Fifty Shades Golden: Chapter 12

Golden hasn’t died. She’s just been asleep for a while. The Muse will update as she feels inspired.

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

Explicit details of sex and BDSM scenes from here on out. Some may be hot while others may not be to your taste… and not necessarily CG with Ana together. Proceed at your own discretion, but don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

Fifty Shades Golden

Chapter 12

ericdane

TREY

I’m puffing and panting, trying to get air in and after a few moments of a reprieve, she has latched back onto my dick.

Goddammitmotherfuckinghellshitballsoffire!

I squeeze my eyes closed and hold my breath. Just a few minutes of this sensitivity and I’ll be ready to go again, just a few minutes… a few minutes…

“Well, that doesn’t look like the face of pleasure,” Golden’s voice says breaking through my concentration, “or even of pleasurable pain.”

What do I say? It’s not.

“No, Mistress,” I say in all honesty.

“So, why didn’t you safeword?” she asks, a bit perturbed.

“Because it wasn’t painful,” I admit. “Just uncomfortable.” She examines me for a few moments, then raises her brow at me.

“You’re multi-orgasmic,” she deduces. How the fuck…?

“Yes…” I respond slowly. She nods.

“Most of my clients are multi-orgasmic,” she says, now fondling my dick gently, a much more pleasant feeling, “but you all get to your… second coming… a little differently.” Shit, it almost feels like she’s tickling me.

“We’re still getting to know each other, Chopper,” she coos. “It’s only our second scene. You’ll have to be more forthcoming with what doesn’t please you.” She grabs the cockring and yanks it. I grunt loudly. That shit hurt.

“Yes, Mistress,” I croak, assuming that was some sort of punishment. I feel her hands on my dick again—they’re oily this time—and my cock is somewhat flaccid. She yanks again. Fuck! And again! Fucking hell! And a third time and…

Pop!

My balls are free. The cockring is still at the base of my shaft, but my balls are free. A gentle hand cups my tender testicles and roll them back and forth in the oily palm. God, that feels good—not erotic…yet, but soothing. I almost fucking purr. The blood flow to my dick is restricted and now, it’s involuntarily getting hard again, even though it was bound to happen with her ass still in my face and her soft hand still down there cupping my balls. I bite my lip to suppress a moan.

“There,” she says. “That’s more like it.” What she’s really saying is, “I so own you,” because she knows, right now, she does.

That soothing feeling on my balls is slowly beginning to become arousing, and I’m resenting being strapped down to this table. I want to grind my hips into her hand and feel some friction on the skin of my dick to match the soothing, aching, taunting of my balls. I close my eyes and try to focus on relaxing, but even with my eyes closed, I’m seeing her naked ass behind my eyelids… and I’m thinking about fucking it… something I’ll probably never have. Why am I torturing myself this way? Why am I letting her tortu…

Fuck! What the fuck is that?

I feel something at the head of my dick that feels like fresh pussy. My eyes jolt open, because I’m sure I still feel her hand on my cock. What the fuck?

Her ass is still in my face, so I know it’s not her pussy. Dammit.

It’s not her mouth. I know what her mouth feels like. Only after two scenes, I can pick that mouth out of a crowd. You can line up ten women and tell them to suck my dick, and I would know which one was Golden without even looking. I just ought to; every time she sucked my dick, I was blindfolded.

So, this ain’t her mouth.

What the fuck is it, then?

She holds my now very stiff dick in one hand and pushes the head of it inside of this thing… slowly… tightly… fuck!

It’s a Fleshlight.

Let me explain the dynamics of a Fleshlight. I have a Fleshlight. I’ve used a Fleshlight more than once. It’s not something that I would use on a regular basis, mostly because pussy is plentiful in my life and I don’t really need to, but when I was first discovering just how powerful my sex drive really was, most of my girlfriends couldn’t keep up with me.

Enter Fleshlight.

Fleshlight will spoil you for women. Why? Because fucking Fleshlight is almost like fucking a virgin every time. Granted, you don’t get the thrill of holding a woman, slapping an ass, kissing, and all the other perks that come with fucking a warm body, but if you’re looking for the ultimate nut and that’s it, Fleshlight is definitely the way to go. It can come with the opening to pussy lips, an asshole, a mouth, or ass cheeks and the inner texture can be smooth, ribbed, bumpy, swirly, you name it. If you spend your money on the real thing and not the knock-offs, every time you stick your dick in Fleshlight, that fucker is tight.

Every. Single. Time.

So, if you fuck it all night long, it’s tight while you’re in it. Then if you pull your dick out and stick it back in, you still get that first entry feeling every time—you know, that feeling when you’ve been away from your girl for a while and you’re about to tear the walls down and that pussy is so tight that you have to work your way into it, and she grimaces while you’re doing it? Yeah, Fleshlight is like that every time.

Every. Single. Fucking. Time.

So, imagine having this Temptress of Torture with your dick in one hand and the real thing Fleshlight in the other working your cock over like the master that she is. I nearly lose my fucking mind. She’s got one hand guiding my dick and the other controlling the Fleshlight. Her torment begins by rolling the head around the mouth of this thing, and I think this opening is an asshole. Life-like, fleshy, silicon massaging the head of my dick. I can feel my body trembling.

Next, instead of pushing the Fleshlight down on my dick, she uses her hand to push my dick up into the Fleshlight. First entry… tight as fuck…

“Uuummmph!”

It’s nearly fucking unbearable. She pushes and pulls my dick and I’m fucking this Fleshlight, wanting to climb the hell off this comfortable ass table, but completely immobilized and unable to move. Just a few tormenting strokes and she pulls my cock out of the Fleshlight. Fucking hell! My dick is fucking aching now. She gives it no reprieve from her gentle hands and I’m licking my lips, trying to soothe the dryness in my mouth. This is inhumane!

That damn thing is on my head again, massaging like first entry, and then…

“Uummmpppphh!”

First entry again. It’s so fucking tight, squeezing and caressing the head of my dick again. If I could move, my back would be arching right now. The head of my dick fucks this Fleshlight for several minutes until my cock is hot and hard and very, very excited.

She repeats this torment several times—the Fleshlight edging me, my cock fucking the Fleshlight, a long and slow stroke that leaves me gagging to come. Each agonizingly slow pull threatens to have my cock blow its load any second. I’ll never look at a Fleshlight again the same way as long as I live!

I’m clawing at the leather by the time she releases my dick this time, I won’t make it through another ruined orgasm like that.

Ruined orgasms. Fuck! Is that what she’s doing?

That new entry hits my dick again and the feeling is nearly excruciating. She knows exactly what she’s doing, and the tension has the rest of my body so tight and wracked with pain that I don’t think I’ll survive another entry, but first, I have to survive this fucking edging.

“Fuck!” I whisper. I can’t help it. My body aches and my cock is on fire.

“Did you say something, Chopper?” she taunts, but my mouth won’t work now. I can’t open my eyes right now as they are locked shut along with my gritting teeth and clenching jaw. My dick is on its own now. None of my muscles are listening to me. I’m at their mercy. Just when my balls are about to give up the fight, she pulls that fucker off the head of my dick. The opening caresses the tender frenulum, and I’m certain that she got a little jizz with that move.

“Fuck!” I grunt out again between grinding teeth. I think she’s scolding me… or something… but I can’t hear her. I can only hear the blood rushing through my ears; I can hear the sweat bursting from every pore and rolling down my body to the soft leather table, to my balls, in my face to my eyes; I can hear my muscles flexing and contracting each time that fucking portable asshole tortures my dick; I can hear my balls screaming for release and cursing me every second for subjecting them to this treatment…

But I can’t hear Golden.

First entry comes again, and I groan mournfully, unable to take even the slightest touch, and she knows it. She knows the man’s body too fucking well, because she knows exactly when you’re about to come. She holds the Fleshlight still—tight on my dick. I feel my shaft throbbing inside of it—not coming, just throbbing. I can hear my ragged breathing, feel my pulse accelerate, and I can still hear my blood, sweat, and muscles, too.

She just stays there for a few moments while my cock throbs and my balls tighten. I’m completely out of control of this situation, and she’s going to make me suffer. Maybe this is my punishment for speaking.

I’m ready to tap out.

Just as my muscles begin to relax only a bit, she pulls that fucking Fleshlight, and my body is alight again. Fuck punishment.

“Aaaww, shit,” I groan, somewhat resigned to my fate, but not liking it one bit. I’ve never had to come so bad that my body hurt. I’ve chased an orgasm before until I ached from the workout, but never this. When the Fleshlight starts to move again, I almost want to cry. I’m ready for this to stop, now. I’ve never been denied an orgasm and I’m certain that I don’t like it—the tightening of the muscles in my back, my balls feeling like they’re going to explode, and my dick as hard as a sausage about to burst from its skin, burning and aching so badly that…

“Aahh! Aahh! Aaaaaaahhhh shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!”

She has pulled the Fleshlight off my dick now, but her mouth is stroking up and down over the skin of my frenulum while her tongue massages the tender, sensitive bundle of nerves. I’m exploding fantastically—painful jolts coursing through my cock as that powerful mass of muscle at the base of my balls pushes stream after hot stream of cum from my dick. I can’t see it; I don’t have to. I can feel every painfully pleasurable contraction, each one several seconds long. If nothing is coming out of my dick, it just ought to be, and I can’t open my eyes even if I wanted to.

She gives my dick that fantastic oral massage until the very last contraction, and I’m sure that she has emptied my scrotum for days to come! I’m choking on air, trying to get precious breath into my lungs. I can’t. I can’t concentrate on this one simple thing… breathing.

“Settle down, Chopper,” a soft, seductive voice says to me. “Relax. In through your nose, out through your mouth…”

I follow the instructions of the goddess’s voice, afraid that I’ll suffocate if I don’t. In through my nose, out through my mouth….

I feel the restraints release from my ankles. For some reason, that calms me a bit… and saddens me at the same time.

In through my nose, out through my mouth…

I can feel my muscles relaxing and my thoughts coming together now. Focus, Grey.

In through my nose, out through my mouth…

The restraints release from my wrists and I breathe a deep sigh of relief. I also lament the release a bit, because I know that our scene is over.

“Take all the time you need,” she coos. “I’ll see you upstairs…”

I don’t think I’ve fallen asleep, but I’ve clearly lost a little time. What the hell happened? I know she talked about transcending, but this was ridiculous.

I slowly lift my exhausted body from the table, first turning onto my side, then rolling onto my ass—still painful from playtime. That’s going to sting longer than the last one did.

God, I came so hard that I have to check under the table to see if brain matter is left down there.

Not even my cum. Did she cover the floor with something? Did she clean before she went upstairs? That’s not likely.

“Did she swallow?” I ask no one. That would have been impossible. Her mouth was sideways on my frenulum until my orgasm stopped. I know I came… good God, did I come! So, where’s the evidence?

My shaky legs carry me over to the valet where I retrieve my clothes and haphazardly get dressed. I was wrong—my dick and balls are tender, light, and so empty that she can do this to me anytime! I drag my ass up the stairs and Mr. Belvedere is just beyond the door, as usual. That creeps me the fuck out.

“Do you need anything?” he asks again and waits for instructions.

“Where is she?” I ask. “Why is she never here when I come upstairs?” Belvedere doesn’t react to my question.

“The lady’s visitors usually understand that any aftercare would be administered by me,” he says. “I’m a licensed home health care professional able to tend to any surface or subcutaneous wounds that do not require immediate medical attention. I understand that a level of trust and familiarity is required to allow a stranger—much less, another man—to administer your aftercare, in which case, you can feel free to employ someone else to do so at your discretion.”

That’s his subtle way of saying that I can forget about getting the Golden treatment for my aftercare.

“Did you…?” I don’t even know how to ask this question. “Did you come down there… after…?” His brow furrows, but his mask is soon impassive again.

“No,” he replies. “I don’t enter the dungeon until it’s empty.”

Then what the hell happened to my cum?

“Where is she?” I repeat my question.

“The parlor,” he says, gesturing in that direction. I don’t entertain his company anymore. I head straight for the parlor. I can hear music as usual. She’s listening to her revolutionary. I don’t know the song, but I know his voice. Is he all she listens to, or is this what she listens to after a scene? This song almost sounds like a love song. His voice is mellow and he’s talking about wanting to be with someone, then a woman’s voice comes in talking about having faith. It hardly sounds like the revolutionary she described.

I noticed his lyrics often talk about destiny, but he drags the word out… like “destineeeee.” What’s that all about?

It’s this moment that I realize that she’s wearing that same golden dress that I dry-humped her in. Hmmm…

“Are you coming in or are you just going to lurk there in the doorway?”

Jesus! Her voice startles me. What the fuck is going on with me tonight? It was just an orgasm, for fucks sake.

“I was listening to your revolutionary,” I admit. “That doesn’t sound like what I would expect from him.”

“That’s a sign of true genius,” she says, impassively. “They can change up seamlessly and still make good music. Sit.” She gestures to the sofa and turns to the bar. It’s amazing to me that she assumes that I can sit after one of our scenes. She makes a drink and when she turns around, I’m still standing.

“Rebellious man, aren’t you?” she says, holding a mixed drink of dark liquor. That’s odd for her. She’s a vodka drinker.

“Tell me, Mistress,” I begin, “just how many of your clients can sit after a scene?” She twists her lips.

“Point taken,” she says, “but more than you think. Many of them accept the aftercare.” I nod.

“And of those, how many are Dominants?” I inquire. She raises an eyebrow at me.

“It may surprise you to know that you’re not my only dominant personality, Chopper,” she informs me. “They may not all be Dominants in the playroom sense, but when it comes to being in charge, I have a few that can give you a real run for your money.” She hands me the drink. There’s a switch. The drink is for me. She made me a drink… she wants something.

“Are you going to let my arm fall off?” she chides. I take the drink from her and sip. Jack and Coke. Did she watch me? Did Belvedere tell her? What does she want?

“You’re right,” she says, and I’m wondering what she’s talking about. “I want something from you.”

Fuck, am I that transparent?

“You need to sit, because I want to sit and I’m not accustomed to people standing over me.” She gestures to the sofa again. “The cushions are memory foam—for just such an occasion as this.”

Well… okay.

I sit on the sofa. It hurts, of course, but then the cushion melds to my form and it doesn’t hurt so much. Why didn’t I notice this when I sat on this sofa before?

“I want information,” she says, taking a seat on the sofa across from me. Her revolutionary begins talking about belief in a higher power and she begins her questioning. “I know that you said Elena asked you to help her when her businesses were failing. I need you to give me more details on the matter.”

Okay, where the hell is this going?

“Exactly what details to you need?” I ask. “She wanted help, I refused. I didn’t consider us to be friends anymore and I owed her nothing. I was appalled and offended that she had the audacity to come to me in the first place.”

“Why would she think you had something to do with her demise?” She presses.

“Why are you so curious about this?” I ask. Her brow furrows.

“Why are you so evasive?” She retorts.

“I’m not evasive. There’s nothing to tell.” She examines me carefully, then her face changes.

“Oh, my God,” she says, her hand moving to her cheek. “You did do something to her, or you at least had something to do with her business failing.” How could she possibly know that?

“I never said…”

“You can’t bullshit a bullshitter, Trey!” she snaps, rising from her seat. “I can soft-shoe with the best of them, in and out of the courtroom! Why do you think I’m so fucking good at what I do, in and out of the courtroom?” She walks away from the sofa and begins pacing around her parlor.

“Look, Elena is the reason for her own destruction,” I press, and it’s the truth. “She’s too goddamn cocky and that’s what caused her demise.”

“Tell me what the hell you did, Trey,” Goldie insists.

“Tell me what this is all about,” I retort. I’m not giving her any information until she gives me some first.

“Goddammit, this is not some boardroom positioning game!” she yells, spinning around on me. “This is my fucking life! This woman broke your goddamn arm and now, she’s coming at me with her talons drawn and I don’t even know what the fuck I’m up against. Now, you give me full fucking disclosure right now or I’ll use my resources and find what I need on my own, and you can get the fuck out of my house and never darken my goddamn door again!”

Dammit to hell, I thought I was a Dominant until this moment. Her tone, the firmness in her voice, and the thought of leaving this house and never seeing her again would have me confessing to the Kennedy assassination.

“I. Did not. Destroy. Elena’s. Business.” I say firmly. “I will admit to one rumor. One rumor. Her demise after that was all her own doing.”

Goldie examines me further, then comes back to the sofa and sits across from me.

“Full disclosure,” she says again, crossing her arms and legs while glaring at me expecting.

“I’ll give you full disclosure, but that leaves me wide open. You have to give me something, too. That’s only fair… Mistress.” She played that card on me and she knows she did, so I’m playing it back.

“Fine, but you give me full disclosure first,” she retorts, quickly without flinching. She’s not going to back down from this. I throw my drink back and put the glass on the end table.

“A long time ago, right after I got into the lifestyle, Elena and I used to have a thing,” I begin. “We fucked a few times and that was it.” I raise my eyes to Goldie. Her gaze is impassive.

“Go on,” she says, giving nothing away.

“We stayed friends,” I continue, “fucked once in a while, shared submissives, but the sexual part of the relationship just faded. She tried to get it back every now and then, but it never happened.”

“How long?” I look at her again. “The last time, how long ago was it?” I strain to think, then shrug.

“Four or five years, maybe, I don’t know exactly.” She nods.

“Continue,” she demands.  I clear my throat, more than a little miffed that she’s ordering me around outside the dungeon… not that she orders me around inside the dungeon. Nonetheless…

“She did challenge me to get you,” I say. “She knew that I would never have you the way that I wanted and she taunted me about it. The more she taunted me, the more I wanted you. The more she told me that I would never have you, the more determined I became to get you. You became an obsession, but you already knew that. You drove me out of my mind and you weren’t even there…”

I’m straying from the story.

“Anyway, the day you shot at me, I should have become discouraged, but I wasn’t. I just wanted you more. The whole series of events that followed that is why Madame Petra is so convinced that I solely orchestrated her downfall.” I pause.

“I’m listening,” Goldie says, and I continue.

“I saw her the day after you and I shared our… first orgasm,” I say. “That’s when she told me about the guy who raped you.”

“He didn’t rape me,” she hisses. “Rape indicates a violent act—some poor waif getting held down, beaten, and some asshole tearing into her while she cries and begs him to stop. That’s not what happened to me. I said, ‘no,’ he forcefully persisted.  He was stronger than me, so I stopped resisting. You can’t very well be a Domme with your face beaten all to hell because some asshole wanted some pussy and you refused. When he was done taking what didn’t belong to him, I made sure that he fucking well wasn’t ever going to do it again. So, while I understand the concept of ‘no means no,’ and the rape laws are what kept me out of jail, I wasn’t raped—I was robbed. He took my body without my permission, so I took his fucking legs.”

Ooookay. Well, I won’t get into the logistics of that with the counselor. The details are still the same.

“Um, okay. So, when she told me about the incident with the gun, I became enraged and ended our friendship. Then I spread one rumor to a submissive or three that her salon had a bedbug infestation. It gave women the heebie-jeebies and that was enough to alert the health department to go check her out. They found nothing, but it did no good. Her reputation was already on a downward spiral.” Goldie examines me with narrowed eyes.

“That’s it?” she questions. “There’s nothing else?” I shake my head.

“There’s nothing else,” I confirm. “Rumors happen all the time. Restaurants get bad grades from the health department, close up shop, clean things up and reopen for business. They don’t shut down. She was so busy with the ‘deny’ game that she didn’t bother with any kind of damage control. That’s why her businesses failed—not because of me.”

“You’re telling me that the entire fall of the Salons to the Elite was an imaginary bedbug problem?” she asks in disbelief. Before I can nod, she speaks again. “Things are starting to make sense now, but that doesn’t explain the broken arm. How did she figure out that it was you?”

“She put two and two together,” I admit. “I still denied the whole thing, but she wasn’t deterred. She’s totally convinced that I had something to do with it, but she doesn’t know what. She came to ask me for help and I refused. Somehow, at that moment, she knew. She launched a potted plant at me and I put my arm up to shield my face. The rest is history.” Goldie shakes her head.

“With a good ad campaign and a few strategically placed testimonials, she could’ve avoided all of this. Yet, she’s trying to find scapegoats…” Goldie is up and pacing again. “While she rightly has you penned for whatever role you played in this, she now has her claws pointed at me.” I frown.

“What?” I ask confused.

“Once she discovered that we’re engaging, I became your partner-in-crime in her downfall.”

“How did she find out that we’re… engaging?” I ask. I sure as hell don’t talk to her ass anymore.

“I told her,” Goldie says. “And you know that if you two were still friends, you would have told her, too. So, don’t judge me.”

Well, she got me dead to rights there.

“Her hope was that you would dethrone me, for lack of a better word, so I called to gloat, that I had you and we had reached an agreement, and that I was still sitting on the throne. She flipped out. Started calling me names, declaring that we were in this together all along, threatening me… It probably didn’t help that I stopped going to her salons shortly before the rumor circulated.”

“Well, I certainly wasn’t trying to implicate you in all of this. Hell, I thought we’d never see each other again.” She raises and eyebrow at me.

“That’s why you kept that necklace for six months?” she inquires. “Or found another one just like it.” Dammit to hell!

“I’ve asked myself the same question,” I admit.

“Whatever the case may be, I could give a fuck less what goes on with her. Nobody died, but she’s convinced that I’m in on it and now she and her psycho husband have their sights set on me!”

Wait… what?

“What are you talking about? What do you mean she and her psycho husband?”

“Yeah, I had the displeasure of meeting that freaky frosted fuck at the Civil Community Fundraiser a couple of weeks ago. She thinks I have something to do with whatever it is that you did. I’m sure she’s told him about it, too. No doubt, they’ve had lovely conversations about me. Why do you think Jesse is following me around? Did you think I just suddenly found the need to hire a bodyguard?”

“But why the fuck would Linc care? Yeah, he’s probably pissed about the businesses, but not enough to come after you, I wouldn’t think…”

“Oh, no, I think that may have had something to do with you. At least in the beginning, I’m sure it did. He made a huge display of referring to me as your ‘new piece of ass’—in front of Senator Earnhart, I might add, and probably to several other attendees of the fundraiser until I threatened him with a lawsuit. From there, he cornered me on the smoker’s balcony in the goddamn cold and proceeded to feel me out to be his own concubine. When I was less than receptive to his advances, he assaulted me by blowing smoke directly in my face.”

I feel my blood pressure rising. Linc actually went after her because he thought she was with me. Then, when he found out that she wasn’t, he actually went after her—aggressively! I don’t know which of those pisses me off the most. He’s calling me out. I don’t know why, but he is. He hasn’t had enough of Christian Grey making a fool of him, I see. I guess I’ll have to give that platinum-headed pencil-dick what he’s asking for.

“That fucking asshole,” I say out loud. “Me and Linc, it’s personal, Golden.”

“Personal in that you were fucking his wife?” she asks coolly. My mouth forms a thin line.

“He never knew,” I tell her. “He suspected, but he never found out…”

“But he did know, Trey,” she retorts. “You don’t have to see someone’s dick in your wife’s pussy to know they’re fucking, and he knew. So, what did he do?”

“The only thing he could. He started a rumor. Had the press knocking at my door.”

“Well, like you said, damage control could have taken care of that…”

“I didn’t need damage control,” I reply. “A well-placed ‘What the fuck are you talking about’ here and a ‘What the hell do I look like to you’ there was enough to throw those dogs off the scent, especially since our sexual relationship was headed downhill by that time anyway.”

“That’s damage control, Chopper,” she says, and there’s that fucking name again. “And what did you do after that?”

“I facilitated the closing and/or acquisition of seven of his subsidiaries. Three of them were crucial to his business.” She nods.

“And that’s why it’s personal,” she says, “why he’s after me. I’m an acquisition… or so he thinks.” I raise my brow at her. “He found out the hard way that it doesn’t really do to fool with me, and I didn’t even have to draw my firearm.”

Draw her firearm… that leaves me a bit uncomfortable.


Briana Evigan Ch 12 small

GOLDEN

That dick has had all it can take right about now. I can’t even describe the angry throbbing and pulsing each time I swirl that head around the opening of the Fleshlight and push it in, not to mention the shivering and painful groans Chopper emits with each new entry, each slow and agonizing stroke, and each teasing withdrawal. He’s going to come like a fucking rocket. And as soon as I see that tension just under his balls and at the base of his dick, I pull that Fleshlight off and…

“Aahh! Aahh! Aaaaaaahhhh shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!”

I wrap my mouth sideways around that dick and frenulum and tickle and manipulate ferociously, and there’s my 21-gun salute—no disrespect intended. He’s shooting off long, impressive streams of hot white passion, making me glad that I remembered to put a disposable lining on the floor before the fireworks began. I wouldn’t want to clean it up and I just feel funny leaving it for Blake to do, even though I know that he would. But damn, the release is so hard that he could put somebody’s eye out!

I continue to manipulate and watching the magnificent show out of my peripheral. God, I wouldn’t have missed that for the world. I stroke and suck and lick until the long, purposeful, concentrated streams become short, forced spurts, and then oozing drips squeezing the last iotas of pleasure from his body and balls.

His orgasm was massive, and I have to coach him to breathe properly so that he doesn’t hyperventilate. I know he’ll most likely have a short period of incoherence once he catches his breath since I still have him strapped down, and he’s in the perfect position for sleep. He came so fucking hard that I’m certain that the massive release of prolactin, oxytocin, and melatonin he’ll feel in about 20 seconds will have him loopy and punch-drunk as fuck. So, after I release his binds and see his body relaxing into total submission, I whisper, “Take all the time you need. I’ll see you upstairs.”

I don’t even know if he heard me. His body has sunk into the soft leather of the table and he’s floating somewhere in the cosmos in a state of semi-consciousness that grasps every man after he’s had an orgasm… well, almost every man.

I quietly slide the floor cover from under the table, roll it up, and dispose of it, quickly cleaning the spots where Mr. Impressive shot his load too far and missed the cover. God, that dick is something else and should be registered as dangerous with the ATF!

I dressed a bit for his fantasy. He didn’t fool me one bit with this necklace. He’s a Domme and this has “collar” written all over it. He knows I’ll never be his submissive, but to make him come so hard while I’m wearing it that he thinks he shot pieces of his brain out of his dick, so much so that he has to lie helpless on the table until his muscles regain some of their strength—yeah, that’s about as close to the fantasy as he’s going to get…

Lying there, face down on my submissive table. From where I’m standing, I can see his body rise and fall from the regulated breathing that comes right at the point of subconscious relaxation. It’s that point where a man would normally fall asleep right after sex, but he has the proverbial “one eye open” because he’s in a place where he knows he can’t stay. I can also see the pink and red welts on his back from the one tool I used tonight—my flogger. Masterful, artistic stripes adorn his back and ass, and for him not to be a submissive, he achieved subspace at least three times in the process.

Last, but certainly not least, I can see his dick—flaccid from a severely intense orgasm but hanging impressively through the hole in the table nonetheless. I lick my lips looking at it, thinking about it…

And totally forget where I am.

He talks about me teasing men with my body and my charms—that thing is enough to dicktimize any woman alive. Elena was right in using him to try to get me to heel. If he fucked me with that tool, I’d be completely ruined.

It’s not that it’s the biggest I’ve ever seen. He’s well-endowed, but I’ve seen bigger. I have one client who’s so big that I wouldn’t allow him anywhere near my pussy with that wall of meat even if I was into fucking. But Chopper, that piece of meat is beautiful, and the way he responds, and it responds when he’s aroused… good God. To call it a masterpiece is a massive understatement.

I shake myself out of my inner musings, wrap my body in golden silk, and ascend the stairs. I was wearing something different when he arrived. He’s sure to recognize this dress when he sees it. With a nod to Blake, I go to my parlor and pour myself a drink. I’m in the mood for something mellow, but it has to be Pac. My endorphins and hormones are always on the wild when I’m done with a scene, even if I come. That’s why I need a few moments of silence with a vodka and a lollipop at the clubs. People think it’s all part of this untouchable image that I portray, but it’s not. It’s the equivalent of what Trey is doing down there on my table right now—regrouping; basking in the splendor of the moment and slowly coming down from a high. That’s why I don’t want to be disturbed when I go to my table, but someone invariably does, anyway. It’s the nature of the beast.

Here at home, in my parlor, it’s vodka and Tupac—any Tupac. He speaks to the rebel and the poet in me. He was so misunderstood because of the genre of music he chose to record. Only those of us who peeled back his layers and truly saw what was underneath—the activist, the philosopher, the poet, the revolutionary—could even understand his struggle or what he was trying to accomplish in his short life.

I choose a playlist that I always considered Tupac’s love songs, even though none of his music was… is particularly romantic in any way. As my mind and body descends from its hormone-induced high, a million thoughts swirl through my head and I have to try to narrow my thinking down to one or two. The two most prevalent thoughts right now—Trey’s dick… and Elena and her frosted phantom husband.

Talk about different ends of the spectrum.

I haven’t heard anything from the blonde bitch or her white-haired counterpart since the party, but the truth is that I’ve never truly faced her has a nemesis, so I have no idea what to expect. Her husband is so fucking transparent that he doesn’t scare me. The tidbits that Mrs. Lincoln likes to drop, however, can be more dangerous than anything that he could do to me and I need more information on what I’m up against, because I’m ready to go balls to the walls with this bitch if I must.

And I’m getting the feeling that I must.

She’s too damn quiet, and I don’t trust her.

I feel him before I see him, and I turn around to see him gazing at me. Don’t fall in love, Trey. It’s bad for your health.

“Are you coming in or are you just going to lurk there in the doorway?” I ask, snapping him out of whatever daydream had him standing there staring at me…

*-*

After I threaten to stop seeing him, he tells me everything that happened between him and Blondie. I probably wouldn’t have fucked with him at all knowing that they were once intimate. I don’t like sharing anything with that plastic bitch, but what’s done is done, and ending our situationship at this point would truly be and exercise in futility. I did, however, get some valuable information on why Mrs. Lincoln thinks I’m in on the conspiracy that destroyed her salons. Trey’s right. He really didn’t destroy her business. Her stupidity and lack of action did that. Why didn’t she go about the business of damage control when the rumors broke? Rumors are just rumors—they don’t become truths unless you give them life—or do nothing and just let them fester.

However, I stopped frequenting Esclava very shortly before the rumors started. Then she doesn’t see me for several months, during which time, her and Trey’s friendship is terminated, her salons fail, and she gets into a physical altercation with him where she breaks his arm and ends up getting arrested. Then, I pop back up on the scene, and Trey and I are suddenly a thing.

I would think something was rotten in Denmark, too, if I were her, but that’s one of Blondie’s fatal flaws. She’s transparent and she doesn’t strategize. Anyone in any line of business needs that simple skill. Nonetheless…

Here I sit in my parlor with Trey getting that same angry gleam in his eye that the Senator got when I told him that Linc accosted me. The Silver Specter is making a lot of enemies in a short span of time. I hope he got the hint to stay the fuck away from me as I have a feeling that my wrath will be the least of his worries if he doesn’t take heed.

“What do you mean he found out the hard way?” Trey asks about Linc’s lesson to leave me alone.

“You mean besides the fact that I told him I’d cut his dick off and he reacted as if it would be a pleasurable experience?” I ask. “Jesse had him suspended in pain for a few minutes before he was unceremoniously escorted from a very exclusive party.”

“Jesse?” Trey asks with a frown.

“My bodyguard,” I say as I refresh my drink.

“Suspended in pain? Do elaborate.” I shrug.

“Some type of pressure point hold on his shoulder when he grabbed my wrist,” I say, waving him off. “He’s harmless. The big bad brutes don’t scare me, but the two of them together—that might be a problem.” Trey scoffs. What’s so damn funny?

“Elena and Linc don’t work together on anything,” he says. “They’re like oil and water and I don’t even know why they’re still married.” I raise my brow at him.

“Have they ever had a common nemesis?” I ask sipping my drink. Trey shrugs.

“I don’t think so,” he says. “Not that I know of, anyway.”

“And now they do,” I point out. “Two, in fact, depending on how you look at it. Blondie wants to see you fall, and the Silver Dog wants to see me bow.” I put my drink on the bar. “It looks like we’re going to be co-conspirators whether we want to or not.”

“That doesn’t seem so bad to me,” he says suggestively. I twist my lips at him.

“Down, boy,” I chide.

*-*

Armed with the information that I now know about Blondie’s salons, I decide to go on a bit of a fishing expedition. No use in Trey having all the fun. You want to accuse me of having something to do with closing down your salons? Send that frosted ice king of a husband of yours after me like I’m some cheap acquisition? Okay, bitch. You want to see what dirty looks like? I’ll show you what it looks like. Let the punishment fit the crime.

I start with Bowie, then Chroma. Then I move to Stella and Circa. Once I explain my plight, no one really wants to talk to me. No one wants to get involved… or they know Blondie and don’t want to cross her. Nonetheless, I leave my card with instructions to contact me or pass the word along if they should come across any information.

It’s not until I get to Gene Juarez that I get any luck. After having spent the morning with a big goose-egg of co-conspirators, I decide to take a different tact going into Gene Juarez. Since I’m usually wearing some sort of wig during my jaunts and scenes at the clubs and my daytime hairstyle is the Miss Trunchbull bun, I haven’t bothered with any kind of cut and condition since I stopped going to Esclava. So, needless to say, I’m in desperate need of some TLC, not to mention that my feet are barking from being all over downtown Seattle this morning.

 

Managers and appointment takers may not want to talk, but pedicurists and stylists, yeah… they’re chatty.

“I know I don’t have an appointment, and I’ll take anybody who can squeeze me in, but it’s been a looooooong morning at the courthouse and my feet are in agony. I would kill for a deluxe pedicure right now. I’ll even pay in advance…” I reach into my wallet and pull out my Amex black. I’ve already scoped the basic price list on the other side of the counter. A classic pedicure is $55. By me saying that my feet hurt and I want a deluxe, they can easily work me for $200, not to mention the sparkles in the hostess’s eyes at the sight of my Amex.

“No problem, ma’am,” she says to my Amex—er, I mean, to me. “I’m sure we can fit you in.” I sigh like she’s saving my life.

“Thank you,” I breathe dramatically. I’ll save my hair for the next salon. She looks at her book and makes a quick call.

“Eve will be ready for you in about ten minutes. Do you mind waiting?” she asks.

“Not at all,” I say, pulling out my phone and texting Blake to call me in five and again in fifteen. With me standing at her podium, she has no choice but to talk to me.

“So, what do you do at the courthouse?” she asks. I’m dressed like a court reporter, but unless I’m fucking an extremely generous judge, she knows there’s no way I can be a court reporter, waving an Amex black around.

“I’m an attorney,” I say, slightly over-exaggerated exhaustion lacing my voice. I’m tired, but I’m not that tired.

“Really? What kind of law do you practice?” I laugh and wave her off.

“What don’t I practice?” I jest. “Corporate, defense, family law, civil litigation… all of it.” She raises a brow.

“I thought attorneys usually specialized in one area,” she said. I twist my lips as if in consideration of her statement.

“Generally, yes,” I tell her, “but I’m a wretched overachiever. All you have to do is pass the bar, then you can go in whatever direction you please. My specialization is criminal law. Everything else from there is continuing education, extra classes in college, and basically being self-taught.”

The hostess, whom I discover is called Venus, is visibly impressed.

“Really?” she probes. “You must be in pretty high demand. Sounds pretty lucrative.”

“Yes, and it can be,” I say with a chuckle. “The fees on one of my corporate cases alone paid for my house…” That’s the truth, “… but most of my criminal cases, I take pro-bono, especially if I’m dealing with a family who is underprivileged or living paycheck-to-paycheck and just can’t afford an attorney. I have to believe the defendant, too.”

“Why would you take them pro-bono?” she asks. “Why not just let the public defender handle it?”

“Because at the risk of hurting someone’s feelings, public defenders suck!” I say emphatically and Venus laughs. “I would never want to put an innocent person’s fate in the hands of a public defender. Not only that, I think the real criminal act is in requiring someone to pay for decent representation to defend themselves in court for something that they didn’t do.” And Venus is impressed again.

“That’s extremely noble,” she says, unable to hide her awe. “Doesn’t that cost you a lot though?”

“I can afford it,” I dismiss her. “What’s really bad is some mother having to put her house up to pay for a defense attorney because her son was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.” My phone rings and I retrieve it.

Blake. Right on time.

“Hello, Darling,” I say into the phone.

“Hello,” Blake says without missing a beat. “Should I call you ‘darling,’ or will the normal greeting suffice?”

“The usual. Thank you,” I say in a playful, coy voice.

“Very well. And what can I do for you, Mistress?”

“You already have,” I reply. “Thank you so much. I found someone to do my pedicure. I thought I’d be completely lost after that last experience.”

“Ah, I see,” he says. “A plan is afoot?” Nice play on words.

“Oh, definitely,” I reply. “I left that establishment so quickly, I didn’t take time to find another one. Now I think I have.”

“Very well. Is there anything else you need me for, Mistress?” I smile.

“I always do, but you’re a sweetheart for calling. Talk to you soon.”

“Goodbye, Mistress…” I can hear him smiling through the phone.

“Bye-bye.” I end the call and smile at the phone.

“Your sweetheart?” Venus says. I giggle coyly.

“I’d be lost without him,” I reply honestly without answering her question. Her brow furrows.

“You had a bad experience at another salon?” she asks. I roll my eyes dramatically and scratch my arm.

“Oh, you have no idea!” I say, my voice heavily lamenting. I lean in to Venus like I’m about to reveal a secret. “I had a client secure my services for being traumatized at a local salon. One of the big ones!” I whisper the last words.

“Really?” she says, completely sucked in to the conversation.

“Yes,” I say, looking conspiratorially over my shoulder as if to be sure no one else heard me. “Imagine my horror when I discover that it was the same salon chain that I had been frequenting for at least a year prior. Unsanitary conditions, rumors of being closed by the health department, possible bedbugs…” I shiver.

“Oh, yes!” Venus says, realization dawning. “Esclava!” A few heads turn in our direction. Jackpot.

“Yes!” I say, gesturing in a motion for her to keep it down. No, Venus, talk louder! Talk louder!

“I heard about her,” Venus says. “I think she ended up closing, didn’t she?” I nod.

“Yes, she did,” I confirm. “Supposedly, the claims were untrue, but that wretched woman never released a statement confirming or denying any of the accusations unless I missed it!” She didn’t, I’ve already checked and confirmed with Trey. She was too busy trying to put the fires out to be concerned with a little thing like damage control.

“I don’t know, I never saw one,” Venus says.

“Neither did I,” I say leaning in again, “and let me tell you. I’m an attorney and I know from experience that the innocent scream their plight from the rooftops! The guilty stay silent and hope not to get caught. That’s why they often ‘plead the fifth amendment.’ It protects them from incriminating themselves.”

I can see the wheels turning in Venus’ head, just now putting two and two together about one Mrs. Elena Lincoln. And with all the heads turning this way, someone is bound to stop and ask her about the conversation we were having when they come to cash out.

“It has wreaked havoc on my nerves ever since I heard about it!” I say, scratching my neck and arms intermittently. “I’ve been to my doctor for a thorough examination… twice! I’ve had my home inspected at least three times. All the professionals say that there’s absolutely nothing to worry about, but the whole thing still gives me the heebie-jeebies. Oh God, just the thought of it…!” And I’m scratching again. Venus also begins to scratch instinctively. Bingo.

“Venus, I’m ready for the next client.” An exuberant woman a little younger than me comes from the back. She smiles widely at me, silently welcoming me to the salon.

“Well, Ms. Olivet, I can guarantee that you won’t have that experience here. Now, you go on with Eve and relax. Let us take care of you.” She smiles a winning smile in my direction as well.

“Thank you so much,” I say, flashing my own array of perfect pearly whites. “And please, call me Ana…”

Moments later, I’ve struck up the same conversation with Eve after faking a second call with Blake, assuring him that I’ve found a “clean” salon with wonderful staff who have really made me feel welcome. By the time the conversation is over, Eve has put the bits and pieces together and questions what bad experience I had, and the staged conversation ensues again. She confides in me that several of their clients were previously clients of Esclava. I feign concern of breaking attorney/client privilege. However, first, there’s no client—yet… but she doesn’t know that. Second, I’m only talking about my own experiences. I can produce a bill for a home inspection in a second if I need to, but if my plan falls into place, I won’t have to.

“You’re right, though,” she says as I sit there letting my toes dry, “if none of that stuff was true, she would have denied it… hard. This was her business, after all. Have you ever seen any bugs in her salon? My understanding is that everything was white, so you couldn’t miss them.”

“Well… no,” I admit, truthfully, “but I got a really bad feeling about the place and I stopped going. Then, I heard about the infestation and…” I start scratching my arms again.

“Oh, God, please stop,” she says grabbing my hands. “It’s psychological, honey. You’re fine. You dodged a bullet. Look, why don’t I see which of my friends are available and we’ll give you an afternoon of beauty? Unless you have to get back to the courthouse…” I wave her off.

“The good thing about being a highly sought-after attorney is that you basically make your own hours… unless there’s a case scheduled…” and I’m working on one right now.

“Well, then it’s settled. What’s your budget?” I laugh good-naturedly.

“Sweetie, there is no budget. Do your worst.” Eve beams at me and I can see the dollar signs in her eyes. What the hell, might as well. It’ll all be money well-spent if I can bring Blondie to her knees.

She should have left well enough alone. She already made Trey into an enemy. Then she turns around and attacks the man. As if siccing him on me like some rabid dog in heat wasn’t bad enough, then she throws threats at me because her plan actually worked, and Trey and I struck an intimate agreement. Then she goes to the fundraiser, smears my name all over the room, and sets yet another beast loose on me in that eerie, classless, creepy arctic wolf that she calls her husband!

This bitch has gone too far, and even though I have several minions and clients who want a piece of her and Linc, I want her to know that I’m after her ass. I want her to wonder what the fuck is going on now then look up and see me. You want the blade, bitch, you got it, and I’m about to slice you in two.

“Okay,” Eve says after ending a phone call that I didn’t even know she was on. “We’re going to start with a lemon verbena skin treatment, because you’re going to scratch the skin off your arms. This mixture and massage will make you forget all about that other place, and the aroma therapy will be good for you in helping to ease your heebie-jeebies. We’re going to free that hair of yours and give it a revitalizing conditioning treatment and once that’s done, you’ll get our skin-refreshing facial and I’ll give you a modest manicure to compliment your hands. You’ll feel like a new woman…”

Three hours of being plucked and pampered and I spill my guts to anyone who’ll listen about how horrified I was by the rumors of “that woman’s” shop after I had been frequenting her establishment for so long. When I go back out to settle my bill, I have to admit that Eve was right. I do feel like a new woman. I have a flawless makeover showcased by a full halo of lush brunette curls with soft honey highlights… nothing too dramatic. I step into the reception area to see Jesse sitting impatiently on one of the posh sofas. Shit, I had forgotten all about him

“That gentleman claims to be waiting for you,” Venus says as she tallies my bill. “Stalker?”

“Something like that,” I say. “Bodyguard.” Venus raises a brow at me and I hand her my Black card again. “Please include a tip for my operators—$50 each. They were incredible.”

“Each?” Venus clarifies. “How many were there?” I start counting on my fingers.

“Shelly, Lena, Raye, Livy, Dawson, and…” I’m trying to think of the other member of the team that helped rejuvenate this body. “Oh! Sage! That’s her name. And don’t forget yourself—I appreciate you fitting me in. And Eve, for heaven’s sake, Eve! Make it $75 for Eve! It’s like she made one call and an entire troop of people showed up and made my life worth living.” I giggle.

“Ms. Olivet!” she gushes. “Ana… you’re too generous!”

“Think nothing of if,” I say, throwing my shiny, beautiful mane over my shoulder. “I was an itchy, scratchy mess when I came in here. Your staff put me at ease and made me feel like a million bucks…” which they really did. “Can I set a future appointment right now?”

So, in looking to pluck the hen who caused me so much grief, I actually found a new salon. I hadn’t been going to one since I left Blondie… I didn’t see the need. My own grooming practices are pretty meticulous, and my nails never stay the same past the weekend. I can’t very well show up in a courtroom or boardroom with golden nails. As I’m leaving, she gives me my biggest payoff yet.

“Did you happen to bring any extra business cards with you?” she asks. “It appears that some of our clients… well, they may have overheard our conversation and they’d like to… talk to you about any recourse they may have against that woman. Apparently, we’ve gained quite a bit of her clientele.”

And now I realize just how fortuitous the situation is. The other salons most likely had nothing to lose or gain by talking to me about Elena because they didn’t gain any of her clientele—one or two, maybe, but not enough to rock the boat. Most of her clientele most likely came here.

“I’m certain that I do,” I say, digging through my purse. “If I don’t, I’ll bring more.” I dig into my inside pocket and retrieve the wad of business cards that I had there for just such an emergency. I hand her the cards and thank her again for the wonderful service.

Jesse’s pupils dilate when he sees me.

“I was going to ask if you fell in, but… damn…” He examines me as I tie the belt to my coat around my waist. I walk out of the salon and the winter sun catches the glints of highlight in my hair. I look good and I know it. I open my phone and call Chanelle.

“Offices of Olivet, Attorney at Law. How can I help you?”

“Shut it down, Chanelle,” I tell her. “I won’t be back to the office today.”

“So, I guess you didn’t get my message that Richard Steele is here again,” she laments. I sigh.

“No, I didn’t, and tell him that I won’t be back into the office and you have to shut down. If he gives you too much trouble about it, call the cops.”

“Will do. Have a great afternoon.” I end the call and look at Jesse.

“Take me to Community. After all that grooming and shaving, no one fed me. I want something quick and fresh.”

Community Grocery and Deli is a little place that’s tucked away inside of the opening to a parking garage. It’s a gem in Seattle and if you didn’t know it was there, you’d never know it was there. They have the best teriyaki anything in the whole damn city. Although you can’t pay me to eat soy, their teriyaki tofu even looks delicious.

While Jesse waits for our orders, I walk around the establishment and grab a few things. Not the hugest selection in this little store, but great for a quick grab. As I walk around to the other side of the coolers, who do I find standing there looking at the organic sodas? Organic sodas? I digress.

Jake.

Hmm, he works downtown, so I guess I had to run into him somewhere down here. It would be at one of my best-kept secret holes in the wall hiding in plain sight.

“Ana! Wow,” he says, his voice breathy. “You look… great.” Yes, I know this. I try not to roll my eyes.

“Hello, Jake,” I say impassively, reaching past him in the cooler to get my not-organic soda.

“What are you doing here?” he asks. I fold my arms.

“I could ask the same thing of you,” I retort.

“Well, I work here,” he says. I raise my brow.

“At the deli?” I ask. He chuckles.

“No. Downtown.”

“Well, so do I.” That’s when I realize that when he asked what I was doing here, he wasn’t talking about the deli. He was talking about the city. The nerve of him! Like I need his fucking permission to be in my own hometown.

“Is there something I can do for you?” I ask, with my arms folded.

“I didn’t know you were still in town,” he says. “I thought you left.”

“I did,” I say. “I came back. I’ve been in town for quite some time, now.”

“Why?”

“Because this is my home,” I reply. “My parents are buried here. My roots are here.”

“Home is where the heart is…”

“Exactly,” I say, unaware that I’m making his point for him.

“You never thought about us?” he asks. I frown.

“What about us?” I ask, shaking my head. He sighs.

“I liked you a lot,” he says, perturbed. “It was really shitty how things went down.” I drop my head and sigh.

“It… was a long time ago,” I say with a shrug. “It was a dumb thing that happened.”

“What dumb thing happened?” he asks, closing the space between us. “All I knew was my bike got fucked up and my parents said that I couldn’t talk to you anymore.”

I try not to react. He could have asked me. Somehow, he could have asked me what happened, but he didn’t. I’m not all bruised about it. I never really was. Yeah, I liked him, but I had bigger fish to fry—like staying alive.

“It’s been almost twenty years, Jake. Is it even important anymore?” I ask.

“Twenty years,” he says, coming even closer to me, “and here you are—different name, but same city. Something brought you back here and we just keep bumping into each other.”

“You want to know what brought me back here?” I ask. “I love Seattle. I love everything about this city, and my mom and dad are buried here.” He frowns.

“I thought the Steeles were your mom and dad,” he says, “That you were adopted…”

“I was adopted,” I tell him. “My dad adopted me, and then he and my mother were killed in a car accident. The living Steeles are my adopted aunt and uncle.” And why am I telling you this? “Anyway, it’s moot. If you’ll excuse me…” I try to walk away, and he puts his arm around my waist, pulling me back to him.

“Ana, please…” he says, his voice soft and coaxing. What? You’re kidding, right? “Don’t leave yet, please?”

I’m angry when I spin around to face him and give him a piece of my mind. Back when I liked you, when I really needed someone, you didn’t want to be bothered with me. You didn’t ask me what happened—not even in secret. You just dismissed me because your parents said that you had to. That’s what everyone did—my uncle, my aunt, my cousins, you—nobody asked me what happened. Nobody gave me the benefit of the doubt. Now, I’m grown, and everybody wants to get in my face. Good God, just go away!

I haven’t said anything aloud. I don’t get the chance. Jake’s lips are on mine right there in the grocery area—next to the organic sodas. My back is against the cooler door and he’s holding me gently around my waist, his other hand cupping my cheek. His lips mold gently into mine, soft and coaxing, and his tongue glides across my bottom lip. When he pulls back from my mouth, there’s pure desire in his eyes, and I’m a bit stunned.

What. The fuck. Is this?

“I’m sorry,” he says, breaths away from my face. “I had to do it… just once.”

“And now you have,” I say, my voice low and controlled. “Now, back up off me.” He’s crestfallen.

“Ana…” he begins, his voice laced with disbelief.

“Back. Up. Off. Me.” I enunciate each word, trying to relay to him that my next request will be physical. He gets the hint and releases me, putting some space between us. “Jake, what the fuck was that? Do you just randomly walk around kissing girls in grocery stores?”

“I… couldn’t resist. I’m sorry…”

“Try harder next time,” I warn. “We seem to keep bumping into each other and I can’t explain that, but if you think that gives you license to ‘reach out and touch’ me without my permission…” My voice is rising, and I’ve now attracted the attention of the two other shoppers in the grocery area of the deli. Now, Jesse has come around the coolers and is staring at me in awe.

“Three other people in the store… I can’t leave you alone for a minute!” I think the words are out of his mouth before he considers what he’s saying. Jake examines him critically.

“Gee, Kevin, you’ve changed,” he says sarcastically before turning his attention back to me. “He’s not what you usually go for.”

“What the fuck do you know about what I usually go for?” I hiss, openly offended by his insinuation. “Meet Jesse, my bodyguard. And you may want to be careful about touching me without my permission. He doesn’t take too kindly to that.” Jake looks back at Jesse.

“How ya doin’, Jess?” Jake says.

“Get yo’ smart ass outta here, man,” Jesse says, and nothing else. His tone indicates that he’s not in the mood for any bullshit and Jake takes the hint.

“Hopefully, I see ya ‘round, Beautiful,” Jake says haughtily before leaving the grocery area. Conceited, egotistical asshole.

“What is it about you that brings out the worst in men?” Jesse asks. I don’t say it aloud, but I know what it is. Pure animal magnetism. They don’t know what to do with themselves; they just know they gotta have it.

They’re literally like dogs. They see it a mile away, then they smell it, then they attack. After getting all dolled-up at Gene Juarez this afternoon, no doubt I’m emitting the Golden vibe, and he had a moment of weakness—just like Linc—since he has no fucking idea who Golden is.

“Get used to it,” I retort as I sashay around him into the deli area to retrieve my late lunch.


A/N: Golden’s after-scene Tupac Shakur playlist:

Who Do U Believe In?
Whatcha Gonna Do?
Still Love U
Gave U My Heart
When Thugs Cry

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~~love and handcuffs

 

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Raising Grey: Chapter 43—Falling Out of Eden

You know that I love you all, but today, I want to give a special shout-out to my Twitter followers. I don’t get over there as much as I do on Facebook and other medias, but when I do, I see that they’ve shown me lots of support and love. I appreciate you guys more than you know. tenor

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 43—Falling Out of Eden

ANASTASIA

Once again, I’ve slept like the dead. My head hurts a little… that “too-much-sleep” feeling. I reach over for Christian only to find that his side of the bed is empty—and cold. He hasn’t been there for quite some time. Stamping down my insecurity as to why he’s not in bed with me, my eyes focus on something on his pillow. It’s an envelope. I sit up an open the envelope to find a note inside. The paper has blue rhododendrons printed all over it and three words…. those three words. Under the envelope is my iPod.

Um… okay.

I quickly go to the bathroom to relieve myself before returning to bed to put my earbuds in. When I open my iPod, it immediately goes to one file… one long file. Oh, God, what is this? I prepare myself for whatever it is and touch the file to play it. I hear random keys on the piano, nothing in particular. Then chords that sound like the player is trying out certain songs before a tune starts to play sweetly in my ears. I think I know what it is because the tune is familiar. I lean back on the headboard, still not completely sure what I’m listening to… until I hear it…

For so long for this night I prayed, that a star would guide you my way, to share with me this special day where a ribbon’s in the sky for our love…

It’s Christian! It’s my husband’s beautiful baritone voice singing Stevie Wonder “Ribbon in the Sky!” I cover my mouth in awe as he croons the song perfectly while his skillful fingers produce the accompaniment on his piano. When the song is over, I nearly cry and before I can recoil, his melodious voice and beautiful music is in my ear again…

When your legs don’t work like they used to before and I can’t sweep you off of your feet, will your mouth still remember the taste of my love? Will your eyes still smile from your cheeks?

How many songs did he record? This file says it’s hours long! Did he sleep at all?

Wherever you go, whatever you do, I will be right here waiting for you…

I listen to at least ten songs, weeping with love and joy and my heart nearly exploding before I have to go and find this man. I jump out of bed in my oversized nightshirt and don’t even bother trying to find bottoms. I need him now… right now.

I start in the nursery and the babies are sound asleep, but no Christian. I pass inquisitive faces on the first floor, but don’t bother saying anything. I don’t see him, so he’s not here either. On the lower level, I don’t find him in the entertainment room, the workout room or his office, and an empty brandy snifter on a coaster on the piano confirms that he was in his den before. I sigh heavily and think of the last place that he could be, though I wouldn’t know why he would be in there.

I soon find out.

My husband is in the theater room. On the screen, larger than life, are scenes from our wedding and that absolutely stunning dress that my hips probably can’t fit into anymore. I slowly walk to the front row and before I get there, I see that he’s nursing a beer. When I get to him, I see that this is the fourth beer he’s nursed… after whatever amount of brandy he had last night… and it’s about eleven o’clock on a Sunday morning… and he’s still in his pajama pants and a T-shirt. He turns tired eyes to me as I approach before putting his bottle in the cup holder on the armrest. I say nothing. There’s really not much I can say right now. Instead, I climb into the large theater chair with him, my legs straddling either side of him. His eyes are soft as he gazes at me, his arms sliding gently around my waist as mine coil his neck, my hands softly caressing his hair.

Now, it’s my turn to sing…

Take what’s left of this woman, make me whole once again, ‘cause I want you and I feel you crawling underneath my skin like a hunger, like a burning, to find a place I’ve never been. Now I’m broken and I’m faded. I’m half the girl I thought I would be, but you can have what’s left of me…”

His mouth is on mine before I can finish the last word. I pour all my anguish and uncertainty into this kiss, drawing strength and love from him as I do. I hear the laughter in the video behind me and remember the promises that we made to each other that day. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back the sense of security I felt when we pledged our lives to one another, but if I know my husband, I know he’ll spend his life trying to reassure me of his love and commitment. I can give him no less.

*-*

“It’s not Friday.”

Over a month after the last formal visit with my psychiatrist, I’m standing in the parking lot of Ace’s office next to my car. Chuck is still in the car. I had been waiting here for an hour for him to show up as I have no idea what his Monday schedule looks like.

“I was hoping to get a session,” I say. “I’ll wait for an opening if there’s anything at all available.”

“You may just have to,” he tells me as he walks towards the door. “Monday is usually chock full of people just waiting to complain about their weekends… no offense.”

“None taken,” I say as I fall in step behind him. He opens the office door and turns on the lights in the reception area.

“Amber should be here any minute,” he says. “She wanted to stop for pastries, so I came ahead. Had I known you were coming…” I wave him off.

“I had a big breakfast,” I interrupt him. “Christian acts like he’s trying to fatten me up.” Ace looks at me as he puts his messenger bag down.

“That doesn’t sound like Christian,” he says, flipping a switch behind Amber’s desk. The faint sound of birds chirping starts playing through speakers hidden in the office. I’d noticed it before but hadn’t paid attention to it until he just turned it on. It’s almost subliminal.

“To help people relax?” I ask, pointing to the ceiling referring to the sound.

“Nature sounds are always subconsciously relaxing,” he says, “but they have to be natural. Synthetic recordings—which most of them are—turn out to be more irritating. They have the adverse effect.”

“Now that I know it’s there, it won’t relax me anymore,” I gripe.

“Yes, it will,” he says, walking into his office. “You’ll try to see if it irritates you, but it’ll fade away as usual and you’ll sink into comfort.” Just as he’s finishing his sentence, Amber’s walking into the front door. She’s put on a bit of weight since the last time I’ve seen her. It’s only been a month—what the hell is she eating?

“I thought that was you,” she says to me as she put a bakery box on the counter. “Not many Audis appear in our parking lot… Did I forget to record an appointment?”

“No, baby,” Ace says, kissing his wife on the forehead. “Ana just came by to see if there were any openings today.” Her face softens.

“I’m sorry to say there’s not,” she says, looking from me to Ace. “Your first appointment is in thirty-five.”

“I don’t really want to rush things,” he says to me. I nod.

“Well, I guess… just let me know if something opens up throughout the week,” I say to Amber. She smiles.

“Would you like a pastry?” she asks, gesturing towards the box. “There’s plenty.” I hold my hand up and shake my head.

“No, but thanks.” I say. “I guess I’ll just go to the Center and get my day started. You’ve got my number.” She nods, and I head towards the door.

“Wait,” Ace says before my hand reaches the handle. “Baby, who do I have first?”

“Ms. Havisham,” she says. What? She can’t be serious! It only takes me a moment to realize the name is an alias. I used an alias, too, when I first started visiting Ace. I don’t even remember what mine was.

“Come on,” he says, gesturing me into his office.

“I don’t want to take someone else’s time,” I protest.

“She’s always late and then demands her full hour when she arrives.” I frown as I walk back towards his office.

“Why do you see her at the beginning of the day, then?” I ask.

“Because she’s eccentric and won’t have it any other way.” He closes the door behind me. How rude! The woman has no respect for others. I’ve had a few of those. “She makes other people wait. This time, she can wait. Have a seat.” The surroundings almost seem unfamiliar to me. I don’t know where to sit as he wanders around his office preparing for the day, so I just sit on one of the sofas.

“I was wondering when you were going to stop hiding from me,” he says. “I thought I was going to have to go back out to your house to see about you. It’s a nice place, but I charge extra for house calls.”

“Yes, you initially surprised me by coming by, but then I thought about who you are and realized that it’s just like you to do something like that.” He raises an eyebrow at me.

“But none of this behavior is like you,” he confronts. “Leaping off a cliff? Falling apart like there’s no tomorrow? I realize the situation was dire… grave, even, to a point, but I’m concerned that you may have lost your identity in trying to define yourself in terms of your husband.” I roll my eyes and shake my head before dropping my face into my hands. “Okay, I’ve touched on something there.”

“I don’t know who either of us are anymore,” I admit. “My husband was a Dominant before he met me. Then he met me—not a submissive personality, but able to submit for him because I wanted to experiment, see how it would go, test my limits. Don’t get me wrong, I like it, but there are some times when I decide I’m not going to be that woman. When I do, it’s usually right when he needs me to be her.

“So, I go get advice from someone else in the lifestyle who rightfully said that Christian and I have barely scratched the surface of our BDSM lifestyle; that I might have to expand my horizons in order to be the woman that he needs; that I’ll have to find a happy medium between the woman that I am now and the woman that he fell in love with without losing myself in the process. I thought that’s what I was doing, but then one wrong move…” I trail off and drop my face in my hands again.

“One wrong move what, Ana?” Ace presses. I raise my head to find that he’s taken the seat across from me.

“Do you have any idea what it feels like to be waiting for the axe to fall no matter what you do?” I ask. “People keep telling me not to forget who I am. I don’t even know who I am. I don’t even know who I was. I’m just here… floating along waiting for the next catastrophe.”

“And thus, the crux of our dilemma,” Ace says. “You’re sitting here waiting for the bottom to fall out of your life and as such, you’re afraid to live it. That has never been the Ana I knew. Even after the accident, you were anxious to get back on the proverbial horse and get back to your life. Now, you almost sound like you want to hide in a corner and let life happen to you…”

Not necessarily hide in the corner. There’s nowhere to hide from the Boogeyman.

“And your silence just confirmed what I’m thinking. So, what are you going to do, Dr. Grey, curl up and die?” I turn accusing eyes to him.

“Way to be empathetic, Doctor!” I scold. He shrugs.

“I call ‘em like I see ‘em,” he says unapologetically. “That’s why you came to me in the first place and you wouldn’t keep coming to me if I didn’t. I’m not going to spoon-feed you any bull; I’m going to give it to you straight. I’m not going to hold your hand while you walk around in delusion. I can’t drag you kicking and screaming into reality—that’s a journey you have to take on your own, but I can sure as hell point that brutal light in your face and point you in the right direction.

“You fell off the horse… hard. Damn near broke your neck. Now, you’re afraid to get back on it. You had all your hopes and dreams wrapped up in this man. If nothing else ever came through for you, he always would… until he didn’t. He was human, and he fucked up big time and you can’t take it. Now, you’re not only questioning your relationship and who he is, but you’re questioning who you are. I really need to know how your husband making an active decision to do something and doing it makes you question who you are.”

“It’s not…” The words trail off before I can even finish the thought. My scar begins to throb. I’m not sure I can explain to him why I feel the way that I do. Hell, I’m not sure that I can explain it to me.

“I feel… rudderless,” I say, my voice a bit desperate. “One minute, I had all this direction… I had so much to do that I didn’t know where to start. I was trying to find a way to categorize my life—our plans for the Center, the allegations from the licensing board, Gloria Felton, fundraising activities, my own pet projects, my dad’s adoption, the pussy DJ…”

“Whoa… ho… wha… huh?” Ace stops me in the middle of my tirade. I glare at him.

“You interrupted me,” I say in disbelief. “Didn’t you learn like in Therapy 101 or something not to interrupt a patient when they’re on a rant?” He puts his hands up in surrender.

“Okay, I’m sorry, but Pussy DJ threw me off… dafuq is that?” I almost want to laugh at his colloquialism and the drop of his professionalism. Instead, I try to stay on topic since I don’t know when Ms. Havisham is going to show up.

“Rossiter!” I shoot. “The guy with the pussy on his arm that we’re suing for slander.”

“Oh!” Ace says in realization. “Yeah, him. I forgot about him.”

“Well, I didn’t,” I say, and I continue on with my rant about how things truly feel helpless. I want to get comfortable in my relationship with my husband again; in the happiness that I felt with my children and my perfect life… but, there always seems to be a wrecking ball waiting for me, and I can’t seem to find my footing anymore.

I don’t know how long Ace lets me talk, interjecting every now and then with thoughts on my situation, before we hear what sounds like an angry woman on the other side of the door.

“Looks like my next appointment is here,” he says, and he doesn’t seem happy about it.

“Is she a shark’s tooth?” I ask. “Or does she have the potential to be one?” He raises his eyes to me.

“You know I can’t tell you that,” he says. “I already told you too much by saying that she’s eccentric and always late.” I shrug.

“I don’t want to know her story. I just want to know why you’re dealing with her. You’re clearly not happy that she’s here, so why put yourself through this?” What a way to start the week.

“Don’t try to shrink me,” he says as the voices on the other side of the door get sharper and louder. “Physician, heal thyself.”

Well, that’s something that I certainly don’t want to hear.

The next sound has Ace sitting forward in his seat a bit. It sounds like the outside door opens, and the voices are still sharp. He looks like a dog when their ears stand up because they heard something.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“This room is semi-soundproof for patient privacy. If I can hear it, it’s loud.” Just as he looks like he’s about to stand, there’s an insistent knock at the door and Amber comes marching in.

“Mrs. Re… Havisham is demanding to speak to you now,” Amber says. Her face is flushed and she’s talking through her teeth. “She wants to know why you won’t end the current session since it ran over into her time.” I roll my eyes.

“I can leave,” I say reaching for my purse. Ace stands.

“No, you stay. This woman has dominated my Monday mornings long enough and now, she’s got my wife looking like it’s been a long day and the day just started.” Ace walks to the door and throws it open.

“Dr. Avery…” A woman’s indignant voice begins, but Ace interrupts her.

“No!” he says, shutting her down immediately. “I talk, you listen. What did you say to my wife?”

I can’t see her face, but Ms. Havisham is struck dumb for several moments. Ace says nothing and neither does Amber while Ms. Havisham formulates an answer.

“Your… wife?” she says.

“Yes, my wife!” Ace shoots, pointing at Amber. “What did you say to her?”

“I… Well, I…” At first, she stutters over her words. Then, her voice takes that indignant tone again. “I simply wanted to know what was taking so long. My appointment was fifteen minutes ago…”

“And you’re late… again!” Ace chides. “It amazes me that you expect for someone to value your time, yet you value no one else’s!” he adds. “Amber, what did she say to you?” Amber pauses.

“She demanded that I interrupt your session, go in there and ‘get you’ right now so that you could tell her why someone else was in her slot. When I informed her that just like I won’t interrupt her sessions when another patient shows up, I won’t interrupt you when you’re in with another patient, she became so belligerent with me that this gentleman came in from outside to make sure that I was alright.”

By this gentleman, I assume that she means Chuck.

“I see,” Ace says. “Well, madam, you have interrupted someone else’s session. That means that your session is just going to be that much later. In addition, you have upset my pregnant wife…”

Pregnant? Amber’s pregnant?

“If you ever do that again, you can find yourself another therapist.” I hear her gasp.

“Well!” she hisses. “There are hundreds of therapists in the Seattle area!” she shoots.

“That’s right. Feel free to go to any one of them and see which one of them will tolerate your behavior for as long as I have. Amber, prepare her file for the next doctor. Mr. Davenport, do you mind staying in here with my wife for a few more minutes?”

“Not at all,” I hear Chuck say.

“Your wife isn’t in any dan…” Before her sentence is finished, Ace slams the door. He turns his attention to me.

“I didn’t mean for you to lose a patient,” I protest.

“I didn’t lose a patient. I dropped her,” he corrects. “I can count on one hand how many patients I’ve dropped in my whole career because I don’t like doing it, but that woman has been asking for it. I don’t even know if she really needs help or if she just comes to complain.” I’ve had those. That last patient that I couldn’t shake who simply refused to believe that I was discontinuing my private practice. Bitch, I married a billionaire. What if I wanted to just sit around and eat bonbons all day because I could?

“When were you going to tell me that Amber was pregnant?” I ask.

“Well, I haven’t seen you in a while, have I?” he retorts. Touché.

“How far along is she?” I ask.

“Eight weeks. Don’t get off the subject.” He’s a bit riled now and I think he’s about to let me have it. “So, a really, really bad thing happened to you. It shook your belief in everything you thought you knew. You thought your husband was Prince Charming working on becoming Mr. Perfect and you found out that he wasn’t. He’s a plain old, messed up human being just like you. The only difference is that he was a billionaire when you met him. So, he fell off that pedestal that you put him on. You don’t think you fell, too? You need to stop moping around behaving like a kid who just learned there’s no Easter Bunny!”

I’m stunned by the tone he’s taking with me. I must look like a deer stuck in headlights.

“And stop looking at me like that,” he scolds. “I’ve been pussy-footing around with you for over an hour trying to get you to admit what’s going on with you. I already know and so do you! This is one of the very reasons that doctors make the worst patients,” he says. “You won’t accept the prognosis when it comes down to yourself. You want a second opinion even when the first one came from you.”

I glare at him like he has lost his mind.

“You know exactly what’s wrong with you, Doctor,” he continues. “You had a setback. A very traumatic thing happened to you and caused your progress to regress. And as many times as you’ve seen it, you won’t accept it for yourself because it’s too scary looking at it from the inside out. If someone were sitting in your office having this same conversation with you, what would you tell them?” I drop my head.

“I would give them that same old ‘trouble don’t last always’ speech,” I reply.

“Yes, you would, and you know why? Because you’re right. Trouble don’t last always. We’ve been over all of your coping mechanisms time and time again. You have all the tools you need to get through this—as a patient and as a doctor. Everything you’ve learned has prepared you for this moment. Your past was practice. Everything was bringing you to now. This isn’t the last bad thing that will happen to you and I’m not going to pull your leg—this probably won’t be the worst. So, you’ve got three choices… you can crawl into a corner and hide from the world in your little gloom-and-doom bubble, you can roll over and die right now, or you can choose to live! Love your husband with all his flaws and fuck-ups as much as he loves you with all of yours. Love those two beautiful babies that you have that I still haven’t met, by the way. Fight the battles you know are coming, fight for your causes. And. Live. Now what are you going to do, Dr. Grey?”

Holy cow, Batman. I’ve never given it to one of my patients with both barrels like that, ever… even when I know they needed it.

“Where do I start?” I say, my voice cracking and my eyes welling with unwelcomed tears. He pauses and sighs.

“You know what to do,” he says, his voice softening. “You just don’t want to do it because it’s hard work and it takes time. You know and understand that bad things happen and right now, you’re living in the gloom and doom… and that’s not acceptable. You’re not another shark’s tooth and you never will be. I’ve seen you, Ana, at your best and your worst. You’re too strong for that and you know too much. So, get your ass up, come the hell out of that gloom closet, and do what you need to do. You start from the beginning… from the first thing that you can do, and only you know what that is. Now, go do it. There’s nothing else for me to say.”

My lip trembles and I wipe away the tears that burn down my cheek. Shit. The beginning. Fuck if I want to do that. I stand and put my purse on my shoulder.

“Thank you for seeing me on such short notice,” I say, clearing my throat because my voice is still cracking. I pull my phone from my purse and don’t raise my eyes to his.

“You needed it,” he says. “Let me know if I’ll still see you on Friday. I think it may be a good idea.” I nod as I’m dialing Chuck’s number and put my phone up to my ear.

“Hello.”

“Is that crazy bitch still out there?” I ask.

“Yes, ma’am.” I sigh.

“Does your patio have an exit to the sidewalk or something?” I ask Ace.

“It exits to the alley, but that leads to the parking lot,” he answers. I nod.

“I’m going to the car,” I say to Chuck. “I’m taking the back way. I’m sure to end up in the papers as the root of all evil if that woman sees that I’m the reason she was denied access!”

“Okay, what do you want me to do?” Chuck asks.

“Stay with Amber,” I tell him. “Once I’m gone, Ace can come out and deal with his impatient patient.”

“Agreed,” Chuck says, and we end the call. Ace sighs.

“Can’t he just stay for a while?” Ace laments, rubbing his eyes.

“Nope. If I have to deal with the gloom closet, you have to deal with Ms. Havisham.” He twists his lips.

“Fair enough,” he says as he opens the patio door for me. “Call me if you need me.” I nod.

“I will,” I say as I walk out to the patio. It’s pretty out here. I wonder if he’s ever held any sessions out here? It might be a good idea… when it’s warm.

I exit the gate and walk down the short alley to the parking lot and my car. I guess Ace took a little time to himself before facing Ms. Havisham because it takes Chuck another fifteen minutes to come out to the parking lot. We only took one car today—my car—and it got me to thinking…

“Chuck, would you mind terribly if I bought Keri a car?” I ask. His brow furrows.

“You should probably be asking Keri that,” he replies, “but there’s a fleet of cars at the Crossing. Why would you want to buy her one?”

“Because none of them have the built-in car seats except mine,” I say. “I want her to have the ability to be more mobile with the children.” He raises his eyebrows as he pulls into traffic.

“You have something in mind?” he asks. I shrug.

“I don’t know,” I tell him. “Rebe and Tate are always with the children. I guess it won’t matter if they’re following her car or following mine.” Chuck nods.

“That’s true.” He falls silent for a moment.

“What happened with the crazy bitch after Ace slammed the door in her face?” The corner of Chuck’s mouth rises a bit.

“We played the stare game for a few seconds. Then she starts talking to Amber about rescheduling her appointment. Amber told her that the doctor was booked and that she could call her if anyone cancelled. She didn’t like that.”

“I can imagine,” I say.

“So, she started getting a little huffy with Amber until I stepped closer to Amber’s desk and cleared my throat. She calmed down again and agreed to wait for the doctor to finish his session with you. When Ace came to get her, she was as gentle as a lamb.” I shake my head.

“Amber’s pregnant,” I say more to myself than to Chuck. “Geez, she’s not going to be able to deal with too many more huffy attitudes. I hope that crazy woman was a one-off.” Chuck shrugs.

“I’m sure they’ll figure it out,” he says. “Surely, neither of them will do anything to put the baby in danger.” I nod.

“By the way, does Keri have a U.S. driver’s license?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“She has an international driver’s license,” he says. “She got it when she was here before… got my hopes all up.” He says the last line partially in jest and partially seriously.

“You’ve been staying with us for nearly a year now,” I say. “What about your house on Bainbridge?” He shrugs.

“I get out there as often as I can,” he says. “I have a caretaker staying there right now. I don’t want to sell it, but… I want to be with Keri, so…” He trails off and shrugs.

“Well, I plan to keep her employed for a really long time,” I warn him. “She’s really good with the twins and I have no idea how I would survive without her.” Chuck throws a quick glance at me then back at the road.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he says.

*-*

“You’re looking well,” Grace says to me when I get to the Center. I think she’s being nice because I feel a little waterlogged from the crying and not quite myself.

“Thank you, Grace,” I reply. “Anything new brewing?” She raises an eyebrow.

“The licensing board called,” she says. I turn to look at her. “They want a formal statement about our accreditation experience with Gloria.” I sigh.

“Will I have to see Liam?” I ask. She frowns.

“Not… that I know of,” she says. “Ana, did something happen with Liam? Is that why Christian left?” I twist my lips. God, I don’t want to go through this again.

“Liam tried to kiss me,” I say. Grace’s eyes widen. “Christian walked in on it. He was going to kill Liam, so I told him to go home. He already has a record of violence and I didn’t want him to land in jail again.” I drop my head, the pain of the separation flooding me again.

“I have no idea what he heard,” I continue, my voice cracking, “but whatever he heard, it equated to ‘leave the country,’ so he did.” I clear my throat, but I’m unsuccessful in stopping those damn tears… again.

“I know he was hurt… and angry… and any number of other things…” I trail off and wipe my tears. “We’re working on it,” I say, finally. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

“The cliff?” she asks, her brow furrowed. I sigh.

“I was drunk, and I slipped,” I reply. “It was stupid, but it wasn’t suicidal.” She sighs.

“Why don’t you take some time off?” she says. “The only time you took off was when you fell off the cliff and that couldn’t have been very relaxing.”

“I plan to,” I tell her honestly. “Some half days… and some whole days. Not today though.” She nods.

“Just… do, okay?” Grace says. I nod.

“I’m going to my office,” I tell her. “Can you make sure that I’m not disturbed for about an hour?” She nods.

“Sure thing,” she says with a smile. I sigh and go to my office. When I step inside and close the door, I’m immediately struck by how clinical it feels. Every time I step in this office, it’s feels… clean, and that’s it. It definitely needs a makeover.

That reminds me… I wonder what’s going on with John? Did he quit? Is his son still sick?

I’ll have to ask about that later. Right now, I need some… changes.

Back to the beginning. Good fucking grief.

I’m the first one to know that going back to the beginning is going to take baby steps… big, huge, mondo… baby steps. Geez. I pick up my phone and dial.

“Grace Grey,” she answers.

“Grace, I’m going to need two hours… maybe two and a half, I don’t know…”

“Dear, call me when you’re available. I’ll make sure no one disturbs you.” I sigh.

“Thank you, Grace.” I replace the receiver and look at the room. The extra desk from when John shared the space with me is still here. I never saw fit to move it even though he moved to a separate space. We wanted to keep costs down on decorating, but I’m going to have to spend my own money in this space and put the furniture in storage somewhere since it still belongs to the Center.

For no apparent reason that I can decipher at the moment, I decide to sit on the floor in the middle of the room. I just… get a feel for it… and now seems like the perfect time to meditate.


CHRISTIAN

“Well, you’re the last person I expected to see.”

I asked around how I could contact one certain inspector for the licensing board. I didn’t get the chance to say anything to this asshole since I wanted to literally rearrange his face. Once I got the information on how to reach him, I don’t bother calling. No, this conversation is a bit too important and a bit too delicate for a phone call. Now that the Center has its accreditation and Felton has got das boot, there’s nothing to stop me from confronting Mr. Casanova here and getting some much-needed answers.

Once I found out who he was, I made an appointment to meet with him on a licensing matter under an alias. I couldn’t very well tell his assistant that Christian Grey wanted to meet with him. He’d suddenly get sick and pawn me off on someone else. It’s good to have friends in high places.

So, I sit in one of these generic fucking offices that you find in all state or municipal building—some forgotten space with empty cubicles and a meeting table tossed in. I deliberately sit with my back to the door, not that you probably can’t tell who I am anyway. Nonetheless, in walks this tall, good-looking fucker in a nice suit—not designer, but well-made—who, the last time I saw him, was leaning in to kiss my wife.

Liam Westwick, Chapter 43

“Come on, you had to expect to see me somewhere at some point. You just didn’t expect me to come to you.”

“I should probably have someone else present for this meeting, Mr. Taylor,” he says as he heads for the door.

“You do that,” I say calmly, “if you want someone else to hear me ask you questions about my wife!” I bite out the last two words. I hear his footfalls pause behind me, most likely right at the door. “This conversation can happen right here and now, or it can happen later in a different setting, but it’s going to happen… Liam.” I inject as much venom in his name as I can. He walks back to the table and sits across from me.

And his eyes aren’t that goddamn blue.

“Does your wife know you’re here?” he asks his voice low.

“No,” I say entwining my fingers on the table in front of me. “Why don’t you call her? I’m only too sure she’d love to join us. Aren’t you?”

“I didn’t get that impression,” he replies, his voice betraying his discomfort.

“You didn’t?” I ask, leaning in a bit. “Exactly what impression did you get when you were leaning in to kiss my wife?” He glares at me and I glare right back. This ain’t the stare game, motherfucker. I could glare at you for three days and not blink.

“I don’t have an answer for you,” he says, finally.

“That’s seems to be going around,” I snap. His eyebrows rise, and I realize that I may have inadvertently revealed a weakness on the part of my wife. So, I quickly turn that shit around. “She doesn’t have an answer as to why you tried to kiss her either.”

His demeanor shows the slightest drop, and it just makes me angrier. This fucker still has hope!

“You know,” I lean back in my seat, “I was angry enough to rip your throat out with my bare hands that night. My wife knew that; she saw that; and she diffused the situation the best that she could that night, but it wasn’t enough. I was still blazingly angry, and it did cause problems in our relationship.” He clears his throat.

“No offense, Mr. Grey, but if one incident caused problems in your relationship, then there were problems before I arrived.” Aren’t you the confident little fucker?

“Don’t get cute with me, fucker, I don’t like it,” I hiss. “The only thing saving you right now are these four walls. Don’t think for a second that I can’t get to you outside of them.”

“Threats aren’t necessary, Mr. Grey,” he says, straightening his back.

“Not threats,” I reply. “Promises. You wanna poke the bear, you go right ahead.” We sit and glare at each other for a few minutes more. I don’t break my glare when I continue talking.

“When the red haze and the urge to murder you subsided,” I begin, my voice cold and menacing, “I recalled what my wife said to you after she was pushing you away. Her exact words were, and I quote, ‘I’ve told you. I’m married.’” His pupils constrict when he hears this. He must have thought I didn’t hear Butterfly tell him that she was married… which, at first, I didn’t remember it. But I can see that I’m on to something here.

“If she had already made it clear to you that she was married, why were you leaning into her to kiss her? Is that a habit of yours—kissing married women?”

“No,” he answers, his teeth clenched.

“Well, that part of the conversation made me realize that she must have had that conversation with you before. How many times did she have the conversation with you that she was married?”

His face pales, and I’m sure that my wife tried to keep the dog on a leash more than once. She should have told me about this asshole the first time he approached her in any inappropriate manner. One visit from me to the Center while he was investigating would have put this fucker in his place, but that’s water under the bridge now.

“Your wife is a very beautiful woman,” he says. “Any man could lose himself for a moment—act impulsively…”

“Only this wasn’t impulse, because she told you more than once that she was married,” I interrupt his excuse. “You’re right, she’s beautiful. She’s fucking gorgeous, but that’s no excuse.”

Pretty Boy is at another loss for words. So, after we sit there in silence for a few minutes—and him losing the glare contest at least five times—I feel the need to wrap this shit up.

“Since you apparently don’t watch the news, don’t look at any social columns, follow any blogs or read any gossip rags, I’ll make this blazingly clear to you. I am the most jealous and possessive motherfucker you will ever meet in your goddamn life. That woman is my soul. She’s my heart, she’s the fiber of my being; she and my children are my very reason for living. And I’ll be damned straight to hell if I allow some pretty-boy-fuck to slip in the backdoor and fuck up my beautiful life with my beautiful wife! If you’re looking for some rich sugar-momma, some nice ass to drill in the dark, or some pretty bracelet to hang on your arm, look somewhere else because, Liam…”

“I…”
“Will…”
Destroy…
“You!”

The voice that comes from my throat frightens even me, but I’m watching Pretty Boy with the glassy blue eyes sitting here trying not to sweat. That’s when it occurs to me…

The entire time he’s sitting here, his eyes have been this pale blue—like clear water right at the edge of the beach. There’s been nothing striking whatsoever about his eyes.

Yet, right when my Butterfly is about to come, her eyes change—they turn to this soul-shaking nearly royal blue that sees right through you and makes everything inside of you stop. If she walked around with those blue eyes all day long, everybody in a 50-foot radius of her would stop like a freeze frame, particularly members of the opposite sex.

This fucker’s eyes never changed once since I’ve been here, so if his eyes were that blue at the time to cause my wife to pause, that means that any time he was around her, he must have been in a constant state of arousal, or at least heightened fucking sexual awareness. Butterfly has never looked in the mirror to see her own eyes when she’s coming… not that I know of, anyway. She doesn’t know what that shit does to you…

… Unless those eyes were looking back at her.

“Son of a bitch,” I hiss. I turn an even more hateful glare on this fucker. I can’t remember despising anybody this much when it came to my wife, not even Cholometes.

“If the licensing board needs anything else from Helping Hands, ever, you better make sure somebody else goes, because if you ever contact my wife… if you ever come anywhere near my wife again, I don’t care who you call—your ass is mine, and for your sake, I hope that’s very clear.” I look up at the eye in the sky.

“Did you get that?” I say to the camera before fixing my gaze on Liam again. I know that the eye doesn’t have sound. I also know that this particular eye has been deactivated for our meeting—but he doesn’t. So, my gesture simply added a little drama to our exchange.

Like I said, friends in high places.

I stand from the table, straighten my suit, turn around and leave the room.

*-*

“You’re going to teach me what?”

“Scrambled eggs,” Gail says with a smiling Sophie standing next to her. We’ve come straight home after stopping at school to get Sophie. A lot of the students appeared to meander around the car as she was coming out of the school. When we asked her why, she admitted that they might be hoping to get a glimpse of me.

Me? Why? Why would a bunch of middle school kids be concerned about me?

“Did you tell them that I work for Christian?” Jason had asked.

“Well, they already knew that, Dad,” Sophie replied, “but Ana came up for lunch a few times.”

I didn’t know that she and Sophie were that close. There seems to be a lot that I don’t know… but back to these eggs.

“Eggs does not a gourmet meal make, Mrs. Taylor,” I scold.

“You have to crawl before you can walk, Mr. Grey,” she retorts. “When you can make scrambled eggs—light, fluffy, edible scrambled eggs with no eggshells that don’t stick to the pan, you can move on to a more complicated meal. Until then, you learn scrambled eggs.” I shrug. Fair enough. Sophie giggles.

“It’s not as easy as you think, Uncle Christian,” she says, her voice filled with mirth.

“Then, I guess I’ll need you to help me, won’t I?” I say, honestly. Sophie nods, and we proceed to crack eggs.

The carnage! I can’t begin to imagine how many poor eggs had to die before I even learned how to crack an egg without getting half the shell in the bowl or half the egg on the floor! When I finally get to five eggs in succession—in the bowl with no shell… hours later, I might add—that’s when Gail tells me that even the most accomplished chefs sometimes get a shell in the bowl. They just take it out before they cook them.

I could kill her.

On to whisking.

That’s the easy part. She tried to make it complicated… “It’s all in the wrist,” but all she had to do was tell me what to do and I did it. Seasoning is a little more complicated.

A pinch of salt…
A sprinkle of pepper…
I have big hands, so my pinch is more like two pinches.

I tried to do a pat of butter and ended up with a glomp… if that’s even a word. That’s what Sophie called it.

Needless to say, my eggs didn’t turn out fluffy and they did stick to the pan, so we’ll be picking this lesson up again. However, I know how to crack them without shells, get them into the bowl and not on the floor, whisk them thoroughly, and I know that my pinch is actually two pinches. That’s one hell of a start for a man that could do nothing more than press buttons on the microwave.

We slaughtered eggs until Ms. Solomon threw us out the kitchen to get dinner ready. It’s now that I realize that Butterfly isn’t home yet. Chuck was supposed to warn us when they were on their way home so that I could get my ass out of the kitchen, but we got no warning. I go in search of Jason. I didn’t have to go far.

“How did the cooking lesson go?” he asks, kicked back on one of the sofas in the family room watching television. I fall down on the sofa next to him.

“Lots of chickens sacrificed their babies to the cooking gods today,” I say, thinking of all the eggs I murdered. “No word from Chuck?”

“Yeah,” he says. “He called a couple of hours ago in the middle of the poultry massacre. He said they were staying late at the Center.” My eyes shoot to Jason.

“What else did he say?” I ask, trying to hide the panic in the back of my head. Jason breaks his gaze from the television and turns his head to me.

“Nothing,” he says, his brow furrowed, “just that they were staying late.” I nod and turn my gaze to the television, paying absolutely no attention to what’s playing. She wouldn’t see him again after what we’ve been through. Would he dare go to the Center after my visit today? No, that would be a death wish… though Cholometes endured a street fight to prove his love for her. No, no, no… stop it, Grey. You’re being ridiculous. Butterfly wouldn’t risk our relationship again after everything that’s happened.

Again…

Would Chuck tell us if she was seeing someone else? He didn’t even know Liam tried to kiss her and he was there with her. I know he doesn’t sit under her every second, but how could he have missed that happening… or did he?

“Boss…?”

“I’m… um… going for a ride,” I say, bouncing out of my seat and heading for the mudroom.

“Do you want me to go with you?”

“No!” I say a little too quickly as I spin around on Jason. “No, I’m… I’m fine. I just need some air.” Jason turns off the television and rises slowly from the sofa.

“I’d feel a whole lot better if you just let me come with you,” he says, his voice cajoling. “It’s not like we don’t both know where you’re going.” My shoulders fall. I feel like a kid being caught trying to sneak out of the house after curfew. I sigh.

“You drive,” I say.

*-*

Chuck’s brow furrows when Jason and I walk into the Center.

“Is everything alright?” he asks. He’s at the front desk with the night guard and he stands as we approach. Some silent communication passes between him and Jason, but he doesn’t react.

“I… just wanted to come and ride home with my wife,” I say. Chuck still says nothing, but nods. “Where is she?” He points down the hall.

“Follow the music,” he says. I nod and walk down the hall towards the music… and the dreaded community room. Jason is right behind me. I hear one song stop as I approach and another one starts when I get to the door. My wife is a small ball in the middle of the floor—in yoga pants and a sports bra, and sweating. She’s in the room alone and the music coming from the speakers attached to her iPod bounce acoustically off the walls of the room. I look behind me to see Jason walking back down the hall towards Chuck, so I turn my attention back to my Butterfly.

She raises her arms and slowly unfurls like a flower coming into bloom. One voice speaks of giving up, but she blossoms beautifully, her legs stretching, her arms reaching for… whatever. Her hands are swirling—beautiful gestures that form universes, magic dust flowing from her fingers and filling the room. Somehow, I quietly float in and take a seat as a female voice harmonizes in the tune about giving up. The song is very pretty… if it weren’t for the words.

The last time I watched my wife dance this way, we had disagreed about spanking our children. Her body speaks in a way that no one can hear and yet no one can ignore. If she does this regularly, I never see it. I’ve only seen it twice in the two years that we’ve been together. The song ends with the same two words that started it…

Say Something…

Unlike the last time I watched her dance where she ended up curled in a ball and crying, this time my wife is open on the floor and sweating, her clothes sticking to her like she’s been at this for hours. She slowly rises from the floor and stretches her arms around her body, using the alternate hand to push into the deepest stretch. She doesn’t realize that I’m sitting on the bench until she turns her face in my direction.

I don’t rise to meet her. I just sit there waiting for her to come towards me. I feel like an interloper on her space and time right now… like I should have stayed at home. She goes to the other end of the bench and stops her iPod just as it begins to play another song, then retrieves the towel that she tossed there before proceeding in my direction.

“Was that for me?” I ask, self-centered bastard that I am. She doesn’t react though.

“No, that was for me,” she replies, winded and dabbing her eyes with the towel. I sit up straight.

“I never asked where you learned to do that,” I ask. “I very rarely see you dance like that…” Twice in our entire relationship.

“Modern dance,” she replies. “Elective—I took two semesters in college. Never went anywhere with it, though.”

“You’re good at it,” I tell her. “It seems you took a lot of classes in college I didn’t know about…” Human sexuality, business classes, French—but I knew about that one—now modern dance. Next, she’s going to tell me that she secretly pledged a sorority. “Where did you find the time?”

“It was easier than you think,” she says, her voice impassive. “It’s a side effect of not wanting time to think or remember anything.”

Ouch. I can certainly relate to that.

“So… what brings you here?” she asks, retrieving a bottle of water from the bench.

“I know you’re trying,” I begin, “but you still seem so… distant. I was just…” I trail off.

“You… were worried,” she says. It’s not a question. I know exactly what she’s saying and I drop my gaze. I won’t lie to her.

“Yes,” I say, a bit ashamed. She sighs and wipes the sweat from her forehead.

“Can’t say I blame you,” she says, taking a drink of her water. I look at her.

“We can’t go on like this,” I tell her. She meets my gaze.

“I don’t see that we have a choice, Christian,” she replies. I frown. She can’t be serious.

“I did something that shook your trust in me,” she says, “and you did something that shook my faith in you. I don’t know how to get that back and apparently, you don’t either. It’s just going to take time, I guess.”

I twist my lips. This hurts—the fact that the bliss and happiness that we felt, that we found in each other… it’s gone. We still love each other; we don’t want to be without each other… but that AnaChris bliss… is gone.

“We’re broken,” I say without lifting my head. Butterfly is silent. She’s not even trying to dispel my feelings about our relationship. That’s very discouraging. She sits on the bleachers next to me, wiping the sweat from her chest and neck.

“I went to see Ace today,” she says, before taking another large swallow of her water. That’s a bit of a surprise. “I told him everything. I told him that I didn’t come to talk to him because I was ashamed—ashamed that I had undone all of the progress that we had made. I was afraid of things that went ‘bump’ in the night, and I’ll admit… I still am to some degree. We went through regression therapy. I compiled all these coping mechanisms. I went back to Green Valley and faced my monsters—after I relived that damn beating and went into a catatonic state, that is. I confronted the devils that were Carla Morton, Carly Madison, and even Cody Whitmore to a certain degree, and I came out a better person for it. I have all these things to my benefit—all this stuff that I built up and yet… waking up to face the day is a task.

“Ace let me whine for a while, and then he ripped me a new one. He wouldn’t allow me to wallow or feel sorry for myself even though I’m still feeling it a bit. I’m still afraid—I’m still remiss to go through all this work that I must if I hope to even slightly achieve a shadow of the person that I used to be.”

I look over at her and see that tears have replaced the sweat that was there moments before. She reaches up and wipes one cheek.

“I fell,” she continues. “I fell from the cloud of bliss and comfort that I had been floating in for however long, and I came crashing back to reality at the speed of light. The impact was nearly enough to kill me, but God wasn’t that merciful. I lived. I lived with every ache, every pain, every bad memory, every broken expectation, every shattered delusion…” She trails off.

“Of me?” I ask when she pauses.

“Yes,” she says, “and of me… of us. You can’t love somebody through a tragedy, Christian. You can love them while they’re going through it. You can support them; you can be their anchor, their cheering section, but they have to go through it themselves. It was a tragedy that you walked out and left your family for whatever reason you chose to do it, but as selfish as it sounds, that wasn’t the tragedy for me. The tragedy for me was that I was hopeless and lost and confused and I didn’t have any answers and I was hurting, and then I fell—figuratively and literally—and you were not there.”

Love the Hurt Away. That’s our song and now, she’s saying that we can’t do it.

“I can be all kinds of wrong for what I say, for what I do, and for what I feel, but it doesn’t matter at this point. I was destroyed, almost wishing that I would die, and you were not there. For those reasons, there are several people that I’m sure are not completely convinced that I didn’t jump off that cliff.

“I’m a psychiatrist,” she says. “I’m a professional. I, of all people, know that a seed must lose its protective shell and face utter destruction in order to grow into something more beautiful… more powerful. It changes it’s form completely to become something else completely, and this relationship has lost its protective shell.” I frown deeply. I don’t like where this is going at all.

“What are you saying?” I ask, unable to hide my dismay.

“I’m saying that we have to grow,” she says. “We have to let go of what we were and we have to grow. We’ll never be who we were before because you can’t undo what’s been done. You can’t unhurt me and I can’t unhurt you. We can’t unlearn what we’ve learned. We can’t unlive the experiences and feelings of the last month. They’ll always be a part of us. So, we don’t have any other choice but to move on and grow from here, but this is like losing your virginity, Christian. We can’t go back.”

It sounds so scary… so impossible. I didn’t think I could love my wife more than I did… more than I do, and now she’s saying that we can’t get that back?

“I… don’t think I understand,” I say, my chest hurting so much that I think it’s going to burst. “If we can’t get back the love that we had… the connection that we had, what’s left?” Is this the beginning of the end?

“All that’s left is for us to rebuild and to fight for what we have,” she says, her head down and tears continuing to fall from her eyes and onto her yoga pants.

“I love you as much as I ever have, Anastasia,” I say, my voice cracking.

“I love you, too, Christian,” she says. “My feelings haven’t changed. But you need to understand that the impossible happened… for both of us… and we can’t go back. I didn’t kiss Liam, but it doesn’t matter, because in your eyes, I was still wrong. So, that damage is done. And then, Little Ana fell again. Little Ana is always falling… and nobody was there to catch me. That damage is done, too.

“We can’t go back, and it’s not that we can’t go back to the love that was felt. We can’t go back to the naïveté that was our relationship. We just have to… move forward. There’s no going back.”

I don’t know what to say. I don’t know how to do what she’s saying we need to do. I don’t even know where to start. I’ve just loved her all this time—good or bad, thick and thin, sick or well, I’ve just loved her. I don’t know what else to do.

I feel so lost. She’s handed me an impossible task with no instructions. Change our relationship? Change the way we love? Grow how? Suddenly, I feel like that submissive in Elena’s dungeon again, waiting for a command that’s never going to come. I feel her hand cover mine and I turn my gaze to our hands. Hers looks so small over mine… so helpless, and yet… not.

“I love you, Christian,” she says, “and I’m sorry that I hurt you.” I nod and turn my hand over to grasp hers.

“I love you, too,” I choke, turning my gaze to her, “and I’m sorry that I hurt you. I won’t do it again.”

“Yes, you will,” she says without raising her head. “And I’ll hurt you, too. But that’s part of this growth. We’re going to have to figure out how we’re going to handle it.”

I pinch my eyes to push the tears out of them as we squeeze each other’s hands for dear life. Why do I feel like I’m losing my wife?


A/N: “It’s all in the wrist,” Sabrina, but that was when they were cracking the eggs in the movie, not whisking them.

Say Something, I’m Giving Up on You—A Great Big World Featuring Christina Aguilera. This is the song that Ana was dancing to.

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

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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 42—Unbreak My Heart

I have to admit that I was surprised to see so many people express a tone of disappointment in Ana’s feelings. I’ve had times and events in my life where I had to get up every day and push myself just to get to the next minute—where I felt like the world was just going to gobble me up, and I couldn’t talk about it. Talking about it gave it life and I was just trying to deal with it so that I could have the strength to open my eyes the next day. I really thought most people would be able to relate to that… to that feeling of, “My God! What else can go wrong in my life? The minute I sit down and get comfortable, something else happens.” I guess I’m the only one, or at least in very lean company. It’s sad that I appear to be one of the seemingly very few that can empathize with that, but I guess it’s a good thing that the vast majority apparently hasn’t had that experience.

So, this is my second to last prewritten chapter, but the Muse is finally stirring a bit, so I wouldn’t worry about the future.

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 42—Unbreak My Heart

ANASTASIA

I spend more time venting and crying with my friends, trying to release the anguish and the hopelessness I feel about the situation. I cry and cry and cry with my best friends holding me for I don’t even know how long. I’m exhausted when it’s all done and glad that Christian didn’t walk in on the display. I’m broken from the self-pity and mourning by the two-way coming to life and telling me that one or both of my children have stirred.

“I’ll go,” Val offers as she stands from the sofa.

“No, I’ll go,” I say, standing behind her and drying my eyes with my sleeve before Al gives me a handkerchief. Those two little bundles of love are the light and joy of my life. Right now, I don’t want to miss a moment with them… even if some evil monster is waiting in the wings to snatch them away from me.

“I’ll come with you, then,” she says with a smile before looking at Al.

“I’ll clean up and put the leftovers away,” he says, his brow furrowed as he examines me. “I’m worried about you, Jewel,” he adds. I smile sadly, my eyes tender from crying.

“I’ll live, Al,” I reply before leaving the parlor.

I’m glad that Keri and Gail didn’t get to the nursery before I did. I really didn’t want to enter into the room to inquiring minds about my obviously red and puffy eyes. We walk in and both children are unsettled. Val gestures me to Minnie’s crib while she goes to Mikey.

“Hey, little man,” I hear her say. “What’s all that noise?” She lifts him out of his crib and quickly checks his diaper before taking him to his changing table. I do the same with Minnie, cooing at her and taking comfort in her beautiful cherubic face with my blue eyes staring back at me under a mop of Christian’s red hair. I had noticed that just in the last month or so, both my children gained their eye color, and Minnie definitely has my eyes while Mikey sports his father’s under my deep mahogany hair. Minnie is happy to get that soiled diaper off her bottom and I let her skin air out a bit before putting another on her.

“Mmm,” Val says, “I love changing diapers.” I grimace as I look over at her and she laughs. “Not the dirty diaper part,” she says. “The part where they’re all clean and you get to use the powder and stuff and they have that new baby smell.” It causes me to chuckle and I welcome the warmth of laughter. As I’m closing Minnie’s onesie, Gail and Keri enter with fresh warmed bottles for the babies. Val throws a look at me and I keep my back to the door. Reading my actions, she takes over.

“Take a break, ladies,” she says, sweetly, heading them off at the door. “We’ve got this watch.”

“Oh,” Gail says in surprise. “You’re fine?”

“Sure,” Val says confidently, “but thanks for the vittles!” The ladies all laugh good-naturedly before Gail adds, “Okay, call us through the two-way if you need us.”

Not wanting to seem rude, I look slightly over my shoulder without revealing my face to them and say, “Thanks, guys,” as normally as I can and attempt to throw them off by concentrating on cooing at my baby. “Is that Mommy’s precious girl? Yes, you are…”

It works.

When Keri and Gail clear the room, I sigh in relief that I didn’t have to convince more people in my life that I’m okay when, in fact, I’m not.

“Thanks,” I say to Val, lifting Minnie into my arms and setting up shop in the window seat with my baby and a bottle since I just had wine. The window seat is what I’m accustomed to, now.

“Don’t mention it,” she says, sitting in Mikey’s rocker and testing his bottle before giving it to him. “Why don’t you come and sit in the rocker? It might help to break old habits.” I look down at my nursing daughter.

“Maybe next time,” I tell her. “I don’t want to disturb Young Miss when she’s eating,” I lie. The truth is that the seat gives me some form of familiarity and comfort now that I’m no longer watching the bridge. I just don’t feel like explaining that to everyone. It would be like telling them that the cliff where I fell is now my favorite spot. It was once, but now, I’ll just be reminded that I could have fallen to my death on a drunken binge.

Val distracts me from my own problems by telling me more about her and Elliot’s Caribbean cruise. I wasn’t surprised that the cruise took them to St. Maarten but not to Anguilla. The boat would probably be larger than the island. She told me about Harrison’s Cave and the beautiful 17th-Century plantation houses and it made me long for our trip to Anguilla. I definitely need a vacation right now to cleanse my body and soul of what’s going on in my life. We had to postpone our Italian vacation, probably until next year since we plan to stay for quite some time. I can’t lie, though. A cruise to anywhere for a week or two would be right up my alley right now.

There’s a tap at the door and Val and I look at each other. It’s one of the men, we already know, but Christian would have just walked in. So, it has to be Al or Elliot. Jason and Chuck would already know that their women are not in the nursery. The door opens and sure enough, there’s my best friend, but behind him is my husband—my tall, beautiful, muscular husband… the cause and cure for my distress all wrapped into one.

“Hey, ladies,” Al says. “How’s it going?” His bad attempt at nonchalance coupled with Christian’s deeply examining gaze on me lets me know that these two gentlemen have been talking… about me. Al is only concerned about me and I love him for it, so I sigh in resignation.

“Better,” I say, unable to hide the crack in my voice from my earlier crying. Christian is obviously uncomfortable looking at me, and I think it’s the window seat. It has definite connotations, and he and Val would much rather that I not sit in it. He stops at the rocker on his way over to me.

“How are you feeling, Val?” he says, placing his hand on her shoulder. She smiles up at him.

“Good,” she nods. “The vacation was fantastic—just what I needed.”

“I’m happy to hear that,” he says to her, genuinely. “You look very well.”

“Thank you,” she says, sincerely and they both turn their eyes to Mikey.

“Hey, Mikey,” Christian says. “Have you been taking good care of these ladies?” Mikey squirms and coos as if in response to his father’s question. Christian gently strokes his hair and turns his attention to me. He walks over to the window seat where Minnie and I sit, Minnie gazing dreamily up at me after being fed and changed. That look would make me move mountains for her. Christian looks intently at me before turning his attention to his daughter.

“Hey, Mouse,” he says, softly, stroking his daughter’s hair like he just did his son’s. He looks longingly at her for a moment before kissing her forehead. Then he gazes at me and does the same, stroking my cheeks where tears stained earlier. He examines me wordlessly before saying, “Al, can you take over? I’d like to talk to my wife.”

“Absolutely,” Al says. “Give me that bundle of pinkness!”

“Oh, no,” Val chides. “You take our godson. I want a little time with our goddaughter. I haven’t seen them in a month!”

“Fine by me,” Al says, relieving Val of Mikey before she comes over and takes Minnie from my arms. I ache a bit when she leaves my grasp but follow Christian out of the room nonetheless as he leads me by the hand. When we get to the hallway and he closes the door, he embraces me solidly and kisses me deeply, catching me totally by surprise. I gasp at the longing, giving nature of the kiss, my hands falling lazily at my sides as his hand flattens against my back, pressing me firmly into his body. My head lulls back and I let him have my lips, my mouth, my tongue—feeding me while he feasts on my kisses. I don’t know if I’m breathing or not, but I bask in the warmth and safety of his arms, the tenderness yet firmness and possessiveness of his kiss… giving and taking at the same time. When our lips part, I can feel the breath between us. I keep my eyes closed to commit the moment to memory—for cold nights when…

“You know how much I love you, don’t you?” he says, his lips only brushing mine.

“Yes,” I breathe, my eyes still closed, drunk and a bit wobbly from his kiss and his presence.

“Good,” he breathes, taking my lips again.

After an intense, but quick impromptu make-out session in the hallway, Christian leads me to our room. I moved back in a few days ago, realizing that it didn’t really make much sense to sleep in the guest room anymore. I still have problems getting to sleep, but it’s getting better. It’s especially easy when Christian finds that I can’t rest and finds some way to worship my body until I’m tuckered out. I can really see that he’s trying. I wish I could just settle into the comfort.

Instead of stopping at the bedroom, he leads me right into my bathroom and lifts me up onto the marble vanity. He turns on the cold water and retrieves a clean washcloth. After wetting the washcloth and wringing most of the water out of it, he stands in front of me, lifts my chin and begins to sponge my cheeks.

Can’t hide anything from Mr. Grey.

I close my eyes and the cool cloth moves to my eyelids. The relief on the swollen orbs is immediate. I hear him moistening the cloth again and this time, he holds my head all the way back and places a compress over my eyes. A few moments later, a second cloth is sponging my cheeks, my jaw, and my neck again.

“Your cheeks are still tear-stained,” he says softly, “and your eyes are red and puffy. You look tired.” I don’t respond. I just sit on the vanity and let the protector and caregiver have his way, savoring these moments and committing them to my mental Rolodex. He let me sit there for several minutes—or at least it felt that way—replacing the compress one time, and letting the cold water soothe the ache from my eyes as he gently sponges my face with the other washcloth. He stops at my lips and sponges them gently. He’s now caressing my lips with his fingertips and the cloth and my breath catches. He adds gentle kisses to the mix and I melt at the sensation. My senses are all hyper-focused on my lips and his lips and his fingers when his mouth softly covers mine again, molding gently into them and against them.

Somehow, I feel this is not enough for him.

His arms move to my waist then quickly up my body, lifting my arms and placing them demanding over his shoulders. I immediately take my cue and wrap my arms around his neck, thrusting my hands into his hair. He gasps into my mouth and wraps his arms around me again, curling his body around mine while taking and giving feverish kisses. My body is alight again as he holds me and kisses me, melding into me and devouring me and I wrap my legs around his hips. He pulls my shirt out of my jeans and caresses the skin on my stomach and back.

My back… the garden.

I blaze like fresh, new embers as my body fires with arousal. My breath quickens and his tongue leisurely and sensuously explores my mouth until I feel that I can’t take it anymore. He pulls back from me and gazes into my eyes. Seeing whatever it is that he needs to see, he lifts me from the vanity, my body still wrapped around him, and takes me to our bed.

Lying me down on my back, he removes my hands from his neck and places them on the bed, holding them down in both of his while he kisses me. I can barely stand it; I’m suddenly so goddamn needy again. His lips travel from my lips to my neck while his hands slide down my arms to the buttons at my breast. I leave my hands by the side of my head. I keep my eyes closed as his lips follow his fingers, unbuttoning my shirt, down my breast, my torso, my belly.

Christian…

That familiar yearning swells up in me and I can hardly breathe. I want him to make it right—take away this feeling of fear and sadness… make it like it once was between us… please, make it like it was…

He unhooks the clasp of my bra between my breasts and pushes the cups aside, gently cupping my breasts while he kisses the mounds. His tenderness is driving me mad. I’m almost dysfunctional with need.

He kisses along the waistband of my jeans as he opens the button and unzips my pants, kissing along the waistband of the hip-hugger panties underneath. I bite my lip to keep from making a sound, taking deep breaths to control my passion and my body. There’s a bit of movement on the bed, and then he pushes his hands into my jeans, grasping the waistband and pulling them and my panties off at the same time, pushing my ballet flats off my feet before my pants and underwear pass my ankles.

There’s a pause for a few moments, but when he climbs back up to me, I feel his skin against mine—his whole body. He’s naked. I feel his erection against my thigh as he lifts me from the bed, kissing me deliciously while pushing my bra and shirt off my shoulders. He lays me back on the bed, his face never more than a breath from mine. He kisses me again as his hands run down my body, caressing my sides and hips until he reaches my thighs.

He pulls them up, roughly opening me to him, his rock-hard erection pressing into my stomach. God, I want him so badly. I need to feel him, need to put another moment in the reservoir—another cherished time… please… hurry.

He slides his arms under mine until he’s cupping my shoulders in either hand, then he nestles his erection between my legs, between my lips. God, he feels so good. I throw my head back as his lips find the valley of my breasts and he grinds the length of his shaft up and down along my lips, my labia, my clit…

Oh, my God… Oh, my God, this is torture.

Neither of us says anything or makes a sound. He just continues to drag his length up and down as he kisses wherever his mouth can reach. When he clamps down on a nipple, then teases it with his tongue, I feel my orgasm building, knocking at the door in no time flat. Just as I think it’s about to blow, he stops and rises off of me a bit. He looks hungrily into my eyes and pushes my legs open farther with his body. Simultaneously, he takes both of my hands and plants them above my head, my arms bent with his fingers entwined in mine, while raising his hips to position the head of his long hard cock at my vaginal opening.

He pauses for a minute, holding my gaze while his hips are suspended in the air. Without warning, he thrusts all the way into me, balls deep, pulling my hands down at the same time for leverage. A searing pain rips through me like I’m losing my virginity all over again, but it’s quickly replaced with the pleasure that left my loins only moments ago. He trembles at the first drive into me, both of us still managing to remain silent through what was obviously a very powerful feeling in our nether-regions. Three strokes later and I’m gasping through my orgasm as Christian pushes slowly and deeply into me, kissing my cheek, my neck, the corners of my mouth.

I’m whimpering out the aftershocks as he settles his weight onto me and begins to make love to me, holding my hands down and pushing into me, his full body lying over mine, his skin rubbing against me as if he needs as much of it to touch as possible. His mouth covers mine and he bestows upon me the most delicious, succulent kisses my soul can take. I’m lost in him and he’s owning me, pushing himself into me—mind, body, and soul. I relish in the feeling, absorbing every stroke and every emotion—the hot, hardness of his dick; the meticulous concentration in his stroke; the possessiveness of him holding my hands down; the luscious kisses that give and take from my lips. It’s only minutes after the first orgasm that the second one begins to creep into my loins. The onslaught of sensations overwhelms my senses and my second orgasm burns against his cock once more, this time leaving lots of juices to coat his erection.

He finally releases my lips and I can feel his gaze on me even though my eyes are closed.

Open your eyes.

I think I heard it, but I’m not sure. Nonetheless, I open my eyes, my gaze no doubt swimming in satisfaction from my prior two orgasms.

You’re so beautiful.

Again, not sure if I heard it, but I see it in his eyes and feel it in his delicious grind. I feel myself rising again and wonder how many times I can come in quick succession. God, it feels so good, and this one decides to give lubrication before it strikes.

“Oh, God, baby,” he says softly in my ear, “your so wet… so hungry for me…”

“Yes, Christian,” I breathe as my third orgasm quickly creeps up on me, “only you.” He raises his eyes to me, never losing his rhythm.

“Say it again,” he whispers.

“Yes… Christian…” I gasp as the feeling crawls through my thighs and up my pelvis, “only you.”

“Again… please…” His stroke deepens, and my pelvis threatens to implode. I throw my head back in sweet agony as it approaches quickly… almost… almost…

“Only… Christian… only you…” He groans, sweet and deep, his face buried in my neck, pushing me so high, so deep, my God…

“Please…” he beseeches me deep from his chest, “… again!”

I can’t withstand it any more.

“Ho… ho…” I try to speak as my third orgasm crashes down on me. I grip his fingers tight to force the words out of my mouth. “Ho… honly… y-you…Christian… only… only you… only you!” I cry out as my orgasm rips through me again, bringing passion and relief that I didn’t feel with the first two. My back arches and my hands tighten as I helplessly repeat the last two words through a climax blasting through my extremities and leaving me helpless to its wrath.

“Jesus!” he bites out as I feel him stiffen and empty hard, throbbing, and thick into me. His teeth grit and the same noise comes from his throat as he presses hard into me, unable to move through his paralyzing orgasm. He squeezes my hands until it feels like the blood flow stops and I lay there, allowing him to use me as the vessel that he needs right now and savoring every moment of it—his weight pressing down on me; his hands painfully gripping mine; his breath caught and held in his chest as his body is pulled taut, stretched like a rubber band and helpless until his passion releases him.

“Jesus… Jesus, Jesus…” he gasps as the orgasm finally releases his muscles. He showers my neck with kisses as he catches his breath, his cock still throbbing inside me, my core still throbbing around him.

“I didn’t…” he begins as he gently massages my hands. “Did I…?”

“No, no,” I silence him as he continues to catch his breath. He still kisses me as he moves to roll me on top of him.

“No, please,” I beg, wanting to feel his weight on me a little longer. He looks down into my eyes and I gaze back at him, beseeching him not to move. He lies back down on top of me, one hand cradling my cheek, the other still holding my hand over my head while he kisses my exposed cheek softly.

“And only you, my love,” he says softly, between kisses. “Only ever you…”

*-*

“This wasn’t my intention when I pulled you away from our children,” he says, caressing my stomach gently in our post-orgasmic haze.

“No?” I say, turning my gaze to him. He shakes his head.

“I really did want to talk… really do,” he replies, “but I saw you in the window and at first, I just wanted to get you out of there. Then, when the light hit your face, I knew that you had been crying. Al told me that you were upset, and he told me why, but he didn’t tell me that you were crying. I just wanted to wash your face and get rid of the puffiness in your eyes… but most of all, I just don’t want you to cry anymore.”

That’s not likely, dear. The fates are even using you against me right now. That’s why I’m internalizing every good moment, every precious and tender moment, every sensual moment, so that I don’t lose my mind when they decide to attack again.

“Jason and Gail want to have another… session with us, if you’re up to it. They were waiting in the den when I came to get you. They’re most likely off doing something else by now. Do you want to talk or would you rather not?” I sigh. Again, I know he means well, but right now, I don’t see that talking will help me.

“Sure,” I concede, wanting to appease him. I move to get up and he stops me.

“Not yet,” he says. “Just a few more minutes.” Fine by me.

“Okay,” I say softly, relaxing into his touch.

As agreed, a few minutes later, we rise and get back into our clothes. He takes me by the hand and leads me to the elevator. He stands behind me with his arms protectively wrapped around me while we ride to the ground floor. We go to his den, intent on calling Gail and Jason, only to find them tangled in each other’s arms, kissing passionately on the sofa. Though they are fully dressed, the distinct smell of sex hangs in the air. Christian stands there frowning for a moment and I’m in stunned awe. They didn’t even hear us come in. Christian clears his throat and although Gail jumps a bit, Jason just looks over at Christian.

“You better not have fucked on my piano,” he says, leading me into the room and examining his piano for—I don’t know, ass marks?

“No, we didn’t fuck on your precious piano,” Jason says. Gail hides her face while I stifle a laugh. “I won’t bother asking what took you so long. You look fresh as a bunny.”

“You should talk,” Christian says, satisfied that there was no coitus on his baby grand. “Don’t fuck in my den, Jason.”

You should talk,” Jason retorts. “Is there any room in this house you haven’t fucked in?”

“Yes, there is, and that’s beside the point,” Christian replies. “I fuck in my den. You don’t fuck in my den!”

“Okay, boys, that’s enough,” Gail says, after her face has turned fifty shades of red from pastel to crimson. “We got in a quickie while we were waiting we’re sorry it won’t happen again!” She spit it all out in one breath without raising her eyes to me or Christian and I’m fighting with all my might not to break out in hilarious laughter. I’m immune to this. Among other things, last year, I walked right in on these Neanderthals settling a bet on whether or not Christian and I were upstairs fucking. I remember leaving Chuck with a visual he’ll never forget. I also won’t embarrass her with the time that I was shoved under Christian’s desk pleasuring him when Jason walked in unannounced and it was my disembodied voice that convinced him to leave. I’m not modest about our sex life, but apparently, Gail is modest about hers.

“You should take a page from your wife’s book about humility, Mr. Taylor,” Christian says. “Thank you, Gail. It’s quite alright. Butterfly and I did take a while. We apologize.” She nods quickly, obviously anxious to change the topic. “As requested, we are here, though a bit detained.”

Gail straightens her clothes and sits up on the sofa. Jason sits up, too, and zeroes right in on me.

“You don’t talk much anymore, Your Highness,” he says, examining me. “Are you afraid that you’ll say too much?”

I shrug. I didn’t realize that I wasn’t talking. I just don’t have much to say.

“I… uh, it’s not intentional. I just don’t have much to say.”

“That’s not the Ana I know,” he says. “The Ana I knew before this whole mess was outspoken and had a lot to say. You’ve turned into a bit of a mute and you’ve missed four appointments with your therapist.” My eyes widen, and I glare at him.

“Are you keeping tabs on me?” I accuse. He looks at me with a surprised, horrified look on his face.

“Um, yah, that’s my job!” he retorts. “I knew what you were doing even when we weren’t here.” He gestures to himself. “Head of personal security? Everybody reports to me? Chuck, Ben, Chance, Rebe, Tate, Lurch… they all report to me?” He’s saying this waiting for me to catch the hint on how ridiculous my question was, which I do… I shrug and shake my head, murmuring my apologies.

“Accepted, but you still haven’t answered my question,” he says. “You haven’t seen Ace and you haven’t seen Dr. Baker,” he points an accusing finger at Christian. “What’s going on?” I turn my gaze to Christian. He hasn’t seen Dr. Baker?

“I see Dr. Baker on an as-needed basis, not regularly,” he defends.

“You don’t think it’s needed?” he asks.

“She can’t help me in terms of my marriage,” he protests. “Butterfly feels that she has a completely distorted view of what’s going on with her and that affects what advice she can give me about our relationship.”

“But what about what’s going on with you?” Jason asks him. Christian frowns.

“What do you mean?” he retorts.

“You thought your wife was cheating on you. You cut her off and ran away to the other side of the world without giving her the chance to explain. You don’t think that’s a problem on your part, like for instance, your trust issues? Your ability to give the woman you love the benefit of the doubt? Being able to control your anger reflex and ‘snap’ response?”

“I’m dealing with those things,” he says, running his hands through his hair. “I admitted that it was the wrong thing to do…”

“But it doesn’t stop it from happening again,” Jason says, interrupting his excuse. I hold my head down and wait for him to tear into me. I didn’t have to wait long.

“And you,” he begins. Here it goes. “You were seeing your therapist weekly before any of this happened. You shocked him so much that he showed up at the door! What gives?” I shrug again, noncommittal.

“I haven’t found the words,” I say, honestly. “I’d be wasting his time and mine.”

“So, you’re just going to sit here and let this thing tear you apart day by day where we can all see it,” he says. “You think I’m the only one who’s noticed that you’ve changed? You are a force of nature, Ana. You have the ability to move mountains with the flap of your little Butterfly wings, but lately, you’ve been as mute as a church mouse and as affective as a drizzle. You’re not talking to anyone, not even your therapist, and you as a mental health professional don’t see this as a problem?”

I don’t know how to answer him. The feelings that I have right now, nobody can fix, and talking about them just lays them out on plane for everyone to see and makes me feel like shit. When I don’t answer, Jason turns back to Christian.

“You say that you don’t need your therapist,” he begins. “What do you say about her not seeing hers? Is everything honky-dory between you guys?”

“I wouldn’t say honky-dory,” Christian admits. “I know she’s holding something back.”

Holding something back… you all want me to release? Fine, I’ll release…


CHRISTIAN

“Things aren’t terrible, but I can still feel a little distance between us,” I say honestly.

“Ana?” Jason prods, “What do you say to that?” She doesn’t raise her eyes.

“I would never want to leave him or anything like that, but…” She trails off.

But? There’s a but?

“But what, Ana?” Gail presses. “You have to be honest or you’ll never move forward.” She sighs and drops her head.

“I’m scared,” she says, softly, barely audible. “I’m afraid that as soon as I let my guard down and try to be happy, something horrible is going to happen. I never would have thought for a moment that something like this would happen between my husband and me. I thought our bond was unbreakable and unshakeable and could withstand anything. I thought that no matter what, no one would ever come between us—that when and if that crucial moment ever presented itself, we would both know that there was no room for anyone else and there was no way that someone would be able to work their way into our space. But when the time did come, I was wrong…”

“How were you wrong?” Jason asks. “That someone did work their way into your space?”

“No,” she says. “Liam never worked his way into our space. My eyes may have been stricken with what I saw, but that man never made it to my heart. Hell, he barely made it to my mind until he was in my sight or unless I was pissed about his presence. He never stood a chance. There was no room for him. So, what? He’s attractive. He’s not the first attractive man I’ve ever seen, and he won’t be the last. Have you met my therapist? My best friend’s husband? My brother-in-law? All attractive men that made me do a double-take when I first met them, but I never ended up in their arms or in their beds.

“When that man made a move on me, I stopped him. I did not see my husband and I stopped him. I didn’t have my arms around him pulling him in for a kiss—I stopped him. And the reward I got was that my husband left me for two and a half weeks and didn’t speak to me. The truth is that I can beat myself over the head for what I could have done differently over and over again, but it won’t mean anything. It won’t do anything. I didn’t meet this man at a hotel or even make a date for dinner. He invited me out to lunch and I turned him down for just this reason… for the speculation it could have caused. I can pick this situation apart more than I already have, and you know what I’ll get from it? The same thing that I already got…

“Don’t step wrong, Ana.
“Look straight ahead, Ana. Don’t look left or right…
“Don’t get comfortable, Ana. The moment you do, all hell is going to break loose.”

“You’re sounding a bit like the martyr, Ana,” Jason says. Butterfly laughs ironically and does a disbelieving nod.

“Of course, I do,” she says, defeat and resignation lacing her voice.

“Don’t discount her feelings, Jason,” Gail defends. “She has a right to her feelings.” Jason turns to look at his wife and back at Butterfly.

“You’re right,” he says. “I’m sorry. Maybe you can help me understand what it is that you’re feeling.” That’s pretty insightful. Butterfly looks up at him with a sad smile.

“I can understand why you feel that way, because if I wasn’t sitting in this body—in this life and mind, experiencing this shit first hand—I would feel the same way. This is one of the reasons why I don’t want to talk about it… none of it. It won’t make a difference.”

“Please, Ana,” Gail presses. “Tell us.” Butterfly shakes her head.

“Every time I got comfortable, something happened,” she says, still smiling. “Every time I thought I was going to be happy and I could sit back and take a breath and relax, something happened. Every single time! I’m a walking tragedy,” she says with a laugh. I don’t see what’s funny, but I think she may be going a little hysterical.

“It can’t be every time, Ana,” Jason protests. She laughs again, this time, with tears threatening her eyes.

“No?” she says, still sporting a wide smile and threatening to cry at the same time. “Let’s review, shall we?

“Right when I thought my mom and dad were happy, my mom suddenly became dissatisfied and left my dad. It only got worse—she ripped us apart deliberately, so set on hurting him for not being what she thought he should be that she didn’t care that she was destroying me, too.

“I was miserable at first, but I coped with it until I was able to settle comfortably into obscurity. Then what happens? The most popular boy in school pays attention to me and I was foolish enough to believe that he liked me… until he raped me. We all know how that turned out.

“Yes, I wanted to die, but I didn’t. Then Daddy came and got me, took me away from the horrible nightmare that I was living and nursed me back to health for a few months. I was right at the promise of tranquility—it was right there in arm’s reach—and they came and snatched me back to hell.

“I finally escape—finally escape—come back to Washington and start my life back over again… from scratch… all on my own. During that time, I meet this guy. He treats me like a princess. The cutest, most considerate guy I had met to that point and what happens? He turns out to be the goddamn spawn of Satan! My already shredded heart was put through such hell that it took years—years—for me to let anybody near me.

“Enter Christian Grey. After a tumultuous beginning, we fall in love only for me to find out that he has a psycho, stalker, pedophile ex-lover and—oh, yeah, Satan’s spawn is hanging in the bleachers waiting for his chance to attack!

“Crazy pedophile wreaking total havoc on our relationship and me and Mr. Grey have a brief falling out. The moment I come to my senses about the cause of the fallout, Satan’s Spawn kidnaps me and his fucking psycho sidekick damn near beats me half to death while I’m cuffed to a bed.

“I’m rescued! Yay, right? Only we go to Anguilla and shit happens where I lose my mind there, too—more than once!

“So, we get back and announce our relationship to the world, and the crazy blonde pedophile continues to wreak total fucking havoc on our lives for months… restraining orders; crashing my father’s wedding; kissing my boyfriend; trying to kill Jason; trying to kill Christian; trying to kill me…”

This is playing out like a goddamn Greek tragedy. If I hadn’t been present for most of it, I’d swear she was exaggerating.

“In between there somehow, I apparently mistakenly thought my wedding was called off and escaped to Montana, rethinking my entire purpose in life, only to return to the whole aforementioned murder-death-kill scenario.

“Oh, and let’s not forget Mommie Dearest!”

Yes, let’s not forget her.

“Once we finally do get married, halfway through our honeymoon, Satan’s Spawn pulls a hole card and we have to come back and I discover the most joyous revelation of my life after vomiting on the prosecuting attorney and passing out on the goddamn stand.”

At least she didn’t mention me having a spy at her bachelorette party.

“Then comes the hacker and the fundraiser fiasco, and immediately after we put those things to rest, I get T-boned by a fucking ex-sub who almost kills me and Chuck! Nearly a year later, I still don’t have all my memories back.

“After more hiccups than I care to count, I finally bring two healthy babies into the world, a joyous occasion that was overshadowed a few months later by Val’s tumor and Pop’s unfortunate passing—not things that directly happened to me, but deserve inclusion due to the fact that a) when Pops’ died, my husband turned into an emotional infant and locked me out of the bedroom that we shared, b) I sat for days wondering if my best girlfriend was going to die after we had treated each other like shit for months and c) they were both cause to postpone our Italian vacation.

“A few months later, I find that all my hard work for Helping Hands is being questioned by a spiteful, vindictive bitch with an ax to grind and then, the last thing… the very last thing I ever thought could happen happened! I feared that maybe one day, my husband would seek something that I wouldn’t be able to give him and might look for it in the company of another, but I never, ever thought that another man would come between us. It was never on my radar, not even in the furthest recesses of my mind. And then…” She holds her head down and shrugs, shaking her head and still chuckling sadly.

“I know I’ve forgotten something, but I think you get the idea,” she adds, still laughing tragically. “I. Am a walking. Fucking. Tragedy. I’m the goddamn damsel that’s always getting tied to the fucking railroad tracks in those badly made, corny, black-and-white silent films. And what a horrible thing to happen—being tied to the railroad tracks and seeing your demise coming at you full speed and hoping and praying that someone’s going to save you because you can’t save yourself. And trust me, the train has run me over more times than I’ve been rescued, yet there I am… dismembered on the railroad tracks, trying to put myself back together again. Those attacks and accidents weren’t even merciful enough to kill me… just scar me forever—physically, mentally, and emotionally—then set me back in this ragtag, patchworked body with my ragtag patchworked heart and my ragtag patchworked mind to fight another day.”

She laughs again, but by now, tears are streaming nonstop down her cheeks. She shakes her head and drops it before she adds, “For when they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.”

Now she’s quoting scriptures? This is really getting bad.

“Ana, can’t you see that this is exactly why you need to talk to Ace?” Gail tells her, leaning in like it’s a one-on-one conversation. “You can’t stop bad things from happening. You might be right, the fates may be cruel, and they may be waiting for things to get great so that they can drop another test on you, but you can’t spend your life waiting for that. You can’t do that to yourself… or your children. What kind of freedoms can they have if you’re always waiting for them to get run over by a bus?”

Butterfly sighs, now fully weeping while listening to Gail.

“I lived in mourning for many years after God gave me a wonderful man and then decided to take him back. We have no children and now, I can’t bear any children of my own. Lo, and behold, another wonderful man happened into my life.” She looks over at Jason.

“He was the worse person for me,” she laughs. “We work together; he has a dangerous job… but those damn fates…” She looks back down at her hands before she raises her eyes to Butterfly.

“He was almost killed, and I thought that destiny was going to punish me again, but he wasn’t. He came back to me and even though it happened in a pretty cruel way, he even brought me a daughter.”

Jason’s gaze softens, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen more love in his eyes… except on their wedding day in Anguilla.

“And then you welcomed me into your family—even against the wishes of my employer…” I drop my head and twist my lips. She’s right. I didn’t want to blur any lines between me and my staff, but Butterfly had different plans from the very beginning. “…And you had two beautiful babies, and I get to help raise them. So, I didn’t get to bear any children of my own, but I sure as hell have a family.

“One thing that I learned from losing my Douglas and living in mourning for all those years before I found my Jason, gained a beautiful daughter, and a beautiful family is that yes, bad times are always going to happen for as long as you’re alive. But think about it really hard… The bad times don’t follow the good times. The good times follow the bad.”

Butterfly raises her eyes to Gail, her lip trembling. She swallows hard.

“I want to believe that so badly,” she says. “It would make all of this so much easier to bear… I just can’t see how to get past this huge, crashing abyss I feel in my soul.”

“I just want us to get back to being us,” I say, disappointed, “but… from what you’re saying, that might not happen.” She shrugs, smiling sadly.

“I love you too much to lie to you,” she confesses. “Give it time. You never know. Maybe I’ll see what Gail is saying. I’ll go back to Ace and maybe… maybe I’ll get comfortable enough to forget this feeling of impending doom.”

It’s not until this moment that I fully realize what my leaving really did to her. It shook her foundation in everything she believed in. Maybe there was too much of her inner security wrapped up in me, but didn’t I make it that way? Didn’t I make her the most important thing in my life, bumping heads with her several times on matters of her security, safety, and well-being? I’m Christian Grey—self-proclaimed possessive and controlling asshole. I must have everything important to me encased in this protective bubble so that I know that it’s safe. She was in that bubble—figuratively and literally—and that’s what she became accustomed to. I took care of her life, her body, and her heart, and she expected me to keep doing that…

And then, one day, I didn’t.

I left her out there in the elements without any shelter and she had to fend for herself against the foul weather. As a result, she got a really good look at just how bad the hurricanes, tornadoes, monsoons, typhoons, blizzards, avalanches, sandstorms, wind and hail could really be. Every bad thing that ever happened to her all came back at     once and all the progress that she had made in all of her therapy sessions went down the drain. A lot, if not all, of her safety and progress was directly linked to me and I took it away in one fell swoop…

I was the one who opened the door to finally finding out what happened in Green Valley.

I was the one who swooped in with my whirly-bird and rescued her from the clutches of the bad guys.

I was the one who held her as she cried when she cut ties with her mother.

I was the one who stood by her side and fought her friends when she was catatonic for several days.

I was the one who was there for twelve days when she was in a coma and waiting when she woke up, even though she didn’t know who I was.

Then, she turned around looking for that safety net at a very crucial moment in our relationship, and I wasn’t there… I was gone… and she fell, and she might still be falling.

I’ll make it up to you, baby. I swear I will.

“I guess I just have to work harder at showing you that everything’s not impending doom,” I say, matter-of-factly, “at making sure that you know that I realize that I wasn’t there when you fell and I’m really sorry for that; letting you know that I know I’ve shaken your trust to the very core and it may take me the rest of my life to get it back, but I’ll fight that long if it means that in the end, you know that I’ll never let you fall again. I don’t care how long it takes… I love you and I want you to trust me again, trust us again, trust life and love again. I’ll do any and everything to restore that trust. It may take a really long time, but I don’t care. You won’t have to forget that impending doom, because I’m going to chase it away. I’m going to spend every day of my life chasing it away until you trust again. I made a horrible mistake, Anastasia. I ran when I should have listened. As a result, everything we’ve built has been destroyed. Please, forgive me. Please, please, forgive me.”

“Not… everything,” she says, her voice small. I raise my eyes to look at her. “I still love you… with all my heart…”

“But you don’t trust me,” I say. “That is everything, but I’m not giving up hope. I’ll do everything I can to make you trust me again.”

I suddenly ache inside. That pull—that connection that we’ve always had suddenly feels stronger than it ever has, and I feel that if she doesn’t come to me now, I just may pass out. She leaps from her seat and launches herself into my arms. She’s as light as a feather and as heavy as lead at the same time and it feels like the wind has been knocked out of me as I hold her to me with all the inner strength I can muster.

“I don’t know…” her small voice begins, her face buried in my neck.

“Sssh,” I soothe, rubbing her back and holding her close to me. “I do…”

*-*

I’m sitting at the breakfast bar resting my face in my hands and watching Gail put the finishing touches on an exquisite homemade seven-layer German chocolate cake. Only moments after our emotionally taxing discussion, Butterfly excused herself and went to take a nap before dinner. I immediately felt that hopeless feeling again and only wanted to make things right in her life… when I suddenly made a horrendous discovery.

“Today is Butterfly’s birthday,” I lament right after she leaves the den. Gail and Jason look at each other and back at me.

“Fuck! It is,” Jason responds, slapping his hand to his forehead. “We fucking forgot. How could we fucking forget?”

“Look at everything that’s been going on,” Gail interjects. “My birthday would be the last thing I would be thinking about in the midst of all this shit!”

“I’ll bet that’s not how Butterfly feels,” I say, pulling out my phone to see if Al is still in the house.

“Yep,” he says when he answers the phone.

“Today is Butterfly’s birthday,” I say into the phone.

“Yep,” he says, with no surprise. I roll my eyes.

“You didn’t think to remind me of this when we talked?” The line is silent.

“Are you serious?” he asks. “Are you fucking kidding me? You’re her goddamn husband and you forgot her fucking birthday? Now you wanna blame me? Seriously?” Oh, shit, I’ve pissed the man off.

 “Look, I’m sorry. There’s a lot going on, okay?” I apologize.

“No shit, Sherlock,” he replies.

“Did she mention anything while you all were visiting?”

“Not a word,” he says. “I think it’s the furthest thing from her mind.” Like Gail said.

“Are you still here?” I ask.

“Yes, but she just went up to bed. I think she’s down for the night…”

“No, she’s not. She’s taking a nap. Come to my den. I need your help…”

I used to sit in the kitchen and watch my mother like this on those few occasions when she would make something special. She was a very busy doctor and she didn’t get to cook much until we got older. She spent as much time with us as possible when we were kids instead of in the kitchen. She’s the reason that I don’t want my children raised solely by nannies. My mom was the best, and even though I may not have acted like she was the world to me, she really was. There was this one time when she made this chocolate cake for me from scratch. It was just for me, and I remember how special she made me feel making that cake just for me…

“I need you to do me a huge favor and I don’t want you to laugh at me.” Gail’s eyes widen as she puts the cake spatula down on the counter and turns her attention to me.

“Okay,” she says, waiting for my request. I sigh heavily and spit it out.

“I want you to teach me how to cook a nice meal for my wife,” I say finally. “I’m not trying to be a master chef. I just want to cook her a nice meal and I’m afraid that if I try to do it alone, I’ll burn the house down.”

I raise my head to look at her and she’s glaring at me like she’s just seen a ghost. I try to understand that this is a strange request but give me a fucking break here. I’m trying to do something nice for the woman I love.

“You want to cook?” she finally says, astonished. I nod.

“Yes,” I reply, already afraid that this will be an impossible task. Gail sighs.

“It takes patience, Christian,” she says. “You’re not a very patient man.”

“I at least want to try,” I say. “I just want to do something nice for her. I buy her shit all the time. This will be different, something I can do myself. It doesn’t have to be a gourmet meal—I know that would take forever, but something nice… and edible.” A small smile plays with Gail’s lips.

“We’ll try,” she says. “When do you want to do this? You all are always home at the same time, unless you don’t care if she knows.”

“No, it has to be a surprise,” I tell her. She nods.

“Sophie has been asking to learn to cook a few dishes. You’re in luck, we’ve only just started. I can kill two birds with one stone if you don’t mind a teenager in your cooking class.” I sigh again. I don’t care who’s in the cooking class as long as she agrees to help me… and Butterfly doesn’t find out.

“Thank you,” I breathe. “I’ll come home early, when Sophie is getting off school. We’ll work out some form of communication so that I’ll know if Butterfly is at home…”

Just like that, Gail becomes my co-conspirator.

Having unlimited resources affords you the luxury of not only being able to put together a birthday party in only two hours, but also to be able to secure the perfect gift that’s not only thoughtful and somewhat extravagant to the average person, but also utterly necessary. As luck would have it—bad luck, that is—I’m the only person in the inner sanctum that forgot it was Butterfly’s birthday. Everyone else had presents at the ready and was only looking for a good time to “engage,” so to speak. So, when Al activated the contingency and managed to get Butterfly’s closest friends to the Crossing on short notice, everyone came bearing gifts. Mine is an Australian cruise that we’ll be taking in December, no excuses or postponing.

At 7pm sharp, I send Val to rouse my Butterfly from her slumber and bring her to the dining room. As much as I’ve promised that birthdays will no longer be a day of angst for my wife, this one was nearly ruined again—this time, because of me. Three birthdays this woman has spent with me and not one of them have gone off without a hitch. Oy vey!

After fifteen minutes have passed and still no sign of my wife, I begin to worry until I see a beautiful vision in sunshine yellow bend the corner around one of the large columns.

“Surprise!” everyone yells. The gathering is small, not everyone that I would have hoped but enough of our closest friends and family.

“Wha…?” Butterfly is stunned. An impromptu Food and Libations with the Scooby Gang and plus ones, the extended family from the Crossing, and my parents made it, too. A small table is set up with the gifts and the German Chocolate cake made by Gail and decorated with large chocolate flowers and the words “Happy Birthday Mommy.” The twins sleep in their Pack-n-Plays on either side of the table, guarding the cake and gifts from possible interlopers. Little Mindy occasionally peeks into the Pack-n-Plays under her mother’s watchful eye. Little Harry had just been put down to sleep and as I am told, has been battling a small cold. So, even though Ray is here, Mandy and Ana’s little brother couldn’t make it.

“I couldn’t let her come down when she first awoke,” Val apologizes. “She looked like she had been attacked by wolves. She never would have forgiven me.” I walk over to my sweet, stunned bride and put my hands on her forearms.

“I want to say that we had this elaborate plan, but we didn’t. We all just wanted you to know how much we love you.” She looks around the table at her friends and the family we could gather before she throws her arms around me and buries her face in my neck.

“I totally forgot,” she breathes in soft sobs. “I love you, too.”

*-*

She had a wonderful time. She spent the evening listening to what was going on in everyone else’s life since it was already known that the last month of her life had been a complete disaster. Having spent most of the summer taking care of Val, then being there for me and my family when Pops died, followed almost immediately by Mia’s wedding then yet another event that we’ll come up with some horrible nickname for, there hasn’t been any time to connect with her friends on the frivolous and fun level that friends should.

After two years together, Marilyn and Gary have decided to move in together. There are still no wedding bells on the near horizon, but they’re both so busy that they don’t spend nights apart at all and, according to them, it makes no sense to pay rent in two places when they most often only stay in one.

So… Courtney and Vickie are a real-life couple. Yeah, that’s news to me. I wouldn’t have been surprised that they were fucking around, but a couple… yeah, I’m surprised. Courtney’s going to school for social work, which is a real shocker to me since she was truly a lost cause a year ago as far as I was concerned. But, I have to admit—Aunt Tina, Mom, and Butterfly were right. She has changed significantly. I don’t think her grandparents would even recognize her now.

Valerie and Elliot will be moving into their house next weekend. The house is ready, but they didn’t want to come straight home and then have to prepare for packing and moving. Valerie’s things are all in storage since she let her apartment go right after her diagnosis and Elliot’s refusal to let her out of his sight. Elliot still has his apartment, but he’s going to be shedding most of his bachelor gear—as is my understanding—for new furnishings in the new house. They should be ready for a housewarming in a few weeks.

Maxine announces that she has decided to open her own practice. She feels that it’s time that she offers her services in a different arena without being under someone else’s payroll. Butterfly encourages her to do that and jokes that she will come and see Maxine should she find herself in need of a job again. A scoff and a dirty look come from both my mother and me to the party’s amusement. Butterfly also informs her friend that she owns an office building downtown with empty office space. I had completely forgotten that I had gifted Butterfly’s office downtown to her and there is currently space for rent. So, Maxine now has the new location of her practice.

There’s no sex tonight. The day was just too heavy, even with the successful joviality at the end of the evening. Butterfly and I watch Disney movies in the family room with the twins in their Pack-n-Plays. She finally falls asleep somewhere after their midnight feeding and I lay in bed with her in my arms staring at the ceiling, thinking how close I came to losing it all over a terrible misunderstanding.

My wife could have died when she fell off that cliff. Chuck saved her life yet again. She may never recover from this impending doom syndrome. I can see it in her eyes. She used to be such a free spirit and now, she’s approaching everything with a level of emotional caution that’s clearly visible to everyone around her. She’s agreed to start seeing Ace again. I’ll give Dr. Baker a call, too. Somebody’s got to help us out of this situation in which we’ve found ourselves or we’ll never be able to get ourselves back.

Having laid awake next to my wife for about three hours with no hope of falling asleep, I slide out of bed and go to my old faithful companion in hopes of calming my nerves enough to find slumber. I stop at the bar in the entertainment room and pour myself a brandy, then stop in my office to get my voice recorder before escaping to my den and my baby grand.

I never know how to verbalize my feelings, which is why I ran my cowardly, selfish ass to Madrid instead of staying here and communicating with my wife. I thought I had come so far during the time that we’ve been together. I’ve come a long way, granted, but not nearly as far as I need to if I can come this close to losing her because of this. I start the voice recorder and just start playing. At first, I have no idea what I’m doing, what I’m playing, or why I’m recording… but I do. I just keep playing, keep recording… and keep singing.

You look at me and I begin to melt, just like the snow when a ray of sun is felt…

She’s so broken, and I broke her. Just like she always does, she put on a good face for the rest of the world, but deep inside, she’s fragile and afraid. Somehow, I—or something else—always exploits that fear and that vulnerability. I have to make sure that she knows that I’ll never be the one to do that to her again. I have to know that I’ll never do that to her again. She can’t take it. She won’t survive going through this too many more times.

And now that your rose is in bloom, a light hits the gloom on the Grey…

Yeah, I know that’s not the Grey the song meant, but that’s how I feel—lost without her and so found when she’s near me. Song after song flows from my soul, my fingers, and my mouth. I don’t really know the purpose. I just sing and play what I’m feeling, what I need her to feel.

And when you smile, the whole world stops and stares for a while…

How I could have thought that for one second her thoughts and heart would stray to someone else is beyond me. Even now, playing the probable kiss over and over in my head, I no longer see her gazing in his eyes. I no longer see him closing in to touch his lips to hers. I only see her hand on his chest, pushing him away, fending him off from our bubble, our life and our love…

I knew I loved you before I met you, I think I dreamed you into life…

I have to get her back… back to the sassy Dr. Steele that I met in that community center, the woman who calls me Grey when she’s cross with me, the woman who cries adrenaline tears when she’s pissed and wants someone to pay for whatever has her feeling that way instead of shrinking into sofas or in fetal positions on the floor—not for myself, but for her… and yes, for me, too…

If ever I believe my work is done, then I’ll start back at one…

She has to know that I love her, what she means to me, what she’ll always mean to me. She has to know that, yes, there will be some bad times—some shadows and some tears, we can’t avoid them—but I’ll always be there to love her and hold her, to make sure that she’ll never feel the way she feels right now ever, ever again. God, I love you, Butterfly. I love you so much. I’ll spend the rest of my life proving to you that I love you and I’ll never let you down like this again… never again…

I never knew what my life was for, but now that you’re here, I know for sure…

I have died every day waiting for you, Darlin’ don’t be afraid, I have loved you for a thousand years…

You make me feel so brand new and I want to spend my life with you…

All of me loves all of you, love your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections…


A/N: Ana’s quote about sudden destruction comes from the Bible: I Thessalonians 5:3

Here are the songs that are referenced in Christian’s midnight serenade.

On the Wings of Love—Jeffrey Osborne
Kiss From A Rose—Seal
Just The Way You Are—Bruno Mars
I Knew I Loved You—Savage Garden
Back At One—Brian McKnight
Spend My Life With You—Eric Benet ft. Tamia
A Thousand Years—Christina Perri
Let’s Stay Together—Al Green
All Of Me—John Legend 

Other songs that were on the recording, not mentioned in the chapter:
Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love for You—George Benson, Glenn Medeiros, Westlife… take your pick
I Will Be Right Here Waiting for you—Richard Marx
Thinking Out Loud—Ed Sheeran
Because You Loved Me—Celine Dion

Not sure if anyone cares, but years ago, I used to watch a sitcom called The Facts of Life. One of the characters—Tootie—wrote and performed a dramatic reading that I never really understood until I became an adult and people were always expecting something of me. When my Muse deserted me (and believe me, y’all, she deserted me—I thought I was going to be wrapping up the Butterfly Saga), Tootie’s dramatic reading came to me. To me, it translated into, “You can’t expect for me to just keep churning out shit when you need it and just take what I can get when you’re ready to give it to me.” 

These last few chapters, my Muse took a beating… and she shut the fuck down. 

Now I know people may look at this and say, “We can’t say what we want to say or she’s going to stop writing.” That’s not necessarily true, but people do need to understand that creativity is a lot of hard work, and I’m feeling what’s being said. As many times as I’ve tried to explain things logically, my Muse—as is anybody’s—is as “at will” as they come. She was like, “I don’t have to explain shit! and took the fuck off. 

For those who think she’s overly sensitive, do me a quick favor. Start from chapter 37, and don’t read anything else but the comments(suspicion started in chapter 33; the “embers” started in chapter 37; the blaze started in chapter 38) . Start from the first comment in chapter 37 to the last comment in chapter 41. Read it first with an open mind, then picture that this was a piece of clay that you worked on months ago for several weeks, and these people are talking about your piece of clay. No matter how thick your skin is, no creative soul can walk away from that unscathed. 

If you’re interested in Tootie’s dramatic reading, it starts at the 15:45 mark and it’s only about a minute long. 

I’m done. I apologize for subjecting you all to my diatribe. I’ve actually lost readers for that. 

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 40—Searching for Remedies

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”
~~Ali McGraw and Jennifer Cavalieri in Love Story, 1970.

Yeah, that’s not true. 

Just let that marinate for a bit.

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 40—Searching for Remedies

ANASTASIA

There’s too much emotion… more than I can take at once. My head and heart are full, and I can’t think. I can’t function. It’s just too much…

My chest hurts. As much as I wanted him to come back, wanted to see him, wanted to talk to him, I wasn’t ready for it when he did. When he touched me, all of my feelings were raw and burning and bubbling up in me and I couldn’t control them. They were consuming me and taking me over and I couldn’t think. I thought I would explode, die, disintegrate… something, but I just couldn’t take it. God, help me. How can you want something so much and then can’t stand it when you get it? I’m normally very good with describing and identifying the seven stages of grief, but I don’t know which stage is “He’s-back-please-don’t-touch-me.”

My ankle hurts like fuck, but I learned when I came home from the hospital that the pain medication affects my breast milk, so I won’t take it. I heard Jason say over the two-way that I’ve been sleeping for more than 36 hours. I sure don’t feel like it, but my exploding breasts in the bath confirmed that my soccer players hadn’t emptied me in quite some time. Why didn’t the two-way notify me when they stirred?

Keri wordlessly gathers the clothes that I ask her to get for me and I get dressed, tackling my hair last. I’ve had enough of this fucking hair. It’s time to make a change.

“Keri, would you please call Miana’s and ask for Franco. Tell him that a spa day is needed at Grey Crossing… for… five… maybe six people and find out when he can arrange it? Marilyn has the number… or she can do it… or…”

“It’s okay, Ahna,” Keri says sweetly, cutting me off. “Ah’ll take care of it. Any deh in particuleh?”

“As soon as possible… today if he can swing it, but I’ll understand if he can’t.” She nods and pauses.

“Heh’s back, Ahna,” she says, like his return is going to solve all our problems. I can understand why she feels that way because returning to Chuck solved all of hers. I smile weakly and nod, sending her off to her task.

I want to go and see my babies, but I know Christian is there with them, and I don’t want to run into him right now. I don’t feel like working, although I know that it’s irresponsible of me to shirk my responsibilities to the Center. I sigh and try to use my cane to stand again, and of course, it hurts like hell. With no specific direction as to where I’m going right now, I sit back down on the bed and ponder my situation.

He’s back… I’ll have to talk to him sooner or later. How do I do that without my emotions running all over me and negating any progress that I hope to make?

Put yourself in his shoes. What would you have done if you had walked into his office and saw some woman about to kiss him?

I understand that, but I didn’t kiss the guy! I stopped him!

Do you think he saw that? Do you think he could see anything through his rage except the man closing in on your lips until he grabbed the guy by the collar?

But he didn’t even ask me! He just left and cut me off. He didn’t even give me a chance to explain.

Yeah, about that… as far as you’re concerned he saw something completely different than what was happening, right?

What are you getting at?

He saw you and this guy about to kiss, but that’s not what was happening, right?

Well, no, not really. I was expecting it to be Christian kissing me and knew that it was wrong.

So, you weren’t leaning in or anything, right?

No, I wasn’t leaning in! I mean, I could have moved away faster, but I wasn’t leaning in!

So, he interpreted something that you didn’t intend… something that really didn’t happen.

Yes, exactly! And then he left me without even talking about it!

Something like you interpreted a postponed wedding for a cancelled wedding and ran off to Montana without talking to him.

That was different…

How?

Yeah…
How?

*-*

The next twenty-four hours are full of tension, neither of us knowing what to say to each other or even if we should be in the same room together. I get the same quickening I’ve always gotten when he’s around, but something’s wrong… something else is there with it… a dread or a caution of some kind that makes me stiffen and guard myself. I don’t know what it is… Who am I kidding? Of course, I know what it is. I just won’t admit it, won’t say it out loud, because if I do, then it makes what I’m feeling real. It gives this horrible theory a pulse, and that means that things will never be the same.

So, I can at least identify this stage of grief… denial.

“You’ll be happy to know that the new acting director of the board of licensing approved our accreditation,” Grace says when she calls Friday morning to check on me.

“That’s good to hear,” I say noncommittal.

“We can start our curriculum whenever we like,” she adds. How wonderful. We got our preschool, our continued education, our tutoring program, college prep testing preparation… and it only cost me my marriage… maybe.

“I’m really glad to hear that,” I say, trying to show some enthusiasm. She’s silent for a moment.

“How are you, dear?” she asks. I won’t lie, but I still don’t want to talk about it.

“The same,” I tell her. More silence.

“I hear that Christian is back,” she says.

“Yep,” I answer, still not offering any additional information.

“Do you know where he was?” she asks.

“Madrid… I think,” I tell her. I only know from what I’ve picked up in passing conversations. He still hasn’t told me himself where he was. I would have loved to go to Madrid someday. Now, it’s the furthest thing from my mind. A waste, too, since I’ve heard that it’s a beautiful city.

“Will you be okay, dear?” she asks. I know that she means well, so I try to give her something.

“I’m fine, Grace,” I concede, though I’m far from fine. “It really is a good thing that we can move on with our plans for the Center. I’ll be in on Monday morning to bang out some more or the details. I’m sorry that I was so lost in my own thing that I lost sight of what needed to be done. I promise, I’ll do better.”

“Think nothing of it, Aa,” she chides. “I know it must have been difficult for you. I can only speculate what was going on and you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, but know that I’m here for you, okay?” I nod as if she can see me.

“Thank you, Grace,” I say sincerely. What she doesn’t know is that the Center is my purpose and all I really have now except for the babies. I don’t know what’s going to happen with me and Christian.

Christian…

God, why did any of this have to happen?

Franco put together a special team to come over this evening for a pamper session. Keri had explained that I had sprained my ankle and asked that he bring any kind of aroma therapy that could help with the healing process. He rightly said that the best thing for it is elevation and ice. So, while the others—Gail, Keri, and Sophie—all enjoy other treatments, I soak in a eucalyptus bath with my earbuds in listening to Buddhist meditations with my injured leg elevated on the edge, padded underneath with a towel, and packed in ice.

It’s easy to slip away to nowhere when you allow your mind to clear and listen to the chants. I wasn’t nearly focused enough to do this over the last few weeks, when I was certain that my marriage was over. Now, I just clear my mind and float away to much-needed nothingness.

I’m brought back to the here and now when one of the technicians rouses me to get out of the tub before I shrivel and come to the chair for my hair treatment. I truly dread getting out of the warm cocoon that is the relaxing water, the first time in weeks that I’ve allowed myself to just be. When I sit in the chair, Franco gives instructions for the hot essential oil conditioning that I normally get.

“Wait,” I say, stopping him from mixing the oils. “Not just yet. I want you to clip all of the dead hair.” Franco frowns as the hair stylist carefully examines my hair.

“Mrs. Grey,” she says skeptically, “That’s easily eight inches of hair… most likely because it hasn’t been cut in so long.”

“At least a year,” I tell her, “and cut a foot.” The women in the room all fall silent and I hold my head down, avoiding their judgmental glares. The only one not afraid to speak is the child.

“Wow, Aunt Ana,” Sophie says. “That’s a lot. I would cry if they cut off a foot of my hair.” I raise my eyes to the blue-eyed unassuming angel and smile.

“My hair is so long that I can sit on it, Sophie,” I say sweetly. “I can afford a foot.” I wink at her and she smiles. I turn to Franco. “Mix my treatment for Sophie,” I tell him. “It’ll leave her hair shiny and luxurious and she’ll love it.”

Sophie smiles widely as Franco still looks from me to the stylist in uncertainty. He begins to mix the oils while the stylist stands a bit stunned. I look over my shoulder at her.

“I know what I’m doing,” I reassure her. “It’s time.” I turn back around in the seat and wait.

“Yes, ma’am,” she says, and begins to wash my hair.

For the first time in weeks, I take care to pick something to wear. Most days, I would just grab a suit and go to the Center. I think I alternated between the same three suits for two weeks… I think. I’m still sleeping in the guest room, unable to bring myself to partake of our bridal bed just yet, but I do go to my dressing room and choose a mint green airy  two-layer skater dress with a halter neckline and a cutout back. I wanted to wear a maxi-dress, but with the bad ankle, I could see myself doing a face plant.

Back in the guest room, I examine myself in the mirror. The stylist has given me a thorough facial, saying that my skin looked dull and a little blanched—nothing like she was accustomed to seeing me. It’s strange to me how you can be suffering the most agonizing pain—nearly dying inside—and be able to hide it from the world… for the most part.

Except Al and Grace, I suppose.

I had invited Grace to the impromptu spa evening, but she was on-call at the hospital and couldn’t join us. Maxie was still at work, and Val and Elliot are still out of town along with Mia and Ethan. I really didn’t want to have to explain my current situation to my girlfriends and I hope my ankle is back up to par before Val gets back so that I don’t have to relay that situation to her. They’re both going to be pissed as hell that I kept it from them, but I just couldn’t talk about it. Dragging it out in conversation won’t make me feel any better about what was going on.

Now that I’ve been boiled, milked (in the tub), soaked, plucked, cleaned, clipped, waxed, exfoliated, kneaded, sandblasted—or at least it feels like it—I’m standing here looking at myself, my hair in huge barrel curls still cascading down my back and over my breasts after Gina the reluctant stylist clipped over 13 inches of dead hair from my ends. I don’t know what to do or where to go. I don’t feel particularly sociable, but I guess these four walls have seen enough of me for the past few days. Ballet flats are the safest thing for me to wear, even though I feel like I’m about three feet tall compared to everybody else in the house except Sophie.

I need to see my babies.

I hobble down to the nursery, my ankle still really sore, and enter the room. I scan the normally happy space, Dumbo, Bambi, and Scuttle all looking back at me when I enter. I make a note talk to security about why the two-way hasn’t been notifying me when the children stirred over the last couple of days. To my dismay, my children aren’t in the nursery, so now I must go and find them, but the room isn’t empty either.

Christian is sitting in my window seat, staring at me.

I suddenly feel like an intruder in my children’s room. I’m very uncomfortable and I want to make a quick getaway but leaving without saying anything would be just plain rude.

“I… was…” I stumble over my words and the fact that I’m caught in his intense gray gaze, the one that always made me weak in the knees. Even from this distance, I can see his pupils dilate. I swallow hard and lean on my cane. “Where are the children?” I ask.

“Gail and Keri…” he begins, “they… um… rescued them from me and Jason shortly after they came from the spa.” He never breaks his gaze from me. “You look beautiful.”

I drop my gaze, unable to even correctly accept a compliment from him.

“Thank you,” I say, barely audible. He stands from the seat and walks slowly over to me. I feel wobbly and a little lightheaded watching him walk towards me. Sensations arise in my body that I thought were dead because I hadn’t felt them in weeks. I only felt grief and loss, so when my heart speeds up and my breath quickens slightly, I don’t know how to handle it. I can feel myself panicking a bit.

“I’m told that you spent quite a bit of time in that window,” he says, his voice soft and deep. “What were you looking at?”

“Nothing,” I say in the same barely audible voice. It’s not a total lie. The entire time I watched the bridge, nothing came across it that I was looking for.

“There’s not much to look at,” he says. “The sky, the treetops… and the bridge.” He’s closed the space between us and I don’t respond to his last statement. I swallow as I look at his feet, clad only in sweat socks poking out from under his jeans. The proximity is making it hard to breath. I don’t know how to handle this closeness again, yet. I flinch when he touches my hair, but he doesn’t stop.

“You cut it,” he says, his voice a little dreamy.

“It was time,” I confess. It was stringy and dead and way too long. It was holding too many burdens… too many memories. I’m suddenly hearing that song from South Pacific talking about washing that man out of my hair. Only right now, while he’s touching it and admiring the softness and the curls, I realize that man ain’t going nowhere… and do I really want him to? I’m having a hard time with my feelings right now, but I was miserable while he was gone. Now, he’s back… and everyone thinks that should fix everything. His return fixes nothing… he’s just here.

“It’s been a long time since I saw your hair this way,” he says, his voice breaking my inner contemplation. “It was almost this length when we first met… a little shorter at the time, maybe…”

My mind goes back to the time I caressed him with my hair, very shortly after we met. I remember the look on his face and the sound of his voice… he was in Nirvana.

My short spot isn’t so short anymore. It’s grown enough to curl it and camouflage it back into the rest of my hair with a clip or some bobby pins. Ironically, it’s being held back a mint-green flower that matches my dress… while I’m hearing songs from South Pacific.

“Are you coming down for dinner?” he asks, still caressing my tresses in his fingers. I swallow hard, but nod without raising my head. Yes… I should eat.

“Yes,” I breathe wistfully. “I…” His hand lifts my chin so that he can look at me… and I can look at him.

Oh, God…

My lips part to get more air so that I don’t pant like a silly little breathless puppy. Breathe, Ana, breathe. My feelings are still so conflicted when he brushes his lips against mine. Oh, God, the soft kiss on my skin, his smell in my nostrils, his hand gently steadying me at my waist. I feel like a girl getting her first kiss in school from the captain of the football team. I can’t move… not my body, not my lips… not anything as he gently grazes my mouth with his own. He’s soft, barely touching, lightly tasting, snatching small breaths from me as I close my eyes and try to remember… try to remember who we are and what we were…

My head lulls back and his kiss deepens, but only slightly as I just let him take what he wants—not reciprocating but lost in the sensation nonetheless. The kiss lasts for an eternity and ends too quickly, both at the same time. I’m suspended for a moment, still feeling his kiss even after his lips are gone. I keep my eyes closed, committing that feeling to memory, his warm lips on mine.

I’m catapulted back to the first time he kissed me in his office. It was nothing like this. That kiss was hot, hungry, and demanding, but it stirred the same intense feelings of need and longing that I feel now. I’m taking in short breaths and I feel the room tilt a bit and Christian’s hand tighten only slightly on my waist, steadying me.

I blink my eyes open and look into the face of the man that I love… that I long for… that scares the shit out of my heart right now. He gazes into my eyes, no doubt glazed over and confused looking back at him. I know he wants to kiss me again, but instead, he sidesteps and leaves the room.

Thank God!

I slowly release the breath I was holding, able to think more clearly now that he’s not in the space anymore, but I have to hold on to Minnie’s empty crib to steady myself so that I don’t slide down to the floor in a mountain of goo.

My skin is… crawling? Tingling? Whatever it is, it’s alive, and I’m hearing more songs in my head from South Pacific…

Bali Ha’i…
I’m in Love with a Wonderful Guy…
Some Enchanted Evening…
Younger Than Springtime…


CHRISTIAN

My God, she’s so beautiful.

I don’t know what was happening in that room, but I had to get out of there. I wanted to consume her tiny little body in one bite and it was taking me over. The way she looked at me… lost and… submissive and… totally fucking mine, if even just for that moment, totally fucking mine. I don’t think she’s ready for the intensity of what I was feeling in that room. Looking all hot and delicious in that tiny little dress like she did the very first time I saw her—her hair cut almost the exact same way and she’s looking so vulnerable and giving off these needing, yearning vibes. The Dom and Protector in me is bristling to care for her and I’m fighting to get him under control. She’s walking around here hobbling on a cane, physically and emotionally hurting… I couldn’t even touch her the first day I came back…

But a moment ago, in the nursery… I touched her… and kissed her… and she opened to me, helpless, needy, and speechless. Fuck, she’s torturing me. I know her well enough to know that she’s not doing this on purpose, but fuck!

I thrust my hands in my hair and try to contain myself. I didn’t even ask if she needed help getting downstairs. Hell, I can’t go back in that room right now. I can’t be responsible for what happens if I do. I can’t carry her downstairs and I certainly can’t be caught in that tiny ass elevator with her right now.

I make it down to the family room where the Taylors, Keri, and Chuck are all cooing at my children. Little Sophie likes to help care for the twins and it appears that Mikey has taken quite a liking to her, so she has Mikey in her lap, occupying him with his sock doll why Gail and Jason look on. Keri has Minnie in her arms, rocking her to sleep while Chuck gazes longingly on the sight. I’ve got a feeling he’s got baby fever. Jason has his arm around his wife, but frowns when he sees me. He rises from the sofa and follows me into the kitchen.

“You okay?” he asks as I uncharacteristically go to the refrigerator for a beer.

“Yeah,” I say, popping the cap off a Budvar and drinking right from the bottle. I walk out to the family room patio and sit in one of the chairs, watching the sun go down over the lake.

“You wanna talk?” Jason says, sitting in a nearby seat. I take another swallow of my beer.

“That window you told me that Keri said she sat in all the time… the window seat in the nursery… treetops, sky, and the bridge.” I swallow more beer as a knowing look comes over his face. “It didn’t take me long to figure out which one she was watching for hours at a time.” Jason sighs.

“Yeah, that’s what my wife thinks, too,” he says. “She’s been pretty mute the whole time… taking care of the babies and escaping away to whatever corner she chose. It’s my understanding that she finally totally snapped when people kept asking her what was wrong, and she didn’t want to tell them. The consensus is that the only people who know what happened are the two of you and no one’s going to ask.” I nod as I look at the floor.

“I feel like I shouldn’t say anything before she does,” I tell him “When she’s ready, we’ll talk about it.”

“Okay… but… isn’t that kind of what got you where you are now?” he asks. I just shake my head.

Once I finish my beer, we go back into the house to find both of my children asleep in the nappers of their Pack-n-Play. Gail has gone to the kitchen to see about dinner with Ms. Solomon and Chuck and Keri have moved their canoodling to the dining room. Sitting with her gaze fixed on the two bundles in the Pack-n-Play and humming that same lullaby is my wife. Her cane sits idly by her, leaning on the sofa, as she stares longingly into the Pack-n-Play as if she would crawl inside with them if she could.

I watch her for several moments, unaware that Jason has left me on my own until Butterfly finally stirs and struggles off the sofa to hobble to the dining room, totally unaware of my presence.

“Jason,” she says when she gets to the dining room, “can you please find out why the two-way system hasn’t been alerting me that the children are awake for the past few days?” She moves to pull her chair back from the table, but I beat her to it, sliding the heavy chair from the table to give her access. She looks up at me with the bottomless blue eyes before taking her seat.

“Thank you,” she says, softly, before dropping her gaze to the table. She spoke with such authority a moment ago, and suddenly, she’s back to being a mouse. I can’t hide my confusion.

“That’s my fault, Ana,” Gail says, coming into the dining room. “You hadn’t been sleeping well, so when you finally got to sleep…” Gail shrugs. Butterfly looks at her and nods.

“I understand,” she says, “but can we… fix it… please?” Jason nods.

“I’ll have it recoded right after dinner,” he says.

Dinner is pretty uneventful. Sophie talks about how much she loves her hair and that Butterfly told the staff to use her treatments in Sophie’s hair. Now, Sophie wants to do the treatments herself once a month if she can’t get to Miana’s. Gail has promised to pencil in an appointment for them to have a beauty day every four weeks. This pleases young Sophie immensely as I’m certain that she hasn’t had anything like this with her mother.

Butterfly looks a bit uncomfortable throughout the meal until Keri asks if she’s okay. She simply indicates that her stomach has been upset and her digestion hasn’t been very good for the last few days but assures the table that she’s fine and very shortly thereafter, escapes to the family room with the children, who still haven’t awakened yet.

Conversation continues as usual at the table, but I watch Butterfly as she stares into the Pack-n-Play at our children. Soon, everyone heads in their separate directions and I go to the family room to check on Butterfly. She hasn’t moved for several minutes and I soon discover why. She has curled up on the sofa—her head lying on the back of the sofa and her legs curled under her—and she has fallen asleep. She looks so small and I recognize the shrinking immediately, but she looks adorable, too. I put a blanket over her and kiss her lips gently. She doesn’t react. Noting that it would be criminal to move any of them right now, I sit in her recliner and watch over all of them until someone stirs.

“Ana!” She startles me out of a daydream several minutes later when she pops up from the sofa like a Jack-in-the-box, saying her name and frantically trying to remember where she is. She’s groggy, like she’s drugged… it’s like she was on the very edge of consciousness. I realize that she heard the two-way activate in the kitchen and thought it was for her. What the hell was she dreaming about?

“It’s okay,” I say, moving carefully next to her and trying to calm her breathing. I can feel her racing pulse through her skin. “They’re not awake yet; they’re right here in front of you.”

She squints and rubs her eyes, scratches her head, the realizes where she is. She glances at her children in the Pack-n-Play, still fast asleep, then nods. Her head falls sideways onto the back of the sofa and she’s asleep in seconds. How does she do that?

Defense mechanism.

I gently stroke her hair and I’m again transported back to when we first met. She was fucking beautiful. She took my breath away… still does. I couldn’t fucking resist her. I remember seeing her that night at the nightclub. My God, it was outer-worldly. I couldn’t have escaped if I tried. I think that was the first real transformation for me—either that day or the day that I followed her to the New Orleans with Allen—either way, I knew I had changed and there was no turning back for me. Even now, when she doesn’t know what to do with herself and I don’t know what to do with myself, there’s no hope for me. I’m a fucking goner.

*-*

I’m not sleeping well if at all with Butterfly still sleeping in the guest room. Another night has come and gone, and we still haven’t talked, still haven’t made it to the same bed. It’s Saturday morning now and the only way that I can explain her mood today is… crabby. In the early afternoon, however, I get a notice from Windsor that we have a guest that just might change the course of things.

“Ace, hey. Did Ana call you?” His lips form a thin line as he examines me.

“No, she didn’t,” he says. “She cancelled her last three appointments without explanation and I got worried. She’s one of my most complicated patients. I hope you don’t mind me just dropping by, but she won’t answer or return my calls.”

Mind? I welcome it right now!

“No, not at all,” I say, taking a seat in the formal living room with him. “I don’t want to elaborate on what’s going on; I think she should start by telling you what she feels you need to hear. Activate two-way communications.” The system comes alive. “Locate Anastasia Grey.” A few moments pass, and I hear her raspy, whispering voice.

“Ana.” She’s in the nursery again.

“Ace is here,” is all I say. A few moments of silence pass.

“I’ll be right down.”

“End two-way communications.” Ace and I sit in expectant silence until Butterfly…

Butterfly…

… until Butterfly bends the corner, still on the cane from her newly injured ankle. Ace looks on in confusion as I take her reluctant hand and help her down the stair into the living room.

“What happened to your leg?” Ace asks, no prelim or greeting.

“Blazing stupidity,” she replies as she hobbles to the sofa, anger lacing her voice, “And it’s my ankle.” Ace twists his lip. I can see his skepticism. “To answer your question, I fell off a cliff… could’ve died.” She says it so matter-of-factly as she seats herself on the sofa opposite Ace. “So, what brings you here? Did someone tell you that I finally cracked up, or was it the missed appointments?” Her voice is laced with heavy sarcasm, which doesn’t escape Ace.

“The missed appointments,” he responds flatly while taking his seat. “As you know, extended periods of absence make me nervous.” Butterfly nods.

“Well, don’t worry. I’m not hunting great whites,” she responds. What the hell does that mean? “I’m sorry that I put you through that. It wasn’t intentional.” Ace looks somewhat side-eyed at her.

“Do you want to tell me what was going on? Are you okay?” he presses.

“My husband left me.” The words just jump out of her mouth like “We’re having chicken for dinner.” I try not to tense up at her stoic tone, though I know she’s anything but.

“Oh,” Ace says, looking from me to Butterfly. “Maybe this is a bad time, then…”

“No, you’re here because you care, and I appreciate that,” she says shifting her leg, obviously uncomfortable.

That makes two of us.

While she and Ace talk, I make quick work of moving the table closer to Ace and away from Butterfly. I move one of the armchairs in front of her and layer it with pillows. I chance lifting her ankle—touching her again—and gently placing it elevated on the chair and pillows. She winces when I touch her, but I soon realize that she’s wincing from the pain.

“You don’t… look like you fell off a cliff,” Ace says while Butterfly continues to wince in pain. It’s visible the moment the comfort sets in.

“What about painkillers?” I ask cautiously.

“I’m not taking them they taint my milk,” she says in one breath without raising her eyes to me. So, all the time she’s been in pain, she hasn’t taken any painkillers. That’s a double stab. “I fell off the cliff sometime last week,” she says to Ace. “Tuesday or Wednesday, I think. Maybe Friday… I don’t remember.”

“That’s a long time, Ana,” Ace observes. “You should be much better by now.”

“Well, I would be, but in a mad dash to not quite make it to the restroom, I leapt out of bed and tweaked it again. So, here I sit, in pain and irritable and really just wanting to go back to sleep.”

“You should really take something for the pain,” I press.

“I can’t they make my milk sour and my children won’t nurse.” She says it again all in one breath as if speaking to me is a task.

“Would you like a session?” Ace says. “Or not…”

“No, you’ve come all this way. We should at least talk,” she says to him. Ace looks at me expecting, silently asking me to give them privacy.

“If she doesn’t mind, I’d like to stay,” I say, humbly. I’ve been home for days and we haven’t talked, and it has to start somewhere. We both look at Butterfly who doesn’t react.

“I don’t care,” she says, impassively. “He can stay if he wants. I have nothing to hide.”

And another jab—whether or not it was supposed to be, I’m not sure, but it was. Ace nods.

“Okay, where would you like to start?” he asks.

“I have no idea,” she says.

“How about why you cancelled your sessions,” he presses.

“Because I didn’t want to talk about it,” she says without hesitation. “Because I was embarrassed, and I didn’t want anyone to know that my husband had left me; because talking about it meant that it was real and I didn’t want to hear myself say it. I didn’t want to discuss it or give it life. It was alive and burning inside of me—day after day, all-consuming, numbing, burning, aching pain, and talking about it wasn’t going to help.” Her eyes stay planted on her swollen, aching foot.

“I didn’t leave you,” I say, almost inaudibly. I don’t know if she heard me, but Ace did.

“What made you think Christian left you?” Ace asks.

“He wasn’t here,” she says flatly. “I was here. I was in this house taking care of our children, for days… weeks…” She starts to rub her leg as if she could feel new pain radiating up from her ankle. “I was here, and he wasn’t. No one knew where he was and if they did, they wouldn’t tell me. No one told me, so I didn’t talk to anyone.”

“Ana, it sounds like you think everyone else knew where Christian went and you were the only one who didn’t,” Ace says. She doesn’t answer. Oh, God, is that what she thought… that everyone was conspiring against her and she was the only one who didn’t know where I was?

“Did you think they knew where Christian was while he was gone?” Ace asks the question burning in my head.

“I didn’t think anything, Ace,” she says with the same cold indifference she’s had throughout the entire conversation. “I was in some of the most excruciating pain of my life and if I was thinking anything at all it was, ‘get up, relieve myself, turn on the shower, get in, use soap, lather my body, lather my hair, rinse, lather my hair again, rinse…” She recites her day in detail while Ace listens like it’s the most fascinating thing he’s ever heard. It is for me, because she outlines every single step, including…

“Eat so that my babies could eat…”
“Cry…”
“Stare aimlessly out some window…”
“Cry…”
“Sit in the nursery and wait for my babies to wake up…”
“Cry…”
“Go to bed and pretend to go to sleep…”
“Cry…”
“Watch the sun come up from whatever window I’m staring out of at sunrise…”
“Cry…”
“Get up and repeat.”

Again, the entire story recited with cold indifference like she’s giving a police debriefing about directing traffic. I sigh. What was the purpose of this exercise? Was I trying to put her through what she put me through when she went to Montana? If so, why? We had gotten past that and there was no point to be made, so why repeat the pain? Was the sadist in me coming out to prove to her that I could hurt her as much as she hurt me?

I never talked to Dr. Baker once while I was gone, never tried to work through any of my feelings or thoughts… I just left and worked, broke all communication and worked. I only thought about what I saw with her and Westwick as I was leaving Helping Hands, as I was drinking, as we boarded the plane, as I vomited my guts in the bathroom on the jet. It’s all I dreamed about that first night during the long flight to Madrid. When her name came up on my phone, I only knew that I didn’t want to talk to her. When I finally blocked her calls, it was because I wanted to focus and not think of her. Once I blocked her calls, I didn’t think of her and Westwick once—not once—until I felt the helplessness of not being able to save those teenagers being loaded onto that truck.

The conversation goes on for a while without my attention, Butterfly talking about nothing in particular. Her voice is monotoned and the only time she talks about what she was feeling is when she described the “all-consuming, numbing, burning, aching pain” that hung on day after day after day and the description of her day that involved lots and lots and lots of crying.

“I went to Madrid,” I say finally. I don’t know why I say it at this moment. I think… or I thought… I may have heard something about her still not knowing where I was. “There’s a factory and a hotel based there that were part of an acquisition in progress. I used the opportunity to liaise with the boards of directors and tour the properties.”

“Opportunity…” she says, like she’s testing the word, but says nothing else.

“Ana,” Ace says after a long pause, “Christian says he didn’t leave you. What do you think of that?”

Another long pause…

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” she says, flatly. “Windsor!” That last word is the most emotion she’s shown since Ace first got here.

“You’re never going to resolve what’s going on between you two if you don’t talk it out,” Ace warns. She still says nothing until Windsor enters the room.

“Can you please look in the closet of my bedroom and get my crutches?” Her bedroom. She plans on staying there, even though I’m home.

“There’s obvious tension between you two,” Ace continues after Windsor nods and leaves the room. “I’ve never seen this much animosity between you two in all the time I’ve known you. I’ve only seen love and respect even when you’re angry with one another. I’m afraid that you’re standing on the precipice and if you don’t talk this out, the damage could be irreparable.”

“Please, Butterfly,” I add, and she flinches again.

“The time for talking was before you left… or when I left you twenty messages begging you to call me or come home so we could work this out, right before you blocked my calls. I’m having a hard time finding my words now.”

It’s the first time I hear a twinge of emotion in her tone, but it’s gone as quickly as it comes. She and Ace say a few more words and I show Ace to the door.

“I won’t hide the fact that I was concerned that this may be a case of domestic abuse, which is why I had to see her for myself,” he says when I walk him to the door. I never even considered that he thought that. I frown deeply.

“You thought I hit my wife?” I ask, my voice low and menacing.

“I had no answers and I had to allow for every eventuality. Then I saw that she was injured, and that only fueled my suspicions. Be angry with me if you want, but my first obligation is to my patient, especially if I think she’s in a dangerous situation… and she is, and so are you.”

Somehow, I don’t think he’s talking about domestic abuse anymore.

“She never got to tell me what caused the hiatus of yours.” I push my hands through my hair.

“I walked in on her kissing… about to kiss another man.” Ace’s expression changes to horrified surprise. I shake my head. “No… no, let me…” I roll my eyes. “He was about to kiss her, but…” For the first time, I replay the scene in my head as describe it to Ace.

I walk into the room and see my wife and a man sitting on a sofa. She’s looking into his eyes and he’s gazing at her, gently caressing her cheek. Everything is moving in slow motion, even slower than his lean into her to eventually press his lips against hers. I see a red haze before me and I want to kill him.

He’s going to kiss my Butterfly… my Butterfly! And she’s not resisting!

Rage flows through my body and I barely register… only just this moment… that at the last minute, she puts both hands on his chest and halts his movement.

“No,” she says, “I’ve told you. I’m married.”

I’m already barreling towards them in blind fury, intent on pummeling this man within an inch of his life, but as I get to him, Butterfly jumps between us… she’s protecting him, telling me that she has this under control and instructing me to leave.

Leave… she wants me to leave…

So, that’s what I did.

I tell Jason to get the jet ready for an immediate overseas flight. It only took a few moments to decide where I was going as I was already working on the acquisitions in question. I went home, waited for Jason to pack and say goodbye to his wife and daughter, and was gone before she got there. I didn’t even say goodbye to my own children. I spent hours in the airport’s private lounge waiting for the plane and pilots to be ready. We almost didn’t have a flight attendant, but I didn’t care.

Leave… she wants me to leave… she wants me to leave…

So, I left.

Ace sighs when I finish my story.

“I hope you two work this out soon,” he says and turns to leave.

“Wait a minute,” I say, “I’ve told you why I left and what I felt and that’s all you have to say?” He turns back to me.

“Let me ask you this,” he says. “What if you had come home and Chuck hadn’t caught her from falling off that cliff? What if you had come back and your wife was seriously injured, crippled, or worse—dead? What if she never recovers from what she’s feeling now? What if she can never find her words and you can never get your relationship back together? What if you look up and one day you find her willingly in the arms of someone else, because this one sounds like she stopped him and told him that she was married. And it doesn’t sound like she was protecting him; it sounds like she was protecting you. Didn’t you two meet because of anger management classes that kept you out of jail?”

Shit! I forgot all about that.

“If she was protecting him, she would have sent him away to talk to him later. She had to wrap up what was happening with him right there and then and she couldn’t do that with you charging at him like a bull. She was going to talk to you later… until you cut her off. The two of you have huge abandonment issues and the minute things get too tough to bear, that’s exactly what you do to each other. You deflect her attempts at contact and she gets wine drunk. She tells you to go to hell until she wants you to come back and you don’t eat for five days. You postpone the wedding and she runs to Montana. You see an advance by another man—a spurned advance, I might add—and you run off to Madrid, and she damn near falls off a cliff. I thought you all covered these bases in marriage counseling—how you would handle it if one of you thought the other was unfaithful or if either of you had an inclination towards someone else. You’re not doing a very good job.

“You know as much as I do that when she told you to leave that she didn’t mean for you to get on a plane and fly to Madrid, leaving her with no explanation or no idea if you were coming back to your family. I don’t know what’s going to happen to the two of you, but I thought you had love locked down. It looks like the only thing you two are skilled at is abandoning each other at the worst possible times, because Christian, right now, she is gone… and I don’t know if you’re going to get her back.”

He glares at me for a moment, unapologetic, and proceeds to the door.

“I’ve breeched many confidences during this conversation with you, but it’s only because I’m concerned. If she wants to fire me and report me to the board, I understand.” I shake my head.

“That won’t happen,” I assure him. He doesn’t respond.

“Tell her to call me if she wants to talk, but I’m not sure there’s much else that I can do.” As he leaves through the front door, Windsor passes me in the grand entry with Butterfly’s crutches.

“Ana,” I hear her say, and realize that the two-way must have chimed in the living room. I hear our children cooing through the speaker system as I return to the room. Windsor is helping her to her feet and she winces in pain as she tries to balance on the crutches.

“I hate these things,” I hear her murmur, as she tries to adjust to the crutches. Had I been here, she would never have to use crutches. I would carry her everywhere. Hell, had I been here, she never would have fallen in the first place. She wouldn’t have been drunk on that cliff. She won’t let me touch her and when she has no choice, or I touch her before she can protest, she flinches and stiffens

I move over to where Windsor is standing, and he immediately steps aside. I look at Butterfly who refuses to make eye-contact with me while she pretends not to struggle while adjusting the crutches. I steady her petite body with one arm behind her back, move the crutch closest to me and hand it back to Windsor, and scoop her up in my arms before she has the opportunity to protest. The second crutch falls uselessly onto the floor and she lie in my arms like a wet rag, one hand placed over the other in her lap. Windsor follows behind me with her crutches as I carry her up the winding staircase.

“My children,” she protests when I turn the opposite direction from the nursery towards the guest room where she has set up shop.

“I’ll have them brought to you,” I say without breaking my stride. When we get to her room, I place her gently on the bed. I prop her swollen ankle up on another pillow before instructing Windsor to tell Gail to bring my wife her children… and an ice pack for her ankle. She says nothing; she just rubs her leg, low near her ankle.

Several moments of silence pass before Gail and Keri bring the children to us with the accompanying bottles for feeding time. She reaches for Mikey, who—as I have discovered—hasn’t had much breast time because Minnie always beats him to it. Keri puts Minnie in my arms and they leave without another word except for Gail to tell us that she’ll be back with the ice pack. My wife gently caresses our son’s mahogany hair and she looks as if her life begins and ends in his little eyes as he hungrily nurses. I’m feeling guilty for the small twinge of jealousy that I feel that she used to look at me that way so effortlessly. When she looked into my eyes yesterday after I kissed her, there was that longing… that familiar yearning in her eyes. I knew all was not lost, but… what do we do to get back what we had?

Mikey is nearly finished nursing both breasts and I have fed, burped, and changed my daughter and cooed her to sleep before Gail finally returns. I want to ask her what took so goddamn long, but she answers my question with a stainless-steel cooler in her hand.

“Chuck says you should use this,” she says. “It’s a cryotherapy unit. It’s intense cooling therapy and it’s going to be really uncomfortable for the first minute or so, but he says once you get used to it, you’ll never want to take it off… but you’ll have to or else you’ll freeze your veins.”

I frown at the double explanation she just gave and Butterfly looks just as confused.

“Let me explain,” Gail says as she puts the cooler on the floor. “Christian, can you help me?”

I put Minnie in her napper and follow Gail’s instructions. I gently lift Butterfly’s foot and leg, allowing Gail to wrap some kind of cold pad wrap around her ankle.

“This is filled with ice water,” she says, pointing to the cooler. “The cold water circulates through these tubes and through tubes in this pad to help with the swelling and discomfort around your ankle. You know how ice packs might feel uncomfortable and cause an ice burn if they sit on your skin?”

“Yes,” Butterfly nods.

“You won’t have that with this because the water is constantly circulating,” she says. “You’ll feel that discomfort right at the beginning, but the ice will soon give you a bit of a numbing feeling and you won’t feel the pain. That’s why he said you shouldn’t leave it on for too long because it can do damage.”

“Well, how long should she leave it on?” I ask. It’s going to give her great comfort, but she can’t wear it?

“Start with fifteen minutes and see if you’re comfortable,” she says to Butterfly. “If you’re still comfortable, then you can leave it on for half an hour to forty-five minutes, but then you should turn it off for a while to see how you’re doing—at least five or ten minutes, preferably more if you’re not in too much pain.” She turns her gaze to me. “If she falls asleep in it, turn it off.”

“I can hardly see myself falling asleep with cold water running around my ankle,” Butterfly protests.

“Chuck assures me that you will,” she says. “Christian, take Michael please. I don’t want any casualties when I turn this thing on.” I take Mikey and put him in his napper, hurriedly coming back to Butterfly’s side.

“This is how you turn it on and off; this is how you adjust it,” Gail says, showing us the controls. “Are you ready?” she asks Butterfly. She nods, and Gail turns the power on. At first, there’s no reaction from Butterfly, but a few moments later, she sucks in a large hiss. A few moments after that, she’s nearly crawling backwards on the bed.

“Shit shit shit shit shit!” she proclaims in quick succession as the coldness surrounds her ankle. She’s fighting to keep still and grimacing at her ankle.

“Turn it off!” I demand, unable to withstand the discomfort on her face.

“Wait a second,” Gail protests. “Chuck said it takes a minute, but it’ll help her. It’s much more effective than an ice pack… even my alcohol packs.” I watch as Butterfly continues to grimace looking at the pad on her ankle like it’s some kind of flesh-eating amoeba sucking the blood through her skin.

“Fuck!” she exclaims, several moments later.

“Turn it off! It’s not getting any better.” I move towards the cooler and Gail puts herself between me and the apparatus, putting her hand up defiantly to stop me.

Dr. Grey,” she says to me, a bit perturbed, “will you please give this device an opportunity to do its job before you proclaim it ineffectualness?” She glares at me, daring me to move forward and I’m having one of those Jason Taylor “you’re fired” moments. “Ana, how are you doing?” she says.

Butterfly gasps and relaxes her arms that were holding her off the bed moments ago. She settles a bit on the bed, taking in deeper breaths now.

“It’s better,” she says, her voice shallow, “It’s feeling better.”

“Good. Give it a few more moments and you should be feeling relief.” She nods, but still looks uncomfortable. I can’t believe she wouldn’t take the pain pills. We have enough breast milk frozen to feed an entire hospital nursery. She’s worse than Chuck and his AA concerns to go through this kind of pain. Could this be why it’s taking the ankle so long to heal? That’s what it was with Chuck. If this thing will give her any relief, I’ll get one in every fucking room.

“Ana… how about now?” Gail asks as the discomfort starts to leave Butterfly’s face and she begins to relax.

“Better,” she breathes. “Much better.”

“Is it giving your relief, or you can just tolerate the cold?” Gail asks.

“A little bit of both,” she says. “The throbbing pain was replaced with the unearthing cold, but once the cold started to settle down, the pain didn’t come back. So, yeah, it’s good,” she nods.

“Thank you,” she says, then turns to me and gestures to the seat over by my children. “Dr. Grey, if you will.” I roll my eyes at her.

“You’re picking up bad habits from your husband,” I say as I take my seat and check on my sleeping son and daughter. They’re getting a lot bigger, too big for their nappers. It’s time to bring out the second Pack-n-Play.


A/N: For those of you who have strong opinions on how this segment should end… sorry, but it was written months ago and I’m not changing it, so you just have to sit tight and wait it out. If you’re disappointed, angry, or disenchanted with the outcome, can’t help you there.

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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 39—Shattering Dreams

So I got a little sensitive with the last couple of chapters. However, this storyline was written several months ago and it’s not like I’m going to change it, so I think I’ll just shut up and let you guys read it.

I do not own Fifty Shades Trilogy, or the characters. They belong to E. L. James. I am only exercising my right to exploit, abuse, and mangle the characters to MY discretion in MY 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 39—Shattering Dreams

ANASTASIA

I’m horrified to discover that my husband has flown the proverbial coop when I return to the Crossing. Liam apologized for his forward behavior and ran, embarrassed, from the Center. We’re lucky that he didn’t want to press charges against Christian for grabbing him that way. Christian was incensed and ready to kill that man. I had to put that fire out quickly or I would have been trying to bail my husband out of jail. He’s already got one strike against him—a big one, and it’s on the books!

As much as tempers were flaring, I couldn’t allow it to happen again. Allowing Liam to leave without talking to him might have led to just that. Even though he’s a bonehead for trying to kiss me in the first place, he would have been within his rights to make a police report because he was in the course of his job duties when this shit all happened. I would have defended my husband by telling the powers that be that Liam was making an advance at the time, but who needs that shit? Put the fire out now and deal with Christian once I’ve successfully kept him out of jail.

Or so I thought…

I knew there would be no talking to him at that moment, and I knew that he wouldn’t calmly wait around while I tried to talk to Liam. So, I asked him to go home and wait for me…

Then I get here, and he’s gone.
No note…
No explanation…
Just gone.

I’ve called him like a hundred times and he won’t even answer my calls—won’t yell at me, won’t tell me to go to hell, nothing. Gail only knows that he and Jason are gone. So, I know that means that he’s leaving town. She doesn’t know where; she doesn’t know how long… or at least she’s not telling me. She just knows they’re gone.

“What happened?” she asks. “What’s going on?”

Nobody was privy to what happened in the community room tonight but me, Liam, and Christian… and he hasn’t told anybody. At least, I don’t think he has told anybody.

I’m not telling them either.

I leave message after message after message on his phone until it finally just goes straight to voicemail…

“We said that we would talk about it if anything like this ever happened and you’re shutting me out. Please… call me.”

“How can you do this to us? To our family? Our children? I didn’t even kiss him! I’m being punished for something that never happened!”

“This is really fucking mature, Christian. Really mature! You need to stop acting like this and call me so that we can talk about this.”

After leaving something like twenty messages until his voice mail is full, I revert to text messages, still calling and hoping that he’ll answer the phone…

**Please, Christian, this is getting out of hand. It’s been four days… you can’t just cut me off like this. I’m your wife. **

I discover on the fifth day that he could, in fact, just cut me off. I dial his number like I do every five minutes or so of every day and after a while, I’m greeted with the same message that I got when Daddy blocked my number.

My heart clenches. That can’t be… this can’t be. I dial the number again, slowly choosing each digit to make sure that I’m dialing the right number.

“The party you have dialed…”

I sit frozen in my seat at my desk, my throat constricting, my vision blurred, and my chest feeling like a giant hand is squeezing the life’s blood from my heart and it’s literally bleeding onto the floor. He’s blocked me. He’s gone and he’s blocking my calls. He doesn’t want to talk to me. Doesn’t want to hear my side. Doesn’t want to work this out. He’s gone… and he’s cut all contact. The words I said to Liam that last night come back to me in haunting relevance…

I know a hopeless situation when I see one.

I dial his number once more and when the haunting voice begins to tell me that my communication is unwelcome, I let out a soul-shaking scream and mightily launch my phone across the office until smashes hopelessly against the opposite wall and disintegrates into a thousand tiny little pieces. I drop my face into my hands and wail my dismay.

He’s left me.

*-*

I spend the next four days locked in the office at the Center, still trying to revamp our plans for accreditation. I don’t feel any hope for anything, but I must keep up the façade that I’m functioning just fine because if I don’t, I have to answer questions about me and Christian, which I utterly refuse to answer right now.

I made the mistake of calling Jason a few times to see if I could get any information from him or try to get him to talk to his boss on my behalf. My attempts at both were flaming failures though he made a point to let me know that my estranged husband was okay, and he would do his best to keep Christian safe.

Fucking yippee.

I can’t taste food and at this point, I don’t know how many of my own tears I’ve ingested. I just know that I must feed my babies and if I don’t eat, I can’t feed them.

One day runs into the next as I spend my days in my office at the Center, doing my job and my nights in the nursery with the twins. I’ve become a permanent fixture in their window seat, looking out over the water with a perfect view of the bridge to and from Seattle. I think I’m subconsciously waiting to see if a familiar black Audi will come across the bridge at any moment. I know better, but I watch anyway, holding the phone that Marilyn replaced for me in her ever-present efficiency. I dare not dial the number again. I can’t stand the automated voice repeating that my husband doesn’t want me anymore. So, I just hold the phone and hope that he’ll have mercy on me and call me one day.

By the second Friday, I’ve had enough of waiting for that mercy. The walls are closing in on me and I need to get out of that house—away from the Crossing, the happy memories, even our beautiful children. I just don’t want to think or feel anymore. I’m so tired of this never-ending dismay and I just want it to stop. On my way out to the garage, I stop at the bar in the entertainment room and grab a bottle of Tennessee whiskey. Then I get into my car—my beautiful scuba blue metallic Audi with the huge moonroof that my once-loving husband bought me as a push gift and drive to the gate. After I threaten to drive through the gate if whatever guard on the night shift didn’t open it in three seconds, he opens the gate and I punch the gas.

I open the moonroof and turn IheartRadio to the driving station. This is not the kind of music that I normally listen to. The problem is that the kind of music that I do listen to would only remind me of Christian or love or love lost or some other sappy shit and I just can’t deal with that right now.

Years ago, I found an old access road at Discovery Park that no one seemed to know about and it looks to still have gone undiscovered. I happily go down the road and park at the lookout point over the water. I turn off the engine and let my seat back. I stare out the moonroof at the stars and crack open the bottle of whiskey. Taking it straight to the head, I throw back a large gulp. It burns like hell going down and I welcome the singe in my throat.

Just last week he was making love to me nearly all night long… or was that the week before last? It doesn’t matter, he does it all the time. Well… he did it all the time. Now, he can’t stand the sight of me… or the sound of me. As I feel the tears building up behind my eyelids, I hear my phone ringing in my purse. Hope springs in my chest as I answer the phone without even looking at the caller ID.

“Hello?” I say with anticipation.

“Ana? Are you alright?” It’s Chuck. My heart sinks immediately, like someone hit me in the chest.

“Oh, God, leave me alone,” I say before ending the call. I take another large gulp of the whiskey attempting to burn away the pain and disappointment that call caused me. It doesn’t help. I should have known it wasn’t Christian anyway. It wasn’t our ringtone.

Oh, God, this pain…

I swallow another gulp of the whiskey, hoping to burn away the slicing agony—or at least get so drunk that I forget it for a while. My riding music is beginning to sound like typical angry instrumentals, but it doesn’t matter. It’s a perfect contrast to my sorrowful maudlin mood, so I just let it play.

I feel myself begin to settle in the seat and the several swallows of alcohol are beginning to kick in. Of course, it only makes me relax, because except for wine, I’m a logical drunk. If I want to forget, I have to keep drinking.

Chuck’s face in my moonroof scares the shit out of me and for a moment, I think I’m hallucinating.

“Son of a bitch!” I cry out, startled almost to the point of pissing myself.

“You can’t do that, Ana,” he scolds.

“I can do whatever the fuck I want,” I say. I really don’t give a damn what he thinks. Really… I really don’t give a damn.

“You leave the Crossing without telling anybody where you’re going. Now, you’re sitting out here on a goddamn cliff, keys in the ignition, drinking whiskey straight from the bottle. You’re lucky the police didn’t catch you!”

“What are they going to charge me with? Drunk in public? I’m not in public, I’m in my damn car. Driving under the influence? I’m not driving, I’m sitting still.”

“How the fuck were you going to get home?” he scolds.

“I was going to call you! I’m not a complete idiot!” I say, taking another swallow from the bottle.

“Give me that.” He reaches for the bottle and I snatch it away before he can get to it.

“No!” I declare. “Get the fuck away from my car.” He glares at me in disbelief. “Somebody knows where Christian is,” I say, unwelcome tears falling down my cheeks. “Somebody knows what’s going on and nobody’ll tell me. So, get the fuck away from my car!”

He examines me for a moment, then nods.

“Fine,” he says. He opens the door, reaches in and takes my keys from the ignition.

“Hey!” I protest, stumbling out of the car behind him. “Give those back! I can’t listen to my music!”

“Nope. When you’re ready to go, I’ll take you home. Until then, these stay with me.”

“Asshole,” I say, now sobbing.

“I’ll give you that one, because you’re hurting, but you’re still not getting the keys.” I shake my head. I couldn’t possibly hate this man any more than I do right now. I stumble away from him and sit on the hood of my car, having a few more swallows of whiskey and lamenting my situation even more now that I don’t have music to occupy my mind. I feel my body shaking with sobs before I hear them, and the sound of my crying breaks my heart even more and makes me want to cry harder. I feel like Luma when I took her to the woods and let her wail and mourn Richard’s death—a deep-seated, burning, consuming pain that truly makes me want to die just so that it would end.

And the whiskey is only amplifying it—dulling my reflexes, but not the pain.

Angry that it’s not doing its job and lost in a sea of pain and confusion, I leap off the hood of my car and chuck the damn bottle over the cliff, hoping it’ll shatter into a thousand pieces…

When I open my eyes, I have no idea where I am. It takes me only a few moments to realize that I’m in the hospital—head spinning, ankle throbbing, but no worse for wear.

Ankle throbbing. What happened?

I try to remember what happened the night before, but I can’t. I only remember chucking that damn bottle off the cliff and then, nothing. I must have slipped somewhere, because my ankle is wrapped tight. Besides a horrible hangover, there’s nothing else wrong with me that I can tell.

But there’s definitely something wrong.

When I look around the empty room, the fact that I’m here alone isn’t the only indication that whatever happened to me didn’t incite him to come. It’s the empty feeling, the lack of fullness to my spirit that lets me know that he’s still miles away. I begin to remove the electrodes from my chest and the other monitors hooked up to my arms, my fingers, my wrist…

A doctor, a nurse, and Chuck all rush into the room—Chuck’s face full of worry. Not the face I was hoping to see.

“Mrs. Grey, please,” the doctor says, “we want to keep you for observation.”

“I’m fine,” I say, now ripping the wires from myself. I need to get out of here. “I’m leaving.”

“You took a really nasty fall, Mrs. Grey. You were lucky. It could have been worse. With your prior brain injury…”

“I’m going home!” I demand. Home… is there any such place anymore? Now, I know how Christian felt when I went to Montana. Now, he knows how I felt… betrayed. And he felt lost… lost and empty and lifeless with nothing to offer anyone. I get out of the bed only for my head to spin like thunder and my weight to crumble under the pain in my ankle. I’m suddenly overcome with uncontrollable anger and release a string of curse words that would make a sailor cringe.

“I’m fine!” I yell, as the anger is quickly replaced with remorse, sorrow, hopelessness, emptiness, and despair. “I’m fine,” I weep as I try to push myself off the floor, the pounding in my head and throbbing in my ankle making it impossible for me to get up. I crawl over to a chair and try to lift myself into it and off the floor, constantly repeating my mantra…

I’m fine… I’m fine… I’m fine… I’m fine…

If I say it enough times, maybe I’ll believe it.

I finally give up, both angry and forlorn that I can’t get off the floor on my own. I bang my fists angrily against the tile, throwing a tantrum like a little girl. My hands hurt, but my brain doesn’t register that I should stop beating the floor. In moments, Chuck is on the floor with me, trying to wrap me in his arms. I feel myself beating my fists on his chest, hear my mantra squealing from my throat and burning in my ears until the blackness surrounds me.

I’m fine… I’m fine… I’m fine…

*-*

I awake alone in my hospital room again. I don’t know how long I’ve slept, but I just want to see my children now. I turn on my side and face the window… away from the clock. I don’t see what time it is. I curl up into myself and gaze out the window—at the sun, the clouds in the sky… at nothing. My mind is clear, and I don’t formulate any thoughts. No conclusions. I just think about my babies… about Minnie and Mikey… and that I ache to just go home and sing to them… and hold them… There’s nothing else left.

The sun has moved some more in the sky and I still don’t know what time it is, still haven’t eaten anything, and still haven’t moved. The door finally opens and I don’t even turn or stir to see who it is. By the movement behind me and around the monitors, and by the empty feeling in my gut, I already know who it is.

“When can I go home?” I say softly after several silent moments. The movement behind me stills and the nurse finally says, “I’ll get the doctor.”

She leaves, and I never even saw her face.

The door opens again, and the room shifts to an air of familiar… still empty, but familiar.

“When can I go home?” I repeat. I have no more energy left to fight. Another moment of silence.

“Are you feeling any better?” Chuck asks.

“No,” I respond flatly. “When can I go home?” Chuck sighs.

“Ana, I know you didn’t try to hurt yourself on that cliff, but I had to convince the doctors that you were drunk, and you slipped and didn’t need to be put on a 72-hour hold. They’re watching you to make sure I was telling the truth.” I sigh as he walks around the bed to the front of me. I slipped… off the cliff… oh.

“I feel like I’m going to die, Chuck, but I don’t want to die, okay? If nobody else needs me, my babies need me.”

“I’m not the one that needs convincing,” he says as the door opens and the room fills with yet more emptiness.

“Mrs. Grey,” the doctor asks. I don’t even know his name. “How are you feeling?”

“The same as before,” I respond truthfully. “When can I go home?” He looks at Chuck, then back at me.

“We… would like to keep you for a few days,” he says, approaching the topic cautiously, “for observation.”

“Observation of what?” I ask without raising my head.

“Can you tell me what happened on the cliff?” the doctor asks.

“Can you tell me what’s wrong with me?” I retort, calmly. “Do I have internal bleeding or another head injury?”

“No, you don’t,” he responds.

“Then what do you need to observe?” I ask again.

“Mrs. Grey, can you please tell me what happened on that cliff?” I sigh heavily.

“Doctor, we can go around in circles until I finally call my attorney. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that when I tried to leave earlier, you sedated me for no other reason but that I was having an anxiety attack on the floor.”

“You were assaulting your bodyguard,” he says in a non-threatening tone.

“She was not assaulting me!” Chuck interjects. “And if you say that’s why you’re holding her, I’m going to call you a liar!”

“Two other people saw her attack you, Mr. Davenport.”

“Two other people saw her having an anxiety attack, just like she said, but you’re not listening to anything I say and now you’re not listening to her. What, are you trying to make a name for yourself? Forget it, I’m calling her lawyer.” Chuck pulls his phone out and proceeds to touch the screen.

“Please, Mr. Davenport, I assure you that’s not necessary. We’re just looking out for her well-being.”

“Then tell her why you’re holding her here instead of causing her additional stress! She’s had enough! Or can’t you tell… Doctor?” he snaps. The doctor sighs.

“Please, Mrs. Grey, I swear I’ll tell you everything if you can just tell me your version of what happened on the cliff.”

“I can’t,” I reply. “I was drunk. I know that I was drinking whiskey. I remember Chuck took my keys. I remember throwing the bottle off and that’s the last thing I remember before I woke up here. Is being drunk in public suddenly an offense to be held prisoner in a hospital? Do you haul all drunks in for observation?”

“No, but not all drunk people find themselves hurt on the side of a cliff,” he points out with no malice.

“Oh, and I suppose I’m the only person in history who has ever done something stupid while under the influence,” I retort. “You know, that’s why they don’t let us drive.”

“Mrs. Grey, I can assure you…” and here it comes. The politically correct mumbo jumbo line of bullshit where I have to listen to him tell me why he has to keep me locked in this room—or better yet, on the psyche ward. I really don’t have the strength to convince this fucker that there’s nothing wrong with me when there really is something wrong with me. I’m sick with grief and pain and confusion and no fucking sense of direction with no hope or light at the end of the tunnel, because my husband has left me. I’m sad, angry and clumsy, and apparently not too bright sometimes—but I’m not fucking suicidal. The trouble is that I’m not willing to fight the necessary battle to persuade him that I’m at least of sound mind. I put up my hands and slash them across the air. I don’t have any fight left in me.

“You know what? I don’t care. Do what you have to do,” I concede.

“Ana!” Chuck protests.

“I don’t care!” I say, looking at him. Nothing’s going the way that I want it right now; just fucking let me stay. I’ll consider it a mini-sabbatical in a horrible hospital room. Nobody needs me but my babies anyway.

My babies… I sigh heavily.

“Just call my nannies and get me a breast pump,” I say, laying back on the bed and facing the window again.

“Oh! You’re nursing!” the doctor exclaims. How the fuck did he not know that? Now, I show the only little bit of emotion that I can muster.

“Yes!” I snap. “I’m nursing! And I don’t want my milk to dry up while you’re observing! So, can I please get a breast pump?”

*-*

It turns out that my ankle is only sprained and should be back to normal in a few days. The doctor sends me home on Sunday with crutches and tells me to stay off it for a few days. As it turns out, my impromptu request for a breast pump when no one seemed to know that I was nursing prompted Dr. Whatever-His-Name-Was to let me the hell out of there, noting that someone intent on self-destruction wouldn’t readily be concerned about her milk drying up.

How the hell did he not know I was nursing? I only lactate every four hours! Like a goddamn faucet! Although I didn’t lactate while I was in the hospital… I wonder why. Nonetheless, needing to be the milk factory for my twins got me sprung from the pokey.

Lucky me.

I thought I wanted to come home to my own bed and lay down, just to recuperate in my own space, but when I get to the bedroom—our bedroom—the sight of it sickens me… I mean, physically sickens me. I literally become light-headed and I’m afraid I’ll vomit. I turn under the watchful eyes of my brother and bodyguard and go to the children’s room instead.

Minnie is the first to spot me. She starts this wail like she’s fussing at me for leaving her. Gail and Keri look up and watch me hobble over to her crib on my crutches.

“There, there, Mouse,” I comfort her, “Why all the fuss?” I rub her little tummy and she calms immediately. Mikey must have just settled for his nap, because he lay in his crib, eyes closed, totally content and occasionally sucking on his binky. I hobble over to the rocker and Chuck helps me sit down.

“Bring her to me,” I ask. Keri brings the squirmy little thing to me and sets her in my arms. She settles almost immediately, but still looks up at me with her questioning little eyes.

“I know, Mouse,” I tell her. It’s been hard to settle her with Christian away, but she—like me—is settling into discontent acceptance. “We’ll be fine soon.” I start to rock her and sing my babies’ lullaby until she finally falls asleep.

“Gail, can you help me, please?” I say, when I leave the children’s room. Gail looks at me with questioning eyes.

“Sure,” she says, her gaze sympathetic. I go into the owner’s suite, straight past the bedroom and into my dressing room.

“Can you please look in the drawer right there and grab three nightshirts for me?” She examines me, then complies with my wishes. I go over to my lingerie drawer and retrieve three bra and panty sets. With no idea of what I’ll be doing, I retrieve three random business outfits, some jeans and sneakers and then go in search of sweatshirts, yoga pants and T-shirts.

“Will you get the toiletries out of my shower? And two bath blankets from the main bathroom?” She hesitates.

“Ana… are you going somewhere?” she asks. I smile a reassuring smile.

“Yes, but I’m not going far,” I tell her.

Once we’ve gathered everything I need for right now, I ask her to have someone help her move the things to guestroom one. She smiles sadly.

“Ana…” she protests.

“Gail, my husband is gone,” I say, bravely fighting tears that I probably don’t have left to cry anyway. “I don’t know if he’s coming back and if his behavior is any indication, he’s probably not. This was our room… and I can’t sleep in here anymore.”

There’s no argument after that, just a silent nod of concession.

“Let me know when those things are moved, please. I’ll be in the nursery.”

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Gail had more of the things that she knew I would need moved to the guest room. I feel the same stab of burning rejection in this room that I felt in Escala when he ignored me for those weeks after the fundraiser fiasco. The difference is that he was there with me, in the same house even if not in the same bed, and now, I don’t know where he is… and no one will tell me.

I run a bubble bath in the tub that’s just about half the size of mine, strip and carefully climb in. Of course, the tears start. My nerves are stretched to their very ends. It’s no wonder the doctor thought I was trying to kill myself. I couldn’t put a cognitive thought together if I wanted to. At first, all I wanted was for my husband to come back… to forgive me for having the slightest moment of weakness when Liam looked into my eyes, even though I didn’t let him kiss me. Now, I don’t know what I want. I didn’t do anything wrong. Yes, I was tempted by an attractive man, but I didn’t cross the line. And now, I’m suffering consequences for something I didn’t even do.

Can I ever forgive him for that?

Isn’t this the same irrational behavior that he pulled on me when he thought I was sleeping with Elliot? Of course, Elliot wasn’t breaths away from me trying to kiss me. Oh, fuck, I can’t think about this anymore. It’s all I’ve thought about night after night after night since this shit started and I just can’t do it anymore.

But I can’t stop the tears either.

I just let them fall into the bubbles, dissipating them with the heaviness of my sorrow.

*-*

“So, as it turns out, you were right about Gloria Felton,” Al says, while visiting my office at Helping Hands a few days later. “I delivered your conflict complaint to the Office of the Director with the threat of a possible personal discrimination lawsuit, and they pulled Helping Hands’ file. It was unreasonable how she was spending the taxpayer’s money to personally persecute you guys. The reports, inspections, and compliances that she was asking for were way out of line. Organizations with more quote-unquote violations than Helping Hands were accredited in one-quarter of the time that you all have been struggling for validation. You guys should have been accredited months ago.” I sigh, though not as relieved as I should be from the news.

“So, in effect, Liam’s presence was totally unnecessary.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“Not really,” Al says, “although his report helped to put it over the top that you all should have your accreditation by week’s end. No more stalling.”

That’s just great. The man inadvertently ruined my marriage and we didn’t really need him. Oh, joy. Gloria should be proud of herself. I gained accreditation and lost my happy home in the process. I may have won the battle, but she won the war. Maybe that was her M-O all along.

“Well, there is that, I guess,” I say with little enthusiasm. “What about Gloria?”

“Administrative leave,” he says. “It doesn’t look good for her. It’s very serious to let personal feelings interfere with your job, especially on the licensing board where you have people’s lives and businesses in your hands. The director already had complaints about her on his desk. He just couldn’t do anything with them and they weren’t official complaints because the people had gotten what they wanted. It was an ear-to-the-ground type of thing and he had no power until he got an actual complaint. You with your valid complaint that spread across seven departments and, as it turns out, could have been more, gave him exactly what he needed.”

“Well, that’s just great. What’s to stop her from talking badly about us after she’s fired or disciplined?”

“Way ahead of you.” He pulls out some papers and hands them to me. “A gag order—if she says anything about the current situation or you or any member of Helping Hands, we will ruin that bitch… and she knows it.” I smile weakly, looking at the paper.

“My knight in shining armor,” I say, patting him on the shoulder.

“Jewel?” I raise my eyes to him. “What’s going on?”

I knew it was coming. I look and feel like hell these days, no matter how I try to put myself together. It’s not like I could avoid his questions, but I just don’t want to talk about it… not even to Al. I guess not saying it makes it seem like it’s not really real, but it can’t get any more real than my empty bed.

“I just need you to be a friend and not ask, okay?” I say, almost beseeching.

“I just can’t stand seeing you like this,” he says. “Nobody sees what I see and it’s unbearable.”

“Just be a friend… please,” I repeat. “I’m holding it together by a thread.”

“But you don’t have to…” he continues.

“Al… please?” I beg, my voice shaking. I can’t do this. I can’t do this. He pauses for a moment.

“Okay,” he says, finally. “You’ll… call me if you need me?” His voice is beseeching, too. I nod, unable to look at him as he leaves my office. I take a deep breath when he has cleared the door and rein back the tears that threaten to fall. My heart still aches—a dull ache that never goes away—but I’m getting used to it now. It’s become a constant companion along with the occasional dream of Edward David taunting me that my marriage has fallen apart. The mind is a funny thing. At least it’s not fucking Harris.

It’s like that old Billie Holiday song tragically playing on repeat in my head…

Wish I’d forget you, but you’re here to stay,
It seems I met you when my love went away, 
And now I start each day by saying to you,
Good Morning, Heartache, what’s new?

The heaviness in my breasts signals me that it’s time to feed the twins or pump. I’m on a cane now since my ankle is much better, but still a little weak. So, I hobble to the nursery to see if either of the little angels are awake.

Keri is there helping with some of the other children while the twins are asleep and, just like clockwork, Minnie starts to stir. I open my suit jacket and gather my pink little bundle from her crib.

“Hey, there, Mouse,” I say, cradling her and slipping a nipple into her eager mouth. “Did you know it was lunchtime…?”

Several minutes later, Minnie had drained both breasts, burped, and fallen back to sleep, which means Mikey will have to take a bottle when he wakes. I was hoping that we could keep them on the same sleep schedule, but as it is, if we wake them before they’re ready, they’re irritable and cranky and hard to get back to sleep. So, we let them set their own schedules, which means that lately, one is awake around 1am while the other isn’t awake until about 4am. I could lament the situation since they had begun to sleep through the night, but hell… I don’t really sleep much anyway, so it’s fine with me.

Grace is waiting when I get back to my office.

“You’ve been hiding,” she says.

“I’ve been working,” I respond, as I take my seat behind my desk. “Al just let me know that Gloria has been placed on administrative leave and we should have our accreditation by the end of the week. I’ll say that’s pretty impressive.”

“Yes, it is,” she says, “but it doesn’t explain why you’ve been hiding.”

“I just wanted some peace so that I could work. Is there anything wrong with that?”

“No,” she says, accommodating. “Not at all, when you’re working and not hiding.”

“Grace, I appreciate your concern, but please understand that there’s just some things I don’t want to talk about.” There’s that thread again.

“Like why you were fighting to get out of the hospital and Christian was nowhere in sight?” I grimace at her discovery. “I work at that hospital, Ana, and you’re family. Of course, I was going to find out.” I sigh.

“Again, there are some things that I would like to keep to myself,” I repeat. Grace sighs and I know that she, like Al, is reloading the gun to try to get me to tell her what’s going on. I haven’t told anybody—no one. I’m carrying it all myself. I don’t want anyone to know that I’ve possibly chased my husband away, broke up our family, and destroyed our happy home. I hear her saying some comforting word—or words that are meant to be comforting—but all they really translate into is “tell me what’s going on, I can’t stand the suspense anymore.” Before I know it, I’m up at out of my seat.

“Why does everybody have to know what’s going on in my head?” I shriek. “Why can’t I just for once be unhappy and everybody just respect my wishes and leave me alone?” And I’m out of the office and into my car, without my cane, without my purse, without my kids—racing towards Grey Crossing.

*-*

“Ana, where the hell are you?” Chuck is livid. I still have my phone in my jacket pocket, which is the only reason that it didn’t get left behind.

“At home… in bed.” I’m surprised the guards at the desk didn’t tell him that I tore into the gate, almost taking the iron off the damn hinges if the gate hadn’t opened fast enough. He sighs.

“I’m bringing Keri and the twins home,” he says, his voice that sympathetic tone that I’m beginning to hate.

“Um-hmm,” I say, before ending the call. I close my eyes and fall asleep.

I awake to the sound of the two-way communications beckoning me.

“Ana,” I say, my voice raspy and my throat dry. I hear my babies stirring. I throw my legs out of the bed and test my foot. I’m still fully dressed and exhausted.

“Ana,” Keri’s voice comes over the two-way. “You rest. We got the babies.” I nod as if she could hear me and lay back in bed.

“Okay…”

I wake again, and the sun has gone down. There’s a U-Dub oversized jersey and some yoga pants at the foot of my bed—one of my favorite lounging outfits—and a note from Grace to call her if she can help in any way. I quickly strip out of my suit and shoes and put on my comfort clothing before climbing back into the bed and falling asleep again almost immediately.

This time when I awake, it’s daylight again. I know that I need to get up, but I can’t bring myself to get out of the bed. I have to feed my babies. I have work to do. I have to…

“So… Billionaire Boy left you high and dry after all. I knew he wouldn’t last…”

Edward emerges from into the white fog, dressed in his prison garb, his face stark white and devoid of life. Around his neck is a sheet twisted into a noose. I can imagine this is how they found him hanging in his cell.

“Why the hell can’t you fuckers stay dead once you die?” I ask no one in particular.

“Because we have to remind you of your mistakes. You should have stayed with me, Rosie. I knew the poor little rich boy would tire of you sooner or later—see you for the sloppy seconds that you really are. Right, Steve?”

“Of course…” Stephen Morton’s emaciated frame joins us in the fog. “Ann never could accept that she was nothing and will always be nothing. Maybe now, she’ll learn her lesson.”

“Oh, look, it’s Moonshine,” I say, unmoved. “Boy, my subconscious is really pulling out the heavy hitters tonight.”

“Not just yet. We’ve got one more,” Edward says. “Oh, Bob!”

My terrorizer joins the threesome in the cloud of white and now they surround me, taunting me.

“He left you for a kiss you never even got. How does that feel? I guess that twat isn’t as deadly as I thought it was. What a pussy!”

Robert Harris doesn’t look as intimidating as he once did, either—oozing bullet wounds all over his body. What the hell is this supposed to represent?

What’s so bad is that I’m not afraid of any of these apparitions. They’re just irritating the fuck out of me, circling me, and teasing me…

“You’re nothing. You always were, and you always will be.”
“Nobody’s ever going to love you or want you. What did you expect—happily ever after?”
“Your head got too big, Rosie; you should have stayed with me. I was the best you could hope for…”

And the obvious…

“He’s left you. He doesn’t want you anymore. You fucked up like you always do, and without even trying this time.”

Suddenly, a fourth figure joins us in the white fog, and I feel a warmth… a connection, the connection that I only feel… felt… with one other person. This is the closest I’ve felt to him since he’s been gone. Christian comes through the mist in that same suit he was wearing when he left. He walks to me with no concern for the apparitions around me. They keep taunting me, but with a wave of his hand, they’re gone—their taunts still echoing in the air…

“He’s left you…”

Christian cups my face with his hands and looks into my eyes.

“I haven’t left you… I’ll never leave you…”

I slowly open my eyes and it’s dark again. I’m not willing to get out of bed right now. There’s really no need. Someone’s been in to check on me. There’s fresh ice water in a pitcher on the night stand and my cane is leaning against it. I pull the covers up around my neck, trying to shake the cold, but the cold is inside, and I’ll never shake it. I’m unmoved by anything that happened in my dream except for one thing…

“I haven’t left you… I’ll never leave you…”

“Yes… you have,” I say aloud. I get out of the bed to go to the bathroom and fail to test my ankle before putting any weight on it.

And down I go.

“Shit!” I exclaim as I hit the floor with a thud, pain radiating through my body and from the fact that I think I twisted my ankle again. I feel helpless and useless and particularly unloved. The tears all come down on me at once and the feeling of loss and hopelessness is more than I can bear.

He’s left me.
My husband is gone, and he’s left me.

Suddenly, the urge to use the restroom floods out of my body as quickly as it came, replaced by the gaping emptiness, the never-ending pain of the abyss that’s swallowing me whole.

Able to do nothing else, I lay on the floor in the fetal position and weep.


CHRISTIAN

“Grey.”

“I’m fragile right now and I don’t need this damn stress. Now would you please tell me what the hell is going on?” Oh, good fuck, it’s my mother. I should have looked at the caller ID. I stopped after I blocked her calls and she could no longer call me nonstop.

“What do you need, Mom?” I ask stoically.

“I need to know what the fuck is going on with you and your wife and I don’t want to hear any bullshit about this being none of my business!” she demands. “I’ve never seen her like this before in my life!”

“You’ll have to ask her,” I respond.

“I have asked her and she’s not talking! Nobody’s talking! You’re nowhere to be found and nobody’s telling anybody anything—not even Ana. Nobody knows what’s going on and she’s walking around here like an apparition! A shadow of herself! Not even that! She’s hiding behind closed doors and when I finally corner her to talk to her, she sounds like a damn toddler! She looks like she’s about to have a goddamn nervous breakdown and nobody can fucking help her! At least tell me what the hell is going on so I can try to help her!” My throat tightens and almost feels like it’s closing on me. “Where the hell are you?”

“Europe,” I tell her honestly. “I had two deals that needed my attention and there’s a third one that I need to take care of.”

“Well, when do you plan to be home?” she asks, demanding. Boy, she’s really pissed.

“I don’t know,” I tell her. I’ve been trying to work through what I saw… what I think I saw, but I can’t. Right now, I just need to focus on the next deal. There’s really not a third deal and the first two could have waited—well, maybe not the first one, but I can find a third. After a long pause, I hear my mother sucking her teeth.

“I see,” she says, and I hear movement on the phone. “Well, like I said, I have no clue what’s going on, but from Ana’s reaction and your disappearance and likewise wish not to be forthcoming, I can pretty much guess.” I hear things slamming around and know that all diplomacy has left the woman on the other end of the line. “Not that you care, but your wife ran out of here after screaming at me to leave her alone and let her be unhappy in peace. She left her purse, her briefcase and her security detail behind… oh, and her children!”

“The twins?” I ask horrified.

“Charles got in touch with her back at the mansion,” Mom continues without reacting to my question. “Since it’s clear that you can take care of yourself, I’m following Charles and the rest of the security detail to the Crossing to see if there’s anything that I can do for Ana. She took the SUV and I have built-in car seats, so I’ll take the twins and Keri. It’s unfortunate that she drove home on her own as she’s not supposed to be driving since she was released from the hospital!” I leap to my feet at this revelation.

“Hospital?” I gasp. “What the hell was she doing in the hospital?”

“Oh, you didn’t know?” she asks sarcastically. “Don’t worry, Christian. Obviously, she didn’t die!” my mother shoots, anger radiating through the phone at me from 5000 miles away. “I’m sure you would have come home after that… then again, maybe not. Nonetheless, she’s fine. She’s still here functioning and taking care of your children—that is, when she’s not in the midst of what appears to be total, complete, and utter self-destruction. If you want to know why she was in the hospital, why don’t you ask her?”

She throws my words back at me and the line goes dead.

She dangles this news in my face and then ends the call like we were talking about the goddamn weather. The last person that had anything to say at all about possible concern for my wife was Allen, and I shot him down hard…

He was talking to Jason when we conferenced back to Seattle for some legal documents for Casa del Escudo Sagrado when Allen asked to confirm that I actually was in Madrid. When Jason confirmed the information with no further explanation, I felt the need to gently nudge my employee to keep his mouth shut.

“Please inform my head of legal,” I said into the air so that he could hear me, “that although his loyalties may be split, he has signed a non-disclosure agreement as a condition of his employment and I do expect him to honor it. If he has any issue with that, I assume he will let me know.”

The line was quiet with one of those pregnant pauses that Allen often accuses me of. Jason makes to speak, but Allen beats him to it.

“Well, that explains a lot,” he hissed into the line. “Please inform my employer that although I love my best friend like my own flesh and blood that I am a professional first. That although I am sick to my stomach watching her suffer physically and emotionally the way that she is right now, that I am not only fully aware of my job duties and description as well as the conditions of my employment, but also of the letter of the law in terms of attorney/client privilege, and he would do well not to insult my intelligence or integrity in the future. Also inform my esteemed employer that whatever may be occurring between him and my best friend affords him no purchase or right whatsoever to be an asshole towards me!”

The words hung in the air as both a chastisement and a warning for me to check my attitude when dealing with Attorney Forsythe, but there was also information there that I’m just now putting together with what my mother said…

“That although I am sick to my stomach watching her suffer physically and emotionally…”

She’s suffering physically. How the hell is she suffering physically?

“It’s unfortunate that she drove home on her own as she’s not supposed to be driving since she was released from the hospital!”

Released from the hospital… That means that this wasn’t an emergency-room visit. She was admitted!

“Jason!” I yell through the suite we share at the Eurostars Suites Madrid. He doesn’t answer right away, and I know he’s not asleep. He doesn’t sleep until I dismiss him and it’s not quite eleven yet.

“Jason!” I call again, exiting the first bedroom of the suite and crossing the span of the living area just as he’s making his way to me.

“Yes, sir,” he answers calmly.

“Where were you?” I demand.

“I was speaking to my wife and daughter,” he says, impassively. Speaking of which…

“Ana was in the hospital,” I inform him. He doesn’t react. “Did you hear me? Ana was in the hospital!”

“Yes, sir, I heard you. I know she was in the hospital.” What the hell…?

“When?” I ask in horror.

“This past Saturday,” he says, still unmoved. “It may have been Friday for them…” He ponders for a moment. “No, it was Saturday.”

“You knew?” I accuse. He nods. “That was the call you got at breakfast… when you left the room. That’s why you looked at me.” He nods again. “Why the fuck did I have to find out from my mother that Ana was in the hospital and not from you?” I roar.

“Why would I tell you?” Jason replies impassively. “Every time I came to you and told you that she had called repeatedly, or she was crying or hurt or upset, couldn’t sleep, forced herself to eat so that she could feed her children, you didn’t flinch. I thought she was calling me because you wouldn’t answer. I only just found out from that call from my wife that you had blocked her calls. I’ve seen this guy before. I know who he is. He’s the same guy that I knew when I had to drag crying, kicking, screaming submissives out of his house who didn’t bat an eye at their pain. After all these years with you, I know not to cross him.

“Yes, I got the call that she was in the hospital. Yes, I got the call that she had a breakdown while she was there, and they wanted to keep her for observation for fear that she would hurt herself. They finally allowed her leave when she asked for a breast pump so that she could feed her babies. Yes, I got the call that she was home. Her life wasn’t in danger, but only because she had angels looking out for her because she could have fallen to her death off that cliff.”

“Cliff…?” The word slips from my lips with disbelief.

“Oh, yeah, you didn’t know that either. She got drunk, stood on the edge of a cliff, lost her balance as she was throwing a bottle of whiskey over and fell. She could’ve died, but she didn’t. Chuck caught her, and she only slipped along the ledge about four feet. She awoke with a sprained ankle and bad hangover. Luckily, nothing’s broken except her heart. Nothing major.”

“Nothing major…?” I’m still at a loss for words. Why is he just delivering this shit like a basic debriefing? My wife could have died!

“No, sir,” Jason says, matter-of-factly. “For weeks, she’s been sitting in various places just staring at nothing. At first, it was that water swing outside over the lake. But lately, she’s been spending the night in her children’s room in the window seat looking out the window—for what, nobody knows. It got to be so bad that Keri just started taking pictures of her with her phone. She calls the series ‘A Tribute to Sadness.’

“She knows that if she doesn’t eat, she’ll not only hurt herself, but the babies, too, so she eats… but only what my wife brings to her. Marilyn keeps me posted on what she does when she’s at the Center. Mostly, she stays locked in her office working on whatever until it’s time to feed the twins again. The inspection is complete, and the inspector is gone. It looks like the center will finally get its credentials.” He pauses for a moment and takes a breath.

“Is that all? Oh, no, it’s not. If she doesn’t sleep in the window seat in the babies’ room, she sleeps in one of the guest rooms now. She doesn’t talk to anybody, not even Marilyn and only Al in an official capacity. So, your secret is still safe. Nobody knows that you’ve left her.”

“Left her?” I finally find some words. “I haven’t left her.”

“Coulda fooled me,” Jason says with a shrug. “Definitely fooled her.”

Shit, that stings.

“I’ve put covert surveillance on her because even though she convinced the doctor that she didn’t want to harm herself, the absent-minded things that she’s doing and the obvious absence of self-preservation will end up causing her more harm than anything that she can do to herself on purpose. The fact that she keeps running off alone without telling anybody is dangerous all by itself.

“I was hoping to go to sleep soon, so I was calling my wife to tell her goodnight and that I love her, and she was telling me that Ana’s back at home shut-up in the guest bedroom in the middle of the day without the babies. I didn’t get a chance to find out what was happening because you summoned me.”

Jason’s not offering me any of his usual sarcasm or opinions. He’s just giving me cold, hard facts in the most impassive manner possible. He won’t tell me that he thinks I’m an asshole for leaving and staying away without a word. He won’t offer any insight into how she’s feeling except broken-hearted and she thinks I’ve left her. No “you’re killing her” or “this is agony for her, don’t you care” or none of the protective emotion that he normally feels when it comes to her or the concerned friendship that he usually gives me as of late… well, not on this trip, though. Is he trying to be here for me… as my best friend, or has he really stoically detached himself from the situation?

“Are you angry with her, too?” I ask, trying to pull the truth from him.

“I wouldn’t know what to be angry with her for, sir—you never told me, but it doesn’t matter,” he says. “We’re in a foreign country and I have a job to do and that’s to protect you. I can’t allow anything to interfere with that.”

Stoic detachment. The fact that he knows so much about what’s going on with her indicates to me that he’s not angry with her, but I can’t tell if he’s angry with me. He has a job to do…

“Tell me everything…”

*-*

It takes a full 24 hours to get the GEH jet to Madrid and another hour and a half to get it refueled. Four pilots, three flight attendants, and this is probably one of the most expensive emergency flights I’ve ever taken. There’s no way I was taking a commercial flight to possibly get leaked to the Paps. I probably wouldn’t have made it out of the airport.

We don’t make it back to Seattle until 4am, two days after I had spoken to my mother. The house is a tomb when we arrive because no one is expecting us. I dismiss Jason straight to his suite and climb the stairs to find Ana. He said that she was in one of the guest rooms, so I don’t even bother going to our bedroom. I start with guestroom one thinking that she would opt to be as close to the twins as possible.

I was right… but she’s on the floor.

My first instinct is to rush to her and make sure that she’s alright until I see how she’s lying—in the fetal position with her hands under her face, pressed together and protecting the skin of her cheek from the floor. She’s curled into a ball so small that she looks like a child. I haven’t seen her this small since her shrinking days. I don’t think I even saw her this small back then.

Shrinking…

I walk around her and take a seat in the leather chair across from the bed. I remove my jacket and set it on the matching bench next to me and examine her lying there on the floor. The room is still dark, and dawn is threatening off in the distance, but there’s enough light in the room to make out her comfort clothes, the ace bandage around her right foot and ankle, and the tortured expression marring her face.

Her right foot…
Her driving foot…
She drove home with that ankle…

There’s a note on the floor at the foot of the bed and I pick it up and read it.

Ana,

I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but I have a good idea. Keri and Gail said that you haven’t been sleeping, so I didn’t want to disturb you. Please call me if I can help you or if you want to talk. I’m here for you, dear.

Grace.

She didn’t tell anybody anything. All this time, she just kept it to herself… why I wasn’t here… that I wasn’t here. Even my parents didn’t know.

Did she talk to Ace?

I watch her sleeping on the floor for a few more moments before the two-way communications system comes to life. She pops off the floor with a gasp, a wobble, and a whimper—discomfort and confusion evident in her posture and positioning. She mumbles something like she’s coming out of a disturbing dream before she remembers herself and cracks out her name.

“Ana…”

Her voice is frail, high and unrecognizable, but the two-way should still know that it’s her. She clears her throat and it actually sounds painful, then she tries again.

“Ana…”

That was worse than the first time… breathy and painful and aching. She sighs when there’s still no response and scrubs her face with one hand, holding herself up and leaning on the other. Then I remember that she’s not the only person in the room.

“Christian.”

She whirls around in her seat on the floor to the sound of my voice like somebody hit her. She stares at me in shocked amazement, more like dismay, and Jason speaks through the two-way.

“Sir, my wife says that Ana is in guestroom one and she’s been asleep for more than 36 hours.” Shit. I remember when I slept like that… when she went to Montana. The psychotic break. That’s why he told me. He knew I’d come looking for her, but he wanted me to know that she had been asleep for more than a day.

“I’ve found her. Thank you, Jason. End two-way communications.” The two-way system deactivates, and Ana and I stare at each other for several moments. She’s the first to move. She crawls to the bed and retrieves the cane leaning against the nearby nightstand. Using the bed as leverage and the cane for support, she pushes herself off the floor and stands upright. It takes a lot of effort and she doesn’t ask for help. When she gets to her feet, she starts to walk, and I can tell that she’s in pain. Without a word, she hobbles to the en suite and closes the door.

I sit there for a while, pondering what to do next. Knowing her—knowing me—I knew there would be no warm welcome or running to each other’s arms for reconciliation. I don’t know how long I sit there before I realize that there’s no sound coming from the bathroom and she’s been in there for a while. I walk over to the door and knock softly. When there’s no answer, I knock again. Still no answer, so I try the door. She hasn’t locked it. When I open the door, she’s curled up inside the tub, her arms wrapped around her knees. Her hair is wet, and her head is resting on her knees, her face buried.

She looks helpless and broken and I haven’t seen her like this is quite some time.

I pull off my sweatshirt and walk over to the tub. This is a marble tub, too, not as big as hers—raised, so that I can sit along the side of it. I take one of the washcloths from the towel rack and wet it with water from the tub. I squeeze the rag so that the water trickles over her skin. She doesn’t move. I continue to do this until I’ve wet every exposed part of her body. I lift her hair to wash her nape and she cringes.

“No! Please don’t,” she weeps. What? She doesn’t want me to touch her? I put my hand on her shoulder and try to speak, but she protests again, more insistent this time… heart-wrenching…

“Please!” she cries, her voice cracking and broken. “I can’t take it right now… please…”

I can tell by the agonizing sound of her voice that if I touch her again, she’s going to fall completely apart. I put my own pride aside and move away.

“Okay,” I concede, and she sighs heavily, whimpering sorrowfully.

She sighed… she sighed because I stopped touching her.

“How are you going to get out of the tub?” I ask, examining her foot still wrapped in the ace bandage and submerged in the water.

“I’ll get on my knees,” her shaky voice says.

“You could fall.” She doesn’t respond. “Would you rather I leave?”

“You already did,” she squeaks, hugging her knees tighter. Okay, I had that one coming. I stand, moving to leave and thinking this might be better.

“I’ll be in the bedroom,” I say, a bit rejected, but not. “Call me if you need help.”

“I did,” she says, weakly. “You didn’t come…”

I sit in the bedroom, playing her words over and over again in my head.

I did… you didn’t come…

It’s only at this moment that I realize what my leaving really meant. I maintain that I needed some time away from her, from the situation, from how I was feeling, but just like Montana, I left her with nothing. No hope, no explanation, no lifeline. I had my phone. I just didn’t answer when she called. She escaped and we had to find her. I took somebody with me and she still didn’t know where I was. We weren’t married yet when she left, so her answering to me was a courtesy—one that I deserved as her fiancé, but a courtesy nonetheless. We’re married now; we’re next of kin over and above even our parents. We have a bigger responsibility to one another… and we have children.

She was in the hospital and I didn’t even know. Nobody thought I needed to be informed. If the people who know me and knew where I was thought I didn’t care about my wife falling off a cliff and having to be taken to the hospital, imagine how she felt.

Most of all, two wrongs don’t make a right.

Two wrongs? Or was it three? Four? Eleven? Twenty…?

I don’t know how long it is before she comes out of the en suite, but I know it’s a long time—so long that I stop watching the door and waiting for her to emerge… so long that I’m immersed in my own thoughts of the situation and forget where I am, surprised to see her exit the bathroom haphazardly wrapped in a bath blanket. Her long, wet hair hangs in a stringy mess down her back, some of in wrapped under the bath blanket. She’s just as surprised to see me still in the bedroom when she emerges as I am when she comes out. She probably thought I had given up and left by now.

I have to suppress the urge to just take care of her right now—to wrap the towel properly around her body, or better yet, unwrap it; to dry and untangle her extremely long hair; to pick her up and carry her to the bed and get the weight off that ankle and the now-wet ace bandage that may cause her to fall.

I lose the battle with that last one.

“No!” she says in a panic when she sees me coming towards her, my intent evident in my eyes. I stop just as I’m about to scoop her small body up in my arms.

“Please,” I say softly. “At least lean on me so that you don’t fall again. You were on the floor when I came in.”

Our faces are so close together. Her eyes are more empty and lifeless than I’ve ever seen them… ever. Her pupils are tiny, constricted—almost non-existent. I try to remember a time when I’ve ever seen this barren color of blue in her eyes… like an old pair of jeans that’s been washed too many times. I can’t. Not even when she checked out after watching the video of her attack were her eyes this pale. They’re normally deep blue… ocean blue… the bluest right at her height of passion. Right now, they look blanched and devoid of life.

Empty Eyes

I must have been staring too long, because she drops her eyes, then her head, breaking our gaze. I gingerly bend down and put my arm around her waist and she allows me to help her to the bed while she winces every time she tries to put the slightest weight on her ankle. She sighs again when she’s finally on the bed and out of my grasp. I feel a stab of rejection, but quickly push it back because there are too many other emotions swimming around in my head right now… and I really don’t deserve to feel rejected.

“Activate two-way communications,” I say, and the system comes alive. “Locate Keri Illidge.”

“Yes?” Keri’s disembodied voice answers.

“Keri, it’s Christian. I hope I haven’t disturbed you.” There’s a pause.

“Christian!” she says, surprise obvious in her voice. “Um, no, you haven’t disturbed me. I’m with the babies.”

“I’ll relieve you. Can you please come to the first guestroom and help Ana get dressed? Her ankle is bothering her.” Another pause.

“Yes, I’ll be right there.”

“End two-way communications.” The system shuts down and I bring my eyes back to my wife. She’s leaning forward on her hands sitting stock still on the bed and looking down. I sigh and leave the room. I meet Keri in the hallway.

“I don’t think she needs any help getting her clothes on, just getting what she needs to her… maybe combing her hair…” I trail off, still dejected that she wouldn’t let me touch her, but what did I expect?

“Yes, okay, no problem,” Keri says, and walks past me to the guestroom while I proceed to the nursery. An exhausted Gail is tending to Mikey while Minnie fusses in her crib. She smiles weakly when I enter the room. I look at her with apologetic eyes and force as much of a smile as I can. I know that she and Jason were probably making up for lost time when the babies beckoned. I reach into the crib and gather my fussy daughter in my arms. When I cuddle her against me, she settles immediately, nuzzling against my chest.

Sorry, little one, there’s nothing in those to sustain you. It’ll have to be a bottle.

I retrieve a bottle from the warmer and she suckles it hungrily, obviously fighting between hunger and sleep. I sit in the window seat that Jason informed me Ana sat in many days and look out at the view while I feed my daughter. There’s not much to see out this window… the same uninteresting view of Seattle and the bridge…

The bridge… She was staring at the bridge.

Fuck.


A/N: The song Ana is hearing in her head is Good Morning Heartache by Billie Holiday. The video is on my Pinterest page. 

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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

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

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

Speaking of which, if your email address is bouncing because it’s too full, you may want to check your emails from time to time. If my auto-email program confirms that your email is bouncing, it automatically stops sending you emails and I can’t stop it or change it if it does, which is okay if you don’t want to get the email anyway, but if you do, I would probably have to delete you and you would probably have to resubscribe. Depending on the circumstance you may even have to do it with a new email address. I moved quite a few people to an infrequent list only to find that several of them were bouncing anyway and some had already been “quarantined” by my mailer. So, if you want to continue getting the personalized emails, please open them when you see them and make sure I have a good email address for you. 

To the rest of my readers, thank you from wherever you click to get here. I love you all! 

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

Chapter 32—Lights, Camera, Action!

CHRISTIAN

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

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

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

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

“We had a really good talk,” I say.

“Yes, we did,” she agrees.

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

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

“And then we fucked,” I say.

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

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

“Resolution sex.” I raise my eyebrows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m listening,” I say.

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

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

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

“Who… is Michel?” I ask.

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

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

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

Borderline?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boy, she went way back!

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

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

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

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

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

And tamed.

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

“So, it appears,” she sighs.

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

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

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

“Yes, Sir,” she answers sweetly.

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s just hope,” I concur.


ANASTASIA

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

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

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

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

“Why all the vehicles?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

curly locks

Michael Allen Grey

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

Mackenzie Anastasia Grey

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And why not?” my husband nearly roars.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think the broadcast journalist lady is getting offended.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s correct,” Maria says.

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

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

Wrong answer.

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

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

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

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


CHRISTIAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” Butterfly says, incredulously.

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

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

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

“They are…?” she asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Anything else?” she asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 31—The Importance of Compromise

So, apparently in the last chapter, I made a reference to an episode of the Golden Girls and I confused two episodes. Dorothy was suffering from something else completely when she gave the doctor a piece of her mind in the restaurant, not menopause. Somehow, I thought it was menopause. Hopefully, the point I was trying to make didn’t get lost completely in my faux pas. I should have known that something was wrong when I couldn’t find that episode online, but c’est la vie. Sorry, guys. 

Sorry for the late post… my internet went out last night.

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 31—The Importance of Compromise

ANASTASIA

No one can sulk like Christian Grey.

When that man gets a bug up his butt, he can mope around better than a broken-hearted teenage girl. He walked out of our room last night and I swear, all I could see was a toddler having a temper tantrum. When I awoke this morning, I was alone in our bed and I could tell that he hadn’t slept in it. I don’t have time for his little hissy fits. I meant what I said last night. I won’t allow him to punish me when I feel that I’ve done nothing wrong and he’s just going to have to find some other way to deal with that.

I shower and get dressed then go down to the kitchen where I find my husband at the breakfast bar already conducting business over a cup of coffee and nearly-finished breakfast.

“Well, something’s not right with the numbers and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see it. You and Lorenz can look at them and tell me what you come up with. I’ve been mulling over them for weeks. Maybe they just need a fresh eye.”

Another merger with a hidden glitch. It seems quite a few companies have been trying to pull one over on GEH lately. I can’t help but wonder why.

“Well, I’ll be in the office shortly. I’ll send you the link to the latest financials on the network…”

What? He’s going into the office? We’ve got all kinds of shit to discuss for this interview this weekend and Grace is coming home right after lunch.

“Good morning,” I say, once he has ended his call. He raises his gaze to me.

“Good morning,” he responds, and it’s hard to get a read on him.

“We’ve got quite a bit that we should be doing today,” I say, somewhat questioning.

“I know,” he replies. “Everything that needs to be done will get done.” He bottoms out his coffee and stands from the breakfast bar, typing something into his blackberry. He’s… stoic or impassive or something… not cold, just… not really there.

“So… what is it? If I don’t let you whip me when you want to whip me, I get the cold shoulder or whatever this is?” I accuse. Christian raises his gaze to the ceiling and sighs before bringing his eyes to me.

“I need you to understand something about me, Anastasia,” he says, his voice low. “I am a Dominant. That’s the person that I was when you met me. That’s the person that you fell in love with and who fell in love with you. Last night, you told me that I couldn’t be that person. You had your reasons, you explained them, and I had no choice but to accept them. Right now, I’m trying to deal with that. So, forgive me if I’m not Perfect Husband Christian fawning all over his Butterfly while I’m dealing with it!” I frown deeply.

“Are you telling me that if I choose not to allow you to punish me because I feel that I don’t deserve it, this is what I have to deal with?” I inquire. “You walking around being sullen and surly like a child who just lost their favorite toy?” He turns to face me, pulled up to his full height, and I have to concentrate not to feel slightly intimidated by him at this moment.

“Anastasia,” he begins, his voice still low and commanding, “at the risk of sounding juvenile, you did take away my favorite toy. You eliminated my most reliable coping mechanism. I tried the normal alternative measures—I ran to China on that treadmill, then I beat the hell out of your heavy bag until I thought the hooks would come out of the ceiling and floor. The installers did an excellent job, by the way. I pondered spending time with my piano, but I could see myself destroying the keys out of pure frustration. I’ve done that once—I didn’t want to do it again. So, I stayed in the gym until my muscles burned, then I spent some time in the hot tub. Now, I’m going into the office to do some work and when it’s time to go see Mom, I’ll come back here and ride to Belleville with the rest of the family like we discussed.”

“Just like everything’s fine,” I say, a statement, not a question. His face doesn’t change even though his tone does slightly.

“You can’t have it both ways, Ana,” he replies. “I’m still wired like a meth addict, my only restraint coming from the incessant ache in my legs and arms. I’m going to focus on that and on my work so that I don’t focus on my total lack of control, here. Then, I’m going to turn my focus to my mother and the very serious issue that’s facing her and our family so that I don’t turn the focus on me. Currently, that’s what I have to offer.

“I can understand and even empathize with how you felt last night. That’s the new Christian. That’s the guy that can take ‘no’ for an answer. The one that can’t—the one that’s in my head standing in a playroom with a whip in one hand and a flogger in the other waiting for me to give in to my primal urges—yeah, he’s still there. He’s still waiting for me to do something to regain control of an apparently uncontrollable situation. So, while kinder, gentler Christian is trying to persuade cooler heads to prevail, Neanderthal Christian is fighting tooth and nail taunting us all to ‘grow a pair.’”

He pauses and closes his eyes, takes a deep cleansing breath and releases it. When he opens them again, slate gray eyes fix on me and freeze me to the spot.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to spend a few hours at Grey House this morning. You may want to check in at Helping Hands. I’ll see you back here at lunch.” He leans down and kisses me on the cheek before turning around and walking towards the mudroom.

Jesus. What do I do with that? He clearly doesn’t hate me. He’s not even angry with me. It appears that he totally understands how I felt last night and why I felt that way. He’s just having a rough time dealing with it. Shit, I can’t say that I like this Christian any more than I like “punish me whenever he feels like it” Christian. There’s got to be some kind of middle ground, and I guess it’s going to be up to me to find it.

*-*

“Well, hello, darling. I was surprised to hear from you with such urgency. Is everything alright?”

I took Christian’s advice and ducked into Helping Hands very quickly to check on the status of things and make sure that the structure was still intact. Everything was running as smoothly as could be expected with both leaders currently out of commission, so to speak, but once the staff was given a general idea of what was happening, they all rallied to make sure that operations continue as usual. Jesse, Courtney, and key volunteers and workers all have me on speed dial in case there’s a need for me to rush back to the center, and I make a mental note to check in on John and his family sometime in the next few days if Christian hasn’t called him already.

“Thanks for seeing me on such short notice.” After my brief conversation with Christian this morning, I knew that I needed to speak with someone that understands the mind of a Dominant. Christian and I met Michelangelo and his partner, Wolfgang, at a BDSM club a couple of years ago. That’s not Michel’s real name, but it’s just easier to remember. He doesn’t bother calling me Stacey anymore since everyone in the Seattle area knows who the hell I am.

“I’m in desperate need of some advice,” I tell him.

“Intimate advice, I take it,” he says, gesturing me to the back of his store. He’s a holistic apothecary, and I make it a point to look around the shop at some of the natural remedies before I leave.

“Yes, but don’t let me forget to grab some essential oils before I leave.”

“Oooo,” he says, shimmying his shoulders, “I’ll put together some yummy concoctions for you, my dear. My own special formulas. Now, step into my office and tell me what’s ailing you today.”

Michel’s office is an envious thing of beauty and is making me completely rethink my workspace at home. It’s glass on three sides, one of those sides being a set of double doors that open onto a gorgeous deck. The other two sides are floor to ceiling windows that look out onto large trees and stunning landscaping, with retractable shades to cover the windows at night. There is minimal furniture in the room—an aluminum frame desk with a white surface and matching rolling desk chair and two very comfortable brown sitting chairs with ottomans and a glass end table between them.

“Have a seat, darling. Let’s chat.” He gestures me to one of the comfortable chairs while he takes the other. I fill him in on the basics of the situation without getting into too much detail, just that I feel that I didn’t deserve to be punished and the basic reasons why, but that the Dominant in my husband is battling with the lack of control.

“I’m not trying to change who he is and I certainly want to be what he needs,” I confess, “but I won’t compromise myself or my principles to do that.”

“As well you shouldn’t, my dear,” Michel agrees. “The fact that Christian understands that speaks volumes. Most Doms really get set in their ways and they must regain that control by any means necessary.”

“Michel, Christian is that man,” I tell him. “He won’t abuse me, and I can always safeword and end any scene or any situation, but…” I trail off, thinking of two specific punishment fucks that left me feeling like a piece of meat. Then, there was the spanking in the shower, but he took a severe punishment following that… that’s another story, though.

“Ana?” Michel says cautiously. “You haven’t… been raped, have you?” I shake my head and frown deeply.

“No!” I protest fervently—not by my husband anyway. “No, of course not! It’s just… Christian’s presence and authority over you is… powerful. If you plan to challenge him, you had better be armored. There are times when I’m not, when I’m not so certain about how I feel about a scene until after it happens. By then, my feelings are all conflicted and when we talk about it, there’s often a problem.”

“But… you talk about it,” he interjects.

“Well, yeah, we always talk about it. Sometimes, we even talk about it with our therapists.”

“My God, you two are one of the most functional couples I’ve ever met!” he exclaims.” I scoff.

“Yeah… no. We’re still working on it,” I correct him.

“What do you think functional means?” he says. “Do you think anybody out here has it all together? If they tell you that they do or even lead you to believe that they do, they’re lying through their teeth! You’re going to be working on that relationship until the day you die, especially a BDSM relationship. Anybody out there who tells you that they have the perfect Dom or that their Master hasn’t or would never hurt them, they’re full of shit! That’s how the hell they know what they don’t like and won’t tolerate. It’s a constant learning experience, even for seasoned Dominants and submissives. And you said therapists. Plural. That means that the two of you have the good sense to know that you can’t both see the same person, am I correct?” I raise my eyebrows at him.

“Correct,” I say slowly.

“And you have the good sense to know that even though you are a shrink, you still need one,” he adds. “Like I said, the most functional couple I’ve ever seen in my life, and don’t let anybody convince you otherwise. Anything that you’re going through, it’s all growing pains. You’re going to have them—sometimes worse than others, and you’re never going to stop growing. Have you had your big breakup yet?”

“Yes,” I answer, thinking about my trip to Montana.

“While you were married?” I frown at him.

“That’s not going to happen. Christian won’t let me out of his sight.” It’s Michel’s turn to scoff.

“Don’t count on it,” he says. “You two are going to be together for 100 years and sometime during that hundred years, you’re going to have a big breakup. It won’t be the end of the world. It’ll just feel like it. Don’t let it destroy you.” I shiver at the thought of breaking up with my husband. I can’t even imagine it.

“You sound like you speak from experience,” I lament.

“I do, my love. Now, let’s get back to your problem, ‘cuz this won’t be that time…” Michel crosses his legs and turns to face me. “Your husband has spent his adult life being a Dominant while you’ve only spent a fraction of your adult life being a submissive. You’ve found yourself in different facets of life beginning at a very early age. I don’t know the whole tale of how both of you became the people that you are, but I know that much from what you’ve already told me.

“What you’ve learned about being a sub, you’ve only learned from him. He has a very structured and practiced routine for what he does and what he’s learned about the lifestyle. He’s been adjusting himself over the course of time to fit around you. Now, he’s been forced to make another adjustment—the adjustment to no—one that he’s probably never or rarely had to contend with before. This has just been thrust upon him out of nowhere and he’s not going to deal with it very well. You’ve come to the right conclusion that there has to be a middle ground.

“Right now, he’s asking himself if he can be a husband and a dominant. Although he’s not questioning his role as your husband, make no mistake that those two roles are battling—challenging one another to the degree that he’s suppressing his natural urges. One is going to win, and whichever one does, it won’t be pretty, because the other is still fighting.”

I figured as much. In fact, he basically said as much.

“You, my dear, are the lion tamer,” he says. “You have to find the balance between the two. You married the beast—you knew that, and you accepted that. Now, you have to tame it, help him find the natural balance between the husband and the Dom. You know him better than anyone—anyone, Ana. So, the first thing you must do is trust your instincts.” He entwines his fingers in his lap. “I need you to relax and think. Take a few deep breaths for me…”

I do what he tells me to do. I listen to his voice and focus on my breathing until I’m calm and relaxed.

“Now, open your eyes… tell me about your man.”

“He’s… sexy,” I say. “I want to say it’s the first thing I noticed about him…”

“What’s the first thing you noticed about him?”

“That he was hot… and quiet… and his striking eyes,” I say, recalling the day that he commanded the attention of every woman in the room at the community center and arrogantly ordered that I just call him “Grey.”

“Okay, and then what?”

“He exercised his dominance on me immediately, but it didn’t work. It made me resent him.” Michel raised his eyebrows at me.

“It did?” I nodded. “How did you become his submissive?”

“We had an attraction that we couldn’t fight, and we gave in to our primal urges. Then… we talked. He confessed his involvement in BDSM, and I told him about my brief studies in college and my curiosity of the lifestyle. We agreed to see where it took us and here we are.”

“So, it’s pretty much been touch-and-go since then,” he deduces. I nod.

“Like you said, everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned from him… or from you, from college… outside studies… nothing as intense as what he knows.”

“And you’re still learning,” Michel adds. I shrug.

“I guess I am,” I conclude. Michel sighs.

“Darling, you’re just dabblin’ in submission. You’ve barely scratched the surface. If he’s having this much problem with you introducing ‘no’ to punishments and playtime, you two really need to talk about where you want to be in the lifestyle. Right now, though, you need to get him back on balance, even if it’s only in perception, because he’s spinning out of control—but trust me. That conversation needs to happen sooner rather than later.” I nod.

“You said that he spoke of the girl he fell in love with,” Michel continues. “You’re going to want to reach back and find her. You’re going to want to let him know that she’s still there, but not lose the person that you’ve become in the process. You’re also going to want to tap into the Dom that attracted you—allow him in without the punishment. Cede him the control that he craves without totally relinquishing the reins of that principle that you’re holding fast to. He must respect your input. He has to understand that although he is the husDom, he also needs to know when to exercise restraint.

“Every situation doesn’t warrant discipline, and sometimes, as Doms, we may forget that, particularly in the heat of the moment. You need to bring him back to his position—gently—without appearing to top from the bottom. It’s going to be difficult, but not impossible. Once he’s there, you need to introduce your concerns to him in a way that he understands—in a manner that says that you are not defying him, but that you need him to recognize how you feel; that even punishments administered to children are ineffectual if the child thinks they aren’t warranted.”

God, that’s so simple. Last night, I simply refused to be punished—which I know was within my rights, but now I can see I guess there was a better way.

“So, darling, let’s get you in the right place to get your Dom back…”

*-*

I spend several more minutes talking to Michel before Chuck and I head back to the Crossing. I have an hour before the family is due to meet here for lunch before we go to Grey Manor. I’m hoping Christian will wait until the last minute before he comes home. I spend exactly fifteen minutes meditating in a steaming bath of essential oils mixed for me by Michel, a combination of neroli and sandalwood with a touch of ylang ylang. I don’t use any perfume—just a touch of the neroli behind each ear, on each wrist, and down my décolletage.

Agent Provocateur lace demi-bra, matching panties, garters, and of course—black stockings… with thick thigh panels.

I close my eyes and remember the simple Ana from a few years ago who loved the knockoff fashions high-heeled shoes and immediately remember Audrey Hepburn and her little black cocktail dress… Sabrina

I go to the back of my closet and locate my 50s retro vintage black Rockabilly dress with cap sleeves, pleated bodice, sweetheart neckline and A-line silhouette—reminiscent of the throwback dresses that I used to wear when Christian and I first met, only not so tight. I’m pleased that even though my hips are bigger than they once were, my torso is small enough to fit my pre-pregnancy clothes. I guess Vee was right. No need to lose any weight for the interviews, I guess.

I wasn’t careful with my hair in the bath, and the ends got wet. I don’t have time to do anything glamourous with it, so I meticulously braid it in a loose tuxedo braid and use a jeweled butterfly clip on the end to keep it from unraveling. For a quick hairstyle, it looks good.

No makeup—just my tinted moisturizer and soft pink lip gloss with a touch of brown eyeliner. And now, jewelry. I go into my dressing room and open my jewelry box. Chanel… Cartier… no. I open the little box next to it that has been all but forgotten since I’ve been married, the one that holds Ana Steele’s costume jewelry. I see the perfect things—my Kramer clear pave rhinestone gold-tone vintage necklace and matching earrings. The earrings resemble three petals of a four-leaf clover and the necklace looks like the same petals circling my neck. Very pretty and timely for the dress. I find one pair of plain black stilettos, figuring that I must have gotten rid of the rest when I migrated to Louboutins. They’re still in good shape. These will have to do.

I examine myself in the three-way mirror of my dressing room and see the old Ana reflected back at me. I’m very pleased. I feel a small sense of pride that I was able to find the woman that I was before and still maintain the woman that I’ve become. I see them both in my reflection. Can I be both women for the rest of the day?

I’m surprised to find that I’ve only used forty-five minutes of the hour that I had left before the family is due to meet at the Crossing. After I peek in on my sleeping children, I take my purse and a plain black wrap down to the dining room to wait for everyone to arrive.

Elliot and Val are the first to get to the table after I take my seat. I’m clearing emails from my iPhone and responding to messages from Andrea and Marilyn about things that are being set up for the interview this weekend. I’ve heard nothing from Christian all morning.

“Wow. Steele. Were we supposed to dress up? You look great,” Valerie says as she takes her seat.

“Yeah, Montana, I didn’t get the memo. Is this a formal affair?” Elliot teases. I force a smile.

“Oh, you know me,” I say, waving them off. “I just… felt like pulling something out.”

“That’s from the vintage collection,” Val observes. “I haven’t seen one of those dresses since our days at the condo.”

“Yeah,” I say, downplaying the situation. “Like I said, just felt like pulling something out.” I shrug.

“Are we late?” Mia and Ethan breeze into the room.

“Nope, you’re right on time,” Val says, rising to kiss Mia on the cheek. Ethan and Elliot shake hands and fall into quick conversation.

“Hey, Anakins. Nice dress,” Mia says. “Vintage?” Oh, good grief.

“Yep. An oldie, but goodie,” I say, nonchalantly, looking into the kitchen and silently begging the staff to bring lunch.

“Where’s Christian?” Ethan asks.

“Probably wrapping up some big merger as usual,” Elliot says. “Did he say he was going to be late, Montana?”

No, he didn’t. In fact, he hasn’t said shit to me all morning.

“No, he’ll probably be along soon,” I say, looking at my phone and scrolling through my text. “Maybe we should just get started.” I look at Ms. Solomon and she nods.

We’re halfway through lunch, discussing how we plan to approach the meeting with Grace and Carrick when I finally get a text from my husband that he’s leaving Grey House and will be home in a few minutes. I sigh heavily and roll my eyes.

“Well, whatever huge merger has kept Mr. Grey from our company has finally been settled,” I say. “He should be here shortly.”

“Geez, that man and his empire,” Ethan says. “I guess nothing comes easy, huh?”

“No good thing, anyway,” I say with a shrug. “If you all will excuse me, I’m going to check on my babies before we have to leave.” I smile and leave the table. Waiting for Christian to arrive and playing the happy hostess while shielding questions about my style of dress was a bit too much for my psyche. I’m trying to stay grounded in my purpose and it’s hard to do while wondering why my husband couldn’t bother to join us for lunch like he was supposed to.

“They’ve been fed already?” I ask when I come into the room. Gail and Keri each have one of the children in their arms.

“Yes,” Keri says. “This little one is almost asleep again.” She shows me a droopy-eyed Minnie and I kiss her on her little forehead.

“This little soldier is fighting. He has no intention of succumbing to the Sandman,” Gail says.

“Let me have him,” I say, holding my arms out for my little prince. Gail gives me my son and he raises his blue-gray eyes to me. We still don’t know whose eyes each child is going to have as they are both blue-gray and maybe they’ll stay that way, though Minnie clearly has her father’s hair color while Mikey sports a wild mop of brown locks.

“So, you’re being defiant, too, are you?” I ask my son as he stares wide-eyed at me. They’ve only been awake for about forty minutes. Maybe he’s just not ready to go back to sleep. Maybe he wants to see the world and explore things. I lay him down on his back on his mat and get on the floor with him.

“Ana!” Gail scolds. “You’re getting on the floor in that dress?”

“I’ll be fine,” I say, waving her off.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” she says with a smile as she leaves the room. I turn my attention back to Mikey.

“Hey, little man. Whatcha doin’?” Mikey coos at me as I tickle his little belly. I retrieve his hollow plastic football and playfully touch it to his nose, eliciting a laugh from him. I hold it high in front of his face, drawing his attention to the bright blue and green colors before bringing it back down to his waiting hands.

“Touchdown!” I exclaim playfully and he grasps the ball with both hands and giggles gleefully. He coos and blubbers and rolls on his mat, and I continue to engage him as if we are having the most interesting conversation of all time. He reaches for his rings and brightly colored toys and I praise him for being such a good boy. Time passes mindlessly while I play with my precious little prince and before I know it, Gail has returned to retrieve me, informing me that Christian has arrived and the family is ready to go to Grey Manor. I almost dread leaving the solace of the nursery and my cooing infant to face my brooding husband and the tasks ahead, but what must be done must be done.

I rise from the floor, bringing Mikey with me and handing him off to Gail after kissing his chubby pink cheeks and telling him that I love him. I check my clothes and leave the nursery to join the family downstairs.

Everyone is in the grand entry when I exit the nursery to the second-floor landing. I descend the stairs, watching my feet so that I don’t take a spill and go to the dining room to get my wrap and purse. I come back to the grand entry placing my wrap on my shoulders.

“Everything okay?” Val asks.

“Yeah, I think my son is trying to start a rebellion,” I reply with mirth, imagining my son set to become the quarterback for the Seahawks. I pull my braid from under the wrap while still trying to adjust it.

“I thought that would be Minnie,” Mia says.

“No,” I say, retrieving my lip gloss from my purse and touching up my lips. “From the looks of things, she’s going to sleep through it.” I put my gloss away and finally raise my eyes to the group… and Christian is staring at me.

“You changed,” he says. I try not to react.

“Yeah,” I say, and nothing else.

“Uuuhh, let’s get going,” Ethan says, breaking the long silence. Everyone else moves towards the door, but Christian waits for me. I take a few steps and he places his hand in the small of my back and leads me out the door. I try to suppress the small shiver that I feel as he guides me to the portico and over to one of the waiting Audis. Jason opens the door for me and I slide into the seat, placing my hands demurely on my lap until they close it behind me. I quickly attach my seatbelt and smooth my dress before Christian gets to the other side of the car, placing my hands back in my lap. We’re in the converted Audi with the seats that face us, and Val and Elliot ride with us. I’m silent for the first half of the ride, my eyes trained on my hands clasped in my lap. I can hear Christian and Elliot talking, but I’m not really paying attention to what they’re saying. My mind is wandering to bits of the conversation that I had earlier with Michel, about bringing myself back to who I was without losing who I am and also finding a middle ground for my husband… my husDom…

“Are you okay, Steele?” Val says. My head jerks up.

“Hm?” I say. “Yes. I’m… just… thinking about our meeting with Carrick and Grace.” It’s a sorry excuse, I know, but it’s all I’ve got. Christian reaches over and covers my clasped hands with his. My eyes fall to our joined hands. His thumb strokes my skin and I say nothing else for the rest of the ride.

When we get to the Manor, Christian quickly gets out of the car. I stall a bit, but not conspicuously, pretending to have trouble undoing my seatbelt. Sure enough, he appears on my side of the car to open my door and reaches in to take my hand and help me out of the car. This doesn’t go unnoticed by my best friend and sister, who gives me a coy smile, but I pretend not to notice. If she has any idea what I’m doing, then she knows why I can’t respond to her.

Carrick greets us at the door and he looks a little more rested than he did yesterday. He hugs each of the women and shakes the hands of each of the men.

“She’s going to be a bit reserved,” he says. “It’s the medication. She’s a completely different person than who she was before she went into the hospital. Still Gracie, but nowhere near as wound as she was before.”

Everyone is silent as we walk into the house to greet Grace. She’s in the great room, sitting comfortably on one of the sofas. She’s wearing a comfortable pair of slacks and a long-sleeved shirt, most likely to cover the scar on her arm.

“Come on in, children,” she says. “I don’t bite.” I’m the first to enter the room and kiss her on the cheek.

“How are you feeling, Grace?” I ask.

“Much better now,” she says, with a smile. Carrick takes a seat next to her and the rest of her children begin to file in and greet her. I stand and wait for everyone to hug and kiss her and begin to take their seats. Christian takes my hand and guides me over to the second sofa. I sit when he gestures for me to sit.

“So, I’m sure you all have already talked and you know what’s going on,” Grace says.

“Yes, Mom. We know,” Christian says.

“So, it’s not the end of the world, but it’s serious enough that some things have to change…”

The conversation goes a lot smoother than I expected. I thought that Grace would protest a lot more than she did. I also thought her children—particularly her sons—would hold back their feelings more, but they’re very open with how this situation affected them and what they expect from their mother while she’s going through her ordeal. Mia and Carrick both put their feet down that she’s off wedding duty, not only because it’s too stressful, but also because she got completely carried away. She insists, however, that the wedding not be postponed, and she agrees that she’s truly in no mindset to handle any of the preparations. Mia scolds her a bit for the outrageous plans that she made and told her that her one duty would be to call that wedding planner and tell her that if she didn’t listen to Mia and withdraw what Mia asked of her that she would be sued. Grace agrees to do that one task and then wash her hands of all things wedding.

Including the Hammerstones.

“Christian, I can’t tell you how sorry I am for how badly I behaved in terms of Janise and Marvin. I have no excuse really. I don’t know how to make up for it…”

“It’s done, Mom,” Christian says. “That’s guy’s a real asshole and there’s just nothing that can be done about that. I’ll take joy in the fact that I won’t have to break bread with him at my sister’s wedding.” Grace smiles.

“I’m very happy that you can forgive me, son. Now… Ana…”

“Please… don’t…” I say, putting my hands up. “There’s way too much. It wasn’t you, I know it wasn’t…”

“Ana, do you realize what you’ve done for this family?” Grace interrupts me. “What you mean to this family? You’re remarkable… There are times when I just don’t know what we would have done without you…” Her voice cracks on the last two words and Carrick puts his arm around his wife. “I just… I don’t know what to say… Thank you is not enough. There’s so much that you are to us. So much that you mean to us. Don’t ever forgot that. Please, don’t ever forget that!” Her voice fades into tears and Christian squeezes my hand once again.

“I won’t forget it, Grace,” I say softly, trying to offer her some comfort.

“No more crying now, Gracie,” Carrick says, gently wiping his wife’s cheeks with his thumb. Grace nods as her husband reaches into his pocket and pulls out a handkerchief, handing it to his wife.

“Now,” she says, dabbing at her eyes, “tell me about the Center. Is everything okay?”

“Nope. Too soon,” Carrick protests. Grace frowns at him.

“You can’t take everything away from me,” Grace retorts. “I’ll lose my mind. You heard what the doctor said. I have to stay as normal as possible.” Carrick narrows his eyes.

“Fine. Helping Hands and the hospital. No more for now. Charities only as I see fit. If I see things becoming too much, I reserve the right to pull the plug—no questions asked.” Grace smiles.

“Yes, Cary,” she says sweetly. He rolls his eyes.

“It’s only because I love you,” he adds.

“I know, Cary,” she says. He pulls her close to him, forgetting that they’re in a room full of their children and their significant others.

“When is the last time we’ve had a vacation?” Carrick asks.

“It’s been a while,” Grace responds.

“We should rectify that.”

“Maybe we should.”

Should we invite Luma and Herman?” Carrick suggests. Grace ponders the thought.

“It’s a nice gesture, but I think it should be just the two of us.” Carrick raises his eyebrows, and now I’m certain he’s forgotten that they’re not alone in the room.

“Bermuda? Brazil?” he suggests.

“Saint Lucia!” Grace concludes, raising her eyebrows, and they kiss.

Then Elliot clears his throat.


CHRISTIAN

We spend the evening at my parents’ house having dinner and talking things through about how we’re going to handle Mom’s condition. None of us would have ever thought that Mom going through menopause would be a family operation, but we didn’t think it would affect her so drastically either.

And Butterfly.
Good God, Butterfly!

Something about her is making me feel fucking primal!

Not like caveman primal, but kind of… and, maybe a little protective or… something, I don’t know.

She’s wearing this dress. She looks like something straight out of Mad Men—like you want to show her off to the world like, “Look what I got,” but you want to walk behind her with a club and tell everybody to stay the fuck away! And she’s giving off this smell—it’s not a perfume. It’s not the coconut or the other fragrance—vanilla? Cinnamon? I don’t remember, but it’s not either of those, either. Whatever it is, I can resist the urge to jump her, but I just want to bury my nose in her neck.

And she’s quiet. Her words are economical. She says just enough to be sociable, to get her point across and no more. She’s demure… and she seems… subservient… submissive…

But… not overkill.

She’s fucking perfect.

Good God, that playroom fucker is standing there sneering at me, smiling a satisfied grin with his arms folded and his legs crossed at the ankles, but I haven’t punished her and I don’t plan to, so what’s the deal?

I glance over at her sitting in the large chair by the fireplace holding a half empty glass of champagne. One leg is crossed over the other, showing off her beautiful calves while her skirt modestly covers both knees. The structured bodice of her dress holds her luscious breasts together in a very flattering sweetheart neckline. Vintage jewelry captures the light of the fireplace and an alluring braid—similar to the ones my submissives used to wear in the playroom, but much more elegant—falls down her back, held in place at the end by a jeweled hairpiece. She’s lost in thought as the fire dances in her eyes, and she looks like a perfect painting of a sophisticate in a French bistro somewhere.

“I think it’s time we should be going,” I announce, anxious to get this creature alone if for no other reason but to gaze on her beauty in private. Nearly everyone responds with movement, standing and nodding and the like. From the corner of my eye, I can see Butterfly place her champagne glass on the side table, put both feet on the floor, smooth her dress and sit up straight. I can’t help but turn my gaze to her.

Her eyes slightly downcast, not by much, but I can tell. Her skirt falls slightly off the edge of the seat. She’s not completely there—but she’s almost there… almost…

Submissive position three.

My chest feels like it’s going to explode. That playroom fucker is laughing out loud and dancing a goddamn jig. I have to get her out of here. I must be alone with her. It takes every bit of my control to casually walk over to her and extend my hand to her. I know that’s what she’s waiting for. She rises effortlessly from her seat, one smooth movement. I tuck her hand in my elbow, then put my finger under her chin.

“Look at me,” I command softly. She raises her eyes only a bit and looks at me through her lashes. “Let’s go home.”

The ride home is silent again as I draw circles in Butterfly’s skin. I can feel the gooseflesh rising, if only slightly, and I wonder what she’s anticipating. Elliot and Valerie sit silently across from us, neither of them making eye-contact with either of us. When we get home, they quickly say their goodnights and scurry up to their room. I, on the other hand, take my wife hand and lead her to the elevator and down to the bar.

I help her into one of the barstools and then walk behind the bar. I turn on the sound system and Slo Mo start to sing something very vulgar about fucking and making love. I keep the music low. I only want it in the background. I pour us both a brandy before I slide into the barstool next to her, facing her. We sit silently for long moments and I just examine her as I sip my brandy. She sits perfectly still, her legs crossed and dangling from the high stool, both hands wrapped around the brandy snifter, her eyes slightly downcast. The song is nearly over before I speak.

“Talk to me,” I say, my voice deep, barely above a whisper. She swallows hard.

“I…” Her voice is breathy.

“Drink,” I command her. She takes a small sip of her brandy. “Again,” I say. She takes a larger sip, then closes her eyes as she swallows the liquid. “That’s better. Now, talk to me.” She takes a deep breath.

“I… don’t want you to lose who you are,” she says softly.

“Okay,” I reply.

“I don’t want to lose who I am, either,” she adds.

“I understand that,” I concur.

“It’s important to me that… when we find ourselves at an impasse that… we find somewhere that we can meet… in the middle.” She swallows hard.

“That’s a good idea,” I agree. “So, how do you suggest we do that?”

“I’m not completely sure,” she admits, “but I thought that remembering where we came from would be a good start.” I slide from my barstool and close the space between us.

“A very good start,” I reply, trying not to growl. Her breath catches in her throat. “Take a drink.” She takes another drink of her brandy and places the snifter back on the bar.

“You once told me that we would know what roles we needed to assume,” she says without raising her eyes.

“I did,” I confirm, standing very close to her. She takes a deep breath, then asks,

“Does that go both ways?” I examine her for a brief moment.

“Elaborate,” I command softly.

“When you first said that, I assumed that you meant… that we would know when to submit…” She pauses.

“Yes?” I coax.

“Does that also mean that… we would know when not to dominate?”

I can tell that she’s extremely nervous, that she wants her concerns to be heard, but she’s trying to maintain a delicate balance between my dominance and her submission. I have no idea how she could have possibly known this is what was needed to address what’s happening between us… could it have been her human sexuality studies? Did she reach back into her years of schooling and tap into her hidden knowledge to find the solution to our issue? Did she talk to Ace? Or Dr. Baker? Someone in the lifestyle?

I slide my hand around her waist, holding firmly to the structured torso of her dress. I love to feel her in clothes like this—restrained, like corsets. I note the fragrance that’s been wafting from her all night and I still can’t place it, but it tantalizes my senses now that I’m closer to her. Is it in her hair? I think it might be. I caress her waist with one hand, resisting the urge to pull her against my body, maintaining the controlled tone of my voice.

“Why do you think I stopped myself last night?” I say, trying to find the words to explain my actions. “For the first time, you told me before a scene began that you didn’t see cause for being punished. Every other time, you’ve waited until after the scene was over—often until the next day and sometimes, not saying anything until you were prompted. This time, you made it very clear that you didn’t want it. You didn’t see cause for it and you were not accommodating it, no matter what I said or did. I had no other choice but to respect and adhere to that, but the man that I am—the Dominant that I am—left me with no recourse. It was a physical and a mental thing and I just had to find a way to deal with it.

“We were on completely different ends of the spectrum. I was at a total loss of control and I felt like your actions and your decisions were the reason for that loss of control. You, on the other hand, felt totally different. I have no idea who was right and who was wrong, or even if there was a right or a wrong, and because I still haven’t completely regained my control, I still don’t know the answer to that conundrum. All I know is that if you say, ‘no,’ if you tell me that I can’t touch you in that way all the way to the point of telling me that you will safeword, I can’t do it.”

For the first time—or maybe the second—since lunchtime, she raises wide, blue eyes to mine without permission.

“I didn’t say that you couldn’t touch me,” she protests, her voice soft, but urgent. I gently cup her cheek with my free hand.

“Ana, you told me that you would safeword if I needed you to. Was I supposed to fuck you with that in the back of my head?” I ask. She drops her gaze again.

“So… the threat or mention of a safeword is the same as safewording,” she deduces.

“I’m afraid so,” I confirm. She nods without raising her gaze. I give in to my urges and pull her against my body, pushing my body between her legs, her softness melting against my hardness. I lean down, bury my nose in her neck, and inhale deeply, allowing her scent to incite my libido.

“What is that smell?” I ask, unable to stand the suspense anymore.

“Um, it’s… bath oil…” she hesitates. I gathered that much. “It’s a combination… sandalwood and… something with orange in it…” she says breathily. Yes, I do recognize those scents. I turn my lips to her neck and taste her skin. She feels so small and vulnerable in my hands and I hold her tight against my body as my lips and tongue explore her throat. I feel her pulse quicken as her hands rise to my forearms.

“Hands down!” I demand, my face still buried in her neck, and her arms fall immediately to her sides. Her reaction feeds my primitive possessiveness—my need to own her completely. The exercise in control not to ravage her right here and now is painful and titillating at the same time. I wrap her ridiculously long braid around my hand and pull hard. Her breath catches in her throat as her head jerks back violently, exposing her alabaster neck to my ravenous bites and sucks. I groan deep in my chest as I bruise her tender skin with my teeth and lips. I’m fucking starving for her.

I kiss up her neck and up her jaw, then bite her chin until I’m looking down into her eyes.

“What am I going to do with you?” I growl, because at this moment, I really don’t know. I’m caught between the Master who wanted to punish her last night, and Sir who just wants to dominate her now… the one she’s submitting to—consciously or subconsciously, she’s submitting… fully and completely, and I want to ravage this sexy little body in all sorts of rude ways…

But I really don’t want to punish her anymore.

“Whatever you see fit, I would imagine,” she breathes. “I trust you… Sir.”

And my entire body hardens for her.

“Have you voiced all of your concerns, Mrs. Grey?” I say, just above a whisper

“I…” she pants, barely able to contain her anticipation, or arousal, or whatever she’s feeling, “I would like to know how I should handle… this situation in the future… should it arise again…” And it will. She’s so breathless, she can barely speak. This is when I must remember that I must temper my need for control and obedience with tenderness and understanding; my role as a Dominant with my role as a husband.

“That would be the time when you would respectfully request the right to speak frankly to Sir, even if your emotions or temper may be high,” I instruct her while gently stroking her cheek. “While it’s imperative that I understand and respect your needs, feelings, and state of mind, I need the same consideration from you. If you are averse to an activity for any reason, that needs to be addressed immediately. Likewise, if I’m in full Dom mode and you safeword, it’s the equivalent of a fighter jet being shot out of the sky. There’s no other comparison for it. It’s a total crash-and-burn. Do you see how detrimental that is?” She nods. “Are we on the same page with that?” She nods again.

“We are,” she says. “I understand, Sir.”

I can tell that she does understand, but there’s still regret in her eyes from the distance that was put between us, or my description of how I had to cope with her denial, I’m not sure. Either way…

“Open,” I whisper. She pauses only for a beat, then opens her mouth. I slide my tongue inside and around, exploring and tasting, but never closing my lips over hers, licking and tasting, gazing into her deep, blue eyes and sharing a sensual kiss that I first shared with her when I retrieved her after that ordeal with Edward David… a kiss that I’ve only ever shared with her. She recognizes our kiss and her tongue massages mine as her breath skips and she struggles not to close her eyes.

Don’t close your eyes, Butterfly. Stay with me…

I gaze at her as I continue to taste her lips, tongue, and mouth in our special way. Her eyes become heavy-lidded and I watch as the last of her resistance falls away. She’s completely mine now. I grip her hips and pull her roughly to the end of the stool, lifting her leg around my hip and grinding my erection into her soft core. We’re in the community area and someone could walk in at any moment, but I don’t care. It’s my house, and I’ll fuck her wherever I damn well please.

My hand travels under her dress and up her thigh. When I feel the bare skin of her thigh and realize that she’s wearing stockings and garters, the horny little man in me loses all control. I bruise her lips with searing kisses and use dexterous fingers to undo the suspenders on the leg wrapped around my hip. I only need to release one of them.

Control yourself, Grey. Don’t rip the damn panties.

I celebrate inwardly when the front and back fasteners release and I quickly work the panties down one leg with the help of my very flexible wife. I didn’t realize she was wearing a petticoat under this dress to help it flare out in that vintage 50s fashion, but I don’t allow it to deter me. I easily find my way back to her treasured heat while making quick work of my zipper and freeing my cock from my boxer briefs, never moving my lips from hers. She steadies herself on the barstool and within seconds, my steel-hard cock is buried deep inside of her and driving hard into her core.

“Fuck!” I bite out as her walls brutally burn my shaft. “Don’t come!” I hiss. “This is for me!”

She’s panting like a freight train, but she nods. I need this. I need this in the worst fucking way, and it’s going to be fast… and rough. I drill into her hard and deep over and over and over. She bites her lip to keep from crying out from the brutal thrusts. In moments, I feel my balls tightening and I thrust into her harder and harder. She whimpers with each thrust and I hear the bar stool scooting across the floor with each forceful thrust.

“Yes! Yes! Fuck! Yes!” I grunt with each thrust and soon, I come so hard that I have to struggle to keep from crumpling to the ground. It was only a few minutes, but I needed it so badly—to use and bruise her, because she’s mine. I had to remind her and myself that no matter what, this. Body. Belongs. To me!

I lean over her on the bar stool and catch my breath. When I pull back and examine her, she’s completely flushed, still steadying herself on the seat of the stool. I pull out of her and grasp her hand, surprising her by pulling her from the stool and dragging her through the community room and down the hall towards our private areas, my semi-hard, recently ejaculated dick still hanging out of my pants. Her stilettos click loudly and quickly on the floor behind me as I turn quickly to the first secluded room I see…

My wife’s parlor.

I drag her inside and close the door behind us, slamming her body into mine and snatching her breath away by bruising her mouth with deep kisses again, pinning her arms behind her back as I possess her once more. She whimpers and breathes wildly and helplessly as I release her hands and quickly unzip her dress, pushing it off her shoulders, down her torso and down her hips, following the dress down her body with my mouth, kissing and sucking and admiring the delicious lace lingerie underneath. I turn her around and push her against the nearest wall, removing the dress completely and releasing the suspenders from her stockings so that I can completely remove these damn panties from this delicious pussy and this luscious ass, the entire time playing in the garden because I know that drives her fucking wild. She’s scratching at the wall like a caged animal trying not to climb it while I outline the letters of her tattoo with my tongue.

I take my time reattaching the suspenders to the stockings. We’re keeping these on, but we’re losing this bra. I need to see those tits.

“Don’t move,” I growl at her back once I have her stripped to suspenders, stockings, and shoes. These aren’t Louboutins. No matter—she still looks sexy as fuck in them.

I strip completely and quickly and take my hardening dick in my hand, stroking it from base to tip a few times while I examine my wife and submissive’s round bare ass staring back at me framed in lace suspenders and stockings. I walk over to her and grind my stiff cock into the crease of her ass, allowing the head of it to stroke her rosette a few times.

“Do you feel how hard you make me?” I growl. “I just fucking came!”

“Yes… Sir,” she breathes, her voice dripping with arousal. I leave her standing there and quickly move her wrought iron glass table closer to her fireplace to give us more room. Clearing the pillows from her large sofa with one swoop of my arm, I snatch her from the wall and pull her to the middle of the room. I retrieve my shirt from the floor and hand it to her.

“Put this on.” She slides her arms into my shirt and begins to button it. “No!” I command, pushing the shirt open at her shoulders. My hands travel down to her breasts and I fondle the mounds and tease her nipples, causing a drop of milk to leak. I lick the nipple clean and Butterfly gasps, biting her lips.

“Yes!” I rumble, the inner Neanderthal beating his chest. Woman! Mine! “On the sofa. Sit.” She sits demurely on the sofa like the perfect submissive while I retrieve the handkerchief from my pocket and my necktie. Draping the necktie around my bare neck, I kneel in front of her and push her legs open.

“Lie back,” I command her. There’s quite a bit of room without the large throw pillows. She lays back on the sofa and I open her legs wide. I proceed to clean the massive amount of semen from her thighs and core. Once I’m satisfied that she’s clean enough—not complete, just enough—I take the tie from around my neck.

“Give me your hands.”

She presents her hands and I quickly and deftly secure her hands with my black silk necktie.Christian secures Ana's hands with his black silk necktie in chapter 31 rg

“Scoot back,” I direct her. “Hands over your head.” She does as she’s told. When instructed, she spreads her legs wide and digs her heels into the edges of the cushions of the sofa. If she rips it, I’ll buy her a new one. Now, she’s spread out open, sexy, and glistening in front of me—her pretty, pink pussy displaying a sexy mixture of her of her arousal and mine; her beautiful, round breasts peeking out from underneath my shirt, giving me an occasional gift of a drop of sweet nectar; her hands bound over her head… and she’s waiting for me.

Ready or not, here I come.

I lean in to that gorgeous wet fruit and lick from core to clit. She gasps and shivers. I love her reaction, so I do it again—softly, meticulously. When she begins to whimper and claw at the back of the sofa, I start a rhythm… kissing, licking, sucking, and tasting that pretty pussy much like I did that night in Anguilla, when I had to tie her thighs down. This time, she just has to bear it. What did I call it? Oh yeah, the French kiss—pay attention to every sinew, every crevice, every lump, bump, and imperfection of this beautiful creation. Hold her hips down when she tries to thrust forward or squirm and alternate between a deep penetrating massage that moves her clit from side to side and up and down to a flutter right on the tip that causes a chill and a sharp shock of pleasure to jolt through her entire body.

Yes…

Licking on either side of the clit that causes the buds of the tongue to stimulate the tender nerves just under the skin…

Gathering the juices as they collect at the base of the opening when she pulses and threatens to explode…

Applying just the right amount of pressure as I suckle her clit and release it just before that crucial moment… not to torment her, but so that her orgasm is that much more intense…

Her breasts… they’re so fucking swollen… just like her clit… If I touch them right now, she’s going to come instantly. She’s bound and squirming and beautiful and so, so, ready, and my dick is aching like fuck. So, I guess it’s time to put her out of her misery.

I throw those lovely legs over my shoulders and lock in on the beautiful clit, intent to suck the pleasure out until she can’t help screaming my name.

“Sir… Sir…” she’s panting helplessly, trying to get my attention. I hear you, baby, but I’m not stopping. I increase my manipulation, concentrating my stimulation on the goal of orgasm while reaching my hands around her hips and up her body, around to cover her breasts, kneading and massaging and tweaking those tender, aroused nipples. I’m rewarded with two offerings of life’s milk from her ample mounds, and I massage the liquid into her taut peaks, lamenting only that I’m unable to clean it away with my mouth, but my tongue is otherwise occupied right now… with the imminent seduction and satisfaction of my wife’s tender, juicy, and delicious clit.

It’s throbbing, thumping, and hardening now, and my pearl is protesting more and more, trying to respectfully inform her Dom that the well is about to blow, but her Dom knows. In fact, her Dom is counting on it.

Moments later, my Butterfly is panting and wheezing and can take no more. She can barely get the words out of her mouth.

“S-Si-Sir! Sir! Lad-Ladybug! Lady… bug!” She chokes out her safeword to warn me that she’s about to come and I raise my eyes to hers to signal that’s it’s okay. Her head falls back and her hands uncharacteristically drop to my head and tangle in my hair. My goddess croons a beautiful melody as she comes, pleasure wracking her body and lifting her from the sofa. Before the vibrations have finished, I slide up her body, take her in my arms and slam my aching erection into her throbbing pussy. Good God Almighty! The grip is insane!

“My, God, you are so sexy!” I groan, my voice hoarse as I plunge into her, “so fucking sexy.”

“Oh, God! Oh, God! Oh, God!” she repeats, panting, out of breath and still coming, I think. Her bound wrists are behind my head, her arms around my neck and her pussy feels like an earthquake around my dick. Oh, God is right.

“Baby! Fuck!” I hiss against her lips as I grind my cock into her tight, pulsing core. She wraps her legs around my hips and locks her ankles together at my ass, panting and wheezing and holding on as I pump into her over and over and over…

“God, you feel so good,” I growl, gripping her ass tight with one hand and holding her body hard against me across her back with the other arm. My face is buried in her neck and with her legs wrapped around me, she’s opened perfectly for me to thrust up into her balls deep repeatedly, grunting animalistically with every forceful, hot, painful pump. The friction is maddening and her pussy still hasn’t stopped throbbing from her first orgasm. How is that even possible?

“Goddamn, this pussy,” I curse as I push her ass hard into me, trying to get still deeper into her core. Fuck, she feels so fucking good and she’s so goddamn wet that her juices slide from her pussy and our sliding and joining sex down to the crack of her ass and her puckering rosette.

Fuck if I’m letting that shit go to waste.

I adjust my hand and massage the moisture into the puckering bundle of nerves before I unceremoniously thrust my middle finger into her tight ass and begin a finger fuck that compliments my dick in her pulsing pussy. She cries out in surprise, then quickly begins to pant in helpless ecstasy.

“Sir! Sir! I’m going… to come!” she warns, her voice squeaky and helpless, her orgasm sneaking up on her before she had the opportunity to prepare.

“Don’t!” I growl. “Don’t come yet! Hold it! I’m not ready!” That’s a fucking lie. I’m going to blow any second, but I just started playing with that ass and I’m not fucking ready. I’ve got to hold out just a minute longer. I grind into that pussy, punishing her walls while my finger thrusts into her ass, drawing out her pleasure and her torment.

“G-God… God… p… p-please… Sir, I… can’t…” she pants, her eyes squeezed tight, bearing the pleasure and threatening to blow any moment.

“Hold it!” I pant, thrusting into her faster, my balls tightening, my cock thickening and threatening eruption as I’m pumping into this tight, heavenly orifice. Her ass has swallowed my finger all the way to the base, and I know that she won’t be able to stop her orgasm… so safeword, no command, no nothing. It’s going to be nuclear.

“This body is mine!” I declare as I thrust into her. “Only! Ever! Mine!”

“Please!” she cries, helpless. “Oh, God, please!”

“Come for me,” I command her as my balls tighten madly. “Come for me, dammit!” She crumples into me and shudders into a violent trembling orgasm, making an inhuman sound and crying in my ear. I can feel my dick pulsing hard against the walls of her pussy, even harder than her throbbing core, as my balls empty every single drop of semen they have to offer. I come so hard that my dick is throbbing and pulsing long after it has emptied its contents into my wife and we lay splayed, spent and useless, on her parlor sofa.


A/N: Thank you all for your patience while I toiled with real life issues. Hopefully, I have enough content now that there won’t be any skipped weeks for a while. 

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

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 ~~love and handcuffs