Raising Grey: Chapter 48—’Round and ‘Round… and ‘Round

THE MUSE HAS GONE CRAZY!!!!

So, unless the layout and the flow of the story as I see it changes somehow, you can expect for “Raising” to be longer than the typical 80 chapters. I may find a place where I can break the story and start a new book, but if it’s flowing well and there’s nowhere for a cohesive time break, I’ll just keep it going.

HOWEVER…

Golden is currently on hold because Lynn is overwhelmed. I still know where I want it to go, and it’s definitely going to be a shorter story than the Butterfly Saga, but if I can’t give my best, I’m not giving anything at all, and the nuances of the story aren’t flowing as well as I would like with all that I have on my plate. So, Golden fans, I apologize for not updating as much as I should, but I can only do so much at once.

My darling Falala, you are the only one who has indicated that they’ve had that problem with having to re-follow the blog. I hope that’s not a trend and I hope you haven’t had further problems. Anybody else having any issues? I got two emails that said, “falalax is now following your blog.” I was like, “Huh? I thought she was already following my blog. Gotta love the world wide web…

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 48—’Round and ‘Round

ANASTASIA

I take a quick shower and change into something more suitable for travel. When I exit the bathroom, I’m headed towards the living room area when I hear Christian’s voice.

“Hi, little man. Daddy loves you. Take care of the house until I get back, okay?”

I back away from the doorway so as not to interrupt his cooing time with the Prince of Grey Crossing.

“I miss you, Mikey. I miss you so much and I love you. Take care of your sister for me…”

I can imagine that seeing his father and brothers in such turmoil is causing his emotions to flip like crazy. I hear silence for a moment, then I hear,

“Hey Lelliot… yeah, it’s done. It was brutal, man… Listen, you know when I’m giving you shit, I’m just giving you shit, right? I don’t mean anything by it… Yeah, it’s just…” He sighs. “This place, man—this place fucks with me, and watching Freeman and Dad… Just know that I love you, man. I’ll always be there for you even when you act like a fucking jerk, but don’t act like a fucking jerk, okay?… Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s the whole married thing, I guess.”

I’d love to know what Elliot said that elicited that response.

“I’m ready to get out of here. Nothing is jogging any memories with me, but this place seems to bring out the worst in my family and I’m ready to shake it off… She didn’t go to the reading with us, which I’m glad that she didn’t. If Freeman had said anything to my wife…” He trails off. “Having her here has been a tremendous comfort for me though. She dropped everything just to be here and sit in a hotel room while the Grey brothers battled it out… Dad’s at Uncle Stanley’s with Uncle Herman. They’re going through the contents of a safe deposit box that Pops had at Chase Bank. Apparently, Uncle Herman’s name was on it, too, but he didn’t know until we went to the bank today. It was a big fucker with another big box inside, and they decided that they didn’t want to go through it in the bank in case—you know—there’s sentimental shit in there. Dad broke down in the car after the reading…”

He didn’t tell me that part.

“Well, I’m just waiting for the go-ahead from Jason that the jet is ready, and from Dad that he’s ready, and we’ll be the fuck out of here.”

I begin making noise and moving around because my entrance right when he ends the call will look very suspicious. I make sure that we haven’t left anything—toiletries in the bathroom, things in the drawers or nightstand. I wonder if Jason and Christian got everything from the first room.

“Okay, man, I’ll see you when I get back… I love you, Lelliot.” Christian ends his call when he sees me puttering around the room.

“How’s Elliot?” I ask. “Is everything okay?” I reach in my purse for pink lipstick and apply it to my lips.

“Yeah, everything’s fine,” he says, coming into the bedroom. “I just wanted to touch bases with him, you know, after our last conversation.” I put my lipstick away and raise my eyes to him.

“This has been hard for you, hasn’t it?” I ask, my brow furrowed.

“In more ways than one,” he admits, his hand pushing through his hair. “Pops is gone. He’s not coming back. Why wouldn’t the brothers pull together during this time? Bury the hatchet and kill all the ill feelings? Yeah, Uncle Stan and Dad and Uncle Herman are clinging to each other like glue, but Freeman…” He raises his head. “Freeman is a monster. On my worst days—back when I didn’t give a fuck about anything or anybody—I could never treat Elliot that way… never!” I gently touch his cheek.

“Of course, you wouldn’t,” I say softly. “Freeman is a broken man. He’s miserable inside and there’s no telling how long he’s been that way, so he makes it his business to make everyone else as miserable as he is.” Christian shakes his head.

“That sounds a lot like you’re making excuses for his behavior, baby,” he says. I twist my lips.

“No,” I reply matter-of-factly. “I’m a psychiatrist. I’m just shrinking him. All I’m saying is that hurt people hurt people, and he never got over his hurt. It just festered and festered until it made him the miserable human being that he is now.”

“Yeah, that sounds more like Freeman. Rotten ass bastard.”

Christian and I sit in the room for several more minutes. We’ve got the room reserved for two nights, just in case something happens, and we need to stay another day, even though we both—no doubt—silently hope that won’t be the case. Just after Christian gets word that the jet and pilot will be all set and on standby in the next thirty minutes he gets a call from his father. His voice is accommodating, but his facial expression shows deep displeasure.

“What is it?” I ask when he ends the call. He doesn’t respond. He just calls Jason.

“Meet us downstairs,” he says. So, we’re leaving. “There was a key to a storage facility among the things in the safe deposit box. Dad asked that we bring the truck in case there’s a lot of shit in there.”

What? It’s nearly nightfall! So… we’re not leaving.

I sigh heavily. This is not what I was hoping to hear. Not only is Maria supposed to be coming into town this weekend so that we can view the interview, but I miss my babies and I want to go home. This place is fucking with my goddamn chi!

“Come on, baby,” my husband says as he ends the call. “I don’t care what’s in that storage bin. We’ll be on that plane tonight.”

Music to my ears.

*-*

The storage facility is in a city called Oak Park, just on this side of Detroit. A code activates the large sliding gate and we drive to Burt’s storage bin.

It’s huge. We’ll be here all night.

Christian tells me to stay warm in the car, but I refuse. I want to see what’s in there, too. I get out of the car and follow my unhappy husband to the rolling door of the storage bin. Herman removes the lock and rolls the door up. We all stare at the contents in dismay.

Boxes. Lots and lots of boxes. This is going to take days to go through, not hours. Maybe even weeks. Herman sighs.

“My father’s whole life is probably in this thing,” he laments. “He probably had the monthly rents coming off a credit card or something. It’s still not closed.”

“Jesus, I forgot all about this,” Stan says. Herman and Carrick look at him. “When you guys went to Washington, Dad had the house packed up. I saw some of what was happening, but I didn’t see everything. I didn’t even stick around for most of it. I never even knew what happened to the key. When Dad died…” Stan gestures to the stuffed storage unit, “… this was the last thing on my mind. I’m sorry, guys.”

“No need for that, Stan,” Carrick says, squeezing his brother’s shoulder. “We were all a bit rudderless when Dad died. It would have come out eventually… and it did. I assume Freeman didn’t know anything about it or it would be empty by now.” Stan shrugs.

“I don’t know… I guess not. I didn’t keep it a secret from him or anything. You know how either you’re involved in the action or you’re not and if you’re not, you don’t have any information?”

Carrick and Herman nod.

“So, what do you want to do?” Stan asks. “The office is closed, so we can’t talk to anybody right now.”

“It wouldn’t matter,” Herman says. “I didn’t think to bring Dad’s death certificate with me or my executor documents. I thought we were just reading the will.” He rubs the back of his neck.

“It’s your call, Herm,” Carrick says. “Dad says you disperse the stuff as you see fit.”

“That was the safe deposit box,” Herman says.

“And the key to the storage facility was in the safe deposit box,” Carrick points out. “By extension, that means the storage facility, too.”

“We’ll support whatever you want to do, Herm,” Stan says, looking at Carrick, and Carrick nods. Herman sighs again.

“Mom’s jewelry was in the safe deposit box. Those model cars are most likely in there,” he says, pointing to the wall of boxes. Now Carrick sighs.

“What do you want to do?” he says, his voice soft, and I can tell that whatever “those model cars” are, they mean a lot to him.

“We have to go through this stuff, guys,” Herman says. “This is Dad’s stuff. We can’t just dispose of it, but I can’t do this now. I need to regroup in the worst way, and I know you guys do, too.” He looks at the boxes in front of him. “These boxes are sealed well, and I didn’t bring anything to cut them open.” He rubs his face.

“I’ll call the storage facility in the morning,” he continues, “find out what kind of arrangement my dad had with them and get them a copy of the death certificate and such,” he sighs. “But right now, I need my Luma.”

I know what that means. We’re going home.

“You go home, Herm,” Stan says, putting his hand on Herman’s shoulder. “I know exactly how you feel.”

“Yeah,” Carrick chokes, rubbing the back of his neck. “Me, too.” Christian reaches over and takes my hand in his, bringing his lips to my temple.

“Me, three,” he says against my forehead. Herman closes and locks the storage facility and we all head back to the cars. Stanley says his goodbyes and gets into his car while the rest of us get into the two rentals. Jason and Carrick have a quick conversation before we take off for the airport.

Now, I don’t know Michigan very well, but I know enough to know that we are driving back in the direction that we came from… away from the airport. My husband realizes it, too.

“Jason, where are we going?” Christian asks.

“Mr. Grey asked me to follow him. I thought he had already spoken to you,” Jason says, occasionally glancing into the rear mirror. I look over at Christian who doesn’t look pleased.

“My dad wouldn’t lead us into danger,” he says, “but next time, consult with me first.” Jason’s ears pinken.

“Yes, sir,” he says. “My apologies, sir. I, um, took the liberty of arranging for dinner options to be served on the flight, sir,” he adds. Christian nods, somewhat appeased by the gesture.

“Good man,” he says, and sits back in his seat. “I just don’t want anything to delay us getting the hell out of here,” he adds, more to himself than to anyone else.

We turn down an expressway labelled “I-696” and head west. I know we’re not headed back to Stanley’s house, because his house is further north. Christian squeezes my hand a bit as we drive down 696 for a few minutes, not comfortable at all not knowing where we’re going. After a few more minutes, we connect to another expressway called “I-275” and head south. I know that the airport is south, but we had to go through Detroit to get there. Now, I’m curious.

I gently nudge my hand from Christian’s and pull out my phone. Opening Google maps, I enter our current location—696 and 275, Michigan. It’s a spaghetti bowl of freeways, but I can make out what direction we’re headed. I’m seeing a lot of the streets on the map that I saw when we were headed to Stanley’s house, but we’re in the suburbs now where before, we clearly were not. From the scenery and my husband’s reaction, we were in Detroit.

Further satisfying my curiosity, I enter our destination—DTW.

Google maps shows me that we should be at the airport in thirty minutes. It’s a straight shot down the I-275 to the I-94 and we’re there. It also showed me the route Carrick drove before… I-94 east to the 39—Southfield Freeway—and right through Detroit.

Carrick found another way to the airport that didn’t take us through Detroit. I sigh.

“What is it?” Christian asks. I hand him my phone. He examines it carefully and his shoulders fall. The tension he was carrying moments earlier has slid off his shoulders and back and he almost looks like a totally different man.

“I’m… sorry, Jason,” he says, surprising both me and Jason.

“Sir?” he says, his eyes darting from the road to the mirror and back.

“My father…” Christian trails off. “We’re taking a detour to the airport—one that avoids Detroit.” Realization dawns on Jason’s face.

“Oh,” he says, softly. “No apology necessary, Boss. You were right, I still should have said something to you.” Christian nods and lays his head back on the seat. I take his hand and we ride in silence—and comfort—to the airport.

*-*

“After you talk to the management at the storage facility, I can arrange for the things in storage to be shipped to Seattle,” Christian says to Herman during dinner on the flight. “We can put the things in storage here and you can go through it at your leisure. I can even arrange for my shipping staff to go through the boxes and catalog everything in my warehouse if you like. It’s such a daunting task and if that storage facility is filled to the ceiling with boxes, you can be guaranteed that Pops had someone doing something like that.”

“He did,” Herman says after swallowing a mouthful of steak. “I had forgotten that right after we moved to Seattle, Dad had the house packed up. It didn’t even occur to me.” Christian frowns.

“You two stayed in that house before you moved to Seattle?” he asks. Herman nods.

“It wasn’t as bad as you think,” he says. “The house doesn’t look like much now, but Dad kept it up the best he could. Seriously, Christian, it seems like the minute we left, the house deteriorated. It was like it was holding on for Dad and when he left, it just gave up and died.”

Wow, that’s somewhat profound.

“Well, what do you say?” Christian presses. “I can have a crew in there probably as early as Tuesday. Depending on what’s in there, they can probably have that stuff cleaned up, packed up, and on its way back here by day’s end.” Herman pauses then looks at Carrick. “I would only trust staff who have seen me personally. So, I would send a crew directly from here.”  Dad nods at Herman.

“I think I may have to take you up on that, Christian,” he says. “Let me talk to Stan and see how he feels about it and I’ll let you know, okay?” Christian nods and tucks into his food. We all eat in relative silence until the meal is over, after which, the flight attendant brings us all drinks. A few minutes later, Jason is quietly reading, and Herman has reclined his seat and fallen quickly into a nap. Christian excuses himself and heads to the back of the plane. I assume he’s going to the restroom. Carrick has moved to a lone seat on the other side up the plane and is staring out the window at the black night sky. He doesn’t even notice when I take the seat across from him.

“How are you holding up?” I ask, breaking his solace. In my professional opinion, it’s not a very good idea for him to be sitting here mulling over the day’s events alone, especially since Christian said he broke down earlier.

“Isn’t it a terrible weight on your shoulders to be the ear for the entire family?” he says, his smile soft. I shrug.

“It’s what I do,” I reply, “and I’d rather do it for my family than some of the losers I’ve had to listen to over the years.”

“That’s not very professional,” he says, raising a brow at me.

“No, it’s not,” I admit, “but it’s true. I’ve had some real losers over the years.” My mind immediately goes to those attention whores at the community center who pretended to need help, but only wanted someone to whine to. “It’s why I stopped doing volunteer work at the community center. Those people didn’t need help—true, they needed therapy, but not the type that I was offering.” I shrug.

“I thought you left the community center for an entirely different reason altogether,” he confronts, and I know he’s talking about my initial battle with his son.

“That, too,” I confess, “but that wasn’t the reason. That was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.” I sigh. “So, as you can see, listening to family is not as daunting as you think.” He nods and looks out the window again.

“I feel like I’ve cremated my father again,” he says. Whoa, that serious. “I went through all these feelings and the hatred that Freeman feels for me, being back in the city where we grew up, seeing the places where my father worked—he was so proud. He was proud to be a Ford man, and he passed that down to our family, but I didn’t want to be a Ford man. I wanted to be a lawyer. More than anything, I wanted to be an attorney and throw around that word ‘Esquire.’” He laughs mirthlessly.

“Dad never gave me a hard time—not once. He paid for me to go to college. He mostly paid for law school. Then, I met Grace. She insisted on paying for the rest, telling me that she was investing in our future together. Dad had a problem with it at first, but once we were married, he understood.

“Our lives took several turns, and Dad was there the whole time. We always held each other together, all of us. Freeman wasn’t always a miserable bastard. He was always miserable and selfish, but he wasn’t always a bastard. Even he was there to help hold us together, especially when Mom died. But after that girl left him…” He shakes his head.

“Now, I’m here again. I hated going back to that place and I hated the reason I was there. If Christian hadn’t convinced me to come, I wouldn’t have. Now, I’m glad that I did, because if I hadn’t, Freeman would have gotten over again, and Herm and Stan wouldn’t have their money.”

He’s correctly assuming that Christian has told me about the life insurance. I want to keep him talking until he gets as much of this anger and pain off his shoulders as he can.

“Is it true that he can hold the money up for a long time and affect everyone’s share?” I ask. Carrick does a half-nod, half wobble of his head.

“The only thing that’s going to effect everyone’s share of the money is Dad’s final arrangements,” he says. “Once that’s dispersed, then it’s the waiting game to see how far Freeman wants to take this. But he’s not holding anybody up but himself, because my brothers got their money already… from me. Once he loses this fight, which he will, the remainder of the money after Dad’s affairs are settled will be dispersed to the sons, and Freeman will have gotten the short end of the stick.”

“How so?” I ask. “If all the sons are getting the same amount, even after Burt’s final arrangements and whatnot, that’s still going to be a hefty sum for each of you.”

“This is what that idiot doesn’t understand, and this is why I let him go ahead and do this. I’m one of my father’s four sons and all his sons got a portion of this policy. Now, if he was contesting that Herman and I were the only beneficiaries, I could get where he was coming from and halfway understand him contesting that—but we all got an equal portion of it. This was clearly Dad’s wish. Now, here he is contesting my portion knowing but not knowing that he’s actually contesting the entire policy.

“So, let’s say that he loses the contest, which I’m sure that he will. He will have spent time and money on an attorney to contest the beneficiaries of this policy. Let’s say that he only spends $200,000 in attorney, court, and probate fees and five years contesting the will…”

Only?

“He has now wasted five years of his life, done irreparable damage to the relationships that he had left with his family, and now, he gets to replace the $200,000 that he spent on a worthless fight out of his share of the money. Only, $200,000 in five years is not going to be worth what $200,000 is worth now. So, while my brothers can invest my portion of the inheritance and double their money if they choose the right investments, Freeman’s share is dwindling away to nothing… and speaking of nothing…

“If he gets his way and he wins this contest, he foolishly thinks that he’s going to walk away with a larger share and I—or Herm and I—are going to walk away with nothing. No, if he wins, he’s contesting the validity of the entire policy. He said so at the reading. He first declared that I didn’t deserve anything, then he paints a picture to Stan and tries to get the attorney to cosign that Herm and I brought Dad out to Seattle to die and got a life insurance policy in his name. I don’t know how long my father had that policy, so if he’s right and that policy popped up right about the time that Dad was about to die, it’s going to look suspect. He can’t protest me being a beneficiary because all four of us are beneficiaries, so he’s going to resort to that.

“Well, dear brother,” he says sarcastically, “if you win that fight, you’re not going to walk away with any of the money… none of us are!”

Shit, really?

“So, if he can convince a judge or whoever that you all bought the policy and waited for Burt to die, then nobody gets anything?” Carrick shakes his head.

“Not a nickel,” he confirms. “It’s fraud. The good news is that they would have to actively prove that we did that in order to press criminal charges, but I’m certain that the minute this goes before anybody with an ounce of common sense, they’re going to see right through it, and some unscrupulous attorney somewhere is going to take the case and let the fees mount up knowing that not only is this an unwinnable situation, but also that Freeman is going to get his share of that money. And when he does, he’s going to have to pay up if he hasn’t already.

“So, when I saw what he was doing, I immediately had the money transferred to my brothers’ accounts. I wanted Freeman to see what I was doing. I wanted him to see that I wasn’t going to allow him to ruin my brothers’ lives and what’s more, I don’t even need the money. One point five million dollars just flying around the room in a matter of minutes. What better way to foil your plans than with the very thing that makes your stomach turn?”

I’m making an observation that I’m not sure Carrick has made, but I can see it clearly.

“You refer to Herman and Stanley as your brothers,” I tell him, “but when you talk about Freeman, you don’t, unless you’re doing it sarcastically. You do realize that he’s still your brother, don’t you?” Carrick shakes his head sadly.

“Make no mistake, dear girl,” Carrick begins, “I know that man was born my brother, but my brother’s been gone for a really long time, and I miss him terribly. I’ve missed him ever since he left, even more so now that my father’s gone. When I cried in Seattle after our fight, it was because I knew that my brother was gone for good and he was never coming back. He came to my home and insulted my entire family—my wife, my children, you…” He trails off and shakes his head. “No, that man is truly dead to me. He was already a non-entity as far as I was concerned, but after today, after this…” He wipes away a tear. “I cremated my father again today, and I buried my brother.”

And now he’s broken again.

I sit there with Carrick for a long while as he weeps silently and mourns the loss of his family once again. When Christian finally emerges from the rear of the plane, he’s changed and freshly showered, no doubt washing the visit off him once and for all. He frowns questioning when he sees his father crying. Not willing to subject Carrick to Christian’s endless “What’s wrong” questions, I squeeze his hand to get his attention.

“Carrick, why don’t you go on into the back room and rest?” I suggest. “We’ll wake you when it’s time to land.” Carrick nods and stands from his seat. He walks to the back of the plane, nearly bumping into Christian on the way. Christian just grabs his arm to steady him, then squeezes his shoulder as he passes by.

“What’s wrong with Dad?” he asks once Carrick has left the room. “Is he okay?” I sigh heavily.

“It’s a good thing we’re leaving Detroit,” I say. “That place was taxing on all of you.”


CHRISTIAN

I spend the night buried in my wife again, so glad to be home in my own bed in my own city where I somewhat feel like myself again. I had intended on maybe getting some mile-high loving when I was finished with my shower on the plane, but Dad looked like shit and definitely needed some sleep. He didn’t wake until it was time to land.

We all seemed to have gotten back to ourselves once the jet landed at SeaTac. I didn’t expect to see the women there, but there they were. Dad wrapped himself around Mom and Uncle Herman just folded over Luma. My uncle is so in love with that woman. I don’t know why he won’t just marry her already.

I felt like I was falling asleep in the car on the way back to the Crossing. Chuck and Jason were whispering about something and I didn’t bother trying to eavesdrop. I was so relaxed being back in Seattle, back in one of my own cars, back home…

When we drove up the driveway into the Crossing, it was like someone hit me with a shot of adrenaline and all I wanted to do was fuck—not necessarily rabbit fucking or hard fucking… just fuck. So, fuck we did.

And I slept like a damn baby until noon.

When I wake, my wife is gone—well, not gone, just not in bed. It’s noon, why would she still be in bed? I sincerely stretch like a cat and lie eagle-spread on my bed—my bed. I can’t believe how content I am to be home… just to be here. My body relaxes into the mattress and I could truly just lay here all day. My solace is interrupted by one of the best interruptions ever. My wife unceremoniously enters the room with a wiggly pink bundle in her arms. They were asleep when we got home, so we didn’t wake them.

“Oh, please… give me that,” I say, sitting up and reaching for my daughter. My wife pauses.

“Are you dressed under there?” she asks.

“No, I’m totally commando, and she’s nine months old!” I protest.

“Yes, but Keri and Gail are not,” she retorts, raising her brow. I grunt and get out of bed. So much for lying in. I go to the dressing room and quickly slide into a pair of sweat pants.

“There!” I say, emerging from the dressing room. “Now give me my child!” I hold my hands out again and Minnie squirms in her mother’s arms, smiling widely and reaching for me. Butterfly laughs and places her in my hands. Good Lord, it’s like salve on a terribly stinging and painful burn.

“How’s Daddy’s girl?” I say, kissing her repeatedly and climbing back into bed. She coos and giggles as Keri enters with Mikey and Gail enters with a tray of food.

“I thought I would have to wake you, so I thought the twins might ease the ache a bit,” Butterfly says, placing Mikey on the bed next to me.

“I just woke, but you were right about the ache,” I say, adoring the smiling faces of my children.

“Let me know if you need anything else,” Gail says as she and Keri excuse themselves. I’m starving, but I don’t want to put my daughter down. I need her. I need to be close to my children. As if reading my thoughts, my wife begins feeding me the omelet and toast on my plate.

“You’ve already eaten?” I ask after swallowing, noting that there’s no food for her.

“Hours ago,” she says. “The trip sucked, but it wasn’t as taxing on me as it was on you.” I nod.

“I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t there,” I admit. She puts another large forkful of eggs in my mouth.

“Jack off?” she teases and I almost choke. She hands me a glass of orange juice and I take a couple of healthy swallows.

“Not just the sex,” I say with mirth. “Going to sleep with you and waking up with you; eating breakfast with you and just know that you were there.”

“I know what you meant. I was just teasing you.” She gives me more omelet and toast. “That place is draining—or maybe it was just seeing the effect that it had on you and Carrick and his brothers, but I’m glad we’re home.”

“Me, too,” I say, swallowing the delicious eggs. It immediately makes me think of the egg massacre incident that was my first cooking lesson. I need to get back in the kitchen soon if I want to cook something for my wife anytime soon. “What’s the plan for today?”

“Not a thing on the agenda until tomorrow,” she says. Yeah, Maria Sanchez is coming into town so that we can view the interview. For some reason, I’m not looking forward to this even though it was my idea in the first place, but what’s done is done now.

“Well, I think I want to spend time with these two today.” Minnie is laying on my chest, wide awake, but just lounging there. Mikey has pulled himself into a standing position, supporting himself on my leg. He appears to be babbling something to Minnie, no more than “ba-ba-ba” or “na-na-na” or something like that, but she is unfazed and just watching her brother’s performance. Mikey is not to be ignored. He continues his babbling, now bouncing and becoming more animated.

Minnie still doesn’t respond.

Mikey is getting louder with his babbling and bouncing even harder. His sister finally gives him the attention he’s seeking. She pulls her little grubby hand back and brings it down right on top of his head.

Smack!

“Oh!” I exclaim. “They’re doing that now.”

“No!” Butterfly scolds, pointing her finger at Minnie. Mikey is silent for three seconds, just long enough for the sensation to set in, before he falls down on his butt and releases a yowl. Minnie sticks her bottom lip out, gazing at her mother, then her yowling begins a second after Mikey’s.

“Oh, there, there, now,” I say, patting her on the back.

Don’t do that, Christian!” my wife scolds. I’m a bit stunned. Don’t do what?

“Put her down,” she says, her face stern and her voice firm.

“What? Why? She’s crying,” I point out as if it’s not obvious.

“Yes, that’s because I scolded her. Now, put her down.” Okay, fine, don’t scold me. I put my daughter on the bed and her cries become more urgent. “Do not hit your brother!” Butterfly says to a wailing Minnie before turning to me. “If you coddle her after I scold her, she’s going to run to you every time I try to punish her. She’ll be impossible, and then I have to kill you!” I put my hands up.

“Okay, okay, I get it!” I say. “But what about Mikey? Clearly he was yelling at her…”

“And clearly, she slapped the shit out of him, and now, he’s crying, too. That’s why I’m not picking him up, either.” She’s got a point there. I sit there helplessly watching my children cry as they learn a lesson, also learning a lesson myself. This is hard. I hate to see them cry. Butterfly allows them to cry for what feels like forever, but I’m certain that it’s only a couple of minutes.

“Are you two ready to behave?” she says to our children, and almost like they understood what she said, their cries subside a bit, but don’t cease. She folds her arms and looks from Minnie to Mikey.

“I can wait as long as you can,” she says. Minnie calms a bit, her plump tearstained face gazing at her mother as she begins her after-crying sniffles. Mikey calms a little thereafter, but only after he shoves his two middle fingers into his mouth. My brow furrows.

“When did he start doing that?” I say, pointing at my son.

“Since about three months,” Butterfly responds. “He just doesn’t do it all the time.” Both children have calmed now, and Butterfly turns to Minnie. “Are you going to behave now?” she asks. Minnie just looks at her. She holds her hands out and Minnie scurries to her arms, laying on her chest like she was laying on mine a moment ago.

“Get your son,” she says as she rubs Minnie’s back. I hold my arms out to Mikey and he stretches his hands out to me, trying to come to me without the aid of his arms to help him stand or roll. He’s quickly getting frustrated and I don’t want him to start crying again, so I pick him up and sit him on my leg. Using my fingers, I gently wipe the tears from his face.

“Don’t use your hands,” she says, softly, leaning over to the rolling tray and retrieving a burping cloth. She hands it to me and I begin to wipe my son’s face.

“She’s a real tyrant,” I tell him, low enough for only him to hear. “If you ever cross her, you’re on your own… but don’t cross her. I don’t like it when you cry.” I clean his face and put him on my chest where his sister was moments before. They look at each other as if challenging each other. They can’t be fighting this early. And they’re twins! I thought twins were inseparable!

“And this from the man who’s a proponent of spanking,” she says with a smirk while patting Minnie on the back. I look up at her and she raises her brow at me. Oh, yeah, I did say something like that, didn’t I?

Hmm, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do that.

“We… may have to come up with alternative methods of discipline,” I say without making eye-contact with my wife.

*-*

The thought of spanking my two little bundles had me clinging to them all day. Watching them cry and being unable to stop them was a bit more than I was willing to accept. Maybe once they’re older and ornerier, I might feel differently about the concept, but right now, I can’t even fathom it.

My clinginess doesn’t get past my wife. She even makes a papoose for me from one of her belly wraps so that one of the babies could be close to me the entire day. I think I needed it. Detroit took a lot out of me. Sure, I didn’t fall apart except for the mini-meltdown during the trip from the airport. I even did okay going to the private-eye’s office, which was in a city that was in the middle of Detroit. But the entire experience was just taxing as hell.

Seeing Dad and his brother snarling at each other like dogs…

The emotional strain of being in a city that broke me completely at an early age and could have broken me forever…

Watching my father break down all over again from the loss of his father and the total decimation of his relationship with Freeman…

No matter how much he may hate what that man is doing, he’s still Dad’s brother and this is truly taking a toll on him. How can anybody be so hateful towards their own family?

My mind immediately goes to Chuck’s brother, Joe, and a trip he has to make to his hometown for a lawsuit against his own flesh and blood merely for being an asshole.

Good God, are people really this unbelievably asinine? Was I ever this way? I may have been aloof, a bit obtuse at times, but I was never deliberately vicious to my family… never intentionally hurtful. For the love of God, who does that? I pull my phone out of my pocket and press speed dial.

“Hey, Bro, what’s up?” Elliot answers.

“Hey, what are you and Valerie doing for dinner?” I ask.

“Nothing,” he says. “We were probably going to order something in. We’ve gotten spoiled to having a cook,” he jests.

“Well, why don’t you come on over and get spoiled some more?” I say.

“You guys just got back. I thought you might have wanted to unwind and relax a bit. We didn’t want to be underfoot… I know how you feel about Detroit and all.”

How do I tell my brother that I need to see him without sounding like a pussy?

“Yeah, well, the familiar is kind of necessary right now.” That was it. Perfect. He pauses again.

“What time should we be there?” he asks. I sigh quietly.

“Six is good, and can you call Mia for me and see if she and Ethan can make it? I’ve kinda got my hands full with the babies.” He pauses again.

“Sure thing, Bro. We’ll be there.”

My brother and sister arrive promptly at 5:45, and I can’t help but wonder what Elliot said to Mia to get her to dinner on time. We sit down to a dinner of baked pork chops, Brussel sprouts and tomato-bacon linguini. I can’t bring myself to remove my papoose just yet, so Mikey sleeps comfortably on my chest throughout the meal while Minnie “purrs” nearby in her Pack-n-Play.

“Oh, everyone,” Mia begins, “our wedding website went live this morning.”

“Wedding website?” Butterfly asks. Mia nods.

“Yes. I wanted to approve everything that went onto the site, so they had to wait until we got back from the honeymoon to make it active.”

Oh, dear God.

“Mia…” I begin.

“Keep your shirt on, Big Brother,” she says. “The only media that is posted of you and Her Highness…” she says Butterfly’s nickname in a playful manner, “… are pictures and videos of you dancing, a bit of canoodling, her speech, and the two of you singing. Do you want me to take any of those down?” I look over at Butterfly who shrugs.

“Send me the link and I’ll let you know,” I say. Mia laughs.

“I sent you the link this morning,” she says. “You never go a day without checking your email. What gives?”

“I was spending time with my family,” I reply. “I’ll check it later.”

“I’m sure it’s fine, Christian,” Butterfly says. “We have an exposé airing soon. It can’t be any more intrusive than that.”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. When is that supposed to be aired?” Elliot asks.

“The journalist who interviewed us is coming tomorrow morning so that we can see the final viewing, and we’re supposed to be part of Sweeps Week,” I say.

“Sweeps Week?” Valerie says. “That starts a week from Monday. Isn’t that cutting it kind of close?”

“Kind of?” Butterfly says. “Don’t get me started. If I see something that I don’t like tomorrow, they’ll have to scrap the whole damn thing!”

“You seem a bit intense about this, Steele,” Valerie says. Why does she still call her that?

“Well, that would be due to the faux pas that have already occurred, and the damn thing hasn’t even aired yet!”

Oh, hell. Butterfly isn’t very happy about this viewing, it appears. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s a good idea. Should I tell Maria to send us a digital copy to review instead?

“What kind of faux pas, Montana?” Elliot asks. Butterfly begins to explain our experience with the grip boy and the “preview that got away,” when Valerie turns her attention to me.

“Elliot tells me that you convinced him to tell me about Gia,” Valerie says while Butterfly occupies Elliot with her tale.

“It… was a collaborative effort between me and my wife,” I admit.

“Well… thank you,” she says. “That would have been something terrible to hear through the society grapevine or on a gossip rag or something.” I raise a brow.

“Have you met Gia?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No,” she admits, “but I’ve heard of her. Her reputation precedes her. I don’t know what her general M-O is—there usually is one for appearing to be a scathing whore who will fuck anything with a dollar sign attached to it—but hell, she could just be mindlessly sleeping around, I don’t know. Whatever the case may be, I’m aware of Ms. Mateo’s character.” She sips whatever is in her glass.

“Are you… concerned about her?” I ask. “Because Elliot loves you more than life.”

“I know that,” she smiles. “It’s why he thought there was no need to tell me about her. I have no doubt the she’s old news as far as he’s concerned, but there are some things that you just need to hear from your man and not from some gossiping cows at the beauty shop or out in the grocery store somewhere or heaven forbid, at some social function where you have to smile and pretend it doesn’t bother you. It’s the Miller mansion, for Christ’s sake. Somebody somewhere is going to say something. Hell, they may end up in Architectural Digest or something. Then what?”

“Alright, Bro, my wife’s face is not looking too pleased over there. What are you talking about?” I raise an eyebrow at Valerie who shrugs.

Architectural Digest,” I reply. Well, we were. Elliot frowns.

Architectural Digest?” he repeats. “Your face is all frowned up about Architectural Digest?” She nods.

“I was just telling Christian that your work on the Miller mansion may end up in Architectural Digest,” she says with no malice. Elliot’s face falls and he turns to me. I hold my hands up in surrender, shaking my hands to signal that I didn’t start this conversation. He closes his eyes and nods.

“Yeah, it could,” he admits. “Does it bother you, Angel?”

“No,” Valerie replies. “It doesn’t. I think you’ll do great.” She reaches for his hand and he entwines his fingers with hers.

“I’m sorry,” Mia says, “but if I may ask, why would Val have a problem with you being in Architectural Digest? Isn’t that an esteemed honor?”

“Yes, it is,” Elliot replies, “but the designer on the project is Gia Mateo.” Mia looks at him as if she’s waiting for the punchline. Then the penny drops.

“Oh,” she says almost inaudibly. “Oh… o-okay.” And she doesn’t say anything else. Ethan leans in and no doubt, asks about the punchline, and she hushes him quickly.

“It’s fine,” Valerie says. “I’m just glad that I heard about their prior relationship from Elliot and not some third party. That’s all I was telling Christian.”

“Well, I’m glad she didn’t really get her claws into my brother,” Mia nearly hisses. “She’s an A-1 skank and she’s lucky some jealous wife hasn’t plugged her one by now!” Butterfly looks over at me and raises her brow.

“Okay, I’m all for changing the subject now,” I say. Mia looks at me and realization dawns.

“Oh!” she says, pointing at me. “Oh, yeah! That’s right!”

“What?” Valerie says. “Please tell me not you, too. That’s just trashy!” Oh, good grief.

“No, not him, too,” Butterfly interjects. “But that lovely parlor and the his and hers bathrooms and those beautiful women’s touches that you see all over the Slayer? Courtesy of one Gia Mateo.”

“Oh, I see,” says Valerie. “Well, that explains a lot. I was wondering why a floating bachelor pad had a fully pimped-out she-cave on the main deck. No offense, El, but I was wondering how she managed to bed you and not capture the attention of my billionaire brother-in-law.” Elliot puts his hand on his chest in mock insult.

“Whatever are you trying to imply?” he asks. “I’m just as good a catch as my loaded little brother.” Valerie smiles.

“Better, baby,” she says, snuggling up to his arm.

“Balderdash!” Butterfly chimes in. “She has to say that! She’s your wife!”

“And you have to disagree, because you’re his,” Elliot taunts. “Nice papoose, bro,” he teases, causing an outburst of laughter and instantly breaking the tension in the room.

Thank God!


ANASTASIA

As I’m getting ready for bed, I’m mentally cataloging all the things that I’ll have to do in the next few days when I realize that I’ve forgotten to disclose one detrimental piece of information to my husband.

“There’s something I need to tell you,” I say as I climb into bed with him. He raises his gaze from the phone to meet mine. “I found out last week, but with the Detroit trip coming up, I knew you needed to focus.”

“What is it?” he says, placing his phone on the nightstand.

“It’s about John.” Christian’s brow furrows.

“John Flynn?” he asks. I nod. “What about John?”

“He and his family are in England, and they may not be returning to the States.”

“What?” he responds, clearly displeased. “Why?”

I explain to him what Grace told me about MERS and the CDC and the government not wanting his son to return until he has a clean bill of health.

“Well, then, I’ll give him a call. We’ll get him the best doctors and get him well so that he and his family can come home.”

“I don’t think it’s the money, Christian,” I tell him. “I think it’s the principal. John may have become a citizen from marrying Rhian, but his sons are all American-born citizens and one of them is being denied re-entry. He’s quite disenchanted with that.” Christian’s expression softens, and he nods.

“I guess I would be, too,” he says. “I’ll call him anyway and see if there’s anything that I can do, but from what you’re saying, America may have lost a few citizens.” I nod.

“Yeah, it looks that way.”

Christian and I make love again a few times that night, and I know that we’re not only making up for lost time, but my husband is also trying to regain some of the control that has slipped away from him over the past couple of weeks. Pretty soon, I’m going to have to tap out. I don’t think my coochie can take much more.

“I don’t think the promo has gotten to many outlets,” Vee says on Sunday morning. We asked her to join us for breakfast so that we could be prepared for when Maria shows up with the footage of our interview. “We’re usually alerted when something airs about you guys for purposes of damage control. This thing must have truly only aired once and then it was pulled. We can’t even get a lead on where it aired.”

“And it’s not like I can go knocking on Old Lady Miller’s door and ask her where she saw it,” Christian points out.

“It’s kind of a moot point,” I add. “With sweeps being next week, whatever we approve will be splashed all over the network in promos. If there’s anyone in America who didn’t know who we were before now, they’ll know soon.” Christian finishes his eggs and bacon.

“Well,” he says, after swallowing his last bite, “how do we handle this? I already know that there’s no way that she’s going to show us a final cut that we’re going to be completely satisfied with. I almost want Allen to be present for the meeting, but I’m not trying to intimidate her to the point of pulling the segment.” Vee nods.

“No, we don’t want to do that, but we do want her to know that we mean business. We need to get a copy of what she shows us and what she plans to air. They have to be the same thing. Once something makes it to the airwaves, it’s immortalized. At one time, it wasn’t that way, but with technology being what it is today, your most embarrassing, humiliating, or painful moment could be trending on Twitter or Instagram tomorrow.” I sigh.

“Well, why trust anybody, then?” I ask. God knows I’ve had my own run-ins with reputable members of the press—the ex-submissive cable girl and the Pussy DJ, just to name a couple.

“Because you have to trust someone or remain in obscurity. That’s the name of the game,” Vee says. “Anyway, it’s like I said, I really think the leak was just somebody jumping the gun for Sweeps Week promotion and remember—she didn’t have to bring that shit to you that Roger, or whatever his name was, did. She could have swept that mess under the rug and you never would have been the wiser. It’s a testament to her integrity.”

“Or she could have been covering her ass,” I retort, skeptically. “If that footage had somehow gotten out later, she would have to account for how it was acquired.”

“She could claim ignorance,” Vee counters.

“It’s her production. Responsibility is assumed. I know that much,” I conclude. Vee twists her lips and nods her head.

“Ana, would you prefer this doesn’t air?” she asks. I turn my gaze to her.

“What?” I ask, bemused. Vee sighs.

“I understand a healthy dose of skepticism,” she begins. “In fact, when it comes to an exposé of the most intimate parts of your life—your home, your family, your children, what you do in your private time—I would be concerned if you didn’t show some level of trepidation. But you have disputed nearly every point I’ve tried to make so far when it comes to this viewing and anything that I’ve said in any possible defense of Maria and her actions. I’ve been in this business for a long time and I’d like to believe that my instincts aren’t dull or untrustworthy when it comes to people. I haven’t steered you wrong yet, but I can’t ignore your level of mistrust and discomfort the closer we get to the time to meet with Sanchez. I won’t try to force or influence you to do anything that you feel uncomfortable with no matter how good my instincts may be. So, I’m asking you honestly before this woman gets here. Would you prefer this doesn’t air?”

Christian and Vee examine me closely like they’re expecting and alien to pop out of my chest or something. I don’t want to pull the plug on the production this close to airing, but there’s something that I can’t sweep under the rug.

“I. Have had a bad time. Trusting people,” I say, looking only at Vee. “My instincts are not as sharp as I once thought they were. When I look back on all the things that I thought I was certain of that turned out to be something completely different, I have nothing left in the end but, ‘Shit, I wish I had seen that coming.’ People seem one way  when you meet them, when you deal with them, when you interact with them, and when you put your fate in their hands—on a large or a small scale—one way or another, you end up getting burned.

“I’m just trying not to get burned,” I tell her. “I’m trying to see the fire before it explodes through the forest and consumes my home. Twice, somebody has dropped the ball—grip boy and now this. We should have seen this footage weeks ago…” although that might have been a bit difficult with my husband hiding out in Madrid. My scar starts thumping a bit and I stick my hand in my hair and drop my head.

“I just don’t want to get burned again, okay?” I say without raising my gaze to anyone. “One more incident, and you can put an apple in my mouth and serve me up at a luau.”

There’s a long moment of silence.

“Ana, do you trust me?” Vee says, and now, the spotlight is on me. I sigh.

“Yes, Vee, I trust you,” I say, honestly, deflated and still not raising my head.

“Good. Then let’s see the viewing and see how we feel. I won’t pull any punches if I think something’s not right. I swear that to you.” I nod.

“Okay,” I cede. I don’t want to debate it anymore. I guess I won’t be able to shake the feeling until I see the viewing and in what light Maria has presented us. There’s another long moment of silence.

“Mac, can you excuse us for a moment? I need to talk to my wife,” Christian says softly.

“Sure,” I hear her say, and I don’t know where she goes, but I know that she leaves the dining room.

“Butterfly look at me.” I finally find the strength to raise my eyes to him though my head hurts so badly that I just want to lie down.

“Was that speech for me?” he asks. What? What is he talking about?

“Huh?” It’s the only thought I can formulate.

“You’ve been burned. You don’t trust anybody. Things you thought you were certain of; putting your fate in someone else’s hands—that’s more than just a couple of bad media experiences. Was that speech for me?”

I play the words over in my head, then review my feelings about them. Had this happened before the whole Liam/Madrid Mayhem—when the footage was recorded—I would feel differently. I was bad-ass when I discovered Grip Boy had filmed me in the nursery. I was ready to put him on the platter and serve him at the luau. Now, I’m fucking afraid of shit that goes “bump” in the night when I wasn’t before. I was able to deal with adversity and handle myself in tough situations and now, I kind of prefer to just hide in the corner until the adversity passes. That’s not me. That’s never been me… except when someone talked about or uncovered something about Green Valley.

Scary, vicious teenage mobs that attack you from behind, torture you, and leave you for dead…

Uncertainty of where in America—or the world—these bastards have landed…

The Boogeyman…
The Boogeyman…
Fuck, the Boogeyman…

I gaze at Christian and I’m unable to answer him. In all my pondering and wondering and trying to figure out an answer for him, all the fear and uncertainty and pain and anguish and the Boogeyman all go into the three-second funnel and come out with one word.

Yes.

I don’t have to say it. He reaches over to me and gathers me in his arms, holding me close to him and kissing my hair.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispers. “I’m so, so sorry…”

I want to respond that it’s not all his fault, that my actions—or lack thereof—were the catalyst for his behavior; that we’re both human and we make mistakes and that’s okay, but none of that will chase the Boogeyman away.

We sit there for several minutes with Christian kissing my hair and trying to reassure me that everything will be alright. As sweet and sincere as his gestures are, I know that I and the Boogeyman have several more rounds to spar, and I’m under no misconception that I’m not going to win them all. I’m just terrified at the concept of how many of them that I could lose.

I hear Vee clear her throat from the hallway before Christian releases me and allows me to sit upright in my seat. I drink the rest of my orange juice and try a few calming breaths as Vee enters the room with Maria close behind her.

“I’m sorry,” Vee says. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“It’s fine,” Christian excuses her. I still feel like shit. “Maria, I must inform you that my wife is quite concerned with how this matter has been handled thus far. Things have been sloppy; there has been no show of any kind of level of care when it comes down to the footage of our personal lives. We found out through word of mouth that footage of our home had already been aired. We should have heard that from you. You should have been contacting us with reassurances that this situation was a one-off and well in hand. We don’t feel that way now, and my wife is more uneasy than I can describe. I don’t like that… not one bit!”

I hear the protector coming out. I can see that he’s ready to battle for me, but I need more than that. What, I don’t know, but more.

“Ana,” Maria’s voice begins. I don’t make eye contact with her, “no amount of apology that I can offer can possibly restore your faith in me. All I can say is let me show you. Let me show you the promos and what I’ve done—even the promo that was accidentally shown last week. Even though you didn’t approve it beforehand, I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed with the presentation. We’ve gotten off to a rocky start and I and my network didn’t handle things like we should have, but please, give me a chance to make this up to you… to show you that you didn’t make the wrong choice.

“A story like this could make or break someone in this business, but I swear to you—getting a big story and shock value is not worth a lawsuit or losing my credibility or my career. I swear to you on my honor and my integrity, I won’t let anything be aired that you don’t approve. I give you my word. I’ll sleep with the reels if I need to if that will convince you.”

I almost want to demand her ass to sleep with the reels, but right now, I just need to see what’s on them.

“You need to understand that I’m not the only one that’ll be affected by what’s on that film,” I tell her, trying to steady my shaking voice. “My father, his wife, my brother… my children… our friends and family…”

I’m getting choked up by the magnitude of what could happen if this interview material is abused or misconstrued in any way.

“Ana, I know this hasn’t been the most reliable situation that you’ve dealt with so far, but I have the entire network’s attention on this one. There will be no more mistakes, I swear to you.” I hope the fuck you’re right.

“Maria,” I say, my voice shaking and unable to mask my fear and uncertainty any longer, “those are powerful words, but if you betray me, so help me…”

My sentence trails off, but that’s only because there are no words to explain the extent of hell that I would unleash on this woman if she does anything deceptive whatsoever. And these little faux pas that her network keeps doing, I will fucking own my own media outlet after this.

“Anastasia, you have my word,” she says, never breaking eye contact with me. I don’t acquiesce in any way. I don’t want her to think she has won me over other that I am even giving her the slightest chance to fuck me. It’s exactly the opposite. As far as I’m concerned, she’s the fucking enemy until this show airs.

“Let’s see what’s on these damn reels,” I say, standing up and heading for the theater room.


A/N: So that no one will be disappointed or say that I led them on, the next chapter will not reveal the interview. They will discuss what will and will not stay, but the full interview will not be posted/shared until the day it is aired, and everyone sees it at the same time.

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 32—Lights, Camera, Action!

I love all my readers, don’t you guys forget that, but a special thanks to those who click on and read the emails and to those who follow the links to the page. I get reports on how many clicks I get, and it makes me feel good to see that people do actually click the links. So, thanks you guys. ❤ 

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

Chapter 32—Lights, Camera, Action!

CHRISTIAN

“So, what was last night?” I ask, drawing circles in the skin on my wife’s naked back. She’s lying on her arms in our bed, displaying an amazing case of afterglow.

“I don’t know,” she says, and her brow furrows. “It wasn’t a punishment fuck… except maybe at the beginning.”

“No, that was desperation sex,” I tell her. “I had to fuck, hard and fast, or I was going to explode. That one didn’t count.” She laughs at me. “Make-up sex?”

“We didn’t really fight,” she says. “I mean, we did fight, but that was way earlier like the day before, and the sex wasn’t to make-up from that. It was because of what happened the night before.” I nod and ponder the situation.

“We had a really good talk,” I say.

“Yes, we did,” she agrees.

“Do you feel like we really handled our issues? That we didn’t just fuck away our problem?” she nods.

“I really feel like we did,” she says. “You listened to me and how I felt and what I was thinking. You understood how serious it was, and I was able to understand the impact of my actions on you as well.”

“And then we fucked,” I say.

“And then we fucked… there’s nothing wrong with that, Christian. We’re a young, healthy, married couple in love with each other, who love sex. That’s one of the ways that we connect.” I nod.

“I was just afraid that we fucked away another problem,” I admit. “I feel so comfortable with how last night turned out. It almost seemed too easy.” Butterfly ponders the situation for a few more moments.

“Resolution sex.” I raise my eyebrows.

“Resolution sex… I like that.” I stretch out next to her. “I want to ask you a question if you’re willing to tell me.”

“I don’t have any secrets from you, Christian,” she says. I smile.

“Well, ladies have their feminine wiles and I understand if this is one of those things that you would rather keep to yourself.” She turns on her side to face me. God, she’s so fucking beautiful all thoroughly fucked and content in the morning.

“Okay, I’ll keep that in mind,” she says. I take a deep breath.

“I don’t really know how to put this, so I’m just going to jump right in, okay?” I say, and she nods. “Yesterday, when I left, you were one person, and when I came home, you were someone else completely. What happened?” She raises her eyebrows and diverts her gaze a bit.

“It’s just like we said, baby,” she begins, sitting up and pulling the covers with her, “we had a situation occur that caused you to be ripped completely out of your element. I knew the moment that you left for work yesterday that you were uncomfortable and unhappy and that was not fair to you. That was not what you signed up for. I knew that although I was firm in my convictions on how I felt about helping your family and about not being punished because I was caught in the middle, that we had to find a middle ground. We were in unchartered territory. Neither of us wanted to be there and neither of us knew how to handle it. You had to work your way down from an elevated level of aggression while I had to figure out what was going on.”

“Okay, that somewhat makes sense, but how is it that you were the one that had to make that move and not me?” I ask.

“How do you stop a charging bear?” she asks.

“I don’t know. Throw something at it?” I shrug. “I don’t often find myself in the path of a charging bear!”

“Actually, it depends on the bear,” she replies. “With brown bears, you curl up, stand still, or play dead. With black bears, you stand your ground, make a lot of noise, and fight back. With both bears, you can use bear pepper spray, but in neither case does anything indicate that the bear is just going to stop charging on its own. For better or for worse, some outside element has to calm that bear.”

“So… you became the bear calmer,” I conclude.

“Or the lion tamer,” she mumbles, but I don’t think I was supposed to hear that part. I raise my eyebrows and wait for her raise her gaze to me. Explain, Mrs. Grey. She wraps her arms around herself and the blankets around her body. This might be part of that “feminine wiles” thing that I said that she could keep to herself, so I wait to see if she wants to elaborate. She sighs.

“I’m going to admit to you that I’m way out of my element,” she says. “As much as we’ve played and as far as we’ve ventured, you know that I’m nowhere near as experienced as you are when it comes to the nuances of this lifestyle that we practice. Even when I take on the role as Dominatrix, I can only go so far—push the envelope to a certain limit—because I haven’t been trained, I haven’t done enough research, I only know so much…”

“I know that, Butterfly…” I begin. She raises her hand to gently silence me.

“You’re very accommodating to me and I appreciate that, but we may need to discuss moving forward a bit in our BDSM relationship.” My brow furrows. Moving forward? What does she mean by that? Is what we do already not enough for her? Shit, BDSM can get pretty fucking intense. She wants more?

“I’m listening,” I say.

“Good, ‘cause I’m floundering,” she says nervously, pulling her knees up to her chest. “After our talk yesterday, I realized that I didn’t know nearly enough about the dynamics of the D/s relationship to handle what was going on with you. We were on a precipice, and our next move would determine the fate of our relationship. Would we come out of this okay? Would we end up in a totally vanilla relationship? Would you have determined that I was able to give you what you needed as a wife but not as a submissive? Would you resent me and turn to others for your D/s needs? Would this be the beginning of the end for us?”

I want to tell her that there no fucking chance in hell of any of that shit happening, but I know that if I interrupt her, she’s just going to silence me again. So, I just continue to listen.

“I needed the help of someone with intimate knowledge of the D/s dynamic that I could trust, so I went to see Michel.” I frown.

“Who… is Michel?” I ask.

“Michelangelo? And Wolfgang? From the club?” she says. I think for a moment. Then recollection hits me—the mini-munch a couple of years ago, when she almost hit Elena with the beer bottle. Ah, good times…

“Oooooohh. I didn’t know you still kept in touch with them,” I say.

“Not all the time, but I have him on speed dial for emergencies. Anyway, we talked, and he explained to me the dangers of taking the D/s dynamic for granted. Although we refer to it as playtime, it’s not a game. It’s a very real part of our lives, and it’s an innate factor of your inner makeup. It’s a fundamental part of what makes you who you are. I’ve always understood that, but it came to me in blaring colors last night as you became borderline dysfunctional with the concept of being unable to punish me…”

Borderline?

“Bearing in mind that we each had problems with our roles yesterday, one of us had to take the reigns and be the voice of reason, but I didn’t know how. I didn’t even know that was what was needed. That’s where Michel came in. He helped me to see just how much I don’t know, how much I need to learn about myself—about who I need to be as a wife and a submissive; about getting in touch with myself and the things I’ve always loved about myself; about not forgetting who I am while I’m being who you need me to be. It’s no small feat being all those women—it’s very daunting, and here I am, jumping off into the Dominant/submissive pool like I know what I’m doing… it’s no wonder that, at different intervals during the course of this exercise and this relationship, we’ve been tearing at each other.”

“So…” I must interject so that I get an understanding of what she’s saying. “What you mean by ‘moving forward’ is that there’s more that you need to learn about the dynamic?”

“Well, yes,” she says, like it’s obvious. “What did you think I meant?” I shake my head.

“You don’t want to know. Keep talking.” I shake the wild thoughts from my head of the hedonistic things I’ve heard of and seen in the lifestyle that I thought my Butterfly was referring to. There’s no way in hell I planned on venturing into some of the avenues of the things that I’ve seen and heard of, and I was hoping and praying to God that she wasn’t suggesting it after I went off the rails a little because of a night of denied punishment. She momentarily examines me cautiously, but continues making her point.

“Long story short, Michel told me to reach back and remember the basics—always resort to the fundamentals when you find yourself drowning. Think about it. If you’re in deep water and you fight, you start to sink, but if you hold your breath and calm down, you float to the top. It was a little more detailed than that, but that’s the thrust. I remembered who I was when we fell in love, before life became complicated and I was in my head all the time—when things were simple, and I was simple… and… everything after that was easy.

“I remembered that crazy, dominant man who commanded a room when he walked into it and always drove me nuts—in a good way and a bad way…” she smiles to herself. “That first gray suit and that arrogant asshole and ‘just call me Grey…’”

Boy, she went way back!

“You made it clear that he was standing at the mental playroom door fighting for supremacy with his whip and his flogger, so he was the lion that had to be tamed. I needed clear, concise communication with you and in order to achieve that, I had to get past him. The only one that could get past him was the complete submissive—the lion tamer.”

So, that’s what that was about. Fuck if she didn’t get that shit perfect.

“But you didn’t tame the lion, Butterfly,” I protest. “You became the sacrifice. I wanted to eat you alive from the moment you came down those stairs yesterday, and that’s pretty much what I did before the night was over. My hairs were up and I was beating my chest every single second from that moment and through every sexual encounter we had last night. The inner me was clawing and tearing like a transforming werewolf the entire time…”

“And look at you now,” she interrupts. “Night before last, you left this room raging like a Klingon ready to do battle. Yesterday, you left the house barely hanging on to civility. I was surprised that you kissed me even on the cheek. You were ready to tear someone’s head off and although I don’t know what held you yesterday and kept you from lunch, I’m almost certain that someone at Grey House was picking pieces of their ass off the floor. Now, you’re as gentle as a lamb.” She leans forward on her knees. “I tamed the lion.”

Son of a bitch. She did tame the lion. How the fuck did I not see that? She explained it to me in plain English. She went back to the basics, became the perfect submissive—even in front of my family—without giving herself away. She maintained her poise and grace while yielding to me, allowing me to open doors for her, lead her out of the car, direct her into rooms, instruct her when it was time to leave, everything. She didn’t move without my permission. Her submission was subtle, but complete, and my inner and outer Dominant stood tall, proud, and arrogant, pleased beyond measure with her performance. When we got home, I both used her and rewarded her, like I would any perfect submissive. When the night was over, I was thoroughly sated…

And tamed.

“Well, it looks like the teacher has been taught,” I say, my voice slightly playful. “We’ve both learned some valuable lessons, I’d say, and… it appears there are still more to learn.”

“So, it appears,” she sighs.

“It’s been quite some time since I’ve instructed a submissive, Butterfly. We may have to undergo this learning together,” I admit. She shrugs, coquettishly.

“I’m okay with that if you are,” she says. “Remember, I’m pretty green to all of this. All I know is what you’ve exposed me to and what I’ve seen in my studies, which wasn’t much. I have a natural tendency for domination—when the mood strikes, and that’s few and far between—but for the most part, I’m flying by the seat of my pants here.”

“Well, let’s start with this…” I pull the covers from her breasts, allowing her pretty, pink nipples to pop out from under the sheets. “When we’re relaxing… like this, never—ever—cover these.” I raise an eyebrow at her. “I’m serious about that, understood?” The corner of her mouth rises slightly.

“Yes, Sir,” she answers sweetly.

*-*

I make slow love to my wife one more time before we get out of bed to face the day. There are a lot of plans to be made. Maria Sanchez is flying in tomorrow for debriefing and we’ll be doing the interview on location over the course of the three days. Mac is flying around like a bat out of hell while our staff are scurrying about like roaches setting up locations, security, wardrobes, securing NDA’s and background checks on staff at the gun range as well as Maria’s entourage. We’ll have a breakfast meeting to discuss final content and sign the paperwork on what will and won’t be allowed to be aired, just in case something gets caught in the interview or on camera that we don’t want disclosed.

Vickie is in seventh heaven fashioning my wife for the next three days, choosing colors and ensembles that will photograph well and look good on television—no loud colors or overly boisterous jewelry. The world already knows that we’re billionaires and our mansion, the fleet of Audis, and the crazy yacht that still hasn’t been moved back to the marina will speak volumes to that fact.

I don’t feel the need to call my tailor for anything new, but I did need the help of a professional stylist to get me screen-ready, so to speak. We chose pieces from my extensive wardrobe and added an additional accessory or two, but nothing too ostentatious or pretentious. Members of the family are expected to be caught in a cameo or three, so our stylists helped to design them as well to be prepared for the eventuality. And of course, the prince and princess of Grey Crossing—young Michael and Mackenzie—were both outfitted for their television debuts as well.

We were thoroughly worn out by day’s end and called it an early night, choosing to snuggle and rest for the evening since Friday would be an early morning of hair, make-up, and breast-pumping for my wife. I’ve also arranged for her to have an early-morning massage to help her relax before everything gets started as I know the weekend will be quite hectic.

I’m awake at sunrise and I summon Jason for a run to get prepared for the day. We have a few Paps waiting for us at the gate, but they foolishly attempt to keep up with us on foot instead of some motorized mode of transportation. Bad move.

When we return to the Crossing, Butterfly has just finished her shower and is preparing for her massage. I pass her on the way to mine and greet her with a kiss before proceeding to wash off the sweat of my run. Once we’re both primed and polished, we head to the Audis and to Grey House to our breakfast meeting with the broadcast journalist.

“Maria Sanchez. It’s a pleasure to finally meet you both in person.” Ms. Sanchez extends her hand to Butterfly first, giving her a formal shake, then to me. Draped in a pale peach sheath dress and an extremely high pair of stilettos, she appears warm and professional. She’s tiny—like my wife—short with a really small frame. I guess it’s a signature of short women to wear really high heels. I can honestly say that I haven’t met many women as short as my wife.

I’ve done my homework on Ms. Sanchez. That’s her maiden name. She’s married with three children and lives in New York. She’s Latin, 34 years old, born in the Dominican Republic. Her skin is a natural tan, more like a caramel, and she’s very petite. She moved to the states with her family when she was five and she’s been living here ever since. She studied at Columbia and cut her journalistic teeth with an internship at MSNBC. Although she never landed a permanent job at the network, a local celebrity spotted her and gave her a shot on staff at a morning show where she eventually worked her way up. Now, she’s prime time and nearly as big as Barbara Walters.

“So, you already know that I’m not a smut journalist,” Maria says as we sit down to a gourmet breakfast in the conference room of brioche French toast, bacon, potato pancakes, and fresh fruit. “The Paps are all over you, though—this whole Judd Rossiter thing; Ana’s father adopting her at 28; and there’s still the issue of the supposed misconduct charges that you were addressing in your interviews. Now, you guys are coming out with this exposé of sorts. It’s going to be quite the bit to bite off in an hour-long interview.”

“Thank you for getting my age correct,” Butterfly interjects. I frown. I’m not sure of what she’s referring to, but I let her continue. “I guess we’ll just have to keep our content as succinct as possible without sacrificing quality.”

“Or see if we can convince the producers to give us a two-hour time slot if all else fails,” I suggest. Maria shakes her head.

“Easier said than done,” she says. “We couldn’t convince him for two hours for President Obama or Bono.” I raise my eyebrows.

“You interviewed the President and Bono?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“I didn’t,” she answers honestly, “but two of my colleagues did, and it was a no-go on both. We’ve got good material on ice that we hope to air at a later date with their permission.” She shrugs. I don’t know how I feel about having material about my me and my wife on ice. We’ll have to discuss the logistics of that.

“We like the feel of your direction,” Butterfly points out as we continue our breakfast. “We think you can capture the essence of what we’re trying to portray without it looking rehearsed, kitschy, or ostentatious.”

“That’s the plan,” she says. “It’s going to be tricky, though. You live in a multimillion-dollar estate and you live a fairytale lifestyle.”

“People expect that,” I interject. “What they don’t expect is for us to be drinking out of solid gold goblets and our children to be sleeping in diamond-encrusted cribs.”

“Don’t they, though?” Maria jests before sipping her orange juice.

“Oh, you’ve got jokes,” Butterfly retorts. “No, we traded those for the platinum binkies.”

“Oh, of course,” Maria says, waving her hands, and the conversation continues just as lightheartedly.

Allen, Mac, and Joshua all join us throughout the course of the morning and we work out the final details of how the interviews will go for the next two and a half days. Andrea and Marilyn shadow us the entire time and we’re not even allowed—for the most part—to handle our own phones. The camera crew—and Maria—are following us around for what feels like 23 of 24 hours of the rest of the weekend and it becomes pretty clear that security is going to have to get almost violent with the Paps to keep them at a safe distance. Travel is going to be a task.

We shoot all the content for GEH on Friday afternoon. I give her a brief overview of my “humble” beginnings—the very short version of the story that Raynell Stanton was looking for. I was sure to throw in a bit of the bite, the killer instinct, and the mastermind that Raynell was sure I wasn’t willing to give… Ten short minutes of How a Bear Crushes the Competition Without Even Trying, just so she would know what she was missing. Then, we move on.

My wife had been swept away to “wardrobe and makeup” during my portion of the GEH interview. When she joins us to begin the tour of the facilities, she’s effortlessly flawless in a ruched gray skirt, black turtleneck sweater and simple black pumps with silver diamond hoops, her hair swept into a swooping ponytail. She looks classic and professional, right at home against GEH’s sleek designs and decors—once again, like she rightfully owns the place.

We visit key areas of the company before Maria requests time alone with Butterfly to see how she handles the camera on her own. I have every faith in my wife’s abilities, so I kiss her on the cheek and send them on her way, reminding them of the importance of avoiding proprietary areas and information while I prepare security for our departure.

“What’s the news?” I ask Jason when I get back to my office. “I know something is abuzz with a camera crew on site.”

“For the most part, they’re just trying to find out what’s going on,” he replies. “It’s only a matter of time, though, sir. Maria Sanchez is a well-known public personality. The moment they see her, you know the story breaks.”

“Then we have to do everything that we can to keep that from happening, or at least stall it for as long as we can. They’re not in the parking garage, correct?” He shakes his head.

“No, they can’t get pass the gates,” he confirms.

“Well, just make sure her crew goes down in the express elevators. Have them leave by the service gates while we and at least four Audis leave by the front gates. What can we do about Helping Hands? We can’t have a media circus there tomorrow. Butterfly will kill that portion of the interview before she allows that to happen and I concur.” Jason rubs his chin as he ponders the situation.

“Diversion tactics throughout the night. Have Maria’s crew meet Her Highness separately at Helping Hands,” he says. “Send a decoy entourage to Grey House in the morning to lead the Paps away from the Mercer house. Once the coast is clear, Her Highness can head on to Helping Hands. It’s rare that she goes in on a Saturday anyway, so they won’t be expecting it. Sunday, though… they’ll most likely follow us to the gun range.”

“That’s not a problem,” I tell him. “I’ve already arranged for private access to the gun range on Sunday morning. She’s leaving for New York on Sunday afternoon. By then, we can make an announcement that we were shooting footage for a human-interest piece to be aired later and they can go on their way.” Jason nods.

“Let’s just hope everything runs that smoothly,” he says. I sigh.

“Let’s just hope,” I concur.


ANASTASIA

Maria absorbs the posh surroundings as she strolls through the marble halls of Grey House with me and my husband. I’ll admit that the workspaces are open and well-appointed to maintain employee morale and reduce attrition. We want the best, and we want to keep the best, we assure her. She’s still a bit starry-eyed by the splendor of it all, but who wouldn’t be. I mean, let’s face it. Even the view of the boardroom is sexy.

Partially into the tour, she separates me and my husband so that she can get a feel for me on my own and how I function in this setting. I get it. Am I the trophy wife that everyone thinks I am, right? I don’t advertise that I also have an education in business, so no one knows, but Ms. Sanchez quickly discovers that I know my way around my husband’s company when I take over the tour on my own, describing certain projects that are in the works, carefully brushing over any delicate details that shouldn’t be revealed.

She further puts me to the test by specifically asking if it’s okay for us to visit quality control, unless there’s something too confidential in the works. I laugh to myself, thinking about the XRC90 that just got Rollins fired a little while ago and agree to show her around the department. Needless to say, she’s thoroughly impressed when I engage the new department head, Omar Braxton, in a conversation about “that transmitter” and he anxiously wants to show me his data, but I must curb his enthusiasm for another time as this information is, in fact, proprietary. It goes without saying that Maria is convinced that I’m not just Mr. Grey’s pretty little wife.

Once the tour and today’s portion of fact-finding is complete, I discover that getting out of Grey House that evening looks like something out of Mission Impossible. Jason, Chuck, Christian, and I load into one Audi SUV while various members of security load into three other Audis. Maria and her crew are loaded into her two vehicles and directed to take the back exit precisely at that time that we are exiting the front gates.

“Why all the vehicles?” I ask.

“The Paps are on the scent that something’s going on, they just don’t know what,” Christian says, and I see the flashing cameras just as we pass. “If they corner Maria at the hotel, you won’t be able to get the spot at Helping Hands tomorrow, because they’ll follow her trying to get the scoop. She has strict instructions not to come to the Center if she’s been followed by the Paparazzi for obvious reasons.” I nod.

“Yes, that could be a disaster, but I’ll be driving to Helping Hands tomorrow. What’s to stop them from following me?”

“Our hope is that they won’t act as a team and coordinate strategies, in that they’ll maintain that ‘every man for himself’ mentality that we’ve become accustomed to. If so, there’ll be enough frivolous activity with the Audis going to and from the Crossing throughout the night and morning hours to various Grey properties to raise suspicions and act as decoys. I’ll conspicuously leave in the morning and go to Grey House, drawing the lion’s share of the attention. It’s well-known that you don’t normally go into the Center on weekends, so our hope is that you’ll be free to go to Helping Hands once I leave, and Maria will be able to meet you there.”

“You’ve covered every base, Mr. Grey,” I say, patting him on the knee.

“I try,” he says with a smile. “It helps to have the best security team.” I see Jason glance at him in the rearview mirror. “How did the rest of the tour go?”

“Very well, I think. I get the feeling she wanted to make sure that I wasn’t your typical social-climbing-bracelet wife. I can’t very well be called a ‘trophy wife’ because I’m a doctor and I had my own position in my own right. She’s asked to see the condo, so I called Courtney to be sure it’s presentable.” Christian frowns.

“Why does she want to see your condo?” he asks. I shrug.

“I’m sure she wants to see where I came from before we were married. I’m surprised she didn’t ask to see Escala, but there was no need for you to prove that you didn’t come from meager beginnings.”

“And there’s no need for you to prove it either,” he says defensively.

“Yes, Christian, there is,” I retort. “There’s always a reason for me to prove it. There’s no reason in your eyes, and of course, I love you for that, but to the rest of the world, I’m a gold digger. If we’re going to expose ourselves this way, we can’t be afraid to open the book.” He sighs impatiently.

“And how are you going to explain keeping the place so spotless after we’ve been together for two years?” he asks.

“The truth,” I tell him. “I love my condo. It’s a terrible market to sell, and I’ve been subletting it to a friend who takes care of it for me.” His hand runs through his hair. “What’s the problem?” He pauses for a moment before he speaks.

“I don’t trust people, Butterfly,” he says. “If they can spin something to make it look some way other than it actually is, I expect them to do just that.”

“We’ve vetted Maria,” I remind him. “We’ve seen her work. She doesn’t operate that way. She’s even forewarned us about the impression others might get about some of the footage and the story. I really don’t think we have anything to worry about. If I did, I wouldn’t take her.” He sighs.

“Very well. We’ll see how it goes.” He takes my hand. “I just don’t want this to backfire on us in any way.”

“Neither do I, but we can’t live our entire life behind a veil. We already know that some of it has to be kept secret just because of who we are, but there must be some aspects of our lives where we aren’t constantly looking over our shoulders and waiting for something bad to happen or waiting for ‘the spin,’ or something else. We’re never going to get to that place without a little exposure. Remember what we agreed? Remove some of the splendor? The unified front?”

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” he says, squeezing my hand. “Just know that I’m still not against putting you and the kids in a bubble… and don’t think I can’t do it.”

“I know you can, Mr. Grey,” I say, rolling my eyes.

*-*

Both Carrick and Grace show up Helping Hands on Saturday morning. Carrick isn’t looking for any camera time, but he does want to make sure that his wife isn’t subjected to any undue stress. We’ve agreed not to discuss the accreditation fiasco on film—just the fact that accreditation is pending and what we hope to accomplish once it’s established. We walk Maria through what a normal day looks like at Helping Hands, careful to only show faces of low-risk families and only with their permission, doing an interview or two with mothers who agreed to be on camera and wanted to discuss how the Center is helping them.

By mid-afternoon, Christian’s diversion tactics are proving stellar as the Paps are nowhere in sight, and Maria, her crew, and I head to my condo. A quick 30-minute tour of my luxury digs overlooking Elliot Bay draws a few questions from the journalist about how such a young woman, a successful psychiatrist though I may be, came upon such lavish accommodations. I tell her the story about the bitter divorce and my stroke of luck in landing the coveted piece of real estate and that even though it was a steal for the price, it wasn’t cheap by any means.

She questions my décor, including the very masculine guest room. I could easily dismiss it with the fact that the apartment is being sublet and that could be the decorating style of the current tenants, but I feel no need to lie to her and dishonesty always comes out in the wash. So, I tell her the truth about Al being my best friend, this being his crash bedroom, and him having a key to my apartment for emergencies. When she furthers questions and discovers that this is the same Al that sat in on the meetings the prior morning as GEH’s attorney, she insists on riding back to the Crossing in the Audi with me to get more information on the relationship.

 

As I fill her in on the development of our little group, starting with me and Al as children, then adding Val and Gary in college, Maxie during my internship and Phil bringing up the rear as our Document Services guy at CCFW, Maria jokes that we sound like an episode of Friends. I humor her, but I totally disagree. Although there are six of us and six of them, I see no similarities in the personalities of the individuals or the dynamics of the group.

It’s early evening by the time we get back to the Crossing, and my boobs are ready to explode. I must excuse myself for a little while to pop a tit in the mouth of my babes or there’s going to be a flood to rival the days of Noah any second now. Mikey is more than ready for me when I get to the nursery and Minnie is just getting ready for her bath. I’m only to happy to silence his protests with an aching mammary that I am so surprised didn’t leak well before now. I relax in the rocking chair an accommodate his eager little sucking mouth, his little hand squeezing my mound as if he hopes to produce more milk. I sigh with relief as I feel my breast quickly begin to empty at my son’s coaxing, rocking him while gently humming the lullaby I often sang to him and his sister while they were inside me. He nurses for several minutes, seemingly taking only a few breaths for fear that the milk may escape if he stops suckling for even a moment, but after a short while, he calms to a steady rhythm drinking more evenly now that my breast is emptying and he’s beginning to get his fill.

I watch as his blueish-gray eyes lose their focus a bit and his little lids relax only slightly, not in weariness, but in comfort, and I can’t help but laugh to myself. He looks like his father, right after he’s had an orgasm and he’s basking in the afterglow. I don’t know what made me think of that, especially right at this moment while I’m feeding my son, but that look of contentment in his eyes couldn’t be compared to anything else. I guess it’s just that way with men… like father, like son.

I get the sneaking feeling of being watched, and just as I’m about to investigate why I feel like I’m being examined, Keri comes from just behind me with a clean and expectant Minnie Mouse, who was probably glaring at me all the way from the en suite wondering if her brother was going to suck up all the goods.

“Do you want me to give her a bottle?” Keri asks, looking down at Mikey.

“No,” I say, shaking my head. “I think Sir Michael is content. You can burp him and if he needs a little more, he can take the bottle. There’s a whole other breast that needs to be emptied.” I dislodge Mikey from the teat and adjust the emptied boob back into my bra. My chest actually looks lopsided, now. I release the other exploding mound from its prison and swap babies with Keri. Minnie latches on immediately, emptying the right boob even faster than her brother emptied the left.

“She must know she has an audience waiting,” I jest. Keri chuckles.

“I guess soh!” she says as she pats Mikey’s back, trying the help him give up gas. She takes him to the other rocking chair and we finish our task in relative silence, making sure the children are content before we take them down to the family room.

curly locks

Michael Allen Grey

Those blue eyes... (photo by Kim Jew) #toddlers

Mackenzie Anastasia Grey

The children make their television debut under the protective eyes of Christian and me, not to mention a mass of security. Maria jokes about how it’s not fair that two gorgeous people should produce such stunning children, and we don’t know if she’s only saying these things for the cameras, but we’re certainly smitten with our babies, so we can’t be unbiased. Christian took the liberty of showing Maria and the camera crew around various parts of the mansion and the grounds while I fed the children since we were running short on time and still had portions of the home interview that needed to be shot.

Elliot managed to steal some camera time, although Val opted to steer clear. She hasn’t really liked the limelight since her medical issues and such. Grace only capitalized on a moment or two to help publicize the work of Helping Hands while I was at the Center and Carrick stayed incognito, much like Val. I think he stayed out of sight because we still don’t know why he was being followed. Mia and Ethan are somewhere buried deep in wedding whatnots and never even made an appearance.

All things work and interview come to a halt for dinner and we feed the crew and staff while we eat. We then continue the interview in different portions of the house, different settings, and different topics, before calling it a night. The final segments will be shot tomorrow at the gun range and by now, the Paps are on that something’s definitely up with the Greys. There are only a few of them at the gate when Maria and her crew leave for the hotel in the evening, but we’re sure that there will be an entourage in the morning.

Unfortunately, that’s not all that’s waiting for us in the morning…

*-*

“Ana, Christian, before we begin, is there someplace quiet where we can talk?”

We didn’t have much trouble getting to the gun range in the morning. Even less trouble getting in when we get here. The Paps knew that the true story was with Maria, so they stuck to her for the night. Unfortunately for them, she had a back-up plan to get away from them as well—decoy vans to head in one direction and harmless, rented, soccer-mom-looking minivans to bring equipment and staff to the gun range. There were a few Paps who were smart enough not to fall for the decoy trick twice, but not enough to cause a problem, and they still couldn’t get past the private barricades once they got to the gun range.

Now, Maria stands in the lobby of the West Coast Armory, her face concerned, but not grave, requesting a private audience with us before we shoot the last segment, pun intended. Christian frowns.

“One second.” He goes over to the owner and has a quick word. I want to question Maria about exactly what’s going on, but I know it would probably only antagonize her and the situation further.

“We can use this office,” Christian says, gesturing us towards a door behind the counter. When we enter the office, Christian switches on the lights. There’s a desk directly in front of us and a table near the far wall. Maria gestures us over to the table and we all take a seat. She pulls out an apparatus of some kind that looks like a mini-handheld television.

“Apparently, there was a staff member that was added at the last minute to replace one that was injured—a grip from another set. Although he signed all the necessary documentation and passed all the background checks, he wasn’t sufficiently briefed on all the protocol surrounding this particular interview. Keeping in line with our agreement for full disclosure and only using pre-approved material, there’s something that I should show you.”

Maria pushes a button on the apparatus she’s holding, and the screen comes alive with a rough and uncut scene of me in the nursery with Mikey. I’m in the rocking chair and you can only see the back of me and the top of Mikey’s head, but it’s clear that I’m breastfeeding. I’m humming our lullaby to him, occasionally singing portions of the song and lovingly looking at my son as he nurses.

“I… I remember this… I came upstairs to feed the children. Who…?” I frown as I continue to watch the footage and this grip, who apparently knows his way around a camera, zooms in on my private moment with my son. Keri walks in and blocks his view of me and he curses. That must have been when we swapped Mikey for Minnie. Thank God Keri was standing there, or he might have gotten a picture of my bare breast! My fingers touch my lips and I feel myself flush for a moment, which doesn’t get by Christian.

“Butterfly?” he says, softly, causing Maria to her gaze to me. I’m still watching the screen, waiting for even the slightest slip. Christian’s hand is gently caressing my back as I remain in attentive silence.

“Butterfly, what is it?” I gently silence him by holding up my hand as I watch the footage until Keri moves. Minnie is settled, and I’m rocking and humming again. This scene plays on for a few minutes more before I hear other voices, the grip guys curses again, and the camera jolts before the footage ends.

“That’s it,” she says with a sigh. “That’s all of it. I’m really sorry. I’ve worked with every person on this team for years and nothing like this has ever happened before. This was a new addition the day we were flying out and I was assured that he had been briefed. Apparently, he had not.” I’m still sitting with my fingers on my lips. “Ana?”

“I was breastfeeding my children,” I say, finally, raising my eyes to her. “You saw, I was feeding my son.” I turn to Christian. “Mikey was on this breast and when Keri moved, Minnie was on this one.” I demonstrate moving my children from breast to breast. “What was he looking for? What was he trying to do? He sat there watching me feed my children for at least… what, 10 or 15 minutes? What was he hoping for, a nip slip or something?”

Christian’s jaw tightens as he turns his glare to Maria. He wants an answer to my question.

“I don’t know what his intentions were,” Maria says. “I could speculate and say that he might have been hoping that the bonus material would secure him a position on a more coveted show or even a promotion of some kind. He knows that our contracts and agreements are airtight and there’s no way that he could have sold the footage to anyone outside of the network without immeasurable repercussions. There’s no way he could have profited off this footage, so I have no way of knowing what he was trying to do.”

“Oh, there’s one way,” Christian retorts, his voice betraying his barely suppressed anger. “Haul his ass in here and ask him point blank what the fuck he was getting at!” Maria sighs.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Christian,” she says, her voice dropping a bit.

“And why not?” my husband nearly roars.

“That’s why!” she says, gesturing to him. “You’re passionate and ready to rip someone apart, and I have no doubt that you can. We don’t want to give him any kind of grounds to take action against you.”

“Action against me!” Christian says, struggling to maintain his composure. “He took unauthorized footage of my wife in our children’s nursery and we’re talking about action against me? I must be hallucinating this conversation!” Maria sighs again.

“Please listen to me,” she says, her voice firm, but soothing. “I’ve been in very close proximity to the two of you for nearly every minute of the last 48 hours. I’ve watched you eat; I’ve watched you work; I’ve watched you together; I’ve watched you apart; I’ve watched you with family and friends, with your children, and with your colleagues and subordinates. I’ve watched you in just about every setting that a person or couple could be in and it wasn’t until about five minutes ago that I discovered that you call her ‘Butterfly.’”

I look over at Christian and frown. He doesn’t take his eyes of Maria. He didn’t call me Butterfly around her? I hadn’t even noticed.

“From the expression on Ana’s face, I take it that this is a regular occurrence. Yet, you have been able to keep it from me for two days. That’s because you’re a man of control. You control yourself, your surroundings, and you definitely control the release of information about you—and that’s something that you either didn’t want made public, or you hadn’t decided yet.

“Now, your wick has burned all the way down to the wax and there is visible dynamite underneath—dynamite that I haven’t seen in 48 hours—and you want me to bring in the powder keg,” she concludes.

“You said it yourself,” Christian says, his voice even, “I’m passionate about my wife and my family, and I have a right to confront him about what he did.”

“I understand that,” Maria replies. “However, while I must protect you and your privacy, I must also assure his safety while he’s on the job. You must see how you’re putting me in an impossible situation here.” Christian sucks his teeth and nods.

“Why tell us about this at all, then?” Christian says with an angry shrug. “You could have handled this between you and your staff and your station and just trashed the footage. Why bring this to my attention if I have no say-so in it?”

“You do have a say-so in it,” Maria disputes. “I can’t, in good conscience, shoot anything in your home of you or your family, your business, your life, without making you aware of it or without your permission…”

“And you can’t use it without our permission,” I pinpoint. That’s what this is all about, isn’t it?

“I wouldn’t use it without your permission,” she says succinctly. “I have no intention of using it at all. It wasn’t part of the agenda we discussed,” she says pointedly, not taking down to my obvious accusatory tone. “However…” her voice trails a bit. And here’s the clincher. “This footage was shot on my watch. I have to take responsibility for it whatever happens to it. It’s now the property of the station, and whether it’s used or destroyed, I have to make you aware of it.”

“So, what you’re trying to tell us in a veiled manner,” Christian begins, “is that you can still use this footage, correct?” That’s what I’m getting at.

“We could, yes, but not legally without your permission,” Maria repeats. “Remember, you asked,” she says, pointedly. “You asked why say anything about it? Why not just destroy it? This is the answer. You have to know about it. I have to make you aware of it, even if I destroy it, because it was shot by one of my staff on my watch in your home. There’s no hidden agenda here, guys. This is not a reality show. I don’t set up bad situations so that I can catch you in candidly horrible moods and compromising positions. What you see is what you get. I don’t operate in shady techniques, so if there is a question or a concern or a suspicion that you have, come on out with it!”

I think the broadcast journalist lady is getting offended.

“My only question, concern, or suspicion is why I can’t confront the man who snuck around my house and filmed my wife in a semi-exposed state!” Christian huffs. “You talk about protection of our privacy and being on the up-and-up, but how would you feel if this were you? What if you found out that your privacy, your rights had been violated in the confines of your own home and the person who did it is being squirreled away and protected from you because of something someone thinks you’re going to do and you don’t even get the right to question him? How strong would your faith be in that organization?”

Maria examines Christian and then me for several moments, then rolls her eyes around the room in contemplation.

“I want you to know that I have never been in this position before,” she confesses. “I’m going to ask that you and Ana please move to the other side of the table.”

Christian and I look at each other. In any other situation, I think we would be offended. Under the circumstances, it doesn’t seem like such an unreasonable request. We stand and walk around the table. Christian pulls my chair out and I take a seat. As he sits, he immediately pulls out his phone as does Maria. They both talk in hushed voices, and in the next few moments, Jason and Chuck enter the room and stand near the desk. Oh, shit. A minute or two later, two other guys enter the office. One stands near the desk with Chuck and Jason while the other comes over to the table and takes the seat next to Maria.

“Ana, Christian, this is Reginald Blanke,” Maria says. “He’s our substitute grip guy and the one who shot the footage.”

“The unauthorized footage of my wife breastfeeding our children in their nursery in an otherwise off-limits portion of the house, correct?” Christian asks, glaring at the grip guy.

“That’s correct,” Maria says.

“I’d like to hear his answer,” Christian retorts, still glaring at Grip Boy.

“I… think I should probably have legal representation present,” he says, his voice small.

Wrong answer.

“Oh,” Christian says, his voice taking on sarcastic surprise. “Now, you want legal representation. You didn’t seem to think that was a problem while you were filming my wife and her exposed breast in my children’s bedroom. So, maybe we should just end the questions and the interview right now, withdraw our consent for this whole thing, and sue you and your network until I’ve decimated you and all your hopes and dreams, hmm? Then you can go on and seek your legal representation.

Christian sits back in his seat and waits for Grip Boy’s response. He’s pale and looks like he wants to speak. His lips are moving, but nothing is coming out of his mouth.

“Reggie,” Maria says, calmly, her head down, “answer the questions. You don’t have a leg to stand on and this man will bury you so far into obscurity that they will never find you with a birth certificate, full bio, DNA, and hound dogs.”

I almost want to laugh at the accuracy and the comedy of the statement. Yet, inside, I feel… angry. Why is he sitting here all afraid and bashful? He was behind the camera yesterday cursing at missed opportunities, so why is he sitting here today all anxious and timid? And what was he going for? If all he wanted was quiet and private moments, he got at least ten minutes of that, but he cursed when Keri blocked his view and when someone interrupted him. So, what was he looking for? What footage was he really trying to get?


CHRISTIAN

Blanke pulls at his collar a bit and adjusts in his seat while Maria mumbles something to him that I can’t quite hear. It doesn’t really matter, because I’ll pull the plug on this whole thing and just go about showing the world in my own way that my wife and I won’t be victims anymore. So, this little opportunist has about five seconds to open his mouth before Operation-Papa-Bear-Grey-Has-Lost-His-Ever-Loving-Rabbit-Ass-Mind goes into effect.

“Yes, sir,” Blanke mumbles, barely over a whisper.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that,” I say. I expect submissives to be shy and retiring, not intrusive, perverted opportunists who try to get partially naked pictures of my wife. He clears his throat.

“Yes, sir, I took the unauthorized footage,” he says, but won’t elaborate.

“Why?” I ask. He sighs and starts talking, his face buried in his chest. I can’t hear anything he’s saying.

“Let’s play a game,” I interrupt him. “Unless you want to repeat your entire story twice, let’s pretend that my face is that camera lens that you were looking through when you were recording my wife, and try telling that story one more time, shall we?” I fold my hands on the table and allow him to start again. When he makes eye-contact with me, I realize that he’s really just a kid. He’s probably only 23 or 24 years old, but I don’t give a fuck, because his dick is fully grown!

“I was just trying to get some cutting-edge footage from behind the camera so that they would consider putting me on more assignments,” he says. “I get stuck on the local stuff and the fluff pieces, shorts and stuff and I don’t get any kind of credit or anything. I just wanted to show Maria that I could get some real material.”

“And you did this without any consideration for the contracts you signed?” I retort. “We were very specific about the coverage that we wanted to use. We made our specifications completely clear to Maria and to your company before we invited you into our home, into our lives—and if you were unsure about what was acceptable and unacceptable, then you should have cleared it first before you went rogue trying to make a name for yourself!”

“I knew she would have to tell you, Mr. Grey,” Blanke defends. “I knew we would need your permission before we used any of the footage…”

“You would need my permission before you shot any of the footage,” I clarify. “Even the location of candid shots was cleared with us. Although the nursery was cleared with us and that footage already taken, my wife breastfeeding our children therein was not!”

“I took the footage straight to Maria this morning,” he defends. “I haven’t shown it to anyone else or did anything else with it.”

“You very well better hope you haven’t!” I snap. “Because if that footage shows up anywhere else, life as you know it is over.” Maria leans in to him and mumbles, “I told you.”

“You. Shot. Unauthorized. Footage. Of private. Moments. Of me. With my. Children.”

The growling, deep, menacing voice is coming from my Butterfly that silences everyone in the room. I was so focused on this Blanke motherfucker that I didn’t notice that she’s been sitting here this entire time simmering. I look over at my wife and I can see that her temper is now holding on by a spider’s web.

“You snuck around my house like a prowler; you lurked in the doorway of my infants’ bedroom and you filmed video coverage of me and my exposed breast with my babies without my permission like a sick peeping tom. You violated our rights, our privacy, our trust, and your contract. Now, besides the fifty or hundred million dollars that it would cost me for doing so, which I would gladly pay right now just for the opportunity, you give me one good reason why I shouldn’t leap across this table and rip your eyes out of their fucking sockets right now!”

Good. Fucking. Grief. She is scaring me. I reach over to touch her to try to calm her. Her fists are clenched, and the portion of her hands that are exposed—her knuckles—are like ice. She doesn’t react at all to my touch. I throw a cautionary glance towards Maria, whose brow furrows questioningly at me.

“I… um…” Blanke swallows, his eyes darting warily between me and my wife. Her fist still clenched, she addresses him again.

“You took the liberty of wandering through my home until you located me—alone, in my children’s bedroom, with my babies, in a state of partial undress. You say you were looking for cutting-edge footage. What kind of cutting-edge footage, Reggie?” She injects a heinous amount of venom into his name. “You got a solid ten minutes of a mother nursing her child. That’s real cutting-edge. I’d say that’s a whole lot more cutting edge than watching me fire my nine at the gun range, wouldn’t you?” She adds, her sarcasm evident.

A small sheen of sweat starts to bead on Blanke’s forehead and he looks to Maria for guidance, but gets no assistance from the journalist.

“You cursed when my nanny blocked your view of me,” she points out, “when we swapped the babies and I swapped breasts. You sat there for several more minutes… waiting—until somebody’s voice interrupted you and you had to flee. You got several minutes of footage of nothing but my back and me singing to my babies and you cursed both times you missed the chance to get something else. What. Were you. Waiting for?”

We all know the answer to that question, but Butterfly is trying to get him to admit it. He’d rather chew nails than admit that he was hoping to get a glimpse of her bare breast for whatever purpose—to sell, to use as leverage, for his own perverted thrill—but that was his goal, and everyone in the room knows it.

Butterfly’s fists open, and her hands flatten on the table. Her jaw tightens, and she takes in a breath and releases it. If I didn’t know better, I would swear… oh, fuck.

I turn to face my wife in the vain hope that my movement and proximity will distract her. I place one arm around the back of her chair, gently stroking her back and the other on the table just behind her elbow. I’m leaning slightly forward, my legs parted, my feet flat on the floor, my weight shifted towards my calves. I can move quickly if I must, and this fucker is not answering fast enough.

“I was feeding my son, for God’s sake!” she shoots. “I know women do it in public. I’ve done it in public, but I still cover up when I do it! I wasn’t in public; I was in private—behind closed doors, and you were deliberately trying to get a glimpse! On camera, no less!” she accuses finally. His eyes widen.

“I was no… I was…” He looks like a floundering fish searching for water.

“Don’t try to deny it!” Butterfly retorts. “You won’t admit it, and nobody here will say it, but I know. You sure as hell wasn’t looking for ten tender minutes of me nursing my babies because you got that! So, what the hell were you looking for, you fucking perv? There was no reason in God’s name for you to be in the private living area. What the hell were you doing on the second floor anyway?”

Related imageI see a huge question mark appear in Maria’s eyes almost like a cartoon and the gentleman who had been quiet and standing with Chuck and Jason chooses now to speak.

“Come to think of it,” he says, “I sent you to get shots of the aquarium on the ground level. Did you ever get those shots?”

“Y-yeah… I got… I got those,” Blanke responds.

“So, I try to give you a chance—let you out of my sight for a few minutes to get shots of the aquarium, and you go wandering around the house, taking shots of the Misses?” the guy asks incredulously. Blanke starts to squirm again.

“It wasn’t like that!” Blanke defends. “I got back on the elevator to come back to the main shoot, but I wasn’t paying attention and must’ve pushed the wrong floor. When it opened to the second floor, I heard her voice and saw her going towards the room, so… I decided to follow and… just hope for some candid shots…”

“Liar!” Butterfly’s voice reverberates off the walls and her gloved fist comes down hard on the surface of the table, causing a loud, thunderous crashing sound to rumble through the room, silencing everyone in the office and in the lobby outside. I refrain from leaping at her when I realize that she hasn’t risen out of her seat.

“Ana, he’s trying to explain…” Maria interjects.

“He’s lying!” Butterfly interrupts venomously, turning her gaze back to Blanke. “The center elevator was locked. Security made sure of it. That means he had to take the elevator on the south side of the house, at least 800 feet away. Now, unless he has the hearing of a bat and Superman’s x-ray vision to see through walls, he’s lying about hearing or seeing me go to my children’s nursery, and even if he had, what gave him the right to come snooping in on my private time with my babies? He still hasn’t answered that question!” she spits. “I am not. A piece of meat!” she spews. “And it’s because of the thinking of assholes like him that I can’t escape that goddamn stereotype!”

For the first time, I see Maria lose her composure. Her fingers rub roughly at her eyebrows and her decorum flies out the window.

“Oh my God Reggie how could you be so fucking stupid!?” she hisses in a vicious whisper all in one breath. “He told you to get panoramic footage of the aquarium… the goddamn aquarium! The only live subjects you had to shoot were the fish!” She sighs an exasperated sigh and never raises her gaze from the table… and I suddenly get a brilliant idea.

“Use the footage,” I say, flatly. Everyone’s head shoots up at once.

“What?” Butterfly says, incredulously.

“Use the footage,” I repeat. “It shows you in your best light—unrehearsed, candid, beautiful. You didn’t know the cameras were rolling. You were perfect with our children—gentle, attentive, caring, what every mother should be… totally oblivious to the fact that anyone was watching you. Anything that we did over the last three days could have been staged or rehearsed… except that.”

Butterfly still looks uncertain while the wheels are visibly turning in Maria’s head. I decide to sweeten the deal a little to help ease my wife’s fears a bit.

“I have a few stipulations,” I continue. Maria’s back straightens.

“They are…?” she asks.

“First, once this conversation is over, he’s off set,” I say pointing to Blanke. “A member of my security staff stays with him until you all board the plane. I don’t trust him anymore and that’s the only way you and he avoid a lawsuit for his breach.” His face pales.

“Done,” Maria agrees, which won’t be difficult since this is the last shoot we have to do. “Next?”

“Anything he has filmed is unusable. No matter what it is, if it needs to be filmed again, you need to let me know before you leave Seattle. If he worked as a grip, fine. If he was behind the camera, no.” Maria nods again.

“He’s probably only gotten landscapes and maybe backgrounds here and there. Grips don’t do any shooting. Like he said, he was hoping to get a foot in somewhere. Maybe now, he’ll stick to rolling the dollies,” she says.

“Good. Then that makes my third stipulation much easier. He gets no credit for the footage.” Butterfly perks up with that announcement. Blanke’s mouth falls open.

“Of course,” Maria says, with no hesitation.

“But I shot it,” Blanke protests, “and you’re using it! You have to give me credit!” Maria’s head jerks violently over her shoulder at him.

“We still have an interview and you’re not being sued, Reggie. Now, shut up and hope you still have a job when we get back to New York!” she spits. Blanke zips his lips at Maria’s command and she turns her attention back to me.

“Anything else?” she asks.

“I think that about covers it,” I say, sitting back in my seat and folding my arms. Maria nods and turns her attention to Ana.

“How about you, Ana? Are you okay with that? Is there anything you’d like to add?” Butterfly purses her lips before speaking.

“Thank you for asking me,” she says, her tone firm. “No, that’s fine with me,” she says as she stands from the table. She entwines her fingers together to press her shooting gloves down between them on each hand, and strides out of the room, those black jeans hugging that beautiful, round ass. Even with her hips swaying seductively from side to side, her entire garb and demeanor—from the bulletproof vest and black baseball cap to the black Timberland hiking boots—labels her as a force to be reckoned with and causes every man in the room to silently step aside as she exits. Maria groans almost inaudibly under her voice and I roll my eyes and sigh, causing Maria to turn her attention to me.

“Get ready for some fancy shootin’,” I say, in one of the worst deep south accents I’ve ever heard, causing Maria to involuntarily scoff a laugh before shaking her head at me. She looks back at Blanke and stands from the table.

“Get ‘im outta here,” she says dismissively, pointing a thumb behind her back to no one. I nod at Jason, signaling him to make sure that someone sticks to this asshole until he leaves the state. I pop my neck and prepare for a tense morning, hoping that Butterfly’s anger and aggression at this situation doesn’t shine through on camera. It’s not the image we’re trying to portray. Nearly everyone has left the office and Maria and I are the last to exit.

“Christian,” Maria stops me before we go out to the range. “You have to tell me something.” I turn to face her. “You know I call it like I see it. While Ana was talking to Reggie, you tried to come off as attentive and protective, but you looked more like the tackle ready to sack the quarterback… or was I misreading that?” I scratch my stubble before answering.

“Maria. My wife’s father is a Marine. If you do any research on any of her years prior to meeting me, which I’m sure you already have, you’re going to find some horrendous things. My wife got terrible news while we were on our honeymoon that she could do nothing about. My security staff and I took turns—15-minute non-stop sessions—of her whaling away at mitts on our hands with boxing gloves on hers until she wore herself out. It was a very painful experience for all of us. You saw the heavy bag in the workout room that now takes the brunt of that abuse.

“When I first met my wife, before we started dating, I discovered that we worked out at the same gym. I practice kickboxing. She practices Krav Maga. I watched her put her instructor—a martial arts specialist the size of one of my bodyguards—in a submission hold, and have him banging on the mat begging for mercy. His crime? He attacked her from behind. It took three men to coax her off him, because she wasn’t letting go.

“This part is off the record,” I preface, and she nods. “I had a crazy ex show up at my penthouse. She wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer and she was very disrespectful to Butterfly, who wasn’t my wife at the time. She was in the kitchen cutting vegetables at the time. The crazy ex threw some flippant threat at my wife as she was leaving. Butterfly launched that knife at that woman, which sliced her split ends and landed point first in the door right in front of her.”

Maria’s eye’s pierce as I tell the tale of Elena’s last visit to the penthouse.

“Oh, that’s not the end. When the crazy ex left, and I scolded Butterfly for throwing the knife, indicating that had she not missed, she could have killed the woman, she assured me that she hadn’t missed and proved it by opening the drawer and launching two more knives at my front door, both of them lining up perfectly next to the first, not a centimeter apart. Had I not ceded that I got her point, there would have been more holes in the door—which, if I remember correctly, she promptly repaired with a nail file and caulk.”

Maria is still in awe, but tries not to scoff at the last statement.

“If you saw me about to sack the quarterback, you were right, because had she leapt at that man and got her hands on him, God save him. That woman is a lethal weapon. She may be registered for those guns, but she should be registered for a whole lot more. She’s deadly gorgeous, she’s smart and intuitive, she’s strong, she can operate basic projectile weapons, and she holds a Ph.D. and knows her way around the human body and mind. She’s a whole lotta hell in a small package. She’s someone I’d want on my team in any fight—mental or physical. I was never your worry… she was.”


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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 19—Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?

Please take a moment to say a prayer for all of the victims of and families affected by the tragedy in Paris.

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 19—Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner?

ANASTASIA

Bean One and Bean Two have spoken. They hate ferries. Lo and behold, Chuck lives on Bainbridge Island. While I love the water and would spend as much time as humanly possible in aquatic surroundings, my children have declared unequivocally that while we share this body, they are having none of this boat shit. Needless to say, I am unbelievably miserable for the entire 45 minutes that we are sailing across Puget Sound. It’s not much better when we hit land either, because after that boat ride, the motion of the car is almost unbearable.

We only drive for about 15 more minutes before we pull up into the driveway of a quaint house on Ferncliff Ave NE. It’s not what I expected at all—a cute little yellow house on a hill. It actually looks like a little starter house for a small family. We drive up a winding driveway to the front door. Ben opens my door and we proceed to the small circular steps at the front door.

“Anah!” Keri greets us at the door and I give her a hug. “It’s goot to see you! You heal?”

“I’m working on it,” I tell her as she invites us in.

Once I get inside, I realize that the inside is larger than it looks on the outside. It’s very nice and cozy. Chuck says he makes more than me and he’s living in this homey little place? He must be sitting on a bundle!

“Chartlez is back in de den,” she says, gesturing us to the den.

“Ben, will you please go make sure he’s decent? I don’t want to walk in and accidentally see ‘Little Chuck.’”

“Will do, Ana,” he says as he wanders off to Chuck’s den.

“How is he doing?” I ask Keri when Ben disappears. She shakes her head and frowns.

“Not vety well,” she says sadly. “He won’t take de medicine. Him hutt, you see it in his eyes, but he won’t take de medicine. Hard to watch him hutt…”

“I can imagine,” I respond.

“Him doing bettah dan he was, but him still hutt.” I nod.

“We would like for you guys to come to our mansion for Thanksgiving dinner, but I have to see if I can convince Chuck first.”

“I would like dat,” she says. “Get around oddah people.”

“Good! Good! Listen, I’ve got a 14,000 square foot mansion. How would you feel about coming to stay with us… again, if I can get Chuck to agree?” Her eyes light up.

“A mansion?” she says dreamily. I nod. “Dat would be fantastic! I could tell everyboty at home dat I stay in a mansion in Ametica.”

“Yes, you could,” I laugh, “but again, we have to convince Chuck. Knowing that you’re on board, I may shamelessly utilize you to get him to say yes.”

“Oh, dat would be tettible!” she laughs. “By all means, do it!” I chat with her for a few more minutes before Ben comes back into the living room.

“No danger of seeing ‘Little Chuck,’ he was less than presentable. He’s fine now,” he says.

“How is he?” I ask.

“Cantankerous,” he responds. I look at Keri and she shrugs. I sigh heavily and go into the den. He’s sitting in a recliner with his leg propped up as high as it can go. He’s facing the back window with a large screen television on his right, but nothing’s playing.

“Hi,” I say when I enter the room. He turns to me and he still has a scar healing across his face. He doesn’t look that bad, but he is still a little banged up. I guess we should have gotten him some of Gail’s miracle tea.

“Hi,” he replies, a little surprise in his voice. Didn’t he already know that I was here? “You look great,” he says sincerely. I smile widely.

“I do?” I ask. I wear a wool cap when I’m outside because my head gets cold fast since I don’t have any hair on one side. Plus, I won’t lie, I’m vain and not quite ready for the world to see my peach-fuzz in comparison to my butt-length hair all over the rest of my head. I haven’t really been around anybody outside of the mansion since I got home from the hospital, so this is a welcome revelation to me.

“Yeah,” he says. “It reminds me of when I found you holed up in that cabin in Montana. I think it’s the same hat.”

“It probably is,” I laugh. He laughs gently, but winces from the pain. It’s time to talk about this. “It’s so good to see you, Chuck. I’ve really missed you.” He scoffs at me and waves me off.

“Come off it,” he says good-naturedly. “I’m just the bodyguard.” I don’t know if he’s kidding or just trying to downplay the situation, but I have to control myself a bit from getting angry.

“That’s not true and you know it!” I say, a little more firmly than I intended. Quizzical blue eyes capture mine. That got his attention. I pull a chair next to his recliner and sit down. “I may not remember everything, but I do remember that you’ve been by my side nearly every day for the past year and a half. I remember that when my husband fired you, you sought me out in Montana and stayed with me until I returned. I remember that during most of my roughest struggles, you were there—even if you just stood by to make sure that I was safe. I remember you pulling a gun on Pedo-Bitch Sr.’s bodyguard while he had one aimed at me. And even though I can’t remember the accident, I clearly remember hearing that…”

I get choked up trying to say my words. When they come out, I don’t recognize my voice.

“I remember hearing that if it hadn’t been for you, I would have died… that you… wrapped your body around mine and took most of the impact. I remember seeing you coming towards me with headlights behind you and I don’t remember anything else. You… you saved my life.” My voice cracks horribly on the last word as I try not to turn into a weepy fool. I’m mostly successful, but a few tears manage to fall. “I don’t know how to thank you, how to tell you how much it means to me that you would do something like that… how much you mean to me… and how glad I am that you didn’t die.” I swallow hard and finally manage to raise my head again. He’s staring at me.

“Thank you, Ana,” he says. “That really means a lot to me.” He sighs and shrugs. “I’ve worked for some pretty high-profile people. I’m one of the best and I know it. Nothing this drastic has ever happened, but usually they don’t get attached; they don’t get involved; they don’t let you get close and you don’t want to get close. From the very first day, Grey told me that you would be different and he was right. I think personable was the word he used. You were never difficult—never stuck-up or entitled-acting like most rich guys’ girlfriends are. You were always kind to everybody you met unless somebody pissed you off. And when I saw that car gunning for us and I knew that I couldn’t move fast enough to avoid getting hit, it was a no-brainer. I had to protect you and the babies—like you were my own flesh and blood.

“I didn’t even think about it. I think it was a combination of panic and reflex. I knew I was going to get it, but I had to do what I could to protect you. I remember your face when I lunged for you and then…” He drops his head. He doesn’t remember the accident either. I think he sees it as a weakness that he can’t recall what happened.

“I look at it this way. If I had died… if we had died… it would have been quick and painless, but we didn’t. We’re still here.” I smile widely and take his hand. He looks down at our joined hands and squeezes mine.

“We’re still here,” he repeats. I sigh. Now the hard part.

“Keri loves you, you know,” I say. He nods without raising his head.

“Yeah, I know. I love her, too.” I can’t believe I just heard him say that!

“Chuck!” I say quietly in a surprised, sing-songy voice.

“Yeah, I know, I know. Mr. Don’t Get Attached is in love with a girl from another country who’s not even an American citizen, so we only get to see each other once in a while… or when tragedy strikes,” he laments. “She’s a good person—not just pretty; she really is a good person with a good heart.” I smile at his confession.

“She’s worried about you,” I confess. “She sees your pain and she says that you won’t take the meds the doctor told you to take.” Now, he raises his eyes to me.

“I’m in recovery, Ana,” he says, making it obvious that this is the reason that he won’t take the meds.

“I know,” I say, squeezing his hand again, “but didn’t the doctor and your sponsor say that it’s okay to take these meds? That they’re not habit-forming?” He looks away, breaking eye-contact with me. “Chuck?”

“Yeah, but…” This is the first time I’ve ever sensed fear from Chuck… ever. “Ana, no offense, but you don’t know how bad it really was and I don’t want to recount it,” he says.

“Believe me, Chuck, I’m not discounting your experience, but I would like to know why you’re punishing yourself.” He frowns.

“I’m not punishing myself…” he starts to protest.

“Yes, you are,” I contradict him. “You’re in obvious pain, and you would rather sit here in pain than to take something to ease the discomfort. Are you taking deep breaths to help heal your lung?”

“Yes, I am,” he answers triumphantly.

“And how’s that working out for you?” He winces at the thought of taking a breath. “Mm-hmm, just what I thought. Do you get out of this room much? Have much company besides poor Keri and your sponsor?”

“Poor Keri?” he asks.

“Yes, poor Keri!” I reinforce. “That girl flew 4000 miles when she found out that you were in an accident. A deaf and blind man would be able to tell that she’s in love with you. She’d spend every moment of her time on American soil in this house in this room if it meant that she could spend it next to you. Don’t make her spend that time watching you make yourself suffer for something you did years ago.” The color drains from his face.

“It ruled me, Ana,” he says with a twinge of helplessness. “I knew that I was going to die and I didn’t care. I remember when I first saw your mother’s husband—the one that died from cirrhosis. I swear I was looking at myself. I couldn’t wait for that fucker to leave.” He drops his head and wrings his hands. “It’s like you don’t have any control over it—like you’re having this out-of-body experience. You can see everything happening, but you can’t do anything about it.”

“How long has it been, Chuck?” I ask him. He sighs.

“Almost 15 years now.” I whistle.

“You started early.” He nods.

“I started drinking when I was 14. I went downhill fast. I was a blazing alcoholic for eight years. My brother only started speaking to me about three years ago. He didn’t come when Jason called him because he was sure that I had been driving drunk. I didn’t bother to correct him. If he doesn’t know me by now, he won’t ever know me. I opened my eyes expecting to see my blood standing there. Instead, I saw Keri—all the way from Anguilla—and my brother couldn’t travel a couple of hundred miles.”

“Stop. Punishing. Yourself,” I say. “Take the meds. They’re not barbiturates. They’re even controlled substances. They’re ibuprofen. Take the medicine.” He just stares at me for a while. “Chuck, whether you admit it or not, you’ve got friends and family right here and we’re not going to let you fall—but we can’t watch you suffer because you’re afraid to let go of the past.” He sighs.

“I love this place, Ana. I really do, but these four walls are driving me fucking stir-crazy,” and now, he admits it. He changed the subject, but he admits it.

“Well, it looks like you can only get out of these four walls once because you don’t even have handicapped access to your house, but guess what? Grey Crossing does!” I exclaim. “We have ramps all over the garages, two elevators that go to all three floors, two very empty private guest apartments with views of the lake that Marilyn is furnishing as we speak and currently, there are only four of us that live in 14,000 square feet. Both of you will be around people that you know. Keri won’t have to spend all of her time waiting on you hand and foot, because there will be others to assist with that. You can both enjoy each other’s company instead of sitting here moping, being maudlin, and suffering. Chuck… please… take the meds and come stay at Grey Crossing. We’ll take good care of you and we won’t let anything bad happen. I promise. Please, Chuck… it’s the very least I can do… the very, very least.” I almost want to cry. If he turns me down, I think I will.

“What about Christian?” he says. “How’s he going to take this?” I scoff and wave him off.

“Please! Right now, he’ll build the Taj Mahal in the backyard if I ask him to. Besides, if you recall, it was his idea for you to move in with us in the first place. You turned him down.” He scratches his cheek, deeply contemplating my offer. “I’m not going to take ‘no’ for an answer, Chuck. I’ve had enough of this macho bullshit. I understand why you’re slow to take the pain meds, but I don’t understand why you have to think about staying in a luxurious mansion with four friends, two of which are eternally grateful to you for what you’ve done.”

“I’d hardly call Christian a friend,” he chuckles.

“I wouldn’t be so sure after what you did,” I retort. “I’m waiting for my ‘yes.’” He sighs.

“You drive a hard bargain.”

“I do… and that’s wasn’t a ‘yes.’”

“Unconditional surrender, huh?” he jests.

“Unconditional,” I concur.

“Fine,” he relents, “we’ll come to Grey Crossing. If I feel like an imposition or uncomfortable in any way, I’m coming back home.”

“Deal… now what about the meds?”

“Baby steps, Ana,” he warns. I twist my lips.

“I’m going to let this go for right now, because I got one concession from you—a big one, but I’m not going to let up on those meds. They will help you.”

“Yeah, we’ll see,” he says.

“So what’s next? Do you need me to have someone come out here and help you get some things together? I’m hiring staff today!” I add the last part with a little swing of my head.

“No shit?” he asks. I nod.

“Fourteen thousand square feet,” I remind him.

“Yeah, there is that,” he says. “I have Keri, though. If she’ll accept help, then yes.” I nod.

“Good call,” I tell him. “You’re a smart man.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Getting across that water is a bitch, though. I’m okay with the ferry most of the time, but right now…” He rolls his eyes.

“Ugh! God, tell me about it. We’ll hire an ambulance if we have to. We’ll work something out so that you’re comfortable.”

“I appreciate that,” he replies.

“So, what do you say? About 3:00 tomorrow? We’ll be starting to prepare for Thanksgiving, so you’ll probably want to be settled in by then.” He nods.

“Sounds good to me, but you better check with Keri. As much as I hate to admit it, she’ll be doing the hard work.” I nod.

“Now. I know that you’re a big, strong, man and all, but I also know that you can’t use crutches with those broken ribs. How do you get around… like to the bathroom?” He points to the corner behind me and I see a wheelchair sitting there. I turn back to him.

“I’m hard-headed. I’ll admit that, but I’m no idiot. It’s the easiest way to get from point A to point B and it’s… not so rough on Keri.” I nod.

“You are a smart guy,” I say with a nod. “There will definitely be some help here in the morning… around ten. They’ll help you guys get everything together, and we’ll arrange transport around three.” He nods and I stand. “I’m going to go fill Keri in and get back home now.” I kiss him on the cheek. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“See you tomorrow,” he smiles and I leave his den. I feel very accomplished as I walk into the living room in search of Keri. I can’t find her immediately, but I do find Ben staring out of a window as still as a statue. What is he looking at? I walk over to him—none too quietly, I might add—to see what’s got his attention.

He’s watching Keri.

She’s on the deck doing yoga in a sweatshirt, yoga pants, and sneakers. It’s cold as fuck, but she’s in her own world. She’s doing some insane stretching, showcasing her impressive figure and ample “accoutrements,” for lack of a better word. She’s extremely flexible and one’s imagination can go quite wild watching her. I’m a straight woman, and I kind of twist my head and wonder how she slides effortlessly in and out of those positions. Ben is salivating. I realize that all the blood is rushing to his dick right now, but damn!

“Ben!” I snap, hissing his name. He turns his head quickly, startled, a little ashamed, as well he should be.

“I was… um… I… was…” Don’t even bother trying to lie.

“I know what you were doing,” I scold. He’s been caught red-handed and he’s trying to back-peddle. He finally just gives up.

“I’m sorry! But did you see her?” He gestures out the window as if to say “What man in his right mind would be able to look at that and not stare?”

“Do you know how long I was standing here?” I chastise. “I didn’t just walk out of the room! I walked out of the room, walked over here, watched you, watched her, and then called your name.”

“See? Even you admit it! Even you watched her for a second!” he hisses quietly.

“I had to see what had you staring out of the window like a thirsty lap dog!” I hiss back. “Now get that under control. They’re staying with us for a little while.” His eyes light up slightly. Oh, hell, no.

“I mean it, Ben,” I threaten. “I like you, but Chuck is my friend and he’s in love with that girl. Now wrap it up, put a cock ring on it, shove it between your legs, do whatever you gotta do with it, but keep it under control. Please! He saved my life. I’ll go a long way for him!” He puts his hands up in surrender.

“Okay! Okay! I got it,” he says, duly chastised. “I was just admiring the view, I wasn’t trying to mount her!”

“Well, forgive me, but it was hard to tell,” I retort, softening my voice a bit, but not too much. “Now please, go bring the car around. I need to talk to Keri, then we can go.” He nods and goes out the side door to get the car. I put my coat back on, grab my purse, and go out the front door to the deck and Keri.

“So, you guys are going to be moving into the mansion,” I tell her. She jumps up and down, clapping like a schoolgirl. “I’m going to be sending some guys over tomorrow at about ten to help you put together everything you’ll need to be comfortable.” I reach into my wallet and pull out one of my cards and a pen. I write my new cell number on the back. “Call me around noon and let me know if you guys will need a small moving truck or if a van will do. I’m very serious. I want you and Chuck to be comfortable, so bring whatever you need, okay?”

“Anah, I don’t know how to thank you!” she says, throwing her arms around me and embracing me tightly. Then she pulls me back and looks into my face. “What about the medicine?”

“We’ll have to keep working on that part, but don’t give up hope. He’s agreed to be somewhere that will make him more comfortable. It won’t be long before we’ve won that other battle, too.” She can’t hide her disappointment. “He has told you about his struggle?”

“Yes, he has,” she says without raising her eyes. “I undehstand, but…” she sighs and shakes her head. “Him hutting, Anah. Him hutting a lot.” I take her hand.

“I know,” I tell her. “We’ll get him comfortable, and then we’ll work on the meds, okay?” She brings sad brown eyes up to meet mine, then nods. “Now go on inside before he comes hobbling out here looking for you. Call me if you need anything and we’ll talk tomorrow.”

“Thank you, Anah,” she says, hugging me once more before going inside. I walk back to the Audi and prepare for the terrible trip across the water. Halfway through the trip, I feel like I’m going to toss my cookies so I call Christian to try to distract myself.

“You don’t sound so good, baby. What’s going on?” he asks a few seconds into the conversation.

“I hate the ferry,” I tell him. “The beans hate it even more.”

Ooooh,” he responds.

“Speaking of ferries, Chuck has agreed to recuperate at Grey Crossing.”

“How did you pull that off?”

“Old-fashioned schmoozing mixed with a tiny bit of guilt and a hint of bullying. Works every time.” He laughs at me.

“Okay, so what does that have to do with the ferry?”

“In his current condition, he hates the ferry as much as I do. I can imagine it must be really uncomfortable for him. I know there are private ambulance companies that we can hire that will make the ride more comfortable for him. Are you familiar with those at all? I’ve never rented an ambulance.”

“I may have a better idea,” he says. “Let me take care of the transport. What time were we looking to have him at Grey Crossing?”

“I told him that I would send someone there to help them pack what they needed by ten. Keri will call me around noon to let me know what moving accommodations they’ll need. The transport is supposed to take place around three.”

“That’s my efficient Butterfly,” he says. “That’s plenty of time. Let me get started on his transport. What else, baby?”

“Nothing that can’t wait. We’ll talk more later. You concentrate on whatever magnificent plan you have up your sleeve.”

“You know me well,” he jests. “Love you, Butterfly.”

“I love you, too, Christian,” I say with a smile before ending the call. Luckily, talking to him has soothed my stomach and the ride home from there is a breeze.

It’s about three when we get back to Grey Crossing and there are several things that I need to get done. Some of the furniture has arrived and Marilyn is coordinating where it should go. I realize we have overlooked a key piece of furniture that we will definitely need by tomorrow. After a quick internet search, I call the Laz-y-Boy store in Tukwila and ask how soon they could have a recliner delivered if I order right now.

Well,” the lady on the other line—Kelsey, she said—sounds very snooty, “It could take a week to ten days depending on what you order.” I’m sorry, am I inconveniencing you?

“Okay, so what would determine if I could get a recliner delivered tomorrow?” She scoffs into the phone.

“That would be quite impossible,” she says, her tone even more condescending than before.

“You haven’t even heard what I want yet,” I protest.

“Well, you see, several people have gotten wind of the sale, so we have several deliveries that we have to do in the next couple of days.” And because you think I want to buy a $300 recliner on sale marked down from $700, you don’t have time for me.

“I see. Well, thank you…”

“Yes!” she snaps before hanging up in my ear. Wow! Normally, I’d go about the business of getting the bitch fired, but never mind. I have bigger fish to fry right now. I call the Laz-y-Boy in Lynnwood.

“Thank you for calling Laz-y-Boy, this is Charmaine.”

“Hi, Charmaine. May I speak to a manager, please?”

“Sure, ma’am. Can I tell her what it’s concerning?”

“I would just like to get the best service possible. I have a request that may not be able to be met, but I would at least like to try.”

“I see. Well, would you mind giving me an opportunity to see if I can assist you? I’ll be glad to turn it over to a manager if I can’t.” She’s so much nicer than Kelsey!

“As a matter of fact, I would love to give you the opportunity. I know that what I’m asking may be unrealistic, but hopefully we can come up with an alternative if this is impossible.”

“I’m sure that we can accommodate you. What are your needs, Ms…?” She pauses for my name.

“Grey,” I tell her. “Mrs. Grey.”

“Very well, Mrs. Grey. What did you have in mind?”

“Well, I’m going to be having a houseguest for quite some time and he’s injured. He’s broken both of the bones in his lower leg and he needs to be comfortable and elevated. I already know what I want, but the piece that I’m interested in needs to be delivered tomorrow… early if possible, but I’ll take what I can get.” She has a rapid intake of air that sounds like a hiss.

“Ooo, yeah that’s a bit of a tall order. We had a sale, you know, and there are a lot of people expecting deliveries over the next few days—but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Let’s see what we can do.”

“Well, there’s another catch,” I tell her. “I’m closer to the Tukwila store, but the lady there was mean to me.” She’s silent for a moment.

“Really?” she says, her voice short. “Well, now we’ll really have to see what we can do for you.” She wasn’t pleased to hear that. “What model were you interested in and where will we be delivering it tomorrow?” Oh, I like her!

“I was wondering if you have the Pinnacle Platinum Luxury Lift Power-Recline XR with the 6-Motor Massage & Heat settings in stock. I wanted Midnight, but I’ll take what you’ve got as long as it’s not flowers or wild colors.”

“Let me look for you.” She’s silent for a moment and I hear her typing into the computer. Then, more silence. “Mrs. Grey, did you say the Pinnacle Platinum Luxury…”

“…Power-Recline, yes… with the 6-motor massage… in Midnight if you have it.” Yes, the $2500 luxury recliner, that’s the one I want. I should buy two. In fact… “I’d like that in Midnight and also in blue if you have it.” She tries to hide her gasp.

“You want two!” It’s a statement, not a question.

“If you can swing it, yes,” I respond.

“Oohh-ho-ho, just give me a few minutes. Do you mind holding?”

“Certainly not.” I can tell by her tone of voice that if these chairs are on a boat in the Artctic Ocean, she’s going to find them and get them to my house by tomorrow. Several minutes later, she comes back to the line.

“Thank you so much for holding, Mrs. Grey. I spoke to the manager at the Tukwila store since they are closer to you and they do have both colors in stock in that model.” And we’re back at Tukwila. “She assures me that she can have them delivered at whatever time is convenient tomorrow.”

“Excellent!” I exclaim.

“Now, your sale is actually going to be processed through the Lynnwood store. Do you mind that?”

“Not at all, Charmaine. Please do,” I say with a smile that I know she can hear.

“I do have Kelsey on the line from the Tukwila store. Once I get your credit card information, she will be taking the address information.” Hmm, Kelsey.

“I’m not sure I want Kelsey handling the delivery,” I tell Charmaine. “She hung up on me about twenty minutes ago, before she even found out what I wanted.”

“There must be some mistake,” Kelsey chimes in with that snooty tone of voice.

“Oh, no, I assure you that I would know that ‘I’m-too-good-for-this-job” voice anywhere. I was willing to let sleeping dogs lie until serendipity arranged it such that I get to talk to you again without having to call you directly. I don’t know your background or anything about you, but the way you treat customers is horrible. You treated me like crap before you even knew what a wanted. Had I gone by my initial experience with you, I would have thought that Laz-y-Boy was a stuck-up, elitist company that didn’t want to be bothered with me or my money because it wasn’t green enough. Thank God I called Lynnwood. Now get your manager on this phone because I don’t want you to have any of my information.”

“Ma’am,” she says, her voice shifting from snooty to panic. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to come off as elitist or rude…”

“Sure, you didn’t,” I cut her off, “hence, that short, impatient, and intolerant ‘yes’ you hissed at me when you hung up the phone in my ear before I could even finish saying ‘thank you for your time.’ Your manager, please.” If I didn’t have to deal with her again, I would have had more patience. I didn’t want to have to deal with this bitch anymore at all.

“Ma’am, I really am sorry.” She’s stalling until I accept her apology.

“Can I have you ladies hold on for just a moment?”

“Yes, Mrs. Grey, by all means,” Charmaine says. I put my phone on mute. “Mare!” Marilyn comes running in from the next room.

“What is it?”

“I’m going to strangle a salesgirl!” I tell her making the choking gesture with my hand. “May I please borrow your phone?”

“Not if you’re going to use it to commit a crime,” she says wide-eyed. I cock my head and glare at her. “Sorry,” she says, handing me her phone. Looking at my laptop, I dial the number for the Tukwila store again.

“Thank you, for calling Laz-y-Boy, Janine speaking.”

“Hi Janine, may I please speak to the manager on duty right now?”

“Certainly, ma’am. I’m the manager on duty. What can I do for you?”

“You can find Kelsey wherever she is in the store and take the phone from her!” I snap.

“Excuse me?” She’s clearly confused.

“Please, humor me.”

“Um… okay. Would you… like to hold?”

“I won’t need to. I’ll be on the other end when you get the phone from Kelsey.”

“Oh! Okay. May I have your name?”

“Mrs. Grey.”

“Very well, Mrs. Grey. I’ll… speak to you in a moment.”

“Thank you.” I end the call with Janine and get back on the phone with Charmaine and Kelsey.

“Charmaine, if you could just wait for a moment, I’m going to need your continued assistance.”

“Yes, Mrs. Grey.” It only takes a few seconds for me to hear Janine talking to Kelsey.

“I’m speaking to a customer,” I hear Kelsey say. “I’m just about to get her address for a delivery.” She’s almost begging.

“Kelsey, give. Me. The phone!” Janine orders. After a few moments, “Mrs. Grey?”

“Yes,” I say with a sigh.

“What can I do for you, ma’am?”

“Charmaine, I’m weary of this situation. Will you please explain it to Janine?” Charmaine quickly gives a breakdown of what happened without giving any details of what I bought and neither of them knows where I am.

“Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Mrs. Grey. This is not the first time this has happened, but it won’t be happening again. Has Charmaine gotten your details yet?”

“No,” I answer calmly.

“Charmaine, you can go on and get the card information and I’ll get her address.”

“Okay,” Charmaine says. “Mrs. Grey, we’re not going to charge you for delivery since this has been such an… experience for you, so with tax, your purchase comes to $5,297.61.”

“Fifty…!” Janine starts to exclaim, but catches herself before she finishes.

“You take Amex I assume?” I ask.

“We do.” I give her my card information and name.

“Mrs. Grey, what city do you live in?” Janine asks as soon as Charmaine gives confirmation that the card went through.

“Mercer Island.” They both fall silent.

“Anasta…” She’s repeating my information to herself. The penny drops. “Mrs. Grey, didn’t you just get out of the hospital?” Janine asks.

“Yes, I did,” I confirm.

“Oh my God.” She’s humiliated. “I’m so sorry.”

“While I appreciate and accept the apology, Janine, I’m more than a bit disenchanted right now,” I say calmly. “Yes, my husband is a billionaire. We have a lot of money. We shop at a lot of high-end stores, but when I go inside, unless I’m decked in every piece of Chanel jewelry that I own, these people treat me like crap until they find out who I really am—salespeople who work on commission whose very livelihood depends on me making a purchase. When someone walks into or calls a place of business, you assume that they are there to purchase and it would just be nice if everybody that I encountered gave me the kind of service that Charmaine did without me having to name drop!” I take a breath to compose myself. “I apologize, Janine. You’re getting a bunch of penned-up frustration from a crazy pregnant woman who is just tired of dealing with snooty salespeople. Is it at all possible to have those chairs delivered to my estate tomorrow by noon?”

“Yes, ma’am, it’s entirely possible,” Janine confirms, and I give her the address and my phone number.

“Charmaine, do you get paid on commission?” I ask.

“Partial commission and bonuses, yes ma’am,” Charmaine replies.

“That’s even better. I hope this sale puts you over the top. You deserve it.”

“It does, ma’am. Thank you so much.”

“You’re welcome, and thank you both. Until tomorrow ladies.” I end the call and give Marilyn back her phone, which I was still holding in my other hand. Then, I put my head down on the desk so it will stop banging…

“Montana? Yoo-hoo… Montana?” I hear a voice wafting to me. I open my weary eyes and realize that I’ve fallen asleep at my desk, and the voice wafting towards me is Elliot’s. I don’t know exactly how long I was asleep, but it’s about five o’clock now. “Sleeping in that position is horrible for you, so I don’t mind waking you up.” I run my fingers through my hair and realizing that I nearly bald on one side, I cover it with my hand—like that’s gonna help—and search frantically for my hat.

“It’s okay, Montana,” he says. “We’ve all seen it already. You don’t have to cover it. We don’t care.” He gently moves my hand from the side of my head and holds my hand, his eyes gentle while he smiles kindly at me. I lower my eyes.

“So what brings you here, Elliot?” I ask softly.

“I thought I owed it to you to tell you in person that we won’t be at Thanksgiving dinner,” he says sadly. I raise my eyes questioning him. I want to ask him why, but I already know. I purse my lips to hide my disappointment. He walks over to one of the chairs in the sitting area of my office and sits down.

“What’s going on, Elliot?” I ask, urgently as I rise from my desk and join him in the sitting area. “If anybody knows what’s happening, it would be you.”

“You would think, huh?” he says, dropping his head into his hands and scrubbing them across his face. “It’s not just you, Ana,” he adds, frustration and weariness in his voice. “It’s everybody! It’s everything! She snaps at everybody, including me, and she goes off at the smallest things—ridiculous stuff, like if it’s raining when she wanted sunshine. This is Seattle!” He shakes his head. “One minute, she’s wonderful. She’s my angel and she’s sweet and loving, and the next minute she’s some other woman; nothing dangerous, but she’s… angry and weird.”

This is the most insight I’ve gotten into Val’s behavior since my birthday weekend over a month ago. I’m going to delve as much as he’ll let me.

“I seem to be the focus of her ire, ever since my birthday. Did she say why me in particular?” He raises his eyes to me, questioning. “Yes, this is the shrink asking. This is also Ana who used to be really close friends with this bipolar-acting woman, but mostly, it’s the shrink. I want to know what’s going on, too.” He drops his head again.

“She just keeps saying that you’ve changed,” he says. “You’re not the person that she always knew. She won’t get specific. She can’t even tell me how she thinks you’ve changed. She can only tell me that you’ve changed. Only… you’re not the one who has changed, she is.” He shakes his head. “Do I do this to women?” he asks sadly. “Do I turn them from kind, loving, attractive human beings into evil, spiteful, raging harpies?”

Well, I can’t answer that one.

“Has anything changed in your relationship, like right before my birthday?” He shook his head.

“No,” he said. “We had been looking for a house for a while, but hadn’t found anything we totally loved yet. Now, she doesn’t like anything she sees. They’re all crappy, too small, too far away—from what, I don’t know.”

“Has she met anybody that could affect her personality that you know of? Is she secretive at all? Could she be hiding something?” He shakes his head.

“Val’s an open book,” he says. “I can tell you where she is and what she’s doing at any moment of any day of the week. We have all the passwords to each other’s electronics, email, and social media. I even have the passwords to her work email. She’s totally trustworthy. It’s not another guy or an unsavory influence. I know what it’s not, I just don’t know what it is.

“Is she depressed at all? Does her mood change during certain times of the day? Could she be pregnant? Could she have been pregnant and lost a baby? Something else traumatic that you might not know of?”

“I don’t think she’s depressed, I’m not sure. There would be no reason for her to be depressed, but I guess she would have to be tested for something like that, wouldn’t she?” I nod. “Her mood changes—if that’s what we can call them—don’t pick a specific time or moment, or person… except you, and now Al. Other than that, they’re very random. Pregnant? No. I’ve asked. That wouldn’t be a problem. We’re in no rush to have kids, but I wouldn’t care if she was pregnant… as long as it wasn’t Kate.” He says the name with pure disdain. “Lost a baby, I hadn’t thought of that, but I’m afraid to ask. I hope not… God, that would be awful.” So he’s not averse to having children, even though they’re not quite ready for it yet, and her losing a baby would definitely be a bad thing.

“Is she suicidal?” I ask as a last-ditch effort. He raises his head and looks at me in horror.

“What? No!” he snaps. I shrug.

“Hey, I’m out of ideas, here. It’s a last-ditch effort.” He sighs and his shoulders drop again, back into that helpless, I-don’t-know-what-the-fuck-to-do stance.

“No, not suicidal, just angry,” he laments. “I’d give anything to know what’s wrong with her… to know how to fix it. She seems so unhappy—not Kate unhappy. It’s different. It’s like… discontent, but I don’t know with what. If I ask her if it’s me one more time, I’m afraid she’s going to leave. I know it’s not me, because she’s like this with everybody. I know I keep comparing her to Kate, but that’s the only gauge that I have. With Kate, it was a gradual change. She slowly started to creep into Bitchdom. With Angel, it hit out of nowhere—BAM! Everything and everybody just irritated the fuck out of her.”

“I don’t know, Elliot. Without being able to talk to her and find out what’s wrong, all I can say is that she needs to talk to someone, professionally. This is not the Val I’ve known for 10 years. Something is definitely wrong, and if I were a betting woman, I would say that it’s not you.” I know I’m probably breaking a confidence here, but at this point, I don’t really care. “Val was with this one guy. She really loved him, but he did a real number on her—not quite as bad as Edward did to me, but bad nonetheless. He’s the one that turned her into a cold, heartless naysayer when it came down to love and men. You brought her out of that. I had never seen her with anybody—anybody—the way she is with you. It’s not you, Elliot.”

“Then what is it!?” he exclaims, ripping at his hair. “I’ve run through every possible scenario in my brain and nothing’s panning out.”

“You’re going to have to find out what it is, Elliot. I think you’re the only one who can. You need to get her to talk to a doctor… and a shrink. Something’s really wrong and if she keeps ignoring it, it could be catastrophic.”

“I know, I know,” he laments. “Sometimes, she just sits and stares at nothing… for a really long time. I’ll ask her what’s she looking at and she’ll just say, ‘Nothing. I was just thinking.’ She was at the hospital every day that you were there—every. Single. Day, so I know that she doesn’t hate you. She only went into the room one time, the night of the accident, before Christian got there. She went in alone, so I don’t know what she said or did. I thought for sure when you woke up that things would be different, but…” he shrugs.

My heart sinks. Val doesn’t hate me… so why is she treating me this way? I sigh heavily and push back the threatening tears.

“God, I want a burger,” I say out loud. Elliot glares at me. What?

“You’re joking, right?” he says, scowling at me.

“No, why would I be joking?” I ask him.

“Because red meat makes you barf!” he informs me.

“What?” I exclaim.

“Haven’t you noticed there’s no red meat in this house?” he asks. “When’s the last time you’ve seen any red meat?” Come to think of it, he’s right. There’s been no red meat in any of our meals. I’ve only been home a couple of days and I haven’t searched any of the freezers or anything, but I haven’t seen any red meat.

“So if I want a burger, I have to go out for one.” He shakes his head.

“I would bet anything that the Minutemen have strict instructions not to let you anywhere near red meat, much less a burger. You had an extremely violent reaction to the last burger that you ate.” I don’t for the life of me remember what he’s talking about. I don’t eat much red meat, but when I want it, I want it.

“So you’re saying that my husband has ordered my security not to let me eat a hamburger?” I say, my tone irritated. Elliot sighs.

“Montana, listen to me. This is not one of my brother’s control-freak moments. Red meat is truly not your friend. You were grounded for a whole day because that burger made you sick—vomiting, fever… You didn’t know you were pregnant yet and you and Al went out and got some burger from some little joint and you almost died.”

“Maybe it was that burger,” I say, trying to plead my case.

“You couldn’t even look at blood sausage on your honeymoon, from what I understand…”

“Well, blood sausage is disgusting!” I exclaim. “Who in their right mind would eat that crap?”

“A lot of people like blood sausage, Montana, but that’s neither here nor there. Dad was grilling steaks—outside—over your birthday weekend and you went praying to the porcelain god.”

That, I remember.

“Oh… yeah… shit!” I hiss.

“Methinks she remembers!” Elliot proclaims victoriously. He stands up and kisses me on the forehead. “Nobody’s going to get you a burger, little sister,” he says. “Thanks for the talk. We’ll try Christmas, okay?” I look up at him sadly, remembering that he won’t be with us on Thursday.

“Find out what’s going on with her,” I beseech him. “It won’t be easy, but you’ve got to find out.” He nods.

“See you later, Ana Montana,” he says with a sad smile.

“Bye, Lelliot,” I respond as he leaves my office. Marilyn must be gone already since she hasn’t come back into the office. I dial my husband’s number.

“Darling, we have a little problem…”


CHRISTIAN

“You want a what?!?” I listen in dismay as my beautiful pregnant wife tells me that she wants a hamburger. A hamburger! “Do you remember what happened to you the last time you ate a hamburger?”

“I was told that it was a little harsh…”

“’A little harsh?’ Who told you that shit? It wasn’t a little harsh—it was violent!”

“Yeah… that was… the word that was used,” she admits.

“I’m sure it was!” I bark. “You were completely grounded for two days and you didn’t stop feeling the effects for four! You were talking about suing the restaurant! If you did manage to get a burger in that house, the smell of it would drop you before you had a chance to get it to your mouth!”

She falls silent for a moment. She’s trying to see if I will break.

“No, Ana. No. Absolutely not. No hamburger! No red meat of any kind. Thanksgiving is two days away. You’ve got Black Friday after that, the Adopt-A-Family Affair on Saturday, a houseful of guests for the entire weekend… no! No hamburger. Don’t try to convince me. Absolutely not.” I’m putting my foot down. I can actually hear her pouting through the phone. No means no.

“Christian…!” she whines.

“No, Anastasia!” I say finally. “You can be mad at me all weekend, but I’d rather you be mad at me than to suffer the cramps, crying, and fever you suffered the last time you ingested red meat. Are we clear?”

“Fine!” she says sharply and ends the call… and now she’s mad at me. Oh, well… I call Jason.

“Yes, sir?”

“Call my house and let your wife and the security staff know that anybody who lets Anastasia within ten feet of red meat will be filing for unemployment tomorrow and I’m not kidding.”

“I think they already know that, sir…” he begins.

“Tell them again,” I warn him. “You know how persuasive she can be and she’s trying to get a burger.”

“A burger!?” He’s just as horrified as I am.

“Yes, a burger. Apparently, her amnesiatic craving is more powerful than her sense of self-preservation.”

“I’m on it,” he says, and ends the call. She’s got Charles and Keri moving in tomorrow, new staff starting as well as the preparations for Thanksgiving dinner that she is certain not to leave for the staff, I’ll be damned if she’s going to add fever, cramps, and crabbiness to all of that… and I don’t care how bratty she acts!

Speaking of Charles and Keri, I’ve arranged with the Bainbridge Island Fire Department to allow me to land my helicopter there to transport them to Seattle. I explained about the life-saving efforts of my wife’s bodyguard and our attempts to make him as comfortable as possible to facilitate his recovery.

They didn’t buy that.

So, I told them that my helicopter was also a certified Medivac and the only reason that we were using it was because of Charles’ several broken bones, severe medical condition and extreme discomfort with the ferry. They finally gave in after that bit of information. I realize that they still weren’t obligated to accommodate me, but had they not accommodated my request after I informed them that I and my helicopter were certified for Medivac, I would have called the press. As I have to register a flight plan every time I move Charlie Tango, I was running out of time and Boeing Field is not very happy with and sometimes won’t approve last-minute flight plans. I haven’t told Butterfly or even Charles that we will be airlifting him out of Bainbridge Island, but he knows to be ready for transport by 3pm and I’m sure that he’s preparing himself for a very bumpy ride.

My other project for today involves getting as much information on the Sunset case as I can in an attempt to find out what Myrick, Sr. is up to. After discovering that his father couldn’t save him from his fate as all of Myrick, Sr,’s favors were most likely being used to keep himself out of jail, Robin pled to most of the charges against him and now they are trying to determine if he will see blue skies outside of the “yard” ever again in his life. Supposedly, they have him in protective custody—protective from whom, I’m not sure… his father’s enemies, me, all of the other people he stole from… who knows? Forgive me if after my last experience with a supposedly incarcerated Myrick, I have absolutely no faith in the penal system.

For this reason, I have also discovered that Cholometes has not returned to Montesano and doesn’t plan to anytime soon. According to his logic, my crackpot security team was so effective in keeping Ana safe while I was “gallivanting around the ghetto” chasing old ghosts that maybe he should just stick around a bit. His purpose now is trying to find the latest danger threatening a woman who is near and dear to him. While I would normally welcome all the assistance that I can get, his presence is a particular thorn in my side because he wants my wife. To that end, I don’t want or need his help and all I want is for him to carry his ass back to Montesano.

He tried that whole “I’m gonna tell Ana on you” thing again with the Naomi situation. Of course, he discovered that Ana’s assailant and I were once involved and that even though she’s dead now, our involvement was most likely the reason for her attack on Anastasia. He has also discovered that I have made arrangements for Naomi’s last rites if no family can be located. I’m so weary of this man and his attempts to sway my wife’s affections. She’s already made it clear to him—both of us have—that nothing he can do is going to break our bond or destroy our love. She even made him personally swear to her that he would protect me, probably the last thing in the world that he wanted to do, yet he still has some kind of displaced hope that he’s going to be able to win my wife away from me. So when he called my phone telling me that he was going to expose “Naomi Confidential,” I had a three-word answer for him that he’s still trying to figure out:

“So tell her.”

Nothing more. I didn’t tell him that she already knew. Why bother? He tried to shake me, telling me that I was playing it cool to throw him off and accusing me of either trying to have my wife killed or of being personally responsible for her near-death experience. I couldn’t argue with him on that second accusation, but he couldn’t beat me up any more than I’ve already punished myself about it, so it was pretty fruitless. When he still couldn’t get a rise out of me, I asked, “Are you going to tell her?”

“Maybe,” he said, still hoping for a reaction.

“So tell her,” I repeated, just like I said the first time. When he went back into the spiel of how I was going to lose my wife when she found out, I just hung up the phone. Like I said, I’m weary of his presence and his attempts to get my wife’s affections, so tell her. Be my guest, just stop calling me.

Back to the Sunset case…

I thought Sunset was a place—a street, maybe. As it turns out, Sunset is a person. His real name is Marcus Del Russo. Myrick found himself in the big time in the Detroit drug trade. How he got there is unclear, but he was one of Del Russo’s people. This happened not too long after my birth mother died. All this time, I thought he was a small time punk—junkie and pimp—when all along, he had bigger ambitions. I don’t know when he found time to play Daddy to his screwed-up offspring and poison his mind against some four-year old kid who he didn’t even know that long. I guess it’s that whole thing about never taking responsibility for your own actions. He had to blame somebody, why not the “little shit?”

Anyway, somewhere along the way, he got deep into Del Russo’s camp and became privy to some very pertinent information—key people and connections, patterns and actions, drop locations, pick-up spots, “distribution centers,” everything the insiders knew. So, when one day in between one of his many stints in jail, he was arrested attempting to acquire an extremely large drop from an undercover cop, he decided to turn state’s evidence instead of face charges for conspiracy to distribute.

From what I can tell, he couldn’t have chosen a worse opponent.

Del Russo is a melting pot—part African American, part Caucasian, part Mexican, part Puerto Rican. To that end, he has connections with every branch/facet of the drug trade in Detroit and surrounding areas, but his reach goes much further than that. He has direct contacts in the Mexican cartel; most of his supply comes directly from Colombia; and he even has veins directly into the Miami drug trade. This man is not small-time. He’s a huge fish and the information that Myrick has access to makes him an extremely valuable asset to the FBI and many other law enforcement agencies that have been trying to nail this guy down. He’s bigger than Capone.

Now for the really scary part—the peaceful name. Most people have street names or aliases that would strike fear or respect in the mind of the listeners—T-Money, Bossman, God, Butcher, Killer, Shark, who knows? Apparently, Sunset is no different. Sunset strikes extreme fear into the hearts of small-time dealers and junkies in Cass Corridors as well as in big-time distributors and competition from Delray to the Michigan suburbs. Mention of Sunset’s name will either get you instant protection or instant death—you don’t fuck with Sunset.

He’s ruthless and maniacal. Age, sex, disability—doesn’t matter to him. If you’re in the game, you accept the rules. He’s rumored to be personally responsible for up to 2500 deaths—personally as in with his own hands. His two signatures kills are Colombia neckties done with barbed wire or complete castration with your family jewels being sent back to your family. If you received a beautiful and expensive gift box in an even more beautiful and soothing gift bag with a lovely picture of a sunset on it, you most likely didn’t want to open it.

And this is the person Anton Myrick chose to piss off. Nice… very nice.

I’ve decided that this is one book that I’m going to close until it comes smacking me in the face again. If that fucker wants me, he’ll know where to find me. I’ll be cautious. I’ll be prepared if he wants to tango, but fuck if I’m going to live my life waiting for him to make his move or worrying about what he’s going to do. My team found his son, they’ll find him, too. If they don’t, he’ll find me—and I’ll be ready for him. Right now, at this time in my life, I’m focusing on my wife’s recovery, our growing family, our new home, and spending the holidays with the people that I love…

… Something that, only two short years ago, I looked upon as a task. Because of her, I now look forward to it.


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

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

Love and handcuffs 🙂 
Lynn X

Mending Dr. Steele: Chapter 55—Mommy Not So Dearest

So I did answer a couple of the posts for chapter 54, but I ended up going back and changing the posts or deleting them altogether. When I tell you guys that chapter put me in a bad place, I’m not kidding. I don’t know how I’m going to revisit that chapter, but I’m going to have to because I feel like it is a necessary evil to the realism of the story. I’m really confused by it, because I don’t understand it. I’ve written about rape, kidnapping, beating, child molestation, abuse… so many more horrible things. Yet, it’s the prenup that has me seeing visions of terrible terrors. What is that about? Anyway, even though I answered a few posts, you should see that I “liked” them all (can you guys see when I “like” a post?), but I didn’t answer many because that chapter just makes me ill.

I’m not going to address Christian putting his family first because everyone has their opinion and I’m just not discussing it.

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 fanfic in MY interpretation as a fan. I hope you—as a fellow fan—enjoy it, too.

Chapter 55—Mommy Not So Dearest

STEELE

The breeze is soft and comforting blowing through my hair. It’s a beautiful Saturday evening… and I feel like I’m headed to the gallows. My destination is a quiet back table at Dahlia Lounge, a restaurant I have frequented many time before today. However, today I’m having dinner with my mother. The restaurant is almost just across the street from Escala, so Chuck and I choose to walk. Ben has collected my mother from the Four Seasons, which is only about five minutes away, and they are waiting at the restaurant. They managed to clear the entire back section for us—maybe it was Christian—so that we could talk without interruption or prying eyes and ears.

I see her the moment I walk in the door. She’s hideously overdressed, wearing a formal dress and what looks to be a faux fur stole. It’s May in Seattle, Carla, for crying out loud. You look like an idiot. I just shake my head and walk to the table.

“Carla,” I greet when I get there, taking off my jacket before taking the seat across from her.

“Anastasia,” she replies. “I wasn’t sure what to wear, what with you being a billionaire and all. I was sure we were going to end up at some exclusive club.” And it begins.

“I’m not a billionaire. My fiancé is,” I correct her, placing my jacket and my messenger bag on the seat next to me.”

“That’s just a technicality,” she says. “You’ll be marrying a billionaire, so that makes you a billionaire.” Oh, good grief. Don’t leave, Ana, I coach myself. You need to see this through, for good or bad.

“So how have you been?” I ask her before I can catch myself. She glares at me.

“Oh, we’re really having that conversation?” she says, sarcastically. I cock my head at her.

“Why did you even get on the plane if you don’t want to talk?” I ask and wait for her response.

“Oh, no, really, I’m dying to know why you brought me here, but since we’re pretending to be civil—I’ve been just ducky, Anastasia. My husband died four months ago, my daughter desecrated him at his grave, and no one in Green Valley will come within 50 feet of me since this whole story broke. The DA tried to charge me with conspiracy and evidence tampering, the papers are making up all kinds of wonderfully hideous stories about me and in the meantime, my daughter is living in the lap of luxury watching me suffer. So how have things been with you?”

I want to run. I seriously want to run, but this is one time I’m going to sit here and see this through to the end. I gesture for the waiter and ask for the wine list.

“We’ll have a bottle of the Abeja Cabernet 2007, please,” I say, handing him the wine list.

“I don’t like red wine,” she snaps, and I know she’s being difficult because I’ve seen her drink it plenty of times growing up.

“Tough!” I snap before I know it. The waiter looks from my mother’s shocked face to my angry one, then scurries away quickly.

“Well! Was that necessary?” she says, affronted.

“Yes it was!” I retort, glaring at her. “I called you here to discuss you, us, our relationship, and if there is any hope whatsoever in salvaging it. If that is not a conversation that you wish to have, you can walk out of here right now, get your ass back on the plane and go back to Nevada!” I can feel my nose flaring at her. I promised myself that I wouldn’t let her upset me, but while I have been nothing but civil, she has been rude and cantankerous and we haven’t even been here 10 minutes yet. “And take off that stole, for Christ’s sake. You look ridiculous.”

I don’t think she knows what to do right now, leave or take off the stole. She opts to take off the stole as the waiter returns with the wine. He uncorks it and pours a bit in my glass. After swirling it a bit, I taste it. It’s not liquid silk, but it’s delicious. I nod and he pours some in my glass before gesturing to my mother. She nods slightly and he fills her glass as well before placing our menus before us and leaving the table.

“Shall we try this again, or shall I have Ben take you to the airport?” I ask while checking over the menu.

“We… can try this again,” she says, slightly indignantly but duly chastised.

“I’m glad to hear that,” I say, taking a few moments to make my final choices.

“Have you ladies decided what you would like?” The waiter is back, approaching us cautiously.

“I have,” I say without waiting for my mother. “We’ll have the shrimp potstickers and the Mediterranean mussels. I’ll have the New York strip medium rare as my main course.” I close the menu and hand it to the waiter.

“Hmm,” Carla comments. “How do you keep your figure eating like that?”

“Don’t worry about my figure and order your food,” I say flatly. I realize now that I don’t want a relationship with this woman. She’s completely and utterly vile. I just want my answers and then I’ll go. She drops her eyes to the menu again, then raises them to the waiter.

“I’ll have the Alaskan halibut, please,” she says sweetly, handing him the menu. He makes his notes on his little pad then leaves.

“It’s amazing to me how you can be so pleasant to a stranger and yet so cold and callous to your own flesh and blood,” I say, sipping my wine.

“Strange. I was just thinking the same thing about you,” she replies.

“Touché,” I say, fingering my wineglass. “What can I say? You taught me well.”

That silences her for a moment.

“I need some answers, Mother. Any time you feel like you can’t or won’t answer my questions, just let me know and I’ll have Ben escort you to SeaTac.”

“You’re making demands?” she asks, laughter in her question.

“Yes, I am. Feel free to refuse them.”

It’s almost like I want her to refuse, like I’m hoping that she gets her hideous ass back on one of those big metal birds and get the fuck out of here.

“Question #1: When did you stop loving Daddy?” I look her square in the eyes when I ask that question. She’s a bit speechless. “You see, as far as I can tell, that’s when our troubles began—when our hard-working, devoted husband and father who would have shifted the world on its axis to be whatever you wanted all of a sudden wasn’t good enough for you. So I’d like to know, when was the precise moment that you stopped loving my Daddy?” She narrows her eyes at me.

“I never stopped loving your father,” she says. “He went to his grave with me still loving him. If you’re talking about Raymond Steele, however, he became too small,” she hisses.

“Too small?” I exclaim. I want to tell her that she’s the smallest being I have ever seen in my life, second only to her dead husband, but I don’t bother. She wouldn’t even see the irony in her statement.

“Yes, too small,” she reinforces. “I wanted more. I wanted to do things and go places. I wanted to have friends and be somebody. He just wanted to sit in that little house in Montesano and do nothing—grow old while you sat there reading travel books and looking at destination pamphlets. I wanted more out of life. I had to have more.”

“And how is that working out for you?” I ask flatly while sipping my wine, knowing that she has no friends, no money, no life, and now no husband. She glares at me.

“Are you going to sit here and insult me for the entire dinner?” she says, apparently wounded.

“I didn’t insult you, Mother. I asked you an honest question. How did leaving the man who once loved you more than life and breaking up our family work out for you?” She sits there looking at me, and for a brief moment, I see a flash of regret. No need to answer, Carla. I already know.

“Did you ever get that more that you were looking for? Is that what Stephen promised you? Did he give that to you? You got a big, ostentatious house in Green Valley already furnished with the finest things, but you could barely afford the lifestyle. You never fit in and with my first hand experience of those assholes, you certainly don’t fit in now. All of the friends that you once had in our simple little lifestyle are now all gone, traded for the hope of being accepted by a bunch of snobs and hypocrites, often faking happiness and hiding behind their money—money that you never had, that is, until you and your husband sold my silence and sanity for a few bucks.”

She gasps when I bring that up, but I don’t care. Be as shocked as you want, you old bat. I hate what you did to me and now, you’re going to sit still and listen because you’re chomping at the bit to see what’s going to happen at the end of this conversation.

“You chastised Daddy because you thought I could never see the world. Well, guess what, Mother? In the last year, I’ve seen more of the world than you have in your whole life. So the joke’s on you.”

“It certainly wasn’t because of anything Raymond did,” she spit.

“It was even less because of anything you did,” I spit back, and she’s silenced again. “Daddy did have a hand and bringing me and Christian together, though. So I would have to say that you’re wrong.” Her eyes grow large.

“What did he do to facilitate this relationship?” she asks, a bit horrified. He helped me find out that Christian was the one doing the background check on me, which led me to Grey House and our first kiss, but I’m not telling her that. I smile a little fiendishly knowing this bit of information makes her uncomfortable.

“That’s none of your concern. All you need to know is that if it weren’t for Raymond Steele, Christian and I wouldn’t be together.” Take that, you wretched piece of flesh. She shifts uncomfortably in her seat. That is quite the bitter pill for her to swallow.

“Well, I had no idea,” she says, adjusting her napkin on her lap. I do the same since I assume that the appetizers will be here soon.

“I thought you wouldn’t, but that’s okay. There’s a lot you don’t know about me.” The waiter grants her a brief reprieve by bringing our mussels and potstickers. Setting an empty dish in front of each of us, he tells us that our entrées will be served momentarily before leaving us to our conversation.

“Next question,” I consider when the waiter is out of earshot. “When did you stop caring about me?” I ask without pausing, placing some of the mussels and potstickers on my plate and moving some of the black vinegar and soy sauce to a dipping bowl—casually, like I was asking her about the weather. I only stop to look up at her after I have situated my appetizers and she hasn’t said anything yet. “Well?” I prompt.

“I… I didn’t… I…” Yeah, never expected me to ask you that question, did you? I don’t want to help her here, but I’m tired of listening to her trip over her tongue.

“Let me be a little more specific,” I tell her. “When you left Daddy and ripped me away from everything that I knew and loved and I begged you not to do it, begged you to let me stay in Montesano, what were you thinking when I stood there and cried, holding on to my Daddy and feeling like my life was really ending?” Again, I say the words casually, like we’re talking about the latest fashions, before dipping my potsticker into the sauce and taking a healthy bite. My God, they’re delicious. I chew and wait for whatever answer this woman is prepared to give me.

“You were young,” she answers. “You had no idea what was best for you at the time and I did. I knew that there were more opportunities for you in Green Valley than there were in Montesano.”

“More opportunities!” I say in disbelief. “That’s rich. So, the fact that I was having my heart ripped out had absolutely no effect whatsoever on you, proven by the fact that you allowed that asshole berate me for the entire trip.”

“Do not speak of my husband that way!” she snaps.

“Oh, so quick to defend your dead husband, but never once rose to defend your live daughter!” My words are now dripping with malice, so cold that they silence her once again. “I will speak of him any way I so choose. He was cruel and wicked and evil and heartless to me and you allowed it to happen. That’s all I’ll ever remember, and don’t forget—you’re free to leave and get on that plane at any time.”

“I am your mother, Anastasia. How could you be so cold to me?” she seems hurt now.

“I am your daughter, Carla. How could you be so cold to me?” I respond, nearly growling. She’s shaking a bit now.

“I asked you a question. The least you could do is answer it,” she says, her voice cracking.

“I just did,” I reply in the same menacing voice. “You let that man treat me like garbage and you stood by and did nothing. He called me names, he berated me, he treated me like pure and utter shit. You never once asked me how I felt. You never once took me or my feelings into consideration. I wanted to die! I really wanted to die, and you didn’t care. All you cared about was your precious fucking Stephen, and getting into country clubs, and what the neighbors would think. You didn’t care about me at all, even after they beat me damn near to death. I could’ve died and I laid in that bed many nights wishing I had, and you didn’t care!”

I realize that my voice is rising louder than I want and Carla is turning a bit white, quite white in fact. I take a deep breath and sip my wine again, allowing the flavor to quench my throat and calm my nerves. Once I have composed myself a bit, I dig into the mussels, determined not to allow her to ruin my meal. Once I have savored the flavor of two of them, I turned my attention back to her.

“Have you seen the video, Mother?” I ask her. She frowns.

“What video?” she asks.

“The video of the beating, what they did to your daughter,” I say flippantly while indulging in another delicious mussel. I can’t believe my stoicism right now. Maybe it’s because my burning hatred for the woman who now inhabits my mommy’s body is speaking more than anything else.

“Why would I want to see that?”

“Well, if it were my daughter who had been cruelly and unjustly brutalized by a group of vicious little brats, I’d want to see it. I’d want to know who caused that kind of horrible pain and suffering on my one and only child. I would follow every news clipping, every arrest, every single detail of that story to find out what was going to happen to those monsters who terrorized and tortured my baby. Then again, that’s just me, I guess. My mommy, the woman that I knew, she would do that. She would be there demanding answers and justice for me. Hell, she would have done that 10 years ago, but I wouldn’t expect that from you.”

Again, she looks bruised. As I finish my share of the potstickers, I can’t help but wonder if some alien being possessed her body all of those years ago that she doesn’t remember her callous and unfeeling attitude towards me. She drops her head. She hasn’t touched the appetizers and I stop eating them. I don’t want to be too full when the steak comes. She looks down at her empty plate.

“I accept that I haven’t been the best mother, Anastasia, but I have never been deliberately cruel to you,” she says, emotion heavy in her voice.

“Yes, you have, Mother,” I say flatly. “You were deliberately cruel when you ripped me away from my father, not once, but twice. You were deliberately cruel when you made me call the only man that I knew and loved as my dad by his first name just for your own satisfaction. You were deliberately cruel when you repeatedly ignored my pain—after you took me away from my home; while you let a stranger make me feel like nothing; after I was raped; while the women in the neighborhood called me a whore and your husband called me fast; while I lay in the hospital alone and in pain after those same little monsters whose parents you worship beat me and tortured me to the point of killing the child that I was carrying; when you dragged me back to that hellhole so that you and that man that you buried could have a few more pennies to rub together. You may be able to accept that you haven’t been the best mother, but I think you’re giving yourself way too much credit with that statement.”

The tears start to fall, but surprisingly, it’s not me that’s crying. It’s her. I would love to know what’s going through her mind right now, so I ask.

“Why the tears, Mother? What are you thinking?” she doesn’t get a chance to answer before the waiter returns with our main course.

“Should I… come back?” he asks, looking at Carla crying at the table.

“No, it’s fine. You can clear the appetizers,” I tell him. He looks from me to Carla and back to me. I look at him, unassuming, waiting for him to do his job. He slowly clears the table, stealing glances at the crying Carla. I want to tell him to hurry up and clear the damn dishes, but I realize that not too many people can see a woman cry and do nothing—unless that woman/girl happens to be your daughter lying in a hospital bed after she’s been beaten half to death, of course.

“Ma’am, are you okay?” he asks her and she doesn’t respond.

“Carla? He’s talking to you,” I say with no malice and no feeling. “Are you okay?” She sniffs, then nods.

“I’m fine,” she says, softly, but says nothing else. I look back at him and wait for him to finish clearing the dishes. He slowly puts the entrées on the table in front of us and continues eying Carla.

“Will there be anything else?” he says, mainly to Carla and not to me. She still hasn’t raised her head.

“No, that’s all, thank you,” I tell him. He throws a menacing look at me and turns back to Carla.

“Ma’am, are you sure you’re okay?” he asks her. Now, I’m losing my patience. Not only did he have the nerve to roll his eyes at me, but he’s clearly butting his nose into something that is none of his business.

“I said I’m fine,” Carla says more firmly, to his surprise. Now, I’m feeling like Christian Grey. I look over my shoulder and make eye contact with Chuck. I tilt my head behind me, and he knows exactly what I want and off he goes. I turn my attention back to the waiter.

“What’s your name?” I ask him after leaning my arms on the table.

“Adrian,” he replies.

“Well, Adrian, you should probably learn to take context clues if you’re going to be working with the public. You see, you made two huge mistakes just now. First, you dawdled here so that you effectively interfere in and interrupt a very personal, private, and—as you can see—delicate conversation. Second, something must be disconnecting somewhere in your brain that you can see that there are five empty tables around us and two very ominous looking gentlemen standing there making sure that no one gets into this area but you. Now I may be wrong, but if I were in your place, Adrian, I would take that as a hint that this area might need to be handled with care. Oh, but there’s a third thing. You paid no attention to the fact that I’ve done all the ordering which clearly means that this dinner is on me, and you just pissed me off.”

Adrian glares at me, intent on holding his ground until I hear a voice from behind me.

“Ana, hi. Mr. Davenport says that you need to see me.” Jeff, the night manager, has made his way to the table and is taking in the scene before him. “Is everything okay.”

“Yes, Jeff, everything is fine. Can you please get Adrian out of here?” I ask. He jerks his head a bit.

“I’m sorry?” Jeff asks, clearly taken aback. “What’s wrong, Ana?”

“He can put whatever spin he wants on this story, as long as he doesn’t come back to this table,” I say with no malice. I’ve been in Dahlia many times before and Jeff knows me well. If I’m sending someone away, it’s no small ordeal.

“Adrian,” he says, making the same gesture to Adrian that I made to Chuck a few moments earlier. Adrian walks away silently with his tray under his arm. “Ana, is there… anything I can do?”

“No, Jeff, thank you. Just send someone else when it’s time for the check, please,” I answer with a tight smile. He nods.

“My apologies for whatever he did,” Jeff says. My smile becomes more sincere.

“None needed, but thank you.” He nods tightly and walks away. Carla has composed herself by now.

“At least I’m not the only target of your ire,” she says, her voice cracking.

“No, Mother, you’re not. I let my fury loose on anyone who treats me badly.” Boy, I’ve got them lined up today. Every time she comes at me with a snazzy comment, I just throw them right back at her. I’m proud of myself. “You never answered my question,” I say while cutting a few small pieces of beef. I see her raise her head.

“What question?” she asks.

“What you were thinking… why you were crying,” I say while taking a bite of the New York strip. Oh, it’s heavenly—perfectly seasoned and perfectly cooked. I try not to take too much pleasure in the flavor as it might show on my face. Carla, once again, hasn’t touched her halibut.

“I was just thinking… that the little girl that I raised would never speak to me the way that you do. She would never say the horrible things to me that you’re saying now and that you say to me every time I see you.” I can hear the emotion in her voice, but it’s truly displaced.

“You’ve got that partially right,” I say, a little sadly. “The little girl that was raised would never say any of those things that I’m saying right now to that woman that raised her. Since that woman is not here, I have no problem saying them to you.” I take another bite of my steak and I can literally feel the temperature drop in the room. “Eat your halibut, Mother. I’m told it’s delicious.”

“I’ve suddenly lost my appetite,” she says. I shrug.

“Pity,” I say, munching on broccoli and cheddar cheese. I don’t know why, but this seems to be the best food I’ve ever tasted. I make quick work of my meal while Carla sits there staring at her plate. When mine is clear with the exception of a few Kennebec potatoes, I gesture for the waiter… who is now a waitress.

“Yes, ma’am? Are we all done?” She looks over at Carla’s never-touched plate. “You didn’t like the halibut, ma’am? Did you want something else?”

“No, thank you. I’m just not that hungry,” Carla answers, looking out the window.

“Can you wrap it up, please?” I ask her. “I hate to see food go to waste.” It’s a side effect of being with Christian Grey.

“Sure thing, ma’am. Can I get you anything else? Some coffee?” the waitress asks.

“Coffee would be perfect, and the check please,” I tell her. She nods and smiles before removing our dishes.

“So, Mother, I have one last question for you.” I ask her, folding my hands in front of me on the table. She turns her eyes to me as though she were resigned to her fate. “What—if anything at all—did you think of me?” She looks at me as if she truly doesn’t know how to answer that question.

“Think of you… when?” she asks. I shrug.

“After we left Montesano… once we got to Las Vegas… after the rape… after the beating… anything. Anytime. What did you think of me?” My voice sounds a little desperate even to myself because this is truly the million-dollar question. What exactly did you think of me that you could bring me into this world and then watch me suffer the way that you did?

“I… I…” She sighs and her shoulders drop. “I didn’t.” My eyes grow large.

“What?” I ask, stunned and confused, my voice higher than usual.

“I didn’t,” she repeats, very nonchalantly. “You were a teenager. Your best years were just beginning. Mine were ending. I had to try to grab something for myself, something to hold on to. Housewife in the Washington forests couldn’t be my story. I had to have more.” Her voice is beseeching, willing me to understand her plight, but I can’t. I’m too absorbed in my own.

“Then go and chase your best years. Why ruin mine? I should have been going on dates or going to prom, first dances, first kisses, learning those foolish little lessons that teenage girls learn—not lying in hospital beds for weeks at a time or crying myself to sleep every night wondering why nobody loved me! Why ruin mine?”

“You were a young girl. You needed to be with your mother…” she defends desperately.

“But you didn’t want me,” I whine. “Why not just leave me with my daddy?”

“Because he wasn’t your daddy!” she retorts.

“Neither was Stephen and you tried to get me to call him Daddy. You were going in search of your happiness. I had already found mine. Why not leave me to it? This whole thing could have been prevented.”

“Don’t you dare blame this on me, Anastasia!” she nearly cries, bringing the attention of a few diners to her.

“Why not?” I no longer care who’s looking. I have to get this out. “If you had left me alone with my daddy, this wouldn’t have happened. You may have found that ridiculous life you were looking for with that group of snobby phonies. You would have had one less mouth to feed and more money to spend on your pretend image. How did you even convince Stephen to take me with you? He couldn’t stand me.”

“You were a tax deduction.” Oh, now, she’s just being hurtful… or is she?

“You’re not serious.” It’s a statement, not a question. This is the first time that I have seen true regret on her face.

“Yes, I am. If you stayed with Ray, he could claim you on his taxes. If you stayed with me, Stephen could claim you.”

My heart breaks into a million little pieces. The truth is worse than I ever could have imagined. She didn’t want me. He didn’t want me. The only reason they kept me around was for a tax break. From the very beginning to the very end, it was always about money. I wanted to know the truth and now I got it. I didn’t even notice the waitress had brought the coffee and the check until I looked down and saw the little black portfolio. I mechanically pull out my Visa card and put it inside, handing it to Chuck. I turn back to my coffee and take a sip, the heat on my tongue reminding me that I was truly awake and this was not just a bad dream.

“I really was nothing,” I say, mostly to myself. “He said it every day… every day.” I drop my head in my hands. “‘You’re nothing. Nobody cares about you. You’re nothing.’ He said it every day. For years, he said it every day… like it was a ritual… every day. I thought he was just being hurtful, but I really was nothing… to you, to him, to everybody except Ray…”

I think about what I’m saying in front of her. I raise my head and look at her tormented face.

“Everybody except Daddy,” I say again and a frisson of sadness shoots across her face, but it’s gone as quickly as it came. I bite my bottom lip and nod as a single tear falls from my eye. I take a deep breath and wipe away the tear.

“I brought you here because I had unfinished business, but I’m finishing it today.” I remove a large manila envelope from my bag.

“I’m letting this go. It’s holding my life back in more ways than you’ll ever know. I don’t know what you were going through and I never will understand why you treated me the way that you did, why you chose to let that man torment me instead of protecting me from him. I’ll never be able to understand the motives behind anything that you did for those years and how you were able to justify it, but it’s not important anymore. I need to be free of this. I need to mend—really mend, so I’m letting you off the hook. I’m releasing you so that I can release me. This ends here and I’m not taking it with me another day after this. So I forgive you, Mom, I really do with all my heart, but I still never want to see you again. There’s no place for you in my life, good or bad, and I just want you to go away.

“I accept that it was never about me and that it never will be, and I’m okay with that now. Even with all of my education, there are still some things in the human mind that I will never be able to explain. Knowing that, I can accept that I’ll never have all the answers. Asking the why for all these years is what got me here in the first place. I’m okay with not knowing the why anymore. I’m just going to move forward.” I slide the envelope over to my mother containing $100,000 in cash.

“I know this is really what you want. Use it wisely, because there’ll be no more after this.”

I stand and put my messenger bag on my shoulder and look at her. Her expression is hard to interpret, but for one fleeting moment, I saw the Mom that baked the cake for my sixth birthday; the Mom that danced with Ray in the living room of our house in Montesano; the Mom that tucked me into my bedroom in the loft of that same house; the Mom that I had for a few years of my life—that’s the Mom that I’ll hold in my heart as I walk away from this woman who has taken over her body. I bend down and place a gentle kiss on her cheek.

“Goodbye, Mommy.” I turn around and walk out of the restaurant.

I step outside and take a deep, cleansing breath and let it out. An unbelievably huge weight appears to have been lifted from my shoulders, so much so that I literally have to stretch my back and neck to adjust to the release of tension.

“Are you okay?” Chuck asks, handing me my credit card and holding the tin foil goose carrying the halibut. I gaze at him for a moment.

“I’ve never felt better,” I say, noting the astonishment in my voice as I begin the leisurely stroll back to Escala.


GREY

I’m typing away at my computer and waiting for Butterfly to come home. I force-fed myself dinner, knowing that she would be pissed as hell at me if I didn’t eat. I can’t help it. I’m worried about her meeting with that woman. I’ve seen what this relationship—for lack of a better word—has done to her and I just want this meeting to be over as quickly as possible. I try to focus on my work as the minutes tick into hours, then into days, then months, then millennia… Okay, I’m exaggerating, but it sure as hell feels that long.

I hear the ping of the elevator and it’s like music to my ears. How I heard it through the walls I’m not entirely sure, but it sounds like a trumpet to me and I’m out of my seat and charging through the great room before she even gets into the apartment. The door opens and I see her small frame walk inside. She’s quiet. Has she been crying? It doesn’t look like she’s been crying, but I can’t tell. Did she mend fences with that monster?

I proceed further into the room and approach with caution. She stops when she sees me and I stop on instinct. We eye each other for a moment before I begin to approach her again.

“How did it go?” I ask, softly.

She still stands there for a moment, prompting me to stop walking. Suddenly, she walks quickly, then runs toward me, leaping just in time for me to catch her in my arms. She nearly climbs my body and clings to me like boa constrictor. I hold her tight and don’t say a word. I don’t really know what to say.

 After a while, she starts to cry. I hold her there while she weeps in my arms. I look up at Davenport behind her, hoping for some kind of guidance. His lips form a tight line as he seems just as adrift as I am. After a few more moments and Butterfly hasn’t calmed, he shakes his head and mouths a word at me.

“Brutal.”

I nod short and quick. He holds up the foil goose that I assume are leftovers from the meal. I slightly gesture to my head towards the door signaling that he can leave. He nods and salutes me with his index finger before leaving the apartment and closing the door behind him. I carry Butterfly over to the sofa and sit down, situating her on my lap.

“Baby?” I don’t want to force her to talk, but she’s going to hyperventilate in a minute.

“S-s-s… shshe’s go… g-g-g… gone!” she finally chokes out. I don’t even know what that means.

Has Mini-Morton left Seattle?
Is she hurting about it or so happy that she’s crying hysterical tears?
Did she die?
Is she talking gone symbolically or physically?
Does she not care at all and is just informing me through her tears that Mini-Morton has left the building?

I don’t try to figure it out. There’s nothing I’m going to get from her until she’s ready to tell me and right now, she just needs to cry. I take the remote from the coffee table and turn on the fireplace. With a second remote, I’m able to find a soothing saxophone player to calm Butterfly’s nerves. We’ll just sit here for as long as it takes for her to get all of this out.

It took a long time… a very long time… three hours in fact. It’s after 10:00 when her hiccups finally turn into the occasional shuddering breath. She’s calmer now and I would think she was asleep, but I know her body. She’s wide awake. Well, maybe not wide awake after all that crying, but awake. I stroke her hair for a few more moments before she begins talking.

“I’ve had patients—parents of missing children or loved ones of missing family members. They’ve told me stories about how they have printed flyers and gone on television, conducted mass searches. They do this for years with no answers. The pain never dies, but neither does the hope. After a while, they come to a state of sad acceptance. Something in them tells them that they will never see their loved one again. They move on with their lives and the pain becomes less noticeable, more bearable. They don’t think about it every day, but a painful truth remains, a stabbing reminder or a deep painful ache… if they were alive, they would have contacted me by now.

“They move on with their lives. Months, sometimes years go by with no word and they accept it—accept that something horrible has happened to their loved one. Then there’s a knock at the door or a phone call. Their remains have been found. This makes it final and certain. You knew all along, but there’s nothing like bones or a body to drive it home. Then they sit in my office and grieve all back over again. It usually doesn’t last as long as the initial grieving, but they grieve nonetheless. They grieve for the loss of that last shred of hope.” She breathes in deeply and lets it out.

“I’ve just been presented with the body.”

I don’t know what to say. I squeeze her tightly and ask the question that is burning in my head.

“Butterfly, did you really think that you would talk to her and it would all be okay?” She shakes her head.

“No… ye… I don’t know what I thought. I may have had that small glimmer of hope, but… no, I didn’t think it would all be okay.” She pauses again. “I thought she ignored me all of those years. Ignoring someone means that you recognize that they are there, but you pay them no attention. My mother didn’t ignore me, Christian. It was worse. I didn’t exist. She completely put me out of her mind.

“As far as she’s concerned, Daddy and I took the best years of her life, and she was going to take them back no matter what. If I ended up face-down in the concrete as a result of it, I was just collateral damage. She saw nothing, Christian. Felt nothing. Anything that happened to me was an interruption of her life. I caused her current plight because I brought undue attention to her—to us and our household and situation.”

“Why didn’t she just leave you in Montesano with Ray?” I ask her, horrified.

“Oh, that was my question, too. That’s the best answer of all… I was tax write-off.”

What? I didn’t just hear her correctly. I didn’t. I know I didn’t. The violent shaking of my head must have alerted her to what I was thinking.

“My sentiments exactly,” she says. “I think my reaction was ‘you’re not serious.’ She didn’t even apologize. She didn’t even try, and she has the nerve to wonder why I’ve been bitter all these years.”

I shake my head. I have to say that this is even worse than my crack whore mother. She has the excuse that even though it was by her own hand, she was incoherent most of the time. This spiteful bitch was awake and alert for her daughter’s suffering, and after all of these years, she’s still not the slightest bit remorseful.

“How did you all leave it?”

“I gave her the money, told her that I forgive her, and said goodbye.” She lifts her face to look into my eyes. “I’m free.” I look at her skeptically.

“Free?” I ask.

“Free. I’ve got the answers to the questions that I’ve asked all these years. Even though I didn’t like the results, I don’t have to wonder. I’m not under her spell anymore. I don’t have to wish or guess or live in uncertainty. I can face my monsters without hiding. I may still have to work on the running and the shrinking as old habits are hard to break, but Christian, I’m free.”

She means it! She really means it! I can see it in her eyes and in the simplicity of her expression. There’s no stress, no confusion, no pain—only peace and truth. She means it. She’s free. I hold her tight and kiss her hair.

“Oh, Butterfly. This makes me so happy. So, so happy,” I say softly as she sinks into me and sighs.

“I’m thirsty, Christian,” she says. Yes, three hours of crying will do that to you.

“I can imagine. Let’s get you some orange juice and ibuprofen, then bath and bed, okay?” She nods. I place her on her feet and lead her to the kitchen.

*-*

Butterfly is finally asleep after the harrowing experience that was Carla Morton today. I lie there in the bed watching the ceiling. I can’t sleep. I’m not even tired. Butterfly’s head hit the pillow and she was gone in seconds… literally, seconds. She was completely exhausted, but my mind keeps wandering back to that wretched witch at the Four Seasons. A tax deduction… she put my Butterfly through all that suffering for a tax deduction. All of this could have been avoided. She may have never had to experience the horrors she experienced, but Carla and Stephen wanted to get a few bucks off of their tax return.

All of that suffering and pain, and Carla did nothing… for a tax deduction.

My head is going a mile a second and I can’t make it stop. It never ceases to amaze me how people can be so cruel as to hurt a child in any way. I think the worse abuse of all is indifference because the child feels invisible. This indifference, however, came on the heels of something so unthinkably tragic…

I carefully pull my arm from under Butterfly’s sleeping body, although I think an explosion wouldn’t wake her right now. I quickly put on a T-shirt and jeans with sneakers and quietly grab my keys, jacket, wallet and cell phone.

“Going somewhere?” I look up to see Jason at the breakfast bar as I’m headed to the front door.

“Yes, and I could really use some backup,” I tell him. He looks at me suspiciously.

“Shoulder’s not 100% yet, Boss,” he says cautiously. I shake my head.

“It’s nothing like that,” I respond. He nods and grabs his sandwich, following me out the front door.

“I need the night manager, please.” I tell the desk clerk at the Four Seasons. She goes into the office and comes out with a gentleman that recognizes me immediately.

“Mr. Grey, good to see you again. How are you?” he greets me.

“Good, thank you. I need access to the room number that was reserved with this card,” I tell him handing him my Amex. He looks on the computer and produces a key for the room. “Would you terribly mind coming with me? I would like the occupant removed immediately if she doesn’t have a credit card of her own for the room. I will pay for the time that she has stayed before now, but she can’t stay any longer.” He looks at me questioning but nods and follows me to the elevators.

“What is this about?” Mini-Morton says groggily as she opens the door to her suite.

“You need to pack up your things and leave this room unless you have a card to put on file for the suite,” the night manager tells her. She looks from him to me. She walks back into the room and comes back with a stack of bills.

“Will this hold the room?” she asks. He counts the bills and it’s way too much, but he nods.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says, with a nod. She smirks at me and tries to slam the door, but I stop it by loudly slamming my hand flat to it.

“Would you mind waiting here until I come out? I need to speak with Mrs. Morton. It won’t take long,” I say to the manager.

“Certainly, Mr. Grey,” he says, crossing his hands in front of him with a nod. Jason and I push into the room past a protesting Mini-Morton.

“Have a seat,” I tell her as we walk into her suite.

“You can’t order me around…”

“I said sit down!” I growl in the scariest Dom voice I think I’ve ever heard. I think her legs took her to a seat before her brain had a chance to protest. “How? How could you do this to her?”

“What have I done now?” she nearly squeals.

“It’s not what you did now. It’s what you did then. How could you be so cruel?” She sighs heavily.

“I’ve had this conversation with my daughter. I’m not having it again with you.” Her voice actually sounds defeated.

“You don’t have a daughter, Morton. I thought she wrote you off before, but… the things you told her. She was a tax deduction? You didn’t even think about her while she was suffering? She was miserable. She wanted to die. What would you have done if you had come into the room and she had taken her own life?” A flash of horror comes across her face, but moments later, she has composed herself.

“But she didn’t, so why are we having this conversation?” she says indignantly.

“But she could have,” I hiss back. “It happens all the time, or is your head stuck too far up your ass to even realize that this was a possibility? Knowing you, you would have called her weak and pathetic, then used the situation to garner as much sympathy for yourself as possible.” She sits there in her seat with her legs crossed and her arms folded, looking at me like I’m taking up her precious time. “If you weren’t a female, I’d beat your ass.” She gasps.

“You’d beat my ass anyway if you thought you could get away with it,” she replies. I tilt my head and glare at her.

“You’re right, so handle me very carefully, Lady!” Her shock does not get past me.

“You can’t do it anyway, so it’s a useless discussion.”

“You’re going to get enough of telling me what I can’t do,” I say to her. “You don’t know me, Morton. I’m sitting in your hotel room at 2:00 in the morning, talking to you while you sit there in your nightdress and I know you would rather I not be here. We only knocked because he convinced me that it was proper,” I say, gesturing to Jason standing next to me.

“You need coaching on what’s proper?” she smiles. I smile and chuckle.

“You win a lot of disagreements that way, don’t you?” I ask. Her eyebrows furrow. “Diversion. You take one sentence out of the paragraph and you focus only on that, throwing away every other bit.” She shrugs. “Good businesspeople learn early in the game that that’s the worst form of negotiation. You can use it to win a battle—and it’s effective, depending on how important the battle is—but in the long run, you lose the war.”

“Are you trying to school me, Mr. Grey?” she asks sarcastically.

“Only if you choose to listen,” I respond. “You see, while diversion takes your mind away from the entire paragraph, you’re diverting attention away from the important topics. For example, you focused on the one statement that Jason convinced me that it was proper to knock on your door instead of just barging in. While you were trying to use it as a diversion, you didn’t even focus on the meaning of that statement or the paragraph. Luckily for you, I’m very good at the counter-tactic of refocusing the conversation and I’ve got all night, so we can do this as long as you want.”

“I’m really not inter…”

“Shut up!” I interrupt her. “I’m refocusing.” After a pause, I say, “The meaning that you should have garnered from that paragraph is that if I have to prove to you exactly what I can do, you’re going to be a very unhappy and miserable woman… maybe even homeless, jobless, and unemployable. Proof of that is the fact that I’m sitting in your room right now, and I could be sitting here watching you sleeping because I have the power to barge into you room without knocking. So while you’re focusing on my knowledge of what’s proper, you’re missing several very important bits of information, you dimwitted old goat!”

She doesn’t bother gasping at my name-calling anymore. I think she’s immune to it by now, or at least she should be.

“So you’ve made your point. You can do whatever you want. Big deal, you’re a bully. I still don’t take down to bullies, Mr. Grey, so exactly what is the purpose of this visit because I would really like to get back to bed and if you would like to watch me sleep, then be my guest.”

At that moment, I realize the frustration Butterfly must have felt talking to this woman and trying to get to the heart of the breakdown in their relationship. She has the most nonchalant, flippant but self-righteous attitude I have ever seen. There’s so much that I thought I wanted to say to her, but it all just wafted out of my head when I came to this realization. I take another tactic because, quite frankly, I want to spend the night with Butterfly, not this woman.

“I’m adopted,” I say softly.

“I should care about this because?” she says, snidely.

“Shut up, you worthless, sorry excuse of a human being. I’m talking now!” I growl. She cowers back in her chair. “I have about as much concern and respect for you as you did for my fiancée, so you shut the fuck up.” I glare at her to make sure that she gets my meaning.

“I’m adopted. I lived a horrible, wretched life before my parents adopted me. I was beaten, burned, berated, and neglected. Sound familiar?” She just sits there staring at me.

“I was four years old when I was rescued.” She gasps. It’s always hard for anyone to hear that those things happened to a child before he could even form full, coherent sentences of any true meaning.

“I’m kind of surprised by your reaction,” I continue. “I mean, I’m not surprised that a person reacts that way, I’m just surprised that you did.” Her eyes narrow and Mini-Morton is back. “That’s not an insult, honestly. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just you had more concern for a four-year-old stranger than you did for your daughter 10 years ago and I just can’t fathom that. She went through the same horrible things that I did. The difference is that the woman that claimed to be my mother—who is now dead, by the way—was too drugged out and high to notice while you just… watched. I just don’t know how a parent does that and the morbid curiosity in me really wants to understand.”

I’m silent while she sits there in her nightdress staring at me. Okay, we can do this as long as you like.

We sit… and sit… and sit…

“Am I entertaining you?” she asks after several minutes.

“Not at all. I asked you a question, and you haven’t answered it yet.” I reply flatly.

“And I don’t have to answer it for you!” she hisses. I shake my head.

“Never mind. You already have.” She looks at me, bemused. “I thought I was the coldest son-of-a-bitch alive… until I met you. You have absolutely no redeeming value, absolutely none. That is so sad because I’m not saying that to hurt your feelings. With everything that I know about you and everything that I’ve heard about you and everything that I’ve seen, I’ve always hated you because of the hand that you played in Butterfly’s pain. Now that I know the truth, I don’t quite know what to think or feel.” My words are spoken with no malice as I examine her like some exotic, foreign creature.

“I’m a bit out of my breadth here because I either handle things with extreme pleasure or intense distaste whereas you… this... is somewhere in that very gray area in between. A wise woman once told me that nothing is ever just black or white, it’s always gray. This is very gray, and if I cared enough I would pick it apart, but I don’t. Instead, I think I can only label my feelings as… pity.”

“I don’t need your pity,” she says, trying to act affronted.

“It’s not so much for you, Carla, it’s just… pity. I can’t explain it and I won’t try, since I promise you that this is the last time I or Butterfly will ever visit this issue again. I just really try to comprehend things that I don’t understand before I walk away from them completely. I guess I just have to accept the fact that I’m not going to understand this one.”

I examine this small woman sitting across from me, both in stature and in character. It’s good to know that she doesn’t have a hold on Butterfly anymore. I realize now that there’s not too much more that I can say to her… not too much, but still…

“I was coming up here to demand that you leave Seattle, but I realize that I don’t have to do that now. You’re truly nothing and not because I dislike you or anything like that, but because she came home and cried you out of her system for three hours and for the first time since I’ve known her, I could look in her eyes and know that she has truly let go. Now we can get on with our lives.

“She has an amazing support system. Her friends are loyal to a fucking fault and her father is strong and valiant, full of character. I’m a better man for knowing him. Her stepmother is a wonderful, beautiful woman and she and Ray are about to be parents any day now.” I can tell by her expression that she didn’t know that. “Yes, Carla, life is going on all over the world—without you.

“I’m going to marry that woman. I’m going to make her rich. I’m going to keep her blissfully happy. We’re going to have beautiful babies—grandchildren that you will never get to meet; birthdays and graduations that you will miss; milestones that you will never hear about. I can’t wait to get her pregnant, Carla, to see her beautiful body swell with the evidence of our love growing inside of her. I can’t wait to see her glow with the light of new life. The anticipation is almost unbearable. She’s stunning now, so I know that she’ll be absolutely breathtaking carrying our child.

“There’s so much that you’re going to miss,” I continue. “For that, I do pity you. I’m sorry, Carla.” She frowns.

“Sorry for what?” she asks.

“Sorry that you traded your future for the hope of something you never got,” I say. “You wanted more so badly that you traded your bird in the hand for two that weren’t even in the bush.” I stand and look at her again.

“You were very wrong about one thing,” I continue. “Those weren’t the best years of your life. They all are. Your childhood and teenage years are the best because they shape who you are. Your young adult years are the best because that’s when you become who you’re meant to be. Your adult years are the best because you live, have great experiences, raise your children, and lay your foundations for later in life.

“These years coming up—these are your golden years. These are the years when you’re supposed to be surrounded with family and children and grandchildren; when they play in the grass and run up to you and call you things like ‘grandma’ or ‘nana’ or ‘granny;’ when you tell them stories about the way things used to be when you were a kid; when they run to you because ‘Mom just doesn’t understand me like you do.’

“And when the sun finally sets on your days, they hold your hand and kiss you. You’re surrounded with love as you make your transition to the afterlife. Those are the best years, Carla, and you’ve already missed a lot of them and you’re going to miss many more.

“Your daughter is a doctor, and she’s brilliant. She’s only 27 and she had a thriving practice when I met her with a waiting list a mile long. She carries a black belt in Krav Maga. She owns a million-dollar condo that she also had when I met her. I think she can shoot anything with a trigger and she has the ability to make a friend out of just about anyone.

“She took a massive tragedy that left her physically scarred for life and turned it into a triumph. She has the most beautiful art on her back where she has incorporated that horrible scar into it. She showed those people that they were not going to win. Now, she has taken the final step to laying the emotional part of that story to rest. I’m sorry that you won’t see justice for taking a payoff to watch her pain, but I think this is better. I’ll take a perverse thrill in knowing what you lost, but only for a moment because you don’t deserve that much of my time.”

I walk to the door where I find the manager still standing there like I asked.

“I just wanted you to look at her and see that she’s unharmed before I leave—well, physically unharmed anyway. I can’t speak for emotionally.”

I turn around and look at her before leaving. Her eyes are full of remorse and sorrow, and I feel nothing.

“Goodbye, Carla,” I say before Jason and I head to the elevator.

*-*

Butterfly is as bright as a brand new penny as we sit at the breakfast bar eating Sunday brunch and checking more of the final things off our checklist for the wedding.

“So you all have a tuxedo fitting this week right?” she says, writing in her ledger. I nod.

“Friday. It’s the last one before the wedding, so these fuckers better not gain any weight,” I say. She giggles.

“I’ll probably go out somewhere with the girls for dinner after my session with Ace. You’ll text me when you’re done?” She takes a healthy bite of her omelet. Even her appetite seems to have improved.

“Absolutely, but feel free to make it a night with your friends. Maybe I’ll make it an evening with the guys here. I can invite Ray and my dad over and we can play poker or something.”

“That sounds like a plan,” she says with a smile, making more notes in her ledger and drinking her orange juice.

“Sir,” Jason gets my attention. He’s back to his duties as security around the house and slowly working his way into the rest of his role as my personal detail. “Mrs. Morton is downstairs. She has introduced herself as Ana’s mother and is apparently pretty distraught.”

I look over at Butterfly, who is frowning and looking at me. I told her about my visit to Mini-Morton to take my card off of her room at the Four Seasons.

“Are you expecting her?” I ask Butterfly. She shrugs and shakes her head.

“Nope. She can come up though,” she says, her voice light. Okay, now I’m surprised.

“You want to see her?” I ask.

“Not particularly, but I don’t care if she comes up.” She’s truly resigned and there is no malice in her voice. I shrug at Jason.

“Send her up,” I tell Jason. He nods and goes back to the study. I know he’ll be back before Mini-Morton gets here.

“So I think we’ll go to Ruzhen’s—you know, the Mongolian Grill in the University district. I haven’t been there for a while. I guess I should invite Gary and Phil and Marilyn, too. Al and James will be here with you. So will Elliot, so I won’t feel like the fifth wheel since Val will be there… why are you looking at me like that?”

She just began talking like hell and damnation is not on its way up the elevator and I must be staring at her harder than I thought.

“Oh, I’m sorry. You just threw me for a loop,” I tell her. What could Carla possibly want to say to her at this point?

“You mean Carla?” she asks and I nod. “She no longer affects me, Christian. So she can come up.”

I shrug, surprised at her composure and anxious to see what will become of this visit.

Jason comes back out of the study to open the door. Carla stumbles into the room, tear-stained and haggard-looking. She must not have slept for the rest of the night.

“Anastasia! Please, Baby! Please forgive me. I was a fool. Please…” she begs.

“I have forgiven you,” Butterfly says calmly. “I forgave you yesterday when I left the restaurant. I’m not carrying this anymore. There’s just no place for you in my life.”

“Please, please, don’t shut me out. Please… I have no one, nothing. Here.” She reaches into her large purse and pulls out a familiar manila envelope. “You can have this back. I don’t want it. Please, Anastasia, please. I’m so sorry. Please, don’t shut me out.” Butterfly sighs. For a moment, I think she’s weakening.

“I don’t want it either,” she says to her mother. “You need it more than I do, so you keep it. These years, these are my years, Mom.” She called her Mom! “And I’m really not trying to hurt you, but there’s no place for you in my life. I don’t need a constant reminder that when I needed you the most, you simply did not care. Now, I don’t need you at all and I don’t want you around. So take your money and leave. There’s really nothing more for us to say.” Her calm is a bit eerie. She has truly buried this situation.

“Please, Baby. Please, don’t punish me. I’m so sorry. What can I ever do to make it up to you?” Carla weeps.

“Nothing, Mom,” Butterfly says, shaking her head. Carla breaks down into bitter sobs.

“Please, Ana…” she weeps.

“You should go now,” Butterfly says, unmoved.

“Ana…”

“Mom, you need to leave. I would hate to have you thrown out in your current state.” She’s not cold or unfeeling. In fact, she speaks with kindness. She’s just washed her hands of this entire situation. Carla looks up at her daughter one last time and, throwing caution to the wind, she throws her arms around Butterfly and weeps.

Butterfly doesn’t react. She doesn’t move. She doesn’t flinch. She doesn’t return her mother’s embrace. Her facial expression only changes slightly when she looks at Jason and mouths “to the mat.” We instantly remember her telling Davenport last year that if Carla got near her, she was taking him to the mat. Jason steps forward.

“Mrs. Morton,” he says. His voice forceful. Carla releases Butterfly and after taking one last look at her, runs out of the apartment weeping bitterly. Jason is close behind her as she heads to the elevator. I come up behind Butterfly and put my hands on her shoulders.

“Are you okay, Baby?” I ask her. She looks at me and nods.

“I’m fine, Christian. I’ve cried my tears already.” She takes my hand in hers. “Now, let’s go make sure that we have the finishing touches on our wedding.” She smiles a wide, genuine smile.

“Lead the way, Ms. Steele,” I say matching her smile and following her to Wedding Central.


A/N: I’ve told you all many times my story comes from research or from personal experience from myself or someone around me. I’ve tweaked it a bit, but unfortunately, the “tax break bombshell” is real.

I realize that people may feel that Ana’s final reaction to her mother was cold. However, I’ve been in that place where you have simply cried your last tears “yesterday.” The tears just stop and you’re no longer feeling any malice or sadness—you just want it to end. You don’t want any revenge; you no longer need any answers; you’re just closing the door and locking it, leaving the monsters on the other side while you move forward in the opposite direction. That’s where Ana is. This part of her life is done. This chapter is really closed. I already know what’s going to happen with Carla. She may make a “what ever happened to Carla” appearance in a later book, but for the most part, Carla has “graced” us for the last time.

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc. can be found at http://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/mending-dr-steele/

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

Love and Handcuffs!
Lynn x

Are You Afraid of the Dark?

 

It’s 2:00 in the morning and I have to go to work… so you KNOW I must have something to say…

So, in last week’s comments, there was a lot of controversy in people’s differing opinions about the contents of the chapter, what they thought I should do, where they thought the story was going, on and on and on. I have no problem with extreme emotion, things that make you think, even differing opinions offered in a respectful manner. The biggest controversy, it appears, is that some people are speculating that the Strauss money could originate as far back as Nazi Germany.

I’m going to be honest and say that I don’t know much about Nazi Germany and I have no desire to do any research on Nazi Germany. However, if I had decided to take my story in that direction, it would have been my prerogative. People who come from “old money” don’t have to be alive when the wealth was initially acquired. Also keep in mind that Edda never said how old she was—Christian guessed that she’s at least 70 years old.

Having said that, I have to say that for those of you who don’t know by now, I am a black woman—a baby-boomer, in fact. That means that even though I may not be learned on the entire history of Nazi Germany, I am familiar with some of it’s most infamous facts. I don’t want anybody to think I didn’t comment because I didn’t care. I didn’t comment because I was getting pissed off and there was nothing that I could say that could have been said in a constructive way.

The first comment that I remember reading was from someone who suggested that the Strauss money may have come from Hitlerjugend (did I spell that right?) or something of the sort. She was stating an historical fact about a dark time in World History as well as an opinion about how this could have been where Edda’s family’s money came from. The next thing I know, I’m reading insensitive “yawn” comments and stuff about slavery and I’m sitting here like “How the fuck did this happen???”

I am writing a story about two people who are going up against extraordinary obstacles because they are both extraordinary people! If the extraordinary is too much for you, leave!

I have to say that I did not commit to memory who wrote what comments—I just have pieces of the comments in my head. I threw a mental dart at the countries that might fit in the storyline and the dart hit Germany. Should I have thrown the dart at another country to alleviate this issue? Because no matter where the dart landed, there was going to be a dark past of some kind. It’s the nature of the world being around so long! I didn’t feel like navigating around bad history just to prove that Elena is a sick bitch that was most likely mentored by another sick bitch—nor did I think I had to!

The age of consent in Germany is 14. I can’t remember if it was comments or emails, but the next thing that I knew, I was getting comments/contact me/emails about the age of consent and German law. I had to pull out my research and prove that I had done my homework on how old a child had to be before you could fuck ‘em! I’m like, “Do people think I just open my hat, pull out a rabbit and put it in my story?” I may not have been correct on German slang, but I do know that the age of consent in Germany is currently 14.

It is also 14 in Austria, Portugal, and Italy.

The next thing I know, I’m getting facts about if you’re 21 & 7/8 years old and you have sex with someone 14 years 3 months 9 days 6 hours and 37 minutes old that you can be sued by the state and if you do the hokey-pokey backwards while rubbing your head and singing “Zippity-Do-Dathey can put you in jail and don’t walk the wrong way down a one-way street after midnight on a full moon or you might get a ticket and… I didn’t ask all that! Neither did I say all that! Edda said… wait for it…

Age of consent in my country is 14!”

That’s all she said! That. Is. A. Fact. Whatever other prelims and statutes and police rights and restrictions are placed upon it, that particular piece of information is true.

The age of consent in Germany is 14…
and that’s what I said…
and that’s what Edda said.

For those of you who still choose to refute me, please see  I . § 176 of the German Criminal CodeThere’s a PDF of it on that page if you would like to read the whole thing…

No offense to my German readers, but many of you came out either in comments or email to tell me what I got wrong when the only thing that I really got wrong was that I said that a piece of German slang was more common than it actually is. And the callousness about Nazi Germany… I’m physically ill. That’s all I have to say about that.

It is totally fine to speculate about where you think the story may be headed—I still contend that the comment that started this was just an opinion about where the money came from and what may have influenced Edda’s upbringing. However, to eliminate this situation in the future, I ask that if you feel the need to make any comments about issues that could possibly lead to a discussion about Nazi concentration camps, Native American reservations, the African slave ships, Rwandan genocide, Japanese-American internment camps, the thousands and thousands and thousands of black men, women, and children who have been shot, stabbed, hanged, burned, beaten or dragged behind cars in lynchings and during the civil rights movement from the late-18th to the mid-20th century, Middle Eastern honor rape (among other countries), South African Apartied, the many protestant tortures and deaths under the Spanish Inquisition, African female genital mutilation, the millions of female babies killed, left at orphanages, or sold into prostitution or slavery because of China’s one-child policy, or any of the other dark moments in world history, that you kindly make them somewhere else and not on my page. That’s not what I write about and that’s not what I want to see over here.

One more little piece of enlightenment while we’re talking about dark moments. This very day, we Americans still contend with the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists who made Hitler’s model their mantra and currently walk around with swastikas on their clothing and tattooed on their bodies. So I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but while Nazi Germany was dark, it’s not so much past over here on these shores.

BG

 

Paging Dr. Steele: Chapter 38: A Tangled Web

This is a work or 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 38—A Tangled Web

DAVID

“Keep your head down, damn it!” he snaps at me. Well, shit, we’ve been driving forever. I need to move around.

“Look, I don’t mean to sound like one of your crazy children or nephews or whatever, but are we fucking there yet?” I spit.

“If we were there, you wouldn’t have to stay down. I know these assholes. I used to be one of them. We have to be careful and make sure they didn’t follow us. Now shut the hell up or I’ll turn around!”

“Don’t talk to me like a child, motherfucker. I don’t dig that shit, and if you want to turn around, be my fucking guest!” Granted, I want to pull this off, but I’m not kissing this guy’s ass for shit.

“Just stay the fuck down until I’m sure that the coast is clear, okay?” he says finally.

I already regret teaming up with this guy, if that’s what you want to call it. He approached me on Monday outside of the apartment and invited me to coffee. He looked a little different than I remembered, but if this is supposed to be a disguise or something, it sucks. His hair is longer and a different color, but I could still tell immediately that it was him.

So, what’s your fascination with this chick? I mean, yeah, she’s hot and makes a little money and everything, but you got it bad—and I know your background story. You haven’t fucked her in years. So, what’s the deal, man?” Bob had asked sitting across from me.

We sat in some dinky little coffee joint a few miles away from Rosie’s apartment.

What does it matter? I love her and I want her and I’m going to get her. End of story.” I stirred my coffee. For all I know, Rich Boy could have sent him to befriend me and find out my plan. Well, I don’t have one, but I don’t care what Rich Boy knows. Rosie will be mine again. I will definitely see to that.

So, what do you plan to do—just keep stalking her while Grey fucks her brains out and hopes that she just gets tired of all the sex, money, and expensive gifts?” Bob retorted. “Planning to just wait her out, are you?”

I just need to get her alone,” I responded. “Every time I try to talk to her, we get into a fight. I just need to remind her of what we had together. Once I do that, I know I can make her mine again.”

When have you seen her alone?” he asked. “She’s never alone. Someone is always with her.”

Well, something’s up because she’s back at her apartment tonight and she hasn’t been there since last week. I wonder if they broke up?” I said, hopeful.

No, they didn’t break up. Chuck was there when we left.” He took a swallow of his coffee. “Look, all you’re trying to do is get her alone? She hates you, man. I watched her pull a gun in your face, and you still want to get her alone?”

Look, I’m telling you that’s not my Rosie…” I began.

“Rosie?” he sneered. “Who the fuck is Rosie?

Ana. I call her Rosie.” He laughed at me.

Whatever floats your boat, man,” he said drinking some more of his coffee. I continue.

I just need to get her away from all of this shit… even if I can just get her to myself for a few days, just a few days… away from the fucking security and her faggot friend and that rich prick Grey. I just need her to myself for a little while. I know that if I have her to myself for a little while, I can win her back.” We were so happy when we first got together. She was playful and funny, and I knew everything to do to her bite-sized little body to make her scream. Grey can’t be doing her like I did. I touched that kitty in ways nobody else knew how. I just have to remind her of those days—not the shit that came later, those days. “I know this woman like the back of my hand. If I can get her away from all of these fuckers whispering in her ear, I know I can win her back.”

So, that’s your plan… get her away from everybody so that you can turn on the charm?”

Yeah, that’s what I was hoping, but I can’t see it happening because, like you said—she’s never alone,” I answered defeated.

Well, I know these guys and they’re good. They’re not going to turn their back on her for one minute. What’s more, they’re not going to turn their back on you,” he informs me. “If you approach her, they’re going to be on your ass like white on rice before you breathe the same air she does. If what you need is alone time, you have to be able to get near her.”

And where do you come in, because this get-up that you’re in ain’t fooling nobody.”

It’s fooling somebody. Nobody’s tailing me, whereas if you look out of the window and to your right about 20 feet, you will see your latest tail.” Smug ass bastard. “You need to shake your tail—for lack of a better phrase—and once you do that, you can more than likely move a little more freely.”

So, what do you suggest?” I asked sarcastically.

We get you away from your surveillance, get you a disguise, and wait for your chance to get close to Rosie.” He said her name with pure disdain.

What’s in it for you?” I asked suspiciously.

Well, first of all, you may not want me to call her a bitch, but the bitch cost me my job. Second, Little Dick Grey has arranged it so that I can’t find another job in the state of fucking Washington, so I have to relocate to someplace where this fucker isn’t so damn powerful. Anything that I can do to trip him or her up—make their lives a little miserable—runs well with my blood. And third, like I said, I know your story. You got money, and you’re going to pay me.”

Why would I do that?” I spit.

Because I need money to get the hell out of town and start the fuck over. Without it, I have to stay here and maybe get a job at a fast food restaurant. That’s where you come in. I know how his security works, what they’ll be looking for, and how to shake them. That’s what you need. Without me, you can go back outside, pick up your binoculars and have fun with your 1001-foot stolen glances.” He glared at me.

How much are we talking and what exactly can you do for me?” I asked.

Oh, you are going to pay pretty, and pretty frequently, but if you want your magic moment with your precious Princess Perfect, then it’ll be worth it. Quite frankly, I don’t know what the fuck she’s working with in that deadly twat of hers, but whatever it is, it’s going to stay a thousand fucking feet away from my dick,” he spit.

Shut the fuck up, Asshole. You don’t even know her!” I shot.

I know that she’s got a restraining order against you and pulled a gun in your face and you’re still gagging for her ass. And Grey? I hadn’t worked for him for that long, but I know he’s a very powerful man. He makes grown ass men piss their pants on a regular basis. That man has the kind of money that can turn rain into sunshine—but one sniff of Princess Perfect, and he turned into a pussy. She’s got two grown ass men panting after her ass like sappy, stupid little lovesick puppies. Do you know how much money that man spends to keep you away from her? You have somebody tailing you 24 hours a day. They get paid well, including benefits, paid vacations, and hazard pay. They are strapped with the latest equipment and endless expense accounts and all drive late model Audis—and there are at least three or four of them on you every day, seven days a week. Man, they know when you take a shit—all for a piece of pussy. Like I said, whatever she’s got going on in that twat should be listed as hazardous material!” I sat up straight.

I won’t deny that I probably need your services, but you obviously need my money. So, I’m going to listen to what you have to offer and then I’ll decide if I’m going to hire you. But you need to understand something. You can feel whatever the hell you want, but you are going to stop talking about her in that fucked up way around me since—if I do choose to employ you—I assume I’m going to be paying you a pretty fucking penny to get me close enough to Princess Perfect and her toxic pussy to get her back. And you will watch how you talk to me since I’m the one that’s bankrolling this shit. Otherwise, I’ll go back to my binoculars, and you can go back to McDonald’s. Capiche… Bob?” I spit his name with as much disdain as he did Rosie’s. He glared at me for a moment and then said,

Deal… Ed.”

Now we’re traveling by car to some remote location after a long ass ferry ride and 45 minutes later, I’m still crouched down in this fucking back seat. I’ve dyed my hair blonde, I’m wearing blue contacts and a phony blonde beard. Bob wouldn’t tell me where we were going to keep from telling anybody else before we left. Who the fuck would I tell? I’m paying this man a small fortune to help me get Rosie alone. Why would I tell somebody my plan so that they can follow me or trip me up? It turns out that Bob knows a guy who knows a guy who has a place on Vashon Island. It’s completely untraceable to Bob or me and is the perfect place to hide out and decide my next move. Maybe Grey’s goons will think I’m dead in that apartment and leave me the hell alone.

“Alright, the coast is clear. We weren’t tailed.” Bob says and I’m finally able to sit up.

“Damn, I’ll be glad when we can get the hell out of this car. I’m stiff as hell from not being able to move on that damn ferry.”

“Quit your whining. We’re almost there now,” he says. I look around and all I see is grass and fields and a cluster of trees every now and again. This is perfect. They’ll never find me out here. Now how will I get Rosie here?

“So, what’s the latest we hear on Grey?” I ask, stretching as much as I can in the back seat of the borrowed Ford Taurus.

“He got out of the hospital yesterday. I couldn’t find out what was wrong with the guy, but it couldn’t be too serious for just an overnight stay,” he replies. There was nothing wrong with that prick. Rosie wouldn’t speak to him so he faked an illness to get her to come running back to him. Oldest trick in the book.

I had continued to watch Rosie for a couple of days after I met with Bob to see what, if anything, was happening with her. Grey never showed up Monday night. He showed up on Tuesday night but didn’t stay long from what I could tell. Even though his goon stuck close, he didn’t show up for the rest of the week and Rosie didn’t go to his place either. Bob confirmed that they were having some kind of fight. I can’t help but wonder where he’s getting his information if he doesn’t work for Grey anymore. That’s why I have to keep my eye on this guy. I don’t really know whose side he’s on, but I haven’t done anything illegal, so they can’t pin anything on me.

I was hoping I would be able to use this opportunity to get close to Rosie, but before I had the chance to make my move, she was running to that asshole’s side again and the next thing I knew, she’s at Seattle General sitting lovingly by his bedside. Well played, Prick, but I will have the last laugh in this little game.

Bob turns down another road that seems to go on forever and then another road lined by trees that—you guess it—seems to go on forever. It could just be me… I feel like I’ve been in this damn car forever! Finally, we get to a clearing and a nice-sized bungalow and a farmhouse on lots and lots of land. This is so much more perfect than I could have imagined. “Welcome to Vashon Island,” Bob says as he pulls the car to a stop. I’m only too happy to get out and stretch my legs. It’s very peaceful out here. Maybe Rosie and I can buy some land out here once we get things all straightened out.

We walk to the bungalow and it’s a little neglected inside, but no worse for wear. “The fridge is stocked thanks to you, and we get the basic cable channels out here. No use paying for premium cable if nobody lives here.” He throws his keys on the coffee table. “You should get reception to your cell if you need it. This is an island, but the Municipal Airport ain’t that far from here. There’s no such things as in town around these parts. There’s one little street that runs the length of the island where you can get just the basics if you need them. Everything is pretty much spread out here and there. If you want to go to town, get on the Fauntleroy ferry and head back to Seattle,” he instructs. I nod my head.

“This will work just fine.” I sit down and stretch out on the sofa. “So, I have a few ideas. We need to work out our next plan of action.”

“Fine by me. No offense, but I don’t want to be around you more than is utterly necessary. So, if it’s all the same to you, let’s get this plan in motion so I can get paid and get the hell out of here and leave you with Princess Perfect.” I throw a threatening glare at him. “Hey, I didn’t call her a bitch. If you don’t want me to call her a bitch, I’m calling her Princess Perfect. Get over it!” I shrug. He’s right, he didn’t call her a bitch. I don’t really like when he calls her Rosie—especially the way he says that name. So, I guess I just have to be content with that sarcastic Princess Perfect shit.

“Fine. So, obviously, the first thing we need to do is get her away from Pencil Dick. He’s with her whenever she leaves either apartment, and he either stays at her office or somewhere nearby when she’s at work.” I say.

“Man, how do you know this? Don’t you own a company or something? When do you find time to follow her around?” Bob asks.

“I don’t have as much money as Grey but, like him, I don’t need to be present every second for my company to run,” I respond. “How do you know everything you know if you don’t still work for Grey?”

“I have my ways and you’re just going to have to trust me, now aren’t you? Oh, and just so you know, they probably know that you were watching her up until at least Friday,” he says.

“Yeah, I know. You think you’re telling me something when you say that they’re watching me, but I’ve known all along, all the way back from when you were watching me. And for the record, Rosie didn’t get you fired. You and those damn prostitutes got you fired. All I had to do was sit still and wait for you to get a blowjob before I took off.” I walk into the kitchen to find something to eat.


GREY

“Sir, Manchester indicates that Mr. David hasn’t left his apartment for four days.” Taylor says to me as we’re getting ready to leave for SeaTac. I frown.

“Not that I care about the fucker at all, but are you sure?” I ask. What the hell did he do—decide to end his suffering and kill himself in there?

“There’s been no movement, sir. He was still watching her through Friday morning, but keeping legal distance. Since Friday evening when I brought her here, his car is parked at his apartment and hasn’t left since. Manchester hasn’t seen him coming or going.” Maybe the fucker doesn’t want to cross her while she’s here. She hasn’t been back to her apartment since I got back from the hospital.

“Thanks, Taylor. How much time before we leave?”

“Thirty minutes, sir,” he responds. I nod and he leaves the study.

Well, I’m about to set off on a fact-finding expedition about what happened to my Butterfly during those fateful teenage years that left her scarred for life. I feel completely bonded to her now—after yesterday. If I could propose to her without scaring her the hell away, I would do it in a heartbeat, then marry her before she had a chance to change her mind. That woman is mine, forever. She’s stuck with me and I plan to never let her go. It’s early and I know that she’s still asleep, but I need to wake her so that I can tell her that we’ll be leaving soon.

I lay next to her stroking her hair and watching her sleep. She’s breathtakingly beautiful, even more so when she sleeps. I love her so much it feels like my heart will burst open sometimes. I bring my forehead down to hers and inhale deeply, trying to hold her scent in my nostrils to tide me over for the next few days. I softly sing to her sleeping form:

All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go.
I’m standing here outside your door.
I hate to wake you up to say goodbye.
But the dawn is breakin’ it’s early morn
The taxi’s waitin’ he’s blowin’ his horn
Already I’m so lonesome I could die.

She surprises me by joining in the next verse with me, her eyes still closed:

So, kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go.
Cause I’m leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh baby, I hate to go.

She opens her beautiful blue eyes and smiles at me. “Hi,” she says, softly.

“Hi,” I respond. “I didn’t know you were awake.”

“I heard you singing. I know it must be close to time for you to leave.” I pull her face to mine and kiss her gently,

“It is. I have a few minutes.”

“Leaving on a jet plane, huh?” she says with a chuckle.

“A private jet plane,” I say, rubbing my nose on hers.

“Oooo, fancy.” She giggles.

“Oh, I love that,” I say taking a deep breath.

“What, baby?”

“Hearing you giggle,” I respond.

“Then I’ll do it more often,” she says in a sweet voice. “You would never catch a taxi,” she adds.

“And I’m not standing outside your door, either,” I point out.

“And you do know when you’ll be back again,” she breathes.

“Yes, I do,” I say as I pull her to me and kiss her passionately. “I love you, Anastasia.”

“I adore you, Christian,” she whispers as she thrusts her hand in my hair and we’re lost in our kiss again.

*-*

We land at McCarran around 9:00am. I want to talk to this cop, George Sullivan, this morning as soon as possible. Lawrence was able to secure an SUV with bulletproof glass as requested and we proceed to the Bellagio.

Once my bags are brought to the room, I open my blackberry to see if there’s any news since this morning. Still no movement from David. No news should be good news, but this bastard makes me nervous. Butterfly has agreed to stay at Escala while I’m gone in light of this new information, which makes me feel so much better. I can’t stand worrying about her while I’m gone. I left instructions for another man to be put on her, discreetly, while I’m not there so that I can concentrate on the task at hand. I call her to let her know that I’ve landed safely and that my meetings should start in about an hour and should run almost back to back straight through until Friday, but I promise to call her in the evening to say Goodnight. Her voice is still full of hesitation and I know that she hates me being here. I assure her that I’ll be home soon and send her all my love.

An hour later, Taylor and I arrive at the Henderson Police Department. Officer George Sullivan is a distinguished-looking gentleman, early 40’s at the most. After I introduce myself, he invites me into his office and offers me a cup of coffee.

“So, how can I be of assistance to you, Mr. Grey?” He’s very friendly, initially at least. I soon learn that this is about to change.

“Officer Sullivan, I’m very interested in a cold case from your jurisdiction. It’s about 11 years old now. A young girl named Anastasia Steele. I understand that you were the officer that responded to the attack.” And the room instantly gets chilly.

“May I ask what your interest is in this case, Mr. Grey?” he says with a frown.

“I’m going to be honest with you, officer. I’m one of the wealthiest men in America and I’m in love with Ana. I want to know what happened to her.” He shifts uncomfortably in his seat.

“I don’t know how much I can really help you…” he says.

“Any small bit of information you can release will be helpful,” I say. “I understand that you were the first officer on the scene of the attack as well as the leading officer in the investigation. Can you tell me why no one was ever arrested?”

“Well, all of that was in my report, sir. We had no suspects and Ana couldn’t identify anyone,” he responds

“Well, what about the Ranch? Ranch hands, the owner. You can’t just walk onto someone’s property that I know of, acquire brands, brutalize someone, disfigure them, and nobody knows or sees anything.” This guy can’t be that dumb.

“The brands that were used on Ana were either homemade or personalized, like barbecue brands, so they weren’t registered,” he explains. “You can order them online.” Well, that would explain a few things. The burns are brutal, but small compared to an animal brand.

“I’ve read the report, Officer Sullivan, and there was no indication how you were drawn to the scene. Did someone call it in?” I question.

“No, sir. Officers often check the sites of bonfires, particularly with high school kids to make sure that there’s no underage drinking occurring.” Hmmm…

“That seems a little strange, Officer Sullivan. I mean, I know that occurs with desert bonfires—or so I’ve been told—but on private property? That’s like crashing someone’s backyard barbeque,” I say. Sullivan doesn’t have a ready answer for me, so I continue questioning. “Did you have a reason to believe that there may be a problem with this particular bonfire that you felt it necessary to investigate?”

“It’s like I said, Mr. Grey, officers often check the sites of bonfires…”

“… To prevent underage drinking. Yes, you said that. And just how bad of a problem is it to find underage drinking at a bonfire on private property in Green Valley? I mean, is this something that happens regularly? Occasionally? Not very often?” He eyes me suspiciously and I can tell that he is being purposely evasive.

“I’d say not very often,” he says hesitantly and I nod.

“So, what made this particular bonfire suspicious to you?” I ask. He thinks for a moment, then answers, “I heard a girl screaming.” Oh, did you now?

“I’m sorry, Officer Sullivan, that’s not in your report. Your report only says that when you arrived on the scene, several school age children ran away.” Sullivan shifts nervously.

“I’m not completely sure. It was quite some time ago, Mr. Grey,” he responds.

“Well, let me help you.” I produce a copy of the report from the inside pocket of my suit coat. “You reported, ‘there were several school age children surrounding the victim. When I arrived, they dropped her and ran away. Upon closer investigation, I discovered that she was unconscious and unresponsive.'”

“May I see that?” I give him the copy of the police report and he pretends to look it over, then he puts it in a drawer in his desk. “Like I said, Mr. Grey, it’s been quite a while.” What the fuck?

“May I have my document back?” I ask.

“I think I’ll keep it, to try to refresh my memory of the event.” Smarmy ass bastard. Does he think he’s dealing with Amateur Night here?

“That’s fine,” I say undaunted. “You might want to pull it back out then.” I pull out my blackberry and open the file on the network that has the police report and keep reading. “Again, you’ve crashed this bonfire and children all ran away. There’s no indication in your report of the name of the ranch.”

“I’m sure that there is, Mr. Grey,” He says smugly. I scroll through the report on my blackberry.

“Nope, there’s not. Please, feel free to check your copy. I’ll wait.” I sit back in my chair. He doesn’t bother to check his copy because he knows that it’s not there. Did this guy really think I was going to come in here unprepared? I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt before I got here. It never really occurred to me that the investigating officer would be part of the cover-up. Now I have to handle this differently.

“We never really did bonfires where I come from. It seems like it would be like a beach party. Kids laughing, talking, drinking maybe…” I begin.

“Yes, that’s what a bonfire would be like,” he says.

“Music, dancing. Maybe some sneaking off to the barn…” I say with a smirk.

“Yes, all of those things,” he confirms.

“Yeah, I remember those days,” I lie. “We did little campfires at the beach,” I say, pulling on Elliot’s memories and stories to help me out. “I remember my battery died and I had to call my parents to come and get me. They always use my car for the music.” Sullivan has relaxed a little bit—wrong move George.

“They’re smarter here,” he says. “They all keep battery cables in case a battery dies.” I nod.

“I wish I had thought of that. It would have saved me getting grounded a lot. Oh well…” I shrug. “So, from your own description, no one called you, you just saw a bonfire on private property which you decided to investigate. You heard a young girl screaming over a thrashing crowd of violent teenage girls and boys and music no doubt blaring from cars that must have been left behind since you said that the children all ran away. There’s no address of the ranch, no indication that you’ve spoken to the property owners, no license plates taken from the cars that were left behind, not a drop of DNA from a girl who was brutally beaten and almost killed, and no questioning of any witnesses whatsoever. Did I about sum it up correctly, Officer Sullivan?”

Sullivan is watching the entire story fall apart in front of him and now, I’m seeing the lie.

“Have there been any developments on the case since it occurred?” I ask.

“No, except for the fact that someone was looking into Anastasia a few weeks back,” He answers flatly. Surprise! Nice to meet ya!

“That somebody was me because I was trying to find out why the woman I love had two years missing out of her life.” Now, he gets the thrust of my inquiry. “Being in the public eye like I am, you can’t be too careful about who you come in contact with. Being an important man, I have to make sure that nobody’s ghost is going to come back to bite me, but it looks like they’re coming back to bite Anastasia.” The color leaves Sullivan’s face and he’s becoming more than a little nervous. “I’m going to find out who did this to her. I have unlimited resources and I’m going to throw them all into finding out who’s responsible for what happened to the woman that I love. And when I do, anyone involved in this attack is going to pay dearly for what they did one way or another.”

Sullivan squares his shoulders, straightens his back, and glares at me.

“Are you threatening me, Mr. Grey?” he says, his tone menacing. Now we’re getting somewhere.

“I don’t know, Officer Sullivan, am I?” I ask. “I’m threatening anybody who had something to do with the attack on Anastasia Steele. Did you have something to do with the attack on Anastasia? It was my understanding that you were her savior. Are you now telling me that you had something to do with her attack?” By the look on his face, I can tell that he now knows that he has not only stepped in it, but he has also tripped, fallen, and is now swimming in it!

“No, I did not,” he answers, almost sneering.

“Why, then, would you feel that I was threatening you if you had nothing to do with Anastasia’s attack?” Sullivan falls silent and I know now that I need to quickly look into this guy. I tilt my head to the side, narrow my eyes and examine him. “At least I’m sure I don’t have to worry about you telling Anastasia about this little visit.”

“What makes you so sure?” he spits.

“Well, for one thing, I’m sure you don’t want her to know just how badly you botched this up. A preschooler could have done a better job investigating this assault and murder than you did.” He straightens at my description of the crime. Yeah, jackass, assault and murder—or did you conveniently forget that a fetus was killed during this attack? “Make no mistake, Officer Sullivan. I am not a preschooler, and I will find out what happened—no matter how many police reports you hide or roadblocks that you think you can put in front of me. If you’re a good boy, and leave my girlfriend out of this until I’m ready to bring her into it, you may be able to hold on to your job for a little while.”

“What makes you think my job would be in jeopardy?” Does he really have to ask that question!? Who hires these people?

“Call Anastasia and we’ll find out for sure.” I stand. “I’ll be in touch.” I say before I leave his office. I walk out of the police station and call Welch.

“Welch, I need an immediate background check on George Sullivan. He’s the investigating officer on Ana’s case. I need relatives, friends, financials for the last 11 years, properties that he owned in the Henderson area at that time. Whatever you can get your hands on quickly. He’s hiding something and I need to know what it is before I leave Henderson—preferably today.”

“Yes, sir.” I end the call with Welch.

That little meeting takes me just about into lunchtime. I’m about to track down something to eat when I’m informed that Cody Whitmore is temporarily stationary in a public place. Since I have no specific time to meet him, now would be a good time to confront this particular demon.

Cody’s tail discovered that he has women in three cities. Today’s woman is in Summerlin. Since he technically doesn’t work, he has decided to go see Girl #2. Lawrence informs me that he has finished his midday tryst with the tramp and will most likely check in at Daddy’s office after a drink at one of his favorite afternoon spots, a place called JC Wooloughans. It takes us nearly 30 minutes to get to this little Irish pub inside of a Summerlin resort.

I was sure that we were going to miss him since it took so long for us to get there, but apparently, Girl #1… or 3… or a candidate for #4… waits tables at this establishment. He’s seated in the corner chatting her up. I sit in the center of the bar and instruct Taylor to sit at the far end, where we can both keep an eye on him. I order soda water and lime and watch while he chugs two more beers eyeing the girl’s ass at every opportunity. Did this guy drive? Has he been drinking this steadily since he arrived?

I can look at him and tell from his stance and posture that he’s a cocky son-of-a-bitch. I know this, because I’m a cocky son-of-a-bitch. He stands and makes his way to the restroom. I look over at Taylor, who nods that he’s on alert for whatever may happen. Whitmore comes back out of the bathroom and proceeds back towards his comfy corner.

“Whitmore,” I call out, loud and sharp enough to be heard without shouting. He stops and looks over his shoulder.

“Who wants to know?” he shoots.

“Temper, temper,” I begin turning around to face him. I examine the man standing in front of me. He has the look about him of someone who works hard to try to impress you. “I’m sure Dear Old Dad has already told you to expect me,” I say, sipping my soda water. He laughs in my face.

“So, you’re Grey?” he asks casually. “Yes, Dad did tell me that you were coming to town.”

“Ooo, my reputation precedes me. That makes me very happy. So, tell me, Cody, why would you be concerned about my visit?” I ask.

“Oh, I’m not. I could fucking care less,” he snaps.

“So why did your Dad warn you of my arrival, that is, since you’re so unconcerned?” I ask, flatly. He takes out his phone and hits a number.

“Because you’re harassing my entire family, and I really don’t think you know who you’re dealing with.” Oh, you have got to be kidding me. These people still haven’t looked me up? Talk about being delusional about your own power. “Dad, yeah, he’s here… no, he’s standing right here in front of me…” He hands me the phone. “My father would like to speak to you… Christian.” Oh, little boy, you are playing with fire. I take his phone.

“Grey.”

“Do you plan on harassing my wife next, Grey?” Whitmore spits.

“If she can give me the answers that I’m looking for, yes, I will,” I say, impassively. I hear his breath catch on the other end of the phone. Wrong move, Jack-off…

“I thought it was understood that all future dealings would be directly with me!” he spits.

“You thought wrong!” I growl, looking at the man who raped my Butterfly while I prepare to eviscerate his father. His eyes narrowed and he swallowed hard as he tries to decipher our conversation. “I’m going to get the information that I came for, Whitmore. And if that requires that I interrogate your whole fucking family, then that’s what I’ll do.”

Whitmore laughs loudly in my ear. “You’re a cocky bastard, aren’t you, Grey?” he snaps in my ear.

“I can afford to be,” I respond.

“You know I can have you run out of town, right?” Whitmore threatens.

“You and what army?” I retort. And the line is quiet. “Since you seem to have run out of witty repartee, let’s get to the point. You know why I’m here and you suggested that we meet. I’m a busy man and my time is valuable—I don’t like it wasted,” I spit. It’s now or never, Asshole. I don’t need you. I’m sure that I’m face-to-face with the fucker that I want, but I’ll take the opportunity to strike a little fear in the town of fucking Green Valley.

“I’ll be at the M this evening after 8. That’ll be the only time you can meet with me,” he says like he has to squeeze me in.

“Works fine for me—I have plans for the rest of my stay.” I hang up on him and turn my attention back to Cody. If I could get away with it, I would rip him apart right here on the spot with my bare hands and drop his mangled body in the middle of the desert—leave him to the vultures, the snakes and the desert vermin. He still has the nerve to stand there looking at me with this superior glare. My work here is done.

“I’ll tell you what. You can wipe that cocky ass smirk off your face, because if I find out that you are who I think you are, I’m going to have your nuts platinum-plated and give them to my girl as a Christmas gift.” I drop his phone into my unfinished glass of soda water before I signal to Taylor that we are leaving. “Roll that around in your head for a while, Asshole.” Taylor and I leave him standing there with a not-so-smug look on his face.


STEELE

Four hours. He’s only been gone for four hours and I’m sick to my stomach. Why oh why did it have to be Whitmore? Anybody but fucking Whitmore. I look out of my window at Grey House. He’s not there today.

“I miss you, baby,” I say aloud. “I wish I had told you not to go.” I go to my desk and speed dial Maxie from my iPhone.

“Hey Max… Are you busy for dinner tonight?… Can you meet me at Christian’s? I need a session… No, everything’s fine, but there has been a development and I need to talk it out… Thanks, Maxie. I know it’s short notice and I really appreciate it. Would you prefer anything in particular?… Okay, well, I’ll be out of here by five so I should be back at Escala at about 5:30. Shall we say six?… You are a life saver, Maxie. Thank you. I’ll see you then.” I hang up and call Gail.

“Hi Gail, my friend Maxie is joining me for dinner and… Yes, she is one of the Fabulous Five.” I laugh. “Would it be too much trouble if… Oh, Gail, thank you… No, she said nothing special, so whatever you were already planning should be fine… 6:00?… Thank you, Gail, I would be lost without you.” I end the call.

I love Christian. I love him so much. I don’t question my feelings for him, or the fact that we’ve only been together for such a short time. I’ve never felt this way in my life for anyone… evernot even Edward. And as much as I hate him now, I did love Edward once—truly love him—but not like this. Christian is my heartbeat, my pulse, my love song… my reason to wake up in the morning.

Oh, I got it bad…

I scrub my hands over my face and get ready for my next patient.


GREY

“Hello, may I speak to Cynthia Crestwood, please?” I meant to call Mrs. Crestwood yesterday from the office, but I got caught up in a little thing called TPE and all things Green Valley completely slipped my mind.

“This is Mrs. Crestwood. How can I help you?”

“Mrs. Crestwood, this is Christian Grey. I’m calling on behalf of an organization in Washington called Helping Hands. Our organization offers assistance to battered women and abused children who have recently left or are trying to leave abusive situations. Recently, your name was submitted to receive recognition for your assistance to children in the community. We actually sent you a letter requesting a conference with you, and my assistant tried to contact you last week, but we received no response. We were going to send another notification to you. However, I happen to be in the Las Vegas area on a business matter and was hoping I could possibly meet with you. Is that a possibility, Mrs. Crestwood?” I’ve rehearsed that speech several times to make sure I got it right the first time. I can fill in the blanks as needed from here on out.

“Oh, how nice!” she exclaims, sincerely. “What’s the name of your organization again?”

Helping Hands of Seattle, Ma’am. Families come to us from all over the country, having somehow or another made their way to the City of Goodwill.” I laugh to break the ice and it works like a charm.

“Well, Mr. Grey, um, what do I need to do?” she asks.

“I would love to discuss this further with you, Mrs. Crestwood. Would you possibly be available to discuss it over dinner tomorrow night? I will be leaving on Friday and I’m staying at the Bellagio. We can meet at one of the restaurants here if you like or at any one you choose.” Yes, the Bellagio, one of the more upscale hotels on the Las Vegas strip. Of course, that would pique her interest—not because she’s superficial, but because let’s face it… certain hotels on the strip mean money. The Bellagio is one of those hotels.

“Oh, no, Mr. Grey. The Bellagio is fine.” Of course, it is. “Where shall we meet?”

“How about the Jasmine? Five o’clock? Reservations under Grey,” I say sweetly.

“That would be perfect. I look forward to seeing you then.”

“The pleasure is mine, Mrs. Crestwood.” Thank God that went off without a hitch. I completely forgot to call the woman. That could have been a disaster!

In the rush to meet catch young Whitmore, I fail to eat lunch. I can see Butterfly shaking her finger at me and then I shiver remembering my punishments from yesterday. Though the sexual deprivation was agony, the spanking and flogging were superb discipline and the ultimate release was cosmic. Though I would never let on to anyone, my butt cheeks are still tender from the crop, my thigh throbs where she scratched me, and I still have stripes to admire on my abdomen and legs. I smile as I rub my thigh, then promptly cease before causing myself the worse boner in the world and no hope of Butterfly to release it. I enjoyed her so much. I have no fond memories of subbing except that I knew I would eventually fuck… maybe… until last night…

That beautiful petite Goddess wrapped in a red and black corset and nonexistent lace panties and those insanely high black stilettos… and the collar… standing next to me, legs spread apart and whacking me with that riding crop. I actually jump as I anticipate the blows I’ve already taken… and he’s up.

Down, Boy. We’ll Skype her later.

Now I have to get something to eat or I’m likely to relive my punishments from yesterday. As tempting as the riding crop and flogger were, I’m in no hurry to test my limits on her expertly executed orgasm deprivation. Also, I just don’t want to disobey my Mistress.

“Taylor, have room service deliver an early dinner immediately!”

“Yes, sir.”

My Butterfly has rewritten my history. Twice. I no longer relate being a submissive to that horrible woman. I now relate it to my sexy, sensual, and irresistible Mistress. And I look forward to subbing for her.

Also, I don’t feel the need to eat because of my prior food issues anymore—or because I was left alone with a dead crack whore for four days unable to find food—or because I spent so many days hungry and hurting and only wishing the pain would end. Now, I must eat because I foolishly harmed myself and my body for five days and I almost died… and this would have hurt my Mistress immensely. I’m not allowed to hurt my Mistress. I don’t desire to hurt my Mistress. So, to that end, I’m not allowed to cause myself harm ever again and must remember to eat and take care of myself… for myself… and my Mistress.

The M Casino and resort is an impressive establishment that opened in Vegas in 2009. Although it is on Las Vegas Blvd, it’s not on the part of the street that is known as The Strip. It’s about 10 miles south of The Strip—and just as far from the Bellagio. Where The Strip—the Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, Caesar’s Palace—would all be geared towards the spending tourist, the M is more geared towards attracting lucrative locals… at least that’s the impression I got of it.

Taylor and Lawrence are on high alert and conspicuously wired. I don’t want this fucker to think for one second that he is playing with small-time business here, or that I don’t have back-up. Sure enough, this asshole is in the high-rollers room, surrounded by call girls and three trying-to-look-like-tough-guys bulky security guards. This is so fucking cliché—it’s like one of those badly-written gangster movies.

I know his type. He’s been watching the door all night, waiting for an unfamiliar face to enter—and here I am. So now, he’s going to play like he doesn’t see me—as if I’m going to crawl to him like some lackey. Okay, Whitmore. Let’s see how this works out for you.

I position myself in that stance that Taylor knows well—feet apart, hands clasped in front of me, staring at this asshole who is laughing loudly and grabbing on the ass of some scantily clad cheap slut. Taylor and Lawrence both take the CIA stance behind me…

And I stare…

It only took three minutes. What a pussy! My Butterfly outstared you the first day I met her.

“Grey! That must be you. Come in. Grab a girl. Make yourself comfortable. Can we get you gentlemen a drink?” he says, gesturing to a cocktail waitress like he’s hosting a party.

“No thanks, Whitmore. I only drink socially, and this is not a social call and as for the girls, well,” I look around at the desperate tarts offering themselves like hors d’oeuvres and praying that they will be the chosen one, “I have a woman, so I have no use for girls.” Whitmore laughs loudly.

“You can’t be talking about that lying bitch Anastasia Steele?” he barks. I move to close the space between us in three quick strides. His bulky security men leap into action to subdue me. One is quickly taken down by Taylor, who is now pointing a firearm at the guy’s head who lies prostrate on the floor. The second managed to get to me right before I got to Whitmore. The hand he intended to make contact with my jaw is now crunched in my fist. I bend it back swiftly until I hear bones cracking and the man screams in pain while I hold him there. The third doesn’t bother to move at all as Lawrence already has his firearm drawn and trained on him.

“Mr. Whitmore,” I say, leaning in inches from his face, still holding his bodyguard’s broken hand, “I should inform you that I’m a bit sensitive about how you speak about my woman. So, you may want to think twice about calling her a liar and a bitch.” I say through clenched teeth. He shows no overt signs of fear or cowering, but I can see the sweat on his forehead in this very cool casino. I release his bodyguard who is now clutching his hand in pain. “When you’re done posturing for your friends, I’m staying at the Bellagio.” I pull out a wad of hundred-dollar bills and throw it at the bodyguard with the broken hand.

“You should get that checked out,” I say before leaving the high-rollers room.

As Taylor, Lawrence and I make our way back to the front of the hotel, Williams brings the SUV around. Just as I’m about to get in, Whitmore comes out of the front door with his two uninjured tough guys.

“Grey!” Oh, it appears that he has grown a new set of balls! I step back out of the SUV. Taylor and Lawrence are back at my side, hands already on their firearms.

“What the hell was that? You broke that man’s hand… for what? For protecting me from a stranger who comes into the hotel and threatens me?” he shouts.

“How did I threaten you, Mr. Whitmore?” I say with disdain, assuming the stance once again. I wait patiently for an answer that I know I’m never going to get, then I step to him again without dropping my hands so that the poor little insurance executive doesn’t feel threatened. I’ve always known that I was a tall man. I just never understood why the rest of the world seems so damn short. Now here I am again standing nose-to-eye with and looking down at yet another small man—in stature and manhood—that wants to prove that his balls are bigger than mine.

“We don’t need to meet, Whitmore. We already have, and I already know what I need to know about you. You’re a grimy little dirty, sorry excuse of a man who likes to throw money at his problems and hope that they go away. I know that tactic, Whitmore. I invented it! And when I throw money at problems, I throw the kind of money at the right people to make sure that they never show up again.” I close the space between us. In my peripheral, I can see his guards jump to attention again, but they don’t make a move in my direction.

“You told me that I didn’t know who I was dealing with, but it’s painfully obvious that you don’t know who you’re dealing with, Whitmore. You are grotesquely out of your league, and too arrogant and ignorant to even know it. You should have done some more research on me before you attempted to throw your ‘weight’ around. If you had, you would have known that I’m one of the wealthiest men in America—and I mean Bill Gates kind of wealthy not Oprah Winfrey kind of wealthy. So, if you really want to talk about being a power player, you better remember that in the Deep Blue Sea, you’re a guppy and I’m a shark. You don’t want to fuck with me.

“I’m going to find out what happened to Anastasia Steele, and when I do, the people involved are going to pay for what they’ve done—one way or another. And by all means, if you want to come at me, please do. You go right ahead. You know where to find me.”

This little man still doesn’t seem to get the picture and still wants to try to jockey for position. To the passerby or a casual observer, Whitmore is calm and collected and could possibly be dominating this conversation—that is, if he didn’t have Goliath standing in his face looking down on him while he’s trying to and failing be David. However, I’m not the casual observer. Those beads of sweat are still present on his forehead. His ears are red, but his face is pale. His fingers twitch slightly and his breath is short. His pupils are constricted and keep darting from my left to my right eye, trying but failing to read my thoughts. His fear and uncertainty are so thick, I can smell them. He’s clearly shaken. If this was any worthy competition, I’d have him on the ropes.

When you’re accustomed to being the Big Man On Campus and the real Head Man In Charge shows up, you don’t know what to do with yourself. You don’t become second-in-command; you become the last man on the totem-pole. This is proven every time your boss’s boss shows up at your job. There’s someone else in top seat and your boss is immediately turned into a gopher. In this case, Whitmore has been turned into a mouse and is still fighting to scurry back to the top of the pyramid.

“As you can see, Grey, I’m a very powerful man in this city.” Whitmore says, his voice shaking just a bit at his one last attempt at a power play.

“No, Whitmore, I can’t see that… but it really doesn’t matter to me. You may very well be powerful in this city, but I’m a very powerful man in this country!” I spit. “I have hands in pots that you can’t even imagine. My reach goes further than your little brain can even conjure. I can make it so that you would wake up in the morning and have nothing left to your name but those cheap leather shoes that you’re wearing right now.”

“I beg your pardon!” Whitmore snaps. “These are Bexleys!” Oh, you have got to be kidding me. I shake my head at him. Even one of his bodyguards behind him has a slight reaction that I register as embarrassed dismay. I’m truly wasting my time here.

“And the fact that you felt the need to tell me that right at this moment goes to show just how small your little mind really is.” I say with pure contempt and disdain. I stand up straight as I no longer want to stoop down to this little man—figuratively or literally. “Let’s go. We’re done here,” I say backing away from a shocked Whitmore and getting into the SUV once again. As we pull away from the M Resort, all doubt has been erased that Cody is the man that raped my Butterfly and that his weaselly father paid off her family to hide it. I have my primary targets. Now I have to find the rest of the offenders.

It’s about 9:30 when we get back to the Bellagio. We are stopped at the desk when the clerk informs us that there was a package left for me. Taylor and I look knowingly at each other. I wasn’t expecting anything to be delivered—and Whitmore knows where I’m staying. Noticing the look on my face, the clerk says. “We can scan the package for you if you like, Mr. Grey. It’s not something that we normally do, but I’m sure that we can make an exception.” I nod curtly at him and he disappears for a moment. After a few minutes, the clerk returns with the package.

“It’s clear, Mr. Grey. It’s a book,” he says, placing the package on the counter.

“A book?” I ask, bemused.

“Yes, sir,” he responds. Taylor takes the liberty to open the package. A knowing look comes over his face. Without removing the contents, he says, “You’re expecting this, sir.” I nod at him and hand two $100 bills to the desk clerk thanking him for his services before retiring to my room for the night. I have a lot to consider. The day was very productive in terms of getting information and I now have yet another suspect to examine—George Sullivan. All this time, he was considered one of the few good guys. He’s hiding something and I know he is. Could he be sleeping with the devil, or just dancing with danger?

“Grey,” I say as I answer my buzzing blackberry.

“Did you get the package, sir?” Welch asks

“Yes, I did. Next time, let us know to expect it so that we don’t have to scan it for explosives. I am in the lion’s den down here, you know. Now I may have made a potential enemy out of a cop,” I inform him.

“I’m sorry, sir. I was calling to tell you that I have uploaded that cop’s preliminary background check to the network. Nothing really stands out about him, but I’m checking to see if there is anything deeper that we may have missed. So far, he just looks like your everyday, average citizen… no payoffs or huge influxes of cash, no undisclosed assets, nothing remarkable or out of the ordinary whatsoever.”

“Remember, we thought that about Anastasia, too…” I remind him.

“Duly noted,” he responds.

“Besides, that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have anything to hide. He could just be scared shitless of Whitmore, who clearly has a puffed-up, delusional, high impression of the power that he wields over people since he apparently has quite the reach in Henderson… though I haven’t seen it yet.”

Oh, one of those,” Welch says, knowingly.

“In the worst way,” I respond. “Inform legal to prepare for a possible lawsuit from one of his bodyguards.”

Sir?” Welch inquires.

“I broke his hand.” He chuckles a bit in the phone.

“That’s actually a direct hazard of his employment, sir. He may not have grounds to sue you,” he says.

“Well, I threw more cash at him than he probably makes in a month, so he may not have the balls to sue me, but tell legal to be prepared anyway.”

“Yes, sir.” I end the call and open the envelope that Welch has forwarded to me. The 2001 Green Valley High School yearbook. I can see that there are several pages bookmarked, but honestly, I just want to see one right now. I turn to the appendix of names in the back and, as expected, there is only one page number next to her name. I go to the page in the sophomore section of the yearbook and find her near the end of the page… in the S’s…

My Butterfly.

Huge, blue unassuming orbs too big for her face. Her teenage skin is remarkably flawless, unmarred by make-up or the embarrassing pubescent acne I see in some of the other pictures. Her smile is innocent, unblemished, and a little sad—reflecting the loneliness of a naturally beautiful outcast. Her hair is pulled back into a ridiculously long ponytail with perfect bangs shaping her beautiful eyes. This picture was obviously taken before the attack, and I feel a little strange for the desire that I feel for this teenage girl that stares back at me. I take comfort in knowing that it is only because this is the younger version of my darling Butterfly—the woman who holds my heart and fate in her hands—but I can clearly see how her beauty could drive someone to untamed desire. Rape, no—but desire, absolutely.

I now have the burning need to touch her and be with her, but for right now, I have to be satisfied with Skype.


A/N: The goodbye song was “Leaving On a Jet Plane by John Denver (or Peter, Paul, and Mary depending on your preference). Very, very, very old song.

Be sure to check out the fashion on my Pinterest page at http://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/paging-dr-steele/

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

Paging Dr. Steele: Chapter 21: More Confrontations

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 21—More Confrontations

GREY

“Leave him alone.”

I manage to convince my Butterfly to stay with me one more night. Since she doesn’t have any patients on her Monday rotation yet, it’s an easy task. We had literally been fucking nearly non-stop since Friday, and damn it, Greystone needed a break! So, I was only too happy when Ana suggested that we cuddle near the fire and talk about some more of our “skeletons,” so to speak. Now, I’m kind of wishing we hadn’t done that.

“Stop. Get away from him.”

Did I mention that my Butterfly talks in her sleep? I noticed it the first night that we slept together, when she was mumbling something about Margaret Thatcher and somebody named Stoley. I attributed it to nighttime babbling, but now, I’m hearing something far more disturbing.

“No. Leave him alone, he just a boy…”

It’s bad enough that I have to fight with the nightmares of my childhood. Now I’ve put the burden on my Butterfly. She has her own demons to fight, and now she’s fighting mine, too. I feel like pure shit. I go to rouse her when I hear something that makes me stop dead still.

“Get your claws off of him, you bitch! I love him!”

Did I just hear her correctly? Did she just say she loves me? Is it me that she’s talking about? Can it be? So soon? This is insane! We’ve known each other for three seconds; she can’t love me! I shake my head. I’m not going to say anything about it if she doesn’t, but I do want to wake her out of whatever nightmare she’s having. I gently stroke her arm.

“Baby?”

“Leave him alone…” I stroke her arm again.

“Ana, baby, wake up.” She whimpers a bit, then rolls over to face me. Throwing her arm around my waist, she snuggles into my chest and falls back into a contented sleep.

I’ve never had anyone hold me like this before—except Mia, when she gives me a hug. I can feel the rise and fall of her chest against mine, the warmth of her breath. It feels… strange, but… good, like she needs to be here… like I need her here. I wrap my arms around her and cradle her close to me. Whatever nightmare she was having has left her mind and she relaxes against me in rhythmic breathing.

“Oh, Ana,” I say softly as I rub her back, “I want you with me always. I need you.”

I kiss her forehead and lay down on my pillow, thinking about my life before her—or my lack of life, I should say. I was a shell of a man—all alone with no idea that I was walking a lonely path to nowhere. How does that quote go…?

A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner… secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. 

Grace used to love to read the classics to us. She never understood why my face grew so stony when she got to this part of A Christmas Carol. I recognized myself immediately in Dickens’ description of Ebenezer Scrooge with no hope of the redemption afforded him by the three specters that visited him.

I felt no fear for the fate that awaited Mr. Scrooge at the end of his life—hell was too kind for me. I was the worthless son of a crack whore—no one could love me. Despite the kindness and affection shown to me by Grace and Carrick, by idiotic Lelliot and darling Mia, I was valueless—an unnecessary waste of flesh and bone….

Until now.

Now I feel like tomorrow could have some meaning, like there may be a purpose for me after all. I feel as if this beautiful Butterfly in my arms—this bruised and damaged angel with a heart of gold and a soul of sunshine—could very well be the key to my Dickens transformation. She could be my past, present, and future all rolled into one. She has taken every horror story I’ve given her over the past few days in perfect stride—including coming face to face with Elena and teaching her a lesson I’m sure she’ll never forget.

A lesser woman would have run away screaming… but not Ana, not my Butterfly.

I pull her closer to me and I swear I can hear her purring. She’s deliciously adorable.

You’re falling hard, Grey. You’re falling hard and fast.
Yeah, I know.

*-*

I stop the alarm and rise out of bed trying not to wake Ana. From what I can tell before I drifted off for a couple of hours myself, she seems to have slept pretty soundly after that one minor disturbance in the middle of the night. I’ll be sure to ask her about it when she wakes.

I take a quick shower and grab my blue pinstriped Anderson Sheppard and my burgundy tie before quietly escaping to my study. I’m at a crossroads. I told Ana that I would let go of the Green Valley incident, but with everything I have in me, I want to find out who did this to her. Welch’s carelessness tipped her off before. No doubt that snooping around would tip her off again.

She had some very unkind things to say about her mother and stepfather. They don’t even speak now. The story she told me about how they forced her to return to Green Valley after all she had been through has left a sour taste in my mouth. I wouldn’t lose any sleep if I never met either of them, and from what Ana says, that’s not very likely anyway.

I could look at the police report and talk to the reporting officer. I’m sure that he’s the one who told her that someone was looking into the case in the first place. I’m also sure that face-to-face powers of persuasion can most likely be effective in preventing him from letting the cat out of the bag this time. I need to give this some thought. I can’t just jump the gun and go charging into this without a plan. I don’t want to lose her—I can’t lose her—but this can’t be another instance of the pimp who scarred me for life disappearing into the backdrop like nothing ever happened.

I open my email to see if anything needs my immediate attention since I don’t plan on going in until after Butterfly leaves. Lots of reminders of meetings this week, and of course I have that fucking group thing tonight—terribly dull without Anastasia but a necessary evil, nonetheless.

Dinner with the family on Saturday to discuss the Helping Hands fundraiser—can’t I just write a check? Good grief.

Three emails from Elena since yesterday. Do I want to even bother? I still have the investment in her salons, so there’ll be some kind of contact with her, but I can assure that any contact between us always takes place with a second party present…

… During business hours!
… At Grey House!

We’re certainly no longer friends and I definitely don’t need to be alone in a room with that woman because I may just kill her. I open each of the emails and read the various lies about this all being a misunderstanding and how we really need to discuss this so that our friendship doesn’t suffer further damage and Ana obviously poisoning my mind against her and all the little Elena-isms that she once used to keep me in check that no longer have an effect on me. Sorry, Oh Creepy One, it’s not going to work this time.

I think better about responding to any of her emails because the last thing that I want to do is encourage her. I do notice that there’s an email from Welch concerning Mr. David. It’s his preliminary background check.

Edward Robert David is 27 years old, soon to be 28. He owns a web design business here in Seattle, one which did very well last year by the way. Mr. David has more than a few pennies to rub together, I see… not as many as I do, of course, but he’s pretty set. That could add to the fucker’s cockiness.

He’s from Cedar Rapids, Iowa—talk about Nowheresville! He graduated from the University of Washington a year before Ana, which is where he met her. What in the hell made him come to Washington? Maybe he was hoping to fall in with Paul Allen and Microsoft.

He started his education at the University of Iowa, but withdrew in the middle of the first semester and transferred to U-Dub in the spring. Parents are Evelyn and James David, still alive. They own a specialty sporting goods business in Cedar Rapids that does very well. Two brothers, Marcus and James Jr., both older than he. Nothing stands out too much except that there’s no clear reason for his transfer from University of Iowa to U-Dub. No scholarship trail that I can see; no connections or promise of employment. So, what brought  him to Washington from Cedar Rapids?

I hear her before I see her—thick heels clicking along marble tile. I look up just in time to see Butterfly leaning against the door frame. Oh, fuck. My breath catches in my chest when I take in her full attire. Very short black denim shorts and a tank top, covered by another one of my shirts—worn and not laundered, no doubt—tied around her petite waist and a pair of black strappy sandals with thick heels. Her hair is cascading over her shoulders in beautiful chestnut waves and she’s looking completely and utterly fuckable right now!

“Good morning,” I say, turning my chair to face this delectable morsel standing before me. She saunters into my study with this sensual look on her face and I know my dick is getting hard. Down, Greystone.

“Good morning, Mr. Grey.” Oh, fuck. “Working hard?” She bends down and puts her hands on my armrests, her breasts at perfect eye level.

“Hardly working,” I say as I grasp her around the waist and snatch her into the chair with me. This woman could ask me for anything right now… anything… and I would move heaven and hell to get it for her.

The Taj Mahal? Sure!
The Mona Lisa? No problem!
The Hope Diamond? Coming right up!

She adjusts herself on my lap, straddling me, her legs under my armrests on either side. With one hand on her back and one hand grasping the hair at the nape of her neck, I kiss her feverishly, devouring her lips and tongue and savoring the taste and warmth of her mouth. Sweet Anastasia, I could just eat you up!


STEELE

Oh, good God, this man can kiss! He’s got me locked down on top of him in his office chair and he’s consuming me like I’m his last meal! Oh, the ecstasy! He always awakens the sleeper when he touches me, and I feel the flood between my legs as I entangle my hands in his soft copper locks. He’s kissing me so deeply and so passionately that I swear I feel like I’m about to pass out. He breaks contact with my lips only to devour my chin, my cheek, my neck…

“Oh, Christian…” I breathe heavily as I hold my head back to allow him access and to drag in precious air. He releases a guttural moan and I completely surrender. I am the marionette and he holds the strings.

“Baby,” he says as he greedily licks the skin on my chest and right at my cleavage.

“Please, oh God, please.” I grab his face on both sides and pull his head back to rest my forehead on his. “Christian, you’re insatiable.” I say between breaths, my eyes closed trying to regain my composure. I open my eyes to see his staring back at me with a little mirth.

“Baby, you haven’t seen the half of it, yet.” He laughs fiendishly before placing another gentle kiss on my lips. “We better get something to eat,” he says as he slaps my behind to get me to stand. I jump at the smack.

“Mr. Grey!” I say, feigning disapproval as I stand and rub the spot where he struck me. “You’re not supposed to treat a lady thus!”

“There’s a whole lot more I want to do to this lady,” he growls sensually as he walks towards me. I back up with each of his steps until I meet the wall. He puts his hand on the wall next to my head, grabs my chin to tilt my head up and… there’s that damn kiss again. Holy fuck! My knees begin to buckle, and he takes his free hand and closes the door to his study, then wraps it around my waist. The hand that was holding my chin is now roaming over my breast, my ass, and now undoing my shorts.

“Christian,” I say against his lips. “We don’t have time…”

“There’s always time for an orgasm, baby,” he purrs in his sexy baritone voice. His knee separates my legs and his hand slips down into my shorts and underwear.

“Aaahh!” I moan as his fingers make contact with the magic spot.

“Quiet!” he scolds as he separates my folds. “You don’t want Mrs. Jones to hear you, now, do you?” he says teasingly as his teeth graze over my chin and my neck. “Fuck, Ana, you’re so damn wet,” he exclaims as his fingers slide inside. I whimper as quietly as I can.

“Oh!” I squeak as he fucks me with his fingers and massages my clit with his palm. “Christian…”

“Oh, baby, you’re so sexy,” he moans. I open my eyes and he’s watching me as I fall apart. My lips are parted as I try to breathe. I feel a slight quivering.

“That’s it, baby,” he says as he continues a delicious rhythm with his fingers and palm.

“Christian,” I breathe, “I’m going to come.”

“I know,” he says as our eyes lock on each other, sensual gray to salacious blue—and the rhythm continues.

“Christian,” I whimper, “I can’t keep quiet!”

“You better try,” he says mercilessly, and the rhythm continues. If I hold back, it’s going to be explosive and draining. I relax into it, both arms down at my sides as he strokes unyieldingly and masterfully at my core, pulling up every so often to spread my juices on my clitoris. I almost tip over the edge the next time he anoints my clit with my wetness, but once he shifts his hand deeper inside and his thumb replaces his palm, it only takes a few more strokes and the expert ministrations of his thumb before I detonate wetly all over his hand.

“Christia….”

He covers my mouth with his before the scream of passion is complete. I moan and whimper endlessly into his mouth as his tongue feeds my passion, and his thumb and fingers wring it out of me. His arm holds me against him until I’m shivering with aftershocks. He pulls his hand from my shorts and licks his fingers greedily as he looks hungrily into my eyes.

“Mighty fine, Ms. Steele,” he says, his voice husky. He zips my shorts, buttons them, and kisses me again. I can taste my juices on his tongue. When he pulls back, he put his fingertips delicately on his nose and inhaled deeply, moaning his approval. “Smells like heaven,” he says, smiling mischievously at me as I catch my breath, coming down from my orgasm. “I’ll tell Mrs. Jones that you’ll be ready to eat in a few minutes,” he says, kissing my nose and stepping away from me. He smiles and winks at me as he leaves the study and I’m standing there trying to get my bearings about me.

That bastard. Get me all weak in the knees, then go strolling out of here like Mr. CEO while I have to compose myself before I can face Gail. That’s so dirty.

You realize you are silently scolding this man because he just made you come.
But…
Eh! Think about that for a second.
Hmmm…
Yeah!
He’s still a bastard.
Whatever you say.

I take a few deep breaths and straighten my clothes before I leave the study. I approach the breakfast bar where Christian is seated eating an omelet with an English muffin and orange juice. I put my hands on his shoulders and he turns to look at me.

“Feeling better?” he says with a naughty smile on his face.

“Much,” I say as I plant a sweet kiss on his cheek and sit on the stool next to him.

“What would you like, Ana?” Mrs. Jones asks. I’m so glad she remembers to use my nickname.

“I don’t usually eat much for breakfast, Mrs. Jones. Usually a bagel or a piece of fruit is fine.” Christian glares at me and I glare right back. “What?” I ask.

“Anastasia, you have to eat more than that for breakfast,” he scolds.

“I’m doing fine so far.” I say, gesturing to my lovely girlish figure. “Or have we forgotten my victory over She-Thing yesterday?” Mrs. Jones unsuccessfully hides a loud whimpering laugh in her throat as she turns away from us. I chuckle lightly, then look over at a not-so-happy Christian.

“Christian, I’ve never eaten large breakfasts… well, only on occasion. But most days, it’s toast and a cup of coffee or a bagel with cream cheese or some fruit.” He sighs heavily.

“Will you eat breakfast today… for me?” I sigh.

“Fine, but only because I don’t have to see patients today. Heavy meals right before I have to listen to someone’s life story is a definite no-no!” I say shaking my finger.

“Yes, ma’am!” he says, with a mock salute.

“Ugh! Stop it!” I whine. “I get enough of that from Taylor!”

“What can I get for you, Ana?” Mrs. Jones asks again.

“Do you have anything already prepared?” I don’t want to inconvenience her.

“Bacon,” she answers.

“Would you add some eggs and toast to that for me… and a glass of orange juice? And I’d love some of that coffee!” I ask.

“No problem,” she says with a smile.

“Thank you.” I return her smile. “Speaking of Taylor, when do I get to meet the guy that you have spying on me… formally, that is?”

“You can meet him after breakfast,” Christian answers. “What’s on your agenda for today?”

“Well, I have to meet Al at my apartment later. He’s going to be bringing over my copy of the restraining order. Then he and the sheriffs are going to serve Edward with his.”

“Why doesn’t Forsythe just serve it? Isn’t he an attorney?”

“Call him Al or Allen. You sound so strange calling him Forsythe all the time. Nobody in the world calls him Forsythe. I have to adjust my brain just to figure out who you’re talking about when you say that!” I scold.

“Fine. Why doesn’t Allen just serve him?” Even that’s sounds weird coming out of his mouth.

“Because Edward wouldn’t take it from Al. He knows Al and he doesn’t respect him because of Al’s sexual orientation. So, to avoid a fight or any contesting of the service, we opted for sheriff service instead.”

“He still leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth,” Christian says, taking a forkful of his omelet.

“Well, we won’t have to worry about him after today,” I say.

“I’ve got a feeling you’re wrong, Butterfly.” Butterfly? Huh? “I’ve seen his type and they don’t let go easily. He’s nursing a wound, a bad one. And it’s been made worse by the fact that you don’t want him, somebody else wants you, and you basically embarrass him every time you meet.” Well, he hit all those nails on the head.

“He can make it so much easier for himself if he just leaves me the hell alone. I don’t get it, Christian. He had me. I loved him, but I wasn’t enough. So, I left him alone. I left him to do what he wanted to do… roam the streets of Seattle. Why the hell is he back?” Mrs. Jones sets my breakfast in front of me.

“I can’t tell you what made him decide to come back now, but I don’t trust the bastard.” Christian takes a swig of his coffee. “So, tell me, why does Al call you ‘Jewel?'” I tell him the diamond/coal story.

“Now you tell me,” I begin, “Why did you just call me Butterfly?” He freezes as he’s drinking his orange juice. Did I say something wrong?


GREY

Did I call her that out loud? So far, it had been my special subconscious name for her… did I let it slip?

“Um…” Do I tell her why I really call her Butterfly? There are so many reasons, but one in particular. I don’t think now is the right time to tell her that one, so I wait. “There are a lot of reasons, but the most prevalent is because you’re beautiful and delicate—when you’re not beating the hell out of someone.” She laughs at that one. “And have you ever had a butterfly cross your path and it not make you stop, look, and adore its beauty? Has seeing a butterfly ever made you unhappy?” She walks over and puts her arms around my neck.

“And what happens when I do something to upset you or piss you off?” she asks. If you knew the other reason why I call you Butterfly, you would know that none of those things matter.

“You’ll still be my Butterfly,” I say as I kiss her gently on the lips. “Finish your breakfast.” She smiles and quickly finishes her breakfast.

“Okay, now I’m ready to meet Davenport,” she says as she bounces out of her seat. I like this Ana. She seems carefree and young and fun. I want her to teach me to be those things. I want to experience the things that I’ve missed out on being Elena’s prisoner all of these years. I’m going to let her take me wherever she wants, travel all the journeys that her little heart desires.

I want to feel for her what she feels for me.

“Ana,” I ask cautiously. “Can I talk to you for a moment before you meet Davenport?” Mrs. Jones discreetly makes her way out of the room to give us some privacy.

“Sure,” she says, sitting back in the seat. How do you ask someone if they meant it when they said they loved you in their sleep?

“Did you know that you talk in your sleep?” Her face falls. The carefree Ana that bounced out of the chair a moment go has been replaced by the solemn and serious Dr. Steele.

“What did I say?” she asks, flatly. Let’s slow-walk into this, shall we?

“You were talking about Margaret Thatcher and Stoley?” I say. She lets go of a breath that she was holding.

“Oh, that,” she says. “It’s actually Flashdance Thatcher and Stoley. They were two group participants that I once had—both on completely different ends of the spectrum.” She rolls her eyes at the memory. I’ll let that one slide.

“Flashdance Thatcher?” I ask incredulously. She sighs.

“It’s a long story,” she says, throwing her hands in the air. “But why was that such a cause for concern for you?” She looks at me questioning.

“Because it lets me know just how deep in your thoughts you are when you’re talking,” I say as I take her hands in mine. “Did you have any dreams last night?” I ask. She thinks for a moment.

“None that I can remember. I mean I always wake with pictures in my head of what I must have dreamt about. I’m sure if I think about it long enough, it may come to me,” she replies casually.

“Do you remember any pictures?” She looks at me strangely, but then she starts to try to remember.

“Um, I remember blue sky and I was running somewhere… playing I think… are you sure I talked about Thatcher and Stoley last night?” she asks. I think she’s catching on that her dream and late-night ramblings had nothing to do with her prior group participants.

“Just humor me for a few minutes and tell me what you can remember,” I say softly, still holding her hands, stroking them gently with my thumb. I can see she’s a little hesitant, but she continues.

“Um, I don’t know, Christian, I… uh… I remember a thunderstorm. I think it was raining on a playground or something.” She shakes her head, “I really can’t remember anything else.”

“Are you sure, Ana?” I ask. She’s becoming impatient.

“What did I say, Christian?” she asks. I don’t want to tell her any of it. I don’t want to stir up a bad dream if she can’t remember it. I drop my head in defeat. Hurting her in any way is something my soul can’t tolerate, even something as small as this. “Christian?” She says putting one of her hands on my cheek. “Baby, did I say something horrible?” She asks with concern. I look into her questioning blue eyes and shake my head.

“No,” I reply. “You said something beautiful,” I say before I can catch myself. She said she loved me. At least I think it was me. I hope it was me as much as I hope it wasn’t me because I don’t want to be the cause of her having nightmares. “You were protecting someone,” I add.

“Protecting someone?” she asks puzzled. “Protecting who?” When all I can give her is an uncertain glare, she drops my hands and begins to pace.

“There was a thunderstorm… and I was trying to cover someone up. I was trying to… keep them from getting wet, I think.”

She’s twisting her hands, trying to think.

“These two people showed up. I couldn’t see their faces. They were coming for the child.” The color leaves her face as she recounts the dream.

“As they approached us, suddenly, my arms and legs were broken. They weren’t before… and then they were. I couldn’t move… I couldn’t help him. All I could do was sit there and watch.”

Her hand goes to her forehead like she’s trying to rub away a headache. I know this is her tell that she’s unhappy or stressed, so I stand, but she doesn’t notice. She rubs and rubs and rubs, looking for the answers to the last part of this dream.

“They took him. They took the little boy. He was so afraid. One was a woman… I know that… the other one, a man, I guess.” She’s pacing again. “I kept telling them to leave him alone… but I couldn’t do anything… I couldn’t move…” She’s starting to get very agitated.

“Ana…?” I say walking over to her.

“They each… they each took an arm… and they were pulling. Not fighting over him, just pulling. And I told her to stop—but she wouldn’t. They kept… pulling… until they were ripping the little boy in half.” Both of her hands are on her face now, wiping as if to scrub away the memory.

“I told them to stop… I told them to leave him alone. He was so small… and they were… he was… he was….”

She gasps loudly and her hand flies to her mouth. She spins around to look at me where I stand a few feet away from her. Her eyes are full of tears that are going to fall any second. She points at me and just before breaking into sobs, she cries,

“He was you! Christian, it was you!”

In two long strides, I’m in front of her scooping her up in my arms. I knew it. I fucking knew it! Are you happy now, Asshole? You couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you, Grey? I carry her over to the couch and sit her on my lap.

“Ssshhh. Baby, don’t cry,” I soothe. “Please don’t cry, baby.” I can’t stand that I pushed her to this, but I had to know. I had to know that it was me that she was talking about. I remembered that she calmed down and went to sleep after that.

“Ana, can you remember what happened next?” I brush her hair from her face. She sniffled heavily.

“They left you… they l… left you there… torn in h… half… and the… woman said she w… would be back and… I told her t… to leave you alone.” She takes a deep breath and continues, her tear-stained face looking very confused. “The next thing I know, it’s not raining anymore… and we’re in each other’s arms… you torn in half and me with broken arms and legs.”

She said she loved me… in her sleep, she said it. I heard her! I put my hands on either side of her face.

“Ana. Baby, please, don’t make my nightmares your own. I have to fight these demons. And I have you here to keep me strong, but you have your own cross to bear.”

“But I…” She wanted to say something, but she shook her head. “Okay.”

“You promise not to carry my pain around with you?” I’m almost pleading.

“I’ll try, I promise.” She gently strokes my face. Her hand feels like silk against my skin.

“That’s all I can ask,” I say as I pull her into an embrace. “Are you okay now? I’m sorry I put you through that.”

“I’m fine.” She smiles and she stands from my lap. “I really need to get going, Christian. I have to meet Al about the restraining order.” She squeezes my hand and goes to the bedroom to retrieve her things.

“Taylor,” I call for my head of personal security who is never too far away.

“Sir.” Taylor emerges from his office.

“I’ll be ready to go in about fifteen minutes. Call Davenport to my study… What is his first name?”

“Charles, sir.” I nod and send him off.

A few minutes later, Davenport arrives in my study. “Mr. Grey,” he greets as he enters the office.

“Davenport, have a seat.” He sits in one of the leather chairs across from me. “I’m assigning you as personal security for Ms. Steele. Right now, she thinks you’re still just surveillance, but she’s very personable and she wants to meet you formally.”

“Yes, sir.” I lean in.

“Take good care of her. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir.”

Moments later, I introduce my Butterfly to Mr. Charles Davenport. Afterwards, we say our goodbyes and I send her and Davenport on their way. It’s going to be a long day!


STEELE

“I need to make a stop at the Apple store. Is that okay, Charles?” I ask Davenport as he’s driving me home.

“No problem, ma’am.” Egh! Another ma’am. I’m going to have to break this now!

“Charles, can you please call me Ana?” I ask. He frowns a bit in the rearview mirror.

“Taylor was specific that I should refer to you as ma’am,” he retorts.

“Well, Taylor’s not here,” I reply. He nods with a smirk.

“Chuck,” he says.

“Chuck?” Is he trying to call me Chuck?

“Nobody calls me Charles. It’s either Davenport or Chuck.” I smile.

“Chuck it is, then,” I add. “So as not to cause any problems with your bosses and my boyfriend, when we’re in their company, it’s ma’am or Dr. Steele and Davenport. When we’re alone, it’s Chuck and Ana. Deal?”

“Deal,” he says, smiling warmly. “Dr. Steele?” he clarifies. I raise my eyebrows.

“Mr. Grey didn’t indicate that part, I see.”

“I’m afraid not. He said you were personable, but nothing about the ‘doctor’ part.” Personable? That’s actually pretty sweet of him to say.

“So, you’ve been partially briefed about me?” I ask, amused.

“Just a little,” he responds. Christian is serious about this “surveillance.” I guess I’ll cooperate for now if it will make him feel better.

“Well, don’t worry. There’s no blood and guts involved in what I do. I’m a shrink.” He nods.

“That’s good information. Thank you.”

I’ve decided that since I must change my phone number, I think it’s time to rid myself of my old blackberry, too. I thought about getting the cool updated version that Christian has, but I decide against it and opt for the iPhone. I really want to see what all the fuss is about. If it doesn’t serve my purposes, I’ll go back to the blackberry.

The rep helps me get my contacts, calendar, email and service transferred to the iPhone and even gives me a few cool ringtones. Not that I couldn’t do all of this myself, but hey, let him earn his wage, right? I send my new phone number to all my contacts—Edward excluded—and set about playing with my new phone on the ride back to the apartment. The moment we enter the parking structure, I notice something ghastly wrong.

“Chuck, stop!” I yell, jumping out of the car before it even comes to a complete stop. “What the hell…?”

“Ana!” Chuck is running behind me and we both stop in our tracks, gaping at my car. What once was my windshield is now shattered glass covering my front seat, dashboard, hood, and the ground surrounding my car. “What in the hell is this?” I scream.

“Tsk! Tsk! Tsk!” I hear from behind me. I turn around to see Edward has come from behind a pillar in black jeans and a black T-shirt. It only takes a moment to understand that he’s at the bottom of this. “It looks like someone had an accident,” he mocks.

You did this?” I hiss. He just smiles. Of course, he’s not going to admit it, but this Black Ops outfit that he’s wearing is completely giving him away. I feel my adrenaline rising again, but fuck if there’s going to be tears this time. I am feeling anger—pure, bona-fide, genuine, 100%, undiluted, unadulterated, unmitigated anger! Davenport snatches Edward’s arm as he gets closer to me. I don’t think I’ve ever been this angry in my life… not even when I discovered that Christian was doing a background check on me. My breathing is getting heavier and I swear I’m seeing red.

“Ana?” Chuck’s voice is calling to me in the midst of the anger haze. I’m trying with all my might to wrangle in these feelings, and it’s taking every coping mechanism I’ve ever known—counting backwards, mantras, controlled breathing, pacing—nothing seems to be working. This is going to stop and it’s going to stop today!

I raise my head to see a worried Chuck and a somewhat stunned Edward. There’s another “Tree in Black” holding Edward’s arm. This must be Edward’s tail. What are they paying you for, Dude?

“How did he get to my car?” I ask Edward’s guy. He’s taken aback that I’m addressing him.

“Ma’am?” he says, confused.

“Do you know who I am?” I snap. He looks at Chuck and back at me.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says bemused.

“Then can you tell me how he got to my car?” I ask again, not nearly as kindly as the first time.

“I don’t know, ma’am,” he says a little affronted. My eyes go narrow at this asshole and he visibly shivers a bit.

“Let him go,” I growl. Davenport and Incompetent Guy look at each other.

“But ma’am…” Incompetent Guy begins.

“I said let him go!” I yell. They still don’t move. “He’s in the damn parking structure! He vandalized my fucking car. Why are you holding him now?” They throw another look at each other and let him go. Edward shrugs his shoulders arrogantly  as if he had anything at all to do with his release. Davenport stands behind me near the front of my car while Incompetent Guy stands a few feet behind Edward. I hold my head down in a final attempt to gain control of my anger.

“What the hell are you doing?” I say, slowly raising my eyes to Edward. “What. Are. You. Doing? What do you hope to accomplish? What’s supposed to be the purpose of this campaign? What is your intended end result? Please tell me because I’m confused, and I would really like to know! You can’t possibly want me back at this point because the terrible insults, the stalking, and this childish behavior only assures that I never want to see you again!”

“Fuck, no, I don’t want your used and reused ass now. What the fuck would I want with you now?” he shoots.

Ignoring the insult in the response and concentrating only the important bits, I respond, “Great! Fine! We’re in agreement! You don’t want me and I don’t want you. So why the fuck won’t you just go away? Why are you still hanging around? Game! Point! Match! Why the hell are you still here!?” His voice gets cool and his eyes narrow.

“Because I know you can’t stand it. I know that every time you see me, I make you sick. He says he’ll make you forget about me. Well, how’s that working out for you? Good or bad, I remind you of what once was. That’s reason enough for me to never go away. Everywhere you look, I’m going to be there somewhere. You can change your number; you can fucking leave the state if you want, but I’ll follow you. I’ll find you no matter where you go or who you’re with. And since your pretty boy billionaire boyfriend can’t get his ‘hands dirty’ with me, well then he doesn’t cause me much concern.”

What? Christian can’t get his hands dirty? But Christian said he would never let anyone hurt me. What is Edward getting at?

I must have let the seeds of doubt show on my face because Edward’s smirking at me now. That’s what he wanted. Whatever his twisted reasoning, he just wants to torture me. I see now. He’s really not going to go away. I’m utterly confused as to why he’s completely obsessed with my unhappiness. So, I ask…

“Why? Why are you doing this? How does this serve you? What do you get from this?”

“Satisfaction,” he answers flatly. What the hell…?

“For what!?”

“Nobody says ‘no’ to me… whore!” he says coolly.

Fuck! Are you kidding me? Is that what this is? All this is simply because he can’t take rejection!? Not because he lost the love of his life, not because he was publicly humiliated—twice—not because he’s pining away for me, and not because Christian threatened him… but because he can’t take rejection. And the fact that he used that word snaps me out of every bit of anger and every bit of hurt that I was feeling. My thoughts become cold and calculated just like his. My change of expression must have said something to him because he clearly looks like he shudders for a moment. I tilt my head and glare at him a bit.

“Gentlemen, was I mistaken in what I just heard, or did Mr. David just verbalize that he intends to harass me incessantly indefinitely, even if I cross state lines? Did I hear that correctly?” I say, coldly. Edward is glaring back at me, waiting for my next move.

“Yes, ma’am,” they agree.

“That’s all I need to hear.” I turn my back on this bastard and walk to my car. After battling with the Pedo-Bitch yesterday, I can pump his ass full of lead right now without even thinking. I open my car door and reach into the glove box.

“Ma’am, I don’t think you should touch anything until we’ve called the police,” Chuck begins.

“It’s my car, my fingerprints are everywhere,” I say, my voice venomous. Chuck takes two steps back at my tone of voice. His eyes flare when he sees me pull My Boo out of the glove box. “What is his name?” I say without ascending from my car yet.

“I’m sorry?” Chuck asks.

“Mr. Incompetent Guy over there, what is his name?” Wanting to laugh at the address, but clearly seeing how serious the situation has gotten, Chuck remains solemn.

“Robert Harris, ma’am,” he responds.

“Tell him to stand down,” I almost growl, and Chuck nods. He makes some signal to his colleague who takes a couple of steps back. I look over my left shoulder and Edward is still standing there, smirking at me. That’s right, Bitch. Stay right there. In my right hand is my Glock G19C. In my left hand is the magazine that I keep next to the gun until it is necessary to lock and load.

It’s necessary.

I turn around and face Edward, who has that same smug ass look on his face. I’m fire-breathing mad. He needs to see this. He needs to know that this is not a fucking toy and I know exactly what I’m doing. I’m done with his bullshit.

As I’m walking towards him, I let him watch as I pop the magazine into the Glock, slam it in hard with the ball of my hand, and release the slide lock. The whole process takes about five seconds. I stop walking about ten feet away from him and he has turned about four different shades of white. Once he passes ecru, I say “Listen carefully, you low down, dirty, sneaky, slimy, low life son of a bitch. If you ever come near me again, I’m gonna pop a cap in ya ass. Do you understand me?”

Complete and total shock and horror registers on this man’s face. “What the fuck?” Is all he can say.

“That’s a yes or no question, Fucker! If you ever come near me, my home, my car, my street, my job, my friends, or anything pertaining to me, I will drop you where you stand. If I see you out of the corner of my eye anywhere in the vicinity of me or anything important to me, I will go Saigon on your ass and empty the clip. Do I make myself clear?” I say through clenched teeth. He’s still standing there a little stunned. My Boo is still at my side. “I’m not going to nod this time, Edward, because I want to make sure that you understand what I’m saying.” I say, my voice still cold and venomous.

“Ana, this is not you. You wouldn’t do this,” Edward says, his voice softer and lacking the malice he showed moments before. I pull the slide back on My Boo and load a round into the chamber. I raise it up, take stance and aim it right between his eyes. Edward takes a step back and slightly raises his hands.

“I’ve changed!” I snap.

“Ms. Steele,” Chuck says from behind me. “Please, put the gun away.”

“Davenport I’ve held a CCW for five years I know what I’m doing stay the fuck away from me,” I say all in one breath.

“Ana,” Chuck continues, hoping the familiarity would go a little further, no doubt, “I don’t want to have to disarm you.”

“You wouldn’t do that, Chuck, because you would risk the firearm discharging, especially since my finger is on the trigger and there’s a round in the chamber.” I’m still glaring at Edward, who appears to be getting more and more nervous as the moments go by.

“Ana, please. I’m going to be forced to restrain you.” Chuck tries a last-ditch effort.

“You do that, Chuck, but before you do, ask your boss what happened to the last man that tried to restrain me.” Still cool… still glaring at Edward.

“Ms. Steele…” Harris begins.

YOU,” I cut him off sharply, “have nothing to say to me.” I’m pointing my finger at Harris, but my glare and my Glock are still trained on Edward. “If you were doing your job, I wouldn’t be talking to this fucker right now!”

I can see just over Edward’s shoulder, and Al’s Jag is coming into the parking structure. I stand right where I am. This mother fucker has not said that he’ll leave me the fuck alone.

Al stops right behind Edward and jumps out of the car.

“Jewel?” he says, his voice shaking a bit. “What’s going on, Hon?”

“I have two witnesses that this asshole is never. Going. To stop. Harassing me. He said it out of his own mouth. So, he can either leave me alone or I’ll drop him on sight. And I want him to know that I’m serious.”

I’m still glaring at him. His fear is full blown now. He’s sweating and everything.

“Anastasia, I’ll leave you alone,” Edward says. Somehow, I don’t believe him, so I still haven’t lowered my weapon or moved my gaze.

“Ana, he says he’ll leave you alone,” Chuck says, calmly.

“I don’t believe him!” I say, sharply before Chuck finishes his sentence.

“Jewel, I need you to put that firearm away. King County Sheriffs will be here any minute to serve him his papers.”

“How did you know he was here?” I flash a look at Al, but only for a split second.

“I didn’t. They were coming to give you your copy, first. And when I tell you they are right behind me, I mean…” I see the sheriff’s car at the gate.

“… Right behind me,” he finishes, looking at the gate. I lower my weapon.

“Go let them in,” I say to Al. I turn around and put My Boo back in the glove box after locking the slide as Al opened the gate for the sheriffs.

“I mean it, David.” I’m still glaring at him as he puts his hands down. “All bets are off. Stay. The fuck. Away from me.”

He looks like he wants to say something, but he thinks better of it. The sheriffs drive into the parking structure and pull right next to Al’s car. Edward and I are still glaring at each other. Two officers get out of the car—a tall Caucasian gentleman and a shorter African American woman. She looks from me to Edward and back to me and says, “It looks like the party already started.”

“She pulled a gun on me,” Edward says calmly. They both look at me.

“Is that true, ma’am?” I take a deep breath.

“Yes, Officer, it is,” I begin. “I have a concealed weapon in my glove compartment and a license to carry in my purse,” I say calmly. The officers look at each other.

“May we see your license, ma’am?” The lady officer asks.

“Yes, you may, Officer…” I wait for her name.

“Lewis, ma’am.

“Officer Lewis. How would you like to proceed?” The officers looked at each other again. Yes, I know the protocol. If I make any sudden moves, it’s shoot first, ask questions later.

“Would you mind if we search your purse, ma’am?” Officer Lewis asks.

“Not at all. My identification and my CCW are in my wallet.” I hand my purse over to Lewis.

“Do you mind if Officer Richards searches your car, ma’am?” Lewis asks. I hesitate.

“I don’t know. It’s up to you. My car has been vandalized and I haven’t made a police report yet.”

“We can handle that for you, ma’am,” Richards says. Curbside service. Now that’s what I’m talking about. Edward is standing there looking at me like the cat who caught the canary like he’s about to catch me in something.

“Be my guest, Officer Richards. In the glove compartment, you’ll find a loaded Glock G19C with a round in the chamber.” I fold my arms still glaring at Edward. Lewis rummages through my purse while Richards searches my car. Just as Richards announces that he has the firearm, Lewis calls out my name.

“Anastasia Rose Steele?” she says.

“Yes, Officer,” I answer.

“She’s licensed, Bill.” She calls out to her partner. I look over my shoulder as he puts My Boo back in the glove box and begins to survey the damage to my car. Edward’s canary look falls. Yeah, wipe that smug look off your face, Asshole. I’m licensed.

“Can you tell us what’s going on here, ma’am?” Lewis asks as she returns my purse.

“Well, this is Charles Davenport and that’s Robert Harris. They’re both members of a personal protection detail assigned to me by Christian Grey.”

“Christian Grey?” Lewis asks. “Why would Christian Grey assign you a protection detail?”

“We’re dating,” I respond.

“Whore,” Edward mumbles so that only I can hear him. I ignore him. He doesn’t exist anymore.

“You’ve met my attorney Allen Forsythe, and you are more than likely here to serve a protection order against this asshole!” I said pointing to Edward. Lewis makes a funny face and continues to write.

“And who is this… gentleman?” she asks. No one responds. Then I speak.

“Oh, you mean him?” I said, pointing to Edward. “That’s Edward David. You said ‘gentleman.’ You confused me for a second.” A couple of the guys clear their throats to mask their snickers.

“And what’s his relationship to you?” Lewis continues.

“A terrible mistake,” I say through clenched teeth. “My ex-boyfriend.”

“How long have you been apart?”

“Four years.” She does a double take.

“Has he been harassing you all this time?” she asks incredulously. I had to think about it.

“It depends on how you define ‘harass.’ About two years ago or so, he started asking if we could get back together. Calling constantly, showing up unannounced at my home. This went on for quite some time. It didn’t become vicious until a couple of days ago when he discovered that there was no way in hell that we were ever getting back together.”

“Because she’s fucking around on me.” This time Officer Lewis heard him. My hand flies up to my mouth. Christian said it! Christian said that he felt like I was cheating on him. I couldn’t believe that Edward was that delusional, but now it just came out of his mouth!

“I thought you said you guys haven’t been dating for four years.” Lewis says, confused.

“My point exactly!” I yell, throwing my hands up in the air. “He wanted to go be Don Juan of Seattle. I let him go! Now he’s crawling back to me. What happened? Did you run out of women?” Just as it comes out of my mouth, I gasp. Oh. My. God. Is it possible that this man has covered so much territory in the greater Seattle area that he now has a bad reputation? Could that be it?

“That’s it, isn’t it?” Everybody’s looking at me waiting for me to let them in on the discovery. “Have you covered that much ground, Edward? Is that even possible?” I ask incredulously. His silence answers my question. “Why me?” I snap. “I’m not the only one who said ‘no,’ why me?” Still no answer. Oh God, I think to myself, he really is an asshole. “I don’t know what I ever thought I saw in you, but I’m so glad it’s over.” I look at him and shake my head, then I walk over to Al. “Don’t you guys have something for him?” Richards goes back to the car.

“I have one more question, Ms. Steele,” Lewis says. “Do you have any other firearms in your possession?”

“Not on me, no, but I keep two others,” I answer. Edward’s head snaps over to me when I say this.

“What are they, ma’am, and where do you keep them?” she asks. Richards walks back over to us with papers in his hand.

“I keep a Beretta Px4 Storm Type F Subcompact in the apartment and I normally carry a .44 Magnum 629 S&W Special on my person, but it’s in the apartment right now as well.” Richards is impressed.

“Are you proficient with those weapons, ma’am?” he asks.

“Yes, I am. My father is a Marine expert,” I say proudly.

“Semper Fi, do or die,” Richards says.

“Oorah!” I add, without missing a beat.

“And you need a protection order against him?” I raise my hands in a demonstration manner.

“Look around. Where are we?” I say, gesturing around the structure.

“At your apartment, ma’am,” Richards responds.

“And who’s here?” I say now gesturing at Edward. “Am I at his apartment? Am I stalking him? Am I busting the windows out of his car?” Richards nod.

“Yes, ma’am, I understand. It’s just painfully obvious that you can take care of yourself,” he says with mirth. I chuckle with him.

“Oh, I can. In self-defense situations, shoot to kill… but who in their right mind really wants to kill?” I ask. “That’s an experience I could really live without.” I look past his shoulders at a bemused and somewhat forlorn-looking Edward David, who looks back at me, almost begging. Yeah, he’s bipolar… or something… “Although in this case, I’d be willing to make an exception.” I turn back around to Al and away from Edward, determined to fight the adrenaline tears this time, but still feeling quite emotional over this whole fiasco. “Please make him go away,” I say, waving my hand dismissively. I see Al nod before he puts his arms around me and protectively pulls me to his chest. The next voice I hear is Officer Richards.

“Edward Robert David, in accordance with The Revised Code of Washington chapter 26.50, you are hereby served with a temporary domestic violence protection order concerning Anastasia Rose Steele, also known as the plaintiff. As the defendant in this case, you are ordered to immediately refrain from contact with the plaintiff. This means that you may not knowingly come within or remain within 1000 feet of the plaintiff, her place of residence, her place of work, or any location that she’s occupying at that time.

“You may not contact the plaintiff personally, through electronic means, in writing, or by proxy. You may not harass, follow, or cyberstalk the plaintiff. You may not monitor the actions, locations, or communications of the plaintiff. You shall be notified by the King County Superior Court of the court date for a permanent domestic violence protection order via summons or publication if you are unservable. If you fail to appear, a default judgment will be issued in favor of the plaintiff.

“Violation of this order will result in your arrest without a warrant and is a gross misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and $5000 in fines as well as contempt of court punishable with sanction and fines at the discretion of the court. If you have any questions about this order, please contact your attorney or the King County Superior Court.”

I can hear him fold the papers and I assume that he hands them to Edward. I breathe a huge sigh of relief that causes Al to squeeze tighter.

“Consider yourself served. Please remove yourself from the premises immediately.” Richards concludes. After several moments of silence, Al says, “He’s gone, Jewel.”


A/N: 

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~~love and handcuffs