Raising Grey: Chapter 70—The Women

Hello my friends,

One of my readers and Facebook friends Charlette Bishop has lost her son and is unable to properly lay him to rest. As many of us are parents, I’m certain that we can empathize with the unimaginable pain of possibly losing a child. Couple that with the distress of being unable to provide that child with a proper burial, and the situation becomes utterly unthinkable. I’m asking anyone who can to please follow the red link below and donate to the family’s efforts to bury their loved one. There’s strength in numbers, y’all, and I can guarantee you that ANY AMOUNT will be appreciated. Please help if you can.

Help A Family Bury A Beloved Son

I know every week, it seems like it’s something else, but you can’t time when these things are going to happen. Please, PLEASE help if you can. Thank you in advance.

GOLDEN—I’m getting a lot of inquiries about her. I haven’t abandoned the story, but I have to follow the Muse. I’ve been battling (and I do mean BATTLING) with a particular storyline for Raising and if I break off of it, I’m going to lose it. 

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 70—The Women

ANASTASIA

“All the Grey women have gone on shopping sprees for our weddings,” Mia begins.

“I didn’t!” Val protests.

“Well, then, we rectify that now—for you and for Luma,” Mia protests.

“But I don’t need anything, child,” Luma says sweetly. “Herman gives me everything I need and more. I don’t even have to work if I don’t want to.”

“There’s not one little thing that you can think of that you may want for yourself?” I ask. “That’s the whole idea of the Black Friday shopping spree. I can almost guarantee that none of us actually needs anything. I’ll probably be loaded down with baby gear—since Harry is quickly introducing my son to the joys of walking. Val, I know you’re going to be on the lookout for cute maternity clothes and stuff for the baby’s room. This is the time to not think about prices and do the impulse shopping thing. Hell, I hate shopping, but I look forward to this every year.”

“Don’t worry, Luma,” Grace says, hooking arms with her. “I’ll show you how it’s done.”

By the time we’re getting ready to head to Miana’s, Luma has shed her timidity of shopping and has purchased some beautiful new pieces. She admits that she could use a color and trim but won’t go overboard at the salon. As usual, Sophie sticks close to me in this setting, but doesn’t say too much. I guess it’s up to me.

“So,” I say as we’re getting our pedicures. “Thanksgiving.” She twists her lips.

“Yeah—food, fun, family, yippee,” she says with little enthusiasm.

“You’re beginning to sound like a surly teenager,” I say, raising my brow. She sighs.

“Usually, it’s just me and Mags, talking about… whatever, and Mariah and Celida and let’s face it. They’ve been through some crappy stuff losing their mom and their dad, but they’re basically the same person and they’re both… so young. At first, hanging around them was kinda fun. Now, it’s more like babysitting.” She looks down at her toes as the technician trims her nails.

“And Marlow?” I ask. She twists her lips again but doesn’t make eye-contact with me.

“What about him?” she says, trying to be impassive.

“He was pretty upset when he left yesterday,” I inform her.

“Hmmm,” she says, unmoved.

“Why do you think that was?”

“Because his girlfriend was mad,” she informs me matter-of-factly.

“So, what was her problem?” I ask.

“She can’t take a joke, I guess,” Sophie mumbles.

“Is that what happened?” I press. “You were joking?” She looks up at me and her expression says that she’s aware that I already know what happened.

“I wasn’t talking about her,” Sophie fibs. “Maggie doesn’t like her—I don’t know why. She’s says Britney’s a phony and that she’s anorexic because she so skinny.” I nod.

“I see. So… you didn’t say anything about Britney needing a gravy sandwich.” Sophie twists her lips and looks back down at her toes.

“That’s what I thought,” I say.

“That’s not what I said,” she mumbles.

“Well, what did you say?”

“I said she should have some more gravy. That’s all,” she says petulantly.

“And of course, that had nothing to do with her being skinny, right?”

Maggie said she was skinny, not me!” she defends.

“But did the gravy suggestion follow Maggie’s comment?” I accuse, and my little friend is quiet again. I’m a shrink, kid. Don’t try to pull anything past me.

“Listen, Sophie, I’m not really sure what the issue is with you and Marlow’s… dates, but this sparring really needs to stop. It’s only going to piss him off, and it’s only going to make him—and you—feel uncomfortable at family gatherings. Since we consider you both part of our family, that would certainly be a less-than-ideal development. From what I gather, what you said about Britney hurt her. Now, I know that twit Maya was a real piece of work, but did Britney do anything to bring that on?” She twists her lips again. She twists her lips a lot. I think that’s her tell.

“No,” she admits, looking back at her toes again.

“Listen,” I say turning to her, “you know that if anybody does anything unfair to you or treats you badly, I’ve got your back. But I can’t defend you when you’re deliberately mean to people for no reason. You wouldn’t want anyone to treat you that way, would you?” She nervously starts to twitch and fiddle her fingers. “Is something going on? Do you want to talk?”

She raises beseeching eyes to me as if she’s begging me to understand how she’s feeling and just as I swear she’s about to open up and talk to me, Mia and Val gleefully burst into the room to get their pedicures. She looks at them and clams up again, shaking her head that she has nothing to say.

And the moment is lost.

I reach over and take her hand, causing her to bring her eyes to mine again.

“Anytime, Sophia,” I promise her. “You can talk to me about anything, anytime.” She drops her eyes and nods again, but says nothing else. How long is this poor girl going to carry this torch and bear this burden by herself? She either needs to say something about it or get over it and move on.

When we arrive at Grey Manor after the shopping and the primping, Marlow’s car is visibly one of the vehicles in the circular drive and Sophie suddenly has the look that she would rather be anywhere but here. She looks like a caged rabbit, like if I open the door and let her out, she’s going to run into the woods and disappear.

“Chuck, Keri, can you take Minnie inside and start unloading the bags? I need to speak to Sophie.”

Chuck looks at me for an instant, then nods and exits the car. Keri quickly leans into the back where Sophie and I are sitting and removes Minnie from her car seat, leaving me and Sophie alone in the car.

“Okay, Sophie, the last time you looked that green was at Mia’s reception. Shortly thereafter, you had one of the guards take you home. There’s nowhere to run. What’s going on?”

She gives me that same look again and I’m just waiting for someone to come knocking on the window or throw the car door open to ruin the moment once again. Thank God no one does.

“You have to swear to me that you’ll never tell anybody—nobody, ever—or I’ll never speak to you again!” she vows.

“I’ll never tell anybody anything that you tell me unless I feel like you’re in danger,” I promise. She sighs and looks down at her lap.

“I like Marlow,” she says, her voice small, “a lot. I know he doesn’t like me like that. I know I don’t stand a chance. I know I’m too young. I know this will never happen, but it doesn’t make me stop liking him. I look forward to family gatherings and holidays because I’ll get to see him—and then he shows up with some twit or some scarecrow. Last year at Thanksgiving, we had a great time! We talked, and he didn’t make me feel like a kid. We could always talk. At Christmas, and New Year’s… and then at Aunt Val and Uncle Elliot’s wedding, he danced with me. It was…” She trails off, looking straight ahead out the windshield. “… Really nice. And then, the girls started coming around and… he stopped talking to me.”

Her gaze drops back to her lap as she tries to find her words.

“It was just like one day, I didn’t exist anymore,” she says, her voice cracking. “He used to ask me about school and talk to me about what he wanted to do, where he wanted to go to college. Now, he doesn’t even speak to me when he comes into the room! I’m not stupid! He’ll be graduating soon and I’m not even in high school yet. He’s way out of my league. Geez, I don’t even have a league, but did he have to start treating me like I’m nobody? Like he doesn’t even know I’m alive? What does it matter what I say about his scarecrow, vomit-dress-wearing girlfriends if he doesn’t even know that I’m alive?” she wails.

She buries her face in her hands and begins to sob. I put my arms around her and let her cry. I can’t offer her any comfort. She’s right. Crushes are painful, and she’s got a crush on someone that she can’t have. They might as well be on two different planets for the chance that she has to be with him—at all. It’s good that she understands that, but it’s bad, too. There’s no hope for them, yet she has to see him at every. Family. Outing. And he’s not going to stop bringing his girlfriends around. Now is not the time for me to tell her to buck up and get over it. It’s just going to make it worse, so I just let her cry.

Her crying doesn’t subside, and she eventually lays in my lap and continues to weep. After she’s been there for a few moments, Marlow comes out of the house. He looks left to right as if he’s looking for someone, then he quickly strides to his car. I realize that Sophie and I are the only ones who haven’t come into the house, and he’s looking for us… or at least he’s looking to avoid us.

Don’t worry, Marlow, the coast is clear. She doesn’t want to see you right now any more than you want to see her.

After belting himself into the seat, he starts the car and drives off, unknowingly leaving Sophie in a puddle of her own tears.

*-*

I didn’t realize that I had completely skipped my session with Ace until Christian asked me about it at brunch the next day. I don’t even know if Ace expected me to keep a session on Black Friday. Nonetheless, I didn’t hear from him and he didn’t hear from me, so…

It’s time for the Greater Seattle Adopt-A-Family Reunion and I’m ready to see the families that we’ve helped throughout the years. Granted, Helping Hands isn’t the only charity that takes part in this occasion, but I’m still anxious to see the families that we’ve helped thus far. Last year, I was elegant in maternity green, but this year, I’m fierce in an elegant black halter gown with a beaded back and a pair of crystal-encrusted Circonvolu Strass Christian Louboutin stiletto strappy sandals. So that I don’t freeze my ass off, but I’m still able to showcase my gown, I’m wearing a burgundy custom-made full-length maxi coat that only buttons to the waist then flares out like a cape.

The rest of the ladies are equally elegant in their jewel-toned gowns and fancy footwear—Mia in rich magenta, Val and Mandy in brilliant blues, Luma in yellow topaz, and Grace in a deep, cheery pink. Our gentlemen all accompany us in sleek Brioni, Tom Ford, and Cesare Paciotti. Even my dad dons Armani for the occasion.

The initial portion of the evening has been changed from the usual cocktail hour to a more family-friendly meet-and-greet as some of the older children of the adopted families were invited to join us tonight. This, of course, means that Marlow is in attendance. I don’t know why I was fretting him bringing a date with him, but my concerns are unfounded as he accompanies his mother instead.

I can’t help but stare in wonder at the changes I see in them both since that day that we met. He was so angry, and she was so… small. She’s still a petite woman, of course, especially next to her very tall son, but back then, she was… emotionally miniscule. Her abusive husband had beaten all the life and energy out of her, and she was just here. Today, she looks vibrant and beautiful, refreshed. She’s telling me about her new beau, Zack—well, maybe not so new, she’s been seeing him for a few months now, but she won’t allow anything to become too serious too quickly. That’s the reason we haven’t met him yet.

We talk for a moment about Maggie and Marlow and the strides they’ve made in the last two years. She mentions that Maggie sometimes asks what happened to her father. She’s gotten older and understands the world a little better, but still doesn’t know the whole story. Marcia just glosses over it when the topic arises.

“It may be time to tell her the truth,” I counsel Marcia. “She’s old enough to understand and whatever hypotheses she formulates, you want them to be based on facts.”

I shouldn’t be surprised that I have to don the Dr. Steele-Grey hat tonight. I don’t mind, though. The families have all come a long way.

We’re seated for dinner and we enjoy a delicious rack of lamb with trimmings while we congregate and share stories. As usual, a slideshow comprised of pictures of the families and various happenings with the supporting charities follows dinner, I get a kick out of hearing the various exclamations of recognition when people see their family or their organization on the screen. When the slideshow is over, I begin to make my way around the room to do the necessary networking required to make connections and keep the donations rolling in. While I’m mingling, I scan the room hoping to see the one person that I haven’t talked to in eons.

“Thelma!” I say once I finally spot her. She’s wearing a beautiful evening gown, silver with a hint of blue, lace back and crisscross scooped front with a special extra feature.

“I see congratulations are in order,” I add, taking a seat next to her once we greet one another. “When are you due?”

“This little bundle is due in March,” she says, rubbing her belly, “but if he’s anything like little Jimmy, he’ll be here by Valentine’s Day.”

“Couldn’t wait to meet Mommy and Daddy, huh?” I ask. Thelma smiles.

“No,” she laughs. “He was in quite the hurry.”

“How are things going?” I ask.

“Oh, Ana,” she says. “Things couldn’t be better. Jimmy fought to shake that infection at first, but he never took time off—that’s why it wouldn’t leave completely. I fussed a little, but you know my Jimmy… he’s hard-headed. Once he was finally well, though, he put some healthy weight back on, and he was feeling like himself again and…” She points at her stomach with both index fingers and smiles.

“I can’t remember a time we’ve been happier except when we first got married. His bosses saw how serious he is about his job and how well he works, and they made him a supervisor—a raise, better benefits… I’m able to put money away for a rainy day now. It’s been so wonderful. I’ve been meaning to call you and catch you up on things, but it’s kind of hard to do these days,” she laughs.

“I can imagine,” I say.

“It was wonderful to get the invite to the gala,” she says. “I couldn’t wait to see you and tell you turned our lives around. I can’t begin to thank you…”

“Ana!”

I’m caught off guard by a man’s voice exclaiming my name. I turn around and see a very stocky James coming towards us carrying two large glasses of what looks like orange juice.

“James, hi,” I say, rising from my seat. He places the glasses on the table.

“Oh, I was so hoping I would see you,” he says wrapping me in a warm embrace.

“I’m glad to see you, too, James,” I say, returning his embrace.

“Please, call me Jimmy,” he says, releasing me with a smile. “Bella only calls me James when she’s mad at me.” I raise my brow.

“I’m Bella,” Thelma says, raising her hand, and I nod. Jimmy turns to his wife.

“Isn’t she glorious?” he says, looking lovingly at Thelma before kneeling down to her.

“Stop it, now,” she says, playfully swatting his shoulder. He gently kisses her cheek and takes her hand.

“Do you need anything else?” he asks. “Are your feet okay?”

“My feet are fine, Jimmy,” she says cupping his cheek. “And you can have one glass of champagne if you want…”

“Oh, no,” he says. “I’m not taking any chances. It’s orange juice for us both tonight. I have to get my packages home safe and sound.” He smiles at her before turning to me. “Is Christian here?”

“Right behind you.” I turn to see Christian approaching us with a half-smile. “I saw some man wrapped around my wife and figured I better come and investigate.” Jimmy laughs heartily as he stands.

“Well, you have no worries here,” Jimmy says giving Christian’s hand a firm shake. “I only have eyes for that beauty right there,” he adds, gesturing to his wife.

“How have you been, man?” Christian asks. “Things been okay?”

“More than okay,” Jimmy emphasizes. “I can’t begin to thank you for everything you’ve done for us. You saved my life, man.”

“Think nothing of it,” Christian says. “It was the right thing to do.”

“No, really,” he says, gesturing for Christian to take a seat. Christian holds my chair out and I sit while James continues to make his point as both gentlemen take their seat.

“I was living in a death trap. I foolishly had my family there. I don’t know what would have happened if you two hadn’t come along. Ana gave my family a safe place to be while I was going through my insanity—and Christian, what you did for me…” His voice cracks a bit while he’s trying to speak. “Just… thank you, man… thank you the whole world.” Jimmy quickly wipes away a tear.

“You’re thanking me by living a good life and taking care of your family,” Christian encourages, “which I see is growing! Congratulations.”

“Thank you,” Thelma says with her full-beam glowing pregnancy smile. Jimmy’s right—she really is beautiful. She wears maternity quite well. As Christian and Jimmy discuss due dates and daddy duty, I catch Val’s attention in the crowd and gesture for her to join us.

“I miss champagne,” she says playfully as she comes over to the table.

“Thelma, this is my sister, Valerie,” I introduce. Thelma takes her hand.

“It’s nice to meet you,” Thelma greets. “How did I not know that you had a sister?”

“Well, we’re not blood sisters,” Val says, “we’re sisters-in-love, in a lot of ways. We’ve been friends for years and we happen to marry brothers.”

“Well, sisters-in-love are the best kind,” Thelma says. “Please join us…”

Very soon, the women are chatting away about babies and marriage and what have you. Val shares her experience with Meg while Thelma talks about how we met and how our family helped her family. After a long conversation, Christian, Val, and I excuse ourselves and head back to our table.

“I’m going to desert you guys for a moment,” Val says. “Nature calls.”

“By all means,” I say as Christian and I head back to our table.

“Well that’s a success story if I ever heard one,” Christian says pushing in my chair for me.

“I’ll say. I barely recognized Thelma. She looks so healthy and happy. She was barely holding on when I last saw her. She was doing better, but you could tell that being without Jimmy was taking its toll on her.”

“I kinda get it,” he says. “Think about how well we did when we were apart.” I can only assume that he’s talking about me trying to take a nosedive off a cliff when he went to Madrid and him turning into Death when I went to Montana.

“Yeah, not the best times of our lives,” I say, trying to brush away the memories. I glad to hear a soft voice over my shoulder at just that moment.

“Ana, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to intrude… may I please speak to you for a moment?” Addie comes over to our table. She’s frowning, but not angry. Her face is… troubled.

“Sure, Addie. Do you want to go somewhere more private?” Addie seems rudderless. Christian stands and pulls a chair out for her.

“Please, Adelaide, sit,” he gestures. “I’ll go and refresh my drink.” Adelaide looks at him and nods before taking the seat he’s holding for her. He touches my shoulder gently and heads to the bar.

“What’s wrong, Addie?” I ask. “Are you okay?” She clears her throat.

“The Center,” she says. “It seems to be doing very well.”

“It is,” I say cautiously. “Once we got over our last speedbump for accreditation, things began to move very quickly. We can barely keep up.” She nods.

“I barely recognize the place from the pictures,” she says. “Grace had been working on it for so long. I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t taken much interest in it as a project until you brought it to my attention.”

Oh, hell. Is she about to tell me that she wants to become involved in Helping Hands? I can’t turn her down, but…

“Unless it’s true what they say and you’ve found my granddaughter’s physical twin, is it safe to assume that the woman in the apron that looked like her was indeed Courtney?”

I’m caught off guard by the question. I thought I took special care not to use Courtney in any of the pictures to protect her anonymity from her grandparents.

“Yes, Addie… it’s Courtney,” I confess.

“I see. How long has she been here?” she asks.

“She never left,” I inform her. Addie nods and twists her lips.

“So much for teaching her a lesson,” she laments. I shake my head.

“Oh, Addie,” I say, “you have no idea. Courtney learned that lesson and more.” I turn towards her in my seat. “She made me swear not to tell you that she was still here. She feels like she’s hurt you and Fred enough and your words cut her to the quick.” Addie raises her head and her gaze meets mine.

“Am I supposed to feel guilty about what I said… after how she treated me?” she asks, appalled. I shake my head.

“You had every right to say what you were feeling after what you had been put through,” I reply, neither condoning or condemning her choice of words. “I’m only stating that they had the desired effect. Courtney feels that you two are better off without each other because of the way she treated you and because of your words to her. She was at Mia’s wedding reception.” Addie’s eyes widen.

“Mia’s…” Her words trail off. “They’re friends again?”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” I admit, “but they’re cordial enough where Mia was okay for her to come to the wedding. It didn’t come easily.”

“I can bet,” Addie says. I catch her meaning, but I don’t bother trying to smooth it over. Apparently, Courtney was right. That bridge is too badly burned for them to walk back across it.

“I discovered her in a homeless shelter right before I had the twins,” I tell her. “She had asked me for help, but I turned her down. Like you, I felt she was a lost cause. Our security had been keeping an eye on her because she threatened me, and they informed me that she was at the shelter. I found her going through the classifieds looking for a job.

“Grace put her up at the shelter at Helping Hands and gave her a part-time job there. She moved to subsidized housing and she lived there for quite some time—in a terrible part of town—but she was grateful as she said anything was better than going back to Putchatoowak or whatever that place is called.” Addie turns her head to me, and I just keep talking.

“She enrolled in school.” That piques her attention. “I got her a laptop as she was in no position to buy one herself. However, she took the bus to and from school and got back to that horrible little apartment after dark. She said that she wasn’t afraid because the neighborhood guys looked out for her, but she was a young girl living alone going to and from school and work leaving in the early morning and returning after dark. I couldn’t in good conscience leave her in that position.

“I offered her my condo. She refused. I convinced her that it was an investment and begged her to take it. The place where she was living was roach-infested and unsafe. It was deplorable. We worked out rent that she could afford and she moved in, a condition of her stay being that she get good grades, she continues to work with Helping Hands, and she becomes an asset to us upon graduation.”

What is she studying?” Addie asks in disbelief.

“Social work.” She frowns.

“You’re kidding.” I shake my head.

“I’m not,” I tell her. “She wants to work with children. More than one abused or troubled teenager has come through the Center and Courtney has brought them out of their shell or made them feel safe. That’s what made her choose social work. You know that she had no skills and no direction before. Now she does.

“I’ve asked her several times to allow me to contact you and tell you about the change in her life—in her attitude and her outlook. She refused. She begged me not to tell you. She spotted you at Mia’s reception and made a hasty retreat before you spotted her.”

“No, she didn’t,” Addie says, now looking at the table. She didn’t what?

“She didn’t get away before I saw her,” Addie says as if I had verbalized my question. “I did see her. She was… beautiful… and I didn’t recognize her. I assumed that my eyes were playing tricks on me, not only because I had sent her back to Chuktapaw nearly a year ago, but also because I thought there was no way in hell that Mia would allow her to come to the wedding. So, I blew it off. I figured if I didn’t hear from her after what happened this summer, I wouldn’t hear from her at all.” I frown.

“What happened?” I ask. Addie raises her eyes to mine.

“Her mother died,” she says. “I was listed as next of kin and when they contacted me, I didn’t even ask about Courtney. Her father had disappeared years before apparently and nobody was there to claim the body. I had her cremated and interred in the family tomb. There was nothing much else to do.”

Shit. Courtney’s mother is dead. I’m sure she doesn’t know. Should I tell her… or just let sleeping dogs lie? Jesus, what a conundrum.

“Then, when I saw her in the picture—smiling and wearing an apron… and serving fruit bowls to children…” She trails off again.

“Well, she’s here,” I say, crossing my legs. “She’s living in my condo, she attends Seattle Central and she’s at Helping Hands every day.” Addie raises a brow at me.

“Are you trying to arrange a meeting?” she asks. I sigh. I can’t believe I’m about to say this.

“No, Adelaide. I’m trying to avoid one.” Her eyes widen.

“How is telling me where she’s going to be every second of the day considered a diversion tactic from a meeting?”

“Because the way that I’m understanding what you’re saying and how you’re feeling, if anything happened to Courtney, assuming you could get to her, you’d cremate her, inter her remains in the family tomb, call it a day and forget she ever existed—assuming you don’t opt to donate her body to science for spare parts.”

Addie glares at me. Yes, Adelaide, she told me what you said.

“You’re our friend,” I continue. “Your daughter died this summer and there was no funeral—no mourning of the loss of your child that we knew of. We didn’t get the chance to comfort you, to give you condolences… you sent your respects when Burton Grey died, and we don’t even know your daughter’s name. Either you’re the coldest woman in existence—and I don’t believe that for a second—or this candle has been burned from both ends and is completely destroyed.

“I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that Courtney is a changed person. I’ve watched the transformation myself for an entire year. She has a meaningful relationship—someone in her life who loves her very much. She’s got direction, drive, determination, but her wicks have disintegrated, too. She turned into a stuttering mess when she saw you at the reception and she got out of there as quickly as she could. She acknowledges what she did to you and how she treated you and for that reason, she doesn’t want to trouble you anymore, but she’s hurt, too.

“You wanted to hurt her, and you did,” I continue. “You wanted your words to cause her pain, and it worked. That knife cut through the bone. Nobody’s putting you in judgement because you were responding to an equally deep cut, if not a deeper one. But you can’t get offended because someone acknowledges the fact that what you said hurt her. It’s what you wanted, and you succeeded. Judging by how you feel about your daughter’s death and the fact that her passing gave you no concern for her daughter shows me that your pain and wounds are beyond the point of healing to the degree that you couldn’t even have a constructive conversation with Courtney.

“On the other side of that coin, Courtney’s in some place of martyrdom where she feels she needs to pay penance for what she’s done… not just to you, to everybody she’s ever hurt. In the process, she’s dealing with the gaping wound that your words left. So, the thought of even seeing you causes her anguish let alone speaking to you, not only because of what she did to you, but also because of what you said to her. To that end, it would be totally counterproductive on both ends for you two to see each other.

“If there are arrangements that need to be made in case of Courtney’s demise, let me know what you would like to do, and I’ll be the liaison to tell you that she has passed away should something happen to her. I won’t say anything about her mother unless she specifically asks. I think it’s better that she doesn’t know since there’s nothing that she can do about it.”

Addie shivers a bit, looking down at her frail, wrinkled hands.

“Thank you for being honest with me, Ana,” she says, her voice shaking, “though I wish you had told me this sooner.”

“I couldn’t,” I tell her. “I was sworn to secrecy, but I can’t avoid you seeing her on the screen. I wish I had been more careful about the pictures that we sent to the Greater Seatt…” Who sent the pictures? Who okayed pictures of Courtney? I wouldn’t have done that.

“Ana?” Addie says, bringing me back from my musings. I shake my head.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “I just couldn’t tell you. She asked me not to and I had to respect her wishes. Had you not seen her in the presentation, she would still be somebody you thought you saw at Mia’s reception.” She nods.

“I’m going to find Fred,” she says. “I think I’d like to go home, now.” Without another word, she rises from her seat and walks off in the direction she came. I pop my neck like I’ve just finished a prize fight.

“Well, she didn’t look happy.” Christian is back by my side the moment Addie leaves.

“Where’s Grace?” I snap, and he immediately jumps back.

“Um, I don’t know,” he says a bit defensively. I begin to scan the room for her, and I see her in a conversation with some other guests. Ignoring my husband, I rise from my chair and stride over to her.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to interrupt,” I interject. “Grace, can I speak to you for a minute?”

“Of course, dear,” she says. “Excuse me, ladies.” I walk out into the hallway, not sure if Grace is following me. When I turn around, Christian and Grace are bringing up my rear.

“Ana, what is it?” she asks.

“Grace, I didn’t okay the pictures for the slideshow. Did you?”

“Yes,” she says, “I picked them all.”

“Including the one with Courtney in it?” I ask. She straightens her stance.

“Yes,” she says unapologetically.

“Knowing that Fred and Addie would be here?” Realization dawns on Christian’s face.

“Yes,” she replies finitely.

“Why would you do that?” I ask. “She has feverishly asked that we don’t tell her grandparents that she’s still here.”

“Because this is her family,” she says firmly. “Family needs to stick together, and you never know when you’re going to lose someone.”

“That’s not your place, Grace,” I say flustered. “You can’t push somebody’s hand until they’re ready!”

“And what if they’re never ready?” she retorts. “One of them will be looking down in a casket at the other and have nothing but regrets!”

“Then they’re never ready!” I say louder than I intended. “God, Grace, you may have caused more harm than good!”

“Then I’ll take that responsibility!” she snaps. “That girl is out on a limb doing everything she can to make something of herself and her life and she’s estranged from the only family that means anything to her. Her mother certainly doesn’t care…”

“Her mother’s dead,” I deadpan. Grace freezes.

“What?” she says.

“Addie’s daughter died this summer. I don’t even know what killed her. Addie never said a word. She retrieved the body, cremated it, interred it in the family tomb, and washed her hands. Courtney’s transformation is balancing on the head of a pin at any moment. I don’t have to tell you that—you’ve seen it. Yet, you think it’s a good idea to shove reconciliation down their throats that neither of them is ready for and probably don’t want because you feel like they should be speaking. How much sense does that make to you, Grace?” She’s struggling a bit for her words.

“You’ve proven my point,” she says. “She hasn’t seen her daughter in many years and when she does, she’s dead. She could have seen her before this, made amends before it was too late.”

“She hadn’t seen her daughter in years and when she did retrieve her body, she felt nothing,” I retort. “I would most likely do the same thing with my mother right now. She didn’t want to make amends! Unfortunately, Grace, some hurts don’t heal. So, while you’re trying to force a meeting that you think should happen, you might want to leave the psychoanalysis to the professionals!”

Grace gasps as I march away, and I hear Christian’s scolding tone behind me. I don’t care. She was wrong and it’s that simple. I head back into the ballroom and straight for the bar. I get a full glass of Cabernet Sauvignon. I can’t drink any hard liquor since I’m still here representing Helping Hands.

“Anastasia!” Christian hisses quietly, joining me at the bar. “That was totally unnecessary! You had no right to speak to my mother that way!”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Christian,” I say, taking my cabernet and moving away from the bar. “I didn’t speak to your mother that way. I spoke to a coworker—the director of Helping Hands—who used a charity function with our organization’s name on it to engineer a possible reunion that had nothing to do with her! She used her position to meddle in someone else’s affairs, a situation directly related to the Center no less. So, no, I wasn’t yelling at your mother and this has nothing to do with you!”

Christian’s face becomes stone and he pulls up to his full height.

“Very well, then,” he says. “The director of Helping Hands asked me to tell you that you can represent the Center tonight as she’s going home before she has one of her episodes.”

“Hmph,” I say, sipping my wine. “Her episodes. Didn’t her doctor warn us about her conveniently-placed episodes?”

Christian’s eyes become a metallic gray and he looks like he’s going to explode.

“Conveniently-placed or not,” he nearly hisses, “you yelled at my mother and she’s going home. Now, if you’ll excuse me…” He turns around and strolls coolly away from me as if we were just talking about the weather.

And that’s the last thing he says to me all night. It’s a fucking repeat of Val’s housewarming.

I try to keep up appearances, that London is not burning in the Grey camp, but everyone in our family can clearly see that Grace and Carrick have left and that Christian is avoiding me. Just when I’m sure that I’ve had just about enough of Christian hobnobbing with everyone else at the affair but me, I realize that he’s not quite finished making me feel shitty.

“You yelled at Mom?”

I turn around and find Elliot confronting me about mine and Grace’s altercation. I know that my mouth is hanging open, but I have no idea what my face is saying, because Elliot’s expression is clearly saying, “Oh, shit, what the fuck did I just do?”

I quickly scan the room for my husband. When I see him, he makes eye-contact with me almost immediately, then turns away and continues his conversation.

Welp, that’s enough for me.

I grab my clutch and wordlessly walk away from my brother-in-law. I retrieve my coat from the coat check and go out front to one of the waiting taxis.

Jesus, that’ll add fuel to the fire.

I say a prayer for my safety and get into one of the taxis, giving the driver my address and promising a huge tip if he gets me there quickly and in one piece.

He does.

“Mrs. Grey!” the guard says when I get to the gate. “What… where’s your detail?”

“Please open the gate,” I say, emotionally exhausted. The cabbie drops me at the portico, and I give him a hundred-dollar bill.

“Thank you, ma’am!” he says, awestruck.

“Thank you for getting me home safely,” I tell him. “You have a good night.”

When I walk into the grand entry, Windsor is rushing over to me. He has a puzzled look in his eye, no doubt wondering where everyone else is.

“Windsor, do you ever sleep?” I ask handing him my coat. He smiles.

“Yes, ma’am, I do.” I just nod and climb the spiral staircase. I look at my bedroom door, then I look at the nursery door. I opt for the nursery. I check on my children, and Mikey is sound asleep with his two middle fingers in his mouth. I check on Minnie and she’s silently looking up at me. No fussing, no fidgeting, just looking at me.

“Were you waiting up for me, Minnie Mouse?” I say to her sweet little face. I take her out of the crib and lay her on my shoulder, gently patting her back. She’s bringing me comfort, not judging me for how I spoke to her grandmother or for being Mrs. Grey or not saying something I should have or…

I sit there silently for a long time with my daughter, drawing on her unconditional love to give me some strength. It seems like I have to be strong for a lot of people, and lately I don’t have time for myself anymore. That can actually be a good thing, since it means that I don’t focus on my PTSD so much. I twist my lips and think about how I feel the need to journal right now. Then I remember Jason’s advice:

Talk to anyone who will listen.

Minnie will listen. She may not be able to respond or give me advice, but she’ll listen.

Then, I have visions of her subliminally absorbing what I’m saying and having nightmares about whatever incarnations of the Boogeyman that a baby’s brain can conjure.

That’ll never do… so I come up with another idea.

“Once upon a time, there was a girl named Cinderella,” I begin, sitting in the rocker with my daughter. “She lived in this great apartment and she had great friends and a great life. She didn’t have a boyfriend or anything besides this one psycho guy who thought they were meant to be together but that’s a different story.

“One day, she met this really beautiful prince with a really bad attitude. She just wanted to get away from him, but no matter what she did, she couldn’t escape. She fell in love with him and her whole life changed. People thought she didn’t have a right to be the princess. They called her names and talked about her being a bad person and only wanting the prince’s money and castle, but she loved him anyway. So, she ignored what the people said and stuck by her prince.

“As fairytales go, they got married in a beautiful castle and drove away in a classic chariot and flew away on a magic carpet to a faraway land to spend time together. Now, you would think that they lived happily ever after, but that’s not what happened.

“They had to come back to the real world from their faraway land, and terrible things happened, too many things to tell you, but Cinderella no longer felt like she lived in a castle with her prince. She felt like she was running from demons and devils and monsters all the time. People were always making her account for her thoughts and deepest feelings even when they were scary. People were sometimes trying to hurt her or even kill her…”

Too graphic.

“She longed for the days when the members of the court had nothing to do with her life, when it was just talking to the Mad Hatters all day and drinking wine and spending time with her friends all night.

“She misses quiet nights on the balcony and driving down the coast to nowhere, letting the sea breeze wash away her troubles.

“She misses unassuming daydreams about what her future holds—the things she could see and what she could become.

“She misses not being expected to be perfect because she’s married to the prince.

“She despises what people think they know about her and how they expect her to behave and their preconceived notions and theories about who she really is.

“She misses the simple, unassuming life that she once led…”

I sigh as I hold my daughter, now sound asleep on my chest.

“I don’t like being Cinderella,” I whisper matter-of-factly.

I sit with my sleeping baby for several more minutes, until I actually drift off myself in the rocker. When I wake, I put her back in her crib and slide out of my sleek silver strappy stiletto sandals. When I look out the door, the hallway is quiet. I don’t know how long I’ve been asleep, but it appears that no one’s home yet. I quietly close the door to the nursery and look at the door to our owner’s suite.

Cinderella’s room.

I don’t want to go in there.

I try to remember which room isn’t taken, assuming anyone wants to come back to my house tonight, the wicked old Cinderella who yelled at the queen.

I go into guestroom three and drop my shoes on the floor. I lie on top of the blankets fully dressed and fall asleep.

*-*

I’m disoriented when I awake. I don’t know where I am and for a brief moment, I forgot what happened the night before. I stretch and I feel an arm around my waist. I know how my husband feels so I don’t need to turn around. He’s coiled around me like he normally is and he, too, is fully dressed—well, at least shirt sleeves and pants that I can see. I need to get up. I slept like the dead and didn’t empty my breast all night. If I don’t relieve them soon, I’m going to ruin a perfectly good gown. I move a bit to wake Christian, but he shifts and pulls me closer to him. Well, that didn’t help. I sigh, thinking that I’ll have to jolt him from his sleep in order to get away.

“I heard you tell Minnie that you don’t like being Cinderella.”

I freeze. Shit, he heard my conversation with my daughter? I fucking hate that shit. I’ve done my fair share of eavesdropping, but I hate that he heard that—for many reasons. I was emotional when I said it; it was a private moment with my little girl; and it sounds really bad.

“You don’t like your life as it is?” he asks when I say nothing. I think about my response.

“I don’t like what’s expected of me simply because of who I am,” I reply honestly. “I have to behave a certain way, do all the right things, say all the right things, make all the right decisions and if I don’t, there’s hell to pay.”

“But, baby, that’s part of being an adult.” I wrench out of his grasp and sit up.

“No, Christian, that’s part of being Anastasia Grey,” I say, turning to face him. “I was an adult before I was Anastasia Grey, and I wasn’t under scrutiny for everything I said and did. Anastasia Steele came and went as she pleased. There was no one looking over her shoulder, no security details, nobody watching her every move. She was an adult, too, and she was not under the microscope. No one accused her of being a gold-digger. Nobody turned their noses up to her because of who she was or what she had. She only had to prove who she was, prove she was worthy, when she met you. Anastasia Steele became Cinderella and suddenly, her entire life—the good, the bad, and the ugly—are on display for everybody to see, and no matter what happens, Cinderella has to keep smiling. Cinderella has to keep representing the castle. Cinderella’s not allowed to hurt in public or fall apart in public and heaven forbid if Cinderella has a human moment at all. Le gasp, call the congeniality police! We have a major violation here! So, yes, there are many times when I don’t like being Cinderella!”

I rise from the bed and leave the guest room. I need to get to my breast pump or the shower before Niagara Falls releases from my boobs.

CHRISTIAN


“She’s not in the ladies’ room, Christian,” Val informs me after I’ve combed nearly every inch of this place looking for my wife. At first, I thought she was just being childish. Now, I’m scared shitless because I don’t know where she is. Bad things happen when my wife disappears.

“Sir,” Jason darts over to me and puts his hand on my arm. “I’ve tracked her phone. She’s at the Crossing.” I frown.

“How did she get all the way to Mercer and we didn’t know she was gone?” I bark.

“Because Chuck’s not here and she’s not wearing a tether, sir, except for her phone,” he retorts. “Remember tonight’s protocol? Chuck’s leaving town, we’re around family and friends, no need for extra security…”

He’s right. I agreed to lighter security tonight. Chuck has to be in South Dakota for his and his mother’s case against their brother. I can’t blame anyone for this one except myself…

And my careless wife.

She probably didn’t want to face me because of how she treated Mom.

“Let’s go,” I growl, heading for the door.

Everyone thought it best to head to their own abodes instead of coming to Grey Crossing, anticipating a showdown between me and my wife. The house is a tomb when I enter, only Windsor stirring to greet me.

“Mrs. Grey?” I hiss.

“She’s upstairs, sir,” he responds. “Will anyone else be coming tonight?”

“No,” I say, loosening my tie and taking the stairs two at a time. I head straight for the closed doors of our suite, but then I hear her voice to the right of me…

“Once upon a time, there was a girl named Cinderella…”

It’s coming from the cracked door of our babies’ nursery. Well, isn’t that adorable, I think angrily to myself. I’m tearing up a banquet hall looking for her and she’s here reading bedtime stories. I’m particularly livid after discovering that she took a goddamn taxi home!

“One day, she met this really beautiful prince with a really bad attitude. She just wanted to get away from him, but no matter what she did, she couldn’t escape. She fell in love with him and her whole life changed. People thought she didn’t have a right to be the princess. They called her names and talked about her being a bad person and only wanting the prince’s money and castle, but she loved him anyway. So, she ignored what the people said and stuck by her prince.”

Wait a minute. I’m new to this Disney thing, but even I know that’s not how that story goes. I lean against the wall next to the door and listen to her describe Cinderella’s life after she married the prince—the scrutiny, her fears, the dangers that followed her. I sigh heavily listening to her talk about how she misses how simple her life was before she met the “prince.”

“I don’t like being Cinderella…”

And it didn’t take a rocket scientist or even that statement to know that she was talking about us.

This conversation—this altercation or whatever it was that happened with her and Mom and more importantly, her leaving in a damn taxi without security—it needs to be addressed, but not tonight. She sounds raw and a bit vulnerable and this is not the time.

I go to our room and remove my jacket, tossing it and my tie onto the bed. I want a drink but think better of it. Instead, I’ll just sit here and wait.

And wait…

And wait…

And wait.

My mind replays the conversation she had with my mom. From what I understand, Mom was trying to orchestrate a possible meeting between Adelaide and her granddaughter and apparently, Butterfly and Courtney knew nothing about it. I don’t have all of the details, but she was pretty hard on my mom and I really thought that was very unnecessary. Mom left shortly after Adelaide did and… to be honest, I’m pretty gray—pun intended—on what happened after that.

My wife and I had some words, they weren’t kind, and I refused to argue with her in public. According to Mom, she would have to represent Helping Hands for the rest of the evening, and I was doing my best not to hinder that, but when Elliot asked me where Mom was, I told him the truth. The last time I saw her, she was glaring at me and Elliot was glaring at her, so I assumed he had asked about the altercation. I turned my head for a second, and when I looked back, she was gone.

I didn’t think anything of it. I thought she had taken Elliot aside to tell him her side of the story, but when a while later I saw Elliot and no Butterfly, I thought she had explained things, and everything was okay…

Until…

“Man, if looks could maim, I’d be castrated by now,” Elliot says. “All I could think was ‘back away slowly’ which is what I was trying to do, but then she just whirled around and took off out the door.” I frown deeply.

“Out the door?” I ask. “Where did she go?” Elliot shrinks a bit.

“I assumed she went to the ladies’ room,” he says. I look at my watch.

“Elliot, that was over half an hour ago. Nobody has seen her since!” I announce.

“Hey,” Val says, interrupting our conversation, on purpose no doubt. “Why so serious?”

“Val, would you mind terribly checking out the ladies’ rooms and seeing if my wife is hiding out in one of them?” I ask. She raises her brow knowingly to me then looks at Elliot.

“Mom and Montana had words,” he tells his wife. “It hasn’t been a good night.”

Grace and Ana,” she says, a statement, not a question.

“And me,” I admit, “but we didn’t fight. I was just not happy about her yelling at my mom.” Val twists her lips and rolls her eyes.

“I’ll be back,” she says as she heads off to the restrooms.

And now, I’m here, waiting and waiting for her to finish her remix of Cinderella with whatever child has her attention now. After waiting for I don’t even know how long, I toe out of my shoes and go back to the hallway. The nursery door is closed now, so I peek inside.

She’s not there.

I go down to the kitchen to see if she’s gone in search of a snack or a drink. She’s not there either. She’s not in the family room, the entertainment room, the movie room, her parlor, the office, or the gym.

Where the fuck is she now?

I’m almost tempted to activate the two-way but decide against it this late at night. I go back up to the second floor and begin to check the guest rooms. I would have thought not, but with the whole hating Cinderella thing…

Sure enough, I find her in the last guest room, curled up on the bed in her evening gown fast asleep.

And we’re sleeping in our clothes again.

I crawl in bed behind her and spoon her, falling asleep almost instantly.

*-*

“I had no idea that being married to me was such a goddamn trial,” I say to Jason while running on the treadmill the next day.

“You’re kidding, right?” Jason says. I look at him bemused. “No offense, sir, but working for you is a trial. I can only imagine what being married to you is like.” I frown.

“Don’t try to be cute,” I hiss. “It doesn’t suit you.”

“I’m not!” he snaps back. “That woman has been in your life for two and a half years. I know it’s not all bad, but I haven’t seen anybody go through the trials and tribulations that woman has been through just being married to you. Everybody’s watching her, people are gunning for her, she’s got to prove herself all the damn time… She can’t step wrong, she can’t be unhappy, she can’t be human. It’s a miracle she hasn’t had a nervous breakdown by now.”

“But she couldn’t have expected it to be easy when she agreed to marry me,” I protest. “Look at my life! She knew what she was signing up for.”

“Yeah,” he says, and nothing else. There’s something else behind that.

“Yeah, what?” I ask. He looks over at me without losing his stride.

“She’s still human, boss,” he says with a running shrug. “Whether you know what you’re signing up for or not doesn’t necessarily mean that you take it all in stride when it comes at you. And last night’s episode had nothing to do with being married to Christian Grey…”

“I didn’t say that! She did!” I protest.

“You didn’t let me finish,” he says. “It had nothing to do with being married to you, but it had everything to do with her version of Cinderella. She’s got responsibilities to people. One of those responsibilities was exploited last night and she was supposed to be okay with it—plaster a smile on her face and keep the night going. Nobody acknowledged her point of view last night. Whether it was right or wrong, nobody bothered to say, ‘I get it.’ Mrs. Wilson wanted to know why no one told her the truth about her granddaughter and she left upset. Dr. Grey was dug in that Mrs. Wilson had a right to know that her granddaughter was still here no matter what the consequences and she left upset.

“You heard your wife yelling at your mother and your mother left upset and that made you upset and you cut her off. Granted, you did it to prevent a public spectacle—which was smart—but she still got cut off. Then, whatever you told Elliot, he confronted her, and she was already burning the wick at both ends.” He does that imitation of an explosion with his hands and mouth. “We’re lucky she didn’t check into a hotel somewhere and turn her phone off. We were downtown after all.”

“God,” I sigh. “Our marriage isn’t going to survive this constant up and down.” Jason slows his treadmill down.

“Yes, it will,” he says, catching his breath. “This is marriage. It’s a constant up and down until you die, and you haven’t even hit your highest ups or your lowest downs. Why do you think they say love is a roller coaster? You didn’t expect it to be easy, did you?”

Yeah, I kinda did. My mistake.


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

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

 

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Raising Grey: Chapter 69—Big, Huge “Guess What Happened’s”

Thanks, you guys for your encouraging words to me… and thank you more for your encouraging words to each other. It makes me happy to see us lifting each other up when we’re down. I’m so proud of you guys!

Send healing vibes, prayers, and positive thoughts out to my reader and Facebook friend Alyson. She just had a stint in the hospital and by the Grace of God, she’s home and hopefully doing better. Smoochies, Alyson!!!

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 69—Big, Huge “Guess What Happened’s”

CHRISTIAN

“She did what?” I ask my wife when she calls home to see who’s here for Girl’s Night.

“She shaved her head,” she confirms. “It really looks good on her, but Christian, she shaved her goddamn head!”

“Where is she now?” I ask. “Can she hear you?”

“No, she’s in the back getting the rest of her stuff. Oh, God, I’m so sorry, Tina,” she mumbles.

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Butterfly,” I comfort.

“I want to fucking fire somebody, but she’s a grown woman! I can’t tell her not to shave her head!” she rants.

“Don’t fire anybody,” I coax. “Women do this all the time nowadays. It’s not a strange thing.”

“So, if Minnie came home with her head shaved, you wouldn’t have a problem with it,” she states matter-of-factly. My blood actually curdles when she says that.

“We’re not talking about Minnie,” I divert. “We’re talking about a grown woman who has just lost her mother, went through a nasty divorce, and has had to contend with horrible siblings who have now broken into her house.”

“Well, it feels the same to me,” Butterfly says. “I feel like Tina trusted me with her daughter and I took her out and got her scalped.”

“Believe me, my mom is laughing right now,” I hear Harmony say, and I know that she’s caught us in the middle of our conversation.

“You scared the shit out of me!” Butterfly scolds.

“You shouldn’t be talking about me,” Harmony teases, and it’s good to hear the humor in her voice. “Hi, Christian!” she yells.

“Hi, Harmony,” I reply, and Butterfly relays my sentiment. “Just so that I can prepare the staff, are we talking Bruce Willis bald or Demi-Moore-G-I-Jane cut?”

“Demi,” she says, a bit reserved. “I just… wish she had warned me.”

“You were the one talking about detoxing and cleansing. This is very cleansing. I love it. It feels clean and free and I look great. I think I’m going to leave it this way for a while.”

“It’s not like you have a choice!” Butterfly points out.

“I do have a choice,” Harmony says. “I could let it grow back. I’m thinking not.”

“Well, it’s your head,” Butterfly says.

“Yes, and let’s stop talking about it. I’m starving.”

“Good, ‘cause we’ve got Girls Night. On our way babe,” she says into the phone. “I didn’t get a chance to tell you what happened at your house…” and the line goes dead.

Harmony shaved her head. Good grief.

I don’t know what my wife meant by Girls Night, but as it turns out, only Victoria and Courtney show up. Gail and Ms. Solomon keep them well stocked with food and snacks while one of us guys plays bartender from the bar in the entertaining room. We offer to spare Chuck the trouble of transporting drinks, considering that he’s a recovering alcoholic, but he assures us that he’s not even tempted. I have no doubt, considering that we couldn’t even get him to take ibuprofen when he was suffering from broken bones.

The women retreat to the movie room and burrow in for the night, watching a plethora of movies from different genres. We’ve each been unlucky enough to walk in during some scene or conversation that has the entire group weeping like fools and are quick to make a hasty getaway. Somewhere around three or so, all four women are kicked back in the luxury chairs, calling the sandman.

In the morning, they all pile into the big SUV and head to breakfast—somewhere—with two of the guards and I’m ceremoniously summoned to my father’s house.

“Elliot finished the room on Thursday right in time for delivery,” he says as he leads me to a newly renovated room in the house. I’m by no means prepared for what I see when I open the door.

“Jesus Christ, Dad,” I breathe when I step inside, “Freeman was teasing you for getting this?”

“Remember, son, we’re clearly talking about an asshole here,” he reminds me. Oh, yeah, how could I forget.

I walk around the room completely stunned. Every wall is covered with display cases, and there are more of them lined up in the middle like library shelves. Case after case after case of model, wood, and Diecast cars—antiques, roadsters, sedans, trucks, you name it. The higher portions of the walls have been decorated with old pictures of Dad and his brothers, Pops and Granma Ruby, Mom and Dad when they were younger, and even old pictures of me, Elliot, and Mia. Atop the display cases are my old rowing trophies from the boathouse, Elliot’s judo trophies, and awards and accolades that Mia has received throughout the years. There are also some older trophies that I don’t recognize, and I assume that they’re from years gone by of Dad and his brothers.

“With real cars, Dad may have been a Ford man, but when it came to his models, he didn’t discriminate.” He leads me to one display case that’s full of Chevys and I’m amazed at how realistic they look.

“I tried to get the room as close as I could remember to how Dad kept it,” my father says, touching the display lovingly. “Look at this…” He gently opens one of the cases and pulls out one of the model cars. The doors actually open and you can see the detail inside the car.

“Dad painted those seats himself,” he says as he holds the car up to eye level. “The paint’s faded a bit over time…”

“… But I can tell,” I say, examining the car closely in my father’s hand. “Wow…” The amazement in my voice brings a warm smile to my father’s face.

“We spent hours in here,” he reminisces as he closes the doors to the model in his hand and replaces it on the shelf, “or I should say in a room that looked just like this one. The other brothers never really got into it but me…” He put his hand on my shoulder and leads me to a table in the corner, clearly built as its own showcase, and there it is. I gasp a bit when I see it.

“The Coupe!” I exclaim quietly in wonder. On the small table is a perfect replica—almost—of the classic ’32 Ford Coupe that we had shipped here for Dad. The purple isn’t as deep as the real car, and the model has racing flames on it. But other than that, this car is Dad’s Coupe.

“Uncle Herman was right,” I say, looking at the model then at Dad. “Pops meant for you to have that car. He built it damn near just like the model.” Dad nods.

“That was my dad,” he says. “He always paid attention to the small stuff, and it made all the difference in the world.” He chokes up for a moment but quickly recovers. “I hope that one day your son will be able to enjoy this room with me… or with you…”

I don’t like the ominous undertone of his suggestion.

“He’ll get to enjoy it with you first, Dad,” I say, putting my hand on his shoulder. “You’ll tell him the history of the cars and how they made it to the collection. I’m sure that you remember each one.” Dad smiles.

“That I do, son,” he says.

As predicted, Dad and I spend hours in his model car room, talking about each car and how it became part of the collection. We don’t have time to review each and every car, but each car that we talked about had its own story attached to it. Freeman is a real asshole if he can’t see how priceless a gift this really is.

“This is really incredible, Dad,” I say, trying to absorb everything he’s told me about each car. “This is a car enthusiast’s dream.”

“Or the fairytale-land of a little boy who really looked up to his dad,” he says, gazing over the room fondly.

“Where’s Uncle Herman?” I ask when I realize that I haven’t seen him since I got here.

“He and Luma have gone out of town, I think,” Dad says. I frown.

“You think?” I ask. He shrugs.

“I think seeing Mom’s things made him a bit melancholy. So, he asked me and Grace to keep an eye on the girls and he whisked his woman away for the weekend. You can’t deny they need some time to themselves. Herman’s been dealing nonstop with the disposition of Dad’s estate. Luma has the girls and although I’m sure that you’re a very nice boss, she works 40 hours a week. She and Herman don’t really get much alone time together.” I nod.

“Maybe she should consider going part-time,” I suggest.

“I didn’t tell you that so that you could cut her hours, Christian,” Dad informs me. “I get the feeling that Luma really likes her job, and she hasn’t complained about it once. Had I not told you that she was away with Herm, you wouldn’t have known. Did she ask for any time off?”

“Well, no…”

“Then leave it be,” Dad instructs. “She likes going to work and she’s not the least bit unhappy. And even though Andrea is her superior, Luma’s very fond of her. She talks about Andrea like she’s her daughter and she respects her—and you—immensely. So, if you suggest that she shorten her workweek, she’s going to do it even if she doesn’t want to. Catch my drift?” I sigh.

“Yeah, Dad, I hear you,” I say, sounding like a scolded child.

“Good. Now come and have a scotch with me and let’s celebrate my fabulous Dad and this incredible car collection.” I smile.

“You got it, Dad.”

*-*

“You’re not going to believe whose about to lose their shirt,” Lorenz says coming into my office Monday morning. He’s piqued my attention.

“Who?” I ask.

“William Kavanaugh,” I raise my brow.

“Kavanaugh?” I say in surprise. “What the hell is going on with Kavanaugh?”

“It appears that Willie Boy has another heir to the Kavanaugh fortune on the way, and Mrs. K has had enough. She’s got herself a cutthroat attorney and Kavanaugh will be lucky if he escapes with his shirt!” I whistle.

“So, the chickens have come home to roost on Kavanaugh, huh?” I say.

“Looks that way,” Lorenz confirms taking his seat.

“How much time before he’s ripe for the picking?” I ask.

“Now,” Ros says, striding into my office and joining into the conversation like she had been there the whole time. She’s got the latest Financial News in her hand and she drops it on my desk, open to the page announcing that Kavanaugh Media is officially on the block. “You heard, too?” she says to Lorenz, who nods.

“This must have been going on for quite some time,” I observe while reading the announcement.

“Their marriage has been falling at least since Kavanaugh became a grandpa.” That long! Geez, that’s back when Kate tried to pin her kid on Elliot. I wasn’t even married yet.

“And the newest heir to Kavanaugh Media?” I press.

“Due any day now,” Lorenz says. “The misses filed for divorce nearly a year ago. He’s selling Kavanaugh Media because the selling price is worth more than the company would yield in its current state and he knows he can get it.”

“That’s because he doesn’t have time to hold out,” I say, finishing skimming the article. “I’m not interested in the media but selling that bitch off piece by piece could turn quite the hefty profit no matter what we pay for it.”

“You were reading my mind,” Lorenz say. I raise my eyes to Ros.

“You think we could put a decent bid up for it?” I ask. “We all know I’m the last person that fucker wants to sell to.”

“I’ll see what we can do,” Ros says, standing. “You never know, Christian. People do strange things when they’re desperate.”

“That they do,” I concur as she leaves my office.

“Lorenz, how did you guys land on this before I did?” I ask after Ros leaves.

“It’s my job to keep my ear to the ground,” he tells me. “I know a lot of people; I go to social events. One person’s rumor is another person’s truth… That’s pretty much how. Kavanaugh’s next love child was no more than water-cooler talk at the champagne fountain of some fundraiser somewhere. It snowballed into divorce and the sale of Kavanaugh Media because the guy is about as discreet as a Tyrannosaurus Rex stomping down 4th Street. He was able to keep it out of the press for most of the year because—face it, he is the press. But once that media giant went on the block, all the rumors and speculations became leads and…” He makes an exploding sound and motion with his hands.

“So, basically, getting him to sell could be as simple as the right approach,” I reply, because Kavanaugh truly is going to be desperate after child support and alimony hits his ass, but still maybe not desperate enough to sell to GEH.

“That’s possible,” Lorenz replies. I twist my lips.

“Any word on his daughter, Kate, these days?” I ask. The last I had heard of Kate was when she crashed Mia’s bridal shower.

“She’s been under the radar,” he replies. “You smellin’ something?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe not. Just see if you can scare her up. Use Alex if you have to.”

“Will do.”

So, Kavanaugh’s in the proverbial hot seat. Jesus, he’s older than I am—old enough to be my father—and still making babies… outside of his marriage, no less. Not that I condone infidelity of any kind, but if you’re going to stray outside of your marriage, why the hell wouldn’t you at least use a condom?

And Kate—is that why she showed up at Mia’s shower? Was she hoping to get back into the family’s good graces because she knew that Dad was headed down the tubes? And where is she now? She was aching for publicity a while back—why the silence? And where, pray tell, is the not-the-father baby? That kid just disappeared into thin air!

Now I really want to know what’s going on with the Kavanaughs. As I’m pondering what might be going on with Daddy Kavanaugh and his ice-queen daughter, I get a distressing text from my wife.

**Dealing with a crisis. I may be late. **

Harmony’s at our house, so what crisis is this?

**Something at the Center? **

I wait for a moment for a response to put my fears at ease.

**More personal. It’s not me, but still important. I can’t talk about it right now. **

You can’t drop an ominous fucking text on me and then tell me that you can’t talk about it.

**You know me better than that. **

I love you, Butterfly, but you know I can track your phone. As if she’s reading my mind, she replies:

**Keep your damn shirt on! I’m fine, but I can’t talk to you right now. I was just letting you know I’ll be late. Would you rather I not in the future? **

And that’s a threat.

**Sorry. See you when you get home. **

Now, I’m fucking dying to know what’s going on.

I stay a little later at the office finishing some things up since I know that Butterfly’s going to be late. While I’m trying to wrap up the days reports and some year-end tasks, my phone buzzes. I look at the display and it’s Dad.

“Ethan called today,” he says once I answer. “Says he wants to reimburse me for some of the expenses of the wedding.”

“He did?” I ask.

“You put him up to that, didn’t you?”

“Why would I put that man up to anything?” I ask. “The only thing I put him up to was giving me the guest list to his bachelor party so that I could vet those fuckers.”

“He just knew all the right things to say,” Dad accuses. “He sounded a lot like the conversations that you and I have.”

“He talked to me, yeah, but I didn’t put him up to shit. He’s a grown man. He came to me for advice and I gave it to him. There’s a difference, Dad…”

“Okay, okay, settle down,” Dad scolds, and it’s not until now that I realize my voice is rising and I sound defensive.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t mean to raise my voice, but when you said that, it made it sound like I was being manipulative, and I wasn’t. He wants to contribute to the expenses of the wedding, and he didn’t know how to tell you. In fact, I want to contribute, too.”

“The wedding’s all paid for, son,” he says.

“I figured as much, Dad, but did you have to cash in yours and Mom’s retirement for that shindig?” I ask. He sighs.

“Christian, a month ago, I gave each of my brothers $750,000. Do you think I would have been able to do that if I had been strapped for cash?”

“I’m quite aware that you have a dime or three to rub together, Dad, but so does Ethan and he wants to contribute to this wedding.”

“He doesn’t need to contribute,” Dad says. “There’s nothing left to pay for.”

“That may be the case, but that tens of thousands of dollar bakery bill came to his house.”

“What?” Dad exclaims into the phone.

“Yeah,” I tell him. “And you should know that right before they got in their helicopter and left for the night, Ethan cornered me and Butterfly and lamented about the largess of those cakes—just the cakes! He had a few other things to say about the over-the-topness of the entire production, but the cakes had him in dismay, much like they did for me at first, and you know what I mean.”

“Yes, I know what you mean,” he cedes.

“Well, my fears were put to rest when I discovered that the food was going to the homeless and to shelters. His concerns were multiplied exponentially when he saw that bill—paid or not. It’s going to emasculate him if you don’t allow him to give you something on that wedding.”

“What about me?” Dad asks. “What about emasculating me? That’s my only daughter and I gave her the wedding she wanted. Isn’t that a father’s responsibility?”

“Yeah, Dad. And you did it. Everything was beautiful—though a bit crazy—and Mia loved it. You did good. Now, let Ethan give you something towards your expense. I’m aware that you don’t need it, but he needs to give it to you. That may be your only daughter, and having a daughter now I get it, but that’s his wife.” Dad sighs again.

Fine,” he relents, “but I’m not taking a damn dime from you. Got it?”

“Okay,” I give in. I can deal with that if it means that he’ll allow Ethan’s pride to remain intact by contributing to what I now know had to be more than a million-dollar wedding. I got married in a damn castle. Wayne Brady sang to my wife walking down the aisle. We rode away in a classic Bentley, had a shopping spree in Paris, and were supposed to stay abroad for a month and I can still guarantee that my sister’s nuptials cost more than mine.

“How did you end things with Ethan?” I ask.

“I told him that I would give some thought to his request and get back to him,” Dad says.

“God, Dad, that sounds so formal. He’s family now, you know…”

“Yes, I know, but I had to see what his intentions were when he was suggesting helping out with the financial portion of the wedding,” he says. I frown.

“Now, I’m not catching your drift… what do you mean by that?” I ask.

“I’m old-fashioned, son,” he says. “I think a father should pay for his daughter’s wedding unless she specifically asks him not to—like with you and Ana. You wanted something specific and you got what you wanted. I’m sure there was no hard feelings with Ray on that…”

“Right,” I concur, coaxing.

“Well, with two money families, I’m ashamed to say it, but I didn’t know if Ethan was trying to make the statement that he could pay for this wedding and was just throwing money at me like, ‘I got it, old man…’”

“Dad,” I interject scolding, “did he give you that impression?”

“That’s why I asked if you had spoken to him,” he says. “I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t being handled.”

“Jesus, Dad, you have to stop being so suspicious.”

“Says the man who will vet the pizza delivery guy if he can,” Dad retorts. Touché.

“Okay, okay, I get it. But still, the man married your daughter. If we really thought he was up to anything, it’s a bit late, now, isn’t it?”

“It’s never too late,” Dad says, “but you’re right. I should have given him the benefit of the doubt.”

We talk a little longer and I feel that I’ve killed enough time in the office trying not to worry about what’s happened in Butterfly’s day that’s going to cause her to be late. Should I go to the Center and check on her? Hell, no! We know how badly that turned out the last time. It’s not that I don’t trust her, but… no. Just, no.

My eye catches one more email as I’m about to shut down for the evening. It’s from Ted Friedson informing me that he received the Apollo and that it arrived in better condition than expected. Although he admits that it’s still pretty worn, it’s in pretty awesome shape for a 100-year-old piano. He promises to have it in tip-top condition in a few weeks. I take a little comfort in that and think about where in the house I’m going to put it as I pack away my laptop and head to the elevator.


ANASTASIA

If she’s afraid of this guy, he must have been talking a really good game,” Alex informs me when I speak to him on Monday. “He’s a small-time hood—drug dealer, never more than a street runner. He’s got no connections—none. The only people he has fled a drug bust, left him to take the rap, and haven’t been in contact with him since. I still can’t tell you why she’s moving from place to place, but I’ve got a good theory.

“She’s obviously a battered ex—there’s a little proof of that… questionable injuries and hospital visits with no police report filed, leaving against medical advice and things of that sort. For whatever reason her family is non-existent, she’s on her own and he knows it. He must’ve preyed on it while they were together, I’ve seen it before, but to have her so petrified that she’s moving from place to place…? He had his own delusions of grandeur, no doubt, but he must’ve fed them to her, leading her to believe that he has power that he doesn’t have. So, in her mind, a few months, a half year or so is a safe amount of time to stay put, then it’s time to move on.

“I can’t swear to it, but in my eyes, this is one of those ‘if it looks like a duck’ situations. If she’s as spooked as you say she is, she had a co-dependent relationship with him where he filled her head with stories, threats, and the usual ‘you’re nothing without me,’ and he’s just got her scared shitless and she’s not sure what to do. Unless he’s got some power that I haven’t seen, he’s nobody—just some punk who preyed on a weak young woman.”

“Well, this is really good news,” I tell him, “not that he preyed on her and has her so afraid, but that he’s not this big bad person that she thought he was. She’s got skills and education that I really want to put to some use, and now I can… if I can just convince her that this Ge guy isn’t a threat to her.”

“I don’t know how to tell you to do that,” he says. “You can tell her that our investigation shows that he still incarcerated and that there’s actually no way that he could find out where she is unless he has the type of resources that we have—which he doesn’t. Besides, we’re swimming in security. How the hell is he going to get to her?”

“She’s not with us 24/7, Alex,” I remind him. “I think the best thing right now is for me to keep it simple—just tell her that as far as we’re concerned, everything looks good and she’s got a job, and then extend the services of the Center to her if she feels that she needs sanctuary. Fear is a powerful thing and unfortunately, other people can’t make you not be afraid.”

Ebony is thrilled to learn that we’re willing to give her a shot to see how things work out. She insists on working in the daycare to get the feel of things and maybe venture out into some of the areas that I think she’ll be a better fit for.

“Right now, I’m just really desperate for a paycheck,” she admits. “My emergency fund is nearly gone, and I need to have income soon. I’d love to see where else I can go and what else I can do, but… let’s start off small, if you don’t mind.” I nod.

“Not a problem,” I tell her, “whatever makes you comfortable. Welcome aboard.” I proffer my hand to her and she shakes it, sighing heavily.

“Thank you,” she breathes, as if the weight of the world has been lifted off her shoulder. I summon Courtney to show her around and get her started as Marilyn took the day off today.

I’m very soon to find out why.

“Hello?” I answer my phone shortly after having a late lunch.

“Yes, is this… Anastasia Grey?” the female voice asks.

“It is. To whom am I speaking?”

“This is Sylvie Cooper. I’m calling from Seattle Women’s Services and Family Planning.” Okay, maybe this is something to do with the Center.

“Yes, Ms. Cooper, what can I do for you?”

“I’m calling because one of our patients has you listed as the emergency contact. She’s had an outpatient procedure performed and… she came alone. She shouldn’t be driving, so she asked us to call you.”

This is strange. Outpatient procedure, Seattle Women’s Serv… oh, shit.

“Who is the patient?” I ask, as if I didn’t already know.

“Marilyn Caldwell.”

*-*

Marilyn looks like hell when I get to the clinic. I’m sure she’s had an abortion. I’m only hoping that she and Gary talked about this before she did it. I have a sinking suspicion that either they didn’t or that he’s vehemently against it, because he’s not here with her.

“Hey,” I say to her downcast face. “You ready to go?” She nods without saying anything and allows me to lead her out of the clinic. The ride back to the apartment that she shares with Gary is mostly silent. I simply concentrate on getting her to where she needs to be. I won’t give her the third degree and I won’t badger…

“Don’t you want to ask what happened?” she says, breaking my inner coaching.

“Only if you want to tell me,” I reply after a pause, even though I can pretty much tell.

“I was eight and a half weeks pregnant,” she says. “I terminated the pregnancy.” I nod.

“Considering the facility, I figured as much,” I reply. It’s quiet for a few more moments.

“Gary wanted to keep it,” she says. “I tried to explain to him that I wasn’t ready to have a baby right now and I wasn’t going to be forced into the decision to have one. He totally stopped speaking to me.”

“Does he know that you were terminating the pregnancy?” I ask. She doesn’t respond. Did she tell him or not? What does she plan to do—just present herself to him and say, “Hey, baby’s gone?” I pull into the parking lot of their apartment complex and put the car in park.

“Will you come up with me?” she asks. Is she serious? What does she want me to do, stand between her and Gary while she tells him that she terminated the pregnancy? Gary wouldn’t hurt her… at least I think he wouldn’t hurt her. He loves her… but she’s about to tell him that he’s not going to be a father if he doesn’t already know. I sigh heavily and turn the car off.

“Let’s go,” I say.

The apartment is bone quiet when we get there. I figured it’s because Gary’s not here, but she goes to the back where the bedroom is, and I can hear her talking.

“What are you doing?” I hear her ask. There’s a long pause.

“I…” It’s Gary’s voice. “I need some time,” he says, and I hear shuffling. Oh, shit. Should I leave?

“What do you mean?” Marilyn squeaks.

“I can’t be here,” Gary says. “I need… I just can’t.”

“So, you’re just going to leave?” she accuses.

“You had to know this would happen!” Gary shoots. “You killed my baby! You had to know I wouldn’t stay! I couldn’t! I can’t even look at you right now!”

He is pissed! I don’t know how to react to this because it’s Marilyn’s body. She would have had to carry that child for nine months. If she and Gary broke up, most often, the man has the option to walk away faster than a woman—although in this case, I have a feeling Gary would have stuck around—but he’s right. It was his baby, too, and she aborted it. I hate seeing them in this position because there’s nothing I can do. There’s no right or wrong, but it’s all bad.

They scream at each other for another minute or two, and just as I’m deciding I should leave, I hear Marilyn begging him not to go and Gary telling her that she can have the apartment since she left hers to move in with him. The bedroom door opens to an angry Gary storming out with a duffle bag and the sound of Marilyn’s weeping, still begging him not to leave. When he raises his head and sees me, he stops in his tracks and glares at me.

“Did you take her there?” he seethes. I’ve never seen him this angry in my life. I’m frozen for a moment, but then I shake my head.

“No,” I say, finally finding my words. “She… drove herself. The clinic called and asked me to pick her up. I couldn’t just leave her.” I don’t tell him that had she asked me to go with her, I would have gone. Although the thought of terminating my own pregnancy never crossed my mind, I agree with a woman’s right to choose.

His eyes soften, and I can see that he’s been crying, most likely for more than one reason. His lips form a thin line.

“Take care of her,” he chokes angrily. “She’s gonna need you.”

“Gary…”

He storms past me without another word and out the door, slamming it behind him. Marilyn hasn’t emerged from the room yet, so I approach with caution. When I breach the doorway, I see her crumpled on the ground weeping.

He left her like this?

I go over to her and kneel on the floor next to her. Her cries are so mournful, like someone cut off one of her limbs. She sounds like Luma when she was mourning the death of her son-in-law. I put my hand on her arms, and she starts to wail. She knows that my being there means that Gary is gone, and you can hear her anguish sinking all the way down to her feet. I just sit there with her, and let her wail…

I’m wrung down to my soul when I get home that night. It’s well after midnight and I’m so emotionally drained that I just go to the kitchen and sit at the breakfast bar. The house is dark, and I lay my head on my arms on the countertop. I have such an unreal headache that it feels like my brain is going to explode out of my head.

I’m not startled, nor do I raise my head when the lights in the kitchen come on. It’s tomorrow—of course, he’ll be waiting up and expecting to know where I’ve been. I don’t say anything as I feel rather than hear him cross the span of the kitchen in his bare feet.

“Do you want something to drink?” he asks, his voice controlled as he opens the refrigerator.

“Vodka,” I say from under my arms. I hear movement stop, then the cupboard open. I know he’s mad—or at least not pleased with me for coming home this late, and I don’t have the strength to justify my tardiness, for lack of a better word.

“Baby, what’s wrong?” he says, and I can feel him stroking my hair. I raise weary eyes to him wondering what I should and shouldn’t tell him. His eyes change, and he rubs my forearm.

“Tell me what’s wrong, Butterfly,” he says, his voice heavy with concern. Fuck it, I can’t carry this shit.

“I just put Marilyn on a plane to Spokane,” I tell him while worrying my horribly throbbing scar. “She’s going to spend some time with her parents, I don’t know for how long.” He raises his brow.

“You can’t be this upset about Marilyn taking a vacation,” he says.

“You’re right, I’m not… and it’s not a vacation.” He places a tumbler in front of me with a shot of vodka in it. I throw it back immediately and gesture for another. He fills it to a double-shot this time and I throw that back just as quickly.

“She’s escaping,” I say, after the double-shot burns its way down my chest. “She was pregnant.” His eyes sharpen.

“Okay, wait. I’m confused. She’s escaping because she’s pregnant?” he asks. “Is Garrett pissed? Did he threaten her?” I gesture to my glass again and he fills it with another double-shot. I just take a sip this time.

“No, yes, and no,” I reply, answering his questions as I replace the glass on the counter. “I’m telling you more than I should, but I wasn’t acting in a medical capacity today, so…” I take a deep breath. “No, she’s not escaping because she’s pregnant as she is no longer pregnant. She had a termination today. Yes, Gary is extremely pissed. He wanted this and one of the first things I heard him say when we got back to the apartment is, ‘You killed my baby.’ And no, he didn’t threaten her, but he did leave her and from the looks of it, he ain’t comin’ back.” I take another swallow of my drink.

“Oh, God,” he says, his brow furrowed, “that’s fucked up all around.”

“Tell me about it,” I lament, rubbing my forehead for the first time in forever. I have no idea what to do. Gary and Marilyn are both my friends and Marilyn’s my employee. They’ve both talked to me about how they felt about this situation and I’ve done the best that I can to give them both objective opinions without betraying the trust of the other. I can’t take sides, but I may be forced to, depending on how this plays out.

“I can only imagine what it must feel like being caught in the middle of this,” he says sympathetically.

“It was awful, Christian,” I bemoan. “Gary was so hurt, and Marilyn was devastated. I don’t know what to do. Her parents are in Spokane and with Thanksgiving coming up, she couldn’t stand to stay in that apartment alone. So, I helped her pack some things and she was on the redeye across the state.”

“So, no one’s in the apartment now?” he asks. I shake my head.

“I tried to call Gary, but he’s not answering. He probably thinks I’m going to ream him a new one for leaving Mare, but he has a right to his feelings, too.”

“So… any idea what now?” he asks. “I mean, whose apartment is it?”

“It’s Gary’s. He paid the lease for a year and near as I can tell, the only way out of it is to sublet or have someone buy out the lease. She gave up her apartment to move in with him, so he left and said she could stay. That makes me think that he might come back, because he only took a duffel bag, but…” I shrug and rub my head again, then my scar.

“Jesus Christ, what a mess,” he says as he retrieves another tumbler and fills it with ice and water from the refrigerator door.

“I can’t even fathom what to say to either of them right now. I can’t villainize either of them because they both have a right to feel what they’re feeling. What do you think?” My husband raises a brow and twist his lips before he places the tumbler of water in front of me. Yeah, I know—two double-shots and a single. Chug, chug.

“I can’t answer that question, Butterfly,” he says. “For obvious reasons, I avoid this particular topic of conversation at all costs.” I raise my eyes to his.

“What if it had been us?” I ask.

“But it wasn’t,” he says.

“But what if it had?” I press. He leans forward and takes my hands in his, then kisses both sets of knuckles before looking me in the eye.

“At all. Costs,” he repeats, letting me know that no matter how I press, we won’t be having this discussion. I sigh and drop my head.

“Dear, God, help me,” I groan. This can only get worse before it gets any better.

*-*

I receive a text from Marilyn when she lands in Spokane, then she—like Gary—falls into radio silence. Only two days without her this week and I feel as if I’m falling into oblivion. My calendar looks like hieroglyphics and when I suggested nabbing Luma again, Christian informed me that she had just returned to town herself and was needed at Grey House. No matter—Thanksgiving is here, and I plan to relax with my family for the next few days.

Harmony was not keen on coming to Thanksgiving dinner with our family, but Courtney and Vickie invited her to the condo and she gladly accepted—nothing as formal as a family gathering, but still with people she likes to be around… and she’s not alone on the first Thanksgiving without her mom.

I try to reach Marilyn and Gary on Thanksgiving, but neither of them answers or responds to my texts. I decide to leave them alone until and if they reach out to me.

Chuck reminds me that he and Keri will be going back to South Dakota for his and his mother’s case against his brother. I can’t believe he’s actually going to sue his brother. I mean, I can believe it… the bastard deserves it, but I guess I just can’t believe that it’s really happening.

Thanksgiving—a time of giving thanks, being around family, watching football and eating way too much food. Yet, all around me, I see sorrow and heartbreak and disappointment… people just trying to cope…

Harmony just buried her mother and her siblings are conspiring against her and treating her like the enemy.

Marilyn terminated her pregnancy and is now mourning the loss of the man that she loves.

Gary is mourning the loss of a baby and the dashed hopes of having a family.

No doubt, Carrick and his brothers are feeling the loss of their father right now. Even though Burt passed away months ago, going through the family heirlooms must have opened some of those old wounds, and like Harmony, they’re spending their first Thanksgiving without him.

And Freeman’s family—Lanie may feel no love lost, but Burtie and Nell loved that man and are no doubt having their own regrets today about the total breakdown of the family.

And of course, Chuck and his mom—having to sue his hateful brother for keeping the family apart with his lies.

And here I sit, journaling before I go to Val and Elliot’s for Thanksgiving, once again nothing on the pages about myself—just everyone else and their problems.

Thanksgiving… yeah.

*-*

“We’re not going to have a repeat of you two acting like children and Christian catching the plague, are we?” Val says when she opens the door.

“No,” I promise her, “we’re fine and we’re not bickering about the… sunshine yellow stucco!” I say with too much enthusiasm.

“Butterfly…” my husband scolds, coming in behind me and carrying our overnight bags.

“Yes, dear,” I say sweetly and obediently. He leans over and kisses me while Val and Elliot’s usual staff takes the bags from Christian.

“Are they permanent?” I ask, noting the same woman in the kitchen that was here for the housewarming.

“No, we just asked for them back,” she says, hooking her arm into mine. “Come sit with me in the living room.”

Val is positively giddy having the family over for Thanksgiving, much giddier than she was at her housewarming. Elliot sees to everyone getting their things settled in their various rooms before we all sit down for our various fall-spiced beverages.

Christian is dead set and determined to make sure that I don’t feel the ostracization that I experienced at the housewarming. He’s all snuggly with me and we’re playing with the babies in front of the fireplace. Val and Elliot already have their Christmas tree trimmed, so all of the babies—including my little brother Harry—are spellbound by the sparkling lights.

Sophia is playing with Mariah and Celida—more like keeping them occupied while her father and stepmother watches over them all. Herman, Grace, Carrick, and Luma all seem to be having a very interesting conversation of some sort. Val is bending Mandy’s ear about something while Mia and Ethan listen attentively, and Elliot and Daddy are probably talking shop. Just as I’m taking in my surroundings, I see Harry with Mikey, and they appear to be having a conversation. I watch them more closely and see Harry pulling Mikey’s arms. Is he…?

“Phone… phone…” I say, trying to be as calm as I can. Nobody’s listening to me, so I reach for Christian, who is cooing at his daughter, and tug on his pants. He raises his eyes to me and follows my gaze to my brother and my son.

“Son of a gun!” he says, fumbling in his pocket and finding his phone. People start looking to see what the commotion is, and before we know it, at least four phones are recording now.

Harry appears to be giving Mikey instructions in whatever gobbledygook he’s speaking, and Mikey follows instruction by grabbing both of his uncle’s arms with his grubby little hands. Harry’s unsteady little gait pulls Mikey forward until he’s standing, but Harry can’t comprehend why Mikey doesn’t start walking immediately after he stands. As a result, Harry pulls him forward again and Mikey stands only for a moment before tumbling over onto his little hands.

Harry’s getting a little frustrated with Mikey’s lack of pedestrian progress, but this entire thing is just a game to Mikey who, after each tumble, breaks into fits of baby giggles. Being on the same mental wavelength, his sister breaks into giggles as well and, let’s face it—who can’t laugh after hearing an infectious baby giggle? Soon, there’s an entire room of giggling adults and children, and the whole thing has been caught on video.

“Wow, what did we miss?”

I turn around to see Marcia and Maggie walking into the dining room from the vestibule. Maggie is getting so big. I remember when she just disappeared behind her mom.

“Hi, Marcia,” I say, rising from my seat on the floor. “It’s good to see you.” I hug her and compliment her on how good she’s looking these days while Maggie joins the other girls in the dining room. “Where’s Marlow?” I ask. I catch Sophie perk up in my peripheral vision.

“Oh, he’s here. They should be in shortly.” They? Who’s they? Did Marcia finally decide to bring her “plus-one” along? I find out shortly that there’s definitely a “plus-one,” but it’s not Marcia’s “plus-one.”

“Hi everybody,” Marlow greets as he enters the foyer. Behind him—and attached to his hand—is a tiny girl who looks a bit like a pre-teen. I try not to stare, but what’s more, I can feel Sophie glaring at them from behind me. I plaster a smile on my face and walk over to them.

“Hi, Marlow,” I say, kissing him on the cheek. “Who’s this?”

“This is Britney,” he says, pulling the girl closer so that she’s not lagging behind him. “She’s a sophomore at my school.”

Well, thanks for telling me that! The child doesn’t look more than twelve! Seriously, I’m petite, but she’s… thin, like really thin… like “Calista-Flockhart-when-everybody-thought-she-was-anorexic” thin, only thinner.

“Britney, this is Anastasia Grey. I told you about my mentor, Christian. This is his wife.” Britney smiles a smile that looks bigger than her face.

“It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Grey,” she says politely.

“It’s nice to meet you, too, Britney,” I reply with a smile. “Come on in and meet everyone…”

Britney is quite affable as Marlow introduces her around, and everyone returns her warm greeting—everyone, that is, except Sophie. Sophie’s polite, but cool, and either Britney doesn’t notice it, or she ignores it. Two points for Britney…

As the day moves along, things seem to be going okay. Sophie doesn’t appear to be sneering at Marlow’s date, but she also seems careful to keep her distance. Being shunned by one of Marlow’s dates was probably enough for her.

I’ll have to remember in the future that my children have graduated to cereals, baby food, and some solid foods along with my breastmilk, which means that we may need some form of portable high chairs for them. Otherwise, we’ll be stuck with them in our laps while we try to eat… like now. Gail helps out, of course, and Val is eager to get her hands on her niece and nephew, so they allow me and Christian some time to eat.

Once we move on to dessert, the twins have eaten and have had their bottles and are on their way to sleep in their playpens when Herman stands to his feet.

“I’d like to have everyone’s attention please,” he says, and the room falls silent. Herman takes a deep breath.

“This has been a pretty eventful year for the Grey family,” he begins. “We lost our dad… effectively lost a brother…” He and Carrick exchange looks before he continues. “But we’ve grown. We’ve been blessed with a son and a daughter—in my case, a niece and a nephew—Ethan and Valerie. And even though we were already graced with Ana, we were able to add Mackenzie and Michael to village.”

We laugh at his expression, but truthfully, that’s exactly what we are.

“But in my loss, and in our flourishing, God has blessed me with those two sweet little girls right there…” He gestures to Mariah and Celida, who both smile fondly at him, “… and this loving and beautiful woman right here.” He turns to his side and takes Luma’s hand. Pulling her to her feet, he kisses her fingers softly and gives her a loving smile, which she returns.

“I don’t know where I would have been without her,” he says, still gazing into her eyes, “if I would have made it without her. Taking care of Dad’s things and going through his and Mom’s memories, it was like he was talking to me, telling me to live, telling me to grab life by the horns and live! And I realized then that I couldn’t be without this woman—that my mom and dad had a wonderful, beautiful life while they had each other and now, they have it again. I realized that I screwed up big the first time, but God is giving me a second chance… and dammit, I’m taking it.” He’s gazing into Luma’s eyes and I’m only too certain—as I’m sure the rest of us are—that he’s about to propose.

“So,” he turns back to the inquiring eyes, “I’m proud to announce that on November 22, 2014 at 3:17pm, this beautiful goddess officially became Mrs. Herman Grey.”

“Get outta here!” Carrick rises to his feet. “You sly dog! I shoulda known!” He gives his brother’s hand a vigorous shake as he claps him on the back. “Congratulations! Congratulations, man! I shoulda known you were up to something!”

Grace hugs Luma warmly and Mia follows. Warm smiles and congratulations fill the table.

“Not to fret, ladies,” Herman says once the revelry is calming a bit, “you can do your planning and parties and whatever it is that ladies do for weddings and such if my Luma says that’s what she wants. I just couldn’t wait to make her mine.”

There’s a collective swooning coo from the ladies at the table. Luma shows us pictures on their phones of Herman in a suit her in a beautiful vintage wedding dress. She looks twenty years younger.

“Is that…” Carrick looks at the picture again. “Is that… Mom’s dress?” he asks. Herman nods.

“Yeah,” he says, after a pause, “and… one of Mom’s rings,” he says. Carrick looks over at Luma who looks like she wants to hide her hand, but it’s too late.

Carrick looks at the picture again and his eyes clearly moisten. He takes Luma’s hand with the ring on it and kisses it gently before kissing Luma just as gently on the cheek.

“You made a beautiful bride,” he says, his voice cracking slightly. “I wish I could have been there.”

Luma smiles widely and Grace puts her hands on Luma’s shoulders. The cooing begins anew as Luma recounts the story of their nuptials—sweet and romantic. Elliot cuddles Valerie in his arms and she beams as the family enjoy themselves around the table. Once the conversation—and cooing—falls to a gently roar, Elliot stands to his feet.

“I’d like to say something, too,” he says. Val raises a brow and a small smile at him.

“I want to thank you all for agreeing to have Thanksgiving at my house, even though my house is the smallest of them all at the moment.” There’s a laugh following his statement. “But I’m really, really grateful for you all being here because… well, as you all know, my wife is a brain cancer survivor. For those of you who didn’t know already, she named her tumor Meg. It’s a long story but just know that she named it Meg. Well, she’s been suffering from these random dizzy spells, and even though my wife is strong, I could see it in her eyes that she was concerned that Meg was making another appearance.”

The room falls completely silent, even more quiet than when Herman asked for our attention.

“I did my best not to panic… I wasn’t very good,” he says, his voice cracking. Val takes his hand and gives it a squeeze. “But we didn’t dawdle. We went to the doctor and they proceeded to run the regular tests. I’m happy to say that Meg is definitely not making another appearance.”

The room is filled with sighs of relief and thanks to God and such, but Elliot’s not finished.

“We did learn however,” he looks down at Val, “that my angel is having a baby.”

“Get the fuck outta here!” My husband springs to his feet and reaches right across the table to his brother. “You’re going to be the goofiest dad ever!” he says, shaking Elliot’s hand.

“That’s the plan,” he says before turning to Herman. “Sorry, Uncle Herman.”

“Don’t worry about it, son,” he says, shaking Elliot’s hand as well. “There’s plenty of joy and happiness to go around.”

Most of us have forgotten our food and are clustered around either the newly-married couple or the newly-expecting couple cooing over the antique ring that Herman gave Luma or the fact that Val will be having a baby soon. Herman presented his bride with a 13.93ctw smoky-quartz ring set in 14kt yellow gold with leaf accents—another piece from his mother’s priceless collection. Elliot hasn’t presented Val with anything—besides a house, but he indicates that he plans to repurpose one of the rooms into a nursery that would rival ours.

With the attention centered on Val, Elliot, Herman, and Luma, no one sees the small commotion taking place in the corner of the living room. I inconspicuously examine Britney having a harsh word or two in hushed tones with Marlow before she ceremoniously turns away from him and proceeds towards the front door. Marlow rolls his eyes, then throws a glance at Sophie before following his date outside. They still haven’t garnered the attention of anyone else in the house, but I watch as Sophie twists her lips, rolls her eyes, then falls petulantly on the sofa, folding her arms and staring at the fire.

And here we go again.

I wait for a moment before I sneak away from the crowd and go to the foyer. I locate my coat and gloves and step outside in search of Marlow. He’s pacing on the pavement in front of the house like he’s trying to control his temper.

“Marlow?” I call out to him. He whirls around in my direction and upon spotting me, visibly tries to control his ire. “What’s wrong?” I ask as I approach.

“Forgive me for my lack of consideration,” he says in a voice that I’ve never heard before, “but is Sophia Taylor on the rag again?”

Oookay. There will be no scolding of Marlow Johnson today. He. Is. Livid.

“Um… okay, what happened?” I ask cautiously.

“She was awful to my date!” Marlow says, perturbed. “For no good damn reason, she was awful!” He sits down on the retainer wall. Oh, dear.

“In what way?” I ask, sitting down next to him.

“She said some flighty crap about her being skinny… something about needing a gravy sandwich or something like that.” I raise my eyebrows to him.

“Um… well… um… that’s not… horrible,” I try to excuse.

“My date heard her!” he snaps. I cringe.

“Ooo, that’s bad,” I retract. “Any idea why she said that?”

“Because she’s a brat!” he retorts, very angry about his seemingly ruined Thanksgiving. I try to come up with an explanation. I know she has a crush on him even though she hasn’t told me. This lashing out at his dates isn’t going to stop if he keeps bringing them around. Which reminds me…

“It could be attack as a form of defense,” I tell him. He raises a brow at me. “Have you forgotten the little twat who chased her away from Mia’s wedding? What was her name—Maya?”

“Maya didn’t chase her away!” He frowns.

“She most certainly did!” I retort. “That crack about her kid sister having Sophie’s dress; and then that whole ‘I’ll just have to take it off’ thing, as if everybody at the table didn’t know what the hell that meant. Sophie had just spent the entire dinner impressing a table full of adults with her cuisine expertise and here comes this insecure little twit acting like a jealous toddler and cutting her down in front of everybody. If Sophie acts like a brat in front of your dates, blame your first date—or at least the one that you brought to the wedding. That’s why I told you to talk to your women about how they act around us. And what happened to Maya anyway? It wasn’t two months ago, she was hanging all over you!”

“Um…” He rubs the back of his neck. “Yeah, well, she wasn’t really comfortable after the incident either.”

“Um-hmm,” I say, folding my arms. “I bet she wasn’t. I’m not trying to sabotage your dates, but I won’t stand by while they treat someone I love like crap. I’m really sorry about Britney. I’m sure she didn’t deserve what happened, but when it comes to your girls, Sophie may be lashing out before they get the chance to lash out at her. And don’t be surprised if she’s got an entire armory ready. You might want to try and talk to her, get her to understand how her actions are affecting you—and I’m not saying this happened with Britney, but make sure your dates aren’t doing anything to antagonize her. She’s only 13, for Christ’s sake. You, her, and Maggie are the only teenagers we have at family gatherings, so…” I trail off and shrug.

“I may just have to stop bringing dates around altogether,” he laments. “Jeez, at this rate, I may never get laid again,” he adds, his voice low.

I don’t think I was supposed to hear that last part, so I just ignore it.

“Well, I don’t want you to feel like your dates aren’t welcome. You’re always welcome to bring them to family gatherings… as long as they know how to behave themselves, but Maya laid the groundwork for how Sophie’s going to act around your women, so you really need to talk to her.”

She’s got a crush on you, you idiot. Are you truly that dense? Smooth things over and let her know that you at least care about her feelings, even though it can never go any further.

Of course, telling her that he knows would just humiliate her to no end. So, of course, I can’t share my theory with him, but geez… it’s as plain as the nose on my face.

“I think I’m just going to take off,” he says, “try to smooth things over with Britney…”

“But not with Sophie?” I chastise.

“She’s the one who insulted Britney!” Marlow retorts.

“And I just told you why!” I counter. “You don’t think that needs addressing?”

“If I address that with her right now, Ana, I’m going to be pissed. I don’t even know where Britney is. I need to go find her. I’ll talk to Sophia some other time.” He stands. “Tell my mom to text me when she’s ready to go if I’m not back by then.” He marches down the driveway towards his car.

That’s right, Marlow. Run away.

It’s hard to remember that he’s still a child… but not. He’s 17, so his life should be shaping into manhood now, but he disappoints me when it comes down to how he’s handling the complexities of relationships right now. I guess this is when he’s learning.

And poor Sophie. She’s acting like the stereotypical catty jealous spurned female, but at 13, she’s coming off as the bratty ass little sister. Their age difference is wide enough that they most likely will never have any romantic relationship—not to mention the fact that Marlow simply does not see her that way—but at this rate, she’ll not only destroy any hint of a chance of a romance. She’ll also destroy their friendship.


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

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 64—For Everything, There is A Season

FYI—when we were younger, much younger, my husband and I used to fuck like bunnies all night, then get up the next day and fight about something like the Capulets and the Montagues. We did this regularly and I didn’t even know that we were doing it until he brought it to my attention.

It happens.
Don’t worry.
We survived.

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 64—For Everything, There is A Season

CHRISTIAN

I breathe in the steam from the shower for about twenty minutes. I feel like I’m going to catch fucking pneumonia. Running in the cold never bothered me before, but today I feel like my chest is going to explode. I better be more careful from now on.

I’ve never been so happy to find a T-shirt, turtleneck, and cable-knit sweater in my garment bag. I’m not sure why all three were packed in the bag for an overnight trip, but I don them all to warm my body.

“Hello. Mr. Grey,” the woman who opened the door for me greets. “Can I get you something?”

“A cup of coffee, please,” I say, taking a seat at the breakfast bar.

“How do you take it?” she asks.

“Black,” I reply. She nods and takes a cup from the cupboard. I shiver as I wait for her to fill the cup. I can’t seem to shake this chill even after a shower fifteen degrees hotter than Hades. She puts the cup in front of me and I cozy my hands around it, trying to shake the chill.

“You have big hands,” she says, staring at my hands dwarfing the coffee.

“It’s a small cup,” I reply. She raises her eyes to me and twists her lips.

“Why don’t I get you a mug?” she says and turns away to get a larger cup of coffee. I take a sip of the small cup and it’s scalding. It feels heavenly. It’s like my insides have frozen. It wasn’t even that cold outside.

She places the mug in front of me and I realize that I’ve already finished more than half of the first cup. Instead, I grab the large mug with both hands.

“Thank you…” I pause for her name.

“Mrs. Evans,” she says with a smile. I nod.

“Thank you, Mrs. Evans. I really appreciate it.”

“You might need some rest, young man,” she scolds. “How long were you out there?”

“I don’t know,” I admit. “I didn’t time it, but I didn’t think it was that long.”

“Well, your body appears to disagree with you,” she says. “Why don’t you go and sit by the fire. Brunch will be ready soon.” I nod and take the wonderful, steaming hot coffee to the living room. I look out the glass wall at my wife. She’s now looking at her phone and scrolling through something. Hopefully, she’s in a better mood than she was—we were—last night. I’m too weak to fight.

I tap on the glass and she raises her gaze to me. I do the “come here” motion with my hand, and I look more like a kid gesturing to his friends down the street to come and play.

She looks back at her phone and turns it off—I think—before she stands to come inside. I sit on the sofa facing the fireplace. The warmth doesn’t appear to be reaching me, but I take comfort in the scalding coffee and allow it to warm my chest going down.

Just the sound of the outside coming in when my wife opens the door makes me cold again and I shiver visibly. She walks over and stands in front of me. At first, she looks like she’s ready to do battle, but her expression changes almost instantly.

“You don’t look so good,” she says, her voice etched with concern.

“Thanks,” I reply, gulping more of my coffee, and shivering.

“What’s going on?” she asks while removing her coat.

“I don’t know. I was fine when I woke up, then I went for a run and now I feel like shit.”

“What did you wear when you went running?”

“The same thing I always wear—sweats, a T-shirt, a hoodie…”

“Well, apparently the weather didn’t think you wore enough, because you’re shivering.” She takes a seat on the sofa next to me. We sit there in silence for several moments and I’m the first to address the elephant in the room before I lose all my strength.

“You were short and snotty with me. I don’t like it and I didn’t deserve it.”

“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry about that,” she says dismissively. “I wish I knew why I behaved that way. I’m not even sure what happened anymore.” I sigh. It seems so small now, but it was the biggest thing in the world yesterday.

“What were you doing out there on the patio?” I ask.

“Last night or this morning?” she inquires.

“Both.” She sighs.

“Last night… I don’t know. I just wanted to be away from it.”

“What’s it?” I ask.

“The party, the people… you,” she replies solemnly. I glare at her. “When you’re not happy with me, your displeasure is tangible,” she says. “It almost makes me understand why you went to Madrid… almost. There needed to be some distance between us if your discontent was as intense as I imagine it was. Heaven forbid we ever break up. I’d have to move to the other side of the world.” I roll my eyes.

“It’s not that bad,” I protest.

“It is that bad,” she says. “If it ever came to that, I’d have to go somewhere and wait until you approached me… if you approached me. I couldn’t approach you.”

Well, that smarts.

“Elliot said somebody came onto you last night,” I say. Her hand moves to her head.

“God, he saw that?” she says.

“Yes, and he cursed me out for not seeing it,” I say as I take another gulp of coffee to warm myself.

“Yeah, well,” she says, now rubbing her scar. She’s definitely not comfortable talking about this.

“Was he the only one?” I ask with a cough.

“Yes, there was only one,” she replies a little irritated. “Three less than you.”

She saw that, too, huh?

“What’s his name?” I ask.

“We didn’t get that far,” she replies.

“What? No snazzy pick-up line?” I prod before I drink more coffee.

“I didn’t remember anything except that he thought I was here alone,” she retorts. “When I showed him my wedding ring, he said something about never letting me out of his sight if I was his, and then he left me alone.” She folds her arms. She apparently didn’t like that.

“So, besides meditating, what were you doing out there this morning?” I ask, wanting to derail the subject.

“Journaling,” she says, and I frown.

“You were on your phone,” I point out.

“Yeah, my journals are going virtual,” she says. “The volumes behind my desk are nearly full. I don’t need pages; I need gigabytes.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Grey, but I thought you could use this,” Mrs. Evans interrupts as she brings me a tray with some consommé and crackers on it. “Something not too heavy in case you still want to eat brunch with the family.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Evans,” I say, looking lovingly at the steam rising from the consommé. I hate to let everyone down, but I think this is all I’m going to be able to stomach.

“Mrs. Grey, can I get you anything?” she asks my wife.

“That coffee looks good,” Butterfly says. “I’ll wait for brunch to eat.”

I drink my consommé and eat my crackers in relative silence. Butterfly stares at the fire as she drinks her coffee, occasionally looking over at me. I let the warmth envelop me from the inside out. The chill is finally dropping and I’m starting to feel cozy…

“Wake up, sleepyhead,” I hear Butterfly say. “Jason is here.”

I open my eyes and my head feels like lead. I’m wrapped tight in a throw and I feel like it’s 150 degrees in here. Sure the hell beats freezing.

“It’s time to go home,” she says. “I’m putting you in quarantine.”

“It’s just a cold,” I complain, my throat scratchy.

“You don’t know that,” Butterfly replies matter-of-factly. “You’re weak and shivering. You go from hot to cold to hot, and you slept through brunch.”

“I slept through brunch?” I lament. I wanted some of whatever Mrs. Evans was making. “Why didn’t you wake me?” I ask as I struggle to sit up.

“I tried. You just grunted and curled into a ball. Oh, and you owe Val a throw pillow. You’ve drooled all over that one.”

I look down where I was sleeping and sure enough, the pillow is half-covered with slime.

“Destroy that thing,” I say, grossed out by the sight.

“I intend to,” she replies. “That’s a $500 pillow, by the way.” I reach into my pocket and pull out a handful of bills. Val reaches for them, but Elliot heads her off.

“Naw, bro,” he says, catching his wife’s hand. “Put the infected currency away. I’ll get another pillow.” I shrug and put the money back in my pocket. I’m too weak to get offended.

“But I’m hungry,” I whine.

“And it begins,” Val laughs.

“I know, right?” Butterfly concurs.

“What begins?” I huff.

“Don’t worry about it. Val, what’s left that he can take to go?”

“I’ve got you, Mrs. Grey,” Mrs. Evans says, and starts scurrying around the kitchen. Jason walks in with my coat.

“I’ve got the bags in the car and the heat is on, so he’ll be good and warm,” he says, holding my coat open. I stand, and the room starts spinning.

“Whoa!” I hear Jason say, but he’s not the one who catches me. I open my eyes and my tiny wife has her arms around me.

“Just a cold my eye,” she says, looking at me with concern. Jesus, I hope she doesn’t catch whatever this is that I have.

My knees are weak, but thankfully, they’re still holding me up… somewhat. This is a good thing as I have no idea how this little woman—literally—is supporting 185 pounds of mostly muscle.

“Your Highness let me…” Jason protests.

“I’ve got him,” she says effortlessly. “Get his coat on him.”

They’re dressing me like a helpless toddler. Stand up, Grey! You’re stronger than this!

I try to stand upright while Jason helps me on with my coat. It’s taking every bit of strength that I have not to crumble over. Jesus, the air is thin up here…

“Come on, Superman,” Butterfly jests as she reaches for me again.

“Really, Ana,” Jason says. “Let me. The rain froze over and it’s slippery out there.” Butterfly throws an accusing gaze at me.

“You ran in the freezing rain?” she scolds.

“It wasn’t raining when I ran,” I excuse. Was it…? “You were out there journaling. You know it wasn’t raining,” I add, more to convince myself than her. She shakes her head.

“Get him to the car, please, Jason,” she says.

“Here, Mrs. Grey.” Mrs. Evans gives my wife a thermo bag. “A breakfast bagel and some soup. And here’s more coffee.” She hands her a travel mug.

“Thank you, Mrs. Evans. You’ve been too kind.” Mrs. Evans smiles.

“Get him to bed, dear,” she says. “They think they’re invincible at that age.”

“Until they get sick,” Butterfly counters, “then they turn into babies.”

Not me…

*-*

I feel miserable.

The soup didn’t help. The coffee didn’t help. Even my warm bed and these horrible flannel pajamas aren’t helping. Where did she find these things? I don’t even own a pair of flannel pajamas.

“I wanna take these off,” I whine. “They’re not comfortable.”

“But they’ll keep you warm,” Butterfly retorts. “Still not feeling any better?”

“No, and this wretched grandpa sleepwear isn’t helping!” She laughs at me. And I don’t like it.

“Well, you’re going to have to deal with it for a while,” she says. No, I won’t. As soon as I can move, I’m coming out of these things. “Would you like for me to turn on the television?”

“No. I want my laptop and my phone,” I say. She shakes her head.

“Nope. No work. Television, sleep, and food. Those are your options.” I frown at her.

“You gotta be kiddin’!” I hiss. “I have three deals set to close tomorrow; the team is going to be back in Detroit in…” I look at my arm and my watch is gone. “Where the fuck is my watch?” Butterfly folds her arms.

“Television, sleep, and food,” she repeats. “You wanna try me?”

“Butterfly, you can’t do this,” I complain. “I’ve got a multi-billion-dollar company to run…” and I’m miserable as fuck, but I’ll be even more miserable if I don’t know what’s happening at my company. She sighs.

“It’s Sunday, Christian,” she says. “Nothing is happening at your multi-billion-dollar company today.”

“Something is always happening at my company,” I protest. “If I don’t leave those people instructions, there’s no telling what’s going to happen!”

“What did you do when we were in Paris? And Greece? The company didn’t explode!”

“Because I left instructions! And I checked in! You know that!” I defend. She sighs.

“Christian Grey, if you’re sick longer than you have to be because you won’t rest and recuperate, I swear I’m moving out of this room and someone else can take care of your ass.”

“I won’t be sick longer, but I’ll be irritable and crabby as fuck if I don’t get my computer and my phone!” She raises her brow at me.

“Is that a threat?” she inquires.

“No, that’s a statement of pure, unmitigated fact! And a definite promise. And if you want to test that theory, keep them away from me. I won’t be responsible at all for my actions.” I don’t blink when I say the words. I know I’ll be crazy and untamable if she doesn’t get me my electronics and soon. So, what will it be, Mrs. Grey?

“You’re insufferable,” she says as she leaves the room. I hope that means that she’s going to get my phone and laptop or I’m going to harass everybody in this house until I get them.


ANASTASIA

So, he goes out in the rain and makes himself sick and apparently, I’m the one who has to pay for it.

I just want him to get one day of total rest—one day, and he’s giving me hell about his tethers. That place will do just fine without him, but he’s trying to convince me that the one day—a Sunday—that he doesn’t communicate with them, a meteor is going to fall out of the sky and obliterate Grey House.

“You have one hour,” I say as I hand him his phone and computer.

“One hour?” he laments.

“Make the best of it,” I say as I walk out of the room, miffed that I capitulated to his demands. I can’t cut him completely off. He’d probably die, but if I give him too much corporate rope, he’ll hang himself.

I look across the hall at the nursery. I need some baby time in the worst way. I reach for the doorknob and just as I’m about to turn it, common sense prevails. My husband is sick with I don’t know what and I’ve been around him all day. All I need to do is give cooties to my two little ones and my heart would officially be broken.

I move my hand away from the door and almost on cue, the two way comes to life.

“Ana,” I say sadly, and my babies begin to coo through the speakers. My heart is already breaking from not being able to hold them. I stand there and listen to them for a while. It’s like they’re having a conversation with each other. I stand there against the wall and sigh. God, I want my babies…

“Ana?”

Gail’s voice interrupts my baby time. She and Keri are standing in the hallway staring at me. I clear my throat and try to pull myself together.

“You and Keri will have to do your best to stay away from me, or to have as little contact with me as possible,” I warn. “The babies and Christian will be on quarantine. They all have to stay in their rooms until this thing with Christian blows over.” Gail and Keri look at each other and back at me.

“There’s no need to put the babies on quarantine, Ana,” Gail says. “As long as Christian stays in the room, the risk of infection is minimal at best.

“But I’m not on quarantine,” I say, “and I’m going to be in contact with Christian. I’m not taking any chances with my 10-month old babies. If they were older, I’d consider this cruel and unusual and we’d find a different solution. Right now, they’re just getting started. Make the room fun for them…” I want to cry. The thought of not seeing my babies until Christian is better…

“Ana,” Gail says, rubbing my arm and sensing my angst, “why don’t you call the pediatrician? Or Dr. Grey? See what the best course of action is before you deprive yourself of seeing your babies.” I nod and quickly wipe a tear away. I don’t know how she hit that nail on the head, but she did.

“Until I talk to them, please keep my babies in the nursery,” I say, my voice cracking. Gail nods, and she and Keri walk into Nirvana to care for my two little angels.

I take out my phone and sit down at the top of the stairs. I had planned to spend the day with the twins until Christian got sick. Now, of course, those plans have changed. I open my Journey app and start journaling.

November 14, 2014

Second entry of the day. No sign of the Boogeyman but I’m feeling shitty anyway. My brilliant husband went running in the rain this morning and has caught some kind of mutant cold that has knocked him on his ass in a matter of hours. Now, I have to tend to him and his whining—which has already begun—and I can’t hold my babies. I want to sock him in the nose for being so careless and at the same time, I want to cuddle him until he feels better. I didn’t prepare myself to be away from my babies, so my heart is heavy and I’m trying not to break down into a useless ball of mush…

I keep writing until I feel a little better and before I know it, Gail and Keri are coming out of the nursery. I raise my head to get a report on how the twins are doing.

“They’re sleeping,” Gail says with a sympathetic smile. “Have you been sitting here this entire time?”

“Yes,” I reply, maudlin. “I lost track of time.” I close my Journey app and notice that two hours have passed… and not a peep from my bedroom.

“Have you talked to Mrs. Grey yet?” she asks. I shake my head.

“No, but no matter what she says, I still need to know how serious this thing is with Christian before I come into contact with the babies.”

“Anah, if Ah meh,” Keri interjects, “bebbies catch cold all de time. Deh be fine if yah wan ta hold dem. Trest meh, Ah know.” I smile at her.

“Thank you, Keri. I’ll talk to Grace and… we’ll see.” I won’t risk infecting my babies. I walk pass them to the bedroom to relieve my husband of his electronics. When I open the door, I see that there’s no need. The phone is lying uselessly next to his hand, the screen black. The computer screen is asleep from no activity for several minutes.

And my husband is snoring like a trucker. I put his phone on the nightstand. He stirs when I move his laptop from his lap.

“That wasn’t an hour,” he grumbles.

“I gave you two,” I correct him. “Lie down.” He adjusts himself so that he’s not sitting up anymore, and I tuck the covers under his neck. “You know, if you wanted sympathy, you didn’t have to catch your death of cold to get it.”

“Shut up,” he replies in utter misery. “You’re the one who slept outside—how did I catch the cold?”

“I don’t know,” I say, “but stay away from the babies.”

“I can’t even get out of bed. I doubt that I’ll be messing with the babies.”

“Good, because if they get sick, I’ll murder you.” I blow a kiss across the room to him before leaving.

*-*

“It’s positive.”

Of course, I’ve decided to work from home on Monday. I’m certain that no one will be able to handle my husband if I leave, so I’m grounded until he’s better. I didn’t get much sleep last night worrying about him and missing my twins, so even though I’m taking zinc drops, vitamin c, and loading my body with immunity boosters and Airborne to prevent catching Christian’s bug, I’m still a bit groggy and see a nap in my near future. All these preventive measures will be futile if I’m exhausted.

And now a weeping Marilyn has just dropped another bomb on me.

“The pregnancy test?” I ask. “You took it?”

She nods, barely able to respond. This is not good news, no matter how happy Gary might be.

Gary!

“Have you told Gary yet?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“I just took the test this morning,” she sobs. “I don’t know what to do!”

“Well, the first thing you need to do is see a doctor. You need to know how far along you are,” I say. I sit on the ottoman facing her and take her hands. “Breathe, Mare,” I say trying to get her to calm herself. “You’re going to hyperventilate if you don’t calm down.” She tries to breathe slowly. It helps only a little.

“It’s not the end of the world, Mare,” I say gently. “You’ve got decisions that you have to make, but I promise, the sun will still rise tomorrow.”

“This is a disaster,” she says. “We’re always careful! How did this happen?” I shrug.

“Nothing is 100%,” I tell her. “There’s always a chance no matter what you do.” She sighs and sniffles. “Do you have an OB/GYN?” I ask. She nods. “Well, you need to call them… now. You’ve stalled in taking your test. You can’t afford to stall anymore, whatever you decide.” Still sniffling, she takes out her phone and swipes the screen. I go back over to my desk to give her some privacy. When I look at my phone, there’s a text from Harmony.

**The quit deed is final. That’s one less thing to worry about. **

I breathe a sigh of relief. At least she doesn’t have to worry about her “brothers and sisters” overrunning the house or trying to put her out once Tina is gone. I had no idea how soon that theory was going to be put to the test.

The next day, Marilyn goes to the OB/GYN… and Tina passes away. Harmony calls me hysterical and I can only make out that Tina is gone.

“Shit!” Christian says, throwing the covers off himself and swinging his legs out of bed.

“Christian!” I scold, and he turns to me after he stands.

“Baby, I love you. I feel worlds better than I did two days ago, but I can’t stay in this bed anymore, especially not now.”

I examine him carefully. His color has come back, and I’ve been pumping him full of immunity boosters, fruits and vegetables, and antioxidants. He’s not wobbly or groggy and he doesn’t have a stuffy nose or fever. Without waiting for my approval, he walks around the bed and heads for his dressing room. I hope he doesn’t think I’m going to allow him to leave this house! When he comes out of the dressing room in jeans and a sweatshirt, I stand in front of him with my lips pursed and my arms folded.

I’ll put you down, Mr. Grey.

“I know that look,” he says firmly. “One of us has to go to the Franklin mansion. It can be you or it can be me, but one of us has to go!”

“I’ll go,” I reply just as firmly. “Don’t go spreading your germs all over the house. This room, your office, your den, bathrooms. I’m not certain you’re not contagious and I meant what I said about my babies.”

“Dammit, Ana,” he complains.

“I haven’t seen my babies in three days trying to keep from transferring your germs to them!” I say pointing my finger at him. I’m crabby and irritable without them and I will cut you! He stares at me for a moment.

“Fine. Office, bathroom, bedroom, den. Now, get out of here.”

*-*

“She’s as we expected she would be, ma’am,” Windsor says after he lets me in. “She hasn’t left Ms. Tina’s room.”

“Was Harmony with her when she died?” I ask, removing my coat and handing it to him. He shakes his head.

“Ms. Tina passed very peacefully in her sleep,” he says. “Harmony found her this morning.” Oh, dear God. Windsor takes me to Tina’s door and I can hear Harmony weeping inside. I open the door slowly and it’s like I’ve stepped into a time warp—large, old, beautiful pieces of vintage furniture from a time long gone… and a small woman face down strewn across a very large bed, mourning. I walk over to the bed, sit on the edge and put my hand on her back.

“I’m so sorry, Harmony,” I say to her shaking, weeping form.

“She’s gone,” she sobs. “She was the only person in my whole life who loved me… who truly loved me… and now she’s gone. What am I going to do?” she wails. I sigh.

“She’d want you to move on and live a good life,” I say. “She’d want you to find happiness and love. She’d want to look down on you and know that she did a good job raising you. I know this is an unbearable pain, and you’re going to be really sad for a while… but don’t be sad for too long.”

“That’s just what she said,” she sobs. “Did you guys get this stuff from a book?” she adds with tearful mirth.

“In my case, probably… I’m a shrink, remember?” She forces a tearful snort. “In Tina’s case, she was no stranger to loss. She lost her husband, one of her children… She knew what it meant to have to carry on. But I’m sure that you gave her as much peace and serenity as she could have in her last days, Harmony. And she made sure that you would be okay when she was gone.”

“I know what you’re trying to do,” she says, “but my momma is gone. She left me. She didn’t have a choice, but she left me. I’m all alone. There’s nobody left who loves me, and pretty soon, her wretched offspring are going to be knocking on my damn door with their hands out. Do you know those assholes have accused me of colluding with Carl to get my hands on her house? Like I fucking care about this house? My momma’s gone, for God’s sake!” She buries her face in the covers, which no doubt still carry Tina’s fragrance, and weeps bitterly. I step out into the hallway and call Christian.

“How is she?” he asks.

“It’s bad,” I tell him. “It’s really bad. How airtight is a quit claim? I’ve never done one.”

“It’s filed with the Register of Deeds. It’s final—Harmony owns that house. Why do you ask?”

“Her siblings twice removed are accusing her of colluding with the attorney to finagle the house from Tina before she died.”

“Well, unfortunately for them, even if she had done that, it’s still final. That’s how cults end up so wealthy. They get people to sign over their assets and there’s nothing that can be done once the signature is on the paper. They’re just pissed that they couldn’t get to Tina before the documents were all signed. I talked to Dad and Carl was filing the will with probate as soon as he heard time of death had been established. He had only just gotten finalized copies of the deed. Jason has more security details on the way to the mansion if they aren’t there already. Her siblings won’t be able to get within a mile of her unless she wants them to. I suggest that you have Windsor or one of the other staff screen her phone calls for a while. I know she’s a mess.”

“Like you wouldn’t believe,” I lament. “She thinks there’s no one else in the world that loves her.” I sigh. Christian falls silent. “Baby, are you there?”

“I need to tell you something,” he says, “and I’m only telling you because I think it’ll help Harmony.”

“What is it?”

“After we swept the house of all the bugs and got rid of Roger, Harmony came on to me…”

“What??” I exclaim. Why the hell didn’t he tell me this sooner? All that we’ve done for her…

“Listen to me, Butterfly, before you get upset,” he says. “She has a problem. She didn’t overtly come on to me. She just turned on the flirt a little heavily. When I assured her that it would go absolutely nowhere, she was humiliated—not because I turned her down, but because she immediately recognized what she was doing. With me, it was hero worship, but with other men, it’s the quest for the love and attention that she never got. To my knowledge, she started seeing a therapist about it last week, and she made me swear not to tell you, not only because she didn’t want to jeopardize the relationship that she was building with you, but also because she knows that she has a problem and she’s getting help for it. I agreed not to tell you on the condition that she never did that shit again, but in this case, I think you need to know because she might need our help.

The jealous wife in me is clawing angrily at the walls, but the psychiatrist in me sees exactly what’s going on. And quite frankly, with the Boogeyman having the hold on me that he has… had…? Whatever… with the Boogeyman looming, I can partially understand why he didn’t want to tell me. The truth is that I can see why she’s not a threat… and why she’s really going to need our help.

“Butterfly?” Christian says when I don’t respond.

“Rationalizing,” I admit aloud. “Bottom line, she’s in really bad shape and from what you just said, it can only get worse. She feels like she’s totally alone in this and I feel like someone needs to be here with her 24/7, but she doesn’t have any friends like that. She wasn’t able to forge any relationships, and before you suggest it, it won’t be me. I care about her… I really do and what you told me doesn’t change that, but we don’t have that kind of relationship, either.”

“I’ll talk to Mom—maybe she knows someone. Can… you talk to Harmony?”

“Of course, I can!” I snap. “I told you what you said doesn’t make a difference. It’s classic transference, and if she’s seeing someone about it, then she’s recognizing the problem. The trick is going to be making sure that she keeps seeing someone about it because now, she’s had this huge loss and she’s very likely to slip into a black hole!”

“Okay, okay, I just… with everything that happened with Westwick… and the aftermath…”

“I know, I know,” I interrupt. “That was a… somewhat different situation, but please, let’s not rehash that.” I’m waving my hand at no one to try to shoo away the memories of Liam and that entire situation.

“Well, I found out that Tina already made her final arrangements, so that’s one less thing she has to worry about,” he says, quickly changing the subject. Good tact, Mr. Grey.

“I’ll try to discuss that with her, but it may be too much for today,” I acknowledge. “I’m going to get back in here and check on her.” He’s silent again. “Is there something else you have to tell me?”

“No… no there’s nothing else,” he confirms.

“I’m not mad, Christian,” I confirm. “I wish you had told me sooner, but I understand why you didn’t.”

“I’m feeling kinda shitty,” he admits.

“Why, because you didn’t tell me?” I told you that I understand…

“That, and… I’m kind of understanding why you didn’t tell me about Westwick right away.” I sigh heavily.

“Please let’s not do this,” I beseech, rubbing my scar and begging him to drop it.

“Okay, okay, I won’t dwell on it…”

“Thank you,” I say, cutting him off before he even finishes his sentence. “I’m hanging up now. I gotta go…”

“I love you,” he says, cutting me off this time.

“I love you, too,” I say before ending the call. I go back into the room, and Harmony has clearly cried herself into exhaustion and is asleep on her mother’s bed. I leave the room and close the door.

I’ve never felt so helpless in my life. She has no one—absolutely no one to help her through this. In all the times that I’ve done grief counseling, they’ve always had some kind of support system. It’s obvious that Harmony has no one. Nothing.

“Windsor, please keep an eye on her,” I tell him as Chuck helps me on with my coat. “I’ll be back tomorrow to check on her but call me if she appears to be spiraling at all.”

“I will, Mrs. Grey,” he says as he closes the door behind us. Walking to the car, I realize that I’m going to be Harmony’s support system. I trust Christian with her and her with Christian. I would just feel better not waving that carrot in her face when she’s this vulnerable… and the jealous wife is still peaking around the corner just a bit even though the shrink is knocking her upside the head every time she tries to get the upper hand.

I can’t help it. I’m human.

I take out my phone and dial a number. I’m going to need some help with this task.

“Hey, Ana, what’s up?”

“Hey, Courtney, are you busy?

*-*

I spend some time at the Center powwowing with Courtney and coming up with a schedule where she and I will be the foundation of Harmony’s support system. She and Harmony are both studying social work, so it’s actually workable experience for them both. I don’t want to say good experience, because it’s definitely not a good experience for Harmony.

Later that afternoon, I have a short and not-so-sweet talk with Marilyn.

“A little over ten weeks, we estimate,” she says of her visit to the OB/GYN. I sigh.

“Well, at least you know for sure now,” I say.

“I knew for sure before,” she says. “I was in denial hoping that some great solution was going to fall out of the sky even though I knew better.”

“So… what does Gary say?”

“I haven’t told Gary yet,” she confesses. I’m sure that a look of pure horror “graces” my face. “I just got back from the doctor, for Christ’s sake…”

“But you took your test yesterday!” I point out. “Why haven’t you told him yet?”

“Because I need it to sink in, okay?” she nearly squeals at me, and I realize that I’m drilling the poor girl.

“Okay,” I say, skeptically, but agreeing to drop the subject. “I don’t think I’ll be in the office much this week.”

“Why not?” she asks.

“Christian caught some kind of bug this weekend, so I need to keep an eye on him and also, Tina Franklin passed away.”

“Oh, God, really?” Marilyn says, deflated. “How’s Harmony doing?”

“Not well at all,” I confirm. “She has no support system and I expect for Tina’s children who have been completely MIA to this point to descend upon her any second. I’m going to have to be her support system, and she and Courtney have built a bit of a rapport, so I’m enlisting her services as well. I’ll most likely be there for most of the week as needed. To that end, you can choose to come here or go there or even to work remotely from home if you like. It’s up to you, just let me know.”

“Sure,” she says. “Is there anything I can do?” I shrug.

“I don’t even know what I can do right now,” I admit. “I’ve never dealt with anyone who didn’t have any support system. I mean, I can draw on my own experiences when I was a kid after the Green Valley attack, but this is so much different. Just… keep your phone handy. Whenever I need some magic, I always call you, so… do the same thing you always do.” She smiles.

“Sure thing, Bosslady.”

I’m completely drained and slightly more than depressed when I get home. The day has completely sapped all my energy and almost my will to live. I’ve checked in with Windsor and Harmony has stayed in her mother’s room crying and sleeping all day. I figure I’ll let her do that for today, but tomorrow, she’s going to have to start coming out of that shell and prepare for her mother’s final arrangements—and for her great-aunts and uncles/siblings to make their appearance.

It gets dark so early and I’m so tired. Actually, I’m not tired. It’s just that nothing has happened today to give me any energy. I normally go to the kitchen to get something to eat or drink, but right now, I’m drawn to my bedroom. To check on Christian? Maybe a hot bath? I don’t know. I wander aimlessly to the stairs and after ascending half-way, I see my husband on the second-floor landing.

“You’re looking fit,” I say and touch his forehead.

“I’m fine,” he says, softly. “No fever. I even got a little cardio in today.” I frown.

“Take it easy, Christian…” I warn.

“Cardio is good to build the immune system and help sweat out some of the toxins. Trust me, I’m fine.” He leads me to my bedroom door. “Now, I want you to go and take a hot shower, put on some clean, comfortable clothes, and go. See. Your children.”

“Christian, I can’t,” I protest. “You’re probably very contagious and I don’t want to make the babies sick.”

“This is why you’re taking a hot shower to be safe,” he says. “There’s hand sanitizer everywhere and if it makes you feel better, wear a mask, but I know what kind of day you’ve had, and I know that you need to see your children. I talked to Mom and she says that as long as you don’t feel anything coming on, the twins should be fine.”

“I don’t want to take any chances,” I whine.

“And in the meantime, you’re miserable,” he points out. “I thought you were going to kill me when I got out of bed this morning, and now I know why.” He takes my hands.

“Baby, our children are going to catch colds, and flu, and chicken pox, and heaven only knows what other childhood diseases, ailments, and injuries. So, let’s not make ourselves suffer when there’s nothing to worry about. Yes, I may transmit some germs to them, so I’m going to stay out of the nursery until I know that I’m well. You’re not sick. Go shower, clean clothes, sanitize your hands, and go spend some time with your babies. Remember, if you haven’t seen them in three days, they haven’t seen you either.”

God, I’ve been so concerned about not infecting them, it hadn’t occurred to me that we all may be suffering from a bit of separation anxiety. I sigh heavily.

“Go,” he says. “Hot shower—now.”

I don’t argue anymore. I go into my bathroom and step out of my clothes. I set my shower for as hot as I can stand it and get inside, scrubbing my body down like I’m about to perform surgery. I scrub my hair, my ears, under my nails… I even gargle with antiseptic mouthwash, just in case. After I don fresh clothes from my dressing room, I sanitize my hands all the way up to my elbows, then approach the nursery door. I’m still not certain about this, but I’m going to do it anyway.

I open the door and my nannies are playing with my children. Gail sees me enter and smiles widely.

“Well, hello,” she says, and looks down at Mikey. “Look who’s here. It’s Mommy!”

Mikey garbles some intelligible babbling sound, but I can’t tell what it is, nor do I care, because when he holds his arms out to me, all is right in the world.

“How’s Mommy’s precious boy?” I say, taking my son in my arms. He puts his hands on my face and gnaws on my jaw, baby slobber now dripping down my cheek. It’s the most wonderful feeling in the world.

“Oh!” Keri says, holding a wiggling Minnie. “Leettle Mees is nawt lahking da fack dat she nawt gettin’ de attention. We gonnah hat ta rectify da situation, Mah!” I giggle at the idea that my children are already exhibiting a bit of sibling rivalry. I take Mikey with me and sit in the window seat.

“Bring her to me,” I say. Keri comes over to the window seat and sits with me to assist in wrangling my children. Minnie is crawling across the seat and pulling herself up on my shoulder while Mikey continues with the baby-slobber-kisses. Christian was right—I may have needed some baby time in the worst way, but my babies need Mommy time, too.

The children are finally asleep after about an hour of playtime and I’m headed back to the bedroom to change my baby-drool shirt when I notice that there’s ambient lighting in the room. I open the door and find candles lit on every safe surface.

“What is this?” I say to myself, since Christian is nowhere in the room. I walk in and see my favorite vintage nightshirt lying on the bed. I want to eat… I don’t want to go to bed. I’m starving.

Almost in response to my complaints, my husband comes into the bedroom with a tray of food.

“I thought I was going to have to rescue you from the children,” he says, placing the tray on the nightstand. “Don’t worry, I was prepared to use the two-way. You’re still dressed,” he says examining me. “Get comfortable, your dinner’s getting cold.” He leaves out of the room and I’m a bit stunned.

Hey, don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Change clothes!

I strip naked out of my comfort wear and slide into my nightshirt. I go into my en suite and run a brush through my hair a few times, dabbing a bit of citrus essential oil behind my ears. When I get back to the bedroom, Christian has returned with a bottle of wine and two glasses.

“What’s the occasion?” I ask, turning off the light to the en suite. I notice that he has a bottle of the yummy red we found in Napa.

“Nothing special,” he says, his pupils dilating as he examines me. “Well, besides you.” He reaches out to me and leads me to the bed. I climb on and he reveals a perfectly cooked filet mignon in mushroom sauce, asparagus spears with butter and garlic and fluffy, whipped mashed potatoes. The steak is so tender, I can cut it with my fork.

“Oh, God, this is delicious,” I say, savoring the flavor of the best cut of beef I think I’ve ever tasted in my life.

“Get comfortable,” he says. “I know it’s been a shitty day. How’s Harmony holding up?”

That’s when it hits me. He’s feeling guilty about what happened with Harmony, maybe even about not telling me. There’s really no need, but I’ve discovered that when Christian kicks himself about something, he really kicks himself. Me trying to reassure him that everything is okay would only make things worse. Besides, I’m getting the benefit of his guilty conscience.

“As badly as can be expected,” I answer honestly. “She’s going to need a close eye, so I’m coming up with some solutions for that.”

“Solutions like what?” he asks, filling a glass and handing it to me.

“Well, she’s going to have to mourn, but there’s too much to handle for her to wallow too deeply in the depths of despair.” I sip the wine and close my eyes. Dear God, that’s good.

“I did tell you that Tina made all of her own arrangements, didn’t I?” he asks, filling his own glass. I nod while taking a bite of an asparagus spear.

“Yes, but the siblings, the house, notifying people…”

We discuss Harmony situation for several more minutes while I finish my dinner. Christian tells me about talking to his father and Carl and trying to get Tina’s affairs as much in order as possible without disturbing the distraught Harmony. He also talks about what’s happening in Detroit—beginning to distribute Burt and Ruby’s things among the family. He tells me that he emailed me a list of the things that hadn’t been claimed yet with instructions to look at the stuff and let me know if there’s anything that I wanted.

“You gave me enough rubies to open a jewelry store!” I exclaim. “What else could I possibly want?”

“Just take a look at the inventory,” he says. “There’s a lot of stuff—plenty to go around. Anything that the family doesn’t claim may very well rot in storage here in one of my warehouses.” I sigh.

“Well, that would be very sad,” I say, finishing my meal and savoring my wine. “Let the family decide what they want first. I’ll see what’s left.”

“You are the family, Butterfly,” he says firmly.

“Okay, duly noted, but I can guarantee that the rest of them didn’t get a priceless treasure trove of rubies.” He raises his brow.

“Good point. Look at the stuff anyway, okay?” he says, softly. I roll my eyes.

“Okay,” I cede.

“You better be glad I don’t spank you for that,” he warns.

“You’re not well. You can’t spank me,” I say.

“Mom came over and checked me out,” he retorts. “She says I should be right as rain by tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” I ask. “That’s only a couple of days. You were damn near dead on Sunday.”

“The average cold is only supposed to hang on for a few days, Butterfly,” he says. “The only reason it would hang around longer is if you don’t take care of yourself or you overdo it. You damn near chained me to the bed for two days and you shoved nearly every green, fibrous thing in my face that you could find. I thought I would sprout leaves! I got better care from you than I would have gotten had I gone to the hospital. Besides, Mom says I never held on to a cold more than three days in my whole life, even as a child, and this time is no different. I’m giving it the three days as usual, and Mom has agreed to check on me again tomorrow morning, but I’m up and Adam once she gives me the all clear—no back talk.”

I know I’d be wasting my time even if I tried, so I don’t bother. I also deduce from his description that his current doting may be partially due to the fact that I was so attentive to him and adamant about his care over the last two days.

“Did you cook?” I jest, sipping my wine.

“Not this time,” he smiles, “but in the interest of keeping my promise to you, I ate in my den and had your dinner delivered to the elevator so as not to spread my germs to the rest of the household. I did, however, spend some time in the gym after which the disinfecting squad damn near-cleaned the whole damn thing. That place is more sterile than an operating room!”

I scoff a laugh. I can only assume that Gail must have said something to the staff about my concern for the babies and everyone has gone into anti-germ mode.

“Dinner was delicious. Thank you,” I say sweetly. His “You’re welcome” and the gaze that accompanies it is full of desire and promise, but I’m still not sure about our faces being that close together. He moves closer to me and his hand travels across the skin of my calf, up my leg, behind my knee, up my inner thigh… I feel goosebumps rising on my flesh and my nipples are getting stiff under my nightshirt, which doesn’t get past my husband.

“Oh, that’s so pretty,” he croons, using his free hand to fondle a nipple outside of my nightshirt. Oh, dear God in heaven, it’s driving me crazy.

He abandons my aching nipple and takes the nearly empty wine glass from my hand. He continues to torment the sensitive skin between my thighs as he places the glass on the nightstand. He adjusts two pillows on the headboard behind me without moving his hands from my legs.

“Lie back,” he instructs me, his voice barely above a whisper. I instinctively do what he says, moving down on the bed, my body propped up only slightly.

Jesus, if he brings his face anywhere near mine, I’m definitely not going anywhere near my twins, but right now, I don’t think I care. My entire body is alight with need, fueled by the fact that this has been a fucking emotionally taxing day!

His hands move higher between my thighs and his fingers ghost over my outer lips. His mouth closes over my nightshirt and nipple, his teeth gently nipping the tender flesh. Ecstasy shoots up my spine straight to my scalp giving me a head rush. Dear God, I want this man so badly.

His finger slides inside me, circling in my inner walls while his mouth moves to the other nipple, teasing and tormenting it like he did the first.

“Ah!” I breathe as I close my eyes. I’m so hot that it’s painful. His lips move down my body outside of the nightshirt. I swear with the heat coming from his mouth, the damn thing might as well not be there, and I’m so wet that I can hear the moisture as his finger moves inside me. It’s almost embarrassing… if it wasn’t so damn hot.

“You are so fucking ready,” he groans. “I want to fuck you. I want to taste your tongue and kiss you until our mouths are both numb, but I know the recovery time is when a patient is the most contagious and you’ve been lucky enough not to catch my germs even though you’ve been the only person within 10 feet of me for the past 48 hours, so I won’t push my luck. But I will taste you. So, if you’re going to catch a cold in your pussy, so be it, but I’m about to eat you until I’ve had my fill.”

Good God, I’m about to explode.

He slides down my body and nestles himself between my legs. He has me positioned so that I can watch him while he feasts on me, and it’s driving me out of my fucking mind. Throwing one last hungry look at me, his head dips between my spread legs. He kisses my outer lips gently and runs his tongue over my hot clit before taking it into his mouth. My back arches to give him more access and his hands reach up and cup my breasts.

“Christian…” I purr sensually, thrusting my hands into his hair and losing myself in passion.

*-*

“I tried to prepare myself for it,” she says. “I knew it would be hard, but I kept telling myself to stay strong and I would be okay, but when it happened…”

I’m back at the Franklin mansion on Wednesday morning to check on Harmony. Of course, she’s not doing much better than she was yesterday—it’s too soon—but she has some business to take care of that no one else can do, decisions that have to be made. So, unfortunately, she has to get herself in gear.

The girl is completely waterlogged. I don’t know how I’m going to convince her to get it together to start taking care of her business. Not only that, but if Tina’s biological children show up and she’s looking like this, they’re going to roll over her like an 18-wheeler.

“Harmony,” I begin, trying to find my words, “I know that you want to mourn, and that’s okay, but there’s so much that has to be done.”

“My mother just died!” she snaps.

“I know,” I remind her. “Is she still at the morgue? Has the funeral home picked her up? When do you plan to have the service?” She lifts her head from her mother’s bed and gazes at me.

“Oh… yeah…” she says sadly. “I guess that does all fall on me, doesn’t it?” I nod as I rub her arm.

“Yes, dear, it does… but I’m here for you, and Courtney’s going to come and help out, too. We need to get you some food, though. I’m sure you haven’t eaten. Why don’t you go take a shower, freshen up, and we’ll come up with a game plan, okay.” She nods sadly.

“Thank you, Ana,” she says. She drags herself off the bed and goes through a door that connects the rooms. I sigh heavily. This is going to be a long and tedious process.

While Harmony is in the shower, I summon Windsor to make her something to eat then go downstairs to talk to the security team.

“Who’s in charge here?” I ask.

“Mr. Taylor, ma’am,” one of the guards says.

“Who does he have in charge when he’s not around?” I prod.

“The supervising guard on shift,” he says. “It’s different for each shift, but right now, it’s Filmore.”

“How can I get in touch with Mr. Filmore?” He holds up one finger.

“One moment, ma’am.” He puts his wrist to his mouth. “Seager to Filmore… Mrs. Grey wants to talk to you, sir. She’s in the foyer… 10-4.” He moves his hand from his face. “He’ll be here in just a moment, ma’am.”

“Thank you,” I say, going back to the dining room to wait for Filmore. We’ll need a plan of action for when Tina’s children show up. Death turns human beings into horrible monsters and from what I’ve seen, they were horrible before Tina died.

“Mrs. Grey,” I hear from the foyer behind me. “I’m Stacey Filmore,” he introduces himself as he enters the dining room.

“Yes, Mr. Filmore, everything’s fine. I’m sure you know by now that Tina Franklin has passed away. We expect to be overrun any second by her greedy children.”

“Yes, ma’am, I’m aware of that,” he says.

“We can’t very well keep them from speaking to Harmony unless she requests it, but we can keep them from picking the house dry. Is there some kind of protocol that Jason has in place for when they show up?”

“Pretty much just to keep them out of the house and to take our cues from Ms. Franklin,” he says.

“Well, we’re going to need a little more than that…”

By the time we’re done, I’m wired with my own head and earpiece to call for assistance and Harmony will be, too. There are simple signals, codewords, and separate marching orders in case of extreme emergency. Jason will be briefed on the changes made to protocol and any adjustments that he suggests to the plan of action will of course, be welcome.

Courtney shows up just after Harmony has finished her shower, and I’m pleased to know that the two girls have previously formed a bond while working together at the Center. This is a welcome surprise as Harmony is going to need all the support that she can get right now.

“You look a whole lot better,” I tell her once she has freshened herself. “You’re going to be fitted with an earpiece so that you can summon security in case of emergency… while…”

“While the vultures are near,” she finishes. I nod.

“We’re on the same page,” I say.

“I guess I’ll have to make arrangements for my own security soon,” she sighs.

“Don’t worry about that right now,” I comfort. “Baby steps. Courtney, take her to the kitchen and see if Windsor has had anything prepared for her to eat.” Courtney nods and puts her arm around Harmony’s shoulders.

“C’mon, Money,” she says, “let’s see if we can fatten you up a bit.”

“We’ve had this conversation, Court,” Harmony says.

“Eh, we’ll still try,” Courtney says, and they disappear through the foyer.

What conversation?

That’s a fire for a later time. I wonder if Christian has flown the coup yet? My clit begins to throb thinking about how he licked and sucked and fingered me to two insanely cosmic orgasms last night. Focus, Grey, focus!

I pull out my cell and dial Marilyn’s number.

“How are things?” I ask. “Any fires, floods, or hurricanes that I need to tend to?”

“No, nothing,” she says, blandly. “I’ve been going through your family tree trying to check things out, but there are no hits on anything. I hate to tell you, but I think your bio-dad’s family may have written you off when you became a Steele.” I twist my lips.

“Don’t spend too much more time on it,” I tell her. “If they want to get in touch, they now know that I’m alive. It’s not like I need any of them anyway.” This whole situation with Harmony has shown me one very important thing if nothing else. Blood does not make family. Love does.

“Will do,” she says. “I don’t really have the strength to deal with rejection.”

“How goes your other situation?” I ask. She sighs.

“I really don’t want to talk about it,” she says.

“Have you at least told Gary?” I pry.

“Yes, I told Gary,” she says, impatiently. “I mentioned terminating the pregnancy—not even that I was making that decision, just that it was one of the options—and he went ballistic!” she exclaims. “He won’t even discuss it. It’s like he’s completely taking my options away. This is my body.”

“Remember that conversation we had about how many people this decision would affect?” I remind her. “Ultimately, you’re right. It’s your body and it’s your decision, but I’m sorry to tell you that you’re not going to come out of this unscathed.

“Obviously,” she says. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I respect that,” I tell her, “but you do need to make a decision…”

“Ana, I’m only going to say this once, so I need you to hear me,” she says. “I know the clock is ticking and that I have to make a decision soon so that I can make whatever preparations that need to be made. However, I reserve the right not to talk about this and talk about this and talk about this. All concerned and respected parties will be notified once I make my decision, okay?” I twist my lips.

“You won’t hear another word about it from me,” I vow.


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

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 63—Out of Alignment

So, you’re getting two chapters because neither of these could really stand alone without an interruption in flow. For those who celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving.

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 63—Alignment Shift

ANASTASIA

We’ve both come fantastically, but my husband’s hard dick is bobbing in my face right now, and if I can get a repeat of what I just got, I’m all for it! I gently wrap my lips around the head of his cock and lick. He hisses loudly.

“I haven’t picked a card yet,” he protests.

“Then hurry up and pick one,” I chastise. I can feel him frantically reaching over to get a card.

“Slide down and ride that dick,” he says, his voice raspy. “Reverse cowgirl.”

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He puts the card face-up on the floor near his hip so that I can see it. I slide down his body and take his dick in my hand. I guide his head to my opening, still tender and pulsing a bit from my orgasm, and slide down onto him.

“Ssssssssssss! Aw, shit!” he hisses as his fingers caress my hips. I begin to move back and forth over his dick and his fingers never tighten. They only slide with my hips.

“That’s it, baby,” he says, his voice a harsh whisper. “Just like that… ride that dick… fuck that cock…”

He doesn’t move. He just lets me ride and I can feel him getting harder and fatter inside of me as he exclaims several expletives throughout the five minutes. When the timer goes off, he doesn’t make a move.

“Pick a card,” I taunt, still fucking his growing dick.

“Fuck!” he hisses and reaches for another card.

“Stop… stop for a minute,” he begs, “I need to think.” I stop rolling my hips and he’s damn near breathless on the floor. “I don’t know how we’re going to do this one.” He shows me the card and it’s The Sitting V. You normally need a counter or table to pull this one off. I look over at the loveseat and see the highest point in the room that won’t leave me with a bruised or impaled ass.

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“The arm of the loveseat?” I say.

“We’ll give it a try,” he says, slapping my ass, signaling me to get up.

Yeah… no.

We tried everything to get that position right. What’s supposed to happen is that my but is on the edge of a counter, my legs over his shoulders and my hands behind his neck. He supports my back and he just fucks me that way. We tried. We really tried, but he’s too tall to stand and too short to kneel to get the position right. We even tried crouching, but he couldn’t get an angle where his knees didn’t hit the side of the sofa. By the time we try every unsuccessful variation of this position, we’re caught in fits of uncontrollable giggles and realize that we had never set the timer. We throw in the towel on The Sitting V and pick another card.

The T-Position

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“Now we’re talking,” Christian croons as he pulls me from the loveseat back onto the floor. “Lie back,” he instructs me. When I do, he slides between my legs on his side—perpendicular—and lifts my leg over his hip. While I’m trying to figure out how this is going to work, he pushes my other leg away from him so that they’re spread open wider but he’s not lying on my leg. Then he slides into me.

Holy. Cow. Batman.

“There it is,” he says as he begins that masterful stroke that has me rising in a matter of seconds. “Now, we’re back on track.”

He bends his knee so that my leg drapes over his thigh and now, he’s not only free to move his hips, but his hand is also free to caress me as he’s doing this perfect sideways thrust into my core. He’s caressing my thighs and my stomach, kissing my skin wherever his lips and tongue can reach, and I nearly can’t stand it.

I can’t even think of a French exclamation, and I really need one right now.

I open my mouth to get some fair into my lungs and look down at my husband. He’s gazing at me all victoriously, a half-smirk on his face as his body rolls into mine over and over in a perfect water wave, his dick sliding so deliciously in and out of me causing the perfect amount of friction. I reach up and grab my breasts and close my eyes, lost in the perfection of this position that we’ve never tried before. When I open them again, my husband’s expression has changed. He’s still gazing at me, but he’s licking and biting his lips and grasping my leg hard.

“You look so fucking hot,” he says as he plunges into me, his stroke now deeper and seeking his own pleasure while fueling mine.

“Christian!” I breathe, “please…”

“Please, what?” he hisses, grinding and rolling and thrusting his hips into mine, the task seeming harder and harder for him. Yeah, please, what? I don’t know. I groan and fall back onto the floor, welcoming the delicious burn in my core and allowing him to push me higher and higher as he grunts with each thrust.

DING!

I blindly reach for the scattered cards and pull one. I can’t even see it through my passion-induced haze, so I just shove it in Christian’s face. He reaches over and grabs a handful of cards then, wrapping his arms around me, he rises effortlessly from the floor and carries me to the loveseat—with his dick still inside of me. He sits down with me on top, straddling him and just begins to fuck me. I wrap my arms around his neck and ride along with him. His hands are all over me—my back, my ass, my hair—he’s kissing me passionately and loving me deeply. I try to give him back what he’s giving me, running my fingers through his hair, caressing his cheek and chest, kissing him deeply. When his arms slide around my waist, I know that we’re both in passion and chasing the orgasm again. We both groan when the timer goes off and Christian pulls a card from the small stack next to us.

“We’ll change the timer to ten minutes, okay?” he breathes, his voice thick with arousal. I nod and wait anxiously for him to show me the next card.

“Somebody somewhere likes us,” he says, showing me the card. It’s Standing Sex. And again, he lifts me effortlessly and stands to his feet, continuing his stroke right where he left off. Now, we’re both fighting an orgasm and this round has to last ten minutes. I wrap my arms around him and just enjoy the ride.

“Don’t come. Feel the pleasure,” I coach myself inwardly. My body is bursting with sensation all over and I want to come so badly, but I simply can’t let it end yet. It feels too damn good. I know my husband is having the same thoughts and his stamina is much stronger than mine, but he feels so good inside of me that I release a mournful groan that has his knees wobbling and causes him to nearly lose the fight.

“Damn, baby, you’re too fucking sexy!” he exclaims, his face buried in my neck as he pounds into me.

“So are you,” I breathe. “You’re so big and you feel so good…”

“Fuuuuuuuck!” he groans loudly, and I feel him still and pulsing inside me. I thought he came, but he only stops momentarily and starts to thrust again, harder and deeper. The inner coach is somewhere taking a break and I feel myself rising higher and higher…

DING!

“Fuck, that shit was close,” Christian confesses breathily. He sits back on the loveseat with me on his lap and pulls another card.

“And it’s about to get closer,” he says as he shows me another card.

Doggy style.

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Fuck!

I rise off of him and get into position on my knees over the loveseat.

“Fuck, baby,” he says, looking down at me, “I think this is about to be a wrap.”

“I tend to agree with you,” I say.

He falls into position behind me and slides easily inside me.

“Fucking hell!” he says, grabbing my hips and thrusting hard into me three or four times. Oh, shit! I’m startled when he stops, takes a few deep breaths, then begins to move in a long, slow stroke.

Oh, hell. Mr. Grey is going to draw this out.

I try to get my mind ready for the onslaught of pleasure that’s about to come over me, but nothing could have prepared me. His slow stroke intensifies when his grip tightens on my hip and one hand flattens on my back. I open my mouth again to get air in, but I can feel the dew forming on my skin. It won’t be long now.

“Baby, fuck,” he groans, and his whole body is over mine, his hips thrusting his cock deliciously into me. My labored breathing becomes whimpers with each thrust and my body is aching to come now. I don’t want to fight it anymore, but my stubborn brain won’t let go. He licks the dew off my back and his hand grasps my shoulder while the other is flat on the loveseat next to mine, supporting his weight.

“Oh, God,” I protest when he licks my skin again, finishing with an open-mouthed kiss on my back. I shiver and release a breath, begging my sweating body to let go so that I can come.

“Fuck, I need you,” he growls. “I need you so much.” His hand dives into my hair and he roughly twists my head to the side. I cry out from the surprise more than the pain and he slams a bruising kiss onto my lips, his tongue plunging into my mouth. I almost collapse on my arms as my body shivers and aches. He begins to moan shamelessly into my mouth and my body signals that if he releases, I can let go.

“Oh, fuck, no, no, not yet!” he chastises aloud as his dick pulses inside of me. Again, I think he comes, but much to my dismay, he doesn’t. There’s no insane wetness to indicate his ejaculation and only moments later, he’s thrusting into me again. “Fuck, so close… so fucking close.”

“If you let go, I’ll let go,” I breathe, not willing to tap out yet.

“No… no… not yet… too fucking good…” he pants as he continues to thrust into me. I moan inwardly. I want to come so badly, I could cry, but my stubborn brain won’t let my body release before he does, and his body is fighting the feeling because it’s too good.

“Fuck, baby, my dick is burning,” he confesses as he reaches around and pulls my nipple, still drilling into me.

“Oh, God, Christian!’ I protest as I fight to hold myself up against him. I close my eyes as his teeth sink gently into the meat of my shoulder. I shiver with delight, feeling my breast fall into and fill his large hand. He alternates between cupping it and gently caressing it to pulling my nipple until it’s taut and aroused.

DING!

Goddammit to hell, that was the longest ten minutes ever fucking known to man, and I don’t protest when he doesn’t stop fucking me. I can’t take it anymore. I need to come again… seriously!

“This is the last one,” he groans. “I need to come inside you.”

“Okay,” I pant, breathlessly.

“You pull,” he commands, still fucking me and pulling on my nipple. I nod and reach for the cards on the loveseat. When I pull the card for the next position, I know it’s going to be a problem…

Yab-yum.

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That’s our connection position, and this has the potential to be dynamic… or disastrous. I’m spent and aching for an orgasm and can’t be responsible for what comes of attempting this feat, but nonetheless, we agree to try it.

I thought the position would be awkward sexually, but my husband has a goddamn Olympic-length dick. So, when he sits lotus-style with his back against the loveseat, I sit in his lap facing him with my arms and legs around him. He guides his cock to my core and they have no problem finding their counterpart. It’s not the deepest penetration that we’ve had, but it feels good… really good… in more ways than one.

The intimacy that I feel is amazing! Yes, my core is still on fire and in a secondary kind of way, I can still feel the pleasure of my husband inside of me… loving me, but something else is going on.

His fingertips caress my arm very softly, then my neck. Silver-gray eyes never leave mine. My hands slowly slide from his shoulders to his chest, my fingers spread far apart. I feel like that’s where they need to be. His arms slide around me, and his hands move to my upper back. He holds me close to him… not too close, but close… close enough to look into my eyes, close enough to breathe the same air…

And we begin to rock.

We rock and rock until we become acutely aware of the physical as well as the spiritual friction between us. The room fades away. Everything fades away for a moment except the sound of his voice…

You’re beautiful. You’re my life. I couldn’t survive without you.

You’re in my soul… in my blood… everything in me is you…

I live and breathe for you, only for you, my love…

I will take care of you…

I will love you for the rest of my days…

I don’t know where I am, and I only feel heat. I only see light. Heat and light. Well, more like warmth… warmth all over. I feel like some of my life’s energy is leaving me, and it’s scaring me.

Christian… please… help me…

I’ve got you, baby.

I want to wail, but I can’t, and I don’t know why—why I want to or why I can’t. I’m frozen somewhere outside myself and it’s scaring me to death.

Christian…

Butterfly… I’ve got you…

The explosion is cosmic—in my chest, in my head, all over me. Light blinds me completely, and I can even see it behind my closed eyelids. My body is trembling wildly, painfully, and I can’t stop it. Dear God, please make it stop…

This burst of… I don’t know, energy, maybe… is wracking my body. I feel like I’m in a room of nothing but blinding light, but I’m not alone. There’s a warmth wrapped around me, loving me, consoling me, and I don’t want to leave. I don’t know how long it lasts, but it seems like eternity. Slowly, very slowly, the light starts to fade. I can barely make out where I am. I hear crying.

I don’t open my eyes, but I’m now conscious of where I am. I’m sitting in my husband’s lap with my legs wrapped around him. My arms are pressed against his chest, my head back. We’re both drenched in sweat, hair dripping, sitting in the middle of the sitting room floor. My breathing is wild and gaspy and tears are streaming down my face, but the only sound I’m making are the gasps from taking in large amounts of air. My husband’s arms are clasped tight around me like a vice and his face is lying on my chest. He’s weeping. It’s his cries that I hear. I feel his sex pulsing inside of mine and the feeling is magical. I don’t want to move. I don’t want it to end. But the crying…

It’s obvious that we connected while we were having sex… or making love, I should say. Didn’t we do this once before? I don’t remember, but if we did, it was nothing like this. To say that it was powerful would be an understatement. To say that it was earth-shattering would be too cliché. There are no words for what just happened, no words at all.

*-*

“I heard you talking,” he says. “You were saying such… wonderful things… Everything you said, I feel about you.”

“I heard you talking,” I confess. “You were saying…” I swallow hard as I fight to focus. “I wasn’t talking,” I breathe.

“Neither was I,” he says. I’m afraid, but I can tell that he feels no fear. “What’s wrong?”

“What’s going on with us?” I say, my voice shaking.

“Only the best and most intense love known to man,” he says, brushing my hair from my face. “I never thought anything like this was possible in my life, definitely not for me.”

“I’ve never felt or known anything like this… ever,” I admit. “I’m afraid that…” I trail off.

“That what, baby?” he asks.

“That if one of us dies, the other won’t survive,” I finish.

“I already know that,” he admits, “so don’t die.”

We sleep in very late the next morning, saving our appetites for the housewarming party that was sprung on us somewhat last minute. Unlike many gatherings before, this will not merely be family and close friends. Many of Val’s former co-workers will be there as well as some of Elliot’s staff—along with their significant others. Val says that many people asked about her and just wanted to check on her, so she thought showing off her new home was a good way for them to see just how well she’s doing—friends and haters alike. Elliot proclaimed that he wanted a few of the slackers to see “how it’s really done” and he and only the best of the best did the work on his house.

I don’t know anybody there except the family and I’m certainly not trying to impress anyone, so I just don my Freddy jeans and a black oversized cashmere turtleneck sweater. Me being me, I anchor the simple ensemble with Valentino black leather stiletto boots with bow embellishments up the back. No fancy jewelry needed—just my wedding and engagement rings, and my hair is in a messy loosened side braid. Christian is similarly dressed in a pair of black jeans, a white cashmere sweater and black suede ankle boots. I’m going to be helping Val as much as she’ll let me, so we pack an overnight bag with plans to stay until tomorrow.

When we get to my sister and brother-in-law’s home, I admit that I expected the outside to be grander than it is. It looks like a big yellow box and I’m thinking to myself, “Why didn’t they do something more to this?” Elliot is an architect, so… why the massive understatement?

949942852ac3d3397dc9295fe5d61cf9“It’s yellow,” I say to Christian a bit dismayed as we drive up the driveway.

“Yep, that it is,” he says matter-of-factly.

“And it’s stucco,” I continue, my distaste evident. My husband’s extended silence causes me to look over at him.

“You might want to get it all out now,” he says. I frown.

“Get all what out?” I ask.

“Your criticisms,” he states.

“I’m not criticizing!” I declare.

“You don’t have to convince me,” he says, “but if you go into this woman’s house with that tone, she’s likely to put you out. I would.” My mouth falls open.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I ask affronted.

“No offense, Butterfly, but did I stutter?” he asks. “You haven’t even gotten out of the car yet; you haven’t rang the doorbell or greeted anybody, and the first two things you say about the house are critical.”

“I wasn’t being critical,” I excuse. “I was just making observations.” He twists his lips and stares at me.

“Okay,” he says and proceeds to open the door.

“Don’t placate me, Christian…” I begin, and he turns around and cuts me off with a finger pointed at me.

“I’m not going to fight with you,” he says flatly with no malice, “least of all, about this. We’re here for a housewarming party at my brother’s house—your sister’s house. We’re going to go inside, eat some food, hang out with our family and friends and enjoy ourselves. And we’re not going to argue about the yellow house. Comprende?”

I narrow my eyes at him and say nothing. He opens the door and exits the car.

“I speak French, not Spanish,” I say when he turns back to me.

“And yet, you understood what I said,” he points out as he extends his hand to help me out of the car. I glare up at him and scramble out of the car without accepting his hand. The pause behind me can be heard across Lake Washington. After hearing nothing but my heels clicking on the concrete for several seconds, I hear the door slam behind me.

He’s mad.

Can you blame him? He called you out for acting like the quintessential snob and you get all pissy about it.

I don’t need this shit from you… or him. I didn’t do anything wrong.

“How’d I know you’d be the first one here?” Val says when she opens the door. “You even beat the Queen.”

“Well, I’m closer than he is,” I say, breezing into the room and undoing my coat while kissing her on the cheek.

“Wow, chilly,” she says.

“It’s not that cold,” I say, handing my outerwear to a gentleman standing there waiting for it. “You’ve got staff,” I smile.

“Besides a temporary cook, just for today,” she replies, “and I wasn’t talking about the weather.” My brow furrows and hers rises expectantly. We have an entire wordless conversation where I ask what the hell she’s talking about, then she asks what’s with the chilly attitude, what’s going on. I end the conversation by waving her off.

“Show me the house,” I say. She raises her brow again.

“Don’t you want to wait for Christian? We can show it to you both at the same time,” she points out. I shrug.

“Doesn’t matter,” I say as I walk into the house.

“You drinking?” she asks, and I nod. She uncorks a bottle of Cabernet from the kitchen wine rack. We talk a bit about the portion of the house that I can see from here. The vestibule opens right into the kitchen and dining room with the living room actually facing the back of the house and Lake Washington, much like ours. The living room and dining room are all glass walls and doors. Three sets of double doors make up the far wall that faces Lake Washington, and two more sets make up the westward facing wall along with large plate glass panes. A large patio wraps around the back and side of the house showcased by the glass walls.

The kitchen is a chef’s kitchen with stained oak cabinets and high-end appliances, including a five-burner stove in the island of the breakfast bar. Of course, the living room has a gorgeous natural gas fireplace and I’m already drawn to sit in one of the comfy oversized chairs and stare out at the lake for hours, forgetting my troubles like snippy husbands who become all sensitive about yellow stucco houses.

“I’m taking gourmet cooking classes,” Val says, interrupting my thoughts and placing a glass of wine in front of me. “Maybe you can help me out with some pointers and recipes.”

“Absolutely!” I beam. “Did you cook anything for the party today?” She shakes her head.

“No, I wanted the food to actually be edible,” she jests. “Besides, I haven’t been feeling well. I’ve been a little dizzy lately, but that’s to be expected after brain surgery.” I frown.

“You don’t think…” I trail off. If there’s any possibility that her cancer is returning, I want her to get a jump on it the moment it rears its ugly head. I will not lose my sister.

“I don’t know,” she laments, “but I don’t think so. There’s been no hint of Meg in any of my cat scans…”

Meg?” I say, bemused.

“My tumor,” she says. My face is the picture of horror.

“You named your tumor?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says. “I gave it an identity—a dark intruder that needed to be kicked out of my body. She’s an unwanted passenger and I’m kicking her off the bus. It’s a way of taking control of an uncontrollable situation. You diminish the power of the tumor by giving it a name. You’re the doctor, here, Steele. You should read up on this. It’s a very common practice.” I shake my head.

“I’ll take your word for it,” I say. “There are too many facets of medicine for me to be able to cover them all. Oncology and the philosophies that surround it are way too much for me, but if there’s anything that I need to know to be supportive to you, please tell me.”

“Just ask me every so often how Meg is doing,” she says. “If I tell you that she’s still on vacation, we’re good. If I ever say that she’s making an appearance, then it’s time to put our war clothes on.” I nod.

“So… what now? What about Elliot?”

“Oh, dear God, he was ready to take me to the ER,” she replies. “It’s just a little dizziness. It comes with the territory, but I totally understand his concern, especially since I unconsciously hid Meg for something like six months or so. To that end, I’ve got a doctor’s appointment on Wednesday.”

“Do you really want to wait that long?” I ask. “What if Meg really has made another appearance?”

“Then a couple of days really won’t matter, Sis,” she replies. “I need to see my neurologist first, tell him what’s going on, and take the proper steps. If it turns out that Meg is rearing her ugly head, then I’ll go back to the oncologist and we’ll come up with a plan of action. It’s that simple. Now, please, let’s not dwell on it. I want you to tell me how lovely my house is—don’t make me fish for compliments, and if you don’t like it, lie.” She concludes that portion of the conversation with a smile. Just as the conversation changes, Elliot comes into the kitchen.

“I heard the doorbell,” he begins. “Where’s Christian?” Before I could formulate a lie as to why I’m present without my loving husband, Christian comes into the house with our overnight bags. Geez, there were just two bags and his laptop. What took so damn long?

“Dude, what were you doing out there? Did you guys come in separate cars?” Elliot asks the question for me.

“Nope,” my husband quips. “Just separate minds.” He drops our bags on the floor

What the hell is that supposed to mean?

“Oookay,” Elliot says. “Well, I’ve got just the thing for you,” he adds, taking Christian’s coat and handing it to one of the staff. “My very own man-cave stocked with food and refreshments—even beer for those who want to partake. Martin, can you take those bags to the big guest room, please?” He says to the same gentleman who took Christian’s coat. “Come, brother, let the woman fawn over the house whilst we go grunt and scratch ourselves.”

“Lead the way, Bro,” Christian responds, putting his arm around Elliot’s shoulder and, without even looking in my direction, disappears to parts unknown with him. I twist my lips. It’s going to be like that for the evening, is it? I turn to Val

“Well, I guess you can show me the house now.”

*-*

Five bedrooms and five bathrooms in two separate living quarters; nearly 4000 square feet and the lakeside of the house on all floor boasts glass walls or large windows.

In addition to the open great-room-living area, there are three bedrooms on the first floor—the third has been converted to a small home office—a laundry room, and a wine closet. The master bedroom has a view of the lake and the other two rooms are on the east side of the house and only slightly more modest. The master bedroom and second bedroom both have en suites and walk-in closets. There’s also a powder room on the main floor.

It’s listed as a two-story home, because the front of the house is two stories. However, there are three floors as the back of the house reveals that the main story is actually a sublevel.

The second floor is a mother-in-law apartment boasting two terraces on the lakeside of the house and one larger terrace on the east side of the house. It has a separate entrance from outside that opens into another great room—living room, dining room, and kitchen—with more modest furnishings than the main floor. You can access one of the terraces from the dining area of this room, which also boasts a glass wall, as well as a powder room with a shower. Both the upstairs and downstairs kitchens have granite countertops.

The two upstairs bedrooms are connected by a Jack-and-Jill bathroom. The larger terrace can be accessed from one bedroom while the smaller can be accessed from the other.

The third floor is the man cave, Elliot’s workout space, and a small area for storage. It also accesses the full party terrace. We didn’t go up there.

From the front of the house, you can see the 800-square-foot garage and six-car parking spaces inside the security gate. A trail to the right leads to a jungle patio much like ours and a cement water fountain. The trail continues through beautiful landscaping and concludes at a 60-foot dock and a whole lot of private waterfront, which will most likely just be for viewing and swimming since Elliot has no desire to own a boat.

The house is really beautiful and quite spacious on the inside—nothing like my house of course. Then again, not everybody can, nor do they want to, live in the obscenely ginormous brick house with the swinging wrought iron gates that is Grey Crossing. It’s hard not to compare other houses to the magnificent edifice that I call home, but I guess I better stop doing that.

Val tells me that the house is condo, so they only purchased the house from the studs in. The Home Owners’ Association is responsible for the outside and the grounds. I didn’t even know that you could buy houses that way—I thought you could only buy condos that way… you know, apartments. I ask why she didn’t just buy a house, and she says that they want to build their own, so until they can do that, this location will do nicely.

Just as I’m singing the praises of Val and Elliot’s home and its amenities, careful to leave out the yellow stucco, her guests begin to arrive. Of course, Allen and James arrive first after Christian and me. Grace and Carrick aren’t too far behind. After them, many of Val’s former coworkers join the party followed by some of Elliot’s employees. When Maxie and Phil show up followed by Mia and Ethan, Val gives me the unpleasant task of going to the man cave to retrieve our husbands, her excuse being that this is the only part of the house that I haven’t seen. I roll my eyes and do as I’m told.

I make my way to the third-floor man cave—indeed! What a space this is. What happens if Val needs him and she’s all the way on the first floor? Does she send a messenger pigeon?

56238bd948e82c525d10a559c1148b31The first thing I see is a sign declaring the rules of the man cave, referring to things like scratching, belching, farting, and bacon—which are all allowed in the man cave. I enter the room and see my husband and his brother yelling at a large-screen television, and I know they’ve found a football game.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” I say, and they both rubberneck to me like they’ve been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

“Val sent me to retrieve you,” I add. “Most of your guests have arrived.” Elliot stands and frowns.

“Why did she send you all the way up here?” he asks. “She could have used the intercom.”

Interco…? I know why her sneaky ass sent me up here, but I don’t let on.

“She said she wanted me to see the man cave,” I confess, knowing that wasn’t her real motive. “It’s quite impressive, Elliot.”

“Thanks, Montana,” he says, smiling as he walks by me. “Stay put, bro. I’ll see if I can rescue any other unfortunate fellows. If I don’t come back, you’ll know that I was unsuccessful in my mission.” And away he goes. Christian sits on the sofa still watching the game without acknowledging my presence at all.

“So, you’re just going to ignore me?” I bark. He turns to me.

“Oh! Now, you’re speaking to me?” he asks incredulously.

“I was never not speaking to you, Christian,” I snap impatiently.

“You coulda fooled me,” he says, standing from the sofa. “Just like you, I don’t like being ignored, Anastasia, but you’re the one who threw down that gauntlet. I don’t know what’s wrong, but whatever it is, you need to get it in order.”

“There is no ‘right or wrong’ here…” I begin.

“Yes, there is, and you know it,” he says matter-of-factly, and then he glares at me as if he’s waiting for something. When I don’t respond, he turns away from me and starts to leave.

Say something, you twit! You’re acting like a spoiled, entitled, socialite bitch and I don’t like you very much right now.

“Christian I’m sorry!” I call out before he gets to the door. He stops and turns around.

“For what?” he asks. Oh, geez.

“For talking about the house that way and acting like a snob,” I reply. He twists his lips and shakes his head before turning to leave again. What? I said I was sorry!

“Christian!” I call out to him again. He spins around and closes the space between us in a few long strides.

“I don’t give a fuck what you said about this house!” he hisses quietly in my face. “The yellow stucco is ugly, but we don’t have to live here. What pissed me off is the way you treated me. You attacked me for simply telling you not to offend them in their own home. Then you snubbed me when you got out of the car like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum. When your feelings of anger or displeasure are justified against me, I deal with them—that’s all I can do, but when you act like this…” He looks at me and points at various parts of me with disdain. “… This catty little thing that I can’t even find the words to describe, you can do this by yourself, because I’ll have no part of it.”

He doesn’t wait for me to respond. He marches out of the room and quietly closes the door behind him.

What am I supposed to do with that? I didn’t deliberately… but… shit.

And now, the Bitch is quiet. No sassy comments, no gloating, no unwanted advice… I guess she’s having no part of it either.

I go back down to the party, certain that Elliot was unsuccessful in “rescuing other unfortunate fellows.” I won’t be a stick in the mud. I’ll help Val entertain and I’ll have a good time. Hopefully, Christian will too.

Her friends seem nice for the most part. More than one of them have made comments about my husband or even tried to put the moves on him, but I keep the green-eyed monster at bay, determined not to make a fool of myself or to march over into a crowd of mixed strangers and “piss” all over my man—especially since it appears that he doesn’t want me to. I don’t know if, at this point, he’s ignoring me or I’m ignoring him. I know I’m avoiding him… I’m giving him his space.

After a while, I get my answer. I hadn’t noticed, but one or two of the single guys have been eyeing me all night. When one blatantly makes his move, I inform him that I’m married and that my husband is in attendance. When he asks who my husband is, I point to Christian who still isn’t making eye-contact with me.

“That’s your husband?” he asks incredulously. “He hasn’t said one word to you all night!”

“How would you know?” I ask affronted.

“I been watchin’, baby,” he says. “I been waitin’ for somebody to make a move or stake a claim and nobody did, so…” He shrugs. “I don’t mean to offend you, but with an ass like that and those sky-high fuck-me boots, I wouldn’t let you out of my sight.” He shrugs again and walks away.

I look over at my husband again who appears to be holding court with about six attentive listeners, male and female, and not even throwing a glance at me. He normally goes Neanderthal when somebody approaches me or tries to put the moves on me. This time, he didn’t even blink. I don’t even think he noticed.

I go to the kitchen and pour myself another glass of wine. I empty the glass just as quickly as I filled it, then pour another and empty that one, too. And suddenly, I’m exhausted. I’ve been smiling and laughing and conversing and being hostess #2 so that my beloved sister doesn’t overdo it, and now, I want to collapse somewhere and rest—alone. All by myself. In peace.

I look around and no one notices that I’ve left the party. Even my beloved sister is occupied with her previous coworkers. She looks very happy. Good. I quietly open the door to the patio and slip outside.

I welcome the cool air, and the silence. With the lights inside, nobody’s likely to see me out here. Solitude. I have to say that I’m glad to have it. I don’t know how long I’ve been smiling at people and making merry, but I’ve had enough. I sit on the chaise which luckily has an afghan thrown over it and snuggle in looking out at the water—the only thing that has never let me down. If I didn’t want to ruin my heels or freeze to death in the water, I’d walk across the grass, take off my boots, and put my feet in it. My blue savior…

A stranger noticed that my husband was ignoring me, but only because he was watching me all night waiting for his chance to make a move. Nonetheless, a stranger noticed that my husband was ignoring me. When I realized that, I suddenly felt like everyone in the room knew that he was ignoring me. I know that’s not true, but that could be why those who felt so brave as to approach him did so. They thought he was unattached.

A chill runs through me. I’m so fucking tired of feeling this way in some way or another—like something in my life always has to fucking be fixed! Give me a goddamn break!

But this does have to be fixed. I’m just too damn tired to fix it now.

Looking at the water now makes me think of Anguilla, the good and the bad. The promises we made to each other; the passionate love we made; me feeling like I wouldn’t be able to handle intense scenes; the first appearance of the nightmares; Christian screaming at me for answering his phone; all that goddamn candy; standing in the water and feeling it cleanse me…

Somehow, my mind drifts all the way back to when we met. God, I hated that guy, he was the most arrogant, spiteful, conceited son-of-a-bitch I’d ever met in my life. God, what an asshole! How someone could be so cold and unfeeling…

“You planning to jump in?”

Val’s voice jolts me out of my inner musings.

“Jesus, Val, you scared the shit outta me!” I scold.

“You didn’t hear me come outside?” she asks. I look behind me into the house, and it’s almost empty. How long have I been out here?

“You’re trying to kill yourself out here, huh?” she says, holding my coat out to me.

“I’m wrapped in an afghan,” I defend, taking my coat. “I’m not completely unprotected.”

“True, but I bet the coat feels better,” she says, and I have to agree with her when I wrap myself in its warmth. I pull my gloves out of the pockets and cover my hands, thankful for that warmth as well.

“Don’t forget your scarf,” she says handing it to me and I wrap it around my neck. We’re interrupted by one of her serving staff coming onto the patio with warm drinks—spiced lattes. They’re delicious, and very welcome.

“Now, tell me what’s going on,” she says. I raise my gaze to her, nearly begging her not to make me reveal the cause of my absconding, but she’s not going to relent.

“Sometimes, I just need a few moments to myself, that’s all,” I tell her, and it’s the truth. “I told you that Jason helped me realize that I’m suffering from PTSD…” She nods. “Well, there are moments when I need to talk it out, and then there are moments when I just need to sit in a quiet place.”

“So, is that what’s going on?” she prods. “You’re having a bout of your PTSD?”

“No,” the word is out of my mouth before I even have the chance to formulate a lie. “Your house is gorgeous. It really is, but that yellow stucco is horrendous. And when we drove up to the house and I saw that yellow stucco, my mouth and brain disconnected. I swear, I didn’t say anything horrible about the house, but my tone was enough to let Christian know that I was not pleased with the yellow stucco.”

“Is that what this is about?” Val says, unable to hide her mirth. “You two are bickering over the ugly yellow stucco?”

“Well, yes and no,” I reply. “He told me not to come in here insulting your house because you might throw me out. Then he said that if it were him, he’d throw me out, too—and I took offense to that. I can’t remember what all happened after that, but the situation just went south and… here I am. I’m just hoping that the situation will blow over and tomorrow, we’ll just be back to normal.

“It seems like I spend so much time exploring my feelings and looking out for everybody else’s. I filled the pages of three journals already—do you have any idea how much writing that is? And when I start to feel the angst of my situation, I’ll talk to anyone who’ll listen…”

Yes, I know,” she interjects, somewhat absent-mindedly. I raise my gaze to her again.

“Does it bother you?” I ask, disheartened. She’s probably heard the lion’s share of my troubles over the last week.

“Are you kidding?” she exclaims. “No! Of course not! Seriously, Steele?” and I think I may have offended her just now. Great… but I can’t focus on it at this moment.

“Day after day after day of rolling over my feelings, trying to be mindful of others so that I don’t say or do the wrong thing, and then nine times out of ten, the wrong thing flies out my mouth anyway. My shrink threw me out of his office yesterday. Did I tell you that?”

“No!” she says in horror. “Why did he do that?”

“Because I probably did the same thing to him that I just did to Christian,” I admit. “If my feelings are all a-scramble, apparently I mindlessly say and do things that alienate people from me.” I sigh and take a sip of the warming coffee, the only inner warmth I’ll probably feel for the rest of the night.

“Well, I only knew something was wrong because I know you,” she says. “You were the picture of decorum at the party tonight. Everybody really liked you.”

“I don’t think they would let on if they didn’t,” I say with a sad smile.

“I would know if they didn’t,” she reassures me. “I know these people.” I sip my coffee again.

“Wait a minute… You called it ‘ugly yellow stucco.’ You think it’s ugly, too?” I ask bemused.

“Well… it wouldn’t have been my first choice,” she replies. I roll my eyes.

“Then why don’t you change it?” I ask in horror. “You live here now!”

“Because like I told you, it’s condo!” she replies, restating the obvious. “I have full reign of the inside of the house, but the outside—nope. I can’t change the stucco, and the HOA requires that the houses all be some kind of uniform related color. The only other options I have are white, tan, or some other dreadful neutral color, so I’ll spare myself the expense and spend my money on the inside. Besides, yellow is the color of sunshine and I’ve psyched myself out to believe that it’s a beautiful blend with the trees when they’re green and with the blue water all year long.”

“Isn’t it exhausting looking on the bright side of the street all the time?” I accuse wearily.

“I have to, Steele. I’m a cancer survivor. I coulda been dead. For me, being alive, living and loving El, having all my family and friends over today to view my beautiful house… that is the bright side of the street.”


CHRISTIAN

The party is over. I’ve surprisingly made a few connections with people at Val’s job. I had no intention of networking, but when they found out who I was, it was inevitable—and surprisingly productive.

I lost track of my wife early in the evening, which is a bit of a good thing. I simply did not have time or energy for her childish behavior. When the party starts to thin, and Elliot suggests going back to the man cave, I jump at the opportunity.

“Well, this was an interesting night,” Elliot says, drinking his soda.

“Besides the obvious, how so?” I ask.

“Well, it depends on what you’re considering ‘obvious,’” he says. “For instance, when you say ‘obvious,’ do you mean the fact that you and Montana didn’t stay in the same area for 30 seconds? Or are you referring to the fact that when the company whore was hitting on you, she didn’t climb over furniture to scratch her eyes out? Or was it more obvious that you didn’t turn into Tarzan when that guy was hitting on her?” My brow furrows. Some guy was hitting on my wife? “And I take it by that expression that the last bit of information wasn’t so obvious.”

“Who was hitting on her?” I ask. Elliot shakes his head.

“What should concern you more is that I was entertaining and watching approximately 50 people today and I knew that you weren’t speaking to your wife. She was so friendly to everybody except you that you would have thought this was her housewarming. What the fuck, man? Is the honeymoon over.” I roll my eyes.

“The honeymoon’s been over for a long time, Elliot, but it doesn’t mean that I love her any less.”

“Then what gives, man?” he confronts again. “You two are generally inseparable at things like this, so much that only an idiot—like Lily—would dare hit on either of you, let alone someone approach both of you. So, what’s up with that?”

I’m still miffed that someone hit on my wife and I didn’t know about it. Why didn’t he tell me when it happened? How many people hit on her tonight that Elliot didn’t see? I know the felines were in rare form clawing at me tonight. I damn near had to beat one off with a stick. That must have been the company whore that Elliot was talking about. How many hounds were sniffing after my wife?

“Look, man,” Elliot says after I pause for a little too long. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. In all honesty, it’s really none of my business anyway. But if your Butterfly means as much to you as my Angel does to me, you better get to the bottom of this instead of letting it fester and hoping that it goes away… just like that fucking tumor.” I rubberneck over to him.

“What?” I ask. “Is the tumor back.”

“No,” he snaps vehemently, “not that we know of, now stop trying to change the subject.”

He clearly doesn’t want to talk about that subject and I hope he was just speaking in retrospect and Valerie’s tumor isn’t coming back. That was a hard time for all of us.

“Tell me, man. Who was hitting on my wife?” I ask.

“I don’t know the guy,” he says. “He either works at Angel’s old job or he was somebody’s plus one. Whatever he said to Montana, he was dismissed pretty quickly, and then I didn’t see her for the rest of the night.” The rest of the night.

“What? Did she go off with the guy?” I ask before my brain can catch up to my mouth.

“What the fuck do you think?” Elliot barks angrily. “Do you think that your wife and the mother of your two children went off somewhere with a strange man at a party that she never met before? Because if you do, then there’s a whole lot more amiss than you’re letting on. And the fact that you had to ask that question means that this conversation is over, and you need to get up, go downstairs and find your fucking wife!”

Geez, and he’s mad. And he’s right. I don’t know what even made me consider the possibility that Butterfly would do something like that. I really feel like shit for thinking that. She’s still beating herself up for letting that Liam fucker get too close.

“What are you waiting for?” Elliot snaps. “Directions?”

“Keep your shirt on,” I retort. “I don’t think my wife went off with somebody else. I’m just pissed that someone approached my wife and it wasn’t brought to my attention sooner.”

“Yeah, save that anger for yourself, because if you had been paying attention, nobody would have had to tell you. You were heading that guy Brian off at her adoption party faster than he could get the words out his mouth. Now this guy makes a move, moves on, and your wife disappears, and you want to blame somebody else for that? Shut up talking to me and go find your wife.”

“I’m not blaming…”

“Shut up talking to me and go find your wife!” he snaps. God! Okay! Damn! I stand up and walk to the door heading downstairs.

When I get to the main floor, Valerie is in the kitchen with one of the remaining staff, and there’s no Butterfly.

“So, where’s my wife?” I ask somewhat impassively.

“Sulking,” Valerie says with a shrug. My brow furrows as I await elaboration, and she points to the glass wall on the other side of the living room. There on a chaise just outside the glass is a mop of mahogany hair. I can’t see anything else. I roll my eyes, shake my head and sigh.

Why does this woman always seem to escape to the coldest part of the world when she needs to be alone? It’s November, in Washington, at two in the morning. Why the fuck is she on the patio? And ten will get you twenty that she’s asleep out there. Elliot appears just at that moment.

“Our lodgings for the night, good sir and madam?” I request.

“Through there and at the end of the hallway,” Elliot says. “It’s the biggest room besides mine and Val’s.” I nod and head for one of the sets of double doors. When I step out onto the patio, I take in the sight of my tiny wife. She’s snuggled in her coat and scarf and wrapped in another blanket so tight and so small that I can barely make out a body under there. Either she’s fighting the cold with a vengeance…

Or she’s shrinking.

“What am I going to do with you?” I lament aloud. I lean down to the chaise and gather her in my arms, blanket and all. She doesn’t even stir—and she’s warm, so it’s not the cold. When I cross the threshold back into the house, Elliot is waiting to close the door behind me.

“Thanks for a great party, you guys,” I tell them. “We’ll see you in the morning.”

“Not too early,” Elliot says with a nod and a smile. I acknowledge his request and carry my shrinking wife to our temporary boudoir. When I lay her in the bed, she shrinks again—so small and so tight that I can’t get her coat off. I can either wake her to get her coat off or just let her sleep. So, I remove her boots and let her stay there before taking my duffel to the en suite for a shower.

Gentle sunrays wake me in the morning and I immediately know that I’m not in my own bed—and that I’m alone. I dress in my workout gear and sneakers and take off for a run. She’s somewhere in the house, I’m sure, and I’ll talk to her when I get back.

I run through all the things I need to be doing today as my feet pound the cold pavement. For me, Sunday is just a day to prepare for the week ahead—meetings to be had tomorrow and mergers to discuss; acquisitions to finalize…

Smalls and his team will be on their way back to Detroit today and everything in the storage units will have a home or a destination by end of business, Friday. Anything that remains will be shipped back here by my shipping department and housed in one of our numerous warehouses. If anyone wants something after it’s been shipped here to be stored, they may have to pay some kind of fee for waiting so long to claim it unless there’s a really good reason for it. There’s nearly two weeks to decide if they want something on the list, and it’s all free!

The bed was empty when I awoke, so that means that Butterfly was already up and about. I didn’t see her anywhere when I left the house, and Elliot and Valerie were still asleep—or at least they hadn’t emerged yet. I don’t know how far I ran, but when my chest starts to burn, I turn around and start the trip back. Good Lord, it feels like my heart is going to explode. It’s most likely from the exertion and the cold air pumping through my chest. When I get back to the house, I take a deep breath and that aforementioned cold air stabs me in the throat. Shit, I need to warm up.

Imagine my dismay when I discover that the house has automatic locking doors.

I walk through the jungle garden to the back of the house to see if one of the patio doors are open and there I find my wife—in the same place I retrieved her from last night. If I couldn’t tell by the change of clothes, I would have thought she slept out here. She looks calm and serene and her eyes are closed. I then realize that she’s meditating. I won’t disturb her.

I go back to the front of the house and knock, hoping that someone besides Butterfly will hear me. Luckily, the woman from the kitchen the night before opens the door and looks at me expecting.

“Yes?” she says.

“I’m… Christian Grey. Elliot’s brother… I locked myself out when I went for a run.”

Her brow furrows, the realization dawns.

“Oh, yes! I’m sorry. Please come in.” She steps aside and lets me in. I have to say, warmth has never felt so good.

“Thank you,” I say. I peek out onto the patio. Butterfly wasn’t disturbed. That’s good. I have time to go take a shower and put on some clean clothes before I talk to her.


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

Pictures of Val and Elliot’s house can be seen at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/val-and-elliots-house-in-kirkland/

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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

Fifty Shades Golden: Chapter 15

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.

Explicit details of sex and BDSM scenes from here on out. Some may be hot while others may not be to your taste… and not necessary CG with Ana together. Proceed at your own discretion, but don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

This ain’t your everyday Christian and Ana story. Don’t expect anything. Just read it as it goes along or go away. 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 new saga continues…

CHAPTER 15

Pissed Off Trey

TREY

I felt the sting, but that’s it. I couldn’t feel anything else.

She could have stuck me with a hot poker straight off the fire and I don’t think I would have felt it. I couldn’t get the pure rage out of my eyes. I wanted her to hit me harder, longer. As it stands, she beat the fucking hell out of me; I just couldn’t feel it.

As I’m driving home, I’m pondering my scene with Golden… and my dinner with Ana. They really are two different people, but I could easily see Golden’s appeal in the way that Ana carries herself. Even during our after-meetings in the parlor, she’s still mostly-Golden. I don’t think she ever really lets Ana out—in the boardroom, in the courtroom, in the playroom… ever.

I want to know what the fuck that was that she used on my dick. That thing was fucking incredible! I didn’t stand a chance against it. This pulsing, rubbing, throbbing thing… fuck! It was just too much! That damn thing broke me down in three minutes. Fuck, was it even three? I forgot why I was mad; I couldn’t think; my dick was on fire! I’m getting a little pulse right now just thinking about that thing.

But when that flogger hit my back, I remembered where I was. I remembered that I was another poor subject at Golden’s mercy about to spill my hopes and dreams all over her dungeon floor. At least I was coherent enough to see the floor cover. So, I know where my cum went last time. It didn’t just disappear into FairyLand.

To say that I was fucking useless when she was done is an understatement. Every part of my body was completely inoperable. Even my brain was mush. I only called Blake because I remember her telling me to call him if I needed help. That strange Spanish accent was just what I wanted to hear, even lying there on the floor naked. If he was some kind of perv and wanted to fuck me up the ass at that moment, I would have been powerless to stop him.

As it turns out, he’s really very professional. It was strange having him examine my wounds and massage antiseptic cream into my many, many bruises, particularly the ones on my ass, but it was more like being treated by a doctor. He told me everything that he was going to do; informed me everywhere that he would touch me; applied cool towels to ease the sting for several minutes before he started the massage—which would have been agony had he done it before applying the towels. He even put a massage pillow under my head so I didn’t have to lay on the floor. I’m not sure I’ll partake in the aftercare too many more times after tonight, but at least I know that the guy knows what he’s doing should I need it again.

Dinner was… surprising. I had no idea that she could cook. That chicken tasted like pure southern comfort, and those mashed potatoes melted in your mouth like hot butter. I never considered myself the caretaker for my subs. They get aftercare when I feel like it, but as far as their state of mind is concerned, I was never really taught to care about that. I beat them good; I fuck them well; they’re usually happy; I send them home. If I beat them real good, they’ll get aftercare, but I still send them home.

Then again, look who my BDSM mentor was—my lying, cheating father who fucked submissives in the house when my mother was out. The man who still holds things over his children’s head to protect himself from whatever guillotine is poised at his neck—like I really fucking care what he could have on me, but I’m dying to know what he has on Mia. There’s the utter picture of care and concern for you, there.

I don’t know how a Dom is really supposed to care for a submissive. I’ve never been full-on into the hardcore shit, anyway—just some pain with your pleasure, come real hard, buy ‘em some toys or pay their college tuition for a year or so and move on. The only one who really left displeased was Caramel. That’s an experience I really don’t care to repeat.

I know the rules. I know the do’s and don’ts, but all the little nuances? I’m not a Dom like that. I fuck ‘em and flog ‘em—even more fuck than flog lately—and that’s it.

Golden taught me something tonight, though. She taught me about the full package—about how a submissive is supposed to feel when they leave your presence… no matter how you get them there. Granted, I’m not one for that touchy-feely shit, but she did get to the root of the problem. I had been fucked—so to speak—flogged, and then she talked to me. She fed me, too, which sure as hell didn’t hurt.

I get to the parking garage and punch my key code in. I notice, with little interest, that another car—a brown sedan—says something to the guard and is allowed in right behind me. I’m a little unnerved, because I know that no one was behind me. I always check my mirror before I punch in the code. All of a sudden, there’s a brown sedan behind me. I shrug it off and park my car. I don’t see where the sedan went, but I get out and walk to the elevator anyway, still pondering the events of the night.

“Christian Grey?”

“Shit!” A female voice is directly behind me. She literally scares the shit outta me. She’s wearing one of those unflattering suits that women wear when they want to look like a man.

“A bit jumpy, aren’t you, Mr. Grey?” she accuses.

“Well, let’s review,” I say, turning around to face her and folding my arms while staring at her and the guy standing with her. “You follow me into a restricted parking lot when I know there was nobody behind me. Your car disappears like fucking Houdini, and now you’re stalking me in the parking lot, sneaking up on me on cat’s paws and standing all in my personal fucking space! Hell, yeah, I’m jumpy!” She puts her hands on her hips. “What the fuck do you want?”

“You’ve got one hell of a temper there, Grey,” she notes.

“And it’s only going to get worse if you don’t state your business,” I declare, matter-of-factly. Her companion reaches into his coat and pulls out his badge.

“Mr. Grey,” he says calmly. “I’m Detective Nick Hughes. This is my partner Detective Rita Bhingman. We’re investigating an open case and we’d like to ask you some questions, sir.”

“Thank you for stating who you were, sir, without all the unnecessary commentary about attitude adjustments,I say to him before turning to She-Cop. “The proper greeting would have been, ‘Excuse me, Mr. Grey?’ and upon noticing that you startled me, apologize for the intrusion, identify yourself and they state your purpose, or didn’t they teach you about protocol in the academy?”

“I don’t need you to tell me how to do my job, civilian,” she sneers.

“Well, somebody should because you missed a class, detective,” I sneer right back. She’s reloading to come at me again when Hughes intercepts her.

“Mr. Grey, as I mentioned, we’re investigating an open case and we need to ask you some questions. May I please ask where you were this evening between 8 and 9pm?” Well, that’s easy. Whatever they’re investigating doesn’t involve me.

“Not that it’s any of your business, but I was visiting a lady friend.” The She-Cop laughs.

“Is that what they call it now?” she taunts through her laughter. “Visiting a lady friend?” What the fuck does she know?

“What is this all about?” I ask.

“That lady friend that you visited? She’s been beat all to hell! Is that what you do to your lady friends?”

I’m horrified! I just left her—she was fine! Did that asshole sub freak out and put his hands on her?

“Ana?!” I ask incredulously. They both look at me bemused. “What happened to her? I just left her! She was fine!” They look at each other, then back at me.

“Her name is not Ana. Her name is Elena, and she’s definitely not fine!” She-Cop hisses.

“Elena?” I say incredulously. “I haven’t seen that bitch in months.”

“Ah, that bitch,” She-Cop says. “Now, we’re getting somewhere.” I frown.

“Is that the only thing you heard?” I ask. “I said I haven’t seen her!”

“Well, she says differently and you’re going to have to come down to the station.”

What in the blue fuck is this all about?

After about an hour of “I didn’t do it,” they book me based on her accusation and the fact that I definitely wasn’t home during the time that the bitch was attacked. Motherfucking hell! This just destroyed a perfect fucking evening.

I finally get my one phone call before they take me to a holding cell. Do I call Taylor, or do I call Golden? Taylor’s sure to answer, but Golden’s my fucking alibi. Taylor will check all the usual places if I’m not home by morning. I take a chance and call Golden.

“It’s late, Trey,” she answers on the second ring.

“I’m in jail,” I reply. I hear shuffling on the other end.

“Wait, I have to adjust the phone. I thought I heard you say you were in jail…”

“You did,” I say flatly. There’s a pause.

“What?” she says, incredulously. “Why? Did you hit a cop on the way home?!”

“No, they think I attacked Elena Lincoln!” I bark into the line. Another pause.

“Did you?” she asks. What the…?

“Where have I been all night?!” I shout.

“This happened tonight?” she asks incredulously.

“Yes, this happened tonight, a few hours ago or so if I’m understanding correctly.”

“Shit!” she breathes. “Blake!” she yells. “Where are you?” she asks into the phone.

“One of the Kirkland precincts. I don’t know…”

“How do I reach Taylor?” she asks.

“He’s at my penthouse,” I inform her.

“I know where you are. Sit tight,” she says.

“Well, it’s not like I’m fucking going anywhere!” This is your Mistress, asshole. “I mean… okay.”

“Your ire is understandable, but…” and she trails off.

“Yes, yes, I know,” I say through my teeth. God, will this day never end?

“Let me take care of it.”

*-*

My phone, my Montblanc, my shoestrings, my money, my tie, my fucking cufflinks, my goddamn belt…

An officer quietly leads me to a holding cell with several other men. I sit in a corner facing the rest of the room with my arms folded and my eyes fixed in front of me. I want to kill somebody! I literally want to kill someone. The someone is Elena Lincoln, but anybody who crosses my path will do tonight. The cell has the strong odor of piss and I can feel it seeping into my clothes.

The longer I sit here, the angrier I get. The many ways that I can make every person responsible for this pay for their actions keep playing over in my head. The bitch broke my arm and when somebody beats her to shit, she points a finger at me. She is going to fry for this shit.

I’m going to offer a five-million-dollar reward for anyone who has any information that leads to the arrest of the person who beat her ass. I have a feeling I know who it was. In fact, I’m sure that I know who it was… and why. Your company is mine, Linc, and everything you hold dear. I promise you.

I’ve got at least two years of legal bullshit ahead of me and I have this piece of shit, pussy-ass lawyer over my legal department who used to be worth his weight in gold. Now, he’s shit. Do I wait for a new department head or pass the job down to one of the subordinates in the department? These balls need to get rolling quickly! I don’t want to wait.

Idea after idea after plot after plan rolls through my brain as my nostrils are permeated with the smell of piss, foul body odor, and cheap liquor seeping through someone’s pores. The aura of stay the fuck out of my personal space that I’m giving off is enough to keep these fuckers away from me, but not their aromas. I’m not acting like I own the place, just this corner that I’m inhabiting until I get the fuck outta here.

Whenever the hell that’s going to happen.

“Grey!”

My eyes land on an open cell door and a burly cop standing in front of it.

“You’re free to go.”

Hmm. I guess somebody posted bail. Now, I’ll have to fight this shit. Lincoln, when I’m done with you…

I stand and quietly walk out of the cell. I follow another officer back to Central Processing where I retrieve all my belongings and every cent of my money from a contrite looking officer behind the window. I look at my Montblanc. It’s after 2am. I’ve been here for more than two hours. I couldn’t even tell. Continuously plotting someone’s demise every waking second will do that to you.

I feel like a pissy, dusty piece of shit and I can’t get the smell of urine out of my nose. I’m fighting to get my fucking watch on my arm when I look up and see An… Golden

Shit, she came down here dressed like that? She looks unbelievably fuckable—even more fuckable than she looks in her golden negligees and catsuits. I just stare for a moment, thinking of those muscular thick thighs wrapped around my waist as I slam into that tight, hot pussy…

Dream on, Grey.

“Did you bail me out?” I ask as I’m still trying to fasten this fucking watch. I need to fuck. My back is still stinging from the flogging and beating I got earlier. I just need to fuck. She tells me that she was my alibi as I exit the precinct.

No Taylor. Where the fuck is Taylor? Maybe she didn’t call him. I’m looking for a taxi to get me home, but she scolds me and orders me into her Range Rover. Okay, don’t blame me if your seat smells like piss when I get out.

We talk a little on the ride—all the way the fuck back to Seattle. We speculate that it was probably Linc that beat her, which it most likely was. I’m buying out his businesses; I told him I fucked his wife; and in the end, he couldn’t beat my ass, so he went home and beat hers!

Damn!

She’s a fucking bitch, and she had that shit coming—an ass-beating, that is. It served her right, but that was still a real pussy-ass thing for him to do. Go home and beat your wife because you couldn’t beat a motherfucker in the street. Real macho, asshole.

Ana says something about a cease-fire or some kind of truce or something like that, and I have to remind her that she has a class-action suit against this woman for an imaginary bedbug infestation. She concurs and adds something about Elena ending up dead.

“I won’t lose any sleep if she does,” I conclude, and I shut the conversation down. Quite frankly, I’m tiring of it. I want to fuck. We can analyze this shit tomorrow.

Golden pulls up to Escala and puts the car in park. I should say something. She is my Mistress after all, and she did get me out of jail.

“Thank you… Mistress,” I mumble, “… for… getting me out of jail and… getting me home…” I can’t even make eye-contact with her. I’m not feeling submissive in any way right now. I’m feeling Dominant—to the point of aggression—and I need to fuck!

“We’ll talk later,” she says after a pause. “Go.”

Thank God! I can’t stand sitting next to her one more second and that big ass isn’t bouncing on my dick. I open the door quickly and scramble out of the truck. It’s all I can do not to run to the door of my apartment building and take every flight of stairs up to the penthouse. I close the door and walk swiftly to the double-doors of Escala without even looking back.

“Sir!” Taylor comes running from his office, no doubt alerted to my presence when the elevator opened. “I was waiting for a call! I would have picked you up…” I didn’t fucking feel like waiting.

“Where in the fuck is Rockford?” I seethe. Taylor frowns.

“He… he wasn’t there?” he asks surprised. “How were you released?”

“Golden got me out,” I growl. “She substantiated my alibi. That pussy attorney of mine never fucking showed up!”

“That’s crazy,” Taylor says, dropping protocol. “I called him hours ago when you were first arrested. I’ve been sitting here waiting to hear something.”

“What was he doing when you called?” I ask.

“I don’t know, he sounded like he was asleep.” I just bet he was. He might have been in bed, but he wasn’t asleep. “Take a screenshot of your call log and send it to my phone. I want transcripts of that call on my desk in the morning. Call security now and tell them to freeze all of his accesses, including passwords and clearances. Get all network access wiped as soon as IT can get it done.”

“Done, sir.” Taylor goes back to his office without another word. I pull out my phone and immediately type an email to the head of HR that my ex-head of legal has been terminated effective immediately due to breach of contract. I send another email to Andrea that I expect a list of new candidates in the morning, so tell Borne and Associates to get off their asses.

I walk immediately to the fuck room. I don’t fuck in my bed; I fuck in this room. Reaching into the nightstand, I pull out the burner phone that’s always charging there and text my BDSM escort service.

**I need two in thirty minutes. Clean. Freaks. Bareback. Penthouse. Ask for Trey. **

I don’t wait for a response. They know if they can’t find someone, I won’t use them again. I pay handsomely to make sure they’re at my beck and call, so they very well better be. I strip out of my clothes with intention to burn them and walk straight into the shower.

**Expect Vida and Blaze. **

This is the message that greets me when I step out of the shower. That was twenty minutes ago. I take a few items from the drawers and place them on the end table near the sofa, in case I decide to use them. I don’t bother getting dressed. This isn’t a seduction session. Hell, I don’t even want to beat them now. I just want to fuck and go to sleep… forget this whole goddamn night.

I text the names to Taylor just in time for my two fuckbuddies to arrive. I instruct him to send them to the fuck room, get comfortable on the sofa, and wait. To my delight, two luscious specimens walk in the open door, both in cliché trench coats and stilettos.

“I’m Vida,” the taller one says. “This is Blaze.”

I nod.

“What would you like, Sir?” Vida asks.

“I want to be sucked and fucked until I’m comatose and then I want you to leave,” I say frankly. Vida raises an eyebrow, then turns to Blaze. A wordless conversation passes between them before she turns her gaze back to me.

“Yes, Sir,” she says. They simultaneously undo the belts of their trench coats and they’re both naked underneath—and fucking gorgeous!

Yes! Jackpot! Let’s get this shit started.

“Get over here and suck my dick,” I command. They move as one as they approach me. I slide down so that my ass is nestled comfortably on the edge of the sofa, allowing my legs to fall open wide.

Two women on the head of my dick—licking and sucking like a coveted, delicious lollipop. I don’t say a word and I don’t move. I just watch those luscious lips and hot tongues compete to make me come. Shit this is good. Vida’s lips suckle my head while Blaze’s incredibly long tongue wraps around my cock and tickles and licks my frenulum. Fuck, this is hot… and I get to watch.

Licking and sucking and lapping until my cock is hot and hard and pink and wet with their saliva. I grip the edge of the sofa in hot pleasure, and try though I might, I can’t resist their combined talents. I lick my lips, then bite, anticipating the hot, hard orgasm building in my balls. Vida takes the queue and begins to stroke her side of my cock hard and tight with those lips. Not to be outdone, Blaze alternates her stroke so that one of them has their mouth on my head at all times.

They’re both very good at what they do, but with different techniques. Vida’s tongue is small and quick, giving me a torturous flutter when she’s at the head. Blaze’s tongue is long, firm, and thick, covering an amazing amount of sensitive skin when she takes me into her mouth.

Fucking two different mouths at the same damn time, each with masterful techniques to make me blow is enough on its own to send me sailing over the edge, but when one of them ghosts a finger over my asshole, across my anus, and then tickles and caresses the tight skin of my balls, I close my eyes and see my Mistress tormenting my balls and ass with her fingers and pleasuring my sensitive cock with her mouth. It’s more than I can take.

“Fuck!” I bite out, opening my eyes and digging my fingers into the sofa so as not to grab Vida by the hair and ruin her rhythm. She’s the one who ends up on the head when my orgasm starts, and she latches on and sucks hard, drinking nearly every bit of my semen and only allowing a drop or two to escape from the corner of her mouth where I can see them. They slide hot and thick down my pulsing, throbbing, massively ejaculating dick where Blaze’s long thick tongue is waiting to snake around my throbbing cock and lap them up like tasty drops of sweet nectar.

The visual causes me to groan deep in my chest and the pleasure starts a whole new series of tremors. I come and come and come until it nearly feels that my balls are empty… but I know better. I tell them to stop and watch them make out a bit for me while my cock rejuvenates. It doesn’t take long.

“Get over here,” I command them. “On your knees on either side of me.” They both crouch beside me on the sofa and I put a finger into each of them.

“Kiss,” I tell them, and they begin the raunchiest girl-on-girl make-out session I think I’ve ever seen. The first one to start riding my finger wins. Vida beats her counterpart to the punch.

“Stop,” I tell them, and they rip their lips apart, looking lustfully at one another.

Fuck, I love bisexual submissives.

“You,” I command Blaze as I take my fingers from her pussy, “go get those cuffs.” She goes to the end table and gets the leather cuffs while Vida continues riding my hand. That’s right baby, keep it nice and wet for me.

“Cuff her at the elbows,” I tell Blaze. Vida obediently puts her arms behind her back and Blaze cuffs her at the elbows, causing her breasts to protrude nicely. Yes!

“Get up here and ride my cock!” I tell her. With the help of her friend, she straddles me and slides her wet pussy onto my now-eager dick.

“Fuck, yes!” I hiss, grabbing her hips and pushing and pulling that pussy on and off my dick.

“Fuck, that’s good. Gimme those tits.” She juts her chest out to me and I take hungry mouthfuls of those tender tits and taut nipples into my mouth as I drill into her. She moans in pleasure and drops her head back as I drill into her and Blaze fondles her wherever her hands can reach.

When I tire of this position, I make her straddle me in reverse so that I can watch that ass bounce on my cock. She spreads her legs wide and pulls my dick up into that warm, dark orifice. She’s so tight this way that I nearly whimper as her pussy sucks me in balls deep. With her elbows still cuffed together, she puts her hands flat on my abs and rolls mercilessly on my dick.

Oh, God, this is so good I may not get to fuck Blaze.

“Make her feel good,” I tell Blaze. She’s focusing too hard on me and I won’t last long. Blaze starts by kissing her, deep and sensual, while she pinches Vida’s nipples between her fingers. This may not have been the best idea, because not only do I have two sexy and hot girls making out right in front of me, but one of them is riding my dick—well! And getting better the hotter she gets.

At some point, I realize that my dick is nothing more than a warm, hard dildo and that’s fine with me, because once Blaze slides down between our legs and starts licking Vida’s pussy, the ride becomes a sensual fucking rodeo and a race to the finish.

I’m not racing. I still want to fuck Blaze, but I’m going to enjoy Vida working my dick before she comes.

Blaze’s head is bobbing, and Vida throws her head back in ecstasy, her strokes on my dick now becoming long and controlled… and wetter… and tighter…

Shit, I’m not going to make it.

Vida whimpers with every stroke. She’s so hot and ready to come. She spreads her legs wider as Blaze‘s head continues to bob between her thighs. If she’s eating that pussy as well as she sucks dick, I feel sorry for that little cunt getting licked and drilled at the same time.

Vida raises her head so that she can see the action between her legs. She’s sweating all over and now fucking Blaze’s mouth more than my cock. I grab both of her arms and stroke up into that pulsing pussy as Blaze brings her closer and closer to the edge.

That’s it. Suck that clit. Make her come.

Vida trembles and whimpers again and I hold her down by the arms, massaging those trembling walls with my stiff, eager dick and pleasuring my aching cock with that sweet, tightening pussy. It’s making that wonderful, sloppy, wet sound like creamy macaroni and cheese and that shit is so fucking hot that I have to concentrate not to blow inside of her.

Vida trembles violently and finally shrieks out a massive orgasm before falling limp on my dick. That was so fucking hot, but now, I have a limp submissive on my lap. That will never do.

“Switch,” I command them. “Make it fast.”

Blaze undoes the cuffs from Vida’s elbow, giving her a moment to catch her breath. She’s still on my lap and I rock slowly into her as Blaze turns around and allows Vida to cuff her elbows. She rises off my dick, which is now wet, red, and standing at complete attention. Blaze raises her eyebrows but isn’t daunted by the task. She slides down on my stiff cock and I’m immediately relieved that she didn’t ride me first—Vida wouldn’t have gotten up here.

“Damn, baby,” I say almost involuntarily. “What the fuck?”

“Kegels,” she says as she squeezes them around me and begins to ride.

“Fuuuuck,” I groan as an inhumanly tight pussy squeezes my cock. Fuck… Fleshlight. Mistress. This shit is going to be really quick.

Vida doesn’t waste time pleasuring Blaze. She must be grateful for that massive orgasm. Blaze is a little more flexible and has a better ride and a better rhythm, if I’m honest. Fuck, she’s going to drain me fucking dry. I close my eyes and see my Mistress… sucking my cock, squeezing my cock, stroking me with the Fleshlight…

My balls tighten, and I have to shake the thought of Golden using my body like no one else can. I may be just a dildo to these cunts, but they’re nothing more than substitutes for the woman that I really want… and the things that she does to me.

“Fuck!” I hiss as I see her tight body in my mind’s eye, even with my eyes open.

Vida has her hand firmly on Blaze’s nape, holding her head in place as she devours her with lavish and luscious kisses, so deep that their hair hides their faces and I can only see Vida’s head bob as she gobbles hungrily at Blaze. Vida really likes what she’s doing because I hear her moan and her hand wanders down to Blaze’s ass and squeezes while the other hand disappears between her legs, no doubt stroking her clit. I watch Blaze fall into ecstasy as Vida’s mouth moves from Blaze’s mouth to her neck and Vida devours the skin sensually.

“Mmmmm,” I groan at the sexy scene playing out before me—two girls loving each other thoroughly while one of them rides my dick so well that she forgets there’s actually a person attached to it. Other guys would be jealous that they aren’t the center of attention, but the only part of my body that needs to be the center is getting all the fucking attention it needs. Love away, ladies.

Blaze’s Kegels tighten hard around me and I realize that it’s because when I wasn’t paying attention, Vida dropped down to that pussy and now, her head is bobbing away between our legs.

Fuck, this is so hot!

Blaze is fighting to get out of her bounds now, bouncing hard and tight on my dick and truly making me think of my Mistress and her magnificent hand jobs.

Mercy.

I can’t look anymore. I can only see Golden, my Mistress, pulling and massaging, tighter and tighter and tighter. I groan, knowing the release is going to be massive and hoping this sub doesn’t blow before I do when…

Blaze screams loudly and cries a sorrowful ballad as she bursts wildly into orgasm. Her pussy clamps onto my dick in a most ungodly fashion and I cry out, wrapping one arm around her body so that my hand is gasping the opposite tit and the other arm around her waist immobilizing her on her deadly balls-deep downstroke, allowing me to thrust up into her vise pussy so that I can finish the job. While she’s tightening hungrily around my cock, Vida sucks my balls into her mouth and rolls them around.

Mistress…

Two more deep thrusts and I cry out, coming so hard inside that hot little pussy that I think I leave my head in there. Vida keeps licking until my balls are completely empty and Blaze is still twitching on my lap. I sink helplessly into the sofa trying to catch my breath as Vida peppers kisses on Blaze’s face.

A dildo to two hot, bisexual lovers—I highly recommend it.

*-*

I awake to my phone buzzing on the nightstand. Shit. I missed the alarm. I guess I won’t be going into the office this morning. I’m so fucking tired and still fucking sore. I painstakingly reach for the irritatingly buzzing phone.

“Hello,” I nearly growl.

“What? Still in bed, brother? You must have had an interesting evening.” Oh, shit. I don’t feel like dealing with this right now.

“Make it fast, Elliot,” I say. He only calls when he wants something from me, and I’m not biting today.

“I hear you spent some time in the hoosegow last night!” Elliot sounds like somebody just personally introduced him to Santa Claus.

“Yes, I did,” I say flatly. “How did you find out?”

“I have my ways,” he replies, his voice full of mirth. “What do you think Mom and Dad are going to say?” he taunts. Don’t have time or strength for this.

“Tell them, Elliot,” I say, unconcerned. “Let me know how it turns out.”

“Oh, no,” he says. “No, I’m going to save this for when I really need it.” I have such a loving family.

“You do that, Elliot. Goodbye.” I end the call and dial my mother.

“Hello, Christian,” my mother says in that voice that makes me know she’s glad to hear from me.

“Hi, Mom. How are you?”

“I’m fine, but you sound tired,” she observes.

“I am, Mom,” I say… for more reasons than one. “I want to tell you something before you hear it anywhere else.” There’s silence for a moment.

“Should I sit?” she asks.

“Yeah, you should.”

“Christian, are you sick?” she asks, her voice shaking.

“No. Mom, no,” I say quickly to calm her nerves. “It’s nothing like that. I’m fine. It’s just—stories get all twisted and things when you hear them second-hand and I’d rather you hear this from me.” Mom takes a deep breath and releases it.

“I’m ready, son,” she says.

“Do you remember Elena Lincoln, the salon owner?” I ask.

“Yes, I vaguely remember hearing something about her salons a while back,” she admits.

“Yeah, well, she and I used to be friends—before her salons failed. We fell out right around that time. She was sure that I had something to do with the fall of her salons and she attacked me at Grey House…”

“What do you mean she attacked you? Attacked you how?” Mom asks. How could she not have seen this?

“You remember my broken arm?” I ask. “I lied. I wasn’t mugged. She broke my arm. She threw a concrete plant at me in my first-floor conference room.”

“What?” Mom shrieks. “Obviously, you’re pressing charges.”

“Obviously. How could you not have seen this, Mom? It was all over the news.”

“Apparently, not the news that counts,” she says. “I don’t pay attention to gossip rags or online blog-type sites or anything like that. I look for the meat and potatoes. The rest—I don’t pay any attention to it.”

I wish everybody could be like that.

“Well, she’s looking for revenge,” I say. “Somebody beat her all to hell last night and she told the police that it was me. I was arrested.”

“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me,” my mother says disgusted. “Well, that’ll be all over the news.”

“It’s possible,” I say. “I’m home today because I’m just too damn tired, but I’ll be putting together a press release with my PR team and I’m filing some lawsuits as well. You know the sensational is going to get out before the truth does, but my name was cleared. I had an alibi.” Mom sighs.

“Well, that’s good to hear. As long as I know the truth, they can say what garbage they want. What can I do, son?”

“You’re already doing it, Mom. Just shut the garbage down whenever it falls on your ears. I don’t care what the rest of the world hears, I can handle that—but I do care what you hear, Mom.”

“Thank you for telling me, Christian. I love you.”

“I love you, too, Mom.” I end the call. Take that, Elliot. I dial Welch.

“Yes, sir?” he answers.

“Elena Lincoln,” I tell him. “I want pictures of her—right now, beat all to hell with her face destroyed. I don’t care who gets them or how.”

“Done, sir,” he replies, and I end the call, then dial my PR guy.

“Brandon Pack here,” he answers.

“I was arrested last night,” I say immediately. “The charges were dropped because my alibi checked out, but Elena Lincoln was assaulted, and she fingered me.”

“Fuck, are you serious?” he asks.

“Dead serious. This is what I want you to do…”

*-*

“Christian! What the fuck is this about? By the time I went to the station, they said that you had already been released! I get to Grey House this morning and my shit’s all packed and I can’t get in the building because my clearances have all been disabled. If I’m out of a job, at least I should know the fuck why! You don’t get to just dismiss me, Grey! I know more than you think I know! I won’t go down without a fight! At least answer your goddamn phone!”

Oh, is that so, Mr. Rockford? Are you threatening me? Do you really want to see how dirty I can play? You got it!

As it turns out, Rockford thought I was arrested for the fight that I got into with Linc at Grey House yesterday. During one of his several rants into my voicemail that day, he let that cat out of the bag. That’s why he didn’t rush to get to the precinct. It was, “Oh, now you need me. I’ll let you stew for a bit.” He grew the wrong set of balls with the wrong person at the wrong time.

I call my IT genius and have him save all of the lovely voicemails that are filling up my phone to our networks in case I need them later. Then, I call Welch again.

“Did you get the pictures?” I ask.

“This morning, right after we spoke.”

“Good. Get them to Brandon. And send Rockford the Omega Care Package. I’m on my way.”

“The message on the Omega?” he asks.

“’What do you think you know?’” I reply.

“Done, sir.” I end the call. It’s about 11am and I had planned on staying home and recuperating from last night’s confinement, flogging and fucking—not necessarily in that order—but I really should have known better. Luckily, my stripes and bruises from playtime with Golden are all on my back, shoulders, ass, and thighs, so a black T-shirt and blue jeans will make just the statement I need.

I get to the office and the press is clamoring outside of Grey House. I don’t know if news of the arrest was leaked or if Brandon’s instructions garnered this much attention in such a short amount of time. Either way, it’s exactly what I need.

“The package has been delivered, sir,” Welch notifies me when I get into my office, “and Brandon has what he needs as well.”

The Omega Care Package is something that I have on standby for executives, CEO’s, lawyers, what have you, that find themselves in a position where they think they have me over a barrel. For Rockford, the OCP is pictures of his children leaving school, his wife at one of her social events, and him in several compromising positions in more than one locale with three ladies that are clearly not his wife. The package also includes a partial background check with not-so-secret assets and other juicy little tidbits that could destroy the man in several ways. He won’t have to guess who sent it with the one-line message he received.

Sure enough, his annoying and threatening calls and messages stop.

I’ll still have to punish him somehow for threatening me in the first place, but right now, I have bigger fish to fry.


Briana Evigan 15

GOLDEN

The interruption to my sleep last night prevented me from falling asleep when I got home, so I slept in and called Chanelle to take the day off. I’m just rolling over and stretching when Blake’s gentle knock reaches my ears.

“Come in,” I invite softly, not wanting to move from my cocoon, but knowing that I can’t lay here all day. Blake comes into the room with a prepared tray.

“May I serve you, Mistress?” he asks as I sit up in bed.

“You may,” I reply. Blake sits on the bed and places the bed tray over my lap. He removes the dome to reveal a beautiful large cheese croissant and a bowl of fresh fruit. A beautiful fruit juice cocktail with a garnish is on the side of the tray.

“I know you don’t like to sleep too late,” he says, unfolding the napkin and placing it over the exposed part of my lap, “so I thought I’d make it a little easier for you to wake.” He hands me the fruit juice cocktail. It’s his specialty—organic pears, fresh ginger, tangerine and lemon. “I would also like to discuss something with you.”

“Why you stayed last night?” I guess. He nods.

“But first…” He leans over to my nightstand and retrieves the remote from inside the top drawer. The television in my room is pretty much for decoration. I very rarely watch it. So, when he turns it on, I gather that there’s something he thinks I need to see. I pick up the fork and dig in to the bowl of tropical fruit salad.

“There was an announcement on the local morning show today that Christian Grey was going to be doing a press release soon. Considering your late-night trip last evening, I thought you might want to see it firsthand.”

“You’re right,” I say after swallowing some kiwi and passionfruit. “Thank you for alerting me.” He nods and leans his elbows on his knees, clasping his hands between them and staring at his clasped hands.

“What’s on your mind?” I say, placing the bowl on the tray. He sighs.

“Please, eat, before the croissant gets cold. I will tell you,” he urges. I tear a piece of the croissant and I swear it’s the most delectable thing I’ve ever had in my mouth.

Well, except… focus, Ana!

“I’ve made a decision.”

Shit. I don’t like the sound of this. I quickly chew and swallow the croissant and refuse to take another bite until I know what’s going on.

“And that is?” I say, wiping my hand on the napkin to show that breakfast is over until I know what’s going on. He watches me, then looks at his hands again.

“I’m leaving my wife,” he says softly. He sounds a bit remorseful about the decision.

“Oh,” I say. That’s not what I expected to hear. “What brought this on?” He sighs.

“I’ve taken responsibility for what I’ve done. I killed my Danielle. I live in purgatory because of it every day of my life. But Canciana…” He trails off. I don’t think he ever told me her name. If he did, I don’t remember.

“Canciana has become more and more selfish, her behavior more erratic than ever. I have been in limbo for years, in a state of penance, and she just gets worse and worse. While I understand her suffering, I punish myself enough every day—the memories, the pain, the guilt… I won’t allow her to punish me, too, not anymore.”

“What made you come to this decision?” I ask, comfortable enough now to eat my breakfast.

“I allowed her to do what she wanted—go where she wanted, be with whom she wanted, spend what she wanted, but it wasn’t enough. She had to hurt me more and more and she continued to become more and more inconsiderate in her actions. Last night, I come home, I put my key in the door and I hear noise upstairs. I go up the stairs thinking that someone is intruding and when I open the door to her room, she’s in bed with another man—in my house.”

I’m confused now. He said she could be with whom she wanted, and now he’s upset that he caught her fucking someone else?

“I knew that she was seeing other men; I don’t care about that, as long as she didn’t—how you say—shit where you sleep?”

Oooohh. She could fuck who she wanted, just not in his house. I continue to eat my delicious breakfast, listening to the soap opera playing out before me.

“When I asked what the hell she was doing, do you know what she said? Close the damn door.

Ouch, that smarts.

“So, I did, and I went to my room and I packed my things, and I put them in my car, and I drove away. I came back here, and I assumed that you heard me come back last night, which is why you summoned me when Mr. Grey called…”

“No,” I confess, “it was just out of habit.” I finish the rest of my fruit salad. Blake looks at his hands again.

“She’s at the point where she doesn’t care at all about my feelings. I killed our daughter and that’s all she knows. I don’t matter. It’s not fair for me to let her continue to abuse me and she’s just getting worse and worse. I still punish myself, but I’ve healed a bit. I understand and accept what I’ve done wrong, and I’ve found peace in what I do for you and others, even though it’s not perfect peace. She’s not healing at all. She’s becoming more and more bitter. My presence is only making it worse, and even my money isn’t helping the sting.

“I spent the night completing the forms and was the first person in line this morning at the court to file for divorce. I immediately employed a process server with instructions to serve the papers at 11am. That gave me enough time to clean out the bank accounts in both our names and open one in mine only. It doesn’t matter if she contests the divorce. We have a prenuptial agreement. She would do best to take the $4 million I promised her and leave. She could still live very comfortably on four million. She just won’t have unlimited funds like she has right now.”

“But if you had an agreement that she could live how she wanted and see who she wanted, what’s your basis for divorce?” I ask, chomping into what’s left of the croissant.

“Irreconcilable differences,” he replies. I raise a brow at him. “I come to find out that she’s using my money to take care of her worthless men. Then, I walk into our home that I purchased for my family where I was still laying my head, and she’s fucking some hijo de puta in my home! ¡probablemente el mismo bastardo que ella ha estado apoyando todos estos años!”

I don’t even think he realizes that he’s slipped into his native tongue. I swallow the croissant and finish my cocktail as he turns his attention to me.

“My apologies, Mistress,” he says humbly.

“Apologies are not necessary in this situation.” I look at my clock on the nightstand. “So, she’s already gotten the papers.” He nods.

“She’s hell-bent on contesting the divorce because she signed a prenup and she wants to keep spending my money to take care of her man. I will need an attorney to handle the divorce if it goes on too long and I trust no one with my personal information. You know me better than anyone. If this favor is too much to ask…”

“No, no, it’s not, Blake,” I stop him. “I’ll absolutely represent you.” He nods.

“She cannot use my money to take care of her men anymore. She can use her four million, after she signs the papers. She can have the house, because I sure as hell don’t want it, but that’s it.”

“She’ll try to get spousal support,” I warn.

“She didn’t agree to it in the prenup,” he informs me.

“She’ll still try,” I tell him, “to keep living in the manner in which she’s become accustomed.”

“Then we shall fight it nail and tooth, correct? No matter the cost, I can cover it.” He’s kidding right?

“We shall,” I say, laughing inwardly at his attempt at American vernacular. He nods and stands. He takes my tray and leaves without a word. I go to my en suite to relieve myself and once I wash my hands, Blake has returned.

“Mistress, one more thing. May I stay here until I can find a place?” I frown.

“I thought that was understood,” I reply. “And you don’t have to find a place. You have a room here. I have a guest quarters if you need more privacy…” He shakes his head.

“I don’t think I will need the guest quarters. I will think about staying, but…” He trails off.

“But what?” I ask.

“Mr. Grey, he’s becoming fond of you, and you of him…” I know where he’s going with this.

“We’ve had this conversation, Blake,” I say firmly. “Please don’t make me say it again.” He twists his mouth in disbelief and shakes his head.

“Yes, Mistress,” he says. I know him. He’s resolved that I’m going to fall in love with someone—most likely Trey since he’s the only one who comes to the house regularly—and Blake won’t be needed or welcomed anymore. That’s not going to happen, but I guess he’ll need to see that for himself.

“Mr. Grey,” Blake says.

“Blake,” I begin in a warning tone.

“No, Mistress, he’s on,” he says, pointing to the television and turning up the volume.

They’re in a conference room at Grey Enterprises Holding, and some guy is standing at a podium. Trey is standing behind him in that stance that he’s always in—legs parted shoulder length with his hands clasped in front of him—that is, when his hands aren’t in his pockets. I see Taylor standing in the same stance on the other side of the guy who’s about to start talking and several other men whom I assume are security standing around them as they’re all dressed like Taylor.

He looks positively scrumptious. He’s wearing a black T-shirt that’s clinging to his muscular body, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s rubbing against the welts on his back or if someone lovingly put some antiseptic cream on his bruises this morning. He looks quite refreshed and rested—and thoroughly well-fucked. I know that look. He’s been tripping the light fantastic all damn night and he’s as bright and shiny as a new penny this morning.

But why do I care?

Some off-screen reporter introduces the speaker as Brandon Pack, GEH’s head of Public Relations and the guy starts speaking.

“In the very late night and early morning hours last evening and today, Mr. Grey was dragged from his home and arrested after being wrongfully accused of attacking and viciously assaulting Elena Lincoln, socialite and wife of lumber giant, Caldwell Lincoln. Several months ago, after Mrs. Lincoln’s Esclava salon chain fell to ruin, she confronted Mr. Grey at his office, accosting him with a cement vase and breaking his arm. A restraining order is still in effect against Mrs. Lincoln and the assault case is still open. Mr. Grey has not seen or spoken to Elena Lincoln since that date.

“Mr. Grey recently seized the opportunity to capitalize on antiquated open and expired contracts with various lumber yards and suppliers, potentially placing a serious strain on Lincoln Timber and their future business dealings. To that end, Caldwell Lincoln visited Grey Enterprises Holdings yesterday to confront Mr. Grey, hurling curses and harsh words at him before he was escorted from the premises. The police were called upon his arrival and the situation thoroughly explained. A recording of the call to dispatch has been secured by our office.

“Mr. Lincoln left enraged and although he was in downtown Seattle as late as yesterday evening, his whereabouts are currently unknown.”

A picture of that frosted asshole flashes over the screen.

“If anyone has seen or sees Caldwell Lincoln, please inform him that his wife is in the hospital and has been brutally beaten, and he might want to find his way to her side.”

Brandon steps aside and Trey steps to the microphone.

“Let the record show that I was nowhere near that woman and I have no idea why she pointed her finger at me except for the fact that she attacked me several months ago and she has criminal charges pending because of it. This is nothing more than a vengeance campaign aimed at the wrong person. She has been terrorizing me ever since her salons folded, and I’m not going to take this anymore.

“I find it pretty coincidental that I had a heated conversation last evening with Caldwell Lincoln in my office when he came to my business and confronted me about my growing lumber interests. He wasn’t pleased with the outcome. Subsequently, his wife ends up beaten beyond recognition not two hours after our meeting and instead of being the doting husband by her side, he’s nowhere in sight.”

Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.

“A colleague of mine was able to secure these pictures of Elena Lincoln last night and this morning at Seattle General Hospital…”

Pictures of Elena flash across the screen. Her head is wrapped, and part of her face is bandaged. The part that’s not bandaged is a technicolor display of hideous bruising. There are also horrible bruises all over her body. One picture looks to have been taken before the doctors attended to her. Her face is bloody, and you can’t even tell it’s her.

“I would say that I’m looking quite unbruised and unscratched to have done that not 16 hours ago. No doubt, the person who actually attacked her more than likely looks like hell at this moment. This is the same woman who picked up a 50-pound cement pot and hurled it at me. I can guarantee you that she didn’t go down without a fight.  Nonetheless, that same woman proclaimed to the police that I was her attacker.

“I can only hope that the fine work of the two detectives who dragged me from my home as well as the impeccable evidence that was undoubtedly collected from Mrs. Lincoln’s person and from under her fingernails all coupled with my airtight alibi will all link to the person who actually committed this crime. In the meantime, I will be pursuing whatever legal recourse is available to me for the false accusations levied against me by Mrs. Lincoln as well as my false arrest and imprisonment last night by two gung-ho detectives who weren’t at all interested in truth and justice and only in the arrest.”

Oh, boy. Good luck getting all that done with that pussy ass lawyer who didn’t even show up at the police station last night.

“In addition, I’m offering a five-million-dollar reward for any information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the actual culprit who attacked Mrs. Lincoln last night. Since Mrs. Lincoln has conveniently mistaken who put their hands on her, she and her husband are excluded from collecting this reward. However, believe me when I tell you that I’m quite anxious to have the person who committed this crime and cost me a night in jail apprehended, convicted, and incarcerated as soon as possible. Thank you.”

The reward probably wasn’t a good idea, because the police are going to be chasing down every nutcase that has a lead they think will lead to that arrest and they’ll never find who really did it.

I look over at Blake who’s watching the closing statements of the interview. He doesn’t appear to be feeling any melancholy or emotional loss about his broken marriage. Then again, you can’t really feel too badly about something that’s been broken for years. He just wants it over. He was okay with her living her life and doing her thing until she fucked someone in their home.

He has told me that Canciana knows that he’s wealthy, but she doesn’t know the full extent of his wealth. As long as they’re married, she has access to that wealth—investments, bank accounts, life insurance, full-survivorship if he dies. Once they’re divorced, all her rights are gone except for whatever she gets in the settlement.

Once the interview is over, Blake turns the television off and stands.

“Would you like a bath, Mistress?” he asks.

“Yes, in fact, I would love a bath,” I reply. He heads towards the en suite. “Blake?” He stops and turns to me.

“Yes, Mistress?”

“If you don’t mind me asking, just how much are you worth?” He smiles that half smile he always does.

“To be honest, Mistress, I’m probably worth about as much as your Christian, if not more. And my numbers are growing because of my offshore interest accounts, rental properties, and investments. This is why my wife doesn’t want the divorce. She still isn’t sure of my actual net worth.” He turns and walks into the en suite.

When I hear the water running, I’m certain that I won’t let that bitch get her hands on Blake’s money. I’m also certain of one other thing. I grab my cell phone and dial.

“Kirkland Police Department.”

“I think I know who assaulted Elena Lincoln and how you can find them.”


A/N: The Pinterest board for this story can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/fifty-shades-golden/.

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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 57B—Christian and Ana’s Interview

All of the same disclaimers apply. Have fun and enjoy…

Chapter 57B—Christian and Ana’s Interview

<The interview opens with the camera panning into the large wrought iron gates of Grey Crossing>

MARIA NARRATING: Here in the exclusive neighborhood of Mercer Island, Washington—a ten-mile island reserved for the crème de la crème—Christian and Anastasia Grey enjoy the trappings of wealth and luxury afforded to only the most elite of high society.

<Cut to and pan various rooms of the Crossing while Maria narrates>

Aptly named “Grey Crossing,” this beautiful home boast 13,721 square feet of pure opulence and elegance complete with a full staff on hand at all times, sure to turn even the most discerning among us green with envy. From the marble-floored grand entrance to the Grecian formal dining room to the splendid luxury infinity pool, there’s no question that Mr. and Mrs. Grey enjoy only the best of the best. However, neither of them spends their days lazing away by the pool eating truffles and sunbathing. No—to get the full picture of who the Greys really are, you have to look outside the gates of Grey Crossing.

<Film rolling quickly in reverse of the opening wrought iron gates>

The best place to delve to begin this story would be here at the glass tower known as Grey House—world headquarters for Grey Enterprises Holdings, Incorporated.

<Cut to a pan of Grey House from the front door and up the glass building against a partially-cloudy but sunny sky>

Easily one of the most fascinating people in America and arguably, the world, master businessman and entrepreneur Christian Grey started his company just over a decade ago and within a very short time, became a financial and industrial powerhouse. Revered and respected by many, Christian runs his company with the wisdom, effectiveness, and efficiency of much more experienced captains of industries. Underestimating his shrewdness because of his youth has been the downfall of many unsuspecting rivals.

<Cut to Christian having a conversation with Allen in the glass boardroom>

He prides himself on choosing the best of the best to run his company beside him, recently securing a highly sought-after executive to extend his impressive repertoire.

<Cut to Ana strolling confidently through the lobby towards the elevators>

Gone are the days of the haughty businessman and his “trophy wife,” now being quickly replaced by what we can clearly see as “the power couple.”  Grey House is a state-of-the-art smart-high-rise that boasts sleek lines, opulent design, open work spaces with lots of natural lighting, sophisticated systems that ensure the most efficient processes, and lots… and lots… of security.

<Pan through various work areas of GEH, then the front lobby desk showing a visitor being checked in, then cut to several of GEH’s security team lined up in black suits, the camera panning across each of them quickly>

In fact, GEH probably boasts the most stylish security squad in the country, but don’t let the good looks fool you. Hailing from various backgrounds including military and special training, GEH’s security team prides themselves on proficiency and effectiveness. These gentlemen run a tight ship, working as a synchronized team and utilizing some of the most sophisticated security protocols and equipment in existence.

Facial recognition software and hardware prevents unauthorized persons from accessing any area beyond the main lobby, allowing for the continual tracking of the location of any GEH employee as well as all visitors while on the premises. And speaking of visitors, if you don’t have an appointment, forget about it.

<Maria continues to narrate as Christian and Ana show her through various departments of the building, giving a quick synopsis of the activity occurring in each area>

Mr. Grey seems most at home in his seat at the helm of GEH in its executive offices. After a tour of the impressive organization, I sit down to have a short tête-à-tête with the head and founder of Grey Enterprises Holding, Inc.

<Christian is seated in a large white chair in his office while Maria sits across from him on one of the white sofas>

MARIA: I won’t ask that cliché question “To what do you owe your success.” I can imagine that’s pretty old and, at this point, redundant. So, I guess I’ll just ask what made Christian Grey the Christian Grey?

CG: Well, nobody wants to know the rags-to-riches story—you’ve heard that already, many times and from different people, and not all that interesting. Even though my story is a story of rags to riches, it’s old news. If you don’t know the tale already, you won’t hear it from me.

I wasn’t old enough to drink when I started my company with a small loan and an idea. I was both exhilarated and terrified to be branching out on my own. My parents were horrified that I dropped out of college—Harvard, no less—to follow this pipe dream as my father called it, but I was… exhausted.

MARIA <frowning>: Exhausted? Before you started your business?

CG <nodding>: Yes. I was Christian Grey. I was the orphan from the streets of Detroit who was granted a silver spoon—and there’s the rags to riches story I was trying to avoid. <He shrugs> Yet, it’s a terrible burden. It’s even more of a burden, I think, than to be born with that silver spoon in your mouth, because you’re expected to be grateful, and not to step wrong—to take advantage of the opportunity given to you and to do your very best to be perfect, or at least that’s the way I felt.

MARIA: And were you perfect?

CG: Far from it. I gave my parents hell, not because I was a bad kid, I just had a rough start and I didn’t know how to respond to certain things. So, when I came to my parents and told them that I was dropping out of Harvard after everything else that had already occurred in our lives, my father wasn’t hearing it. He was having no part of it, he was totally against it, and he was ready for me to either return to Harvard or move out. And he had every reason to feel that way—who in their right mind throws away the chance at a Harvard education?

MARIA: So, you didn’t resent your father for not supporting you.

CG: Absolutely not! At the time, I wished he would have had more faith in me, but as time progressed, I understood why he didn’t. But then there’s always that drive to make your parents proud and I was already on the uphill climb with that battle, so I had no other choice but to succeed. Yes, the odds were very much against me. Nonetheless, I followed that pipe dream, and my instincts paid off and helped get me to where I am today.

MARIA: Well, we see the obvious wealth and power and people easily see and paint you as a tyrant, and economical dictator. So, when you reference where you are today, exactly where are you today, Christian?

CG: One-hundred percent self-made billionaire whose name commands respect with many in the business world and strikes fear in many others. How did I get to where I am right now? Raw grit—pure unmitigated drive and determination and a learned and complete lack of fear. Do I want to find myself homeless and broke? No, but I understand more than anyone that you can lose everything with one wrong move. Hell, today, you don’t even have to do anything to lose everything. All you have to do is blink and not see something coming.

To further answer your question, GEH has controlling interests or substantial participation percentages in 28 industries comprised of 419 subindustries in 165 countries on all seven continents, including funding to one of the scientific research stations in Antarctica, and that’s just our for-profit endeavors. I haven’t calculated our impact and involvement in philanthropic work. Am I cocky? Absolutely. It takes pure brilliance and unshakable will to build what I built and be able to flaunt that success without anyone being able to take credit but me—and my competitors know it. Yes, I have an amazing executive team, and I wouldn’t be able to function without them, but GEH—the brain child—that’s mine. I’m not afraid to lose a battle or three. I’m not afraid to sacrifice the small things for the greater good, because sometimes, lost battles result in ultimately winning the war, and there’s always a war going on, Ms. Sanchez.

MARIA: And what’s the war right now, Mr. Grey?

CG: Oh, make no mistake—there’s always a war. When you are in a position of power, someone’s always looking to get that position. Now, if there’s another position available that’s like your position, then you may be safe because both of you can be in that position of power. However, if yours is the only position of power available, make no mistake—they’re gunning for you.

Immediately, however, we’re fighting domestic threats. I’m cutthroat with my business—mercilessly brutal and unapologetic about it. I’ll show up to negotiations for a hostile takeover with a virtual Samurai sword, walk into the room with my weapon hidden, but end up swinging two-thirds into the meeting. I’ll walk out of that room with a signed contract in hand, with high-handed, puffed-up executives lying across the boardroom table and slumped over in chairs bleeding from vital organs and left to die.

I proclaim this with no small amount of caution. I know that people are going to be gunning for me. They were gunning for me before and they’ll be gunning for me after this program airs. But no man worth his salt became great by being afraid—cautious, yes; wise, of course; prudent, no doubt, but afraid? Not a chance. A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once.

MARIA <raising her brows>: Shakespeare!

CG: I’m well-read, and I did go to college for two years before I dropped out, although Shakespeare was required reading in high school.

MARIA: So, you mentioned the threats being domestic. Care to elaborate on that?

CG: Close to home, where they think I’ll be weak due to my emotional involvement. We have media personalities attacking us for no reason, just looking for the next sensational headline at our expense, no offense…

MARIA: None taken.

CG: False accusations against me and my wife, perpetuated solely to destroy our reputation and careers; internal assaults on my company that I’m not allowed to expound upon at this time; physical attacks on my wife and her family—you saw those on the news and they’ve left devastating effects on us. We bounce back, yes, but none of these attacks have left us unscathed.

Yet overall, none of these people have succeeded. Some of them just go away. Others go down as flaming failures—but they just keep coming. For every failure, there’s 20, 30, a hundred more behind them waiting for their shot at the Greys. Everybody wants the dream—to be financially secure enough not to be worried about the future—but many are spitefully angry with those of us who have achieved it. They want to take what we have or destroy us completely. What sense does that make?

MARIA: Maybe they feel like you’ve taken something from them—like you owe them something because of who you are and what you have… or what they feel you’ve done.

CG: They all feel that way! They all feel like I should divvy out what I’ve earned to them in one way or another—frivolous lawsuits, false accusations, Grey babies that aren’t Grey babies…

I can count on one hand—one hand—the number of people who may have had cause to feel that I had wronged them and came after me in some way for it. Not only did they fail, but their accusations were unfounded. Everyone else just has some delusional reason for wanting to bring me or my family down. I’m in this business to make a profit—to take sick companies and make them well again or to pull the plug on those that are hopelessly dying; to expand my interests and make sure that GEH remains the international powerhouse that it is in the most ethical manner imaginable. But I don’t pull punches. There’s no slight of hand when you see me coming. I conduct business like a businessman and if you get my iron fist, it’s because you earned it and you know it. So, these personal attacks on my family for business reasons or whatever reasons they are, they’re going to stop because we’re pulling out all the stops from this point forward.

MARIA: You haven’t been pulling out the stops to this point?

CG: We have, but apparently the message hasn’t been clear enough.

MARIA NARRATING<pan to Christian overseeing a meeting of his department heads with Ana sitting in the seat to his immediate right>: Christian Grey has unequivocally thrown down the gauntlet. He’s fearless in his business dealings but appears to be an even more formidable opponent if you cross him in terms of his family. With a net worth of more than 14 figures, he commands the boardroom with little effort, and is the quintessential example of self-made power and success. <animation of several magazine covers featuring Christian including Forbes, Money, Time, Entrepreneur, and People>.

The jewel in his crown, Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey.. Dr. Grey is a successful psychiatrist in the Seattle area who put her career on hold to become assistant director for Helping Hands, a Seattle-based charity that helps displaced families and victims of domestic abuse.

Image result for Genie FrancisHeaded by Dr. Grace Trevelyan-Grey—Christian’s mother—the charity hopes to soon offer continued learning, tutoring, and early learning classes for displaced families as well as members of the community. Helping Hands was featured in a public service announcement last year known as “Faces of Abuse” where many local celebrities, civic leaders, and everyday citizens confessed to being abused at one point.

<Portions of the “Faces of Abuse” campaign play>

HH Resident: They actually have security, so I feel safe bringing my kids here. Dr. Ana started a self-defense class after she had her babies. I can’t do all the stuff that she does, but I can handle myself pretty well after taking her classes, such that I’m not afraid anymore.

MARIA NARRATING: Dr. Grey confided that her aim in her chosen profession was to help others overcome frightening and adverse situations in their lives. Dr. Grey experienced her own trauma as a teenager, fueling her desire to assist those who need it most at a time when they’re most vulnerable.

<Scenes of Anastasia and Grace assisting families at Helping Hands>

However, in the hallowed halls of Grey House, it’s quite a different story. Armed with a minor degree in business and finance, Anastasia is hardly merely the “boss’s wife” in these walls. Walking through the lobby, it’s easy to see that she—like her husband—is also revered and respected. Having been gifted half of GEH as a wedding present, she takes her responsibility as part owner very seriously. She rightfully walks around like she owns the place, but I wanted to be sure that this wasn’t an act for the reporter. So, I randomly chose a department that I felt the boss’s wife would have no reason to frequent.

When I ask her to take me to Quality Control, she laughs. I mistake it for nervousness. I’m soon to realize how wrong I am. A short elevator ride later, we find ourselves in the Quality Control department. Here, Anastasia is giving me a brief rundown of the different products in testing and I’m already astounded by her level of knowledge of simply what’s on the floor.

AG: Mr. Braxton…

<A gentleman in conversation with someone at one of the stations raises his head and, upon noticing Anastasia, excuses himself and joins the ladies in the middle of the room>

I’m sorry to interrupt you, Omar. This is Maria Sanchez. You may have heard that she’s doing a human-interest piece on myself and Mr. Grey. Maria, this is Omar Braxton. He’s the head of our quality control department.

MARIA NARRATING: Omar is friendly and accommodating, and after we talk for a short while, Ana decides to flex her GEH muscles a bit.

AG: Omar, that information that I gave you about that transmitter a while back—you never got back to me on the final findings. I know it was pretty cryptic, and I know we saw some anomalies, but did it help break any codes? Were any of our questions answered, particularly the biggest one?

<Omar’s face lights up and he’s become quite animated>

OB: Like you wouldn’t believe! Breaking codes is an understatement. I’ve had an entire team working on those figures since you brought them to our attention. It’s amazing how the slide of a number or three can make such a huge difference, but it did… all the difference in the world. We never would have caught that without running those extra tests. I’d really like to show you the data… <looking over at Maria> … when you have a moment.

AG<smiling>: Of course. We understand. There’s just been so much going on, I haven’t had a chance to get in here and ask you about it. I’ll set up a meeting as soon as I can to go over your findings.  I’d love to see your progress.

<They smile at each other before Anastasia and Maria move to another area>

AG: Proprietary information. You understand.

MARIA NARRATING: Of course. I won’t lie. I was hoping to catch the queen snoozing at the switch. I should have known something was afoot when my request to visit QC was followed by a giggle.

Having seen Anastasia outside of the corporate world in her natural habitat at Helping Hands, so to speak, I wanted to get an idea of who she was before she was the glamorous and sophisticated billionairess we see now—not that she wasn’t sophisticated before, but she wasn’t always a billionairess. Imagine my joy when I find out that she still owns the condo where she lived before she met Christian. I would have expected the space to be vacant, maybe a college space like a small apartment or a loft that was shared by a group of struggling students.

Not in the slightest.

Anastasia’s condo is large, spacious and beautifully decorated. I asked her if she had remodeled it once she was married, and she assures me that it’s in the same condition she left it in when she moved out to live with Christian in his penthouse at Escala downtown, complete with a very masculine guestroom—which we’ll get to later.

<Maria walking towards the camera while she addresses the viewing audience>

MARIA: So, here we are in Ana’s pre-Christian condo overlooking Elliot Bay. It’s obvious that she’s no stranger to posh surroundings as exhibited by the stunning décor and open floor plan, semi-gourmet kitchen with stainless steel appliances, and a view of Mt. Rainier that was certain to attach a heavy price tag to this property. As it turns out, Ana secured this property for a steal from a divorced wife trying to unload it—that “steal” nonetheless resulting in a 7-figure price tag.

<Cut to Maria and Ana sitting across from each other in Ana’s living room>

MARIA: So, Ana, tell me—how does a girl from Montesano suddenly find herself a businesswoman and half-owner of one of the largest corporations in the world?

AG: Well, I’m no Christian Grey. I was somewhat catapulted into this situation. It’s kind of like a baby bird being slapped out of the nest and either you fly, or you die. When my husband first told me that he was making me part owner of GEH, I thought he had lost his mind. Yes, I minored in business and finance, but that’s only because I knew that fresh out of med school, I wouldn’t have enough money to hire business managers, financial planners, and accountants and such once I was ready to start my practice. So, I took some business classes and one thing led to another and boom—minor in finance. I never in a million years would have thought that I’d be even partially at the helm of a multibillion dollar conglomerate.

MARIA: How did this come about? I mean, did he just come home and make the announcement?

AG <rubbing the side of her head>: It was somewhat like that, but there was so much more involved. It’s kind of gray when I try to put it all together, but I remember that I had inherited—for lack of a better word—a company as part of a settlement. We had intended to absorb the company into GEH. However, closer examination revealed that it wouldn’t be prudent to do so. While we were sorting out the particulars of disposing of the company, the precariousness of my position with GEH came to a head and that’s when we decided to make it official. I was a figurehead up to that point, and not even that. The story is far too long and tedious for me to repeat it, but let’s just say that the transition was anything but seamless.

MARIA: Were you met with resistance? <Ana ponders her answer for a long while> Animosity? Resentment? Jealousy?

AG <sighing>: Those are strong words and remember, I’m a psychiatrist. So, words mean a lot. Amazingly, I can’t really put into words what I was met with because I’m not inside anyone’s head, but I can tell you what I think it felt like.

Imagine being part of an organization where you have a clearly-marked figurehead. Strong, powerful, knows exactly what he wants, successful, he gets things done—there’s no doubt who’s in charge. He’s “take no prisoners” and you don’t cross him. Suddenly—out of nowhere, literally—you’re getting marching orders from the little woman who is not only in actuality a petite woman but has already been pegged a gold digger. Now imagine being on the receiving end of those feelings when you’re trying to get something done. <Maria blanches>

MARIA: How do you do that… not mince words and still remain so politically correct? <Ana scoffs>

AG: It’s a blessing and a curse.

MARIA: So, tell us about Ana before Christian.

AG: You mean besides what’s splattered all over the tabloids?

Independent, driven, self-sufficient. I had my own practice, and it was successful. I even had a waiting list. I was doing volunteer work as well, but it wasn’t really satisfying. That’s because I wasn’t in the right place and I wasn’t contributing what I felt I needed to contribute, so I had to move on.

MARIA: Someone’s going to ask, so I’ll ask first. You speak like this was no big change for you, but your life wasn’t nearly this extravagant before Christian, right?

AG: You mean the life of a billionaire’s wife? Of course, not, but I wasn’t a pauper, either. This condo is decorated exactly as it was when I met Christian. <She gestures around the room> Nothing has changed except that I have a friend staying here so that it doesn’t fall to disarray. But look around you.

<Pan of various rooms and décor of the condo>

Does this look like the digs of some poor struggling woman waiting to be rescued?

I drive Audis now, but when we met, I was driving a current-year Chrysler 300. I was a fashionista, just like I am now, although my shoes may not have been Louboutins. I hadn’t dated anyone for four years and I wasn’t looking to date. When I met Christian, I didn’t know who he was and when I found out, I didn’t like him. I wanted him out of my presence as quickly as possible and I tried to do that, but he was persistent. One thing I learned about Christian Grey. When he wants something, he doesn’t give up easily if at all.

MARIA: It almost sounds like you loved him against your will.

AG: I did! I wasn’t looking for any kind of relationship, least of all with Christian Grey, but look what happened.

MARIA: Is it really that simple? Is it really just look what happened or was there more to the story?

AG: There was quite a bit more to the story. Most of the story was plastered over the news—in trials and kidnappings and attacks and accusations… bitter lies and just plain hatefulness. We couldn’t get any peace. I’ve always considered myself just a regular girl, you know—no frills, nothing special… just me. Suddenly, I become half of AnaChris and everything about me was different. It was like…

<Anastasia pauses here, trying to find her words>

I just got lost in the whole billionaire-ness of it all, and it wasn’t that it went to my head. It was just that I wasn’t me anymore. Suddenly, I had to justify every decision I was making—from what I was wearing, to who did my hair, to what I was driving, to the precarious timing of my pregnancy.

MARIA: Okay, but besides the obvious wealth and dollar signs, where did the ‘more’ come in? <Anastasia frowns>

AG: The more?

MARIA: Yes, the ‘more.’ You said that there was more to the story than just look what happened. <Ana sighs>

AG: Christian is nothing if not cautious and thorough. I was in a position to cause him distress, and I wanted nothing more than to just be out of it… by any means necessary. Our relationship was no accident. How we came into each other’s presence may have been chance, but the events that followed were anything but. Everything that occurred to lead us to become a couple was planned, and believe me, he’s not ashamed to admit it.

It wasn’t that way at first. He wanted me out of his hair and I wanted out of his hair. But one action led to a series of events that, in the beginning, I felt weren’t supposed to happen, but now I feel they were destined.

MARIA: Forgive my bluntness, Ana, but you’re speaking in riddles. <Anastasia shrugs>

AG: Well, you must know that I have to be careful what I say. Before I expound on how this particular portion of our lives played out, I have to talk to Christian first.

MARIA: Are you afraid of how he’ll react? <Anastasia raises a brow> Okay, let me rephrase. Are you concerned that his reaction would be less than favorable?

<Anastasia leans back in her seat, placing her fingertips delicately under her chin>

AG: I’m always concerned about Christian’s reaction, not because I’m anxious that his reaction may be less than favorable, but because I don’t want to be the deliberate cause for his duress. My job is to be his helpmate, his life-mate, to love him and bring him comfort and solace. I can’t effectively do that if something that I’m doing is a source of angst, now can I?

My husband has always been a very private person. There are parts of our personal lives that the public will never know, just like there are parts of everyone else’s personal lives that are not subject to public scrutiny. So, yes, I will need to discuss with my husband how much of this story will be revealed during this segment.

MARIA<nodding>: That’s fair enough. So, let’s move on to this Judd Rossiter thing. What can you tell us that won’t put you in a bad position?

AG: Nothing, unfortunately. It’s an open case and there’s a gag order. I’m afraid that anything I say could compromise the proceedings or definitely put me in contempt of court. I’ll just say that I know when to keep my mouth shut <an obvious shot at Rossiter>

<The setting changes to the backseat of the converted Audi>

MARIA: So, how have your relationships changed, Ana? How do your friends feel about the new life you lead? Was it a rough transition? Did you have to make new friends?

AG<sighing>: It had its bumps every now and then. It’s no secret that my sister-in-law was battling a brain tumor shortly after my husband and I married. That was a trial for us all because she was my friend before she was my sister-in-law. But she came through it with flying colors, thank God, and she’s doing better than ever. That was probably the biggest transition we had to deal with in terms of friendships. My core support circle is the same as it was before I got married. It even merged a bit.

MARIA: Merged? Do elaborate

AG: People who had been dating got married, and people who weren’t dating each other started dating. As you know, my friend Valerie whom we were just speaking about married my husband’s brother and became my sister-in-law. As for making new friends, my husband’s sister Mia—I would consider her now part of my core group of friends along with her husband, Ethan. I have friends at Helping Hands… so, yeah, I’ve met more friends, but my core friendships have remained the same. The original group call ourselves the ‘Scooby Gang.’

MARIA<chuckling>: Why the ‘Scooby Gang?’

AG: It’s simple, cute, unassuming, maybe a little naïve because the Scooby Gang never fought, and we’ve had the occasional tiff or falling out, but we always find ourselves back at the core again. When the chips have really gone down, there’s never been a time where we haven’t been there for each other. We’ve had segments in time where something may have gone down that we weren’t aware of, but when the situation was revealed, we all came together like we usually do. I don’t know if you remember that when I was kidnapped, it was my best friend Allen who made the call to arms with Christian.

MARIA<nodding>: I do remember that. So, what’s the makeup of the Scooby Gang?

AG<smiling>: Without getting into detail, there’s me, of course. Then, there’s Allen, Valerie, Maxie and Phil, and Gary.

MARIA: So, there’s six of you… like a real-life episode of Friends. 

AG<making a face>: Yeah, we’re… friends, of course, but… well, there are more people that are in the core by default, like Marilyn and James… even Christian and his brother Elliot…

MARIA NARRATING<while Anastasia continues to explain the ‘core’ dynamic>: I could tell that she didn’t necessarily agree with the comparison to Friends even though she didn’t really protest. She just went about the business of illustrating how different from Friends her inner sanctum really is.

MARIA: So, do you get to see your friends as much as you used to?

AG: Not as much, but that’s because of life events on the part of all of us. Most of us were single before, and now, we’ve all coupled-up or married. Two of the couples have had children <she raises her hand>, we’ve had career changes, health issues… you know, life events. But what I love about our friendship is that the minute someone says, “I need you,” or “Hey, let’s get together,” we’re together or have a party or F&L planned within a couple of hours.

MARIA<grinning>: FNL? What is that, Friday Night Live?

AG<laughing>: No! Not FNL, F-and-L… Food and Libations. I love to cook. When I was a single girl in that beautiful condo with that gorgeous kitchen and open floor plan, at least once a month and usually more, I and my friends would come together for Food and Libations. It was usually on a Saturday night. I would cook, and they would bring the drinks—libations—whatever they wanted. We socialized and caught up on the week’s events, and they would clean up. That’s why you saw the other bedrooms at the condo. In case someone drank too much, they could crash. Allen is my right arm; he has been for 14 years. So, he has a permanent room at my condo and a key.

MARIA: Does he have a permanent room at Grey Crossing?

AG<rolling her eyes>: Everybody has a permanent room at Grey Crossing. Have you seen the size of that place? What can one nuclear family do with all that space?

MARIA NARRATING: All that space indeed…

<Cut back to the opening gates of Grey Crossing from the beginning of the interview and pan to various rooms as Maria narrates>

Eight bedrooms, double-digit bathrooms—not including the staff’s apartments on the lower levels—a gourmet kitchen, two-story formal living-room and Grecian dining room, a ginormous family room, several outdoor patios on multiple floors, and an outdoor dining room and barbeque kitchen and a small private beach in the backyard leading to an enviable view of Lake Washington, and we haven’t even scratched the surface.

Two working elevators, a fully-loaded workout room, an infinity pool with jacuzzi, a private spa, and an outdoor sauna and shower; a theater room that would put some theaters to shame; a lush parlor for her and a decked-out den for him as well as his and her offices with posh furnishings and an aquarium in between.

And speaking of aquariums…

Full-wall aquariums greet you not only at the entrance to a massive entertainment room on the ground floor, but also in the private spa where Mrs. Grey goes to have her beauty treatments every now and then.

And Ana was correct when she mentioned room for everyone at Grey Crossing.

<Cut to shots of Valerie and Elliot in the dining room, and Elliot later in the family room>

Christian’s brother and sister-in-law are a regular fixture at the Crossing, a bit of a home away from home, you could say. And good luck sneaking onto this estate uninvited. The Crossing is equipped with all of the state-of-the-art security devices as Grey House and a few extras including a combination location and two-way communication system.

We could spend another hour just touring the beautiful rooms, furnishings, and amenities of the gorgeous estate, but we’d much rather talk to the couple who call it “home.”

<Cut to Anastasia and Christian on the sofa in the formal living room with Maria sitting on the opposite sofa>

MARIA: So, let’s get to the question that everyone wants to ask. How did a local psychiatrist land Seattle’s most eligible bachelor?

CG and AG<simultaneously>: Well…

<They look at each other and Anastasia gestures to cede the floor to Christian>

CG: Let’s start by clarifying your question. She didn’t land me—I landed her. People think that there’s some formula to this—there isn’t. My life is and always has been very private, so although I had interactions before, they weren’t plastered all across the news. This one only became news because my wife—then girlfriend—was kidnapped, but we very much would have preferred to keep our relationship private.

The truth of the matter is that when the right person comes along, all bets are off. There’s no amount of conniving, scheming, hoping, wishing, praying, or plotting that you can do that can make you be that one. There has to be an emotional and physical connection and at some point, there has to be a willingness on the part of both parties to engage.

In our case, this was truly cosmic intervention. We hated each other—unquestionably, undeniably, and unequivocally. She correctly had me pegged as an arrogant, egotistical, narcissistic donkey’s butt and she made it no secret… and she wanted nothing to do with me. I thought she was a pompous, stuck-up, headstrong, disagreeable female and I wanted nothing to do with her. She had my fate in her hands and I resented it. I tried to bully her, and she was having none of it. She pretty much told me what I could do with myself and where to go and stormed out… and I fell in love.

So, if you ladies want to know the answer to the age-old question “how to land a billionaire,” call him names and tell him the truth about his crappy behavior, and then leave him to marinate in it and refuse to speak to him… but know that if you’re not the one that supposed to end up in his life, you may end up landing a restraining order and jail time as opposed to landing a billionaire.

<Maria looks at Anastasia, who simply shrugs>

AG: I told you, I wasn’t looking for love, and even after I met him, I wanted anything but a relationship with him. You know how the boys in grade school would kick you or hit you or tease you if they liked you? <Maria nods> He was worse. He tormented me. I thought he hated me and I certainly could do without him.

MARIA: So, how did you end up crossing that thin line between love and hate?

CG: It was… tricky.

<Maria cocks her head at Christian, waiting for the rest of the tale>

CG: My life was very private before I met my wife. I did have relationships, but they were very structured and very formal. From my side, they were very dispassionate, very unemotional. Although they were monogamous, they were only a means to an end. The women involved were legally sworn to secrecy. Believe me, there are legally binding non-disclosure agreements all over the state of Seattle.

MARIA: What if one of these women decides to come forward with this information? Like if they felt as if they had nothing to lose?

CG: Well, first of all, everyone has something to lose. They just don’t know what it is until they lose it. In all honesty, I can say this—it’s no secret that I’m a powerful man. If you come after what’s near and dear to me, to any man, he’s going to come at you with all he’s got. Do you really want that? In terms of the legal system, I’m a businessman. I’ve never had a board of directors—I am the business. Wherever I was, the business was—in my building, in my cars, in my penthouse, in my shower, on my private jet—you get the picture? I discuss and conduct business in all those places. To that end, any information heard or discovered in any of those places is protected business information including the color of my underwear, and the language of the contract is such that revealing that information is a punishable criminal act.

MARIA: Oh, come on, seriously?

CG: Corporate espionage.

MARIA: Revealing the color of your underwear is corporate espionage, Christian?

CG<shrugs>: They should have read the contract. So far, no one has been brazen enough to attempt to breach a signed NDA, but should they try, they’re in for a rude awakening because they’ll most likely find themselves in cuffs. All I can say is that if they would like to test that theory, they can try.

MARIA: What about you, Anastasia? How do you feel about this whole NDA thing?

AG<shrugs>: I never signed an NDA. Our relationship is far from dispassionate, quite emotional, and to hell with structure.

MARIA: Well, alright, then. So, Christian, why were you so secretive about your relationships?

CG: I have a lot to lose. My reputation is at stake. People wanted to easily paint me as a playboy or they wanted to marry me off. I wasn’t serious about anybody. I really couldn’t afford to be half of a whole until I was half of a whole.

MARIA: And that happened when Anastasia was kidnapped.

CG<sighing and taking Ana’s hand>: Yes. Nothing else mattered then but getting her back. I didn’t know where she was. I didn’t know if she was hurt; what he was doing to her. I didn’t know if I would get her back alive or at all. <Holding his head down> I couldn’t see past the moment. I could only see getting her back, and I had to make sure that people paid attention. So, that’s why I put my face to the plea. <A clip of the plea plays silently as he speaks> At the time that we had recorded the call for help, we hadn’t gotten any clues yet except who took her, so we didn’t know where they were or what the next move was.

MARIA: Then there was the daring helicopter rescue. What were you thinking, Ana?

AG: I honestly don’t remember most of it. It’s partially because of the trauma and it’s partially because of my later accident where I’ve lost some of my memories. I remember the gunshots and I remember the lights of the hospital. Then I remember going home. The rest of it is kind of a big fuzz. I remember the smell of mildew and the feeling of hopelessness…

<Anastasia trails off>

MARIA<reaching over and squeezing Ana’s hand>: Well, we don’t want to take you back down that road again. I think we’d all like to know when you first realized that you were in love.

AG<she and Christian are looking at each other>: It just happened. We were in my apartment and I remember thinking this can’t possibly be happening this fast.

MARIA: You’re smiling, Christian.

CG: I didn’t feel that way.

<Anastasia’s glaring at him>

It was happening for me. I didn’t know what it was at first, but it was happening, and I knew it was.

<Anastasia’s glare softens>

MARIA: Who said it first?

CG: That’s why I didn’t feel the way she did. She said it first. I felt it first. I felt it long before she did. I would go so far as to say that I think she was still hating me when I first felt it.

AG<amazed>: That can’t be right!

CG: Oh, I think it was. The first time you said you loved me, you were asleep in my apartment. By that time, I was deeply in love with you, but I hadn’t said it yet. You said it again in your sleep, this time in your apartment and I said it back, but you were still asleep. The first time you said it to me awake was the third time you had said it to me.

AG<in awe>: Are you kidding?

CG<shaking his head>: And the first time I said it to you while you were awake was the second time I had said it… that I know of.

AG: You said you knew… while I still hated you. How could you have known? I mean, before me? How…

CG: Honestly, I think I loved you as far back as when Allen and James came to pick you up from the community center.

AG<stunned speechlessness>: Wha…?

<Maria watches in gleeful anticipation>

CG: I was still trying to figure it out <Christian laughs>

MARIA: This is so adorable. So, this totally shoots down the whole gold-digger theory…

AG<still stunned>: Huh?

MARIA: Well… you know there are still the hangers on with the gold-digger theory that Ana was looking for a billionaire and snagged Christian and got pregnant to keep him and… you know the rest.

CG: Once again, I say, Anastasia didn’t chase me, I chased her. Anastasia didn’t even want me. Anastasia didn’t even like me. When she says that she hated me, let me tell you… she hated me! She saw me at my worst… my very worst. As it turned out, she was on a disastrous date saying goodbye to the same guy that later kidnapped her. She had a little too much to drink and I made sure that she and her car got home safely. The rest is history.

MARIA: Now, how did you end up getting to her exact location that night?

CG: I shamelessly stalked her on her date. Then I sent a bottle of wine to her table to apologize for being such a jerk. I just wanted to make my presence known. I didn’t know she was breaking up with the guy.

AG: It’s a long story, but I had already broken up with the guy. He was asking for another chance.

MARIA: Needless to say, you said, “no.”

AG: Needless to say.

CG: Anyway, we fell in love because I pursued her. I had to have her. We’ve always been completely open and honest with each other, even about our secrets…

MARIA: Secrets… Elena Lincoln.

CG: Yes, Elena. I can’t talk about her too much. She was a mistake in my life that lasted for many years. I can’t begin to tell you the effects she had on me and my family. I just can’t talk about her. I can only say that my wife is slowly undoing the damage that woman has done to me. <Anastasia smiles>

MARIA: How so?

CG: It’s very personal, but she’s doing it by loving me… unconditionally, flaws and all. She’s undoing all the bad and replacing it with good. It’s scary and sometimes painful, but she chases all my monsters away.

MARIA: Wow, that’s very deep. Ana, does he do anything like that for you?

AG<Her voice incredulous>: Are you kidding? He’s my ultimate protector. I fear nothing with this man around. Nothing. I feel like if there’s anything that he can’t do, he’ll find a way to get it done. I and my children have nothing to fear as long as he’s alive.

MARIA: Those are big shoes to fill, Christian.

CG: I’m up to the task.

MARIA: So, you mentioned early on that you were secretive about your relationships because of your reputation. Couldn’t the details of a past relationship still ruin your reputation?

CG: Yes, they may damage my reputation, but here’s something to remember. I have enough resources right now to retire every member of my family including my infant children. Me going after someone for damaging my reputation could destroy them completely, but how much would it really hurt me? The most that anyone could ever hope to gain by trying to expose me in any way would be homelessness because I would spend all of my energy on injunctions and gag orders. By the time they had any hope of collecting anything from me, we would both be dead. That’s the big and the little of it. If anyone tried to do anything to ruin my reputation, I would adapt. If they tried to do anything to harm me or my family, just know that I’m coming at you with everything that I have. It’s that simple.

MARIA: I can understand that. Now, we may not be able to talk about the relationship with Lincoln, but can you elaborate a bit on the attempted murder?

CG <sighs>: Not really. It’s not because I can’t talk about it. It’s because I don’t know what the hell happened. To this day, I’m still not sure what was going on. I really thought I knew, but I don’t. The woman is some kind of crazy—that’s all I know.

MARIA: Ana, this is your area of expertise. Care to elaborate?

AG: Well, this is delicate territory for me, but since the case has already been decided, I can offer a bit of opinion. From what I saw, long story short, all of her actions were justified. In her eyes, everything she did was justified—it didn’t matter what it was, she was justified in doing it. So, she went about the business of doing what she wanted to do, and the court didn’t agree with her. There’s just no other way to explain it.

MARIA: But why did she want to kill Christian?

AG: She said it in the courtroom—to free him from me.

MARIA: I don’t get that.

AG: You and me both. Neither did the jury.

MARIA: So, let’s back up a bit. Before the wedding… you left for a while.

<Christian drops his head>

AG: Yeah, I did.

MARIA: Why?

AG: Because I was having a hard time dealing with rejection.

CG: I wasn’t rejecting you.

AG: I didn’t know that.

MARIA: How do you know that now?

AG<shaking her head>: I still don’t. <Christian raises an amazed gaze at her> The heart is fragile. He knows that now more than ever. <Christian drops his head again> My man disappeared for several hours, and when he returned I heard, “Let’s not get married,” and that’s all I heard. I couldn’t take it, so I left. I left to try to clear my head and deal with the heartbreak that I was feeling. There was a bit of back and forth—he found me, we fought, we talked, he left, he kind of fell apart. I came back and saw what it was doing to him. We talked again. He told me that he didn’t say, “Let’s not get married.” He said, “Let’s not get married right now.” I understood what he said the second time. The problem is that I still only heard, “Let’s not get married,” and I saw all my dreams dying.

CG<barely audible>: You still feel that way?

AG: We’re married now, but that’s still what I heard.

<Christian wraps his arms around his wife>

MARIA: So… you made it down the aisle and you go on this lovely honeymoon, and it’s cut short…

AG: Yes, crazy ex-boyfriend decides that he wants his speedy trial right in the middle of our honeymoon. We’re sure that he planned it. You saw how that turned out.

MARIA: It’s my understanding that during that case, you discovered that you were pregnant with your children.

AG<grimacing>: You understand correctly. There was an unfortunate incident involving the defense attorney that prompted me to take a pregnancy test.

MARIA: An unfortunate incident… care to elaborate?

AG<her eyes wide>: No.

MARIA NARRATING: At the request of our hosts, we move the interview to their spacious and well-equipped family room. Though they looked quite majestic in the formal living room, our couple is much more relaxed in this setting.

MARIA: Okay, Ana, let’s move to something that I hope is a little more palatable than the last few moments of our previous discussion. I know that one of the main reasons for your appearance today and other appearances before now is centered on the allegations of sexual harassment against you. Just a quick synopsis. Someone made an anonymous call that you behaved inappropriately with a patient and that opened an investigation into the allegations. Tell us about that.

AG<straightening her posture>: Yes. The medical profession is based largely on trust. People trust us with their bodies. In my case, they trust us with their minds. It’s a huge responsibility, so accusations like this must be taken very seriously. Of course, I was devastated when I heard that someone would even think I would do something like this. But when I saw who the victim was, I knew it was a personal vendetta.

MARIA: Are you allowed to reveal who the victim was at this point?

<Christian slowly raises his hand>

MARIA: Yes, Christian? Who was the victim?

<He sits there in the same position>

MARIA<horrified>: You??

<Christian nods>

AG: My sentiments exactly. I was anonymously accused of sexual misconduct with my husband.

MARIA: Dear God, how did that come about?

AG: Well, we’re still trying to get to the salt of the matter. Anything that we say about the person who made those calls would be pure conjecture. Even though we have our theories, those claims are anonymous for a reason… to make sure that the accusers—valid accusers—are protected. The problem is that the system also protects those who just want to throw smut.

I’m going public with the accusations against me because not only were they totally untrue and unfounded, but they were completely ludicrous! And the way that I was treated at that inquisition that they called a hearing was preposterous and the most blatant display of unprofessionalism I had ever seen. They dragged in people from my past—colleagues, patients—they chose completely irrelevant questions even down to questioning my attire. They locked me in a room for hours without my phone, my purse, or any type of timepiece with a guard who never said a word to me the entire time, like I was a common criminal.

They subjected me to this board of stuck-up elitists who all looked down their nose at me and refused to refer to me by my title. All doctors themselves, they all knew how offensive it is to strip a doctor of her title. So, as a continuation of their emotional warfare, they all called me “Mrs. Grey” instead of “Dr. Steele-Grey,” no matter how many times I corrected them and informed them that I still had my license.

I could go on forever about how unjustly I was treated by the board, and quite frankly, I’m lucky that I escaped that witch hunt with my license still intact. I’m not some pompous, pampered little doctor-person who got her little feathers ruffled because the big bad men didn’t pat me on my head. <Anastasia feigns baby talk> I just want to see people treated more fairly when they’re required to present their cases in situations like this. Even killers get a right to a fair trial—I was convicted before I even stepped in that room on zero evidence and a rumor.

So, my campaign is not to toot my own horn and proclaim that they’ve hurt the feelings of the great Anastasia Grey. My purpose for going public is to hopefully appeal to others who may have experienced this kind of treatment. When the board was confronted about this incident, they swept the whole thing under the rug like nothing happened. So, how many other people have been subjected to this?

My voice is loud because I refuse to remain silent about this, but two voices are better, four is a lot louder, The more, the better, of course. So, how many people within the sound of my voice has been treated unfairly by this board or knows someone or of someone who has? If this is you, you can reach me at my office at Helping Hands. Yes, we have security screening, but it’ll be worth it if we can shed some light on this situation.

MARIA: So, you’re looking for a class action?

AG: It’s more like a call to action. If I’m the only person who was treated this way by the board, well then, I’m just one person. This is my battle to fight and mine alone and we don’t have to worry about other people being treated this way. However, if this is the usual treatment of people who are accused of this kind of action, then we need some kind of investigation—maybe an examination of the archaic ideals of the board and possibly replacing its members.

MARIA: Are you up to that job, Ana… possibly being a member of the board?

AG<her eyes wide>: Oh, God, no! I don’t want someone’s fate in my hands like that. With everything I’ve been through, they don’t even bother picking me for jury duty!

<Christian laughs>

MARIA: So, if the board approached you, would you turn them down?

AG: First, I highly doubt that the board would ever approach me, but second, I’ve never even given the concept any thought. I just want people to be treated fairly. I don’t necessarily have to be the one to do the job in order for that to happen. And third, to answer your question—no, it’s not something that I want. I have no dreams or aspirations whatsoever of being on the board.

I felt like the views of the board were quite antiquated in the questions that they asked me and the way that they treated me. I have no problem with the traditional values being part of this process. In fact, I support it. However, I feel that the board and its members and guidelines need to incorporate more of the forward-thinking concepts that define the passing of time as well as modern medicine and practices.

I seriously felt like I was in that movie, “Twelve Angry Men,” and I was the accused awaiting the verdict. I left those proceedings, went home, and waited for them to tell me that they were stripping me of my license. Had I done something wrong, I could do nothing but hang my head in shame, but I really, really did nothing wrong. So, I think something needs an overhaul here, and if I remain silent, it’s not going to happen…

MARIA NARRATING: The seriousness of the conversation is interrupted by cooing babies in the background, Christian gestures to someone to come forward.

MARIA: Oooohh, this is such a treat!

CG: Hello there, Minnie Mouse! <Christian takes his daughter>

AG: How’s Mommy’s handsome man? <Anastasia takes her son>

MARIA<brimming with excitement> Please! Please! Introduce us!

CG: Well, this redhead beauty is Mackenzie and that handsome prince is Michael, and these are the heirs to the Grey estate. <Mackenzie looks adoringly at her father>

MARIA: Is she a daddy’s girl?

CG: She’s definitely a daddy’s girl.

MARIA: And what about Michael—is he Mommy’s boy?

AG<examining Michael>: I don’t know. Mikey is laid back. He likes everybody. Mackenzie is more expressive, so while I can tell that she loves Mommy, she coos more at Daddy.

<Watching Mackenzie do just that while Christian makes faces at her>

MARIA: Most Moms say that parenting comes naturally. Is that how it was for you?

AG<twisting her lips>: I think that’s a broad statement, Maria. I don’t think parenting comes naturally to anybody; that’s why some children are taken away from their parents. I think the connection that you feel while carrying a little life around in your body for nearly a year can’t help but to extend to the living breathing human being once they’re no longer in your body. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

<Cut to the scene of Anastasia in the rocker in the nursery with her back to the camera nursing Mikey and singing to him>

AG<while the scene is still playing>: I can’t speak for anyone else. I can only speak for myself. The moment I discovered that I was pregnant, all I wanted was to love and protect my babies. I was afraid that the world would gobble them up and mistreat them, and I knew that the only way to prevent that from happening was to nurture them, shield them from what harm I could and prepare them for the world ahead. It’s a frightening and daunting task, but it’s also one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Minnie’s first smile and Mikey’s first babble… I can’t even describe the feeling that comes over you when you witness the smallest milestones.

<The scene continues for a few moments more, the only sound being Anastasia serenading her baby>

<Cut back to the family and Maria in the family room>

MARIA<with a broad smile>: Minnie and Mikey… was that intentional?

AG: Yes and no. We mulled over our children’s names, each of us making suggestions about what we wanted to name them.

<Cut to a picture of Minnie and Mikey each in their Minnie and Mickey Mouse swim suits earlier that summer>

I had always had my son’s name picked out since before I was even pregnant, and Christian insisted on naming the girl after me.

MARIA<frowning>: But her name is Mackenzie…

AG: Her middle name is Anastasia. I drew the line at the first name. One “Anastasia” is enough! <Christian shrugs>

MARIA<laughing>: I see. Well, I can say that they seem to be two well-behaved babies.

<Cut to scenes of Christian playing with Mikey; Keri rocking Minnie to sleep; Anastasia playing an animated game of peek-a-boo with her son; Christian bouncing his daughter on his knee while she laughs gleefully>

AG: I’ll be the first to tell you that my children are blessed. They have a lot of people around them that love them—their mom and dad, two wonderful nannies, their grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles, and friends… We have quite the village for these two.

MARIA: You realize that you’ll probably come under scrutiny from traditional moms because of your nannies.

AG: Even traditional moms have babysitters. Mine just happen to live with me. We have two children and there are two of us. We both work, so we need help. Even if we had one child, we’d still need help. You saw the nursery at Helping Hands—my children go to work with me every day. I personally come and feed them at lunchtime and I check on them several times during the day. There’s also a day care at Grey House. So, if I need to spend the day there, my babies can come with me there. My nannies are at my disposal, so if I decide that I want the babies to stay home, they can stay in the comfort of their own space. I won’t allow people to guilt-trip me about having help with my twins when I have such a busy life.

MARIA: Christian, how did you feel about having nannies to help with the children.

CG: I suggested it. While there was a condition with both of us that nannies wouldn’t raise our children, we both agreed that we would need help. It would be unrealistic not to seek that help since we readily had the resources. Mrs. Taylor had already been in my employ for several years and was delighted to help out, and Ms. Illidge has been a friend of the family since before we were married. Her qualifications stem back to before we even met her. Circumstances landed her in our laps and we couldn’t be happier with the outcome.

We get to spend time with our children, watch them grow, love and nurture them without having to worry if they’re in good hands when we’re not around. Make no mistake, my wife and I raise our children. Our nannies are back-up.

MARIA<nodding>: Very well said, Mr. Grey. So, Ana, on the topic of parenting, Ray Steele… he’s adopting you. <Anastasia nods> You’re 28. <She nods again> Why now?

AG: It’s long overdue. My father has done the honorable thing by me for as long as I can remember—even years before. He’s the only father I’ve ever known, and he’s never made me feel unloved or unwanted. Whenever he was able, he was always there for me.

MARIA: Whenever he was able? <Anastasia sighs>

AG: I won’t smear anybody because it’ll get me nowhere, but my father and I were kept apart for a long time. We did what we could to stay in touch, but it was hard.  I know my father. If he had the foresight that he does now, if he had any idea that forever was not really forever, he would have adopted me when I was a child—before all the hardships and nightmares that I suffered because we were forcefully ripped apart and kept from each other.

MARIA: You’re talking about your mother.

AG: I’m talking about my childhood. Daddy adopting me now is closure for us both on so many levels, I can’t begin to explain them all to you. Everybody has their theories and some of them are correct, but the bottom line is that I love my Daddy and he loves me. We just want to make it official.

MARIA: Ray has a son of his own. You’ll have a brother soon.

AG: I already have a brother. The adoption is just a formality.

MARIA NARRATING: As you can see, the Greys have a strong and enviable sense of family. Christian is fiercely loyal to those he loves, and Ana makes it no secret that she’ll go to the wall for the ones she holds dear.

On the flipside of this wholesome, loving family picture is a fearsome twosome with a hidden talent, so to speak. We’re here at the West Coast Armory where Christian and Anastasia have decided to showcase yet another aspect of their personalities. I could easily see Christian in this setting, but I was surprised by what I discovered about Anastasia.

So, here’s this tiny woman in black jeans and a black, long-sleeved muscle shirt with a three-foot ponytail hanging out of a fitted baseball cap looking every bit a miniature SWAT member in safety gear for the shooting range and some of these firearms are bigger than she is.

MARIA: Not that any of us would really understand, Ana, but tell us what you’re working with here.

AG: This is a Mossberg 500, 12-gauge, pump-action shotgun. Now this is normally a pretty big gun…

MARIA: It’s still a pretty big gun compared to you.

AG<laughing>: Well, not as big, because it’s been modified with the Mossberg Flex system. In laymen’s terms, the huge deer hunting stock has been replaced with a pistol grip, the larger barrel swapped out for a shorter barrel and the camo fore-end removed and replaced with this tactical fore-end, which is better used for home defense. Trust me, in its original form, this gun is probably as long as I am tall. Now, the pistol grip takes about four inches off the length of the gun, and it makes it easier to handle. You can hold it comfortably in your hand and shoot from the hip.

A double-barrel does a lot of damage and the recoil can be really insane. I took a dare once and pulled both triggers of a double-barrel when I was about 22 and dislocated my shoulder. Got a pretty nasty cut on my hand, too.

Where a double-barrel allows you to shoot two rounds, you would have to pop out the shells and manually reload. A pump action, on the other hand, allows you to pop out the shell and reload immediately, which is crucial in an emergency. So, more rounds, more opportunities to hit your target, but I rarely miss.

<Cut to scenes of Anastasia in gear and goggles, pumping the Mossberg and hitting the targets every time>

MARIA NARRATING: She’s definitely proficient with this firearm and with others as we discover during the course of the day. Though Christian’s an excellent shot <cut to Christian in goggles firing off his Glock and shredding a target several feet away while Maria continues to narrate>, I was quite stunned to discover that Ana is a more precise marksman than her husband. While he truly decimated his target, enough to strike fear into any aggressor, Ana put twelve rounds nearly perfectly into the same bullet hole.

<Shot of Anastasia standing with feet apart, wearing headphones and goggles and firing her Glock rapidly in front of her>

That’s impressive.

Me, on the other hand, not so much.

<Cut to Maria in gear and Anastasia showing her how to hold and fire the Mossberg>

I’m proud to say that I hit one target, but that was after firing off about nine rounds and taking at least 10 seconds to ‘pump’ the gun after each discharge. I think I’ll leave this to the experts.

<Cut to Anastasia and Maria standing on the open gun range>

MARIA: Now, Ana, with gun violence on the rise, you won’t have immunity from the criticism that you’re promoting acts of violence by glorifying the use of weapons. How do you respond to that?

AG: I can’t be held accountable for the behavior of every gun owner in America. My father is a Marine. He trained me in knife throwing, self-defense, and the proper way to handle and discharge a firearm, as you just saw. I’m responsible with my guns. They’re well-maintained and kept under lock and key when they’re not on my person. I’m adequately licensed to carry my weapons and they’re all legally registered. I’m not contributing to the wretched state of affairs where illegal guns make it into the hands of lunatics or, worse yet, children, and mass or accidental shootings occur.

MARIA: Yes, but what about your children?

AG: What about them? As I said, our firearms are always under lock and key when they’re not on our persons, so my children are in no danger of our guns. And for the record, when they’re of an appropriate age, they’ll learn to shoot, too.

MARIA: There are those who are going to say that the safest gun is no gun at all. Look at the countries who have successfully banned guns or have very strict gun-control laws. Violent deaths in those countries are exponentially lower than here in the United States and sometimes nearly, if not completely, nonexistent.

AG: To be honest with you, Maria, I would love to live in a country and an environment where this wasn’t necessary. I would love to raise my children in a society where they didn’t have to worry about one day having to defend themselves or their home with a deadly, projectile weapon. Unfortunately, I have no intention of moving to the UK, Australia, Japan, or Germany anytime soon. It’s a lovely concept, but unfortunately not feasible for my family at this time. We live in a country where we not only exercise our constitutional right to bear arms, but also—unfortunately—some of us abuse it. I’m not one of those people who abuse that right, and I will not be held accountable for those who do. As for those countries who have successfully implemented gun-control laws—bravo! You got it right. As for America, I don’t know what to say about that. I’m not speaking for the entire country, but in my mind’s eye, I can see law-abiding citizens turning in their firearms while gang members and criminals retain theirs, leaving us vulnerable and defenseless… a country even more gripped in fear than we already are. It would be a 24/7/365 version of The Purge. It’s sad and unfortunate that guns fall into the wrong hands, but I feel that it would be completely counterproductive to remove guns from the right hands, and that’s my opinion.

MARIA: That’s a lovely speech, Ana, but you know that you’re still going to come under fire, don’t you?

AG: Let ‘em come! I use my firearms for recreation on the gun range, or for self-defense, and that’s all. When they see me brandishing my gun in public or using it for any illegal means, then I may feel some conviction from naysayers. In the meantime, I’m exercising my second amendment right to bear arms in America and I apologize, but I’m not going to try to sway to opinions of the portion of viewing public that feels like I shouldn’t be able to do so. When and if America bans guns, I as a law-abiding citizen will turn in my firearms. Until that day, I will continue to take advantage of my right to be a responsible gun owner. Those who don’t like it and want to put me in judgement, c’est la vie, I can’t hear you.

MARIA NARRATING: Very powerful words. And, there you have it. If you’re looking for a scapegoat, you won’t find it here. Mrs. Grey stands firm on her rights and refuses to be held accountable for the unscrupulous acts of others. You have to admire her gumption.

<Back at the Crossing in the family room>

MARIA: So, Christian, I’ll direct this to you. If you wanted one thing to be a major take-away from this segment, what would that one thing be?

CG<sighing heavily>: Good grief, we’ve covered so much, I don’t know that there could be one takeaway.

For starters, it needs to be known that I and my family will no longer be a target, not that we ever were. In terms of our physical well-being, my wife and I are both very well-trained in self-defense. In addition, we are both licensed to carry concealed weapons. This information is only pertinent should you get past the several military-trained men that protect us.

Now, we’ve had other attacks on us—financial, emotional, attacks on our character, things of that nature. These attacks will no longer be tolerated either. In the end, we’re still just people. We just want to live our lives.

I’ve worked hard to become the man that I am. Nobody handed me anything. I didn’t have a trust fund from Daddy to start my business. I had a loan that—like any other businessman—I had to repay, with interest. I took that loan and parlayed it into a billion-dollar corporation and somehow, that’s a bad thing. Well, too bad. I’m sorry that hurts the feelings of people who for whatever reason think I don’t deserve what I have or I owe them something. I owe no one but creditors, the IRS, and my family to take care of them. Know that anybody who comes at me, my family, or anything that I’ve worked for and love, I’m coming back with both barrels loaded.

My wife and I were a chance meeting. We were the last person on each other’s radar. Her formal impression of me was that I was an egotistical, narcissistic bastard and she put that in writing, so let me tell you. If she was trying to woo or trap a billionaire, that’s a very strange way to do it. I’m ashamed to admit that my first intention was to destroy her. As you can see, fate had other plans for us.

Once and for all, she was not ever and never will be a gold-digger. She didn’t “make it big” when she met me. She was financially well-off before she became Anastasia Grey.

Hopefully, this answers those questions of the prying minds and the ignorant, unless you just choose to remain ignorant. And if you see us out having dinner, at the park with our kids, at the grocery store, leave us alone. I’m not the President of the United States and we deserve some kind of little bit of a normal life. I get that you’re curious, but we don’t deserve to be abused because of your fascination.

MARIA: I couldn’t agree more. I have to say that when we first discussed doing this interview, I didn’t know exactly what to expect. I mean, you have your theories and so you prepare yourself for what you think may happen, who you think you may meet, or who may be presented to you because everybody has a person or persona that they present to everyone else, but the real part of themselves, they keep private. We often shield the real person from the public, so that you really don’t know who you’re dealing with in front of the camera. But I will have to say that it’s been a pleasure speaking with the two of you, getting to know your family and your children, getting to see what you do on a day to day basis and being able to show the viewing audience that it’s not necessarily what they think. It’s really hard to humanize someone, especially when all you’ve ever seen of them or known of them is dollar signs. When all you know of someone is money, that’s all you see is money—you don’t see the human being.

<Slow motion news clips play of every scene Maria describes>

We saw the protector in full glory carrying his damsel from the hospital, her face shielded by a jacket after she had suffered the brutal beating during her kidnapping.

We can probably name every sacrificial lamb whose career has fallen at Anastasia’s hands.

We were all broken hearted when Christian announced that Anastasia was “the one” at the first press conference we had ever seen him in addressing his personal life.

And each milestone—and heartbreak—since then, we’ve been with you every step of the way… in the trials, with the announcement of the pregnancy, with the Faces of Abuse campaign…

From the fairytale wedding to the mourning of a loss of a patriarch, we’ve all felt your pain, your tears, your happiness and your frustration.

<Cut back to Anastasia and Christian holding their children, and Maria looking into the camera>

So, I humbly thank you very much for allowing me to introduce and present to the world the human beings that are Christian and Anastasia Grey. Thank you, and goodnight.

<Fade to black>


~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 50—Unexpected Guests

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 50—Unexpected Guests

ANASTASIA

Sakes alive, she looks just like me. I think she’s even younger than I am! Same haircut, blueish-greenish-gray eyes, similar build—before I had my babies, that is… what the fuck?

“Whoa,” Daddy says, under his breath. I’m sure he’s having the same thought I am. This shit is creeping me out and I really don’t know how to handle it. I don’t really care who Brian fucks, but did he have to go get my twin? She looks even more like me than I look like Shannon… and I really look like Shannon.

“I know,” I hear Maxie’s voice say from behind me. I turn around to look at her. “It’s uncanny. I started talking to her when I got here, thinking she was you.”

“And how did she take that?” I ask.

“She laughed it off and just went on about her day. I’m sure he’s told her that she looks like you and who you are.” I twist my lips.

“It takes some getting used to, that there’s someone else in the world that looks so much like me.”

“No, she looks like you used to look,” Maxie corrects.

“You said yourself that you struck up a conversation with her thinking she was me,” I protest.

“That’s because I know how you used to look and I could have mistaken her for the old you, but anybody who knows you now knows that’s not you. You’re a mother, you’ve got some wisdom and it shows. She seems nice and all, but she doesn’t have that sophistication that oozes off of you, and it’s not the money, Honey. You’ve been that way since I’ve known you. So, from a distance, she might pass for college Ana, but up close, nope. When I tapped her on the shoulder and she turned around, I knew it was mistaken identity.” I laugh.

“Often imitated, never duplicated,” I murmur.

“Indeed,” Maxie says, giving me a high-five. We share a few moments of our private joke before Christian joins us again.

“So, what’s the joke?” he says. “I want to laugh, too.” I turn around to look at him and see Brian over his shoulder. He was making his way over to me but pauses and decides on a detour when he sees that Christian gets to me first.

“We were talking about possessive husbands who like to cockblock ex-wannabe-suitors midstride,” I tease.

“He’s got to get through me if he wants to get anywhere near you,” Christian says. “The last time we spoke, he said he was happy with that Ana Lookalike that he brought to your father’s house and to leave him alone. And I have, so now, he can leave you alone.” I raise my brow.

“It’s not that serious, Christian. I really don’t care.”

“I do,” he says. “I have no doubt that he wakes up and when he rolls over and looks into her face, he sees you. One day, he’s going to look at that woman and not see you, and I don’t know what he’s going to do when that happens. In the meantime…” He puts both arms possessively around my waist, “… My girl said she wanted a party. I couldn’t think of a better reason to celebrate.”

I look around the room at the wonderful “baby shower” set-up that’s going on—the only babies in attendance being mine, passed from person to person and testing the whole stranger theory. So far, so good—no fires, floods, hurricanes or baby sirens. Christian even brought our staff, who are preparing what looks like a fabulous steak lunch—exactly what Daddy wanted after the proceedings—and awesome hors d’oeuvres for before lunch.

“You did this all in a few hours?” I ask. He nods. “In the middle of a Monday afternoon, you got everybody to skip work and come here?”

“Are you kidding?” Maxie says. “We wouldn’t miss this.”

“Yeah,” Phil says joining the conversation behind his wife. “This has been such a long time coming. When Christian called, I suddenly got a stomach thing and had to leave work,” he laughs.

“Christian called?” I say, looking at my husband and back to Phil, who nods.

“He activated the contingency,” he adds.

“Without me?” Al says, also coming over and joining in the conversation.

“You were a bit detained, Mr. Forsythe-Fleming,” Christian excuses.

“I don’t want to hear it!” Al says flippantly. “God, I hate not being part of the conspiracy.”

“Steele,” Val chimes in with Elliot following her. “You got a little sister you never told me about?”

“Yeah, what’s up with Ana, Jr.?” Phil asks. “I thought I was seeing double for a minute… until I got a good look at her.” Maxie throws a knowing look at me and I wave her off.

“I certainly hope not,” I say with a shrug. It’s so damn unnerving to see so many people that look like me. Hell, my mother doesn’t even look like me—or I should say I don’t look like her. All I got was her hair… and her eyes, I think. God, I can’t even remember what color my mother’s eyes are. The siren wail of my son crying snaps me from my introspection.

“Don’t look now, but…” Phil points to Ana, Jr. and a screaming squirming Mikey in her arms, with her futilely attempting to calm him.

“Christian…” I say, my voice beseeching.

“Don’t worry, I got it,” he says. I watch as Christian makes his way over to Brian and… his girl. Mikey is feverishly reaching for his father on sight. Christian coos at Mikey, trying to calm him before rescuing him from the imposter—or maybe before rescuing the imposter from him—but Mikey can’t be calmed until he’s in Christian’s arms. Even while lying on Christian’s chest, he quietly babble-cries his protest of being handed to that woman. Good God, what the hell? It’s not that bad, Mikey.

“What is with all that performing?” I say to my son as Christian joins us, rubbing Mikey’s back and causing him to calm a bit. I see Brian out of my peripheral and, surprisingly, he’s not looking at me. He’s looking at Christian.

That’s a first.

Ana Jr., on the other hand, is looking a bit slighted.

“What is her name?” I whisper. He pauses.

“Sha…” he pauses again. “Shawna.”

“You had to think about it?” I ask, rubbing Mikey’s hair as he continues to whimper a bit.

“I don’t think about her much,” he says matter-of-factly. “Why would I let her name occupy mental real estate?” I nod. “Why did you want to know?”

“Because I keep calling her Ana, Jr., and it’s creeping me out. Her boyfriend didn’t bother introducing her to anybody. Who does that? And why are they even here? Did you invite them?” Christian shakes his head.

“My guess is that he heard about it from Ray,” Christian says. “I can understand him wanting to be here, but I have no idea why he brought her.” I raise my brow.

“She makes you uncomfortable,” I say.

 

“She makes me very uncomfortable,” he cedes.

“Why? Because she looks like me?”

“No, because of the implications of her looking like you. She looks so much like you that the Paparazzi could get a picture of her from a distance and think it’s you. So, here’s hoping that she’s as clean cut as she appears, because she could be trouble. She lives in the same state, for God’s sake.”

And suddenly, I’m wet.

“Oh, no,” I squeak. Christian looks over Mikey’s mop of hair and back at me.

“Crying baby,” I say, pointing to my leaking breasts. I hear Mandy laugh.

“I see you pointing at the food factory,” she says. “You need a shirt?”

“Yes, please, but duty calls first,” I say, pointing at my leaky jugs.

“Um, I don’t think…” Mandy does a circular gesture around her boobs, signaling that I’m probably going to be out of luck in the bra department.

“You got a sweatshirt?” I ask, and she nods. “I’ll be fine.”

We’re having this entire conversation in a room full of people. Ah, motherhood.

“I’ll take him,” I say, reaching for Mikey. Christian whines a bit at the thought of releasing him to me.

“Do you have milk in those?” I chastise, pointing at his pecks. He pouts and gently lifts Mikey off his shoulder. Mikey protests a bit but reaches out his grubby little hands when he sees that he’s being handed to me.

Then he quiets right down.

“I feel a bit slighted,” Christian complains.

“Oh, hush. He came to you first, and I have an advantage. Like I said, you don’t have milk in those things.” I stand on my tippy-toes and plant a quick kiss on his lips.

“Be right back after I feed our children,” I say.

“Okay, Butterfly.” I look around for Minnie and see that Gail has her and one of the diaper bags and she’s waiting for me.

“I’ll come with you,” Maxie says.

“Me, too,” Val chirps in, and I know they want to talk shit about Shawna. We all follow Mandy.

“I’ll have to set you up in our bedroom,” she says. “Harry’s asleep and not due to wake for another hour, but the commotion in the living room will wake him soon enough.” I nod. She has a small sitting area set up in their bedroom and I take a seat in one of the chairs while Gail settles into the other one and gets a bottle ready for Minnie. No sooner I open my shirt and Mikey is greedily pulling at my bra. He knows what’s under there.

“Settle down, you little monster,” I jest, quickly situating my nipple in his mouth. He hungrily slurps his lunch and I know that even though my boobs are full, they’ll both be empty in no time. “Geez, you’re worse than your father.”

“Too much information, Steele,” Val says. “Are you saying that he still indulges in the nipple even though you’re breastfeeding? I mean… does he drink it?” I now have the attention of every woman in the room.

“Like you said, Val, too much information,” I say, diverting the conversation from my boobs. Mandy laughs and hands me a large, clean sweatshirt.

“I’ll see you out there,” she says as she leaves the room. I turn back to Mikey who looks up at me with large, grateful gray eyes.

“Yeah, yeah, I know,” I say as I sit back in the seat.

“So, how long have you known about Ana, Jr.?” Val says. I shrug.

“Her name is Shawna—please stop calling her Ana, Jr. That shit is creeping me out,” I beseech them. “I seem to remember Christian saying something about her a while back, but you know my memory sucks and I only hold on to what’s important, so unfortunately, I don’t remember anything if he did tell me about her. But damn—this is some creepy Twilight Zone shit.”

“I’ll say,” Gail mumbles, and I think we weren’t supposed to hear her.

“Mikey sure as hell knew the difference,” I say looking down at my son. “He was having none of that shit when someone put him in her arms.”

“Didn’t that guy used to have a thing for you?” Maxie asks. “I seem to remember discussion about a terrible fight between him and Christian that landed them both in the hospital. Is this the same guy?”

“Same guy,” I say with a nod, trying not to show my discomfort.

“Don’t you think it’s a little… unsettling that he found someone that looks just like you? Not unsettling because she looks like you, but the fact that he found someone that looks just like you…”

“They’re both unsettling,” I reply. “Christian’s right. If he’s trying to recreate me in her, he’s in for a rude awakening because no two people are that much alike naturally. And I’ve already been through this with one psycho. I was chosen because I looked like someone else, so if she’s chosen because she looks like me…” I trail off.

“I take it nobody’s tried to talk to her,” Val asks.

“Nobody from my camp that I know of,” I respond. “If I know Christian, he’s said something to Brian and he’s just watching from afar. Why would he bring her here? To my father’s house? We’re celebrating my adoption. I barely want him here. Why would he think to bring her?”

“For moral support?” Maxie says.

“To show you that’s he’s moved on?” Val adds.

“Has he?” I squeak. “The girl is my goddamn twin! Is it really moving on if the person that you’re with looks just like the one that you left behind… supposedly?”

“Well,” Val interjects, “look at me. El’s my type. Most of the guys that I’ve dated pretty much look like him. All hot blondes, all pretty well-to-do and none owned sport cars. Maybe I’m not the best authority on this.”

“Yeah, same features, but none of the guys you’ve dated looked exactly alike, at least not while I’ve known you.” She shrugs.

“Yeah, there is that,” she concedes. I shake my head.

“He and Ray don’t see each other much. He probably just wanted his friend to meet his girl,” Maxie says, still playing devil’s advocate.

“This is my adoption,” I say, breaking Mikey’s suction on my now empty breast. Gail rises on cue. “He had to know I would be here. What did he expect—for me to say, ‘Hey, Dad, thanks for signing the papers. Bye now?’”

Gail swaps babies with me while I’m talking and begins to pat Mikey to get him to give up a burp while Minnie latches onto my other bulging tit.

“I know Christian didn’t tell him,” I continue, “so Daddy had to. It would have been awkward enough with just him showing up, but he brought a damn doppelganger to my adoption celebration!”

“Okay, so, just so I’m clear, are you upset that he’s here, that he brought a girl, or that the girl looks like you?” Val asks, bemused.

“The fact that he’s here and that he brought a girl that looks like me,” I answer. “The last time I saw that man, he thought it was a good idea to beat my husband until he literally couldn’t see and had to have his teeth fused. Believe me when I tell you that I couldn’t care less what that man does with his dick or who he does it with, but I do want to know what he’s trying to prove by bring that girl to my adoption.”

“I’m still not sure why you’re so upset,” Val says. “I can understand being perturbed by the whole thing, but you’re really pissed.”

“That’s because you’re missing two key words here. I keep saying them, but you keep missing them. My. Adoption. If it seems like I’m taking this personally, goddammit, I am! This is my celebration with my daddy. I can begrudgingly accept him showing up because he’s Daddy’s friend. I can’t and won’t condone him bringing an Ana-lookalike-doppelganger here during this time. The moment he discovered that this was going to be a party and not an intimate setting for him to introduce Daddy to his girlfriend, he should have excused himself and set a time for them to get together. He stayed because he knew it would unnerve me and it would unnerve Christian. I can shake my head and disapprove and judge how healthy or unhealthy his choice of woman is from afar. But when you invite yourself and her to my celebration and throw her in our faces knowing how we would react—yes, I’m pissed about that!”

Everyone in the room falls silent for a moment.

“Well, when you put it like that…” Val says and trails off. Finally! She gets it! This was a calculated move on that jerk’s part and nothing she can say can convince me otherwise.

“So, what now?” Maxie asks.

“I don’t know,” I reply. “I have nothing to say to either of them. I don’t believe for one second that she walked into this blind, so she’s just as guilty as he is as far as I’m concerned. Then she has the nerve to try to hold my damn baby…” I trail off angrily. I don’t know what’s irritating me so badly about the situation. All I know is that I wish they would both just leave.

It’s time to change the subject.

“Are you getting settled into the office okay?” I ask Maxie. She raises her brow at me.

“I had never been to your office,” she says. “I had no idea how ‘pimped out’ it was!” I laugh.

“It’s not pimped out. You’re just accustomed to the offices at the family center,” I tell her.

“Well, it’s pimped out to me. We never decided on rent.” I shrug.

“I don’t know what to charge a friend. Make me an offer.” She twists her lips.

“A beautiful office near downtown and you don’t know what to charge?” she asks.

“ A wonderful friend and mentor who was my therapist for many years and several times kept me from leaping off the proverbial cliff? No, I don’t,” I reply matter-of-factly. She makes that face where you tighten your chin.

“Well, since you put it that way,” she says, “I do some research on the rents in the area.”

“Good, then cut it in half.” She twists her lips at me. “Family and friends discount,” I add.

“Fine,” she says begrudgingly.

*-*

Once Minnie and Mikey have been fed, burped, changed and put down for a nap, the girls rejoin the party as I sneak off to the laundry room to wash my blouse and bra. God, my tits feel so much better now that they’re empty! Jesus, these jugs are getting out of hand!

As I’m about to step out of the laundry room, I hear voices and peak out to see who’s there. Brian and Shawna are having a not-so-pleasant conversation in the hallway that leads from the kitchen to the laundry room.

Shit. Trapped.

“They hate me!” Shawna says, her voice low and sharp. “They all hate me. Even the baby hates me! Did you see how he screamed? Babies love me, and he screamed!”

“They don’t hate you, Sha,” Brian says. “They just don’t know you…”

“I don’t want to know any of them!” she retorts. “They’re all ‘one big happy,’ and I’m some intruder that comes in looking like their diamond child. Most of them started talking to me thinking I was her. One guy turned fifty shades of pale when he discovered that he was talking to the wrong person! Why did you bring me here?”

“Because you’re an important part of my life and I wanted you to meet Ray, who’s also an important part of my life.”

“Why did we have to come today?” she whines. “Why couldn’t we come up on the weekend or something?”

“Believe it or not, I was trying to avoid running into the family!” he defends. “Who the hell would expect the whole damn clan to be here on a goddamn Monday morning?”

I can tell that he was talking more to himself than to Shawna when he asked the question.

“It’s an adoption, Bri,” Shawna says, pointing out the obvious. “It’s a family affair.”

“Yeah, but I know Ray. I know they probably had lunch or something planned just for him and his daughter. Then he would come back here, or even go to work, and Mandy would have called him and told him that we were here. Then he would have come back and we all would have relaxed and chewed the fat. But of course, Grey…”

He trails off. Oh, no. Don’t act like it’s my husband’s fault that you brought the Counterfeit Contessa here and we didn’t welcome her with open arms.

“When can we leave?” she pouts. “Ray and Amanda are the only ones who have been nice to me. Everybody else is looking at me like an alien—when they’re not mistaking me for her. Unlike the rest of the female population of Washington, I have no desire to be Anastasia Grey!”

Well! Don’t get all hissy about it. You’re in my father’s house, and nobody’s stopping you from leaving.

“I don’t want to be rude,” Brian says, matter-of-factly. “We’ll leave right after lunch. Can you tolerate that?” I hear her sigh loudly.

“When we get home, I’m cutting my hair and dyeing it red!” Shawna declares.

“Baby, you could shave it bald. I wouldn’t care. I’d still love you,” Brian says. I roll my eyes. Oh, good grief. It would be cute… if it were anybody else.

“Stop being sweet,” she pouts. “I’m still not comfortable here at all.”

“I know, baby. I’m sorry,” and he sounds sincere. I wait for a minute or two after there’s silence in the hallway to poke my head out.

The coast is clear. Thank God!

I go into the kitchen with Ms. Solomon and the staff, doing the final preparations on the meal.

“Can I help?” I ask. The room falls silent for a moment, then Ms. Solomon engages.

“Mrs. Grey, this is your lunch… you and your father…”

“I’d be eternally grateful if you would allow me to help with something—anything, instead of going through that door right now.” She raises her eyes.

“She’s unnerving, isn’t she?” Ms. Solomon asks, and I don’t even try to deny it.

“More than you can imagine,” I say, commandeering Mandy’s apron and waiting for instructions. Ms. Solomon hands me a knife.

“There’s nothing left to do but the salad,” she says, pointing to a huge mountain of vegetables.

“Thank you,” I reply, “Leave it to me…”

By the time I’m done, I’ve created three beautiful salads in about fifteen minutes… one Greek, one Caesar, and one antipasto.

“You’ve been holding out on me!” Ms. Solomon says. “I had no idea you had this kind of skill. And that knife! The staff was afraid to come near you!” I laugh.

“Before we had a staff, I had that gourmet kitchen built for me,” I confess.

“Nothing left to do but serve,” she says. I sigh.

“I’ll take the salads out and go sit down,” I say. I take two of the large salads and one of the other servers grabs the third. When we enter the dining room, Christian immediately spots me.

“Lunch is ready,” I announce, placing the two large salads in the middle of Mandy’s formal dining table.

“That’s where you got off to,” Christian says, leading the charge into the dining room. “I didn’t even see you go in there.”

“Nobody did,” I say, keeping my eyes on the salad while arranging them on the table. “I just wanted to help out.” Christian looks knowingly at me. “I hope you don’t mind, Mandy. I borrowed your apron.”

“Not at all, whatever makes you feel happy,” she replies. The staff begins to fill the table with the hot food and sets everything up buffet style since there’s really no formal seating. Everyone begins to dig in and I, for some reason, am still organizing things on the table—removing dishes as they’re emptied and helping the staff refill platters with more food, helping with drinks…

“You really should sit. This is your celebration after all.”

I turn to see that nearly everyone has left the table and is sitting somewhere with a plate of food—everyone except me, that is, and the voice that’s telling me to sit is Brian’s.

“I will,” I say, even more feverishly cleaning and adjusting things on the table. “In the meantime, go, eat.” Shoo, for Christ’s sake. You’re making this awkward enough just being here.

“I didn’t get a chance to congratulate you,” he says, still trying to make small talk. “Ray is very happy. He was like a kid at Christmas when you suggested it.” Oh, dear Lord.

“Yeah, I’m happy, too. It should’ve happened years ago,” I reply, trying not to be rude.

“Has your mother called?” he continues. “How does she feel about it?” Just as I’m about to respond…

“Wrong woman,” Christian says, appearing behind me. Brian raises his eyes.

“You’re awfully paranoid, aren’t you, Christian?” Brian says.

“No, I’m not,” Christian replies. “You told me to stay out of your business, and I have. This…” He puts his hand on my shoulder, “… is not your business. This is mine. Yours is over there.” He points to Shawna, tucked away in a corner talking to Mandy. “I just thought you might have gotten them confused.”

“You’re still stuck on that?” Brian taunts.

“Is everything okay, guys?” Daddy asks, noting the tension between Brian and Christian even though there are no raised voices.

“Oh, yeah, everything’s fine,” Christian says. “We were just discussing the uncanny resemblance between our significant others.”

Oh, shit. There’s the fucking gauntlet. The room falls silent, and there’s that mouse pissing on cotton.

“You really want to do this now, Grey?” Brian threatens.

“I’m not doing anything, Brian,” Christian says. “We struck a deal, and you’re breaking it right now. You said stay away from you and stay out of your business and I am. The same goes for you… she’s over there,” he repeats pointing to Shawna.

You can see the fury rising in Brian’s face. Christian hasn’t really done anything wrong, but you can clearly see that Brian feels violated by the announcement.

“You did that deliberately to make my girlfriend uncomfortable,” Brian accuses.

“Are you blind?” Christian asks. “That poor girl was uncomfortable when Mikey started screaming in her arms. I simply thought you just may have mistaken my wife for her since you have absolutely no business with my wife, so I was just pointing you in the right direction.” Brian’s face is getting redder and redder by the second and his ears look like they’re just going to melt off his head. That’s when Elliot steps into the conversation.

“Look, dude,” Elliot says, “I don’t know you. I don’t know anything about you and I don’t mean you any offense, but it’s the elephant in the room, man. Ask her, half of us started talking to her thinking she was Montana. She’s a beautiful girl, but she looks like Montana.”

Brian frowns at Elliot, probably because he doesn’t know who the hell Montana is, but you can tell that he’s still furious and wants his pint of flesh. So, he turns around and looks at my father.

“Do you know about his lifestyle?” Brian says aloud to my father. “Do you know what they do—what he does to your daughter?”

What the fuck?? This is the same shit that happened that day years ago at the Greys—the same fucking shit! It’s Elena Lincoln all back over again. I’m horrified.

“Yes, Brian, I do know,” my father says, stone-faced. “My daughter told me awhile back. She tells me everything.” Well, maybe not everything, but he knows about this. Brian’s eyes widen and Daddy sighs.

“You’re my friend, Brian, and I miss you terribly, but it wasn’t your place to make that announcement in front of a room full of people. Christian didn’t do anything foul. He didn’t reveal any of your secrets or expose you in any way. He made a statement of fact… she looks like my daughter.”

Brian deflates immediately, and Shawna looks completely mortified.

“You’re right,” Brian says, his voice somber. “I’m sorry.” He looks over at me and Christian. “Really, I’m sorry.”

Christian squeezes my arms and I just drop my gaze.

“I knew about your feelings for my daughter long before you told me about them, but I thought it was just a crush. The fact that you know this much about her private life tells me that it’s much more than that,” Daddy accuses.

“It was,” Brian admits. “I wanted to be sure that she was safe, that she wasn’t doing anything against her will… that she was happy… and yes, at one point, I wanted her for myself, but that’s not the case anymore.”

“Isn’t it?” Daddy accuses, gesturing to Shawna, who shrinks a bit. I can see her in my mind’s eye making an appointment with a hairdresser before they even leave Seattle. She’ll be a ginger in no time.

“No, Ray, it’s not, I swear,” Brian says. “I’ll admit that I was initially drawn to Shawna because of her physical appearance, but that’s because she’s my type. And she already knows that she reminded me of Ana when I first met her—I was completely open and honest with her about that. But these two women are only physically similar. They couldn’t be more different. I love Shawna because of the woman that she is, not because of how much like Ana she looks. Believe me, Ray, had I known that it was going to be a big family party, I would have planned my visit differently—showed up later maybe…”

“I think that’s a good idea,” Daddy says, and Brian freezes. “I want to catch up with you. I want to get to know Shawna better, but now isn’t the time. Whatever the current situation is between you and my daughter and her husband, you all don’t mix well together. It’s bad news when you’re all in the same room. Why don’t you go back to your hotel and we can all meet for dinner—just like old times, just… with our ladies, okay?” Brian smiles.

“That’s sounds great,” he says to my father. They shake hands and hug. Shawna has abandoned her conversation and her lunch and joined Brian. When Daddy and Brian release, Daddy leans down and kisses Shawna chastely on the cheek while holding her forearms, causing her to sink a bit in relief, and Brian turns to me and Christian, his lips forming a thin line.

I feel like Christian now. I just want him to leave us alone, forever. If you’re happy with Shawna, be happy with Shawna, and just leave us alone.

Instead, he makes his way over to us. Christian immediately grasps my arms with both hands.

“I really am sorry,” Brian says to me as he approaches us. I turn my head. Jesus, I don’t even know what to say to this man. “Really, man, I am,” he adds.

“We heard you,” Christian says, his voice crisp. Brian lingers for a few moments more before walking back over to Shawna and Daddy. They exchange words that I can’t hear. Then he kisses Mandy on the cheek, exchanging words with her as well before taking Shawna’s hand and leading her to the door. I turn around and face Christian.

“He’s going to retaliate,” I say, dismally.

“I don’t think so,” he replies. “He knows that if he hurts me, he’ll hurt you, Ray, our children… He’s a selfish bastard, but I really don’t think he wants to do that.” I sigh and lay my head on his chest as he wraps his arms around me.

“I hope you’re right,” I respond.

Time stands still for a moment or two, or five, or ninety, as I contemplate what could be in store for my family at the hands of a slighted Brian Cholometes. I watch in somewhat suspended animation as Christian makes his way over to Daddy and they have a conversation, no doubt about what just transpired. I wrap my arms around my body, using my hands to try to warm myself from the chill that has come over me. I don’t even see Maxie when she comes over to me.

“Jesus, Ana, what was that all about?” I turn an uncertain gaze to her. I don’t know what to tell her, but I know what I’m not telling her. Her brown furrows.

“What was Brian talking about?” she asks, her voice serious. “What did he mean by what he does to your daughter?

And there’s the Maxine that showed up at my house with the court order to have me committed when I was catatonic. Oh, hell no—no time for weakness now. I pull myself up to my full height, ready to face off with my friend if I must.

“I’m. Not. Talking about it,” I say, my voice controlled. “It’s my personal business, and the fact that he blurted it out without my permission doesn’t mean that I have to disclose it to anybody.” Maxie examines me for a moment.

“Duly noted,” she says coolly. “Can I please just ask you one question?”

“I can’t guarantee I’m going to answer it,” I reply.

“You’re not being hurt or abused, are you?” she asks. “You’re not doing anything against your will?”

“That’s two questions, and I’ll answer them both. Absolutely not. Father of my children, husband, money, good looks—none of that matters. I would never stay in a position like that. I work at a battered women’s shelter, for God’s sake!” Maxie nods quickly.

“I know. I know. I know Christian wouldn’t hurt you like that. He loves you too much. It’s just… you’re my friend and I get kind of blind to logic when… you know what I mean.” My defense mechanism releases and my guard drops back to normal. I touch her arm.

“Yes, Maxie, I know what you mean,” I reply, softly.

“Besides,” she adds, “your Marine dad would have killed him by now. If it’s okay with Ray, I guess it should be okay with me.”

And just like that, the mood lightens.

I try to enjoy the rest of the celebration, playing silly games with my father and family, eating the good food prepared by my staff. Grace excuses herself and goes back to Helping Hands right after lunch and the rest of the party starts to dwindle as the afternoon moves on. I wanted to see what kind of progress there was on my office but decide against it.

When it’s time to go, Gail and Keri go to gather the twins and I get a little bit of playtime with my little brother who finally decided to join us. When he grows weary of his big sister, I go to retrieve my bra and shirt from the laundry. Once I’ve changed and dropped Mandy’s sweatshirt into the hamper, I swipe the screen on my phone. I know his number is the same, so I text him.

**We won’t bother you. We’ll leave you alone, I promise. Please, leave us alone. **

I press my phone to my chest, sending up a silent prayer that nothing befalls me and my family because Brian feels slighted. I never wanted him. I never even led him on. I feel that I shouldn’t have come to him when I needed help. I never should have let him in or given him any opportunity to be a part of my life at all. While I’m lost in my lamenting, I get a text that puts my fears to rest.

**Okay. Be happy. **


CHRISTIAN

Hearing that Cholometes intends to leave my family alone last night was music to my fucking ears. I don’t have to be in the guy’s business; he’s not that important to me. My only concern is that he doesn’t sneak in when I’m not looking and launch an attack on my wife. Because he doesn’t matter, I’ll stay out of his business. Because I don’t trust him, I’m still keeping an eye on him.

My wife was remiss to tell me that she had texted him after the “Seeing Double Scandal” at her father’s house, and I could see why. There are just too many ways that situation could have played out, especially after that semi-threatening email he sent to her after his last visit. That fell dead in the water, thank God, but I still can’t help but feel like there was an ulterior motive for him bringing that Ana Twin to Ray’s house.

So, I’m keeping an eye on him.

The time difference in England made it impossible to know what time was good to call John. So, I decided to forego my morning run to get in touch with him.

“I loved it there. Now, not so much. It’s not like my son is Typhoid Mary. They know what this is… America just didn’t know what it was at first, and now, they do.”

“I understand how you feel, John, but leaving the country completely? Is that smart? What about your citizenship and that of your family?”

“It’s a bit of a mess with the visas unless we want to relinquish our U.S. citizenship. I’m sure that Rhian doesn’t want that. I could honestly go either way. England is my home, so I don’t have the same trouble with immigration that they do, and I was never naturalized, so I didn’t give up my English citizenship.” I frown.

“You’ve been here all this time on a visa?” I ask.

“They wanted me to denounce my English citizenship. I wouldn’t do it,” he replies.

“So, what you’re saying is that your family would live indefinitely on visas there in England like you did here.”

“It depends on what we decide to do, but yes. As long as Rhian can prove that she won’t be a financial burden, they can all stay here indefinitely as long as we renew their visas. And to be honest, the school system here is looking better than the US. The children get more physical activity during the day. They look forward to going to school… I’m just quite disenchanted with the States at the moment, Christian. I’ve decided that we’re going to stay here right now for at least a year. I hate to leave Grace and my patients in such a bad position, but as you know, family comes first.”

“You don’t have to explain that to me, John,” I assure him. “You’ve just given me and my family a reason to visit England.” He chuckles.

“How’s married life treating you?” he probes. “You’re not my patient anymore, so I’m no longer privy to these little intimate details.” I sigh.

“It’s an experience,” I admit. “Some days, it’s the most wonderful thing in the world. Other days, I sit back and wonder what the hell I’ve gotten myself into. And the twins…!” I trail off.

“Oh, yes! Marriage and fatherhood all in the same year! I forgot about that,” he declares.

“I certainly didn’t!” I exclaim. “I watched my wife scold my daughter for the first time this weekend and it was fucking torture! She literally threatened my life if I interfered!”

“She threatened your life?” John laughs shamelessly. “Tell me that’s a joke!”

“It’s not!” I confirm. “I tried to comfort my child and she told me to leave her alone or she would kill me!” John laughs loudly and freely into the phone. “I’m so glad you’re enjoying this.”

“In my professional opinion,” he chuckles, “you and Ana sound like you’re right on track with this marriage/parenthood thing.” I sigh.

“I don’t know,” I admit. “We’ve had some pretty big bumps as of late.” John’s laughter fades.

“Anything you wish to discuss?” John asks. “Not as your shrink—as your friend who happens to be a shrink.” I sigh again. How would Butterfly feel about this? The truth is that I need all the help I can get, and he is my friend. Differing viewpoints may actually help, and if I can’t get a handle on my role in Butterfly’s mood changes and developments, I’m going to consult Ace for some additional guidance.

“You don’t mind?” I ask, cautiously. I did fire the man after all.

“Like I said, we’re friends. I won’t even start the clock on you…”

I talk to John for two full hours, spilling my guts about every little thing that’s bothering me, every little kink in the armor that is our marriage—my massive fuck-ups; the whole broken trust issue between me and Butterfly; my wife’s bipolar-type reactions to bad situations… one moment she’s all Zen and the next moment it’s the apocalypse. Sometimes I don’t know if I’m coming or going. We switch roles at the drop of a dime where she has to hold everything together and I’m falling apart—like Detroit—or I have to be the pillar and she’s falling off into the pit of oblivion—like Sunday and the viewing session.

Luckily for me, John wore the friend hat more than he wore the shrink hat, although he did wear the shrink hat. I needed them both. Jason fills one of those roles while Dr. Baker fills the other, but I really needed them both to help me get back on track with what I need to do to constructively and effectively deal with the varying situations involving my wife and myself. It’s ironic that I called to check on John trying to help him and he ended up helping me.

I send my beautiful wife and our adorable children off to Helping Hands while I head into the office to catch up on whatever I may have missed on this super-long weekend. Capito is trying to discredit me among businesses in Madrid, so I assume that the government or someone higher up may be getting a cut of his human trafficking operation since nothing has been done about it yet. Maybe a different approach is needed…

“What has come from the Capito situation?” I ask Alex. “He’s spreading false propaganda about me abroad and I need it nipped. I have some business deals in the works in Madrid and I don’t need him pissing on them if it can be avoided.”

“It can be avoided. Let me make some calls and see what progress there is. These things take time, unfortunately, but I’m sure there are some fires I can light,” Alex responds.

“Good, the sooner, the better.” I end the call and proceed through the massive amount of emails that have accumulated over the last few days. It’s amazing to me that one person can accumulate hundreds of emails per day. Even with my sorting function, I still have to try to review each email to see if there’s something that went to junk mail that shouldn’t have.

“Sir…” Andrea’s disembodied voice from the intercom interrupts my review just after noon.

“Yes?’

“I have Terry Smalls on line three. He’s in charge of organizing the items in your grandfather’s storage facility in Detroit. He insists on speaking to you now. He says it’s urgent.” Oh, fuck. What’s in the goddamn storage facility?

“Thanks, Andrea.” I pick up the call on three. “Grey.”

“Mr. Grey, this is Terry Smalls, sir. I’m managing the team that’s organizing the contents of your grandfather’s storage unit.”

“Yes, Mr. Smalls, what can I do for you?” I ask.

“I just want to apprise you of a couple of developments, the first of which is that each box has a label that indicates its contents can be identified by a log on file in the management office. None of us are authorized to access any records in the management office, so I was wondering if you could make a call and tell them that I can take a look at that log. It would cut our work time loading, unloading, and at the warehouse more than in half and it will also alert us ahead of time if there’s anything particularly fragile in any of the boxes.” I nod.

“Excellent news. I’ll have my uncle call the storage facility as soon as possible. We may be spared from opening many of those boxes before we ship them back to Seattle.” Some of them may not have to be shipped at all if Uncle Herman decides to allow Uncle Stan to keep some of it, which I know that he will.

“You said a couple of developments. Are there more?”

“One more, sir. As we started to remove the higher levels of boxes, we realized that they’re stacked to the ceiling, but they’re only three layers deep. The storage facility isn’t full of boxes.”

“Well, that’s good news,” I say. “It wasn’t as full as we thought it was.”

“No, it’s full, it’s just not full of boxes.” I frown.

“What do you mean?” I press.

“Well, after the boxes, there’s some furniture—real antique valuable stuff… and a car.” Huh?

“You mean, model cars, right?” He must be talking about the model set that Pops was giving to Dad.

“Um, no sir, I mean a car—an automobile, a classic Mustang from what I can see.”

“What?” I exclaim. “What kind of condition is it in?”

“Well, it’s under a tarp, but if the tires and the part of the bumper that I can see is any indication, it’s been restored.” Fuck me.

“A classic Mustang. Fuck…” I hear someone call Terry’s name in the background.

“I’m on the phone with the boss!” he shouts back to whomever is calling him.

“Then you might want to tell him to hold on and come look at this. We might have some more news for him.” Shit, what the hell now?

I hear rustling and jingling, like the clatter of keys.

“You’re shitting me,” I hear Smalls say.

“Smalls?” I call out, but he doesn’t answer. I hear wind and movement, like he’s walking. “Smalls?” Still no answer. Guess I’ll just have to wait. A few moments later, he comes back on the line.

“We may have another… Oh, hell.”

“Um, that’s not a good sound, Smalls,” I warn.

“Sir, if your Uncle has the authority to speak to the management here, please tell him to find out exactly how many storage bins your grandfather has. We found at least two more.” Oh, dear God.

“Two… are they full?” I ask. I listen as I hear the sound of a rolling door opening.

“More antique furniture, sir, really high-end stuff from what I can tell… and yes, this one is full. We have to figure out where the third one is, but it would help if we had authority to speak in detail to management.” I sigh.

“I’m on it. Tell your guys to take a break or something and let me call my uncle. Give me your direct number.” I end the call with Smalls and immediately call Uncle Herman.

“Christian, hey. How’s the move going?” he answers.

“That’s why I’m calling you, Uncle,” I begin. “It appears that there’s more than one storage bin down there…”

“I knew it!” he interrupts. “I knew it! Unless he got rid of a whole lot, I knew all of Dad’s stuff couldn’t fit in that one storage bin.”

“Well, there are two more that we know of, and my people have only found one… and Uncle Herman, there’s a car in the first one.” Silence.

“A car?!” he exclaims. “You mean like a real life, living, breathing automobile?” Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but…

“According to my staff, we were looking at a few rows of stacked boxes hiding a restored classic Mustang.”

“Shit… he did it. I didn’t think he would do it, but he did,” Uncle Herman says.

“Who did what?” I ask.

“My dad wanted a classic Mustang,” he says. “I knew he had been looking at one that was in the process of being restored years ago, but I didn’t know that he bought it.” I nod as if he could see me.

“Well, he bought it, and it’s in that storage facility. My people found a second—lots of antique furniture—and mentioned that there’s a third. I don’t know how they located keys, I didn’t get that far. My guy also says that there’s some kind of itemized list filed with management, but that he doesn’t have access to it, so he needs you to call them and see if he can get a copy of it.”

“Well, they already have my authority on file down there. I faxed them my documents yesterday. I’ll give them a call. What’s your guy’s name?”

“Terry Smalls.” Once I give him Terry’s number, I call Terry back.

“Terry Smalls here,” he answers.

“Smalls, my uncle is calling the management office now, so you may want to go on over there. I’ve given him your number as well in case he needs to talk to you. His name is Herman Grey. Keep me abreast of any further developments.” And speaking of developments…

“Sir…” Andrea’s voice interrupts me again.

“Smalls, I have to go. Keep me informed.”

“Yes, sir.” We end the call. “Yes, Andrea?”

“Sir, I have Antamonides Capito on the line. He’s quite perturbed and he’s being very insistent and belligerent.” That was fast.

“Is he now?” I say, showing little interest. “What line is he on?”

“Line one, sir.” She sounds exasperated.

“Thank you. Leave him there.”

“Sir?” Now, she’s bemused.

“Leave him there. See how long he holds. Let me know when he disconnects and if he calls back, put him on hold the moment you hear his voice.” There’s a pause.

“Yes, sir.”

I’ll talk to him… when I’m ready. This immediate call at nearly 11pm Madrid time means that Alex has hit a soft spot hard proving once again just how valuable he is. So, I’m going to let the asshole squirm for a bit. I hope he was fucking when he got the call.

I take my time reviewing two more acquisitions that we have on the table. I even have a meeting with Ros and Lorenz about our other Spanish deals while the fucker calls me five more times this afternoon. Ros questions what’s going on.

“Capito is trying to spread venom on my name with other companies in Madrid. I can’t just come out and say that he’s into illegal activities without endless repercussion… possible slander suits, dangerous consequences for myself and others—including quickly eliminating inventory, if you know what I mean…” Ros shivers.

“So, what has him calling like a desperate housewife searching for a wayward husband?” Lorenz asks.

“Our head of security has amazing connections,” I inform him. “Sometimes, you have to pluck a few cock feathers to show him that he’s still nothing more than a chicken.” Lorenz stifles a laugh and Ros just shakes her head.

And Capito calls again.

*-*

Ch 50 Capito

Antamonides Capito

“It’s the end of my day and I’m leaving my office to join my family. What do you want?”

Around five thirty when I’m ready to go home, I finally take Capito’s call, nearly four hours—and nine attempts—after his first call.

“You Americans think you are so smart, so invincible—your so-called power means nothing to Madrid!” he hisses into the line.

“Then why are you calling me?” I taunt. “It appears that we have nothing to discuss.”

“You know people in high places,” he replies. “I know people in high places, too.”

“And apparently, some of those people have been talking to you, haven’t they, Capito?”

“Do not push me, Mr. Grey. You do not know how far my reach is.”

“Ah, that’s where you’re wrong,” I correct him, having gotten updated intelligence from Alex earlier this afternoon. I’ve got this fucker by the balls and he doesn’t even know it, but he’s about to.

“I know about your extracurricular activities, Mr. Capito, and I now know who your associates are. I know why you didn’t want to release and why you didn’t want me to visit Albien Textiles, and now you know why I chose not to do business with you. I tried to walk away quietly, but you threw down the gauntlet. My wealth is my reputation, and I refuse to let some small-time, wannabe thug dabbling in illegal activities of which he has no full comprehension start badmouthing me in the Madrid market because I wouldn’t play in his little sandbox!”

Capito is silent. I can almost hear the shock and awe on his face through the phone.

“I may not know who all you’re dancing with, Capito, but trust me—I’m familiar with your most prevalent bedfellows. And I know that a few extra dollars means nothing to them in comparison to the risk of exposure. Am I right?” More silence.

“Name your price,” he says flatly. Foolish little Spanish man…

“I don’t have a price, Capito, only a demand. Stay. The Fuck. Out of my affairs. And keep my name out of your mouth or you will find out just how powerful this American really is.”

“Sí, señor,” he says, after a pause.

“And in case you get any ideas, if anything befalls me or my family, I’m holding you personally responsible. I’ve already got documents and contingency plans in place in the event of my disappearance or sudden demise. If they’re implemented, there’s nowhere in the world that you would be able to hide from the authorities or your associates, including your panic cave in the Congo.” I hear him gasp.

“How did…?” He catches himself before he finishes his question. “Sí, señor.”

“You and I have no business, Capito. Walk away. Don’t speak of me again and don’t contact me again, unless you’re declaring war. And believe me, I’m prepared for it.” I end the call before he’s able to give me another “Sí, señor.”

I’m exhausted. Smalls informed me that they’re cataloguing all the antique furniture and he’ll contact me tomorrow with a detailed list to find out what we want to do with it. I’ll ask Butterfly if she wants anything, but I doubt it. I’m sure Uncle Herman will want to split it between the family members that want it—except Freeman. I close my laptop and rub my eyes. I don’t want to go to bed early tonight, but it may be in the cards for me. I’m beat.

Jason meets me in the lobby and as we’re heading to the parking garage, an official-looking gentleman standing by a black Mercedes parked in front of my building catches my attention. My brow furrows and I get Jason’s attention.

“What’s this?” I say gesturing to the front door. Jason looks, then speaks into his earpiece.

“Vic, J.R., come with me,” he says, and two of the security staff behind the desk rise. The three of them walk out the front door and Jason approaches the guard standing near the car. He doesn’t appear to be engaging Jason at all… which means that Jason isn’t who he’s looking for.

He’s looking for someone else… at this hour, probably me.

“Oh, dear God,” I say, stepping behind the wall near the information desk. I press a code into the wall and duck into a door there. Having practiced this many times, I’ve got this routine down to less than a minute. I remove my coat and jacket and quickly don a bullet-proof vest with a built-in holster. Since my Glock is in the locked glovebox, I retrieve one of the M9 Berettas from the security arsenal and quickly load a magazine in it. After putting it in the holster, I put my coat back on and walk out the front door.

“Sir!” Jason says in surprise when he hears the doors open. The guard at the car moves towards the door and every person on my staff reaches inside their coats. I stand still waiting to see who’s in the car. I’m stunned nearly to silence by who steps out the back seat.

“Mr. Grey,” he says, gesturing to the door. “Join me.” You have got to be fucking kidding me! Will this goddamn day never fucking end?

“Oh, hell, no!” I declare. “Shoot me now!”


A/N: Now, the question is… who the hell did Christian see?

I’m aware that the person that I chose to represent Capito is not Spanish, but that’s my choice—because I hated that guy in John Wick 2.

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

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

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 ~~love and handcuffs