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

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~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 42—Unbreak My Heart

I have to admit that I was surprised to see so many people express a tone of disappointment in Ana’s feelings. I’ve had times and events in my life where I had to get up every day and push myself just to get to the next minute—where I felt like the world was just going to gobble me up, and I couldn’t talk about it. Talking about it gave it life and I was just trying to deal with it so that I could have the strength to open my eyes the next day. I really thought most people would be able to relate to that… to that feeling of, “My God! What else can go wrong in my life? The minute I sit down and get comfortable, something else happens.” I guess I’m the only one, or at least in very lean company. It’s sad that I appear to be one of the seemingly very few that can empathize with that, but I guess it’s a good thing that the vast majority apparently hasn’t had that experience.

So, this is my second to last prewritten chapter, but the Muse is finally stirring a bit, so I wouldn’t worry about the future.

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

Chapter 42—Unbreak My Heart

ANASTASIA

I spend more time venting and crying with my friends, trying to release the anguish and the hopelessness I feel about the situation. I cry and cry and cry with my best friends holding me for I don’t even know how long. I’m exhausted when it’s all done and glad that Christian didn’t walk in on the display. I’m broken from the self-pity and mourning by the two-way coming to life and telling me that one or both of my children have stirred.

“I’ll go,” Val offers as she stands from the sofa.

“No, I’ll go,” I say, standing behind her and drying my eyes with my sleeve before Al gives me a handkerchief. Those two little bundles of love are the light and joy of my life. Right now, I don’t want to miss a moment with them… even if some evil monster is waiting in the wings to snatch them away from me.

“I’ll come with you, then,” she says with a smile before looking at Al.

“I’ll clean up and put the leftovers away,” he says, his brow furrowed as he examines me. “I’m worried about you, Jewel,” he adds. I smile sadly, my eyes tender from crying.

“I’ll live, Al,” I reply before leaving the parlor.

I’m glad that Keri and Gail didn’t get to the nursery before I did. I really didn’t want to enter into the room to inquiring minds about my obviously red and puffy eyes. We walk in and both children are unsettled. Val gestures me to Minnie’s crib while she goes to Mikey.

“Hey, little man,” I hear her say. “What’s all that noise?” She lifts him out of his crib and quickly checks his diaper before taking him to his changing table. I do the same with Minnie, cooing at her and taking comfort in her beautiful cherubic face with my blue eyes staring back at me under a mop of Christian’s red hair. I had noticed that just in the last month or so, both my children gained their eye color, and Minnie definitely has my eyes while Mikey sports his father’s under my deep mahogany hair. Minnie is happy to get that soiled diaper off her bottom and I let her skin air out a bit before putting another on her.

“Mmm,” Val says, “I love changing diapers.” I grimace as I look over at her and she laughs. “Not the dirty diaper part,” she says. “The part where they’re all clean and you get to use the powder and stuff and they have that new baby smell.” It causes me to chuckle and I welcome the warmth of laughter. As I’m closing Minnie’s onesie, Gail and Keri enter with fresh warmed bottles for the babies. Val throws a look at me and I keep my back to the door. Reading my actions, she takes over.

“Take a break, ladies,” she says, sweetly, heading them off at the door. “We’ve got this watch.”

“Oh,” Gail says in surprise. “You’re fine?”

“Sure,” Val says confidently, “but thanks for the vittles!” The ladies all laugh good-naturedly before Gail adds, “Okay, call us through the two-way if you need us.”

Not wanting to seem rude, I look slightly over my shoulder without revealing my face to them and say, “Thanks, guys,” as normally as I can and attempt to throw them off by concentrating on cooing at my baby. “Is that Mommy’s precious girl? Yes, you are…”

It works.

When Keri and Gail clear the room, I sigh in relief that I didn’t have to convince more people in my life that I’m okay when, in fact, I’m not.

“Thanks,” I say to Val, lifting Minnie into my arms and setting up shop in the window seat with my baby and a bottle since I just had wine. The window seat is what I’m accustomed to, now.

“Don’t mention it,” she says, sitting in Mikey’s rocker and testing his bottle before giving it to him. “Why don’t you come and sit in the rocker? It might help to break old habits.” I look down at my nursing daughter.

“Maybe next time,” I tell her. “I don’t want to disturb Young Miss when she’s eating,” I lie. The truth is that the seat gives me some form of familiarity and comfort now that I’m no longer watching the bridge. I just don’t feel like explaining that to everyone. It would be like telling them that the cliff where I fell is now my favorite spot. It was once, but now, I’ll just be reminded that I could have fallen to my death on a drunken binge.

Val distracts me from my own problems by telling me more about her and Elliot’s Caribbean cruise. I wasn’t surprised that the cruise took them to St. Maarten but not to Anguilla. The boat would probably be larger than the island. She told me about Harrison’s Cave and the beautiful 17th-Century plantation houses and it made me long for our trip to Anguilla. I definitely need a vacation right now to cleanse my body and soul of what’s going on in my life. We had to postpone our Italian vacation, probably until next year since we plan to stay for quite some time. I can’t lie, though. A cruise to anywhere for a week or two would be right up my alley right now.

There’s a tap at the door and Val and I look at each other. It’s one of the men, we already know, but Christian would have just walked in. So, it has to be Al or Elliot. Jason and Chuck would already know that their women are not in the nursery. The door opens and sure enough, there’s my best friend, but behind him is my husband—my tall, beautiful, muscular husband… the cause and cure for my distress all wrapped into one.

“Hey, ladies,” Al says. “How’s it going?” His bad attempt at nonchalance coupled with Christian’s deeply examining gaze on me lets me know that these two gentlemen have been talking… about me. Al is only concerned about me and I love him for it, so I sigh in resignation.

“Better,” I say, unable to hide the crack in my voice from my earlier crying. Christian is obviously uncomfortable looking at me, and I think it’s the window seat. It has definite connotations, and he and Val would much rather that I not sit in it. He stops at the rocker on his way over to me.

“How are you feeling, Val?” he says, placing his hand on her shoulder. She smiles up at him.

“Good,” she nods. “The vacation was fantastic—just what I needed.”

“I’m happy to hear that,” he says to her, genuinely. “You look very well.”

“Thank you,” she says, sincerely and they both turn their eyes to Mikey.

“Hey, Mikey,” Christian says. “Have you been taking good care of these ladies?” Mikey squirms and coos as if in response to his father’s question. Christian gently strokes his hair and turns his attention to me. He walks over to the window seat where Minnie and I sit, Minnie gazing dreamily up at me after being fed and changed. That look would make me move mountains for her. Christian looks intently at me before turning his attention to his daughter.

“Hey, Mouse,” he says, softly, stroking his daughter’s hair like he just did his son’s. He looks longingly at her for a moment before kissing her forehead. Then he gazes at me and does the same, stroking my cheeks where tears stained earlier. He examines me wordlessly before saying, “Al, can you take over? I’d like to talk to my wife.”

“Absolutely,” Al says. “Give me that bundle of pinkness!”

“Oh, no,” Val chides. “You take our godson. I want a little time with our goddaughter. I haven’t seen them in a month!”

“Fine by me,” Al says, relieving Val of Mikey before she comes over and takes Minnie from my arms. I ache a bit when she leaves my grasp but follow Christian out of the room nonetheless as he leads me by the hand. When we get to the hallway and he closes the door, he embraces me solidly and kisses me deeply, catching me totally by surprise. I gasp at the longing, giving nature of the kiss, my hands falling lazily at my sides as his hand flattens against my back, pressing me firmly into his body. My head lulls back and I let him have my lips, my mouth, my tongue—feeding me while he feasts on my kisses. I don’t know if I’m breathing or not, but I bask in the warmth and safety of his arms, the tenderness yet firmness and possessiveness of his kiss… giving and taking at the same time. When our lips part, I can feel the breath between us. I keep my eyes closed to commit the moment to memory—for cold nights when…

“You know how much I love you, don’t you?” he says, his lips only brushing mine.

“Yes,” I breathe, my eyes still closed, drunk and a bit wobbly from his kiss and his presence.

“Good,” he breathes, taking my lips again.

After an intense, but quick impromptu make-out session in the hallway, Christian leads me to our room. I moved back in a few days ago, realizing that it didn’t really make much sense to sleep in the guest room anymore. I still have problems getting to sleep, but it’s getting better. It’s especially easy when Christian finds that I can’t rest and finds some way to worship my body until I’m tuckered out. I can really see that he’s trying. I wish I could just settle into the comfort.

Instead of stopping at the bedroom, he leads me right into my bathroom and lifts me up onto the marble vanity. He turns on the cold water and retrieves a clean washcloth. After wetting the washcloth and wringing most of the water out of it, he stands in front of me, lifts my chin and begins to sponge my cheeks.

Can’t hide anything from Mr. Grey.

I close my eyes and the cool cloth moves to my eyelids. The relief on the swollen orbs is immediate. I hear him moistening the cloth again and this time, he holds my head all the way back and places a compress over my eyes. A few moments later, a second cloth is sponging my cheeks, my jaw, and my neck again.

“Your cheeks are still tear-stained,” he says softly, “and your eyes are red and puffy. You look tired.” I don’t respond. I just sit on the vanity and let the protector and caregiver have his way, savoring these moments and committing them to my mental Rolodex. He let me sit there for several minutes—or at least it felt that way—replacing the compress one time, and letting the cold water soothe the ache from my eyes as he gently sponges my face with the other washcloth. He stops at my lips and sponges them gently. He’s now caressing my lips with his fingertips and the cloth and my breath catches. He adds gentle kisses to the mix and I melt at the sensation. My senses are all hyper-focused on my lips and his lips and his fingers when his mouth softly covers mine again, molding gently into them and against them.

Somehow, I feel this is not enough for him.

His arms move to my waist then quickly up my body, lifting my arms and placing them demanding over his shoulders. I immediately take my cue and wrap my arms around his neck, thrusting my hands into his hair. He gasps into my mouth and wraps his arms around me again, curling his body around mine while taking and giving feverish kisses. My body is alight again as he holds me and kisses me, melding into me and devouring me and I wrap my legs around his hips. He pulls my shirt out of my jeans and caresses the skin on my stomach and back.

My back… the garden.

I blaze like fresh, new embers as my body fires with arousal. My breath quickens and his tongue leisurely and sensuously explores my mouth until I feel that I can’t take it anymore. He pulls back from me and gazes into my eyes. Seeing whatever it is that he needs to see, he lifts me from the vanity, my body still wrapped around him, and takes me to our bed.

Lying me down on my back, he removes my hands from his neck and places them on the bed, holding them down in both of his while he kisses me. I can barely stand it; I’m suddenly so goddamn needy again. His lips travel from my lips to my neck while his hands slide down my arms to the buttons at my breast. I leave my hands by the side of my head. I keep my eyes closed as his lips follow his fingers, unbuttoning my shirt, down my breast, my torso, my belly.

Christian…

That familiar yearning swells up in me and I can hardly breathe. I want him to make it right—take away this feeling of fear and sadness… make it like it once was between us… please, make it like it was…

He unhooks the clasp of my bra between my breasts and pushes the cups aside, gently cupping my breasts while he kisses the mounds. His tenderness is driving me mad. I’m almost dysfunctional with need.

He kisses along the waistband of my jeans as he opens the button and unzips my pants, kissing along the waistband of the hip-hugger panties underneath. I bite my lip to keep from making a sound, taking deep breaths to control my passion and my body. There’s a bit of movement on the bed, and then he pushes his hands into my jeans, grasping the waistband and pulling them and my panties off at the same time, pushing my ballet flats off my feet before my pants and underwear pass my ankles.

There’s a pause for a few moments, but when he climbs back up to me, I feel his skin against mine—his whole body. He’s naked. I feel his erection against my thigh as he lifts me from the bed, kissing me deliciously while pushing my bra and shirt off my shoulders. He lays me back on the bed, his face never more than a breath from mine. He kisses me again as his hands run down my body, caressing my sides and hips until he reaches my thighs.

He pulls them up, roughly opening me to him, his rock-hard erection pressing into my stomach. God, I want him so badly. I need to feel him, need to put another moment in the reservoir—another cherished time… please… hurry.

He slides his arms under mine until he’s cupping my shoulders in either hand, then he nestles his erection between my legs, between my lips. God, he feels so good. I throw my head back as his lips find the valley of my breasts and he grinds the length of his shaft up and down along my lips, my labia, my clit…

Oh, my God… Oh, my God, this is torture.

Neither of us says anything or makes a sound. He just continues to drag his length up and down as he kisses wherever his mouth can reach. When he clamps down on a nipple, then teases it with his tongue, I feel my orgasm building, knocking at the door in no time flat. Just as I think it’s about to blow, he stops and rises off of me a bit. He looks hungrily into my eyes and pushes my legs open farther with his body. Simultaneously, he takes both of my hands and plants them above my head, my arms bent with his fingers entwined in mine, while raising his hips to position the head of his long hard cock at my vaginal opening.

He pauses for a minute, holding my gaze while his hips are suspended in the air. Without warning, he thrusts all the way into me, balls deep, pulling my hands down at the same time for leverage. A searing pain rips through me like I’m losing my virginity all over again, but it’s quickly replaced with the pleasure that left my loins only moments ago. He trembles at the first drive into me, both of us still managing to remain silent through what was obviously a very powerful feeling in our nether-regions. Three strokes later and I’m gasping through my orgasm as Christian pushes slowly and deeply into me, kissing my cheek, my neck, the corners of my mouth.

I’m whimpering out the aftershocks as he settles his weight onto me and begins to make love to me, holding my hands down and pushing into me, his full body lying over mine, his skin rubbing against me as if he needs as much of it to touch as possible. His mouth covers mine and he bestows upon me the most delicious, succulent kisses my soul can take. I’m lost in him and he’s owning me, pushing himself into me—mind, body, and soul. I relish in the feeling, absorbing every stroke and every emotion—the hot, hardness of his dick; the meticulous concentration in his stroke; the possessiveness of him holding my hands down; the luscious kisses that give and take from my lips. It’s only minutes after the first orgasm that the second one begins to creep into my loins. The onslaught of sensations overwhelms my senses and my second orgasm burns against his cock once more, this time leaving lots of juices to coat his erection.

He finally releases my lips and I can feel his gaze on me even though my eyes are closed.

Open your eyes.

I think I heard it, but I’m not sure. Nonetheless, I open my eyes, my gaze no doubt swimming in satisfaction from my prior two orgasms.

You’re so beautiful.

Again, not sure if I heard it, but I see it in his eyes and feel it in his delicious grind. I feel myself rising again and wonder how many times I can come in quick succession. God, it feels so good, and this one decides to give lubrication before it strikes.

“Oh, God, baby,” he says softly in my ear, “your so wet… so hungry for me…”

“Yes, Christian,” I breathe as my third orgasm quickly creeps up on me, “only you.” He raises his eyes to me, never losing his rhythm.

“Say it again,” he whispers.

“Yes… Christian…” I gasp as the feeling crawls through my thighs and up my pelvis, “only you.”

“Again… please…” His stroke deepens, and my pelvis threatens to implode. I throw my head back in sweet agony as it approaches quickly… almost… almost…

“Only… Christian… only you…” He groans, sweet and deep, his face buried in my neck, pushing me so high, so deep, my God…

“Please…” he beseeches me deep from his chest, “… again!”

I can’t withstand it any more.

“Ho… ho…” I try to speak as my third orgasm crashes down on me. I grip his fingers tight to force the words out of my mouth. “Ho… honly… y-you…Christian… only… only you… only you!” I cry out as my orgasm rips through me again, bringing passion and relief that I didn’t feel with the first two. My back arches and my hands tighten as I helplessly repeat the last two words through a climax blasting through my extremities and leaving me helpless to its wrath.

“Jesus!” he bites out as I feel him stiffen and empty hard, throbbing, and thick into me. His teeth grit and the same noise comes from his throat as he presses hard into me, unable to move through his paralyzing orgasm. He squeezes my hands until it feels like the blood flow stops and I lay there, allowing him to use me as the vessel that he needs right now and savoring every moment of it—his weight pressing down on me; his hands painfully gripping mine; his breath caught and held in his chest as his body is pulled taut, stretched like a rubber band and helpless until his passion releases him.

“Jesus… Jesus, Jesus…” he gasps as the orgasm finally releases his muscles. He showers my neck with kisses as he catches his breath, his cock still throbbing inside me, my core still throbbing around him.

“I didn’t…” he begins as he gently massages my hands. “Did I…?”

“No, no,” I silence him as he continues to catch his breath. He still kisses me as he moves to roll me on top of him.

“No, please,” I beg, wanting to feel his weight on me a little longer. He looks down into my eyes and I gaze back at him, beseeching him not to move. He lies back down on top of me, one hand cradling my cheek, the other still holding my hand over my head while he kisses my exposed cheek softly.

“And only you, my love,” he says softly, between kisses. “Only ever you…”

*-*

“This wasn’t my intention when I pulled you away from our children,” he says, caressing my stomach gently in our post-orgasmic haze.

“No?” I say, turning my gaze to him. He shakes his head.

“I really did want to talk… really do,” he replies, “but I saw you in the window and at first, I just wanted to get you out of there. Then, when the light hit your face, I knew that you had been crying. Al told me that you were upset, and he told me why, but he didn’t tell me that you were crying. I just wanted to wash your face and get rid of the puffiness in your eyes… but most of all, I just don’t want you to cry anymore.”

That’s not likely, dear. The fates are even using you against me right now. That’s why I’m internalizing every good moment, every precious and tender moment, every sensual moment, so that I don’t lose my mind when they decide to attack again.

“Jason and Gail want to have another… session with us, if you’re up to it. They were waiting in the den when I came to get you. They’re most likely off doing something else by now. Do you want to talk or would you rather not?” I sigh. Again, I know he means well, but right now, I don’t see that talking will help me.

“Sure,” I concede, wanting to appease him. I move to get up and he stops me.

“Not yet,” he says. “Just a few more minutes.” Fine by me.

“Okay,” I say softly, relaxing into his touch.

As agreed, a few minutes later, we rise and get back into our clothes. He takes me by the hand and leads me to the elevator. He stands behind me with his arms protectively wrapped around me while we ride to the ground floor. We go to his den, intent on calling Gail and Jason, only to find them tangled in each other’s arms, kissing passionately on the sofa. Though they are fully dressed, the distinct smell of sex hangs in the air. Christian stands there frowning for a moment and I’m in stunned awe. They didn’t even hear us come in. Christian clears his throat and although Gail jumps a bit, Jason just looks over at Christian.

“You better not have fucked on my piano,” he says, leading me into the room and examining his piano for—I don’t know, ass marks?

“No, we didn’t fuck on your precious piano,” Jason says. Gail hides her face while I stifle a laugh. “I won’t bother asking what took you so long. You look fresh as a bunny.”

“You should talk,” Christian says, satisfied that there was no coitus on his baby grand. “Don’t fuck in my den, Jason.”

You should talk,” Jason retorts. “Is there any room in this house you haven’t fucked in?”

“Yes, there is, and that’s beside the point,” Christian replies. “I fuck in my den. You don’t fuck in my den!”

“Okay, boys, that’s enough,” Gail says, after her face has turned fifty shades of red from pastel to crimson. “We got in a quickie while we were waiting we’re sorry it won’t happen again!” She spit it all out in one breath without raising her eyes to me or Christian and I’m fighting with all my might not to break out in hilarious laughter. I’m immune to this. Among other things, last year, I walked right in on these Neanderthals settling a bet on whether or not Christian and I were upstairs fucking. I remember leaving Chuck with a visual he’ll never forget. I also won’t embarrass her with the time that I was shoved under Christian’s desk pleasuring him when Jason walked in unannounced and it was my disembodied voice that convinced him to leave. I’m not modest about our sex life, but apparently, Gail is modest about hers.

“You should take a page from your wife’s book about humility, Mr. Taylor,” Christian says. “Thank you, Gail. It’s quite alright. Butterfly and I did take a while. We apologize.” She nods quickly, obviously anxious to change the topic. “As requested, we are here, though a bit detained.”

Gail straightens her clothes and sits up on the sofa. Jason sits up, too, and zeroes right in on me.

“You don’t talk much anymore, Your Highness,” he says, examining me. “Are you afraid that you’ll say too much?”

I shrug. I didn’t realize that I wasn’t talking. I just don’t have much to say.

“I… uh, it’s not intentional. I just don’t have much to say.”

“That’s not the Ana I know,” he says. “The Ana I knew before this whole mess was outspoken and had a lot to say. You’ve turned into a bit of a mute and you’ve missed four appointments with your therapist.” My eyes widen, and I glare at him.

“Are you keeping tabs on me?” I accuse. He looks at me with a surprised, horrified look on his face.

“Um, yah, that’s my job!” he retorts. “I knew what you were doing even when we weren’t here.” He gestures to himself. “Head of personal security? Everybody reports to me? Chuck, Ben, Chance, Rebe, Tate, Lurch… they all report to me?” He’s saying this waiting for me to catch the hint on how ridiculous my question was, which I do… I shrug and shake my head, murmuring my apologies.

“Accepted, but you still haven’t answered my question,” he says. “You haven’t seen Ace and you haven’t seen Dr. Baker,” he points an accusing finger at Christian. “What’s going on?” I turn my gaze to Christian. He hasn’t seen Dr. Baker?

“I see Dr. Baker on an as-needed basis, not regularly,” he defends.

“You don’t think it’s needed?” he asks.

“She can’t help me in terms of my marriage,” he protests. “Butterfly feels that she has a completely distorted view of what’s going on with her and that affects what advice she can give me about our relationship.”

“But what about what’s going on with you?” Jason asks him. Christian frowns.

“What do you mean?” he retorts.

“You thought your wife was cheating on you. You cut her off and ran away to the other side of the world without giving her the chance to explain. You don’t think that’s a problem on your part, like for instance, your trust issues? Your ability to give the woman you love the benefit of the doubt? Being able to control your anger reflex and ‘snap’ response?”

“I’m dealing with those things,” he says, running his hands through his hair. “I admitted that it was the wrong thing to do…”

“But it doesn’t stop it from happening again,” Jason says, interrupting his excuse. I hold my head down and wait for him to tear into me. I didn’t have to wait long.

“And you,” he begins. Here it goes. “You were seeing your therapist weekly before any of this happened. You shocked him so much that he showed up at the door! What gives?” I shrug again, noncommittal.

“I haven’t found the words,” I say, honestly. “I’d be wasting his time and mine.”

“So, you’re just going to sit here and let this thing tear you apart day by day where we can all see it,” he says. “You think I’m the only one who’s noticed that you’ve changed? You are a force of nature, Ana. You have the ability to move mountains with the flap of your little Butterfly wings, but lately, you’ve been as mute as a church mouse and as affective as a drizzle. You’re not talking to anyone, not even your therapist, and you as a mental health professional don’t see this as a problem?”

I don’t know how to answer him. The feelings that I have right now, nobody can fix, and talking about them just lays them out on plane for everyone to see and makes me feel like shit. When I don’t answer, Jason turns back to Christian.

“You say that you don’t need your therapist,” he begins. “What do you say about her not seeing hers? Is everything honky-dory between you guys?”

“I wouldn’t say honky-dory,” Christian admits. “I know she’s holding something back.”

Holding something back… you all want me to release? Fine, I’ll release…


CHRISTIAN

“Things aren’t terrible, but I can still feel a little distance between us,” I say honestly.

“Ana?” Jason prods, “What do you say to that?” She doesn’t raise her eyes.

“I would never want to leave him or anything like that, but…” She trails off.

But? There’s a but?

“But what, Ana?” Gail presses. “You have to be honest or you’ll never move forward.” She sighs and drops her head.

“I’m scared,” she says, softly, barely audible. “I’m afraid that as soon as I let my guard down and try to be happy, something horrible is going to happen. I never would have thought for a moment that something like this would happen between my husband and me. I thought our bond was unbreakable and unshakeable and could withstand anything. I thought that no matter what, no one would ever come between us—that when and if that crucial moment ever presented itself, we would both know that there was no room for anyone else and there was no way that someone would be able to work their way into our space. But when the time did come, I was wrong…”

“How were you wrong?” Jason asks. “That someone did work their way into your space?”

“No,” she says. “Liam never worked his way into our space. My eyes may have been stricken with what I saw, but that man never made it to my heart. Hell, he barely made it to my mind until he was in my sight or unless I was pissed about his presence. He never stood a chance. There was no room for him. So, what? He’s attractive. He’s not the first attractive man I’ve ever seen, and he won’t be the last. Have you met my therapist? My best friend’s husband? My brother-in-law? All attractive men that made me do a double-take when I first met them, but I never ended up in their arms or in their beds.

“When that man made a move on me, I stopped him. I did not see my husband and I stopped him. I didn’t have my arms around him pulling him in for a kiss—I stopped him. And the reward I got was that my husband left me for two and a half weeks and didn’t speak to me. The truth is that I can beat myself over the head for what I could have done differently over and over again, but it won’t mean anything. It won’t do anything. I didn’t meet this man at a hotel or even make a date for dinner. He invited me out to lunch and I turned him down for just this reason… for the speculation it could have caused. I can pick this situation apart more than I already have, and you know what I’ll get from it? The same thing that I already got…

“Don’t step wrong, Ana.
“Look straight ahead, Ana. Don’t look left or right…
“Don’t get comfortable, Ana. The moment you do, all hell is going to break loose.”

“You’re sounding a bit like the martyr, Ana,” Jason says. Butterfly laughs ironically and does a disbelieving nod.

“Of course, I do,” she says, defeat and resignation lacing her voice.

“Don’t discount her feelings, Jason,” Gail defends. “She has a right to her feelings.” Jason turns to look at his wife and back at Butterfly.

“You’re right,” he says. “I’m sorry. Maybe you can help me understand what it is that you’re feeling.” That’s pretty insightful. Butterfly looks up at him with a sad smile.

“I can understand why you feel that way, because if I wasn’t sitting in this body—in this life and mind, experiencing this shit first hand—I would feel the same way. This is one of the reasons why I don’t want to talk about it… none of it. It won’t make a difference.”

“Please, Ana,” Gail presses. “Tell us.” Butterfly shakes her head.

“Every time I got comfortable, something happened,” she says, still smiling. “Every time I thought I was going to be happy and I could sit back and take a breath and relax, something happened. Every single time! I’m a walking tragedy,” she says with a laugh. I don’t see what’s funny, but I think she may be going a little hysterical.

“It can’t be every time, Ana,” Jason protests. She laughs again, this time, with tears threatening her eyes.

“No?” she says, still sporting a wide smile and threatening to cry at the same time. “Let’s review, shall we?

“Right when I thought my mom and dad were happy, my mom suddenly became dissatisfied and left my dad. It only got worse—she ripped us apart deliberately, so set on hurting him for not being what she thought he should be that she didn’t care that she was destroying me, too.

“I was miserable at first, but I coped with it until I was able to settle comfortably into obscurity. Then what happens? The most popular boy in school pays attention to me and I was foolish enough to believe that he liked me… until he raped me. We all know how that turned out.

“Yes, I wanted to die, but I didn’t. Then Daddy came and got me, took me away from the horrible nightmare that I was living and nursed me back to health for a few months. I was right at the promise of tranquility—it was right there in arm’s reach—and they came and snatched me back to hell.

“I finally escape—finally escape—come back to Washington and start my life back over again… from scratch… all on my own. During that time, I meet this guy. He treats me like a princess. The cutest, most considerate guy I had met to that point and what happens? He turns out to be the goddamn spawn of Satan! My already shredded heart was put through such hell that it took years—years—for me to let anybody near me.

“Enter Christian Grey. After a tumultuous beginning, we fall in love only for me to find out that he has a psycho, stalker, pedophile ex-lover and—oh, yeah, Satan’s spawn is hanging in the bleachers waiting for his chance to attack!

“Crazy pedophile wreaking total havoc on our relationship and me and Mr. Grey have a brief falling out. The moment I come to my senses about the cause of the fallout, Satan’s Spawn kidnaps me and his fucking psycho sidekick damn near beats me half to death while I’m cuffed to a bed.

“I’m rescued! Yay, right? Only we go to Anguilla and shit happens where I lose my mind there, too—more than once!

“So, we get back and announce our relationship to the world, and the crazy blonde pedophile continues to wreak total fucking havoc on our lives for months… restraining orders; crashing my father’s wedding; kissing my boyfriend; trying to kill Jason; trying to kill Christian; trying to kill me…”

This is playing out like a goddamn Greek tragedy. If I hadn’t been present for most of it, I’d swear she was exaggerating.

“In between there somehow, I apparently mistakenly thought my wedding was called off and escaped to Montana, rethinking my entire purpose in life, only to return to the whole aforementioned murder-death-kill scenario.

“Oh, and let’s not forget Mommie Dearest!”

Yes, let’s not forget her.

“Once we finally do get married, halfway through our honeymoon, Satan’s Spawn pulls a hole card and we have to come back and I discover the most joyous revelation of my life after vomiting on the prosecuting attorney and passing out on the goddamn stand.”

At least she didn’t mention me having a spy at her bachelorette party.

“Then comes the hacker and the fundraiser fiasco, and immediately after we put those things to rest, I get T-boned by a fucking ex-sub who almost kills me and Chuck! Nearly a year later, I still don’t have all my memories back.

“After more hiccups than I care to count, I finally bring two healthy babies into the world, a joyous occasion that was overshadowed a few months later by Val’s tumor and Pop’s unfortunate passing—not things that directly happened to me, but deserve inclusion due to the fact that a) when Pops’ died, my husband turned into an emotional infant and locked me out of the bedroom that we shared, b) I sat for days wondering if my best girlfriend was going to die after we had treated each other like shit for months and c) they were both cause to postpone our Italian vacation.

“A few months later, I find that all my hard work for Helping Hands is being questioned by a spiteful, vindictive bitch with an ax to grind and then, the last thing… the very last thing I ever thought could happen happened! I feared that maybe one day, my husband would seek something that I wouldn’t be able to give him and might look for it in the company of another, but I never, ever thought that another man would come between us. It was never on my radar, not even in the furthest recesses of my mind. And then…” She holds her head down and shrugs, shaking her head and still chuckling sadly.

“I know I’ve forgotten something, but I think you get the idea,” she adds, still laughing tragically. “I. Am a walking. Fucking. Tragedy. I’m the goddamn damsel that’s always getting tied to the fucking railroad tracks in those badly made, corny, black-and-white silent films. And what a horrible thing to happen—being tied to the railroad tracks and seeing your demise coming at you full speed and hoping and praying that someone’s going to save you because you can’t save yourself. And trust me, the train has run me over more times than I’ve been rescued, yet there I am… dismembered on the railroad tracks, trying to put myself back together again. Those attacks and accidents weren’t even merciful enough to kill me… just scar me forever—physically, mentally, and emotionally—then set me back in this ragtag, patchworked body with my ragtag patchworked heart and my ragtag patchworked mind to fight another day.”

She laughs again, but by now, tears are streaming nonstop down her cheeks. She shakes her head and drops it before she adds, “For when they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.”

Now she’s quoting scriptures? This is really getting bad.

“Ana, can’t you see that this is exactly why you need to talk to Ace?” Gail tells her, leaning in like it’s a one-on-one conversation. “You can’t stop bad things from happening. You might be right, the fates may be cruel, and they may be waiting for things to get great so that they can drop another test on you, but you can’t spend your life waiting for that. You can’t do that to yourself… or your children. What kind of freedoms can they have if you’re always waiting for them to get run over by a bus?”

Butterfly sighs, now fully weeping while listening to Gail.

“I lived in mourning for many years after God gave me a wonderful man and then decided to take him back. We have no children and now, I can’t bear any children of my own. Lo, and behold, another wonderful man happened into my life.” She looks over at Jason.

“He was the worse person for me,” she laughs. “We work together; he has a dangerous job… but those damn fates…” She looks back down at her hands before she raises her eyes to Butterfly.

“He was almost killed, and I thought that destiny was going to punish me again, but he wasn’t. He came back to me and even though it happened in a pretty cruel way, he even brought me a daughter.”

Jason’s gaze softens, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen more love in his eyes… except on their wedding day in Anguilla.

“And then you welcomed me into your family—even against the wishes of my employer…” I drop my head and twist my lips. She’s right. I didn’t want to blur any lines between me and my staff, but Butterfly had different plans from the very beginning. “…And you had two beautiful babies, and I get to help raise them. So, I didn’t get to bear any children of my own, but I sure as hell have a family.

“One thing that I learned from losing my Douglas and living in mourning for all those years before I found my Jason, gained a beautiful daughter, and a beautiful family is that yes, bad times are always going to happen for as long as you’re alive. But think about it really hard… The bad times don’t follow the good times. The good times follow the bad.”

Butterfly raises her eyes to Gail, her lip trembling. She swallows hard.

“I want to believe that so badly,” she says. “It would make all of this so much easier to bear… I just can’t see how to get past this huge, crashing abyss I feel in my soul.”

“I just want us to get back to being us,” I say, disappointed, “but… from what you’re saying, that might not happen.” She shrugs, smiling sadly.

“I love you too much to lie to you,” she confesses. “Give it time. You never know. Maybe I’ll see what Gail is saying. I’ll go back to Ace and maybe… maybe I’ll get comfortable enough to forget this feeling of impending doom.”

It’s not until this moment that I fully realize what my leaving really did to her. It shook her foundation in everything she believed in. Maybe there was too much of her inner security wrapped up in me, but didn’t I make it that way? Didn’t I make her the most important thing in my life, bumping heads with her several times on matters of her security, safety, and well-being? I’m Christian Grey—self-proclaimed possessive and controlling asshole. I must have everything important to me encased in this protective bubble so that I know that it’s safe. She was in that bubble—figuratively and literally—and that’s what she became accustomed to. I took care of her life, her body, and her heart, and she expected me to keep doing that…

And then, one day, I didn’t.

I left her out there in the elements without any shelter and she had to fend for herself against the foul weather. As a result, she got a really good look at just how bad the hurricanes, tornadoes, monsoons, typhoons, blizzards, avalanches, sandstorms, wind and hail could really be. Every bad thing that ever happened to her all came back at     once and all the progress that she had made in all of her therapy sessions went down the drain. A lot, if not all, of her safety and progress was directly linked to me and I took it away in one fell swoop…

I was the one who opened the door to finally finding out what happened in Green Valley.

I was the one who swooped in with my whirly-bird and rescued her from the clutches of the bad guys.

I was the one who held her as she cried when she cut ties with her mother.

I was the one who stood by her side and fought her friends when she was catatonic for several days.

I was the one who was there for twelve days when she was in a coma and waiting when she woke up, even though she didn’t know who I was.

Then, she turned around looking for that safety net at a very crucial moment in our relationship, and I wasn’t there… I was gone… and she fell, and she might still be falling.

I’ll make it up to you, baby. I swear I will.

“I guess I just have to work harder at showing you that everything’s not impending doom,” I say, matter-of-factly, “at making sure that you know that I realize that I wasn’t there when you fell and I’m really sorry for that; letting you know that I know I’ve shaken your trust to the very core and it may take me the rest of my life to get it back, but I’ll fight that long if it means that in the end, you know that I’ll never let you fall again. I don’t care how long it takes… I love you and I want you to trust me again, trust us again, trust life and love again. I’ll do any and everything to restore that trust. It may take a really long time, but I don’t care. You won’t have to forget that impending doom, because I’m going to chase it away. I’m going to spend every day of my life chasing it away until you trust again. I made a horrible mistake, Anastasia. I ran when I should have listened. As a result, everything we’ve built has been destroyed. Please, forgive me. Please, please, forgive me.”

“Not… everything,” she says, her voice small. I raise my eyes to look at her. “I still love you… with all my heart…”

“But you don’t trust me,” I say. “That is everything, but I’m not giving up hope. I’ll do everything I can to make you trust me again.”

I suddenly ache inside. That pull—that connection that we’ve always had suddenly feels stronger than it ever has, and I feel that if she doesn’t come to me now, I just may pass out. She leaps from her seat and launches herself into my arms. She’s as light as a feather and as heavy as lead at the same time and it feels like the wind has been knocked out of me as I hold her to me with all the inner strength I can muster.

“I don’t know…” her small voice begins, her face buried in my neck.

“Sssh,” I soothe, rubbing her back and holding her close to me. “I do…”

*-*

I’m sitting at the breakfast bar resting my face in my hands and watching Gail put the finishing touches on an exquisite homemade seven-layer German chocolate cake. Only moments after our emotionally taxing discussion, Butterfly excused herself and went to take a nap before dinner. I immediately felt that hopeless feeling again and only wanted to make things right in her life… when I suddenly made a horrendous discovery.

“Today is Butterfly’s birthday,” I lament right after she leaves the den. Gail and Jason look at each other and back at me.

“Fuck! It is,” Jason responds, slapping his hand to his forehead. “We fucking forgot. How could we fucking forget?”

“Look at everything that’s been going on,” Gail interjects. “My birthday would be the last thing I would be thinking about in the midst of all this shit!”

“I’ll bet that’s not how Butterfly feels,” I say, pulling out my phone to see if Al is still in the house.

“Yep,” he says when he answers the phone.

“Today is Butterfly’s birthday,” I say into the phone.

“Yep,” he says, with no surprise. I roll my eyes.

“You didn’t think to remind me of this when we talked?” The line is silent.

“Are you serious?” he asks. “Are you fucking kidding me? You’re her goddamn husband and you forgot her fucking birthday? Now you wanna blame me? Seriously?” Oh, shit, I’ve pissed the man off.

 “Look, I’m sorry. There’s a lot going on, okay?” I apologize.

“No shit, Sherlock,” he replies.

“Did she mention anything while you all were visiting?”

“Not a word,” he says. “I think it’s the furthest thing from her mind.” Like Gail said.

“Are you still here?” I ask.

“Yes, but she just went up to bed. I think she’s down for the night…”

“No, she’s not. She’s taking a nap. Come to my den. I need your help…”

I used to sit in the kitchen and watch my mother like this on those few occasions when she would make something special. She was a very busy doctor and she didn’t get to cook much until we got older. She spent as much time with us as possible when we were kids instead of in the kitchen. She’s the reason that I don’t want my children raised solely by nannies. My mom was the best, and even though I may not have acted like she was the world to me, she really was. There was this one time when she made this chocolate cake for me from scratch. It was just for me, and I remember how special she made me feel making that cake just for me…

“I need you to do me a huge favor and I don’t want you to laugh at me.” Gail’s eyes widen as she puts the cake spatula down on the counter and turns her attention to me.

“Okay,” she says, waiting for my request. I sigh heavily and spit it out.

“I want you to teach me how to cook a nice meal for my wife,” I say finally. “I’m not trying to be a master chef. I just want to cook her a nice meal and I’m afraid that if I try to do it alone, I’ll burn the house down.”

I raise my head to look at her and she’s glaring at me like she’s just seen a ghost. I try to understand that this is a strange request but give me a fucking break here. I’m trying to do something nice for the woman I love.

“You want to cook?” she finally says, astonished. I nod.

“Yes,” I reply, already afraid that this will be an impossible task. Gail sighs.

“It takes patience, Christian,” she says. “You’re not a very patient man.”

“I at least want to try,” I say. “I just want to do something nice for her. I buy her shit all the time. This will be different, something I can do myself. It doesn’t have to be a gourmet meal—I know that would take forever, but something nice… and edible.” A small smile plays with Gail’s lips.

“We’ll try,” she says. “When do you want to do this? You all are always home at the same time, unless you don’t care if she knows.”

“No, it has to be a surprise,” I tell her. She nods.

“Sophie has been asking to learn to cook a few dishes. You’re in luck, we’ve only just started. I can kill two birds with one stone if you don’t mind a teenager in your cooking class.” I sigh again. I don’t care who’s in the cooking class as long as she agrees to help me… and Butterfly doesn’t find out.

“Thank you,” I breathe. “I’ll come home early, when Sophie is getting off school. We’ll work out some form of communication so that I’ll know if Butterfly is at home…”

Just like that, Gail becomes my co-conspirator.

Having unlimited resources affords you the luxury of not only being able to put together a birthday party in only two hours, but also to be able to secure the perfect gift that’s not only thoughtful and somewhat extravagant to the average person, but also utterly necessary. As luck would have it—bad luck, that is—I’m the only person in the inner sanctum that forgot it was Butterfly’s birthday. Everyone else had presents at the ready and was only looking for a good time to “engage,” so to speak. So, when Al activated the contingency and managed to get Butterfly’s closest friends to the Crossing on short notice, everyone came bearing gifts. Mine is an Australian cruise that we’ll be taking in December, no excuses or postponing.

At 7pm sharp, I send Val to rouse my Butterfly from her slumber and bring her to the dining room. As much as I’ve promised that birthdays will no longer be a day of angst for my wife, this one was nearly ruined again—this time, because of me. Three birthdays this woman has spent with me and not one of them have gone off without a hitch. Oy vey!

After fifteen minutes have passed and still no sign of my wife, I begin to worry until I see a beautiful vision in sunshine yellow bend the corner around one of the large columns.

“Surprise!” everyone yells. The gathering is small, not everyone that I would have hoped but enough of our closest friends and family.

“Wha…?” Butterfly is stunned. An impromptu Food and Libations with the Scooby Gang and plus ones, the extended family from the Crossing, and my parents made it, too. A small table is set up with the gifts and the German Chocolate cake made by Gail and decorated with large chocolate flowers and the words “Happy Birthday Mommy.” The twins sleep in their Pack-n-Plays on either side of the table, guarding the cake and gifts from possible interlopers. Little Mindy occasionally peeks into the Pack-n-Plays under her mother’s watchful eye. Little Harry had just been put down to sleep and as I am told, has been battling a small cold. So, even though Ray is here, Mandy and Ana’s little brother couldn’t make it.

“I couldn’t let her come down when she first awoke,” Val apologizes. “She looked like she had been attacked by wolves. She never would have forgiven me.” I walk over to my sweet, stunned bride and put my hands on her forearms.

“I want to say that we had this elaborate plan, but we didn’t. We all just wanted you to know how much we love you.” She looks around the table at her friends and the family we could gather before she throws her arms around me and buries her face in my neck.

“I totally forgot,” she breathes in soft sobs. “I love you, too.”

*-*

She had a wonderful time. She spent the evening listening to what was going on in everyone else’s life since it was already known that the last month of her life had been a complete disaster. Having spent most of the summer taking care of Val, then being there for me and my family when Pops died, followed almost immediately by Mia’s wedding then yet another event that we’ll come up with some horrible nickname for, there hasn’t been any time to connect with her friends on the frivolous and fun level that friends should.

After two years together, Marilyn and Gary have decided to move in together. There are still no wedding bells on the near horizon, but they’re both so busy that they don’t spend nights apart at all and, according to them, it makes no sense to pay rent in two places when they most often only stay in one.

So… Courtney and Vickie are a real-life couple. Yeah, that’s news to me. I wouldn’t have been surprised that they were fucking around, but a couple… yeah, I’m surprised. Courtney’s going to school for social work, which is a real shocker to me since she was truly a lost cause a year ago as far as I was concerned. But, I have to admit—Aunt Tina, Mom, and Butterfly were right. She has changed significantly. I don’t think her grandparents would even recognize her now.

Valerie and Elliot will be moving into their house next weekend. The house is ready, but they didn’t want to come straight home and then have to prepare for packing and moving. Valerie’s things are all in storage since she let her apartment go right after her diagnosis and Elliot’s refusal to let her out of his sight. Elliot still has his apartment, but he’s going to be shedding most of his bachelor gear—as is my understanding—for new furnishings in the new house. They should be ready for a housewarming in a few weeks.

Maxine announces that she has decided to open her own practice. She feels that it’s time that she offers her services in a different arena without being under someone else’s payroll. Butterfly encourages her to do that and jokes that she will come and see Maxine should she find herself in need of a job again. A scoff and a dirty look come from both my mother and me to the party’s amusement. Butterfly also informs her friend that she owns an office building downtown with empty office space. I had completely forgotten that I had gifted Butterfly’s office downtown to her and there is currently space for rent. So, Maxine now has the new location of her practice.

There’s no sex tonight. The day was just too heavy, even with the successful joviality at the end of the evening. Butterfly and I watch Disney movies in the family room with the twins in their Pack-n-Plays. She finally falls asleep somewhere after their midnight feeding and I lay in bed with her in my arms staring at the ceiling, thinking how close I came to losing it all over a terrible misunderstanding.

My wife could have died when she fell off that cliff. Chuck saved her life yet again. She may never recover from this impending doom syndrome. I can see it in her eyes. She used to be such a free spirit and now, she’s approaching everything with a level of emotional caution that’s clearly visible to everyone around her. She’s agreed to start seeing Ace again. I’ll give Dr. Baker a call, too. Somebody’s got to help us out of this situation in which we’ve found ourselves or we’ll never be able to get ourselves back.

Having laid awake next to my wife for about three hours with no hope of falling asleep, I slide out of bed and go to my old faithful companion in hopes of calming my nerves enough to find slumber. I stop at the bar in the entertainment room and pour myself a brandy, then stop in my office to get my voice recorder before escaping to my den and my baby grand.

I never know how to verbalize my feelings, which is why I ran my cowardly, selfish ass to Madrid instead of staying here and communicating with my wife. I thought I had come so far during the time that we’ve been together. I’ve come a long way, granted, but not nearly as far as I need to if I can come this close to losing her because of this. I start the voice recorder and just start playing. At first, I have no idea what I’m doing, what I’m playing, or why I’m recording… but I do. I just keep playing, keep recording… and keep singing.

You look at me and I begin to melt, just like the snow when a ray of sun is felt…

She’s so broken, and I broke her. Just like she always does, she put on a good face for the rest of the world, but deep inside, she’s fragile and afraid. Somehow, I—or something else—always exploits that fear and that vulnerability. I have to make sure that she knows that I’ll never be the one to do that to her again. I have to know that I’ll never do that to her again. She can’t take it. She won’t survive going through this too many more times.

And now that your rose is in bloom, a light hits the gloom on the Grey…

Yeah, I know that’s not the Grey the song meant, but that’s how I feel—lost without her and so found when she’s near me. Song after song flows from my soul, my fingers, and my mouth. I don’t really know the purpose. I just sing and play what I’m feeling, what I need her to feel.

And when you smile, the whole world stops and stares for a while…

How I could have thought that for one second her thoughts and heart would stray to someone else is beyond me. Even now, playing the probable kiss over and over in my head, I no longer see her gazing in his eyes. I no longer see him closing in to touch his lips to hers. I only see her hand on his chest, pushing him away, fending him off from our bubble, our life and our love…

I knew I loved you before I met you, I think I dreamed you into life…

I have to get her back… back to the sassy Dr. Steele that I met in that community center, the woman who calls me Grey when she’s cross with me, the woman who cries adrenaline tears when she’s pissed and wants someone to pay for whatever has her feeling that way instead of shrinking into sofas or in fetal positions on the floor—not for myself, but for her… and yes, for me, too…

If ever I believe my work is done, then I’ll start back at one…

She has to know that I love her, what she means to me, what she’ll always mean to me. She has to know that, yes, there will be some bad times—some shadows and some tears, we can’t avoid them—but I’ll always be there to love her and hold her, to make sure that she’ll never feel the way she feels right now ever, ever again. God, I love you, Butterfly. I love you so much. I’ll spend the rest of my life proving to you that I love you and I’ll never let you down like this again… never again…

I never knew what my life was for, but now that you’re here, I know for sure…

I have died every day waiting for you, Darlin’ don’t be afraid, I have loved you for a thousand years…

You make me feel so brand new and I want to spend my life with you…

All of me loves all of you, love your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections…


A/N: Ana’s quote about sudden destruction comes from the Bible: I Thessalonians 5:3

Here are the songs that are referenced in Christian’s midnight serenade.

On the Wings of Love—Jeffrey Osborne
Kiss From A Rose—Seal
Just The Way You Are—Bruno Mars
I Knew I Loved You—Savage Garden
Back At One—Brian McKnight
Spend My Life With You—Eric Benet ft. Tamia
A Thousand Years—Christina Perri
Let’s Stay Together—Al Green
All Of Me—John Legend 

Other songs that were on the recording, not mentioned in the chapter:
Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love for You—George Benson, Glenn Medeiros, Westlife… take your pick
I Will Be Right Here Waiting for you—Richard Marx
Thinking Out Loud—Ed Sheeran
Because You Loved Me—Celine Dion

Not sure if anyone cares, but years ago, I used to watch a sitcom called The Facts of Life. One of the characters—Tootie—wrote and performed a dramatic reading that I never really understood until I became an adult and people were always expecting something of me. When my Muse deserted me (and believe me, y’all, she deserted me—I thought I was going to be wrapping up the Butterfly Saga), Tootie’s dramatic reading came to me. To me, it translated into, “You can’t expect for me to just keep churning out shit when you need it and just take what I can get when you’re ready to give it to me.” 

These last few chapters, my Muse took a beating… and she shut the fuck down. 

Now I know people may look at this and say, “We can’t say what we want to say or she’s going to stop writing.” That’s not necessarily true, but people do need to understand that creativity is a lot of hard work, and I’m feeling what’s being said. As many times as I’ve tried to explain things logically, my Muse—as is anybody’s—is as “at will” as they come. She was like, “I don’t have to explain shit! and took the fuck off. 

For those who think she’s overly sensitive, do me a quick favor. Start from chapter 37, and don’t read anything else but the comments(suspicion started in chapter 33; the “embers” started in chapter 37; the blaze started in chapter 38) . Start from the first comment in chapter 37 to the last comment in chapter 41. Read it first with an open mind, then picture that this was a piece of clay that you worked on months ago for several weeks, and these people are talking about your piece of clay. No matter how thick your skin is, no creative soul can walk away from that unscathed. 

If you’re interested in Tootie’s dramatic reading, it starts at the 15:45 mark and it’s only about a minute long. 

I’m done. I apologize for subjecting you all to my diatribe. I’ve actually lost readers for that. 

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 83—Grey House of Resolution

 This is the last chapter of Book III. Enjoy!

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

Chapter 83—Grey House of Resolution

ANASTASIA

“Get us a Justice of the Peace here—I know you can. I need this woman to be my wife today. I’ll give her the wedding that she wants later, but I need her now.” Elliot is only too ready to take Val’s hand today if the mighty Christian Grey can pull it off, but even Christian knows that’s an impossibility.

“Bro…” Christian protests.

“Please, Christian,” he says, never moving his eyes from Val’s. “I need her now.” I look over at Val and she stares back at him with love and adoration, nodding her ascent. Christian sighs.

“There’s a three-day waiting period to get married once you get the license,” Christian says. “I can’t put a rush on that. You want your marriage to be legal and valid, right? I can’t even get in touch with anybody tonight.” Elliot raises his eyes to his brother.

“Okay. So, if I get the license tomorrow, that means we can get married on is Saturday. My feelings won’t change.” He looks down to Val. “Will yours? I don’t want to rush you.”

“I…” she begins. “I’m sick… and I just wanted to be better for you…”

“You are all to me,” he says gently but emphatically. “I’ll never leave you. I’ll be with you forever. I’ll love you until the end of my days no matter what condition you’re in. No one but you… only you. Please don’t make me wait.” Valerie bites her lip and nods enthusiastically.

“Okay! Okay!” she whispers desperately. “Yes! Please!”  She throws herself into Elliot’s arms. She gasps as he removes the scarf from her head.

“If you want to wear it in public, if it makes you more comfortable, that’s fine. But when you’re home with me… with your family… I want to see only you.” He caresses her bald head reverently. I can see and feel her heart melt from across the room as he presses his lips onto hers.

“Okay, now we can leave,” I whisper and quickly usher Christian out of the room. When he closes the door behind us, I let out a gasp of my own.

“What is it?” he asks.

“I have to plan a wedding in three days,” I lament. “Val will get married in a burlap sack as long as she gets to marry that man, so I have to start my miracles right now. This fucking sucks.”

“Why does it suck?” Christian asks, bemused. “They love each other. They want to get married. What’s the problem? If all else fails, we’ll call our wedding planner, tell her that she has two days—simple and sweet and money is no object.”

“That’s not the problem, Christian,” I tell him. “Your birthday is on Friday. I wanted to celebrate.” He groans audibly. “You hate your birthday, don’t you?”

“It’s just another year getting older,” he says. “We can celebrate my birthday next week. My brother is going to spontaneously combust if he doesn’t marry that girl this weekend.” I narrow my eyes at him. Yeah, you got out of it this week, Grey.

“I won’t be able to attend the meetings this week,” I tell him. “There’s absolutely no way.” He ponders the situation.

“Well, you don’t need to meet accounting and legal. You’ve already met accounting and Al is legal. You’re going to have to set some time aside on Thursday, though. That’s the day you meet the Twins’ security detail.” I rub my eyes.

“That means I’ll have to work real miracles tomorrow.”

“You’ll be interviewing for the position of executive vice president soon, too. ” I frown.

“What? What happened to Ros?”

“We need help so there will be three of us now,” he says. “Interviews begin in two weeks.” I throw my hands in the air.

“I don’t want to be executive vice-president!” I nearly screech. He rolls his eyes.

“That’s not what I meant!” he retorts.

“Well, that’s what you said! You said that I would be interviewing for…”

“What I meant was…” he interrupts, “that you, I, and Ros will be conducting interviews in two weeks for an executive vice-president.” Well, that’s not what you said, genius!

“Fine, fine,” I say, waving my hand and dismissing the situation as it doesn’t take precedence right now.

“What do you hear from Josh these days?” My head snaps toward him.

“What?” That was a quick change in topic… and we need to be talking about this damn wedding! My birthday plans for Christian have already gotten the kibosh and although I know it’s for a very good reason, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. “I don’t know… nothing. I haven’t talked to Josh in a while. Where did that come from?” Christian rubs his chin.

“I haven’t talked to Mac yet, but I may be considering him for her assistant in the PR department, if he’s interested. I know it’s not as exciting as the freelance reporter and photographer gig, but it’ll pay a lot more. And I really wouldn’t care what he does in his spare time, as long as it doesn’t interfere or conflict with what he does for GEH.” I shrug.

“You can approach him. I have no idea how he’ll feel about it though,” I tell him. “I can say that he’s never expressed a desire to leave what he’s doing, but it’s not like we sit down and chat about our hopes and dreams.” I say flippantly. “What time will I be meeting the Twins’ detail on Thursday?”

“I don’t know yet. Let me talk to Chuck and Jason and I’ll get back to you on that.” I nod.

“Tell Marilyn,” I say. “She’ll put it in my schedule as I’m sure that I’ll be a clucking duck for the next few days. Will you or Elliot make sure that your family knows? If Grace wants to help with the planning, I’ll welcome it—but she must understand that everything is tentative pending Elliot and Val’s approval. There will be no bullying, no crying, no whimpering, no getting her way and if I see her doing it to Elliot because he’s her son, I’m going to intervene and make sure that he and Val get what they want. Val can’t have any stress and I won’t have her popping in and stressing her out because she wants some outrageous thing that…”

“Okay! Okay! I get it!” he says, grasping both my arms. “I don’t want you to have a stroke either. I know that you’re strong—stronger than Valerie right now—but you’ve had cranial trauma, too. Please remember that.” I nod and sigh. “Mom will behave or we’ll uninvite her from the wedding,” he adds, garnering a laugh and a smile from me.

“Okay,” I say after a cleansing breath. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go call Al… and gloat.”

*-*

“You’re a horrible cow! Both of you!” Al declares through the phone as I activate the contingency.

“Honestly, Al, this was so short notice,” I defend, “short notice like she decided at three and proposed at seven.”

“No excuse! That was plenty of time to call me, you heifer!” he retorts. “I’m so going to get you guys back for this! I just don’t know how yet!”

“Well, that chance might come sooner rather than later, because she wants to get married on Saturday.”

“Saturday?” he gasps. “What the fuck, Saturday?!”

“Yes, Saturday, which means the special surprise that I had for my husband’s birthday will now most likely be a bachelor party,” I huff because it still smarts.

“Why does she want to get married so soon?”

“Well, honestly, it’s not her. It’s him. She even said in her proposal that she was perfectly fine waiting until she was well so that she could be better for him, but Elliot insisted.”

“That sentimental pussy,” Al says. “It probably didn’t help that we brought our wedding to Val’s hospital room. Chocolate!” he calls out to James.

“Yeah, babe,” I hear James call back.

“What’s the name of that place where we found those yummy tuxes?” I don’t hear anything for a while.

“Why do we need tuxedoes?” I hear him ask.

“Because there’s a wedding on Saturday,” Al says.

“Saturday?” James exclaims. “And you’re just now telling me?”

“I’m just now finding out myself,” Al responds.

“Who’s getting married?” James asks.

 

“Fuck, is she dying?” I hear James’ concerned voice come into the room.

“Shit! Jewel, is she dying?” Al says, turning his attention back to me.”

“No!” I yowl at him. “I just told you that she told him she wanted to wait until she was well!” I scold. “Why would she say that if she knew she was dying?”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. No, Chocolate, she’s not dying.”

“Oh. Well, that’s good,” I hear James say. “Um, we used the Tuxedo Club, but I don’t know if they’ll have something for them by Saturday…”

“Tell them it’s for Christian Grey,” Al says.

“But they’re closed right now,” James protests.

“Well, call them tomorrow,” Al says. “We don’t have any time to lose.”

“I have to work in the morning!” James protests.

“Chocolaaaaate,” Al whines and I already know he’s about to get his way. There’s a pause.

“Fine. I’ll call in the morning. Now get off the damn phone.” Oops, sounds like somebody has to go pay the piper.

“Gotta go, Jewel. Gotta earn the tuxes.” Oh, God… I think that was TMI.

“Bye, Al,” I say with no further conversation. He’s not going to be able to activate the contingency anytime soon, so I call Maxie and Gary with the news, promising to give them an update tomorrow and I don’t really know what direction I should be going in…

The cake…
The food…
The location…
The dress…

I guess the dress should probably be where I should start. Christian will get the Justice of the Peace and we’ll obviously have the wedding here as Val is not up for too much traveling. Other than that, I have no idea what Val is going to want. Is it supposed to rain on Saturday? Will she want the wedding indoors or outdoors? Will she even be up to a wedding after a full week of radiation?

The easiest thing for me to do would be to plan a family party—quick and easy. I’ve got an entire kitchen staff; they can do the cooking. We’ll have to get a cake, though—fast! I simply can’t do this without Val’s input. Even anything tentative would be a disaster if she doesn’t want it.

I go back up to the bedroom and knock gently on the door.

“Come in,” Val’s voice says softly. I walk in and Elliot is on the phone with his hand pushed on the back of his neck. Val looks a bit forlorn. I point to him and look at Val.

“Grace,” she says. “You know how she always wants a Broadway production and we can’t even put on a school play by Saturday.” I sigh, and listen to Elliot try to explain to his mother that they won’t postpone the wedding to accommodate more guests. I shake my head.

“Put her on speaker,” I tell him. He frowns, but puts his mother on speaker as I requested. She’s not even listening to him. She’s still talking when he puts her on speaker.

“… And how am I possibly going to get the Manor ready for a wedding by Saturday? You simply must postpone the wedding! I just can’t pull it off!”

“Grace?” I say, interrupting her tirade.

“Who is this?” she asks.

“This is Ana.”

“Ana, thank God! Help me talk some sense into these two!” she beseeches me. Actually, I’m here to talk some sense into you.

“Grace, my friend here has cancer. That means that she can’t have any stress. If you could see her face right now, this conversation is stressful for her. That doesn’t help the healing process, wouldn’t you agree?”

“I know that! That’s why I’m telling them to postpone the wedding and give us time to plan.”

“But, that’s not what they want, Grace,” I say, attempting to refocus her intentions. “Elliot almost lost the woman that he loves. They realize how valuable time is, and he wants Valerie to be Mrs. Grey, right now. The only thing stopping them from saying ‘I do’ at this very moment in this bed is a three-day waiting period.”

“Oh, this is absurd!” she declares. “I want to at least have a hand in planning one of my son’s weddings!” Well, I think that was a shot at me and the fact that I didn’t allow her to invite a thousand people to mine and Christian’s wedding. But you know what? We’re not going to have that fight, because it’s done.

“Well, you know what, Grace?” I say, trying to rein in my anger, “you can totally have a hand in planning your son’s wedding, as long as you listen to and do what he wants. Now, there’s a lot to be done between now and Saturday. I have two gourmet cooks on my staff, so we don’t have to hire a caterer. Your house isn’t wedding ready? My house always looks like a showplace. They can get married here… unless they chose another location. We’ll need decorations, seating, music, and a cake, and I’ll have to find something beautiful for my friend to wear on her wedding day. Al is already working on the tuxedos. There will only be family and very close friends here, so the banker from Washington Mutual will not be on the guest list. There’s plenty on that list that I’ll need help with and you can always help me with those things, but Grace? I will fight rabid dogs and wild horses to keep stress away from my friend and sister, because I almost lost her, too. So, you can get on the bus with us and we can plan this wedding and have a beautiful party on Saturday or we can call the whole thing off and Christian can contact the Justice of the Peace on Saturday, and they’ll get married alone.”

“That’s not fair!” she squeals through the phone. “Why is it that we have to…”

“Two choices, Grace,” I say, shutting her down. “This is not open for negotiation. Pick one!” The line is silent for a moment and I think she’s appalled. In fact, I know she is.

“Fine,” she pouts. “I’ll help out where I can.”

“Excellent, and now for the rules…”

“Rules?” she huffs.

“Yes, rules!” I retort. “Repeat after me… I, Grace Trevelyan Grey, will not walk around huffing like a toddler because I’m not getting my way.”

“What?” she nearly shrieks.

“A month ago, my friend was at death’s door! We could have lost her! She wants to grab the bull by the horns and live life to its fullest because none of us knows how long we have left on this big blue ball! We don’t even know if she’s going to be up to a wedding after radiation on Friday! I refuse to allow anything to upset her, not even you! Now, say it!” She’s still silent on the phone, no doubt waiting for Elliot to say something. Wrong tactic. I’ll be the bad guy if I have to.

“I’m not kidding, Grace, I love you dearly and I really mean it, but I will block your number out of every phone in this house, quit my position at the Center, and have the guards block you at the gate. Say it!” She huffs again.

“I, Grace Trevelyan Grey, will not walk around huffing like a toddler because I’m not getting my way.”

“I will also not call my sons and try to guilt trip them into doing something that I want them to do while Ana’s not around.”

“Oh, this is ridiculous…”

“Blocked at the gate, Grace,” I remind her. She sighs.

“I will also not call my sons and try to guilt trip them into doing something that I want them to do while Ana’s not around,” she hisses.

“I will remember that I’ve already had my wedding and I got what I wanted against my parents’ wishes and I need to let my children have what they want now.” She falls silent again.

“I will remember… that I’ve already had my wedding and I got what I wanted against my parents’ wishes and I need to let my children have what they want now.” Her voice is softer now. Forgot about that, didn’t you, Grace?

“I will remember that Elliot and Valerie love each other very much and they’ve crawled through hell to get to where there are right now including baby scares and death scares and they don’t want to wait anymore.” Her voice cracks as she repeats that one.

“And I won’t make Ana quit her job.” She laughs at the last one, and I can tell that it’s through tears.

“And I won’t make Ana quit her job.” I sigh.

“Good, because I really do need your help. Can you possibly secure a cake? Anything—something pretty, hopefully, but anything? Preferences, you guys?”

“Chocolate or red velvet!” Val says.

“Red velvet’s good for me… or carrot!” Elliot says.

“Ooo, carrot’s good!” Val chimes in.

“Okay, you heard it. If you can get me three tiers with chocolate, carrot, and red velvet, that would be great. If you can find something suitable in just red velvet or carrot, I can deal with that.”

Okay,” she says, her voice small. “Can I send over a picture of my wedding dress? I’d like for Valerie to wear it, if it’s a good fit and if she likes it.” I look over at Valerie, who nods.

“She says ‘yes.’ If it’s suitable, that’s two major things that we don’t have to worry about.”

“I’m sorry, you all… I… tend to get carried away with these things, but hopefully you can see why.” Her voice cracks at the end again and I feel a little badly for how harshly I spoke to her.

“Don’t worry, Grace. When I’m trying to run things at Minnie’s and Mikey’s wedding, you’ll get to sit back and laugh at me.” She laughs good-naturedly.

“I love you all,” she says through her tears.

“Buck up, little soldier, and go find us a cake.” She laughs again and says her goodbyes. Elliot ends the call and I release a huge sigh.

“Oh, God, thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you…” Elliot comes around the bed and embraces me warmly, curling his body over mine in gratitude and burying his face in my shoulder and repeating his “thank you’s.” I have a feeling that the situation was more stressful on him than it was for Val. She just sits there smiling at us as I rub his back.

“I told you, you’re my brother. I gotta take care of you, too.”


CHRISTIAN

I thought it best to postpone the meetings with accounting and legal until next week—after the wedding—since I rode with my brother to the courthouse to get his marriage license. He was excited and terrified at the same time.

“I’m going to have a wife, man,” he says. “Maybe even some kids.”

“You gettin’ cold feet?” I ask. He nods honestly.

“Maybe a little, but I can’t see my life without her,” he replies. “When I see my future… when I see Mrs. Elliot Grey, I see her. I proposed to Kate. I had every intention of marrying her, but I never saw her in that spot. When I see way down the line—gray hairs and bald and forever… I see Angel. Why wait? I know she’s what I want and it’s not going to change.” He puts the license in his inside jacket pocket. “How did you know Montana was the one?” I chuckle.

“Day one, man,” I tell him as I maneuver the car through traffic with Jason and Williams following close behind us. “She literally had me at ‘Sir.’” He frowns.

“She was calling you ‘Sir’ from day one?” he asks.

“Yeah, but not the way you’re thinking,” I correct him. “I was daydreaming—about her, no less—and she called me ‘Sir’ to get my attention. I wanted her before she opened her mouth.”

“Yeah, you wanted her, but when did you know that she was the one?”

“I’m telling you it was right then,” I tell him. “I was looking for a new submissive. I had just gotten rid of the old one because she was too damn clingy. I had the perfect one lined up—Elena found her for me because of course, she knew exactly what I liked—but I couldn’t seal the deal, because I wanted Butterfly. We were both in denial. She hated me and I hated her. We really did hate each other… but we wanted each other even more. I crashed her date; I took my helicopter on what could have been a wild goose chase to rescue her. Then, when we got there, I ran toward gunfire to find her. I may have hated her, but I knew from day one that she was the one, because I couldn’t get her off my mind.”

I stop at a bar right before you cross the bridge and Elliot and I order burgers and fries for lunch. We’re sitting at a table waiting for our food when Elliot informs me, “I’ve always known that Montana was a fireball, but now I’m convinced that she’s not from this planet!” I frown. He just called my wife an alien.

“What the fuck does that mean?” I ask, my brow furrowed.

“She handled Mom like a pro,” Elliot says. “I’ve never seen anybody talk to Mom like that. She threatened to lock her out of the wedding!”

“What?” I say, nearly choking on my beer. Elliot nods.

“I left Mom a message yesterday and she called right back in full-on barracuda mode. She wasn’t listening to anything I was saying. Montana came into the room, told me to put her on speaker and mowed over Mom like a tractor!”

“No shit? And Mom took that?” Elliot nods again.

“Montana told her that if she didn’t behave that she would block Mom’s number from all the phones, quit working at the Center, and tell security not to let her pass. And she made her swear not to call me or you to try to get things done her way behind Montana’s back.”

“You’re bullshitting me!” I laugh. “How the hell did she manage to get Mom to agree to all that?”

“I don’t remember the whole conversation, man, but I remember mostly that it’s because Valerie almost died and Montana wasn’t gonna let anything stress her out and that this is what we wanted and nothing was going to get in the way of that. She might have said something about dogs with rabies and stallions running wild, I don’t know, but when it was all done, Mom was as meek as a church mouse.”

“Well,” I begin, taking another drink of my beer, “the tiger strikes again.” I turn to my brother. “You know, you call my wife ‘Montana.’” He looks back at me bemused.

“That’s what I called her from the first day I met her… Ana Montana, you know, like Hannah Montana…” He gestures demonstrating with his hands.

“I know what you meant, but you know that’s where she ran off when she left me.” He ponders the situation, then his mouth falls open.

“I never put that together,” he says. “I’m sorry, Bro…”

“It’s no big deal, I just wondered if you ever knew it.”

“I didn’t realize it until now,” he says.

We talk for a while longer before we wander back into Wedding Central. Butterfly keeps Valerie included as much as she can, but only to a certain degree as she agreed to accompany Valerie to her radiation treatments and talk to her about wedding stuff to keep her mind occupied. Now, Valerie is worn down and trying to rest, so the dining room table has been commandeered for all parties involved to stop in, drop their responsibilities and maybe pick up a new one or add ideas.

My mom and my wife are working surprisingly well together, like a well-oiled machine. Butterfly has discovered that Saturday is one of those rare Seattle days that won’t have rain, so the wedding will be outside. I’d never seen Mom’s wedding dress before, but apparently, she asked Valerie if she wanted to wear it and Valerie said yes. Butterfly mentioned to me that the dress is way too big in some places because of Valerie’s treatment-induced weight loss and I offered to pay my tailor extra to take her measurements and have it altered overnight if Mom didn’t mind. He was only too happy to oblige.

Butterfly took a break from planning on Thursday to meet the security detail for the twins. One of them, she had already met—Tate Nixon was assigned to Marilyn, but it’s been decided that he would be a better detail for Mikey, so Carolyn Ridenoir is going to be assigned to Marilyn, now. Rebecca Peterson is going to be Minnie’s detail and I’m more than a bit surprised that both of the new members of my security team are female. Were these the “guys” giving Chuck a hard time about being soft? I like them already.

“I need you to take Elliot somewhere to decompress,” Butterfly says to me right after the meeting with the new security detail. I frown.

“Um, like where?” I ask her. He’s definitely not going to go for a bachelor party. The man doesn’t even drink.

“Um, like figure it out,” she replies. “He looks like he’s aged ten years in the last six weeks. This situation is beating him down. Now, Val has revealed that she’s not going to her treatments today and tomorrow because she wants to be sentient for her wedding and he’s having a cow. I tried to explain to him that two days of treatment are not going to make or break her in a five- to six-week regimen and that she could make them up if it was a problem, but that did little to placate him. I need him more anticipatory groom and less worried father-slash-boyfriend-slash-caregiver and I need you to make that happen. I need him to loosen up!”

How the fuck do you get a teetotaler to calm down beside drug him without his permission? Me and my wedding party went paintballing, but I can’t tell everybody to take Friday off to go paint-balling with a one-day notice. Maybe we can go alone… nah, paintballing requires a team or it’s no fun. Shit, I don’t know what I’m going to do with this short notice. She doesn’t realize that she’s asking me to move mountains.

Move mountains… there we go…

“My wife has given me the impossible task of making you relax tomorrow so that you can get married on Saturday without any problems,” I say to Elliot after I’ve made some calls to set up our day.

“You’re kidding, right?” he says, sitting on the patio and watching the garden get decorated early for part of the party.

“No, I’m not,” I reply, “Apparently, not only are you looking like Rip Van Winkle, but you also had a meltdown when Valerie told you that she wouldn’t be taking radiation for the next two days. So, now, I have to keep you from having a stroke before we get you down the aisle.” He sighs.

“Dude, imagine if your wife tells you that she’s going to stop her life-saving treatment,” he laments.

Dude, she’s not stopping it. She’s postponing it. She’s taking two days to regroup so that she can be coherent enough to tell you how much she loves you on Saturday. She’ll pick up right where she left off on Monday, and if she needs any additional treatments, they’ll tack them on at the end. My wife’s right, man, two days is not going to break her. Had it been a holiday, they would have given her a break and she would come in another day or pick up where she left off—we learned that when we were doing research for you guys to move in with us.”

“Her doctor wasn’t happy about it,” he protests.

“Her doctor also wasn’t happy about her moving in with us,” I remind him. “Tell me she’s not doing better since she’s been here than she was at the hospital.” He sighs again.

“Yeah, she’s doing better,” he admits, “much better in fact.” I put my hand on his shoulder.

“She’ll be fine, man,” I assure him. “It’s only two days. Nothing can happen in two days that wouldn’t have happened before.” He holds his head down and nods in surrender.

“So… where are you taking me?” he concedes.

“Well, we’ll get up early in the morning and I thought I’d take you soaring first.” He raises his eyebrow.

“Really?” he says, his voice lifting. “I always wanted to do that.” I nod.

“Then, after a healthy, high-carb breakfast, we’ll grab the dirt bikes and do some riding. Once we’ve had our fill of that, we’ll grab the packs and hit the side of a mountain.”

“Whoa, that sounds like my kind of day,” he croons.

“It’s not done yet,” I tell him. “We’ll pack up a 4X4 and head to that spot on the Sound that Dad always used to take us to, set up camp and do some fishing.”

“Yeah?” His eyes light up like a kid at Christmas. It causes me to chuckle.

“That means your lazy ass better catch something or we won’t have anything for dinner.”

“Oh, please,” he laughs, “You were always the one who caught the least fish, if any at all,” he teases.

“I’ve gotten better since I got my boat,” I tell him. “Maybe I’ll take the family out on the water this summer. She’s been moored for way too long.”

“I can’t argue with you on that one, Bro,” he says, then his brow furrows. “You said we’d set up camp and eat fish for dinner. We’re staying all night?”

“That’s the plan,” I tell him. “Consider this your bachelor party. I even got you some O’Doul’s for around the campfire.” This elicits a hearty laugh.

“Leave it to my billionaire brother to find non-alcoholic beer,” he jests.

“You can’t camp without beer,” I tell him.

“Well, you get to tell our wives,” he says. I smile. He’s calling her his wife already.

“Sure thing,” I assure him.

*-*

After assuring Butterfly and Valerie that we had battery back-up and chargers for our cell phones, they reluctantly agree to set us loose in the wilderness. I remind Butterfly in bed on Thursday night that it was her idea to get my brother to decompress. Not only is this what he likes to do, but he’s thrilled about the day trip—24 hours of nothing but outdoor sports with the Grey brothers. He completely let go of the fact that Valerie was skipping radiation for two days.

She’s convinced that I’m getting back at her for making me deal with my damn-near hysterical brother—who wasn’t hysterical at all, by the way. So, she bound me to our bed and fucked me within an inch of my life, coming three times before she allowed me to come once. Fucking hell, that was good!

I still manage to wake up before dawn and get Elliot to Evergreen Soaring for an acrobatic glider ride. He’s like a kid on a roller coaster! He fucking loves it and makes me promise to teach him to do it one day. He even wants to stick around and watch some other acrobatic flights, which we do for an hour or so before we go to breakfast. After oatmeal and sausage, we hit the trails with a couple of dirt bikes. My brother gives me a real run for my money. He says that kicking the alcohol was an amazing cleanse for his system and helps with his energy levels. I might do a cleanse of my own to see what it does.

Our hike turns out to be a basic Q&A session about married life…
How did we decide we wanted to have kids?
What do we do when we’re mad at each other besides fuck?
Have we made any preparations for the kids should something happen to us?

He was a little horrified when I told him that Valerie is the godmother and she takes the twins if something happens to us.

“Don’t you think I should be part of that decision?” he says.

“Yeah, you should, but you should probably have that conversation with your wife because I’m certain that this was some kind of blood oath from a decade ago or something. Come between that if you want, but I’m not touching it with a 10-foot pole.” He laughs at me.

“Pussy,” he teases.

“Why yes, I love it, and I won’t fuck with the opportunity to get it as long and as often as possible.” He laughs at me.

“My wife,” he repeats. “I’m getting married tomorrow.”

“You’re getting married tomorrow,” I confirm. He sighs.

“So, let’s get on up this mountain,” he says, and his pace picks up.

We eat lunch from our backpacks once we get to the top of the mountain. We just sit there for a while and enjoy the view and each other’s company. My brother starts to relax a bit and he begins to talk more about the future he sees with Valerie. He’s happy that he made the ultimatums that he did or they never would have found out about the tumor. He still feels guilty for the comments that he made about being glad that her behavior had to do with something physical and not that she was just turning into a raving bitch, but he maintains that feeling as the whole “raving bitch” thing is what took Kate away from him.

We make our way back down to the waiting Audi 4×4 and hit the road again, headed for the camping area. When we get there, we set up camp and go over to the fishing spot on Puget Sound where our Dad used to take us when we were kids. It’s mid-afternoon and I don’t tell him that I brought some cans of pork and beans in case we didn’t catch any fish since we usually set out fishing in the early morning hours. To our delight, we made three great catches—my brother beating me two-to-one once again—and had a wonderful dinner of fresh fish.

“I do miss beer,” Elliot says as he drinks his near-beer. “This tastes like the real thing.”

“I’m no connoisseur of non-alcoholic beer, but I did do a little research and this one got the highest reviews.” He nods as he takes another swallow his drink.

“Sorry we had to commandeer your birthday, man.” I shrug.

“You know how I hate celebrating my birthday,” I admit. “I only do it now for Butterfly. This is a pretty cool way to celebrate,” I tell him, raising my beer to him.

“Hear, hear!” he says, clinking his bottle with mine. “I didn’t know it was possible to love somebody more than you love yourself,” he says, gazing into the fire. “Isn’t that supposed to be unhealthy or something?”

“It depends on how you look at it,” I tell him. “I think you’re wording it wrong. To say that you love her more than you love yourself indicates that you have no value of your own existence and I don’t think that’s true. If it’s anything like what I feel for Butterfly, it’s that your existence—your happiness and your life—is now wrapped up in hers, too; that you would give your life to protect her, but you’re not looking for that to happen anytime soon. If she falls to harm or unhappiness, that makes you unhappy. You, in turn, will do whatever is necessary to make sure that she’s safe and happy to secure your own happiness. That’s the height of self-preservation, man.

“Butterfly is only just now fully understanding why I’m as possessive and controlling as I am, and we’ve been together for nearly two years. It’s not about me having to be in control of everything—it’s about knowing that everything is as it should be. And now—with her and the twins—my very sanity is dependent on knowing that she and my children are safe; on keeping them happy and making sure that all their needs are met. The moment you love someone more than yourself, and their life becomes more important than yours, then you’ve got real problems, Bro.

“I think it’s more that we know that we can take care of ourselves and we feel that they need our protection. So, that ‘me Tarzan, you Jane’ mentality comes out and we want to stand in front of them and protect them from the world. The thing is that we have two of the strongest women on earth—walking, talking, breathing, living pillars of strength—and when they’re brought down, we can’t see straight. So, something as major as a brain tumor or an accident that leaves her in a coma for twelve days brings their importance and their role in our lives to the forefront… not that it wasn’t always there. We just realize how precious and fragile life is when we’re threatened with the possible loss of someone we love.” He frowns at me.

“Dude, how did you… how do you know all this?” he inquires. “No offense, but before you met Montana, you were one of the most screwed up motherfuckers I’ve ever known, evidenced by the fact that you had to practice this lifestyle with random women and no feeling. I’m all for a good fuck and a one-night-stand—well, at least I used to be—but you had some intense shit going on. I seriously want some inside information, because that shit drove two women crazy, that I know of, and you’ve got a third hanging on to you for dear life, so much so that you build room in your house just for this. What the fuck, man?” I blink several times.

“Well, first, I learned from experience and a whole fucking lot of therapy. And Elliot, the right woman can set you on the right path every time. I don’t have to tell you that. As for the lifestyle…” I run my hands through my hair. “I don’t know if Ana has discussed our practices with Valerie, but you would definitely have to discuss this with her before you embark on something like this. It has to be consensual between both parties involved. You have to set definite limits of what you will and will not do, and Elliot, it can spice up the fuck out of your sex life, but it can ruin your relationship if you’re not compatible on this level. So, be very sure before you set out on this journey.”

“Well, how do you know?” he asks.

“You don’t until you try. The thing is that you may discover that you want something different out of it than Valerie does. Are you willing to take that chance?” He frowns again.

“Not… no… no. I’m not willing to do anything that’s going to make me lose her. It’s just… well… I wouldn’t mind putting some fire back into our nights, once she’s well again, that is.”

“That’s easy to do,” I tell him. “You don’t have to go full-on Dom to do that.”

“Full-on Dom? What is that?”

“Nothing,” I say, swallowing my beer. “Let that plane fly and let me just give you some pointers…”

My brother and I spend the next several hours under the stars talking about how to please a lady.


ANASTASIA

Val, Al, Maxie and I spend the night talking and eating finger foods, all of us drinking non-alcoholic beverages and going back down Memory Lane. We finally get to sleep all camped out in Valerie’s room at about three in the morning.

Of course, I’m the first to wake, with a million things still left to do before the wedding this afternoon at three. We’ve kept it as simple as possible. Christian’s tailor delivered Grace’s altered dress yesterday and it’s beautiful on Valerie. She’ll just wear some white ballet flats underneath and she’s decided to wear a crown of daisies on her shaved head just like she wore at Al’s wedding. I can tell that she feels subconscious about getting married bare-headed, but she’s trying not to let it bother her, especially since in a show of solidarity, Elliot cut all his hair off.

The garden, patio, and pool area are all decorated with spring flowers, fabrics and linens. There’s no particular color scheme, just springtime. Since the guest list consists of all the people who are usually around us on holidays anyway, we just rent comfortable outdoor furniture for informal seating. The food and drinks will be set up buffet style in the outdoor dining room.

There’s a trellis set up in the middle of the seating where Val and Elliot will say their vows. We have a wheelchair for Valerie, but she’s determined to walk down that aisle. So, we just have a beautifully decorated chair sitting at the trellis for her so that she can comfortably exchange vows with her fiancé. James had tuxes delivered for Al, Elliot, and Christian as Christian will be the best man and Al will give Val away. Elliot was easy to please as James told him what was available on short notice and Elliot just picked one. He went with the charcoal gray with matching vests, silk lapels, and thin-striped gray and white ties. Maxie and I will wear some pretty, low cut peach dresses that she found off the rack for us along with some nude stiletto sandals that match pretty nicely. We’ll have daisies in our hair, too.

Grace worked a small miracle and found a baker that did a five-tier cupcake set-up in our flavors of choice with pink roses spaced on the tiers and a top layer red velvet cake for the bride and groom. We’ve completed the wedding ensemble with a full bouquet of white roses and soft pink flowers. Maxie and I will be carrying smaller versions of the same. God has graced us with beautiful weather and the make-up team will be here at noon to make sure we are all relaxed and beautiful when the time arrives to say, “I do.” At eleven, however, another delivery comes while I’m polishing Val’s nails a soft pastel pink.

“Look what I’ve got,” Maxine says as she comes into Val’s room with a medium sized box. “It’s from Elliot for our bride to be.” I smile widely at Val, who blushes prettily. There’s are three envelopes on top and the white on says, “Open me first.” I gently open the envelope, remove the letter inside and hand it to Val so that she doesn’t ruin her nails. She reads it silently, her hand covering her mouth and her eyes filling with tears as she hands me the note.

My Angel,

The day they told you that they would have to shave your head, you cried bitterly. You cried even more to learn that you may be completely bald from the chemotherapy. You asked them to sedate you before they shaved your head. It broke my heart to see you that way and there was nothing that I could do about it.

Today, there is. You are giving me the precious, immeasurable gift of becoming my wife. I have done this small gesture to show you how much I love you and what you mean to me. I asked a special local charity to do this for you and in gratitude for their work, they asked that I make a direct donation to the cause.

So, my angel, these are my two wedding presents to you. Please open the blue envelope first, and then the gold, before you open the box.

I can’t wait until you’re Mrs. Grey.

Your love for life,
Elliot.

“Read the notes, Ana,” she says, weeping and still trying not to smudge her polish. “I’m going to cry all over them and ruin them. I know I am.”

I nod and remove the blue envelope from the box and open it first.

“This is to certify that a donation has been made to the Cancer and Research Wing of Seattle General Hospital in the amount of…” I pause and gasp when I see the number. I didn’t know that Elliot had this kind of money just laying around. “… Fifty thousand dollars…”

Valerie’s gasps and covers her mouth, tears squeezing from her eyes as she weeps quietly. I swallow my emotions and continue to read the note.

“… In the amount of $50,000 by Elliot Grey in the name of Valerie Marshall-Grey to advance the study and research of cancer and tumor treatment in hopes of one day finding a cure.” My voice goes up on the last words as I can’t hold in my emotion anymore. Maxie stands next to me, covering her mouth and attempting to hide her tears as well. I’m glad Franco hasn’t done our makeup yet or we would be runny, ruined messes right now.

“I don’t know what… he could possibly do… that could be more… loving and generous than this!” she weeps. I wipe the tears from my eyes and place the note and the blue envelope on the table next to her.

“Let’s find out, shall we?” I say, pulling myself together and taking the gold envelope from the box.

“Once you were asleep and they had to shave your beautiful hair, I asked them to save it and give it to me, which they did. I was hoping this gift would be ready in time and by the grace of God, it is.”

What the hell could he make out of her hair? We both twist our lips a bit in preparation of what might be in the box. Might as well rip off the Band-aid. I open the box to find another box inside… well, actually, it looks like a travel bag. I take the travel bag out and there’s another note on top. I gasp when I read it.

“What? What is it?” she exclaims. I unzip the front of the bag so that it falls open in front of Val. She frowns.

“He wants me to wear a wig?” she says in dismay. “It’s really pretty, but…”

“It’s not just any wig, Val,” I say, looking down and reading the final note aloud.

“Dear Angel, wear this only if you want to, but I wanted you to have it just in case. It’s shorter, I know, but it’s made entirely of your hair.” Val gasps again and covers her mouth.

“No…” she breathes as she reaches into the wig travel box and removes the mannequin head that holds her wig. “This is all my hair?” she says, her voice cracking terribly. “Oh, my God, it’s beautiful, Ana, look at it.” She touches the wig like it’s made of gold.

“Yes, it is,” I say, unable to hold back my tears anymore.

“And it’s so soft,” she says. “He really loves me.” She breaks down in uncontrollable sobs.

“Did you doubt?” I ask. She shakes her head, tears streaming down her face.

“I was such a bitch!” she weeps. “I almost lost him!”

“You never would have lost him,” I assure her. “One way or another, this would have come out, and you wouldn’t have lost him.” We cry a little longer before I fix her smudged nails and we wait for Franco to come and put us back together.

*-*

“Tell me you guys are almost ready. My brother is about to shit his pants out here.”

Christian looks absolutely delicious in the charcoal gray tux James chose for him. I stick my head out to greet him, but I completely lose my words when I see him in that tux. I bite my lip, thinking about all the things I want to do to him. My mouth is fucking watering…

“Ana,” he warns, bringing me back to myself. I shake my head like I’m shaking off a dream.

“Um… yeah… yeah, we’re ready. I was just going to call Al to bring the wheelchair. Can you send him up, please?” The corner of his mouth rises in a knowing smirk.

“I’m going to gobble you up when this party is over,” he says, his voice deep.

“Likewise,” I say, shameless, licking my lips.

“Promises, promises,” he taunts.

“One I intend to keep,” I say, crisply.

“C’mon, guys, I’m getting married! Where’s my chariot?” Val’s impatience elicits a laugh from both of us. I blow him a kiss.

“Go,” I say, lustfully. He growls in his throat and walks back down the hallway. I turn around to look at Val and shrugs.

“If Elliot looks as good as he does, you’re going to have a problem,” I warn.

“I know,” she says, half-lamenting, half lustful, although I must say that Franco and his team did a fabulous job on all of us. He has styled this custom-made wig for Val and you would never know that it’s a wig. Her eyebrows have thinned and he lightly filled those in with a pencil, but her eyelashes only needed a little mascara and she looks pretty as a picture with a soft pastel palette of colors. A few minutes later, Al arrives with the wheelchair. For a moment, he’s struck speechless.

“Oh, my God,” he breathes. “Valerie… you’re beautiful.” Val’s face scrunches.

“Al, please don’t make me cry,” she squeaks.

“Please tell me your face is smudge-proof,” he says. “There’s not going to be a dry eye in this place.” And she’s crying. I’m dabbing her face with a hanky and thankfully, yes, everything is smudge-proof.

“Let’s go get your man,” he says as he helps her into the wheelchair.

He was right. Once Maxie and I walk out of the patio door and down the makeshift “aisle” to the center of the seated guests, the sound of sniffles and weeps can be heard all across our backyard as Valerie makes her way to the arch. Elliot is completely spellbound and absolutely dumbstruck. Christian has to pat his back to make him close his mouth. He picked the song for her to walk down the aisle and it’s totally unconventional. She didn’t expect it, but when she hears it, she smiles widely at her husband to be. She and Al walk to the chair that we’ve decorated for her as Leona Lewis’ voice booms over our outdoor sound system declaring an angel being the answer to her prayers.

Al can hardly give Val’s hand to Elliot when the Justice of the Peace declares that it’s time to give her away. He just sheds a tear and kisses her on the cheek before turning her over to the man who will protect her for the rest of her life. He gestures for her to sit and she shakes her head, telling him that she’s fine and promising to sit if she gets tired.

They stare into each other’s eyes, never looking left or right no matter what’s said or what occurs around them. They never even flinch… until it’s time to exchange personal vows. Elliot asks for Val to go first. He knows she’ll want to stand and say her vows and he wants her to be able to sit if she gets tired. She’s happy to oblige.

“I had rehearsed vows, but… I can’t remember them.” She swallows hard and gazes at Elliot. “I’ve searched my whole life to find a man like you. I’ve waited an eternity to feel the love that I feel for you. It’s all-consuming and it takes over your mind and body like nothing else. Even the tumor didn’t dampen or cloud what I feel for you. Oh, Elliot, I love you with all of me… every part of my body and soul even my toes love you.” She says the last part in one breath and a slight, soft chuckle comes over the room. “There will never be anyone else for me. You are love… and hope… and laughter… and beauty… and passion… and life… all rolled up into one! I don’t know how… I got so lucky… or why you love me… but thank you!” She’s weeping now, holding tight to Elliot’s hands.

“I promise you, I swear to you, I will spend my life loving you, supporting you, and making you happy. And when I give you a hard time—because we both know that I will, please don’t forget that I love you. Please don’t forget that you are my world. Please don’t forget…” She closes her eyes and brings his hands to her lips, kissing them reverently before brushing the backs of them against her cheek as she weeps.

There’s silence for a long time and the only sound that can be heard is that of Val’s gentle weeping. She’s weakened now, either by exhaustion or emotion, but she reaches for the chair. All of the men on the groom’s side, including the groom reach for her, but of course, Elliot is there to help her to the seat. Once she’s seated, he gracefully descends to his knees and waits for her weeping to subside a bit. He releases his grip and takes her tear-stained face in his large hands. He gazes at her for several moments, well after she opens her eyes and raises her gaze to him. Finally, after a very long pause, he speaks.

“My love, my heart, my mind, my body and soul… all belong to you. Do with me as you will, because I’m at your mercy.”

That’s all he said… but did he really need to say more?

Valerie chokes and sobs in a very unladylike fashion, and the rest of the women in the room—and Al—all follow suit, weeping and sobbing and trying not to be unseemly. We all do our best to compose ourselves, but to very little avail. The bride finally regains enough composure to exchange rings with her beloved. Finally, after one of the most emotional ceremonies I’ve ever seen in my life, the Justice of the Peace pronounces them man and wife. Elliot melts into his wife, gathering her into his arms and kissing her with the passion and hunger of a starving man.

“Mrs. Grey,” he breathes between kisses. “Mrs. Grey. Mrs. Elliot Grey…” His voice is wistful and longing.

*-*

“Well, we just have you guys left,” Christian says, gesturing to Marilyn and Gary, “and you guys.” He gestures to Keri and Chuck, too.

“Hey, don’t rush us! We’re enjoying ourselves,” Marilyn proclaims.

“Hear, hear!” Gary says and he and Marilyn share a tender kiss.

“What about you two?” Christian says to Chuck. “Have you… thought about it? Love is in the air.” Keri giggles.

“Yas, weh tink about it. Weh don know yet. I luv mi Choonks and mi Choonks luv me, but weh don wan shotgun weddin to stay in da contry.” I nod.

“What about… I mean, you were sick. Have you seen a doctor?” I ask. She nods.

“Keri got a full medical work-up right after we got back to the states,” Chuck says. “It turns out that she was just… grieving. We’re keeping track and watching for pregnancy and things like that, but according to the doctor, she was just unhappy.”

“I jus miss mi Choonks,” she says, leaning on his shoulder. “Mi no gud witout ‘im. Anguilla no longeh mi home witout ‘im. Mi home wherever mi Choonks is.” He leans down and kisses her gently, gazing into her eyes and gently stroking her locks. Say what you want, I have a feeling we’ll be hearing those wedding bells soon, too.

Christian is right, though. Love is in the air. Elliot has Val sitting on his lap, feeding her red velvet cake and kissing the crumbs off every time they fall. She’s lit up like springtime and I have to admit that the wig of her own hair is not only beautiful and flawless, but it also has to be one of the most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever seen.

Mindy is asleep on her father’s lap as Maxie sits comfortably under Phil’s arm as they talk about whatever.

As Celida and Mariah play with Maggie nearby, Luma and Herman are in deep conversation. Luma blushes as Herman whispers something to her, and Pops sits sleeping and reclined in a nearby chair, not wanting to be shuttled to some room to “rest” while the party is going on. Mandy is bouncing little Harry on her knee while Daddy plays with his son and gazes at his wife. Carrick and Grace sit close while holding a conversation with Marcia, and on the dance floor, we have a canoodling Mia and Ethan, Allen and James, and… what’s this I see? Sophie and Marlow!

I don’t draw attention to them… well, not at first, but Marlow is smiling and telling what seems to be an interesting and funny story while Sophie—at least a foot shorter than he is—gazes up into his eyes with the unmistakable look of a love-struck teenager. I glance at Jason and Gail, happy that they’re caught in their own session of canoodling, before I gently poke Christian to get his attention.

“What do you make of that?” I say, quietly, bringing his attention to the young couple on the dance floor. He shrugs.

“I can guarantee you with no level of uncertainty that he views her completely platonically,” Christian says. I raise my eyebrows.

“Well, his eyes may say ‘platonic friend,’ but her eyes say, ‘teenage crush,’” I inform him. He looks at Sophie and Marlow again before stealing a glance over at Jason and Gail.

Still canoodling.

“Let’s not tell Jason,” Christian whispers. I shake my head inconspicuously.

“Let’s not,” I concur. His lips slowly cover mine and I taste delicious kisses that make me want him right here and now. Just as I’m about to sink into the kiss, my beloved Minnie starts to stir in her Pack-n-Play.

“She can’t be hungry,” I lament. “I just fed her an hour ago.”

“It’s all the activity,” Maxie says. “She wants to see what’s going on.” I sigh and move toward the Pack-n-Play.

“Seet down, Anah, I got heh,” Keri says, and she has scooped Minnie out of the Pack-n-Play before I can even get out of my seat. Relieved, I snuggle back in next to Christian. Minnie fusses a bit, but calms when Keri looks down at her and starts to sing. Chuck gazes at his woman like the sun rises and sets in her eyes, which for him, it probably does…

Res yo’ hed, chile, ees tyme to dodo,
De sun goh down behind de mounten slope,
If yoh fine it hahd to sleep,
Tuhn yo’ hed, close yo’ eyes, don peep!
Emagin dah banana boat on de sea,
Keepin’ you afloat oh so gtacefuhlly,
So many stahs shinin’ in de skies,
You can coun dem all if you close yo’ eyes…

Looking over at Keri smiling down at Minnie and singing her into contentment while my daughter coos back at her, the answer to one of our dilemmas slaps me in the face as if it had been staring at me all this time… which in reality, it had. I gasp loudly, my finger pointing straight in the air as if to say “Eureka!” Christian looks at me as if I’ve sprouted branches, waiting to see what strange fruit I will produce.

“Sophie’s here,” I say, turning to Gail. “That means you’re a stepmom.” Gail scans the room waiting for a punchline.

“Yeah,” she says expecting.

“You can’t spend as much time on your duties as we had hoped, because of this new responsibility,” I add. She twists her lips.

“We’ve already established this,” she says impatiently. “I’m doing my best. We’ve been actively looking.”

“You need a reason to stay in the States,” I say, turning to Keri, “and a job. You have experience with children. You lived with us for three months. You were here when the twins were born.” Keri stares at me, slowly catching my meaning. I look over to Christian.

“Someone that we know and trust. She doesn’t even have to be vetted.” I gesture to Keri again. “Look how good she is with Minnie.” My husband finally catches my drift and gasps, holding both his hands up in the same “Eureka” gesture as we both breathe at the same time…

“Au pair.”

Keri is stunned.

“Yu wuld do dat foh mi?” she asks.

“Would you do that for us?” I ask. “Legally, you would have to live here and I have a feeling Chuck wanted to get you back to Bainbridge…”

“Chuck will get her however he can get her!” Chuck interjects quickly.

“Au pairs don’t get paid,” I continue. “They work for room and board on a work visa. We would give you something, of course, but it wouldn’t be a salary. We would have to work out some kind of informal allowance or something…”

“Ah don cayah ‘bout da money!” she says, quickly. “Ah’ll b’able tah stey wit mi Choonks… an Ah’ll b’able tah wohk wit dah bebes! Yaz, yaz, please!” I throw my hands up, now in victory.

“That’s it,” I say, happily. “We’ll start the paperwork on Monday.” Keri squeals with happiness, causing Minnie to squeal with her and eliciting a laugh from Christian. I scan the room and catch Gail smiling gleefully at the arrangement, while Jason is frowning, looking straight ahead. I follow his gaze to the love-struck Sophie, her pretty blonde hair brushing her back and her spring dress swaying while she stares captivated up at Marlow, who’s still talking. I sigh and chuckle.

“Now, what are we going to do about that?” I say to no one in particular.


EPILOGUE

You can’t always get what you want,
You can’t always get what you want,

You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try sometimes, well you just might find,
You get what you need.

This song is such bullshit. You don’t fucking get what you need or what you want unless your goddamn name is Grey! Ruin everything for everybody and then just think you’re going to walk off into the sunset with no fucking repercussions. Money is everything. Money can buy you the world, right?

My life… my whole fucking life… ruined! Why?

Grey!
Grey!
Grey!

They eat! They drink! They’re merry! Not a fucking care in the goddamn world. Oh, and the twins that Seattle loves… fucking gag me! Born with a goddamn silver spoon in their mouths. You rob someone of everything they have, then you sit in that mansion surrounded by all those fucking Keystone cops like you’re so goddamn untouchable. Seattle’s sweetheart and the richest man in the free world—you’re fucking laughable! You think you can just ruin people’s lives? Just walk up and wave your fucking money wand and it doesn’t matter who goes down, as long as you get what you want, right?

Well, enjoy it while it lasts, Greys, because you’re going to regret the day you ever fucked with me!


A/N: So that’s all for Becoming Dr. Grey, my lovelies. Stay tuned for more drama, villains, lemons, and life in Book IV!

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 80—Grey House of Healing

I have gotten requests to write more about Ana and Christian and the babies and I will, but please remember, guys… no one lives in a vacuum. Our lives are not just what happens to us, but also what happens to the people we love. 😉 

There may be a bonus chapter this week if I can get around to it. I don’t feel like the next chapter is really a stand-alone…

Love you guys! 😀

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

Chapter 80—Grey House of Healing

CHRISTIAN

Butterfly was only around for the first portion of the meeting with me and Ros to be brought up to date on the top tier of what happens with GEH—the very basics of how we select companies for mergers or acquisitions, for example, and how many mergers are in the hopper right now. I thought it would be boring for her and tried to keep it short. I was amazed at how many relevant questions she had. Just how deep into business management did she go when she minored in college?

She got a call during the meeting about Valerie’s arrival at the Crossing this afternoon and decided that she needed to make sure all the final touches were in order. I told her to go on and I would meet her at Elliot’s apartment once I had concluded the meeting with Ros. She’s the only meeting that we set for today since we knew that Valerie and Elliot would be moving in this afternoon. I’m glad she decided to leave, though, because I need to speak to Ros alone.

“May I ask why there was so much tension in the room?” I say when we’re alone. Ros raises her eyes to me.

“I don’t know what you mean,” she lies, turning her attention back to the papers in front of her.

“Don’t give me that shit,” I challenge. “You know exactly what I mean. Am I going to be facing issues with you because my wife is part owner of my business?” She chuckles, mostly to herself as she didn’t raise her head. What the fuck is so goddamn funny?

“I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with Ana or the fact that you have given her controlling shares of the company,” she says matter-of-factly, apparently thinking her sarcasm has gotten past me. I fold my arms.

“Okay, so that means that apparently, your issue must be with me,” I say. She doesn’t answer. “I’m waiting, Ros,” I press. She leans one hand on the desk, the other on her hip as she raises her eyes to me.

“Nobody’s allowed to say anything to you about how you run this business,” she begins. “It doesn’t matter if your decisions are sound or if we feel like they’re ridiculous, heaven forbid anyone try to dispute something you may want to do.” She drops her head back down to the papers in front of her. “… Which is even harder when you’re barely even present.” The last part was added almost as an afterthought and I’m not sure that I was meant to hear it.

“Excuse me?” I retort, my voice sharp and causing her to raise her head to me again. “Do you have something that you need to say to me, Ros, because I don’t have conversations in mumbled tones.” She stands up and squares off with me.

“I have never second-guessed your decisions,” she says. “Even when you chopped up Fairlane without even asking my opinion, I followed you blindly. You run off to foreign countries; leave without telling me anything. I have to run things without knowing whether you’re in the building, in the city, even in the country! At a moment’s notice, I have to pick up the ball and run with it and try to figure out where you left off! It can be a crazy ass rat race and I’m just trying to keep up. You make huge decisions; you don’t tell me anything; and I find out along with the rest of the department heads if I don’t find out in the news!

“So, what else is new?” I ask in amazement. “You knew that was the deal when you signed on. I could be in Seattle today, New York tomorrow, and Tokyo by the end of the week. Nothing has ever changed. Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc is Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc because for years, I’ve followed the opportunities wherever they took me. When you signed up with me all those years ago, you knew that. Nothing has changed! Nothing’s changed except for the fact that I have a family now—a wife and children. I still follow the opportunities wherever they lead me. I still make snap judgements that make me a hell of a lot of money on one hand and may lose me a bundle on another. What’s different?”

“I could account for that time, Christian!” she snaps. “I could tell my wife that I’m working late hours and pulling all-nighters because my boss is chasing a deal—because he’s in Taiwan charming the pants off some businessman or factory owner trying to get his hands on some patent or textile or real-estate that we need for some subsidiary, affiliate, or merger with the company. I could justify canceling our vacation because a deal that we had put thousands of man hours into still hadn’t come to fruition if I could promise her a vacation later in the year—a vacation, by the way, that never seems to happen…” I put my hand up to silence her.

“Wait a minute,” this conversation just went south. “Are you telling me that the basis of this conversation is that you can’t account for my time?” My anger is hanging by a very thin thread now. “And I didn’t know anything about any vacations. You haven’t said anything to me.”

“You’re never here!” she snaps. “And what was I supposed to do—tell you to leave your dying wife’s bedside so I could take my wife to Boca?” she shoots.

“How the fuck am I responsible for that?” I retort. “And I tell you every time we’re taking a vacation—when I took her to Anguilla, our honeymoon…”

“You just got back from Anguilla. I didn’t even know you were gone!” she accuses.

“That’s because it was a goddamn day trip!” I’m yelling now. “I’m supposed to tell you about a goddamn day trip?”

“Northern Washington, Montana, Oregon, Napa…” She begins naming off trips I’ve taken with Butterfly over the last year or so.

“All fucking weekends!” I interject.

“Yet, I spend my weekends in this office!” she counters.

“I don’t require that of you!” I respond. “And by the way, I’ve spent many weekends in this office or working at home!”

“I don’t have a choice!” she replies. “If you don’t do the work, who’s left to do it? Somebody has to keep this company running. Somebody has to be available! Somebody has to answer the questions! Somebody has to answer the door when the suitors come knocking! They want answers when they want answers, not when we’re available or when we feel like giving them to them. The world doesn’t stop for our troubles or our whims and certainly not the business world. Somebody has to be there to put out the fires, to make the decisions, to answer the hard questions. These things don’t happen by themselves. I put my whole life on hold for this company. No matter what happens, rain or shine, hell or high water, I’m here. I’m always here—the good man in the storm…”

And now I’m pissed. She’s still talking, but I don’t hear her anymore. This little sawed-off female acts like she’s carrying my company on her back while I’m jet-setting around the world, spending all the money, wining and dining my wife, and living the high life. She acts like I haven’t put my life, my family, and my company on the line to find computer hackers, long-lost assholes dead set on my demise, mob bosses out to find said long lost assholes, attorneys who have been plotting behind my back to possibly take my company from me, miscellaneous subsidiaries that included illegal activities that could have landed me in the same situation as Edward David not to mention funding ex-submissives and useless security companies that were racking up lawsuits right up under my nose, poison pill acquisitions set on ruining my business and reputation before the ink was even dry on the contracts, income statements and cash flow statements showing capital gains and net income for 2013 larger than any year GEH has ever seen…

No, I haven’t been doing any of that. None of that had anything to do with Christian Grey. That was all you, right, Ros? You’ve been running this company, making all the tough decisions and losing all the sleep while I’ve been sipping Mimosas on the French Riviera, right?

I have no idea how long I’ve been silently staring at her, nor do I recall the last thing she said. I vaguely remember her singing her own praises about her value to GEH. I guess the look on my face must have told her that she made a mistake, but it’s too late.

I begin to speak.

“I’m fully aware of your value to GEH, Ros, more aware than you know. And while I do appreciate the huge contribution that you make to this company and the autonomy that it affords me, you need to know that I extend a liberty to you that I don’t extend to many people, and that’s the liberty of being able to speak freely to me. That’s not something that I intend to withdraw anytime soon, but make no mistake, Rosalind…” Her eyes pierce at the use of her formal name. Yes, Rosalind, I mean business. “I am still the pulse of this company. This company is still called Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc, and I am Grey. So, while my actions and activities may not fall in line with what others might think I should be doing, at the end of the day, I’m still Grey.

“I don’t now, nor have I ever, discounted your value or what you do for me and this company. But unless I’ve missed something on a background check, you haven’t been through half the shit in your entire life that I’ve been through in the last year. Yet, I still manage to come in here and run my damn company—maybe not to your required specifications, but I still manage to get in here and get the job done, turn a little profit in the process, and catch a couple of bad guys.”

I see her visibly begin to shrink where she stands, not totally noticeably… only infinitesimally, but I see it.

“There’s nothing that I do with this business that I can’t do from a satellite office anywhere around the world. However, I like hands-on—face-to-face interaction. When I can’t be there, you’re my person. You’re the other representation of Grey. Your presence has come to strike fear in most boardrooms just like mine does, as if those assholes don’t show you the same respect that they would show me, they usually find their companies at the bottom of the NASDAQ by week’s end. But please be clear.” I stand up and fold my arms. “While I do value you very much, if you ever take that tone with me again about my company or my personal life, I’ll expect your resignation.”

Ros’s piercing green pupils constrict and she swallows, attempting to remain statue still and almost succeeding except for the bobbing in her neck. She licks her lip, pulling the bottom one into her mouth before dropping her gaze, taking a seat in the chair in front of my desk and folding her hands in her lap. I think she’s searching for something to say. She’s accustomed to giving me what for at any time for my shit, but I just reminded her that she’s still a subordinate, and while I hope this conversation doesn’t affect the candor with which we have become accustomed to operating, she still needs to know where to draw the line.

We sit in silence for several moments while I give her a chance to formulate her thoughts. Her next words are crucial. Hell, her next words could be her resignation. I do have to prepare for that. Ros could virtually name her price after working for me, but if she feels like her position gives her permission to speak to me like that, then maybe it is time for her to move on.

She finally clears her throat and starts to speak.

“I hadn’t realized I had become so comfortable in my conversations with you,” she begins. “There are certain things that are appropriate to say, and certain things that definitely should not be said to your superior. After reviewing our conversation, I can see that I have clearly crossed the line. I hope that you can forgive me for that. It won’t happen again.”

Her words are concise and sincere and she makes full eye-contact with me when she says them. I unfold my arms and take my seat.

“I appreciate your edge and candor when we discuss business matters,” I point out. “It helps in the decision-making process. I hope this won’t affect that candor.” She shakes her head.

“No, sir, nothing will change. I’ll just… temper my comments to more appropriate remarks in terms of more sensitive issues.”

She’s choosing her words very carefully. I know that designates a shift in our relationship, but maybe there needs to be. Maybe it’ll be temporary, like mine and Barney’s was. We slipped right back into the comfortable relationship we had before once I realized what an asset he really was to my company and stopped treating him like the computer geek that hid in the basement. Maybe mine and Ros’s relationship will migrate back to the gentle ribbing that it was before, too, but right now, it’ll be candid professionalism for a while.

“Thank you,” I say. “I appreciate that.”

We continue the meeting with me being brought up to date on what’s going with the major deals in the hopper, particularly our progress on Project Fairlane and how his influence is quickly dwindling in the business world. After I made his poison pill stunt known and Farwell backed out of the negotiations with Thomlinson, most of our deals with mutual Fairlane companies have gone through without a hitch. Others are still trying my patience.

Most of the information Ros and I discuss, I already knew with the exception of a few small nuances. Yet, this discussion has brought to light the reality of the changing dynamic of the two business heads of the company—of the fact that each of us have growing relationships and responsibilities. Although Ros hasn’t mentioned it, she may want to start a family. She has a wife after all. To that end, I’m going to have to start putting my feelers out for another Ros—hopefully, not a replacement, just another brain and set of hands to help us out. But I also must prepare myself for the eventuality that I may be losing my second in command.

That had to be the most stressful meeting of the week so far. When it’s over, I call out to Andrea.

“Come in here for a moment, please,” I tell her. She comes in and brings her tablet. “Close the door.” She frowns deeply, but closes the door behind her. I gesture to one of the chairs in front of my desk and run my hands through my hair.

“I need you to see if you can get Sharice Melbourne on the line.” Her brow furrows.

“The head hunter?” she asks with uncertainty. I nod.

“Yes, I may need her services, and Andrea, I need absolute discretion with this. No one knows about this but me and you.” She pauses only for a moment, then nods.

“Should I… I mean… what should I… tell her?” she asks, hesitantly. I know what she’s getting at, especially since Ros just left my office. I sit back in my chair.

“Tell her that I’m looking for an executive vice-president. Once again, discretion is crucial. I’m not looking to replace Ros—at least not right now and hopefully, not ever, but it looks like we’re going to need a third.”

“A third… okay.” She drops her head and starts tapping into her tablet.

“Something you want to say, Andrea?” I ask, firmly. She raises her eyes but not her head and shakes firmly before returning her gaze to her tablet. “Out with it, Andrea,” I press. She raises her eyes again before resting her hands and tablet in her lap.

“Sir, you and Rosalind have very strong personalities. I don’t know how a third is going to fit into that dynamic. Even if they sign on, I wouldn’t expect to see them last more than six months between the two of you.” I fold my hands on the desk.

“I may not have a choice,” I say flatly. “That meeting was ominous, to say the least. My senior vice-president has given me the indication that she is less than enchanted with the status quo. So, although I have no intention of replacing her, I have to prepare for the possibility.” Andrea nods.

“I’ll get in touch with Ms. Melbourne.”

*-*

“You were quite the busy little bee,” I say when I get back to Grey Crossing. I had intended on meeting Butterfly at Elliot’s to help retrieve some of his and Valerie’s things, but when I called to tell her that I was on the way, she just told me to come to the Crossing instead.

“Elliot called and told me that he’s pushing to get Val out of the hospital as soon as possible. So, I just grabbed some of the staff, went over to his place and basically packed nearly every personal item they owned and had it moved over here. If I’ve missed something, we can go back for it later.”

I nod. She’s changed into another pair of those damn genie pants that fall over her ass so sexy and a wraparound crop top. Even though she’s moving around like the Energizer bunny, I can’t help snatching her back into my arms and kissing her deeply—so deeply that it feels like we’ll meld into one; so deeply that anybody walking by would feel the passion of our kiss in their lips.

I move slowly, meticulously in this kiss, surprising her and snatching her will away such that she’s spaghetti in my arms, hanging there helplessly, her arms at her side and allowing me to devour her. Her surrender is arousing and I take full advantage of it, my lips bruising and never leaving hers until I’ve completely gotten my fill of this one kiss. Her reaction when I stop is even more arousing.

When I finally pull my mouth away from hers, she stands there hanging in my arms. Her eyes closed and her lips parted like she’s still suspended in the kiss. Her breathing is… strange, like she’s deliberately controlling it. The steady rise and fall of her chest is fueling my need for her. I feel heat radiating from her skin and if there was a mating call for my soul, she’s emitting it right now!

“Baby…” Each syllable of the word drags slowly from my mouth, full of all the need and desire I’m feeling for her right now.

“Huh?” she whispers, never opening her eyes. That doesn’t fucking help.

“You have no idea how much I want to take you to our Playroom right this second!” I breathe against her lips. I literally feel her pulse rate and temperature rise against her skin as I caress her bare back and play in the garden.

“Yes!” she whispers, totally forgetting that we’re expecting my brother and his girlfriend to descend upon us.

Fuck, she’s completely dazed… totally at my mercy… That shit is so hot right now. The things I would do to her in this state… the ways I would make her come, push her limits, fill the minutes and hours with mindless pleasure for both of us.

Fuck! Elliot and Valerie will be here any minute… Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! A new Playroom, a totally willing and subspaced submissive who isn’t even in the Playroom yet, and pending guests… a Dom’s worst nightmare.

“Another time, Baby,” I promise. “We’ve got people coming.” I kiss her neck gently. “Come back to me, you sexy vixen. Come on, breathe.” I remove my hands from the garden, but keep them firmly planted on her hips for stability for fear that if I let her go, she’d collapse into a useless mound of goo on the floor. She breathes with me and slowly comes back to herself and I almost hate to see her leave that trance. Damn! Damn! Damn! I don’t know how I got her into it, but I sure the fuck wish I knew how to repeat it.

“My brother…” I begin.

“… And Valerie… yes,” she breathes, swallowing hard. “I… want to make sure we have… something ready for her to eat when she gets here—in case she’s hungry.”

“You’re a good friend,” I say, fighting hard not to grab her and kiss her again. “Go on. I’ll go get ready to greet them. I know they’ll be here any minute.” She nods once and saunters her sexy ass out of the room and towards the elevator. Fuck, my dick is throbbing. This fucking yearning is not going away any time soon. I know this need has partially been brought on by the slip in my control during that meeting with Ros today. I know that she’s under no misconception that she stepped wrong today and I’m positive that it won’t happen again. Yet, I’m facing the very real possibility of losing her, and that’s definitely not an ideal situation for me.

These things happen. Executives disagree all the time and either they get over it or decide to move on to other opportunities. But I must admit that I never pictured GEH without Ros and it’s causing me more than a small amount of anxiety.

Maybe Butterfly is tuned in to that need, like she was the very first time she subbed for me and knew that I needed to regain control… or like that nearly disastrous time in Anguilla, another instance where I had a desperate need to regain control. I don’t know. All I know right now is that her body and demeanor are screaming to me like a fucking siren call and whatever happens, I’ve got to keep this desire on a leash for at least a few more agonizing hours. It’s going to be a long ass night.


ANASTASIA

“I didn’t think I’d ever see the inside of this place again,” Valerie says when Elliot wheels her into the grand entry, “that is, unless I crashed Easter brunch looking for Elliot again.” We laugh nervously, but that slight discomfort will change after she’s here for a while. Christian had a private ambulance bring her to the house and much to our surprise, Dr. Moab signed off on Val’s release right after Dr. Hill cleared her to go home. She’s tired right now because she had today’s radiation treatment before she left the hospital. Her nurse will come once a day in the morning. Her radiation treatments will be right before lunchtime, Monday through Friday. Her first caregiver is set to arrive right after she returns from the hospital and will stay through the afternoon and evening. The second caregiver will arrive in the evening and stay all night. Elliot insists on there only being two caregivers right now as he still wants to take care of his “Angel” some of the time, but concedes that the help will allow him some much-needed sleep.

“I’m glad you were wrong about that,” I tell her as we walk to the elevator. “You’ll like what we’ve done for you in the guest room. You should be really comfortable. If there’s anything that you want, please let us know.”

We’re quiet during the elevator ride up and Val is so tired, her head just lolls off to the side while Elliot is pushing her chair. I want to get her to bed so that she can relax.

“You’ll love this bed,” I tell them as we step off the elevator. “There’s a Sleepnumber store in Bellevue and the hospital supply nearby. So, Christian was able to get them to install the hospital bracket on the side of the bed.” Val smiles widely when we get to the bedroom. We’ve moved a lot of her things from Elliot’s apartment in so that they could feel at home.

“Oh, this is really nice,” she says in a soft voice, “so much nicer than the hospital.” Her voice cracks on the last word, but I think it’s more from exhaustion than emotion.

“That bed is the business,” Elliot says. “You wanna test it out, Angel?” Val nods, so he locks the wheels on the wheelchair while I turn down the duvet. He lifts her out of the wheelchair and places her gently into the bed. The comfort registers immediately on her face.

“So much nicer,” she confirms as she settles into comfort. Elliot removes her shoes and she declines having the blankets placed over her.

“How are we doing?” Christian’s voice booms into the room and destroys my entire train of thought. I immediately remember that kiss from earlier, the one that burned through me and turned my body to mush; dominated me without him saying a word. I can suddenly feel my temperature rise as he crosses the room, closing the space between us. I part my lips to get a little air in, imagining his hands on me, his mouth on me…

“Damn, Montana, do you need a knife and fork?”

Now, it’s Elliot’s voice that breaks my train of thought.

“Huh?” I ask, tearing my gaze from my husband and looking at Elliot.

“Oh, nothing. It’s just that ‘fuck me’ look that you just gave my brother made me think you might have wanted to put him on a plate and gobble him up properly.”

“What in the hell are you talking about?” Christian interjects. “And how the hell would you know my wife’s ‘fuck me’ look?”

“Because I’ve seen it before,” he says matter-of-factly. “Anybody who has ever been within 50 feet of you two has seen it before… the wedding, on Thanksgiving when we walked in on coitus interruptus, any given Sunday—but the most memorable one had to be that day right before you went into the hospital, when Kate sent her flowers. You remember, Montana?” I roll my eyes, remembering the Faint Heard ‘Round Seattle.

“How can I forget?” I lament. The week he nearly starved himself to death.

“That was the week I started therapy. I thought you sent the flowers and I made a comment about it. Apparently, the night before must have been a real doozy or something, because at the mere mention of your name, she drifted off into ‘Bend-Me-Over-And-Do-Me-Dirty’ Land with me standing right there and you weren’t even in the room. That’s pussy control!”

“El!” Val scolds, laughing as heartily as her weakened state would allow. I roll my eyes at him.”

“You’re such a child, Elliot,” I say, waving him off.

But is he wrong?
No, he’s not wrong, but I don’t want to get all flushed and flustered while standing here trying to get my friend settled in.
Um-hmm…

“Why don’t you go do something useful and find me something to eat so that I can talk to Ana?” Val says.

“You tryna get rid of me already?” he asks, gently squeezing her calf.

“Never,” she says softly, giving him a gentle smile. He cups her face and gazes into her eyes.

“I’ll see what I can scare up,” he says, kissing her softly on the lips before he and Christian go to find something for her to eat, leaving us alone. I know that there’s already something prepared for just such and emergency, so I turn my attention to Val as we won’t have that much alone time.

“That hospital room was killing me,” she says. “Whatever help the radiation may have been doing, the depression was killing the effects.” She fixes her gaze straight ahead before closing her eyes and releasing a mournful, anguished sigh. “Six months…” she breathes, “six whole months of my life.” Feeling her dismay, I move around to the other side of the queen-sized bed and climb in next to my friend, just in time to see a tear roll down her cheek.

“I was up for a promotion at work, you know,” she says sadly. “I didn’t mention anything because it was your birthday. I had the best numbers over five quarters… five quarters! I know Stockton was about to offer me ‘partner.’ I’m sure of it.” More tears join the one that fell down her cheek. “I couldn’t have been happier. I had all my friends. I had fallen in love with a great guy. You had just gotten married! And having twins! I was supposed to help decorate the nursery and buy way too many clothes for Mackenzie. I would have had to convince Elliot to buy for Michael. I’m horrible with little boys’ clothes.”

“You’re talking like all of this stuff is over,” I say. “We’re going to beat this. Everything’s going to be fine. Your godchildren are ten weeks old, not going off to college.” She smiles.

“My godchildren,” she repeats. “That sounds wonderful.” She sighs. “But I’ll never get the respect back that I earned in my company. I’m debating not going back to work. Elliot says I don’t have to.” I gasp.

“You love your job!” I exclaim.

Loved,” she corrects me. “I don’t even know if I can do it now.” She pauses. “I need you to help me through this, Ana. I need a professional to help me and right now, nobody can. I can’t even talk to anybody; I can’t open up. I can’t let them in. I tried. I need you, Ana. I need you to help me.” I know exactly what she’s asking me and I shake my head. This is the one thing that I have to deny her.

“I can’t be your shrink, Val,” I tell her. “I’m way too close to the situation. It affected me, too, remember?”

“That’s why I need you,” she says. “I need someone that was there to hear what I was going through and help me work through it, help me come to grips with a few things so I can have some closure. If you weren’t a shrink and I had to see someone else, I’d have you coming to every session with me. This way, I can have the best of both worlds.”

This is why. I always knew, because I’m a professional, but just like I told Ron two years ago when I quit volunteering at the community center. I’m a person first, and I couldn’t really filter or rationalize the professional through my feelings, then or when this first happened to me, when Maxie first dumped me, but I know now. From the other side, I see what she meant. And the very reason why I would be the ideal person for the job is the very reason why I can’t do it.

“I won’t be able to help you, Val,” I protest, “to give you the professional guidance that you desperately need and deserve… I love you too much to be objective, and the pain goes so deep that it’ll cloud my judgment.”

“That’s why I need you,” she says, finally breaking down into gentle, exhausted weeping. “I swear, I swear I’ll go get some help later. I’ll talk to someone and I’ll get all fixed up, but right now… I need my friend, my sister to help me through this. I need the one who knows me and saw me, the one who was there, to help me work through what I saw and what I said and what I felt… and what I did to others. Someone who doesn’t know me, doesn’t love me, can’t help me break through all this. Can’t begin to help me sort this out. I need you. I know this is a horrible thing I’m asking you to do and I feel like shit for putting you through this. I’ll pay you double if I have to.” What the…? I glare at her.

“You heifer!” I hiss. “If you offer me money…” I scold, leaving the words hanging in the air and allowing her to finish the thought for herself. She looks at me with sad eyes.

“Ana… please…”

The words cut through me like sharp, hot steel. Dammit! Dammit! Dammit. For the very reason that I’m not the person for this job, I have to do this job. I sigh. I can’t turn her down. I rub her arm.

“Okay,” I tell her. “I’ll do it.” The sigh that follows is filled with tears.

“Thank you,” she weeps.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I say, trying to make light of the situation so that she doesn’t fall apart. “Of course, you don’t want to start right now.”

“Yes, I do, but in a few minutes… not this very second.” She snatches the scarf off her head. It’s a beautiful scarf. It looks like Hermes. “These things drive me absolutely goddamn, fucking batshit!” she says as I examine the healing scar on her head that looks a lot like a giant question-mark.

Val's Scar

“It doesn’t matter if it’s the softest cotton, the finest silk, or the smoothest satin, it feels like a fucking vise on my head! I can’t stand it!”

“Well, you’re home now, Sweetie, why do you still wear it?” She gives me a look that tells me exactly why she wears it with no further questions. Elliot. She doesn’t want him to see her without it.

“My hair was nearly as long as yours,” she says, her voice full of sorrow. “When they told me that they would have to cut it all off, it gutted me. I made them braid it and cut it so that it could be donated to another cancer patient.” My heart swells.

“Oh, Val,” I say, grasping her hand. In her own time of sorrow, when the tumor had taken her away from us, she was still thinking of others. She had never left us; she was here all along. She closes her eyes and shakes her head, smiling sadly and pushing tears out of her eyes.

“It is what it is,” she says. “It’ll grow back… maybe… after a couple of years or so.” I lay on the pillow next to her and look at her face.

“You’re beautiful, Val,” I say. “I know you miss your hair, but you really are beautiful.” She nods and wipes her tears.

“This isn’t about me feeling sorry for myself…”

“Yes, it is,” I correct her. “It’s about every single thing you’re feeling and you need to talk about every little thing you feel and don’t hold back.” She nods.

“I know what you all said,” she says, “but I promise to make this up to you… all of you. I have to. You’ve all been my family and I feel like I… God, I was so shitty. I know it wasn’t really me, but I still see it. I still remember it. I still…” I hear Elliot’s voice down the hall and watch Val scramble to put her scarf back on. I feel terrible that she’s so concerned about how her head looks at a time like this, but I help her adjust it before Elliot gets to the room.

“You’ve got your own section of the Subzero down there,” he says with an accomplished smile as he enters the room with the rolling Butler covered with an amazing spread of food and service for four. “Nothing but organic fruits and vegetables, special milk products, grain-fed poultry, the whole nine yards.” He takes a plate and starts to load it for her—fruit salad and vegetables to start. “You can have some protein if you can keep this down. I brought enough for you, too, Montana, but you have to help yourself. I need to feed my girl.”

Christian and I load our plates with chicken and veggie kabobs, fresh steamed vegetables and pita bread with fruit salad and cranberry spritzers on the side. Elliot is comfortable on the bed facing Valerie, feeding her fresh fruits and vegetables, then fresh chunks of grilled chicken and pieces of pita bread dipped in hummus. She eats well, not gluttonous, but good and healthy servings that will give her more strength. Christian and I notice immediately from out perches at the bistro table that we had put in this room for meals for Elliot and Val, but he’s quite content just sitting on the bed and feeding Valerie, both of them sharing private jokes and laughing.

Elliot is always the funny man, serious when it comes to his work, but a joke for you almost every time you see him. Watching him with Val, he’s tender and attentive. His love for her radiates from his skin. I’m beginning to believe that part of the fate that is me and Christian is also that they needed to meet… to be together… so that he could help her through this.

Christian and I eat quietly at the tiny bistro table. He and I are enjoying one right now, a quiet meal fraught with some unknown tension while we watch his brother dote on my friend.

I don’t know what’s happening between us or what’s going on. All I know is that earlier, when he kissed me—at that moment, all I wanted to do was be his submissive. All I wanted was for him to take me and dominate me… do whatever he needed to do to me. I didn’t want to think about it. I just wanted to turn total control over to him and allow him to take me on whatever journey he wanted—I knew no matter where we went, there would be endless and unbelievable pleasure.

It was at that moment that I realized I needed my Dom. We had dabbled and played, but besides punishments, we haven’t had any serious playtime since Escala. I needed it—I need it—and although I don’t know how to ask for it, my body and mind responded to my Dom immediately and waited for commands when he showed up. I ache for him now and I have no idea how to show him this is what I need without blatantly saying, “take me to the playroom.” That’s topping from the bottom and won’t work with my Dom.

I found myself gravitating towards him all evening. Wherever he is, I have to be. I curl into him at every opportunity, like a kitten walking between your feet and rubbing against your leg. I don’t make eye-contact with anybody as I do this, not even him. I don’t want to make eye-contact with anyone. I have a yearning to be his right now and I don’t think I care who knows it. Now, here at this table with hardly no space between us, I just want to crawl into his lap or sit at his feet or something.

When he reaches across the table and touches my hand, I suck in a breath, attempting to be inconspicuous. I think I succeed—Elliot and Val don’t react, but then, they’re so engrossed in each other that I don’t think they could. The reaction doesn’t escape my Dom, though. He gently rubs his thumb over the back of my hand and it’s fire on my skin. I have to fight to keep still, to keep from panting, from this tiny little touch.

What’s wrong with me?

I raise my eyes without raising my head and peer at him through my lashes. He swallows hard, his expression dark and hungry. His lips part just a little, the tip of his tongue caressing the tender, wet flesh of his inner lip. His eyes pierce through me, gray slate cutting through my defenses and breaking through all resistance, reaching into that place where his submissive sits, waiting—quietly on her knees, hands spread on her thighs, anxiously awaiting his instruction as he places his hand on her chin and gently lifts her face so that her gaze meets his…

“The only two people in the world I’ve ever seen who can fuck with their eyes,” Elliot says, breaking the spell between.

“Elliot!” Val scolds as Christian breaks his promise gaze with me, leaving me breathless.

“What?” he laughs. “They’re making it easy. Every time I look at ‘em, she’s looking like a man-eater and he’s looking like he’ll gobble her up in one bite. You can’t miss it! He’d mount her on that table if we weren’t in this room!”

He’s right. I can’t deny it. Christian’s dominant energy is flowing through me and consuming me. If he told me to drop trou, I’d do it… right here, right in front of them.

“Are you saying that you’ve never looked at me with ‘fuck me’ eyes?” Val accuses.

“I’ve looked at you many times with ‘fuck me’ eyes, and the same goes for you to me, but then we usually get down to business. We don’t sit there eye-fucking each other. Those two…” He points at me and Christian. “They can have a whole session without leaving that table, right where they’re sitting,” he adds, with a chuckle.

“You’re making my wife uncomfortable, Elliot,” Christian says, sweetly, but in that voice… and I never take my eyes off him. Elliot laughs.

“She doesn’t look uncomfortable to me,” he says, his voice full of mirth.

“Okay, okay, enough of teasing my friend. El, Ana’s going to be my shrink,” she tells him, “my initial shrink. She’s going to help me work through some things that no one else is going to be able to help me through and then, if I still need it, I’ll get help from an objective stranger. So, if you don’t mind, I’m going to need some more alone-time with my doctor and best friend.”

I tear my gaze from my breathtaking Dominant, his pull getting stronger and stronger by the second, then turn to look at Elliot and Val. Elliot’s eyes are unreadable at first, all of the prior mirth now gone from his face, but he says nothing. Christian and I move towards the door, not quite sure how Elliot is taking being dismissed from the room… well, not so much dismissed, but asked to leave nonetheless. Christian kisses me softly on the lips, then again… warming me all the way down to my fucking core, but doesn’t say a word before turning and leaving the room. I swallow hard and try to compose myself as I turn toward Val and Elliot, trying to decide if I should just make a hasty getaway instead.

Elliot gently cups Val’s face, staring for a long time into her eyes before he kisses her forehead, then gently kisses her lips. Without a word, he moves past me and I catch his hand before he gets by me. Is he angry with me for hogging her time? I’m not doing it on purpose. He turns his head slightly to me with red-rimmed, tired, glassy eyes and mouths “Thank you.” I can only nod as I release his hand and allow him to leave the room. I suddenly feel the emptiness and absence of my Dom’s departure, but I refocus and turn my attention to my sister and friend, closing the door so that she can feel more comfortable about opening up.

“Where would you like to start?” I ask, walking back over to the bed. I pull a chair next to her and sit down, giving her my undivided attention.

“I’d like to start at the beginning, but I don’t know where the beginning is,” she says, wearily.

“Are you too tired?” I ask. “We can do this later. There’s no rush…” She shakes her head.

“No, I want to get started now,” she protests. “It doesn’t have to be too in depth, but I want to lay some kind of foundation as quickly as possible.” As she once again removes her scarf and rubs her bald scalp for comfort, I suddenly have a terrible fear… a sickening, familiar feeling from the last time someone wanted to move quickly and looked very much like my friend looks now.

“Valerie,” I say, unable to hide my fear. “This… this isn’t… dignity therapy, is it?” I swallow hard, remember when Melanie needed to rush to get through her words and would see no one but me, right before she gave me that damn video of what happened in Green Valley. Her eyes grow large.

“No!” she says, emphatically. “I mean, I know there’s always a chance, but… nobody told me I was dying!” I sigh heavily, relief flooding my body.

“Okay,” I breathe, “Okay, I’m sorry… it’s just that… Pops isn’t doing too well and I’ve only done dignity therapy twice in my life and… well, never mind… that’s not what this is, so…” Val grabs my flailing hand to halt my rambling.

“I’m not dying, Steele,” she says, using my prior name to ground me. “These radiation treatments are hell, but no one told me that I’m kicking the bucket yet, okay?”

I nod, looking into her sincere blue eyes. Her eyes are a color of blue that mine will never get. Her eyes are powder blue or baby blue, almost silver, even at their darkest. The lightest my eyes will ever get is azure, like the color of a midwinter sky.

“Why… don’t I just let you start?” I say, nervously, now cupping her hand in both of mine. She nods.

“I started feeling different when you were planning your wedding,” she says, dropping her eyes, “after you got back from Montana. The smallest things would irritate me and I didn’t know why. You were the first—the biggest target from the very beginning. I can’t give you a reason… I don’t have one. All I can tell you is what I thought and what I felt, but yeah, it started then.”

I remember that wedding planning meeting we had when I came back from Montana and at Jason’s welcome home lunch when he came back from the hospital. Val was vicious in some of her questions and accusations. Well, vicious may be too strong a word. How about confrontational? Yes, that would be a better description.

“I, um… I remember,” I say. “It was a tense time and some of the things you said were definitely out of character. I chalked it up to the high emotions of the situation at the time, especially since we ‘kissed and made up,’” I say, doing the finger quotes. “You’re saying that you think that might have been the beginning?” She nods.

“At least as far back as I can remember,” she says. “You know how I said that it was like watching a horror film that you couldn’t get out of? Like I was screaming at the screen asking the character what the fuck she was doing?” She shrugs as I nod.

“Some of the shit that was coming out of my mouth, I was like ‘what the hell is your fucking problem?’ As time progressed, I would hear and see little smug comments—even more smug that usual—coming out of my mouth towards you and others, but it didn’t seem like such a big deal. People knew to blow me off, didn’t pay much attention to me… until your birthday.”

I’ve been waiting for months to hear exactly what was going through her mind on my birthday. Even now, even though I know that it was the tumor talking, probably had grown to the point where it was really causing the most damage—I still needed to know what was going through her head when she snapped on me… when she said those horrible things to me. As if she was reading my mind, she pats the bed next to her, a signal for me to join her. I abandon my chair and crawl in next to her. We entwine our fingers like we did in college and she lays her head on my shoulder.

“Everything I said was true,” she begins and I feel a sharp pang in my chest. “Hear me out, please,” she says, clinging to my hand. “You’ve had things that you may have wanted to say to me, but you’ve tempered them because of our friendship. You still got your point across, but your words went through a filter because you love me and I’m not just some random bitch on the street.” She raises her eyes to me.

“Yes,” I say, keeping my words to a minimum, because I want her to do all the talking.

“I remember that entire day,” she says, “the day we broke up. It never stopped playing in my head over and over again. Every time I thought to come and tell you what I thought was really going on, the tumor took over like a demon and convinced me not to do it. Whenever you showed up, the tumor convinced me that you were the enemy, and I lashed… I lashed out to protect myself from you… from the hurt of not having you in my life… from you slashing me with the truth that I was being an irrational, childish bitch even though I couldn’t stop it. There were times when you would walk into the room or you would be sitting somewhere and I would see my friend. I would just watch you and not say anything…”

She did that at Grey Manor last Christmas. I remember seeing her and seeing Val for a fleeting second, right before Tumor Val returned.

“The minute I tried to process the words to come out of my mouth to greet you, they were gone. The feelings were gone, and that bitterness came back.” She sighs heavily.

“I felt singled out because I was the only one in the room who wasn’t married,” she says, even though she wasn’t. Marilyn was there with us, too, but that oversight could be attributed to Tumor Val. “And then the scrutiny I was getting when I said that me and Elliot didn’t want to get married.”

An unknown emotion flashes across her face, but it’s gone as soon as it appears.

“I did think your weddings were large and ostentatious. Max had a double-digit wedding party. You got married in a castle, for Christ’s sake… on the waterfront… and rode away into the moonlight in a classic fucking Bentley! Come on, Steele, that’s as ostentatious as it gets… but that was fine, because that’s what you wanted. You two could afford it; you wanted it; you got it; and you deserved it! I was making the point that it’s not what El and I want or need, but it immediately looked like I was firing off at you and Max, because that’s what you had, and that’s why I said, ‘no offense.’”

I remain silent, nodding while she expounds her tale.

“From there, the whole thing just went downhill. Yes, I felt like you were shutting us out and wanted you to tell me why in the world you and Christian were having problems so soon after you guys had gotten married—what was so bad that caused you to go MIA—and yes, I wanted to know if it had anything to do with cheating since you alluded that Christian was so angry. But there was no way in hell I would expect you to answer that question in front of your mother-in-law and I have no idea why I said it. When you came back about not wanting to talk about it, I saw it as an immediate attack and fled before I said something I would regret.

“When I came back and you were crying, I was livid, and I can tell you that I didn’t know which Valerie was angry. Marilyn had come back to tell me that it wasn’t a big deal, that I could come back and we could just talk things out. But when I saw you weeping and everyone falling at your feet, so to speak, I just felt like ‘Oh, here comes big bad Valerie!’ And though nobody said anything or accused me of anything, I felt like I was the villain that was ruining your birthday. I just needed to leave.”

I remember feeling super-sensitive about what she said about my wedding. Hindsight being 20/20, I most likely contributed to the subsequent blow-up by not knowing that the tumor was fueling the delivery of some of the things that she said. I reached back into the pain that I was feeling from her comments about my wedding when the rest of the conversation was going on.

“I had all afternoon for Meg to talk to me…” I frown and interrupt her for the first time.

“Who… the fuck is Meg?” I ask. She laughs and squeezes my hand.

“The tumor,” she says. “I named it shortly after we discovered it was there. The bitch was the bane of my existence. I figured it deserved an identity.”

I just nod. It seemed logical to me.

“So… that’s the day I think Meg fully took over. It was gradual before that… little things became big things and they would just irritate me. But once Meg took over, I was hearing things that people weren’t even saying to me; seeing things that people weren’t doing; interpreting shit completely the wrong way. ‘Good morning’ meant ‘my day is going fabulous; I bet yours sucks.’ I was so disagreeable, people stopped speaking to me after a while and then I became resentful of that.”

She sighs heavily and I can’t help but hope she gets back to the way she behaved the night we broke up. I had cried for hours, and when I didn’t think I could cry any longer, I had cried some more. This is my chance to get complete closure on that and although I’m letting her talk as part of her treatment, I need this therapy, too.

“That passive-aggressive bullshit I did at the lodge on your birthday…” Here we go… “… that was Meg; that wasn’t me. She niggled my nerve every time your mouth opened and I sighed or heaved or puffed or some other childish reaction. Of course, I knew it would set you off, but Meg didn’t care. And yes, I did feel like you changed… I know you changed, but you had to. The life you’re living, the man you married, all of it required that you change. Logical Me knew that; Meg was like ‘Who does this bitch think she is?’ I know it’s impossible and illogical for you to have lived the same way and done the same things that you did before you became Mrs. Christian Grey.

“And yes,” she admits, “I—Logical Me—felt very slighted that your best girlfriends were being left out of the intimate details of your life. Even now, Logical Me still has to process that not everything is any of my damn business. But Logical Me can process that and still understand that there are some parts of your life that I’m not going to be privy to. Meg… no, just no. This high-and-mighty bitch thinks she’s too good to talk to us now and here we go. Hang out all of your dirty laundry and say the most hurtful things I could think of to say in an attempt to quench Meg’s anger.”

She looks at our hands clenched together and swallows hard, sighing thereafter and stretching her neck as if saying these things is causing physical exertion… it probably is, come to think of it.

“One of the worst things I had ever heard was the next morning when Christian explained what my antics had reduced you to. I’ll never forget that shit. It was like somebody branded the Scarlet Bitch across my chest.”

Okay, I could have gone my entire life without that particular analogy, but I simply must know what brought on that strong a reaction.

“You were gone when I woke. When did Christian talk to you?” I ask.

“He didn’t,” she laments. “He was out by the fire pit talking to Elliot. It had to be about four o’clock in the morning and he was drinking a beer. He didn’t know I was there until… well, until he said everything I didn’t want to hear.”

“What… what did…” I so want to know, but I don’t know how to ask.

“What did he say?” she says, with a sad smile. I nod. “He told Elliot that I had gained ‘Kate status’ with him,” she says, doing the finger quotes around Kate status. “He said he would never forgive me for breaking your heart; that you cried for hours before he forced you to fall asleep, then you woke up all night crying some more and begging him to tell you that you had dreamed the whole thing.” Two tears fall from her eyes, and she quickly wipes them away before she continues.

“He said something about having to force-feed you when you awoke because when you two were fighting, all you did was vomit and sleep and you lost eight pounds even though you were pregnant. Elliot tried to get him to elaborate, but he wouldn’t, saying that you guys only talk to each other about it. When I realized that he wouldn’t even tell his brother and whatever it was caused Grace to stop speaking to you guys, I really felt like shit.”

I had no idea Christian had this conversation with Elliot, and the fact that he didn’t reveal what was going on with us to his own brother even though his mother already knew makes me love him even more.

“Christian was beyond enraged,” she continues. “He was talking about how we fought about your ‘wedding for show…’” Finger quotes again, “… and how I took your worst experiences and threw them back in your face. How I dogged you for having security around all the time when it was something that couldn’t be avoided because of who you were and what had already happened to you. How he planned on taking you away for every birthday after this because every time he plans something, you get hurt, and he thought you would never recover from this. That… that’s when I learned that I was supposed to be the twins’ godmother.”

I raise my eyes to her profile and her face is covered with tears now. She just let them fall while she recited what she heard that night. She starts to weep fully and I take her in my arms.

“Please, don’t cry, Val,” I tell her. “The stress is no good for you. I know you want to let this go, and that’s good—better out than in, but don’t linger, okay?” She weeps a moment longer, then nods on my shoulder and wipes her eyes before straightening herself.

“And so…” she says, pulling herself together, “that’s brings you up to date on Bitchy Val or Tumor Val or Meg or however we’re going to refer to it. Everything after that was like being controlled by puppet strings. I could see what was happening… hear what I was saying… but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t control it. When you ignored me… pretended I wasn’t there, it pissed Meg off even more. I swear there were two people living in my head…” I know that feeling, “… only she was the one with all the control and I could only watch while she ruined my life.”

And there it is, the entire explanation that I’ve been looking for since our break-up last October.

“You know you have to forgive yourself, right?” I say, and she shakes her head. “Yes, Val, you do. We all make mistakes of our own doing, but you didn’t even have control over this. You were severely under the influence and didn’t even have the benefit—if you can call it that—of being drunk or high. We all understand that and we’ve all forgiven you. If you decide to go back to work, they’ll forgive you, too. You have to let yourself off the hook.”

“I’ve changed, Steele,” she says. “I’m not the same person. I want different things… I have different priorities. I’m really not sure I’ll be going back to work. Of course, I have to see what happens with my progress, but…” There’s a knock at the door and then the door starts to open. Valerie gasps and starts to scramble, searching through the covers. I’m wondering what’s wrong and I don’t realize until she covers her head with both hands just as Elliot crosses the threshold.

Elliot’s eyes soften and I can see the transformation from clean across the room… a mix of longing and anguish and need and several more emotions that I can’t name. His eyes are fixed on Val as she sits against the back of the adjustable bed covering her bald head with her hands, her eyes filled with horror and quickly filling with tears.

Elliot slowly makes his way across the room, still gazing at his girlfriend. Her body trembles with a muffled sob, though no tears escape her eyes. Elliot reaches for her hands and grasping them in either of his, he removes them from her head and gently kisses each palm before placing them in her lap. Another shuddering breath escapes her chest as a single tear slides down her cheek. Elliot cups her face in his hands, wiping her tear away with his thumb.

He holds her face up so that her gaze can meet his and stares at her for many moments… many silent moments… and suddenly, I feel like a voyeur.

“Montana? Can you leave now?” he says, never taking his eyes off Val. “I really need to be alone with my girl.”

Without a word, I slide out of the bed and quietly tread to the door. As I’m closing it behind me, I see him placing gentle kisses on her shaved scalp and her scar, her eyes closed in utter bliss.

I stand against the wall and take a moment to remember the time when I didn’t want Christian—or anybody—to see the shaved portion of my head. My hair was still so long, but I felt so ugly and unattractive after losing such a large patch of it behind my ear. Christian massaged, caressed, and kissed it every chance he got. He even bought a shit-ton of accessories so that I could dress it up to make me feel better. Every day, he went out of his way to make me look and feel beautiful, even though I felt just the opposite.

He carried me every chance he got—never breaking a sweat—when I was 894 pounds carrying our twins.

He made the sweetest love to me even when I couldn’t see my feet. Somehow, our bodies always fit together.

He told me and anybody who would listen how beautiful I was, and always made me feel like the belle of the ball no matter where we went.

He’s been my knight in shining Armani since the very beginning, and there are many times I don’t know what I would have done had he not been there to hold me up.

I don’t know how long I stand there, but my train of thought is broken by Valerie’s voice.

“El…” she keens softly, and whatever’s happening on the other side of that door, I need to step away and allow them their privacy.


A/N: drop trou—To lower one’s pants down to one’s ankles, often in a sudden, impulsive manner, thus exposing one’s nether regions; short for “dropping your trousers.”

Three more to go…

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 69—The Hard Answers

 

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

 Chapter 69—The Hard Answers

CHRISTIAN

Jason and I are back in the courtroom and I’m feeling better now that I’ve given my testimony and drawn more strength from my Butterfly. Jason’s demeanor is cold. He’s stiff, like he should be in uniform sitting on the stand. He doesn’t look left or right and concentrates an icy blue glare nowhere else but at the person who’s speaking to him.

Skinner has him recount his version of the story, which starts when he received a signal that there was trouble in my office after I pressed the panic button. He knew about the closed-circuit television and activated it before leaving his office to assess the situation. However, when the situation began to escalate, he routed the audio to his earpiece and quickly moved into position behind the hidden panel in my office. Alex had been notified from the first panic button, but not the police. I didn’t know that. Maybe I did, but at the time, I can’t be sure.

Nonetheless, he hadn’t been behind the panel a few moments before the situation had already escalated to Elena proclaiming that she would kill me and then herself, leaving Butterfly behind to mourn. Jason had only just released the panel lock when I was saying goodbye to Butterfly. There was nothing else to do but leap. He remembers talking to us about his allergies to the medicine and telling me that he had been hit in the shoulder, but he remembers little else.

Underwood couldn’t shake him. Jason’s story never faltered from exactly what he relayed had happened. Underwood kept trying to get with questions that started with, “But you can’t be certain that” and “How could you know if you weren’t in the room?” But Jason stoically gave him back everything he tried to give. That military training came out in full force and that squirmy little asshole wasn’t going to make him budge.

“What do you feel for Mrs. Lincoln now, Mr. Taylor?” Underwood asks.

“Nothing,” Jason says, flatly.

“No hatred? No disdain? No wish for revenge?” he presses.

“No.” Underwood is taken aback.

“You’re quite the evolved human being,” he says. “Even your boss indicates that he has a wish to see Mrs. Lincoln pay and the bullet never hit him. No wish for retribution or retaliation for your pain and suffering?” Jason never flinches.

“Sir, I did two separate tours when I was active duty. I was always prepared to lay down my life for my country. I’ve seen creatures in the desert that were more dangerous than that woman. She doesn’t scare me. She doesn’t bother me. She doesn’t impact me in any way. Her actions initiated a forced leave of absence that I didn’t really want and that was all. I don’t have time or desire to concentrate on her or chase her down for a mini-bullet to the shoulder. Time, life, and karma will deal with her if justice does not. I’m certain of it. Anything else?” He doesn’t give up. He has to see this military man break.

You don’t know Jason Taylor. Hell, I don’t know this Jason Taylor.

“So you’ve never once considered being the hand of justice and giving Mrs. Lincoln what she deserves? She did shoot you after all,” Underwood says.

“My name is Jason Taylor. No matter how you manipulate my name, neither ‘time,’ ‘life,’ nor ‘karma’ will come out of it.” Skinner stands.

“Objection. I’d like to know what the purpose is of this line of questioning,” he says.

“Quite frankly, so would I,” Judge Burgess asks. “There’s no debate here that the defendant shot the witness. Maybe he’s angry, maybe he’s not, but what relevance does that have to the case?”

“It… um… will show relevance to Mrs. Lincoln’s state of mind,” Underwood retorts. He just wants to get under Jason’s skin and we don’t know why.

“In what way?” His Honor asks. “Are we now asserting that she somehow knew that she would shoot Mr. Taylor as well?”

“No, Your Honor,” he flounders, “but that her actions in shooting him had no consequences.”

“Again, that would be based on an assumption that the defendant knew she was going to shoot Jason Taylor. Is this your purpose for this line of questioning?” Tread carefully, asshole. That’s another premeditated attempted murder charge.

“No, Your Honor,” he concedes.

“Then I suggest that you get to a correct and relevant point in this case or abandon this line of questioning. Objection sustained.” Underwood looks at his notes as if he’s reviewing for further points to cover. You’ve got nothing, asshole. Sit down.

“No further questions for this witness.” It’s somewhat remarkable. His testimony was pretty short, but he was the one who got shot. He looks at me and I give him a short nod before he takes a seat behind me.

“The prosecution calls Anastasia Grey to the stand.”

The bailiff goes to the door and moments later, my beautiful Butterfly strides confidently into the courtroom, the picture of elegance and professionalism. She plants herself onto the witness stand and crosses her legs at the knees, sitting up straight—not one sign of weakness or fear in her. No matter what happens today, I’m already proud of her.

“Please state your name for the record.”

“Dr. Anastasia Rose Steele-Grey PsyD,” she replies, her voice clear and strong. Immensely proud!

“Dr. Steele-Grey, do you recall the incidents on the afternoon of March 19, 2013?”

“I do, and Dr. Grey is fine,” she replies. Skinner nods.

“Would you please tell us in your own words what you recall?”

“I was shopping for wedding dresses that day with my best friend. I was losing my mind and we called Christian… Mr. Grey… who suggested that I come to the office for a late lunch. When I arrived, there was yelling in his office—a woman’s voice. I won’t lie; I wanted to know what shrew was in my fiancé’s office yelling at him that way. So, I went storming right in.”

“What did you find when you entered?”

“The defendant was on one side of the room pointing a gun at my then-fiancé. He was standing back by the bar near his desk. She was angry before, but she just lost it when I came into the office. I immediately recognized my gun…” She shakes her head.

“Your gun?” Skinner asks.

“My Beretta,” she says. “It’s not a very large gun, but it’s not very small either, and I have small hands, so it has… had a hairpin trigger, and she’s waving it around like a damn water pistol! And there was one in the chamber…!”

“Okay, you have to help us out. What does ‘one in the chamber’ mean?” Butterfly nods.

“She had cocked the… pulled the carriage back and loaded a round into the chamber, which makes the firearm ready to fire. So now, she’s waving around a semi-automatic with a hairpin trigger and a round in the chamber ready to fire.”

“Again, Dr. Grey, I don’t mean to make you keep repeating yourself. For the laymen, can you please tells us what you mean by ‘hairpin trigger?’” She nods again.

“It’s a play on words. It’s actually ‘hair-trigger.’ It’s meant to indicate that the trigger can be activated with just the force of a ‘hair.’ Of course, it can’t, but the term means that the trigger needs very little pressure to fire.”

“How did you know that was your Beretta?” Skinner asks.

“That’s the gun I used to get my CCW. That’s the gun I used at the firing range along with my Glock, on occasion. I would know that gun anywhere—not to mention that she taunted me and my fiancé that day, saying how ironic it would be for me to be shot with a bullet from my own gun.” I shiver as I recall hearing that bitch say that to my Butterfly.

Butterfly continues and relays the incident in intrinsic detail, all the way to the point where she passed out and ended up in the back of the police car in my lap. I had forgotten to include the part about singing “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” to calm me down and Jason had forgotten it completely, but Butterfly remembered, and it left an impression on the jury. Some of them covered their mouths in sympathy or horror while she relayed the tale.

“Mr. Grey paints a picture of Mrs. Lincoln that insinuates that she’s delusional. What’s your professional opinion of her behavior?” Skinner asks.

“I can’t give you my professional opinion of her. I’ve never treated her or evaluated her,” I tell him. “I can only tell you what I’ve observed and ever since I’ve known that woman, I’ve been the root of all of her problems. I didn’t even know who she was until after we had started dating! We were spending a quiet, very intimate Sunday afternoon at home and here she comes! I was horrified because she treated me like I wasn’t supposed to be there when she barged in on us! I had no idea who she was; I wasn’t even dressed and she expected me to leave. Chri… Mr. Grey informed me as she was coming up the elevator that they were no longer friends and he had already told her not to come to his house anymore. He vehemently made this clear to her once again before walking out of the room and she still wouldn’t leave.

“She showed up everywhere. She was like a recurring rash. We had a protection order against her and it still didn’t stop her. She even showed up the night of my father’s wedding. My father’s wedding, for God’s sake! I don’t know what disorder this is they’ve come up with, but what’s more accurate is something where you destroy everything you touch and then you blame everyone else for the carnage you leave behind!”

“Objection! Dr. Grey did indicate that she’s never treated or evaluated my client,” Underwood says.

“It’s an opinion, not a diagnosis, Your Honor,” Butterfly retorts.

“However, counsel did ask you for a professional opinion and you did offer this opinion in response to that question,” Judge Burgess says. “Sustained.”

“Am I allowed to offer a personal opinion?” I ask. He nods.

“Yes, you are, but you must specify that’s what it is before you offer it as you have introduced yourself as Dr. Anastasia Grey.” Butterfly nods.

“Yes, Your Honor.” She turns back to Skinner. “In my personal opinion, she’s the most delusional person I’ve ever met in my life—and I’ve met a bunch!” Stab! Stab! Stab!

“Thank you, Dr. Grey,” Skinner says. “No further questions at this time.”

Now it’s time for Underwood to take a stab at my wife. She sits up straight again. Noting her posture, he lights right into her.

“Readying yourself for battle, Dr. Grey?” He says “doctor” with immense contempt. Butterfly is unmoved. She’s clearly ready for him.

“Should I be?” she retorts.

“I only want to get to the truth,” he says. Butterfly doesn’t respond. “You’ve given us quite an account of the events of March 18th, Dr. Grey.”

“No, I haven’t,” she says. He raises an eyebrow at her.

“Oh?” he says, innocently. “Have you omitted something?”

“Yes, I have… quite a bit. The entire day in fact, considering that the events in question happened on March 19th.” Shit! I didn’t even catch that. What is he playing at?

“Oh!” he says, mocking embarrassment. “My mistake.”

“Yes, it was,” she replies, unmoved.

“So, you’ve given us quite an account of the events of March 19th, Dr. Grey, and you’re sure you haven’t left anything out,” Underwood says.

“I’m sure,” she says.

“However…” He retrieves a document from the evidence table. “We have reports here from Detective Randall Fischer and Officer Charlene Daly of the Seattle Police Department that during questioning, you didn’t remember anything after the shot was fired.”

“That’s correct,” Butterfly says, without hesitating. Underwood clearly didn’t expect her to answer so quickly. It takes him a moment to recoil as he obviously expected a denial of some kind.

“So you don’t deny that it?” he asks.

“No, I don’t, she says. “I was in shock after the initial gunfire. I later had total recall.” He scoffs a laugh, turning his attention back to the documents in disinterest.

“Well, isn’t that convenient.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“No, it’s unfortunate,” she replies, bringing his attention back to her. “You have no idea how scary it is to black out from shock and lose several moments of your life, then come back to yourself and discover what kind of damage you’ve caused. Yes, I disarmed her and kept her from harming someone else, but I could have killed her… with my bare hands! I couldn’t live with that!” The first chink in Butterfly’s demeanor, but she quickly recovers.

“That’s interesting. What if I told you that my client will testify that you threatened to kill her more than once?” Underwood says.

“Objection!” Skinner declares.

“Your client will also testify that it’s my fault that she doesn’t have Christian right now, but I think we all know how false that is,” Butterfly interjects before the judge has a chance to interject.

“You’re saying you’re not the reason for their break-up?” Underwood says.

“They were together?” she asks, with a smile. “Look at him and look at her… seriously?” There are sad attempts to hide chuckles around the room. He clears his throat.

“You said that you conveniently had total recall of the details of the incident after the shot was fired, but your recollection never became part of the police file. Why is that?” Underwood asks.

“Because I never went back to update the police file. My recollection came during one of my sessions with my therapist.” He raises his eyebrows.

“Your therapist!” he declares incredulously. “The shrink who sees a shrink, how interesting!” Oh, he’s like a kid with a new toy.

“Yes?” Butterfly says, expecting.

“Are you unstable, Dr. Grey?” he asks.

“Well, I don’t know, is everyone who goes to a therapist unstable, counselor?” Whoa! Careful. You don’t know who’s on that jury.

“I don’t know either, Dr. Grey, and I’m not referring to everyone who goes to a therapist. I’m referring to you.” She smiles sweetly.

“Well, in that case, my that has never indicated that I’m unstable, but I guess you would have to ask him. I’m not in the business of diagnosing myself.” She folds her hands on the stand in front of her.

“I see, Dr. Grey. Apparently, the physician cannot heal herself,” he says in a condescending tone.

“Most physicians can’t and really shouldn’t try,” she says matter-of-factly. “I’ve yet to see a surgeon who can perform a procedure on himself.”

That shut him up. Next topic!

“Please forgive me for bringing up yet another painful situation in your life, but isn’t it true that on November 7, 2013, you were in a car accident?” Oh, shit.

“Yes, that’s true.” Butterfly still doesn’t flinch.

“And were there serious injuries from that accident, Dr. Grey?”

“Yes, counselor, there were. I suffered internal bleeding, multiple lacerations, and traumatic brain injury.”

“Can you be more specific about the traumatic brain injury, doctor?”

“Sure thing, counselor.” That’s the second time she’s done that and he flinches. She’s onto him, and giving him exactly what he’s giving her. What I love so much is that her use of the word counselor is so much edgier than his use of the word doctor. “I suffered from a diffuse axonal injury.” She turns to the jury. “Think shaken baby syndrome.” A lot of them nod in recognition. “My brain swelled and I was in a coma for twelve days.”

“Isn’t it true that when you awoke, you had lost your memory?” Underwood asks, and here it is.

“Yes, that’s true,” she replies.

“And what had you forgotten?”

“From the time just before I met my husband,” she says.

“And you miraculously remember everything now, doctor?” he says, his tone condescending.

“No, counselor, I don’t,” she says, and he flinches again. Give that doctor shit up, man. “I still have moments when things are still coming back to me.”

“So, Mrs. Grey…” he took my advice, “you have forgotten large chunks of your life, yet you expect this court to believe that you remember everything that happened that day last March in the great detail that you’ve described without any coaching?” he actually laughs a disbelieving laugh as he says this.

“Yes, because it’s true,” she says, still very matter-of-factly.

“Come now, Mrs. Grey. Let’s be reasonable. You admitted that you couldn’t remember facts from that day on that day. Then you subsequently had a very tragic accident that resulted in traumatic brain injury and memory loss less than six months ago. Yet, you want us to believe that although you are still recalling other details of your life, you remember every detail of this incident perfectly?” Underwood presses.

“Yes,” she says simply, “I also expect you believe that during that time I successfully carried twins who survived and were delivered healthy and strong by natural childbirth less than two months ago—also an unlikely medical event under the circumstances. Would you like to see the pictures?” It would appear that Butterfly has won this round, but then she appears to give him more ammunition.

“But, I’ll tell you what… don’t believe me,” Butterfly says. I have to choke back a gasp and the defense zeroes in on her.

“Are you saying that you’ve lied to this court, Mrs. Grey?” he accuses, feeling that he has her on the ropes.

“No,” she says, unshaken. “I’m saying that you’re right. I had an accident last November and I’ve lost quite a few details of my life. My memory’s been compromised. Things come back to me in pieces if at all. At the time that woman tried to kill my husband with my gun, I couldn’t remember what happened. I blacked out.” Underwood smiles widely and allows Butterfly to continue to dig her hole, so to speak. “I later recalled what happened, but then, I had an accident and lost my memory. I couldn’t even remember my wedding. I remembered loving my husband; I just couldn’t remember marrying him until days later. I woke up very pregnant with our twins and horrified because I didn’t know how it happened.” She throws a glance at Elena, who looks like she swallowed something bad.

“So if you are remiss to believe my recollection of the events of that day, I don’t blame you,” she says, looking sincerely over at the jury. “My memories are a bit questionable to the outside observer.” She pauses for a moment. “But there’s a video!” she adds. “Believe that.” The attorney falls silent.

“That’s not the issue here, Mrs. Grey!” he snaps.

“Isn’t it?” she says, still maintaining her cool demeanor. “You see, your goal here is to discredit me and my testimony as a witness, and I can’t stop you from doing that. As much as I would like to see justice done, I’ve had some problems, and my recollection is questionable. So even though I currently remember everything that happened in that room as if it happened yesterday, you have the right to question my recollection of those events. However…” She begins to count on her fingers. “… Believe the man she tried to murder. Believe the man who took the bullet. Believe the fact that my Beretta was stolen and I never got it back; it’s up there as exhibit four. Believe the police report that I filed weeks earlier reporting that gun stolen. Believe the forensic evidence. Believe the officers that are going to testify. Believe the video. Discredit me all you want. Don’t believe me if your logic and sense of reason leads you not to—but believe everything else.” She folds her arms and sits back on the witness stand. The attorney clears his throat and attempts another diversionary tactic.

“That’s a very nice speech, Mrs. Grey, but the fact remains that your memories have been tainted and your testimony is questionable, isn’t that so?” I just shake my head.

“Didn’t… didn’t I just say that?” She looks at him incredulously before turning to the judge. “Didn’t I just say that?” The judge nods, but she has already turned to the jury. “I’m sure I said that. Didn’t I say that?” Members of the jury nod and she even looks at Elena. “Didn’t I say that?” She turns her attention back to the attorney? “Do you not understand English or did you not hear me? Wait, I got it… let’s try something else.” She clears her throat. “Oui monsieur, mes souvenirs sont entachés. Ils peuvent être très discutables. Cependant, regardez la video.”

She holds her hands up and waits for recognition from the attorney. I stifle a laugh.

“No?” she says. “Okay, how about this. Esyay irsay, ymay emorymay is aintedtay osay I amay otnay ebay uhthay estbay itnessway, utbay atchway uhthay ideovay!”

She holds her hands up again, waiting for recognition from the attorney.

“Still no? Okay, I’ve got something else.” She holds up one finger. “Yo dog, my brain corked. Got knocked upside da head, don’t know what happened—but dat joint prob’ly on YouTube.”

By now, several people in the courtroom—myself included—are covering their mouths and giggling quietly. Butterfly, on the other hand, is still approaching the situation like she’s seriously trying to get through to this counselor.

“Nothing?” she says, when she gets no response. “Okay, last shot…” and she breaks into sign language. I didn’t even know she knew sign language!

“Counselor,” Judge Burgess interjects, “I think you should move on. To be quite honest, the witness is making a fool out of you.” Daunted, Underwood turns his attention back to Butterfly.

“Your theatrics are quite entertaining, Mrs. Grey,” he says, clearly not amused.

“They really shouldn’t be,” she retorts. “I’m all for everybody deserving a fair trial and I’ll play my part, but I was there… and I do remember. I remember watching her aim my gun at the man that I love and seeing my life and my happiness ending in a moment! So, you do what you must, counselor! You do your little song and dance and you make those people believe that I don’t know what I’m talking about and you let that monster walk free and set a precedent in this new trend of ridiculous court cases that proclaim that as long as we convince our children that the rules don’t apply to them that it’s okay if they go out and kill people. Then we can set them loose on the city and pray that none of them are roaming your neighborhood with your family. I’m raising twins. We can start with them!”

Her once cool demeanor has been replaced with such contempt that my blood runs cold. The room falls silent and I think the attorney thinks better than to go toe to toe with an angry mother who has just informed him that she’s waiting for the success of his trial to decide if she’s going to teach her children to kill then set them loose in his neighborhood.

“No further questions for this witness,” he wisely concludes.

“I think it’s time for lunch,” Judge Burgess bangs his gavel. “One hour recess.” Butterfly stands and glares at the defense attorney with a serious half-smirk on her face. It’s clear that he didn’t break her, but oh how he wanted to. She leaves the witness stand with the same confident stride she had when she walked up to it. She walks over to me and I put my arm around her waist.

“You were amazing,” I breathe in her ear.

“Thank you, Mr. Grey. I’m so glad I made you proud.”

“More than you’ll ever know.” I pull her to me and kiss her sweetly, then again. She wraps her arms around my neck and get a glance of the Witch over her shoulder, looking longingly at me. I close my eyes and block her out, embracing my wife and caressing her back, inhaling her scent and allowing it to comfort me. When I open my eyes, they have removed the Pedophile.

“Let’s go see if we can commandeer a quiet room somewhere and have a sandwich or something. Trying to go out for lunch is a useless task,” I tell her.

“I agree,” she says, taking my hand and allowing me to lead her out of the courtroom.


ANASTASIA

“So… we need to talk.”

Christian has found a quiet room for us to have lunch and Chuck has procured some chicken salad sandwiches and sodas to hold us over until we could get a decent meal at home. When my husband begins a conversation with we need to talk, I’m not very hopeful of the outcome. Given the events of the day and our current location, I’m scared shitless. I swallow the final bite of my sandwich, certain that he deliberately waited until I had finished my lunch to break whatever news he has to me that he is about to tell me.

“Okay,” I say, bracing myself for the monsoon.

“Some things came out during my testimony,” he says. “I need to call my parents and you should probably call Ray…” He trails off.

“Christian, what is it?” I’m really scared now. He sighs.

“They know why Elena’s in jail right now,” he continues. “They know the lengths and depths of her depravity, and now… they know that I was one of her victims.”

I can’t hide my gasp. These implications are very far-reaching. His family, my family, his business associates…

“Have you told Vee?” I ask. I shake my head.

“No,” he says. “There’s more.” What more could there be? “There was an implication towards the lifestyle. I diverted the question, but anything besides an outright denial is enough for speculation.”

Fuck! I can’t tell my father that! He reads my expression and takes my hand in his.

“I’m sorry,” he says, sincerely. I shake my head.

“No… this is not your fault,” I tell him. “It’s just… there’s such a stigma attached to the lifestyle and I just don’t want it to follow us. I’m not ashamed of what we do in the privacy of our own bedroom, I just feel like it should stay in our bedroom.” I sigh. “What was said?”

“Her asshole lawyer made a comment about both of us partaking in the same lifestyle and at the time, we were talking about her being a pedophile. Sometime before or after that, I had said something about her beating and fucking me in her dungeon, but at this point, the comment was close enough for me to divert the conversation to her pedophilia. I freaked out. I roared at him for insinuating that I would take part in pedophilia. Then I made it clear to him that I was not going to drag any of my private affairs, nor that of my family, nor anything about my business out into the open for him to pick apart because his client is on trial for murder.”

“Bravo, Mr. Grey!” I tell him. “It sounds to me like you did what needed to be done to dodge that bullet.”

“Don’t celebrate yet,” he says. “She has yet to testify. She threw me under the bus once just to keep from being disowned by my mother. What do you think she’ll do to avoid being convicted of attempted murder?” I shake my head.

“So what do we do?” I ask. He takes a drink of his soda.

“We’ll run the PSA again for starters,” he says. “That was one of the purposes for it in the first place. The requests for public appearances are really going to start pouring in for you. We’re going to need a plan of attack if this becomes a topic of conversation, which it will. Paparazzi are really going to be relentless about a statement, so we’ll have to make one—but we won’t address it until it comes to light. We have to cross each bridge as we get to it, but we just have to be prepared so that we’re not ambushed. I’ll have Mac release a statement about the molestation. We can’t avoid that one.” I sigh heavily.

“And so it begins,” I say. I wanted to get back into the swing of things and start taking the twins to the Center with me, but I can’t do that now. They might get hurt just trying to get them past the press. I definitely can’t leave them for a whole day every day, either, so I’ll have to return to work only part-time, and what about Green Valley? Will I have to travel down there to testify at Michael Underwood’s trial? Underwood… no wonder I didn’t like that attorney’s name. I’m only just now making the connection.

“What are you thinking?” Christian asks, and it’s only now that I realize that I have fallen silent. I rub my eyes.

“Just that I was hoping to get back to work after we were done with the trial, but I may have to make some changes now. I wanted to take the twins into the Center some days, but I don’t see how that’s going to be possible.” He’s silent for a moment, causing me to raise my head to him. “What?”

“Nothing. It’s just that… I mean, I knew that it was going to be a problem with privacy and safety and the twins and such but…” He trails off again. I examine his face.

“You didn’t expect me to cooperate,” I say. He shakes his head.

“It’s not that…” he begins.

“Yes, it is,” I interrupt with no malice. “Admit it, Christian. You didn’t expect me to cooperate and now you’re surprised.” He shrugs and picks at an invisible piece of lint on his pants.

“Maybe a little,” he mumbles. “I didn’t expect for you to just fall in line. I hoped you would understand, but I did expect a little resistance.”

“I don’t blame you,” I respond. I can be rather difficult to deal with and there’s going to be so tightened security in my future, especially when it comes to my children. I can’t remember one time when that’s happened and I didn’t give him some kind of backtalk about it. “Right now, what say we just skip this part of the conversation for now and decide exactly how much we need to tell our parents about this, because I would really like to tell Ray as little as possible.” He scratches his chin.

“I’m going to have to let you make that decision, Butterfly,” he says. “Grace and Carrick know everything. All they need to know now is that it might go public.”

“And what will you do then?” I ask. “If this goes public, won’t this affect how your colleagues look at you?”

“It’s not an ideal situation,” he admits, “but all they can ever do is try to use it as a weapon against me—a weakness. They can only speculate as to what I do and how I participate. They have no idea. You never come to a dogfight armed with speculation and conjecture. Anybody in this business knows that. And if any of them wants to play hardball with this topic, that would be an early Christmas present for me. This is an arena where futures are made and destroyed, so if you step into the coliseum, you had better be armed with a sword and a shield because coming at me with this shit is like running against a gladiator with a pocket knife.”

I believe him. I know my husband and nobody had better step to him with any bullshit about this matter.

“If that’s the case, Christian, then why all the secrecy? Why not just come out with your lifestyle in the very beginning?” I ask.

“Because it was nobody’s business what I did in my sex life,” he replies. “People had their theories and I was okay with that, but no one needed a first-person view into my bedroom. Then, there was my family. Remember, I didn’t want even want them to know. Once that basically exploded in my face, then there was Elena and her trial coming out and not wanting to be associated with that. Then there was your family and all the far-reaching ways this information could affect us—even Cholometes breathing down my back and for the record, he already knew and tried to use that against me, too. He’s a submissive.”

“How do you know that?” I gasp.

“Same way you do,” he says. “I’m a Dom. I know. You knew when you dominated him in my den,” he adds. Shit! I didn’t think he picked up on that.

“I… suspected,” I stumble, “and I didn’t do that on purpose. I don’t just walk around dominating people.” I suddenly feel ashamed… and dirty.

“I know that,” he says, reaching for my hand. “You don’t intend to walk around turning people on or driving people crazy, but you do.” I raise my eyes to him. Suddenly, I want to cry. I just wrap my arms around his neck and hold him close to me. If he dominated someone in front of me—at the same time he was dominating me, no less—I’d feel helpless and furious at the same time. I’m not sure that I could tolerate it. It’s an abuse of power and I’m only just now realizing that I did it. To me, it feels like a form of cheating.

“I’m sorry,” I say, unable to fight the tears that burn my eyelids. I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve betrayed his trust.

“Hey,” he closes his arms around me. “None of that. I didn’t bring it up for that. You did what needed to be done at the time, I know that. It wasn’t sexual—you were furious, and I wasn’t angry. I was never angry.” He pulls me back and wipes my tears with his thumbs. “Had I known you would react this way, I never would have even mentioned it. Don’t you think if I had a problem with it, I would have said something before now?”

“That doesn’t make it right,” I say in a sobbing voice.

“But it was necessary at the time,” he says, pulling his handkerchief from his pocket and gently dabbing my face. “I knew that. Your instincts are never wrong, and they told you what to do even when you didn’t know it. Do I want you to exercise that power regularly? No, I would prefer you didn’t. It’s one of the things that made me fall in love with you. Do I know that it’s most like the reason that we haven’t heard from that bastard since? Yes, I do. Am I grateful for that? More than you’ll ever know!”

I choke out a laugh behind my sobs and he kisses me gently.

“I hate it when you cry… but I can’t resist kissing you when you do. Your lips are so soft…” He kisses me again… and again. His hand cups my face and several slow, soft, sweet kisses later, I forget what I was crying about.

The afternoon is full of testimony from witnesses for the prosecution—Alex has to testify since he was the one who presented the video into evidence. Watching that thing again chills my blood to no end. Even though I knew what was coming, I still jump at the sound of the gunshot. This time, I can see Jason emerge from the sliding panel in Christian’s office. It happened in a split second—he moved like lightning. At first, he wasn’t there, and then, he was. It wasn’t all dramatic like Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard. He didn’t necessarily throw his body in front of him. He just ran into him and pushed, like he was tackling him—like a linebacker. I see now that was the best way to result in the least damage. Had he done the whole Bodyguard thing, she may have hit an internal organ.

She watches the video stoically. Not a single flash of emotion, recollection, or remorse crosses her face as she watches herself pull that trigger intent on ending my husband’s life, not even when members of the jury gasp when the shot is fired. I want to leap across this barrier and scratch her eyes out again! She truly is a stank-ass, slutty, nasty, filthy, slimy, Pedo-Bitch She-Thing demon from hell, and she needs to go back where she came from!

My reaction was swift and sure, like the wrath of God. I cover my mouth and almost want to cover my ears when I hear my own heart-wrenching shriek after the gun was fired. I see Jason flinch only slightly in my peripheral, but that’s the only emotion he’ll reveal during these proceedings. The court frowns on displays of affection, but Christian puts his arm around me anyway, asking if I’m okay as I sit shivering in my seat and watching the ungodly exchange of blows between me and Elena. The jury is glued to the screen as we beat the living shit out of each other and I watch my husband painfully examine his best friend, asking where he’d been hit.

My stomach burns with the need to wail and I cover my mouth and try to cry silently. Tears stream unbidden down my face as I relive Christian flinching away from me when I reach for him and running to the bathroom, praying that the bullet didn’t hit a major artery in Jason’s shoulder. When Jason starts singing “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider,” I lose it. The sob I was choking on coughs very unladylike out of my throat and cuts through the relative silence that’s fallen over the room, save the chaos that’s erupting on the video. I know this is going to be a spectacle soon, so I leap from my seat, heaving uncontrollably and dash for the door. I burst into the hallway as if the oxygen on the other side will help stop the flow of my tears and the involuntary heaving of my chest.

It doesn’t.

I lean against the wall for support, certain that I’ll pass out any second as I hear a camera or two flash to capture this moment for posterity. I don’t care. I couldn’t watch that video another second. I sat through as much as I could, but reliving those horrible moments in living color was more than I could stand. I could have killed that woman. I really could have killed her. Christian, sobbing over his best friend; Jason, singing that damn song not knowing if these were truly his last moments. Goddamn that evil demonic bitch!

The seconds that it took Christian to burst out of the courtroom behind me felt like hours. Relief floods through me faster than I can process it when I see him standing in front of me, his eyes full of concern.

“Baby! Baby, are you okay?”

I can’t form any words. I’m heaving so hard reliving the goddamn moments on the tape, wishing I had killed that bitch and so glad that I didn’t at the same time. I can’t focus or think and my head starts to spin.

“Breathe, Baby. Please, breathe…”

That’s the last thing I remember.

*-*

I awake in someone’s chambers… again. At least I wasn’t on the stand this time. I’m trying to breathe around this apparatus on my face and take in my surroundings at the same time. I don’t know where I am. This isn’t the same judge’s room… and I’m not on a sofa. I’m on a stretcher! And this is an oxygen mask on my face! I mumble something and move my hand—or try to move my hand—to get this thing off my face, only to find that Christian has my hand cemented to his.

“Butterfly!” The word is a heated whisper and he’s in my face in seconds.

“Get this off of me,” I slur, grasping at the mask.

“You need it, Butterfly,” Christian protests.

“No, I don’t,” I say, grabbing the mask finally and trying to pull it from my face.

“Okay, okay, wait.” He gestures to someone and a paramedic—a paramedic—comes over and removes the mask from my face.

“Don’t be difficult, Anastasia.” I look up and Carrick is looking down on me, speaking in a fatherly tone. Oh, God, exactly how big of a spectacle have I made of myself?

“I don’t need the oxygen,” I say, trying to sit up.

“You’ve been out for over twenty minutes,” Christian scolds. “You say you don’t need the oxygen, but I draw the line at you getting off that stretcher.”

“We’ll need to take her in now,” I hear one of the EMTs say.

“No!” I protest as clearly as my meek little voice will allow.

“Anastasia…” Christian chides.

“Could she be pregnant again?” Carrick asks.

“Not unless I can have this reaction in two days,” I answer him. His brow furrows.

“More information than I needed about my daughter-in-law,” he says sweetly looking down at me.

“You asked,” I remind him. “My children are exactly six weeks and four days old. We just got back from a weekend away.” I give him a knowing look.

“Jesus, Christian, what did you do to her at that cabin?” Carrick jabs.

“Dad!” Christian protests. I shake my head as much as the stretcher will allow. The situation needed a little levity. I squeeze Christian’s hand to garner his attention.

“Crying or fainting… remember?” I say. I told him when I passed out at Morton’s grave and again when I passed out before the cuffs came out on the fateful day that has us in this wonderful establishment today that my reaction to immensely stressful situations that bring on way too much adrenaline too fast is either crying or fainting. He examines me for a moment, then thrust his hand in his hair, the worry slowly starting to leave his face.

“God!” he exclaims. “It hadn’t happened in such a long time, I forgot. You scared the shit outta me.”

“I’m sorry. I just… I couldn’t…” I feel the tears coming back. He takes one of my hands in both of his.

“Okay. I know. I know,” he says, kissing my hand.

“Mr. Grey? Mrs. Grey?” The EMT is attempting to get our attention. I begin to sit up.

“Slowly,” Carrick warns, gently grasping my shoulder—to assist or halt my ascent, I don’t know, but it does a little of both. God, he’s as protective as his son. I try not to roll my eyes as I slowly sit upright on the stretcher. “How do you feel?” I wait a moment to see if my head is spinning or if there are any residuals from the fainting spell. I nod.

“Fine,” I tell him. “I feel fine. Shouldn’t you be in a courtroom somewhere?” I ask with a smile.

“I was,” he says. “I was just leaving to go back to my office when I saw my son white as a ghost carrying my unconscious daughter to parts unknown.” Daughter… my heart warms immediately. “He was clearly stressed out, sweating profusely, and about to ruin a perfectly good Anderson & Sheppard, so I asked Judge Morris if we could borrow his chambers. And here I am.” I smile warmly at him and put my hand on his cheek, relaying gratitude and love.

“Thank you,” I say just above a whisper. He returns my warm smile along with a blush.

“You’re welcome,” he says, taking my hand and giving me a gentle peck on the forehead. “Try not to do that to us again, okay?” I nod.

“I’ll try.” I’ve gained another father… something I wish I could have had in Morton since he claimed to love my mother and stayed with her until his death. I’m certain that part of the reason she was so cold and distant to me all those years had to do with the fact that he, for whatever reason, couldn’t stand my guts. They shared a mutual distaste for me—it was probably one of the things that kept them together for so long. I was just a kid, and they could have very easily gotten rid of me by sending me home to my father. But no, that decision wasn’t lucrative enough.

“Okay, Dad, enough schmoozing with my girl,” Christian says. “What are you trying to do, steal her away from me?”

“An impossible task, I think, son,” Carrick says. “Besides, she’s quite lovely, but I only have eyes for one.” He winks at me.

“Can you and Mom make it to the Crossing tonight, Dad?” Christian asks. “I really need to talk to you.”

“I can, but I don’t know about your mother. I think she’s on call tonight.” Christian murmurs an expletive.

“Okay, well, you may have the task of relaying a message to her.”

“Can’t you tell me now?” Carrick asks. Christian looks around.

“Definitely not!” he says definitively. “And I’m taking Ana home. We’ve had enough of this for one day.” He reaches down to lift me off the stretcher.

“Christian, I can walk!” I protest firmly. I don’t want to be carried out in front of the press. He reads my expression and stands upright.

“I hate to tell you this, baby, but they’re everywhere—even wandering around with fancy cell phones. They’ve already got pictures. Stretcher or my arms; the choice is yours.” He’s completely unwavering. I frightened him. When I frighten him, he needs this. I sigh in surrender and open my arms to him. He scoops me up like he’s carrying my clothes with nothing in them. I’m certain he could carry me with one hand.

“Thank you, gentlemen,” he says to the EMTs. “You can send the bill to my office,” and out we go, down the hallway, out the door and down the stairs to flashing lights and questions about what happened and why Christian is carrying me. He looks straight ahead to the Audi SUV parked at the curb, his only task to get us to the car. I listen to the questions being thrown at us and carefully answer only one.

“Mrs. Grey, are you alright?”

“Yes, I am. Thank you.” I lay on Christian’s shoulder as he quickly and easily takes the rest of the stairs. Chuck opens the door for us and Christian climbs in with me in his lap. Chuck closes the door behind us and two raps on the roof later, we’re off to Grey Crossing.

*-*

“Hello?”

I swallow hard when my father answers the phone later that evening. Carrick was able to come by and Christian is speaking to him in his den. I didn’t have the chance to ask Daddy and Mandy to stop by and this can’t wait, so, I’m having this very sensitive conversation over the phone.

“Hi, Daddy,” I say softly into the phone.

“Hey, Sunflower,” he greets me. “How are you? You’re all over the news. Are you okay? I tried not to worry and bug you. I knew you would call. I’m so glad you did.” He’s talking a mile a minute. I want to laugh, but our conversation is no laughing matter.

“I’m fine, Daddy,” I say. “I need to talk to you about the trial.”

“Okay,” he says. “What’s up?” I clear my throat.

“Some things came out in the trial that may make the news very soon and I want you to hear about them from me before you hear about them in the news.”

“What’s going on, Sunflower?”

“You know that horrible woman was originally arrested for her crimes against minors—young boys, pedophilia…”

“Yes, yes, I know.” He cuts me off and I know immediately that this is going to be harder than I thought.

“Well, today, it was revealed in court that Christian was one of those boys.”

The line is quiet for a long time.

“Oh my God,” he says, softly. “How’s Christian?”

“He’s okay,” I tell him. “He came to grips with this quite some time ago, but this is something that he really didn’t want to be public in that way.”

“I can see why. Are you okay?”

“Yes, Daddy, but… that’s only part of it.”

“There’s more?” he asks, appalled. I nod, as if he could see me.

“She introduced him to a lifestyle at a very young age. It’s the only thing he knew. He practiced it…” I clear my throat. “… Into adulthood and we… still practice now.”

“And what is that?” Daddy asks cautiously. I close my eyes.

“BDSM.” There is a long silence on the line. “Da…?”

“WHAT!?” my father roars on the other end. “Are you serious? I give my daughter to this man and this is what he brings you into?” He is furious. I have to take control of this conversation right now.

“He didn’t bring me into anything, Father!” I snap. Daddy is silenced immediately. “Yes, he practiced before we met, but I learned about BDSM in college during my human sexuality studies and when he spoke to me about it, I was already curious. I had already seen it in practice and I consented to it.”

“You consented to be abused?” he spits.

“He doesn’t abuse me!” I retort. “And I don’t abuse him.” There’s silence again.

“You do that to him?” he asks, confusion lacing his voice.

“We do it to each other,” I tell him. “It’s purely consensual and it’s none of that hardcore, crazy shit that you see on the internet. I wouldn’t stand for that. Look what I’ve already been through!”

“That’s why I don’t understand this!” he snaps. “Why would you subject yourself to something like this after what you’ve already been through?” I sigh.

“Because, Daddy, our relationship is not like what you see on the internet or what you may have heard. Yes, there are some very deviant aspects to the lifestyle, but Christian and I practice nothing like that. Our experiences are about desire, adventure, and mutual sexual satisfaction.”

“I don’t understand, Annie,” Daddy says. “Everything I’ve seen, everything I’ve ever heard about… the lifestyle…” He says the word with so much contempt. “… Has been whips and chains and sexually deviant behavior. Didn’t you say that sick woman on trial practiced this crap?”

“Yes, but I’m trying to tell you that’s not the only aspect of it and that there’s nothing sexually deviant about what Christian and I do.” He’s not hearing me. He’s a traditional man with traditional values and all he’s ever heard of BDSM was dungeons and abuse and female degradation and the taboo things that he’s probably seen online. I can’t get him past the sadomasochism part of the BDSM lifestyle to even explain to him how what Christian and I do is so different.

The conversation goes on for about twenty more minutes without my father hearing one thing I say about mine and Christian’s relationship being more loving and giving than about bondage, dominance, and submission. Nothing I say gets through to him. Every rebuttal that I give him to his preconceived notions are met with more preconceived notions. The conversation finally ends with him hanging up on me, telling me that he has to let this whole thing sink in and can’t talk to me anymore right now and me sitting there staring at the phone like it’s going to give me answers that I’m probably never going to get.

I’m beat, way too tired to sit here and argue with my closed-minded father about the many aspects of BDSM and that Christian and I don’t practice the extreme shit that he sees on sexually deviant websites. To each his or her own, but that’s not us and I can’t get him to see that.

I drag my ass up to our bedroom and strip down to nothing, climb into the hottest shower I can stand and attempt to scrub this day off of me. I’ve already told Gail that the day has been a bit too much for me and that I’ll need her to please handle the twins’ feedings. Thankfully, she agreed. So, while I’m in the shower, I just allow the milk to express from my breast under the flow of the hot water instead of pumping it. I almost forego washing my hair because it’s hell if I sleep with it wet and I don’t feel like drying it, but I can’t resist letting the water run all over me and my head in and attempt to rinse away every single thought of the day… that smug ass lawyer, Pedo-bitch, the video, the fainting, the conversation with my father.

I swear my skin was numb by the time I got out of the shower. I dry my skin and reach for a warm nightshirt. I wrap my hair in a towel, grab my moisturizing lotion and head out to our bedroom.

“There you are,” Christian says, rising from the bed and walking over to me. “Dad wanted to say goodbye before he left, but you had disappeared.” I sit on the bed with my lotion in my hand.

“I needed a shower,” I tell him, “this has been a long ass day.” I bend my legs and begin to moisturize my skin. He holds out his hand for the bottle.

“Let me,” he says. I hand him the bottle, too weary to protest. He never asks what’s wrong; he just goes to work on my legs and ankles. I sit back on the bed.

“The conversation with my father didn’t go well,” I tell him. He freezes momentarily, then proceeds with his massage.

“Oh?” he asks.

“No,” I say. “He’s stuck in his narrow-minded, Puritanical views and I can’t get him to budge.” He frowns as he moves to open my nightshirt.

“That’s… odd,” he says. “I would think… he would understand, or at least listen to you.” He starts to caress my torso with the moisturizing lotion. He removes one arm from the nightshirt and begins to moisturize that arm.

“I thought he would, too,” I say, removing my other arm from the night shirt, “but try to tell Daddy that his little girl is into BDSM.” I say. Christian frowns.

“Yeah,” he says, moisturizing the other arm. He is the father of a daughter now, isn’t he? Even if she is just an infant…

“I just didn’t expect him to be so unyielding,” I tell him. “Daddy knows I’m no dummy or wimp. I thought you called off the wedding and I left so that I could decide what I wanted. Why would he think I would submit to something I didn’t want?”

“Is that what he thinks?” he asks, going into my dressing room.

“Yes,” I say loud enough for him to hear me. “I had to convince him that you didn’t bring me into this…” He’s coming back with my brush and comb and two hair ties. “… And that I was interested in it before I met you, but he could only focus on the sexual deviance of the lifestyle. I think I’m just going to have to let it marinate for a minute before I try to get him to listen to reason.” He removes the towel from my head and starts to work the tangles from my hair.

“I’m sure he’ll come around. Ray seems like a reasonable man to me. Maybe it’s just the shock of it all.” He separates my hair down the center and begins to braid one side. I feel the tension begin to ooze out of my body as he continues to care for me. “Remember how I was so afraid to tell my parents? After they got over the initial shock, they rallied behind me.”

“Yeah, but they got over the shock immediately,” I protest as he fastens the first braid with a hair tie.

“No, they didn’t!” He corrects as he starts the second braid. “Remember Dad breaking down in my apartment?”

Oh, yeah. I did forget that.

“Yeah, but they never blamed you. They blamed Elena, like Dad blamed you, but then they got shocked and got over it. Dad is like… completely unmoving. Every time I try to explain to him that we have a mutually giving relationship, his brain goes right back to bullwhips and spiked collars and leashes and ball gags and cages…”

“But we don’t do anything like that!” Christian interjects.

“I know! But he couldn’t hear. When you say ‘BDSM,’ that’s all certain people see. Unfortunately, my dad is apparently one of those people!” He finishes my hair and puts the comb and brush on the nightstand.

“I wish I had an answer for you, Butterfly,” he says, stroking my face gently. “Give him time, I guess. He loves you… he’ll come around.”

I gaze adoring into his eyes, filled with love and compassion for me at this moment. He only wants me to feel better when this is mostly his catastrophe. He’s still going to have to worry about how this will affect his life… his business… I’m just worried about Daddy. I sigh as I consider that possibility.

“What is it?” he asks. I close my eyes and lean close to him, breathing him in.

“I wish I could make you feel what you make me feel,” I say softly. He frowns.

“What?” he asks.

“Just…” I sigh. “All the love and the warmth… and the things you do to my body… the way you take care of me… you make everything all better. I wish I could make you feel it.” There’s a sadness in my tone when I say it. He examines me for a moment, then stands from the bed. Without a word, he removes his T-shirt and then his jeans and boxer briefs in one movement. He stands before me, naked and glorious, and I sit on the bed in the same state of undress. He runs his hands over my braids to the ends and lets them drop on my breasts. He then takes my hand and presses it against his penis. I’m shocked at first. He’s completely flaccid, but with my hand under his, him manipulating my fingers on his erection, he’s hard in seconds—and I do mean seconds.

We’ve had sex every night since Friday; I don’t know if I can do it again tonight, but something in the way he’s looking at me—saying nothing, having me touch him… it’s making me… yearn for him.

He lays me down on our bed, situating my hands over my head. He crawls into bed between my legs hovering over me. He pushes my legs open wide and brings his face close to mine. I feel him at my opening, his hands on either side of me on the bed, but he doesn’t enter me. He’s looking into my eyes, so close that our lips nearly touch, but don’t. I feel his breath… taste his breath, but I can’t touch him. He moves his head as if he wants to kiss me, but he doesn’t. I start to pant from his proximity, his energy, it’s almost like a drug.

I feel him harden against me, the head right against my clit, but he doesn’t move. I swallow hard. He’s still looking at me… looking through me… God, his eyes… I see such… wanting and yearning there. I tilt my head and get lost in the story, the needful beseeching to be loved.

His breath becomes my breath, or mine becomes his, I don’t know, and I feel him slowly slip inside me… so slow that it takes an eternity for him to sheath himself in my sex. We’re still breathing the same air as he fills me, then pulls out all the way to the head until the slit in his penis is kissing my clit again.

Oh, my God… what is this?

He still says nothing as his head throbs softly on my clit, suddenly pebbling hard underneath him. Nothing else is touching but our breath… and our eyes… if you can consider that touching. I want to whimper, but I dare not make a sound. His head slides down my clit and into my core a second time, so agonizingly slowly that I can count the seconds until I’m filled with him again.

Thirteen. Thirteen goddamn seconds and I’m burning with each stroke as he pushes into me like never before. What is he doing to me?

Like the first time, he holds himself there for a moment before pulling out just as slowly as he entered, and my core is on fire. His penis is getting harder and harder, throbbing more and more each time the slit comes out to kiss my clit. By the third time he exits and meets my clit, his slit is pulsing so hard that my pebbled clit actually slips inside a bit. The sensation is so insane that I’m not quite sure how to handle it. By the fourth time, I’m panting wildly into his open mouth, unable to contain myself any longer. He matches my uncontrolled breathing, and I feel his semen begin to explode on my clit. He closes his eyes and slips into me again to ride his orgasm inside of me and the feeling is so hot that I burst into flames behind him, trembling underneath him—our lips and bodies still never touching. We concentrate only on our sex and the pulsing, pumping, burning, throbbing we feel from five simple strokes.

“Did you… f-feel that?” he chokes, without opening his eyes.

“Y-yes!” I mutter, barely able to speak.

“Th-that’s… what I… f-feel… for you.” A single tear escapes from his eye and slides partially down his cheek before dripping onto mine. I bring my hands from over my head and cup his face, examining him closely. He’s trembling—not like he’s cold, like he’s holding on to a weight and his body is about to give out under the pressure. I wipe the tear away with my thumb and gently run my tongue over his parted lips. His breath becomes more labored, but he doesn’t reciprocate and he doesn’t open his eyes. He just stays there with his body suspended over mine, his sex still buried inside of me. I feel all of his love, all of his helplessness and surrender, just how much he truly belongs to me.

I caress his hair and face and lick inside of his lips, his breath coming in short bursts now. We are still everywhere else except my hands caressing his face and hair and my lips licking his… and my heart, reaching out to his and melding with it, joining with it until two hearts become one.

God, how I love you…

He breathes heavily into my mouth and I worry that he might hyperventilate. He doesn’t close his mouth, nor open his eyes, and I watch him attentively, lost in some kind of otherworldly state. He doesn’t move a muscle except for his labored breathing. I don’t move either, except to caress his face and hair and adore him and infuse him with my energy and love. And then…

He grunts in his chest, then whimpers mournfully… longingly. His breaths are staccato… and then, he’s coming again inside of me. I’m amazed, but I don’t stop what I’m doing—licking his lips gently and caressing his hair and face. His lips don’t move. I know they don’t, I’m kissing them… but I hear the words as if he’s spoken them loud and clear.

Ana… my love…

I choke a sob as tears slide unsummoned down my temples. His hands move from their position on the bed beside me. He pushes them under my shoulders and his hands come up to cup my face. He opens his eyes and gazes at me with so much love flowing from him that my body fills with warmth and heat and I become helpless. My body falls limp underneath the weight of his as I weep softly.

We’ve changed roles.

His lips close gently over mine, but mine remain slack… weak from the onslaught of emotion. His lips wander from my mouth to my cheek to my ears, my neck…

I’m yours… I’m yours… do with me as you will…

Gentle lips continue over whatever part of my body they can reach as he holds my head in place with his hands and, even after two orgasms, begins to drive into me—slowly and deliciously, only slightly faster than before… a torturous slow grind; loving, attentive, and meticulous.

I love you, Ana…

Did he say it? Am I hallucinating? Oh, God… So much… feeling! So much.

I love you… I’m yours, too… I belong to you…

Oh, God, I’m going crazy! He’s kissing me; he’s not talking. Oh, God, the emotions… I’m losing myself…

Stay with me… don’t go… remember the matches…

Matches? What matches? Oh, the matches!

His mouth closes over mine and I return the kiss, trying hard to focus on the here and now and not the burning in my heart and soul, the need to reach to a plane higher than this one and when it hits…

My body curls into his and I whimper helplessly, repeatedly. He continues to hold me down as my hands grind uselessly on the pillow on the sides of my head, my back arching into his body and this cosmic release that’s burning bright hot red fire and light through my pelvis, chest and torso and reverberating to each one of my extremities. He doesn’t cover my mouth or extinguish my cries. His mouth is on my neck, now, talking to me, telling me how much he loves me, how he feels everything that I’m feeling, begging me to stay with him…

I think.

I’m wheezing when the burning stops and the light dissipates. The emotional and physical impact of what just happened almost too much to bear, but I’m still here… I didn’t burn all the matches.

… But I came damn close.

My love is still gently driving into me, still holding me, still loving me, caressing me and speaking to me in a way that only we can communicate. He takes his time—using his body and his heart to usher us both into a night filled with cosmic love, tantric energy, and rippling orgasms.


A/N: See the author’s note in chapter 58 for the reference to Like Water For Chocolate and the matches.

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

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

Love and handcuffs  
Lynn X

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 5—Moving Right Along…

I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy, or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. I hope you—as a fellow fan—enjoy it, too.Chapter 5—Moving Right Along…

CHRISTIAN

I belong to Anastasia Grey…
I belong to Anastasia Grey…
I belong to Anastasia Grey…

I have two huge love bites on my neck. One is just under my ear, slightly pink and a little sensitive. The other is under my shirt in the bend of my neck—dark red and a little purple, and it hurts like hell. I remember her latching onto that spot, sucking and biting and weakening my resolve until I came so hard that I fucking cried. No one has ever fucked me that way—told me not to come and then didn’t stop until I did.

The entire time I got dressed this morning, I kept hearing the words in my head…

You belong to me.
You’re not allowed to take chances…
I belong to Anastasia Grey.
I am not allowed to get hurt.
Follow instructions and stay safe.
I belong to Anastasia Grey…
I belong to Anastasia Grey…
I belong to Anastasia Grey…

I’m completely distracted as I remember her nails on my chest, her sexy, swollen body rubbing against me, her lips and tongue on my neck…

“Sir.” Jason breaks my chain of thought. “They’ve been texting you, Sir. You’re needed in Data Central.”

Shit! What time is it? How long have I been sitting here?

Jason and I ride in silence down to the hub of discovery. He’s been extra quiet, so I have to ask him.

“How much did you see?”

“Not much, Sir, but enough to tell Gail to stay in our apartment for a while.” I shake my head and chuckle to myself.

“Were we loud?” I ask. He smirks.

“No, Sir, Not at all.” The elevator doors open and I know he’s holding back, but I let him off the hook.

“The worms went live again, about an hour ago,” James starts talking the moment we get into Data Central. “Their initial signal is usually the most reliable because it pops out before they have a chance to scramble it, but only for a few seconds. Not only that, but they think we’re following someone else.”

“I need some good news, James,” I say.

“We’ve got a pretty good hit based on the initial signals and the tower hits from Dodd’s cell phone.”

“Are you telling me that you know where these guys are or…?” I trail off.

“We’ve narrowed it down to cities, which is a lot more than we had before, but we need to get our boy here to keep contacting them so we can tighten those signals.” I sigh. This news is not as encouraging as I would like.

“First, what cities?” I ask.

“Belfair and Spokane,” James responds. I frown.

“That’s two different ends of the state,” I say. “Doesn’t that seem odd?”

“To be honest, we’re lucky we didn’t get New York and San Francisco, or worst yet—Moscow and Tokyo!” I shiver.

“I will be so glad when this is over,” I lament. “Next, how do you suggest we keep Dodd talking?” I ask.

“We have to feed him something worthy enough to take back to his counterparts. Without knowing what their M-O is besides money, I don’t know what they would consider ‘juicy’ information,” he says. I notice that Barney’s head is buried in his laptop and he’s feverishly typing away at something. This is my head of IT—I can’t afford for him to be meek.

“What’s your take on this, Barney?” His head shoots up from the laptop and he looks from me to James and back to me.

“I concur,” he says. Okay, you’re great at what you do. You fucked up last week and made a bad assumption. Get over it! You can’t hide behind James forever. He doesn’t even work here.

“Use your words, Barney,” I say, my voice indicating that I’m a bit perturbed. You’re a talented and highly paid department head. Sensitivity is not a luxury that you get to enjoy. “I need you people to think like these people and tell me what I need to know.”

“Well, I can’t think like a criminal, but as a hacker, I’d want to know if someone else can actually mimic what I did,” Barney says.

“James’ software proves that we can mimic what he did…”

“They don’t know that, but that’s not what I mean,” he interrupts me. I glare at him and he just keeps talking. I think Butterfly was wrong about him shrinking. I think it may have been something else. “I mean is someone else doing something that might cut into my payday. Are they hiding behind what I’m doing and siphoning money or information to another source? This kind of attacker is cocky. When he’s completed his coup, he’ll find some way to flaunt it without giving away his identity. If you manage to discover his identity, he’s just going to disappear into the night and you’re never going to see him again.” That’s why I think it’s Myrick. He’s already disappeared into the night.

“I don’t quite follow. GEH is a very valuable company. There’s plenty for everybody.” I seethe.

“Yes, but if you have a pile of gold sitting in front of you, how much do you take? You take as much as your bag can carry, and electronically, you have a bottomless bag.” Barney’s more profound than I thought, and now I’m certain that Butterfly was wrong about him shrinking. “If someone else is picking off the gold coins, that immediately makes you just another thief. As a hacker, I don’t want to be just another thief. I want you to remember who I am.”

“Okay, so how do we know that this isn’t just another thief?” I ask.

“His style,” Barney retorts. “He started by letting the worms run wild in your system and letting you know that he was there. He could have started taking money immediately. He didn’t need to wait. He was toying with you, taunting you. He’s not just another thief. He wants you to know, and he will make an appearance before this is over.” I nod.

“Okay, so what do we do?” The room is quiet for a while.

“Leak to your source that another hacker has shown up, one that has completely different characteristics than the first. Ask rhetorical questions in his presence that will make him think: Are they working together? Is this a completely different attack? How fast is the new attack moving in comparison to the original attack? He’ll have to contact them because he’ll have the same questions and if not, he’ll want them to know that there’s another player in the game. If you keep talking, you’ll keep him talking.” There’s not a bit of the timid Barney that I’m accustomed to. His voice is strong and a little deeper than usual. He’s precise and he’s not rambling.

He’s controlled.

“Let’s call another meeting of the department heads. I’m assuming you can make this story convincing… draw it out like the soap opera we need right now?”

“Yes, I can,” he answers and starts typing madly on his laptop again. Of the people currently in the room, James is the only one that is not slightly taken aback by his behavior. I need to talk to Welch about how Myrick could just drop off the face of the earth like this and nobody have a lead on where he is. I’ve been told not to put all my eggs in the Robin basket, but I can’t help it. That fucker almost had me killed and until this shit stops, my money is on him.

“James, a quick word?” James nods at me and follows me to the hallway. “You’ve spent the most time with Barney, what’s going on?” He frowns.

“What do you mean?” he asks.

“That guy has worked for me for years and something’s different about him.”

“How so?” he asks. “He’s the same way he’s always been around me.”

“I don’t know. First he’s quiet, then he pops out of this shell with all this information—commanding authority—then he’s right back in like a turtle,” I observe. James shakes his head.

“I’m not sure what you’re getting at, but the last thing Barney does is go into a shell,” he says. “I don’t know if he’s different around you, but Barney is a very self-confident man who knows what he’s doing. I would never say that he’s better than me, but he keeps me on my toes and he’s not shy about his skills.” I frown.

“Well, he is the best the industry has to offer. I did my homework before I hired him, so I know that. It’s his demeanor. Butterfly made an observation last week that she thought he may have been shrinking a bit after his erroneous assumption about her possible involvement in all this.” James scoffs a laugh.

“Barney? Shrinking? Not likely. Man, he must really have you fooled. I hate to let the cat out of the bag, but Barney’s one of the cockiest motherfuckers I’ve ever met in my life.” He’s what? He’s got to be kidding me. Barney and cocky don’t even belong in the same sentence. “Yeah, I’m going to stop talking now,” he adds, laughing to himself. “To answer your question, nothing’s wrong with Barney. He’s the same as he’s been since the day I started this project.”

I nod. It appears that I don’t know my head of IT as well as I thought I did.

“Any hits on Myrick?” I ask Welch when Jason and I get to his office.

“Nothing yet, but what the hell did you say to Cholometes?” he asks.

“What do you mean?”

“He was a bit… reserved, for lack of a better word, when we talked on Sunday morning. Last night and this morning, he was forthright, accommodating—downright helpful. You know I had no choice but to let him into the loop a bit in order to get the approvals I need. He’s even offered to help weed out some things with me. One of me is phenomenal, I must admit, but two of me—out of this fucking world. We’re going to have this shit locked down in a month or less.”

A month seems like a long time, but it’s better than any other projection I’ve heard so far which has basically been, “Well, I don’t know” and “It’s hard to tell” and “We’re working on it.”

“I have a question for you. You work closely with Barney. What’s your take on him?” He frowns the same frown James did.

“Do you think he has something to do with this?” Welch asks.

“No! No, nothing like that. It’s just… last week at the meeting when he made it appear that Anastasia may have been hiding something about the cyber attack, he shut down and hasn’t said anything since until I made him talk to me today. Ana seems to think he’s shrinking into himself and I want to know what you think.” He does that same laughing scoff that James did.

“I highly doubt that cocky motherfucker was shrinking,” he says matter-of-factly.

“How the fuck is everybody seeing him as cocky and I didn’t?”

“Well, how much time have you spent with him?” Welch asks.

“Quite a lot over the years he’s worked for me–enough to know that I wouldn’t consider him cocky.”

“Well, then your ‘enough to know’ isn’t enough, because that’s one cocky son-of-a-bitch. I don’t mean that in a bad way, I just mean that he’s a cocky son-of-a-bitch. You judged that book by its cover. You let those bow ties and sweater vests make you think that he’s your typical, quiet little computer nerd. Maybe that’s what he wants you to think. Maybe he knows that the quiet nerd gets the least attention until he’s needed. So he can be Wonderboy and fade quietly to black and nobody bothers him. Whatever the case may be, if you see anything else but cocky, he’s got you fooled.”

“So what’s this quiet-shutting-down thing?” I ask.

“He’s thinking… or mad.” I would go with mad right now. He’s giving me answers without the reverence to which I’ve become accustomed. He better not pull that cocky shit on me. He’s worked for me for a few years now and I know there are other Wonderboys out there if he starts feeling his balls. “And that’s why you didn’t see the cocky.” I look up Welch.

“What?”

“I don’t have to tell you this, sir, but you’re a hell of a lot more cocky than he is, so you wouldn’t have seen it.”

“Oh, on the contrary, that’s exactly why I would have seen it. I’m an alpha male surrounded by alpha males, and you all know that I won’t let anybody out-alpha me. When it comes to security, you’re the experts, so I step back—most of the time, but when it comes to just about everything else, you all step back and let me have the reigns because you know that I’m in charge. Now, whatever his M-O, Barney has never been that cocky person around me, which means that either he’s intimidated or he’s putting on a façade–one that has fooled me for several years, and that doesn’t make me feel comfortable.”

“Well, I’m going to let you handle that with him, but I would still like to know what happened with Cholometes if you care to share. What did you say to him?” Welch asks.

“It wasn’t me,” I confess. “It was Butterfly.” Welch frowns.

“You told her?” he asks, somewhat appalled.

“No, she figured it out. You’re forgetting that Cholometes is a long-time family friend of her and her father. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together when you and he are collaborating, and Dr. Steele hit that nail right on the head.”

“Dr Steele?” he questions. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I don’t like it any more than you do.

“She has to practice under the same name that she was licensed,” I tell him. “Don’t dwell on it. I can’t, so you can’t either.” He waves his hand.

“So how did the little powerhouse get him to be so cooperative?” he asks.

“She yelled at him. Made him swear to keep me safe and told him that she would hold him responsible if anything happens to me. She thinks he may have something to do with this attack and she doesn’t trust him.”

“She told him all that?”

“Not about the attack, but the rest of it, yes. I know that he still loves her and he wants her, so he won’t take any chances on disappointing her.” Welch shakes his head.

“Stay in good health, sir,” Welch says. “If anything happens to you, he’ll be first in line and nobody will get within ten feet of her.”

“Unfortunately, I am aware of this. However, as I plan to never die, he’s out of luck.” Jason and I leave Welch’s office and head back to mine. “Did you know Barney was cocky?” I ask him. He shrugs.

“Not really,” he says. “I don’t spend enough time with the guy to know that about him. I know that you’re the only that calls him ‘Barney.’ People only call him that when you’re around.” We exit the elevator and walk to my office.

“What does everybody call him?”

“Dino,” he says flatly.

“Dino?” I ask surprised. Jason nods. I just shake my head. “Uh, okay.” I sit down at my desk. “In the midst of all of this, I haven’t planned a thing for my wife’s birthday. Considering that we went to wine country and I got a rebuilt piano for my birthday, I think I better come up with something quick.”

“That would be a good idea. What did you have in mind?”

“Well, the party last year was a disaster, so that’s out.”

“Something for just the two of you?” he asks. I twist my lips.

“I would like that, but I have a feeling that she would like something more…” and the wheels start turning. What could I do for my lady on such short notice that she would really like?

“I would say that she definitely needs some time with her friends, wouldn’t you?” Jason asks. I nod.

“She has been a bit of a hermit,” I respond, “and I know that the family would like to see for themselves that she’s okay. Maybe a party is in order—a celebration of close family and friends.”

“The Club?” he suggests. I shake my head.

“No, we always have events at the club—Ray’s wedding, Maxine’s baby shower… I need to come up with something else.”

“What did you have in mind?”

“I don’t know—something private… intimate… different.” Jason thinks for a while.

“Something with her friends, right?”

“Of course, with her friends.”

“How about that thing she has—food and libations, but on a bigger scale… at a resort, maybe, and she doesn’t have to do any of the cooking.”

“She likes to do the cooking,” I point out. “Maybe something on the order of that, though. We’ll get people to help her with the cooking since it will be on a bigger scale. She can still enjoy the preparations and not have to work so hard. A resort sounds nice, but I don’t want to have it in the clubhouse of a resort either. A meeting room is even less intimate.

“What about the vacation houses at Suncadia?” Jason suggests. “They’re really nice and even the smallest ones are pretty large. See how many we can get for the weekend?” That sounds like a winner. Suncadia is close by, but pretty exclusive. Even if we can’t get people to stay the night, it’s close enough for a party if they want to go home.

“Now that’s a good idea. I guess we should hash out a quick guest list and see how many cabins we can secure…”

For the next several minutes, Jason and I confer with each other as well as Gail and Marilyn on conference to put together a quick guest list and tentative plans for the weekend. Marilyn has agreed to make the calls to see who will be available for the weekend while Jason will see how many of the vacation homes we can secure at Suncadia. I’ll tell Butterfly about the plans no later than Thursday as I’m sure she will want to work out a menu as I plan to drive up early Friday. While we’re still working on what’s going to happen for the weekend, Andrea announces that Barney is at her desk and wants to see me. I look at Jason, who shrugs and stands to leave.

“I’ll get the houses secured and touch base with you later,” he says with a nod before leaving the office and sending Barney in.

“I think we need to talk, sir… if you have a moment.” His voice is firm and he has removed his glasses. He hasn’t turned away from me. He looks a lot different without his glasses. This is the first time I’ve paid attention to his eyes, and he’s actually taller than me. “I’ll be glad to make an appointment if now is not a good time.” I furrow my brow a bit at him.

“No, now is a good time. Come in.” I sit at my desk and gesture to the seats in front of my desk.

“I would rather stand, sir,” he says. He is cocky, but like Welch said, not as cocky as me.

“Well, Barney, if you stand, then I have to stand, and I would really rather not. So it would make me a lot more comfortable if you sit.” I gesture to the seat again and, after a short pause, he pulls off his tie and takes a seat.

“It appears that you’ve been asking the other members of the team questions about me. Do I need to be concerned for my job, sir? I would rather know these things in advance so that I can be prepared.”

“Why would you think your job was on the line? And what have you done that makes you think you need to be concerned for your job?”

“My job,” he says, “plus the fact that you’ve been asking others about me instead of coming to me.” I don’t like his tone.

“Barney, I haven’t had cause to bring your job into question, but I am going to caution you to watch your tone with me right now. I don’t appreciate being called to task on anything in my company, and I have fired people for less,” I retort.

“I know that. That’s why I’m asking,” he says without taking down. “I’m not calling you to task on anything, sir. I’m questioning my job security. I’m getting married in a year and if my future is looking bleaker than I thought, I need to know that now.” Cocky is right. He leans forward in the seat.

“I respect you, Mr. Grey, but I’m not afraid of you. I ask that you respect me and my skills, that’s all. I may have been wrong about Mrs. Grey and I hope she knows how sorry I am about that, but just like I said before you cut me off—I was just doing my job. And if ever I feel that she’s a threat to the security of the company, I have to let you know. If you don’t want to hear it, then I have to let security know. That’s one of the things you hired me for. We’re dealing with the unknown here, and until we know who we’re dealing with, everybody is suspect…”

“Including you?” I interject.

Especially me!” he says, surprising me. “I’m the one with my hands on the pulse of this thing. James may be reading one of the maps, but make no mistake—I’m driving!” He is a cocky bastard. “You call everybody else by their last name until you started calling J by his first name and you’ve always called Al Allen…” Lately, I’m calling Charles by his first name, too, “… but you call me Barney. Yes, I was the one who said it was okay to do that, but I think you saw it as a sign of weakness. I mainly told you to call me that because if you tried to say my full name all the time, you’d have to tie your tongue in a knot.” I hired himn=, but I have to admit that I’ve called him “Barney” for so long that I don’t immediately recall his full name. I raise my eyebrow at him and as a challenge, he spits out his first and last name. “Bernardino DiPignano.” Now, how did I not remember he was Italian?

“Do you prefer that I call you DiPignano from now on?” I ask.

“If that’s what you choose, that’s fine. All I’m saying is don’t liken ‘Barney’ with ‘weak little nerd boy’ because you’re sorely mistaken if you do. I respect you, I respect your position, and I respect your level of power. It’s clear to see that you respect Alex for who he is, Jason for who he is, Al for who he is. Respect me for who I am. That’s all I ask. I don’t expect you to fall at my feet or kiss my ass because I know that you’re not going to do that, but I really don’t think I’m asking for too much.” I lean forward on my desk. I’m all for understanding that I’ve underestimated someone, but it’s time to remind this cocky fucker who I am.

“Barney… DiPignano… not once have I ever disrespected you and I don’t intend to start, but make no mistake. I will ask anybody else in this company anything I goddamn well please about anybody else in this company and there’s nothing you can do about that. Do I need to be concerned about you resigning your job because I chose to ask my team about someone else on my team?” He sits up straight when he realizes the tone of the conversation has changed.

“No, sir, you don’t,” he says curtly.

“Good, and by the way, I have every right to be angry at you for causing my very pregnant, very fragile wife to cry by virtually accusing her of corporate espionage. I understand that you have to do your job and I appreciate that you do it well, but don’t ever expect me to respond kindly if the daggers are flying at my Ana. To be honest, what you received on Friday was a very controlled response, and had I not known that you are very thorough and were ‘just doing your job,’ we might be talking severance right now. I don’t speak the language of logic when it comes down to my wife. My entire security team knows this and now, so do you. Multiply that tenfold by the fact that she’s carrying my children and throw in the emotions that you would feel if your fiancée had been in this position.” I feel the beast rising up in me. I can’t afford to lose him in the middle of this investigation, but I will not take down to this fucker.

“Yes, sir, I understand. Again, I apologize for antagonizing Mrs. Grey.” He’s all business now, something I’ve only see once—when he was telling me about “catching our thief” earlier today. That’s fine with me.

“Apology accepted, and congratulations on your upcoming nuptials,” I add to ease the sting a bit.

“Thank you, sir.”

“Anything else?”

Barney as we know him

“No, sir,” he says, flatly. I nod once, and he stands to leave, pulling his sweater vest over his head before he gets to the door. He’s wearing a light blue shirt and some dark slacks by the time he leaves my office, and I’m sure that Barney has just left the company and I am now dealing with DiPignano… which is fine by me. I don’t even have time to take a deep breath before Jason comes back into my office.

“Sir, Camilla Johannson is at Ana’s office,” he says with no prelim.

“Camilla Johannson? Who is Ca…” The penny drops. “Oh, shit, what is she doing there?”

“I don’t know, sir. Chuck is in the office with them now. You know Ana… you know she agreed to see her.” I run my hands through my hair. Should I go? Should I stay? Is Ana in danger? I don’t know anything about this woman except that David beat the hell out of her and there’s no reason whatsoever that she should want to talk to my wife. I should go! I should go right now. My feet are moving before the decision is even made and Jason is sprinting to catch up with me. I don’t know if I should call her, but Jason solves the problem for me by calling Charles while were in the elevator.

“Hello…? Who is this…? Where’s Chuck…? Oh… okay… Does everything seem okay…? Well, we’re on our way. Let him know in case they get out before we get there… Okay, bye.”  He ends the call as we exit the elevator in the parking garage. “Marilyn has Chuck’s phone.”

“Why in the world does Marilyn have his phone?” I seethe.

“Because he wants to give the ladies his undivided attention. The last uninvited guest we had was Strauss, if I remember correctly—and look how that ended.” Oh… yeah. I guess he should give them his undivided attention.

We’re standing in the lobby in Ana’s building and just as the elevator comes, a young Ana look-a-like steps off the elevator. She goes to the front desk and retrieves her identification. I examine her. She doesn’t look upset or angry. No signs that she’s been in a struggle. I know this has to be Ms. Johannson because of the uncanny resemblance, but she doesn’t look like anything is amiss. No matter, I have to get to Butterfly.

When I get off of the elevator, her front office is empty. What the fuck? Where’s Marilyn? Butterfly? I try not to burst into her office like King Kong, but I don’t know how successful I am. She’s sitting at her desk looking fresh and beautiful as always and Charles and Marilyn are standing close by. She and Charles look at each other and back at me. I have to touch her. I have to touch the babies.

“Baby, are you okay?” I ask reaching for her and my children.

“I’m fine, Christian,” she says, comforting. “You didn’t have to come.”

“Yes, I did. I had to make sure that you were okay.”

“What did you think she was going to do? I had the man that hurt us both imprisoned for twenty-something years.” I shake my head.

“I don’t know, I just…”I drop my head, still shaking it. With everything going on these days, I’m so afraid of losing her. She puts her hand on my cheek.

“I understand perfectly,” she says, sweetly. I raise my eyes to hers—cautious gray to unassuming blue.

“I just love you so much…” I trail off.

“I know… and I love you, too, Mr. Grey.” Her calling me that reminded me of our afternoon on the sofa yesterday.

“I belong to Anastasia Grey,” I say quietly.

“Yes… you do,” she whispers before cupping my face with both of her hands and kissing me passionately. I’m lost in her kiss, her touch, her taste—soothing the beast raging inside of me. I caress her stomach and her back—my whole family, my life, right here in my arms. She’s the reason that I breathe. It seems like there was nothing before her.


ANASTASIA

Once Christian was sure that Camilla hadn’t come to reap some sort of twisted revenge on me, I try to convince him to go back to Grey House. It’s a futile attempt, because I think in light of recent events, we’re both seeing how much the other means to us and how quickly and easily we could lose everything. I can’t complain that he wants to spend the rest of the day with me, but tell him that it will be at Helping Hands. That’s not what he wanted to hear. Christian and his mother are still a bit at odds over the flirt heard ‘round the world. I would think she would be angrier with me, but it appears that the condition she found me in tilted the scales more in my favor.

While I’m sitting as cuddled into him as the seatbelts with allow, Christian reveals to me that Gail and Marilyn are coordinating with our family and friends for a weekend getaway for my birthday. He admits that he wanted to wait until Thursday to tell me, but since it will be F&L he wanted me to have time to plan the menu and coordinate the help that will be available. He knows that I like cooking for F&L myself, but also know that this is going to be a larger group of people than just the Scooby Gang. I try to convince him that I can handle it, but he implores me to please take advantage of the help that will be with us as well as the help we will most likely get from the resort as this is, after all, my birthday. I can’t argue with his logic and agree to take it easy most of the time.

I check in on my projects when I get to the center as well as the families in the dorms and the classes in session in the learning rooms. Christian doesn’t come to Helping Hands that often, so I get a kick out of not only showing him the renovations that hag’s money paid for, but also seeing the poor women at the center swoon and breathe, “Hi, Mr. Grey,” as he passes. He clasps my hand tightly throughout the entire “tour” as it were, trying to let the ladies know that he’s not interested, even though his ingrained manners drive him to speak and be polite. I smile a bit at his calamity and continue with the tour.

Driven to let Grace know that we’re here, we go to her office. It’s been remodeled as she insisted on staying in her office as opposed to moving to one of the bigger ones. At least there’s more room with my and John’s stuff moved to our own offices, and it looks nicer with the new furniture, paint, flooring, and window treatments. When we enter, she’s sitting at her desk working on something. She raises her head and removes her glasses when she sees us, clasping her hands on the desk in front of her.

“Good afternoon, Grace,” I say politely. “I was just looking in on some of my projects and showing Christian around the new facility.” She nods once.

“Ana, Christian,” she says by means of a greeting, more formal than I would like. Christian sighs heavily.

“Mother, how long are you going to give me the cold shoulder?”

“I’m not giving you the cold shoulder, Christian. I’m just very disappointed and I have to get over it, and you have to let me.”

“It was as much my fault as his, Grace,” I chime in, trying to defuse the situation. “I grossly misunderstood what was going on between us and acted very selfishly. Please don’t place all the blame on him.”

“Oh, I don’t. That’s why I’m so disappointed. It’s like I told him. I can’t believe the way you young people hurt each other so badly. It’s like you do and say things without any consideration for the feelings of the other person or for the consequences your actions can bring. Although my son is very strong, he’s also very sensitive. Even though he doesn’t let people see that, I know Christian Grey. I raised Christian Grey. I know that behind that massive physique and that unbreakable façade that there’s still a very scared, scarred, and sensitive little boy in there. What would you have done if he couldn’t forgive you for how you behaved in that restaurant with those men?”

She’s right. I could have lost everything because I wanted a little attention. I maintain that I needed my husband—that I needed his love and support and I felt like he was ignoring me—but that wasn’t the way to get it. Quite frankly, he needed my love and support, too, probably more at that time than I needed his. I drop my head and fight the tears I feel burning my eyes.

“Do you have to be so hard on her?” Christian scolds.

“Oh! This from the man who nearly allowed her to starve to death for several weeks and didn’t even know that it was happening! You couldn’t even be bothered to look at her let alone be concerned about her and the babies. So what’s the thrust here—that you can treat her that way, but nobody else can, right?” Grace is wearing no gloves. Her claws are sharpened and her filter is non-existent. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so raw—except maybe once, at her house when she found out Elena had molested Christian. I’m going to be sick. I’m truly going to be sick.

“Excuse me,” I say before dashing out of the door and sprinting down the hall away from Grace’s office.

“Ana, don’t run!” Christian calls after me. “Charles, don’t let her fall… Mom! Really!?” That’s all I hear before I make it to the restroom.

This is one time I thank God for this ridiculously long hair, because it doesn’t fall into my face or the toilet while I vomit violently. I’m cry bitterly in the toilet. I’m not sure why I’m crying—because Grace was right or because Grace was so harsh. I don’t know, but I cry and cry until I feel like I can fall asleep on the floor.

“Ana! Are you alright?” I hear Chuck call from outside. I try to raise my head, but it hurts too much. Before I can respond that I need help, I hear his voice.

“Butterfly, I’m coming in there,” and I hear the door open. “If anybody’s in here besides my wife, please hide your intimates.” There’s no one else in here, thank God. He finds me in the stall on the floor and immediately goes to the sink. He wets some paper towels and wipes my face and neck. I look up at him and my heart breaks again.

“I’m sorry,” I say through my tears.

“No! No!” he says firmly. “We’ve been through this. We’ve hashed this out. We’re passed it and we’re moving on. Now put your arms around my neck.” I gladly oblige, thankful that he knows I need his help without having to tell him. I enjoy his scent and his strong arms as he carries me to my office. He lays me down on one of the sofas there while sending Chuck off to get me water. He’s kneeling on the floor next to me stroking my hair and looking at me lovingly.

“Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to come and see Grace,” I lament.

“I don’t think she’ll be speaking to me for a while, which is honestly fine by me because I don’t want to speak to her for a while either,” he responds.

“Christian…” I protest lightly.

“Baby, I’m not perfect. I know that. You aren’t either. We accept each other. We understand that. We made some stupid mistakes. We’ve accepted the consequences of them, made amends and moved on. My mother is taking all of the bad that she sees in all of the couples of this generation and she’s putting it on our shoulders because of our mistake. How could she feel that berating us and making us feel any worse than we already do is going to be any more productive than what we did to each other? What’s more, she’s angrier at me for comparing us to her and Carrick than she is about anything else. I’m sure of it. You and I—we love hard, and we’re gonna fight hard. I accept that now. My mother can’t, and I don’t have time to hold her hand through this. I need to be holding yours.”

“But baby, she’s your mother.”

“I understand and appreciate that, but this is our marriage. Until she can understand that and stop wallowing in her own anger, I don’t know what to tell her. I know we fucked up… big! Both of us! I can take her letting me have it. I’ve got a strong chest and broad shoulders. I can’t take her doing that to you—especially after she knew what I had already put you through! No! It’s unacceptable!” He’s getting angry and I don’t like it.

“Okay,” I say, stroking his cheek. “Okay.”

“I want to take you home. I want to plan our wonderful weekend and not think about anything else that’s causing us grief.”

“I’d like that very much,” I whisper. He stands and helps me to my feet, but the moment I try to stand on my own, the room spins.

“That’s it!” He scoops me up in his arms bridal style and I don’t bother to protest. I wrap my arms around his neck and allow him the comfort of carrying me. “Where’s the nearest exit?” He says sharply to Chuck. He starts to lead us towards the back door where I know the car is parked anyway. Over his shoulder, I get a glimpse of Grace sorrowfully watching him carry me away. I can’t be concerned about her right now. I need to be concerned about my husband. I lay my head on his shoulder, caressing his nape with one hand and his chest with the other, silently thanking him for being my knight in shining armor ready to rescue me from all attacks, both foreign and domestic.

*-*

“Oh, Christian, this is beautiful!” I exclaim when he shows me the pictures of the vacation houses at the Suncadia Resort. It’s only about an hour and a half from Seattle and the homes are spectacular—quaintly decorated like my Montana escape, but on a much larger scale. The house we’re staying in has five bedrooms, a large kitchen with an island and granite countertops, a huge great room with glass doors and floor to ceiling windows, an indoor/outdoor fireplace that opens into a huge back porch and deck that spans the back of the house and houses the hot tub. The backyard and fire pit open right into the lush and beautiful pastures and forests. Like I said, it’s just like my Montana cabin, only on a much, much grander scale. Also, there is a connected guest house with full accommodations

“Look at this great room. It’ll be perfect!” I croon. “Will we all be staying in this house? It says that it sleeps 15.”

“It sleeps 15, yes, but not comfortably, so I reserved two more houses almost just like it. Everyone who decides to stay will be comfortable.”

“Did you invite Grace and Carrick?” I ask cautiously.

“I informed my father that they were invited, but it’s completely up to her if they want to come.” I nod. I won’t press the issue.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea, Christian,” I say, curling into his lap and kissing him on the cheek. “Thank you.”

“So, we’ve got the planning out of the way and the invites. It’s still a little early. What would you like to do?”

“Hmm, I want to watch TV,” I tell him.

“TV?” he says, surprised. “We never watch TV.”

“Well, tonight we are. I’ve even managed to procure some popcorn from Gail, you know—the yellow stuff with the butter and you eat it at the movies…”

“I know what popcorn is, Butterfly,” I respond, mocking irritation at her teasing.

“Good. I’ll make the popcorn. You go push whatever magic buttons you have to push to make the television appear and I’ll be in to choose our movie.”

“You’re choosing the movie, too?” he asks.

“Yes, I’m choosing the movie, too. Now, scoot.” He leaves his study and wanders off to the bedroom while I go to the kitchen. Gail has revealed to me where the never-used air popper is and I plug it in. I load it with oil and popcorn and just as I retrieve the bowl from the cabinet, I feel it.

Something’s wrong. I don’t know what, but something’s wrong.

I drop the bowl and it shatters on the floor. I grab my stomach, attempting to hold my babies. God… oh, God… please don’t let anything be wrong with my babies.

The shattering glass brought people from all directions—Christian, Jason, and Gail are all hovering over me in the kitchen.

“Baby, what’s wrong? What’s wrong?” Christian is frantic.

“I don’t know!” I wail, holding my stomach. There it goes again. Oh, God, I’m going to die if I lose my babies!

“Ana, listen to me,” Gail’s voice is calm. “Are you in pain?” I shake my head.

“No. No.” I’m scared. What the hell is happening?

“Listen to me, Ana. I need you to calm down. Are you feeling any cramping or discomfort? Any pressure, pulling?” I shake my head frantically. “None of that?” I’m still shaking my head. “What are you feeling?” I point at my stomach. I don’t know what this is and I’m scared shitless. “Okay, okay, where are you feeling whatever it is you’re feeling?”

“H-here… and he-here… and here…” I’m trying to tell her where the feelings are, but I can’t concentrate.

“May I?” she asks and I nod. What can she tell me? I need to go to the hospital, don’t I? She puts her hands on my stomach and we wait. It seems like forever, but we wait… and it happens again… and again. I jump and start crying again. What it is? Tell me what it is.

“Is that what you felt?” Gail asks and I nod, crying while Christian holds my hand. “Oh, Child,” Gail says, smiling while reaching for Christian’s free hand. She puts it on my stomach and covers it with her own. And there it is again—blam!

“There’s nothing wrong. Your babies are moving!” she says with a wide smile. Christian gasps and falls to his knees, placing both hands on my belly… and they move again.

“That’s what this is?” I ask, still a little horrified.

“Yes, sweetheart,” Gail confirms. “They’re healthy, most likely hungry, and saying ‘hello.’”

“They feel like they’re playing soccer in there,” I whine, trying to calm down. “Why didn’t Mandy tell me about this? Or Dr. Culley?”

“They probably thought you already knew! Nobody told you the babies would move?” Gail questions. Christian is still in his own world with the babies.

“Well, Yeah, but… I thought ‘quiver, shiver, shake,’ I didn’t think ‘bam!’” I sound like a toddler. I look down at Christian and he has laid his head on my belly. His eyes are closed and his hands are still on either side. He looks like he’s floating in ecstasy. The soccer players are still kicking away and his copper curls respond to every jolt. I cup his head on my belly, gently running my fingers through his feather-soft tresses and completely forgetting about my earlier angst. Jason holds Gail close to him as I stroke my husband’s hair and he bonds with our children while kneeling on the kitchen floor.

It took a while, but our two little soccer players finally calmed long enough for Christian to get off the floor and release my stomach. Gail has cleaned the glass for me and made a large bowl of buttered popcorn for us to take to our room and watch the movie. She even suggested two large glasses of cola to make it authentic. I carry the popcorn while Christian carries the sodas back to our room.

After getting comfortable on the bed, I begin searching through the on-demand choices through our satellite provider. Christian has one arm around my waist and the other on our babies while he’s kissing my shoulder.

“You’re remarkable,” he says softly. “You’re growing life inside of you. It’s amazing. Healthy children alive and moving inside of you… inside my wife… my beautiful wife. It’s amazing!” I don’t know how to respond…

“You had a part in this miracle, too,” I say. “These are your children, too.”

“I had the easy part,” he tells me. “I got to make love to the most beautiful woman in the world, and we created life.” He kisses me gently on the lips. “Thank you, Anastasia. I love you so much.”

“I love you, too, Christian,” I breathe. Again, I feel the conviction of what I could have lost with that stunt I pulled with those possible donors. I’m going to feel that burn in my heart for quite some time. It’s good that I am. It will be a constant reminder not to be so careless and selfish in the future. “I want you to know that no matter what happens I will always be with you. Whoever this guy is, whatever he’s after, we’ll catch him—and if we don’t… I will always be with you.” I close my eyes and put my forehead on his.

“Thank you, baby,” he says. “I won’t let you down, and I will always be by your side. Don’t ever forget that.” We kiss again and seal our promise to one another. “Now, what do you have in store for me?” I search the menu and, finding what I am looking for, I choose my movie.

Pocahontas!” he laughs. I smile and nod. “Grandmother Willow?”

“Grandmother Willow,” I confirm as I reach for the popcorn.

*-*

The beans have now decided that they like to wake Mommy up in the middle of the night with a rousing game of soccer for their adoring fans. Like clockwork, somewhere around two or three in the morning, they’re taking off down the field headed for the goal… and I’m wide awake. The first two nights, Christian slept through it and I sat up until they calmed down and then crawled back into bed with Christian. By Wednesday night, they were having none of it.

“Please, Beans, please settle down. Mommy is so tired,” I whine quietly. I’m lying on the chaise in our bedroom, rubbing my stomach and trying not to wake Christian. They calm down for a moment and I feel myself slipping back into slumber, too tired to move back to the bed. Just when it feels like I’m going to fall asleep, one of them starts kicking again, which causes the other to kick since they’re in such close quarters.

“Oooohhhh, the game is on,” I lament rubbing my face and feeling completely forlorn.

“Well, that answers my question.” I’m too tired to lift my head to confirm that my husband is now awake and standing behind me. “I was going to ask what you were doing over here until I saw that you were asleep, or I thought you were asleep. The beans are busy, I take it.”

“Every night this week,” I say, and I almost want to cry because I’m so tired.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he asks concerned.

“Because the first two nights, they were just a little restless and then they calmed down and I could go right back to sleep. Tonight, they just won’t settle.”

“Maybe they’re getting you prepared for the 2am feedings,” he says, before sitting behind me. “Listen, baby. When they wake you up in the middle of the night, you need to wake me up, too. There’s going to be two of them and you’re going to need help… okay?” I nod, but what about tonight? He stands and holds his hand out to me. “Let’s see if we can get these babies back to sleep.”

I take his hand and he leads me back to bed. After tucking me in, he slides down the bed so that his face is right next to the two little soccer players.

“Hello in there,” he says sweetly in his cool, baritone voice. The beans respond immediately. “This is your dad. You may not have heard a lot from me before, but you’re going to hear a lot from me now. This is not a good time to keep your mom awake, so I really need the two of you to settle down so that she can get some sleep.” He rubs my belly sweetly and they appear to be settling. The little traitors! I’ve been rubbing them for what seems like hours!

“Once upon a time, a long, long, time ago. There was this guy and his name was John Smith. He was about to get on a big ship and sail across the ocean to the new world. Now, to us, it ain’t so new, because it’s America, but back then, it hadn’t been discovered by the English, yet, so it was called he New World.” John Smith… he’s telling the beans the story of Pocahontas. I listen as he recites the cartoon to the best of his ability, his recitation as incorrect from the cartoon as the cartoon is from actual history. I fall asleep that night just as he is giving a detailed description of Grandmother Willow.

“A beautiful flowing willow tree placed on the edge of the river so that her roots planted firmly in the soil, but her branches flowed over the river’s edge creating a cocoon. She has a kind face melded into the tree’s sturdy bark and a sweet and comforting voice that bestows wisdom upon those fortunate enough to seek her counsel. Today’s lucky pupil is a young native called Pocahontas. She is a petite thing with lovely eyes and long, dark hair—very energetic and strong-willed, beautiful and freethinking, just like your mother…”

*-*

Gail and I had a wonderful time Thursday planning the menu for the party. Christian has secured two more cooks and a couple of servers to help out with the party as he’s certain that I will overdo it if he doesn’t insist that I have help. He’s right, of course.

Benardino “Barney” DiPignano AFTER his transformation

We load up the SUV’s on Friday morning and head to Roslyn, Washington. Christian, Gail and I ride with Jason and Chuck while Ben and Chance drive the SUV loaded with our luggage and food. During the ride, Christian tells me about the progress in Operation Wonder Asshole, as he calls it and lets me know that Barney is now DiPignano at his own request. He corrected me on Barney’s shrinking and informed me that DiPignano has shed his glasses and now wears suits and ties to work. According to Christian, he now looks more like a GQ model and, as it turns out, is “one cocky son-of-a-bitch.”

I never would have pegged him for cocky. He’s always been so sweet and polite. I mean, sure, he almost accused me of sabotaging Christian’s company, but that’s only because he was reading a computer program that was reading everyone’s faces in the room and he didn’t have all the information. I took it personally at first, but only because I was so sensitive about the whole thing. Once I realized what was going on, I completely understood his conclusions. He did clear me after all. I would like to think this whole thing doesn’t have anything to do with me, but I know better.

About an hour and a half east of Seattle in the beautiful hilly terrain is the Suncadia Resort. The vacation houses that Christian rented are actually beautiful luxury homes on a private cul-de-sac just outside of the resort. The three homes we rented are all together and the only homes on this cul-de-sac. Gail and I explore the house and the grounds while the men empty the SUV’s.

It’s even more beautiful than it was in the pictures. The great room has plenty of space to host our little party and there are so many rooms that everyone could have stayed here if they wanted. Christian was right on comfort issue as some of them would have had to sleep in bunk beds hidden in the trestle between the main house and the guest house. The backyards of all three houses open into the forest and the golf course. It’s really very beautiful and peaceful here and for one weekend, I get to forget about hackers and people looking to destroy my husband’s legacy and tear our family apart.

The two soccer players are extremely busy today with Mommy running to and fro setting things up for the party and preparing all of my favorite dishes—well, supervising the preparation of all my favorite dishes, anyway, in a beautiful gourmet kitchen. Mr. Grey has scolded me several times not to overdo it, so I’m forced to take it easy and delegate a lot of the duties. I can do that as long as these bimbos keep their eye on the food and off my husband. One of them ruined the bruschetta for staring at Christian. How do you ruin bruschetta? When the second tray of baguettes comes out overly browned and too hard to use, I just lose it.

“Baby, it’s okay. I’ll send Jason or Charles for more bread,” Christian says trying to appease me. She’s standing there with her head down and her hands clasped in front of her, looking all bruised like I’m some pampered wife abusing her over French bread.

“That’s not it, Christian,” I tell him while she’s standing there. “I can make my own bruschetta without a problem. It takes a minute or two to slice the baguettes, five minutes to brown and brush the bread, a few minutes to put the tomato and basil topping on and they’re done. She burned two loaves of French bread because she’s busy looking at you.”

Christian looks over at the blonde hussy who has the nerve to flutter her eyelashes at him while I’m standing there. Without another word, he pulls out his phone, calls up to the resort and asks if there’s someone else that can come to the house and help with the party preparations as the person they sent is so busy flirting with the host that she’s burning the food. She looks utterly crestfallen when Christian has Ben sit in the great room with her while we wait for her replacement to come. When her replacement arrives, a manager arrives with him.

Him… Christian is not pleased.

“I’m very sorry for the inconvenience, Mr. Grey,” the manager says. “I’ve provided four fresh loaves of French bread to replace the loaves Henrietta ruined.”

“Thank you,” I say, taking the French bread and going right to the kitchen. I don’t even want to be a part of the discussion. I don’t care if Henrietta leaves, the guy leaves, or they both leave. Christian is the one that wanted to hire help for today and I can’t even get someone to help me cook that won’t flirt with my husband. I’m just finishing slicing the first batch of baguettes when the young man comes into the kitchen. I guess it’s decided that he’s staying.

“Where do you need me, Ma’am?” he asks. I sigh.

“Please brush the oil onto these slices and put the in the oven for five minutes.” I stress the five so that I don’t get more burned bruschetta!

“Baby, you can let them handle it from here…” Christian tries to get me out of the kitchen.

“I’ll leave when my baguettes are browned,” I tell him firmly. “I agreed not to overdo it, Christian, but this is part of the fun of Food and Libations for me, and she almost ruined it. Burned French bread…” I say the last part with disgust under my breath. After a few minutes, Gail breaks the tension with her announcement.

“Well, you’ll be happy to know that the potatoes are finished and they are perfect!” Gail presents a large tray of our signature cheesy garlic smashed potatoes and they look utterly divine. My heart is a little lighter seeing her beautiful crusted creation and I smile widely.

“Thank you, Gail,” I say, actually getting a little misty. Am I really going to cry over potatoes?

“Okay, that’s it. I want you out of here, now. Gail, I trust you to make sure that everything is prepared to Ana’s specifications. I’m taking her to the deck for some not-so-public displays of affection,” Christian is dragging me from the kitchen.

“My baguettes!” I protest.

“Are browned perfectly, ma’am,” the young man shows me a tray of beautifully browned French bread. “I’ll make sure the other batch is exactly the same.” A tear falls from my eye.

“Thank you,” I whimper. He frowns.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. Did I do something wrong?”

“It’s not you,” Christian says. “It’s the babies.” He tucks me under his arm and leads me to a large chair on the back deck. Sitting down in the seat, he guides me to his lap and places a large Afghan over both of us. I weep a bit on his shoulder and when the sniffling is done, he places tender kisses on my cheek and neck that soon become more intimate and passionate. Before I know it, we’re necking like two teenagers. He can kiss so well. He’s rubbing my back and my thighs, my hips while I’m caressing his chest and his face. We kiss until our lips are numb and I feel much better about letting Gail carry on with the cooking.

I don’t know how much time has passed with me and my husband on the deck lost in each other’s kiss, but we soon decide that we should get ready for the party. I haven’t spent any real time with my friends for a while and I’ll be glad to see them all and catch up on what’s been going on in their lives.


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

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Love and Handcuffs!
Lynn x