow large and for the first time, I see some really serious concern.

For the next twenty minutes or so, I hand them printouts of the same emails that Butterfly read that resulted in the fresh-faced overhaul that GEH has seen over the past three days. This is what I was doing all throughout the second half of December, but I was doing it on my own. She just picked up where I left off and cleaned up the dust. I was assuming that my executive team would get the hint and help out, but they never did. The fact that my wife had to come in from the outside and clean up is pissing me off. The fact that Ros is acting like a little bitch in the process when she should have been doing this in the first place is burning me the fuck up.

“My wife is the assistant director of a very important charity that has a lot of projects on the hopper and does a lot for the community. She has two small children to raise. I pay you two a fucking fortune and she should not have to come in here and do your jobs! You want to do mediocre work, go do it at somebody else’s company. I don’t want to lose either of you, but if you’re not pulling your weight like I need you to, then I’m not losing anything, am I?”

My anger and frustration suddenly come to a head, realizing how dedicated my wife is to this company—more dedicated than the fuckers that work here. I have one of my wife’s three-second funnels and give them my final conclusion:

“Get your heads out of your ass, get on my fucking team, or get the fuck out!”

I stand over them, leaning on my desk with my hands flat, glaring at them and waiting for their decision. I’ve had enough of this shit, and when I say that it stops now, it fucking stops now.

“You’re right, sir,” Lorenz says.

Right about what? About you getting on my fucking team or about you getting the fuck out? I wait for him to finish. He looks over at Ros.

“We’ve gotten complacent. We’ve been sitting here waiting for direct marching orders on a whole lot of things. You and I both got our feathers ruffled when our pet mergers got axed to make room for the audits.”

Ros twists her lips, but says nothing.

“Although I haven’t been as… confrontational with Dr. Grey, I’m just as guilty as you are when it comes to not picking up the ball and running with it when we needed to,” he says to Ros.

“Don’t you mean ‘dropping the ball?’” Ros says, her voice tame.

“No, I don’t,” Lorenz says, firmly. “When did we ever have the ball?”

“I thought we had it at least once throughout this process,” she contends, her voice still defeated. Lorenz laughs.

“Ros, if you had that ball at all, you threw it over the fence and into the next yard when you took that impromptu vacation and deserted GEH during one of its most critical times last year.” Ros raises a shocked gaze at Lorenz.

“Yeah,” he continues, “I may not have said anything because I’m not your boss, but that was a bullshit ass move and you know it!”

He nearly growls the last words. I had no idea he was this angry about her taking vacation time when she did. He never shared that with me. I’m unsuccessful at hiding my shock because I can see Ros look at me in my peripheral vision, then look back at Finney because I have nothing for her. I glance over at her, and at this moment, you could catch flies in her mouth.

“How can you say anything about having the ball when you walked off the damn field?” he accuses. “I may not have been running plays like I should have. I may have even been sitting on the bench, which is no better, but at least I was at the goddamn game!” He turns to me.

“I’ll never be you,” he says. “I’ll never command the respect from or wield the authority with the staff that you do, but he’s right,” he says, turning back to Ros. “It’s time to get the fuck in the game. No offense to Dr. Grey, but a psychiatrist has no business coming in here showing us up when this is what we’re supposed to be doing every day. You’ve been giving nothing but a whole lotta lip and a healthy dose of a bad attitude. If you keep it up, you’re on your way out, and I don’t intend to go with you. I like my job, and I want to keep it. So, there’s my decision, sir,” he says, turning back to me. “I’m part of the team.” I purse my lips and nod.

“I’m glad to hear it,” I say. He stands.

“You hired me for a reason. I’m sorry that I haven’t fulfilled that purpose to the best of my ability. With all due respect, sir, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do… some emails and reports to read, probably talk to some departments. If there’s nothing else, I’d really like to get started.”

His demeanor and entire stance have changed. Ros is officially on this plank all by herself. I nod at him, dismissing him and he walks out of the office, closing the door behind him. Ros still sits in the chair, her head bowed.

Well?

“I’m… Gwen and I are separated,” she blurts out. What?

“Huh?” I say, stunned.

“My wife,” she says. “My wife left me. We’re separated.”

This kind of knocks the wind out of me. Ros and Gwen could have been the poster couple for same-sex marriage, and now she’s telling me that they’re getting a divorce?

“Why?” I ask. “How long?”

“On and off since about June,” she admits. “On all the time since just before Thanksgiving.” I frown.

“What happened?” I’m waiting for the whole we just grew apart speech. Nothing could have prepared me for what I hear.

“I met someone.”

What. The. Fuck. I’m suddenly angry as if this was my relationship going south.

“What the fuck do you mean you met someone?” I bark. “You met someone a decade ago when you met Gwen…”

“I know, I know,” she laments. “Gwen was supposed to be my future, my happily ever after, but then I met Monique, and everything changed.”

 I’m not buying it. This is really pissing me off. How can she just dismiss the sanctity of marriage like this?

“I know it’s fucked up, Christian, but the heart wants what the heart wants.”

“That’s such a crock of bull,” I accuse. “When you’re single, you jump around from person to person because that’s what you do. You taste the flavors to see what you like the best. When you’re married, you make a commitment. Sure, it’s okay to appreciate beauty, but you do not engage. You’ve promised yourself to this woman and you’re out there playing the field?”

“I’m not playing the field!” Ros retorts. “I didn’t go looking for this. I didn’t plan it! It just happened. If anybody should understand a thunderbolt hitting you out of nowhere, you should.”

Oh, the fuck you are going to use my meeting the love of my life to excuse your infidelity.

“Oh, I see,” I say, coolly. “So, me being a single, unattached man meeting, falling in love with, and marrying the woman who became my life and would eventually bear my children is comparable to you cheating on a woman that you’ve been dating or married to for the last ten years in what way? A pretty, hot piece of ass walks past you, causing you to want to throw away everything you’ve built with Gwen, and this is comparable to my situation with my wife exactly how?”

I’m thoroughly offended, and I’m anxious to know how she’s going to talk her way out of this shit.

“That’s not what I meant!” she retorts sharply. Oh? Enlighten me then. I’m eager to hear your thoughts on this.

“I’m just saying,” she says, “that this is out of my control. I’m feeling things with Monique that I’ve never felt with Gwen—ever. Gwen was safe, and I knew that I wouldn’t get hurt, but Monique… she touches my soul, Christian. And it’s not just sex, it’s everything.”

“So, you’re willing to throw away everything that you have with Gwen, your plans, your life, your love, her heart—to go chasing after this other woman that you’ve only known for six months?”

Ros clears her throat and diverts her gaze to the floor and it only takes a few moments for me to realize the truth.

“Oh, God,” I say. “It’s been longer than that, hasn’t it?” Ros sighs and shifts uncomfortably.

“I met Monique… three years ago.” Three years! Three fucking years, you’ve been stringing Gwen along and wasting her fucking time?

“I haven’t been dating her for three years… I’ve known her for three years,” Ros corrects. I just shake my head.

“And how long have you been dating?” I ask accusingly.

“Not the whole time, but nearly the whole time,” she confesses. I quickly do the math.

“Just so that I’m clear, you married Gwen in March… 2011, no, 2012, right?”

She nods. She knows I’m doing the math.

“Were you seeing the woman before you married Gwen?” I ask. She clears her throat, but doesn’t answer. No answer is still an answer, Rosalind!

“For God’s sake, why?” I nearly screech.

“Because I loved Gwen,” she says with conviction. “I still do, with all my heart…”

“Not all of it!” I shoot back. “Believe it or not, I totally understand trying to figure out where your heart belongs, but why the fuck couldn’t you do this before you said, ‘I do?’ Does Gwen know this? Does she know that you were torn between two lovers on your wedding day?”

Ros does something that I’ve never seen her do before, she chokes back a sob.

“I thought being married would make things right,” she says, her voice heavy with tears. “I loved Gwen… love Gwen, and I thought that committing myself to her was the right thing to do. I thought this silly fancy with this other woman would go away once I gave myself to the woman that I wanted to be with… only it didn’t. I threw myself headfirst into my marriage with Gwen, trying to make it work, trying to build forever, but Monique was always there! I couldn’t shake her, even though I wasn’t seeing her.

“We messed around a couple of times before I married Gwen,” she confesses. “We even hooked up the night before my wedding… the last hurrah, we said, but it wasn’t. I could never get her off my mind. I didn’t contact her for months, but there wasn’t a day that passed that I didn’t think about her at least once, not a day.

“On the one-year anniversary of my marriage to Gwen, I saw her again. I should have avoided her, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. We greeted each other like we were old friends, agreed to meet for drinks. That’s when it all started again, and that’s when I realized that I was going through the motions with Gwen for months; that as much as I loved her, I couldn’t shake Monique and I never would.

“I tried to have my cake and eat it, too. It worked for about three months, but Gwen knew something was up. She knew I wasn’t all there. She played my little game, tried to fix it… tried to do what she could to hold us together, but right before Thanksgiving, she’d had enough. She packed up her things and moved back to Snoqualmie with her parents. 

“When it looked like you were going to be dumping a bunch of crazy shit in our laps, I took that moment to flee. I couldn’t handle what was going on in my marriage, what looked like erratic behavior from you, and what I perceived as an unnecessarily high-handed attitude from Mrs. Grey. Maybe I made the whole thing up in my head, but I was under a lot of stress at the time. It was too much shit flying at me at once.

“I took the impromptu vacation to regroup, and to go see Gwen. I needed to know what she wanted to do, because I owed it to her not to leave us both hanging in limbo.” I shake my head.

“You went to ask her for a divorce,” I say, “right at Christmas.” She shakes her head.

“That wasn’t my intention,” she counters. “If Gwen had told me that she wanted our marriage—that she wanted to work things out and she just needed a little time, I would have given her that time, and I would have tried to work things out. But like I said, whether you believe me or not, the heart wants what it wants. When she asked me about Monique—if I could give her up—I couldn’t hide it. She saw it in my face. She asked me for a divorce right there and then, three days before Christmas.” She wipes a tear from her cheek.

“I came back to Seattle, spent time with Monique. I told her what was going on. She comforted me, reaffirmed her feelings for me. She admitted that she couldn’t promise marriage, and I wouldn’t want her to. I wouldn’t want to put that responsibility on her.” She begins to sob again.

“I made a horrible mistake, Christian,” she weeps, “but my mistake was not Monique. It was Gwen. Yes, I loved and wanted her, but she wasn’t the one. I married her because she had seniority, because I had made promises, because I felt like it was the right thing to do—but I was wrong. I made a mistake, and I dragged that poor woman through all this drama, and I ripped her heart out because of my screwed-up sense of obligation. It was Monique!” she wails. “It was Monique all along, and I married Gwen! I was wrong! God help me, I was wrong!”

She buries her face in her hands and sobs bitterly. I’m an asshole, but I’m not a fucking asshole. I can’t sit here and watch a woman sob no matter how much of a bitch she’s been over the past few months.

I get up and retrieve the box of tissues from my en suite and walk over to the front of my desk. I hand her the box and she takes a wad of the tissues in her hand, burying her face and crying again.

Jesus Christ, she’s losing it.

“I can’t help you with this one, Ros,” I admit. “I don’t know what to say. Even as a single man with different bed partners, it was always one-on-one. It was a strict rule of mine. When I had my pick of two women, I didn’t sleep with either of them until I made my choice. My choice didn’t even want me, but I guess I can understand someone being in your mind and your blood and you can’t get them out. My choice was Ana, unequivocally, and that’s who it’s been ever since.

“You broke a vow to your wife and that’s really fucked up, but you need to consider something else. This woman—Monique—she has no respect for the sanctity of a commitment. What makes you think that if you leave your wife to be with her that she’s going to respect the sanctity of yours?”

That only makes her cry harder and I’m afraid that she’s going to have a coronary or something.

“Alcoholism is a disease,” I begin. Ros raises a confused, tearful gaze to me.  It’s an analogy, Ros, stay with me. “It destroys the body and it eventually leads to things that can kill you like cirrhosis of the liver. It’s something that the drinker brings on themselves, but it affects everyone around them, nonetheless. Your executive team needs to know about this. It’s affecting your productivity and your ability to make decisions. The fallout from your personal life is making your professional performance look pretty fucking shitty. Tell them whatever details you want, or omit whatever details you choose to omit, but they need to know what the fuck is going on with your life.”

Like an angel from God, my wife opens the door and walks into my office. Her expression was at first confrontational, but immediately morphs into bemusement. I quickly mouth, “Help me!” gesturing to Ros while sporting a wide-eyed confused look of my own. My wife mouths, “Did you fire her?” and I quickly shake my head.

She comes into the office and closes the door behind her. She immediately walks over to the bar and fills a glass with water from the mini-fridge, bringing it back over to us. She crouches down in front of Ros and puts her hand on Ros’ shoulder.

“Here,” she says, softly. “Drink this.”

Ros raises bloodshot, tear-filled eyes to Butterfly, then takes the water and drinks a healthy amount of it.

“What’s wrong, Ros?” Butterfly asks, and Ros breaks down again.

“I’m sorry,” she sobs, “I was shitty to you for no good reason and I’m sorry.” Butterfly looks over her shoulder at me as if waiting for an explanation. I shrug and gesture back to Ros. If she’s going to share this with you, she’s got to give it to you.

“Ros, that’s hardly a reason for you to be all broken up like this…” my wife begins.

“No… no…” she chokes out. “It’s not that. I just wanted you… to know how… sorry I am… It was rude… and unprofessional… and I was being a bitch… and I’m sorry…”

“Okay, okay, it’s fine,” Butterfly says, trying to calm her. “I accept your apology if you swear not to let it happen again.” She shakes her head.

“It won’t… it won’t…” she promises. Butterfly nods.

“Okay, now tell me what’s really wrong.” Oh, boy, here comes the floodgates again.

“I’m a terrible person,” she weeps. “I took a beautiful, kind woman and carelessly ripped her to shreds…”

This is my cue to leave Ros to speak to Butterfly. I think she’ll have to turn on the shrink.

“I’m going down to the gym,” I tell Andrea. “Contact me down there if they need me.”

A/N: So, yes, something was going on with Ros. What do you think about her dilemma? I’m of two minds, but I’ll wait to see the verdicts.

Did you guys see the two homages I paid directly to Fifty Shades? Let me know if you find them. If not, I’ll reveal what they are. 😉 

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-misadventuresseason-v/ … that is, until they decide to fuck with me again!

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

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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

Grey Continued: Season 5, Episode 3

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

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

Season 5 Episode 03

ANASTASIA

Like any relationship, the BDSM journey is just that—a journey. If you ever think that you have arrived at the place you need to be in that relationship, it’s time to re-evaluate. You are constantly changing and growing, constantly becoming more and exploring more. You don’t sprint through the lifestyle; you stroll, tasting the flavors of what you enjoy and enjoying the process of evolution through the experience.

One thing I’ve discovered in our sessions with Artemis and Savvina and from the soumises at the Munch is that there is no one way to practice the lifestyle. Now, even in my inexperience, I already knew that. However, more than once, I’ve seen or heard people—even at the Munch—who seemed to think that there was only one way to practice, and that if you didn’t follow a certain set of rules, then you were doing it all wrong. Your way of practicing the lifestyle was incorrect because they “would never do anything like that” to their sub, or their Dom “would never do anything like that” to them.

I was happy to hear the majority of the soumises form a consensus about the few elitists—their word, not mine—who seemed to think that they knew everything there was to know about BDSM:

“If you ever meet someone who tells you that the way that you choose to practice is wrong, or that there is only one set of rules and that if you don’t follow those rules, then you’re not practicing the right way, get as far away from them as you can. That’s not someone that you want to emulate. No one has the right to tell you what you or your Dominus wants in your relationship. You dictate that. It’s okay for someone to guide you, but feel free to ignore their guidance, especially if they’re trying to tell you that you’re wrong. Run, dear. Run far away.”

That bit of advice came from Emelda. I’m not sure if that’s her real name. Some people used aliases—as did Christian and I—and some people used their real names—as did Artemis and Savvina. Emelda was once in an S&M relationship where a coven of submissives told her that she not only had to accept whatever her sadistic Dom dished out, but also that she was not allowed to have her own desires, she wasn’t allowed to voice her opinion, and that what her Dominant says goes, no matter what. She was in a very unhappy S&M relationship and she felt that she had to stay there because this was the only way to go. It wasn’t until she ended her relationship with her dictatorial Dominant and ventured out on her own that she realized how many different variations of the lifestyle there really are.

Shantille was on the opposite end of the spectrum. She was afraid to explore what she really wanted in a Dominant because too many times, she was told that the intense play that she liked was abuse and the Dominants shouldn’t treat their submissives that way. Shantille likes extreme punishments; she feels that if there’s no bruising, it’s not kinky enough for her. Pain to the point of tears is cleansing and erotic to her and that’s what she wants. Once again, the elitists tried to tell her that she was being abused; that her Dominant wasn’t a real Dominant—he just wanted to beat her; that she should probably seek some therapy if that’s what she really wanted.

All and all, my sessions with my mentors and with like-minded individuals over the past weeks have taught me that BDSM is a buffet. There’s literally something at the table for everyone, from the very tame to what some would consider the grossly extreme. What one couple or group or person may get off on, another might find disgusting or abusive—or boring. To be welcomed into the various circles, as it were, you must be careful not to degrade someone else’s relationship or practice. That’s a quick way to get blackballed from certain clubs and parties.

Another thing I’ve learned is to respect the balance—or imbalance—of power. While the soumise has the power and control to halt play with a safeword, his or her Dominant will always be the Dominant, until—if—they switch. As such, there is going to be an imbalance of power, and for this reason, you must constantly communicate—in and out of Downtime.

This is very new to me because I always felt that as Christian is the Dominant, his word during playtime was law and I had to follow or be punished. We set the guidelines where as soumise, I must follow the rules. However, in a healthy BDSM relationship a soumise has needs, too, and must be able to communicate those needs.

When we’ve completed our mentoring session on Saturday, we’re always in the mood to play a bit. We only venture into kink so far, as we still feel that we have a lot to learn about the D/s relationship as it relates to us and our marriage. However, we don’t want to deprive ourselves of what we enjoy, either. So, I get to enjoy a light flogging—ten firm lashes with a cat—and a thorough fucking from behind while chained to the playroom bed… nothing too intense, but just something to take the edge off.

Bright and early Sunday morning, we arranged for a crew to meet us at the apartment that Gary and Marilyn once shared, and my PA tearfully tackled the task of packing her things and sorting through what she had brought from her apartment and what belonged to Gary in terms of furniture. There were things that I knew were touches of Marilyn in the apartment, but since she and Gary bought several of the things together, she refused to take them.

For good measure, she cleaned out the refrigerator, removed and tossed out expired food from the cabinets, and meticulously cleaned and vacuumed each room after she was certain that she had removed all her things from that room. The apartment was eerie when she was done—not empty, but a bit hollow. She took the door key and the mailbox key off her ring and left them both on the counter before walking out of the apartment without looking back. I couldn’t help taking a last look at the space that had once represented the love den for one of my closest friends and the woman who took his virginity—also my friend. I locked the doorknob and closed the door behind me.

I didn’t drive to the apartment, thinking that Marilyn might be too upset to drive her car back to the Crossing. I was right. She only had one request when we got into her car, that I call Gary as soon as possible to let him know that she had moved out so that he could go back and do whatever he planned to do with the apartment. Then she sat in stoic silence, tears burning a trek down her cheek for the entire ride back to Mercer.

She didn’t eat that night, and I didn’t force her to. I know Christian was just chomping at the bit to get her to eat something, but once I told him what our day entailed, he let it go for one night.

Val and Elliot are doing a little better. They’re still a bit sad about the loss, but not as melancholy as they were in the very beginning. They appear to be clinging to each other and loving each other through it, which is a good thing. I’ve sometimes seen with the loss of a baby that one spouse may tend to blame the other, causing a rift between them that is sometimes never mended. Marilyn and Gary are one such cautionary tale, although their situation was the result of a deliberate action.

This past week, Christian seemed to try to lighten up a bit when he came home from GEH, but now instead of being the big bad bear, he’s just exhausted when he gets home. He whined a bit about Claude beating his ass again on Saturday but took a little victory in the fact that Claude didn’t beat his ass as quickly and easily as he had before.

But he’s still really tired.

My husband doesn’t look like he’s finding any peace, except when we’re talking to our mentors or when we’re fucking. He’s been auditing and restructuring and re-evaluating the company for about a month now. He should definitely be seeing more progress than he has been. What the fuck is actually going on in that company?

There’s no way to begin to describe the amount of crap that he has on his plate. He put faith in me as 50% owner… and I backed away. I haven’t even been in the office again since Ros’ remark about Al and the nonchalant way the department heads behaved towards me. I own half of that company, and I let them chase me away…

… Because Daddy couldn’t get me the respect that I deserved…

… And I subsequently left my husband to handle things all on his own.

He has an executive team. What the fuck are they doing? What the fuck is anybody doing?

I ponder my situation only a few more moments before I make a decision. He’s trying to get to the bottom of things, but only a few heads have rolled… not enough, apparently. Moreover, apparently not the right ones. I screw up my resolve and open the folder that contains the GEH emails forwarded to me.

The first fifty or so are all useless drivel that followed Christian’s command that I be CC’ed on executive emails. Garbage. I get through those rather quickly. Very shortly thereafter, I get to some real meat and potatoes…

Requisition requests, memos, executive orders from the boss, status reports…

Executive orders from the boss…

I decide to filter out the messages that all came from Christian. Hundreds of them… in a very short period of time. How does he keep up with all this?

Just for shits and giggles, I filter out the messages from Ros and Finney. Exponentially less. Does Christian just have more to say? I read a handful of his emails and find that they’re not just the typical Christian Grey “What the fuck, get this shit done” emails that I thought I would see. There’s critical thinking, probing questions, analysis, detailed directives—yeah, there’s some commands and “get this shit done” in the emails, but there’s some serious meat in here, too. I see a bit of meat and vegetables here and there from Ros and Finney, but for the most part, I’m seeing the equivalent of electronic “uh-huh’s” and “okay’s.”

 As I scan through the emails, I see several emails going from Finney to Ros and Christian, from Christian to Ros and Finney, and from Ros to Finney and Christian. I see even more emails from Christian to departments and department heads asking about projects and deadlines and metrics and what have you. I see the emails coming back to me, to Finney, to Ros, and to Christian. But the responses coming from Ros and Finney to the department heads are very few and far between.

Am I missing something?

Do they not take part in the general operation of the corporation? Is there some kind of delegation of duties in the hierarchy that I just don’t see? Why does it appear that Christian’s doing all the damn work?

The more emails that I read, the more I get the feeling that I’m right. Christian’s pretty much holding the reins of this Clydesdale powerhouse all by himself, guiding it down the necessary paths and trying to keep it from swaying left or right or veering off in the wrong direction while Ros and Finney are pretty much riding along in the coach.

Well, they’re not that useless, but from what I’m seeing here, they might as well be.

So, in light of everything that’s been going on in our home, with our relationship and discussions, and the fact that I am, in fact, 50% owner of that company, I’ve decided that I do need to know what he’s dealing with in more detail in order to be a better wife, Domme, soumise, and partner—and to allow these fuckers who are under my employ to run me away from my company is not the way to do it. I can draw the line between Ana, Butterfly, Dr. Steele-Grey, That Bitch You Don’t Want to Fuck With, and anybody else that I need to be… but if you need That Bitch, then here she comes.

I spend the rest of the evening going through the remainder of the emails, categorizing them and making rules for various ones so that they go to specific folders as I need them to and getting a better idea of what I’m dealing with in terms of the framework and infrastructure of the company. Once I’ve gotten a pretty good idea, I bang out an outline of some key points that are causes for concern. That part takes a little longer than I expected since I didn’t want to burden Marilyn with working on the weekend so soon after her return. Things will become perfectly unbearable soon enough. I might as well allow her to get her bearings again.

Once I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of the direction that I would like to take, I scan Christian’s emails to me for a group that I know he had created, then copy it into my contacts:

I’ll find out soon enough what’s the difference between the members of the Management Team and the Department Heads and Executive Team, but no matter. I want them all in this meeting. I discover that the Executive Team is Ros, Finney, and me. I remove myself from the Executive Team group and compose my email.

To:      GEH Department Heads
GEH Management Team
GEH Executive Team
Bcc:   Christian Grey
Re:      Emergency Mandatory Leadership Meeting
Date: January 11, 2015 20:21
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

High Priority High Priority CommunicationHigh Priority

Good Morning Team,

This is your other boss, Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey.

Let me begin by saying that I appreciate being included in the emails. It has given me some very valuable insight on the inner workings of the organization—its strengths as well as its flaws.

In an effort to continue the mission and vision of GEH, I will be holding a mandatory meeting tomorrow at 1:00pm in the Executive Conference Room. The location is subject to change based on availability, so please keep an eye on your emails as you will be responsible for any information communicated and attendance is required unless you get specific permission from me not to attend.

Sincerely,
Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey…

Hmmm… I don’t really have a title with GEH and this is my company email.

Assistant Director was easy with Helping Hands.

We actually have executive and Senior VP’s and quite frankly, I’m not a VP.

Co-CEO? Abso-fucking-lutely not!

What is the hierarchy in this situation? Fuck it, never mind. I know what I’ll call myself.

Sincerely,
Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Executive Director, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.

I’ll hear something about it if it’s the wrong title. I send an email to what I now call my Power Assistants Team, Marilyn and Andrea, to make sure that the room is available and to secure certain items needed for the meeting, including a podium and a preprinted sign-in sheet. I call up to Ms. Solomon to bring me an antipasto tray and a pitcher of cranberry spritzer and settle in to prepare my meeting.

Things are really sloppy and can be corrected with just the slightest push in the right direction, a little change in protocol and requirements, and a sledgehammer upside someone’s head. I understand why my husband had to become the iron fist. People had stopped taking him seriously.

What I don’t understand is why it looks like he’s doing it on his own. Not once do I see Ros or Finney drop the anvil on someone who has clearly dropped the ball or has shown mediocre effort in rectifying any errors or bringing a viable solution to fruition. My husband’s voice is the shot heard ‘round the company. However, even with all his power, he can only handle so many direct situations at once. Bearing this in mind, it’s time to shake things up, but I don’t want to show up and come off as a mom having a temper tantrum.

As such, I will need to call on The Bitch.
You rang?
I sure as hell did. We’ve got a job to do, sistah.
Bring it on.

“Good evening.”

I raise my head to see my husband standing in the doorway of my office wearing his glasses. I rarely see him wear them, but here he is.

“Busy?” he asks. He knows I am. I remove my glasses.

“I’m working on something,” I tell him, putting my glasses down and clasping my hands on the desk in front of me.

“You don’t usually work on Sunday,” he says, slowly breaching the doorway and approaching my desk. Sorry, not today, Sir.

“It’s time-sensitive and pretty detailed,” I tell him, not breaking my gaze with him. “Did you need something?” I ask. I need to get back to work. He raises a brow at me as he halts behind the chair in front of my desk.

“What are you working on?” And there it is. He’s never asked me that before. Very droll, Mr. Grey.

“I think you know,” I respond, still holding his gaze. He’s silent for a moment before he finally takes one of the seats in front of my desk.

“I was perusing my email and I’ve just discovered that there will be a meeting of the department heads tomorrow afternoon with the Executive Director,” he points out. I don’t respond. “Non-profit organizations have Executive Directors. We’re not a non-profit.”

“And Chief Executive Officers normally answer to the Chairman of the Board,” I point out. “We don’t have a board.” He purses his lips in thought.

“Duly noted,” he cedes. “We’ll leave it for now.”

“How kind of you,” I say sarcastically, especially since I didn’t ask your permission.

“There’s a problem though,” he says. “I have another meeting at that time, so you may have to reschedule.”

“No,” I say matter-of-factly, “that works out just fine, because this is not your meeting—it’s mine. And if Ros or Finney were going to be in the meeting with you, I need them, too.” He raises a brow at me.

“I like to know what’s going on in my company, Anastasia…” Anastasia. Perfect.

Our company,” I say, firmly, folding my arms. “And you will know. I wouldn’t dream of keeping anything from you. But this meeting is mine, and your presence is not required. In fact, it’ll be more effective if you weren’t there.” He purses his lips again.

“Very well,” he says, and I’m sure that he’s thinking that he’s going to have to undo whatever mess I may create tomorrow, but I’ve got news for you, Grey. You won’t be able to unfurl this one. And if you try, I’m going to walk away and leave it to you—50% and all… and you’re going to leave that damn asshole bear at the door when you come home or you’re going to have a much bigger problem to deal with.

*-*

I don’t go into Helping Hands in the morning. Instead, I work remotely with Keri, and we confer with the learning coordinator about the last things needed to put the curriculum in place for tutoring. We’ve already gotten our Head Start program going and two of the children in the daycare will be attending. Keri and Ebony are very excited about that. Courtney’s doing well with her teen support group—not counseling, just building on the idea of peer support. Our cleaning crew is moving right along with the transition from Clean It Up For You, and Mrs. Sherwood is unsuccessfully attempting to prove to us just how much we really need her. I’m aware that having an in-house staff is more expensive than having a service do the cleaning for us. However, the accountability of an in-house staff is worth the extra money.

After sitting with curlers in my hair all day, I fashion it in big, billowing curls and don a red sweater dress that falls sleekly over my body and ends mid-calf with an insanely long matching knit wrap that I wear backwards so that it falls nearly to the floor like a cape behind me. I finish the ensemble with a pair of sky-high black patent leather Louboutin classic red-bottom stilettos and an oversized black patent leather clutch bag. Light make-up and moisturizer assure that there’s no overkill, and I’m ready to make some waves.

“You mean business, huh, Bosslady?” Marilyn asks when I enter the kitchen.

“Kickin’ ass and taking names,” I reply. “You ready?”

“Yes, ma’am,” she says.

“Then let’s rock and roll.”

Marilyn carries my coat for me in case I need it, but I won’t. I go straight from the mudroom to the garage to the Audi, and from the Audi to the elevator in the parking structure on GEH’s ground floor straight to the top floor. I expect to see Christian holding a meeting in his office, but he’s not there. He better not be in this department head meeting. I specifically told him not to come and if he’s testing me…

I walk into the meeting with Alex, Chuck, Ben, and Marilyn behind me. I’m overjoyed to see that my husband has honored my request and stayed away from my meeting as I stroll in with purpose and head straight to the sign-in sheet. I see that several people that are probably in this room haven’t signed the sheet like I asked. So, I call them out.

“Pa Nou Yi?” I read out, knowing that I’ve pronounced her name perfectly. A pretty Asian woman raises her head and acknowledges her name.

“Did you forget to sign in?” I ask. She clears her throat.

“We never use sign-in sheets with Mr. Grey,” she announces matter-of-factly, other members of the management team cosigning her statement. I nod.

“I see.” I retrieve the ledger containing the sign-in sheet and deliberately snatch the attached pen with so much force that I break the ball chain holding it to the lectern. I stride purposefully over to Ms. Yi and place the sign-in sheet and pen in front of her.

“Do I look like Mr. Grey to you?” I ask, glaring at her. She purses her lips, then picks up the pen with the piece of ball chain still dangling from it and signs next to her name.

“Thank you,” I say. “Has anyone else forgotten to sign in?”

“I have,” someone says, raising her hand, and a few other people raise their hand as well.

“Pass that around, Ms. Yi,” I say, “so that the rest of your colleagues can sign it.” She doesn’t make eye-contact with me as she slides the sign-in sheet to the next person.

“Now we have to take attendance like toddlers?” someone comments from across the table. I slam my hands on the table with just enough force to get his attention, lean over it and glare into his face.

“If you’re going to behave like toddlers, yes, you do,” I retort sharply. He’s a bit taken aback, evidenced by his expression. “And the next time you have something to share, say it loud enough so that we can all hear you.” I glare at him next and he stares back at me. Like I said, I’m not Christian Grey. I don’t have time for the stare game. I’ve made my point.

I march purposefully to the head of the table and slam my large, patent-leather clutch down on the table, startling several of the meeting’s participants. I remove my backwards wrap and drape it over the back of the seat while I wait patiently for the sign-in sheet to make its way around the table.

“Thank you,” I say to the last person who hands the sign-in sheet back to me. I see that there are people who still haven’t signed in after the sheet has made its round. 

“Alex, let the four people who haven’t signed in on this list know that they have five minutes to get to this meeting that started ten minutes ago, or they can be escorted out of the building immediately.” I hand him the list.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says without pausing and pulls out his cell. I pull a Christian Grey move and pull out my cell phone while standing at the head of the conference table, making a note of the names that were blank on the sign in sheet.

“Mrs. Batma?” Alex says from across the room. “This is Alex Welch from GEH security. You received a memo that there would be a department head meeting at 10am today with Dr. Anastasia Grey. She indicates that you have five minutes to get to the meeting, which started ten minutes ago, or I’ll send my staff down to escort you from the building.”

He doesn’t pause. He ends the call and calls the next person on the list.

“Chuck, Ben, please pull the remaining four chairs over by the window.” You fuckers want attention, you’re going to get it. Once they get the chairs lined up, I tell Chuck to go outside and wait for them. Finney and Ros keep looking at each other, no doubt wondering what the hell I’m doing. Yeah, you guys are generally in the inner sanctum, but not today. Today, you’re in the same category with these fuckers who don’t know who the hell I am.

A few minutes later, Chuck escorts our four stragglers into the conference room.

“So nice of you to join us. The next time one of your employers calls a meeting, try not to be late!” I say sharply. “Alex has the sign-in sheet.” The ladies and one gentleman murmur apologies.

“Now, we can get down to business,” I say once they’ve signed in and taken a sheet.

“Shouldn’t we wait for Mr. Grey?” Ros asks.

“Mr. Grey didn’t call this meeting. I did. Do you have a problem with that?” Her eyes widen as she glares at me, but she quickly remembers where she is.

“None at all, Dr. Grey,” she replies.

“Good. Now, as I was about to say before I was interrupted, I know you haven’t seen me around for a few weeks and why should you? You hadn’t seen me around before then either. Well, that’s about to change. I realized that I’m sitting in my lovely home enjoying a wonderful life made possible by the fruits of the labors of this company. And now, for some reasons, the efforts have appeared to stray from the common goal, and the labors are all beginning to fall by the wayside. Now, I can’t just sit back on my laurels and watch that happen, especially since—like it or not—I own half of this company.”

I pause for a moment to let that sink in.

“I’ve given some serious thought to this situation before I called this meeting… how I was going to deal with the fact that I’m part owner of a multi-billion-dollar company, but I can’t even get the management staff to respect me as such. My first instinct was to just leave this alone and allow Christian to run his business. Then, I remembered a conversation that he had a while back when he told me that I would be half-owner of this company. He said he trusted me. He said that he knew that his company would be in good hands if anything happened to him—that whatever I didn’t know, he had an executive staff and a management staff that would assist me to help keep the company thriving.

“He had that talk with me before he knew that I had any business education whatsoever. I thought he was out of his mind, but the fact remains that he did entrust me with fifty percent of his company while he’s alive, the whole of it upon his demise. So, hate it or love it, boys and girls, I’m here to stay.

“Who are you?” I ask, pointing at the guy who made the toddler comment.

“Theodore Mosele,” he says after a pause, “head of…”

“I don’t need to know what you’re head of; I just need to know your name,” I cut him off, holding my hand up to halt his introduction. “Mr. Mosele brought up a very good point. Why do we have to take attendance like toddlers?” I look at the list. “Mr. Reiter, would you like to tell us why?”

I look around the room and a gentleman raises his gaze to me along with his brow as several other department heads in the room turn to him.

“Um… to make sure that we’re all here?” he says—a question, not a statement.

“Excellent!” I reply. “The four people who decided to join us fifteen minutes after the meeting started are evidence that the sign-in sheet is needed, at least until I get to know who you all are… and I will get to know who you all are.” I turn to the four stragglers.

“The fact that you were up here within five minutes upon the threat of unemployment proves to me that you weren’t doing anything that was so important that you couldn’t have your asses in here at one!” I glare at them all and allow those words to sink in.

“Consider this your only warning,” I caution the attendees of the meeting. “The next time any of you decide that you have something better to do than to attend an owner’s meeting—or you conveniently forget how to sign your name when you enter—you will be subject to immediate disciplinary action.” I hear a few gasps, but no one speaks.

“I now understand why my husband feels the need to go back to running his business with as little leniency and leeway as possible. It appears that if he gives an inch that people will take ten damn miles.” I bark.

“I was going to back away and let him handle GEH like he always has, and then I realized… We’re a team. We’re going to remain a team. And in order for us to be effective, I have to back him up and we must work together.

“I’m no Christian Grey. I’m never going to be Christian Grey, nor do I want to be Christian Grey. However, like it or not, I am still fifty percent owner of this company. Anybody who doesn’t like that or can’t respect that can get the fuck out right now!”

The room is silent for a moment, then various murmurings begin.

“I don’t recall giving anybody else the goddamn floor!” I say, looking directly into the eyes of every person that I see has begun to speak out of turn, glaring at them and waiting for them to see that I’m plotting their demise if they don’t shut the fuck up. The murmurings quickly dissipate.

“I don’t care if you see me as an extension of Christian Grey, because when it comes to me, he’s not your biggest concern—I am. From this point on, any one of you who has a problem treating me with the same respect that you would treat anyone else who signs your paychecks and can bounce you out of here on your high-paid asses will find out just how quickly I can do the latter.

“The sudden random fifty-percent drug testing? That was me, to weed out any initial weak links. The mid-year and year-end self-evaluations followed by subsequent leadership evaluations—that was me, too. This tells the company what you think you’re worth to the company and what you can offer. Then it requires that your leaders cosign those conclusions, and add some thoughts of their own. This way, we can see what talent we have available in our pool, but we can also see who’s not making the mark. This also puts responsibility on your supervisor to dispel or justify your analysis of your performance.

“If you say you’re doing great and your supervisor says that you’re doing great, then you better be doing great. If you say that you’re doing great and your supervisor says, ‘Not so much,’ then it might be time for a counseling. Automatic raises are a thing of the past—that includes cost-of-living raises. All GEH employees must prove through these mandatory evaluations that they are worth their raises. If you are still employed here when the fiscal year begins, you will get a raise. However, your evaluations will determine how much. GEH will no longer be paying for mediocre or substandard work. From now on, you earn your money here, or you can get out.

“I’ve only brought these points to light to show that some of the things that you have seen implemented at GEH have come directly from me. You don’t have to see me to know that I’m affecting your lives already. Having said that, let me make this clear.

“I will not, I repeat, I will not accept disrespect, side-eyed glances, push-back, second-guessing, or any other little passive-aggressive tactics that anyone wants to try to push off on me. You don’t need my husband’s go-ahead or second opinion to carry out a command that I give you and I don’t need my husband’s permission to fire your ass and have you ceremoniously escorted off my goddamn property. If you want to see how far I can go to prove what I can do, please try me—I welcome the challenge. I can be an ally, or I can be an enemy—it’s all up to you. What I won’t be is an afterthought. I’ll be, ‘Oh, shit, Dr. Grey,’ before I’ll ever be, ‘Oh, yeah, Dr. Grey.’ Is that understood?”

The room is silent.

“That is not a rhetorical question!” I shoot. Various yes, ma’am’s fill the room. This is the first time that ma’am doesn’t make my skin crawl. None of these people are my fucking friends with the exception of a handful. I’m not dealing with this bullshit from these people anymore.

“Excellent. Now, let’s go over some particulars that I saw in some of the emails that I read last night.” I gesture to Chuck who brings my briefcase. I open it and remove my iPad and a few documents.

“This is how this is going to go,” I begin. “I’m going to call on many of you as needed by department to expound upon various projects and initiatives that should be in progress or nearing completion. You are going to give me as much useful information as possible without withholding key components and without drowning me in a bunch of useless drivel in an attempt to lose me in lingo. I won’t pretend to know what each of you are talking about. However, I have enough knowledge and a solid level of intelligence to grasp a general synopsis of the information that I’m asking for. Is there anyone unclear about what I’m about to do?”

Various No ma’ams fill the room and I’m certain that if they were unclear, they would fake it until they knew exactly what I wanted. Ros and Finney do this thing that I often see Christian and Jason do—the look that says a thousand words—and they do it often. To me, it honestly feels like a “put a pin in what she just said, and we’ll discuss later.” Why the fuck do you need to discuss later? Why can’t you discuss it now? But I digress. Other things to handle at the moment.

“Good. The first thing I’d like to talk about is…”

I go through the outline that I made from the email last night, making notes on each initiative and alerting various department heads that I would like to revisit the directives they’ve been working on, gesturing to Marilyn to make note of those departments as I plan to visit them later in the week or next week, as I get the time. Helping Hands is truly running itself with Keri, Courtney, Grace, and the learning coordinator—although I can’t completely disappear, I don’t need to be around as much.

During the meeting, I make various demands of Chuck and Marilyn, sometimes Ben and Alex as well, addressing them all just as informal as I always have.

“As you can see,” I say once I’ve gotten all the information that I want from each department head, “I call many of the staff by their first names. That’s because I’ve developed a rapport with them. I can develop a rapport with anyone in this room, but you’re going to determine what that rapport is going to be—friendly, strictly business, you can’t stand my fucking ass, I don’t care. As long as you do your damn job and respect my position.

“And make no mistake, I don’t care what you want to call me behind my back—really, I don’t. Call me a ballbuster, call me a bitch, call me a wannabe, call me whatever the fuck you want. Just don’t let it get back to me and do what the fuck I say when I give you a command or send you an email. I most likely have some personal opinions about and colorful names for many of you, simply due to the fact that I had to rearrange my life to get to the bottom of what was going on here before the life that I’m enjoying falls out from under me.”

I place my iPad on the conference table and stand, spreading my fingers out so that my fingertips are the only part of my hands touching the table.

“This meeting is adjourned,” I say. “Those of you who will have appointments to discuss your directives with me, look for an email from my personal assistant, Marilyn Caldwell.” Everyone stands with as little murmurings or fanfare as possible, including my executive team.

“Ros, Lorenz, wait, please,” I say. Another 10,000-word glance passes between them and they sit.

“Alex, is there a smaller room where I can meet with Ros and Finney?” I ask. He looks at his phone before responding.

“Mr. Grey isn’t done with his meeting yet,” he says. “You can use his office.” Perfect. I nod.

“Chuck, please gather my things together here and you and Ben wait for me outside of Christian’s office. Marilyn, my notes should have synced with yours, so hopefully if gives you an idea of what I need and what to send to each department head about what I need and include meetings that won’t conflict with anything that I have scheduled now. Hopefully, Andrea can find a spot for you…”

“No problem, Bosslady, I’m on it.” I nod and turn to my executive staff.

“Ros, Finney,” I say marching past them with my shawl and clutch in hand.

Christian’s office is perfect for this task. His chairs are far enough away from the front of his desk to make sure you know that he knows he’s the boss. I sit my gorgeous ass in his seat of power as Ros and Finney initially hover over me for a moment or two before they finally take their seats. I pause for a moment before I begin, then I jump right in with no prelim.

“Are you concerned about your jobs at all?” I ask them. Ros’ eyes pierce.

“Excuse me?” she asks.

“I realize that you can leave this place today and have a job tomorrow, but my question is, and I’ll repeat it… Are you concerned about your jobs at all?” Ros stands and puts her hand on her hip.

“Are you threatening us, Ana?” she accuses, affronted. Bitch, what the fuck…?

“Well, I don’t know, Ros. Do you feel threatened?” I reply, taking the exact same tone that she’s taking with me. Ros is a powerful woman and she knows that she is, but I’m not going to back down to her or anybody else if I feel like they’re a hindrance to my husband. So, it behooves them to answer the goddamn question.

“Okay, ladies, please,” Finney says, standing as well and attempting to be the voice of reason. “We’re all on the same team here. Of course, we value our jobs, Ana,” he replies. I glare at Ros again and she glares right back. She’s testing me, I know, but I’ve got bigger fish to fry. I turn back to Finney.

“That’s not what I asked,” I tell him. “I asked if you’re concerned about your jobs at all. Is there some hierarchy here that I’m not aware of?” I inquire. “Some distribution of work that I’m just not privy to? I don’t pretend to know everything.” Finney frowns.

“I don’t know what you mean,” Finney says.

“Neither do I,” Ros shoots, folding her arms. I glare at her.

“Watch your tone with me, Ros, I’m not in the mood,” I caution.

“And you think I am?” she retorts. I suck my teeth trying not to lose my temper.

“Rosalind…” I begin.

“Anastasia?” she retorts, interrupting me.

That’s it.

I slam my hands so hard on Christian’s desk that it rattles, pushing myself out of his chair. She and Finney both leap back a step, and her stance has moved from offensive to how-close-is-the-nearest-door. I’m glaring at her, ready to fucking pounce if this is what she wants.

“You’ve got one more time,” I seethe, pointing and glaring at her from behind Christian’s desk, “just one more time to pull that passive-aggressive disrespectful bullshit on me, and you’re going to find out just who the head bitch in charge really is!”

She’s standing there gape-mouthed staring at me like she can’t believe what I just said and did. She’s been the high petticoat all these years and I understand that she feels like her toes are being stepped on right now, because dammit, they are!

Try me, cookie!

“Ros,” Finney says, his voice very low, “she’s right. You’re being insubordinate.” She throws a glare at him, then at my strawberry-red raging face. I can see in her eyes that she has a three-second funnel of her own and either she thinks better of what she says or what Finney said got through to her. Her stance changes again, and she’s immediately more approachable… and receptive.

I take three deep breaths to calm my anger… no, my rage and repeat myself.

“Is there some hierarchy here that I’m not aware of?” I repeat, “or some distribution of work that I’m just not privy to? Like I said, I don’t pretend to know everything. What I mean…” I say immediately, “… is that I took some time this weekend to review the emails that have been floating around the department heads and the executive team for the last several weeks, and it appears that all initiatives, directives, questions, answers, and guidance come from my husband.

“Now, maybe I’m just seeing things, or maybe I’m biased in my view of the emails. Maybe there are some emails that just aren’t getting to me, but from what I can see, there’s an uneven distribution of work among the executive team and it looks like one person is taking all the responsibility on himself. I would just like to know how the work is distributed so that one person doesn’t carry all the burden. It’s my understanding that Finney was hired because he didn’t want you to carry the burden all by yourself, but now, he appears to carry the lion’s share on his back. Am I mistaken? Did I miss something?”

“We all have different roles, Ana,” Finney says, and Ros still hasn’t found the words to address me yet.

“And does his role entail carrying the lion’s share of the work?” I ask again, since they seem not to be able to answer the question. I turn back to Ros.

“I’m not here to fight with you,” I say firmly. “I’m not even here to cunt-strut with you. I don’t have the business savvy that you do, the knowledge that you do or even the tenure that you do, but if my green, inexperienced ass can look at this setup and tell you that something’s wrong then dammit, something’s wrong—and it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in business management to see it.

“He’s got shit flying in every direction and it’s all coming from him. Now either you two are not following directions and are not CC’ing me on all executive email or for the umpteenth time, he’s doing the lion’s share of the work! Which one is it?”

Ros purses her lips, folds her arms, and drops her gaze—and I’m about three seconds from sending her ass on an administrative leave, but I won’t because I need answers.

“If GEH has a top-drawer, Grade-A executive team, why is he carrying this all by himself? And don’t tell me that he’s not! I live with that man. I have to watch him every day. He’s wound even tighter than he was when he was dealing with those fucking hackers. He has to gird up the asshole hours before he even leaves the house and he usually doesn’t shed it for hours after he gets home. Does Gwen have to deal with that?” I shoot at Ros. Her face softens infinitesimally.

“Does Mrs. Finney?” I say, turning to Finney. Their silence tells me everything I need to know.

“This is his baby,” I nearly seethe. “He suffers many sleepless nights wondering what’s going to happen with his creation—his life’s fucking work. He needs unwavering support, from you, from me, from everybody that values their job here, but he needs it most of all from the people who are closest to him! He and I are not the only ones who need to put up a unified front! You do, too. He doesn’t just need great minds pushing pencils, making calculations, and giving great ideas. He. Needs. Your. Support!

“You are not figureheads. You are each one-third of an executive team, but it looks like he’s carrying all the weight. You’re worried about drug tests and if my best friend’s department is going to be audited. Does legal fucking need to be audited? Because if it does, fucking audit it! Do it because there’s something going wrong in that department, but don’t do it to make a fucking bunch of sycophants happy who can’t even keep an eye on their own goddamn departments.

“That same silence that you observe when he walks through the hallways, they need to observe that same silence when you walk through the hallways—not because they’re afraid of you or because you’re being an asshole, but because you wield the same power that he does and they know it. And people should know that if they’re not doing what they need to do that the same hammer that he can bring down on them can come from you.

“If there needs to be a change of accountability around here, that’s fine. That’s why I came up with the mid-year and year-end evaluations. You didn’t need them before because everybody was scared shitless. Slowly but surely, that situation has faded, and now my husband has taken it totally upon himself to become the long arm of the law and get this place back in shape. But I refuse to believe that he has to take on the role of Big Angry Growling Daddy Bear 20 out of 24 hours a day while you’re fussing about drug tests and whether legal is going to be audited or not. He’s walking around barking at everybody he talks to and every time I see you two, you’re cool as a cucumber. What’s wrong with this picture?” They throw knowing glances at each other.

“And that,” I say, pointing to them, “if I see that, he does, too. That is a total indicator that you’re a team and he’s the odd man out. I’m a psychiatrist—I dare you to tell me that I’m wrong.”

I fold my arms and wait for a response. I feel like I’m talking to the enemy now. How many times has Christian had to justify something to them? How many battles has he had to fight where they’ve had these secret conversations with their eyes? Whose side are they on anyway? If they’ve built some kind of alliance that has my husband on the outside, what does that mean for GEH?

Ros wants to retort, but her facial expressions indicate that she doesn’t really know what to say. Finney, once again, speaks for them both.

“We’re definitely not against Christian, Ana,” Finney says. “We may not agree with every decision that he makes, but we’re not against him…”

“And it’s okay that you don’t agree with every decision,” I retort. “My husband can be very high-handed, but agree or disagree, he shouldn’t have to carry every burden on his back. And right now, he is.”

They turn to each other for one of those secret-eye conversations again, but quickly divert their gaze. Hmm, something’s getting through.

“The reason I asked if you were concerned about your jobs is not because I was threatening you. It’s because GEH is at a precipice. The mistakes and the dismal performance that we’re seeing in some of our departments is dreadful. No, we’re not losing money, but we’re trying not to get there. And the safety and quality issues; the inventory mishap; the fact that I, a civilian, walked in here and found the flaw with the XRC90 transmitter and the responsibility subsequently still fell on Daddy Bear to get them to run some simple tests; the fact that SEEKNID, a software that basically saved this company from potentially losing millions and millions of dollars, didn’t get launched last year—those are all indications that too many balls are being dropped and we’re headed downhill. That’s a huge concern for my husband, and if it’s not a concern for you, the hell if I’m going to let him take that shit on all by himself. And if we can’t patch the holes in the framework, then I’m going to discuss with him taking this company public.”

“Public?” Ros has suddenly found her words.

“Yes, public,” I say. “Maybe a board of directors can have better luck than we are, and if they can’t, then we’re screwed anyway, aren’t we?”

“Ana…” and I’m Ana again, “… taking this company public could be the worst possible decision…”

“But having your CEO die from a stress-induced heart attack sounds like a better plan to you?” I ask, my arms folded. They involuntarily have one of those silent eye-conversations, then look back at me.

“At the risk of overstepping my boundaries,” Ros begins with no malice, “you said it yourself—this is Christian’s baby. He’s worked hard at it. He’s said many times that he already knows that a board will come in here and tear it apart. They would do everything for the profit and not for the company, the community, or the greater good, and he doesn’t want that. It would break his heart to do something like that. He’ll never take this company public. It’ll be like giving his baby up for adoption, then selling it to the devil. He’ll die at the helm before he does that.”

“That’s a very interesting analogy you just used,” I inform her. “I know very well that this is Christian’s baby, but guess what? Christian now has two very alive, very breathing children—not metaphorical babies… babies who are walking and breathing and growing and learning to call him ‘Daddy.’ GEH was his only baby, but it’s not anymore.

“Christian Grey never thought that he would be a husband and a father, but now he is. He never thought he would give away half his company to a woman, but he has. I birthed Minnie and Mikey and he birthed GEH. He trusts me to help raise his children, and I am. He trusted you to help cultivate GEH. Are you doing that? We have employees at the house just like we have employees here. If I drop the ball and everything has to go through Daddy Bear, why does he need me? I serve as wife, mother, confidant, partner, lover—if I can’t do those things, what good am I? If an outsider can walk in and see that I’m not doing those things, if they can’t see or feel my presence in my home… my children don’t reach for me when I walk in the door, nobody cares whether I’m there or not… what purpose am I serving?”

“I think you’re being a bit harsh, Ana,” she inserts, “no disrespect intended.”

“Am I, Ros?” I say. “How many times have you been to dinner at my home lately?” I ask. “How many times have you seen my husband not make it to the dinner table before his children have to be put to bed because he’s in the workout room working off the day? How many nights have you gone to bed early so that you can be awake in the wee hours of the morning because that’s the only time that you can have a normal conversation with your spouse? How much of GEH goes home on your backs and gets dumped on your families? How much time does it take for you to wind down from the pressures of the day and let go of the business so that you can have some kind of semblance of a normal life?

“I don’t see the same stress on you and Finney that I see on my husband, and when I went into those emails, I see why. My whole intention was to come in here, claim my half of the company, and start really putting my foot down on some shit so that he doesn’t have to take it all on himself, but he has an executive team. Why should I have to do that?

“You walk in first thing in the morning looking like a million bucks and you leave without a smudge on your lipstick, but he’s pulling his hair out.” I turn to Finney “You emit knowledge and power in your stride. You’re confident and it’s evident. He’s wearing a perpetual grimace. He’s constantly pondering something, and I know that he doesn’t smile here because he doesn’t smile at home.” I turn back to Ros.

“You’re always entitled to a vacation—anytime you need it and anytime it’s available—but you don’t think we know that you took a vacation at a very crucial time for this company because you had a bug up your butt?” I accuse. She stares at me, her expression a mixture of surprise and chastised.

“We drop what we’re doing, and we take international vacations at will,” I admit. “So, the very last thing I’m going to do is give you a hard time about taking some time off, but I won’t hesitate to call you out on your bullshit reason and timing. You made a statement and we heard it loud and clear and I don’t like it. He’ll never call you on it, because he can take the reins by himself… but he can’t do both. He can’t be the 24/7, ball-busting leader and still be a family man.

“He has changed,” I point out. “He’s my husband now. He’s the father of my children, and I am not going to lose him to this business… and that’s not a threat. That’s a bona-fide, genuine, signed, sealed, and delivered promise!”

There’s nothing else for me to say. I retrieve my wrap and my clutch and walk out of the office.

Chuck, Ben, and Marilyn silently and quickly fall in step behind me as I stride to the elevator. Chuck inserts a key into the panel and pushes the button for the first floor.

“I need one of those,” I tell him. Without blinking, he gets on his phone.

“Alex… please secure an express key for Her Highness.” He ends the call and looks straight ahead.

When we exit the elevator, I begin my stroll across GEH’s marble floors, commanding the silence that I said should befall the room when Ros and Finney enter as well as a glare here and there. I meet one of them head on since she doesn’t feel the need to break it… today’s sacrificial lamb, so to speak.

“Take a picture it lasts longer!” I shoot in one breath as I approach her. My firm voice cuts through the silence of the lobby, causing everyoneincluding those who weren’t even looking at meto turn their attention to the glaring bitch, who quickly drops her head and her gaze all before I even past her.

The car has been parked in the front of the building for my exit and although I’m dreading the cold without my coat, the statement being made as I march through the lobby with my entourage is much more effective and is bound to cause a buzz once I leave…

One that will ring loudly through the hallowed halls of GEH and, no doubt, directly to the ears of my husband.

CHRISTIAN

That red dress is screaming business and “fuck me” at the same time, demurely covering everything from her neck to her mid-calf with the exception of her dainty little hands. I’m more than a bit taken aback when she snatches that pen from the podium and slams it down in front of the head of procurement along with the sign-in sheet she got from God only knows where.

I see her getting a bit of kickback from some of the boys on the management team, but she’s giving it right back to them. I’m glad I was able to finish my meeting in time and now, I’m tucked in Jason’s office as he and I watch her meeting through the various eyes in the sky. Every time somebody tries to give her some shit, she chews them up, swallows them, and shits them out. Before anyone attempts to be insubordinate, she lets them know that she doesn’t need my permission to kick them out on their asses, and she’s right.

She reminds me of a female version of myself, and I can’t help but wonder what brought this on.

“She can really command a meeting,” Jason says, watching as she fires off detailed questions at members of the Boys’ Club that a few of them have a hard time answering. I would berate them for not having answers that I need, but not Madame Butterfly. Oh, no. She politely lets them know that they will be getting memos for later meetings in a few days or so where she expects to get the answers that she’s seeking without excuses.

Shit, the Butterfly Sword looks to be about as effective as the Iron Fist, if not more so in some cases.

She must have spent hours researching what these departments should be doing! I know that I know some of these projects off the top of my head and others I’m very familiar with…

And somebody tell me why Ros and Lorenz are looking at each other like deer caught in headlights!

I watch the management team and department heads scatter like rats when she dismisses the meeting, several of them crowding the stairwells and not even waiting for the elevator. She has struck the fear of God into these people and they’re off to do whatever is necessary to save their souls! And now, it’s time for the showdown with Ros and Lorenz. I only say showdown because the last time Butterfly was in the office at one of the department head meetings—when she swore that she would never be back—she had a bit of a head-to-head with Ros, who never apologized for her behavior, accusations, or disrespect, by the way. Now, she’s locked in the room with the Butterfly Sword and I’m anxious to see who’ll emerge victorious.

Butterfly doesn’t pull any punches. She goes straight for the jugular. Lorenz is confused, but Ros is ready to fight, and the dukes are raised.

“Oh, shit,” Jason hisses, covering his chin and mouth while shaking his head. He knows what’s coming. No sooner than Ros girds up her armor and prepares to show her weapon, Butterfly slams her hands on my desk shattering the silence and any expectation in the room as well as Ros’ resolve. Her next words and much of the conversation thereafter demonstrates who’s clearly in charge in this meeting.

She’s brought a few things to light that I never considered. I don’t care that I’m doing things on my own as long as they get done, but she’s right. If I have an executive team, why am I doing things on my own? My wife is trying to get a school started. We have to go to Green Valley in a few weeks and I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to go with her with things in the current condition they are, and she’s turning her focus from things that she should be focusing on to the inner workings of GEH and why things aren’t getting done here.

Maybe I should be coming down on Lorenz and Ros a little more. Why the hell did I hire him in the first place? Oh, yeah… I hired him to help take the load off Ros whenever I pulled up and left town and to allow her to take time off without it handicapping the company. Apparently, something got lost in translation with their duties. And I love that she points out that look that they give each other. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear to God that they were planning a mutiny.

And I love my wife dearly, but she knows that I’m never going to take my company public. I don’t even know why she mentioned that. Then again, I guess if there was an ultimatum on the table, we’d need to have a serious discussion about it—about what it would mean to take my company public and why she would think it was a last resort or even a resort at all. Then her final words play in my head as I watch her walk across the lobby…

“He has changed. He’s my husband now. He’s the father of my children, and I am not going to lose him to this business… and that’s not a threat. That’s a bona-fide, genuine, signed, sealed, and delivered promise!”

What makes her think she’s losing me to my business? For fuck’s sake, I’ve got a lot of thinking to do about all this myself. I turn my gaze back to my office and Ros and Lorenz are still standing there.

“Why are they still standing there?” I ask, pointing at the screen.

“They’re talking,” Jason says. I purse my lips.

“Turn it up,” I say, focusing on the screen again.

“Calm down, Ros,” Lorenz says, “Christian knows more than anybody what a disaster it would be to take this company public if for no other reason than that there are assholes out there who would love to take it on just to run it into the ground.”

“But she doesn’t know that,” Ros hisses. “She’s running around here throwing orders like she’s got a new toy, and she’s going to destroy the business in the process.” That’s not what I see at all.

“And may I ask where that theory is coming from?” Lorenz challenges. “What did she do in that meeting that leads you to believe that she didn’t have complete control over everything that she was doing? I would have had to be studying for months to get the kind of detailed intel she had on these departments and what they should be doing. She reviewed emails for a weekend and walked in here and rightfully handed a bunch of executives their asses. Then she turned around and held the departments responsible for not having the information that she needed. I don’t see anybody running around ‘with a new toy’ at all. I see somebody with a vested interest in this company wanting to know what the fuck is going on.”

“Oh, God, don’t tell me you’re under that spell, too,” Ros laments. “Christian I can understand. He’s married to her and he’s in love with her. Now, your vision is all clouded, too?” Careful, Ros.

“My vision is not clouded,” Lorenz says firmly but slowly, “and I don’t like the implication of what you’re trying to say.”

“Oh, keep your shirt on. I’m not trying to say anything. I’m just pointing out the fact that she has absolutely no business experience whatsoever besides her little minor degree…” She waves her hand around dismissively as she describes my wife’s education, “and she’s coming in here throwing orders around to the people who have been doing this for years. They’re not going to like it and we’re probably going to see quite a bit of pushback from it.”

“And whatever they’ve been doing for years, Ros, they haven’t been doing it right. That’s why she’s here. This is her company, too, and she has a right to call ‘bullshit’ when she sees it. Now, I see where you’re coming from, and had this been any other pampered wife running in here waving the ‘I’ve got the power’ flag without the correct information or intention, I would be the first person going to Christian and telling him that shit needs to stop. However, I can clearly see, that’s not what’s going on here and so could those other people in that room. What exactly is your problem?”

“My only problem is with someone who has no idea what the hell is going on marching in here trying to run things!” she snaps, folding her arms. Lorenz falls silent and just looks at her. Noting the silence, she raises her gaze to his.

“What?” she demands.

“You know what? I hope you’ve got your asbestos pantyhose on because whether you like it or not, that little ball of fire is going to fly through here and make some changes and if you don’t watch your attitude and stay on your toes, you’re going to get your ass seared. So, what I suggest you do is pack up that little green-eyed monster and put it back in your pocket, because whether you agree or not, there’s nothing that she said in that room or this one that was. Not. True.

“If she has to deal with half the hellion at home that he is when he’s here, it’s a wonder she hasn’t packed up her babies and run to the hills. You and I both know that we don’t carry the burden that he does, and we definitely don’t take it home to our wives. That woman that walked into that meeting this morning was pissed! She was about the business of getting down to business and whether you want to admit it or not, that’s exactly what she did.

“I’ve watched you make little snide, dismissive comments around and about her like you don’t understand what side your bread is buttered on. Get used to it, Tootsie—she is the head bitch in charge. She could be sitting at home eating bonbons and watching soap operas and she would still be the head bitch in charge. You should be happy that he has a woman that’ll look at all this and see that something’s not right and try to find a solution for it instead of sitting back, spending all his money, and giving him a hard time about having to work so much!”

Damn, I never thought of any of that. Whatever Butterfly wants, I just make sure that she gets it, even if it’s a private meeting with my department heads… well, not so private since I watched from Jason’s office. I just didn’t interfere.

“I’ve worked for this company for years,” Ros says. “I have just as much blood, sweat, and tears in it as Christian. I’ve helped to build it up from a baby just like he did. I just don’t want to see all my hard work—our ­hard work—dismantled by a housewife, no matter how smart she is!”

Damn, Ros, petty much? I agree that she worked hard to get GEH where it is today and her contributions are invaluable, but why must she besmirch my wife so badly?

“Well, forgive me for not noticing,” Lorenz quips, “but what you just saw was goddamn intervention, or did you miss that whole thing? And if what you say is true, then tell me this—are you bleeding, sweating, and crying as much as he is right now? Will we see Gwen marching into the building any second telling us that this shit has got to change?”

Ros falls silent for a moment as if pondering Lorenz’s words, basically the same words that Butterfly said to them not twenty minutes ago.

“Make no mistake, she’s going to have a talk with Christian, and I can guarantee you that there’s going to be some ‘Come to Jesus’ in there. She looked at something somewhere that said that we’re not pulling the weight Christian is when we’re supposed to be a three-man team, and she’s about to make it a four-man team like it or not.”

“Christian likes to do things himself. You know how hands on he is,” she excuses.

“I know that’s bullshit and so do you,” he counters. “We do what we’re told. We do what’s needed. We’ve gotten comfortable in sitting back and not getting our hands too dirty because it’s easy to stay back and let him do that. What building do you need to fall on your head to realize that all of our jobs are in jeopardy right now? A month ago, she couldn’t tell you what the process was for SEEKNID from idea to completion, and now she can tell you that we can probably shave a day off our inefficient shipping processes just by streamlining and combining some of the tasks. Isn’t this the same woman who found a flaw in a product that was supposed to be one of the major selling points of one of our deals last year just by looking at the acquisition reports?

“You’re selling her short, and I have no idea why and I really don’t care, but you better get off that horse, because you’re on it by yourself, and we both better get our asses in gear or we may just find ourselves in the unemployment line!” He glares at her for a moment before he walks out of the office.


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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

Grey Continued: Season 5, Episode 2

I didn’t mean to trigger so many people and so many bad experiences with last week’s episode. I’m sorry. 

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

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

Season 5, Episode 2

ANASTASIA

Marilyn was truly a sight for sore eyes this morning… somewhat.

While I’m very glad to see her, I can’t get over how pale and frail she looks. She absolutely looks ill. Nobody’s saying it out loud, but it’s written all over everyone’s face as she greets them on Monday morning.

What the hell happened to Marilyn?

With her being away for so long and no one knowing why she was gone, the main whisper around the Center is that she has the big “C.” This is a perfect example of how the rumor mill gets started.

“She doesn’t have cancer, for Christ’s sake,” I scold some of the gossipy kitchen staff. “And it’s none of your business what’s happening with her unless she wants to tell you. So, stop drawing conclusions and spreading false rumors about something that you know absolutely nothing about!”

Duly chastised, the kitchen staff shut down their misguided conclusions and the rumors stopped just after lunch. At least, they stopped around me.

Marilyn quickly jumped right back into her work, exclaiming how awful my calendar and commitments looked and wondering how many of them I had missed while she was gone.

“Did you totally delete your appointments with Ace?” she asks horrified. “There’s none of them here. What’d you do, fire the guy?”

“Actually, yes,” I reply. She raises a questioning gaze to me. I sigh and remove my glasses. “He threw me out of his office during one of my sessions…”

“So, you fired him?” she asks confused.

“No, not yet,” I reply. “The next week, his wife called and cancelled my appointment, on the day of my appointment. The next week, he texted me and told me that my appointment was cancelled. After that, I skipped two weeks. I just didn’t feel like dealing with the rejection.

“The following week, we went to Australia, where I had several epiphanies and discovered after five weeks of no therapy that my therapist may not be helping me as much as I thought he was. I still journal; I still talk to people as needed; I still meditate and do my yoga; and I still have Ace on speed dial, but the weekly sessions are over. They’re not helping anymore.”

“How have you been doing since you stopped seeing him?” she asks.

“Overall, pretty good. I’ve had a few hiccups—I’d be worried if everything was peaches and cream after I fired my therapist, quite frankly, but all and all, things are okay with me. It was the right decision.” After a pause, I add, “Now, I’m going to ask the question that nobody wants to ask. Are you well?” Marilyn frowns.

“What do you mean, ‘Am I well?’” she asks.

“Physically,” I say. “Have you been to the doctor since the termination? Is something going on with your health?”

“No, I haven’t been to the doctor. It was an abortion, Ana, not open-heart surgery. There’s nothing wrong with my health. I feel fine.”

“Then why do you look like you’ve lost half your body weight?” I ask. She sighs and rolls her eyes.

“You’re being dramatic,” she says. “It’s just a few pounds. I’m depressed. I have the right to be a little thinner.”

“You’re using present tense,” I say. She rolls her eyes again and meets my gaze.

“What? What do you mean?” she asks.

“You’re saying that you’re depressed, that you have the right to be thinner. I take it that means that you’re not eating.” She sighs like a petulant child and drops her gaze back to her iPad.

“And you’re still depressed, that means you’re still not eating.”

She doesn’t raise her head or acknowledge my statement.

“Look at me, Marilyn!”

The petulant child raises her eyes to me again.

“You’re dangerously thin. You’ve lost a tremendous amount of weight in a short time and the ‘C’ word is already floating around the rumor mill. My God, how could your parents watch this and not be concerned?” Her demeanor changes immediately.

“Because they were more concerned about my immortal soul than my earthly coil!” she snaps, immediately dropping her gaze back to her iPad. I sit silently watching her and waiting for her response.

“It’s just a little weight,” she says without raising her gaze. “Trust me, it’ll be back in no time.” I don’t press the issue… for now. I just get back to the work at hand.

We’ve gone over some of the things that need to be done and Marilyn is frantically working to get her calendar—I should say my calendar—and notifications back to where they should be. I’ve noticed her daydreaming more than once and this time, she’s toying with her finger nervously, rubbing the spot as if it hurts. I’m only just remembering that she used to wear a promise ring there that Gary gave her last year. As if she’s suddenly conscious that she’s worrying her finger, she stops and turns her focus back to her iPad.

“Can you ever forgive him for leaving you?” I ask.

“I already have,” she says, her voice small as she concentrates on her iPad.

“Because you still love him?” She sighs.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s ever going to change, but no. I understand how he feels. I don’t think he could ever understand how I feel… but I get it. So… yes, I’ve already forgiven him.”

“Enough to take him back if he asks?” She pauses for a long moment.

“Can we please change the subject?” she beseeches. I sigh. She needs to talk this out, to come to grips with her raging emotions, but I guess now isn’t the time.

“I’d really like to not have to work at all this weekend,” she interjects. “I need to find a place to stay.” I frown.

“I can’t stay in that apartment,” she says, hugging her iPad close to her and looking at the ground. “It’s worse than being at my parents’ house. I can’t do it. And I don’t want to be alone. I thought I could handle it, but I can’t. I was fine at the hotel. There weren’t so many memories, but now I’m back and I feel like I’m going to die.

“It’s Gary’s apartment,” she continues. “He paid the lease and I can’t stay there… for obvious reasons. I’m calling movers to come and get my things and maybe I’ll put the bulk of them in storage while I try to find somewhere permanent, but it was hell sleeping in that apartment last night… or trying to sleep in it. When I’m gone, let him know that he can move back in. I’m surprised he didn’t move in while I was at my parents’.”

“I don’t think he knew that you were gone,” I reply. The truth is that nobody has seen Gary. We know that he’s working, but he hasn’t really spoken to us since the breakup. He called me once on Christmas, but that’s it. He probably thinks I’m going to harass him about Marilyn.

“You have any idea where you’re going? Have you looked at any places yet?” I ask.

“My old apartment is obviously gone, so that’s out,” she says. “I’ll find something.”

“And in the meantime?” I ask. She shrugs.

“I can’t stay with my parents. Even if they were close enough, they drive me crazy,” she says. “They haven’t ostracized me, but they’re acting like they have to cast demons out of me because I murdered this innocent child.” Her voice cracks as she says it. “I wish I hadn’t done it,” she confesses. “I would have kept the baby had I known it would be this bad.”

You feel bad?” I ask.

“Gary’s hurt and I’ve lost him forever. My heart aches and I can’t stop it. My parents are treating me like Satan’s spawn instead of their daughter. Nothing much would have changed if I had the baby…” I frown, horrified.

“Nothing much? Are you kidding? Your entire life would have changed!” She raises her eyes to me.

“You would have let me bring the baby to work,” she points out. “And Helping Hands has a nursery…”

“I’m a billionairess with a full-time assistant, full-time nannies, and full-time staff—and I had to choose between my practice, Helping Hands, and my babies. You really think your life wouldn’t have changed?” She drops her eyes back to her iPad. “You did what you felt you needed to do for yourself. Neither decision was going to be easy, and they would both be full of regrets no matter what you chose. You’re only tormenting yourself by second-guessing your decision because you can’t go back and undo it.” She sighs.

“Yet another reason to change the subject,” she says, with the same shaky voice. “Is it okay if I have the weekend off?” I twist my lips.

“Of course, it is,” I say softly. “We usually don’t work weekends unless there’s an emergency anyway.” A few moments pass and I say, “You know I’ve got the condo. Courtney’s staying there now, but there’s plenty of room.” She shakes her head.

“Me and Court are cool and all, but not cool enough to be roomies. You pay me well, Boss Lady. I’ll find a place.” I know you will, but I don’t want you to be alone. You don’t look well and you’re scaring me!

Here comes the Owie House again.

“I have eight bedrooms—pick one,” I say. She raises her eyes to me, then realization dawns.

“Oh, I’m sure Christian would just love that,” she says sarcastically. I twist my lips.

“Are you forgetting how many bedrooms I have?” I say. “As long as you don’t come out of those rooms in any state of undress, we’ll be fine. Besides, having my personal assistant truly at my beck and call would be a dream come true—even if it is only temporary.” She smiles weakly.

“You’re just trying to make me feel better,” she says. I lean forward on my desk.

“Do you have any idea how handicapped I was without you? Any clue?” I ask. She cocks her head at me.

“If you’re calendar’s any indication, yes, I do!” she declares.

“Courtney’s wonderful. She did the best she could, but she’s not you,” I reply. “Look at all the people that live here,” I add. “Val and Elliot are here, and some days, we never even see them! You could go for days in this joint and not bump into each other… and you work here! No commute. Put your furniture in storage—you can use the storage at my condo if it’s not much, I know that’s empty. Hide away in the furthest bedroom from humanity if you choose and take some time to regroup. That way, you don’t have to stay in the apartment, you don’t have to be subjected to the cathobapticostal condemnation and casting out of demons for choosing to terminate your pregnancy, and you can take your time and find a nice place on your schedule. No pressure.” She frowns.

“Have you talked to Christian about this?” she asks. I pull out my phone and start texting.

“No,” I tell her, “but he’ll be fine with it.”

“I don’t want to make this decision until you talk to your husband,” she protests. I raise my eyes to her.

“Would you rather not stay there?” I ask. “I don’t want to pressure you into doing something you don’t want to do.” She shakes her head as my phone buzzes, and I continue to text.

“It’s not that,” she says. “I’m sure I’ll have privacy. I just don’t want to impose, seriously. Right now, the easiest thing for me to be is invisible…” which is why I don’t want you to be alone.

“That’s not healthy,” I reply, “but I guess it’s somewhat expected under the circumstances.” My phone buzzes again. “And I’ve talked to my husband,” I say, showing her the texts.

Ana: I’d like for Marilyn to stay with us for a while until she finds another place.

Christian: Okay.

Ana: She’s worried about being an imposition.

Christian: Eight bedrooms?? Almost 15,000 square feet?? We’ve already got a tribe living there. What’s one more?

Marilyn almost laughs after reading the text. That’s progress.

“Thank you,” she says, her voice soft and grateful. I’m glad I turned the phone around before the next text came in.

**Garrett’s being an asshole. **

**No, he’s not. He’s hurt and he has a right to be. I just wish this wasn’t so hard on either of them. **

**There you go with that PC-ness again. She needs him, and he deserted her. That’s all I see. **

**I understand. I won’t dispute you on that. But he’s still my friend, so what are you going to do when he comes around? **

**Don’t worry, I’ll behave. **

“What is it?” Marilyn asks, noting my constant texting.

“Oh, nothing. We’re just discussing that we have to keep our chandelier swinging and jungle noises to a minimum,” I jest. She laughs. “Honestly,” I interject, “he doesn’t agree with Gary’s handling of this situation.” She drops her head.

“Neither do I, but I understand.” she says sadly. “I might as well be dead to him. He was everything to me… still is—and I thought I was everything to him, but apparently, I’m not.”

I want to tell her that it’s just not that simple, but to her, it is.

“He was my heart and soul. I can’t even put into words what he meant to me… means to me. I want to hate him so badly, but I can’t. I swear to God, I would have kept the baby had I known it would turn out like this.”

Tears are falling down her cheek faster than she can catch them. I’m glad the door is already closed.

“Hindsight is 20/20,” I tell her, “but wouldn’t you have just been swapping one set of problems for another? You clearly said that you weren’t ready.” She shakes her head.

“I know,” she says weepily, “but this feels like it’s never going to end. It’s never going to stop hurting…” she trails off, weeping.

“It will, Mare,” I try to comfort her. “It doesn’t feel like it right now, but it will.” She does her best to pull herself together, but she’s still sniffling.

“You may want to put me in the room farthest away from you and Christian,” she chuckles sadly. “I still spend most of my nights crying and I don’t want to disturb you.

That’s it.

“Fuck finding a place of your own. You’ll store your things on our property, and you’ll stay as long as you need to.”

“I can’t…”

“Yes, you can,” I interrupt her. “I’m not ashamed to say that I’m very worried about you. You went straight from a horrible, traumatic breakup to living with your parents who subjected you to weeks of religious bullying and emotional warfare. You really haven’t had any time to heal and now, you’re trying to move back into your old apartment where all the wounds are ripped open again. You look like you’ve lost at least half of what little body fat you had and quite frankly, I’m scared. You’re going to come to my house where you can have good company whenever you want it and good food so we can fatten you up.” She laughs through her tears again.

“Good luck with that,” she says. “My mom may be a fundamental fanatic, but she’s the best cook on the planet! She couldn’t even get me to eat. I can’t keep anything down.” I frown.

“What are you eating lately in an average day?” I ask. She shrugs.

“I don’t know, I’m not keeping a diary,” she says.

“What did you eat yesterday?” I ask. Her eyes go skyward as she tries to think.

“I had a cup of tea and some toast before I left Spokane. Then, I had an orange in the afternoon. I had Chinese delivered to the apartment for dinner.” I caught that. She had it delivered…

“But did you eat it?” I ask. Her shoulders fall.

“Yes,” she answers suspiciously. My eyes narrow.

“And?” I press. She sighs and rolls her eyes.

“Boy, nothing gets past you, does it?”

“No, so spit it out,” I chastise.

“I did,” she replies.

“No, you didn’t. You’re holding something back…”

“No, I did,” she says, her turn to interrupt, “I spit it out—or up. I couldn’t hold it down.” I shake my head and close my laptop.

“Would you like for me to go with you so that you can pick up some things for the week? We can handle the heavy lifting on Saturday.”

“You’re already giving me a place to stay,” she protests. “I couldn’t ask for more.”

“You’re not asking, I’m offering,” I say. Rising from my seat, I swipe the screen on my cell phone and call Chuck.

“You okay?” he answers.

“Jesus, am I that bad?” I ask. He sighs.

“I just never know what to expect when you call before quitting time.” I shake my head.

“Well, keep your boxers on. All is well with me, but all is not well. I need you and Carol to bring the cars around. We need to go to Marilyn’s and pick up some things. Have Tate and Rebe get Keri and the twins back to the Crossing, unless Carol wants to switch with Tate for a while as there might be some heavy lifting…” Chuck scoffs.

“Are you kidding?” he asks. “Have you seen Carol?”

“Well, not without clothes, no,” I say matter-of-factly. He chuckles.

“She’ll be fine,” he says. “She has bigger biceps than Christian.” Egad, don’t tell him that!

“Don’t publicize that, okay?” I warn. There’s a moment of silence.

“Affirmative,” he says. “I’ll get the transportation ball rolling.”

“Thank you,” I say before ending the call.

“You don’t have to do this,” Marilyn says.

“Quiet, Little Orphan Annie,” I say, packing my things and grabbing my coat, handing Marilyn hers. “You’re wasting away in front of me. This situation requires an immediate intervention and I’m the one to do it.”

*-*

You can tell that no one’s been to the apartment since she left, not even to check on it. It has that stale, needs to be cleaned smell. She just stands in the door and looks around the room.

“It’s barren,” she says. “We had so many good times here, but you wouldn’t know it looking at it now. It’s gray in here—it looks like the death angel himself brushed through every room and left his aura behind.”

She hadn’t even unpacked. All there is to do is clear what’s left of her things out of the apartment and clean it.

“Please grab those two bags over there,” she says to Chuck and Carol, pointing to the luggage that I assumed she had taken to Spokane with her. She goes into the kitchen and returns with a large roll of black garbage bags.

“Ana, can you help me please?” she says. I frown and follow her into the closet.

“You’re going to pack your things in garbage bags?” I ask, horrified.

“Trust me,” she says. She removes a bag from the roll and tears a hole right in the bottom of it, rendering it basically useless… or so I thought. She takes a handful of clothes from the rack of the closet, still on the hangers, and hands them to me.

“Hold this,” she says. I take the handful of garments from her and she proceeds to put the bag over the garments, sticking the hooks from the hangers through the hole at the bottom of the bag. She takes the garments from me, hangs them back on the rack, and ties the bag closed at the bottom.

Instant garment bag.

“That’s kind of clever,” I tell her. She nods.

“Yep, and the clothes are still on the hangers. So, when I get to your house, I hang them in the closet and rip off the bags.” I nod. Work smart, not hard.

After about an hour, Marilyn had enough of being in Gary’s apartment. We had gathered most of her things and agreed to come back this weekend to situate the rest. She deduced that her car being here is what prevented Gary from coming to the apartment, so since she was going to be staying with us, she would leave it here until she packed and removed the rest of her things to eliminate the risk of running into Gary. Her relationship is over. She doesn’t like it, but she’s accepting it.


CHRISTIAN

I’m sitting at my desk thinking about the conversation that I and my wife had the day after Christmas about Management 101. My meeting this morning is with the human resources department along with Ros and Lorenz. Last week, I reviewed a sampling of our annual reviews and my wife is right—these reviews are shit. There appeared to be no measurable goals and feedback was shoddy, at best.

Further investigation showed that the managers in each department are responsible for the content and conducting of the annual reviews as well as the feedback and follow-up. There’s no accountability for leadership, and no useful feedback for employees to promote improvement. It’s just like Ana said—management isn’t motivating the people in the trenches and, as a result, we have shitty work coming from the trenches, and if there is any hidden talent down there, it’s hidden in the shit. Once again, my wife was right. I have no idea how my company hasn’t folded by now.

In an attempt to get everyone involved instead of just having another heads will roll meeting, I put Lorenz in charge of a brainstorming session where we put the ideas that my wife suggested to work. How do we create a system of reviews that holds each employee—management and subordinates—responsible for their performance on an ongoing basis, with continuous feedback and evaluation to identify weaknesses and opportunities before they become critical?

I was amazed how the room came alive. Many, if not all, of the people in my human resources department have degrees and some of them are in management. The whiteboard was full of ideas and poor Andrea had her hands full trying to keep up with the minutes of the meetings. Many of the ideas mirrored the suggestions of my wife, but in more detail…

Holding management accountable to levels below and above them will keep them on their toes and prevent them from doing the old soft-shoe when performance reviews come around.

Specific goals need to be set for all employees that are measurable and align with the goals of the organization.

Employees need to know that they are not only striving for excellence individually, but also as a team. If one employee is lacking, they bring the team down, in which case, the team will be able to motivate said employees to identify opportunities to improve and achieve their goals.

The meeting went on all morning. When it was complete, each attending had a task to bring back to the next meeting where they would work with Lorenz to construct a new method of reviews that would be more conducive to the company. Two really important points came out of this meeting besides the birth of the creation of a new system of performance reviews:

I was able to pass this ball off to Lorenz and the human resources team. Even though the initial idea came from me by way of my beautiful and intelligent wife, I don’t have to monitor the progress of the project. I could delegate the responsibility to one of my other executive team, leaving me to deal with other pressing matters. I’ve become so accustomed to handling things myself—and everyone letting me—that the concept of delegation is sometimes hard for me to grasp. I don’t know who can really do exactly what needs to be done unless someone steps forward and says, “Hey, I can handle this for you.”

The second thing… Ros contributed nothing to the meeting. She didn’t have a suggestion, she didn’t take any notes, and her expression barely changed at all for three hours. If I were to guess, she was just sitting there wondering when it was all going to end. She sat in the meeting the entire time like she was watching a movie at the drive-in. All she needed was the goddamn popcorn.

I don’t have time to ponder what the fuck is going on with her because the moment I get back to my office, Alex has left a message that he wants to meet with me, and I’m quite anxious to know what he has to say.

“Holstein is losing his mind trying to see who’s got it in for him,” Alex says when we settle in my office and I activate the scramblers. I’ve just been informed that besides the lovely Christmas inconveniences that he’s had so far, he received a box of live rats on his doorstep on Saturday. His wife and children were put up at a hotel while he contacted exterminators in hopes of getting the things out of his house.

How the hell do you deliver a box of live rats?

Alex informs me of the lovely things we have prepared for the weeks to come for our favorite little traitor, and I must admit that the finale warms my fucking heart. Elena’s small and gradually growing mishaps are a delayed Christmas present as well. She’s suffered everything from a black eye to a busted lip to a sprained ankle. Hers and Holstein’s comeuppance will culminate right at the same time.

I guess now would be the time to start terrorizing that smarmy-assed secretary, since she wants to mouth off with the big boys, let’s see if she likes how the big boys play.

The buzzing in my pocket informs me that I have a text message. I remove my phone and see that Butterfly is informing me that Marilyn will be staying with us for a while. I shrug inwardly. The more the merrier. Chuck’s parents left this morning after being assured that he would be okay, and Harmony will be moving into Escala at the end of the week. Even though Valerie and Elliot have moved back in for a while, they’re pretty much a staple at my house to the degree that they permanently have their own room.

Butterfly tells me that Marilyn is protesting, and I remind her that we have eight bedrooms, then express my displeasure with how Garrett handled this situation. I’m staying out of it for the most part, but I feel that if you love someone, you shouldn’t desert them even when they piss you off. Believe me, I’m still kicking myself for the Madrid excursion, but that’s a whole other can of worms.

Alex is still filling me in on the progress of Alcatraz and the plans to be put in place for one Ms. Greta Ellison when Ros bursts into the room without knocking or being invited. I glare at her.

“Excuse me, but when has it been acceptable to burst into my office without permission?” I ask. She just looks at me.

“We have a development on the Fraser account,” she says.

“That didn’t sound like an apology and you haven’t answered my question,” I bark. She rolls her eyes.

“I don’t have time for this,” she says, dropping the file on my desk. “Look at this.”

“Keep fucking with me, Rosalind, and you’re going to have a whole lot of goddamn time on your hands.” I declare coolly. She raises a surprised gaze to me. That got her attention. “Now, pick up your file, get the fuck out of my office, and try that shit again.”

She blinks a couple of times like she can’t believe what she’s hearing. I’m not going to repeat myself, so she had better move her ass. As if suddenly realizing that I’m not fucking playing with her, she retrieves the file and marches back out the way that she came in. At this point, I wouldn’t give a fuck if she didn’t come back.

As it appears that’s exactly what she decided, Alex and I resume our conversation. A few moments later, my intercom comes alive.

“Rosalind is here to see you, sir,” Andrea’s voice says uncertainly. I look over at Alex, who actually rolls his eyes in disbelief. My sentiments exactly! My first inclination is to make her ass wait for a few more moments, but I decide instead to let her in with the intention that if she brings any of that premenstrual I am woman hear me roar bullshit with her, she’s going to be roaring on the other side of that goddamn door.

“Send her in,” I say. I deactivate the office scrambler and clasp my hands in front of me while glaring at the door. She’s slightly more docile when she enters, and her temperament cools even more as she approaches my desk, no doubt noting the please fuck with me today expression on my face.

“We have an issue with the Fraser account,” she says, handing me the file. I stand and indignantly snatch the file from her hand, giving her a healthy dose of the attitude that she feels I should contend with from her.

“What am I looking for?” I say, my voice low and firm as I skim through the information.

“You should see it there in a minute,” she replies. Don’t test me, lady. Tell me what the fuck you want. I cut a sharp glare at her.

“What. Am I looking for?” I ask more firmly in case I didn’t make the question clear the first time. She sighs.

“On the first page…”

We go through the file and the areas for concern over the next few minutes. Alex excuses himself to “take care of some things” while we’re going through the information. After we decide on a course of action, I lean back in my chair.

“Tell me why you couldn’t solve this on your own,” I ask. “This is pretty elementary.”

“I don’t know where your mind is lately, Christian,” she retorts. “I may think one course of action is the best and you’re totally against it.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it,” I counter. “You’ve had autonomy in this company since the day you first came on staff. I don’t second guess your decisions. I may decide that there’s something that I don’t want to do, like I may shut down a merger, but I never second guess your decisions. You didn’t need me for this, and I had to take time out of my day to tell you what you already knew. Why?” She purses her lips.

“It’s like I said, I don’t know where your mind is. We used to be in sync, but lately, our thought processes have been extremely… polar.” I shake my head and cut right to the chase.

“You confuse me, Ros,” I admit. “You get all touchy because of my wording of something and because of my decision to perform random drug testing and we actually found several people who not only had traces of drugs in their system but were also high on the job. And for the life of you, you still can’t admit that I was onto something. You actually didn’t like my decision, and you still can’t admit that I was right. You act like I’m taking toys out of your little play box and I won’t let you come and play in mine. What the fuck is up with you?”

“I’ve already told you there’s nothing up with me,” she says, flatly. “If you insist on thinking otherwise, there’s nothing I can do about that.” My expression doesn’t change, although inside, I’m sick of her shit.

“You can go now,” I dismiss her, turning my attention back to my computer. She turns on her heels and marches out of the room, and I ponder my words.

You can go now…

Has Ros outlived her usefulness? She’s been a part of this company almost from the very beginning. It’s always been her and me with our noses to the grindstone. Good, bad, or ugly, we’ve always managed to pull this company through. Now, there are changes—lots of changes—occurring in our lives, personal and professional.

She and Gwen were engaged when she started here, but they married after she had been with GEH for a year.

Things went floating merrily along for a few years and then I met Anastasia. That’s when the ship started falling apart.

As soon as I turned my attention from the company for the slightest moment, balls began dropping all over the place. I would go out of town on business trips at the drop of a hat and there was never a problem, but as soon as I started taking trips with my girlfriend-then-wife, she started having problems and I had to hire Lorenz. Now, we’ve got help and she’s still behaving as if she’s having a problem pulling her weight. If I didn’t know for sure that she was gay, I’d think she was pregnant. And that brings up another point…

She’s getting to a point where she’s downright rude to Anastasia. She shows her absolutely no professional courtesy as an owner of this company, but she also acts as if she doesn’t even like her as a person. Once again, if it weren’t for the whole gay thing, I’d swear she was a spurned lover!

Has she outgrown GEH? Has GEH outgrown her? Is it time to suggest that she update her resume and review her professional options? I would give her nothing but a shining recommendation, but sometimes, people just don’t fit anymore, and I can’t have someone on my team that I feel is not on my team anymore.

I thrust my hands into my hair. I can’t deal with this right now, but can I afford to put it on the back burner until the situation becomes detrimental? I shake my head and call Allen.

“Allen Forsythe-Fleming,” he answers.

“Allen, when are we supposed to go to Nevada?” I ask.

“February 2nd,” he says. Jesus, I hope this shit is somewhat in order with the company by then. There’s no telling how long we’ll be in Vegas for this fucking circus.

“Do we have a final headcount?” I ask.

“For…?” he asks.

“How many people are going,” I say, as if it’s obvious. “Ana’s dad wants to go; you’re going; we have security. Do we have a final head count?”

“Oh… no, I didn’t think about that. I’ll call Jewel and see who all we’re expecting. Is everyone going to have security?”

“Liaise with Jason to see how much security will be needed for the amount of people traveling. He also usually makes my travel and lodging arrangements, too. Do we have any clue how long this thing might take?” I ask.

“I would say prepare to be there for at least a week, but quite possibly more than that. I remember Jewel watched most of the Double-Dicker’s trial stream live on some court channel. I don’t know if they’re going to do the same for this one. Part of me thinks they will and part of me hopes that they won’t.” My brow furrows.

“Explain,” I press.

“It’s much more sensational than the Edward David trial, so I would think they would want to stream it. On the other hand, Jewel’s been through enough. This was a terrible and, quick frankly, very personal time in her life. I wouldn’t want to see that splattered all over the news.” I nod as if he could see me.

“Hear, hear,” I concur.

*-*

I’m exhausted when I leave the office today. Ros tried my patience three more times before the day was over and I just don’t have time to deal with her attitude along with everything else happening with the company. She just came back from vacation and it’s done absolutely nothing to improve her sour ass mood. As such, I can’t very well send her off on another one, but something’s got to give because this female is working my last fucking nerve.

When I get home and we enter the garage, I’m expecting to see Marilyn’s car in the last bin, but there’s nothing. I leave my coat and boots in the mudroom and decide that I’m way too tired to work out. This day really wore me out.

I step into the family room to see Keri and Gail minding the twins as they watch some Disney cartoon on television.

“Where’s Butterfly?” I ask, wearily.

“Upstairs,” Gail replies.

“Marilyn’s not here?” Gail nods.

“That’s where Ana is,” she says. “They arrived not too long before you and they’re probably upstairs unpacking some of her things.” I nod and reach for my son.

“Hey, little prince,” I say, lifting him out of the Pack-n-Play. “I guess they had to confine you to make sure that you wouldn’t run amuck all over the house, huh?” Mikey babbles something incoherent as he pats both my cheeks.

“Hes seestah won beh too fah behahnd. Look!” Keri shows me that Minnie is standing and taking several steps on her own. I sigh heavily about how quickly it seems my children are growing.

“Gail, have we thought about childproofing at all?” I ask.

“I’m already on it,” she replies. “Ana actually beat you to it.” I smile softly.

“Of course, she did,” I say, looking back at Mikey. “Your mom thinks of everything.” I kiss him on the cheek, lean down and give my Minnie Mouse a kiss before I go in search of my wife.

I take the elevator to the upper level and I can hear women talking the moment the doors open. Good grief, did she stick the poor girl on the other end of the house? Sure enough, I follow the voices to the last bedroom and there they are. The door is open, but I knock anyway. Butterfly and Marilyn both raise their heads to me, and I’m not prepared for the sight that greets me.

“Hhi,” I say, with a little more emphasis on the “h.”

“Hey,” Butterfly says, somewhat surprised, but rising to greet me. She gives me a small peck on the lips, and I enter the room.

“Hi, Christian,” Marilyn says as she stands. I try not to allow my expressions to betray my thoughts, but I don’t think I’m doing very well.

“Hi, Marilyn… how are you?” I ask cautiously.

“As well as can be expected,” she says, with a shrug. You sure about that?

“What?” she says after I’m silent for a while.

“Forgive me if I misspeak, but… are you well?” I ask. She raises a brow at me.

“Yes,” she says, with no malice. “I…” She looks over at Ana, who shrugs one shoulder at her. “I’ve been a bit… depressed. It’s… a little hard to eat.”

“A little…?” I nearly gasp. “It hasn’t been that long. What’s it been, like a month? Two?” Marilyn drops her head.

“One month… one week… five days…” Her voice trails off as she whispers the last two words, and I suddenly feel so bad for her. I sigh heavily.

“Marilyn,” I say, my voice softening as I close the space between us, “I know you’re hurting, but you’ve got to eat. You’ve lost so much weight. There’s absolutely nothing healthy about the amount of weight you’ve lost since I’ve last seen you. You’re in a mansion now… with a cook… and a butler… please, eat.” She drops her eyes again and nods.

“I’ll do my best,” she promises. I take her hands.

“That’s all I can ask,” I say, giving them a squeeze.

“You can’t say I didn’t warn you,” Butterfly says to Marilyn.

Dammit, I wish she had warned me! This poor girl looks like she’s knocking on death’s door. She was thin to begin with—not skinny, but fit. Now, she looks downright frail, and her makeup is doing nothing for her skin. It’s ashy and her face is sunken, like it’s barely hanging onto her bones. She doesn’t look like the Grim Reaper, but compared to what she was, she’s pretty damn close!

As I’m pondering the situation with Marilyn and how to get her back to a healthy weight without force-feeding her, I catch a glimpse of black plastic in the closet.

“Um, why are there garbage bags hanging in the closet?” I ask, pointing to the bags.

“Oh.” Marilyn walks to the closet. Dear God, she looks even thinner from behind. She quickly rips away one of the trash bags to reveal several garments now hanging neatly in the closet.

“Garment bag in a pinch,” she says. “Easy packing and unpacking when you’re in a hurry.” I purse my lips and nod.

“That’s pretty smart,” I say. “There might be a market for something like that.”

“Well, take the idea, Mr. Mogul,” she says. “If anybody can sell it, you can.” I smile.

“Do you mind if I steal my wife for a minute or two?” I ask, looking over at Anastasia. Marilyn waves me off.

“Take her,” she says. “I think she’s babysitting me.”

“I’m not babysitting!” Butterfly protests.

“Then you won’t mind coming with me and letting Marilyn get settled, right?” I say, cupping her elbow and guiding her off the bed. She looks back at Marilyn as if she’s leaving her pet at the boarders for a week.

“You’ll be alright?” Butterfly asks like a protective mother.

“Go,” Marilyn says, shooing her off.

“I’m right down the hall if you need me,” Butterfly continues, trying to stall as I gently lead her away.

“Go-wah!” Marilyn says, a little more urgently. I put my arm around my wife’s waist and guide her out of the bedroom.

“Don’t miss dinner,” I say sternly to Marilyn and raise my brow at her. She nods noncommittal and rips another garbage bag from her clothes in the closet.

“Why did you stick her all the way down here?” I ask as I lead my wife away from Marilyn’s door.

“She wanted the farthest room,” she replies. “She still cries a lot.” I shake my head.

“Jesus, somebody should tell him what he’s doing to her. She looks like hell!”

“We don’t know what this is doing to him,” Butterfly defends. I want to ask whose side she’s on, but Marilyn is her PA and friend and is now living here, so she’s obviously on Marilyn’s side; and Garett is her longtime friend, so I can see why she would be on his side, too. She’s stuck in a bad place, and I’m glad it’s not me!

“Where’s her car?” I ask.

“Still at Gary’s apartment,” she says. “She left it there in the parking garage while she was out of town. As such, Gary never came near the apartment, we’re thinking it’s because he thought she was there. Her logic is to leave it there until the end of the week until she gets all of her things from the apartment and avoid the chance of running into Gary.” I twist my lips again.

“If this is how you felt when I went to Madrid, I am so, so sorry,” I lament. She closes her eyes and shakes her head.

“It’s water under the bridge,” she says. “It’s over and done; let’s not bring it up.”

Her reaction lets me know that’s exactly how she felt. I pull her into my arms and kiss her forehead.

“Minnie’s going to be walking soon,” I say as we walk towards the stairs…

*-*

With a broken-hearted Marilyn, a mourning Valerie, and a soul-weary Elliot at the dinner table, we try to keep the conversation light, but try though we may, there wasn’t much participation from our latest house mates. Valerie dutifully ate her meal, mostly in silence, while Elliot devoured his food like the caveman that he is. I’m not insulting him; I’m always happy to see that someone has a healthy appetite, especially with the young lady to my right looking as if she needs to be holding a sign that says, “Will work for food.”

I try to keep the conversation going as much as I can by talking about Butterfly’s solid idea for revamping performance reviews and even Ros’ bad attitude throughout the day. Butterfly chimes in with discussion about the school year starting and Keri taking her tests for her American teaching certifications soon. We covered everything we could think of from the Christmas cookies to Freeman finally being out of the brothers’ hair, but nothing could ignite a table-wide conversation.

Marilyn dismally picks at her food and I’m certain that she hasn’t eaten two bites before excusing herself from the table. I watch her walk from the table with her head down, looking like she’s headed for the gallows. She’s so thin that I’m afraid if a good storm occurs, she would be whisked away to the Land of Oz. I want to demand that she come back to the table and finish her meal, but she’s a grown woman, not one of my children. When I look over at Butterfly, she’s watching Marilyn walk away with the same concern that I am. She finally just shakes her head and begins to pick at what’s left of her own food.

“She’s lost weight,” Valerie says finally, and I’m glad that she’s talking.

“Yeah,” Butterfly laments. “She’s not taking the breakup well at all.”

“That’s not a bad breakup,” Valerie protests. “We’ve seen bad breakups, Steele. We’ve been bad breakups. That’s more than a bad breakup.”

What can she say, that Marilyn is also in mourning for the loss of a baby that she wasn’t really sure that she wanted and that she willingly got rid of? Valerie’s mourning losing a baby that she and Elliot wanted more than anything. This would very likely put a rift between them.

“Yes, Val, it’s more than that, but I’m not at liberty to talk about it,” Butterfly says.

“Garett’s an ass,” I mumble before taking a mouthful of food.

“Christian,” my wife warns gently. I glance over at her and she’s scolding me with her look. I turn my attention back to my meal.

*-*

The apartment has been cleaned from top to bottom. The sunlight from the glass windows lights the entire space and the view of Elliot Bay is just as spectacular as it was when I first moved here. Escala was one of the first things I purchased when I began to make my fortune. It was a status symbol. It was me thumbing my nose at my father because he thought I was out of my mind to throw away the opportunity of a Harvard education to go out on some “half-cocked business endeavor.” When Fortune named me as one of the top twenty up-and-coming businessmen of the decade, I celebrated by buying my first sports car…

And this penthouse.

I remember personally choosing every piece of furniture that decorated this space—every dish, every lamp, every sculpture and vase, every piece of art. It’s empty now. I’ve just finished the closing and signed the papers transferring ownership to Harmony, and now the space is waiting for her to come in and make new memories.

Memories.

It’s not like I can pretend that the things that happened in this space didn’t happen. I was mostly happy here. My life went through many transitions, but for me, they were all good. Each transition was better than the last, even the time I spent with Lincoln.

Elena.

I haven’t said or even thought her first name in quite some time. She’s been The Pedophile or Lincoln or even that blonde bitch or just that bitch, but nothing more. Now, in this empty space, I remember a lot of our relationship, what she used to mean to me.

In those days, she was everything—a mentor, a friend, a trusted confidante, a lover. It was a relationship that I hadn’t shared with anyone else, ever. I didn’t know what it meant to have friends or people you confided in, only her. I only had my family—and John, and my life was so steeped in secrecy that I couldn’t even confide in my family.

I trusted no one. I thought everyone was out to get me, everyone. Submissives only wanted the gifts that I could give them or the pleasure I released on them. If they wanted more than that, I terminated our contract and didn’t look back. No one sought to really be my friend. They only wanted what they could get from me. I had learned to distance myself from people a long time ago, especially since I couldn’t stand to be touched.

Jesus, that seems like ages ago.

I still have a phobia of strangers touching me without permission, but things have certainly changed over the past several years.

I wander up to what used to be the playroom. The walls are now painted a calming ecru. The chains, tracks, and carabiners have all been removed from the ceiling. I had completely forgotten that there were windows in here. I had that entire wall covered with artificial soundproof walls that only showed a landscape from the outside.

All the equipment has been removed from the walls. It and the furniture from this room have been taken by Artemis to be sold on consignment with the proceeds going to my account for whatever other services I may need from him in the future—everything except the Chesterfield chair. Butterfly and I decided to keep the chair for Downtime and put it in our sitting room.

Downtime is a specific time for us to communicate while in character—me as Dominus and her as soumise. During the Munch, we learned that Downtime can be called by either of us when we need to discuss something, particularly about our relationship, but it could be anything at all. It’s another way for us to connect as Dominus and soumise in a non-sexual atmosphere unless we choose to transition into a sexual act. It can be used to reconnect after we’ve had a disagreement. Downtime can be very powerful in maintaining a strong, loving, and respectful BDSM relationship if utilized properly.

I’m not really certain why they call it Downtime, but its description may have something to do with it. Butterfly would present herself to me as soumise, in whatever garment I’ve chosen for her for the evening, and she would then become Pussycat. She would sit in whatever position I choose for her—kneeling in front of me, sitting in my lap, or her head in my lap. Whatever her position, her head would remain below mine, indicating her willingness to submit to me. We’ve procured a plush pillow for her for the times when she will be expected to kneel.

We will, of course, communicate at other times, but Downtime is specifically to assist in the transition from vanilla to D/s, even if there’s no sexual act involved. It’s not required every time we want to make a trip to the Blue Room, but it’s recommended for couples who plan to practice on a regular basis, particularly in a married D/s relationship. During the Munch, Artemis recommended Downtime at least once a week. Butterfly got the same recommendation from Savvina.

I couldn’t imagine having Downtime in this room with those women who used to be my submissives. I’m certain that I’ve spoken to them more than once in a Downtime position, with respect and consideration for their immediate concerns, but this is certainly different.

At first, I didn’t want to use the Chesterfield chair. I remember making her fuck me until she was completely exhausted in that chair. She remembers the encounter fondly and indicates that she would like to see me sitting in the chair in my Dom uniform. I can imagine the comfort and pleasure I would feel with Pussycat at my feet in one of her Victorian nightshirts with nothing underneath, or simply a pair of white thongs, her head resting on my lap while I caress her brown tresses and we calmly discuss whatever may be pertinent at the time. It’s important that we don’t allow heavy feelings or anger to prevent us from doing Downtime. No matter what the situation, I’m still her Dominus, and she will always be my soumise.

It’s strange and somewhat appropriate that I would think of our new relationship standing here in this room where I first explored my role, tastes, and preferences as a Dom. It now looks like any other bedroom in the penthouse, but it has experienced many transformations throughout my journey of discovery.

At first, it was black. I had taken my cues from Elena and leaned to the familiar—black equipment, black furniture, nearly black walls. That worked for a few months, but I began to feel like I was lost in the darkness when I entered the room. My soul was dark enough; my surroundings didn’t need to be black, too. That’s why my apartment was always decorated in stark white with contrasting accents. It may have seemed sterile to some, but to me, it was comforting. White would definitely not do for the playroom, though.

The only other colors that meant anything to me were red, yellow and green. I certainly wasn’t going to have a yellow or a green room, and although red is the customary safeword, it seemed appropriate to me…

And it worked out very well.

The rich wood tones of the furniture and the deep, dark browns of the Chesterfields blended very well with the Red Room. There were a few pieces with black cushions or accents with blonder tones in the wood, but nothing too bright. It was inviting and foreboding at the same time, and absolutely perfect for my purposes.

I’m experiencing nostalgia again as I recall picking the pieces for my room. Elena had helped outfit the Black Dungeon, but I found Artemis through connections I had made on my own. He listened to what I wanted and offered suggestions on what the Red Room should contain and look like. He was right. The playroom was exquisite. I could hardly wait to leave work some Fridays and get back here to this room—to the comfort and safety it afforded me; the control I wielded in these walls. There’s nowhere in the world that I was more powerful than I was in this room, not even at my desk in GEH or at the head of the conference table while simpering executives hung on my every word. No… here… this was my realm, my central station of Dominance. My power was absolute, and I knew it

I brought many women to their knees… broke their bodies, then broke their hearts. They ached for the pain, coldness and cruelty I was dishing out. They returned for it weekend after weekend, and when I turned them away, they cried for it. Some of them even went insane. One of them died trying to kill my wife.

I sigh heavily thinking of the women I abused and destroyed in this room. Granted, they signed up for the physical pain, but not for the emotional warfare that I subjected them to… some of them anyway.

I feel her presence behind me, and I don’t have to turn around to know that she’s in the room. I’m feeling guilty for all the memories that flooded me when I entered this room, some of them still refusing to be exorcised.

“I’m sorry,” I say, conviction in my voice for my unspoken mental transgression. Butterfly comes behind me and wraps her arms around my waist.

“Don’t be,” she says, laying her head on my back. “This room is who you were, and a lot of who you are right now. Good or bad, it helped to shape the man that you’ve become—my husband and the father of my children. I can’t be upset about that.”

I cover her hands with mine and sigh heavily. I always thought that we would get back to this room for one last hurrah. Maybe it’s good that we didn’t.

“We’ve had more than a few hot memories in here of our own,” I comment with mirth. I can feel her smiling on my back.

“That we did, Mr. Grey,” she says, and I squeeze her hand in an effort not to slip into my own submissive mode. Mistress can be merciless as a Domme, and I must admit that I like it. I like it a lot!

“Remember the first time you subbed for me?” I ask. “You knew just what I needed even though I tried to make you stay away that night. I was certain then that you would be perfect for me. I already knew, but that moment erased any lingering doubt.”

“I remember it well,” she says. “I was scared shitless.”

“I know,” I reply, “but you did very well, especially for your first time.”

“I’ll never forget it,” she says into my back. I drop my head and take a deep, cleansing breath.

“Can we make a promise?” I say, and her head rises from my back.

“What?” she asks.

“Can we please promise that our lifestyle—our roles—won’t become so practiced that we don’t find any enjoyment in it anymore? That if we find ourselves becoming too sterile or too routine that we’ll talk about it and find a way to keep things fresh?” She’s silent and when I turn around in her arms, she’s smiling at me.

“I thought that’s what we were doing now,” she says, her voice soft. “I thought that’s one of the reasons we sent the Chesterfield back to the Crossing… for our Downtime… and ideas.”

I smile back at my coy little wife. Things will never be sterile or routine with her. She’ll always find new ways to turn me on even without trying. I cup her face in my hands and kiss her softly, and again.

“I love you, my beautiful Butterfly,” I whisper with my eyes closed, my forehead touching hers.

“I love you, too, my love,” she whispers. I kiss her again and release her face, gesturing for us to leave. She smiles at me and walks out of what used to be the Red Room. I turn around and look at the ecru walls once more, then leave the room, closing the door behind me.


A/N: The sale of Escala is final, and one chapter of the Grey Saga is definitely closing. What does the future hold for our couple, especially with one of the Green Valley trials on the horizon?

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 ~~love and handcuffs