Raising Grey: Chapter 48—’Round and ‘Round… and ‘Round

THE MUSE HAS GONE CRAZY!!!!

So, unless the layout and the flow of the story as I see it changes somehow, you can expect for “Raising” to be longer than the typical 80 chapters. I may find a place where I can break the story and start a new book, but if it’s flowing well and there’s nowhere for a cohesive time break, I’ll just keep it going.

HOWEVER…

Golden is currently on hold because Lynn is overwhelmed. I still know where I want it to go, and it’s definitely going to be a shorter story than the Butterfly Saga, but if I can’t give my best, I’m not giving anything at all, and the nuances of the story aren’t flowing as well as I would like with all that I have on my plate. So, Golden fans, I apologize for not updating as much as I should, but I can only do so much at once.

My darling Falala, you are the only one who has indicated that they’ve had that problem with having to re-follow the blog. I hope that’s not a trend and I hope you haven’t had further problems. Anybody else having any issues? I got two emails that said, “falalax is now following your blog.” I was like, “Huh? I thought she was already following my blog. Gotta love the world wide web…

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

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

Chapter 48—’Round and ‘Round

ANASTASIA

I take a quick shower and change into something more suitable for travel. When I exit the bathroom, I’m headed towards the living room area when I hear Christian’s voice.

“Hi, little man. Daddy loves you. Take care of the house until I get back, okay?”

I back away from the doorway so as not to interrupt his cooing time with the Prince of Grey Crossing.

“I miss you, Mikey. I miss you so much and I love you. Take care of your sister for me…”

I can imagine that seeing his father and brothers in such turmoil is causing his emotions to flip like crazy. I hear silence for a moment, then I hear,

“Hey Lelliot… yeah, it’s done. It was brutal, man… Listen, you know when I’m giving you shit, I’m just giving you shit, right? I don’t mean anything by it… Yeah, it’s just…” He sighs. “This place, man—this place fucks with me, and watching Freeman and Dad… Just know that I love you, man. I’ll always be there for you even when you act like a fucking jerk, but don’t act like a fucking jerk, okay?… Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s the whole married thing, I guess.”

I’d love to know what Elliot said that elicited that response.

“I’m ready to get out of here. Nothing is jogging any memories with me, but this place seems to bring out the worst in my family and I’m ready to shake it off… She didn’t go to the reading with us, which I’m glad that she didn’t. If Freeman had said anything to my wife…” He trails off. “Having her here has been a tremendous comfort for me though. She dropped everything just to be here and sit in a hotel room while the Grey brothers battled it out… Dad’s at Uncle Stanley’s with Uncle Herman. They’re going through the contents of a safe deposit box that Pops had at Chase Bank. Apparently, Uncle Herman’s name was on it, too, but he didn’t know until we went to the bank today. It was a big fucker with another big box inside, and they decided that they didn’t want to go through it in the bank in case—you know—there’s sentimental shit in there. Dad broke down in the car after the reading…”

He didn’t tell me that part.

“Well, I’m just waiting for the go-ahead from Jason that the jet is ready, and from Dad that he’s ready, and we’ll be the fuck out of here.”

I begin making noise and moving around because my entrance right when he ends the call will look very suspicious. I make sure that we haven’t left anything—toiletries in the bathroom, things in the drawers or nightstand. I wonder if Jason and Christian got everything from the first room.

“Okay, man, I’ll see you when I get back… I love you, Lelliot.” Christian ends his call when he sees me puttering around the room.

“How’s Elliot?” I ask. “Is everything okay?” I reach in my purse for pink lipstick and apply it to my lips.

“Yeah, everything’s fine,” he says, coming into the bedroom. “I just wanted to touch bases with him, you know, after our last conversation.” I put my lipstick away and raise my eyes to him.

“This has been hard for you, hasn’t it?” I ask, my brow furrowed.

“In more ways than one,” he admits, his hand pushing through his hair. “Pops is gone. He’s not coming back. Why wouldn’t the brothers pull together during this time? Bury the hatchet and kill all the ill feelings? Yeah, Uncle Stan and Dad and Uncle Herman are clinging to each other like glue, but Freeman…” He raises his head. “Freeman is a monster. On my worst days—back when I didn’t give a fuck about anything or anybody—I could never treat Elliot that way… never!” I gently touch his cheek.

“Of course, you wouldn’t,” I say softly. “Freeman is a broken man. He’s miserable inside and there’s no telling how long he’s been that way, so he makes it his business to make everyone else as miserable as he is.” Christian shakes his head.

“That sounds a lot like you’re making excuses for his behavior, baby,” he says. I twist my lips.

“No,” I reply matter-of-factly. “I’m a psychiatrist. I’m just shrinking him. All I’m saying is that hurt people hurt people, and he never got over his hurt. It just festered and festered until it made him the miserable human being that he is now.”

“Yeah, that sounds more like Freeman. Rotten ass bastard.”

Christian and I sit in the room for several more minutes. We’ve got the room reserved for two nights, just in case something happens, and we need to stay another day, even though we both—no doubt—silently hope that won’t be the case. Just after Christian gets word that the jet and pilot will be all set and on standby in the next thirty minutes he gets a call from his father. His voice is accommodating, but his facial expression shows deep displeasure.

“What is it?” I ask when he ends the call. He doesn’t respond. He just calls Jason.

“Meet us downstairs,” he says. So, we’re leaving. “There was a key to a storage facility among the things in the safe deposit box. Dad asked that we bring the truck in case there’s a lot of shit in there.”

What? It’s nearly nightfall! So… we’re not leaving.

I sigh heavily. This is not what I was hoping to hear. Not only is Maria supposed to be coming into town this weekend so that we can view the interview, but I miss my babies and I want to go home. This place is fucking with my goddamn chi!

“Come on, baby,” my husband says as he ends the call. “I don’t care what’s in that storage bin. We’ll be on that plane tonight.”

Music to my ears.

*-*

The storage facility is in a city called Oak Park, just on this side of Detroit. A code activates the large sliding gate and we drive to Burt’s storage bin.

It’s huge. We’ll be here all night.

Christian tells me to stay warm in the car, but I refuse. I want to see what’s in there, too. I get out of the car and follow my unhappy husband to the rolling door of the storage bin. Herman removes the lock and rolls the door up. We all stare at the contents in dismay.

Boxes. Lots and lots of boxes. This is going to take days to go through, not hours. Maybe even weeks. Herman sighs.

“My father’s whole life is probably in this thing,” he laments. “He probably had the monthly rents coming off a credit card or something. It’s still not closed.”

“Jesus, I forgot all about this,” Stan says. Herman and Carrick look at him. “When you guys went to Washington, Dad had the house packed up. I saw some of what was happening, but I didn’t see everything. I didn’t even stick around for most of it. I never even knew what happened to the key. When Dad died…” Stan gestures to the stuffed storage unit, “… this was the last thing on my mind. I’m sorry, guys.”

“No need for that, Stan,” Carrick says, squeezing his brother’s shoulder. “We were all a bit rudderless when Dad died. It would have come out eventually… and it did. I assume Freeman didn’t know anything about it or it would be empty by now.” Stan shrugs.

“I don’t know… I guess not. I didn’t keep it a secret from him or anything. You know how either you’re involved in the action or you’re not and if you’re not, you don’t have any information?”

Carrick and Herman nod.

“So, what do you want to do?” Stan asks. “The office is closed, so we can’t talk to anybody right now.”

“It wouldn’t matter,” Herman says. “I didn’t think to bring Dad’s death certificate with me or my executor documents. I thought we were just reading the will.” He rubs the back of his neck.

“It’s your call, Herm,” Carrick says. “Dad says you disperse the stuff as you see fit.”

“That was the safe deposit box,” Herman says.

“And the key to the storage facility was in the safe deposit box,” Carrick points out. “By extension, that means the storage facility, too.”

“We’ll support whatever you want to do, Herm,” Stan says, looking at Carrick, and Carrick nods. Herman sighs again.

“Mom’s jewelry was in the safe deposit box. Those model cars are most likely in there,” he says, pointing to the wall of boxes. Now Carrick sighs.

“What do you want to do?” he says, his voice soft, and I can tell that whatever “those model cars” are, they mean a lot to him.

“We have to go through this stuff, guys,” Herman says. “This is Dad’s stuff. We can’t just dispose of it, but I can’t do this now. I need to regroup in the worst way, and I know you guys do, too.” He looks at the boxes in front of him. “These boxes are sealed well, and I didn’t bring anything to cut them open.” He rubs his face.

“I’ll call the storage facility in the morning,” he continues, “find out what kind of arrangement my dad had with them and get them a copy of the death certificate and such,” he sighs. “But right now, I need my Luma.”

I know what that means. We’re going home.

“You go home, Herm,” Stan says, putting his hand on Herman’s shoulder. “I know exactly how you feel.”

“Yeah,” Carrick chokes, rubbing the back of his neck. “Me, too.” Christian reaches over and takes my hand in his, bringing his lips to my temple.

“Me, three,” he says against my forehead. Herman closes and locks the storage facility and we all head back to the cars. Stanley says his goodbyes and gets into his car while the rest of us get into the two rentals. Jason and Carrick have a quick conversation before we take off for the airport.

Now, I don’t know Michigan very well, but I know enough to know that we are driving back in the direction that we came from… away from the airport. My husband realizes it, too.

“Jason, where are we going?” Christian asks.

“Mr. Grey asked me to follow him. I thought he had already spoken to you,” Jason says, occasionally glancing into the rear mirror. I look over at Christian who doesn’t look pleased.

“My dad wouldn’t lead us into danger,” he says, “but next time, consult with me first.” Jason’s ears pinken.

“Yes, sir,” he says. “My apologies, sir. I, um, took the liberty of arranging for dinner options to be served on the flight, sir,” he adds. Christian nods, somewhat appeased by the gesture.

“Good man,” he says, and sits back in his seat. “I just don’t want anything to delay us getting the hell out of here,” he adds, more to himself than to anyone else.

We turn down an expressway labelled “I-696” and head west. I know we’re not headed back to Stanley’s house, because his house is further north. Christian squeezes my hand a bit as we drive down 696 for a few minutes, not comfortable at all not knowing where we’re going. After a few more minutes, we connect to another expressway called “I-275” and head south. I know that the airport is south, but we had to go through Detroit to get there. Now, I’m curious.

I gently nudge my hand from Christian’s and pull out my phone. Opening Google maps, I enter our current location—696 and 275, Michigan. It’s a spaghetti bowl of freeways, but I can make out what direction we’re headed. I’m seeing a lot of the streets on the map that I saw when we were headed to Stanley’s house, but we’re in the suburbs now where before, we clearly were not. From the scenery and my husband’s reaction, we were in Detroit.

Further satisfying my curiosity, I enter our destination—DTW.

Google maps shows me that we should be at the airport in thirty minutes. It’s a straight shot down the I-275 to the I-94 and we’re there. It also showed me the route Carrick drove before… I-94 east to the 39—Southfield Freeway—and right through Detroit.

Carrick found another way to the airport that didn’t take us through Detroit. I sigh.

“What is it?” Christian asks. I hand him my phone. He examines it carefully and his shoulders fall. The tension he was carrying moments earlier has slid off his shoulders and back and he almost looks like a totally different man.

“I’m… sorry, Jason,” he says, surprising both me and Jason.

“Sir?” he says, his eyes darting from the road to the mirror and back.

“My father…” Christian trails off. “We’re taking a detour to the airport—one that avoids Detroit.” Realization dawns on Jason’s face.

“Oh,” he says, softly. “No apology necessary, Boss. You were right, I still should have said something to you.” Christian nods and lays his head back on the seat. I take his hand and we ride in silence—and comfort—to the airport.

*-*

“After you talk to the management at the storage facility, I can arrange for the things in storage to be shipped to Seattle,” Christian says to Herman during dinner on the flight. “We can put the things in storage here and you can go through it at your leisure. I can even arrange for my shipping staff to go through the boxes and catalog everything in my warehouse if you like. It’s such a daunting task and if that storage facility is filled to the ceiling with boxes, you can be guaranteed that Pops had someone doing something like that.”

“He did,” Herman says after swallowing a mouthful of steak. “I had forgotten that right after we moved to Seattle, Dad had the house packed up. It didn’t even occur to me.” Christian frowns.

“You two stayed in that house before you moved to Seattle?” he asks. Herman nods.

“It wasn’t as bad as you think,” he says. “The house doesn’t look like much now, but Dad kept it up the best he could. Seriously, Christian, it seems like the minute we left, the house deteriorated. It was like it was holding on for Dad and when he left, it just gave up and died.”

Wow, that’s somewhat profound.

“Well, what do you say?” Christian presses. “I can have a crew in there probably as early as Tuesday. Depending on what’s in there, they can probably have that stuff cleaned up, packed up, and on its way back here by day’s end.” Herman pauses then looks at Carrick. “I would only trust staff who have seen me personally. So, I would send a crew directly from here.”  Dad nods at Herman.

“I think I may have to take you up on that, Christian,” he says. “Let me talk to Stan and see how he feels about it and I’ll let you know, okay?” Christian nods and tucks into his food. We all eat in relative silence until the meal is over, after which, the flight attendant brings us all drinks. A few minutes later, Jason is quietly reading, and Herman has reclined his seat and fallen quickly into a nap. Christian excuses himself and heads to the back of the plane. I assume he’s going to the restroom. Carrick has moved to a lone seat on the other side up the plane and is staring out the window at the black night sky. He doesn’t even notice when I take the seat across from him.

“How are you holding up?” I ask, breaking his solace. In my professional opinion, it’s not a very good idea for him to be sitting here mulling over the day’s events alone, especially since Christian said he broke down earlier.

“Isn’t it a terrible weight on your shoulders to be the ear for the entire family?” he says, his smile soft. I shrug.

“It’s what I do,” I reply, “and I’d rather do it for my family than some of the losers I’ve had to listen to over the years.”

“That’s not very professional,” he says, raising a brow at me.

“No, it’s not,” I admit, “but it’s true. I’ve had some real losers over the years.” My mind immediately goes to those attention whores at the community center who pretended to need help, but only wanted someone to whine to. “It’s why I stopped doing volunteer work at the community center. Those people didn’t need help—true, they needed therapy, but not the type that I was offering.” I shrug.

“I thought you left the community center for an entirely different reason altogether,” he confronts, and I know he’s talking about my initial battle with his son.

“That, too,” I confess, “but that wasn’t the reason. That was just the straw that broke the camel’s back.” I sigh. “So, as you can see, listening to family is not as daunting as you think.” He nods and looks out the window again.

“I feel like I’ve cremated my father again,” he says. Whoa, that serious. “I went through all these feelings and the hatred that Freeman feels for me, being back in the city where we grew up, seeing the places where my father worked—he was so proud. He was proud to be a Ford man, and he passed that down to our family, but I didn’t want to be a Ford man. I wanted to be a lawyer. More than anything, I wanted to be an attorney and throw around that word ‘Esquire.’” He laughs mirthlessly.

“Dad never gave me a hard time—not once. He paid for me to go to college. He mostly paid for law school. Then, I met Grace. She insisted on paying for the rest, telling me that she was investing in our future together. Dad had a problem with it at first, but once we were married, he understood.

“Our lives took several turns, and Dad was there the whole time. We always held each other together, all of us. Freeman wasn’t always a miserable bastard. He was always miserable and selfish, but he wasn’t always a bastard. Even he was there to help hold us together, especially when Mom died. But after that girl left him…” He shakes his head.

“Now, I’m here again. I hated going back to that place and I hated the reason I was there. If Christian hadn’t convinced me to come, I wouldn’t have. Now, I’m glad that I did, because if I hadn’t, Freeman would have gotten over again, and Herm and Stan wouldn’t have their money.”

He’s correctly assuming that Christian has told me about the life insurance. I want to keep him talking until he gets as much of this anger and pain off his shoulders as he can.

“Is it true that he can hold the money up for a long time and affect everyone’s share?” I ask. Carrick does a half-nod, half wobble of his head.

“The only thing that’s going to effect everyone’s share of the money is Dad’s final arrangements,” he says. “Once that’s dispersed, then it’s the waiting game to see how far Freeman wants to take this. But he’s not holding anybody up but himself, because my brothers got their money already… from me. Once he loses this fight, which he will, the remainder of the money after Dad’s affairs are settled will be dispersed to the sons, and Freeman will have gotten the short end of the stick.”

“How so?” I ask. “If all the sons are getting the same amount, even after Burt’s final arrangements and whatnot, that’s still going to be a hefty sum for each of you.”

“This is what that idiot doesn’t understand, and this is why I let him go ahead and do this. I’m one of my father’s four sons and all his sons got a portion of this policy. Now, if he was contesting that Herman and I were the only beneficiaries, I could get where he was coming from and halfway understand him contesting that—but we all got an equal portion of it. This was clearly Dad’s wish. Now, here he is contesting my portion knowing but not knowing that he’s actually contesting the entire policy.

“So, let’s say that he loses the contest, which I’m sure that he will. He will have spent time and money on an attorney to contest the beneficiaries of this policy. Let’s say that he only spends $200,000 in attorney, court, and probate fees and five years contesting the will…”

Only?

“He has now wasted five years of his life, done irreparable damage to the relationships that he had left with his family, and now, he gets to replace the $200,000 that he spent on a worthless fight out of his share of the money. Only, $200,000 in five years is not going to be worth what $200,000 is worth now. So, while my brothers can invest my portion of the inheritance and double their money if they choose the right investments, Freeman’s share is dwindling away to nothing… and speaking of nothing…

“If he gets his way and he wins this contest, he foolishly thinks that he’s going to walk away with a larger share and I—or Herm and I—are going to walk away with nothing. No, if he wins, he’s contesting the validity of the entire policy. He said so at the reading. He first declared that I didn’t deserve anything, then he paints a picture to Stan and tries to get the attorney to cosign that Herm and I brought Dad out to Seattle to die and got a life insurance policy in his name. I don’t know how long my father had that policy, so if he’s right and that policy popped up right about the time that Dad was about to die, it’s going to look suspect. He can’t protest me being a beneficiary because all four of us are beneficiaries, so he’s going to resort to that.

“Well, dear brother,” he says sarcastically, “if you win that fight, you’re not going to walk away with any of the money… none of us are!”

Shit, really?

“So, if he can convince a judge or whoever that you all bought the policy and waited for Burt to die, then nobody gets anything?” Carrick shakes his head.

“Not a nickel,” he confirms. “It’s fraud. The good news is that they would have to actively prove that we did that in order to press criminal charges, but I’m certain that the minute this goes before anybody with an ounce of common sense, they’re going to see right through it, and some unscrupulous attorney somewhere is going to take the case and let the fees mount up knowing that not only is this an unwinnable situation, but also that Freeman is going to get his share of that money. And when he does, he’s going to have to pay up if he hasn’t already.

“So, when I saw what he was doing, I immediately had the money transferred to my brothers’ accounts. I wanted Freeman to see what I was doing. I wanted him to see that I wasn’t going to allow him to ruin my brothers’ lives and what’s more, I don’t even need the money. One point five million dollars just flying around the room in a matter of minutes. What better way to foil your plans than with the very thing that makes your stomach turn?”

I’m making an observation that I’m not sure Carrick has made, but I can see it clearly.

“You refer to Herman and Stanley as your brothers,” I tell him, “but when you talk about Freeman, you don’t, unless you’re doing it sarcastically. You do realize that he’s still your brother, don’t you?” Carrick shakes his head sadly.

“Make no mistake, dear girl,” Carrick begins, “I know that man was born my brother, but my brother’s been gone for a really long time, and I miss him terribly. I’ve missed him ever since he left, even more so now that my father’s gone. When I cried in Seattle after our fight, it was because I knew that my brother was gone for good and he was never coming back. He came to my home and insulted my entire family—my wife, my children, you…” He trails off and shakes his head. “No, that man is truly dead to me. He was already a non-entity as far as I was concerned, but after today, after this…” He wipes away a tear. “I cremated my father again today, and I buried my brother.”

And now he’s broken again.

I sit there with Carrick for a long while as he weeps silently and mourns the loss of his family once again. When Christian finally emerges from the rear of the plane, he’s changed and freshly showered, no doubt washing the visit off him once and for all. He frowns questioning when he sees his father crying. Not willing to subject Carrick to Christian’s endless “What’s wrong” questions, I squeeze his hand to get his attention.

“Carrick, why don’t you go on into the back room and rest?” I suggest. “We’ll wake you when it’s time to land.” Carrick nods and stands from his seat. He walks to the back of the plane, nearly bumping into Christian on the way. Christian just grabs his arm to steady him, then squeezes his shoulder as he passes by.

“What’s wrong with Dad?” he asks once Carrick has left the room. “Is he okay?” I sigh heavily.

“It’s a good thing we’re leaving Detroit,” I say. “That place was taxing on all of you.”


CHRISTIAN

I spend the night buried in my wife again, so glad to be home in my own bed in my own city where I somewhat feel like myself again. I had intended on maybe getting some mile-high loving when I was finished with my shower on the plane, but Dad looked like shit and definitely needed some sleep. He didn’t wake until it was time to land.

We all seemed to have gotten back to ourselves once the jet landed at SeaTac. I didn’t expect to see the women there, but there they were. Dad wrapped himself around Mom and Uncle Herman just folded over Luma. My uncle is so in love with that woman. I don’t know why he won’t just marry her already.

I felt like I was falling asleep in the car on the way back to the Crossing. Chuck and Jason were whispering about something and I didn’t bother trying to eavesdrop. I was so relaxed being back in Seattle, back in one of my own cars, back home…

When we drove up the driveway into the Crossing, it was like someone hit me with a shot of adrenaline and all I wanted to do was fuck—not necessarily rabbit fucking or hard fucking… just fuck. So, fuck we did.

And I slept like a damn baby until noon.

When I wake, my wife is gone—well, not gone, just not in bed. It’s noon, why would she still be in bed? I sincerely stretch like a cat and lie eagle-spread on my bed—my bed. I can’t believe how content I am to be home… just to be here. My body relaxes into the mattress and I could truly just lay here all day. My solace is interrupted by one of the best interruptions ever. My wife unceremoniously enters the room with a wiggly pink bundle in her arms. They were asleep when we got home, so we didn’t wake them.

“Oh, please… give me that,” I say, sitting up and reaching for my daughter. My wife pauses.

“Are you dressed under there?” she asks.

“No, I’m totally commando, and she’s nine months old!” I protest.

“Yes, but Keri and Gail are not,” she retorts, raising her brow. I grunt and get out of bed. So much for lying in. I go to the dressing room and quickly slide into a pair of sweat pants.

“There!” I say, emerging from the dressing room. “Now give me my child!” I hold my hands out again and Minnie squirms in her mother’s arms, smiling widely and reaching for me. Butterfly laughs and places her in my hands. Good Lord, it’s like salve on a terribly stinging and painful burn.

“How’s Daddy’s girl?” I say, kissing her repeatedly and climbing back into bed. She coos and giggles as Keri enters with Mikey and Gail enters with a tray of food.

“I thought I would have to wake you, so I thought the twins might ease the ache a bit,” Butterfly says, placing Mikey on the bed next to me.

“I just woke, but you were right about the ache,” I say, adoring the smiling faces of my children.

“Let me know if you need anything else,” Gail says as she and Keri excuse themselves. I’m starving, but I don’t want to put my daughter down. I need her. I need to be close to my children. As if reading my thoughts, my wife begins feeding me the omelet and toast on my plate.

“You’ve already eaten?” I ask after swallowing, noting that there’s no food for her.

“Hours ago,” she says. “The trip sucked, but it wasn’t as taxing on me as it was on you.” I nod.

“I don’t know what I would have done if you weren’t there,” I admit. She puts another large forkful of eggs in my mouth.

“Jack off?” she teases and I almost choke. She hands me a glass of orange juice and I take a couple of healthy swallows.

“Not just the sex,” I say with mirth. “Going to sleep with you and waking up with you; eating breakfast with you and just know that you were there.”

“I know what you meant. I was just teasing you.” She gives me more omelet and toast. “That place is draining—or maybe it was just seeing the effect that it had on you and Carrick and his brothers, but I’m glad we’re home.”

“Me, too,” I say, swallowing the delicious eggs. It immediately makes me think of the egg massacre incident that was my first cooking lesson. I need to get back in the kitchen soon if I want to cook something for my wife anytime soon. “What’s the plan for today?”

“Not a thing on the agenda until tomorrow,” she says. Yeah, Maria Sanchez is coming into town so that we can view the interview. For some reason, I’m not looking forward to this even though it was my idea in the first place, but what’s done is done now.

“Well, I think I want to spend time with these two today.” Minnie is laying on my chest, wide awake, but just lounging there. Mikey has pulled himself into a standing position, supporting himself on my leg. He appears to be babbling something to Minnie, no more than “ba-ba-ba” or “na-na-na” or something like that, but she is unfazed and just watching her brother’s performance. Mikey is not to be ignored. He continues his babbling, now bouncing and becoming more animated.

Minnie still doesn’t respond.

Mikey is getting louder with his babbling and bouncing even harder. His sister finally gives him the attention he’s seeking. She pulls her little grubby hand back and brings it down right on top of his head.

Smack!

“Oh!” I exclaim. “They’re doing that now.”

“No!” Butterfly scolds, pointing her finger at Minnie. Mikey is silent for three seconds, just long enough for the sensation to set in, before he falls down on his butt and releases a yowl. Minnie sticks her bottom lip out, gazing at her mother, then her yowling begins a second after Mikey’s.

“Oh, there, there, now,” I say, patting her on the back.

Don’t do that, Christian!” my wife scolds. I’m a bit stunned. Don’t do what?

“Put her down,” she says, her face stern and her voice firm.

“What? Why? She’s crying,” I point out as if it’s not obvious.

“Yes, that’s because I scolded her. Now, put her down.” Okay, fine, don’t scold me. I put my daughter on the bed and her cries become more urgent. “Do not hit your brother!” Butterfly says to a wailing Minnie before turning to me. “If you coddle her after I scold her, she’s going to run to you every time I try to punish her. She’ll be impossible, and then I have to kill you!” I put my hands up.

“Okay, okay, I get it!” I say. “But what about Mikey? Clearly he was yelling at her…”

“And clearly, she slapped the shit out of him, and now, he’s crying, too. That’s why I’m not picking him up, either.” She’s got a point there. I sit there helplessly watching my children cry as they learn a lesson, also learning a lesson myself. This is hard. I hate to see them cry. Butterfly allows them to cry for what feels like forever, but I’m certain that it’s only a couple of minutes.

“Are you two ready to behave?” she says to our children, and almost like they understood what she said, their cries subside a bit, but don’t cease. She folds her arms and looks from Minnie to Mikey.

“I can wait as long as you can,” she says. Minnie calms a bit, her plump tearstained face gazing at her mother as she begins her after-crying sniffles. Mikey calms a little thereafter, but only after he shoves his two middle fingers into his mouth. My brow furrows.

“When did he start doing that?” I say, pointing at my son.

“Since about three months,” Butterfly responds. “He just doesn’t do it all the time.” Both children have calmed now, and Butterfly turns to Minnie. “Are you going to behave now?” she asks. Minnie just looks at her. She holds her hands out and Minnie scurries to her arms, laying on her chest like she was laying on mine a moment ago.

“Get your son,” she says as she rubs Minnie’s back. I hold my arms out to Mikey and he stretches his hands out to me, trying to come to me without the aid of his arms to help him stand or roll. He’s quickly getting frustrated and I don’t want him to start crying again, so I pick him up and sit him on my leg. Using my fingers, I gently wipe the tears from his face.

“Don’t use your hands,” she says, softly, leaning over to the rolling tray and retrieving a burping cloth. She hands it to me and I begin to wipe my son’s face.

“She’s a real tyrant,” I tell him, low enough for only him to hear. “If you ever cross her, you’re on your own… but don’t cross her. I don’t like it when you cry.” I clean his face and put him on my chest where his sister was moments before. They look at each other as if challenging each other. They can’t be fighting this early. And they’re twins! I thought twins were inseparable!

“And this from the man who’s a proponent of spanking,” she says with a smirk while patting Minnie on the back. I look up at her and she raises her brow at me. Oh, yeah, I did say something like that, didn’t I?

Hmm, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do that.

“We… may have to come up with alternative methods of discipline,” I say without making eye-contact with my wife.

*-*

The thought of spanking my two little bundles had me clinging to them all day. Watching them cry and being unable to stop them was a bit more than I was willing to accept. Maybe once they’re older and ornerier, I might feel differently about the concept, but right now, I can’t even fathom it.

My clinginess doesn’t get past my wife. She even makes a papoose for me from one of her belly wraps so that one of the babies could be close to me the entire day. I think I needed it. Detroit took a lot out of me. Sure, I didn’t fall apart except for the mini-meltdown during the trip from the airport. I even did okay going to the private-eye’s office, which was in a city that was in the middle of Detroit. But the entire experience was just taxing as hell.

Seeing Dad and his brother snarling at each other like dogs…

The emotional strain of being in a city that broke me completely at an early age and could have broken me forever…

Watching my father break down all over again from the loss of his father and the total decimation of his relationship with Freeman…

No matter how much he may hate what that man is doing, he’s still Dad’s brother and this is truly taking a toll on him. How can anybody be so hateful towards their own family?

My mind immediately goes to Chuck’s brother, Joe, and a trip he has to make to his hometown for a lawsuit against his own flesh and blood merely for being an asshole.

Good God, are people really this unbelievably asinine? Was I ever this way? I may have been aloof, a bit obtuse at times, but I was never deliberately vicious to my family… never intentionally hurtful. For the love of God, who does that? I pull my phone out of my pocket and press speed dial.

“Hey, Bro, what’s up?” Elliot answers.

“Hey, what are you and Valerie doing for dinner?” I ask.

“Nothing,” he says. “We were probably going to order something in. We’ve gotten spoiled to having a cook,” he jests.

“Well, why don’t you come on over and get spoiled some more?” I say.

“You guys just got back. I thought you might have wanted to unwind and relax a bit. We didn’t want to be underfoot… I know how you feel about Detroit and all.”

How do I tell my brother that I need to see him without sounding like a pussy?

“Yeah, well, the familiar is kind of necessary right now.” That was it. Perfect. He pauses again.

“What time should we be there?” he asks. I sigh quietly.

“Six is good, and can you call Mia for me and see if she and Ethan can make it? I’ve kinda got my hands full with the babies.” He pauses again.

“Sure thing, Bro. We’ll be there.”

My brother and sister arrive promptly at 5:45, and I can’t help but wonder what Elliot said to Mia to get her to dinner on time. We sit down to a dinner of baked pork chops, Brussel sprouts and tomato-bacon linguini. I can’t bring myself to remove my papoose just yet, so Mikey sleeps comfortably on my chest throughout the meal while Minnie “purrs” nearby in her Pack-n-Play.

“Oh, everyone,” Mia begins, “our wedding website went live this morning.”

“Wedding website?” Butterfly asks. Mia nods.

“Yes. I wanted to approve everything that went onto the site, so they had to wait until we got back from the honeymoon to make it active.”

Oh, dear God.

“Mia…” I begin.

“Keep your shirt on, Big Brother,” she says. “The only media that is posted of you and Her Highness…” she says Butterfly’s nickname in a playful manner, “… are pictures and videos of you dancing, a bit of canoodling, her speech, and the two of you singing. Do you want me to take any of those down?” I look over at Butterfly who shrugs.

“Send me the link and I’ll let you know,” I say. Mia laughs.

“I sent you the link this morning,” she says. “You never go a day without checking your email. What gives?”

“I was spending time with my family,” I reply. “I’ll check it later.”

“I’m sure it’s fine, Christian,” Butterfly says. “We have an exposé airing soon. It can’t be any more intrusive than that.”

“Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. When is that supposed to be aired?” Elliot asks.

“The journalist who interviewed us is coming tomorrow morning so that we can see the final viewing, and we’re supposed to be part of Sweeps Week,” I say.

“Sweeps Week?” Valerie says. “That starts a week from Monday. Isn’t that cutting it kind of close?”

“Kind of?” Butterfly says. “Don’t get me started. If I see something that I don’t like tomorrow, they’ll have to scrap the whole damn thing!”

“You seem a bit intense about this, Steele,” Valerie says. Why does she still call her that?

“Well, that would be due to the faux pas that have already occurred, and the damn thing hasn’t even aired yet!”

Oh, hell. Butterfly isn’t very happy about this viewing, it appears. I’m beginning to wonder if it’s a good idea. Should I tell Maria to send us a digital copy to review instead?

“What kind of faux pas, Montana?” Elliot asks. Butterfly begins to explain our experience with the grip boy and the “preview that got away,” when Valerie turns her attention to me.

“Elliot tells me that you convinced him to tell me about Gia,” Valerie says while Butterfly occupies Elliot with her tale.

“It… was a collaborative effort between me and my wife,” I admit.

“Well… thank you,” she says. “That would have been something terrible to hear through the society grapevine or on a gossip rag or something.” I raise a brow.

“Have you met Gia?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No,” she admits, “but I’ve heard of her. Her reputation precedes her. I don’t know what her general M-O is—there usually is one for appearing to be a scathing whore who will fuck anything with a dollar sign attached to it—but hell, she could just be mindlessly sleeping around, I don’t know. Whatever the case may be, I’m aware of Ms. Mateo’s character.” She sips whatever is in her glass.

“Are you… concerned about her?” I ask. “Because Elliot loves you more than life.”

“I know that,” she smiles. “It’s why he thought there was no need to tell me about her. I have no doubt the she’s old news as far as he’s concerned, but there are some things that you just need to hear from your man and not from some gossiping cows at the beauty shop or out in the grocery store somewhere or heaven forbid, at some social function where you have to smile and pretend it doesn’t bother you. It’s the Miller mansion, for Christ’s sake. Somebody somewhere is going to say something. Hell, they may end up in Architectural Digest or something. Then what?”

“Alright, Bro, my wife’s face is not looking too pleased over there. What are you talking about?” I raise an eyebrow at Valerie who shrugs.

Architectural Digest,” I reply. Well, we were. Elliot frowns.

Architectural Digest?” he repeats. “Your face is all frowned up about Architectural Digest?” She nods.

“I was just telling Christian that your work on the Miller mansion may end up in Architectural Digest,” she says with no malice. Elliot’s face falls and he turns to me. I hold my hands up in surrender, shaking my hands to signal that I didn’t start this conversation. He closes his eyes and nods.

“Yeah, it could,” he admits. “Does it bother you, Angel?”

“No,” Valerie replies. “It doesn’t. I think you’ll do great.” She reaches for his hand and he entwines his fingers with hers.

“I’m sorry,” Mia says, “but if I may ask, why would Val have a problem with you being in Architectural Digest? Isn’t that an esteemed honor?”

“Yes, it is,” Elliot replies, “but the designer on the project is Gia Mateo.” Mia looks at him as if she’s waiting for the punchline. Then the penny drops.

“Oh,” she says almost inaudibly. “Oh… o-okay.” And she doesn’t say anything else. Ethan leans in and no doubt, asks about the punchline, and she hushes him quickly.

“It’s fine,” Valerie says. “I’m just glad that I heard about their prior relationship from Elliot and not some third party. That’s all I was telling Christian.”

“Well, I’m glad she didn’t really get her claws into my brother,” Mia nearly hisses. “She’s an A-1 skank and she’s lucky some jealous wife hasn’t plugged her one by now!” Butterfly looks over at me and raises her brow.

“Okay, I’m all for changing the subject now,” I say. Mia looks at me and realization dawns.

“Oh!” she says, pointing at me. “Oh, yeah! That’s right!”

“What?” Valerie says. “Please tell me not you, too. That’s just trashy!” Oh, good grief.

“No, not him, too,” Butterfly interjects. “But that lovely parlor and the his and hers bathrooms and those beautiful women’s touches that you see all over the Slayer? Courtesy of one Gia Mateo.”

“Oh, I see,” says Valerie. “Well, that explains a lot. I was wondering why a floating bachelor pad had a fully pimped-out she-cave on the main deck. No offense, El, but I was wondering how she managed to bed you and not capture the attention of my billionaire brother-in-law.” Elliot puts his hand on his chest in mock insult.

“Whatever are you trying to imply?” he asks. “I’m just as good a catch as my loaded little brother.” Valerie smiles.

“Better, baby,” she says, snuggling up to his arm.

“Balderdash!” Butterfly chimes in. “She has to say that! She’s your wife!”

“And you have to disagree, because you’re his,” Elliot taunts. “Nice papoose, bro,” he teases, causing an outburst of laughter and instantly breaking the tension in the room.

Thank God!


ANASTASIA

As I’m getting ready for bed, I’m mentally cataloging all the things that I’ll have to do in the next few days when I realize that I’ve forgotten to disclose one detrimental piece of information to my husband.

“There’s something I need to tell you,” I say as I climb into bed with him. He raises his gaze from the phone to meet mine. “I found out last week, but with the Detroit trip coming up, I knew you needed to focus.”

“What is it?” he says, placing his phone on the nightstand.

“It’s about John.” Christian’s brow furrows.

“John Flynn?” he asks. I nod. “What about John?”

“He and his family are in England, and they may not be returning to the States.”

“What?” he responds, clearly displeased. “Why?”

I explain to him what Grace told me about MERS and the CDC and the government not wanting his son to return until he has a clean bill of health.

“Well, then, I’ll give him a call. We’ll get him the best doctors and get him well so that he and his family can come home.”

“I don’t think it’s the money, Christian,” I tell him. “I think it’s the principal. John may have become a citizen from marrying Rhian, but his sons are all American-born citizens and one of them is being denied re-entry. He’s quite disenchanted with that.” Christian’s expression softens, and he nods.

“I guess I would be, too,” he says. “I’ll call him anyway and see if there’s anything that I can do, but from what you’re saying, America may have lost a few citizens.” I nod.

“Yeah, it looks that way.”

Christian and I make love again a few times that night, and I know that we’re not only making up for lost time, but my husband is also trying to regain some of the control that has slipped away from him over the past couple of weeks. Pretty soon, I’m going to have to tap out. I don’t think my coochie can take much more.

“I don’t think the promo has gotten to many outlets,” Vee says on Sunday morning. We asked her to join us for breakfast so that we could be prepared for when Maria shows up with the footage of our interview. “We’re usually alerted when something airs about you guys for purposes of damage control. This thing must have truly only aired once and then it was pulled. We can’t even get a lead on where it aired.”

“And it’s not like I can go knocking on Old Lady Miller’s door and ask her where she saw it,” Christian points out.

“It’s kind of a moot point,” I add. “With sweeps being next week, whatever we approve will be splashed all over the network in promos. If there’s anyone in America who didn’t know who we were before now, they’ll know soon.” Christian finishes his eggs and bacon.

“Well,” he says, after swallowing his last bite, “how do we handle this? I already know that there’s no way that she’s going to show us a final cut that we’re going to be completely satisfied with. I almost want Allen to be present for the meeting, but I’m not trying to intimidate her to the point of pulling the segment.” Vee nods.

“No, we don’t want to do that, but we do want her to know that we mean business. We need to get a copy of what she shows us and what she plans to air. They have to be the same thing. Once something makes it to the airwaves, it’s immortalized. At one time, it wasn’t that way, but with technology being what it is today, your most embarrassing, humiliating, or painful moment could be trending on Twitter or Instagram tomorrow.” I sigh.

“Well, why trust anybody, then?” I ask. God knows I’ve had my own run-ins with reputable members of the press—the ex-submissive cable girl and the Pussy DJ, just to name a couple.

“Because you have to trust someone or remain in obscurity. That’s the name of the game,” Vee says. “Anyway, it’s like I said, I really think the leak was just somebody jumping the gun for Sweeps Week promotion and remember—she didn’t have to bring that shit to you that Roger, or whatever his name was, did. She could have swept that mess under the rug and you never would have been the wiser. It’s a testament to her integrity.”

“Or she could have been covering her ass,” I retort, skeptically. “If that footage had somehow gotten out later, she would have to account for how it was acquired.”

“She could claim ignorance,” Vee counters.

“It’s her production. Responsibility is assumed. I know that much,” I conclude. Vee twists her lips and nods her head.

“Ana, would you prefer this doesn’t air?” she asks. I turn my gaze to her.

“What?” I ask, bemused. Vee sighs.

“I understand a healthy dose of skepticism,” she begins. “In fact, when it comes to an exposé of the most intimate parts of your life—your home, your family, your children, what you do in your private time—I would be concerned if you didn’t show some level of trepidation. But you have disputed nearly every point I’ve tried to make so far when it comes to this viewing and anything that I’ve said in any possible defense of Maria and her actions. I’ve been in this business for a long time and I’d like to believe that my instincts aren’t dull or untrustworthy when it comes to people. I haven’t steered you wrong yet, but I can’t ignore your level of mistrust and discomfort the closer we get to the time to meet with Sanchez. I won’t try to force or influence you to do anything that you feel uncomfortable with no matter how good my instincts may be. So, I’m asking you honestly before this woman gets here. Would you prefer this doesn’t air?”

Christian and Vee examine me closely like they’re expecting and alien to pop out of my chest or something. I don’t want to pull the plug on the production this close to airing, but there’s something that I can’t sweep under the rug.

“I. Have had a bad time. Trusting people,” I say, looking only at Vee. “My instincts are not as sharp as I once thought they were. When I look back on all the things that I thought I was certain of that turned out to be something completely different, I have nothing left in the end but, ‘Shit, I wish I had seen that coming.’ People seem one way  when you meet them, when you deal with them, when you interact with them, and when you put your fate in their hands—on a large or a small scale—one way or another, you end up getting burned.

“I’m just trying not to get burned,” I tell her. “I’m trying to see the fire before it explodes through the forest and consumes my home. Twice, somebody has dropped the ball—grip boy and now this. We should have seen this footage weeks ago…” although that might have been a bit difficult with my husband hiding out in Madrid. My scar starts thumping a bit and I stick my hand in my hair and drop my head.

“I just don’t want to get burned again, okay?” I say without raising my gaze to anyone. “One more incident, and you can put an apple in my mouth and serve me up at a luau.”

There’s a long moment of silence.

“Ana, do you trust me?” Vee says, and now, the spotlight is on me. I sigh.

“Yes, Vee, I trust you,” I say, honestly, deflated and still not raising my head.

“Good. Then let’s see the viewing and see how we feel. I won’t pull any punches if I think something’s not right. I swear that to you.” I nod.

“Okay,” I cede. I don’t want to debate it anymore. I guess I won’t be able to shake the feeling until I see the viewing and in what light Maria has presented us. There’s another long moment of silence.

“Mac, can you excuse us for a moment? I need to talk to my wife,” Christian says softly.

“Sure,” I hear her say, and I don’t know where she goes, but I know that she leaves the dining room.

“Butterfly look at me.” I finally find the strength to raise my eyes to him though my head hurts so badly that I just want to lie down.

“Was that speech for me?” he asks. What? What is he talking about?

“Huh?” It’s the only thought I can formulate.

“You’ve been burned. You don’t trust anybody. Things you thought you were certain of; putting your fate in someone else’s hands—that’s more than just a couple of bad media experiences. Was that speech for me?”

I play the words over in my head, then review my feelings about them. Had this happened before the whole Liam/Madrid Mayhem—when the footage was recorded—I would feel differently. I was bad-ass when I discovered Grip Boy had filmed me in the nursery. I was ready to put him on the platter and serve him at the luau. Now, I’m fucking afraid of shit that goes “bump” in the night when I wasn’t before. I was able to deal with adversity and handle myself in tough situations and now, I kind of prefer to just hide in the corner until the adversity passes. That’s not me. That’s never been me… except when someone talked about or uncovered something about Green Valley.

Scary, vicious teenage mobs that attack you from behind, torture you, and leave you for dead…

Uncertainty of where in America—or the world—these bastards have landed…

The Boogeyman…
The Boogeyman…
Fuck, the Boogeyman…

I gaze at Christian and I’m unable to answer him. In all my pondering and wondering and trying to figure out an answer for him, all the fear and uncertainty and pain and anguish and the Boogeyman all go into the three-second funnel and come out with one word.

Yes.

I don’t have to say it. He reaches over to me and gathers me in his arms, holding me close to him and kissing my hair.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispers. “I’m so, so sorry…”

I want to respond that it’s not all his fault, that my actions—or lack thereof—were the catalyst for his behavior; that we’re both human and we make mistakes and that’s okay, but none of that will chase the Boogeyman away.

We sit there for several minutes with Christian kissing my hair and trying to reassure me that everything will be alright. As sweet and sincere as his gestures are, I know that I and the Boogeyman have several more rounds to spar, and I’m under no misconception that I’m not going to win them all. I’m just terrified at the concept of how many of them that I could lose.

I hear Vee clear her throat from the hallway before Christian releases me and allows me to sit upright in my seat. I drink the rest of my orange juice and try a few calming breaths as Vee enters the room with Maria close behind her.

“I’m sorry,” Vee says. “I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“It’s fine,” Christian excuses her. I still feel like shit. “Maria, I must inform you that my wife is quite concerned with how this matter has been handled thus far. Things have been sloppy; there has been no show of any kind of level of care when it comes down to the footage of our personal lives. We found out through word of mouth that footage of our home had already been aired. We should have heard that from you. You should have been contacting us with reassurances that this situation was a one-off and well in hand. We don’t feel that way now, and my wife is more uneasy than I can describe. I don’t like that… not one bit!”

I hear the protector coming out. I can see that he’s ready to battle for me, but I need more than that. What, I don’t know, but more.

“Ana,” Maria’s voice begins. I don’t make eye contact with her, “no amount of apology that I can offer can possibly restore your faith in me. All I can say is let me show you. Let me show you the promos and what I’ve done—even the promo that was accidentally shown last week. Even though you didn’t approve it beforehand, I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed with the presentation. We’ve gotten off to a rocky start and I and my network didn’t handle things like we should have, but please, give me a chance to make this up to you… to show you that you didn’t make the wrong choice.

“A story like this could make or break someone in this business, but I swear to you—getting a big story and shock value is not worth a lawsuit or losing my credibility or my career. I swear to you on my honor and my integrity, I won’t let anything be aired that you don’t approve. I give you my word. I’ll sleep with the reels if I need to if that will convince you.”

I almost want to demand her ass to sleep with the reels, but right now, I just need to see what’s on them.

“You need to understand that I’m not the only one that’ll be affected by what’s on that film,” I tell her, trying to steady my shaking voice. “My father, his wife, my brother… my children… our friends and family…”

I’m getting choked up by the magnitude of what could happen if this interview material is abused or misconstrued in any way.

“Ana, I know this hasn’t been the most reliable situation that you’ve dealt with so far, but I have the entire network’s attention on this one. There will be no more mistakes, I swear to you.” I hope the fuck you’re right.

“Maria,” I say, my voice shaking and unable to mask my fear and uncertainty any longer, “those are powerful words, but if you betray me, so help me…”

My sentence trails off, but that’s only because there are no words to explain the extent of hell that I would unleash on this woman if she does anything deceptive whatsoever. And these little faux pas that her network keeps doing, I will fucking own my own media outlet after this.

“Anastasia, you have my word,” she says, never breaking eye contact with me. I don’t acquiesce in any way. I don’t want her to think she has won me over other that I am even giving her the slightest chance to fuck me. It’s exactly the opposite. As far as I’m concerned, she’s the fucking enemy until this show airs.

“Let’s see what’s on these damn reels,” I say, standing up and heading for the theater room.


A/N: So that no one will be disappointed or say that I led them on, the next chapter will not reveal the interview. They will discuss what will and will not stay, but the full interview will not be posted/shared until the day it is aired, and everyone sees it at the same time.

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

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

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 33—Just When You Thought It Was Safe…

NO EMAIL SENT YET!

So, if you were on my Facebook, you know that I’m introducing a new bit of a storyline, but I lost the damn picture of the actor that was supposed to represent the character. It was perfect, too! So when you read me say something about the guy that doesn’t really fit what we’ve seen or know of him, just try to picture it, because the picture was perfect and I wrote part of the storyline based on that particular picture… which was somehow gobbled up and destroyed by the internet! 😦 

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

Chapter 33—Just When You Thought It Was Safe…

ANASTASIA

There are quite a few targets with destroyed heads and decimated balls at the armory that day. I don’t get any real satisfaction, though, until I decide to go to the open range and play with the semi-automatics and the pump-rifles. Then, I’m really able to release some steam. Fucking sick pervert standing there trying to get his jollies watching me breastfeed my kids. I hope his testicles shrivel up and fall off!

So that I don’t appear to be a total psychopath, I convince Maria to don a vest and some safety gear and instruct her on firing a few amateur rounds, just to show her how easy it really is. She has more fun than she expects and she’s a really quick study, especially since a lot of the newer, higher-powered firearms can be modified to be more lightweight and easier to handle.

Once Maria is satisfied with all the footage she has acquired, she and the crew wrap things up and head back to the hotel to get ready to go to SeaTac and New York while we head back to the Crossing. She informs us that she’s very happy with the footage she got and hopes to have everything edited and ready for sweeps week. We retain the right to see the finish product before it gets aired, a condition to which she heartily agrees.

I spend the afternoon trying to decompress from my moment in the spotlight because, quite frankly, it was a lot of fucking work and very fucking stressful. Now, I just get to sit and fret until the shit hits prime time and hope that Maria presents us in a great light and that the nation—the world—doesn’t misconstrue the message we’re trying to send, like the lovely Ms. Stanton.

Bitch.

The truth is, however, I would have taken a hundred Raynell Stantons and her snotty, superior ass attitude to what I discover is in store for me next. I had just settled in my office at the Center on Monday and was about to formulate my next move in Operation Accreditation when Grace steps somberly into my office.

“We’re going to have a visitor for the next few weeks,” Grace says. My brows furrow.

“Who?” I ask.

“Apparently, the licensing board feels that we need a close eye in finalizing our preparations for the school,” she says. “They’ll be sending a representative right over to make sure that we wrap things up properly.”

“You mean a babysitter,” I huff. “We’ve done every single thing they’ve asked—every single thing! Why do they feel like we need a babysitter now?”

“You know why,” Grace says. “Gloria… she’s still juicing that vendetta. I wish we didn’t have to go through her on the licensing board. She’s going through everything with a fine-toothed comb and anything that’s not perfect is going to hold us up.” I sigh angrily.

“It’s the letters,” I say. “It has to be. I sent twenty certified letters to the board detailing everything that we’ve done and questioning the delay. She probably has to justify that delay now. We need to file a complaint against her, Grace. You and I both know that this is a personal conflict of interest and discrimination and so does she. We’ve brought in experts and consultants to make sure that we have everything tight and she still finds ways to delay our final approval. I’m calling Al.”

“Ana, please,” Grace beseeches. “We simply can’t afford any more delays. A complaint would drag this thing out forever. This inspector only needs three weeks of close observation, then they’ll see first-hand that we’ve done everything that we’re supposed to do. Once that’s complete, this entire mess will be over. I’m certain of it.”

Poor, optimistic Grace. This will never be over until our licensing is out of the hands of Gloria Felton. Once this investigation is completed, she’s going to find another reason—some other loophole—to hold us up.

“I need you to take point on this one, Ana,” Grace adds apologetically, “be the first point of contact for the inspector.”

I sigh. Of course, I have to take point on this. I wouldn’t dream of having Grace do it after what she’s just been through, not to mention that Carrick, Christian, and the rest of the family would most likely have my neck.

“Three weeks, Grace,” I concede. “I’m giving this inspector three weeks to see that we have all our ducks in a row and that our ship is tight. If she doesn’t report back to that haughty bitch that everything is as it should be, I’m calling in the cavalry.” Grace nods.

“Fair enough, but there’s something that you should know about the inspector…” There’s a knock at the door. Grace and I both turn our attention to the open door and the figure standing there expectantly. I’m greeted by otherworldly blue eyes that make me gasp involuntarily.

Liam's EyesAre those things real??

“Hi, I’m looking for Grace Grey. I’m Liam Westwick from the Washington State Licensing Board.” Grace leans in close to my ear.

“The inspector is a guy.” I look over at Grace in horror.

“You want me to take point??” I whisper harshly. This man is fucking gorgeous—as tall as Christian, striking blue eyes, playful brown hair, glistening white teeth that even in a half-smile looks like sunshine, athletic build, and wearing a charcoal suit that looks as if it were hand-painted to fit his physic. Oh, and the biggest feet I’ve ever seen in my life—feet too big for his body, but still aptly camouflaged in designer leather shoes. Who has feet that big?

“Excuse me, do I have the right place?” he says, breaking my trance and apparently, Grace’s, too. I swallow hard and turn back to Grace. You gotta be fucking kidding me! Three weeks’ close work… with this? I mean, he’s no Christian… but damn!

“Yes,” Grace proceeds forward with her hand extended. “I’m Grace Grey. It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Westwick.” She shakes his hand politely.

“Liam, please,” he says politely, just like me… “Ana, please.”

“This is my daughter-in-law and the assistant director of Helping Hands, Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey. She has basically spearheaded our entire project.”

“Dr. Grey.” He extends his hand to me, his voice friendly, but professional. I take his proffered hand.

“Liam,” I say, shaking firmly. “And everyone calls me Ana.” I decide to steer away from my usual Ana, please. Well, we might as well get this circus over with. “I’ll be showing you around and answering your questions.”

“So, you’ll be my tour guide,” he says with a wide smile. More like your charge, I think to myself, trying not to project any venom in his direction.

“So to speak, yes,” I say, clasping my hands in front of me.

“Why don’t we show you around, Liam?” Grace says, no doubt, noting my obvious discomfort.  She holds her hand out in front of her, gesturing for him to take the lead, which he does. She falls in step next to him and I walk behind the two of them, resenting his very presence. He must know why he’s here. He can’t think this is some routine investigation if he’s reviewed our file at all.

“It’s quite the operation you have here, Drs. Grey,” he says halfway through the tour. I guess my silence must have been deafening and he has finally decided to engage me in the conversation.

“We’ve come quite a long way since Ana has been on board,” Grace says. “A year ago, I couldn’t see all of the improvements she’s helping put into place. Now, it just seems like the natural order of things.

“Grace, please,” I say, shunning the recognition. “A lot of people have had their hand in the changes taking place around here—Courtney and Jesse and the daycare staff, just to name a few. The volunteers…”

“Don’t be so modest, dear,” Grace says. “Most of those people are success stories from the Center, and who do we have to thank for that?” She smiles widely and I just hate that she’s shining the spotlight on me, but I just smile graciously and pray that this will be over soon.

“Exactly what will you be looking for during your visit, Mr. Westwick?” The question comes out more like “What are your intentions with my daughter?” He raises those unrealistically blue eyes to me.

“Liam,” he corrects me. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that you must have some idea of what you’ll be investigating,” I press. “Surely, you’ve read our file and there must be some indication as to why this investigation is necessary.” My tone is accusing, as it should be.

“No indication,” he admits. “Sometimes, these investigations are just random.”

“Random,” I say, my voice dripping with skepticism. “Is that what we are… random?”

“Um, I’m sure that what Ana means to say is that we can’t figure out why we were chosen for this particular investigation. We’ve done everything that’s been asked of us to the letter and now we’re being…”

“Subjected to an unnecessary investigation,” I say, no longer willing to exercise Grace’s diplomacy in the matter. “There’s absolutely no reason for our accreditation to be delayed any longer than it already has. We’ve gone above and beyond the needed state and federal requirements. We haven’t even requested government funding yet and we’ve far exceeded the preparations of institutions that have. Believe me, I’ve done my homework.”

Liam examines me curiously, like a fish in a bowl, and it only serves to piss me off. I give him a distasteful glare and he finally breaks his gaze.

“I only take the assignments given to me, Dr. Grey,” he says, reverting back to formalities. “It’s not for me to question why my superiors request an investigation. It is only for me to do my job.

“And may I be so bold to ask who your superior is?” As if I didn’t already know.

“I have different supervisors for different cases,” he responds.

“For this case,” I insist. He pauses.

“This comes straight from the top,” he says, as if that would pacify me. “Gloria Felton.”

I turn a knowing and disgusted gaze at Grace, who shares a glance with Liam, then turns her eyes back to me.

“It’s probably best if I don’t take the lead on this one,” I say. “I wouldn’t want to say or do anything to compromise the investigation.” I turn on my heels and march indignantly back to my office. Attractive though he may be, I have no intention of playing hostess to Gloria’s little lap dog. I see no reason for this circus and I refuse to be a part of it.

I order lunch in and spend the afternoon combing through reports, proposals, plans, and applications sent to the licensing board, trying to see if we’ve missed anything. I want all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed when I call Al to sue this bitch for discrimination and harassment. I get angrier and angrier sitting there dissecting our work with a critical eye looking for the slightest misstep—my reports, Marilyn’s research, Grace’s proposals—hours and hours of hard work and diligence just thrown to the dogs because some spiteful cunt has an ax to grind. I feel a little better after feeding the babies, but the moment I get back to tearing down our blood, sweat, and tears, I’m pissed off again. I’m pulled out of my angry inner tirade about how I wish I could just rip this bitch’s throat out by a knock at my door.

“Come in,” I call out. An excuse to take a break. I need something to break this flow of negative energy anyway. I raise my head to see Liam Westwick walk into my office.

So much for breaking the flow of negative energy.

I want to ask him if he’s lost, but I save the sarcasm. No use in antagonizing the lap dog.

Once in the office, he stands there staring at me for a moment and it makes me uncomfortable—not only because those striking blue eyes aren’t moving and he almost looks extra-terrestrial, but also because his gaze holds something else. Curiosity, maybe, I don’t know, but I want him to stop looking at me that way.

“Is something wrong?” I ask, trying to hide my sarcasm. He flinches as if my voice startled him and now, I want to know what the fuck he was thinking while he was staring at me.

“You’re…” he pauses before he says anything. “I didn’t know you wore glasses.”

Glasses? My glasses? He’s staring at my glasses? There’s nothing remarkable about my glasses. When I first saw them, I immediately thought of Buddy Holly, but when I tried them on—God only knows why—they really looked good on me. They drive Christian crazy…

Drive Christian crazy…

No! He couldn’t be…! I snatch my glasses off my face, certain that they’re having the same effect on Mr. Westwick. Fuck! That would be a disaster…

“Yes. I wear glasses,” I say, rubbing my eyes as they adjust to vision without the help of magnification. “What can I do for you, Mr. Westwick?” I hear him sigh.

“Mr. Westwick,” he repeats in slight dismay. “Nobody calls me ‘Mr. Westwick,’” he says in slight dismay. Well, there’s a first time for everything. “I’m not the enemy, Ana.”

Dr. Grey, I think to myself as he stands in front of my desk with his hands clasped in front of him.

“I was sent here to do a job. That’s all I’m trying to do. I’m not a henchman. I’m not on a witch-hunt. I’ll complete the investigation that’s required of me and I’ll be on my way. However, I’m not stupid or obtuse, either. I saw the looks that passed between you and Grace when I mentioned Gloria Felton. She’s mum about it, so I was hoping I could get some insight from you. Is there something that I should know?”

His blue eyes are sharp, now—piercing and serious—and if my ability to read people hasn’t faltered, he really doesn’t know what’s going on here. Nonetheless, he’s from the enemy camp as far as I’m concerned, and I need to proceed with caution. There’s nothing worse than sleeping with the enemy.

Fuck… bad analogy.

“Mr. Westwick…” I hear a short, frustrated gasp. “Liam,” I correct myself. He relaxes a bit. “I think you should proceed with your investigation with the information that you have at your disposal. There’s nothing that I can say that would be productive to your purpose unless it directly relates to the Center. Anything else that you need to know, you should ask Ms. Felton.” He twists his lips. After a moment, he gestures to the seat in front of my desk. I nod once.

“I just may have to do that,” he says, taking a seat. “There’s obviously something going on and I don’t want the investigation tainted in any way.” His eyes soften from the piercing, questioning glare he held before. His eyes change with every mood, every conversation. It’s like you can see right into his soul. If I was trying to read his thoughts, I would sit there and stare at them all day. Instead, I look between them so that I don’t get lost in them.

“And then there’s that,” he says, dropping his gaze with a slightly sorrowful laugh. I frown.

“There’s what?” I say. I didn’t say anything.

“Nine out of ten people focus on the bridge of my nose to keep from looking me in the eyes,” he says sadly while raising his gaze back to mine. “I’m thinking about getting contacts.”

I’m a little taken aback by his confession, not only because he caught me doing just that; not even because so many other people do it; but because he can tell when it’s being done and it actually bothers him.

“You have to know that your eyes are quite haunting,” I say before I think about it. The words were out of my mouth before I can stop them, but hell, it’s true. The corner of his mouth raises in a somewhat mocking smirk.

“Haunting as in intriguing or haunting as in scary?” he asks. My turn to twist my lips.

“Haunting as in… haunting,” I say, giving him nothing. He raises an eyebrow at me and I raise one right back.

“Okay,” he says, raising his hands in mock surrender. “Enough about my eyes.” He sits back in his seat. “The way I see it, I need direction so that I don’t go wandering aimlessly around this place. You want me out of here as quickly and seamlessly as possible. You show me what I need to see over the next three weeks, we work together and I’m gone.” I roll my eyes.

“Fine,” I concede, “but can we start tomorrow, please?” I need some time to regroup. He nods.

“Fair enough,” he says, extending a hand to me. “Good evening, Ana,” he says as I shake his hand.

“Liam,” I respond. He nods and leaves. I pull the ponytail holder from my hair and massage my scalp wildly, leaving my hair in that “attacked by wolves” mess that lets the onlooker know that today has been a bad day. Of course, Grace walks into my office just as I have mussed my hair and massaged my scalp.

“You know,” she says, “you and Christian both have a version of JPF hair.” I glare at her. Did my mother-in-law just say this to me? And she got it wrong, too.

“Don’t you mean JBF hair?” I correct her. She laughs, letting me know that she knows what I’m getting at.

“No, I mean JPF… Just Plain Frustrated. His hair normally looks like pygmies have been playing with it, and when your hair looks like that…” She trails off. “Look, I asked you to take point on this because you have your finger on the pulse of everything that has to do with the accreditation. I would have to research certain things, but if this is too much for you, I’ll do it.”

She’s right. I know this stuff like the front and back of my hand and asking anyone else to take point on it would be truly unrealistic and may even delay the investigation.

“No, I can do it,” I tell her. “We’ll give him the information that he wants and he can tell this woman that we’ve done everything that we need to do.”

“Really, Ana, you’ve got the babies, Christian, your life… I can do it,’ Grace presses.

“Yes, and I also have the accreditation of this organization,” I protest. “This is my ‘baby,’ too. I need to go on and see it through to the end.” She nods.

“I’ll help in any way that I can, and if it gets to be too much, let me know and I’ll take over.”

“I will,” I tell her. “Right now, I just want to get home to my husband and my babies.”

“Your babies are here,” she says knowingly.

“Yeah, and I want to get them home.”

Christian pounces on me right after dinner, citing that I’m wound so tight that he knows I’m in need of a few orgasms. He’s right. I’m so frustrated with this whole Gloria Felton witch-hunt and I just want it to go away. After my third orgasm has left me like butter, I tell him about the unnecessary rigors she has put us through and now, we have to suffer through this damn investigation, which is just going to put us off for three more weeks.

“You know I can make a call and find out what’s going on, maybe even make this whole thing go away,” Christian says, kissing my neck just under my ear.

“I know, and I love you for wanting to help, but I fear that any intercedence from you will be viewed as special dispensation and I don’t want anything to get in the way of valid accreditation for the Center. Don’t think I haven’t considered it, though,” I say as his lips gently meet mine. “It’s just… what was I saying?”

“Special dispensation,” he says, kissing my cheek and biting my chin.

“Oh… yeah,” I say breathily, “I understand why… she didn’t want the donation from you now. I didn’t before, but now I get it.”

“Um hmm,” he says, taking a nipple into his mouth and biting gently.

“Ah! Christian…” Three orgasms… is he trying to kill me? I thrust my hands into his hair just as he thrusts his cock into my core. “God!” I breathe out harshly. He takes my hands and entwines his fingers in mine, pinning them on either side of my head.

“All you have to do is say the word,” he says, softly, breaths away from my lips as he drills slowly into me, “and I’ll take care of it.”

“I know,” I pant, getting lost in the sensation of him stroking me, filling me.

“Good.” He bites my chin again. “As long as you know,” and his lips cover mine.

*-*

After waking to yet another orgasm from my insatiable husband, I go to the Center feeling refreshed—and thoroughly well used—ready to start the day and get on with this blasted investigation. Grace greets me the moment I get there.

“Remember,” she says, “I can always take over…”

“I know,” I say, thinking about how she and her son are so ready to rescue me, “but you know that I’m the right person to do this, right?” She smiles and squeezes my shoulder, heading off towards her office. I make sure that the twins and Keri are comfortably tucked away in the day care center. She likes helping with the other children while the twins are asleep, so this is a win-win for her and all parties involved. I can’t help but wonder at our luck that she agreed to come back to the States with Chuck every time I see her with the twins. I wonder if they’ll get married now that she’s staying?

Liam is a little late today and the moment he arrives, we go about the business of his investigation. He has specific things on his list that he wants to see in terms of the operations of the Center, which I have no problems showing him. Each section that he has to observe involves interviewing residents or clients, randomly picking employees and volunteers and reviewing their qualifications for the areas in which they work or the jobs they perform, and finally, reviewing records and reports to see how we keep track of progress, milestones, and projections. It’s all very professional and quite seamless for the most part.

Once the first week is over and Liam submits his initial findings, I’m sure that Ms. Felton will call off the dogs. The remainder of the investigation would only show more of the same and she would have to see that this was a waste of taxpayer’s money.


CHRISTIAN

“This is an excellent proposal, Marlow,” I praise my young protégé. He has come a long way from the angry young man Butterfly described to me the first year that we were dating. He goes quite the distance to protect his mother and sister since they escaped his abusive father two years ago even though he doesn’t have to as I have assigned a security detail to the entire family. Marlow had to work on his anger issues and learned to channel his focus to more productive tasks, such as taking on projects to help rebuild his community. He has since brought me several ideas on community outreach programs and revitalization efforts in his old neighborhood. His efforts have even encouraged other young people in the area to get involved now that they see that someone cares and wants to give back to the community.

His latest proposal involves reopening a recreation center that had been closed for several years due to lack of funding. It’s an ambitious endeavor, but not impossible. With GEH as a sponsor, he’s hoping to get the community center reopened by next summer. It doesn’t come without its drawbacks, though.

“I saw him again yesterday,” he says, looking down at the proposal in his hands and twisting his lips. I know he’s talking about his father, who still lives in the neighborhood, or at least he still frequents the neighborhood. I’m sure he just wants Marlow to know that he can still get to him if he wants.

“And?” I ask. “Did he say anything?” Marlow shakes his head.

“Naw,” he responds. “It’s like I said, ever since I visited him in jail and told him I’d lay him out if he ever came near me, Mom, or Mags again, he doesn’t say anything to me. He just wants me to see him. I think he tried to approach Mom though…” I sit up straight. Why did no one tell me about this?

“When did this happen?” I ask, my brow furrowed. He shrugs.

“About…” His eyes narrow as he tries to remember. “… A couple of weeks ago, I think. He got a surprise, though. Mom met this guy. Zack or something, they’ve been talking… nothing serious yet. She told me she thinks she saw Dad while she was out with Zack.” He chuckles. “Zack’s not a small guy.” I raise my eyebrow at him.

“You’ve spoken to Zack?” I ask. “You’re not a small guy, either.” He scoffs.

“I’m not a short guy,” Marlow correct me. He’s nearly as tall as I am, but not as muscular. “Granted, I’m working out and I’ve put on some weight, but I got a long way to go. I can take on my dad, but Zack…” He shakes his head. “I’ll still kick his ass if he fucks with my Mom, though. I didn’t come off all macho, because I know he wouldn’t believe me if I did, but yeah, we talked. I told him that I didn’t know how much Mom has told him, but that we’ve had a rough time and Mom doesn’t need any shit and if that’s what he’s bringing or ever thinking about bringing, he better turn around and take it somewhere else.”

“What did he say?” I ask.

“He asked me if I was threatening him,” Marlow responds. Classic power play. Let’s see if my protégé has learned anything.

“And what did you say?” he shrugs and sighs.

“I told him I didn’t have time for threats,” he says, his voice exasperated. “I told him to take it however he wanted, but that my family has been through enough and we don’t need anymore drama. As long as he’s cool, we can be friends. The minute he brings drama, the moment he’s trouble, I ain’t ya friend—and you don’t wanna know me when I ain’t ya friend no more.”

He raises cool, green eyes to me and fixes his gaze on mine. Not necessarily the words I would have used, but pretty much the same sentiment—and if he added that glare, Zack got the message loud and clear and young Marlow is not just some young buck hothead lion cub trying to keep the next male cat away from his mom. He still needs a little buffing around the edges, but he’s polishing up very nicely.

“You’re still calling him Dad,” I say. He frowns. Yeah, I changed gears mid-conversation. “Your father. You call him Dad.” He shrugs again. I’m trying to break him of that habit. He does it a lot when we’re alone, but less when we’re around others.

“That’s just because I don’t know what else to call him,” he says. “Calling him by his first name, or even his last name seems like too much of a show of respect. I won’t ever call anybody else Dad because of what it means. Dad used to mean that I loved him, that I couldn’t wait for him to get home, you know. It was reserved for only him. Then, it warped into a word of hatred, contempt, and fear. So, yeah. My kids, they’ll call me Pop or Pops or even Daddy, but never Dad. That word is still reserved just for him… only him.”

I feel bad for Marlow detesting his father so much, but I guess it’s no more than I detest the crack whore, so…

“Well, he seems like a coward to me,” I say, “lurking in the shadows, trying to use fear and intimidation tactics. I think he’s more afraid of you than you are of him.”

“He should be,” Marlow confirms. “When I say I’ll take him down, I mean it, so he better not test me.” I nod and decide it’s definitely time to change the subject.

“You’ve got a date for the wedding next Saturday?” I ask. He rolls his eyes.

“God,” he nearly whines. “You know how much guys hate weddings?”

“Actually, most times they don’t,” I tell him. “They usually use them as an opportunity to hit on the bridesmaids.”

“The groomsmen use them as an opportunity to hit on the bridesmaids. Guys don’t want the girls they’re seeing to start getting any ideas,” he protests.

“Well, are you seeing anybody seriously?” I ask.

“Do I ever see anybody seriously?” he retorts. “I’ve got school and work and my projects… I have fun, but the girls I hang out with, they all know that we’re just hanging out. If I take somebody to that wedding, they’re gonna get all starry-eyed and stuff. I don’t have time for that.”

“So, you don’t have any female friend that you can just say, ‘I need a casual wedding date. Wanna go?’” He shakes his head.

“I don’t have any female friends,” he says.

“Well, if I have to go, you have to go. So, figure something out, young man,” I say, patting him on the shoulder. He rolls his eyes.

“I’ll escort my mom,” he says sorrowfully. “It’s not like I want to be there anyway. It’s gonna be a nightmare.” You’re telling me. As we’re still lamenting having to attend whatever shahoolawhatagans will be Mia and Ethan’s wedding, Andrea buzzes my intercom.

“Mr. Welch would like a moment,” her disembodied voice says. Alex normally just walks in. Why the formality?

“Send him in, and have you heard back from Capito’s camp for a conference call between our companies for some time in the next week?”

“Not yet, sir.” I shake my head. I turn my attention back to Marlow. “Get the information on the coding and ownership of the property. See if there’s been any interest in it since the community center was closed down or if it’s just been sitting dormant all this time. Get some background information on the surrounding businesses, too. It goes a long way to determine the future success of the project.”

“I’ve already started on that part,” he says. “A lot of the local businesses are struggling because traffic from the center diminished. Reopening it could be just the boost the neighborhood needs, in more ways than one.” My office door opens and Alex breaches the doorway, then stops, obviously expecting me to be alone.

“Get back to me as soon as you have that information,” I tell Marlow. He nods and stands, greeting Alex before leaving. “What’s with the announcing yourself?” I ask. “You don’t usually do that.”

“I didn’t know who you were meeting with,” he says, walking further into the office. “I’ve got some information and I don’t know who you want to hear it.”

“Information about what?”

“Not what… who.” He hands me a piece of paper. He’s talking to me as I’m reading the paper. “Dustin Carver, the PI who’s following your father. Pretty unremarkable guy, as you can see. He’s an everyday, average private dick, somebody that wouldn’t and shouldn’t arouse any kind of suspicion even for what he does. Just that typical type of guy that you might hire if you were trying to catch a cheating wife. He’s not highly sought, no special set of skills, nothing at all that would give even a child cause for concern—except one little thing…” I shake my head as my eyes land on the obvious glaring red flag that is definitely a cause for concern.

“His agency is based out of Detroit.” I walk over and toss the paper on my desk taking a seat in my desk chair, frustrated, Fuck! Will that place ever leave me alone? “Goddamn motherfucking shithole-in-the-wall God-forsaken Detroit!” I hiss.

“Well, shit. Tell us how you really feel.” Jason joins us, quickly entering my office and closing the door behind him. “I take it you told him,” he says to Alex.

“I did, and he’s not taking it very well,” Alex confirms.

“Of course, I’m not taking this shit well!” I bark. “A private eye from Detroit is all the way out here on the Pacific seaboard following my father! You know this can only be Sunset or fucking Myrick.” Alex sighs.

“There’s a third possibility,” Jason says. My neck snaps to him like someone hit me. Well, fucking out with it, man. “This is your father this guy is following, not various members of your family. It could be your uncle.”

My uncle? Why the fuck would Herman have a private eye following Dad around the city? It doesn’t make any damn sense… Then, while I’m trying to figure it out, Alex’s words come floating back to me.

Just that typical type of guy that you might hire if you were trying to catch a cheating wife.

Or if you were a cheating husband. Herman’s not my only uncle…

“Freeman,” I hiss. “Why the fuck would Freeman have somebody following my Dad?”

“Turnabout?” Alex says, with a shrug. “I can’t even begin to tell you what the guy was hoping to find, and we haven’t even established that it was Freeman who hired the private eye. We’re not sure who it was.”

“So, how do we find out?” I nearly growl. “I’m a resourceful fucking guy. So are you. What’s the fucking problem?”

“So, how far do you want to go with this?” he asks. Well, let me think. Not too long ago, three guys who had something to do with hacking into my company mainframe disappeared never to be heard from again. I’m currently suing a DJ for rightfully accusing me of having his ass kicked for talking too damn much, and you just delivered a dog back to a judge that you dognapped for giving my company fleet too many damn traffic tickets. Just how far do you think I want you to go? I fold my arms and wordlessly glare at him.

“Okay, let me reword that,” Alex says. “If I ruffle too many feathers and turn over too many rocks, I might find Sunset. What then?” He has a point, but in all honesty, what now?

“If Sunset is already under the damn rock, then what are we running from?” I retort. “It’s not like he can’t get to me if he wants to. And give this some serious thought. Detroit-based Mafioso searching for a man in federal protection sends an average loafer-wearing flatfoot-type private dick all the way from Motown to Seattle to follow my father? After he sends that Egyptian-thread-wearing consigliere out here last year? If that’s the case, then he wants the fucker to get caught. Shake that asshole down and find out what the fuck he wants. And if that’s not the case and this asshole is not from Sunset, shake that asshole down and find out what the fuck he wants!

Hopefully, these instructions leave nothing unclear to my heads of security. Alex nods and leaves my office without another word. Jason, however, stays behind, silently examining me.

“You’re tense,” he says, matter-of-factly.

“You think?” I snap. “Every time I put out a fire, another one is right behind it. I can’t get any goddamn peace. Has anybody investigated what the hell is going on with that fucker Freeman? My money’s on him. This doesn’t smell like Sunset at all. He doesn’t play amateur games. I don’t know much about the guy, but I know that much.”

“I’ve got someone on the way out there now,” he says, “the minute I thought it might be him. Sources say that things aren’t looking too good for him with that audit and the divorce. He could be looking for some kind of shakedown, maybe. Didn’t your father and Herman leave him the house?”

“I think it has to go through probate or something…” My intercom buzzing interrupts my statement. What now? “Yes?”

“I’ve left a message with Mr. Capito’s secretary, sir. However, the nine-hour time difference could pose a problem,” Andrea says through the intercom. She’s right. I forgot about that. This is becoming a nightmare. I’ve never had this much problem dealing with an international company before. I’ve always accommodated them, and they’ve always accommodated me. What the fuck it up with this guy? Is he just not familiar with international business etiquette? Getting information out of him has been harder than finagling pussy from a virgin and he wants me to do business with him?

“We may have to shoot for an early-morning-late-afternoon session, then, Andrea,” I tell her.

“Yes, sir.”

“Capito,” Jason says. “The Spanish company?”

“Madrid, yes,” I reply. “On the surface, the company looks prime for picking, but you know I didn’t become who I am by being a fool. This guy is hiding something and if this were anybody else, I’d just walk away.”

“Why not this guy?” Jason asks. “What’s different with him?”

“I have no fucking idea,” I tell him. “His financials were so damn cryptic that even our systems couldn’t analyze them. You know—garbage in, garbage out. Now, the arrows are starting to point in a direction and we’re trying to find out what it is. So, we’re hoping to get some more information from him… and he’s MIA.” Jason shakes his head.

“You’re like a dog chasing a bone, boss,” he says. I frown.

“What do you mean?” He hesitates before answering.

“I’ve seen you like this before,” he says. “Your fuse is short. You’re not snapping at anybody—at least, no more than usual, but you’ve got all these little firecrackers around you and they’re all poppin’… pop, pop, pop, pop, pop. They’re not really huge ones except maybe the thing with your mom; Ray getting arrested was no party; your grandfather died. Then, you’ve got the small-to-midland things—Rossiter, Ana’s adoption, the situations with the licensing boards. And then, we have those things we have yet to classify—this PI thing, the outcome of the interview, I don’t know where to put Mia’s wedding…”

That makes two of us.

“And that’s not all of it. Then, here comes Capito, an interesting little problem that’s right up your alley—an unsolved mystery that’s like a game of Clue, a company that you would normally not waste your time on because if he’s hiding one thing, he could be hiding a whole lot more, and there’s just too many fish in the sea for you to be chasing this one elusive rainbow fish only to catch it, gut it, and find out that you’ve opened Pandora’s Box. You’ve had that discussion with me many times on many deals that you’ve bypassed for less and yet, you’re chasing this one—like you need to keep your mind occupied. I don’t know what’s up, boss. If there’s some appeal that your great business mind sees in this company that I don’t see, I’m just going to step back and let you handle it. This isn’t my area of expertise, after all. But if you’re chasing something because you’re running away from something else or something’s going on in your head that you can’t sort out for some reason, you might want to get a handle on it. Just from what you’ve told me, something stinks about this company. And you said it many times… if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it’s a damn duck. I don’t know what you’re looking for, boss, but it looks like a duck to me.”

He pauses for a moment to let his words sink in before he walks to the door.

“I’ll let you know what I find out about Freeman,” he says. I nod and he leaves. I hate when he’s so damn logical. I just think something else is going on with Capito and I want to know what the fuck it is, and maybe he’s right. Maybe I do need a distraction from all this other shit that’s going on in my life, but business is what I do. It’s what drives me, it always has—that, and being a Dom, and I can’t be a damn Dom 24/7. Who would really want to? I mean, I know some people who would, but I’m not one of them.

*-*

The day seemed to drag on forever and I’m only too happy to be home. Of course, the dragging part was only exasperated by the fact that Lorenz and Ros showed up in my office at a quarter to four with yet another urgent matter that required my immediate attention and didn’t get resolved until well past seven in the evening. The good news, another acquisition is signed, sealed, and delivered, and GEH’s net worth has increased yet again… a good day, overall, I would say.

Now, I’m wiped out… so, why am I headed down to my study?

When I get there and put my briefcase on the desk, I see why I was led to the lower level. Beyond the bubbles and the fish in the freshwater aquarium, I see a mass of mahogany hair leaning over a file or a notebook or something on her desk. She pushes a strand or two behind her ear to reveal her glasses, but it only falls back in her face as she continues to study whatever she’s reading. I’m drawn to her. Of course, I am. With 14,000 square feet of house, I’m drawn to this room because she’s next door.

I remove my jacket and tie, tossing them both onto my desk chair before leaving my study. I pull my phone out of my pocket and log into the Crossing’s communications systems. Syncing the sound system with my iTunes, I choose the song I want and select Butterfly’s office as the destination. When I hear the sultry introduction begin, I open her office door to meet her surprised gaze. Closing the door behind me, I slowly walk over to my wife, drinking the sight of her and her initial deer-caught-in-headlights gaze that slowly morphs into wonder.

I’m, I’m so in love with you,
Whatever you want to do,
Is alright with me…

I take her hand and coax her from her seat. Those sexy as fuck glasses… damn! How does anybody make nerd glasses look so damn hot?

‘Cause you make me feel so brand new,
And I want to spend my life with you…

I caress the skin of her arms and watch the gooseflesh rise before moving my hands to her hips. Her lips part as she lifts her eyes to my face. The song is perfect as the words express exactly what I’m feeling. I love her so much that I don’t know what to do with myself sometimes. The feelings are scary and overwhelming and frightening all at the same time.

Let me say that since, baby, since we’ve been together
Loving you forever
Is what I need
Let me, be the one you come running to
I’ll never be untrue

I pull her body close to me and sway back and forth to the music, closing my eyes, breathing her in and absorbing her warmth. Her hands slide up my chest and she leans into me as the music wraps around us.

Oh baby, let’s, let’s stay together
Lovin’ you whether, whether
Times are good or bad, happy or sad
Whether times are good or bad, happy or sad

My hands slide up her back and into her hair. A sound escapes her throat that almost sounds like a purr and strikes something right in the center of me. I move my hands to her face, cup her cheeks and lean in, closing my lips over hers. She tastes as sweet as she always does, and I drink her in thirstily, my tongue lapping hungrily through her mouth.

Why, why some people break up
Then turn around and make up
I just can’t see
You’d never do that to me, would you, baby?
Staying around you is all I see…

Her fingers tangle in my hair and she pulls gently, again strumming that heat in the center of me. I crouch down and wrap my arms around her, lifting her as she wraps her legs around my body and we’re lost in the heat of each other. It’s like every movement, every action, every minute of the day was to bring us to this moment… to each other.

“Christian…” she breathes, as she quickly undoes the first buttons of my shirt. I don’t even know that’s what she’s doing until her mouth is on my throat. Fuck, her tongue is hot. I gasp out a breath and manage to fall back into one of the large seats in her office with her in my arms. She quick undoes the remaining buttons of my shirt, kissing, licking, biting, sucking, and nipping my neck and chest the entire time. I’m actually lightheaded with arousal as I realize the song has ended and started over. Thank God for that!

She’s hands, lips, mouth, tongue, and teeth all over me when I thought I was coming to her office to seduce her! My head is back on the chair and my mouth is open, gasping for air in extreme arousal as my wife makes quick work of my belt and zipper and I’m out of my pant and boxer briefs before I have the chance to protest. Well, they’re down at my ankles anyway.

“Gah, fuck!” I hiss as she bites the tender meat of my thigh before quickly settling in between my legs, and taking my cock in both hands. She doesn’t even take off those damn glasses! She just grabs the base of my hard shaft with both hands and shoves the whole goddamn thing in her mouth.

“Mother of God!” I yell before I even know it. I damn near lift out of the fucking seat. She hits my dick with such immediate suction that my eyes roll back in my head and I literally gag with pleasure, gripping the armrest fiercely to keep from climbing away from her.

“Goddamn! Goddammit!” I curse as her mouth and hands piston back and forth over my cock, viciously, with fervor and purpose! I can’t even move my hips to match her stroke.

“Baby! Fuck! Baby!” I choke. I’m not going to last long if she keeps this up. I was already a little anxious when I got home and didn’t know it. When I saw her, I graduated to heated. Now, I’m volcanic!

“Oh, God, baby, fuck!” I warn, mournfully as I feel that familiar feeling quickly creeping up in my back and my balls tightening. Just as my dick starts to thicken and lengthen and that vein starts to pulse, she releases me with a loud and vigorous “pop” causing me to cry out from the sensation.

“Fucking shit!” I hiss as I gulp in several deep breaths, trying to find my equilibrium. I realize quickly that it’s a futile exercise, as while I’m catching my breath, my limber wife has quickly stripped from the waist down and is now situating that luscious body on top of me.

“Oh, hell,” I lament, as I open my eyes, just as she positions the head of my weeping cock at her hot, wet opening. Situating her legs where she wants them, she drops that warm, tight pussy down onto my waiting dick, sheathing me all the way to the balls and moving nothing but her hips and ass, begins to ride me a rocking horse.

And again, I can’t move.

“Ha! Ha! Oh, shit! Oh, shit! Oh, shit!” Her hands are gripping the back of the chair on either side of my head and that pussy is dominating my dick, sliding effortlessly and masterfully up and down and up and down and up and down, faster and hotter and tighter and wetter with each stroke. I was just about ready to blow when she released me from her mouth, but now…

“Fu-fu-fu-fuck fuck fu-uck…” Shit, shit, shiiiiiit, what she’s doing to my dick! I swear to God, no other part of her body is moving but that ass and those hips and that pussy and she’s just staring at me through those fucking glasses while she’s milking the fuck out of my dick. I’m. Afraid. To move!

And here comes the burn.

I close my eyes and feel it creep my back and to my prostate, ready to blow.

“Watch me!” she hisses. I open my eyes and she’s glaring at me, her hair untamed, her blue eyes wild and feral behind those glasses. I’ll never be able to look at them the same again. I don’t know if my lips part or if my mouth was already open, but she rims my lips hungrily with her tongue, then bites my bottom lip to the point of pain.

That does it.

My balls explode maddeningly and almost unexpectedly into that enthusiastically pistoning pussy and I finally find the strength to grab her hips in an attempt to stop her movements and ease the searing burn.

“Don’t hold me down! Don’t hold me down!” she says against my lips, before thrusting her tongue into my mouth and kissing me passionately. I have to fight not to hold her bouncing pussy against my burning, throbbing, aching, emptying dick. It’s fucking agony and it feels so goddamn good that I want to fucking cry. I groan deep and hard in my mourning until the orgasm stops, and she’s merciless as she never stops riding me until the last drop is spent, claiming my cries as her prizes as she gives me sexy kisses, over and over, until I catch my breath.

“You… didn’t come,” I pant into her mouth.

“You’ll make me come later,” she purrs. “I know you will. I needed to feel you… needed to see you come apart beneath me… inside me…” and come apart I did. I’m still gathering sated shards of myself from the atmosphere.

“You’re unreal,” I breathe.

“As are you,” she replies, rubbing her lips gently against mine as she pushes the hair from my forehead. I kiss her softly, then gaze into her eyes.

“I need to take care of you,” I whisper…

And take care of her, I do… several times.


ANASTASIA

By the time the weekend arrives, I need to unwind like nobody’s business. Christian has been insatiable throughout the week and it’s been enough to get me through each day with this irritating and highly unnecessary investigation, but I’m always wound back up by the end of the day. The up and down and back and forth has me in a total state of confusion and disarray, so I grab my younger partner in crime, Sophie, and head to Miana’s on Saturday for a manicure and pedicure.

Sophie and I spend a lot of time together. Well, maybe not a lot, but enough. She talks to me about a lot of personal matters. I thought Gail would have a problem with her opening up to me more than her, but she admits that she’s just happy that Sophie finally has someone that she can relate to and that she only wants Sophie to be happy. Her and Sophie’s relationship is solid enough that she doesn’t feel threatened by our friendship, so when Sophie can steal a moment of my quiet time, she uses the opportunities to approach sensitive subjects.

“Ana, how old were you when you started… liking guys?” And here we go.

“Well, I don’t really remember,” I answer honestly. “My story is much different than yours, Sophie, but I guess my first real crush, I was much older than you. But the first guy I liked, I was probably a little younger… like eight or ten, maybe. How old are you now? Thirteen, right?” She nods. “Well, you’re certainly due. You’ve got a guy? Someone on the horizon?”

“Well, no… yes… well…” She sighs. “You know how girls go all crazy over One Direction, but they’ll probably never really fall in love with Harry Styles and get married and have kids unless there was a nuclear holocaust and they were the last two people on earth? Yeah, it’s kinda like that.” Her voice is laced with frustration. Young Sophie is under no misconception of her position in this situation, and I briefly recall the way she adoringly eyed Marlow at Elliot and Val’s reception.

“Ah, the ever-present ‘unattainable’ crush,” I confirm.

“Yeah, that guy,” she says. “’Forever just out of reach.’ My mom used to say that all the time about Uncle Christian.” Forever is right, and more like way out of reach for that bitch! “So, let’s just say that it got me thinking about guys and stuff, even though this guy may never be the one…” She says the last part with a touch of melancholy and I’m almost certain that it’s Marlow. They’re about four years apart in age. He’s nearly seventeen, and those are dog years to teenagers.

“So, is this guy Harry Styles or somebody that’s actually attainable?” I ask. She purses her lips.

“Not Harry Styles, but he might as well be, so definitely unattainable,” she says.

“You probably need to resolve your feelings for this guy, then,” I tell her. “Unrequited love sucks and it has a way of festering and making you bitter. Does he go to your school? Do you see him every day?” She shakes her head.

“No, thank God,” she says. “I only see him once in a while, but then when I do, it’s like no time has passed at all.”

Yeah, it’s Marlow.

“Have you told him how you feel?” I ask.

“Oh, God, no!” she answers in horror. “He’d probably laugh at me… and our relationship isn’t like that. It never was, and it most likely never will be, so it’s like you said. I just need to resolve my feelings for him. It’s just hard to do when I see him. I get all fluttery and girly and stuff and I don’t know what to do with myself…”

And she’s going to the wedding, so she’ll probably see him next weekend. Hence, the nervousness and agitation.

“So, what do you do when you’re around this guy?” I ask.

“Usually just gaze at him like a dork,” she says. Yep, definitely Marlow. “He has no idea, so I’m safe. I’ll just have to find some kind of way not to trip over myself whenever I see him. It’s not that often, so I should be able to survive it.”

“You already sound so grown up,” I tell her. “Are you making friends?” she shrugs.

“Not really,” she says. “I just started the new school, so I don’t really know anybody and it’s not like I really had friends at the old school.”

“You should use this new opportunity to make some new friends, Sophie,” I tell her. She looks at me.

“No offense, Ana, and I know you guys don’t treat me that way and don’t look at me that way, but in this neighborhood, I’m the help.” Oh, shit. I hadn’t even thought of that.

“Has somebody said that to you?” I ask.

“They don’t have to,” she says. “It’s how they act. I already know that if I approach any of them and they find out who I am, they’re going to shun me or their parents are going to shun me.” She’s right, too. People are cruel, heartless snobs, and I can’t stand the way that they think.

“Can I ask you a question?” she nods. “Would you care if anybody knew that you live here?”

“No,” she says, shaking her head. “Not really.”

“Would you mind that people knew that you and I are friends?” she frowns.

“Why would I mind that?” she asks.

“Now, here’s the big one, Sophie,” I say as I adjust in my seat and choose a nail color, handing it to the technician. “Are you ashamed for people to know what your father and your stepmother do?” She twists her lips.

“Not really,” she answers, choosing her own color of blushing pink and handing it to her technician. “They make good money and love their jobs. You guys treat us all really well. It’s just that the kids at school, they’re still going to see it as the help. I’d rather be on my own than to deal with that,” she admits. I see now.

“So, it’s not that you don’t want your friends to know what they do. It’s that you’d rather not deal with snobby ass, fake friends,” I conclude.

“Exactly,” Sophie responds. “I’ve been a loner for years. It’s not that hard.” So was I. It’s not the kind of life I want for Sophie.”

“What if you were popular?” I ask. “Could you handle that?” She laughs.

“That’s not going to happen. You have to approach people and be outgoing. You know, go to parties and malls and giggle… I don’t do much of that.” I shrug.

“You never know what might happen,” I say. Sophie examines me.

“You thinking about doing a She’s All That?” she asks. I cock my head at her.

“What do you know about that?” I ask. “That’s before your time.”

“Just a little,” she says, “and misfits tend to watch movies about misfits.” I examine her.

“You consider yourself a misfit?” I ask. She looks down at her hands, now transforming to the pretty pink color.

“Not like an outcast or anything,” she says. “I just really didn’t get a chance to fit in. Seriously, look at my life.” I nod.

“Yeah, I get it.” I look at my own nails and consider my own situation when I was in school. I could take being a misfit. It was being a target that was unbearable.

“Well, to answer your question, I do plan on doing something on the order or She’s All That, but maybe not so dramatic, so just be prepared.” She laughs.

“This is going to be funny,” she says, shaking her head. “Okay, I’m game.”


A/N: She’s All That is a movie from 1999 starring Freddie Prinze, Jr where he accepts a bet and attempts to turn nerd Rachel Leigh Cook into the prom queen.

So, the feature picture of Bradley Cooper AKA Liam Westwick is a backup that I had to find to serve my purposes. The one that the internet gobbled up completely fit the description that I wrote of Liam—charcoal gray suit, tall as Christian, outer-worldly blue eyes, cute half-smile, and feet as big as Texas. This picture was as close as I could get to the description and I’m lucky I still had a second picture that I found of his eyes! It might have been photoshopped by someone, but I don’t care. 

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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

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

I love all my readers, don’t you guys forget that, but a special thanks to those who click on and read the emails and to those who follow the links to the page. I get reports on how many clicks I get, and it makes me feel good to see that people do actually click the links. So, thanks you guys. ❤ 

Speaking of which, if your email address is bouncing because it’s too full, you may want to check your emails from time to time. If my auto-email program confirms that your email is bouncing, it automatically stops sending you emails and I can’t stop it or change it if it does, which is okay if you don’t want to get the email anyway, but if you do, I would probably have to delete you and you would probably have to resubscribe. Depending on the circumstance you may even have to do it with a new email address. I moved quite a few people to an infrequent list only to find that several of them were bouncing anyway and some had already been “quarantined” by my mailer. So, if you want to continue getting the personalized emails, please open them when you see them and make sure I have a good email address for you. 

To the rest of my readers, thank you from wherever you click to get here. I love you all! 

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

Chapter 32—Lights, Camera, Action!

CHRISTIAN

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

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

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

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

“We had a really good talk,” I say.

“Yes, we did,” she agrees.

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

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

“And then we fucked,” I say.

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

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

“Resolution sex.” I raise my eyebrows.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m listening,” I say.

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

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

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

“Who… is Michel?” I ask.

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

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

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

Borderline?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boy, she went way back!

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

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

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

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

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

And tamed.

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

“So, it appears,” she sighs.

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

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

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

“Yes, Sir,” she answers sweetly.

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s just hope,” I concur.


ANASTASIA

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

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

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

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

“Why all the vehicles?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

curly locks

Michael Allen Grey

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

Mackenzie Anastasia Grey

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And why not?” my husband nearly roars.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think the broadcast journalist lady is getting offended.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s correct,” Maria says.

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

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

Wrong answer.

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

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

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

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


CHRISTIAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What?” Butterfly says, incredulously.

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

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

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

“They are…?” she asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Anything else?” she asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 18—I Can See Clearly Now…

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

Chapter 18—I Can See Clearly Now…

CHRISTIAN

“I’m sorry, Marilyn, but I’m not waking her. Anastasia had a rough night last night, and I don’t expect for her to wake for at least another three hours.”

“I’m sorry, Christian, but this is really important,” Marilyn presses. “There are two shows vying for her attention and she’s been trying to get both spots for weeks! If she doesn’t make a decision today—like now, they’re going to give these spots to someone else!”

“Then, make the decision,” I say calmly. “That’s why she hired you.”

“I wouldn’t dare make this decision without her input!” she retorts. “She’d have my head on a platter.”

“Well, you’re going to have to make it today,” I say calmly. “Listen… I swear I’m not being difficult. She had a bad night, a very. Bad. Night. Unless you tell me that you see Armageddon coming over Lake Washington, I’m not waking her.”

Butterfly has been asleep for maybe two and a half hours after staying awake all night keeping an eye on me. Unless she comes down those stairs on her own, I’m not disturbing her for at least another three hours. Even my mother has called about some letter she wrote to the licensing board and I refuse to disturb her right now.

“I’ll take whatever fallout you would take for this, but I’m not waking her. She needs to rest.” I hear Marilyn sigh on the other end.

“She’s going to have my neck,” she says defeated.

“Did you do anything wrong?” I ask.

“No, but she gave me specific instructions that the moment either of these GM’s called to find her wherever she is.” I lean back in my chair and sigh.

“Okay, let’s talk,” I say. The line gets quiet.

“What?”

“Let’s talk. What’s going on with these two GM’s?”

“Well, they both need somebody to fill their Monday morning spot,” she says.

“And this same thing happened last weekend,” I tell her. “What is it? Do they all wait until Sunday afternoon to fill their Monday morning spots?” I’m serious with this question. I recall that Butterfly wasn’t happy when the radio station called eighteen hours before show time to move her mid-morning interview to 5am.

“I don’t know,” she says. “I think they sometimes just have a change in programming.”

“So, let me tell you what’s happening,” I say crossing my legs and getting comfortable. “Butterfly had a somewhat volatile interview last Monday, after which she dropped a little fire on the press on the sidewalk when she left. I breezed through and threw a little gasoline on that fire so that when she had her Wednesday and Thursday interviews, they were pretty tame for the most part… but the fires were already burning. Are you following me so far?”

“Um, yeah,” she says with a little uncertainty.

“Now, there are a few unanswered questions as well as some fuses that can be lit for the first show that can get her on the hot seat, which is what they’re trying to do now—not necessarily trying to back her into a corner, but trying to pin her down to information before she gives it to anyone else. Have you seen today’s society page?” The line is silent again.

“Since when do you read the society page?” she asks.

“Since my wife started doing radio interviews,” I tell her, “and since a boater somewhere captured pictures of us making out on my private yacht! You wanna know why both of those stations are burning up your phone right now? Because we’re in the news today… not only because we were stealing kisses while sharing an ice cream cone at the zoo yesterday, but also because that asshole disk-jockey Judd whatever the fuck his last name is, was making noise at a bar last night after having too much to drink about recently being placed on administrative suspension after five women from the radio station accused him of sexual harassment. This after my wife made it very clear that he behaved inappropriately towards her on the air. You wanna know why they’re chomping at the bit to get her to commit to them before the sun goes down? Because they know that Butterfly is prone to do any impromptu interview if you shove a mic in her face and they’re trying to avoid that. They want an exclusive.

“Let them know that she’s not available right now and that when she is, she will discuss with them when and if she can make an appearance. Be firm, Marilyn. Let them know that as important as her cause is to her, she will not be pressured into committing to a Monday morning live spot less than 24 hours before the red light comes on. No matter who it is that’s asking for the interview, it’s unrealistic, and it’s not going to happen. You know it and I know it and if she were standing here, she’d tell you the same thing. She’d say that she needed to think about it and to try to come up with an alternative. So, give them that choice—to come up with a reasonable alternative and I’ll bet you that if they want her bad enough and they’re not up to anything sneaky, they will.” She’s silent for a few moments.

“Yeah… that makes sense,” she says, uncertainly.

“Of course, it makes sense,” I tell her. “They’re not calling the shots, she is. I know my Butterfly. She doesn’t want to come off as a diva and she doesn’t want to be difficult, but she won’t be ‘pushed over’ either and they need to know that. KNTZ tried that shit and totally lost the interview. They wanted the Senator in her spot and they got it. It was a good gamble, but in the process, they lost Butterfly. I can guarantee you that somebody somewhere is banging their head against a wall wondering if there’s some way that they could have secured both of those interviews without trying to stick her in a spot when the roosters crowed. Because that’s what cost them the interview—it wasn’t that they wanted to move her. It’s where they wanted to move her to. Think like they are and negotiate slots. She depends on you to tell her what her schedule is. You are Ana when she’s not there. You represent my wife to the public before they see her. You’re as important as she is, if not more, because you’re the gatekeeper. They can’t both have the same slot. Negotiate the space—it’s as simple as that. One of those spots is more attractive than the other and you know it is. You just have to think outside the box to figure out which one it is.” There’s another pause.

“Thank you, Christian,” she says. “You’ve helped me a lot… but please tell Ana to call me as soon as she wakes, okay? Maybe by then, I will have smoothed out an interview schedule for tomorrow.”

“Good deal,” I say before exchanging pleasantries and ending the call. Just as I’m picking up the paper again, Jason taps on my office door. I raise my head as he walks in.

“You look somber,” I say. He sighs heavily.

“I’m trying to get myself ready,” he says. I nod. He and Sophie have to be in court tomorrow for the custody case. They usually don’t move this quickly, but Shalane Deleroy is looking at jail time… plus, I know a few influential people and I wasn’t going to chance that crazy bitch getting “cleaned up” and taking Sophie away from Jason. So, as long as we could get the case in front of a judge while she’s still awaiting trial, it’s cut and dried.

“Are you ready?” I ask.

“Oh, I’m more than ready for the trial,” he says, “but this bitch is coming over here today.” I sit up in my seat.

“Today?” I bark. “Why?”

“She wants to see Sophie,” he says. I roll my eyes. He has to make Sophie available for reasonable visitation. It’s likely that he’ll have to do that even if Shalane has to do time. I shake my head.

“Don’t leave her alone with that bitch,” I say. “Make her come inside.” Jason furrows his brows.

“You want her in the house?” he asks, surprised.

“No, I don’t want her in the house,” I say, “but she can’t be outside of this house with Sophia. She tried to sell her to a drug dealer, for God’s sake. Why does she want to see her now?” I shake my head. “No, I don’t trust that bitch for shit. They can bring her through the mud room and around the back. She can talk to Sophie in the community room, in her apartment, or on the back patio, but she can’t leave the grounds with her.”

Jason examines me for a moment, then his eyes soften.

“You would think Sophie was your daughter,” he says, trying to hide a smirk.

“Well, she’s my honorary niece and I feel responsible for her,” I retort. He smiles widely.

“Thanks, Boss,” he says sincerely, “I thought we’d have to go to a park again. The paps were getting wise to that routine and Shalane likes an audience.”

“Don’t mention it,” I tell him. “When can we expect the witch?” He looks at his watch.

“In about an hour,” he laments.

“Why is she coming to see Sophie the day before she’s supposed to go to court?”

“Probably to guilt trip her into saying something nice about her tomorrow. She doesn’t understand that it won’t matter. The judge wants to hear what Sophie has to say, but with what Shalane is charged with, it won’t make a bit of difference in the decision.”

“You should be able to keep her from influencing Sophie that way, or at least trying to,” I protest.

“I don’t want anything to get in the way of tomorrow,” he says.

“Trust me, that bitch tried to sell your daughter. Nothing’s getting in the way of tomorrow.”

*-*

My wife awoke rested and feeling much better a few hours later. Chuck and I are treated to a show of our women doing yoga in the backyard near the pool. Chuck has that faraway look in his eyes when he watches her and we talk for a while about their future and when he plans to propose to her again. He insists that he doesn’t want to rush it, but that he’d marry her on a moment’s notice if she said, “Yes.” Jason comes out to the patio to sit with us, joking that it’s a good thing that his and Gail’s apartment is in the middle between Chuck’s apartment and Sophie’s or Chuck would need soundproof walls. Chuck apologizes and promises to keep it down to muffled screams of passion from now on. Just as we comment that Shalane is two and a half hours late for this oh-so-important visit with Sophie, Jason gets a call that the witch has arrived. He goes off to get Sophie just as my hot wife and our nanny finish their session.

“Did you enjoy the show?” she asks, toweling off the sweat from her body.

“Bring that body over here and I’ll show you how much I enjoyed the show,” I say, wagging my eyebrows. She walks closer to me, still drying her body.

“God, you’re insatiable, Mr. Grey, and I’m all sweaty,” she protests. I grab her wrist and pull her quickly into my lap, eliciting a fit of giggles that I love to hear from her so much.

“And you point is?” I say, situating her firmly on my lap. “I love the way you smell,” I confess, kissing her sweaty neck.

“Behave, now,” I say. “We have others around.” At that moment, I look over at our “others” and Chuck has a handful of Keri’s ass, proclaiming what a “fine piece of meat” she is.

“I don’t think they care,” I say, nuzzling back into my wife neck and licking the salty sweat from her skin. She giggles again and I hear someone clear their throat behind me. We all turn our gaze to see Lawrence and Shalane Deleroy standing on the patio just this side of the French doors. Deleroy looks nervous, but not nervous enough to put a leash on her tongue as she distastefully observes the PDAs she’s witnessing while Lawrence’s gaze seems to be transfixed on… Keri.

“Well,” Deleroy says indignantly, “so much for decorum.” My wife is rising off my lap and talking at the same time.

“Bitch, you are all the way in my house now and I have no love lost for your ass. Keep talking shit in my house and I will happily slap your ass back across the bridge!” I catch my wife’s wrist just as she gets to Deleroy, who is now cowering behind Lawrence.

“Whoa, settle, tiger,” I say softly. “That’s not your fight.”

“It is when she walks in my house talking shit,” she hisses before turning back to Deleroy and pointing a finely manicured finger at her. “One more word,” Butterfly threatens, “Just one more word out-of-line…”

“Making friends as usual, I see,” Jason says as he, Sophie, and Gail all come from the direction of the apartments.

“Sophie! Baby, I’ve missed you!” Deleroy says a little too enthusiastically as she holds her arms open for Sophie, who doesn’t move towards her mother.

“What do you want, Mom?” Sophie says softly. Deleroy drops her arms.

“I see he’s turned you against me,” Deleroy says. Sophie turns to leave. “Sophia!” she calls, and her voice sounds a little desperate. Sophie stops and comes back to Jason’s side.

“I already told you, Mom, I’m not going to let you talk badly about Dad anymore. If that’s why you came, then you can leave.”

This girl is way too wise and has seen way too much to be so young. She’s gaining some of her childhood years back being here with us and being around the babies, and around Luma’s girls when they come over. Even her apartment, though fully functional, is decked out with things that a little girl her age should have. She’s been much more rounded since she been here than I remember when she first got here. She’s more outspoken and she seems to have more fun. She’s relaxed… until her mother comes around.

“Let’s go, Sophie. I’d like for us to have a talk,” Deleroy say.

“In light of the circumstances and the case tomorrow, your visit with Sophia will take place on the grounds today,” Jason says, firmly. Deleroy looks horrified by this revelation.

“You’re saying that I can’t even be alone with my child anymore?” she asks in dismay.

“Of course, you can. You just can’t leave the grounds,” Jason says, before turning to Sophie. “Sophie, where would you like to visit with your mother?”

“She can come to my apartment,” Sophie says, her voice none too pleased.

“Your apartment?” Deleroy exclaims. “These people have you living alone and you’re only twelve?”

“There’s the word!” I have to catch my wife around her waist to prevent her from lunging at Deleroy, who turns white as a ghost at the gesture. Sophie, however, is not one to let the comment drop so easily.

“No, Mom, I’m not alone here! I’m never alone here. There are people here with me all the time—Momma Gail, Daddy, Mr. Christian, Ms. Ana, Chuck, Keri—and when they’re not here, there’s always somebody else. What you did—leaving me in that house with no food and no phone for three days while your creepy drug dealer kept coming by looking for you right before you tried to trade me off for drugs—that was alone. This is not alone. I’m not alone here. I’m never, ever alone!”

The patio is silent while Sophie faces off with her obviously delusional mother.

“And I realize that I’m not a priority in your life and I don’t think I ever was, but try to keep up, Mom. I’m thirteen.” Though her voice was shrill and angry moments ago, Sophie’s voice is low and cool when she delivers this bit of information. Then, she drops the final bomb on her mother. “Your visit was at twelve. It’s two thirty. You’re late and I don’t want to see you. You can leave now.”

Sophie turns and walks back towards the apartments.

“Sophie!” Deleroy calls after her, but she doesn’t stop walking. “Sophia!” Still no response as Sophie disappears into the jungle patio. “Go get her!” she hisses at Jason. “The court says I still have visitation!”

“Yes,” Jason agrees, “supervised visitation at an agreed time. Your visitation was at noon. You missed it.” Deleroy wrings her hands, looking past Jason as if she’s desperate for Sophie to return.

“I was detained,” she says, her voice shaking.

“I know,” Jason says calmly. “You’re tweeking.”

So, that’s why she’s shaky and nervous. Damn, it’s so fucking obvious, I wasn’t even paying attention. Deleroy narrows her eyes and lashes out on Jason, ignoring his last comment.

“You are not better than me, Jason!” she yells. “I’ve had bad luck and that’s all. I’ve made mistakes, but you can’t hold them over my head for the rest of my life! You move her into this fortress and I can’t even get to her! You and that cow and this prima donna are filling her head with bullshit…”

Butterfly almost got to her with that last statement, but I was fast enough to pull her back… and now she’s furious.

“Goddammit if you’re not gonna let me beat ‘er ass get ‘er the fuck outta my house!” She screams it all in one breath—and I do mean screams.

“You need to leave before my wife kills you!” I exclaim, because I’m a strong man, but holding back a flailing, snarling, scratching, angry cat is not an easy task. I hear some word fly back and forth, but I’m too busy trying to keep my wife from committing a felony. When things seem like they’re going completely out of control, a shrill voice brings everybody to a screeching halt.

“Go! Mom! You’re high!”

Butterfly stops flailing in my arms and all eyes are on Sophie.

“Sophie… baby…” Deleroy squeaks.

“I will. Not. See you. When you’re high! Go. Now!” Sophie’s fists are clenched and I think everyone knows to let her handle this.

“Sophie, I’m not…”

“Oh, my Goooo-ooo-ooodah!” Sophie says in pure frustration. “You’re so full of shit!” she screams. Jason’s head jerks back, but there’s nobody on this patio but Sophia Taylor and Shalane Deleroy.

“I never mattered to you!” she screams. “Even before the drugs, I never mattered! I was a way to piss Dad off, or a way to get more money from him, or in the end, a trade-off for a quick fix! I was a kid, Mom, not fucking blind!”

Gail’s eyes are large and she hisses at nearly every word that comes out of Sophie’s mouth.

“Get out! Get! Out!” Sophie’s screaming, but nobody moves. She looks at all the adults, her eyes glassy and full of fury.

“Do I live here or not??” she screams at whomever will answer. Everybody’s too stunned to reply, so I do.

“Yes, Sophie. You live here.”

“Then, get her out of here!” She’s pointing at Shalane and screaming at Lawrence. “Get her out!” I throw a quick look at Lawrence who immediately turns on Shalane.

“Ma’am,” he says, giving her an opportunity to leave on her own. She looks at him with disdain.

“You can’t make me…”

“Two of the occupants of this residence has requested your departure. You are now trespassing, which is a crime in Seattle. You can walk, or I can remove you. You have ten seconds to decide.”

Shalane looks wide-eyed at Lawrence, then at Sophie, who looks like she will beat Deleroy back across the bridge. With probably one second to spare, she decides that she would rather walk, turns indignantly, and leaves with Lawrence right on her heels. A few seconds after her departure, Sophie breaks down. Butterfly wiggles from my grasp and goes to her, wrapping her arms around Sophie as she sobs. Jason runs his hand through his hair, obviously trying not to hit something.

“I’m… sorry…” Sophie chokes through her tears as every woman on the patio cocoons protectively around her.

*-*

Butterfly and I go to court with Jason and Gail the next afternoon as moral support and witnesses for Jason. Al tried to prepare us, but we don’t know what to expect. Shalane is present with her attorney and she has brought a few witnesses with her as well. We don’t know any of these people, but of course, they all sing praises about how good a mother Shalane is and how well she takes care of Sophie. When they are examined by Al about Shalane’s drug use and attempt to trade Sophie for methamphetamines, they suddenly get the stammers and complete amnesia about these particular incidents. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see through the theatrics and determine that these are not credible or believable witnesses.

Standing against a gainfully-employed father who unwittingly supported this woman’s drug habit through generous amounts of continued child support for several years, a billionaire businessman and entrepreneur, a respected psychiatrist and member of the community who donates her time and professional services to a local community center whose mission and vision is to assist battered and unfortunate families to be self-sufficient and safe—oh, and a police officer armed with an arrest report that this strung-out mother was apprehended in a drug raid with said child in attendance, possibly with intent to trade said child for a fix—yeah… not much ground to stand on, Deleroy.

But our presence wasn’t the poison pill.

Sophie wasn’t allowed to be present during the presentation of the custody case. However, her deposition was taken in chambers with both attorneys present. The judge felt that she needed to be free to express her true feelings. Had they seen this young lady on my patio yesterday, they would have known that this wouldn’t be an issue. The video of Sophie’s deposition is played for us just before the judge renders his decision.

“How old are you, Sophie?” the judge asks.

“I’m thirteen,” she replies.

“And you know why you’re here, right?” she nods.

“You’re trying to decide if I live with my mom or my dad,” she says. The judge nods.

“What kind of grades do you get in school?” he asks.

“I get A’s and B’s mostly,” she says. “I got a ‘C’ in gym though.”

“Why did you get a ‘C’ in gym?” he asks.

“I was losing points because I kept coming to class with the wrong color shorts on,” she says.

“Why did you do that?”

“I needed yellow, green, or gray. I didn’t have any of those colors, so I wore what I had. I told my mom that I needed yellow, green, or gray and she said she would get them, but she never did. So, I got a ‘C’ in gym.” She shrugs.

“You don’t seem to care too much about that ‘C’ in gym,” the judge says.

“Worse things happen,” she says with a shrug.

“Worse things like what?”

“Like not seeing your mom at all for weeks at a time,” she says. “I mean, she was there, I just never saw her. She was asleep when I came home from school, or she was in the room with one of her boyfriends. I had to cook for myself… when there was food in the house…”

“There were times when there was no food in the house?” he asks. She nods.

“Near the end, yeah,” she says. “At first, it was just Mom wasn’t around, I didn’t have her breathing down my neck all the time, great. Then, these guys started coming around and I never saw her. Then, she would be gone for days and I knew she wasn’t there. Then, we started running out of food and I had to make what I could… Is my Dad going to see this?”

Jason sits up straight in his seat and listens carefully to what she says.

“You’re saying that you don’t want your dad to see this?” the judge asks. Sophie shakes her head. “Why not?”

“Because he’s gonna be mad at me,” she says.

“Why do you think your father is going to be mad at you?” She rolls her eyes.

“Because one day a while ago, there wasn’t any food in the house and I was hungry and I went to school and I ate out of the garbage.” Jason’s hand flies to his mouth. He closes his eyes and his head drops.

“Why do you think he would be angry with you for that?”

“Because I never told him,” she says with a sigh. “I was trying to protect my mother.”

“Why would you want to protect her from something like that?” the judge asks. “You were hungry…”

“Because she’s my mom,” Sophie says, like the answer was obvious. “She’s done some really messed-up things, but she’s still my mom.”

Now Deleroy’s head falls. She covers her face and cries.

“So, you still love her,” the judge asks.

“Of course, I love her!” Sophie nearly shrieks. “She’s just… not a good mom anymore.”

Deleroy chokes back a sob. Even for a strung-out, soulless, cold-hearted bitch who tried to sell her 12-year-old daughter, this must be hard to hear.

“Was she ever a good mom?” the judge asks.

“That’s hard to say,” Sophie replies soberly. “I think she was. I didn’t have anything to compare it to until I saw Ms. Ana with the twins…”

Butterfly covers her mouth and gasps. I reach over and grasp her hand.

“Those are babies, though. Everybody likes babies.” Sophie smiles playfully. “But when she thinks nobody’s looking, she smiles at them and she kisses them. She tells them that she loves them and I know they don’t know what she’s saying. You just… know that she would do anything for those babies…” Sophie trails off.

“You didn’t feel like that with your mother?” Sophie shrugs again and looks like she’s searching for her words.

“I’m a little older now than I was when I was living with Mom, and…” she trails off again, sighs, and starts to fidget with her fingers. “Do you know that Momma Gail calls me ‘Pumpkin?’” she says, smiling. “Daddy calls me ‘Baby Boo.’ Mom calls me ‘Sophie’ or ‘Sophia.’ Everybody calls me that. Ms. Ana and Mr. Christian call the twins ‘Minnie and Mikey.’ Isn’t that cute?” she nearly squeals.

“Yes, it is,” the judge agrees, lightheartedly.

“Mr. Christian… he calls Ms. Ana ‘Butterfly,’ and when they don’t think I can hear them, Daddy calls Momma Gail ‘Love’ and Keri calls Chuck ‘Choonks,’” she giggles.

We have to be careful around this little girl. She sees and hears everything.

“I even heard one girl’s mom at school calls her ‘Nooka.’ I don’t even know what that means, but her name is ‘Ember,’ so I know it’s a nickname.” She drops her head sadly.

“What does that mean to you?” the judge asks.

“It means that these people love each other,” she says, sadly. “Mom never had a nickname for me. As far back as I can remember, Daddy called me ‘Baby Boo,’ but Mom never had a nickname for me. Just… Sophie… Everybody calls me ‘Sophie…’” she sounds as if she’s going to cry.

“You don’t like ‘Sophie?’”

“It’s okay, it’s my name… but shouldn’t your mom have a different name for you? I mean, something that nobody else calls you? Like everybody calls ‘Minnie and Mikey’ ‘Minnie and Mikey.’ But Mr. Christian and Ms. Ana might call ‘em ‘Mouse,’ or ‘Little Man,’ or ‘Big Man,’ or something like that… I know I’m not making sense…” she says.

“No, you’re making perfect sense,” the judge says, “but just because your mom didn’t have a special nickname for you didn’t make her a bad mom, did it?”

“No, I guess not,” Sophie says, and now she’s mum on the subject.

“Why don’t we get to the important stuff—why we’re here… where you want to live,” the judge says. “Your opinion is important here.” Sophie sighs.

“Are you going to listen to me or are you going to throw out what I’m saying because I’m a kid?” she asks.

Jason looks back at me and I swear we must be sharing the same look of awe.

“I’m going to listen to you, Sophia,” the judge says. Sophie obviously looks at Allen and Deleroy’s attorney before looking at the judge, then back at her hands.

“My mom has a problem,” she says, her voice cracking. “She didn’t always have this problem, but she has it now. She wasn’t always a bad mom… she really wasn’t. She kept me away from my dad, and that hurt, but she still wasn’t a bad mom…”

Deleroy is weeping now.

“But when she started that stuff, she changed. Everything changed. I was… ten or eleven, maybe… but I could tell things were different. She lost weight, she didn’t wash, she looks old… her teeth in the back are rotting away. She smells different, she acts different… Daddy was sending a lot of money for child support. I know he was, but there still wasn’t enough! Things just got bad and then they got worse and now… Mom might go to jail. What’s going to happen to me then?

“I spent a lot of time with my mom and I was barely ever able to see my dad. I wanna live with my dad,” she says without raising her head.

“Is that the only reason you want to live with your dad?” the judge asks.

“Mom’s not a good mom anymore… I wanna live with my dad,” she says again. “She never let me see him,” Sophie says, raising her head. “When I asked to call him or go see him, she always said he was too busy. For a long time, I thought my dad didn’t want me and she let me keep thinking that. Who does that?” She drops her head again.

“Even after everything that’s happened, Dad’ll still let me see Mom any time I ask him. He’s never kept me away from her… I just can’t be alone with her because she’s on that stuff. And I want her to get better, I really do, but I can’t live with her. I was hungry and unhappy and lonely… I don’t want to live with her…”

“What if she gets better, though?” the judge asks. “What if she goes into rehab and she’s not using anymore? We can make it so that you live with your father for a little while and then go back and live with your mother once she’s all better.”

Jason visibly tenses, but relaxes again when he sees Sophie shaking her head.

“I don’t want to go back and live with my mother,” she says, tears streaming down her face. “I only have a few more years and then I’ll be a grown up. Momma Gail likes me, Ms. Ana likes me, I get to play with the twins; I don’t have to be all by myself all the time. Nobody messes with my stuff. I get to go on field trips at school… and now, I know my dad wants me. I always knew that everything she was telling me about him wasn’t true, but now, I get to see it for myself. He spends time with me and tells me about when he was a kid… even about when him and Mom were married, before they started fighting. I talk to Ms. Ana about everything! She’s smart and she wears great clothes!”

I try not to laugh at her comment, but the rest of the courtroom is not so successful.

“And she gets me. I don’t know how, but she gets me. And Momma Gail… if something makes me sad or I don’t feel good, she’s always there. She has all these different home remedies for stuff and I think she could heal anything!”

Again, we laugh.

“I wanna stay with my dad,” she says her voice breaking and becoming somber. “I wanna stay with Mr. Christian and Chuck and Ben and Keri and… I feel like I got a real family now. I don’t wanna be alone anymore. If you send me to live with my mom, I’m gonna be alone again. I don’t wanna be alone.”

There’s a long moment of silence before the judge speaks.

“Thank you, Sophia,” he says. “Any questions from counsel?” the judge asks.

“No questions, Your Honor,” I hear Allen say.

“No questions,” the other attorney says, and the screen goes black. Deleroy hits her attorney on the arm and gestures to the front of the court as if to ask why he didn’t examine Sophie. He never even looks at her.

“It’s a difficult decision to tear a child from either parent, especially in a situation like this. I know to the layman, this may seem like a cut-and-dried case. The mother is quite possibly facing jail time for being caught in a drug raid. She’s obviously battling an addiction, which always stands to destroy the family and, most of all, the life of the child. There is some question about the intention of the mother to trade the child for drugs on the night of the raid. However, without concrete evidence or an outstanding charge, this accusation is speculation and perception and could just be the interpretation of a very frightened child of the night’s events. In a case like this, I’m driven to consider giving second chances to parents who are on the track of redemption. However, I must also consider the best interests of the child.

“In speaking to Sophia Taylor, I feel that she’s a very rounded, very wise teenager. I’m certain that she’s not easily coerced and I can see right through a child who has been coached. Sophia is craving real love and attention—a healthy home life and familial relationship. Not only does it appear that she has been deprived of this in recent years, but she’s also been deprived of basic companionship and guidance in her life. Her wisdom—such as it is—has been acquired from observing situations outside of hers; from watching the children at school interact with their parents even before she saw the interactions of the Taylors and the Greys. You only saw portions of the conversation that Sophia and I had and the parts that you didn’t see revealed that Jason Taylor went a long way to teach his daughter valuable life lessons and to be an active part of her life long before she came to live with him in March.

“In weighing the parental impact on Sophia of the time that she has lived with her mother and the impact of the time that she has lived with her father and in light of the current circumstances, the pending criminal trial, the mother’s current dependency, and the testimony of the child in question, I believe it to be in the best interest of the child to grant permanent primary custody of the minor child, Sophia Loren Taylor, to the father, Jason Taylor.”

I do my best not to stand and cheer while Deleroy gasps and cries out, “No!” in one of the most dramatic and theatrical displays I’ve ever seen. The judge continues by revoking the current child support order and asking if Jason requires child support from Deleroy. He declines, citing that his suspicion is that his child support was her only source of income, so there’s not much that she can give him. The judge informs him that he is free to revisit the child support order at a later date.

“Mrs. Deleroy, I don’t think you’re completely beyond redemption,” the judge continues. “Take this time for reflection and rehabilitation. Whatever the outcome of the criminal case against you, there’s always hope for recovery, and that’s what you need to strive for. Mr. Taylor, it’s the order of this court that you must make Sophia available for reasonable visitation with Ms. Deleroy. Supervised visitation is allowable and advisable until such time as Ms. Deleroy has successfully completed a medical drug rehabilitation program. In the meantime, I wish you all luck. Court is adjourned.” And the gavel falls.

“All rise.” We all rise except for Deleroy who is crumpled in a mound on the table, weeping bitterly. When the judge leaves the courtroom, she turns and lets loose on Jason.

“You bastard!” she cries. “You took my daughter, you son of a bitch! Are you happy now?”

Jason just looks at her and without a word, exits the courtroom while she’s still screaming profanities.

A few feet down the hallway, Sophie is sitting on a bench with a social worker awaiting the outcome of the trial. When she sees her father, she leaps to her feet, her eyes wide.

“Daddy?” she says, her eyes hopeful. A smile spreads across Jason’s face.

“We’re going home, Baby Boo,” he says as he opens his arms wide. Sophie squeals with delight and runs down the courthouse hallway, launching herself into her father’s arms.


ANASTASIA

“So, Judd Rossiter…”

After I woke from a very peaceful rest yesterday and right before my outside yoga session with Keri, Christian informed me to call a very frantic Marilyn who had called earlier that morning with two shows that wanted me to appear the next day. What the fuck? When I talked to Marilyn, it was Good Morning Seattle and Prominent Pacific, two of the shows that I had been targeting ever since I decided that I wanted to do radio interviews.

Fuck!
Fuck!
Fuck!

“What’s happened?” I had asked Christian. I knew something had to happen for them to suddenly be chomping at the bit to get me when they kept telling me, “We’ll be in touch,” before.

“You mean besides the fact that you’re becoming famous in your own right?” he said. “Somebody turned in another impromptu picture of us at the zoo cuddling under that umbrella.”

“That’s not news,” I told him.

“Oh, and Judd Rossiter is going down for sexual harassment of five women on his job—after you made a stink about that clit tattoo.”

So, that’s it. Juicy gossip about a local radio personality with a pussy on his arm. None of my causes were worth radio time, but the great Christian Grey takes down a disc jockey for flashing cooch at his wife, now that’s news! Okay… I’ll play your game, but you’re not going to like it…

So, Marilyn booked Seattle for Monday morning at 10am and Pacific for Tuesday at the same time. And now, here I sit with Sandra Price on Good Morning Seattle with her trying to get some gossip out of me. I told her when I sat down that I wanted to talk about my causes, and she went straight in to Rossiter.

“What about him?” I ask innocently.

“Give us the scoop. What’s the deal?” she says, leaning in for the kill.

“I don’t know what you want to hear,” I say shrugging. “You know as much as I do about the situation.” She glares at me a bit.

“Oh, come on, Ana. Inquiring minds want the deets. We hear that he’s being sued for sexual harassment by five women at the station.”

“Well, there you have it. What do you need me for?” I ask. “Was this a lead-in for how this relates to my treatment by the licensing board for those fabricated sexual misconduct accusations? Because if it was, we can skip the lead-in and go right to the story.” Sandra glares at me for about four seconds and I smile at her. “Sandra, I think this is what they call ‘dead air.’” She snaps out of her trance and tries to get back on track with the interview.

“I was just trying to get your side of the story, but if you don’t want to tell it…” she taunts.

“I’ve already told it, Sandra. I realize that you’re probably not supposed to listen to the competition, but if you want to stay on top of what’s going on in Seattle, you probably want to listen to that interview.” Tired of beating around the bush and trying to get information from me about the story, she starts asking direct questions.

“Is it true that Christian went down to the station all He-Man and demanded that Rossiter be fired?” she asks. I shrug.

“You have to ask Christian that question,” I say, knowing that an answer in the affirmative or the negative would both be a confirmation.

“Surely, you know if your husband came down to the radio station,” she prods further.

“I didn’t see him,” I answer honestly, and leave it at that.

“Don’t be coy, Ana, it’s not cute,” she quips, still trying to get me off my game.

“Don’t be deceptive, Sandra, it’s not professional,” I retort, and her eyes narrow again. “I love good gossip as much as the next person, but I only talk about what I know. I know that this topic was exposed on another radio station last week and that if you would like the ‘deets’ of that occurrence, you should probably get a sound bite from the radio station like everybody else did. I also know that your people called my people on a Sunday morning to book me for this slot today, at which time, you were informed that I would talk about my treatment by the licensing board after being falsely accused of sexual harassment charges as well as the work that I and my mother-in-law are doing at Helping Hands. Yet, when I get here, you’re asking about something completely unrelated—something that I was not and am not prepared to talk about, and I wonder if you ambush all of your live guests this way.”

Sandra’s mouth flies open. We’re live—she can’t stop me. She was hoping to catch me up in the Judd story, and now I’ve turned the tables.

“’Ambush’ is a pretty harsh word, don’t you think?” she says, in the most non-threatening tone she can muster.

“Oh,” I say, with the same pretentious softness, “I’m so sorry if I misspoke. What exactly are we doing?” Sandra’s eyes cut to something behind me and I look over my shoulder. In the control booth behind me is another woman in a red blazer with her arms folded. She’s glaring at Sandra with a look of death and there’s a man beside her with a large white dry-erase board with instructions in big bold black letters.

ASK ABOUT THE LICENSING BOARD

I turn back to Sandra, who’s still looking over my shoulder. I clear my throat and get her attention. When she turns her glare to me, I point to her microphone.

“Dead air,” I say. She looks down at her card.

“Of course,” she says, “just trying to brighten our dull little lives with a little juicy stuff. You know how that is.” She flashes a phony smile. I retort with the phoniest laugh I can muster to be blasted across the airways. Before we have a chance to start the interview back up again, Sandra’s recorded voice comes over the sound system with,

“We’ll be right back after these messages.”

“Clear,” I hear from the control booth and Sandra suddenly pales. In two seconds, the red blazer storms into the room and gets in Sandra’s face.

“Stick to the goddamn script and cut the ratings whore shit unless you want to end up back on the 4am weather report tomorrow.” Red Blazer says the entire thing through her teeth and Sandra doesn’t respond. She quietly picks up her index cards and stacks them without a word. Red Blazer doesn’t even acknowledge me. She breezes right back out of the booth and Sandra and I sit there for two minutes of total silence. When the control booth calls out “We’re on in five,” I’m almost relieved to hear the intro music start up again.

“And welcome back to Good Morning Seattle. Our interview continues with Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey, psychiatrist and assistant director of Helping Hands…”

And just like that, we did the interview that I agreed to. The person who conducted this interview was nothing like the “ratings whore” sitting in the room two minutes ago. It’s like the body snatchers came into the room and took the first bitch away, replacing her with this professional woman asking relevant questions about my issues.

As it turns out, this had nothing to do with me. Good Morning Seattle really did want to get me into a morning slot because of the exposure that I’ve been getting lately, and they were totally fine with me discussing the licensing board and Helping Hands. It was Sandra Anchorbitch who, like Judd Loser, was trying to get a few minutes of more fame with her “ratings whore shit,” as Red Blazer put it. Honestly, there’s always one. That’s how the sacrificial lamb was born in the first place. They’re not on every show and hopefully, there won’t be one on Prominent Pacific, but we’ll just have to see.

The afternoon is much better than the morning, although I must admit that I didn’t know what to expect at Sophie’s custody hearing. Courtrooms and I haven’t been the best of friends, and I didn’t relish the idea of having to be in one again, much less having to take the stand. The case is very volatile and I have no idea what’s going to come out in the examinations, especially since Sophie will be living in our house if… when the judge grants Jason full custody. People tend to villainize me and Christian at every turn and I expect for this situation to be no different.

I had no idea how wrong I would be.

I don’t know where Shalane found this attorney, but she should have kept searching. If I didn’t know better, I would swear that Jason hired the guy! He made Jason’s point for us more times than not. Shalane’s character witnesses were unreliable at best. I wouldn’t say that they were shady, but they didn’t help her case any. The attorney’s cross examination did nothing to pick apart our testimony. His questions basically only clarified what we had already said.

The most agonizing part of the entire case was listening to Sophie talk about how she didn’t really feel motherly love. She went on and on about nicknames and I don’t know if that meant anything to the case, but it meant everything to me as a psychiatrist. She never felt the special love that a child should feel from a mother than turns your heart to mush… the love that make my voice turn into Alvin and the Chipmunks when I see “Mommy’s little man” or “Mommy’s Minnie Mouse.” She clearly missed out on that from her mother, and although she had a hard time verbalizing it, she did so perfectly.

Shalane can’t see past her own loss. She’s so busy blaming Jason for her problems that she can’t see her own mistakes. When Jason walks out of the courtroom without a word with my husband on his heels, I just watch and listen as Shalane spews profanities at him. There’s no mention whatsoever of being a better parent or taking care of her child, just what he took from her. I stay behind for a moment and watch the temper tantrum. Jason doesn’t even react. He just leaves the courtroom while she’s screaming at him. She finally turns her gaze to me, still sniffling and slobbering.

“What?” she weeps. “You wanna kick my ass now?” she says, recalling our near-encounter yesterday. No, Shalane, you’re doing a good enough job of that all on your own.

“Stop. Thinking. About. Yourself,” I say coolly. Shalane’s anger falls and her face turns to stone. “You are her mother. No one will ever take your place. She loves you. Nothing will ever change that. Get yourself together! She needs you! She will always. Need you!”

I don’t know if I got through to her, but she didn’t rebut. I can only see Carla and how everything was always about her. It wasn’t always that way, but it was that way when it counted. I moved past it, but I’ll never get over it. I’ll never get over not being important enough to my mommy. I don’t want that fate for Sophie.

I glance over at her attorney who gives me a nearly infinitesimal nod. It turns out that he really is one of the good guys.

When I leave the courtroom, an elated Sophie is wrapped around her father and they’re both laughing like they’re at Disneyland. When he walks out hand in hand with his little girl, we’re met by a few paparazzi on the stairs, always looking for a story. The little lady handled like a pro.

“I’m going home with my daddy. That’s all.”

And that was all.

*-*

“Listen, Ana,” Shelby Fisher says as I sit in the preshow briefing, “I want to hear about Judd Rossiter, too. I heard the radio show. I heard what you said to him. The world knows that Christian Grey went down to that radio station, although nobody really knows what happened because the station is mute about it. Judd is talking about it on every slime show he can do and freedom of speech says that he can do that. I’d like to get some inside on it, but I won’t if you say ‘no.’”

I sigh. So, Judd is mud-slinging. It’s not just bar talk; it’s more than that. I nod.

“How much time before we go on the air?” I ask.

“About fifteen minutes,” she says. I nod again.

“Let me talk to my publicist really quickly and I’ll get back to you on that, okay?” She nods.

“That’s fair,” she says. I pull Marilyn into one of the nearby conference rooms and lock the door. I hope nobody was using this room right away.

“Google Judd Rossiter,” I tell her as I dial Grey House.

“Elva McIntyre.”

“Vee, it’s Ana. Listen, Judd Rossiter is apparently running off at the mouth about his stroke of bad luck with the ladies at his job. Do you know what he’s saying?” I can hear her typing away at her keyboard.

“I know he was yapping about it, but so far nothing’s come up about you or Christian. Just sour grapes about the women who are accusing him…”

“Oh, shit,” Marilyn’s voice breaks through Vee’s explanation.

“What?” I ask.

“Seattle Nooz’ live webcast this morning has him portraying you as a prude that needs a good fucking and Christian as the billionaire messenger boy that you’ve got by the balls. He’s basically saying that Christian came into the station after you called him and that because of that visit, the girls making the accusations were planted… and the Nooz is running with that.” I sigh and roll my eyes. This shit happens all the time, but I just don’t need it when I have two major causes that require the spotlight.

“I heard,” Vee says, “and I see. You can’t avoid it. Address it, but don’t focus on it. Don’t stoop to his level. Do it like Ana. Handle it… don’t feed it.” I nod. I know what to do.

“Tell Christian,” I say. “He doesn’t need to be blindsided by this. I’ll be at Grey House this afternoon before I go to the Center.”

“You got this, Ana,” she says before she ends the call.

“Yeah, I got this,” I mumble, before turning to Marilyn. “You’re coming into the booth with me. Find as much as you can…”

“So, what’s the verdict?” Shelby asks. I sigh.

“I appreciate you letting me know that you want to address the issue. Because you asked instead of ambushing me, we’ll devote no more than ten minutes to that discussion, but we must remain professional. I reserve the right not to address something, but I’ll try to answer your questions.” She nods.

“That’s all I can ask,” she says. Three minutes later, we’re on the air. She begins by asking for a short recap of what’s going on.

“I really hate to focus on this situation when there are so many other important topics to discuss, but I realize that it can’t be ignored,” I begin. “Long story short, I brought to light how his behavior was inappropriate. I also mentioned that it probably made other women in the workplace uncomfortable to have to look at that. What happened after that, I can only speculate, but I’m sure that you can relate to the concept of several people speaking up after one speaks up? I can only guess that after I spoke up about the inappropriate tattoo that other women may have found the courage to speak up about their experiences with him as well.”

“He’s painting it as a big set-up from an uptight woman with an ax to grind,” she says. “I have to admit that you have never struck me as ‘uptight,’ so what’s that all about?”

“The entire time I sat in that booth with female anatomy staring at me, I took every measure to remain professional—even in expressing my distaste with his offensive tattoo and suggestive attire, I remained tactful and diplomatic. Maybe he’s not accustomed to that type of response and that’s why he calls me ‘uptight.’ I can actually understand that. If the only thing you’re used to is women diverting their gaze or gasping in horror, I would imagine that you wouldn’t know how to properly describe someone confronting you on the vulgarity of your personal representation in the workplace.” Shelby’s brow rises.

“Wow. Nice,” she says with a chuckle. “What about his comment about your husband? We all know that Christian Grey can make things happen.”

“Well, I’ll say this,” I say. “I know that my husband is very protective of me and for good reason. I’m the mother of his children; I’m the wife of a billionaire, and let’s face it—I haven’t had the best of luck, right?” I say with a shrug. “I’ll repeat what I said on Monday. I didn’t see him at the station, but if he did show up, what husband in his right mind would have the power to speak up about his wife being disrespected and not do it?

“We ask for the manager in a restaurant when the service is bad—not millionaires and billionaires and power players, just regular people who expect to be respected. Yet, my husband is being portrayed as henpecked because he may or may not have defended me against someone’s inappropriate and predatory behavior.  Maybe chivalry is dead where that guy came from, but all the upstanding men in my life defend their women—their wives, daughters, and mothers. So, I don’t really know what else to say about that.” Shelby does a small fist pump in the air and we share a silent giggle.

“What about…” She pauses for effect and to let me know that a big one is coming. “… the claims that the women that are making the accusations against him are planted?” I literally laugh out loud.

“That’s just ridiculous!” I exclaim shamelessly. “I can’t even begin to speculate what kind of planning has to go into executing something so ludicrous! You would have had to know exactly when I was going to be on the show then plant people months in advance as employees to be ready for when I showed up! What’s more, you would have had to know that he would have flashed this thing at me! Do you see how ridiculous that really is?” I say, my voice high.

“Clearly,” Shelby agrees.

“I would really like to know how those women feel about that accusation,” I say, matter-of-factly. “I’d be interested in knowing what the station has to say about it. This is an open investigation on his professional behavior. Seriously, if these women are traumatized enough by this, it could lead to workplace lawsuits and he’s just talking about it everywhere like it’s the weather. He’s got a bone to pick with me because he’s got an open vajayjay in my face and he’s not even thinking about these other women. Then again, he wasn’t thinking about them in the first place, now was he?”

Shelby shakes her fists and looks to the heavens mouthing, “Gold!”

“Oh, my God, vajayjay!” she says, through her laughter, and I just realized I let that out of my mouth. Oh, well… she loved it.

“I’m not going to have a sparring match with this man,” I begin after our laughter subsides. “There’s a character flaw at play when you think it’s okay to display a tattoo like that to women with whom you do not have intimate relationships. It’s that simple. It’s offensive. It’s suggestive. It’s vulgar, and somebody spoke up about it. When that one person spoke up about it, all of the people who felt that his behavior—whatever his behavior may have been—was offensive, suggestive, or vulgar all spoke up about it. When you make a decision to go against the grain, you have to live with the consequences. I’m all for self-expression, but he can’t show up with an exposed naked woman on his arm in the workplace any more than I can show up naked to my job at the help center.” Shelby makes that shrug face.

“I… think that says it all,” she says with a nod. “Thank you so much for addressing that and so eloquently. Now, let’s get to the real reason for your visit. I know you normally talk about the licensing board first, but I’d like to switch it up and talk about Helping Hands. Apparently, your mother-in-law, Dr. Grace Trevelyan Grey is a successful pediatrician here in Seattle and she’s been the director of this organization for many years. I hear that you guys have been doing some great things for the community down there…”

Best interview I’ve had yet. I got to address that asshole, Judd, without going into the gutter and Shelby had really done her research. She painted Helping Hands in the best possible light with statistics and testimonials, even bringing to light the span of services that we’ll be able to provide once the accreditation is complete. I’m thoroughly pleased with the outcome of this appearance and Shelby has asked me to come back for an update after the accreditation goes through.

“You. Are. Phenomenal!” Vee says when I call to check in with her after we leave the station. “You’re going to put me out of a fucking job, you know that?”

“Not a chance,” I tell her. “We need you. As you can see, I need you.”

“He needs you,” she says quietly. “Don’t ever repeat this, but he’s been such a better man since you’ve come along. His image was taking a silent hit that year you showed up—stoic, cold ass businessman with no heart and he was fine with that. Now that you’re here… he just a better man.” I smile.

“Thanks, Vee,” I say sincerely. “Tell that better man that I’m on my way there.”


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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 14—Desperately Seeking “Normal”

I’ve had a few emails that have been bouncing and I want to make sure that everyone is getting their notifications since I’ll be writing more than one story soon. I started the new email list at the end of “Becoming Dr. Grey” and I’ve been using it ever since. So, if you’re on my mailing list and you haven’t received an email up to Chapter 13 of Raising Grey, let me know and make sure that I have your updated email because I’m going to start posting Golden sometime this week.

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

Chapter 14—Desperately Seeking “Normal”

ANASTASIA

I need normal.

I need normal in the worst way. If I don’t get it, I’m going to explode.

I’m sitting in my office listening to Marilyn talk about all the radio spots that I promised to reschedule once we made it through Pops’ death. I don’t know how or when I’m going to fit all the people in that want a sit-down with Anastasia Grey. My last two appearances were harmless enough—talk about Helping Hands with a couple of pokes into mine and Christian’s personal life, nothing too invasive and nothing disrespectful, but I’m just waiting for that one radio host who expects to get famous at mine or my husband’s expense. I’m not looking forward to it, but the sheer law of averages dictates that it’s coming.

Not only that, but no matter how many times I review our reports and submissions and guidelines, I can’t find any reason whatsoever to hold up our licensing for the Center. Did that bitch just throw our petition in the garbage or what?

“… And there’s a garden party at the Broadmoor this weekend.” It’s only just now that I realize that Mare was talking to me for I don’t know how long about I don’t know what. Now, she’s talking about a garden party at the country club.”

“What?” I ask, trying to refocus my attention back to her.

“The Broadmoor? Garden party? Josephine Kennedy personally sent you an invite and you haven’t RSVP’d.” I frown. Josephine Kennedy—why do I know that name?

“From where do I know Josephine Kennedy?” I ask. Marilyn’s eyes grow large.

“Um, she’s your sponsor??” she says incredulously. Oh, fuck, how did I forget that? Children’s charities, lost a child to leukemia, very active volunteer. My life has been fucking crazy these last few months—hence, the immediate need for normal.

“Garden party—hell. What day?”

“Saturday.” Saturday afternoon garden party.

“RSVP for three plus security. Ask what the protocol is for staff. Christian won’t let me go without them, nor would I want to.” She nods.

“Three?” she asks.

“It’s a garden party, a bunch of catty women. I can easily bring two people to a club where I’m a member and I’m snagging Mia and Val. No use in me suffering alone.” I shake my head. “This is getting to be too much.” Marilyn frowns.

“What is?”

“The Garden parties, the radio shots, fifty percent owner of Grey Enterprises, the paparazzi always in my face. I miss the days where I could just go to the aquarium or take a walk in the Marketplace, have a ferry ride, or just take a midnight stroll in a park somewhere without a three-man escort or it being national news.” I drop my face in my hands. “This past spring, my wardrobe was tabloid fodder. Why, because I wanted to wear white. I’ve never been that girl. I’ve never been the girl who always wanted the spotlight or wanted to be famous or even wanted money. Two years later and I’m still not used to being famous.”

“Well, you hide it well,” Marilyn says. I raise my head to her. What the fuck is that supposed to mean?

“Put the claws away,” she says, noting my hostility. “All I’m saying is that when you’re in front of the cameras, you never once let them see you sweat.” I sigh.

“I need. Normal, Mare,” I lament. “I have to have some normal in my life or I’m going to go crazy. My anniversary—running around Seattle like a teenager, going out to dinner and dancing among regular people—was the most fun I’ve had all year. Even sitting around the pool yesterday and chewing the fat, we end up talking about Mia’s Million-Dollar wedding. As much as I love her, I can do without this affair!” Marilyn looks at me with sympathetic eyes.

“Yeah, you did look a little verklempt while she was talking about it.” I shake my head.

“In two months, that woman is getting married in a theater that seats 2000—a theater! And she wants her guests to be red-carpet ready. Christian’s right, this is going to be outrageous, and I really don’t want to go!” I’m sitting here dreaming about sitting at my condo in the middle of the floor in baggy pajamas and warm ankle socks with a bowl of popcorn and a bottle of Cabernet, watching reruns of Sex and the City. God, I need normal… and soon!

Later that afternoon, Al brings over the petition for adoption, which really makes me incredibly happy. During our drive to Kent, I vent to him about needing my normal back and missing my trips to the Marketplace with the Scooby Gang. Things have changed so much and although I love my kids and my husband and my life, I feel like I’m losing touch with who I am and who I used to be. At times, I feel like I’m floating over life instead of walking through it and experiencing it. I don’t want to seem ungrateful; I just miss the simple shit.

Not being treated with utter disdain simply due to who I am, the money I have, or who I married…

Wanting to see Maleficent or 22 Jump Street when it first came out in theaters instead of waiting for it on Blu-ray or maybe clearing out a whole damn movie theater just to see it…

Not being the target or jealous subs, psychopaths, or delusion women all wanting a piece of my husband in one way or another…

Being able to suffer my tragedies in private like the rest of the world…

Succumbing to the nervous breakdown that I so richly deserve right now without it being headline news…

Not needing a Presidential motorcade to go to the goddamn grocery store…

Being able to go to the goddamn grocery store!

Just being left alone…

Al quietly listens to me rant the entire way to my father’s house. I’m more than mindful of his introspective listening, but right now, I just need to vent. When I’m done having my temper tantrum, we knock on Daddy’s door and are greeted by Mandy wearing a chef’s apron.

I even miss that.

“Hey, Ana, come on in,” she says, stepping aside. “How are you?”

“I’m fine,” I say, kissing her on the cheek. “What smells so good?”

“Coq au Vin,” she says, “Are you staying for dinner?” I turn to Al.

“Who am I to turn down a free home cooked meal?” he says, with a shrug. I turn back to Mandy.

“If it’s not too much trouble,” I say. “I don’t want to impose…”

“I’m going to pretend like you didn’t say that,” Mandy says with mirth. “Ray’s in the den. Dinner will be ready in fifteen.”

“Annie! What are you doing here? Is everything alright?” Daddy says as we walk into the den. Harry climbs off his lap and wobbles over to me. With Fuzzlewuzzers in his hand, he holds his little fat arms open to me and blubbers something that sounds somewhat like “Annie.”

“Hey, Harry,” I say, lifting my little brother in my arms and kissing his chubby little cheeks. “How’s the best baby brother in the world?” Harry briefly jabbers some incoherent answer to me and shows me Mr. Fuzzlewuzzers.

“Really?” I say, like it’s the most interesting thing I’ve ever heard. Harry nods as if I completely understood the gibberish coming from his cute little mouth. I kiss him and he honors me with a tight hug before I put him back on the floor and he wobbles back to Daddy.

“Hi, Daddy,” I say, kissing him on the cheek while Harry takes his place back in Daddy’s lap. My God, he’s the spitting image of my father. I wonder if this is how Daddy looked when he was a baby. “Nothing’s wrong, but I have a very important question to ask you.”

“Oh,” he says, nestling Harry under his arm. “What do you need?” I sit on the arm of the sofa and put my arm around his neck.

“I want you to be my father,” I say. He frowns up at me.

“English, Sunflower,” he says. I look to Al, who hands me the petition.

“That’s it,” I say, handing him the forms. “I want you to be my father.” Daddy puts Harry on the sofa and takes the papers from me. He stands and starts to walk a bit while he reads the document.

“You can do this now?” he asks, turning back to me. “You’re a mother with children of your own.”

“Yes,” I tell him. “I’m an adult. I just need your permission.”

“What about Carla?” he asks. “Don’t you have to ask her?” I shake my head.

“I’m an adult, Daddy,” I repeat. “I don’t need her permission. I just need yours.” He sighs heavily and lifts his glasses to rub his eyes.

“Annie, I don’t need a piece of paper to tell me that you’re my daughter,” he says, puzzled.

“No, you don’t,” I agree, “but I need a piece of paper to tell the world that you’re my Daddy.”

Ray’s lips tremble and his eyes instantly fill with tears as he pulls me into his arms, hugging my tightly.

“I love you, Sunflower,” he says, his voice cracking.

“I love you, too, Daddy,” I reply.

And so it was that on Tuesday morning, July 22, 2014, Raymond Steele filed a long-overdue petition with the King County Family Court to officially adopt his stepdaughter, Dr. Anastasia Rose Steele-Grey, MD. We had lunch together after—a normal lunch—at one of our favorite delis downtown… corned beef on rye with mustard and sauerkraut. When we left the deli, a few paparazzi had gathered. I turned to my Daddy and hugged him tightly, smiling pretty for the cameras. Daddy smiled and waved nervously, wrapping his other arm around me.

Sometimes, you just have to cooperate.

“What are you up to downtown, Ana?” one of the reporters asks.

“Nothing,” I lie, “just lunch with my dad.”

“You look great!” another calls out.

“Thank you,” I reply with a smile.

“Mr. Steele, you proud of Ana for making it big?” A third calls out.

“I’m always proud of Ana, no matter what she does,” he replies smiling down at me and kissing me on the forehead. The cameras go wild. Media gold…

“What’s going on with you, Mr. Steele? Anything big and fabulous?” someone else asks. Daddy shrugs his free arm.

“I’m a simple man,” he says, “what you see is what you get.”

“It’s obvious where Ana gets her pleasant demeanor,” the first reporter notes. Daddy smiles.

“I wish I could take credit for that,” Daddy says, smiling down at me. “She has a kind heart. It just comes naturally.” God, I love my Daddy.

After a few more harmless questions and pictures, the paps let us go our way without problem. That had to be one of the least taxing interviews I’ve ever given… impromptu at that.

After parting ways with Daddy for the afternoon, Chuck and I go back to Helping Hands and I draft a letter to the licensing board about the status of our accreditation. They have no reason to hold us up and if that bitch Gloria Felton thinks that she can get away with this, I’ll just have to file a complaint against her with the proper agencies. First, however, I’ll need a paper trail.

My strongly worded letter included inquiries concerning how long it takes the average institution to secure licensing in similar situations as well as which requirements we haven’t met that would delay our accreditation. I emphasized that we would be more than willing to submit whatever documentation was still necessary if we were only apprised of what could be holding up our licensing. Blah blah legal jargon, blah blah brownnosing, blah blah blah, then I sent the damn thing certified mail. I plan to send something similar every three days until I get a response.

I’m a little worn out when I get home that night. After I put the twins to bed, I decide to partake in that Cabernet, popcorn, and Sex and the City I talked about the day before. I snuggle into my recliner with my favorite throw and watched Carrie send Big off to Paris while I wait for dinner…

I feel fingertips gently caressing my forehead and awake to stunning gray eyes gazing at me. My husband… could he be any more beautiful?

“Rough day?” he says softly, while pushing my bangs from my face. I uncurl from the chair, stretching my extremities.

“What time is it?” I ask, groggily.

“About nine o’clock,” he replies, now caressing my cheek. “No one wanted to wake you, the cowards.” He chuckles softly. I had to think about my day. It was emotionally charged, but not rough.

“I’m just tired,” I say, stretching again. “I wrote a letter to the licensing board today. I had to be firm while kissing their ass without asking them what the fuck is their problem. It took a lot out of me,” I add, honestly.

“Are you hungry?” he asks. I nod.

“I could eat,” I respond.

“Ms. Solomon made beef stew. It’s delicious.” My mouth waters at the thought of it. I try to move the blanket from my legs, but Christian stops me. “No, you stay. I’ll get it for you.” I look up at him and settle back down in my recliner. He’s wearing a turtleneck and a pair of slacks. Second only to his sexy suits, this is my favorite look on him. He wears business casual very well.

I’ve gotten comfortable in my recliner again by the time that he brings a steaming bowl of beef stew back to me on a portable tray with a homemade biscuit and a refill of my Cabernet. He sits on an ottoman nearby, sipping his own Cabernet. He’s right, this beef stew is delicious.

“You filed the petition today,” he says, a statement, not a question. I nod, my mouth full of food. “Did everything go okay? No hiccups?” I nod again. “How long did they say it would take?”

“A couple of months,” I say after swallowing my food. “It’s not as difficult as actually adopting a child, so there shouldn’t be any delays.” He nods and sips his Cabernet.

“You made the news, but you knew that,” he says. “Daddy’s Girl,” he adds with a smile.

“Is that the headline?” I ask. He nods. “They caught us coming out of Market-House. It was just easier to smile and give them what they wanted.”

“It was nice,” he replies. “It made you look… human. Were they nice to you?”

“They were,” I tell him. “We didn’t see them until we were leaving the deli. They took their pictures, asked their questions, and gave us our space… and it was only a handful of them. Do you think it’s the Papa Bear effect?” I raise my eyebrow. He shrugs.

“It could be,” he says before sipping his wine again. “I know how you just want peace sometimes. I want that, too. Maybe they listened.”

His silence after that said more than his words before.

“Al talked to you, didn’t he?” I ask. I didn’t swear him to secrecy, but even if I had, he’s my best friend and he’s known to spill the beans if he feels that something is detrimental to me.

“He did,” he says. “I understand how you feel. It’s a lot becoming an extension of my life. I’ve always been used to this—growing up a Grey and then becoming a self-made billionaire. I get how someone who mostly grew up in the normal world could find this a bit daunting.” I nod and put my thumb and index finger close together.

“Just a bit.” He reaches into his back pocket and pulls something out, handing it to me. Upon closer examination, I realize that it’s…

“Mariners tickets?” I question. He nods.

“August 10th, against the White Sox. I thought you and Ray might want to go. Have some hot dogs, beer and peanuts… and a normal afternoon.” I look at the tickets.

“Box seats?” he shakes his head.

“Behind the dugout, where the action is.” I’m not much for baseball, but I always loved going to the stadium and watching Daddy’s reaction when one of the players hit a triple or a homerun.

“Daddy loves baseball,” I say. “This will be fantastic!” Then I pause. “Security?”

“Covert,” he says. “It’ll be a fairly normal day.” I smile at him.

“I love you,” I say. He kneels down to me again and kisses me gently.

“I love you, too,” he says. “Finish your stew and I’ll run us a bath…”

*-*

I prepare myself for a not-so-normal Saturday at Josephine Kennedy’s garden party on the flawless golf lawn of the Broadmoor. I’m not really sure how to possibly work this crowd, but this is why I joined the country club in the first place—networking, raising funds and awareness for Helping Hands. The country club scene is really not my thing, but it’s a means to an end.

Mia was all for going to the garden party. She had been to enough of them growing up and wanted to see which snooty women would be attending this one. It was her opportunity to gossip about the who’s who in the Seattle area. She wore a simple white Ali & Jay short, fitted sweater-dress inlaid with pointelle-knit motifs and a pair of around-the-ankle pumps with a white summer organza cloche hat—understated and very pretty.

I go with vintage 50’s cream chiffon with blue flowers accented with green leaves… sleeveless with a wrapped empire waistline and a swooping neckline. I add with a matching blue vintage wide brim Kentucky Derby sun hat and blue strappy high-heeled sandals. Val wears a gorgeous purple dress with a sweetheart neckline that has a sleeveless black lace overlay with a crew neckline—also vintage cut with a full skirt and empire waistline. She’s wearing a large, dramatic purple spring hat, also organza with cloche and a pair of black pumps. Quite frankly, she’s the most stylish of the three of us.

The women are mingling when we arrive and Josephine makes a beeline to me the moment she spots me.

“You have no idea how pleased I am that you could make it,” she says, taking my hand with a sincere smile. I return her gesture.

“I took far too long to respond, please forgive me. You know what’s been happening with my family,” I apologize.

“I do, I’m very sorry,” she says solemnly. “All the more reason I’m glad you could make it. I’m sure this is a very difficult time for you all,” she says, exchanging glances with Val and Mia to include them in her sentiment.

“It is, but we’re holding up okay, leaning on each other,” Mia says sweetly.

“Josephine, these are my sisters-in-law, but it’s just easier to call them my sisters—Mia Grey and Valerie Grey.” I gesture to Mia and Valerie. Josephine takes each of their hands in one of hers.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you both,” she says, with a smile. “Welcome to my little party and please, make yourselves at home. Ana, there are some people you should probably meet. Ladies, please, join us…”

Josephine begins to introduce us to the who’s who in the charity circles, which is exactly what I wanted. I spend quite some time learning the ropes for fundraising, advertising the Center for maximum exposure, exchanging business cards, and networking. Mia and Val go to our table as I continue to work the crowd, wishing I had brought Marilyn along to help me remember all these people. I’ll put a pin in that for the next garden party/soiree I attend like this. I finally make my way back to our table where a tall cranberry spritzer is waiting for me.

“Oh, you ladies love me,” I say, taking several large swallows of the refreshing drink. “Why did you leave me though?”

“It’s hot out here,” Val says. “I just wanted to sit down. Plus, you seemed to be doing just fine out there by yourself. You’ve got this thing in the bag, Steele. You’re a natural.” I shrug.

“I wouldn’t say that, but I can hold my own,” I say.

“Yes, and I’ve been working the crowd a bit, too, trying to find out how many of these women have been invited to my wedding. I think Mom invited the entire tri-county area. Most of these of women have already RSVP’d!”

“Most?” I say, looking at the daunting crowd and, once again, dreading the day I must attend this wedding. Did anyone feel this way coming to my wedding, I wonder?

“Yeah,” Mia says, “at least one person here did not get an invitation. Three tables behind me, one o’clock, red and white flowered dress.”

I follow her description to a table of blonde, obvious bottle jobs except for one… Katherine fucking Kavanaugh. Oh, good Lord, we belong to the same country club? Of all the clubs we interviewed and vetted, she belongs to mine? I thought Christian checked out the membership before we joined. How could this have happened? I sigh and shake my head.

“Oh, hell,” I say as Val spots her over her shoulder. “Does she know we’re here?” Mia shrugs.

“I don’t know,” she says, “I didn’t speak.”

“Well, let’s just assume that she doesn’t and try to keep our distance,” I lament. “I’m sorry, Val.”

“Fuck that bitch,” Val says quietly, unfazed. “I accomplished what she couldn’t… I married him. I don’t care what she says or thinks.” Val sips her sweet tea and smirks. “She’s the one that should be upset and ashamed. She lost a gold mine in more ways than one and then she was publicly humiliated by trying to pin the baby on him.” I shrug.

“You’re right. I can’t argue.”

We turn our attention away from Kate and I begin talking about the contacts that I made and how much the information we’ve shared will help with positive publicity for the Center. We enjoy delicious fruit salads and summer foods, a large variety of finger sandwiches, fresh smoked salmon dip, spring linguini with basil, shrimp and bacon deviled eggs, hot cross buns, and an assortment of deserts and teas. I’m very happy to take a break from being the center of conversation when Val brings the conversation around to her house.

“The house is huge, Ana,” Val says. “Nearly 4,000 square feet and five bedrooms! What am I going to do with five bedrooms?”

“Maybe Elliot is trying to tell you something,” I say, sipping my coffee having opted for it instead of tea at the end of the meal. She nods.

“He’s not trying to tell me anything. I already know that he wants a brood of children, but we haven’t even started yet.” She shifts uncomfortably in her seat and I throw a glance at Mia, who shrugs.

“What’s wrong, Val?” I ask. “What are you afraid of?” She shrugs.

“Have you ever had the feeling that it’s all too good to be true?” she asks, solemnly, “like you’re going to wake up one day it’s all going to be a dream… the good and the bad?” I nod.

“More times than I care to admit,” I tell her. “There are days when I wish I would wake up and it would be a dream. And then there are days when I open my eyes and I’m so glad that it’s real. It’s still surreal to me—after everything that’s happened. I’m married… with children… and I’m filthy rich. I didn’t see any of this ten years ago.” I briefly recall the normal conversation I had with Al earlier this week.

“I’ll be moving into a $3.5 million-dollar house!” Val exclaims. The ladies at the table next to us look at her, then go back their conversation. “Elliot said he always wanted a house with a view of the lake. The rear of the house is almost all glass. Nearly every room has a view of the lake. It’s 4000 square feet of house on 10,000 square feet of land. The lake is right at our back door. Elliot wants to do some renovations and it should be ready in a month or so. It’s stunning.”

“So, what’s the problem?” I ask.

“Nothing,” she says. “It’s just that… well, just like you thought you wouldn’t be here ten years ago, I thought so even less.” I glare at her and she nods.  “After that dating fiasco in college, I had no intention of falling in love, believe me. I planned on dating the hot guys and stacking away some money from my fantastic job. Then, before I got too old, I’d marry some old fart and either spend the rest of my life as a nipped and tucked trophy wife or living in your attic as crazy old Aunt Val helping to raise my godchildren.” My eyes widen and I glare at her.

“You’re not serious!” I say, appalled. She nods.

“I’m dead serious,” she replies. “Love was not in the cards for me. Elliot was supposed to be a quick fling. I’m sorry, Mia. I don’t mean to offend you.”

“I get it,” Mia says. “That’s probably what you were supposed to be, too. My brothers were the exact opposite of the spectrum—Christian was the curmudgeon, Elliot was the manwhore. I didn’t expect to see either of them get married before me. But…” She raises her hands as if to say, “See what happened?”

“I mean, look at him,” Val continues. “He’s gorgeous; he rich—not as rich as Christian, but rich—so he wouldn’t be threatened by the money I was making. Tall, blonde, no sports car, and just broke up with his fiancée, so definitely not looking for a long-term relationship… or so I thought. What did it take, like a month for me to fall in love with that man? It happened so fast, I didn’t even have time to count!” She laughs out loud. “He just swept me off my feet and in no time flat, I was a fucking goner. I’m a pussy.” She takes another drink of her tea.

“I can’t talk. I hated the man I married,” I say matter-of-factly while gently spinning my cup around on its saucer. “To this day, I can’t tell you exactly what happened. We crossed that thin line between love and hate and that was all she wrote.”

“Is that really what happened?” Mia asks. I nod.

“Yep,” I say. “I couldn’t stand his ass. But then he kissed me and my panties got all wet. There was no turning back from there.” Val covers a snicker and Mia can’t stop the hoot that comes from her mouth, drawing attention to our table yet again.

“I have to go to the ladies’ room, you guys. I’ll be back.” Val rises from the table and heads toward the club. I turn to Mia.

“So, Paramount Theater?” I ask. “It’s just about right around the corner.” She nods.

“I pretty much just tell Mom what I want and hand it to her,” she says. So I noticed.

“Yeah, she’s in Seventh Heaven,” I say, finishing my coffee and looking at my watch. It’s about time for us to go.

“Yeah,” Mia says. “Planning my wedding was more work than I thought it would be and she was chomping at the bit since she and Dad are paying for it. So, I just picked my dress and let Mom plan the rest. I contribute my suggestions—favors, invitations, etc., but she has the final say. Oh, yeah… remind me to thank Val for wearing Mom’s dress. She was a mess that I wouldn’t wear it.” I laugh quietly.

“I’m sure she didn’t mind. She loved that dress, and it looked great on her.” Mia smiles.

“I have to admit, it did, didn’t…” Her eyes grow large and her mouth flies open. She’s reaching for something in front of her and rising out of her chair at the same time. I turn my head just in time to be too late to stop the disaster about to occur. My eyes meet Val’s and the next few moments move in slow motion. Val is headed face-down into the grass of the garden, her normally fast pace halted by a deliberately-placed Manolo Blahnik on the foot of one Katherine Kavanaugh. I rise from my seat as she face-plants into the grass, her garden hat flying in one direction and her wig flying in another.

Fuck. Me.

I scramble over to her as several ladies in the garden party laugh hysterically at Val’s mishap. Brood of insensitive bitches. I rush to my friend’s side and hide her face as she spits out grass, trying not to cry.

“Are you okay?” I ask softly.

“Give me a minute,” she says, taking several deep breaths before attempting to stand. Mia and I get her back to her feet and she’s physically unhurt, but emotionally mortified. Mia hands Val her wig and garden hat, but she doesn’t bother to cover her short, buzzed hair. It’s out there now.

“Nice haircut,” Kate teases, drawing another round of laughter from several women. I turn a burning glare to Kate who pretends to cover her mouth and stifle her laughter, but bursts out in another round moments thereafter. I begin eyeing every woman that I see laughing, my glare enough to make several of them stop laughing.

“Laugh it up,” I say to the cackling women, “really hard. Just remember, Karma’s a bitch. You should know,” I say, turning my attention to Kate, “after that unfortunate incident where you didn’t quite know your baby’s paternity and tried to pawn the kid off on Elliot.” The ladies silence and whispers float across various tables, including Kate’s. “Tell me, did Roger ever step up to his responsibility, or was he eliminated from paternity as well?”

Her brows furrow deeply and the expression on her face is a cross between embarrassment and pure rage. Her fists are clenched and I stop the progression of her thought process before she makes the mistake of her life.

“Don’t worry, Kate,” I say, “you probably didn’t want his attitude around your son anyway. When my husband contacted him about being a man and owning up to knocking you up, he made it clear that he wanted nothing to do with—what were his words? Oh yeah… that shrew!” I lean in closer, but by no means do I lower my voice.

“Her hair is short because she’s recovering from brain cancer, you insensitive cow,” I say, flatly. When I straighten my back, I can see the collective look of horror on several women’s faces and hear the silence fall over the party. Val wasn’t keeping her illness a secret; it just hadn’t been publicized.

“So, that’s why Elliot married her,” Kate sneers. “He thought she was dying and now, he’s stuck with her.”

The reaction of the women at the table is anything but impressed. Some are glaring at Kate in utter disbelief while others divert their gaze in shame, looking down or away from the table or simply shaking their heads.

“You wanted to shame my friend?” I reply. “You wanted an audience, Kavanaugh? Look around. Look at the reactions of your audience.” Kate takes a moment to examine the women around her, no doubt gauging the lack of the support she had moments ago before I announced Val’s battle with brain cancer.

“You’re a miserable human being and I’m terribly shocked that motherhood hasn’t changed your outlook, or could it be that you’re still the same vicious, spiteful bitch you’ve always been and your son is closer to his nanny than he is to you?” She narrows her eyes at me and I know that I’ve hit the nail on the head.

“Be careful,” she warns. “You never know what a spiteful bitch will do.” I scoff at her.

“Are you threatening me?” I ask, my voice a high mix of incredulous and mocking laughter. “Did you forget what happened to you the last time you crossed me?” Her pupils constrict just a bit. “Yeah, you remember,” I say, “and I wasn’t Mrs. Christian Grey, then. So, go ahead. Try me and see where you end up this time, Little Paper Girl!”

I remember meeting my husband years ago and how him talking about my little doctor mind pissed me the hell off. Val gently lays her hand on my arm, grabbing my attention and instantly cooling my anger.

“Leave it alone, Steele,” she says softly. “Having a brush with death has a way of making you find your place of Zen,” Val says calmly as she starts to walk away. I step back from Kate, but Val stops abruptly.

“On second thought…” She turns around, walks back to Kate and stands right in front of her. The next thing that follows would be the slap heard ’round the world.

giphy

And now, that’s two.

“That’s for deliberately tripping a recovering cancer patient,” Val says while Kate holds her cheek in shock. Kate leaps from the chair and lunges at Val, but soon finds herself in the same patch of grass that Val occupied moments ago when Val sends her sailing to the ground with fast right jab.

That’s for trying to pawn your son off on my husband when you knew that Elliot wasn’t the father,” Val says. No one moves to help Kate off the ground as she glares up at Val, holding the same cheek, which has now been hit twice in the span of a few minutes.

Add that to mine, and that’s three times this bitch has been hit in the face by the Grey Girls.

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“Get up,” Val taunts. “My hair may be short because of the chemo, but that’s the only thing that’s slow about my recovery. Come on, Kavanaugh. Get up. I’ve got plenty more reasons to deck your ass.”

Val’s voice is so soft and controlled that I worry a bit for Kate’s safety. There’s no rage or anger in her tone, only purpose. I conspicuously look from Val to Kate a few times, then back to Kate.

“If I were you, I’d stay down and shut up,” I tell Kate.

“No,” Val says calmly. “She wanted her scene, she got it. She wanted the spotlight, it’s on her. Now, get up and finish what you started, if you’ve got the guts.”

“Val, please,” Mia says, putting her hands on Val’s arms. “This stress can’t be good for you and if something happens to you, my brother will kill us.” Val looks over at Mia and immediately “powers down.” Mia couldn’t allow the opportunity to pass her by, so she turns back to Kate.

“You’re wrong about my brother,” she says. “He and Val love each other very much. That’s something that you should take comfort in.” Kate has made her way back to her chair before she turns and scoffs at Mia, still nursing her red cheek.

“What?” she hisses harshly.

“Yeah. Would you rather it be known that the two of you just grew apart and he fell in love with someone else, or that he would rather marry a woman that he thought was dying—someone that he would have no hope of a future with—than to marry you?”

Holy. Cow. Batman. I feel the pain of the daggers of that comment and they weren’t even aimed at me. Mia turns and walks away from Kate, giving Val a high five as she passes. Val smirks at Kate before we turn and walk back to our table.

“We are now the center of attention and the talk of the party. Should we make our exit, ladies?”

“Yes,” Val said. “I think I’ve had enough fresh air and sunshine from this flowery group.” She’s the first to stand, putting her purse on her shoulder and leading the way out of the garden party. She walks right back the way we came, past Kate and making eye-contact with her, daring her for a repeat of her previous action. Kate quickly breaks eye-contact with Val as she passes the table. Note to self—have security check the guest list before accepting any invites to any parties.

“Ana… I am so sorry about this,” Josephine says, rushing to catch us before we leave. “She’s not even on the guest list. She must have come as someone’s plus one.” Well, that’s comforting. At least she’s not a member of my country club.

“Josephine, please,” I say, squeezing her hand. “You can’t control people’s behavior. There’s no way that we blame you for this.” She smiles and turns to Val.

“Please accept my apologies, Mrs. Grey,” she says contritely to Val. “Security is having her removed. Is there no way I can convince you to stay?”

“It’s Valerie,” Val says, touching Josephine’s hand. “Really, I’ve had enough excitement for one day and I think I’d just like to go home. It really was a lovely party… until that.”

“Allow me to make it up to you,” she continues to grovel. “A ladies’ lunch or a shopping trip perhaps?” We watch as Kate and the person who plus one’d her are ceremoniously and conspicuously escorted off the property. I’m sure that was enough for Val, knowing that she was publicly ejected from the garden party, but she accepts the olive branch.

“I’d like that very much,” Val says warmly. “Ana knows how to reach me.” Josephine smiles and sighs heavily.

“Good,” she says relieved. “I’ll be in touch, then.”

“I look forward to it,” Val says sincerely before releasing Josephine’s hand. We all share parting words before proceeding out to the valet. To our left, Kate’s host is giving her a mouthful of a tongue lashing while Kate tries and fails to defend her actions. We say nothing as the girl gets into the driver’s seat of black Lexus and leaves Kate standing on the sidewalk. We silently watch her public humiliation as she’s now left with no ride and must ask the valet to call her a taxi.

The other valet drives up in Val’s convertible four-seater BMW and I’m suddenly happy that she begged to drive. Val gives him a large tip and makes a big deal about putting the top down as the three of us secure scarves and sunglasses. When we’re sure Kate is watching, Val drops a gear and squeals away from the club, the security Audi SUV close behind us.


CHRISTIAN

“My wife is going to have a nervous breakdown,” I lament, rubbing my eyes. I look up and see Elliot eyeing me bemused. “I just got a text from Chuck. Apparently, an unexpected guest was at the garden party.”

“Okay, I’ll bite,” he says. “Who?”

“Kate.” His eyes grow large.

“Kate?” he says in surprised dismay. “You mean You-Are-Not-The-Father Kate? With my wife?” His voice is so laced with concern, I’m remiss to tell him the rest of the story.

“Yeah, that would be her. Your wife just dropped Mia off at her apartment and they’re on the way back here. Apparently, Kate showed up at the garden party as somebody’s guest and when Valerie was on her way back from the restroom…” I trail off. My brother is going to lose it when I tell him what this crazy cow did to his wife.

“What?” he asks sitting on the edge of his seat. “What, Christian? What did she do? Don’t fuck with me, man, is Val okay?”

“Yeah, yeah, she’s fine,” I tell him. “Kate tripped her.”

Elliot turns white. When I say white, I mean stock white—whiter than the whitest white boy, like whiter than loose-leaf paper white.

“Elliot?” I say to his stunned silence.

“She tripped my wife?” he asks, his face blanched. “Did she fall? Was she hurt? Is she okay?”

“I don’t know,” I tell him. “I don’t think she’s hurt, she’s driving…” Elliot is dialing his phone before I can finish my sentence. He must be calling Val.

“You sick sadistic bitch!” he says into the phone. Okay… definitely not Val. “You tripped a goddamn cancer patient?… I don’t give a fuck that you didn’t know! You tripped my fucking wife!… I swear to God, Katherine, if there’s a scratch on my wife when she gets back in this house, I’m gonna find you and personally fuck you up!… I don’t give a good goddamn who you tell, you hateful, spiteful witch! My wife better not have a hair out of place when I see her or your ass is mine! And if you ever come near her again, I’m gonna fuck you up beyond all recognition and you can put that shit it print!”

He angrily ends the call and is now sitting with his elbows on his legs and his head down fighting to regain his composure. Not ten minutes ago, we were sitting here drinking beer… and Near Beer… talking about the NBA summer league and now, he’s ready to kill this crazy bitch for tripping his wife. I hope to God that Val looks okay when she gets back to the Crossing. I can honestly say that in all my life, I have never seen my brother lose his cool like this.

“Elliot?” I say, trying to get his attention.

“Give me a minute, man,” he says, still trying to calm himself. Shit, I don’t know if I should call Dad and prepare him for B&D… Bail and Defense.

“Not that I’m trying to contribute to your delinquency, but do you want a beer?” He shakes his head.

“I might need one if my wife is bruised at all when she gets back here,” he says, his voice low. I text both Chuck and Butterfly asking if Valerie is okay. I might need to do damage control. Chuck is the first to respond.

**As far as I can tell, yes, but she came out of the garden party sans her wig. **

Oh shit, something happened. She took off her wig in public. Butterfly’s text comes in next.

**Yeah, she’s fine. News travels fast, I see. What do you know? **

I reply,

**Elliot’s a nervous wreck. I put my foot in my mouth and told him what Chuck told me, which wasn’t much. He just got off the phone with Kate. Threatened her goddamn life. **

A few moments of silence and I look back at my brother, who’s still trying to regain his composure.

**Oh, hell. This is going to be bad. Well, let him know that she’s wearing a scarf, but only because we were driving with the top down. We were all wearing scarves. **

That’ll help.

**Val’s not hurt anywhere, is she? Elliot is going on a woman-hunt if Val is bruised anywhere. **

I wait for a response and just when it looks like my brother may be calming down, I get one.

**Her hand is bruised. Maybe a little swollen. She decked Kate. **

“She what?” I say out loud before I realize it. Elliot’s head shoots up and he’s glaring at me with sharp blue eyes.

“What?” he asks. “What is it?” I sigh.

“Val has a bruise,” I tell him. “Her hand might be a little swollen. She knocked Kavanaugh on her ass.” Elliot’s brow furrows deeply.

“Fuck. Are you kidding me?” His hand runs over his buzz cut and back to his neck. He keeps it cut short until Valerie’s hair grows back to a length that’s comfortable for her. He’s not doing well at all with the fact that his wife might be in the tiniest bit of distress. I didn’t think anybody alive could have it as bad as me, but he does.

“You got it you got it bad, when you’re on the phone, hang up and you call right back…” I sing the lyrics to an old R&B Usher song, trying to lighten the mood.

“Don’t tease me, Christian, I’m trying to deal with this,” he says, his voice maudlin.

“Lelliot,” I retort, “she decked the bitch… in front of the whole party. She dropped that bitch on her ass.” He sighs.

“If that self-centered, heartless tramp had stayed away from my wife in the first place, none of this would have happened. She’s determined to keep fucking with me and I want blood, man. She better leave us the fuck alone or I won’t be responsible for my actions if I ever see her again.” I shake my head.

“Give me your phone.”

“What?” he says with a frown.

“Give me your damn phone!” He hands me his phone, a bit bemused. I text Katherine’s and Val’s number to my phone. “Why do you even still have this woman’s number in your phone?”

“Did you erase it?” he asks.

“No, but why do you even have her number in your phone?”

“So that I know if she calls,” he says without hesitating. “You got psycho, can’t-let-go bitches all around you, and I see how they act and the crazy shit that they’ll do. That’s the only psycho, can’t-let-go bitch in my life. She already tried to pin a baby on me and just when I think it’s safe to go into the water, she attacks my wife. Why? What did Angel ever do to her? Not a goddamn thing but marry me. Now if she thinks I’ll stand by and worry about her attacking my wife somewhere around town while she’s going to get a fucking manicure, she’s got another think coming. I’ll beat her ass on sight!”

Elliot is coming unhinged. I’ve got to put water on this fire immediately.

“I’m going to get you a beer,” I say as I rise from the chaise and go inside. Once out of Elliot’s sight, I quickly call Butterfly.

“Hello, darling.”

“Hey, baby. How close are you guys to the Crossing?”

“No more than ten minutes. What’s up?”

“Elliot is coming unglued. He needs to see that Valerie is okay or he just might kill Kavanaugh, and I’m not kidding.” Butterfly sighs.

“Tell him to keep his shirt on, we’ll be there in a minute. And her hand is just a little red. It doesn’t look like a boxing glove or anything,” she says.

“Just… the two of you be in a really good mood when you get here, okay?” I instruct her. She sighs.

“Fine, but the next time something like this happens, let his wife break the news to him.”

“Deal,” I say before saying my goodbyes and ending the call. Next, I call the sadistic cow.

“Hello?” she answers.

“Look,” I begin. “I really don’t care if you listen to me or what you do with this information. I’m only calling because I care about my brother and if you see him or his wife in public ever again, I suggest you go the other way.”

“Oh, now you’re threatening me!” she says haughtily.

“I’m not threatening you, Kavanaugh. I’m giving you fair warning. You don’t know how big a pile of shit you just stepped in and you need to listen. When my brother spoke to you, did he threaten to ruin you? Did he threaten your family? Your fortune? To put you in jail? No! He threatened you! Physically. My brother is incensed! He is beyond livid. He can’t hear anything. And if his wife comes back here in any condition except as perfect as she was when she left, he’s coming for blood—yours! And I already have to prepare him that she’s coming back in here without her wig.”

The line is silent for a while. I don’t know if she’s processing what I’m saying or filing her fingernails, but I keep going.

“You really need to know that my brother would give his life for Valerie. When we came to him to talk about her treatment, he would have gone up against each and every one of us if he thought what we were suggesting was not in her best interest. He went toe to toe with her oncologist because he felt like certain aspects of her care could be improved, and he was right. He’s been there for every doctor’s appointment, every surgery, every treatment. Nobody touches Valerie or gets near Valerie without his permission, and you touched her today. You violated her and you tried to humiliate her, and her husband is animalistically pissed!

“He got a taste—just a taste—of what it might feel like to lose her throughout this cancer ordeal, and he fought. He fought doctors; he fought anxiety; he fought exhaustion; he fought everything if it meant he could keep his eye on her and help her get well. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of him. We were in the news a week ago. One guess why he cut off all his hair.”

The line is silent again, but I hear her sigh. Yes, dear, you’re familiar with Elliot’s passion and you know he’s in love with this woman. Time for the death blow.

“My brother adores that woman, you need to know that,” I say to her. “You need to understand that, internalize it and believe it like you’ve never believed anything else in your life. Anything you do to her, you do to him and he will make you pay… in blood. He’ll take his revenge in pints and since the body only has six to eight, I think you should pay attention.” When the phone is quiet this time, I decide to end the call.

“Goodbye, Katherine.”

Elliot’s head rubbernecks when I come outside with two beers.

“Butterfly says they’ll be here in just a few minutes.” I hand him an open beer. “Just in case.”

charade252caudreyindisguiseHe nods and takes the beer from me. He doesn’t drink it. He just holds it in his hand. I think the fact that it’s there is giving him comfort. I take a swallow of my beer and just as I’m planting my butt on the chaise, I hear the laughing voices of our wives coming from covered patio. They’re both walking around the patio looking like fresh flowers from the garden, my wife in her eternally classic Jackie-O look and Valerie reminding me a lot of Audrey Hepburn.

The moment the ladies make their way out to the pool, Elliot leaps from his seat and rushes to Valerie’s side.

“Angel! Baby, are you alright?” He’s checking over her body as if he’s looking for bruises. He looks briefly at her hand, takes note of it, then continues checking over her body.

“I’m fine, El,” Val says, smiling slightly as her husband checks her like an injured child.

“What did she do? Did she hurt you anywhere?” Elliot is still checking his wife as if he hasn’t heard a word she’s said. Valerie takes his face in her hands and brings him to her eyes. They stare at each other for a moment.

“I’m fine, baby,” Valerie says. “She didn’t hurt me.” His hands freeze on either side of her waist as he gazes at his wife.

“I’ll kill her,” he says, matter-of-factly. “I’ll fucking kill her if she touches you ever again.” The corners of Valerie’s mouth rise.

“Not if I see her first,” she says, placing her lips gently on my brother’s. “I love you, El,” she says. “She’s just butt-hurt because I got you and she didn’t.”

“Sucks to be her,” he says, pulling his wife in for another kiss and closing his lips over hers. I pull my wife into my lap on the chaise.

“I hope you weren’t expecting that party to be normal.” She shakes her head.

“Not even close,” she says, “although we were having a really good time before Katea-paloosa. Helping Hands is apparently getting more publicity than I thought, and I got some pointers on fundraising and different ways to bring more attention to our cause. I networked with several important people and the food was fantastic… and not one of them asked about my husband.”

“This is a good thing?” I say, acting affronted.

“Yes, Christian, this is a good thing,” she replies. “I’m being recognized for me and for my cause, not just as Mrs. Christian Grey.” That is a good thing. She wanted to make a name for herself and be useful based on her own momentum and now it’s happening for her.

“So really good networking?” I ask. She nods.

“Really good, but next time, I’ll have to bring Marilyn with me. I have a purse full of business cards and now, I’ll have to try to remember all these faces so that I don’t make a fool of myself the next time I see them.” I nod.

“I know you’ve seen that movie The Devil Wears Prada,” I say. She nods. “If you remember, Miranda Priestly took her assistants with her everywhere. She never remembered anybody’s name; they remembered for her.” She looks at me and frowns.

“How do you possibly know that?” she asks. “The Devil Wears Prada? Seriously?” I shrug.

“I don’t know…” which I really don’t, “… but hell, it’s true.”

“You don’t take Andrea with you everywhere,” she protests.

“People don’t expect me to remember their names,” I reply. “Let’s face it. I’m in a different line of business and at a different level, no offense. They need to remember me, and they know it. For you, for what you do, it’s crucial.” She nods. She knows I’m right. We look over at Elliot and Valerie who are still caught in a “nobody’s here but us” lip lock.

“He’s not taking this well at all, is he?” Butterfly asks. I shake my head.

“You have no idea,” I tell her. “I feel sorry for Kate if he sees her again any time soon. I’m certain he’ll kill her.” She gazes at me incredulously. “He got a glimpse of being without her when she went through the tumor surgery. As long as he’s breathing, he’s not going to let that happen.” I rub her back. “I know exactly how he feels.”

She brings her beautiful, guileless blue eyes back to mine and I could easily get lost in them.

“You were right about the Waymark transmitter,” I add. I meant to tell her yesterday when I got home, but it slipped my mind.

“I was?” she says, her eyebrows rising. I nod.

“The findings weren’t terribly off, but they were skewed—enough so that the XRC90’s impact on the technology division would have been grossly overstated. The question now is, were the finding submitted erroneously… a small variance in testing, or were they inflated as an attempt to make the company look better?”

“How will you determine that?” I shrug.

“I don’t know. I think I’ll have a third set of tests run on another group of prototypes and see which—if either—results are duplicated. Either way, making the prototypes and running the additional tests was a very good idea. As quality, I’m surprised he didn’t come to me with that idea before you did. It would have taken us longer to break even had we closed the deal without knowing this first. That wouldn’t have been the worst thing that could have happened. I mean, we’ve got the money, we could afford it, but why waste money that we don’t have to? People are faster to play with someone else’s money than they are to play with their own.” I run my hands through my hair.

“I think Rollins was just getting lax,” I lament. “It seems like he was getting comfortable in his position. The fact that he was so dismissive with you proves that he thought he was untouchable. I wonder how many of the others are feeling that way…” She frowns.

“What’s making you think that way?” she asks.

“First, I bring in my wife as a 50% owner. People think I’ve lost my mind. Then, I bring in Lorenz—a total outsider—and put him in VP’s position. Given the opportunity, not one of those entitled-acting assholes would even step up and say they thought they could do the job. Yet, many of them resent me for passing over inner management and going straight to a qualified pool. I don’t owe anyone an explanation, but I didn’t have time to try to train someone for this job. Lorenz comes highly recommended by everyone who has ever even met him. I’m tearing my hair out trying to figure out how I’ll get Uncle Stan out here before Pops passed away, and Finney makes one call to the Detroit… The next thing I know, the head honcho from the UAW union out there is calling me telling me that Uncle Stan is on his way!”

“Who’s Finney?” Butterfly asks.

“That’s what the guy called Lorenz!” I declare. “I don’t even have a nickname in the business world, unless it’s asshole!” Butterfly can’t stifle her laughter.

“So, I take it Lorenz is working out well,” she says.

“Very well,” I respond, rubbing her back. “Ros decided to take Gwen on an impromptu vacation for a week and Lorenz fell right in line, taking her meetings and following up on her projects. I didn’t even notice that she was gone and she’ll be back on Monday. He only had one non-negotiable term and that was that under no circumstances will he work on Sunday. He’s a religious man and he has a wife and children. Six days a week, we can work him like slave labor, but Sunday is for church and his family. He’s a very successful and well-known executive and he’s worked enough to retire on his income right now, but he loves what he does and the program has kept him financially secure and happily married for more than a decade.” I scratch behind my ear. Maybe he’s onto something.

“Why doesn’t he have his own business?” she asks.

“He doesn’t want the responsibility,” I reply. “He doesn’t mind making a name for himself making other companies successful, but he’s much more of a ‘take the money and run’ type of guy than a ‘take the reins and run the company’ type of guy.” She nods.

“He sounds fantastic,” she says. “I sure hope he’s not too good to be true.”

“If he is, he has a whole shitload of my colleagues fooled, including my headhunter,” I tell her. “As a cleaner, for lack of a better word, his reputation rivals mine. I just didn’t know because I wasn’t looking.” She nods and looks out over the water. Elliot and Valerie have moved to the chaise in a similar position as me and my wife.

“Is that a beer at Elliot’s feet?” Butterfly asks. I look over at the untouched beer.

“Yeah, it was that bad; I thought he would need it. Turns out he didn’t… all he needed was Valerie.” My wife snuggles into my chest. “You know, I think Lorenz may be on to something.” She looks up at me.

“I’m listening,” she says.

“You need more normal and our family dynamic has change drastically. I have a third in command now. Maybe we should start trying to introduce a little more normal into our lives.” She raises her eyebrow.

“How do we do that?” she asks. “There’s never anything really normal about us… we’re billionaires.”

“Well, that’s where I’ll need your help,” I tell her. “Except for the first four years of my life, I’ve always been privileged or rich, so the normal part is going to be totally Greek to me. But with a little compromise, I’m sure that we can achieve some semblance of normal at least a few times a month. It’ll be a great adventure for me and it’ll help you keep your sanity.” She smiles.

“That sounds perfectly delightful,” she says. “However, I do have one bone to pick with you.” My turn to raise my eyebrows.

“And that is?”

“We’ve been together for over two years. We have two beautiful children and we live in a gorgeous mansion. You have that beautiful boat sitting in that gorgeous boat resort and you haven’t taken me out on it once.” I smile widely at her and take my phone from my pocket.

“Yes, Sylvester… I need you to come to the Mercer House and check out the Slayer. I need her ready to sail by noon tomorrow…”


A/N: That was all she wrote—“It’s all over; there’s no more to be said.”

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~~love and handcuffs