Grey Continued: Episode 36—Word of Mouth

So, my friends, it has happened again. There has been yet another death in my family. I think I’m at the age now where I just can’t avoid it. We’re all getting older—even though he was younger than my husband and this was very sudden—but although the details are a little gray, I think it’s safe to say that the virus has claimed another victim.

I’m still waiting for arrangements and, as such, I will be flying back to that place that Christian and I hate so much. It’s looking like it may be close to this coming weekend, so I may not get another chapter up for a couple of weeks. Knowing that, I just wanted to make sure I got something posted before this weekend was over so that there’s not another complete MIA from me. Love you all and please, keep me and my family in your prayers.

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

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

Season 5 Episode 36—Word of Mouth

CHRISTIAN

After that sex fest left us both heaving mounds of sweat on the bed, I realize that slipping into Dom mode means aftercare. So, I fill the jacuzzi tub with water and carry her tired ass into the bathroom.

“Mmmm,” she says as the jets soothe her body.

“You like?” I say, squeezing water from one of her freshwater sponges onto her body.

“Very much,” she says, snuggling into me. “It was a perfect night, Christian. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Butterfly,” I reply. We didn’t do anything for her first Mother’s Day last year with Valerie and Pops and everything. I couldn’t let another year go by without celebrating the mother of my children. Speaking of which…

“I’m remiss to bring this up after the wonderful night that we had, but with it being Mother’s Day, I can’t get it out of my head. Do you remember that couple at the inn on the Sonoma Coast—our babymoon?” She thinks for a moment.

“Sheila and CJ?” she asks. I shake my head.

“No, the Daniels,” I reply, “Kiley and Arthur.” She rolls her eyes.

“How can I forget them?” she says, and I’m sure that she means him. He was pretty fucking unforgettable.

“Yeah, well, for shits and giggles, Jason felt the need to keep up with them,” I reply. “Guess what we found out?”

“What?” she says in a tone that I can’t quite place. That tone that says she knows something, and she wants to know if I know what she knows.

“He’s about to do a bid for murder,” I reply. Her eyes sharpen.

“What?” she gasps. “What the hell?” My sentiments exactly.

“The baby was born biracial, a boy,” I tell her. “Daniels took one look at the boy and thrust him to the ground, still attached to his umbilical cord. The baby died of blunt force trauma before he was even two minutes old.” Butterfly gasps a long, horrified breath.

“Oh, dear God, no!” she exclaims in a harsh whisper. I sigh heavily and shrug.

“That guy really is a piece of shit, and he deserves to burn,” I reply.

“I guess Kiley got more than she bargained for,” Butterfly says, shaking her head.

“They could have talked about this,” I say. I know this means that she was unfaithful, of course, and that Arthur fuck is a real fucking piece of work, but he couldn’t hold anything against her. He was fucking around, too. “I don’t excuse infidelity of any kind, but this guy was a true asshole and I could truly understand why she wouldn’t lay next to him to save her life. But if she thought that there was a possibility that this baby wasn’t his—especially a totally different race, they should’ve talked about that before the baby was born.”

“Mmm,” Butterfly says as if she’s contemplating something. Yeah, she knows something.

“What is it?” I ask.

“I had thought many times to call Kiley and ask how things were going,” she says. “I agree that Arthur’s an asshole, but I should’ve known that this was going to end in disaster.” I frown.

“How could you possibly know?” I ask. She’s silent for a moment and then it hits me.

“Wait a minute. Are you telling me she already knew this wasn’t his baby?” Butterfly twists her lips and nods.

“She knew everything,” she says. “She’s pretty well-off and he was spending her money on other women. She put a chunk of it in another account, got a financial advisor and began investing. The advisor was black. She had pretty much replenished the money that Arthur spent plus some by the time they went to the babymoon, and her pot was still growing. She was going to go on and let him spend all the money that he thought she had because she had another stockpile… and because she had started seeing the financial advisor.

“She and Arthur weren’t even sleeping together. When she found out that she was pregnant, she got him drunk and made him think they had had sex, but they never did. She was sure that he was just going to leave once the money ran out, and her ultimate revenge was for him to be standing in the delivery room while she delivered a black baby. I know she had no idea that this was going to be the outcome.”

I’m completely appalled by this entire story. What kind of demon was inside this man to make him decide that he would kill a newborn baby? I totally get rage, but a newborn baby? And Kiley—I want to feel some kind of sympathy for her, losing her baby and the sheer fact that she had to deal with this asshole… but to plan this whole thing, to bring an innocent life into the middle of this mess—that’s unthinkable.

“What happened to Kiley?” she asks.

“She checked out for a few months. When she came back to herself, she didn’t remember anything—not her baby, not her husband, not her lover, nothing. She moved back with her family and filed for divorce from her loser husband since he was a stranger to her.” My wife twists her lips.

“So, she pretty much got a clean slate out of this,” she says.

“Yeah, pretty much,” I reply while gently scrubbing her back.

“It’s more than she deserves,” she says, and I stop scrubbing. “I know what you’re thinking. He’s an asshole, but she planned this whole thing and an innocent child died because her plan backfired. I wouldn’t want to be on that jury.” I twist my lips.

“I agree,” I say, “with all of it. And now, we’re going to change the subject. How is the decorating coming along?”

“The villa?” she asks and I nod. “Swimmingly. Sophie is really going at it with both hands now that she knows she’ll be able to see the finished product. She was always involved and eager to help, but now, she’s enthusiastic about it. She’s so excited about the styles and the textures. It’s like doing one of those home-improvement shows, and then being able to see the result in the big reveal.”

“I’m so glad she’s going to get to see Italy,” I say. “There’s so much for her to learn in that two weeks, even in Lake Como. I think Rome might be a bit much for her at her age.”

“Why?” she asks. “What’s wrong with Rome?”

“Nothing, it’s just a lot of history. There’s so much to absorb—the churches, the museums, the ruins, they’re all beautiful, but it’s a big meal to swallow.”

“Are you saying that I’m going to be overwhelmed when we get to Rome?” she asks.

“You could be,” I tell her, “but I’m going to make sure that doesn’t happen. I’m making sure that the learning has fun mixed in it so that you don’t feel like you’re in a college class every moment of the trip.” She lays her head on my chest.

“Well, I know you can’t expect to go to Rome and not be slammed with history. It’s Rome, for God’s sake,” she says.

“Yes, but it’s also a very beautiful city with a lot of excellent sights and very good food… very good food!” I emphasize.

“So, I’m hoping that the hotel where we’ll be staying will have a gym,” she chuckles.

“I thought they all had gyms,” I say, “but that is my intention.”

“Good,” she says, sinking into the comfort of the water.

*-*

The sun is rising over the sound and the orange sky looks beautiful bouncing off the water. I look over at my wife snuggled under the covers, naked, and purring like a kitten. Except for the small mishap with Wexton, our night was perfect. Even that discussion about the Daniels didn’t ruin our evening, although it did make me think.

How can you justify planning an act that can so hugely devastate another person without thinking about the consequences? All the possible outcomes? Arthur cheated on his wife mindlessly, obviously not caring what she thought because if he had been more careful, she never would have known. And her plan—knowing that he would be present while she birthed the baby and there he was, standing there in the delivery room full of doctors and nurses holding a black baby that’s obviously not his. He was an asshole and she knew it, and she let him hold her baby, a baby that they both would know wasn’t his…

The thought causes my mind to drift to nearly all of the horrible people I’ve met in my life who have done horrible things to others, including myself, without a thought or care for their feelings. I’ve been callous in my life, especially to businesses that I’ve taken over and submissives I’ve dismissed, but have I ever been intentionally cruel?

Of course, I have.

I’ve destroyed so many lives—blacklisted people for pissing me off or crossing me—and how quickly we forget Dodd and the hackers, and Ellison. Yet, I don’t feel badly about what happened to any of those people. So, what’s different now?

The baby. It’s the baby.

The baby is the one who paid for the sins of the father… and the mother… even though the father wasn’t his. My only consolation in this situation is that the baby seemingly didn’t suffer. Even though his death was cruel, he died quickly, and there’s no telling what his life would have been like being born into the turmoil in which he was conceived.

“Dear God, don’t let my children have to pay for any of my mistakes,” I say aloud.

“What would make you think something like that?”

Her soft voice startles me from my thoughts, and I look over to see her still in the same position with sleepy eyes looking at me.  God, she’s beautiful. She changed me. She changed my whole life and everything that I was and will be. I can’t wait to show her Rome.

“I didn’t mean to wake you,” I say gazing at her.

“You didn’t,” she says. “I was admiring your naked silhouette against the sunrise.” I raise a brow at her.

“You trying to start something, Mrs. Grey?” I taunt, walking over to the bed. She chuckles.

“I beg your pardon, but I’m not the one standing naked in front of a picture window with the sun behind me,” she points out. “I bet the sailors on Elliot Bay are getting a real eyeful.” I sit on the bed and lean over to her.

“Luckily, there’s no one out there,” I tell her. “This view is for your eyes only.” I lean over and kiss her passionately. She wraps her arms around my neck and gently plays with my hair. It comforts me immediately and soothes my raging thoughts. I gently break the kiss and touch her nose with mine.

“You’ve changed me,” I confess as if she didn’t already know. “You’ve changed everything I ever though I was and everything I ever thought I knew… everything I could be. A father? Five years ago, that would have been unheard of. No place in my life for children with the subs and the BDSM clubs and the taking over of businesses and ruining lives. No, not a chance… but now? My life without you and the twins? It’s unthinkable. I could never go back to the man that I was.” She gently strokes my hair.

“You take such good care of us,” she says, her ocean blue eyes looking deeply into mine, “and it’s not the money—although, let’s be realistic, the money helps…” I chuckle at her attempt to add levity to the situation. “But I mean how you care for us, protect us, and provide for us how I know you would whether you had $2 or two million. You love us and I’m certain there’s nothing you wouldn’t do for us. We’re so lucky to have you.”

If she only knew how wrong she is. They’re not lucky to have me. I’m lucky to have them, and I’ll do anything to keep them… and to keep them happy and safe.

“This conversation has gotten so serious,” I tell her. “Let’s get dressed and have breakfast, my dear… and Happy Mother’s Day to the most beautiful mother in the world.”

7a6daf83d0edac2b642108b5d42b11f3 We get dressed and head down to the hotel restaurant, Six Seven. They have quite the menu for Mother’s Day brunch, and I and my wife take full advantage—stuffed French toast, a crab omelet, marionberry pancakes, brûléed goat cheese salad, and we split the fresh seafood variety platter and the Roquefort crusted filet mignon. Butterfly enjoys three prosecco mimosas with her meal and I have one Corpse Reviver #2, which is Bombay Sapphire gin, Lillet Blanc, Cointreau, lemon, and Pernod.

We enjoy the meal tremendously, talking about the opera and laughing at Wexton’s idea that he even had the slightest chance with my wife. We’re uninterrupted, but I notice that we’re getting more than one odd stare and whisper. I don’t bring it to my wife’s attention, though. She’s nice and mellowed by the mimosas during her Mother’s Day brunch and if the peasants want to gawk at her beauty, so be it.

A couple of hours later, we check out of the hotel and take our bags to the valet. One attendant heads off to get my car while the other does a double-take at us and then at something on the valet podium.

“Excuse me,” he says, humbly, walking over to us, “but do you mind signing this for me?”

Since when do I have to sign something to get my car from the valet?

I look down at what he’s holding, and it’s the local news section of this morning’s newspaper. Butterfly giggles when she sees the front headline.

The Paps have gotten a picture of us standing in front of the Opera House, sharing a kiss.


ANASTASIA

I remained happily cocooned in my Mother’s Day bliss for the entire day—delicious meals prepared for me, good company with Sarah, Luma, and Grace and the family joining us for dinner, and endless snuggles with my babies—but alas, we couldn’t hold Monday off or all of the problems it usually brings with it.

The day begins smooth enough, but just before lunch, Courtney comes to me to tell me that one of the children staying in the dorm is a horrible bully. He’s mean to the other children, taking their food at lunch, and a list of other things. They’ve tried to talk to him and even some of the parents have complained to his mother, I’m told, but to no avail.

This is one of the parts of the job that I don’t like. The child may be completely traumatized by the situation that he’s come from, and now, I have to talk to his most-likely traumatized mother to bring the situation under control.

“Susan, I want to talk to you about Ferrell’s behavior…”

“Oh, God, here we go with this again,” she laments. I frown.

“With what again?” I ask.

“What has he done now?” she asks impatiently. Oh, dear God. Is this what we’re dealing with?

“He’s bullying the other children in the program,” I reply. “He’s taking the smaller kids’ food at lunch, he doesn’t play well with others, and he’s downright rude to the staff. Something has to be done about his behavior.” She sighs.

“I’ve tried to talk to him I don’t know what to do,” she says all in one exasperated breath, and she doesn’t sound like she’s frustrated. She sounds like she’s irritated.

“Well, then, we need to come up with a solution, because his behavior is unacceptable,” I reply firmly, trying to keep my cool.

“Well, what do you want me to do?” she says, rolling her neck. Okay… stop… breathe… let’s try to approach this another way.

“Susan, families come here for sanctuary. It’s supposed to be a safe place. If the bigger kids bully the smaller kids, it’s not a safe place anymore. So, we definitely can’t have that. A lot of these parents are very protective of their children, and justifiably so, because a lot of you have come out of very bad, very violent situations. If the bigger kids bully the smaller kids, they’re back in that violent situation. He can’t take food from the other children and he has to obey the staff.”

“He’s a growing boy,” she defends. What the fuck? That boy is grown! He’s 12 years old and he weighs as much as I do if not more.

“Susan, is that your response to your son taking food from other children in the program?” I ask, nonplused.

“There should be more for the bigger kids,” she continues. “They barely give him enough. He’s obviously still hungry.” He’s still hungry because he looks like a 12-year-old linebacker!

“First of all, there’s plenty of food for everyone. If he wants more, all he has to do is ask for seconds. And secondly, how can you sit here and explain away your son taking food out of other children’s mouths because he’s not getting enough? What if someone does that to him?” She scoffs.

“I’d like to see ‘em try,” she says snottily.

“Do you hear yourself?” I ask incredulously. “I’m trying to tell you that your son’s behavior is unacceptable. He can’t keep behaving like this. It’s contradictory to our mission here and counterproductive to what we’re trying to accomplish. You need to handle this situation because his behavior is affecting a lot of people.”

“I have a lot on my plate right now!” she shoots. “I’m trying to keep him away from his no-good father who likes to use us as punching bags. I don’t have time to deal with Ferrell taking an extra cookie from a kid. Isn’t that why you’re here… to help guide troubled children? Why don’t you do something about it since he’s so unacceptable?”

Oh, I can do something about it, you contemptable shrew, but you definitely wouldn’t like it.

“We’re here to help you; we’re not here to raise your child,” I retort.

“Then, help me, dammit!” she snaps. That’s when I lose it.

“Hold it!” I counter, my eyes piercing. “I don’t know who you’re accustomed to speaking to in that tone, but you won’t speak to me that way!”

“Ana!” I turn around to see Grace marching into my office. “I won’t walk into this room and take sides, but we can hear you two down the hall. What seems to be the problem?”

“Somebody needs to remind Dr. Moneybags here that she needs a better bedside manner!” Susan barks. My mouth and eyes fly open in surprise. I’m utterly appalled. “You call this place a help center, but she doesn’t want to seem to help!”

I turn a horrified gaze to Grace. I don’t have words for this situation at the moment. If she came from a violent husband and her attitude is this bad, it’s no wonder the kid is so fucked up.

“Mrs. Yardley, can you tell me what happened?” Grace says after a deep sigh.

“Yeah! She’s trying to tell me how to raise my kid!” she retorts. I did no fucking such thing. I’m only trying to tell her to keep that little monster on a leash!

“Ana?” Grace says, waiting for an explanation. I cross my arms and face her.

“This is Ferrell’s mother,” I say, and pause for a moment. Realization passes over Grace’s face for a moment, but she quickly recovers. “I was telling her about his behavior, and that he’s making the staff’s job impossible by refusing to listen to instruction. I told her that he’s taking food from the younger children and her response was that he’s a growing boy.”

Once again, Grace tries to maintain her expression, not very well, though.

“That’s not all I said,” she interrupts haughtily.

“And I’m still talking,” I say, looking over my shoulder in her direction but not directly at her, “but you can feel to take over if you want.”

“No, you go right ahead, Dr. Moneybags,” she says sarcastically, and now I turn to look at her.

“I haven’t called you out of your name,” I tell her. “Now, unless you want me to give you an unattractive nickname, you call me Dr. Grey, or nothing at all.”

“Okay, Nothing At All,” she replies matter-of-factly. I turn back to Grace with raised eyebrows and twisted lips, gesturing at the disrespectful cow standing next to me like, “What the fuck do you expect me to do with this?” Grace gets that look in her eye like “somebody’s in trouble.”

“Mrs. Yardley, we are definitely here to help you, but that’s only if you want it, and there are conditions,” Grace says. “On more than one occasion, the staff and residents have come to us complaining about Ferrell’s behavior. This is why we’re coming to you—as his mother—to let you know that his behavior is not acceptable. It’s counterproductive to everything we’re trying to accomplish here with a facility full of at-risk families. We are more than happy to assist you with whatever counseling he may need and to help you in any way that is within our means, but we have guidelines—guidelines that we must follow, and guidelines that we expect our families to follow. If anyone in the Center is unable to follow those guidelines, we’re going to ask them to leave.” Oh, that was the wrong thing to say to this sow.

“You’re kickin’ me out?” she says, affronted.

“I repeat,” Grace says firmly, “if… anyone in the Center is unable to follow those guidelines, we’re going to ask them to leave. Are you saying that you’re unable to follow our guidelines?”

“I can follow ‘em just fine!” she barks at Grace.

“Good then one of the guidelines is that you’re not going to raise your voice at me or my staff anymore!” Grace retorts firmly all in one breath. “We can all hear just fine, and we’re going to speak to you with respect and you’re going to do the same thing to us!”

Yardley pauses for a moment as if she’s shocked, which she probably is.

“Next, we’re not in high school here,” Grace continues. “We’re all adults. We can address each other that way. Snazzy comebacks and unattractive nicknames will get us nowhere, and we might as well end this interaction now and go our separate ways. This is Dr. Grey; this is Mrs. Yardley. Those are the names you need to be using.”

Now, Yardley crosses her arms and shifts her weight to one leg. She’s clearly defensive, but I have no problem telling this woman to shape the fuck up or ship the fuck out.

“Now, we have a problem here. We have a child in the facility that’s making it difficult for other children to heal and move on with their own troubled lives. He’s also making it impossible for my staff to do their job. That child is your son. Now, we can address this problem like adults and see what solutions we can come up with, or we can call it a wash and part ways. The decision is yours, Mrs. Yardley.”

Grace doesn’t want to turn away anyone who needs help any more than I do, but we’re not going to put up with this shit. We’re here to help, and we’re not going to be antagonized by someone we’re trying to help in the process.

“I’ll talk to him,” she says after a pause. Grace nods once.

“Remember,” Grace says, “we’re here to help.” She looks at Grace, cuts her eyes at me, and then petulantly leaves the room. I roll my eyes and shake my head.

“You can’t yell at them, Ana,” she says calmly.

“They can’t yell at me, Grace,” I say pointedly. She gazes at me for a moment and then nods.

“Take a break,” she says, putting her arm around my shoulders. “We were blessed that we’ve only had one like her in several years, but that one is enough.”

I think she’s conveniently forgetting Monster Bitch, but she wasn’t a resident, so there’s that.

“I’m going to go and spend some time with my babies,” I say. Grace nods and gives my shoulders a squeeze.

Minnie is playing with alphabet blocks when I get to the day care room and Mikey is behind a child-sized car, pushing it around the room. There aren’t as many small children in day care, only a handful as most of the families lately have school-aged children. Keri is nearby my twins and Ebony is feeding one of the infants. The other girl employed in here is at the table reading a magazine as the rest of the children are asleep. I go over and give Keri a break while I sit on the floor and play with the blocks with Minnie. Mikey abandons his car and decides that the blocks are more interesting since Mommy’s watching. They play well together and then Mikey has a conversation with his sister that I swear she understands, because she replies to him in like gobbledygook and they continue playing with their blocks. I smile and shake my head.

Maxie has “Mommy and Me” classes with her friend Jade. Mindy is learning to interact and play with other children. There have never been many children in the Center that were the same age as Minnie and Mikey except when they were babies. Should I introduce them to something like “Mommy and Me?” I don’t want them to be those spoiled, entitled rich kids I’ve seen only too often. I don’t want them to feel sheltered or shut in, either. Their only interactions for the most part are Mindy and Harry…

I’m probably reading too much into this. Dr. Nahabedian has given them a clean bill of health, including their developing personalities and social skills. It’s just that, as a mom, I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing everything I need—giving them everything they need—for their developmental success.

I take out my phone and snap some pictures of them building whatever edifice they’re building with the blocks. After a few pictures, I start the video and record my two little architects negotiating the plans for their construction project. After a while, Minnie tires of the blocks and decides that she wants Mommy time. While Mikey continues to work on their architectural masterpiece, Minnie walks over and crawls into my lap.

Her little eyes look heavy and either she has gotten extremely comfortable in her happy place or someone skipped a nap. I begin to sing their lullaby to her and watch her little lids begin to droop…

“Anah! Anah!” Keri comes rushing back into the day care and takes Minnie from my arms. I see black suits run past her and I’m immediately alarmed.

“Choonks ahn ‘is wey upstehs! Des a fight in da dome!”

The dome? What the…? Oh, the dorm!

“Oh, shit!” I say, finally letting go of Minnie. I’m running behind my security and as we bend the wall to the stairwell, Grace meets us at the door.

“Yardley?” I ask.

“I don’t know, but that’s where my money is,” she says.

We’re all lunging up the stairs following security, and the minute we open the door to the second floor, you can hear the rabblerousing in the hall. We follow the noise and sure enough, there are two women rolling on the floor like wrestling bears, and yes—one of them is Yardley.

“Break it up!” Grace screams at the two women. “I said break it up!”

When there’s no reaction from the women on the floor, Grace nods to security, and Chuck and his cohort separate the women.

“Get your hands off me!” Yardley demands, trying to swing at Chuck. “Let me go, you…” She looks up and sees me and Grace standing there.

“I want her arrested!” she demands pointing at the other resident. “She hit my son!”

“He hit my Mark!” the other resident says. “He’s twice his size! He’s been terrorizing my child ever since he’s been here—pushing him around and eating his lunch, and she doesn’t do anything about it!”

“They’re just being boys!” Yardley retorts. “You shouldn’t have hit him!” I’m so pissed off right now.

“Mrs. Handon, why didn’t you just tell Mrs. Yardley that Ferrell was antagonizing your son?” Grace asks.

“I told her plenty!” Mrs. Handon says. “The first time I told her, she apologized. The second and third time I told her, she just waved me off. The next time I tried to tell her, she put her hand up and told me that she didn’t want to hear it. That’s when I decided that if she couldn’t discipline her little monster, the next time he put his hands on my kid, he was gonna get it. He put his hands on my kid, so he got it! He slapped my Mark, so I slapped him!”

I look over at Ferrell, standing by the wall and crying like somebody beat the hell outta him. He’s easily between 110 and 120 pounds—at 12! Mark’s 10, and he’s lucky if he’s 70 pounds. Here’s this big ass boy bullying a smaller boy, and when he gets a taste of his own medicine, he turns into a sobbing little bitch. He’s going to grow up to be the perfect little narcissist!

Mark, on the other hand, is curled up and hiding in the corner, his arms wrapped around his legs and his face hiding behind his knees.

“Mrs. Yardley, I’ll be glad to call the police if that’s what you would like,” Grace says, “but know that if they come, they’re going to take both of you into custody and your boys will go to Family Services.”

Yardley suddenly calms down. I don’t know which bothers her more—going to jail or little Feral going to Family Services.

“Well, I want something done about this,” Yardley says indignantly. “She hit my son!”

“And what should we do about Feral hitting Mark?” I say. She glares at me.

“His name is Ferrell!” she shoots. Oh, shit, did I say that out loud? My face exhibits honest horror. I didn’t mean to say that.

“Oh!” I exclaim. “I’m sorry,” I say honestly, not sorry that I called the boy Feral, just sorry that I said it out loud.

“I’ll just bet you are!” she seethes. Grace sighs heavily, obviously exacerbated.

“I need to see you all in my office… now. Oscar, Chuck, please?” Grace turns around and marches away. Oh, shit, this is not going to end well.

“Ladies,” Chuck says as he and Oscar release Mrs. Yardley and Mrs. Handon. “If you please.” He gestures towards the stairs and the women both walk in that direction.

“What about my son?” Mrs. Handon says. “I don’t want him left up here with that creature!”

“I’ll bring the boys,” I say calmly. That seems to suffice for both parents and they all head to the stairwell. When they’re out of sight, I go over to Mark. This kid is terrified. I know their stories and he’s already been traumatized. I kneel down to him.

“Come on, Mark,” I tell him. “It’s okay.” He looks up and sees me and even though he didn’t make a show of it for everybody, he’s been crying. He stands without a word and never raises his head. I put my hand on his shoulder and lead him out of the corner.

“Ferrell,” I say, gesturing for him to come with us. When he gets within arm’s reach of Mark, he reaches to hit him. I catch his wrist and squeeze, just hard enough to show him how strong I am. He looks at me like he can’t believe I’m touching him and I glare at him like Satan.

“You behave yourself,” I say between my teeth, still squeezing his wrist. Kid, I’ll make what his mom did look like a walk in the park.

“You… you hit me!” he says, bringing attention to us. His mother has already cleared the floor, so I’ll make an example out of him.

“I did no such thing,” I say calmly still holding his wrist for everyone to see. “You were about to hit Mark again, and I stopped you. Now, if you like, I can call the police, your mom can go to jail, and you can go to juvie, because that is assault. Nobody’s just called you on it yet. Now, are you going to behave, or should I pull out my cell? Choice is yours.”

He stares at me a bit horrified but says nothing. I release his arm and he pretends to snatch it away, but he couldn’t get loose and he knows it. He walks ahead of me and Mark to the stairs. I look down at Mark who still hasn’t raised his head. He’s been bullied all his life by his father and now he has to deal with this. If we don’t break this cycle soon, he’s going to become a statistic—suicide, homicide, or both. I sigh and lead him towards the stairs.

“This is a very unfortunate situation,” Grace says once we’re all in her office. “You’ve both come to us because you need help. As much as we want to help you, this cannot be tolerated.”

“I should say not!” Yardley says indignantly.

“Mrs. Yardley!” Grace snaps. “Not two hours ago, we spoke to you about Ferrell’s behavior, and you said that you would talk to him. Is this the result of that discussion?”

Grace awaits Yardley’s response and when there is none, she continues.

“The families in this facility are already here because they’ve suffered some kind of traumatic experience. You should know better than anybody that these children have seen and been through some horrific things. They don’t come here to be exposed to more of it. I told you that this afternoon and it seems to have fallen on deaf ears. That’s unfortunate, because as much as we would like to help you both, we have a zero-tolerance policy here with fighting, and we’re going to have to ask you both to leave.” Yardley looks horrified.

“I was just protecting my son!” Yardley defends.

“And I was protecting mine,” Mrs. Handon retorts calmly. She’s resigned to her fate. If the situation repeated itself, she’d do the exact same thing. Yardley, on the other hand, wants to play the victim.

“With all due respect, Mrs. Yardley,” Grace interjects, “if you had followed instructions and gotten this situation under control like you promised you would, we wouldn’t be here. I’m not going to debate this issue with either of you. Security will escort you back to the dorm and you’ll have to leave.”

“This is bullshit,” Yardley says lowly, but just loud enough for us to hear her.

“Mrs. Handon,” I say, “I’ll get on the phone and see if I can find alternative placement for you this evening.” She nods and says nothing. She’s reserved, and probably tired and scared just like Mark.

“What about me?” Yardley hisses.

“I wish you luck,” I say, “but I’m going to give you a little advice before you leave.”

“I don’t need your advice!” she barks and stands.

“Well, you’re going to get it!” I tell her. “Because if you don’t, I’m going to call the police and have you both arrested just out of spite.” Mrs. Handon now raises her head, her eyes piercing.

“Sit your ass down,” she says, her voice low and satanic, “or I’m going to get up outta this seat and make sure that ride to jail is worth every motherfucking second!”

Yardley looks at her with narrowed eyes. Chuck and Oscar prepare themselves to detain the ladies and probably for another girlfight. Yardley assesses the situation quickly. Eventually, she decides that she doesn’t want to take the wrath of a woman who not only has to leave a safe haven because Yardley wouldn’t control her damn son, but now she’ll go to jail because you didn’t sit your ass down and listen. The possibility of Yardley herself going to jail as well probably doesn’t appeal to her, so she takes a seat.

“Your son,” I say, “will probably try to tell you that I hit him, too. I didn’t. He tried to hit Mark again on our way down here, and I caught his wrist and told him to stop. Luckily, he made a huge scene, and I have witnesses. He has a future ahead of him. Right now, that future is dotted with juvenile detention and prison, and quite possibly any other imaginable thing that can happen to a selfish little bully who has never been properly taught or disciplined.

“This is not news to you. You know he’s a problem. You knew he was a problem when I confronted you about him before I even had a chance to speak. You even had other parents tell you that he’s a problem, and you still didn’t do anything. He is incorrigible and you’re condoning his behavior. He’s a fire-starter, Mrs. Yardley, and I can guarantee you that if you don’t get him under control, one day he’s going to get burned and he might just take you with him.” She purses her lips.

“Are we done now?” she says.

“Yeah,” I say, “we’re done.”

“Come on, Ferrell,” she says and stands and marches to the door, facing off with Omar. He steps aside to let her and Ferrell pass and falls in step behind them. I turn to Mrs. Handon.

“You and Mark come to my office,” I tell her. “We’ll find somewhere for you to go.”

“Who’s going to take us and they know I got kicked out of here for fighting?” she laments.

“They don’t have to know that,” I say. “I’ll tell them we’re at capacity. I’m really sorry about this.”

“I understand,” she says. “I couldn’t let him keep hitting my son, though. Do you see how big that kid is? Mark didn’t stand a chance.” I nod and lead her down to my office. Chuck stands outside and waits while I go about the business of trying to find somewhere for the Handons to go. Unfortunately, the emergency shelters are full to capacity, and the intake departments are closed for the non-emergency shelters as it’s later than I thought.

“Dr. Grey,” she says, “if you can’t find someplace for us, call Family Services for Mark. I don’t want him to have to be on the street.” I’m getting more and more angry at Yardley by the second.

“That won’t happen,” I tell her. Not only will they take her son, but they’ll probably call his father, and he’ll be right back where he started from. I’ll put her up in a motel and post security at the door before I let that happen.

“If I could just get back to Palouse,” she laments. “My mom and dad don’t have much, but they have the house and the land in Palouse. If I could get to them, they would protect us. Dad would blow a hole in Carter’s ass so fast if he came out there…” she laughs tragically.

“All you need is to get to Palouse?” I ask. She raises her head.

“Dr. Grey, I didn’t… I wasn’t trying to…” I raise my hand to silence her.

“I know,” I say, “but are you telling me that you have a safe haven in Palouse?”

“I think so,” she says, dropping her head. “I’ve been ashamed to call… to tell them that…” She starts to cry. Mark rises from his perch and walks over to his mother. He puts his arm around her shoulders as she weeps and she turns to embrace him. I quickly get online and Google plane tickets to Palouse… $84 one way.

Two hundred measly dollars is standing between them and peace and freedom?

“Do you have Mark’s birth certificate?” I ask. Usually, when women run, they don’t leave with much, and I know she didn’t take much with her when she left. She nods.

“I always knew I would leave. I just didn’t have the guts and I never had the money,” she says. I turn the phone around to her.

“Call your parents,” I say to her. “Tell them you’re coming home.”

*-*

“Tough case?” Christian says when I fall down on the sofa in the family room. It’s nearly 9pm when I get home. I had Keri and Gail leave the children in the family room with us as I need a little more bonding time tonight.

“The worse,” I lament. “One kid was bullying another kid. We talked to his mother and she didn’t do anything. We ended up having to kick both families out because the mothers got into a physical altercation.”

“That hardly seems fair,” he says, sitting next to me and gathering Mikey up for snuggles. “Hey, little prince,” he says, tickling Mikey’s ribs as Mikey giggles feverishly.

“We have a zero-tolerance policy,” I tell him. “No fighting under any circumstances.” My head falls back on the sofa.

“Top! Top!” Mikey giggles and Christian ceases with the tickling.

“Okay, little man,” he says and Mikey continues to laugh in his arms. “Give Daddy a kiss.”

Mikey plants a slobbery kiss on his father’s cheek, and Christian puts him down to greet his daughter.

“How’s Daddy’s little princess?” he says, now scooping Minnie into his arms. She pats his cheeks like always. I don’t know what that means, but she always does that when you pick her up.

“Oh, shit!” Minnie exclaims as soon as she’s in her father’s arms. His eyes furrow.

“What the he… heck?” he demands. “Who’s been talking like that around her?” I sigh heavily.

“That would be me, I think,” I say without raising my head. “When the situation erupted at the Center, I reacted with her still in my arms. I only hope Mikey didn’t hear it because I can’t deal with two sailors today.” Christian shakes his head and turns to Minnie.

“Bad word,” he says, shaking his head. “Bad word, Minnie Mouse.” I don’t think she cares one bit what he’s saying. She’s just happy to be in Daddy’s arms.

Happy to be in Daddy’s arms…

What the hell turns these men from loving and caring fathers into monsters, I’ll never understand. Maybe they were never loving and caring fathers. Maybe it was an act to begin with. I don’t know… Carla was once a loving and caring mother and she turned into a raging bitch, so what’s her excuse?

I put one mother and son safely on a plane to Palouse this evening while effectively putting another mother and son out on the street to fend for themselves. In and of itself, it sounds horrible. It makes me a bad person… but I tried to help them all. I tried to give them a chance, but the Yardleys—Jesus. I wonder if anyone will help them with her behaving that way.

*-*

Sophie and I are in our favorite place as of late—in my office combing through emails, pictures, and ideas for the villa, vetoing some of Aaron’s outlandish ideas while giving him the go-ahead on some others. It’s Thursday evening, and Christian has informed me that we’ll be taking the boat to his parents’ place this weekend, at which time, all parties involved in the trip to Italy will be meeting to discuss final plans.

To be honest, it is that time. We’ll be leaving for our private portion of the trip in about three weeks. Everyone else will be on their way out the following month. It’s more than time to tie up loose ends.

Sophie and I are busy discussing some of the pieces for the living rooms and sitting rooms when my phone vibrates. It’s Grace. Oh, hell, what’s going on at the Center?

“Hey, Grace, what’s up?” I answer.

“Hello, dear. I hate to have to call you with this, but have you seen the news?” Grace asks me.

“No,” I reply. “What?”

“Are you anywhere that you can turn it on?”

“No, I’m in my office. There’s no television in here,” I reply. She sighs and then she’s silent for a while.

“What is it, Grace?” I ask.

“We’re famous,” she replies, “and not in a good way.” My brow furrows as I try to figure out what she’s talking about. Just as I’m about to ask her to elaborate, Marilyn comes walking—quickly—into my office with twisted lips.

“Do I want to know what this is about?” I ask them both, and they both start talking at the same time. Marilyn hands me her tablet, already open to one of the local news channels with a video paused, and hands it to me. I press play to see what the commotion is about.

“We’re here in front of the Helping Hands Community Center and Shelter with one of their former residents. And what’s your name, ma’am?”

“Susan Yardley.”

“Oh, shit,” I say as I sink into my seat.

“I… think I’ll… go to bed, now,” Sophie says, standing and heading towards the door.

“Thanks, Sophie… I’m sorry…” I mutter, trying to pay attention to what’s happening on the screen.

I watch the entire interview, which isn’t more than five minutes, as Susan Yardley and her very large son talk to the reporter about being “thrown out” of Helping Hands after they were assaulted by another resident. Of course, there’s no mention that Feral was antagonizing other children and stealing their lunches, or that the alleged assault came after he attacked a child nearly half his age and size. And they’re standing right in front of the damn Center!

“Are they down there now?” I lament.

“No,” she says, “I have no idea when this was taken.” I thrust my hand into my hair—my scar is beginning to hurt. This bitch even managed to muster up some tears as the reporter vows to find her and her “poor son” somewhere safe to go. If she’s so damn scared, why is she on television letting her supposedly psycho and violent husband know her plans? I wonder if what she’s saying is even true…

“Baby,” Christian is marching into my office. “Excuse me, Marilyn, I’m sorry to interrupt, but… that situation at Helping Hands is on the news? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I’m just now finding out. How did you find out?” He waves his phone at me.

“Mac is on the phone, and she’s not happy,” he says.

“I’m not happy, either,” I say, “but why is she not happy?”

“Somebody should have told me what was going on,” Mac says on speaker phone.

“There was an altercation between two residents at a homeless shelter. That’s hardly newsworthy,” I declare.

“Well, somebody thought it was because it’s on the news!” Mac declares. “It’s too late to get ahead of this, so we’ve got to come out with a statement.”

“No, we won’t!” Grace says at the same time that I declare, “The hell we will.”

“What the hell?” Christian says looking around the room for the phantom voice.

“That’s your mother,” I say, pointing to my phone on the desk, “and we will do no such thing.”

“Ana, anything that has to do with you can affect GEH…” Vee begins.

“This is not GEH!” I state emphatically. “This has nothing to do with GEH and I will not have you making a statement and feeding into this woman’s lies.”

“Butterfly…”

“No!” I nearly shout. “These are people’s lives we’re talking about here. The safety of every resident we have has been threatened simply by those assholes doing that interview in front of the damn Center! No goddamn statement, and I mean it! If you want to do something useful, find out everything you can on that lying, spiteful bitch and see if she’s really ‘hiding’ from a violent husband or if she’s just taking advantage of the system. I know if I were afraid for my life and the life of my son, I wouldn’t be plastering him in front of a television camera!”

Everyone in the room falls silent.

“Shit,” Grace says, “I hadn’t even considered that.”

“Why would you?” I say. “We’re here to help people in need. We trust them to be honest about their situations. If we were doing background checks on everybody, we wouldn’t help anybody… and that’s the truth.” I turn to Christian and speak loud enough for Vee to hear me. “You have your orders, but you have to use the information you saw on television. I can’t give you anything else.” Christian looks incredulously at me.

“After all this, you’re still going to protect her?” he asks, appalled.

“I have to, Christian!” I snap angrily, more angry that I have to protect this sneaky, conniving, lying bitch’s identity than anything. “I took an oath and I have to stick to it. Not only could giving you any information cost my license, but it could cost our accreditation—or did you forget all the trauma involved in that endeavor?”

Christian’s face falls, and I immediately regret bringing it up.  God, my scar is hurting.

“Besides,” I say, holding my head down and trying to massage the pain away, “nobody will ever trust us again if we do something like that. You’ll have to use what you got from the interview. I can’t help you… And get some more security down to Helping Hands as soon as possible. After this dumbass stunt, somebody’s estranged husband is going to come down there looking for his wife and kids.”

I see Christian turn away from me. He takes Vee off the speaker and begins to give her instructions.

“I’m sorry, Ana,” Grace says.

“There’s nothing for you to apologize for,” I reply. “None of us saw this coming and there’s no way that she could stay there.” Grace sighs.

“I know,” she replies, “I just feel like there has to be a better way to handle this.”

“We’ll talk about it tomorrow,” I say, “see if we can come up with some plan of action. We’ll have to make an announcement to the residents. They’re going to see more security and they’ll want to know why. They’ll need to know about the exposure this woman has brought to us and they’ll need to be careful when leaving the Center.”

This damn thing has so many far-reaching implications, this bitch has no idea what she’s done. I’m certain she doesn’t even care.

“Yes, I suppose you’re right,” Grace says with a sigh. “We’ll talk tomorrow, dear.”

We end the call and I swear my scalp feels like it’s going to crawl off my head and run out of the room screaming… and I want to cry.

“Marilyn, can you excuse us for a moment?” I hear Christian say. I hand Marilyn her tablet without raising my head. I don’t have strength or will to fight, so if he wants to argue he’s going to have to do it himself.

I hear Marilyn leave the room and then silence. I’m trying to muster every bit of my strength just to sit here and not lash out at him if he tries to convince me that we need to release a statement and not to crumble onto the floor from the implications of everything going on here. Helping Hands is supposed to be a safe haven, and this woman has jeopardized that all for personal gain. I’m certain of it. The more I think about it, the angrier I get… and the more helpless I feel.

I hear him move next to me. He turns my chair to face him and I can see that he’s crouching down to me. He gently clasps my wrists, causing me to raise my gaze to him as he moves my hands away from my face and head. He puts his hands on either side of my head, steadying my head with one hand and searching through my hair with his fingertips with the other. Without breaking our gaze, his fingertips find my scar, and he slowly begins to massage with just a little firmness…

And the pressure begins to cease.

As the pain starts to subside, I can get a clearer picture of him through my angry, helpless haze. His expression is one of helpless concern and sympathy. It destroys my resolve, and I begin to weep. He says nothing. He just continues to massage my scar. The more he massages, the better I feel and the heavier my heart feels. He’s never done this before. No one besides the doctors have ever touched my scar that I can remember except me. I don’t think he avoided it; I just don’t remember him ever touching it. Maybe he did, I don’t know, my mind is swirling… and my thoughts… and my emotions… and it really feels good.

“People are horrible!” I weep. “I do the best I can what else can I do!”

“That’s all you can do, baby,” he says, his voice soothing.

“These women come from horrible situations!” I sob. “I can’t imagine surviving through some of the things they’ve had to endure… and this selfish bitch…”

My body shakes with sobs and with anger.

“I know,” he says softly. “I know.”

He’s still massaging the pressure and pain out of my scar and my heart just crumbles at the kindness as well as in anguish for these women, some of whom are literally running for their lives, having their safety and what little peace of mind Helping Hands affords them ripped from their fingertips. It’s like when Daddy brought me to Montesano and that devil bitch Carla ripped me from my peace and dragged me back to Nevada.

That doesn’t help my mood at all.

I tip over onto my husband’s shoulder and continue to weep. One hand now gently strokes my back while the other continues to massage my pain and resolve away. The dam is flowing freely now and I couldn’t stop it if I tried. I see a figure come into my doorway, but my eyes are too watery to make out who it is. I’m too busy crying anyway to care or to entertain anybody’s company right now.

“We’ve got four more guys on the way to Helping Hands,” I hear Jason say. “Four more will replace them tomorrow, and we’ll have a steady rotation until we hear otherwise. Do you think that’ll be enough?”

I can’t respond. I don’t even know if he’s talking to me or Christian.

“We’ll leave it at that for now,” Christian says. “We’ll revisit in the morning.”

I see Jason’s form leave my office and my heart is so heavy and full at the same time that I think it’s going to explode.

I don’t know how much longer Christian literally allows me to cry on his shoulder, but once I stop, the pain and pressure are gone from my scar, but I’m waterlogged and exhausted. He gets me to our suite and draws me a bath. After a good soak and a cup of chamomile tea, I fall into a heavy slumber.

*-*

“Mrs. Grey, would you like to issue a rebuttal to Mrs. Yardley’s accusations?”

I can’t believe that I’m greeted by the fucking Paparazzi when I get to Helping Hands. Don’t these fuckers realize what they’re doing? Nobody’s going to come here for help while the press is camped out!

I stop, take a deep breath, and turn around.

“Yes, I would,” I say, and I can see Chuck stiffen.

“First of all, it’s Dr. Grey. Second, this place is a safe haven. We help remove people from dire circumstances and dangerous living conditions, and I refuse to allow one person—no matter who they are—to jeopardize the safety and well-being of these families in any way. With that in mind, I have absolutely no comment on the personal business or identities of anyone behind these walls—past or present. She wants to defame me, fine, just don’t endanger my residents. And by the way, that’s what you’re doing right now! These people depend on anonymity for their safety and you’re blasting us all over the news trying to get a story! You should be ashamed of yourselves!”

The crowd of reporters is mostly quiet as I walk into the center with the exception of two or three reporters still barking questions at me that I don’t really hear.

When I get inside, the new guards greet me and Oscar informs me that there is now a guard posted at the elevator and at each exit—even the locked ones. One of them will also do rounds every hour with a female guard doing the checks on the resident floors. That makes me feel a lot better.

Grace and I agree that we need to have a meeting to gauge the moods and hear the concerns of the residents. So, we schedule it for just after lunch even though Friday is normally my short day. It won’t be so, today. We’ve got to let these ladies know what’s happening and what steps we’re taking for their safety.

I don’t really know what to do with myself throughout the morning. Most of the press grew a conscience after my short statement and left the premises, but there are a few diehard reporters still out there. No one has left or showed up since I got here. I hope none of the women had job interviews today. I put a call in to Al to see if anything can be done about the press as they’re jeopardizing the safety of these women. He’s seeing if there’s anything he can do.

I make this announcement to the ladies when we begin the meeting, alerting them to the additional security which they had already seen. In general, most of them understand the circumstances and are more pissed at Yardley than they are concerned. They’re also very appreciative of the extra steps that we’re taking for their security.

“Why aren’t we watching television?” one of the residents asks in the middle of the meeting. “It’s going to start any minute.” Television? What the hell?

“Why would we be watching television?” Grace asks. “What’s going to start?”

“Penelope‘s interview,” she replies. “I’m sorry, I thought that’s why we were having the meeting.

“Nooooooohoohoohoohoooooooo,” I lament as I drop my head into my hands. No Christian to rub my scar today. What are these women trying to do, shut us down?

“Um, yeah… KOMO is supposed to be showing it live in just a few minutes,” she says a little timidly. Do I even want to see this shit? Grace makes the decision for me and retrieves the remote, bringing the television to life and turning it to KOMO for the after-lunch affair that is usually filled with soap operas and women’s talk shows. I can’t even find any more words. I just sit there and wait for the ax to fall.

It doesn’t take long.

I watch the screen as the narrator—whomever it is—describes the quiet, small, picturesque town of Palouse with its rolling hills and farmland and general store and two newly transplanted residents… Penelope Handon and her son, Mark.

“I’m the other resident that was asked to leave,” Penelope says, and I drop my head. Et tu, Bruté?

“What do you have to say about all of this?” the reporter says.

“If it weren’t for Dr. Trevelyan-Grey, Dr. Grey, and Helping Hands, I may be dead,” she replies. My head flies up in surprise. What did she just say?

Elaborate,” the reporter probes.

“I and my son were in a horribly violent and deadly situation. Helping Hands gave me a safe place to stay, food and clothing, and they were helping me to find a job until that night. I did get into a fight with that woman.”

“And they threw you out?”

“It’s not that simple,” she says. “I did what I had to do to protect my son, but the center has a strict, no-fighting policy and they should. These families have been through enough. We broke that.”

“So, how can you now speak so highly of a homeless center that threw you out?”

“They didn’t throw me out,” she corrects. “I broke the rules and I had to leave. Would you suggest they keep me there after I got into a physical altercation with another resident?”

“I wouldn’t suggest that they throw you out,” the reporter retorts.

“You’re stuck on that, aren’t you?” she replies. “You must live in a world without rules. I’d like that. I’d like to live in a world where there were no repercussions for my actions. That’s apparently where you live and where that awful woman thinks she lives, where you can do whatever you want without consequences.”

“Nobody’s saying that, Mrs. Handon…”

“Really?” she retorts. “You’re stuck on they threw you out, but you’re completely ignoring the fact that I and that woman you interviewed got into a physical altercation in a residential section that put other people in danger. She or I, our children, or someone else on that floor could’ve gotten hurt, and you’re still stuck on they threw you out. Let’s not forget that these people are already traumatized and now they have to be subjected to this? Where are your priorities?”

The reporter makes a motion to cut the filming, but the cameras keep rolling since they were live at the time. I can hear someone whisper that the station wants them to keep rolling.

“That woman was awful,” Penelope continues. “You saw her son. You saw how big he was. Look at my Mark—half his size and nearly half his age, and this kid is bullying him and taking his lunch. I thought we were all there for the same reason—to get help. The women and children that are still there, they’re not going to tell you anything about how that woman behaved and how her son terrorized the smaller kids and disobeyed the staff, how we went to that woman numerous times to tell her about it and she did nothing, how Dr. Trevelyan-Grey and Dr. Grey tried to talk to her about it and she still did nothing. They’re in hiding! They’re trying to put their lives back together, but I’m not in hiding anymore. For the time that I was there, Dr. Grey taught me self-defense, and now I’m in a place where if danger comes my way, we will fight it.

“She apologized for having to ask me to leave because she has children of her own and she understood. She tried to nip this in the bud before it even got to this point and the woman who came running to you like a victim was the cause of all of this. She’s gone now—she’s got her money and her moment in the spotlight and in the meantime, you’re going after a philanthropist and humanitarian, a woman who gives of herself and her time to help others so that you can get a story. Where’s the human interest in that? I hope you get what you’re looking for. I hope it makes you famous.” The reporter nervously clears his throat.

“Well… it looks like this interview is over.”

“Not quite,” Penelope says, looking at the camera. “If you’re in danger, if you’re in trouble, if you’re afraid, go to Helping Hands. They will go out of their way to help you. They will protect your privacy and anonymity and they will do everything they can to get you back on your feet… or at least to a place of safety. Just be sure that you behave like a human being and not a zoo animal when you get there and know how to obey the rules.” She turns back to the reporter. “Now, this interview is done.” She stands from her seat and walks out of the camera shot.

And the community room erupts with cheers.


A/N: “Choonks ahn ‘is wey upstehs! Des a fight in da dome!”—”Choonks on his way upstairs. There’s a fight in the dorm.”

It was brought to my attention that English is not a first language for many of my readers. So, when I do venture to write an accent, there will be translations in the author’s notes.

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

Pictures related to the progress of the Italian Villa can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/italy/italian-villa/

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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

Grey Continued: Episode 34—Triumphs of the Village

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

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

Season 5 Episode 34—Triumphs of the Village

CHRISTIAN

She’s been standoffish all week, mostly because of the incident with Marlow and the fact that she thinks I haven’t talked to him. I’ve done what she asked, but this standoffish shit is going to stop before she knows that I’ve done what she asked.

I remove everything but my pants and boxers. The shirt that I was wearing is now laying on the bed with a black thong that I bought for her. It has an orange tabby cat on the front along with the words, “Well, it’s not going to lick itself.” Maybe I’ll fuck her, maybe I won’t. I don’t know yet, but this silent treatment shit is going to end, even if I have to go Dom on her to end it.

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Still wearing my Hublot, I go to the sitting room and take a seat on the Chesterfield chair that we had moved here from Escala. There’s a pillow to the right of me on the floor. I gave her five minutes. Let see if she can obey orders.

She doesn’t disappoint.

Not long after she has entered our bedroom, she comes into the sitting room with the shirt wrapped around her body, but not buttoned.

“Button only the button at your breast,” I instruct her, and she does what she’s told.

“Come. Kneel on the pillow.”

She walks over to me and takes sub position two on the pillow. Nope, that’s not what I want.

“Knees together,” I tell her. “Hands together in your lap.”

She takes the position and I bring her hair from her back to cascade down both her shoulders before I sit back in the chair. I let her sit there for a few minutes before I address her.

“Look at me,” I say, and she raises large blue eyes to me.

“I don’t know what to say,” she says softly.

“Yes, you do,” I say. “Talk to me.”

“I…” she hesitates. “I really don’t know what to say.”

“What are you thinking?” I ask. She sighs softly.

“That it’s been a long time since we had Downtime,” she answers.

“Yes,” I reply after a pause, “too long. A situation I tend to rectify. Why aren’t you speaking to me?”

“I’m not not speaking to you…” she begins.

“Only when necessary,” I interrupt. “You’re using economy with your words. Why?”

She searches for an answer, but I already know.

“You don’t think I know?” I say, a bit firmly. “You’re letting something outside our house bring discord into our house.”

“With all due respect, Sir, you’re letting something outside of our house bring discord into our home,” she replies. “That girl made every woman in this house uncomfortable and some of the men, and I asked you to talk to him about this way before now.”

“I saw the same thing you did,” I reply flatly, “and I said that I would talk to him. Have you now decided that you’ll punish me until I do?”

“No,” she says almost immediately.

“Then what’s the meaning of this?” I inquire. She clears her throat.

“I’m sorry, he’s just behaving irresponsibly, and he is your protégé. You have a lot of influence on him and it won’t have the same impact coming from someone else,” she argues.

“Did I tell him to behave the way that he’s behaving?” I ask.

“No, not that I know of.” Fair answer.

“And that you know of, did I tell him to bring a scantily clad teenage girl to our home?” I ask.

“No,” she says with a sigh.

“Then don’t try to make me pay for it,” I caution in my Dom voice. “I said that I would talk to him. If I talk to him today or if I never talk to him, you don’t have the right to make me pay for his behavior. Is that understood?”

“Yes, Sir, it is,” she replies obediently, “but as his mentor, do I have the right to expect you to hold him accountable for his behavior?”

“No,” I retort, and she tries to hide her surprise. “You can ask me to counsel him on his behavior, but you can’t dictate the nature or terms of our relationship in any way, just like I can’t dictate the terms of yours with Sophia, Marilyn, Harmony, or anybody else.”

Less is more in this case, and the facts are cut and dried. I sit and wait for her response.

“I understand,” she responds.

“Good,” I reply. “Now, I’ve had that conversation with Marlow like I promised. I’ve pointed out his lack of prudence with the number of his sex partners and I made it clear that if he pulls that stunt again with whatever her name was this weekend that neither he nor his dates will be allowed in this house or at family gatherings again.” She swallows and raises her brow at me.

“Were you that formal?” she asks.

“He got the point,” I reply. She drops her gaze immediately to her hands. She got the point, too,

“Do you really understand why your reaction was unacceptable?” I ask. She nods without raising her gaze.

“Yes, Sir,” she says. I lean closer to her in my chair.

“Look at me, Pussycat,” I say, and she raises her gaze. “Do you really understand?” She sighs again.

“Like you, I have a right to my feelings,” she says, “and I have a right to be upset that he disrupted my home by bringing that girl here. And even though I don’t have a right to dictate your relationship with him, Sir, I feel I do have a right to expect you to hold him to a certain standard when he comes to our home. I’ve tried to talk to him and apparently it didn’t work. That’s why I asked you to talk to him. I asked you several times before this incident, and it’s frustrating that I’ve asked you to do something and it looks like you haven’t done it. In fact, it looked like you just blew it off until he brought what looked like a teenage hooker to my home. So while I wasn’t holding you responsible for his behavior, I was holding you responsible for your lack of action and your nonchalant attitude about the whole thing when I asked you to do something before it got to this point.”

“Which is why you should have talked to me,” I say without buckling. “Yes, you have a right to your feelings, Pussycat, but you didn’t have a right to make assumptions when you didn’t even know if I did what you asked me to do. I didn’t talk to Marlow until today, but you didn’t know that because you didn’t bother to ask. You just zipped up and waited for me to bring you John the Baptist’s head.”

She flinches a bit at the macabre Biblical reference, but it drives my point home. She drops her gaze again. She gets it.

“These assumptions are going to be the death of us if we don’t get this right,” I tell her. “I have no problem calling Downtime when necessary, but we should be able to talk things out under any circumstances.”

“I agree,” she says softly. “You’re right.”

Again, I let her sit there for a few moments.

“Stand up,” I tell her, satisfied that she understands the err of her ways. She stands and I move her to the front of me. I gently kiss her belly button. Moving her thong to the side, I slowly thrust my middle finger inside her while massaging her clit with my palm. Her breath quickens as my lips move from her naval across to her hip. Her breath catches when my free hand moves between her legs and under one of her knees, lifting it until it cradles in my elbow. She gasps now that her legs are open, falling forward and bracing her hands on my shoulders to steady herself.

That’s what I was looking for.

I quickly move my hand from her core and lift her other leg, grasping her ass and positioning her over my face as I lean back in the Chesterfield chair. Her thighs replace her hands on my shoulders which are now thrust into my hair. Her head falls back, and she cries out in ecstasy as I grip her ass, move the crotch of the thong aside with my mouth, and dive into her sweet core.

After all, it’s not going to lick itself.

*-*

Savvina and Artemis have invited us as guests to a munch being held in a private home in Kirkland. I’m not very comfortable going to Lincoln’s old stomping ground, but Artemis assures safety and discretion. Nonetheless, we make this trip with covert surveillance. You can’t be too safe, especially with the cops poking around and no word on the Ellison investigation.

We mingle around the room with our mentors until we find ourselves settling into a conversation with a group focusing on the varying experiences for the soumise. Considering the fact that I initially wanted to embark on this experience so that Pussycat can understand her role and the importance of her comfort in that role more clearly, I pay close attention to the direction of the conversation.

At first, it centers on the willingness to serve—varying levels of servitude from the Master/slave relationship to a sub or soumise who simply has certain tasks that he or she is required to perform in the perspective of their particular dynamic. I’ve never required that a submissive serve me except in the sense that her actions fulfill my needs. There has never been a specific task or list of tasks that a sub was ever required to fulfill besides the commands that I issue in terms of playtime and maybe to be able to cook every now and then.

It’s when the topic turns to subspace that Pussycat becomes more attentive.

The current leg of the conversation is being led by our hosts, Dom Triple X and his submissive Beautifully Bound. They chose to use their BDSM names because they’re in a 24/7 relationship.

“In its basic form, subspace is an overload of adrenaline or endorphins,” Beautifully Bound says. “It doesn’t happen for everyone and it may be easier for some submissives to achieve it than it is for others. It usually presents in a form of a natural high, but its results differ based on how your body processes the chemicals and how it reacts to stimulus.”

“Stimulus can be physical or mental,” Triple X continues. “I don’t think I need to tell any of you that you can feel a boost of adrenaline or endorphins from any number of pleasurable or even unpleasant experiences. These chemicals can result in an increase of feelings of energy, hyperactivity, anxiousness, bliss, relaxation. You may also zone out or become catatonic. You might feel like you’re floating—separating from the here and now. It can be as simple as a feeling of calm or as major as an out-of-body experience.”

“Have you experienced subspace, X?” Jade, another submissive in the group, asks.

“No, but of course, I’ve experienced that surge of adrenaline or endorphins from other experiences. I’m also very in tune to BB and when she may experience it. We’ve had conversations on when she feels she has reached subspace and what she was thinking, how she felt, if she felt anything at all…”

“But how would she know if she reached subspace if she didn’t feel anything at all?” The question comes from Topaz. She’s Jade’s Domme tonight, and she’s also a switch.

“Remember, one of the levels of extreme subspace can involve separating from yourself, being there and not being there at the same time,” BB explains.

“Adrenaline is meant to protect you,” she continues. “You’ll get a surge of energy, anxiety, or what have you in times of intense stress, anger, danger, pain, fear, excitement, fill in the blank. Endorphins release when you are feeling a natural high. Your body responds to pleasure or pain. It can increase your pain threshold, but it doesn’t only have to involve pain. It can cause a reaction to your body that’s a lot like morphine. It can have the same effect as a narcotic, only it’s internal and part of your body’s natural response.

“Subspace can take on many forms, from the release and overload of endorphins to a simple transition of headspace, of the happiness and bliss of being where you are at a particular moment. Subspace is not always attainable. Often, it creeps up on you, especially if you have a sudden release of adrenaline.”

“I’m very responsive to adrenaline, but not in a good way,” Pussycat interjects. “My most common experience with it is when I’m pushed to anger very quickly. The response is either crying or fainting. I can’t control it; it happens so quickly.” X frowns.

“Maybe you could work on ways to rechannel those emotions,” X says, “to find a way to redirect them when you identify them so that they don’t overwhelm you and you don’t have to worry about fainting or crying. I can’t imagine that it’s very comfortable or convenient when you find yourself in either of those positions.”

“Almost always at the worst possible moments,” Pussycat confirms… laments is more like it.

“Has this ever happened during playtime?” he asks.

“No,” she replies, “not with the crying or the fainting. However, I almost entered subspace once that I can remember.”

I try not to react. I’m trying to remember when this happened, and I can’t. She’s had various reactions to our playtime.

“Almost?” X asks. Pussycat nods and raises her gaze to me. Again, I don’t react, so she continues.

“I… don’t remember why or how we ended up in a scene, but I remember impact play of some sort. I drifted off for a moment—like you said, separating from myself—but Sir said something, and I came back.” X looks at me and I still don’t react.

“Do you remember what he said?” X asks. She shakes her head and he looks at me again.

“Do you mind if we talk about this?” he asks. I shake my head.

“No, I don’t mind,” I reply. He nods and turns to Pussycat.

“Do you mind?” he asks. She shrugs noncommittal.

“No, I don’t mind,” she replies. “We’re here to share and learn, right?” He nods again.

“That’s right,” he says. “If you don’t mind me asking, why don’t you remember? Was it a bad experience for you?” Oh, now I see what he’s getting at. Pussycat pauses.

“Well,” she says, “I know I was being punished for something, but I don’t remember what. I’m almost positive, though, that I don’t remember because of the accident. I’ve lost some of the finer details of my life due to an accident I had a couple of years ago.”

“I see. Okay,” X says, “but you remember thinking you might have hit subspace.”

“I think so,” she replies. X turns to me.

“Do you remember this?” he asks.

“Vaguely,” I reply. “I remember that she was being punished for something—that is the nature of the bondage and discipline portion of our relationship—and I remember that she was separating, and I wanted her in the here and now, not only because it was part of the act of discipline, but also because I didn’t want to go too far because she wasn’t responding.”

“That’s good. That’s smart,” X says. “It’s always a good idea to stop play if you see that your submissive is slipping too far into subspace. They may be unable to safeword or tell you that the play is going too far.”

Neither of us tells him that I didn’t stop the scene. I just brought her back from subspace. Hindsight being 20/20, I would do things differently now. I treated her like a faceless sub because I was angry, not a valued soumise. Every time I think we’ve traveled so far on this journey I realize that there’s still so far that we have to go.

I take her hand in mine and kiss the back of it gently, partially in ownership and partially in apology. Her cheeks flush a bright pink and she smiles a genuine smile at me. I can almost hear the silent cooing of the female submissives in the room.

The conversation continues, mostly about general vanilla stuff until it wanders into predicament bondage—not really my cup of tea. I know that there may be some predicaments that I might be willing to experiment with, like when she was hanging from the chains in my Playroom during one of our first scenes and she got those chain bruises on her wrists, but even then it wasn’t really intentional. It was just exhaustion from intense orgasms, and I got her down from there as soon as I realized that she was hanging from her wrists. I really can’t do anything like that to her now since her kidnapping and the cuffs cutting her the way that they did.

I spend the night holding her and thinking about the man that I used to be… and how I never want to be that man again.

I lay awake in bed for as long as I can stand it, then I head down to my study to be more productive. I’ve worked my way through several emails and sent instruction to my management team about lots of irons on the fire when I finally get to one sent yesterday.

To: Christian Grey
CC: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Re: Marmalade Popped!
Date: Saturday, April 26, 2015, 18:18
From: Agatha Peppergill

Good news! Marmalade dropped her pups—a glorious healthy litter. You can have your pick. The soonest they’ll be ready for transport will be early July. I’ll keep you posted.

Aggie

Agatha Peppergill, Owner
Peppergill Farm and Breeding, Rochester, WA

I open the attachment to the email and see a litter of beautiful red-nosed pit bull puppies—ten of them, in fact, in varying shades. I must resist the urge to dash upstairs, wake Butterfly, and tell her that our puppies are born, but it’s way too early. It’s just after dawn on Sunday morning and I don’t want to wake her. Aggie says the pups will be ready for transport in July. We’ll still be in Italy. I’m sure she’ll board the pups for a couple of weeks until we get back, but I won’t say anything yet. I respond to her email that I’m glad the pups have been born and to keep us updated on their progress. I also ask for an update on the Brindles when she has a chance.

My mind wanders back to last night and the Munch. I think my wife has slipped into some form of subspace more than just once, but last night’s recollection was the only one she could slightly remember. To be honest, I’m a little fuzzy on that one, too. I remember that she displeased me, and I wanted her to be in the here and now for the punishment, but for the life of me, I can’t remember why.

Just a few days ago, I had imposed punishment on her again. I held her against my mouth and sucked three forced orgasms from her that I’m sure were agonizing. Then I bent her over the ottoman and fucked her hard, deep, and mercilessly from behind, bringing myself to two deeply satisfying climaxes and ripping a fourth from her until she begged me to stop. I never removed the shirt or the thong, and she sweated right through them both.

It was better than any spanking or lashing I could have administered.

We talked about predicament bondage and I said that it wasn’t really my forte, but come to think of it, those oral orgasms could be considered predicament bondage. I had my arms clamped over her thighs so that she couldn’t escape once her first orgasm hit. She fought to get away once her clit was engorged and I didn’t release, but I had her locked in tight. Any movement in any direction no doubt intensified her discomfort. So, she had the choice to continue to struggle, with each movement likely causing her more discomfort, or to sit still through the heightened sensation and wait until the tenderness turned to pleasure again. Her helpless cries of pleasure mixed with pain turned me on so much that I thought my dick would burst right out of my goddamn pants.

I guess predicament bondage is my thing after all.


ANASTASIA

“Mia, I happened to notice that the contributions to Helping Hands from Miana’s significantly increased about seven or eight months ago. Do you know what happened?” I ask her on Monday morning.

“Miana’s contributes to Helping Hands?” she asks. “I didn’t know that.” I frown.

“What do you mean you didn’t know that?” I ask. “You’re in a profit-sharing agreement.”

“Yeah, but it’s me and Franco and… Oh, that must be Christian’s share,” she says with realization.

“You didn’t know that Christian’s share was going to Helping Hands?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“I really didn’t need to know,” she shrugs. “I don’t ask my brother what he does with any of his other money.”

“Yeah, that makes sense,” I say. “So… what happened that caused the profits to increase?”

“Expenses went down,” she says. “We were nearly in the red for about 18 months. Some of Mrs. Lincoln’s debts followed the salons and they were pretty big. The owners had to put our money back into the salons to keep them afloat. We agreed that if we weren’t turning a profit in two years that we would let it go because it was a money pit. Luckily, at 18 months, she resuscitated and thus, profit!” She holds her hands out with a wide smile.

“Boy, that money is really going to help a lot,” I say. “I didn’t know if it was a temporary influx of cash or what may have happened, but this is doubly good news. If business stays as good as it has been, we’ll have a steady flow of funds. And by paying off her debts that were attached to the business, we’re finally rid of that woman!” Mia pauses.

“Yeah!” she says. “Finally! Forever!” She and I both share a relieved laugh.

Christian and I meet with Marilyn and Gary again that evening. They’ve made some very good progress, but it’s clear to see that Marilyn is not the person that she was before the termination. She’s been through some things and she wears the experience all over her, not just in weight loss and the new haircut, but in the way that she carries herself and even the way she talks. It’s not bad, really, but it’s different.

“You’re looking well, Marilyn,” Christian points out. I have to admit that he’s right. Her cheeks have regained their color and she’s put on some weight. The cloud of doom isn’t following her around anymore either.

“Thank you,” she replies. “I’m working hard to take better care of myself.”

“How about you, Gary?” I ask. “How have you been?”

“I’ve been well,” he replies sincerely. “I’m looking for a bigger place. The studio is just too small. Right now, it’s like sleeping in a matchbox.”

“I thought it was what you wanted,” I point out.

“It was, but it was a temporary fix,” he admits. “I’ve never wanted to be in a place that small, but I knew it wasn’t home when I moved there, nor was it ever intended to be. It was an escape—to get away from the situation. I refused to see the place; it was just somewhere to be. But when I opened my eyes, I hated it… and I need to get out of there. I need to build a home for myself again, and I’ll admit it. I want Mare to be comfortable when she comes over.”

“Comes over?” Christian says, looking at Marilyn. “You’ve decided not to move back in together?”

“Not yet,” Marilyn says firmly. “It’s still too soon.”

“You don’t feel like that might be taking a step backwards?” I ask.

“No, she’s right,” Gary interjects. “A lot has changed, and we need to get to know one another again… get to know ourselves.” He looks over at Marilyn. “I love her and I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be here as long as it takes, and apparently I’ve got some growing I need to do, too.”

“Well, you two sound like you’ve got this all locked down,” Christian says.

“Oh, no,” Gary corrects him. “There’s still some bumps and we’re still working them out. I’m new at this, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m still working things out. We’re just taking it slow so that we each know and understand what we want and what to expect from the other.”

“There were a lot of assumptions made in our relationship,” Mare says looking at her hands. “That’s what got us to the brick wall we hit when we faced our first real obstacle. We don’t expect to get it perfect from here on out, but we’re working on getting it better.”

“Do you mind sharing what steps you’re taking to getting it better?” I ask.

For the next hour or so, Gary and Marilyn share what they’re doing to bring themselves back to a healthy and happy version of themselves, jointly and severally, emotionally and physically. The conversation is wrought with angst, but also with small—and some large—victories. If everything were perfect, I’d be concerned about the future health of their relationship. They appear to be right on track for a healthy reconciliation, and that’s my professional opinion.

*-*

I had decided quite some time ago that I wanted to get back into Krav Maga, but not with Klevnar. He was always spouting about how he was the best, and I put up with his shit for years without looking at any other instructors. I never even bothered to look around. Little did I know that there was an actual Krav Maga training center in Seattle, not just a trainer working for a gym. So, on Friday afternoon, I decide to grab my gear and head down there.

I opt for yoga pants and a sports bra since my usual Krav Maga gear seams to bring out the worst in people. It was a good choice.

Krav Maga Seattle is a sizable facility, with both men and women. The men all look like linebackers and the women are all ripped—and I do mean ripped—muscular veiny arms, rugged features, mostly in camouflage pants or yoga pants. They all look like GI Jane on steroids.

What the fuck have I gotten myself into?

“Hello. Welcome to KM Seattle.” A large wall of man approaches me—nothing but biceps, triceps, and deltoids. “I’m Jerry.”

“I’m Ana,” I say. He looks over my shoulder at Chuck. “He’s security.” Jerry nods once at Chuck and turns his attention back to me.

“You looking for a trainer?” Jerry asks.

“Maybe,” I reply. “I’m just trying to test the place out, see if it likes me.” He nods.

“I like your attitude,” he replies.

“I just… feel a bit out of my league, like I’ve stepping into the Land of the Giants.”

“Trust me, ma’am,” he says with a chuckle, “we all know that size has nothing to do with it. You should, too.” I nod.

“We’ll get along just fine if you promise not to call me ma’am.” He laughs.

“Agreed. Let me show you around.” I nod to Chuck and he takes a position where he can see me.

Jerry shows me around the gym where all the equipment is including the showers. Once he’s done, he guides me over to one of the trainers. She’s 5’10” easily, 160—maybe 170, and all muscle… absolutely zero percent body fat.

“Ana, this is Lisa,” he says, introducing me. “Ana says she wants to see if our facility likes her.”

“Good to meet you, Ana,” she says, smiling and proffering her hand to me. I take her shake. Her grip is firm and professional.

“Same, Lisa, thank you,” I say, returning her smile.

“I’ll leave you two to get acquainted,” Jerry says and leaves me with Lisa.

“So, Ana,” she says, sizing me up, “you look very fit. What’s your experience?”

“Well, I’ve never tried out for any belts or levels,” I tell her. “I just… fight for fitness and self-defense.”

“So, you’re not new to Krav Maga.” It’s a statement, not a question. I shake my head.

“No. I’ve been on and off for about seven years,” I reply. She raises her brow.

“Well, there’s an accomplishment,” she says. “On and off for seven years means that you have a great foundation and your skills are most likely better than you’re letting on. Who did you train with?”

“Luc Klevnar,” I reply. Several people fall silent in the gym and turn to look at me. I feel like I’m in that old E.F. Hutton commercial.

“You trained with Luc Klevnar?” she asks incredulously.

“Yes,” I reply. “He trained me very well for seven years, but he’s an asshole. He wanted me to go pro and when I didn’t, he kept pulling dirty shit on me. I’m not trying to go pro. Like I said, fitness and self-defense.” She smiles.

“Yeah, you’re better than you’re lettin’ on,” she says with a smile, her hands on her hips.

“May I ask for your… qualifications?” I say, choosing my words carefully.

“Certainly,” she says. “I’m a third level blackbelt.” I whistle.

“That’s pretty impressive,” I say.

“For a girl,” she chuckles, and I laugh with her. “Let’s spar a bit. You’ll be defense, so I can see what you got. Okay with you?”

“Sure,” I say, and we head to the mat.

Dear God in heaven, this woman gives me hell! She starts out slow and picks up the pace. By the time were at the height of sparring, I’m literally rolling over her back to keep from getting slammed onto the mat. I’m running on pure adrenaline when she finally calls an end to the sparring and I literally drop out on the matt in exhaustion.

“Don’t fall out now,” she says, offering her hand to help me up. I gladly take it. She gestures to someone outside of the ring while I’m fighting to catch my breath. I turn just in time to see someone come to the edge of the ring and toss her two waters, one at a time… and to see that we have accumulated an audience.

“On your toes,” she says as she cracks one of the seals on the waters. “Bounce. You know the drill. You can’t just stop.”

I bounce from foot to foot for a minute or two until I’m no longer choking on air. Although not as badly as me, I’m glad to see that Lisa is a bit out of breath, too, and just as sweaty.

“That was impressive!” Lisa says, handing me the unopened water. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody move like that. Are you sure you don’t want to at least test for your belt?” I throw her a death glare after I crack the seal on my water. She puts her hands up in defense.

“Okay, okay,” she says with mirth. “It was just a suggestion. So, you really don’t need a trainer. You just need somebody to spar with, huh?” I chug the bottle of water before I answer.

“Yeah,” I say a little out of breath, “but I left Klevnar’s gym because he put me up against his students—girls who were trying to prove their salt. I won’t put up with that shit. I’m in competition with nobody. I’m not the best of anything. Fitness and self-defense—that’s it.”

“I like your attitude,” she says as she hands me a towel.

“That’s the same thing Jerry said,” I reply.

“Have you given any thought to maybe being a trainer?” she asks. “You’re very good and it only requires a short course.”

“Thank you, I’m flattered,” I say, “but I’m so busy. I have two ‘jobs’ and I’m a mother to twins.” Her brows furrow.

“Twins? How old?” I count on my fingers.

“Just over a year,” I say, “15 months.”

“Fifteen months!  Twins? You must’ve worked like hell to get that body back.” I don’t bother to dispute her. I nod.

“Belly wraps, breastfeeding, yoga almost immediately, and I do train Krav Maga, but not formally. I train the women at the community center where I work—women hiding from domestic violence mostly.”

“That’s… quite admirable.”

“Thank you,” I reply, “but I think everyone should be able to defend themselves against a bully—especially if they married one.” She nods.

“Well, have we sold you on our facility?” she asks. “I’ll be glad to spar with you anytime you come. You’ll keep me on my toes. The next time you come, you can be offense.” I smile.

“You’ve got a deal, Lisa. Where do I sign up?”

*-*

After a good soak when I get back to the Crossing, I head down to my study for a little while before dinner. Since I’m not as fascinated with Roman history as I am with Greek history, I decide that I should take some time to get to know the place where we plan to spend six weeks of our summer vacation, maybe learn an Italian word or two. Granted, I know we’ll only spend three to five days in Rome, but the city is rich in history—fact and fiction—and the fact that I’ll be able to see things up close and in person like the Colosseum and the Parthenon actually gives me chills.

I don’t know where to start yet since I have no idea what our itinerary will look like. So, I just go to YouTube and start watching travel videos on Rome. I’m thinking maybe I picked the wrong series or subject matter because instead of getting the great stories of fabulous vacations and wonderful sights to see, all I keep getting is warnings of thieves and pickpockets. I’ve seen so many warnings against pickpockets that I’m just going to wear across-the-body money belts. I won’t even bring purses.

What’s more, all I keep stumbling on is what not to do when you’re in Rome!

Don’t wear spaghetti strings to the churches. Cover up when you visit them, specifically the Vatican.

Don’t order cappuccino after noon.

Don’t ask for tap water in a restaurant… That’s a strange one.

Don’t say ciao to everybody. That’s reserved for good friends. Buon giorno or buona sera is more polite.

Don’t splash in the fountains. Apparently, there are several of them in the Eternal City.

Don’t take pictures at the Sistine Chapel. It’s forbidden.

Don’t disrespect soccer. The Romans are obsessed with it. Oh, and the biggest way to diss the sport is to call it soccer. It’s football.

Don’t ask for Parmesan cheese. Your server will tell you when it’s appropriate by offering.

Don’t eat from the tourist menus. The food isn’t authentic. While you’re at it, avoid the food kiosks and vendor trucks.

Don’t take flowers or trinkets being shoved at you from the people on the street or pictures with the fake gladiators at the Colosseum… or wherever. It’s a scam and your denial to give them money will very likely become hostile.

Don’t take coins out of the fountains… They actually have to say that?

Jesus! I’m going on vacation! Where are the pointers about the beautiful sights and the ancient ruins? Don’t drive; take public transportation. Don’t buy water; there are lots of public fountains. Don’t take your eyes off of your stuff or someone’s going to snatch it from you.

That’s it. I’m learning a few Italian words and I’m leaving the rest to Christian. This endeavor is giving me a headache…


CHRISTIAN

“I’m in the process of making sure our weapons are registered with the Italian government, sir. Are we acquiring security abroad that speak the language?” Jason asks as we cross the bridge heading home.

“Don’t we always?” I ask.

“We didn’t do it in Madrid,” he counters.

“That was short notice,” I retort. “Besides, I didn’t need it in Madrid, I had you.”

“Which is exactly why I’m asking,” he says. “May I suggest that we bring Ben… Lawrence along with us. He speaks fluent Italian. Then we would only need to secure one additional Italian-speaking guard if you wish.” I nod.

“Okay. That’s fortuitous. Do we have someone on staff that speaks every major language?” I ask.

“Not every major language, but we’ve got most of them locked down,” he says.

“Let’s try not to have any ‘meathead’ situations this time,” I tell Jason. “Brief him however you need to, but if my wife doesn’t like him, he’s gone.”

“Understood,” he replies.

I can smell food when we enter the mudroom. I had to stay in the office a little later than usual to finish some things up and it’s right about dinnertime now. I’m so hungry, I can eat a horse!

“What smells so good?” I ask as I walk into the kitchen.

“Grilled pork chops and applesauce, roasted asparagus spears, and pearl baked cream onions,” Ms. Solomon informs me. Dear God, just hand me a fork and a knife and I’ll eat right out of the pots!

“I’m going to clean up a bit. How long before dinner’s served?”

“About 15 minutes,” she informs me. I nod and head up to our bedroom. I don’t expect to find Butterfly here, but I check the en suite anyway. As suspected, no Butterfly. I shed my suit jacket and tie and loosen the buttons at my collar. God, it feels good to be home, I think to myself as I wash my hands and splash some warm water on my face, just to get some of the city grit off my skin. I dry my face and hands, and when I feel a bit more human, I peek into the nursery.

The children aren’t here, so they must be downstairs in the dining room waiting for dinner. I descend the stairs and as I expected, everyone has congregated at the dining table including my children—everyone, that is, except my wife.

“Where’s Butterfly?” I ask. Everyone at the table looks up but no one responds. I immediately look at Chuck.

“Don’t look at me,” he shrugs. “I brought her home, so she’s gotta be here somewhere.”

“You haven’t seen her?” I ask, expectant.

“I’m sorry,” he says, somewhat affronted. “I didn’t realize that I was supposed to keep an eye on her after we got home.” Okay, I had that coming.

“Did anything happen today?” I ask.

“Besides that insane workout, no?” My brow furrows.

“What insane workout? Was she angry? Did somebody upset her?”

“No,” Chuck says, now noting my concern. “She went to that Krav Maga place on 8th. That woman really put her through her paces.” I twist my lips.

“Well, she was sparring with your wife and I swear I thought your wife was a Cirque de Soleil acrobat. The way she was dodging those hits makes me wonder sometimes why she even needs a bodyguard,” he replies. I ponder the thought.

“Another female trying to make an example of her,” I deduce.

“No, this was the trainer,” Chuck says. “She and Ana talked for a while, then they sparred like crazy—so much that the other people in the gym stopped working out and sparring to watch them. When it was done, Ana just dropped in the middle of the mat.”

I don’t like the sound of that.

“The trainer—I think I heard her name is Lisa—helped Ana up and told her to do some cool-down exercises while they drank water and talked. Then, they shook hands, went their separate ways, and Ana signed up for a membership.”

“Oh, so nothing bad,” I say.

“Not that I can tell,” he responds. “She told me that she was taking a bath, but I didn’t see her after that.”

Well, she’s not in her en suite. I checked.

“I’ll go check her office,” I say. “She’s probably down there.”

I leave the dining room with no word from anyone and take the elevator down to the ground floor. I move a bit more quickly than normal, just a tad bit anxious to see her and make sure that she’s okay. When I get to her study, there she is in one of those comfortable sweater minidresses that she has hiding—fast asleep on her laptop.

That must’ve been some workout.

I go over to my wife and gently touch her shoulder. She doesn’t stir. I begin to rub her back a little more firmly. She groans and sweetly mumble something inaudible. I think she said something about Parmesan cheese.

What?

I look at her laptop screen and it has gone to sleep, too, so no way to see what she was working on. I rub her back again.

“Butterfly, it’s time for dinner,” I say softly, but loud enough to get through the fog.

“Not hungry,” she mutters without lifting her head or opening her eyes.

“Butterfly, you have to eat,” I say, and there’s no response. It’s no use. If I take her to the table right now, she’s going to end up face down in her applesauce.

Getting her out of her chair without her falling flat on her face is going to be quite the task. I end up crawling under her—somewhat—and lobbing her over my shoulder like a drunk. She doesn’t budge.

Oh yeah, she’s gone.

I have to admit, I love when she’s like this, all soft and helpless. It wakes the protector/Neanderthal/Dominant in me. It doesn’t help that I’m currently carrying her over my shoulder like a caveman.

I gently lay her on her back when I get her to our bedroom. She looks absolutely angelic lying there with her hair sprawled over the pillow, both hands on the bed next to her head in surrender. I resist the urge to ravage her and leave the bedroom, my stomach reminding me that there are pork chops waiting for me downstairs.

*-*

“The villa is coming along very nicely,” Butterfly says the next day. “Sophie has a good eye for matching things up.”

Sophie’s birthday is on Cinco de Mayo, but since it falls on a Tuesday which is of course a school night, we’re heading to a Mexican taco festival on the weekend instead.

“I just pick what I like,” Sophie says. “I get a little confused with that whole baroque-rococo thing you were talking about. I can’t tell them apart.”

“Most of us can’t, dear,” Butterfly replies. “They’re very similar.”

“She asked me about it, and I couldn’t help her at all,” Gail says. “I felt like a bit of a dunce.”

“Don’t,” Butterfly replies. “You really wouldn’t know what it was unless you were into designing or decorating. I wouldn’t know if I wasn’t decorating the villa.”

The ladies chatter for the entire ride to Union Station. It’s isn’t that long, but Sophie is so elated to be able to go to Italy that she nearly can’t stop talking. When we arrive at our destination, I’m surprised that I never knew something like this happened in Seattle. Then again, why would I?

It’s called the Taco Libre Truck Showdown and what looks like 50 food trucks line 5th Avenue. They’re not all Mexican food, mind you…

And, oh my God, the food!

Sophie warns me not to stuff myself at the first food truck because there are, in fact, 35 to choose from. Each truck offers a taco dish for less than $5 and Sophie wants to try as many of them as she can. Luckily, the servings are small and we’ll be walking a lot.

The first taco we try is from a Native American vendor. It’s a chicken chile verde taco from a place called Off the Rez. Dear God, it’s fantastic. Butterfly and I agree to share a taco as do Gail and Sophie so that we don’t get full before we get to the end of the block. Jason just takes a nibble here and there from Sophie’s taco, then decides if he wants to buy one of his own.

The choices are endless—Thai, Indian, fried chicken, Mediterranean, Moroccan, traditional Mexican, Cajun and Creole, barbeque, just to name a few—and that doesn’t include the ice cream and dessert trucks. There’s live music and dancing in the street. Sophie is having a great time and I don’t fail to take an opportunity or three to sweep my lovely wife off her feet and spin to the music as she giggles endlessly.

Sophie heads to a nearby booth to get a drink while the adults enjoy the ambiance of the evening—the people mulling about, the lively live music being played, the delicious food. I wrap my arms around my beautiful wife and nuzzle her neck, causing her to giggle again. I’m just sinking into the comfort of doing nothing and just being normal when an awful sound rips through my ears.

“Daddaaaaaayy!”

We turn around to see that Sophie has disappeared, but her screaming is incessant. We tear through the crowd, following her screams and in moments, we find her in the clutches of some guy dragging her roughly through the crowd kicking and screaming for her father… and nobody’s trying to stop him!

“Come on, stop this!” he scolds, like he’s dragging his own child through the crowd. “It’s time to go!”

Oh, he’s done this before.

“Let me go!” Sophie screams, now sobbing. “Daddaaay!”

“Let her go!” Jason yells, but the guy doesn’t stop. He just keeps dragging her through the crowd. Jason and I are upon the man in seconds. Jason grabs his arm and I grab Sophie. She fights at first since she can’t see me.

“It’s Christian,” I say in her ear. “You’re going to be okay.”

She’s breathing heavily and sobbing, clearly confused.

“Let go of my daughter or lose this fucking arm!” Jason demands. The guy turns around and sees that he’s outnumbered. He releases Sophie’s arm and goes quickly into fight and flight mode, swinging on Jason to get him to release and trying to get away at the same time.

I don’t even think he saw it coming.

Still holding the guy’s wrist with his right hand, Jason hits him square and solid in the jaw with his left. You know how you see those hits in the movies and they look all dramatic? Blood flying and hair slinging… no. This wasn’t that at all. This guy dropped like a sack of potatoes and is lying in a useless mound on the ground in front of us.

The slightest struggle from Sophie signals me to release her and she runs straight to her father’s arms, clutching him tightly around the neck and sobbing as he squats down to her height. He holds her for a few moments as the crowd parts to see what’s going on. He pulls her back to look in her eyes.

“Are you okay, Baby Boo?” Jason asks. Sophie nods with tears in her eyes. Jason looks back at her would-be kidnapper, now lying unconscious on the ground.

“Go to Gail, baby,” he says. Without hesitation, Sophie sprints to Gail.

“Come on, Pumpkin,” Gail says embracing her as Sophie continues to weep. Jason stands over the unconscious assailant.

“Call the police,” he says, his voice too calm as he looks down at the would-be kidnapper. I pull my phone out and immediately dial 911. If this man wakes before the police get here, there’s no telling what Jason is going to do to him.

“911, what’s your emergency?”

I explain to the dispatcher that we’re at the taco truck festival and someone just tried to kidnap my niece. I explain the situation as quickly and thoroughly as I can and give her my best estimate of our location. When I see two security guards headed in our direction, I inform the dispatcher that Jason is my armed personal security and it’s his daughter that was nearly kidnapped. I ask her to tell the police to hurry since more security is on their way. She understands my request.

The two guards get conflicting stories from witnesses in about a two-minute segment of flash questioning, then they move to restrain Jason.

“This man just tried to kidnap my daughter touch me and I’ll shoot you both,” he says calmly and all in one sentence. Both guards look alarmed and take a step back without a word. Oh, dear God.

“The police are already on their way,” I tell the guards. “This man is my armed personal security…” and he’s serious about shooting your ass. They look from me to Jason and back at me.

“Witnesses say he just decked the guy,” one of the guards says.

“Did those same witnesses see this guy dragging that 14-year-old girl over there through the crowd screaming?” I reply matter-of-factly. They turn to see Sophie, who’s standing in Gail’s protective grasp, her hair and clothes ruffled… and she’s still crying. Both guards soften their gaze upon seeing her.

“You said you already called the police?” the other guard says.

“Yes, sir,” I reply. He nods.

“We’ll just wait for the police, then,” he says.

A few moments pass and the would-be kidnapper starts to stir. Jason moves to stand over him right at his head. When the guy gets his bearings a bit, he apparently remembers where he was and what he was doing, and quickly moves to get up.

“Move another muscle and you can say goodbye to your future bloodline,” Jason says calmly. The guy freezes.

“No hablo inglés,” he says in a perfect American accent. Didn’t we just hear him speaking English to Sophie a minute ago?

“Okay, let’s try this. Respira demasiado fuerte y te arrancaré las pelotas con mis manos desnudas!” Jason says his voice menacing. “Did you understand that?”

“Ooo!” Gail winces as the rattled would-be kidnapper turns pale in the face and nods.

“Um-hmm, Spanish and English, didn’t you?” Jason confirms angrily while still standing over the man, and he just swallows and doesn’t move.

“I take it you understood it, too,” I say to Gail. She raises her brow and purses her lips.

“Unless my Spanish is a little rusty, I think my husband just threatened to castrate the man,” she says.

“You think correctly,” Jason says, never taking his eyes off Sophie’s assailant.

“What the hell?” Butterfly asks incredulously. “Did he seriously just try to snatch Sophie in a crowd full of people?”

“We’re in a throng,” I reply, “so he thought he could easily pull her away and she wouldn’t be heard over the crowd.”

“Asshole!” Butterfly yells at the assailant.

And now we have two people ready to castrate this guy… well, at least two.

When the police arrive, Sophie wrenches herself from Gail’s grasp and runs to her father, tightly wrapping her arms around his waist. The two security guards move in to make sure the would-be kidnapper doesn’t move.

“Baby Boo, go to Gail. I have to talk to the police,” Jason says.

“No!” she sobs. “They might try to take you to jail.”

“They won’t take me to jail…”

“But they might!” she squeals, and it’s clear that she’s not letting go. If they take Jason, they’re going to have to take her, too.

The police approach the scene, introduce themselves, and ask what happen. Sophie’s mouth is moving a mile a minute before anyone can say anything.

“He grabbed me!” she yells frantically, pointing to the man on the ground. “He was pulling me and telling me to come on! I tried to get away, but he wouldn’t let me go! He kept telling me it was time to go and I screamed for my Dad! When Dad got here, he started hittin’ my Dad and Dad hit him back…!”

“Okay, sweetie, okay,” the lady cop soothes Sophie, holding her hands palms down. “Calm down. It’s okay now.” Sophie crashes into uncontrollable sobs.

“My… dad… told him… to let me… go… and he wouldn’t… let me… go…” She’s talking in that stuttering breath voice in an attempt to get her story out before they take her father away. The first cop turns to the other cop.

“Cuff him,” she says, pointing to the assailant. “She’s not going to calm down until he’s cuffed.”

“You’ve dealt with this before, haven’t you?” Butterfly asks the lady cop as the second cop cuffs the assailant. Sophie calms a bit immediately, but still won’t let go of Jason.

“Unfortunately, yes,” she says. “SVU. Someone called in the attempted kidnapping of a teenager.” Butterfly sighs. They get the assailant in a sitting position after the cuff him and he doesn’t raise his head.

“What’s your name?” the guy cop asks, and he doesn’t respond. “Do you have any ID on you?”

Still no answer.

“So, this is what’s going to happen,” he says. “You’re not under arrest, yet, but we do have probable cause to search you for ID, especially since you won’t tell me who you are.  Now, if I get cut or impaled while searching you, that’s going to be more charges on you. If I don’t find any ID, I’m going to assume that you’re illegal and after we book you, we’ll turn you over to ICE and let them sort it out.”

“I’m not illegal,” he says, still not raising his head. “I was born here.”

“No hablo inglés, huh, you lyin’ piece of shit?” Jason blurts out, forgetting that his daughter is clamped to his waist.

“Sorry, Baby Boo,” he says, but she’s too distraught to respond.

The cops drag him to his feet and search his pockets. Locating his wallet, they pull out an ID or driver’s license.

“Enrique Ruiz,” the lady cop says aloud. “Does that ring a bell to you at all? Do you know this guy?” she asks Jason.

“I don’t know anything about this piece of shit except for the fact that he just tried to take my daughter. I caught him in the act! I’m legally armed security. He’s lucky I didn’t shoot ‘im!” She shakes her head.

“God, it takes all kinds,” she says. “Take him to the squad car. Take his statement if he’ll give you one and run him for priors. I’m going to talk to these people.”

“You got it,” the guy cop says. Security walks with him as he leads Ruiz to the squad car. The lady cop turns to us and looks at a distraught Sophie.

“Can somebody bring her a bottle of water or something?” she asks.

“I’ll get it,” Gail says.

“Momma Gail!” Sophie screams and Gail freezes in her tracks, a bit startled.

“Okay, okay, Pumpkin, I’m not going anywhere,” she promises.

“I’ll go,” I say, moving towards one of the trucks.

“Uncle Christian!” She’s not going to let any of us leave.

“I’ll be right back,” the lady cop says. I watch her go to one of the trucks and ask for a bottle of water. The server in the truck hands her a water and asks, “Para la niña?”

“Sí,” she responds, and hands him some money.

“No, no,” he says, waving his hand. “De forma gratuita.”

“Gracias,” she says with a nod. I understood most of that, enough to know that he didn’t charge her for the water. She comes back and kneels in front of Sophie.

“Here you go, sweetie,” she says, handing her the water. “Will you drink this for me?” She looks at the cop.

“Are you going to take my dad?” she asks sadly. “He was only trying to make the man let me go.” The cop looks up at Jason and back down at Sophie.

“No, I’m not going to take your father,” she says. “Will you drink the water? I want to talk to you, and you can stay with your dad.” Sophie takes the water and drinks half the bottle down quickly.

“Thank you,” the cop says. “Do you feel a little better?” Sophie shrugs. “My name is Liza. Can you tell me your name?” Sophie looks up at her father and Jason nods.

“Sophia Taylor,” she says, her voice shaky.

“Okay, Sophia. Do you think you can talk to me?” Liza asks and Sophie nods.

“I know this is really scary,” Liza says, “and I’m sorry this happened to you, but I need you to tell me everything that happened, okay?”

Sophie story begins with her going to one of the trucks to get some horchata. After she paid for her drink, she turned around and the guy was standing behind her. She moved to her left and then to her right to try to go around him and he wouldn’t let her pass. Then he grabbed her and started dragging her away. She dropped her drink and yelled for him to let her go. She tried to get away, but he was too strong, so she called for her dad. She knew what was happening, but she couldn’t get away, so she kept screaming for her father. Of course, that’s when Jason and I stepped in.

“You’re a smart girl,” Liza says. “You did the right thing.” Her voice is caring and consoling, and it serves to soothe Sophie a little more. She asks Jason if anything happened differently, even though I’m sure they were supposed to question them separately. Jason just says that he yelled for Ruiz to let Sophie go before he got to him, that he heard Ruiz talking to her like he was her father, and he knows that’s a regular tactic when they’re trying to take children from a crowd. She takes a statement from me and from our wives before looking at her phone.

“Well, Ruiz won’t be going home tonight,” she says. “We’ve got enough to hold him on this.” She gives Jason her card. “Please call me if you have any other questions or if there’s anything you might want to add to your statement.”

“Thank you,” Jason says, taking her card. She bends down to Sophie again.

“And thank you, Sophia,” she says. “You were very helpful and very brave.”

“Your welcome,” Sophie says in a little mousy voice. She smiles and walks away, heading back to the truck where she got the water. Jason stands there for several moments, looking at her card.

“What is it?” I say.

“Nothing,” he says. “I’m just listening to her conversation with the truck.” He deliberately takes his wallet from his back pocket and slides her card into one of the slots. Then he takes out his phone.

“Anything interesting?” I ask since the entire conversation is in Spanish. He shakes his head as he looks at his phone.

“Nope,” he says. “They’re basically telling her the same thing we did.” He hugs Sophie, then reaches behind him to take her hand.

“Come on, Baby Boo, let’s get you home,” he says. Sophie nods and reaches for Gail’s hand with her free hand as we walk back to the car. I drive and Butterfly sits in the front seat with me, allowing Jason and Gail to sit in the back and comfort Sophie. What a fucked-up birthday dinner this turned out to be. There’s silence in the car for nearly the entire drive. We’re over the bridge and almost home when Sophie breaks the silence.

“I guess it’s true what I’ve heard,” she says softly.

“What’s that, Pumpkin?” Gail asks.

“It takes a village…” and she trails off. We all fall silent for a moment.

“Maybe that’s why Mom couldn’t do it,” she says. “She didn’t have a village.” We all look at each other, all wondering what to say. Butterfly has the correct response.

“Well, you do,” she says, taking Sophie’s hand and giving it a squeeze. Sophie nods.

“I do,” she says, without raising her head.

When we get home, we’re all silent and quickly make our way to our separate quarters. I think we’re all in a hurry to literally put this day to rest

I awake in the morning to a double batch of those delicious chocolate truffles and a note.

Thanks for being part of my village.


A/N: If you are unfamiliar with Christian’s Biblical reference, read Matthew 14:1-12.

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

Pictures related to the progress of the Italian Villa can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/italy/italian-villa/

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

 

Grey Continued: Episode 33—Planning to Go Abroad

I’m sorry I’ve been MIA. Lots of changes requiring my attention these days and the Muse took a bit of a beating. Let’s get the story rolling again, shall we?

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

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

Season 5 Episode 33—Planning to Go Abroad

Anastasia

My husband and I can’t keep our hands off each other on Saturday afternoon and it’s quite obvious. We’re not mauling each other to death or having inappropriate PDA’s since we have a yard full of people, but we are very touchy-feely, sitting close to each other and stealing little kisses as often as possible.

Why do we have a house full of people?

It’s a partly-sunny spring day topping off around the mid-60’s, and we’ve decided to have a family barbeque for Christian’s 32nd birthday. It’s late April and we feel that it’s high time to make an announcement to the family.

“So, as some of you know, I purchased a villa in Italy for my wife a couple of years ago and we have yet to visit it. We planned on going last year, but circumstances made that impossible. With everything that has happened and all the drama in our lives, we have decided that we’re going to take a second honeymoon trip to Italy this year.”

“Oh, how romantic!” Grace exclaims. “You’ve always loved Rome. Now, you get to show Ana it’s beauty and history.”

“I’m very excited to go,” I tell her. “Italy is one of the places that I’ve always wanted to see.”

“I’m telling you all this because we plan on leaving in early June and we’ll be gone for no less than six weeks. We plan to end the trip on Lake Como at the villa, and we want to invite our family to join us,” Christian says. The patio is silent now as everyone looks at everyone else.

“Seriously?” Mia is the first to speak. “Lake Como? That’s where your villa is?”

“Yes,” Christian replies, “Sala Comacina, to be exact.”

“Excellent!” Mia exclaims. “When do we leave?” Christian chuckles.

“We plan to be there no later than the 5th of July and we’ll be staying until the 18th,” he replies. Mia looks at Ethan.

“Can we go?” she asks.

“As if I would ever say ‘no’ to you,” Ethan says, kissing Mia’s nose. I can’t help but wonder if he accommodates Mia a bit too much. Hey, what can I say about it? I’m married to a billionaire.

Jason is busy turning the meat on the outside barbeque while Gail and Ms. Solomon complete the side dishes and Sophie helps by preparing the homemade coleslaw and several hors d’oeuvres.

“So, I don’t mean to put you on the spot, Bro,” Christian says, “but the villa is on a really beautiful piece of land on the lake. You and Valerie had a very touching ceremony here, but Lake Como would be the perfect place to renew your vows and take some scenic pictures.” Elliot makes a face like he’s pondering the idea.

“What do you think, Angel?” he asks Val, and her eyes light up.

“A wedding on Lake Como are you kidding?” she asks all in one breath. “Do you really have to ask?” Elliot laughs.

“I guess that’s a yes,” he says. “I don’t know anything about putting together a wedding, though.”

“Oh, please, let me,” Grace beseeches, “I promise I won’t go overboard, and I won’t do anything that you guys don’t want. Please?”

I know Elliot won’t be able to say no, so he volleys that ball over into Val’s court.

“Yes,” Val says with a smile. “I would love that.” Grace claps her hands happily.

“Good! How many people are we expecting? Just the family?” Grace asks.

“I would say yes. Just the usual people we’re accustomed to seeing, unless the happy couple wants something bigger.”

“No, no,” Val chimes in. “The usual is just fine by me.”

“Quaint and elegant,” Grace says. “Excellent! I’ll put together some ideas and touch bases with you later in the week. Is that okay, Valerie?”

“Yes, that’s fine,” Val replies, then looks over at me. “I’m excited already!” she adds with a giggle.

“These are really good. What are they?” Mandy says.

“I’m not sure,” I reply, tasting the crostino that Mandy is eating. “I can taste olives and mushrooms in the spread, but I can’t place everything else.”

“And who thought to put a smoked salmon salad on top of cucumber slices?” Val says. “This is really delicious.”

“Thank you,” Sophie says as she comes out to the patio with more hors d’oeuvres. “That’s actually trout and capers, Aunt Val,” she says as she places another tray of hors d’oeuvres on the table in front of us. “And the bruschetta has two different toppings—one mushroom with garlic and the other olives with herbs. They might have mixed a bit in the blender. I have to be more careful next time.” She looks slightly disappointed.

You made these?” Val says, eating the entire cucumber slice. “Thith ith deliciouth!” Sophie smiles.

“What’s this one, Sophie?” I ask, taking one of the small delights she just set on the table.

“This is an easy one. This is kind of a cheat. This is crab and avocado toast. It’s seasoned with a little cayenne pepper, chopped mint and lime juice on thin, toasted white bread rings.”

“Easy?” Mandy says after finishing her hors d’oeuvre. “I bet you I could mess it up. These are great, Sophie.”

“Thank you,” Sophie says as she heads back to the house.

“How old is she again?” Mandy asks.

“She’s about to be 14,” I reply.

“Does she always help out in the kitchen?” Mandy asks. I know what she’s getting at, and I know why.

“Only when she wants to,” I reply with no malice. “She’s fascinated with cooking, and she’s pretty damn good at it, which reminds me… Everybody?” I look over my shoulder to make sure Sophie’s not coming back out of the house.

“If you’re coming with us this summer, you’re going to want to get started applying for passports for yourself and your children if you don’t already have them,” I say when I have everyone’s attention.

“What on earth made you think about that just then?” Mandy asks. I look over at Jason.

“Because we’re having a hard time getting Sophie’s passport,” he says solemnly. Mandy’s brow furrows in horror.

“Is something wrong?” she asks.

“Yeah, her mother’s a bi… witch,” he corrects himself, noting all of the young ears around that can hear him. “I need her to sign a notarized document for Sophie to get a passport since she can’t physically come with me to apply for the passport and she’s giving me a hard time.” Daddy scoffs.

“Does Sophie know?” he asks.

“Unfortunately, she does,” he says. “I couldn’t keep it from her. I’m supposed to go to the prison this week to get her to sign it, but I know this woman. She’s selfish and manipulative and if she doesn’t sign the paper soon, Sophie won’t be able to go.”

“Well, that sucks,” Daddy says.

“You say both parents,” Luma says. “The girls…”

“You are their only guardian,” Christian says, “so you can sign alone.” Luma sighs heavily and nods.

“What about Harry?” Daddy asks. “He’s a baby. Will he need one?”

“Every United States citizen needs one to travel to another country and get back into the US,” I tell him. “Do you have one, Daddy?” He shakes his head.

“No,” he says. “I’ve never had a reason to leave the country… except when I was active duty.”

“Make that two of us,” Mandy says.

“Well, then you can all go together,” I say. “You’ve got enough time, but you don’t want to wait much longer.”

“Much longer for what?”

I hear the voice that is always welcome in our house, but I’m beginning to dread hearing it.

“Hey, Marlow,” Christian says, rising from his seat and shaking his hand. “We were just talking about passports. The family is going to Italy this summer, so everyone’s passports need to be in order. Do you have one?” He shrugs.

“I have to ask my mom,” he says. “We went to Jamaica once before my father lost his mind, so I might have one, but it’s probably expired.”

“Then, you just have to get it renewed…” Christian continues to talk to Marlow about the trip and needed a passport for him, Marcia, and Maggie, and I’m keeping an eye on the patio door to the kitchen looking for Sophie, noting that Marlow has brought yet another flavor of the month to our home. I don’t want to be rude, but these girls don’t last even to the next holiday. So, I’m not sure why he brings them around.

This one, today… dear God. If Sophie wants to poke at her, she’ll be spoiled for choice. She looks like Buffy the Vampire Slayer with way too much makeup on and not enough clothes. She’s wearing this spaghetti-string corset thing and it’s nowhere near warm enough for something like that. Her skirt is only long enough to cover her unmentionables and she’s wearing sky-high-heeled shoes… to a barbeque!

She’s hanging on Christian’s every word as he’s telling Marlow about the trip and I so desperately want to tell her that my husband isn’t interested in toddlers. I throw a look over at Val and she looks just as bemused back at me. I try very hard not to judge a book by its cover, but this girl has sure thing written all over her and I feel like I should be having the condom conversation again with Marlow right here and right now.

“I, uh, think I’m going to go check on the rest of the meat,” Jason says, rising from his perch next to Christian’s empty seat. “It should be about done, now.”

He heads off to the outdoor kitchen and Val scoots a little closer to Elliot. Grace makes a face like she needs to put something in her mouth before the wrong thing flies out of it and quickly takes a sip of her wine. This is ridiculous. This child is making the adults uncomfortable.

“Ana, this is Rochelle.” Why are you introducing me? It’s not like she’s ever coming back… and she has to know how she looks.

“Hi,” I say, half-heartedly.

“Hi,” she says with a small wave. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Thank you,” I say with a nod. “Have a seat…” before your ass pops out of that dress. She smiles and takes a seat at the table.

Oh, shit, not at the table.

Marlow takes a seat next to her, smiling in her face the whole time. A few minutes later, my fears are confirmed when Sophie walks out of the house. I can feel the animosity radiating off of her as she walks towards the table. She doesn’t speak to anyone or acknowledges anyone’s presence. She just let it rip.

“Aren’t you cold?” Sophie asks. Oh, dear God, here it comes.

“No,” Rochelle replies. “In fact, I’m quite hot.” She throws a look over at Marlow.

“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Sophie says, her voice low as she puts the coleslaw on the table, but not low enough. Rochelle scoffs a condescending laugh and turns back to Marlow, who is only too happy to give her the attention she’s seeking. He’s nearly falling all over the girl as Sophie goes back into the house. Several minutes later, she comes back out with a tray and just can’t help herself.

“It probably takes forever for some girls to get dressed,” she says to no one in particular, putting the tray on the table, “and they probably don’t even look like their real selves when they’re done.”

Rochelle sits up in her seat and glares at Sophie, and I’m certain the battle is about to begin…

But Marlow’s going to end it.

“Is she the help?” Rochelle asks in the snottiest, most irritating voice I’ve ever heard. Oh, shit… that was… ouch.

“No,” Marlow says, his voice disgusted. “She’s my bratty little sister and she doesn’t know how to behave around company.”

I can almost feel the knife slowly searing into Sophie’s skin and piercing her little heart.

“Si…” she says, almost inaudibly.

“I thought you said your sister’s name was Marty,” Rochelle says.

“Maggie,” Marlow corrects, “but Sophia is kinda like a sister, too. She’s just a whole lot brattier than Maggie. Just ignore her. Don’t listen to anything she says and don’t feed into any of her little snide comments. Maybe she’ll go away!”

Marlow stands, takes Rochelle’s hand, and moves to the other side of the patio. To say that Sophie is crestfallen is an understatement. She looks like she’s been hit by an 18-wheeler.

“I… have to use the bathroom,” she says, and darts back into the house before I can stop her. As she’s clearing the door, Val comes over to me.

“So, this is how teenagers are dressing now?” she says, quickly glancing over at Rochelle before looking back to me.

“I certainly hope not,” I reply, sipping my Cabernet. “If it is, we’re screwed.”

“Why would he bring someone around the family dressed like that?” she presses.

“I don’t know,” I tell her. “It’s a different girl every time. I don’t even bother remembering their names because I know I’ll never see them again. I told Christian to talk to him about it, but I think Christian just has that boys will be boys thing going on, and if I say anything to him, it’s just like I’m busting his chops, so…” Val shakes her head.

“It’s no mistake she’s a good time,” she says, looking over at them again. “This is what he wants to bring around the people he considers family?” I shrug.

“He’s young,” I reply.

“He’s almost 18,” Val removes the excuse. “He should know better.”

“I guess he should, but are you going to tell him?” I ask, sipping my wine again. She twists her lips and sips her own.

“She pulls at that skirt every time she moves,” Val says. “If she doesn’t, she’s going to have a wardrobe malfunction.”

Val goes back over to Elliot and doesn’t leave his side for the rest of the party. Christian makes his way back to me and eventually, everyone is having a good time at the barbeque again.

Everyone, that is, except Sophie.

She’s got that green look that she had at Mia’s wedding when the first “Marlow Girl” made a comment about taking her clothes off is he didn’t like them. She truly looks like she’s going to hurl, and she subjects herself to this torture all afternoon while everyone else is conversing, eating, and enjoying the barbeque. I glance over at her often throughout the day and she’s often looking over at Marlow and his trashy dime-store date. They, however, don’t look in her direction once.

She’s crushed. It’s written all over her face.

As the party winds down and the sun is beginning to set, I begin to help Gail clear the dishes and the leftover food. I’ve lost track of Sophie, Marlow, and his dime-store date as I help to move the food back into the kitchen. None of them are on the patio when I make the next trip out to help clean up.

Just as I’m about to head back to the kitchen again, I see Sophie hastily walking across the back yard towards the jungle patio. I just watch her for a moment, and even with the darkening sky, I can see that she’s pale as a ghost.  As she gets closer to the jungle patio, I can see her face… and the tears.

She quickens her pace and stays in the shadows where she thinks no one can see her. At the last moment, she veers left and dashes into her apartment, closing the door behind her.

What the hell happened?

I dare not ask. If she’s crying, it had to be pretty bad. I don’t see Marlow running behind her or storming up to me to angrily tell me that he and his date are leaving. So, I have no idea what’s happened.

“Hey.”

Christian’s voice brings me out of my thoughts.

“You okay?” he asks. I wave him off.

“I was just daydreaming,” I say as I continue to clear the table.

“I’ve got that, Ana,” Gail says, taking the remaining and trays and trash from me.

“You’re sure?” I ask.

“I’m sure. Go on,” she says. I turn to Christian and we walk into the house.

“Has Marlow left?” I ask, trying to get a feel of what’s going on. Christian shrugs.

“He didn’t say anything to me,” he says. “He’s probably wandering around somewhere.” I purse my lips and nod.

“What is it, Butterfly?” he says, and I look up at him.

“Seriously, Christian?” I say finally. “This one? Seriously?” He furrows his brow.

“What one? What are you talking about?” I fold my arms and glare at him.

“Christian, he fucking brought a Wild Thing to my house! I’m surprised she didn’t hump him right there on the sofa and start giving all the guys lap dances!”

“You’re exaggerating,” he says. My head jerks back and I give him such a look…

“Okay, okay,” he says, putting his hands up in surrender. “I’ll talk to him.”

“You always say that!” I accuse, my hands flailing. “He keeps bringing these girls here—a new on every time—and this one? Oh, she’s a real keeper!” I say sarcastically.

“You’re taking this a bit personally,” he says. I shift my weight on my heels. He’s right, I am taking it personally. I want to know what’s wrong with Sophie, but this part is different.

“This girl came to my house with no consideration of the fact that she was going to be sitting in the company of other men—married men. None of the men at this gathering were single except the one that brought her, my baby brother, and my son. My father was here, your father was here, and I found myself looking across the patio most of the afternoon making sure that she didn’t have a slip of the snatch! What’s worse is that he brought her here looking like that. She completely looked like she was about to get on the pole…”

My husband begins making this shushing tsking sound to get my attention. I look in the direction that he’s looking, and I see Marlow and Barbarella approach the patio and head towards the door. Where the hell have they been?

They walk up to me and Christian quite casually and that’s when I notice that Babs’ way-to-heavy lipstick has been haphazardly freshened up and Marlow is loose as a noodle. I look knowingly—and displeased—over at Christian and back to the lovely couple.

“We’re going to head on out,” Marlow says with a contented smile. “I need to get Rochelle home.”

“Okay, well, thanks for coming,” Christian says, shaking Marlow’s hand. Marlow smiles and nods. I must be glaring at him because he would normally try to hug me, but this time he doesn’t.

“It was nice meeting you,” Babs says.

“Mmm,” I say pasting the phoniest smile on my face that I can muster. It’s not even a full smile. I don’t want this girl to feel like she’s welcome in my house ever again, dressed like she should be standing on the corner. She and Marlow both look at Christian, then make a hasty getaway. Once they’re out of my house, I turn to Christian.

You know what the hell they were doing, I say with my eyes.

“Okay—I will talk to him,” he promises again.

“Mm-hmm,” I say, turning on my heels and marching away from him.


CHRISTIAN

“What the hell was that you brought to my house this weekend?” I confront Marlow a couple of days later.

“Who, Rochelle?” he asks bemused.

“Yeah, Superhead!” I accuse. His eyes widen.

“How did you…”

“Are you serious?” I accuse. “Besides the fact that she had dick on her breath and no common sense to have a damn mint in her purse? Her lipstick was all fucked up and you didn’t have a smear of it on you, so I know where she must’ve left it.” He chuckles.

“She was gagging for it, man,” he brags.

“She almost got gagged,” I retort, “by several angry females! What the fuck is wrong with you bringing someone dressed and behaving like Janet Jack-Me around a house full of married men and women?”

“I… I’m sorry. I didn’t think it was that bad,” he excuses. I look at him like he’s lost his mind, because at this moment, he has!

“Okay, okay. She looked a little sexy…”

“A little sexy?” I accuse. He sighs heavily.

“Look,” I begin, “I usually don’t have a problem with you bringing girls around. Ana has asked me more than once to talk to you about it because it’s a different one every time. But this time, man… I should’ve put you out the minute you showed up with her, but I was giving you—and her—the benefit of the doubt. Not only did she have her goods on display for you and everybody at the party, but she gave you a blowjob in the woods. Are you that comfortable at my home that you feel like you can disrespect it that way?” His eyes widen.

“No!” he exclaims. “No, it was nothing like that…”

“It was just like that and don’t try to clean it up,” I tell him. “I’m not going to tell you who to fuck, but I’m definitely going to tell you to be more mindful of who you’re bringing to my house. I don’t know if you’re on a marathon to get all the ass you can or what. I don’t know what the purpose of the parade of twats is through my house, but if you ever pull something like that again, I’m going to throw you and your latest plaything off my property and then you won’t be able to bring any dates to my home. Knowing Ana the way you do, I have no idea what made you think that would be okay, but I will cut you off completely before I have to deal with an angry Anastasia Grey. Have I made myself clear?” He swallows hard.

“Ye… yes, sir,” he chokes. I shake my head.

“Get to school. I got things to do.” I end the conversation abruptly and look down at my desk. I have other things to be concerned about today. Jason and I are heading to the prison to see if this wretched piece of flesh is going to sign the paperwork for Sophie’s passport. Apparently, when you go to jail, they take your ID from you. So, they need a credible witness to identify you as you in order to have the necessary documents notarized. I don’t know that Marlow has left my office until I hear Jason’s voice.

“What did Marlow do wrong?” he asks. I raise my gaze.

“Why do you ask?” I say.

“His face looks like one of your department heads after you or Her Highness has chewed them out at one of those meetings,” he replies.

“That’s just about right,” I say, standing and locking my laptop. “Did you see that specimen he brought to my house this weekend?”

“Kind of hard to miss,” he replies. “Is this the stuff these kids are made of now? Is this what I have to look forward to with Sophie?”

“I would say not,” I reply, making sure that my wallet, keys, and phone are all in my pocket. “Sophie has a good head on her shoulders. You won’t be seeing that from her.” Jason shakes his head.

“I know you’re right, but damn, man. What was she—16, 17? She looked like she was ready to work Aurora Avenue!” I put my finger to my lips to silence him as we leave the office.

“I’ve got my cell, Andrea,” I tell her. “Emergencies only.”

“Yes, sir. Have a good day Mr. Grey, Mr. Taylor.” Jason nods.

“You, too. Bye, Luma,” I call out to my aunt.

“Bye, Christian. Have a good day.”

We board the elevator, and the conversation about Marlow’s sex doll resumes.

“I had to tell him that shit was unacceptable,” I say. “He’s being a bit careless as it is, and I had to remind him of all the things that could happen when you have that many sex partners. Hell, he’s ahead of me right now in volume, and we both know that I’m far from chaste!” Jason nearly chokes on his laughter.

“Yeah, it’s funny until he catches something,” I say, “or worse yet, he brings someone into the house that should have been vetted.”

Jason’s laughter fades.

“Butterfly’s been giving me hell about it for the last few days. I was trying to find the words to say to him. Hell if I know what to say to a teenager about sex—look at my track record.” Jason twists his lips. The elevator opens and we’re silent until we get to the Audi and get on our way.

“That’s why we had to come to the office first,” he says, once we’ve cleared the parking structure.

“That’s why we had to come to the office first,” I confirm. “She asked me more than once to talk to him about the number of girls he brings to the house. I’ll admit, I blew it off. He’s a young, attractive guy. As long as he’s using protection and not leading any of these girls on, why can’t he taste the flavors of the rainbow? But this one? This weekend? We all knew that flavor whether we wanted to or not! Butterfly was not pleased.”

“You don’t have to tell me. You almost didn’t get your meat! Gail took one look at that child with all her goods on display and banned me from the patio.” I chuckle.

“I wondered where you had gotten off to… and why Gail brought out the spareribs,” I say.

“Well, now you know,” he says. “I gladly had my wife bring me food and beer, and me, Ray, and Carrick watched the Mariners game.” I raise my brow.

“I didn’t know Ray and Dad disappeared, too.” Jason scoffs.

“I’m surprised you noticed anybody disappeared,” he says. “Did you even see what that girl was wearing before Ana told you?”

I try to remember if I noticed her apparel before Butterfly gave her the cold shoulder in the family room.

“I don’t know,” I shrug.

“You had your wife in your lap for most of the day,” he says, “and you were sporting the biggest sex grin I’ve ever seen. That’s why Ray came to watch the game. That’s still his little girl, you know.” I frown.

“Oh, please,” I say, a bit affronted. “We’re married, she has two of my children, and we’ve had the BDSM conversation with this man. That couldn’t be why he left. That’s what he told you.

“Yeah, maybe,” Jason laughs, “but you still didn’t see the girl until your wife brought her to your attention.”

“Okay, you’re right,” I cede, “but now you know why he was looking blue when he left this room. She literally served herself up at a family barbeque. A family barbeque! Notwithstanding all the husbands and fathers that were present, there were children in attendance! Even if this girl was completely oblivious to where she was coming, Marlow knew!”

“Well, I can pretty much guarantee that he won’t make that mistake again,” Jason says.

“He better not,” I reply. “Butterfly’s already not pleased with the number of girls that he brings to the house. If the quality deteriorates, she might ban him completely!” I roll my eyes and decide to change the subject.

“Wasn’t this the weekend you were supposed to take Sophie to see Shalane?” I ask. He nods.

“Supposed to,” he says, “but she gets two weekends a month. I can choose which two. I know Sophie’s not speaking to her until she signs those papers, so I decided that we wouldn’t go until after her appointment to sign. This way, when I take her up there this weekend, if Shalane decides to pull one of her tricks today, she can tell Sophie why she didn’t sign the papers.”

“I wouldn’t put it past her,” I say, “tell you that she’s going to sign the papers just to get Sophie to speak to her, then renege when the time comes.” Jason nods.

“That’s why I didn’t take her up there this weekend,” he says. “After everything she’s put that child through, it’s beyond me why she’s not bending over backwards for that kid now. She’s in jail. Even though it’s minimum security and she’s not doing hard time, she’s alone. She has no friends unless she has made some on the inside, nothing to look forward to when she gets out of there—no significant other; wherever her family is, they’re not coming around, no nothing. All she has to look forward to is Sophie’s visits every two weeks and when Sophie comes, she’s totally silent.

“This is torture for Sophie even if she doesn’t say so. The last time we visited, Sophie turned her back on her—for the whole visit! We’ve both just had enough. That’s why she said she’ll believe it when she sees it.’ She’s resolved. She expects her mother to disappoint her before she does anything kind.”

“So, what if we go through all of this and she still says that Sophie can’t go?” I ask.

“I’ll get notarized permission to take her to Italy just like I’ll get the notarized permission for the passport, but honestly, it’s just like when I took her to Vegas. Once I get the passport, as long as I let the court know where I’m taking her, it won’t be a problem,” he says.

“Well, here’s hoping,” I say. “That woman has been such a wretched mother to that child, this is the very least that she can do.”

“You would think,” he concurs, “but remember who we’re talking about her. The best thing that ever happened to my daughter was that drug bust or she could’ve ended up in a child sex ring. Can you even fucking imagine?”

A quick and deliberate flash of heat and rage runs through me, and I have to fight not to react. Imagine saying that the best thing that could happen to your 12-year-old daughter was a drug bust!

“No,” I say, summoning as much calm as I can, “no, I can’t.”

*-*

After being stripped of everything except our ID’s for the purposes of the meeting, we head to the security door to be taken in to see Jason’s ex-wife. I had forgotten what the inside of these facilities looked like. I could’ve gone my whole life without that little piece of knowledge. Geez, you deck one drunk driver…

Jason and I enter the meeting room and take a seat at the table. Neither of us says anything as Jason is convinced that every single room in a prison has recording devices—except the cells. A few minutes later, the prison notary comes into the room with a prison guard. He introduces himself and explains what the process will be to get the documents notarized, after which he takes my license and Jason’s license and records some information into a logbook that he brought with him. Not long after, another guard leads Shalane into the meeting room. She grimaces a bit when she sees me.

“Christian,” she says through her teeth.

“Shalane,” I respond with no malice. Her fight isn’t with me.

“Why is he here?” she seethes.

“Not happy to see me?” I reply. “Strange. You would have jumped my bones in front of my family and my pregnant wife on Thanksgiving Day two years ago.”

“Temporary insanity,” she hisses has she takes her seat. I turn to the prison notary.

“Is that enough for you?” I ask.

“That’s enough for me,” he says. “Do you swear or affirm that this person, Shalane Deleroy, is who she claims to be, so help you God?”

“I do,” I reply.

“Why did you need him to tell you that?” she says

“Because the documents have to be notarized and you’re a criminal with no ID,” Jason replies. She turns a hateful eye to him.

“Any of this lovely prison staff could’ve attested to my identity,” she sneers. “Well, now we’ve got it, so let’s get this over,” she adds. “I’m being blackmailed into doing this, so let’s get it done.”

“Blackmailed?” the notary says. Oh, shit… “What does she mean ‘blackmailed?’”

“I don’t know,” Jason says, his anger brewing. “What do you mean?”

“He’s turned my daughter against me,” she announces. “He won’t let her speak to me until I sign these papers.” Jason rolls his eyes.

“Is that true, Mr. Taylor?” the notary asks. This bitch…

“That most certainly is not!” he replies. “Sophia knows that she can’t go to Italy this summer without these papers. She also knows that her mother is refusing to sign them. For that reason, probably among many others, she will not speak to her mother.”

“That’s a lie,” Shalane retorts. “You told her not to speak to me until I sign the papers.” Jason drops his head in frustration.

“I can’t believe we’re going through this again,” he mumbles. The notary and I hear it and the notary looks at me. I shake my head in frustration as well.

“You have no idea what this man has been through with this woman,” I say. “He gained custody of his daughter when he had to pick her up from the police station to prevent her being taken by child services because this woman took her daughter on a drug drop where she was trying to trade her daughter for meth.”

“That is not true!” Shalane outbursts. “I was not trying to sell my daughter to that guy and there’s no proof of that!”

“That’s not what Sophie remembers,” I reply calmly.

“She was scared,” Shalane excuses. “She didn’t understand what was going on.”

“As well she should have been,” I retort. “She shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”

“You know what?” Jason says, straightening his back. “I’m done with you. I’m done with this whole thing, and I’m done with you. You don’t need to convince me, Christian, the court or anybody else that you didn’t try to sell your daughter to a meth dealer. You know who you do need to convince? Your daughter! To this day, she maintains that you tried to give her to that guy, and she was only 12 years old!”

The notary gasps.

“There wasn’t enough proof to charge you with it but she has convicted you,” Jason continues. “Her opinion of you is the only one that counts. When are you going to understand that? You used her against me for years, and now she sees it. She sees it all, Shalane! Nobody’s turning Sophia against you but you and your selfish and insidious behavior!

“If you’ve never listened to me before, listen to me now. There’s nothing that I can’t give her, and I’m going to give her everything that she deserves, everything that you kept me from doing for her for the last several years. She’s a good kid, and she’s smart, and she’s talented, and she doesn’t give me or Gail a moment’s trouble. Everybody who ever meets her loves her. She’s wise beyond her years—way too much wisdom for her age, thanks to you. And by the way, I now know that horrible scar on her hand did not come from falling off a bike.”

Shalane gasps audibly and her eyes widen as the prison guards and notary watch the story unfold in silent disdain.

“She’ll be 14 in a few days,” he adds. “In two years, she’ll be 16 and able to say that she never wants to see you again. In four years, she’ll be 18 and able to jet set to anywhere any time her heart so desires and my wallet will allow. If we have to wait until then, we will, but you remember this. You’re preventing her from having the experience of a lifetime because you’re pissed at me, and you’re pissed that you’re in a situation of your own making and you’re taking it out on your daughter.

“You want to call me names and cast me into hell, fine. I can take it. But rest assured that your daughter will never forget this, among the many other things that your daughter will never forget, for the rest of her life. If you want to sign the papers, then sign the damn papers. If you don’t want to sign them, then don’t. She won’t be surprised if you don’t sign them. She’s expecting you to be the same selfish, manipulating, lying… female you’ve been all these years! If you want to surprise her, sign the papers. If not, we’re leaving, and this conversation is over.”

He steps back and allows the notary to step in front of him. Jason has taken “the stance” and I know that his end of this conversation is indeed over. Shalane looks at him, her expression unreadable, and I think she sees the same thing that I see when I look back at Jason. He’s not looking at her anymore. He’s looking through her. He doesn’t even see her. She could most likely rattle off a line of curses and condemnations right now and he would most likely not even remember the conversation. Shalane sighs, takes the pen from the notary, and signs the documents.

Fuck, yes! I almost want to dance a fucking jig in the middle of the room.

“Take me back to my cell,” she says quietly. She stands and the guard leads her out of the room. I turn around to Jason when the door closes and he visibly releases the breath that he was holding, closing his eyes in obvious relief.

“I didn’t think she would do it,” he says. “You know how she operates…”

“I know only too well,” I reply.

“I was prepared to go home and tell Baby Boo it was a false alarm, that she wasn’t going to be able to go to Italy until she was 18. She’s been so sad over the last couple of days and I don’t know why. I didn’t want to have to tell her that.” He opens his eyes, moist with tears, and looks at me.

“She can go,” he says, wistfully. “She can go to Italy… what did I say to that woman?” he says, his brow furrows.

“You don’t remember?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“Not all of it,” he admits. I nod.

“You told her to be a decent human being for once in her life—to stop thinking about herself, or even about you, and to only think about Sophie,” I tell him.

“I said that?” he asks, his voice cracking.

“Not in those exact words, but yeah,” I say, looking over at the notary who has finished signing and stamping the documents before placing them in an envelope and handing them to Jason.

“Yeah,” he says with a nod. Jason takes the envelope and purses his lips.

“Thank you, sir,” he says to the notary.

“You’re welcome,” he says, giving Jason’s shoulder a squeeze. “Have a good trip.” Jason nods without raising his head.

“Now, you probably want to pull yourself together because you wouldn’t want to walk through this place with tears in your eyes,” I tell him. He nods quickly, then retrieves his handkerchief and dries his eyes thoroughly. He squares his shoulders and pops his neck.

“I’m ready, sir,” he says. And he is.

The guard escorts the three of us from the room.


ANASTASIA

I spent the day going through the finances for Helping Hands. We had been spending quite a bit on the new staff and programs, and I needed to know exactly where we were in terms of cashflow and expenditures. As it turned out, we’ve been spending more than I thought we were—not much more, but more. However, our sources of cashflow have increased tremendously since we started.

The full story about the trial in Las Vegas has now been told, and it has strategically been leaked that I became part of the mental health field as a result of my own experiences as a child. It was also leaked that I and Grace provide our services for free as we donate our salaries back to the Center. That was better than another PSA in terms of boosting independent contributions. We even secured a couple of corporate contributions as well as a small percentage of wage-match contributions. I’m considering some kind of fundraiser or bizarre for next year as this summer is pretty much booked for the Grey family, but we really don’t need one with all of the sources we have right now.

We had been using money faster than we were bringing it in, so we didn’t have an opportunity to notice that we had a steady influx of cash from Miana’s. It was small at first, for several months, and that’s why we didn’t see it. However, just after Liamgate, the amounts from the salon chain became quite substantial. I don’t know what made the difference, because I slightly remember Christian saying just after he had seized the salons from Elena that his share of the profits would go to Helping Hands in hopes of helping other victims of abuse. I’ll make it a point to ask Mia what changed.

Along with our usual fund-raising activities and the continuous contributions and pledges that stemmed from my public appearances, we’re waiting to hear about our grant approvals, and we’ve got a tidy little sum from Tina’s jewelry auction. Seeing the entry from the auction prompted me to call Carl and see how he was coming along. He’s partially retired now as he’s only disposing of and assisting with the estates of his remaining clients before he completely closes up shop. He told me that Tina’s children have tried to get in touch with him on more than one occasion, but after he divided Tina’s assets among them, he threatened them with restraining orders if they didn’t stop contacting him—all except Harmony, of course.

I’ve been meaning to ask Harmony what ever happened with her siblings breaking and entering on the property and if any formal charges have been brought against them. I don’t know that I’ll ask until and if she brings it up to me. It might be a sore spot and we don’t want that.

When I get home, I have pictures and videos of Aaron’s progress so far with the villa. Not having to paint or renovate means that the decorating is moving along even more quickly than either of us thought it would, which is good as we are about six weeks away from leaving. It’s also costing a pretty tidy sum as all of the items must either be purchased locally in Rome, Milan, or the surrounding areas, or purchased online and shipped in. I’ve decided not to tell Christian about the amount I’m spending unless he asks. We’re rich anyway, and it serves him right. What would you expect for a 14-bedroom house? I’m extremely grateful, of course, but 14 bedrooms? Whoever heard of such a thing?

I call Sophie to my office so that we can see some of the results of our hard work. She seems a bit under-enthusiastic when she gets there.

“Hey, you okay?” I ask, concerned about her melancholy. She shrugs.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” she replies, blandly. It then occurs to me that Jason and Christian were supposed to go to the prison today to get the papers for her passport signed. Maybe it was a bust, but I won’t ask.

“Would you… rather not look at the pictures?” I ask cautiously. “I’ll understand.” She comes to attention a bit.

“Oh! Oh, no, I’d really like to see the pictures,” she says. “It’s not you or… this or anything, Aunt Ana. I just… I’m not in a really good mood, that’s all. Maybe seeing the villa will help.”

I can’t help but wonder if something happened in school. Then, I remember this weekend and Marlow’s eager and underdressed date. She can’t still be sulking about that… well, actually, she can. Nonetheless, I greet her with a smile and get back to the matter at hand.

“Well, then, roll your chair on over here and let’s see what our decorator extraordinaire has for us.”

Sophie and I take several minutes to review the pictures that Aaron sent us. It appears that he felt no reason to wait on the bedrooms since they were the easiest to do. The children’s room was the simplest since we had sent him the exact beds that we wanted, but the rest of the bedrooms are a delicious and eclectic mix of old-world with a touch of modern mixed with the baroque and rococo styles.

One room has a large, overbearing deep chestnut platform bed—a mix of modern and vintage—paneled with dark marble inlays that look almost like leopard print and what appears to be bronze cherubs mounted on the footboard facing out to the room. It takes up nearly the entire room. I never would have thought to put a bed this big in a room this small, but its commanding presence makes a statement that it should be alone in this space.

The next picture that we see is a total contrast from the first! Dark wood ceiling in uneven cuts and tones… but walls covered in a floral cloth. It’s not a “oh-dear-Lord-gag-me-I-can’t-stand-this” type of floral pattern. It’s white with single flowers in even symmetrical lines. Again, not something that I would have chosen, but the wall covering is in such contrast to the dark wood ceiling that it actually works to capture the natural light and set the ceiling off as an accent. Now, I know that he didn’t alter any walls, so I’m assuming this is how it looked when he got there but tell me how he found a perfect match to that pattern in bedding and chair covers. I can’t say I’m really feeling this one, but maybe it’ll grow on me.

The rest of the bedrooms are all simple or elegant or both, and overall, Sophie and I are pleased with our work and Aaron’s interpretation. He has told us that he will now work on the sitting and common areas and apprise us of his progress in a week. Sophie seems in a better mood after we’ve looked at the pictures and we head upstairs to dinner.

Dinner conversation seems perfectly dull and I can’t help but wonder—again—if things didn’t go as planned with Shalane. I would have thought that if it were good news, Jason would be chomping at the bit to tell Sophie when he got back, but now we’re down to dessert and still nothing. Not able to stand the elephant in the room, I turn the attention to Sophie without mentioning Italy.

“Sophie tells me that her birthday is on the 5th,” I say. “I hope I’m not spoiling anything by asking if there’s something planned. It’ll should be a beautiful day and a great chance for a party.” Sophie frowns at the thought.

“Well, we hadn’t planned anything special,” Gail says. “We thought we’d leave it up to Sophie.”

“So, Baby Boo, did you want a party?” Jason asks. “You know it doesn’t take long to get the festivities planned,” he adds happily. Sophie shakes her head.

No, Dad, I don’t want a party,” Sophie protests. “No offense, Aunt Ana, but I really don’t want a party.” Jason frowns and I’m a bit taken aback. Since when does a teenage girl not want a party for her birthday.

“Why don’t you want a party, Pumpkin?” Gail asks, deflated.

“I just… I don’t remember ever having one and I really don’t want one now. Can we just go to Mexicantown like we did last year? Please?”

“Are you sure Baby Boo?” Jason asks. She nods.

“Yes, I’m sure. We had fun and that’s good enough for me. Momma Gail, you can come, too… and Aunt Ana and Uncle Christian, but that’s all. That would be great.”

She sounds sincere and I can’t figure out for the life of me why she wouldn’t want a party with all the trimmings. We could throw her a great party, one that she wouldn’t soon forget. She could invite her friends and…

That’s when it dawns on me.

A party means the gathering of people—family and friends, and that usually means Marlow and one of his girls, and I would venture to say that Sophie doesn’t want her party to be attended by Marlow and one of his girls, but how do you say that?

By declining a party altogether, she can avoid that eventuality… and suddenly, I’m angry with Marlow again. Did Christian ever talk to him about that little twat he brought to my house on Saturday?

“I think that sounds like a lot of fun,” I concur with Sophie, “but I reserve the right to buy you a present. You’ve worked so hard on the decorating with me. If I had to do it all by myself, it would have been a nightmare.”  Sophie smiles widely.

“It’s fun,” Sophie says. “It makes me feel like a grown-up.”

“Well, look out, Jason, because I’m telling you now that your daughter has exquisite taste. I’ll have you know that she chose the beds for the twins’ room.”

“You don’t say,” Christian says. I nod

“I do say, and they’re perfect,” I add.

“Speaking of presents, Baby Boo, can I give you one of your birthday presents early?” Jason asks. Sophie stops chewing for a moment, then puts her fork down.

“Sure, Dad,” she says after swallowing her food. “Who doesn’t like early presents?” she adds with a smile.

Jason reaches into his pocket and pulls out an envelope, then hands it to Sophie. She wipes her hands and dabs her lips with her napkin and takes the envelope. She withdraws the contents and unfolds the documents inside. Her eyes widen as she reads through them.

“No way!” she exclaims turning to her father. He nods.

“Yep,” he replies.

“Get outta town she signed ‘em!?” Sophie squeals all in one breath. I turn to Christian in amazement and he nods.

“She signed them,” Jason confirms. “We’re going to Italy, Baby Boo.”

Oh, thank God! This is fabulous news! Absolutely fabulous!

Sophie screams joyously, leaps from her seat and runs to her father’s arms. He catches her midleap and laughs a contagious laugh along with her.

“Aunt Ana, I’m gonna see the villa! And I’m going to cook in Italy!” She says the last part while shaking her hair wildly.

“That, you are, Ms. Sophia!” I confirm, gleefully.

Gail and Jason make plans to take Sophie to the post office tomorrow to get things moving on her passport. Christian and I had gotten the twins squared away back when we first decided that we would be taking the trip this summer. I’m hoping that all the other parents will have the passports ready for the other minors when the time comes. Once dinner is over, I pull Sophie aside to have a private chat with her before she turns in.

“So, you’re going to Italy. What do you think about that?” I ask.

“I think it’s great!” she says gleefully. “I really didn’t think I was going to be able to go. I’m so excited!”

“I just wanted to talk to you for a minute, because I don’t want a potentially wonderful trip to be completely spoiled for you,” I say. Her face falls.

“How?” she asks. I sigh heavily.

“Marlow,” I say, without hesitation. She rolls her eyes and sighs heavily.

“Oh, that,” she says, deflated.

“Yes, that,” I reply. “You know he’s going to be there, and I haven’t seen an encounter between the two of you in months that I would even consider civil. We’re going to be staying in the same villa—all of us—for two weeks. It’s a big villa, but you’re going to run into each other at some point. I want us all to have a good time, you and Marlow included, but if we need to set some ground rules for that to happen, maybe we can work something out.”

“Aunt Ana, I’m so happy that I get to go to Italy that I can’t even think about anything else. I’m going to go on the internet and see what things I can see while we’re there and then I’ll ask Dad or Momma Gail to take me. I’m going to study some authentic Italian dishes and then see if I can learn to cook them while I’m there. I’m going to be doing other things—lots of other things—and I won’t even be thinking about Marlow.”

Translation—she’s going to chock her time full of Italy stuff so that she won’t have to be concerned with Marlow. It sounds a lot like evading to me, but she’s young and she’s doing what she can not to concentrate on her little crush on him. Who am I kidding? Adults do that often. She’s way ahead of her time.

“Let’s talk about last Saturday,” I say, causing her to sigh again and roll her eyes in that petulant teenage girl way.

“Do we have to?” she whines.

“Yes, we have to,” I say. “It’s part of the problem. I usually feel like you should behave yourself better when company comes to the house… but this one!” My eyes widen and I shake my head. “She really was a character, wasn’t she?”

Sophie loosens up a bit, but only a bit.

“Yeah… she was,” she agrees. “Her skirt was so short…”

“And all that makeup!” I say, remember her comment about how long it takes for certain girls to get dressed and how the finished product almost always doesn’t look like the original person. Sophie sighs again.

“I thought that much makeup wasn’t good for your skin,” she says. “How does it even come off?” I chuckle.

“One day, you’ll find out,” I say. “You’ll be wearing makeup, too.”

“Not like that,” she says, pointedly. “You wear makeup. So does Momma Gail. And Auntie Val, Miss Grace, Miss Mandy… you guys don’t look like that!”

“Well, sweetheart, sometimes some people feel like more is better…” Case and point, my husband and the 14-bedroom villa!

“Sophie, you’re such a mature young lady. You baffle us all the time with your knowledge and your ability and sometimes, your ambition. Even though you were hurt about your mother and what she was doing—or not doing—you handled it in a such a mature way even though you were hurting and we all knew it. We were… are all very impressed, and we’re probably just as happy as you are that you’re going to Italy. But sweety, even things that are right there in our faces sometimes have to be ignored.”

Sophie’s wide blue eyes fix on mine.

“She was… extremely inappropriate. Val and I even had a few words between us when they went to the other side of the patio, but those words were between us. No one else heard what we were talking about. That’s not to say that it’s okay to talk about people behind their backs, but it’s even worse to outright insult them in front of everyone, even when they have it coming.”

“I know,” she says, almost a mumble.

“I know you do,” I reply, my voice understanding, “so can you tell me why you do that?”

“I don’t know,” she fibs. She knows, she just doesn’t want to tell me. “Whenever I see them, it just flies out! I just wonder why they show up for Christmas or something at somebody’s house they don’t even know.” She’s searching.

“Because they were invited,” I say. “Would you want someone to make you feel unwelcome where you were invited?”

“No,” she says, and she sounds a bit scolded.

“I’m only saying that even though someone may show up dressed like a thot, or is twirling her hair, or may be a little on the heavier side, that doesn’t give any of us the right to publicly point out their faults. It’s borders on bullying and honestly, Sophie, it’s unattractive. You’re so smart and mature most of the time. It’s not a good look at all for you to tear into his girlfriends every time they show up,” I tell her. She drops her head and sighs heavily.

“Don’t worry, Aunt Ana,” she says, her voice sad. “It won’t happen again.”

“I don’t want you to tell me that because you think it’s what I want to hear. I really want you to think about how it makes you appear…”

“No, Aunt Ana,” she says, looking up at me with glassy eyes and shaking her head. “It won’t happen again.” Well, this is the last thing I wanted to do.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”

“You didn’t,” she says, trying to hide her sniffles. “He did. He called me a brat… and he’s right. And you are, too. If I can’t say anything nice, I shouldn’t say anything at all, so I won’t… and it won’t happen again.”

A tear falls from her eye and she wipes it from her cheek. God, that first crush hurts so much, and I know she’ll get over it, but she doesn’t know it yet. I pull her into my arms and hug her close.

“Well, I certainly didn’t want this,” I say, hugging her tightly. She allows herself to cry for just a moment, but quickly composes herself.

“We’re going to have such fun in Italy,” I tell her. “I want to taste all the things that you learn to cook, and I want to take you to some of the places on Lake Como and see things through your eyes…” and that’s the truth. “We’re going to have such a good time.”

“I’m so glad I get to go,” she says, squeezing me hard around my waist, her voice cracking a bit. I gently stroke her soft blonde hair as she pulls herself together. As if their timing couldn’t be any worse, Jason and Christian come through the hallway near the mudroom and into the family room where Sophie and I are talking.

“There you are. It’s bedti…” Jason trails off as he sees his daughter crying in my arms. “Baby Boo… what’s wrong?” Christian looks at me with a furrowed brow as they both await my explanation. So, I give them one.

“We were just talking about Italy and Lake Como,” I say. “She’s a bit emotional.” I won’t tell them why. I stroke her hair once more and then pull her back from me, pushing her hair of her tearstained face.

“Cooking… and sightseeing… and shopping… and all the fun Lake Como has to offer… okay?” I say to her pained blue eyes. She nods and unceremoniously wipes her cheeks. She turns and takes a few steps towards Jason, but then turns back and runs into my arms once more. I stroke her hair to comfort her just a bit before she leaves.

“Thank you, Aunt Ana,” she says. I’m not really sure why she’s thanking me, but now isn’t the time to ask.

“You’re welcome, Sophie,” I say. She releases me and walks to her father, never raising her head. He looks up at me puzzled one last time before he guides Sophie down to her apartment. Christian walks over to me, his expression as puzzled as Jason’s.

“What was that all about?” he asks, his brow furrowed.

“She’s very emotional about this whole situation, and that’s all I can tell you,” I reply. He purses his lips.

“Okay, I get that,” he says, clasping his hands in front of him. “You and I need to talk. I call downtime.”

Downtime? Why is he calling downtime?

“Why are you so horrified?” he asks.

“I’m not,” I reply. “I’m… just surprised.” He nods.

“I understand. It’s been a while,” he pulls himself up to his height and gives me his final command.

“Wait five minutes and come to our bedroom.”

I swallow hard at the sound of his Dominus voice, and find my feet planted firmly in place as he leaves me standing in our family room.


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

Pictures related to the progress of the Italian Villa can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/italy/italian-villa/

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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 32

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

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

Season 5 Episode 32

ANASTASIA

Thank the Lord, Gary and Marilyn are moving closer to resolution with their relationship issues. It’s a slow process as we expected that it would be, but slow progress is progress, nonetheless. We encouraged them to get back to a level of intimacy, simply because if they were unable to obtain a level of intimacy, they were fighting a losing battle. Marilyn was having none of it until she could secure birth control from her doctor who wanted to wait for two more weeks before prescribing her anything. She wanted to be sure that Marilyn was gaining healthy weight before she introduced hormones into her body. So, poor Gary has to wait before there will be any christening of the new relationship.

ea658bf74c2614af055e29a7fe6ebfc7They’ve decided to stay in separate places for a while. There’s still more healing to be done and all therapists agree that this is the best course of action. It also eliminates the urge to be intimate before Marilyn has secured birth control and is completely comfortable. To that end, they are courting again. He comes to see her, and they spend time together, or he comes to pick her up and takes her out on a date, then brings her back to the mansion. It’s kind of cute to watch them. He’s given her a beautiful sterling silver necklace with two intwined hearts—one made of silver and one covered in diamonds. She wears it proudly but hasn’t donned her promise ring again just yet.

Sophie and I exchange wonderful ideas for the villa through email several times a week, but our big powwow always happens on Sunday afternoon. She always makes delicious finger foods for our meeting after delivering Christian his weekly supply of chocolate truffles. It’s a good thing that my husband and I are both fit and athletic or we would both be expanding severely in the midsection.

Sophie and I have a wonderful time during our weekend decorating meetings. She has a pretty good eye for the baroque and rococo looks, even though they may be a bit modernized. She admitted that they looked the same to her and tries to find something that has the general feel of the period. She’s right, the looks are painfully similar as one is just a continuation of the other.

One Sunday, I ventured to ask about her visit with her mother, and she sadly admitted that it was about as fruitful as the others. She tried a different tactic this time, though. She turned her back to the visiting window and removed the receiver from the wall. Shalane is not allowed to tap on the glass or to raise her voice, so she sat there for the entire hour talking into the phone to no one and looking at the back of Sophie’s head. Sophie has decided that this will be the protocol for her visits to her mother from now on.

I feel sorry for Sophie. I have a horrible relationship—or really, a non-existent relationship—with my mother and I wouldn’t wish the absence of a female parental unit on anyone. Sophie, however, is coming to detest her mother, for all the horrible things that she did to Sophie and the bad predicaments that she put her in. Even now, Shalane is being unbelievably selfish. It’s like she doesn’t want Sophie to be happy at all. She almost sold her to her drug dealer, for Christ’s sake. What did she think would happen to the poor girl? She’s had to fend for herself for years, and even now when there’s nothing more that she can do for Sophie right now but sign some papers, she won’t even do that?

She should be spending her visits showing Sophie that she’s rehabilitating—physically and mentally. Sophie had to sit and watch her drug use knowing full well what she was doing. That child had the weight of protecting her mother when all she wanted to do was to see her father. After all that she’s done to this girl, she can’t even give her this?

I turn my thoughts to other things beside Sophie’s wayward mother and concentrate on the beautiful ideas that she has chosen for several beds in some of the rooms. I forward the beds to Aaron and tell him to place the orders for the beds and the area rugs that Sophie has chosen for eight of the bedrooms. However, when it comes to Italian beds for toddlers, she and I agree that there may not be anything particularly Italian that will keep my two little loves from having a fall. So, we change direction and keep looking.

We didn’t have to look for long. One Thursday afternoon, I’m eating a late lunch in my office at Helping Hands when my email pings with a new message.

To: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Re: Beds for the Babes
Date: April 16, 2015 15:16pm
From: Sophia L. Taylor

Aunt Ana,

I think I found the perfect beds for Minnie and Mikey. Most of the beds we liked were canopy, so what about this? Let me know what you think.

TTYL,
Sophie

Imbedded in the email is the cutest picture of a twin sized bed that’s built like a house but looks like the front porch of a cabin, complete with rails. It’s adorable, and just rustic enough to work.

024d40db08527e4f456bc3f92e340483

To: Sophia L. Taylor
Re: Beds for the Babes
Date: April 16, 2015 15:21pm
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

They’re perfect, Sophie! You’ve got a good eye. I’ll forward the email to Aaron to get them ordered.

TTYL,
Aunt Ana

Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey

Assistant Director, Helping Hands


I forward the email to Aaron to acquire the beds which my little helper found for a steal on Wayfair. Just as I’m finishing the email, my intercom beeps.

“Yes?”

“Ana, are you expecting anybody?” Chuck asks.

“No, but somebody’s always subject to come by. What’s up?”

“There’s a Malcolm Healy here to see you. His business card simply says Ventures Production and Marketing. He specifically asked to see you.” I sigh.

“Is he a reporter?” I ask.

“Not that I can tell,” Chuck asks, “but that doesn’t mean that he’s not.”

“I would be happy to apprise Mrs. Grey of the purpose of my visit if I could just have a moment of her time,” I hear someone say in the background. I sigh.

“If he’s brave enough to come in here and ask for me, we’re not going to get rid of him, and we need to keep unwanted publicity away from the Center. Make sure he’s not armed—or wired—and come back with him,” I reply.

“Will do,” Chuck says and ends the call.

What the hell is this? I haven’t even finished my lunch yet. I finish the email to Aaron and pull up Google just as Chuck and Mr. Healy are entering my office.

“Mrs. Grey,” Mr. Healy greets.

Dr. Grey,” I correct him. He nods.

“Dr. Grey,” he corrects himself. “This is a homeless shelter, a community center, a place where someone seeks solace and assistance, and your staff patted me down like a criminal. Is it usually this hard to get in?” I intwine my fingers in front of me.

“First of all, sir, you’re correct about our facility. What you left out is that it’s also a place where our residents may be seeking sanctuary from a violent or abusive spouse, which is why there’s security at the door and throughout the facility.

“Second, you didn’t come here asking for any one of those things. You came here asking directly for me. Having been assaulted on these premises before and having been required to pull my firearm to protect myself, I require that anyone requesting to see me under ominous circumstances be subject to a search. You would have been completely within your rights to refuse that search, but then we wouldn’t be speaking right now. What can I do for you?”

“Actually, Dr. Grey, it’s what can I do for you. May I sit?” Truthfully, he’s less of a threat if he’s sitting and Chuck is standing, so I gesture to the seat in front of my desk.

“By all means,” I say. He takes a seat and crosses his legs.

“I followed your trial on television,” he says. “That was really an awful thing that happened to you. It was quite the harrowing tale.”

“Yes, it was,” I agree. “Are you a reporter?”

“I’m not a reporter, Mrs… forgive me, Dr. Grey, but I am a storyteller. I’m a movie producer.” I frown.

“I have nothing to do with movies,” I say, typing his name into Google as I’m speaking. A short bio comes up. “Why would a movie producer be coming to see me?”

“I’d like to tell your story,” he says, “from your perspective, in your words. It would be the catalyst for conversation nationwide, maybe even worldwide, about bullying and the price of social acceptance. We’ve all seen or heard the story of the young misfit being bullied at school, but nothing like this! This is horrific and graphic, and the world needs to see this through your eyes, hear this story in your voice.”

I feel the room spinning a bit, like I’m stepping out of a vortex and the vertigo hasn’t quite worn off. This must be a joke, a terrible joke…

“You’re kidding, right?” I ask.

“No,” Healy says. “Your story is phenomenal and harrowing, but ultimately has a happy ending. It’s better than fiction, and I’d like to be the one to tell it for you.”

“You’ve got to be kidding!” I bark. “You’re trying to make a dime off of my suffering? Are you fucking serious?” He’s quiet, momentarily stunned. For the love of God, hasn’t he paid attention to headlines—to me—before he took it upon himself to barge into my office with this foolishness? He had to know this is how I would react.

“Well, of course, there’s going to be money to be made, but that’s not…”

“No!” I yell, before he finishes the sentence. “For God’s sake, no! Where do you people come from? It’s bad enough that they want to plaster my horror, my personal life and my tragedies all over the goddamn news; you want to put them on the silver screen! Are you insane? What if this was your daughter? Your wife? Your mother?”

“They’d want to tell their story, and I’d want to help them tell it,” he replies flatly.

“Well, I don’t want to tell my story. It’s been all over the fucking news already!” I declare. There’s silence for a moment.

“With all due respect, Mrs. Grey, I don’t need your permission to make this movie. All I have to do is change the location, the names, some of the key details and make it fiction. So, you can be a part of this, or you don’t have to.”

Oh, so now I’m Mrs. Grey again, and he wants to make an enemy of me… fine.

“Oh, I’ll be a part of it alright,” I promise, calmly. “You do that, Mr. Healy, but I want you to keep something in mind. I’m certain you’ve followed our life enough before you called me. Think hard. Think really hard. Who do you know anywhere, who can you find that can say they got one over on Christian and Anastasia Grey? I’ll wait.”

He doesn’t respond, nor does he break my gaze.

“Yeah, you’ve probably got a studio behind you or maybe you’ll be presenting the storyline to one. Maybe you’ve got the funding as I’m sure that just about anybody would be willing to get a piece of this, but I can guarantee that you’ll be ruining the lives and careers of anybody willing to touch this piece of shit including yours. We’ll start with injunctions against anybody involved in anything that looks remotely like my life—fiction or non-fiction, and that ‘purely coincidental’ shit won’t save you. But that’ll just be the start. You, or anybody else, who thinks they can go about the business of exploiting the most horrific part of my life to make a name for themselves will fall prey to such a personal crusade that will rival Armageddon in its magnitude. I will own the skin on their very balls they will have to get my permission before they can even take a piss!”

I say the last statement all in one breath without pausing.

“Mrs. Grey, in case you’re not aware, unauthorized biographies are published all the time. There’s really nothing you can do to stop this train from leaving the station.”

“Mr. Healy, try me.” I reply. I pause, gesturing to Chuck to get this piece of scum out of my office.

“Mrs. Grey…”

“Mr. Healy, this conversation is over. Now, you can leave on your own right now, or I can have you thrown out, and when I say, ‘thrown out,’ I mean physically. Thrown. Out.” I glare at him for a moment and he has three seconds to get out of that chair before I have Chuck drag him out by his collar. He stands and smirks at me and that’s enough for Chuck.

“Move your ass,” Chuck says, clasping his arm. He snatches his arm away.

“Get your hands…” Chuck opens his suit jacket.

“Let me rephrase—move your ass before I splatter your goddamn brains against that wall behind you!” Chuck threatens. Healy looks at his body and I assume he sees Chuck’s body holster. He raises his hands.

“You wouldn’t shoot an unarmed man, would you?” he says.

“I’d shoot a piece of scum like you any day, armed or unarmed.” Chuck grabs his arm and shoves him into the hallway. “Now, move your fucking ass!”

Healy stumbles into the hallway and I hear him hit the wall.

“Do you see this?” he says. “Do you see him manhandling me?” and now he has an audience.

“I don’t know what you did, but I suggest you move your fucking ass,” I hear Grace say. I want to laugh when I hear her say that, but I’m too damn mad. I dial the front desk and ask for Oscar.

“Yes, ma’am?” he answers.

“Get the year, make, model and plate number of that guy that just came back here with Chuck,” I tell him.

“On it,” he says. I disconnect the call.

“Ana, what was that about?” Grace asks.

“Movie producer,” I tell her. “Wants to make a movie of that horrible shit that happened to me and the trials. When I said, ‘No,’ he told me he would do it anyway.”

“Oh, dear God,” she says. “Does he have the means?”

“I’ll find out soon enough,” I say as hit Alex’s speed dial.

“Your Highness,” he answers.

“I’m anxious… and angry… I called you too soon,” I blubber.

“Oookay… too soon for what?” he asks.

“I need information… right now!” I bark. “On a guy. His name is Malcolm Healy. He’s supposed to be a movie producer, but I can’t find much of anything about him online.” I hear Alex typing.

“I’m looking, but may I ask why you’re looking for information on a movie producer?” Alex asks.

“Because he pissed me off!” I retort.

“That’s obvious,” Alex says, still typing, “but I’d really like… oh, shit! Were you approached by a movie producer?”

“Yes, and when I told him, ‘no,’ he had to be physically removed from my fucking office!” I snap.

“Oh, dear. Should we get more security down here?” Grace says, taking a seat in front of my desk.

“That’s not his real name,” Alex says. “He doesn’t have any hits online and I’m not getting anything for any kind of hits on the federal database of producers with that name. What were his physical characteristics?”

“He sat down kind of quickly but I would say 5’10” maybe 5’11”, 160 – 180, brown hair, brown eyes, white… I don’t have anything else.”

“Approximate age?” Alex asks. I sigh.

“Early 30s, maybe,” I say, uncertainly. Chuck comes back into the room.

“He really is a piece of scum,” he says.

“Why do you say that?” I ask,

“Just talking a lot of shit. That guy has no clout, I can guarantee you.” He hands me a piece of paper.

“Do you still have that business card that he gave you?” I ask. Chuck reaches into his coat pocket and gives me a business card that only has the name and phone number on it—nothing else.

“Okay, Alex? His business card boasts Ventures Production and Marketing. The phone number is 221-5…”

“221?” Alex interrupts me. “Wait, wait, 221? Are you sure?” I look at the card again.

“Yeah, 221,” I reply. I hear him typing.

“Do you have anything else on this guy?” he asks.

“Yeah, Chuck just gave me the possible year and the make, model, and license plate number of his car.”

“What is it?” I look at the paper and frown.

“Is this right?” I ask Chuck.

“That’s what I shoved his ass into,” he says. “The year may be wrong, but that’s the make and model and the license plate.” I shake my head and look at the paper.

“It’s a 2006 or 2007 Toyota Corolla,” I say incredulously. “Blue, license plate #S47R251S.” I hear Alex typing on his keyboard.

“I figured as much,” Alex says. “That guy is a total fraud.”

“Details,” I say. Alex types some more.

“That car is registered to Armando Ramos,” he pauses and types a little more. “Brown hair, brown eyes, 172, 5’11” … good guess…”

That’s what I do.

“That 221 area code, that’s a Senegal country code. It’s probably a burner phone, most likely forwarded to a local cell.”

“Why would he do that?” I ask.

“For clout, maybe—or so he thinks.” he says. “It’s part of the image. Nobody knows that his ‘international cell’ is a phony… and that’s a 2005 Toyota.”

“Or for the love of God,” I say.

“What?” Grace questions.

“He’s a fraud,” I tell her. “A nobody…”  and here I was hoping I’d have something to sink my teeth into. The nerve of that guy!

“I was wondering why someone would contact you about movie rights instead of GEH,” Alex says.

“Why would they contact GEH first?” I ask.

“Because you’re an officer now,” he says. “Everybody knows that. If they didn’t know it before, they know it from the trial. You are GEH. Interviews and news spots, you can do that on your own. Books and movie deals, you’re getting into proprietary information because you represent the company. There are all kinds of legal ramifications of that! Any amateur knows that… well, except for this amateur.”

I Google Armando Ramos and realize that this guy truly is less than nobody. He had a couple of below-D-list films, one that made the list of worst films of 2012 and the other that couldn’t even be bothered with bad publicity. He’s probably desperate for a hit since the information that I’m seeing says he’s been at this producer thing for years with nothing to show for it. I can’t help but wonder what this guy was thinking.

“You’ve gotten quiet, Mrs. Grey,” Alex says. Smart ass.

“Just looking at some general information on this asshole…” Sorry, Grace. “Have you found anything good on him?”

“A couple of average-joe arrest records, petty stuff. A few low-budget movies to his name. This is just some bottom feeder trying to make a name for himself.”

“Send me the information that you have. Were you able to get his cell phone number?” I ask.

“Yep, I’m tracking it as we speak,” he says.

“Send me that, too,” I say. “He isn’t still on the premises, is he?”

“No, he just pulled up at the museum at Union Park… We may want to keep an eye in this guy. He may be intending to come back when you’re off work.”

“I think that’s a good idea,” I say. “I’m not worried about him, but I have a feeling that he might be persistent.”

“Will do,” Alex says. “I just sent his preliminary information to your email. I’ll keep you updated as we find additional information.”

“Good, and Alex, I want personal information in case he decides to play hardball.” The line is quiet for a moment.

“I really don’t think he’s in that type of position, Ana,” he says.

“Just in case,” I reply. “You can’t be too careful. Also, he’s not the only one to get this cock-and-bull idea in his head. He’s just the first one to approach me. My story is gruesome, and gruesome sells. I might as well prepare myself.” I hear him sigh.

“Roger that,” he says and we end the call.

Less than nobody… coming to my place of work, interrupting my lunch, and telling me that he’ll make my story whether I give him permission or not. I look at his information again:

 Armando Ramos—alias Mani

In less than twenty minutes, I have his personal cell phone number, his location, his arrest record, his home address, and a short list of the crappy movies that he’s made and he really thinks he can fuck with me? He’s relaxing in the park, probably enjoying his lunch and celebrating what he thinks is a coup.

“Let’s go,” I tell Chuck. He frowns.

“Where?” he asks.

“Union park,” I reply, “and I’m not arguing. You can go with me, or I’ll go alone. Either way, I’m going… and I’m driving.”

“Ana…” I’m up and out of my seat before he can try to stall me. “Shit! Fine, but I’m calling Jay. I’m telling you that now.”

“I don’t care,” I tell him. “Walk while you talk…”

Ten minutes later, I pull up to the museum at Union Park with Chuck in the passenger seat and a back-up security detail in the back seat. I see Armando sitting on a bench near the fountain. He’s finishing a sandwich and he appears to be people watching. At least, I hope that’s what he’s doing and not some weird stalker shit.

“Give me your phone,” I tell Chuck. I’m effectively cutting off his ability to give a play by play, at least from his phone, but that’s not why I want it. He begrudgingly hands me his cell and I dial the asshole’s number.

“Hello,” he answers.

“This is Anastasia Grey.” I see and hear him scoff a laugh.

“Have you changed your mind, Mrs. Grey?” he responds cockily.

“No, I haven’t, Mr. Ramos,” I say, using his real name. I watch him stiffen immediately, nearly dropping the remainder of his sandwich on the ground as I begin to walk the trail around him, observing his reactions. The line is so silent, it seems like the traffic has stopped and the birds aren’t even singing anymore.

“And just so you know,” I continue, “I’m not using that phony number on the card with the Senegal country code that you left me. I’m calling you directly. This is what I can do in thirty minutes with little to no information. Please… give me a mission.”

The thick silence remains on the line and I have to check and see if he has disconnected the call.

“Did I lose you, Mani?” I ask.

“How much do you know?” he nearly growls after a few more moments of silence.

“Enough,” I say unfazed, coming around the trail behind him and closing the space between us. “And then some. You should really get to know your target before you start throwing your supposed weight around. Seriously, Mani, you’ve got a string of Z-rated movies and you want me to associate my name with you. Not that this is a venture that I’m even slightly interested in pursuing, but even if I were, you would be the last person I would want to tell that story.”

I’m still walking towards him, watching as he clenches and flexes his free hand, occasionally rubbing his fingers together and impatiently fidgeting in his seat.

“If you really want to play with the big boys, bring it on, Armando, but please remember this. That story is a very painful part of my life, but even if it’s published or televised, it could do no more than make me a bit uncomfortable. However, it could have a horrible future impact on my children. And by the way, you may want to turn around.”

I end the call and hand Chuck his phone just as I approach Armando’s perch. He spins around on his park bench and at first, he’s angry, but then his face pales. He knows that he left me in my office 30 minutes ago. I’m standing here interrupting his lunch in a public place where he most likely didn’t tell anybody that he was going.

“Surprised?” I say calmly, clasping my hands in front of me. He just sits there looking at me, stunned.

“So, what, you followed me,” he says, once he regains himself. I shake my head.

“Unless you’re as stupid as you look,” I give him a once-over, “and you just might be… you were in your rearview mirror for at least three blocks after you left my office, probably more. And even if you weren’t, you know as well as I do that I didn’t follow you. I tracked you, Mani.

He twitches a bit. His poker face is one big tell, and for him to threaten to do something that would displease me, he’s actually nothing more than a small-time manipulator. I want to punch him in his fucking face… literally punch him in his goddamn face, but since I can’t do that, I talk a figurative gut punch or two.

“Like I said,” I begin, “it won’t hurt me, but it could hurt my children. To that end, and this is where I need you to listen carefully, if I see or hear anything on the big or the little screen that even slightly resembles any of the horrific events of my life, I swear on my children… you’re going to wish you were dead.”

Clear horror flashes across his face for a moment, but he recovers quickly.

“I’ve taken down bigger fish than you,” he threatens.

“Where?” I ask incredulously, while opening my hands in a shrugging motion. “All I’ve seen associated with you is a string of psychotronic duds for which you weren’t even the front man!”

“You really think your money is going to get you far enough to stop me?” he asks, his voice condescending.

Money?” I scoff a laugh. “How many people do you intimidate with that line? Have you been hiding under a rock? Haven’t you heard, Mani? Money is just the gateway drug. Power is the real addiction. Do you want to find out how strung out I really am?”

I glare at him and await a response. When I get none, I don my Jackie O’s. I said what I came to say.

“What? That’s it?” he taunts with obvious false bravado as I turn to walk away. “No ‘you’ll never work in this town again?’” I stop and look back at him.

“Finding work should be the least of your concerns,” I say, still unfazed, and I can tell by his expression that those eight words made a bigger statement than anything I previously said. I know he’s heard all of the I’ll destroy you and you’ll never work in this town again lines, but I’m certain that what scares him the most is someone not telling him what they’ll do to him, particularly a woman with the power of scorn and a force of a mother’s vengeance who discovered exactly who you were from a phony business card in 20 minutes.

I let that sink in and turn to walk back to my car just in time to see two new black Audi Q7’s pull up behind Chuck’s car. Hmm, restocking the fleet, I see.

Christian nearly leaps out of the back of one of the SUV’s and four other members of security spill out of the two cars, including Jason. The five of them are walking to my car with purpose, but I never stop my leisurely stroll in his direction. My lack of urgency calms and bemuses him at the same time.

“Anastasia, what’s going on?” he demands once we approach each other.

“I can’t talk right now, baby. I need to get back to the Center,” I reply, and kiss him sweetly on the cheek. “Chuck will fill you in.”

I finish the short trek to the parking lot, leaving an even more bemused Christian Grey standing behind me. I glance over at Armando, and even under my Jackie O’s, I can tell that he’s a few shades paler than when I left him. After all, he was just confronted by me and two of my security staff, one of whom threw him out of my office earlier, and now I’m leaving him to answer to five more very tall, very determined men—one of which is my very protective husband, and he probably doesn’t even know that yet.

I get in my car, start it, and head back to the Center, leaving my husband and his confused entourage in the park to deal with Mani.

When I get back to the Center, I can’t concentrate at all. My adrenaline is up, but not in a way that makes me want to cry. It’s flying high in a way that needs to be burned off—and now! Knowing that I’m not going to be able to get anything else done, I let Chuck know that we’re heading home for the day.

Once there, I spend quite some time in the gym trying to release the adrenaline that had accumulated. I want this asshole to try something. I want to leave him crushed under my heel and I want to see his face while I’m doing it. Fucking jerk piece of shit nobody motherfucker.

I wail away on the heavy bag, but it’s only a slight relief. I head to my bedroom and my en suite for a scalding hot shower.


CHRISTIAN

Things had been quiet. The two biggest things in our lives that didn’t fall into the everyday drama of GEH or Helping Hands have been the counseling with Garrett and Marilyn and the recent developments with Shalane Deleroy.

Things are progressing slowly with Garrett and Marilyn, as we expected they would, but they’re progressing, nonetheless. Butterfly is right—I see a lot of us in them, what we would have been had I not been so fucked up and we had met at an earlier time. Garrett is headstrong like me. He just doesn’t display it as openly as I do, but if you brush him the wrong way or he becomes emotional, as he calls it, you’re in for a battle.

Marilyn is, for lack of a better word, bipolar. I don’t mean that in a bad way. I only mean that either this experience or some experience before this put her in a state of quiet resignation and acceptance. Most of the time, she has that whole it is what it is demeanor about her, even when she’s silently weeping. However, on those rare occasions where she wants to be heard, her back straightens and she becomes logical and frank. I’m actually happy to see the Marilyn who told me that she would quit if she had to put up with my shit as opposed to the silent, depressed waif who had been haunting the halls of Grey Crossing for the last several weeks.

As for Shalane Deleroy, Jason came into my office yesterday incredulously telling me that she had agreed to sign the papers for Sophie to get a passport. This is tremendous news. We can only hope that she doesn’t change her mind before she actually signs the papers. Sophie has been taking out her frustrations on her cooking, and I’ve been getting those delectable chocolate truffles every weekend, requiring me to happily put in a little more time at the gym or an extra-long run.

When he told Sophie the news last night at dinner, her reaction was appropriately muted, accompanied by a declaration that she’ll believe it when she sees it. I can’t blame her—I had a similar reaction when I heard the news. That woman is so selfish, catty, and unpredictable that anything could happen between now and the time that she signs on the dotted line.

As it stands, the document has to be notarized and Shalane doesn’t have any ID in prison. So, Jason has asked me to be a credible identifying witness to Shalane’s identity and we will utilize a prison notary. We don’t know any of Shalane’s friends, nor would we want to try to contact any of them for this assuming that she has any besides her drug dealer. Jason hasn’t been in touch with any of her family since the divorce, and a credible witness has to be able to identify the signer as the signer.

As a credible witness, I have to attest that I know Shalane personally, have had several interactions with her, and know that this is her legal name. In essence, I’m her ID card. I do know the cow; I have, unfortunately, had several personal interactions with her; and of course, I know her name. Oh, and I can’t have a personal interest in the transaction, meaning that I’m not named in or signing the document in question, which is the application for Sophie’s passport. We have an appointment to go to the prison next Wednesday to get the documents signed.

I asked Jason last night what he thought finally changed Shalane’s mind. He told me that his daughter is apparently a master at emotional warfare. At first, she would go to the visits and just stare at her mother. That graduated to turning her back, taking the phone off the hook, and just sitting there for an hour.

Shalane called Jason berating him in every language saying that he told her to do this. Jason says that he calmly told her that he wished he had come up with that brilliant idea, but that this was all Sophie. He told her that this situation was of her making and that she was the only one with the power to undo it. That must’ve done the trick because that’s when she decided to sign the papers. Now, we’ll just have to see if the passport carriage turns into a pumpkin before next Wednesday.

Luckily, Butterfly and I have already taken care of passports for Minnie and Mikey. That reminds me that I need to make the announcement that we’re planning the family vacation sometime in July or August so that anyone without a passport can get it secured.

I got a little comfortable in the serenity of the last couple of weeks, and this afternoon, Jason comes running into my office to tell me that Butterfly is on her way to the park about to meet some seedy producer about making a movie of her life.

What the fuck?

“Why the fuck would she do that?” I ask.

“I have no idea, but Chuck says they’re on their way down there right now. Her Highness insisted on driving.”

“I have so many questions right now, but they’re going to have to be answered in transit…”

I call Alex as we’re in the elevator to the parking garage to get the background information sent to me that Jason says Butterfly requested. Three more security detail meet us in the parking structure as Alex gives me the full breakdown of his and Butterfly’s conversation. The way that he left things, there appears to be absolutely no reason for Butterfly to be concerned, so I’m wondering why she went to meet this guy.

When we get to Union Park, I can see that body a mile away—well, maybe a few hundred feet—talking to some guy by the fountain. She looks like she’s walking back to the parking lot as we park, but then she stops and appears to say something else to the guy.

What the hell is going on?

I’m walking so quickly towards my wife and two of our security details that I feel the wind blowing through my hair. She’s walking towards me like she just had a leisurely conversation with an old friend. When she calmly tells me that she has to get back to the Center and kisses me on the cheek directing me to ask Chuck what was going on, I nearly lose my shit.

“She just wanted to strut,” Chuck says with a shrug. “I’ll call you.”

He steps double-time to get back to the car and I watch as Butterfly pulls out, waves sweetly, and drives off. I turn to the loser sitting on the park bench eyeing me and my security detail. I go over to talk to the guy and he’s damn near pissing his pants when we get to him. He guarantees me that he won’t bother my wife again and he doesn’t want the story. I don’t know what Butterfly said to him, but he’s scared shitless.

I go back to the office, hoping that this whole thing is a false alarm. Chuck calls as promised to tell me what happened in the park and that they guy turned out to be as big of a loser in person as he is on paper. He tells me something else that concerns me, though. Butterfly has cut her day short and now she’s at the mansion taking her fury out on the heavy bag.

Something else is going on.

I finish up what I’m working on, which takes another hour, and decide to head home to see what’s going on with Butterfly. When I arrive, she’s done in the gym and now she’s in the shower. I hope that means that she’s worked off whatever frustration the day brought on her and we can have a peaceful dinner. I take this time to shower as well since the day had me a little wound, too. I don’t rush with my shower. I wash my hair and let the hot water rinse away my stress. When I’m done, I dry myself thoroughly then take to briskly towel drying my hair. I head for my dressing room to change into some more comfortable clothes.

I don’t get that far.

My wife is standing in the doorway between our bedroom and the sitting room when I come out of the en suite… and she’s naked.

“Go in the sitting room,” she says. “Sit on the loveseat.”

Okay. She’s bossy, which means she’s hot.

I follow directions and sit on the loveseat only to find that she’s right behind me, dropping to her knees when my butt hits the seat. She takes most of my cock into her mouth and throat and sucks quickly and sloppily.

Whoa! Shit! Hard and wet in an instant. I move my hand to her cheek and she quickly grabs both my hands and slams them down on the cushion. She looks up at me with a mouth full of my dick, spiking my arousal to feverish proportions but warning me with her eyes not to touch.

Fucking yes, Mistress!

Still holding my hands down with hers, she bobs madly on my cock, fucking me deliciously with her throat. I don’t know how she’s doing it, but I don’t care. I just sit there like the sacrificial lamb being gobbled by my wife, insane amounts of saliva falling from her mouth and coating my dick—which is becoming angrier and veinier by the second.

The intense and building pleasure draws a groan from deep in my cock burning up through my chest. She releases my cock from her lips, and I can hardly breathe. I don’t know whether to lament the cessation of stimulation or to be grateful for the reprieve.

She stands to her feet and wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. She grabs both legs behind the knees and pulls my body so that my ass is on the edge of the loveseat. I’m so weak and disoriented from the flash blowjob that my body moves willingly with no protest. She straddles me and I soon discover when she opens her pussy exactly what kind of torture she has in store for me.

She wraps the lips around my hard, wet, angry cock, but she doesn’t allow me to enter her. She grabs the back of the sofa on either side of my head and begins to grind. She starts by looking down at us, watching the head of my cock appear and disappear between her legs. Her hips have a vicious roll—back and forth, hard and deep, up and down the outside of my cock. She’s riding me, grinding me, masturbating me with the lips and clit of her pussy.

Fuck, this shit is killing me! I can guarantee you I won’t get any harder, Mistress!

I hear her breathing become heavy as she continues to grind, now closing her eyes and riding for dear life. Dammit, she’s going to make me come like this!

I soon realize that’s her intention… or at least she’s going to come.

Back and forth, up and down, round and round, relentlessly she grinds against my cock. God, it feels so good and with no reprieve, I can feel it rising up in me and getting ready to blow. I’m trying to stay still, grabbing viciously at the cushions to keep from grabbing her. My pelvis is cemented to the seat, but my aching cock is reaching high for her ministration. My head digging back into the sofa and my cock trying hard not to succumb to her quickening hot, deep, and hard strokes and circular grind, I groan loud and cry out, surrendering completely to a throbbing orgasm sending thick, long strings of cum across my abdomen up to my chest.

She doesn’t slow or lessen her movements and my offering continues to stream from the head of my gloriously releasing dick. Her rhythm doesn’t stop and although my erection doesn’t wane, the head is becoming slightly tender from the intense orgasm and continuous friction. I keep my head back and grit my teeth, waiting to discover my Mistress’ purpose. I hear her whimper a few moments later, and my head is still tender—not as tender as it was before but tender. She keeps going, a few more strokes, then a few more, and I feel her tremble slightly. She only whimpers; she doesn’t cry out, and a few moments later, I feel her clit throbbing against the head of my cock. She’s pressing it hard against me, deep, moving only infinitesimally against me as her body jerks violently. Her head has fallen forward, and her hair covers us both in wild, wet, untamed strands as she grunts quietly through her orgasm, then breathes heavily through the aftershocks.

Oh, my fucking hell, that was so fucking hot.

Only a moment later, she masterfully moves her hips, taking my head inside of her.

“Fuck!” I hiss. She takes one hand, gathers her mane of hair, and tosses it behind her back. She puts one hand at the nape of my neck and the other on my shoulder and pushes herself all the way down onto my dick. I hiss again at the tightness—the depth, warmth, and wetness. Shit, I just came, and this is rushing me to round two.

She begins her grind again, long, melodic strokes like a fucking dancer making her way across the stage. She briefly makes eye-contact with me before she tightens her grip on the nape of my neck and plunges her tongue into my mouth.

Oh, God, help me.

She’s ravishing my lips with delicious sex kisses as she works my hard but helpless dick inside of her hot core. This is quite mentally and physically stimulating as my wife has taken the reins and is doing with me what she pleases, and Greystone isn’t protesting one bit.

However, I can’t have her gyrating on me like this and I can’t touch her.

I wrap my arms around her body, gently caressing her as she moves, closing my eyes and losing myself in kisses that speak to the very deepest part of my libido. For several moments, she grinds into me and I cautiously move my hands to her luscious ass. I don’t try to press her into me, I just need to feel it as she moves.

This woman is owning me… kissing and sucking my neck, licking my shoulder and ear, and pinching my nipples. I am being fucked—and well. I surrender to every sensation, my body completely on fire as I give it to her. She has owned me in several ways tonight, and this is no different. With my hands on her ass, my fingers pressing into her supple skin, I follow the deliciously deep, flowing movements of her hips over mine. For a moment, my mind separates the feeling of my cock from the motion of her pelvis against my hands. I love how she feels against my hands. I love the feel of her skin and the soft roundness of the meat. The movements are so sensual and sexy and I follow her with my wrists, palms, and fingers, delighting in the fluid rolling of her body that I love so much, physically and emotionally.

I’m caught up in the wonderment of this body, of this woman that belongs to me, all mine… and in my feelings for how much I love and revere her. I almost forgot about the physical feeling in my cock…

… Until I remember.

My mind immediately goes back to my dick, to the hot, warm friction and delight this woman is invoking upon me. I’m thrust right back in the middle of the pleasure at its highest level and I’m not prepared for it. My body can’t take it.

“Dear God!” I mourn against my Mistress’ mouth and Greystone begins a spectacular tribute to her skills. My balls are so tight that they’re painful and I slide back down onto the loveseat, clinching her ass, opening my legs, and pressing my cock as far into her as her ministrations will allow.

“Oh, God, yes!” she cries as she finally surrenders to her orgasm, her nails digging into my shoulder and her hips pressing as hard against mine as mine are against hers.

Jesus Christ, that was insane!

I can’t say that I mind being at my wife’s mercy. Even though she didn’t dominate me, she dominated me. Good God, did she dominate me.

We’re catching our breath, drenched in sweat even though we both just showered. The rise and fall of her chest and body on mine is making me want her again even though I just came. Between her panting, she locks her lips to mine again, kissing me deeply and causing the heat to rise between us again. I wrap my arms around her waist and sink into her kisses, allowing her to take me wherever she wants to go.

Sure enough, her hand moves from my neck to my cheek, and she positions her knees to ride again. I move my hand from her waist and gently stroke her round ass, cupping it delicately as she softly starts to move her hips again.

“God, baby, you’re so beautiful… and insatiable.”

“Mmm-hmmm,” she purrs, as she locks her lips to mine and begins her slow, delicious grind once more.

*-*

The final round lasted forever last night, for both of us. Butterfly took me several ways—cowgirl, reverse cowgirl, scissors with her on top, and one that I’m still trying to figure out… one of my legs over her shoulders. I don’t know how she came up with that one, but I was so deep inside her that I swear I could feel her tonsils on the head of my dick. I almost came with that one, but I didn’t want it to end. We finally met our end lying on the sofa—her on top, of course—and some kind of right angle where she was fucking me sideways from on top and causing my dick to do this deep in and out circular motion where every part of me was hitting every part of her. Once we got that right rhythm and movement, that position only lasted for about a minute before we were both locked in mind-blasting orgasms that lured us into immediate exhausted and satiated slumber.

And believe it or not, right now, sitting in my office, my cock is throbbing, thinking about fucking her again.

I almost can’t wait to get back to the Crossing and to my wife. It’s like we didn’t fuck at all last night and I need her now!

When I get home, I take the stairs—both flights—two at a time because I simply can’t wait for the elevator.

She’s in the shower. Fucking perfect!

I quickly go through my closet through the meditation room and to the playpen and get a pair of cuffs on a chain. I’m delighted to discover that the shower is still running when I come back. I remove my jacket, tie, socks, and shoes, and proceed to my wife’s bathroom.

Unaware that I’ve joined her, she continues to lather her body with the natural sponge. I watch her as the bubble coats and caress her curves, licking my lips in anticipation of touching her. I remain silent and motionless as she finishes washing, then rinses the soap from her body. When she begins to rinse the conditioner from her hair, that’s when I know that it’s safe to move in.

I’m come closer, not too close so as not to startle her when she turns the water off. Once she does, she wrings out her hair, then takes her towel and dries her face. After wrapping her hair in her towel, she turns and sees me and her breath catches.

I’m in uniform—not intentionally, it just worked out that way. She raises her eyes to mine.

“You’re home,” she says, her voice soft.

“Sorry I’m late. Work was hell,” I reply, slowly moving closer to her and allowing her to see the cuffs in my hand.

“Is everything okay?” she asks, somewhat cautiously. I nod.

“Everything’s fine,” I reply. When I get to the edge of the shower, I gesture to her to come to me with my finger. She slowly walks to me, her body glistening with water.

“You were so untamable last night,” I say, salaciously looking down at her. “I couldn’t wait to get home to take you again, maybe not as intense as last night, but one or two… maybe three… I don’t know how you’re feeling.”

“I’m fine,” she says, her head dropping a bit and the blue in her eyes darkening. I raise the cuffs.

“Not a full scene,” I say, “just a little play.” She nods.

“Good. Stand on the ledge.”

She moves to the six-inch ledge on the edge of the shower meant to keep the water from escaping. I loop the chain of the cuffs over the shower bar.

“Turn around. Hands up.” She turns around and raises her hands over her head. Seeing that the cuff is a little long, I twist the chain a couple of times and lock her into the leather cuffs. I remove the towel from her head and examine her. The ledge gives me just enough height to play with the little gap between her legs.

“Perfect!” I say. “Open your mouth.”

When she opens her mouth, I reach around her and put my first two fingers inside.

“Suck,” I command. She closes her mouth over my fingers and my cock immediately stiffens. I cup her breast with my free hand and run my thumb across her wet nipple. She shivers and begins to shamelessly felate my fingers.

Fuck! Enjoy that torment while you can, Pussycat.

I continue to tease her nipple as I know that it’s much more sensitive than my finger. Her nipple becomes pink and taut and she really begins to felate my finger. That’s enough, Pussycat.

I move my wet fingers from her mouth straight down to her clit. She gasps as I manipulate that precious little center of nerves with my wet fingers. Thank you so much for the lubrication, Pussycat. It’s just what I needed.

She licks her lips as she pulls at her cuffs a bit, slowly thrusting her crotch against my massaging fingers. I wrap her hair around my hand and give it a gentle tug causing her to gasp a bit and her head to lean over, giving me full access to her neck.

“Keep still,” I warn, and her hips still immediately. I begin the torment on her that she inflicted on me last night, tasting her neck, shoulders, ear, and skin, fondling her breast and masturbating her clit with my fingers, occasionally dipping my hand into her wet core to moisten them a little more. Her breathing deepens when I cover her mans with my palm and manipulate her entire pussy with my whole hand, my wet fingers stroking back and forth between her lips and over her clit much like my dick did last night.

My dick… no use in letting her have all the fun.

I watch her body—stroking, kissing, licking, waiting… I won’t let her climb too high. I’m not trying to punish or torture her. I just want to make her feel good… and have some fun in the process.

When that body and that sensual breathing tells me that she’s beginning to ascend, I slowly remove my finger so that it’s not too shocking. I release my cock from my pants and boxer briefs and use her juices on my hand to anoint the head. Fuck, that feels good. Greystone is good and ready.

I slide it between her legs, bending my knees just a bit to get the right angle, the head right between her lips and brushing against the clit. She moans as I hold her hips and grind against her from behind. She grabs the chains and her head falls back as she absorbs the friction.

I know, Pussycat, I feel it, too.

She steadies herself with the chains and begins to move again against my cock in small thrusts, dropping her head forward to watch it like she did last night. I slap her taut nipple firmly to get her attention and alert her of her malfeasance. She gasps audibly, her breath quickening and one leg trembles a bit.

What’s this?

I slap the nipple again and she whimpers through her breathing, her hips still moving slightly.

Well, I’ll be damned. She likes it.

I immediately set to the task of firming the other nipple, pinching and teasing it gently as I grip the first one, still grinding against her lips and clit.

“Since you can’t follow directions and keep still,” I begin, “grind that dick like you did last night.”

She clasps her hands together, stands on her toes, and begins to grind deliciously against an already very erect Greystone. She doesn’t have the angling that she had last night, so she has to use her feet to help her get the friction she needs. She’s moving like a beautiful and well-oiled piece of machinery, pushing her lips back on my cock and pulling them forward so that her clit gets the full benefit of head—and vice-versa—flat-footed when her ass comes back to me so that she can grind down on me as she pulls forward, rising to her toes as she reaches the head so that she can easily keep the cycle going.

To add to her stimulation—and my enjoyment—I alternate slapping and pinching both now-taut nipples, causing her to gasp at first, then cry out a couple of times. I wet both fingers and thumbs and reach around that beautiful body, teasing and gently pulling her nipples in that way that I know makes her want to cum. She intensifies her grind on my cock, tormenting us both incessantly, and her leg starts to tremble.

That’s it, Pussycat. I won’t wear you out, but we’re going to have some fun before this is done.

I continue fondling her nipples, trying not to concentrate on my burning cock, and she continues to grind, chasing this orgasm that I know is just at her fingertips. She whimpers and mewls again, grinding a little faster, and I know right when it hits. She won’t cry out at first, but as the wave moves through her, she succumbs and whines out her release.

I grab her collapsing body, glad that I get a reprieve. I don’t want to come yet. After last night’s escapades, I need dessert, but I probably only have one good shot in me… maybe two, but I don’t want to chance it.

Once she has caught her breath, I check in that she’s okay. When she confirms, I fall to my knees on the wet shower floor—still in my pants—and position my face at her pussy. She’s looking down at me to see what I’m about to do. I raise my gaze to her, lean in, and gently blow on her protruding clit. Her tongue shoots out of her mouth and caresses her top lip, so I do it again. She shivers, so I do it again, and again. Each puff brings a different, delightful response, so I combine them with a single gentle lick.

Now, the mewling starts, and I love it.

I don’t go in on a full attack on her clit. I just puff and lick for a little while, just until she’s squirming a bit. Then, I do a mini-assault on her clit and lips, just to make her hot again. Greystone has calmed, but he’s definitely still hard. The scent and taste of that sweet juice did nothing to soften him.

I rise to my feet and lick her lips so that she can taste herself on my tongue, then I tease her with my incredibly hard dick—just the head… top of her clit, over her clit, under her clit until the head just reaches the opening to pick up some juices there, then back over the journey to the top of the clit… and repeat. Each time the head pulls out and caresses the bottom of the clit before it starts again, she jerks and trembles, and I know this will be her second orgasm.

I keep that rhythm going and she closes her eyes and licks her lips. I don’t lose my stroke as I remove my shirt, watching her suffer in ecstatic agony as I tease her just right on her clit. She starts to move a bit and I know that she’s trying to control the stimulation.

“Don’t. Move.” I command, licking her lips again and she stills once more. I’m in front of her now, and I launch a full assault on her breasts, bending my body so that I can occasionally suck and bite the nipples without losing my stroke. She can barely stand that and her entire body trembles. I decide that I want her pulsing when I slide into her, so I craftily remove my pants and boxer briefs, still concentrating a stroke on that clit, and clamp down on those nipples.

It doesn’t take long. Ten or twelve more strokes and she’s detonating. Mid-orgasm, I lift one of her legs and slide into her.

“Fuck!” I hiss quietly, wrapping one arm around her to hold her up. I thrust deep into her pulsing pussy as she’s coming and she whines again this time, her head falling back with the climax. I hold her leg up and drill gently but deeply into her to get the full penetration. I am so fucking hard and horny, but denying my own orgasm means that as good as it feels, I have to coax it back to the forefront again.

I lock my lips to hers, my tongue invading her mouth in those same sensual sex kisses we did last night, and her tongue meets me lap for lap.

Yes, that’s it.

We’re feasting on each other’s mouth as my dick drives deep into the hot, velvet core. Several minutes of delicious, hot, wet sex and kisses later, I finally feel that hidden Nirvana begin to rise. My Pussycat is wet, and I don’t know if it’s from the workout, the impending orgasm, or her prior shower, but Greystone is about to give it to you.

Fuck, I need that ass!

I adjust the hand that’s holding up her leg to get a full and healthy grip of that beautiful ass, and Greystone approves immediately. With the invitation of an open ass, my other hand finds its way to Pussycat’s asshole and I breach the rosette without warning. She jumps a bit, protesting in my mouth, but quickly settles. I begin to wiggle my pelvis to get—and give—full friction as I squeeze that ass cheek and use it to push her hips against me, still finger-fucking her in the ass with the other hand. She’s been ordered not to move, so I feel her body stiffen and she moans a time or two in my mouth.

Give it to me, baby. I’m coming this time.

I continue to drill into her, grinding, manipulating, finger-fucking and kissing. The burn is delicious and I can feel my own sweat and the tug in my thighs signaling my pending release. I won’t stop it this time. It was too hard to bring it back and I want it. I’ll have to finish her off orally. That orgasm strikes me in the middle of my back and totally immobilizes me. I don’t know if I’ll be able to hold her up, but in a futile attempt, I tighten my hands on her… including the one in her ass, thereby thrusting my entire finger inside.

We cry out simultaneously in each other’s mouths, me gripping her with my hands and her gripping me with her pussy. MarysweetmotherofJesus!! Don’t fall, Grey, don’t fall. I have to release the kiss so that I can breathe.

“God! Oh, God!” I say through clenched teeth. I hear my wife… whining? Keening? Sobbing? I don’t know, but that pussy is still pulsing and throbbing and clenching my dick and literally sucking the life out of me!

“Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit,” I groan as this never-ending orgasm continues. Every muscle in my body is giving out on me and it’s torture to stay in an upright position, but I have to. My wife is still chained to the shower rack and if I let go, she might break an arm.

I don’t count the moments until the orgasm stops. I just practice yet another stamina exercise and stay there until it’s over. My wife is breathless and crying, and I reach up and undo one of the cuffs. The chain unravels quickly, surprising me, and I have to multitask, making sure the damn thing doesn’t hit us in the head and taking both of our weight on myself to break our fall. Luckily, we land on the marble floor with no casualties.


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

Pictures related to the progress of the Italian Villa can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/italy/italian-villa/

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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 31

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

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

Season 5 Episode 31

ANASTASIA

“How did things go with Sarah?”

I went into the office for a long overdue department head meeting this morning and learned that Sarah’s background check had come back clear, not that we had any doubt that it would. Upon hearing that, Sarah had to interview for the position just like any other candidate would. I was leaving the office when they were setting up the interview.

“She agreed to come in and interview this afternoon and I have to admit, she was stellar,” Christian says. “The interview took place in the first-floor conference room, so I watched from my office. I wanted to know if she was going to be a true asset to the company or if I was just going to be taking care of her… because I would if that was the case.”

I can’t argue with that. If he hadn’t, I would.

“I had nothing to worry about,” he says. “Sarah’s skills were being wasted at that parking structure. She has excellent leadership skills. She’s very quick on the pickup. She was answering questions and solving scenarios faster than they could throw them at her. I’d love to know where that Marsha bitch is now so that she can see what a goldmine I have in her place.”

“That’s a term that you seldom use,” I point out, surprised.

“I seldom have cause,” he replies. “This woman was really a bitch.”

“Please, explain,” I say, entwining my fingers over my laptop keyboard. “The only Marcia I can think of is Marlow’s mother and I know you couldn’t be speaking of her.”

“No,” he says, shaking his head. “Do you remember that incompetent security company that was assigned to your condo when David vandalized your car?” I twist my lips.

“I remember the car being vandalized and I vaguely remember something about the security company.” Even now, all this time after the accident, I still have problems with my short-term memory—at list with incidents that occurred a few years before that fateful day.

“Well, David vandalized your car and that security company—which I owned—was completely clueless even though the entire thing was caught on closed circuit TV. When I went about the business of finding out where the weak link was in the company, I discovered it was the director, Marsha Sims, who spent our entire meeting trying to illuminate that I was a chauvinistic man afraid of women trying to usurp her authority. Keep in mind that the entire time, the security company was going through an internal audit.”

“Hmm, and where is she working now?” I ask.

“Hell if I know, but not for me,” Christian replies, “hopefully for one of my competitors. I’ve got a real professional in the seat now. After that internal audit a few years back, I condensed the four companies into one and had them headquartered at GEH. With Sarah’s in-depth knowledge of security protocol, she’ll have the commercial security department in tiptop shape in no time.”

“I have to say that they weren’t one of the sore spots that we had been keeping an eye on… not that I know of anyway,” I point out.

“That’s because they weren’t that bad off,” he says. “They were fair to midland, but not slacking as badly as everyone else was. As fate would have it, that supervisor fell ill just after Christmas and took early retirement. Unfortunate for him, of course, but serendipitous for Sarah.”

“Is he okay?” I ask. “I hadn’t heard of any of the department heads falling ill.” Christian’s face turns solemn.

“Stage IV cancer unfortunately,” he says, “and he wasn’t the department head, Alex is. He would be just under Alex in the organizational chart as one of the subdivisions of security.” I twist my lips.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” I say. “That leaves Sarah with quite the shoes to fill.”

“I have a feeling there’s a lot more fire to that woman than we think. She was just… meek to her husband, for lack of a better word.”

“Meek like… submissive?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“I think it was more than that,” he says. “I know there can be some assholes out there that try to use BDSM as an excuse to abuse women, but I don’t think that’s what this was. I think this was a powerless man—or a bully—who just took his frustrations out on a woman who didn’t have anybody else and he knew it. We find most of our strength from within and that’s understandable, but a lot of our strength derives from the fact that we’re not standing alone. It’s easy to victimize somebody who’s all alone. If I’m on my very last leg, I would draw more strength from the fact that you and the twins depend on me, so I can’t give up on whatever it is that I’m trying to do. If there’s no one standing behind me, I may not be so gung-ho to fight if the ship is sinking.” I shiver.

“That’s depressing,” I say. He shrugs.

“Be that as it may, a man standing on his own doesn’t have as much to fight for as a man who clearly has something to lose.” I shake my head.

“When does she start?” I ask, turning my attention back to my computer.

“Tomorrow,” he replies. “She wanted to get going as soon as possible. She feels like an imposition, staying at the Fairmont on our dime and all. She’s more than ready to stand on her own.”

“Well, it won’t be long now. All she has to do is find a place and she’ll be all set.”

“Yeah, she’s right, though—she’s not accustomed to handouts.” He walks over to my desk and looks over my shoulder. “What are you working on?”

“Answering emails and seeing what decorating ideas have… Oooohh!”

“What?” he asks.

“Aaron has sent me an email.” I click on the email and there’s no body to it, just a subject line that says, “Villa” and an attachment named, “Play me.”

“Play me?” I say, looking at the file.

“Huh?” Christian asks bemused.

“Aaron’s email has nothing in the body, but there’s an attachment.” I click on the attachment. “It’s an mp4.”

“Oh hell,” he says. “I’m going to let you watch it. “If he’s sending you a video, either it’s great news or terrible news. Either way, I see dollar signs. Let me know how that goes.”

He kisses me on the cheek and quickly leaves my study. I download the attachment and see that the video is 27 minutes long. Good grief. I settle in and prepare myself for him to hit me with the bad news.

He’s front and center when the video comes to life and I can tell that someone else is holding the camera.

“Hello, Ms. Anastasia,” he says, and he appears to be standing outside. “So, I know you looked at the virtual tour, but it really didn’t do this place justice. Also, it was furnished with all that other shit, so you really can’t see the beautiful bones you have to work with here. Forgive me if I start to sound a little effeminate, but this is what I live for.

“Look at this. Have you seen this?” He flourishes like Vanna White as the camera follows him to the front doors. “Look at this. Distress wood oversized double doors with iron hinges. That’s not metal, baby. That’s iron. Come on… come inside…”

He gestures to the camera operator to follow him into the house. He dramatically opens both doors with another large flourish.

“Look at this!” he declares. “Look. At. This!” He twirls with his arms held out to demonstrate the space. “Listen… lead glass windows, travertine stone floors, mahogany floors, 100-year-old pine floors, stone walls and fireplaces, antiqued walls…”

He’s rattling off the attributes of the house as he parades through it pointing at various amenities. His poor cameraperson doesn’t have an opportunity to get shots of the house. They’re just filming Aaron as he points in different directions.

“Designer plasterwork—look at these walls, girl… Are you getting all this?”

“No, I’m not, Aaron, you’re going too fast,” I hear a female voice say. Aaron waves her off.

“You just gone have to keep up,” he says as he keeps walking. “Get that! Do you see that?”

The camera pans up to a sight the totally warms my heart—low ceilings and large wood beams.

“That’s in this part of the house. Another part of the house has high ceilings and stone floors. Ana Baby, this house is three houses in one. Looka here! Looka here!”

He gestures to his right and the camera pans to a beautiful wood staircase.

“Solid wood staircase going up to the second floor, and there’s a wrought iron staircase on the other end going down to the wine cellar, which still has wine in it, by the way.”

Aaron spends several minutes telling me about the structure and attributes of the house, including the fabulous and luxurious indoor pool area.

“The bones are amazing!” he says. “You don’t need to paint or resurface anything the floors are fabulous no walls need to be knocked out it’s a decorator’s dream I’m never leaving!”

I laugh to myself as he says the entire last sentence in one breath.

He walks us through the parlors and bars and bathrooms and a stunning kitchen with medium two-toned oak wood, mullioned glass, brunette marble countertops, and deluxe appliances and fixtures that create the perfect mixture of traditional Italian and modern convenience. Not only does it not need any renovations, but also… it’s fucking gorgeous!

These walls are a classic sandstone finish. Magnifique, my dear, magnifique! I’d bet anything that those beams are walnut,” he says of the beams we see on the ceilings throughout the house.

The ceilings in this room are straw and plaster. I haven’t seen this technique before, but it works for the old-world look….

You’ve got a door in here that looks like it’s carved from cedar—Bolivian, I think. Hold on, look at this hallway floor.”

He gestures the camera to a small area where the walls look a bit like a stonewash Tuscan in the colors of a sunset and directs the camera to the floor.

Oh. My. God.

“Girl! Tapestry! Marble tapestry! I’ve never seen anything this beautiful!”

To be honest, neither have I!

“You’ve got a lot of wrought iron in the back and some of it is aged—distressed with a rusted look. I say you leave it that way, but that’s just my opinion. You got red sun onyx in one of the bathrooms back there. It’s like whoever had this house didn’t know what they wanted to do with it, so they did everything with it and sold it once they ran out of ideas.”

After running around on the first floor for at least 20 minutes, we finally make it to the second floor.

The good thing about Italian villas—small bedrooms. The concept of the bedroom to the Italian—sleep and sex, that’s it.”

He quickly dashes in and out of several small bedrooms only big enough for a bed, an armoire, and a bench… maybe, and a few others that were a little larger, but not by much. There are more rooms on the second floor including areas that he called the “Mr. Darcy” rooms. I don’t know how he made that connection since Darcy was English and we’re in Italy, but c’est la vie.

I know I’ve put you to work on ideas for the house but trust me on this one. You’re going to want a mix of Baroque/Rococo with a touch of the modern. You’ve got areas in this house that are screaming muted, neutral colors and old Italian flair. Then your areas that take advantage of the natural light need a bit of a modern touch without going overboard. Even still, you have other areas with rustic and organic textures and architecture that can be Tuscan or Old-World. And then you have the Mr. Darcy areas that require a more finished look that’s not Beverly Hills or Manhattan 5th Avenue. No one style is going to work in this house, Love, and I’ve got to get to work toot sweet calling my vendors and locking down some European connections. I’m so excited! I’ll be in touch. I’ll have some sketches for you tomorrow and I’ll add some ideas to the Pinterest page. TTYL!”

My head is spinning from all the information that he just gave me in the video, and I’m just as excited seeing the house without all that crap in it—what I could see, that is. I’ve got a wonderful feel of what it should look like and contrary to what I originally thought, the mix of modern and old world is just eclectic enough to work.

And what the hell is TTYL?

We have a 15-hour time difference between us. I have no idea how we’re going to do this in two different world zones! I shoot him an email back suggesting that we find a time to talk that’s not too early or late for either of us and directing him to the ideas that I’ve already included on Pinterest. I express my glee with his findings and excitement to see what we’re going to do with the place, and finish by asking him what the fuck TTYL is.

*-*

It was a full day at Helping Hands today. I took a look at the information that Liam Westwick was looking for while he was here, and nothing seems out of place. Hopefully, that means that he won’t be back. I didn’t tell Christian about his visit. I felt that there was no need to open that can of worms since I wasn’t here anyway, but if he shows up again for any reason—whether I’m here or not—Christian will be the first to know. Once is a coincidence. Twice is a mission.

I settle in to my study when I get home and open my email to see that Aaron has sent me several stills of the rooms and layout of the villa. This is good considering the fact that he was so animated in the video that although I got a very good idea of the “bones” of the place, I had no visual feel for the actual size and shape of the rooms. I’m getting more excited to get started on choosing the décor now that I pretty much know what I’m working with.

I think I’m going to want a bit of oasis décor in the room with the indoor pool. It’s not just a room with a pool. The large pool is off to one side and the other side is a large mosaic tile floor with natural light coming in from a wall of windows that leads to a patio. Yes, I have plans for that space.

After dinner, I invite Sophie down to the study to go over some ideas for the villa. Having gotten a smart aleck response from Aaron to “ask a teenager” for the answer to my question, I decided to pose it to Sophie. I’ll have an answer for him for that one.

“Sophie, do you know what TTYL means?” I ask.

“Talk to you later.” Um…okay, was it something I said?

“Oh… you have to go so soon?” Sophie frowns.

“No,” she says bemused, then she laughs. “No, TTYL means ‘talk to you later.’”

TTYL… talk to you…

“Oooooohh,” I say in realization. “Well don’t I feel dense… and old!” Sophie giggles.

“Who was talking to you in text speech?” she asks.

“My designer,” I reply. “He was so excited about the ‘bones’ of the house, I think he just forgot.”

“Okay, I speak text and food. I don’t speak designer. What are ‘bones?’” she asks.

“So, as creepy as it sounds, it’s just what it sounds like. Bones are the frame of the house—the walls, the floors, the ceiling, the stairs. He sent me some great pictures and I can pretty much go in any direction I want and not go wrong.”

I start by showing her the pictures that Aaron finally got around to sending me of the various spaces as well as the blueprints.

“Wow, there are a lot of bedrooms!” she says.

“Tell me about it!” I concur. “He must have meant for us to invite family because there’s only four of us. Even if each of us brought our own security, that’s only eight. At the most, that’s six, maybe seven bedrooms. This place has 14 bedrooms!”

“Geez! Fourteen?” she says.

“My sentiments exactly. Luckily, they’re small, so we can just toss a bed and some accoutrements in there and call it a day!”

“Ooo! Like a doll house!” she says.

“Yes!” I nod, “exactly like a doll house.” I secretly decide that this will be her primary job since she’s showing the most enthusiasm about it, and of course she’ll be able to help with the rest of the house.

“Look at the kitchen,” I say, showing her a picture of the kitchen. She does a slow gasp.

“Wow,” she says dreamily. “Oh, wow, Aunt Ana, that’s beautiful…” She gazes at the picture and almost drifts dreamily off into it. At this moment, I hate Shalane to my very core and hope beyond hope that one way or another, she finds a heart and signs the documents to allow Sophie to come to Italy with us.

“What do you think?” I ask her.

“That I hope I get to cook in it,” she says, her voice cracking slightly at the end. I reach over and squeeze her hand.

“I hope you do, too,” I say. “Not that I’m trying to change the subject, but I’m trying to change the subject. I knew you were interested and even knew that you had a little background knowledge, but I had no idea you would be so talented. When did you find time to hone your cooking skills so well?”

“I practiced a little before Dad bought me la kitchen extraordinaire. Now, I’ve been doing lunches for my friends at school. They’re my guinea pigs and they love it.”

“Really?” I ask. She nods.

“It’s only two or three of them, and I don’t do it every day. I change up some of the ingredients of traditional meals and see how it works. I’ve had some successes… and some flaming failures. Those don’t make it to school,” she laughs.

“Well, you never know until you try,” I say, “and I’m sure that some of the greatest chefs found their best recipes from what you’re doing right now.”

“I ultimately want to get Gordon Ramsay’s beef wellington exactly right. I’m too nervous to try, though,” she admits.

“I am absolutely positive that you can do it,” I confirm.

“It was so good, though… remember?” she says, dreamily, and I’m glad that I was able to be a part of a memory that she will no doubt cherish for life.

“Yes, it was,” I agree, “and he’s only human, so you can do it.” She smiles sincerely.

“Thanks, Aunt Ana,” she says. “I will, someday.” I squeeze her hand again and turn back to the computer.

“Now,” I say. “I don’t want to keep you up too late on a school night, but I’ve decided that to start with, I’m going to put you on chamber duty and see what you come up with…”

“Chamber duty?” she asks bemused.

“The bedrooms,” I clarify. Her face lights up.

“Oh, cool!” she says, turning her focus back to the computer.

We exchange emails and I send Sophie pictures of the blueprints and of the bedrooms. My only requirement is that one of the rooms closest to the master bedroom has to be for the twins. We go through a few pictures of baroque and rococo designs and I don’t expect her to remember them, but I’m just trying to put some ideas in her head. She heads off to her apartment not too late in the evening, promising to send some ideas to my email.

I sit back in my office chair and ponder my life and Sophie’s after she has gone to bed. She’s got quite the harrowing tale to only be 14 years old. Granted, it’s nothing like mine and if Jason has anything to say about it, it never will be—but harrowing, nonetheless. So many times in just the last few years, her story could have had such a different and more tragic outcome.

What if that burn had been deeper? The scar shows that it was a really bad burn and it was so close to her wrist.

What if one of those times Shalane was on her drug binge, that creep had taken Sophie? Where would she be now?

For that matter, what if it hadn’t been a drug bust that night and she was successful in handing Sophie over to that guy? What did Shalane think he was going to do with her? Did she even care? The thought of someone even attempting to hurt Mackenzie makes my blood curdle and I feel bile bubbling in the back of my throat.

And what if Jason’s contact hadn’t told him that Sophie was at the police station that night? She would definitely be in the system now, and that would be a tragedy in and of itself.

My story could have turned out much differently, too, but everything that happened to me—good or bad—led to the person that I am today. While I am a firm believer of the saying, “Everything happens for a reason,” I can’t help but wonder what hardships that I—or Sophie—could have bypassed on our journey and still came out on the winning side of the equation. I can only hope that her experiences will ultimately lead to a happy outcome. Despite her mother’s interference, it seems like she’s going to be okay.

I close my laptop and head towards the elevator.

*-*

“You seem a bit reserved today,” I say to Marilyn during lunch on Wednesday. She shakes her head.

“Introspective,” she says. “I’m thinking about me and Gary.” I raise my brow.

“Oh?” I ask. “Anything you care to share?”

“We had that talk,” she confesses to me and she sips her iced tea. Uh oh… that talk?

“You did?” I ask. She nods.

“Yeah,” she says. “It was pretty brutal. There was a lot of crying, some accusations… we got our feelings out.” She looks at her drink. “I could use something stronger… but it’s not part of my regimen.” That doesn’t sound good.

“How did it work out?” I ask.

“We were both hurt by some of the revelations,” she admits. “We still are. We’re letting things simmer for a while. Emotions are very high… and they need to settle.”

“You’re taking a break?” I ask, my hope diminishing.

“Something like that,” she says calmly, a little too calmly.

“Is it something like that, Mare, or is that it?” I ask.

“It’s something like that,” she repeats. “We agree that we want to be together, that we want to fight for our relationship, but emotions were extremely high, and a lot of things came out—things that were hard to say and to hear. I’m going to have quite the session with Dora tomorrow.” She sips more of her tea.

“We’ve decided that it’s better if we sort things out in our own space. Living together affects the energy when you’re trying to work things out. So, he’s going to stay in his apartment and I’m going to stay here… unless you guys are ready for me to go.”

“You can stay here as long as you like, Mare. We’ve already had this discussion.” She nods.

“Good, because I don’t have any prospects right now… We’ve also decided to take a couple of days to marinate over everything we’ve discussed so as not to have a heated conversation about our latest discoveries. We’ve agreed not to dismiss them and to have calm debates about our differences, but it’s just not possible right now. We’re way too emotional.” And you’re way too logical at the moment.

“So, you guys called a time out,” I say. She nods.

“Yep… until Saturday.” She drops her gaze into her tea. “I really hurt him,” she adds. “I knew I did, or at least my decision did. I just didn’t realize how much. I really love him, and while I understand and accept that he didn’t deserve to go through what he went through, I didn’t deserve to go through what I went through, either. And this relationship counselor is not helping.” I frown.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“I feel like she’s tiptoeing around us and she doesn’t know what to say,” she says.

“Maybe she’s taking it slow,” I defend.

“Maybe she is,” Marilyn concurs, “but that’s not what we need. We’re beyond the goal-setting ‘where would you like to be in five years’ state. I’m all for setting goals and breaking them down into tasks, but we have definitive, volatile issues that we need to deal with right now and she’s not helping us to address them.” I twist my lips.

“Maybe you need a couple’s perspective,” I say. “That’s what me and Christian needed—not that sterile ‘how does that make you feel’ bullshit, but that get-your-hands-dirty, no-nonsense, no-hiding, ‘why the fuck did you do that’ kind of therapy.” She raises her gaze to me.

“Where did you find that kind of therapy?” she asks.

“We didn’t, it found us,” I reveal. “Jason and Gail. That was brutal, but it was what we needed. We had referees to tell us when the conversation was over, because when it stops being productive, it’s over. But they also helped us face the hard truths about our relationship because they approached us as friends—no fear of getting fired, just getting in and getting the hands dirty. I believe it’s part of what saved our marriage because there’s so many steps in getting back.” She shakes her head.

“We don’t know Gail and Jason well enough to do that. I wouldn’t be comfortable with that.”

“But you know me and Christian,” I retort.

“I don’t think Gary would be comfortable with that!” she says.

“Marilyn, from what I’m hearing from you, Gary’s been talking to Christian more than you think,” Her brow furrows.

“You think so?” she asks surprised. I scoff.,

“Ask him,” I say. “See how he feels about having couples therapy with us instead of this loser that you’re seeing on Monday nights.” She shrugs.

“Well, it couldn’t hurt. I’ll see what he says.”


CHRISTIAN

“Jesus, man, where have you been hiding her?” Alex asks when he comes into my office on Wednesday. “She’s incredible. First day on the job and she could spot issues that have been issues for years with just one look. I better stay on my toes!”

“I haven’t been hiding her,” I say. “I just didn’t know she was out of work.”

“She’s got a case if she wants to sue the company that fired her,” Allen chimes in. “There’s every bit of a reason to argue mitigating circumstances in her actions. Time was of the essence—we knew that then, and we know it now. That asshole was planning to move Jewel…”

“I don’t think we’ll be pursuing that,” I cut him off. “What’s done is done. Let’s just let sleeping dogs lie.” Allen raises a brow at me.

“Mr. I-Want-Blood Christian Grey wants to let sleeping dogs lie?” he says, nonplussed.

“Oh, no, I’d sue them all the way down to their toenails, but I really don’t think that’s what Sarah wants. I think she just wants peace and to be independent again.” Allen twists his lips.

“You may be right about that,” he says. “I asked if she and her estranged husband had any community property that she wanted to attach, and she just shook her head. When I talked about his shop, she stopped me in the middle of the conversation and told me that she didn’t want anything from that man but his absence. It’s probable that if she doesn’t want to pursue anything from him, she most likely won’t want to drag anything out with her old employer either.”

“Exactly,” I reply. “It’s like pulling teeth just to get her to take what I think is due to her. She truly doesn’t want anything more, especially not something that may cause her trouble.”

“Well, I have work to do, so I’m going back to my office. I’ll talk to you guys later.” Allen dismisses himself and leaves the office. Alex watches as he gets on the elevator and stands and closes the door. I watch as he walks over to my desk and activates my scrambler.

“So, the governor was right about one thing,” he begins. “The heat is on with that particular ‘missing person’ because it has the whole ‘Hollywood Madam’ smell to it.”

“I figured as much. Any additional information?” I ask.

“In fact, there is. Her… most recent male companion is the one under the most scrutiny now. If you remember, he liked to watch, so Little Red Riding Hood had a favorite toy that used to come around and participate in the show. She’s the one that put out the APB on her missing girlfriend. She knew about Daddy, for lack of a better word, but when there was no word from Red for a couple of weeks, she rightfully became concerned.”

“So, where does it stand now?” I ask.

“Same place,” he replies. “Those closest to you are the usual suspects, so that’s why the spotlight is mostly on him as her plaything filed the missing persons’ report. The only reason the police are really sniffing this hard is because they’re hoping to find that big conspiracy buried under the disappearance, but all evidence leads to her packing up and leaving town—that maybe she got spooked when her source suddenly fell ill, but her car is gone, her ID, most of her personal belongings, and her bank accounts have been cleaned out.”

“So, what if this phantom manuscript they’re hoping to find pops up somewhere?” I ask.

“Sources say that they’re probably going to leak that they did find a manuscript to try to shake some loose fruit from the trees, so be ready. Even if there was a manuscript remaining out there, it would be like The Help—great reading, but still conjecture without the support of the characters or the author. Not only that, but anyone who tried to publish that book right now would have to have the physical backing of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and balls the size of Jupiter. The ghostwriter with all the information has come up missing and the source is suddenly drastically indisposed. And who are their prime suspects? Some of the most powerful men in the state—and if they look close enough, it’ll probably go further than that. Who wants that kind of uncertainty to publish a book? And even if it turns out to be a New York Times best seller, how much would you pay for a good night’s sleep?”

“Won’t you following the tracks and digging into the case shine the light back on me?” I ask.

“Not at all,” he replies, “for several reasons, the very smallest of which is that they pulled you into this. They questioned you first. You not wanting to know what the meaning of this was or wanting to get some answers is much more suspicious than you digging around in it.”

“Good point,” I say. “Does it look like they’re going to drop it anytime soon?”

“We won’t know until and if they say they’ve found a manuscript. Anybody who could possibly be in that book is going to be tearing their hair out trying to get more information on what’s in it. And I can tell you now that the word will be that forensic psychologists and profilers are deciphering the ‘Fleiss Code’ in the book to determine who all the big names are. So, when and if this drops, it’s important that you remain calm and undisturbed.”

“That won’t be a problem,” I reply. “It’s like I told Charlotte, anybody who thinks they could possibly publish anything about me would be looking at years and years of injunctions and lawsuits. Imagine what would happen if the boys in blue tried to build a case like this on me based on conjecture.”

Grateful for the update from Alex about the situation that I would have hoped would long ago be part of my past, I get back to work on the business of mergers and acquisitions. Lorenz and Ros primed two deals while I was in Vegas as I opened the floor for new prospects once the company started looking like what GEH should and the executive and administrative staff got their asses in gear. These two new prospects look deliciously ripe for the picking, and one of the companies is begging for a white knight, and with just a little direction, they can be totally stable again. A third looks like they’re going to need some work even if we do acquire them.

Speaking of acquisitions, I’m signing the papers for the sale of the final division of Fairlane LTD. I had to do a little clean-up to make them presentable, but I made a fortune on selling the company off bit by bit. Junior did everything he could to stop me—press releases, sabotage… He didn’t get that his father’s poison pill was the very worst that could be done and it didn’t make a dent in the situation. He hands over a soiled bride and then becomes angry when the groom chooses to take action.

What’s more, there hasn’t been a word from Fairlane, Sr. It’s like he took his payout and ran, leaving all the mess in Junior’s hands to deal with. With the way that his son behaves, I have a feeling that this was an expensive lesson that Sr. wanted to teach him. And what an expensive lesson to learn. He didn’t leave him broke—he still had his job and his position. He just had to play nice with the new boss, which he didn’t do.

I wouldn’t fire him, because that meant I would have to give him a severance package. He could only quit, and that meant leaving with nothing. So, he tried to make his presence unbearable for me. Little Boy, Fairlane was a subsidiary—a fast-fading subsidiary that was quickly being parceled and sold to the highest bidder, no string attached. Just show me the money and take it. What he thought was a bargaining chip quickly became a rotting potato rind, and all he did was kick and scream and have a temper tantrum, complaining to the press about an acquisitions king making an acquisition and selling the acquisition for a profit… Ooooo, hot news.

Now, with the sale of the last division of the company, his future is uncertain at best. Maybe he’ll play nice with the next owners, assuming they decide to keep him on.

While continuing through my emails for whatever other pieces of information may be vital, I see a communication from Mrs. Riddick in Nevada. It appears that the sensitivity training has begun for the staff at Summerlin Hospital. I would think that in this kind of environment, these professionals would already know how to treat someone going through something like this. Really, Carla could have died. Then, what would they have said to my wife after treating her so horribly?

Mrs. Riddick made it a point to tell me that the Stoic Sisters—the two shrews from the hospital board—were among the first to be required to take the training, along with the catty nurses who have been reprimanded for their treatment of my wife. I forward the email to Butterfly as I’m sure it’ll be a welcome bright spot to her day.

The rest of the week proceeds without incident, unless you count the surprise that my wife sprung on me on Thursday about being relationship counselors to Marilyn and Garrett.

“Are you serious?” I ask. “I hardly think they would want to break down the intimate details of their relationship to me.

“And why not?” Butterfly retorts. “I came home that night of the party to find you two chatting it up on the balcony. Oh, and I guess Gary came up with all these ideas to win Marilyn back all by himself—flowers and poems and, oh, the self-made serenade playlist of songs. You certainly had nothing to do with that, right?” I thrust my hands into my hair.

“We just kind of happened upon those conversations,” I protest. She twists her lips.

“Um-hmm,” she says. “I suppose Gary was just skipping through the house and you said, ‘Hey, Gare, let’s have a chat,’ right?”

Now she’s being sarcastic.

“Men are different than women,” I say. “They feel strange about… spilling their guts to someone else with all the dirty little details about their relationship.”

“Did you feel that way talking to Jason?” she asks.

“Jason was different. He knows everything there is to know about me… my lifestyle, my childhood, my business, everything.”

“Well, I’m that person to Gary,” she says, “but he needs a man’s point of view, and you’ve been the one giving that to him. I think they really need this, just like we needed Gail and Jason, but if you’d rather not…”

“No, no, you’re right,” I say, thrusting my hand in my hair again. “I’ve just… never been in this position before—counseling someone else on a relationship? It just seems like delicate territory and I don’t want to fuck up. What do I say to them? How do I do this?”

“You listen to what they have to say, and you respond with how you feel just like you have been with Gary on his own… except don’t reem him out like you did at the party. That would be counterproductive.”

“No, I know that,” I lament. She pauses.

“I’ll be there to help you,” she says, pushing the fallen strands of my hair out of my face. “We’ve learned a lot in the course of our relationship, and you’ve grown so much. We’ve grown. I see a couple who looks just like we did only a few months ago, desperately wanting to be together, but they don’t know how. I think they can benefit from what we’ve learned about relationships—about each other and about ourselves.”

“I’ve never had to deal with an abortion, though, baby,” I tell her. “I don’t know how to empathize with losing a child.”

“But you know how betrayal feels,” she interjects, “or at least your interpretation of it. That’s what we’re dealing with.” I sigh heavily.

“I’ll try,” I say. “I certainly don’t want to leave them out in the cold, so I’ll try.”

*-*

Monday and our first “session” with Marilyn and Garrett come only too quickly for my liking. My wife is right, though. If anyone is going to be able to help them get back on track with their relationship, it’s going to be someone that knows them well and won’t pull any punches. Both of those are true with me and Butterfly. I don’t know Garrett as well as Jason knows me, but I know him well enough… and he already knows that I won’t pull any punches with him. I’ll give it to him straight whether he likes it or not.

The four of us have gathered in my den after work, the same place where Jason and Gail counseled me and Butterfly. Butterfly and I are each sitting in one of the wingback chairs while Garrett and Marilyn are both sitting on the sofa across from us.

“So, we all know why we’re here,” Butterfly begins. “I’m glad that you guys decided to do this. I know it’s not an easy process, but it is necessary if you hope to move forward.”

“We’re going to start by setting a few expectations,” she says. “First, this is going to be a difficult process. It’s not going to happen overnight. Second, but should be first, we are going to respect each other’s feelings in this process. That doesn’t mean that you should bite your tongue and not express your feelings, but it does mean that you shouldn’t be disrespectful to anyone in this room. I expect for emotions to run rampant, but I still expect for respect and consideration to be the primary focus or there won’t be any progress.

“Third, Christian and I are not here to take sides. We won’t be arbitrators. At the most, we’re here to help you and to help interpret your feelings. We need you both to be receptive, because we know that some of what you hear is going to be tough to take.”

Those expectations help me to breathe easier. The last thing I want for them to think is that this is going to be a fix-all or that we’re here to solve their problems. Just like me and Butterfly, they’re going to have to work through what they’re feeling and come up with a solution. It wasn’t easy for us; it won’t be easy for them.

“The easiest place to begin is where you left off with your couples’ counseling,” she says, and Garrett scoffs an impatient sigh.

“Gary?” she says.

“It was a waste of time,” he says, frustrated. “She had us setting relationship goals like we had never met before. We’ve got real issues—real problems, and she acted like she wanted us to tell her what color our kitchen would be.” Butterfly frowns and we both look at Marilyn. She nods.

“Considering where we are and where we’ve been, her methods were just that ineffectual,” Marilyn confirms.

“Wow,” Butterfly says. “Well, she may have been on the right track to have you set goals for your relationship, but she clearly wasn’t going about it the right way. What was she telling you to do?”

“’Gary, I don’t like it when you’ and ‘Gary, it hurts me when you…’” Marilyn’s voice is syrupy and pretentious as she mimics the process of her previous couples’ therapy sessions. I squint and grimace so hard in confusion that Gary gestures at me as if to say, “Exactly.”

“Yeah… yeah, you’re way beyond that,” Butterfly confirms. “Did you tell her that you guys had just come off of a three-month break-up brought on by the termination?”

“We did,” Garrett says. Butterfly clears her throat.

“During your sessions with her, have you talked about the termination and how it has effected your relationship?” she presses.

“Briefly,” Marilyn replies.

“Briefly?” Butterfly mimics my previous grimace and looks at me.

“Where did this woman get her license?” she wonders out loud.

“You’re asking me?” I retort.

“No, I’m verbally expressing my horror,” she says before she turns back to Marilyn and Garrett.

“Eventually, we are going to talk about goals. It’s important to outline where you want to be when this is all over… but let’s back up a bit, shall we?”

“Fine by me,” Garrett says.

“Ditto,” Marilyn concurs.

“Marilyn confided in me that the two of you had a talk,” Butterfly says. “She didn’t give me the details, but she did tell me that the two of you were very hurt when the conversation ended—so hurt in fact that you decided to take a few days off.”

I didn’t know that.

“We need to talk about that—about that discussion and the revelations that were uncovered. You need to decipher how much of it was reality and how much was just painful outburst; what specifically brought it on and what you need to address to move forward.”

They’re both quiet for a moment.

“You have to talk to us,” I tell them. “We have to know where to start to be able to help you.”

More silence…

“I told her how I felt,” Garrett begins. “I told her exactly how I felt the day she came back to the apartment after the termination. I wasn’t politically correct. I wasn’t polite or respectful, I called her out of her name…” he trails off.

“What did you call her?” Butterfly asks.

“A murderous bitch,” Marilyn says when Garrett doesn’t reply. I try not to visibly flinch at the description. I don’t know how successful I am.

“Do you really think that?” I ask Garrett. His head is down as he answers.

“I did,” he says honestly. “That day when I saw her and she had killed my baby, that’s exactly how I felt.” Marilyn turns her head away from the group as she listens to Garrett.

“But do you still feel that way?” I ask, my voice even. He slowly shakes his head.

“I know… that it’s so much more than that… that there’s so much more to all of this… so, no… I don’t.” His words are slow and controlled. Not practiced, but controlled.

“Then I need you both to look at me,” I say. All three heads turn or raise in my direction. Butterfly is praying that I don’t say the wrong thing. Garrett is expectant and Marilyn is crying again. I sigh before I speak.

“Your tongue is the most powerful muscle on your body,” I say. “The tongue can heal and kill with a word, so remember this. If you don’t really feel that way, never say that again. There are things that you can say to someone that you can’t take back, and I can guarantee you, that’s one of them. Those two words on their own have connotations that dig deeper than a backhoe. How much more powerful do you think they are when you put them together and say them to the woman that you claim to love?”

Garrett sighs heavily and covers his face with both hands, dropping his head in dismay.

“I know you’re hurt,” I say. “You both are,” I add, turning to Marilyn, “but please remember that what you say—now and later—will have long and far reaching consequences. Don’t hold your feelings back, but don’t say anything that you don’t mean or that you don’t want to stick, because whatever you say, especially right now. Will. Stick.”

Garrett nods under his hands and Marilyn tries to wipe away her tears. I hand her my handkerchief and she nods her thanks.

“Gary,” Butterfly says, “it’s okay that you felt that way. It’s even okay that you said that you felt that way, but it’s not okay if you still feel that way. Do you?” He sighs and moves his hands from his face, now covered in tears.

“I don’t,” he says. “It still hurts that my baby is gone, but I don’t feel like it was murder… and I don’t think she’s a bitch. I’m going to therapy myself to deal with the loss… but no, I don’t feel like that.”

“What were you thinking when you called her that?” she asks.

“I felt like… I was very emotional,” he says. “I felt like the therapist wasn’t addressing what we needed to address, so I had to address it…”

“You said this at therapy?” Butterfly asks.

“No,” he says, shaking his head, “I said it the next day.”

“How did you feel when you heard that, Marilyn?” Butterfly asks.

“Like I didn’t want to see him again,” she says.

“I sensed that,” Butterfly says. Marilyn and Garrett both turn their gaze to her. “Forgive me, but I have to say this. When you were talking to me, even though you didn’t give me any details—you just said that you guys cried and things were said—I saw it. I saw it and I heard it. I’ve paid close attention to you for these last few months. I’ve been worried about you. I knew when nothing was working. But I saw something last Wednesday when you talked to me that I hadn’t seen the entire time you’ve been going through this. I saw the end.”

Marilyn doesn’t respond.

“You were a bit withdrawn like you had been, but not forlorn. When we talked, I could tell that your whole relationship was up in the air, hanging in the balance and totally dependent on what happened when you saw Gary on Saturday.” Garrett looks over at her.

“We were supposed to go out,” he says, “but you didn’t want to. We spent a little time together. We talked, and then you told me that you were tired.” Marilyn rolls her eyes.

“Did you hear what he said to me?” she asks, her voice incredulous. “Did you hear what he called me? Is that something that he’s going to throw up to my face when he’s angry? I’ve seen couples do that. I’ve seen them reach into the past and find a hurtful statement or a painful moment and throw it in the other one’s face to win a fight, or because they’re emotional!” She tearfully spits the word out with disdain, the word that Garrett used not five minutes ago to describe his mental state when he said those words to her.

“Is that what he’s going to do to me? Is that what I have to look forward to? Because I can’t do that. I can’t live like that—I won’t! I had my reasons for what I did—real, valid reasons. Women make this decision every day, and my reasons have consistently been dismissed by those who claimed to love me the most. I’m not even speaking to my parents right now because they blindly threw me in judgment. After being without you for months, feeling like I wanted to die every second of every day, enduring some of the most tortuous pain that I’ve ever felt in my life, then to have you come back and lodge those horrible insults at me… I’ll take being without you. It’s more than I can bear, and I won’t tolerate it… ever!

Go, Marilyn! The inner me is doing a fist pump right now that no matter what happened between them, she will not accept his abuse.

“What do you say to that, Gary?” Butterfly asks.

“She’s right,” he replies. “I’m hurt… I’m getting better, but I’m still hurt. No matter how much I hurt, she didn’t deserve that.” Marilyn sighs heavily, then uses my handkerchief to dry her face.

“So, what happens when you feel that way again—when you’re angry and you can’t control your tongue?” I ask.

“I’ll remember the things that she said that night… the things that she said tonight. I’ll remember her face,” he says looking over at Marilyn, “and I’ll remember that you can’t speak to people that way, that I can’t talk to her that way.”

He fucking better remember, because he’s seriously about to lose his woman.

“Can you love her after feeling this way about her?” Butterfly asks.

“I do love her,” he replies. “I love her so much. I just want to get past this and heal.”

“But you may never heal from this,” I interject. “Your feelings are raw, and they’re real. What do you do if you can’t heal?”

“I’m already healing, Christian,” he says, his eyes still full of tears. “It’s a slow process, but I am.” He turns to Marilyn. “I know you didn’t just kill my baby,” he says, “even though my baby is gone. You made a decision, a decision that you felt you needed to make. I need you to understand that decision hurt me, ripped me to my core. For months, I would venture to say that my pain was just as unbearable as yours. I cried and I cried, and there seemed to be no end in sight. I thought that pain would never go away. And then I saw you…”

He drops his head again.

“I was still hurting when I saw you, but it was like the world just stopped. You looked haggard and broken and sick. You really looked like you were dying and I couldn’t even think clearly. At first, I felt like your parents—like your sin had caught up with you and you were paying for it. God forgive me, seeing your pain soothed a bit of mine. I’m sorry, but it’s true. But seeing the effect that this was having on you…” He shakes his head.

“When you ran outside to the golf course and you fell on the grass, I thought you were going to die. I thought this was the last straw and you were just going to keel over and I had to get to you before you died. You screamed and I swear the heavens cracked open in anguish. I just wanted it to stop. I wanted it all to stop… all of it.”

He drops his head into his hands again. This is hard for him to talk about, and I feel like a first-class heel for all those times that I called him an asshole.

“I don’t know how to deal with these feelings,” he admits. “They’re all-consuming. It was bliss when the love was all-consuming, but the pain… I’m getting help, but this is really unfamiliar territory to me.” Butterfly sighs.

“You two are remarkably like Christian and me,” she says. “Mare, you have some guidelines on what a relationship should and shouldn’t look like and this is Gary’s first real relationship.”

I look incredulously over at Butterfly. Is she having one of her moments? Did she forget that disaster that Garrett brought to Escala at our first F&L? What was her name—Britany?

“You didn’t have any relationships before Ana?” Garrett asks incredulously, breaking my train of thought. I turn my gaze quickly to him.

“I had relations, but not relationships,” I clarify as I look back to Butterfly. “Aren’t you forgetting someone?” She raises a brow at me.

“Am I?” she asks, expecting.

“He’s talking about Bethany,” Garrett says. Bethany! That was her name.

“No, I didn’t forget Bethany,” Butterfly replies, matter-of-factly. “He met Bethany right around the time that I met you, and he broke up with her in our presence. Do you call that a relationship?” I twist my lips. No… no I would not. I’ve had submissives who lasted longer.

“That’s where you’re similar,” Butterfly says. “You had both had encounters, but they were very short—or meaningless—and never went anywhere. Christian was emotionally closed off with all of his females and you never sealed the deal before Marilyn.”

Okay, there’s a news flash! Never sealed the deal before Marilyn? Garrett was a virgin? I fail to hide my surprise.

“Yes, Christian, I was still a virgin when I met Marilyn, even though I had previously fallen for an obvious thot and brazen hoochie,” Garrett informs, adequately reading my thoughts. Whew! Yeah, they need us. This guy has absolutely no direction and I totally know how that feels. Had there been any real relationships in his past, he wouldn’t have dared let those words escape his lips about Marilyn.

“Marilyn?” Butterfly coaxes. “You look like…”

He was hurt!” she spits, interrupting Butterfly. “His baby is gone. He was emotional. This was my body… is my body! My health and nine months of my life—and then some!

“I’m 25 years old!” she declares. “I haven’t traveled. I haven’t done anything with my life yet. I’m going day by day, saving some money, but I haven’t made any concrete plans for my future. I don’t own a house; I’m not financially well-off. Nobody could understand why I didn’t want a baby right now? Were you ready to have a baby when you were 25?” she shoots at Gary. His face blanches and he doesn’t answer.

“Motherhood and childcare and medical expenses,” she continues, her voice rising with her emotions. “My whole life would change! My future was being written for me and nobody felt like I had a say in that. I can still have children! When I’m ready! But nobody felt like I had the right to say that I wasn’t ready right now!

We were using protection. I don’t know what happened. All of our behavior and actions said that we weren’t ready right now. But when it happened, suddenly all bets were off and all of our precautions meant nothing! I had the right to choose, all right—the right to choose to have this baby or lose everything important to me in my life… the man I love, my parents respect, my damn appetite and sense of self-preservation, everything!” She leaps from her seat and walks over to the window, sobbing fervently.

“You gave me the world and then you took it away!” she sobs. “I’m not just hurt—I’m angry! I’m completely undone! You showed me paradise and with no warning whatsoever you kicked me into hell! How could you?” she wails.

We’re all stunned for a moment. I’m not sure any of us have seen this level of fever and emotion from her in months. It’s been quiet disintegration or silent mourning, but not shouting from the rooftops hurt and angry.

“You wonder why I can’t be touched?” she wails. “You wonder why I can’t let you in? Why I can’t trust you… or anybody? My mother and my father—the two most important people in my life—turned their backs on me; shunned, disgraced, and condemned me—for the same reason you did!”

She’s screaming now. Gary stands to go over to her, but Butterfly catches his arm and shakes her head. He wants this to stop, but Marilyn needs to get this out.

“There was no right decision,” she cedes tearfully, “not for me, anyway. The decision wasn’t mine to make. It was everybody else’s. I had no say in the matter. I may never be able to speak to my parents again unless I want to hear about this each time that I talk to them, and now I have to worry about hearing it with you? No! No! I won’t do it! I’ll be alone. I’ll never let anyone touch me again. I’ll never let anyone near me again before I endure that! Any of that! Ever again!”

She buries her face in her hand and sobs and wails mournfully, the same hopeless crying that she was doing on the putting green a few weeks ago. Gary wrenches from Butterfly’s grasp and goes over to Marilyn, wrapping his arms around her shaking body from behind.

“Baby, I’m sorry,” Garrett says, his voice thick with tears. “I’m so, so sorry. I was hurt… I am hurt, but I didn’t think of you at all during this whole thing and that was so selfish of me. We could’ve gotten through this, but I didn’t care. I was only thinking about my own pain. It was hard, and this could’ve been a bump in our relationship—a big bump, but a bump nonetheless—and I’ve turned it into a cavern. I want to fix this… with my whole heart, I want to fix this. I don’t want to be without you, and if I haven’t completely destroyed everything, when and if you’re ever ready to have children, I want to be that guy. I know it’s going to take time and work to get past this, but we can do it, I know we can. Please, baby. Please, give us another chance, I’m begging you…”

Marilyn quickly turns in his arms and wraps her arms tightly around his neck, weeping on his shoulder. He holds her close and lets her cry. Yes, there’s a ton of work to be done here, jointly and severally, but I’d say tonight’s session is over. Butterfly leans over to me.

“The tongue is an organ,” she whispers to me.

“It’s a muscular organ,” I say, and I know of what I speak.


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

Pictures related to the progress of the Italian Villa can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/italy/italian-villa/

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~~love and handcuffs