Raising Grey: Chapter 86—Going Soft?

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

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

Chapter 86—Going Soft?

CHRISTIAN

Butterfly agrees that Wednesday is a good day for us to meet with the godparents of our children to solidify our plans for the twins. She’ll talk to Valerie since I’ve already told Al. In the meantime, I’m back in my glass and steel fortress about to let some folks have it.

I’m sitting in the usual department head meeting, putting together some thoughts concerning the four people at the center of my ire. While I’ve been sitting here, I’ve listened to discussions about shipments of supplies to some of our warehouses that had to be rescheduled because the shipping dock simply misplaced the materials, resulting in a horrible delay of delivery of product to our end users; a fire in one of our buildings on the east coast that resulted in injuries; and an extremely costly error with one of our pharmaceutical subsidiaries that could result in a lawsuit.

While I’m sitting here quietly fuming at our shipping, quality, and safety teams and waiting to hear what the plan of action is to keep these situations from becoming international incidents, one of the department heads from some department is expounding on some question that Lorenz has asked about something. I half-heartedly pretend to listen and jot down notes in my ledger—something I never do—when I decide that I’ve heard enough of the useless rambling. I have a shift in my seat that I do that signals the person speaking that they should wrap it up soon.

“What’s the progress with SEEKNID 1.0?” I ask casually once I hear that the discussion about… whatever it was… has ended. I hear throats clearing but no answers. So, I raise my gaze to my R&D department head. “Mr. Hammond, was my question unclear?” He clears his throat and rubs his eyes.

“No, sir, your question was clear,” he replies, his voice tired. I narrow my gaze at him.

“Well?” I hiss, waiting for an answer.

“I… haven’t had a chance to review it, sir,” he says. My brow furrows and I look over at my wife, who shrugs, before I look back at Hammond.

“What do you mean you haven’t had a chance to review it?” I ask. “I sent an email requesting immediate research and testing on Tuesday… while I was still on vacation with my wife.”

“I sent one as well,” Butterfly chimes in, “wanting to know why it was taking so long for the project to be initiated.” I look over at her.

“You sent one, too?” I ask. She nods.

“I questioned the delay of a very important product both to GEH and the industry and requested additional information on the normal timeline concerning the processing of a project from presentation to production. I never received a response.”

“To whom did you send this email?” I ask frostily.

“I did a blanket reply to all of the people on the original email that you sent out… even you. Maybe I did something wrong,” she says. All heads know that I’m now going to go in search of this email, because if I received it, their asses received it, too. I may not look for an email from my wife because I’m with her every day and she can just tell me what’s up… or text me. As soon as I swipe the screen of my phone, people start speaking up.

“I received that email, Dr. Grey,” Ros says. “I’m sorry I didn’t respond. I made the error of thinking that one of the heads closer to the project with more detailed information would provide an explanation for you. I apologize for that oversight on my part…”

“Same here,” Lorenz excuses. “Granted, I wouldn’t have had the immediate information that you needed, but I—or someone—should have responded to your email. I hope you’ll excuse the oversight.”

“It’s an oversight on your part because you and Ros have an entire company to run,” Butterfly says as I’m searching for her email. “I appreciate the acknowledgement and hope that in the future, I can expect a response to an email when I send it. ‘I don’t know, let me find out for you’ is a perfectly good response. It’s just very disheartening feeling like I’m being ignored.”

“Understood, Dr. Grey,” Lorenz replies. “Thank you for understanding.” My wife nods just as I find her email that she sent minutes after I sent the email to my chief officers, Barney, Hammond, and R&D.

“That explains why my company heads didn’t respond. However, in this instance, I can understand why they would have expected the experts in the area to have said something.” I turn to the people who would normally have their hands on the pulse of the situation… or who should, that is.

“I have no excuse, sir,” Barney says, his response a mixture of unapologetic but humble, if that’s possible. “I have quite a few irons in the fire in IT and since the product hadn’t made its way through R&D yet, there’s really nothing I could do with it at this time. I apologize, too, An… Dr. Grey, for not at least responding to your email. Please charge it to too many balls in the air and not disrespect, ma’am,” Barney finishes, and I can see my wife cringing inwardly at the ma’am sentiment.

“So, that leaves my $15-million R&D department,” I say, turning back to Hammond and the man sitting next to him. “We’re all waiting for you, gentlemen. Was my executive and IT staff supposed to respond to these emails that were clearly in your court and control?”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Hammond says a bit half-heartedly. “I just saw the email this morning before I came to the meeting. I didn’t have a chance to look into the matter thoroughly.”

“This morning?” I frown. “Why did it take so long?”

“I’ve been in the hospital, sir,” he says. “I was just released yesterday. I had a severe upper respiratory infection.” I glare at him. Is this fucker contagious? “It’s cleared up now, sir,” he adds, reading my thoughts. “I’m just still a little weak from the illness.”

“How long were you hospitalized?” I ask.

“Twelve days, sir,” he replies. Shit! That was some infection!

“And who is your second in command?” His eyes widen and I see the guy sitting next to him suddenly get fidgety.

“I take responsibility, sir,” Hammond says, “I should have left stricter instructions…

“That’s admirable of you,” I interrupt. “But I sent instructions to the team to get going on this last week while I was on vacation and you were hospitalized recovering from a severe infection. Now, who. Was your second. In command?” He sighs heavily and drops his gaze.

“Nathan Burgess, sir,” he says without making eye-contact. I look over at the sweating worm next to him.

“I take it you’re Nathan Burgess,” I say, watching the man’s forehead become shinier and shinier.

“Yes, sir,” he squeaks then clears his throat. I lean back in my seat.

“Let me ask a question to all people within earshot… Should I call an ear, nose, and throat specialist in to have you all examined?” I bark, and everyone suddenly sits up straight. “I’m sure that I made the announcement months ago that Dr. Anastasia Grey is 50% owner of this company and you all are still treating her like a goddamn outsider! Don’t you all realize that with or without my authorization, she has the power to fire any and everyone in this room? And she can’t even get a response to a goddamn email?”

I see my wife squirm infinitesimally, then plaster an impassive expression on her face.

“A week goes by and she couldn’t get a specific answer to a specific question that she asked and all I’m getting is a bunch of ‘I’m sorry’s,’ but what’s more, did you all suffer from fingerous brokitis? Because no one responded to me, either!”

The looks of discomfort that everyone donned moments ago have now been replaced by expressions of horror. This lets me know that even after this last announcement, they still won’t regard my wife as 50% owner of this company.

“I sent an email to at least five people within the sound of my voice and to the research and development team a week ago, and not one person thought it might have been important to stick your head in the door and ask, ‘Hey, what’s going on with the thing Mr. Grey asked about?’ Not one of you? None of you?”

Now even my executive staff is looking a little green in the face, as they should. I sent this email out to several people, because I expected if one person didn’t see to the situation, someone else would have. I didn’t send that information out for show. Even my wife had the good sense to respond and acknowledge the email and none of these highly-paid assholes thought they should even bother?

Even though Hammond knows that he’s off the hook for this situation because he was sick in the hospital, he still shrinks in his chair. That only makes me more pissed at this Burgess fucker.

“And you,” I say, focusing my attention on him, “if anyone was at the root of finding out where this project stood, it’s you, because your boss was out sick. Tell me, did you not see the emails?” He’s so scared right now, he could shit his pants.

“I… um… I remember… seeing the reports on… the projects we were working on…”

“It’s a simple question, Mr. Burgess,” I interrupt this stuttering fool. “Did you see the emails?”

“I… I think… I may have seen the email from you, sir,” he stutters.

“So, you did see one of the emails,” I confirm, and he nods. “And not only did you not see fit to respond, but you also don’t have any information about the content.”

“I was trying to get some information for you, sir,” he excuses. “I didn’t want to respond without at least having some kind of input…”

“So, you didn’t respond at all,” I interrupt. “Nothing.” And I get no response. “To add to that, you knew that you were the one in charge when the command came down, and you sat there quietly willing to allow your boss to take the wrap.”

“No, sir,” he interjects, “that… I wasn’t…”

“You all. Are getting. Sloppy,” I say, my voice threatening. “I lighten up on you for a minute and you act like you don’t remember who the fuck I am. Do I need to go back to being that iron-fisted fucker I was before I met the love of my life for you slackers to remember that I will fire you at a sneeze? Did you all conveniently forget all the crazy shit that I and my family have been going through? Shit that’s been plastered all over the goddamn news? You idiots are in charge! I trust you to run my company when I’m not here! Did I make the wrong decisions? Should I be coming in here taking my frustrations out on you? Or do I need to babysit each one of you fuckers to make sure the work is getting done? If I must do that, why the fuck do I need any of you?

“Two years ago, I told you all that I didn’t become who I am today by turning a blind eye to weaknesses in my company. You didn’t believe me then, but you better fucking well believe me now. I will be revisiting those protocols that were put in place at the last company-wide review. Anybody who I find lacking will find themselves immediately on the block. Depending on the severity of the situation, that means one of two things. First, your position may immediately become interim. This means that you will have to reapply for your position, and I personally will decide based on your qualifications and the talent pool if you get to keep your job or find yourself replaced—sound familiar?

“The second outcome is that your performance has shown no improvement in your department since the last protocol review or you have fucked up so tremendously that you just lose your job. I will be completely within my rights because with the exception of two or three departments that have new heads, you have been given two years to get your acts together and put your best foot forward. If I discover that you’re still doing the same haphazard, lackadaisical work that you were doing at the last protocol review, I’m getting rid of your ass.

“And make no mistake, this will not be a review of what you’ve done in the last couple of months. There’s nothing you can do in the next week or so that can repair the shabby ass job you’ve already done, if that’s the case. So, don’t bother putting any extra credit projects on the hopper or searching for a scapegoat, because it’s not going to help you.

“Mr. Burgess,” I say, turning my attention to the second man in charge of R&D, “effective immediately, you are being placed on administrative leave without pay for a period of three weeks. I have documentation from both owners of this company specifically asking about a program that should have been in production months ago.

“Although you may not have seen the email from Dr. Grey, you admit that you saw the email from me and a week later, you haven’t even pulled this extremely important and potentially profitable project off the shelf yet. I promised the developer that we would have some information for him, and you have nothing for me to give him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled the project away from us since our company apparently doesn’t want it!

“Your position will be under review as well and the only reason you’re not being fired is because I don’t think you disobeyed a direct order. I just think you’re being sloppy, and you dropped the fucking ball, which is almost just as bad by the way. I’m running a multi-billion-dollar company with holdings and subsidiaries worldwide. I don’t have time to micro-manage and I can’t afford for anybody to be sloppy.

“Hopefully, three weeks without pay and a bit of uncertainty about your future will help to alleviate that situation. After your three-week administrative leave, I and Dr. Grey will have reviewed the departments and you will be notified if you do or do not still have a job.

“Mr. Hammond, I want a preliminary report on the SEEKNID software in my email within three days, and cc Dr. Grey’s company email with those findings as well. Don’t rush and don’t fuck this up, Mr. Hammond. A preliminary report shouldn’t be too difficult to generate. If you have questions, contact James Forsythe-Fleming directly. His contact information is in the project file.” I stand to my feet and turn to my wife.

“Is there anything you’d like to add?” I ask.

“No, I think you’ve covered it quite thoroughly,” she replies, crossing her legs. I turn back to the department heads in the conference room.

“You’re dismissed,” I tell them. They begin to scramble out of the office, and I gesture to Jason to handle Burgess. He nods once and walks out the door behind Burgess. Ros and Lorenz stay behind and everyone else leaves the room.

“So,” Ros begins, “does this mean that Finney and I are under review as well?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I say, taking my seat. “I work closely with you two every day. I’m very well acquainted with your job performance, although I do expect you to treat an email from my wife as if it was an email from me.” They glance at each other. “Is that a problem?”

“No, of course not,” Lorenz says. “Again, Dr. Grey, my apologies for not responding.”

“Accepted,” Butterfly says softly, “and when it’s just us, I prefer Ana if you don’t mind.” Lorenz nods.

“And what about legal?” Ros asks.

“What about legal? I retort, my brow furrowed.

“Will legal undergo the review that the other departments are being subjected to?” I know what she’s asking.

“As a matter of fact, it will not,” I say finitely. “Much like you and Lorenz, I work with my head of legal nearly every day. I have had no problems from my legal department and as such, I’m not in the habit of fixin’ what ain’t broke. And in case you’re wondering, my accounting department won’t be subjected to that protocol review either as they already undergo an audit annually. Are there any other departments that you have questions about?”

“I’m not trying to start a fight, Christian,” Ros says. “It’s just that you know what they’re saying about your head of legal since he is your wife’s best friend.” Butterfly sits up straight and glares at Ros, who doesn’t return her gaze.

“I hired Allen Fleming-Forsythe because he is very fucking good at what he does, not because he’s my wife’s best friend. And those people that you’re talking about, tell them to get their Doctor of Jurisprudence Degree, and then maybe they can say something!”

Ros shrinks a bit in her chair at the same time that Butterfly leaps from hers.

“Baby…” I say, trying to halt her escape.

“I’m going back to the Center,” she says, retrieving her purse.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“Darling, they’re never going to revere me as you—none of them,” she says. “Some of them will get it in their heads that they need to respect me. Others will resent me. Still others will try to fuck you while I watch,” she says disdainfully, and I know she’s talking about that little trick from the new projects meeting a few weeks ago. “But they’ll never ever treat me like they treat you. It’s simply not going to happen.

“Your best friend is your bodyguard, but nobody’s asking if our security is going through an overhaul, just legal. You want them to treat me like you because you hold their destinies in your hand, but that’s simply not going to happen. They can’t wrap their heads around someone else wielding your omnipotent power. So, there will be sometimes when I’ll be able to take the reins with some people, and sometimes when I definitely won’t. You trying to shove it down their throats is just going to cause them to question and resent me, even at the risk of their jobs. It’s that simple.”

Without another word or any malice, she puts her purse on her shoulder and strolls out of the conference room, Chuck silently falling in step behind her. Ros and Lorenz have a silent conversation—again—which is really starting to piss me off. I thrust my hands in my hair, close my eyes, and begin to count.

She’s right. They’re never going to revere her like me. My two executive heads—or at least one of them—just proved that. We had a goddamn mole in the building for three years that everyone was certain that I fast-tracked through the system without even so much as an actual word from me, but I can’t openly hire an extremely qualified head of legal without being questioned about nepotism because he’s my wife’s best friend.

I don’t know if I really wanted them to revere her like me, though. At the most, I want them to respect her and recognize her authority, but it appears that I can’t even get one of them to do that until I get my hairs up. Then, they respect her for the moment and it’s back to business as fucking usual.

Dear God, I’m trying so hard to temper the new husband and family man with the hard-as-stone businessman, but it’s damn near impossible to be those two people. I was always the cold-hearted, unfeeling asshole everywhere I went—business and professional—and people sat up and paid attention; never questioned my judgement or authority. I need to get that back, but fuck if I’m going back to being that asshole that I was before…

“Christian?”

Ros’s voice breaks into my thoughts and the darkness behind my closed eyes. Without realizing that I was still counting, I now notice that I’ve gotten somewhere in the 300’s. I hope I was counting quickly.

“You can go now,” I say without opening my eyes.

“Christian, I…”

“I need. You to leave,” I hear myself nearly growling. After a brief pause, I hear the two of them stand and leave the room. I don’t know how many more minutes I stand there before I head to my office.

“Has Holstein called today?” I ask Andrea as I pass her desk.

“Twice,” she says. “He’s on hold as we speak.” I nod.

“Get Welch and Shaler in here…”

“The smoke is rising quickly on the internet,” Josh says once he and Alex are seated in my office. “All it takes is a rumor to get the fire going online. By the end of the week, if that, there will be quite a few high-powered people with ruffled feathers from nothing but a little innuendo.”

“Good, and what can we do with Holstein by the end of the week?” I ask Welch. He looks over at Joshua. “Nothing drastic,” I add. The real hell will come later.

“We’ve got a few things in the hopper for him,” Alex says, revealing nothing. “We’ve already got great information on him. It appears that our dear warden has been a very bad boy as of late.” I raise my brow.

“Excellent,” I say, turning back to Joshua. “How long before the average reader will be able to see the smokescreen?”

“Keep your eyes on the regular news outlets. When you see it, everybody else will, too.” I nod and look at the screen just to my left scrolling the NASDAQ and NYSE for selected stocks.

Kavanaugh Media has dropped significantly in the last week and still dropping, and that asshole is still holding out. Well, good luck to you.

“Start to sprinkle some inconvenience on Holstein,” I instruct Alex. “I want him jittery as fuck. If I know the kind of people he’s pissed off like I think I do, he’s going to be getting it from so many different directions that he’s not going to know where it’s coming from first.” Alex nods and I turn to Josh. “Any new news for me?” I ask him. He shakes his head.

“Not since yesterday,” he replies.

“Well, good work so far,” I comment. “Keep it up.” He stands, taking his cue to leave.

“Thank you, sir. You know where to find me,” and he leaves. I turn to Alex.

“Ellison and Lincoln,” I say after flipping the switch on the scrambler.

“We’ve of course put a tracker on Ellison’s car, but we expect her to get wise to that pretty soon. She has another… partner who requires her to carry a specific cell phone everywhere she goes…”

“How did you find that out?” I ask with a frown. He just twists his lips and cocks his head at me.

“I mean…” I stutter, then sigh. “I did this shit for years. Can people find out this crap about me?”

“Your operation was a whole lot more Mission Impossible than a lot of these amateurs out here,” he says, and yet another Mission Impossible reference. “She went to see Lincoln yesterday and was forced to leave said phone at the guard’s desk… with one of my colleagues. It’s being tracked as we speak, along with the small device that has been placed on her car. We figure that no matter what disguise she wears, she has to either carry that phone, drive that car, or both.”

“Have we found out anything else on her besides who she’s playing with and that she can disguise herself to be anybody?”

“Nothing much, except that her Dom likes to watch.” I frown. That’s one thing that I could never get into—watching my women with someone else. I’m too damn possessive for that shit… and I immediately think of Butterfly leaving my office a little while ago.

“Can we use that to our advantage at all?” I ask.

“We will,” he says, “when it’s time for the confrontation. For now, we’re watching her every move and trying to get as much information as we can on that book, and if there’s a plan of action if she doesn’t publish or check in with anybody.” I don’t react. I know what he’s getting at and I don’t want to admit that I anticipate the day that Greta Ellison is no longer a blip on my radar.

Butterfly has arrived at the Center by now. I wonder what she’s doing?

“And Lincoln?” I say, trying to keep my mind on the matter at hand. “What’s the word on her since she’s obviously still visiting with her ghost writer?”

“I still have friends in low places,” Alex says. “Lincoln’s life can become ‘uncomfortable’ as soon as you say the word…”

“’The word,’” I reply sarcastically, and he nods. It seems that I should have never gone through Holstein in the first place to get what I needed. I should have just kept the job in-house. Hell, I don’t know the ins and outs of this kind of thing anyway.

“How uncomfortable do you want her to be?”

Very!” I say before I think about it, “but not yet. Just uncomfortable enough for now… enough to know that something’s not quite right. Shit Holstein can’t prevent, right?”

“Shit Holstein won’t even know about,” Alex confirms.

“She could tell him,” I warn.

“She could, but by the time she realizes that she’s targeted, he’ll have his own problems to contend with. He won’t know which way is up with all the people that’ll be pissed at him by the time Josh’s plan is put into action. He’ll be clawing and begging for vacation time by the end of the week from the publicity alone.”

This is good news. I’m so sick of bullshit, I could literally scream. I actually just want to go home and daydream about our trip to Australia and all the fun and sex that we had… the wines we tasted, karaoke and game night, and deciding that we’ll begin BDSM training this weekend…

“Still with me, sir?” Alex’s voice breaks in, and my visions of butterflies leave my head.

“Yeah, I’m still here…” just barely.

“Thinking about the meeting?” he asks.

“Amongst other things, yes,” I admit. “I have no idea how my life became such a mess.”

“There are several answers to that question, sir.” I glare at him.

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” I snap.

“Simply that it depends on which question you’re asking. How did your life become such a mess… from which point of view? As a child? We know the answer to that. As a teenager? We’re fighting that demon right now. As a man, same demon, only she had you believing that you were in charge when she was actually the one in charge all the time.”

“How the fuck did you know that?” I bark.

“We all knew it,” he replies. “You were the only one who didn’t. Now, you’re a husband and a father, and that’s the real fucking mess.”

“Are you trying to get fucked up? And fired? In that order?” I threaten. He shrugs unfazed.

“You asked a question. I’m just answering it,” he replies. “Love is the messiest situation you’ll ever encounter in your life, and I don’t have to ever have been in love to know that. You had a nice little plan of things, a place for everything and everything in its place, including each of your Jennifer Love Hewitt wannabes. And then along comes this 5’3” fireball and knocks you right out of your Cesare Paciottis and onto your billion-dollar ass. There was nothing clean and tidy in the world about that transition. You fell instantly, and then she got kidnapped—what—two weeks after you sealed the deal?”

“Something like that,” I mumble.

“The next year of her life plays out in the press with you as nothing more than honorable mention in several of the headlines. Then you spend more money than you’ve ever spent on any one purchase in your life except your penthouse maybe—notwithstanding your business acquisitions—to marry her in a castle, to let the world know that the infamous Christian Grey is finally off the market. You take an ass beating like I’ve never seen you take since the day I met you to prove that you’re worthy of her love, and you went soft in that fight…”

“I did not fucking go soft!” I interject, ready to leap at the fucker.

“Yes, you did,” he retorts unapologetically. “You could have flattened that fucker in three hits, and you know it. I know him. I know his skill. And I know that he could have done the same thing, but he wanted to beat your ass and leave a mark, and that’s exactly what he did. He landed your ass in the hospital. You couldn’t see. You had to have your teeth wired. You were unrecognizable. He won! But you… you were worried about what Butterfly would say if you laid him out; how she would react if you sent her father’s best friend home out cold in five seconds. At the same time, you wanted to teach that fucker a lesson, but you wanted to play fair. Ain’t shit fair in love and war and this was both, and you conveniently forgot that, but you want to stand there and tell me that this shit ain’t messy? Seriously?

“You want to know what’s going on with your business? You’re going soft. People can see you going soft. You’ve found love and it’s the most beautiful, life-changing thing in the world, but that’s what it’s doing—it’s changing your life, and people can see that. Why do you think that Spanish asshole thought he could pull that shit over your eyes? Why Fairlane LTD sold you a poison pill? Why the Pussy DJ, as you affectionately call him, tried to drag that shit out as far as he could? Why two ex-submissives and one wannabe felt like they could push limits they knew would set you off? One is back to being afraid of you, one is more afraid of Ana than of you, and one isn’t afraid of either one of you.

“The old Christian Grey would have had each one of those bitches crushed under his heel. The new Christian Grey—the husband and father—is soft, and that’s a good thing when it comes down to your wife and family, but not a good thing when it comes to your business and dealing with your adversaries. You even showed that today. Two years ago, that guy from R&D, Burgess, would have been out on his ass. You put him on administrative leave. You gave him and everybody in that room hope when you should have struck fear into them. You’re in a cutthroat business and you’re turning into a teddy bear. So far, the most Christian Grey thing I’ve seen you do is go after Lincoln and her crew of Merry Men.

“Christian Grey gives half his empire to a woman? Any woman? Everybody everywhere is wondering what the fuck is going on. You have to figure out what you’re going to do here, sir, because what it looks like you’re doing is giving the reins to everyone else—Ros, Finney, your wife—while you sit back and watch. Of course, no one is worried about showing your wife Christian Grey respect. They’re not even showing you that respect right now. Nobody responded to your email? Seriously? You don’t find that strange?”

Shit. Shit, shit, fucking shit, fucking hell, shit. Having that anvil hit me in the face is the most painful and shocking thing I’ve felt since Pops died. Even more shocking than finding my wife locked in a gaze with another man, and that says a lot! Besides Lincoln, my biggest concern these days is trying not to curse around the twins.

“I’m going soft,” I say.

“You’re going soft,” Alex confirms. “You built this empire with a ‘take no prisoners’ attitude. You’re not going to be able to maintain its momentum being ‘father of the year.’ You’re going to have to choose one or be satisfied with a compromise… and all the drawbacks that come along with that.”

My company and my family are the two single most important things in my life, and my head of security is telling me that I have to choose between them? That’s not possible. There has to be a compromise that doesn’t leave me looking like a pussy.

“Get started on our prison posse,” I tell him. “I’ve got some things to ponder.”

Once Alex goes and I’m in the office alone, I give some serious thought to the man that I used to be. He was a real fucking asshole—in and out of the office. I didn’t have to be one person during the day and another at night and on weekends. I was just Christian fucking Grey, striking fear and reverence into businessmen and submissives everywhere. Now, I have to prove that I’m not a pussy without ostracizing my wife or mistreating my family. How the fuck am I supposed to do that?

My thoughts are interrupted by my cell phone buzzing in my pocket. I’ve been standing at the window pondering my situation for I don’t know how long, but the call is coming from inside GEH. What the…?

“Grey,” I say answering the phone.

“Sir, it’s Alex. I don’t have time to explain, but I think you should get down to Helping Hands right now!


ANASTASIA

I’ve had enough of trying to be Mrs. GEH. If those fuckers don’t want to acknowledge my authority, so be it. And why would they? Christian’s been at the helm of that company for more than a decade, then I show up with a marriage license and a minor degree trying to throw my weight around and take over. No thanks. If the day comes where I have to take the reins of GEH—and I truly hope that day never comes—then I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. In the meantime, Christian can have it. I’m done locking horns with people who don’t think I should be there.

Courtney is filling in as well as can be expected for Marilyn, but I do still miss her, as a PA and a friend. I’m still not very comfortable at the Center right now. I want to make the executive decisions that need to be made, but I’m in constant concern that Grace’s instincts will somehow undermine whatever decisions I make. I make a list of everything we need to go over—which is nearly everything since I no longer want to make any final decisions on my own. Geez, why am I even here? I’m nothing more than a middleman at this point.

I’m lamenting my situation when a knock at my open office door causes me to raise my head. Speak of the devil…

“If you have a moment,” Grace says in a formal tone. I gesture to the chairs in front of my desk, inviting her to sit. She takes a seat and for some reason, I immediately prepare myself for a showdown.

“I’ve given it some thought,” she says, her hands in her lap. “You shouldn’t leave Helping Hands… I should.”

Okay… I certainly wasn’t expecting that! I frown.

“What?” I say, surprised.

“I’m a figurehead, Ana,” she says. “You’re the voice. You’re the face. You’re doing all the work. We’re starting classes because of you. We’re getting more donations and attention than ever because of you. We got past that whole thing with Gloria and the licensing board because of you and it nearly cost you everything. Helping Hands cannot afford to lose you. It would be the worst thing that could happen to this organization.”

“Grace, I can’t run this place alone… or full-time. I’ve got twin babies at home. I quit my practice just so that I could work here part-time. Did you forget that?”

“No, I haven’t forgotten that,” she says. “There’s no reason why you couldn’t remain part-time with the right person in the position as assistant director… or as director if you choose to remain the assistant. I think… I think I’ve truly damaged the professional relationship too much and we just can’t be effective if we’re here together.”

I won’t deny that the professional relationship is terribly damaged, but it’s more than that.

“Here’s the thing,” I begin. “You and I being here together is not the problem. It never has been the problem. We’ve bumped heads before. We’ve had disagreements before. We’ll have them again. The issue—the very big issue—is you disregarding my professional opinion and authority.

“It’s like you take temporary leave of your senses, and you’re a doctor, Grace. It’s not like you don’t understand the importance of confidentiality and trust in a doctor/patient relationship.”

“That’s not how I saw this,” she defends. “You and Courtney are friends. Addie is my friend. We’ve been friends for decades. I wasn’t stepping on your professional toes! You were looking out for your friend and I was looking out for mine!”

“I made it clear to you that our relationship was personal and professional! If you didn’t know that, then it’s because you ignored me—not because you weren’t informed. And that brings to light yet another very vital piece of information. You felt like your friendship with Adelaide was more important than my friendship with Courtney. And if my relationship with her was destroyed, that was fine as long as you got what you wanted. So, basically, what you’re telling me is that what you did wasn’t just a bad judgment call—it was just you being completely selfish?”

Grace sighs heavily, drops her head, and puts her hands on her hips.

“Yes, Ana, that’s what I’m telling you,” she says flatly before raising her eyes to me again.

And I’m floored.

I wasn’t expecting her to just come out with it. I was expecting her to stutter a bit, beat around the bush, stall, try to explain herself, something. She just spit it out and I’m pretty taken aback by it.

“I don’t have an explanation for it,” she says as if reading my mind. “I don’t have a justification for it. I can’t wrap it up in a pretty bow and make it what it’s not. I felt that my longtime friend needed to see her granddaughter—needed to see the changes that she made in her life, and I orchestrated it… by any means necessary. I wasn’t taking into consideration any other relationships, friendships, promises, nothing. All I knew was that this woman needed to see that Courtney had changed, really and truly changed.

“I watched Tina die and her crazy, ungrateful children swarm in on the house like rats. She went to her grave with nothing but regrets for those children—nothing but regrets! And then I see Adelaide feeling like her granddaughter is a lost cause when she’s not 20 miles away every day making something of herself and being a better person. I couldn’t live with that!

“Just telling her that Courtney was here—that she had changed—wouldn’t have worked. She had to see it! So, I put the picture—one picture—in the slideshow. It was in a slideshow with at least 100 other pictures from several different agencies, and I told myself that if she saw it out of all those pictures, then it was meant to be, and if she didn’t, then I would walk away… and she saw it.”

Grace is showing a bit of passion as she tells this story, so much that I can somewhat understand why she did what she did, especially in light of Tina’s recent death… but she still betrayed me, professionally and personally.

“I apologize,” she says further, “for disregarding your professional authority, and I also apologize for jeopardizing your relationship with Courtney. But I don’t apologize for helping my friend. I feel like it was really, really necessary under the circumstances.” I sigh.

“And therein lies the problem, Grace,” I point out. “If you don’t feel any remorse or conviction for what you actually did, then you’ll do it again. I pour myself into these people’s mental well-being, and I can’t have someone look at the situation and just say, ‘This is how it should be,’ and just make an executive decision without even thinking to consult me first simply because you knew I would say, ‘No.’ You’re playing a dangerous game of chance with people’s lives and your solution to that problem is that you should just pick up and leave simply because you don’t want me to leave.

“With or without me, you built this place. You had the idea; you bought the property; you funded it; you built it from the ground up—and you have a responsibility to this place and the people in it. You can’t just throw your hands up and walk away…”

“But you can?” she asks incredulously. “I want what’s best for the Center and like it or not, you have a responsibility to this place, too. You’ve started all kinds of programs, hired staff and created different departments, got our accreditation so that we can do schooling—people depend on you!”

“I’m an employee!” I point out.

“You are assistant director!” she retorts, pronouncing each syllable. “This place will survive without me, but it won’t survive without you.” I’m being battered with logic here.

“I won’t be blackmailed into keeping this job, Grace,” I say finitely. “I won’t be forced to move into a position that I can’t handle because we don’t see eye-to-eye and you don’t want to be here anymore.”

“Will you listen to yourself?” she nearly barks. “That’s the exact reason you’re leaving! And it’s not that I don’t want to be here. The Center needs you, and if it’s going to be a choice between you or me, then the choice needs to be you.”  I’m not going to coddle her.

“If you want to leave Helping Hands, you can, but I’m not running this place full-time. It’s everything I can do to be here when I’m here. I’m not going to take on the role as director.”

“I’m not saying that I want to leave Helping Hands!” she shoots back. “Of course, I don’t want to leave! I love the work that I do here, and I love what the Center does for the families and the community, so much that I’m willing to step down if I’m going to be a hindrance to its progress. We’ve accomplished so much over the last two years and I’m under no misconception, Anastasia. I know that’s because of you. If the Center loses you, it will certainly lose that momentum that it has gained over that course of time, and we may never get it back. I’m just trying to do what’s best for the Center.”

Well, fuck. I hate to admit it, but I know that she’s right. It’s not that no one else can do my job or even step in and pick up where I left off, but will they have the passion, drive, and vision that I have for this place? Even only part-time, I get a lot of shit done in this joint, and lately, part-time has been feeling a lot like full-time.

I don’t think the Center would crumble and die without me, but I have to agree that it could possibly take a substantial blow.

“Understand me clearly,” I begin. “My responsibilities are very important to me, and I will not shirk them. That’s the reason I came back here in the first place. But Grace Trevelyan Grey, make no mistake. We don’t have to agree, and you don’t have to kiss my ass, but if you ever cross me this way again—if you ever again disregard my professional opinion and authority or dare to treat me with the complete and utter lack of respect that you’ve shown me throughout this situation, I am outta here—with no notice!

“I understand and appreciate that there’s a lot going on—with this place, with your job, with your recent diagnosis. I get it. However, that does not give you license to treat other people like they don’t count and if you think it does, then I’m here to tell you that you are sorely mistaken.

“If you feel strongly about something, you need to find some kind of way to talk it out and find out if there’s a solution to the situation, just like you’re supposed to when you have bouts or episodes with your menopause. You knew this situation had repercussions and you completely ignored them. Do that again, and this ball is all yours. Have I made myself perfectly clear?”

“Must you be so cold and harsh in making your point?” she retorts, coolly.

“Yes!” I nearly hiss. “You were cold and hard in making yours and I want to make sure that there is no misunderstanding here. I want to see Helping Hands succeed and continue to assist the community as much as you do, but not at the cost of my dignity, self-respect, or peace of mind. Now I repeat—have I made myself perfectly clear?” She pulls herself up to her full height.

“Perfectly,” she says. We stare at each other in silence for several moments, each of us waiting for the other to say something.

“I… think now would be a good time for me to call it a day,” she says formally. “I’m on call at the hospital tonight and I should probably get a couple of hours rest before I go in.”

“I think that’s probably a good idea,” I reply. Don’t go home and tell your husband or mine that I bullied you, or I won’t be back tomorrow, and you can sell the place for all I care. She sighs.

“Goodnight,” she says just as formally. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” She walks out of my office.

Sakes alive, this woman is going to be the death of me.

Almost the second that she walks out of the office, my desk phone rings. I sigh heavily and lift the receiver.

“Dr. Anastasia Grey,” I answer wearily.

“Hello, Mrs. Grey. How are you today?” a woman replies.

“I’m fine. May I ask to whom I’m speaking?”

“Oh, you don’t know me, but I just wanted to talk to you myself, to ask you how it feels.”

“How what feels?” I ask bemused.

“To be sitting on top of the world,” she says. “To have your family around you and your friends and your husband. To have more money than you know what to do with. To have the life that many people only dream about while you go about the business of ruining the lives of others.”

I’m taken aback by the accusation of this unknown woman. I want to know who this is and she’s giving me the creeps at the same time. As I’m trying to formulate some kind of response, I see Courtney walking past my door. I wave frantically to get her attention, then cover the mouthpiece of the phone when she enters my office.

“Get Chuck!” I whisper harshly. She doesn’t hesitate. She darts out of the room and I turn my attention back to the mystery caller. “Who is this? What do you want? What are you talking about?”

My husband is dead, Mrs. Grey,” she continues. “I’m sure that you know that. After nearly thirty years of marriage, I’m a widow now. My children are all gone. One of them is in jail. One of them is a public figure and just wants to stay as far away from this as he can. One of them won’t even speak to me because she’s convinced that I had something to do with this.”

“To do with what?” I ask almost frantically. “I don’t know who you are, and I don’t know what you’re talking about! I’m going to hang up now.”

“No, you won’t, because you’re dying to know who I am,” she says calmly. “You’re aching to know why I said you’re ruining people’s lives.”

“You’re right, I do want to know, but I’m not about to play a cat-and-mouse game for your entertainment,” I hiss.

“Aren’t you the little indignant one!” she hisses back. “You walk around all high and mighty like nobody’s important but you. Nobody matters but you and your precious little family. How are your babies by the way—growing up healthy and strong like Mommy and Daddy, I take it?” I suddenly feel a sharp chill and then seething, searing rage.

“Lady,” I say with as much restraint as I can muster just as Chuck walks into the room, “I don’t know who the hell you are, but you better hope for your own sake that you didn’t just imply a threat to my children.” Chuck freezes and when I raise my eyes to him, all the color is gone out of his face. He’s on his phone in moments talking very low while I try to ascertain who this woman is.

“You’re right about one thing. You don’t know me. You have no idea who I even am, so save your high-handed threats, you lying, pompous, pampered whore! You’ve never even met me, but don’t worry, you will. Every time I see your picture in the paper or see your face in the news, it makes me just want to gag. It’s bad enough that I have to stand by and watch you get over on other people’s pain and tragedy. Now, I had to be subjected to a two-hour vomit-fest about how special and perfect you are. You hit it big because your gold-digging ass landed a big fucking fish and all of a sudden, that’s supposed to make you something? You’re nobody! You’re nothing! You always were nothing and you’ll always be nothing!”

God, if I didn’t know better, I would swear that I was talking to Elena Lincoln, but this is not Lincoln. I’d know She-Thing’s voice anywhere.

“You don’t know shit about who I’ve always been, bitch!” I nearly shriek. “You don’t know shit about what I’ve been through, so don’t you dare try to pretend you know me!”

“Oh, I know exactly who you are!” she shoots. “You’re the same lying little cunt you always were! You were the same fortune-seeking, gold-digging, attention-hungry, lying bitch that you were when you were a teenager. I see you have those same social-climbing tendencies as your worthless mother! My only regret is that they didn’t kill you!”

Fucking hell. This is not happening. This is fucking not happening. I take out a pen and scribble on my desk pad:

Green Valley.

Chuck raises his eyes to me and mutters something into his phone.

“I know you’re still there,” she snaps. “I can hear you breathing…” I’m trying to quickly put together who this could be. She talked about Carla, so she has to be one of the socialite-bitch parents. She keeps calling me a gold-digger and a lying bitch. I don’t say anything as she continues to rant and I’m putting together the things that she’s already said. One child is in jail, probably the one that helped in the beating. There are a lot of people that were arrested, but I don’t know who all is still in jail besides the main players. I sit at my desk and start typing facts frantically—whatever I can remember from the conversation:

Her husband is dead; they were married for 30 years.
Her children are gone—jail, public figure, and incommunicado, none of them apparently speaking to her or readily accessible.
She’s pissed off about my money.
She called me a lying, pompous, pampered whore. Pompous and pampered obviously comes from the money and she clearly thinks I’m lying on her kid, but where did whore come from? Was she there? Is that a reference to the brand?
Fortune-seeking, gold-digging, attention-hungry, social-climbing… None of this is helping me. They’re just angry words. Who is this woman?

“Are you fucking typing??” she asks, horrified.

“Yes, I am, because you’re boring me,” I reply quickly out of frustration, “I’ll admit that I’m dying to know who you are, which is the only reason why I’ve stayed on the phone for your useless drivel. So, you can either tell me who you are and what the fuck you want and get it over and done, or you can continue to sit here and drone on that whatever role your offspring played in my torture was somehow my fault! Either way, I’ve got shit to do, so while I sit here and listen to your self-victimized, delusional babbling, I’m going to type until I feel this conversation is going nowhere and then I’ll hang up.”

“You self-righteous bitch!” she exclaims.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Move on,” I say, pretending to have no interest. Nothing pisses off an already pissed-off person more than acting like you truly don’t care that they’re as pissed off as they are.

“How dare you trivialize my suffering!” she screams into the phone. Is she serious?

“You mean like you trivialized mine?” I respond calmly. “I was beaten within an inch of my life. I was 15 years old in a coma for three weeks. I lost my baby. I’ve got brands on my back, lady, haven’t you seen the video?” She momentarily gets quiet. Maybe she hasn’t seen the video, but she certainly heard about it while I was in the hospital.

“It serves you right,” she says, indignantly, and I have to stop myself from laughing in her ear though a tiny scoff does manage to escape. No one’s suffering is important but our own.

“That’s what I get for trying to reason with the unreasonable. Your child is in jail right now because you passed down to him or her the same privileged thinking that you’re trying to push off on me right now. You push the blame off on the victim so that they—and you—don’t have to take responsibility for what they did. If I had my way, all of you stuck-up, snobby, voluntarily blind ass parents would be sitting in jail and going on trial with your criminal children for raising a bunch of spineless, socially irresponsible, uncaring, amoral, juvenile delinquent bastards!” I bark. I hear her gasp on the other line. Yes, lady, you really pushed the button, now.

“It’s okay, though,” I continue. “It’s okay that your child participated in a crime that killed one person and temporarily maimed another, but you think that’s fine because it’s your child. You wouldn’t feel that way if your daughter was on the receiving end of this brutality.”

“My daughter would never be in your situation, because my daughter is not a lying, gold-digging cunt!” she spits.

“How would you know?” I ask. “According to your victim rant, she’s not even speaking to you…”

And then it hit me, like a boulder from the sky…

Her daughter won’t speak to her because she thinks Mom had something to do with this. In fact, she moved away to New York and she’s not speaking to the whole family because of this incident.

One child is a public figure, like a newscaster—or whatever he is—in Texas.

One child is in jail, the fucker that started this shit in the first place.

Her husband is dead… because he killed himself on Christmas Day right before the family fortune went completely belly-up and eventually took more than half of Green Valley’s wealth with it.

Whitmore!

I didn’t know that I had tuned her out until I come back to myself and she’s ranting and cursing in my ear again.

“This concludes our conversation,” I interrupt her unceremoniously. “I know who you are. I’m calling the district attorney to tell him that you’re harassing me, so leave me alone. Please know that if you come anywhere near me or my family that I am armed and licensed, and I will defend myself up to and including deadly force.” She’s quiet for another moment.

“You don’t know who I am,” she says, confidently. “Don’t pull that shit on me, you little twit!” Oh, well, at least I’ve gone from a cunt, a whore, and a bitch to a twit.

“No?” I say confidently, both in response to her and to Courtney’s and Chuck’s questioning eyes. “Tell me, exactly how many other girls accused Cody of rape?” I say calmly.

She falls silent. I know there were more. He was too cocky, and Carly was too ready to defend him. They were all in a state of self-imposed blindness, like if they didn’t see it, it didn’t happen.

“How many parents did you all have to pay off?” I continue. “Are there any little illegitimate grandchildren running around that you may or may not know about? Hell, your son and his friends beat my baby out of me. How many of his other victims didn’t get that privilege?” She gasps loudly, then screams into the air on the other end.

“You’re a lying bitch!” she screams into the phone, and now I’m a bitch again. “You were a lying bitch then and you’re a lying bitch now!”

“Yeah, I’m sure that we all were,” I say, referring to his other victims. “Goodbye, Mrs. Whitmore. You’ve been warned. Don’t contact me again.” I hang up the phone and take a deep breath. The adrenaline drop is almost immediate. I open the drawer of my desk and retrieve my purse. My hands shake as I search frantically for the card.

“Ana?” Courtney’s voice is thick with concern, but I just put my hand up to silence her. I think a whimper escapes in the gesture, but I’m not sure. Locating the card, I shakily dial the number and wait for an answer.

“Anastasia Grey for Herbert Larson,” I spit all in one breath when the receptionist answers. I’m shaking uncontrollably now, and the tears start to flow.

Herbert Larson. Ms. Ste… Mrs. Grey?”

“Mr… Larson…” I can’t get my words out.

“Mrs. Grey! What’s wrong?” he asks alarmed.

“Whit… Whit… Whitmore! Pa… Pamela Wh… Whitmore…”

“Mrs. Grey, please. Breathe. I can’t understand you…” I’m starting to hyperventilate. I push back from the desk and drop my head between my legs. Chuck kneels in front of me while Courtney retrieves the phone.

“Mr. Larson?… Yes, I’m Courtney Wilson, I’m Mrs. Grey’s temporary personal assistant… May I ask who you are, sir?… Oh, okay. I understand now. She just received a call here in her office at the Center from one of the parents of someone who has been arrested in her attack. From what I understand, it was Pamela Whitmore and she mentioned someone named Cody…”

Thank God for Courtney. I’d certainly be lost without her right now.

“Yes, sir, I’m sure that can somehow be arranged… She’s very upset. I’m sure she’s probably going to go home for the rest of the day. From what I could understand from Mrs. Grey’s end of the conversation, this Whitmore woman may have made some kind of derogatory reference towards Mrs. Grey’s children and their safety… Yes, sir, I’ll have her give you a call as soon as she’s able… Thank you, Mr. Larson. I’ll tell her.”

She ends the call. Although I’m no longer hyperventilating, I’m still sobbing. I feel sick to my stomach. The adrenaline that kept me collected on the phone with that witch has left my body all too quickly and all I can think about are my children. I’m still laboring a bit with my breathing and my sobbing when I focus, and Chuck has suddenly become Christian.

Did that just happen? Am I crazy?

I look around the room to make sure I’m not hallucinating… you know, head injury, grief, adrenaline? I identify Chuck and Jason both standing nearby. I don’t know how he got here so quickly or when he took Chuck’s place but thank God he’s here. I throw my arms around his neck and weep with abandon. He’s rubbing my back and trying to soothe me, but it’s no use.

“My babies… my… babies…” He stands effortlessly with me in his arms and without a word, proceeds to carry me out of the center.

*-*

“I’m not coming to the department head meetings anymore,” I tell Christian once I and my babies are home and settled and someone has explained the Pamela Whitmore situation to him. He frowns.

“May I ask why?” he asks.

“I’m a distraction,” I say. “They’re not going to treat me like you and the more you try to make them do it, the more they’re going to kick against you. I’ll be present for really big announcements and super important meetings that can shift the direction or position of the company as I am part owner now, but in terms of the operations, you don’t need me and neither does the company. I’m a hindrance, not a help.” He sighs.

“We never would have found the flaw in the XRC90 transmitter if you hadn’t caught it,” he protests.

“Yes, you would have,” I inform him. “You have a lot of smart people working for you—Ros, Lorenz, Barney, somebody would have found the error. I was just the one focused on it at the time. It’s okay to come home and be a husband and father, but you need to run your business when you’re at your business, and everyone has already told you that I’m one of your biggest weaknesses. You need to see that in this situation right now.” He rolls his eyes and runs his hands through his hair.

“I love you,” he says. “I love our life together. I don’t want to see that change.” I frown.

“And it won’t,” I say. “Why would you think…”

Then it dawns on me. Somebody has already had this conversation with him, or something like it.

“Why would you think our life would change?” I finish my question.

“Because I have,” he blurts out. “I’ve changed since I’ve been with you. I’m not the man I used to be in any shape or form. You’ve permeated me—my blood, my soul, my very being, everything that I am, you’ve permeated me, and I’m a different man… and everybody knows it.”

As much as I love him and as much as I love hearing that I’m in every cell of him, I don’t need him to tell me that this is a bad thing for him as a businessman.

“Well, fuck,” I breathe.

“I have a hard-enough time trying to be one person,” he laments. “I don’t think I can successfully be two.”

“I know,” I respond. It’s then that I realize that part of the old Christian Grey may need to return in order to save his company, his legacy. I’m going to have to be understanding and let him do what he needs to do. This isn’t going to be easy.

“You gotta do what you gotta do, Christian,” I say, resigned. He rolls his eyes.

“There’s no way that I can be that guy I was before,” he says firmly, “nor do I want to.”

“And you don’t have to,” I point out. “But you need that iron fist that you used to rule with, and if it means that you need to put on that asshole persona when you enter GEH, then so be it. I saw you be two different people in one night, Christian. I know you can do it.” I’m referring to the night he turned into the Dom with Greta Ellison and nearly broke her wrist. His pupils constrict as he realizes what I’m referring to.

“Yes… you have, haven’t you?” he says, none too pleased. I nod.

“You gotta do what you gotta do,” I repeat. He sighs heavily.

“God, this shit is going to be difficult as fuck,” he hisses.

“I know,” I assure him. “Difficult, but not impossible. Just picture yourself walking into your building and everybody around you is trying to destroy your company. Who would you be?” His brow furrows, then one rises.

“Yeah, this ain’t gonna be as hard as I thought,” he says frankly.

I’m certain that it won’t. It’s a necessary evil… but will we survive it?


A/N: 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 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, 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

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Raising Grey:Chapter 85—Business As Usual? 

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

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

Chapter 85—Business As Usual? 

CHRISTIAN

“I still think you overacted about the snake,” I say coming out of my dressing room while straightening my tie.

“Whatever,” she replies, “be glad I don’t cut you off,” she threatens.

“I’d find a way to make you give in,” I say confidently

“You think so, huh?” she challenges. I raise an eyebrow.

“You want to test the theory?” I retort just as haughtily, daring her to try me and begging her to do it at the same time. I’ll have your pretty little ass clawing at the walls. She ponders the theory for the moment, then turns and leaves the bedroom.

“I thought not,” I say under my breath as I follow her out of the room.

“You’re going back to the Center?” I inquire, noticing that she’s dressed for work as we descend the stairs. She sighs.

“Yes,” she says, “for now. I have responsibilities, but I don’t know what the future holds yet. I still don’t appreciate being disregarded that way, so we’ll just have to see.”

“What will you do if you leave the Center?” I ask. “Stay at home?”

“We both know I’d lose my mind,” she replies. “I haven’t gotten that far yet. I gave some thought to starting my own cause, but… that seems so catty and that’s certainly not my M-O. I just wish she could truly see what she did. It’s unacceptable and I just can’t tolerate it… and I won’t keep talking about it with you because I don’t want you to feel like I’m trying to make you take sides against your mother.”

“I don’t think that,” I say, placing my hand in the small of her back and leading her to the kitchen.

*-*

“Ronald Holstein on the line, sir,” Andrea says through the intercom. “I’ve been telling him all week that you were out of the country and expected back today. He’s been calling every day nonetheless.”

“Whenever he calls, tell him that I’m in meetings until further notice,” I reply. Let his ass stew for a while until I decide what I want to do with him… and we won’t be doing some simple shit like kidnapping his fucking dog, either.

“Yes, sir,” Andrea says.

“I know you’ve got a hundred meetings today, but you’re going to want to hear this,” Josh calls in my office from the reception area before I close the door. I gesture him in, and he closes the door behind him.

“Sir, let me start by saying that it’s not my business what you do in your private life, but I’m sure that you hired me because I’ve always got my ear to the ground and because I’m more insightful than most.” I already don’t like the sound of this.

“I’m listening,” I say as I gesture to the chair in front of my desk.

“Well, the puzzle is falling together, sir,” he says taking the seat. “Elena Lincoln is still talking to whomever will listen, but now she’s starting to say a little more.” I frown.

“A little more like what?” I ask.

“She’s saying things like people in high places are going to fall when her book is published,” he says. “She insinuated these things before, but she didn’t come out and say them. Now, she’s saying them—to other reporters and it’s filtering back down to me. I was going to make another trip back up there to see her, but I really don’t think I need to. Her diarrhea of the lips along with Ron Holstein’s foot-in-mouth syndrome has pretty much given me all I need.

“I should tell you that her conversation is not nearly as cloaked as she thinks it is. I only say that because it wouldn’t be wise to give away her story before publishing, or her book would be worthless. Bearing that in mind, I can only assume that she’s not fully aware of how much information she’s leaking and, sir, anybody with even the slightest inside hook would have no problem finding you in her code speak. What’s more is that they would probably find a few others, too… I did.”

Oh, fuck, this just keeps getting worse and worse.

“Okay, Josh, I need you to give it to me straight,” I say. “I can’t follow any more riddles.”

“Nineteen out of 20 journalists don’t have the background information or resources that I have,” he begins. “They could get it, but it would take a lot of work and even more time. By then, the story would be blown wide open. She didn’t give me the name of her ghostwriter, but she gave me her pen-name—BD Simmons. There’s no risk in giving me that because there’s nothing else published in that name. However, these ladies aren’t as savvy as they pride themselves to be.

“I don’t know what they’re expecting, but I can almost guarantee that Lincoln is counting on the safety of the prison walls, as ironic as that sounds. Her ghostwriter has anonymity on her side. For whatever reason, they’re both underestimating the danger of the situation. Knowing what I know about Lincoln—the public information and the inside information, you should know that it doesn’t take too much ingenuity to figure out what BD Simmons is an acronym for.”

No, it doesn’t. I figured it out the minute he said the name. BDSM.

“So, of course, the first thing I did was check her old haunts, her old sources, her submissives…” Jesus, this is so much more of this conversation than I really want to have with Josh. “The logical paths lead to three of her girls—two still studying journalism and one with a degree in literature. They all have other… interests at this time, according to Alex, but one has been visiting her at the prison, quite freely I might add.”

“And who is that?” I ask.

“That would be one named Greta Ellison. It didn’t take much more than context clues to figure out that she was BD Simmons.”

“Fucking hell!” I hiss, trying not to curse too loudly or crash something against the nearest wall. Why the fuck do I keep letting these people get away and the minute I let them out of my sight, they bite me?

“Get Welch in here!” I bark into the intercom.

“Yes, sir,” Andrea replies.

“You’re sure that Ellison might not be just filtering the information through to her? Like being a liaison between Lincoln and the ghostwriter?” I ask, not wanting to believe that I was gullible enough to set this bitch free instead of crushing her when I had the chance.

“Sir, to be able to stand in a court of law and tell you that Greta Ellison is Lincoln’s ghostwriter, I can’t. To look you in the eye and tell you with at least 95% certainty that Ellison is her ghostwriter, that I can do. No matter what your content, you can’t get a decent feel for the story—for what the real author wants to portray—without a face-to-face meeting. Even with every fact airtight and recited to you, you wouldn’t be able to relay a successful story without meeting personally with the subject, and Ms. Ellison does that a lot.”

She has no other reason to meet with Lincoln. There’s nothing for her to gain from the acquaintance, and I threatened her the last time we met. I let her ass go, but I threatened her…

And she threatened me.

 “You think you’re so much. You’re not untouchable, Mr. Grey, and I’m just the one to prove it!”

This should come as no surprise to me. I remember our first meeting. She wasn’t just an airhead when I interviewed her. She was brilliant. She was perfect. She knew all the right things to say and do to get me where she wanted me and that can’t be taught. She’s wily, cunning, sly, and conniving… and she’s smart. Now, she seems dead set to destroy me and my family by any means necessary. I’ve got to destroy her first.

The gloves are off… all the way off.

“I won’t say, ‘Good Morning,’” Alex says as he opens my office door. “I can already tell it’s well past fucked up.”

“That’s an understatement,” I say coolly, my mind travelling more miles per hour than I can clock. “Close the door and have a seat.” Alex enters and closes the door behind him.

“This thorn is never going to go away,” I say, standing from my chair and walking to the window. “She’s on the watch list. How was it that she was seeing Lincoln and we didn’t know?”

“The same way that she stole Her Highness’s gun, sir,” Alex says. He scrolls through his tablet and hands it to me.

“She’s like Ethan fucking Hunt, sir. She can physically turn herself into anyone, male or female. There’s no way to tell who she is when she leaves her home. We didn’t even know that she was visiting Lincoln until we worked our way backwards and reviewed Lincoln’s visitor logs…”

Do I even want to know how he got access to Lincoln’s visitor logs without Holstein’s cooperation?

“Then we coordinated the people leaving the apartment with the people returning. She hasn’t gotten smart enough to change disguises before she gets home. Then again, she doesn’t need to.”

I scroll through the pictures and see men and women of every nationality identified as Greta Ellison. I even had to turn the tablet around to confirm the person was her a few times. Height and build don’t change. Shape can be masked by clothing, but she’s definitely different people.

“A few times, she logged in to see Ron Holstein, so he’s definitely in on it,” Josh adds.

“Yeah, I figured as much,” I say, still swiping through the many faces of Greta. She’s dangerous—extremely dangerous—and she must be stopped.

“Josh, who have you deduced could also be in this book?” I ask. He twists his lips. He doesn’t want to tell me.

“High-profile officials,” he says. “Some politicians, philanthropists, businessmen like yourself…” That’s all I need.

“Any way to get word to them without totally letting the cat out of the bag?” I ask. “You know, they don’t need to know where the information is coming from and I don’t even need to know who they are… it’s better that I don’t. Just a little tip-off that they may soon be in a tell-all book about their dirty laundry that may make it look even dirtier than it really is.” His brow rises.

“I see what you mean. I may need your help, Alex,” he says.

“I’m at your disposal,” Alex says.

“Then, get on it,” I tell Josh. “I’ll have more questions for you once I sort my rambling thoughts.”

“I’ll keep you posted,” he says as he stands to leave.

“Alex, you stay. I need more information from you.” Josh pauses, but only briefly before he leaves the room. I go over to the desk and flip the switch that scrambles recording signals in my office, even my own.

“She’s a chameleon,” I say, once I know that I’m no longer being recorded. “She’s a fucking dangerous, pestilence ass chameleon that’s not going to fucking go away.” I walk to the window.

“Do you know that I presented her with proof that I knew she was the one that stole my wife’s gun?” I continue. “I had her pinned in a BDSM club between three people that could have killed her with our bare hands, confronted her, threatened her, and let her go and she still came back?” I hiss angrily.

“Yes, sir, I do,” he says. Of course, you do. It’s your job to know. It only takes a minute to ponder what needs to be done.

“Ellison is smart. She’s cunning and she’s brilliant. She gave that gun to a woman that she knew was unstable, delusional, desperate, and had a bone to pick with me. She knew what that woman was going to do with that damn gun, and she gave it to her anyway.”

“Yes, sir,” Alex concurs.

“That woman tried to kill me with that gun,” I say, handing him the tablet, “and had it not been for Jason, she would have succeeded. As an accessory, Ellison tried to kill me.” Alex cocks his head and ponders.

“With the right evidence, a court of law would say that you’re absolutely correct…”

“Fuck the court of law!” I bark. “Because of those two conniving, murderous cunts, my bodyguard and best friend took a bullet for me and that’s the only thing that saved my life and nearly cost him his!” Alex examines me.

“What do you propose?” he asks.

“Get started with Josh to alert the other officials that they’re technically in the hot seat. Between my world-class security team and my extremely savvy PR department, I’m sure innuendo can be circulated to the press without upheaval or suspicion.” Alex casts a knowing gaze upon me.

“You’re creating a smokescreen,” he says.

“I wouldn’t call it a smokescreen,” I reply, “just more people of interest. I was the center of her last trial. The spotlight is already going to be on me. I want to see how many other people we can cast center stage.”

“I know we’re not being recorded,” he says. “I need to know what you have in mind.”

“You know what I have in mind!” I retort sharply. “She’s a thorn, a deadly thorn in my side and she needs to be extracted… and her little dog, too.”

“Are we talking Lincoln or Ellison…”

“We’re talking both!” I say before the words are completely out of his mouth. “But we can’t be sloppy. The minute that smokescreen starts, I need shit to get rolling on the lot of them… Lincoln, Ellison, Holstein, and his haughty ass secretary, too.

“Why the secretar…?”

“Because she pissed me off!” I hiss… and she doesn’t know who she’s fucking dealing with. Alex straightens his back.

“What are we talking here, and in what order?” he asks.

“Punishments for Lincoln begin immediately—subtle at first, but by the time it’s over, she’ll know who it is.” I’ll come up with something creative for her at the end so that she won’t be willing or able to fuck with me ever again. “Save the secretary for last. I just want her seriously inconvenienced, extremely uncomfortable, and if I forget while pursuing the bigger fish, it’ll be your responsibility to make sure those wishes get carried out.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Holstein? Thorough retaliation—annihilation, if possible. My only requirement for him is that he gets to live,” I growl. “His begins the moment the signals start to rise from the smokescreen, so get that going now.”

“And Ellison?” he asks. I only glare at him. Ellison… big, little bitch with too much power, real and assumed. She’s become more than an inconvenience! I don’t know if she’s chasing money, fame, or revenge, but whichever it is, it’s going to cost her dearly. She has no idea how far this woman has taken her down the rabbit hole, if for no other reason but the information that she’s given her, let alone how she plans to use it.

My silence answers his question.

“Duly noted,” he says, rising from his seat. “Anything else?

“I want to be there for every step of what happens to Ellison until I tell you that I don’t,” I say.

“Yes, sir,” he says coolly before opening the door to leave the room. I know that I’ve already missed a meeting and Andrea didn’t inform me. She knows me so well that she probably knew to reschedule with me in a meeting with Josh and growling for Alex. Just as Alex reaches the elevator, I hear something I don’t think I’ve heard in all the years that she has worked for me.

Andrea raises her voice.

“Mr. Holstein, I don’t care who you are or who you think you are, but I am a professional, and unless you can conduct your calls to this office with a little professionalism and decorum in the future, I will disconnect your calls every time I hear your voice. How’s that for a short-skirted, pencil pushing answering machine… sir?

Whoa! Holstein said the wrong thing to the wrong person and Andrea’s giving him what-for on this end of the line.

“Well, if you think you haven’t gotten through to him before, let’s see how successful you are now!” She slams the receiver down and closes her eyes, taking a deep breath. Alex and I make eye-contact before he nods and boards the elevator. When Andrea opens her eyes, I’m peeking around the door jam at her.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Grey, but you don’t pay me enough to put up with the names he just called me.” My face falls.

“More than a ‘short-skirted, pencil-pushing answering machine?” I ask, as if that wasn’t bad enough.

“Much more,” she says, her voice low.

“The next time he calls, put him on hold,” I say. It’s time to put my plans into action for this fucker as soon as possible. I don’t disrespect Andrea and I won’t allow anyone else to do it, either. His dick has gotten way too big for his pants, and I’m about to whack it down a couple of inches.

*-*

Al was two steps ahead of me and conferred with my accounting department about the best way to itemize and categorize my assets for a will. He’s slowly working his way through the process, setting up a trust for each of the children and placing other items in a revocable living trust, and several other terms of mumbo-jumbo that I trust he’ll handle and explain to us when it’s time to sign the final documents. I inform him that we’ll plan to have dinner with him and Valerie and their significant others sometime this week to discuss some of the particulars and to get some things in writing should I and my Butterfly meet an untimely simultaneous demise. We set aside Wednesday for the meeting, pending Valerie and Elliot’s acceptance of the invitation and, of course, Butterfly’s approval.

It’s later than usual when I get home and all I can think is that I can’t wait to be in my wife’s arms. Today was packed full of catching up with whatever work and catastrophes that simply couldn’t be solved without my presence not to mention plotting revenge on my enemies. I didn’t even eat lunch, so I’m hungry in more ways than one. Just as we’re pulling into the garage, my cell rings.

“Grey,” I say without looking at the phone.

“Hello, Christian,” my mother’s voice says. I try not to sigh loudly into the phone. My last conversation with my mother involved her trying to get the inside scoop on what my wife’s plans are in terms of the Center. Now, she has spent an entire day with my wife… and she’s calling me. What is it now?

“Hey, Mom,” I say, trying to sound casual. “What’s up?”

“Is Anastasia home yet?” Why would she call me and ask me that? Why wouldn’t she call Butterfly? And yet…

“No…” I say, slow and uncertain, as I look over at the bin where her vehicle usually is and it’s empty. “Is everything okay?”

“She’s probably just still at the Center,” Mom says. “You may want to go down there and get her. It’s been a long day.” I’m noticing that my mother’s tone is a bit labored, like she’s extremely tired.

“What happened, Mom?” I ask. “Did you two have a fight?”

“No, we didn’t have a fight,” she says, slightly exasperated, “and you said that you were going to stay out of it, so that’s what you should do.”

Well!

“I didn’t call you for that reason, anyway,” she continues. “I called you because, like I said, it’s been a long day and she was still closed in her office when I left, so it might be a good idea for you to go and get her.”

Jesus Christ. This day has already been horrific. The last time I popped up on my wife at the Center unannounced… no, I won’t think that way. Mom says I should probably go and get her, so I’m going to get her.

“Okay, Mom, I’m on my way now,” I say, and Jason looks over the seat at me.

“Okay. Goodbye now.” And just like that, she ends the call. What the hell happened at the Center today? I’m just looking at my phone wondering what’s going to be waiting for me when I get to Butterfly.

“Sir?” Jason says, reminding me that we’re still sitting in the car.

“We’re going to the Center,” I inform him.

“What’s wrong?” he says with concern.

“Nothing that I know of, but Butterfly isn’t here and she most likely still has the children with her. I’d like to go and bring them home.” He twists his lips at me. “While we’re on our way, you can call Chuck and make sure that everything is okay, but my mother just called and told me to go get my wife, so I’d like to see her, okay?”

There. I’m not trying to catch her in anything, nor do I think I would. I just want to go get her.

“Very well, sir,” he says, and starts the car again. As we’re crossing the bridge, he put Chuck on the speaker.

“As far as I know, she’s fine,” Chuck says through the speakers. As far as he knows…?

“Why wouldn’t you know?” I ask.

‘Because she’s been holed up in her office all afternoon,” he says. “She hasn’t come out and when I went to check on her, she called through the door, ‘Leave me alone! I’m busy!’ So, knowing that she’s okay, I did what she asked and left her alone. I do know—through the grapevine—that she and Grace had an intense conversation today and Grace didn’t look happy when she left. She stayed all day, but she was less than pleased.”

“Why are you telling us this?” Jason asks.

“Because I think that’s why she’s still in the office,” he said. I sigh.

“She fought with Mom,” I say. Mom said they didn’t fight. Jesus, the day was at least as hard for her as it was for me and now, she’s hiding out. “Thanks, Chuck,” I say.

“You’re welcome, sir,” he says and ends the call. Jason looks at me, questioning.

“The mission hasn’t changed. Get me to my wife.” I wonder if she’s hiding from me thinking her argument with my mother is going to cause us a problem? I’m even more eager to get to her now than I was before.

Hurry up, Jason. She needs me…


ANASTASIA

“She hasn’t given you any idea when she’s coming back? Or if she’s coming back?” Courtney asks.

“Neither,” I tell her. “She’s never taken a day off in her life that I can remember, not even for doctor’s appointments…” which makes me question when she ever went before the whole pregnancy scare. “Then she takes them all at once. I’m still depositing her check into her account because she has nearly a lifetime in sick time accrued and she only ever used vacation time when I did so…” I trail off.

“Well, I’m certain that I won’t be as efficient as Mare was, but I’ll be happy to fill in for her the best that I can.” I sigh.

“Thank you, Courtney. Every little bit helps. I know that you have your own set of responsibilities here and I won’t interfere with your work, but of course I’ll pay you extra for helping me out. If Marilyn hasn’t decided what she plans to do at least by the new year, I’ll look into hiring someone more permanent.” It hurts to say that.

“I hope everything is okay with her. This is so out of her character. It had to be something really bad, and no, I’m not pumping you for information.” She looks down at her notepad and writes something on it.

“How are things with you and Addie?” I ask. Courtney raises her gaze to me.

“Still a little tense, but we’re talking,” she says. “Grandfather has made it clear that I’m still not getting any money from them and I’ve made it clear that I never intended to see them again, so the last thing I expect from them at this point is money. I don’t think I would want it even if they offered it to me. It reminds me too much of who I was and what I was doing… and how I felt when Grandmother disowned me. No… I think I’ll be happier earning my own way and making a life with Vick, whatever that life may be.”

“I’m glad that the two of you are talking, but you know I had nothing to do with this, right?” She rubs my forearm.

“Yes, Ana… I know,” she says. “Grandmother says you only talked about it after she confronted you. I know you would never betray my trust.”

“That’s what’s most important to me,” I tell her. “I’m all for a happy ending, but I won’t take credit for a victory that means you think I betrayed your confidence.”

“I know better,” she says with a smile. “I knew from the very beginning that it wasn’t you. I knew when I saw your face when I walked into your office. I may have been focused on Grandmother, but you were clearly horrified,” she adds matter-of-factly. “We’ve… got a long way to go. I don’t know if it’ll ever be back the way it was. Maybe it’s better if it’s not. Scratch that—it’s definitely better if it’s not.” She folds her arms around her body. “I… don’t like that Courtney. I don’t know how I lived with her for so long. No matter what happens, I don’t think I could ever go back to being her. For one thing, I’m sure I’d lose Vick. She won’t take any of my crap. She calls me on my shit any and every time I try to pull it, and she supports me in everything I do. What’s more, she knew me when I was that other crazy bitch, and she still loves me. Can you imagine?”

“Your grandmother knew and loved you, too,” I point out.

“No, she didn’t,” Courtney corrects. “She may have loved me, but she didn’t know me. She thought she knew me. She knew the façade. When she saw the real me, she thought that was the façade. When she found out that it wasn’t, she couldn’t take it. That’s why she sent me away.” She sighs and stands.

“I’m going to find something to do now,” she says. “I’ll be at your beck and call of course, but as you know, there’s lots that need my special attention… and I do better when I’m moving around.” She goes to the door, opens it and steps out. I follow her to the door.

“You’re sure this isn’t going to be too much for you,” I reinforce.

“Nah,” she says, hugging her laptop. “Outlook isn’t a foreign language for me. We use it in school for the syllabi and to keep up with our classes. I just have to spend a little time deciphering Mare’s hieroglyphics and we’ll be fine. Plus, I get an up close and personal look into the super-secret life of Anastasia Grey.”

She does a spooky little wiggle of her fingers and smiles before walking away down the hallway. I turn to go back into my office, but a shadow catches my eye. She doesn’t move or speak, but I can see her standing in her doorway, or at least her shadow cast on the floor of the hallway. I say nothing. I just go into my office and close the door.

Now, she’s lurking. She won’t even face me. Yet another reason why I feel this is no longer the place for me. There was a job that needed to be done here—some things that needed to be fixed. I fixed them. I did my job, but the job isn’t completely finished. So, I’m going to finish my job here and then I’m going to find something else to do.

What, I have absolutely no idea. Maybe I’ll get in touch with Josephine Kennedy, our sponsor for Broadmoor. She’ll probably have some suggestions. I don’t need to be in any kind of executive position. I just want to be somewhere that I can do some good and my opinion is valued.

Knowing that I don’t have much time to implement the learning programs needed before the school year starts, I immediately get to work researching the necessary requirements for a learning coordinator. I fire off a text to Keri to meet me in the office as soon as she has a moment.

Every time someone knocks at my office door, I get the willies. I don’t want to talk to Grace at all, to have her confront me about my absence or to rehash why I feel like she should treat me with more respect and consideration. These things should be understood. You hired me to do a job; then let me do it and don’t interfere with it. If you’re going to interfere and do things your way, what do you need me for?

Anyway, this time, it’s Keri at my door.

“Ya wanted ta seh meh, Annah?” she asks cautiously when she enters the room.

“Yes, please, come in,” I say. She slowly walks in and takes a seat. I can tell that she’s nervous, so I get straight to the point. “I need your help.” She looks shocked.

“You do?” she says, her surprise evident. I nod.

“First, I need to ask how the process is going with getting your teaching certificate here in the states. Were you still planning to do that, or had you changed your mind?”

“Noh! I mean, yes! I mean…” She’s terribly nervous. I’ve never called her into my office in an official capacity, ever, and she’s not quite sure how to handle it.

“Keri,” I say, rising from my seat and walking over to her. “Relax. You’re not in any trouble or anything like that. I just… I’m trying to kill two birds with one stone. I need some information and I just want to know what your immediate plans are.” Keri sighs heavily and rolls her eyes a bit.

“Ah’m sawtty, Annah,” she says. “Ah jus feel lak Ah’m bein’ cawled to da ptincipal’s awfice!” She laughs. In effect, she is, but only because the principal needs her help.

“I understand,” I say.

“Yes, I steel plan on gettin’ mah teachin’ cehtificate heyah. Ah cahl de school bohd ahnd dey sey Ah got ta tek de necesetty exams foh residency. Ah alreaty apply foh the exams since mah degtee is enough foh da requyment. So, Ah’m wehtin’ foh dem ta tell meh when da test gwine be and Ah should be okay.”

“They didn’t say anything about your citizenship or anything like that?” I ask.

“Ah’m heh on a work visa. Ah can keep dah sem visa or get a new one if I choose to teach. Ah wold luv to teach, Annah. I miss me bebbies.” I know that she’s talking about her students in Anguilla.

“Have you thought about becoming a resident?” I ask. She shrugs.

“Anguilla ask de sem ding when I cawled for mah recohds an cehtifications. Dey say, ‘ahe ya gwine stey dere in da states or ya come back to Anguilla?’ I tell dem it not my immediate plan ta stey, but don know what happen in de furtah.” I frown.

“You may go back to Anguilla?” I ask sadly.

“Me don know,” she says honestly. “Anguilla me home. I could nevah leave hah forevah. But me heart wit me Choonks. Das wheh Ah mus be.” That’s an enigmatic response.

“Does Chuck know that you’re somewhat on the fence about returning to Anguilla?” I ask. She nods. “How does he feel about it? He can’t be happy.”

“He not,” she says. “He tinks me run out da doh anyday wit mah bags. I tell him, ‘Choonks, don tek it dat weh. Ah jes not wannah lose meh woots, das all. Jes like yah not wannah stey in Anguilla becuz yah home heyah, I no wannah be in Anguilla witout yah, but Anguilla me home, too. Meh woots deyah. I don wanna lose dat.’”

“So, we’re not talking about packing your bags and moving back to Anguilla when your visa is over. We’re just talking about being able to go back to Anguilla as you please so that you don’t forget your roots.”

“Yeh,” she says, confidently. “I noh move back to Anguilla. Lek I seh, mah heart wit me Choonks. Ah havta be wheh he is.” I sigh heavily. It would be a devastating day all around if we lose Keri.

“Well, that’s good to hear,” I admit. “My second question is more detailed. You worked with small children in Anguilla, right?”

“Yeh, all me bebbies primery school, some younga,” she says. I nod.

“I’m trying to come up with a plan of action to get started with our early-learning program when the school year starts. I have some good solid ideas that we presented to get our licensing and accreditation, but now we need to tweak it and get it ready to roll out. I could really use some help.”

I confer with Keri about what direction we should take in terms of curriculums. I know that the subjects in Anguilla will most likely probably vary from the subjects in America, only because of the difference in culture and the direction of the curriculum as it relates to the region, but I’m certain that the basis is the same. I’ve done a little research to get a basic framework, but I’m definitely going to need some help in nailing down the particulars.

Keri turns out to be invaluable. We’re at it for hours fine-tuning our curriculum and learning plans. We’ve already done some interviewing for teachers and tutors, and we’ll have to make some decisions this week, which means that whether I want to or not, I’ll have to meet with Grace.

There’s no use putting it off.

Once I’ve finished with the basic curriculum, I ask Keri to look it over and see if there’s anything else that we may need. I don’t want to present this outline and framework to the teachers and tutors that I plan to hire, and it turns out to be total garbage. Then I send a text to Grace that we need to chat about the teaching staff and to let me know when she’s available to do so.

It was like carving my tooth out with a chisel just to send the text.

Not half an hour after I hit send, Grace is at my door.

“May I come in?” she asks. I sigh inwardly.

“Please,” I say, standing and gesturing to the seat in front of me. She enters and sits down, and I close the door behind her. I jump right in.

“The school year is starting in a few weeks and I don’t want to be caught unprepared like we have these last terms,” I say, picking up the papers showing the progress that Keri and I made and handing it to her. “We already conducted several interviews and with where we plan to start, I would think we don’t need too much staff right now—a few teachers and a tutor or two and someone to act as principal or superintendent just over the scholastic portion of the program…”

I continue discussing what I think would be the best direction for the preschool and tutoring program—afterschool classes, playgroups, and eventually, a possible part-time homeschool, particularly for at-risk families, namely residents in the dorms while Grace looks over the proposals and plans that Keri and I have collaborated on so far.

“You’ve been quite busy,” she says raising her eyes to me. “I’m glad the Center won’t suffer because of our disagreement.”

I wouldn’t say that just yet, Grace.

I continue the conversation as if nothing had been said about our disagreement and make suggestions as well as request input on who would be the best candidates for the positions we would like to fill as we really need to get the ball rolling like right now. Grace gives her opinions on who she thinks will fit the immediate bill and luckily, except for one, they were the same people that I think will work best. I cede to her judgment for the last person, selfishly thinking that if they didn’t work out, I wouldn’t have to be the one to contend with it. She would.

It’s a bit late in the afternoon when we bang out our initial steps and final choices, and I’m more than ready to discontinue the conversation. I’m not, however, ready to pick up the conversation that she wants to have.

“I really feel I did the right thing,” she says with conviction.

“Grace, this conversation is moot,” I say matter-of-factly. The time for us to have this conversation has passed.

“You won’t even discuss it with me?” she asks, her voice rising an octave in disbelief.

“No,” I say finitely. “I don’t want to fight with you or dispute this with you anymore. What you did could have had disastrous results, and if you can’t understand that, there’s nothing for us to discuss.” She sighs.

“Fine. I was wrong,” she says, almost like a petulant child. I shake my head.

“You don’t get it,” I say. “I’m not looking for capitulation. I don’t need you to admit that you were wrong. I need you to see that you were wrong. Courtney had come miles from where she started. Her progress was fucking immeasurable. Addie barely recognized her as the hell that she sent back to her hellhole hometown. What you did could have set her back far beyond her starting point, and what would you have to say had that happened? What could you have possibly said to me—to Courtney—had you, in your self-proclaimed omnipotence, destroyed all the work that she put in to achieve what she achieved?”

“Can’t you see that sometimes, everything isn’t answered by theory and book-smarts? Sometimes—oftentimes—there’s emotion involved, and you just have to go with your gut?” Her voice is beseeching.

“I can see that, Grace, but can you?” I retort. “Logic dictates that the strides made by Courtney should have had her running back to Addie to present her new self—to show her grandmother that she was nothing like the person Addie last saw. The fact that her grandmother felt that she was nothing, she had to prove her wrong—for herself, but in the process, she made it clear that she wanted nothing to do with the source of her uncertainty. When they parted ways, Addie pretty much told her that she was better off dead. She cremated and buried Courtney’s mother this past summer with no pomp and circumstance, and you just take it upon yourself to say, ‘Oh, it’s a good idea to shove these two into each other’s faces!’ If you can’t see what’s wrong with that, just how fucked up a judgment call that was, then you’ll do it again and I can’t tolerate seeing all my hard work destroyed that way. I might as well go back to my practice.”

“I… I… I didn’t know…” she stammers.

“Of course, you didn’t know!” I bark. “There’s a lot you didn’t know! I’m the psychiatrist! I have all the inside scoops on what’s going on in these people’s minds because that’s what I do! And you had the audacity to be offended because I pointed that out! I don’t diagnose the intricate illness of children—that’s your specialty, not mine! But they share their deepest, darkest secrets with me because of my station and I act accordingly! She trusted me! She trusted me with her secrets and her feelings, with her life! And you exploited that! Can’t you see that? Can’t you see that you orchestrated a train wreck that could have destroyed them both and they just got lucky and walked away?”

“I… was just… following my instincts,” she says, resigned.

“Well, congratulations, doctor,” I say, clasping my hands on the table. “This time, your instincts were correct, and in the process, you undermined everything I do. The very basis of my profession is privacy and trust—respecting the rights of the patient. You know the Hippocratic Oath, and you totally disregarded mine, then haughtily walked away smiling when you did it. I can’t work like that. I can’t have someone’s mental well-being in my hands and in the back of my head, constantly fearing that you’re going to make a decision that’s going to unravel the intricate tapestry that I’ve taken months… or years… to create with one of my patients based on your instincts.” I silently shake my head, indicating that this is definitely a no-go for me.

Grace bites her lip and takes a seat, humbly clasping her hands in her lap.

“Can you, for just a moment, see where I’m coming from?” she says, her voice shaking slightly.

“No…” I begin.

“Please… let me finish,” she beseeches without raising her eyes. It’s my turn to be petulant, but I just defiantly fold my arms and sit mute.

“Addie… is my friend,” she begins. “She’s been my friend for a long, long time—even longer than that crazy bitch who victimized my son.”

That kind of stings… and causes me to let my guard down a little.

“You may have known how Courtney felt, but I knew how Addie felt. She felt hurt and betrayed, and that’s what made her say the things she said to Courtney, but most of all, she was heartbroken. She felt that she would die and have nothing to show for her bloodline. She had such high hopes for Courtney, and when she saw those hopes dashed to the rocks…” She stops and swallows.

“I’m not saying that you wouldn’t understand,” she says. “You’re a mother, so you have to know that we only want what’s best for our children. Courtney’s mother was such a disappointment and Addie had her hopes in Courtney even when everybody told her that it would be a lost cause. When she finally accepted that those hopes were destroyed, it was the most traumatizing thing that had ever happened to her. She tried to move on, but she was crushed.

“That’s the reason I advocated for Courtney in the first place,” she adds. “After everything that she had done and all the problems she had caused, I just wanted to help my friend. It was wonderful seeing the progress that she was making, but Addie was still hurting… deeply hurt. We didn’t hear anything about her daughter because she couldn’t mourn her daughter. To her, it was all a lost cause.

“I found out about Adele—that’s her daughter’s name—at Mia’s wedding. I had been trying to indirectly arrange a meeting ever since. I knew Courtney was at the wedding, but by the time I had heard about Adele, Courtney had already left.

“When I say that I was trusting my instincts, Ana, I’m not just saying that I thought it was a good idea. My friend was suffering, and I just didn’t want to see her suffering anymore… and I knew that seeing Courtney—how beautiful she is and how far she’s come—would do her some good.” I roll my eyes nearly to the point of agony.

“Why. Didn’t you. Explain that to me?” I nearly seethe. “Why didn’t you come and talk to me?”

“Because just like you had confidences, I had confidences…” she begins.

“But it was okay for you to disregard mine!” I nearly shout, causing Grace to jump a bit in her seat.

Settle down, Grey.

I take a deep breath and address the situation again.

“The progress that I made with Courtney in eleven short months is more than I’ve done with a lot of people in years, and you could have undone all of that. That’s what I need you to see. This situation is the epitome of that old saying about the road to hell and good intentions. I can appreciate that you saw your friend suffering and you wanted that suffering to stop, but your. Methods. Were wrong. You threw a blowtorch into a vat of gasoline and prayed that it wouldn’t explode, and instead of alienating one person, you could have alienated three—one of which was your very close friend.

“As much as I want to say that the biggest betrayal here was to Courtney’s right to privacy and to Addie’s suffering, I can’t even say that,” I say, and she raises glassy eyes to me. Yeah, this is going to sting, Dr. Grace, so get ready for it. “The biggest betrayal is that you dismissed me. You dismissed my expertise and my feelings. It caused friction in my marriage and discord in my professional life. But you know what’s even worse, Grace? What you probably never even considered even up to this very moment? You. Destroyed. My trust! Did you think about that? Did you think about the fact that I have to trust the person that I work with and I don’t trust you anymore?

“I can’t be effective under those conditions, and I can’t just wave that off. When you’re dealing with the human mind, at any given moment someone’s sanity can be hanging in a delicate balance. One wrong word, one wrong action, can be the difference between a breakthrough and suicide—and I’m not exaggerating.” I immediately think of Ace’s shark’s tooth.

“I should have come and talked to you,” she says just above a whisper, her voice cracking.

“Yes,” I say softly, but firmly. “You should have…” and now, it’s probably too late. Grace takes a deep, shuddering breath and stands.

“Let me know what you decide to do,” she says without raising her eyes to me. “I’ll understand either way.” She turns and quickly walks out of my office. I hear her heels clicking at a quick pace down the hall and just before she closes the door to her office, I hear her begin to weep.

Dear God in heaven, I think to myself as my face falls on my arms on my desk, my hair splayed wildly over my hands and arms like a blanket. What am I going to do now…?

*-*

“Hey…”

My head feels like lead and my eyes hurt from crying. I can only imagine that I look like pure hell from having cried myself to sleep at my desk and when I turn towards the soft, melodic voice, my husband is looking lovingly at me while stroking my hair out of my face.

“Hey,” I barely squeak out. “What are you doing here?”

“It’s late… and Mom called me,” he says. “She told me that you were still in your office when she left and that it might be a good idea if I came to get you.”

“I don’t know what to do, Christian,” I lament, on the brink of tears again.

“Well, you won’t think about it tonight,” he says cupping my cheek. “Right now, I’m going to take you home, bathe you, feed you, and make love to you. Then, you can conquer this in the morning.”

I don’t have the will or desire to fight him. I’m tired of thinking, dreaming, fretting about this whole thing. It’s getting on my nerves. I stand and proceed to leave the building and had it not been for Chuck, I might have left without my children. Mom of the year.

My husband keeps his promise, making sure that I was fed, bathed, and loved. Nonetheless, at 2:49 in the morning, I find myself staring at the ceiling while he’s sleeping comfortably next to me. I don’t know how long I’ve been lying here, but I decide that I don’t want to lie here anymore. I quietly roll out of bed and retrieve the first shirt that I can find. It’s the linen shirt that Christian wore to work, and it smells like him. It’s comforting. I put it on and button it before leaving our suite.

The children are sound asleep and I don’t want to disturb them, so I go to the kitchen to get something to drink. After I fix a spritzer, I sit at the breakfast bar, trying to think of something to do. I look at my phone and begin to scroll through it. Some time between the time I got home and now, my contacts, calendar, and apps had all been moved to the new phone.

When did he find time to do that?

I had already forwarded my calls to the new phone, but it’s probably time to leave the new number on the old message so that I can retire my 4S soon. I decide to take a look at my emails. I had cleared most of them at work, but I hadn’t looked at the junk mail to see if anything had been misrouted.

Sure enough, something had.

To: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Re: Web Presence
Date: Saturday, December 13, 2014, 14:14
From: Laura Kelly

Hey there, Sheila!

Just a little nudge from down under to remind you to finish setting up your social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—but start with Facebook. It’s probably best for social media virgins. I know you said you had to talk to your PR people before you could pull the trigger. Remember what I showed ya!

Jax was a little depressed after visiting his mum’s grave, even more depressed when we got back to the ship and there was no Chris to shoot the shit with. You’ll have to come back and see us sometimes, or we’ll look you up next time we’re in the States.

Look for LauraLee Kelly on Facebook. You can’t miss me!

Missing you guys already!
Laura

Laura showed me the basics while we were on the cruise and we ran around her social media accounts a bit, but we never actually set up an account for me.

Social media. Facebook. Hmmm…

Screw PR. I’ll just create an alias.

I go to iTunes and download the Facebook app. Sign up with an email.

Back up.

I go to Gmail and create an alias email just for this purpose. You can’t be too careful.

First name… Anastasia

Last name… hmmm.

Lambert.

There’s no taboo attached to that name for me anymore. It’s a name that I used to escape, and I escaped, so…

Welcome to Gmail!

Back to Facebook.

Sign up. What’s your name?

Anastasia Lambert.

Hmm… it still feels too obvious.

Mercer Mistress… Hell, no!

Mercer Doctor Lady.

Good enough for now.

Upload a profile picture…

Butterflies!

I do a quick internet search and find a picture of a black and white butterfly that reminds me of Marty.

Perfect!

I download it to my phone, then upload it as my profile picture.

Invite your friends… well, I only have one that I know of on social media…

LauraLee Kelly. I need her email. Nah, I’ll look her up and invite her to be my friend. It’s faster.

I have access!

LauraLee Kelly.

She’s right. I find her quickly and send a friend request. I create the same account with Twitter, then I make the mistake of going to Facebook and Twitter and doing a search for my name.

There are a million of me!

I could make a page with my real name and no one would be any wiser, but no. I’ll hide behind Mercer Doctor Lady. Not very creative or catchy, I know, but it’ll fit the bill. I answer a few questions about books and hobbies.

There’s nothing on my timeline since I don’t have any friends, so I see what Facebook has to offer.

Videos… relationship advice… reality TV snippets… groups that might interest me… comedy…

I like comedy.

I watch several comedy videos and share many of them to my timeline.

I’m dying laughing over Steve Harvey and Family Feud…

Ellen Degeneres, well, I love her. I follow her and Steve on Facebook.

The Real Housewives of what? Where? What real housewives behave this way? And you’re still married? These women need to get a damn life!

“What are you doing down here?”

I’m startled by Christian coming to the kitchen in his pajama pants. I’m even more startled by something else…

Daylight.

“I was just… I couldn’t sleep,” I say. Hell if I’m telling him I spent all night on Facebook. His gaze softens.

“I didn’t do my job, then,” he says, closing the space between us. I put my phone down and sigh.

“It’s not you,” he says, “and I don’t want to pull you into the middle of what’s happening between me and your mother.”

“She said you didn’t fight, but I have a feeling you did,” he says. I look up at him.

“You thought I fought with your mother and you still brought me home and took care of me?” he shrugs.

“She’s my mother and I love her very much, but she went home to her husband. You’re my responsibility.” I wrap my arms around his waist and lean on his chest.

“I love you,” I say, breathing in his scent.

“I love you, too,” he says. I sigh. “You’re holding it in. You have to tell somebody.” I lean back and look up at him, twisting my lips.

“She looked like a broken puppy when she left my office, and I heard her crying,” I say. “She broke us… plain and simple. She broke us as a team. I have to trust who I’m working with. That’s it. I don’t expect you to take sides here, I really don’t, but I have to say it out loud. She broke us. She broke the team, and I don’t know if it can be fixed.”

“Any idea what it would take to be fixed?” he asks.

“Time, for one,” I admit, “and I’m not sure I’m willing to put it in.” She begged me last year to give Courtney a chance and I did, and we built something, and then she tossed it out like trash. Fuck how Courtney was feeling; fuck what Courtney wanted; Addie was more important.

“You’re taking it really personal, baby. Can you tell me why?” he asks.

“Because this could be anybody,” she says. “This could be a scared and battered wife and mother hiding from her abusive husband. I put in the work and get to the core of this girl’s deepest, darkest secrets—get her to where she’s not afraid to fall asleep at night; to where she finally sees that she’s out from under the oppression of her abusive husband and can do something with her life… move forward like Marlow’s mother did. And then Grace somehow brings the abusive father back into the picture. All that work I’ve done for nothing, and her only excuse and reasoning is that she’s following her instincts.

“Yes, that’s more graphic. Addie wasn’t abusive, but Courtney was crushed, crushed enough to never want to see her grandmother again, and Grace disregarded that… disregarded her feelings, disregarded her wishes, disregarded my work as a person and a professional. It’s very personal, Christian. How can I work with someone like that?”

“Then… why were you crying?” he asks.

“Because I obviously hurt her, and I didn’t mean to. We didn’t fight, but I was merciless in my explanations. She put her friend’s feelings over all professionalism and trust, the very basis of my profession. If she’s going to make decisions over my head without any consideration for my wishes, opinions, or input, then why am I there? I feel strongly about that, but I didn’t mean to hurt her—and I don’t know if she was hurt over understanding what she did to me or the concept of losing me.” He hugs me again.

“You’ll figure it out, baby. I know you will,” he encourages, “but doesn’t it feel better to get it out?”

“A little,” I say, sinking into his embrace.

“What have you been doing down here all night?” he asks. I twist my lips and look up at him, then push my phone over to him.

“Facebook?” he says, mirthfully. “You’ve been on Facebook all night?”

“Watching videos,” I say. “I don’t have any friends online.”

“You’ve got one, Mercer Doctor Lady,” he says and hands my phone back to me.

Laura accepted my friend’s request.


A/N: Ethan Hunt is Tom Cruise’s character in Mission Impossible. He was a master of disguise and could make himself or anyone else look like anyone anywhere.

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 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, you want to vent about something in your life, please feel free to visit the link on the left in the menu entitled “Do You Need To Talk.” No subject is taboo. I just ask that you approach the link with respect for those who have concerns as well as those who respond. You can also get to the link by clicking HERE

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 84—Adelaide Antics

More Aussie—get over it.

All other previous disclaimers still apply.

Dedicating this one to Alexis, who sends me a “thank you” email every time she gets a chapter. I may not always respond, but I see every one of them, my friend. You’re welcome, and thank you for sticking it out with me.

Chapter 84—Adelaide Antics

CHRISTIAN

I’m lying on the bed trying to catch my breath and she’s still playing with my cock. She has made it clear that she’s not done with me yet, so I better get my ass and gear and get ready for round two.

I take a few deep breaths to regain control of my body and try to draw my focus away from my aching dick. My wife playing with it before it’s ready is not necessarily a good thing, but I’m not going to tell her that.

It’s time for mind over matter, Grey. You’ve been here before—being tormented after an orgasm. You can overcome this.

My wife is in tune with me, though, even in this pickled state, and she adjusts her stimulation… gently stroking my balls and playing with my perineum like only she’s allowed to do. It gives my tender head and cock a moment of sweet reprieve, but still adds the sweet stimulation of her gentle hands. I close my eyes and absorb the feeling of my wife touching me as my cock recuperates. A few moments later, I sink into the feeling of her hands on me, stimulating my prostate from the outside.

She looks up at me, demanding, opens her mouth wide and descends upon my balls. I take a deep breath and she sucks them into her mouth. My dick twitches a little, but hasn’t yet revived. She rolls her tongue around the skin, tasting it and never taking her lust-filled blue eyes off of me.

Lick, lick, lick, suck… she’s tasting them, savoring them like candy, and after a minute or two, we have liftoff. When she sees my cock respond to the stimulation, she sucks my balls into her mouth, manipulating them like she’s giving them a blowjob.

“Sssss,” I hiss as she sucks them into her mouth, fellating my testicles like two delicious gumballs right before you devour them. It looks insane and feels even better, and it’s not long before Greystone it staring up at me at attention. He seeps a very tiny bit of grateful moisture from the head and settles back into pleasure, occasionally bobbing his applause at her masterful skills.

I gaze into her commanding blue eyes as I push my pelvis down against the hand still massaging my perineum while she gobbles my balls. Without warning, she takes my cock in her mouth again and I hiss in surprise. She bobs down on it and I can’t help but thrust. Then, she’s up on her knees, nothing touching me but her lips and tongue.

“Good God,” I hiss as I thrust slowly and evenly into her mouth, rolling my hips to keep up with her rhythm. She angles her head at just the right moment in just the right way with each thrust to accommodate the mouth fuck. Her mouth is wet and hot and as I stroke into it, saliva falls amply and provocatively from her lips. I swear if she keeps this up, this show will be over a whole lot sooner than we want.

Fucking hell! What was in that wine?

She grants me reprieve and releases my dick momentarily only to zero in on the head once more. Fucking hell.

She licks the head gently, then purses her lips in the most delicious way and sucks it into her mouth. The skin is still a little pliable and oh, so sensitive and it feels so good. Her puckered lips suck the head, the tightness and pressure never relenting, and now I want to crawl up the bed away from her. Her lips never breach the rim and she’s driving me crazy. When she loosens her lips a bit to allow saliva to run over the head of my dick only to suck it into her mouth and clean the skin again, I nearly break into convulsions.

“I want to make you come like this again,” she says, “but I can’t wait anymore…”

She scurries on top of me and drops down on my rock-hard dick, thrusting it so deep inside of her that I think I feel the opening of her uterus. I’m in elated shock as she just sits atop me, her head back and her eyes closed, her hands flat on my chest.

“Yes!” she breathes, as she flexes and contracts her pussy. “Oh, yes…”

Oh, yes is right! I can’t say it because I’m frozen in pleasure, my hands once again gripping the sheet and my mouth open, looking up at this enchantress and panting like a dog. Do what you wish to me… I’m yours… I don’t care…

She rocks her hips infinitesimally, but she may as well be wobbling like she’s working a hula-hoop! Greystone reaches out in every direction to feel her walls and I can barely function. I watch her lick and bite her lip as she widens the stance of her knees for traction and I’m mesmerized. Her mouth is moving but no words are coming out and she looks ethereal, almost like she’s praying—and this feeling in my cock is heavenly. Her walls are squeezing and grinding against my shaft ever so slightly causing this deliciously infernal burn. The light from behind her is causing a “halo” effect around her and it’s either the remnants of the wine or an extreme pleasure-induced haze, but I swear that God has sent an angel to ride me tonight…

Yeah, it’s the wine, but who the fuck cares?

Her grind intensifies just a bit, a tiny bit of roll and a tiny bit of thrust, and I know that she’s finding the angle that’s hitting that spot. I’m not even here anymore. I’m just that body that’s attached to that dick that’s bringing her to her plateau.

Use me, baby. Fucking use me til you scream…

Her hip roll becomes a steady thrust, short and intense, and her nails dig into my chest. The pain ignites my pleasure center, my balls tighten, and I almost lose it. I grunt loudly, grabbing her knees as she continues to ride me.

Yes… touch me…

I don’t know if she said it out loud, but I heard it. My hands travel up the front of her thighs to her hips, pistoning against mine and working Greystone into a fired frenzy.

“Yes!” she breathes, and I squeeze her hips. Fuck that dick, baby. Ride that cock until you’re dripping all over it.

My hands move up her alabaster skin to her breast. I squeeze her mounds and thumb her taut nipples until they pebble.

“Oh, God,” she keens, her thrusts quickening. She moves her hands from my chest and positions them on the bed on either side of my head.

I can’t play with her breasts anymore. I can’t concentrate… too good… too good…

My hands move to her thighs and clench. I have no choice but to hold on for this masterful ride. She drops her head so that her hair falls forward over my face, reminding me of the very first time she caressed me with her hair. It’s longer now, thicker, and it smells divine, and I swear that I’m slipping into a level of subspace where I’m transcending a bit, my shaft and balls being beaten within an inch of their lives as she’s now thrusting with speed and purpose, fucking me…

Fucking me like a man… like a man would fuck his woman, driving into her balls deep with sweet abandon, feeling her wrap around him over and over again as he pursues sweet release. I’m that man, only I have nothing to do with the fucking. I’m being fucked—ridden like a wild animal.

Her breaths are ragged, driven. Her rhythm is fast and smooth. She doesn’t pump and rock me with each thrust, although the bed rocks violently with our movement. No, her motion is smooth, a groove on and off my dick, the only parts of her moving are her hips as she fucks me and her knees as they open and close on either side of me with each thrust, her feet secure under my thighs anchoring her to my body.

Fuck… oh fuck…

She’s primal as she rides me—fucking feral. I can’t see her face through the mask of her hair over mine, but I know that her eyes are closed, her mind and body concentrating on nothing but riding that dick, nothing but feeling it fill her pussy over and over and over…

I grind my teeth and take in a breath as I feel the orgasm quickly rising in my balls again. She’s not ready, and I can’t go until she does.

With her hands flat on the bed, she moves her hips up and down on my cock with a very controlled and rhythmic bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce. With each silent drop, my cock threatens to blow, but I hold that painful nut, waiting… waiting…

She whimpers. Fuck, she whimpers. The sound of her voice turns me on so much. Don’t come, Grey. Fucking hold it…

I squeeze her thighs harder, trying to hold back my climax banging at my balls and demanding to be released.

She whimpers again.
Fuck, she’s killing me here!

She’s bouncing harder, faster, with purpose, her breathing intentional and ragged… Fuck, I’m not going to make it…

“Come! Come!” she hisses heavily. Shit, I hope she was talking to me, because I squeeze her thighs tight and begin to blow fantastically inside of her. Seconds later, she shrieks and begins to tremble on top of me. I grab her breasts as I’m blasting out my insides, pumping all my hopes and dreams inside of my happy place. Her legs tighten on either side of me, her hands clasp over mine on her breasts, and her head falls back, releasing cries of passion as we both ride out our orgasms.

*-*

Sunday has no particular schedule except to be at the airport at 4:30pm to fly back to Seattle. Even though the session last night was hot as fuck, we managed to get to sleep at a reasonable hour. Butterfly awakes with only a slight hangover—fortunate, but surprising, considering that she probably consumed her body weight in wine yesterday and enamored several people in the process. However, after a steaming hot shower, another round with the breast pump, and lots of water and some ibuprofen for my libation princess, she’s ready to face the day.

We start with some Facetime with our babies with a promise that they will see us tomorrow night. Minnie’s separation anxiety seems to have gotten a little worse and I must say that I’m glad we’ll be home soon. I shudder to think how badly my babies suffered while I was away from them in Madrid. True, they had their mother, but I wasn’t there… and she was suffering, too. God, I can’t believe I was such an insensitive asshole.

Intent on forgetting about the huge fuck-up I made a few months ago after leaving my wife and children with no word if or when I was coming back home, I aim to have fun with my wife for our last day in Australia. So, we have a hearty breakfast and plan to spend our last day at the Adelaide Zoo. However, after talking to the front desk staff, we decide to go to the Cleland Wildlife Park instead. According to the locals, the Adelaide Zoo is nice, but you’re going to spend most of your day seeing more of the common animals that you would see in any zoo. Cleland is a bit more interactive and entertaining on short notice. We’ll get a chance to connect with and observe the indigenous species of the land in their natural habitat.

Once again, Lawrence shadows us while Jason gets us checked out of the hotel and our bags checked at the airport. He’ll meet us at Cleland with a picnic lunch we secured from a local café and then it’s to the airport with us all to return home.

My wife is looking adorably casual in another pair of skinny blue jeans and a cute T-shirt that’s tied in a knot behind her with a caption that says, “Baked in Seattle.” She’s wearing another pair of sneakers today and says that she just wants to be comfortable walking around the zoo and traveling home. I pretty much mimic her outfit in a T-shirt and jeans, although my shirt doesn’t have a caption.

We enter the park through the gift shop and past the café before we exit out the back of the building and we’re on our way to see the animals.

There are a lot of exhibits, but for the most part, many of the animals roam pretty freely so as to maintain the aspects of their natural habitat. So, it’s very easy to just walk up to them and start feeding them. However, there are some enclosures, and what’s the first one that we see?

You guessed it—the reptile enclosure.

“I don’t want to go in there,” Butterfly protests.

“Don’t be a chicken,” I say. “We don’t even know if we’ll see the same things we saw at the zoo. We’ll probably see something more interesting and exotic.”

“I see snakes on the display, Christian. We will see the same things.”

“Well, then, you know that they’re in cages, and I want to see the snakes.” I enter the reptile enclosure to see what types of exotic animals are on display. Lawrence stays with my wife outside as I take a look around.

It’s probably a good idea that Butterfly stayed outside, because some of the snakes are contained in the displays and some of them are not. Granted, they’re not crawling all over the floor, but they are on displays outside of the glass. I don’t know why I’ve always been a bit fascinated by snakes. Maybe it’s because I’ve always considered myself a bit of an unsavory character—unkind, undeserving of love, maybe even a little wicked—and snakes have historically been associated with evil, like the serpent that tempted Eve in the Garden.

There are a few keepers in the reptile enclosure, all near one of the reptiles who aren’t contained. I’m fascinated by the one with this huge greenish snake wrapped around his body. I see that a small child is actually stroking the body of the snake and I walk over to get a closer look.

When I say this damn thing is huge, I mean it’s huge! I have no idea how long it is, but I’m fairly certain that it’s non-venomous if they’re allowing a child to pet it while it’s wrapped around another human being. I’ve only seen two other snakes this big. One is an anaconda and I’m pretty certain this ain’t one of those.

“Is that a Burmese python?” I ask the trainer. That’s the snake that accompanies Selma Hayak’s dance at the strip club in From Dusk Till Dawn.

“Thaht’s a good guess, mayte, but no. This is an olive poython. She can get ta be fordeen feet long and up to 20 kilos in body weight…”

Here’s another example of the varying accents in Australia. He hardly has an accent at all, and not only that, but I also note that he used a metric weight and a standard measure of length.

“Theyse ahr warm weathah poythons that eat really big pry—kangaroos, wallabays, things of thaht soht. This guhl here was actually a breedah for a while, but now she’s here with us.”

She looks strangely majestic wrapped around this guy and I reach out to caress her smooth skin…

“Would ya loike to hold hah?” he asks. I’m taken aback by the question and frown, but I find myself agreeing to hold the ginormous olive python. The keeper shows me how to cradle the snake as he helps her wrap her coils around my body. If you don’t cradle or hold them correctly, they can get hurt, which strangely means that in captivity, we’re more dangerous to them than they are to us.

I’m a tiny bit nervous holding the snake, admiring her texture and how gentle she is, and hearing more facts and statistics about how she came to be in the Adelaide preserve when olive pythons mostly inhabit northern Australia. I’m sort of wishing Butterfly was here with me to take a picture of this, but I’m certain that she’d probably have a coronary if she saw me like this. I don’t know why because it kind of feels like a big hug…

“Christian Trevelyan Grey, what the hell are you doing!?”

Is my mother here?

I raise my gaze to see a tiny and enraged Butterfly glaring at me with her hands on her hips, and the entire reptile enclosure falls silent.

“You have infant twins at home, and you come to Australia and suddenly become Steve Irwin! Have you lost your mind?” she scolds.

“It’s not dangerous, baby,” I say, and I feel like I’m twelve.

“Not dangerous??” she shrieks. “It’s a snake! A very big snake! And I can guarantee that it didn’t get that big by eating mice!”

“Thehr hahmless, ma’am,” the keeper says. “She’s not venomous and she’s gentle as a lamb.” Butterfly throws a glare at the keeper that chills my soul, and I simultaneously throw a glare at Lawrence, who simply shrugs. The shrug says a lot—he couldn’t stop her from coming in, but I’m still miffed at him.

“I thought you were staying outside,” I retort, trying to regain control of the situation.

“You’ve been in here forever,” she counters. “I would like to see the park!”

I haven’t been in here that long… have I?

“Sir,” she says, turning to the keeper, “would you please remove the huge, man-eating reptile from my husband?”

“Yes, ma’am. C’mon, guhl,” the keeper says as he gently begins to uncoil the python from my body and wrap her around his. I can see that he’s unsuccessfully trying to hide his mirth as he retrieves the snake. There’s no use in trying to reason with her right now. She might as well have walked in on me with another woman.

Actually, she did.

She does a military turn to leave and marches towards the door. Just before she gets there, we see a group of children gathered around another keeper. I’m sure we have the exact same thought. What in this room could have children gathered around like that?

She approaches cautiously and stands there, easily able to see over the children and somewhat mesmerized, I must say, by whatever has their attention. I look over her shoulder and the keeper is handling a bearded dragon. I don’t know what has Butterfly so mesmerized, but she is completely entranced. When the keeper asks if she wants to hold it, she extends her hand without even speaking. The keeper places the dragon in her flat palm, and she examines it carefully while the keeper gives us little factoids about it, like the fact that its beard does indeed look like unshaved whiskers and extends fully when he feels threatened.

I snicker at my wife’s obvious double standard and lean in to get a laugh at her expense.

“Mommy, can we keep it?” I whine like one of the children watching my wife, causing them to snicker. It breaks her trance and she looks over her shoulder at me. “You can hold a dragon, but I can’t hold a python.” She sticks her tongue out at me and hands the dragon back to the keeper with a “Thank you.”

“I told you at the zoo that I don’t have problems with lizards. It’s snakes that are my issue,” she says once we clear the door. “And how can you even compare the two? That dragon was twelve inches tops from nose to tail. That snake was ten feet long easily.”

“Fourteen, but who’s counting?” I say, walking past her and looking at the full-sized map since she has the small one.

“You are such an a—ah! Oh, God!” I turn around to see my wife leaping backwards and looking at something on the ground. A large ball of fur is running towards her, and she yelps. And then another. I look at the map and discover that these furry little not-so-adorable creatures are potoroos. Butterfly doesn’t like them too much. As a matter of fact, she could very much do without them.

Potoroos have really long tails and are about the size of a young housecat. When they stand, they resemble very small kangaroos. However, when they run on all fours—which they do more often—they look like very large, really fat rats. They scamper right across the trail as you’re walking by, causing my wife to nearly jump out of her skin when she sees the first one. I’m certain she would have scurried up the nearest tree if she could. Once she sees the first one, she has the displeasure of seeing them scamper all over the park in herds looking for food like giant rats in the sewers of New York. She opts not to feed them, although Lawrence gets a kick out of letting one of them eat from his hand.

A tiny bit of fun never hurt anybody.

A wallaby walks up to us on the trail and Butterfly leans down to feed it. However, a potoroo runs over to partake in the feast and Butterfly is having none of that. So, the poor wallaby has to wait until the next person comes with a treat. No worries, Butterfly. We’ll get a chance to see more wallabies deeper in the park.

Our next stop is the rainbow Lorikeet display. Two of the birds are huddled on the fence together and I swear, they look like their snuggling and making out. The minute one walks down the fence for some room, the other walks right back up to it and continues to rub against the first bird’s feathers.

“Is that how they mate?” I ask Butterfly, who has downloaded the Cleland app to help us identify the animals and get more information on them.

“Maybe,” she says, scrolling through her phone. “They’re mostly monogamous and most of them mate for life. So… these two could be a couple.”

Could be? It looks like one is going to mount the other right here on the fence!

After a quick left turn past the Lorikeets, we arrive at one of three kangaroo habitats—the Kangaroo Island kangaroos. You can walk right up to them and feed them right from your hand. From there we see the swamp wallabies, confirming what I said earlier—that we would get another chance to feed the wallabies without being swamped by what Butterfly so lovingly refers to as “wildlife rats.”

She’ll hold a fancy lizard, but she won’t go near the potoroos… My wife is strange.

Next, we walk through one of the aviaries in the park where we see various species of native birds, water birds, and forest birds and on the other end outside of the aviary, we see the cape barren geese and the emu. I think I remember seeing the emu and some kind of kangaroo at the Seattle Zoo, but I’m not sure. I have to say that I’m getting a kick out of not just seeing the usual suspects as I’m certain we would have had we gone to the Adelaide Zoo instead.

We spend a little time looking at the wombats, but unfortunately, they like to hide in their little dens or holes or whatever you call them. So, they’re not really interested in putting on a show for us. However, it’s a warm day, so the echidnas are out and about on display. They’re these tiny little things that favor miniature porcupines, but when I see them, I swear they remind me of powder puffs—maybe not so puffy, but they still look like powder puffs.

Further into the park are the western grey kangaroos and the yellow-footed flock wallabies. We see the wallabies first, and I mistake them for just more kangaroos, but the locals inform us that wallabies have shorter legs than kangaroos. I only see the difference after they point it out.

A western grey kangaroo with a baby in her pouch comes to eat from my wife’s hand, which is somewhat unusual, we’re told, since kangaroos are extremely protective of their babies. She actually holds onto Butterfly’s hands with one of hers while she eats the feed from her palm. Of course, I must capture that for posterity.

Jason calls us to inform us that he has arrived with our lunch, so we head to the picnic area, intent on saving the Tasmanian Devils and the Koala display for last. More time has passed than we thought as it’s easy to lose yourself in the various species of animals in the park, especially watching them thrive in their own habitat.

“Is it me or does is seem like we haven’t really had any alone time on this trip?” I begin as we tuck into a delicious picnic lunch of Thai salad with beef strips; chicken, avocado, and pesto rolls; a stocked deli and Mediterranean antipasto tray; fruit salad, croissants, sparkling mineral water, bottled water and of course, a bottle of white wine. My wife raises her head slowly and cocks it to the side, gazing at me like a strange animal.

“Well, yes, of course there’s been a lot of fucking,” I acknowledge, “but I just mean out and about.” She begins to load her fork with Thai salad.

“Well, we are in a foreign country,” she replies. “We have to have our security. It’s the nature of the beast—you pointed that out to me. And we’re in a very touristy part of the world. It’s not like we went to a retreat.” She takes the forkful of her salad.

“I know. I guess I kind of expected more ‘gazing at sunsets’ and that sort of thing. Speaking of sunsets…” I pull out the camera and scroll back to the pictures of the sunset that I took at Barossa Valley.

“Christian, these are beautiful,” she says as she scrolls through the pictures, temporarily abandoning her lunch. “Where did you take these?”

“Wine country,” I tell her. “Near the end as we were leaving.” She looks at me and frowns.

“Where was I?” she asks. “How could I have possibly missed this?”

“You were asleep, darling,” I inform her with a smile. The fruits of the land had you knocked out completely. She twists her lips.

“You’re going to rub that in,” she complains, handing me back the camera.

“Not as much as you did last night,” I say before taking a bite of my chicken wrap. The words are out of my mouth before I know it, and I don’t regret it. It’s true. She raises a brow to me and helps herself to some antipasto.

“I made a call a few days ago,” I say. “Remember when I said that I wanted us to have some kind of training when we got back to Seattle?” She nods. “Well, a couple of old, trusted acquaintances got back in touch with me and are willing to set something up for next weekend.” She swallows her food.

“That soon,” she says, picking at her salad. I place my fork on the plate and take her hand.

“Is there any reason why we should wait?” I ask. “We need some formal training.”

“What… exactly is involved in ‘formal training?’” she asks.

“We learn from people with experience how the lifestyle fits into our relationship,” I say, trying not to be too obvious to possible prying ears.

“Hmmm,” she says before turning back to her lunch.

“What?” I ask.

“I’m not sure how I feel about ‘formal training,’” she says. “It brings the Pedo-bitch She-thing to mind.” I twist my lips. I hadn’t thought about that.

“It’s going to be necessary, baby,” I tell her. “We’re going about this the wrong way. We jumped into it with both feet, but we never really knew what the other needed from the relationship. I’m feeling around in the dark for your needs and you’re pushing yourself beyond your limits for mine. That’s totally unacceptable.”

“But… strangers,” she says, trepid, “I realize the importance of assistance, believe me, but the thought of training for something so intimate with outsiders…” She’s shaking her head.

“When you needed guidance, you went to your friend, Michelangelo,” I point out. “This is going to be no different.”

“This is going to be world’s different,” she says, firmly but softly. “Someone’s going to be teaching me how to be a submissive. I remember the BDSM club, Christian, I don’t know if I want anybody to see me like that!”

See her like wha…?

“Whoa! Whoa! Wait a minute. I remember the BDSM club, too. I don’t want anybody to see you like that, either! Is that the kind of training you think I mean?”

Her expression softens, a mixture of relief and confusion.

“I tho… well… well, what other kind of training is there?”

I slump back in the chair a bit, my own emotions a bit of relief and amusement.

“Baby, you’re a psychiatrist,” I say softly, leaning in her direction. “You took human sexuality as part of your required studies. You must know that the biggest percentage of the lifestyle is psychological—what you mentally gain from the experience. The physical is an aid; it’s a means to an end. It’s not the meat of the relationship or the lifestyle. You must know that.”

“Well, yes, but…” Just as she begins her protest, I can see one of those three-second-funnels run through her head with a myriad of scenarios and questions and situations and realizations and in just as much time, she says, “You’re right. My mind is totally blowing past that part because it’s wrapped around the physical portion of it. I don’t know how I could have missed it.”

“Because you’re in it,” I point out, stroking the skin on the back of her hand. “It’s the same thing as being able to help someone else face and conquer their fears, but not being as successful about facing your own. It’s a normal human flaw. But now that I understand more clearly, I can tell you. Our training will be all instructional, informational, and verbal. We may take part in an activity or two if it’s required or we desire it, but I don’t want anybody else seeing or touching that beautiful body any more than you do.”

I stroke her cheek with the back of my hand and she physically relaxes. Geez, if she thought for one second that I would want anyone but me exercising any dominance of any kind on her, I’m extremely glad to dispel that theory. Touch my Butterfly? In a pig’s eye! And some other horny Dom watching me spank or flog her so that he can go impose his will on some pain whore somewhere with images of my Butterfly in his head? I think not!

“Yes,” she says, “yes, I think I would like to pursue this… to see… what we need to do to enhance our relationship and… to meet each other’s needs.” She’s choosing her words carefully. I can tell.

“I want to be a good husband, and a good Dom to you,” I say without hesitation or careful choosing of my words. “I want us to come to an agreement of what works for us instead of you feeling like my will must be imposed upon you. When I’ve lost control, I do want you to help me back to where I need to be, but only to the extent of what you can take, not what you think I need. You’re the perfect Domme for me when the time comes—and with very little training—but I’m definitely not the perfect Dom for you… yet.”

“That’s what we’re aiming for?” she asks uncertain. “Perfection?”

“As fucking close as we can get,” I say, bringing her hand to my lips and pressing a gentle kiss on her fingers. She gives me a faint, coy smile.

“I can deal with close,” she says softly.

We finish our lunch talking lightly about the things we plan to do when we get back home, but I can tell that she’s still distracted by the previous content of our conversation. I’ll just have to show her that everything will be better throughout the course of our training. She’s not some mindless, meaningless submissive. She’s my wife, and it’s important that she knows what she means to me—even in that submissive role… especially in that submissive role.

We’re back on the trail to commune with the rest of the animals in the park before we must head to the airport. Our first stop is the red kangaroo area. The kangaroos stick around in groups of two or three—one, occasionally—especially babies with parents. All of the animals are pretty docile and accustomed to human interaction, and the red kangaroo is no exception. I lean down to feed one of them while Butterfly is feeding another. He lies down on the grass in the shade and gets comfortable, forcing me to walk over to him and squat. While he’s chilling under the tree, I extend my open hand with the feed and he just chomps away. I reach up and rub his head, giving him a scratch behind his ear. The freaking diva raises his chin like a dog as if to say, “You missed a spot.” I hear a little giggle and look over at my wife, who’s videotaping my interaction with my latest friend on the digital camera. I give her a good show and scratch him under his neck, since he so obligingly raised his head to give me a better angle.

We continue through the preserve and arrive at the dingoes den. They have a beautiful coat, and amongst themselves, they’re very playful. However, they’re considered “pests” and as an old tale goes, they like to eat babies in Australia. I don’t know how true that is, but according to one of the locals also attending the park, there is a story from the 80’s that a woman named Lindy Chamberlain’s baby mysteriously disappeared while on a camping trip.

Dingoes, like any other animal in the wild, are opportunistic and mostly eat small animals like rabbits and rodents. At the time, the ranger was touting that dingoes in the area were becoming quite aggressive and due to the eating habits and reputation of the dingo, Chamberlain declared that a dingo had eaten her baby. The story is apparently pretty controversial because some people say that dingoes don’t really eat babies. Yet, she lost her baby and blamed a dingo.

Though the infant’s clothing was discovered mangled and bloody about two and a half miles away from the campsite, the child was never found.

The dingo is a carnivorous canine, likened to a reddish-brown wild dog, with a longer snout and sharper teeth. Whether they attack babies or just eat rabbits remains to be seen. However, the pure dingo is an endangered species because of crossbreeding with domestic dogs, so pest or not, the pure dingoes in this habitat are protected.

We finally get to see some real, live Tasmanian devils. The little buggers are tiny little black things that scurry around looking for food or whatever it is they’re looking for. This being my first time ever seeing a live Tasmanian devil, I try to compare it to the cartoon.

“No resemblance,” I say. Butterfly frowns.

“To what?” she asks.

“To the cartoon,” I reply. She pauses for a moment, then laughs loudly.

“Besides the ears, have you ever seen a rabbit that looks like Bugs Bunny?” she asks mirthfully.

She’s got a point.

Many of these devils are very small, but they’ll only get to be just over two feet long at their longest only about 18 pounds. I would say that all of these are less than ten pounds. They can run pretty fast—about 8 miles/hour—and although he’s not leaving utter destruction in his path, this little guy in the enclosure looks like he’s trying to reach that speed as he runs around and around and around in circles while his friends just sit on a rock watching him. I guess the cartoon Tassy is more of a caricature of what the Tasmanian devil should look like, because I see little to no resemblance whatsoever.

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Now, of course, Butterfly has to have the experience of holding a koala. They’re cute and lovable and right up her alley, and they’re actually very strong. My wife adores them. Had I jokingly asked if we could take one home like I did the bearded dragon, I’m certain she would have agreed and demanded that I find a way for us to have a Koala transported to the Crossing. I could see myself trying to convince her that we are not the Neverland Ranch and a koala is not Bubbles. Oh, the arguing with PETA and animal control and the zoning board for keeping an exotic animal in the area…

And I quickly bring my mind back from the tangent.

We pet them for a while and learn about their upbringing and temperament from the keeper while they feed on sprigs with eucalyptus leaves. Finally, Butterfly gets her much-anticipated opportunity to hold the koala. The keeper instructs us to don a smock that’s very soft like velvet or something, almost like the koala’s fir and the same color. We each get the opportunity to hold the koala in our arms and Butterfly is completely stricken. She gets her picture taken with the little guy and I think he’s as stricken with her as she is with him—he won’t release her when it’s my turn to hold him.

We finally come to a compromise and Butterfly pets him while I hold him. That’s the only way that he would settle in my arms! When he finally does, though, he cuddles into me and continues to eat his eucalyptus leaves. Butterfly stays by my side while I take a picture with it to keep the little guy from squirming. It’s like holding a small child—well, not my kids. My kids are cuter, but this little guy is pretty cute, too. We have to be careful while we’re handling them as they have powerful claws and can scratch you pretty badly. That’s why we wore the smocks.

Butterfly is sad to leave the wildlife park, particularly the koala area, but we stop at the gift shop where we buy lots of trinkets and souvenirs as well as copies of our pictures from the Koala experience. Oh, and she purchased several stuffed koalas, too.


ANASTASIA

Traveling to and from Australia means that you can literally be traveling for about 48 hours to three days, if you count swapping planes and layovers. What I can’t understand is if we could fly from Sydney straight to Seattle after a 1 ½-hour layover—which is what we did—why couldn’t we fly from Seattle straight to Sydney? Since I’m not the pilot, it’s a rhetorical question. And since the flight is already done, it’s also a moot point.

There’s a bit of fanfare at the airport when we arrive—not much, but more than I expected since no one knew that we had left the country. I assume that someone else must have been flying out or arriving at SeaTac, and they just got a bonus capturing the Greys.

Boy, was I wrong!

I’m sad to leave Australia and my fuzzy koala friends, but I’m very happy to be home with my bed and my babies, though I can honestly admit that I didn’t miss the snow. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on those two little pink bundles when we arrive on Sunday evening, and Gail is right on top of it, handing me Minnie the moment I remove my coat and settle in the family room. Once that order of business is complete, she dives right into the next one.

“Did I correctly see you with a giant snake wrapped around your body?”

Christian and I look at each other and back at her.

“What?” he asks incredulously.

“Either someone has some very good photoshopping skills or there’s a picture circulating around the internet of you with a Burmese python wrapped around your body… in those clothes!” she confirms pointing at him.

“Are you serious?” he asks. “That couldn’t have been a day ago! Did you see any paps around?” he inquires of Jason.

“Um, I was retrieving lunch at the time,” Jason replies, “but Ben didn’t notify me of any press when I got back.”

“Then who took the picture?” I ask.

“It says Renee Schuller took the picture,” Gail says, scrolling through her phone. “She was another visitor at the zoo when she heard someone yell your name. Knowing who you were, she snapped the picture and posted it on her Facebook. It went viral in a matter of an hour.” My husband slowly turns his head to me, and I shrink a bit.

“Well, what did you expect?” I defend. “I walk into a reptile enclosure that I didn’t want to go inside in the first place to find my wayward husband who had spent so much time in there, I thought one of the reptiles had eaten him, and when I get in there, he’s got a god… gosh darn snake wrapped around his body that I discover is over twice as long as he is tall! Yes, I flipped the f… freak out.”

“You called out his name?” Jason asks.

“Yes, I was horrified! He had a frag-nabbit python wrapped around his body!”

“And someone recognized him just because you called out his name?” Gail protests.

“She called out my full name—all three of them—loudly, and somebody knew who I was. I was expecting to turn around and see Grace standing there! Instead, I’m standing there being scolded by my wife trying to convince her that the snake is harmless. Even the keeper was laughing at me. Oh! But not five minutes later, she’s holding a dragon!” All eyes snap to me.

“God, you are so dramatic,” I chastise.

“You were holding a Komodo dragon?” Gail asks surprised.

“No!” I reply, a bit perturbed with my husband. “I was holding a bearded dragon, not a Komodo dragon. Komodo dragons are much bigger than bearded dragons…”

“Yeah, like a hundred and eighty pounds,” Jason points out.

“Exactly!” I say. “I was holding a lizard that was about 10 inches long. He was holding a 14-foot python!”

“And it was an olive python, not a Burmese python,” Christian defends.

“What’s the difference?” I retort.

“About ten feet,” Jason interjects. Christian makes that one-up kind of face, and I just want to punch him.

“Fourteen feet, Christian!” I announce. “Fourteen feet of man-eating reptile wrapped around your body! Exactly how did you expect me to react?”

“I didn’t expect you to be there!” he counters.

“Then you should’ve brought your as… butt out of the reptile cage!” I retort sharply.

“What is this thing you’re doing?” Jason points at me with an open hand. “Gosh darn butt freaking frag-nabbit—what is this?”

“My children are almost a year old which means they’re going to be forming more words which means I don’t want any cursing around my babies.” I announce.

“Yet, you’re cursing me out about a flipping snake,” Christian mumbles, deliberately loud enough for me to hear him. Did I curse once? Did I say even one curse word? One?

“I’m going to hit him,” I say calmly to Jason while pointing to my husband. I’m going to hit him really hard and he may need medical attention.

“Remember, boss,” Jason says, “you have to sleep with her.”

Christian twists his lips but quickly gets the point and goes to the refrigerator.

“Hey! You guys are back!” Chuck comes from the area of the elevator, acknowledging our presence. “It’s been dead here without you,” he says, coming over to the sofa and giving me a kiss on the cheek. “How was Australia?”

“It was an adventure,” I say, somewhat dryly. Chuck sits on the arm of the sofa next to Keri.

“You didn’t have a good time?” he asks, curious. I sigh and kiss my yawning baby girl.

“No, we really had a great time—a couple of adventures here and there, but nothing to write home about… except when someone gets a picture of you and posts it on Facebook.” I twist my lips as Christian comes back into the family room with a Budvar, drinking it straight from the bottle.

“Oh, you saw the picture,” Chuck says. “What did you think?”

“I didn’t see it,” I reply. “I was there!” He turns to Christian.

“What did you think?” Chuck asks.

“I didn’t see it either, but I will,” he says dryly, before taking a drink of his beer.

“Ooookay, so, that’s my cue to shut the hell up,” Chuck says.

“Good idea,” Jason advises, “and watch your language.”

“What did I say?” Chuck says, shrugging.

“Hades,” Jason replies. “Her Highness doesn’t want any cursing around the children since they’ll be picking up words soon.” Chuck nods.

“Will you ever stop calling me Her Highness?” I ask.

“Old habits die hard and you started it, so live with it,” he replies matter-of-factly. I twist my lips and turn to Chuck.

“So, Chuck, tell us about your trip, first. How did things go?” I ask. Chuck sighs.

“Well, I got to see Mom and Dad’s house… not new, but new to me. It’s in Rapid City and it’s really beautiful—four bedrooms and three baths. Mom and Dad don’t need that much room, but they wanted to have room when Sunny and the kids came to visit. It’s a beautiful place and I would have loved to share some of those missed years with them, but…” He trails off and clears his throat.

“You know that we spent the days in court,” he continues, entwining his fingers with Keri’s. “Most of the nights we spent in front of the fireplace with good old-fashioned hot cocoa and marshmallows, going through albums and pictures of old times… and things that I missed—birthday parties, Christmases, Thanksgivings. We had good, home-cooked meals. I mean our meals here are pretty great, but there’s nothing like Mom’s cooking. She made this cabbage soup that she used to make when I was at home. I haven’t had it in forever! And the pan cornbread! Keri had three helpings!” he laughs.

“Eet wahs deleshush!” Keri exclaims, her eyes large. “It wahm an wholesome. ‘S like a huhg from de inside!”

We all laugh, and Chuck continues to tell us how his parents connected with him in their home and in their town, how they saw the sights of the city and even visited Mt. Rushmore. We don’t rush him to talk about the trial. We just let him ramble on for a while about reconnecting with his parents and wanting to go back home to visit more often, now that he actually has a home.

“Joe is a miserable bastard,” he says finally, as if he were saving the worst for last. “He sees what he’s done, and he knows what he’s done. He just doesn’t care. He found a way to make himself the victim the entire time. He told the court about my drinking, my terrible behavior—you know, destroying his wedding and stuff—and how he was desperately trying to protect his parents from my toxicity. It was like he had a catalog of every terrible thing I had ever done when I was drunk. If I were on the outside looking in, I would have taken his side, too.”

“So… what happened? Did he win?” Jason asks. Chuck purses his lips.

“We had an uphill battle, me and mom,” Chuck says. “We had to prove that we had lost something besides time in order for it to be an actionable case. Joe spent months preparing for this case. Every bit of my dirty laundry has been aired in South Dakota… the cars I wrecked, the wedding I destroyed, the break-ups I’ve had—if I stole a pack of gum, it’s now on the court record. At first, everybody was looking at me like I was a criminal, but when we got a chance to speak…”

He clears his throat again and has to regain his countenance a bit. It’s obviously hard for him to talk about it, and now I can see why he waited to discuss it.

“Joe talked for the whole first day, which I thought was strange since he was the defendant. He had all kinds of convincing evidence as to why he felt like I shouldn’t be allowed contact with my parents. He looked like the perfect, simple little country boy just trying to protect his ‘maw and paw’ while I went off to the city to live a fast life and get drunk. He even used our accident against me,” Chuck says, looking at me, “claiming that he came to Seattle to see me last year only to find me laid up, busted, and broken after having an accident from driving while drunk. I looked like Satan when he was done. I didn’t even want to take the stand. We went to a restaurant that night for dinner, and they wouldn’t even serve us!”

He shakes his head while Christian and I exchange a glance. He tried to use my accident to gain ground for his selfish actions—that unfeeling asshole!

“I came back to the house that night, and I told Mom that I didn’t think it was worth it. I would be coming back to Seattle at the end of the week and I would never have to see that town or him again if I didn’t want to, but they have to live there. Mom wouldn’t let me quit. She told me that he stole something very valuable from us and that if we didn’t see this through, win or lose, that he would automatically win. Then Keri gave me a pep talk and pretty much said the same thing Mom said. All I had was the truth—I didn’t have a mountain of memories and journal entries to spill in front of the court. I didn’t know how effective I would be.

“We went to court the next day and got the surprise of our lives. With a town full of angry ass people staring at me, I took the stand. Mom’s lawyer asked me questions, and I told my side. I didn’t deny anything he said. I owned up to everything that I did, except I wouldn’t let him use that accident against me. I told the court about the car that T-boned us and that anyone who wanted to know what happened in that accident could Google my name, the date, and that accident in Seattle and get the truth.”

“Did they do that?” I ask.

“Most of the court was on the phone while I was still testifying,” he responds. “That’s when the tide changed.”

Jesus, I’m glad to hear that! I’m sitting on the edge of my seat—literally—waiting to hear the rest of what happened.

“With one statement and in a matter of about a minute, I had established Joe as a liar and even worse, an opportunist. He not only lied about me and the accident, but he tried to use it against me to his advantage in a court of law, which is perjury. To keep him out of jail, his lawyer recalled him to the stand where he testified that he didn’t intentionally lie on me; he just didn’t have all the facts. With my history and seeing me laid up from a car accident, of course he assumed I was driving drunk. The judge opted not to charge him with perjury, but the damage was already done.

“I told the court about my time in rehab and AA; the years of trying to get in touch with my parents and how he destroyed all my letters; thinking that they hated me and never wanted to see me again; doing my tours of duty and coming back and joining a private security force; getting into that terrible accident that almost killed me; only being able to reach my parents because I had a wealthy boss who tracked them down after Joe came to see me asking for money for them and told me that they still wanted nothing to do with me; having an entire family all across the country that didn’t even know I was alive… I’d say the tide shifted pretty strongly.

“Mom had a plan… a big one. Never try to pull one over on your mother. She’ll get you every time.” He chuckles and shakes his head.

“My family came from everywhere!” he says, “not all of them, but a lot of them. They all talked about watching my mother suffer, about the years she spent researching and following dry trails and trying to track me down, waiting for a phone call or something in the mail to tell her something, anything, any tiny bit of hope. Mom had been searching for years trying to find me—trying to get me some help if that’s what I needed—and all the time, I was okay. I was in full recovery and living a healthy life. What Joe did wasn’t just selfish. It was cruel.

“Three days of nothing but solid testimony against my brother—hours and hours of recounting all the stories he told and the lengths he went to in order to ensure that I wouldn’t be able to get in touch with anybody and that nobody would be able to get in touch with me. Christian, as horrible as it was, had that car not nearly killed me, I never would have found my family, and they never would have found me.

“The parade of people that came through that courtroom talking about how my mother suffered, what she went through and what she did—they laid a foundation for her, and she got on that stand and cinched the deal.

“Mom had records—money that she paid for internet searches and background checks—nothing that panned out because she was using amateur resources and by the time she was searching for me, I was already in the service. After I didn’t hear anything from them, I moved on with my life. Jay called me about this great opportunity, I came to Seattle, and that was that… but Mom, she now had to deal with what she accepted as the death of her son and was going through therapy… money trail.”

I see where he’s going with this. They’re suing for slander and defamation of character, but he didn’t want money—he never did. He just wanted somebody to tell Joe that he was wrong, but you don’t get that kind of satisfaction in civil court. There has to be something lost—like I lost wages when David kidnapped me, and I lost money when that Keystone Cop took my credit cards—that can result in a need for restitution and possibly be a catalyst for punitive damages. Maddie produced that loss. Now, they had a real case.

“Joe had tried to make the therapy seem like it was my fault for disappearing. It didn’t float. Even his ex-wife showed up in court talking about how obsessed he was with keeping me and my parents apart even before she left him. In the end, he lost.”

Those were the words I was waiting for.

“He lost the case?” I confirm. “You won?” Chuck nods.

“Mom showed a monetary loss and had records and witnesses to prove it. I didn’t really show a monetary loss except for the stamps on the letters he destroyed. But when I mentioned the wealthy boss who tracked my parents down, there’s an expense that can be tracked… and it was enough.”

“So, what happened?” I ask, anxious to hear Joe’s fate.

“The jury found in our favor,” he says. “They awarded us one of the weirdest settlements I’ve ever seen in my life. Joe has to pay me and my mom a dollar a week… every week… for life!”

“What?” I ask, a bit surprised as well as a bit appalled.

“Yep, and if he misses a payment, he’ll be held in contempt of court and arrested.”

“You’re kidding,” Christian says.

“I’m not,” Chuck replies. “He can’t file bankruptcy to discharge it, because it’s something that he can pay. There’s no hardship. Even if he had other debts that he couldn’t pay, this one still couldn’t be discharged. He is locked in. If he doesn’t make the payments, he’ll be held in contempt of court and then have to do jail time. Then he’ll have to pay fines when he gets out and he’ll still have to pay our restitution. The only way that he can get out of this is to leave the state, but even that has its repercussions. He would still have to make the payments wherever he goes and if he doesn’t and the court finds out, there’ll be a warrant issued for his arrest and he’ll be a fugitive. He’s locked in.”

“How did things end?” Jason asks. “I mean, I know you had to have something to say.”

“I told him to never darken my door again and forget that I’m alive except when he has to write my check. Then I let him know that every penny that he gives me is going to a local alcohol rehab program so that more people can be success stories like me.”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Fifty-two dollars a year—that hardly seems like compensation for what you lost.”

“Can you really put a price on what he did to me?” Chuck says. “To my family? They thought I was dead… my mom thought I was dead. He knew I was alive… and well. He knew I had gone through rehab. He knew I was in the military. He knew, but he was holding this anger for what I did at his wedding, and subsequently somehow blamed me for ruining his life. My mother can’t stand not to speak to him because that’s her son, and I wouldn’t expect it to be any other way, but what he did to us is immeasurable.

“I think the judge did the right thing, because assigning a specific dollar amount would have been an insult. Yet, by saying, ‘Send them a dollar a week every week for life…’ you don’t know when that’s going to end, so there’s no set dollar amount on that. Plus, he’ll never forget. He’ll never forget what he did to us and why he has to pay for it, even if it’s just a dollar. He was wrong. He was very wrong, and somebody in authority confirmed that. Somebody told him he was wrong, and he can’t take out a loan or hock his drawers and pay off the debt and call it even. It’ll never be even. What he did to us will never be even! Yeah, I think the judge did the right thing.”

He takes a deep breath and lets it out while Keri rubs his back.

“Mom surprised me, though,” he says once he’s calm again. “She kissed him in the middle of the courtroom right after the verdict in front of everybody. She told him that she loved him, but that she must have failed somewhere as a mother. She told him that if he doesn’t pay that dollar every week to me and to her like the judge ordered that contempt of court wouldn’t be his only problem. She said that $2 a week was the very least that he could do after what he put his family through, and that if he couldn’t do that, she would never speak to him again. She said that she has unconditionally given the last fifteen years to him and that she was giving the rest to me, and he could be a part of it, or he doesn’t have to. It’s his choice. And then we left.”

“Wow… talk about courtroom drama,” I say.

“I feel so bad for Joe,” Chuck says. I almost hurt myself rubbernecking over to him.

“Why in the he… heck do you feel bad for Joe?” Christian asks

“Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying he didn’t deserve what he got, but I do feel sorry for him. I don’t know if he has any friends, but he’s alienated his family to the degree that I don’t think it can ever be fixed. I’m his brother. No matter what happened in our lives, I’m still his brother, and look what he did to me. Look what he did to my mom and dad. Nobody’s ever going to trust him again.

“I was under the influence of a controlling drug that I let go of and never touched again. He did this with sound mind and body. He has no excuse. I can forgive him for what he did to me. I really can. I can’t forgive what he did to my mom and dad.”

He shakes his head again and the room falls silent.

“So, on another note, my parents are going to spend an early Christmas with Sunny and the kids, and then, they’re coming here and staying through the New Year. I had a feeling you wouldn’t mind if they stayed here, but they can stay at my place in Bainbridge if it’s an imposition.” His face is alight again with joy, talking about his parents coming for Christmas.

“Now you know better than that,” Christian scolds. “Find out what would make them more comfortable. I’m fine with whatever they want to do.”

“When will they arrive?” I ask.

“I don’t know yet, but I’ll have to get the Bainbridge house cleaned for their arrival just in case,” he says. “Now, enough about me. I want to hear about the trip. I’ve never been to Australia. Jason, what do you think of Sophie’s new look?”

Jason frowns and Gail drops her head.

“Dammit, Chuck, thanks a lot!” she exclaims. I look down at Minnie and she’s asleep in my arms. Mikey is out cold in the Pack-n-Play. Crisis averted. Gail didn’t even notice.

“What new look?” Jason asks. Gail shakes her head and takes out her phone. She swipes the screen and enters something into it. Jason reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone.

“What the fuck!?” he yells.

And two babies are startled and crying.

“God! Thanks, Jason!” I declare and try to get Minnie to settle while Christian retrieves Mikey and gently begins to sooth him. Jason is unfazed, at least by my scolding.

“Gail, what the hell?” he hisses quietly through his teeth.

“She wanted to try something different,” Gail defends. Did she shave her head? Oh, dear God…

“What’s wrong? What is it?” I ask, praying that she didn’t follow Harmony’s lead and scalp herself.

“Purple!” he barks at me. “Her hair is purple! She looks like one of those rainbow horses you used to see in those cartoons! Who’s idea was this?”

0c92ef8bcafa0f5da9440b78ed459cb6And now I’m trying to suppress a laugh. The hormonal, emotional teenage girl dyed her hair purple. Worse things have happened.

“Calm down, Jason. It’s a rinse,” Gail chastises. “It’ll be gone in about three shampoos and then she’ll probably be green.”

“Oh, God,” Jason laments. “Please don’t let child services see her. They’ll probably take her away from me.”

“Um, Jason,” I say, “child services removes a child from abusive and dangerous situations, not because she dyed her hair purple.” He sighs heavily and rolls his eyes.

“This is just a phase, right? Tell me this is a phase. I hope this is a phase…”

“Oh, for God’s sake, man, stop being so dramatic. What are you going to do when she brings home a boyfriend?” Gail chides. I raise a brow and turn to Jason.

“Ugh,” he groans, puts his hand on his forehead, and turns away. Gail and I chuckle quietly, and I just shake my head. She’s already in that stage, Jay. You better prepare yourself.


A/N: The way that this picture was previously labeled in Pinterest made me think I might have made young Sophie’s hair purple before. I don’t think I did, but just in case, someone let me know if I did.

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 67—Saying Goodbye To Yesterday

Happy New Year, everyone. I’m still dealing with a bit of the winter blues, but I’m so happy to have made it whole and healthy to 2019 that I totally forgot to be depressed. 🙂

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

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

Chapter 67—Saying Goodbye To Yesterday

ANASTASIA

We have a few more Bailey’s cocktails than I intended, but still manage not to overdo it. I have a recipe for Bailey’s smores, which is like a root beer float, only it’s made with all the ingredients for a smores with a healthy amount of Bailey’s added—something strong enough to relax her but not enough to leave her drunk or with a hangover. Courtney only had one very early in the afternoon. Harmony and I had one before dinner and after dinner. We all chewed the fat through dinner, but Courtney excused herself before the second round of smores.

“Christian’s really a great guy,” Harmony says, very relaxed and finally not crying. “Momma liked him a lot. She said that he used to crawl under her porch and drink lemonade or something. Do you know anything about that?” I nod.

“He told me about it a while ago,” I say. “He doesn’t talk about it much, but he remembers his visits fondly.”

“She said he was a bit of a troubled kid,” she adds, “but she didn’t give me details. I can’t imagine Christian being that kid.”

There’s a lot about Christian I bet you can’t imagine.

We’re silent for several moments before she finally says something.

“I can’t believe that he was a horrible guy the whole time,” she says. Huh? “Ken, I mean,” she adds. Oh! I thought she was talking about my husband. “I knew I wasn’t the only person he was seeing because we weren’t exclusive. He was older and worldlier—and he had the prettiest eyes…”

I didn’t notice that about him.

“I mean, on first glance, they just look like regular eyes,” she corrects herself, “but when the light hits them just this certain way…” She trails off. “I know he doesn’t look like much, but he was the world to me… at first. He told me I was special, and he treated me like a princess. He was the only guy to ever make me come from just having sex.”

Hmm, she’s been having sex since she was twelve and this guy is the first to make her come from sex? That’s sad.

“Yes, that can be quite powerful,” I say. She nods.

“Especially for a promiscuous, love-starved young girl with daddy issues,” she admits. “I was ripe for the picking and he took full advantage. I married him a few months after I met him, and I was totally stricken. I don’t remember when I told him about my trust, but somewhere down the line, he asked about it—and I asked Momma. That’s when she told me that she wasn’t going to give it to me. She wanted to see what Ken was going to do to take care of us. I was so mad,” she says shaking her head. “I just kept thinking, ‘What right do you have to make my husband prove his love for me to you?’ I was pissed and glad at the same time. I thought, ‘We’ll show her! We’ll make it without her damn money.’

“When I told Ken what happened, do you know what that asshole said to me? He said, ‘Go back over there and apologize. Kiss her ass and tell her whatever she needs to hear to get that trust.’ I thought I had crossed over into another dimension. Could this be my prince saying this to me? I told him, ‘no.’ I told him what her requirements were and that we could make it together and we would be fine without her money. He laughed at me… he ridiculed me, called me naïve, stopped talking to me altogether. When I tried to talk to him, he’d ask, ‘Have you talked to your mother?’ I still refused to believe that he was the monster that he was proving to be.

“Then, the women started. He wasn’t even discreet about it. I would find cancelled checks that he made out to these women, but I dare not ask him for a dime. I even found love letters written to them, and we won’t even talk about the nights he disappeared. It took four women—four—for me to realize I was a fucking joke… nothing but a big payoff and when I couldn’t deliver, he didn’t want me. So, here I am… no prince, a broken heart, and my Mom is gone. I got my trust, though,” she finishes, in a tragic tone.

I don’t know what to say to that. I knew she had to be heart-broken when she first found out what a loser her ex-husband was. I didn’t know that she still felt that way. Maybe she’s talking about her heart being broken because she’s lost Tina, I don’t know.

Is it crazy that I miss him sometimes?” she asks. I raise my brow. No, she’s not talking about Tina. I shake my head.

“Not at all,” I tell her. “You don’t know my entire story, but I used to be in love with this real psychopath. He was smooooooooth as silk, and I worshiped the ground he walked on. The problem was that he knew he could get any girl he wanted—and did. The cheating was ridiculous, let me tell you. My best friend finally forced me to see what he was doing to me and I finally broke up with him—put him out of my apartment. Do you know that for years after that, I still yearned for him? Still wanted him to come back? There were points where if he had come back, I would have welcomed him with open arms. Luckily—and unluckily—he didn’t come back until I was over him.”

“Why unluckily?” she asks. “I mean if you were over him…” she trails off.

“Because he couldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, and that’s when I met the psychopath. I found out that he lied about his background and who he was. I discovered that he brutally beat this girl in his hometown for breaking up with him, and she looked just like me. I found out how schizophrenic he was because in one breath, he needed me and couldn’t live without me and in the next breath, I was a whore and a bitch because I was with Christian. Bear in mind, this was four years after our final breakup. Then, I learned just how crazy and psychopathic he was when he kidnapped me and had me chained to a bed for four days.”

“Oh, dear God!” she exclaims. “How did you possibly get out of that?”

“It was a combination of things. He was running out of time and he got desperate and gave me my phone, trying to convince me to call Christian. Instead, I made an emergency call without him knowing and kept him talking until my phone died. Jason, Christian, and the Seattle police tracked us down and rescued me.”

“Who’s Jason?” she asks.

“Christian’s head of security,” I say, and she nods.

“Oh, yeah, I know him,” she replies. “I didn’t know the police were really able to track your phone.”

“Well, I think they are, but they didn’t. Jason and Christian tracked my phone, then they picked me up in Christian’s helicopter and they had to get me to the hospital because I needed medical attention.”

“Helicopter?” she asks bemused. “What happened to just a regular old ambulance?”

“I… was on an island. Vashon Island to be exact. There’s only one way in and one way out besides air, and that was the ferry, so…” I shrug.

“Why did you need medical attention? There aren’t any hospitals on Vashon Island?” I shrug.

“I don’t know,” I admit honestly. “Christian had to get to me, so he flew his helicopter to get me and brought me inland to Seattle General…”

I tell her the whole ugly story of my desperate ex-boyfriend and his asshat ex-Keystone Cop sidekick with an axe to grind because he fucked up and lost his job. Harmony sits there in awe as I recount my horrible tale about being willing to die before I succumbed to Stockholm’s Syndrome, about Christian swooping in like Superman to save me, and about the eventual deaths of both my captors.

“Jesus, Ana,” she says when my story, “I just had a sucky husband, you had a full-on psycho… Do you think Ken could be that psychotic?”

“He doesn’t strike me as the type,” I assure her.

“Did Edward strike you as the type before he did it?” she asks.

Good point.

“Edward was obsessed,” I tell her. “Ken is looking for a quick dime. He’s not going to do anything even slightly dangerous to get it, I can guarantee you that.”

“How can you be so sure?” she asks. I wasn’t going to tell her this, but now I’ve planted a seed in her head about a crazy ex-boyfriend and now, I have to dig it out.

“The Friday before our interview aired, I went to see your ex-husband,” I tell her, “me and two of my bodyguards. We might have let him see our firearms in their holsters as we gently encouraged him to sign the damn divorce papers and to leave you the fuck alone.” And her eyeballs bulge again.

“You did what?” she asks in shock. “And when?” I recount the details of my visit to her ex-husband the week before he signed the papers. Her mouth falls open.

“He said something to Carrick about not wanting any trouble or something like that… That was you?” Before I get the chance to answer, she throws her arms around me and loses herself in a fit of sobs.

*-*

I hear a gentle knock that causes me to open my eyes and take in my unfamiliar surroundings. Harmony and I are sprawled out on her mother’s larger-than-life king-sized bed, fully dressed. I raise my head and I’m sporting a bit of a headache, but nothing too severe. Shit! I fell asleep! Did I call Christian? Did Chuck call him?

Ignoring my alarm, I slowly raise my head a bit to see a gorgeous mop of coppery-brown hair with soft gray eyes underneath peeking into the door.

“Are you ladies decent?” he says softly.

“Mmmmm,” I groan. He walks into the room looking every bit the Greek god in his jet-black suit.

Shit! The funeral! Now I pop up from the bed and get a slightly uncomfortable head rush.

“Are you ladies hung over?” he adds with a chuckle, walking over to the bed and sitting on the edge, gently massaging my scalp. I hold my thumb and index finger together to denote, “A little.” He nods and gestures to the door. Windsor comes in with a rolling tray, no doubt covered in food.

“He tells me you had Baileys last night,” my husband says softly. I nod. “So, we’ve brought you some ibuprofen, a nice and greasy breakfast, and some Baileys-laced coffee.” I nod again. “How much did you drink?”

“Maybe three or four smores,” I say. “Not enough to cause any real damage.” He frowns.

“You drank smores?” he asks bemused. I wave him off.

“It’s hard to explain,” I tell him. “I’m sorry I didn’t call.” He kisses my forehead.

“You were on a mission of mercy,” he says, “and partial self-destruction, it appears.” He looks over at Harmony. “How did she handle the drinks?” I look over at her.

“Better than me, I think,” I say. “She needed some rest. Today is going to be a rough day… and her father came yesterday.”

“Christ, they’re coming out of the woodwork,” he hisses. “So, the gambling king showed up yesterday?” I raise my brow.

“Ooh… that’s what he was talking about,” I acknowledge.

“What do you mean?”

“He asked for money,” I tell him, “says that he owes some bad men and that they’ll probably kill him if they don’t get paid.”

“Did Harmony give it to him?” he asks. I shake my head.

“She told him that he made that bed, now he has to lie in it.” Christian nods.

“Good for her.” I twist my lips.

“Maybe she should give him the money,” I say. He raises a brow.

“Why? He’s not going to pay his debt with it. He’s just going to gamble it away again,” he declares.

“Well, arrange for the guy to get the money and settle her father’s debt. The guy could come after her.

“Her father would just ring up another debt. Harmony’s right—she can’t be responsible for his actions or his consequences. Besides, his loan shark won’t come after Harmony.”

“How do you know that?” I ask. “These type of people will get their money any way they can, I’m sure of it.”

These people don’t have Alex,” he says, impassively. “She has to contend with her father, which it appears she’s doing a good job of that, but those people won’t fuck with her.” I sigh heavily.

“Thank God!” I breathe.

“My angel is gone,” Harmony says softly. We look over at her, and her eyes are still closed. Is she talking in her sleep? “But she left me two wonderful guardians to look out for me… Will you please ride in the family car with me?” She slowly opens her eyes and makes contact with mine. I fight not to cry as I gently stroke her hair.

“Of course, we will,” I say, failing to hide my emotion.

*-*

The ride to the church is silent. Harmony stares ahead of her as she clasps my hands. I can tell that she’s dreading this entire thing. She, Christian, and I are in the limo and there are three Audi SUV’s following us. One may think it’s overkill, but we don’t know what to expect. When our little caravan pulls up, we see the siblings standing outside of the church. Some of them are alone while others have an entourage of their own—significant others, children maybe, I don’t know. Christian steps out of the car first, then he helps me out while the driver opens the door for Harmony. I take one elbow and he extends his other arm to Harmony. She sighs heavily and obediently clasps his elbow as we proceed to the door of the church.

“Ms. Franklin,” the funeral director greets her. “Are you ready?” Harmony shakes her head.

“I’ll never be ready,” she admits, “but let’s get this done.” He nods.

“Um, I need your help. Those people over there indicate that they’re family. We’ve reserved two rows. Did you want them to be part of the family procession?” She closes her eyes and sighs, steeling herself.

“Four of those people are my mother’s children,” she says. He frowns.

“Your sisters and brothers?” he asks bemused.

“No!” she says, sharply. “My mother’s biological children. They’re listed in the obituary. I don’t know who those other people are. This is my family.” She gestures to Christian and me. The funeral director gives her a knowing look.

“I see,” he says. “I’ll take care of it.” He nods to Christian, who leads us into the church and down the aisle. Tina is laid out in a beautiful mahogany casket. Most often when I attend a funeral, the deceased looks like their head is sinking into the pillow, their chest is distinctly protruding forward and they look a bit unnatural. Tina looks like her neck and head have been elevated a bit, so that she really does look like she’s just sleeping. Harmony stands there gazing at her mother for several moments. Christian tries to guide her away from the casket, but she won’t move. Other mourners begin to clear their throats, an indication that she’s holding up the viewing line, but she doesn’t move. Christian throws a glare at the line and the throat clearing stops.

“Give me your coat,” he says. I remove my coat and hand it to him. He moves me over to Harmony and I take her arm. He looks at the funeral director.

“Let her stand here as long as she wants,” he says quietly. “She’ll never see her mother again.” The funeral director nods and Christian walks away. I put my arm around Harmony’s shoulder and the funeral director gestures for the other mourners to go around us.

Get in where you fit in, folks.

Ilsa and Paige make their way to the front of the line and begrudgingly stand next to Harmony. They throw a glance in our direction and I glare right back at them.

Try something you blue-haired old bitches and we’ll end up on YouTube!

As if they read my thoughts, they turn around and look at Tina.

“Mother…” Paige breathes dramatically, touching the side of the casket and tilting her head back and forth in a strange manner as she gazes at Tina. It’s everything I can do not to exclaim, “Oh, give me a fucking break.” In my head, I can see Tina’s lips twist in the same sentiment of disbelief.

Paige ends her performance and steps back to the spot she occupied next to Harmony. No one else bothered with any of the theatrics.

“The funeral home did a wonderful job,” someone behind us says. “She’s beautiful.”

“They didn’t. I did,” Harmony says gazing at her mother. Ilsa and Paige glare at her, wondering what she’s talking about. “I did my mother’s hair… and her make-up. She was white and powdery, not because she’s dead, but because they used the wrong foundation.” She touches Tina’s gloved hand.

“They had her hair in a small bouffant. My mother has never worn a bouffant—at least not while I was alive. It was always a delicate French roll or that Grace Kelly bun.”

“You’re right,” the woman behind us says. “You prepared your mom?”

“I did,” Harmony confirms. “Shisiedo very light ivory hydro-liquid compact, a hint of minimalist soft pink whipped powder blush, translucent loose powder to hold her glow, and her favorite nude lip balm. Just enough color so that she looks as peaceful and beautiful as when I found her that morning.” She looks lovingly at Tina, a sad smile gracing her face and a lone tear on her cheek.

“Oh, God, can you be any more dramatic?” Ilsa whispers, but not low enough. Harmony doesn’t hear her, but I do, and so does the woman standing behind us.

“Have a little respect for the family!” she quips at Ilsa, who gasps at her.

“I am the family!” she retorts haughtily. “That’s my mother lying in that casket!”

“Oh, I didn’t know,” the lady says unapologetically. “Have you been out of the country?”

“No, just out of touch,” Harmony answers for her before finally turning away from the casket heading towards her seat. I note that Christian asked for my coat so that he could save the first two seats in front for Harmony and me while he took the third. He received more than one dirty look from the siblings for his gesture while his glare dared any one of them to say something.

I move my coat from the first seat and allow Harmony to sit before Christian removes his coat from the second seat for me.

“You did a wonderful job, dear,” the same lady says, squeezing Harmony’s hand before proceeding to her seat. Harmony silently nods her thanks and looks ahead at her mother, mournful tears streaming down her face.

Once the procession ends and everyone takes their seats, the simple service begins. It’s only short enough for people to see her one last time, pay their respects, a short eulogy, and that’s it. Paige, who kept her theatrics going at the casket a few moments too many, missed her opportunity to get a seat on the first row and she’s sitting behind us. Every thirty seconds, she’s saying something derogatory about the service or the church or anything she can bark about.

“Dear God, this is so tacky,” Paige complains. “There’s nowhere for her children to say anything; the obituary is bare; and the casket is horrendous. Who planned this?”

My husband has had enough. He whirls around to face her.

“Tina made all her own arrangements before she passed, so if you have a problem with anything you see, you can go on up there to the casket and take it up with her. Now, please keep your discontent to a gentle roar, because people are staring at you!” He hisses the last part through his teeth.

Sure enough, she looks around and a hush has fallen over the small church, all eyes on Paige expecting. She turns indignantly in her seat away from Christian and faces the front of the church, only to find the minister glaring at her.

“I’m sorry, Momma,” Harmony whispers. I put my arm around her shoulders and turn my attention back to the service.

As intended, the service is very short and respectful, and the procession goes to the cemetery and the family tomb to have Tina interred next to her beloved husband. There are no dramatics at the cemetery. No, Tina’s family reserve that display for the repast. It’s being held at a small colonial-style hall in Bellevue—one with an open bar, which probably isn’t the best idea, but…

The attacks begin almost immediately.

“Who are all these people?” Ilsa complains. “Where are Mom’s friends?”

“You mean the ones who know who you are?” Harmony asks. “Most of them have passed on. The ones who remain are either in hospice or were too weak to come. The rest are here, but you’d know that if you kept in touch.”

“This hall is too small,” Ilsa continues. “You should have picked a better locale.”

“Where would you have had it?” Harmony asks impassively.

“Someplace grander than this,” she says distastefully, “like the Fairlane Olympic or something.”

“Oh, okay,” Harmony replies. “Maybe the machine ate your message when you called to make those arrangements.” Ilsa blindly continues voicing her discontent.

“Why didn’t you list Mom’s grandchildren in the obituary?” Ilsa accuses.

“Because I don’t know who any of them are,” Harmony responds matter-of-factly. “During the numerous times that you all called, none of you offered to help me and the last time that I’ve seen you or any of your children, I was a tween. So, how do you suppose I do that, sis?” Her final tone is a bit murderous, and Ilsa decides to drop that subject, except for one last dig.

“You’re a great-grandchild and I see you made front and center…”

“She’s. My. Mother!” Harmony says in a voice so demonic that it halts all of Ilsa’s questions. She storms away from her sister/great-aunt in a fury. I look over at Christian and shake my head. This is, no doubt, the way that Harmony has been treated her whole life.


CHRISTIAN

This circus is really getting on my damn nerves. Three of my guards have to stay in close proximity of us at all times to prevent a goddamn fight from breaking out. These people are the worst brood of assholes I’ve ever seen in my life. I may not have been paying close attention, but I don’t think I’ve seen ten tears drop between the lot of them.

“Excuse me…” I hear someone’s voice over my shoulder as I and Butterfly are literally creating a human shield around Harmony to protect her from her mother’s horrible children. “Aren’t you Christian Grey?” I frown.

“Who’s asking?” I reply, my tone none too friendly.

“I’m Tina’s oldest son,” he says with gleeful haughtiness. “I had no idea that you were acquainted with our family. It’s such an honor that you’re here. The family truly thanks you for coming.”

And suddenly, he’s the Franklin family spokesperson? I walked into the church with Harmony, sat through the entire funeral, went to the cemetery, and now—here at the repast after he’s gotten a few drinks in him, he’s brave enough to approach me? Fucking shit, fucking hell, son of a…

I stand from the barstool and face him, pulling myself up to my full height and trying not to squash him under my shoe.

“You’ll have to forgive me…” I pause and wait for his name.

“Jonah,” he says, extending his hand. “Jonah Franklin.” I look at his hand but don’t accept the shake.

“Well, Jonah, I’m very sorry for your loss, and you’ll have to forgive my candor and chilliness at this moment, but I don’t know who you are. You know me as Christian Grey, billionaire and entrepreneur. What you don’t know is that I was a scared and lonely little boy that hid under your porch when I was a kid, and Aunt Tina gave me lemonade and cookies…”

“Really?” he interrupts.

“I’m not finished, Jonah.” He’s taken aback by my sharpness, and I now have his attention and the attention of a few others around us, but I don’t care.

“What you also don’t know is that about a month or so ago, I had your mother’s house swept and a key member of her staff fired because her house was bugged; that I also had some of my own staff stay at her house to make her last days more comfortable and to make sure that no one took advantage of her; that I and my wife spent numerous hours with your mother during that time making sure that her needs were met and that her daughter wasn’t overwhelmed with her mother’s care; that through the diligence of three separate attorneys and a court order, she could relax during her final hours because she didn’t have to worry about her home and assets being stripped by long-lost family members coming to get a piece of the rock and that nothing can be touched or claimed—not even an earring—until the reading of the will.”

My eyes flash over to the daughter that began harassing Harmony for her mother’s 4-carat diamond earrings the moment she hit the door.

“What you also don’t know is that I and my wife saw Harmony cry day after day while she watched her mother slip away—all while she was continuing her education and dealing with her own dramas; that Harmony chose your mother’s clothes and styled your mother’s hair herself so that she could be presentable when you saw her today; that it was Harmony that called my wife screaming when your mother took her last breath. So, you’ll forgive me if the only family of Aunt Tina’s that I know of is Harmony, because she’s the only one who’s been here.

“I’ve basically been the right-hand man, making sure that all your mother’s loose ends were tied and all of her wishes have been carried out. As I have no stake in any of her property or belongings, I was to be the objective ears and help her make the decisions that she needed to make in her last days. These are decisions that her family should have helped her make, but an objective outsider—a close friend, but an outsider nonetheless—had to make sure that her affairs were in order, that a house manager that had been skimming from her accounts for years was finally gone before he could do any real damage. Her very adult children should have been there to handle that for her, to make sure that crooked little weasel was dealt with, but only one—only one—took on that responsibility, and that one was not you.

“So, Jonah, I say all that to say that the only family that I know of is Harmony. So, if you’re speaking to me now on behalf of the family, then I have a question for the family. Where. Were you? Where were you when your adopted sister was crying her eyes out and holding herself together by a thread while she watched her mother die? Your mother? Who are you now coming to me speaking on behalf of the family when you haven’t been here on behalf of the family? I have! Harmony has! My wife has! For the past several weeks, we’ve been here on behalf of the family! Where were you during that time?”

“Christian, please…” Harmony beseeches, but I’m sorry. I have to know.

“Where were you?” I ask the room full of shocked faces. “Where were you when your mother was dying? Where were you when she took her final trip down Memory Lane? While you’re looking at Harmony like she’s nothing, like she’s no one, angry because Aunt Tina put the house in her name, where were you when Tina took her last breath? November 11, 2014 at approximately 2am Pacific time, where were you? What was so important that not one of you could come and visit her and say goodbye? She’s not going to ask you,” I say pointing to Harmony, “so I will. Where were you? A weekend out of your oh-so-busy lives to come and see your mother and tell her that you love her and none of you did!

“Her body wasn’t even cold yet and you come banging on the door demanding entry like you own the place! The dirt isn’t even on her casket yet, and you’re trying to lay claim to her valuables! Did she mean nothing to you?”

I feel rage rising in my chest and I clench my teeth to bite the words I want to say to this useless lot of people. My chest is rising and falling like an angry bear and they all stare at me in stunned silence.

“Christian…” My wife’s voice is normally my calming agent, but not now, not today. I whirl around to face her.

“I was here,” I say, my voice low and menacing. “I was here the whole time—the whole time! I waited, we waited, and none of them showed up. She cried,” I bite out, remembering Tina’s tearstained cheeks in my mind, “she cried, and she waited for them to come and not one of them came! Not one! Not even to say goodbye! To their own mother!”

“I know, baby,” she says, her soft voice gently chiseling down the edges of my rage. I turn back to the family.

“Which one of you worms threatened to blow the house up with Harmony in it?” I demand. No one says anything, but everybody looks at the person whom I assume is Theo. “Don’t make threats you can’t cash in,” I say, glaring at him. “You’ll have to get through a whole lotta motherfuckers to get to her, and I’m one of them. So, if you’re looking to bring Armageddon down on yourself, go ahead and try something.”

“Is he fucking her?” one of the sisters says to the other, feigning an attempt to be discreet. Butterfly was right. This is a wretched bunch of human beings.

“No,” I say, turning my attention to her. “I’m fucking her!” I say pointing at my wife. “But I’ll tell you this, you uncouth old shrew! Tina’s final request of me was to take care of Harmony—to protect her from you all, and you can bet your shriveled little asses that’s exactly what I plan to do.” I turn away from her before she has the chance to react or respond and turn to my wife.

“I’m going to do everything—everything in my power to make sure that they don’t pick her estate dry.” I turn around to look at the faces still observing my rage. “Everything!” I bark at them.

“I know you will, baby. I know you will. Come on, let’s go get a drink.” She takes my hand and I blindly follow my wife to the bar.

*-*

It takes quite some time, but my rage finally settles—and none of the Franklins dared to approach me during that time. They do, however, approach Harmony several times, who has perched herself at a table with a glass of clear liquid that she never drinks. She just stares at it. One Franklin comes over to her; then another one; then two or three at a time. It’s like they powwow, and they get up from the table then they come back and come at her again. Each time they leave, she looks more and more spent.

“Go over there and sit with Harmony,” I tell Chuck. “See what the conversation is and don’t let anybody harass her.” Chuck nods and goes over to the table, heading off another Franklin just as they were walking in her direction. Chuck says a few words to her and she nods without raising her gaze. He says something else, and she nods again.

It only takes a minute or two for one of the Franklins to come back to the table. It’s a female, and she actually tries to dismiss Chuck. When he refuses to leave, she gets into a bit of a heated conversation with him and Harmony, although her conversation is one-sided as Harmony nor Chuck is responding. When he’s heard enough, he tells her to kindly leave the table because Harmony isn’t talking about this right now. I assume that it’s about property once again and just as I’m about to walk over to the table, Harmony stands swiftly, knocking her chair to the floor in the gesture.

“For God’s sake, just leave me alone!” she screams and runs to the door, bursting through it and down the stairs onto the icy ground outside. Everyone runs to the windows where we can see Harmony standing in the middle of the pathway, sobbing and screaming the same word over and over…

“Momma! Momma! Maaahahahah-maaaaaaaaahahaha!”

Before I can say anything, Butterfly is running outside in her coat with Harmony’s in her hand. She negotiates those stairs like she’s not wearing six-inch platform stilettos in the ice and snow and quickly wraps Harmony’s coat around her. Harmony stands there calling for her mother… to come back? To rescue her? Just because she can’t take it anymore? I turn to Jason standing behind me and he nods and starts talking into his wrist.

“Bring the car around,” he says, and all the guests turn to him. “Get Harmony home. The Franklin house is on lockdown effective immediately. Nobody gets in without her permission. Call in backup if you need it.”

The room is eerily silent, but I don’t look at the faces of Aunt Tina’s children. I’m disgusted and if Tina really could roll over in her grave, she’s doing it now.

An Audi drives up to the walkway and one of my many security staff get out and walk over to Ana and the weeping Harmony. He tries to help her walk, but her feet don’t move. She starts to fight, protesting that she wants her mama, but like a wrecking ball just hit her, she collapses into mournful sobs, and my guard has to catch her. He scoops her into his arms and carries her weeping body to the car with Butterfly walking behind him. She turns and looks over her shoulder. I don’t know if she sees me, but my eyes lock on hers before she turns back to follow Harmony and the guard to the Audi. I turn around and face the four remaining children that Tina has left behind.

“Well,” I begin, “she’s gone now. Plot away, and good luck to you all.” I turn to Jason. “I’m ready to get the hell out of here.”

“Right this way, sir,” he says, gesturing to Chuck who appears with my coat. “Bring the other cars around. The boss is ready to go,” he says into his wrist. It all looks so Mission Impossible, but I’m glad that it does. I want all of these leeches and moochers to know exactly what they’re dealing with. The hell if I’m going to allow them to dismantle Tina’s estate like a bunch of fucking vultures. I walk out of the hall without another word, Chuck and Jason both flanking me just behind me, knowing that everything they’re looking at screams “power.”

Fuck with me. I dare you…

*-*

“How is she?” I ask when I get to the Franklin house.

“She’s upstairs with your wife,” the guard at the door says. I make my way up the stairs, but I don’t knock on Harmony’s door. I just wait for a few minutes. My wife emerges after a while looking a bit spent.

“How is she?” I ask softly. She shakes her head.

“I wish I had some tranquilizers,” she says. “She’s inconsolable.”

“There’s nothing in the medicine cabinets?” I ask. She shrugs.

“I have no idea.” That’s when I remember that Windsor is on staff here temporarily. I call Jason’s phone.

“Yes, sir?” he answers.

“Jason, can you locate Windsor and ask him if he can scare up some tranquilizers somewhere for Harmony.”

“Yes, sir.” When I turn back to Butterfly, she’s worrying her scar.

“What is it?” I ask.

“She’s never going to get any peace,” she says, gazing at me with large sad eyes. “They’re going to keep coming, banging at the door, waiting for the will, trying to pressure her… She’s going to lose her mind… and I can’t sit here every day.” I sigh. I know I don’t need to say it, but I do.

“She can come and stay with us for a while,” I suggest.

“She may not want to,” Butterfly protests. “I think she’s spent every night this week in her mother’s bed. Hell, she can’t even mourn properly. This is cruel.”

“We’ll gently convince her that it’s the best thing to do, but not right now,” I say, putting my arm around her and pulling her close to me. She shudders, signaling me that she has been crying or that she’s about to cry. I embrace her and try to figure out how I can convince Harmony to leave her cocoon-turned-hell for a few days and come to Grey Crossing.

“Sir…” We’ve stood in the hallway for quite some time. Our embrace is interrupted by Windsor with a bottle of pills and a glass of water.

“One of the staff had some sleeping pills,” he says. I nod and gesture to Tina’s door where Harmony has been all this time.

“I’ll take them,” Butterfly says. Just as she’s about to reach for the door, it opens suddenly, and Harmony’s disheveled form is standing there with a small overnight case.

“Harmony!” Butterfly exclaims, and we’re all startled standing in the hallway. Harmony looks absolutely waterlogged, her tearstained face still drenched with fresh tears, her eyes bloodshot red and nearly swollen shut.

“I can’t… I can’t… stay… here!” she chokes through her sobs. She holds up the overnight case. “I have… some of… my mother’s… things… They can… have it… all… I can’t… stay here… I’ll go… to… a hotel…”

“You’ll do no such thing,” Butterfly says, taking the overnight case and handing it off to me. “You’ll come to Grey Crossing, and you’ll stay as long as you like. My husband insists.” Harmony looks over Butterfly’s shoulder at me, then collapses into my wife’s arms in yet more inconsolable tears.

After we’ve packed a few of Harmony’s things, we’re back in the Audi’s heading down the road to Grey Crossing. I’m driving, and Chuck is in the passenger seat, my wife and a still-weeping Harmony in the back seat. I’ve left Jason at the mansion with specific instructions.

“Give the staff some time off. Lock down the house. Arrange for whatever temporary winterizing is necessary. Absolutely nobody gets in this house. The lady of the house is away, and the instruction is to have any trespassers arrested, no matter who they are.”

Butterfly is very happy to have Windsor returning to us. As much as we care for Harmony, we want our butler back.

We get Harmony settled in one of the guest rooms and she doesn’t emerge for the rest of the night. We want to ask her if she means that she couldn’t stay in the Franklin Mansion tonight or if she means that she could never stay in the Franklin Mansion again. I know it’s no use asking her at the moment, and my wife proves to also be a closed book as she spends most of her evening in the gym after which she takes the longest bath known to man before heading straight to bed. I spend the evening with a bottle of brandy and my piano. It was a hell of a day for all of us.

The days that follow aren’t much different. Harmony doesn’t leave her room, speak to anyone, or eat all of Sunday. Butterfly spends most of her day hunched over her laptop. I’m certain that she’s journaling.

I was hoping that Monday would bring the return of a welcome routine—getting ready for work, having breakfast, talking about what our day would look like, but Butterfly seems to be grieving along with Harmony, who still hasn’t left her room. I’ve instructed Ms. Solomon to take some food to her room and not to leave until she eats it. Now, I need to try to break the Butterfly funk.

I find her in the nursery sitting in the window seat looking out of that horrid window.

Good God, not there!

She turns to me when I open the door. Our children are both asleep and she’s dressed for work. Is this where she comes now when she’s sad?

“What are you doing in here?” I say softly so as not to wake our sleeping babies.

“Being around them gives me peace,” she says quietly.

“But I know that window doesn’t,” I say, moving next to her. She sighs and turns her gaze back out the window… probably to the bridge.

“It’s a familiar place in time of turmoil,” she replies. A familiar place… like hell.

“Can’t we find you another familiar place?” I ask. “One with not so many… negative connotations?”

“It’s just geography,” she says, turning to me. “Ace cancelled our appointment.” I frown.

“What appointment?” I ask. “Last Friday’s appointment?” She nods.

“That’s partially why I drank so much,” she admits. “Baileys was my therapist.”

“Doctors cancel appointments all the time, baby,” I comfort.

“Not twice in a row,” she says. “The anniversary of my accident, he basically threw me out of his office.”

“Why?” I ask, a bit bemused and a bit angry.

“Oh, I pissed him off,” she says. “I said something to him that I definitely shouldn’t have, and he put me out to keep from exploding at me. Seems I can’t keep a shrink.” I know she’s referring to Maxine quitting on her and even though I’ve never admitted it, I know that I was largely the cause of that… not totally, but largely.

“That’s not true, baby,” I say, sitting in the window seat next to her. Since she’s turned sideways, she’s actually looking at me. “What did you say that was so bad?”

“I basically told him that he wasn’t doing his job,” she says. “I asked him why my head of security had to point out that I was suffering from PTSD and he didn’t.” I twist my lips.

“Baby, you know why,” I tell her.

“Yes, I know why,” she admits, “but I still held him responsible. So, he threw me out of his office. He told me that he could effectively service me that day and that I should find someone that I could trust to talk to.”

“And then we had our date,” I remind her. She nods.

“It helped a lot,” she says. “It was just what I needed in so many ways, and not just because of the mind-blowing sex.” She tries to chuckle.

“And then we fought—or silently fought at Valerie’s and Elliot’s house,” I recall. She shrugs.

“Shit happens,” she says, trying to look past me back at the bridge. I think this is going to be her new “shrinking.”

“And then I caught the mutant bug from hell and you took care of me,” I add, tilting my head so that I’m in her line of sight and not the bridge. Sad blue eyes meet mine and I know that her heart is heavy.

“And then Tina dies, and her overbearing inconsiderate family tries to cause Harmony to have a fucking nervous breakdown,” she hisses.

“And when you need to vent, Ace calls and cancels your appointment…”

“Actually, Amber called and cancelled it, but yes, that’s the thrust.” I twist my lips.

“You decided not to take the babies to work today? I see that you’re dressed. No one would blame you for taking the day off.”

“No,” she says shaking her head. “I’m not taking the babies in because I have way too much to do, so there’s no need in waking them when I can’t give them the attention they deserve. And I can’t take the day off for the same reason. I have to meet with the new maintenance guy to review his observations and set up interviews for maintenance and cleaning staff.”

“Can’t my mother do that?” I ask. She nods.

“She could, but she’s been very patient and understanding with me while I’ve been playing hooky to take care of Harmony. It was a necessary evil, but I have responsibilities. I can’t keep pawning all the work off onto her.” I sigh. I think about all the time I was taking off and Ros gave me what for, prompting me to hire Lorenz.

“Maybe we’ll have a special, quiet dinner when you get home,” I tell her. “I’ll give you a nice massage and we can watch some of your favorite old movies.” She smiles.

“That would be divine,” she says. I take her hand and stand, prompting her to stand with me and come away from that blasted window.

After I force her to have a real breakfast—no bagel, jelly, and cream cheese today—I send her on her way with a kiss and instructions to Chuck not to allow her to stay late today no matter what.

“Call me if you need backup,” I tell him. “I’ll take the heat.” He nods his acknowledgement and leaves. I text Ros and Lorenz and ask what’s on the burner today and if they can survive without me. I also text Andrea to find out if there are any pertinent meetings on my agenda. After about twenty minutes, everyone responds that there are no fires, floods, or hurricanes on the horizon. So, I go to my dressing room and change into something casual.

Jason is shocked when I come back to the kitchen.

“Is everything alright?” he asks, he and his wife eyeing me speculatively.

“Everything’s fine,” I say. “Did Sophie get off to school okay?” He nods.

“Yes, sir,” he says.

“What news, if any, from the Franklin Mansion?” I ask.

“None yet, sir,” he says. “No one tried to visit this weekend, but the day is young.”

“Well, we’re taking the day off, but I’m going to monopolize your wife, and you’re not allowed to watch.” He raises a brow at me.

“Wha…?” Gail says from the other side of the counter. I turn to her.

“Remember when I said I wanted you to teach me to cook?” I ask her.

“Um, yes?” She says uncertainly.

“Well, today’s the day,” I tell her. “I need a romantic dinner for my wife and I need you help me cook something. No more cracking eggs.” Jason stands from his stool.

“You’re right,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to watch this anyway.” He walks around the counter to his wife.

“Go easy on him,” he says, “and wail if you need me.” He leans over and kisses her and exits through the family room. She sighs heavily and turns her attention back to me.

“I am yours to mold today, Mrs. Taylor,” I say, putting my hands up in surrender. “Whatever your instruction, I will follow. I won’t give you any problem. Just please, understand if I get a little frustrated because I’m fucking up.” She pauses for a moment, then hands me a chef’s apron.

“Let’s get started then.”

The kitchen looks like a warzone after about four hours. I had no idea I could fuck up so much, but Gail is very patient with me—in between uncontrollable fits of laughter. After one exploding pot of sauce, one burned pot of sauce, and one completely unusable pot of sauce, we give up on the red sauce and move to something more idiot-friendly.

We’re going to have a mish-mosh type of meal, but I wanted to be able to provide courses that I prepared myself. Our appetizer will be raspberry-grilled brie with toasted baguette slices and crostini. Our main course is a simple Thai shrimp recipe with red peppers and snap peas served with Jasmine rice—easily cooked in the rice cooker. The hardest part of this course was deveining the shrimp! For dessert, I choose various chocolate fondues with fresh fruit. All very easy dishes even if a bit time consuming for a beginner. As I’m trying to complete my task, I feel my phone buzzing in my pocket and my hands are an utter mess.

“Gail, would you retrieve my phone from my pocket?” I say, thrusting my hip towards her. She looks at me like I’ve asked her to murder someone.

“Please!” I beg. “Before it stops. My company is running without me.”

“Which pocket?” she says skeptically.

“Front,” I say, thrusting my hip at her again. She hesitates, but gingerly reaches into my pocket to retrieve my phone.

And it stops.

“Shit!” I hiss as she produces my now silent phone.

“Well, don’t be mad at me!” she defends. “You’re thrusting your hips at me telling me to stick my hands in your pants—did you expect me to jump at that opportunity?” I roll my eyes at her while I examine my phone, trying to see who called before the screen goes black.

“What?” Jason’s voice growls from the family room.

“Your timing fucking sucks,” I announce, “and I thought you said you were staying out of the kitchen.”

“I stayed out for hours! I’m hungry!” he demands. “Why is my wife talking about you gyrating and telling her to stick her hands in your pants?” Just as he’s demanding answers, my phone starts buzzing again.

“That’s why!” I bark, pointing with gooey hands. “Answer my phone, please!”

Jason glares at me but walks over to the counter and looks at my phone. Picking it up, he swipes the screen and puts it to its ear.

“Grey House of Perversion,” he answers. What the fuck?

“I’m fucking going to kill you,” I say quietly, “after I fucking fire you.”

“Oh, no reason, besides the fact that your boss is telling my wife to grope him,” he says. And his ass is talking to someone who works for me. I’m really going to kill him. I go to the sink to wash my hands.

“Al says the pussy DJ wants to talk?” Jason says, his face as questioning as his statement. I frown.

“He said what?” I ask, drying my hands and looking over into the fondue pot.

“That’s what he said,” Jason confirms. What the fuck is the…? Oh! The pussy DJ! Rossiter. I hold my hand out for the phone and Jason hands it to me.

“What does he want to talk about?” I ask Al. “He can talk when we get to court. Did he forget there’s a restraining order on his ass?”

“Do I even want to know what’s going on in that house right now?” Al asks.

“Besides the fact that I’m about to fire my head of security for the 918th time, no. Now answer my question,” I demand.

“Well, you can’t get much publicity with a gag order and you can’t easily go anywhere and start over with a lawsuit hanging over your head. You can’t even really defend your position—to anybody—if you can’t talk about it. So, our obscene little attention-grabbing hothead pussy DJ had his attorney call me and ask for a meeting with hopes for a settlement.”

“He’s got to be kidding,” I say, while stirring my white chocolate fondue. “What could he possibly have that I would want that would prompt me to drop this case?”

“That’s what he’s trying to find out,” Al says. “What are we aiming for with this lawsuit, Chris?”

“How about his total ruin?” I say, turning the fire down to its lowest setting. “For him to shut the fuck up and fade into obscurity. That would be a good outcome. Is he willing to settle on that?”

“Chris…” Al says, his voice slightly scolding. I don’t have time for this right now.

“Make an appointment for him and his attorney to meet us on Wednesday,” I say flippantly.

“Why not tomorrow?” he asks.

“Wednesday, Al,” I say, my voice demanding.

“I was just curious,” he says, sounding like a petulant child.

“Because I didn’t come in to work today and I don’t want to start my week with a meeting with that asshole!” I say.

“Fine, sir,” he says, still petulant. I end the call.

“Call Chuck and have him drop Butterfly off at the front door,” I tell Jason. Under no circumstances is she to come into this kitchen!” Not only do I not want my surprise to be spoiled, but I also don’t want her to see what a mess I’ve made. “Screw this up, and I really will fire you, Jason.”

“Promises, promises,” he says as he takes out his phone and starts dialing. I turn to Gail.

“I need to go clean up and get changed. Can you make sure nothing explodes or sticks or burns or…”

“You’re fine,” she interrupts. “You did a great job. Rough start, but it all came out in the wash.” I nod and toss her the hand towel I’m holding.

Mrs. Solomon has set the table in the formal living room—the one in front of the floor to ceiling windows with a view of the lake. Ambient lighting is accented with candles and a beautiful glow from the moonbeams bouncing off the lake. That view couldn’t have been better if I planned it.

“Activate two-way communications,” I say as I walk to the bottom of the stairwell. “Locate Windsor.”

He’s the only person in the entire system known by only one name.

“Yes?” he answers.

“Can I see you in the grand entry please?” I summons. He acknowledges and is there almost before I get the chance to disengage the intercom system.

“Mrs. Grey should be home very soon,” I tell him. “If she gets here before I return, would you show her to the table in the living room?”

“Yes sir.” Whether or not I admit it aloud, it’s good to have him back.


A/N: 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.

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 61—Memories

You know how you get a plan, and you say, “This is the plan! This is what I’m going to do!” and as soon as you start the plan, life happens and shit just gets dumped on your head?

Of all the times that I’ve said, “I’m ready to publish,” I never took the active steps. I just said it and then beat around the bush… “It’s okay, I’ve got time…” 

This is the first time—the first God’s honest time that I said that I was really ready to publish and I started taking steps to get published… and it seems like the celestial planes opened up and cow manure just started falling from the sky on my head, like my saying that I was really ready to publish was a bad omen. 

So… I’ve decided to keep my mouth shut—to be like Nike and “Just Do It.” You won’t hear me talk about it anymore until the book is being marketed to be sold. I can do this, I know I can, but shit just keeps rolling in front of me to stop me and I can’t keep letting that happen. It’s going to be a slow process because my money just dried up after 1) I had to go to Detroit for my other mother’s funeral and 2) I had to get major repairs on my car. The well is completely dry, and I’m trying to fill it back up again.

But I digress… On with the story. Thanks for listening.

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

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

Chapter 61—Memories

ANASTASIA

The accident… of course. How could I forget?

You forgot because you never knew what day it was. You just woke up in the hospital.

That’s right. Nobody ever told me what day it happened… just sometime in November.

“Ana?” Grace says, and I snap out of my daydream.

“I…” I swallow hard. “I never knew what day it happened,” I admit.

“Are you okay?” Marilyn asks.

“I’m… I’m fine, I just…” I shake my head. “I just wonder why Christian didn’t say anything.” Was that what he was referring to when he said he thought I was sleeping in today?

“Maybe he didn’t want to bring it up. It’s such a sensitive topic, after all,” Grace says as she sits in one of the chairs in front of my desk. That could definitely be true. He did seem to be tiptoeing around the conversation… except when I said, “Fuck you.”

“Yeah,” I say with a sigh, suddenly feeling the need to rub my scar. “That’s definitely a day that will live in infamy.”

“I’ll certainly never forget it,” Marilyn says sliding into the seat next to Grace. “I think Al had activated the contingency and he just called Gary and Max. When he told me what happened, I was stunned. It seemed so… surreal.”

“That’s definitely the word for it,” Grace says. “I was in the hospital when they brought you in, but of course, I’m on the pediatric ward. By the time I discovered that you were there, you were already in surgery.”

“Where was Christian?” I ask. They both gaze at me.

“You don’t remember?” Marilyn asks.

“I’m sure if I thought about it hard enough, I would. But right now, I don’t,” I confess. “I remember him being there when I woke up, but the particulars of the moments before I got there are still a bit cloudy. They come and go.”

“Christian had gone back to Detroit to see if Anton Myrick was actually in jail,” Grace says. Oh yes, I do remember that now. “He had told you to come to our house until he returned, but you were already headed back to Escala. He discovered that you had been in the accident when he got off the plane.”

“That had to be horrendous,” I comment, thinking how I would feel if the roles had been reversed.

“Yeah, some unscrupulous photographers got some pretty candid shots of his immediate reaction,” Marilyn informs me. “I know you could probably find them if you Googled them, but the reaction of the public and the huge outpouring of support after your accident kind of shamed the reporters who took the pictures, and they somewhat disappeared into obscurity after that.”

“Hmm,” I say, “they became their own sacrificial lambs.”

“Pretty much,” Marilyn confirms. “Before I forget, I got a message from Val this morning that she and Elliot are going to be throwing themselves a housewarming tomorrow. She says gifts are not expected because it’s such short notice but will be accepted. She just wants to show off the new house.” I shake my head.

“I’m going to give her a pass on this one, because I don’t think she’s ever had a housewarming before in her life, but I’m going to rag the hell out of her for waiting until the last minute.”

“She’d probably just give it back to you, Bosslady,” Marilyn says. “How many last-minute parties or get-togethers of yours has she been invited to?”

Yeah… there is that.

“I didn’t want to say anything to anyone at the time,” Grace says, “but that’s when I first got the impression that something was wrong with Valerie besides her just being an insufferable cow. She was at the hospital every day and she truly looked like she was going to expire without you, but the moment anybody approached her…” She trails off and shrugs.

“Jesus,” I say. “That was just a bad time in all of our lives.”

“You and Christian never talked about it?” Marilyn asks.

“Very briefly,” I admit. “We were more focused on recovery and getting on with our lives than the accident, especially since we knew who had caused it and that I wasn’t in any danger of them anymore.”

“I never really got the details on that one,” Grace prods.

“Unfortunately, Grace, you won’t get them from me, either,” I say. “The most I can tell you is that part of the story is extremely sensitive and if it hasn’t been shared with the family by now, it won’t be.” She shrugs.

“Oh, well,” she cedes, “as long as there’s no threat…”

“There’s no threat,” I interject. There’s silence for a moment.

“Does it bother you to talk about this?” Grace asks. My turn to shrug.

“Not really,” I reply. “I never heard about the reactions of everyone else. I mean, I heard some of them, but not all of them, and not in any great detail. If I’m going to talk about it, now would be the time… before I go talk to my shrink later.”

“A shrink with a shrink,” Marilyn says. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.”

“It’s no different than a surgeon who needs a surgeon, or an eye-doctor who needs an eye-doctor, or a dentist who needs a dentist,” I say, and she nods.

“Being a doctor,” Grace says, “it was hard for me to watch. You were in pretty bad shape when you came out of surgery, and while Dr. Hill was gingerly trying to tell Christian what the odds were, I knew the grim truth. I think he did, too—Dr. Hill’s words were of very little comfort to him. He lamented losing you every day.”

“I remember when the cops came to the hospital,” Marilyn says. “I wasn’t in the room, but I saw when they left. They were none too happy, and Ray came out of there barking like a bear.”

“Ray?” I ask. “Daddy?”

“Yeah,” Marilyn nods. “As far as I could tell, they said something to Christian that he didn’t take too kindly to and he kicked them out. I think they came back a couple more times, but they never got anything, of course. Christian was on a plane when this whole thing happened.”

“They tried to pin this on Christian?” I ask incredulously. Marilyn nods.

“Christian wouldn’t talk to them,” she says. “If they didn’t have any information on what happened to you, he had nothing to say.”

“What?” I tease. “Mr. Grey didn’t stomp around the hospital demanding answers?”

“That didn’t happen until you woke up,” Grace says with a chuckle. “He was trying to get Dr. Hill fired because he kicked Christian out of the room.” I frown.

“Okay, I didn’t hear that part,” I say. “I remember losing my temper because Dr. Hill kicked him out of the room, but I didn’t hear anything about Christian coming unglued.”

“Oh, yes,” Grace says. “If I remember correctly, Dr. Hunt said that Christian approached him quite ardently about having Dr. Hill replaced. Christian said that he would call Switzerland if he had to and get the next best neurosurgeon available.”

That sounds like my Christian,” I reply with mirth.

“It turned out to all be a misunderstanding,” she says. “As you can see, all’s well that ends well.” I nod. I guess we really were in a hurry to move on with our lives. We never really discussed the impact this had on us or the people around us.

“Well, it looks like I have something to discuss with Ace this afternoon,” I say, trying to change the subject. Grace takes the hint and stands.

“Just remember,” she says, “I’m always here if you need to talk… about anything.” She leaves my office. I kind of get the idea that Christian may have talked to her at some point about my chosen treatment plan for PTSD. I hate admitting that I have it, especially after that conversation all those months ago with Dr. Baker, but she was completely off the mark. This situation was different, and she was wrong.

“So, Mare,” I say, changing tact, “you’re my employee, but you’re also my friend. Time is ticking into the future, my dear. When are you going to take that test?” She sighs.

“I know, I know,” she laments. “I’m going to take one this weekend. Whatever I decide to do, I definitely need to know soon.”

“Have you talked anymore to Gary?” I ask. She rolls her eyes.

“Gary is of one mind,” she says. “He won’t hear anything else but that I’m keeping the baby. So, talking to him is kind of mute right now, especially if I make a decision he doesn’t like. It irritates me that he rubs my stomach when I haven’t even decided to keep the baby if I am pregnant. And if I decide the terminate the pregnancy, I get the feeling that he’s never going to touch me again.”

I’ve seen this kind of situation break people up for more reasons than one. I don’t even know what to say to her right now.

“You have a tough decision ahead of you, Mare,” I begin. “Whatever you do will have quite the dramatic effect on you both, and that ripple will most likely reach much further than that. However, this is one of those times where I will advise you to carefully consider what you want. You are the first and most prevalent person your decision will affect. Only after that do you consider everyone else’s needs and wants. Either decision is going to affect you exponentially, and you need to decide which of those exponents are most bearable and most favorable.” She leans her head over on her fingertips and closes her eyes.

“Bosslady, can you do me a favor? Stop being PC for a minute and give it to me straight.”

Why am I beginning to hate when people say I’m PC?

“Okay,” I say folding my hands on my desk. “I had my babies because I was ready. I was in love with and married to a billionaire. I was happy. We planned for children, and I’m not so young. Granted, I’m not old, but for motherhood, I’m old enough. Conditions were right for me. Are conditions right for you?

“On the one hand, you’re young and you’ve got things that you want to do. On the other hand, you have a great guy who loves you and is excited about the concept of having a baby. Right now, those are the only two people that matter. There’s no other way to put this, Mare. You must rearrange your entire life for a baby. If motherhood was not in the original plan, that’s going to be fucking hard. It’s not going to be a cakewalk anyway, but it’s going to be really hard if it wasn’t what you wanted. You will make sacrifices. You’ll do things that you never thought you would do before, but all in all, it’ll be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ve ever had.

“However, if you don’t want this, it’ll be the worst decision you’ve ever made if you keep it. Your entire life thereafter will be filled with ‘what if’s’ and ‘woulda-shoulda-couldas.’ You’ll resent that baby and what you feel you had to sacrifice for him or her, and you could possibly come to resent Gary. You’re already resenting him for rubbing your stomach—which is a form of emotional warfare, even though he may not know it or intend it to be. That’s another reason why you need to take that test and make your decision because it’s not really fair to him.

“Now,” I begin, standing from my seat and walking around my desk. “There is, of course, a third party that you have to consider in all of this.” I lean on my desk in front of her.

“I’m not going to preach pro-life to you, but what about the baby? Can you give that baby the kind of life he or she deserves if you have it and don’t want it? You’ve already clearly said the adoption is not an option, but if it somehow becomes an option, can you give a baby away after you’ve carried it for nine months? How will that affect you? And Gary?

“And then there’s the unspoken thing that I don’t know if either of us has addressed. Twelve years ago, I was in your shoes even though I didn’t know it. I found out that I was pregnant after the fact, but knowing that, I knew that had I known before the fact that I would have found a way to get rid of it. The affects are the same—I detached myself from a living part of me enough to know that I never would have kept it; to be glad that it was gone. In my heart, I had terminated that pregnancy even though I had nothing to do with it.

“I never told anybody, but more than a few times, I wondered what would have happened if my baby had lived. Where would we be now living with a mother then who hated having me around much less help raise a child. Would I have turned out like her… or worse? Would Cody and his family have tried to take him or her away from me? Would they even claim it?

“All in all, although it was not a good thing that the baby was murdered, it was a good thing that I didn’t have the baby—but I still wonder…

“Would it have looked like me or would I have had to stare Cody Whitmore in the eye for the rest of my life?

“Would he have the rotten tendencies as Cody? Or my mother? Would I be able to curtail any of that?

“Would I love it anyway… because it was a part of me? Nurture it and do my best to keep it from harm, make sure that it never felt in its life the way that my mother made me feel? I still wonder.

“Technically, my twins are rainbow babies because they were the first born after I lost a child, but I often wonder if they’re considered rainbow babies if you didn’t want the first child in the first place.” I raise my eyes to Marilyn who is on the brink of tears.

“I didn’t get the chance to make that decision the first time, Mare, but you have to.” She quickly wipes a tear from her eye.

“Jesus, I’m not any closer to making a decision than I was before we started the conversation,” she laments.

“Well, if you’re looking for me to give you that magic word that’s suddenly going to be your answer, that’s not going to happen. I’ve given you the real deal—the entire good, bad, and ugly that I know. You have to make the ultimate decision.”

“I love Gary so much,” she says, her voice cracking. “Maybe, one day, I can see having children with him… but today?” She trails off with the question and offers no answer. “It’s… going to be a short day, right? Can you… survive without me for the rest of the day? I think I’m going to need to take some of that perpetual sick leave I’ve accumulated.”

“Go,” I say, waving her off. “I can manage.

*-*

“PTSD,” I snap at Ace after I take a seat on his sofa.

“Excuse me?” he says, closing the door behind me and standing at the seat in front of me.

“I have a question for you,” I say, “and it’s a valid question.” He folds his arms.

“I’m waiting,” he says.

“Are we getting too close?” He jerks his head like I just hit him. “You see, when Maxie and I began to get too close, her ability to help me weakened until it diminished completely. I’m wondering if we may be getting too close… too personal.”

“I sent you out of this office crying last Friday because you were choking on the truth, and now you think we’re getting too close?” he asks incredulously.

“I can’t see any other reason why you would have missed such an obvious diagnosis,” I say matter-of-factly.

“And what makes you say that?” he asks. There’s something hiding in his voice. It sounds like anger or frustration, I don’t know, but quite fucking frankly, I don’t care.

“PTSD!” I snap. “I’m suffering from PTSD because of Christian’s flight to Madrid!”

“Oh, that,” he says, finally taking the seat in front of me.

“Yeah, oh that!” I say in a mocking tone. “Wasn’t it obvious?”

“Was it obvious to you?” he retorts.

“It’s not supposed to be obvious to me! You’re my shrink!”

“And you’re still a doctor!” he snaps back. “Do you think a dentist needs another dentist to tell him that his toothache is a cavity? He may need someone else to look in his mouth and tell him how bad it is, but he knows it’s a cavity! And even he can manipulate a mirror and see a cavity in his own mouth. So, what did you do—take a good hard look in a mirror?”

“No! A friend helped me see what was going on, because my shrink couldn’t do it!”

“No, your shrink wouldn’t do it!” he shoots. “Someone else mentioned PTSD to you and you shut down completely—won’t even be in the same room with the woman. Now, I’m trying to help you work through an extremely difficult situation and you expected me to suggest it? Even if it may have been true?

“There are other ways to get you to understand that you’re suffering from PTSD without saying that you’re suffering from PTSD, like when I told you that you were torturing yourself; like when I told you that you have to find a way to move on or you would be paralyzed in fear if you didn’t; like when I shoved your unrealistic expectations of Christian right back down your throat and you ran out of here like a toddler because you knew that I was right! Had I come out and said, ‘Ana, you’re suffering from PTSD,’ you would have fired me, and you know it. Yet I saw it, your friend saw it, but you couldn’t. Why? I’ll tell you why, because you were so damn tunnel-visioned on it that you couldn’t see it yourself.

“Why do you think I keep calling you ‘doctor’ during our sessions?” he asks accusingly. “You know what’s going on. You’d spot it in a minute if it was somebody else, but you refuse to see it in yourself. Your misery is affecting everyone around you… everyone, yet you prefer to wallow in it and worry about it instead of doing something about it.”

“That’s not fair, Ace,” I say squarely. “You haven’t even asked me how I’m handling this or what I’m doing since I realized what it is. You just start condemning me for not knowing what it was in the beginning.”

“Well, excuse me, but when my patient—who is also a doctor—comes into my office and immediately starts barking at me about not doing my job, I tend to get a little sensitive. And quite frankly, don’t try to feed me that crap about not knowing what it was. You have all the classic symptoms. I can totally understand not being able to see through your shit-colored glasses, but with all that schooling and all the people that you’ve said you helped in your life, there’s no way in hell you didn’t know what you had. You just didn’t want to admit it because someone else said it first.

“Even though Dr. Baker may have been off the mark at the time that she mentioned it, she said it, you shut it down, and you couldn’t hear it or see it again. You deal with it every day in varying degrees with the people who come into the Center and you couldn’t—or wouldn’t—see it in yourself! So, you tell me who couldn’t diagnose you, doctor!”

I sit silently in my seat glaring at him, resenting him for being right… again, but he still didn’t give me a chance to tell him how I’m dealing with it.

That would be because you came into the office barking at him. Would you attempt to reason with a rabid dog?

And here you go. I definitely don’t need your smart mouth right now.

Yes, you do. You’ve been needing it for months, but you haven’t listened to me. I knew what was wrong, but the great Dr. Steele-Grey had this all figured out, so I shut the fuck up. Boogeyman, indeed.

Don’t mock my coping mechanisms.

That’s not a coping mechanism. That’s an excuse. And don’t look now, but your doctor’s staring at you.

Apparently, my inner conversation with the bitch went on a little too long and must have come with some kind of expressive gestures, because Ace is looking at me with a combination of confusion and anger… or frustration.

“I’m journaling,” I say to him.

“Congratulations,” he says sarcastically. “Psychology 101.”

“And now you’re mocking me, too,” I observe.

“Someone else is mocking you?” he asks, sarcasm still evident.

“Skip it,” I say, pursing my lips. “Today is the anniversary of my accident.” He raises a brow at me. “I didn’t know it. Grace and Marilyn told me.”

“How did you not know it?” he asks, frowning.

“Because I awoke in the hospital something like two weeks later not knowing who my husband was,” I retort. Ace scrubs his hand over his face.

“Ana,” he says, rising out of his seat, “I’m going to need you to find a friend to talk to. I can’t do this.” I frown deeply.

“What?” I ask horrified. He’s dumping me, too? Why the fuck can’t I keep a shrink?

“Today,” he says. “I can’t do this today. This conversation started on the wrong foot and I can’t find my professionalism to help you like I know that I need to. I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a bit perturbed and this will not be a productive session. I know this is a delicate time and an important day, but I can’t service you like I should feeling the way that I do right now. That’s why I’m advising that you speak to a friend—not just any friend, someone who knows and understands what you’ve gone through over the last year… particularly over the last two months.”

But I don’t wanna talk to a friend. I wanna talk to my fucking shrink!

“Can’t we just… start over?” I protest.

“No, Ana, we can’t start over,” he retorts. “Today is a wash. I told you that your misery is affecting everybody around you. Now, it’s affecting me. You want to blame someone or something for how you feel, for your current state even though there’s not necessarily anyone to blame, but you gotta put it somewhere. Blame Christian; blame the universe; blame the blue-eyed guy who had you mesmerized and almost kissed you; blame the Boogeyman. Now, you’re blaming me.”

“I’m not blaming you!” I excuse.

“The hell you aren’t!” he snaps. “You came in here and screamed a diagnosis at me, then proceeded to try to dress me down like I’m the root of your problem, like I haven’t been telling you ever since this happened—ever since you came to me with this shit—to get to the bottom of how you were feeling. I knew what was happening when I visited your house, the minute you crawled into your shell and refused to talk about it. You wouldn’t even look at your husband and you were a breath off of doing that shrinking shit again.

“What I need you to do—what you need to do—is take some responsibility for your treatment and for how you feel. If you’ve done that already, bravo! But the bottom line is that you should have done it a long time ago. Go ahead and mourn the death of your perfect life—that’s fine. It had to die at some point, and a loss is a loss. It doesn’t matter if someone has not yet taken their final breath. However, after every death, life must go on. Yet you kept behaving like you wanted to crawl into the casket and die with your fairytale, and you couldn’t tell that was PTSD?”

He’s mad. He’s really mad. No, he’s pissed. His voice has escalated, and I know things are getting bad when I hear a knock at the door. A timid Amber sticks her head in the door.

“Doctor?” she says softly. “Are you okay?” Ace scrubs his hand over his kinky hair.

“I’m fine,” he says softly to his wife. “Don’t leave.” He turns back to face me.

“Find a friend to talk to,” he says coldly. “Don’t hold in how you’re feeling today, what today is and what it means. The most professional thing I can do right now is tell you to leave before I really offend you and then you really fire me.” He turns back to Amber. “Shut it down. We’re going home.”

“Yes, doctor,” she says professionally and returns to the reception area, leaving the door open.

The session is officially over.

Ace doesn’t say anything else to me. There’s really nothing else to say after you kick your patient out of your office, now is there?

I put my purse on my shoulder and walk out of the office, then out the front door. It barely closes behind me before I hear the lock engage.

Well, damn.

I walk to the parking lot, not really knowing how to feel or what to think. When I bend the corner, there’s a limo waiting there. What celebrity has come to visit Dr. Avery? Chuck steps out of the Audi and a chauffeur steps out of the limo.

“Apparently,” Chuck says, “your husband has plans for the evening. I’m to follow you and the limo to Miana’s where you will be ‘prepared’ for the night’s events.” He smiles.

It’s such a welcome surprise that I almost want to cry. I guess Christian will have to be the friend that I lean on tonight.

“Mrs. Grey,” the chauffeur says as he opens the door for me.


CHRISTIAN

“I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but did you know that there’s a hidden passageway that leads from the pantry to the foyer?” I ask Aunt Tina when I get to her house that morning.

“Of course, I’m aware of it,” Tina says softly. “I’ve lived in this house for 50 years. There are several. There’s one that leads from the kitchen to the servant’s quarters as well, and from the servant’s quarters to the backyard, but that one’s usually locked.”

Servant’s quarters to the outside… I shoot a text to Jason to check the other two passages immediately. Unless he was just afraid to approach or afraid to be discovered, Roger could be gaining access to the house freely even though he’s not on staff anymore.

“Well, I’m arranging for tighter security and some video surveillance of the outside of the house—not the cheap stuff that kept buzzing in your ear. The good stuff that my team will be able to review. We’ll set up a security room here…” I point to a room on the plan. Tina looks at it and nods.

“That was Daddy’s den,” she says fondly. My face falls.

“I won’t use it if you don’t want…” She waves me off.

“Daddy’s been gone for a long time now,” she says. “I’ll be gone soon, too. Use whatever room you must and do whatever you must to protect my Harmony.” Harmony smiles softly.

“You seem to be doing better today, Tina,” I say, squeezing her hand. She’s sitting in the parlor in a comfortable chair with a hot cup of tea and a roaring fire. There’s a very pretty and feminine shawl on her shoulders and an afghan warming her legs.

“Yes,” she says cheerfully, “getting all the juice outta the old gray mare before she’s put down.”

That sounds awful to me, but I know exactly what she means.

“I’m going to leave you in peace, now, Auntie,” I say as I rise to leave. She catches my hand.

“Harmony, darling, can you give me a moment alone with Christian?” she says sweetly.

“Sure thing, Mommy.” Harmony kisses her mother’s cheek. “I’ll go see how soon lunch will be.”

“Thank you, darling.” Harmony nods at me before leaving the room.

“My children are a dreadful lot,” she begins immediately the moment Harmony leaves the room. “I was hoping at least one of them would have come by now. They’re all old, I understand, but I’m older. They may even be sick, but I’m sicker. We’re all knocking on Death’s door, but he’s going to answer a whole lot sooner for me than he is for them.”

She shakes her head and gazes at the fire. She’s not angry. She doesn’t even seem hurt. She’s just… disgusted.

“I’m going to provide for them,” she says. “I’m going to leave something to every one of them. It’s what Daddy would have wanted, but the lion’s share is going to a child who didn’t even come from my cooter.”

Cooter… okay.

“They may still come, Aunt Tina,” I console.

“It’s too late,” she replies. “Emotionally and physically, it’s too late. I feel wonderful, Christian,” she says turning to me. “I feel like I could take a walk around the lake in the sunshine or do some of that needlepoint that I started but never finished. I want to pull out my old record player and dance and sing along to my favorite songs. I’m not sure if you know what that means, but I know what that means.”

Her energy burst. The end is near.

“Don’t let them near my Harmony, Christian,” she beseeches me. “You’ve done a lot for me these past weeks, and I appreciate it though I never asked for any of it. I’m asking for this. Protect her from those vultures. Do whatever you have to legally do to keep them away from my baby. I don’t know what I would have done without her, where I would be without her. I may have rescued her, but she rescued me right back, and I thank God for her every day.”

She takes a handkerchief from her cuff and dabs her eyes. I take her hand in mine—soft and frail, skeletal. These were the hands that brought trays of cookies and lemonade to the porch. I can still see it, as if it were yesterday…

“Is someone under there?” I hear an old lady, but I won’t make a sound. If I’m quiet, she won’t hear me. She won’t see me… and then she’ll go away.

I shouldn’t have chased that rabbit under here, but it’s so quiet—even better than the treehouse. Nobody can find me here…

But the old lady did.

She keeps looking under the steps, but then she goes away. Whew! She didn’t see me. I wrap my arms around my legs and lean my chin on my knees. I’ll wait for a while… wait until I don’t see the light, then I’ll come out.

I hear the door close to the house, and then footsteps on the stairs. She’s back. Why is she back? Did I make a noise?

I see her put something at the opening of my dark space. I wait for a minute, but then I crawl over to see what it is.

It’s one of the fancy little plates like the ones Momma has. Saw… saw… sawzers. There’s something on the sawzer. When I get closer…

It’s a cookie!

I snatch the cookie and gobble it down almost in one bite. It’s so sweet and yummy.

“If you come out, there’s more,” the old lady says, “and lemonade, too.”

I don’t want to come out. I’m scared… but she saw me take the cookie. If she tells on me, Momma will send me back to the man with the boots. If I don’t come out, they may call the blue people to come and take me away.

I’m scared now. I don’t know what to do…

“Come on out,” the old lady says. “I won’t hurt you.” She won’t hurt me.

“Promise?” I ask.

“I promise,” she says. I take a breath and come out of the dark space.

“Well, hello,” she says and smiles a big smile. “You’re Grace’s little boy, right?”

Grace. Grace. At the hospital, they call Momma ‘Dr. Grace.’ I nod.

“Come, have some more cookies, and I’ve poured you some lemonade. I know you must be thirsty…”

Aunt Tina was what I pictured my grandmother would be. I was wrong, of course, but I would have wanted my grandmother to be like her. Maybe Ruby was…

But I digress.

We sit there in silence for several minutes, holding hands and gazing at the fire. I’m the first to break the silence.

“Thank you, Aunt Tina,” I tell her. Worn blue eyes turn to my grays, and I know that she knows what I mean.

“You’re welcome, child,” she smiles softly. She pushes a button on the side table next to her and we wait in silence for a minute or two, after which there’s a knock at the door.

“Come in,” she says in the strongest voice she can muster. I look up to see Windsor coming into the room.

“Yes, ma’am?” he says obediently.

“Windsor, would you please bring a plate of my favorite cookies and a pitcher of lemonade… with two glasses?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Windsor says and disappears almost as suddenly as he appeared.

“Take care of my Harmony, Christian,” Tina says sadly. “I know that you have a family of your own, but… just do what you can.” I squeeze her hand.

“She won’t be alone, Aunt Tina. I promise.” She nods and looks back at the fire.

A few minutes later, Aunt Tina and the young boy who hid under her porch share cookies and ice-cold homemade lemonade one last time.

*-*

“Unfortunately, we don’t have any recording to tie Roger or Kenneth to the bugs and surveillance devices,” I inform Harmony after leaving Aunt Tina in her parlor. “My IT team thinks they went to a local location, like an email address or a cell phone. Without that location, we can’t get the recordings, and we know that neither of them would be forthcoming with that information. It might have even been destroyed by now.”

“Well, we still have the proof of his funds misappropriation, don’t we?” Harmony points out.

“Um, there’s a problem with that, too,” I say. “The funds that he misappropriated have been put into an account that has Tina’s name on it, too. So, technically, he took the money from her and gave it back to her. Since she locked him out of all of her accounts, she inadvertently locked him out of this one, too. I gave the information to Carl on Wednesday and since he’s her current power of attorney, he closed the account out and moved the money back to her main account.” I give her a little piece of paper that shows the transfer with several digits.

“Good God, that’s a lot of money,” she says.

“Yep,” I say. “He didn’t want to draw attention to himself drawing all the money out of the account, so he left it there probably hoping that he could get it later or draw it out in small amounts. Of course, he didn’t count on us finding the account.”

“How did you find out about it?” she asks. “Did he tell you?”

“Um, sort of,” I say. “We’ve been having him followed. He met up with Kenneth to try to salvage their scheme and he told Kenneth at the meeting. The recording isn’t admissible in court because neither of them knew they were being recorded. So, Roger’s story pretty much ends here.

“Jason has engineered a rotation that should cover the grounds while we tie up all the loose ends when the time comes. It shouldn’t be too intrusive. I just ask that you lean to the judgment of the security team in the coming days and weeks as I know you’ll be extremely fragile during this time, and your sisters and brothers will want to strike at your weakest moment.” Harmony shakes her head.

“All this to keep my siblings out… geez.” She folds her arms and walks to the French doors, staring out over the back lawn to the lake.

“Have you heard anything from them?” I ask.

“Oh, yes, I’ve heard from them alright,” she hisses, “every last one of them, in fact. They’ve called several times since Mom has been sick.” Hmm, from Tina’s description, I was under the impression that they hadn’t tried to contact her at all.

“Well, at least they’re calling to check on her,” I say.

“No, they’re not!” Harmony laments. “There calling to see if she’s dead yet. They call like crazy trying to get Mom’s stuff before she dies. They don’t ask to speak to her or ask how she’s doing. They don’t even know that she’s lucid. They think she’s drugged.” She closes her eyes and shakes her head. “I can’t believe these people. None of them have been there for her. None of them! They have proof that she’s knocking on death’s door and they’re not even attempting to help or come and see her before she dies. I swear, I won’t speak to any of these people once my mother’s gone.”

“I know this is a terrible time, but these are your siblings,” I point out.

“They’re not my siblings,” she retorts, walking away from the French doors. “Mom is not my mom because she adopted me. A piece of paper did not make her my mother. Her love makes her my mother. The unconditional love and care that she’s given me all these years. That’s why she’s my mother. These people are my great-aunts and great-uncles and only by blood. They’re horrible human beings and I want nothing to do with them. How that wonderful woman upstairs could have birthed four such monstrous people into the world, I’ll never know.”

Harmony falls onto the sofa and buries her face in her hands, weeping.

“I need more time!” she sobs. “I’m not ready! I need more time!”

Out of nowhere, Windsor appears with a wet washcloth and a glass of water. He stands in front of Harmony, waiting for her to acknowledge his presence. After a few moments of letting her have her cry out, he garners her attention.

“Miss Harmony?” he says softly. She weeps softly for a few more moments, then holds out her hand without raising her head. He hands her the washcloth and she buries her face in it just like she had buried it in her hands moments ago and continues to weep. I raise my gaze to Windsor, but he just watches Harmony. When she gets her sobbing under control, she gently cleans her face with the wet washcloth and hands it back to Windsor, who swaps it for the glass of water that he has in his hand.

“Would you like some tea, Miss Harmony?” he asks.

“Yes, please. Thank you, Windsor.” He nods and leaves the room. One week and he’s this in tune to Harmony already?

I, on the other hand, am a little out of my element.

“I’ll be fine, Christian,” she says with shuddering breaths. “It’s going to be like this for a while. I’m losing my mom.” I can only imagine.

“Do you have anyone that can come and stay with you for a while?” I ask. “This is a big house, and you and I both know that it’s just going to get bigger…” once Tina’s gone.

“I didn’t really make any friends while I was with Ken,” she says. “He such a narcissistic fuck that he wouldn’t let me out much without him.” I sigh.

Take care of my Harmony, Christian.

“I’ll talk to Ana… see if we can work something out,” I say. She won’t be able to stay in this house immediately after Tina passes away. I already know that.

She doesn’t respond.

“I have to get going,” I say apologetically. “I have to handle some business at my father’s house.” She begins to rise just as Windsor enters the room with her tea.

“I’ll see Mr. Grey out,” Windsor says, situating her tea on the end table next to her. She nods and sinks back into her seat.

“Harmony,” I say, and she raises her head. “Dig out your mom’s record player and play some of her records. She might enjoy a trip down Memory Lane.” She smiles at me.

“Thanks,” she says, her voice weak. “I will.” I follow Windsor to the door. Jason is a few steps behind him.

“Windsor, see if you can locate an old record player and records that belonged to Tina. She’s feeling nostalgic.”

“Yes, sir,” he says as he opens the door for me.

“One more thing. Were you… looking to stay on here once Tina passes on?” His brow furrows.

“Oh, no, sir,” he says. “I just want to do my best job while I’m here—help out in any way that I can.”

“Good,” I sigh. “You’re doing so well, I was just wondering.” He smiles.

“No, Mr. Grey,” he says. “I look forward to returning to my duties at Grey Crossing. I just want to make sure that I don’t leave a bad impression—of you or of me—while I’m here.”

“I don’t think you could ever do that,” I praise. “Besides, if you left, I may have to move in here with you because my wife would kill me.” I leave, and he closes the door behind me.

I’m lost deep in thought when I get to Dad’s house. I imagine that having no friends while your mom is dying is pretty fucking bad. Having none once she has passed on has to be worse. I need to ask my wife how to handle this one. I’m completely out of my league.

“Your clerk is doing most of the work,” Uncle Herman says when we sit down at the computer in Dad’s study. “I don’t know how she did it in such a short amount of time, but everything is categorized perfectly—furniture, collectibles, jewelry… even all the keepsakes. I had no idea how to find the paintings or the model cars Dad was giving to Stan and Rick, but she’s already located them and got the model cars on their way out here and Stan has already picked up the paintings.”

“Grandma had some really nice stuff,” I say, scrolling through the descriptions of the items. Some of them even have pictures. “Do you think anybody’s gonna fight over anything?”

“I won’t allow that,” he replies. “I’ve already told everybody how disputes will be handled. If they can’t deal with that, then tough.”

“We’ve got some requests already for some of the furniture,” I tell him. “Lanie’s looking at a walnut armoire and a marble vanity with stools.” Uncle Herman laughs.

“I’m not going to deny her that, no matter who else wants it,” he says. “She sat at that thing for hours when she came to the big house. Mom bought her her own set of makeup and she just played in it all day. The marble never stained, and she was careful not to get anything on the white seat cushions. It’s hers as soon as I get a shipping address.”

I remember a conversation about Lanie never being allowed to be girly around her father.

“And the armoire?” I ask.

“You’ve probably never seen Beauty and The Beast, have you?” he asks. I nod.

“As a matter of fact, I have,” I say.

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“Remember the talking armoire with all the beautiful dresses inside? Mom had every princess dress to date in that armoire, from Cinderella to Snow White to Belle. Even Pocahontas and Sleeping Beauty, and a few that she made up on her own. The Unicorn Princess was my favorite. Hell if I know where they found a rainbow gown—a costume of some kind, I think Mom made it. She made a headband with a pink horn and ears and there was a hot-pink wig made into a pony… Wait a minute…” Uncle Herman takes the keyboard from me and starts typing on it.

“I’ll be damned,” he says.

“What?” He highlights the item we’re discussing.

Eighteenth century walnut chateau armoire with girls costumes inside.

“The costumes are still in there. She’s going to freak out!” Uncle Herman exclaims.

“What if someone else wants the armoire?” I ask.

“Executive decision. They can be mad at me,” he says as he marks the armoire, vanity, and stools as not available and indicates that Lanie will be getting them.

We sit there for several more minutes virtually going through Grandma Ruby and Pops’ things. I hear all kinds of stories about the origins of the items and who will most likely want what. It appears that Pops never got rid of anything, so there’s going to be a lot to dispose of.

“No way!” I exclaim when we’re more than halfway through the list.

“What?” he asks. I look up at him.

“Pops’ had an Apollo?” I ask.

“What the hell is that?” he asks. I point the old player piano in very substandard condition.

“Oh, that,” he says and shrugs.

“Oh that,” I mock him. “That is 100 years old, man—at least.”

“It looks like it,” he says. “You want it?”

“Hell, yes!” I say before I think about it. “Wait a minute… someone else might want it.”

“Trust me, Christian, nobody wants that piano. It used to just start playing Take Me Out to the Ballgame in the middle of the night and we thought the thing was haunted. I don’t even know why Dad kept it.” My phone vibrates, and I pull it out of my pocket.

“The timer on the electric motor was off,” I say looking at my phone. “The cars should be here in about fifteen minutes. The T-Bird is on its way to Burtie in California.” Almost on cue, Herman’s phone rings and it’s Uncle Stanley.

“You get the cars yet, man?” Uncle Stan asks.

“They’re on the way. Christian says they should be here in about fifteen minutes.”

“I drove my Mustang down to Belle Isle for old time’s sake before I brought it home. Man, that’s a beautiful car.”

“I know. I saw the pictures,” Uncle Herman teases.

“Man, Christian, having the kind of power you do must be a pretty big burden to bear, huh?” Uncle Stan asks.

“In what way?” I counter.

“Well, I’ve only known of you for a few months, since my dad passed away. In that time, I watched the self-proclaimed bully of the family proceed into a harried frenzy at the mere mention of your name and then calm less than 60 seconds later after finding out that merely talking in your presence could cost him jail time. At a moment’s notice, you can go from the states to China and probably be back before dinner. Hell, you had travel arrangements for me to come see Dad before I even knew that I was taking a trip! That cocky ass private-eye who kept calling Rick esquire and stood firm that he wasn’t giving us any information, handed over a file as thick as the White Pages in less than five minutes after you made a call. Now, you’ve made arrangements to ship and deliver valuable antique cars—three of them, to be exact—to destinations in two states, with about as much effort as it takes to order a pizza. Is there anything you can’t do?

“I’m sure that there is, but to be honest… not much, Uncle Stanley.” He whistles.

“Having that kind of power must be staggering. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.”

“With great power comes great responsibility,” I caution. “I’m not always in the cat-bird seat, but most often, I am. To make a bad matter worse, in the eyes of some, I’m hated just because I have money, not because I’ve actually done something wrong. So, at times. It’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.”

“I can imagine. Grass is always greener and all that. All I can say is I’m glad you’re on my side.”

“Mine, too, although I have no idea what we’re talking about,” Dad says walking into the room and dropping his briefcase on the floor next to the desk. “What did I miss? Are the cars here yet?”

“Any minute now,” I say.

“Christian just claimed Ichabod,” Uncle Herman declares.

“No shit?” Dad says with a laugh. “I guess that really doesn’t surprise me.”

“Why the hell do you want Ichabod?” Uncle Stan asks.

“I’m assuming you’re talking about the hundred-year-old, priceless, classic piano, and why are you calling it ‘Ichabod?’” I inquire.

“After Ichabod Crane from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, the headless horseman who rode in the middle of the night. Your treasured hundred-year-old classic is a playerless piano that randomly started playing in the middle of the night. It wouldn’t have been so creepy, but it started playing at the same time every night.”

“And when did you geniuses finally figure out that it was a faulty timer on the electric motor that went off at the same time every night?” I ask.

“We didn’t,” Uncle Stan say. “It just stopped playing.” There’s a knock at Dad’s study door and he goes to answer it. “It’s your problem now, genius,” Uncle Stan adds.

“A problem that I gladly accept,” I taunt. I’m going to get that beauty restored and get the timer fixed. When I show them how good it looks when it’s done, we’ll see who has the last laugh.

“Alright, boys, showtime,” Dad says. “Trucks pulling up the drive now.”

“Gotta go, Stan. You got your toys, now we’re getting ours,” Uncle Herman says. He and Dad say their goodbyes and end the call. The trucks are just pulling around the circular drive when we come outside.

“Dear God, they towed them across the country like that?” Uncle Herman asks horrified. The cars are both uncovered and traveling on flatbed tow trucks. I have to keep from chuckling a bit.

“No, they were transported to Grey Shipping in a boxcar by semi—much like the packing Pods that you’ve seen—then towed here on the flatbeds.” He nods.

“Why not just have the ‘Pod’ drop them off?” he asks.

“We tried. This area isn’t zoned for semis.”

“Okay, now you’ve lost me,” Uncle Herman says.

“Semi-trucks have to follow a certain route,” Dad tells Uncle Herman. “The drivers know which routes they can take, and which streets are zoned for heavy hauling like that. An 18-wheeler or tractor-trailer can’t travel on roads that aren’t zoned for that type of driving, like many residential areas.”

“I never knew that,” Uncle Herman says, watching the tow truck operator gingerly lean and lower the flatbed that carries his Fairlane.

“That car is even more beautiful in person,” he says.

“I’ll say,” Dad says, admiring the Coupe.

“I’ll race ya!” Uncle Herman jests and Dad laughs.

“No can do, big brother,” he confirms. “This beauty is going straight to the garage and won’t see daylight again until spring, where my lady and I will be enjoying picnics and rides on sunny Sunday afternoons.”

“Any room for this land yacht in there?” Uncle Herman asks.

“Of course, there is,” Dad says, “and if there’s not, we’ll make room.”

By the time I leave Dad’s house, Uncle Stan and I have gone through the manifests and have a pretty good idea what’s in the storage units. Nothing is committed to memory, of course, but he—and later, Dad—had quite the trip down Memory Lane going through Pops’ things.

An email actually went out Wednesday listing all of the items on the manifest even though Uncle Herman only looked at the finished list today. The email was sent with return receipt requested. So, we know that all the family members—grand-children included—received a copy of the list and Ms. Tanner has already started making a list of who wants what. As a result, by Monday, anyone who has requested something from the list can either prepare to pick it up or have it shipped depending on their locations, and notwithstanding the possibility that two or more people may want the same items.

I’ve gotten word from Chuck that Butterfly has left her session and is now in the limousine on her way to Miana’s. Chuck couldn’t gauge how she felt when she left Ace’s office, but she’s about to be pampered a bit before I take her out and help her forget her troubles.

This night one year ago was one of the most horrendously traumatic and miserable nights of my entire life. I can’t remember ever feeling the sense of loss and hopelessness I felt when they hinted that my Butterfly may not make it. I don’t even remember feeling that hopeless when the crack whore died. It was a long time ago and I remember feeling hopeless, but I don’t remember just how hopeless. Maybe I did feel that hopeless, I don’t know.

How the hell did my mind drift there?

Uncle Herman allows me to choose some pieces from Grandma and Pops’ private collection of vintage jewelry, real fucking quality shit. I stop at Cartier on my way home and have Marvin clean the pieces for me. He was hesitant at first because one of the pieces is pretty damn priceless. However, I assure him that I would trust no one else to the task and would not hold him responsible for any damage that occurs from reasonable handling. As a result, twenty minutes later, the pieces come back glistening and beautiful as if they’re brand new. He even provides me with unmarked boxes for the pieces since I brought them in simply wrapped in velvet as Uncle Herman had presented them to me.

As my barber gives me a haircut and trims my beard, I go over the events and discoveries of the day. Aunt Tina is having her final energy burst—something I learned about while being an asshole during Pops’ energy burst. Now would be the time for all of her loved ones to be around her reliving old times and telling her how much they love her, but there’s only Harmony, and she’s not holding up too well.

And then there’s my dad and uncles and the disposition of Pops’ estate. They did pretty well with the cars and Uncle Herman seemed to enjoy going through his parents’ things and remembering their significance—nothing like the crying fit he had earlier in the week. I was glad of that.

I was totally floored when he showed me Grandma’s jewelry collection from the safe deposit box, though. Good Lord! Extravagant doesn’t even begin to describe these pieces. I had picked one piece from the collection and Uncle Herman kept saying, “Pick another one.” I finally had six pieces of exquisite antique jewelry and I know my girl appreciates vintage pieces. Some of the pieces aren’t necessarily vintage—they’re just really pretty expensive. I don’t know how Pops had the money to afford these things. I can only guess that he must have been making an excellent living at Ford and purchased items when they weren’t so expensive. He apparently had a keen eye for value because I’ve yet to see anything that he purchased that depreciated in value except for that dilapidated house, and even the house was worth a pretty penny back in the day if I understand correctly. Even though it’s run down now, it’s in the historical district where the land itself is probably still worth something.

When I get home, Jason informs me that our reservations at Altura are all set. I haven’t taken her there yet. The last time I planned to take her was when I saw the ultrasound of the twins—and then all reason escaped from my brain and I simply had to get her home to take care of her. So, tonight, we finally get to go.

As I’m taking my shower, it occurs to me that she may feel a bit subconscious about the bruising on her wrists and ankles while the staff at Miana’s are doing her treatments. The pieces that I chose will hide those nicely, but hopefully her relaxing spa and make-up session won’t be too uncomfortable for her.

I choose a crisp linen shirt and a pair of jet-black jeans with a black blazer and a plain pair of black Bally leather ankle boots.

You’ll do.

With the jewelry in an unmarked bag, I descend the stairs and go to the garage.

Jason and Chuck are being dismissed for the night after I retrieve my wife from Miana’s. I requested that our chauffeur be security trained as well so that we don’t have an entourage of people with us. There will be no fucking in the limo tonight as I have other plans for us when we get home.

Of course, I’m fucking speechless when I arrive at Miana’s to pick her up for our date. She’s in a simple blue mock wrap dress with suede blue Louboutin Harler pumps with wide ankle straps and huge sexy Veronica Lake barrel curls in her mahogany hair… and she is stunning! I suddenly feel like a troll.

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Veronica Lake

“You look delectable,” I growl as I kiss her on the cheek.

“You’re looking quite yummy yourself, Chris,” she says, and my lady is feeling playful.

Oh, joy!

“Um…” I take her hands and notice that the skin on her wrist is flawless. I raise questioning eyes to hers.

“Airbrushing,” she says. “Seems I’m not the first wife with a kinky lover that this establishment has seen.” She winks at me. Jesus! I hope none of my prior subs came here it get cover-ups! It seems like an eternity ago and I can’t remember. I recover quickly and return my wife’s smile.

“Go on and get your coat, love,” I tell her. “I want to watch your ass as you walk away.” She smiles coyly and turns to the door.

And dear God, does she give me quite a show.


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

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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 60—Warfare

A while back, I posted on Facebook that I had written a scene that I never thought I could or would write. The scene from chapter 15 of Fifty Shades Golden is that scene. There are a lot of reasons why I thought I couldn’t write that scene, but it came out pretty good under the circumstances.

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

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

Chapter 60—Warfare

CHRISTIAN

For you! I do it all for you! Everything I do, I do for you! You’ve made me crazy!

I’m grinding deep in hard into my wife. We’ve been at it for hours, but no matter how long I’ve been fucking her, my dick can’t seem to get enough.

I need to go deeper, harder, I want to feel the burn in my balls.

“Christian,” she breathes, “please…”

She’s holding on to the part of the headboard that she can reach, and I roll my hips hard and deep and thrust into her again… and again… and again…

I can’t seem to find my satisfaction.

I can’t believe what happened today. I can’t believe I let it happen. I wanted to protect my wife… and myself… but if I’m honest, more my wife than myself. I couldn’t risk something getting back to her that would throw her into a dark place. I was a kinky, cold asshole back then, and one day, I know that’s going to be revealed to the world, but not today… God, not today.

I felt completely powerless when I got home. I went straight to the gym and ran on the treadmill until I felt like my legs were going to explode. I did sit-ups, push-ups, bench presses, curls, everything—and nothing seem to tame me. I knew that I needed her. I needed to be inside her to forget what happened today.

After I showered as much of the day and the sweat off me that I could, she came into the bedroom and I just attacked. I couldn’t get her clothes off fast enough and I was glad that I was already naked…

And we’ve been fucking ever since.

Her hair is now as wet as mine, though mine was wet from the shower and hers is soaked with sweat. I was holding her hips at first and watching her body push violently up the bed with each stroke, but it seems like my dick wasn’t getting deep enough. So now I have one hand on the headboard and the other holding her leg up and open while I push my cock into her so hard that the bed is shaking. Her tits are bouncing up and down and her nipples are shiny, either from sweat or from milk. Either way, it’s urging me on. I’m wild while I’m chasing this orgasm, and she’s already had two… or three… I’ve lost count.

“Christian… Christian…” she pants, and I continue to drive into her. I’m mindlessly fucking, my dick is in control, driving deeper and deeper into that canal that brings me this pleasure. Her voice is soft, weak, surrendering, and her vulnerability makes me thrust even deeper.

“Christian!” she cries, and when I raise my head to look at her face. She throws her head back and yells out her third—or fourth—orgasm, this time a few tears come with it.

I pause for a moment at the sight. It’s so fucking beautiful. She’s so fucking beautiful. And as she trembles through her climax I push into her a few more times and finally explode powerfully deep inside her. My muscles tighten and my body trembles painfully as my dick thumps inside her pussy. God… It’s insane.

My body is stiff with pleasure while she mewls in exhaustion, and when my orgasm finally releases me, I fall exhausted on top of her, panting wildly.

It only takes a moment for me to catch my breath and realize that we’re not done yet. I roll her over on top of me still inside of her, my cock still thumping and ready.

“Christian… please…” she weeps.

“Ssssshhh,” I comfort her as I stroke gently up and into her. I lay her head on my chest, close my eyes, and wrap my arms around her so that each hand is grasping the opposite butt cheek as I slowly stroke inside her. Her gentle weeping gradually becomes rhythmic breathing and I grind myself slowly and gently inside of her, allowing my cock to rub her clit with every stroke. Her hands are on my shoulders and she squeezes them gently each time I thrust into her.

That’s it, baby, feel it. Feel that cock getting hard and stiff for you. Feel how hot I am for you… only you.

“God,” I groan as my balls start to tighten. She digs her nails into my shoulder and mewls in pleasure and I feel her legs falling slightly open.

“Fuck!” I growl at the pain and I’m trying not to lose my stroke. I grip her ass tighter and push her harder down onto my cock.

“Fuck!” I say again as the heat in her core envelops me and threatens to unman me in seconds. I move one of my hands from her ass to the back of her neck and bring her face to face with me so that I can gaze into her blue eyes, thick with passion and teetering on the edge. She whimpers with each stroke as my angry, veiny, dick pushes deep inside of her core, withdraws, and pushes again, ringing indescribable pleasure from us both.

“Oh, God, baby,” I groan as the heat and the friction are almost becoming too much for me to bear. I can’t help but to stroke faster, deeper, harder, holding her against me. The headboard is banging behind me again as I fasten my hand behind her nape pulling her down deliciously onto my anxious, heated shaft. My face is close to hers, almost forehead to forehead, and I’m breathing like a bear.

I see surrender in her eyes as her pupils dilate and turn that unmistakable shade of blue. Dear God, I’m going to blow inside her any second.

“Give it to me,” I growl, rolling my hips so that my dick hits all her walls while the shaft burns her pebbling clit. I move my mouth to her ear and move my hand to the very top of her ass crack holding her hard against me.

“Come on, give it up. You know that pretty little pussy wants to pop,” I breathe sensuously in her ear. She tries to move but I’ve got her locked, top and bottom.

Her body stiffens, her muscles lock, and she groans deep in her chest as her orgasm rips through her. Merciful God in heaven! She’s got that pussy locked so hard on my dick that I can barely move. I close my eyes and manage to pull out to the head and allow it to edge inside of her pulsing pussy. Good God, the pleasure is blinding, and I haven’t even come yet.

“Shit! Shit!” I whisper almost inaudibly as she violently flexes and contracts as she continues to ride out a massive climax. I hold her against me and push in and pull out only slightly, continuing to edge inside this violently vibrating pussy. Before I have the chance to prepare for it, my cock is springing and gushing hard. I push in a little deeper to get a little more stimulation through orgasm, and I feel like my head is going to pop off… Both of them!

“Uuuuuggghhh! Oh, Gooooood!” I groan mournfully as my dick painfully empties all that it has to offer. I’m still edging inside of her and I can feel my cum sliding out of her and down my dick to my balls. It’s the hottest, sexiest thing ever.

“Oh, fuck,” I mourn as I attempt to stay still and ride out an orgasm hours in the making. The first one was just practice. This was the Megatron!

My wife is silently trembling on top of me, drenched in sweat and exhausted when my dick finally gives up the fight. I have to catch my breath before I can think or move or anything. With my cock now flaccid and still wrapped inside of her, I wrap us both in the blankets, wrap my arms around her, and finally fall asleep.

Morning comes quickly—too quickly—and I know that I owe my wife an explanation. I slide quietly out of bed and go to her bathroom. I start a bath and fill it with her Desert Bambu Lemongrass Citrus bath soap. She hasn’t used it in a while and I’ve always loved the way it smells. It reminds me of simpler times.

I go back to the bedroom and sit on the bed next to her sleeping form. Her hair is a stringy, matted mess and she is shamelessly drooling on her pillow.

“Butterfly,” I rouse her gently and she doesn’t move.

“Mmmm,” she groans. “Please, my pussy aches.” I stifle a laugh.

“I…” I begin. “Come get in the bath.”

She moans again, then turns over to face me. She gazes at me sleepily for a moment before her gaze becomes questioning.

I know.

“Bath first,” I tell her, “then talk.”

She doesn’t protest, so I pull the covers back, pick her up bridal style and carry her to her en suite.

The tub is nearly full and the space smells heavily of lemongrass citrus. She takes a deep breath and fills her lungs, closing her eyes and no doubt, savoring the scent.

The lemongrass was the right choice. I lower her into the bubbles and retrieve the shampoo and a comb and brush.

“Too hot?” I ask. She adjusts herself in the tub after grimacing.

“Sore pussy,” she says, looking up at me. I won’t live this down anytime soon.

I climb in the water and kneel over her. Using her freshwater sponge, I gently scrub every inch of her, after which I massage key points of her body that I know would be aching the most—her shoulders, her back, her legs, and I throw in a foot massage for good measure. When she’s totally relaxed, I take to the task of tackling her hair.

And what a task it is!

I thought she cut it a while back. It’s still at least three feet long! At least it seems that long.

I don’t let on that I think the task is a bit daunting. I get out of the tub so that I can maneuver around her more easily and lather her hair with a generous amount of soap. I work the sweat-tangled portions through my fingers first. Then, using the comb, I start at the ends and work my way up, combing through the kinks and laying her mahogany mane down on her back. When I’ve worked all the kinks out, I rinse it with fresh water and add a generous amount of her conditioner.

“You soak for a moment,” I tell her. “I’ll be back.”

I look at the clock on the nightstand and see that it’s nearly noon. Any plans that either of us had of going into the office are a wash now. I slip on a pair of sweats and step out of the bedroom into the hallway.

“Activate two-way communications.” The system comes alive. “Locate Gail Taylor.”

“I’m right behind you.”

I nearly jump out of my skin.

“What are you doing creeping around like that?” I snap.

“Ssshh!” she scolds. What the…? “Jumpy much?” she hisses quietly. “End two-way communications.” When the system disconnects, she turns her attention back to me. “I just put Mikey back to bed. Now, what can I do for you?” I frown.

“Is he okay?” I ask. She raises a brow to me.

“He’s a baby,” she says matter-of-factly. “Babies sleep.”

“Well, where’s Minnie?” I ask.

“Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Keri has her,” she informs me. “Sometimes, babies don’t sleep.” I roll my eyes at her.

“What’s quick to eat?” I ask her.

“I’ll put something together,” she says as she heads for the stairs.

“Tell Jason to call the office and tell them I won’t be in today.”

“I’m sure they figured as much, but I’ll tell him,” she says as she descends the stairs. I go back to our bedroom and retrieve one of my wife’s vintage night shirts. She can get dressed later if she wants, but I want her in this right now. When I get back to the en suite, she has fallen asleep in the tub.

Geez, I really wore her out last night. If I’m honest, I could use a little more rest myself.

Using more fresh water, I rinse the lemongrass conditioner from her hair. It smells divine. She wakes as I’m squeezing the last of the water from her hair. I retrieve a bath blanket and extend my hand to her. She stands and takes my outstretched hand, ascends the stairs in the tub and walks into the open bath blanket. I dry her skin and hair before sitting her in front of her vanity. I painstakingly dry her hair, combing it through so that it doesn’t tangle again before braiding it into a long braid down her back. I slip on her night shirt and let the water out of the tub before taking her hand and leading her to the sitting room.

Gail has prepared a pastry tray with a few cheeses, some coffee and orange juice and a note to summons her if we wanted more. This would do me just fine. Butterfly takes a seat on the loveseat and I roll the tray over to her.

“We fucked through dinner,” I say, handing her a croissant from the pastry tray.

“That we did,” she says, taking a bite from it. She’s not rushing me to say anything. I pour her a glass of orange juice from the carafe before sitting on the ottoman across from her.

“One of my ex-submissives contacted me yesterday…” I begin. She stops chewing. “If you stop eating, I stop talking.”

“So, it begins,” she says as she begins to chew again.

“Natasha Gaines,” I continued. “Our contract ended when I discovered that she wasn’t a natural brunette.” Her brow furrows.

“Hmm,” she says.

“What?” I ask. She shrugs.

“I don’t know, it seems a little harsh, I guess,” she says taking another bite of the croissant.

“Yeah, she agrees with you,” I say sarcastically, pouring myself a cup of coffee. She raises her brow at me and I sigh. “I put her through a very… grueling orgasm-denial session the night that I found out that she lied, and then I dismissed her without letting her come.”

“How long ago was this?” she asks.

Years,” I tell her, “years before I even met you.”

“So, if she came back after all this time, she was pretty bitter…”

“You could say that,” I say. “She came back for what I owed her.” Butterfly frowns again.

“She wanted you to fuck her?” she asks.

“No, but she did want me to make her come.”

“What?” Butterfly hisses angrily.

“I didn’t touch her, Anastasia,” I excuse quickly.

“Well, what exactly happened?” she says, placing her half-eaten croissant back on the tray.

“You’re not eating…”

“Fuck this food! What happened?” she barks, and I know I had better spit it out fast.

“She threatened me with a flash drive,” I begin. “I didn’t know what was on it. She told me if I didn’t meet her, she would release it to the press. She kept taunting me with how you would feel if you saw what was on it. I couldn’t take that chance.”

“So, basically, once again, somebody used me to get to you,” she says angrily. I sigh.

“Yes. She did,” I confess.

“And what happened next, Christian?” she says impatiently.

“She told me that she was at the club—my club downtown, a public place—and that she wanted me to meet her there. So, I did.”

She doesn’t say anything. She just waits for me to continue my tale. I just fucking spit it out.

“She popped a couple of Ben-Wa balls into her twat and she wanted me to sext with her, Ana, right there at the goddamn table so she could cum while we were doing it.”

“And did you do it?”

“Not willingly,” I mumble.

“And what the fuck does that mean, Christian?” she barks. “Did you sext with the bitch or didn’t you?”

“As far as she’s concerned, I did!” I bark back. “She wanted me to recount that night, so I did. She pissed me off to no end and I let her know in no uncertain terms what a horrible fucking sub she was. I called her names and berated her, told her that she was conniving and deceitful. I disparaged her in every way imaginable, and you know what? That fucking cunt came—right there at the goddamn table like she was possessed! I was sitting as far away from her as possible and several other diners looked at her like she had lost her mind. And then the trick thanked me, gave me the flash drive, and left. She says it was her final step of becoming a Domme.” My wife folds her arms.

“And that’s all that happened.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“Isn’t that e-fucking-nough?” I snap. “Here I am thinking I’m giving her what for and I’m giving the bitch exactly what she wanted. She wanted the asshole. She wanted to come in my presence because I didn’t let her come all those years ago and I gave her exactly what she wanted! And there was nothing on the fucking drive! Nothing but her taunting me because she used my arrogance against me. Fucking cunt!”

I’m getting angry again and my wife is sitting there glaring at me with her arms folded. What? She doesn’t believe me?

“So, in essence, I got Natasha’s punishment fuck.” I’m too ashamed to respond. “Did you see her while you were fucking me?”

“Good God, no!” I exclaim. Fuck no! “If anything, quite the opposite. I was definitely trying not to have that bitch taking up any of my mind space whatsoever.” She rolls her eyes at me.

“I don’t know how to feel about this,” she admits. “I’m definitely not thrilled in any way, shape, or form of having any other woman be the reason why you come home and fuck my brains out, but at least it was me and not somebody else.” I run my hands through my hair in frustration.

“So, we’ve had our first test and we failed,” she says, standing from the loveseat and pacing around the room. “Why did we do this whole ‘we ain’t hidin’ come get us’ exposé if we’re going to buckle when someone comes for us? There was no one being held at gunpoint; no bomb threats; no death threats. Just some desperate bitch who wanted to prove that you didn’t have a hold on her anymore—which is a crock of bullshit, because she sure wouldn’t have come across the country if that were true.”

Damn, I didn’t even think about that.

“Did you enjoy it?” she asks frankly. I scoff.

“About as much as a Dominant would enjoy fucking a submissive he never wanted to touch in the first place!” I growl, remembering the sickening feeling I got watching that cunt come at the table. My wife falls silent.

“You were psychologically raped, Christian,” my wife says softly. “You were forced to perform a sexual act that you didn’t want to perform under duress.”

What the hell? What kind of psychological mumbo-jumbo is this?

“I’m not a victim!” I hiss.

“But you were used, and that’s what’s pissing you off!” she accuses. “That’s what made you come back home and exert control over me in the only way that you could—and that’s okay. That’s one of the terms of our relationship that we set from the very beginning… but did it work? Do you feel in control?”

I ponder her words. I think about what that bitch took from me at that table in the club. She took more than an orgasm and she knows it. She knew exactly what she was doing to me. She was stripping me of my power. She had to in order to move on from that last night with me. She’s sitting knowing this is happening right now. She knew exactly what she was doing… exactly what she was doing…

“No,” I confess, almost inaudibly. “No… it didn’t work. I don’t feel control.”

“No, you don’t,” she confirms, returning to her perch on the loveseat, “and you could fuck me all night and all day and you still wouldn’t feel it. You won’t get it from me. You won’t get it from this.” I raise my eyes to her.

“What am I supposed to do?” I ask her. She sighs.

“You have to do what she did,” she says. “She took what she needed, and it had to come from you because of what you withheld from her all those years ago. Now, she’s robbed you of something, too… and it wasn’t an orgasm. It was something else. Either you have to get it back or you have to let it go. You need to figure out which.”

Jesus. Psychologically raped… Christian fucking Grey. Don’t that beat all?

“In light of this new revelation, would it bother you terribly if I discussed this with my shrink instead of…” I trail off. The idea of discussing any kind of rape with my wife… She smiles softly, leans over and kisses me on the forehead.

“Of course, not,” she says, sweetly.

*-*

“How do you always manage to make time for me on such short notice?” I say to Dr. Baker as I take a seat on her sofa.

“I always leave a slot or two open for emergency sessions,” she says after closing her office door. “You’re not my only patient, Christian, and emergencies arise all the time.”

“Yeah,” I lament.

“So, what’s your emergency today?” she asks. “You sounded a bit anxious on the phone.”

“My wife seems to think that I’ve been psychologically raped,” I say flatly. She raises a brow at me.

“And what do you think?” she asks.

“I’d like your opinion on it,” I reply. “It’s not an easy topic to discuss with your wife, even though she’s a mental health professional.”

“And how does she feel about that,” Dr. Baker asks, “I mean about you wanting to talk to me and not her?”

“She’s fine with it,” I say. “You’re my shrink, and she knows that.” Dr. Baker twists her lips.

“How open-minded of her,” she says, but for some reason I don’t hear reverence in that statement. Nonetheless…

“Tell me what happened to bring Dr. Grey to this conclusion,” she says as she settles back in her chair.

I recount the story of Natasha and how she finagled me into doing what she wanted and the subsequent fuck-fest with my wife last night, as well as the conversation we had before I found myself here in Dr. Baker’s office. She listens attentively, occasionally taking notes on her notepad, before turning her attention back to me.

“Psychologically raped,” she says as if testing the phrase, “I’m not sure I agree with that diagnosis, but I think I know what she’s getting at.” I sigh. She’s taking little shots at my wife—tiny, almost indecipherable shots…

Almost.

“Dr. Baker, it’s obvious that you and my wife will never see eye-to-eye,” I begin. “I don’t know if your techniques are vastly different or you come from different schools of thought, but right now, I’m having a problem with a situation that needs to be solved. What my wife said sounds like it makes a lot of sense. Spend less time disparaging her opinion and more time trying to help me figure out what’s going on with me here. Is that okay with you?”

“I assure you, Christian, that I wasn’t disparaging your wife’s opinion,” she says. “I was just saying that I don’t necessarily agree with it.”

“Well then, what is your professional opinion, doctor?” I seethe. I’m starting to get a little pissed off. Noting my agitation, either she decides to change tact, or she realizes that she’s being unprofessional.

“Are you the same man that you were before, Christian?” she asks. “That’s who Natasha needed, and she manipulated you until she thought she got that man… or maybe she did get that man. But whatever she got, she got from him. Does he want it back? Does he want that life… what she stole?

“Don’t answer for me, or even for Ana. Don’t think about what anybody wants to hear. Think about yourself. Think about how you feel and what you want. You left your wife and family, you went to Madrid and you didn’t look back. You turned into that guy again even though you didn’t have sex with any women. The only thing that even made you blink was the thought of your wife dying. Her suffering didn’t mean anything to you, but the thought of her dying and being totally taken away from you—that tipped the scales. So, who is Christian Grey today, and what does he want?

“She stole a power from you that you had over women—over her—at that time. You don’t have that power over women anymore, not even over Ana, and you know it. So… what? Do you want it back? What do you want?”

I honestly have to think about the question, not because I’m indecisive, but because I really need to examine the answer. Instead of thinking of Natasha, my mind goes to my wife.

My beautiful wife, the very reason for my existence.

What I did to my wife—deserting her without a word and flying halfway across the world where she had no hope of finding me—after all the promises we made, was sadistic. It was selfish, beyond egotistical, beyond narcissistic. It was the worst thing I ever could have done to her second only maybe to cheating on her. I rocked her to her very soul—on purpose. Now, when I watch her trying to recoil from it, it makes me ill. All I want to do is take it back, make it all go away, but I can’t. One of the biggest reasons I can’t make it better is because I didn’t do it.

That old Christian Grey did it.

And he did it with no remorse. Nobody I know in the world can hurt and destroy a person like that guy can, and I set that guy loose on my wife. Yes, I was hurt and confused, and I felt betrayed, but that was no reason to unleash that asshole on my wife the way that I did. I think Natasha knew that I wasn’t that guy anymore, and her ultimate victory was in bringing him back… and defeating him.

“Hell, no,” I say definitely. “Hell, no, I don’t want that guy back. I don’t want anything to do with that guy.”

“This isn’t the last sub that’s going to try you. What are you going to do?” she asks.

“I don’t know,” I tell her. “I’ll talk to my wife, but that guy is gone…”

“Hello, Mr. Grey!” The doorman says. “It’s been a long time. It’s good to see you.”

“Thank you, yes, it has…” Been a long time. And that’s why I have no idea what your name is anymore. Jason and I walk to the elevator and I press the call button. When the doors open, I enter my express code and it takes me straight to the penthouse.

I barely recognize the place when I get there. I remember picking out everything in this apartment. It looks exactly how I wanted it to look. Now, it looks like a cave… Somewhere that someone would hide when they wanted to get away from the world. It’s dank and dark and there’s no warmth in here… no family, no love…

It’s all still furnished exactly like it was before. Nothing but our personal belongings went to the new house. I ascend the stairs and go right to the playroom.

It’s still a beautiful room. Luscious deep, red color, high-end furnishings, my Chesterfield sofa & chair, my Baroque bed. I look up at the ceiling at the carabiners and the chains hanging there, my St Andrew’s cross…

This is where I often found my solace, my peace. But every time I left this room, the same monsters were still waiting for me on the other side of the door.

Many women found themselves in this room; other women lost themselves in this room. Some of them even lost their minds.

I take one of the canes from the wall and swing it into the air. It makes a satisfying swish sound, and I imagine it falling onto the back of one of my prior submissives. The moment I see it make contact with her skin in my mind’s eye, I drop it.

Like scenes from a horror movie, the faces of different subs in this room flash before my eyes. The faces of the same subs as they were being dismissed also flash before my eyes. That man, that monster, that asshole…

Not that man anymore.

I back out of the room as if I may be snatch backed in by some unknown specter if I turn my back on the implements. I quickly descend the same stairs I ascended moments ago and note Jason standing at the breakfast bar.

“Let’s go,” I say quickly rushing to the door … to my freedom…

“Christian,” the heavy Greek voice greets me over the phone. “Good to hear from you again. You need something new?”

“No, Artemis,” I say into the phone. “In fact, I have another favor to ask of you.”

“Anything, Christian,” he says, “you are one of my best customers.”

“Thank you,” I say. “How soon can you dismantle the playroom at Escala?”

*-*

I feel like I’ve been through a prize fight when I walk into the house. I’ve got yet another monster to battle.

Myself.

Nobody can help me this time—not Dr. Baker, not my wife, nobody. I have to fight this battle all on my own.

I go in search of my wife and find her in her office. I can tell that she’s taking care of business because she has that take-no-prisoners tone to her voice.

“Yes, we’ll have you get started next Monday. You can start getting the lay of the land, so to speak. We’ve never had maintenance full-time, just the odd handyman repair here and there. So, we’ll be expecting you to educate us about a few things about the facility as well as keep things running smoothly. Any assistants as well as the cleaning staff will be reporting directly to you.”

It sounds like she’s found her new head of maintenance. I wish she would have let me send someone over from GEH to check things out before she hired a stranger.

“I hope so, too, Mr. Collier,” she says. “I look for excellence in my employees no matter their station, and I have no problem letting someone go who can’t toe the line. I trust you won’t let me down.”

Hmm, stranger or not, she seems to have this under control. I come around the opening and into the door, causing her to raise her head at me.

“I’ll have to go now, Mr. Collier. Something’s just come up. I’ll see you on Monday…? Good. Have a good weekend.” She ends the call and gazes at me.

“New maintenance staff?” I ask, sitting in the chair in front of her desk.

“Head of maintenance,” she says. “We’ll see how he works out, then build a staff around him.” I nod. The silence between us is deafening, so I break it.

“Whenever I’ve thrown down the gauntlet, I’ve never had to worry about anybody but myself. Nobody counted but me, nobody mattered but me… I didn’t have to worry about anybody’s feelings because no one else’s feelings mattered. It was so easy to be cold and aloof and obtuse because, hell, I was the king and everyone else were peasants.

“Even when I met you,” I say, raising my gaze to her eyes, “you were just someone else to bend to my will and when you didn’t, it pissed me the fuck off. There’s not a woman alive who could resist me, who could defy me… until there was.” I drop my head to my hands.

“All those women,” I say, thinking back on the sea of brunettes that have trailed through my life. “They meant nothing to me. They could have all been blow-up dolls for all I cared as long as they had brown hair. I felt nothing—nothing at all for any of them and to think, they all revered me. Some of them lost their fucking minds. Some of them lost their lives and of the ones that are left, some of them are still out to get me, and I’m only just now understanding why.”

“Christian,” my wife pushes her chair away from the desk and stands up, “you were a real asshole. I know that from experience. I met the guy. This is what I don’t understand.” She walks around her desk and comes around to where I’m sitting.

“I’d like to know what it is about these submissives that they think they’re on some other level, or some pedestal, or they’re playing by some different set of rules where they’re not supposed to get hurt,” she says.

“Unconventional? Yes. Taboo? Of course, but it’s a relationship nonetheless! So the fuck what, there’s a goddamn contract? There’s a contract involved in marriage and people get divorced all the time. People get hurt all the time in relationships. It’s part of life. Sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t. But for some reason, your submissives act like they’re some kind of extraterrestrial beings that aren’t supposed to be crossed, or dumped, or hurt. Where did I miss the memo that these women are not supposed to feel like the rest of us do?

“I gave my heart to an asshole, and guess what happened? I got hurt. That shit happens in real life. What the fuck is wrong with these women that they can’t just walk away from a fallen relationship and move on with their lives? Why are we constantly under some kind of microscope or living in some kind of bubble because one of these nutjobs may be waiting around the corner for us with a gun or a car or a flash drive?

“We did this exposé, and now we need to let these creatures know that we meant what we said in that exposé. If there are other lovesick, forlorn submissives out there that want to come at us, let them come! But don’t you ever put yourself in a position where you’re stuck and cannot get out like you did with Natasha. If they want to blackmail you and back you into a corner, then they need to deal with both of us because that shit is not going to happen again!”

Okay, my wife is pissed. Release the Tiger!

“So, what do we do if somebody shows up and say they have this kind of information again?” I ask. “I mean this kind of thing can be damaging to our whole family. What if they have something like that on me and threaten to go public?”

“Call her bluff,” she tells me. “Let her go public.”

“What about our kids?” I ask. “Something like this could destroy any chance they have at a normal life.”

“What’s normal?” she asks. “Was your childhood normal? Was mine? We live in a castle and we can’t go out alone. What. Is. Normal? We’ll fucking make our own goddamn normal, but the whole idea of doing that exposé was to tell people that we weren’t going to be afraid anymore. You had to know some vermin were going to crawl from under the rocks. Let the fuckers crawl! You’re a powerful billionaire and a respected businessman. Nobody can ruin you. They can make it uncomfortable, but that’s it. What that woman did—holding your psyche hostage—you can’t let that happen again. We can live anywhere in the world we want, do anything we want, but we’ll find our fucking normal. As a matter of fact, call that bitch.”

“What bitch?” I ask. “Natasha?”

“Yes,” she hisses. Oh, hell.

“Baby, I have nothing to say to that woman…”

“But I do,” she snaps. “She used me to get you to do what she wanted, and I am fucking sick of this shit. I am going to be heard! Now you can call her, or I will!”

“You can call her. I’m not doing it.”

“Then give me the goddamn number.” He pulls out his phone.

“Call her Myshka. She hates that shit…”


ANASTASIA

The days of the delicate fucking flower are gone. I opened this door and a motherfucker walked in. If this is the Boogeyman, so be it. Let’s dance, asshole… show me what you got!

“Hello, Natasha,” I say when she answers the phone.

“Who is this?” she asks after a short pause.

“Seattle area code. Can’t you guess?”

“I’d much rather you tell me,” she says cockily.

“Gladly,” I oblige. “This is Anastasia Grey.” The line is momentarily silent.

“And what can I do for you, Mrs. Grey?” she says, and I can tell that she’s smiling on the other line.

“You can stay the fuck away from my family, including my husband,” I reply. I can hear her laugh.

“He must have told you about our little meeting,” I can hear her smiling. “He still has great skills.”

“Nice try, Myshka, but I know everything.” I can taste the animosity oozing through the phone when I say that name. He’s right… she clearly hates that shit.

“I got what I wanted from him,” she says. “He made me come right there in his restaurant. That’s all I needed. Now you figure out how it happened.”

“How it happened?” I laugh loudly. “Sweetheart, should I be upset with the fact you’re so fascinated with the mere thought of my man that you nutted on a seat in a public place in his presence? Are you really proud of that? He had you chained to the ceiling, cuffed to a cross, or tied to the bed and wouldn’t let you come, and you found closure in creaming on a bench like a dog in heat? You could have saved yourself the plane fare and did that over the phone.”

“Oh, no, that would never do,” she taunts. “Then I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of seeing his beautiful face… being reminded of how those hands feel on me… and that mouth…” Oh, this is good. This is really good.

“Oh my God, that is so amateur!” I laugh. “Try again, you desperate cunt. He tells me fucking everything, you little bitch, and I would have to be out of my rabbit-ass mind to believe anything that you have to say about that meeting except that he sat there looking at you and you came on the seat like a common slut. Congratulations. Consider this.

“Years ago… years ago…” I stress the years so that she can see just how ridiculous this is, “… he called you to his penthouse at which time, he used and humiliated you, then turned you away and threw you out of his mind. Years later, you lure him to his club with blackmail where he proceeds to degrade you again, and you cream all over yourself like a teenager. Then, you and your wet, stinky panties—assuming you were wearing any—walk out of the club all satisfied and fulfilled, and you call that closure? It seems to me that all this proved is that you’re still his puppet!”

“I am not under his control!” she hisses. Ooo, I’ve hit a nerve.

“If you say so, but the fact that you flew all the way across the country just to sit in his presence and nut contradicts your claims,” I say sweetly. “Like I said, stay the fuck away from my husband and don’t even consider letting the Grey name escape your lips after this conversation or I’ll make you regret the fucking day that you were born.” It’s her turn to laugh.

“What makes you think that if I wasn’t afraid of him that I’m going to be afraid of you?” she asks incredulously.

“Because you haven’t met my kind of crazy,” I say a little too calmly. “I’ve been through a hell that would make your brown hair stand up by its blonde roots—or whatever color it is today—and if you think for one second that I’m going to stand by and allow you to jeopardize my peace and happiness, you got another fucking think coming. Try me… I’ll make you wish you never met Christian Grey.”

“Oh, this is good,” she taunts. “Master has a little Fireball on his hands. You’ll give him a good run for his money.”

“You shouldn’t worry about the run for his money that he’s going to get, you should be more concerned about yours.” I seethe. “Don’t think that I can’t find out every little thing there is to know about you, crawl into every little aspect of your pathetic little life and make every bit of it a living fucking hell and have a great time while I’m doing it.”

“You’re sounding more and more like him,” she says, a bit of her confidence slipping.

“That’s the difference, Ms. Gaines. I ain’t him. He’s accustomed to his power. So, he can control it. I’m just getting a taste of it, so I’m drunk with it… Absolutely fucking insane from it. And I can’t wait to unleash it and just get all this frustration out about stupid little ex-submissives who seem to think they have power over our existence. He hurt your wittle feewings and you couldn’t get over it. Instead of being a woman and moving on with your life, you fly clean across the country and decide you want to disturb the peace.”

“Seems like I did a pretty good job, too. I got what I wanted from him and now you’re calling me,” she says haughtily. “You sound so high-and-mighty, but if it didn’t bother you, why are you calling me?” she continues to taunt.

“Oh, no,” I chuckle. “You didn’t bother me, you worthless little sow. You pissed me the fuck off. That’s why we’re having this conversation—but the more I talk to you, the more pissed I get. The more I feel the need to do something about this. I don’t give a fuck that you nutted on a leather seat in public. What I do give a fuck about is that you exploited my husband and you got off while you were doing it. Yeah, you won that round—good for you, but now I’m feeling the need to step into the ring. Maybe your conniving little ass needs to know what another woman’s touch can do.”

“That’s big talk for a bitch who doesn’t know what I’m even capable of,” she hisses. And now she’s pissed, too. Good, I broke that little façade of hers.

“Oh, where does that confidence come from, your Domme training?” I tease. “Make you feel all big and strong, does it?” She’s silent for a moment. “What are you gonna do… whip me?” I taunt. “You’re right,” I concede, “I don’t know what you’re capable of. And that’s why you should be very afraid, because I don’t fucking care.”

“Afraid of what?” she snaps. “For all you know I could have you begging for your fucking life.”

“Oh, please, Mistress, I beg you… try it!” I hiss. “Go ahead, be my guest. Do your worst! I guarantee that I can top it exponentially. If you need to be my first public example to the world that I mean fucking business, then so be it. Give it your best shot, Natasha, and I’ll make damn sure that I hit everything you hold dear. I don’t even have to see you coming to cut you down at the knees and have you groveling for mercy. If you think Master had you whimpering, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. I’ll rip your heart out and eat it in the Marketplace. So, come and get me, subby… you know where to find me.”

The line is silent for a long time and I finally realize that she has nothing else to say. What could she say? What exactly is the comeback for someone who says that they’ll physically rip your heart out of your body?

She was ready for Christian because she knows who he is, but she doesn’t know me. She just thought she did. I put my phone on speaker for my last message.

“Say goodbye, Christian,” I say loud enough for her to hear and wait for Christian to speak.

“Goodbye Natasha,” he says and nothing else. I hold the line long enough to hear her gasp before I disconnect the call.

Neither of us says anything for what feels like several minutes. He’s the first to break the silence.

“I don’t think you know what you’ve done,” he says.

“I know exactly what I did, Christian,” I say. “I’m a psychiatrist. That power that she took from you, I just took it back. She and bitches like her need to know that they’re not going to weasel their way into our lives and expect us to bend. They want a fight, they’ll get one. As far as I’m concerned, this is a test, and I plan on passing with flying colors.

“She can make a move if she wants to, and if she’s brave enough to make it, I’m brave enough to take her down. I know from experience that you may never get closure from something that someone did to you. My advice is that if you ever come for closure like she came for you, just make sure you really are the biggest dog in the yard. She came at you like a pit bull and came face to face with the rottweiler standing behind you.

“I’m all for getting closure if someone has wronged you, and what you did to her was more than a little harsh, but she came at you threatening your reputation—to expose some horrible thing to the world and your family—all because you hurt her little feelings! Who does that? This isn’t her confronting the bully who taunted her and tortured her in high school! She signed up for this! She knew what she signed up for and she knew what you wanted. She knows the rules! I’m not even that deep in the lifestyle and I know the rules!

“If a counterfeit would have sufficed, you could have hired a prostitute and put her in a wig! But you had detailed specifications and she didn’t meet them. She may have wanted to be what you wanted, but the fact of the matter was that she wasn’t. So, she wanted you to be all gentle when you called her out for breaking the rules when she knew better than that.

“She needed closure from her little humiliation all those years ago, and she got it too… But it was short-lived. Because your wife just came in and showed her just who she really isn’t when she finally thought she was somebody. Now let her come at me. I’ll rip her apart and feed her to the rats.

“So, now, all the vermin are going to crawl out of the woodwork because of that exposé. We didn’t scare anybody, we taunted them. Well, let them come! I’m tired of sitting back waiting for Armageddon! If it’s coming, bring it on. I’ve got some hell that I need to unleash.”

“But Butterfly,” he protests, “you made it look like you were already coming for her.”

“Who says I’m not?” I seethe. His head snaps back and he’s silent for several moments. I’m pacing around the room, full of anger and aggression and no way to tame it.

“I want you to tie me up and fuck me like there’s no tomorrow,” I say. He raises a brow at me.

“That won’t be a problem,” he says. “That was fucking hot… and you’re topping from the bottom.”

“No,” I correct him, my voice firm, “I’m topping from the top.” I want you to fuck me until your dick doesn’t work anymore and if you don’t tie me down, I might hurt you. He glares at me and I glare right back.

“Yes… Mistress,” he says after a pause.

*-*

I awake the next morning with some pretty brutal bruising on my wrists from trying to get out of the binds my husband put me in. He did the classic four-corner bondage and fucked me until I was insane… again, and I fought to get out of my bounds. I didn’t know until this morning just how hard I fought. It’ll be long pants and exaggerated cuffs for a while for me.

BW...precioso detalle

For some reason, I feel like my husband and I have traded places. He’s all introspective about the man he used to be and I woke up with two things on my mind…

Destroying Natasha Gaines and fucking.

No, I didn’t jump his bones again—we were both too tired from last night… but I can still fuck.

“Butterfly!” Christian seems surprised to see me this morning. He examines my attire, paying special attention to the exaggerated cuffs of my blouse. “I… thought you would sleep in today.” I chuckle softly.

“No, Tarzan,” I jest. “I’m fully able to walk.” I hear the toaster and correctly assume that Ms. Solomon is preparing my jam and cream cheese bagel. I turn to look in that direction and Ms. Solomon is concentrating on that bagel like it’s the most interesting thing she’s ever seen.

“Well, yes, but…” He trails off.

“But, what?” I ask.

“But… nothing. I just thought you may have wanted to stay home.” He looks towards my sleeve again before sipping his coffee and turning his attention back to his phone, and I deduce that he probably doesn’t want anyone to see my wrists. I chuckle and pour my own cup of coffee.

“There’s nothing to fear, Mr. Grey,” I say, “I’m thoroughly garbed,” I add softly. He raises a brow to me.

“So, I see,” he says, “almost too garbed.”

“I can put on a mini skirt and a tank top if you like,” I jest, raising my own brow.

“No, that won’t be necessary,” he backpedals, placing his phone on the breakfast bar. “You usually stay home for the first part of the day and go to the Center for the afternoon. Why the change today?”

“It’s Friday,” I reply. “I’m going in this morning, so I can see Ace this afternoon.” He nods, and I take a healthy bite of the cream cheese and jam bagel. “Oh, God, that’s good,” I say with my mouth full.

“Since you seem to be enjoying yourself so much, I won’t harass you too much about not having a real breakfast.”

“This is a real breakfast, Christian,” I quip. “A continental breakfast.” I take another bite of the delicious bagel. “Mm.”

“If you say so,” he says finishing his coffee.  “Is everything okay with Garrett?” I glare at him. What does he know about the Garrett situation? He wasn’t here.

“No, they’re not telling me your every move,” he clarifies, trying to read my expression. “A guard was kicked off the premises yesterday, and my head of security thought I should know. Is that okay with you, Dr. Grey?”

“Don’t be a smart ass,” I tell him. “I had every reason to believe someone was reporting on me and you know it.” He doesn’t respond. “And Gary is fine. By the way, when will I be getting my butler back? I miss him.”

“He’s only been gone a week, baby,” Christian scolds.

“And I still miss him,” I point out. “Admit it. You miss him, too.”

“I’ll admit no such thing,” he says indignantly.

“But you’re not denying it, so I know what that means.” He shakes his head. “Oh! I never told you. Harmony’s ex signed the papers.” He raises his gaze to me.

“He did? When?” he asks.

“I think it was Tuesday,” I tell him. “I told you he would be signing those papers by Tuesday,” I say triumphantly before finishing my bagel.

“That you did,” he says. “Now if we could just find something on him and Roger for what they were doing to Harmony and Tina…”

I thought you said you had footage,” I point out.

“We thought we did,” he counters. “It turns out that this was just a bunch of cheap recording equipment and no evidence. Wherever that stuff went, it was temporary storage and it’s most likely destroyed by now.”

“Well, that fucking sucks… nonetheless, Harmony was happy as a lark to be rid of him. Now, it’s just for Carrick to go and file the documents with the court, if he hasn’t already.”

“Well, good riddance!” Christian says. “Asshole.” He stands and kisses me on the cheek. “I’ve got word that the cars are supposed to be in town today. They’re dropping the Fairlane and the Coup at Dad’s before they head to California with the T-Bird. I promised Uncle Herman I would help him sort out the situation of the items in the storage units, so I’ll actually be working from Dad’s today. I plan on stopping by Tina’s, too. Any sweet nothings you want me to whisper to your butler while I’m there?” He raises an eyebrow at me.

“Don’t tease me, Christian,” I scold.

“You were the one who said you missed him,” he defends.

“Fuck you,” I retort.

“Don’t worry, you will,” he says shamelessly. “Jason,” he beckons without breaking his gaze from mine. Jason appears from I don’t know where and falls in step behind his boss, who turns away confidently and strides cockily out of the kitchen.

“Cocky sonofabitch,” I mumble before finishing my coffee. I know I can’t summon Chuck the way His Highness just summoned Jason, which only irks me even more about his over-confidence.

Who am I fooling? He’s not over-confident. He has just enough confidence for his station. Asshole.

“Activate two-way communications.” The system comes alive. “Locate Charles Davenport.”

“Davenport,” his disembodied voice says.

“Any day now, Davenport,” I respond, already headed to the garage.

“On my way…”

I’m still a little irritated when I get to Helping Hands. There’s no word on Ebony Carson’s background check. We got information on Harmony’s no-good husband in less than a day. Less than a week later, he was signing those divorce papers…

“Now, I have one girl with a common name, no criminal history that we know of, and maybe a gangland boyfriend in prison and we can’t find anything concrete on her. What’s the deal?” I fuss on the phone at Alex.

“Sometimes, it’s harder to find something on people that are clean than it is on people who are dirty,” Alex replies. “Take your stepmother, for instance. I think she had a traffic ticket or something, so we had something to go on, but had she been squeaky clean, we might still be looking for a definite background check on her. Even you—you had that fiasco in Green Valley that caused you to change names when you were 15… 15! Do you know how hard it is to find something on a minor? But you had something, so we had information on you in about two weeks.”

“Well maybe that’s it,” I defend. “Maybe she’s just squeaky clean.”

“Nobody’s squeaky clean,” he says. “In fact, if you find nothing on someone, you should keep digging. They’re probably more dangerous that someone with an open criminal background.” I sigh heavily.

“Are you saying that I should just let this goldmine go?” I ask defeated. “Someone who could need our help and could also be a great asset to Helping Hands at the same time, I should let her slip through my fingers because we can’t find anything on her?”

“I can’t tell you what to do,” he replies. “I can only say that I tend to err on the side of caution due to my experience. You have to make your own decision. And for the record, I never said that I can’t find anything. I said I’m not finding anything concrete. Like you said, ‘Ebony’ is a common name and so is ‘Carson.’ So, I might find one thing on Ebony Carson that doesn’t match up with something else on Ebony Carson and I have to decipher if this is a mistake or if this is two different people. Her social security number even goes to two different people with two different names, but I’ve seen these kinds of mistakes before, too. None of the Ebonys that I’ve found have any known affiliations with anybody in prison, but again, that doesn’t mean anything either. There’s a lot of information to comb through and then not enough information at the same time. Like I said, I can’t tell you what to do, but if you’re going to make your decision based on a background check, you’re going to have to wait a little longer until I can nail down something more concrete.”

I can’t afford to sidestep when it comes to the Center. There’s too much at stake, but Ebony is just so perfect for us. She’s just what we need, and she can do so much more than the glorified babysitting position that she applied for. I don’t doubt that she’s been turned down for many other positions for this same reason—that two and two just don’t equal four and she’s too afraid to be any more forthcoming with information for fear that her past may physically catch up with her one day. Nonetheless…

“Just… keep me posted on what you find,” I cede. “Look very hard, Alex, because if you don’t find anything solidly adverse on this girl, I’m going to hire her. She could have just been living in the shadows and that’s why we can’t find anything, but at the same time,I don’t want to take any chances.”

“Yes, ma’am.” I end the call and drop my head on my desk in frustration. It’s obvious that Ebony has a history—some kind of story—but don’t we all? I just don’t want her story to somehow come back and bite the Center in the ass. I also don’t want to let the opportunity to acquire a great asset slip through my fingers. This could be her chance to turn her life around and excel—conquer or overcome whatever ghosts are chasing her or holding her back. Good grief, this is a tough decision.

“Bosslady?” Marilyn’s voice brings me out of my musings.

“Yeah?” I say, raising my head from my desk.

“You alright?” she asks.

“Yeah, just pondering a conundrum,” I say, rubbing my forehead.

“What are you doing here?” she asks. Huh?

“Um, I work here?” I declare, the statement sounding more like a question. At that moment, Grace sticks her head into the doorway and glares at me like an exotic animal.

“Oh, Ana! Hi,” she says in surprise while stepping into the room. I raise my brow.

“Hi,” I say, and it almost sounds like a question, too. “Is… something wrong?” She and Marilyn look at each other,

“No… nothing’s wrong. I’m just… surprised to see you here today.” I frown.

“Why wouldn’t I be here today?” I ask, and why is everybody surprised that I’m here?

“Well, because of what today is,” she says. Today is Friday. What am I missing?

“You’ve lost me,” I say, awaiting the punchline. She and Marilyn look at each other again and now, I’m getting irritated.

“Will someone please tell me what I’m supposed to know that I obviously don’t?” I ask impatiently.

“Ana,” Grace begins, “today is the one-year anniversary of your accident.”


A/N: 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.

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 ~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 55—Untitled

e91a3dcf-c15a-441a-b369-996922364cdc-profile_image-300x300

My mind…

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

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

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

Chapter 55—Untitled

CHRISTIAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I pause for a moment and glare at him, observing the beads of sweat forming on his forehead and the droplets sliding down his temples.

“I don’t know what kind of power you think you had, but you didn’t bank on a ruthless motherfucker like me… did you?”

I pause for a few moments more to let that sink in before deciding that I’ve had enough of this poser.

“Never darken this family’s door again and if you do, may God have mercy on your miserable soul. You have one hour to pack what you can and get the hell out of here. Any questions, Roger, or do I need to show you just how pissed off I really am?”

Roger’s face is clammy and pale when he leaves the house exactly an hour later. I’ll have him watched, but his tactics and techniques thus far show me that he’s not going to be a problem. A little while later, the rest of the staff returns and Aunt Tina—after having had a restful day and afternoon—is alert enough to explain to them that Roger is gone, and a temporary replacement will be here in the morning. Nothing else is said about the matter.

It’s after dinner when we wrap everything up and prepare to head to the Crossing. Jason has arranged for the shifts of security at Aunt Tina’s house and I’ll arrange for Windsor to come in the morning. The house isn’t in too bad a state of disarray, although there was a bit of collateral damage in the library and in Harmony’s room removing the video equipment. I’ve arranged for those repairs to be done over the weekend.

“Do we have any idea what he was doing with all this stuff?” Harmony asks. I don’t really know what to tell her right now. I have to process the information that asshole gave me and see if we can pull any footage from the equipment we’ve confiscated from him. No doubt, the little worm got pictures of her dressing and intimate moments when she was alone… who knows what else.

“Once I have my people analyze the information, we’ll have more answers,” I tell her. I know who he was in cahoots with, and I’m not really sure that I want to reveal that right now. In fact, I’m certain that I don’t.

“Well,” she begins, “I don’t know how to thank you for what you’ve done. There’s no telling what he would have done had you not found him out.” Her voice softens, and I see the change in her eyes.

Oh, shit, I lament inwardly.

“Tina means a lot to me,” I tell her. “I don’t know what his plans were after her passing, but they sure as hell couldn’t have been good.”

“Well,” she says, closing the space between us and flashing large, blue pupils at me, “If there’s anything I can do to make it up to you…” She allows her sentence to trail off. There’s no mistaking what she’s referring to, and I’m going to nip this shit in the bud right here and now.

“Harmony, I care very much about your mother, but I’m a very happily married man and you’ve met my wife. You must know this isn’t going anywhere.”

As if snapping out of a trance, her eyes change again, and her hands cover her face.

“Oh, God, what the hell am I doing?” she laments deeply. Ooooookay, is this like a multiple personality thing?

“Please… oh, please pretend that didn’t just happen,” she begs. “I… I don’t know what’s wrong,” her voice is sober as she turns away from me. “It’s been like this ever since I was twelve years old. Too young for sex, right? Wrong! I never figured out this need to have everybody want me, but it’s there… and I fight it every day. That’s how Ken was able to get in. He just showed me more attention than the other guys and that was all I needed. And you…” She turns around to face me.

“You’re extremely attractive, Christian, but really—I don’t want you that way. If anything, I might be feeling a little hero worship because you effectively saved us from the bad guy, but that whole bitch-in-heat thing…”

She shakes her head and sighs. She’s obviously embarrassed by her behavior… and she obviously has a problem.

“And Ana… Oh God, I would never hurt Ana,” she groans, shaking her head. “She’s been so nice to me.” She raises her eyes to me again. “Old habits are hard to break… dumb ones, even harder. Please, forgive me.” I sigh.

“You need to talk to somebody about this,” I tell her. She sighs.

“I think it may be too late for me,” she says.

“If you really believe that, then you’re studying the wrong thing,” I inform her. “It’s never too late, and you need to talk to somebody… although, under the circumstances, I wouldn’t recommend my wife.”

“Do I look insane to you?” she asks, her eyes wide. “I realize that judging by my recent behavior, I may appear a bit unstable, but off my rocker I am not. Probably not a good idea to tell my hopeful mentor that I came onto her husband like a classless hoochie. Yeah, no… Just please, forget this ever happened and never ever mention it again. I mean never ever ever ever… like ever!” She truly sounds disgusted with herself, and I believe she’s contrite.

“I won’t mention that this happened, as long as it never, ever, ever happens again! Like ever!” I say, pointing at her. “You need to understand that my wife and I just went through something almost identical to this and we’re still recoiling from the effects. The only reason why I’m not mentioning this to her is because I think it’ll do more harm than good but make no mistake. I will not hesitate to tell her every tiny little sordid detail if you ever do this again.”

“Christian, if I’m dumb enough to come onto you again, I’ll tell her before you get the chance,” she says.

“You’ve admitted you have a problem, Harmony. You’re going to be a target, because your about to be an heiress. Get some help before you fall into the clutches of another Ken. I’m very serious about this. She sighs.

“Any suggestions?” she asks.

“Unfortunately, no. I really think you should do some research and find someone that you feel comfortable with.” I stand and button my suit jacket. “I have to go. My wife is going to think I fell off the face of the earth.” She nods but doesn’t stand, dropping her gaze.

“If it’s okay, can Melinda show you out? I’m feeling a bit…” She lets her sentence trail off again.

“Don’t let this prevent you from calling me or Ana if you need something.” She nods and quickly wipes a tear away that has escaped from her eye. I think she’s suffered enough. I leave the room and head for the front door.

*-*

“I have something to tell you, Christian, and I really don’t want any shit from you about it.”

I’ve barely gotten into the house when I’m greeted in my study by my agitated wife. I haven’t even removed my jacket yet. I examine her stance and I’m more than surprised at her statement. However, noting her exasperated tone, I now want to know what she has to tell me.

“O… kay,” I reply reluctantly, taking my seat and unbuttoning my jacket.

“I went to visit someone today,” she says, walking into the office and taking a seat in one of the chairs in front of my desk. She looks around my office as if she’s examining the room. You’ve been in here a hundred times, Butterfly. Get on with it.

“And who did you visit?” I ask, trying to bring her back on track.

“Kenneth Carter,” she says, bringing her gaze back to mine while crossing her legs at the knee and sitting back in her seat. My brow furrows.

“Kenneth Carter?” I question. “Why the hell did you go see him?” She raises a brow at me.

“You know who he is?” she retorts. I fold my arms.

“I just found out today,” I inform her. How the hell does she know who he is?

“How did you find out?” she asks.

“We’re getting off track,” I say, reining in my impatience. “Why don’t you tell me why you went to visit Harmony’s husband first before we get into a second discussion…” and why the fuck am I just now hearing about this.

“I went to confront him,” she says. “I know that he’s holding out trying to get some money from Harmony’s inheritance. And if her previous lawyer was working both sides, he also knows that he can’t touch that money. So, his only other option is to antagonize her until she gives in and pays him off. I let him know that’s not going to happen and that he should just go on and sign the divorce papers.” Oh, for fuck’s sake.

“And how did he take that news?” I ask sarcastically.

“Not very well,” she responds, unfazed by my sarcasm. “He threatened to drag the divorce out indefinitely, holding her life hostage for as long as he felt so inclined.” Oh, this fucker is going to need a visit from me, I see.

“I know that look,” she says. “Your appearance won’t do anything that mine didn’t already do.” I raise my brow at her.

“No offense, Butterfly, but… you’re a woman—a beautiful woman, but a woman nonetheless. Guys like that who like to victimize women, you don’t scare him.” Butterfly laughs knowingly, causing me to frown. What so damn funny?

“And that, my chauvinistic husband, is the exact reason why he’s going to sign those divorce papers. He may not sign them until Tuesday or Wednesday morning, but he’s going to sign them.” She smiles victoriously at me. What in the hell?

“And what makes you so sure?” I ask, leaning forward on my desk and clasping my hands together.

“That bravado thing you’ve got going on, that’s exactly what he expects. He’s totally expecting for some goon to come up to him with the ‘leave the little lady alone’ gig. I’m willing to bet that he’s taken more than a few ass whippings in his day and it doesn’t faze him. If you can take a hit, the threat of another hit doesn’t do much. However…”

She leans forward in her seat, elbows on the armrest and both Louboutin-clad feet flat on the floor.

“A ‘little lady’ looking you square in your eye and telling you to back the fuck off because her dick is bigger than yours, that gives you cause for pause.”

I glare at her, my eyes wide. What in the ever-loving fuck?

“You said that?” I ask incredulously.

“I did,” she replies, sitting back in the seat again and crossing her legs. “I let him know that I once knew somebody just like him and made it no secret that the fucker is dead now. I advised him to sign the papers and move on or his next visit may not be flowers and a chat…”

“Wait, wait, wait… you sent him flowers?” I ask incredulously.

“From a street vendor outside his office,” she replies. “It was the only way to get him outside.”

“Flowers brought him outside.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“No, the accompanying note that said he’s a piece of shit brought him outside.”

Who is this woman and what has she done with my wife?

“So,” she continues, “Now you’ve got this cocky ass bitch in a $3000 Tom Ford suit and a $1000 pair of Louboutins with the backdrop of a $70,000 Audi—and two better-than-six-foot-goons—telling you that she won’t piss with you because you don’t have the equipment. That’s more than a little bit scary if for no other reason except fear of the unknown.

“You could be seven feet tall and show up dressed like Rambo with a bazooka strapped to your back and it still wouldn’t have been as effective as my visit today. I can guarantee you that. He knows what to expect when he’s confronted with the Bens and the Chucks and the Jasons and the Christian Greys. He knows what’s coming. He may not fully know how bad it can get, but he knows what’s coming. But a cocky woman? One who gets in his face and won’t stand down? He doesn’t know what to do with that. He’s accustomed to the young Harmony’s and girls like her who cede to his ‘wisdom.’ A ‘get in your face’ bitch who’s warning you off? Totally out of his league.”

I twist my lips. I think he was just ogling her body and she mistook his speechlessness for fear.

“And the signing on Tuesday?” I begin, still disbelieving of her effectiveness with this asshole. “Is there a court date on Tuesday?”

“Not that I know of, but he will have seen that special by then and me blowing the heads off targets several feet away.”

“And what if he decides to go public with your threat?” I caution.

“Who’s going to believe him?” she retorts. “He asked who I was, I told him to watch Monday night and find out. That night or the next day, he files a report that the girl on TV threatened him, much less Anastasia Grey. I’m questioning his mental capacity and I know I did it.”

I roll my eyes. I so want to chain her to a wall and flog her right now. This was ridiculous, and it could have been disastrous had this asshole had any balls.

“Now, how do you know who he is?” she asks. I shake my head.

“We found upwards of a hundred audio and visual recording devices in Tina’s house. Roger had his hand in the scheme, whatever it was in its entirety. I’ll give you one guess who his accomplice was.” She thinks for a moment, then her eyes widen.

“Kenneth?” she asks incredulously. “Kenneth Carter?” I nod. “He was spying on them? Why?” I shrug.

“Maybe to get some footage of Harmony that he could use in court; maybe to get his hands on Aunt Tina’s money. We don’t know. All the information that we gathered is on the way to the GEH lab.”

“And Robert… or Roger… or whatever his name is?” she asks.

“He was a good little puppy,” I reply. “I got a recorded confession from him that’s going to make it much easier to analyze any data we gather. He spilled his guts, so I’m sure that whatever we don’t know, we can figure out.”

“Hmm,” she says.

“Hmm, what?” I ask.

“Over a hundred recording devices. How did that guy do that all by himself with no help? I can’t see Kenneth strolling into the Franklin mansion and offering to help him plant bugs and listening devices without drawing attention to himself. Hell, I don’t see that narcissistic asshole helping with anything.” That’s a good point.

“All the rooms that were bugged are generally unoccupied most of the time except for Harmony’s and Aunt Tina’s bedrooms. Harmony’s bedroom was bugged before she arrived—Roger wouldn’t let her move into any other room except back into her own. Aunt Tina’s, we’re thinking that was bugged while she was in the hospital or seeing a doctor or even at a social event, like Mia’s wedding. We’ll be able to get a time frame once the data is organized.”

“How long will that take?” she asks.

“Barney’s going to have a team working on it, but there’s no way to tell right now. What’s most important is that we got that asshole and his bugs out of the house. So, Windsor will be starting over there tomorrow morning.” She nods. She stands from her seat and I think she’s about to leave, but instead she starts pacing the floor. She stops and put her hands on the back of the chair.

“Christian, that day that I was interviewing with your ex-submissive… what was her name?” Where the hell is this going?

“Sarah,” I say cautiously. “Bradley.” She nods.

“How long did it take you to find out who she was?” she asks.

“That’s hard to say,” I reply. “We had a preliminary background check on her, but…”

“No, no, no, that’s not what I’m asking,” she stops me. “You knew that Sarah Bradley was your ex-submissive, but you didn’t know that Ashanda Beasley was Sarah Bradley. So, how long did it take that information to trickle down to you?”

“Uh, I guess immediately,” I say hesitantly. “As soon as Jason discovered that they were one and the same, he brought it to my attention. You were already in the interview by then.” She nods.

“I see,” she observes. “So, I know that you’re just finding out about today because I’m telling you. But normally, you found out my comings and goings and situations immediately, as with the Sarah Bradley occurrence.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“Normally, yes.” She nods again.

“So… when did you find out that I had fallen off that cliff?” she asks, her words sounding like she had to push them out of her mouth. I don’t know what this has to do with what happened today, but I tell her the truth.

“The day before I left Madrid,” I say. “It took that long to get the plane ready to get back here or I would have been here sooner.” She frowns deeply.

“So, you got back here on Thursday, but you found out on Tuesday,” she deduces. She’s not wrong, so I don’t interject. “I fell off that cliff on Friday night. Why did it take so long for you to find out? They tell you everything else almost the very minute it happens, and it takes you four days to find out about my near-death experience?” I sigh.

“It’s hard to explain, but yes, it did,” I confess. “There really is no good explanation for it—not one that would appease you right now but know that I came home the moment I found out.” She twists her lips and nods. She turns and walks to the door.

“Butterfly?” She puts her hand up without turning around, signaling that the conversation is affectively over, and leaves my office.

Well, isn’t this just fucking great.

“Activate two-way communications,” I growl into the air. When the system comes to life, I summon a soon-to-be-dismissed CPO.

“Davenport…”

“Bring your boss and get to my office… now!”

*-*

“Nobody thought I should know about this?” I seethe at Jason and Chuck after I apprise them that I’m now aware of how my wife spent her afternoon.

“You realize that you two have us between a rock and a hard place, don’t you, sir?” Chuck replies.

“I don’t need your rhetoric right now!” I bark. “I want an answer to a very simple question.”

“It’s. Not. Rhetoric,” Chuck says, firmly, pulling himself up to his full height. “It’s a valid question, and it is an answer to yours.” I raise a brow at him. Is he looking for some time off because he’s pissing me off right now.

“She asked me if we tell her every move that you make,” he continues, unfazed, “and we don’t, and she knows that we don’t. So, her next question was that if she was supposed to be my boss just like you, then why should her every move be clocked back to you.”

“But you are supposed to clock her moves back to me,” Jason interjects. “That’s your job.”

“And I did,” Chuck defends. “My daily log shows where we went and who we talked to. I just didn’t tell you the moment that it happened. There was no violence. Nobody got hurt. No one was in danger. There was no need to notify anybody of anything, except for my log.”

“And that’s where you’re wrong,” Jason says. “You should have told me that you all were going into a volatile situation.”

“And that’s where we disagree,” Chuck retorts. “The situation wasn’t volatile. It was one guy who had no idea we were coming and three of us—all with guns…”

“Butterfly had her gun?” I interrupt. Chuck turns an incredulous glare at me.

“No offense, sir, but what do you think?” he replies. I roll my eyes. I so want to reprimand him right now.

“Regardless, Chuck, you were in a situation where you should have checked in,” Jason chides. Chuck shrugs.

“Once again, rock and a hard place. Had I checked in with you, you would have told him, and he would have called her,” he says gesturing to me. “You and I have been doing this long enough to know that if a subject doesn’t want to be guarded, they won’t be guarded; that there’s nothing worse than an uncooperative client; and that short of putting a microchip in her ear, she would be unmanageable and untamable if we tried to clock her every move and report her bathroom breaks back to you without allowing her some kind of freedom to move.”

“She has freedom to move,” I correct him firmly.

“Not if we tell you every little thing that she’s doing,” he interjects. “And if you think for one minute that that little ball of genius fire won’t find a way to give us the slip—putting herself and maybe even her children in danger—just so that she can have a moment of privacy, you’re wrong.”

I can’t even argue with him. She looked me square in the eye and told me that she’d shoot one of my guards in the foot if they followed her to the aquarium. It was the one time we let her out of our sight, and she got kidnapped. And we won’t even talk about her sneaking away and nearly falling to her death off a damn cliff when I skipped town. And now, she appears to be angry with me for not knowing that immediately. It looks like I didn’t care. It’s hard to believe that I didn’t know she fell off that cliff the moment it happened, yet it takes me nearly a week to get back home… for her to even hear from me…

“Sir?” Jason’s voice breaks me out of my inner musings.

“Do we already have a guy on Carter?” I ask, exacerbated.

“We’re putting him in place now. We had to ascertain where he spent the evening.” I thrust my hands in my hair.

“She confronted the fucker,” I say to no one in particular. I really don’t know whether to be proud or pissed. I look at Chuck. “How did he seem to you?”

“Perplexed,” Chuck replies without hesitation. “At first, he came out of the building all macho—looking into the car and trying to see who was in there. He certainly didn’t expect to see her. And when he did, he tried to act Cro-Magnon for a minute or two, but it fell to the ground really fast. First off, he’s a little guy—5’7’ or 5’8” maybe, 5”10’ at the tallest, so she was staring him right in the eye in those sky-high shoes she wears. Second, he’s all ‘open this goddamn door’ until Ben and I emerged from the car. I know that our presence only made him physically behave himself, but he was still a cocky asshole to Ana.

“She was having none of it. The way she laughed at his attempts at superiority and compared him to a currently dead man, he should have shrunk away quietly back to his desk. But when he asked who she was, and she didn’t tell him, just said, ‘Watch on Monday on channel 9,’ it was the biggest blow off you’ve ever seen. The whole conversation was reminiscent of Oren Ishii.”

Oren Ishii—I’ve heard that name, but I can’t recall it right now. My expression must have given away my confusion.

“Head of the Yakuza Council of Bosses? Kill Bill?” Jason says. I raise my brow to Chuck.

“When she quickly and calmly takes Tanaka’s head at the dinner table, then warns the rest of the council against crossing her?”

“That brutal?” I ask.

“No blood, but yes—the conversation was short, not so sweet, and just as brutal. If there had been any melee involved, he’d look like one of the Crazy 88 right now.”

Now, I know who they are.

“I’m confused,” I say. “Butterfly just left me with the impression that you two didn’t really have any effect on him. Even you said that your presence only made him behave himself physically. So, you’re telling me that this little woman, her mouth, her power suit, and her Louboutins made this man heel?” Chuck shifts his weight and sighs.

“There are two types of men in the world, sir. First, there’s the type that get hard when they see a hot woman with a nice rack and a gun holster wrapped around it—no offense. Then, there’s… the other guys, who have no fucking idea what to do with a strong woman standing in front of them, much less a very little one, packing heat and telling him that his Johnson is inadequate. Guess which one he is.”

“So… he saw her gun,” I conclude.

“No, he saw her rack… and then he saw her holster. She kept the gun hidden, but you knew what was in there.”

“And…?”

“Well, he’s already kinda pale, but he got paler,” Chuck confirms. “There were a few words exchanged, mostly from Ana, and then we left him there dumbfounded with his flowers all over the ground.” He turns to Jason. “There was no situation. She said what she had to say, and we left. We discussed the position that she was putting me in by telling me not to report in on the incident and she instructed me that just like you’re the boss…” He points to me, “… she’s the boss, and she doesn’t want her every move reported except on the log that I’m required to submit every day, particularly if there’s no immediate danger. Now, if that’s not the case, sir, you’re going to have to be the one to tell her.”

Pussy.

But he’s right. I’m the one who told everybody at GEH that she’s the boss just like me and to treat her the same way that they would treat me. We’re going to have to talk about some guidelines here or I’m going to be losing my mind every day worrying if she’s doing anything that will have consequences later.

But overall, I’ve chosen “proud” over “pissed.”


ANASTASIA

I don’t know which is worse—thinking that he didn’t know whether I lived or died, that he didn’t care, or finding out that he didn’t even know that I could have died until four days after the fact. What the hell was going on that he had no fucking clue? The man knows when I go shopping but had no idea that I nearly fell to my death off a fucking cliff?

I’m sitting in the small library that we never use looking out over the lake. I actually forgot this room was here. We turned the other library into Marilyn’s office and this room just seemed to cease to exist. It’s the perfect place to disappear until and if the babies stir.

They don’t… or the nannies were already nearby when they did, and I wasn’t disturbed by the two-way.

Either way, I have plenty of time to dwell on the latest version of the Boogeyman stalking me right now. What the hell was going on in Madrid that my husband had no idea that I nearly died until four days after the fact?

If this was some minute detail of some sort that slipped through the cracks, I wouldn’t be concerned, but this was big, and my husband is a goddamn control freak! Does that mean that had something happened to our children, he wouldn’t have known that either? Or was it just me? Did he just not care about me?

He could have called and checked on me; asked if I was okay; let me know that he had only just found out about my accident and apologized for not being here or not being available. He could have told me that he was looking to get the next flight out of there, but instead, he counted on the shock value of me seeing him—made me wait for two more days in uncertainty and agony while he made his way back to Seattle. He may have been able to help avoid some of the effects of the Boogeyman, but now we’ll never know.

And he wonders why I have such a hard time putting all my trust back in him.

Come on, now. He’s clearly seen the err of his ways and he’s trying to rebuild things with you. Why must you be so damn difficult?
I’m not being difficult. I’m being cautious. I’m trying to protect myself from falling into oblivion again should Christian Grey feel like I’ve committed some egregious crime that warrants his disappearing and incommunicado act again.
You’re being difficult! And you’re being ridiculous and paranoid! Shit happens! Shit will continue to happen! If you build a bubble around yourself to protect yourself from all harm and danger, guess what? Shit will still happen in that bubble! You need to do whatever you must to get your head out of your ass. This isn’t you and you know it! Are you going to spend your life hiding? Get your shit together! This has gone on long enough.

And the Bitch is the voice of Anastasia Steele. Jesus, she makes so much sense, but I just can’t seem to find her when I feel like the fucking sky is falling.

Get your shit together!
Get your shit together!
Get your shit together!
Get your fucking shit together!

Even the Bitch is trying to tell me to get my act together, but I don’t know what to do. One minute, I’m sitting on top of the world, the most powerful bitch in existence. The next minute, I’m falling through the abyss all over again. I’m afraid this entire situation has made me bipolar. That would be the very worst.

I don’t know how long I’ve sat in the library. It’s quite dark out and I don’t hear anything. I make my way to the kitchen and discover that everything and everyone has shut down for the night. It’s later than I thought. I make myself a sandwich and a cranberry spritzer and eat it quickly, taking my spritzer to my room with me.

For once, my husband has beaten me to bed and he’s fast asleep. I don’t shower. I’m suddenly very tired. I just put on a nightshirt and climb into bed. In no time flat, I fall asleep.

I don’t stir in the morning when he kisses my cheek. I can smell his shower gel and his cologne, and I know that he’s dressed for work. He can probably tell that I’m playing possum… he always could, but he doesn’t let on. He simply brushes my hair out of my face.

“I love you,” he says softly before kissing me on my forehead and quietly leaving the room. I open my eyes and continue to lie in bed, careful not to move in case he’s standing behind me waiting to see if I’ll stir once he’s gone. The thoughts from last night—all the unanswered questions—begin swirling in my head again.

Why didn’t he call to check on me?
Why didn’t he let someone know that he was on his way home?
Did he truly hate me that much—even for a moment—that he didn’t care if I lived or died?
What happens if I sincerely displease him again? Is this what I have to look forward to?

The two-way stops my inner questions and gives me a reason to stir.

“Ana,” I say into the air, my voice sounding sleepier that I really am. Minnie’s cooing comes through the two-way and I stretch long and hard on the bed. I throw my legs over the edge and step into my slippers. In only my nightshirt—and slippers—I go and retrieve my child.

Wade from the movers show up around noon and Luma and I show them what’s going to Helping Hands and what needs to be moved to another room to come back into the office once the space is finished. I’m in a bit of a fog, and I forgot that I must tell my husband that the contractor will be descending upon us tomorrow to redo my office. As it turns out, the bookshelves with get a serious overhaul, but we’ve decided not to rip them out.

Too bad the anticipation is doing absolutely nothing for my mood.

Luma has ordered all my furniture and décor and it will be delivered and assembled as needed. I don’t know if Marilyn will be back by then, but I totally suspect that she won’t, so I already plan to don my jeans and a T-shirt and get my hands dirty putting my office back together as I won’t keep Luma from Andrea for another day. I’ll tackle the problem of maybe needing a new assistant next week. Right now, I’ve got some bigger fish to fry.

I’m jumping out of my skin when Chuck parks the car in the parking lot. I need to talk to my shrink in the worst way. This latest development has me such that I don’t know if I’m coming or going.

“Hi, Ana,” Amber says, cheerfully. “You’re early.”

“Yeah, I just didn’t want to be late,” I tell her. It’s partially true. I just didn’t know what else to do and I really need to talk to Ace. She smiles. Her face is getting fuller with the pregnancy, but I dare not tell her that.

“Can I get you something?” she asks. “Coffee? Tea? Water?” She holds up a tray from her desk. “A cookie?”

“No, thank you,” I reply and take a seat in the waiting room, thumbing mindlessly through an old issue of Psychology Today. There’re some really good articles in this issue, but I never understood the thinking of doctors and shrinks who place practice-related magazines in their waiting rooms. I always had Time, Essence, People in my waiting room. The only people that want to read Psychology Today are mental health professionals. The professionals are in the office! Who’s in the damn waiting room?

Anyway, I get lost in an article about parents’ gross misconception of their children, how they always think their kids are brighter and better than others in some way and they often get it wrong. Of course, you love your own child more than any other child in the whole wide world, but this often leads to common misperceptions about who your child really is and what their future will be. The article is very informative to me as a new mother, but it’s written in a tone that I as a psychiatrist would understand—not a layperson. So, why would he subscribe to this magazine, obviously read the articles, and then leave it in the lobby for his patients to read and just go, “Well, they don’t understand my little Johnny, so I’m just going to ignore this?” On top of that, it kind of lights a fire under an already loaded powder keg just before an agitated patient goes into their session.

Like now.

“Your reading material is crap,” I inform him when I get into his inner office. He frowns.

“Excuse me?” he says, taken aback as he takes his seat.

“You’ve got a July issue of Psychology Today out there that basically says that parents don’t thoroughly understand their children. As a psychiatrist, I totally got what the article was saying and plan to apply the information to my own situations with my children in the future. As a mother, totally eliminating the whole med-school-psychiatry thing, my first response was, ‘This is a bunch of bullshit. How can these Harvard assholes think they know what’s best for me and my kids and they haven’t even met my kids?’ They’re saying that if I say that Mikey is gifted, I’m only saying it because he’s my child, not because I’ve seen some extraordinary display that may indicate that my son is actually gifted. Most parents would look at that and say, ‘You’re full of shit and you don’t know what you’re talking about’ and completely squash the whole thing.”

“And you seem to be taking that pretty personally,” he observes.

“Hey, I’m not trying to start a fight about it. I’m just informing you that it’s bullshit to be sitting in your waiting room,” I retort.

“You just said that you were going to put some of the information to use,” he defends.

“I also said that as a layperson and mother, I would find it to be crap, but as a psychiatrist, I understand. Exactly how many psychiatrists come through your waiting room?” I’ll wait.

He twists his lips and diverts his gaze from me. Ana—1, Ace—0.

“Point taken,” he says, crossing his legs. “So, besides dismantling my reading material, what are we discussing today.

I’m soon to discover that my victory will be quite short-lived.

“The Boogeyman,” I reply.

“Okay,” he says, unfazed. “Tell me what’s going on.”

“Well, there’s something going on with Grey House that had Christian come home and fuck me like he was never going to see me again right before Jason fucking quadrupled everyone’s security detail.”

Ace is a bit horrified.

“Um… okay,” he says, “and this obviously unnerves you.”

“They brought the security back to a reasonable increase instead of an entourage after I refused to go in to work, but I don’t know if that was because I wouldn’t leave the house or because Jason was overreacting, and we really didn’t need that much security. Nonetheless, that’s kind of hovering over me and making me feel nervous. But…”

“But what?” he asks, after I pause. I stand and start pacing.

“I’m worried that I might be bipolar,” I admit. “One minute, everything is okay and the next minute, I’m scared out of my drawers and won’t leave my room. I know that mood swings are normal, especially when something traumatic happens, but is it supposed to be this crazy?” Even as a professional, I can’t answer that question.

“I’m fairly certain that you’re not bipolar, Ana,” Ace says, “but that of course doesn’t dismiss that your drastic mood swings may need addressing. We both know that a hugely traumatic experience can cause a chemical imbalance, and it’s something that we may want to look at, but let’s not jump to that option just yet. Is it the unknown threat that’s causing you to feel so out-of-balance right now?” I both love and hate that my shrink can read me so well.

“Like I said, it’s kind of hovering over me but… not really,” I admit. “I carry my gun everywhere, you already know that. So, if someone were to approach me in a way that threatened me, or someone were to attack me… well, we both know how that would turn out. I don’t think it’s the threats that bother me so much. It’s the possibilities associated with the threat. The unknown, yes, but not insomuch that the threat is unknown, but the fact that all the octopus arms of what could come from that threat is so unknown. Am I making any sense?”

“You’re making perfect sense,” he says, “but you’re torturing yourself, and we have to find a way to make you stop. There will always, always be unknown threats out there. That’s why car insurance exists. However, you do what you can to protect yourself from those threats and then you move on. You’re stuck in ‘what if’ and you can’t move forward, because it’s got you paralyzed in fear. You’re going to have to find a way, or this is your future… and Ana? This is how drug habits usually start. Someone can’t cope with their reality, so they must escape it any way they can and I’m not afraid to tell you that you’re starting to sound like a shark’s tooth to me.” What the fuck?

“I didn’t come in here and tell you that I was going to kill myself!” I snap. “Where the fuck did that come from?”

“Yeah, he didn’t come in here and tell me that he was going to kill himself either, but he did!” Ace retorts. “You’re sounding very helpless to me right now, and coming from a psychiatrist, that’s even scarier than it is coming from a layperson.”

I ponder that thought. I guess I would be a bit alarmed if Maxie came to me sounding a bit hopeless.

“Get to the root of it, Ana, and snatch the root out, or it’s going to suffocate you… and even if you don’t commit suicide or even contemplate it, you’ll still end up a shark’s tooth. You’ll just be a walking, breathing shark’s tooth.” I roll my eyes.

“Please, stop referring to me as that,” I caution. “I don’t like it and although I get your point, it’s really not helping the situation.” He nods.

“Okay, so what’s say we get to the root? You recognize the root every time it comes up and you work to rip it out. Fight it and kill it like the weed that it is… or…” He trails off and puts his hands up in a mini-shrug.

Shark’s tooth.

“I did something that shook his faith in me and as a result, he shattered my trust in him,” I blurt out. “He left me at such a crucial moment, and maybe he wanted me to see how much I needed him, and he was right, but he was also wrong. He made me depend on him; he made me trust him; he made me make him my everything, and then he snatched it away with no warning and no word and although I survived, I was rudderless and lost. Now, I long for the days before I met him when I could stand firmly on my own two feet, and I can’t find them.”

“I see,” he replies. “But tell me, besides the whole ocean thing, what’s the difference between you going off to Montana and him going off to Madrid?”

Once and for all, I’m going to answer this question for him, for the Bitch, and for anybody else who wants to know.

“Me going off to Montana was a move for survival. Yes, it was selfish, but it was a move for survival—to try to preserve myself. Him going off to Madrid may have also been a move for survival, and it was also selfish, but he went out of anger and to get away from me. He did it to deliberately put space between us, not to get to himself and think about things. If you ask him, he’ll tell you that he didn’t think about me while he was gone, and if he’s honest, he may even admit that he did it to punish me.

“The other reason why this is so different is because of our relationship. I was his fiancée when I went to Montana. There was no marriage—no legal contract, no eternal promise, yet, and certainly, no children! We were not responsible for two other lives when I ran off and I didn’t leave that responsibility for him to handle alone…”

Well, maybe not alone, but without him.

“He could get to me,” I continue. “He found out where I was, and he got to me, and I knew he would eventually because of who he is. He came to that cabin, we talked about how we were feeling, and he left. I wasn’t afforded that opportunity. He left the country for weeks and wouldn’t even answer his damn phone. The one person who knew where I was was here and eventually spilled the beans. The main person who knew where he was was with him… the other was my best friend and his attorney, and both were sworn to secrecy by an NDA.

“Did you know that he didn’t find out that I had leapt off that cliff for four days?” I add. “I could have killed myself in a drunken stupor and he didn’t know for more than half a week. I nearly tumble to my death on a Friday night and control freak Christian Grey, who knows when I take a piss, didn’t find out until Tuesday! Then, instead of calling to make sure that I was okay, to reassure me that he did care whether I lived or died, he stayed incommunicado for two more days so that he could have that whole shock factor when he got back. I feel like I meant nothing to him! Absofuckinglutely nothing!

“Right or wrong, he’s completely shaken my faith in him and in everything I thought I knew! I put him on a pedestal—I know I did—and when he fell, my world was shattered. So, now, I’m trying to reconcile the fact that he’s only human, that character flaws that I saw before that I thought were so damn ginormous are nothing compared to the fact that he’s not the superhuman, superperfect, omnipotent being that I made him out to be. And that’s hell on me right now.”

“And now we get to the crust of things,” he says. “He didn’t shatter your trust in him. He shattered your fairytale. He shattered your image of this all-powerful man that was supposed to cloak and protect you from all things bad… until the bad came from him. He’s not God, Ana. He’s just a man, just like you’re just a woman.

“Your children are going to grow up looking at you like a woman who can right every wrong, until there’s a wrong that you can’t right, and then what? So, he’s not perfect He can’t make the sun stay in the sky and prevent night from coming. Do you love him any less for that?”

“No!” I shoot, somewhat offended that he asked that damn question.

“Well, then, act like it!” he shoots back. “Stop walking around behaving like you’ve lost your damn puppy! You’ve discovered that your perfect husband has the same flaw that you do—he’s not perfect. It’s not the end of the world; it’s just a harsh reality. If you’re looking for a perfect man, divorce Christian, go sit on the top of a mountain in Tibet and wait for him to come to you.” I’m getting angry now.

“That’s not what I’m looking for!” I hiss angrily.

“Then stop acting like it is. Stop punishing him and yourself for not being that man. Shrink yourself for one minute and think about what you would tell a patient about this situation if this were not you. People fuck up! They never stop fucking up! What are you going to do?”

I feel my blood pressure rising. Unable to handle the massive onslaught of logic and common sense flowing from my therapist’s mouth, I rush the door and burst out of his office. I jump in the back seat of the Audi and slam the door.

“Take me home,” I say, my voice shaking.

“Ana…” he begins.

“Take me home!” I yell, cutting him off. His eyes widen, and he looks at Ben. They both turn around and Chuck starts the car. I’m sobbing before we even leave the parking lot.

*-*

I don’t think my heavy bag—or any one before it—has taken this kind of beating ever before. I don’t know how to destroy or defeat this helpless, hopeless feeling and quite frankly, it’s starting to piss me off. I feel the burn and the ache in my muscles, sweat pouring from every pore in my body and I just keep pounding away at the damn thing. I don’t want to think or feel. I want take-no-prisoners Anastasia Steele back. I need her, because she wasn’t so dependent on Christian’s perfection. I know I’ll never be her again, but I need a piece of her—a large piece of her—to find myself and stop slipping into this Boogeyman shit.

I’ve never been this afraid of things that go bump in the night… except after the branding attack, and once when I thought those ghosts were coming to get me again, but those times were different. I had no one to lean on, no one that swooped in as my knight in shining Armani. I was alone and on my own both times. The first time, I was completely forsaken, so crying, dark nights, and monsters were really nothing new. The second time, well, not forsaken but still alone. Still no Christian who came in and promised to make everything better, to always protect me, and to never leave me…

Until he did.

The impossible happened and I can’t find a way to deal with it.

I don’t know when he got there, but I see movement out of the corner of my eye. I catch the heavy bag in my hands so that it doesn’t knock the shit out of me and turn to my left expecting to see Christian standing there.

It’s Jason.

I frown. This is new.

He’s standing against the mirrored wall in his shirtsleeves just looking at me. He tosses me the towel that he’s holding. I catch it and wipe the sweat pouring from my brow and sopping hair. I was ignoring the burn in my eyes until now, so I wipe my eyes trying to relieve it now.

“Heads up,” he says, and tosses me a bottle of cold water. I chug the whole thing down in seconds and he tosses me another one. I toss him back the empty bottle and nearly empty the second one. He takes a seat on one of the exercise machines and waits. I roll my eyes.

“He sent his representative?” I say with disdain, my brow furrowed as I take a seat on the weight-lifting bench.

“Sort of, but no,” Jason admits. “He spoke to me a few days ago, before I went overboard with the security thing… sorry about that, by the way. He brought some things up to me and I brought some things up to him and he asked me to talk to you. He was hoping that I could explain things a little better.”

Explain things? What things?

“Why did you quadruple security?” I ask. “I want to hear that from you.” He sighs.

“I hope he told you about Aragon,” he says.

“He did,” I confirm.

“That’s why I increased security,” he says. “He and his boss are unknowns to me and I don’t want to take any chances. He was right, though. I did go overboard. An extra guard or two is certainly enough, especially with you already being trained in firearms and self-defense. I just… couldn’t get the whole Usual-Suspects-Keyser-Söze thing out of my head. This guy is slimy. Every time I see him, I want to take a bath immediately afterwards. Knowing the guy that he is, I could put a bullet between his eyes and sleep soundly right next to his corpse.”

That bad, huh?

“So, do you really think he’s a threat to us?” I ask.

“Honestly, I don’t think he is. No matter how powerful he wants us to think he is, he won’t do anything without the go-ahead from his boss. I just don’t know where his boss’ head is.” I nod.

“Thank you for being so candid. So, to what do I owe the interruption of my workout…?” because I know he didn’t come down here to talk to me about Keyser.

“I won’t pull punches. If you walk away, then you just walk away and that’ll be that, but there’s something you need to accept. I don’t know how you’ve handled everything that’s happened to you in your life, but right now, at this moment, you’re suffering from PTSD.”

At first, I want to get angry. I’m certain that he and Christian have had some kind of conversation where Christian told him about my reaction to Dr. Baker’s prior diagnosis, and now, he’s coming to me with this shit.

“You’re constantly battling with the fact that you don’t know what’s coming around the corner,” he continues. “You have been hurt and completely discombobulated by something that has happened that shook the very foundations of your happy and safe place so that now, you’re expecting Armageddon at every turn. Even when things are calm and serene, you can’t get comfortable and even if you do, that peace only lasts for a moment. Today, you’re the Queen of the Amazons and tomorrow, you’re a helpless ant hoping not to get crushed. You can stop me at anytime if I’m wrong.”

I just stare at him. It’s like he was a fly on the wall during my session with Ace.

“Nothing has to happen to bring on the feelings of dread, but if something does trigger it, it’s worse. From your bulging biceps when I came into this room, I would say something triggered it. So, what’s up?” I roll my eyes. Not a-fucking-gain.

“I just had this conversation with my shrink I don’t want to have it again!” I bark in one breath. Jason shrugs.

“Fine,” he says nonchalantly. “Take it or leave it.”

Asshole.

I snatch the towel from the bench and stand in a huff. I’m walking purposefully to the door when another question comes to mind.

“He won’t tell me why he didn’t know about my fall for four fucking days… will you?” I demand. He doesn’t respond, so I turn around to see him looking at me impassively. He gestures to the bench for me to sit back down. I pause for several moments and he doesn’t speak. Desperate for an answer to my question, I go back to the bench and sit.

“Ana, it’s not Christian’s fault—well, not entirely his fault—that he didn’t know about your fall. I knew that Saturday or that Sunday… I just didn’t tell him.” I’m horrified.

“You tell him everything! Why didn’t you tell him that?” I nearly shriek. Jason sighs.

“The transformation…” The transformation? What the hell is that? “It was a rough time in Madrid,” he confesses, “for more reasons than one. We just don’t talk about it much. I can’t tell you everything. I wouldn’t anyway, but the old Christian Grey showed up. He was cold and distant. He was detached. He wasn’t my friend… the man that I know now. He was that man that employed me and paid me to protect him and stay the fuck out of his business. We were in a foreign country and for most of the time that we were there, I had no backup. I had to stay focused and I had to concentrate on his safety.

“That guy… the guy that was in Madrid… he didn’t care about women. They were a means to an end and when he was done with them, he was done. I didn’t know how to handle that guy with a wife. He was all business. He didn’t look left or right. If he… thought of you, he didn’t mention you once. I know that hurts to hear, but I had to turn my feelings off, too. I couldn’t afford to be sloppy or we could have both ended up dead. Gail’s used to it, but it was hard with Baby Boo here… but I digress.

“His mother called and demanded to know what was going on with you because you had been walking around like a zombie and you left the center one day without the kids. The way that I understand it, she ripped him a new one and she was the one who apprised him of your fall. It wasn’t until he asked me about it that I filled in all the blanks. That’s when we started preparing to come home.”

Throughout the entire conversation, I’ve got my head down. I’m letting everything sink in that he’s telling me about the end of the trip to Madrid.

“Why didn’t he call, Jason?” I ask. “Why didn’t he let me know that he still cared and he was concerned the moment he heard that I had almost died? Why did he let me suffer for two more days wondering if he even wanted me anymore?”

“I’m sorry, Ana. I can’t answer that question because I don’t know. I know that he was cursing and demanding that we get that bird ready to get in the air. We would have taken a commercial flight, but it would have attracted too much attention.” I drop my head again.

“Did he tell you that I was on the floor when he found me?” I ask. “I don’t even know how long he let me lay there. If you hadn’t called through the two-way to tell him where I was, I wouldn’t have even known he was sitting there. I was calling into the two-way thinking it was the babies.”

“I can tell you for certain that we had only been home for a few minutes when I discovered that you were in the guestroom. So, it definitely wasn’t more than that.” I shake my head.

“He wouldn’t have been able to get me off the floor anyway,” I recall. “I couldn’t stand for him to touch me. I talked to him like he wasn’t there for I don’t know how long. I couldn’t sleep in my own bed… even after he came back.” I scrub my face with my hands.

“I loved Edward,” I say, catching Jason off guard. “I loved him a lot, or whatever it was, it was some kind of emotion that mimicked love. He tormented me. He found a way to put me through a fresh, new hell every day. I thought I would never escape, but I did. I closed him out of my life. For a long time, I wanted him to come back. Had he come back, I would have taken that daily fresh hell as opposed to being without him, so I’m glad he didn’t come back until after I was over him. There’s no telling where I would be right now.” I take a deep breath and sigh heavily.

“When Christian left…” I swallow hard. “My husband left me… he left me… he left our home… he left our children… he left our life. I wasn’t prepared for him to leave—not at all. It was the very last thing I expected. I expected the rage; I expected the cold shoulder; I expected to be punished; but I did not expect him to leave.

“When I realized that he was gone, I was more confused than anything and I just wanted some answers. And then when he blocked my calls…” I trail off remembering the black hole of despair that swallowed me when I discovered that my husband had blocked my number. “He left me, and he blocked my calls. That meant that he didn’t want to see me, he didn’t want to hear my voice, he definitely didn’t want to be with me. Do you have any idea how that feels?”

“Actually, I do,” Jason says. I raise my eyes to him. “Shalane wasn’t always a raging bitch. Divorce was hard.”

I nod. He does know how it feels.

“I felt like my life was over,” I continue. “It was a hundred times worse than anything I had felt with Edward. The burning, searing, never-ending pain…” I sigh. I’ve never explained this to anyone in this much detail. It feels good to get it out.

“I had put it out of my mind to focus on my children, but it wasn’t a panacea… It was a temporary fix. It feels like I spent all my time in that window seat—hours and hours and hours, watching that damn bridge, zeroing in on every black SUV that crossed… and hoping…

“By the time I fell asleep in that guestroom, I could have slept eternity away, not because I wanted to die, just because sleeping meant that I didn’t have to feel or think—at least I didn’t have to when crazy dreams weren’t haunting me.

“When Dr. Baker tried to tell me that I was suffering from PTSD, I’m certain that she was wrong. She was trying to label what she thought I was going through and she didn’t know how. But this? Now? Yeah, this is PTSD. This is trauma that I keep trying to shake and it keeps coming back even though I’m seemingly out of danger and I don’t know how to beat it.”

“You’re doing the right thing now,” Jason says, “talking about it, how it makes you feel. Getting it out in the open. Don’t think that you can talk about it once, tell somebody how you feel and then, it’s solved. You’re going to have to keep talking about it. You’re going to have to keep revisiting these feelings, especially when they creep up on you again, and they will creep up on you again. You’re the doctor, you know this, but it’s hard to diagnose yourself. It’s hard to take your own advice when you’re the one feeling the pain.

“I’m not a doctor, Ana, but I am a combat veteran, and I know all about the effects of PTSD. I know that the anguish, the fear, the pain that you feel, it doesn’t just go away. It’s going to take some time. However, if it holds on for too long or it becomes too crippling, you may have to consider some medication.” I twist my lips.

“Jason, really, that’s a bit extreme,” I protest.

“People are prescribed different drugs all the time for PTSD. Men and women have been prescribed tranquilizers when they’ve lost a spouse. What makes your trauma any different? I’m not in combat anymore, but that doesn’t erase what I felt and what I saw. It’s the same thing for you. Christian is back, but did his return immediately make the pain, fear, and uncertainty go away?”

Of course, it didn’t, that’s why we’re having this conversation.

“When those feelings attack, you attack back. You go grab somebody—anybody—and talk it out. Marilyn, Gail, Keri, myself, your husband, your shrink—whoever’s near. Don’t wait. It just gives the feelings time to fester and get worse. This is step one. I know you know this, but it’s hard to hear it when you’re on the receiving end. Ana Grey the doctor knows that I’m right, but Ana Grey the person can’t see it. It’s evading you because you’re feeling all this anguish and pain, but you have to trust me. I speak from experience. You have to talk about it the second that despair hits you.”

I roll my eyes and fight tears that threaten to fall. I want to talk, but I don’t want to cry.

“It must be very tiring having to hold all his secrets,” I say, matter-of-factly, raising my eyes to his and getting back to the reason for my PTSD.

“It used to be,” he admits, “but he doesn’t have as many secrets anymore. His family knows about his lifestyle now; that terrible woman is no longer an issue anymore; and I no longer have to carry screaming subs and wifey hopefuls from the penthouse, because he has you, now. It can be difficult managing him and his flailing emotions, but I’ll take this Christian to the old ‘Mr. Grey’ any day—emotions and all.” He stands.

“We do need to finish this conversation. It’s far from over, but Chuck says you came right in and started swinging away. That was hours ago. You need to get in some hot water… really soon.”


A/N: I called this chapter “Untitled” because I couldn’t think of a title for it. My mind was drawing a total fucking blank. I couldn’t come up with anything… so there you go.

The Crazy 88 is also a reference to Kill Bill. This is the team of bodyguards that “The Bride” left in pieces and in pools of blood in the “House of Blue Leaves” as she’s trying to get to Oren Ishii.

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

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~~love and handcuffs