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

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

Chapter 32—Lights, Camera, Action!

CHRISTIAN

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

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

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

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

“We had a really good talk,” I say.

“Yes, we did,” she agrees.

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

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

“And then we fucked,” I say.

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

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

“Resolution sex.” I raise my eyebrows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m listening,” I say.

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

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

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

“Who… is Michel?” I ask.

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

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

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

Borderline?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boy, she went way back!

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

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

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

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

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

And tamed.

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

“So, it appears,” she sighs.

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

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

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

“Yes, Sir,” she answers sweetly.

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s just hope,” I concur.


ANASTASIA

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

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

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

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

“Why all the vehicles?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

curly locks

Michael Allen Grey

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

Mackenzie Anastasia Grey

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And why not?” my husband nearly roars.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think the broadcast journalist lady is getting offended.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s correct,” Maria says.

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

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

Wrong answer.

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

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

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

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


CHRISTIAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” Butterfly says, incredulously.

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

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

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

“They are…?” she asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Anything else?” she asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 24—Spontaneous Combustion

I haven’t emailed yet—I’ll email later. I have to get to work. 

I must say that the response to the last chapter was overwhelming and flattering and I thank you all so much for your encouragement. I’m so glad that you enjoyed it even though it was heart-wrenching for many of you. I only hope that I can continue to bring you quality entertainment and high-standard writing even when the plot and story may piss you off sometimes. 😉 I truly love you all!

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 24—Spontaneous Combustion

ANASTASIA 

“I will not talk to you about my husband, Grace,” I tell her unequivocally. “I will not get in between what’s going with you two; I won’t be pressured or guilt-tripped into speaking to him on your behalf; and what’s more, I resent the fact that you lied to my husband about what I said to you about Mia’s wedding list. I’ve never seen you as a self-serving individual and I don’t want to start seeing that now. So, whatever it is that you need to say to Christian, you need to find a way to say it yourself or get another messenger because clearly, my messages somehow get lost in translation!”

Grace is staring at me in disbelief. She came in this morning all fired up and ready to plead her case to me and have me appeal to Christian on her behalf. However, the moment the conversation took a turn in that direction, I stopped her with the speech that has her now standing in my office in awe. I had hell being nurse and doctor to my husband last night. He was on the brink of the precipice and couldn’t go into the office today due to a massive headache and lack of sleep brought on by the huge sense of betrayal that he’s feeling at her hands. So, if she thinks that I’m now going to present her plight to him after what she’s put him through already, she’s got another think coming.

“We have to work together,” I continue. “We have a bigger goal in sight here and I’m willing to overlook this entire thing with no malice and proceed with our goal if you’re willing to drop this situation right where it is and don’t involve me any further. Don’t make me choose sides, because the choice will be obvious.” She’s even more stunned than before if that’s possible.

“I… he… we… it…” She can’t even form a full sentence, but I can still see the wheels turning in her head looking for a way to present her case and I must nip this thing in the bud.

“Those are my terms, Grace, or I’m turning in my resignation.” Her eyes widen.

“You would do that?” she asks in horror, her voice just above a whisper.

“Surely you can see I cannot be torn between my husband and his mother,” I say with a slight desperation in my voice. At first, I see hurt in her eyes and then, to my surprise, understanding.

“Yes,” she says softly, “yes, I can see how that would be an impossible situation.” Her voice takes on a sobering tone. “You’re very valuable to the Center. I won’t pester you about Christian.” She turns to leave, clearly downtrodden. She stops and turns back to face me, but doesn’t raise her eyes to me. “I’m sorry… that I stretched… that I lied about what you said… I have no excuse…” She trails off.

“Thank you,” I say softly. “Apology accepted. Thank you,” I repeat. She raises her eyes to me.

“You will be at the wedding, right? I’m not overstepping by asking…” She trails off again.

“No, no, you’re not, and yes. As far as I know, we’ll be there,” I assure her.

“And Mia’s shower next Saturday?” she asks, hopeful. Shit, that’s next Saturday? It’s probably in my calendar along with get my teeth scraped.

“Yes, Grace, I’ll be at her shower.” She nods silently and leaves my office.

I slump down in my chair. That was painful. She has no idea what her behavior has unearthed, and I can’t even tell her. Last night was a nightmare… literally.

“No… no, don’t…”

Oh, dear God, please, tell me this is not what I think it is.

“No! Please… leave me alone… please…”

Shit! Fuck! Shit! Shit! Fucking hell! Shit! Shit! Shit!

I sigh heavily, trying to push away the sleep that gobbled me up the moment my husband fell into exhausted, drunken, sobbing-induced slumber. I turn over in our bed and gently place my hand on his chest. He groans in agony and rises like fire.

Fire…

I move my hand quickly and put it on his cheek, bringing my mouth close to his ear and risking injury from being this close during one of his violent dreams… dreams that he hasn’t had for—I don’t know, at least a year, probably more.

“Christian,” I say, softly, trying to keep my voice from shaking. “Can you hear me?”

“No! No, please… please, God, no…”

“Christian,” I say more firmly, “Christian, come to me.”

“Ana!” he coughs. “Ana!”

“Christian, please… come to me, baby.”

“God, Ana! Where… where are you?”

“I’m right here, baby. Come to me. Wake up!”

He sits straight up in bed and I have to leap out of the way to avoid getting an elbow in the eye. He’s out of breath and sweating profusely. He looks around the room like a scared rabbit, taking in his surroundings and most likely reassuring himself that he’s no longer in his nightmare. And the moment he’s certain…

“Fuuuuuck!”

His roar causes the room to tremble like an earthquake… or maybe it’s just me. He’s not afraid anymore. He’s pissed.

He throws the covers off and leaps out of bed leaving our room in nothing but his boxer briefs without a word to me.

I don’t know what he did after he got out of bed last night. I figured he needed to be alone or he would have stayed and talked to me. I’m sure that I know what happened. Grace and her shenanigans has shaken the sense of security that he had fallen into, and now, his old monsters have returned. As a psychiatrist, I know it’s deeper than that, but that’s the thrust of it. I was so tired last night—and kind of shaken by the whole thing—that I fell almost immediately back to sleep when he left the room. He was back in bed coiled around me when I awoke to come to the Center this morning.

I take out my phone and text him.

**How are you feeling? **

His response is almost immediate.

**Like shit. How much did I drink? **

**Only three, but it was the good stuff. Double shots… unless there was more later in the night. **

**That explains it. There was more. **

I ponder if I should tell him about the conversation I just had with his mother. I really don’t want to aggravate him or bring back any of the ghosts of last night, but I don’t want him to be ambushed either.

**Grace is probably going to try to contact you. **

There’s a pause before he responds.

**I would expect nothing less. **

Part of me wonders if that’s a shot or a compliment. The bigger part of me knows that it’s the former. His relationship with his mother is falling apart because of her blind selfishness. She’s going to lose the delicate grip that she has on her very troubled son if she doesn’t realize what her behavior is doing to that son.

And for some reason, I get the feeling that somehow, that will be my fault.

I replay last night in my head. It was so brutal. For the first time that I can remember, I had an actual session with my husband. He went totally patient on me and I had to become Dr. Steele… er, Grey. He shared things with me that he had never told me before. They were things that I could imagine just from what I had heard, but he had never told me. If he stayed with his mother’s body for four days, he witnessed the rigor mortis that starts in the face and moves to the other muscles of the body; the sheen that coats the skin after about three days; the initial bloating from the breakdown of the bodily organs; the discoloration of the skin and the foaming that comes from the mouth and the nose…

He doesn’t remember his mother’s face because the last thing that he saw of his mother was not his mother’s face—it was her deteriorating death mask, but he knew that was her body… so, that’s what his young mind chose to remember.

The psychological horror of everything he saw and felt only multiplied his physical horror, which is why he put all his faith and hope in Grace. His nightmares may have stemmed from what Anton Myrick did to him, but they continued and festered from the fear that Myrick would come back for him, and by the time he got into adulthood, he couldn’t shake them. They had become a part of his life.

When I think about the fact that when I came along, he said that I “chased the monsters away,” I get one more glimpse into the power of a truly profound love and how it can change a person’s life. I can also see why he was so broken about the betrayal that he feels from his mother right now… and why the nightmares have returned.

She may not have been able to chase away the monsters, but she physically protected him and he knows that. She took him away from the squalor and she brought him to safety. Then, she moved him further away from the possibility of the squalor finding him and gave him as much of a normal life as she could—love, protection, a home, a family, food…

The piano…

He felt that his mental imperfections were his crosses to bear, but had she not come along, he wouldn’t have survived. Hence, she was his champion. And now, his champion is becoming his oppressor, and it’s breaking his heart and causing his old monsters to return. She has unwittingly opened the gates of hell, and he’s losing his mother… again. I know my husband. He’ll walk away before he witnesses that, before he experiences that, and she’ll lose him forever… and I can’t even tell her.

I can’t tell her because I won’t get in the middle of this.

I can’t tell her because I won’t betray my husband’s trust.

I can’t tell her because of doctor/patient confidentiality.

If she doesn’t figure this out on her own, she’s going to lose her son.

“You okay?”

My face must look a fright, because Courtney has surprised me and is looking at me like I’m about to keel over or something.

“Just toiling with a difficult situation,” I admit. “What’s up?” She comes further into my office.

“Two things. I just wanted to tell you. First, my financial aid was approved.” She does a little victory dance and I do a silent “rah rah cheer” for her. “And two, the royal Mia is here somewhere looking for you, so I’m going to disappear for a while. I have my phone…” She waves her phone at me. “So, if you need me…” I nod.

“Duly noted.” Before I can get the words out of my mouth, Mia comes breezing into the room.

“And that’s my cue. Later, gator.” With that, Courtney breezes past Mia without a word just as quickly and effortlessly as Mia breezed into the room. Mia can’t hide her tiny bit of shock and awe at Courtney’s impassivity toward her. What did she expect. She treats the girl like a non-person every time she sees her—she even referred to her as such. You have to expect that someone will one day stop putting up with your shit. Nonetheless, Mia quickly turns her attention to me.

“Anakins, trying to get a final count for my shower and you didn’t RSVP. Are you coming?” I frown.

“Shouldn’t your bridesmaids or somebody be doing this?” I ask. She shrugs.

“I suppose,” she says. “I’ve never thrown a wedding before. I don’t know how this goes.”

“Apparently, neither do they,” I say in disgust. “Have you planned your own wedding shower? The entire thing?” She nods.

“Yeah,” she says, and it’s more of a question than an answer.

“Those tricks didn’t do anything?” I ask. “They didn’t pay for anything? The venue? Nothing?”

“It’s going to be at Mom and Dad’s house,” she says. I roll my eyes.

“Are they at least going to come and decorate?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“We’re paying someone to do that.”

“Shower games? Hostesses? Cleanup? Are those cows doing anything?” I ask in awe. She shrugs.

“They’re bridesmaids,” she says with a shrug. I shake my head. And you talk about Courtney!

“No offense, Mia, but you’ve got some really shitty bridesmaids,” I say, looking at my laptop. “Yes, I just told your mother, I’ll be at your shower…” eating food and having fun with those lazy ass cows you call bridesmaids.

“Oh, good. Do you know if Val is coming?”

“I don’t know, I haven’t asked,” I reply. “The four of us have been like ships passing in the night with everybody being so busy.” My phone starts to sing “Dr. Sax” in my purse and I begin to fish it out.

“Well, I’ll just give her a call and see if she’ll make it. I know she and Elliot are finally planning their honeymoon. Did she tell you they’re going on a cruise?” I don’t recognize the number, but decide to take the call anyway.

“Excuse me one second, Mia.” I swipe the screen. “Hello?”

“You are not going to believe what we just found out! My asshole father must be a goddamn double agent or something!”

It’s Lanie… and she’s pissed. This must be a new number for her.

“Well, do tell,” I press.

“He’s being audited. Did you know he’s being audited? Yeah, he’s being audited… at the same time that Mom is filing for a divorce. Yeah, it’s kind of hard to hide your assets when you’re being subjected to an IRS audit and to discovery from a divorce at the same time!” She’s talking so fast, I just have to keep up and interject when I can.

“He’s hiding assets?” I ask. Mia has taken a seat in front of my desk, but raises her head at my statement.

Hiding isn’t even an appropriate word for it!” she seethes. “That asshole had enough loot hidden to start a whole new life in another fucking country! He said he was tucking it away for retirement as a surprise for Mom! She was fucking surprised alright.”

“So… what happens now? Will she get half of these secret assets?”

“We don’t know yet. They have to finish the audit first to see if he reported capital gains and such. If not, he could lose everything having to pay back taxes and he may have to do jail time for tax evasion… not that that would be a bad thing,” she hisses.

“So, what did they find?” I ask.

“We knew about the cabin in Houghton Lake. They found real estate in the Cayman Islands, the Hamptons, and Mexico; three offshore bank accounts; three investment accounts besides the one that Mom knew about… oh, and Daddy has a girlfriend.” My eyes widen.

“A girlfriend!?” I declare in shock. “He has a girlfriend?”

“Who has a girlfriend?” Mia inquires. I hold up my hand to silence her.

“A pretty young thing ten years his junior riding around in a 2014 Lincoln MKZ that he’s still making the payments on. They found her because of the car.” My mouth falls open in horror.

“Who has a girlfriend?” Mia asks again. I throw a glare at her that demands that she shut the fuck up or face my wrath.

“My mother is devastated,” she adds, somberly. “I’ve never wanted to kill my father before, but right now, I want to kill him. I fucking want to kill him, Ana. Discovery’s only just started. There’s no telling what else we’re going to find. At this rate, we may find out that he has another whole fucking family out there.”

“I’m so sorry, Lanie…”

“Who’s Lanie?” Mia asks. Of all the rude…

“Mia, can you please excuse me?” I say angrily, gesturing to the door. Her mouth flies open, but I just glare at her and keep my arm and hand extended to the door. Get the hell out of my office, you uncouth cow! She has the nerve to look affronted as she stands and stomps her spoiled ass out the room. I’m certain that the body snatchers have temporarily invaded Mia and Grace’s bodies and they will both be back to normal once this dumb wedding is over.

“I’m sorry about that, Lanie. Your cousin is planning her wedding and quite frankly, she’s being an insufferable, stuck-up, bratty little bitch right now.”

“Ah, yes. We’ve gotten our invites. I don’t know if we’ll be able to make it. We’ll have to see what kind of spirits Mom and Burtie are in at that time.”

“Of course,” I reply. “This has been an extremely trying time for everyone…” Suddenly, Carrick comes to mind. I wonder how he’s been doing with his wife flying over the cuckoo’s nest with this wedding and he did, after all, lose his father only about a month ago. “How is Nell holding up under all of this… and Burt? I mean, under the circumstances and all?”

“I’m a little concerned about Mom. She’s losing weight and she seems depressed, but she won’t see a doctor. Burt’s getting settled in okay, I think. He’s made an appointment with a plastic surgeon about his face and his teeth—part of his bone structure in his face is damaged or something like that. He explained it to me, but I didn’t pay it much attention, because it was making my stomach turn. He’s made a couple of friends—Leo’s cousin seems to like him a lot. Burtie’s a little standoffish, though. You know, he’s still in his feelings about this whole thing with our father…”

“It’s normal,” I tell her. “It will pass with time.”

We talk a few minutes more about Nell and I suggest convincing her to talk to someone, even if they have to find someone who makes house calls. She’s suffering from the typical stages of grief and separation. I’m not too worried about Burtie. He seems to be adjusting as well as someone can be in his situation, but he should be talking to someone, too. Lanie, overall, seems very happy with her life—just concerned about her family and their well-being, and ready to send her selfish, asshole, philandering father to meet his maker.

When I end the call with Lanie, my mind wanders back to Carrick. How is he holding up in light of all the shit going on around him? I know life goes on, but his wife is locked in this Wonderland of Crazy with his daughter, and his brother is—no doubt—leaning on his new love and helping with the girls… Who’s looking out for Carrick? I dial his number.

“Hello?” He sounds tired.

“Carrick?”

“Yes?”

“Hi. It’s Ana.” There’s a short pause.

“Oh. Hello, Ana. How are you, dear? Is everything okay?”

“Yes, everything’s fine. I was just… calling to see how you were.” There’s another pause.

“Did Grace say something to you?” Huh?

“Uh… no. Should she have?” I pry. He sighs.

“No… no, she shouldn’t have.” Shit. Shit shit shit. I’ve stepped in some shit shit shit and I can’t step out now. Fuck, how do I handle this? Tell him why I called…

“I was just calling to check on you, Carrick,” I say, honestly. “It’s been… wild times lately, for lack of a better word.”

“That’s putting it mildly,” he murmurs… and I think I wasn’t supposed to hear it. “I’m fine, dear.” I pause.

“No… you’re not,” I retort softly. “And you’re family, and I can’t just ignore that and I’m sorry. I understand if you don’t want to talk about it, I won’t force you, but you just lost your father and it’s still very new. There are a lot of feelings that you’re fighting with and everything’s not sorted yet… and along comes this wedding…”

“This goddamn wedding!” he bites out and I already know that he regrets saying it the moment it comes out of his mouth. We’re both silent for a moment.

“Would you like to meet me for lunch, Carrick?” I can see the wheels turning even though I can’t physically see him. “Are you in court? Do you have appointments?”

“Um… no. Not anymore. I saw my only appointment this morning. I was… just going through some legal briefs… trying to go through some legal briefs.”

“Are you still in your office? I can meet you downtown somewhere…”

“I don’t really feel like being in public, Ana,” he protests.

“My office isn’t far from yours,” I suggest. “I can meet you there. It’s quiet and private… and comfortable. We won’t be disturbed and I can order us some lunch.” He sighs again.

“It all sounds so sordid,” he laughs weakly, “an afternoon rendezvous with a young, attractive doctor in her quiet office downtown…” I laugh, too.

“Only this young, attractive doctor is your daughter-in-law and mother of your grandchildren… and very concerned about you right now,” I add somberly. He pauses.

“Daughter,” he corrects me. “She’s my daughter… and yes, I would love to join you for lunch…” I almost want to cry at the sentiment. I give him the address and arrange to meet him in an hour. I summon Marilyn.

“Order lunch to my office downtown,” I tell her as I gather my things. “Let’s go make sure it’s not overrun with dust bunnies. I have an emergent appointment.”

*-*

“I’ve never been to your office before. It’s nice,” Carrick says as he enters the room. “You actually have the proverbial couch.

“I do,” I laugh, “but I rarely ever used it. Someone laid on it as a joke once. Another time, someone was overwhelmed and passed out, but the whole ‘lying down’ thing, it’s usually pretty uncomfortable for people.” I gesture to the table in my office where Marilyn has set up lunch of fajitas and kebabs with salads and soups from my favorite spot.

“I figure we would just have a conversation over a light lunch, and…” I go to my bar and pull out a bottle of Scotch I procured on my way in. “I brought along a little libation in case you need a gentleman’s lunch.” He chuckles.

“I don’t have a driver, young lady,” he scolds.

“But I do,” I remind him. “Two, in fact, and a personal assistant.” I gesture to the chair for him to have a seat.

“Ladies first,” he says, as he pulls out my chair. I nod and take my seat. He walks over to his seat, but puts his hands on the back of it and holds his head down. I just sit for a moment and silently watch him. He looks  like he’s trying to make a decision if he wants to sit or not.

“I miss my father,” he says, his voice soft. “I feel so many different things right now—regret and anger and… sometimes, I just feel sick, just sick to my stomach like my stomach is eating itself. I’ve had to hand some of my cases off to partners in the firm to assure that my clients will get the best representation.” He starts pacing the office. “We lost so much time… so much time, and I find out it’s all because of that fucker Freeman…”

He says the last two words between his teeth.

“I’ve never wished harm on anyone, really, especially my own flesh and blood, but that asshole…” His fists are clenched and shaking, and when he realizes, he released his fists and flexes his fingers.

“And then there’s my wife,” he says, “she’s out of control. I don’t know what she’s trying to do. I’ve tried to ignore this… ridiculous, ostentatious, ludicrously absurd production that she’s passing off as our daughter’s wedding, but I can’t. This is insane! You have no idea what outrageous crap I’ve vetoed! She wanted to have 500 bottles of Cristal laced with gold leaf. Why? Why in God’s name would you want that? A couple of bottles for the new bride and groom on their wedding night, maybe—but the whole goddamn reception?”

He’s getting angrier and angrier by the second. Looking at him now and remembering what my husband looked like last night, it’s hard to believe that they aren’t related by blood.

“The movie screen of the historical theater will be put to good use, because the guests will be entertained by a genuine reel-to-reel movie of the life of the bride. I’m sure the groom is in there somewhere, but I can guarantee you that it will mostly be Mia. You don’t want to know what that cost! Oh! And you and Christian had the decency to have your wedding where only a private lane was blocked from public view. Do you have any idea the hassle involved in blocking off one city street, let alone twelve?”

Twelve? Why the hell did they have to block off twelve city streets?

As if reading my mind, Carrick fishes out his phone, swipes the screen, and pulls up a map within moments. It’s like he keeps it saved so that he can look at it on command. He hands me his phone and shows me a satellite map of the area surrounding the Paramount Theater with twelve bold yellow lines indicating twelve surrounding streets.

“She wanted us to block the entrance to the freeway!” he declares in disbelief. “I’m surprised they gave us 9th!”

I sit there staring gape-mouthed at a picture where twelve streets in downtown Seattle are going to be blocked on a Saturday afternoon. Fuck! And I thought Christian knew people!

“That isn’t the beginning of it,” he declares. “Her list of wedding band choices read like a rock concert—Michael Buble, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, some kids name Some Direction… I’ve never heard of them, but I heard they’re hard to get…”

One Direction, and you’d probably never get them.

“If these people do weddings, they’re not going to do her wedding. Who the hell does she think we are, the Kardashians???”

Apparently.

“You had Wayne Brady. She’d have Elvis is she thought she could bring him back from the grave. You had a castle and private drive. She books a theater to hold a thousand, packs it to the walls, and shuts down downtown Seattle! You guys left in a classic Bentley. She’d have Mia and Ethan leave in a helicopter if she could. Oh, wait! That won’t work! Christian can fly a helicopter!” I shake my head.

“Wait… is… that what all this is about?” I ask, confused. All this driving everybody crazy, over-the-top ridiculousness is because she’s trying to outdo mine and Christian’s wedding? Carrick waves his hands and shakes his head.

“I don’t know,” he says. “I don’t know what it’s about. I can’t make sense of any of this shit!” he hisses. I fall silent again and give him the floor. “I’m still fighting visions of my father’s casket going into that incinerator, and I have to convince my wife that exotic animals are not appropriate for the historical theater!”

Angry tears burn a trek down his cheek as he appears to cling to decorum by a thread. There’s no one that he can turn to. I know that he hasn’t spoken to Elliot or Christian—at least not since the barbeque—and Herman is probably in the same condition as Carrick, but he has Luma. I don’t know about Stanley, and Freeman is a no-go. Grace is supposed to be his pillar right now, and she’s gone over the edge.

I quietly make my way to the bar and retrieve the Scotch and tumblers I brought, pouring a shot in the glass. I walk over to Carrick and tap him on the shoulder. He sighs and looks at me and I hand the glass to him. He takes it and takes a gentleman’s sip of the Scotch, making that same relieved face that Christian made last night when he gulped down double-shots of Brandy.

“Have you tried to tell Grace how this is making you feel in relation to Pops’ death?” He was all set to answer, but I think that last part changed the game. He has told her how this ridiculous wedding is making him feel, but not in relation to his father’s passing. He shakes his head in dismay.

“I can’t talk to her anymore,” he says. “When she sees me coming, she gets this look on her face that I can’t stand. She automatically thinks I’m going to veto something else for the wedding, and she armors up. It’s eating me up inside that I can’t talk to her about this. I miss my dad so much and I feel shitty in so many ways that I didn’t have more time with him, that I missed so many years with him. I haven’t felt this bad since Mom died, but when that happened, me and my brothers held each other together… and Dad. Now… I fucking feel like I’m losing my mind.”

It finally hits me—what Christian was trying to explain to me about Grace’s reputation. It’s exposure. She probably doesn’t know half of the people she’s inviting to this wedding. She has to maintain her exposure… but that shouldn’t be the purpose of your daughter’s wedding. You want to maintain your exposure, you have a party. You don’t need a reason, just have a party. I personally think it’s pretty cruel to use your daughter’s wedding as a networking event… maybe for a chosen few people, okay; but for the whole of Washington society? And this soon after Pops’ death? Fuck, no! This should be a time for family to get together and celebrate life and love, even more now than ever, not some kind of social role call to make Grace look good. What’s more is that Mia loves the attention and the glam so much that she probably doesn’t even know that she’s being used.

And Grace has no idea that she’s not only alienating her son, but she’s probably also causing irreparable damage to her husband.

“I’m thinking about leaving,” he says, pulling me out of my thoughts.

“You… what?” He raises sad eyes to me.

“If I’m alone, I might as well be alone,” he shoots. “I’m thinking about moving out and going to a hotel.” I sigh heavily.

“Carrick,” I breathe, “that’s so… final.

“It doesn’t have to be,” he interjects, looking down into his Scotch.

“But it can be,” I retort. “The implications of moving out of your home, the effects on the family, the relationship…” He laughs, though there’s no mirth in his chuckle.

“Grace stopped caring a long time ago about the effects on the family,” he says, throwing back the Scotch. “I may not say anything, but I know exactly what’s going on with her and Christian. She comes into my study last night, all broken down and weepy, talking about how Christian might be slipping back into his shell again…”

At least she recognizes that part.

“I asked her why and she said it’s because he couldn’t bury the hatchet with what happened between him and the judge.”

Oops, I spoke to soon.

“I don’t think she knows that I know just about every single thing that happened from the moment he was arrested to the moment you showed up at my house…” Damn, I didn’t know that. “I nearly got a play-by-play of the whole ordeal and although I don’t know the very intimate details, I can most likely pinpoint the very moment he wanted to date you. It was right after you threatened to turn that report in and right before you quit.”

He’s right. Christian has told me so much himself. I nod in agreement.

“So, I know for sure that if my son is going back into a shell, that asshole is not the reason—and if my currently overly dramatic and self-centered wife came to my study last night crying about it, then she most likely is!”

He reaches for his empty glass and I quickly pour him another double shot. No judgement here, Carrick. He starts this drink with a sip like he did the first, then pushes his hand through his hair. Geez, it’s like I’m watching my husband in his frustration.

“The entire time I’m listening to her cry and ramble on about our son, concerned about his possible plight, but totally missing the mark on why he’s headed in this direction, I’m watching and hearing any hope of her seeing or understanding how I feel right now just spiral down the toilet. I’m starting to resent her and I don’t want that, because I love her—but if I have to deal with this pain alone, then I can’t deal with it in the same house with her, because she’s ignoring what I feel and it’s tearing me apart.”

“I wish I had an answer for you, Carrick,” I say sympathetically. “I know it’s no substitute for your wife, but you don’t have to suffer alone. You know that you have your sons… and me and Valerie. I can’t speak for Mia with everything that’s going on right now, but… you’re not alone, Carrick.”

I put my hand on his shoulder and he chokes out a sob. I move to pour him another drink since he has emptied his glass, but he cover the mouth of the tumbler and shakes his head. He knows his limits and won’t drink anymore. I put the Scotch down and slide my arms around his waist, laying my head on his back like I would do for my dad. He covers my hands with his—large like my husband’s, like my father’s—and his body shakes with painful sobs.

*-*

My heart is heavy when I return to Center after not having eaten anything. I couldn’t. There’s a terrible lump in my stomach. I walk slowly to my office and fall down in my chair, dreading the task that I have ahead of me, but determined to fulfill a promise that I made to my father-in-law… surrogate father. I sigh heavily and wait. She should be here any second.

I’m preparing myself for what’s going to happen as I place my purse in the drawer and open my laptop. Shock? Disbelief? Shame? Denial? I stretch my neck and try to relax, but nothing is helping. My head is pounding and I’m trying to talk this headache down, trying to convince myself to put this off until later, but this can’t wait. She has to know now.

“Ana?” Grace sticks her head into my office door. “Marilyn said you needed to talk to me.” I rub my eyes.

“Yes, Grace, I do. Can you come in and sit down for a moment?” I gesture to the seat in front of my desk. She enters my office.

“Is this about Christian?” she asks, taking a seat.

“No… Grace… this… is about Carrick.” She frowns.

“Carrick?” She sits up immediately. “What’s wrong with Carrick? Is he hurt? What’s going on?” she asks frantically.

“No, no… not physically, anyway,” I clarify. Her frown deepens.

“What do you mean?” she asks, her voice confused and a little irritated. “What is this about?”

“I spoke to Carrick earlier today…” I begin.

“About?” she says, and her accusatory tone doesn’t get past me. Okay, tread carefully, Ana.

“Just to see how things were going,” I reply. It’s the truth. She folds her arms, and I see the walls going up.

“I see,” she says, “and how are things going?”

“Apparently, not very well,” I retort, trying not to resent her connotations, whatever they may be.

“Um-hmm,” she grumbles, “so you can talk to his father about Christian, but you can’t talk to me,” she states. My brow furrows.

“This isn’t about Christian!” I nearly hiss. “I called Carrick to see how he was doing. That’s what you do with family, with people you love. You check on them; you see how they’re doing; you make sure they’re okay. He did lose his father a month ago, after all!”

She shrinks into a chair a bit after that declaration, but only a bit. It’s too late, though. The beast is loose, and she’s pissed.

“You have bigger problems on your hands than Christian, Grace. Carrick is in a bad way, and you’re not seeing it.” And just like that, her back is up again.

“Excuse me?” she says, completely defensive.

“Your husband is suffering right now. He needs you. He needs you to be there for him, to comfort him, and you’re terribly preoccupied.” She stands and straightens her back, glaring at me now.

“Young lady, I appreciate your education and experience, but I’ve been with my husband probably as long as you’ve been alive… longer, in fact, and I really don’t need you to tell me how to handle my marriage.”

Her voice is crisp and sharp and her blue eyes are piercing. Of all the reactions I expected, this was not one of them. She’s appalled. And offended. She feels that I have no right whatsoever to be saying what I’m saying right now, even though I spent the last two hours in my previously abandoned office letting her husband cry on my shoulder and trying—and failing, I think—to convince him not to move out of their home.

“If I’m not allowed to talk to you about your husband, then you’re not allowed to talk to me about mine,” she concludes viciously. I draw back from her hostility and she stands her ground as if I’m an intruder and she must fend me off. I’m offended to the deepest part of my soul and I finally see the monster that everyone else is seeing that has replaced the Grace that I’ve always known. I take in a deep breath and armor up, since I must.

“That’s fine,” I say, in my firm Dr. Grey voice. “But I’m going to tell you one thing that I promised him that I would. Not very long ago, your husband lost his father, and right now, he’s suffering… a lot… and alone! And if you keep ignoring it, that’s just where you may end up!

I slam my laptop closed and rip the drawer open that holds my purse. I’m so pissed right now, I can barely breathe.

“Why did…” she begins.

“Oh, no!” I growl, fumbling to put my purse on my shoulders. “You’re right! You’re not allowed to talk to me about my husband, so I’m not allowed to talk to you about yours! Go talk to your husband, that is, if you want to keep him!”

I snatch my laptop from my desk, sending random items from my desk sailing into the chair and onto the floor around it as I storm out of my office and to the nursery. This is one of those moments that I’m glad we outfitted Marilyn’s car with child car seats for just such an emergency.

“Get the children home as soon as you can,” I instruct Keri. “Marilyn will help you!” Keri’s eyes widen.

“Okeh,” she says, and nothing else. I swipe my screen and call Chuck.

“I’m leaving… now!”


CHRISTIAN

“What the hell happened?” I ask.

“I don’t know, but she is pissed! She’s broken every traffic law between the Center and the bridge; we’ve both gotten speeding tickets and she’s headed your way. I just thought you should know.” Chuck informs me. I sigh.

“Okay, I’ll be ready,” I say as I end the call. What the hell happened today? Did my mother decide to pester her for answers about me and she snapped? This situation has got to give and soon! Before I stand from my desk, the phone rings again.

“Sir, this is Riggs at the front gate. Your father is here.”

My father? Why is my father here?

“Um… let him in, of course,” I say.

“Yes, sir,” and he ends the call. Again, the moment that call ends, the phone buzzes again, and my wife’s face appears.

“Hello, Butterfly,” I say as I answer the phone.

“Not that I would expect a repeat of the Elliot situation, but I’m going to breach doctor/patient privilege in favor of maintaining marital harmony in case the paparazzi’s telephoto lenses caught a picture or someone’s cellphone was overactive this afternoon.” No hello, no tears, no nothing, just straight to the point.

“Ooookay.”

“I met with your father today at my office downtown… alone.” That would probably explain why he’s here. “That’s all I’m saying about the matter. You can’t say anything about it; you can’t mention it; you can’t even reference it unless he says something to you. Not only is it a huge betrayal of trust, but I could also lose my license. Do you understand?”  She’s right about that. She’s taking a big chance revealing this, but I can understand why she wouldn’t want to chance what happened between us before.

“Understood… Is he okay?”

“That’s all I’m saying on the matter.”

“Sorry,” I say quickly, “I’m just… concerned about my dad.”

“I understand,” she says, and nothing else. “I have to go. I’m driving.”

“Um, okay.” And she ends the call. This is going to be one hell of a night. I don’t move for fear that the phone is going to ring again. It doesn’t, but the next worst thing happens. My father enters my study… with a suitcase. The look of horror on my face can’t be mistaken.

“Dad?” I say, my eyes wide.

“Son,” he says, his voice soft. He doesn’t look bad, per se, but he looks like he hasn’t slept.

“What’s going on?”

“I’m not really sure,” he says as he places his suitcase on the floor.

*-*

I’m in the Twilight Zone and my mother has been replaced by an android. She has Mia under her spell, captivated by pretty, shiny things while everyone in her general vicinity is going mad. We haven’t heard anything from Ethan and I’m beginning to wonder if he’s tied up in a basement somewhere.

Butterfly immediately comes home and disappears for a moment. Once I get my father situated, I find her in the workout room, wailing away at poor Chuck’s hands. Though they’re protected by punching matts, he winces with every blow, and I can tell that he has had enough. It’s dangerous interrupting them, as we can’t do the whole tag-team thing that we did when we discovered that David was exercising his right to a speedy trial smack in the middle of our Greek honeymoon, but I thank God for small blessings as the interruption takes some of the fire out of my wife so that when she begins to wail on me once I relieve Chuck, it’s not so bad and doesn’t last too long. I try not to get too horny when I see all that power bursting out of the little, muscular body with the round hips and incredibly toned ass wrapped in spandex, but it’s extremely difficult.

“Do you want to take about it?” I ask as she leans on her knees to catch her breath.

“Your mother,” she puffs. “I’m sorry… but she’s insane… she’s totally… out of control…” She pants and wipes the sweat dripping into her eyes. I take one of the towels from the linen closet and hand it to her.

“So, I’ve heard,” I say, but she keeps talking like she didn’t hear me. In fact, I don’t think she did.

“Mia’s wedding… did you know she was… trying to have flamingos… walking around the crowd?” I raise my eyebrow.

“I did not,” I answer honestly. She nods frantically as she wipes her forehead.

“And she expects English boy bands… to forego million-dollar tours… to become wedding singers!” I jerk my head back!

“Excuse me?” I declare.

“Oh… that’s not the worst of it! Did you know that half of downtown is going to be blocked… on a Saturday afternoon for that wedding?” Her breath is returning.

“She can’t block downtown,” I tell her. I’ve tried

“Oh, yeah. She can. I’ve seen the map… and I’ve already said too much.” She turns around and cracks open a bottle of water, emptying most of it before she takes a breath. This must have been her session with Dad.

“No, you haven’t. I would have seen or heard it anyway,” I tell her. Dad must have some connections that I don’t.

“I’ll be working at home for a while,” she says, matter-of-factly while drying her face. I don’t ask why. I already know.

“You’ll probably need some things from the office,” I tell her.

“Marilyn can get them,” she says, bottoming out her water. “I’ll send her tomorrow.” I raise my eyebrow at her.

“The football game.” She pauses, then her hand goes to her forehead.

“Fuck! I totally forgot! That’s all Dad’s been talking about. How could I forget? He’s been texting ever since I told him about the tickets—how the hell could I let that slip my mind?” She shakes her head and dries her neck.

“Well, um… I hope you won’t mind company,” I tell her. She looks up at me.

“I thought this was just for me and Dad,” she says, slight disappointment marring her face.

“It… it is… it still can be if you mind, but…” I show her four tickets, closer to the game, but still on the fifty. “… I was hoping you wouldn’t mind if me and Dad joined you. If it’s a problem, you and Ray can take two of these and me and Dad can take your old seats…”

“No, no… Christian, of course, not!” she interrupts me, covering my hand with the four tickets in it. “I think it’ll be nice us taking our dads to the game,” she says with a genuine smile. “They like each other and I think we’ll have a great time.” I sigh a little. I didn’t want to Shanghai their father-daughter time, but I needed something to help Dad relax a bit. This whole situation is really taking a toll on him, which reminds me.

“Um, by the way…” Before I can get another word out, my brother comes barreling in with terrible timing, as always.

“Christian, what the fuck? Dad’s staying here?” Elliot blurts out as he bursts into the workout room. Butterfly whirls around and glares at me. I, in turn, glare at my brother.

“Thanks, Elliot,” I growl. He puts his hands on his hips.

“Well, excuse me for my lack of tact, but apparently, I’m the last to know that my father and mother are breaking up!” he snaps.

“Apparently, you’re not the last to know!” Butterfly retorts, looking expectantly at me.

“Well, if that’s what he told you, then you’re the first to know, because that’s not what he told me,” I defend.

“Well, what else could it be?” Elliot rejoinders. “He’s in the guest room next to me and my wife looking like someone shot his favorite dog and Mom sure as hell ain’t here!” I sigh.

“Elliot, you really need to talk to Dad, but as far as I can tell, he just needs a break.”

“A break?” he snaps. “You don’t take a break from your marriage!”

“You do when your wife is acting like she’s lost her damn mind and no one else matters!” I bark back. “Mom is completely certifiable! She’s lied on me once and to me twice. One of the times she lied to me, it was about my wife and all of this happened within a week’s time. Our dad just lost his dad and she’s completely ignoring his feelings. He’s got no one else to turn to and that’s why he’s here. Every time he tries to talk to her about it, she treats him like he’s bothering her and he’s falling apart. She’s my mother and I love her, but I will not allow her to treat my father like a piece of used tissue because she too busy trying to make Mia’s wedding the circus that she couldn’t make ours!”

My brother is stunned into silence and my wife’s blue eyes are fixed on mine, realization clear in her gaze. She examines me for a moment, then Elliot before she quietly leaves the room. Elliot stands there, looking at me, caught in obvious indecision. Whose side does he take—Mom’s or Dad’s?

“It’s terrible place for the kids to be,” I tell him, trying to empathize with his position, but there’s no indecision for me. I’ve witnessed her selfishness first-hand and I can only imagine what Dad has had to deal with.

“I won’t lie to Mom,” he states finitely.

“I’m not asking you to,” I tell him. “I won’t lie to her either, but I won’t allow her to bully or guilt trip Dad. He needs her to listen, to understand his pain and how he’s feeling. If she can’t do that, then she’s not allowed to antagonize him.” He frowns deeply.

“You would keep Mom from seeing Dad?” he accuses.

“I’ve had to make the decision over the last 24 hours to protect myself from my mother. If I have to protect my father from her, too, then I will.”

“Protect…” he barks. “You’re not making any goddamn sense!”

“Listen to my words for a minute and not your damn feelings!” I yell back! “My mother lied on me to the man that almost put me in jail two years ago to save his election!” Elliot’s head snaps back.

“What!” he yelps.

“Yes!” I confirm. “That same judge that tried to throw me in jail to make an example of me when that drunk driver almost killed me? She told him and his wife that I demanded that they be uninvited from Mia’s wedding just so that she could save face when I did no fucking such thing! She also told me that my wife told her to turn over Mia’s wedding list so that I could hack it up and tell her who couldn’t come! Imagine what kind of discord that could have caused in my marriage had I believed her! She’s shutting down half of downtown; she’s making crazy demands; and now my father—who is still mourning the loss of his father—can’t even grieve in peace because she’s turned into a bona-fide Momzilla of the Bride!” Elliot shakes his head.

“Come on, Christian,” he says, the fight leaving his voice. “It can’t be that bad.”

“It is that bad. It’s exactly that bad. It’s worse. She and Mia are in this together and she has the reigns. You tell me how bad it is.” He shakes his head and runs his hand over his buzz cut.

“I know how she can get, but… Dad moved out…” he says, in disbelief.

“Only for a moment from what he’s told me,” I assure him. “She’s trying to dictate the course of Mia’s wedding in a way that will make up for not being able to dictate the course of ours, and she’s alienating everyone in the process. Butterfly left the center today and left our children there to get the hell away from her!”

Elliot’s eyes widen and his shoulders fall. I don’t know exactly what that means to him, but apparently, it got through.

“Shit,” he says in a sing-songy manner, “that bad, huh?”

“That bad,” I say, nodding. He sighs and rubs his neck.

“I guess I better go talk to the old man. I… didn’t give him a chance to explain.” I put my hand on his shoulder.

“I’ll go with you,” I tell him.

*-*

Dad does his best to explain to Elliot over dinner how badly Mom is driving him crazy, but he’s so weary that he can barely get his dinner down before he excuses himself to turn in for the night. My brother and I and our wives sit at the dining table over coffee discussing the possible outcomes of the situation. We know that Mom and Dad aren’t going to end up in divorce, but we all agree that without outside intervention, the damage to the relationship could be irreparable—maybe not leading to its demise, but possibly leading to them not being able to regain the connection they had before. Valerie and Elliot believe that family intervention will be enough while Butterfly and I both feel like professional counseling is the way to go.

“You both are just saying that because of who you are,” Valerie says. “You’ve had good results with therapists, which is great, and so has Steele… and she is a therapist, but I really think they would benefit more from having the support of the family in this matter.”

“And they will have the support of the family,” Butterfly counters, “but the dynamics of the issue between them is far too complex for a simple family discussion. The cuts run too deep…”

“That’s why we have you, Montana,” Elliot retorts. “Not only do you have the benefit of being able to offer the support of the family, but you’re also a professional and can provide the expertise that they’ll need to get through the issues.”

“It’s not that simple, Elliot,” I tell him. “There’s more to it than that and I’m sure you know it.”

“I’m invested personally, Elliot,” Butterfly says. “I wouldn’t be a good fit for this situation.” He pauses and examines her.

“Oh, I see,” he says. “It’s not that you wouldn’t be a good fit. You’re letting your personal feelings get involved and you just won’t do it.” His voice is accusing and I don’t like it.

“Careful, brother,” I warn. Butterfly places her hand on mine.

“No, Christian, it’s fine.” She turns her attention to my brother. “You’re exactly right, Elliot.” He’s a bit taken aback by her honesty and quite frankly, I am, too. “I am a consummate professional, and this situation is the exact reason why surgeons are not allowed to operate on family members. Once we are emotionally involved, our professionalism takes a hit. As long as it didn’t directly involve me, as long as it didn’t directly affect me, I could be an impartial listener. I could provide professional advice and guidance, just as I have with other members of your family.”

She flashes a knowing look at Elliot and his back straightens. He has no idea just how many members of the Grey Family Butterfly has counseled.

“That all changed today,” she continues. “I tried to talk to Grace. I tried to tell her—with Carrick’s permission—that a storm was coming. I didn’t know just how big the storm was; I thought that it could someday develop into this, but not that it had already gotten here. Grace unequivocally and unceremoniously shut me down, citing that I was not allowed to discuss her husband with her because I refused to collaborate with her to get my husband to cooperate with her wishes. Needless to say, I’m highly offended, because I feel that it’s childish and manipulative. As a result, I’ll be staying away from the Center for a few days because I don’t want to be disrespectful to your mother. Bearing that in mind, I’m going to respect her demands, and I won’t discuss her husband with her. Anything that I can offer at this point will be laced with personal feelings and therefore, ineffectual. Now, I apologize if that’s not a good enough explanation for you, but it’ll have to do.”

My wife entwines her fingers on the table in front of her in that businesslike, Dr. Grey manner and awaits the backlash. Elliot stares at her for a few moments more before flashing his gaze to me.

“You don’t win many arguments with her, do you?” he says, matter-of-factly. I don’t even flinch.

“It’s about 50-50,” I tell him. Butterfly turns to me.

“How very diplomatic of you, Mr. Grey,” she says, her voice still professional and crisp. I shrug one shoulder.

“It’s the truth,” I reply.

“How do I respond to that?” Elliot retorts. “It’s perfectly logical, delivered with no malice… I can’t even argue, but I want to help my parents. So, what do I do?”

“Encourage them to seek professional counseling,” Butterfly tells him. “Tell them how this situation is affecting you and the family.”

“What situation?” Elliot says. “I still only have one side of the story.”

“No, you don’t, El,” Valerie interjects. “You have several sides of the story, and all sides say that your mom is out of control, but you haven’t heard your mom’s yet. So, it’s hard for you to accept.” He drops his head.

“I can’t just… take everybody’s word for it without talking to Mom,” he says, sadly. “I don’t want it to seem like we’re ganging up on her.”

“And nobody’s expecting you to do that,” Valerie says, “but know that everyone is giving you their personal account of what they have experienced with Grace. Ana’s telling you what happened between her and Grace. Christian gave you his account. Carrick is telling you what he’s going through. Even you and I have had personal experience with how she can be right before we got married. We would probably still be haggling over linen colors today if Ana hadn’t intervened.”

My brother raises his eyes to Butterfly, then to his wife, then drops them to the table again.

“And we’re not ganging up on her,” Valerie continues, “but that’s not to say that she’s not going to feel that way. Nonetheless, she still needs to know how her behavior is affecting her family… then she can make the decision if she’s going to do something about it.” He sighs.

“Oh, dear God, she can’t be this dense,” Elliot laments.

“She’s not dense. If she is, she’s being deliberately obtuse,” I correct him. “It’s voluntary blindness, and you and I both know that she can turn that on and off on a whim. She and Mia are on the same wavelength, so there’s no one to put her in check. Dad’s not 100%, so when he tried, he failed and is now crumbling by the wayside. It’s nearly 8pm and Mom hasn’t even called to see if we’ve heard from Dad. Does he normally keep these hours?

“I know she hasn’t called him, because if she did, he may not answer, so she would call here in a fit. If he did answer, she’d know he was here—then her doctor mind would go to work. Butterfly left pissed a few hours ago, so she’s not going to call her. Our last conversation was tense, to say the very least, so I would be a fallback position, if that. So, you would be the magic contact, my friend.”

“Could he have left her a note?” Butterfly asks. I shrug.

“It’s possible, but even if he had, she’d still be…” Before I can finish my sentence, my phone buzzes in my pocket. I roll my eyes and dig it out. I look at the screen and show it to my wife. I swipe the screen and answer it.

“Hello?”

“Christian, what in God’s name is going on?” I sigh.

“Hi, Meelo.”

“Don’t Hi Meelo me!” she says, her voice firm. “Mom’s over her sobbing like a toddler! She’s got a crumpled piece of paper in her hand and she told me to call you! Dad’s not here and she won’t tell me what’s happening! What in the world is going on?” And, of course, my mother is still being manipulative.

“Mia, can I get you to be objective for two minutes, because I really need it right now,” I say just as firmly.

“Yes, Christian, just tell me what’s going on.”

“I’m putting you on speaker.” I put the phone on speaker and set in on the table. “Are you there?”

“Yes.”

“I’m here with Elliot, Valerie, and Anastasia and I’m going to repeat exactly what you just told me…” I repeat my mother’s reaction to and description of finding my father’s letter. Valerie groans and drops her head into her hands.

“Waaaait, wait, wait a minute,” Butterfly says. “Let me get this straight. That’s her I hear blubbering in the background and she hasn’t given you any information? She told you to call Christian so that Christian could tell you what was going on?” Butterfly is clearly perturbed. Mia pauses for a moment.

“Yeah,” she says, slowly, picking up on Butterfly’s obvious irritation. Butterfly throws her hands up.

That is the last person left that she’s able to manipulate and look what she’s doing? That’s it. I’m done. She’s beyond hope!” Butterfly folds her arms and sits back in her seat. I know shutting down when I see it.

“Mia, Dad’s here,” I tell her.

“What is he doing there?” she asks.

“Near as I can tell, he’s mourning his father, because he can’t do it at home.” She’s silent at home.

“Christian, you’re not making sense,” Mia says.

“This whole damn thing is not making any sense, Mia, and none of us really want to get you involved because this is your wedding, but Mom is out of control…”

I tell Mia everything that happened from the lie about Butterfly up to and including Dad showing up on my doorstep. Butterfly includes the attempt to guilt-trip her into arguing my mother’s case to me and the ceremonious shutdown when she tried to present Dad’s concerns. Elliot tells his sister that nothing has happened so far with him and his mother, but makes it clear that he won’t be a chess piece in this game that his mother appears to be playing and that he would gladly stand on the sidelines and let it play out before he gets involved. Valerie only confirms that she intends to stand by her husband.

“Well, this has been very enlightening,” she says, her voice uncertain. “For the record, I didn’t know shit about flamingos, you guys, okay?”

“If that’s the case, Mia, then you need to talk to her, because I have a feeling that she’s going unchecked on a lot of things and there’s no telling who she’s alienating and not just her family. Her husband isn’t at home, for God’s sake,” I say.

“And then, she tells me to call you like a common messenger girl…” She trails off, irritation lacing her voice. “Thanks, Cwis. I’ll talk to you guys, later.”

“Meelo,” I catch her before she ends the call. “Dad’s sleeping.”

“I get it,” she says, and ends the call. I look at my brother and our wives.

“Let’s see what happens,” I say as my phone beeps, signaling the disconnect.


A/N: So, it appears that the Greys must form a unified front against one of their own… the family matriarch, no less. How will this turn out?

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 10—Family Feuds

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 10—Family Feuds

ANASTASIA

Right after we get Nollie to the tarmac and onto the GEH jet, Christian falls into a silence that doesn’t break. He won’t say a word. The entire ride back to Grey Compound, nothing. When we get there, he disappears to parts unknown and I don’t see him for the rest of the night. And when I say the rest of the night, that’s exactly what I mean. He doesn’t come to bed; I don’t see him at breakfast; I can’t find him around the house. I have to ask other people if they’ve seen him.

Elliot saw him briefly Sunday night.

Carrick got a glimpse of him Monday morning.

Sometime between Monday and Tuesday, he spoke to Jason to get the jet in the air again Tuesday evening to get Herman and Stan back to Detroit with Pops’ remains. Stan said there wouldn’t be much of a service in Detroit since most of his family and friends actually came to Seattle to say goodbye. The brothers took the liberty of having urn amulets with a small portion of Pops’ ashes made for each brother—even Freeman—and each grandchild. Carrick secretly gave one to me, too, stating that Pops would have wanted me to have one since I helped so much with his mental transition… Yes, I cried when he gave it to me.

He said that he would hold onto Christian’s until he decided to resurface.

And the evening and the morning were the third day. By the time dusk fell, I had had enough. Minnie was inconsolable as she is accustomed to smelling and seeing her father at least once a day, and when she’s in a fit, so is Mikey. I leave my crying twins with Gail and go in search of my husband. Grey Manor—still Grey Compound for the next couple of days—looks fairly deserted. Elliot and Val have gone to look at a property that they may want to buy and renovate as their new home. Luma and the girls have gone home for a while since Herman, along with Stan and Lana, have gone to Detroit to deliver Pops’ remains. Everyone else has retreated to parts unknown, including my MIA husband. Had it not been for sightings from other people, I wouldn’t know if he was dead or alive!

After searching all the rooms in Grey Manor, including Pops’ old room, I call his cell phone only for it to go straight to voicemail. I’m angry now, wondering where in the fuck this man has been hiding for three days. Standing outside on the grass, my fear begins to turn into worry that he might be having a psychotic break when I turn to my left and find where I think is my husband’s hiding place.

The tree house.

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I run double-time to the tree house, scurry up the stairs of the patio and across the gangplank to the main house. If the door is locked, I swear I’m breaking it down. Prepared to use my shoulder as a battering ram, I find that there’s no need to do it. The door is unlocked. I walk in to find my husband sitting comfortably on a chair watching something on television—I couldn’t even tell you what it is. He has three days of growth on his face and he’s wearing a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. He’s just kicking back, doing nothing, with a dead phone next to him. He’s not having a psychotic break. He just hiding out.

“Close the damn door,” he says without looking back to see who has entered his realm.

“Turn around,” I nearly growl, unable to hide my ire and displeasure at this time. He turns to face me, somewhat quickly, a bit shocked to see me. My fists are clenched and it’s everything I can do not to lunge at this man in pure anger. I get that he has a hard time handling grief and loss, but this is the second time in as many weeks that he has lost his ever-loving mind over his grandfather’s death and I. Have had. Enough. He has no consideration for anybody’s feelings but his own and goddammit, that’s just not how grownups deal with things Mr. Grey.

I have to admit that standing here looking at my mountain man husband, I’m really ready to fucking do battle with him, but truth is that he needs to see the bigger picture. He may have gotten lost in his grief, but he completely deserted his wife, his children, his family when we are all in a time of need right now. I. Am. Livid, and for once, I’m not thinking about his feelings this time.

“Is this what I can expect from you anytime there’s a tragedy in our family?” I hiss. “I can expect for you to just check out and leave me to deal with everything on my own? Because if that’s what my future with you holds, tell me now.”

Even I must admit that the statement sounds quite ominous, but I think part of me wants it to sound that way. The one time I checked out on Christian in a time of tragedy, I had no control over it and he and my friends and family were fighting over taking me to the psychiatric ward. I don’t know if he says anything… I think he does, but I just keep talking.

“Apparently, I missed the memo that you clearly got that says that you can pick and choose when you decide to be a husband—and that’s okay. I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself. I was doing it before we met and I can do it now since you seem to have decided that you’re not up to the task, but you don’t get to pick and choose when you want to be a father. That’s not an option, Mr. Grey, and it never will be. Now, you get your ass up and get in that house and help take care of your children!”

I don’t wait for a response. I turn around and slam the door loudly behind me. I march down the stairs and across the lawn without looking back. I wanted to yell and fight and curse and call him names. He’s not utilizing his resources. He’s not talking to Dr. Baker. He’s not talking to me. He’s not talking to his parents. He’s not talking to anybody, because if he were, they sure as hell wouldn’t have advised him to hide in his pimped-out tree house! No, he’s turning himself in to his grief and not seeking counsel or solace anywhere, which means those of us who need him can just kick rocks right now for all he cares.

So, what that we all must work through our grief just like he does?

So, what that we all loved Pops and hate it that he’s gone, too?

So, what that he has a family that depends on him, two crying children that he fathered who haven’t seen him three days? Who gives a fuck that we need him, right? We can just all fend for ourselves, right?

I storm into the house and up the stairs into the nursery to my yowling babies. Poor, flustered Gail is still trying to calm Mikey, but he’s having none of it. Since his sister, who is usually the contemplative one, is uncharacteristically screaming at the top of her lungs, Mikey is taking a cue from her and is wailing in utter discontent. They’re displeased and want their voices to be heard. They fucking well should! They need their parents and they know that something’s wrong. I’m sure of it.

“I’ve got it, Gail,” I say, taking Mikey from her hands. She frowns deeply. I know what she must be thinking—two screeching children and I’m dismissing her? Yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing. My babies need their parents and if their father is too selfish and inconsiderate to see that his children are yearning for him, then I’m going to take care of them myself.

“Ana…?” she protests

“It’s okay, Gail. I got it,” I repeat, taking Mikey to the en suite to prepare his bath. I place him in his bouncer there and start the water running in his portable tub. He’s usually the only one that needs the bouncer because he’s always quite verbal, but Minnie is never this unsettled. I get his bath to the right temperature and begin to strip him out of his onesie. By the time I’ve removed his diaper, he still won’t settle. He’s wailing like a wounded dog and Minnie is attempting to match him cry for cry. The angry tears burn down my face as both of my children seem inconsolable. I don’t weep or scream—I just let them fall. It’s a bad time for the Grey family, and my children are no different and won’t tolerate being ignored.

It only makes my resolve stronger, to focus on my children and get them settled, clean, fed, and content. The angry tears still run down my cheeks and drench my shirt as I gently bathe my son. I look down and realize that it’s not my tears drenching my shirt. It’s my milk. My breasts have suddenly become hugely swollen, and the cries of both of my children are bringing my milk down. Well that’s just great. I hate wasting my breast milk, but there’s nothing I can do about it at least until I get Mikey clean.

I ignore my leaking bosom and continue to bathe my son, the tears still flowing heavily down my cheeks. C’est la vie. I dry my face with my arm so that I can see more clearly, but my tears are as persistent as my children’s tears. They want to be seen, too. Mikey’s cries have calmed to keening as I’m finishing his bath and Minnie is now quiet. Thank God! I lay Mikey on the changing table and begin to dry his little body, starting with his feet. My attention is drawn to the doorway where I see Christian standing with Minnie in his arms. He’s looking at me like I’m some kind of alien being. I must look a fright—face covered in tears and shirt covered in milk.

“Where’s Gail?” He hasn’t spoken to me in three days and these are the first words he has for me—well, besides “Close the damn door.” I turn my attention back to drying my son.

“She’s not her father!” I snap, my voice thick with tears and anger. He stands there for a moment and I don’t raise my eyes to him again. I concentrate on drying my son, putting together an outfit for him in my head as I make sure his little skin is clean and comfy. I don’t know that Christian had moved from the door until I hear the water running in the bath tub and the portable tub being emptied. I put a clean towel between my son and myself as the milk is still flowing from my breasts. After wrapping Mikey in a clean baby towel, I take him back to the bedroom to get him dressed.

No time to dawdle. After quickly proceeding with his grooming routine—baby powder, baby lotion, diaper, T-shirt, and onesie—I settle into the rocking chair and attach the electric breast pump to my left breast and my beautiful baby boy to my right. Only then, do my tears stop flowing. He’s contentedly looking up at me with blue-gray eyes, his hands fondling my breast as he hungrily has his supper. My tears dry uncomfortably on my cheeks as I gaze lovingly at my son, finally quiet.

My attention is distracted by Christian replacing the container on the breast pump—now full—so that he can feed Minnie. I thought Mia was crazy to buy this contraption because the damn thing costs a fortune. I haven’t stopped thanking her for it since the first time I used it. I was concerned about being able to produce enough milk for twins. That, I discovered, was not going to be a problem. Harvesting the milk was the bigger issue. It comes fast and won’t be denied. When we realized how quickly it was coming, Christian bought about four more of those things for different parts of the house, the car, one to stay at Helping Hands and one for here at his parents’ house. He can be very considerate when he wants to, but he can be equally as selfish.

I have filled another bottle by the time Mikey is fed and burped. He has fallen contentedly back to sleep, so I detach the breast pump and place him gently back in his crib. I don’t know if he’s had enough, but he has exhausted himself from crying. Christian is quietly feeding Minnie when I leave the nursery and go back to our bedroom.

Silence.

I strip out of my clothes and leave them on the floor before going to the en suite. I need a shower… and a nap. I’m exhausted, too—mentally and emotionally. Twice, I wanted to be there for my husband, to try to help hold him up and get through this difficult time, and twice he’s just shut me down and shut me out. I’m not sure that I can take this. How do you handle something like this—just being ignored and disregarded because he’s suffering? We’re all suffering! Did he forget that I spent hours in that room and in this house with Pops as we shared the details of our lives and he was slipping away from us? How fucking selfish can you be?

The tears start again and I just cry, weeping audibly now and letting the water cleanse my face and my milk-sticky breasts. The tears don’t stop until after I’m done washing my hair and body and I’m rinsing off the soap. I brush my teeth, certain that I won’t be getting back out of the bed once I’ve laid down, even though I haven’t had dinner yet. I wring the water out of my way-too-long hair before wrapping it in a towel, then wrapping my body in a towel as well.

When I walk out of the en suite, I find him on the floor in our bedroom. It looks like he was standing against the wall and just slid down to the floor. His legs are bent, his arms are resting on his knees and his head is down… and he’s sobbing.

“Baby, I’m sorry,” he weeps. “I don’t know how to deal with this… darkness!” I sigh. My heart immediately softens at the sight of my broken husband. I kneel next to him and lift his face in both my hands.

“Don’t shut me out,” I say. “We’re all we have. Stop shutting down on me at your worst moments. I’m your life mate, your help mate and that’s what I’m here for. If you shut me out, shut your children out… you have nothing left.”

He closes his eyes and continues to weep like a broken little boy. I try to comfort him, but nothing I’m saying or doing helps. He continues to weep bitterly for several minutes and I know I have to stop him somehow. I drop my towel and crawl into his lap, straddling his hips.

“Ana…” he says, his breath stuttering, “I can’t…”

“I know,” I say, softly. I imagine that he feels the same emptiness I felt when Daddy stopped talking to me, only Pops can’t come back and tell him that everything will be okay. I cradle his head against my naked breast. “Just touch me,” I coax. “Wherever you want, just touch me.”

His strong arms slide around my waist and he pulls me against his body with incredible force. I feel everything—his desperation, his loneliness, how rudderless he’s feeling. I kiss his hair over and over as I cradle his head.

Please God… give him peace… please…

I can still feel his tears, but his weeping slows. Good… this is good. I reach for his back and pull his T-shirt up to his armpits. He releases me and allows me to pull it off his head, but quickly wraps his arms around me again when the shirt is gone. His body calms immediately at the touch of my skin against his. This is what I was hoping for. His knees slowly slide to the floor and he crosses his legs lotus style. My butt slides down between his crossed legs and I lift his head from my breast. His eyes are puffy and red; his face streaked with treks of a hundred tears, three days of an overgrown beard prickling his cheeks. I push his soft curls off his face and they just fall back down, so I hold them over his brow as I hold his head up to look at me.

So much pain in his glassy nearly white-gray irises… so much pain.

I kiss him soft and long on his forehead and he breaks down again at the sentiment. We’re about eye to eye now, so he lays his head on my shoulder and continues to weep.

And I let him.

I caress his hair like I normally do when he’s in distress, and I rock him back and forth in my arms and allow him to mourn with me like he can with no one else. I begin to hum a song—I have no idea why, it’s just the first song that pops into my head, about showing that you love someone takes more than words. I continue to rock my husband as he sobs, humming the melody with the hopes that the tune will bring him some comfort.


CHRISTIAN

I’m awakened by the feeling of warmth being draped over my shoulder. I open my eyes and I’m still sitting against the wall in my childhood bedroom, the nearest wall able to hold me when the weight of the darkness I’m carrying hit me like a ton of bricks. I had played my wife’s words over in my head…

“I can take care of myself. I was doing it before we met and I can do it now since you seem to have decided that you’re not up to the task, but you don’t get to pick and choose when you want to be a father.”

I was failing at being a husband and a father because I was wallowing alone in my grief over Pops. God, I loved that old guy… still do. I don’t know if this pain will ever go away. I feel like someone has amputated one of my limbs and I don’t know how to function in a world where he’s not in it, even though I knew that one day, he’d be gone. Looking into the eyes of my unhappy little girl—the same blue eyes that Ana has—made me realize that I had to pull myself together, so I held it together long enough to bathe her, feed her, and put her back to bed.

“Hey Minnie Mouse,” I had said. “Daddy’s a real mess, but I’m going to try to do better, okay? I hope you don’t mind if I come and talk to you sometimes. Tell you about my troubles. You’re a good listener and you make me feel like there’s some hope left in the world.” I sighed heavily. “I lost my grandpa,” I had said. “One day, that will happen to you, too, but hopefully not for a really long time. You have two grandpas, and if you lose them both, Mommy and Daddy will be really sad. But Daddy’s sad right now… Mommy is, too,” I added, thinking about the tear stains I observed on my wife’s face before she put Mikey to bed and left me in the nursery. “I think that’s kinda my fault. I’m sorry, Minnie Mouse. I’ll do better. I promise.”

When I looked back down at my daughter, she was fast asleep in my arms. I kiss her little forehead, and place her gently in her crib. She stirred a bit before she fell into slumber. I went over to my son’s crib. He sucked intermittently on a pacifier, but he was fast asleep as well. I kissed my fingertips and tapped them gently on his forehead.

“Watch over your sister while I’m gone, little man. Daddy loves you, too.”

When I went back to my childhood room, I looked around at the setting and somehow felt like that lost little boy that first walked into this room, when everything was so big and so new…

And so dark.

I suddenly felt out of breath. No matter what I did, I couldn’t breathe. I leaned against the nearest wall and took in deep breaths so that I wouldn’t suffocate. Once I had regained my equilibrium, I was suddenly overcome with endless hopelessness, so heavy that I couldn’t hold myself up. My legs were buckling from under me as I leaned on the wall and slid down to the floor and into the hopeless pit of despair.

“I’m sorry,” my mother says flatly as the blanket covers my other shoulder, and my naked wife. “I knocked.”

“It’s okay, Mom,” I reply, wrapping my arms tighter around my sleeping wife, her body wrapped around mine as she sleeps on my lap.

“I was just coming to check on you,” she says, still standing over us. “It was late and you missed dinner. I’ll have Liona or Mrs. Thompson reheat something for you if you like. It’s late for dinner, but still early… well, only nine.” I nod.

“That would be good, Mom. Thank you,” I say. She returns my nod and leaves the room, closing the door behind her. I look down at my sleeping wife’s angelic face. This couldn’t be easy for her either. I outline the creases of her face and massage the lines in her forehead. Even though she’s sleeping quietly, her rest must be fitful because she’s frowning in her sleep.

“My queen,” I whisper as I kiss her lips softly. “I love you more than life. I know that’s unhealthy, but I do.”

I kiss her forehead and her cheek, then she stirs. Her eyes open and she glances up at me. It takes a moment for her to get her bearings, but when she does, she reaches up and caresses my face.

“How are you?” she asks softly. I nod.

“Okay… for now,” I admit. I have to take this minute by minute. That’s all I can do. “I want to see Dr. Baker tomorrow, or whenever I can get an appointment. Will you come with me? I know you don’t like her and if you don’t want to go…” She puts her fingers over my lips to silence me.

“I’ll go,” she says. “You just let me know when.” I nod and squeeze her in my arms.

“I’m sorry,” I say again. “I’m nothing without you… without Minnie and Mikey…”

“It’s okay,” she whispers, “just please, don’t let it happen again. Don’t shut me out… I can’t be there for you if you won’t let me, not to mention, I feel just as lost without you… Okay?” I nod against her shoulder.

“Okay.”

*-*

“One of you fuckers know where my daughter is and I’m not going to leave you alone until you tell me!”

Butterfly and I had a very productive meeting with Dr. Baker. She and the doctor even saw eye to eye on the best ways for me to deal with my grief. We talked about my need to “cocoon” when I think about Pops and the fact that he’s not here anymore; how the afternoon visits became part of my norm and one of the first things that I need to do is fill that time with something else so that I’m not wallowing in the loss. Dr. Baker emphasized that now is the time to lean on my family, especially my wife, as not only is the family suffering as well, but also my wife is a mental health professional that can help me through my grief process not only as a loving wife, but also as a trained psychiatrist. This went a long way in closing the rift between Butterfly and Dr. Baker and I was glad to see that the emergency session was healing for us all.

I had Jason drop me at the office before taking my wife back to Grey Compound. Mom agreed that since Herman was coming back tonight and Luma and the girls would be returning and staying on for a while that there was no need for the entire family to stick around at the family house. She left the door open for anyone who wanted to stay, but we all agreed that it was probably best for Grey Compound to go back to being Grey Manor. Elliot and Val will be with us at Grey Crossing for a while until they get approved for the house they want to buy. It’s more than Elliot has ever spent at one time and I offered to buy the house for him and have him pay me back whenever he was ready, but he wanted to go through the whole approval process and buy it on his own. He put his condo on the market—a property that’s significantly less than the property he wants to buy, and Valerie had long since paid out the lease on her apartment since living alone in her condition was not an option any of her friends or her new family would entertain.

Jason has not yet returned when I receive a call on my cell from the last person I ever thought would be calling me. I don’t even know how the fucker got my number, and I don’t bother asking. What’s done is done.

“I don’t know how you got my phone number, but you would do well to forget it, because I’m not telling you shit. When and if she’s ever ready to talk to you, she will, but from what I understand, you treated her worse than you treated us and she came from your balls. So, if I want nothing to do with your worthless ass, you can only imagine how she feels.”

“You goddamn fucking son-of-a-bitch. I knew you knew what happened. What did you do to my daughter?” Freeman seethes through the phone.

“Oh, you mean my cousin?” I taunt. “It’s not what I did to your daughter. It’s what I did for my cousin, you asshole.”

“She’s not your goddamn cousin,” he hisses. “You’re not a fucking Grey and you never will be.”

“Well, you’re the only fucker who feels that way, and your opinion doesn’t count,” I say calmly.

“Cut the shit and tell me where my daughter is or I’ll send the cops on your ass!” he threatens.

“Like you did last time, you yellow piece of chicken shit?” I retort. “You do that, and I’ll tell them where to find her. But I’m not telling you shit!” I end the call and immediately put a call in to Nolanda.

“Hello?” she answers.

“Hi, it’s Christian. How’s married life?” I ask.

“Ask me in a year. I’m still on my honeymoon,” she jests. “What’s up?”

“Freeman’s calling, threatening police intervention,” I tell her. “I won’t tell him anything that you don’t want me to, but I may have to tell the police if he goes through with it.” She pauses for a minute.

“He’ll go through with it,” she confirms. “He’s an asshole that way. Tell him anything you want except exactly where I am. You can say west coast, he’ll really hate that, but nothing else. Make it sound as sinister as you want. I’ll be getting a new number on Leo’s phone plan soon and I have a little surprise in store for Daddy when he calls my old number. So, go for it, Cousin Christian. Have fun.”

8970d0126898e82c4ad003cb50345fa2My inner monster is rubbing his hands together and tweaking his handlebar mustache like the villains in the old silent movies.

“That makes me happy. How’s the move going?”

“Fabulous,” she replies. “I love it here. I’m so glad I followed my heart. Thank you, Christian… for everything. Now, let my father have it and give me a play-by-play when you’re done.”

“Why don’t I conference you in?” I suggest. “He’s been calling me non-stop since I just hung up on him. Consider it a housewarming gift. You don’t have to say a word. Just listen.” I can almost hear her smiling through her silence.

“Make it happen,” she says. I put her on hold and dial Freeman’s number. He answers so quickly that I barely have time to bring Nolanda back onto the call.

“Came to your senses, huh?” he says, smugly.

“No,” I replied. “I’m only calling you because I talked to my cousin, Asswipe, and she gave me permission to give you the scoop. So, sit down and have a drink while I tell you a little story.”

“Get to the point, shithead!” he shoots.

“Shut the fuck up or I won’t tell you anything and you can go on and call the police, you useless bag of horse feces!” I couldn’t think of anything… ickier. I think it caught him off guard and he has finally fallen silent. Wonder of wonders!

“My cousin took a one-way flight in my private jet to Las Vegas the day after Pops’ funeral. There, she met up with her fiancé and they were married the same day. She wasn’t kidnapped, you fucker. She eloped.”

“You’re a fucking liar!” he says

“You can only wish, but alas, it’s true. She wanted nothing more to do with you or the fact that you named her after the son that you felt she should have been. She felt like you never wanted her because that’s how you treated her, and that you wouldn’t give a fuck if she was gone anyway, so she went to live her life. Her sole wish is that you don’t know where she is, but I’ll be happy to tell you everything else…

“She’s somewhere on the west coast; she married a millionaire; and she’s changing her first and last name—her last name because she’s married; her first name because she doesn’t want that shit you gave her anymore.”

The line is quiet for several moments, but he comes back with a vengeance.

“What the hell did you say to her?” he asks, enraged. “She gets out there with you fucking nuts and now she’s acting like she’s lost her goddamn mind. What did you do—sell her to one of your rich fuck friends?” he adds incredulously.

“And that’s your problem,” I interject. “You don’t give her credit for having a goddamn mind of her own. What in the world do you think I could have possibly said to Nolanda to make her uproot her life and leave everything she’s ever known, arrange a goddamn marriage, and have her move out here with one of my friends all in one day??” I pause for a second to let it sink in just how stupid that sounds. “You’ve got serious problems, man, and I don’t give a fuck if you solve them, but you better get your head screwed on straight before you lose everything that’s important to you in your life!

“Nolanda’s been dating her fiancé for two years, but she never brought him around you because he has money and she didn’t want to hear your mouth. She was just waiting to finish her finance studies to leave. It just so happened that Pops’ death coincided with her plans to come out west.”

“He’s not your Po…”

“Shut the fuck up, I’m not finished!” I bark. “She had a plane ticket to fly back to Detroit with Burt. Once she got off the plane at DTW, she was catching the red-eye back to Vegas with her fiancé. That’s what she told my wife, who then suggested that she just take our jet to Vegas instead of suffering a day of jet lag after at least ten hours in the air for no good reason. Her fiancé flew out to Vegas to meet her last Sunday and they were married the next day.

“I’m sure you can find her if you try hard enough, Freeman, but it wouldn’t do any good. She’s done with you. She’s done with not being good enough for you. She’s done with feeling like she’s your biggest regret. She’s done with being first-born but second-best, with being the last thing on your mind and in your heart. She’s done with feeling like a fucking failure because she wasn’t a boy even though your dick spit out the other X-chromosome. It wasn’t her fault, not your wife’s fault, not even your fault, because as much as you may want it, you can’t command your balls produce a boy. Yet, you had to blame somebody… somebody, and you blamed her!

“For her entire life, you made her feel like shit. She was never enough. You never treated her like she had a mind of her own. You never even showed her that you loved her. And you can sit there all you want and try to convince yourself and anybody else who’ll listen that you didn’t do that or didn’t know you were treating her that way, but you’ll be the only person who believes it. Hearing her describe the way you treated her while she was growing up, the loneliness and hopelessness she felt—like she would never measure up, it was one of the most heartbreaking things I’d ever heard in my life. I was only too happy to offer my services to assist her.

“She doesn’t even have a term of endearment for you, did you even notice that? She calls you ‘my father,’ and the one time she referred to you as Daddy, she injected so much disdain into the word that it was obvious that she would rather chew nails then say it. I’m certain that had she not run away to get married, she would have eventually just run away alone. So, don’t blame me for her making her escape. I just facilitated it, but it was going to happen with or without me. You have no one to blame for this one but yourself.” The line is silent again for several seconds before Freeman speaks again.

“I don’t know what the fuck she fed you, but it wasn’t like that,” he growls. “I never treated Nollie that way.”

“Oh, cut the fucking crap, Dad!” Nolanda barks. Oops, the jig is up. “That’s a crock of shit and you and I both know it!” Again, there’s silence on the line for a moment.

“Nolanda, where the fuck are you?” he seethes.

“None of your goddamn business!” she retorts. “You’ll be lucky if you ever see me again. How fucking dare you insinuate that I concocted the shitty way you treated me. Years and years… decades of being ‘not-quite-Nolan,’ and you’ve got the nerve to try to tell someone that it was all in my fucking head?”

“That’s not what I meant,” Freeman defends.

“Then what did you mean?” she asks. “Treating Mom like she failed because she produced a girl and treating me like I didn’t exist. Telling me that my favorite color was blue and not yellow, because yellow was too bright. Putting me on a punishment for a month for coming home in lip gloss. Refusing to let me wear anything with flowers on it. I lost my best friend at fourteen because when I brought her to our house, you were talking about her father like a piece of shit because he made more money than you. Did you ever know that she and the girls that used to be my friends teased me until I graduated for that?

“Oh! And graduation! I was the only girl who couldn’t wear heels! And prom? Even the nerds and the fat chicks went to prom… but not me. Nobody wanted to take me. And college! Fucking college! Everybody went straight out of high school or very shortly thereafter. I had to wait for eight fucking years because Daddy wanted me to go to Ford! But you didn’t make Burtie go to Ford, did you? You were all ready to pay his way, but you didn’t need to. Maybe if I wasn’t so fucked up with low self-esteem in high school, I could’ve gotten a free ride, too!

“You believe whatever the hell you want to and you say whatever the hell you want. If you’re lucky, I’ll be at your funeral. You’ll never have to lay eyes on your biggest mistake ever again!” With that she ends the call and Freeman and I are still left on the line. I should have kept my mouth shut and just hung up the phone, but no. I let my presence be known by one word…

“Wow.”

“You turned her against me, you son of a bitch!” he hisses. I roll my eyes.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, goodbye Freeman. Oh, and by the way, your son is gay.” I end the call and immediately put his number on the blocked list. He got wise to that quickly and began calling me back to back from an unknown number. When I had accumulated seven messages of threats, three from his phone number from earlier and four from the unknown number, I call him back.

“You foolishly left seven threatening messages on my phone, which means now I can take legal action against you for harassment. Now, leave me the fuck alone before I really make you hate rich people and show you just how far my arms can reach!” I end the call and summon Alex, because just as I suspect, before Alex even answers the line, my phone is buzzing again.

“Yes, sir,” Alex answers.

“I have a personal pebble in my shoe,” I tell him. “What steps can I take to make it go away?” There’s a pause.

“Details?” Alex presses. I give him the short version of what’s going on with my asshole uncle. “Oh, well, how about you start with an audit?” I frown.

“An audit?” I ask, bemused.

“Yeah. You’d be surprised how much mental distress an IRS audit can cause even if you have nothing to hide,” he says. Oh, an audit! Of course!

“Any way I can be informed when it begins?” I ask.

“Of course. Let me make a few calls.” I end the call with Alex and wait until my phone stops buzzing with Freeman’s latest incoming call to dial my voicemail and check my messages.

“I’ve got connections, too, asshole. I’m not afraid of you.”

“You should be,” I say aloud as I put in a call to Al to get the ball rolling on harassment charges.

Just as I finish the details of the harassment and stalking charges—which, by the way, have caused me to silence my phone for the rest of the afternoon—Mac shows up with what she feels is yet another catastrophe that must be handled.

“Well, congratulations, you’ve made the news again,” Mac says as she and Joshua enter my office. Joshua sits on the sofa facing us while Mac cues up an internet article on the screen behind me:

Grey Promises to Make the Lives of Intrusive Reporters “A Living Hell”

I don’t react to the headline. I said what I meant and I meant what I said. Who wants to film a fucking funeral? Pops wasn’t famous, but these bottom-dwellers want to get a shot of me or my wife, so they violate my family’s privacy and intensify their grief by shoving a camera in their faces at one of the worst possible times of our lives! They’re lucky I didn’t start swinging or have security start shooting!

“Threaten the press, Christian. That’s a great idea!” Mac says to me with Josh sitting on the sofa, silently cosigning her sentiment by twisting his lips. When I don’t respond to her, she presses on.

“I don’t need to tell you this, Christian,” she warns fervently. “The press has power. They can destroy you.”

“I don’t care, Mac,” I tell her. “They can tear me apart in the press, but at that moment, they needed to leave that funeral, and they did—well, they backed off, anyway. My father and his brothers were hanging on by a thread, and those fuckers didn’t care. I don’t care what they say about me—I’m young and rich. I’ll bounce back! My father and uncles did not deserve that scrutiny while they were trying to bury their father! It’s everything my family can do to hold ourselves together during this loss and they’re looking for a sound bite! Well, they got one! They can do what they want to me! I’m a big boy! I can take it, but I meant what I said! Leave! My family! Alone!”

The more I think about it, the angrier I get. The press can destroy me. Well, fuck the press! My voice comes back seeping with the fury that I feel for those inconsiderate vultures.

“They’re there when someone is born. They’re there at every tragedy. They’re there when someone dies. Why? I haven’t done anything notable! I haven’t found the cure for cancer, made some crippled kid walk or brought the dead back to life. All I did was work—work my ass off and made something of myself and they’re punishing me for it! My best friend gets shot, my wife nearly dies, my children are born and they’re there at every turn! I sneeze and they’re there. My wife changes clothes and they’re there. My grandfather dies and they’re there. And why? Because I’ve got money… something that any one of them could have had they just put forth the same effort that I did. It’s getting such that if I have a prostate exam, it’s going to be a goddamn televised event!”

My anger is boiling out of me faster than I can contain it.

“They want to destroy me in the press, let them destroy me! I’m worth more than Fort Knox right now. I could move to a small island with my entire family and live the rest of my life off my investments alone! They want to destroy me, have at it. If they do, at least at some point, I’ll finally be yesterday’s news! Maybe then I can get some goddamn peace!”

I didn’t know that I had graduated to yelling until Mac and Josh stare at me in stunned silence. I shake my head and turn my attention back to my laptop.

“If they have something else to say about me, let me know what you’re going to do about it. Otherwise, I don’t give a fuck.”

*-*

“He did what?” I roar when I walk into the small meeting in the great room. Butterfly is sitting there looking quite maudlin with my mother sitting next to her. Dad is leaning against the mantle of the fireplace while Uncle Herman stands behind one of the sofas with his arms folded.

“I don’t know how he did it in the middle of a crowded airport, but he beat that kid within an inch of his life,” Uncle Herman says. Apparently, Freeman was furious when Nolanda didn’t return to Detroit, so he took it out on Burt and beat the hell out of him in the middle of Metropolitan Airport. “By the time airport security pulled Freeman off Burt, he was unconscious. He had multiple contusions, a smashed eye-socket, and he’s going to need some serious dental work.”

I just stand there shaking my head. I feel some small amount of relief that this happened at the airport and not after I told him that Burt was gay, but horrified that I’m feeling any relief at all.

“So, why isn’t he in jail right now?” Butterfly asks.

“He was,” Uncle Herman says. “His attorney posted bail and he was released just as we were landing. At the same time, Nell was calling Stan to tell him what happened.”

“He landed Sunday night. Why are we just now hearing about this?” Mom asks.

“Nell was really in no condition to speak to anyone,” Dad says. “She was at the hospital with Burt and he was unconscious for an entire day.” Shit, shit, shit. I never would have thought this would happen. I know Freeman’s an asshole and I don’t know much else, but I still wouldn’t have expected this.

“So, where’s Burt, now?” I ask. “I mean, what now? He can’t stay in that house with Freeman.” There’s no telling what he’s going to do now that he knows Burt is gay. Uncle Herman sighs.

“When Stan and I got off the plane, Nell had called Stan and left a message that they were at Beaumont, but she gave no more details. We went to the hospital not knowing what to expect, but fully expecting to see Freeman. When we get there, Burt’s mouth is wired shut and he’s writing on a dry erase board, drinking his dinner from a straw. He was barely recognizable. He said that he told Freeman that Nollie said that she was staying, but that’s all he knew. He didn’t even see it coming when his father hit him and he woke up in the hospital two days later. It wasn’t until his mother told him what happened that he knew that his father had attacked him.

“Nell could barely explain what happened,” Uncle Herman continues. “She had to watch the video playback of the beating and identify her husband as the assailant. The way she and Burt described it, Burt was unconscious after the first hit. So, Freeman just kept beating his unconscious body in a blind rage. He couldn’t even defend himself. He got in several good hits and kicks on Burt’s limp body before bystanders tried to get involved and he started hitting them, too. By the time airport security got to him, they had to hogtie his ass to restrain him and the ambulance took Burt to the hospital.

“What’s worse is that Freeman was the emergency contact in his wallet. So, every time they try to call Burt’s emergency contact, Freeman’s phone is ringing. I can only imagine what they must have been thinking when they found out that this man’s father beat him this badly in the middle of an airport.” Uncle Herman shakes his head and runs his hand through his hair, pushing it off his forehead.

“Long story short, they finally got in touch with Nell and she stayed at the hospital with him the entire time. Freeman’s been in lock-up all this time and when he was released, it was with a restraining order to stay away from his son. Burt was released earlier today and the guy that you sent with us went back to the house with him and Nell so that they could get some of their things. They got as much as they could fit in the SUV we rented because she’s sure that he’s not going to let her back in the house again.”

“Where did they go?” Butterfly asks.

“To Nell’s mother’s house,” he says. “He has to stay one-hundred feet away from Burtie, so he can’t go to the house. Stan and I came back to get some more of their things before we left and he was already destroying their stuff. We tried to stop him, but he rounded on Stan and…” Dad looked up at Uncle Herman. This is the first time I’d seen a protective streak in my father and I knew he would feel responsible for anything that happened to his little brother after hearing what happened to Burt.

“And what?” Dad asks as if he would fly to Detroit himself and beat Freeman’s ass if he hurt Uncle Stan. Uncle Herman laughs.

“Stan came back on him with one blow and the ‘fight’ was over,” Uncle Herman chuckles. “Didn’t even hit him in the face. He hit Freeman in the chest. So. Hard, that an involuntary whimper escaped from his throat along with all the breath from his lungs.”

I could almost feel the pain from that blow. That’s one of those hits that causes noise to come from your voice box even if you’re saying nothing.

“Stan moved so fast, I didn’t even see the hit. I heard it and I saw the aftermath. Freeman just crumpled on the sofa like an invisible force was pushing him inward. Stan said, ‘Stay there, Freem, or I’ll lay you down. I’ll give you the beating that Burt should’ve.’ Freeman looked at him like he had seen a ghost. When Freeman tried to get off the sofa, Stan told him again, ‘Stay down.’ Reminded him that there’s an active restraining order against him and that he just got out of jail. If they got into a fight, he just violated his bail and would be back in jail by midnight. Freem stood still while we gathered as much as we could and put it in that SUV.” I shake my head.

“Well, he’s going to have two restraining orders now,” I say. Everyone frowns and looks at me. I pull out my phone, go to the call logs and hand it to Dad. “All of those missed calls are him, and most likely all of those messages.” Dad frowns.

“How do you know it’s Freeman? They’re all unknown,” he says as he scrolls through them.

“It’s him, Dad,” I say. “He started calling today. He wants to know where Nolanda is.”

“You know where Nollie is?” Uncle Herman says.

“We both do,” Butterfly responds. “She confided in me with her plans and I shared them with Christian—with her permission—so that we can aid her escape.”

“Well, where is she?” Dad says.

“It’s up to her to reveal that, Dad,” I say. “All I can say is that she’s safe, she’s happy, she’s gotten married, and she’s not going back.”

“Nollie got married?” Uncle Herman asks. I nod.

“She knew Freeman wouldn’t approve, so she eloped,” I respond. “I more think she eloped, though, instead of having a wedding because she just wanted to get away from him, and her new husband is rich. She was conferenced in on one of the calls with him today and it was bloody. She unloaded on him mercilessly. Now, he’s calling me because… well, obviously, he has to blame somebody—anybody, but himself. So, my attorney is filing harassment charges against him. I’m told that my phone logs and his threatening messages are more than enough to charge him with stalking, which—according to Al—he can go to jail for a year and be fined $1000.”

“Oh, it’s better than that,” Dad says. “If he’s already served with a restraining order and he’s already on bail and he continues to stalk you, those numbers go up to five years and $10,000.” I frown at my father. How did he know that? “I practiced law in Michigan before I moved here, son,” he says, answering my unasked question.

“Oh, that would be lovely,” I say with no remorse. “His last call was 5:17pm Seattle time, so that’s 8:17pm Detroit time. I’ll find out from Al tomorrow what time the restraining order was served… if it was served.”

“Freeman’s life is going to be shit when this is all over,” Uncle Herman says, “and somebody has to tell Nollie what’s going on.”


ANASTASIA

“We can’t tell Nolanda,” Christian says immediately.

“We have to tell Nolanda!” I retort. “This happened to Burt because she wasn’t on the plane!”

“This happened to Burt because her father’s a fucking asshole!” he yells back, his fists clenched. Grace looks at him but says nothing. “She has a right to live her life and if we tell her this happened, she’ll never forgive herself.” I take a deep breath and speak in a calming voice.

“She’s going to find out, Christian,” I say softly. “How do you think she’ll feel knowing that we knew first and didn’t tell her?” Christian’s eyes dart back and forth between mine.

“Fuck!” he roars, slamming his hands so hard on a nearby table that it rattles. People from the kitchen come running into the great room, Elliot and Val included. I quickly put my hand on my husband’s back, trying to soothe him. Christian leans on the table with the table runner bunched in his fingers.

“He’s a fucking monster,” he says through clenched teeth, “a goddamn, fucking monster. All the girl wanted to do was live the life he never afforded her! All she wanted was peace, and he takes it away at every turn. He beat the hell out of that kid because he couldn’t control the other kid’s life.” Christian shakes his head. I have no doubt that he’s feeling part of the responsibility for putting Nollie on the jet to Vegas this past weekend. “How could my kind, caring grandfather had produced such an evil, heartless, selfish bastard?”

“There’s always one,” Carrick says, garnering Christian’s attention. “Uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, cousins, daughters, sons, brothers, and sisters—all kind-hearted, good individuals… and one asshole.” Christian shakes his head.

“I was the asshole at one point,” he says defeated.

“You were nothing like Freeman!” Elliot interjects.

“But I was still an asshole,” he protests.

“Okay, I can attest to that,” I say to stop the back and forth, “but now you’re not. You’re a kind-hearted, loving and devoted husband, a doting father, and grateful son and a philanthropic human being. You’re nothing like Freeman and you never will be, and even though you’ve had your moments, you’re a wonderful man now and we all love you. Freeman has no one that’s saying that about him right now.” Christian takes a deep breath and his body settles.

“I can’t tell her,” he says, still leaning on the table and shaking his head. “I can’t tell her that Freeman nearly killed Burt because of her.” That’s not what happened. Freeman nearly killed Burt because he’s an evil and selfish asshole.

“I’ll talk to her,” I tell him.

*-*

“Hi, Nollie, it’s Ana.”

“Hi, Ana… why so glum?” she asks.

“I need you to sit down, honey.” I hear her pull out a chair and take a seat.

“Is it Mom?” she asks. “Is she alright?” I swallow hard.

“She’s left Freeman,” I say. “She moved in with her mother and she’s going to be filing for divorce as soon as possible.”

“Did he hit her?” Nollie asks in a panic.

“No, Nollie, he didn’t hit your mother. He did… hit Burt.” The line is quiet.

“He hit Burt,” she says. It’s a statement, not a question. “Why did he hit Burt?” I sigh.

“He was angry that you didn’t return to Detroit,” I tell her. “Christian and I just found out. Apparently, he attacked Burt almost the moment he got off the plane.”

“You’re telling me that my father attacked my brother because I didn’t come back to Detroit?” she summarizes. I sigh.

“It’s not your fault, Nollie…” I begin.

“I know it’s not my fault! It’s my father’s fault! He’s a fucking asshole!” she declares. I pull the phone away from my ear as she rants, but can’t hide my relief that she knows it’s not her fault. Christian examines me for a moment, then instructs me to put the phone on speaker, which I do.

“… And a self-righteous son-of-a-bitch. Burt wouldn’t hurt a fucking fly and he knows it and his Cro-Magnon bully ass did this shit to my brother? Somebody needs to…”

“Nolanda!” Christian says forcefully. Nollie stops mid-rant. “What can we do to help?” She sighs.

“Where’s my brother?” she asks.

“He and your mother are staying with your grandmother,” Christian says.

“Why didn’t anyone call me?” I sigh again.

“It’s been a real mess,” I tell her. “Burt had to be hospitalized and your mom went straight from the hospital to her mother’s. She’s been nursing Burt back to health, but most likely didn’t know what to say to you. She sighs.

“They didn’t want to upset me,” she says sorrowfully. “I have my grandmother’s number. I’m going to call them right now. Christian, if it’s not too much trouble, I would like to use the jet again… I just… don’t think I can get a commercial flight soon enough… and the layovers and delays…” Her voice starts cracking.

“You let me know when you’ll need it,” he says. Nollie starts to cry.

“Thank you, Christian,” she weeps. “I’ll call you soon.” I end the call and he calls Jason.

“Back to Detroit again,” he says into the phone.


A/N: So, Freeman’s a bigger fucking asshole than we thought and he’s well on his way to losing everything he every cherished.

The song that Ana is humming to calm Christian is called “More Than Words” by Extreme. 

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 61—How To Handle Frustration

Well, we had a little excitement this week, but hopefully, that’s gone now…

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

Chapter 61—How To Handle Frustration

ANASTASIA

I feel so guilty. Saturday night before dinner, I could tell that Christian was aroused. The way that he looked at me, the things he said, and that semi-boner that he was sporting when he sat down at the table was a dead giveaway. I planned to give him a hand job or a head job or something to relieve him before he went to bed, but he and Jason stayed up talking and by the time I knew anything, it was time to feed the babies. Once that task was complete, I was too tired to do anything, let alone perform a blowjob. Yet, when he woke the next morning, he seemed bright as a bunny and in a good mood, so I guess no harm, no foul.

I have to say that I really love my post-partum choice of earthy wardrobe, though it doesn’t come off as earthy. I won’t be able to wear these things outside of the house—not until spring, anyway, and some of the ensembles I’ve chosen are pretty revealing, so I’m sure that Christian won’t allow them past the threshold or beyond the pool area. For instance, I’m very comfortable in genie pants and sarongs with wrap crop tops… the genie pants and sarongs because they can drop below my hips and allow for unhindered application of the belly binding, also an advantage of the crop tops. The wrap-around factor along with some of the best-constructed nursing bras known to woman allow for easy access to feed my children.

However, some of the genie pants are mere sheer covers with matching underpants, for lack of a better word. They’re actually spanky pants and perfectly appropriate for summertime romping or around the house, but they certainly won’t see the light of day outside of the Crossing as the size of my butt and hips make the spanky pants look very sexy underneath their sheer overlays. Sunday’s sunshine yellow pair was coupled with a tank crop top of the same color and a brightly multi-colored belly wrap after my mid-day yoga and dance.

I spend most of the day trying to catch up on my sleeping, but unable capture more than an hour’s rest because Minnie appears to be very demanding. Although I have Gail to help, I feel that as their mother, I should be the first point of contact for the twins—especially right now at the very beginning of their lives. So, when at the near end of the day, Christian finally gets a good look at me in the sunshine yellow genie pants and asks with dilated pupils if I had been dressed this way all day, I can do little more than nod and pass out on the nearest surface. Minnie had worn me out and we hadn’t even gotten to the 2:30am feeding.

By Monday, I’m wound up tighter than a two-dollar watch, not necessarily stressed out from work though my schedule seems full with planning appearances after the doctor clears me to go back to work and liaising with Grace and members of the licensing board to make sure that the learning and day care centers are up to par when the accreditations come through. No, this stress I can tell is coming from the lack of sleep and the lack of adult companionship, coupled with the lack of sex.

We are nearing the middle of week four post-baby and I haven’t had a single orgasm. It just hasn’t come to the forefront for me before now. The first week, I was totally out of commission, but we were having these major connections for the first two weeks and I was totally emotionally and physically satisfied. Over the last week or so, I’ve been distracted with David’s company and a concentrated involvement with my children as well as the aforementioned issues with scheduling and Helping Hands. So today, I think my sexual frustration has subconsciously manifested itself in yet another sexy ensemble—a black pair of sexy ass genie pants that is best reserved for a risqué trip to a night club or even a BDSM club. The pants are connected only at the hip and the ankle and they fall apart in provocative slits down both legs. The black, sleeveless, mock-turtleneck crop top is a simple pullover and showcases my newly-flattened stomach. I’m wearing a pair of strappy sandals, even though I don’t need them, and I don’t even bother with a belly binding.

I’m amazed by the condition of my belly, as is everyone else that sees me that day. I admire myself in the mirror and see that the combination of the moderate to medium exercise along with the belly binding and breastfeeding has caused me to almost regain my pre-baby belly back in a matter of four short weeks, the only exception being the obvious lack of my pre-baby abs—which I can’t really work on until I get clearance from Dr. Culley.

So now, I’ve got this tiny little waist and these really round hips and this really voluptuous ass. I almost look like Kim Kardashian—not that my boobs, hips, and ass are that big, but that my waist became really small really quickly and I look a little disproportionate in my eyes. I’ll be glad when Dr. Culley says I can really work out, because the body sculpting will be insane.

When I hear the chime from the two-way system, I respond “Ana,” fully expecting to hear one of my babies fussing in the background. I have the two-way in the nursery set as a 24-hour baby monitoring system to alert me before anyone else when the babies stir and I’m already on my feet when I hear the chime.

“Hey, where are you?” His smooth baritone voice caresses me like caramel.

“Just wandering around,” I tell him. “Maxie’s coming over.”

“Oh. Well, I just opened today’s mail to find something of interest to us both.” Now, my curiosity is piqued.

“Really? And what is that?”

“A summons.” A summons? For both of us?

“For what?” David’s case couldn’t have gone to court that quickly.

“Elena’s attempted murder trial.” Oh, fuck! I had all but forgotten about that, and not because of the accident and memory loss. It seems like forever ago and after everything, I can’t believe she’s still going to take this thing to trial.

“When?” I breathe loudly, exasperated.

“Tentative date is March 10.” Good God, could they have cut that any closer?

“That’s when I was supposed to return to work,” I protest.

“There’s one down here for you, too,” he says.

“And why is it tentative?” I ask.

“You know how they keep changing dates,” he says. “Remember David waiting right until the middle of our honeymoon to demand a speedy trial? Now you’ve just had a baby. I’m sure that if she could have gotten it before the doctor was set to clear you, she would have. She may still be trying.”

“Well, I hate to disappoint her, but even though I may not be clear for other physical exertions, Dr. Culley would clear me at any point from now for that trial. Where are you?”

“In my office.”

“I’m on my way.”

“I thought you said Maxine was on her way,” he protests.

“She is. I’m just coming to look at the summons.”

“Okay,” he says before we end two-way communications.

I’m more than a bit perturbed when I step off the elevator on the lower level. Yeah, I knew it was coming, I got too comfortable in my new life with my new husband and my new babies and my new house. We had to put this monkey to rest sooner or later. Even if they let her walk on the murder charges, she still won’t see this side of jail after her sentence for molestation.

“Okay, let me see it,” I say as I stroll across Christian’s office, putting my glasses on to see what will most likely be the smallest print of the biggest crock of bullshit I’ve ever seen in my life. Christian’s office looks slightly different than it did when we moved in. He has switched out the classic writer’s desks for larger, more imposing, enclosed oak Princeton executive desk. It fits the room better. The other desk, though it served the purposes, seemed somewhat dwarfed in this space. He hands me the envelope without raising his head and I tear it open. The document is a fictional novel. I start pacing the floor, reading her ridiculous claims of a diminished mental capacity.

“Fuck!” I hear Christian exclaim as I’m turning around to pace back towards his desk, still reading the document.

“How can they even entertain a fucking trial for this woman?” I huff. “They have her on video trying to kill you and shooting Ja—” My words are snatched out of my mouth as I walk right into my husband’s rock hard body. He snatches me flush against him with one arm and his free hand briefly grazes the bare skin of my stomach, then quickly travels up to firmly cup my breast.

Holy…

Fucking hell! There’s a fire down below.

“You’ve been walking around all day like this?” he hisses through his teeth, pulling me harder against him so that I can feel him growing quickly in his jeans. “Then you come down to my office, that ass swaying all in my face, and wearing those goddamn glasses!” He tilts his head and plants a deep, bruising kiss on my lips. My nipples harden immediately and my clit begins to throb. His hand around my back travels to my ass and he clenches it firmly, pressing my pelvis against his erection. Wasn’t there something in my hand…?

Fuck, I need more!

I push against him and he loses his balance a bit, stumbling back until he’s leaning against the desk. I can’t get the angle I want. I’m trying, but my spanks have no give in them. The next thing I know, Christian has slipped his hands inside the slit of my pants and grabbed both ass cheeks with a deep moan, lifting slightly and causing my legs to part. I groan as I feel the slight burn and spark of his erection against my core. We’re still kissing ferociously, devouring each other’s lips and tongue and the need to feel his erection against my clit is almost unbearable.

I lift my leg and wrap it around his hip, attempting to open myself up to him, grinding rhythmically against him in a circle of my own.

“Yes!” he hisses into my mouth. “Fuck, yes.”

His fingers dig into the tender meat of my ass, and he grabs the thigh of the leg that’s not wrapped around him, holding it open and trying to get some control over his quickly rising passion. Mine is going insane as I grind and roll and gyrate, looking for that perfect rhythm but not quite finding it. I’m holding on to Christian’s neck and hair, rolling into him and driving him higher and higher, causing him to exclaim various profanities and dig painfully into my skin while calling out my name between hot, muffled kisses… while I only get enough vibration to spark, ignite, and burn, but not to explode.

It would be criminal to leave him like this even though it’s obvious I won’t get mine today without direct stimulation. Maxie’s warning chooses now to come blaring back to me loud and clear…

“… By all means, don’t engage the enemy for help! I can guarantee you that no matter how much will power you have, you’re going to fail, fuck him, and end up with babies born ten months apart. You’re going to smell him, see him hard, feel him rubbing up against you and you’re gonna fuck. So just don’t do it.”

Well, it’s a little late for that, but I won’t leave him like this.

I climb a little higher and with my knee on his desk and the other leg still held captive in his hand, I ride him, hard and deep.

“Oh, shit, baby!” he groans. His words and tortured voice are too much for me, making me hornier, making me want him more. I capture his mouth with mine again, probing and tasting, determined not to let him up for air until he comes. My hands hold his head captive, my fingers in his hair, and I fuck him hard with our clothes on, writhing hard in the direction his erection is pointing in his jeans so that the head can get the proper stimulation to force his ejaculation. He groans hard and deep, trying to talk under the kisses, but realizing it’s a futile exercise. He flexes his hips against mine as much as he can since he’s sitting on the desk supporting us both right on his pelvis.

His grip tightens and even his tongue stiffens and I can tell that he’s losing control of his basic muscles, so the orgasm is on its way. He groans several times into my mouth, surrendering his kisses to me and allowing me to take control of this hot moment as his body starts to tremble from the pleasure and from holding me up.

Come on, Christian, let it go.

“Aaaawwww!” he groans loudly into my mouth. “Aaaaww fuck!” he bites out as he grips my ass brutally, grinding me hard into his erection. Although I can’t feel the semen through his jeans, I can feel the violent pulsing of his penis and I know that he’s coming. I gyrate my hips hard into him, grinding my pelvis deeply as he groans in his chest, jerking and riding out the last of his orgasm. I’m kissing him deeply, fingers thrust in his hair and holding his head so that his mouth is at my mercy. My tongue is lapping feverishly into his orifice as his muscles finally begin to relax. I’m on fire—hot and pulsing—rubbing gently against him now and he slowly meets my grind, finishing the last of his satisfaction, but the indirect stimuli was not enough to get though my spanks.

“Oh, goddammit,” he breathes between kisses. “I can’t fucking wait until you’re cleared. I’m going to fuck you senseless.”

I’m breathing heavily, trying to talk myself down since I know that if Maxie isn’t already here, she’ll be here any minute.

“You didn’t come,” he observes, still trying to control his breathing

“It’s okay,” I lie. “No time. It was hot… next time.” I smile.

And this is why you don’t engage the enemy.

*-*

“You engaged the enemy!” Maxie says the moment I walk into the parlor. It’s only a few feet away from Christian’s office and I really didn’t have time to compose myself before I got the notice over the two-way that she had arrived.

“What?” I say. Surely, she can’t be reading my reactions that incorrectly.

“You engaged. You’re all flustered and flushed like you just had sex.” Close, but no cigar.

“No, I’m all flustered and flushed like I wish I just had sex!” I retort sharply. I’m wound tighter now than I was before! The platinum ring was waved in my face and snatched away before I could get it!

“Well, why are you walking around dressed like that?” she accuses. “Are you trying to tempt the hands of fate? And you bitch! What have you been doing? You look like a size four in just as many weeks after delivery.” I put both hands over my stomach.

“You’re sweet, but no,” I say, retrieving my shawl from the coat tree before sitting next to her on the sofa. I’m glad that someone had the foresight to light the fireplace in here. “Where’s Mindy?”

“Still at daycare. I left the office early to run a few errands. Don’t change the subject.” She gestures at my body. “What gives?” I shrug.

“Nothing really,” I tell her. “It’s just the breastfeeding, the belly-binding and the beginning core yoga…”

“Well, it must be the yoga,” she says, “unless it’s the belly-binding. I never really got into that.”

“I’m telling you, it’s a combination of everything,” I tell her. “I started with the post-partum belly belt right after I delivered and went straight to the belly-binding with the essential oils as soon as I got home. I waited two weeks before I started core yoga, which is nothing more than the breathing and the combination of the tightening and loosening of the diaphragm and Kegels, pulling everything in towards your chest and spine and releasing it. I’ll give you a website so that you can start doing that. If you don’t already have abs of steel, it’s a great place to start. I hate to tell you, but I’ve got a real advantage over you with the breastfeeding.” She frowns.

“How so?” she asks, accusingly. I raise my eyebrows at her.

“Geez, doctor, really? Food factory for two babies?” I reply, pointing to myself and stating the obvious.

“Oh, yeah, that,” she says. “I thought you had some other secret I wasn’t aware of.”

“Unfortunately, none of those things are doing much for the boobs and the ass. The belly-wrap helps with my hips a bit, but they’re still pretty round to accommodate the butt.”

“I’d kill for that shape,” she confesses. “I know you’re accustomed to being more compact, but right now, you look like a MILF.”

“Oh, stop it,” I say, waving her off in disbelief. “And just so that you know, you’re not completely wrong. I did engage the enemy, but we were both completely dressed and it wasn’t even planned. He called me down to his office to talk to him about something—which, come to think of it, we didn’t even talk about—and he attacked on sight. There was a lot of kissing and heavy petty and I didn’t want to leave him like that, so I finished him off and that was it.”

“You finished him off?” she asks.

“Yes.”

“He didn’t finish you off?”

“No.”

“Well, why the hell not?” she asks. What?

“You’re fucking crazy; you know that?” I accuse. “A minute ago, you were spouting ‘don’t engage the enemy,’ and now you’re asking why I didn’t let him finish me off?”

“Well, you had already engaged and you guys were fully clothed, so there was no danger. So why didn’t he finish you off?” I sigh heavily at her, exasperated.

“Well, gee, coach,” I say sarcastically, “you sent me into the game with one command—do not engage the enemy. When I realized that the only way for me to get off would require partially disrobing, said command came back to me, so I disengaged.”

“You’re damn-near naked already!” she says, gesturing to my very revealing genie pants. “What was the big deal?”

“I’m wearing spanks!” I declare. Her face changes.

“Oh! Okay. Yeah, those things are like Fort Knox—nothing in, nothing out.”

“Tell me about it!” Not even a dry-fuck orgasm! After a few moments of silence for the one that got away, she changes the subject again.

“Valerie came to see me yesterday.” Oh, great.

“Professionally?” Why did I ask the question?

“I wouldn’t be telling you if she had.”

“I know,” I say, “I don’t know why I asked that. Lack of sex, I think.”

“You are at least getting off, aren’t you?” she asks. I shake my head. She glares at me. I shake my head again. “Why not?”

“I don’t have the time,” I tell her. “Just because I’m at home doesn’t mean I’m not busy. I’m swamped with things to do. I fall asleep everywhere. I could sleep standing up. I could fall asleep right now.”

“Since before you had the babies?” I nod. “Are you insane? You’re going to lose your fucking mind! Get in bed and pop one off—soon! I’m not kidding, Ana. This is for your health, mental and physical. Do it!”

“Okay! Okay!” I feel vehemently uncomfortable with my friend encouraging me—no, more like ordering me to masturbate. “I’ll wiggle the bean. Now get back to Val.” She rolls her eyes at me.

“She was talking about you… and the babies.”

“What brought that up?” I ask.

“She saw in the paper… or on the internet or something,” she says. “You and your PA were at Marshall Fields on Wednesday?” I think back for a minute.

“Oooh, yeah. So, it was a ‘bash Ana’ session. How did that go?” I ask, unassuming.

“Not so much… well, not at first,” she says. “She was talking about how good you looked to have just had twins and that people were going to start talking about you like Beyoncé when she had Blue Ivy…”

“And the fact that nobody thought she carried Blue Ivy,” I say. I saw that as another Valerie dig.

“Right. She was talking about still wanting to be Mackenzie’s godmother. She didn’t say anything about Michael. It was like she didn’t know Michael existed.” That’s odd. She’s picking and choosing between children that she’ll probably never get within ten feet of.

“She says you hate her.” I don’t respond. I heard that from Christian, too. Part of me does, I think, for taking away one of my best friends. “The way she says it, she thinks you hate her through no fault of her own.”

“What?” I say, my face no doubt distorted beyond recognition.

“To hear her tell it, she sees herself as the victim, that you’ve changed so drastically that you don’t want her around anymore.” I am so fucking confused now.

“So, let me see if I understand this correctly. Just out of nowhere, I turned into this rich, socialite bitch who just started hating her and treating her like shit and that’s why she’s treating me like shit now?” I ask incredulously.

“Yeah, pretty much. She can’t quite grasp the fact that we’ve all been there for the entire breakdown. She didn’t even address the fact that nobody else really speaks to her and anytime anybody brings it to her attention, she turns into a cat. She was acting all bruised and broken hearted that you would turn on her like this.” Am I in the Twilight Zone?

“Should I call her?” I ask, already knowing the answer, but hopeful nonetheless.

“I wouldn’t,” Maxie says. “By the end of the conversation, you were back to being a selfish cow bitch who obviously had someone else carry your babies and probably faked your accident for attention.” I roll my eyes.

“Oy vey,” I lament, shaking my head.

“It was crazy,” Maxie continues, “it was like talking to two completely different people in a matter of fifteen minutes. I told her that I think she’s bipolar and I think she needs to talk to someone professional, maybe even medically.”

“Whoa! How did that go over?” I ask.

“Now, she’s not talking to me either,” Maxie says, sitting back on the sofa.

“You’re kidding.”

“You know me,” she says, “I was willing to go toe to toe with Christian and your father when your health was at stake. You all may have felt that I went about it the wrong way, but still would have done it. I don’t pull punches and I don’t mince words and you know that I don’t, but I’m not her doctor. I can’t force her to do anything; I can only make a suggestion. My suggestion is that whatever’s going on in her life, whatever has happened in her mind, she needs help. She needs medication or something, but she needs to talk to a doctor. The way that she’s thinking is not healthy, it’s not logical, and she needs to talk to a doctor.” I sigh.

“Christian said that he had that talk with Elliot but nobody can make her do anything.”

“Well, let’s just hope it doesn’t get to a point where someone has to make that decision for her.”

*-*

I’m so tired. I fell asleep in the recliner again and I’ve finally dragged my ass up to bed. I have just enough time to get a couple more hours of sleep before the twins are due to wake. I slide out of my sandals and genie pants when I hear the shower running. I was so sleepy that I didn’t even notice that Christian was already here. I go to his en suite as I’m pulling my crop top off—a dangerous situation, I know, but I’ll just say goodnight since I can barely keep my eyes open.

When I pull my top over my head, I’m greeted by a sight that stops me dead in my tracks. The bathroom is full of steam. My husband is in his shower, gloriously naked and hot. This was a bad idea, but I didn’t know how bad it was just yet.

Christian is standing there, wet and glistening from head to toe. Water is beading off of his skin and muscles are protruding and contracting all over his body. His hand is against the glass to steady him, somehow clinging to it and one leg is bent, his foot up on the ledge that spans around the floor of the shower. His head is down, his eyes are closed, and his hair is wet—dark and falling in curly tendrils over his face. God, he looks magnificent, like the beautiful bronze statues of the National Archeological Museum in Greece.

I move closer to him and discover that he’s fisting his erection, white-knuckled and hard, moaning in his chest and slightly trembling with each pull. I’m instantly hot as I move to the front of him, watching him meticulously gripping his dick, pleasuring himself inside some kind of white film thing that stretches over his shaft with each pull down to the base and draws out an intense moan with each push back up to his, no doubt, swollen and sensitive head.

I put my hand against the glass against his, remembering how I felt when he fucked me from behind in Paris, telling me to grab the grates of the Eiffel Tower. I swallow hard and part my lips, taking deep breaths as I watch my man masturbate—shivering with pleasure as the water ripples off his body. I don’t know how long I stand there, but he never opens his eyes, lost in the feeling of ecstasy wrapped around his dick. The closer he gets to exploding, the hotter I get watching him, until he finally calls out an expletive and comes violently inside of the… thing, whatever it is.

Suddenly, while he’s breathing heavily and shivering in the shower, I feel like a voyeur. As ice water flows through my libido, I feel hotly jealous of this thing in his hand wrapped around his dick swallowing his cum while I stand idly by and watch. Would I have felt better to have participated, even though he couldn’t come inside me? Couldn’t thrust inside me? I don’t know, but suddenly, I need to be anywhere but here.

I remove my hand from the glass and slowly back away, careful not to disturb anything on my way out. I bend down and pick up my crop top, managing to escape the en suite undetected. My throat is dry, like needles prickling in the back of my throat. I can’t be here when he comes out. I have no idea what to say to him if I saw him right now. I’m not angry, I just feel empty not being able to have him inside me and downright stupid for being jealous of some little masturbating toy thingy that brought my husband to a shivering orgasm right before my eyes.

But yes, I’m jealous.

I gather my clothes and shoes and toss them in hamper in my dressing room, shoes and all. I quickly step out of the cursed spanks and put on an oversized U-Dub jersey and a pair of biker shorts. When I come out of the dressing room, I still hear the shower going. Yes, he usually needs two, and I don’t know if that was his first or his second. Unable to shake my feeling of dejection, I wipe away a tear that has fallen and leave our bedroom and close the door behind me, resolved to sleep in the recliner until the children awaken.

*-*

Even I have to admit that I’ve been a force not to be reckoned with over the next two days. I’m wound up and tense, angry and snapping at people for no reason all day Tuesday. I actually hear Gail say that I was worse that Christian used to be. I couldn’t be angry with them. Nothing I do is helping—not dancing, not yoga, not even Atlantis. And I stay away from Christian. I don’t have the nerve to look him in the eyes after watching him garner such pleasure from the magic toy the other night and I don’t know how to confront how inadequate it makes me feel right now. Maxie had said something before she left on Monday that stuck with me:

“You should have let him get you off. He can fuck a hole in a donut right now; it’s not like you can ride B.O.B. and get the same stimulation.”

It appears that’s exactly what he did. Well, not a hole in a donut, but a hole in something. I’m not upset with him for doing that; I’m just feeling inadequate because it wasn’t me.

By Wednesday, nobody wants to be around me because I’m downright unbearable. I stay to myself most of the day. I even only talk to Marilyn by email and text and hide out in the twins’ nursery for most of the time, actually taking naps in the rocking chairs. I was actually able to do that for the entire day and night. I’ve become such a disagreeable bitch that no one wants to deal with me.

When Gail comes to help me with the babies for the 9:30 feeding that night, I apologize to her for my behavior, telling her that I’m under a lot of stress and very tense right now. I promise to try to get it under control in the days to come. She nods her understanding and smiles. We feed the children and she seems completely wiped out. Mikey goes right back to sleep, so I send her to bed while I tend to Minnie. Always the fussy one, it takes twenty more minutes to get her settled, but she finally yawns and closes her sleepy little eyes. I put Minnie down and check on Mikey. They’re both fast asleep, fed and content for the moment, thank God.

I go to our bedroom and the bed is still empty. He’s not in the sitting room either. I check both en suites and they’re both empty. I don’t know why I breathe a sigh of relief. I’m going to have to face him sooner or later. I brush my teeth and my hair, put on a nightshirt and climb into bed. I just sit there for a moment, flustered and confused and anxious as fuck. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, why I feel this way about seeing my husband pleasure himself, but I know I can’t take feeling like this anymore.

I throw the covers off of me and lie flat on the bed. I take a few deep breaths and try to relax. The flannel nightshirt is not helping and the nursing bra is very uncomfortable on my dry, sore nipples right now. I opt to sleep without one tonight, going back to the bathroom to get the olive oil to soothe the dryness. I put my shirt back on, but apply a little oil to each nipple and massage them through my open shirt.

The relief is immediate. I bring the olive oil into the bedroom and place it by the nightstand to put a little more on my aching areola and nipples. Once the oil gets into the skin and soothes the ache, the feeling soon turns to arousal. I stop, feeling a little guilty for touching myself, but aching for the small amount of relief it brought just for that moment… just a moment of not feeling flustered or confused or anxious or wound so tight that I can’t even think straight.

I have to admit that in addition to immense jealousy and little humiliation that he wasn’t playing with me instead of that goddamn toy, I was highly aroused watching him get off in his shower, so lost in his passion that he could barely stand and he didn’t even notice I was there.

I lie back on the bed and pinch my nipple again, surprised at how good it feels. I close my eyes and pinch them both, rolling them between an oily fingers and thumbs, like Christian would.

Yes… like Christian would…

I find myself arching into my own hands, cupping my own breasts, kneading and pinching, imagining that my hands are my husband’s hands. I moan in my chest at his touch. I close my eyes and slide my oiled hand down to my hot, aching clit. One stroke is like fire. I bite my lip to keep from crying out. Another stroke has me squirming in the bed, opening my legs wide and exposing myself to my hand…

His hand…

“Yes…”

I need him. I need him to touch me… just like this…

I roll my oily fingers over my clit again and again and again, working myself into that frenzy that I need to release this tension that I’ve been holding for… how long? I don’t know. We’ve never not made love… well, we have but… oh, don’t think about that now.

“Mmm…”

It feels so good. I need it so bad. I imagine him over me, kissing me, sucking my nipple, rubbing my clit, worshipping my body like only he does.

“Ooooo…”

I’m envisioning all of the hot things that have ignited me…

Christian grabbing my ass through those genie pants and grinding me against him…
Those hot orgasms during the babymoon…
Riding him hard while his hands were tied to the bed…
Sitting on his lap and him fucking me from behind while he pinches my tender nipples…
His beautiful body all wet and strained right before he came in the shower…

“Aahh!”

Almost there, I’m almost there. My Adonis. No one has ever loved me like my Adonis. He makes my body sing in ways I never thought possible. I miss his touch so much. I ache for him, yearn for him, my body calls for him, comes only for him…

I have crazy flashes of hundreds of positions and orgasms with my sex god husband, and just as I’m about to come, I breathe the litany that is sure to tip me over the edge.

“Christian…”

Just then, a heavy hand stops my ministrations and I’m jolted from my orgasmic ascent back to the real world. His gray eyes are right in my face, glaring at me, accusing, I think, as he hovers over me and stills my hand. Why did he make me stop? I was almost there! My heart is aching as is my body, and I can only release a shuddering breath as he glares at me with what looks like pure hatred and anger in his eyes.

He can’t be mad at me! How can he be mad at me?

I don’t know what to say… or do. He’s looking at me like I’ve betrayed him,  making me feel like I’ve cheated on him, but I know I haven’t. I’ve watched him jacking off, lost in pure agonized ecstasy just a few days ago. Yet, I feel like I’ve done something wrong, and that’s how he’s looking at me right now. I just lie there in carnal conviction, trying and failing to keep my bottom lip from trembling. Disappointment and heartache flood over me as my long-awaited orgasm sinks back into my core, away from my reach. Satisfaction ebbs into darkness and my inner bitch falls to her knees, naked, with her arms wrapped around herself, wailing mourning sobs at its departure… sobs that I hear echoing in my ears.

His face changes immediately; it morphs into something else… something softer. I don’t know. Maybe I’m seeing things because my eyes are clouded by tears. His fingers gently push mine aside, and my breath is snatched away by his probing hands expertly massaging my clit. I vaguely hear something in the back of my head about engaging the enemy, but I don’t care. My hands fall helplessly to my sides and I push my body back into the bed as the pleasure is much deeper than I was bringing to myself. His eyes never leave mine and he never says a word as two fingers masterfully rub my clit in an upward and circular motion, causing me to sob in my chest from the pleasure and the rush of emotion that I can’t control. It feels so good that it would completely break me if he doesn’t let me come. I might run from the house screaming in my nightshirt and bare feet if he were to deny me now.

He’s relentless with his stroke, bringing his face closer to mine as I rise higher and higher, sobbing deeper and harder as he brings me closer and closer to my release. I clench my fists beside me and prepare for the ultimate denial as the burn becomes so intense that it’s almost painful. Just as I reach that precipice, Christian’s free hand grabs my nape and he quickly lifts my head so that my lips fall open to him, allowing him to kiss me—hotly and passionately, his tongue filling my mouth roaming every crevice as his fingers continue to work my burning, aching clit.

I explode in several directions, shrieking and crying into his mouth and jerking violently, reaching for anything that will ground me from the burning, searing flames between my legs. I can’t stand it! It’s too intense! Over and over, it rings from my chest, through my stomach, through that sensitive bundle of nerves that ached and ached and ached for release; and the kiss that essentially gagged me from crying out keeps the explosion internal, combustible, and nearly caused me to go insane.

An eternity later, my throat hurts. I can barely breathe. I’m panting and wheezing like a wounded animal. I’m drenched in my own sweat and tears and I can’t move. I feel him hovering over me, but I can’t open my eyes. His hand strokes the hair stuck to my face and I hear a soothing “Ssshhhh.” My body shudders from the aftershocks of my orgasms, from weeping, from not being able to cry out. He wraps his arms around me, cuddling me to his body, calming my tremors and stroking my hair and face, kissing my tears away until I fall asleep.


CHRISTIAN

I can hardly believe what I’m seeing! I come to my bedroom after I’ve been toiling over a solution to her issue with GEH ownership and find her writhing in bed fucking herself thinking of God only knows what! God only knows who! I was right downstairs! We’re suffering from the same fucking frustration! I’ve been trying to spare her because I want to explode from the need to be inside her! If it weren’t for those goddamn eggs, I think my head would pop off!

But now, here I stand watching her in the throes of passion in our bed just about to reach her climax while I’m downstairs pulling my goddamn hair out! She breathes something and my eyes narrow. I’m furious! I move over to her and still her hand, just like I would one of my naughty subs when I found them pleasuring themselves without my permission. I know the ache is infernal. The pain is physical and the frustration is unbearable—I could see it in the surprise in her eyes. My hand is firm on hers and I glare at her, hard. I’m seething! I was right downstairs! Are you enjoying yourself?!

But what I see in her face at that moment causes me to freeze… and what I hear… and what I heard. She’s… crying… no… sobbing… anguished. Her chest heaves heavily and she looks… God, she almost looks like she’s mourning. I don’t recognize her. I’ve seen something like this before… haven’t I? No, I don’t think I have. She lay still, looking at me, her eyes filling with tears, her hand still covering her sex and my hand covering hers. Her chest is heaving and the sounds coming from her are pained… aching… begging. The most sorrowful sounds… God, they tear right through me… just like her sad, broken, glassy blue eyes.

Why didn’t she just come to me? Why didn’t she just tell me that she needed me? I need her, too.

Then, my brain drifts back to what I heard when I came into the room, right before I stopped her hand. I sift through the red fury in my head and eyes and focus on the gentle sound that wafted to my ears…

“Christian…”

She did. She did come to me. Maybe not physically, but in her head and her heart, she came to me. I gaze into her heart, my poor broken Butterfly, what I’ve reduced her to—trying to spare her by fucking those goddamn eggs, I’ve denied her, and now she’s aching and wanting… and I’ve denied her again. No, this time, I’ve forbidden her. And she’s completely broken.

My poor, beautiful Butterfly.

Her chest is still heaving when I push her hand aside. I recognize the oil immediately as the olive oil that she uses for her tender breasts. I know then that this wasn’t planned. It just happened, fueled by immediate need and yearning, and I’ve just made it worse.

Don’t worry, Baby… I’ll take care of you.

Using the generous amount of oil already on her clit, I begin to massage with three of my fingers. One won’t be enough. I’ve treated her like a sub, and now, I need to pull on some of my old knowledge… of when I denied them orgasms for weeks as a punishment, bringing them to the brink of sanity, then sending them away frustrated only to continue the game week after week. The longest I played that game was six weekends before that submissive safeworded, and I let her come.

Six weeks… how ironic.

Her orgasm was explosive. She was chained to the ceiling in my playroom and wailed her safeword as her body trembled. I stopped stimulation immediately and she wept, much like Butterfly is weeping now, but I felt nothing for her then. I told her that she could come, finished her off with a wand, and left her hanging there for a while.

But not my Butterfly.

I feel everything right now, raw and wanting and aching—pleasure and pain concentrated in this tight bundle of nerves as she whimpers helplessly under my intense ministrations. I maintain her gaze as she heaves and sobs, her clit hot and sharp like a thousand tiny little knives. I only change my stroke enough to gather a bit of her arousal from her opening and spread it around her inner lips, never stopping the pressure on her clit. It doesn’t take long for her to rise; she was already there, but I know it’s not the same. It’s not the same pressure—her doing it herself—as when I do it.

That’s it, baby… I’ve got you.

Her sobs sink into her chest—deep, mournful cries that beseech, coming from the deepest part of her soul, wringing anguish and pleasure at the same time.

Don’t stop, Grey. No matter what happens, don’t stop.

I move closer to her. I can’t see her eyes through her tears, but I maintain eye-contact as I continue to stimulate the pebbling ball of flesh, so hard and throbbing. Her groans are short and clipped, matching her sobbing breaths. Her hands are fisted at her sides. Her orgasm has already started and I don’t even think she knows it; her eyes haven’t changed yet, but the muscles in her pelvis, at her mans right at the top of her pussy, are hard as a rock—pulsing hard against my palm. I’ll have to restrain her, to gag her somehow or her cries will wake the dead.

I don’t stop the steady stimulation of her clit—deep and searing, like I’m working the pain out of a sore muscle. This is not tender. It can’t be. It has to be firm, to pull out the days and weeks of denial and the frustration that I imposed upon her just moments ago. And now, the second phase of her orgasm has begun, as her sobs become guttural and her body starts to jerk. Her weeps almost sound like wailing now and she still doesn’t take her eyes off mine. That small bundle of nerves has now become one hard block under my fingers and I continue kneading the knot as she stiffens. She’s going to come so hard…

When the first unstoppable wave begins and I see the blue change in her eyes, I lift her head at the back of her neck to immobilize her and cover her mouth with mine, creating a seal so that no sound escapes, but also sucking to pull in her cries as they release. God, she’s feral… primitive… it’s so goddamn hot! I thrust my tongue deep into her mouth, not only to act as a gag, but also to taste the secretions from her cheeks—the sweet juice that releases when she comes. God, she’s irresistible. I moan along with her as I hold her captive, gobbling her shamelessly, my tongue roaming and tasting and fueling my own desire for her. She tastes divine. I continue firmly and relentlessly massaging her clit as it pounds against my fingers; I won’t stop until it stops stabbing against me, and I know that she’s experiencing wave after agonizing wave of orgasm.

Oh, yes, Butterfly… release it all to me.

She’s wailing and sobbing and mourning through her repeated orgasms and I know what she’s feeling. I’ve seen it many times after a sub released after being denied for so long, but never held them… never loved them… never kissed them… never felt their euphoric pain and made sure to see the pleasure through to the very end. I only made them come, then left them there, wherever they were. Not this time. This time, it has to be complete, down to her soul and her very being. Her pelvis throbs hard in my hand as her primitive weeping cries wane in my mouth and I don’t stop until the stabbing stops against the pads of my fingers. My dick is aching, hard, painful, and tight in my boxers imagining the spongy inside of her vibrating, clenching, pulsing pussy right now. I have to breathe through my erection, it hurts so bad. I gather my love against me and take a deep breath, breathing her in, soothing her while I let her fragrance soothe me.

Don’t cry, I will her as I cuddle her close to me, kissing her face over and over and stroking her hair. Please, don’t cry…

I wrap my legs and a blanket around her trembling, wrung body, hold her close to me, and rock her to sleep.

*-*

She still hasn’t stirred when I return to bed after Gail and I have tended to the twins and gotten them settled back in their cribs… and I still haven’t slept. Part of me thinks it’s because I’m yet unsatisfied, having spent every night for the past five nights with a Tenga egg. The other part of me needs to keep watch over my wife, hoping that I haven’t caused damage to her delicate psyche after my silent accusation. No words passed between us when I came into the bedroom this evening, but I don’t need anyone to tell me that I’m an extremely intense man. I’ve used that intensity more than once to cause seasoned businessmen to break into cold sweats in the boardroom, and this evening, it brought my fragile wife and the mother of my children to heart-wrenching sobs that didn’t cease even through what I know were soul-shattering orgasms.

Her angelic face is in a contented, restful state as she sleeps and I wonder if she’s dreaming. What’s going on behind those eyelids right now? Is she running through meadows with our children—advanced to toddlers in her dreams? Maybe she’s floating on the water somewhere, blissfully tranquil without a care in the world. Or maybe she’s just resting in silent solace, no pictures disturbing her slumber whatsoever.

Almost on cue, her breathing changes and she whimpers a bit. Sighs, maybe? I don’t know. I can’t tell. Her head turns on my arm and after a beat, her eyes blink open. She looks at me as if she doesn’t remember where she is. Her gaze doesn’t change, and I think she still doesn’t remember. Probably still caught on the remnants of her dream, still drifting on an ocean somewhere…

I slide my arm from under her head until my hand rests at her nape again. Gently cupping her neck there, I press kisses on both of her eyelids. A soft, shuddering breath reminds me of the sobs from earlier this evening, and my chest aches. My lips move to her cheeks, down her jawbone, and finally to her mouth, pressing a soft, searing, yearning kiss there, prodding and massaging until another whimper escapes her throat.

Oh… she’s scrumptious.

I allow my tongue to lap in her flavor a few more times before I slowly pull my lips from hers, just barely. Only breaths away from her mouth and never taking my eyes from her swollen lips, I whisper,

“Touch me.”

Her small hands immediately move to rummage through my hair. Perfect. I take her mouth again, one last soft but searing kiss before my lips move to her jaw, then her neck. She sighs her protest at the parting of our lips, but is soon panting when my teeth nip the tender meat of her neck and my tongue lines the skin along her clavicle. A harsh intake of breath signals her arousal as my lips travel down her chest to her swollen heavy breasts. Without breaking contact with the soft, supple mounds, I reach to the night stand for the olive oil left there from earlier in the evening and apply liberal amounts to my fingers. I seek out her nipples and gently massage the oil onto the tender tips while I kiss and nip the plump, round glands.

“Christian!” My name is a breathy gasp. I hardly recognize it. She’s on fire, igniting and burning with sensual need all over again like I hadn’t driven her to the brink of emotional and sexual insanity just hours ago, but she needed this. More than anything at this moment, she needed this.

I move my mouth to one nipple, then the other, giving each a long lick then a gentle suck. She arches her back, offering herself to me like a sexy little nymph… and it drives me wild. It makes me want her, but not to fuck her. It makes me want to satisfy her, to make her come, to make her writhe in pleasure and pulsate in ecstasy until her body is sated beyond measure, and all unpleasant memories of last night are totally erased. I suck her tender nipple again and she sighs and moans, grasping my head and spurring me on. One tiny drop of her milk releases and I can’t resist licking it from her nipple.

It’s sweet. Somehow, I knew it would be.

Still cupping and massaging her full, tender breasts, I begin my trek down her body, raining kisses down her torso, her abdomen, to her pubic hairline.

Her pubic hairline… this is new.

Butterfly is normally always waxed or shaven. Earlier, I hadn’t noticed that a bit of hair had grown over her pussy—soft and silky with only the slightest curl. I run my tongue along the top of the hairline, then bury my nose in it, taking a deep breath.

“Oh, God,” I moan into her pussy. Her musky smell sends a jolt of fire right to my dick. Fuck, it aches so bad and it’s hard as a goddamn rock! I stiffen my tongue and tease the top opening of her lips. She tries to control her breathing. She knows what’s coming. Using the stiffness of my tongue to part the soft hairs and her hot lips, I lick slowly, moving further into her wetness with each lick. She keeps her hips still to absorb the sensation, delicate whimpers escaping her throat and open mouth with each pass.

Oh, baby, I’m not sure I can take much more of this.

The next two passes bring my tongue to the hood of her clit and I taste the olive oil from earlier mixed with a slight hint of her previous arousal spread there by my fingers. I can’t resist softening my tongue and lapping the delicious flavor, completely forgetting my intention of a slow descent to her pleasure center. She cries out in unrestrained ecstasy and Greystone peeks shamelessly out of the waistband of my boxer briefs, seeking his counterpart and weeping precum as he knows he won’t be able to indulge. The elastic rubs against the tender rim of my head and I have to remain still to keep it from burning.

I dive hungrily into her sex, alternating between gentle licks and flicks to devouring suckles of the pebbling, throbbing clit. I’m voracious and she’s shamelessly wanton. Between the two of us, we are filling insatiable appetites desperate to be curbed. I haven’t tasted her pussy in weeks… weeks! A delicacy I have needlessly denied myself in a misguided attempt to allow her respite and peace from caring for newborn twins on a crazy schedule. In return, she hasn’t received the mind-blowing orgasms that I know my skills can render upon her. As a result, we’ve both been in a state of confusion, madness, and frustration.

Her first orgasm ripples through her with the soft, coaxing licks and I taste the slight slide of her juices on my tongue. It only fuels the fire and I have to have more of her. My dick now bangs mercilessly against my stomach and I ignore the chaffing feeling of the elastic against the tender head. My aching balls are taking precedent, anyway and I have to open my legs and press them against the mattress for relief. I ignore her cries to stop and clamp down hard on her pebbled clit, calling louder to me than her mouth. She grasps my hair hard, begging, nearly crying, then almost seconds later, pushing her pussy into my suckling lips. I wrap my arms around her hips, now rising off the bed with no help from me, and rest my hands back on her deliciously plump breasts.

God, she is delicious and she feels magnificent! My mouth is open, wide open over her pussy, devouring her clit and core with no mercy and sucking dry every bit of juice that escapes and trust me, she is pouring! The flow of her sweet, creamy arousal is intoxicating and endless, and I have hit a spot and an angle that just keeps it coming. My God, at this rate, I’m sure to dry her out, but I dare not stop. She’s so turned on, she’s saying such deliciously nasty things to me:

“Eat me, baby…”
“Fuck me…”
“Yes… right there…”
“Don’t stop…”
“Eat it… Eat it deep…”
“Imma come so hard… Fuck!”

Her voice is a harsh, sensuous whisper and her body is stroking into me deliciously and rhythmically. I have to move my body to match her stroke for stroke and we are fucking, madly! She feels so fucking good and tastes so fucking good…. We are locked together, synchronized in our movements. I feel her body start to stiffen and her tone gets higher as she coaches me not to stop.

Not on your life.

“That’s it… right there… right there… harder… harder… don’t stop… don’t stop… don’t… don’t…”

A shrill cry rips from her body as her creamy arousal coats my tongue, not a squirt, but a thick, delicious cream almost like a small ejaculation and I gobble it up while keeping the motion we had set before her body stiffened in orgasm. She cries again in pleasure, begging me not to relent as she rides out this roller coaster. Her breasts are seeping milk over my hands and her body’s euphoric release and my constant motion to keep her orgasm going causes me to forget—or not realize—something else.

“Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm! Mmmmm! Mmmmmm! Mmmm! Mmmm! Mmmmmmm!”

Hot shots of semen drench my boxer briefs as I come violently all over myself, muffling my moans in her vagina. My dick and balls are pulsing madly between me and the mattress as my mindless movements to satisfy my wife masturbated my dick between my body and the mattress. Butterfly’s explosion into my mouth was that last erotic push that I needed to tip me over the edge and now, I am deliciously and happily sated from both ends as I push into the mattress and eek out the rest of the orgasm while I lap deliciously at the remaining juices from my wife’s tender, pulsing pussy.

*-*

“You were aching,” I tell her. She’s lying on her stomach, hugging the pillow while I caress her back. I’ve removed my T-shirt and cum-soaked boxer briefs and lay next to her. Finally sated and relaxed, she opens her eyes and looks at me questioning.

“Hmm?” she asks as we lay naked next to one another.

“You were aching,” I repeat, stroking her spine. “Your body was aching. I could see it in your face. It wasn’t just that I stopped you from touching yourself. You were walking around looking like a sexpot for several days and then, today—well, yesterday—I didn’t see you at all, not once the whole day. I knew that you were here because the staff prepared to part like the Red Sea when I entered the room and they thought I was you.”

Her face betrays her conviction. She was irritated and she was avoiding me… and she was clearly aching for me. But why?

“Why didn’t you come for me?” I ask her. “Why did you suffer through the whole day and then decide to masturbate instead of coming to get me?”

Her face falls. It’s almost like she’s embarrassed. I stroke her hair, pushing it behind her ear in a gentle gesture, coaxing her to talk to me… to tell me why she would allow herself to suffer instead of coming to get me. Since she had the babies, she had gotten me off twice, and she hadn’t come once. Four weeks and not once! I’ve been coming into those damn eggs to keep from attacking her, and she hadn’t come once. I can tell.

“I… wanted to,” she said, her breath soft. “I wanted to touch you… to have you touch me, but I wanted you so much… want you so much, I knew I would fuck you. I wouldn’t be able to stop myself…”

“I would’ve stopped you,” I tell her.

“Why tempt the hands of fate?” she says sadly with a shrug. I stroke her hair again. “Even now, if you cover me with your body, I won’t be able to stop you. I crave you—your touch, your smell, to feel you inside of me—I crave you, so much that it’s painful sometimes, and if you tried to love me right now, I would welcome it, and I wouldn’t stop you.”

Her words go right to my heart, and if I’m honest, my dick, too. But I can control this. I have to be strong for both of us.

“I saw you.”

I raised my eyes to her. Saw me what?

“Huh?”

“I saw you… in the shower a couple of days ago…”

In the shower? She saw me in the shower? Oh, shit. She saw me in the shower! That means she saw me masturbating and didn’t say anything, and I was just asking her why she didn’t come to me.

“You were so beautiful,” she says, dreamily, almost whispering. “Your body was hard and your dick was hard and you had completely lost control. You looked so good, so hot. When I was masturbating, that’s one of the things I was thinking of… the pleasure and abandon that was on your face; every muscle in your body taut with pleasure and the water dripping in streams and rolling off your body, touching where I couldn’t touch at that moment or it would ruin the orgasm… an orgasm that I wasn’t bringing to you.”

I frown deeply. She… what? She can’t be!

tenga“Baby,” I say incredulously. “Tell me that you’re not telling me that you avoided me for an entire day because you were jealous… of a Tenga egg.”

“Is that what it was?” she says, softly. “All I know is that it was bringing you amazing pleasure—shivering pleasure—and it wasn’t me,” she adds shyly.

“Butterfly,” I say, sliding closer to her. “It does feel amazing, I’ll admit that, but it’s just a temporary substitute and a poor one at that. Nothing in this world feels like the inside of you. Even if I just hold you and kiss you and grind against you, a Tenga egg can’t do that. A Tenga egg gives me temporary physical pleasure, but it can’t make me feel the fire that you do! How could you possibly be jealous of that… thing?”

“How did you feel when you stilled my hand?” she asks. “How did you feel when you came to the bedroom and I was masturbating without you?”

Ow, that stings. Duly noted.

“We have to stop doing this to each other,” I say, bringing my lips gently to hers. “Your pleasure belongs to me, and mine belongs to you. We won’t do this again.” I kiss her temple and play in the garden. “I know we’ll want to pleasure ourselves, and that’s okay, but we won’t deny one another again. I’ll take care of you and you take care of me.”

“But,” her voice is breathy, aroused, “what if I want to fuck you? I want to fuck you right now…”

“Then you’ll trust me,” I tell her. “You’ll trust me to have the will power for both of us. Just two more weeks, baby, then we can fuck each other into the next dimension. Until then, you trust me to make sure that you’re thoroughly satisfied. No more of this aching and yearning, and I’ll come to you before I reach for Tenga, or if you like, we can play with Tenga together.” She closes her eyes as I brush her lips with mine.

“That sounds promising,” she whispers, and I take her mouth with mine, moving her pillow to eliminate the space between us and give attention to the body once again aching for my touch.


A/N: So, for those of you aching for Ana to catch him, she caught him. What do you think of that? It’s strange, too, because I wouldn’t want my husband to catch me masturbating either, although in the past, he has caught me… and then, like Christian, he took over. What about you?

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

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Love and handcuffs 🙂 
Lynn X

Mending Dr. Steele: Chapter 73—Jason’s Clearing His Throat

Welp… I’ve got nothin’…

Okay, so this was funny to me, so I have to share it. I got another one of those comments on the lines of “If I don’t kiss your ass, I might as well not comment.”

So… I’m probably dating myself here, but you all know I’m no youngster. We’ve talked about the strokes and the high blood pressure meds and such. But back when I was a youngster and I use to frequent the nightclubs as a single girl, there was a common comeback from a guy who came on to you and you didn’t want to talk to him: 

“What’s the matter? Are you gay?”

That shit used to crack me up! It couldn’t be that you’re stinky, ugly, creepy, wearing clothes with the tag still in them so you can take it back to the store tomorrow, “hanging out the passenger side of yo’ best friend’s ride,” nursing the same drink all night and you can’t even afford to buy me one… or that I’m simply not interested. It couldn’t be any of those things that could be the reason that I don’t want to deal with your loser ass. No, it had to be because I’m gay… Yeah, okay, whatever makes you feel better. 

That’s exactly what that “kiss ass” statement reminds me of. I got that on Fanfiction a lot where people would say really hurtful and offensive things–racial slurs and off-color remarks about “hood dictionaries” and things like that–and then they were genuinely angry when I deleted the comment! Then nine out of ten of those comments–which were usually guest reviewers–had the comeback “If I don’t kiss your ass, you’re going to delete my comment.” 

Every time I see that, I go right back to the nightclub and I’m like, “Wow… seriously? My deleting your comment couldn’t possibly have anything to do with you being vulgar or racist or insulting or disrespectful or downright mean or (fill in the blank–whatever they were being at that moment). No, it simply had to be because you weren’t blowing rainbows up my ass… Yeah, okay, whatever makes you feel better. 

Moving on…

I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY story in MY interpretation as a fan. I hope you—as a fellow fan—enjoy it, too.

Chapter 73—Jason’s Clearing His Throat

CHRISTIAN

“Shit.” Bubble broken. I sigh heavily and Butterfly lifts her head. She’s just as unhappy that the bubble has been broken as I am.

“Just a minute!” I yell, and we reluctantly untangle ourselves from each other. “I want a space in our new house just for this… just for us to connect this way. We can design it together. I never want to lose this… ever.” She touches my face gently with her fingertips.

“Never,” she says, gazing into my eyes before going to find something to wear. I haven’t showered and we both have the same scent, of each other and sex—lots and lots of sex. It’s no use. I grab a fresh pair of shorts and a T-shirt. I’m going commando until after my shower. It looks like Butterfly had the same idea as she just grabs a sports bra and a pair of yoga pants. As she pulls her hair back into a ponytail, I open the door for Jason. His subtle change of expression indicates that he can smell  what we’ve been up to all day. Dude, you have no idea what you interrupted.

“This better be astronomical,” I warn. He just looks at me.

“Unfortunately, it is,” he says, his voice serious. Fuck. “Where’s Ana?”

“Right here,” she says coming up behind me, “And I heard you say that this is astronomical and it’s apparently about me, so just jump to it. Don’t give me any prelims.”

“I’m sorry, but there is one. You two need to call Allen.” Allen? I look at Jason’s watch—5:09. Damn, we have been fucking all day. What’s more important is that it’s 7am in Seattle. What the hell is going on?

“Both of us?” Butterfly asks the question I was thinking. Jason nods.

“It’s about the trials,” he says.

“Trials?” I repeat. “Plural?”

“Yes, trials. You need to call him. He says he’s been trying to reach both of you since last night… Seattle time.” Butterfly’s hand immediately goes to her forehead and she starts mumbling to herself. Shit! Trials. What the hell is going on? She goes off into the bedroom, in search of her phone no doubt. I take my blackberry from the dining table. It’s dead.

“Let me borrow your phone, Jason,” I say, plugging my blackberry into my laptop. If my phone is dead, so is Butterfly’s. I send off a text to Allen to meet me on Skype in five minutes. “I know this place doesn’t have a workout room and swimming’s not going to do it. She’s going to be caught in three hours of pushups after this call and I know it. Do you have any other ideas? If not, you may want to get ready for one of the most grueling runs you’ve ever had in your life.”

“I’ve got my gloves and sparring mitts,” he says. Fuck, that’s perfect! I should probably warn him…

“My phone’s dead,” Butterfly says, exasperated, marching back into the dining room. “What about yours?” Oh well, he has to find out for himself.

“Have you all had dinner?” I ask Jason.

“No, it’s being prepared now. You know they serve late. Did you want something sooner?”

“Maybe something light and quick,” I tell him. He nods and leaves the villa. I turn to Butterfly.

“Mine is dead, too, but I sent a text from Jason’s phone. We’ll Skype.” She nods. We get ourselves situated and I Skype Allen and prepare for bad news. When he shows up on the screen, he’s still at home, but dressed for work.

“Good, you’re together,” he says. “I’m sorry to interrupt your honeymoon, but I have news.”

“So we’ve been told,” I say.

I called last night to get your take on it, but when I didn’t get an answer, I assumed that you haven’t heard yet. I wanted to wait until it was concrete and it became concrete yesterday. David has a trial date.” Butterfly doesn’t react.

“Okay, when it is it?” I ask.

Monday,” he says and I frown.

“Monday?” I confirm. “As in the 15th Monday??”

Yes,” he says with a sigh.

“I knew it!” Butterfly snaps. “I knew that fucker was going to wait until I was on my honeymoon to plant his fucking flag. I fucking knew it! If he had known the wedding date and could get the trial on a weekend, he would have asked for it on the 29th! Fucking sleazebag bastard! I knew it!”

“Can’t this be postponed a week, Allen? We’ll be stateside on the 21st. He’s got so many continuations—why can’t Ana get one?”

“Yeah, our side has tried that already. Based on the fact that he’s in prison and you’re in Greece, the scales tip in his favor right now. Those continuations that you mentioned are the biggest reason they won’t postpone the trial anymore. He has a right to a speedy trial and now he wants one. It doesn’t matter that he’s the one who has been delaying things all this time. He wants his day, he wants it now, and he’s been waiting for it—so now, he’s getting it.” Shit! It’ll take us a day to get back to the states and I have to prepare for international transport. This is going to really take some juggling.

“I’ll get on it. What happens if we can’t get back in time?” I ask him.

“I’ll let the prosecution know and they’ll put off when you guys are called to the stand…”

“Both of us?” Butterfly asks. “They want both of us to testify?”

“No, they want all of us to testify. Jason, Gerald, Chance, Ben, and Chris were the first to see you when you were found. I saw you in the whirlybird. Chris undid your cuffs after Jason scared the key out of the double-dicker… oops, sorry. Force of habit.” The double-dicker… that’s what he called him. I never found out what that meant. Butterfly shakes her head.

“So because this fucker has been playing the waiting game all this time for God only knows how long, I have to interrupt my honeymoon so that he can go to trial. Phenomenal. Abso-fucking-lutely phenomenal.” We’re all quiet for a moment before Allen starts talking again.

“There’s more,” he says, his voice solemn. Oh, yeah, Jason said trialsplural. This can’t be good.

“Just tell me,” Butterfly snaps.

“Carly Madison-Perry is negotiating a plea,” he says. It takes a moment for the words to sink in before Butterfly goes into the violent angry bobble-head motion.

“What!?” she roars, standing to her feet and almost knocking the dining table over—laptop and all. I slam my hands on the table to prevent it from falling. “What!? Why? She planned the whole thing! Why?” She’s screaming now. “It wasn’t only murder and attempted murder, but it was also premeditated. They’re offering her a plea on premeditated murder??”

“There’s a lot going on here, Jewel…” Allen tries to explain.

“I don’t give a shit about what all is going on. All I want to know is are they trying to let this bitch get away with murder?” Butterfly says. Allen freezes.

“She’s not going to get away with murder.”

“She is if she takes a plea!” Butterfly shoots.

“Jewel, it’s not that simple…

“Quit bullshitting me and answer the question, Allen!” Butterfly barks. Noting his defeat, Allen answers the question.

“Yes,” he says.

“Fuuuuuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” Butterfly screams and stomps out to the courtyard. She is screaming and stomping like Rumpelstiltskin when the Queen guessed his name. I quickly go back to the computer.

“Allen, I thought they had to have her permission to do something like that,” I say.

“They can consult and inform her, but no, they don’t require her permission.”

“Why is she pleading? What do they get in return?”

“She turns state’s evidence on everybody at the incident.”

“They’ve got the video!” I roar! “They’ve got the victim! Why do they need the word of the accused on the other defendants!? This case is as airtight as it gets!!”

“I know, but they want to cast their nets and get as many fish as they can,” he tries to explain.

“So they’re going to set the whale free to catch a bunch of fucking guppies?” I yell. I’m with Butterfly on this one. This is bullshit.

“She won’t go free, Christian…” I have to go to Butterfly. She is out there stomping and screaming enough to bring the police.

“I have to go,” I say before closing the laptop. I run out into the courtyard and to Butterfly. Words cannot express how angry she is right now. She’s even more angry than when she safeworded a couple of days ago.

“Baby?” I try to approach with caution.

“They’re going to let her off! They’re fucking going to let her off! I know they are! I know it! I can’t believe this shit!” I grab her arms to try to stop the vicious rant.

“She’s not getting off, Butterfly. If they let her off, I’ll go after her personally.”

“And do what?” she screams. “Beat her near to death like she did me? She doesn’t have anything else left to lose! She’s fucking worthless!”

“She has something left to lose and I’m just the one to find out what it is,” I try to appease her.

“She’s nothing! She’s no one! All she had left was her freedom and they’re going to set her free! They’re going to set her free!” Her fists are shaking and she is ready to explode. I grab her hand and drag her behind me. Taking two steps at a time, we run to the first level where everyone in the villa is standing in the courtyard. Charles throws the gloves at me and Jason is standing there wearing the mitts. I turn to Butterfly who turns incredulous tear-filled eyes to me.

“Do you need this?” I ask her.

“You knew?” she asks, her voice squeaking and betraying her tears.

“No, I knew something, but I didn’t know what. I found out everything at the same time you did. Do you need this?” I ask again. She looks from me and the gloves to Jason and back to me. She nods frantically.

“Yes! Yes!” she whispers loudly. I quickly help her get into the gloves. She turns on Jason and lights into those mitts, bare feet and all. Before she gets in good, I lean back to Charles and ask if there’s another pair. I think he—along with everyone else—is a bit stunned at how hard she is blowing out these mitts. He nods hesitantly and I tell him to go and get them. Keri actually looks a bit frightened by the spectacle.

“Don’t worry,” I lean in and tell her. “She got some bad news from home. She’ll be fine as soon as she blows off some steam.” She looks at me incredulously then back at Butterfly.

“She vety sthong,” she says. “Look at heh ahms… little, but… big!” I look at Butterfly’s arms. Keri’s right. I never paid attention, but her biceps are quite large and defined when she’s working out. Charles comes back with the second set of mitts. She has whaled on Jason for about fifteen minutes and he’s starting to wince a bit. I tell Charles to give me the second pair of mitts and be ready to take the first pair from Jason. If this session goes for 15 more minutes, he has to take his fair share of abuse. Adrien and Norbert are staring at the whirlwind that is my Butterfly in wide-eyed amazement. I betMeathead will think twice about saying anything disparaging to her after this.

“Fifteen minutes and you’re up,” I tell him and I put the mitts on.

“Yes, sir,” he says. I look at Keri.

“You may want to step back a bit,” I say as I take the stance. She looks at me and nods, stepping away from me and closer to Charles. “Butterfly!” I yell to break her concentration. She whirls around, uncertain, but ready to unleash hell. When she sees me with the mitts ready for action, she tears into me to give Jason’s hands a rest. Her strikes are no less vicious. She lets me have it hard, mercilessly. I quickly catch a glimpse of Jason behind her, removing his mitts and shaking his hands while mouthing “Ow.” She’s giving me hell, much worse than she did on Anguilla. I’m hoping to God that someone is keeping time because in only a matter of moments, this shit hurts like fuck! I don’t let on that she’s hurting me because she needs to get it out. She is pouring sweat from head to toe and she shows no signs of slowing down. She wasn’t this pissed about cutting our honeymoon short. Hell, maybe she’s this pissed about both.

“Ana!” His voice is music to my ears. She knows what it means now and immediately turns her aggressions onto Chuck. I remove my mitts and throw them at a reluctant Norbert. I’ll save Adrien for last as she may kill him when his turn comes. By then, at least some of her energy will have waned.

“At 15 minutes, call her name,” I tell Norbert. He nods as he tightens the mitts. Jason comes over to me with two ice-cold bottles of water. I put one in each hand and the relief is heavenly. She is fucking pissed! Those hits sunk through those mitts in no time and she might as well have been beating my bare hands. Right about minute 13, she starts to lose steam. Her hits get wild and she starts to grunt with each strike. She’s getting tired. Norbert is ready to call her name, but I slice at my neck and shake my head. I hand the water to Keri and get ready for one of two things—another black eye like that day at her condo when I saved her from the heavy bag, or a mountain of Butterfly falling uselessly into my arms.

After several more swings and the inevitable tears that come with the falling adrenaline, she opts for the latter. I’m behind her in moments catching her before she hits the hard concrete. She is weeping bitterly in my arms as Jason carefully removes her gloves. She’s like a helpless little rag doll in my arms, and I stroke her hair from her sweat-drenched face as she sobs. She cries so hard that she breaks into violent coughing. Jason disappears to his villa and comes back with a damp washcloth. I wipe her face and she calms a bit, though she doesn’t stop crying. Keri opens one of the bottles of water and hands it back to me. I take it with a nod and put the bottle to Butterfly’s mouth. She takes a sip, but only a sip before she starts to weep again. Damn, when will we ever catch a fucking break?

I stand with her in my arms and carry her back down to our villa. I get into the hot tub with her in my arms, both of us fully dressed. In moments, she’s calm and I know the heat will help keep her muscles from tightening. I’m stroking her hair and calming her down, and we are only in there for a couple of minutes when she squirms out of my arms, scrambles out of the hot tub and runs inside the villa.

What the fuck?

When I get to the bedroom door, I hear the very last thing I expect to hear. Butterfly is vomiting! Violently!

“Oh, hell!” I say as I find my way to the bathroom and to Butterfly. She tries to hold her long hair out of the toilet while she heaving her soul in there. I come over to her and hold her hair back only to see that she’s vomiting bile. She hasn’t eaten anything all day!

I’m close enough to the sink to wet a washcloth and wring it out with one hand. I wipe her face and mouth, rinse it again, and apply it to the back of her neck. She’s breathing heavily, threatening to dry heave a bit, but not doing it.

“The hot tub… it was too hot. It made me nauseous.” She can barely speak.

“I can imagine. We haven’t eaten all day, Baby.” She nods. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know it would make you sick.”

“Neither did I,” she chokes. “I’ll just have to pray… that my muscles don’t lock… because that was just too hot.”

“I’ll work the kinks out if you lock,” I promise her. “Maybe we should just take a quick shower and get something to eat?” It’s more of a question than a statement. She nods and stands from the floor, stripping off her wet clothes and going immediately to the shower. She turns the water on to a nice warm blast and stands under the head, letting the water run over her and down her body. I strip out of my clothes and, seeing that the water is hot, but not too hot, I join her in the shower. I put shower gel on the freshwater sponge from Athens that she now uses and meticulously wash her body as she leans with her hands flat against the wall. She is hoping to rinse something away, but I’m afraid it won’t be that easy. I need to find out exactly what’s going to happen to this Madison bitch, because if she gets off, I swear that I will find some way to make her pay for what she did to my Butterfly.

I wash myself when I am done with Butterfly, but have to coax her from the showerhead so that I can rinse the soap from my body and hair. I quickly wash her hair while I have her away from the showerhead. The conditioner will have to wait and there’s only so much coaxing I can do in this small bathtub/shower. I wrap myself in a towel and get a second towel to dry her off. I wrap her hair in the towel and bring her to the bedroom. After putting on a pair of boxer briefs, I begin to dry her hair. It’s so long that I know it’s going to take longer to dry than it used to. I’m just about finished drying it when she looks up at me. Her large, sad blue eyes are full of gratitude, and I lean down and kiss her. Without a word, I finish drying her hair. After handing her a clean bra and panties, I help her into a comfortable sleeveless sweater mini-dress.

“Do you want to eat down here?” I ask her while I pull a clean T-shirt over my head after stepping into some jeans. She shakes her head while she fashions her hair into a braid over her left shoulder.

“No,” she says while she secures the end with a little barrette-hairpin of some kind. It lies over her shoulder and she would be Pippy Longstocking if she had one on the other side. “They probably think I’m crazy, so I want to dispel that. We also have to get everyone ready to go home.” She says that last part with venom and I know she is sickly angry about having to cut our honeymoon short.

“We can come back, Baby, anytime you want,” I try to soothe her.

“That’s not the point, Christian,” she snaps. “This man disrupts my life every chance that he gets and now he’s disrupting it from inside of a jail cell! When will I ever be free of him? And Carly! Carly fucking Madison!” Her hand moves quickly to her forehead and I know that she is going to bruise if she starts to rub. I quickly grab her wrists and force her to look at me.

“You. Are going. To have. To trust me,” I say slowly. “One way or another, that woman is going to pay for what she did to you. Do you understand me?” She looks up at me uncertain, then resigned. Her body relaxes and she nods. “Good. Now may I carry you to dinner, Mrs. Grey?” She cocks her head at me.

“I’m fine, Christian, really. I can walk.”

“I know that. May I carry you to dinner, Mrs. Grey?” She examines me for a moment. Then she holds her arms out for me to pick her up. I lift her off the ground and grasp her firmly in my arms. She holds me tight around the neck, burying her face there until I get her up the stairs and into the large dining room where everyone has already started dinner. The room falls silent as Butterfly uncurls herself from my neck and allows me to sit her in a chair. I take the seat next to her and put generous helpings of roasted chicken, grilled vegetables and potatoes on her plate. She declines the wine gesturing to her stomach, but fills her water-glass instead.

“Edward David has gotten his trial date,” she says without looking up from her water-glass. Jason and Charles frown and Charles put his fork down.

“When is it?” Charles asks.

“Monday,” she responds.

“Monday!” Jason exclaims. “Fuck! Are you serious?” Butterfly nods.

“I’m afraid so,” she says. “No doubt, this means that Seattle knows that we’re married and we most likely won’t be able to get into Escala when we get back.”

“This means that we need to put some things in place before we can leave,” I add. “Since it’s the business day in Seattle right now, we’re going to have to get some balls in the air and I mean fast.” Jason nods. “I’m going to see if we can stay at my parents’ house when we get back if that’s okay with you, Butterfly.” She nods.

“It’s fine with me, but won’t we be imposing with Burton and Herman there?” she asks. I hiss.

“I forgot about that. I’ll see if we can make other arrangements.”

“What about Dad and Mandy?” she asks.

“I wouldn’t mind,” I say. “I just don’t want to disrupt little Harry’s life like that.” It’s her turn to hiss.

“I forgot about that,” she says.

“Maybe we can just stay at a hotel?” I ask and she frowns.

“Well, okay, if we must.” She really doesn’t like that idea.

“It’ll only be for a couple of days, Baby, until we can get security straightened out at Escala. You know it’s going to be impossible to get in and out of there.” She sighs.

“I know. Do what you need to do,” she relents reluctantly. I squeeze her hand.

“It’s going to be fine,” I say. She nods, unconvinced. I think she has just taken all that she can take at this point.

“Carly Madison-Perry is taking a plea,” she says, dropping her fork onto her plate. Charles nearly chokes on his food.

“She’s what?” he says, wiping his mouth.

“She’s taking a plea. I don’t know exactly what that means for her, but I know that means that she won’t get what she deserves.” I can see that she’s getting agitated again, so I take her hand and draw small circles on her skin to calm her. She takes a deep breath and releases it.

“I’m going to ask Allen exactly what it means, and then we’ll go from there.” I nod at Jason and he nods back. I mean it, some terrible accident will befall this woman before she gets the opportunity to turn state’s evidence if they have any intention on setting this creature free after she orchestrated this whole attack on my wife. Butterfly falls silent and eats her meal. “I’m sorry, Keri. This means that your visit is going to be cut short.”

“No wotties, Mr. Chwistian. I leaving Satuhday night anyway. I sotty, I didn’t mean to cause any twouble.” I wave my hand.

“Don’t worry about it. Try to enjoy your last day here,” I tell her. I look over at Butterfly and she is making quick work of her dinner. That vomiting spell from the hot tub is long forgotten and her appetite is back in full force. I don’t want to bring any undue attention to her, so I turn my attention back to the staff. “We were going to fly to Crete on Saturday, so now I have to see if we can secure the villa until Sunday. I don’t know if they have it rented out already, but I will have to see and make other arrangements for us if that’s the case. We need to secure the jet as soon as possible. Norbert, Adrien, you can leave tonight or stay until Sunday if you wish. I’ll make sure that you get compensated as promised for your time.”

“Thank you, sir,” Norbert says. “It’s late now to try to get travel arrangements. We will stay to Sunday. It will be easier to get home that way.” Adrien nods his agreement.

“Very well.” I look over at Butterfly, who has gotten a second helping of chicken and potatoes and isn’t paying any attention to our conversation. “We should probably pack tonight—tomorrow at the latest. I’ll probably be on the phone with Seattle all night making sure everything is in place for our return…”

“Maylen cun pwoby hep,” Butterfly chimes in with a mouthful of food. I frown.

“What was that?” I ask turning to her. She swallows the ungodly mouthful of chicken she was just chewing.

“I’m sorry,” she says, wiping her mouth. “Marilyn can probably help.”

“How?” I ask. I’m sure that between me, Jason, Welch, and Andrea, we can have everything set and ready to go before morning. Butterfly shrugs.

“I don’t know. For one thing, she can tell you the latest gossip. They know we’re not at Escala but they don’t know where we are. They don’t know when to expect us back at SeaTac if at all. She can tell you what the buzz is and it may give us a better idea of when we should land that bird.” Shit! I hadn’t even thought of that!

“Can you see what you can find out for me? The more information I have, the better,” I say. She nods and wipes her mouth.

“I’ll go call her now,” she says, rising from the table. I grab her hand.

“Are you okay?” She nods, uncertain.

“As well as can be expected under the circumstances,” she says. That was the right answer. If she had said she was fine, I would have known she was lying. I kiss her hand.

“I’ll be down in a minute,” I tell her. She smiles tightly and wipes her mouth with her napkin again before dropping it on the table and leaving the dining room.

“Is she a nervous eater, Boss?” Jason asks. I nod.

“She’s been eating pretty well for the last… several weeks, I’d say, but it’s worse when she’s upset,” I say. Charles nods.

“Remember the candy situation in Anguilla?” he says. Jason and I groan. Even Keri remembers the ordeal since she took the candy back to the kids. “We won’t even talk about that mammoth hotdog-and-fry combo and that outrageous ice-cream-banana-split creation that almost cost me a limb when I asked if we could share.” Jason and I burst out in laughter. It really wasn’t a funny situation, but he just made it sound hilarious.

“Well, hopefully everybody’s already packed. If not, get packed tonight. Like I said, we were supposed to fly to Crete tomorrow, so I don’t know what our sleeping arrangements will be tomorrow night…” We talk about whatever minutia we can until we have finished dinner and break to different locations.


ANASTASIA

“Damn! That really sucks, Ana,” Marilyn says sympathetically. “I knew that Al would tell you about Edward’s trial, but that Madisongirl… I had no idea. Why are they giving her a deal?”

“I don’t know,” I tell her. “Nothing that the police or the district attorney or any of them does surprises me anymore, but I’m pissed as fuck. I know she’s going to get off with some sort of slap on the wrist. Shit, if she had killed me, they would probably give her community service.” I shake my head. “Anyway, I need to know the buzz in Seattle. I know that the wedding was front page news, but does anyone know that we’re gone?”

“Yes, they know you’re gone but not where you are. Honestly, may I suggest pulling Vee in on this one? I have a little information, but she has to have more.”

“Yeah, it is her job to…” I trail off. Job. Job! Oh my gosh.

Ana, what is it?” Marilyn asks.

“Mare, look in my contacts in Outlook and conference Josh into this call.” There’s momentary silence.

“Josh! Of course!” There’s another pause before she tells me to hold on. In a few moments, she’s back. “Hello? Ana?”

“I’m here.”

“Josh, are you there?” she asks.

“I’m here, too,” he responds, and his voice is music to my ears.

“Hi, again, Josh.”

“Hey, Ana. How’s the honeymoon so far?”

“Quickly coming to an end as I’m sure you’ve already heard.”

“Yes, I imagined as much. So what’s up?”

“Josh, I know that you’ve already been wonderful in keeping our secret and helping us sniff out the mole in Christian’s company…”

“Hey, it’s as beneficial for me as it is for you. Not only do I get great material, but I also have friends in high places!” he says with a laugh and I laugh, too.

“I’m so glad to hear that, because I need you again,” I tell him.

“What can I do?”

“Christian has a PR department that’s usually on top of everything, and I plan to utilize them as well, but you seem to be able to get things from the wire… and possibly to the wire, I’m hoping.” There’s a pause.

“Yeah, I can do that, but what are we talking about?” he asks.

“I need to know how likely it would be for Christian and I to get into the country undetected.”

“None!” he says honestly. “Every reporter in the Pacific northwest is watching SeaTac 24/7 for that GEH jet. They know that with David’s trial being a couple of days away that you two have to fly back in here sometime this weekend. I don’t care if you come in at 2am, they will be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed waiting to ambush you.” I sigh and shake my head.

“There has to be a way,” I lament. “Maybe if we flew into another state and got a charter flight…”

“They’d still be on top of you the moment you hit SeaTac,” he says.“Somebody would spot you, Ana. They’re looking for you.” I put my hand on my forehead.

“There has to be a way,” I say. “We can’t have them follow us from the airport. We’re trying not to go back to Escala.”

“You could use a diversion,” Marilyn pipes in. Hmm…

“What do you mean?”

“You know, a decoy of some kind. Something like that,” she says. Just like that, a light bulb goes off.

“We have to go through customs as soon as we get to an American airport,” I say.

“Yeah, that’s generally the idea,” Josh says in a stating-the-obvious kind of tone.

“So, the masses have their eye out for the GEH jet. If they see it, they expect us to be on board.”

“I think you get my idea,” Marilyn says.

“I think I see where you’re going, but tell me anyway,” Josh says.

“The jet stops in New York and we go through customs there. The jet continues to Seattle with a tip-off that the GEH jet will be landing at SeaTac. While they’re waiting for us to disembark, we’ve chartered a flight to another airport and are well on our way to our lodging accommodations before anybody knows that we’re not on the jet. Many of them may even stay out there all night thinking that we’re sleeping on the jet.”

“Good God, that’s brilliant!” Josh says.

“That’s more than I would have come up with,” Marilyn adds.

“So, where do you need me?” Josh asks.

“I need you to get it on the wire that the GEH jet is making an international departure to parts unknown to retrieve Christian and Ana Grey, nothing more—but don’t leak that information until tomorrow night. I know by then the jet will, in fact, be on its way to get us if not here already. It’s going to require that you camp out at SeaTac with the rest of the suckers. Are you game?”

“Are you kidding? I get to lead the wild goose chase? I wouldn’t miss this for the world! I have to practice my angry face for when I realize that we’ve all been ‘duped.’” I laugh in the phone.

“I’m so glad that I can count on you, Josh. You’re at the top of my Christmas card list!”

“Don’t forget you said that. A Christmas card from Christian and Ana Grey could be very valuable sometime in the future.” I smile.

“You got it. Correspond with Marilyn for me on any developments and gossip that may need to float our direction. I may need to hire my own PR team after this…”

“I’ll be your secret public informant,” he says facetiously. “I’ve got to run. I have a couple of assignments before I set the mouse free in the city. I’ll keep you posted.”

“Thanks again, Josh. Mare, don’t go away…”

I give Marilyn instructions on what to pack from Escala assuming that she can get in. I don’t know how recognizable she is to the press, but I will need clothes for wherever we are going when we get stateside and so will Christian. Luckily, Jason has already notified Gail by the time I call her and fill her in, asking her to please help Marilyn get together some things for us for a few days as I have no idea how long we’ll be away from our penthouse. Next, I call Daddy. He’s surprised to hear from me on my honeymoon, until I tell him why the honeymoon is being cut short. Al and James each have a place. Maybe they’ll let us stay in the place that they’re not using? I’ll see how Christian feels about that before I ask them.

I lie back on the bed looking at the white cave-like ceiling of our room. The villa is very clean and understated, one of the most modest places I have ever stayed while traveling with Christian. Everything is simple and neat. I think that’s why I like it so much. I think our meditation/connection room in our new house will look like this—functional and cozy, not white though. We’ll need a more comforting color in the room. Maybe a soft tan—that seems toogeneric. I’m thinking an organic wallpaper of some kind…

I awake and it’s dark in the room. The sun has gone down and the bed is cold. I have a slight headache. I get up to see if I can find some pain killers and I hear Christian’s voice in the dining room.

“Yes, I know. I just didn’t want to burden you… Not yet, I’m trying to make arrangements now… No, Mom, that wasn’t it. I just didn’t want to impose. You’ve already got Pops and Uncle Herman there. You’re going to have a house full of people… No, I’m certain she won’t mind. Her reaction was less than pleased when I mentioned staying at a hotel… Yes, Mom, I know. I’m making arrangements now. I’ll let you know as soon as I do… She’s okay for the most part, but she didn’t take the news well. It’s been so much on her and, well, you know…” He rubs his hand over his face and then through his hair. “I know. I know, Mom. I just… I hate to see her unhappy and this shit is wearing on her… Sorry, Mom. I forget sometimes… Okay. Tell everybody we love them and we’ll be there soon… Bye.” He ends the call and starts typing on his laptop again. He’s sighing heavily and I know that he’s trying to figure something out. That’s when I make my presence known.

“Hi,” I say walking into the dining room. He looks at his watch.

“Hi, Baby. What are you doing awake? It’s after 2am.”

“I awoke and you weren’t there. I knew you were trying to get things set up for our return. Grace said it’s okay for us to stay?” He looks at me, then back down at his computer.

“More like forced me to stay,” he says. “I was trying to make other arrangements and God only knows how she found out. She scares me sometimes.”

“Kind of like you scare everyone else,” I say, sitting next to him and laying my head on his shoulder. “What are you working on now?”

“The quietest way to get back into Seattle. There doesn’t seem to be one.”

“Yes, there is,” I say, rubbing my eyes. “We’re going to be in the air when?”

“Sunday afternoon. It’s the soonest they can have the jet ready and we’ll have to get to London-Heathrow to meet it. Too many complications involved in getting it to Greece in such short notice.” I nod.

“I’ll call Josh and let him know.” He frowns.

“Josh?” he questions. I fill him in on the plan we devised to sneak into the States. He rubs the stubble on his chin and types into his laptop.

“That just might work,” he says, twisting his lips and still typing. “We can’t fly into Boeing Field. It would most likely be just as monitored as SeaTac, but with the jet sitting on the tarmac—what a diversion. Who thought of that?”

“Marilyn,” I inform him, rubbing my head.

“I just might have to hire her,” he says.

“Nope. You took Allen, you can’t have Marilyn. She’s mine… for life. She’s going to be my PA when I’m old and gray unless she quits to do something else.” I’m still rubbing my head.

“What’s wrong?”

“I’ve got a headache,” I tell him. He kisses me on the cheek and goes to the kitchen. When he comes back, he has orange juice and water.

“Drink the water first. If there is any aspirin or ibuprofen here, I have no idea where they are.” He watches me drink the water, then moves behind me and begins to massage my temples. Oh God, it’s heavenly. I don’t want to fall asleep again. I want to stay and help and I want to start getting back on Seattle time. I know it’s somewhere around 4:30 in the afternoon there right now, so I need to stay awake for at least a few more hours.

“Better?” he asks after massaging my temples for a few minutes.

“Much,” I respond. He stops massaging. The pain isn’t completely gone, but it has subsided quite a bit.

“Headaches not caused by some major illness are often a result of dehydration. Drink your orange juice now. It’ll help clear the fuzziness.” I drink down half of the glass. It’s so good. I look back at his computer and his fingers caressing the keys. “Our best bet would be to fly into Bellingham or Yakima and get a car from there, but renting a car or even having one meet us would be a dead giveaway. The press would follow anything leaving from Escala.” I start thinking again.

“Then let them,” I say. “Have one or two of the other security detail leave Escala in one of the Audis and pick up our luggage at SeaTac. Have Grace or Carrick meet us at Bellingham or Yakima… or even Elliot or Val.” The wheels are turning in his eyes again.

“You think of everything, huh?” he says, typing into the laptop again.

“Nah, I’m shooting from the hip. I think on my feet.” I lay my head on his shoulder.

“What happened with the hot tub earlier?” he asks, still typing on his computer and occasionally on his blackberry. I shrug.

“It was too hot,” I tell him. “I hadn’t eaten anything and I guess the temperature was too much. I don’t know. My stomach was just insanely queasy and the next thing I knew…” I shrug again. He eyes me curiously.

“No more hot tub without food, I guess,” he says, turning back to the computer. “So the charter plane to Bellingham is completely doable. I guess just put whatever we may need in a carry-on to go on the charter plane.”

“Marilyn and Gail are packing some things for us to take to Grace and Carrick’s. Marilyn is not so recognizable right now, so she can take the things to Grace and Carrick’s without being spotted and they’ll be there when we get there.” He nods.

“Good. So, nothing is left but for us to get there without attracting attention. This will be a neat trick. After this, they won’t know whether to follow the GEH jet or look for us in some obscure airport somewhere.” He laughs.

“Why had you never had a contingency plan like this before?” I ask.

“I never needed one,” he says. “I didn’t care about them parked at the airport or camping out at Escala or Grey House. I just ignored them.” He looked up at me. “Things are different now.”

“It bothers you that they intrude now.” It’s more of a statement than a question. He nods.

“I’ve always been fodder for gossip and headlines, but the things going on in our life right now… they should be private. I never knew that people could exploit someone’s suffering so much until all our calamity became front page news. I saw it happen to other people, but I never really paid attention. Lincoln gets arrested and they’re trying to find the kids she molested to talk to the parents. You get kidnapped and beaten and they’re camped out at the damn hospital! The same thing happened when Jason was shot! They’re vicious and heartless and…” He pinches the bridge of his nose. I gently rub his back. “I’m scared to death for when we have kids, Ana. They won’t have any kind of normal life.”

“Yes, they will,” I reassure him. “They will have a family that loves them and if I know you, you will build a fortress for them to live in that’s larger than a small city. Their kindergarten teachers will be screened within an inch of their lives and their little 5-year-old playmates will have to sign NDAs.” He laughs.

“Well, not far from it,” he says. His email pings and I can see that it’s from Welch.

“Do you need some privacy?” I ask.

“No,” he says. “It’s probably about the travel arrangements.” He opens the email and, sure enough, Welch already has a quote on chartering a Challenger 604 or a Gulfstream III to get us from New York to Bellingham. All that’s left is to get us to London-Heathrow.

“So what do we do next? Do we have somewhere to stay tonight? We were supposed to be gone.”

“Well, we have to compromise. There will be another couple staying down here in the private villa, so you and I have to move upstairs. Charles is going to have to move into the villa with Jason and you and I will take the small one-bedroom. It’s just for one night, Baby.”

“That’s okay, Christian. At least we don’t have to go to another hotel completely and we’ll already be packed to leave on Sunday afternoon. Chuck will be taking Keri to the airport tomorrow anyway. What about Norbert and… Adrien?” He looks at me and smiles.

“No more Meathead?” he teases.

“He gave an asshole a gut shot for me. I guess I can give him a break. Besides, it’s just for one more night, right?” I shrug. He kisses me on the cheek.

“They have flights out to Paris on Sunday before we fly to Heathrow. We really didn’t need them as much as I thought we would, but they were helpful in Paris.”

“If you say so,” I say, looking back at his computer. “Vee emailed you.” Again, it should have been a question, but it was a statement.

“Yeah, to tell me that the press is teeming in front of Grey House for a statement. There’s a lot of speculation about the trial and they’re trying to get information. The word seems to be that we—more specifically, I—am responsible for all of the continuations and that the court date fell during our honeymoon because I couldn’t get another one.” I shake my head.

“I am dreading this trial. I know exactly what they’re going to do. I was kidnapped, beaten, traumatized, nearly raped, robbed, disfigured… and now, I’m going to be villainized.” I rub my face and shake my head, trying to wipe away the tear that falls before he sees it. I’m not successful. He takes my face in both his hands and kisses the eye that shed the tear.

“I don’t know what you think I can or can’t do to that Perry woman, but this fucker—I can make him pay. I can make him squirm and cry and suffer for the rest of his life. He will be better off getting convicted than to fall into my hands. So, don’t you worry. That asshole will pay until his dying day.”

I believe him when he’s talking about David, but Carly is another story.

“Speaking of that Perry woman, any update on her?” He kisses my cheek and drops his hands.

“No. I asked Allen what we could expect with David, but I didn’t ask about Perry. One mountain at a time,” he says, squeezing my hand. I sigh.

“So besides an Ana bloodbath, what can we expect with David?”

“Well, he’s not pleading insanity actually. To be specific, his defense is diminished responsibility and duress. It’s a little different from insanity or temporary insanity. One defense focuses more on the defendant’s competency and ability to stand trial and understand the consequences of his actions while the other focuses on the state of mind at the time of the crime and the defendant’s fear of personal harm. Allen assures me that it’s still likely to fly out the window because he never attempted to contact the police before taking any action, so this defense is very likely to fall flat unless his attorney has a bird-in-the-hand that we’re not aware of.”

“I can guarantee it,” I say. “He’s vindictive and manipulative and I’m certain that he’s got something up his sleeve. I’m certain of it.” I sigh again. “I’m hungry.” He looks at me like some sort of strange creature.

“Really?” he asks and I know what he’s thinking. I ate like a cow storing food for later at dinner.

“I burned calories that I didn’t store with that workout, so I had to replenish them. Now, I’m hungry, like normal people are when they wake at 2:00 in the morning and start the day.”

“You haven’t started the day. I’m getting you back to bed.”

“Yes, I have, Grey,” I scold. “I need to stay awake for at least another four hours and then I can take a nap. I need to start getting back to Seattle time as close as possible or I’m going to be crabby and fuzzy in court and I want my head to be clear as a bell!” His lips form a thin line, but he relents.

“Fine, but you’re going to bed at six and I expect you to sleep until at least 10am,” he scolds.

“We’ll see,” I say.

“Damn straight, we’ll see. Test me and I’ll fuck you like a Neanderthal at five to be sure.” My eyebrows furrow.

“Is that supposed to be a threat?” I ask. Don’t go to sleep and I’ll fuck you? Really? He smirks.

“Test me and find out,” he says, raising his eyebrow. I shake my head.

“I’m going to find something to eat, and then I’m going to pack,” I say, kissing his forehead.

*-*

It turns out that I didn’t need to test Christian after all. After I ate and finished packing our things, I was dead to the world by 5:30. He had to wake me to check out of the private villa at 11:00 so that the staff could clean it. Jason and Chuck had already taken our luggage up to the Katikia villa and Christian carried me since I simply could not open my eyes. He put me in bed in the villa, pointing out that it was 1:00am in Seattle and I could get some more sleep. He didn’t have to tell me twice.

It turns out that we all had the same idea to try to get back onto Seattle time as quickly as possible. At about 3pm, I wake with Christian wrapped around me and sleeping soundly. He couldn’t have gotten more than four hours of sleep and I don’t want to wake him, but I have to pee. I slide out of bed as quietly as I can and go relieve myself. When I come out of the bathroom, he’s still asleep. I remove my phone from the charger and go out to the pool.

Hanging my feet into the water I send a text to Marilyn.

**I need black and blue suits with white shirts and matching shoes. I need stud earrings—pearls or diamonds. They are in the jewelry box on my chest of drawers. If you get the pearl earrings, I need my string of pearls too.**

I’m facing this mess head on and I don’t want to show any signs of weakness or uncertainty. If they’re going to paint me as the villain, I want to make sure that they know who they’re dealing with. I got a text back a few minutes later.

**I packed the Love Collection. You didn’t want that?**

I respond quickly.

**You can leave it, but I need studs if it’s not too much trouble.**

I don’t plan to wear the Love Collection to court—only suits and studs.

**I kind of knew that you would want suits, but I packed some other things, too, just in case.**

Marilyn knows me so well.

**What are you doing up so early on a Saturday?**

The response is immediate.

**Awaiting instructions.**

I laugh. Of course, she would be. She knows me.

**Christian wants to hire you. I told him that he couldn’t have you. You’re mine for life.**

There’s a pause after that text. I’m thinking that she’s wondering if I’m serious. A few minutes later…

**Can I get that in writing?**

She’s unsure. I know with all the changes in my life, she is wondering where she stands. Even though I don’t use her as much in the “receptionist and secretary” capacity, she is irreplaceable as a personal assistant. So yes, you can get that in writing.

**We will work on a contract that we both agree with when I’m stateside. Is that okay? I don’t want to lose you. I couldn’t function without you.**

I can see her smiling in my head, but I know that she needs to protect herself. Up to this point, we’ve been going on word and that’s all. There’s nothing to protect her if I just go nuts and decide that I don’t want her anymore. She needs that safety net in case something happens since she’s putting all of her eggs in this one basket.

**That would be great, Ana. Don’t worry, as long as you don’t abuse me, I don’t plan on going anywhere.**

That’s music to my ears. I text her some other pleasantries about her and Gary and Greece before I end the conversation.

And I’m hungry again.

I very well should be. I’ve been sleeping all day and it was 12 hours ago that I last ate. That was just a fruit salad and some toast. I go to the community kitchen to see what might be available. There’s some leftover chicken from last night. That’ll do me for now. I put some of the chicken on a plate and pop it in the microwave. There’s some kind of loaf bread on the counter. I slice two pieces and pop it in the toaster. There’s some tomatoes in the refrigerator, so I cut a few slices. My chicken is done, so I put the tomatoes on the plate with a little salt and pepper and a splash of some oil and vinegar. My toast is done—just lightly enough to be crunchy on the outside and still soft on the inside, so I don’t need butter or anything. I play around with the idea of wine and decide that it’s probably not a good idea this early in the afternoon. Besides, the thought of it is making my stomach churn for some reason, so I just opt for water.

I sit on one of the loungers by the pool and tear into my lunch. God, I’m starving! The sun is high in the sky and I didn’t bring any sunglasses out with me. There is no stirring from any of the villas and I’m thinking that everyone must be fast asleep, except maybe for Chuck, who had to take Keri back to the airport to get her flight. I wonder if they’re serious. I mean, she did fly to Greece to see him and he risked his job to get her here. He could have put her up in a nearby hotel or villa, but he didn’t want to chance not being able to see her. I know that had to upset Jason since he couldn’t bring Gail along. With us leaving, my idea for bringing her to Greece for the last leg of the trip is moot, but at least he’ll be able to see her soon.

I finish my lunch and go into our villa. Christian is still asleep, his hand reaching to the empty spot in the bed—no doubt, looking for me. I take my sunglasses from my backpack and go back out to the pool.

“Hi.” I hear a female voice and open my eyes after I have been lounging on the chaise in the sun for about twenty minutes. I adjust my eyes and focus to see a young, attractive blonde in a string bikini standing over me. She’s not overly nipped and tucked, but you can tell that she’s had some work… and she is hot! When I say hot, I mean really hot.

“Hi,” I respond sitting up on my chaise. She drops her towel on the chaise next to me to reveal these tiny scraps of material that only cover her nipples and the slit at her crotch. Everything else is on display—her full ass, her ample mounds… she might as well be naked. She smiles at me and I feel a twinge of caution. There’s a nearly naked woman walking around the pool and my husband is about 50 feet away sleeping in our villa. Heaven help me.

“My name is Shelly. I’m in the villa downstairs.” Yes, I am aware of this. She sits on the chaise and begins to apply suntan lotion to her skin.

“I’m Ana,” I respond. I don’t really know what else to say. She knows we’re—well, I’m—in one of the villas up here.

“We were told that no one had rented the villas upstairs. We thought we would have the place to ourselves,” she says with no malice. We?Oh yes, Christian did say there would be a couple down there. I guess she thought no one would be here, so it would be okay to wear basically nothing to the pool.

“We’ll only be here for the night,” I tell her. “We have to fly to the states tomorrow afternoon.”

“Oh.” She sounds a little disappointed. I thought you wanted the place to yourself. “It’s a big place. The idea of being able to walk around freely is tempting, but it’s also fun to have other people around. At least you’ll be here for the night, though.” She smiles widely and puts her suntan lotion on the floor. “You’re very pretty.”

What? I’m glad my glasses hide my expression, because I know I’m looking incredulously at her.

“So are you,” I say, when I find my words. She chuckles.

“No, I’m hot,” she says, almost sarcastically while lying back on her chaise. “This look came from the doctor—boobs, hips, ass, dye-job, facials… that makes me hot. I can tell you woke up like that. That makes you pretty.” Wow! That’s one of the best compliments I think I’ve ever gotten, masked behind some of the deepest self-hatred I’ve ever heard.

“Where are you from?” I ask.

“Malibu,” she says. That explains it. If she’s competing with the hardbodies that she sees down there, she’s in somebody’s chair or on someone’s table under the knife every week. “I like being hot, don’t get me wrong. I just prefer being pretty.”

“So… why change?” I ask.

“Because I wasn’t either, so I needed some help.” I can’t imagine that she had to change that much to be pretty. Just then, I see this abso-fucking-lutely gorgeous older man come from the stairs of the private villa. I would put him in his mid to late forties and his body is insane—not overdone, but muscles everywhere, and I mean everywhere!His hair is black with slightly graying sides and sideburns and he is hot, hot, hot! Hell, fuck keeping up with the Malibu babes. She’s got to keep up with him!

“This is my husband, Harley,” she says, holding her hand out to the muscle-bound mountain of deliciousness walking towards us. He’s wearing a pair of jogging pants as he strolls over to us.

“Hey, Baby,” he says, leaning down to kiss his wife. “I was wondering where you got off to.”

“Not a lot of places to go, Sweetness,” she says with a full, sincere smile. He looks over at me.

“Who do we have here?” he asks.

“This is Ana,” she says, gesturing over to me. “She and her husband are here for the night. They’re leaving for the States tomorrow.”

“Oh? Where from?” Harley asks.

“Seattle,” I respond. “How long have you two been married?” I ask.

“Six years,” Shelly replies. Hell! Unless she got married when she was 16, she’s not as young as I thought. “You?”

“Newlyweds,” I respond. “This was our honeymoon.”

“Oh, how nice. Did you enjoy yourselves?”

“Yes, we did,” I say, smiling as I remember the hot springs and the hiking, the Acropolis and dinner at Orizones. “We had a wonderful time. We started in Paris…”

Before I knew it, I had a captive audience hanging on my description of the Arc de Triomphe and Love Lock Bridge. Shelly commented on how she would love to go to the Moulin Rouge while Harley sat on the floor between our two chaises, his legs bent with his arms resting on his knees. Thank God my husband is hot and beautiful. While I appreciate Harley’s rugged good looks and physique, he does nothing for me in the libido department. I keep looking at him and wishing Christian would wake up and come join us. After describing the beauty that is Athens, we hear scrambling at the door. It’s Chuck. Damn it, Christian, wake up!

“Is this your husband?” Shelly asks. I chuckle a bit.

“Um, no. This is my personal security. Chuck, this is Shelly and Harley. They rented the villa downstairs.” Chuck nods.

“Ma’am, sir, nice to meet you,” he says with a tight smile. He is a bit uptight and I can tell. “Anyone else up?”

“No, just me for now,” I say, throwing a questioning glance at him. He nods tightly and goes into the villa that he is sharing with Jason.

“Anyone else?” Shelly questions. “If you don’t mind me asking, how many people are here?”

“Um,” I start counting. “Six. My husband and I and our security team.”

“Team?” Harley asks. Oh, boy.

“Yeah. There are four of them. My husband is very serious about our safety.”

“Oh,” Shelly says, throwing a towel over herself. I guess she really did think they were here alone. Harley slowly and sensually pulls the towel off of her.

“You don’t have to cover up, Baby. You’re beautiful,” he tells her. Yikes. If I came out to the pool dressed like that, Christian would throw a blanket over me. I’m having flashbacks of a conversation that we had a while back concerning a nun’s habit or Ma Kettle or something like that.

“Butterfly?”

I hear the questioning voice of my husband from a few feet away. I look up and he’s standing in the doorway wearing a pair of cargo shorts hanging off of his hips and giving a glimpse of the “V” that leads to his family jewels. Fuck, I want to drool.

That’s my husband,” I announce as he begins to walk uncertain towards us. Harley turns around and looks while Shelly fawns over the nickname.

“Ooohh, Butterfly! That’s so sweet!” she croons. I don’t think Christian knows what to make of this scene as he approaches my lounger. I smile at her.

“This is Shelly and her husband, Harley. This is my husband… Chris.” Christian sits on my lounger and nods at Shelly and Harley. “They’re staying in the villa downstairs, Dear.” Realization dawns on his face.

“Oh. Now how did I forget that?” Christian says.

“You’ve been distracted with other things,” I remind him. “Is everything ready?”

“Yes,” he smiles. “We leave tomorrow at five and take a commercial flight to Heathrow. The jet will be waiting for us when we get there.”

“The jet,” Harley says. “Security team, private jet—are you guys royalty or something?”

“No, not so glamorous,” I answer, “but close enough.”

“So what are your plans for the day?” Shelly asks, no doubt hoping to piggyback.

“We were just going to stick around the villa for the day, try to get back on Seattle time,” Christian answers for us. Shelly’s face falls. I think she’s kind of lonely and I can’t really place why she seems a bit unhappy. “I planned for a very extravagant dinner for our last night, if you would like to join us… that is, if you don’t have other plans.” His statement is directed at Harley. He wouldn’t dare ask another woman to join us for dinner.

“That sounds great, Chris,” he says. “We had planned to stay in today and see the island tomorrow. That works out pretty well.”

The four of us continue to talk about this and that. Christian is careful not to give away too much information while carrying on the conversation. He’s also careful to stay very close to me. He’s like a second skin and I almost want to tell him to pull up a chair or move to another chaise. Harley is obviously very attracted to and fond of his wife, and Shelly doesn’t even make the googly-eyes at Christian that most women do. Conversation flows very freely for a long time until we see the staff coming in with enough bags of groceries to feed a third-world country, and we know that the dinner will be getting started soon. Harley takes this moment to do some “laps” in the pool while Shelly and I continue to talk about our trip through Athens and Delphi before coming to Santorini.

“I’m going to shower now, Baby. I don’t want to miss our last Santorini sunset,” Christian tells me before kissing me and rising from the chaise.

“I’ll be with you in a second,” I say to his retreating back. He waves without turning around and disappears into the villa.

“Is it as hard as it looks?” Shelly asks, watching my husband walk away. What the fuck is she referring to?

“Huh?”

“Keeping the women off of him, is it as hard as it looks?” I immediately feel sorry for her. I know that she’s speaking from experience and I have a feeling that it’s much harder for her than it is for me.

“I don’t have to,” I tell her. “He never gives me any reason to doubt him, and honestly, he doesn’t like the extra attention.”

“With a face like that, he doesn’t like extra attention?” I shake my head. She puts her sunglasses on and lies back on the chaise. “Must be nice.”


 A/N: “Don’t let a bug on your windshield distract you from your journey.” Thanks, bugglady23.

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Love and Handcuffs!
Lynn x