Fifty Shades Golden: Chapter 20

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

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

This ain’t your everyday Christian and Ana story. Don’t expect anything. Just read it as it goes along or go away. 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 new saga continues…

Chapter 20

Eric Dane 20

TREY

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve spoken to my Mistress. I’ve had more than a few mind-blowing orgasms since our last encounter. Angry sex is quite fulfilling and as it turns out, every time I stick my dick in some dark orifice lately, I think of Golden and become angry. Then, of course, I end up fucking someone into oblivion. I still get a little enjoyment from my Dom activities, such as they are—controlling a woman’s orgasm; tying her down and fucking her until she begs me to stop; having her ride me until my head nearly explodes; drilling into her ass and feeling my dick thump hard while pumping that hot cum into her… yeah, that shit still gets me off, and well!

But there’s also those times when I’m just fucking, just thrusting into some hot pussy and grabbing a big ass, and I feel it… that fucking whip across my back. That shit makes my dick so hard and my balls so tight. Then I see her curled up with that Kevin fucker, talking shit to me that last time that I saw her, and that shit pisses me off. So, even though I may lose the image and feeling of the whip, that anger drives me harder and further into that pussy until I and the poor waif that’s beneath me are both howling to the moon in climax.

I don’t know if that’s good or bad.

This woman fucking controls everything I do. I can’t even have a climax without her.

I’m still building my lumber empire while Linc and his remaining minions are doing everything they can to head me off. He’s countering my bids with some of the holdouts, like a couple of large mills in Texas, Maryland, and New York. I was able to acquire the contract of one of his largest interests overseas, but I’m not going to get into a bidding war with him. He’s offering higher contracts to the holdouts, which is why they’re hesitating.

They’re hoping for more money. What they don’t know is that I can take a bite out of the industry with what I already have. If they want to go with Lincoln Timber, they can. The larger contracts will have the same effect on Linc’s bottom line as it would if he had to buy the timber from me. It would still take a bite out of his profits. The biggest downfall is that I wouldn’t recognize any income for GEH.

Linc is a sleeping giant. He has a big name because of tenure, not power. So, he’s actually prime for picking right now. Truth is, if I hadn’t done it, sooner or later, someone else with an ounce of sense would have.

Word trickled down to me a couple of weeks ago that Elena Lincoln is in hiding… somewhat. Apparently, she pissed someone else off and was sporting a new set of bruises for a while. It’s only hearsay since no one got any pictures of her, but I’m wondering if Linc snuck up on her again, or if she just got on someone else’s bad side like she always does.

The past few weeks, I’ve been going to the park for lunch more often. The sunshine—when the sun is out—actually helps to improve my attitude. I’ve run into my new friend Veronica a few times, if you can call her that. We just sit, eat lunch, shoot the shit, then go back to our jobs in our respective glass towers. It’s kind of good to see her when I do, though.

“Getting in touch with you is like trying to contact Her Majesty the Queen,” my father chides when I absent-mindedly answer my cell one day.

“What is it, Dad?” I say. I’m still raw from our last conversation about my search for legal counsel.

“Always a pleasure to talk to you, son,” he says. “I just wanted you to know that your sister has been having more episodes.”

Episodes? He must be talking about her diabetes.

“She should probably monitor her levels more closely, then,” I say, “instead of trying to chase the next conspiracy theory. She needs to prioritize.”

“Have you even spoken to your sister since your mother’s birthday?” he asks.

“Why? Is she dying?” I ask impassively.

“Not that I know of,” he retorts, sarcastically, “but that is your sister, Christian.”

“Have you forgotten, Dad? Mia and I don’t speak—we fight. And that’s only when we get together at your house. Do you really think I’m inclined to call her and chat to sign up for an extra dose of that? No, thanks. What does her doctor say?” He pauses.

“The same thing he’s been saying,” Dad says.

“Which means nothing has changed, right?” I conclude. “If she’s been having episodes, it’s because she’s probably not measuring her insulin correctly and not watching what she’s eating. I know that diabetes can be properly managed with diet, medication, and lifestyle. She’s most likely concentrating on all the wrong things—like another corporate conspiracy—instead of concentrating on her health. What does her doctor say about it?” My father sighs.

“Never mind,” he says. “I thought you might want to know about your family. Forget I called.” He ends the call abruptly.

Well, that’s not like Dad. He usually wants to fight and taunt. My first instinct is to call my mother, but while I’m considering making the call, I get a text from him.

**Don’t bother your mother with this. It’s apparently nothing that Mia can’t fix with a little diet and medication, so no use upsetting your mother, right? **

That only makes me want to call Mom more, but since I don’t have any information, I tend to agree that calling her and drilling her about it would only stress her out. I’m sure as hell not calling Elliot. He’d find some way to hold it over my head if there is a way. Gosh, gotta love family.

I head to Crimson to see what mischief I can get into tonight. I need a little spice since I haven’t seen Golden for weeks. I walk around and examine the flavors on the menu. I’m on the hunt and they know it. They nearly offer themselves up to me as I walk past them. There’s quite the buffet on display tonight, from the sexy, beautiful, tasty morsels strolling around half-naked and ready to fuck to the Goth-painted bondage freaks and partially-bound pain whores. Whatever your pleasure, it’s present tonight, except…

I have to admit that the asses are leaving a bit to be desired. There are taut, tight asses on display and even wide asses to be had; fit asses and flabby asses alike… but none of the round and juicy bubble asses that I’ve become accustomed to. I like to watch my dick slide between those cheeks whether I’m fucking that tight rosette or edging myself between two juicy globes. I love to grip that ass meat fiercely while I’m pumping into a tight, hot hole—front or back, it doesn’t matter. My dick is thumping with anticipation

I can’t help but wonder what Elena does for entertainment these days since she’s been banned from any reputable club. Does she frequent the back-alley clubs that just don’t care, or has she given up on the scene completely? She only comes to mind because I’m reminiscing of big asses and Caramel comes to mind…

And ultimately, Golden.

I’ve prowled the entire place, and no one seems to fit my taste tonight. Who am I fooling? I haven’t felt her whip; haven’t come like she makes me come in weeks. I know what I want and it’s not here. I reluctantly text her phone, fully expecting rejection if any answer at all. After another hour of walking around Crimson dissatisfied, I get in my car and make plans to contact my service and fuck til I’m blind.

Just as I’m entering my parking garage, I get a response to my text.

**Be in the dungeon in an hour. **

*-*

As instructed, I’m in her dungeon within the appointed time. She greets me in a gold robe and insanely high black high heels.

Black… that’s different.

She’s wearing some kind of hat—antique gold, not the shiny or flaxen gold I’m accustomed to seeing. It’s tilted and it has fringe on the brim so I can’t really see her face. She’s wearing red tassel earrings and antique gold gloves protrude from her gown. Lace, I think… I can’t help but wonder how those are going to feel on my dick.

She’s silent as she guides me to her table and begins to undress me… slowly and sensually. When I’m naked, she wordlessly directs me to lie on the table, which I do, my face and dick protruding through their usual orifices. As she touches me, I realize that her gloves are not lace. They’re latex, painted to look like lace.

Shit, that’s hot as fuck.

She straps me down—securely—using wrist and ankle restraints that are lined in fur or fuzz or something, but they’re so tight that they damn near cut off my circulation. She extends another strap across my waist and secures it in place.

That’s different.

I feel the table turn, then tilt. When it’s done, I and the table are vertical, and my feet are flat on the floor. My dick is hanging out of the glory hole in her table, and I can see myself.

She has position me so that I’m facing a mirrored wall. That wasn’t there before. I know there was a mirror, but not an entire wall. I see her standing next to the table, still donning a robe with her head slightly tipped on an angle in the direction the long tassels are hanging.

Are we taking a fucking picture? C’mon, let’s get on with this.

She slowly undoes the sash of her robe, opens it, and allows it to fall off her shoulders. Holy Mother of God, where did she find this outfit?

Her entire outfit is latex, most of it that same antique gold except for the latex stocking which are a semi-transparent black with antique gold lace toppers and red seams and heels. Those lace toppers are held on to a beautifully structure latex corset by a set of gold suspender garters, a pair of deliciously-tight latex panties underneath. There’s a small latex cape on her shoulders, obviously tailor-made for her just like the rest of this ensemble—with fringe on the edges just like the fringe of her hat and red tassel earrings. The red in the earrings is made to bring out the red accents in the stockings, the gloves, and on the back of the garter.

I won’t deny that I’m a bit unnerved. Not only has she restrained me in a manner that I’ve never been restrained before and I am quite immobile, but also her usual sunshine-gold garb has been replaced with the exquisite antique gold, black, and red creation. I’m feeling a little anxious waiting for her next move.

I see it all. Whatever I can’t see from just looking around is on complete display in the full mirror in front of me. That delicious ass strolls over to the implements, and Mistress picks her weapon of choice. I’m immediately transported to the state of mind I’m always in when I come to her dungeon—the willing subject ready and able to take whatever she dishes out.

She chooses her flogger and walks back over to me. I brace myself for her strikes, but when they begin, they’re gentle. I open my eyes and I can’t see her, because she’s behind me, but I can see the tails of the flogger—going back and forth rhythmically on my back. Even though I can’t see her, it appears that she’s doing a figure-eight flogging.

I don’t particularly like this. It’s like an incessant tickle on my back and I’m not digging it at all. Just when I’m about to protest, the strikes become a little harder, providing a scratch to the itching previously caused by the flogger tails.

Okay, that’s better, a little relief.

The strikes get harder still and now, it’s starting to sting. This is the feeling that I associate with those massive orgasms, so I sink into it. The strikes are continuous on alternating sides of my back and I clench my jaw to bear the pain as there is no relief from the continuous blows. She doesn’t let up and I’m starting to feel the burn in other parts of my body. Jesus, it must have been longer than I thought because this is really beginning to hurt. I’m gritting my teeth now to withstand the torment of the tails of the flogger and I can feel the sweat forming on my brow.

At last, she stops, and the air brings welcome relief to my skin. Shit, that was intense! I don’t know how much more of that I would be able to stand.

Next, I see her reach for her crop. I prepare myself for the impact, but instead, she begins with light repetitive taps on the top of my ass.

Okay, that’s like a ruined fucking orgasm… to go from whacks back to taps. My adrenaline is up and now, she’s cooling it down again. It’s aggravating. What the fuck is this shit?

Just as I am beginning to come down from the adrenaline rush and my breathing becomes more regulated, the blows of the crop become more intense. They move from the light taps to more intense flickers. Moments later, she graduates to long, fast, and hard vertical strikes—up and down on my ass cheeks like a paintbrush.

Where the fuck did she learn this technique?

The sting is more intense again and I clench my fists once more to bear the pain. Now, the sting in my back returns and intermingle with the sting on the tops and bottoms of my ass cheeks. The way that she’s striking, it’s not hitting the meat. It’s just hitting the tops and bottoms… and that shit stings.

I’m grunting now from the pain, sweat forming quickly on my forehead this time. I tighten my cheeks, but that actually makes the pain a little worse. That’s not supposed to happen. What’s going on with me?

Her next tool is a cross between a crop and a paddle. I’ve never seen it before—braided handle like a crop or a cat with a narrow paddle that looks more like a 12-inch cane wrapped in a leather ruler. She stands to the side of me and starts with those like fucking taps again right on the meat of my ass.

What the fuck is this anti-climactic shit! You can’t work a man up to a painful frenzy, then bring him back down just to work him back up again. That shit will cause him to have a heart attack!

I’m trying to concentrate on the pain I was feeling before, the intermingling of the flogger with the crop and the sting that caused me to grunt in agony, trying not to lose the rush, but it’s no use. She continues this tickle-flicker-spanking thing until my body and breathing are calm.

She’s blowing my high, and I don’t like it. And she’s not talking to me. She usually says something to me throughout this process, but this time, she’s silent—like she’s denying me the stimulation of her voice. As I’m pondering the significance of that factor, her strikes go from gentle flickers to…

“Fucking hell!”

It feels like she has every intention of fusing that damn thing with my ass. I know I verbalized my surprise and agony, but she doesn’t stop to chastise me for speaking. She just keeps going…

Whap!
Whap!
Whap!

Sonofabitch! My eyes are squeezed so tightly that I’m seeing stars. This shit hurts, and once again, it’s blending with the pain of the other two instruments.

Shitfuckinghellsonofafuckinghellshitmotherfucker! This shit is bordering on inhumane. What the hell did I do to deserve this?

Oh… I know what I did. I pissed her off, and now she’s making me pay.

My main consolation in this exercise is that I’ll have a session to recall in the coming weeks when I’m fucking some poor wench within an inch of her life… and that I’ll come like a rocket when this is all over.

My brain and body is slipping into this spacy kind of acceptance of my fate and the pain as Golden rains blow after blow after blow on my tender ass. I feel my muscles relax even though I’m not telling them to do it. It’s like I’m in some kind of subconscious state that’s absorbing the pain, only I’m quite conscious. My body is warm… hot… it feels like it’s on fire all over, and I’m floating, or at least it feels like I’m floating, somewhat outside of myself when…

“Aaaaaaaahhhhh!”

I cry out involuntarily when I feel a very narrow leather strap or tail stripe my back from the left shoulder down to my mid back. What the ever-loving fuck!?

It appears that I had somehow disconnected from our session and my Mistress wished to bring me back—and oh fuck, did she! I didn’t even see or feel the paddle stop or see her retrieve another instrument. So, I don’t even know what she’s using. I just know it’s some kind of whip.

Thwap!

“Aaaahhh!” I cry out again. Her strikes are slower, more calculated this time. My back is already bruised and tender from the flogger, my butt still aching and stinging from the paddle and the crop, and now this… my favorite thing, but not so favorite right now.

Nonetheless, my cock can’t seem to distinguish that.

I feel the rush of blood going through my shaft with each strike. It’s like a heartbeat…

Thwap! Pump! Thwap! Pump! Thwap! Pump!

I know I’m getting hard. I can’t stop it. But after several thwap-pumps, apparently, I’m not hard enough for my Mistress.

“Shit! Aahh! What the fuck!”

Well, she’s not hitting me anymore, but without warning, she has thrust a latex-covered lubed finger into my ass. That shit hurts and my erection wanes immediately. I’ve had enough of this sadistic shit. Now, I’m about to safeword until…

Her finger begins to move—methodically, rhythmically—and I know what this is, I’ve just never experienced it before. I’m trying my best to hate it because I’ve always felt like no straight man—no man’s man—really wants a finger in his ass. But her touch is firm and gentle at the same time, masterfully rubbing that magic gland or moving in circles, in and out and around, causing and involuntary reaction from my body. Her free hand firmly squeezes my painful ass or strokes my burning back, enhancing that pain/pleasure experience that I’m accustomed to. I close my eyes and grunt, biting my lip to suppress any further outbursts from the combined experience. This shit is fucking magical.

I’m completely immobilized, and I can’t move—to thrust, to roll, to move out of the way, nothing. I’m totally at her mercy and she’s about to show me just how true that statement is.

She moves her hand slowly, methodically, massaging my asshole and all the sensitive nerves, adding lube occasionally and often turning attention to my prostate. I am so aroused that I can barely think. The feeling is incredibly erotic, and she’s keeping me just on the edge as my cock gets harder and harder.

I’m nearly shaking with anticipation when she stops the anal massage. My eyes fly open in horror and surprise and immediately focus on my red, veiny cock standing impressively upright and staring back at me from the mirror.

Damn… he’s pissed.

She walks around her table to the front of me and turns to face me. Her face is still totally covered by this hat with the tassels and if it wasn’t for the thick bubble ass wrapped in latex staring back at me from the mirror, I wouldn’t even know this was Golden.

She removes one latex glove—probably the one that was in my ass—and gently begins to caress my cock. The fucker is on fire. I thought a good stiff wind could make me come, but I’m discovering that my sadistic Mistress can draw that process out forever…

And ever…

I groan inwardly as her soft hand outlines the veins on my straining, angry dick, causing just enough stimulation to keep him aching and hard. After a few moments of playing with my immobilized, thumping cock, she produces a small leather apparatus and begins to attach it to my nether-regions. Once she has snapped the thing in place, I look in the mirror to see that my junk is tightly restrained in a highly-restrictive cock and ball harness—the kind that goes between your testicles, wraps around each ball, and snaps around your dick like a cockring. My balls are shiny and straining and my dick is harder and protruding farther than it was before.

She uses her nails to gently scratch and tease the tight skin of my balls and I’m losing my fucking mind. A shiver runs through my entire body and I can’t even move. What’s worse is that I can clearly see this shit in the mirror as she taunts my balls—over and over again. My cock can’t even bob and flex like it usually does because of this damn leather contraction.

She kneels down and, while still tickling my balls, she takes my cock into her mouth. Fucking hell, her mouth is hot! I’m unable to stifle my groan as she takes my cock all the way to the base and slowly drags her lips to the head. She doesn’t even have to hold it because it’s so fucking hard that it’s protruding straight out for her.

And I. Am. In. Agony.

Once, twice, three times she does this and the third time, she locks her lips on the aching head and suckles like she’s capturing the flavor of a delicious lollipop.

Her tongue and lips wrap repeatedly around the strained head, the skin now shining like my restrained balls. She holds her head back just enough for the tassels to fall apart, only giving me a view of her crimson lips suckling the very head of my cock. I then see her talented tongue lick lazily over the tight skin, then sensually over the slit to collect the tiny offering of precum.

Fucking hell, I’m going to die.

Her tongue flicks several times over the frenulum before she sucks one more time as if to clean the head, then replaces her mouth with a thoroughly oiled latex glove.

Oh, God. Oh, dear God…

I can say that I’ve never felt anything like this before. It kind of reminds you of a condom, but not. With condoms, the stimulation is outside of the latex. This is direct—slippery rubber up and down your cock, pumping you to orgasm.

Shit. Fucking hell.

I close my eyes tight, because the burn is unbearable. When I come, it’s going to be fucking explosive, and if she keeps this up, it’s going to be any second now.

As if she was reading my mind, the gloved hand stops its stimulation, and I take in deep breaths to try to calm my frazzled nerves. Fuck, that was hot as fuck! Fuck!

My reprieve is temporary, as I expected, and the soft skin of a bare hand caresses my cock again. I open my eyes and look down at her to see both her hands are latex free now, but she’s only using one hand—one well-oiled hand—to torment my aching dick.

Mistress has decided that she wants to play today and play she does… and play and play and play, much to my eternal torment. My dick was hard just from her putting the cockring on, but I know that she has a thing for dicks. She admires them and adores them and right now, she’s paying very special attention to mine. She’s treating it like a treasured pet and dear God, I’m losing my mind in the pleasure and the teasing.

My dick is fully cooperating with her, reaching out to her soft yet powerful perfectly manicured hands. I can feel it pulsing against her grip as she forces the blood to the very sensitive and swollen head of my very sensitive and swollen cock. She now sits comfortably on a stool next to me, wearing this golden Domme outfit and paying extra special attention to my dick.

Did I mention that I’m not blindfolded, and I can see?

Yes, I can see her as she perfectly edges my anxious shaft with just the right amount of smooth oil—not too much to make it too slippery or too little to cause too much friction… or even enough friction. My muscles hurt from tightening with the pleasure of this near-coming-not-quite-enough stimulation, and she knows it. She repeatedly runs her fingertips from just under the base of my hood over the rim—my fucking nerve center—and up the overstretched skin of the head, her nails scratching just enough to cause painful tremors to rack my body as her fingertips close over the tip.

“Uuuuuuuggghhhh!” I groan in agony and ecstasy each time her nails gently scratch the head of my cock, my balls screaming to come. She always works me into a mindless frenzy until I break out in an unbelievable sweat. I’ve even begun to train myself to bear the sweat in my eyes so that I don’t miss the show.

“Please, Mistress!” I beg. “Please! I need to come!”

“Sssshh,” she chides softly. “Not yet, Chopper.”

She spoke! She spoke to me and it causes ripples of pleasure to flow through my body. I groan involuntarily and she stops her stimulation again. I look down to see a long stream of precum hanging from my dick and dripping onto the floor.

And that’s hot.

My dick is aching so badly; my balls are about to burst, and she takes that oily hand and strokes slow and hard from base to tip and back again—achingly slowly, causing a burn deep in my abs that almost makes me want to cry.

She does it again… and again… and again… and…

“Aaahh!”

My body jerks from the unexpected pain of a cat, wrapping around my back and butt. My eyes shoot open.

She’s standing next to the table, pumping my dick with her oily left hand, and a cat o’ nine tails is hanging from her right.

She’s going to cause a fucking nuclear explosion.

She strokes my cock again, base to tip, causing that rumble in my body when her hand passes the head and her palm strokes my frenulum, then…

Thwap!

Pleasure and pain; heaven and hell; agony and ecstasy. I’ve never been so on edge, so aroused, so ready to blow in my life! She strokes again…

Thwap!

And again…

Thwap!

And again…

Thwap!

And just when I thought the sensation couldn’t become any more intense, she removes her hand. When it returns, it cups my head again and this time, she’s got that fucking bullet in it, rolling it over my head in different areas as she strikes me with the cat once, twice, three times. My head is about to explode from pleasure overload, and so are my balls. I can’t take it anymore; I’m losing my mind. I’m about to give her the spectacular candle-lighting ceremony that she’s been building up to and I just might break that mirror. My eyes roll back in my head…

And she stops.

I’m dizzy, mindless. My body is mush and my dick is throbbing so hard that I can hear it! I feel her undoing my ankle restraints, the waist restraints, and one of the wrist restraints. I can feel her remove the cock-and-ball harness, and when I open my burning, weary eyes, she’s standing in front of me. She has removed her hat and she’s looking impassively at me.

“Not yet, Chopper,” she says as she raises a brow, gazes at me and walks away. I watch her ascend the stairs, her ass tauntingly switching from left to right.

Wait a minute. That’s it? She’s just going to leave me here? She’s going to leave me with my dick thumping and aching like this—my balls ready to explode with a good wind? What the fuck?

Is this a fucking joke? She can’t possibly intend to leave me like this. She can’t!

I wait for a moment before I undo my last restraint. She probably left that one so that I wouldn’t lunge at her ass.

This is the cruelest, most disrespectful thing I’ve ever seen. The torment of each of her implements—slow rise just to let my adrenaline drop again, then start the torture over all the way from the beginning to drop me down again… repeatedly…

That’s like a ruined fucking orgasm…
She’s blowing my high, and I don’t like it…
And she’s not talking to me… like she’s denying me the stimulation of her voice… 

As my prior thoughts flash through my head, I think hard to all the times I’ve watched her in action. In all the time that I’ve seen her… watched her… been in her dungeon… I have never seen her leave a man unsatisfied. I’ve seen other Doms or Dommes do it, but in the year that I’ve been dealing with her—visually or physically—she’s never done this… to anybody! She has beaten them, tortured them, done some pretty unthinkable things to them and their dicks, but they always came. Often, they came several times. And she just worked me up, worked me over and left me hanging—literally.

What the fuck is this anti-climactic shit!

She’s fucking turning me into a sub.

I grab my T-shirt and slide it over my head and onto my sweating, stinging back. I slide my boxer briefs over my aching ass, followed by my jeans. Angry adrenaline is pumping through my veins so quickly that I can barely get them zipped and buttoned.

“These games,” I hiss quietly as I slide on my socks and step into my boots. “These fucking games!”

I grab my jacket and ascend the stairs two at a time. In my angry haze, I know he’s there, but I don’t really see him.

Don’t worry, Belvedere. I know my way out.

I breeze past him and out the door, slamming it hard behind me.

*-*

I come and I come and I come, in several different positions, with more than one woman, and each time the only thing that comes back to me is that horrid woman’s face and the torment that she put me through tonight…

Cruel, sadistic bitch.


Briana Evigan 20

GOLDEN

Waking up in Blake’s lap a few weeks ago was an eye-opener. First, it felt good—not that it was Blake, but that it was anybody that close to me. Waking up and smelling the scent of a man, feeling his strong hand resting in my hair… it was a good feeling… too good. It brought me to my second realization.

That I forgot who I am.

I’m Golden—often imitated and never duplicated; highly coveted, but never acquired; sought and lusted after; craved and never forgotten…

And Trey’s text reminded me of that.

I had been saving the Atsuko Kudo couture latex ensemble for a special occasion. I would give him an evening that he was sure never to forget.

You may not be a submissive, Chopper, but I’m still a Domme.

That night, I made sure that he didn’t forget it. I flogged him, cropped him, paddled and whipped him in a manner to keep him on edge all night—start with just enough tenderness to bring the blood to the surface of his skin, then give him the intensity he craves and subsequently bring him all the way back from the precipice, just to do it all over again.

And again.

And again.

He squirmed and he cried out as his nerves were so exposed, he was losing his mind. It was magnificent.

The prostate massage was a last-minute decision. He was so far into subspace, I don’t even think he felt me massaging and lubing his asshole, because he never responded. He only reacted when I breached his rosette. That’s when I knew I had to bring that lovely little member back to attention once more. So, I did.

He came so close to exploding that I had to end more abruptly than I intended.

But the cock-and-ball harness was magnificent. It made me remember why I nearly lost myself in his kiss. His dick is beautiful. It’s God’s work of art—exquisite, superb. I never looked at his face once; I only concentrated on the cock. It’s breathtaking.

Watching it throb, tasting it, playing with it, feeling it on my fingers, seeing it change and grow before my eyes—it was glorious.

Then I remembered…

Watching it blow is what made me kiss him in the first place… and he was insolent the last time he left.

No, you’re not a sub, but I’m still your Mistress, and I deserve your respect. For your malfeasance…

Your orgasm is mine.

That’s the only time I looked in his eyes, to let him know that he didn’t even control his own dick.

When I walked up the stairs and to my room, refusing to see him that night, I knew that would leave a lasting impression on him. No matter who he goes to, no matter what he does, no matter who he fucks, no matter how hard or how many times he comes, it still won’t be what he would have gotten had I got him off that night, and he knows that.

So, he’ll stew in his brew for a little while, but he still won’t forget Golden. And maybe the next time he sees me, he’ll have a little more respect.

*-*

Several weeks have passed since Canciana’s attorney, Greg Beasley, darkened the door of my office. He’s called me several times since then and more than once, I’ve inquired about what his client thinks would be a suitable settlement, only to have them come back with ridiculously unrealistic numbers. I pretended to continue to confer with my client, throwing out possible counteroffers and negotiating. I was only buying time to execute our ultimate coup.

Blake has footage from long before he ever expected to get a divorce. Using the resources at our disposal, we were able to secure names, places, receipts, pictures, and videos, including a few bonuses I’m certain that Mr. Beasley and the soon-to-be ex-Mrs. Haviland have no idea are in store for them. Promising a settlement that would appease “all parties involved,” we set a meeting for today.

“I’m sorry, Mistress,” Blake says as we head to my office. “I never meant to drag you down in this.”

“I’m not dragged down in this, Blake,” I comfort him. “I offered to help a good man and a good friend, and a whore and her unscrupulous attorney are taking advantage of that. Now, they’re about to get more than they fucking bargained for.” I look over at him. “Chin up, my friend. Today, you’re going to be free.”

We walk into the office, deliberately ten minutes late. I’m suited, booted, and bunned in my regular “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble” garb while Blake looks sharp—and three levels of pissed off—in a tailored black suit and white shirt with no tie. Canciana Haviland and Greg Beasley are standing in my lobby awaiting our arrival. Blake doesn’t even make eye contact.

“Forgive our tardiness,” I say insincerely. “We’ll be with you in a moment.”

“Being late for a meeting is very bad form, Ms. Olivet,” Beasley says sharply. Is this fucker scolding me? I slowly turn to face him, every bit of Mistress rising up in me, no doubt displayed in the glare I give him.

“We can reschedule if you like,” I say, my tone sharper than his. I offer no other explanation and wait for his response.

“No need,” he counters. “We’ve come all this way now.”

“Then, like I said,” I say, my voice low and my words crisp, “we’ll be with you. In a moment. Chanelle, please offer Mr. Beasley and his client something to drink while they wait.” I over-emphasize the “t” on “wait” and never break my gaze with Beasley. We’re having a stare contest until I hear Jesse’s voice.

“Ms. Olivet,” he says, knowing that I’ll stand here and stare at this fucker until his dick falls off. I don’t break my glare with him until I turn hard on my heels and my designer stilettos click loudly across the lobby floor. Jesse holds my office door open for me and he and Blake follow me into the office.

“Don’t let him unnerve you, Ana,” Jesse says.

“I’m not unnerved,” I say, opening my briefcase and setting it up on the conference table. “I’m ready to scrap.” I gesture to the large leather seat beside mine for Blake to take a seat as I prepare for the meeting with the snake and the Mrs. I’m taking files out, preparing disc drives and firing up my tablet and laptop, along with two sets of prepared documents. I go to my desk and press the button that records depositions in my office and head back to the conference table. Blake is still standing behind his chair.

I should have known. He won’t sit before I’m seated.

I nod and walk over to my chair, allowing him to pull it out for me to take my seat. Once he is seated, he rests his arms on the armrests and fixes the most stoic expression on his face that I’ve ever seen.

“Jesse, let them in and remain in position.” Jesse opens the door and informs Canciana and Beasley that they can enter. Once they’re inside, he closes the door behind them and takes his place by the window.

“Who is this?” Canciana balks in a slight Spanish accent.

“That’s her bodyguard,” Beasley says in a condescending tone. “Wherever she goes, he goes,” he mocks.

“Hmph,” Canciana grunts unimpressed. Oh, I’m going to love this.

“I take it you and your client have had a chance to review Mrs. Haviland’s request,” Beasley says confidently. Requests… more like outlandish demands.

“We have,” I say, “and we’re prepared to make an offer.” I slide the papers over to him and his client with Blake’s signature already on them. He frowns.

“This is the same offer as before,” he says, shaking his head. “Is this some kind of joke?”

“Oh, I think it is,” I retort, “but that’s for you to tell me. You see, I don’t take kindly to blackmail at all, especially when someone wants to go about the business of completely fabricating a story and besmirching someone’s good name just a get a dollar they don’t even deserve.”

“Ms. Olivet!” Beasley says, feigning shock, “such harsh words! I wouldn’t call it blackmail. I’d much rather refer to it as a bargaining chip.”

“A bargaining chip,” I say with a nod. “What a nice way to phrase extortion.”

“Extortion, please!”  Beasley says. “Our clients have been married for several years. She’s at least entitled to what she’s asking for.”

“First, how do you know he even has what she’s asking for?” I retort. “He’s living in my guest room, not the Fairlane Olympic. And second, are you really planning to go to court spouting about how many years they’ve been married?”

“I thought we were here for a settlement hearing—to avoid dragging this out in court,” Beasley shoots.

“Well, that’s going to be up to you and your client,” I say. “I mean seriously, my client walked in on her screwing another man in his home in the bed that they once shared, and she didn’t even have the modesty to be embarrassed. She just barked at him to close the door and you really think we’re going to capitulate to your demands for more money? I’ve seen some real pieces of work in my day, but you take the cake.”

“You’re hardly in a position to insult my client, Ms. Olivet,” Beasley taunts.

“Oh, on the contrary, Mr. Beasley, we’re in a position to do whatever we want. You have pictures of my client coming in and out of my home, fully dressed in a business suit just like he is now. Whatever that may imply, it proves nothing, besides that my client was at my home…”

“A judge may not see it that way, Ms. Olivet,” he retorts. I shrug.

“They may, they may not.” I pull the first file from my briefcase, “but how do you think a judge would see this?” I open the file and remove one of the very graphic pictures of Canciana and one of her lovers, handing it to Beasley. An unreadable expression crosses his face as he hands the picture to Canciana. She looks at it then raises a hateful gaze to Blake.

“Me estabas mirando, gilipollas enferma?” she barks.

“This changes nothing, Ms. Olivet,” Beasley says. “We would simply contend that Mr. Haviland’s indiscretions occurred first, and there’s no telling what that could do to your reputation,” he smiles that slimy smile.

“I thought you might feel that way,” I say. “I can see the importance of having a smear-free name as an interpreter of the law. However, I was hoping that we could keep the smearing between our clients instead of involving each other. Since that doesn’t appear to be the case, tell me, Greg. Is there a Mrs. Slimy Attorney?” I ask. His smirk falls.

“That’s really none of your business,” he says curtly. My turn to smirk.

“Maybe it is, and maybe it’s not,” I say, my voice low, “But you’re the one who dragged my reputation into this, and a girl must protect herself. Now, what was that phrase you used earlier? Ah, yes, I remember now… bargaining chip.” I pull three more stills from the file. “I’m pretty certain that Desiree wouldn’t be too pleased to see these.”

His pupils constrict at the mention of his wife’s name, and I push the pictures across the table to him. He examines the pictures and all the color leaves his face. He looks at the pictures, then at Canciana, then at me.

“Where did you get these?” he seethes. I cross my arms.

“A little birdie gave them to me,” I say. “She’s got some pretty good moves, wouldn’t you agree? I mean, I was thoroughly impressed watching the videos.”

“Videos?” he barks angrily.

“Lots. And lots of them,” I say confidently, “dating back through several of those ‘years’ they’ve been married. It’s really not a good idea for you to fuck your clients!” I add viciously as Greg is currently looking at pictures of him and Canciana in various sexual positions.

That gets Canciana’s attention.

“Oh, there’s more,” I say, opening the file and laying picture after picture in front of them—all stills of Canciana in compromising positions in the bed that she once shared with her husband. “And if you like those, you’ll love this.”

I hit the auxiliary then play buttons on the remote to activate the feed going to the television. A live action video of Canciana at her hoe finest, wildly riding some guy who is not Greg. His face shows intense displeasure. Blake doesn’t even turn to face the screen.

“You’ve got impressive moves, Canciana,” I compliment. “I thought it was the expensive gifts that you were showering on your boytoys that kept them coming back. I stand corrected.”

“Pendejo!” she hisses. “Perra!”

“Likewise, puta,” I respond without flinching. She narrows her eyes at me. She spoke two of the very few Spanish words that I understand. Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it.

“Two out of the other five guys that you’ve been fucking… they’re married, too.” Greg glares at her. Apparently, he’s unaware of the extent of his lover’s infidelity, if you can call it that, since he’s cheating on his wife with her. “I hope you’ve been having protected sex, Greg, because you’ve been fucking the ‘good time girl.’” I turn back to Canciana.

“I understand that you’ve been hurt, but you took advantage of a man’s guilt to the fullest extent. You never once thought of his suffering—not once. You spent years and years punishing him for a terrible mistake, and he was already punishing himself. I can tell you now that if your daughter is looking down on this right now, she’s ashamed of you. Your behavior has been reprehensible in more ways than one. Even the law of the land allows a man to pay his debt to society and move on with his life. You just want him to pay over and over and over again while you behave like a mindless floosy, a senseless harlot, and a heartless and soulless charlatan draining him dry until he’s dead.”

“I lost my child,” she says softly but firmly. “You don’t know that pain.”

“Then you should have gotten help instead of extorting the husband and father that was hurting right along with you!” I hiss. “I lost my parents as a child—both of them at the same time, almost exactly the same way you lost your child. No, I didn’t lose a child, but you lost one person that you loved, and I lost two. I guess if there was someone there that I could have extorted, maybe I would have turned out like you!”

I close my eyes and take a deep breath. Attacking her won’t help at this point.

“You get the house, you keep your car, and you get what’s in your prenup. Sign the papers now and go away, or this footage—and there’s a lot of it—gets released to every slimy, sleazy, back door porn site and gossip rag I can find. And the wives of your married fuckboys will get packages of their husband’s extracurricular activities…” I turn to Beasley, “including yours.”

He turns an accusing glare to Canciana.

“Five other guys,” he hisses. “Five fucking other guys. I could understand one, or even two, but five… you’ve got a fucking problem—literally! Sign the goddamn papers,” he barks. “I’m not going down because of you! I’ve got way too fucking much to lose and if I do, I’ll bury you, you slut.”

I raise my brow. Diplomacy has flown the coup, not that it was ever present. Canciana clearly sees all of her options—her opportunity to get more money—flying out the window.

“Tu matas a mi hija. Me quitaste la vida. ¡Lo único que queda es el dinero, y ahora también quieres tomar eso. Bastardo¡” she barks at Blake before lunging a huge glob of spit at him that lands right on his cheek. I’m disgusted, but he doesn’t even flinch. He gazes unaffected at her and he removes a handkerchief from his pocket and wipes the saliva off his face.

“I have been punished,” he says calmly. “My suffering ends today. Take your money and leave me, and never darken my door again.”

Further angered by his lack of reaction, Canciana yells a few more statements in Spanish before Greg interrupts her.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, he’s a horrible wretched person he’s going to burn in hell sign the goddamn papers!” Greg demands, the volume in his voice causing Canciana to nearly leap from her seat. She knows that she has no other options, so she continues to hurl insults at Blake in Spanish for at least another minute and a half. In the middle of her rant, I see Blake do something I have never seen him do.

He loses his temper.

Blake silences his estranged wife by simultaneously slamming his fist into the conference table and rising to his feet, glaring at her with a look of death. I have no idea what she said to him since I don’t speak fluent Spanish—just the few words that I’ve picked up from Blake—but either she said something that just pissed him the fuck off or he has simply had enough.

“I. am giving you the chance. To walk away from this situation. With your money. Your house. And your car. Which is more than you’re entitled to in our prenuptial agreement. I. Have suffered. Enough. Now, take your trinkets. And get out of my life. Or I swear on the holy virgin that it’ll be your turn.”

Blake glares at her without blinking, his gaze more menacing than I’ve ever seen. Canciana is leaning back in her seat in utter horror. Either she has seen this side of him before and she doesn’t want to see it again, or she has never seen this side of him before and it’s shocking the shit out of her. Greg is just as surprised at the situation, but not horrified. He just sits there with a surprised frown on his face waiting to see what his client is going to do.

I’m completely shocked by what I’m seeing, but I don’t show it. I just pretend like this is another day at the office and I show no emotion. I’m certain that no one saw me when I flinched at the noise since we were all focusing on Blake.

No one moves. No one says another word. The next move belongs to Canciana.

She blinks several times, gazing at Blake in fear. I don’t dare look in his eyes. I’m afraid of what I’ll see. I’m not afraid of Blake because I’m certain that I would never have to fear him. However, he feels nothing but contempt for this woman, for what she has done and put him through over the last few years. Even criminals serve their time and at some point, are released. She never intends to release him. She intends to punish him indefinitely as if he had just committed the crime yesterday. He, on the other hand, feels like his sentence is over.

We sit there for what feels like an eternity, Canciana waiting for someone to speak and come to her rescue, but it’s not going to happen. The three people at the table with her all want her to sign the papers, and at this point, I’m certain that Greg would have no problem leaving her in the room alone with Blake to allow him a few minutes to make good on his promise that it’s her turn.

Seeing no assistance from anyone or reprieve from Blake, she straightens her back, picks up the pen, and signs every page of the divorce decree, pushing it back towards her attorney. He pushes them to me, and I check each page.

“You need to sign here, here, and here, and initial here and here,” I say, pointing out the pages she forgot to sign. She signs and initials the missing pages, sighing like we’re inconveniencing her. I review the documents again.

“Are we finished?” Greg asks, perturbed.

“We’ll see,” I say. He turns his glare to me. “I don’t appreciate my privacy being violated for your game of cat and mouse. You have nothing on me, nor will you get anything on me, besides the fact that I enjoy my male company and that this man lives in my home. I can live with the world knowing that, but I still have footage of you, and it’s a whole lot more than just your ‘comings’ and goings, pun intended. Call off your dogs and don’t darken my door again or I promise you…” I lean forward on the conference table. “If you think he’s scary, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” I sit back in my seat. “Deal?”

Greg swallows, but doesn’t move while Canciana’s gaze snaps back and forth from him to me.

“Deal,” he says, his voice low. “I would shake on it, but I don’t assume you’d want to shake with a slimy lawyer.”

“Not necessary,” I say, standing, “especially since I can be pretty fucking slimy myself—when needed.” I stand and hand the papers to Jesse. “My secretary will make you a copy to take with you and you’ll have court certified copies in a week. Jesse, please show these people out.”

Greg stands first while Canciana seems to be planning some kind of exit strategy—one last crack.

“I suggest you stand and leave silently,” I warn her. “I will not be responsible for your safety if you stay a moment longer.” She turns her gaze to me, and Jesse steps in.

“Ma’am,” he says, coming very close to her chair—more of a threat than Blake is at the moment—who, by the way, is still staring venomously at her, “if you’ll come with me, please.”

It’s not a request.

“Oh, and Missy?” I say as the bitch finally stands. “I would caution you against getting another lawyer and trying to contest. This…” I gesture around the files and papers, “only scratches the surface of what I’m capable of if you ever come after me again!” Yes, bitch, this is personal.

She sighs angrily and walks out with Jesse and her slimy attorney.

When I look over at Blake, he’s still leaning on the conference table with his fist clenched. His eyes are closed and he’s breathing deeply. He does that for several moments before he slowly lowers himself back into his seat.

“I’m sorry, Mistress,” he breathes, his voice gravelly. Approach with caution, Olivet.

“Blake… is there anything I can do?” I ask carefully.

“Just please, don’t dismiss me for my behavior,” he beseeches. I sigh inwardly. He wants to stay. This is good.

“Of course, not,” I say, softly. He turns a cooling gaze to me, his eyes red with repressed anger. I gently place my hand over his and raise my brow as if asking for permission. He closes his eyes and nods.

“Thank you, Mistress,” he breathes.


A/N: “Me estabas mirando, gilipollas enferma?”—“You were watching me, you sick asshole?”

“Pendejo! Perra!”—this translates a couple of different ways depending on where your from, but in this instance, Canciana is calling Ana an asshole and a stupid bitch or whore.

“Puta”—also translates a few different ways, but in essence, it’s just what it sounds like; whore, pussy, or cunt.

“Tu matas a mi hija. Me quitaste la vida. ¡Lo único que queda es el dinero, y ahora también quieres tomar eso. Bastardo¡”—”You kill my daughter. You took my life All that’s left is money, and now you also want to take that. Bastard!”

The Pinterest board for this story can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/fifty-shades-golden/.

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

~~love and handcuffs

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Raising Grey: Chapter 69—Big, Huge “Guess What Happened’s”

Thanks, you guys for your encouraging words to me… and thank you more for your encouraging words to each other. It makes me happy to see us lifting each other up when we’re down. I’m so proud of you guys!

Send healing vibes, prayers, and positive thoughts out to my reader and Facebook friend Alyson. She just had a stint in the hospital and by the Grace of God, she’s home and hopefully doing better. Smoochies, Alyson!!!

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 69—Big, Huge “Guess What Happened’s”

CHRISTIAN

“She did what?” I ask my wife when she calls home to see who’s here for Girl’s Night.

“She shaved her head,” she confirms. “It really looks good on her, but Christian, she shaved her goddamn head!”

“Where is she now?” I ask. “Can she hear you?”

“No, she’s in the back getting the rest of her stuff. Oh, God, I’m so sorry, Tina,” she mumbles.

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Butterfly,” I comfort.

“I want to fucking fire somebody, but she’s a grown woman! I can’t tell her not to shave her head!” she rants.

“Don’t fire anybody,” I coax. “Women do this all the time nowadays. It’s not a strange thing.”

“So, if Minnie came home with her head shaved, you wouldn’t have a problem with it,” she states matter-of-factly. My blood actually curdles when she says that.

“We’re not talking about Minnie,” I divert. “We’re talking about a grown woman who has just lost her mother, went through a nasty divorce, and has had to contend with horrible siblings who have now broken into her house.”

“Well, it feels the same to me,” Butterfly says. “I feel like Tina trusted me with her daughter and I took her out and got her scalped.”

“Believe me, my mom is laughing right now,” I hear Harmony say, and I know that she’s caught us in the middle of our conversation.

“You scared the shit out of me!” Butterfly scolds.

“You shouldn’t be talking about me,” Harmony teases, and it’s good to hear the humor in her voice. “Hi, Christian!” she yells.

“Hi, Harmony,” I reply, and Butterfly relays my sentiment. “Just so that I can prepare the staff, are we talking Bruce Willis bald or Demi-Moore-G-I-Jane cut?”

“Demi,” she says, a bit reserved. “I just… wish she had warned me.”

“You were the one talking about detoxing and cleansing. This is very cleansing. I love it. It feels clean and free and I look great. I think I’m going to leave it this way for a while.”

“It’s not like you have a choice!” Butterfly points out.

“I do have a choice,” Harmony says. “I could let it grow back. I’m thinking not.”

“Well, it’s your head,” Butterfly says.

“Yes, and let’s stop talking about it. I’m starving.”

“Good, ‘cause we’ve got Girls Night. On our way babe,” she says into the phone. “I didn’t get a chance to tell you what happened at your house…” and the line goes dead.

Harmony shaved her head. Good grief.

I don’t know what my wife meant by Girls Night, but as it turns out, only Victoria and Courtney show up. Gail and Ms. Solomon keep them well stocked with food and snacks while one of us guys plays bartender from the bar in the entertaining room. We offer to spare Chuck the trouble of transporting drinks, considering that he’s a recovering alcoholic, but he assures us that he’s not even tempted. I have no doubt, considering that we couldn’t even get him to take ibuprofen when he was suffering from broken bones.

The women retreat to the movie room and burrow in for the night, watching a plethora of movies from different genres. We’ve each been unlucky enough to walk in during some scene or conversation that has the entire group weeping like fools and are quick to make a hasty getaway. Somewhere around three or so, all four women are kicked back in the luxury chairs, calling the sandman.

In the morning, they all pile into the big SUV and head to breakfast—somewhere—with two of the guards and I’m ceremoniously summoned to my father’s house.

“Elliot finished the room on Thursday right in time for delivery,” he says as he leads me to a newly renovated room in the house. I’m by no means prepared for what I see when I open the door.

“Jesus Christ, Dad,” I breathe when I step inside, “Freeman was teasing you for getting this?”

“Remember, son, we’re clearly talking about an asshole here,” he reminds me. Oh, yeah, how could I forget.

I walk around the room completely stunned. Every wall is covered with display cases, and there are more of them lined up in the middle like library shelves. Case after case after case of model, wood, and Diecast cars—antiques, roadsters, sedans, trucks, you name it. The higher portions of the walls have been decorated with old pictures of Dad and his brothers, Pops and Granma Ruby, Mom and Dad when they were younger, and even old pictures of me, Elliot, and Mia. Atop the display cases are my old rowing trophies from the boathouse, Elliot’s judo trophies, and awards and accolades that Mia has received throughout the years. There are also some older trophies that I don’t recognize, and I assume that they’re from years gone by of Dad and his brothers.

“With real cars, Dad may have been a Ford man, but when it came to his models, he didn’t discriminate.” He leads me to one display case that’s full of Chevys and I’m amazed at how realistic they look.

“I tried to get the room as close as I could remember to how Dad kept it,” my father says, touching the display lovingly. “Look at this…” He gently opens one of the cases and pulls out one of the model cars. The doors actually open and you can see the detail inside the car.

“Dad painted those seats himself,” he says as he holds the car up to eye level. “The paint’s faded a bit over time…”

“… But I can tell,” I say, examining the car closely in my father’s hand. “Wow…” The amazement in my voice brings a warm smile to my father’s face.

“We spent hours in here,” he reminisces as he closes the doors to the model in his hand and replaces it on the shelf, “or I should say in a room that looked just like this one. The other brothers never really got into it but me…” He put his hand on my shoulder and leads me to a table in the corner, clearly built as its own showcase, and there it is. I gasp a bit when I see it.

“The Coupe!” I exclaim quietly in wonder. On the small table is a perfect replica—almost—of the classic ’32 Ford Coupe that we had shipped here for Dad. The purple isn’t as deep as the real car, and the model has racing flames on it. But other than that, this car is Dad’s Coupe.

“Uncle Herman was right,” I say, looking at the model then at Dad. “Pops meant for you to have that car. He built it damn near just like the model.” Dad nods.

“That was my dad,” he says. “He always paid attention to the small stuff, and it made all the difference in the world.” He chokes up for a moment but quickly recovers. “I hope that one day your son will be able to enjoy this room with me… or with you…”

I don’t like the ominous undertone of his suggestion.

“He’ll get to enjoy it with you first, Dad,” I say, putting my hand on his shoulder. “You’ll tell him the history of the cars and how they made it to the collection. I’m sure that you remember each one.” Dad smiles.

“That I do, son,” he says.

As predicted, Dad and I spend hours in his model car room, talking about each car and how it became part of the collection. We don’t have time to review each and every car, but each car that we talked about had its own story attached to it. Freeman is a real asshole if he can’t see how priceless a gift this really is.

“This is really incredible, Dad,” I say, trying to absorb everything he’s told me about each car. “This is a car enthusiast’s dream.”

“Or the fairytale-land of a little boy who really looked up to his dad,” he says, gazing over the room fondly.

“Where’s Uncle Herman?” I ask when I realize that I haven’t seen him since I got here.

“He and Luma have gone out of town, I think,” Dad says. I frown.

“You think?” I ask. He shrugs.

“I think seeing Mom’s things made him a bit melancholy. So, he asked me and Grace to keep an eye on the girls and he whisked his woman away for the weekend. You can’t deny they need some time to themselves. Herman’s been dealing nonstop with the disposition of Dad’s estate. Luma has the girls and although I’m sure that you’re a very nice boss, she works 40 hours a week. She and Herman don’t really get much alone time together.” I nod.

“Maybe she should consider going part-time,” I suggest.

“I didn’t tell you that so that you could cut her hours, Christian,” Dad informs me. “I get the feeling that Luma really likes her job, and she hasn’t complained about it once. Had I not told you that she was away with Herm, you wouldn’t have known. Did she ask for any time off?”

“Well, no…”

“Then leave it be,” Dad instructs. “She likes going to work and she’s not the least bit unhappy. And even though Andrea is her superior, Luma’s very fond of her. She talks about Andrea like she’s her daughter and she respects her—and you—immensely. So, if you suggest that she shorten her workweek, she’s going to do it even if she doesn’t want to. Catch my drift?” I sigh.

“Yeah, Dad, I hear you,” I say, sounding like a scolded child.

“Good. Now come and have a scotch with me and let’s celebrate my fabulous Dad and this incredible car collection.” I smile.

“You got it, Dad.”

*-*

“You’re not going to believe whose about to lose their shirt,” Lorenz says coming into my office Monday morning. He’s piqued my attention.

“Who?” I ask.

“William Kavanaugh,” I raise my brow.

“Kavanaugh?” I say in surprise. “What the hell is going on with Kavanaugh?”

“It appears that Willie Boy has another heir to the Kavanaugh fortune on the way, and Mrs. K has had enough. She’s got herself a cutthroat attorney and Kavanaugh will be lucky if he escapes with his shirt!” I whistle.

“So, the chickens have come home to roost on Kavanaugh, huh?” I say.

“Looks that way,” Lorenz confirms taking his seat.

“How much time before he’s ripe for the picking?” I ask.

“Now,” Ros says, striding into my office and joining into the conversation like she had been there the whole time. She’s got the latest Financial News in her hand and she drops it on my desk, open to the page announcing that Kavanaugh Media is officially on the block. “You heard, too?” she says to Lorenz, who nods.

“This must have been going on for quite some time,” I observe while reading the announcement.

“Their marriage has been falling at least since Kavanaugh became a grandpa.” That long! Geez, that’s back when Kate tried to pin her kid on Elliot. I wasn’t even married yet.

“And the newest heir to Kavanaugh Media?” I press.

“Due any day now,” Lorenz says. “The misses filed for divorce nearly a year ago. He’s selling Kavanaugh Media because the selling price is worth more than the company would yield in its current state and he knows he can get it.”

“That’s because he doesn’t have time to hold out,” I say, finishing skimming the article. “I’m not interested in the media but selling that bitch off piece by piece could turn quite the hefty profit no matter what we pay for it.”

“You were reading my mind,” Lorenz say. I raise my eyes to Ros.

“You think we could put a decent bid up for it?” I ask. “We all know I’m the last person that fucker wants to sell to.”

“I’ll see what we can do,” Ros says, standing. “You never know, Christian. People do strange things when they’re desperate.”

“That they do,” I concur as she leaves my office.

“Lorenz, how did you guys land on this before I did?” I ask after Ros leaves.

“It’s my job to keep my ear to the ground,” he tells me. “I know a lot of people; I go to social events. One person’s rumor is another person’s truth… That’s pretty much how. Kavanaugh’s next love child was no more than water-cooler talk at the champagne fountain of some fundraiser somewhere. It snowballed into divorce and the sale of Kavanaugh Media because the guy is about as discreet as a Tyrannosaurus Rex stomping down 4th Street. He was able to keep it out of the press for most of the year because—face it, he is the press. But once that media giant went on the block, all the rumors and speculations became leads and…” He makes an exploding sound and motion with his hands.

“So, basically, getting him to sell could be as simple as the right approach,” I reply, because Kavanaugh truly is going to be desperate after child support and alimony hits his ass, but still maybe not desperate enough to sell to GEH.

“That’s possible,” Lorenz replies. I twist my lips.

“Any word on his daughter, Kate, these days?” I ask. The last I had heard of Kate was when she crashed Mia’s bridal shower.

“She’s been under the radar,” he replies. “You smellin’ something?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Maybe not. Just see if you can scare her up. Use Alex if you have to.”

“Will do.”

So, Kavanaugh’s in the proverbial hot seat. Jesus, he’s older than I am—old enough to be my father—and still making babies… outside of his marriage, no less. Not that I condone infidelity of any kind, but if you’re going to stray outside of your marriage, why the hell wouldn’t you at least use a condom?

And Kate—is that why she showed up at Mia’s shower? Was she hoping to get back into the family’s good graces because she knew that Dad was headed down the tubes? And where is she now? She was aching for publicity a while back—why the silence? And where, pray tell, is the not-the-father baby? That kid just disappeared into thin air!

Now I really want to know what’s going on with the Kavanaughs. As I’m pondering what might be going on with Daddy Kavanaugh and his ice-queen daughter, I get a distressing text from my wife.

**Dealing with a crisis. I may be late. **

Harmony’s at our house, so what crisis is this?

**Something at the Center? **

I wait for a moment for a response to put my fears at ease.

**More personal. It’s not me, but still important. I can’t talk about it right now. **

You can’t drop an ominous fucking text on me and then tell me that you can’t talk about it.

**You know me better than that. **

I love you, Butterfly, but you know I can track your phone. As if she’s reading my mind, she replies:

**Keep your damn shirt on! I’m fine, but I can’t talk to you right now. I was just letting you know I’ll be late. Would you rather I not in the future? **

And that’s a threat.

**Sorry. See you when you get home. **

Now, I’m fucking dying to know what’s going on.

I stay a little later at the office finishing some things up since I know that Butterfly’s going to be late. While I’m trying to wrap up the days reports and some year-end tasks, my phone buzzes. I look at the display and it’s Dad.

“Ethan called today,” he says once I answer. “Says he wants to reimburse me for some of the expenses of the wedding.”

“He did?” I ask.

“You put him up to that, didn’t you?”

“Why would I put that man up to anything?” I ask. “The only thing I put him up to was giving me the guest list to his bachelor party so that I could vet those fuckers.”

“He just knew all the right things to say,” Dad accuses. “He sounded a lot like the conversations that you and I have.”

“He talked to me, yeah, but I didn’t put him up to shit. He’s a grown man. He came to me for advice and I gave it to him. There’s a difference, Dad…”

“Okay, okay, settle down,” Dad scolds, and it’s not until now that I realize my voice is rising and I sound defensive.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t mean to raise my voice, but when you said that, it made it sound like I was being manipulative, and I wasn’t. He wants to contribute to the expenses of the wedding, and he didn’t know how to tell you. In fact, I want to contribute, too.”

“The wedding’s all paid for, son,” he says.

“I figured as much, Dad, but did you have to cash in yours and Mom’s retirement for that shindig?” I ask. He sighs.

“Christian, a month ago, I gave each of my brothers $750,000. Do you think I would have been able to do that if I had been strapped for cash?”

“I’m quite aware that you have a dime or three to rub together, Dad, but so does Ethan and he wants to contribute to this wedding.”

“He doesn’t need to contribute,” Dad says. “There’s nothing left to pay for.”

“That may be the case, but that tens of thousands of dollar bakery bill came to his house.”

“What?” Dad exclaims into the phone.

“Yeah,” I tell him. “And you should know that right before they got in their helicopter and left for the night, Ethan cornered me and Butterfly and lamented about the largess of those cakes—just the cakes! He had a few other things to say about the over-the-topness of the entire production, but the cakes had him in dismay, much like they did for me at first, and you know what I mean.”

“Yes, I know what you mean,” he cedes.

“Well, my fears were put to rest when I discovered that the food was going to the homeless and to shelters. His concerns were multiplied exponentially when he saw that bill—paid or not. It’s going to emasculate him if you don’t allow him to give you something on that wedding.”

“What about me?” Dad asks. “What about emasculating me? That’s my only daughter and I gave her the wedding she wanted. Isn’t that a father’s responsibility?”

“Yeah, Dad. And you did it. Everything was beautiful—though a bit crazy—and Mia loved it. You did good. Now, let Ethan give you something towards your expense. I’m aware that you don’t need it, but he needs to give it to you. That may be your only daughter, and having a daughter now I get it, but that’s his wife.” Dad sighs again.

Fine,” he relents, “but I’m not taking a damn dime from you. Got it?”

“Okay,” I give in. I can deal with that if it means that he’ll allow Ethan’s pride to remain intact by contributing to what I now know had to be more than a million-dollar wedding. I got married in a damn castle. Wayne Brady sang to my wife walking down the aisle. We rode away in a classic Bentley, had a shopping spree in Paris, and were supposed to stay abroad for a month and I can still guarantee that my sister’s nuptials cost more than mine.

“How did you end things with Ethan?” I ask.

“I told him that I would give some thought to his request and get back to him,” Dad says.

“God, Dad, that sounds so formal. He’s family now, you know…”

“Yes, I know, but I had to see what his intentions were when he was suggesting helping out with the financial portion of the wedding,” he says. I frown.

“Now, I’m not catching your drift… what do you mean by that?” I ask.

“I’m old-fashioned, son,” he says. “I think a father should pay for his daughter’s wedding unless she specifically asks him not to—like with you and Ana. You wanted something specific and you got what you wanted. I’m sure there was no hard feelings with Ray on that…”

“Right,” I concur, coaxing.

“Well, with two money families, I’m ashamed to say it, but I didn’t know if Ethan was trying to make the statement that he could pay for this wedding and was just throwing money at me like, ‘I got it, old man…’”

“Dad,” I interject scolding, “did he give you that impression?”

“That’s why I asked if you had spoken to him,” he says. “I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t being handled.”

“Jesus, Dad, you have to stop being so suspicious.”

“Says the man who will vet the pizza delivery guy if he can,” Dad retorts. Touché.

“Okay, okay, I get it. But still, the man married your daughter. If we really thought he was up to anything, it’s a bit late, now, isn’t it?”

“It’s never too late,” Dad says, “but you’re right. I should have given him the benefit of the doubt.”

We talk a little longer and I feel that I’ve killed enough time in the office trying not to worry about what’s happened in Butterfly’s day that’s going to cause her to be late. Should I go to the Center and check on her? Hell, no! We know how badly that turned out the last time. It’s not that I don’t trust her, but… no. Just, no.

My eye catches one more email as I’m about to shut down for the evening. It’s from Ted Friedson informing me that he received the Apollo and that it arrived in better condition than expected. Although he admits that it’s still pretty worn, it’s in pretty awesome shape for a 100-year-old piano. He promises to have it in tip-top condition in a few weeks. I take a little comfort in that and think about where in the house I’m going to put it as I pack away my laptop and head to the elevator.


ANASTASIA

If she’s afraid of this guy, he must have been talking a really good game,” Alex informs me when I speak to him on Monday. “He’s a small-time hood—drug dealer, never more than a street runner. He’s got no connections—none. The only people he has fled a drug bust, left him to take the rap, and haven’t been in contact with him since. I still can’t tell you why she’s moving from place to place, but I’ve got a good theory.

“She’s obviously a battered ex—there’s a little proof of that… questionable injuries and hospital visits with no police report filed, leaving against medical advice and things of that sort. For whatever reason her family is non-existent, she’s on her own and he knows it. He must’ve preyed on it while they were together, I’ve seen it before, but to have her so petrified that she’s moving from place to place…? He had his own delusions of grandeur, no doubt, but he must’ve fed them to her, leading her to believe that he has power that he doesn’t have. So, in her mind, a few months, a half year or so is a safe amount of time to stay put, then it’s time to move on.

“I can’t swear to it, but in my eyes, this is one of those ‘if it looks like a duck’ situations. If she’s as spooked as you say she is, she had a co-dependent relationship with him where he filled her head with stories, threats, and the usual ‘you’re nothing without me,’ and he’s just got her scared shitless and she’s not sure what to do. Unless he’s got some power that I haven’t seen, he’s nobody—just some punk who preyed on a weak young woman.”

“Well, this is really good news,” I tell him, “not that he preyed on her and has her so afraid, but that he’s not this big bad person that she thought he was. She’s got skills and education that I really want to put to some use, and now I can… if I can just convince her that this Ge guy isn’t a threat to her.”

“I don’t know how to tell you to do that,” he says. “You can tell her that our investigation shows that he still incarcerated and that there’s actually no way that he could find out where she is unless he has the type of resources that we have—which he doesn’t. Besides, we’re swimming in security. How the hell is he going to get to her?”

“She’s not with us 24/7, Alex,” I remind him. “I think the best thing right now is for me to keep it simple—just tell her that as far as we’re concerned, everything looks good and she’s got a job, and then extend the services of the Center to her if she feels that she needs sanctuary. Fear is a powerful thing and unfortunately, other people can’t make you not be afraid.”

Ebony is thrilled to learn that we’re willing to give her a shot to see how things work out. She insists on working in the daycare to get the feel of things and maybe venture out into some of the areas that I think she’ll be a better fit for.

“Right now, I’m just really desperate for a paycheck,” she admits. “My emergency fund is nearly gone, and I need to have income soon. I’d love to see where else I can go and what else I can do, but… let’s start off small, if you don’t mind.” I nod.

“Not a problem,” I tell her, “whatever makes you comfortable. Welcome aboard.” I proffer my hand to her and she shakes it, sighing heavily.

“Thank you,” she breathes, as if the weight of the world has been lifted off her shoulder. I summon Courtney to show her around and get her started as Marilyn took the day off today.

I’m very soon to find out why.

“Hello?” I answer my phone shortly after having a late lunch.

“Yes, is this… Anastasia Grey?” the female voice asks.

“It is. To whom am I speaking?”

“This is Sylvie Cooper. I’m calling from Seattle Women’s Services and Family Planning.” Okay, maybe this is something to do with the Center.

“Yes, Ms. Cooper, what can I do for you?”

“I’m calling because one of our patients has you listed as the emergency contact. She’s had an outpatient procedure performed and… she came alone. She shouldn’t be driving, so she asked us to call you.”

This is strange. Outpatient procedure, Seattle Women’s Serv… oh, shit.

“Who is the patient?” I ask, as if I didn’t already know.

“Marilyn Caldwell.”

*-*

Marilyn looks like hell when I get to the clinic. I’m sure she’s had an abortion. I’m only hoping that she and Gary talked about this before she did it. I have a sinking suspicion that either they didn’t or that he’s vehemently against it, because he’s not here with her.

“Hey,” I say to her downcast face. “You ready to go?” She nods without saying anything and allows me to lead her out of the clinic. The ride back to the apartment that she shares with Gary is mostly silent. I simply concentrate on getting her to where she needs to be. I won’t give her the third degree and I won’t badger…

“Don’t you want to ask what happened?” she says, breaking my inner coaching.

“Only if you want to tell me,” I reply after a pause, even though I can pretty much tell.

“I was eight and a half weeks pregnant,” she says. “I terminated the pregnancy.” I nod.

“Considering the facility, I figured as much,” I reply. It’s quiet for a few more moments.

“Gary wanted to keep it,” she says. “I tried to explain to him that I wasn’t ready to have a baby right now and I wasn’t going to be forced into the decision to have one. He totally stopped speaking to me.”

“Does he know that you were terminating the pregnancy?” I ask. She doesn’t respond. Did she tell him or not? What does she plan to do—just present herself to him and say, “Hey, baby’s gone?” I pull into the parking lot of their apartment complex and put the car in park.

“Will you come up with me?” she asks. Is she serious? What does she want me to do, stand between her and Gary while she tells him that she terminated the pregnancy? Gary wouldn’t hurt her… at least I think he wouldn’t hurt her. He loves her… but she’s about to tell him that he’s not going to be a father if he doesn’t already know. I sigh heavily and turn the car off.

“Let’s go,” I say.

The apartment is bone quiet when we get there. I figured it’s because Gary’s not here, but she goes to the back where the bedroom is, and I can hear her talking.

“What are you doing?” I hear her ask. There’s a long pause.

“I…” It’s Gary’s voice. “I need some time,” he says, and I hear shuffling. Oh, shit. Should I leave?

“What do you mean?” Marilyn squeaks.

“I can’t be here,” Gary says. “I need… I just can’t.”

“So, you’re just going to leave?” she accuses.

“You had to know this would happen!” Gary shoots. “You killed my baby! You had to know I wouldn’t stay! I couldn’t! I can’t even look at you right now!”

He is pissed! I don’t know how to react to this because it’s Marilyn’s body. She would have had to carry that child for nine months. If she and Gary broke up, most often, the man has the option to walk away faster than a woman—although in this case, I have a feeling Gary would have stuck around—but he’s right. It was his baby, too, and she aborted it. I hate seeing them in this position because there’s nothing I can do. There’s no right or wrong, but it’s all bad.

They scream at each other for another minute or two, and just as I’m deciding I should leave, I hear Marilyn begging him not to go and Gary telling her that she can have the apartment since she left hers to move in with him. The bedroom door opens to an angry Gary storming out with a duffle bag and the sound of Marilyn’s weeping, still begging him not to leave. When he raises his head and sees me, he stops in his tracks and glares at me.

“Did you take her there?” he seethes. I’ve never seen him this angry in my life. I’m frozen for a moment, but then I shake my head.

“No,” I say, finally finding my words. “She… drove herself. The clinic called and asked me to pick her up. I couldn’t just leave her.” I don’t tell him that had she asked me to go with her, I would have gone. Although the thought of terminating my own pregnancy never crossed my mind, I agree with a woman’s right to choose.

His eyes soften, and I can see that he’s been crying, most likely for more than one reason. His lips form a thin line.

“Take care of her,” he chokes angrily. “She’s gonna need you.”

“Gary…”

He storms past me without another word and out the door, slamming it behind him. Marilyn hasn’t emerged from the room yet, so I approach with caution. When I breach the doorway, I see her crumpled on the ground weeping.

He left her like this?

I go over to her and kneel on the floor next to her. Her cries are so mournful, like someone cut off one of her limbs. She sounds like Luma when she was mourning the death of her son-in-law. I put my hand on her arms, and she starts to wail. She knows that my being there means that Gary is gone, and you can hear her anguish sinking all the way down to her feet. I just sit there with her, and let her wail…

I’m wrung down to my soul when I get home that night. It’s well after midnight and I’m so emotionally drained that I just go to the kitchen and sit at the breakfast bar. The house is dark, and I lay my head on my arms on the countertop. I have such an unreal headache that it feels like my brain is going to explode out of my head.

I’m not startled, nor do I raise my head when the lights in the kitchen come on. It’s tomorrow—of course, he’ll be waiting up and expecting to know where I’ve been. I don’t say anything as I feel rather than hear him cross the span of the kitchen in his bare feet.

“Do you want something to drink?” he asks, his voice controlled as he opens the refrigerator.

“Vodka,” I say from under my arms. I hear movement stop, then the cupboard open. I know he’s mad—or at least not pleased with me for coming home this late, and I don’t have the strength to justify my tardiness, for lack of a better word.

“Baby, what’s wrong?” he says, and I can feel him stroking my hair. I raise weary eyes to him wondering what I should and shouldn’t tell him. His eyes change, and he rubs my forearm.

“Tell me what’s wrong, Butterfly,” he says, his voice heavy with concern. Fuck it, I can’t carry this shit.

“I just put Marilyn on a plane to Spokane,” I tell him while worrying my horribly throbbing scar. “She’s going to spend some time with her parents, I don’t know for how long.” He raises his brow.

“You can’t be this upset about Marilyn taking a vacation,” he says.

“You’re right, I’m not… and it’s not a vacation.” He places a tumbler in front of me with a shot of vodka in it. I throw it back immediately and gesture for another. He fills it to a double-shot this time and I throw that back just as quickly.

“She’s escaping,” I say, after the double-shot burns its way down my chest. “She was pregnant.” His eyes sharpen.

“Okay, wait. I’m confused. She’s escaping because she’s pregnant?” he asks. “Is Garrett pissed? Did he threaten her?” I gesture to my glass again and he fills it with another double-shot. I just take a sip this time.

“No, yes, and no,” I reply, answering his questions as I replace the glass on the counter. “I’m telling you more than I should, but I wasn’t acting in a medical capacity today, so…” I take a deep breath. “No, she’s not escaping because she’s pregnant as she is no longer pregnant. She had a termination today. Yes, Gary is extremely pissed. He wanted this and one of the first things I heard him say when we got back to the apartment is, ‘You killed my baby.’ And no, he didn’t threaten her, but he did leave her and from the looks of it, he ain’t comin’ back.” I take another swallow of my drink.

“Oh, God,” he says, his brow furrowed, “that’s fucked up all around.”

“Tell me about it,” I lament, rubbing my forehead for the first time in forever. I have no idea what to do. Gary and Marilyn are both my friends and Marilyn’s my employee. They’ve both talked to me about how they felt about this situation and I’ve done the best that I can to give them both objective opinions without betraying the trust of the other. I can’t take sides, but I may be forced to, depending on how this plays out.

“I can only imagine what it must feel like being caught in the middle of this,” he says sympathetically.

“It was awful, Christian,” I bemoan. “Gary was so hurt, and Marilyn was devastated. I don’t know what to do. Her parents are in Spokane and with Thanksgiving coming up, she couldn’t stand to stay in that apartment alone. So, I helped her pack some things and she was on the redeye across the state.”

“So, no one’s in the apartment now?” he asks. I shake my head.

“I tried to call Gary, but he’s not answering. He probably thinks I’m going to ream him a new one for leaving Mare, but he has a right to his feelings, too.”

“So… any idea what now?” he asks. “I mean, whose apartment is it?”

“It’s Gary’s. He paid the lease for a year and near as I can tell, the only way out of it is to sublet or have someone buy out the lease. She gave up her apartment to move in with him, so he left and said she could stay. That makes me think that he might come back, because he only took a duffel bag, but…” I shrug and rub my head again, then my scar.

“Jesus Christ, what a mess,” he says as he retrieves another tumbler and fills it with ice and water from the refrigerator door.

“I can’t even fathom what to say to either of them right now. I can’t villainize either of them because they both have a right to feel what they’re feeling. What do you think?” My husband raises a brow and twist his lips before he places the tumbler of water in front of me. Yeah, I know—two double-shots and a single. Chug, chug.

“I can’t answer that question, Butterfly,” he says. “For obvious reasons, I avoid this particular topic of conversation at all costs.” I raise my eyes to his.

“What if it had been us?” I ask.

“But it wasn’t,” he says.

“But what if it had?” I press. He leans forward and takes my hands in his, then kisses both sets of knuckles before looking me in the eye.

“At all. Costs,” he repeats, letting me know that no matter how I press, we won’t be having this discussion. I sigh and drop my head.

“Dear, God, help me,” I groan. This can only get worse before it gets any better.

*-*

I receive a text from Marilyn when she lands in Spokane, then she—like Gary—falls into radio silence. Only two days without her this week and I feel as if I’m falling into oblivion. My calendar looks like hieroglyphics and when I suggested nabbing Luma again, Christian informed me that she had just returned to town herself and was needed at Grey House. No matter—Thanksgiving is here, and I plan to relax with my family for the next few days.

Harmony was not keen on coming to Thanksgiving dinner with our family, but Courtney and Vickie invited her to the condo and she gladly accepted—nothing as formal as a family gathering, but still with people she likes to be around… and she’s not alone on the first Thanksgiving without her mom.

I try to reach Marilyn and Gary on Thanksgiving, but neither of them answers or responds to my texts. I decide to leave them alone until and if they reach out to me.

Chuck reminds me that he and Keri will be going back to South Dakota for his and his mother’s case against his brother. I can’t believe he’s actually going to sue his brother. I mean, I can believe it… the bastard deserves it, but I guess I just can’t believe that it’s really happening.

Thanksgiving—a time of giving thanks, being around family, watching football and eating way too much food. Yet, all around me, I see sorrow and heartbreak and disappointment… people just trying to cope…

Harmony just buried her mother and her siblings are conspiring against her and treating her like the enemy.

Marilyn terminated her pregnancy and is now mourning the loss of the man that she loves.

Gary is mourning the loss of a baby and the dashed hopes of having a family.

No doubt, Carrick and his brothers are feeling the loss of their father right now. Even though Burt passed away months ago, going through the family heirlooms must have opened some of those old wounds, and like Harmony, they’re spending their first Thanksgiving without him.

And Freeman’s family—Lanie may feel no love lost, but Burtie and Nell loved that man and are no doubt having their own regrets today about the total breakdown of the family.

And of course, Chuck and his mom—having to sue his hateful brother for keeping the family apart with his lies.

And here I sit, journaling before I go to Val and Elliot’s for Thanksgiving, once again nothing on the pages about myself—just everyone else and their problems.

Thanksgiving… yeah.

*-*

“We’re not going to have a repeat of you two acting like children and Christian catching the plague, are we?” Val says when she opens the door.

“No,” I promise her, “we’re fine and we’re not bickering about the… sunshine yellow stucco!” I say with too much enthusiasm.

“Butterfly…” my husband scolds, coming in behind me and carrying our overnight bags.

“Yes, dear,” I say sweetly and obediently. He leans over and kisses me while Val and Elliot’s usual staff takes the bags from Christian.

“Are they permanent?” I ask, noting the same woman in the kitchen that was here for the housewarming.

“No, we just asked for them back,” she says, hooking her arm into mine. “Come sit with me in the living room.”

Val is positively giddy having the family over for Thanksgiving, much giddier than she was at her housewarming. Elliot sees to everyone getting their things settled in their various rooms before we all sit down for our various fall-spiced beverages.

Christian is dead set and determined to make sure that I don’t feel the ostracization that I experienced at the housewarming. He’s all snuggly with me and we’re playing with the babies in front of the fireplace. Val and Elliot already have their Christmas tree trimmed, so all of the babies—including my little brother Harry—are spellbound by the sparkling lights.

Sophia is playing with Mariah and Celida—more like keeping them occupied while her father and stepmother watches over them all. Herman, Grace, Carrick, and Luma all seem to be having a very interesting conversation of some sort. Val is bending Mandy’s ear about something while Mia and Ethan listen attentively, and Elliot and Daddy are probably talking shop. Just as I’m taking in my surroundings, I see Harry with Mikey, and they appear to be having a conversation. I watch them more closely and see Harry pulling Mikey’s arms. Is he…?

“Phone… phone…” I say, trying to be as calm as I can. Nobody’s listening to me, so I reach for Christian, who is cooing at his daughter, and tug on his pants. He raises his eyes to me and follows my gaze to my brother and my son.

“Son of a gun!” he says, fumbling in his pocket and finding his phone. People start looking to see what the commotion is, and before we know it, at least four phones are recording now.

Harry appears to be giving Mikey instructions in whatever gobbledygook he’s speaking, and Mikey follows instruction by grabbing both of his uncle’s arms with his grubby little hands. Harry’s unsteady little gait pulls Mikey forward until he’s standing, but Harry can’t comprehend why Mikey doesn’t start walking immediately after he stands. As a result, Harry pulls him forward again and Mikey stands only for a moment before tumbling over onto his little hands.

Harry’s getting a little frustrated with Mikey’s lack of pedestrian progress, but this entire thing is just a game to Mikey who, after each tumble, breaks into fits of baby giggles. Being on the same mental wavelength, his sister breaks into giggles as well and, let’s face it—who can’t laugh after hearing an infectious baby giggle? Soon, there’s an entire room of giggling adults and children, and the whole thing has been caught on video.

“Wow, what did we miss?”

I turn around to see Marcia and Maggie walking into the dining room from the vestibule. Maggie is getting so big. I remember when she just disappeared behind her mom.

“Hi, Marcia,” I say, rising from my seat on the floor. “It’s good to see you.” I hug her and compliment her on how good she’s looking these days while Maggie joins the other girls in the dining room. “Where’s Marlow?” I ask. I catch Sophie perk up in my peripheral vision.

“Oh, he’s here. They should be in shortly.” They? Who’s they? Did Marcia finally decide to bring her “plus-one” along? I find out shortly that there’s definitely a “plus-one,” but it’s not Marcia’s “plus-one.”

“Hi everybody,” Marlow greets as he enters the foyer. Behind him—and attached to his hand—is a tiny girl who looks a bit like a pre-teen. I try not to stare, but what’s more, I can feel Sophie glaring at them from behind me. I plaster a smile on my face and walk over to them.

“Hi, Marlow,” I say, kissing him on the cheek. “Who’s this?”

“This is Britney,” he says, pulling the girl closer so that she’s not lagging behind him. “She’s a sophomore at my school.”

Well, thanks for telling me that! The child doesn’t look more than twelve! Seriously, I’m petite, but she’s… thin, like really thin… like “Calista-Flockhart-when-everybody-thought-she-was-anorexic” thin, only thinner.

“Britney, this is Anastasia Grey. I told you about my mentor, Christian. This is his wife.” Britney smiles a smile that looks bigger than her face.

“It’s nice to meet you, Mrs. Grey,” she says politely.

“It’s nice to meet you, too, Britney,” I reply with a smile. “Come on in and meet everyone…”

Britney is quite affable as Marlow introduces her around, and everyone returns her warm greeting—everyone, that is, except Sophie. Sophie’s polite, but cool, and either Britney doesn’t notice it, or she ignores it. Two points for Britney…

As the day moves along, things seem to be going okay. Sophie doesn’t appear to be sneering at Marlow’s date, but she also seems careful to keep her distance. Being shunned by one of Marlow’s dates was probably enough for her.

I’ll have to remember in the future that my children have graduated to cereals, baby food, and some solid foods along with my breastmilk, which means that we may need some form of portable high chairs for them. Otherwise, we’ll be stuck with them in our laps while we try to eat… like now. Gail helps out, of course, and Val is eager to get her hands on her niece and nephew, so they allow me and Christian some time to eat.

Once we move on to dessert, the twins have eaten and have had their bottles and are on their way to sleep in their playpens when Herman stands to his feet.

“I’d like to have everyone’s attention please,” he says, and the room falls silent. Herman takes a deep breath.

“This has been a pretty eventful year for the Grey family,” he begins. “We lost our dad… effectively lost a brother…” He and Carrick exchange looks before he continues. “But we’ve grown. We’ve been blessed with a son and a daughter—in my case, a niece and a nephew—Ethan and Valerie. And even though we were already graced with Ana, we were able to add Mackenzie and Michael to village.”

We laugh at his expression, but truthfully, that’s exactly what we are.

“But in my loss, and in our flourishing, God has blessed me with those two sweet little girls right there…” He gestures to Mariah and Celida, who both smile fondly at him, “… and this loving and beautiful woman right here.” He turns to his side and takes Luma’s hand. Pulling her to her feet, he kisses her fingers softly and gives her a loving smile, which she returns.

“I don’t know where I would have been without her,” he says, still gazing into her eyes, “if I would have made it without her. Taking care of Dad’s things and going through his and Mom’s memories, it was like he was talking to me, telling me to live, telling me to grab life by the horns and live! And I realized then that I couldn’t be without this woman—that my mom and dad had a wonderful, beautiful life while they had each other and now, they have it again. I realized that I screwed up big the first time, but God is giving me a second chance… and dammit, I’m taking it.” He’s gazing into Luma’s eyes and I’m only too certain—as I’m sure the rest of us are—that he’s about to propose.

“So,” he turns back to the inquiring eyes, “I’m proud to announce that on November 22, 2014 at 3:17pm, this beautiful goddess officially became Mrs. Herman Grey.”

“Get outta here!” Carrick rises to his feet. “You sly dog! I shoulda known!” He gives his brother’s hand a vigorous shake as he claps him on the back. “Congratulations! Congratulations, man! I shoulda known you were up to something!”

Grace hugs Luma warmly and Mia follows. Warm smiles and congratulations fill the table.

“Not to fret, ladies,” Herman says once the revelry is calming a bit, “you can do your planning and parties and whatever it is that ladies do for weddings and such if my Luma says that’s what she wants. I just couldn’t wait to make her mine.”

There’s a collective swooning coo from the ladies at the table. Luma shows us pictures on their phones of Herman in a suit her in a beautiful vintage wedding dress. She looks twenty years younger.

“Is that…” Carrick looks at the picture again. “Is that… Mom’s dress?” he asks. Herman nods.

“Yeah,” he says, after a pause, “and… one of Mom’s rings,” he says. Carrick looks over at Luma who looks like she wants to hide her hand, but it’s too late.

Carrick looks at the picture again and his eyes clearly moisten. He takes Luma’s hand with the ring on it and kisses it gently before kissing Luma just as gently on the cheek.

“You made a beautiful bride,” he says, his voice cracking slightly. “I wish I could have been there.”

Luma smiles widely and Grace puts her hands on Luma’s shoulders. The cooing begins anew as Luma recounts the story of their nuptials—sweet and romantic. Elliot cuddles Valerie in his arms and she beams as the family enjoy themselves around the table. Once the conversation—and cooing—falls to a gently roar, Elliot stands to his feet.

“I’d like to say something, too,” he says. Val raises a brow and a small smile at him.

“I want to thank you all for agreeing to have Thanksgiving at my house, even though my house is the smallest of them all at the moment.” There’s a laugh following his statement. “But I’m really, really grateful for you all being here because… well, as you all know, my wife is a brain cancer survivor. For those of you who didn’t know already, she named her tumor Meg. It’s a long story but just know that she named it Meg. Well, she’s been suffering from these random dizzy spells, and even though my wife is strong, I could see it in her eyes that she was concerned that Meg was making another appearance.”

The room falls completely silent, even more quiet than when Herman asked for our attention.

“I did my best not to panic… I wasn’t very good,” he says, his voice cracking. Val takes his hand and gives it a squeeze. “But we didn’t dawdle. We went to the doctor and they proceeded to run the regular tests. I’m happy to say that Meg is definitely not making another appearance.”

The room is filled with sighs of relief and thanks to God and such, but Elliot’s not finished.

“We did learn however,” he looks down at Val, “that my angel is having a baby.”

“Get the fuck outta here!” My husband springs to his feet and reaches right across the table to his brother. “You’re going to be the goofiest dad ever!” he says, shaking Elliot’s hand.

“That’s the plan,” he says before turning to Herman. “Sorry, Uncle Herman.”

“Don’t worry about it, son,” he says, shaking Elliot’s hand as well. “There’s plenty of joy and happiness to go around.”

Most of us have forgotten our food and are clustered around either the newly-married couple or the newly-expecting couple cooing over the antique ring that Herman gave Luma or the fact that Val will be having a baby soon. Herman presented his bride with a 13.93ctw smoky-quartz ring set in 14kt yellow gold with leaf accents—another piece from his mother’s priceless collection. Elliot hasn’t presented Val with anything—besides a house, but he indicates that he plans to repurpose one of the rooms into a nursery that would rival ours.

With the attention centered on Val, Elliot, Herman, and Luma, no one sees the small commotion taking place in the corner of the living room. I inconspicuously examine Britney having a harsh word or two in hushed tones with Marlow before she ceremoniously turns away from him and proceeds towards the front door. Marlow rolls his eyes, then throws a glance at Sophie before following his date outside. They still haven’t garnered the attention of anyone else in the house, but I watch as Sophie twists her lips, rolls her eyes, then falls petulantly on the sofa, folding her arms and staring at the fire.

And here we go again.

I wait for a moment before I sneak away from the crowd and go to the foyer. I locate my coat and gloves and step outside in search of Marlow. He’s pacing on the pavement in front of the house like he’s trying to control his temper.

“Marlow?” I call out to him. He whirls around in my direction and upon spotting me, visibly tries to control his ire. “What’s wrong?” I ask as I approach.

“Forgive me for my lack of consideration,” he says in a voice that I’ve never heard before, “but is Sophia Taylor on the rag again?”

Oookay. There will be no scolding of Marlow Johnson today. He. Is. Livid.

“Um… okay, what happened?” I ask cautiously.

“She was awful to my date!” Marlow says, perturbed. “For no good damn reason, she was awful!” He sits down on the retainer wall. Oh, dear.

“In what way?” I ask, sitting down next to him.

“She said some flighty crap about her being skinny… something about needing a gravy sandwich or something like that.” I raise my eyebrows to him.

“Um… well… um… that’s not… horrible,” I try to excuse.

“My date heard her!” he snaps. I cringe.

“Ooo, that’s bad,” I retract. “Any idea why she said that?”

“Because she’s a brat!” he retorts, very angry about his seemingly ruined Thanksgiving. I try to come up with an explanation. I know she has a crush on him even though she hasn’t told me. This lashing out at his dates isn’t going to stop if he keeps bringing them around. Which reminds me…

“It could be attack as a form of defense,” I tell him. He raises a brow at me. “Have you forgotten the little twat who chased her away from Mia’s wedding? What was her name—Maya?”

“Maya didn’t chase her away!” He frowns.

“She most certainly did!” I retort. “That crack about her kid sister having Sophie’s dress; and then that whole ‘I’ll just have to take it off’ thing, as if everybody at the table didn’t know what the hell that meant. Sophie had just spent the entire dinner impressing a table full of adults with her cuisine expertise and here comes this insecure little twit acting like a jealous toddler and cutting her down in front of everybody. If Sophie acts like a brat in front of your dates, blame your first date—or at least the one that you brought to the wedding. That’s why I told you to talk to your women about how they act around us. And what happened to Maya anyway? It wasn’t two months ago, she was hanging all over you!”

“Um…” He rubs the back of his neck. “Yeah, well, she wasn’t really comfortable after the incident either.”

“Um-hmm,” I say, folding my arms. “I bet she wasn’t. I’m not trying to sabotage your dates, but I won’t stand by while they treat someone I love like crap. I’m really sorry about Britney. I’m sure she didn’t deserve what happened, but when it comes to your girls, Sophie may be lashing out before they get the chance to lash out at her. And don’t be surprised if she’s got an entire armory ready. You might want to try and talk to her, get her to understand how her actions are affecting you—and I’m not saying this happened with Britney, but make sure your dates aren’t doing anything to antagonize her. She’s only 13, for Christ’s sake. You, her, and Maggie are the only teenagers we have at family gatherings, so…” I trail off and shrug.

“I may just have to stop bringing dates around altogether,” he laments. “Jeez, at this rate, I may never get laid again,” he adds, his voice low.

I don’t think I was supposed to hear that last part, so I just ignore it.

“Well, I don’t want you to feel like your dates aren’t welcome. You’re always welcome to bring them to family gatherings… as long as they know how to behave themselves, but Maya laid the groundwork for how Sophie’s going to act around your women, so you really need to talk to her.”

She’s got a crush on you, you idiot. Are you truly that dense? Smooth things over and let her know that you at least care about her feelings, even though it can never go any further.

Of course, telling her that he knows would just humiliate her to no end. So, of course, I can’t share my theory with him, but geez… it’s as plain as the nose on my face.

“I think I’m just going to take off,” he says, “try to smooth things over with Britney…”

“But not with Sophie?” I chastise.

“She’s the one who insulted Britney!” Marlow retorts.

“And I just told you why!” I counter. “You don’t think that needs addressing?”

“If I address that with her right now, Ana, I’m going to be pissed. I don’t even know where Britney is. I need to go find her. I’ll talk to Sophia some other time.” He stands. “Tell my mom to text me when she’s ready to go if I’m not back by then.” He marches down the driveway towards his car.

That’s right, Marlow. Run away.

It’s hard to remember that he’s still a child… but not. He’s 17, so his life should be shaping into manhood now, but he disappoints me when it comes down to how he’s handling the complexities of relationships right now. I guess this is when he’s learning.

And poor Sophie. She’s acting like the stereotypical catty jealous spurned female, but at 13, she’s coming off as the bratty ass little sister. Their age difference is wide enough that they most likely will never have any romantic relationship—not to mention the fact that Marlow simply does not see her that way—but at this rate, she’ll not only destroy any hint of a chance of a romance. She’ll also destroy their friendship.


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

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 66—More Family Ties

Merry Christmas, Joyous Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah, Seasons Greeting, and Happy Holidays for whatever you celebrate. If you don’t celebrate anything, Happy Tuesday. 🙂   

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 66—More Family Ties

CHRISTIAN

“Christian?”

A soft, angelic voice rouses me, and I realize that I’ve fallen asleep in the rocking chair with Mikey on my chest. I have no idea how I held on to him, but I did.

“Come on,” she says softly, while caressing my hair. “Put him to bed.”

I rise carefully from the chair trying not to rouse my son, which is unnecessary as he’s out like a light. I place him in his crib and he stirs and moves to put his fingers in his mouth, but they don’t make it before he’s out again. Butterfly checks on Minnie and gives her the same two-finger kiss to her cheek that I did before Butterfly takes my hand and we leave the room. Once I shut the door behind me, she turns to face me.

“I’m sorry I didn’t call,” she says. “It was a terrible day and a terrible evening. The siblings showed up today.”

“Is everything okay?” I ask concerned. “Why didn’t you call me? I would’ve come…”

“It wasn’t necessary,” she says. “I’ll tell you about it tomorrow. It’s too late to talk about it now.” She moves towards our bedroom, but my feet stay planted, causing her to halt as she’s still holding my hand. She turns around and looks at me, bemused. I gently pull her back to me and into my arms. She puts her hands on my forearms and I touch my forehead to hers and close my eyes. I love her so much. I’m so grateful that she’s here, that she’s mine.

“Thank you for being such a wonderful mother to my children,” I whisper with my forehead against hers.

“I’ve got it easy,” she says with mirth. I shake my head and open my eyes.

“It’s more than that,” I say. “It’s more than the nannies and the money and this big house… It’s that you love them. You really love them. I see it in your eyes and you show them, and they know it…” I wish I’d had it at their age. Maybe I did at one point, but I’ll never know. She puts her hands on either side of my face and raises my gaze to hers.

“Where is this coming from?” she asks, examining me. I shake my head. I won’t say it aloud. She gazes at me for several moments before she speaks.

“I’m not her,” she says, reading my thoughts. “I’ll never be her.” I nod and gather her into my arms, embracing her closely.

“I know,” I whisper, burying my face in her neck. She strokes my hair and it brings me warmth and comfort. I know she could never be anything like the crack whore, and I love her for it, with all my heart.

“I need to love you,” I say, the ache in my chest threatening to burst it open and end my mortal existence. I take her mouth with mine and kiss her deeply. She melts into my body and I take my cue.

Lifting her into my arms, I carry her into our bedroom. I take my time undressing her, kissing each area of her soft, tender body as I expose it. I love how her breathing quickens when she’s getting aroused, and I like to watch the gooseflesh rise on her skin.

I lay her down gently on the bed and admire her beautiful body. She has one or two tiny stretchmarks on her stomach from carrying the twins, but nowhere else. I lean down and kiss the two tiny bruises—my Butterfly’s tiger stripes of love. I hope she never becomes subconscious of them. They’re a constant reminder to me of what she put her body through to care for and nurture the two beautiful children that she gave me.

“You are so beautiful,” I say reverently as I gaze at my beautiful queen. Her entire body blushes at the sentiment, and my cock thrums hard in my pants at the sight. I try not to rip my clothes off like a maniac, but my dick is threatening to burst out of my pants like the Hulk if I don’t free it soon. I finally free the damn thing from its prison and climb over my wife.

I start out making love to her, kissing her gently and grinding slowly and deeply inside of her, but a few minutes into our session, something changes. An animal urgency burns through me and I need to sear her—mark her like a lion marks his territory, only… inside. I need my stamp inside of her… like hers is inside of me.

I’m on my knees in front of her, thighs spread apart and thrusting into her. I’m holding her hips up so that I can get the perfect angle and my abs roll with each thrust. She’s hot and wet and my cock is thick and red, pulling her lips against it with each withdrawal and sinking hot and hard into her velvety wetness with each thrust.

The entire sight is so hot that I almost forget my wife while focusing on my dick and the feeling her pussy is giving me right now. I look up at her, her shoulders supporting her weight, and she’s writhing on the bed. Her ample breasts fall apart slightly and wobble with every thrust.

Once again, I’m in my own porno.

With her legs over my thighs, I gently lift her hips to get maximum thrust. She surprises me by planting her feet flat on the bed behind me and thrusting her hips up to match my every stroke. She’s panting and groaning in pleasure and my eyes roll back in my head in a vain attempt not to get lost in the feeling.

Yes, baby, yes, baby…

Needing to feel her skin against me—and to regain control of the situation before she makes me come too soon—I lay over her, pushing my hips hard and fast into hers, holding her shoulders down with my own. She gasps in pleasure with each thrust, wrapping her arms around my waist and gently digging her nails into the small of my back.

Fucking hell!

I lose myself for a moment and my hips are pistoning into her like a jackhammer, my cock burning with the urge to come. I succumb to my need to fuck her like a bunny and she whimpers her satisfaction. Fuck—I’ll surely come too soon if I don’t stop this shit.

While feasting on her neck, I slow my stroke a bit—not too slow and not too fast so as not to set us both back too far in the process. She’s so hot and soft and wet, and no matter what position I get in, she matches me stroke for stroke.

I slow down a little more once I’m able to control my mind and my dick, and stroke sensually into her over and over again, kissing her deeply with each thrust. I raise my knees for traction and pump hard and deep into her, groaning in my chest because no matter what I do, I won’t last much longer.

I reach around me and grab her hands, pinning them to the bed over her head and kissing her without reprieve as I grind balls deep into her. We’re already sweating so I can’t tell if the new sheen is forming on her body or our sweat is just mixing between us, creating a sex musk that fills the room and turning me on.

When she raises her knees and wraps her legs around me locking them behind my back, I can’t stand it. The pistoning bunny takes over again and we’re both panting like fools, breathing into each other’s mouth. God, she feels so good. Does it get better every time we do it? I don’t know, but she feels so fucking good!

I break our grip and our kiss and lean up onto my knees again so that I can watch her. She’s so fucking sexy and goddammit, we look good when we fuck and I want to see it!

Rubbing my hands all over her breast and torso, rubbing her thighs and thumbing her clit, I watch my cock slide in and out of her pussy again and again, fast and slow, hot and wet each time. I bite my lip as the pleasure now creeps through my pelvis and wraps around me to that pleasure point in my anus and balls. I try to fight it, try not to succumb to it because I don’t want to disappoint her, but I can’t take it anymore. She so fucking hot and so fucking beautiful, and she feels so goddamn good…

I can’t stop it this time.

“I’m gonna come! I’m gonna come!” I warn in quick panting breaths.

“Me, too! Don’t stop!” she instructs in the same breaths.

I keep the stroke going, not that I could control it anyway. I don’t know which one of us starts first, but the room is alight with heat and screams of passion as we both explode in powerful orgasms.

“Ana… baby… fuck!” I throw my head back, hook my hands under her knees and lift her thighs so that her pussy is angled perfectly over my throbbing cock. I empty hot and hard deep inside her, painfully, my thighs stiff in pleasure and my dick pulsing so hard that it hurts. My balls feel like they’ve shriveled up and crawled into my pelvis to die there. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to feel them shoot out of the head of my dick.

My wife falls limp on the bed, whimpering with each breath, which is my only indication that she came. I was so lost in my own orgasm, I’m sure I heard her scream, but I didn’t get to enjoy the feeling of her clenching around me like she usually does.

Oh, well, my dick doesn’t seem to mind.

“God, I needed that,” I choke out, still on my knees and pulsing inside her.

“So did I,” she breathes without opening her eyes, her brow and hair thick with sweat. I lay my body over hers and use my hand to wipe the sweat from her face before it gets to her eyes. I love the way we smell when we sweat after we fuck, all sex funky, and I don’t want to pull out of her just yet, but I know I’ll be heavy on her if I fall asleep this way.

“I love you so much,” I say, kissing her gently and caressing her face and hair.

“I love you, too,” she says without opening her eyes. She’ll be asleep soon. I pull out of her as gently as I can, but it still causes us some discomfort. I shift my body slightly to the side so that I’m still covering my wife, but my weight is mostly supported by the bed. I feel her settle into comfort and I know she’ll be asleep soon. I nuzzle my nose into her neck and allow our scent to soothe me…

“They’re beautiful, Maggot,” she says. Why does she call me that? He didn’t call me that, so where the fuck did she get that name? And who is she talking about?

I hear her voice, but I can’t see her. I can’t even see where I am.

Slowly, my surroundings take form, and I see my children’s nursery, my two beautiful babies sleeping in their respective cribs just where we left them—and she’s standing between the cribs looking into each one.

“So… you had two little maggots, too,” she says. She’s pale and blue, just like she looked when the people in white took her away…

The people in white—the coroner.

“My children. Are not. Maggots!” I say, trying to control my voice. She smiles.

“They’re all maggots,” she says. “You’ll see.” She reaches into Minnie’s crib. I try to get to her, to stop her, but my feet are planted to the floor.

“Don’t touch my daughter!” I scream, but no sound comes from my mouth. I’m horrified as she lifts Minnie into her arms and my daughter screams as if in pain.

“No! No! Leave her alone!” I cry, but still nothing. There’s no sound and the crack whore doesn’t react. She lays my helpless daughter on her chest, smiles a sinister smile, and turns to leave.

“Not my children, you bitch!”

The words are clear, but the voice isn’t mine. I focus on the scene in front of me to see my wife facing off with the crack whole, still holding a screaming Minnie.

“You had your chance. You fucked up, now stay the fuck away from my babies!”

Butterfly walks right through the crack whore, retrieving Minnie as she passes through the specter. The crack whore looks surprised at her empty hands, but then turns angry eyes to my wife.

“There are two of them!” she hisses in an outer-worldly voice. She turns to Mikey’s crib and I’m overcome with dread as I still can’t move.

Please don’t take my son.

Butterfly comforts Minnie and doesn’t move toward the monster headed for my son. Why doesn’t she try to stop her? Say something!

The crack whore gets to the crib and reaches in for Mikey… but she can’t grab him. She can’t touch him. Her hands go right through him and he lies there with his fingers in his mouth, undisturbed. When she whirls around to my wife, her face is hideous. She looks like a demon straight from hell. My wife just smiles at her.

“Go back to where you came from and don’t come back here. You had power then—you had power there—and you didn’t use it. You were a coward and a useless piece of flesh. You fucked up, but you have no power here. Now, go!”

My wife’s voice sounds outer-worldly this time, but only on the last two words. The crack whore screeches a horrible sound and disappears. My wife puts a sleeping Minnie back into her crib and she settles in comfort. Butterfly walks over and looks into Mikey’s crib. He’s still sleeping uninterrupted. Then she turns to look at me.

“I told you,” she says with a soft smile, “I’m not her.”

My feet are suddenly released from their spot on the floor and I’m able to move. I launch myself at her to take her in my arms—my monster slayer…

I open my eyes before I reach her and see that I’m still sprawled over her body in bed. She’s lying on her back, her hair spread over the pillow like a fan, her arms framing her head, fast asleep. She looks like a work of art. I remember thinking that when she was lying in the bed at the hotel during our trip to Napa. She’s even more beautiful now than she was then.

I love you so much that it hurts sometimes.

I kiss her cheek and fall back into slumber.

*-*

“They were horrible,” my wife says as she spreads butter on her toast the next morning at the breakfast bar. “I expected them to be uncaring, nonchalant… Christian, they were vicious.” She eats a forkful of eggs and follows it with a bite of toast.

“Shit, it was that bad?” I ask. She nods as she swallows.

“It was worse,” she says.” None of them had anything to say about Tina unless it involved taking something of hers. One of the girls—Paige, I think—came looking for a pair of diamond earrings that she had given Tina for her 50th birthday. Theodore deliberately broke a vase of flowers while leaving the foyer and one of the guards physically picked him up and threw him out of the house!”

“Good God, this is like a scene from the circus!” I lament. She takes another bite of her breakfast before she speaks.

“That wasn’t even half of it,” she adds. “They insulted her, they threatened her, they accused her of taking advantage of Tina…”

“Wait a minute,” I say, holding my hand up to pause her explanation. “They threatened her? Who threatened her? How?”

“Theodore told her that he’d blow the house up with her in it,” she replies… and now, I’m pissed.

Take care of my Harmony.

“He actually said that?” I ask. “He actually said that he would blow the house up? He said those words?” She nods.

“In front of witnesses,” she replies. “When I told him to watch his tongue about threatening to commit murder, he almost started to say something to me, but I headed him off. I can guarantee, it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. I had flashbacks of Carla’s visit to Seattle times four.” She shivers at the thought.

I, on the other hand, am sincerely pissed at this asshole who threatened Harmony. What the hell is going through these monsters’ minds? None of them came to see Tina when she was alive. None of them even appear to care that she’s gone, only about her material possessions. Who does that? Who on God’s green earth could possibly be that cold?

“And Christian, she had to prepare her mother.” I turn a bemused gaze to my wife.

“Prepare her for what?” I ask. She’s already dead.

“For the funeral,” she replies. I shake my head.

“I’m not getting your meaning,” I tell her. Tina’s gone. Does she mean she had to pick her clothes, her casket? We all have to do that.

“She had to do her mother’s hair and make-up,” Butterfly says with a sigh. Okay, now I’m horrified.

“Whyyy?” I ask, stretching the word out in sheer disbelief.

“Because the funeral home didn’t get it right,” she says. “She took a picture and showed me. Her face looked like she was covered in chalk… and her hair was in a bouffant.”

“What… the fuck is a bouffant?” I ask, still gob smacked that this poor girl had to do her deceased mother’s hair and make-up. Butterfly glares at me for a moment, then swipes the screen on her phone. After a moment or two, she shows me a picture of a woman with very large hair.

“The hair?” I ask bemused. Butterfly nods. “They did that to Tina’s hair?” She nods again. How the hell did they lay all that in the casket? “Why the… how the hell?”

“It wasn’t pretty,” she says, swiping her screen again. “And after she redid her mother’s hair and make-up, Tina’s brood shows up asking for her shit. It was just like Tina said it would be.”

“How did Harmony handle it?” I ask.

“Like a beast,” she says. “She walked up the front of those fuckers and down the back of them. It was glorious! After it was all over, she broke down and confessed to coming on to you.” My eyes widen.

“She what?” I ask. “She did? How…? What…?” I don’t even know what to ask.

“It helps that you told me first,” she says. “I don’t know how I would have reacted had I heard it from her, first. I guess I understand why you felt the way you did about Liam.”

I would prefer it if she didn’t call him by his first name. I would also prefer it if she didn’t discuss this topic at all.

“Can we change the subject?” I ask. She sighs and stands from the breakfast bar.

“I’m going to meet Courtney at Harmony’s,” she says, straightening her clothes to leave. “I’m going to see if there’s anything that she needs for the service tomorrow and make sure everything is… as okay as can be expected.” She puts her purse on her shoulder and proceeds past me. I can see that the Liam conversation—such as it was—has soured her mood.

“Don’t I get a kiss?” I call behind her. She turns back and walks to me. I take her in my arms and kiss her gently on the lips. And again.

“I just don’t like talking about the guy,” I say softly.

“I understand,” she says, but she doesn’t sound convinced. “I gotta go.” I release her, and she walks toward Chuck who appears in the doorway.

“You’re driving,” I hear her say as they walk through the family room towards the garage. Geez, this is going to be some session with Ace this afternoon

*-*

“I’ve got an Apollo that I’m having shipped to you,” I say into the phone. Once Smalls got his head out of his ass and Alex got his ass in gear, the security team was put in place and the items in the storage units began moving en masse. I’m talking to Ted Friedson, a master at piano restoration located on the east coast.

“An authentic Apollo?” Ted says. “Are you sure it can make the trip?”

“Pretty sure, that’s why I’m trusting it to you,” I tell him. I headed the shipping off in Chicago and got the piano rerouted back to Tennessee. No use in shipping it all the way here just to ship it all the way back.

“If anyone can get her back to her original glory, you can,” I add. He sighs.

“Yes, I’m probably the only one who could, but I’ll be taking pictures of it upon arrival, Mr. Grey.” I get it, cover your ass.

“I wouldn’t be concerned,” I tell him. “I’ve seen it. It’s pretty sturdy, especially for its age.”

“Player piano?” he asks. I hear him typing into his computer.

“Yes,” I reply.

“You want that restored, too?”

“If you can,” I challenge him. “When it was operational, the timer on the motor was off so, it kept going off at the same time each night.”

“The infamous ‘haunting,’” he says. “It’s common with player pianos when they start to age.”

“Hence, my family calls it ‘Ichabod,’” I point out.

“Like Ichabod Crane?” he asks. “That’s the most original one that I’ve heard.”

I give him the tracking information with instructions to call me the moment Ichabod is in his studio. I end the call and gaze out the window of my office in the sky. For some reason, I immediately start thinking about death—not just death in general, my death. One day, I won’t be here. I’m here today… tomorrow, I may not be. Everybody looks at death like it’s a far-off thing, but it’s not. Time passes by before you know it. Just yesterday, I was dropping out of college and begging Dad to believe in me and to finance my dream. Today, I have people’s dreams in my hand.

What happens when I close my eyes for the last time? Do I believe in heaven or hell? Is there an afterlife? Does my consciousness just stop being once my heart stops beating? Is it true that Pops and Grandma Ruby are looking down on us right now measuring their successes and failures by how we turned out, or is it just something that the living convince themselves of to cope with the fact that their loved ones are gone?

I’ve been dealing with Dad and Uncle Herman and Pops’ and Grandma Ruby’s things, and Butterfly has been trying to help Harmony get all of Tina’s affairs in order. It’s making me think that even though we’re rolling in all this money, we haven’t made any provisions for our children should something happen to us. I jot a few things down to discuss with Al—trust funds, college funds, dowries… do people even do dowries anymore? Fuck if I know.

Butterfly and I will have this talk, but not today. Tina’s funeral is tomorrow, so it’s going to have to wait until after the weekend, maybe even after Thanksgiving… no, not that long. I sigh and push my hands through my hair.

“Andrea, can you tell Allen to come to my office as soon as possible?

*-*

“Allen, do you handle estate law?” I ask. He frowns.

“I dabble,” he says. “What I don’t know, I have excellent resources that I trust with my life.”

“I don’t have a will,” I say. “I never needed one before now.”

“What’s different now?” he asks. “Are you okay, Chris?”

“Yes, I’m fine,” I say, in an obvious tone. “I have a wife and kids now… and I’ve got a lot of shit… I’ve just been dealing with so much death in the past few months…” I thrust my hands into my hair. Al holds his hand up.

“I get it,” he says, his voice accommodating. “My advice, you and Jewel should work on this together. You’re going to have to come up with a list of your assets and then describe how you want them distributed.”

“A list of my assets,” I say incredulously. “You’re kidding, right?” I’m a fucking billionaire! I don’t even know what all my assets are!

“Let me talk to a friend of mine and see how we catalogue the assets of a billionaire. This could take time.” I nod.

“Let me know as soon as we can get it going,” I say.

I’m coming out of one of several meetings of the day when Andrea tells me that my brother-in-law is on line one.

My brother-in-law? Ethan?

I try not to trip over my feet running to my office to take the call. The very last thing I need right now after dealing with all this death, mortality, and estate disposal is to discover that something is wrong with my sister.

“Ethan! Is Mia okay?” I say without even offering a greeting.

“Yeah, man, she’s fine,” he says, his voice bemused. “Jesus, maybe I should call more often if contacting you prompts this kind of response. You obviously don’t hear from me enough.” I sigh heavily.

“That’s not it, Ethan,” I confess. “It’s not you at all. I’ve just been dealing with death a lot over the last few weeks and it’s getting to me.”

“You want to talk about it?” he asks concerned.

“I appreciate it, man, but not really. Every man at some point is faced with his own mortality and today, I’m just feeling… out of sorts, that’s all.”

“Well, I’m in the area having a late lunch. I was wondering if I could stop by and chew your ear for a minute.” Chew my ear? What problem does he have where he needs my help?

“Sure. Have you eaten already?” I ask.

“Nope. I was going to get something on the way, I guess.”

“Don’t bother. I haven’t eaten either. I’ll have the cafeteria whip up something from the deli.”

“Sounds good,” he says. “Be there in a minute.”

I call down to security to inform them that Ethan is on his way. With the last name Kavanaugh, they may forget that he’s family and shoot him on sight. I also have Andrea arrange for the deli to bring us something quick and satisfying.

I look down at the pictures of my family on my desk. My wife looking coyly over her shoulder at me and a separate shot of my two little angels. Who the fuck would have ever thought that Christian Grey would be a damn family man?

I walk over to the glass wall that held my attention earlier in the day when I was pondering my own mortality. I have a perfect view of Seattle from here. I can even see Escala not too far in the distance. Escala… closer to the office than the Mercer house. Why am I keeping that place? The market is kind of so-so right now, but that’s not an issue for me. I can’t for the life of me figure out why I’m keeping it. Artemis will have the playroom dismantled in a couple of weeks and unlike Butterfly, I don’t have any friends or charity cases that I would allow to crash in my penthouse. I really need to get that place set up to sell.

I do miss not having a helipad at my disposal, but when’s the last time I flew Charlie Tango? When we had to rescue Butterfly from that asshole. Years ago… I better get some flight time in before I lose my license.

A lot of my life was spent in that penthouse. Shit, if those walls could talk…

The subs…
The pedophile…
The first time I let a woman sleep in my bed… Butterfly.

I let her touch my chest… Jesus Christ, there’s something I could definitely never see happening.

I sigh heavily once again. So much has happened in that place—good and bad. I remember discovering that she was missing. I thought I would die without her, without knowing what had become of her. David was so fucking unstable and knowing that he and that fucker that I fired were the last people seen with her made my stomach churn. I’m getting lightheaded just thinking about it even though they’re both dead. I never thought I could love anybody in my whole life the way I love that woman, and the thought of losing her…

“Mr. Grey, Ethan Kavanaugh is here, and your lunch should be here momentarily.” Andrea’s voice through the intercom breaks my train of thought, thank God, and I turn away from the window and my inner musings about Escala and all that has blossomed from it.

“Show him in, please,” I say, walking to the door. Lunch… it’s nearly 3pm. Butterfly and my mom would have my neck for waiting this long.

“Thanks for seeing me, Christian,” Ethan says, extending his hand to me as he enters. I take his proffered hand.

“No problem, Ethan. What’s news?” I say, gesturing to one of the seats in front of my desk while taking the other.

“I promise it’s nothing bad. I didn’t mean to alarm you,” he says.

“I assure you, Ethan, it’s not you,” I say, settling into my seat. “There’s just been a lot going on and my mind is so preoccupied.” He examines me, waiting for me to continue. “I was a bachelor for a long time. I didn’t have to worry about anybody but me. Even my family was just my family’s concern—Mom was Dad’s concern, Dad was Mom’s concern, and even Elliot and Mia were my parents’ concern.” He raises a brow at me.

“Yeah, I know… I was an asshole,” I acknowledge. “But then Ana came along… and she got kidnapped, and she was my concern. Then she ran off to Montana, and she was my concern. Then we got married, and she was my concern. Then we had babies, and they were my concern. Then, I realized that things were my concern even though I didn’t want to admit it.

“Skip ahead, and my grandfather dies and my family falls apart. My mom goes through perimenopause and almost tries to kill herself. And Val! Val gets a goddamn tumor and turns the family completely upside down. For the love of God!”

“Um,” Ethan interrupts, “that’s quite a bit, I must say, Christian, but may I ask what brought this on?” I sigh.

“Butterfly and I are deeply involved in the recent passing of an old friend of the family,” I tell him. “Only one of her children were around for her transition—her adopted great-granddaughter—and her biological children are the most selfish, hateful group of people I’ve ever seen. Instead of being able to live the remainder of her days out in peace and die quietly, she spent damn-near up to her last day making arrangements to be sure that her other four bio-kids couldn’t come and pull the rug out from under her adopted child once she died—which is exactly what they tried to do. So, my wife and I are pretty much playing human shield while my security team is camped around the house making sure that these assholes don’t try anything.

“Of course, dealing with this along with the disposition of my grandfather’s estate has me thinking about my own mortality. Are my children going to behave this way when I’m gone? Will my wife have the support system she needs? My money makes Tina’s money look like a piggy bank—will my family behave this way when I die? I hope the fuck not, but right when you called, I had been discussing plans for my will.”

“Oooooohhh,” Ethan says in that knowing manner. “Well, that explains it. Listen, if this is a bad time, we can certainly talk later because this isn’t that urgent.”

“As long as we’re not talking about death, this is not a bad time,” I reply.

“Good, because we’re not talking about death.” He settles into his chair. “I was hoping you could help me find a way to approach your father about the wedding,” he says. I raise a brow.

“Oh?” I ask.

“Christian, I don’t know where the bills went or if they’ve all been paid, but one of them slipped through and came to the condo—the bakery. Those two ridiculously monstrous cakes that had to be cut with swords, and the other confections at the wedding—five fucking digits, man! For cake! That’s ridiculous. I absolutely shudder to think what he shelled out for this wedding, and I can’t fucking sleep at night. He’s got to let me reimburse him something or I’m not going to be able to live with myself.

“That dress—you saw that dress. Not another one like it in the world, I’m certain. Kitten’s dress probably cost more than somebody’s annual salary. We rented a theater with red carpet service and multiple photo booths. Your mom hired belly-dancers—even though they didn’t make it. The walls were covered in flowers and there were flower cannons! We flew to the airport in a luxury helicopter. You own one of those. You’re aware of that expense.”

I’m not sure why they didn’t employ Charlie Tango in the first place. It could have saved them a penny or three. I certainly wouldn’t have charged them to use her.

“I did the research on just the stuff that I know we had at our wedding and I just stopped at a million dollars. My brain is going to explode if he doesn’t allow me to help him, and I don’t know how to tell him. The bakery bill came to our house. How do you have nearly $20,000 worth of confections and you didn’t pay for it yet?”

“I’m willing to bet that was an error,” I tell him, “not the price, but the billing. No bakery in the world is going to allow you to have $20,000 worth of confections and not pay for it.”

“Well, mistake or not, he’s got to let me help him. I feel like shit, I can’t take this…”

As he’s lamenting about the extravagance of his wedding and the fact that he hasn’t contributed anything to it, Andrea signals us that lunch has arrived. I instruct her to have it set up at the table in my office.

“Come on,” I say, putting my hand on Ethan’s shoulder. “Let’s get some food and we’ll find a way to get my dad to accept the money. Your best approach is probably just what you said to me. If a man can’t understand anything else, he can understand the effects of emasculating another man, and I don’t think my father was trying to do that to you. He just wanted Mia to have what she wanted. That is his only daughter, you know…”

I listen to Ethan talking about respect and not wanting to steal Dad’s thunder and I immediately think of Ray. He never said anything to me about having a problem with my paying for everything. I don’t remember him paying for anything if he did, but I chalked it up to him wanting his baby girl to have a fairy tale wedding. She did, too, and I didn’t bother looking at price tags… not that I had to. Ethan, on the other hand, just discovered that the cakes and desserts at his wedding cost more than most people’s entire ceremony.

We enjoy a lunch of deli sandwiches, hand-made coleslaw, and antipasto while I give him ideas on how to approach Dad about the cost of the wedding. Dad’s going to give him some pushback, I warn, but he’s going to have to be diligent in letting him know that this is going to haunt him for the rest of his life if Dad doesn’t allow him to make some kind of significant contribution to reimbursing him for this wedding. Word choice is very important to Carrick Grey, Esquire, and I help Ethan pick the right ones to say to him.

Over an hour later, Ethan and I are still chewing the fat over the extravagance of the wedding—all the bells and whistles that he never wanted or expected, and how happy he was that Butterfly and I were the pinch hitters when their soloist went MIA. Mom and Mia tracked her ass all the way back to California and launched a campaign of breach of contract and claims of unprofessionalism that was so intense, she begged them to stop. From word of mouth, wedding planners, social media, women’s groups, even a couple of night clubs here and there—every engagement she had booked since she stood Mia up backed out on her and she couldn’t get another one. Of course, she refunded Dad’s money, but the damage was already done and in two short months, she’s trying to fight her way back from professional ruin.

My mind briefly drifts back to my wife and my mortality throughout the course of the conversation—how, I don’t know, but I suddenly feel the need to talk to her. Not wanting to shut Ethan down, I pretend that a text came in and excuse myself from the conversation just for a few moments to fire one off to my wife:

**I love you. There’s nothing wrong. I’m just thinking about you. **


ANASTASIA

“Do you know I’ve never been to a funeral in my whole life, ever?” Harmony says as she stands gazing into her closet. “I don’t even know what to wear.”

“Black is traditional,” Courtney says, putting her hand on Harmony’s shoulder. “It’s… the color of mourning.” Harmony nods and studies her wardrobe before picking a modest black midi-dress.

“Perfect,” Courtney says with a nod. Harmony returns the nod and lays the dress on the bed next to where I’m sitting.

“I don’t know where I would be without you guys,” she says smoothing the dress on the bed. “Nobody has been to the house—no one, except her horrible offspring and that was only when they had to be thrown out.”

“None of your mom’s friends have stopped by?” Courtney asks. Harmony shakes her head.

“Most of Mom’s friends have passed away, but I’ve gotten a few calls offering condolences and help. They’re good people but being alone…” she trails off.

“You’re not alone,” I say. “You’ve got us. We’re just a phone call away even if you just don’t want to be alone.”

“Yeah,” Courtney says, putting her arm around Harmony. “And I’m a fem, so we can do nails and shit.” Harmony laughs half-heartedly, then turns to Courtney and begins to weep. Courtney embraces her and allows Harmony to cry on her shoulder.

Mrs. Grey?” I hear a voice in my earpiece. I step outside to allow Harmony to have her cry out.

“Yes?” I reply into my mouthpiece.

“There’s someone here to see Ms. Franklin.” I sigh. Didn’t we tell these fuckers not to come back?

“I’ll be right down,” I say with a huff. I come down the stairs to find a much younger man standing in the foyer with his hands in his pocket. Not younger than me, but younger than the siblings—early forties maybe.

“May I help you?” I ask. He turns around and rolls his eyes.

“Harmony, you’ve changed considerably,” he hisses sarcastically.

“It’s clear that I’m not Harmony,” I retort. “May I ask who you are.”

“No, you may not because I’m not explaining myself to the help!” he snaps and moves to push past me. I move in front of him to block his path and two of my guards move in as well.

“You’re right, you’re not, because I’m not the fucking help,” I seethe. “They are the help. I am their boss. State your business or leave.” I don’t know who these assholes think they are, but I’m tired of these fucking entitled ass bastards showing up and thinking they’re going to bully their way in here.

“Hmm,” he says unimpressed, “one of my daughter’s little friends, are you? Well, I’m not taking orders from you, either.” I raise a brow. Daughter…

“Oh, you’re the bio-dad,” I stay flatly. “I’ve heard about you, too. Windsor…” I gesture to my butler without breaking my gaze with Bio-dad.

“Yes, Mrs. Grey?” I hear over my shoulder.

“Inform Harmony that her father is here and see if she wishes to see him,” I instruct.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says, and I hear him ascending the stairs.

“Who the fuck are you?” Bio-dad asks impatiently.

“You first,” I say without moving.

“You know who I am,” he retorts. “I’m Harmony’s father.”

“Well, I’m Harmony’s friend,” I reply, folding my arms. He scoffs.

“And you can’t stop me from seeing my daughter any more than the help can,” he says trying to move past me again, but I step in front of him once more.

“Oh, yes I can,” I say to his face, “and you’re going to stay right there until Harmony comes down the stairs or until she tells us to throw you the fuck out.”

His brow rises, and he examines me from head to toe. His gaze makes me feel fucking dirty and I try hard not to react. I know this asshole is checking me out, and I want to plant my stiletto boot right in his balls.

“Well, aren’t you the fiery little thing?” he says suggestively, his tongue caressing the corner of his mouth.

And my stomach churns.

“Nonetheless, I’m going to see my daughter, so step aside.” Knowing that I’m going to step in front of him when he tries to move past me, he uses his arm in an attempt to push me out of the way.

Thank you!

I quickly use my momentum to bend his wrist perpendicular to his hand and his forearm bent at the elbow. It’s a fast move, not a power move, so he’s in a submission position before he knows what happens. He’s bent at the waist as well as one of his knees in an attempt to take the pressure off his arm and wrist, cursing the entire time. Both my guards didn’t have a chance to move and they’re standing there looking at me in awe.

“Sonofabitch!” he hisses through his teeth.

“Don’t let the nice bod and the small frame fool you Jack I’ll break your fucking arm,” I say all in one breath to his agony-ridden face.

“Let go of my damn arm, you fucking cunt!” he threatens.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” I scold. “That’s no way to speak to someone who can snap your wrist in three seconds.” I put a little more pressure on his arm and wrist and he yowls. “Say you’re sorry.”

“I ain’t sayin’ shit!” he hisses.

“I can stand like this for a really long time,” I warn, “and you’re gonna be in a whole lotta pain when I finally let go.”

“I know how you got me here,” he warns, “and when you let me go, I’m gonna beat your little ass!”

“So aggressive!” I taunt. “I could release you right now and you still wouldn’t be able to ‘beat my little ass,’ not only because I’d beat yours first, but also because your arm will be at 65% if you’re lucky, not to mention all these men in black surrounding you would beat you senseless before you had a chance to sneeze!” I apply pressure to his elbow bending his wrist further and causing him to yelp in pain.

“Say you’re sorry, you slimy asshole!” I hiss.

“Father dearest,” I hear Harmony’s voice behind me. “I see you’ve met my friend, Anastasia. Ana, the loser that you have cowering on the ground probably slobbering all over himself is my father, Damien.”

“We’ve met!” I growl at Damien. “I’m waiting for an apology.”

“He’ll let you break his arm before he does that,” she says. “Dear Old Dad can take a beating. It won’t be the first time.” I raise a brow at him.

“Taken a few beatings in your life, have you?” I say to Damien. He smiles—or I should say he grimaces—through his pain.

“From prettier men than you,” he taunts. Harmony’s right. He’s had his ass beaten so many times that he probably gets off on the pain. This ain’t shit to him.

“You’re not even worth the ruined manicure,” I say. I give his bent knee a good, solid kick with my stiletto and he crumbles to the floor. At the same time, I give his wrist one final quick twist until I hear it pop and he yelps again. It’s not broken, but it’s going to hurt like hell.

“Why are you here?” Harmony asks Damien.

“Are you going to let her treat me that way?” he barks, still holding his wrist. “Your own flesh and blood?”

“Are you serious?” Harmony asks in disbelief. “Is he serious?” she says turning to me. “I can’t believe you have the audacity to show up at my mother’s house. What the hell do you want?” His brow furrows.

“She’s not your mother,” he says, firmly. “She’s my grandmother. Your great-grandmother.”

“You’re right about one thing,” Harmony says, her voice shaking with tears. “She’s not my mother—because she’s gone now, but she was my mother. You made that possible, and now you can’t take it back. Now, what the hell do you want?”

“I want to make sure you’re okay,” he says, trying to sound contrite and still bending and flexing his aching wrist.

“The hell you do!” Harmony snaps, still weeping. “You all but dropped me off on her doorstep 18 years ago, then in a drunken stupor, you let me know that you were my sperm donor—had me wondering for years why you and my birth mom didn’t want me. And now you’re coming here declaring that my mother is not my mother? Get ‘im the fuck out of my house!” she declares as she dashes towards the stairs.

“You heard her,” I say to my staff. “Get him out of here.” They close in on Damien like an escaped fugitive.

“Harmony!” he calls out. “There’s someone after me! Bad guys! I need money… they’ll hurt me if I don’t get it, maybe even kill me!”

“I don’t care, father!” she calls back.You made that bed, now you lie in it!” With those words, she continues her flight up the stairs. Damien looks at me as security proceeds to drag him to the door.

“I just said that someone was out to kill me!” he protests. “And none of you care?”

“A minute ago, you told me that you were going to beat my ass,” I say folding my arms. “I don’t care if they’re on the other side of the door waiting for you.”

Damien, like Theo, was basically dragged from the house and tossed onto the porch, though not with as much force. I turn to Filmore.

“Don’t allow anybody else in this house until further notice,” I tell him. “If it’s not me, my husband, Courtney, Carl, or one of our staff, they don’t get past that front door. Nobody gets entrance into this house unless Harmony specifically says that they can come in before they cross the threshold. Am I clear?” I’m seething. I am tired of these people.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says in a formal voice.

I go inside and take a deep breath, desperate at this point for something to punch. The funeral is tomorrow, and I know we’re going to have to tolerate performances from people who didn’t even bother to see Tina during her last days. Just as I’m trying to regroup from my anger, my cell phone rings. It’s Ace.

“Hello?” I answer, more flustered than I want.

Ana? This is Amber. I hope I didn’t catch you at a bad time.” I look at my watch. Our appointment isn’t for another hour.

“No… no, it’s fine. I’ll be headed in that direction in a moment. Is everything okay?”

That’s why I’m calling,” she says. “Regrettably, the doctor won’t be able to see you this afternoon due to unforeseen circumstances. I’d be happy to schedule for the first available opening next week.” I sigh. He probably couldn’t help me today anyway—we’d just end up fighting again.

“No, that’s okay, Amber. I’ve got a lot going on today anyway. I’ll just see him at our standing appointment next week.”

“Okay,” she says sweetly. “I’ll let him know. I’m sorry for the short notice…”

“Please, don’t worry about it, Amber. Thanks for calling me. You have a good weekend.”

“You, too,” she says before ending the call. It’s just as well. I seriously need to focus on Harmony today. I ascend the stairs to see how she’s doing. I hear crying coming from Tina’s room. I stick my head in and see Harmony face down on her mother’s bed weeping, Courtney gently stroking her back to comfort her. I step away from the door and leave them to it.

I need a workout room—fast, but of course, there’s nothing nearby unless I’m willing to go home and dear Tina has nothing like that in her home… not to mention that I can’t very well work out in stiletto boots. I head to the kitchen.

“What’s for dinner?” I ask a very startled staff.

“We… haven’t started yet. It’s still early. Are you hungry, ma’am?”

“Please, call me Ana,” I lament. “I can’t take ‘ma’am’ today.” They look at each other, then back at me.

“Very well, Ana,” one of them says. “Can we get you something? Are you hungry? A sandwich perhaps?”

“No, no I’m not hungry. I just need something to do,” I admit. Puzzled faces fill the room once more. “Can I please help with dinner?”

“Oh… no, that won’t be necessary…”

“I know it’s not necessary, but I desperately need to do something,” I all but beg. “Please, let me help with dinner.” There’s momentary silence again.

“Forgive my asking, but what can you cook, ma… Ana?” the same woman asks.

“I can cook anything,” I say. “What’s for dinner?”

“Beef bourguignon with whipped potatoes,” she says. “It’s one of Ms. Harmony’s favorites… we thought she might need some comfort food today, assuming she can be coaxed to eat.” I nod.

“She’ll be coaxed,” I say, “and beef bourguignon is easy enough.”

“Yes, ma’am… Ana, it is, but it’s too early to start dinner.” Goddammit! Is there some silver I can polish or something?

“We were going to start desserts,” one of the other staff says. “We want to make sure that Harmony’s favorites are at the repast tomorrow… so…” The other staff members glare at the one speaking, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that they’re uncomfortable with me in the kitchen. I nod.

“Okay,” I say, unable to hide the defeat in my voice. “I’ll get out of your way, then.” I’m going to have to excuse myself from this house for a little while to let off some steam or I’m going to lose my mind.

“Ana,” the first woman says to me, and I turn back just as I reach the door. “There are a lot of desserts. I’m sure there’s something that you can help us with.”

I try to hide my visible sigh of relief. I need to be useful in the worst way… or hurt something.

“If I won’t be underfoot,” I say, accepting the full-frontal apron that she’s handing me.

“I’m Pat,” she says with a smile. “That’s Ellen and that’s Lisa. Our pastry specialist over there is Derek.”

“It’s nice to meet you all,” I say. “What can I do?”

“Do you mind working on the tarts?” she asks. “They’ll need to be fresh, but the fruit needs to be chopped.”

“Tarts, yes, I can do that.” I haven’t had tarts in so long, but I remember those delicious confections that Val used to buy from this bakery near campus. I wonder if that place is still there…

Remembering the delicious tarts from my college days, I set to the task of slicing the fruit in various configurations to fit inside of a tart—strawberries, blackberries, kiwi, raspberries, and blueberries; slices, halves, and quarters…

“You’ve done this before,” Pat says after I’d been slicing for a while.

“Uh, no, not tarts. I just remember the delicious tarts from the bakery in college.”

“She’s good,” Derek says, looking over Pat’s shoulder at the fruit. It’s just fruit, guys. “Come on over here. You can help me make the cookie crust.”

“Now that’s my area of expertise,” I laugh.

“What? Cookies?” he asks. I nod. “You bake cookies?”

“Well, not all year round, but on Christmas Eve, I make a horde of them,” I admit.

“A horde?” he says. “That sounds like a lot.”

“Twenty to twenty-five dozen,” I say. His eyes widen.

“What do you do with all those cookies?” he asks.

“Well, the first year that I made them, my husband tried to eat them all himself,” I laugh. “But I eat some and I give some away,” I say.

“What kind of cookies do you make?” he asks, spreading flour on the counter.

“Um, I make gingerbread, butter cookies, sugar cookies, lemon bars, and chocolate-chip-pecan. My husband likes the chocolate chip pecan the best.”

“All from scratch?” he asks. I nod. “Then this will be right up your alley. The tart crust is basically sugar cookie dough. We roll it out and cook it a little thicker in large muffin pans…” He hands me the rolling pin and shows me how to roll the dough at just the right thickness. In no time, we’re putting our sugar cookie crust in the oven and working on the whipped cream cheese filling.

The staff starts to lighten up around me a bit, and soon, we’re swapping recipes and talking about Christmas and Thanksgiving. I realize that Harmony will have no one to spend those days with and make a note to myself to offer to have her spend them with us. The kitchen smells of divine chocolate and fudge and cookies and confections, and the smell brings Harmony out of her room.

“It… smells really good,” she says, her voice soft. I can tell she had been sleeping.

“We were just making desserts,” Lisa says. “Your favorites.”

“Did you make… do you have any of the snickerdoodle sandwiches?” she says, her voice sounding like a little girl.

“Of course, we do,” Pat says, removing the cover from the plate of sandwich cookies—snickerdoodles with a cream filling.

“Are they for tomorrow?” she asks.

“Well, they were,” Pat admits. Harmony takes a bite of one of the cookies.

“Mmm,” she groans. “Not these… these are all for me.” The staff laughs, me included. Courtney comes into the kitchen, putting her phone in her pocket.

“Just checking in at the Center,” she says. “Of course, they’re fine without us, but you know I have to check.”

Courtney’s transformation still amazes me. I can’t believe the person that she is now compared to the person that she used to be. I really wish Addie could see her now. This is everything that Addie was trying to accomplish, but she may never know because the wounds on both sides are just too deep.

“Court,” Harmony says while picking at a snickerdoodle sandwich cookie. “I’m going to take advantage of my compromised state of being right now and say something to you.” She never raises her eyes and her voice is very soft.

“My mom is gone. I love her very much and I don’t know if my heart will ever stop breaking, but she’s gone now and she’s not coming back. I would give anything—and I mean anything—just to hug and kiss her one more time, but I can’t. We only get one go-round on this earth, Court, and that’s it. You need to talk to your grandparents. They’re angry, but I can guarantee they still love you. There, I’ve said it… I won’t hound you about it.”

Was she reading my damn mind?

Courtney swallows hard but doesn’t say anything and now I have two mute and hurting women on my hands.

“Okay, where’s the liquor cabinet?” I ask. Harmony raises her head.

“It’s only four in the afternoon!” she declares.

“And I can’t stay,” Courtney protests. “I’ve got to get home and spend some time with Vick tonight or I’ll be looking for another girlfriend.”

“It’s early enough for us to have a drink or two without…” I look at Courtney, “… affecting our drive home and…” I look at Harmony, “… not getting snockered because we have a big day tomorrow.”

Harmony’s shoulders fall, and I know I’ve hit the tender spot. Bring on the alcohol! I feel my phone buzzing against my hip and retrieve it from my pocket. It’s Christian.

**I love you. There’s nothing wrong. I’m just thinking about you. **

I smile and play Harmony’s words over in my head. You only get one go-round on this earth… and that’s it. I get to go-round with Christian.

**I love you, too. **

“We got some Baileys in this place?” I declare.


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

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

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 63—Out of Alignment

So, you’re getting two chapters because neither of these could really stand alone without an interruption in flow. For those who celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving.

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 63—Alignment Shift

ANASTASIA

We’ve both come fantastically, but my husband’s hard dick is bobbing in my face right now, and if I can get a repeat of what I just got, I’m all for it! I gently wrap my lips around the head of his cock and lick. He hisses loudly.

“I haven’t picked a card yet,” he protests.

“Then hurry up and pick one,” I chastise. I can feel him frantically reaching over to get a card.

“Slide down and ride that dick,” he says, his voice raspy. “Reverse cowgirl.”

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He puts the card face-up on the floor near his hip so that I can see it. I slide down his body and take his dick in my hand. I guide his head to my opening, still tender and pulsing a bit from my orgasm, and slide down onto him.

“Ssssssssssss! Aw, shit!” he hisses as his fingers caress my hips. I begin to move back and forth over his dick and his fingers never tighten. They only slide with my hips.

“That’s it, baby,” he says, his voice a harsh whisper. “Just like that… ride that dick… fuck that cock…”

He doesn’t move. He just lets me ride and I can feel him getting harder and fatter inside of me as he exclaims several expletives throughout the five minutes. When the timer goes off, he doesn’t make a move.

“Pick a card,” I taunt, still fucking his growing dick.

“Fuck!” he hisses and reaches for another card.

“Stop… stop for a minute,” he begs, “I need to think.” I stop rolling my hips and he’s damn near breathless on the floor. “I don’t know how we’re going to do this one.” He shows me the card and it’s The Sitting V. You normally need a counter or table to pull this one off. I look over at the loveseat and see the highest point in the room that won’t leave me with a bruised or impaled ass.

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“The arm of the loveseat?” I say.

“We’ll give it a try,” he says, slapping my ass, signaling me to get up.

Yeah… no.

We tried everything to get that position right. What’s supposed to happen is that my but is on the edge of a counter, my legs over his shoulders and my hands behind his neck. He supports my back and he just fucks me that way. We tried. We really tried, but he’s too tall to stand and too short to kneel to get the position right. We even tried crouching, but he couldn’t get an angle where his knees didn’t hit the side of the sofa. By the time we try every unsuccessful variation of this position, we’re caught in fits of uncontrollable giggles and realize that we had never set the timer. We throw in the towel on The Sitting V and pick another card.

The T-Position

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“Now we’re talking,” Christian croons as he pulls me from the loveseat back onto the floor. “Lie back,” he instructs me. When I do, he slides between my legs on his side—perpendicular—and lifts my leg over his hip. While I’m trying to figure out how this is going to work, he pushes my other leg away from him so that they’re spread open wider but he’s not lying on my leg. Then he slides into me.

Holy. Cow. Batman.

“There it is,” he says as he begins that masterful stroke that has me rising in a matter of seconds. “Now, we’re back on track.”

He bends his knee so that my leg drapes over his thigh and now, he’s not only free to move his hips, but his hand is also free to caress me as he’s doing this perfect sideways thrust into my core. He’s caressing my thighs and my stomach, kissing my skin wherever his lips and tongue can reach, and I nearly can’t stand it.

I can’t even think of a French exclamation, and I really need one right now.

I open my mouth to get some fair into my lungs and look down at my husband. He’s gazing at me all victoriously, a half-smirk on his face as his body rolls into mine over and over in a perfect water wave, his dick sliding so deliciously in and out of me causing the perfect amount of friction. I reach up and grab my breasts and close my eyes, lost in the perfection of this position that we’ve never tried before. When I open them again, my husband’s expression has changed. He’s still gazing at me, but he’s licking and biting his lips and grasping my leg hard.

“You look so fucking hot,” he says as he plunges into me, his stroke now deeper and seeking his own pleasure while fueling mine.

“Christian!” I breathe, “please…”

“Please, what?” he hisses, grinding and rolling and thrusting his hips into mine, the task seeming harder and harder for him. Yeah, please, what? I don’t know. I groan and fall back onto the floor, welcoming the delicious burn in my core and allowing him to push me higher and higher as he grunts with each thrust.

DING!

I blindly reach for the scattered cards and pull one. I can’t even see it through my passion-induced haze, so I just shove it in Christian’s face. He reaches over and grabs a handful of cards then, wrapping his arms around me, he rises effortlessly from the floor and carries me to the loveseat—with his dick still inside of me. He sits down with me on top, straddling him and just begins to fuck me. I wrap my arms around his neck and ride along with him. His hands are all over me—my back, my ass, my hair—he’s kissing me passionately and loving me deeply. I try to give him back what he’s giving me, running my fingers through his hair, caressing his cheek and chest, kissing him deeply. When his arms slide around my waist, I know that we’re both in passion and chasing the orgasm again. We both groan when the timer goes off and Christian pulls a card from the small stack next to us.

“We’ll change the timer to ten minutes, okay?” he breathes, his voice thick with arousal. I nod and wait anxiously for him to show me the next card.

“Somebody somewhere likes us,” he says, showing me the card. It’s Standing Sex. And again, he lifts me effortlessly and stands to his feet, continuing his stroke right where he left off. Now, we’re both fighting an orgasm and this round has to last ten minutes. I wrap my arms around him and just enjoy the ride.

“Don’t come. Feel the pleasure,” I coach myself inwardly. My body is bursting with sensation all over and I want to come so badly, but I simply can’t let it end yet. It feels too damn good. I know my husband is having the same thoughts and his stamina is much stronger than mine, but he feels so good inside of me that I release a mournful groan that has his knees wobbling and causes him to nearly lose the fight.

“Damn, baby, you’re too fucking sexy!” he exclaims, his face buried in my neck as he pounds into me.

“So are you,” I breathe. “You’re so big and you feel so good…”

“Fuuuuuuuck!” he groans loudly, and I feel him still and pulsing inside me. I thought he came, but he only stops momentarily and starts to thrust again, harder and deeper. The inner coach is somewhere taking a break and I feel myself rising higher and higher…

DING!

“Fuck, that shit was close,” Christian confesses breathily. He sits back on the loveseat with me on his lap and pulls another card.

“And it’s about to get closer,” he says as he shows me another card.

Doggy style.

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Fuck!

I rise off of him and get into position on my knees over the loveseat.

“Fuck, baby,” he says, looking down at me, “I think this is about to be a wrap.”

“I tend to agree with you,” I say.

He falls into position behind me and slides easily inside me.

“Fucking hell!” he says, grabbing my hips and thrusting hard into me three or four times. Oh, shit! I’m startled when he stops, takes a few deep breaths, then begins to move in a long, slow stroke.

Oh, hell. Mr. Grey is going to draw this out.

I try to get my mind ready for the onslaught of pleasure that’s about to come over me, but nothing could have prepared me. His slow stroke intensifies when his grip tightens on my hip and one hand flattens on my back. I open my mouth again to get air in, but I can feel the dew forming on my skin. It won’t be long now.

“Baby, fuck,” he groans, and his whole body is over mine, his hips thrusting his cock deliciously into me. My labored breathing becomes whimpers with each thrust and my body is aching to come now. I don’t want to fight it anymore, but my stubborn brain won’t let go. He licks the dew off my back and his hand grasps my shoulder while the other is flat on the loveseat next to mine, supporting his weight.

“Oh, God,” I protest when he licks my skin again, finishing with an open-mouthed kiss on my back. I shiver and release a breath, begging my sweating body to let go so that I can come.

“Fuck, I need you,” he growls. “I need you so much.” His hand dives into my hair and he roughly twists my head to the side. I cry out from the surprise more than the pain and he slams a bruising kiss onto my lips, his tongue plunging into my mouth. I almost collapse on my arms as my body shivers and aches. He begins to moan shamelessly into my mouth and my body signals that if he releases, I can let go.

“Oh, fuck, no, no, not yet!” he chastises aloud as his dick pulses inside of me. Again, I think he comes, but much to my dismay, he doesn’t. There’s no insane wetness to indicate his ejaculation and only moments later, he’s thrusting into me again. “Fuck, so close… so fucking close.”

“If you let go, I’ll let go,” I breathe, not willing to tap out yet.

“No… no… not yet… too fucking good…” he pants as he continues to thrust into me. I moan inwardly. I want to come so badly, I could cry, but my stubborn brain won’t let my body release before he does, and his body is fighting the feeling because it’s too good.

“Fuck, baby, my dick is burning,” he confesses as he reaches around and pulls my nipple, still drilling into me.

“Oh, God, Christian!’ I protest as I fight to hold myself up against him. I close my eyes as his teeth sink gently into the meat of my shoulder. I shiver with delight, feeling my breast fall into and fill his large hand. He alternates between cupping it and gently caressing it to pulling my nipple until it’s taut and aroused.

DING!

Goddammit to hell, that was the longest ten minutes ever fucking known to man, and I don’t protest when he doesn’t stop fucking me. I can’t take it anymore. I need to come again… seriously!

“This is the last one,” he groans. “I need to come inside you.”

“Okay,” I pant, breathlessly.

“You pull,” he commands, still fucking me and pulling on my nipple. I nod and reach for the cards on the loveseat. When I pull the card for the next position, I know it’s going to be a problem…

Yab-yum.

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That’s our connection position, and this has the potential to be dynamic… or disastrous. I’m spent and aching for an orgasm and can’t be responsible for what comes of attempting this feat, but nonetheless, we agree to try it.

I thought the position would be awkward sexually, but my husband has a goddamn Olympic-length dick. So, when he sits lotus-style with his back against the loveseat, I sit in his lap facing him with my arms and legs around him. He guides his cock to my core and they have no problem finding their counterpart. It’s not the deepest penetration that we’ve had, but it feels good… really good… in more ways than one.

The intimacy that I feel is amazing! Yes, my core is still on fire and in a secondary kind of way, I can still feel the pleasure of my husband inside of me… loving me, but something else is going on.

His fingertips caress my arm very softly, then my neck. Silver-gray eyes never leave mine. My hands slowly slide from his shoulders to his chest, my fingers spread far apart. I feel like that’s where they need to be. His arms slide around me, and his hands move to my upper back. He holds me close to him… not too close, but close… close enough to look into my eyes, close enough to breathe the same air…

And we begin to rock.

We rock and rock until we become acutely aware of the physical as well as the spiritual friction between us. The room fades away. Everything fades away for a moment except the sound of his voice…

You’re beautiful. You’re my life. I couldn’t survive without you.

You’re in my soul… in my blood… everything in me is you…

I live and breathe for you, only for you, my love…

I will take care of you…

I will love you for the rest of my days…

I don’t know where I am, and I only feel heat. I only see light. Heat and light. Well, more like warmth… warmth all over. I feel like some of my life’s energy is leaving me, and it’s scaring me.

Christian… please… help me…

I’ve got you, baby.

I want to wail, but I can’t, and I don’t know why—why I want to or why I can’t. I’m frozen somewhere outside myself and it’s scaring me to death.

Christian…

Butterfly… I’ve got you…

The explosion is cosmic—in my chest, in my head, all over me. Light blinds me completely, and I can even see it behind my closed eyelids. My body is trembling wildly, painfully, and I can’t stop it. Dear God, please make it stop…

This burst of… I don’t know, energy, maybe… is wracking my body. I feel like I’m in a room of nothing but blinding light, but I’m not alone. There’s a warmth wrapped around me, loving me, consoling me, and I don’t want to leave. I don’t know how long it lasts, but it seems like eternity. Slowly, very slowly, the light starts to fade. I can barely make out where I am. I hear crying.

I don’t open my eyes, but I’m now conscious of where I am. I’m sitting in my husband’s lap with my legs wrapped around him. My arms are pressed against his chest, my head back. We’re both drenched in sweat, hair dripping, sitting in the middle of the sitting room floor. My breathing is wild and gaspy and tears are streaming down my face, but the only sound I’m making are the gasps from taking in large amounts of air. My husband’s arms are clasped tight around me like a vice and his face is lying on my chest. He’s weeping. It’s his cries that I hear. I feel his sex pulsing inside of mine and the feeling is magical. I don’t want to move. I don’t want it to end. But the crying…

It’s obvious that we connected while we were having sex… or making love, I should say. Didn’t we do this once before? I don’t remember, but if we did, it was nothing like this. To say that it was powerful would be an understatement. To say that it was earth-shattering would be too cliché. There are no words for what just happened, no words at all.

*-*

“I heard you talking,” he says. “You were saying such… wonderful things… Everything you said, I feel about you.”

“I heard you talking,” I confess. “You were saying…” I swallow hard as I fight to focus. “I wasn’t talking,” I breathe.

“Neither was I,” he says. I’m afraid, but I can tell that he feels no fear. “What’s wrong?”

“What’s going on with us?” I say, my voice shaking.

“Only the best and most intense love known to man,” he says, brushing my hair from my face. “I never thought anything like this was possible in my life, definitely not for me.”

“I’ve never felt or known anything like this… ever,” I admit. “I’m afraid that…” I trail off.

“That what, baby?” he asks.

“That if one of us dies, the other won’t survive,” I finish.

“I already know that,” he admits, “so don’t die.”

We sleep in very late the next morning, saving our appetites for the housewarming party that was sprung on us somewhat last minute. Unlike many gatherings before, this will not merely be family and close friends. Many of Val’s former co-workers will be there as well as some of Elliot’s staff—along with their significant others. Val says that many people asked about her and just wanted to check on her, so she thought showing off her new home was a good way for them to see just how well she’s doing—friends and haters alike. Elliot proclaimed that he wanted a few of the slackers to see “how it’s really done” and he and only the best of the best did the work on his house.

I don’t know anybody there except the family and I’m certainly not trying to impress anyone, so I just don my Freddy jeans and a black oversized cashmere turtleneck sweater. Me being me, I anchor the simple ensemble with Valentino black leather stiletto boots with bow embellishments up the back. No fancy jewelry needed—just my wedding and engagement rings, and my hair is in a messy loosened side braid. Christian is similarly dressed in a pair of black jeans, a white cashmere sweater and black suede ankle boots. I’m going to be helping Val as much as she’ll let me, so we pack an overnight bag with plans to stay until tomorrow.

When we get to my sister and brother-in-law’s home, I admit that I expected the outside to be grander than it is. It looks like a big yellow box and I’m thinking to myself, “Why didn’t they do something more to this?” Elliot is an architect, so… why the massive understatement?

949942852ac3d3397dc9295fe5d61cf9“It’s yellow,” I say to Christian a bit dismayed as we drive up the driveway.

“Yep, that it is,” he says matter-of-factly.

“And it’s stucco,” I continue, my distaste evident. My husband’s extended silence causes me to look over at him.

“You might want to get it all out now,” he says. I frown.

“Get all what out?” I ask.

“Your criticisms,” he states.

“I’m not criticizing!” I declare.

“You don’t have to convince me,” he says, “but if you go into this woman’s house with that tone, she’s likely to put you out. I would.” My mouth falls open.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I ask affronted.

“No offense, Butterfly, but did I stutter?” he asks. “You haven’t even gotten out of the car yet; you haven’t rang the doorbell or greeted anybody, and the first two things you say about the house are critical.”

“I wasn’t being critical,” I excuse. “I was just making observations.” He twists his lips and stares at me.

“Okay,” he says and proceeds to open the door.

“Don’t placate me, Christian…” I begin, and he turns around and cuts me off with a finger pointed at me.

“I’m not going to fight with you,” he says flatly with no malice, “least of all, about this. We’re here for a housewarming party at my brother’s house—your sister’s house. We’re going to go inside, eat some food, hang out with our family and friends and enjoy ourselves. And we’re not going to argue about the yellow house. Comprende?”

I narrow my eyes at him and say nothing. He opens the door and exits the car.

“I speak French, not Spanish,” I say when he turns back to me.

“And yet, you understood what I said,” he points out as he extends his hand to help me out of the car. I glare up at him and scramble out of the car without accepting his hand. The pause behind me can be heard across Lake Washington. After hearing nothing but my heels clicking on the concrete for several seconds, I hear the door slam behind me.

He’s mad.

Can you blame him? He called you out for acting like the quintessential snob and you get all pissy about it.

I don’t need this shit from you… or him. I didn’t do anything wrong.

“How’d I know you’d be the first one here?” Val says when she opens the door. “You even beat the Queen.”

“Well, I’m closer than he is,” I say, breezing into the room and undoing my coat while kissing her on the cheek.

“Wow, chilly,” she says.

“It’s not that cold,” I say, handing my outerwear to a gentleman standing there waiting for it. “You’ve got staff,” I smile.

“Besides a temporary cook, just for today,” she replies, “and I wasn’t talking about the weather.” My brow furrows and hers rises expectantly. We have an entire wordless conversation where I ask what the hell she’s talking about, then she asks what’s with the chilly attitude, what’s going on. I end the conversation by waving her off.

“Show me the house,” I say. She raises her brow again.

“Don’t you want to wait for Christian? We can show it to you both at the same time,” she points out. I shrug.

“Doesn’t matter,” I say as I walk into the house.

“You drinking?” she asks, and I nod. She uncorks a bottle of Cabernet from the kitchen wine rack. We talk a bit about the portion of the house that I can see from here. The vestibule opens right into the kitchen and dining room with the living room actually facing the back of the house and Lake Washington, much like ours. The living room and dining room are all glass walls and doors. Three sets of double doors make up the far wall that faces Lake Washington, and two more sets make up the westward facing wall along with large plate glass panes. A large patio wraps around the back and side of the house showcased by the glass walls.

The kitchen is a chef’s kitchen with stained oak cabinets and high-end appliances, including a five-burner stove in the island of the breakfast bar. Of course, the living room has a gorgeous natural gas fireplace and I’m already drawn to sit in one of the comfy oversized chairs and stare out at the lake for hours, forgetting my troubles like snippy husbands who become all sensitive about yellow stucco houses.

“I’m taking gourmet cooking classes,” Val says, interrupting my thoughts and placing a glass of wine in front of me. “Maybe you can help me out with some pointers and recipes.”

“Absolutely!” I beam. “Did you cook anything for the party today?” She shakes her head.

“No, I wanted the food to actually be edible,” she jests. “Besides, I haven’t been feeling well. I’ve been a little dizzy lately, but that’s to be expected after brain surgery.” I frown.

“You don’t think…” I trail off. If there’s any possibility that her cancer is returning, I want her to get a jump on it the moment it rears its ugly head. I will not lose my sister.

“I don’t know,” she laments, “but I don’t think so. There’s been no hint of Meg in any of my cat scans…”

Meg?” I say, bemused.

“My tumor,” she says. My face is the picture of horror.

“You named your tumor?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says. “I gave it an identity—a dark intruder that needed to be kicked out of my body. She’s an unwanted passenger and I’m kicking her off the bus. It’s a way of taking control of an uncontrollable situation. You diminish the power of the tumor by giving it a name. You’re the doctor, here, Steele. You should read up on this. It’s a very common practice.” I shake my head.

“I’ll take your word for it,” I say. “There are too many facets of medicine for me to be able to cover them all. Oncology and the philosophies that surround it are way too much for me, but if there’s anything that I need to know to be supportive to you, please tell me.”

“Just ask me every so often how Meg is doing,” she says. “If I tell you that she’s still on vacation, we’re good. If I ever say that she’s making an appearance, then it’s time to put our war clothes on.” I nod.

“So… what now? What about Elliot?”

“Oh, dear God, he was ready to take me to the ER,” she replies. “It’s just a little dizziness. It comes with the territory, but I totally understand his concern, especially since I unconsciously hid Meg for something like six months or so. To that end, I’ve got a doctor’s appointment on Wednesday.”

“Do you really want to wait that long?” I ask. “What if Meg really has made another appearance?”

“Then a couple of days really won’t matter, Sis,” she replies. “I need to see my neurologist first, tell him what’s going on, and take the proper steps. If it turns out that Meg is rearing her ugly head, then I’ll go back to the oncologist and we’ll come up with a plan of action. It’s that simple. Now, please, let’s not dwell on it. I want you to tell me how lovely my house is—don’t make me fish for compliments, and if you don’t like it, lie.” She concludes that portion of the conversation with a smile. Just as the conversation changes, Elliot comes into the kitchen.

“I heard the doorbell,” he begins. “Where’s Christian?” Before I could formulate a lie as to why I’m present without my loving husband, Christian comes into the house with our overnight bags. Geez, there were just two bags and his laptop. What took so damn long?

“Dude, what were you doing out there? Did you guys come in separate cars?” Elliot asks the question for me.

“Nope,” my husband quips. “Just separate minds.” He drops our bags on the floor

What the hell is that supposed to mean?

“Oookay,” Elliot says. “Well, I’ve got just the thing for you,” he adds, taking Christian’s coat and handing it to one of the staff. “My very own man-cave stocked with food and refreshments—even beer for those who want to partake. Martin, can you take those bags to the big guest room, please?” He says to the same gentleman who took Christian’s coat. “Come, brother, let the woman fawn over the house whilst we go grunt and scratch ourselves.”

“Lead the way, Bro,” Christian responds, putting his arm around Elliot’s shoulder and, without even looking in my direction, disappears to parts unknown with him. I twist my lips. It’s going to be like that for the evening, is it? I turn to Val

“Well, I guess you can show me the house now.”

*-*

Five bedrooms and five bathrooms in two separate living quarters; nearly 4000 square feet and the lakeside of the house on all floor boasts glass walls or large windows.

In addition to the open great-room-living area, there are three bedrooms on the first floor—the third has been converted to a small home office—a laundry room, and a wine closet. The master bedroom has a view of the lake and the other two rooms are on the east side of the house and only slightly more modest. The master bedroom and second bedroom both have en suites and walk-in closets. There’s also a powder room on the main floor.

It’s listed as a two-story home, because the front of the house is two stories. However, there are three floors as the back of the house reveals that the main story is actually a sublevel.

The second floor is a mother-in-law apartment boasting two terraces on the lakeside of the house and one larger terrace on the east side of the house. It has a separate entrance from outside that opens into another great room—living room, dining room, and kitchen—with more modest furnishings than the main floor. You can access one of the terraces from the dining area of this room, which also boasts a glass wall, as well as a powder room with a shower. Both the upstairs and downstairs kitchens have granite countertops.

The two upstairs bedrooms are connected by a Jack-and-Jill bathroom. The larger terrace can be accessed from one bedroom while the smaller can be accessed from the other.

The third floor is the man cave, Elliot’s workout space, and a small area for storage. It also accesses the full party terrace. We didn’t go up there.

From the front of the house, you can see the 800-square-foot garage and six-car parking spaces inside the security gate. A trail to the right leads to a jungle patio much like ours and a cement water fountain. The trail continues through beautiful landscaping and concludes at a 60-foot dock and a whole lot of private waterfront, which will most likely just be for viewing and swimming since Elliot has no desire to own a boat.

The house is really beautiful and quite spacious on the inside—nothing like my house of course. Then again, not everybody can, nor do they want to, live in the obscenely ginormous brick house with the swinging wrought iron gates that is Grey Crossing. It’s hard not to compare other houses to the magnificent edifice that I call home, but I guess I better stop doing that.

Val tells me that the house is condo, so they only purchased the house from the studs in. The Home Owners’ Association is responsible for the outside and the grounds. I didn’t even know that you could buy houses that way—I thought you could only buy condos that way… you know, apartments. I ask why she didn’t just buy a house, and she says that they want to build their own, so until they can do that, this location will do nicely.

Just as I’m singing the praises of Val and Elliot’s home and its amenities, careful to leave out the yellow stucco, her guests begin to arrive. Of course, Allen and James arrive first after Christian and me. Grace and Carrick aren’t too far behind. After them, many of Val’s former coworkers join the party followed by some of Elliot’s employees. When Maxie and Phil show up followed by Mia and Ethan, Val gives me the unpleasant task of going to the man cave to retrieve our husbands, her excuse being that this is the only part of the house that I haven’t seen. I roll my eyes and do as I’m told.

I make my way to the third-floor man cave—indeed! What a space this is. What happens if Val needs him and she’s all the way on the first floor? Does she send a messenger pigeon?

56238bd948e82c525d10a559c1148b31The first thing I see is a sign declaring the rules of the man cave, referring to things like scratching, belching, farting, and bacon—which are all allowed in the man cave. I enter the room and see my husband and his brother yelling at a large-screen television, and I know they’ve found a football game.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” I say, and they both rubberneck to me like they’ve been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

“Val sent me to retrieve you,” I add. “Most of your guests have arrived.” Elliot stands and frowns.

“Why did she send you all the way up here?” he asks. “She could have used the intercom.”

Interco…? I know why her sneaky ass sent me up here, but I don’t let on.

“She said she wanted me to see the man cave,” I confess, knowing that wasn’t her real motive. “It’s quite impressive, Elliot.”

“Thanks, Montana,” he says, smiling as he walks by me. “Stay put, bro. I’ll see if I can rescue any other unfortunate fellows. If I don’t come back, you’ll know that I was unsuccessful in my mission.” And away he goes. Christian sits on the sofa still watching the game without acknowledging my presence at all.

“So, you’re just going to ignore me?” I bark. He turns to me.

“Oh! Now, you’re speaking to me?” he asks incredulously.

“I was never not speaking to you, Christian,” I snap impatiently.

“You coulda fooled me,” he says, standing from the sofa. “Just like you, I don’t like being ignored, Anastasia, but you’re the one who threw down that gauntlet. I don’t know what’s wrong, but whatever it is, you need to get it in order.”

“There is no ‘right or wrong’ here…” I begin.

“Yes, there is, and you know it,” he says matter-of-factly, and then he glares at me as if he’s waiting for something. When I don’t respond, he turns away from me and starts to leave.

Say something, you twit! You’re acting like a spoiled, entitled, socialite bitch and I don’t like you very much right now.

“Christian I’m sorry!” I call out before he gets to the door. He stops and turns around.

“For what?” he asks. Oh, geez.

“For talking about the house that way and acting like a snob,” I reply. He twists his lips and shakes his head before turning to leave again. What? I said I was sorry!

“Christian!” I call out to him again. He spins around and closes the space between us in a few long strides.

“I don’t give a fuck what you said about this house!” he hisses quietly in my face. “The yellow stucco is ugly, but we don’t have to live here. What pissed me off is the way you treated me. You attacked me for simply telling you not to offend them in their own home. Then you snubbed me when you got out of the car like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum. When your feelings of anger or displeasure are justified against me, I deal with them—that’s all I can do, but when you act like this…” He looks at me and points at various parts of me with disdain. “… This catty little thing that I can’t even find the words to describe, you can do this by yourself, because I’ll have no part of it.”

He doesn’t wait for me to respond. He marches out of the room and quietly closes the door behind him.

What am I supposed to do with that? I didn’t deliberately… but… shit.

And now, the Bitch is quiet. No sassy comments, no gloating, no unwanted advice… I guess she’s having no part of it either.

I go back down to the party, certain that Elliot was unsuccessful in “rescuing other unfortunate fellows.” I won’t be a stick in the mud. I’ll help Val entertain and I’ll have a good time. Hopefully, Christian will too.

Her friends seem nice for the most part. More than one of them have made comments about my husband or even tried to put the moves on him, but I keep the green-eyed monster at bay, determined not to make a fool of myself or to march over into a crowd of mixed strangers and “piss” all over my man—especially since it appears that he doesn’t want me to. I don’t know if, at this point, he’s ignoring me or I’m ignoring him. I know I’m avoiding him… I’m giving him his space.

After a while, I get my answer. I hadn’t noticed, but one or two of the single guys have been eyeing me all night. When one blatantly makes his move, I inform him that I’m married and that my husband is in attendance. When he asks who my husband is, I point to Christian who still isn’t making eye-contact with me.

“That’s your husband?” he asks incredulously. “He hasn’t said one word to you all night!”

“How would you know?” I ask affronted.

“I been watchin’, baby,” he says. “I been waitin’ for somebody to make a move or stake a claim and nobody did, so…” He shrugs. “I don’t mean to offend you, but with an ass like that and those sky-high fuck-me boots, I wouldn’t let you out of my sight.” He shrugs again and walks away.

I look over at my husband again who appears to be holding court with about six attentive listeners, male and female, and not even throwing a glance at me. He normally goes Neanderthal when somebody approaches me or tries to put the moves on me. This time, he didn’t even blink. I don’t even think he noticed.

I go to the kitchen and pour myself another glass of wine. I empty the glass just as quickly as I filled it, then pour another and empty that one, too. And suddenly, I’m exhausted. I’ve been smiling and laughing and conversing and being hostess #2 so that my beloved sister doesn’t overdo it, and now, I want to collapse somewhere and rest—alone. All by myself. In peace.

I look around and no one notices that I’ve left the party. Even my beloved sister is occupied with her previous coworkers. She looks very happy. Good. I quietly open the door to the patio and slip outside.

I welcome the cool air, and the silence. With the lights inside, nobody’s likely to see me out here. Solitude. I have to say that I’m glad to have it. I don’t know how long I’ve been smiling at people and making merry, but I’ve had enough. I sit on the chaise which luckily has an afghan thrown over it and snuggle in looking out at the water—the only thing that has never let me down. If I didn’t want to ruin my heels or freeze to death in the water, I’d walk across the grass, take off my boots, and put my feet in it. My blue savior…

A stranger noticed that my husband was ignoring me, but only because he was watching me all night waiting for his chance to make a move. Nonetheless, a stranger noticed that my husband was ignoring me. When I realized that, I suddenly felt like everyone in the room knew that he was ignoring me. I know that’s not true, but that could be why those who felt so brave as to approach him did so. They thought he was unattached.

A chill runs through me. I’m so fucking tired of feeling this way in some way or another—like something in my life always has to fucking be fixed! Give me a goddamn break!

But this does have to be fixed. I’m just too damn tired to fix it now.

Looking at the water now makes me think of Anguilla, the good and the bad. The promises we made to each other; the passionate love we made; me feeling like I wouldn’t be able to handle intense scenes; the first appearance of the nightmares; Christian screaming at me for answering his phone; all that goddamn candy; standing in the water and feeling it cleanse me…

Somehow, my mind drifts all the way back to when we met. God, I hated that guy, he was the most arrogant, spiteful, conceited son-of-a-bitch I’d ever met in my life. God, what an asshole! How someone could be so cold and unfeeling…

“You planning to jump in?”

Val’s voice jolts me out of my inner musings.

“Jesus, Val, you scared the shit outta me!” I scold.

“You didn’t hear me come outside?” she asks. I look behind me into the house, and it’s almost empty. How long have I been out here?

“You’re trying to kill yourself out here, huh?” she says, holding my coat out to me.

“I’m wrapped in an afghan,” I defend, taking my coat. “I’m not completely unprotected.”

“True, but I bet the coat feels better,” she says, and I have to agree with her when I wrap myself in its warmth. I pull my gloves out of the pockets and cover my hands, thankful for that warmth as well.

“Don’t forget your scarf,” she says handing it to me and I wrap it around my neck. We’re interrupted by one of her serving staff coming onto the patio with warm drinks—spiced lattes. They’re delicious, and very welcome.

“Now, tell me what’s going on,” she says. I raise my gaze to her, nearly begging her not to make me reveal the cause of my absconding, but she’s not going to relent.

“Sometimes, I just need a few moments to myself, that’s all,” I tell her, and it’s the truth. “I told you that Jason helped me realize that I’m suffering from PTSD…” She nods. “Well, there are moments when I need to talk it out, and then there are moments when I just need to sit in a quiet place.”

“So, is that what’s going on?” she prods. “You’re having a bout of your PTSD?”

“No,” the word is out of my mouth before I even have the chance to formulate a lie. “Your house is gorgeous. It really is, but that yellow stucco is horrendous. And when we drove up to the house and I saw that yellow stucco, my mouth and brain disconnected. I swear, I didn’t say anything horrible about the house, but my tone was enough to let Christian know that I was not pleased with the yellow stucco.”

“Is that what this is about?” Val says, unable to hide her mirth. “You two are bickering over the ugly yellow stucco?”

“Well, yes and no,” I reply. “He told me not to come in here insulting your house because you might throw me out. Then he said that if it were him, he’d throw me out, too—and I took offense to that. I can’t remember what all happened after that, but the situation just went south and… here I am. I’m just hoping that the situation will blow over and tomorrow, we’ll just be back to normal.

“It seems like I spend so much time exploring my feelings and looking out for everybody else’s. I filled the pages of three journals already—do you have any idea how much writing that is? And when I start to feel the angst of my situation, I’ll talk to anyone who’ll listen…”

Yes, I know,” she interjects, somewhat absent-mindedly. I raise my gaze to her again.

“Does it bother you?” I ask, disheartened. She’s probably heard the lion’s share of my troubles over the last week.

“Are you kidding?” she exclaims. “No! Of course not! Seriously, Steele?” and I think I may have offended her just now. Great… but I can’t focus on it at this moment.

“Day after day after day of rolling over my feelings, trying to be mindful of others so that I don’t say or do the wrong thing, and then nine times out of ten, the wrong thing flies out my mouth anyway. My shrink threw me out of his office yesterday. Did I tell you that?”

“No!” she says in horror. “Why did he do that?”

“Because I probably did the same thing to him that I just did to Christian,” I admit. “If my feelings are all a-scramble, apparently I mindlessly say and do things that alienate people from me.” I sigh and take a sip of the warming coffee, the only inner warmth I’ll probably feel for the rest of the night.

“Well, I only knew something was wrong because I know you,” she says. “You were the picture of decorum at the party tonight. Everybody really liked you.”

“I don’t think they would let on if they didn’t,” I say with a sad smile.

“I would know if they didn’t,” she reassures me. “I know these people.” I sip my coffee again.

“Wait a minute… You called it ‘ugly yellow stucco.’ You think it’s ugly, too?” I ask bemused.

“Well… it wouldn’t have been my first choice,” she replies. I roll my eyes.

“Then why don’t you change it?” I ask in horror. “You live here now!”

“Because like I told you, it’s condo!” she replies, restating the obvious. “I have full reign of the inside of the house, but the outside—nope. I can’t change the stucco, and the HOA requires that the houses all be some kind of uniform related color. The only other options I have are white, tan, or some other dreadful neutral color, so I’ll spare myself the expense and spend my money on the inside. Besides, yellow is the color of sunshine and I’ve psyched myself out to believe that it’s a beautiful blend with the trees when they’re green and with the blue water all year long.”

“Isn’t it exhausting looking on the bright side of the street all the time?” I accuse wearily.

“I have to, Steele. I’m a cancer survivor. I coulda been dead. For me, being alive, living and loving El, having all my family and friends over today to view my beautiful house… that is the bright side of the street.”


CHRISTIAN

The party is over. I’ve surprisingly made a few connections with people at Val’s job. I had no intention of networking, but when they found out who I was, it was inevitable—and surprisingly productive.

I lost track of my wife early in the evening, which is a bit of a good thing. I simply did not have time or energy for her childish behavior. When the party starts to thin, and Elliot suggests going back to the man cave, I jump at the opportunity.

“Well, this was an interesting night,” Elliot says, drinking his soda.

“Besides the obvious, how so?” I ask.

“Well, it depends on what you’re considering ‘obvious,’” he says. “For instance, when you say ‘obvious,’ do you mean the fact that you and Montana didn’t stay in the same area for 30 seconds? Or are you referring to the fact that when the company whore was hitting on you, she didn’t climb over furniture to scratch her eyes out? Or was it more obvious that you didn’t turn into Tarzan when that guy was hitting on her?” My brow furrows. Some guy was hitting on my wife? “And I take it by that expression that the last bit of information wasn’t so obvious.”

“Who was hitting on her?” I ask. Elliot shakes his head.

“What should concern you more is that I was entertaining and watching approximately 50 people today and I knew that you weren’t speaking to your wife. She was so friendly to everybody except you that you would have thought this was her housewarming. What the fuck, man? Is the honeymoon over.” I roll my eyes.

“The honeymoon’s been over for a long time, Elliot, but it doesn’t mean that I love her any less.”

“Then what gives, man?” he confronts again. “You two are generally inseparable at things like this, so much that only an idiot—like Lily—would dare hit on either of you, let alone someone approach both of you. So, what’s up with that?”

I’m still miffed that someone hit on my wife and I didn’t know about it. Why didn’t he tell me when it happened? How many people hit on her tonight that Elliot didn’t see? I know the felines were in rare form clawing at me tonight. I damn near had to beat one off with a stick. That must have been the company whore that Elliot was talking about. How many hounds were sniffing after my wife?

“Look, man,” Elliot says after I pause for a little too long. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. In all honesty, it’s really none of my business anyway. But if your Butterfly means as much to you as my Angel does to me, you better get to the bottom of this instead of letting it fester and hoping that it goes away… just like that fucking tumor.” I rubberneck over to him.

“What?” I ask. “Is the tumor back.”

“No,” he snaps vehemently, “not that we know of, now stop trying to change the subject.”

He clearly doesn’t want to talk about that subject and I hope he was just speaking in retrospect and Valerie’s tumor isn’t coming back. That was a hard time for all of us.

“Tell me, man. Who was hitting on my wife?” I ask.

“I don’t know the guy,” he says. “He either works at Angel’s old job or he was somebody’s plus one. Whatever he said to Montana, he was dismissed pretty quickly, and then I didn’t see her for the rest of the night.” The rest of the night.

“What? Did she go off with the guy?” I ask before my brain can catch up to my mouth.

“What the fuck do you think?” Elliot barks angrily. “Do you think that your wife and the mother of your two children went off somewhere with a strange man at a party that she never met before? Because if you do, then there’s a whole lot more amiss than you’re letting on. And the fact that you had to ask that question means that this conversation is over, and you need to get up, go downstairs and find your fucking wife!”

Geez, and he’s mad. And he’s right. I don’t know what even made me consider the possibility that Butterfly would do something like that. I really feel like shit for thinking that. She’s still beating herself up for letting that Liam fucker get too close.

“What are you waiting for?” Elliot snaps. “Directions?”

“Keep your shirt on,” I retort. “I don’t think my wife went off with somebody else. I’m just pissed that someone approached my wife and it wasn’t brought to my attention sooner.”

“Yeah, save that anger for yourself, because if you had been paying attention, nobody would have had to tell you. You were heading that guy Brian off at her adoption party faster than he could get the words out his mouth. Now this guy makes a move, moves on, and your wife disappears, and you want to blame somebody else for that? Shut up talking to me and go find your wife.”

“I’m not blaming…”

“Shut up talking to me and go find your wife!” he snaps. God! Okay! Damn! I stand up and walk to the door heading downstairs.

When I get to the main floor, Valerie is in the kitchen with one of the remaining staff, and there’s no Butterfly.

“So, where’s my wife?” I ask somewhat impassively.

“Sulking,” Valerie says with a shrug. My brow furrows as I await elaboration, and she points to the glass wall on the other side of the living room. There on a chaise just outside the glass is a mop of mahogany hair. I can’t see anything else. I roll my eyes, shake my head and sigh.

Why does this woman always seem to escape to the coldest part of the world when she needs to be alone? It’s November, in Washington, at two in the morning. Why the fuck is she on the patio? And ten will get you twenty that she’s asleep out there. Elliot appears just at that moment.

“Our lodgings for the night, good sir and madam?” I request.

“Through there and at the end of the hallway,” Elliot says. “It’s the biggest room besides mine and Val’s.” I nod and head for one of the sets of double doors. When I step out onto the patio, I take in the sight of my tiny wife. She’s snuggled in her coat and scarf and wrapped in another blanket so tight and so small that I can barely make out a body under there. Either she’s fighting the cold with a vengeance…

Or she’s shrinking.

“What am I going to do with you?” I lament aloud. I lean down to the chaise and gather her in my arms, blanket and all. She doesn’t even stir—and she’s warm, so it’s not the cold. When I cross the threshold back into the house, Elliot is waiting to close the door behind me.

“Thanks for a great party, you guys,” I tell them. “We’ll see you in the morning.”

“Not too early,” Elliot says with a nod and a smile. I acknowledge his request and carry my shrinking wife to our temporary boudoir. When I lay her in the bed, she shrinks again—so small and so tight that I can’t get her coat off. I can either wake her to get her coat off or just let her sleep. So, I remove her boots and let her stay there before taking my duffel to the en suite for a shower.

Gentle sunrays wake me in the morning and I immediately know that I’m not in my own bed—and that I’m alone. I dress in my workout gear and sneakers and take off for a run. She’s somewhere in the house, I’m sure, and I’ll talk to her when I get back.

I run through all the things I need to be doing today as my feet pound the cold pavement. For me, Sunday is just a day to prepare for the week ahead—meetings to be had tomorrow and mergers to discuss; acquisitions to finalize…

Smalls and his team will be on their way back to Detroit today and everything in the storage units will have a home or a destination by end of business, Friday. Anything that remains will be shipped back here by my shipping department and housed in one of our numerous warehouses. If anyone wants something after it’s been shipped here to be stored, they may have to pay some kind of fee for waiting so long to claim it unless there’s a really good reason for it. There’s nearly two weeks to decide if they want something on the list, and it’s all free!

The bed was empty when I awoke, so that means that Butterfly was already up and about. I didn’t see her anywhere when I left the house, and Elliot and Valerie were still asleep—or at least they hadn’t emerged yet. I don’t know how far I ran, but when my chest starts to burn, I turn around and start the trip back. Good Lord, it feels like my heart is going to explode. It’s most likely from the exertion and the cold air pumping through my chest. When I get back to the house, I take a deep breath and that aforementioned cold air stabs me in the throat. Shit, I need to warm up.

Imagine my dismay when I discover that the house has automatic locking doors.

I walk through the jungle garden to the back of the house to see if one of the patio doors are open and there I find my wife—in the same place I retrieved her from last night. If I couldn’t tell by the change of clothes, I would have thought she slept out here. She looks calm and serene and her eyes are closed. I then realize that she’s meditating. I won’t disturb her.

I go back to the front of the house and knock, hoping that someone besides Butterfly will hear me. Luckily, the woman from the kitchen the night before opens the door and looks at me expecting.

“Yes?” she says.

“I’m… Christian Grey. Elliot’s brother… I locked myself out when I went for a run.”

Her brow furrows, the realization dawns.

“Oh, yes! I’m sorry. Please come in.” She steps aside and lets me in. I have to say, warmth has never felt so good.

“Thank you,” I say. I peek out onto the patio. Butterfly wasn’t disturbed. That’s good. I have time to go take a shower and put on some clean clothes before I talk to her.


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

Pictures of Val and Elliot’s house can be seen at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/val-and-elliots-house-in-kirkland/

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 49—Finding Anastasia

My twelfth wedding anniversary was this past weekend, so posting was kind of the furthest thing from my mind.

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 49—Finding Anastasia

CHRISTIAN

My wife is walking to the theater room like a man walking to the gallows. I know that it’s going to take some time for her to overcome this whole impending doom thing, and she’s doing a great job of grabbing the bull by the horns with her meditation, yoga, dancing, and whatever else she’s doing to take control of it. But when that insecurity rears its ugly head, it’s really ugly… not in the sense that it’s unattractive, but in the sense that it makes my larger-than-life Butterfly appear weak, helpless, and powerless, and I don’t like that at all.

Gail and Ms. Solomon arrange refreshments while Maria attempts to explain what we’re going to see. She’s even gone so far as to have a program that outlines the order of the interview and what we can expect. She’s gone all out with full disclosure, even insuring that we’ll be left with a copy of what we see today, which is what the network plans to air—notwithstanding any changes that we request after the viewing.

Butterfly sits quietly in one of the luxury reclining theater seats, sipping a glass of cabernet sauvignon and daintily munching on popcorn, finger sandwiches, and crudité. She’s paying attention to everything that Maria is saying; she’s just not responding.

“So, things aren’t necessarily in chronological order,” Maria explains. “If you remember, the footage at the gun range was one of the last things we recorded, but it won’t be the very last thing in the segment, although it’s pretty close to chronological. I feel that I’ve put the segment together in a manner that represents both of you and presents you in the light that you wanted to be presented. In spite of what has occurred up to this point, I hope I haven’t let you down.”

Butterfly acknowledges her with an almost indistinct nod and turns her attention to the large screen. I can feel it emanating from her skin.

Shut up and let’s get on with it already.

The lights go down and the segment starts.

“By the way…” Oh, for Christ’s sake, lady, will you shut up before my wife bites your head off? “… We were approved for two hours.”

We both rubberneck over to her.

“We were?” I ask. “But I thought you said nobody got two hours… not even Obama or Bono.” She shrugs.

“The station manager loved the material. He couldn’t decide what to keep and what to cut, so… we got two hours.”

I’m impressed. Butterfly, not so much. I can’t imagine what’s going through her head right now.

The introduction starts with the gates opening at Grey Crossing, like some episode of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, and I already don’t like it, but the interview quickly recovers by moving almost instantly away from the mansion to an upward pan of Grey House followed by a shot of my wife strolling through the halls like the boss that she is.

GEH looks magnificent on film. The headquarters has never gotten much airtime. Press conferences or news releases were always carefully planned and released on our terms, leaving most of the whole of the company out of the proverbial limelight—except for the numbers part of it all. People have often wondered why, with all my success, I haven’t gone public. This is why. I have total control of my company. Why would I hand that control over to someone else for money that I don’t need?

My beautiful wife looks just like a female mogul, roaming the halls, offices, and departments of our company. I’ve never seen her as majestic as she looks with the power of the House behind her. No wonder women are so jealous of her—and men are intimidated by her.

I’m extremely impressed with how the one-on-one interview with me and Maria turned out. It’s just what I was hoping for—the ruthless, but shrew businessman coupled with the papa-bear that would stop at nothing to protect his family.

I watch my wife’s expressions through various parts of the interview, especially when she describes who she was before me, how she changed when we got together, me being her ultimate protector. I feel pretty shitty having dropped the ball on that duty, leaving her in the uncertainty that she feels now.

I’m quite pleased with where they placed that asshole’s footage of my wife breastfeeding our children. She’s talking about the mothering instinct that’s not so natural to some women and how her main priority is and was to protect our children inside and outside the womb. You would have thought the filming was intentional just for this moment, instead of some grip boy pervert trying to get a shot of a nip-slip.

We both look pretty bad ass on the shooting range, and we all got a little chuckle out of Maria’s obvious inexperience with a firearm…

We all, that is, except Butterfly.

Her face is stone throughout most of the segment. Even portions that brought small chuckles and reactions from Mac. She’s watching this entire thing with a highly critical eye, and she’s not even enjoying it.

When the segment is over, I feel a collective sigh release in the theater room. I don’t hear it, but I feel it.

“I secured releases from everyone who was filmed when we were last here except from your nanny… Keri, I think is her name. Forgive me if I got that wrong,” Maria informs us.

“No, you got it right,” I say. “That shouldn’t be a problem.”

“So, what did you think?” Maria asks nervously. I turn to my wife; whose face still looks like marble.

“Butterfly?” I urge.

“The segment was good,” she says, her face stoic. “Concise, honest, thought-provoking. The placement of that idiot’s footage was quite timely. I was afraid of how that would be incorporated into the segment, but I’m satisfied. Nothing was overdone, which is something that I was afraid of. I would have liked to see more of the children, but I guess there’s only so much you can fit into a two-hour segment, and that was a lot of material. Overall, I’m satisfied with the ultimate outcome.”

Timely… concise… satisfied. My wife is choosing her words carefully, not at all saying that she liked or disliked anything in the interview apart from the fact that Minnie and Mikey didn’t get more screen time. This point doesn’t get by Maria, and her uncertainty is transparent.

“Is there anything that you didn’t like, Ana?” she asks. “Anything you want to remove or change? I can get some more footage of the children added if you want. I just didn’t want to overdo it…”

“No, it’s fine,” my wife interrupts. “The overall focus was Christian and me and that’s how it should be. Too much information about the children could be dangerous.” Maria nods in resignation.

“What about you, Christian?” she says, slightly crestfallen but trying not to show it, and for once, I have to be the diplomat in the situation. I’m not sure that I can do it, but here goes.

“I liked it,” I begin. “I think it portrays just what we wanted—Christian and Anastasia Grey as a whole and not just the crap that the press or the gossip rags want to show. It had that ‘here’s what it is, take it or leave it’ vibe, and I like that. I was afraid that it was going to be some plastered-over, painted and spit-shined depiction of us and I wouldn’t have liked that at all. When the segment started with the gates opening, I was worried, but you recovered very quickly…”

“I did that intentionally,” Maria interjects. “I know that people are expecting some ‘Robin Leach, Ana descending the stairs in a diamond-encrusted robe’ presentation. So, I had a little fun and let them think that’s what they’re getting.”

Of course, they did get some of that, but it was appropriately placed and not overused, so, I can’t complain.

“I had a feeling,” I say. “I’m just glad that wasn’t the entire focus of the interview. Yes, we have a beautiful home and yes, we have money, but the hope was to focus on the people and not necessarily the situation. I think you did that well. I particularly loved the parenting segment and where you put the forbidden footage.” Maria sighs.

“I was hoping that you would be happy with that… both of you,” she says. We look over at Butterfly who simply takes another sip of her Cabernet. Maria deflates a little. “When you gave me permission to use it, I had no idea where to put it at first. My questions were, ‘where do you insert a woman breastfeeding?’ Then I thought about it being the original natural process, second only to sex, and realized that it could have fit just about anywhere that we were talking about the woman that Ana is, but best fit when we were discussing motherhood.”

“Well good for you. It looks good,” I encourage. “I’ll have to admit that I see quite a bit of me but more of Ana.”

“That’s also intentional,” Maria says. “The camera loves Ana and the press and the public gobble up every little tidbit of her that they can get. It’s been that way ever since she’s been in the limelight. That’s not to say that the camera doesn’t love you, too, but public Christian Grey is a new flavor. The viewing audience has a delicate palate. If you dump it on them all at once, they quickly lose the taste for it. Even in what appears to be a relaxed setting, you’re a force of dominance…”

Quite the appropriate description.

“You can’t push that in somebody’s face too much. It comes off like an arrogant pissing dog. So, instead, I gave you that one power segment, then introduced a segment of Ana before bringing you both together again. From there, you were still very present, but she did most of the talking. Finally, you came in as the anchor. So, I started and ended with you, but Ana was the cream filling, so to speak. As a result, hopefully, a little more Ana and a little less Christian actually gives the segment just the right amount of balance.”

Mac is nodding introspectively, and I can see that she agrees with what Maria is saying.

“Well, I agree with my wife; it’s very precise, and I feel that it’s a good representation of us—a bit of a bite at some moments as well as the softer, human side of the Greys. I’m quite satisfied.” I look over at Butterfly who finally succumbs to compliment.

“Yes, Maria, it’s a good presentation. I like it,” she says. Maria’s face finally lifts a bit and she signals for the film operator—whoever is up there with Jason—to play the promos. If this is what Mrs. Miller saw, it truly wasn’t much. There are two separate promos and in either of them, you only see a fraction of the house—pieces of the grand entry, dining room, family room, and backyard. I guess that was enough for her to call Elliot… or call Gia who called Elliot. Anyway, the promos weren’t revealing at all—some pictures of Grey House and the two of us showing Maria around, no pictures of our children at all, and that was it. I can still understand why my wife wasn’t happy that the footage was shown before we consented, though. It could have been much worse.

Maria indicates that she has to get back to New York for shooting of portions of her show that will be this week and that she will call ahead to approve the immediate airing of the promos we approved. This was the warning that if we watch television, we’ll most likely see some of our promos as soon as today as the program will air in primetime a week from tomorrow. Butterfly rises from her chair, shakes Maria’s hand and thanks her for coming and for her good work before sitting back in her seat and drinking her Cabernet. I walk a bit with Maria and Mac to the theater room door.

“Don’t take it personally,” I tell Maria in a low voice. “My wife has recently been through something and it’s taking a bit of a toll on her. Hearing about the promos before we had approved the segment didn’t help.”

“Again, I am so sorry about that,” Maria grovels. “I have no excuse for it, but I hope it didn’t completely ruin the experience.”

“If she could find her words right now, she would tell you how much she liked it. I know that because I liked it and I’m very hard to please.” I finally get the wide smile from Maria that she’s been holding back.

“Thank you, Christian. I appreciate that. The last thing I want is for the two of you to be disappointed.”

“Come on, Maria. We’ll find Keri and get that last release signed for you,” Mac says. I gesture to Chuck sitting in the back of the theater and when he meets us in the middle of the aisle, I explain that the ladies need to find Keri and that Mac will most likely want to come back here when all is said and done.

“You’re feeling better?” I ask my wife when I take my seat next to her.

“A little,” she says. “The sky didn’t fall.” I know that’s a reference to her constant feeling of impending doom as well as the theory of Chicken Little that nothing’s really wrong, but she still expected the end of the world. I simply put my arm around her and sigh.

“When I found out that I was pregnant,” she begins, “I was afraid that I was carrying two little lives inside of me—two little blessings from God—that I would nurture inside of my body and bring into this realm just so that the world could gobble them up and destroy them. As time went on, I managed to fight those demons back even though it was hard, and things were still happening to prove my point rather than dispel it. Now, they’re here—they’ve made it into the world and they’re okay. And as time goes on, I see more and more that I was right the first time.

“People are untrustworthy and as a result, horrible things happen to other people. Even when you think you’re doing everything you’re supposed to do, somehow you slip up and do something wrong—you make the wrong decision, or you don’t take an action you should have or you’re just in the wrong place at the wrong time and because of it, hell falls down on you like burning hot lava and sears your very soul.

“You go to one of your favorite places in the world to calm down and think things through and just as you’re leaving, your psycho ex-boyfriend shoots you full of drugs that should only be available to doctors and handcuffs you to a bed for four days.

“You take a left turn instead of a right which takes you a different route than you normally take, and a neurotically delusional ex-submissive T-bones your car most likely gunning for the Dom whom she felt scorned her… or maybe she was gunning for me, who knows?

“And instead of running to my husband and telling him about a situation that I erroneously thought I had under control or simply avoiding the situation altogether, he walks in and sees a man that I don’t want at all about to kiss me, and he leaves me for three weeks with no word—put an ocean, a few seas, and a continent between us.”

Shit… that hurt.

“And this,” she says, gesturing to the screen. “Grip boy records me without my permission hoping to see some tits, and then we hear through word of mouth that the promos were released before we approved them. I couldn’t even enjoy the premier because I sat here the entire time waiting for the other shoe to drop.”

Jesus, I don’t know what to say. I want to come up with something that will make this all better, but I can’t. I see a single tear fall down her cheek, quickly followed by another.

“Butterfly…”

“You were my safe place,” she says, her voice squeaking. “Everything was okay in your arms, under your protection, and suddenly…” She trails off. What’s more alarming is that she’s speaking in past tense. I am your safe place, Butterfly.

“You’re only human,” she continues, her tears dictating her voice. “You’re not perfect, immortal, or impervious to pain or mistakes, but somehow… somehow…” Her voice trails off again. She raises her eyes to the ceiling and sighs heavily before quickly wiping her face with both her whole hands to remove as many tears as possible.

“It’s an uphill battle,” she says, “fighting the Boogeyman and trying not to let fear overtake me and become a complete recluse, but I’m fighting it. I see things more differently than I’ve ever seen them before in my life, and I just have to incorporate this new knowledge into my life without crumbling to the hand of doom. That’s the hard part. Wisdom is a terrible burden to bear.”

That sounds horrible. She’s slipping into the doom again. This is exactly what we don’t want. She’s moving backwards, away from progress.

“Baby, what can I do?” I ask, feeling completely rudderless. She shakes her head.

“I’ll be alright,” she says in that flat voice that I hate. It’s that quiet acceptance of hell. “I just… need a few moments to regroup. I’ll do some yoga and meditate.” She stands from the seat and heads to the door.

“Do you want me to come and meditate with you?” I ask. We haven’t meditated together in a couple of days. It might help. She turns sad eyes to me.

“Sometimes, you have to face your demons alone,” she replies. She looks at me for a moment, then walks out of the theater room.

Jesus, I feel like a stone has been tied around my neck and I just have to carry it around until she comes out of this. If that’s how I feel, I can only imagine what she’s feeling.

“I just saw Ana.” Mac’s voice startles the shit out of me. “She’s not doing very well.” I shake my head.

“My impromptu trip to Madrid did more damage that I ever thought possible,” I say, scrubbing my hands over my face. “I’ll be honest, even looking back on my anger, had I ever thought it would cause this much injury, I would have made a different decision.” Mac frowns.

“I thought you went to Madrid on a hunch,” she says, “that you got a bad feeling about something and had to go immediately. There’s more?”

“Yes, there’s more, but I’m not going to tell you about it because it’s irrelevant and won’t do any good. I will tell you that you’re right, though. I did get a bad feeling about something and I did go on a hunch—and I was right, which is why I pulled out of the deal. But I didn’t need to go as suddenly as I went, and that’s all I’ll say about that.”

I straighten in my seat, raising to my full height and changing the subject, indicating to Mac that this topic of conversation is closed.

“What about what Stanton said?” I ask. “Did I give enough to prove that she missed a golden opportunity?”

“Oh, dear God, do you have to ask?” Mac replies. “You gave just enough of the interview that she was looking for not to bore the audience, plus you gave crisp and valuable insight into your personal life that wasn’t syrupy sweet, overly ostentatious, or Desperate Housewives. She’s going to be sick when she sees this.”

“How do you know she’ll watch it?” I ask.

“It’s primetime Monday night Sweeps Week—of course, she’s going to watch it. She’s hoping to see it flop, so she’s going to watch it the entire way through, looking for exactly what she’s expecting to see, and trust me. You guys nailed it. Maria asked the tough questions and you two came back without flinching. You got the point across that you wanted to relay as well as giving a good, solid 10-15 minutes as to exactly why you are the brilliant entrepreneur, businessman, mastermind, savant, and guru that she claimed you were. Those statistics that you threw out there in a moment’s notice—28 industries, 419 subindustries, 165 countries… that shit was brilliant. Raynell fucked up and when she sees this interview, she’s going to know it. You got the grit that she was looking for plus the fantastic human-interest piece that you wanted… Stories like this—and on Sweeps Week—are the stuff that Barbara Walters is made of. She’s going to shit herself when this airs. She pissed on the golden ticket and she’s going to know it!”

Well, I take some small amount of comfort in that. Mac and I talk for a few minutes longer about the publicity that will be generated over the next week and how to handle it, including a “no comment” press release until after the segment airs. Jason and Chuck return to the theater room after showing Maria and her reel operator to the door.

“I have the copies of the interview and the promos, sir,” Jason says, handing me a very fancy looking silver flash drive. “It really was a good segment.” I nod, hardly pacified from my angst about my wife.

“Well, I’ll be going now,” Mac says, rising from her seat. “Thanks for the great grub and… call me if you guys need me.”

“Thanks, Mac,” I say without raising my head.

“I’ll show you out,” Chuck says as he escorts Mac from the theater room. I run my fingers through my hair and drop my head. There’s that stone around my neck again.

“Do you want to be left alone?” I forgot that Jason was still here. Now, he’s standing in front of me.

“I don’t know what to do,” I admit. “It’s like she’s bipolar. Just about anything could set her off. She was my rock in Detroit, Jason,” I say, turning my gaze to him as he takes a seat next to me. “She never complained about that cold room. She was right there when I needed her. She held me together when I thought I was going to fall apart. She was everything I needed and then some. She was supportive, passionate, even playful… but the moment the slightest bit of adversity comes her way, she loses her footing. True, she did everything throughout this viewing to hold it together, so she didn’t fall apart completely, but she was so withdrawn and detached… so aloof. If was hard to watch. It was a good segment…”

“Very good, boss,” Jason says. “She depicted you guys extremely well. She even turned a bad situation into a good one.” I nod.

“Exactly, but my wife was sitting there waiting for some horrible thing to come across the screen and never absorbed how great we looked—as a couple and a family… as a team. It was just what I wanted, and she still looks like the world is ending.” I drop my head into my hands.

“God, why didn’t I see this before?” I say, still holding my head while I’m shaking it. “My wife is and always has been mostly emotion and I… I, who can’t identify what I’m feeling half the time without help from my shrink or from her or from you… had to go all mega-Dom on her and disappear for three weeks without telling her where I was. This damage may be irreparable.” Jason sighs.

“Well, you got one thing right,” he says. “You did go mega-Dom on her.” I raise my eyes to him. “I may not be in the lifestyle, boss, but I had to learn something about it working for you, and that trip to Madrid wasn’t about you at all. It was about her. Somewhere during the course of that trip, you may have gotten all caught up in your feelings and decided that you felt betrayed or hurt or used or whatever feeling you want to put in there. But the entire time that you were downing shots at the bar, vomiting on the plane, wearing a toga during the descent, and running around Madrid in sweatpants, you were pissed. You convinced yourself that she was a villain and she deserved to be punished—and that’s what you did. You went mega-Dom and gave her the biggest punishment that you’ve ever given her. Emotional warfare is far more damaging than physical, and you punished her so badly that she punished herself.

“I’m not saying that she’s blameless in this. I know that’s not true and so does she. I’m just saying that this could have definitely been handled in a better way and now, she’s paying for it. What you did was the equivalent of ‘two wrongs don’t make a right;’ they only result in an even bigger wrong and in this case, it’s astronomical. She’s suffering a form of PTSD…”

“Oh, she’s not going to like the sound of that,” I protest. “She won’t even talk to Dr. Baker without coaxing because she said the same thing.”

“Well, she may not have been suffering it at that time, but this time, she is. She emotionally or physically separates herself from any situation that may cause her discomfort; then she sits in the corner and waits for Armageddon. That’s the same as a combat soldier who can’t tolerate fireworks, who’s set off by a ceiling fan thinking it’s a chopper blade; who wakes up in the middle of the night screaming and fighting ghosts who aren’t there; a victim of a serious accident who’s afraid to drive a car; a victim of sexual abuse who doesn’t trust the opposite sex. I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. She can deny it all she wants, but that’s what she’s suffering.

“Is it irreparable? I don’t know. I’ve seen some victims of PTSD that never come out of it. I’ve seen some that just learn to live with it—that can function and control their triggers. Her behavior in Detroit gives me the idea that she has hope. It just depends on how deep her despair is and if she can control those feelings of doom. She’s going to have to find out exactly what triggers it and control those triggers. That’s the hard part, but you have to be patient and give her time… and space, when she needs it.” Did he hear her tell me that there was nothing I could do for her right now?

“Are you a part-time shrink, too?” I try to jest.

“No,” Jason says, “I’m a combat veteran. I suffer a bit of the old post-trauma myself. I just… know how to handle it.”  I gaze at him.

“I never knew that,” I reply soberly.

“I don’t publicize it,” he retorts. “If Her Highness denies that she’s suffering from the effects of post-traumatic stress, she’s never going to be able to find an effective treatment plan. She knows that.”

“Well, Jason, I can’t tell her. When I tell you that it was disastrous the last time we approached that topic with Dr. Baker, I’m saying that the silent passive-aggressive blows in that room could have caused physical carnage in a different setting.” He sighs.

“I’ll try to find a decent time to talk to her about it, but it won’t be today. She’s already triggered, so she can’t hear me right now.” I twist my lips.

“You did some shrinking somewhere, Jason. Admit it.”

“Nope,” he denies, shaking his head. “Any intelligent person will learn everything they can about their illness, particularly mental illnesses. They can be deadlier than any physical illness around. I educated myself on triggers, coping techniques, symptoms, medications, things like that. I’m not a shrink, Christian. I’m just informed.”

“Quite,” I cede. “I’ll let you decide when the best time is to broach this topic with Her Highness. In the meantime, I need your help with another situation.”


ANASTASIA

I’ve lost it. I’ve completely lost hold on everything that I’ve been working on—all my Zen, all my chi, all my fucking self-control… right out the goddamn window.

Get it together, Grey. Get it the fuck together.

For the first time in my life, the Bitch sounds like me. I shudder and try to compose myself. I can’t lose it. I have to maintain control and balance.

I’m walking around the house aimlessly, not sure where I’m headed or what I’m trying to do. The meditation room won’t do it right now. I need more than meditation to shake this feeling. I need meditation on steroids!

Nothing happened. Nothing even happened. It was just the fact that Maria Sanchez seemed a bit careless with our footage and suddenly, the sky is falling again. I can’t function like this. I can’t constantly walk around being afraid to think or move or breathe.

Nothing actually went wrong. It just took the hint of something possibly not being quite right for me to slip into the anticipation of Armageddon.

Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Who is this wimpy bitch before me and what has she done with the fearless Anastasia Steele?

Anastasia Steele… why did I go all the way back to her?

I know why… because I’m trying to find that independence that I once had, that ability to call my own shots and tell it like it is without pulling punches or holding back. That same woman who told David the he would never have a chance and subsequently pulled a gun on him in the parking lot. Yeah, he kidnapped me, but when I was free, I kicked his motherfucking ass with the last bit of strength I had left.

That’s the girl I’m looking for—the same girl that faced off with the Pedophile and won every time, even after she stole my gun. Yeah, she shot Jason with it, but I beat her within an inch of her life after that.

And then there’s the girl who really let Grey have it—showed him just how displeased I was with his staring and his fucking, “Google me.” Yeah, I’d love for her to make an appearance.

How did I become so weak? How did I become so dependent that I couldn’t define myself without him? Made him everything in my life so that once he was gone, I was rudderless and had no identity?

It’s my fault. I made him “perfect.” I made him the answer to all my questions, prayers, and problems. I made him invincible and incapable of disappointment, so that when it happened, I nearly crumbled.

It’s my fault. It’s all my fault.

Michel’s words come back to me…

“You two are going to be together for 100 years and sometime during that hundred years, you’re going to have a big breakup. It won’t be the end of the world. It’ll just feel like it. Don’t let it destroy you.” 

God, I hope this was the big breakup. I don’t think I can survive anything bigger than this.

All my wandering finds me in the spa room. I don’t know how I got here, but yes, this is the perfect place for me at the moment. I turn the lights on and the room looks like a haven, a nice, quiet haven. I immediately start the water running in the sunken spa. I sit on the bench in front of the wall aquarium, which easily holds twenty to thirty fish… or more. The only thing my mind can conjure right now is… who’s responsible for feeding these fish? I immediately think of that aquarium I bought with Edward… and how I couldn’t wait to get rid of that fucker once he was gone.

That of course leads me to my visit to the aquarium where he and his ex-security flunky kidnapped me.

“You’re a dirty fucking bastard, Edward,” I say aloud. “You were a wretched excuse for a human being. I’m glad you’re dead and I hope you burn in hell.”

The honesty of those statements is incredibly liberating. Fuck political correctness. For much of the time that I knew that man, he made my life a living hell even through the moments where I foolishly loved him. Now, when I find myself in my darkest moments, he comes back to taunt me—make me feel like I’m nothing or worse yet, make me feel afraid of the future. How the hell do you give a dead man that kind of power over you?

I stand from the bench and move to the shelf of bath salts. Sandalwood—yes. Evocative and soothing at the same time.

“Fuck you, Edward David,” I say as I sprinkle bath salts into the slightly steaming water, “and your little dog, too.”

That fucking keystone cop… No, not a keystone cop. I won’t insult keystone cops by comparing them to him. He was even more worthless than Edward—pissed off because he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, do his job and then blames his termination on me. And manhandling me while I was cuffed and helpless—that was really fucking macho. Your plans for success were based on Edward needing to get me alone and when that didn’t pan out for you, you raid my credit cards. Brilliant, fucking brilliant.

And you have the nerve to haunt me, too.

“Fuck you, too, you miserable asshole,” I say aloud. “I hope Satan is fucking you in the ass with a red, hot dick every night.”

Jesus! That sounds horrible.

But I don’t care. It serves him right.

I swirl my hands around in the hot, aromatic water. It’s perfect. I strip, dropping my clothes on the floor next to the spa and descend the stairs into the hot water. It feels heavenly. As I settle into the water, I practice a meditation technique I saw in one of my studies.

I wiggle my toes, stretching them wide and feeling the tension release in each knuckle as the hot water caresses them. Once my toes feel loose and light, I stretch my feet like I’m doing one of my interpretive dances. I feel the release all the way to my ankles. I close my eyes and stretch further, flexing my calf muscles—first the right and then the left. It’s like tiny fingers working the stress out of my muscles, releasing all the tension and darkness into the water and washing it away from me.

Next, I flex my feet hard, causing my thigh and hamstring muscles to stretch. I imagine all the fear and anxiety rising to the top and dissipating in the continuous bubbles, floating off in the air to somehow return to the depths of hell from whence they came. My body is beginning to feel physically lighter. I tighten and flex my glutes, feeling the release all the way in my lower back.

I control my breathing the entire time, bringing good, healthy air in and releasing the bad, burdened air that had previously invaded my lungs. Fuck this silent reservation. If the Boogeyman wants me, come at me! I got something for you, and I’m not going out without a fight.

I roll my abs, flexing and tightening, imagining more of the darkness sliding out of my soul and off my body, imagining the fear releasing its death grip on my heart and mind, clearly seeing a shiny newness that leaves no room for doubt, anguish, painful uncertainty.

The pop of each vertebra is a celebration of the releasing of the weight of doom and when the final vertebra pops and I end the dance with a long roll of my shoulders, I feel the final monkey jump off my back. I stretch my arms and wiggle my fingers, basking in the feeling of being able to roll my neck around and from side to side without the hinderance of, “What the hell is coming at me now” following me or lurking on my left or my right, making me afraid to turn my head and look around me, to walk confidently into my future whatever it may hold.

The bubbles massage my sensitive breasts and I reach up to my nipples to protect them from the flow of the jets. Good God, they’re taut! I cover them, allowing them to still feel the heat of the water without the constant pressure and stimulation of the jets. Jesus, I can’t remember the last time they felt like this—dark pink and hard like little pebbles. I’m so fascinated by how they look that I start to massage them. No wonder Christian likes them so much… they’re beautiful.

Before I know it, the stimulation sends jolts of pleasure right down to my core. I’m suddenly very aroused by my own nipple play and the water is caressing me into comfort and seduction like you wouldn’t believe. I want to find Christian, but this caress… this massive release of trouble and anguish… the embrace of the warm, aromatic water…

Do you need him to come, too?

My hand slides from my breast and locates that sensitive bundle of nerves between my legs and I stroke… again… and again… and again. I pinch my nipple to remind myself of the sensation the brought me to this point.

“Ah,” I purr as pleasure shoots back and forth between the two manipulated points. I stroke myself harder, deeper, spreading my legs wider, the warm water adding to the sensation of my building orgasm.

“Ah… ah…” I croon, pinching my nipple and stroking my clit, over and over until…

I bite my lip and groan through my climax, feeling the final weight of uncertainty fall from my body. I take more deep, cleansing breaths as my body trembles through aftershocks and slowly melts into the comfort of satiation.

Why did I do that? I don’t regret it, but I can’t remember the last time I touched myself just for the sake of touching myself. At my condo? After Christian’s first kiss… or sometime around there. I touched myself after I had the babies, then Christian interrupted me and made me feel like shit without saying a word. True, he made me come so hard that night that I could barely say my name, but the way he looked at me… I remember never wanting to touch myself again.

So, I didn’t.

But this is my body. Yes, it’s his, too, but it’s mine first. Why do I need an excuse to make myself feel good? Why should I be ashamed? It’s not like I’m letting someone else touch me—I’m doing it myself. Jesus, have I completely lost all definition of Anastasia in the definition of AnaChris?

No matter. I’m on my way to finding myself again, to finding that tiger that he fell in love with and that I admired so much. She’s not gone, she’s just suppressed, and she needs to come back. I can still be Christian’s wife without totally losing myself and who I was in the process. No wonder I’m a fucking basket case. Yes, bad things are going to happen. They happen all the time. They’ve happened to me since I was a child… but I didn’t die. Shit, somebody tried to kill me—killed the baby that I was carrying—and I still didn’t die.

I still carry my guns in my purse and in my glovebox, and I walk around afraid that someone from Green Valley is going to sneak up behind me again. Please, walk up on me… please! I will take great joy in filling their asses full of lead.

David did some horrible shit to me and to other women, and he ultimately paid with his life. Why the hell am I still holding onto that one?

And Christian, my lover and my tormentor. One day—heaven forbid—he may just decide that I’m not enough for him anymore. Am I going to roll over and die if that happens? At the rate I’m going now, yes, I will. I’m going to curl up and shrivel away into nothingness without him.

No, I don’t want to lose him. Yes, I’ll be crushed if he leaves me. But right here, right now in this space and time, who am I? Who is Anastasia besides being Mrs. Christian Grey?

The question floats around in my head as I allow the comfort of afterglow, release, and liberation to soothe me as the warm water continues to caress my body.

*-*

“Baby wake up.”

Christian’s voice is cutting through my solace. Maybe cutting is the wrong word, but I was visioning… dreaming maybe… about clouds and flying and dancing, flowers and soft spring dresses… and twirling…

“Hmm?” I say groggily. He pushes the wet hair from my face.

“How long have you been in here?” he asks, his voice concerned. I shrug. I’m still in the spa… with the warm water.

“Uhuhuh,” I make the I don’t know sound while shrugging my shoulders, because I really don’t know how long I’ve been in the water, but long enough for the heat and massage to coax milk from my breast. Sure enough, when I sit up, they’re empty and light…

Just like the rest of me.

“Are you okay?” he asks, reaching his hand out to me to help me out of the spa. I take his hand and drag myself from the comfort of the warm bath. My body is a little heavier now, but it’s no doubt from the loss of that weightless feeling from the water, and from the fact that I’m totally pruney, which means…

“I’m fine, just a little waterlogged apparently.” I step out of the spa and walk over to the closet. Retrieving one of the terrycloth robes, I wrap myself in its warmth.

“You seem to be feeling a little better,” Christian says, handing me a towel. I take it and begin to dry my hair.

“I’m working on it,” I say, wrapping the towel around my head turban-style. “I’m working through some things. I guess we’ll see how it goes.”

“Is there anything I can do?” Oh, Christian. I love you so much, but therein lies the problem. Ace has been right all along. I have to start over from the beginning… finding me. And now that I have an idea what I’m looking for, the journey doesn’t seem so scary anymore… but it’s my journey. And no, he can’t be there every step of the way because he can’t take this journey for me. What’s more is that I need to know who I am outside of him. I need to exist in my own space and my own skin… and learn to coexist with him as well, not just exist because of him or for him.

None of this gloom and doom would have befallen me had I not fallen completely apart when he went to Madrid. Yes, it was tragic, and it was going to be painful no matter how balanced or together I was, but it wasn’t the end of the world and I fell completely apart. Just like we have to find our way back to us together, I have to find my way back to me on my own.

“Just be supportive and love me. That’s all I ask.” That’s all I really can ask.

“Now, why does that sound like a massive blow-off to me?” he laments.

“Well, because when the person you’re talking to doesn’t have a cut-and-dried answer for you, they can only give you what they know, and that’s what I know. I need you to love me and be supportive. Can you do that?”

“You know I can,” he says, closing the space between us and pulling me into his arms. “You know I do.”

“I feel like having a party,” I say later that evening as I lie on my back on the sofa in the family room. Minnie is lying on my chest, breathing evenly in her slumber and occasionally suckling her binky while I play in her copper curls. Christian’s brow furrows.

“What kind of party?” he asks while rubbing Mikey’s back and attempting to gently coax him to sleep. “Food and Libations?”

“I don’t know,” I say, because I really don’t know. “I’m just in the mood for a party.” I know it’s a ridiculous thing to blurt out of nowhere. In fact, I don’t even know where that came from.

“I… guess we’ll have to see what we can do, then,” he says, squeezing my foot and smiling.

*-*

“Rosie…”

I don’t know where I am. It’s gray, not necessarily gloomy, but maybe a bit maudlin… and I hear his voice.

“Rosie…”

I focus a bit and out of the rolling gray midst comes Edward… young and beautiful, like he was when I first met him. His expression is sad—nothing like the young, confident man with the GQ model looks that I met back in college. My heart leaps and a myriad of emotions run through me, some good and some bad. They all flow into the three second funnel and produce a single thought, as always. I pull myself up to my full height, square my shoulders and ask…

“Why are you here now? What do you want?”

As if it could, his face falls even more and he appears to get shorter—shorter than me, even.

“I’m sorry, Rosie,” he says, without making eye-contact with me. “I’m so sorry for the horrible way that I treated you…”

Why the hell is he coming to me now? Is it because I thought of him today? That has to be it. I fold my arms and twist my lips.

“You’re dead. There’s nothing you can do about it now. And I know that I’m dreaming, so why don’t you go back to wherever the hell you came from.” He sighs, and his clothes become more and more tattered by the second. Is that evil bastard that confronted me while Christian was gone about to present himself to me? Well, I’m ready for you, asshole. Bring it on!

“Hell is right,” he says, sadly. “I know it’s not you, but I see you every day. You torment me every day. You and Camilla and…” He trails off. “Mostly you. I don’t know why it’s mostly you. I didn’t do to you what I did to the others.

“It was worse,” I reply. I’m not minimizing the fact that he brutally beat those women, but I get the feeling that they got the beatings because they didn’t stay around for the emotional and mental warfare that he put me through for years. And even after we broke up, there was more warfare when he kidnapped me.

“You tormented me, mentally and emotionally, but Harris took care of the beating for you.”

Edward winces, the shirt and pants he was wearing now disintegrating from his body leaving something that looks somewhat like a tattered loincloth… more like a diaper.

“I don’t expect you to forgive me…”

“Ha!” I scoff. “Forgiveness! That’s a laugh! You’re a monster, Edward. I’m glad your dead. I once said I don’t know how I ever loved you, but I do. You tricked me. You tricked me just like you tried to trick me a minute ago, walking in here all beautiful and seemingly untarnished. You did your song and dance and you sold me this performance and this lie, and when the monster came out, it was too late. I was already in love—helpless and fooled into believing that this horrible creature had taken over my man and praying that one day, he would go away and bring my ‘Eddie’ back to me. But that was never going to happen, because my ‘Eddie’ was the façade and the monster was the real you all along. You did a bait and switch on me, only the version of you that you were offering was nothing like the version of you that you originally presented—nowhere near it. You sold me swampland and passed it off as resort property, and I didn’t know it until I was sinking and dying. No, I don’t forgive you. I’m glad you’re dead and you’re obviously rotting in hell, so I know that karma really does exist. Now, go back to eternal damnation and never darken my mind again. I bind you or I cast you out or whatever it is that I have to do or say to let you know that you are not welcome! Do not come back!”

Edward’s face becomes pale… no, not pale, blue… death blue. His skin sags on his bones and the sadness he emits is nearly unbearable. That sheet is around his neck again, the one he foolishly thought would end his suffering, and darkness begins to swallow him. I hear a horrible rumbling, like a growl, but I can’t make out any words.

“Yes, Master,” Edward’s voice says, now gravelly, like he’s drowning, and the darkness envelops him. Moments later, a vision appears like a movie floating inside the black clouds. It’s a room—like the Red Room, but morbid and dark, very uninviting. Edward appears before me, on his knees, not facing me, Thank God. His hands are bound behind him and his cuffs look like hot lava circulating around his wrists. His head is down and his ‘Master’ is nothing more that a darker-than-black midst in front of him. The horrible, rumbling, growling sound comes from the midst and it chills my very soul.

“Yes, Master,” Edward’s voice says again, and I see a long, narrow flame whip out and across his back. He cries out in pain as another flame reaches out and lifts his chin. He’s weeping like a child as he looks up at the past-midnight black midst, and I look around the room that he’s in…

What looks like a spanking bench is in the corner, but there are spikes all over the portion where you’re supposed to sit…

Another device looks like a helmet inside of a vice, no doubt meant to crush your skull…

Yet another gruesome looking device consists of two large chunks of wood with large spikes on the inside and an apparatus made to squeeze them together. I shudder to think what’s supposed to go in between them…

The more I examine the room, the more horrible torture devices I see.

Some kind of rolling device with a long handle fashioned with nails or barbs or something—it looks like a homemade gardening tool. There’s even a medieval rack and an iron maiden. This is a fucking torture chamber!

Another lick of fire down his back causes Edward to scream and brings my attention back to him. The rumbling grumble that comes from the horrible mist this time is clearly a laugh, and Edward crumbles to the ground in tormented tears.

Torture chamber… Red Room… licks of fire, like a whip… could it be?

Edward is Satan’s submissive!

As the meaning of this ghostly vision dawns on me, a horrible dog with snarling, bloody fangs comes from the black mist and starts viciously biting the bound and helpless Edward. Just as I’m about to turn away from the grisly display, the dog turns to me…

And I see Harris’s face.

He growls at me, then falls to the ground, gnawing angrily at his own paws, mangling them and yowling in pain the entire time. Jesus, what was I watching before I fell asleep? What kind of craziness is this?

“Forgive me, Rosie! Please, forgive me!”

And somehow, I get the feeling that my forgiveness is directly linked to the level of torment this asshole is suffering. I don’t know how, but I think I’m right. The very thought of it rips a cackling laughter from my chest.

The sound of my laughter is still echoing in my ears when I open my eyes. Apparently, the sound wasn’t enough to wake my husband. Thank God for that—I don’t even want to begin to try to explain that dream to him. I roll over and snuggle under the covers.

“I forgive you, Edward,” I say softly with a chuckle. “You can’t do anything else to me anymore, so I really don’t care what happens to you, but I’m not holding onto this shit anymore. Now, stay the fuck out of my dreams or I’ll come in there and get you myself, and Satan’s red-hot dick will be the least of your worries.”

Within moments, I’m asleep again, dreaming about clouds and music and flying…

*-*

“I have to say that this is a pretty remarkable case. I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never had one.”

Judge Purdy looks over our petition as she reviews our case. Al is as calm as ever, as am I, but Daddy looks like he’s about to burst.

“You seem nervous, Mr. Steele,” the judge says. Daddy shrugs.

“Maybe… just a bit. I’m… excited I guess. I’ve been waiting for this for a while. It’s just… way past time we did this, that’s all.” Daddy’s words tumble out completely unrehearsed, like he’s going through the supermarket and picking the words off the shelf as he sees them. I reach over and squeeze his hand, trying to calm him.

“Better late than never, right?” the judge says with a smile and Daddy calms right down. “Tell me, because it’s not part of the petition. Why did you wait so long? It won’t affect the decision. I’m just curious.” I look at Daddy and he nods, ceding to me to answer the judge’s question.

“My mother,” I say without hesitation. “It was a rocky and unstable relationship, to say the very least. My mother legally changed my name to Steele very shortly after I was born, but never gave my Daddy parental rights. Once she decided that she didn’t want to be married to him anymore, she went about the business of ripping away from him the daughter that she gave him and had built a relationship with him for over ten years. The decade that followed was torturous—for both of us. We kept in touch as we could, saw each other whenever we could, kept our relationship going the best we could. It wasn’t until I became an adult that I was able to come to him and fully rebuild our relationship. Even though we have the love and don’t really need the piece of paper to define our relationship, different things that have happened to me over the past few years have led to the conclusion that Daddy and I do need legal documentation to solidify our relationship to the rest of the world. It’s not about what people think; it’s just what’s necessary.” The judge nods.

“Very astute explanation, Mrs. Grey,” she says. You’ve answered my question and any follow-up I was thinking of. So, if no one objects, let’s get on with it.”

“In the Superior Court of the State of Washington and in the County of King; in the matter of the adoption of Anastasia Rose Steele-Grey by the petitioner, Raymond Steele, this cause coming on to be heard and being heard before myself, the Court, and from all the evidence presented in this proceeding, makes the following findings of fact and law:

“That all necessary parties are properly before the court and that notice of the adoption petition has been served on any person entitled to receive notice of this proceeding.

“That the adoptee is eighteen years of age or older and proper consent to the adoption has been given by her in writing and has been filed with this proceeding.

“That any other necessary consent has been obtained and any other necessary documents or judicial orders have been obtained and filed with the Court.

“That the adoptee was born in the State of Washington on the 18th day of October 1986.

“That this adoption is entered into freely and without duress or undue influence for the purpose of creating the relation of parent and child between the petitioner and the adoptee, and that the petitioner and the adoptee understand the consequences of the adoption.

“That the Decree of Adoption establishes the relationship of parent and child between the petitioner and the person being adopted. From the date of the signing of the Decree, the adoptee is entitled to inherit real and personal property by, through, and from the adoptive parent in accordance with the statutes on interstate succession and has the same legal status, including all legal rights and obligations of any kind whatsoever, as a child born the legitimate child of the adoptive parent.

“Please note that this Decree for Adoption does not terminate the parental rights of any living biological parents or sever the relationship of parent and child between the individual and the individual’s biological mother as you have requested not to do so.

“Now therefore, upon the foregoing finding as a matter of law, it is hereby ordered, adjudged and decreed: that from the date of entry of this Decree, the adult is declared adopted for life by the petitioner and that said adult will continue to be known by the name of Anastasia Rose Steele-Grey in accordance with the provisions of the General Statutes.”

I think Daddy and I both hold our breath until she gets to the bottom of that document. She’s still reading, and I don’t hear a thing except “adopted for life.”

Daddy is officially my daddy!

“Congratulations to you both,” the judge adds. Daddy beams with immeasurable pride when Judge Purdy hands him the final adoption order.

“Thank you,” he exclaims. “Thank you, Your Honor. Thank you so much.” Daddy gathers me in his arms and I can feel him shaking. He’s not an emotional man, so I know he’s a bit overwhelmed right now. I squeeze him hard and sink into his chest, that strong man who has always been there for me—when circumstances allowed. No matter what came between us, my daddy never turned his back on me. We may have been kept apart by circumstances beyond our control, but he never deserted me. He came to get me after I was attacked and was prepared to finish raising me on his own until that woman and her walking moonshine still came and got me and ripped us apart again.

“I love you, Daddy,” I whisper, my voice cracking.

“I love you, too, Sunflower,” Daddy says, his voice thick with unshed tears.

“Okay, happy smiles, happy smiles. It’s picture time,” Judge Purdy says. It’s customary for new families to take a picture with the judge, so Daddy and I buck up and put on our best smiles for the camera. Al snaps a few pictures with his phone and with the judge’s phone as she wanted one for her wall. When he’s done, he’s thumbing through his phone and frowning again. I thank the judge for her services and we proceed to leave the courtroom.

“Is everything okay?” I ask. He twists his lips.

“I don’t know,” he says. “Check your phone, did you get a text from Christian?” I reach in my pocket and swipe my screen. Sure enough…

**Don’t be alarmed. I need you to come to your father’s house with Ray when the adoption is complete. **

And nothing else.

“Annie, I know we were supposed to do lunch, but Mandy just texted me. She’s says there’s nothing wrong, but that I need to come home,” Daddy says.

“I got a similar text, and I’m thinking Al did, too,” I respond and Al nods. “Meet at Dad’s?”

“Pretty much,” Al says, and I sigh.

“Let’s go see what’s going on.” Another catastrophe, no doubt… today of all days! I stiffen my back and prepare to face whatever it is.

I will not let this bring me down.
I will not let this bring me down.

I spend the time in the car meditating and trying to steel myself for whatever is about to happen at Daddy’s house. When Chuck turns the corner to my father’s street, I quickly realize that my fears are unfounded.

“He didn’t!” I laugh as we approach the house.

“Is that what I think it is?” Daddy exclaims while Chuck hides his chuckles and Al breaks out in shameless laughter.

“You should know,” I tease, a reference to an earlier time.

It's a girlOn my father’s lawn is the biggest pink stork announcement I’ve ever seen, even bigger than Harry’s! It has to be at least eight feet tall, wearing a pink cape with a pink Superman symbol on his chest. The sign simply says “Anastasia Rose” and it has today’s date on it.

“My husband is insane!” I declare. “When did he order that damn thing and how did he get it here so quickly?” Daddy is now laughing as we pull into the driveway behind Christian’s Audi—one of them, anyway. Mandy is in the door waving when we arrive, and I wonder just how long she’s been standing there. The porch is decorated with pink balloons and a banner that reads, “It’s a girl.”

“You guys are too much,” I say as I exit the car. I walk into Mandy’s arms and return her embrace

“I love you, dearly,” she says, “but still don’t call me ‘Mom.’” We laugh at the throwback to our first meeting.

“Maybe just once or twice,” I tease, pinching my fingers together in front of my eye. Mandy twists her lips in a half-smirk.

“Maybe… we’ll see,” she retorts. She releases me to kiss Daddy and I go to Christian’s arms.

“You’re too much,” I say to him, greeting him with a gentle kiss.

“What my girl wants, my girl gets,” he says. I furrow my brow. I didn’t want a pink stork. I like it and it’s cute, but I didn’t request it. He just smiles and ushers me into the house behind Mandy and Daddy.

“Surprise!”

The house is full. The salutation startles me so badly that I actually turn to run back out the house and I’m greeted by an equally stunned Al. He catches me in his arms—and against his chest—looking over my head at the crowd of people assembled.

The Scooby Gang, Gail and Keri with my precious babies, Grace and Carrick, Mia and Ethan, Marilyn, Elliot, a person or two from Helping Hands…

And Brian.

Brian was here with Christian? For how long? The house isn’t in a state of disarray—so I guess there was no brawling, but how did that happen?

Brian moves forward and grabs my father’s hand. They embrace for a long time, and Daddy closes his eyes. He has missed his friend. I feel a little guilty. Their relationship is strained because of me and I wish that I could change things…

And then I see her.


A/N: Don’t ask me where the hell “Satan’s Playroom” came from. I don’t know what kind of dark place I was in when I came up with that one. I even researched torture devices! I think somebody pissed me off that day…

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 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.

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 37—In Other News…

I’ve been going through and “liking” posts and for some reason, I’ll go back, and WordPress is removing some of my likes. I may have to look for blog hosting elsewhere. This thing is getting on my nerves!

Also, in going through my mailing list, I’ve noticed that a lot of people with “me.com” or “icloud.com” emails have been bouncing a lot. These mediums may have something in place to prevent you from getting a lot of unwanted or junk email and mine may be getting caught in that. I’ve had about five people so far with those extensions tell me that they haven’t gotten emails from me since 01/04/18. With only a few exceptions, I’ve been sending out emails for every chapter. I’ve counted, and that’s five emails that you’ve missed, and my emailer is saying that they’re bouncing. Once again, be sure to add my contact emails—bg.holmes@butterflysaga.com AND bronzegoddess@butterflysaga.com—to your contacts list. It may help in curtailing the misdirection of the emails. 

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 37—In Other News…

ANASTASIA

Souvinier Bouquet

Christian is antsy as hell trying to get Mia alone and find out what she’s going to do with the leftover food. In the meantime, there was nearly a barroom brawl over the bouquet when she tossed it, wine-colored bridesmaids elbowing guests left and right to get their hands on that souvenir bouquet. Sure enough, one of those cows emerged with it, and I’m almost positive that she wrenched it from someone’s hands.

The garter toss wasn’t quite so brutal. In fact, it was very tame and moved along quite quickly. Marlow’s little fart-dress-wearing girlfriend appeared to be a bit perturbed that he didn’t take part in the ritual. Had I been her, I would have been relieved as she’s no more that 16 years old and wasn’t the one who caught the bouquet.

I’m still looking for my husband and wondering if he has cornered his sister yet when an extremely pale-faced Courtney catches my attention.

“I know it’s bad form to leave before the bride and groom, but I have to go. Will you please make my apologies to Mia?” She looks like she’s just seen a ghost and Vickie is ready and set to get her out of here. I grasp her arm and she panics. What has her so shaken?

“Wait. What’s wrong? What happened?” I ask concerned. “Whatever it is, we can take care of it.” Her shoulders fall and she looks as if she’s going to cry.

“My grandparents are here,” she says, resigned. “I don’t think they saw me. It’s a big place and they wouldn’t expect me to be here.” Her voice cracks on the last word. I put my hand on her shoulder.

“You really should at least let them know that you’re still in town,” I tell her. “You’ve come so far. You’re about to start school. You work so hard at the Center. We’re actually friends. You’re nothing like the person you used to be.” She shakes her head quickly as tears escape down her cheeks.

“We’ve hurt each other enough,” she says, just above a whisper. “It’s better to just leave it be.” Vickie puts her arm protectively around Courtney’s waist.

“I’ve told her the same things,” Vickie says. “She’s become a remarkable young lady. Mia even smiled at her in the receiving line.” The corner of Courtney’s mouth rises, her gaze fixed to the floor.

“It’s the joy of the wedding,” Courtney excuses. “She’ll come to her senses tomorrow.”

“It’s you,” I say, rubbing her arm trying to comfort her. “You’ve changed and we all see it.” She sniffles.

“You’re all really sweet,” she says, crossing her arm over her body and grasping Vickie’s hand. “I don’t… I don’t want a scene. If there ever will be a time for reconciliation—and I’m not saying that there will be—this isn’t that time. I’m just going to go. Please… just tell Mia everything was really beautiful…” She’s breaking down again and Vickie goes into protection mode. She’s very feminine, but she becomes quite the stud when it comes down to Courtney.

“I’m going to get her home. Please, make our apologies,” Vickie beseeches. I smile.

“Mia’s so enthralled, she won’t even notice, but I’m sure she’s happy that you came.” Vickie smiles and turns her attention to Courtney.

“Come on, baby,” she says, as she guides Courtney towards the exit. I watch them leave, then scan the room for Addie. I promised that I wouldn’t tell her that Courtney was still in town and I won’t. It wouldn’t matter. I don’t see her anywhere.

“Hey, you,” my husband’s voice breaks my concentration. He looks like an entirely different man!

“You look a lot better!” I observe. “Did you work something out with Mia?”

“I didn’t have to,” he says, handing me a copy of the program and pointing to something on the bottom of one of the pages. It’s a very long list of charities where the food from the reception is going to be sent.

“See?” I sing. “You were worried for nothing. She had it taken care of all along.”

“Yeah,” he says. “My whole family knew about my food issues and I had no idea. I feel kind of stupid.”

“Don’t,” I tell him, wrapping my arms around his waist. “You’re still trying to open yourself to people. It’s going to take some time.”

“Yeah.” He looks just past me as he kisses my forehead. “So, um, either he has to pee really bad or Marlow is itching to talk to you,” he says. I raise my gaze and sweep the room, my eyes falling on a twitchy Marlow. He’s not looking this way right now. He’s talking to his twitchy date.

“How do you know he wants to talk to me?” I ask.

“Because his eyes have been darting over here for the last few minutes,” he says. I sigh.

“Well, he’s your protégé. He could want some of your time,” I retort.

“Ten will get you twenty he wants you,” Christian counters. I frown.

“He doesn’t want to talk to me!” I retort. “Not after that ‘time of the month’ comment.”

“Well, he’s been talking to me all night. I think he wants you.”

“Ugh!” I kiss his lips and sit in my seat. “Okay, the doctor is in.”

“I don’t think it’s the doctor he wants. It’s Ana,” Christian says, taking his seat and raising his gaze to Marlow, who is now making his way towards us. “Five, four, three, two…”

“Hey… Ana… you wanna dance?” Marlow asks quietly. Christian leans in to me.

“Not the doctor.” I roll my eyes at him.

“Sure, Marlow,” I say as I follow him to the dancefloor. I don’t even pay attention to what song is playing. I hold my arms up for him to take me in hold and he looks at me, puzzled.

Oh, dear God.

I put his hands in the proper position and we begin to sway in that terrible two-step that everyone does who can’t dance. He can’t lead. He can’t even do a box step.

“So, the wedding was nice,” he begins.

“Yes, it was beautiful,” I agree.

“I didn’t know you and Christian could sing,” he adds.

“It’s not something we do often,” I say lightly. “The vocalist bailed. It was an emergency.”

“You guys sounded great together.”

“Thank you.” There’s silence for a moment or two.

“Maya seems to think you hate her,” he blurts out. Ah, the plot thickens.

She’s flattering herself,” I retort, without hesitation. “I’d have to care about her to hate her.” Marlow’s eyes roll around.

“Okay, she was right,” he says. “What did she do?”

“She didn’t do anything,” I tell him. “I don’t like her air of entitlement. Everyone here is here because they were invited. Sophie was invited. You were invited. Even she was invited. The only two people entitled to be here are the bride and groom. The rest of us are privileged to be allowed to share their day because in some way, we are a part of their circle. But look around you, Marlow. That’s circle’s pretty damn large. And the larger that circle becomes, the further the people in that circle get from the core and your date is about as far from the center of that circle as anybody can get. So, I just think she has a lot to learn about guest etiquette and I truly hope she plans on taking a lesson or three if you plan on bringing her to any family gatherings at my home.”

Translation: train your dog or leave that bitch in her cage.

“Okay,” Marlow says after a swallow. “I’ll… talk to her,” he says, uncomfortably.

“You do that,” I say, “and while you’re at it, you should probably use a little more discretion when you speak as well, young man,” I scold. Sweat sheens on his forehead and I know he’s even more nervous than before. He should be.

“Um, yeah, about that…” he begins.

“Yeah, about that…” I say, mocking him, “how can you be so evolved about everything else and be so archaic about that? You bend my husband’s ear about everything else—you had better bend it about women. You’ve got the best source in the world for it. I swear, that was the most insensitive thing I’ve ever heard you say. I was being flippant about that time of the month because I knew that most guys understand that’s when we’re wacky, but I never would have said that if I thought you’d blow it off that way.”

“I wasn’t blowing it off,” he protests, weakly.

“Don’t give me that, Marlow, that’s exactly what you were doing. And okay, you don’t have any knowledge yet on how to handle these things, but I’m telling you—get some! You’re coming into manhood, quickly! Time out for games. Be the person that I know you can be. You’ve come a very long way, and I’m proud of you even though you pissed me off today, but you still have a long way to go. Go ahead, be young, have some fun, live your life, but there are times when you have to develop and let go of some of that stuff—and let me tell you something. Introducing a young lady to your mentor and his wife is a time when you and she should know that she should be representative of you. If she’s not, don’t introduce her. If she is, and she acts like that, then you need a lot of work. Do you get where I’m coming from with all of this or do you think I’m just giving you a hard time?”

“No, no, I get where you’re coming from,” he says, his voice a bit defeated.

“Good, because I can understand a diamond in the rough and if that’s what she is, she needs a hell of a lot more polishing, and if she’s not, throw that lump of coal back.” I’m almost relieved when the song is over because I’m tired of the back-and-forth swaying, and I’m sure that Marlow can do without any further berating. I take a step back out of his grasp.

“And take some dance classes,” I say, and his expression is horrified. “You’re going into the business world. You don’t know what situation you’re going to find yourself in or when, but I can guarantee you that dealing with him…” I point at my husband, “… you’re going to find yourself at more than one black tie affair. You may even find yourself trying to seal a deal in a setting like this. I can guarantee you that Soul Train one-step-two-step is not going to cut it. You need to learn a proper ballroom, a foxtrot, and waltz… at least.”

I glance over at Maya, who’s sitting at their table examining us on the dancefloor with her hands clasped in her lap. I look back at Marlow.

“You want to play around with these flighty little high school girls, fine. You’re young. You’ve got time, but prioritize.”

I’m actually transmitting Sophie’s frustration and I know this, but I can’t help it. I detest girls like Maya. She’s Mia’s catty bridesmaids in training, and I hate being around them. I hope either she gets a clue or Marlow does. Christian’s expression is bemused when I get back to the table.

“You don’t look particularly happy,” he says. I shake my head.

“Mold him, Christian,” I demand. My husband frowns.

“I… thought I was,” he says.

“You’re molding the mind,” I tell him. “Mold the man,” I say, folding my arms.

“Um, okay. Elaborate.”

“Men like you and my father have me spoiled,” I admit. “You’re chivalrous; you’re gentlemen; you’re considerate; you know how to dance!” He frowns.

“That last one was kind of random,” he points out.

“It may have been random, but it’s still true,” I tell him. “Can you imagine going to one of your acquisition meet-and-greets, holding one of your new colleagues around the waist and doing a two-step?” He grimaces.

“Duly noted.”

“And that comment about not being concerned about a woman’s time of the month? Really? He’s how old?”

“He’s only seventeen, Butterfly,” he protests.

“And what were you doing at seventeen, Christian?” His face hardens.

“My story is so different than his,” he points out.

“All of our stories are different,” I tell him. “What was I doing at seventeen?” He’s silent for a moment. I was hiding in a woman’s shelter trying to go to college. “It’s never too soon to break bad habits, to teach him more productive ones. And if I’m giving bad advice, then I’ll shut up. Let him do what he wants.” I clam up, suddenly feeling like I shouldn’t be having this conversation.

“Don’t be like that,” my husband says, pulling me closer to him. “I’m only saying let him be a kid for a little while longer. We’ve both had experience with having our childhood snatched away from us a bit too soon. Adulthood will creep upon him soon enough, and when it does, he’ll have all the guidance he needs to make sure that he goes in the right direction and does the right things. In the meantime, let him have a little fun. There’s still time, baby. He’s not a bad kid. You know that.”

I do know that. I’m just pissed because Sophie was slighted.

“Yes, I do,” I sigh. “I made him feel a little shitty.”

“He’ll get over it,” he says. “His girl was kind of frosty to Sophia. I’d say they’re even.”

“You saw that, too,” I say, making eye-contact with him.

“Sophie is 13,” Christian points out. “The comments that girl made to her had obvious sexual overtones. Even I heard them. Why? Just why?” I shrug.

“I have no idea why, but Sophie’s presence threatened her. And if the presence of a 13-year-old girl threatens you, you’ve got some serious problems.”

“No kiddin’… uh oh.” My husband’s conversation is cut short when his gaze is drawn to something just across the room. I follow his eyes and see Ethan looking a bit lost in the sea of guest and wandering around the room.

“That doesn’t look like a happy groom,” Christian observes.

“No, it doesn’t,” I concur, “and don’t look now, but I think he’s headed this way.”

His head still darting from side to side, Ethan is indeed headed towards us. He doesn’t stop scanning the room until he gets to our table.

“I seem to have misplaced my bride,” he says, his face a bit verklempt.

“Excuse me?” I say, perplexed. That’s physically impossible.

“I know, right?” he says, catching my obvious meaning. “You’d think with all that dress and those damn sparkly things, I’d never miss her. She’s the brightest thing in the room.” I can’t help but note a slight bit of ire in Ethan’s voice, but I do my best to stamp down Dr. Grey. Nobody asked for her right now. Ethan falls into a nearby chair and scrubs his face.

“You alright there, Ethan?” Christian asks, examining him.

“Yeah,” Ethan says from under his hands. “It’s just been a helluva day, man. No way in hell Carrick could foot the bill for all this by himself. He must’ve hocked the family jewels for this. I have to give him something. Did you see those cakes?” He raises wide eyes to us. “I fully expected people to pop out of there! Or for the damn things to open and reveal the real cakes! I didn’t even know they could make cakes that big! And a castle? A damn castle? With lights!” His eyes are a bit wild now. “We cut the cake with a sword,” he adds incredulously. “Where have you ever seen that? A sword!” he repeats as if he’s waiting for it to make sense.

“A groom’s cake… that’s a castle… big enough for me to walk into… that we can cut with a sword. What, no knights to stand guard? No moat? No drawbridge?” He really doesn’t sound pleased about the cakes at all. This may have been a bit too much. He’s shaking his head when he reaches into his pocket and retrieves his phone. He powers it on and waits for a moment or two, saying nothing.

“You didn’t know about the cakes?” Christian asks Ethan, breaking the silence between the three of us.

“I knew they would be big,” he says without raising his head. “She told me that hers would be seven layers, so I was thinking, you know, the seven-layer cakes that would be like, you know…” and he’s trying to gesture his hands in a fashion to demonstrate a normal to somewhat large wedding cake. “We went to the bakery together,” he says finally, giving up on attempting to describe what he expected to see. “We chose the flavors—Nutella, pink champagne, and amaretto—and I chose Italian cream for the groom’s cake. And yeah, I chose the castle. I thought it would be kind of cool, but the model in the bakery was about 14 inches by 12 inches and it stood about a foot and a half tall. I didn’t expect that!”

The moment he turns his body to gesture over his shoulder at what’s left of the colossal castle cake, our attention is drawn to Mia “holding court” in the middle of a small crowd of guests heading in our direction. She’s beaming as the center of attention, like she always does, and Ethan shifts gears immediately like he hadn’t been bitching moments earlier about the sheer enormity of a cake he really didn’t expect.

“Oh, shit,” he quietly hisses as he slides his phone back into his pocket, straightens his hair, and rises from his seat to face Mia. Christian and I stand with him.

“E,” Mia chirps, closing in on her husband, who now has the brightest smile plastered on his face for her benefit. “What’s the name of that restaurant that you took me too that had the great food and the sake drinking contest…?”

“Umi,” Ethan answers, his voice subdued.

“That’s it!” Mia declares. “I couldn’t remember it for anything. C’mon, Nae wants to hear the story, but I don’t tell it nearly as well as you do.” She takes Ethan’s hand and moves to walk back to her crowd of guests, but Ethan hesitates, his head rolling around in frustration until his chin lands in his chest. Mia stops and turns back to Ethan.

“Hey,” she says, her voice concerned. “You okay?” Ethan sighs.

“You go on and talk to your friends. I’m going to go and get a drink,” he replies. Mia frowns.

“E… what’s wrong?” Mia presses. I can see in his face that Ethan doesn’t want to have this conversation right now, but he sees that he doesn’t have a choice.

“This,” he says, his eyes rolling around the theater. “I can’t take anymore. It’s a lot. I need a break. There’s a whole bunch going on and this is quite a bit to drink in. I don’t know what else is going to pop out at me next.”

“There’s nothing else, Ethan,” Mia says softly.

“Good, because I don’t think I could take anything else,” he says, the words rushing out of his mouth. Mia’s eyes are on the floor now. Ethan puts his hand under her chin and lifts her face so that their eyes meet.

“Mia,” Ethan says soberly. “I love you very much, and I don’t want you to be unhappy on our wedding day. I agreed to any and everything you wanted because you wanted it. All I want is you, and I have to be honest. I’ve had enough of all of this, and if you want to stick around for this production any longer, I’m going to go get a drink and find a quiet corner somewhere to be alone. My head is spinning from all this. I feel like a debutante being presented to society and not in a good way.”

He leans in and kisses her gently on the cheek, holding her there for a long moment, then he reaches in his pocket and retrieves his phone again. He turns the phone around to her so that she can see her smiling face—his screen saver.

“My phone is on, now, if you need to find me. Go. Mingle with your friends.”

There’s no malice, anger, or resentment in his voice when he speaks. He’s just… tired of all this. He’s going to let her have what she wants, but he’s played along for hours and he doesn’t want to play anymore. He kisses her on the cheek again, releases her hand, and walks away. Christian looks at me, then falls in step behind Ethan. As they head towards the bar, I look over at Mia and can’t quite read her expression.

Is she hurt?
Embarrassed?
Upset?
Angry?
Ashamed?

She wordlessly watches her new husband walk away from her and a single tear escapes from the corner or her eye.

“Mia?” I say softly. She sniffs and sighs heavily.

“I need to make my final rounds,” she says, her voice cracking. “It’s time to say ‘goodnight.’” She laughs tragically. “My maid of honor was kicked out—can you help me?” I know what she means. She needs to put on the happy face and try not to fall apart. There will also be the unending question of, “Where’s Ethan” as she’s making her way around the room. I take her hand and nod.

“C’mon, sis. Have you lost those shoes yet? Because if you haven’t, now would be the time.” She nods and reaches under her yards of skirt to remove the insanely embellished shoes… still the sharpest pair of shoes I’ve ever seen in my life.

“Let’s make it happen,” she says, carrying the magnificent creations in her hand as she screws up the courage to face her guests.

The ordeal takes 45 minutes… and I really don’t think she enjoys a second of it. She’s the quintessential lady, smiling and thanking everyone for coming. Half the people she’s speaking to, she’s never met in her life.

When she has spoken to the last guest she plans to greet, Mia finally makes her way out of the main ballroom

“Can someone call my husband, please?” she asks, her voice exhausted and—if I’m honest—a bit defeated. I pull my phone out of my clutch and quick dial my husband.

“Hey, Butterfly,” he answers.

“Are you still with the groom?” I ask.

“I am.”

“Is he sober?”

“Quite. He only had one drink. He’s not maudlin, he just wanted to get away from the crap… and to vent,” he says.

“Good, because his wife has made her rounds and is ready to go.” I hear him saying something, probably to Ethan, then he’s back on the line.

“They have a helicopter,” he says.

“Seriously?” I ask.

“Can you see them getting out of here any other way?” he asks. Actually, I can’t.

“Good point.” I turn to Mia. “You have a helicopter?” She nods.

“It’s just taking us to the plaza. We have a limo waiting there for us.”

“How do you get to the helipad?” Like magic, her wedding planner—who I now know as Skye—appears with Ethan, and my husband who is still on the phone with me. I end the call since the proximity is now giving me feedback.

“How did you we were out here?” I ask.

“Low background noise,” he says. “It was either here or the restroom.” He moves next to me as Ethan closes in on his wife.

“You look exhausted,” he says softly.

“I’m fine,” she replies, raising doe-like eyes to his.

“I just bet,” he says, sliding his arms around her waist and placing a soft, sensual kiss on her lips. Mia visually melts into his arms and closes her eyes at his touch, her sigh signaling that she wishes to be any place but here at this moment.

“Soooo… it’s a wrap,” Skye says. “Let’s get you kids airbound.”

Ethan gives Mia another squeeze before they turn to face us. Christian hugs his sister and I give Ethan a hug and congratulate him again. When they switch, Christian and Ethan shake hands and Mia takes me into a firm hug.

“Thank you… for everything. God couldn’t have blessed me with a better sister.”

I have to fight back the tears.

“You’re welcome… for everything. Enjoy your honeymoon and your new life, Mrs. Kavanaugh.”

“I know, right?” she giggles happily. We share one last hug before she releases me and turns back to her husband. Ethan scoops his wife up in his arms—sparkly dress and all—and falls in step behind Skye to wherever they will board the helicopter. I turn to my husband and release a sigh.

“They survived!” I exclaim.

We survived!” he corrects. He takes my hand and leads me back to our table.

“I envy them being able to take the helicopter and escape,” I admit. “This is one of those times I wish we could employ Charlie Tango.”

“Yes, the old boy would be quite handy right now, wouldn’t he?” Christian agrees.

“Ethan seemed much better,” I observe. “He was nearly fit to be tied when you guys left us.”

“Yeah,” he says. “He took his share of responsibility for enabling Mia—for giving her a free hand in the wedding planning and allowing her and Mom free reign in whatever they wanted to do, but he admits that this was nothing like what he expected. This was exactly what I expected. He turned a little green when I reminded him that the belly-dancers and pink flamingos had been nixed and we have no idea what else got the axe.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s right!” I say in horrified realization. “There was a lot more on the menu, so to speak.”

“Indeed,” he replies. I shiver to think what else was planned that didn’t make it to the ceremony and how poor Ethan would have reacted to that.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the bride and groom have left the building,” is announced over the loudspeaker. I look up at Christian and we share the same incredulous, disbelieving look before bursting into laughter.

“I’m ready to go,” I say. “I’ve had enough of this for one day.”

“It’ll be at least an hour before Jason can get the car around to get us,” Christian laments.

“I don’t care how we get out of here. Let’s just get out of here,” I whine. He nods and takes my hand. He pulls me through the crowd, through the dressing room area in the back and to one of the back exits.

“You might set off the alarm!” I warn.

“Who the fuck cares? The reception’s over.” He pushes the door and to our delight, no alarm. “Service entrance,” he says, with a wink. There are several members of the staff wandering around, smoking cigarettes and chatting.

“Don’t mind us,” Christian says, and I giggle as he weaves me through the inquiring faces in the alley. He pulls out his phone and dials a number.

“Jason, bring the car around to the front. Call me when you’re there.” He ends the call and I frown at him.

“I thought you said it’ll take an hour for Jason to get the car around,” I protest.

“I might have exaggerated. It’ll probably take about 25 minutes, but while he’s moving, he’s drawing the Paparazzi’s attention. And, where are we?” He talks while he’s rushing me along. I giggle again.

“Escaping down a back alley, like fugitives,” I chuckle as my heels click against the concrete. We get to the end of the alley and I find myself scurrying behind my husband down the street adjacent to the freeway to evade the Paps. It’s not an easy escape as there is a fence and a curb that we must negotiate. However, once we clear the perils that are the alley and Convention Place, we cruise easily down Pike Street, where Christian effortlessly hails a taxi. He helps me into the back seat and climbs in behind me.

“Slater Park, Mercer Island,” he says to the cabbie. No sooner he turns around and starts driving, Christian descends upon me, covering my lips with hungry kisses. I ignite immediately, thrusting my hands into his hair. My husband is hot anyway, but when he’s clawing hungrily at me like this, he sets my soul on fire. I’m trying to be satisfied with just the kisses, but I’m burning as his hands wander over my body and ignite me in all the right ways and places. My euphoria is interrupted when we feel the taxi jerk suddenly, and our attention is brought to the darting eyes of the cabbie in the rearview mirror as well as his dangerous proximity to the car in front of us.

“Sorry,” he says, meekly. Christian reaches into his pocket and pulls out his wallet. He takes out a few bills which I’m sure are hundreds because that’s all he carries, and throws them into the front seat.

“I know you’ve seen more than this, so keep your eyes on the road and try not to fucking kill us all!” he snaps. The cabbie’s eyes grow large as he retrieves the cash.

“Yes, sir!” he says obediently and pins his eyes firmly in front of him.

And my husband descends upon me again.

His kisses become more intense, more purposeful, and I melt in his arms. I whimper into his mouth as his hand wanders down to my breast and pinches my nipple. Oh, God, I’m going to lose it.

Just then, he groans and pulls his lips from mine, fishing his phone out of his pocket.

“Yeah,” he grunts, then listens. “Get out of the car and wait for about twenty minutes, then pick us up at Slater Park.” He ends the call, shoves his phone back into his pocket, and turns his attention back to me.

“Where were we?” he growls as his mouth covers mine again.

By the time we get to the bridge, I’m trying for all I’m worth not to wrap my leg around him while he continues to deliciously devour my flesh. I’m so hot that I could combust at any moment. Noting my dilemma, he puts my leg around his hip and continues to grope and kiss me.

“Stay calm,” he breathes into my mouth as his hand travels up my dress and between my thighs. Oh, shit. “Don’t let on…”

His hand slides effortlessly into my panties and he begins to gently stroke my burning clit.

“Don’t come yet,” he whispers as he licks the corner of my mouth. “Hold on… let it build…”

I bite my lip and try to close my legs a bit more to fend off the building intensity.

“Ah, ah, ah,” he scolds. “If you do that, I’m going to make you scream in the back of this car.” I gasp as his finger strokes meticulously, rhythmically, over and over, building and burning until…

“We’re here, sir.”

The cabbie’s voice pulls me back from the edge of my orgasm as I only just now remember that we aren’t alone, despite Christian’s prior threat.

“Thanks,” my husband barks before opening the door and leaping from the taxi, nearly dragging me behind him. We stand there in silence and wait until the cabbie pulls away and is out of sight. Then, my husband drags me behind him again, looking for something. He finds what he’s looking for in a nearby cluster of trees.

I have to run on my tiptoes to keep up with him, my spiked heels occasionally sinking into the grass. He pins me against a large tree and kisses me hungrily again. I’m still hot from the fondling in the taxi. He pulls his lips from mine and slowly descends to his knees. He kisses my exposed inner thigh through my split and I almost lose my balance. His hands travel under my dress, pushing it up just enough for him to inhale deeply and smell his prize. He closes his eyes as if in ecstasy and licks the outside of my panties. I gasp at the feeling of his tongue against my outer lips. He probes deeper and his tongue is licking and massaging my clit through my panties. My head falls back against the tree trunk as the fire he was igniting in the back of the taxi burns once more. I feel him grab my panties and pull them down, just past my hips to reveal my pussy, and his head is buried again between my legs.

“Oohh,” I whimper as his hungry, hot tongue makes contact with my clit. He tastes me over and over, moaning each time his tongue runs across the sensitive bundle of nerves. It feels so good and I have to lean on his shoulders to keep from sliding down the damn tree. My legs start to tremble and he lifts one, throwing it over his shoulder to help me stay upright… and opening my pussy wider to his talented tongue. His hands reach up and cup my breast roughly, kneading them sensually as he continues to feast delectably on my aching clit.

His hungry licks turn into determined sucks and devouring mouthfuls and I know it won’t be long now. He reaches up and caresses my lips with his fingers. I realize this is the hand he used to finger me in the car, and I suck his fingers into my mouth, fellating them hungrily as his technique on my clit becomes more determined. I’m panting wildly, his fingers deep in my mouth and his hand firm on my tit when it happens.

“God! Christian!” I nearly scream when the climax hits me. He groans into my pussy and squeezes my tit a little harder, sucks my clit a little deeper and I explode magnificently, clutching his hair while he holds me up against that tree. His wet fingers move from my mouth across my face, down, and to my neck as I whimper and pant through this intense pulsing and burning. Once the orgasm has waned to a gentle throb, he kisses my clit gently and replaces my panties. He rises to his feet and thrusts his tongue into my mouth. I’m high and still aroused, tasting my juices on his tongue. I move my hands to his belt and try to unbuckle it, intent on returning the favor, but he halts my progress.

“No,” he says firmly. “Jason will be here any minute.”

Shit, I forgot about Jason.

Christian helps me put myself back together and leads me from the bunch of trees. I’m nearly composed when we get back out to the lighted area and a stretch of road where Jason will be able to see us. He puts his hand on the small of my back and pulls me over to him.

“You taste mighty fine, Mrs. Grey,” he mumbles, the scent of my arousal on his breath. Don’t get in Jason’s face, I think to myself, or he’s going to get a whole lot more than he bargains for.

“You bring that out in me, Mr. Grey,” I say, carefully watching his lips as he licks them, knowing I can smell myself on his breath. For the second time, I move to reach for his crotch and I see headlights shine at the end of the road.

Fuck! Jason. Dammit.

When the Audi approaches, Christian moves quickly to open the door for me so that Jason doesn’t exit the car.

*-*

He’s out of his jacket before we even cross the threshold. I instinctively leap into his arms and he catches me, as usual, with two handfuls of ass. Squeezing tightly while devouring my lips, he carries me up the stairs to our bedroom. I can feel the tip of his erection protruding through his pants and I try to grind down on it, but he’s holding me firmly.

“Anxious?” he growls.

“Yes!” I pant over his lips. He bursts into the doors and slides me to the ground, kicking the doors closed behind him.

“So am I,” he groans, his lips never leaving mine as he unclips the hook-and-eye at the back of my neck and unzips my zipper. I make quick work of the buttons on his shirt, ripping it out of his pants while he pushes my dress from my shoulders. I quickly remove the dress and let it fall to the floor while he unbuckles his belt and unzips his pants. He removes his shirt and I push my hands inside the back of his pants and boxers and squeeze his tight, firm ass. He does the same thing to my ass while his tongue plays seductively with mine. He grinds me against his erection and I don’t want to wait any longer. I push his pants and boxers past his hips, reach between us and grab his cock.

“Ugh!” he groans loudly as I squeeze it hard in my fist. He toes out of his shoes and pushes his pants and boxers to the floor, removing them and his socks at the same time. He quickly removes his T-shirt and pushes me down on the bed. Climbing over me, naked, he grinds his hips into my panty-clad clit and I groan loudly.

“Christian! Please!” I protest, trying and failing to remove my shoes.

“Leave them on!” he commands, his voice throaty and full of lust. He pulls my panties aside and positions his head at my opening. Before I can say anything, he pushes inside me, his cock burning my walls and making me dizzy.

“Yes! Oh, yes!” I exclaim as he penetrates me and his hips immediately begin to move with purpose. He grabs both breasts, still in my bra, and kneads them roughly as he plunges into me.

“Shit, you feel so good,” he groans, his hips rolling and thrusting and pushing me quickly to my second orgasm. I don’t speak. I just enjoy. He’s lost in his own passion right now and he’s taking me with him… and I fucking love it! He undoes my bra and nearly rips it from my chest, concentrating his gaze on my tits as he plunders into me over and over. It’s so hot, that hungry, lustful look in his eye as he watches my breasts wobble while he fucks me.

“Fuck!” he hisses as he drops his body over mine, his hips pushing my legs open wider. His hands travel to mine and his fingers entwine with my fingers. He holds my hands down and buries his face in my neck as his hips and dick grind deliciously into me. He groans louder and louder into my neck as I feel him getting thicker and harder, his thrust more intense. I can barely breath as the orgasm attacks, ripping a scream from my throat and a tear or two from my eyes as my husband holds me down and punishes me with his dick.

“Fuck! So tight! Too… tight… fuck! Fuck!” he gasps as I feel him begin to pulse and throb inside me while I ride out this wild orgasm.

I’m coughing and gasping for air when he cups the side of my face and peppers the opposite cheek with tender kisses… while he’s still fucking me! I know he came. I know he did! But he’s still fucking. He raises his eyes to mine and yes, I can even see in his eyes that he came… but he wants more.

He pushes off my body—still inside me—and rips those useless, soaked panties off me. Lifting my hips off the bed, be begins to plunder me again, methodically—hitting that magic spot even though he knows I’ve just come.

“Don’t move your hands!” he commands in a harsh whisper. “I don’t want to stop to tie you up, so stay. Right. There.”

And I don’t fucking move.

He hits that spot over… and over… and over… and in about ten minutes, I’m back at the mountaintop, ready to blow. When he senses the change in my body, he puts his arms under my knees, holding my legs wide and pummeling my poor little pussy.

“Oh, God,” I protest again, arching my back and keeping my wrists plastered to the bed.

“That’s it, Baby,” he growls. “Feel it. Show me that you like it. You look so fucking good… so fucking beautiful…”

That’s all it takes to start the ascent again, and it’s burning deep, so much so that at first, I didn’t know that I wasn’t actually having an orgasm… until the real orgasm hit.

“Oh, Go-o-o-od!” I weep as my body starts the tremble. Christian fights to hold me in the position so that I can finish… but he loses the battle.

“Fuuuuck!” he exclaims as one stiletto-clad foot flies to his shoulder, the other still suspended from the knee in his hand, and he thrusts hard into me… several times… causing the explosive orgasm that I was already having to go on and on and on.

“Oh, God! Please! Stop!” I cry as the intensity becomes too much for me, but my husband is gone, his body violently chasing his orgasm. I don’t think I can hold out much longer and several strokes later when I’m at my wits end…

“Fuuuuu-uuu-uuu-uuuuck fuck-ing hell fuuuck!” I don’t recognize his voice as he appears to be crying for mercy, his body stiffening and trembling wildly at the same time. He’s weak with pleasure and unable to hold his body up, only the unforgiving stiffening of his muscles holding him in place as his head hangs helplessly from his neck, sweat dripping from the ends of his curls and his body jerking impulsively with each throb of his finally emptying dick.

Thank God!

I prepare myself for the inevitable, for him to fall helplessly on top of me once nirvana releases him and allows his muscles to relax… it takes a long, long, time. I’m worried for a moment, but then he collapses—helpless, spent, and breathless, still inside of me and unable to move. I reach down and stroke his wet hair, bringing him slowly back to earth. Several minutes later, I think he’s fallen asleep on me when he says,

“That was incredible.”

“Yes, it was,” I concur. “What got into you?”

“I don’t know,” he admits. “The playfulness of running down that alley, being in the back of that taxi… I just… felt free… and I wanted to get into you!” He growls the last word.

“I’m glad you did,” I say, still stroking his hair.

*-*

Liam didn’t come looking for me Monday morning. He went straight to Grace. That left me able to get some real work done instead of this babysitting shit. Granted, he has gorgeous blue eyes and he’s really nice to look at, but I resent his presence here and really want him gone as soon as possible. Not only that, I’ve felt the need more than once to remind him that I’m taken. It’s been nothing particularly forward, but he tried to get me to go to lunch with him again and he even went so far as to ask me out for a drink once.

“It’s a harmless drink,” he had said, “just to unwind from all this damn work we’ve been doing.”

Since he insisted on diverting the conversation away from any romantic interest, I did the same when I declined, noting that I’m breastfeeding. It doesn’t help that we slip into a relaxed comfort and sometimes even a playful banter when we work together. I have to concentrate when I talk to him—on looking into his eyes just long enough to get my point across, but not staring as it’s very easy to get lost in those lipid pools on any human being. I also have to avoid gazing at the bridge of his nose, because that offends him. So, I’m a little more relieved than I should be when Tuesday comes around and he goes straight to Grace again.

“Come on, Friday… come on, Friday…” I think to myself.

Ever the hopeful optimist, I forget that forces beyond my control are constantly at work to destroy my little world and crumble my happiness and very existence. One such force that I erroneously failed to acknowledge at the moment got its modern identification in 1949 when a development engineer at Edwards Air Force Base named Captain John Murphy became frustrated with a malfunctioning electrical component. About the lab technician would had wired the component, he remarked “If there is any way to do it wrong, he will.” Although there is more evidence that the concept was born well before this time, supposedly, this was the first assignment of Murphy’s Law…

Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.

Still praying for Friday, but once again lulled into a false sense of comfort, I’m dismayed—for good reason—when Liam approaches me on Wednesday morning while I’m working in one of the classrooms.

“I see you’ve been meeting with Grace for the earlier part of the week. What’s the order of business this time?” I ask when I see him. He scratches his cheek.

“You,” he answers. I’m taken aback.

“Me?” I ask, bemused. He nods. Why the fuck…?

“Besides that first week, I’d like to know when exactly she plans on you investigating the Center,” I say with distaste. “Exactly why am I the focus of the investigation now?” He sighs.

“The financial report was just as flawless as the first week,” he says. “It shows consistent growth in the Center and no reason or cause for concern for future stability. When the board didn’t see a problem there, they shifted focus.”

The Board,” I say incredulously, “I’ll just bet the board saw me as a potential problem!” He sighs again and drops the pretenses.

“She let it slip that there’s some bad blood between her and the Center,” he admits. “When I waited for an explanation, she hinted at cutting corners and shabby qualifications—detrimental positions that could affect the outcome of the investigation being filled due to nepotism instead of choosing a qualified candidate for the job.” And now we get to the crust of things. She opened the door, so…

“She had her eye on this position for several years and I showed up and stole it from her,” I say with no remorse. “There had to be a reason why Grace hadn’t filled it all that time. She was overwhelmed with work, unable to pay attention to any of the smaller duties necessary to keep the Center running. There were areas of the Center knee-deep in dust and I just started cleaning them—yet, we had a cleaning crew. The first day I started working here, there was an angry young man who wouldn’t speak to anybody. Most of the staff here treated him like he was contagious. I got through to him, took him on, and now, he’s at Seattle Prep, getting great grades and making a huge difference in the area he grew up in.

“I have more success stories of families that have been mended and reunited or moved from dangerous situations and able to move on with their lives than you have time to hear, yet because she didn’t get the job, she feels that I wasn’t qualified? It’s sour grapes and nothing more. I’m a doctor with a medical degree; I spent my internship working with broken families. What has she done? What are her qualifications? Does she have experience or education in social work or administrative management that I’m not aware of?”

“Social work, no. Management, yes,” he says.

“Well, congratulations for her, but it doesn’t give her the right to besmirch my qualifications.” I slam my pen down on the table, angry that this woman has found a way to control us because she didn’t get a job all those months ago. God, how much time has passed? She probably combed through every application since she got that job, waiting for something with our name on it.

“Well,” he’s sounding a little nervous now, “it’s just that accreditation is a huge responsibility. We can’t afford to let anything slip through the cracks, that’s all.” I stare at him, my mouth agape.

“Slip through the cracks?” I repeat, my voice several octaves higher than normal. “There are several schools in Washington State that don’t even deserve to be considered schools—federally accredited schools who don’t make the mark on local scoreboards. Do you investigate those schools, too, or is this a privilege reserved only for those people on Ms. Felton’s radar?” He shifts uncomfortably in his seat and if this were a fight, I would have him on the proverbial ropes right now.

“It’s just my understanding that with you being the assistant director and with new twins and your husband that there may have been some cutting corners in the licensing process and she says that she just wants to make sure everything has been completed properly.” I gasp, and he immediately knows that he has said something wrong.

“It’s…” he stumbles. “You know how people may look for fulfillment in things other than their home life and may throw efforts into outside projects… and the importance of the success of those tasks may overshadow proper protocol—skipping important steps and using connections, as it were, to push different initiatives through the system…” Well, that didn’t make matters any better. Careful, Liam, you’re choking on that foot.

“I like. My life. Just fine,” I say, succinctly. “And tell your boss that she would do well to keep my personal life out of this professional matter. Make no mistake, Mr. Grey does have the power to make this whole thing go away—push things through the system, as you so delicately put it—but I don’t want that and neither does Grace. We want this whole thing to be legit and on the up and up, and Christian’s intervention would only take away from our credibility. This is a place for people to get help, to get education, to feel safe, and if they see that a dollar can sway our opinion one way or the other, they won’t feel that way.” Liam’s eyes sharpen and he’s a bit taken aback.

“I’m… sorry,” he begins, “I didn’t mean to demean or discredit you in any way, and I certainly didn’t mean to offend you.” He’s sincere, I can tell, but for now the damage is done.

“Unfortunately, Mr. Westwick, your boss doesn’t share your sentiment,” I state, gathering my things. “Her entire intention in this exercise in futility is to hold up our goal, discredit us and find fault with us. She has used every single tactic that she could to keep us from getting our final stamp of approval, and I personally don’t feel like playing her game anymore.” I stand, stacking my papers and files, while closing my laptop.

“I swear that I’m doing everything that I can to make sure that this isn’t a personal attack,” he says. I raise my eyes to him again, this time, in scrutiny.

“Have you seen anything in the time that you’ve been here that indicates that we need an in-depth investigation as to whether or not we were following the rules?” I accuse. “Does anything look rushed, unnatural, or staged to you? Does anything here look like we haven’t been working for years to get to where we are now? Has anybody had anything contrary to say about the Center except your boss? Have you had cause to question my qualifications anytime during any of our conversations? You come here armed with information about my personal life that has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the Center and you don’t see this tactic for what it really is? You really think this is just somebody doing their job?”

Again, he’s stunned to silence, examining me. I gather the rest of my things in my arms.

“You let your own eyes and ears tell you what you need to know. Talk to whomever you need to talk to; draw whatever conclusions are necessary. Then, you tell the boss whatever the hell you want, because I’m done with this charade.” I march indignantly out of the room and towards my office to find some lunch.

I’m back in my office, going over our paperwork for the hundredth time looking for any loopholes we might have taken, any ammunition that Gloria would have to use against us to justify the charade of jumping through hoops that she’s putting us through. Knowing that I’m not going to find one and that this will never end if I don’t take action, I push the reports, my laptop, and my iPod away from me and make the call that I said I would wait until the end of the investigation to make.

“Al, I need you to file a formal complaint against Gloria Felton of the Washington State Licensing Board. I also want a complaint lodged with the Department of Early Learning, Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the US Department of Education.”

“Whoa! Jewel, wait… what’s going on?” Al protests.

“This woman has done everything that she can to discredit the Center and to hinder our progress for becoming a fully-accredited learning facility and day-care center because of her own personal conflicts and I’ve had enough! She’s still holding a grudge because she volunteered with the Center years ago when I first got here, and Grace chose me over her as the assistant director because she wanted another licensed doctor on the administrative staff! Gloria has never gotten over it; she threatened us way back then and now, she’s making good on that threat. She’s even gone so far as to send an inspector down here armed with details about my private life. This is personal—stemming from when she was released from the Center years ago, and she shouldn’t be in charge of this!”

“Okay, okay, I get it. It’s crystal clear. I’ll file whatever you need with whatever agency you choose, but you know that with an open investigation, it’s going to set back your accreditation.”

“We’re not going to get it anyway!” I yell the painful truth into the phone. “We’ve followed every rule, every regulation, every tiny little bullshit request she’s given us and every time we pass with flying colors, she finds something else!” The adrenaline tears begin and I can’t stop them. I’m so angry and disappointed that I could hit something right now. “A chip in the wall paint; a crack in a floor tile; a teacher with a less-than-perfect grade-point average… There’s always going to be something that she can pick at—some small thing that she can scrutinize use to hold us up! She wants us to give up, but I’m not going down without a fight! I’m kicking and screaming until there’s nothing left!”

The adrenaline tears turn into angry wrenching sobs as I go over to the window and unsuccessfully attempt to compose myself. “All this work,” I weep, “all this time, these years we’ve invested… I can’t believe all our efforts can be shot to hell by some spiteful bitch with a bug up her ass!” I sob into the phone in the most unladylike fashion.

“Jewel, I really need you to calm down,” Al pleads. “I’ll get right on it, okay?” I nod as if he can see me and end the call, weeping into my hands. A few moments later, Grace and Chuck come barreling into my office.

“Ana! What’s wrong?” Grace asks.

“We’re not going to get it!” I sob. “He could go back to that office shitting rainbows out his ass about how great we are and we’re still not going to get our accreditation.” God, I’m so frustrated that I feel like I’m just going to explode—literally explode! “I’ve already called Al. I know what this is. She’s the boss! She can keep us tied up in bureaucracy for years! She has no intention of giving us accreditation because I got this job and she didn’t! And when it’s conveniently leaked to the news that we were denied accreditation and some puffed-up story as to why, what do you think that’s going to do to us? To our reputation? To our credibility? All this fucking work!”

I’m screaming now and attracting an audience of people not afraid to approach the mayhem—security, Jesse, Marilyn…

Liam.

I fall into Chuck’s arms, weeping for the demise of the dream Grace and I had for a full-functioning help and educational center. This investigation is going to take forever—years, maybe. Any decision for or against our accreditation will be withheld pending the outcome of the investigation. Great, just fucking great!

*-*

I’ve sent the twins home with Keri and Marilyn so that I can strategize about restructuring what the Center has to offer since our accreditation will be indefinitely tied up in the complaint process. So much was riding on our being accredited—continued education, the day care and preschool, a form of home schooling so that children of families in hiding would still be able to learn without falling behind. We can still run the day care center, we just can’t do anything related to early learning in the process. It makes me so mad that one woman’s vendetta can so easily ruin something that could have been so useful and helpful to the community.

I guess it’s back to the drawing board.

Intent on working a few more hours on formulating a whole new game plan that didn’t stray too far from the one we had been working on for the last year and a half, I go to the community room to see if there are any sandwiches left in the vending machine.

“You’re still here,” I hear a voice say from behind me. I turn around to see Liam sitting on one of the sofas in the community room, his tie undone and his shirt open to the top two buttons.

“So are you,” I say, turning back to the vending machine. After finding a turkey sandwich, I make my purchase along with some green tea.

“Why are you working so late?” he asks. Why do you care?

“I’m trying to revamp our plans for the community center since it looks like we won’t be getting our accreditation anytime soon.”

“Oh, ye of little faith,” he says, and I’m not amused. “Don’t you want to know why I’m still here?”

Not particularly, I think to myself.

“Well, I was trying to save my investigation and your accreditation,” he says. “After witnessing what I did today, I did a little research on your accusations, which turned up quite a bit that I’m not at liberty to dispose right now, but I can say that I think you were right.” I glare at him.

“You doubted?” I ask, turning now to face him. “You thought I was making this all up?”

‘You’d be surprised what I’ve come across, so I had to be sure.” He leans forward, clasping his fingers together with his elbows on his knees. “You’re very passionate about your work.”

You have no idea.

“The thought of someone needing help and not being able to get it is unacceptable to me,” I say, taking a seat next to him on the sofa. “In particular, children in bad situations is a real sore spot. Why should a child be held back or fall behind in their class because Mom is afraid to let them go to school for fear that their abusive husband will get to them? Why should someone who was dealt a bad hand or has made a bad decision not be able to pursue their high school diploma or GED? These women—and, yes, men, too—may be running from horrible, or even life-threatening situations. They come here for sanctuary, for help to start over, to find shelter, maybe a job and a new life and they may need daycare.  There are so many opportunities I wanted to bring to the community, but this selfish cow has decided that’s not a good idea because she has a bone to pick with us. It’s my understanding that she volunteered here for years and she knows what we do. How she could deny these services to people that need them in good conscience is beyond me.”

I open my sandwich and the accompanying mayo packet and spread a healthy amount on the bread. I just realize that I’m starving and take a healthy bite. God, it tastes like filet mignon.

“Well, I wouldn’t give up hope just yet,” he says. “You never know what may happen.” I scoff before taking another large bite of my sandwich, chewing hungrily before I swallow it. He’s strangely silent while watching me eat.

“I’m no stranger to bureaucracy, Liam,” I tell him. “And I know a hopeless situation when I see one. I’m not one to easily admit defeat, but I am realistic. We’re just going to have to rethink our strategy and find another way to help people in the forever-time it takes the licensing board to address our complaint. It hurts, terribly, but it’s not the end of the world.” I continue eating, lost in thought for a moment and thinking that one of the things we could provide is an after-school program—something besides tutoring—some kind of latchkey program or something where kids can just chill out and unwind after school. We don’t have that, and I was so concerned with the accreditation portion of things that I wasn’t thinking about the simple community services that we could provide.

I’m pondering the new idea for so long that I’ve finished my sandwich and most of my tea. I raise my eyes to see Liam staring at me.

“What?” I ask. He points at me.

“You, um…” he stutters, then points. “You… have a little…” He reaches to my face and brushes what I assume are crumbs off my cheeks. The touch is soft… intimate… and in a moment, I’m caught in his gaze—those otherworldly blue eyes that capture me with an emotion that I can’t identify. They change and they look like cool water, clear and refreshing. My lips part slightly as I’m caught, trapped, motionless, waiting… I feel him coming closer, see him coming closer, his warm hand on my cheek, and I relax. A familiar warmth settles through me as I gaze into his deep, blue eyes.

Blue… blue… no… something’s wrong here. Something’s very wrong here.

I press my hand to his chest to halt his progression. He’s going to kiss me.

“Liam, no,” I stop him. “I’ve told you. I’m married.”

He pauses inches from my face, from his goal, and it’s only now that I hear the determined progressing thud of expensive, Italian leather shoes. I turn my gaze towards the sound and right into the steely, blazing eyes of my angrily charging husband.


A/N: She did it again… another juicy cliffy. Don’t kill me… but hold on to your seats. It’s about to get bumpy.

The Paramount Theater doesn’t have a helipad, but for the sake of the story, we’re pretending that it does.

Pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be foundat 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