Raising Grey: Chapter 71—Chain Reactions

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 71—Chain Reactions 

CHRISTIAN

We put Chuck and Keri on a plane to South Dakota yesterday to be present for the case today. Butterfly was not happy to see either of them go as Chuck is her detail and Keri is her nanny.

“I feel like my limbs are being cut off one by one,” she says. “My detail, my nanny, my PA…” I had forgotten that Marilyn had taken some time off as well in light of recent developments. I can imagine Butterfly feels a bit rudderless. Thank God Harmony’s here and has agreed to help Gail with the twins.

We haven’t discussed anything that happened Saturday night. I’m not sure how to approach the topic or even what needs to be discussed at this point. After talking to Jason, I somewhat understand the “Cinderella” concept, but how do I voice my displeasure with the way she spoke to my mother? Is this one of those situations where I should just “butt out” since it really had to do with the Center and wasn’t anything personal? It became personal, though—the comments that she made. However, had she said these things at Helping Hands in the course of her job, would I feel the same way? Am I only feeling this way because these things were said in my presence?

She was talking about her professional stance, and the position that my mother put her in by revealing to Adelaide that Courtney was still in town. To Mom, she was trying to help a friend, but to Butterfly, this was a professional betrayal.

I should have stayed out of this.

“You going in this morning?” I ask my wife who has been silent at the breakfast bar.

“Yes,” she says coolly. “I have new employees starting today and I should be there. And I have to figure out what’s going on with my calendar because I’m like a fish out of water without Marilyn.”

“Do you want to meet for lunch?” I say, attempting to offer an olive branch. She looks over at me.

“I’ll… let you know,” she replies uncertainly. “The morning is kind of heavy…”

“I’ll wait,” I interrupt. “You say what time.” She pauses for a moment, still gazing at me.

“Okay,” she says softly. “I’ll call you, then.” I give her hand a squeeze and kiss her on the forehead.

“I’ll see you later, then,” I say, and she nods.

*-*

“Kavanaugh wants nothing to do with you,” Lorenz says at the executive meeting that morning. “He’s shutting down any attempts from this camp to contact him.”

“Well, there’s always a hostile takeover… buy him out,” I suggest.

“Yeah, he thought of that, too,” Ros says, “so he’s not selling.” I nod. My lips form a thin line.

“Fine,” I say. “We’ve got plenty of Kavanaugh’s stock. Start dumping it.” Lorenz frowns deeply.

“Are you crazy?” he asks. I turn to him.

“Do you remember my interview, Lorenz?” I ask. “You’ve seen my portfolio—controlling interests or substantial participation percentages in 28 industries comprised of 419 subindustries in 165 countries on all seven continents. Kavanaugh is one subindustry in one industry in one country on one continent. This is only one of my holdings. It’s his entire life. He doesn’t want a financial and industrial powerhouse to bail him out when he’s on a proverbial dingy with a hole in it about to sink simply because the bailout is coming from me, well then let his ass sink. Start dumping stock 2% at a time. Once the NYSE and the NASDAQ reports that information, he’ll be lucky if he can still be considered penny stock.”

“Christian, this sounds dangerously close to insider trading,” Ros warns.

“Far from it, Ros,” I tell her. “It’s only insider trading if I use inside information not available to anyone else to further my position or unload a disadvantage. This is not inside information. It’s public knowledge that he’s on the skids. ‘Pump-and-dumps’ do it all the time. They buy low, drive up the price, watch the trends, and when it looks like it’s about as high as it’s going to go, they drop it. I’m an investor, and I see an opportunity to save my investment that’s very crappy right now and getting crappier by the second. I’m throwing him a life preserver and he’s kicking it back to me. He’s only looking at one side of that investment coin and that’s the fact that I don’t have enough to do a hostile. And he’s right, I don’t. However, I do have enough to make other investors sit up and take notice if I start dumping my shares.”

“There’s going to be no coming back from this,” Lorenz warns.

“There’s already no coming back from it,” I tell him. “He’s made it clear that he wants no part of my golden parachute. So be it. If I were so shrewd as to drive the price down, make him open sales again and gobble up the market before anybody else, guaranteeing at the very least a hostile takeover, he’d poison pill the company before I got my hands on it. I can tell when a company is on that final spiral down the drain, and Kavanaugh already has his feet in the grates—he just doesn’t think anybody knows it.”

I raise an eyebrow at Lorenz whose expression confirms that he agrees with me.

“Someone can still reach in and save him, and it doesn’t have to be me, but when and if they do, they’re going to be dealing with a company that’s worth at least one-third less than it is right now if not even less than that. Start dumping the stock. If I’m wrong and it turns around for him and the investors are making money, by dumping 2% at a time, I’ll still have a portion of my investment left. So… let the market decide.”

I wave the whole thing off. Buying Kavanaugh Media would have been a personal coup, but nothing more. I’ve got enough money to use C-notes to wipe my ass for the rest of my life. I don’t need this shit.

“And what’s going on with Kate Kavanaugh?” I ask. It makes me nervous when people just disappear.

“It appears that the Kavanaugh Princess is hiding out in the Hamptons with young Kevin… at least we think Kevin’s with her. You know her career is tied up in Kavanaugh Media and shortly, there’ll be no Kavanaugh Media. So, unless she has an endless money pot stashed somewhere, she’ll be looking for a job soon.” Ros replies.

“Make sure we keep our eye on her… just in case.” Lorenz nods.

“Excuse me, sir. Mr. Welch is in the lobby and says he needs to talk to you immediately.” Andrea’s voice surprises me as she never interrupts when I’m in a meeting. “He has Ms. McIntyre with him.”

Oh shit. Mac. What the hell is going on?

“I’m going to have to take this meeting,” I say to Lorenz and Ros. “Alex and Mac usually isn’t good news. Have we covered everything?” Lorenz looks at Ros, who nods.

“For now, it seems,” he says. “I’ll keep you posted.”

“Good man,” I say. “Send them in on your way out.”

I pop my neck as Ros and Lorenz leaves preparing myself for whatever the Gruesome Twosome have to tell me. I know it’s bad when I see their faces. Alex is serious, and Mac is a bit somber.

“Okay, out with it,” I say. Don’t beat around the bush, just give it to me. Alex closes the door and Mac drops a gossip rag on my desk.

“Tell me what I’m looking for here,” I say. “I really don’t feel like combing through stories of back woods women having babies by Elvis, aliens, and Michael Jackson.”

“Bottom left hand corner,” Mac says taking a seat. Alex stands behind her. I look at the bottom left corner of the tabloid.

Incarcerated Socialite to Write Tell-All Book of her Ordeal

“What?” I ask horrified. “I thought the law was written as such that she couldn’t exploit her crime for profit!”

“If she writes it as a fiction novel and changes all the names, she can,” Mac informs me.

“She’d have to change the events, too,” I nearly screech. “That woman molested children! It wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who she’s talking about in her story—just a really good critical thinker, and I’m not just talking about my experience. One of those kids killed himself!” I suddenly want this woman to just disappear from the face of the earth.

“You’ve confirmed that this is true?” I ask them both. “This isn’t just some nasty rumor?”

“It’s confirmed, sir,” Alex says. “She’s been corresponding with ghost writers, publishers… even attorneys to make sure that she’s following the rules to get the book published.”

“And they’re going to publish this garbage.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“Are you kidding?” Mac says. “Like you said, it won’t take a rocket scientist to tell who the characters are, even if she changes the names and events. A tell-all about Christian Grey and other possible prominent members of Seattle society? Right after you do an exposé of you and your lovely wife and your lovely life? Her timing is perfect—for her, that is. Depending on what she puts in that book, she can blow your image of your happy home right out of the water. But there’s so much more at stake here…”

“You don’t have to tell me,” I say. The damage that can be caused by the implications of this book are nearly fucking endless.

“So many pictures,” Alex laments. “So many boys…”

“Exactly,” I sigh. “We don’t even know if we found them all. Decades and decades of that shit—the embarrassment, humiliation, and pain this could cause is endless.”

Hasn’t she caused enough fucking heartache? What the fuck is she after? Before she died, Aunt Tina told me that Elena was corresponding with people, trying to get responses. What is she really doing? She can’t possibly hope to profit from this. Her only chance of release is escape. What’s really going on?

“Why is she trying to get attention?” It’s a rhetorical question.

“How did this story hit the mainstream?” I ask.

“There’s no telling,” Mac says. “She could have done it, it could be a publicity leak—nobody’s paying attention right now, but they’ve got their breach. All they need from this point is momentum.”

“And me visiting the prison would be momentum,” I observe.

“I’m so glad you figured that out on your own,” Mac exclaims. “I could just see you in my mind’s eye flying to the prison to ruffle some feathers and all you end up getting is a front-page spot.”

“Okay, so,” I stand from my desk and clasp my hands, “I’m open for suggestions on how to proceed with this because you know me—I’m ready to run in like a bull in a China shop.”

“We could get an injunction,” Mac says, “but we’d have to know what was in the book before we could do that.”

“So, an injunction’s out. Next plan?”

“Get in touch with the warden,” Alex offers. “He knows you, if I recall.”

“Yes, we’re acquainted,” I remark, remembering the very uncomfortable circumstances I arranged for Mrs. Lincoln after I discovered that she was responsible for the false accusations of sexual misconduct against my wife. “Anything we can do about her possible publishers and ghost writers? Make this endeavor look unattractive?”

“Here’s the thing about writing, Christian,” Mac says. “Once something is out there—articles, print, pictures, books—it’s out there. It’s so much easier to undo something someone said, even on television, than it is to undo the backlash of the written word. Any attempts to make something like this look unattractive would only have the opposite effect because believe me, no one is more aware that the pen is mightier than the sword than the person holding the pen.”

“So, I basically have no recourse now outside of talking to the warden?” I ask appalled. “He can’t possibly be ignorant to this, and he hasn’t done anything yet!”

“It’s very likely that he’s not,” Mac replies. “Why he’s not doing anything is yet to be determined.”

I scroll through the contacts on my computer and locate the information for Ronald Holstein. After going through a million transfers, I’m finally connected to his receptionist who, upon hearing my name, informs me that he’s unavailable but that she could take a message or patch me through to his voicemail. Since I’m not really sure if he’s aware of what’s going on, I leave a professional message on his voicemail to contact me as soon as possible no matter what time.

“So, now we wait,” I say.

I just got the damn Pussy DJ off our backs and now this? Jesus, it never ends!

*-*

I’m irritated when I get home as Holstein didn’t return my call, and surprised that Butterfly is already there since I’m home a little earlier than usual.

“Hey,” I say. “You’re here early.”

“So are you,” she says matter-of-factly. She’s sitting in the family room with a bowl of popcorn watching old movies like she’s been kicked back for the entire day.

“Is everything okay?” I ask, sitting next to her.

“I would really rather not talk about it,” she says. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you for lunch, but I was terribly distracted.” I nod.

“I have some news,” I say. She picks up the remote and silences the television. Placing the popcorn on the seat next to her, she brushes off her hands and sits up straight, like she’s preparing herself to go into battle.

This must have really been a pretty fucked-up day.

“Elena’s trying to write a book,” I spit out. She rubbernecks to me, her expression horrified.

“What?” she gasps. “I thought… I thought criminals weren’t allowed to profit from their crimes. I mean that’s the only thing she could possibly be writing about.”

“There are ways around it,” I tell her. “There’s no law against her writing a book. If she changes the names and events and it becomes a work of fiction, she’s in the clear assuming that no one can determine that she’s talking about real people—but everyone will know that she’s talking about real people. Conspiracy theorists and bloggers and motherfuckers with too much time on their hands may even be able to match her story with timelines and events and point a compass to specific people…”

“Like us,” she says.

“More than us, Butterfly, we were all over the trial. We’ll just be her anchor. Think of all those boys and their families. Some of them are adults and have families of their own, and if you remember, at least one that we know of didn’t make it. This woman has no fucking scruples!”

“And apparently absolutely nothing to lose,” Butterfly says flatly. I thought I proved that she did have something to lose in our last conversation, but maybe I wasn’t firm enough. We’re silent for a moment, and then my wife drops a bombshell on me.

“I’m considering leaving Helping Hands,” she says calmly. My turn to rubberneck.

“You’re what?” So much for not wanting to talk about it.


ANASTASIA

I can barely decipher what’s going on with my calendar. Marilyn has a lot of shorthand going on here and several reminders for her to do certain things. I really should have taken a better look at this thing last week when I wasn’t all a-flustered from the weekend’s events, but c’est la vie. I may have to draft someone somewhere to help me with this mess, but we’ll have to see.

I shoot a text off to Marilyn simply saying that I hope she had a nice Thanksgiving and I hope she’s taking care of herself. Every call I’ve tried to put in to Gary has gone straight to voicemail. I’ve left a few messages for him but stopped after the third one. After having that treatment from my father when he didn’t want to speak to me and then from Christian when he escaped to Madrid, instant defer to voicemail calls leave me with a very icky feeling to the degree of stirring up remnants of the Boogeyman. How about I choose not to do that to myself.

In an attempt to make sure that my friend hasn’t fallen to an ill fate, I recruit the assistance of the rest of the Scooby Gang to try to contact Gary. I only tell them that it appears that there has been a break-up and Marilyn is with her parents right now. None of us have had any luck contacting him.

Marilyn hasn’t returned my text either and I deduce that they’re both still radio silent. I just hope that she has me listed somewhere as an emergency contact so that someone will know to inform me if something really bad happens.

Ebony is doing well in the day care center and I’m hoping that we can convince her to put some of her other skills to use in the Center. God knows we need them in the worse way. We have a few new employees on the cleaning staff as well. We’re planning to end the contract with Sherwood and Clean It Up for You in January. So, we want to have a core team in place by that time and hire additional staff as needed.

Another development we’ve had since the interview is the outpouring of support from the community as well as the influx of donations right in time for the holiday season—clothing, non-perishable food items, cash and pledges, even additional volunteers. I’ve been able to get some applications from various sources for people who may be able to fill the many positions we’ll be needing to fill since we finally received our accreditation. I wasn’t kidding when I told Christian that my morning would be full—even fuller than I thought with me having to do my own administrative work. That must be why I was totally bowled over by the voice that greets me in the middle of the morning.

“Ana?”

I raise my head to see Addie standing in my office door. Oh, dear God.

“Addie!” I say, standing quickly from my seat and nearly knocking it over. “Please, c… come in.” Come all the way in and close the door behind you!

“I…” She timidly walks into my office. “Your office… it looks really different.”

“Yes,” I say, gesturing her further into the office and closing the door behind her. Sweet Jesus, this is a disaster. “I was able to make some changes with… all the different things that have been going on. We’ve finally gotten our accreditation, you know. There’s a lot that needs to be done in such a short time.”

“I’d…” She takes a seat in the Zen sitting area. “I’d like to make a donation… if I could.”

“Addie… that’s so kind of you.” She reaches into her purse and hands me a check. I don’t really focus in on the amount, but I see a whole lotta zeroes. “Addie, this is so generous.”

“It’s the very least I can do,” she says, lowering her head. “I turned that child away—ready to feed her back to the dogs that she came from. You’ve worked miracles with her.” I sigh.

“I didn’t do anything, really, Addie,” I tell her. “Courtney did all the work on her own…” and if she sees you here, the work may all be undone.

As if the fates heard my lamentations, my door flies open and in marches a distraught Courtney. She never enters my office without knocking when the door is closed. I know why she’s coincidentally here now.

“G… Grandmother!” she says, her voice more horrified than anything. Oh, shit. Addie stands and turns to her.

“Courtney!” she breathes. “Yo… you’re so… beautiful.” Courtney never takes her eyes off her grandmother but begins to frantically wring her hands. Addie takes a step towards her, but Courtney takes a step back, the dams bursting immediately and causing massive waterfalls down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” Courtney says, her voice full of tears, “I’m sorry, Grandmother, for the horrible person that I was and the terrible things that I did…”

“Oh, Courtney…”

“I’m sorry… that I hurt you… and that I hurt Grandfather… but you hurt me, too.” She weeps. Addie looks a bit horrified.

“You said I was worthless… nothing… you said I was better off dead…”

“Courtney!” Addie exclaims. “I did not say that! I would never say that!”

“Spare parts!” Courtney cries accusingly. “You said I was worth nothing but spare parts!”

Addie stands guiltily looking at her granddaughter.

“I felt like the world would be a better place without me. I was horrible and awful and even my spare parts were worthless. Maybe that’s how I made you feel… maybe I made you feel like you’d be better off dead and that’s why you made me feel that way. It’s a horrible, awful, wretched feeling and if I did that, I swear to God that I’ll never do that to anybody else as long as I live!” Courtney cries.

“Court…”

“I didn’t change my ways because of that,” she sobs, cutting off her grandmother. “I changed because I didn’t want to go back to Chuktapaw. I didn’t want to end up in a dead-end life like my mom! She has no hope! No future! And she doesn’t want to change! She wants to stay in that rat-infested lean-to that she’s lived in with that low-life man that she’s been with for years and she’s going to die there, and I don’t want that to be me!

“Somebody showed me that I was worth something even when I thought I wasn’t… even when you thought I wasn’t. Ana could have let me rot in that shelter, answer ads to be a stripper, but she and Ms. Grace took pity on me—after how I treated her, the things I said to her! She took pity on me… somebody thought I was worth something…

She weeps harder and Addie doesn’t speak. She must know that Courtney is just reloading.

“But I don’t care how horrible someone is to me. I’ll never in my life ever make them feel like they don’t deserve to be alive. I’ll walk away forever and never speak to them again before I ever make them feel like the earth would be a better place without them!”

“Courtney…” Addie says finally, “your mom is gone.” Courtney’s eyes pierce.

“What?” she asks incredulously. “When?”

“June,” she says.

“How?”

“Some rare virus,” Addie says. “I didn’t get the details. I didn’t even know she was sick.” Courtney purses her lips and clears her throat.

“Hence, my point,” she says nodding through her tears. “My mom’s gone, and nobody cared. Nobody knew. Nobody felt anything, not even me. Not even now, I don’t feel anything. I didn’t wish her dead and it’s tragic that she’s gone, but I knew,” she says, her voice still cracking, “I knew that’s how she would die. That’s how I would have died, and you were okay with that.”

“I was not okay with that, Courtney, I was hurt…”

“But that’s not what you said!” she wails. “I hurt you! I accept that and I’m sorry. I knew I would get money when you died, but I didn’t wish you dead! I never wished you dead!” she sobs. “I didn’t expect for you to account for what you said or how you felt. I just couldn’t deal with it. I couldn’t look at you and know that you felt that I was nothing more than an organ donor. I can’t change the things that I did and the way that I treated people, but there’s enough bad crap going on in the world and enough bad memories in my head to not subject myself to any new agonies.”

She straightens her back even though the tears continue to fall.

“Things have changed for me, Grandmother,” she says. “I found a life that I didn’t know I could have—a real life, with real people and purpose! I see a future beyond dollar signs. All I could see before was money and what I could do with it, and now I see so much more…

“I found somebody who loves me, who doesn’t care that I’m broke, who’s not looking for the next big trust fund. I had to find me first, but once I did, she saw what I couldn’t see. She helped me see that there’s so much more to me. I’m in school now. I want to help kids—troubled kids, kids who don’t think anybody understands them. She helped me see that I could do that. I didn’t think I could, but she wouldn’t let me give up… and now, I’m on my way. And I love it, and I love her, and she loves me!

“I have friends and people like me, and I can be myself—not what I think people want me to be. I don’t hang out with any of the ‘cool kids’ anymore, because just like I was a bad influence on them, they were a bad influence on me.

“Mrs. Franklin died. Did you know that?” she asks but continues talking before Addie can answer. “I didn’t go to her funeral. I didn’t know who would be there, but her daughter—Harmony—we’re friends. I’ve been talking to her and helping her through this time as much as I can. Mrs. Franklin’s children… they’re horrible. They’re worse than I ever was and old enough to know better, and now Harmony has to deal with them. I’ll never be like them again, but Harmony is good people, and I’ll be there for her…”

Courtney is rambling on and on and on about the person that she has become, and I realize that this is something that she needs to do. We let her talk and talk through her tears for a solid twenty more minutes until she’s physically exhausted. I catch her before she collapses on the floor in tears and help her to the seating area where she crumples onto the sofa and continues to weep.

Addie tentatively moves next to her and takes Courtney’s shuddering body in her arms. Her own tears flowing from her eyes, she expels a string of apologies, telling Courtney how much she loves her and never stopped.

Now is my cue to leave. I’m emotionally exhausted myself.

I leave my office and close the door behind me. When I raise my head, Grace is standing there with her arms folded, a triumphant smirk on her face.

“Don’t give me that look,” I say, firmly. “You were still out of place and you still meddled where you shouldn’t have. You got lucky. This could have been disastrous.” She still smirks at me.

“But it wasn’t, was it?” she says haughtily and turns away, beginning her victory stroll down the hall.

“Grace!” I call, my blood boiling. She turns to face me, ready for battle.

I’m not.

“I love this place,” I say closing the space between us, “but you know that I don’t have to do this. You know I’ve worked hard with Courtney and I respected her wishes because just like Addie, she was traumatized. You threw that out the window like it was nothing because you felt like it. I’ve built up her trust and you could have destroyed that because you thought the outcome should be different. You could have undone everything I did, everything she did, and you walk around haughtily flexing your plume because the situation happened to work out this time without any consideration for the damage you could have caused. I know that I’m only second in command, but if you ever undermine my authority like that again, you can find yourself another second.” She folds her arms, frowning.

“Is that a threat, Anastasia?” she confronts. Oh, dear God. She does want a fight. She can’t see for the life of her that she could have undone all of my hard work, and nor does it matter to her. I sigh a scoffing sigh and cover my face with my hands shaking my head. That’s it. I give up. I can’t put in this kind of work to have someone look at it like it’s nothing.

Nothing. That’s what it is.

“Absolutely nothing.”

I didn’t know I verbalized the words until I hear myself say them. I shake my head and walk away. I can’t even go to the nursery to see my babies because I didn’t bring them with me. I need alone time and my office is occupied. I walk to the other side of the building to the empty rooms that will soon be classrooms and activity rooms. I sit at one of the tables with the lights out and focus on my breathing…

In with the good air, out with the bad…
In with the good air, out with the bad…
In with the good air, out with the bad…

I don’t know how long I sit in that room meditating, but when I emerge and go to my office, the coast is clear. I go inside, closing the door behind me. I don’t think about anything. I just move, closing my laptop and putting it in its bag, packing small personal items into my messenger bag—nothing dramatic. I take a little time to scribble a note on my notepad. I know she’ll come back looking for me.

Dear Courtney,

I’m sorry if this situation caused you any grief. However it turns out, please know that I didn’t engineer this meeting. I hope you don’t feel like I’ve betrayed your trust and that we can still be friends. Please continue to stay in the condo for as long as you need to, and if you choose to leave, just let me know.

Anastasia

I fold the letter, seal it in an envelope, and write Courtney’s name on it in large letters. I put on my coat, pull my purse out of my desk drawer, and put my laptop bag and messenger bag over my shoulder. I snap off a piece of tape and tape the letter to Courtney on my office door. I retrieve my briefcase, walk to the door and turn out the lights without looking back, closing the door behind me.

I look carefully up and down the hallway and, spotting no one, I leave the office and quietly make my way to the service door and the parking lot behind the Center. I type a text to Chuck, then I remember that he’s not here with me. He’s in South Dakota in court with his family. I copy the text to Ben’s number and inform him that I’m in the parking lot and ready to go. Moments later, he comes out to join me.

“Is everything okay?” he asks when he gets into the driver’s seat of the Audi.

“Yes,” I lie. “I’m just ready to go home.”

*-*

“Why are you thinking of leaving Helping Hands?” Christian questions.

“Because my opinion is no longer respected or valued,” I reply.

“Baby, don’t you think that may be a bit dramatic?” he asks.

“I certainly do not!” I retort. “Do you see the progress Courtney has made in the last year? Even you have to say that’s remarkable. Do you know what kind of work it took to get her there? Do you know how hard I had to work to gain her trust—to get her to confide in me? She was living in squalor and I had to convince her to move into my condo. You can look at her face and see that she’s a completely different person than the girl we met. Even her showdown with Mia—it was extremely emotional, and it showed just how much she had grown, evolved. It took forever to earn her trust and she only asked one thing of me—not to tell her Grandmother that she was still in Seattle. I tried everything I could to convince her to talk to her Grandmother and she. Was not. Ready, and Grace just dismissed her wishes, my promises, all the work she had done, everything.”

“You guys are still fighting about that?” he asks.

“No, were not,” I say finitely. “We’re not fighting about it because one, she dismisses anything I say about the situation and two, she engineered a meeting between them.”

“Really?” he asks, his eyes wide. “How did that go?”

“I don’t really know!” I reply perturbed. “Courtney flipped the fuck out, sobbing and rambling for about half an hour, telling her grandmother how worthless and awful she made her feel. Things that Courtney was feeling that I didn’t even know came out in this meeting. She was devastated. She talked and wept until she collapsed in exhaustion.”

“Then what?” he questions, his mouth hanging open in awe.

“Addie hugged her, they were crying, and I left the room,” I finish. My husband’s head snapped back.

“Okay, what happened after you left?”

“Grace is standing outside with this smug I told you so look on her face, and I’m trying to explain to her that situations don’t always turn out that way. They could end up disastrous if you don’t handle them carefully.” My mind immediately goes to Stoley and to Ace’s shark tooth. “I tried to get her to understand that things could have gone astronomically wrong and she totally dismissed me—smugly, too!”

“But baby, can’t you just count this one as a win? I mean, all’s well that ends well, right?”

“NO!” I yell. “How can you two not see this? This was a four-way stop where the traffic lights don’t work, and everybody went forward at the same time! They were just lucky they didn’t crash and end up splattered all over the street! Somebody has to be out there to direct that traffic and that’s what I was trying to do, and she totally disregarded me. She disregarded everything and she’s proud of it. She told everybody to just drive, and the accident did happen. I’m just waiting to see if there are any survivors.”

“Baby, don’t kill me… but… could it be that you’re angry because my mother was right?” he asks.

“No, I’m angry because your mother was wrong!” I correct him. “What she did was the equivalent of playing Russian Roulette and the gun just didn’t go off. Instead of breathing a sigh of relief that her brains didn’t end up splattered all over the wall, she’s doing a taunting victory dance that the bullet happened to be in a different cartridge.

“But here’s the thing,” I say, moving the pillow from my lap and putting it back on the sofa, “I don’t have to be right. I’m just not going to be in a place where someone doesn’t respect my authority or wishes. She hired me because I’m a doctor—a professional, licensed psychiatrist. Then she completely ignored my professional recommendations on a case that was mine—a case that I had cultivated and groomed personally for a year—and then she gloated about it and she taunted me, and she disparaged everything I said. I can’t work like that. I can deal with being wrong, but I can’t… and won’t… work like that.”

I stand up and walk out of the family room, not because he doesn’t agree with me but because he and I shouldn’t be fighting about this. I won’t argue with him anymore about things that happen between me and his mother at the Center, assuming I go back to the Center.

“I’m not walking away angry,” I call back to him through the kitchen. “I’m just walking away… okay?”

“Fair enough,” he says after a pause.

I don’t even change out of my pajamas on Tuesday. I deliberately spend the entire day playing with my children, eating junk food, and watching romance movies with Harmony while deliberately ignoring my phone. Harmony plays hooky from school, too, because tomorrow, she has to go to Carl’s office and face off with her mother’s children for the reading of the will. She asks if Christian and I will come with her. I promise to be there and told her that we would have to approach Christian when he gets home. As it turns out, he knew about it before I did and had already planned to attend.

So, D-Day comes, and we put our war clothes on and head to Carl’s office. Harmony wears a turban so that her shaved head won’t be the topic of discussion. I’m not looking forward to this meeting, but Harmony admits that she’ll be glad when this is over so that the vultures can get their money and go away forever. She’s certain that she’ll never see them again unless they try to get her out of the house. In fact…

“I’ve decided to put the house up for sale,” Harmony says as Jason parks the Audi and we exit


CHRISTIAN

“Are you sure about that?” I ask her.

“I’m positive,” Harmony replies. “Not only are there just too many memories for me to stay, but it’s just too big. I know Momma only put the place in my name so that they wouldn’t put me out the moment that she passed away and to give me some time to figure out what I would do next. I’m certain she won’t mind. I like having space, but it’s way too much space. With the money from my trust alone, I’m sure that I could find a really nice place—maybe even downtown somewhere not so set apart from the rest of the world.”

“What are you going to do with the money from the sale,” I ask, “if you’re going to use your trust to buy a new place?” She shrugs.

“Replace the money from my trust,” she says. “I’m not going to spend the whole trust on a place. Maybe I’ll just rent something in town until I sell the mansion. Let’s face it, I’m a twenty-something girl in a big ass mansion out in the suburbs all by myself. I have all the makings of a recluse while I’m fighting off my brothers and sisters. The sooner I get away from the house, the better. I’m going to hold on to it long enough for Momma’s estate to be properly disposed of and then as soon as it’s done, I’m finding a real estate agent.”

“Would you be interested in a downtown penthouse?” Butterfly and Harmony both snap their heads over to me.

“Would I!” Harmony says, her interest piqued. “You know of one available?”

“I do,” I say, and my eyes shift to Butterfly’s.

“You’re selling Escala?” she asks in disbelief. I sigh softly.

“You love your condo,” I begin. “It had great memories for you, and I don’t have a problem with that. Escala… not so much.”

“Escala? Are you serious?” Harmony says. “You have a penthouse in Escala?”

“Yes, I do,” I say. “I’m having a few renovations done to it, and if you can wait until they’re done and I’ve gone through it to make sure that there’s nothing remaining that I want, we can negotiate a fair price and you can take it with all the furnishings.”

“That would be perfect,” Harmony says. “How long do you think the renovations will take?”

“Everything should be ready by the new year,” I inform her. The playroom will have been converted back to a regular bedroom by then and all of the BDSM paraphernalia removed. “You can stay with us until then if you don’t want to go back to the mansion.”

“Yes, please,” she says. “I’m thinking that I’ll just have to go on and dismiss the staff,” she adds as she steps onto the elevator. “I’ll give them some kind of severance once I hear what Mom has done and decide who I’d want to come with me… and who would want to come with me.”

“You can’t have Windsor,” I tell her.

“I figured as much,” she laughs as the elevator rises.

When we enter the office, all of the siblings have already arrived. They look at Harmony in distaste and with narrowed eyes and all I can think is that Paige and Theo sure don’t look like they’ve recently spent time in jail.

The receptionist leads us to the conference room and we all take a seat at the large conference table—the siblings on one side and Harmony, myself, and my wife on the other.

“Why are there strangers at the reading of my mother’s will?” Ilsa says haughtily.

“They’re only strangers to you and I want them here, so they’re staying!” Harmony claps back, her voice so sharp that no one else dare question our presence. There’s a fierce stare-off between Harmony and Ilsa, but Harmony doesn’t stand down. I’m a little entranced waiting to see which of them is going to blink first when I’m jolted from the spectacle by someone calling my name.

“Christian!” Carl greets me, surprised. He enters the room and shakes my hand. “I’m sorry, I didn’t expect to see you. I’m glad someone could be here for Harmony.”

“Thank you, Carl. This is my wife, Anastasia.” He smiles at Butterfly.

“Mrs. Grey,” he extends his hand. “A pleasure to meet you. Thank you for being here.”

“Ana, please,” she says. “So, it’s okay that we’re here?”

“It’s absolutely okay,” Carl confirms. “In fact, it’s welcomed. Please, have a seat.” He moves to the head of the conference table. “Everyone, please sit. Let’s get started.”

“So, all he saw was the guy and the tart sitting at the end of the table?” Ilsa hisses to Paige. What the fuck!

“Watch it, you bitter, cantankerous, old bat!” Butterfly shoots across the table, and all eyes turn to her. Ilsa gasps and literally clutches her pearls.

“How dare you!” she exclaims, appalled.

“How did you know that I was talking about you?” Butterfly asks matter-of-factly. “Was it the bitter part, the cantankerous part, or the old bat?” As if they could, Ilsa’s eyes widen further and she gasps again. “If you can’t take it, don’t dish it out,” Butterfly adds and Paige scoffs.

“Young people these days have no respect for their elders!” Paige hisses.

“Says the woman who waited for her mother to die, then showed up and asked for her diamond earrings back!” Butterfly barks. Now it’s Paige’s turn to gasp. “You don’t think I saw you examining your mother’s body jewelry—for your precious earrings, you grave-robbing, greedy ass vulture? You don’t know the meaning of the word respect, so you certainly won’t get it from me!”

Paige’s gasping is audible, like she’s having an asthma attack.

“Are you gonna die, Paige?” Harmony asks. “You might want to hold off until you at least find out what you’re getting.” Paige’s performance ceases and her evil glare is now turned to Harmony.

“I want them removed!” Ilsa barks at Carl. “I will not be treated this way at the reading of my mother’s will!” Them? Who is this them of whom you speak? I haven’t said anything to you yet, Ms. Daisy!

“It’s like she said, Ilsa,” Carl says, “If you don’t want anybody throwing adverse comments about you, don’t throw adverse comments about them. It’s a simple concept—a variation of The Golden Rule, you remember that? We learned it in Sunday School.”

Ilsa is even more appalled than she was before.

“Now, can we get started, or would you rather throw more insults across the table?”

“I didn’t insult anyone. I simply spoke the truth.”

“That woman,” Carl says, pointing at my wife, “is a highly-regarded member of the community, just like your mother was. She’s a doctor, a respected businesswoman, and a philanthropist well known in many social, business, and professional circles—more well-known than you are if for nothing else but her philanthropic work alone. So—Ms. Ilsa—calling her a twat simply because you don’t like the fact that she’s young, rich, and beautiful is the furthest thing from the truth! Now, shall we get started?”

Ilsa’s already prune-like face shrivels up even more as she absorbs Carl’s words, but she says nothing else.

“I have here Tina’s last will and testament. It’s quite detailed as to the disbursement and disposition of her estate and reading it will most likely take all afternoon. To that effect, I have a video that I will present before we proceed.”

Carl pushes a button on a remote and a screen descends from the ceiling against the wall behind him, much like the hidden screen in my office. Everyone in the room sits silently as we await whatever presentation we are about to see. The lights dim only slightly and after several seconds, the screen comes alive.

The setting is the second-floor library at the Franklin mansion, and Tina sits comfortably in a large chair in her shawl with her afghan over her lap.

All of the women gasp, including my wife.

“My name is Ernestina Eloise Franklin. I am of sound mind and not-so-sound body, and this is my last will and testament, recorded September 14, 2014. A written, signed, detailed, and notarized version of my will is currently in the possession of my attorney, Carl Richardson. This informal recording is for my family.

“I don’t know how many of you have gathered for the reading, but I assume that at least the immediate children will want to know what my will contains. Unless one or more of you have preceded me to the afterlife and nobody bothered to tell me, I know you’re all here, so let’s get right to it, shall we?

“My written will is solidly eighteen pages of very small print. I won’t put Carl through the tedious process of having to read the whole damn thing as I’m certain that each of you would much rather I just get to the point. So, without the hitherto’s, whitherto’s, therefores, and whatnots, this is what my will says.

“Let me start by saying that none of you get to contest it—none of you! I’m fully aware that the only person that I’m not allowed to disown is my husband, and he preceded me in death. Don’t make me disown any of you post-mortem. Trust me, I found a way to do it.”

The siblings all look at each other while Harmony never takes her eyes off the screen. I don’t even think she’s paying attention to her mother’s words; she just gazes lovingly at her mother’s image and barely takes a breath.

“You all have houses—sprawling mansions on huge estates afforded to you by the fortunes you acquired from me, Daddy, or your profit sharing from Franklin Steel. Some of you even have vacation homes and timeshares in exotic locations. To that end, you don’t need another house, but Harmony does as she doesn’t have one. On that note, Franklin House and the contents therein are to be passed down to Harmony.”

She must have made this tape before she did the quit deed. This, however, is no surprise to anyone in attendance.

“I have various other investment, ventures, stock options, mutual funds, CD’s, and the like in my portfolio. Carl has compiled individual portfolios for each of you to indicate how these investments will be divided among you. The particular numbers and dollar amounts are in my written will, but I guarantee you that the amounts in your portfolios are accurate. You may consult with Carl—or your own private attorney—concerning the disposition of these various assets. They can be transferred, or they can be liquidated—the choice is yours.

“My current liquid assets including all bank accounts, CD’s, the family trust and cash on hand total approximately $62 million. This does not include Harmony’s trust fund, which she has not yet received. The amounts will be divided as follows:

“All of my estate expenses are to be settled first—funeral costs, hospital bills, any outstanding debts or claims against the estate. The remaining members of my house staff are to receive $200,000 each. This will be considered severance pay should they decide they do not wish to continue under the employ of Franklin House upon my passing.

“Each child will receive $500,000 to distribute among their families—children, grand-children, etc.—as they see fit. Those funds will be disbursed to whichever of your descendants that you indicate. My grandson Damien’s share will be given directly to him as well, as his mother preceded me in death. Harmony, as you have no children, your $500,000 will be put into a separate trust for your future descendants. I hope you don’t think me cruel or think that I’m trying to force you to have children. I just want to be sure that, in that eventuality, your children have something as well. I think 40 is a good age to decide if you’re going to procreate. So, if by that age, you haven’t decided to have any children, the $500,000 is yours to use as you see fit.

“Once all expenses have been settled and the disbursements executed as requested, the remainder of my liquid assets are to be divided evenly among my five surviving children, the disposition thereof to be overseen directly by my attorney, Carl Richardson.

“As for the distribution of the family business, each of you will retain your voting shares in Franklin Steel. My shares will be divided as follows:

“Harmony, since you don’t have any shares yet, you will get 60% of my shares. Ilsa, Theodore, Jonah, and Paige, the remaining 40% will be split among you. If my calculations are correct, that means that the five of you will now have equal voting shares each. If you have sold any of your previous shares, that’s not my problem.”

There’s a whole lot of scoffing and gagging on the other side of the table as had Tina’s voting shares been split evenly among the children, each of the siblings would have had much more than Harmony—significantly more, in fact.

Each sibling currently holds approximately one-sixth, or just over 16%, of the Franklin family voting shares… every sibling except for Harmony, that is. Tina held the other one-third. Had she split her one-third five ways, each sibling—Harmony included—would have gotten 20% of her shares. With the shares that the current siblings should already have in their portfolios, that would have put each of them at over 23% of the voting shares each, leaving Harmony with less than 7% for herself. I can imagine that Tina spent quite some time calculating the value of her shares and comparing them to what each of her biological children had to arrive at the calculations she reached. If each of them held on to their voting shares, they will now each have 20% of the Franklin Family voting shares.

It’s obvious that several of them are displeased with this outcome. Jesus, they’re worse than Freeman.

“If you pay attention to my body, I shouldn’t have had a single piece of jewelry on me—not a diamond, not a piece of platinum, not even my wedding ring. Why? Because you can’t take it with you… right, Paige?”

Everyone looks over at Paige, who doesn’t seem surprised that her mother singled her out.

“Yes, Paige, I remember what you said. Each time you asked me for those diamond earrings back—12 times over the last several years to be exact—and I told you that I loved them so much that I wanted to be buried in them. Well, Paige, I lied.

“You bought those earrings and gave them to me for my 50th birthday. I wore them at that party and I never wore them again. They’re huge, they’re gaudy, they’re highly overstated and unattractive and you bought them for yourself! You made this big production of giving them to me in front of all my friends only to ask for them back six months later. Well, here’s what’s going to happen now.

“Christian, I’m assuming that you or your lovely wife has accompanied my Harmony to this reading…”

Okay, I’m a bit in shock, as are each of Tina’s children… including Harmony.

“If you haven’t, not to worry. Carl will apprise you of this portion of the will. All of my jewelry—all of it—is to be sold at auction and the proceeds donated to charity. That means every. Single. Piece of it, and I’ve already had it inventoried. I’d like for you to oversee the disposition of the jewelry and assure that the final donation be forwarded to Grace or Anastasia at Helping Hands.”

Paige gasps when she hears the fate of her beloved earrings… or so she thinks.

“Paige, your earrings aren’t part of that inventory… because they’re already gone. I donated those gaudy things to Habitat for Humanity four years ago. I have no idea what sum they rendered, but you can rest easy knowing that some poor family now has a home because of your generosity.”

So, this is priceless. She’s had her heart set on getting those earrings back for years, to the degree that she examined her mother’s body in the casket to see if they were there. She even has a charge of breaking and entering against her to get those earrings back, and they weren’t even in the house. They’ve been long since gone. I can’t help but laugh out loud when I hear this. She throws a look of death at me when she hears me chuckling and I give a sinister look right back, the one that I give cocky CEO’s or opposing board members when they think they want to challenge me. I can see her get a chill right down to the bone.

“I have various other knick-knacks and small items that will be distributed according to that multipage document I had to sign to keep you vultures from picking my estate apart like a rotting carcass. You’ll each get a copy of it to read at your leisure, but unless you are that interested in what’s going to happen to the damn fountain on the front lawn or the rubber ducky I used to play with as a child, I think you’ve pretty much heard what you we’re primarily interested in.

“So, there you have it. My fortune is yours now, you greedy, heartless leeches! You’ve got what you wanted—except for your precious earrings, Paige. Now, go away and leave my Harmony alone! I know that none of you have had a single kind word to say to her! Be gone with you all and leave her in peace.”

The screen goes black, and Harmony releases a held breath. I’m sure she had no idea that her mother had recorded her will, and this was more than a bit of a surprise to her.

“Carl’s going to see to the distribution of the will. Carl has the inventory of the jewelry. Carl is going to tell us what we get from the portfolio. Whose side are you on?” Jonah accuses. “You two are in cahoots to get the biggest chunk of the estate?”

“I’m on Tina Franklin’s side, sir,” Carl hisses, “as you have well known for decades. I’m the executor of her will and that’s what I’m doing—executing it! Now, you’re free to contest Mrs. Franklin’s will if you like. Just know that Ms. Harmony’s trust is untouchable as is the house. So, Harmony will have her fortune and the home, and you’ll simply be jeopardizing your and everyone else’s share of Ms. Tina’s fortune. Now, what would you like to do… sir?”

“A video will… indeed! I don’t think my mother did that without coercion for a moment! You’re not fooling anybody! Either of you!” Jonah barks. “I’ll have you disbarred for gross misconduct…”

“Oh, cut the shit!” Carl exclaims, causing the entire room to glare at him.

“You can’t speak to me that way…”

“You’re in my office—I can speak to you any way I damn well please!” he hisses, and the room falls silent. “I’ve been your parents’ attorney nearly since the day I passed the bar. Ever since the moment I met you—all of you—you’ve all been a bunch of insufferable brats! Uncontrollable, never satisfied, entitled little vermin who have run around the entire time I’ve known you asking, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ‘Where’s my share?’ You’re like those goddamn seagulls in that cartoon, running around screaming, ‘Mine! Mine! Mine!’

“Your. Mother. Was dying. For months! And none of you—not one of you—could be bothered to even come and say goodbye. This woman sat on the floor at her feet and wept in her lap, more times than I care to count! She’s had to battle crooked house staff, a greedy ex-husband, you—all while watching her mother deteriorate day after day. And you have the audacity—the unmitigated gall—to harass and besmirch the one person who stayed by her side and cared for her until she took her last breath when you didn’t even make the effort to show up? How dare you!” He growls the last words, and four stunned siblings continue to stare at him in awe and silence.

“Thurgood Franklin was my friend,” Carl continues. “And when he passed away, I made sure that his affairs were in order and that his wife taken care of, and you all know that because you were there. Now, Ms. Tina has passed away—also my friend—and because her spoken will is not to your liking, not only do you attack the one person who lovingly and painstakingly took care of her, but you also have the audacity to sit in my office and try to accuse me of misconduct? I’ve been your parents’ attorney for so many years that I’ve lost count! Your selfishness and greed have taken over your senses, and you should be ashamed of yourselves. I’m sure that Thurgood and Tina are thoroughly ashamed of you!”

For the first time since I’ve seen any of them, Tina’s children all look a bit contrite.

“Your mother. Is gone,” he continues. “She’s dead. She’s not coming back, and I think I shed more tears at her funeral than all of you combined. And I’ll tell you one thing that’s really going to piss you off. If I had my way, none of you would have gotten a goddamn dime! I told her more than once not to leave any of you anything, but she didn’t listen to me. You are her children, and she felt that you were entitled to it, but she made it clear that she was going to have her last say before any of you got a nickel.

“So, if you want… please, go ahead and contest the will. You’ll hold it up, but when it’s done, your proceeds will be divvied up between all of the remaining siblings… all of them!” Including Harmony, you assholes.

“You’ve heard your mother’s verbal rendition of the will. The printed rendition is exactly the same, with a little legal jargon thrown in. Do what you choose with that information. I have all of your contact information and you’ve heard what you’re getting. I swear to have the will executed and have the proceeds disbursed as soon as humanly possible just so that I never have to see any of you again. Now, get the fuck out of my office.”

He turns away to try to compose himself. Four siblings sit stunned, staring between each other and back at Carl—waiting for the punchline, I guess. After several moments and no one moving, Carl glances back over his shoulder to see the siblings still sitting there stunned.

“Are you all deaf?” he yells as he whirls around to face off with them. “Do you need a map? Or should I arrange for an escort for you? Get the fuck out!” He points to the door and stares at Theodore. It’s a standoff. One of them had better move.

Theodore stands, straightens and buttons his jacket, and with a last glare at Carl, turns and leaves the room.

Without moving his pointing arm, Carl turns his glare to Jonah, who repeats all of the gestures of his brother and leaves. Ilsa and Paige are out of their seats before Carl can turn their glares to them. I see them hovering outside the office waiting for Harmony when Carl puts his arm down, drops his head and sighs mournfully. Harmony stands, and I stand with her.

“My friend is dead,” he says, his voice low. “Over forty years of camaraderie and memories reduced to this. She and Thurgood are the main reasons I went into law in the first place. She’s the reason I stayed. I’m too old for this.” He raises glassy eyes to Harmony.

“I’m going to carry out my friend’s wishes and get this will executed as soon as humanly possible. I’m going to have her liquid assets divvied up and have millions of dollars distributed to four ungrateful, greedy, hateful ass children who don’t deserve a fucking dime!” he barks loud enough for the vultures in the hallway to hear him. “And then I’m out. I’ll be available if you ever need a consult or advice, but I’m not doing this anymore.”

“Carl!” Harmony says, her voice heavy with concern. “Don’t do this! Don’t leave your profession—what you worked so hard to achieve—because of them.”

“It’s not just them!” Carl retorts. “Do you think this is the first time this has happened? It certainly won’t be the last. People don’t have hearts anymore! They’re just walking, talking shells filled with evil and greed. People have come into this office for will readings and gotten into fist fights. Your loved one is dead! You’ve lost a part of your family! These people lost the woman who carried them for nine months, went through incredible hell, pain, and suffering to bring them into the earth. Paige was breech—she ripped your mother’s body apart so that she couldn’t have any more children. Tina nearly died trying to get her here and they couldn’t even say ‘goodbye?’ Did you know that, Paige?” he yells out into the hallway, and Paige moves away from the doorway and out of visibility.

“None of them have any conviction! Hell, they’re not even mourning. They’re sitting here more upset that she left you the house than they are that she’s gone and she’s never coming back! Who does that?” He falls into his chair.

“My last moments with your mom… she cried, and she asked me what she did wrong. She asked me what she did to cause her children to hate her so much. She talked about how she did her best to raise them and to make sure that they had everything that they needed their entire lives, and that they deserted her and left her to die alone. She thanked God for you, though,” he adds. “She knew that as long as you were around, she wouldn’t die alone.

“She was tired, Harmony. She was bone tired, and she waited until that deed was filed, and she let go. She didn’t take her last breath that night when she went to sleep and didn’t wake up. She took her last real breath when I told her the house was yours. She smiled and sighed deeply. Then she closed her eyes and said, ‘thank you.’ She was still alive after that, but it was all mechanical. She was already gone—already content to go home.

“She loved you so much, Harmony,” he says, his voice cracking. “She never regretted one minute of having you in her life. She understood what you were going through as a teenager, but she was immensely proud of how you turned out. If you take nothing else from this horrible experience, please take that.”

Tears are flowing from Carl’s eyes and Harmony, along with my wife, is openly crying.

“Thank you, Carl,” she whispers through her tears. “That’s the most precious gift I could ever receive.” Carl nods and composes himself.

“I hate to dismiss you this way, child, but I need to hurry and perform my last act as an estate attorney. My friend is gone, and I have no reason to do this anymore.” Harmony nods and takes his hand, giving it a firm squeeze. “If you need me…” he adds. She nods again and turns to leave. Butterfly puts an arm around her and Harmony returns the gesture. I think, at this moment, they’re holding each other up. I shake Carl’s hand.

“You’re a good man,” I say. He nods and purses his lips—his form of “thank you,” I think, as he fights to keep from completely breaking down. I quickly fall in step behind Butterfly and Harmony as they both watch the floor to avoid bumping into anything. They don’t make eye-contact with any of the siblings as they exit the office. Jonah moves to speak, and I throw a look of death at him.

Say something and I’ll knock your fucking dentures out!

I see a visible chill run through him as he takes a step back and clams the fuck up. As we’re waiting for the elevator, I hear Carl’s disembodied voice speaking through the intercom to his assistant—the siblings still hovering around her desk.

“Mrs. Andreini, please get the ball rolling on the Franklin file immediately. I want it executed and closed as soon as inhumanly possible. Also, close my door and get those people out of my office. Call the police if you have to.”

“Yes, sir, Mr. Richardson.”

The elevator comes, and we don’t wait to see the outcome. I usher the ladies inside and push the button for the first floor, leaving the siblings behind us as the elevator doors close.


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

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

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

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~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 68—Try Jesus… Not Me!

Please send love, prayers, and positive vibes out to our beloved Falala. She lost her furry baby this week. All of us who have fur babies know how hard this is, so drop her a positive thought and encouragement in the comments if you can.

Also remember my friend, Sharrier. She’s burying her mom and it’s a trying task for her. Please keep her in your prayers as well.

Remember, you guys—sometimes, we’re all we’ve got.

Also, whoever “AnaChris Grey,” “AnaChris Dalisay,” or “Mylene Dalisay” is on Facebook, would you please identify yourself for me here in the comments? I get creepers all the time, and I got these three friend requests on Facebook. There’s no identifying information on the ID, and two of them have Dakota Johnson’s picture as a profile picture while the third has the butterflies on my cover page for this site as a profile picture. As I have seen no one anywhere else (yet) use my power couple name “AnaChris” in a fanfic and the profile picture is my cover pic, it’s kinda creeping me out. So could you please let me know who you are in the comments so that I can stop shaking in my boots. Thanks.

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 68—Try Jesus… Not Me!

CHRISTIAN

I’m sitting in my office on Wednesday morning waiting for a certain pussy DJ and whatever slimeball lawyer he’s hired to arrive for our meeting. If these fuckers are even one minute late, I’ve given instructions for them to be turned away at the door. They still have a little time, so I allow my thoughts to wander.

Butterfly was thrilled and very pleasantly surprised by our meal on Monday night. I was proud to tell her I had prepared everything, with a lot of help and a few minor catastrophes, but nothing major. I didn’t know if she was pulling my leg or it everything really tasted as good as she said, but she cleaned her plate and even asked for seconds on the shrimp.

We took the fondue to the theater room where we watched a Cary Grant marathon until she fell asleep in the reclining luxury chairs and I took her to bed and snuggled until morning. It was the best date night I’ve ever had, and that says a lot, because we’ve had some pretty good ones.

I discovered that she wasn’t pulling my chain when I saw her taking leftovers to the Center for lunch the next day.

Tuesday brought even more good news. Harmony finally came out of her room and had dinner in the dining room, and I got news that the items in the storage facility had all been packed up and were now on their way to… somewhere—either to people who said that they wanted them or out here to the Grey warehouse. Ichabod has made it safely to my restorer in Tennessee and Granma Ruby’s wardrobe has reached Grey Crossing. It’s outrageously large and has to be stored in the boathouse so that Butterfly can go through the items and organize them.

Likewise, the items that Uncle Herman wanted as well as Dad’s model car collection arrived, too. I’m waiting for him to put them on display so that I can see what all the fuss is about. But the best news of all is that Freeman never showed up at the storage facility and didn’t cause any problems. Once everything was on a plane, train, or automobile on its way to its next destination, my first order of business this morning was to bring my teams home. They’d been in that hellhole long enough. The next thing I did was authorize an additional week’s paid vacation for each of them for 2015 and arranged for every man on that team to get an all-expense-paid trip for them and one other to the destination of their choice for a week. They deserve it—they worked their asses off.

“Your 10:00 is here, sir,” Andrea’s voice informs me that Rossiter and his attorney have arrived.

“Thank you, Andrea. I’ll be one moment.” I dial up to my head of legal.

“Allen Forsythe-Fleming,” he answers.

“You should really think about shortening that,” I tell him.

“No. I’ve been Allen Forsythe my entire life. I love my name the way it is now. I take it our visitors have arrived.”

“They have,” I confirm. “Conference room in ten.”

“Okay.” I end the call with him and call Jason.

“Mr. Rossiter has arrived with his legal counsel. Will you and an associate please show him to the conference room and wait for me there?”

“Chance and I will be right up,” he says before ending the call.

“So good of you to join us,” the attorney quips as I enter the conference room at 10:20. I stop there at the door. Allen is there sitting in the seat to the right of mine and Rossiter’s attorney is across from him. Where is Rossiter sitting? In my chair at the head of the table.

This is going to be fun.

“I can always leave,” I retort. “I didn’t ask for this fucking meeting.” Do you want to start on this note? At my rash tone, the seemingly cocky attorney says no more. I stalk into the conference room, taking long, slow strides toward Rossiter and never taking my eyes off him even though he diverts his gaze from me once or twice. I position myself squarely next to him and gaze down on him.

“You’re in my seat,” I nearly growl at him, pronouncing every word with venom.

“There are several other chairs at the table, Mr. Grey,” his attorney points out.

“Then I suggest he finds one,” I command, still never taking my eyes off him. He doesn’t move at first, his hands folded on the table like he belongs at the head.

“I’m waiting… Judd!” My voice drops two more octaves when I say his name and nobody in the room moves for several moments. I can do this all day, but I won’t. I’ll just have you forcibly removed from the building—you and your pussy attorney.

After a standoff of a whole lot longer than I would like, the fucker turns my chair away from me, then stands and walks to another chair without a word. When he’s seated and still not making eye-contact with me, I stand in front of my chair, fold my arms and address Matlock over here.

“You have five minutes,” I declare. That gets Rossiter’s attention.

“That’s hardly any time for us to state our case!” Matlock retorts.

“Then you can state your case in court,” I tell him.

“You make us wait for twenty minutes and then you only afford us five? That’s the most unprofessional thing I’ve ever seen!”

“And why should I be professional with you?” I reply. “You must know that I have a restraining order against him. He’s not even supposed to be here. If I were a vindictive sonofabitch, I could have him arrested before you two made it back to your car. Now what do you want?”

“You want us to grovel!” he accuses.

“I don’t want shit,” I reply impassively. “I didn’t ask to see you. And now you have four minutes.”

“This is not the way to negotiate, Mr. Grey…”

“I have nothing to negotiate, because I have nothing to lose. Your client is severely on the backfoot and he comes in here and sits in my chair like I don’t know what he’s doing? Excellent negotiating tactic, Judd! Way to get what you want—piss of the guy who’s got your balls in his hand…” I turn back to Matlock. “… Or was that your idea?”

“It was an honest mistake,” Matlock claims.

“I’m sure it was,” I say sarcastically. “Tick tock tick tock…” He sighs heavily.

“Mr. Rossiter indicates that there may have been a slight error in his judgment about the events of his assault…”

“Why don’t you let Mr. Rossiter speak for himself?” I interrupt him.

“We’re trying to stay in line with the protection order as much as possible,” Matlock excuses.

“Cut the shit,” I say coolly. “He broke that when you asked for the meeting and blew it to hell when you came within 1000 feet of my front door.” I turn to Rossiter. “Or am I mistaken, and the police already know that you’re here?” Rossiter turns his gaze to me.

“Well, that’s progress,” I say, turning to Al. “The fucker made eye-contact.” I turn back to Rossiter. “We’ve only been in each other’s presence a whole six minutes and you haven’t had the balls to make eye contact with me once. Which reminds me…” I look at my Hublot.

“I may have been… mistaken about who attacked me in August,” Rossiter grumbles. “I was upset, and the Greys had been front and center in my displeasure. I’m not admitting to lying. I’m simply saying that I may have been mistaken in my recollection of the events.”

“Mistaken,” I say with a chuckle, “how politically correct of you.”

“Why the change of heart, Mr. Rossiter?” Al asks. He rolls his eyes.

“I’m going to be in litigation forever with this guy. I’ve lost my job; I can’t find another one and even if I could, I’m gagged on what I can say in the press. No matter how strongly I may feel about the situation, I’ll admit that I don’t have any definitive proof that it was him that attacked me.”

“Well, why did you point the finger at him in the first place?” Al asks. “What made you think it was Mr. Grey that had you attacked?”

“That’s hardly relevant,” Matlock says.

“It’s quite relevant,” I hiss at the snake, who snaps his gaze to me. “I’ve been defamed in the press. I’ve had to increase my security. My family has to move around in even more secret that we did before. My infant twins have received death threats, for God’s sake. I’d say it’s pretty fucking relevant!”

Matlock pales at my brief tirade and I turn my attention back to Rossiter.

“Mr. Rossiter?” Al says. “The reason for your conclusion?” Rossiter clears his throat.

“Like I said, the Greys were front and center…”

“You’re saying that just because your most recent squabble was with me that you verbalized your unfounded conclusions and unleashed all this hell on me and my family—my children—and you want me to accept that, show you some kind of kindness, mercy, or compassion, and withdraw my lawsuit? Is that what you’re trying to tell me right now?” I ask, finally taking my seat.

“You were very pissed at me for the attention that I was bringing to you and your family. My assumptions were not that far-fetched…”

“Oh, it wasn’t just the attention, Rossiter,” I seethe. “We can deal with attention. We’re dealing with it now. We deal with it every day, and none of the current attention originates from you. We’ll be dealing with attention long after you’re gone, so that wasn’t it. It was also the disrespect, the verbal harassment and the physical assaults. Yeah, that’s what pissed me off.”

“Thus, proving my point,” he says somewhat victoriously. “My assumptions were not so far-fetched.”

“And so, you’re telling me that you haven’t pissed off anybody else in the world but me and my family,” I accuse. “You’re such a fucking model citizen that no one else in the world could have been pissed off enough to beat your ass.” It’s a question in the form of a statement.

“Again, relevance,” Matlock says.

“I gave you relevance, so you can shove that shit up your ass!” I retort, pointing at the attorney. “You can object until your head explodes once we’re in court. Right now, I’m saying whatever the fuck I want!”

“You’re not helping!” Rossiter hisses quietly to his attorney.

“Just so we’re clear,” I turn back onto Rossiter, “you’re telling me that my babies—my twin babies—are getting public death threats simply because I was in the forefront of your disparity? You have no other foundation for these accusations? No pictures? No DNA evidence? No ‘I recognized somebody?’ Nothing?”

“Look. I admitted that I may have been mistaken. I don’t know what else the fuck you want from me.” I push away from the table and stand with enough force to knock the heavy chair over onto the floor with a hard thud.

“Tell me I’m not hearing this!” I say in a fury. “Tell me this is not what I’m hearing! Tell me I’m mistaken! This has got to be a mistake… he didn’t just say what I just heard!”

It’s not only because I have to play this part well, but also because I’m truly flabbergasted by this. I thought he had something—he recognized one of my staff; he knows my fleet is Audi and he saw an Audi drive away; someone may have said something that tipped him off, but it’s none of those. He truly reached into the air and just pulled out my name! He could have gotten into a barfight the weekend before, and he would have just reached into the air and pulled out my name! My children truly received death threats because he truly. Was. Mistaken.

“Christian, you need to calm down,” Al cautions. I slam my hands onto the table, causing all of the men to jump, even my security team at the door.

“Don’t you see?” I say, gesturing wildly at Rossiter while addressing Al. “He has no fucking idea who did this to him! He pulled my name out the air and announced to a listening audience that I attacked him! He could have had one too many, fell face-first off the curb, busted his lip, lost a tooth, and then pointed the finger at me! My children, my wife, I have all actually received death threats from this shit, and he has no fucking clue who did it! We had an active controversy and people are quick to believe shit about me and he knew that! He was counting on it! And now he comes into this room expecting me to show him some fucking compassion?”

“Mr. Grey, you really need to calm down,” Matlock says.

“Don’t tell me to calm down, Matlock!” I bark at him, having never gotten his real name since he didn’t see fit to introduce himself to me. “Don’t you fucking dare tell me to calm down. Have they threatened your fucking children, you worm?” He swallows and clears his throat. I pick my chair up and slam it back in the upright position.

“How does it feel to try to make an example out of someone that you don’t even measure up to?” I ask Rossiter. “And I’m not even talking about me. I’m talking about my wife. The only beef I ever had with you was that you showed her that vulgar tattoo on your arm and I made that known. You made it more than that. Whatever you did before or after that viewing, whatever happened had nothing to do with me or my wife. You harass her in public, you physically attack her father, you degrade and slander us on any medium that will accommodate you, and you want to sit here and pretend to be the victim? We didn’t seek you out! We never sought you out! You put yourself front and center in our lives and now you’re upset about the attention? Believe me, I want nothing more than for you to get the fuck out of our lives and stay out! I don’t want any reminders that I ever even knew who the fuck you were. I could have destroyed you long ago if that was my motive, and I didn’t need attention or an audience to do it. I never want to hear of you or see you ever again, so I will be happy to drop my lawsuit against you—but I have demands.”

“Mr. Grey, do you mean conditions?” his attorney says in a condescending tone.

“Call them what you want. I have demands!” I hiss, and he glares at me. I glare right back until he breaks his gaze, then I turn back to Rossiter.

“You’re having a hard time finding work. That would be because to accommodate you, somebody would have to piss me off and there are a lot of people in the greater Seattle area and beyond who don’t want to piss me off. To that end, it might do you well to seek employment in another sector—maybe even outside of Seattle.”

“That sounds like a threat, Mr. Grey,” the attorney says.

“I could give a fuck less what it sounds like, Matlock, it’s a suggestion. Now here are my demands:

“Don’t talk about us, don’t allude to us, don’t discuss our agreement, our situation, my family, any of my businesses, don’t even make any general characterizations that could look like us or be mistaken for us and you know well what I mean when I say that. The fact that you don’t use our names will not protect you from further legal action. Don’t write a book, don’t sign a movie deal, don’t do an interview, nothing. You are not privy to anything about us that is not public domain, and you better be careful about how you use that information, or I might take it personally.”

“Mr. Grey,” Matlock tries to chide.

“I’m not finished, and don’t interrupt me again or you and your client can get the fuck out of my face right now.” Without waiting for a response from him, I turn back to Rossiter.

“If you agree to the terms and I drop the lawsuit, we cease to exist in your life and this entire thing has been one bad dream. I don’t even want an apology; I just want you the fuck out of our lives. You don’t use any of this experience for publicity, for sympathy, for profit, for any gain or advantage whatsoever. Anything that anybody ever asks you about me, my family, my great-fucking-grandchildren, any of my businesses, anything that has to do with me henceforth and forevermore will be answered with ‘No comment.’ If I find out 50 years from now that you told some small AM radio station in the swamps of Mississippi anything whatsoever about me even in the abstract, all bets are off and I’m coming for you.” He frowns.

“And what do I get?” he asks.

“You get to not find yourself in litigation for the rest of your life,” I inform him. “You get to go offend somebody’s wife in some part of the world who doesn’t know who the hell you are. You get to go make up your story to whomever will listen as long as it doesn’t involve, allude to, or incriminate me or any member of my family—or we can walk out of this room right now and I’ll continue with my lawsuit. Your choice.”

“Is this legal?” he barks at his counsel. Before he can respond, I reply,

“You better find a way to make it legal, because I’m done playing these games with you. I and my family have been targeted long before you ever got a glint in your eye, but we can often wait it out and most of the time, it blows over—but you! You won’t go away! You made this bed! You opened this can of worms and now you want to blame us for it. I’ve got news for you, Rossiter. I’m not one of those people who will just pay a problem to go away. I’m a fighter. I’ve been a fighter since I was a kid and nothing’s changed. And before I allow some slimy, manipulating bastard and his sleezy lawyer to get a dime out of me, I’ll drag this fight out through Armageddon.” Matlock scoffs.

“I don’t have to take this kind of slanderous talk!” he announces. He closes his ledger, picks up his briefcase, and ceremoniously storms out of the room. I sit back comfortably in my seat while Rossiter stares at his retreating attorney.

“What the fuck just happened?” Rossiter inquires.

“I think your attorney just skipped out on you because he just discovered that he wasn’t getting any money out of me,” I inform him while folding my arms.

“How the hell would you know that?” he barks.

“Is this your first time at the dance?” I ask incredulously. “Because it’s certainly not mine. Maybe my wife and I are the first to stand up to you and you don’t know how this goes, so let me educate you. Some enterprising, money-hungry, ambulance-chasing attorney preys on some ambitious, attention-seeking, greedy opportunist the moment they find out there’s a dispute between them and someone who has a few zeros behind their name. He’s either going to get something from the opportunist or from the guy with the zeros. You have nothing, and I just blew all his hopes of ever getting anything from me. I have cursed you, used an obscene amount of profanity, disrespected you both, and pretty much told him to shut up, but he suddenly feels slandered when I say that he’s not getting a dime from me. I’ve been through this—many times. I know how this ends. I’ve been on the receiving end of a lawsuit and just waited and waited and waited until they realized that they weren’t getting shit from me. The money that I would give to you and anybody like you, I would spend endlessly on attorneys and appeals until you died or just went away. Your lawyer friend saw that, and that’s why he’s not here. I’ll even put a wager on it that he won’t answer any of your calls. So, I’m letting you know right here and right now that I’m giving you the chance to walk the fuck away before I unleash hell on you.”

Realization slowly creeps onto Rossiter’s face and his skin blanches a bit. For several moments, he looks like a caged rabbit trying to find an escape. Yet, I can see the moment resolution sets in and he knows that he’s whipped.

“It’s just us, Grey,” he says in a low, ominous voice. “My attorney’s gone now. Give it to me straight. Did you have me jumped?” I sit up in my chair.

“Christian…” Al cautions, but I put my hand up to silence him without breaking my gaze with Rossiter. I lean forward and clasp my hands together in front of me on the table.

“I don’t like you,” I say coolly. “In fact, I fucking hate you. I hate everything you are and everything that I’ve seen you stand for, but most of all, I hate you for how you treated my wife—my queen, and the mother of my children. I could easily see you dead for that and not bat an eyelash. I want to break your fucking legs. I want to make it so that you can’t harass or mistreat another woman for as long as you fucking live. However, I suggest that you start looking in dark corners and turning over some fucking rocks and find out who your goddamn enemies are, because the fact that you’re still walking and not being fed through a tube is a pretty safe assumption that I might not be the one that had your ass kicked. Does that answer your question, Mr. Rossiter?”

You’re out of your goddamn mind if you think I would admit to that whether your attorney is here or not. You might have a recording device or something and besides, I get more satisfaction out of seeing the uncertainty in your eyes right now and knowing that I am the one that had your ass kicked than I would in telling you that I did it.

He rolls his eyes before he shakes his head and drops his gaze.

“Well, this was a fucking great idea,” he says to himself. He pushes his chair back and stands.

“I’ll sign whatever you need. Just drop the damn lawsuit,” he says before leaving the room and closing the door behind him.

“Well, that was easy,” Al says, closing his ledger and sticking it in his briefcase.

“No, it wasn’t,” I say, watching the door. “It’s not easy until he signs the damn papers. Draw them up and get them over to him today. Let him know that he has 24 hours to sign them, get them notarized, and return them or the lawsuit stands, and all bets are off.” I stand. “And send a message to that squirrelly attorney. Let him know in whatever legal manner possible that if he tries anything, I’m coming for him, too.”

“It’ll be done by the end of business,” Al says. I nod and leave the room with Al close behind me. Pretty soon, I need to retrieve my wife for the R&D meeting that we have each quarter. Ever since she found the disparity with the XRC90 transmitter, I’ve requested that she be present at each R&D meeting as an extra set of eyes and ears for me. It’s not that I don’t trust my staff but looking at the same things every day can sometimes cause complacency when it comes down to critical details. Butterfly has the eye that I need for things like that.


ANASTASIA

“Your Ebony Carson is basically clean.”

I’m sitting in Alex’s office on Wednesday morning looking to get a final call on what’s going on with Ebony Carson. I rode in to Grey House with Christian so that I can be present for a quarterly meeting that starts at eleven. Christian has a meeting at ten, so I came to talk to Alex about Ebony. I need whatever information he has and, one way or the other, I’m pulling the trigger on this thing today.

“She has nothing adverse that shows up on her background check, but she doesn’t have a paper trail. No credit cards, no bank accounts… but that falls in line with someone who doesn’t want to be found, which validates her story. She’s got a lot of hits that just go away, trails that run dry—or it could even be another Ebony Carson altogether, because the name is common. So, here’s my take on it.

“It’s a 50/50 chance that she is who she says she is. From what she’s telling you, her story checks out, but what I don’t see always makes me nervous. She doesn’t stay put for long, so if you hire her, she’s only going to be around for a minute—six months to a year tops, and I’m stretching it at the year. If she’s running from a violent or powerful boyfriend, she’s got a stash bag somewhere with clothes and cash, probably in the trunk of her car or something like that. Her next destination has already been chosen. Without knowing his name or at least knowing his crime or what facility he’s incarcerated in, we’re never going to find him. ‘Ge’ is simply not enough.

“My final conclusion, you’re dealing with a ghost here. It’s kind of a crap shoot if you want to hire her. She could just be a scared young woman running from a bad situation, but that makes me ask where her family is, because she’s not on any missing persons’ lists. No outstanding warrants, traffic tickets that may or may not be hers due to no license being present or other mysterious circumstances. The social security number has several hits on jobs, but like I said, she doesn’t stay…”

“I think we should take the findings at face value,” I say. “She’s afraid, and she hasn’t found anywhere to lay any roots. He’s got her scared out of her wits and if she has even the slightest inkling that he’s getting close, she’s going to bolt.” I sigh. I can’t afford to introduce a bad element to the Center, but isn’t this what we do? Aren’t we here to help people in trouble who are looking for a safe haven?

“I’m going to bring her back in,” I tell Alex. “If she can’t give me anything concrete that I can work with, something that I can feel safe with, or at least semi-safe, I’ll let it go.”

“That’s pretty much all you can do,” he says. “I understand wanting to help her with all that you do, but I’m a conspiracy theorist by profession. It’s my job to look for all the bad that could happen and do my best to prevent it from happening. You have to be careful… and we will be watching her.” I nod.

“Yeah.” I look at my watch and I have a little time before I have to be in the conference room on the executive floor. “Thanks, Alex.”

I leave his office and text Marilyn to contact Ebony and have her come in for another interview on Friday morning. I’m looking at my phone and concentrating very hard on finding a restroom before I pee my pants when I bump into a wall of man that I know very well.

“You should watch where you’re going,” my husband says suggestively. I don’t even bother asking how he knew exactly where I was.

“You’re right,” I reply. “I’m distracted.” I have to pee.

“Come on,” he says, putting his arm around my waist. “Let’s go. We’ll have a boardroom full of people soon.”

“I’ll meet you in the office. I need to find a restroom, or there’s going to be an accident.” He twists his lips at me.

“I can wait,” he suggests.

“Go upstairs!” I protest. “I’m in the building. I know my way. Now, shoo, I gotta pee!” I leave him there to debate the situation and I duck around the corner and into the bathroom, luckily not ten feet away from our location. I have to look up at the ceiling to prevent leakage while I’m trying to undo my pants. I don’t know why it works but it works. The flow starts almost before I get to the toilet.

Sweet relief! Thank God… that was close.

I finish my business and just before I flush the toilet, I hear women come into the bathroom, giggling and talking.

“My God, what I could do with all that man,” one says.

“Give it up, girlfriend,” I hear another say while entering the stall next to me. “He is very happily married and from what I hear, quite pussy-whipped. Just step away from the gorgeousness. That’s nothing but a fantasy, my friend.”

“So you say,” the first one says. “Every man has a weakness that can be exploited by new pussy. She just had twins, so I can guarantee that pussy ain’t as tight as it used to be, and it certainly ain’t as tight as mine.”

I sigh silently. Of course, they’re talking about Christian… and me. The first one sounds like she’s in a stall, too, now, so I exit the stall and go around the wall to the sinks to wash my hands. I’m far enough away that they can’t really hear the water of the sink, but I can still hear the conversation.

“And look at her,” the first one continues. “She’s all prim and proper. I bet he hasn’t had a good blowjob in months!” I dry my hands and lean against the sink with my arms folded, waiting for this trick to exit the stall. I’ll show you prim and proper, bitch!

“Deanna, give it up,” I hear the second one say as she flushes the toilet. “I’m telling you, it’s a lost cause and not worth all the trouble you could get into. Leave it…” Her sentence breaks off when she bends the corner and stares wide-eyed at my face. Her mouth is gaping like a fish while her friend continues to insert her foot further down her throat.

“Please, girl, I know how to get a man, any man I want. I haven’t met a man yet who could resist me no matter what he had at home—wife, girlfriend, fiancée, boyfriend… I’ve even caused gay men to go straight with this pussy and I tell you… Fifteen minutes alone with Christian Grey and that man will be mine.” I hear the toilet flush.

“Shut up, Deanna,” the second girl says still looking at me.

“It’s true. The only reason I don’t already have him is because I’ve been focusing on my position, but trust me, once I set my sites on a man, he’s mine and I never fail. And I’ve got my sites set on that tall drink of water.”

“Deanna, you need to shut up,” her friend says again. Yeah, Deanna, you should probably shut up.

“Oh, lighten up. He probably has a billionaire friend for you, too…” Just like her friend a few moments ago, Deanna’s statement falls to nothing as she bends the corner and comes face to face with me. She’s clearly stunned and doesn’t know quite what to say right now. I wouldn’t either if I had been graphically discussing my plans to fuck the boss only to discover the boss’s wife standing a few feet away.

“Oh, don’t stop on my account. I’d love to know what techniques you plan to use to steal my husband.” I stand still leaning against the sink, waiting for all the I-can-fuck-him-like-this talk that I heard a minute ago.

“What’s the matter?” I ask after her silence. “You chokin’ on that sole food right now? I’m sure that shoe doesn’t taste as good as it did when you were sitting in that stall talking about sucking my man’s dick!” She clears her throat and looks over to her friend. Getting no support from the girl who, moments earlier, kept trying to tell her to shut up, she turns an uncertain gaze back to me. I’m unbelievably heated and angry and I don’t want to play by the rules with this tramp.

“I don’t need to say or do anything to prove to you how satisfied my man is. But even if he wasn’t, you would still never find out, because if you come within 100 feet of my husband, I’ll fuck you up!”

She gasps, completely taken off guard by my statement. Realizing my position in the company, I need to make one more thing perfectly clear.

“I’m not talking to you as someone who could cost you your job. I’m talking to you as a pissed-off woman telling you that you better keep your ass the fuck away from my man. However tight your pussy is or great your head is, you better go try your skills on somebody else, because if you touch my man, that’ll be the last time you touch anybody’s man!”

“You’re threatening me?” she asks incredulously.

“Yes, bitch, I’m threatening you!” I say, closing the space between us. “You’re surprised? You’re sitting in a public bathroom talking about fucking and sucking my man and you’re surprised? It’s taking everything in me not to put you through that wall behind you right now! But hell, you feel like you can do it? You feel like you can pull my man out of my bed, you go right ahead and try. Just remember I fuckin’ warned you.” I’m nearly growling at her.

“A real woman shouldn’t have to threaten another woman if she’s keeping her man happy,” she says, coolly.

“A real woman would know how to get a man of her own without setting her sites on a married man with a family!” I hiss. “I’m not going to debate with you as to whether or not you can pull my man. Like I said, try that shit if you feel lucky. Now you wanna keep talking so I can cash in on my urge to smash your ass through that wall?” I fold my arms again and wait for her response.

She looks over at her friend again, who says nothing, then squares off with me a bit, but never says a word as I glare at her.

“That’s what I thought,” I say before dropping my arms and turning to her friend.

“I saw nothing,” her friend says, putting her hands up and dropping her gaze to the floor. I look back at Deanna, then turn and walk out of the restroom. I should have known that the conversation didn’t just come out of the blue. Of course, Christian is still standing a few feet down the hallway in the same spot where I left him.

“You don’t follow directions well, do you?” I say as I approach him. He puts his arm around my waist and pulls me in for a peck on the cheek.

“There’s still people here who don’t know who you are,” he says. “I just feel better if someone is with you until they do. I don’t want to have to break anybody’s jaw for flirting with what’s mine.” He reaches down and squeezes my ass cheek. Oh, Mr. Grey, if you only knew.

“I don’t think you have to worry about that,” I tell him. “Even if they were foolish enough to try it, they wouldn’t get anywhere. My heart belongs to you.”

“Yeah, but this body screams pleasure and I don’t want to have to kill a man for overstepping his boundaries.” He continues to fondle my ass right in the hallway and I giggle at his possessiveness and the irony of the statement, considering the conversation I just had in the ladies’ room.

“You make a girl feel like a queen,” I jest.

“That’s because you are my queen,” he responds, guiding me towards the elevators.

*-*

The meeting was in a much larger room on the 19th floor, somewhat like a small auditorium. It was very informative for me and I was able to give some good feedback on my thoughts on a few of the projects. There are a couple of others that I tuck away into my briefcase to look at a little more closely. My husband and I are temporarily separated in the room full of people and I’m talking to one of the gentlemen spearheading one of the projects that I’d like to research a bit.

Don’t ask me how, but my bitch detector goes off and I turn to my left to see Christian talking to a group of people, two of which are the two females I encountered in the ladies room. She’s standing in a circle with her friend right next to her and she’s right in Christian’s line of vision. I conclude my conversation with the gentleman I’m speaking to and walk coolly over to the circle, weaving through the crowd so as not to draw attention to myself.

“Your presentation on the Charma plan was quite informative, Mr. Grey,” the trick coos as I approach, and her friend visibly rolls her eyes. “Are you by any chance looking for a researcher on that project?” Christian raises his brow.

“The researchers are chosen by the project leaders,” he replies, impassively.

“Oh, I just thought you may be interested in this particular project having a more… personal touch,” she says. Christian’s brow furrows this time, and I know my husband. He smells the rat.

“Should I know you?” he asks, bemused.

“No, dear, you shouldn’t,” I interject, finally closing in on the circle of about eight people and standing next to him. “You see, Dana here,” I deliberately screw up her name, “was in the bathroom earlier having a conversation about how you probably haven’t had a decent blowjob since you and I have been together. And since I told her to stay the fuck away from my husband, this is her ‘game on’ move.”

I look across the circle right into her face. Her face reddens as the circle falls silent and everyone turns to her and stares incredulously.

“You’re blatantly trying to come on to me?” Christian says, coolly, “After my wife told you to stay away from me?”

“She threatened me!” Deanna says, trying to pull some sympathy.

“You’re lucky she didn’t fucking kill you!” he retorts angrily. “You talked about giving me a goddamn blowjob in front of my wife and you lived to tell the tale? I’m amazed!”

Well, she wasn’t in front of me when she said it, but that’s beside the point. I put my hand on his chest.

“Save your breath, baby,” I say. “It’s not going to do you any good. She shamelessly offered herself to you in front of…” I quickly count, “… six other people. You can’t appeal to her sense of morals or scruples or even fear. Besides, I told her that if she thought she could pull you from me to take her best shot.” Christian snaps his head to me.

“Are you insane?” he exclaims. “You can’t extend that invitation to anyone!”

“Oh, I’ll extend it to everyone simply because I know I have nothing to worry about, especially from someone who works for me…”

“I don’t work for you. I work for him,” she says confidently. I don’t turn my gaze from my husband whose face morphs into a sinister smile at the same time the corners of my mouth rise. I turn my gaze back to Deanna.

“You work. For me,” I say, with a huge Cheshire cat smile.

“Where’ve you been, Deanna?” one of the guys in the circle says. “She owns half the company.” Deanna’s face doesn’t change.

“I still don’t work for her,” Deanna says, haughtily walking away from the group. Ooooookay, bitch.

“Please excuse us,” Christian says, pulling me away from the circle. “Can someone please tell me why they blatantly do that with absolutely no consideration for the fact that I have a wife?” he laments as we walk towards the door.

“It’s not their fault, dear,” I say. “It’s you. You do that to women. You have god-like good looks that make them forget who they are, and I’m not just saying that because you’re my husband.”

“It’s just a face,” he hisses almost resentfully. I scoff.

“You think so, huh?” I ask. “Over six feet of 180 pounds of pure muscle and about 0.03% body fat walking around in 3000-dollar suits oozing money, power, and sex, and you think it’s just the face? Okay, Grey.”

“Well… when you put it that way…” He leans down and shamelessly kisses me in front of his colleagues.

“I need to run up and see Alex, then I have to get going to the Center,” I say once he breaks the kiss.

“Everything okay?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I reply. “I think I told you about Ebony Carson—perfect candidate from New York, but hiding from her ex-boyfriend…” He nods.

“Oh, yeah, I remember the story.”

“I’ve pretty much decided to offer her the position, but I just want to make sure that I’m dotting all my I’s and crossing all my T’s before I do.” He kisses me on the forehead.

“Good girl. I’ll see you at home.” He heads back into the auditorium. I feel bad, but only a little. It was just a tiny white lie. I am going to see Alex, but not about Ebony.

“Show me a picture of every Deanna, every spelling of the name, that works in this building. I don’t know her last name. I just know that she was in the R&D meeting on the 19th floor a little while ago.” Alex types into his computer, waits for a moment, then turns the screen around to me with Deanna’s ID picture on it.

“How do you do that?” I ask. “Is there only one Deanna in the building?”

“It’s what I do, and no, there are six Deanna’s in the building—different spellings—but only one was in that meeting. That’s what you get when I get good details.” I nod.

“Duly noted. I want a detailed background check on her.” Alex’s brow rises.

“May I ask why?” Alex says. “It’ll help me to focus my search on pertinent issues.”

“She’s coming on to my husband in my presence and I’m tired of him having to rescue or defend me.” There’s a moment of silence.

“Why don’t you just fire her?” he asks flatly.

“She expects that,” I respond. “Firing her would be quick and dirty—that would be too easy. I’m feeling particularly vindictive right now. If you can find dirt, weaknesses, anything that can be exploited, I would appreciate that.”

“You’re feeling a bit spiteful, I see,” he says.

“Spiteful is not the word,” I nearly hiss. “I can understand a female forgetting herself around my husband. He has that effect on women. This bitch blatantly approached him after I told her to stay the fuck away. She has effectively said, ‘So, what are you going to do about it?’ I’m going to give her an answer.” He’s quiet again.

“I’ll see what I can find,” he says.

“Thank you.” I smile at him and leave the office. This conversation reminds me that there’s one little Myshka that I’ve allowed to slip my mind while dealing with Harmony’s dilemma. I’ll need to give that matter my special attention as well.

*-*

“I’d really like to hire you, Ebony,” I say when we meet on Friday morning. “You have exquisite qualifications, but my people are cautioning me about your background… or lack thereof. I have nothing to go on. I don’t know who this guy is that you’re running from. It could be a recipe for disaster and by the same token, we could have the resources to protect you, but we have no idea what we’re up against…”

Ebony listens attentively with her eyes to the floor while I explain to her the reasons why I’m still not wholly comfortable allowing her onto the team even though I really want to. She shakes her head and I can see the defeat in her posture and in the part of her expression that I can see. I swear she looks as if she’s going to break down and cry any second.

“Happens every time,” she mumbles before she clears her throat. She rolls her eyes and sighs heavily.

“Georgio Marcosa,” she breathes as if in prayer while shaking her head. “I should probably just leave now.” The last part was whispered under her breath.

“Wait,” I say, reaching out to her, even though she hasn’t moved to leave. “Marcosa…” I begin. “Is he Italian?” She shrugs.

“I don’t know,” she says. “He says he’s a whole lotta things, but I know he’s black.”

I can see a black Georgio, but a black Marcosa? Not so much. Maybe his father was Italian or Latin or something.

“Will you give me the weekend?” I ask. “Come back and see me on Monday?” I’m not too sure she’s not just going to bolt after giving me Ge’s full name. She nods and walks out of the office. I immediately call Alex and tell him to get on finding whatever he can about this Marcosa guy. I’m almost positive that Ebony’s going to make a run for it, but I’ll prevent it if I can.

This Friday was no different than last Friday… except that Ace has the gall to text me that our session was cancelled because Amber isn’t feeling well. He did at least apologize, but a goddamn text?

Physician, heal thyself.

I’m glad to come home and see Harmony in the family room watching reruns of Game of Thrones. It’s never really been my thing, but at least she’s not locked up in her room. She looks pale and a little thin, though.

“I can’t begin to empathize with what you’re feeling right now,” I tell her. “I won’t even try to shrink you. I’ll just tell you that a facial and a massage always makes me feel better, and I happen to have a free afternoon. Would you like to go to the spa with me? It should help release some tension and… some other things.” She raises her brow.

Other things?” she says. I nod.

“A good facial and maybe a body wrap will help refresh you, and… the right pressure points, a good detox, aroma therapy, and maybe even some slight acupuncture could lead to a good cleansing cry—not a make-everything-alright cry, but a release-some-of-the-negative-energy cry… You know, from dealing with your bio-dad and the others… It’s just a sugge…”

“Lead the way,” she says, rising from the sofa.

I take her to Miana’s and inform the staff to give her whatever she wants. We sit together for a little while, through the routine stuff, but later split up for specialized treatments. I don’t really need that much since I just got the full treatment a couple of weeks ago, so I just get a facial and a pedicure while Harmony is, no doubt, getting the works. I know she has quite a bit of mourning ahead of her, but she shouldn’t look and feel like she’s going to crawl into the grave with her mother every day.

Harmony has been in the back for quite some time while I spend some time journaling on my Journey app. It looks like I may have to start looking for a new psychiatrist, but it’s something that I really can’t do right now. There’s way too much on my plate with all my responsibilities, looking out for my friends and family—there’s quite enough to do to distract me from the PTSD that has been plaguing my life. The journaling is actually working much better than I thought it would, and my family are just going to have to pick up where Ace is apparently slacking… or quitting, who knows. I really haven’t had much time to focus on my own woes. Even now, my journal is filled with…

The funeral was this weekend. That experience was unforgettable…

Harmony agreed to come with me to Miana’s for an R&R treatment—Release and Rejuvenation, that is…

I haven’t heard a peep from Marilyn about what she plans to do about the baby. Maybe she’s going to keep it after all…

I get a notification that I have a text from Mr. Filmore, the supervising guard on duty at the Franklin mansion. I swipe my screen to see the text.

**Three in custody. **

“What?” What the fuck is he talking about. As I’m about to call him to see what he’s referring to, I get two separate attachments back to back and I open them. Two pictures of three people being led away from the manor in cuffs and put into the backseat of a police car. And who are the three people?

Paige, Theo, and Damien.

“Ooohohohooo, you’re kidding me?” I laugh. I need to show Harmony, but I call Filmore first to get the details of what happened.

“Theodore Franklin showed up on Tuesday. He didn’t believe me when I told him that Ms. Franklin wasn’t home. He came back twice on Wednesday—once by himself and once with Paige Ashton. Today, we were alerted to a silent alarm being tripped by a motion detector in the basement. As there’s no one in the house, of course, we went to check it out. We detained Theodore and Damien Franklin and contacted the authorities. While we were waiting for the police, Paige Ashton was apparently hiding and attempted to escape, once again, tripping the motion detectors. She, too, was detained while we waited for the police.

“When the authorities arrived, they informed the police that this was their deceased mother’s home and they had a right to be there. I informed the police that I and my colleagues are private security employed by Christian Grey to secure the home while Ms. Franklin—the rightful owner of the house—is away. I also informed him that the current owner of the house requested that they not be present in her home without her permission as they keep harassing her and trying to get in to get the valuables. I further informed the authorities that when they were three times not allowed entrance into the home because Ms. Franklin is away, they broke in through the basement and tripped a motion detector.

“We were unable to reach Ms. Franklin, so we took the liberty of filing a police report for trespassing and for breaking and entering, and the three of them are now in the custody of the Bellevue Police Department.”

“Oh, this is classic,” I laugh heartily. “Have you already told Jason?”

“We have, ma’am,” he says.

“That means that Christian knows, then,” I chuckle. “Harmony’s fine. She’s with me. Her ringer is probably off. In fact, I’m not really sure she has her phone with her at all. No matter, I’ll tell her what happened.” It may help a bit with her relaxation.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says, and we end the call. I look at the pictures again.

Theo is hunched over, his arms cuffed behind his back. He looks to be struggling a bit and his face clearly has that “I’ll have your badge for this” look.

The red lights from the police car are shining in Damien’s face, which is sporting a pretty horrible grimace. He’s not fighting or struggling. In fact, he looks pretty comfortable in his stance—like he’s walking around examining the grounds or something. This clearly ain’t his first trip to the pokey.

Paige looks the worst. Her clothes are dirty and very crumpled from whatever method of entry they used to get into the house, or maybe even from her hiding place. Her gray hair is disheveled and looks particularly blue as it captures the reflection of the blue lights from the police car. Her face is the perfect drama sad face, only very tearstained with lots of the Tammy-Faye running mascara.

063f8618538183844d57d62a73caa1dbecbe70834a4da5360835fa38ac66bd0f

What made them think this was a good idea? I guess the security staff is going to have to double-check whatever route or entrance they used to get into the basement. This is pretty funny, but I’ll admit, it’s pretty damn tragic, too. What were they thinking to do something like that? Were they thinking at all? The house is literally crawling with security—and if they really thought the security team was lying and that Harmony was there with all her staff, what the fuck did they expect when they got in the house? Were they going to confront her again for not letting them in? And Theo! Theo was physically thrown from the house in total sitcom fashion. What in God’s name did he expect?

I decide that a girl’s night is probably a good idea, but it should be centered around Harmony. While still pondering the prudence—or lack thereof—of Tina’s children’s and grandson’s actions, I send a text to Christian that I planned to have a few ladies over, whoever I can rustle on short notice to help Harmony out of her funk. I know Jason has probably apprised him of the goings-on at the Franklin mansion, and I want to have a little laugh at the siblings’ expense, but I can’t help but wonder where Ilsa and Jonah are. I call Filmore back.

“Just out of curiosity, have you all located Ilsa and Jonah, the other siblings?” I ask when he answers.

“Yes, ma’am,” he responds. “We’re assuming they were too feeble or otherwise unable to get into the house. They were sitting in the car at the end of the driveway—driving the getaway car, so to speak. We couldn’t really have them charged with sitting in the car or driving. They technically weren’t on the property, and they had plausible deniability concerning the intentions of the other three.”

“God,” I say shaking my head. “This is undeniably one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen three adults to in my life…” Five, if I count the two in the getaway car.

“Yeah, it’s… pretty out there, considering the youngest of them is about 45 or so,” Filmore agrees.

“Thanks, Mr. Filmore,” I say ending the call once again. I look at the pictures once more, committing Paige’s face to memory so that I can recall it later when I need a laugh. I’ve been long since done with my treatments and I’m wondering what’s taking Harmony so long. There’s only so much poking, plucking, kneading, and priming they can do to one body. Just as I’m about to go to the back to see just how many treatments this girl got, she emerges from the curtained doorway and stands just beyond the opening. My eyes widen, and I’m stunned into silence. Well, almost silence.

“Wow…”

Oh, dear God, Tina would fucking kill me.


A/N: For those who don’t know, Matlock is an attorney that Andy Griffith played in his older years a while back before he passed away. Since the attorney didn’t feel the need to introduce himself, Christian is calling him “Matlock.”

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 66—More Family Ties

Merry Christmas, Joyous Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah, Seasons Greeting, and Happy Holidays for whatever you celebrate. If you don’t celebrate anything, Happy Tuesday. 🙂   

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 66—More Family Ties

CHRISTIAN

“Christian?”

A soft, angelic voice rouses me, and I realize that I’ve fallen asleep in the rocking chair with Mikey on my chest. I have no idea how I held on to him, but I did.

“Come on,” she says softly, while caressing my hair. “Put him to bed.”

I rise carefully from the chair trying not to rouse my son, which is unnecessary as he’s out like a light. I place him in his crib and he stirs and moves to put his fingers in his mouth, but they don’t make it before he’s out again. Butterfly checks on Minnie and gives her the same two-finger kiss to her cheek that I did before Butterfly takes my hand and we leave the room. Once I shut the door behind me, she turns to face me.

“I’m sorry I didn’t call,” she says. “It was a terrible day and a terrible evening. The siblings showed up today.”

“Is everything okay?” I ask concerned. “Why didn’t you call me? I would’ve come…”

“It wasn’t necessary,” she says. “I’ll tell you about it tomorrow. It’s too late to talk about it now.” She moves towards our bedroom, but my feet stay planted, causing her to halt as she’s still holding my hand. She turns around and looks at me, bemused. I gently pull her back to me and into my arms. She puts her hands on my forearms and I touch my forehead to hers and close my eyes. I love her so much. I’m so grateful that she’s here, that she’s mine.

“Thank you for being such a wonderful mother to my children,” I whisper with my forehead against hers.

“I’ve got it easy,” she says with mirth. I shake my head and open my eyes.

“It’s more than that,” I say. “It’s more than the nannies and the money and this big house… It’s that you love them. You really love them. I see it in your eyes and you show them, and they know it…” I wish I’d had it at their age. Maybe I did at one point, but I’ll never know. She puts her hands on either side of my face and raises my gaze to hers.

“Where is this coming from?” she asks, examining me. I shake my head. I won’t say it aloud. She gazes at me for several moments before she speaks.

“I’m not her,” she says, reading my thoughts. “I’ll never be her.” I nod and gather her into my arms, embracing her closely.

“I know,” I whisper, burying my face in her neck. She strokes my hair and it brings me warmth and comfort. I know she could never be anything like the crack whore, and I love her for it, with all my heart.

“I need to love you,” I say, the ache in my chest threatening to burst it open and end my mortal existence. I take her mouth with mine and kiss her deeply. She melts into my body and I take my cue.

Lifting her into my arms, I carry her into our bedroom. I take my time undressing her, kissing each area of her soft, tender body as I expose it. I love how her breathing quickens when she’s getting aroused, and I like to watch the gooseflesh rise on her skin.

I lay her down gently on the bed and admire her beautiful body. She has one or two tiny stretchmarks on her stomach from carrying the twins, but nowhere else. I lean down and kiss the two tiny bruises—my Butterfly’s tiger stripes of love. I hope she never becomes subconscious of them. They’re a constant reminder to me of what she put her body through to care for and nurture the two beautiful children that she gave me.

“You are so beautiful,” I say reverently as I gaze at my beautiful queen. Her entire body blushes at the sentiment, and my cock thrums hard in my pants at the sight. I try not to rip my clothes off like a maniac, but my dick is threatening to burst out of my pants like the Hulk if I don’t free it soon. I finally free the damn thing from its prison and climb over my wife.

I start out making love to her, kissing her gently and grinding slowly and deeply inside of her, but a few minutes into our session, something changes. An animal urgency burns through me and I need to sear her—mark her like a lion marks his territory, only… inside. I need my stamp inside of her… like hers is inside of me.

I’m on my knees in front of her, thighs spread apart and thrusting into her. I’m holding her hips up so that I can get the perfect angle and my abs roll with each thrust. She’s hot and wet and my cock is thick and red, pulling her lips against it with each withdrawal and sinking hot and hard into her velvety wetness with each thrust.

The entire sight is so hot that I almost forget my wife while focusing on my dick and the feeling her pussy is giving me right now. I look up at her, her shoulders supporting her weight, and she’s writhing on the bed. Her ample breasts fall apart slightly and wobble with every thrust.

Once again, I’m in my own porno.

With her legs over my thighs, I gently lift her hips to get maximum thrust. She surprises me by planting her feet flat on the bed behind me and thrusting her hips up to match my every stroke. She’s panting and groaning in pleasure and my eyes roll back in my head in a vain attempt not to get lost in the feeling.

Yes, baby, yes, baby…

Needing to feel her skin against me—and to regain control of the situation before she makes me come too soon—I lay over her, pushing my hips hard and fast into hers, holding her shoulders down with my own. She gasps in pleasure with each thrust, wrapping her arms around my waist and gently digging her nails into the small of my back.

Fucking hell!

I lose myself for a moment and my hips are pistoning into her like a jackhammer, my cock burning with the urge to come. I succumb to my need to fuck her like a bunny and she whimpers her satisfaction. Fuck—I’ll surely come too soon if I don’t stop this shit.

While feasting on her neck, I slow my stroke a bit—not too slow and not too fast so as not to set us both back too far in the process. She’s so hot and soft and wet, and no matter what position I get in, she matches me stroke for stroke.

I slow down a little more once I’m able to control my mind and my dick, and stroke sensually into her over and over again, kissing her deeply with each thrust. I raise my knees for traction and pump hard and deep into her, groaning in my chest because no matter what I do, I won’t last much longer.

I reach around me and grab her hands, pinning them to the bed over her head and kissing her without reprieve as I grind balls deep into her. We’re already sweating so I can’t tell if the new sheen is forming on her body or our sweat is just mixing between us, creating a sex musk that fills the room and turning me on.

When she raises her knees and wraps her legs around me locking them behind my back, I can’t stand it. The pistoning bunny takes over again and we’re both panting like fools, breathing into each other’s mouth. God, she feels so good. Does it get better every time we do it? I don’t know, but she feels so fucking good!

I break our grip and our kiss and lean up onto my knees again so that I can watch her. She’s so fucking sexy and goddammit, we look good when we fuck and I want to see it!

Rubbing my hands all over her breast and torso, rubbing her thighs and thumbing her clit, I watch my cock slide in and out of her pussy again and again, fast and slow, hot and wet each time. I bite my lip as the pleasure now creeps through my pelvis and wraps around me to that pleasure point in my anus and balls. I try to fight it, try not to succumb to it because I don’t want to disappoint her, but I can’t take it anymore. She so fucking hot and so fucking beautiful, and she feels so goddamn good…

I can’t stop it this time.

“I’m gonna come! I’m gonna come!” I warn in quick panting breaths.

“Me, too! Don’t stop!” she instructs in the same breaths.

I keep the stroke going, not that I could control it anyway. I don’t know which one of us starts first, but the room is alight with heat and screams of passion as we both explode in powerful orgasms.

“Ana… baby… fuck!” I throw my head back, hook my hands under her knees and lift her thighs so that her pussy is angled perfectly over my throbbing cock. I empty hot and hard deep inside her, painfully, my thighs stiff in pleasure and my dick pulsing so hard that it hurts. My balls feel like they’ve shriveled up and crawled into my pelvis to die there. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to feel them shoot out of the head of my dick.

My wife falls limp on the bed, whimpering with each breath, which is my only indication that she came. I was so lost in my own orgasm, I’m sure I heard her scream, but I didn’t get to enjoy the feeling of her clenching around me like she usually does.

Oh, well, my dick doesn’t seem to mind.

“God, I needed that,” I choke out, still on my knees and pulsing inside her.

“So did I,” she breathes without opening her eyes, her brow and hair thick with sweat. I lay my body over hers and use my hand to wipe the sweat from her face before it gets to her eyes. I love the way we smell when we sweat after we fuck, all sex funky, and I don’t want to pull out of her just yet, but I know I’ll be heavy on her if I fall asleep this way.

“I love you so much,” I say, kissing her gently and caressing her face and hair.

“I love you, too,” she says without opening her eyes. She’ll be asleep soon. I pull out of her as gently as I can, but it still causes us some discomfort. I shift my body slightly to the side so that I’m still covering my wife, but my weight is mostly supported by the bed. I feel her settle into comfort and I know she’ll be asleep soon. I nuzzle my nose into her neck and allow our scent to soothe me…

“They’re beautiful, Maggot,” she says. Why does she call me that? He didn’t call me that, so where the fuck did she get that name? And who is she talking about?

I hear her voice, but I can’t see her. I can’t even see where I am.

Slowly, my surroundings take form, and I see my children’s nursery, my two beautiful babies sleeping in their respective cribs just where we left them—and she’s standing between the cribs looking into each one.

“So… you had two little maggots, too,” she says. She’s pale and blue, just like she looked when the people in white took her away…

The people in white—the coroner.

“My children. Are not. Maggots!” I say, trying to control my voice. She smiles.

“They’re all maggots,” she says. “You’ll see.” She reaches into Minnie’s crib. I try to get to her, to stop her, but my feet are planted to the floor.

“Don’t touch my daughter!” I scream, but no sound comes from my mouth. I’m horrified as she lifts Minnie into her arms and my daughter screams as if in pain.

“No! No! Leave her alone!” I cry, but still nothing. There’s no sound and the crack whore doesn’t react. She lays my helpless daughter on her chest, smiles a sinister smile, and turns to leave.

“Not my children, you bitch!”

The words are clear, but the voice isn’t mine. I focus on the scene in front of me to see my wife facing off with the crack whole, still holding a screaming Minnie.

“You had your chance. You fucked up, now stay the fuck away from my babies!”

Butterfly walks right through the crack whore, retrieving Minnie as she passes through the specter. The crack whore looks surprised at her empty hands, but then turns angry eyes to my wife.

“There are two of them!” she hisses in an outer-worldly voice. She turns to Mikey’s crib and I’m overcome with dread as I still can’t move.

Please don’t take my son.

Butterfly comforts Minnie and doesn’t move toward the monster headed for my son. Why doesn’t she try to stop her? Say something!

The crack whore gets to the crib and reaches in for Mikey… but she can’t grab him. She can’t touch him. Her hands go right through him and he lies there with his fingers in his mouth, undisturbed. When she whirls around to my wife, her face is hideous. She looks like a demon straight from hell. My wife just smiles at her.

“Go back to where you came from and don’t come back here. You had power then—you had power there—and you didn’t use it. You were a coward and a useless piece of flesh. You fucked up, but you have no power here. Now, go!”

My wife’s voice sounds outer-worldly this time, but only on the last two words. The crack whore screeches a horrible sound and disappears. My wife puts a sleeping Minnie back into her crib and she settles in comfort. Butterfly walks over and looks into Mikey’s crib. He’s still sleeping uninterrupted. Then she turns to look at me.

“I told you,” she says with a soft smile, “I’m not her.”

My feet are suddenly released from their spot on the floor and I’m able to move. I launch myself at her to take her in my arms—my monster slayer…

I open my eyes before I reach her and see that I’m still sprawled over her body in bed. She’s lying on her back, her hair spread over the pillow like a fan, her arms framing her head, fast asleep. She looks like a work of art. I remember thinking that when she was lying in the bed at the hotel during our trip to Napa. She’s even more beautiful now than she was then.

I love you so much that it hurts sometimes.

I kiss her cheek and fall back into slumber.

*-*

“They were horrible,” my wife says as she spreads butter on her toast the next morning at the breakfast bar. “I expected them to be uncaring, nonchalant… Christian, they were vicious.” She eats a forkful of eggs and follows it with a bite of toast.

“Shit, it was that bad?” I ask. She nods as she swallows.

“It was worse,” she says.” None of them had anything to say about Tina unless it involved taking something of hers. One of the girls—Paige, I think—came looking for a pair of diamond earrings that she had given Tina for her 50th birthday. Theodore deliberately broke a vase of flowers while leaving the foyer and one of the guards physically picked him up and threw him out of the house!”

“Good God, this is like a scene from the circus!” I lament. She takes another bite of her breakfast before she speaks.

“That wasn’t even half of it,” she adds. “They insulted her, they threatened her, they accused her of taking advantage of Tina…”

“Wait a minute,” I say, holding my hand up to pause her explanation. “They threatened her? Who threatened her? How?”

“Theodore told her that he’d blow the house up with her in it,” she replies… and now, I’m pissed.

Take care of my Harmony.

“He actually said that?” I ask. “He actually said that he would blow the house up? He said those words?” She nods.

“In front of witnesses,” she replies. “When I told him to watch his tongue about threatening to commit murder, he almost started to say something to me, but I headed him off. I can guarantee, it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. I had flashbacks of Carla’s visit to Seattle times four.” She shivers at the thought.

I, on the other hand, am sincerely pissed at this asshole who threatened Harmony. What the hell is going through these monsters’ minds? None of them came to see Tina when she was alive. None of them even appear to care that she’s gone, only about her material possessions. Who does that? Who on God’s green earth could possibly be that cold?

“And Christian, she had to prepare her mother.” I turn a bemused gaze to my wife.

“Prepare her for what?” I ask. She’s already dead.

“For the funeral,” she replies. I shake my head.

“I’m not getting your meaning,” I tell her. Tina’s gone. Does she mean she had to pick her clothes, her casket? We all have to do that.

“She had to do her mother’s hair and make-up,” Butterfly says with a sigh. Okay, now I’m horrified.

“Whyyy?” I ask, stretching the word out in sheer disbelief.

“Because the funeral home didn’t get it right,” she says. “She took a picture and showed me. Her face looked like she was covered in chalk… and her hair was in a bouffant.”

“What… the fuck is a bouffant?” I ask, still gob smacked that this poor girl had to do her deceased mother’s hair and make-up. Butterfly glares at me for a moment, then swipes the screen on her phone. After a moment or two, she shows me a picture of a woman with very large hair.

“The hair?” I ask bemused. Butterfly nods. “They did that to Tina’s hair?” She nods again. How the hell did they lay all that in the casket? “Why the… how the hell?”

“It wasn’t pretty,” she says, swiping her screen again. “And after she redid her mother’s hair and make-up, Tina’s brood shows up asking for her shit. It was just like Tina said it would be.”

“How did Harmony handle it?” I ask.

“Like a beast,” she says. “She walked up the front of those fuckers and down the back of them. It was glorious! After it was all over, she broke down and confessed to coming on to you.” My eyes widen.

“She what?” I ask. “She did? How…? What…?” I don’t even know what to ask.

“It helps that you told me first,” she says. “I don’t know how I would have reacted had I heard it from her, first. I guess I understand why you felt the way you did about Liam.”

I would prefer it if she didn’t call him by his first name. I would also prefer it if she didn’t discuss this topic at all.

“Can we change the subject?” I ask. She sighs and stands from the breakfast bar.

“I’m going to meet Courtney at Harmony’s,” she says, straightening her clothes to leave. “I’m going to see if there’s anything that she needs for the service tomorrow and make sure everything is… as okay as can be expected.” She puts her purse on her shoulder and proceeds past me. I can see that the Liam conversation—such as it was—has soured her mood.

“Don’t I get a kiss?” I call behind her. She turns back and walks to me. I take her in my arms and kiss her gently on the lips. And again.

“I just don’t like talking about the guy,” I say softly.

“I understand,” she says, but she doesn’t sound convinced. “I gotta go.” I release her, and she walks toward Chuck who appears in the doorway.

“You’re driving,” I hear her say as they walk through the family room towards the garage. Geez, this is going to be some session with Ace this afternoon

*-*

“I’ve got an Apollo that I’m having shipped to you,” I say into the phone. Once Smalls got his head out of his ass and Alex got his ass in gear, the security team was put in place and the items in the storage units began moving en masse. I’m talking to Ted Friedson, a master at piano restoration located on the east coast.

“An authentic Apollo?” Ted says. “Are you sure it can make the trip?”

“Pretty sure, that’s why I’m trusting it to you,” I tell him. I headed the shipping off in Chicago and got the piano rerouted back to Tennessee. No use in shipping it all the way here just to ship it all the way back.

“If anyone can get her back to her original glory, you can,” I add. He sighs.

“Yes, I’m probably the only one who could, but I’ll be taking pictures of it upon arrival, Mr. Grey.” I get it, cover your ass.

“I wouldn’t be concerned,” I tell him. “I’ve seen it. It’s pretty sturdy, especially for its age.”

“Player piano?” he asks. I hear him typing into his computer.

“Yes,” I reply.

“You want that restored, too?”

“If you can,” I challenge him. “When it was operational, the timer on the motor was off so, it kept going off at the same time each night.”

“The infamous ‘haunting,’” he says. “It’s common with player pianos when they start to age.”

“Hence, my family calls it ‘Ichabod,’” I point out.

“Like Ichabod Crane?” he asks. “That’s the most original one that I’ve heard.”

I give him the tracking information with instructions to call me the moment Ichabod is in his studio. I end the call and gaze out the window of my office in the sky. For some reason, I immediately start thinking about death—not just death in general, my death. One day, I won’t be here. I’m here today… tomorrow, I may not be. Everybody looks at death like it’s a far-off thing, but it’s not. Time passes by before you know it. Just yesterday, I was dropping out of college and begging Dad to believe in me and to finance my dream. Today, I have people’s dreams in my hand.

What happens when I close my eyes for the last time? Do I believe in heaven or hell? Is there an afterlife? Does my consciousness just stop being once my heart stops beating? Is it true that Pops and Grandma Ruby are looking down on us right now measuring their successes and failures by how we turned out, or is it just something that the living convince themselves of to cope with the fact that their loved ones are gone?

I’ve been dealing with Dad and Uncle Herman and Pops’ and Grandma Ruby’s things, and Butterfly has been trying to help Harmony get all of Tina’s affairs in order. It’s making me think that even though we’re rolling in all this money, we haven’t made any provisions for our children should something happen to us. I jot a few things down to discuss with Al—trust funds, college funds, dowries… do people even do dowries anymore? Fuck if I know.

Butterfly and I will have this talk, but not today. Tina’s funeral is tomorrow, so it’s going to have to wait until after the weekend, maybe even after Thanksgiving… no, not that long. I sigh and push my hands through my hair.

“Andrea, can you tell Allen to come to my office as soon as possible?

*-*

“Allen, do you handle estate law?” I ask. He frowns.

“I dabble,” he says. “What I don’t know, I have excellent resources that I trust with my life.”

“I don’t have a will,” I say. “I never needed one before now.”

“What’s different now?” he asks. “Are you okay, Chris?”

“Yes, I’m fine,” I say, in an obvious tone. “I have a wife and kids now… and I’ve got a lot of shit… I’ve just been dealing with so much death in the past few months…” I thrust my hands into my hair. Al holds his hand up.

“I get it,” he says, his voice accommodating. “My advice, you and Jewel should work on this together. You’re going to have to come up with a list of your assets and then describe how you want them distributed.”

“A list of my assets,” I say incredulously. “You’re kidding, right?” I’m a fucking billionaire! I don’t even know what all my assets are!

“Let me talk to a friend of mine and see how we catalogue the assets of a billionaire. This could take time.” I nod.

“Let me know as soon as we can get it going,” I say.

I’m coming out of one of several meetings of the day when Andrea tells me that my brother-in-law is on line one.

My brother-in-law? Ethan?

I try not to trip over my feet running to my office to take the call. The very last thing I need right now after dealing with all this death, mortality, and estate disposal is to discover that something is wrong with my sister.

“Ethan! Is Mia okay?” I say without even offering a greeting.

“Yeah, man, she’s fine,” he says, his voice bemused. “Jesus, maybe I should call more often if contacting you prompts this kind of response. You obviously don’t hear from me enough.” I sigh heavily.

“That’s not it, Ethan,” I confess. “It’s not you at all. I’ve just been dealing with death a lot over the last few weeks and it’s getting to me.”

“You want to talk about it?” he asks concerned.

“I appreciate it, man, but not really. Every man at some point is faced with his own mortality and today, I’m just feeling… out of sorts, that’s all.”

“Well, I’m in the area having a late lunch. I was wondering if I could stop by and chew your ear for a minute.” Chew my ear? What problem does he have where he needs my help?

“Sure. Have you eaten already?” I ask.

“Nope. I was going to get something on the way, I guess.”

“Don’t bother. I haven’t eaten either. I’ll have the cafeteria whip up something from the deli.”

“Sounds good,” he says. “Be there in a minute.”

I call down to security to inform them that Ethan is on his way. With the last name Kavanaugh, they may forget that he’s family and shoot him on sight. I also have Andrea arrange for the deli to bring us something quick and satisfying.

I look down at the pictures of my family on my desk. My wife looking coyly over her shoulder at me and a separate shot of my two little angels. Who the fuck would have ever thought that Christian Grey would be a damn family man?

I walk over to the glass wall that held my attention earlier in the day when I was pondering my own mortality. I have a perfect view of Seattle from here. I can even see Escala not too far in the distance. Escala… closer to the office than the Mercer house. Why am I keeping that place? The market is kind of so-so right now, but that’s not an issue for me. I can’t for the life of me figure out why I’m keeping it. Artemis will have the playroom dismantled in a couple of weeks and unlike Butterfly, I don’t have any friends or charity cases that I would allow to crash in my penthouse. I really need to get that place set up to sell.

I do miss not having a helipad at my disposal, but when’s the last time I flew Charlie Tango? When we had to rescue Butterfly from that asshole. Years ago… I better get some flight time in before I lose my license.

A lot of my life was spent in that penthouse. Shit, if those walls could talk…

The subs…
The pedophile…
The first time I let a woman sleep in my bed… Butterfly.

I let her touch my chest… Jesus Christ, there’s something I could definitely never see happening.

I sigh heavily once again. So much has happened in that place—good and bad. I remember discovering that she was missing. I thought I would die without her, without knowing what had become of her. David was so fucking unstable and knowing that he and that fucker that I fired were the last people seen with her made my stomach churn. I’m getting lightheaded just thinking about it even though they’re both dead. I never thought I could love anybody in my whole life the way I love that woman, and the thought of losing her…

“Mr. Grey, Ethan Kavanaugh is here, and your lunch should be here momentarily.” Andrea’s voice through the intercom breaks my train of thought, thank God, and I turn away from the window and my inner musings about Escala and all that has blossomed from it.

“Show him in, please,” I say, walking to the door. Lunch… it’s nearly 3pm. Butterfly and my mom would have my neck for waiting this long.

“Thanks for seeing me, Christian,” Ethan says, extending his hand to me as he enters. I take his proffered hand.

“No problem, Ethan. What’s news?” I say, gesturing to one of the seats in front of my desk while taking the other.

“I promise it’s nothing bad. I didn’t mean to alarm you,” he says.

“I assure you, Ethan, it’s not you,” I say, settling into my seat. “There’s just been a lot going on and my mind is so preoccupied.” He examines me, waiting for me to continue. “I was a bachelor for a long time. I didn’t have to worry about anybody but me. Even my family was just my family’s concern—Mom was Dad’s concern, Dad was Mom’s concern, and even Elliot and Mia were my parents’ concern.” He raises a brow at me.

“Yeah, I know… I was an asshole,” I acknowledge. “But then Ana came along… and she got kidnapped, and she was my concern. Then she ran off to Montana, and she was my concern. Then we got married, and she was my concern. Then we had babies, and they were my concern. Then, I realized that things were my concern even though I didn’t want to admit it.

“Skip ahead, and my grandfather dies and my family falls apart. My mom goes through perimenopause and almost tries to kill herself. And Val! Val gets a goddamn tumor and turns the family completely upside down. For the love of God!”

“Um,” Ethan interrupts, “that’s quite a bit, I must say, Christian, but may I ask what brought this on?” I sigh.

“Butterfly and I are deeply involved in the recent passing of an old friend of the family,” I tell him. “Only one of her children were around for her transition—her adopted great-granddaughter—and her biological children are the most selfish, hateful group of people I’ve ever seen. Instead of being able to live the remainder of her days out in peace and die quietly, she spent damn-near up to her last day making arrangements to be sure that her other four bio-kids couldn’t come and pull the rug out from under her adopted child once she died—which is exactly what they tried to do. So, my wife and I are pretty much playing human shield while my security team is camped around the house making sure that these assholes don’t try anything.

“Of course, dealing with this along with the disposition of my grandfather’s estate has me thinking about my own mortality. Are my children going to behave this way when I’m gone? Will my wife have the support system she needs? My money makes Tina’s money look like a piggy bank—will my family behave this way when I die? I hope the fuck not, but right when you called, I had been discussing plans for my will.”

“Oooooohhh,” Ethan says in that knowing manner. “Well, that explains it. Listen, if this is a bad time, we can certainly talk later because this isn’t that urgent.”

“As long as we’re not talking about death, this is not a bad time,” I reply.

“Good, because we’re not talking about death.” He settles into his chair. “I was hoping you could help me find a way to approach your father about the wedding,” he says. I raise a brow.

“Oh?” I ask.

“Christian, I don’t know where the bills went or if they’ve all been paid, but one of them slipped through and came to the condo—the bakery. Those two ridiculously monstrous cakes that had to be cut with swords, and the other confections at the wedding—five fucking digits, man! For cake! That’s ridiculous. I absolutely shudder to think what he shelled out for this wedding, and I can’t fucking sleep at night. He’s got to let me reimburse him something or I’m not going to be able to live with myself.

“That dress—you saw that dress. Not another one like it in the world, I’m certain. Kitten’s dress probably cost more than somebody’s annual salary. We rented a theater with red carpet service and multiple photo booths. Your mom hired belly-dancers—even though they didn’t make it. The walls were covered in flowers and there were flower cannons! We flew to the airport in a luxury helicopter. You own one of those. You’re aware of that expense.”

I’m not sure why they didn’t employ Charlie Tango in the first place. It could have saved them a penny or three. I certainly wouldn’t have charged them to use her.

“I did the research on just the stuff that I know we had at our wedding and I just stopped at a million dollars. My brain is going to explode if he doesn’t allow me to help him, and I don’t know how to tell him. The bakery bill came to our house. How do you have nearly $20,000 worth of confections and you didn’t pay for it yet?”

“I’m willing to bet that was an error,” I tell him, “not the price, but the billing. No bakery in the world is going to allow you to have $20,000 worth of confections and not pay for it.”

“Well, mistake or not, he’s got to let me help him. I feel like shit, I can’t take this…”

As he’s lamenting about the extravagance of his wedding and the fact that he hasn’t contributed anything to it, Andrea signals us that lunch has arrived. I instruct her to have it set up at the table in my office.

“Come on,” I say, putting my hand on Ethan’s shoulder. “Let’s get some food and we’ll find a way to get my dad to accept the money. Your best approach is probably just what you said to me. If a man can’t understand anything else, he can understand the effects of emasculating another man, and I don’t think my father was trying to do that to you. He just wanted Mia to have what she wanted. That is his only daughter, you know…”

I listen to Ethan talking about respect and not wanting to steal Dad’s thunder and I immediately think of Ray. He never said anything to me about having a problem with my paying for everything. I don’t remember him paying for anything if he did, but I chalked it up to him wanting his baby girl to have a fairy tale wedding. She did, too, and I didn’t bother looking at price tags… not that I had to. Ethan, on the other hand, just discovered that the cakes and desserts at his wedding cost more than most people’s entire ceremony.

We enjoy a lunch of deli sandwiches, hand-made coleslaw, and antipasto while I give him ideas on how to approach Dad about the cost of the wedding. Dad’s going to give him some pushback, I warn, but he’s going to have to be diligent in letting him know that this is going to haunt him for the rest of his life if Dad doesn’t allow him to make some kind of significant contribution to reimbursing him for this wedding. Word choice is very important to Carrick Grey, Esquire, and I help Ethan pick the right ones to say to him.

Over an hour later, Ethan and I are still chewing the fat over the extravagance of the wedding—all the bells and whistles that he never wanted or expected, and how happy he was that Butterfly and I were the pinch hitters when their soloist went MIA. Mom and Mia tracked her ass all the way back to California and launched a campaign of breach of contract and claims of unprofessionalism that was so intense, she begged them to stop. From word of mouth, wedding planners, social media, women’s groups, even a couple of night clubs here and there—every engagement she had booked since she stood Mia up backed out on her and she couldn’t get another one. Of course, she refunded Dad’s money, but the damage was already done and in two short months, she’s trying to fight her way back from professional ruin.

My mind briefly drifts back to my wife and my mortality throughout the course of the conversation—how, I don’t know, but I suddenly feel the need to talk to her. Not wanting to shut Ethan down, I pretend that a text came in and excuse myself from the conversation just for a few moments to fire one off to my wife:

**I love you. There’s nothing wrong. I’m just thinking about you. **


ANASTASIA

“Do you know I’ve never been to a funeral in my whole life, ever?” Harmony says as she stands gazing into her closet. “I don’t even know what to wear.”

“Black is traditional,” Courtney says, putting her hand on Harmony’s shoulder. “It’s… the color of mourning.” Harmony nods and studies her wardrobe before picking a modest black midi-dress.

“Perfect,” Courtney says with a nod. Harmony returns the nod and lays the dress on the bed next to where I’m sitting.

“I don’t know where I would be without you guys,” she says smoothing the dress on the bed. “Nobody has been to the house—no one, except her horrible offspring and that was only when they had to be thrown out.”

“None of your mom’s friends have stopped by?” Courtney asks. Harmony shakes her head.

“Most of Mom’s friends have passed away, but I’ve gotten a few calls offering condolences and help. They’re good people but being alone…” she trails off.

“You’re not alone,” I say. “You’ve got us. We’re just a phone call away even if you just don’t want to be alone.”

“Yeah,” Courtney says, putting her arm around Harmony. “And I’m a fem, so we can do nails and shit.” Harmony laughs half-heartedly, then turns to Courtney and begins to weep. Courtney embraces her and allows Harmony to cry on her shoulder.

Mrs. Grey?” I hear a voice in my earpiece. I step outside to allow Harmony to have her cry out.

“Yes?” I reply into my mouthpiece.

“There’s someone here to see Ms. Franklin.” I sigh. Didn’t we tell these fuckers not to come back?

“I’ll be right down,” I say with a huff. I come down the stairs to find a much younger man standing in the foyer with his hands in his pocket. Not younger than me, but younger than the siblings—early forties maybe.

“May I help you?” I ask. He turns around and rolls his eyes.

“Harmony, you’ve changed considerably,” he hisses sarcastically.

“It’s clear that I’m not Harmony,” I retort. “May I ask who you are.”

“No, you may not because I’m not explaining myself to the help!” he snaps and moves to push past me. I move in front of him to block his path and two of my guards move in as well.

“You’re right, you’re not, because I’m not the fucking help,” I seethe. “They are the help. I am their boss. State your business or leave.” I don’t know who these assholes think they are, but I’m tired of these fucking entitled ass bastards showing up and thinking they’re going to bully their way in here.

“Hmm,” he says unimpressed, “one of my daughter’s little friends, are you? Well, I’m not taking orders from you, either.” I raise a brow. Daughter…

“Oh, you’re the bio-dad,” I stay flatly. “I’ve heard about you, too. Windsor…” I gesture to my butler without breaking my gaze with Bio-dad.

“Yes, Mrs. Grey?” I hear over my shoulder.

“Inform Harmony that her father is here and see if she wishes to see him,” I instruct.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says, and I hear him ascending the stairs.

“Who the fuck are you?” Bio-dad asks impatiently.

“You first,” I say without moving.

“You know who I am,” he retorts. “I’m Harmony’s father.”

“Well, I’m Harmony’s friend,” I reply, folding my arms. He scoffs.

“And you can’t stop me from seeing my daughter any more than the help can,” he says trying to move past me again, but I step in front of him once more.

“Oh, yes I can,” I say to his face, “and you’re going to stay right there until Harmony comes down the stairs or until she tells us to throw you the fuck out.”

His brow rises, and he examines me from head to toe. His gaze makes me feel fucking dirty and I try hard not to react. I know this asshole is checking me out, and I want to plant my stiletto boot right in his balls.

“Well, aren’t you the fiery little thing?” he says suggestively, his tongue caressing the corner of his mouth.

And my stomach churns.

“Nonetheless, I’m going to see my daughter, so step aside.” Knowing that I’m going to step in front of him when he tries to move past me, he uses his arm in an attempt to push me out of the way.

Thank you!

I quickly use my momentum to bend his wrist perpendicular to his hand and his forearm bent at the elbow. It’s a fast move, not a power move, so he’s in a submission position before he knows what happens. He’s bent at the waist as well as one of his knees in an attempt to take the pressure off his arm and wrist, cursing the entire time. Both my guards didn’t have a chance to move and they’re standing there looking at me in awe.

“Sonofabitch!” he hisses through his teeth.

“Don’t let the nice bod and the small frame fool you Jack I’ll break your fucking arm,” I say all in one breath to his agony-ridden face.

“Let go of my damn arm, you fucking cunt!” he threatens.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” I scold. “That’s no way to speak to someone who can snap your wrist in three seconds.” I put a little more pressure on his arm and wrist and he yowls. “Say you’re sorry.”

“I ain’t sayin’ shit!” he hisses.

“I can stand like this for a really long time,” I warn, “and you’re gonna be in a whole lotta pain when I finally let go.”

“I know how you got me here,” he warns, “and when you let me go, I’m gonna beat your little ass!”

“So aggressive!” I taunt. “I could release you right now and you still wouldn’t be able to ‘beat my little ass,’ not only because I’d beat yours first, but also because your arm will be at 65% if you’re lucky, not to mention all these men in black surrounding you would beat you senseless before you had a chance to sneeze!” I apply pressure to his elbow bending his wrist further and causing him to yelp in pain.

“Say you’re sorry, you slimy asshole!” I hiss.

“Father dearest,” I hear Harmony’s voice behind me. “I see you’ve met my friend, Anastasia. Ana, the loser that you have cowering on the ground probably slobbering all over himself is my father, Damien.”

“We’ve met!” I growl at Damien. “I’m waiting for an apology.”

“He’ll let you break his arm before he does that,” she says. “Dear Old Dad can take a beating. It won’t be the first time.” I raise a brow at him.

“Taken a few beatings in your life, have you?” I say to Damien. He smiles—or I should say he grimaces—through his pain.

“From prettier men than you,” he taunts. Harmony’s right. He’s had his ass beaten so many times that he probably gets off on the pain. This ain’t shit to him.

“You’re not even worth the ruined manicure,” I say. I give his bent knee a good, solid kick with my stiletto and he crumbles to the floor. At the same time, I give his wrist one final quick twist until I hear it pop and he yelps again. It’s not broken, but it’s going to hurt like hell.

“Why are you here?” Harmony asks Damien.

“Are you going to let her treat me that way?” he barks, still holding his wrist. “Your own flesh and blood?”

“Are you serious?” Harmony asks in disbelief. “Is he serious?” she says turning to me. “I can’t believe you have the audacity to show up at my mother’s house. What the hell do you want?” His brow furrows.

“She’s not your mother,” he says, firmly. “She’s my grandmother. Your great-grandmother.”

“You’re right about one thing,” Harmony says, her voice shaking with tears. “She’s not my mother—because she’s gone now, but she was my mother. You made that possible, and now you can’t take it back. Now, what the hell do you want?”

“I want to make sure you’re okay,” he says, trying to sound contrite and still bending and flexing his aching wrist.

“The hell you do!” Harmony snaps, still weeping. “You all but dropped me off on her doorstep 18 years ago, then in a drunken stupor, you let me know that you were my sperm donor—had me wondering for years why you and my birth mom didn’t want me. And now you’re coming here declaring that my mother is not my mother? Get ‘im the fuck out of my house!” she declares as she dashes towards the stairs.

“You heard her,” I say to my staff. “Get him out of here.” They close in on Damien like an escaped fugitive.

“Harmony!” he calls out. “There’s someone after me! Bad guys! I need money… they’ll hurt me if I don’t get it, maybe even kill me!”

“I don’t care, father!” she calls back.You made that bed, now you lie in it!” With those words, she continues her flight up the stairs. Damien looks at me as security proceeds to drag him to the door.

“I just said that someone was out to kill me!” he protests. “And none of you care?”

“A minute ago, you told me that you were going to beat my ass,” I say folding my arms. “I don’t care if they’re on the other side of the door waiting for you.”

Damien, like Theo, was basically dragged from the house and tossed onto the porch, though not with as much force. I turn to Filmore.

“Don’t allow anybody else in this house until further notice,” I tell him. “If it’s not me, my husband, Courtney, Carl, or one of our staff, they don’t get past that front door. Nobody gets entrance into this house unless Harmony specifically says that they can come in before they cross the threshold. Am I clear?” I’m seething. I am tired of these people.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says in a formal voice.

I go inside and take a deep breath, desperate at this point for something to punch. The funeral is tomorrow, and I know we’re going to have to tolerate performances from people who didn’t even bother to see Tina during her last days. Just as I’m trying to regroup from my anger, my cell phone rings. It’s Ace.

“Hello?” I answer, more flustered than I want.

Ana? This is Amber. I hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time.” I look at my watch. Our appointment isn’t for another hour.

“No… no, it’s fine. I’ll be headed in that direction in a moment. Is everything okay?”

That’s why I’m calling,” she says. “Regrettably, the doctor won’t be able to see you this afternoon due to unforeseen circumstances. I’d be happy to schedule for the first available opening next week.” I sigh. He probably couldn’t help me today anyway—we’d just end up fighting again.

“No, that’s okay, Amber. I’ve got a lot going on today anyway. I’ll just see him at our standing appointment next week.”

“Okay,” she says sweetly. “I’ll let him know. I’m sorry for the short notice…”

“Please, don’t worry about it, Amber. Thanks for calling me. You have a good weekend.”

“You, too,” she says before ending the call. It’s just as well. I seriously need to focus on Harmony today. I ascend the stairs to see how she’s doing. I hear crying coming from Tina’s room. I stick my head in and see Harmony face down on her mother’s bed weeping, Courtney gently stroking her back to comfort her. I step away from the door and leave them to it.

I need a workout room—fast, but of course, there’s nothing nearby unless I’m willing to go home and dear Tina has nothing like that in her home… not to mention that I can’t very well work out in stiletto boots. I head to the kitchen.

“What’s for dinner?” I ask a very startled staff.

“We… haven’t started yet. It’s still early. Are you hungry, ma’am?”

“Please, call me Ana,” I lament. “I can’t take ‘ma’am’ today.” They look at each other, then back at me.

“Very well, Ana,” one of them says. “Can we get you something? Are you hungry? A sandwich perhaps?”

“No, no I’m not hungry. I just need something to do,” I admit. Puzzled faces fill the room once more. “Can I please help with dinner?”

“Oh… no, that won’t be necessary…”

“I know it’s not necessary, but I desperately need to do something,” I all but beg. “Please, let me help with dinner.” There’s momentary silence again.

“Forgive my asking, but what can you cook, ma… Ana?” the same woman asks.

“I can cook anything,” I say. “What’s for dinner?”

“Beef bourguignon with whipped potatoes,” she says. “It’s one of Ms. Harmony’s favorites… we thought she might need some comfort food today, assuming she can be coaxed to eat.” I nod.

“She’ll be coaxed,” I say, “and beef bourguignon is easy enough.”

“Yes, ma’am… Ana, it is, but it’s too early to start dinner.” Goddammit! Is there some silver I can polish or something?

“We were going to start desserts,” one of the other staff says. “We want to make sure that Harmony’s favorites are at the repast tomorrow… so…” The other staff members glare at the one speaking, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that they’re uncomfortable with me in the kitchen. I nod.

“Okay,” I say, unable to hide the defeat in my voice. “I’ll get out of your way, then.” I’m going to have to excuse myself from this house for a little while to let off some steam or I’m going to lose my mind.

“Ana,” the first woman says to me, and I turn back just as I reach the door. “There are a lot of desserts. I’m sure there’s something that you can help us with.”

I try to hide my visible sigh of relief. I need to be useful in the worst way… or hurt something.

“If I won’t be underfoot,” I say, accepting the full-frontal apron that she’s handing me.

“I’m Pat,” she says with a smile. “That’s Ellen and that’s Lisa. Our pastry specialist over there is Derek.”

“It’s nice to meet you all,” I say. “What can I do?”

“Do you mind working on the tarts?” she asks. “They’ll need to be fresh, but the fruit needs to be chopped.”

“Tarts, yes, I can do that.” I haven’t had tarts in so long, but I remember those delicious confections that Val used to buy from this bakery near campus. I wonder if that place is still there…

Remembering the delicious tarts from my college days, I set to the task of slicing the fruit in various configurations to fit inside of a tart—strawberries, blackberries, kiwi, raspberries, and blueberries; slices, halves, and quarters…

“You’ve done this before,” Pat says after I’d been slicing for a while.

“Uh, no, not tarts. I just remember the delicious tarts from the bakery in college.”

“She’s good,” Derek says, looking over Pat’s shoulder at the fruit. It’s just fruit, guys. “Come on over here. You can help me make the cookie crust.”

“Now that’s my area of expertise,” I laugh.

“What? Cookies?” he asks. I nod. “You bake cookies?”

“Well, not all year round, but on Christmas Eve, I make a horde of them,” I admit.

“A horde?” he says. “That sounds like a lot.”

“Twenty to twenty-five dozen,” I say. His eyes widen.

“What do you do with all those cookies?” he asks.

“Well, the first year that I made them, my husband tried to eat them all himself,” I laugh. “But I eat some and I give some away,” I say.

“What kind of cookies do you make?” he asks, spreading flour on the counter.

“Um, I make gingerbread, butter cookies, sugar cookies, lemon bars, and chocolate-chip-pecan. My husband likes the chocolate chip pecan the best.”

“All from scratch?” he asks. I nod. “Then this will be right up your alley. The tart crust is basically sugar cookie dough. We roll it out and cook it a little thicker in large muffin pans…” He hands me the rolling pin and shows me how to roll the dough at just the right thickness. In no time, we’re putting our sugar cookie crust in the oven and working on the whipped cream cheese filling.

The staff starts to lighten up around me a bit, and soon, we’re swapping recipes and talking about Christmas and Thanksgiving. I realize that Harmony will have no one to spend those days with and make a note to myself to offer to have her spend them with us. The kitchen smells of divine chocolate and fudge and cookies and confections, and the smell brings Harmony out of her room.

“It… smells really good,” she says, her voice soft. I can tell she had been sleeping.

“We were just making desserts,” Lisa says. “Your favorites.”

“Did you make… do you have any of the snickerdoodle sandwiches?” she says, her voice sounding like a little girl.

“Of course, we do,” Pat says, removing the cover from the plate of sandwich cookies—snickerdoodles with a cream filling.

“Are they for tomorrow?” she asks.

“Well, they were,” Pat admits. Harmony takes a bite of one of the cookies.

“Mmm,” she groans. “Not these… these are all for me.” The staff laughs, me included. Courtney comes into the kitchen, putting her phone in her pocket.

“Just checking in at the Center,” she says. “Of course, they’re fine without us, but you know I have to check.”

Courtney’s transformation still amazes me. I can’t believe the person that she is now compared to the person that she used to be. I really wish Addie could see her now. This is everything that Addie was trying to accomplish, but she may never know because the wounds on both sides are just too deep.

“Court,” Harmony says while picking at a snickerdoodle sandwich cookie. “I’m going to take advantage of my compromised state of being right now and say something to you.” She never raises her eyes and her voice is very soft.

“My mom is gone. I love her very much and I don’t know if my heart will ever stop breaking, but she’s gone now and she’s not coming back. I would give anything—and I mean anything—just to hug and kiss her one more time, but I can’t. We only get one go-round on this earth, Court, and that’s it. You need to talk to your grandparents. They’re angry, but I can guarantee they still love you. There, I’ve said it… I won’t hound you about it.”

Was she reading my damn mind?

Courtney swallows hard but doesn’t say anything and now I have two mute and hurting women on my hands.

“Okay, where’s the liquor cabinet?” I ask. Harmony raises her head.

“It’s only four in the afternoon!” she declares.

“And I can’t stay,” Courtney protests. “I’ve got to get home and spend some time with Vick tonight or I’ll be looking for another girlfriend.”

“It’s early enough for us to have a drink or two without…” I look at Courtney, “… affecting our drive home and…” I look at Harmony, “… not getting snockered because we have a big day tomorrow.”

Harmony’s shoulders fall, and I know I’ve hit the tender spot. Bring on the alcohol! I feel my phone buzzing against my hip and retrieve it from my pocket. It’s Christian.

**I love you. There’s nothing wrong. I’m just thinking about you. **

I smile and play Harmony’s words over in my head. You only get one go-round on this earth… and that’s it. I get to go-round with Christian.

**I love you, too. **

“We got some Baileys in this place?” I declare.


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

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

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

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 65—The Glue That Holds Family Together

Please say a prayer for my friend Yanique. She lost her mom recently after a long and diligent struggle with her health. Send her positive vibes, love, and light. I know that is a very rough time for her.

Tiny little chat here…

My last post was November 30—that was 16 days ago. In that time, I’ve gotten about 35 or so emails and messages that were not automated. Only one of them asked, “Are you okay?” There were other emails and comments (two or three) that had the tone, “How are you doing? How are things going?” I have seen them. Forgive me if I haven’t responded yet.  

The rest of them were all, “Where’s the next chapter?” “When are you going to post the next chapter?” “Why are you making us wait so long for a chapter?” One such comment was immediately after the last chapter was posted. I’m sure I don’t need to elaborate on how that made me feel.

I’ve probably said this 99 times, and I’ll probably say it 99 more until and if I ever decide to just stop writing. I appreciate that people are so invested in my stories more than you all know, but please stop treating me like “just the next chapter.” I’m well aware that not everybody does that, so you all know that I’m not talking to everyone—but those of you who do, you know who you are. For the record, when you do that, it just causes me to lose my motivation and I wait longer to post.

I may come in on a Tuesday night and say, “Hey, I’ve got a little energy. Let me edit a chapter,” then wake up on Wednesday morning, do my tags, upload it, make my links, and get it posted before I start working. If, however, I come in to “Hurry up with the chapter,” I’ll just go do something else. I don’t want anybody to feel like they can say, “Chop, chop! Give us a chapter,” and I’m going to “chop chop.” It has the opposite effect—it slows me right down. Please don’t “out” yourself by saying, “I didn’t mean it that way” because please don’t be offended, but I’m not going to respond if you do. You’re just going to be “outing” yourself. Just put a pin in this and realize that this is how it makes me feel.

So, for those who asked, yes, I’m okay. I’m doing fine, thank you so much for asking. All is well. I’ve been very busy and I’m dealing with a little seasonal depression, but the winter solstice is five days away and then it’s only up from there, so that’s a good thing. Working from home has been fabulous, my beloved Falala, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I had to go into the office for a day last week and I’ll have to go in a few days in the future, but for the most part, I love, love, love being at home.

Now, here’s the next chapter. Each subsequent chapter will be posted as time and opportunity—and motivation—allows. Thank you for your continued support.

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 65—The Glue That Holds The Family Together

CHRISTIAN

“Dad had a T-Bird? A fucking ’64 T-Bird? And you gave it to Burt?” Freeman roars through the phone.

Mom gave me the “all clear” this morning, so I came over to Dad’s house to meet with Uncle Herman and see how much of the items from the storage units had been shipped to family. Smalls located the model car collection that was willed to Dad and warned that he would need more than a display case for it before he shipped it out on Monday. Apparently, Dad already knew that and has had Elliot working on redoing another whole room in the house to prepare for their arrival. Another whole room… I have got to see this collection.

Other various items are making their way to different parts of the country. Herman wanted Grandma Ruby’s Waterford crystal and her wedding dress since no one laid claim to them. He said that the younger family members couldn’t see the value in the crystal and that grandma’s wedding dress just sitting in a storage facility somewhere didn’t seem right to him. So, those things are on the way to Washington along with Dad’s model car collection, and my Apollo will be shipped to a restorer on the east coast.

Lanie sent me a picture of Burtie smiling brightly and posing with his boyfriend—Leo’s cousin—next to his new, incredibly pimped out 1964 T-Bird with the ocean in the background. These are apparently Burtie’s engagement photos as he and his new love plan to tie the knot after Burtie’s surgeries. He insisted on waiting because he doesn’t want his scars to be in the wedding pictures.

Word got to Freeman because Lanie posted the pictures on social media. So, either Freeman’s trolling her page, or someone told him about it, and now he’s on Uncle Herman’s speaker phone stomping like Rumpelstiltskin.

“No, Freeman,” Uncle Herman says calmly. “I had a fucking ’64 T-Bird and I gave it to Burt.”

“That was Dad’s car! I’m his son, too, and you can’t pretend I don’t exist no matter how much you want to. As his son, I’m entitled to his possessions just like you are, and I want my share of that stuff!” Freeman demands. A satisfied look comes over Herman’s face.

“Didn’t you hear what Wu said at the reading?” Uncle Herman says. “Dad left all of this stuff to me to distribute as I see fit. You don’t have a share.”

He left you whatever was in that safe deposit box, not what he had in storage!”

“And the key and the instructions to the storage bin were in the safe deposit box. So, dear brother, that means that all that stuff belongs to me, too. Is that why you tried to keep me from the reading of the will? Because you knew that Dad left the disposition of his estate to me? Is that why you wanted to get him back to Detroit before he died—so that you could coerce him to change trustees? Maybe give you power of attorney so you could sell his house before he even died? You tried to screw me and Rick and it backfired on you. How does that feel?”

“You’re just as paranoid as he is,” Freeman shoots. “You can’t prove I did anything!”

“I don’t have to,” Uncle Herman replies. “It still backfired. You lied and you schemed and you went behind our backs and it backfired—in an even bigger way than you think because you’re even cheating yourself out of $500,000 that belongs to you because you’re too busy trying to hurt somebody else. Rick doesn’t need that money, and he proved it to you by giving me and Stan $750,000 each while you watched! Then he told us that we could keep whatever is left of our share when you’re done with your shenanigans. Who’s being hurt here, because it’s certainly not any of us!”

“You’re not going to get away with this, Herman…” Freeman begins.

“Stop right there,” Uncle Herman interrupts. “Before you start getting one of your stupid, dark ideas, don’t forget—if you protest the will, you lose your rights to everything, including that dilapidated house you inherited.” Freeman is silent for several moments.

“The joke’s going to be on you,” he says, finally. “I’m selling this house, and I’m using the money to rebuild Dad’s, and when I’m done, it’s going to be worth far more than those trinkets you all are playing with!”

“Trinkets!” Uncle Herman laughs. “That trinket that I gave your son has been rebuilt, refurbished and it’s currently worth nearly $100,000. How’s that for a trinket?”

Freeman is silent again.

“And you’re selling your house—a perfectly good house with a very high market value so that you can try to repair a money pit in the middle of Detroit where the market values are dropping and the joke’s on us? Didn’t you buy that house while you and Nell were married? That makes it community property. What does she say about that?”

“She moved out. She has no claim to this house anymore!” Not that simple, Freem. “Besides, I’m signing the divorce papers. I’m giving that witch what she wants and getting her out of my hair once and for all.”

“You mean that witch that bore your children and dealt with your bullshit for more than twenty years? Is that the witch you’re speaking of?” Herman retorts.

“They’re all dead to me!” he snaps. “Burt’s pressing charges on me for a little tough love and his pathetic, weak mother is falling in step right behind him. And Nollie—or whatever the fuck her name is now—yeah, it can easily be said that she’s to blame for this entire fucking fiasco!”

“Kind of like Rick has been the root of all evil for all of your problems, but never you, right, Freem?

“You were never to blame for smashing Burt’s face in the middle of a crowded airport.

“You were never to blame for alienating the entire family from Rick because you were pissed that he married a rich woman.

“You were never to blame for cheating on your faithful wife who stuck with you through all of your bullshit and garbage until she just couldn’t take it anymore.

“You were never to blame for treating your daughter like the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your life from the day she was born!

“You were never to blame for making Dad feel like a burden from the day he got sick and couldn’t take care of himself anymore. A week before he died, he pretty much called you a selfish bastard, and he repeated those words from the grave in his will. His final thought for you was that he knew that he never meant anything to you, that you were pretty much waiting for him to die so that you could get that house and you didn’t feel a bit of conviction about it.

“You’re rotten through and through, Freeman, and you don’t have the conscience to feel bad about it. You’re going to die old, lonely, and miserable, and you’re not entitled to a goddamn thing but that house that you got. There’s no hope for you! I wash my hands of you! So, go rebuild your money pit and leave us the fuck alone. Don’t call me again!” Uncle Herman swipes the screen and ends the call and sighs heavily.

“I want to feel bad about it, but I don’t,” Uncle Herman says to me and Dad. “There’s really no hope for him! That man is like Satan, walking through the earth and ‘seeking whom he may devour.’”

“He’s adamant about that house,” Dad says. “He’s an unfeeling, delusional asshole, but he’s not an idiot. You all stayed in Detroit and the surrounding areas all these years. Before you and Dad moved out here, you were there. It’s no secret that Detroit is deteriorating. Schools are closing, families are leaving, neighborhoods are falling to ruin… he has to know that house is worthless! So, what is it? What’s so important?”

“He thought all Dad had was that house. Hell, we all thought all Dad had was that house! He was just the only one who was willing to risk everything to get it—including Dad!”

“There’s got to be something else more important about that house,” Dad says. “It can’t just be sentimental value.”

“He thinks it’s worth something,” I say with a shrug. “Maybe there’s gold in the basement.”

“Well, I hope he finds it,” Uncle Herman says waving his hands. “Jesus, I don’t want to hear from him ever again. I can’t take this anymore.”

“We may have a bigger problem, Uncle Herman,” I say. “He’ll more than likely head down to the storage units and cause some trouble. You might want to call the management office and give them a heads up. I’m going to call my guy and have him ship everything that’s been claimed to those members of the family who claimed it and ship everything else here. We need to wrap this up and everything needs to be on the road no later than Friday. That’s still two days and enough time for him to wreak havoc.”

“Over my dead body,” Uncle Herman says while dialing a number on his phone. I also pull out my cell phone. I call Smalls and explain what’s going on and what needs to be done. That operation needs to be shut down and on the move from Detroit to Seattle in two days.

“That’s impossible, sir,” Smalls declares. “We don’t have the resources here to ship this stuff across the country in two days. It took longer than that just to get a company to secure those cars. And it took even longer to get them prepared to be shipped to you. The way that it was packed in these facilities, it was packed to be stored—not to be shipped. That’s going to take time and care unless you want these things to be damaged when they arrive, and do you want anybody but Grey Shipping to transport these items? Antique furniture? Fragile glassware? Keepsakes? Quite candidly, sir, I don’t want to be held responsible for a botched-up job and you and your family receiving a bunch of pretty pieces of things that obviously have some pretty significant sentimental value.” I sigh heavily.

“Well, what do you suggest, Smalls?” I say, almost through my teeth.

“Well, Mr. Grey, shipping these things piece by piece isn’t a really difficult task, but shipping fragile and valuable items all in bulk, that’s a little out of my realm. I know it’ll take time, but I’d need to consult the experts on the best way to proceed.” I roll my eyes. Was I naïve for thinking that he would do that in the first place?

The truth is that shipping the items quickly isn’t necessarily the priority. Keeping Freeman away from the items is what’s most important. I put Smalls on hold and conference Alex into the call.

“Welch, I have Smalls on the line, the team leader over the project in Detroit. Smalls, how many units do we have out there again?”

Four,” he replies.

“Welch, my uncle in Detroit has gotten wind that my grandfather’s things are being divvied out to the family and he has made it clear that he ‘wants his share.’ We both know that he’s an unreasonable, delusional hothead and very unpredictable. I think you can see where I’m going with this.”

“Yes, sir,” Alex replies.

“So, we need to get a detail out there—something like five guys that can work shifts, more at night than during the daytime. The management team has already been informed that Freeman is to have no access to the units, so that pretty much takes care of business hours even though I would want at least one guy out there during the day just to keep the peace and allow the team to do their job…”

Hm,” Alex says into the phone. Hm? What’s the hm?

“Something I’m missing, Mr. Welch?” I ask.

“Well, no, sir. It’s just that the team is on a few different projects right now, including securing the Franklin mansion. We’re just spread kind of thin at the moment.”

I’m not hearing that. Did I just hear that? Did I just hear my head of security tell me that we don’t have the staff to do something that I need done? I have a large force of elite motherfuckers that rivals the CIA. In fact, some of them came from the CIA—and this fucker is insinuating that I don’t have the security staff to do what I need? We had a guy just sitting at Pops’ house while I was on my honeymoon! I own several security companies! And this fucker is telling me that the staff is “spread kind of thin” right after this other fucker is complaining about shipping four storage units—and not even four anymore—full of stuff from Detroit to Seattle when I control shipping modes on land, at sea, and in the air?

Has married life made me a pussy… or just made me look like one?

“Mr. Grey?” My pondering has caused me to fall silent.

“Okay, so here’s the thing,” I say, rubbing my brow and trying to keep my anger in check. “I am a fucking billionaire, so I’m not very accustomed to the word ‘no.’ Today, I have effectively heard it twice from two different people in my employ…”

“I didn’t say ‘no,’ sir…”

“Are you interrupting me?” I ask whoever it was that dared to speak. The line falls silent. “Now, as I was saying, in just the past few minutes, I have grown fucking tired of hearing what we can’t fucking do, no matter how you try to phrase it. I have an entire shipping department that sends things worldwide—including foodstuffs to third world countries—and my guy in Detroit is telling me that he can’t get my grandfather’s belongings here in a timely manner without busting them all to pieces. So, to alleviate the possibility of my crazy ass uncle coming down to the storage facility and starting any shit while we’re trying to sort this out, I ask for a security detail to be dispatched to the location in case he starts feeling froggy and now, my head of security is telling me how thinly spread they are even though in addition to being able to send a banana to Antarctica and have it arrive intact, I own more security subsidiaries across the country than I can count. Money can do just about anything these days except bring the dead back to life and I’m richer than Midas. So, right now, I need the two of you to act like you have an endless money pot and fix these fucking problems!

“Yes, sir,” they say almost simultaneously. I end the call without another word and thrust my hand into my hair. I’m asking for shit to be shipped and I’m asking for a security detail. How hard can this fucking be?

I turn around to see my father and uncle staring at me.

“It’s not all that important, Christian,” Uncle Herman says. “I’ve talked to the management, and Freeman won’t get off the lot with anything.”

“There’s a couple of problems with that thinking,” I tell him. “The storage facility may be private property, but anybody can get in there—wire cutters, climb a fence, whatever. The management team aren’t going to be there 24/7 and quite frankly, neither are my guys. Freeman is already irrational and delusional. He’s harassed me to the point of having to get a restraining order and he’s beaten his son to the degree that he needs plastic surgery. I don’t put it past him for a second that he’ll go down there and bust in every door until he finds Pops’ stuff, or that he’ll find where they’re working and just start breaking Pops’ shit for the hell of it, or worse yet, hurt one of my guys. Can you guarantee me that he won’t do that?” I ask.

Uncle Herman just looks at me for a few moments. Freeman started a fight with and assaulted my father in his own house, then provoked me to the point of nearly choking him to death. Then he came back with the police and said that we started the fight. He’s a loose fucking cannon and right now, nobody’s there to keep him in check.

“No, son,” Uncle Herman says. “I can’t guarantee that.”

“I didn’t expect you would, but here’s the bigger issue. I run an international company with nearly bottomless resources. If I ask for fresh snow from the highest peak of Mt. Everest, intact and on my desk, I expect to get it—however they have to get it to me, but that’s not what I’m asking for. I’m asking for items—and yes, a lot of items and some of them very fragile—to be shipped across the country as soon as possible and for a security team to be present at the storage facility to make sure everything runs smoothly. Yet, twice in the last few minutes, I have the two HMIC’s telling me what they can’t do. I’m going to assume that they conveniently forgot who they were speaking to, and that they’ll have a game plan for me by the end of business.”

Uncle Herman and Dad look at each other and then back at me.

“You’re the boss,” Uncle Herman says. “I just don’t want you putting yourself or your company out for this.”

“Pops’ preserved all that stuff for his family,” I begin. “I know that he intended for Freeman to have some of it, but if Freeman had his way, he’d sell everything and run off with the money! This way, Pops’ legacy is being spread among all of his children, his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren. The jewelry that you gave me for my wife— Butterfly cried when I gave her those things! And they will most likely one day end up in my daughter’s hands. How do you think Pops’ and Grandma Ruby feel looking down on that right now?” Herman smiles a warm smile.

“Pretty damn good,” he says contentedly. I nod.

“Damn straight! So, if the one selfish bastard who would ruin it for the whole family is the one person that gets cut out of the process, I can live with that, and I’m sure that my grandparents understand. Now, these people that I have in charge of these things are getting paid well enough to lick their wounds later, and if they want to keep getting paid those handsome salaries, they’ll stop dragging their asses, kill the excuses, and find a way to make this happen. So, don’t worry about it one more moment. The only thing you should be concerned about is who gets what and then we’ll make sure that it gets to be where it needs to be.”

“Like I said,” Uncle Herman says, still smiling, “You’re the boss… speaking of which, Ana emailed me about Mom’s wardrobe.” My brow furrows.

“Her wardrobe?” I ask. He nods.

“Yeah. I noticed that Ana wasn’t on the mailing list for Mom and Dad’s things. I thought it might have been an oversight, so I asked for her email address and sent her this list. I hope I didn’t overstep…”

“Oh, no, no, not at all, Uncle Herman. It actually was an oversight on my part. I didn’t even think to add my wife to the list. You know, the whole ‘we have everything we need thing,’” I excuse. I hope Butterfly won’t be too warm with me for not adding her to the list. It really was an accident. “So, what’s this about the wardrobe?”

“Apparently, your wife is a vintage clothing connoisseur,” my uncle says. “Mom’s heyday was the fifties and sixties, and even though she bought new things in the later decades, she kept all of her clothes and had many of them preserved in cedar chests and things like that. Georgie thought to send some pictures with the email of some of Mom’s things. I wouldn’t have thought the kids would be interested in any of those things, but your wife went nuts! As long as I get Mom’s wedding dress, I’ve agreed to send everything else to Ana. She’s going to keep what she wants and consign the rest with the proceeds going to Helping Hands.”

Butterfly in true vintage Lindy-bop dresses. I’m having a separate conversation with Greystone right now to keep him in check.

“Oh, yes, Butterfly loves that era of clothing. Her closet at her condo is nothing but vintage replicas. She’s going to have a field day with this. Thanks, Uncle Herman.” He smiles.

“A very small token, Christian,” he says. “If we didn’t have you, I have no idea how we’d get through this.”

“It’s the very least I could do,” I say


ANASTASIA

Marilyn may not want to discuss her situation with me, but as her employer, she’s going to have to tell me something sooner or later. Nonetheless, I’ve promised to stay out of her business and allow her to sort this out on her own. I won’t approach her about it unless she asks—or if she starts showing, whichever comes first.

“Courtney,” I ask when she comes out of the kitchen after I hang up from Marilyn, “I don’t mean to pry, but what conversation have you had?” She frowns.

“What?” she asks, bemused.

“With Harmony,” I say. “When you mentioned fattening her up, she said you had already had that conversation.”

“Oh, that… she can’t keep anything down when she’s really upset,” Courtney informs me.

“Oh,” I nod. “Could she be pregnant?” Courtney shakes her head.

“I asked the same thing. She’s been celibate for nearly a year now. It’s just her nerves. They’re really bad.”

“I can only imagine,” I say. “And this experience is going to be a marathon, not a sprint.” I rub my scar and sigh heavily.

“What’s wrong, Ana?” Courtney asks. I shake my head.

“I never understood the concept of death bringing out the worst in people. She’s barely hanging on, now she’s going to have to go head to head with these people who are supposed to be her siblings, so to speak.”

“Well,” she says, putting her arm around my shoulder, “That’s why she has us. I told Vick that I’ll be staying here with her tonight, so she might drop by. Should I let somebody know?”

“Yeah, just tell security. It’ll be fine,” I inform her.

I’m not as worn out when I get home as I was yesterday thanks to Courtney’s presence, but I remember that I need to call Val to find out the results of her doctor’s appointment. I’m anxious to know if Meg has returned and I’ll be front and center for her this time if she has.

“What did the doctor say?” I ask immediately after greeting her when she answers the phone.

“There’s nothing to worry about,” she says. “Meg has not reared her ugly head. Like I told you, there was a perfectly logical reason for the dizzy spells, so everyone can breathe now.”

“Did he say how often you’ll have them?” I press. “Or how long? Are they like the throbbing in my scar where you just have to deal with them whenever they show up?”

“Something like that,” she says. “We don’t know yet how often I’ll have them or for how long, but we’re pretty certain that they’re not permanent. What’s important is that my healing is still on track—more than on track, in fact—and we don’t have to prepare for any surgeries or radiation, thank God!”

“Were you worried, Val?” I ask, my voice softening. She sighs.

“I try to keep a positive outlook, Steele,” she says. “Life’s too short and you can’t spend it worrying, but… the unknown… that shit is scary as fuck.”

“I know,” I tell her. “I’m sorry that I wasn’t more supportive last weekend. I know you really could have used the encouragement.”

“Honestly, don’t trouble yourself. Just like you were finding your way last week, I had to find mine. There are some journeys that we must travel alone, as you well know.” I nod as if she can see me.

“I well know,” I confirm.

“So, what’s on your agenda for the rest of the week?” she asks, affectively changing the subject. I sigh.

“Tina died,” I say, sadly. “I’m at Harmony’s disposal. I know she needs me.”

“Oh, Ana. That poor girl. I know her pain. Give her my condolences, please.”

“I will. Luckily, there’s not too much that needs to be done. Tina made her own arrangements before she died. She knew that Harmony wouldn’t be able to handle it. And their attorney—he’s cordial and accommodating. He cares more about them than her own children.”

“Could it be the money?” she asks.

“It could be, but I sense a loyalty to the family—or at least, to Tina—that goes far deeper than money. After the mess of Harmony’s divorce and already having to deal with losing a loving mother…” I trail off. I’m grateful for Carl and how he’s handling things, even though I’m not the one who has to deal with all this. “He was at the county office the moment he learned that the quit deed had been registered getting copies of it for Harmony. I have a feeling that Tina was waiting for the deed to be finalized before she let go.”

“Oh, dear, that’s so sad,” Val says. “Those kids of hers must be some gruesome lot.”

“They’ve proven to be just that, but Christian and I are ready for them. It looks like we’ve adopted yet another family member.”

“You seem to do that a lot,” she laughs. “Marlow and his family, Luma and the girls… what about that other lady? Thelma and… what was that guy’s name?”

“James,” I remind her. She wasn’t around for that drama, but I filled her in later. “You should get to meet them at the gala on Thanksgiving weekend. It’s been decided that the Adopt-A-Family Affair is going to be the Adopt-A-Family Reunion. So, invitations have gone out to all of the families who had been listed to be adopted over the last five years.”

“That’s kinda cool,” she says. “Will they still be adopting families this year, or will it all be the Reunion?”

“No, things will still be going as planned,” I tell her. “We’ll just have more guests at the party this year than usual. So, have you had a cooking lesson this week?”

“A small one,” she says. “Chicken alfredo. It was simple, and I caught on pretty quickly…”

I continue my conversation with Val with her reminding me that Thanksgiving dinner will be at her house this year. Jason, Gail, and Sophie will be joining us as will Marlow, Maggie, and Marcia, so I’ll at least have one of my nannies with me. Chuck and Keri will be visiting some of Chuck’s extended “family”—people who have somewhat adopted him like we did. He wants to introduce Keri to them.

Val’s house is large, but unfortunately can’t accommodate a Grey family sleepover, so the Grey siblings as well as Jason and Gail will be staying the night at Val and Elliot’s while the parents—including Dad and Mandy—and Herman and Luma will be at Grey Manor.

Friday, the ladies will meet for Black Friday shopping as usual, then go to Miana’s for our Black Friday spa day. Keri will join us for Black Friday, and Minnie will spend the day with the ladies along with Celida, Mariah, and Sophie while Mikey and Harry hang out with the guys. The family will then all converge on Grey Manor for dinner and be spending Friday night there to have brunch on Saturday, then go to the Adopt-A-Family Reunion from there. Keri and Gail will get the twins home and Jason and Chuck will, of course, be on duty with me and Christian.

After the gala, we’ll all return to Grey Crossing, where the family will spend the night, have their final weekend brunch, and disperse to their homes. This way, all three homes will have hosted part of the Thanksgiving weekend… except for Mia who promises to maybe look for a bigger place and host a holiday next year.

Val is telling me about the Thanksgiving meal that will be catered and served by staff when my husband’s voice breaks into our conversation.

“I hear you’re going to have a sexy new wardrobe soon.”

I look up at him and shake my head.

“I gotta go, Val,” I tell her. “My husband has just arrived and, of course, requires my attention.”

“Of course,” she laughs. “I’ll talk to you soon.” We end the call.

“What sexy new wardrobe are you talking about?” I ask. “Ruby’s things?”

“Yeah,” he says, going into his dressing room. “I hear her entire vintage wardrobe is being shipped here.”

“Yeah, no thanks to you!” I yell into the dressing room. “Herman told me that list was supposed to go to all the children and grand-children. How did I not make the cut? I am your wife.”

“That was a terrible oversight on my part,” he says coming out of the dressing room while unbuttoning his shirt. “I’ll be honest—we already have so much that I wasn’t even thinking about us getting anything on that list. I’m sorry, baby.”

“You’re forgiven,” I say. “And what made you say that the wardrobe is sexy?”

“Lindy-bop dresses?” he says going back to his dressing room. “I’ve seen you in those—all demure and shit. They drive me crazy. And Uncle Herman says that the fifties and sixties were Grandma Ruby’s heyday, so I know she’s probably got some hot stuff in there.” He comes back out in a T-shirt and sweats.

“I don’t know how you fit all your junk in there,” I say. He looks behind him.

“In where? In there?” he says pointing to his dressing room.

“No, in there?” I say pointing to his sweatpants. “That’s a lot of meat and I’ve seen lesser men hang and wobble in those.” He looks down at his sweats.

“Why do you think I wear boxer briefs?” he says. “Jock straps are out of the question, as are tighty-whities, and even soft, I peek out of regular boxers. These were the only option.” I shake my head.

“I guess I should be happy I didn’t fall in love with an itty-bity. That would have been a disaster.” Christian laughs loudly.

“I guess so,” he says, through his laughter. “So, what’s on the agenda for tonight?”

“Food, then sleep, my love,” I say. “I’ve got some things to do at the Center tomorrow and then, I’m going to Harmony’s to finalize things for Tina’s service. It’s going to be Saturday, so we have to wrap things up.”

“No word from the siblings yet?” he asks.

“Not a peep,” I say. “It’s been quiet. Too quiet.”

“Jesus! Won’t they even help with the final arrangements?” I shrug.

“If they don’t get it in gear by tomorrow, they won’t have any input, so…” I trail off.

“Jeez, what a brood,” he says, shaking his head. “Let’s go eat.”

*-*

I discover that I spoke too soon about no word from the siblings. I get a text from Harmony at about 10am that she has to go to the funeral home for the final viewing of her mother before they present her for public viewing. I ask if she wants me or Courtney to go with her, but she assures me that she’ll be fine.

“This is the easy part,” she says. “Making sure a pretty woman in life is still pretty in death.”

She’s livid when I get to her house.

“That was not my mother!” she fumes. “The idea is to make sure that the dead don’t look dead,” she says. She pulls out her phone.

“I gave them this picture!” She scrolls through her phone and shows me a picture of Tina when she was alive.

“This is what they did.” I wasn’t prepared for her to show me a picture of Tina’s corpse, but that’s exactly what it was—a corpse… not in a casket, on a slab. It was clean and neat and presentable… and flaxen white. We know the deceased isn’t with us anymore, but we don’t want them to look that way! And what’s with that fucking hair? That’s not a bouffant, is it? It looks horrendous!

82920f4c350d65dc46d4b246afcc86f3

BOUFFANT 

“Was someone practicing?” I ask before I realize the words are out of my mouth, still gazing at the picture in dismay.

“That’s what I asked!” she seethes and scrolls through her phone again.

“That’s how she looks now!” she nearly hisses. Tina has been redone and is now lying in her casket with an ethereal glow. Her hair is how I remembered her wearing it at Mia’s wedding. Her coloring is perfect and she’s wearing a beautiful blue dress with long sleeves and a high Victorian-style collar. She looks stately and beautiful, and completely at rest.

“Well, at least they got it right the second time,” I say, examining the picture.

“They didn’t,” she says, swiping her phone and clearing the screen. “I did.”

My eyes must look like bowling balls. I can’t believe what I’m hearing.

“What?” I ask in disbelief.

“That’s what took four hours,” she says as she put her phone away. “I came back here, got my mother’s makeup and redid it. Then I had to give her a dry shampoo to get all that horrible hair spray out of her hair—something that I’ve never seen her use…” Harmony is furious and covers her face as she shakes her head.

“I must be delusional or insane with grief, because I swear I saw her smile at me when I had finished.” She raises angry eyes to me. “And it brought me peace—for a minute. In my head, I went on this insane rant, this ‘Who the fuck is this woman’ rant when I saw this stranger lying on a slab posing as my mother, but my anger just wouldn’t come out. I wanted it to, but it wouldn’t.”

She walks away from me and starts pacing around the room.

“I tried to tell them that wasn’t my mother, and they tried to tell me that death changes the face. I know that death changes the face, but that wasn’t even close. I asked if they even looked at the picture when they did my mother’s hair and makeup, and they just did this blank stare thing. I told them not to touch my mother and that I would be back, and that’s when I came home and got the supplies. Maybe it’s just the quality of the makeup…”

“No, it’s not just the quality,” I tell her, recalling the first picture of Tina. “She looked like a Halloween costume, and a bad one at that. They could have done much better.” I put my hand on her shoulder. “You did an excellent job.”

“Thank you,” she says, still angry. “I’m so pissed, I just want to hit something.”

As if from Harmony’s mouth to God’s ears, one of the security detail announces that she has visitors demanding entrance to her home. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who it is.

“Let ‘em in!” she says combatively, folding her arms and facing the entrance to the dining room.

Showtime!

I’m standing behind the sofa when they enter. None of them look their age. They look late forties at the latest, but I know from the intel that Christian gave me that the youngest of them—Paige—is 60 years old. The wonders of modern medicine.

They all walk in, stepping in sync, and one of the women folds her arms and adjusts her weight like she’s ready to face off.

I can’t fucking believe this. They all showed up together—unannounced, like a posse. They remind me of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad coming to wipe everybody out, only they didn’t expect to find her fifty guards deep. They expected her to be alone.

I lift my wrist to my mouth, clear my throat, and whisper a single word into the mouthpiece there.

“Backup.”

This is the signal that I want at least five other people in this room right now. I got seven.

“Harmony,” one of the women greet.

“Paige,” Harmony acknowledges with the same indifference.

“What’s with the goon squad?” one of the men jeer.

“You tell me,” Harmony says, folding her arms. “My ringer must be malfunctioning, because Mom’s been dead for two days and I don’t recall a call from any of you.”

“We didn’t get a call from you, either,” the same man retorts.

“Why would I call you, Theo?” she counters. “You never answered any other time I called, or when Mom called. Why would now be any different?” She looks from face to face.

“You got the call that you were waiting for—from her attorney. You comin’ to collect? Well, I hope he told you that you’re going to have to wait until the reading of the will.” The other woman, whom I deduce is Ilsa, scoffs.

“You look awful,” Paige says. “Are you on drugs?” Harmony’s eyes narrow.

“No,” she hisses, “I’m mourning the loss of my mother. You look great, by the way, for having just lost yours!” Paige is taken aback by her frankness. “Did you come to help with Mom’s arrangements?” she asks sarcastically.

“Well,” Ilsa says, “we were coming to help you clean up, get things in order, so to speak.”

“Well, as you can see,” Harmony says gesturing around the house, “everything looks like a shiny new penny, so I don’t need any help cleaning up.

“We mean like packing up Mom’s things,” Theodore interjects.

“You mean like picking through Mom’s things,” Harmony corrects him. “She’s not even cold yet, Theo. Can’t you even wait until she’s laid to rest before you start picking her bones dry?”

“That’s my mother you’re talking about!” he barks.

“Yeah, you might want to remember that!” Harmony retorts. “Mom’s dead. She’s gone! She’s not coming back, and there’s not a tear between you, but you want to ask me if I’m on drugs because I’ve cried a river in three days and I can’t keep anything down because I lost my mom. So, to answer your question, no—I don’t need your help cleaning up. We have a staff here who can help me with that. Anything else?” Paige sighs impatiently.

“I gave Mom a set of diamond earrings,” she huffs. “Unless she’s being buried in them, I want them back. I gave them to her for her 50th birthday. They’re 4-carats each. You can’t miss them.”

“No,” Harmony says firmly. “The stipulation states that nothing will be distributed from Mom’s estate until the will is read and that’s how it’s going to be.”

“So, what’s to stop you from taking her stuff?” Jason says.

“Well, you’ll just have to trust me, now, won’t you?” Harmony retorts, folding her arms. “Mom certainly did.”

“We don’t know that,” Theodore hisses.

“And you never will,” Harmony hisses back, “because you weren’t here to help take care of her, now, were you? You couldn’t be bothered to leave your oh-so-important lives to come and see about your dying mother! I sat here and took care of her for months and watched her slip away and now you want to come and throw darts at me?”

Harmony is drawing on some much-needed anger to fend off her selfish and greedy siblings. None of them have a response for not being there for Tina, so they resort back to accusing Harmony of manipulating her.

“I see you didn’t wait for the stipulation to take the house,” Ilsa says.

“That was Mom’s doing,” Harmony counters. “She put the house in my name before she died so you couldn’t come and put me out, which I fully know was your plan until you found out that Mom made it legal.”

“And stop calling her ‘Mom!’ She’s not your mom!” Theodore huffs.

“She is my mom!” Harmony roars, shocking us all. “And your hateful, belittling, treacherous, greedy, selfish attitudes and behavior is not going to change that. Now, get the hell out of my house!”

Your house!” Paige scoffs. “Couldn’t wait to say that, could you?”

“Damn straight!” Harmony says. “Get these people out of my house please,” she says to the security staff. The security detail begins to move forward toward the unwanted visitors.

“You can’t throw us out of Mom’s house!” Jonah protests.

“It’s my house now, and I can throw you out,” Harmony says definitively.

“If you put your hands on me, I’ll scream,” Paige tells one of the guards.

“And I’ll sue you,” Theodore tells another, “and you, too,” he adds to Harmony.

“Scream your little heart out!” Harmony says to Paige before turning to Theodore. “Sue away if you’ve got money to burn. I told you to leave my house. As of this moment, you’re trespassing. According to Washington law, I and my staff can legally remove you by any means necessary if you refuse to leave. Look it up—it’s public information.” She turns back to the security detail. “Get them out of my house.” The security detail create a half circle around the siblings.

“Ladies, gentlemen?” one of them says to the group while gesturing to the vestibule area. If looks could kill, there would be daggers flying across the room at Harmony, but I’m certain that her determined anger is forming a force field that renders their daggers ineffective, causing them to drop uselessly to the floor. Jonah whispers something to Ilsa, who nods before they turn to leave.

“Oh,” Harmony adds, “and you can forget about the secret doors. They’re locked, alarmed, and guarded… all of them.” Jonah whirls around as does Ilsa, revealing that this was the content of their whispered tête-à-tête.

“I’ll blow this whole house up with you in it,” Jonah threatens. Oh, he’s gone too far now.

“You try it,” Harmony seethes. “I’ll hunt your old ass down to the end of the earth. My trust kicked in after the divorce, so I’ve got the money for it.”

I can’t keep silent anymore.

“And friends in high places who just heard you threaten to commit murder,” I add. He pales a bit when I speak. “You should take her advice and leave now. I’m sure you’ll all get your piece of the pie at the reading of the will, which is all you really want, right?”

“You…” Jonah begins to me.

“Don’t,” I say, holding up one well-manicured finger. “Let me save you the headache and the lifetime of misery because this…” I point to myself with both index fingers, “… is a battle that you don’t want. If you’re slightly concerned about her, then you should be terrified of me because all of these people…” the same two fingers scan the whole room, “… work for me. And if you think her money is power, my money makes hers look like a piggy bank. Do you really want this?”

I’m picking a fight that I know he won’t follow through with. In fact, none of them will. They came to bully Harmony and didn’t expect her to be carrying a baseball bat. Then he turned on me—or thought he was going to turn on me—and got confronted with a wrecking ball.

“Gentlemen,” I say to my security staff, “show these people out by any means necessary.”

The staff moves in and the siblings once again head towards the door. Theodore, determined to destroy something on his way out, kicks over a table in the foyer causing the vase full of flowers to shatter all over the foyer floor. Within a moment, one of the guys from the security detail lifts him into the air by the back of his coat. His feet are flailing and he’s shouting obscenities while the others look on in total shock. The detail gets him to the porch and literally throws him off like that kid from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

200

It takes everything in me to keep from laughing when I see that man fly through the air and land on the lawn with a thud. Harmony isn’t as tactful.

“If you come back here again, I’m going to shoot first and ask questions later,” my security says. “You are all a threat to the lady of the house, and I will treat you as such.” He turns around and glares at Jonah, who doesn’t hesitate the scurry out of the house. Harmony goes to the door, laughing hysterically.

“I’ll send you the bill, Theo!” she yells into the night.

“Good luck collectin’!” he yells back.

“Never mind, then,” she retorts. “I’ll just submit it to the estate and have it taken from your share of the inheritance!”

“Fuck you, bitch!” he yells back while limping to his car.

“No thanks, Unc!” she yells. “I’m afraid your equipment is out of commission!” She turns back to Ilsa and Paige.

“Do you ladies need directions?” Harmony asks, all mirth gone from her voice. “I’m sure this gentleman would be only too happy to assist you!”

The ejection guard moves over to stand next to Harmony, prompting Ilsa to give Paige a little push before both women leave without another word. We watch as the gruesome foursome get into various cars and screech down the circle drive and off the premises.

“God! That felt good!” Harmony says as she walks back to the dining room.

“You haven’t seen the last of them, Harmony,” I warn as I follow her into the dining room and the detail secures the house.

243b0453c83e3f27031b22d2e7c3aa07“Good! Let ‘em bring it. I have a lot of pent-up anger and frustration from being ignored, being mistreated, being abandoned, taken for granted, and now losing the only person in the world that meant anything to me and having the funeral home make her up like the goddamn crypt keeper. This rage needs to be fed and they’re the perfect fucking food!”

She paces angrily around the dining room, her emotions cementing a snarl on her face that could scare the devil.

“I’m fucked up, Ana,” she hisses, pacing around the entire circumference of the dining room. “I’m seeing someone about it, but I’m fucked up. I’ve been fucked-up for as long as I could remember. As a kid, I couldn’t understand why people couldn’t love me—only my Mom. My sisters and brothers had kids that were older than me, and I didn’t get it. Then one day, dear old Dad lets me know why. I’m adopted—Franklin blood, yes, but two generations down adopted. I didn’t even know he was my father, and God only knows where my bio-mom is. That’s why they treated me so distant, why they were so ugly to me. But not once—not once—did my mother treat me like an outsider. Not once did she make me feel like I was not her child.

“I put her through hell,” she continues. “I wasn’t as bad as some kids, but she was too old to be dealing with my shit. I started having sex at 12, trying to find that love—that acceptance and attention that I was missing. I was a goddamn train wreck, and she didn’t deserve that. But you know what? She still made me feel like I was the most valued, most precious treasure in the world.

“When I got older and I met Ken, and he treated me like the sun, the moon, and the stars… an older guy—more mature, right? He knew things about the world and he made me feel good, and…” She shakes her head and continues to pace.

“I thought he was a great guy. I thought he was in love with me. When Mom said that I wouldn’t get my trust if I married him, I thought, ‘Fine, we’re in love. We’ll make it on our own.’ That’s when his true colors came out. He’s a dog and only wanted my money. All the others before him only wanted sex… and I only wanted to be loved.” She sighs heavily.

“So here I am now, all fucked up and trying to get out of the marriage, and I didn’t want to come back home to Mom, because I didn’t want to hear ‘I told you so…’ which she never said, by the way. But then she called me, and she told me what was going on, and I came home as quick as I could. I expected to walk in and find her bio-kids all camped out and clustered around her…” She trails off and shows the first sign of sadness. “And when I got here, she was all alone. She was dying, and she was all alone. I assumed that she hadn’t called them—that she called me first. But she had called us all, and I’m the only one who came. I didn’t know what I could do for her—I just knew I had to be here.”

“You did it, Harmony,” I say, making her pause in her trek. “You were here for her. You were the only one of her children that was here for her. That’s what she needed. She had doctors and nurses to care for her physically as much as they could. She had Carl to take care of her property, her legal issues. Roger was supposed to take care of her home, but he fell through and we came in, so she had someone for that. But she needed you to love her through her final days and her transition, and that’s what you did. That’s why she called you all, and where those losers never even showed up to the game, you were the pinch hitter and you hit that ball right out of the park. Don’t you see that?”

Harmony is breathing through angry tears as she fights to formulate her words.

“It was the least I could do,” she chokes. “She was… is… my angel. My guardian, my savior… she’s everything to me. It was the least… the very least…” She shakes her head and wipes her tears. “So, let them fucking come. I’ll unleash a level of hell on them that they’ve never seen in their entire lives!”

And there’s that fire again.

“Ana, I’m really very fucked up… and I need you to know that I made googly eyes at Christian,” she spits out. She doesn’t look at me as she confesses. “I didn’t want to fuck him… really. He’s a good-lookin’ guy, but… it wasn’t that. It’s that he had done this really great thing for my mom and he’s male and…” She rolls her eyes and continues. “I was grateful, not attracted and it was just… He didn’t give me the time of day. He didn’t even entertain the idea.”

Those last two sentences are the only two full sentences she’s actually formed, I think.

“I understand if you’re mad at me and don’t want to deal with me anymore…”

“Harmony,” I say, halting her rant, “I already know. It’s fine, I get it.”

She freezes again and stares at me.

“Oh, dear God, he swore that he wouldn’t tell you!” she says horrified. “I swore it wouldn’t happen again and he swore that he would never tell you!”

“And he kept his promise initially,” I tell her, “but when I told him how bad off you were after finding Tina had passed and he thought it best that I knew…” I trail off.

“To keep me from running into the arms of the nearest loser,” she completes my sentence. Well, I wouldn’t have put it that way, but… pretty much.

“You’re golden, Ana,” she says finitely. “If I were you, I would’ve kicked my ass.” I scoff a laugh.

“Only because I understand,” I inform her, “and if you do it again, I will.”

“Understood,” she replies, wiping her tears, “and don’t worry, I won’t.”


CHRISTIAN

It’s well after dinner, and my wife still isn’t home yet. She hasn’t texted me or called to say that she’ll be late, and I’m trying not to panic. Honestly, I’m not panicking. I’m just trying not to let my imagination run away with me. Although mine aren’t as prominent, Butterfly wasn’t the only one left with remnants of the Boogeyman after the whole Westwick situation.

To this day, I don’t know how I could have thought my wife would ever be unfaithful. She had already told me long ago that infidelity was a deal breaker for her. Yet, I believed that she would risk our home, our life, and our happiness for a stranger that she had only known for a few weeks.

Striking blue eyes… asshole!

I ascend the stairs and knock on the door of the nursery. When there’s no answer, I open the door and peak inside. It’s quiet—no nannies. My children must be asleep. I haven’t spent any time with them the entire week, but Mom says that I’m okay now, so I’m coming to see my children.

I step in quietly and close the door. Minnie’s crib is closest to the door, so I peak in at her. She’s fast asleep. I kiss my fingers and gently pat her cheek before I look in on my son. He’s awake, but fitful. He’s not crying and he actually looks sleepy, but he can’t seem to find his slumber.

I take him out of the bed and he immediately lands on my shoulder like a sack of potatoes. I sit in the rocker and rub his little back.

“You havin’ a rough time without her, too?” I ask. He raises gray eyes to me that look like mine. Then he puts his two fingers in his mouth and starts to suck as he lays his head on my shoulder.

I love you, kid, but we’re going to have to break that habit.

I’m concerned about him needing dental work, but their pediatrician actually says that if he must suck a finger or two, these are the best ones. Thumbs push against your upper mouth and teeth and interfere with the formation of bone structure, resulting in overbites and crooked teeth—and the need for ugly and expensive braces. The other prominent fingers push down on the tongue. So as long as they stop sucking before their permanent teeth come in, they should be fine.

I’m not buying it. My son will not be going to the first grade sucking his fingers… but for right now, it’s okay.

“I don’t think I ever sucked my fingers, Mikey,” I say as I rock back and forth. “At least, I don’t remember doing it. There’s a lot I don’t remember, though.”

I look out the window and I can see the light of the moon through the curtains even though I can’t see the moon itself.

“I remember…” I begin, and my thoughts go back to the very recess of my mind. Did the crack whore ever hold me like this? Did she ever rock me to sleep and give me gentle pecks on the cheek? When did she fall into the clutches of the pimp? How could she let that happen to us? Did she ever love me? At all?

“You don’t have to worry about that, Mikey,” I say as I rock him. “You have the most beautiful, kindest, caring mother in the whole world… well, your grandma’s pretty great, too, but you mom… she’s one of a kind.

“I didn’t think about that, you know, when I first met her… what kind of mother she’d be. No, son, I had much more unsavory thoughts which you may never learn about. I don’t imagine any man thinks about that kind of thing when he first meets a woman—unless he’s specifically looking for a wife. Who knows what any man thinks? I’m sure a normal man wouldn’t look at a woman and think about how badly he wants to chain her to a cross and be—”

I stop abruptly, remembering my audience. TMI, Grey. I look down at my son and his eyes are closed. He’s not completely lost to the sandman as he’s still sucking his fingers quite rhythmically.

“I know you do that as a means of comfort,” I say. “Is it because it reminds you of the nipple?”

I almost expect him to answer.

“Yeah, I get it, kid. Nothing tastes like that nipple… well, maybe one other thing for me.” I chuckle quietly as I have once again given my son too much information, even though he doesn’t know it.

“You’ll never have my life, Mikey,” I promise him. “You’ll never see the horrors that I saw or be abused or mistreated. There are so many people who love you if something were to happen to me and your mom, and I thank God for that. You and your sister will be set for the rest of your lives. But make no mistake, young man, I’ll expect you to work hard, follow your dreams and make something of yourself—just like I did.”

Just like I did…

I fell… no—I walked into the clutches of that horrible woman and my life changed forever. I will admit that had it not been for her money, I wouldn’t have been able to start my business. Well, that’s not necessarily true. With a good business plan, I probably would have been able to get a small business loan on the reputation of my last name alone, but I wasn’t thinking about that back then. I was thinking about the fact that my father had turned me down and was nearly ready to kick me out of the house for dropping out of college… and about fucking… fucking her. Right now, I can hardly believe how badly I wanted her. She was all I thought about most of the time. Everything I did was a means to an end to get back to her.

Do well in school. Get back to her…
Don’t get into fights. Get back to her…
Don’t date girls. Get back to her…
Get into college. Get back to her…
Behave myself. Get back to her…
Follow instructions. Get back to her…
Do whatever was necessary to get back to her…

Would she have even lent me the money if she wasn’t fucking and beating me? Probably not. I look back down at my sleeping son. He’s not suckling his fingers anymore.

“Promise me you’ll come talk to me first, champ… about anything,” I beseech him. “I swear, I’ll listen. I’ll even back your dreams, and if I don’t agree with them, we’ll talk about it—to see how sound and feasible they are. We’ll come to a compromise, or something, but I’ll never shut you down, kid. I’ll never feed you to the wolves.”

That’s not what my parents did, but the wolf got me anyway.


A/N: I Peter 5:8—”Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour. 

HMIC—there are many connotations, one in particular for those in the UK, but in this instance, “HMIC” is “Head Man In Charge.”

The “Deadly Viper Assassination Squad” are the four other characters that tried to kill “The Bride” (Uma Thurman’s character, Beatrice Kiddo aka Black Mamba) in Kill Bill, hence prompting the stories Kill Bill, Vol I and II, where Kiddo sets out to kill all four members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad, plus Bill.  

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

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

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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 52—Just In Case…

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

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

Chapter 52—Just In Case…

CHRISTIAN

“You told me not to talk about it anymore, so I’m not talking about it. However, I am a professional, and my concerns are real, tangible, and valid. That asshole got way too close last night, and you got way too comfortable. You may not see urgency in this situation and you may be right, but I’m not going to take any chances.”

Just as I’m finishing my coffee, my head of security informs me that we’ll have another detail following us today. So, instead of just me and Jason, it’s going to be me, Jason, and two other guards in a separate vehicle. I understand urgency—I felt it last night, but I fucked it out with my wife and I’m fine now. Apparently, Mr. Professional here didn’t fuck it out with Gail, and now I have an entourage.

“Don’t you think this is a bit drastic, Jason?” I ask. “I’m all for increasing security. I totally get it, but three guards in one car for one man?”

“You told a hired killer that you were getting your affairs in order last night. You’re inviting him to do something. You’re testing his hand, basically telling him, ‘Come and get me.’ It’s like you want to die.”

“I don’t want to die,” I seethe, “I’m just not afraid of death.”

“I’m not afraid of death either, Christian, but I’m not gunning to meet my Maker anytime soon. I have a wife, and I have a child, and I’d like to see her go to college, get married, maybe punch out a couple of grandkids for me. I know that my job comes with certain hazards, but I’m not jumping in front of bullets that don’t have to be aimed at you. So, as many times as you warn your wife to be careful, you need to do the same thing because last I checked, you got a couple of nuggets that you’d like to see get through college, too!”

“Does my wife know about this?” I demand.

“She’ll know that security has been increased when she leaves for Helping Hands, but she won’t know why. I thought I’d let you tell her, or if you prefer, I’ll have Chuck do it.” I look in his eyes and I realize that he’s not backing down on this.

“Shit,” I hiss. I stand from the breakfast bar to go find my wife.

I dread having to tell her this, but whenever I try to keep something from her, it causes so much angst between us and ultimately turns out to be a disaster. When I find her, she’s helping to pack up the twins.

“Hey, beautiful,” I say, when I walk into the room. Mikey is already buckled into his carrier and Butterfly is buckling Minnie into her seat.

“Hey, yourself,” she says after she gets my squirming daughter securely into her seat. “I thought you were already gone.”

“About to,” I say. “I need to talk to you about something before I go.”

“Oh?” she asks. “Is everything alright?” I look at Keri and Gail.

“Can you two excuse us for a moment?” I ask. Gail puts a diaper bag on her shoulder and lifts Mikey’s carrier. Keri does the same with Minnie.

“Ah’ll see ya downstehs,” Keri says as she’s the one who always goes to the Center with Butterfly and the twins. Butterfly was talking about getting Keri her own car. We may have to revamp that decision for a while. In fact…

“What’s wrong, Christian?” Butterfly asks.

“Chuck may have to drive you into town for a while… in your car, of course.”

“Why?” she asks. “What’s happened?” I sigh.

“Do you remember me telling you that Myrick made some enemies in Detroit which is why he’s in witness protection?” She tilts her head.

“Vaguely… really bad guys, that I remember.”

“Well, one of those really bad guys came to see me yesterday,” I confess. “He found out that I was in Detroit and decided to fly out here to tell me to get his boss’s permission the next time I decide to travel to Detroit.” Butterfly raises her brow.

“I see… and you said?” she inquires.

“I told him to kiss my ass,” I reply. “I feel like it was nothing more than a dramatic show of bravado for him to fly all the way across the country to try to get me to bow to his will. I was in Detroit for 24 hours. They found out that I was there, but never confronted me while I was there—probably because I was never alone. They would have had to barge into my uncle’s home, an attorney’s office, or a PI’s office to talk to me. Instead, he shows up at Grey House in a black car, his goon opens the door and tells me to get in… fuck you!” I say that last part more to myself than to Butterfly.

“So… did he threaten your life?” she asks.

“Not overtly, but it was easily implied,” I admit.

“Ah… hence the fuck me like it was the last time fuck last night,” she says, a little perturbed. Why is she perturbed? Didn’t she enjoy it? “And that confused look on your face says you don’t have a clue why I’m irritated.”

“Um… no,” I admit.

“What if it was the last time, Christian?” she scolds. “You don’t think I deserved to know something was up?”

So… um… now I don’t dare tell her that I was afraid of her being taken away from me as opposed to being afraid of me leaving her.

“I can only say that I’m sorry, Butterfly, but there’s a condition to that. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you immediately, but I couldn’t—not because the time wasn’t right, but because I was physically unable to talk about it. It was on me so hard that I couldn’t even think to talk about it. I was too stressed out and I had to release it before I could even approach it. I was going to go to work and talk to our security team and come up with a plan of action. Then, I planned on talking to you about it. Jason beat me to it and beefed up security.”

“So, if Jason hadn’t beefed up security…” she begins.

“I would have told you after we had a plan of action,” I interrupt her.

“What if something had happened before you had a plan of action?” she snaps. I don’t have an answer for her, and I’m getting drawn and tense again.

“I was wound tighter than a dollar store watch when I came into this house last night,” I say, forcing my voice to be calm. “I simply cannot regurgitate everything that’s going on with me when I’m wound that tight. You have to give me time. My options were to fuck you or avoid you, and I needed you so badly…” I trail off and clench my fists, trying to relax and not lose my temper. “I wasn’t fucking you like it was the last time. I was loving you until I could think again, until I could breathe again. And the burden was so heavy that when I finally released it, I could do nothing else but sleep. I would have told you. I just. Needed. To think. I thought after being with me all this time and knowing me and knowing how I handle things…”

“You’re right,” she says, her hands moving quickly to cup my cheeks. She kisses me firmly on my lips. “You’re right. I’m sorry,” she says, rubbing my arms and furrowing her brow. “Boogeyman.”

Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?

“I’m sorry, too,” I say. “This is not the Boogeyman, baby. We’re just being careful, okay? With all my heart, I think this man is all hot air or he would have done something by now. He even said as much.” She sighs heavily and drops her head.

“What do you mean he said as much?” she asks, somewhat resigned.

“He told me that if he meant me harm, it would have been done by now.” She sighs again.

“Well, that’s comforting,” she says sarcastically.

“That’s why Jason has added extra security,” I tell her. “We’re being cautious, not taking any chances.” She nods.

“Okay… what about Marilyn?” I roll my eyes. I forgot about Marilyn.

“We probably want to get another guy on her, too,” I say. “You’ll let her know or do you want me to do it?” She shakes her head.

“I’ll tell her,” she says. “Now, I’m having second thoughts about the exposé.”

“Not that I’m trying to scare you, but you have to know… there’s nothing that the exposé will show that these people didn’t already know. The biggest trump card that I have in my pocket right now is that we have a mutual enemy and quite frankly, that’s all we have in common…” which makes me even more fucking anxious to find Myrick wherever the hell he’s hiding.

“Okay, so… yeah, I better get to the office. I guess the sky is falling for all of us.” She mumbles the last part. I don’t bother asking what she means.

“I need to get going, too, baby,” I tell her leaning down and kissing her on the cheek. “Are we okay?” She touches my cheek again.

“Yes, we’re okay,” she says, but I’m not convinced. “I’m working on chasing away the demons. They don’t leave overnight, you know.” She smiles weakly.

“Yes, Butterfly,” I say, cupping her face. “I know.” I kiss her lips gently, then leave to join Jason. I can’t help but notice what looks like a convention of black suits in the garage. I don’t even bother asking.

“Let’s go,” I say, listlessly while climbing into the back seat and closing the door behind me.

My mind wanders to everything happening right now that requires my attention. The implications of Aragon’s visit and the subsequent need for two men in the car with me; whatever the hell is going on with the storage bins in Detroit—I have to call Smalls. He didn’t call me back yesterday and I can only assume that either Uncle Herman was able to get all the authorizations needed or it was just too late to do anything once and if clearance was given. So, that will be the first thing I deal with when I get to the office. While I’m pondering what other dilemmas will most likely confront me, Jason answers his phone through his earpiece.

“Taylor… fuck!” He snatches his earpiece from his ear and swerves a bit to regain control of the car.

“What the hell, Jason?” I demand, our passenger holding on to the door handle and glaring at Jason as well.

“My apologies, sir,” Jason says through his teeth, his fingers rubbing feverishly at his ear. “It’s your wife.” Well, shit, he doesn’t sound happy. I turn to the other guard.

“Put his phone in the cradle. Put her on speaker.” He really didn’t need to because the moment he picks up Jason’s phone, I can hear Butterfly screaming.

“Shit,” I whisper before Butterfly’s screaming voice is piping through the car speakers.

“Ana,” I say, trying to get her attention. She’s still screaming.

“Ana.” Still no acknowledgement from my screaming wife.

“ANASTASIA!”

“WHAT?” she shoots back at me.

“You know Jason is driving, Anastasia. What the fuck are you doing calling him screaming in his ear?”

“So, he hands the phone to you so that I can scream at you?” she asks sarcastically.

“No, your voice is piping through the whole damn car. Jason nearly killed us getting his earbud out of his ear!” There’s sweet silence, but only for a moment.

“There’s a goddamn caravan following me to work, Christian,” Butterfly complains. “What the hell is that? Is all of this really necessary?”

“There’s no need to be dramatic, Butterfly…”

“Don’t patronize me and I’m not being dramatic! I work at a fucking shelter, for Christ’s sake! You know, sanctuary? The press is going to be all over me!” I throw a look at Jason, who looks everywhere but at me. “What aren’t you telling me, Christian?” my wife demands.

“I’ve told you everything. There’s nothing else,” I say. I see Jason’s posture shift. He knows I haven’t told her everything, but there’s no way in hell I’m telling her that man said that he would come to my house.

“There’s apparently something you missed!” she declares. “I look like the French delegation driving across the bridge. The only thing that’s missing are the damn flags. What’s going on!”

“I’ve told you what’s going on,” I reinforce. “Jason just feels that we should have more protection for a while since that guy came to Grey House last night.” Jason’s shoulders relax a bit. I’m certain he thought I gave her some sugar-coated version of what happened. I told her exactly what happened… except that I told the guy that I wasn’t afraid of death, and that he threatened to come to my house.

“What the hell happened, Christian?” she barks. “There are eight people following me! In the other vehicles!”

“What?” I exclaim, my eyes widening. She’s not exaggerating. That’s fucking ridiculous. “Jason…!”

“It’s because there’s four of you,” Jason interjects impassively. “We’re just trying to keep you all safe, Your Highness.”

“This is bullshit and you both know it!” she says, most likely convinced that I knew the entire Delta Force was going to be following her this morning. I kinda did know. The MIB convention in the garage somewhat gave it away. I just chose to ignore it.

“Jason is just being extra cautious,” I hiss through my teeth, mostly at Jason.

“Well, guess what? I don’t give a fuck how cautious Jason is right now. This is fucking ludicrous! Every time you make some kind of change to security, I go along with it. There are eight fucking people following me! This is outrageous!”

She’s right. It is outrageous, but there’s nothing I can do about it right now. They’re headed across the bridge. It’s not like I can tell them to go away. I guess I was pondering the situation a little too long because the next thing I hear is…

“You know what? Never mind.” She ends the call abruptly. She. Is. Pissed.

“Fuck!” I hiss loudly. I look over at Jason who refuses to make eye-contact with me and we ride silently to Grey House.

*-*

“Fix this. Now,” I say to Jason once I’ve had a macchiato and a glazed apple fritter and calmed my nerves. “What the hell, sticking eight guards behind her? She’s more of a target with all these people behind her than she was before. You must see that.”

Jason and Alex are sitting across from me in my office, a unified front against my demands about this insane increase in security, I suppose.

“She’s got some of our best men around her, sir,” Alex replies. “Nobody’s getting near her and those babies…”

“At this point, I couldn’t get near her and those babies!” I retort angrily. “Don’t you see the problem with that?”

“Sir, Russo is mafia. There’s no other way to put that. This is big time. If he wants you dead, you’re dead. Your family’s dead. Your friends are dead…”

“And if that’s the case, eight guys surrounding my wife and drawing attention to her isn’t going to stop him, now is it?” I interrupt. “I’m not highly impressed with his techniques or intimidated by his reach and ability. He hasn’t presented me Myrick’s head on a platter, yet.”

“Myrick’s in hiding. You’re not,” Jason points out.

“Which further proves that he’s not as omnipotent as both of you seem to think he is!” I snap. “When I had a message for Myrick, I went to Ionia—I didn’t send Jason. When I had a message for Elena, I went to the Washington State Prison—I didn’t send Jason. When I had a message for Courtney after she threatened my wife, I trapped her in the ladies’ room—I didn’t send Jason. When I had a message for Loverboy Investigator, I went to the State building—I didn’t send Jason. Hell, when Butterfly had a message for David before he offed himself, she went to the prison—she didn’t send Chuck. She went to some hick hole trailer park in California to personally confront the bitch that was responsible for her beating in Vegas. She had security, but she went, and I’m supposed to be shaking in my boots from some motherfucker that doesn’t even have the guts that my wife has?

“He keeps sending his consigliere every time he wants to make a point. Big fucking deal! I’m not talking to that guy anymore and I mean that! If Russo wants a war, he can do it, and I can’t win it, but these scare tactics are not fucking going to work with me!”

I’ve had enough of this shit. I’ve had enough of all of it. I know that these men sitting before me can do more than what they’re doing without sending the fucking A-Team around with my wife.

“I want my wife and family secure as much as you do, but this? No. If those bozos in the FBI can keep Myrick hidden and safe, you can keep my wife safe without drawing this much attention to her. You’re doing a fan dance for this fucker and you know it, and I’m not going to play his game. I’ll accept reasonable security enhancements, but this is overkill. Whatever point you’re trying to make, you’ve made it. You’re pissing me off and you’re scaring the fuck out of my wife. Call them off.” Jason finally decides to speak.

“With all due respect, sir, the threat that’s facing us is a real and present danger. I’m not trying to make a point; I’m trying to keep you safe!”

“I don’t think you heard me,” I say crisply. “Call. Them. Off. This is not a request.”

Jason glares at me and I don’t back down. He’s going overboard, and my wife is right. This is ridiculous.

“If imminent danger comes at my wife or our children, there can be ten men coming at her and as long as someone’s got her six, two to five of them will fall at her hand from her bullets. She doesn’t need eight people and you know this. Call them off.” Jason’s lips purse as he visibly prepares his retort.

“Two extra guards, one extra vehicle when the children are with her. That’s it. Make it happen or call them all off besides the regulars. Your choice,” I say.

“Less vehicles means a lower tactical advantage,” he warns.

“It’s all chance, Jason,” I inform him. “You and I both know that tactical advantage won’t mean shit if they really want her.” My words are grave, but true. Everything we do is a precaution. My home is a fortress, but if anyone is willing to risk their life to get to her, they can do it. Jason shakes his head.

“What’s going on with you?” he asks. “You’re usually the most cautious guy I know. Now it’s like you’re staring death in the face like you really don’t care.”

“Oh, make no mistake, I care. If anything happens to my wife, I will personally find whoever’s responsible, shoot them in every extremity several times and watch them bleed out. I can’t very well do that if I’m dead, so yes. I care very much about life. But my wife is teetering on the edge of a proverbial cliff every damn day. We’ve had this discussion. I don’t have time to be meek. And after she and I have both confided in you about her fears and how she’s feeling, I can’t for the life of me fathom how you thought it was a solid idea to trail her with three vehicles and eight damn guards!”

The military man in Jason suddenly slips away and his expression is now unreadable. I have no idea what’s going through his head, but just like that…

“I’ll take care of it,” he says. I know you will. You were bordering on insubordination and I was about to suspend your ass.

“Thank you,” I nearly hiss before turning to Alex. “What’s the word on Myrick? Anything?” He shakes his head.

“The trail is cold, sir. No new leads at all,” Alex replies.

“Well, heat it up!” I say firmly. “Put some pressure on whoever you need to put some pressure on—the ex-wife, the offspring, that kid in the service, the FBI, the CIA, the fucking President, I don’t care! I want this motherfucker out of my hair! Start turning over some goddamn rocks and I guarantee you’ll see some bugs start running! And I never want to fucking see Aragon again!”

Alex’s eyes widen, and Jason sits up straight.

“That’s what I said,” I reinforce. “I never fucking want to see his ass again. Put his mug on facial recognition so that if he shows up within ten feet of my building, this place lights up like a fucking Christmas tree! I will wear my harness and that gun that he seems to think is useless every damn day and I’ll make sure that my wife stays strapped like Calamity fucking Jane, but he gets nowhere near any of us and you don’t need eight extra guards to make that happen. He’s starts shooting, you shoot back! And aim for his fucking head!”

I am totally beyond reason. I want blood, and I want it now. This situation has gone on for way too long and I’m tired of it taking over my goddamn life.

I don’t even think I hear them when they leave my office. I’m seeing red. I know that my station puts me and my family in a position of danger on a regular basis, which is why I want that exposé to air. That’s only a small message to the somewhat little fish that we won’t sit around and be fucked with anymore, but what about the big fish? How do you get that message to them?

Every time Russo sends that fucker out here, he’s acting like a cat playing with a mouse.

“Mr. Grey, if I was looking to cause you any harm, the deed would have been done by now…”

Well, fucking do it, then, you pussy ass bastard, because I’m not running, hiding, or cowering from you anymore.


ANASTASIA

“Turn this fucking car around.” Chuck looks at me in the rearview mirror, bemused.

“What?” he asks, his eyes wide. That’s when I realize that we’re still on the bridge.

“As soon as you can, turn this fucking car around and take me back home. There’s no way in hell I’m taking all this attention to Helping Hands.” He’s silent for a minute.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says, and I’m not even pissed that he’s calling me ma’am. I am pissed, however, that half of GEH security appears to be following me to work. Where are they supposed to stay while I’m working and meeting with residents—on the goddamn bleachers?

I’m fuming. Something’s going on and he’s not telling me what it is. I call Grace and try not to sound too agitated.

“Grace, I’m working from home today. There seems to be some kind of development that I need to get sorted with my husband.” There’s silence.

“I’m not prying but is everything okay?” she asks.

“I’m not sure, but it’s nothing you should be worried about. I’m certain we can figure out what’s going on with the situation. Is Marilyn there yet?”

“I don’t think so. If she is, I haven’t seen her.”

We get to the end of the bridge and Chuck takes the exit and makes to get back on the bridge headed home.

“If you see her, tell her to come to my house,” I say. “I’ve been thinking about something since I had to recruit members of security to help move office furniture yesterday. What do you think about having a full-time custodial crew instead of a contracted cleaning service? I know we would need consider the financial implications like benefits and whatnot, but I think the benefits of having someone in-house would outweigh those of having a service. You know, building maintenance, per se.” There’s a pause.

“I hadn’t considered it,” she says. “Have you done any research on it?”

“Well, no,” I say, “but I was thinking that with the problems that we had a couple of years ago with the cleaning service not covering certain areas of the building and having to inspect their work all the time and renegotiate the contracts, it’s worth looking into for several reasons. There are going to be more people in the building that are not just residents. The classrooms are now going to be utilized. There’s obviously going to be a need to have someone around that can fix things in a pinch—be a handyman, a janitor… Not only that, but having a staff makes people more accountable for the work that needs to be done.”

“Yes,” she says. “I can see where you’re going with that. And we’re going to have to look into offering benefits for staff anyway because we’re expanding. We’re going to be eligible for federal funding and grants now with our accreditation and we’re not as slim as we were before on our donations with the publicity we’ve been getting from your appearances and from the PSA that I’ve learned is still airing in some areas. We should probably put together a PSA of our own once we have the foundation of our programs in place.”

“Oh, that’s a fantastic idea, Grace,” I tell her. “It’s great that we have the Faces of Abuse campaign still airing, but now we’re going to be offering many more services, and we definitely need to get that word out there.”

“When is your segment with Christian supposed to run again?” she asks. “Cary and I don’t watch much television and I don’t want to miss it.”

“It runs on Monday night,” I tell her. “I thought about a little viewing party, but not on a Monday night.”

“Why not?” Grace says. “With a few minor exceptions, we basically write our own schedules. I think a viewing party is a great idea.” I shrug.

“I’ll talk to Christian about it. See what he thinks.” I was so critical in my viewing of the segment before that I didn’t really see it. I was just watching for “bloopers,” so to speak. Our conversation has gotten our caravan back across the bridge and onto Mercer Island.

“Marilyn and I will start researching the pros and cons of a service versus in-house custodial staff and see if we can come up with the numbers for you. Keri’s looking into her teaching credentials in the states, by the way. She informs me that she should have some solid information by the end of the week.” I look to Keri for confirmation and she nods.

“Okay. I’m going to start looking into some benefit packages for the employees of the center. Who was putting together the grant paperwork and request for funding?”

“That would be Courtney,” I tell her. “She’s also supposed to be getting us some kind of presentation by week’s end. She’s been pretty diligent with it and her studies.”

“Speaking of studies, Harmony is here today. I saw that she was here yesterday, too.” I told her to spend time with her mother. She doesn’t have much time left.

“Did she tell you about Tina?” I ask.

“Yes, and her unfortunate situation with that wretched husband of hers,” she adds. “Unfortunately, this is the way the divorce game is played, my dear. I don’t know anything about divorce law, but I know that divorces have held up lives for decades from people who don’t want the divorce and won’t sign the papers. A lot of cases have been won—or lost, depending on which side you’re on—because one party is just tired of fighting and simply gives up and gives in. I’m not sure there’s much that she can do but let him wait it out and give him want he wants short of paying him off to hurry up and sign the papers so that Tina can die in peace.”

“I have Al on it,” I reply. If all that needs to be done is he sign the papers and this is over, I’m not beyond paying this bastard off to go away. Maybe I’m getting too involved, but to me, this is just another way that the Boogeyman is bearing his teeth, even though he’s not bearing them at me. “What’s Harmony doing there anyway? I told her to spend some time with her mom.”

“Tina shooed her away and she doesn’t know how to deal with it. She’s young and going through some things herself right now. Handling two major life changes is taking its toll.”

“What about her classes?” I ask.

“Not until this afternoon.” I shake my head.

“Where is she now?”

“She’s helping Michelle out in the dorms—busy work for the most part.” We drive into the gate at the Crossing.

“Well, keep her busy until it’s time to go to school. I’m sure something’s going to give. Maybe have her help you with researching benefit packages.”

“Oh, yes, that’s a good idea,” she concurs.

“I’m going to touch bases with my husband and have him get in touch with the guy who did the Faces PSA—see if we can get a meeting.”

“Excellent, and I’ll get to work on Project Harmony and the benefits research.”

“Indeed, you know where to find me.” I end the call and text Marilyn to meet me at the mansion before I exit the car.

“Is everything okay?” A frowning Gail is walking quickly through the portico to help get the twins from the car. I gesture to the train of vehicles behind me.

“Imagine this driving up to Helping Hands,” I say. “We’d have news helicopters hovering over the Center!” She looks back at the Caravan of Love while I try not to slam the door after Keri has removed Mikey from the car. Chuck has already unbuckled Minnie’s seat and hands the carrier to Gail.

“Oh,” she says with a frown, looking at the line of Audis. “Why the entourage?” she asks. I shake my head.

“Ask His Highness,” I say, waving my hand disgustedly while breezing past her into the house.

*-*

“I don’t know if I’ve told you, but I’m redoing my office here, too,” I say to Marilyn as she types away on her MacBook while sitting in one of the seats across from my desk. She raises her eyes to me.

“Why?” she asks. “It’s so comfy and pretty.”

21d54a5af21611b9705d7f44ebc4c980

“It served the original purpose, but now, it looks too executive. It’s not Zen enough.”

“Oh… the Zen,” she says, tapping at her MacBook again. “How’s that working for you?”

“Some days it helps. Others, I’m struggling,” I admit.

“Well, you just started. Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know.” Yeah, I know. I just wish the Boogeyman would stop rearing his ugly head at me. I’m fighting him. I’ve decided not to take his abuse lying down anymore. But damn, it’s exhausting! I’m trying not to internalize Harmony’s issue; Christian has the entire Intergalactic Force following me; and I haven’t even bothered to ask Marilyn if she’s taken a pregnancy test. She seems in better spirits, but who knows what that means. I need to talk to Ace in the worst way and I’m trying to wait until my appointment on Friday, but it’s hard as hell. I need some damn guidance.

For some reason, my need for guidance leads me to call my husband instead of my shrink.

“Butterfly… are you okay?” he answers frantically, another reason for me to believe that something more is going on than he’s letting on.

“Why wouldn’t I be okay, Christian?” I ask, keeping my voice even. He sighs.

“Don’t read anything into it,” he cautions. “I just got the word the you went back to the house instead of going in to work and just as I was about to call you, you called me. It startled me, that’s all.” I raise my eyebrow in disbelief.

“Well, I couldn’t take the Observation Committee to the Center,” I say stoically. “It would be counterproductive.”

“Yeah, about that,” he says. “Jason went all commando-special-ops on me and pulled that shit, but I straightened it out. You’ll have a couple of extra details with you, but that caravan shit is a wash. I’m sorry if it scared you.”

It didn’t scare me, it pissed me off.

“We’ll keep the detail to your car and one additional with the usual guards and maybe two others, and Butterfly, it’s just a precaution. You know me—I’d rather be safe than sorry any day, but even I know when too much is too much.”

I try not to react, but I can’t help the sigh of relief I release knowing that Jason was just going overboard and that there was no sniper or something waiting to pick me off at the Center.

“You do still carry your firearm with you, don’t you?” And just when I was starting to relax…

“Yes,” I reply.

“Good, because I had to remind him that you’re a proficient shot and that you stay armed so that he would back off a bit. Hell, you’d probably pick off somebody coming at you faster than any of them would… I’m reminded of a certain Monster Bitch.”

I can’t help but laugh, and the tension is broken again, which I’m sure was his intent.

“I have a purpose for my call,” I say, not noticing that Marilyn has left the room. Where did she go?

“What is it?”

“Well, first, I want to see if you can set a meeting with that guy who did the Faces of Abuse PSA. We’re thinking of doing one for the new services at Helping Hands and we need direction.”

“I’ll give him a call,” Christian says. “And second?”

“I don’t know if you’ve been informed, but Tina Franklin has taken a turn for the worst.” I hear him sigh.

“Really?” he says, his voice deflated.

“Unfortunately, yes. She’s at home on hospice. Harmony’s not doing very well, so this portion kind of has a two and a three.” He pauses.

“I’m listening.”

I tell him about how Tina is pushing Harmony away in her last days. I’m certain she thinks it’s an attempt to spare Harmony the pain of watching her fade away. The problem is that she’s going to need these last moments to cling to when her mother is gone, and Tina is unintentionally taking those away from her. I beseech Christian to go and see her, maybe see if he can talk to her since he knows Tina so much better than I do. When he hesitates, I ask him how he would feel if this were Grace and he was in this position. He sighs.

“I’ll stop by after work,” he says, surrendering.

“There’s more,” I tell him.

“More than this? Sweet Jesus, what else?”

“Harmony’s divorce isn’t final. She had an attorney, but it turns out that the asshole was a spy for her husband. I’ve talked to Al about helping but he hasn’t gotten back to me yet. Her husband is stalling the proceedings waiting for Tina to die. He knows that Harmony is going to get an inheritance and if she gets it before they’re divorced…”

“He may be entitled to half,” Christian finishes. “Yes, the dirty business of divorce. Dad always talked about hating to see two people who once loved each other rip one another apart in court.”

“Isn’t there something that can be done?” I ask. “Can’t the court force that asshole to sign the papers? If not, Tina’s going to die or Harmony’s going to give in and—either way—he’s going to get what he wants.

“Short of busting the guys kneecaps and making him sign the papers, there’s no way around this.”

“Can we bust his kneecaps?” I ask, only half-serious.

“Butterfly…” my husband scolds.

“I know, I know,” I say, “it’s just that this guy has been dirt from the very beginning…”

I tell him the whole story about how the marriage was a farce from day one, the whole time the soon-to-be-ex-husband hoping to get his hands-on Harmony’s money not knowing that the money wasn’t Harmony’s. I explain that Harmony is not a trust fund kid like Tina’s other children may have been; that Harmony is the adopted great-granddaughter that her parents didn’t want and how Tina kept her money out of the snake’s hands when she saw through him. I told him about the guy’s philandering and how horribly he treated Harmony once he realized he wasn’t getting a hold of her money, forcing her to leave to avoid the terrible treatment and infidelity.

“Now, it looks like he’s going to get what he was after all along,” I conclude.

“Well, that explains a lot,” Christian says. “I was wondering how Tina could have a daughter so young. I’m also wondering if all of her children are going to come home now that she’s in hospice, or if they’re all still too busy with their lives.”

I don’t say what I’m thinking… that they’ll all show up after she’s dead looking for their cut.

“So, we have a parasite on our hands,” Christian says, “and short of going the old-school route and giving him the beating that he so richly deserves or making him an offer he can’t refuse, he’s going to get off Scott free with half of Harmony’s inheritance. I’m not buying that. There’s a way around that somehow.”

“I don’t see that there is, Christian, except for Harmony not to get the money… and that’s punishing Harmony for her asshole ex-husband’s actions.”

“I’m a businessman. There’s always a way,” he says confidently. “I don’t mean to rush you, baby, but there’s a ton of shit that I have to get to today and you just gave me a couple of additional projects to add to the pile. Was there anything else you needed?”

“No, that was it. I’ll call you if I think of anything else.”

“Okay… now I’m going to see Tina after work. Unless I can get out of here early, that means I’ll be home late today.” His voice is placating, like he thinks I’ll break—not that I can blame him.

“Okay, that’s fine. I won’t wait up,” I say.

“Not that damn late!” he adds.

“I get it, Christian. You’ll be home later. I’ll see you when you get here.” We exchange I love you’d and end the call. So, the threat’s not so bad that I need eight people following me, but he wants to make sure that I’m carrying my gun. Like he said, Ana, don’t read anything into it.

The whole thing with the adoption has made me think about my biological family—or the lack thereof—and I go to that website I logged into last year. The damn thing’s been charging my account every month for a year and I haven’t even been paying attention to it. I think I remember Mare saying something about it right before the twins were born and I said that I would get to it, but nothing since then.

Nothing from Marilyn anyway.

When I log into the website, it’s full of hits and notifications. Holy cow, Batman! Are these all people who are related to me? Shit, it’s going to take me months to get through all this data and all these people!

I log out of the site. My brain can’t even absorb that shit right now. Is this a box that I really want to open? After nearly 30 years, here comes cousin Ana? And are these people legit or are they just people on the site who may know who I am and are trying to get a piece of the rock?

“Dear Jesus, not now,” I say, opening my email program instead. I see the email from Mia that I’ve been avoiding, the one with the link to her wedding site. I roll my eyes and sigh.

“Might as well look,” I say aloud and click on the link.

The site opens to a background of Mia and Ethan on their wedding day, all smiles and gleefully posing as Mr. and Mrs. Kavanaugh. There are so many links and features that I don’t know where to begin. My first destination is the guest list. I have no idea who put this together, but each person who signed the guest book is featured in this section—pictures with their scribbled names underneath and their relation to the bride and groom, if any. I quickly find the picture of me and Christian. Someone caught us walking into the ballroom together, I have no idea when. We’re very casual and he’s holding my hand. It’s a simple picture of us and I like it—not posed or phony, just me and Christian as we are… well, most of the time.

Most of the other pictures of the guests were either pictures from the photo booths or candid shots like me and Christian. I don’t know if Adelaide will peruse Mia’s website, but if she does, the guestlist will alert her that her granddaughter is still in town, or at least was for the wedding. Her photo is with Vickie, protectively holding her around the waist. Her smile is large and genuine. She looks radiant, and Vickie’s adoration of her clearly shows through the photograph. I won’t alert her that the picture is here. I think it’ll only cause her undue anxiety. She travels in some of the same circles as her grandparents. If it’s meant to be that they bump into each other, then they will.

I get lost in the website, reliving the night through many of the photographs and enjoying the journey. I even get a little miffed watching Marlow dance with his little walking-fart-dress-wearing date. Geez, I hope she’s not a girlfriend. Then there’s the picture of Carrick holding Grace close to him on the dancefloor and planting a tender kiss on her cheek. Elliot and Val didn’t escape the smooch-cam either. And of course, me and Christian. There’s even a picture of Christian placing a tender kiss on Tina’s cheek when she and Harmony were about to leave the reception.

A kinder, gentler Christian Grey…

I didn’t, however, expect to see a video clip of us singing for Mia. I guess somebody couldn’t resist.


CHRISTIAN

I hope I’ve convinced my wife to resume going into the office. I haven’t had a cooking lesson from Gail in over a week and I’m certain that I’ve completely forgotten how to crack an egg… which is ridiculous. I proceed with what I was about to do when my wife called me and interrupted my thought process.

“Terry Smalls here.”

“Smalls, Grey. I’ve been waiting for an update on my grandfather’s storage bins. What’s the news?”

“We’re still sorting, sir,” he says. “It’s like one of those boxes where you open it and there’s another box and you open it and there’s another box and you open it and there’s another box. I think you or your uncle should look at these manifests…”

“Why don’t you just tell me what’s in there?” I ask impatiently.

“Where do I start?” he laments. “We’ve got about five bins full of antique furniture—real quality stuff. We’ve got at least two and maybe three bins of knick knacks, and when I say ‘knick knacks,’ I don’t mean ‘whatnots.’ I mean old fashioned baby clothes, bronzed baby shoes, somebody’s wedding dress—According to the manifest, there’s a collection of Waterford Crystal somewhere in one of these bins. You know they don’t make that anymore, right?”

“Yes, I’m aware,” I say.

“Oh! Yeah, and three more cars.” I nearly drop the phone.

More cars?” I ask.

“Yeah, three,” he confirms. “We haven’t located them yet.”

“Then how do you know they’re there?” I inquire.

“They’re on the manifests,” he says.

“Classics? Restored, like the Mustang?”

“I don’t know, sir. We haven’t found them yet…”

“Goddammit, drop everything and find the cars first! My grandfather was sick well before he died. Those things might have been sitting there for years!”

“Will do, sir.” I end the call and push my hands through my hair. My grandfather was fucking rich, or he spent his money in such a way as to accumulate an array of valuable things that he must have horded for his sons—four classic cars, four brothers. That’s got to be what that is.

I must shake the thought from my head about the cars because there’s nothing I can do about this until I know what the cars are and what kind of shape they’re in.

I spend the morning and part of the afternoon pretending to concentrate on the business of mergers and acquisitions, but it’s no use. I want to know what the fuck is taking Smalls so long to unearth those damn vehicles. Then, I get the news that one of my safe havens is about to fall prey to the worst type of vermin and, like I said, short of breaking his kneecaps, I don’t know that there’s much I can do to help her.

Short of breaking his kneecaps… I’m not beyond breaking his kneecaps, but let’s see what we can get done legally first.

“Well, truth be told, Chris,” Al says once I summon him to my office, “I know about assets and I love a good juicy fight, but I never really got into divorce law.”

“It’s a contract,” I tell him. “It’s the same thing. Think about a merger that’s about to happen. We’ve got assets that we want to hide without tipping off the buyer or the SEC.”

“I didn’t say that I didn’t know what to do. I said that basically, this isn’t my area of expertise.”

“Okay, so get to the point. What does this all mean?” I ask, impatiently.

“Nothing. He can’t touch her inheritance. If they were still in love and planning to be married for life, he still couldn’t touch her inheritance. The only way that he could touch her inheritance is if she intermingled the money together with the marital assets somehow, like if she put the money in a joint account or if it was property and he paid to repair it. Other than that, he can hold the divorce up until hell freezes over. He’ll never get that money.” I just stare at him.

“I thought all money that came into the marriage after the vows was automatically community property,” I protest.

“Nope,” he says. “Even in community property states, inheritances are not ‘his, hers, and ours.’ If that money is deposited into an account that belongs only to Ms. Harmony, Mr. Harmony can’t fuck with it.” Well, I’ll be damned.

“Have you told Harmony yet?” I ask.

“I haven’t had the chance.”

“Let me do it,” I say. “I’m going to see Aunt Tina this evening and I’d love to be able to put both their fears to rest simultaneously.”

“Be my guest,” he says.

That fucker better be glad I’ve discovered that he can’t get any of Harmony’s money. I’m not the vigilante-save-every-damsel-in-distress-that-crosses-my-path guy, but any discomfort I’ve ever inflicted on any woman with few exceptions has been consensual. I hate for men to take advantage of women, especially emotionally and even more so financially, but I hate it even more when a jerk or a crook gets over on the good guy, and that seems to happen a lot.

Hearing the news about Harmony and Tina helps me to relax a bit and I get a little more done during the afternoon than I do during the morning. I decide to leave the office early to go see about Aunt Tina, but not before I touch bases with Smalls. How fucking hard can it be to find four whole ass vehicles?

Just when I’m about to lose my complete patience with Smalls and send someone else to Detroit to get the job done, my intercom comes alive.

“Mr. Grey, I have Terry Smalls on line 2.”

Without even answering her, I pick up line 2.

“It’s late afternoon here, so I know it’s after dark there. What took so long?” I bark into the phone. “They’re cars. What took hours to find cars?”

“Well, sir, all the cars are parked behind packed boxes like the first one was. Knowing that at least one of them has fine crystal in it, I’m sure you didn’t want us to go tearing through them like a bull in a china shop.” His voice is crisper than I would like, but he has been rummaging through storage bins all day. I bite back the urge to reprimand him.

“Oh, you found the damn cars?” I ask.

“Oh, we found the cars. Your grandfather apparently has a wonderful sense of humor,” he says mirthlessly. Watch it, Skippy.

“Meaning?” I say, nearly growling.

“Meaning,” he begins, softening his tone, “finding the cars meant going through riddles on the manifest. We unpacked at least two rows in four bins before we found the last car. One of my guys apparently likes logic problems, so he was quickly able to figure out the last two saving us a massive amount of time.”

“Riddles?” I ask incredulously. “Like what?”

“Oh, God, sir, please don’t put me through that again,” he laments, but continues anyway. “Things like two farmers go to the market to buy wheat one buys 45 bags the other buys 75 bags when they get home they split it evenly between three farmers but only one farmer paid for it and… you get the idea.” He says the entire thing without stopping. “When you solve the riddle, you get the number of a manifest or a storage bin, only we didn’t figure it out until after we found the second car. We’ll be here all night putting these boxes away.”

“You’ve got the boxes out already. Why not work in shifts getting some of that stuff sorted instead of shoving it back into the bins? I only suggest that because it’s got to be a better use of time than to shove it all back in there just to pull it back out again.”

“My guys are tired. I’ll run it by them, but I’m worried about accuracy with an exhausted crew.”

“You’re right. Not a smart idea. What can you tell me about the cars?”

“Well, we can see the cars, but we can’t move them. They’re open, but the keys and the titles are all hidden in RiddleLand again, and I have a feeling these are personal.” Oh, dear Lord.

“Please, explain,” I sigh.

“Well, in the glove box of each car, there’s a riddle. After each riddle, it says, ‘Ask the boys.’” I wish I had more patience for this. I’m not flying back out to Detroit. I don’t care if he finds gold bullion in one of those bins.

“Can you give me an example?” I ask.

“’What has four fingers and a thumb but is not living?’ That one was easy enough, a glove. But what does that mean to me? At first, we thought it meant look in the glove box of the other cars, but there were just more riddles. That’s when we saw the words, ‘Ask the boys.’ So, like I said. I think these are more personal.” Now, I’m exhausted and I haven’t even done any of the work.

“Send me pictures of the cars and the riddles, please. I’ll talk to my uncle. By the way, what kind of condition are the other cars in?”

“Cherry,” he says. “You have to see them. There’s no way I can explain it.” Cherry… that’s pretty ripe.

“Email them, pack up the boxes. Go have dinner and get some rest. I’ll be waiting for your call tomorrow.” My way of telling him that I won’t bother him since I know it’s going to take forever to get the boxes back into the bins.

“Yes, sir.”

*-*

It’s about five thirty when we arrive at Aunt Tina’s. The butler doesn’t recognize me when he opens the door, not that he has any reason to, but at first, he denies me entry or access to see her.

“I know what condition she’s in and she’s a very dear friend of mine. I’d like to see her please. Tell her it’s Christian,” I insist.

“I’m afraid that’s impossible,” he says, his nose in the air. “Mrs. Franklin is not seeing visitors.”

“She’ll see me,” I persist. He doesn’t relent. “Is Harmony here?” His face distorts in distaste. What the fuck is that all about?

“No, she’s not,” he announces. As if in answer to his question, a late model Jetta drives up the round drive. One of the other staff opens the driver side door and Harmony steps out.

“Christian,” she says, recognition setting in as she approaches the door. “How are you? It’s good to see you.”

“I wish I could say the same,” I complain. “I mean to say that it’s good to see you, but I can’t seem to get in to see Tina.” Harmony frowns.

“She’s not doing very well,” she says.

“Yes, I know. My wife told me. She explained her condition to me at Mia’s wedding and she asked me to come by and see her. Here I am, but I can’t get in.” She looks at the butler.

“Roger, what’s the meaning of this?” Harmony says. Roger looks at her but doesn’t acknowledge her. “Let Christian in. What’s wrong with you?”

“Ms. Tina is not in any condition to see guests,” he says snootily.

“That’s not for you to decide!” Harmony retorts. “Are you her doctor, now? Move.”

He says nothing but refuses to grant me access.

“Roger, I know you’ve worked for my mother for many years and you know the lay of this property like the back of your hand, but this. Is not. Your. House!” she hisses. Roger’s lips form a straight line. “Now, step aside, and please allow multibillionaire and mega-entrepreneur Christian Trevelyan Grey into my home!”

She’s glaring at him and he glares right back at her like she’s nobody. I’ve had enough. I shove this fucker aside and step into the house.

“Harmony, where’s Aunt Tina?” I ask, ignoring Roger’s appalled gasps and scoldings.

“She’s upstairs in her room,” she says. I take the spiral stairs two at a time. I don’t know why I feel such a sense of urgency, but I need to get to her to tell her what I’ve discovered and to let her know not to push Harmony away.

“Which room?” I ask Harmony when we get to the top of the stairs.

“Third door on the right,” she says.

“You can’t just go barging in on someone like this!” Roger protests. I whirl around on him in an instant.

“I’ve had all I’m going to take from you!” I hiss. “Now, if you don’t shut up…” I let the words hang in the air. Jason comes casually up the stairs behind me and stands behind Roger. He deflates at the sight of Jason and shrinks back a bit.

“How do you get anything done with him around?” I ask.

“It’s a trial,” Harmony admits.

“Let me guess. He knows more than you do and won’t listen to anything you say because he’ll only take orders from Tina. What’s more is that he walks around with a haughty ass entitled attitude looking down on everybody even though he’s nothing more than the help.” I’m staring at him waiting for a response or reaction from him. I get none.

“You’ve hit that nail right on the head,” Harmony says. Yes, I said the help. Gail, Jason, Chuck—that’s my family that happen to be my employees. They don’t act entitled and they certainly don’t treat my guests like vermin. So, yes, he’s nothing more than the help.

“Does he have any idea that everything he gazes upon and holds dear is going to you when your mother dies?” Roger’s eyes widen and his face pales. Harmony’s eyes widen as well.

“How do you know that?” she asks, surprised.

“I’m Christian Grey. I have my ways.” I say, never taking my eyes off Roger. I don’t know that, but he doesn’t know that I don’t know. “The very reason for my visit is to let you know that I’ve discovered some information about your inheritance and your asshole husband that should put your and Tina’s fears to rest.”

“I… I thought Ana had her friend Allen working on it,” Harmony says. I finally break my gaze with Roger and look at Harmony.

“She did,” I tell her. “Allen’s my head of legal. He’s a specialist in asset law, but he’s not a divorce attorney. No worries, though. I spoke to my father, too. He’ll be representing you in your divorce. But, first, I need to share some news with you and Aunt Tina.” I gesture to her to lead the way. She steps in front of me and walks to Tina’s door. As we’re about to enter, Roger makes to enter with us. I hold my hand up at his chest.

“We won’t need you, Roger,” I say. “Jason?” Jason steps in front of Roger as Harmony and I step into the bedroom.

“Sir!” Jason stops me somewhat urgently. He leans in to me.

“Sir, I’m getting feedback on my earpiece,” he says lowly. My brow furrows and I shake my head. What does that mean?

“This room is bugged,” he informs me. I’m instantly horrified.

“You’re sure?”

“I’m positive,” he confirms.

“There’s no way to scramble the signal?”

“Don’t dawdle there at the door! Come in!” Tina demands, her back to us. I look to Jason.

“I can call Alex. It’ll probably fuck up your cell signal, too.” I nod and put my hand in the small of Harmony’s back.

“Careful what you say,” I whisper to her as we walk across the room to Aunt Tina.

“Mom?” Harmony says softly. Tina takes her hand.

“You just don’t listen, do you, child?” she says sweetly. Harmony can’t control her emotions.

“It’s my fault, Aunt Tina,” I say, emerging from behind the chair. Her face is worn and tired but lights up when she sees me.

“Christian!” she says with excitement. “Are you being a bad influence on my Harmony?” Harmony kneels at her mother’s feet and lays her head in Tina’s lap. She weeps quietly, and Tina gently strokes her hair.

“This is why I don’t want you here,” she says, trying to comfort Harmony.

“This is exactly why she needs to be here, Aunt Tina,” I say softly touching her shoulder. “These will be her last moments with you. She needs every one of them.” Aunt Tina looks up at me and nods, still stroking Harmony’s hair.

“At least do your mom a solid and don’t cry every time you see me,” Aunt Tina says to Harmony, who tries to control her sniffles.

“Yes, ma’am,” she says, her voice soft. Tina shifts a bit in her chair.

“See? I’m not gone yet,” Aunt Tina says. “I just saw a commercial that you’re going to be on that program next Monday—you and your wife. What’s that about?” I look at my phone and I still have a very clear signal.

“We did a segment somewhat introducing ourselves to the world.” Aunt Tina tsk’s.

“You don’t need to be introduced to the world,” she says. “They all know who you are.”

“No, they don’t,” I smile. “They just think they do. Your butler certainly doesn’t know me. And he doesn’t like me either.”

“He’s just protective,” she says. “He’s been with me for a long time.”

“Is that why he doesn’t respect Harmony either?” I ask. Harmony raises her head from her mother’s lap.

“Christian…” She shakes her head.

“My dear, if Tina is the only one he’ll listen to, then Tina is the one that has to let him know he can’t treat you that way,” I inform her. Tina’s frail hand lifts Harmony’s chin.

“Is this true?” she asks. “Is he disrespectful to you?”

“He just doesn’t know me, Momma,” she says sweetly.

“Nonsense!” Tina says, pressing a button on the table next to her bed. Roger bursts through the door almost immediately, pushing past Jason and appearing before Tina.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says, making eye-contact only with Tina.

“Roger are you being a pompous asshole again?” she says. His brows furrow.

“Ma’am?” he says.

“You treat my daughter as if she were me, today and from now on, or you can pack your things and leave this house tonight! Are we clear?” His eyes widen.

“Ma’am!” he says shocked. “Ma’am, I assure you…”

“I’m not looking for any of your English butler-school-taught bullshit right now, Roger. I am looking for a yes or no answer. Are. We. Clear?” He straightens.

“Yes…” he says. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Now, apologize to my daughter for how you’ve apparently been treating her when my back is turned.” He turns to Harmony.

“Ms. Harmony, I’m deeply sorry for my behavior…”

“Your insolence!” Tina demands. Roger clears his throat.

“For my insolence,” he corrects. “I humbly beg your forgiveness and assure you that it will never happen again.” Harmony turns away from him and rests her chin on her mother’s lap.

“It’s my understanding that you were rude to my guest as well,” Aunt Tina says. “I’m appalled, not only because he’s a dear friend of my family but also because you felt you have the right to treat anyone who visits my home that way. I’m dying, Roger, but I’m not dead yet! You should be glad I don’t fire you right now. I’m waiting.” Roger raises his gaze to me and I raise my hand to stop him.

“I don’t want his apology,” I say. Aunt Tina looks up at me.

“Christian, is that the behavior of a gentleman?” she scolds.

“No, ma’am,” I say, “and I don’t feel the need to be a gentleman in his presence.” I turn back to Aunt Tina while he continues to glare at me. “Forgive me, Aunt Tina.” She covers my hand and nods.

“You can go now,” she says to Roger. When he leaves, she opens her mouth as if to yawn. “Ah,” she says.

“What is it, Mom?” Harmony asks.

“There’s almost always a constant humming in my ears,” she says. “It’s gone.” I look at my phone. There’s no signal. Jason has found a way to scramble the signal in the room. I examine Aunt Tina.

“Aunt Tina, do you have a hearing aid?” I ask. I can’t see one, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have one. Sure enough, she pulls a device out of her ear that’s no bigger than a fingertip.

“I’ve had it calibrated a hundred times, but it doesn’t help.” I sigh.

“Both ears?” I ask. She nods. “Aunt Tina, I have some things to tell you.”


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

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 ~~love and handcuffs