Raising Grey: Chapter 88—Coming Around the Stretch  

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

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

Chapter 88—Coming Around the Stretch  

ANASTASIA

Of course, something about me would send him into a rage. Was it the tight ass comment, the fact that they said I was holding out on him, or the fact that they were talking about me at all? Either way, Iron Fist Grey was able to flex his iron muscles.

“Excuse me,” I say, deciding to go to the kitchen to see what’s holding dinner up now that His Highness has finally joined us.

“Ana, what are you doing in here?” Gail says, pausing from feeding Mikey his dinner.

“Just coming to see if you all need any help,” I say. “I know that waiting for Christian threw our clock off a bit.”

“Ya fehd Minneh,” Keri says. “We gawt the bebbies. I hep wit da dinnah ef dey need…”

“She’s escaping, Keri,” Gail says, wiping her hands and handing Mikey’s spoon and bowl to a confused Keri. “Come with me,” she says, guiding me into the family room where Jason and Chuck are watching television. They look up at me and no doubt wonder why I’m being led into the family room when we have guests in the dining room.

“You’re going to need to be a tough soldier for the next few days,” Gail says with her hands on my arms near my shoulders. “He’s going to take at least that long to find his center. If it’s too much for you, nobody will blame you for being scarce or hiding out. It’ll be easier for him—and for you—if you can help him ride it out, though. No matter how he tries, he’ll never be able to be the asshole that he once was, but he’s going to give it the old college try, and it’s going to be rough until he finds the formula that works for him. You may need a moment or three to yourself throughout this time, just don’t run away. Remember the Vampire Lestat you found when you returned from Montana?”

I shiver when I recall how dead he looked walking into the penthouse that day. It was the creepiest thing I had ever seen… well, second only to that room where I was chained to the bed for four days. Why the fuck did that come to mind? I quickly shake off the memory.

“That’s who he’ll become if you disappear,” she warns. I shake my head.

“Let’s… just get dinner started,” I say. The dinner guests have opened the floor to Lestat and I don’t think I can take much more of hearing about his day tonight.

By the time we get the chicken cordon bleu and sides plated, the conversation has thankfully shifted to something else. I place his plate in front of him and take my seat to his right.

“You okay?” he asks quietly while everyone else is being distracted by dinner.

“Mm-hmm,” I say quickly, placing my napkin on my lap and preparing to eat my dinner. “Elliot, has Grace said anything about Christmas?” I ask. Elliot shakes his head.

“I assumed that we were all going over there like we normally do,” he says. “Did something happen?” I shake my head.

“I just hadn’t heard anything,” I say, trying not to open a can of worms.

“Are you guys still fighting?” he asks. “Since Thanksgiving?”

“No,” I reply. “We’re not fighting anymore.”

“You made up?” he asks. I twist my lips.

“More like called a truce,” I say. His brow rises.

“Oh,” he says. “That’s why you wanted to know if anything had changed.” I nod.

“Yeah… I wasn’t so sure,” I admit.

“If I know my mom, she expects everyone to be there for Christmas,” he says softly.

“Yeah,” Val chimes in. “She even welcomed me when Meg had control of my brain. I’m sure she expects you to be there.”

I don’t say anything. I get the feeling that Grace is just tolerating me right now because I’m what’s good for the Center. It seems like every time something goes wrong, it has to do with me and her. With everything that’s been going on in my life, it’s a battle that I just don’t have the strength to fight. I’m looking for simple, not more complicated.

“So did Al tell you guys the news?” I say, and I have everyone’s attention. “I’m going to trial in February. I’ll finally be able to tell my story against those Green Valley bastards.”

“Really?” Christian says, looking over at Al. “How did I miss this information?”

“You were a bit distracted today,” Al says unapologetically. “Besides, I knew that we were coming over today and that you would find out about it tonight.” Christian nods and tucks into his chicken. I keep the conversation going on the upcoming trial.

“One of the defendants took a plea last year—or whenever it was—to keep from having to go to trial. Two others—the main ring leaders—took pleas as well to turn state’s evidence against anyone else who comes to trial. So, now, someone’s coming to trial and these assholes get to testify, making good on their plea deal.” I take a bite of my chicken. Mmm, it’s really delicious.

“So, who’s going to trial?” Elliot asks. I look over at Al.

“Vincent Sullivan,” he replies. “He’s…” He clears his throat. “He’s one of the guys who… branded her.”

I don’t stop chewing even though the Bitch is fighting not to hurl. I have to face these people in court. I’m not going to let them see me sweat, so I might as well start practicing now.

“When are you going to Vegas?” Val asks. “When is the trial?”

“February 2nd,” Al replies. “The papers in Vegas are already on fire with the story… and some not-so-flattering assumptions about my girl.” My head pops up. I didn’t know that.

“Assumptions like what?” I ask. Al’s ears turn red. He thought I knew.

“Just people talking shit, Jewel. Don’t pay it any attention,” he says, trying to downplay it.

“You just said Vegas is on fire with the story and now you’re telling me not to pay it any attention?” I ask.

“What kind of shit?” Christian says firmly. Al rolls his eyes.

“The same shit they’re always talking,” he says, “that she’s a pampered princess that’s just trying to get attention and now that she has money, she just wants to get revenge on a group of kids for some harmless teasing.”

Don’t blow your top, Ana. Keep cool.

“Harmless teasing?” Christian nearly roars. “They call what they did to her ‘harmless teasing?’ Are they out of their fucking minds?”

“Oh, good grief,” I say, after swallowing my food. “The evidence is horrendously graphic, and it’ll speak for itself. Let them say whatever the hell they want.” I’m sipping this cranberry spritzer and it’s pissing me off. I want a shot of vodka!

“Okay, so, that’s enough of that,” Val says, quickly sensing my tension. “We came over to talk about my godchildren. Why the hell you two think you’ll kick the bucket at the same time is beyond me, but let’s get on with it.”

“It’s not that we think we’ll die at the same time,” Christian says. “It’s just that we’ve realized that we didn’t have provisions for our children in case something happens to us. We’re certain that no one would fight over the kids, but in the unlikely event that we both depart, we just want things to be… in order.”

“What brought this on, Bro?” Elliot asks.

“Watching Tina’s children act like savages after she died and realizing that we didn’t have a will,” I answer, and I’ve had enough of this damn spritzer. “Gail!” I yell. She comes scrambling into the dining room.

“What? What is it?” she asks, frantically.

“I’m sorry,” I say immediately. “That was a bit dramatic. Please forgive me. Would you uncork a Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc?” She raises a knowing brow at me.

“Coming right up,” she says and walks out of the kitchen.

“Continue,” I say, turning back to my meal and ignoring the gawking faces at the table.

“So, are you saying that whomever gets the kids will suddenly become billionaires?” Elliot asks.

“That’s a possibility,” Christian says. “As you know, our children will be very well provided for, and even though our entire fortune wouldn’t pass down to them upon our demise, whomever takes them on will be pretty much set as their caregivers. There will, of course, be large trusts for when they become adults. But let’s face it, if I were to retire right now and travel the world every day of my life, I would still have money to burn for decades to come. So, of course, I want my children to be cared for if something happens to me.”

“So, what’s the idea?” Val asks. “The children’s care will be written into your will?”

“Definitely,” he replies. “If something happens to me and Butterfly before they reach 18,  definite provisions will be made for their care and custody. And that’s where you guys come in.”

“Well, there’s two kids and two couples, but… there’s no way I would want to split them up,” Val says.

“Ditto,” Al replies. “If something that horrible was to happen, they would already be traumatized enough with losing their mom and dad. They would never recover.”

“So, what do you suggest we do?” Elliot says. Val and Al ponder the situation, and I’m sure that neither of them wants to raise their hand to be first in line for fear of hurting the other. Val comes up with the tiebreaker.

“El and I will have our own bundle of joy soon. I think it would just be greedy for us to ask for first-standing with Minnie and Mikey if something happens to you guys, heaven forbid.” Elliot twists his lips and nods.

“I have to agree,” he says. “It’s not like you’re going to take my niece and nephew and skip town.”

“Are you kiddin’?” Al exclaims. “If something happens to Chris and Jewel, I’m gonna have a little girl on my hands. I’m going to have your ass on speed dial!” he says to Val.

“Well, then that settles it,” Val says. “If something happens to you guys—and by the way, nothing’s going to happen to you guys—Al and James become daddies and El and I will be happy back-ups. Is everybody cool with that?” James and Al look at each other and James nods. Elliot is nodding, too.

“Good,” I say. “I know this is the whole reason we called this tête-à-tête, but I would very much like to stop talking about my demise now… and where’s my wine?”

“It’s here,” Gail says, entering the room with Windsor behind her. “I was just letting it breathe.”

“Good,” I say, noting the large-bowl wine glasses. “Sorry, Val, but I need this.”

“Don’t mind me,” she says, holding up her cranberry spritzer, Windsor pours me a respectable amount in my glass and I almost want to hit him.

“Um, you might want to keep pouring, Benson,” Al says.

“His name is Windsor,” I correct him. “Don’t be a queen, Al.” I turn to Windsor. “Please?” I say holding up my glass. Windsor fills it to nearly 75% and I thank him. He goes to fill the other glasses and Al informs him that only he and I would be drinking the red. The gentlemen would most likely want the white.

“I’m sorry if I offended you,” he says to Windsor. “I can be a jerk, but I’m not an asshole.”

“No offense taken, sir,” Windsor says. I don’t know if he’s offended or not, but he wouldn’t show it if he was, consummate professional that he is.

My glass is empty in no time and Windsor is refilling it before I even ask. Iron Fist Grey, the Green Valley nightmare, and my imminent demise all in one conversation… It’s a bit much for one evening.

“You okay, Ana?” Val asks. I nod without looking at anyone.

“Mmhmm,” I say, swallowing more of my wine. Cabernet is the answer to all the world’s problems and I’m going to sit here and drink until I have answers to mine.

Once the evening winds down, I’ve killed three large-bowl glasses of Cabernet and I notice that people are careful what they say to me if they venture to say anything at all. I say my goodnights to everyone once they’ve had coffee and Christian heads to the door to show everyone out. I head upstairs and don some exercise gear. Before he has the chance to get away from the door, I’m across the house and in the elevator. When I get down to the exercise room, I murder the elliptical until my arms and legs ache and I’m swimming in sweat. I just want to fall into a coma-like sleep and forget this day. Tomorrow is a do-over and I’m hoping that it’s going to be much better than this.

My husband, the asshole—who can’t shed the asshole before he gets home. I know that I’ve understood and labeled the Boogieman, but are we ready for this kind of test?

Once I’ve beaten myself all to hell and my muscles all feel like rubber, I abandon the elliptical and go to my room. I run a bath in my marble tub and climb in quickly so that my muscles won’t lock. It feels really good and I’m hoping to fall asleep the moment I get out of the tub…

“Butterfly… wake up.”

I open my eyes, still in the tub. The bubbles have dissipated, and the water is cold. I look up at my husband, my eyes questioning.

“It’s about 3am,” he says. “You fell asleep. I assume you were pretty tired after you climbed Mt. Rushmore, but had I thought you’d be napping in the tub, I would have come to check on you sooner.”

Wouldn’t you know it? At three in the morning, my docile Christian finally returns after still being a bear at nine at night. So, now what? He’ll go to sleep and wake at six to gradually go into bear mode again? To be that cold soul I had breakfast with yesterday? What should I do—swap my schedule so that I’m awake in the middle of the night to spend some time with the man I’ve come to know?

“What are you thinking?” he asks. Do I tell him? Do I say that I don’t know how to be married to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and that, by the way, I spent my entire college tenure wondering which one was really the crazy one and which one was sane?

“That this water is cold, and I feel like a saturated, useless sponge at the moment.” It’s true. He retrieves a bath towel and opens it. Tossing it over his arm, he extends his hand to help me out of the tub. I drag my waterlogged ass out of the tub, and he wraps me in the bath towel. My hair is wet even though I didn’t wash it and I don’t feel like dealing with it in any capacity right now.

He carries me to the bedroom wrapped in the bath towel, sits me on the bed, and begins to dry my skin. I try to accommodate him, but I’m just too tired to sit up. I lay down on the pillow, wet hair and all, and allow him to finish drying my body. I must have drifted off to sleep because I awake with him gently sucking my nipple. It feels so good, but I’m so tired.

“Christian…” I protest.

“I need you,” he replies, his intense gray eyes meeting my sleepy blues. I surrender and allow him to do what he wants. It’s not like I have the strength to protest anyway.

Mr. Grey works his usual magic, working my body into a fevered frenzy with his hands and mouth before mounting me.

And, dear Lord, does he mount me!

He pushes my legs open and thrusts into me—hard! My upper body rises off the bed and he grabs both my wrists and pins them down on the sides of my head to prevent my escape. He’s grinding and stroking into me mercilessly, with force and purpose. I can’t move anything. My hips are pinned down by his forceful motion and his hands are clasped to my wrists, fastening them to the bed. His eyes are silver fire, staring down at me as he thrusts into me, my ladyparts completely open and at his mercy. I see torment and passion in his eyes at the same time and my entire body rolls with each thrust. I’m helpless to fight him when he says…

“Don’t come yet.”

Yeah, sure.

“I… I can’t… Christian!”

I detonate in orgasm, my entire pelvis flexing painfully. I cry out from the intense pressure and vibration, but he just keeps pounding.

“Christian… please…” but he’s gone. He sees me… but I think his mind is somewhere else. He grinds and rolls his hips and begins to stimulate me again. I groan in my chest, knowing what’s coming.

“Christian…” I breathe.

“Feel it!” he nearly growls.

And feel it, I do. His dick is wide and demanding, and he’s thrusting deep, rhythmic strokes as if he’s digging for buried treasure—forceful and intensive, still holding my hands down and still looking in my eyes. Shit, I feel it in my chest.

“Oh, God,” I groan, the ecstasy and agony almost too much to bear. I feel the force of his weight on my wrists, but he’s using his knees for leverage, occasionally stretching his lips and making primal noises in his throat and chest. His pecks are flexed, and I can see the top of his eight-pack abs, both sets of muscles beginning to glisten with sweat.

I’m wrung out, only able to lie there and take what he’s dishing out. My body is on fire and after several minutes of intense manipulation, the heat reaches into my core again. I think I hear him say something, but the resulting orgasm is ringing in my ears and blocking out all light and sound. I feel myself struggling under his grasp, but not to get away, just from the intensity of the climax.

I’m wheezing when the second one wanes, but the fucking nymph in me just won’t tap out. My body is shattered, wracked from exhaustion and intense orgasms, but the little inner whore is naked, squatting on the bed salivating and cheering me on.

No, hoe, I’m tired!

But neither she nor my husband can hear me. He’s still stroking like this marathon has just begun, and the inner whore is squatting behind him encouraging like a coxswain…

“Stroke! Stroke! Stroke! Stroke…”

Cunt!

“Christian…” I whimper.

“You can do it,” he hisses.

No, I can’t!

The inner whore is nodding feverishly and if I could move, I’d throw something at her head and knock her ass unconscious. Christian must be hearing her.

“Please…” I beg.

“One more!” he commands and keeps stroking into my core. I’m certain that no matter what he and my inner whore says, I don’t have one more in me.

Somebody forgot to tell my pussy.

A few minutes later, my crotch it on fire again. He feels different inside me—not wide, but his ministrations are leaving no area untouched. Dear God, his cock is so hard… so hard and stroking every wall inside me, every secret spot…

“That’s it… give me one more! I need one more!”

He needs it? Why does he need it? It doesn’t matter, because my body obeys his command and gives him the third orgasm he demands. I’m covered in both our sweat as my core vibrates angrily in a final crippling showdown. I can’t scream as the pleasure—and exhaustion—has snatched my voice away, and I can’t move as most of my muscles are locked in the orgasm.

My husband grunts and thrusts and I feel his legs stiffen, but he continues to grind into me a few more times until I hear an inhuman sound rip from his chest. I open my eyes to see him just as he expresses his climax. He stretches his body backward and straightens, his chest and head up like a wolf howling at the moon. My core is still pulsing around him and he jerks with each flex, his entire body stiff, sweating, and trembling.

If I wasn’t so fucking tired, the sight would turn me on again.

My body falls completely limp as he finally drops his head, sweat dripping from his hair and face, panting and gasping to catch his breath, his arms straight, his muscles bulging, his hands still clasped at my wrists.

I’m wiped out while he’s catching his breath, I can’t even keep my eyes open anymore…

When I’m semi-conscious again, he’s coiled around me, spooning me and kissing my back over and over again. I fall back into a deep sleep.

*-*

I didn’t hear him leave. I was worn out from the morning’s exertions and quite frankly, I’d rather not be greeted by the morning bear anyway. I roll over and stretch, trying to pop the kinks out of my muscles. I had a double workout last night—first the elliptical, and then Christian and his trifecta of orgasms. I can barely get out of bed.

I take a quick shower since I smell like sweat and sex and quickly get dressed in something simple—a white button-down shirt with black pants and Chanel suspenders with black and white stilettos. When I look in the mirror, my hair looks like toddlers have been playing in it.

No amount of combing and brushing is helping it, so I put it in two wild and sad looking braids and put a hat on it for the day, Odd for me, but I just don’t have the strength to fight with it.

Strange… I actually look ten years younger.

I stop by the nursery to see that my children are asleep and decide that I’ll let them stay home today. I stop by the kitchen to make myself a strawberry and cream cheese bagel and to grab a black coffee to go.

“Are you in a hurry?” Gail asks. I’m chewing my bagel and looking at my phone.

“I slept longer than I intended,” I say, looking at my watch and noting the time. “I need to get going and make sure everything is moving along for the new semester. Plus, I have some calls to make and some interviews to do this afternoon.”

“Busy day, huh?” she asks.

“Yes,” I reply, eating the last of my bagel, “that’s why I didn’t intend to sleep in so late.” I text Chuck to meet me at the car so that we can get going.

“The twins are staying,” I add as I’m leaving. “I can’t breastfeed for 24 hours anyway. Call me if you need me!” I wave behind me and head out to the mudroom.

“New look?” Courtney asks when I get to the Center.

“Bad hair day,” I admit. “I must have been insane to wear stilettos today. My feet are freezing.”

“Uh, yeah,” Courtney comments. “It’s all wet and slushy. You’re going to ruin your shoes and freeze your toes.” I shake my head.

“What’s on my calendar today?” I ask, stomping my feet to warm my toes.

“You’ve got the interviews for housekeeping this afternoon, and you told me to remind you to call Ms. Sherwood from the cleaning company. Are you going to have her train the new employees?”

“Hell, no,” I say, taking a seat at my desk. “I had to watch that woman like a hawk the entire time her company was here. There’s no way in hell I’d let her train new staff to do the same thing they were doing. Besides, they’re contracted so they most likely wouldn’t do it anyway.” Courtney twists her lips.

“Yeah, there is that,” she says.

“How are classes going?” I ask.

“Pretty good,” she says, “except that there was a pop-quiz in Psych 101 yesterday. Who gives a pop quiz right before Christmas?” She shakes her head and I laugh.

“Welcome to the wonderful world of higher education,” I tease. She shakes her head again.

“Gimme a break,” she retorts. “I’m regurgitating psychology vocabulary in my sleep. My girlfriend’s going to leave me if I don’t stop talking shop when I get out of school.” She changes her voice to mimic a female announcer.

Behaviorism, inhibition, suppression, configurationism, Galton and Freud and Gestalt and dear God in heaven how did you even remember your name when you were in school?” I chuckle.

“Do you regret your decision?” I ask.

“No,” she says, going over to the Zen area to retrieve her laptop from its case. “It’s rough, but I want to help kids, and this is what I need to be able to do that, so…” She trails off after she pulls her laptop from the case.

“That’s a very noble undertaking.”

We’re both caught off-guard by a voice from the doorway.

“Grandmother,” Courtney greets Addie. “H… Hi.” I can tell she’s still trepid about seeing her grandmother.

“Courtney… you look lovely, darling,” Addie says.

“Thank you,” Courtney replies.

“Hello, Ana. You’re looking beautiful as ever,” Addie greets me. I smile warmly.

“Thank you, Addie, and so are you. Won’t you come in and have a seat?”

“Well, I really didn’t intend to stay long. I just came to ask Courtney what her plans were for the afternoon.” She turns to Courtney.

“Um, Ana’s assistant is off sick, so I’ve been helping her. We have to interview some candidates for the cleaning staff this afternoon,” Courtney replies.

“Oh, that’s too bad. We were hoping you would be able to join us for lunch,” she says softly.

We?” Courtney asks. After a short pause, Fred enters the office and stands next to his wife. Courtney’s mouth falls open and she’s stunned pretty speechless.

“Hello, Courtney,” Fred says.

“G… Grandfather,” Courtney says, clearing her throat to find her words, but still finding none.

“Courtney, I can do the interviews alone or have Mr. Collier or Grace sit in with me if you want to go to lunch with your grandparents.” She turns uncertain eyes to me.

“You’re sure?” she says. There’s hope in her voice.

“I’m sure,” I say. “I’ll be fine.”

“Can I leave my school stuff here?” she asks.

“Of course, you can. Go, have lunch with your grandparents.” She raises her brow and sigh.

“I’m… I’ll be right back,” she says to Addie and Fred. “I have to go get my coat and purse.” She smiles and leaves the office. I turn to Addie and Fred.

“Fred wanted to see it for himself,” Addie tells me turning to Fred. “I think he got more than he bargained for.”

“Not really,” Fred replies. “She looks like she’s doing well and she’s trying to turn over a new leaf, but she was always a good actress… a very good actress.” I drop my head and scratch the nape of my scalp. If he gives her that attitude at lunch, she won’t go to lunch with them again because she’s come to learn that she doesn’t need discouragement in her life.

“Ana, what is it?” Addie inquires, noting my change of expression.

“Nothing,” I say, not making eye contact with Fred.

“That means it’s me,” Fred says. I frown and look at him.

“How would you know it was you?” I ask incredulously.

“Because I’m an old dog with a wife, dear,” he replies. “I’ve been married for 43 years and I’ve been around a female or three in my day. Trust me, I’ve been in the doghouse more than a few times and I fully know the meaning of ‘Nothing,’ ‘Fine,’ and ‘Never mind.’” He looks at me knowingly and cocks his head. I sigh and put my hands on my hips.

“I’m not going to try to sell you on your granddaughter,” I say. “To me, her progress speaks for itself. I will tell you this, though, and I’m only saying it as a friend. If you’re taking that attitude to lunch with you, it’s not going to fly. She will Uber her way out of that meal. She knows who she was and that she put you through a lot, but she’s been through some things, too, and she’s not going to allow herself to be berated anymore. I only said it because you pressed, Fred.”

“That, I did,” he says with a sigh.

“And she’s right.”

We all turn to see Courtney standing at the door in her coat with her purse on her shoulder. There’s no sign of her prior shyness.

“I don’t have anything to prove to anybody else anymore but myself,” she says. “I’m a horrible person and I know it… or at least I was. I was so wretched that I don’t expect anybody to believe that I’m not that person anymore, but you know who does have to believe it? Me! So, I love you, Grandmother, and I love you, too, Grandfather, but if this luncheon is to put me under the microscope, I respectfully decline the invitation.”

I can’t remember being prouder of Courtney than I am at this moment—well, maybe when she told me that she was going to school. Now, she stands here before her grandparents with her shoulders squared and her head held high pretty much telling them that if they don’t want to accept her, she’s fine with that. Before, she was self-centered and didn’t care about other people, only for what she could get from them. Now, she’s self-driven, and she has a purpose. She’s more concerned about what she sees in herself when she looks in the mirror than what other people see when they see her.

Addie walks over to her and smiles.

“I want to have lunch with my granddaughter,” she says, “and you will be under the microscope with me, but only because I want to catch up with everything going on in your life and with school. If your grandfather doesn’t want to behave, then he’s uninvited.”

Courtney is nearly pushed to tears, but instead she straightens her back and extends her neck, blinking the tears away. Then she turns to Fred.

“The Uber app is almost instantaneous, Grandfather,” she says. “The moment I feel that either of us is causing the other discomfort, I’ll leave. I can always study or come back and help Ana with the interviews. And if you think I’m acting, then this is going to be an Oscar-worthy performance.” She awaits acknowledgement from her Grandfather, who reluctantly nods. Addie sighs and puts her hands on Courtney’s shoulders.

“So, would you like to go to the club?” Addie asks.

“We can, if you want,” Courtney says, “but there’s a little restaurant not far from here that has the best Mediterranean food… and quiet tables.” Addie tilts her head at Courtney.

“Well, then,” she says, “that’s sounds nice. Lead the way.” The corners of Courtney’s lips rise slightly, and she nods before she leaves with Addie in step behind her. Fred turns to look at me and I raise my brown and tip my head in a gesture that clearly says, “Balls in your court.” His lips form a thin line and he leaves to join his wife and granddaughter. I smile to myself, knowing that Courtney has effectively exercised her independence to her grandfather. I go back to my desk and make the call that needs to be made before month’s end.

Clean It Up for You, what can I do for you?” the receptionist answers.

“Good morning, Anastasia Grey calling for Sonia Sherwood…”


CHRISTIAN

I’ve barely gotten any sleep, which is something that hasn’t happened in quite some time. There’s been a sleepless night here and there, but none of the 2-hours of sleep nights since I stopped having the nightmares. When I left this morning, Butterfly was still in an exercise, wine, and sex-induced coma.

When I saw that Butterfly was on the elliptical after dinner and three large glasses of wine, I thought it best to leave her alone and go to my study and get some work done. I approved the initiation of the random drug testing on 50% of Grey House staff to be done in three waves tomorrow, Friday, and Monday. The results will begin to come in on Tuesday, but I couldn’t get a guarantee that I would have them all for the sake of accuracy.

Ros has taken immediate advantage of her impromptu vacation, which means that Lorenz and I must weed through the findings and analysis of the audit teams while she’s away. There’s quite a bit in a short time—red flags that I asked to be notified of immediately instead of waiting for preliminary or final reports. To be quite honest, my company is a mess. We’re not on the brink of collapse, failure, or bankruptcy, but I was right. Complacency is running rampant through the departments and the ship is nowhere near as tight as it used to be.

That’s my fault.

When I shut the system down somewhere around three o’clock and came upstairs and she was still in the tub, I knew that I had to get her out of there. She was exhausted and shattered and I had every intention of drying her off, braiding her hair, and putting her to bed. Then, she passed out face up on the bed and I knew I would never be able to get that hair braided. I straightened her body and kissed her lips goodnight and the animal in me just suddenly came alive.

I didn’t intend to fuck her. I really didn’t, but when I kissed her neck, the valley of her breasts, and then her nipple just to tame the beast a bit, the taste of her skin sent me into blind passion and I just had to have her. Determined not to fuck her while she’s asleep, I fix my mind to back away… and then she spoke.

And I pounced.

It was like something else completely had taken over me and I was going to turn into a werewolf or the Hulk or something if I didn’t have her! I feasted on her body, touching her in all the right places to get her ready, but when I entered her, the beast was back.

I know what it was. I just didn’t want to admit it.

Dominant Christian was alive and kicking in the early morning hours. Fucking her was not enough, but even in my primal state of mind, I knew I couldn’t dominate her when she was so exhausted, so I had to improvise.

I imagined her shackled to the bed, blindfolded and completely immobilized after a good flogging, with a pair of clamps biting into her nipples. Her breasts were wobbling wildly, dripping with water, sweat, or milk—I didn’t know which—and she couldn’t move, so it wasn’t a far stretch. I fucked her and fucked her and fucked her until my cock burned, forcing three orgasms from that exhausted body until I was paralyzed in ecstasy myself.

Once I came down from my climactic high, I saw that the third orgasm had wrung my wife unconscious and, to be honest, I felt guilty. I wrapped her in my arms, kissing her back and neck while silently begging her forgiveness for being so thoughtless and selfish. I only got a couple of hours of sleep and then quietly got dressed and left the house before she woke.

Now, I’m here in the office, still feeling as aggressive as ever as I continue to comb through my emails and examine the notes of the auditing teams. Word is definitely out that Grey is on the warpath. The elevator was completely silent when I got on it this morning and some people even got off once I boarded. Others refused to get on when they saw that I was in the car.

I don’t care if you like me. Just do your fucking jobs, and do them right or I’ll have you out on your asses before you get the chance to gasp.

I’m a bit irritated when I’m interrupted mid-morning by a knock on my door.

“Sir, a word?” I look up and see Jason standing in the doorway. I gesture him in and remove my glasses. My eyes are getting tired more often. It might be time for another trip to the eye doctor.

“I know this is short notice and I apologize, but I need Monday off,” Jason says. I frown. It sure is short notice, short as fuck.

“May I ask why?” I inquire, coolly

“Well, it won’t be the entire day, sir, just enough time to go to Shalane’s sentencing.” I raise my brow.

“Shalane’s… as in your ex-wife Shalane?” I ask. Why would he want to be there for her?

“Yes,” he says. “I’m not letting Sophie go, but someone has to be there to speak on my daughter’s behalf if they ask.”

I see. I guess that would have an impact on her sentence… if they ask.

“What time is it?” I ask him.

“Ten A.M.,” he replies. I nod.

“Then we’ll both be there.” His eyes widen.

“Sir, you don’t have to… it’s Monday morning,” he protests.

“And you’re my best friend, so yes, I do have to.” If I’m trying to find a balance between asshole and nice guy, I better start somewhere.

“So, it looks like she’s going to be spending Christmas in jail, huh?” I add. Jason nods.

“Yeah, looks that way,” he says.

“How do you feel about that?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“I hate the things Shalane has done, but I don’t hate Shalane. It’s hard to feel any sympathy for anyone that has just proven to be rotten to the core, but I’m not a bad guy. So, I think I’ll just keep my answer to myself on that one.”

I nod. I can understand that. I’m on the opposite end of that spectrum. If I can’t stand you, you’re going to know about it. If I wish you would burn in hell, you’re going to know about that, too.

“Mr. Grey, Lorenz is here to see you,” Andrea’s voice says through the intercom. Did we have a meeting this morning?

“Send him in,” I tell her. “What time is the sentencing again?” I say, turning my attention back to Jason.

“Ten AM,” he repeats as Lorenz enters.

“We’ll be there, then,” I say. He nods, then nods at Lorenz and leaves.

“Something I need to know?” Lorenz asks.

“No,” I respond, “except that you’ll be holding the fort down alone for a few hours on Monday morning. I have an appointment.” He nods noncommittal.

“So, we found out what the big ruckus is about Kavanaugh,” Lorenz says. He has my attention, but only slightly. I have my own fish to fry.

“And what’s that?” I ask.

“The next heir apparent? ‘Baby Momma’ is one of Katherine’s friends.” My eyes widen.

“You’re shitting me!” I respond. This is fucking juicy.

“I’m not,” he says. “The wife found out through a damn text!” he adds. “He’s taking a paternity test, but whether it’s his or not, Mama Kavanaugh has had enough and is taking him to the cleaners.”

“Fuuuuck, really?” I say, sitting back in his chair. “Does Ethan know?”

“I don’t know that he does unless he’s been keeping up with the gossip rags or the specific financial news that deals with his father, but I don’t think he cares. He’s been completely mum about the whole thing.” He probably doesn’t. From what I’ve heard, he got his trust right after he married Mia and hasn’t spoken to his father since. If he doesn’t know, I’m sure as hell not going to tell him.

“What about Katherine?” I ask. It’s more out of curiosity than anything. I don’t plan to do anything with the information.

“Well, she was in Martha’s Vineyard for a while, but now word has it that she and young Kevin are now living in Paris…”

“Paris? How could Kavanaugh afford that?” I ask.

“Well, he can’t that I know of, but she secured employment there with one of the fashion magazines, so… she’s officially a Parisian now.” I shake my head.

“If I were her, I’d get as far away from this shit as possible, too,” I say. “That man has a tribe of illegitimate children now. How many is this?”

“I’m sorry, sir, I’ve lost count. Can I get back to you on that one?” he jests, and I chuckle.

“Have you seen the latest emails from the auditing team?” I ask. He sighs and crosses his legs.

“I have,” he says.

“It’s only been a couple of days. You still think I’m being paranoid?” He shakes his head.

“No, sir, I don’t,” he replies. “I never did, I just thought you might have needed to rethink your approach a bit, but now…” He trails off.

“Yeah, now,” I say, putting my glasses back on and looking at the screen. “I just basically had a meltdown yesterday about our customer satisfaction and retention processes and our internal process quality and then I see these findings? I’m certain that I’m not the only one that sees the drastic change in three years in these areas.”

“No, sir, you’re not alone,” Lorenz replies.

“The only reason we’re not bleeding from the jugular right now is because we have other divisions and operations that’s taking up the slack. I shudder to think what would have happened had I not thought to do something about this now!” I shoot. “So, are there any answers to any of the questions I had yesterday?” He nods.

“Yes, sir,” Lorenz begins. “The drugs from the pharmaceutical mishap have obviously been recalled. This sort of thing happens all the time and we’re looking into the ramifications of it now. Concerning the fire, thankfully, representatives from the EAP were on that as soon as it happened, so we’ve already got damage control and assistance in place for that.”

“And what about the late shipments?” I ask.

“I think client services is putting that fire out now,” he says.

“Don’t think. Know! Find out how often this has happened and if this is a one-off or a regular occurrence. Get some impromptu surveys going to see what the customers are feeling right now. See how many we get back. Get on this! Now that I know for sure that I’m not Chicken Little running around exclaiming that the sky is falling, I want this ship tight as soon as possible, and spare no fucking expense!”

“Will do, sir,” he says, and he stands and leaves my office. Sometimes, I hate that he’s so goddamn cool, but if I’m the hothead, and Ros is getting all sensitive and running off when there’s controversy, I need someone to be the voice of reason.

*-*

“Mr. Holstein is still trying to contact you, sir, and there’s a Herbert Larson on line three for you.” Larson… why the hell is he calling me instead of Al?

“Grey,” I answer.

“Mr. Grey, Herbert Larson here…” he begins.

“I know who it is. What can I do for you?” He pauses.

“You obviously know why I’m calling,” he says, coolly.

“Honestly, I don’t. I thought all of your contact went through our attorney or if not him, through my wife if utterly necessary. You have no reason to be contacting me,” I point out.

“I’m calling because harassment is a serious offense in the state of Nevada, Mr. Grey,” Larson says.

“And I’m not in the state of Nevada, so your point?” I retort.

“Mrs. Pamela Whitmore contacted the police this morning,” he says. “Apparently, several gentlemen have been following her around.”

Good, she knows that she’s being tailed.

“And you’re telling me this because?” I ask.

The gentleman that she described follows closely to the description of the gentleman that accompanied you and Mrs. Grey during your visit and they have Washington driver’s licenses.” I laugh loudly in his ear.

“Well, don’t this just beat all?” I say, with pretend mirth. “It took less than a day for you to finger who you might think is harassing Pamela Whitmore, but it only took the great state of Nevada more than a decade to pinpoint who brutalized my wife.”

The line is silent for several minutes.

“That woman called my wife at her place of business and insulted and threatened her and my family, and you’re calling me about some random men following her because they live in my state? If they’re breaking the law, then I suggest you arrest them, but don’t you dare interrupt my life with any nonsense that you have no actual basis for. You all didn’t follow any hunches to find my wife’s attacker before she came to you with a damn video. Don’t come to me with any half-baked, unfounded accusation. Yes, I will do whatever’s necessary to protect my family, but you do know that we have a restraining order against her, right?”

“I’m just letting you know that Mrs. Whitmore…”

“You don’t need to let me know shit about Mrs. Whitmore unless you’re telling me that you’ve arrested her for harassing my wife,” I say, cutting him off. “Nevada seems to be quite prevalent with going easy on and protecting violent criminals and offering no protection for the victim… that is, until you think those criminals are the victims.”

“You need to know that following Mrs. Whitmore could be considered obstruction of justice,” he points out, ignoring my prior statement.

“Oh, you mean like what that Henderson officer Sullivan did?” I counter. “Both when the incident happened by hiding evidence to protect his brother and by seizing the police report I presented to him two years ago without knowing that I had several copies? Yes, Mr. Larson, I’m very aware of the laws concerning obstruction of justice—that is, when your state deems it necessary to enforce them. By the way, what was the fate of Officer Sullivan? The victim here still hasn’t gotten any word that he’s come upon his just deserts, yet.”

The line falls silent again, and I know that he’s searching for a retort.

“I’m not saying that I’m following anybody and I’m not saying that I’m not,” I continue. “I will say that when you try to accuse someone of something, you better fucking well have enough evidence to do it instead of calling someone and trying to sniff them out. I play chess with multi-billion-dollar companies and more money than you’ll ever see in your life. I don’t have time to bluff.”

“So, you’re saying that you’re not having her followed?” he prods.

“I’m not saying anything,” I reply. “I will say, however, that if she comes anywhere near Seattle and my wife and children, I’ll know before you do.” I can feel his frustration through the phone.

“You’re preventing me from doing my job,” he says, his voice low. “Ever since this started, I’ve been doing my best to bring justice to this situation, and the only thing I’ve seen from you at all is this vigilante attitude like you’re running things, and nobody can tell you anything. Now, I’m warning you, Mr. Grey, if you interfere with this case or its participants in any way, I will have a warrant issued for your arrest!” Wrong move, Skippy.

“Save your goddamn threats for those assholes who beat my wife!” I seethe.

“Mr. Grey, that language is totally unnecessary,” he retorts.

“It’s completely fucking necessary, and if you fucking don’t want to fucking hear it, then you can fucking hang up the fucking phone!”

I’m so pissed at the audacity of this fucker that if I could teleport to Vegas right now and personally beat his ass, I would! I think he gets the hint.

“Good day, Mr. Grey,” he says.

“Fuck you!” I retort before slamming the receiver into the carriage.

One… two… three… four…

*-*

Butterfly isn’t home when I get there. I’m still fuming over Larson’s nerve. The fuck with that guy! I’m watching the cunt who birthed the fucker who raped my wife then had the nerve to call her and threaten her because she knows the trial is coming up, and this sonofabitch has the nerve to call me and tell me that I’m breaking the law by making sure that I know if this hoe crosses state lines. That place has the most backwards system of justice I’ve ever seen in my life, and the people who live there must be as fucked up as their sense of justice.

My wife is raped as a teenager and nobody blinks, not even her damn guardians.

She’s beaten within an inch of her life and her baby is killed, and nobody blinks.

The mother of the fucking rapist and baby killer calls and threatens my wife and our children, and nobody blinks… but then they call me and tell me that I’m breaking the law by following that cunt.

I hate to think I and my wife are flying all the way to Vegas to find out that the entire justice system is so fucked up that the whole lot of those fuckers are still going to get off easy after they’re convicted—if they’re convicted!

I run a punishing rhythm on the treadmill for quite some time before I take to Butterfly’s heavy bag to burn the rest of the aggression from the day. I’m finally starting to cool down—and tire—around 8pm, and I take a quick shower and change into a pair of sweats and a T-shirt.

I look for my wife in the nursery, but find that my children are fast asleep. I check the yoga room, the dining room, the family room—no Butterfly. Where is she?

“Did Ana come home?” I ask Gail. She frowns.

“Yeah,” she says. “She spent some time with the babies and then she went downstairs.” Downstairs… her office or her parlor. “Should I hold dinner or just put something away for you two to eat?” You two?

“She hasn’t eaten yet?” I ask. Gail shakes her head. I go to the elevator and take it to the ground floor. Chuck and Keri are on the patio sitting on the sofa. He has his arm around her and they’re gazing across the lake.

I need to find my wife.

I glance in the parlor as I pass and confirm that she’s not in there, then I go to her office. I’m about to walk in when I hear her talking on the phone.

“I really can’t wait to see you. It’s been a long time.”

Now, I trust my wife implicitly, but walking in on that statement would send a lesser man into terrible suspicion. I stay back and listen a little longer.

“I’m in no hurry to come, but at least there’s one bright side to it.”

That sounds a little crazy.

“No, I haven’t heard anything at all, but who knows what’s going to happen on that front.”

I should really just walk into the room instead of trying to decipher who she’s talking to, not to mention, it’s not polite to eavesdrop.

“No, I’m not going to any of those places. I might see some of the casinos with my best friend and his husband because they’ve never been there, but that’s all. I have no interest in the whole ‘Vegas experience.’ I’ve already had it.”

So, she’s talking to someone in Vegas. I know it can’t be Carla…

“So, I’ll let you know when we finalize our travel arrangements and where we’ll be staying. Hopefully, I’ll get to meet your husband this time.”

This time. That’s her aunt. What’s her name? Cynthia, that was it.

“That would be very nice. I’m sure Christian would like that.”

I walk into the office as she’s finishing her call with her aunt. She looks like a kid! She’s wearing suspenders… and a hat! Over pigtails! I walk over to her after she has ended her call and begins typing into her laptop.

“Fashion statement?” I ask. She looks up at me.

“My hair wouldn’t cooperate,” she says and stretches. “My dad wants to come to Vegas when we go for the trial.” I raise my brow.

“He does?” I ask. She nods.

“I suppose he needs some kind of closure, too,” she says. “This whole thing was so traumatic for us both—going through hell, finding peace, then having it ripped away from us again. I’d say he definitely needs some closure.”

“Well, you’ll get no argument from me. I’ll get a block of rooms so we don’t have to worry about it.” I sit down in front of her desk. “How was your day?” She raises her head again, somewhat in surprise.

“Busy,” she replies still looking at me. “We hired a couple of people for the in-house cleaning staff. They start shadowing Mr. Collier on Monday. I fired our cleaning crew as of the end of January. The head bitch in charge wasn’t happy to hear that, so now we have to keep an eye on them until the contract ends.”

“Were they slacking?” he asks. I shake my head.

“Not since the first time, but we weighed what we were paying them compared to the cost of having a cleaning crew of our own. The costs were comparable, but having someone on staff makes them more accountable to us than having an outside company come in. Plus, we’ll need people available at a moment’s notice instead of just at a certain time.”

“I see you’ve thought about this,” I say, sitting back and crossing my legs. “You’re still working?” She twists her lips.

“No Marilyn,” she says. “Courtney helps as much as she can, but she’s still no Marilyn… and she took the afternoon off to spend with her grandparents.”

She did?

“Really?” I ask. She nods. “Last I spoke to Fred, he wasn’t sold.”

“He’s still not sold,” Butterfly says, “and Courtney’s okay with that. She told him that she knows that she was a horrible person and that if he didn’t want to be bothered to not waste her time.” I raise my brow again. She has changed.

“Larson called me today,” I say. She stops typing and looks at me.

“Why did he call you?” she asks.

“To tell me to call off my security team that’s watching Whitmore.”

“You have a team watching Pamela Whitmore?” she asks. I nod.

“And I want her to know that she’s being watched.” She goes back to typing.

“Figures,” she says. “Serves her right… that backwards ass town. It’s okay to harass the victim, but not the victimizers.” She shakes her head.

“That’s what I said,” I reply, standing. “Come. We need to eat.” I hold my hand out to her. I know that she wants to work more, but I’m hungry and she needs to eat, too. She closes her laptop and takes my hand.


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

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

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Raising Grey: Chapter 87—Exactly Who’s In Charge here?

Taking a break from my studies to commune with my peoples…

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

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

Chapter 87—Exactly Who’s In Charge here?

ANASTASIA

I’ve decided not to go into Helping Hands on Wednesday since the Pamela Whitmore thing shook me up a bit. I send a text to Grace and Courtney that I won’t be in, but that I’ll be available and doing some work from home. Al is in the process of filing a restraining order against Whitmore, and she has officially made it to the “watch list.” I often wonder how the company can keep an eye on so many people at once. It must be a very incredible—and tedious—operation. I’m sitting at the dining table not quite sure what direction my day will take when I see—and feel—a shadow approaching me.

I look up and see my husband, fresh from the shower in a crisp—super crisp—black suit. His hair is neater than usual, but most likely because it’s still wet. His beard is thickening a bit from the usual designer stubble… and he totally looks like he means business. This fresh Master of the Universe look normally causes a little heat in my nether regions, but today, it feels a bit ominous.

“You’re not going in?” he asks as he takes a seat at the table. I shake my head, partially as an answer, but also to break my gaze from him.

“No,” I reply. “I’m working from home today.” I take a sip of my coffee and Ms. Solomon places a plate in front of Christian.

“Are you afraid?” he asks as he loads his fork with eggs. I shrug.

“A little shaken, maybe,” I admit, “but I’ll be fine. Al is getting the restraining order if he hasn’t already gotten it and that cunt doesn’t even have the resources to get within fifty feet of me, unless there’s something I don’t know.” Christian shakes his head as he swallows his eggs.

“No, we got surveillance in place last night. We’re pretty certain that call came from her home and confirmed that she’s there and hasn’t left. She’s going to have covert and visual surveillance. I want that bitch to know she’s being watched.” He takes a sip of his coffee.

“I see you… mean business today,” I say, sipping my own as he tucks into his breakfast. He doesn’t raise his head for a moment, but nearly clears half his plate before he speaks.

“I do,” he says, unapologetically. “I tried something new with my company and it didn’t work, so I’ll go back to the old way of doing things.”

The old way… That doesn’t sound good.

“What are you thinking?” he asks.

“That I miss Marilyn and I’m really wondering what’s going on with her right now,” I say. It’s partially true. The other part is that my husband may go back to the old way of doing things and I might lose him completely.

“When was the last time you heard from her?” he asks, finishing his breakfast.

“Two weeks ago,” I reply. “She emailed me before we left for Australia.”

“And Garrett?” he presses.

“I haven’t heard from Gary,” I admit. “I know he’s alive and I know he’s working, but he won’t speak to me.” I roll my eyes. “We’ve been friends for years—longer than he’s even known Mare and this is really making me feel shitty.” He reaches over and squeezes my hand.

“I know it feels shitty, but you can only do what you can do, Butterfly,” he says. “It’s only been a couple of weeks, right?”

“Yeah,” I say. It’s been three, but it feels like an eternity!

“You gotta give them time,” he says. “I don’t know if they’re going to bounce back from this, but you gotta give them time.” I look over at him and see a hint of the tenderness that I know of the new Christian Grey tucked into the mask of the old. I sigh and pretend to straighten his tie.

“Go,” I say. “Run the world and show them who’s boss. I’ll be fine.”

He examines me and I can see it in his eyes that he clearly thinks I’m full of shit, but he kisses me on the cheek anyway.

“I love you,” he says, looking into my eyes and waiting for me to respond.

“I love you, too,” I reply. I touch his cheek and kiss him quickly on the lips. “Go.”

He glances at me again before standing from the table and leaving to start his day.

I don’t feel like I have any direction today. I appreciate Courtney’s help immensely, but if Marilyn was here, I would truly know if there’s anything that I should be doing that I’m not, anything that I had forgotten about, such as the guest that walks into the dining room as I’m lamenting my situation.

“Fuck!” I exclaim as Harmony bends the corner and freezes.

“Oookay, should I leave and come back?” she asks.

“No,” I say, waving her off. “I totally forgot you were here.”

“Well, that’s easy,” she says. “I wasn’t here when you got back from Australia and we’ve been missing each other the rest of the time. I’ve been taking a lot of time going through my mother’s house.” She sits down at the table and almost like clockwork, here’s Ms. Solomon with another plate of breakfast.

“How’s that been going?” I ask.

“Tedious,” she says. “Sad. My mother loved her kids. She’s kept every christening gown, every award, every trophy, scads and scads of pictures—graduations, marriages, babies being born, track meets, recitals, you name it—and look how they thanked her! I hate selling the house, Anastasia. There are literally lifetimes of memories in there, but I don’t want to keep it. If any of my mother’s children had any kind of heart, I would just give it to them, but they’re all cold and heartless, so it’s going up for sale.”

“Have you heard from any of them?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No,” she said. “They only wanted what they could get from her estate. Once Carl has tended to all of her bills and wishes and everyone gets their cut, I’ll probably never hear from any of them again… except for my father when he needs money.”

I can’t help but think how sad this situation is as I watch her sip her coffee.

“What about all the pictures and the memories and stuff?” I ask. “What are you going to do with those?”

“I’m having them packed and labeled as we speak,” she says. “Each kid can have their respective shit and if they don’t want it, it’s trash. I’ve taken what I want from the house—whatever there is that would remind me of my momma. It’s just a matter of properly disposing of the rest. I plan to have an estate sale the first week of January to see if anyone wants any of that stuff. If not, whatever’s left, I’m donating to charity.”

“That seems so sad that so much of the life that your mother built will be going to strangers and charity,” I say.

“I know, but what else can I do? The mansion has way too many rooms in it. She spent her life decorating it and although the things are nice, they’re quite dated. There’s really nothing I can do with it, and I’m certain that Momma only put the house in my name to keep the Gruesome Foursome from kicking me out once she died. I’m sure that she would be pleased that I’m at least handling things as respectfully as possible.”

I have to agree. There’s no telling what her other children would have done had they been in charge of Tina’s property.

“I don’t cry as much,” she says, “but I’m still sad. I still really miss my Momma, but she’s gone now, and I can’t bring her back. Some days, I can deal with it. I can move forward, and everything is okay. Other days, it’s hard to even breathe. I have to concentrate just to get out of bed…”

I talk to Harmony for a while—something to give me some purpose—and I allow her to vent about losing her mother and her horrid siblings who couldn’t care less if she lived or died. She’s letting the real estate agent handle the staging of the house once she has the estate sale. Inventorying everything is what’s taking so long. Carl also told her that the auction for Tina’s jewelry will be on Friday and informed me that I’m welcome to attend if I want. I don’t know. I’m not sure what I’m doing with today, let alone Friday.

She’s excited about moving into the penthouse once it’s finished. I’m excited for her and I’m just now realizing that Christmas is right around the corner and this will be her first Christmas without her mother. I’m also realizing that with about a week to go, the Greys don’t seem to have solidified any plans either. We all normally go over to the Manor, but this year, we haven’t heard anything.

I really need to know what the plans are, because I have no problem whatsoever having Christmas right here in my home with my babies and my husband. Chuck’s parents are supposed to be coming, too, and I don’t know what the plan is for them when they get here. Were we all planning to get together again? I would certainly love to see Maddie and Nelson. I have a bit more Christmas shopping to do, but I did most of it on Black Friday, and picked up a few things here and there throughout the year.

“So, do you plan to decorate the penthouse when it’s done, or are you going to hire a decorator?” I ask Harmony, feeding her excitement about moving into Escala.

“I don’t know,” she admits. “I haven’t even gotten that far.”

“I recommend hiring a decorator,” I tell her, “because you’re in school. Just don’t give them carte blanche.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. Courtney and Vickie have been really cool about letting me impose on their private time. I think I’ll hang around here tonight instead of going over there. Give them some time alone. I don’t want to wear out my welcome.” I nod.

“Have they said anything?”

“No, but I’m an adult. I know when grown folks need their time.” I laugh.

“Well, it won’t be like you’re in the way here,” I tell her. “We’ve got more room than we know what to do with.” I rise from the table. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’ve got to get to my office and get some balls rolling.”

“No worries. I’m headed to class. I’ll see you later.”

“Laters,” I say as I head to my office.

I now appear to have emails from nearly every department head in GEH—some of them two or three—about whatever minutia they could email or CC me on. I roll my eyes and shake my head, thinking how too-little-too-late this gesture is. I create rules to send everything from GEH to one folder with the exception of Christian’s and Al’s emails. I don’t know how wise that is since I don’t intend to check it that often. As I’m filtering the emails, I see that Alex has forwarded me some information that I’d completely forgotten I had requested. The sensitive information on Deanna Corman.

Corman—I never knew that was her last name.

There’s delicious dirt in here on her.

She’s a research assistant at GEH, which I already knew, but apparently, she’s pretty damn good at her job. However, she’s been fired from her last three jobs, twice for insubordination and once under unknown circumstances, and she’s only been with GEH for less than a year.

Did they consider this a pass of a background check?

She’s currently cheating with three different married men, hoping that Christian would be the fourth. All of them are well-to-do or wealthy, so she’s definitely trying to sleep her way to riches.

And she likes to party… a lot. She’s been caught twice with marijuana, but not enough to get arrested and again, only during the last year. Once you hire people and do the initial background checks, unless you continue to update background checks or something happens that causes a red flag, you won’t know if something new has arisen.

So, here’s Deanna… two citations for small amounts of marijuana, three episodes of disturbing the peace that went nowhere—two of which involved two of the married men that she’s currently fucking. I need to talk to my husband about who he’s hiring, but for now, I’m calling Alex.

“Mrs. Grey,” he answers.

“Will you ever call me ’Ana?’” I ask.

“Sorry, force of habit,” he says.

“I’m looking at this file that you sent me on Deanna Corman,” I say. “How does someone with this much shit pass a background check?”

“It depends,” he says. “The company isn’t so much concerned with young people fired for insubordination. Nobody’s perfect and no one could besmirch her work ethic, not to mention that there’s only so much information you can get from a previous job no matter how good your resources. The information that we’ve received after the fact is enough to dismiss her, though.”

“No, I have a better idea,” I say. “How did you find out about the marijuana?”

“You asked for a background check with detailed personal information. That requires digging and investigation. She has a tail.” I nod as if he can see me.

“Affairs with three married men,” I note. “That seems to be her flavor. Current?”

“Yes,” he confirms. “It’s not necessarily her flavor. That’s just who wants her. It’s been my experience that single men with money are not interested in hoochies. Married men in unhappy marriages will often take it from anybody who’ll throw it at them, money or not.” That make sense.

“Well, to be bargain basement, she’s setting her sights awfully high with Christian,” I point out.

“No offense, Ana, but as the saying goes, a closed mouth never gets fed. When you have nothing to lose, you never know unless you try.” I shake my head.

“Well, she tried the wrong one,” I say. “Keep gathering info. I’m about to put my plan into action.”

“Will do, Boss Lady,” he says, and hangs up. And I immediately miss Marilyn. I have a few emails to compose.

To: Marilyn Caldwell
Re: Disabled
Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 10:02
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

Hi Mare,

I’m writing to tell you that I’m officially a fish out of water without my right hand. Not pressuring you or anything, and I’m holding on to hope that once things settle in your heart and mind, you’ll be back. In the meantime, I’m completely disabled without you.

I hope you are putting things together the best that you can and that you are finding some modicum of peace in the midst of this mess. I hope you took my advice and got out of the house instead of sitting there being religiously bullied by your parents.

Talk soon… please?

Love, Ana

Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Assistant Director, Helping Hands

The next one is to one prodigal friend that I feel owes me more than the silence that he’s giving me. I had to write it, read it over, and rewrite it four times before I sent it as it started out as, “You troll, you monster, does no one else matter in this but you and your selfish feelings?” and became something with just the right amount of sympathy and the correct dose of venom.

To: Garrett Pope
Re: WTF
Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 10:29
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

Dear Gary,

I’ll start by saying that I hope this email finds you well—as well as can be expected, anyway. I realize this is hard for you and as your friend, I hope your heart can heal from this emotional trauma and that you can successfully move on from it, whatever “moving on” means for you. Having said that…

What the fuck, man?

So, you don’t want to see my PA anymore, and you may never want to see her again. Fine! What does that have to do with me and the rest of your friends? I told you the day that this happened that I had nothing to do with this. I didn’t convince her to do this, nor did I know this was happening until the clinic called me to pick her up.

You may not even read this email since your voice mail is apparently disabled or you’re simply not speaking to me, but my not hearing from you will at least not be from lack of effort.

If you’re still too raw, I get it. There’s no time limit on grief and healing, but at least drop a line that says, “Hey, bitch, I’m alive, leave me alone,” or something. It’s not fair to leave people hanging that care about you… or did you forget the whole ordeal that we had with Val?

I really thought nearly ten years of friendship meant as much to you as it does to me. I’m hurt and disappointed to find that I was wrong. At least get in touch with the others.

Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Assistant Director, Helping Hands

That’s the best I can do. I’m feeling extremely “raw” myself that he would just leave me hanging when I know all the details of everything and could possibly help him even more than Maxie could right now. And the fact that we’ve been friends for so long. Does that mean nothing?

After having gotten sidetracked with my email to Gary, I get my thoughts together and send the third email that I intend to send.

To: Christian Grey
Re: Idea?
Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 10:51
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

Mr. Grey,

When was the last time your company performed random drug testing?

Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Assistant Director, Helping Hands

Since Ms. Corman likes to party, let’s see if we can get lucky.

I volley an email or three with my husband and go over some of the work that I have for Helping Hands when my phone rings.

“Yes, my beloved?” I answer when I see that it’s my best friend.

“Jewel, are you sitting down?”

“Yeess, what’s up? What’s going on? Is something wrong with Christian?”

“Nothing is wrong with Christian. I’m calling about Pamela Whitmore.”

“Oh,” I sigh. “Okay. Did you get the restraining order?”

“I did,” he replies. “It applies to all matters outside of the courtroom.”

“Okay, so why do I need to sit down? Did you call Larson? What did he say about her contacting me?”

“Yes, I’ve spoken to Larson, but I really didn’t need to. I know why she’s contacting you,” he replies. “I got a package today. Jewel, you’ve got your court date.” My brow furrows.

“What court date?” I ask.

“Are you serious? You can’t be serious…”

“Al, I’m losing my patience. What court date?” Al sighs heavily.

“Grab your traveling clothes, baby. We’re headed to Vegas.”

My brain skips for a minute, but then it kicks in. Oh, hell. I completely forgot about that. I mean I didn’t forget, but with all the shit that’s been going on in my life over the last year, I totally blanked out those assholes from Vegas until Whitmore called, and even then, my brain wasn’t focused on the trials.

“Our court date… we got our court date?” I ask in disbelief.

“We got our court date,” he repeats.

“Who’s going on trial?” I ask.

“Vincent Sullivan,” he replies. “He’s fighting this thing to the bitter end, so we’ll have to appear in court for this one.”

Yeah, of course not Whitshit or Madison-Perry. No, those assholes got plea deals, but I’ll still get to look them in the eyes when they testify. They’ll still get to see what I did with their horrible scar. You didn’t break me, bitches. You came fucking close, but you didn’t break me…

“Jewel?” Al’s voice snaps me out of my daydreaming.

“Hot damn, when do we leave?” I exclaim.

Al is talking about getting the jet ready and spending some time on the Strip even though he knows that this is going to be a very serious situation and suddenly, his voice turns into the teacher from Charlie Brown when I note that I’ve gotten a response to one of my emails.

To: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Re: Hey Bitch
Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 11:49
From: Garrett Pope

I’m alive.

Leave me alone.

I do love you; I just can’t talk about this or anything right now.

Gary

Well, fuck. I didn’t mean literally say, “Hey, Bitch,”… but I get it.

“Jewel? Did you hear what I said?” Al says.

“Um, no, I got distracted. What did you say?” he pauses.

“Nothing important, what’s wrong?” he asks.

“I sent Gary an email this morning and I just got my response.”

“Well, what did it say? Or can you tell me?” he prods.

“Hey Bitch I’m alive leave me alone I do love you I just can’t talk about this or anything right now Gary,” I say all in one breath, my voice downtrodden.

“Oh, you sent him the ‘Hey, Bitch’ speech,” Al acknowledges.

“Yeah,” I say, still disappointed. He’s silent for a moment again… clearly a pregnant pause.

“So, dinner at seven, right?” he says, clearly trying to get off the phone.

“Al don’t harass the man. He’s probably got enough on his plate…”

“Yep, and he’s my friend, too, and I don’t deserve to be treated this way any more than you do, nor does he deserve to be going through this pain alone and thinking he can handle it when he clearly can’t. So, Jewel, my love, I’ll see you at seven, but I gotta bust a mission.”

“See ya, Al,” I say, knowing that it’s no use trying to talk him out of whatever he’s about to do.

I look at my phone, then look at the clock. Hearing this news makes me want to call a few people. I dial the first number.

“Sunflower, hey! A little too long-time-no-hear. How was Australia?”

“It was great, Daddy,” I reply. “How is Mandy and Harry?”

“Mandy’s beautiful, but she’s always beautiful. Harry’s getting too big too fast. The time seems to fly, doesn’t it?” he says.

“Yes, it does,” I tell him. “Don’t blink. It’ll be over in a second,” I laugh, just realizing that in about a month, my twins will be a year old. “I have news, Daddy.” The line is quiet.

Are you expecting again?” he asks. I frown as if he can see me.

“Daddy! No!” I whine. I mean, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but I haven’t prepared myself for that yet. I’m still on birth control, for Christ’s sake. “No,” I say, recovering quickly, “but it is good news nonetheless.”

“Well, out with it,” he says playfully. “I can always use good news.”

“I’m going to court,” I tell him. “I get to tell my story about what those bastards did to me in Nevada.” Daddy falls silent and I hear a loud noise like someone dropping a bag of clothes.

“That is great news, Sunflower,” he says, his voice sounding like a continuous sigh. “Finally! Finally, your voice is going to be heard! I’m going with you.”

“You don’t have to do that, Daddy,” I tell him. “You’d have to put your business on hold and what about Mandy and Harry?”

“We’ll work it out, baby,” he says. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world, and I mean that.” I sigh. I know when my father says he’s going to do something, he’s going to do it.

“In that case, I’ll keep you posted. You can fly down in the jet with us.”

“That’s right! You do have a jet, don’t you?” he exclaims.

“Yes, sir,” I say. “You’re little girl has hit it big!” I jest.

“No,” he says, “you may have married a really rich guy, but he hit it big when he got you.” My cup runneth over.

“Thank you, Daddy,” I whisper.


CHRISTIAN

Apparently, my attitude is illuminating around me the moment I hit the building. People bypass the usual sycophantic “Good Morning, Mr. Grey” and scurry around, away from, or to avoid me like roaches. Three people even exited a crowded elevator to avoid having to ride in it with me.

Get used to it, troops. The Iron Fist is back.

“Andrea, what meetings do I have on the books today?” I ask when I breeze into my office and past her desk. Ever efficient, she’s behind me in moments and is probably the only person in the whole building who’s immune to my asshole tendencies.

“You’ve got Ros and Lorenz at noon and the auditing meeting at two. Nothing else that I know of.” I nod.

“Have a fresh pot of black coffee sent up from the cafeteria. I feel the makings of a long ass day ahead.”

It’s time to shave some operations to make room for the intensive audit that’s about to take place in my company. Not keeping my eye on basic housekeeping is what allowed that keystone cop motherfucker to get in the castle and eventually kidnap my girl; a mole to be hired in right under our noses; miscellaneous subsidiaries to engage in human trafficking for God only knows how long; and a sympathizer to give classified information to a couple of fucker hackers, which included the biological son of the only real nemesis that I have in the world. Some of these stagnant mergers and acquisitions are going to have to wait until I can give them the attention they need.

In my Research and Development department, there are five sub-divisions—marketing infrastructure, product safety, operations, program development and evaluation, and research and technology services. Each of these divisions are coming under the microscope severally as well as how they relate to each other division in the department and the company. I decided to start with R&D since they have been in the center of my ire thus far.

I’m doing audits internally as well as employing an outside auditing firm to identify weak spots in my company. The last time I did an overhaul, it seems like there was a lot of hefty talk and not a lot of action. Wait til they see what happens this time.

I’ve already set the stage for the upcoming internal audit and I’ll be meeting with Al, Alex, my accounting department head, and the members of the external audit team this afternoon. I’ve also requested that all executive emails be forwarded to my wife. As half-owner of this company, I can’t afford for her to be completely uninformed even if she doesn’t plan to take part in the operations of the company. I really wish she would, but I can’t force her hand. I do like her way of thinking, however, when I get an email from her today.

To: Christian Grey
Re: Idea?
Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 10:51
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

Mr. Grey,

When was the last time your company performed random drug testing?

Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Assistant Director, Helping Hands

What a fantastic way to weed out a bunch of people that I wouldn’t want in my company anyway! I know for sure that the possibility of random drug testing was introduced in the employment packages of each employee, right along with the NDA’s and releases to perform background checks. My company is zero tolerance, so even though we haven’t had random tests in quite some time, this should come as no surprise.

To: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Re: Idea?
Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 11:17
From: Christian Grey

Dr. Grey,

Capital idea! May I ask what brought about this stroke of genius?

Christian Grey
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc

“Andrea, can you come into my office please?” I summon through the intercom.

“Yes, sir,” she says. A few moments later, she enters the office and I inform her to close the door.

“Who handles our requests for random drug testing?” I ask. She raises her brow in surprise. Yes, this is going to be exactly what’s needed to shake the company up a bit.

“I’m not sure, sir,” she says. “It’s been a while. I don’t think we’ve had random drug testing since I’ve been employed here.”

“Well, that’s about to change,” I tell her. “Find out who does them for me—the most accurate without blood. I don’t want anything invasive. I think hair will be the best option.”

“Yes, sir,” she says, and she leaves the office. I check my computer and there’s another email from Butterfly.

To: Christian Grey
Re: Idea?
Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 11:39
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

It’s just a hunch I’m following, but it would surely weed out the unwanted element from the company. And in all honesty, a company your size should have this kind of thing regularly, especially with your zero-tolerance drug policy.

Have you also considered enacting a policy of follow-up background checks just to stay on top of things? You also might want to look into how the yearly evaluations are done. I have some ideas.

Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Assistant Director, Helping Hands

She’s right about that. And the fact that Andrea has just informed me that we haven’t had drug testing at least since she’s been here is pretty significant. It adds to the complacency of the staff. However, the follow-up background checks could be a massive undertaking. That would require an entire protocol of reminders and possibly another team dedicated to nothing but that. I know that we have procedure in place in case someone gets an arrest after they’ve been hired, but I don’t think we have anything much more than that. Maybe it’s something I should look into…

“Black,” Ros says when she enters my office. “I haven’t seen black in quite some time.”

“It’s just a suit, Ros,” I reply as she and Lorenz enter the office.

“It has a presence,” Lorenz says, taking his regular seat in front of my desk.

“That’s what he’s going for,” Ros remarks, taking her usual seat as well. “R&D is shitting their pants. The other department heads are turning in status reports as we speak. My guess is that they want to get ahead of the upcoming audits and see what they should concentrate on.”

“Hmm,” I say, opening the file she just sent me from her iPad. “It may be too little too late,” I observe as I scroll through the project titles from the various departments.

“Isn’t that what you wanted,” she says, “to put some fire under the departments?”

“No,” I reply. “I’ve been putting fire under them for the last two years and it hasn’t helped. It’s time to clean. It may even be time to introduce some new talent. I’m all for keeping someone with tenure who has demonstrated continuous progress and improvement in the company, but if that’s not what I’m getting, I’m not going to continue to pay people to sit on their laurels and decide to jump when I start breathing fire. That’s what they always do, and I’m tired of it now.” I minimize her list of projects and go back to the spreadsheet of pending acquisitions I was reviewing when they entered.

“I see that we’re currently courting six companies, we got four on the hopper, and three in negotiations. Tell me what’s cooking with the four.”

“Same thing, different day,” Ros says. “They’re looking over the offer and seeing how it fits into the future of their companies…”

As Ros drones on about the four companies we have approached for mergers, I hear no urgency in her voice. I feel the same complacency that I’m getting from my department heads. I truly hope I’m wrong.

“Drop ‘em,” I say once she’s finished. Her eyes widen.

“Sir?” she asks in horrified amazement.

“Drop ‘em,” I repeat. “I’ve heard nothing that indicates that any of those companies have any real intentions of moving forward. They’re just biding their time to see what I’m going to do.”

“It’s just before Christmas, Christian,” Ros protests.

“Yep, it’s just before Christmas now, and we’ve been doing the one-two step with Hanes and Bristol since just before my grandfather died. What’s that—six or seven months, and no bite? Drop ‘em.”

“And the others, too?” she asks, still horrified.

“Yes, and the others, too. I’ve made serious offers to all of these companies. I don’t have time for them to consult their ancestors to ask what their next move should be.” She shakes her head and types into her tablet. “What about the three in negotiations?”

“Finney has that,” Ros says flatly.

“Firm counter-offers on two,” Lorenz says, “I actually CC’ed you on that this morning. The last one is still giving some ridiculous numbers but is ripe for the picking.” I twist my lips.

“Hmmm,” I ponder. “I’ll take a look at that third one and see if it’s worth the trouble. And stop the courting with the other six.”

Lorenz and Ros both look at me.

“Christian, Veston is prime for acquisition. If we let this go, we may completely miss this opportunity…”

“And there will be another opportunity,” I interrupt Lorenz. “There’s always another opportunity. Right now, I have bigger fish to fry right here on my own front door. Let’s lock down the ones we already have in negotiations. Any others can wait until after the audits.

“Yes, sir,” Lorenz responds skeptically, tapping into his iPad.

“And by the way,” I say, looking through the emails being sent to me and forwarded to Butterfly, “I want executive level emails to be sent to my wife, not all this junk that everyone has decided that they want to send all of a sudden.” They look at each other again.

“Um, how do you suggest we screen what goes to Mrs. Grey?” Ros asks.

“Her name is Dr. Grey, Ros,” I correct. “And you screen it the same way I just did—executive emails only. Keep the junk mail; pass the word—intentional violators will be disciplined. Any other questions on the matter?”

She purses her lips and looks down at her tablet. I know what’s happening with all these random emails. These assholes are trying to prove a point and teach a lesson since Butterfly indicated that she didn’t get a response to her email. All they’re really doing is pissing me off, and that’s something that they really don’t want to do right now.

I go through several more minutes of handing down instructions and deliberately ignoring a barrage of “But, sirs” when Andrea knocks on my open door.

“Sir, I’ve got that information that you wanted,” she says, and I know that she’s talking about the random drug testing. I gesture her in.

“Who’s the company?” I ask, right in front of Ros and Lorenz.

“DISA Global Solutions, sir,” she says, handing me a piece of paper with some information on it. I don’t have to look at my executive team to know that they’ve suddenly become more alert.

“What are the next steps?” I ask.

“We send our specs to them and get a quote,” she replies. I nod.

“Correspond with human resources. Get an approximate head count of the building. I want a 50% sampling of highly reliable testing and if we can get results by Monday or Tuesday, that would be superb. I don’t want this spilling into the holiday.”

“Yes, sir,” she says with a nod and leaves. The silence is so thick in the room you can cut it.

“Drug testing, Christian?” Ros says. “Is that what you think is causing the problems in GEH?” I raise my gaze from my computer screen.

“I know what’s causing the problems in GEH, Rosalind,” I reply, “I am. I’ve been at the helm of a successful company enjoying high profits and low problems for years until I got married. Now, I’m a family man and everyone seems to have forgotten the formula that got us to where we are—myself included. I plan to rectify the situation.”

“Hmm,” she says, twisting her lips. “Rosalind. Okay. Since we’re being frank, I should tell you that random drug testing is simply an unnecessary outlay of funds. And 50%? In three business days? Are you serious? It’s an unnecessary scare tactic.”

“On the contrary, I think it’s very necessary. If I order a 50% random sampling and five people come back with a positive test in a zero-tolerance company, then that’s five people that I can get rid of and replace with employees who will follow directions and remain drug-free. If I order that same sampling, and 300 people come back testing positive, I know it’s time to clean house and I have very well found one of the problems with GEH. One or one-thousand, Ros, this is a necessary operation. The only way it’s unnecessary is if every random specimen comes back completely clean.” Ros huffs loudly and shakes her head.

“Out with it, Ros,” I say. She fixes her gaze on me.

“There are so many other things that we need to be focusing on—operational flaws, problem solving and risk management, flow of information, management and integrity—and we’re deciding to turn our focus to drug testing,” she states incredulously.

“Is there a problem with drug testing?” I ask. “Why are you so dead set against it.”

“I’m not against it,” she retorts, “I just think there’s a better use of the resources, including preventing the downtime of 50% of our staff.” I do the Butterfly bobblehead thing.

“Are we broke and I didn’t know it?” I ask, incredulously. “First of all, no expenditure is too high to ensure that I find any drug-addicts in my company or to ensure that I do not! You know why I have a zero-tolerance for drug use, which is a perfectly logical reason for me to request random drug testing, especially in light of the costly mistakes we’ve had in the past few months. And yes, I do intend to implement and exercise random drug testing across the GEH industries. Now, I’ve told you why I feel like this is a very necessary initiative. Besides the completely irrelevant issue of cost that you keep raising, can you tell me why you’re so against it?”

Ros’ head jerks back like I just hit her. Something I’ve said shocked her and I’m not sure what it is. My points are very relevant, and I’ve supported them with facts. That’s when Lorenz decides to chime in.

“Sir, I don’t see anything wrong with taking a firm hand if the company has taken such a drastic turn. There’s nothing obvious to the naked eye or in the financials that indicates that the company is declining, but again, I whole-heartedly agree with nipping things in the bud—getting behind the problem before it affects the bottom line. However, you don’t want to come off as a small man swinging a big stick because someone broke his favorite toy.” I turn my attention to him and frown deeply.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“One of the first thing you said when we walked into the room was ‘Stop sending junk mail to Anastasia.’ I don’t know what happened between the time you dismissed us yesterday and the moment you walked in this morning, but things have certainly changed. Ros brought up a very valid point yesterday about nepotism that the other department heads are very likely to concur with if the legal department isn’t ripped apart like the rest of the company. Hate it or love it, that’s the truth, and you can’t shoot the messenger.

“If you’re making any decisions that either of us may feel are irrational, we would be doing you a disservice not to bring it to your attention. Now, although we know that the company is going through internal investigations for what appears to be one too many mistakes, a lot of the decisions for measures and guidelines being handed down appear to be personal, and I can’t be ashamed to tell you at the risk of my silence being damaging to the company.”

I can’t fucking win for losing.

I can’t be the ball-buster.
I can’t be the nice guy.
I can’t be the billionaire concerned about his fucking business.
I can’t turn my back for a moment and say, “Hey, let this operation run on its own,” without having to worry about the walls falling down.

What’s more, I can’t initiate a practice or a policy with my own money without being concerned about nepotism, personal feelings, or scrutiny from inside or outside of my company.

Now it’s time to put my foot down… hard.

I straighten my chair and steeple my fingers over my lips, my gaze focused in the space between my two head executives. This is a look that Ros knows well, because it usually means that the next words out of my mouth may have a ripple-effect that reaches from sea to shining sea.

Yes, the asshole is back.  

“While I value your input on these issues, let me clarify something for both of you. I don’t care if I come off as a toddler having a temper tantrum in a sandbox. I’m the one who stands to lose the most if this company isn’t productive. When the ink dries on every audit, every test, every document, guess who’s name is going to be on the lips of every man and woman in the industry if this company is found lacking? Guess who’s ass is ultimately going to be on the line if some outside source discovers that this company—my company—is hemorrhaging somewhere and we didn’t even know it?

“They’re not going to say, ‘Oh, that fucker Finney really fucked up over there at GEH!’ No, they’re going to say, ‘What the hell? Is Grey’s head up his ass?’ And there goes my company, my family and my children’s future, my reputation, everything I built—we built over all these years. Gone—just like that! I could give a fuck less if these assholes think I’m a baby in a crib screaming with a bottle in one hand and a rattle in the other. I’m going to do whatever I feel is necessary to sniff out weakness in my company and eliminate it.

“Can either of you tell me—when you thought I wasn’t listening—the exact cost of the supplies that didn’t make it to our warehouses on time? Can you tell me if it cost us any clients? Can you tell me if anybody reached out to those clients to offer our apologies for the late shipments?

“How about the fire in the New York building? Has anyone reached out to any of the injured parties? Any of the families? It’s my understanding that fire happened while I was in Australia—what was the outcome? Have we offered anything besides health insurance to these people? With this happening right before Christmas, has anybody even made the suggestion to send a representative or to go out to the east coast to see about these people?

“And just how costly was that pharmaceutical fuck up? Do we even have an inkling about that?

“And the piece de resistance, SEEKNID… which has been lying dormant for a whole fucking year and would still be lying dormant now had I not come in the office breathing fire, and we’re really having hissy fits about internal drug testing at my company headquarters?”

“Hissy…” Ros trails off. Her statement is cut short and her body language indicates that I’ve hit a nerve. She looks at Lorenz in disgust and then turns her attention back to me.

“I think I need to take some time off,” she says matter-of-factly. “Christmas is next week and not a lot happens during the holidays. This may be just the time for me and Gwen to get away, maybe see some family.”

She knows that I’m about to implement some changes and that there might be some terminations with the results of the drug test. You want to jump ship, Ros, you do that… but I don’t easily forget.

“I just came back from a vacation and I have no immediate plans of going anywhere else. So, Ros, if you feel that now is the time that you need to make an escape, be my guest. We all need time to reflect sometimes.”

I don’t take my eyes off of her as she raises her brow, excuses herself, and walks behind my desk toward my bathroom.

“You probably don’t want to piss her off,” Lorenz says.

“That’s just it, Lorenz,” I reply. “I don’t care if I piss her off. The name of this company is Grey Enterprises Holdings. I built it from nothing, and although I sincerely value the work, abilities, and dedication of my executive team, I will not now nor will I ever allow them or anyone else in my company to undermine me or disrespect me even if they attempt to do it in a professional or covert manner.

“I don’t want to see my company go belly-up and I’m doing everything in my power to keep that from happening, but this organization can go to zero net profits by day’s end and I’ll still be a billionaire. So, the last thing I need to do is suck anybody’s ass or deal with anybody’s insolence.

“Ros isn’t the only one in this company right now with an I’ll show him attitude, and I know it. And that wasn’t the case two years ago. I get more kickback now from my department heads—all of them—than I have ever gotten since this company began and that’s going to stop right now.

“The heart and pulse—the very life’s blood—of this multi-billion-dollar conglomerate is right here in this building, in the hands of these people. This ship has to be tight, unshakable and able to weather any storm. I cannot and will not tolerate weakness in any area.

“I’m combing through this entire building, department by department, after which I may be doing something similar with my entire organization. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again. I’ll be making sure that we are as close as humanly possible if not spot on with the vision of what I had when I started this company, before everyone became comfortable, complacent, and sloppy. And if I have to shut down major operations for a year to get it done, I’ll do it. My hope is that I don’t have to deal with kickback from my executive team, because that means that the process will just be prolonged, but I’m still proceeding as planned.

“Each one of us will be knee-deep in responsibilities over the next several months and I expect each of us to hold our own as I intend to do just that. If there’s any problem with that, then I will begrudgingly accept resignations. I will say that with that entire dissertation that I just gave about late shipments, injured employees, pharmaceutical lawsuits, and a possible multi-million-dollar software sitting useless on some shelf for over a year, I’m quite surprised that the only phrase that had any real impact…” I turn around and look into Ros’ face as I knew that she was standing there the entire time…

“… Was ‘hissy fits.’”

I glare at her, because I’m disappointed. I tore myself apart most of the night last night, sneaking out to get some time on the piano before Butterfly awoke, pondering how I was going to balance the old asshole with the new family man because my company can’t seem to appreciate the new guy. They need the old me. If that’s what they need, that’s what they’ll get. And if “hissy fitswas the only thing she heard out of that entire conversation, then she needs some time off.

She stares at me impassively for a moment, then marches ceremoniously around my desk, across my office, and out the door.

I don’t flinch. I need her not to quit; I really need her around, but I’ll do without her if I must.

“Lorenz, do you need time off, too?” He raises his brow.

“No, sir,” he says. “Looks like you may have a lot on your plate.” I nod.

“I’m sure that I will,” I say after a frustrated sigh.

*-*

Three other men are in the elevator with me and Jason when we’re leaving for the day. I usually ride alone, but I didn’t put the code in to make the elevator “express,” and they boarded at the 11th floor. They were jesting with each other when the doors opened; now the car is completely silent. The doors open and Jason and I exit on the first floor. As we’re walking to the front doors, the idiots in the car decide to make a crack loud enough for me to hear it.

“Big Dollar Grey is uptight. The wife must’a withheld that tight ass last night.”

There’s laughter in the elevator as the doors close and I stop at the front desk.

“Stop elevator car #3,” I say to the guard. He frowns and looks at his panel.

“There are people in it, sir,” he says. I just glare at him. He’s got about five seconds to stop that car before the doors open and the idiots get out. He makes that “ooookay” face and stops the elevator.

“Bring up the elevator camera,” I say. As he’s bringing it up, the emergency bell from the elevator comes on.

“From left to right, tell me who they are,” I say to no one in particular. Jason immediately goes behind the desk and starts typing into the computer. The bell is still ringing, and Jason looks at one of the guards and just points at it. The guy pushes a button and the ringing stops but a light on the panel keeps flashing.

“Good evening gentlemen,” he says into an intercom. “Sorry for the inconvenience. We’ll have you on your way in just a moment.”

“Seriously?” one of the voices protests. “With all the money this place makes, the elevators are breaking down? What the fuck is going on?” Jason raises his head.

“Last names only,” I say. He looks at the guy, who nods at him.

“Carter, Jenkins, and Pack, in that order,” he says. I nod and head to the stairwell. Jason says something to the guards at the desk and he knows me well enough to know what’s about to happen. He’s close behind me in the stairwell and in a few moments, we’re in the parking structure in front of elevator car #3.

“Open the doors,” Jason says into his wrist, and I clasp my hands in front of me glaring at my reflection until the angry faces of three detained assholes fill my view. I silently stand there glaring at each one of them.

I’m what the fuck is going on, you stupid assholes.

After standing there for at least a solid minute in total silence and probably wondering why the doors aren’t closing, Pack and Jenkins both turn their gaze to Carter, who hasn’t looked left or right since the elevator opened.

That’s called snitching without saying a word.

I lock my gaze on Carter and give him another 30 seconds of the stare game, which really isn’t the stare game at all because he’s blinking madly and starting to sweat a bit. I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the walls of the elevator. I look like Satan at the moment.

“For your information, Mr. Carter,” I begin, my voice menacing, “I get more pussy from that tight-assed wife of mine than you’ve seen all year.”

He swallows hard but doesn’t respond. Jenkins and Pack stand there with their mouths hanging open in stunned amazement.

“Get the fuck out the elevator,” I add. “You’re holding up the car.”

Jenkins and Pack scramble out quickly, maneuvering around me and being sure not to touch me since I’m standing right in front of the elevator and won’t move. Carter is still stunned stiff.

Say that three times fast.

“Are you waiting for a bus?” I hiss, jolting Carter out of his stupor. I see Jason’s reflection in the elevator wall. He shakes his head, his expression disgusted, as Carter scurries out of the car behind his friends. We step into the elevator and ride back to the first floor.

“What are you going to do?” Jason asks as we walk out to the Audi parked in front of the building.

“Nothing,” I reply as I get into the car. He knows as well as I do that the fear and anticipation of retaliation is more affective that any actual retaliation could ever be.

“Diabolical,” he says, closing the door behind me.

*-*

I don’t feel the relief that I normally feel when I arrive home. I feel relief, it’s just not that huge, weight-lifting sigh that I normally get when we get to the garage.

Weight-lifting sigh…

I go to the workout room instead of heading up to greet my wife and children. Butterfly understands when it’s been a rough day and I just need to unwind.

There’s already workout gear in the gym and I quickly change and begin to pound the treadmill.

I was hoping that my wife and I would be the power couple that we presented in that blasted exposé that we did. Unfortunately, it looks like it was all for the cameras. The company is not relating her to me, but they are relating me to her. They’re not seeing her as an extension of me, which is what I had hoped; they’re seeing me as an extension of her—which is a good thing most times, but not in the boardroom. They see me as Anastasia’s husband and Michael and Mackenzie’s father, but they don’t see her as Christian’s wife, a bit of a savvy businesswoman with a keen eye. They just see her as coming in and shaking things up with Daddy. That will never do.

The treadmill doesn’t seem to be burning enough and I’ve got about an hour before our children’s godparents are supposed to be here. This is why I worked out every day and beat submissives every weekend. Even my physique looks different since I got married because I don’t work out as much. Can I be the iron-fisted businessman that I need to be at work and still be the loving husband and doting father at home? Or is this going to be an impossible task?

“Good of you to finally join us, Bro,” Elliot jabs when I enter the dining room after my shower. “We waited so long I thought the chicken would come back to life.”

“Yeah, well,” I retort, and that’s it. I’m still wound a bit tight from the day and I’m afraid that if we get into our usual banter, I might say something highly inappropriate like telling him to stick his head up his ass and inhale.

It doesn’t get by him.

“You alright, Christian?” he asks, and every eye is on me, including my children—as if they understood what Uncle Elliot said.

“Just a fu—… messed up day at the office,” I say, trying to take the focus off of me.

“You wanna talk about it?” Elliot prods, his voice laced with concern, and I can tell by the expressions from everyone else that the concern is widespread. Okay, get it together, Grey.

“Naw, it’s just work shit…” I look at Butterfly, who stops feeding Minnie to throw that glare at me

“Sorry,” I say. “It’s just work stuff. I don’t want to bore you with it.”

“This is your home, Christian,” Val says, “your dinner table. If you need to let it out, this is your sanctuary to do that. You’ve had a hard day—you shouldn’t have to hold onto it.”

Butterfly raises her brow to Val then turns to me and gives me that “she’s got a point” look. I sigh heavily.

“I’m just frustrated with the company… the people,” I begin. “I used to be able to hand down a policy or a command and it was done yesterday. Now, I’m getting kickback from everybody, including my executive staff.”

“What changed?” James asks.

“He became a kinder, gentler Chris,” Al points out. “He goes home at five o’clock; he doesn’t work on Sundays anymore; he gave half the company to Jewel; he changed.”

“It would have been half her company anyway,” I protest. “We’re married, remember? What’s the big fu… freaking deal?”

“Not the corporate assets, Chris,” Al says. “Those still belong to the company.”

“But the company belongs to me,” I point out. “I’m not publicly held, remember.” Al nods.

“I remember, but it’s still a different animal. And even so, a lot of the people in the trenches and even the department heads don’t know that the assets could fall under community property to some extent without a prenup. They just see that you gave your lady 50% of your toy and now, you’re trying to give her the reins, too… or at least one of them. Kinder, gentler Chris.”

“So, basically, when you were a butthole, they all said ‘how high’ when you said ‘jump.’ Now that you’re human, you can’t get anything done,” Val summarizes.

“Basically,” I concur.

“So, no offense, but why not just go back to being an a… a-hole, at least at work?” Elliot said.

“Yeah, did that today,” I inform him. “It’s not hard to sink into that persona. In fact, it can be quite liberating when you need to get things done and people want to treat you like your commands are jokes and you won’t fire their… butts on a moment’s notice. Hell, one of my executive officers announced an impromptu leave because I think I hurt her little feelings. It’s coming out of it that’s the hard part.”

“Her?” Butterfly says, Minnie’s baby spoon suspended in air. “Ros?” I nod just as Minnie protests that her dinner is being delayed.

“Yes,” I say as my wife silences my daughter with a spoonful of food. “We had an entire conversation about issues in the company and the only thing she heard was ‘hissy fit.’ I swear, if I didn’t know that she was married to a woman, I would think she was pregnant.” Butterfly raises her brow at me.

“Were you referring to her when you said, ‘hissy fit?’” she asks.

“Yes, Anastasia, I was referring to her.” Butterfly’s expression changes a bit, from questioning to surprise, then she turns her attention back to Minnie and her meal.

“You’re going to have to find a middle ground, Christian,” Val says, calmly. “If you keep trying to swing from one extreme to the other—one person at work and the complete opposite when you’re at home or with your family—you’re going to have a stroke. Not only that, but that kind of thing never works. You’re going to forget who you are in one place or the other and the results are going to be… less than pleasant,” she adds gesturing her head and eyes inconspicuously towards my wife who pays studious attention to my daughter and her meal.

Shit, what did I say?

“Ugh!” Unable to even remember what I just did that has landed me in what appears to be Silent-Treatment-Ville, I grunt in mock agony and drop my head to the table with a thud that causes the dishes to clatter a bit. I’m certain that I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to be the asshole that I need to be at work and then come home and be the family man. I have to start turning the asshole on before I even leave the house for work in the morning. Then as I leave the office, I now have to figure out how to turn the asshole off?

“I’m sure there was a gradual change from asshole to Mr. Nice Guy,” Val says. “You just have to find that medium.”

“It’s too late for that,” I say, my voice echoing off the wood of the dining table. “They only respond to ‘asshole’ and even then, the transition is a nightmare. I’m going to have to go through at least a month of increased sick days, time off, and so-you-don’t-think-fat-meat-is-greasy directives before this company is even slightly back on the right footing.”

“So, what happened in the elevator today?” Al asks. I lift my head and look at him.

“How did you find out about that?” I ask. He shrugs.

“News travels fast,” he says, matter-of-factly.

“Well, that’s pretty fucking fast!” I shoot. That didn’t happen three hours ago, and everybody was on their way home. It’s now that I realized I’ve dropped an F-bomb and moments before, Val dropped the A-bomb. My head snaps over to my wife who’s looking impassively at me. Our children have been removed from the room. Pretty soon, I’ll be banned from them, too. I roll my eyes and… thud, rattle.

“So,” Al prods, “the elevator?”

“When they thought I was out of earshot…”

“We can’t hear you, Bro,” Elliot says. I raise my head and turn to him.

“When they thought I was out of earshot, three idiots from whatever department is on the 11th floor…”

“Telecommunications,” Al says.

“Thank you,” I reply sarcastically. “Three idiots from telecommunications decide to jest about how uptight I am today. So, I stopped the elevator between floors, met them at the ground level and let them know just how uptight I really was.”

“Did you fire ‘em?” James asks.

“No,” I say, “I called them each by name, succinctly made my point, and then told them to get the fuck out of the elevator since they were holding up the car.” The table is silent.

“That’s it?” Val says. “No rolling heads or anything like that?”

“He didn’t need to after he said each of their names,” Al points out.

“I don’t get it,” Elliot says, and my wife still hasn’t said a word.

“He called out each of those jerks by name,” Val says. “They know that he knows who they are.”

“And…?” Elliot says, still not quite catching on.

“All three of them are going to be waiting for the ax to fall, an ax that’s never coming… Am I right, Christian?” James says. I nod.

“You’re right,” I confirm.

“The terror of waiting for what might happen to them is scarier than anything that he could actually do to them. They may just quit or stress themselves out worrying,” Val finishes.

“Especially if I see any of them anywhere and call them out by name,” I say. Elliot shakes his head.

“And… you’re worried about what?” he says. “That’s the assholest move I’ve ever seen.” Val elbows Elliot. “Ow, what?” he asks quietly, but Val doesn’t respond.

“What did they say?” James asks. Oh, shit. I knew this was coming. What the hell? That hole can’t get any deeper.

“’Big Dollar Grey is uptight. The wife must’a withheld that tight ass last night,’” I say. Elliot scoffs.

“Heh, that’ll do it,” he says without missing a beat.


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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 86—Going Soft?

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

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

Chapter 86—Going Soft?

CHRISTIAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You sent one, too?” I ask. She nods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How long were you hospitalized?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And what about legal?” Ros asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Christian?”

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

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

“Christian, I…”

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

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

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

“Get Welch and Shaler in here…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not since yesterday,” he replies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How uncomfortable do you want her to be?”

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

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

“She could tell him,” I warn.

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

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

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

“Yeah, I’m still here…” just barely.

“Thinking about the meeting?” he asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Something like that,” I mumble.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m going soft,” I say.

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

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

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

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

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

“Grey,” I say answering the phone.

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


ANASTASIA

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” I say, surprised.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I’m floored.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m an employee!” I point out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dr. Anastasia Grey,” I answer wearily.

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

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

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

“How what feels?” I ask bemused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Green Valley.

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

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

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

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

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

“You self-righteous bitch!” she exclaims.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whitmore!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Herbert Larson. Ms. Ste… Mrs. Grey?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did that just happen? Am I crazy?

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

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

*-*

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

“May I ask why?” he asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, fuck,” I breathe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 13—We Are Family

Okay, so far in the casting for Ana in “Golden,” Jessica Parker Kennedy is getting dusted. Brianna Evigan is in first place and Mila Kunis is a very close second. So, I think it’s safe to say that our choices will be between Brianna Evigan and Mila Kunis. Stay tuned!

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 13—We Are Family

CHRISTIAN

That was torture.

Pure, unmitigated, undiluted torture.

That woman’s ass is kryptonite and I could barely get inside before I was pulsing and pounding and ready to come and what do I do? I ask her not to come so that I can make love to her for the rest of the night. I regretted it the moment I suggested it, because I knew the process would be damn near unbearable. The thought nearly brought tears to my eyes. Not only was my inner horndog Rumpelstiltskin-stomping-mad, but Greystone was already promising to make me pay dearly for that request.

And make me pay, he did.

Butterfly’s ass is a thing of beauty and a wonder to behold, but when I get to sex it…

God, she was so tight and ready. Thrusting into her ass while holding her close to me, kissing her and gazing into her tormented eyes, I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I had come several times in her ass—tiny, involuntary orgasms and seepages of semen that I had absolutely no control over, and Greystone didn’t wane. This wasn’t Dom Dick; this was something else, something that enjoyed the tiny releases, but threatened a deadly detonation when the act was finally complete; something that knew that I had to keep my stamina until the bastard that was currently sharing our bed was gone forever.

Rubbing that ass and pushing her down onto me…
Grabbing that waist and those hips and guiding her to grind into me…
Throwing her leg over my hips, kissing those breasts and lips while I massaged her clit and penetrated her core while still loving her ass…
Holding her hard against me and gently squeezing her neck while I pump repeatedly into her…

The small bursts were more torment than pleasure as the big explosion loomed dangerously in my balls and back. It was agony—sweet fucking agony—to keep from blowing wildly inside of her as I took her ass and loved her for hours from every possible angle. I made sure that sweet, hot pussy didn’t get neglected, but my dick stayed in that ass for the rest of the night.

And her orgasm was the longest she had ever had. When it started, it hung there for a minute, not coming to full climax for quite some time. I was inside of her holding back this crippling explosion when she first stiffened, so it seemed like for-fucking-ever before she finally hit her pinnacle, but if I’m honestly estimating, it was only about two minutes. But, shit, two minutes is a long fucking time to hold back a climax. We’re talking like 26 in orgasm years!

“Oh, God. Oh, my God, you feel so good. So good… it feels so good… so good…”

I was in her ear encouraging her to let go and come. No matter how hard she fought it, she wouldn’t return from this one. Tears were streaming down her face and her breaths were heaving and tortured as I held her close to me and continued to drive slow and deep into her, sensually rubbing her breasts and her body while licking and tasting her skin. A when she finally came…

God, when she finally came…

A mournful sob wrenched from her tortured soul and could feel her ascending, slipping away from me… so I held on. I held on and buried my body into hers as the atomic explosion in my balls blasted brutally through my dick and flooded us both with so much cum, we should have drowned. Holding her tight against me was as much to keep her from floating away into the heavens as it was to still her violent gyrations on my expanding, pulsing dick. When I say that my dick was popping, I mean that it was thumping and bumping and pulsing and popping and aching and not only was her tight anus flexing and tightening and squeezing every bit of seed from me, but her round, luscious, slippery ass cheeks were rubbing against me, massaging and tormenting me into one of the deadliest nuclear blast I’d ever felt in my life! Skyrockets and firecrackers can’t even begin to describe what was going on and I can only imagine that a camera shot down there would have captured a scene of such immense pulsing, vibrating, expanding, and throbbing of my dick and balls that it most likely imitated my shaft still fucking and thrusting into her ass on its own!

David had to be exorcised.

We had done it once, but this time, he made it in through her insecurities. I saw it in her eyes even though she said nothing. He was in her soul and her mind and our bed and he had to be purged.

So, I did.

I kissed her and loved her and touched, rubbed, and sexed every inch of her body until she knew that she belonged to me and I belonged to her. Nothing and no one would ever cause me to stray and she had to know that my body and soul are unequivocally and irrevocably hers.

Hopefully, she knows that now.

I knew she was unconscious before my dick stopped pulsing in her ass, but I couldn’t move. Even after the orgasm waned, there was still unbelievable pulsing in my dick inside of her ass that made it impossible for me to pull out, impossible for me to move, so I pulled her tighter against me and stayed buried inside of her, kissing her shoulders, skin, neck and hands gently until her breathing regulated and I knew she had moved from unconsciousness to sleep. I wasn’t worried. I know that it happens sometimes with real intense orgasms, but I couldn’t rest until I knew she had transitioned from one state to the other.

I fell asleep with my dick still pulsing in her ass.

Now, I find myself with morning wood buried deep inside of her, trying to find a way to pull out that will cause the least discomfort. Rip the Band-Aid off, I guess.

So, I did…

And while my Butterfly only whimpers in her exhausted slumber, I actually come again, squirting small amounts of semen on her beautiful ass. Kryptonite, I tell you. Fucking Kryptonite…

I grab a cup of coffee and go down to my office to check my emails. The house is alive with activity and Marlow has stopped by to help Taylor with some project in Sophie’s apartment. She’s all giggly and girly, something that appears to be flying right over Marlow’s head, but doesn’t get by Taylor in the least. I shake my head and dread the moment that Minnie Mouse gets that look in her eye about some young… guy. I move on to my office and fire up my computer. I normally don’t look at alerts with my name on them unless they say something about the business world, but this one caught my eye immediately.

Papa Bear Grey Goes Ballistic

What the fuck? Was somebody in that club last night? This can’t be good, and I was a lot of things with that bitch at that table last night, but Papa Bear is not one of the terms that I would use to describe it. I click on the link and realize that the headline has nothing at all to do with Greta Ellison or that club. A still of a surveillance photo appears on my screen—surveillance from my goddamn office! I’m sitting at my desk and Mac is standing in front of it.

What the ever-loving fuck!! Not again! Not fucking again! Barney assured me that we were safe! What the fucking fuck!!

I already know what conversation this is. This is when she cautioned me about threatening the press and, of course, the article describes me as the great protector, ready to throw myself in front of the oncoming train to keep my family out of the limelight during their suffering. That’s all well, fine, and good—Mr. Hero—but right now, I only have one question burning in my head.

Who the fuck am I firing today?

I call Barney’s cell first.

“Sir?” his voice is surprised, no doubt wondering why I’m calling him on a Sunday.

“I’m looking at surveillance from my office on the internet right now. It makes for a very interesting story. Can you tell me how this happened when you assured me that we’re airtight?” There’s silence for a moment.

“What?” he asks bemused. “That’s impossible! Security cameras are on their own servers all by themselves. They’re not even on the same mainframe. When I tell you that surveillance is unhackable, I mean it’s totally unhackable! It would be like hacking someone’s pedometer. It’s so a network all its own, even the most skilled computer technologists would have no fucking idea how to get in there.” My eyes narrow.

“If it’s so damn unhackable, why isn’t the entire mainframe on the same network? And how did someone upload private surveillance to the internet?” I seethe.

“Imagine trying to put your entire mainframe on a pedometer,” he says matter-of-factly. “You may want to call Alex on this one.”

“Don’t make plans for the day,” I growl. “I’ll be in touch.” I end the call and dial Alex.

“Sir,” he answers.

“Can you tell me why the hell I’m looking at surveillance from my office on the goddamn internet right now?” The line is quiet.

“You don’t know?” he says hesitantly.

“I. Don’t. Know. What?” I ask as patiently as I can. Another pause.

“Oh, fuck, I’m not taking the fall for this!” Alex bellows into the phone.

“I think you better tell me what the fuck is going on!” I bellow right back. “Who the fuck is responsible for this shit?”

“That would be me.”

A confident, casually-dressed Mac strolls into my office, folding her arms when she gets to the front of my desk.

“Her!” Alex says into the phone. “When she’s done explaining what’s going on, call me if you have questions, but know that as your publicist, she has almost as high a level of security clearance as I do. Can I go now?” I narrow my eyes at Mac.

“I’ll be in touch,” I say before ending the call. “I’m waiting.”

“It’s perfect PR,” she says, closing the rest of the space between her and my desk. “The phones have been ringing all morning. It’s brilliant! Take me, but leave my family alone. You can’t write this stuff. It’s media gold.”

“I’m still not feeling the love,” I hiss, “and I fail to see how this is media gold, as you put it.”

“They need to see you as a person, Christian,” Mac says, “a man, with real feelings, instead of this robot who walks around mindlessly destroying people if they don’t bend to his will. There’s no use in pretending that you don’t have weaknesses—they already know you do. Your wife and children are all over the news and now, your mourning family. You don’t know how to use candid moments to your advantage. You had to be convinced that Ana was media gold even though you’d seen it for yourself. Or have you conveniently forgotten the very first time a camera was shoved in her face and a very unfortunate reporter named Cheryl Deems who couldn’t get anybody to hire her after she became Ana’s first sacrificial lamb?”

“That wasn’t the first time a camera was shoved in her face,” I correct her, while simultaneously making her point. “I don’t like surprises, Mac. I wake to this on a Sunday morning with no warning whatsoever.”

“Would you have let me do it if I told you?” she says, taking her stance once more. I don’t respond. I really don’t need to. “I’m totally responsible for your public image now and you have to trust me to know what I’m doing.”

“I don’t see where this was necessary at all,” I continue to protest. “It’s like you said, everybody already knows that I would give anything and do anything for my family. What good did this do?” Mac sighs.

“When the story broke with you threatening the press at your grandfather’s funeral, you came off as a hothead. It didn’t matter that your family was grieving over the loss of its patriarch. You’re news; anything that happens to you is news, no matter how tragic. And all these people were trying to do was their jobs and report the news, and you issued a personal threat to the entire crowd that made the news for several days thereafter. My guess is that after today, you won’t hear another word about the hothead who threatened the press, but you will hear a whole lot about Papa Bear Grey.

“You can’t buy this type of publicity, Christian, and if you must be in the public eye, have them on your side as a defender and protector and not the haughty asshole who thinks he can do whatever he wants whenever he wants to whomever he wants, even if it may be true.”

I sigh and fall back into my seat. I would prefer no publicity at all and I’m certain that given a few days or so, the threats to the press would have been yesterday’s news. I would rather the splendor of it would wear off like it does with every other hot news bit that has occurred so far. No one even talks about the Pedophile or Edward David anymore—even though he unwelcomely crept into our bedroom last night, so to speak—neither of them are news anymore. Even the Green Valley case has gone somewhat quiet in the past few months. The Pedophile’s accusations against Butterfly never went public, so yes, the media is chomping at the bit for AnaChris news and the most exciting thing they’ve gotten is dinner and a nightclub. But if they think that exploiting my grandfather’s death and my family’s suffering is going to be the way to get their headline, they’re sorely mistaken and I’m just the one to show them.

So, I guess the whole Papa Bear thing isn’t such a bad idea after all.

“Mac,” I sigh, “you and I are going to have to do something about our communication. This is completely unacceptable… and you get to apologize to Barney and Alex for the reaming I gave them this morning, and I expect you to do just that.” She nods. “So, what now? I thought ‘leak’ and the rest of the world is going to think ‘plant,’ which is what it is.”

“Let them think what they want,” Mac replies. “We’ll be mum on it for the first few days and see where the monster goes on its own. Something like this is always a calculated risk, which is why you play it carefully. Whichever way it goes, we let it go.” I frown.

“So, if the public believes that this is a plant, we let them believe that?” She nods and I frown deeper. “I don’t see where that’s a good idea.”

“The more you deny, the more it makes something true,” Mac retorts. “If they really believe it’s planted information, big deal—people plant information all the time, but your reaction was real. And planted or not, they’ll be able to see that. You were primal in your rage when you talked about your family and how the press never gives you peace. Yeah, they may believe that the footage was deliberately given to the press, but they sure as hell won’t mistake your reaction for acting. Josh and I were a bit terrified by you.” I roll my eyes.

“And if they think it was leaked?” I ask.

“We go with it,” she replies. We’ll tell them that a disgruntled now-ex-employee leaked the footage and we keep the comments to a minimum—possible legal action, punitive damages, gag order, blah, blah, blah. You get the idea.” I’m still not certain about her tactic, but she’s right. I can only trust her at this point. I shake my head and turn to my computer screen.

“So,” she says, sitting in the seat in front of my desk. “Rollins?” I look at her briefly, then back to the computer screen.

“He disobeyed a direct order from my wife that directly had to do with GEH. He had to go.” She nods again.

“I know, but did you have to make such an example of him?”

“Yes, I did,” I reply. “These people have to know how serious I am about my wife being half owner of my business. Do you know how smart my wife is? Have you really sat down and talked to her? She minored in finance in college and while I’m sitting here chatting with her about one of the mergers we’re doing as a distraction from my grandfather’s death, she immediately spots skewed results in the statistical data.

“I can see it in your eyes, Mac, that wasn’t a setup,” I say, calling her out on her obvious suspicions. “She saw the error, she went to quality, and she told him to build the prototype and try to mimic the results. It had nothing to do with me until that asshole had spent the entire day sitting on his fucking hands before he came to me to nix the whole idea and handle things with the little wifey. I expect for people to jump when she’s says jump just like they do when I say jump. I know they may not respect her like me, but they very well better start!” She nods again and smirks.

“It appears she’s full of surprises,” she says knowingly. “Remember this conversation the next time you try to argue with me about what she can and can’t do.” She winks and heads for the door. “Can I go now?” I wave my hand for her to leave and look back at my emails. I swear to God the women in my life will one day be the death of me.


ANASTASIA

Pool party!

It’s the middle of July and I have this beautiful pool that I have not yet used. So, just before lunchtime, I activate the contingency and let everyone know that there will be Food and Libations all afternoon poolside at Grey Crossing. Be there or be square.

Be there or be square… good grief.

I found an adorable wraparound swimsuit just before Pops fell ill and never got a chance to wear it under the circumstances. Today is the day—a multicolored bandage high-waisted bikini that accentuates my new body perfectly.

When I go in search of my husband, Gail tells me that he’s down in his office with Mac, and I’m certain that I don’t want to know what fire requires her presence at our home on a Sunday morning unless he chooses to share it with me.

“I need a summer poolside feast for the afternoon,” I tell her. She raises her eyebrows at me like I’ve lost my mind.

“It’s… already afternoon,” she says, a little dismayed.

“Yes, and there’s a lot of afternoon left,” I inform her. I smile playfully. “I should have been more specific,” I say. “I want to spend the afternoon poolside with my friends and whoever wants to join us. Since we’ll be poolside, we’re talking things like fresh fruits, kabobs, chicken salad, finger sandwiches… that kind of thing.” Her eyebrows rise in acknowledgement.

“Oh,” she says, her voice lighter, “you had me scared for a minute. That, I can do.” I nod.

“I’m sorry,” I say mirthfully. “I know Sophie’s doing some remodeling today and you have your hands full with the regular duties. I can try to order something if it’s too much.”

“Nonsense!” Ms. Solomon’s voice says from the pantry. “You have a staff! That’s why we’re here. Let us earn our paychecks!” Gail smiles and shrugs one shoulder.

“What she said,” she replies. I return her smile and go to prepare my babies for a day at the pool. Christian and I agreed that we wanted to keep our relationship with the newer staff at a strictly professional level, but we both must admit that it’s been hard to do that with Windsor and Ms. Solomon, and especially with Keri. Speaking of which…

When I get back to the nursery, my two little bundles are already dressed and ready for a day at the pool. Keri is wearing a beautiful tropical wraparound maxi dress and she’s cooing at Mikey while Minnie enjoys tummy time in her crib. My little darlings are two delicious in their matching Mickey and Minnie Mouse swim suits.

a9d4f1d6357e101d717559bb21a44f7e“Oh, don’t you just look scrumptious!” I say to Minnie. She pushes up onto her knees and rocks feverishly, smiling widely at the sound of my voice. Her two little front teeth have cut in and she’s happier and more sociable now that she’s not in constant discomfort. She’s babbling these days and as far as we can tell, she’s forming some word close to “bottle” or “boob.” We just know that it’s a bah-bah-bah sound and usually comes around feeding time. Mikey is a little slower with his development and I would be remiss to say that I’m not more than a little worried. However, Dr. Nahabedian has told us not to worry; that boys are generally slower to develop than girls. Still, I’m a bit anxious.

“How is Mommy’s little Minnie Mouse?” I coo as I lift her from her crib in her black suit with a red frilly skirt with polka dots and white ruffle-butt bloomer. She smacks my cheeks softly while giggling profusely as I make the “brrrr” noise with my lips. I carry her over to her brother’s crib where Keri is having similar interactions with Mikey.

“Have you already put sunscreen on them or do we need to do it now?” I ask Keri. She nods.

“Yes, I’ve already done it,” she says, still smiling at Mikey.

“Where would I be without you?” I say, sincerely.

“Lost,” she says, sweetly, “just like I would be without you.” She winks at me and I know she’s referring to us giving her a job as our au pair.

“You know you’re helping us just as much as we’re helping you, right?” I ask.

“I find that hard to believe, but thank you… for everything.”

We gather my children and their diaper bags and head for the elevator to go to the pool. When we arrive, the baby tent is already set up with the Pack-n-Play’s nearby. Keri gets the twins set up inside with their toys while I inflate their floaties for when we’re ready to take them into the water.

653d170e88444f26a95956b1b1102b8dSlowly, but surely, my friends begin to show up and the food is brought out to the outdoor dining room. The staff has managed everything I recommended and included guacamole and chips, sunny orange-lemonade, refreshing flash-frozen fruit chunks, and a plethora of other summertime goodies as well and my usual favorites—pinwheels and bruschetta. Christian has even fired up the grill and is cooking hot dogs, bratwurst, and hamburgers… under Jason’s watchful eye and tutelage, and Chuck has set up as bartender in the outdoor dining room for mixed cocktails and Mojito slushies made to order, and he can also watch Keri with the twins in her hot little two-piece with the black wrap-bra and tiny bottoms with the Aztec designs.

 

Of course, Al is the first to show up. He saunters over to where I’m enjoying a cocktail and

Keri is nearby, splashing her feet in the pool while keeping an eye on the twins in the baby tent.

“Damn, diva! You are rocking that suit!” Al says, as he joins me on a chaise near the pool.

“Thank you, Mr. Fleming-Forsythe,” I reply, “You’re looking rather spiffy yourself,” I comment about his electric blue swim trunks with black stripes. “But tell me… is it safe to let your man out the house looking like 150 pounds of ripped chocolate in a black and white nylon wrapper?” Al’s mouth falls open.

“You’re one to talk!” he accuses quietly. “You got Diamond Dick over there with his jewels barely tucked and stuffed into a navy-blue holster! If he sneezes, I’ll get a good look at cut and clarity!”

I was just taking a sip of a Cosmo at that moment. He’s lucky he’s not wearing it.

“Damn, Allen, seriously?” I say, choking down the alcohol.

“Hey, you started it,” he says as he lays out on the chaise. “I need to cook a bit, my love. My skin is a bit too alabaster.”

“I know what you mean,” I say, examining the total lack of pigment in my own complexion. “I’m feeling a little lily-white myself these days.” I begin to put suntan lotion on my skin.

“Did you see the news about your husband this morning?” Al says as he dons his shades and gets comfortable. I sigh.

“No, but I knew something was up when Gail told me that Mac was down in his study with him this morning.” I finish my arms and grab a towel. “Can you untie me please?” Al sits up and glares at me.

“You’re going topless?” he gasps, dismayed. “With that rack? You might make my husband go straight!” I laugh out loud.

“Not completely, silly,” I chuckle, “but I can’t tan right with the wraparound because the straps are too wide. Now, untie me… and do my back while you’re at it.” Al unties my wraparound bikini top while I cover my breasts with the towel.

“Well,” he says as he applies a generous portion of suntan lotion to my back, “the day of the funeral, you saw that the paparazzi were present en masse…”

“Fucking vultures,” I say before I know it. Those fuckers are worse than that church that camps out at the funerals of fallen soldiers and homosexuals to protest the service and harass the family of the deceased.

“Well, your husband felt the same way, so much so that he had his security team taking pictures of the photographers and issued personal threats to each one of them.” I spun around in my seat and looked at him.

Personal threats?” I ask. Al nods. “To each of them?” He nods again. “Oh, fuck.”

“Mac shared your sentiment,” he continues. “She confronted him about the appropriateness of his actions on Thursday when he got back to the office, well after one of the reporters had aired his threats. He went nuclear on her—told her that he didn’t care if they came after him; that he wanted them to come after him; that if they ruined him, then maybe he wouldn’t be news anymore and they would leave his fucking family alone. He was totally willing to sacrifice himself if they left his family alone. He didn’t apologize for his actions and he vowed that he meant every word. He was like a lion standing on his hind feet to protect the pride.” He does the gesture for me to turn around.

“Okay, so, what happened? Why is this news again if it broke on Thursday?” I ask, turning my back to him so that he can finish with the suntan lotion. I have to admit that I hadn’t seen or heard anything about the threats until just now and I was at Grey House on Friday.

“She had this conversation with him in his office, which is always under security surveillance. The surveillance went viral this morning.” I spin around to face him again. “Dammit, Jewel! Be surprised while you’re facing the other direction, please!”

“You just told me that private surveillance from my husband’s office just went viral! Do we have another hacker?” My mind immediately goes to all the times we fucked in that office.

“It was Mac! Now turn around!” he barks.

“Mac was the hacker?” I ask horrified.

“No! She got the footage from Alex and leaked it on purpose—to make Chris look more human for threatening the press. Now, turn around!” I narrow my eyes at him.

“You could have led with that, you cow,” I say begrudgingly turning around so that he can finish my back.

“Shut up and listen, heifer,” he retorts. “We’re waiting to see where the media is going with it. Our response right now is silence. No one’s giving them anything. But you’ll probably notice that you haven’t seen any paparazzi hiding in bushes or around corners all week.” Come to think of it, I haven’t. “They’re taking him at his word, seeing if he’ll do what he said. My guess is that a few heads are going to roll, even though no pictures of your family from the funeral ended up in the media… only the footage of him threatening the press and the subsequent surveillance footage. They’re calling him Papa Bear Grey.

“Papa Bear Grey?” I nearly cackle. “You can’t be serious.”

“Totally,” he says. “Nobody would dare fuck with him or any of you right now.” I shake my head.

“I take it he didn’t know about this. Otherwise, there would be no reason for Mac to be here on a Sunday morning.”

“I’m not sure, but I don’t think he did. Now that he does, he’s just waiting like the rest of us… silently.” He finishes my back and closes the suntan lotion. “All done, my dear.”

I situate myself on the chaise and cover my boobs with the towel, folding it so that it only covers my mounds and not the rest of me.

“I can’t wait to see how this ends up,” I say, facetiously.

Al and I sunbathe for a while as I tell him about the night Christian and I had confronting Greta Ellison. I leave out the part where we fuck all night because seeing him charm Greta gave me flashbacks of the dirty, lying cheater with two first names. I finish my Cosmo and listen to my babies cooing behind me as my skin tans to a lovely shade. Al is still talking about… something… as I feel myself drifting off to sleep…

“Hot damn, that’s a sight,” I hear my husband’s voice say. I open my eyes to see him standing over me, playfully licking his bottom lip and smiling at me. He looks hot as fuck with windblown hair and sunglasses, gazing down at me with the sun shining behind him. I know I’ve fallen asleep, but I don’t know for how long. I’m not burned, so it must’ve only been a few minutes.

“Cut and clarity,” Al says from the chaise next to me. I throw a horrified look at him.

“Allen!” I hiss as quietly as I can.

“What?” Christian asks, curiously.

“Just Allen being an ass,” I say through my teeth. I hold my towel against my breasts as I sit up to greet my husband. “What brings you over here? You wanted to get a better look?” I ask, raising my eyebrow. He smiles and sits on my chaise.

“No, but that’s a good reason to stay,” he says playfully. “How are you?” I know what he’s talking about. Last night was an intense night, emotionally and physically. I couldn’t find the words to tell him what I was feeling. I knew that the insecurity that I was feeling about his interaction with Greta Ellison was unwarranted, but when you get into a certain state of mind—particularly one that you’re already familiar with—it’s hard to get out of it.

“I’m fine,” I tell him. “You did a good job of reassuring me,” I add with a smile.

“It was my pleasure… literally,” he says, closing in on me.

“Too much information!” I hear from the peanut gallery to my left.

“Then stop listening!” I hiss at my best friend.

“Kind of hard to miss it,” he says, still lying on his back and soaking up the sun.

“Roll over or you’ll burn, Snow White!” I bark, hoping that giving him a task will distract him from our conversation.

“Take your own advice, Fairest of the Fair,” he says, shifting position onto his stomach.

“He’s right, you know,” Christian says, gently rubbing my skin. “I’d hate for you to burn, and not just because it means I couldn’t touch you.”

“Yes, heaven forbid Mr. Grey can’t have his playtime.” Goddammit, Allen!

“Allen, if you don’t shut up, I’m going to begin a detailed conversation about cunnilingus,” Christian says calmly.

“What?” Allen protests, mocking innocence. “She doesn’t have a bratty little brother… well, she’s got a little brother, but he’s not old enough to be a brat, yet. Somebody’s got to fill in.”

“Eating hot, dripping wet pussy,” Christian says.

“Shutting up,” Al replies, and I have to stifle my laughter. Christian turns back to me.

“Are you okay? Really?” I can see his soft, concerned eyes. I shrug.

“Sometimes you can’t avoid old ghosts creeping up on you.” I gently stroke his cheek, slightly prickly from his designer stubble. “But you do a very good job of chasing them away.” I hear Al on the chaise next to me take a breath to retort.

“Clitoris,” Christian says before he can speak.

“Not a word,” Al says quickly. Christian turns back to me.

“I’ll talk to yours later,” he whispers. “Now, turn over.” I do as he says while he holds my towel over my breasts. “Do you need me to do your back?”

“No, Al did it for me earlier,” I reply.

“You been fondling my wife?” he asks Al.

“Sure have, and you can fondle me to get even if you like,” Al retorts.

You asked for that one, Grey.

“I’ll send your husband over,” Christian replies, a bit uncomfortably. Al chuckles.

“I was just fucking with you,” Al says, “Chocolate covered me already.”

And they just keep flying.

“You really want to have that pussy-eating conversation, don’t you?” Christian shoots back.

“Good Lord, what did we walk in on?” I hear Maxine’s voice and a cooing Mindy off to my right.

“My husband and best friend are sparring,” I say, without lifting my head. “They’re trying to see who can make the other more sexually uncomfortable.”

“Who’s winning?” I hear Elliot’s voice say.

“I can’t tell just yet,” I say. “Christian had Al on the ropes with talk of vaginal satisfaction, but Al came back with a request for Christian’s man-hands and now, I’m a little unclear what the score is.”

“It’s two to three I think, Chris’ favor,” Al says, “but I haven’t said anything yet about my obsession with the taste of chocolate.” I roll my eyes under my sunglasses. This will never end.

“Hey, Al?” Christian says. Al foolishly turns to look at my husband, who does a “V” with his fingers and flicks his tongue between them several times. Al shakes his head and lays back down on the chaise.

Game. Set. Match.

Christian slaps my ass and goes back to the barbecue kitchen to man the grill with Jason. Once he’s out of earshot, Al pulls his glasses down and glares at me.

“What?” I ask him as Maxie gets comfortable on the chaise on the other side of me while Phil holds Mindy.

“Jewel!” he says. “That thing is long as fuck! He needs to put it on a leash!”

You should see his dick.

“Exactly which part of him got you pregnant?” he continues, as if reading my mind.

“Fuck!”

All seven adult heads spin to see which angel-baby voice produced this word. Mindy is sitting there proudly clapping her hands for her audience… and her new word.

“She’s talking?” Val says with large eyes, having joined the party with Elliot and the Guests.

“Repeating,” Phil says, none too pleased, “only particular sounds that she hears with emphasis,” he adds, looking at Al.

“Sorry,” Al says, lying back on chaise. Maxie leans back and begins to play with Mindy.

“Al, when you have kids, I’m coming to your house and saying random curse words all day,” Phil threatens.

“Who says I’m having kids?” Al retorts. I frown.

“You don’t want kids?” I ask.

“It’s not on my immediate agenda, no,” he replies.

“I thought you wanted kids,” Val says, slathering sunscreen on her arms. “James doesn’t want them?”

“We’ve had the conversation,” he says. “I’m not in any rush and we’re both a bit hesitant, what with still having to fight for gay rights. It’s hard to imagine having to bring up a child in a society that doesn’t really accept its parents as a couple.” I sit up, holding my towel to my breasts.

“But you’re godfather to my children,” I protest, garnering the attention of all the people at the party now. Al sits up and faces me.

“Here’s the thing, Jewel,” he says, resting his elbows on his knees. If—heaven forbid—something happens to you and Chris, there are going to be a lot of people in line to take The Incredibles over there. I doubt that there will be any battles, but you have Carrick and Grace, Ray and Mandy, and even Elliot and Val or Mia and Ethan are in line before me. They’re family… and I’m a lawyer. I know my pecking order. But rest assured, Chocolate and I have already talked about this and if that dreaded day ever comes and no one protests it, my hat is still in the ring.”

I’m suddenly deflated. I hadn’t even thought about the fact that Al would truly have no legal right to our children if something happened to us. I don’t know why I didn’t think about it. I just didn’t.

“Hey, Steele,” Val interjects, noting my obvious change in demeanor. “Everybody knows how important Al is to you and to the Wonder Twins. Even if they do go to someone in the family, no one would try to keep him out of their lives.”

That brings comfort, but very little.

“Okay,” I nod. “I know. If you’ll excuse me…” I move to get off the chaise and grab my bikini top. I look over into the baby tent and my two little angels are fast asleep.

“Jewel, I’m sorry… I….”

“No, it’s not you,” I stop him. “I need to pump.” I walk to the house with my breast covered and quickly go to the nursery. When I’m attached to the breast pump, I go over the conversation I just had in my head. Al called them the Incredibles and Val called them the Wonder Twins. Everyone else refers to them as Minnie and Mikey—a play on “Minnie and Mickey.” Everybody calls them some sort of cartoon character, and right now, they’re napping by the pool wearing costumes of their original namesakes. I smile to myself thinking of how much everyone loves them, and hoping beyond hope that there won’t be a battle for them if something ever does happen to me and Christian…

“Hey,” I hear my husband’s voice quietly come into the nursery. “You okay? Everybody’s worried about you.”

“Yeah,” I say as the miracle contraption fills one bottle and Christian attaches a second. “Mindy blurted out a very colorful word after hearing Uncle Al say it, to which Phil responded that he would get revenge by cursing around Al’s children every day. Al then announced that he had no intentions of immediately having children, which brought us around to the conversation of him being our children’s godfather. He brought up that legally, he’s the last man on the totem pole and probably wouldn’t get the kids anyway, but he would always be available to them. And it just got me thinking…”

“Thinking what?” he asks.

“We hope to be here for our babies, but what happens if some terrible accident occurs and we’re both untimely ripped from this earth? What’s going to happen to our babies? I would hate to think that our families would fight over the twins, but we both know that death brings out some very bad emotions in people. I don’t think I could stand the thought of our children being in a tug-of-war.”

“Our families would never do that,” he says.

“We don’t know that, Christian,” I retort. “What do we want for our children? I always assumed that Val and Al would take some kind of joint responsibility for my kids if something happened to me, but I never, ever considered the other people that would be involved—the baby’s father, his family… Common sense dictates that this should be considered, but I never did. I never have.” I raise my eyes to the ceiling and finally admit my thoughts—the thoughts of a young, broken woman years ago…

“I knew that I was going to have children. I was certain of that… but I was so busy seeing myself alone that I never considered the other half of the child.” I bring my eyes back to Christian. “We’ve got to definitively decide the fate of our children if something happens to us. When I checked out, Maxie showed you that someone will step up and try to take the reins even if they don’t have the authority.” He examines me and sighs. I move the breast pump to my other breast and begin to empty it.

“And consider this,” I say once the pump is reattached. “My mother is the only blood relative that I have that I know of except for a grandmother that I don’t really care to know. What’s to stop either one of them from trying to lay claim to my children once we’re gone? They have just as much right as anybody—even more so than Ray—to our children. This one little door left open could let all kinds of rodents into the barn.”

He drops his head. He knows I’m right. Minnie and Mikey will be heirs if something happens to the two of us and although our close family may have no concern with that, vermin are very likely to come out of the woodwork should Christian and I come to an unfortunate demise.

“What should we do?” he asks.

“Call a family meeting,” I say. “Include Allen. He’s an attorney. So is Carrick, and as far as I’m concerned, they both have an interest in this. Find out how everyone feels, then put our wishes in a will and everybody has to stick to it.”

“What’s to stop someone from contesting the will?” he asks as he replaces the bottle on the pump.

“It’s a chance that we have to take,” I say. “Who among our family can you see contesting the will except for my mother and any of my long-lost blood relatives? We’ll include in the will that I’ve been estranged from my mother since I was seventeen. If I die tomorrow, that’s still more than ten years. Any judge anywhere would see that she was only in it for the money and that being with her—someone my children won’t even know exists—would not be in the best interest of the children. Not being a snob, but I’m about to… Even my step-father is more financially well-off than my mother… Oh, my God!” Christian frowns.

“Baby, what’s wrong?” he says, noting my change of demeanor.

“Why didn’t I think of this sooner?” I ask aloud. Whether he decides he wants my children or not, I should have done this the moment I turned eighteen.

“Baby, you’re scaring me. Please tell me what’s going on,” Christian says. I turn to him.

“I’m going to ask Daddy to adopt me.” He frowns again.

“You’re… it’s a little late for that, don’t you think?” he asks.

“No, it’s not,” I tell him. “If you are incapacitated, Daddy is my power of attorney. He should have just as much rights and say-so to anything and everything that I have or anything to do with me as my mother ever had, and hate it or love it, if we both die, she’s my next of kin!” He shivers at the thought.

“Fucking hell how soon can we get this ball rolling?” he asks all in one breath…

*-*

“Jesus Christ, Jewel, what did I start?” Al asks dismayed when Christian and I get back to the pool.

“A conversation that really should’ve happened more than ten years ago,” I tell him. “We’re going to have a family meeting to decide what happens to our children, and you’re going to be a part of that meeting, but in the meantime, I need you to start the process for my dad to adopt me.”

“You want Ray to adopt you now?” Marilyn asks, she and Gary having joined the party while I was pumping milk.

“Yes. We would have done it sooner, but my mom’s a bitch,” I say flippantly. “Once I was free from her, I didn’t think about it until now. He needs all the legal rights that any father would have because he is my father, and I don’t want anyone trying to squash his rights.” Al looks over at Christian.

“She’s not talking about my family,” he says, answering Al’s gaze. “In terms of blood relatives and any legal rights, Carla can come through here and brush him aside. As much as it pains me to say, if we’re both gone, she’s Butterfly’s biological next of kin. And when we went national with Butterfly’s retrieval from that asshole on Vashon Island, she was on the first available bird to get to Seattle—once she discovered her daughter was dating a billionaire. What do you think is going to happen if something happens to us and she can get her hands on two miniature cash cows?”

“Your family would fight her tooth and nail on that and most likely win. She doesn’t have the resources…”

“I don’t care!” I interrupt Al. “My dad is my dad, and we should have made it legal a long time ago. I want to make it legal now. Does Carla have to be notified because she’s my birth mother?” Al shakes his head.

“You’re an adult,” he replies. “In the state of Washington, Ray can adopt you, but Carla doesn’t lose her parental rights.”

“Carla lost her parental rights a long time ago,” I retort, “and I’m going to make sure that our will says that she is to have nothing to do with my children, but I don’t want her whisking in here on her broom thinking she has rights to lay claim to anything and brush my father out of the way. That’s what this is about. Whatever we decide to do with our children, with our fortune, with whatever we leave behind, she can no longer say that Daddy is not my Daddy. That’s what this is about.” Al sighs and nods.

“I’ll get right on it,” he says. I sigh heavily.

“How long will it take?” I ask.

“Well, you’re an adult, so we don’t need an adoption report. We’ll need an adoption petition, consent form from you, then findings and conclusions filing and the decree of adoption. It’ll take me about a day to draw those up, then you and Ray sign them and we file them with the court. After that, the process can take six weeks to six months, usually shorter for adult adoptions with no contest,” he says.

“Can Carla contest it?” Christian asks.

“She could. It would delay the proceedings a bit, but most likely not stop them. But she can’t contest what she doesn’t know.” I purse my lips.

“I’ll pay her,” I say immediately. Christian looks over at me.

“Butterfly…” he protests.

“I’ll pay her!” I repeat. “If she finds out about the adoption and she contests it, I’ll pay her to go away. Whatever she wants, I’ll give it to her.” Christian sighs. He and Al have a silent conversation and Christian nods almost unnoticeably.

“Fine, I’ll get on it first thing tomorrow. You may want to let Ray in on this, though,” he says almost facetiously. I nod. Daddy is finally going to really be my Daddy. I’m so happy, I could burst.

“Can we party now?” Val interrupts. “I’m ready to hit the pool and eat and have cocktails. This serious shit is starting to be a real downer.”

“Shit!” Mindy declares, clapping her hands wildly and giggling profusely. Dear God, please don’t let Minnie start speaking that soon. She’s going to know every curse word in the English language, and some in French.

*-*

Once we turned attention away from the serious shit, as Val put it, the party was back to the light-hearted banter we started with. Val freely took a dip in the pool and lazied away in the sun without her wig. Mia and Ethan finally joined us around dinnertime and talked happily about wedding plans. Grace is in seventh heaven that she gets to plan Mia’s wedding down to the last detail and we’re certain that it’s going to be the Broadway production that Grace has been waiting for. She and Mia think exactly alike, so we’re expecting a grandiose affair… even before Mia announces that we should be “red carpet” formal for the reception. Christian immediately rolls his eyes, totally dreading the fanfare that he knows will be his sister’s nuptials. I squeeze his hand and kiss his cheek.

“We were married in a castle, dear,” I say softly in his ear.

“And my mother still thought it wasn’t big enough,” he reminds me. “She’s in charge this time. The reception will be standing room only. Mia had a marquee at the Faces of Abuse premier. She may have the damn color guard at the door. The paparazzi will be her photographers…”

“Stop,” I chide him as Mia continues to describe her wedding.

“Her wedding will be at the Paramount theater,” he continues whispering in my ear, “a venue that holds 2000. She won’t know most of the people in attendance. Her wedding will be displayed across the marquee—The Greys present Mia and Ethan’s Wedding, September 20, 2014, 6pm. We need to be ‘red carpet ready,’ which means if the police don’t have the street blocked off, we won’t be able to get to the front door.”

As much as I hate to admit it, the more he describes this event, the more it sounds like this is really what’s going to happen.

“Um, Mia, how about security and access?” I ask. “How will you be sure that those on the guest list can get in and those who aren’t don’t?”

“Private security and the police,” she says. “The mayor and the governor will be there.” Oh, of course, I think to myself.

“Along with every judge in King County,” Christian whispers in my ear.

“I know what you’re thinking, big brother,” Mia calls him out. “You can have your precious security there to protect you from the paparazzi, but it will be totally unnecessary. No one will be there that wasn’t invited.” Christian doesn’t look convinced.

“I know I shouldn’t be thinking about ditching my sister’s wedding, but I’m thinking about ditching my sister’s wedding,” Christian whispers to me.

“Don’t you dare!” I whisper back.

“This coming from the woman who won’t be in her wedding,” he says quietly.

“Don’t try to blackmail me, Christian,” I retort a little firmly. Mia wanted me to be in her wedding, but seeing the responsibility that I carried taking care of Val while she was sick, my twins, and all the other day-to-day things that were going on in my life, I got a pass from all the dress fittings and bridesmaids duties, as did Val for reasons of her health, of course. After seeing the lineup of the twelve women that she will have in her bridal party, I was glad not to be part of it.

Four of the women are bratty little debutants, far worse than Courtney ever was. However, since none of them tried to blame Mia for their thievery, I guess they made the cut. Five of them are Mia’s sorors, or—as they refer to themselves—sands. I’ve never liked sorority girls and to be honest, I didn’t know that Mia was a sorority girl. Had she not been my husband’s beloved Meelo, I’m not sure we would have hit it off. Though I do love her dearly, I now understand some of the traits that I see in her that drive me batshit.

I’m not saying that all sorority girls are bad, don’t get me wrong. However, the ones that I encountered during my college years at U-Dub were the quintessential mean girls. I don’t know what the issue was or why not being part of a sorority at the time made you pond scum, but these Gamma Phi Sigma Gamma Beta Rho Kappa bitches really rubbed me the wrong way. I was a poor pre-med student. I didn’t have time for that shit. It was Green Valley all over again. The only difference was that I had gone through self-defense classes with Daddy and had started Krav Maga with Luc. I would have fucked the bitches up for touching me. They were verbally cruel very often, but hell—I had already been through the worst. That shit they were talking… sticks and stones. It left a bitter taste in my mouth for sorors, though.

The final three women—including Mia’s best friend, Lily—are none other than three of the daughters. Yes, those daughters. Two of them were present when I beat the Pedophile’s ass the first night that I met the Greys. Lily wasn’t one of them. But apparently, she had… or still has… a big thing for Christian even though he completely ignores her presence when she’s around. It actually borders on rude behavior, causing me to ask him if there was history between them.

“Not per se,” he had responded. “She just seems like trouble to me.”

I asked Elliot if I needed to be on my guard around her. She had come to the Manor a few times to discuss wedding plans while we were staying there. She was obvious and downright irritating with her greeting to Christian… and in her blatant refusal to greet me. I didn’t let it bother me, because I felt like it was just sour grapes on her part. Elliot told me Lily did everything in her power to get Christian. Even when the family thought he was gay, she was determined to convert him back to pussy. She was so pushy and overbearing that Christian just resolved to have nothing to do with her.

“It was embarrassing,” Elliot had said. “She would throw herself in his path; she would speak to him and he wouldn’t acknowledge her. One day, she nearly chased his car down the street.”

“Oh, you have to tell me this,” I prodded.

“He was leaving, going back home or wherever he was going, and she came out and went to his driver’s side window. She was talking to him, and he started the car. He actually started rolling away from her and she was still talking, running next to the car. She didn’t even have enough sense to be embarrassed by it. She just kept talking and running, saying that something must be wrong with him not to want her. That night when you met the family, had she known he was there, Madam Creeps-A-Lot would have been the least of your worries.”

“Who the hell is Madam Creeps-A-Lot?” I had choked.

“That Lincoln bitch,” he said matter-of-factly. “No, Lily would have been your biggest competition for Christian’s attention that night. You could have been sitting in his lap and she still would have been hitting on him. When you guys went upstairs to go to bed, she would have been knocking at the door.”

Sure enough, Lily’s facial expressions every time she sees me are worse than bitter-pill-swallowing Liona. I hadn’t seen or heard of this woman anytime during our relationship or my pregnancy, but when we moved into Grey Manor, she was there once or twice a week easily. Mia would whisk her off to some room and they would talk wedding stuff as far as I knew, but the moment Christian showed up, there she was. She was in his face, smiling and batting her eyelashes, and he never gave her a moment’s notice. Yet, when she turned her attention to me, she looked like those ugly people on the Twilight Zone whose faces turned into those horrible masks they wore.

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The visual is actually pretty scary.

“Hey, I was just kidding,” I hear my husband’s voice say, pulling me back to the here and now. “Where did you go?”

I just shake my head. The truth is that I would rather not be in Mia’s wedding. If my wedding was considered ostentatious, her wedding is going to be a three-ring-circus for sure. Mine wedding was the party of the century. Hers will be the event of the millennium. It should truly be televised. The over-the-top creation of a mother who didn’t get to plan her sons’ weddings and a daughter who wants every bell and whistle imaginable. I wouldn’t want that type of attention.

Then the thought of having to spend any extended amount of time with pampered and spoiled debutantes who have probably never seen a hard day in their lives and stuck up sorority girls who are probably worse than anything I ever encountered at U-Dub. Oh, and let’s not forget the scorned daughters of the fundraising committee who saw me at my best and worst, defending my then-boyfriend from a predator and—much like that predator, believe I put some spell on him to make him marry me. Maybe I trapped him with my twins. I was pregnant when we got married after all, right?

I swear, I won’t allow this to make me look at my sister-in-law any differently. She has some annoying ways about her, but she’s still one of the sweetest and bubbliest people I’ve ever met, even though her friends are stuck-up little bitches who would rather see me dead or disappear…

“Baby, are you okay?” Christian asks with concern in his eyes. Mia still hasn’t stopped talking about her wedding plans and Pops’ suggestion that she use votives with gray rocks as centerpieces and lavender in her bouquets instead of baby’s breath. I remember being that excited about my castle and my one of a kind dress and my vintage Bentley. Was anybody thinking of me the way I’m feeling about Mia’s wedding party right now? I sigh.

“I’m just… beginning to feel the same way you are about this wedding,” I confess. He frowns.

“I’m sorry… I didn’t mean… I was just kidding,” he says.

“Part of you was,” I say, looking over my shoulder at him. “Part of you is having the same feeling of dread that I’m having right now and wishing the whole thing was over… the cameras, the publicity, the paparazzi, the fanfare… From what I hear, the bridesmaids are all… not my type of people. Do you know anything about the groomsmen?” Christian shrugs.

“Friends of Ethan, I’m told,” he says.

“Possible family?” I ask. “Definitely possibly Kavanaughs?” He sighs.

“I know some of his mother’s side will be there. Daddy Kavanaugh is not invited.” I sigh and nod.

“And then there’s that,” I say. “Mia’s going to be a Kavanaugh. Has anybody really thought about that?” Christian twists his lips.

“She’ll always be a Grey,” he says. I shake my head.

“No, Christian, she’s about to be a Kavanaugh. How do you and Elliot feel about that?” I look over at Val, laughing happily with Mia as she continues to regale details of her big day. “How will Val feel about that?”

God, I’ll be glad when this is over.

A wedding at an historic theater that can accommodate 2000 guests…

Holy cow, Batman.


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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 71—The Gatekeeper

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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 71—The Gatekeeper

ANASTASIA

Since I prepared to be in court for She-Thing all week, I won’t be going to Helping Hands, so I gave Marilyn the week off. Just after breakfast Thursday morning, I receive a call from the dreaded area code… 702.

“Hello?”

“Mrs. Grey?”

“Who’s calling?” I ask cautiously.

“This is Herbert Larson from the Nevada Attorney General’s office.” Oh… still haven’t gotten that subpoena.

“Yes?” I say. He pauses, no doubt noting my cold tone.

“I… just wanted to call you and tell you that Michael Underwood’s trial was set for Monday…”

Was?” I interrupt him.

“Yes, was. He saw the charges and the witnesses against him and he took a plea.” Another fucker gets to take a plea.

“Really? And what did he get?” I ask, stoically.

“He pled to second degree kidnapping, battery without a weapon, and involuntary manslaughter with a maximum of twenty five years on all counts. He got eighteen with a possibility of parole in fifteen.” Whoa!

“Oh.” I say, truly surprised. “Okay.” I couldn’t say much more.

“I’m calling because your subpoena was returned unserved,” he says. “We tried your last known address and your office. There was no contact at either location.”

“Why didn’t you try my attorney’s office?”

“He couldn’t be reached at his office either, Ma’am.”

“Geez, you have old addresses for everybody?” I lament.

“I’m afraid so,” he says. “We couldn’t legally serve anybody anywhere.” I nod.

“I’ll get you updated information today. I’m sorry about that, Mr. Larson,” I say.

“No apologies necessary. I just thought you might want to know that the first official sentence has been handed down in your case.” I sigh heavily, then frown.

“What about Carly Madison-Perry?” I ask. “I thought she had taken a plea, too.”

“Her plea is still pending,” he says. “It’s due to be finalized within the next week. Her keeping it is dependent on her testifying in court.”

“And what if everyone does what Underwood does and pleads to a lesser charge? Will she still get to walk even though she never had to testify in court?” There’s a pause.

“I can guarantee you that it’s not a ‘walk,’ Mrs. Grey,” he replies. “However, based on her willingness to testify, she would still get her plea bargain. Her pleading to a lesser sentence for the highest allowable charges means that it goes on the books that these crimes were actually committed and that anyone associated with the incident has to be associated with the commission of these crimes and not a lesser act, unless their specific action indicate a lesser act. This is why she got first degree kidnapping and Underwood got second.”  I nod as if he can see me.

“So, with Carly’s testimony, I need you to help me understand why you won’t just take all of these people to trial. It’s an open and shut case.” I hear him sigh.

“Under normal circumstances, you would be correct, Mrs. Grey. However, these circumstances are far from normal. We haven’t notified you of every development in this case, but so far, there have been seventeen arrests made with people rolling over on their friends. Some suspects have fled the state or are in hiding waiting to be apprehended. To be honest with you, every jurisdiction has a finite amount of resources that can be expended for all cases being investigated. To that end, if we can save the taxpayers some money and preserve our resources by still getting double-digit mandatory sentences on these pleas, I would consider that a win. Wouldn’t you?” 

The way he explains it makes perfect sense. I’ll just have to make sure that any of these monsters that do live long enough to see the outside of a prison don’t get to see their fortunes once they’re free. It’s the high living and the sense of entitlement that caused most of these bastards to participate in this shit in the first place. Others were just too busy following the leader.

“Am I allowed to know what Carly’s plea is?” I ask, certain that I won’t like the outcome. Larson pauses again.

“Mrs. Madison-Perry is being charged with conspiracy to kidnap in the first degree, kidnapping in the first degree, battery with a deadly weapon with substantial bodily harm, battery without a weapon with substantial bodily harm, manslaughter for the fetal homicide of your unborn baby, and attempted murder…” 

“So, they both got the kidnapping charges.” It’s a question that comes out as a statement.

“We’re hoping they’ll all get it,” he says.

“Well, Underwood got eighteen years. What kind of charges is she looking at?”

“Under normal circumstances, kidnapping carries a life sentence on its own. Like Underwood, she reviewed the odds against her and decided against taking her chances in court. If she delivers as promised, she’s looking at thirty years with no parole and a $35,000 fine.” Holy cow, Batman! I hiss into the line.

“She could have gotten life, huh?” I ask. There’s silence. “I think thirty years sounds fair. And she’ll never be able to come up with that $35,000.”

“Then she’ll most likely get more time for that,”  he says.

“Even better. I’ll email you to correct addresses for myself and my attorney. Thank you for explaining this to me, Mr. Larson.

“My pleasure.” I end the call after pleasantries and almost call Christian to tell him the news when I  see my father’s number in the call logs. I dial his number instead. It’s the middle of the morning, so his phone has to be on.

The caller you are trying to reach has chosen not to be disturbed at this time. Please try your call again later.

What. The. Fuck!

I look at the phone to make sure that I’ve dialed the right number. It says that’s Daddy’s phone. But it can’t be! That’s the blocked number message. I dial the number manually. Maybe there’s a technical reason for it.

That fucker’s voice is taunting me again.

I shake my head. Something is terribly wrong. I go in search of a landline in the house and dial my father’s number again.

The caller you are trying…

I hang up before the message completes. Panic stricken, I go in search of Gail. I find her in the kitchen going over the shopping list with Mrs. Solomon. I try to act calm.

“Gail, can I borrow your phone? Mine’s on the charger.”

“Sure, dear.” She puts her phone on the counter without hesitation and goes back off into the pantry.

I dial Daddy’s number hoping that I would get the same message from Gail’s phone that I received from my phone and the landline. I didn’t. It rings—three times, then he answers.

“Hello?”

“Daddy?” I say, uncertain. His answer is swift.

“Can’t talk now. Busy.” And the line goes dead. I’m stunned. He’s shutting me out. My father is shutting me out. In my whole life, my father has never, ever shut me out… but he’s shutting me out. I stand there for a moment. I’m lost. I don’t know what to do next. First Valerie, now this? The world is ending… the world must be ending! What kind of cruel joke it this?

My stomach burns. My chest aches like someone is beating me with a sledgehammer. Daddy is shutting me out. He blocked my phone numbers. He won’t accept my calls. Even Mandy won’t talk to me. I can’t get air. The walls feel like they’re closing in on me. My world is truly ending. How will I ever survive this? I’m going to die… I feel like I’m going to die… I can’t take it… I’m not strong enough…

This couldn’t be happening. This could not be happening! I look around for Gail, but she must have stepped into the pantry. I put her phone on the counter and head for the mudroom. I stand there lost for a moment, but see my keys on the hook next to the other keys for the other cars in the garage. I grab them and head out the door. I’m on autopilot. The windows are tinted, which is good, because when I drive to the gate, Ben just opens it and lets me out. I head towards the bridge. I don’t know where I’m going. I just… drive.


CHRISTIAN

“Boss… we got a problem.”

Boss… shit, what’s wrong? I get a sinking feeling when Jason comes into my office just past noon. He only calls me Boss when it’s something person.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“I just got a text from my wife… Her Highness is MIA.” I frown.

“I don’t get it. You got a text from your wife that Butterfly is MIA?” he nods.

“Just now. I’ve got the boys looking into it, but she’s definitely gone. She came into the kitchen about three hours ago asking Gail to use her phone. Gail thought nothing of it and just let her use it. She saw her phone on the counter as she was doing something with Ms. Solomon and thought nothing of it. Her Highness said her phone was dead.” I knew that wasn’t true because her phone was on the charger right next to mine when I left this morning. “When the babies awoke, Her Highness wasn’t there. Two-way communications says she’s not in the house.”

“She could be out by the fire-pit or something. Has anybody tried to call her?” I say. Jason rolls his eyes.

“You know we did, sir. Her phone is still in the bedroom… along with her purse,” he says somberly. “And her car is gone.” I bolt out of my seat.

“How do you know her car is gone?” I ask.

“Ben let her out of the gate. He assumed Chuck was with her. Chuck is not.”

“Shit!” I hiss, thrusting my hands into my hair. She left her purse, her phone, the babies. Was she kidnapped again?

“Did you activate the tracker on her car?” I ask. Jason scratches his chin. “What?”

“Her… car hasn’t been equipped with a tracker,” he says, meekly.

“What?” I roar. “That car is going to have the babies the goddamn most and it hasn’t been fitted with a goddamn tracker?”

“I think they were so preoccupied with getting the spec right that somebody forgo…” He pulls his phone out and frowns.

“What?” I ask.

“Gail just thought to call the last number dialed on her phone. It was Ray. He was more than a bit gruff with her. Is something up with Ray?” I roll my eyes.

“Yes,” I say, pulling my phone out call Ray. “Give me a minute.” Jason nods and leave my office.

“Hello?” Ray answers.

“Ray. It’s Christian. Have you seen Ana?”

“You gotta lotta nerve calling me!” he hisses. I’m taken aback.

“What?” I say, clearly shocked.

“She told me about that crap you two do, like I’m supposed to be okay with it. What the hell have you gotten my daughter into?” He’s livid, and I’m caught off guard. I don’t even know how to handle this Ray.

“Ray, I… it’s not like that…” I stammer.

“The hell it’s not!” he snaps. “I wasn’t born yesterday! I’ve seen that shit! I’ve been around more than you and even Annie knows! I’ve been everywhere from Amsterdam to Pattaya to the seedy areas of the states. I’ve seen all the sick shit that goes on in those clubs and at those parties and in those dungeons and you can’t pull the wool over my eyes!”

Whoa! So, Ray knows what he’s talking about, but he still only seems to have seen the worst part of it.

“Ray, those places you’ve been, you’ve only seen the most horrible stuff. It’s not like that with us, I assure you…”

“Don’t give me that shit! There’s no soft way to abuse a woman! Beating and caning and ropes and shit! And to think—my daughter is involved in this garbage!”

Was this what Butterfly heard? Is this how he spoke to her before he disappeared?

“Whatever you may think about my and my wife’s lifestyle, I can’t find her and I just want to know the last time you’ve seen her.”

“Good! I hope she’s left your ass! I hope she’s left this whole sick situation!” He can’t hear beyond his own hatred and anger and now, I’m sure this is why I can’t find Anastasia.

“Raymond!” I snap, my wick short. “My wife is missing.” My voice is short and curt, my words clipped. “She doesn’t have her phone or her purse. She hasn’t left me because our children are still at home. She could be in danger. Have you seen her?” He’s silent for a moment.

“No. I haven’t,” he says in the same clipped, angry tone he’s been using for the entire call. No concern for her whereabouts; no reaction to the ominous details I just gave him; nothing that I would expect from a father… much less a Marine. My heart sinks. This is who she met before she disappeared. She idolizes Ray. In her whole life, throughout everything, he’s been her one constant, and now this. What’s worse is that in hindsight, she may not have even had to tell him about the lifestyle since that blonde bitch never said anything in court and nothing’s come from my testimony on Monday except a few blurbs about the abuse. Oh, God. If anything has happened to Butterfly, this is all my fault… the breakdown of her relationship with Ray, the possible public humiliation, all of it… all my fault.

“Do you hate your daughter, now, Ray?” I ask him.

“No, but I hate you for what you’ve done to her!” he snaps without hesitation. Another closed mind. I should have seen this coming.

“Fine. Hate me, but don’t make her pay for it,” I say flatly.

“You’re the last person that can say anything to me about my daughter right now,” he hisses. “You should be glad I don’t get some of the guys from one of my sites to just come down there and beat your ass!”

“Do that if it makes you feel better, but don’t punish Anastasia because of how you feel about me.”

“Don’t you try to take that high road with me, Grey!” he snaps, angrier than I’ve ever seen or heard before. “You’re a sick fuck and I’ll never forgive you for what you’ve turned my daughter into!” I sigh heavily.

And another one bites the dust.

“I thought you knew,” I say softly, defeated. “I thought you knew how much I love her… that I would gladly lay down my life for her. I thought I proved it when I beat the hell out of your best friend and ended up in the hospital.”

He’s fallen silent on the other end of the line.

“I thought you knew that I could never, ever hurt her… that I would do anything for her. I thought I proved that when I turned the state upside down when she was kidnapped; when I flew to Green Valley and hunted down the fucker who raped her and the monsters who beat her and killed her baby; when I stood with you against her mother and that abomination that she married when they showed up at the hospital; when I sat by her side ready to fight you and anyone else who tried to take her away when she laid catatonic in my bed for three days.

“When I stood in that office ready to take that bullet if it meant that crazy bitch was not going to shoot my Butterfly; when I turned her into Cinderella and married her in a castle because she wanted to be a princess; when I signed her name to half of the company that I built on my back with my own blood, sweat and tears because I love and trust her that much… with my life!”

I don’t think he knew that last part.

“I thought I proved it when I stayed by her side and cried for twelve days when she was in a coma and refused to leave her until they kicked me out and banned me from the room even after she didn’t remember who I was. I really thought you knew that she is my whole life and I could never abuse her or mistreat her or misuse her. I thought you knew me better than some sick motherfucker that would just tie her up and torment her for my own enjoyment!” I bite out—angry, hurt tears now burning a trek down my face.

“Most of all, I thought you knew her better,” I choke. “I thought you knew that the Anastasia Steele that I met would never stand to be abused, hurt, or deliberately mistreated by anybody, much less someone who claimed to love her! After all that she’s already been through, I was certain that you knew she was much stronger, much wiser than that! I’m so disappointed to find out that after all this time, you don’t know.”

I swallow back my trepidation for the fact that I’m talking to Ana’s father and continue.

“You want to judge me for the lifestyle that I came from, fine. You do that. I won’t lie—it hurts. I thought you knew me better. I thought you knew what she meant to me, but clearly, I was mistaken.” I hear my voice shaking and I can hardly believe how affected I am that not only has Ray bought into the crap that he’s seen and heard about the lifestyle, but that he doesn’t know me well enough or trust me well enough to believe that I wouldn’t do that deviant shit to Anastasia.

“I misjudged you,” I say through angry tears. “I knew the rest of the world would judge us, would jump to conclusions, but I didn’t think you would. In the end, I always thought we… or at least she… would have you. I guess I was wrong.”

My heart breaks for Butterfly. He’s never going to come around. He thinks I’ve soiled her… changed her. He doesn’t want anything else to do with us. I wipe my eyes with the backs of my hands and swallow hard.

“I won’t bother you again,” I say to the silent line before ending the call. I thought Butterfly may have been exaggerating when she told me about her father’s reaction to the news, but she wasn’t. It was just as bad as she said it was—worse, even, and I hurt for her right now. I won’t even tell her about this conversation. It would only make matters worse. Right now, I just have to find her.

I straighten my face and clothes as much as I can and kick myself for not knowing that something more was going on when I left the house this morning. Before I call Jason to tell him about Ana’s last contact, I call Al.

“Allen Forsythe,” he answers.

“Al, Ana’s MIA. I’m sure it has to do with Ray. Where would she go?” I just get straight to the point.

“Wait a minute. What?” I sigh heavily.

“Please don’t make me go through this,” I say, scrubbing my eyes, already weary. “Ana’s missing. I believe it’s because she fought with Ray. Where would she go?” The line is quiet for a long time. I can’t stand it. I end the call and call Jason.

“Yes, Sir?”

“It’s Ray,” I tell him. “It has to be. He was cold and cruel when I talked to him. If he was half as horrible when she spoke to him, I don’t know where she is.” Jason sighs.

“I really thought we put a tracker on her car,” Jason says.

“I thought we did, too. Whose job was that?” I ask. As I’m deciding whose head will roll for forgetting one of the fundamental things needed on every vehicle I have ever purchased, my second line is ringing. Al is calling me back.

“One second, Jason,” I say and I change lines to answer the call. “Yes?”

“Has anybody checked the aquarium?” he asks.

“She wouldn’t go to the aquarium,” I say, trying to remain calm.

“She went to the aquarium the day before your wedding day,” he retorts. “Has she ever fought with Ray while you’ve been together?” he asks. I’m silent. “Have you checked her condo?” I hadn’t thought of her condo.

“No, I hadn’t thought of that, either. Any other suggestions?”

“I’m assuming she’s not answering her phone and you’ve tried to track it?”

“She doesn’t have it… Or her purse. They’re both at the Crossing,” I say, trying to stamp down the same rising emotions I had when David kidnapped her. There’s a knock at my office door. “Come in.” The door opens and Al walks through ending his call with me.

“I’m going with you to find her.” I know it’s no use trying to stop him. My phone rings again and I’m hoping it’s Butterfly. It’s Jason.

“What?” I ask, a little impatiently.

“I’m still here,” he says, and I forgot he was on the backline. I sigh.

“Allen and I are going to her condo. Send someone to the Aquarium. Fire whoever was responsible for getting the tracker put in her car and I mean I really want somebody fired. We could have discovered this when something terrible has happened to her and if something has…” I trail off. “I want somebody fucking fired, today, Jason,” I repeat. “I want my pound of flesh and I fucking mean it.” I end the call and walk out of the office.

The ride to Butterfly’s condo on Elliot Bay is silent. I’m driving and Al is in the passenger seat of the Audi I’ve procured from the office—one with a goddamn tracker, no doubt. I try to drive the speed limit, but my rising anxiety along with the reminder of Ray’s ire when I spoke to him is making that task a little easier said than done. I don’t remember the key code when I get to the gate, so Al has to remind me. I can’t describe the flood of relief that I feel when I see Butterfly’s Audi parked in her spot in the garage. I’m immediately overcome with emotion and I feel so light-headed that I literally have to stop the car right where it is and lean my head on the steering wheel.

I feel the car change gears and hear the parking brake engage. Moments later, Al is opening the driver’s side door.

“Go to her, Chris,” he says sympathetically. “I’ll park the car.” I raise a heavy head and see sympathetic brown eyes looking down at me. I nod, then exit the car.

I’m almost afraid of what I’ll find when I get to the condo. Surprised that my key still works, I open the door to hear the last chords of a song playing over the sound system in her apartment, only to hear it start over again— “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.”

This is not good. I run through the apartment looking for her, afraid of what I’ll find. She’s in her bedroom, on the floor, sitting up with her back against the bed with boxes of various items strewn about—photo albums, pictures, mementos… There are pictures of her when she was younger with Carla and Ray; pictures of just her and Ray; pictures of Ray and Carla, her and Al; pictures of an old house with a swing; old cutouts of foreign lands; what looks like a box of toys and some swatches of material and some other nondescript items and knickknacks. There’s a half-finished bottle of wine on the nightstand and no glass, and Butterfly is weeping bitterly.

I come into view of her just so that she can see that I’m here, but she doesn’t raise her eyes. She cries and cries over some shirt she has in her hand—a very worn T-shirt and I can barely make out the letters on the front… USMC.

I want her to at least acknowledge my presence, but I realize now that she can’t. I push some of the items aside and make room for myself on the floor next to her. I don’t know how long she’s been crying, but I wish she would stop because she’s hoarse, now. She doesn’t react when I sit down. She just keeps crying. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her more broken except maybe the day she and Valerie broke up, for lack of a better word. My God… Valerie. All her constants are leaving her. Is it because of me? Is she losing everyone important to her because of me?

I gather her frail little frame onto my lap and hold her in my arms as she buries her face in what I can only assume is her father’s Marine Corps T-shirt and the tears starts anew. I vaguely hear Al come into the apartment and then hear him on the phone asking Ray what’s going on.

Don’t call him. He doesn’t care. All he cares about is that his little pristine image of his daughter has been shattered, and if she’s broken and falling apart, it doesn’t matter to him. She’s my responsibility now.

She cries and cries and cries and cries for I don’t know how long. I hold her and rock her, wrapped in a blanket after she starts shivering. My heart is broken for her and hearing her cry tears me into a million pieces. I can’t stop my own tears while hearing the anguish in her voice, so after a while, I just allow them to fall in her hair. She’s broken because of him and I’m broken because of her… so we just sit here, broken.

“Chris…” I hear his voice, but I don’t move. Butterfly still hasn’t stopped crying and I don’t know how to make her stop. “You guys need to eat.”

I think I smelled food earlier, but I can’t eat, not if she doesn’t—not right now, and she won’t stop crying. I don’t move. I just keep rocking her, hoping she’ll stop crying soon.

My own eyes hurt now and my throat is dry. My face is tight from tears falling and drying and falling again. My heart hurts for my beloved, for not being able to take away her pain… a pain so deep that I can’t imagine what it feels like. I cling to her again and kiss her forehead, trying to infuse her with the love I feel to give her strength and stop her tears. My phone has been buzzing incessantly in my pocket, but the world could explode and fall into the sea right now for all I care. My Butterfly is in pain, and I can’t stop it. I can’t do anything to stop it.

The sun has long since gone down and I just want her to go to sleep, now. I just want her to stop crying for a moment and sleep, but she won’t stop. I know that she’s exhausted—still clinging to that shirt—she can’t sleep… or won’t sleep. I’ve tried everything… rubbing her back, singing to her, nothing works. She’s been weeping for hours and I’ve cried with her for some of those—my eyes red and swollen, I know. The pain is a dead giveaway. I can only imagine how she feels.

“Christian…”

Fucking hell, he called my mother.

“Christian, you have to eat,” she says softly. Sorry, Mom, not now. I wrap my arms tighter around my wife, who now cries soundlessly since her voice is completely gone. I can tell that her tears have started anew and it rips me to shreds. I start to weep again.

“I can’t make her stop, Mom,” I say through my tears, without looking up at her. “I’ve tried for hours, but she won’t stop.”

“I can give her a sedative,” Mom says. I shake my head.

“I don’t want to do that without her permission. She’ll just wake up crying anyway.”  My voice is so weak that I barely recognize it.

“She’s exhausted, Christian.”

“I know,” I say, helplessly, “but she won’t go to sleep… and she won’t stop crying.” I sob. “I hate it when she hurts! I hate it! I can’t stand this!” My shoulders shake as I bury my face in her hair, weeping for her as she weeps for her loss. I pull her as close to me as I can, wishing that I could absorb some of her pain, but realizing that I may be transferring some of mine to her. I don’t know what to do. I hear the heavy footfall of male feet and know that Jason or Carrick is now coming to try to convince us to eat or go home. Convince her to stop crying, then maybe we can do something.

“Sunflower?”

Both our heads shoot up at the sound of Ray’s voice. We’re both stunned, both tearstained, both exhausted as we gaze into his face. Confused green eyes look down at both of us before he squats down to us and stares for a long time in utter silence. This is the first time in hours that Butterfly has stopped crying. I can’t be concerned that it wasn’t me that couldn’t make her stop—I’m just glad that she has, though I think it’s because she’s stunned. Nonetheless, she’s not crying.

Ray stares from Butterfly to me and back to Butterfly several times in what seems like several minutes, I don’t know, but after close examination, his gaze softens when he looks at his daughter. Her lip trembles. Oh, God… Please, no more crying, Butterfly.

“I’m sorry, Sunflower,” he says, his voice cracking.

“Daddy…” her lips move, but nothing comes out. She bolts into his arms and sobs silently, her voice gone from crying all day. She clings to her father like life itself and he buries his head in her shoulder. I drop my head from my own exhaustion, taking in deep breaths and trying to clear my thoughts, and craning my neck from side to side, hearing and feeling the audible popping from the stiffness. I grimace from the pain. I feel a hand on my shoulder and wearily raise my painful eyes to see that it’s Ray. He says nothing, just looking at me with sad eyes. I nod and drop my head again and he gives my shoulder a tight squeeze. We don’t need any more words right now.

I manage to get some soup into my wife before carrying her exhausted body to the rainwater shower to try to relax her. She gratefully and silently allows me to clean her from head to toe, putting her hair in the Pocahontas braids again. I find a warm sleep shirt for her to sleep in and I strip down to my T-shirt and boxers. I don’t bother looking at the time; we’re both wiped out. We sleep at her condo that night, curled up in her bed in waterlogged exhaustion.

*-*

I’m the first to wake in the morning. We haven’t moved from the position we started in all night. I don’t want to move right now, but nature calls. I roll out of bed and relieve myself quickly. I need coffee.

I open the door to Ana’s bedroom and I smell food and hear a woman’s soft laughter. Not knowing which woman it is, I make to close the door to find something more suitable than a T-shirt and boxers. I look down and see a carryall and a garment bag on the floor at the door. I pick them up and bring them into the room. Butterfly has clothes here, though I don’t know if she can wear any of them, so most of these are most likely for me.

Inside the carryall are casual things—jeans, sweats, underwear, a robe. A suit and accessories are in the garment bag. I look at the alarm clock on the nightstand next to Butterfly’s bed. It’s after ten in the morning. I hope nothing important is happening today. I don’t remember any appointments on the books. I look at my phone and there are texts and missed calls from Jason, my mom and dad, Ray—all from yesterday and last night. That was the buzzing in my pocket. I put on my sweat pants and the robe over my T-shirt and boxers and go to the kitchen to find sustenance.

I find Amanda and Ray in the kitchen cooing over little Harry in his highchair. They pause when I come into the room and at first, I don’t know how to react. I feel like hell, like I’ve slept for three days and I could sleep for three more. I probably look just as bad.

“Good morning, Christian,” Ray says. Olive branch, I think.

“Good morning,” I say, my throat scratchy, looking for coffee.

“Jason brought some groceries. I made breakfast,” Mandy says. “Would you like some? Eggs and sausage and some toast.” I pause at the coffee pot.

“Yes, please… thank you.” I fed Butterfly soup last night and foolishly didn’t eat myself. My stomach lining is eating itself. I take a swallow of the hot black coffee trying not to scorch my tongue and savor the flavor of it going down my throat. Amanda piles a plate full of scrambled eggs and sausage links and puts a couple of pieces of toast on it before placing it on the breakfast bar. I tear into it like a bear. I’m famished. She and Ray continue their conversation as if I’m not in the room and I’m fine with that. Just let me eat. It’s not like I know what to say anyway.

Before I know it, the plate is empty and a laughing Amanda is placing another full plate of breakfast in front of me. I raise my eyes to her, somewhat embarrassed that I’m eating in front of her like a caveman.

“I’m… sorry,” I mutter. “I haven’t eaten anything since… breakfast yesterday.” I actually had to think about it to remember when I last ate.

“Don’t worry about it,” she says with a kind smile. “There’s plenty.” She turns back to the stove and cracks more eggs into a frying pan. I look over at Harry, making a mess of his scrambled eggs on his portable highchair. Your mom’s pretty cool, kid, I think to myself. I turn back to my plate and tear in again. I don’t raise my eyes to Ray. My last words to him were biting and I meant every one of them, but the air between us now is tentative.

“How did you sleep?” he asks, his voice cutting through the silence like a bullhorn. I swallow the eggs in my mouth.

“Like the dead,” I say honestly. I can’t remember the last time I cried myself to exhaustion. Even when Butterfly was in a coma, I cried and cried and cried until there was no water left in my body, but couldn’t sleep. I think it had to be when she left me and went to Montana.

“And Annie?” he asks, his voice soft.

“The same, I think,” I say. “Neither of us moved the entire night.” I take a drink of my coffee before shoving a sausage link into my mouth. He takes a sip of his coffee before speaking again.

“She always sleeps hard when she’s upset,” he murmurs. I stop chewing and put my fork on my plate.

“Yes, she does,” I say, staring at my uneaten food. “It’s one of her defense mechanisms; her way of running… without actually running.” I sit there in silence for a moment.

“You can say it,” he says. I raise my eyes to him, asking the question without asking it. “I’m an asshole.”

I stare for a moment, but say nothing. I turn my attention back to my plate, filling my mouth with food to avoid telling him just that. I had said everything I wanted to say to him about his behavior yesterday. I had no desire to revisit the topic.

“Yeah, I know,” he says. “You’re a better man for not berating me any further.” He drinks his coffee and I keep eating. I’m reprieved when I hear the door to Butterfly’s bedroom open, but horrified when she bends the corner into the kitchen. She’s grasping her head in obvious discomfort, head down and not looking where she’s going… and she’s headed face first into the wall. My body moves faster than my mind and I’m in front of her seconds before she goes “splat” into the wall. She whimpers slightly at the jolt.

“Wall,” I say quietly. “Your head hurts?”

“Um-hmm,” she mutters, so quietly that you can barely hear her. She’s holding her scar and I know that the blood pumping through that localized spot must be murder right now. I guide her to the seat between me and Ray—a bit of a buffer I think—and help her lay her head on the cold countertop. She protests a bit, but buries her head in her arms. I go to her bathroom and quickly retrieve two Advil and two clean washcloths. Returning to the kitchen, I lament that there is no cranberry juice, but pour a large glass of orange juice instead. I place two pieces of toast on a small plate and bring everything to the breakfast bar.

“Butterfly,” I say softly, leaning down to her ear. She acknowledges with a groan. “Advil.”

She lifts her head like an anchor and I put the pills in her mouth. I put the straw between her lips and she takes a sip.

“More,” I coax, and she sips some more. “Butterfly…” I chide gently. She takes several drags from the straw and I’m duly satisfied. I push the toast in front of her.

“Eat.” She has already buried her head back in her arms and groans in protest. “Just toast… please?” She clumsily reaches for the toast and takes a bite. I sigh with relief and move behind her. I begin to massage her neck, my fingers applying slight pressure along either side of her spine up the nape of her neck to the bottom of her skull. She moans appreciatively and takes another bite of the toast. Good girl. I reward her with more massage and after a few moments, her body starts to come to life.

“I’m sorry…” she says, her voice still hoarse and scratchy. I try not to stop massaging.

“For what?” I ask.

“For running off like that,” she says. “I wasn’t myself. I didn’t know what I was doing…”

“Ssshh,” I silence her self-chastisement, “I know.” I continue my massage.

“I should have listened to you, Annie.” His voice actually causes us both to jump. If I’m honest, I forgot they were there. I was laser focused on my wife and her pain, and she hadn’t opened her eyes yet. She tries to raise her head quickly, but the pain slows her ascent.

“Daddy?” she asks.

“Yes, Annie?”

“How long have you been here?”

“We… stayed the night in the guest room,” he says.

“I’m here, too, Ana,” Amanda announces. Ana gestures towards the sound of her voice.

“Hi, Mandy,” she murmurs.

“Your brother is with us, too,” Amanda adds.

“Hey, Harry,” Butterfly says in a sweet, scratchy voice. Harry responds to the sound of his name with some indistinguishable cooing. Butterfly suddenly gasps.

“My babies!” she says. I put my hand on her back.

“Gail hasn’t called with any kind of emergency, so they’re fine, but I’ll call and check on them, okay?” I tell her. She nods.

“I’m a terrible mother,” she murmurs.

“That’s nonsense and I don’t want to hear you say that again,” I say softly. “You’re a wonderful mother. You can barely stand to be away from them. There’s been a lot going on lately.

“Yeah,” Ray laments, “and I didn’t make matters any better.” Neither of us deny what he says because it’s true… he didn’t. Butterfly is able to finally sit up

, and taste a few more bites of her toast.

“Would you like some eggs, Ana?” Amanda asks, and she shakes her head.

“Just a little?” I press. “Please?” She looks up at me and acquiesces, nodding to Amanda.

“Where were you when she was a kid?” Ray asks. Apparently, young Ana gave her parents a bit of trouble at mealtime. I take the washcloths to the sink and wet them with cold water.

“Why, Daddy?” Butterfly squeaks, and all activity in the kitchen stops for a moment. We all know what she’s asking, and it has nothing to do with his prior question. I continue with my task, wringing the excess water out of the cloths and bringing them back to Butterfly.

“Cold,” I say as I place one on the back of her neck. She jumps at the initial contact, then settles. I fold the other in fours and place it over her scar.

“Daddy… why?” Ray sighs and hesitates.

“You’re my little girl,” he says. “I couldn’t see you doing the things I saw those men and women doing in those clubs and on those sites. It disgusted me. It made me sick. My Annie. My beautiful little Sunflower—involved in this… debauchery! This abominable act!” He grimaces and sighs, shaking his head. “I couldn’t see anything else.”

“I tried to tell you that we didn’t do those things,” she squeaked. “There’s some really sick shit that goes on in the lifestyle. Hell, that’s why we’re in court now, because of a crazy, sick pedophile who brought children into it—children!” she says horrified. “I tried to tell you we are not into that crazy, sick stuff, Daddy!”

“I know, I know,” he says, chastised. “I couldn’t hear you. You’re my baby girl. Don’t you get it?” She shakes her head.

“No, I don’t,” she says. “I need you to trust me. I need you to trust that I know what I’m doing with my life—that I’m not weak and stupid, that I may need help, but I’m not stupid!

“Annie, I…”

“Listen to her, Raymond,” Amanda says, gently, but firmly. Ray settles immediately, the sentiment on his lips dying as quickly as it was born.

“Has my behavior ever been self-destructive, Daddy? Ever?” she demands, finding her voice. “Have I ever done anything to deliberately hurt myself? To deliberately jeopardize my well-being? Granted, there may have been some situations that some of you may not have liked, but just to be careless and self-loathing and deprecating—has that ever been me? Even when I was living in the depths of hell with my loser mother and her loser husband, was that ever me?” She finally pauses to give him a chance to answer.

“No, Annie,” he says softly. “No… that’s never been you.”

“Then why?” she wails, almost close to tears again. I want to hold her—to run to her and beg her not to cry anymore, I can’t take anymore, but I know she has to get this out… and she needs answers. “Why would you think so little of me, and then to make matters worse, you shut me out! Why?”

“Because I couldn’t understand!” he sobs. “I only saw horrible things! Heard horrible things! Knew horrible things! On leave in different areas as a young Marine, we watched those shows. We saw those shows. More than once, I wondered how these women could allow these men to do that to them. How they could subject themselves to the horrors that I saw! Things that you wouldn’t do to animals!” He wails as tears stream unrestrained down his face. “In some places, I found out that the women were forced to do this stuff because it was part of human trafficking! And here I find out that my daughter is doing it! What was I supposed to think?”

“You were supposed to listen to me!” Butterfly shrieks. “You were supposed to put aside your closed-minded, preconceived notions about what you heard and saw from others and listen to me! I’m a shrink, for God’s sake!” She’s losing control. I slide out of my seat and go to her. “You shut me out! After everybody who has deserted me in my life, you shut me out! How could you do that to me? How could you?”

I touch her shoulder and she spins around, thrusting herself into my arms and weeping bitterly. I envelop her immediately, wanting to shield her from the world and the pain. Little Harry is crying now, disturbed by all the screaming and commotion and Amanda has freed him from his high chair, attempting to soothe him. Ray sits in his chair, running his fingers through his hair and trying to find his words while he dries his eyes.

“I was hurt and confused, Annie,” he says, his voice still cracking. “We do dumb things when we’re hurt and confused; please understand. I don’t expect you to forgive me right away… you may never forgive me, but please… please, understand.”

Butterfly only cries harder and her knees start to buckle under her. I lift her into my arms and carry her to the sofa. The weeping has begun again. I just sit her on my lap and let her cry, ready to settle in for a long day. At least she got some toast, but she’ll never get rid of that headache.


ANASTASIA

My heart feels like it’s going to burst. I was so relieved to see my father last night—I thought I had lost him. It felt like somebody had died. If I could have driven back to my room in Montesano and sat on the swing or cried in my bed, I would have. I was losing my grip on my foundation; it was crumbling from under me. I was reaching for anything that could hold me together… pictures of Mom, him and Mom, me and him, me and Al, the old house, my many mental travels… Harry has Fuzzlewuzzers, so I couldn’t reach for that, but when I saw the Marine Corps T-Shirt that he gave me that I wore to sleep every night the first year we moved to Las Vegas and had to squirrel it away when Mom went rummaging through my things in an attempt to rid me of all things Ray, I lost it. I couldn’t hold it together anymore. My heart broke in a million pieces and bled through every pore of my skin—my eyes the most—and wouldn’t stop bleeding—until I saw him last night.

Yes, the bleeding stopped temporarily, and every cell in my body succumbed to utter exhaustion. I don’t remember much of anything after I launched myself into Daddy’s arms except waking up this morning in my old bed with Pocahontas braids and the headache from hell and knowing, once again, that my husband had taken care of me. Once he had gotten some food and some medicine into me and tenderly began to massage the throbbing from my head, the fog began to lift… and I wanted to know why…

Why, after all I had been through, would my father think that I would deliberately allow someone to arbitrarily abuse me? Why he didn’t just listen to me or ask me questions instead of jumping to conclusions based on his preconceived notions and biases? Why, when we already had to deal with the stigma of what others would think of us, he had to become one of those judgmental, narrow-minded, bigoted assholes that we would have to battle if and when this information ever became public? But most of all, why did he shut me down… turn his back on me and refuse to talk to me with no explanation, especially when he knew how I felt about being let down?

Mom? Edward? Nearly every authority figure from my childhood? Valerie? In some cases, the justice system? And now you?

And what’s his answer? That same narrow-minded bullshit. I’m supposed to understand that when I came to him and was honest with him so that he wouldn’t discover this shit in the media, he turned his back on me! Physically blocked my number from his phone so that I couldn’t speak to him. When I finally did get through to him, he didn’t say, “You have to give me some time; I can’t process this right now.” He didn’t even have the decency to yell and scream at me and ask me why and tell me that he didn’t want to talk about this; he would have to talk about it some other time. He just gave me that lame ass shit, “Can’t talk now, busy,” and hung up in my ear.

And I’m supposed to understand that my hero—my Daddy—shut me down because of this same petty, small-minded, Puritanical, uninformed, “it’s on the internet, so it must be true” thinking that I’ve already had to battle in so many aspects of my life. Yeah… okay… sure thing.

Christian holds me close to him, saying nothing, but rubbing soothing circles in my back. I want to stop crying. I’m tired of crying, but my heart is bleeding again and I don’t know how.

“Please, Annie,” I hear Daddy’s voice across from me, beseeching. “Please stop crying. I can’t take it anymore… please…”

“You made me feel like nothing!” I sob. “Less than nothing! Like nobody! I wouldn’t do that to you. Even now, I wouldn’t do that to you. Even now, as angry as I am, I would not do that to you! I would never do that to you!”

“I know, Annie, and I feel horrible for that. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I couldn’t see or think straight and I’m sorry. Please, Sunflower… please…”

His voice is so broken that I can’t imagine causing him the type of pain that he’s causing me. I do my best to pull myself together even though my heart is still breaking. Christian smooths my hair off my face and uses his robe to wipe my tears, kissing my eyelids as my weeping subsides. He’s so good to me, so tender and sweet. He makes all the bad feel better. I don’t know what I would do without him here.

“So, what happened?” I say with shuddering breaths, turning on my husband’s lap to look at my father. “What great breakthrough occurred that you suddenly understand that my husband doesn’t use me as some random piece of meat for his sadistic entertainment when the doors are closed?” I couldn’t stop the venom that seeps into the words as I speak them. Daddy sighs.

“I… talked to some people, and some people talked to me.” He throws a glance at Christian, then drops his head. Mandy is sitting on the ottoman next to him, comforting Harry, who was also crying moments ago. Daddy puts his arm around her waist. “They helped me understand how much of a narrow-minded asshole I was being.”

“But you couldn’t listen to me…” I conclude.

“I couldn’t hear it from you, Annie,” he says, “any more than I could hear it from the girls that I saw years ago, in those clubs—even more so from you, because you’re my little girl. I know you don’t understand that right now. I know you can’t. All I can say is that in the future, if your daughter comes to you with some really hard news for you to stomach, remember this conversation.”

I hope to God that I never make Minnie feel like this.

“No offense, Dad, but I can’t see ever making my daughter feel like this,” I shoot. Christian gives me a squeeze. I know this is his way of telling me to give my father a break. I don’t know if I can. I know I have to, because if I don’t, I’ll be treating him the same way that he treated me. That’s no good.

“That’s because she’s a baby,” he says. “Wait until she grows up and the big bad world starts doing horrible things to her… things that you can save her from no matter how hard you try.” His voice cracks and his head falls. “You’d put yourself in harm’s way before you let anything happen to her, but things keep happening and happening… horrible things! Things you wouldn’t wish on your worse enemy! And you’re powerless… you’re powerless to stop them…”

He’s not talking about Minnie. He’s talking about me. Of course, he’s talking about me.

“One monster is killed and another monster is right behind it!” he bites through clenched teeth, his fists so tight that his knuckles are white. “They just keep coming and coming and she keeps slaying them—and just when you think she’s found her solace…”

He trails off mid-sentence and weeps so bitterly than the pain in my heart is replaced with sorrow and sympathy for him. I crawl out of Christian’s lap and onto the floor in front of my Daddy. I wrap my arms around his neck and will him to stop crying.

“I just… can’t keep… the Boogeyman away,” he sobs. “I promised… to keep him away… and I can’t!” His body shakes in my arms as he weeps from his soul, and I let him. He won’t be able to hear me until he gets this out… gets over this initial wave, so I just let him cry.

It takes several minutes. Christian has time to get us all some water. Mandy has put Little Harry down to sleep, and I comfort my father, stroking his hair like I do my husband when he’s inconsolable—how I’ll most likely do my children when they cry. When he’s finally had his cry out, my nightshirt soaked with his tears, I attempt to garner his attention.

“You did keep the Boogeyman away, Daddy,” I say softly. “You’re the only thing that did. That’s why it hurt so badly when you shut me out. My ultimate protector, my hero, shut me out… and I was lost.” He raises his head and tired, red, tear-filled green eyes meet my sympathetic blues. “The things that happen to me are not the Boogeyman, Daddy. They’re horrible, horrible facts of life that happen to people every day—maybe not all the same people, but they do. The Boogeyman is what happens here.” I point to my head.

“I help chase the Boogeyman away from other people. Although I have other people in my life that help chase the Boogeyman away for me, you’re the Gatekeeper. You always have been. Even when you weren’t physically there, you were still the Gatekeeper because even though I was taken away from you, I knew you would never leave me. This is the first time you have ever walked away from your post.” I hold his face in my hands and look him in the eyes, refusing to allow him to turn his gaze from me. “Don’t. Do it. Again.”

His lips tremble and the tears begin to fall once more.

“I won’t, Annie,” he says with a shaky voice. “I swear to God I won’t.”

I hug him again and allow him to cry a little longer on my shoulder. Superman wasn’t so super right now and just needed to be vulnerable for a while. I may not ever understand or fully get over him deserting me at one of the moments where I needed him the most, but I do have to understand that he’s only human and we’re all flawed in some way. Even if I want him to be perfect, even Superman has his Kryptonite.

*-*

I’m in my bedroom with my pillow shoved into my mouth, trying not to scream as Christian brings me to my second orgasm. He has licked, sucked, kissed, and fingered my pussy hard, deep, and fast, causing me to quickly explode—once nearly moments after he touched me and again twenty minutes later. I’m panting on my bed, shivering from my releases  and trying to catch my breath. He crawls up the bed and lies next to me, still in his T-shirt and sweats, kissing me on my cheek and neck.

“What…. brought that… on?” I ask between breaths. He kisses me a few more times, then hovers over my face.

“You’ve touched three products since you’ve been in this room,” he says softly while counting on his fingers. “Lotion, moisturizer, deodorant—you’ve dropped all three of them. You needed to relax.”

And relax I did!

“What about you?” I say, closing my eyes while his lips wander back over the skin of my neck.

“I’m fine, Mrs. Grey,” he says. “When I take you, I don’t want your father and your stepmother in the next room… because the pillow won’t do you any good.” He kisses me gently on the lips, but sensually on the lips. I sink into the delicious kiss, knowing that we both have to get up from here soon. That point was driven home when there’s a soft knock at the door. Christian groans into my mouth and after breaking the kiss and giving my bottom lip a little nip, pushes himself off of me to answer the door. I finally get a good grip on my moisturizer and pour some in my hand, spreading it evenly over my face. My hair has been in these braids all night, so I can either leave it there or take it down and let it flow into soft waves down my back. Did I have anything planned for today. As soon as I’m finished brushing my teeth, Christian comes into the en suite, his expression unreadable.

“What is it?” I ask.

“That was Amanda,” he begins, “Al called Ray because both our phones are dead.” Oh… yeah, I didn’t bring a charger with me. I assume he doesn’t have one either. Maybe I have one around her somewhere.

“What’s going on?” I ask.

“The verdict is in.”

*-*

I had less than an hour to get myself presentable so that we could get to the courthouse. Al had driven Christian over yesterday, so we would take my car and rendezvous with Jason and the rest of the security staff near the courthouse. Daddy wanted to be there with me, but we insisted that this was no place for Little Harry. Mandy was pacified to take Harry home and start dinner to allow Daddy to come to court with me on the condition that no matter what the verdict, we come to the house in Kent afterwards for dinner. I was sure that I would miss my appointment with Ace anyway, so I called to let him know what was going on and to tell him that there was a lot that we needed to talk about. He doesn’t usually make house calls, but agreed to come and see me tomorrow at the Crossing since doing so would be easier than opening his office. I agreed to his terms. Seems I was making deals all over the place today.

I also had to make a deal with my wardrobe.

Size four waistline, size I-don’t-even-know boobs and ass… in a size four closet. Hmmmm….

I did find an outfit that would make due, but it clung to every one of my curves, much like that dreaded dress I wore to the fundraising fiasco last year. A charcoal gray high-waisted pencil skirt with side ruching that, had it been made of any other material, would not give me much purchase to move and a black mock turtleneck. I did decide to take my hair down, of course, and wore big, chunky silver jewelry. Someone had brought my purse and phone when they brought Christian’s things—they must have thought I had more at the condo that I could fit. That wasn’t completely untrue, but only a few things that might have been presentable for court, and not many that I could find in the time allotted.

I was forced—not so begrudgingly, I might add—to wear one of my pairs of insanely high-heeled shoes. I chose a pair of Giuseppe Zanotti black leather back-zip stiletto sandals with toe band, S-shaped vamp strap, and ankle strap embellished with silver-tone curb chain to match my jewelry. With nearly a five-inch heel, I was towering over most of the people at the courthouse. My Gareth Pugh bolero insert woven coat had a shawl collar and an asymmetrical hem that draped all over, giving it a suit coat look rather than an overcoat. The same charcoal gray as my skirt with a belted waist, I decided to wear it as just that.

We were almost late getting to the courthouse as Christian freezes when he had comes back into the room, unable to take his eyes—or his hands—off my ass wrapped tight that pencil skirt. When I get a glimpse of him in the mirror, I’m fucking panting. Black on black Hugo Boss suit and the signature black Italian leather shoes… even his shirt and silk tie were black. He’s mouth-wateringly beautiful, and when I turn around to wrap him in my arms and kiss him deeply while he shamelessly gropes my ass, we almost forget that we have somewhere to be.

But alas, we did. So here we sit, in a courtroom packed to the walls with people, only a few seats remaining in the very back. Al had managed to have the front row cleared for us, and no one would dare argue with Chuck and Ben as they stood guard, saving the seats until we got there. I am flanked by my father and my husband, each holding one of my hands, when they bring the Pedo-bitch back into the courtroom. She looks matronly today in a color I never thought I’d ever see her wear.

White.

Well, it’s more of a cream… a sheath dress, very neat and professional. She still looks like a stank-ass, slutty, nasty, filthy, slimy, Pedo-Bitch She-Thing demon from hell to me.

“That can’t be the same woman,” Daddy says. “Is that the same woman?”

“Yeah, Daddy, that’s what she looks like without all the Botox, lypo, and chemical peels,” I say. Jason chokes back a laugh.

“She needed ‘em,” Daddy says. “She’s not very attractive.”

“She was once,” Christian admits, without looking in her direction, “but after you continuously do that shit, eventually it wreaks havoc on your body.” He has no malice when he says it; he’s just speaking the truth. Just like she’s done for the entire trial, she steals glances over her shoulder at Christian, this time, not bothering to scowl at me. That’s right, Bitch. Get a good look at him. Soon, you won’t be seeing him again for a long time, no matter what this verdict is.


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

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

Love and handcuffs  
Lynn X

 

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 69—The Hard Answers

 

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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 69—The Hard Answers

CHRISTIAN

Jason and I are back in the courtroom and I’m feeling better now that I’ve given my testimony and drawn more strength from my Butterfly. Jason’s demeanor is cold. He’s stiff, like he should be in uniform sitting on the stand. He doesn’t look left or right and concentrates an icy blue glare nowhere else but at the person who’s speaking to him.

Skinner has him recount his version of the story, which starts when he received a signal that there was trouble in my office after I pressed the panic button. He knew about the closed-circuit television and activated it before leaving his office to assess the situation. However, when the situation began to escalate, he routed the audio to his earpiece and quickly moved into position behind the hidden panel in my office. Alex had been notified from the first panic button, but not the police. I didn’t know that. Maybe I did, but at the time, I can’t be sure.

Nonetheless, he hadn’t been behind the panel a few moments before the situation had already escalated to Elena proclaiming that she would kill me and then herself, leaving Butterfly behind to mourn. Jason had only just released the panel lock when I was saying goodbye to Butterfly. There was nothing else to do but leap. He remembers talking to us about his allergies to the medicine and telling me that he had been hit in the shoulder, but he remembers little else.

Underwood couldn’t shake him. Jason’s story never faltered from exactly what he relayed had happened. Underwood kept trying to get with questions that started with, “But you can’t be certain that” and “How could you know if you weren’t in the room?” But Jason stoically gave him back everything he tried to give. That military training came out in full force and that squirmy little asshole wasn’t going to make him budge.

“What do you feel for Mrs. Lincoln now, Mr. Taylor?” Underwood asks.

“Nothing,” Jason says, flatly.

“No hatred? No disdain? No wish for revenge?” he presses.

“No.” Underwood is taken aback.

“You’re quite the evolved human being,” he says. “Even your boss indicates that he has a wish to see Mrs. Lincoln pay and the bullet never hit him. No wish for retribution or retaliation for your pain and suffering?” Jason never flinches.

“Sir, I did two separate tours when I was active duty. I was always prepared to lay down my life for my country. I’ve seen creatures in the desert that were more dangerous than that woman. She doesn’t scare me. She doesn’t bother me. She doesn’t impact me in any way. Her actions initiated a forced leave of absence that I didn’t really want and that was all. I don’t have time or desire to concentrate on her or chase her down for a mini-bullet to the shoulder. Time, life, and karma will deal with her if justice does not. I’m certain of it. Anything else?” He doesn’t give up. He has to see this military man break.

You don’t know Jason Taylor. Hell, I don’t know this Jason Taylor.

“So you’ve never once considered being the hand of justice and giving Mrs. Lincoln what she deserves? She did shoot you after all,” Underwood says.

“My name is Jason Taylor. No matter how you manipulate my name, neither ‘time,’ ‘life,’ nor ‘karma’ will come out of it.” Skinner stands.

“Objection. I’d like to know what the purpose is of this line of questioning,” he says.

“Quite frankly, so would I,” Judge Burgess asks. “There’s no debate here that the defendant shot the witness. Maybe he’s angry, maybe he’s not, but what relevance does that have to the case?”

“It… um… will show relevance to Mrs. Lincoln’s state of mind,” Underwood retorts. He just wants to get under Jason’s skin and we don’t know why.

“In what way?” His Honor asks. “Are we now asserting that she somehow knew that she would shoot Mr. Taylor as well?”

“No, Your Honor,” he flounders, “but that her actions in shooting him had no consequences.”

“Again, that would be based on an assumption that the defendant knew she was going to shoot Jason Taylor. Is this your purpose for this line of questioning?” Tread carefully, asshole. That’s another premeditated attempted murder charge.

“No, Your Honor,” he concedes.

“Then I suggest that you get to a correct and relevant point in this case or abandon this line of questioning. Objection sustained.” Underwood looks at his notes as if he’s reviewing for further points to cover. You’ve got nothing, asshole. Sit down.

“No further questions for this witness.” It’s somewhat remarkable. His testimony was pretty short, but he was the one who got shot. He looks at me and I give him a short nod before he takes a seat behind me.

“The prosecution calls Anastasia Grey to the stand.”

The bailiff goes to the door and moments later, my beautiful Butterfly strides confidently into the courtroom, the picture of elegance and professionalism. She plants herself onto the witness stand and crosses her legs at the knees, sitting up straight—not one sign of weakness or fear in her. No matter what happens today, I’m already proud of her.

“Please state your name for the record.”

“Dr. Anastasia Rose Steele-Grey PsyD,” she replies, her voice clear and strong. Immensely proud!

“Dr. Steele-Grey, do you recall the incidents on the afternoon of March 19, 2013?”

“I do, and Dr. Grey is fine,” she replies. Skinner nods.

“Would you please tell us in your own words what you recall?”

“I was shopping for wedding dresses that day with my best friend. I was losing my mind and we called Christian… Mr. Grey… who suggested that I come to the office for a late lunch. When I arrived, there was yelling in his office—a woman’s voice. I won’t lie; I wanted to know what shrew was in my fiancé’s office yelling at him that way. So, I went storming right in.”

“What did you find when you entered?”

“The defendant was on one side of the room pointing a gun at my then-fiancé. He was standing back by the bar near his desk. She was angry before, but she just lost it when I came into the office. I immediately recognized my gun…” She shakes her head.

“Your gun?” Skinner asks.

“My Beretta,” she says. “It’s not a very large gun, but it’s not very small either, and I have small hands, so it has… had a hairpin trigger, and she’s waving it around like a damn water pistol! And there was one in the chamber…!”

“Okay, you have to help us out. What does ‘one in the chamber’ mean?” Butterfly nods.

“She had cocked the… pulled the carriage back and loaded a round into the chamber, which makes the firearm ready to fire. So now, she’s waving around a semi-automatic with a hairpin trigger and a round in the chamber ready to fire.”

“Again, Dr. Grey, I don’t mean to make you keep repeating yourself. For the laymen, can you please tells us what you mean by ‘hairpin trigger?’” She nods again.

“It’s a play on words. It’s actually ‘hair-trigger.’ It’s meant to indicate that the trigger can be activated with just the force of a ‘hair.’ Of course, it can’t, but the term means that the trigger needs very little pressure to fire.”

“How did you know that was your Beretta?” Skinner asks.

“That’s the gun I used to get my CCW. That’s the gun I used at the firing range along with my Glock, on occasion. I would know that gun anywhere—not to mention that she taunted me and my fiancé that day, saying how ironic it would be for me to be shot with a bullet from my own gun.” I shiver as I recall hearing that bitch say that to my Butterfly.

Butterfly continues and relays the incident in intrinsic detail, all the way to the point where she passed out and ended up in the back of the police car in my lap. I had forgotten to include the part about singing “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” to calm me down and Jason had forgotten it completely, but Butterfly remembered, and it left an impression on the jury. Some of them covered their mouths in sympathy or horror while she relayed the tale.

“Mr. Grey paints a picture of Mrs. Lincoln that insinuates that she’s delusional. What’s your professional opinion of her behavior?” Skinner asks.

“I can’t give you my professional opinion of her. I’ve never treated her or evaluated her,” I tell him. “I can only tell you what I’ve observed and ever since I’ve known that woman, I’ve been the root of all of her problems. I didn’t even know who she was until after we had started dating! We were spending a quiet, very intimate Sunday afternoon at home and here she comes! I was horrified because she treated me like I wasn’t supposed to be there when she barged in on us! I had no idea who she was; I wasn’t even dressed and she expected me to leave. Chri… Mr. Grey informed me as she was coming up the elevator that they were no longer friends and he had already told her not to come to his house anymore. He vehemently made this clear to her once again before walking out of the room and she still wouldn’t leave.

“She showed up everywhere. She was like a recurring rash. We had a protection order against her and it still didn’t stop her. She even showed up the night of my father’s wedding. My father’s wedding, for God’s sake! I don’t know what disorder this is they’ve come up with, but what’s more accurate is something where you destroy everything you touch and then you blame everyone else for the carnage you leave behind!”

“Objection! Dr. Grey did indicate that she’s never treated or evaluated my client,” Underwood says.

“It’s an opinion, not a diagnosis, Your Honor,” Butterfly retorts.

“However, counsel did ask you for a professional opinion and you did offer this opinion in response to that question,” Judge Burgess says. “Sustained.”

“Am I allowed to offer a personal opinion?” I ask. He nods.

“Yes, you are, but you must specify that’s what it is before you offer it as you have introduced yourself as Dr. Anastasia Grey.” Butterfly nods.

“Yes, Your Honor.” She turns back to Skinner. “In my personal opinion, she’s the most delusional person I’ve ever met in my life—and I’ve met a bunch!” Stab! Stab! Stab!

“Thank you, Dr. Grey,” Skinner says. “No further questions at this time.”

Now it’s time for Underwood to take a stab at my wife. She sits up straight again. Noting her posture, he lights right into her.

“Readying yourself for battle, Dr. Grey?” He says “doctor” with immense contempt. Butterfly is unmoved. She’s clearly ready for him.

“Should I be?” she retorts.

“I only want to get to the truth,” he says. Butterfly doesn’t respond. “You’ve given us quite an account of the events of March 18th, Dr. Grey.”

“No, I haven’t,” she says. He raises an eyebrow at her.

“Oh?” he says, innocently. “Have you omitted something?”

“Yes, I have… quite a bit. The entire day in fact, considering that the events in question happened on March 19th.” Shit! I didn’t even catch that. What is he playing at?

“Oh!” he says, mocking embarrassment. “My mistake.”

“Yes, it was,” she replies, unmoved.

“So, you’ve given us quite an account of the events of March 19th, Dr. Grey, and you’re sure you haven’t left anything out,” Underwood says.

“I’m sure,” she says.

“However…” He retrieves a document from the evidence table. “We have reports here from Detective Randall Fischer and Officer Charlene Daly of the Seattle Police Department that during questioning, you didn’t remember anything after the shot was fired.”

“That’s correct,” Butterfly says, without hesitating. Underwood clearly didn’t expect her to answer so quickly. It takes him a moment to recoil as he obviously expected a denial of some kind.

“So you don’t deny that it?” he asks.

“No, I don’t, she says. “I was in shock after the initial gunfire. I later had total recall.” He scoffs a laugh, turning his attention back to the documents in disinterest.

“Well, isn’t that convenient.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“No, it’s unfortunate,” she replies, bringing his attention back to her. “You have no idea how scary it is to black out from shock and lose several moments of your life, then come back to yourself and discover what kind of damage you’ve caused. Yes, I disarmed her and kept her from harming someone else, but I could have killed her… with my bare hands! I couldn’t live with that!” The first chink in Butterfly’s demeanor, but she quickly recovers.

“That’s interesting. What if I told you that my client will testify that you threatened to kill her more than once?” Underwood says.

“Objection!” Skinner declares.

“Your client will also testify that it’s my fault that she doesn’t have Christian right now, but I think we all know how false that is,” Butterfly interjects before the judge has a chance to interject.

“You’re saying you’re not the reason for their break-up?” Underwood says.

“They were together?” she asks, with a smile. “Look at him and look at her… seriously?” There are sad attempts to hide chuckles around the room. He clears his throat.

“You said that you conveniently had total recall of the details of the incident after the shot was fired, but your recollection never became part of the police file. Why is that?” Underwood asks.

“Because I never went back to update the police file. My recollection came during one of my sessions with my therapist.” He raises his eyebrows.

“Your therapist!” he declares incredulously. “The shrink who sees a shrink, how interesting!” Oh, he’s like a kid with a new toy.

“Yes?” Butterfly says, expecting.

“Are you unstable, Dr. Grey?” he asks.

“Well, I don’t know, is everyone who goes to a therapist unstable, counselor?” Whoa! Careful. You don’t know who’s on that jury.

“I don’t know either, Dr. Grey, and I’m not referring to everyone who goes to a therapist. I’m referring to you.” She smiles sweetly.

“Well, in that case, my that has never indicated that I’m unstable, but I guess you would have to ask him. I’m not in the business of diagnosing myself.” She folds her hands on the stand in front of her.

“I see, Dr. Grey. Apparently, the physician cannot heal herself,” he says in a condescending tone.

“Most physicians can’t and really shouldn’t try,” she says matter-of-factly. “I’ve yet to see a surgeon who can perform a procedure on himself.”

That shut him up. Next topic!

“Please forgive me for bringing up yet another painful situation in your life, but isn’t it true that on November 7, 2013, you were in a car accident?” Oh, shit.

“Yes, that’s true.” Butterfly still doesn’t flinch.

“And were there serious injuries from that accident, Dr. Grey?”

“Yes, counselor, there were. I suffered internal bleeding, multiple lacerations, and traumatic brain injury.”

“Can you be more specific about the traumatic brain injury, doctor?”

“Sure thing, counselor.” That’s the second time she’s done that and he flinches. She’s onto him, and giving him exactly what he’s giving her. What I love so much is that her use of the word counselor is so much edgier than his use of the word doctor. “I suffered from a diffuse axonal injury.” She turns to the jury. “Think shaken baby syndrome.” A lot of them nod in recognition. “My brain swelled and I was in a coma for twelve days.”

“Isn’t it true that when you awoke, you had lost your memory?” Underwood asks, and here it is.

“Yes, that’s true,” she replies.

“And what had you forgotten?”

“From the time just before I met my husband,” she says.

“And you miraculously remember everything now, doctor?” he says, his tone condescending.

“No, counselor, I don’t,” she says, and he flinches again. Give that doctor shit up, man. “I still have moments when things are still coming back to me.”

“So, Mrs. Grey…” he took my advice, “you have forgotten large chunks of your life, yet you expect this court to believe that you remember everything that happened that day last March in the great detail that you’ve described without any coaching?” he actually laughs a disbelieving laugh as he says this.

“Yes, because it’s true,” she says, still very matter-of-factly.

“Come now, Mrs. Grey. Let’s be reasonable. You admitted that you couldn’t remember facts from that day on that day. Then you subsequently had a very tragic accident that resulted in traumatic brain injury and memory loss less than six months ago. Yet, you want us to believe that although you are still recalling other details of your life, you remember every detail of this incident perfectly?” Underwood presses.

“Yes,” she says simply, “I also expect you believe that during that time I successfully carried twins who survived and were delivered healthy and strong by natural childbirth less than two months ago—also an unlikely medical event under the circumstances. Would you like to see the pictures?” It would appear that Butterfly has won this round, but then she appears to give him more ammunition.

“But, I’ll tell you what… don’t believe me,” Butterfly says. I have to choke back a gasp and the defense zeroes in on her.

“Are you saying that you’ve lied to this court, Mrs. Grey?” he accuses, feeling that he has her on the ropes.

“No,” she says, unshaken. “I’m saying that you’re right. I had an accident last November and I’ve lost quite a few details of my life. My memory’s been compromised. Things come back to me in pieces if at all. At the time that woman tried to kill my husband with my gun, I couldn’t remember what happened. I blacked out.” Underwood smiles widely and allows Butterfly to continue to dig her hole, so to speak. “I later recalled what happened, but then, I had an accident and lost my memory. I couldn’t even remember my wedding. I remembered loving my husband; I just couldn’t remember marrying him until days later. I woke up very pregnant with our twins and horrified because I didn’t know how it happened.” She throws a glance at Elena, who looks like she swallowed something bad.

“So if you are remiss to believe my recollection of the events of that day, I don’t blame you,” she says, looking sincerely over at the jury. “My memories are a bit questionable to the outside observer.” She pauses for a moment. “But there’s a video!” she adds. “Believe that.” The attorney falls silent.

“That’s not the issue here, Mrs. Grey!” he snaps.

“Isn’t it?” she says, still maintaining her cool demeanor. “You see, your goal here is to discredit me and my testimony as a witness, and I can’t stop you from doing that. As much as I would like to see justice done, I’ve had some problems, and my recollection is questionable. So even though I currently remember everything that happened in that room as if it happened yesterday, you have the right to question my recollection of those events. However…” She begins to count on her fingers. “… Believe the man she tried to murder. Believe the man who took the bullet. Believe the fact that my Beretta was stolen and I never got it back; it’s up there as exhibit four. Believe the police report that I filed weeks earlier reporting that gun stolen. Believe the forensic evidence. Believe the officers that are going to testify. Believe the video. Discredit me all you want. Don’t believe me if your logic and sense of reason leads you not to—but believe everything else.” She folds her arms and sits back on the witness stand. The attorney clears his throat and attempts another diversionary tactic.

“That’s a very nice speech, Mrs. Grey, but the fact remains that your memories have been tainted and your testimony is questionable, isn’t that so?” I just shake my head.

“Didn’t… didn’t I just say that?” She looks at him incredulously before turning to the judge. “Didn’t I just say that?” The judge nods, but she has already turned to the jury. “I’m sure I said that. Didn’t I say that?” Members of the jury nod and she even looks at Elena. “Didn’t I say that?” She turns her attention back to the attorney? “Do you not understand English or did you not hear me? Wait, I got it… let’s try something else.” She clears her throat. “Oui monsieur, mes souvenirs sont entachés. Ils peuvent être très discutables. Cependant, regardez la video.”

She holds her hands up and waits for recognition from the attorney. I stifle a laugh.

“No?” she says. “Okay, how about this. Esyay irsay, ymay emorymay is aintedtay osay I amay otnay ebay uhthay estbay itnessway, utbay atchway uhthay ideovay!”

She holds her hands up again, waiting for recognition from the attorney.

“Still no? Okay, I’ve got something else.” She holds up one finger. “Yo dog, my brain corked. Got knocked upside da head, don’t know what happened—but dat joint prob’ly on YouTube.”

By now, several people in the courtroom—myself included—are covering their mouths and giggling quietly. Butterfly, on the other hand, is still approaching the situation like she’s seriously trying to get through to this counselor.

“Nothing?” she says, when she gets no response. “Okay, last shot…” and she breaks into sign language. I didn’t even know she knew sign language!

“Counselor,” Judge Burgess interjects, “I think you should move on. To be quite honest, the witness is making a fool out of you.” Daunted, Underwood turns his attention back to Butterfly.

“Your theatrics are quite entertaining, Mrs. Grey,” he says, clearly not amused.

“They really shouldn’t be,” she retorts. “I’m all for everybody deserving a fair trial and I’ll play my part, but I was there… and I do remember. I remember watching her aim my gun at the man that I love and seeing my life and my happiness ending in a moment! So, you do what you must, counselor! You do your little song and dance and you make those people believe that I don’t know what I’m talking about and you let that monster walk free and set a precedent in this new trend of ridiculous court cases that proclaim that as long as we convince our children that the rules don’t apply to them that it’s okay if they go out and kill people. Then we can set them loose on the city and pray that none of them are roaming your neighborhood with your family. I’m raising twins. We can start with them!”

Her once cool demeanor has been replaced with such contempt that my blood runs cold. The room falls silent and I think the attorney thinks better than to go toe to toe with an angry mother who has just informed him that she’s waiting for the success of his trial to decide if she’s going to teach her children to kill then set them loose in his neighborhood.

“No further questions for this witness,” he wisely concludes.

“I think it’s time for lunch,” Judge Burgess bangs his gavel. “One hour recess.” Butterfly stands and glares at the defense attorney with a serious half-smirk on her face. It’s clear that he didn’t break her, but oh how he wanted to. She leaves the witness stand with the same confident stride she had when she walked up to it. She walks over to me and I put my arm around her waist.

“You were amazing,” I breathe in her ear.

“Thank you, Mr. Grey. I’m so glad I made you proud.”

“More than you’ll ever know.” I pull her to me and kiss her sweetly, then again. She wraps her arms around my neck and get a glance of the Witch over her shoulder, looking longingly at me. I close my eyes and block her out, embracing my wife and caressing her back, inhaling her scent and allowing it to comfort me. When I open my eyes, they have removed the Pedophile.

“Let’s go see if we can commandeer a quiet room somewhere and have a sandwich or something. Trying to go out for lunch is a useless task,” I tell her.

“I agree,” she says, taking my hand and allowing me to lead her out of the courtroom.


ANASTASIA

“So… we need to talk.”

Christian has found a quiet room for us to have lunch and Chuck has procured some chicken salad sandwiches and sodas to hold us over until we could get a decent meal at home. When my husband begins a conversation with we need to talk, I’m not very hopeful of the outcome. Given the events of the day and our current location, I’m scared shitless. I swallow the final bite of my sandwich, certain that he deliberately waited until I had finished my lunch to break whatever news he has to me that he is about to tell me.

“Okay,” I say, bracing myself for the monsoon.

“Some things came out during my testimony,” he says. “I need to call my parents and you should probably call Ray…” He trails off.

“Christian, what is it?” I’m really scared now. He sighs.

“They know why Elena’s in jail right now,” he continues. “They know the lengths and depths of her depravity, and now… they know that I was one of her victims.”

I can’t hide my gasp. These implications are very far-reaching. His family, my family, his business associates…

“Have you told Vee?” I ask. I shake my head.

“No,” he says. “There’s more.” What more could there be? “There was an implication towards the lifestyle. I diverted the question, but anything besides an outright denial is enough for speculation.”

Fuck! I can’t tell my father that! He reads my expression and takes my hand in his.

“I’m sorry,” he says, sincerely. I shake my head.

“No… this is not your fault,” I tell him. “It’s just… there’s such a stigma attached to the lifestyle and I just don’t want it to follow us. I’m not ashamed of what we do in the privacy of our own bedroom, I just feel like it should stay in our bedroom.” I sigh. “What was said?”

“Her asshole lawyer made a comment about both of us partaking in the same lifestyle and at the time, we were talking about her being a pedophile. Sometime before or after that, I had said something about her beating and fucking me in her dungeon, but at this point, the comment was close enough for me to divert the conversation to her pedophilia. I freaked out. I roared at him for insinuating that I would take part in pedophilia. Then I made it clear to him that I was not going to drag any of my private affairs, nor that of my family, nor anything about my business out into the open for him to pick apart because his client is on trial for murder.”

“Bravo, Mr. Grey!” I tell him. “It sounds to me like you did what needed to be done to dodge that bullet.”

“Don’t celebrate yet,” he says. “She has yet to testify. She threw me under the bus once just to keep from being disowned by my mother. What do you think she’ll do to avoid being convicted of attempted murder?” I shake my head.

“So what do we do?” I ask. He takes a drink of his soda.

“We’ll run the PSA again for starters,” he says. “That was one of the purposes for it in the first place. The requests for public appearances are really going to start pouring in for you. We’re going to need a plan of attack if this becomes a topic of conversation, which it will. Paparazzi are really going to be relentless about a statement, so we’ll have to make one—but we won’t address it until it comes to light. We have to cross each bridge as we get to it, but we just have to be prepared so that we’re not ambushed. I’ll have Mac release a statement about the molestation. We can’t avoid that one.” I sigh heavily.

“And so it begins,” I say. I wanted to get back into the swing of things and start taking the twins to the Center with me, but I can’t do that now. They might get hurt just trying to get them past the press. I definitely can’t leave them for a whole day every day, either, so I’ll have to return to work only part-time, and what about Green Valley? Will I have to travel down there to testify at Michael Underwood’s trial? Underwood… no wonder I didn’t like that attorney’s name. I’m only just now making the connection.

“What are you thinking?” Christian asks, and it’s only now that I realize that I have fallen silent. I rub my eyes.

“Just that I was hoping to get back to work after we were done with the trial, but I may have to make some changes now. I wanted to take the twins into the Center some days, but I don’t see how that’s going to be possible.” He’s silent for a moment, causing me to raise my head to him. “What?”

“Nothing. It’s just that… I mean, I knew that it was going to be a problem with privacy and safety and the twins and such but…” He trails off again. I examine his face.

“You didn’t expect me to cooperate,” I say. He shakes his head.

“It’s not that…” he begins.

“Yes, it is,” I interrupt with no malice. “Admit it, Christian. You didn’t expect me to cooperate and now you’re surprised.” He shrugs and picks at an invisible piece of lint on his pants.

“Maybe a little,” he mumbles. “I didn’t expect for you to just fall in line. I hoped you would understand, but I did expect a little resistance.”

“I don’t blame you,” I respond. I can be rather difficult to deal with and there’s going to be so tightened security in my future, especially when it comes to my children. I can’t remember one time when that’s happened and I didn’t give him some kind of backtalk about it. “Right now, what say we just skip this part of the conversation for now and decide exactly how much we need to tell our parents about this, because I would really like to tell Ray as little as possible.” He scratches his chin.

“I’m going to have to let you make that decision, Butterfly,” he says. “Grace and Carrick know everything. All they need to know now is that it might go public.”

“And what will you do then?” I ask. “If this goes public, won’t this affect how your colleagues look at you?”

“It’s not an ideal situation,” he admits, “but all they can ever do is try to use it as a weapon against me—a weakness. They can only speculate as to what I do and how I participate. They have no idea. You never come to a dogfight armed with speculation and conjecture. Anybody in this business knows that. And if any of them wants to play hardball with this topic, that would be an early Christmas present for me. This is an arena where futures are made and destroyed, so if you step into the coliseum, you had better be armed with a sword and a shield because coming at me with this shit is like running against a gladiator with a pocket knife.”

I believe him. I know my husband and nobody had better step to him with any bullshit about this matter.

“If that’s the case, Christian, then why all the secrecy? Why not just come out with your lifestyle in the very beginning?” I ask.

“Because it was nobody’s business what I did in my sex life,” he replies. “People had their theories and I was okay with that, but no one needed a first-person view into my bedroom. Then, there was my family. Remember, I didn’t want even want them to know. Once that basically exploded in my face, then there was Elena and her trial coming out and not wanting to be associated with that. Then there was your family and all the far-reaching ways this information could affect us—even Cholometes breathing down my back and for the record, he already knew and tried to use that against me, too. He’s a submissive.”

“How do you know that?” I gasp.

“Same way you do,” he says. “I’m a Dom. I know. You knew when you dominated him in my den,” he adds. Shit! I didn’t think he picked up on that.

“I… suspected,” I stumble, “and I didn’t do that on purpose. I don’t just walk around dominating people.” I suddenly feel ashamed… and dirty.

“I know that,” he says, reaching for my hand. “You don’t intend to walk around turning people on or driving people crazy, but you do.” I raise my eyes to him. Suddenly, I want to cry. I just wrap my arms around his neck and hold him close to me. If he dominated someone in front of me—at the same time he was dominating me, no less—I’d feel helpless and furious at the same time. I’m not sure that I could tolerate it. It’s an abuse of power and I’m only just now realizing that I did it. To me, it feels like a form of cheating.

“I’m sorry,” I say, unable to fight the tears that burn my eyelids. I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve betrayed his trust.

“Hey,” he closes his arms around me. “None of that. I didn’t bring it up for that. You did what needed to be done at the time, I know that. It wasn’t sexual—you were furious, and I wasn’t angry. I was never angry.” He pulls me back and wipes my tears with his thumbs. “Had I known you would react this way, I never would have even mentioned it. Don’t you think if I had a problem with it, I would have said something before now?”

“That doesn’t make it right,” I say in a sobbing voice.

“But it was necessary at the time,” he says, pulling his handkerchief from his pocket and gently dabbing my face. “I knew that. Your instincts are never wrong, and they told you what to do even when you didn’t know it. Do I want you to exercise that power regularly? No, I would prefer you didn’t. It’s one of the things that made me fall in love with you. Do I know that it’s most like the reason that we haven’t heard from that bastard since? Yes, I do. Am I grateful for that? More than you’ll ever know!”

I choke out a laugh behind my sobs and he kisses me gently.

“I hate it when you cry… but I can’t resist kissing you when you do. Your lips are so soft…” He kisses me again… and again. His hand cups my face and several slow, soft, sweet kisses later, I forget what I was crying about.

The afternoon is full of testimony from witnesses for the prosecution—Alex has to testify since he was the one who presented the video into evidence. Watching that thing again chills my blood to no end. Even though I knew what was coming, I still jump at the sound of the gunshot. This time, I can see Jason emerge from the sliding panel in Christian’s office. It happened in a split second—he moved like lightning. At first, he wasn’t there, and then, he was. It wasn’t all dramatic like Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard. He didn’t necessarily throw his body in front of him. He just ran into him and pushed, like he was tackling him—like a linebacker. I see now that was the best way to result in the least damage. Had he done the whole Bodyguard thing, she may have hit an internal organ.

She watches the video stoically. Not a single flash of emotion, recollection, or remorse crosses her face as she watches herself pull that trigger intent on ending my husband’s life, not even when members of the jury gasp when the shot is fired. I want to leap across this barrier and scratch her eyes out again! She truly is a stank-ass, slutty, nasty, filthy, slimy, Pedo-Bitch She-Thing demon from hell, and she needs to go back where she came from!

My reaction was swift and sure, like the wrath of God. I cover my mouth and almost want to cover my ears when I hear my own heart-wrenching shriek after the gun was fired. I see Jason flinch only slightly in my peripheral, but that’s the only emotion he’ll reveal during these proceedings. The court frowns on displays of affection, but Christian puts his arm around me anyway, asking if I’m okay as I sit shivering in my seat and watching the ungodly exchange of blows between me and Elena. The jury is glued to the screen as we beat the living shit out of each other and I watch my husband painfully examine his best friend, asking where he’d been hit.

My stomach burns with the need to wail and I cover my mouth and try to cry silently. Tears stream unbidden down my face as I relive Christian flinching away from me when I reach for him and running to the bathroom, praying that the bullet didn’t hit a major artery in Jason’s shoulder. When Jason starts singing “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider,” I lose it. The sob I was choking on coughs very unladylike out of my throat and cuts through the relative silence that’s fallen over the room, save the chaos that’s erupting on the video. I know this is going to be a spectacle soon, so I leap from my seat, heaving uncontrollably and dash for the door. I burst into the hallway as if the oxygen on the other side will help stop the flow of my tears and the involuntary heaving of my chest.

It doesn’t.

I lean against the wall for support, certain that I’ll pass out any second as I hear a camera or two flash to capture this moment for posterity. I don’t care. I couldn’t watch that video another second. I sat through as much as I could, but reliving those horrible moments in living color was more than I could stand. I could have killed that woman. I really could have killed her. Christian, sobbing over his best friend; Jason, singing that damn song not knowing if these were truly his last moments. Goddamn that evil demonic bitch!

The seconds that it took Christian to burst out of the courtroom behind me felt like hours. Relief floods through me faster than I can process it when I see him standing in front of me, his eyes full of concern.

“Baby! Baby, are you okay?”

I can’t form any words. I’m heaving so hard reliving the goddamn moments on the tape, wishing I had killed that bitch and so glad that I didn’t at the same time. I can’t focus or think and my head starts to spin.

“Breathe, Baby. Please, breathe…”

That’s the last thing I remember.

*-*

I awake in someone’s chambers… again. At least I wasn’t on the stand this time. I’m trying to breathe around this apparatus on my face and take in my surroundings at the same time. I don’t know where I am. This isn’t the same judge’s room… and I’m not on a sofa. I’m on a stretcher! And this is an oxygen mask on my face! I mumble something and move my hand—or try to move my hand—to get this thing off my face, only to find that Christian has my hand cemented to his.

“Butterfly!” The word is a heated whisper and he’s in my face in seconds.

“Get this off of me,” I slur, grasping at the mask.

“You need it, Butterfly,” Christian protests.

“No, I don’t,” I say, grabbing the mask finally and trying to pull it from my face.

“Okay, okay, wait.” He gestures to someone and a paramedic—a paramedic—comes over and removes the mask from my face.

“Don’t be difficult, Anastasia.” I look up and Carrick is looking down on me, speaking in a fatherly tone. Oh, God, exactly how big of a spectacle have I made of myself?

“I don’t need the oxygen,” I say, trying to sit up.

“You’ve been out for over twenty minutes,” Christian scolds. “You say you don’t need the oxygen, but I draw the line at you getting off that stretcher.”

“We’ll need to take her in now,” I hear one of the EMTs say.

“No!” I protest as clearly as my meek little voice will allow.

“Anastasia…” Christian chides.

“Could she be pregnant again?” Carrick asks.

“Not unless I can have this reaction in two days,” I answer him. His brow furrows.

“More information than I needed about my daughter-in-law,” he says sweetly looking down at me.

“You asked,” I remind him. “My children are exactly six weeks and four days old. We just got back from a weekend away.” I give him a knowing look.

“Jesus, Christian, what did you do to her at that cabin?” Carrick jabs.

“Dad!” Christian protests. I shake my head as much as the stretcher will allow. The situation needed a little levity. I squeeze Christian’s hand to garner his attention.

“Crying or fainting… remember?” I say. I told him when I passed out at Morton’s grave and again when I passed out before the cuffs came out on the fateful day that has us in this wonderful establishment today that my reaction to immensely stressful situations that bring on way too much adrenaline too fast is either crying or fainting. He examines me for a moment, then thrust his hand in his hair, the worry slowly starting to leave his face.

“God!” he exclaims. “It hadn’t happened in such a long time, I forgot. You scared the shit outta me.”

“I’m sorry. I just… I couldn’t…” I feel the tears coming back. He takes one of my hands in both of his.

“Okay. I know. I know,” he says, kissing my hand.

“Mr. Grey? Mrs. Grey?” The EMT is attempting to get our attention. I begin to sit up.

“Slowly,” Carrick warns, gently grasping my shoulder—to assist or halt my ascent, I don’t know, but it does a little of both. God, he’s as protective as his son. I try not to roll my eyes as I slowly sit upright on the stretcher. “How do you feel?” I wait a moment to see if my head is spinning or if there are any residuals from the fainting spell. I nod.

“Fine,” I tell him. “I feel fine. Shouldn’t you be in a courtroom somewhere?” I ask with a smile.

“I was,” he says. “I was just leaving to go back to my office when I saw my son white as a ghost carrying my unconscious daughter to parts unknown.” Daughter… my heart warms immediately. “He was clearly stressed out, sweating profusely, and about to ruin a perfectly good Anderson & Sheppard, so I asked Judge Morris if we could borrow his chambers. And here I am.” I smile warmly at him and put my hand on his cheek, relaying gratitude and love.

“Thank you,” I say just above a whisper. He returns my warm smile along with a blush.

“You’re welcome,” he says, taking my hand and giving me a gentle peck on the forehead. “Try not to do that to us again, okay?” I nod.

“I’ll try.” I’ve gained another father… something I wish I could have had in Morton since he claimed to love my mother and stayed with her until his death. I’m certain that part of the reason she was so cold and distant to me all those years had to do with the fact that he, for whatever reason, couldn’t stand my guts. They shared a mutual distaste for me—it was probably one of the things that kept them together for so long. I was just a kid, and they could have very easily gotten rid of me by sending me home to my father. But no, that decision wasn’t lucrative enough.

“Okay, Dad, enough schmoozing with my girl,” Christian says. “What are you trying to do, steal her away from me?”

“An impossible task, I think, son,” Carrick says. “Besides, she’s quite lovely, but I only have eyes for one.” He winks at me.

“Can you and Mom make it to the Crossing tonight, Dad?” Christian asks. “I really need to talk to you.”

“I can, but I don’t know about your mother. I think she’s on call tonight.” Christian murmurs an expletive.

“Okay, well, you may have the task of relaying a message to her.”

“Can’t you tell me now?” Carrick asks. Christian looks around.

“Definitely not!” he says definitively. “And I’m taking Ana home. We’ve had enough of this for one day.” He reaches down to lift me off the stretcher.

“Christian, I can walk!” I protest firmly. I don’t want to be carried out in front of the press. He reads my expression and stands upright.

“I hate to tell you this, baby, but they’re everywhere—even wandering around with fancy cell phones. They’ve already got pictures. Stretcher or my arms; the choice is yours.” He’s completely unwavering. I frightened him. When I frighten him, he needs this. I sigh in surrender and open my arms to him. He scoops me up like he’s carrying my clothes with nothing in them. I’m certain he could carry me with one hand.

“Thank you, gentlemen,” he says to the EMTs. “You can send the bill to my office,” and out we go, down the hallway, out the door and down the stairs to flashing lights and questions about what happened and why Christian is carrying me. He looks straight ahead to the Audi SUV parked at the curb, his only task to get us to the car. I listen to the questions being thrown at us and carefully answer only one.

“Mrs. Grey, are you alright?”

“Yes, I am. Thank you.” I lay on Christian’s shoulder as he quickly and easily takes the rest of the stairs. Chuck opens the door for us and Christian climbs in with me in his lap. Chuck closes the door behind us and two raps on the roof later, we’re off to Grey Crossing.

*-*

“Hello?”

I swallow hard when my father answers the phone later that evening. Carrick was able to come by and Christian is speaking to him in his den. I didn’t have the chance to ask Daddy and Mandy to stop by and this can’t wait, so, I’m having this very sensitive conversation over the phone.

“Hi, Daddy,” I say softly into the phone.

“Hey, Sunflower,” he greets me. “How are you? You’re all over the news. Are you okay? I tried not to worry and bug you. I knew you would call. I’m so glad you did.” He’s talking a mile a minute. I want to laugh, but our conversation is no laughing matter.

“I’m fine, Daddy,” I say. “I need to talk to you about the trial.”

“Okay,” he says. “What’s up?” I clear my throat.

“Some things came out in the trial that may make the news very soon and I want you to hear about them from me before you hear about them in the news.”

“What’s going on, Sunflower?”

“You know that horrible woman was originally arrested for her crimes against minors—young boys, pedophilia…”

“Yes, yes, I know.” He cuts me off and I know immediately that this is going to be harder than I thought.

“Well, today, it was revealed in court that Christian was one of those boys.”

The line is quiet for a long time.

“Oh my God,” he says, softly. “How’s Christian?”

“He’s okay,” I tell him. “He came to grips with this quite some time ago, but this is something that he really didn’t want to be public in that way.”

“I can see why. Are you okay?”

“Yes, Daddy, but… that’s only part of it.”

“There’s more?” he asks, appalled. I nod, as if he could see me.

“She introduced him to a lifestyle at a very young age. It’s the only thing he knew. He practiced it…” I clear my throat. “… Into adulthood and we… still practice now.”

“And what is that?” Daddy asks cautiously. I close my eyes.

“BDSM.” There is a long silence on the line. “Da…?”

“WHAT!?” my father roars on the other end. “Are you serious? I give my daughter to this man and this is what he brings you into?” He is furious. I have to take control of this conversation right now.

“He didn’t bring me into anything, Father!” I snap. Daddy is silenced immediately. “Yes, he practiced before we met, but I learned about BDSM in college during my human sexuality studies and when he spoke to me about it, I was already curious. I had already seen it in practice and I consented to it.”

“You consented to be abused?” he spits.

“He doesn’t abuse me!” I retort. “And I don’t abuse him.” There’s silence again.

“You do that to him?” he asks, confusion lacing his voice.

“We do it to each other,” I tell him. “It’s purely consensual and it’s none of that hardcore, crazy shit that you see on the internet. I wouldn’t stand for that. Look what I’ve already been through!”

“That’s why I don’t understand this!” he snaps. “Why would you subject yourself to something like this after what you’ve already been through?” I sigh.

“Because, Daddy, our relationship is not like what you see on the internet or what you may have heard. Yes, there are some very deviant aspects to the lifestyle, but Christian and I practice nothing like that. Our experiences are about desire, adventure, and mutual sexual satisfaction.”

“I don’t understand, Annie,” Daddy says. “Everything I’ve seen, everything I’ve ever heard about… the lifestyle…” He says the word with so much contempt. “… Has been whips and chains and sexually deviant behavior. Didn’t you say that sick woman on trial practiced this crap?”

“Yes, but I’m trying to tell you that’s not the only aspect of it and that there’s nothing sexually deviant about what Christian and I do.” He’s not hearing me. He’s a traditional man with traditional values and all he’s ever heard of BDSM was dungeons and abuse and female degradation and the taboo things that he’s probably seen online. I can’t get him past the sadomasochism part of the BDSM lifestyle to even explain to him how what Christian and I do is so different.

The conversation goes on for about twenty more minutes without my father hearing one thing I say about mine and Christian’s relationship being more loving and giving than about bondage, dominance, and submission. Nothing I say gets through to him. Every rebuttal that I give him to his preconceived notions are met with more preconceived notions. The conversation finally ends with him hanging up on me, telling me that he has to let this whole thing sink in and can’t talk to me anymore right now and me sitting there staring at the phone like it’s going to give me answers that I’m probably never going to get.

I’m beat, way too tired to sit here and argue with my closed-minded father about the many aspects of BDSM and that Christian and I don’t practice the extreme shit that he sees on sexually deviant websites. To each his or her own, but that’s not us and I can’t get him to see that.

I drag my ass up to our bedroom and strip down to nothing, climb into the hottest shower I can stand and attempt to scrub this day off of me. I’ve already told Gail that the day has been a bit too much for me and that I’ll need her to please handle the twins’ feedings. Thankfully, she agreed. So, while I’m in the shower, I just allow the milk to express from my breast under the flow of the hot water instead of pumping it. I almost forego washing my hair because it’s hell if I sleep with it wet and I don’t feel like drying it, but I can’t resist letting the water run all over me and my head in and attempt to rinse away every single thought of the day… that smug ass lawyer, Pedo-bitch, the video, the fainting, the conversation with my father.

I swear my skin was numb by the time I got out of the shower. I dry my skin and reach for a warm nightshirt. I wrap my hair in a towel, grab my moisturizing lotion and head out to our bedroom.

“There you are,” Christian says, rising from the bed and walking over to me. “Dad wanted to say goodbye before he left, but you had disappeared.” I sit on the bed with my lotion in my hand.

“I needed a shower,” I tell him, “this has been a long ass day.” I bend my legs and begin to moisturize my skin. He holds out his hand for the bottle.

“Let me,” he says. I hand him the bottle, too weary to protest. He never asks what’s wrong; he just goes to work on my legs and ankles. I sit back on the bed.

“The conversation with my father didn’t go well,” I tell him. He freezes momentarily, then proceeds with his massage.

“Oh?” he asks.

“No,” I say. “He’s stuck in his narrow-minded, Puritanical views and I can’t get him to budge.” He frowns as he moves to open my nightshirt.

“That’s… odd,” he says. “I would think… he would understand, or at least listen to you.” He starts to caress my torso with the moisturizing lotion. He removes one arm from the nightshirt and begins to moisturize that arm.

“I thought he would, too,” I say, removing my other arm from the night shirt, “but try to tell Daddy that his little girl is into BDSM.” I say. Christian frowns.

“Yeah,” he says, moisturizing the other arm. He is the father of a daughter now, isn’t he? Even if she is just an infant…

“I just didn’t expect him to be so unyielding,” I tell him. “Daddy knows I’m no dummy or wimp. I thought you called off the wedding and I left so that I could decide what I wanted. Why would he think I would submit to something I didn’t want?”

“Is that what he thinks?” he asks, going into my dressing room.

“Yes,” I say loud enough for him to hear me. “I had to convince him that you didn’t bring me into this…” He’s coming back with my brush and comb and two hair ties. “… And that I was interested in it before I met you, but he could only focus on the sexual deviance of the lifestyle. I think I’m just going to have to let it marinate for a minute before I try to get him to listen to reason.” He removes the towel from my head and starts to work the tangles from my hair.

“I’m sure he’ll come around. Ray seems like a reasonable man to me. Maybe it’s just the shock of it all.” He separates my hair down the center and begins to braid one side. I feel the tension begin to ooze out of my body as he continues to care for me. “Remember how I was so afraid to tell my parents? After they got over the initial shock, they rallied behind me.”

“Yeah, but they got over the shock immediately,” I protest as he fastens the first braid with a hair tie.

“No, they didn’t!” He corrects as he starts the second braid. “Remember Dad breaking down in my apartment?”

Oh, yeah. I did forget that.

“Yeah, but they never blamed you. They blamed Elena, like Dad blamed you, but then they got shocked and got over it. Dad is like… completely unmoving. Every time I try to explain to him that we have a mutually giving relationship, his brain goes right back to bullwhips and spiked collars and leashes and ball gags and cages…”

“But we don’t do anything like that!” Christian interjects.

“I know! But he couldn’t hear. When you say ‘BDSM,’ that’s all certain people see. Unfortunately, my dad is apparently one of those people!” He finishes my hair and puts the comb and brush on the nightstand.

“I wish I had an answer for you, Butterfly,” he says, stroking my face gently. “Give him time, I guess. He loves you… he’ll come around.”

I gaze adoring into his eyes, filled with love and compassion for me at this moment. He only wants me to feel better when this is mostly his catastrophe. He’s still going to have to worry about how this will affect his life… his business… I’m just worried about Daddy. I sigh as I consider that possibility.

“What is it?” he asks. I close my eyes and lean close to him, breathing him in.

“I wish I could make you feel what you make me feel,” I say softly. He frowns.

“What?” he asks.

“Just…” I sigh. “All the love and the warmth… and the things you do to my body… the way you take care of me… you make everything all better. I wish I could make you feel it.” There’s a sadness in my tone when I say it. He examines me for a moment, then stands from the bed. Without a word, he removes his T-shirt and then his jeans and boxer briefs in one movement. He stands before me, naked and glorious, and I sit on the bed in the same state of undress. He runs his hands over my braids to the ends and lets them drop on my breasts. He then takes my hand and presses it against his penis. I’m shocked at first. He’s completely flaccid, but with my hand under his, him manipulating my fingers on his erection, he’s hard in seconds—and I do mean seconds.

We’ve had sex every night since Friday; I don’t know if I can do it again tonight, but something in the way he’s looking at me—saying nothing, having me touch him… it’s making me… yearn for him.

He lays me down on our bed, situating my hands over my head. He crawls into bed between my legs hovering over me. He pushes my legs open wide and brings his face close to mine. I feel him at my opening, his hands on either side of me on the bed, but he doesn’t enter me. He’s looking into my eyes, so close that our lips nearly touch, but don’t. I feel his breath… taste his breath, but I can’t touch him. He moves his head as if he wants to kiss me, but he doesn’t. I start to pant from his proximity, his energy, it’s almost like a drug.

I feel him harden against me, the head right against my clit, but he doesn’t move. I swallow hard. He’s still looking at me… looking through me… God, his eyes… I see such… wanting and yearning there. I tilt my head and get lost in the story, the needful beseeching to be loved.

His breath becomes my breath, or mine becomes his, I don’t know, and I feel him slowly slip inside me… so slow that it takes an eternity for him to sheath himself in my sex. We’re still breathing the same air as he fills me, then pulls out all the way to the head until the slit in his penis is kissing my clit again.

Oh, my God… what is this?

He still says nothing as his head throbs softly on my clit, suddenly pebbling hard underneath him. Nothing else is touching but our breath… and our eyes… if you can consider that touching. I want to whimper, but I dare not make a sound. His head slides down my clit and into my core a second time, so agonizingly slowly that I can count the seconds until I’m filled with him again.

Thirteen. Thirteen goddamn seconds and I’m burning with each stroke as he pushes into me like never before. What is he doing to me?

Like the first time, he holds himself there for a moment before pulling out just as slowly as he entered, and my core is on fire. His penis is getting harder and harder, throbbing more and more each time the slit comes out to kiss my clit. By the third time he exits and meets my clit, his slit is pulsing so hard that my pebbled clit actually slips inside a bit. The sensation is so insane that I’m not quite sure how to handle it. By the fourth time, I’m panting wildly into his open mouth, unable to contain myself any longer. He matches my uncontrolled breathing, and I feel his semen begin to explode on my clit. He closes his eyes and slips into me again to ride his orgasm inside of me and the feeling is so hot that I burst into flames behind him, trembling underneath him—our lips and bodies still never touching. We concentrate only on our sex and the pulsing, pumping, burning, throbbing we feel from five simple strokes.

“Did you… f-feel that?” he chokes, without opening his eyes.

“Y-yes!” I mutter, barely able to speak.

“Th-that’s… what I… f-feel… for you.” A single tear escapes from his eye and slides partially down his cheek before dripping onto mine. I bring my hands from over my head and cup his face, examining him closely. He’s trembling—not like he’s cold, like he’s holding on to a weight and his body is about to give out under the pressure. I wipe the tear away with my thumb and gently run my tongue over his parted lips. His breath becomes more labored, but he doesn’t reciprocate and he doesn’t open his eyes. He just stays there with his body suspended over mine, his sex still buried inside of me. I feel all of his love, all of his helplessness and surrender, just how much he truly belongs to me.

I caress his hair and face and lick inside of his lips, his breath coming in short bursts now. We are still everywhere else except my hands caressing his face and hair and my lips licking his… and my heart, reaching out to his and melding with it, joining with it until two hearts become one.

God, how I love you…

He breathes heavily into my mouth and I worry that he might hyperventilate. He doesn’t close his mouth, nor open his eyes, and I watch him attentively, lost in some kind of otherworldly state. He doesn’t move a muscle except for his labored breathing. I don’t move either, except to caress his face and hair and adore him and infuse him with my energy and love. And then…

He grunts in his chest, then whimpers mournfully… longingly. His breaths are staccato… and then, he’s coming again inside of me. I’m amazed, but I don’t stop what I’m doing—licking his lips gently and caressing his hair and face. His lips don’t move. I know they don’t, I’m kissing them… but I hear the words as if he’s spoken them loud and clear.

Ana… my love…

I choke a sob as tears slide unsummoned down my temples. His hands move from their position on the bed beside me. He pushes them under my shoulders and his hands come up to cup my face. He opens his eyes and gazes at me with so much love flowing from him that my body fills with warmth and heat and I become helpless. My body falls limp underneath the weight of his as I weep softly.

We’ve changed roles.

His lips close gently over mine, but mine remain slack… weak from the onslaught of emotion. His lips wander from my mouth to my cheek to my ears, my neck…

I’m yours… I’m yours… do with me as you will…

Gentle lips continue over whatever part of my body they can reach as he holds my head in place with his hands and, even after two orgasms, begins to drive into me—slowly and deliciously, only slightly faster than before… a torturous slow grind; loving, attentive, and meticulous.

I love you, Ana…

Did he say it? Am I hallucinating? Oh, God… So much… feeling! So much.

I love you… I’m yours, too… I belong to you…

Oh, God, I’m going crazy! He’s kissing me; he’s not talking. Oh, God, the emotions… I’m losing myself…

Stay with me… don’t go… remember the matches…

Matches? What matches? Oh, the matches!

His mouth closes over mine and I return the kiss, trying hard to focus on the here and now and not the burning in my heart and soul, the need to reach to a plane higher than this one and when it hits…

My body curls into his and I whimper helplessly, repeatedly. He continues to hold me down as my hands grind uselessly on the pillow on the sides of my head, my back arching into his body and this cosmic release that’s burning bright hot red fire and light through my pelvis, chest and torso and reverberating to each one of my extremities. He doesn’t cover my mouth or extinguish my cries. His mouth is on my neck, now, talking to me, telling me how much he loves me, how he feels everything that I’m feeling, begging me to stay with him…

I think.

I’m wheezing when the burning stops and the light dissipates. The emotional and physical impact of what just happened almost too much to bear, but I’m still here… I didn’t burn all the matches.

… But I came damn close.

My love is still gently driving into me, still holding me, still loving me, caressing me and speaking to me in a way that only we can communicate. He takes his time—using his body and his heart to usher us both into a night filled with cosmic love, tantric energy, and rippling orgasms.


A/N: See the author’s note in chapter 58 for the reference to Like Water For Chocolate and the matches.

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

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

Love and handcuffs  
Lynn X

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 68—More and More

Wow, I guess you all liked the action in the last chapter, huh? LOL. You guys make me feel so appreciated. I’ve had a lot of people ask about the butt plug that was used during the massage. Here it is.

https://www.healthyandactive.com/paragon-gem-vibrating-anal-plug/

Those people ought to pay me a commission!

I will be changing my emailer very soon. Please add
divinebronzegoddess.gmail.com@mail.benchmarkapps.com
to your contacts so that the chapters don’t go to your junk mail box. Thanks!!!

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

Chapter 68—More and More

ANASTASIA

To say that our weekend was highly orgasmic would be a massive understatement. Mr. Grey and I more than made up for lost time bringing each other to climax after massive climax in the three days and two nights that we spent in our little cabin in Sisters, Oregon. We didn’t heed Maxie’s warning very much not to “engage the enemy” during the six-week-no-sex period and still found ways to get each other off. However, when it came time to partake in the ultimate fruit once more, it was no-holds-barred, and we sure released all inhibitions and let our passions run wild.

I was like a kitten with a ball of yarn while he navigated us back to Seattle in Charlie Tango. I did my best not to distract him, touching him only in safe areas like gently caressing his hair or touching his arm every now and then, but I had a very difficult time keeping my eyes—and hands—off of him for the entire ride back. Not even Ben and Chuck’s presence in the seats behind us did anything to curtail my attentions to my husband.

He sets us down safely on the roof of Escala and gives me a quick peck after he releases me from my harness. He winks and smiles at me before getting out of the helicopter. I’m walking on a cloud as Ben, who has scrambled out behind Christian, helps me step down from Charlie Tango. My Cloud-Nine mood quickly dissipates as I see Christian’s expression as he speaks to the replacement pilot who is to take Charlie Tango back to SeaTac.

“Oh, shit,” I murmur to myself. Something’s wrong. I sigh and brace myself as I wrap my arms around myself and wait for Christian to finish his conversation. Chuck and Ben are retrieving our things from the helicopter as Christian nods to the pilot and comes over to me.

“What is it?” I ask as he places his hand on my back and leads me to the elevator.

“Al and Mac are downstairs in the penthouse,” he says as he calls the elevator. “We need to stop down there and see what’s up.” I close my eyes and drop my head. Al and Mac aka Vee. That can only mean one thing.

“Paparazzi,” I sigh, wearily. “Where?”

“I don’t know,” he says, as the elevator arrives and we step inside, Chuck and Ben close behind us. He punches in the code to the penthouse. “Harper says they weren’t downstairs when he got here, but Al and Mac were here.”

“Pit stop?” Chuck says from beside us.

“Yes, we’re stopping at the penthouse. Allen and McIntyre are there,” Christian replies.

“Oh, shit,” Ben murmurs.

“My sentiments exactly.”

“So apparently, your mansion is swarming with reporters,” Vee says the moment we walk into the great room. I haven’t even had an opportunity to remove my coat yet.

“Why didn’t Jason call me?” Christian huffs, pulling out his phone.

“You were already in the air when the swarm started,” Vee heads him off. “I told him to worry about security and let me and Allen talk to you. The latest buzz, of course, is Edward David’s death and Elena Lincoln’s trial tomorrow. By themselves, they may be a bit newsworthy, but together, they’re front page. You should also know, Ana, that something’s cooking in Green Valley.” My brow furrows.

“What the fuck is cooking in Green Valley?” I ask.

“One of the major players is set to agree to a plea and testify in an upcoming trial to start next Monday. You’re supposed to get a subpoena if you haven’t gotten one already.”

“No, I haven’t gotten one!” I hiss. “Aren’t they supposed to give you more than a fucking week? They did that same shit with Edward. I was in Greece, for Christ’s sake! What did they give us with She-Thing, like two, three weeks?” I ask Christian.

“Something like that,” he says, running his hands through his hair.

“Did you change your address with the court?” Vee asks. I frown.

“No, but I was living here when I went to court, so it could have been delivered here… or with Allen. There’s no excuse. If the trial is next Monday, I should have been served by now. Who’s going before the judge?”

“One of the minor players…” Vee begins.

“There are no minor players,” I interrupt her sharply. Anybody who had anything to do with this branding on my back, the beating I received, and the murder of my unborn child is not a minor player!

“I apologize,” Vee retracts her statement. “I’ll have to find out who it is. It wasn’t Whitmore or Madison-Perry, so I didn’t commit it to memory, although Madison-Perry is the one that’s taking the plea.”

“Fuck!” Christian hisses and my insides twist. We knew this, though. We found out shortly after we returned home from Greece.

“It’s Michael Underwood,” Al chimes in, the first thing he’s said since we walked in the door. “He’s claimed innocence from the beginning, but he’s in the video and so is his car.”

“He’s in the video?” Christian confirms. Al nods. “He’s in the video actually attacking her?” Al nods again. “Why the hell do they need Madison-Perry’s testimony if he’s on the video?”

“Corroboration. A video can be altered. Jewel was incapacitated. They want to make sure the guy doesn’t get away.” I need alcohol. I really do, but I decide against it, because one more day with that breast pump and my boobs are going to fall off. I scrub my face violently.

“I need a bacon-double-cheeseburger with fries,” I say, and all eyes turn to me.

“The last time you had a bacon-double-cheeseburger…” Al begins.

“I’m not pregnant anymore and not from that greasy hell joint!” I interrupt him. “I need a bacon-double-cheeseburger or a few shots of tequila and since my tits feel like hamburger and I don’t intend to pump any more milk, I think you better get me a bacon-double-cheeseburger!”

“I’ll get it,” Chuck says, and leaves the penthouse.

“Maybe we should just spend the night here,” Christian says. “We’ve got to be in court in the morning.” It’s a practical solution, but they’ll be on the stairs of the courthouse, too, trying to get the scoop on the trial. They’ll be double trying to get information on the David situation. There’s something else, though.

“Christian, I really need to see my babies,” I tell him. Not only do I miss them terribly, but I’m also a human food-producing factory. So… yeah.

“I do, too, but there’s no way we’re going to get through that crowd.”

“Yes, there is,” I tell him. “Give them what they want.” His eyes narrow.

“Butterfly…” he begins his protest.

“Christian, it’s a part of our life,” I tell him. “We’re going to face the same thing on the steps of the courthouse tomorrow if not camped out in front of our house. Give them what they want.”

“She’s right, you know,” Vee says, and Christian turns to her.

“I know you’ll agree,” he snaps.

“She’s right, you know,” Al chimes in.

“Et tu, Brute?” Christian says. I sigh.

“Like it or not, we’re local celebrities, babe,” I say, climbing into one of the stools at the breakfast bar. “We’re Seattle’s ‘It’ couple until they find something else to be interested in, and quite frankly, we’ve got a lot going on. If I get a hangnail, it’s news, and look what’s happened so far—I’ve had twins; I got in an accident; I lost my memory; I was attacked by a crazy Amazon; David died; Elena’s going to trial; and that’s just the last few months. There’s no telling when any of this is ever going to die down. Settle in for the ride and let’s just focus on living, raising our babies, putting these people in jail that need to be put in jail, and damage control. But the more we hide, the more they clamor. Let’s just give them what they want. They’ll give us a moment’s peace until the next headline.”

“They’ll never go away, Butterfly,” he says. “If we indulge them, they’ll never go away.”

“They’ll never go away if we don’t,” I retort. “They’ll keep pushing and pushing until we explode and they get some unfortunate sound bite or emotional explosion. They’re relentless about getting pictures of children. All our travel plans must be made in total secret. We have to control what’s released into the media and how. When it was just you, that’s what Vee did. It was an easy job. She made a statement; you made a statement; take a picture at a red-carpet affair; make sure all NDA’s were in order; it was an easy job. Now there’s four of us. There’s more work to do, Mr. Grey. We can’t hide under a rock. We have to control information flow.”

I turn around to face the bar and rub my scar. There’s nothing else to debate on this topic. I point to the refrigerator.

“Can somebody see if there’s cranberry juice and sparkling water in there?” I ask. I hear Christian sigh behind me.

“Does anybody else want cheeseburgers?” he says, resigned.

*-*

We drive slowly to the front gate of Grey Crossing in the Audi SUV and stop at the security booth. It’s just before sunset and there is quite the crowd of reporters clustered in front of our house. We sent word ahead that if they blocked our path, they wouldn’t even get a statement. So, except for a few hard-headed stragglers, we had a clear drive to the front gate. Jason was there with several members of security to meet us at the gate and the six of us exited the SUV and Al’s Jaguar to greet the press at the front gate. Christian is known to let me do the talking unless questions are directed at him or unless it appears that I’m floundering for some reason. Today was no exception.

“You’re looking fit, Mrs. Grey. How are you feeling?” one reporter asks.

“I’m feeling fine, thank you,” I respond.

“You’re very slender to have just had twins,” another says. “What’s your secret?”

“Breastfeeding twins, belly-binding, and lots of yoga,” I reply, eliciting a bit of laughter from the crowd.

“How are Michael and Mackenzie doing?” the next question comes.

“They’re doing fine, progressing as normal—nothing remarkable to speak of, but thank you for asking. I’m sure we’re not here for small talk though, and I really want to get back to my babies.” Let’s move this along, please.

“How do you feel about Edward David’s death?” someone asks.

“He’s gone,” I say. “It’s tragic when anybody dies.”

“Is it true that you went to see Edward David on February 24th, twelve days before his death?” one reported asks.

“Yes, that’s true.”

“Why did you go see the man convicted of kidnapping and assaulting you?” another asks.

“To tell him face to face that I had turned his crooked company over to the federal government and to expect contact from them in the near future.”

“What was the purpose of that?” someone called out. “Did you feel you owed him a warning.”

“No,” I say flatly. “I wanted to see him squirm.”

“Goddammit,” I hear Christian murmur. I know I just gave them a sound bite and I don’t care. That’s how I feel.

“Don’t you think that’s a bit insensitive?” someone asks.

“No, I don’t,” I reply, impassively. “I never wished him dead, but when he was sentenced, I felt like he got just what he deserved. That man kidnapped me, tried to rape me when I was handcuffed to the bed, held me captive for four days while he allowed a monster to beat and rob me, planned to take me to an undisclosed location where he hoped I would succumb to Stockholm Syndrome, and when I was rescued and he was forced to stand trial for his actions, he tried to blame me! When I was rewarded a settlement for the physical, monetary, and emotional damage he caused me, he turned over this cesspool of illegal activity to me as payment for his debt hoping that I would take the fall for his prior actions, and you actually stand there asking me if my wanting to see him squirm is insensitive?”

My voice has risen to an incredulous tone and I realize that I have unintentionally identified today’s sacrificial lamb. Ironically, but not surprisingly, it’s a woman… it’s always a woman.

“I only did what was right and legal,” I continue. “My audit team found holes and discrepancies, so we shut it down, wrapped it up, and handed it to the feds. I walked away with no settlement, but that was fine by me because I’m already wealthy; I was just going to donate the proceeds to help battered women anyway. So yes, call me a flawed, vindicated human because I took some small comfort in going to tell him that his crooked company was now in the hands of the federal government.”

Cameras flash at me and at this reporter, whatever her name is, as more questions come flying at me.

“What did you know about David’s business associates?” Ah, the magic question. Let’s clear this air.

“I know nothing,” I reply. “When I saw what was going on with the numbers, that was enough information for me and all I wanted was to get it out of my hands. I immediately contacted my attorney and key members of the GEH staff to contact the proper authorities to get that pestilence out of my hands.”

“Oh, come now, Mrs. Grey,” some guy says, “do you really expect us to believe that your audit team combed through the records of this company and you have no idea who David’s business associates are?”

At this moment, I have a violent three-second funnel. I look at this guy’s face and I see the “little lady” look in his eye, like he feels like I might have been coached a bit to say what I’m saying in front of the big bad reporters. In addition, he’s so hell-bent on getting his story that he’s not going to accept what I’m saying—he wants to break me down. Finally, even though he knows that David was involved in illegal activity that landed his company in the hands of the federal government, he only wants to cast the idea that I may know who these other illegal participants may be. He has no consideration for the fact that these may be dangerous people, that he may be putting my life and the lives of my friends and family—including my father, my children, my husband—in jeopardy. No, he has to get the scoop; break the little lady down so she’ll tell the story. Back her into a corner so she’ll spill the beans. All of this goes into the funnel and out comes one thought…

You motherfucker.

“Who is that?” I ask, leaning into Vee.

“Robert Strutherfield.” My head pops back hard.

“Robert!” I hiss, turning to him. “Robert!” I repeat, garnering the attention of some of the members of the crowd. “Is anybody live?”

“Oh, shit,” I hear Christian say behind me. I snap my head back to him.

“Keep your shirt on,” I say, before snapping back to the crowd. A few hands go up.

“You might want to get this.” I turn my attention to Mr. Strutherfield. “Well, Robert, I really don’t care what you believe, because when you go back to your little computer, you’re going to type what you want anyway. However, to answer your question again, I have no idea who that low-life, back-alley, dirty-dealing, underhanded crook was dealing with! I saw trouble, and I backed away quickly. Now if you’re looking for names, places, and dirt, you go do that digging—and good luck to you. Better yet, go ask the feds. Maybe they’ll be forthcoming to you because I’ve. Got. Nothing! I’ve handed this mess over and I want nothing else to do with it. Have I made that clear enough for you, Mr. Strutherfield?”

My voice is curt and sharp and causes a near hush to fall over the crowd while they all turn to Mr. Strutherfield to see if there will be a redirect. When there is none, another question floats across the crowd.

“What can you tell us about the upcoming trial of Elena Lincoln?”

“Nothing,” Vee says, yelling out clearly. “You all know the rules—no discussion of upcoming trials. Thank you and goodnight.” She gently pushes me to the right and following Christian’s guide in the small of my back. I walk inside the bubble of our security team to the front portico and through the front doors.

“Well, that could have gone better,” Christian says, handing his coat to Windsor. “Coffee,” he barks. Windsor nods as he takes everyone else’s coat.

“I think she did great,” Vee says, handing Windsor her coat and following me into the formal living room.

“How can you think that was great?” Christian says, nearly ready to explode, walking behind us with Allen bringing up the rear.

“Because she showed them that she bites back!” Vee says. “She’s the picture of decorum and professionalism, but don’t you get it? It’s time out for this victim shit! She’s about to be an icon in her own right. She’s a mother, a public figure, she’s worth billions—loved by many, loathed by some, recognized by quite a damn few. This damsel in distress picture has got to go. Use it for Green Valley, but for Seattle—no! She’s married to one of the most powerful men in the country, and she needs to be seen as one of your strengths, not your weakness!”

I sit on the sofa, fold my arms and cross my legs at the knee. I completely agree with Vee, but I’m not going to rub it in. I’m not going to push anything; I’m not going to be difficult, but I’m not going to fade into the background either. I’m going to meet regularly with Vee about what not to say, but when the Paparazzi shoves a mic in my face, I’m not going to run.

“Baby, what part of that conversation do you think could have gone better?” I ask Christian. Let’s see how he feels about what I said and maybe, we can come to an agreement about what I’ll say next time… or I can win him over to my side about what I said this time.

He’s a bit taken aback by my question, not prepared with an answer. Vee, I think, recognizes my plan of attack an awaits his answer. I raise an eyebrow at him when there’s no response.

“Did I say something wrong during the interview?” I prompt, trying to direct the conversation further. He has long since stopped pacing and I can see him playing the interview over in his head.

“Maybe…” Vee starts to speak and I raise my hand to silence her. I think she may not have liked that, but I need him to think about what he disliked about this interview while it’s fresh in his head and I need to know what his issues are with it.

“I don’t think you should have said that you went to the prison to see David squirm,” he says, “not after the guy killed himself.” I nod.

“You may be right about that,” I say. “In hindsight, there may have been a better way to express that feeling. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it at the time, so I felt that honesty was the best policy. Stumbling over my words would have given the impression that I was hiding something. I think that would have caused more damage than giving them a sound bite. It’s no secret that there’s no love lost between us for what he did to me. So, if the press uses that against me, I can honestly live with it. Can you?”

He ponders the thought carefully for a few moments, then nods.

“Yeah, I can deal with it. Anything that becomes too heavy, we have PR.” He throws a look at Vee and so do I. Vee nods once and I turn my attention back to Christian.

“Was there anything else that concerned you? Something else I should have done or said differently?” He sighs.

“A bit of warning when you’re going to alert live cameras?” he says. I raise my eyebrows.

“I thought I did,” I respond.

“May I interject?” Vee asks, a bit like a student asking permission to speak in class. Christian and I turn our attention to her. “Christian, we have to operate on the assumption that we’re always live.”

“Oy!” Christian runs his hands through his hair as the coffee service is brought into the room by Ms. Solomon. He falls onto the sofa next to me.

“Was there anything else?” I ask, looking over at my husband. He looks over into my eyes, then puts his hand on my thigh.

“Nothing else,” he says. “You handled the crowd very well.” I nod and place my hand on top of his.

“Good!” Vee begins. “Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, a few pointers for tomorrow…”

*-*

I’m in the rocking chair in the nursery and Christian has helped me situate both babies in my arms so that they can breastfeed. Gail admits that although they haven’t been a bother, they were a bit fussier than usual due to the slight nipple confusion. I must admit that my nipples were confused as well and none too happy with that damn breast pump. I’m actually relieved to have my children breastfeeding again.

“How is Sophie doing?” I ask Gail when she and I are alone in the nursery. She sighs.

“It’s hard to tell,” she says. “We talk to her every day, thank God, but I think she’s hiding something. I think she’s trying to protect her mother and in the process, she doesn’t know that she’s hurting herself.”

“What gives you that impression?”

“Just the way that she talks,” Gail says. “She’s very evasive about anything going on with Shalane. We don’t know if Shalane has left her alone anymore or not and Jason won’t ask her because he doesn’t want to put her in a position where she’ll have to lie.”

“But all of that is going to come out in the custody case,” I protest. “She has to know that.”

“I think the poor child is hoping that it’s not going to come to that,” Gail says. “My understanding is that she’s hoping that she can scare her mom back into shape—that they can hopefully be decent co-parents without having to go to court and have the whole public fight and such, but that’s not going to happen.”

“No, that never works,” I confess. “I’ve seen Shalane’s type many times. She’s bitter and spiteful and wants to use the child against him for as long as she can. She’ll never be cooperative and never have a kind word to say to or about him. Thus, they’ll never be able to co-parent.”

“I know this, but try telling that to a hopeful twelve-year-old girl,” Gail says with a sigh. I shake my head. I could never understand how any mother anywhere could feel that turning a child or using a child against their father could—in any way—be in the best interest of the child, but I see it all the time. Women scorned and angry because the men didn’t want to stay with them dangling their children in front of their faces like carrots, accusing even good fathers of being deadbeat dads because they didn’t want to remain in a relationship with the mother for whatever reason. It’s beyond me how these women can think that they’re mature enough to be mothers, but aren’t even mature enough to be women.

I tuck my two little bundles of love into their cribs after they have been fed and burped and kiss them goodnight. After assuring Gail that everything would work out for the best in the end—even though I’m not 100% sure of that myself—I go to our bedroom to turn in. Christian is awake and sitting on the edge of the bed. I crawl onto the bed on my knees behind him and kiss him on his back.

“You okay?” I ask. He sighs.

“I wish they could do this without me,” he laments. “I don’t want to see her. I don’t want to be in the same room with her. She makes me feel and think evil things.” He holds his head back and looks at the ceiling. “She makes me remember the man that I used to be—the man I hate so much.”

“Sssshh,” I say, placing my hand on his back and kissing his shoulder. “You’re a strong, good man. A loving husband and a good father… a good provider, a protector… a wonderful son, friend, and brother.” He looks over his shoulder at me. “A powerful yet gentle dominant, an obedient and grateful submissive, a masterful and attentive lover…” I caress his hair softly and kiss his temple and his eyelid. “Whatever you may have been before, you’re all these things now, and I thank God every day for that and that you’re mine.”

He takes me in his arms and kisses me passionately. I match his fervor with my own, kissing him deeply.

“You’re a miracle, do you know that?” he whispers when our lips part. “Many women tried… they tried to make me love them, tried to be everything I needed them to be. None of them could do it. They bowed and they submitted…” He closes his eyes and brushes his lips against my cheek, my lips, my face, my temple…

“They were beautiful… and submissive… obedient… they loved me. They were perfect…” He buried his face in my neck. “… But they weren’t you… none of them were you. None of them touched me like you. None of them felt like you. None of them moved me like you.” He presses me hard against him.

“There were women that I couldn’t have before,” he says, turning his nose to my hair and inhaling deeply. “I just moved to the next and forgot them… but you… I had to have you… my soul had to have you… I would have died without you.”

He clings to me, kissing my neck and chin. I hold my head back, giving him full access as I thrust my hands into his hair.

“She lost her mind,” he says sadly, laying his head against my chest. “She wanted so badly to be the one. For years, she wanted to be the one and I never knew. But it was impossible.” He raises his eyes to me again. “Because it was always you. Even before I knew, it was always you. No matter who tried… no matter who wanted it… it was you…” He lays his head on my chest again. “Always only you.” I play with his hair and sigh.

“I’ll… never keep your children from you.” He raises his head and looks at me. “No matter what happens… I’ll never be one of those women who keeps your children from you… ever!” He frowns deeply.

“What’s brought that on, baby?” he asks. I shake my head and sigh.

“I don’t know. Gail… Sophie… Shalane… I don’t know…” I shake my head as if to release the thoughts. He squeezes me tighter.

“I’ll never give you a reason,” he says softly. “I’ll never leave you or give you a reason to leave me. I’ll never give you a reason to be that woman. That will never. Be us.” I wrap my legs around him and kiss him deeply. He crawls up onto the bed and the pillows with me clinging to him like a vine. God, I love this man. I love everything that he is and everything that we are when we’re together and everything that we’ll become. He peppers sweet, sweet kisses on my lips before pulling back to speak to me.

“So… Mrs. Grey… do you want me to make love to you tonight?” He kisses me again gently on the lips. “Or do you want me to hold you…” He kisses my cheek. “… And kiss you…” He kisses the corner of my mouth. “… Until we both fall asleep?” He kisses just under my earlobe. “… Because I can be content with either one.” He kisses my lips again, then looks into my eyes. I take both hands and smooth his beautiful copper curls off his face.

“Why don’t you just… hold me…” I brush my lips against his. “… And kiss me…” I press a tender kiss to his lips. “… And we’ll just play it by ear?”

He gazes into my eyes for a moment before closing his lips deliciously over mine.

*-*

We arrive at the King County Superior Courthouse on Monday morning in matching gray tweed suits—his a three-piece flawless Anderson & Sheppard, tailor-made for his magnificent frame, with a navy blue tie, white shirt and pocket handkerchief and black Cesare Paciotti Italian leather shoes; mine a knee-length pencil skirt power suit, the jacket sporting a single row of large black buttons and a high collar, finished with jet black stockings, and leather pumps, gloves, and clutch and, of course, my signature Jackie-O’s. Flanked by Chuck, Ben, and Jason—witness for the prosecution as well as on duty—we ascend the stairs to the courthouse to the flash of several cameras, studiously ignoring questions being thrown at us as we’re not allowed to answer any. Once we get inside and past the metal detectors, we meet Al at the bank of elevators.

“I hate you two so much right now,” he says with a straight face, “No couple in the world has the right to look that pretty.” He turns around and begrudgingly punches the buttons to call the elevator and I have to fight to hold a straight face.

We pause at the door of the courtroom, my hand folded into Christian’s elbow. He swallows hard. He’s counting. Al and I both know what he’s doing, so we don’t disturb him while he prepares. I murmur a quick prayer for our strength while I’m standing next to him. He sighs heavily and trembles just a bit. I squeeze his elbow.

I’m here for you… I love you…

He looks down at me and I soften my face a bit. He closes his eyes and touches his forehead to mine for a moment. Then he straightens his back, squares his shoulders, opens the door and leads me into the courtroom.

There’s not a lot of people in the courtroom, thankfully. It looks to be only the necessary staff, a few onlookers somehow related to the case, and the district attorney. The jury, the defendant, and the judge have not entered the courtroom yet. Christian relaxes and leads me to a seat behind the prosecution.

We sit in silent contemplation as I recall the last time I was required to be in a room like this. It was to make sure that David rotted in jail for kidnapping me. Even now, it all seemed so surreal. I still can’t believe that he actually thought he would take me away and lock me in a dungeon somewhere and cause me to fall in love with him again. I can’t even believe I ever loved him at all. Heaven forbid he thought we would have kids! How could he possibly believe I could love him after being with Christian? Now he’s dead—rotting in hell with his cohort Robert Harris, and some asshole somewhere had the nerve to insinuate that I was insensitive about his death. Gimme a break!

My reminiscence is broken by the sound of a door opening off to my left. Christian and I turn simultaneously to see what has caused the slight disturbance. We’re both taken aback by what we see. The bailiff is leading the defendant into the courtroom and I almost want to get up and leave because I think we may have the wrong courtroom. She’s completely unrecognizable!

Her hair is brown, like mine, and very short. It’s curled and finger-tossed. She’s wearing very little makeup and she appears to have lost quite a bit of weight. Her skin is hanging from her face a bit and you can tell by the looks of the creases in her neck that she has missed more than a few facials and chemical peels. She’s wearing a conservative blue pants suit and very modest blue pumps. Her hands are haggard-looking and covered with liver spots. Being a convicted felon charged with attempted murder among other things, she also dons a lovely pair of silver bracelets to which only the bailiff has the key, courtesy of the Washington Department of Corrections.

She easily and rightly looks more than twice my age. I don’t know how she ever thought she could compete with me. She looks like a soccer mom… no, a soccer grandmom, nothing like the cocky dominatrix I’ve come to know. I guess several months in the clink with a bunch of angry women will do that. Her eyes immediately find me and I grimace at how unkind the year has been to her. Her eyes shoot to Christian and I hear a sound of muffled displeasure come from his direction. I look over at him and his hand is cupped over his mouth, his face contorted in disgusted disbelief.

Christian and I are both completely befuddled. Apparently, every single bit of Mrs. Lincoln’s beauty came from a bottle, a needle, or a knife. Locked behind bars with no access to her usual “beauty regimen,” for lack of a better term, she looks well beyond her years—haggard, aged, grotesque even… Elena Lincoln, the Crypt Keeper!

I look back at Christian and now, he’s scowling at her. His anger and hatred are tangible. I subtly squeeze his hand, breaking his attention and his gaze. He brings my hand to his mouth and places a gentle kiss on my fingers. I smile at him before looking back at She-Thing, who is now scowling at me. I know I shouldn’t poke at bears, but hell—the bear is in cuffs, so why not?

I turn back to Christian and look into his eyes as the jury is being led into the room. I rest my free hand gently on his chest, something that I know Elena never quite got over.

“What do you need?” I whisper gently into his ear. “Are you okay?” He covers my hand with his free hand and brings my other hand to his mouth again as he closes his eyes.

“I just need you to stay with me as long as you can,” he says, “until they make you leave for mine and Jason’s testimony.” He breathes in deeply and squeezes both hands. I squeeze back.

“I’m here baby,” I say softly, leaning my forehead on his temple. “I’m here and I’ll never be far away.” He breathes in deeply again, holds it, and releases it before nodding. He kisses my hand again before opening his eyes and focusing to the front of the room. I move my hand from his chest, but he replaces it with our clasped hands and just sits there for a moment, unmoving.

Our tenderness almost caused her to expire.

I hear her gasp and when I turn to look at her, She-Thing’s eyes grow large. Her skin has gone pale and she wobbles a bit before getting to her seat. Her attorney catches her and asks if she’s okay. Before she can answer, the judge enters the courtroom and we’re all told to rise. Christian never turns his attention back to She-Thing as she is clearly having trouble making it to her seat. By the time that she does, whatever color was left in her face is gone.

The bailiff is introducing the Judge and the defense attorney is trying to make sure that his client doesn’t faint. As the judge takes his seat on the bench, She-Thing actually looks as if she’s about to hyperventilate.

“You may be seated.” His Honor is Judge Joel Burgess, a handsome, tall, older, black gentleman with salt and pepper hair. He has a no-nonsense look about him, and I hope that means that he won’t put up with any shenanigans in his courtroom. I’m on a short leash and doing my best to hold my unpredictable, yet unadmittedly fragile husband together.

The prosecution begins his opening arguments. Mr. Duane Skinner paints and accurate picture of a woman obsessed with a handsome and successful businessman, the son of her best friend. He carefully avoids any reference to Pedo-Bitch’s prior conviction as he is unable to open the door to that information unless the defense does so first. I don’t know how they’ll be able to explain the particulars of the crime and what got us to this point in the first place without reference to Christian’s and her unholy relationship. Nonetheless, Mr. Skinner does a masterful job of illustrating how unstable, irrational, and delusional Elena became once I became a factor without revealing the fact that she had groomed him as a teenager and subsequently fell in love and became obsessed with the object of her pedophilia. Thus far, she only came off as a delusional woman scorned who couldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer and tried to kill her ex-lover.

Now comes the fairytale that is the defense. If I hadn’t been there for the entire show, I might have believed this guy—much like the presentation with Edward David. Attorney for the defense, Wyatt Underwood, contends that Mrs. Lincoln should not be held accountable for her actions because she was raised to believe that the rules never applied to her. He bases his defense on a concept of extreme entitlement—of never being taught the difference between right and wrong or how those consequences may apply to one’s life. Acute pathological narcissistic personality disorder is what he called it. I’m immediately reminded of that teenager who, just a few months ago, plowed into a group of people with his car while he was under the influence of drugs and alcohol. He killed four people and got off with probation and rehab with a trumped-up defense just like this.

They named it affluenza.

That defendant was a teenager and even though I still think his ass should fry for having taken the lives of four people, he still has the excuse of youth and inexperience. We’re talking about a predatorial 50-year-old woman here. She’s old enough to be somebody’s goddamn grandmother! How the fuck do you live on earth for fifty years and observe the cruelties that is life and not believe that there are consequences for your actions?

As a witness for the prosecution and having seen what transpired in my husband’s office, I can hardly believe that we’re even wasting the court’s time. As a mental health professional, I can hardly believe they found another mental health professional that would attest to this bullshit. As a human being and a mother, I’m frightened and appalled that this is actually being heard in a court of law and if it works, could set a precedent for psychos all across the country.


CHRISTIAN

I can barely hear anything the attorneys have said during opening arguments—the People of the State of Washington vs Elena Gabriele Lincoln. I’ve heard enough to commit names to memory:

Joel Burgess
Duane Skinner
Wyatt Underwood

Only one name seems to hold any importance right now as my blood runs so hot through my body that I can actually hear it pumping in my ears:

Elena Gabriele Lincoln…

Witch!
Shrew!
Demon!
Evil slithering incarnation from another world!

My hands sweat and I try to pay attention, focusing solely on the witness chair and trying not to lose it. I do all that I can to draw strength from Butterfly, because I’ve seen the witness list. I think Jason should go first, but I’m first—probably because I was the target and everything happened in my office. I don’t know why they won’t just show the video and let that tell the story, but I’m sure there’s a method to the madness.

I’m terrified and glad at the same time that I get to go first. I get to hear all of the testimony and I’ll get mine out of the way. Once I’ve given my testimony, I can sit in the courtroom for the rest, so this is actually a good thing… as far as anything can be good in this situation.

“Bailiff, please clear the courtroom.”

That’s my cue. I stand with my wife and my bodyguard and best friend along with the rest of our party and leave the courtroom. Al will be allowed to return as our attorney, but no one else, not even the other members of our security—not until all of us have testified.

Everyone stands outside of the courtroom waiting for them to call the first witness. I grasp my wife’s hands tightly.

“I’m the first witness,” I tell her after swallowing the lump in my throat. She frowns.

“How do you know?” she asks.

“I’ve seen the witness list. It’s what had me so distracted when you came to bed last night. I just couldn’t talk about it.” Her face changes at first and I know she has feelings about me not telling her, but then her expression softens. She puts her hand on my cheek and looks into my eyes with love and sympathy. She tries to smile, but fails miserably. It doesn’t matter; I draw my strength from her touch.

“Christian Grey,” the bailiff announces flatly from the door. I turn my face to her palm and kiss it softly.

“I love you,” I breathe.

“I love you, too,” she replies.

“Jason will next, then you,” I inform her. She nods.

“Go put that bitch back in the hellhole where she belongs.” She winks at me.

“Chris…” Al urges. I squeeze my wife’s hand once more and square my shoulders before walking back into the courtroom.

At first, I don’t look at her. I make no eye-contact with her at all. She doesn’t exist… yet. I just walk to the witness stand and take my seat. I’m asked to state my name for the record after I’m sworn in.

“Christian Trevelyan Grey.”

“Mr. Grey, can you tell us what happened in your office on the afternoon of March 19, 2013,” Skinner asks.

“I had just spoken to my wife, who wasn’t my wife yet, and invited her to a late lunch. She was shopping with her best friend for her wedding dress and was very stressed out…”

I recounted the afternoon that this sick bitch shot my best friend—her speech, my feelings, the look on Butterfly’s face, how my soul cracked thinking that our life together was ending before it even started. It’s not until I stop talking and the entire room is silent that I realize that I have given this description between clenched teeth… in my Dom voice. The jury, quite frankly, looks stunned and the Pedophile is damn-near panting. Even in this setting, she can’t control her obsession.

“Um… Mr. Grey,” Skinner finally finds his voice, “to what was Mrs. Lincoln referring when she said, ‘He’s seen his mistake, I said. Now I can have him back?’”

“Objection,” Underwood exclaims. “Mr. Grey cannot testify to what Mrs. Lincoln was thinking.”

“I’m not asking him to testify to what she was thinking. I’m asking him to testify as to what she was referring when she spoke to him. Surely, he knows what she was talking about.”

“Overruled. Mr. Grey, please answer the question.” I drop my head.

“We were once lovers… years ago,” I say. “We became friends after the intimate relationship ended… well, at least it ended for me. I can’t say if it ended for Mrs. Lincoln.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Objection!”

“Overruled! He can answer the question about his own words. Continue, Mr. Grey.”

“She wouldn’t go away. I told her that I didn’t want anything to do with her anymore. I wanted her to go away and leave me alone. I started dating my wife shortly thereafter. Mrs. Lincoln became relentless. She was everywhere. She kept showing up unannounced at my apartment, my office. She wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Even when she got into altercations with my wife, nothing stopped her from coming back.”

“Did she have any reason to believe that the two of you were still in a romantic relationship?” Skinner asks.

“None whatsoever. There were times when I knew that’s what she wanted, but I never led her to believe that we were. To clarify, our prior relationship was intimate, not romantic.” He frowns.

“Can you tell us what you mean by that?” he asks. “How can a relationship be intimate and not romantic?”

“Our relationship was purely sexual. There was no emotion involved. What I have with my wife is and always has been romantic and intimate. What I had with Mrs. Lincoln was only intimate.” She frowns at my description. Strange, really, since she’s the one that always tried to convince me that love is for fools.

“So, you and Mrs. Lincoln were not in a relationship when you met your wife?” he asks.

“When I met my wife, I still considered Mrs. Lincoln my friend. By the time I started dating my wife, she was nothing,” I clarify.

“I’m only asking this question, because I know that it’s going to come up,” he prepares me and I nod. “Did you leave Mrs. Lincoln for your current wife?”

“No,” I say without hesitation. “One, I would have had to be in a relationship with Mrs. Lincoln to leave her for my wife. Two, I’ve said it several times and I’ll say it again. I ended my friendship with Mrs. Lincoln before I decided to pursue my wife.”

“You have to admit, though, that they were very close together. It seems convenient that a close friendship that you had with a woman with whom you were once intimate ended seemingly moments before you began the relationship with the woman whom you would later marry.”

“It doesn’t matter that they were close together,” I say. “She. Was. A. Friend. Not a lover, a friend. I ended that friendship and went on with my life. I subsequently decided to pursue my wife and we began a relationship that culminated in our marriage. Mrs. Lincoln can’t accept that she wasn’t that woman, so she’s making up in her head that Anastasia stole me from her. Ana didn’t even know who she was until after we were dating. By that time, I had ended my relationship with Mrs. Lincoln. She wouldn’t accept my refusal, insisting that Ana turned me against her, and she began stalking us.”

“Objection! Mr. Grey has no idea what Mrs. Lincoln was ‘making up in her head.’” The defense objects.

“Sustained. Please strike that from the record,” the judge orders. I roll my eyes.

“Can I say that she accused Ana several times of turning me against her… in my presence?” I ask.

“Yes, Mr. Grey, that’s fine,” the judge answers and nods at the prosecutor.

“Mr. Grey, at the time of the shooting, what was the state of your—friendship—with Mrs. Lincoln?”

“We didn’t have one,” I tell him. “The last time that I had seen her was months prior when she came to my apartment building uninvited and I had made a police report. The next time I saw her, she was pointing a gun at me.” The prosecutor picks up the Beretta marked as evidence.

“Is this the gun, Mr. Grey?” he asks. I look at the weapon.

“It looks like it, yes,” I answer.

“There’s something unique about this particular firearm, isn’t it?” he says.

“Objection—leading the witness,” the defense says.

“Withdrawn. Mr. Grey, do you recognize this weapon?” he asks.

“Honestly, I don’t,” I answer.

“Is there any reason why this weapon would be of any significance to you?” he presses.

“Objection—leading.”

“I’ll allow it. Answer the question, Mr. Grey.” I sigh.

“When she was waving the gun at my wife, Mrs. Lincoln taunted her about possibly killing Ana with a bullet from Ana’s own gun. Ana had reported her Beretta stolen about a month prior.”

“Let the record show that this gun is a Beretta Px4 Storm Type F Sub-Compact handgun, the same type of gun that Mrs. Grey reported stolen in February,” he confirms. “Do you have any proof or any reason to believe that Mrs. Lincoln has taken Mrs. Grey’s gun?”

“No. When we ran the security tapes from the day of the robbery, it shows a small-framed person dressed in black and wearing a hood entering my wife’s condo and leaving a short time thereafter. We have no idea who it was and we can only assume that the gun was taken at that time because of the timing. Unfortunately, we have no proof at this time who the burglar was or if they actually took anything at that time.”

The prosecutor holds up a piece of paper and declares, “Let the record show that ballistic evidence proves that the bullet removed from Jason Taylor’s shoulder came from this firearm. Registration and ballistics also confirm that this is the firearm that was registered to and reported stolen by Anastasia Steele, now Anastasia Grey.” He places the report back on the table with the evidence. Lincoln is squirming and beginning to sweat a bit. There’s no way out of this, bitch. You are going down.

“I have no more questions for this witness at this time, Your Honor.” He takes his seat while the defense saunters over to me.

“You’re a rich and powerful man, Mr. Grey, accustomed to getting your way. No one says ‘no’ to you, do they?” Underwood begins.

“Yes, yes, and sometimes,” I respond with no emotion.

“Excuse me?” he says.

“Yes, yes, and sometimes,” I repeat.

“What does that mean?”

“What did you ask?” I respond. He sighs.

“Permission to treat the witness as hostile,” he directs towards the judge.

“It’s clear that he’s hostile, counselor. The defendant stands accused of trying to kill him. Now, please, stop antagonizing him and get on with your questioning,” the judge fires back. I find it hard not to smirk as I see some of the wind get knocked out of this fucker’s sails, but he doesn’t allow that to deter him.

“You say that Mrs. Lincoln showed up at your home and office unannounced. Wasn’t that the nature of your relationship?”

“At one time, yes,” I reply.

“But not anymore.” It’s more of a statement than a question.

“I’m sure I’ve already made that clear.”

“Why not? What happened that changed your relationship?” I knew it would happen. I knew it was coming, but I’m prepared. I’m prepared for whatever fallout there may be. This woman must be stopped.

“I’m not sure that I am allowed to say since the content has something to do with another case,” I respond.

“Are you actively part of that case, Mr. Grey?” he asks.

“No… not actively, but indirectly.”

“Then you can tell us why your relationship with Mrs. Lincoln changed so suddenly.” He smirks at me. Fine. You want it, you got it.

“I discovered that she was a pedophile and I wanted nothing else to do with her,” I say.

“You… discovered?” God, this man is really a slimy ass bastard. “How did you discover this?” I sigh.

“Mrs. Lincoln was a long-time friend of our family. During one of her visits, a member of my family revealed to me that she had come on to him when he was 14…”

“Objection! Hearsay, Your Honor.”

“You asked the man how he made his discovery and he’s telling you how he made his discovery. Objection overruled. Continue, Mr. Grey.”

“I asked Mrs. Lincoln about it, but she denied it,” I continue. “Her explanation was flawed. I considered her answer carefully, as well as our relationship, and realized that her interaction with me was pedophilia.” Many of the jury gasps. There it is. It’s out in the open. I was one of her victims. “I never wanted to accept that. I never wanted to believe that’s what it was. I actually thought that I was special. Then I find out that there were others—that she did this regularly. I wanted nothing else to do with her.”

“You sound like a scorned lover, Mr. Grey.” he says.

“Objection!” Skinner pipes in.

“Sustained. Careful, Mr. Underwood.”

“If I may, Your Honor?” I ask, looking up at him. He nods. “’Lover’ implies that I had an intimate relationship with this woman. I had not had an intimate relationship with this woman for several years. We were friends—nothing more. However, I’ll admit that I did feel a twinge of betrayal when I discovered that there were others—not because I didn’t have her all to myself, I couldn’t care less about that. I felt betrayed because she told me that she was doing this to help me—to keep me focused. She made me think that I was the only one and that she was doing this for me when the entire time, she was just fulfilling her sick lust for little boys!”

“Objection, Your Honor. Seriously?”

“Sustained. No conclusions, Mr. Grey. Stick to the facts, please.” I nod.

“The fact is that she molested me for several years and told me that she was doing it to save me. I was a troubled teenager, just like her other victims….”

“Objection!” I put up my hands.

“I’m sorry. I’ll rephrase that. I was a troubled teenager and I will admit that what she did help to put me on the right track. It diverted my focus away from my then-destructive behavior, but what she was doing to me wasn’t any less destructive.”

“And here you are now, a wealthy, successful businessman, and you want the court to believe that this woman damaged you? Abused you?” he accuses.

“Yes, I do,” I answer flatly.

“Yet, you stayed friends with her for ten more years after you became an adult.”

“She helped me with my business and I subsequently help her with hers.”

“Oh, so the is the reason for your success!” he shoots.

“No, she’s not!” I hiss. “She gave me a loan, which I repaid. I built my company on my back, with my own blood, sweat, and tears. My success is in spite of her, not because of her. All she has ever done for me is plant moles in my company, molest me, break my family’s heart, and try to kill me!”

“Your Honor!” the defense barks.

“Mr. Grey, control yourself!” The judge instructs.

“He shouldn’t ask me the questions if he doesn’t want the answers!” I bark. “I’m going to give you the truth, not some dressed-up version of it that’s going to suit her needs! Yes, I was her victim! Yes, she cuffed me, beat me, and had sex with me in her dungeon just like she did those other boys. Yes, she lent me money to start my business and did everything that she could to control my life afterwards. Yes, I discovered that she was a full-on pedophile when my brother revealed that she had propositioned him three years before she propositioned me. Yes, I was angry and disgusted when I realized that I wasn’t the only one and that what she did to me really was twisted and illegal and I wanted nothing more to do with her. Yes, I ended my friendship with her and very shortly thereafter, began to date my wife.

“She terrorized us for so long and so relentlessly that we had to get a restraining order against her, which did no good as she kept returning to my apartment, kept showing up in locations where she knew we would be, kept showing up at my office. She even crashed my father-in-law’s wedding on New Year’s Eve! I am not drawing conclusions for the court, but her behavior was obsessive—I can’t shake her no matter what I do. When I finally cut her out of my life completely and thought she was gone forever, she comes back and tries to kill me telling me that we will be together in the afterlife. If it weren’t for my bodyguard and best friend, she would have succeeded. I don’t have anything nice to say about her. I’m not going to paint a pretty picture of her and anything that you ask me is going to reveal that!” He pauses for a moment.

“You really hate this woman, don’t you?” he asks.

“She tried to kill me… after she terrorized and molested me. What do you think?”

“I’m not asking what I think. I’m asking if you hate this woman.”

“Passionately,” I say without a pause.

“And you would do anything to see her in jail, wouldn’t you?”

“Within the law and the truth, yes, I would.” I answer honestly, again without a pause.

“Including lie on the witness stand?” he asks. I lean forward.

“Did you miss the part where I just said ‘within the law and the truth’ or are you deliberately ignoring it?” His face falls just a bit. He did miss it. “You were doing better with those ridiculous objections. I know you have a little plan laid out here, but try to listen. It’ll serve more to help you defend your pedophile, murderer client there if you do.”

“Mr. Grey, you’re very close to being held in contempt,” the judge declares.

“My apologies, Your Honor,” I say. I sit back in my chair and cross my ankle over my knee, folding my hands in my lap. Your move, Asshole.

“So, you would definitely say that Mrs. Lincoln didn’t take your break-up well?” he continues. Nice try.

“Our break-up was many years ago and quite amicable. The dissolution of our friendship was less so. I assume that’s to what you were referring. Please feel free to object if I’m wrong.” His eyes narrow. I’m on to you and I won’t fall into one of your holes.

“You have said many times—in police records and in conversation as I understand—that Mrs. Lincoln is sick, twisted, and crazy. Do you really believe that?” Answer this carefully, Grey.

“Sick and twisted—yes. Crazy, only to the degree that she thought she could get away with this,” I say.

“Aren’t they the same thing, though, Mr. Grey?”

“I’m sorry, counselor. You have me confused with Mrs. Grey. She’s the shrink, not me.” A small chuckle that I truly didn’t expect comes from the direction of the jury.

“But you said yourself that she acted as if she was obsessed.”

“From a layman’s point of view, she did and she does, but will my testimony prove that she’s supposedly insane?” I shrug one shoulder, noncommittal. He’s seeing his defense fall apart so he pulls his last trump.

“Mrs. Lincoln reveals that you and she practice the same lifestyle. Is that true?”

“Number one, I am not a fucking pedophile—so no, that’s not true!” I put my hand up before the judge can reprimand me. “I’m sorry, it slipped.” He narrows his eyes and purses his lips, but acknowledges my apology. “Number two, I refuse to answer any questions about my personal life that have nothing to do with this trial. It is none of your business or anyone else’s. I am a very private person and I’m not going to drag my personal life or that of my wife, my family, or my business out to display simply because that woman is on trial for her crimes. I take my privacy and the well-being of my family very. Very. Seriously.” I glare at him without blinking, hoping that I relay to him that he may become famous because of this trial, but if he takes me down with that pedophile, he’ll be a substitute civics teacher in some high school in Toad Suck, Arkansas before the month ends.

I think he got the picture.

“No further questions at this time, Your Honor,” he says before walking back to his seat. I look expectantly at the judge.

“You may step down, Mr. Grey,” he says. I leap from my seat and head to the door. Looking from left to right, I see her come from a door a few feet down the hall. My feet can’t move fast enough as I watch her bolting towards me, her arms extended. I vaguely see flashes, but I don’t care right now—I have to get to her. She launches herself into my arms and I pull her close to me.

“Hold me,” I say, burying my face in her hair. “Please, hold me…”

“Are you okay?” she asks, thrusting her fingers into my hair. Pulling my lips down to hers, she kisses me repeatedly. “I so wanted to be there for you. I hope you know that.”

“I know, Baby. You were. You are. I love you so much.”

“I love you, too.” She wraps her arms around my neck and squeezes me tight.

“Sir,” Jason interrupts us. “They’re calling me to the stand, Sir.” I look up at him and nod, then look down at Butterfly.

“Are you okay?” I ask, stroking her cheek.

“Yes,” she says softly while caressing my hair. “Are you?” I nod, and touch my forehead to hers, taking one moment to thank God that she is in my life. I bring both of her hands to my lips and kiss them gently. “You can’t be in the room for Jason’s testimony either…”

“I know,” she says with her eyes closed. “I’ll be here when you’re done.” She gives me a warm smile.

“Sir…” Jason is more urgent.

“I’m coming,” I say without taking my eyes off her. I hold her hand until the last possible moment before going back into the courtroom with Jason.


A/N: The last time I made an assumption that everybody knew what something was, somebody blessed me the fuck out, so…

“Et tu, Brute?”—from the Shakespearean play Julius Caesar. Brutus was Caesar’s friend and part of the conspiracy to kill him. When Caesar was being stabbed to death by multiple assailants, he couldn’t believe that he was being betrayed. As he’s being killed, he sees Brutus—his best friend—coming at him with a knife, too. Before he dies, he looks at his friend in disbelief and mutters these three words, which translate into “You, too, Brutus?” (literally into “And you, Brutus”).

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Love and handcuffs  
Lynn X