Grey Continued: Season 5, Episode 2

I didn’t mean to trigger so many people and so many bad experiences with last week’s episode. I’m sorry. 

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

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

Season 5, Episode 2

ANASTASIA

Marilyn was truly a sight for sore eyes this morning… somewhat.

While I’m very glad to see her, I can’t get over how pale and frail she looks. She absolutely looks ill. Nobody’s saying it out loud, but it’s written all over everyone’s face as she greets them on Monday morning.

What the hell happened to Marilyn?

With her being away for so long and no one knowing why she was gone, the main whisper around the Center is that she has the big “C.” This is a perfect example of how the rumor mill gets started.

“She doesn’t have cancer, for Christ’s sake,” I scold some of the gossipy kitchen staff. “And it’s none of your business what’s happening with her unless she wants to tell you. So, stop drawing conclusions and spreading false rumors about something that you know absolutely nothing about!”

Duly chastised, the kitchen staff shut down their misguided conclusions and the rumors stopped just after lunch. At least, they stopped around me.

Marilyn quickly jumped right back into her work, exclaiming how awful my calendar and commitments looked and wondering how many of them I had missed while she was gone.

“Did you totally delete your appointments with Ace?” she asks horrified. “There’s none of them here. What’d you do, fire the guy?”

“Actually, yes,” I reply. She raises a questioning gaze to me. I sigh and remove my glasses. “He threw me out of his office during one of my sessions…”

“So, you fired him?” she asks confused.

“No, not yet,” I reply. “The next week, his wife called and cancelled my appointment, on the day of my appointment. The next week, he texted me and told me that my appointment was cancelled. After that, I skipped two weeks. I just didn’t feel like dealing with the rejection.

“The following week, we went to Australia, where I had several epiphanies and discovered after five weeks of no therapy that my therapist may not be helping me as much as I thought he was. I still journal; I still talk to people as needed; I still meditate and do my yoga; and I still have Ace on speed dial, but the weekly sessions are over. They’re not helping anymore.”

“How have you been doing since you stopped seeing him?” she asks.

“Overall, pretty good. I’ve had a few hiccups—I’d be worried if everything was peaches and cream after I fired my therapist, quite frankly, but all and all, things are okay with me. It was the right decision.” After a pause, I add, “Now, I’m going to ask the question that nobody wants to ask. Are you well?” Marilyn frowns.

“What do you mean, ‘Am I well?’” she asks.

“Physically,” I say. “Have you been to the doctor since the termination? Is something going on with your health?”

“No, I haven’t been to the doctor. It was an abortion, Ana, not open-heart surgery. There’s nothing wrong with my health. I feel fine.”

“Then why do you look like you’ve lost half your body weight?” I ask. She sighs and rolls her eyes.

“You’re being dramatic,” she says. “It’s just a few pounds. I’m depressed. I have the right to be a little thinner.”

“You’re using present tense,” I say. She rolls her eyes again and meets my gaze.

“What? What do you mean?” she asks.

“You’re saying that you’re depressed, that you have the right to be thinner. I take it that means that you’re not eating.” She sighs like a petulant child and drops her gaze back to her iPad.

“And you’re still depressed, that means you’re still not eating.”

She doesn’t raise her head or acknowledge my statement.

“Look at me, Marilyn!”

The petulant child raises her eyes to me again.

“You’re dangerously thin. You’ve lost a tremendous amount of weight in a short time and the ‘C’ word is already floating around the rumor mill. My God, how could your parents watch this and not be concerned?” Her demeanor changes immediately.

“Because they were more concerned about my immortal soul than my earthly coil!” she snaps, immediately dropping her gaze back to her iPad. I sit silently watching her and waiting for her response.

“It’s just a little weight,” she says without raising her gaze. “Trust me, it’ll be back in no time.” I don’t press the issue… for now. I just get back to the work at hand.

We’ve gone over some of the things that need to be done and Marilyn is frantically working to get her calendar—I should say my calendar—and notifications back to where they should be. I’ve noticed her daydreaming more than once and this time, she’s toying with her finger nervously, rubbing the spot as if it hurts. I’m only just remembering that she used to wear a promise ring there that Gary gave her last year. As if she’s suddenly conscious that she’s worrying her finger, she stops and turns her focus back to her iPad.

“Can you ever forgive him for leaving you?” I ask.

“I already have,” she says, her voice small as she concentrates on her iPad.

“Because you still love him?” She sighs.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s ever going to change, but no. I understand how he feels. I don’t think he could ever understand how I feel… but I get it. So… yes, I’ve already forgiven him.”

“Enough to take him back if he asks?” She pauses for a long moment.

“Can we please change the subject?” she beseeches. I sigh. She needs to talk this out, to come to grips with her raging emotions, but I guess now isn’t the time.

“I’d really like to not have to work at all this weekend,” she interjects. “I need to find a place to stay.” I frown.

“I can’t stay in that apartment,” she says, hugging her iPad close to her and looking at the ground. “It’s worse than being at my parents’ house. I can’t do it. And I don’t want to be alone. I thought I could handle it, but I can’t. I was fine at the hotel. There weren’t so many memories, but now I’m back and I feel like I’m going to die.

“It’s Gary’s apartment,” she continues. “He paid the lease and I can’t stay there… for obvious reasons. I’m calling movers to come and get my things and maybe I’ll put the bulk of them in storage while I try to find somewhere permanent, but it was hell sleeping in that apartment last night… or trying to sleep in it. When I’m gone, let him know that he can move back in. I’m surprised he didn’t move in while I was at my parents’.”

“I don’t think he knew that you were gone,” I reply. The truth is that nobody has seen Gary. We know that he’s working, but he hasn’t really spoken to us since the breakup. He called me once on Christmas, but that’s it. He probably thinks I’m going to harass him about Marilyn.

“You have any idea where you’re going? Have you looked at any places yet?” I ask.

“My old apartment is obviously gone, so that’s out,” she says. “I’ll find something.”

“And in the meantime?” I ask. She shrugs.

“I can’t stay with my parents. Even if they were close enough, they drive me crazy,” she says. “They haven’t ostracized me, but they’re acting like they have to cast demons out of me because I murdered this innocent child.” Her voice cracks as she says it. “I wish I hadn’t done it,” she confesses. “I would have kept the baby had I known it would be this bad.”

You feel bad?” I ask.

“Gary’s hurt and I’ve lost him forever. My heart aches and I can’t stop it. My parents are treating me like Satan’s spawn instead of their daughter. Nothing much would have changed if I had the baby…” I frown, horrified.

“Nothing much? Are you kidding? Your entire life would have changed!” She raises her eyes to me.

“You would have let me bring the baby to work,” she points out. “And Helping Hands has a nursery…”

“I’m a billionairess with a full-time assistant, full-time nannies, and full-time staff—and I had to choose between my practice, Helping Hands, and my babies. You really think your life wouldn’t have changed?” She drops her eyes back to her iPad. “You did what you felt you needed to do for yourself. Neither decision was going to be easy, and they would both be full of regrets no matter what you chose. You’re only tormenting yourself by second-guessing your decision because you can’t go back and undo it.” She sighs.

“Yet another reason to change the subject,” she says, with the same shaky voice. “Is it okay if I have the weekend off?” I twist my lips.

“Of course, it is,” I say softly. “We usually don’t work weekends unless there’s an emergency anyway.” A few moments pass and I say, “You know I’ve got the condo. Courtney’s staying there now, but there’s plenty of room.” She shakes her head.

“Me and Court are cool and all, but not cool enough to be roomies. You pay me well, Boss Lady. I’ll find a place.” I know you will, but I don’t want you to be alone. You don’t look well and you’re scaring me!

Here comes the Owie House again.

“I have eight bedrooms—pick one,” I say. She raises her eyes to me, then realization dawns.

“Oh, I’m sure Christian would just love that,” she says sarcastically. I twist my lips.

“Are you forgetting how many bedrooms I have?” I say. “As long as you don’t come out of those rooms in any state of undress, we’ll be fine. Besides, having my personal assistant truly at my beck and call would be a dream come true—even if it is only temporary.” She smiles weakly.

“You’re just trying to make me feel better,” she says. I lean forward on my desk.

“Do you have any idea how handicapped I was without you? Any clue?” I ask. She cocks her head at me.

“If you’re calendar’s any indication, yes, I do!” she declares.

“Courtney’s wonderful. She did the best she could, but she’s not you,” I reply. “Look at all the people that live here,” I add. “Val and Elliot are here, and some days, we never even see them! You could go for days in this joint and not bump into each other… and you work here! No commute. Put your furniture in storage—you can use the storage at my condo if it’s not much, I know that’s empty. Hide away in the furthest bedroom from humanity if you choose and take some time to regroup. That way, you don’t have to stay in the apartment, you don’t have to be subjected to the cathobapticostal condemnation and casting out of demons for choosing to terminate your pregnancy, and you can take your time and find a nice place on your schedule. No pressure.” She frowns.

“Have you talked to Christian about this?” she asks. I pull out my phone and start texting.

“No,” I tell her, “but he’ll be fine with it.”

“I don’t want to make this decision until you talk to your husband,” she protests. I raise my eyes to her.

“Would you rather not stay there?” I ask. “I don’t want to pressure you into doing something you don’t want to do.” She shakes her head as my phone buzzes, and I continue to text.

“It’s not that,” she says. “I’m sure I’ll have privacy. I just don’t want to impose, seriously. Right now, the easiest thing for me to be is invisible…” which is why I don’t want you to be alone.

“That’s not healthy,” I reply, “but I guess it’s somewhat expected under the circumstances.” My phone buzzes again. “And I’ve talked to my husband,” I say, showing her the texts.

Ana: I’d like for Marilyn to stay with us for a while until she finds another place.

Christian: Okay.

Ana: She’s worried about being an imposition.

Christian: Eight bedrooms?? Almost 15,000 square feet?? We’ve already got a tribe living there. What’s one more?

Marilyn almost laughs after reading the text. That’s progress.

“Thank you,” she says, her voice soft and grateful. I’m glad I turned the phone around before the next text came in.

**Garrett’s being an asshole. **

**No, he’s not. He’s hurt and he has a right to be. I just wish this wasn’t so hard on either of them. **

**There you go with that PC-ness again. She needs him, and he deserted her. That’s all I see. **

**I understand. I won’t dispute you on that. But he’s still my friend, so what are you going to do when he comes around? **

**Don’t worry, I’ll behave. **

“What is it?” Marilyn asks, noting my constant texting.

“Oh, nothing. We’re just discussing that we have to keep our chandelier swinging and jungle noises to a minimum,” I jest. She laughs. “Honestly,” I interject, “he doesn’t agree with Gary’s handling of this situation.” She drops her head.

“Neither do I, but I understand.” she says sadly. “I might as well be dead to him. He was everything to me… still is—and I thought I was everything to him, but apparently, I’m not.”

I want to tell her that it’s just not that simple, but to her, it is.

“He was my heart and soul. I can’t even put into words what he meant to me… means to me. I want to hate him so badly, but I can’t. I swear to God, I would have kept the baby had I known it would turn out like this.”

Tears are falling down her cheek faster than she can catch them. I’m glad the door is already closed.

“Hindsight is 20/20,” I tell her, “but wouldn’t you have just been swapping one set of problems for another? You clearly said that you weren’t ready.” She shakes her head.

“I know,” she says weepily, “but this feels like it’s never going to end. It’s never going to stop hurting…” she trails off, weeping.

“It will, Mare,” I try to comfort her. “It doesn’t feel like it right now, but it will.” She does her best to pull herself together, but she’s still sniffling.

“You may want to put me in the room farthest away from you and Christian,” she chuckles sadly. “I still spend most of my nights crying and I don’t want to disturb you.

That’s it.

“Fuck finding a place of your own. You’ll store your things on our property, and you’ll stay as long as you need to.”

“I can’t…”

“Yes, you can,” I interrupt her. “I’m not ashamed to say that I’m very worried about you. You went straight from a horrible, traumatic breakup to living with your parents who subjected you to weeks of religious bullying and emotional warfare. You really haven’t had any time to heal and now, you’re trying to move back into your old apartment where all the wounds are ripped open again. You look like you’ve lost at least half of what little body fat you had and quite frankly, I’m scared. You’re going to come to my house where you can have good company whenever you want it and good food so we can fatten you up.” She laughs through her tears again.

“Good luck with that,” she says. “My mom may be a fundamental fanatic, but she’s the best cook on the planet! She couldn’t even get me to eat. I can’t keep anything down.” I frown.

“What are you eating lately in an average day?” I ask. She shrugs.

“I don’t know, I’m not keeping a diary,” she says.

“What did you eat yesterday?” I ask. Her eyes go skyward as she tries to think.

“I had a cup of tea and some toast before I left Spokane. Then, I had an orange in the afternoon. I had Chinese delivered to the apartment for dinner.” I caught that. She had it delivered…

“But did you eat it?” I ask. Her shoulders fall.

“Yes,” she answers suspiciously. My eyes narrow.

“And?” I press. She sighs and rolls her eyes.

“Boy, nothing gets past you, does it?”

“No, so spit it out,” I chastise.

“I did,” she replies.

“No, you didn’t. You’re holding something back…”

“No, I did,” she says, her turn to interrupt, “I spit it out—or up. I couldn’t hold it down.” I shake my head and close my laptop.

“Would you like for me to go with you so that you can pick up some things for the week? We can handle the heavy lifting on Saturday.”

“You’re already giving me a place to stay,” she protests. “I couldn’t ask for more.”

“You’re not asking, I’m offering,” I say. Rising from my seat, I swipe the screen on my cell phone and call Chuck.

“You okay?” he answers.

“Jesus, am I that bad?” I ask. He sighs.

“I just never know what to expect when you call before quitting time.” I shake my head.

“Well, keep your boxers on. All is well with me, but all is not well. I need you and Carol to bring the cars around. We need to go to Marilyn’s and pick up some things. Have Tate and Rebe get Keri and the twins back to the Crossing, unless Carol wants to switch with Tate for a while as there might be some heavy lifting…” Chuck scoffs.

“Are you kidding?” he asks. “Have you seen Carol?”

“Well, not without clothes, no,” I say matter-of-factly. He chuckles.

“She’ll be fine,” he says. “She has bigger biceps than Christian.” Egad, don’t tell him that!

“Don’t publicize that, okay?” I warn. There’s a moment of silence.

“Affirmative,” he says. “I’ll get the transportation ball rolling.”

“Thank you,” I say before ending the call.

“You don’t have to do this,” Marilyn says.

“Quiet, Little Orphan Annie,” I say, packing my things and grabbing my coat, handing Marilyn hers. “You’re wasting away in front of me. This situation requires an immediate intervention and I’m the one to do it.”

*-*

You can tell that no one’s been to the apartment since she left, not even to check on it. It has that stale, needs to be cleaned smell. She just stands in the door and looks around the room.

“It’s barren,” she says. “We had so many good times here, but you wouldn’t know it looking at it now. It’s gray in here—it looks like the death angel himself brushed through every room and left his aura behind.”

She hadn’t even unpacked. All there is to do is clear what’s left of her things out of the apartment and clean it.

“Please grab those two bags over there,” she says to Chuck and Carol, pointing to the luggage that I assumed she had taken to Spokane with her. She goes into the kitchen and returns with a large roll of black garbage bags.

“Ana, can you help me please?” she says. I frown and follow her into the closet.

“You’re going to pack your things in garbage bags?” I ask, horrified.

“Trust me,” she says. She removes a bag from the roll and tears a hole right in the bottom of it, rendering it basically useless… or so I thought. She takes a handful of clothes from the rack of the closet, still on the hangers, and hands them to me.

“Hold this,” she says. I take the handful of garments from her and she proceeds to put the bag over the garments, sticking the hooks from the hangers through the hole at the bottom of the bag. She takes the garments from me, hangs them back on the rack, and ties the bag closed at the bottom.

Instant garment bag.

“That’s kind of clever,” I tell her. She nods.

“Yep, and the clothes are still on the hangers. So, when I get to your house, I hang them in the closet and rip off the bags.” I nod. Work smart, not hard.

After about an hour, Marilyn had enough of being in Gary’s apartment. We had gathered most of her things and agreed to come back this weekend to situate the rest. She deduced that her car being here is what prevented Gary from coming to the apartment, so since she was going to be staying with us, she would leave it here until she packed and removed the rest of her things to eliminate the risk of running into Gary. Her relationship is over. She doesn’t like it, but she’s accepting it.


CHRISTIAN

I’m sitting at my desk thinking about the conversation that I and my wife had the day after Christmas about Management 101. My meeting this morning is with the human resources department along with Ros and Lorenz. Last week, I reviewed a sampling of our annual reviews and my wife is right—these reviews are shit. There appeared to be no measurable goals and feedback was shoddy, at best.

Further investigation showed that the managers in each department are responsible for the content and conducting of the annual reviews as well as the feedback and follow-up. There’s no accountability for leadership, and no useful feedback for employees to promote improvement. It’s just like Ana said—management isn’t motivating the people in the trenches and, as a result, we have shitty work coming from the trenches, and if there is any hidden talent down there, it’s hidden in the shit. Once again, my wife was right. I have no idea how my company hasn’t folded by now.

In an attempt to get everyone involved instead of just having another heads will roll meeting, I put Lorenz in charge of a brainstorming session where we put the ideas that my wife suggested to work. How do we create a system of reviews that holds each employee—management and subordinates—responsible for their performance on an ongoing basis, with continuous feedback and evaluation to identify weaknesses and opportunities before they become critical?

I was amazed how the room came alive. Many, if not all, of the people in my human resources department have degrees and some of them are in management. The whiteboard was full of ideas and poor Andrea had her hands full trying to keep up with the minutes of the meetings. Many of the ideas mirrored the suggestions of my wife, but in more detail…

Holding management accountable to levels below and above them will keep them on their toes and prevent them from doing the old soft-shoe when performance reviews come around.

Specific goals need to be set for all employees that are measurable and align with the goals of the organization.

Employees need to know that they are not only striving for excellence individually, but also as a team. If one employee is lacking, they bring the team down, in which case, the team will be able to motivate said employees to identify opportunities to improve and achieve their goals.

The meeting went on all morning. When it was complete, each attending had a task to bring back to the next meeting where they would work with Lorenz to construct a new method of reviews that would be more conducive to the company. Two really important points came out of this meeting besides the birth of the creation of a new system of performance reviews:

I was able to pass this ball off to Lorenz and the human resources team. Even though the initial idea came from me by way of my beautiful and intelligent wife, I don’t have to monitor the progress of the project. I could delegate the responsibility to one of my other executive team, leaving me to deal with other pressing matters. I’ve become so accustomed to handling things myself—and everyone letting me—that the concept of delegation is sometimes hard for me to grasp. I don’t know who can really do exactly what needs to be done unless someone steps forward and says, “Hey, I can handle this for you.”

The second thing… Ros contributed nothing to the meeting. She didn’t have a suggestion, she didn’t take any notes, and her expression barely changed at all for three hours. If I were to guess, she was just sitting there wondering when it was all going to end. She sat in the meeting the entire time like she was watching a movie at the drive-in. All she needed was the goddamn popcorn.

I don’t have time to ponder what the fuck is going on with her because the moment I get back to my office, Alex has left a message that he wants to meet with me, and I’m quite anxious to know what he has to say.

“Holstein is losing his mind trying to see who’s got it in for him,” Alex says when we settle in my office and I activate the scramblers. I’ve just been informed that besides the lovely Christmas inconveniences that he’s had so far, he received a box of live rats on his doorstep on Saturday. His wife and children were put up at a hotel while he contacted exterminators in hopes of getting the things out of his house.

How the hell do you deliver a box of live rats?

Alex informs me of the lovely things we have prepared for the weeks to come for our favorite little traitor, and I must admit that the finale warms my fucking heart. Elena’s small and gradually growing mishaps are a delayed Christmas present as well. She’s suffered everything from a black eye to a busted lip to a sprained ankle. Hers and Holstein’s comeuppance will culminate right at the same time.

I guess now would be the time to start terrorizing that smarmy-assed secretary, since she wants to mouth off with the big boys, let’s see if she likes how the big boys play.

The buzzing in my pocket informs me that I have a text message. I remove my phone and see that Butterfly is informing me that Marilyn will be staying with us for a while. I shrug inwardly. The more the merrier. Chuck’s parents left this morning after being assured that he would be okay, and Harmony will be moving into Escala at the end of the week. Even though Valerie and Elliot have moved back in for a while, they’re pretty much a staple at my house to the degree that they permanently have their own room.

Butterfly tells me that Marilyn is protesting, and I remind her that we have eight bedrooms, then express my displeasure with how Garrett handled this situation. I’m staying out of it for the most part, but I feel that if you love someone, you shouldn’t desert them even when they piss you off. Believe me, I’m still kicking myself for the Madrid excursion, but that’s a whole other can of worms.

Alex is still filling me in on the progress of Alcatraz and the plans to be put in place for one Ms. Greta Ellison when Ros bursts into the room without knocking or being invited. I glare at her.

“Excuse me, but when has it been acceptable to burst into my office without permission?” I ask. She just looks at me.

“We have a development on the Fraser account,” she says.

“That didn’t sound like an apology and you haven’t answered my question,” I bark. She rolls her eyes.

“I don’t have time for this,” she says, dropping the file on my desk. “Look at this.”

“Keep fucking with me, Rosalind, and you’re going to have a whole lot of goddamn time on your hands.” I declare coolly. She raises a surprised gaze to me. That got her attention. “Now, pick up your file, get the fuck out of my office, and try that shit again.”

She blinks a couple of times like she can’t believe what she’s hearing. I’m not going to repeat myself, so she had better move her ass. As if suddenly realizing that I’m not fucking playing with her, she retrieves the file and marches back out the way that she came in. At this point, I wouldn’t give a fuck if she didn’t come back.

As it appears that’s exactly what she decided, Alex and I resume our conversation. A few moments later, my intercom comes alive.

“Rosalind is here to see you, sir,” Andrea’s voice says uncertainly. I look over at Alex, who actually rolls his eyes in disbelief. My sentiments exactly! My first inclination is to make her ass wait for a few more moments, but I decide instead to let her in with the intention that if she brings any of that premenstrual I am woman hear me roar bullshit with her, she’s going to be roaring on the other side of that goddamn door.

“Send her in,” I say. I deactivate the office scrambler and clasp my hands in front of me while glaring at the door. She’s slightly more docile when she enters, and her temperament cools even more as she approaches my desk, no doubt noting the please fuck with me today expression on my face.

“We have an issue with the Fraser account,” she says, handing me the file. I stand and indignantly snatch the file from her hand, giving her a healthy dose of the attitude that she feels I should contend with from her.

“What am I looking for?” I say, my voice low and firm as I skim through the information.

“You should see it there in a minute,” she replies. Don’t test me, lady. Tell me what the fuck you want. I cut a sharp glare at her.

“What. Am I looking for?” I ask more firmly in case I didn’t make the question clear the first time. She sighs.

“On the first page…”

We go through the file and the areas for concern over the next few minutes. Alex excuses himself to “take care of some things” while we’re going through the information. After we decide on a course of action, I lean back in my chair.

“Tell me why you couldn’t solve this on your own,” I ask. “This is pretty elementary.”

“I don’t know where your mind is lately, Christian,” she retorts. “I may think one course of action is the best and you’re totally against it.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it,” I counter. “You’ve had autonomy in this company since the day you first came on staff. I don’t second guess your decisions. I may decide that there’s something that I don’t want to do, like I may shut down a merger, but I never second guess your decisions. You didn’t need me for this, and I had to take time out of my day to tell you what you already knew. Why?” She purses her lips.

“It’s like I said, I don’t know where your mind is. We used to be in sync, but lately, our thought processes have been extremely… polar.” I shake my head and cut right to the chase.

“You confuse me, Ros,” I admit. “You get all touchy because of my wording of something and because of my decision to perform random drug testing and we actually found several people who not only had traces of drugs in their system but were also high on the job. And for the life of you, you still can’t admit that I was onto something. You actually didn’t like my decision, and you still can’t admit that I was right. You act like I’m taking toys out of your little play box and I won’t let you come and play in mine. What the fuck is up with you?”

“I’ve already told you there’s nothing up with me,” she says, flatly. “If you insist on thinking otherwise, there’s nothing I can do about that.” My expression doesn’t change, although inside, I’m sick of her shit.

“You can go now,” I dismiss her, turning my attention back to my computer. She turns on her heels and marches out of the room, and I ponder my words.

You can go now…

Has Ros outlived her usefulness? She’s been a part of this company almost from the very beginning. It’s always been her and me with our noses to the grindstone. Good, bad, or ugly, we’ve always managed to pull this company through. Now, there are changes—lots of changes—occurring in our lives, personal and professional.

She and Gwen were engaged when she started here, but they married after she had been with GEH for a year.

Things went floating merrily along for a few years and then I met Anastasia. That’s when the ship started falling apart.

As soon as I turned my attention from the company for the slightest moment, balls began dropping all over the place. I would go out of town on business trips at the drop of a hat and there was never a problem, but as soon as I started taking trips with my girlfriend-then-wife, she started having problems and I had to hire Lorenz. Now, we’ve got help and she’s still behaving as if she’s having a problem pulling her weight. If I didn’t know for sure that she was gay, I’d think she was pregnant. And that brings up another point…

She’s getting to a point where she’s downright rude to Anastasia. She shows her absolutely no professional courtesy as an owner of this company, but she also acts as if she doesn’t even like her as a person. Once again, if it weren’t for the whole gay thing, I’d swear she was a spurned lover!

Has she outgrown GEH? Has GEH outgrown her? Is it time to suggest that she update her resume and review her professional options? I would give her nothing but a shining recommendation, but sometimes, people just don’t fit anymore, and I can’t have someone on my team that I feel is not on my team anymore.

I thrust my hands into my hair. I can’t deal with this right now, but can I afford to put it on the back burner until the situation becomes detrimental? I shake my head and call Allen.

“Allen Forsythe-Fleming,” he answers.

“Allen, when are we supposed to go to Nevada?” I ask.

“February 2nd,” he says. Jesus, I hope this shit is somewhat in order with the company by then. There’s no telling how long we’ll be in Vegas for this fucking circus.

“Do we have a final headcount?” I ask.

“For…?” he asks.

“How many people are going,” I say, as if it’s obvious. “Ana’s dad wants to go; you’re going; we have security. Do we have a final head count?”

“Oh… no, I didn’t think about that. I’ll call Jewel and see who all we’re expecting. Is everyone going to have security?”

“Liaise with Jason to see how much security will be needed for the amount of people traveling. He also usually makes my travel and lodging arrangements, too. Do we have any clue how long this thing might take?” I ask.

“I would say prepare to be there for at least a week, but quite possibly more than that. I remember Jewel watched most of the Double-Dicker’s trial stream live on some court channel. I don’t know if they’re going to do the same for this one. Part of me thinks they will and part of me hopes that they won’t.” My brow furrows.

“Explain,” I press.

“It’s much more sensational than the Edward David trial, so I would think they would want to stream it. On the other hand, Jewel’s been through enough. This was a terrible and, quick frankly, very personal time in her life. I wouldn’t want to see that splattered all over the news.” I nod as if he could see me.

“Hear, hear,” I concur.

*-*

I’m exhausted when I leave the office today. Ros tried my patience three more times before the day was over and I just don’t have time to deal with her attitude along with everything else happening with the company. She just came back from vacation and it’s done absolutely nothing to improve her sour ass mood. As such, I can’t very well send her off on another one, but something’s got to give because this female is working my last fucking nerve.

When I get home and we enter the garage, I’m expecting to see Marilyn’s car in the last bin, but there’s nothing. I leave my coat and boots in the mudroom and decide that I’m way too tired to work out. This day really wore me out.

I step into the family room to see Keri and Gail minding the twins as they watch some Disney cartoon on television.

“Where’s Butterfly?” I ask, wearily.

“Upstairs,” Gail replies.

“Marilyn’s not here?” Gail nods.

“That’s where Ana is,” she says. “They arrived not too long before you and they’re probably upstairs unpacking some of her things.” I nod and reach for my son.

“Hey, little prince,” I say, lifting him out of the Pack-n-Play. “I guess they had to confine you to make sure that you wouldn’t run amuck all over the house, huh?” Mikey babbles something incoherent as he pats both my cheeks.

“Hes seestah won beh too fah behahnd. Look!” Keri shows me that Minnie is standing and taking several steps on her own. I sigh heavily about how quickly it seems my children are growing.

“Gail, have we thought about childproofing at all?” I ask.

“I’m already on it,” she replies. “Ana actually beat you to it.” I smile softly.

“Of course, she did,” I say, looking back at Mikey. “Your mom thinks of everything.” I kiss him on the cheek, lean down and give my Minnie Mouse a kiss before I go in search of my wife.

I take the elevator to the upper level and I can hear women talking the moment the doors open. Good grief, did she stick the poor girl on the other end of the house? Sure enough, I follow the voices to the last bedroom and there they are. The door is open, but I knock anyway. Butterfly and Marilyn both raise their heads to me, and I’m not prepared for the sight that greets me.

“Hhi,” I say, with a little more emphasis on the “h.”

“Hey,” Butterfly says, somewhat surprised, but rising to greet me. She gives me a small peck on the lips, and I enter the room.

“Hi, Christian,” Marilyn says as she stands. I try not to allow my expressions to betray my thoughts, but I don’t think I’m doing very well.

“Hi, Marilyn… how are you?” I ask cautiously.

“As well as can be expected,” she says, with a shrug. You sure about that?

“What?” she says after I’m silent for a while.

“Forgive me if I misspeak, but… are you well?” I ask. She raises a brow at me.

“Yes,” she says, with no malice. “I…” She looks over at Ana, who shrugs one shoulder at her. “I’ve been a bit… depressed. It’s… a little hard to eat.”

“A little…?” I nearly gasp. “It hasn’t been that long. What’s it been, like a month? Two?” Marilyn drops her head.

“One month… one week… five days…” Her voice trails off as she whispers the last two words, and I suddenly feel so bad for her. I sigh heavily.

“Marilyn,” I say, my voice softening as I close the space between us, “I know you’re hurting, but you’ve got to eat. You’ve lost so much weight. There’s absolutely nothing healthy about the amount of weight you’ve lost since I’ve last seen you. You’re in a mansion now… with a cook… and a butler… please, eat.” She drops her eyes again and nods.

“I’ll do my best,” she promises. I take her hands.

“That’s all I can ask,” I say, giving them a squeeze.

“You can’t say I didn’t warn you,” Butterfly says to Marilyn.

Dammit, I wish she had warned me! This poor girl looks like she’s knocking on death’s door. She was thin to begin with—not skinny, but fit. Now, she looks downright frail, and her makeup is doing nothing for her skin. It’s ashy and her face is sunken, like it’s barely hanging onto her bones. She doesn’t look like the Grim Reaper, but compared to what she was, she’s pretty damn close!

As I’m pondering the situation with Marilyn and how to get her back to a healthy weight without force-feeding her, I catch a glimpse of black plastic in the closet.

“Um, why are there garbage bags hanging in the closet?” I ask, pointing to the bags.

“Oh.” Marilyn walks to the closet. Dear God, she looks even thinner from behind. She quickly rips away one of the trash bags to reveal several garments now hanging neatly in the closet.

“Garment bag in a pinch,” she says. “Easy packing and unpacking when you’re in a hurry.” I purse my lips and nod.

“That’s pretty smart,” I say. “There might be a market for something like that.”

“Well, take the idea, Mr. Mogul,” she says. “If anybody can sell it, you can.” I smile.

“Do you mind if I steal my wife for a minute or two?” I ask, looking over at Anastasia. Marilyn waves me off.

“Take her,” she says. “I think she’s babysitting me.”

“I’m not babysitting!” Butterfly protests.

“Then you won’t mind coming with me and letting Marilyn get settled, right?” I say, cupping her elbow and guiding her off the bed. She looks back at Marilyn as if she’s leaving her pet at the boarders for a week.

“You’ll be alright?” Butterfly asks like a protective mother.

“Go,” Marilyn says, shooing her off.

“I’m right down the hall if you need me,” Butterfly continues, trying to stall as I gently lead her away.

“Go-wah!” Marilyn says, a little more urgently. I put my arm around my wife’s waist and guide her out of the bedroom.

“Don’t miss dinner,” I say sternly to Marilyn and raise my brow at her. She nods noncommittal and rips another garbage bag from her clothes in the closet.

“Why did you stick her all the way down here?” I ask as I lead my wife away from Marilyn’s door.

“She wanted the farthest room,” she replies. “She still cries a lot.” I shake my head.

“Jesus, somebody should tell him what he’s doing to her. She looks like hell!”

“We don’t know what this is doing to him,” Butterfly defends. I want to ask whose side she’s on, but Marilyn is her PA and friend and is now living here, so she’s obviously on Marilyn’s side; and Garett is her longtime friend, so I can see why she would be on his side, too. She’s stuck in a bad place, and I’m glad it’s not me!

“Where’s her car?” I ask.

“Still at Gary’s apartment,” she says. “She left it there in the parking garage while she was out of town. As such, Gary never came near the apartment, we’re thinking it’s because he thought she was there. Her logic is to leave it there until the end of the week until she gets all of her things from the apartment and avoid the chance of running into Gary.” I twist my lips again.

“If this is how you felt when I went to Madrid, I am so, so sorry,” I lament. She closes her eyes and shakes her head.

“It’s water under the bridge,” she says. “It’s over and done; let’s not bring it up.”

Her reaction lets me know that’s exactly how she felt. I pull her into my arms and kiss her forehead.

“Minnie’s going to be walking soon,” I say as we walk towards the stairs…

*-*

With a broken-hearted Marilyn, a mourning Valerie, and a soul-weary Elliot at the dinner table, we try to keep the conversation light, but try though we may, there wasn’t much participation from our latest house mates. Valerie dutifully ate her meal, mostly in silence, while Elliot devoured his food like the caveman that he is. I’m not insulting him; I’m always happy to see that someone has a healthy appetite, especially with the young lady to my right looking as if she needs to be holding a sign that says, “Will work for food.”

I try to keep the conversation going as much as I can by talking about Butterfly’s solid idea for revamping performance reviews and even Ros’ bad attitude throughout the day. Butterfly chimes in with discussion about the school year starting and Keri taking her tests for her American teaching certifications soon. We covered everything we could think of from the Christmas cookies to Freeman finally being out of the brothers’ hair, but nothing could ignite a table-wide conversation.

Marilyn dismally picks at her food and I’m certain that she hasn’t eaten two bites before excusing herself from the table. I watch her walk from the table with her head down, looking like she’s headed for the gallows. She’s so thin that I’m afraid if a good storm occurs, she would be whisked away to the Land of Oz. I want to demand that she come back to the table and finish her meal, but she’s a grown woman, not one of my children. When I look over at Butterfly, she’s watching Marilyn walk away with the same concern that I am. She finally just shakes her head and begins to pick at what’s left of her own food.

“She’s lost weight,” Valerie says finally, and I’m glad that she’s talking.

“Yeah,” Butterfly laments. “She’s not taking the breakup well at all.”

“That’s not a bad breakup,” Valerie protests. “We’ve seen bad breakups, Steele. We’ve been bad breakups. That’s more than a bad breakup.”

What can she say, that Marilyn is also in mourning for the loss of a baby that she wasn’t really sure that she wanted and that she willingly got rid of? Valerie’s mourning losing a baby that she and Elliot wanted more than anything. This would very likely put a rift between them.

“Yes, Val, it’s more than that, but I’m not at liberty to talk about it,” Butterfly says.

“Garett’s an ass,” I mumble before taking a mouthful of food.

“Christian,” my wife warns gently. I glance over at her and she’s scolding me with her look. I turn my attention back to my meal.

*-*

The apartment has been cleaned from top to bottom. The sunlight from the glass windows lights the entire space and the view of Elliot Bay is just as spectacular as it was when I first moved here. Escala was one of the first things I purchased when I began to make my fortune. It was a status symbol. It was me thumbing my nose at my father because he thought I was out of my mind to throw away the opportunity of a Harvard education to go out on some “half-cocked business endeavor.” When Fortune named me as one of the top twenty up-and-coming businessmen of the decade, I celebrated by buying my first sports car…

And this penthouse.

I remember personally choosing every piece of furniture that decorated this space—every dish, every lamp, every sculpture and vase, every piece of art. It’s empty now. I’ve just finished the closing and signed the papers transferring ownership to Harmony, and now the space is waiting for her to come in and make new memories.

Memories.

It’s not like I can pretend that the things that happened in this space didn’t happen. I was mostly happy here. My life went through many transitions, but for me, they were all good. Each transition was better than the last, even the time I spent with Lincoln.

Elena.

I haven’t said or even thought her first name in quite some time. She’s been The Pedophile or Lincoln or even that blonde bitch or just that bitch, but nothing more. Now, in this empty space, I remember a lot of our relationship, what she used to mean to me.

In those days, she was everything—a mentor, a friend, a trusted confidante, a lover. It was a relationship that I hadn’t shared with anyone else, ever. I didn’t know what it meant to have friends or people you confided in, only her. I only had my family—and John, and my life was so steeped in secrecy that I couldn’t even confide in my family.

I trusted no one. I thought everyone was out to get me, everyone. Submissives only wanted the gifts that I could give them or the pleasure I released on them. If they wanted more than that, I terminated our contract and didn’t look back. No one sought to really be my friend. They only wanted what they could get from me. I had learned to distance myself from people a long time ago, especially since I couldn’t stand to be touched.

Jesus, that seems like ages ago.

I still have a phobia of strangers touching me without permission, but things have certainly changed over the past several years.

I wander up to what used to be the playroom. The walls are now painted a calming ecru. The chains, tracks, and carabiners have all been removed from the ceiling. I had completely forgotten that there were windows in here. I had that entire wall covered with artificial soundproof walls that only showed a landscape from the outside.

All the equipment has been removed from the walls. It and the furniture from this room have been taken by Artemis to be sold on consignment with the proceeds going to my account for whatever other services I may need from him in the future—everything except the Chesterfield chair. Butterfly and I decided to keep the chair for Downtime and put it in our sitting room.

Downtime is a specific time for us to communicate while in character—me as Dominus and her as soumise. During the Munch, we learned that Downtime can be called by either of us when we need to discuss something, particularly about our relationship, but it could be anything at all. It’s another way for us to connect as Dominus and soumise in a non-sexual atmosphere unless we choose to transition into a sexual act. It can be used to reconnect after we’ve had a disagreement. Downtime can be very powerful in maintaining a strong, loving, and respectful BDSM relationship if utilized properly.

I’m not really certain why they call it Downtime, but its description may have something to do with it. Butterfly would present herself to me as soumise, in whatever garment I’ve chosen for her for the evening, and she would then become Pussycat. She would sit in whatever position I choose for her—kneeling in front of me, sitting in my lap, or her head in my lap. Whatever her position, her head would remain below mine, indicating her willingness to submit to me. We’ve procured a plush pillow for her for the times when she will be expected to kneel.

We will, of course, communicate at other times, but Downtime is specifically to assist in the transition from vanilla to D/s, even if there’s no sexual act involved. It’s not required every time we want to make a trip to the Blue Room, but it’s recommended for couples who plan to practice on a regular basis, particularly in a married D/s relationship. During the Munch, Artemis recommended Downtime at least once a week. Butterfly got the same recommendation from Savvina.

I couldn’t imagine having Downtime in this room with those women who used to be my submissives. I’m certain that I’ve spoken to them more than once in a Downtime position, with respect and consideration for their immediate concerns, but this is certainly different.

At first, I didn’t want to use the Chesterfield chair. I remember making her fuck me until she was completely exhausted in that chair. She remembers the encounter fondly and indicates that she would like to see me sitting in the chair in my Dom uniform. I can imagine the comfort and pleasure I would feel with Pussycat at my feet in one of her Victorian nightshirts with nothing underneath, or simply a pair of white thongs, her head resting on my lap while I caress her brown tresses and we calmly discuss whatever may be pertinent at the time. It’s important that we don’t allow heavy feelings or anger to prevent us from doing Downtime. No matter what the situation, I’m still her Dominus, and she will always be my soumise.

It’s strange and somewhat appropriate that I would think of our new relationship standing here in this room where I first explored my role, tastes, and preferences as a Dom. It now looks like any other bedroom in the penthouse, but it has experienced many transformations throughout my journey of discovery.

At first, it was black. I had taken my cues from Elena and leaned to the familiar—black equipment, black furniture, nearly black walls. That worked for a few months, but I began to feel like I was lost in the darkness when I entered the room. My soul was dark enough; my surroundings didn’t need to be black, too. That’s why my apartment was always decorated in stark white with contrasting accents. It may have seemed sterile to some, but to me, it was comforting. White would definitely not do for the playroom, though.

The only other colors that meant anything to me were red, yellow and green. I certainly wasn’t going to have a yellow or a green room, and although red is the customary safeword, it seemed appropriate to me…

And it worked out very well.

The rich wood tones of the furniture and the deep, dark browns of the Chesterfields blended very well with the Red Room. There were a few pieces with black cushions or accents with blonder tones in the wood, but nothing too bright. It was inviting and foreboding at the same time, and absolutely perfect for my purposes.

I’m experiencing nostalgia again as I recall picking the pieces for my room. Elena had helped outfit the Black Dungeon, but I found Artemis through connections I had made on my own. He listened to what I wanted and offered suggestions on what the Red Room should contain and look like. He was right. The playroom was exquisite. I could hardly wait to leave work some Fridays and get back here to this room—to the comfort and safety it afforded me; the control I wielded in these walls. There’s nowhere in the world that I was more powerful than I was in this room, not even at my desk in GEH or at the head of the conference table while simpering executives hung on my every word. No… here… this was my realm, my central station of Dominance. My power was absolute, and I knew it

I brought many women to their knees… broke their bodies, then broke their hearts. They ached for the pain, coldness and cruelty I was dishing out. They returned for it weekend after weekend, and when I turned them away, they cried for it. Some of them even went insane. One of them died trying to kill my wife.

I sigh heavily thinking of the women I abused and destroyed in this room. Granted, they signed up for the physical pain, but not for the emotional warfare that I subjected them to… some of them anyway.

I feel her presence behind me, and I don’t have to turn around to know that she’s in the room. I’m feeling guilty for all the memories that flooded me when I entered this room, some of them still refusing to be exorcised.

“I’m sorry,” I say, conviction in my voice for my unspoken mental transgression. Butterfly comes behind me and wraps her arms around my waist.

“Don’t be,” she says, laying her head on my back. “This room is who you were, and a lot of who you are right now. Good or bad, it helped to shape the man that you’ve become—my husband and the father of my children. I can’t be upset about that.”

I cover her hands with mine and sigh heavily. I always thought that we would get back to this room for one last hurrah. Maybe it’s good that we didn’t.

“We’ve had more than a few hot memories in here of our own,” I comment with mirth. I can feel her smiling on my back.

“That we did, Mr. Grey,” she says, and I squeeze her hand in an effort not to slip into my own submissive mode. Mistress can be merciless as a Domme, and I must admit that I like it. I like it a lot!

“Remember the first time you subbed for me?” I ask. “You knew just what I needed even though I tried to make you stay away that night. I was certain then that you would be perfect for me. I already knew, but that moment erased any lingering doubt.”

“I remember it well,” she says. “I was scared shitless.”

“I know,” I reply, “but you did very well, especially for your first time.”

“I’ll never forget it,” she says into my back. I drop my head and take a deep, cleansing breath.

“Can we make a promise?” I say, and her head rises from my back.

“What?” she asks.

“Can we please promise that our lifestyle—our roles—won’t become so practiced that we don’t find any enjoyment in it anymore? That if we find ourselves becoming too sterile or too routine that we’ll talk about it and find a way to keep things fresh?” She’s silent and when I turn around in her arms, she’s smiling at me.

“I thought that’s what we were doing now,” she says, her voice soft. “I thought that’s one of the reasons we sent the Chesterfield back to the Crossing… for our Downtime… and ideas.”

I smile back at my coy little wife. Things will never be sterile or routine with her. She’ll always find new ways to turn me on even without trying. I cup her face in my hands and kiss her softly, and again.

“I love you, my beautiful Butterfly,” I whisper with my eyes closed, my forehead touching hers.

“I love you, too, my love,” she whispers. I kiss her again and release her face, gesturing for us to leave. She smiles at me and walks out of what used to be the Red Room. I turn around and look at the ecru walls once more, then leave the room, closing the door behind me.


A/N: The sale of Escala is final, and one chapter of the Grey Saga is definitely closing. What does the future hold for our couple, especially with one of the Green Valley trials on the horizon?

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

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

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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 38—An Untimely Shift

I couldn’t, in good conscience, leave you guys hanging with that cliffy, but don’t get used to this… This will be the last time I do back to back chapters of Raising in the same weekend. Well, maybe not the last time, but not this frequently. 😉 

Having said that, go easy on me on this one. It took a lot of work and I’m not sure I got everything right, including the laws as they relate to the storyline. Some of this is “shooting from the hip” and trust me—it was hard to write. So, just this once, I’ll ask that you be kind. 

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 38—An Untimely Shift

CHRISTIAN

“They may be stalling,” Ros says, looking over the last numbers from Albien Manufacturing. This doesn’t please me. The numbers from Capito Industries have shifted yet again, and they’re not looking any better than they have been over the last several weeks. Now, it appears, we might have narrowed down the source.

“We’ve been over this and over this. I thought we hammered out all the technicalities. Didn’t we address all their issues or is there something that I missed?”

“That overseas factory,” Lorenz says. “That has to be it. Capito is holding out to see if you’re going to relent on it.”

“What’s so damn important about a small factory in Madrid?” I ask. “It’s barely a blip in comparison to the entire corporation, which is about to crumble into the sea if he doesn’t make a decision soon. These numbers are horrendous by any standards no matter how he tries to dress them up.” Does this asshole think he’s playing with an amateur here?

“That’s what we need to find out,” Ros interjects. “If he’s so reluctant to let it go, it’s not as small as we think. There must be something else.”

“Of course, we need to find out what that something else is… fast!” I tell her. She nods and makes a note in her iPad.

“Speaking of Madrid, have you heard anything else about Casa del Escudo Sagrado?” Lorenz interjects, referring to the Spanish hotel chain we’re considering, also based in Madrid. “There’s been a bit of uncomfortable radio silence on that front, too.”

“No, and I’ve noticed,” I tell him. “Look into that. We may need to put a fire under them, as well. I don’t want any mistakes, so make sure that we’re armed with all the information that we need.”

“On it,” Lorenz nods, now typing information into his own iPad. We’re deep in pulling apart the current mergers and acquisitions on the table when Andrea interrupts us.

“Mr. Forsythe is here to see you, sir,” she says. He doesn’t interrupt meeting unless it’s important.

“Can you two get to work on those projects that we discussed and get back to me as soon as possible?” They both nod and leave my office. Al strides in once they’re gone.

“I’m sorry to interrupt you,” he says, closing the door. “This’ll only take a minute if you want to call them back.” I shake my head.

“There’s only so many fires I can put out at once,” I tell him. “They’ve got two to douse already. The rest can wait.”

“Well, I hate to put another fire in your lap, but I just want you to be prepared.” He drops an envelope on my desk. I open it and pull out a hefty, multi-page packet of documents.

“What’s this?” I ask as I begin to examine the document.

“That’s your copy. I’ve been working on it all morning. Jewel called me hysterical about four hours ago.” I frown. Hysterical? What the fuck? “She’s fed up with the hoops the licensing board is putting Helping Hands through and now, she wants to file a complaint against the director.” I’m thumbing through the document a bit blindly.

“Does she have grounds for her complaint?” I ask.

“And then some,” Al says, pointing at the documents in my hand. “Universities endure less stringent regulations than that. This is harassment, plain and simple, and now I know why.”

“Why?” I ask. “Is it that Felton woman?” He raises his eyebrows at me.

“You know?” he asks. I nod.

“Butterfly vented a few times. So did my mother, once or twice. I didn’t know that it was to this extent.”

“Read that report,” he says, heading for the door. “They’re being harassed—put through unnecessary rigors for no good reason, so much so that I can effectively argue that her actions are not only personally against Jewel, Grace, and the Center, but also against the common good. I know Jewel doesn’t want your involvement in this, but the services that this woman is preventing are detrimental to the community and I would consider it a personal favor if you could somehow get this investigation rushed for me—no special dispensation, just don’t let it get caught up in the bureaucratic red tape.”

“Butterfly won’t be happy if I interfere,” I argue.

“You didn’t hear her on that call, Christian.” Christian, not Chris. “She was devastated. It was like she spent two years on a thesis and the professor failed her work.” The two of them being intellectuals, I can only imagine how painful that would be. I was never a scholar, myself, so I can’t really empathize. “If there’s any fallout, I’ll take the heat—I’ll tell her that I couldn’t stand her crying and that I pulled the strings.”

Crying… enough said.

“I’m on it. I’ll see what I can do.” He nods and exits my office. Licensing… for accreditation. Good fucking grief. As if we haven’t had enough trouble with licensing. Who do I call? I know a lot of people, but I’ll admit that I’m out of my realm on this one. This wouldn’t be the same licensing board that called her into review, I know that much. There are seven agencies named in this complaint—he’s leaving no stone unturned. I start in the only place I know to start.”

“Hello, Christian, how are you? I haven’t heard from you since the wedding, which was beautiful, by the way. How goes things?”

“Getting used to family life,” I say to Charlotte. The Governor and I go way back. She helped to get evidence rushed when David kidnapped Butterfly. It doesn’t hurt that I discovered that she and her husband are also into kink, but we’ve had such a friendly relationship, I’ve never had to strong-arm her, not that I ever would. “You know we have twins now, right?”

“Who doesn’t know that you have twins now?” she responds with mirth. “The collective heartbreak heard ‘round the world when admirers of all ages, colors, and religions discovered that the fair Anastasia was not just the flavor of the month. I laugh.

“I think you exaggerate,” I tell her.

“I think not,” she retorts. “So, to what do I owe the pleasure of this communication?”

“I need some help,” I tell her. “If you can point me in the right direction, I’d be grateful.” Her tone turns serious.

“Point you in the right direction… this is new,” she says. “What is it?”

“I’m holding a 19-page complaint addressed to several different government agencies—the Department of Early Learning, Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Department of Health, the Workforce Training & Education Coordinating Board, the Department of Licensing, the Department of Revenue and the US Department of Education.”

“That’s a lot of departments,” she says. “What’s this about?”

“It’s about the accreditation of Helping Hands,” I tell her. “They’re claiming harassment and discrimination due to a person conflict… one Gloria Felton…”

“Oh, God, her,” Charlotte laments and I fall silent for a moment.

“You know her?” I ask.

“No, but I know of her,” Charlotte replies. “There’s been… rumors… about her tactics, but nothing that can be proven. I don’t know if she’s trying to make a reputation for herself or what, but screwing around with people’s licenses is not the way to do it.”

“Elaborate,” I say. Charlotte sighs.

“I really can’t,” she says. “It would mean breaching confidentiality that even I’m not privy to betray. Let’s just say that I would very much like it if that complaint is filed as soon as possible and with as much detail as possible. She has the tendency to make things disappear or come up missing… especially if they weren’t relevant in the first place.”

“Well, my wife keeps meticulous records and she can tell you every date, time, and meeting they’ve had and every written document exchanged since they’ve been trying to get accredited. My attorney informs me that the requirements and inspections that are being imposed upon this little center are stringent even by university standards.”

“Inspections?” she asks, bemused. “Why inspections? What did they do?”

“Nothing that I know of,” I respond, curious of her reaction.

“Unless there’s something illegal or some kind of threat to the community, there’s no need for an inspection,” she informs me. “I’m not entirely versed on this, but of that I’m certain… inspections are so rare…”

“Well, my wife and mother are going through one of those rare inspections right now!” I inform her. There’s another pause.

“Oh, this is fantastic! In progress? Right now?” she asks, like she’s getting a Christmas gift.

“As we speak and for the last two and a half weeks.”

“Oh, God, we almost missed it,” she says. “The inspection only lasts for three weeks and I can guarantee all traces of it would disappear once it came back clean.”

“You’re certain it would come back clean.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“Oh, yeah, I’m certain. Dr. Grace Trevelyan-Grey and Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey? Mother of billionaire businessman and not-so-secret philanthropist, Christian Grey, well-known humanitarian who runs a help center by day and saves children’s lives by night along with Seattle’s sweetheart and one-half of AnaChris…” There’s that fucking name, “… who involuntarily lives in the spotlight and appears to be a walking, talking, breathing damsel in distress, but always comes back from some horrible tragedy swinging and takes every opportunity to promote Helping Hands when a camera is shoved in her face, including admitting on television in a public service announcement that she was a victim of abuse? Do I expect that inspection to come back clean? Sparkling!” Okay, since you put it that way…

“My wife doesn’t want me getting involved in this,” I tell her. “She’s certain that the reputation and credibility of the Center would be at stake, but I need this case not to be put in the stack or placed on the back burner. It needs to be pushed to the front. It has to be legit—if my wife’s accusations are unfounded, so be it and we’ll take the fallout from it, but this complaint cannot be left sitting on someone’s desk. Take it on its merit, talk to whomever you need to in order to get to the truth, but please move quickly. This undertaking has caused more disagreements in our home because she has been so diligent in this task. I’m only asking for what’s fair—no special treatment, just don’t let it sit.” There’s a pause.

“And you’re asking me if I think the inspection will come back clean.” Another statement, not a question. “I know just who to turn this over to…” She’s dialing so frantically that I can hear it over the phone. “Nicholas… Charlotte… there’s something I need you to look into for me…”

She goes about explaining the situation to whomever Nicholas is and asks me to rattle off all of the departments involved once more, which I do. There’s a back and forth with her and the person on the other phone. “Let me know as soon as you’ve got the documents in your hands. I want everything airtight and legitimate. If what you say is true, then we need her out of there, soon. She’s a ticking time bomb.”

Damn… What did he say?

“As it turns out, you’re doing the state a favor,” she says to me and I’m assuming she has ended the call with Nicholas. “As I suspected, the rumors that have drifted to my office are most likely true. She’s using the office and its employees as her personal henchmen. No complaints have gone through because she harasses people and small businesses so badly and just when they’ve reached their limit, she gives them what they want. The only thing is that now, she holds power over their heads that they only think she has.

“If any one of those complaints had made it to the right desk, she would have been gone by now. As it stands, it usually only takes a threat to get that woman to fall in line. Apparently, your wife jumped right over the threat and went straight to the complaint. There’s been evidence that she has abused her position before—as most people in power do, unfortunately—but we haven’t been able to catch her on anything because the moment the threat of exposure is revealed, she pushes through whatever initiative she’s been holding up, thereby eliminating the problem. By your wife filing the complaint before the investigation is even finished, she can’t pull the file and the accreditation has to wait until the complaint has been investigated. It appears that she’s been on a personal crusade to terrorize people whom she feels may have wronged her in the past that need licenses for anything in the greater Seattle area. Apparently, she’s ruffled quite a few feathers over the course of time, but no one filed actual complaints. When is this one being filed?”

“My attorney is on his way to file it this moment. He’s probably at his destination now.”

“Stop him,” she says. “He needs a detour. I don’t want Felton getting any warning that this is coming.” I dial Allen on my cell before the words are out of her mouth.

“Chris, what’s up?”

“Allen, where are you?”

“I’m at the complaint desk. There are about four people in front of me and one of them is holding a file as thick as a phone book. This could take a while.”

“Not anymore—change of plans.” I turn back to Charlotte on my landline, just as I hear Allen say, “What?”

“Where should he go? He’s at the complaints desk now.”

“Tell him to go back downstairs to the guard’s desk and ask for the Office of the Director. Nicholas Winslow’s secretary is expecting him. His full name?”

“Allen Michael Fleming-Forsythe, Esquire,” I tell her. She chuckles.

“People still use Esquire?” she says.

“It’s handy in certain situations,” I say, remembering when Dad exercised the Esquire when the police showed up at our house right before Pops died. God… I haven’t even had time to dwell on that loss. I feel a clinching in my chest at the thought of my grandfather before I turn back to my cell and give Allen the instructions Charlotte just gave me.

“Office of the Director,” he repeats. “You’re a goddamn fairy godfather, Chris. I’ll have to think of something really good to convince Jewel that this was my doing and not yours.”

“If you must, tell her that you met the Governor at our wedding and when you introduced yourself, she told you to contact her if you ever needed anything. You’re a concerned citizen worried about the impact of the situation on the community and thought she might be interested, too. You were right.”

“You’re too good of a liar,” Allen warns.

“No, I’m a businessman, and I know how to get out of sticky situations. It was your idea to tell Jewel that this was your idea and not mine, and you did meet Charlotte at our wedding…”

“I did?”

“Yes, you did. You are a concerned citizen and yes, Charlotte is generally concerned, too. The only fudge here is that she told me to contact her if I ever needed anything, not you.”

“Fair enough. The director knows my name?” I turn back to the landline.

“Is he all set to go, Charlotte?”

“I just texted his name to Nicholas, so he shouldn’t have a problem,” she replies.

“You’re all set,” I tell him.

“I’m on it. I’ll let you know how it goes.” We end the call.

“He’s on his way,” I tell her.

“Nicholas was very happy to hear that we have something in progress against Gloria Felton. He’s as certain as I am that she’s been destroying documentation, but we just can’t prove it. Thanks for the heads up.”

“Thank you, and remember… everything on the up and up. Give her no reason to go to the press and call ‘foul’ and no ammunition to discredit my wife, my mother, or the Center.”

“Oh, don’t worry. There are no other complaints against her ahead of you, remember? This will be like shooting fish in a barrel.”

*-*

I spend the afternoon in my office doing my own research on the Madrid companies when I receive a text from Butterfly telling me that she’ll be staying a little later at the Center. I decide to call her and her voice is visibly shaken and irritated.

“I’m going over our initial plans for the Center and trying to find some other ways that we can put these renovations and hopes and dreams to use,” she had said, her voice full of disdain. “I can’t let all our work be a fucking waste!”

She’s livid and more than a little disheartened about the possibility of a long, drawn-out investigation. I want to tell her not to worry, that I was able—with very little effort—to get her investigation fast-tracked because the licensing division and the powers that be already had their eye on the thorn in her side, but now isn’t the time to reveal my interference with her already being so edgy. Since she would be working late, I decide to put in a few extra hours as well and just go by the Center and pick her up when my day is done so that we can ride home together. As I continue to examine the Madrid situation, my desk phone rings.

“Grey.”

“I found out what the delay is,” Ros says into the phone. “It turns out that all of the positive numbers from Capito’s financials stem from that little textiles factory in Madrid. It’s the only thing that’s been barely keeping the company afloat. You wouldn’t know it unless you dissected the financials into basest cash flow, which we wouldn’t do unless we were breaking the company apart.”

“Why didn’t I see this when I asked for the breakdown of the financials last month?” I ask. “And why would he think he could get away with something like this? Of course, he must know that if he holds out on this one factory, we’re going to investigate.”

“You did see it,” Ros says. “You repeatedly said that those numbers didn’t look right. The financial analysis that it took to see the sleight of hand that he did with those statements was damn near rocket science. Once you were able to figure out the algorithm behind one formula and change, he set another into play on another statement or subsidiary and you had no idea what he was doing. Where one set of numbers looked like they should have fed into the next statement, they didn’t. They were close, but not exact. Once one house of cards fell down, the whole deck crumbled.”

“Okay, so he has one strong subsidiary and a garbage company. Sell off the rest of the company or shut it down and keep the subsidiary. Why hide it? Any idiot making an offer is going to look at this one thing you’re hiding behind your back.”

“Maybe he thinks we won’t since the factory is so small, or…” she trails off.

“Or maybe he’s sending us on a wild goose chase,” I intervene in her pause, “drawing attention away from something else.” I rub my chin in contemplation. “You know what to do.”

“I do,” she says and ends the call. I may need to pay a visit to Albien Textiles. Nothing like an unexpected inspection to put things into perspective. Butterfly won’t like the idea of me popping out of the country on such short notice, so I’ll put it off as long as I can—wait to see what information Ros and Lorenz can drum up for me.

My eyes are actually burning and the numbers and words on the pages and screens I’m attempting to read are all running together. Even the computer glasses aren’t helping and now, I know why. I’m reading a bunch of gobbledygook! I rub my eyes and stand from my desk. Shutting down my computer, I summon Jason and let him know that we’re calling it a night. On my way to the garage, I try Butterfly’s cell. There’s no answer, so I call my mother.

“She was still at the office when I left,” Mom tells me as we maneuver through traffic towards Helping Hands. She sounds just as disheartened as Butterfly. “She’s trying to find some way to re-appropriate all of our preparations and renovations. She’s been at it for hours. I wouldn’t be surprised if you walked in to find her face down on her desk fast asleep.”

“Mom, I probably shouldn’t say this. I know that you didn’t want me to get involved, but I made a call today…”

“Christian…” she begins, knowing what I’m going to say.

“Just hear me out, please. I talked to Charlotte…”

“The governor!?” she asks in dismay.

“Yes, Mom, the governor. I only wanted to know who I needed to contact to make sure that the complaint didn’t get buried in a stack of we’ll get to it later. I made sure that she knew I wanted no special dispensation. It turns out that Gloria Felton is a thorn in a lot of people’s sides and if I hadn’t called, the situation may have gone unchecked and unrecognized.” She pauses.

“What are you talking about?” she says, a bit perturbed now. I explain to her how Felton has been antagonizing business owners and license seekers since she got the job at the licensing board, but the slightest threat of an investigation or complaint usually resulted in missing referendums and disappearing proof of harassment as well as the license in question hurriedly being granted.

“As a result, there are no other complaints in front of yours,” I tell her. “People are either glad to get her out of their hair or too afraid to rock the boat once they get the licenses they applied for, but the Office of the Director has been waiting for something in progress so that he can investigate. We had to forego the regular complaint process, or she would have gotten a hold of it and made all of your evidence disappear. Granted, you would have gotten your accreditation—we think—but if any recertification process came up, you’d be going through this again, and God help the next man who couldn’t afford to wait. This is one time where you needed me to make this call, Mom, even though neither of us knew it.”

“My God,” Mom says into the phone. “I thought the woman just had a bone to pick with us. She’s on a crazy power trip.”

“It looks that way. So, yes, your complaint may delay your accreditation for a little while, but most likely not nearly as long as you thought.” She pauses again.

“You should tell Ana,” she says. “This thing has been ripping her apart all day.” So much for Allen taking the fall for me, but hell, I couldn’t have my mom and my wife in unending dismay over this thing.

“I will, Mom,” I promise, “the moment I see her.” We exchange a few more words and I end the call with my mother. A few minutes later, we pull into the parking lot of Helping Hands. Sure enough, Butterfly’s and Chuck’s Audis are still here.

“Stay here,” I tell Jason. “I won’t be long. I’m going in to get her and we’re going home.” He nods at me and begins texting on his phone, no doubt telling Chuck that we’re here. I take the short route to her office and find her light on and her cell sitting on her desk. I’m not alarmed since I see that her laptop hasn’t gone “to sleep” yet, so I know she must have just left the office. My first assumption is that she’s gone to the restroom, so I wait for a minute or two.

Or ten…

Unless she fell in, she’s not in the restroom. I start to make my way around the community areas of the Center until I get to the main community room. Only the lights near the vending machines and the accompanying sofas at the far end of the room are on, but it’s enough light for me to see clearly the last thing in the world that I ever wanted to see.

I take in every detail of the moment like a freeze frame of a motion picture…

The empty sandwich wrapper and tall can of green tea on a nearby table;
The florescent light with one bulb dimmer than the other above the seating area;
The click of someone’s shoes on the floor off in the distance;
My wife with mussed hair sitting stock still and gazing in front of her;
And the man gently caressing her cheek and leaning in for a kiss.

My feet don’t move. They can’t move. My breathing stops and I can hear my heartbeat in my ears, feel it in my eyes. My fists are clenched so tightly that they hurt and I almost feel light-headed.

What. The. Fuck.

She puts her hands on his chest and the picture somehow zooms to close-up. Somehow, I’m now in the frame cursing and yelling and grabbing this fucker by the jacket and demanding to know what the fuck he’s doing with my wife. Her voice rips through my subconscious and stops me just as I’m about to pummel this fucker within an inch of his life.

“Christian! Please! Stop!”

My hand stops inches, and I mean inches, away from his face. I look over at her and she’s crying and shaking, her hands on the arm that’s holding his jacket in my fist.

She’s crying. She’s crying for him. She’s trying to save him.

“Please, Christian, calm down,” she beseeches me. I feel like… fuck, I don’t know what I feel like. I can’t believe she’s saving this fucker. Time feels like it goes in slow motion when she tells me to leave… to go home. She’s saying something else, but I can’t hear her. I see her mouth moving, but I only hear, “leave… go home.” I’m shaking in fury… and hurt and disappointment. I release the fucker’s jacket and walk quickly out of the community room and out the front door. I stride without looking, without thinking to the waiting Audi with Jason.

“Let’s go, Jason,” I huff, getting into the front seat of the Audi and slamming the door behind me.

“Is everything alright?” he asks.

“Drive!” I bark, never turning to face him.

 *-*

Several hours later, I’m sitting in the private lounge at SeaTac, waiting for my pilots and for the jet to be fueled and ready for take-off. The only thing I took from the house when we got there was my Glock. I know that Jason will make the necessary arrangements and get the necessary clearances to get our firearms into the country if he hasn’t already. After I told Jason to prepare for an overseas flight, I gave him exactly fifteen minutes to pack and say goodbye to his family. He knows the drill—a trip can come up at any second. This is the second. This is the goddamn second! I didn’t even pack. I’ll buy what I need when I get there.

My phone is ringing wildly, playing that goddamn song over and over again. I want to launch the damn thing across the room. Instead, I just send each call to voice mail and nurse another glass of bourbon. I don’t know exactly where Jason is, but I know he’s trying to make preparations for the flight and probably for the firearms.

Liam about to kiss AnaShe told me to leave. She told ME to leave—not the fucker that was about to kiss her, me! I throw back the rest of the bourbon and ask for a refill, the scene of this preppy-looking, young motherfucker leaning in to my wife playing over and over and over and over again in my head… for hours! I should have gone down to the gym and worked out before I left the mansion, but that would mean staying there possibly until she came back, and she told me to leave.

“Sir.” I turn around to see Jason standing in the doorway of the lounge. “Everything is ready.”

“It’s about damn time,” I say as I stand from the chair and wobble a bit on my feet. Shit, too much to drink. Jason catches me before I hit the floor.

“Will you be okay to fly, sir?” Jason asks, knowing exactly what my problem is.

“Just get me to the goddamn plane,” I hiss, leaning on him like the worthless drunk that I feel like right now.

Thankfully, I’m able to turn off my phone and stop that fucking song from playing once I get on the plane. It warbled in my pocket all the way through the airport and all the way up the stairs to the jet. It’s daylight by the time we board, and I don’t bother looking at my watch—my beloved Hublot that she bought me as a wedding present. I need a shower and to sleep off this goddamn alcohol. I sit in my seat impatiently waiting for the plane to take off and get me the fuck out of Seattle, away from this shit so I can clear my fucking head.

A hundred years later, the pilot—Norman, I think his name is—announces that it’s safe to move about the cabin. I can’t get to the bathroom fast enough. Endless flows of alcohol stream up my throat and out of my mouth. I empty every possible thing I ingested over the last 24 hours until I’m on my knees on the floor in dry heaves. After the inadvertent tears that follow unending vomiting begin, I turn on the shower and strip out of my suit, underwear and shoes and walk right into the blast of water.

Nothing can wash away this feeling of betrayal and emptiness… or the taste of bile in my mouth…

“Sir, we’re about to land at JFK for refueling.”

I’m asleep naked in the bed and my head feels like lead. Where the fuck am I? Oh, yeah, the jet.

“Where are my clothes?” I ask, my throat feels like gravel.

“Um, the suit is ruined, sir. You don’t want to wear that.”

“Well, I have to wear something unless you suggest I give our flight attendant a peep show.”

“There are no other clothes on the plane, sir. I can only suggest that you wrap yourself in the blanket or bedsheet.”

“Don’t you have something I can borrow?”

“Most likely, but my bag is in the cargo hold.”

“Fuck it, I’ll wear the pants and a T-shirt…”

TogaSo, I find myself awaiting landing strapped in the seat dressed in a toga. The flight attendant doesn’t even blink.

*-*

Jason has secured ground transportation for us in the form of a black Audi Q5. He probably called every rental car agency in the country to find that car. We get to our suite at high noon on Friday morning after he has lent me some of his workout gear. Our insteps are drastically different, so I can’t wear his suits, but sweats are universal. I have to acquire suits of my own if I don’t want to walk around the streets of Madrid looking like a goddamn dork…

… Which is exactly what I do when the valet parks the Audi and Jason and I enter some nameless store in one of Madrid’s shopping districts. To say that I couldn’t care less about my appearance right now is a massive understatement. I walk right into some store where I see Armani in the window in this ridiculous pair of sweats and a T-shirt that Jason has lent me. I proceed right to the counter like I own the joint, pull out my Amex Black and toss it down.

“I need five suits,” I tell the clerk who examines me like an alien from outer space. He takes a moment to take in my attire before showing his obvious distaste for my apparel, his nose and lip rising in that way like he’s smelling something bad.

“Don’t look at the clothes, Skippy. Look at the card,” I growl, irritated, and I think my voice actually scares the guy. As diplomacy totally evades me at the moment, Jason rightfully sees the need to take over as chief communicator. He, of course, is wearing a designer suit as usual, since I allowed him to pack. Obviously, he’s more appropriately dressed to talk to this high-nosed fucker.

“Do you like American cinema?” he asks the fucker.

“It is good enough,” the fucker replies in a heavy accent, as if American movies are beneath him.

“Have you ever seen Pretty Woman?” Jason asks. The fucker frowns at first. Seeing that Jason is serious, he says,

Pretty Woman, yes, Julia Roberts.” Jason points to me as says,

“That’s Edward Lewis.”

It takes a moment for the words to sink in, but the commission dollar signs begin to shine in this fucker’s eyes as he looks down at my Amex Black. When he raises his eyes to mine again, his whole demeanor changes.

“Mr. Grey, of course,” he croons, “What can I do for you, sir?”

“Don’t simper,” I growl again, “it’s too late to impress me.”

He swallows hard and looks over at Jason, who is apparently my diplomatic interpreter. I don’t hear or see what Jason says to him, but the guy turns back to me with the same simpering smile and gestures for me to follow him.

“Right this way, Mr. Grey. You said you needed suits?”

“Five,” I repeat, “Armani, Tom Ford, Corneliani—I at least recognized those on your floor. Black, blue, gray—this is a business trip. And somebody tell me where I can get some goddamn Cesare Paciotti’s…”

I’m led away to a private room and shown several suits while Jason chats with the simpering fucker about God only knows what. Hours later, we leave the shopping district with a hell of a lot more bags than the five suits I asked for.

“What’s all this shit?” I ask Jason.

“Underwear, pajamas, handkerchiefs, shirts to go under those expensive suits you just bought, ties, cufflinks, toiletries, workout gear, three sets of casual clothes, Nikes, and your Amex Black was able to get you three pairs of Cesare Paciotti’s delivered to the store before we left.” He says the entire spiel with a straight face and I almost want to hit him. “Just wanted to save myself another trip, sir.”

I say nothing during the ride back to the hotel. I didn’t really think this trip through. I just knew that I needed to be away from the Crossing… away from the situation.

Away from her. 

Luckily, I was smart enough to bring my laptop when I left the office Wednesday night, so everything that I was working on is at arm’s reach. Otherwise, I would have had to have Andrea overnight the damn thing to me.

“I need your phone,” I tell Jason. He digs in his pocket and hands me the phone. I call mine to see if there are messages from the office. I don’t want to turn my phone on and hear that incessant song anymore. Of course, there are numerous messages from her. The moment I hear the beginning of her number being recited back by the automated voice, I delete the message. I don’t have the strength to even deal with it, with what I saw, with what I felt… what I’m feeling right now. A message from Andrea and two from Ros managed to get through between her calls before she filled my voicemail. I’ll have to write the numbers down when I get back to the hotel.

I ask for Jason’s phone so much over the course of the weekend that he asks if he should just get me a burner. There’s no way that a burner would be able to handle all the business I need to handle, so that’s out of the question. On Sunday night, I finally decide to plug my phone into the charger and contemplate how I’m going to handle the situation at hand.

“You’re calling from Jason’s phone,” Welch says when I speak to him that evening.

“Yes,” I say, with no explanation. “Are you in the office?”

“Yes.”

“I need something, and I don’t know how to get it.”

“Okay,” he says. “Let’s hear it.”

“Is there a way to get me blueprints or a detailed layout for a small factory in Madrid?”

“You’re asking for miracles here,” Alex says. “When do you need it?”

“Yesterday,” I tell him. “Seriously, like right now.” I can see him shaking his head in my mind’s eye.

“I don’t know if I can do that,” he says. “What factory is it? Where is it located.”

“Albien Textiles.” I give him the address.

“Christian, I don’t know if I can do this, but I’ll try. Any specific reason? It might help with the task.”

“Long story short, I think Capito is hiding something. I’m going to try to get into the factory for a standard tour of interest, but I totally expect him to resist. If he doesn’t, he’s going to do his best to keep me out of key areas. I want to know what those key areas are before I meet with this man.”

“I’ll see what I can do, but I can’t promise anything,” he says.

“Just do what you can.” I end the call. There’s no piano in the suite, so there’s nothing for me to do for my insomnia but work out. I go to the gym downstairs in the hotel and run until my legs feel like mush.

It’s Monday morning in Madrid. I’ve barely eaten anything all weekend and slept even less. I order room service so that I don’t keel over from hunger. Jason garners enough nerve to ask for his phone back, forcing me to turn mine on and sure enough, it’s full of voice mails and text messages again… from her. You would think she would get the message that I need to be left alone right now, but apparently not. I’m not going to get any peace if I don’t talk to her and I don’t want to talk to her right now. I consider doing something that I never thought I’d do, but I’m immediately concerned that something may happen with the twins and no one can get in touch with me. Then I remember that Gail and Chuck… and even she… can contact Jason. I delete all the voicemails and text messages and send her cellphone number to the block list. It’s the only way I’ll get any work done while I’m here.

It doesn’t help, though. Jason makes it a point to tell me that Gail has called, or she has called crying and upset wanting answers. I tune him out whenever he mentions her and proceed to try to get some work done.

Ros, Lorenz, and I work tirelessly over the next few days gathering inside intelligence on Capito and the mystery factory, nothing much coming out of the woodwork. I have to get into that factory. I know I’m missing something and the key is inside that factory. The team and I set the factory aside for a day and review documents for the hotel instead, but Ros is chewing on that bone that something is going on with Capito and that factory that he doesn’t want to let go of.

Like the miracle worker that he is, Alex somehow manages to get schematics for the Albien factory. It’s a standard operation except for a section near the back that looks like it might be sleeping quarters. I assume it’s for workers that want to stay the night because of crazy shifts. I don’t like sweat shops myself and I refuse to use them for any GEH manufacturing operations, but if that’s what’s going on, that can easily be rectified once GEH acquires the company. Armed with this knowledge and my possible conclusions about the company, I decide to pay a visit to Capito on Friday morning.

“Mr. Grey, a pleasant surprise… Antamonides Capito,” he says with a heavy Spanish accent while extending his hand to me. Fuck, I’m going to have to tie my tongue in a goddamn knot to say that name.

“Mr. Capito,” I say formally, accepting his proffered hand.

“To what do we owe this unexpected visit?”

“I make it a point to try to visit any company that I plan to do business with on this level, particularly those of special interest to me.” He raises an eyebrow.

“Special interest?” he says, gesturing to one of the seats in front of his desk. I undo the button of my jacket and take a seat.

“Yes,” I say as he sits in the seat placed next to me. “I’m particularly interested in Albien Textiles. It seems to be the only… hiccup in our negotiations and I would like to see why.”

“Of course,” he says, the comfort level he exuded moments ago slipping just a bit. “We can schedule a visit to the facility, say, Monday morning?” And there’s the stall.

“I’d like to visit the factory today,” I press. “Unscheduled visits are much more informative than the pomp and circumstance I would expect to see after a weekend of preparation.” He frowns.

“What is this pomp and…” He’s shaking his head. More stalling…

“I would like to see the factory today, preferably immediately. My time in Madrid is limited.” I look at the clock as if in a rush. I’m in no rush. There’s nowhere else in the world for me to be at this moment.

“I… can schedule something this afternoon,” he says. Still stalling. Still time to destroy important information or stage a visit. “You have given us no notice, Mr. Grey. This is highly unusual. It emits an air of distrust.”

“How long have you been in business, Mr. Capito?” I ask, hypothetically, and continue speaking before he has an opportunity to answer. “The business of mergers and acquisitions is cutthroat. The information you receive is only as good as your own eyes. You’re new to this arena, so you may not be aware of the treachery and deception that can occur with a novice in this industry. I have personally had my share of rotten apples passed on to me during my extensive tenure, as has anyone with any extended experience in this line of work. If I’ve learned nothing else, I’ve learned not to believe what’s on the surface—to dig deeper and see for myself what kind of package is being handed to me.

“I don’t charm my way through my business dealings. I didn’t become this wealthy and successful by trying to make friends. I’m shrewd, I negotiate, and in necessary situations, I bully, but I don’t charm. I see things for what they are, so if you feel an air of distrust, go with that. Trust no one. ‘Believe half of what you see and nothing that you hear.’ Always approach a negotiation with a bit of scrutiny and know that the party to which you are speaking is never exercising full disclosure… ever.” I fold my hands in my lap before I add one last bit of information.

“Also know that the fact that I am unable to secure an impromptu visit to this factory that appears to be the jewel in your crown will tell me worlds more than anything I could possibly see when I get there.” He straightens a bit, much more formal than he was when we met moments ago.

“Surely, you can give me until this afternoon,” he says firmly. “A VIP strolling through my factory would be disruptive and may cause mistakes during production, uneasiness and destruction of moral. I would at least like some time to warn my staff of your arrival. As a businessman, surely you can understand the importance of accuracy and precision in any manufacturing operation.” He’s intimidated, but I can tell that he’s dug in and I won’t get into that factory before this afternoon. I push a little harder.

“I can give you until 11am. I have other appointments I need to attend.” I’ll go as late as 1pm, but I won’t tell him that. No matter what they can do, not much can be done between now and 1 o’clock.

“Impossible. You can come at five,” he insists.

“That’s not afternoon, Mr. Capito. That’s evening,” I retort. “As I said, I have other appointments to attend.”

“I can pull it to 3pm, then.” Nope, still too late.

“Unacceptable,” I say. “Noon at the very latest.”

“As you said, Mr. Grey, that’s not afternoon. That’s noon.” And now, he’s being sarcastic. Well played, Mr. Capito, but not well enough. I put my hands on the armrest and make to stand. Never let them believe the you won’t walk away. “I can do 1pm,” he says quickly, halting my progress. I pause before rising out of my seat as if contemplating his offer. I rise anyway.

“One PM,” I confirm. “My driver and I will be here at 12:30.” I walk to the door.

“Please allow me to provide the transportation,” he says. I turn to face him.

“Thank you, but no. My security team follows strict protocols for very good reason. I trust them with my safety,” I say, stressing the word, “so I dare not alter their procedures.”

“Team?” he says, no doubt noting that Jason is the only one he has seen.

“Yes, team,” I reinforce. “My team is with me all over the world and knows where I am every second.”

“Are you fitted with a microchip, Mr. Grey?” he says coolly, and now, he’s trying to get under my skin.

“No, Mr. Capito,” I say, unmoved. “My team is just that damn good. I’ll see you at one.” I leave his office and meet Jason in the lobby. “Did you get that?” I ask inconspicuously as we leave the building.

“One o’clock. We’ll follow him to the factory.”

“Let’s get some lunch,” I say, as we leave the building.

Promptly at 12:30, we’re back at Capito’s building waiting for him to come down. He waits until 12:45 to emerge from the building. Strike one.

“My apologies, Mr. Grey,” he says as the window to the Audi descends. “I was in a meeting that ran over.” I nod once, but don’t respond, noting his glance around the car and realizing immediately that he’s taking stock of its occupants.

Strike two.

We drive for about twenty minutes and I realize that we’re heading out of town, not to the factory. I look at Jason in the rearview mirror.

“We’re not going to the factory,” I tell him.

“I’m aware,” he says, his brow furrowing as he dials a number in his docked phone. A phone on the other end rings twice before someone answers.

“Cox.”

“Where are you?” Jason asks.

“At the warehouse waiting for you. Thought you were supposed to be here by now.”

“We were. There’s been a detour. I don’t know where we’re going.”

“Backup?” I ask. He nods.

“Call Alex. Tell him to initiate satellite tracking on my pendant and the boss’s watch.” There’s tracking in my watch? How did I not know that?

“I’m not wearing my watch,” I tell him. I left it at the hotel in my newly acquired accessories bag. I won’t take off my wedding ring, but I’m not wearing that damn watch. I normally look at it during various intervals during the day and contemplate just how much I adore its gifter. That’s not the order of business for today… probably this entire trip.

“Shit!” Jason hisses. “You wear that goddamn thing everywhere and today you decide to take it off!” He says it under his breath. “Track my second harness. The boss isn’t wearing his watch.”

“Ten-four,” Cox says, and Jason lifts his feet slightly off the gas, causing our lead to pull ahead.

“We don’t want to lose them,” I tell him.

“We’re not going to lose them,” Jason says as he reaches into the console and hands me a harness. “Put this on,” he says. I quickly remove my jacket and slide into the harness, adjusting it around my back like Jason taught me. “Let me know as soon as satellite tracking is activated,” he says to Cox.

“What should we be doing?” Cox asks.

“Hang tight. Surveillance.”

“There’s nothing to survey, sir,” Cox says. “A couple of guys have gone in an out of this place, but besides that, it’s a ghost town. There aren’t even any cars in the parking lot.” I frown.

“Okay. Stand by. Get Welch on the phone.” Jason ends the call.

“This is not adding up and it doesn’t look good,” I say.

“No, it doesn’t,” Jason says. “I can get away with carrying my gun inside of a factory because I’m security. You have no reason to carry yours. I’ll assess the situation when we get to our destination and decide if you should put it in that harness.” I nod as he comes off the gas even more and our lead pulls further ahead of us.

“What are you doing?” I ask him.

“One of two things is happening in that car up there,” he tells me. “Either they’re not paying attention to us at all or Capito is wondering what the fuck is going on back here. If they lose us, we probably want it that way because they just want to get us out of the city. If they slow down or stop, they have something they really want us to see, and it’s obviously not the factory. We’ve got five more miles before cell reception is going to be compromised even though the satellite will pick us up wherever we are. So, four more miles and I turn around.”

“I want to see where he’s taking us,” I protest.

“Is this deal worth your safety, sir?”

He’s right. I can’t be stupid about this. I’m not thinking self-preservation right now. Hell, I’m not thinking at all.

“At least one of us is thinking,” I say, looking out the window at the passing landscape.

Jason has now slowed to a crawl and the sleek silver sedan that shuttles Mr. Capito is slowly disappearing from sight. I guess we won’t be seeing where he’s leading us after all. We pull off by the side of the road.

“About three more miles and we’ve got questionable and possibly no cell reception,” Jason says, looking over the seat at me. Well, this was a wasted trip… maybe not so much. I learned that I’m dealing with someone sneaky and probably don’t want to do business with him.

“Turn around,” I concede, “There’s nothing ahead of us for miles that I can see. Get us back to the main road before they find us out here in the tall grass somewhere.” He nods and makes to turn around when the phone rings.

“Taylor.”

“Satlink is established, sir. We have you on CM-2004 just outside of Madrid,” Cox says.

“Well, would you lookie here,” Jason says, drawing my attention to the silver sedan speeding back in our direction. “Ceej, call me back in exactly two minutes.” Jason tells him to repeat that information and add some additional information to the conversation.

“You got it.” The call ends.

“Ten’ll get you twenty he’s going to say that we made a wrong turn,” Jason says.

“He can’t be that stupid. This is his factory,” I protest.

“But we’re not going to his factory,” Jason points out. “No matter what he says, I refuse to follow him any further out of town, sir. I’ll run him over in the road first.” I nod.

“I concur,” I say, sitting back in my seat and waiting for the show. The sedan screeches to a halt next to the Audi and Capito gets out of the back seat, walking quickly to my window. I don my sunglasses and let my window down.

“Is everything alright, Mr. Grey?” he asks.

“We should be asking you that question,” I say. “My information indicates that we’re heading in the complete opposite direction of the factory. I agreed to follow you to the factory as a courtesy. I could have just met you there at 1pm. I’d like to know where we’re going.” Before he has a chance to respond, the phone rings. I hold up a finger to silence Capito.

“Taylor.” Cox’s voice is piping through the car speakers.

“Satlink is established, sir. We have you on CM-2004 just outside of Madrid en route to one Albien Textiles with Antamonides Capito as indicated in briefing. Intelligence indicates that you’re headed in the wrong direction,” Cox says.

“We’re aware,” Taylor says. “Stand by.”

“Ten-four.” Jason looks back at me and I look up a Capito.

“We’ve… taken a wrong turn,” Capito says. It’s a good thing I didn’t take that bet. “We need to turn around.”

“This is your factory, Mr. Capito,” I accuse, “one that you swore you needed to make preparations before I could see it, and you don’t know how to get there?”

“This is why we wanted to wait for you to see the factory, Mr. Grey,” Capito says. “The main factory is undergoing renovations. We had to set up operations at a temporary location. We have only been their once or twice, which is why we were turned around. A simple error in direction. It can happen to anyone.” I’m losing my patience.

“Where are we going?” Jason asks, his voice completely devoid of emotion.

“If you would just follow me…” Capito begins.

“Where. Are. We. Going?” I repeat slowly. Capito stares at me for a moment and I stare right back as he rattles off an address in Valdilecha, some 18 miles back from the direction we just came.

“Satnav that, please,” Jason says, and we wait for about 20 seconds before Cox responds.

“Location tracked, sir. Directions have been uplinked to your GPS.” Jason looks back at Capito.

“This way, in case we have another wrong turn, you can follow us. I understand how these things happen.” He turns back to face the windshield. Capito doesn’t say another word but goes back to the silver sedan and climbs into the back seat.

“So where are we going?” I ask Jason.

“Cox, any ideas?”

“It’s some kind of storefront in a barred-up part of town,” he says. “It could be a factory. Then again, it could be a grocery store. Alex is working on it. I just Googled it.”

“What about Capito’s story,” I ask. “Could they be undergoing renovations?”

“I suppose they could, but the workers must have Friday off. Like I said, it’s a ghost town out here.” 

“Well, we’ve got about 15 minutes to find out where the hell we’re going,” I say.

“We’ll get something for you, sir.”

The drive was quicker than I anticipated. Sure enough, we drive up to some unmarked building with three large, industrial doors and no information from Alex.

“Sir?” Jason says, awaiting instruction.

“It’s like you said, you can wear your gun without suspicion if we go through metal detectors. I can’t. Besides, Capito knows that we’re Satlinked and we mentioned his name particularly. Unless we’re dealing with the Mexican Mafia, which I highly doubt, we should be okay.” He nods and exits the car.

Sure enough, where given a tour through some small non-descript sweatshop operation, and these women look to be making some kind of plastic bottle tops or something. And I’m supposed to believe that this tiny operation is what’s holding up a billion-dollar merger.

Yeah, okay.

The drive was more exciting than the goddamn tour, but I don’t let on to Capito that I know he’s full of shit. I don’t really have to; he already knows it. I thank him for the very informative tour before Jason and I get back on the road to Madrid.

“So… what now, boss?”

“Is Cox alone at that warehouse?” I ask.

“No, sir. He and Williams took commercial flights in on Wednesday. You can never be too sure with foreign security and I didn’t have enough time to set anything up on our way out of the States.” He’s been very professional about this whole thing. He hasn’t asked me any questions about what may have happened, and I haven’t offered any information. I want to focus on work, not my questionable marriage.

“Thanks for taking care of that,” I say. “Maybe we should pay a visit to the actual factory.”

“I hardly see a need, sir,” Jason says. “With Cox and Williams staked out there, we’ve already got eyes on the location. I can let them know to stick around for a while and let us know if they see anything worth reporting. Tomorrow, maybe? Maybe they are just off on Friday.”

“Yeah, I believe that like I believe the world is flat, but you’re right. There’s not much we can do.”

“Yeah,” he says, somewhat distracted. I watch him for a moment. He continues to drive but keeps looking in the mirror.

“What is it, Jason?” I ask.

“And we’re being followed,” he says, drawing out the and. Goddammit, as if the decoy warehouse wasn’t enough, this asshole wants to keep fucking with me. He must have gotten the same idea that I did, that I would go to the warehouse on my own if he didn’t want to give me a tour. “They’re not professionals,” Jason adds.

“How do you know?” I ask.

“They’re following too close,” he says. “Either they’re amateurs or they’re trying to scare us. Either way, their surveillance sucks.”

“Suggestions?” I ask. He reaches into the glove box and retrieves my Glock.

“Put it in your harness and fasten your seat belt…”

You can only go so fast in the narrow streets of a Spanish town. There are a lot of little alleys, though, that make for good hiding places. Maybe they’re streets, too, but they’re still good hiding places. After what could be considered a chase down the narrow Spanish streets and a detour into one such alley, we exit the car and duck into two nearby doorways, Glocks locked and loaded and waiting for our pursuer to follow. Just as we get into position, a black VW Polo pulls into the alley and blocks our Audi in. Two men get out of the car and walk to the Audi, looking into the windows.

 

Jason and I both come out of the shadows with our weapons drawn. I’m trained right between the eyes of the first guy and Jason walks right up behind the second, placing cold steel to his skull.

“¿Estás perdido amigo?” Jason says in perfect Spanish as both men cautiously raise their hands.

“Mr. Capito requested that we see you back to your hotel safely,” the second guy says to Jason.

“As you can see, we don’t need an escort,” I hiss. “We can take care of ourselves. I made that point very clear to your boss. Should I send him another message?”

The guy staring down the barrel of my Glock catches my meaning loud and clear and although he attempts to remain unshaken, his fear and uncertainty are quite evident.

“Eduardo, vamos. Deberíamos irnos,” the second guy says, his voice betraying his nerves.

“Listen to your friend, Eduardo,” Jason says, his voice cool. “Sal de aquí.” With his hands still in the air, Eduardo inches slowly away from the barrel of Jason’s gun while the unknown man backs away from me, meeting his friend at their vehicle. They hurriedly get into the car and back out of the alley, speeding away down the street with our guns still pointing at them until they’re out of sight. I turn to Jason.

“You’re right, total amateurs,” I say, putting my gun back in it harness. “I need to see what’s in that damn factory.”

“Yes, sir.”

We agree to allow Cox and Williams to remain on the stakeout to see if anything happens while we go back to the hotel and change. I bring Ros and Lorenz up to speed on what happened with the tour of the “factory” and the exciting events thereafter. Ros is as ready to drop the deal as am I, but morbid curiosity won’t allow me to let go of what might be going on at the actual factory.

I get my chance to kill the proverbial cat when we get a call from Cox right after sundown.

“Apparently, it’s a nighttime operation, sir,” Cox’s disembodied voice reports. “Once the lights went out, the building came alive. It’s buzzing with activity, so if you want to see something, now is the time.” I look at Jason.

“How can we get in without being seen?” he asks.

“You can’t, but there’s a back-access road right off the M-20 before you get to the exit for the factory. Take that to the end and it comes up to a hill on the side of the property. We have a clear view of the loading docks and everything going on in front of it.”

“I guess we’re going on a stake-out,” Jason says.

*-*

“Are you shitting me?” I hiss as Cox, Williams, Jason, and I all lay in the grass watching the comings and goings from the warehouse.

“Right before you got here,” Williams says. “Those two on the end made the drop; those two on the dock got the money.”

“Why the fuck does this always seem to happen to me?” I lament, looking through the high-powered binoculars that Cox was using moments before. “The covered trucks, what about those?”

“They arrived about ten minutes ago. I’ve only seen those used to transport people—like troops—but nobody’s gotten out of them yet. Maybe a big job coming, and they need back-up.”

“God. Dammit!” I hiss as I realize exactly what I was looking at on those schematics that Alex sent me. “Nobody’s getting out.” I hand the binoculars to Jason just as Williams silently hisses a curse. “Somebody’s getting in.”

“Fucking hell,” Jason breathes, disgusted.

“Aw, shit,” Cox says as he commandeers Williams’ binoculars. “What are they, teenagers?”

“If that,” I say, running my hands through my hair. The sleeping quarters on the schematics had to be temporary dormitories where their human stock was housed until it was time to move them. Tonight is the night and there’s no way that Capito could let me get to this factory. I’m having flashbacks of the nightmares that were the miscellaneous subsidiaries and the headaches and trauma we had getting out of those situations. Fuck if I’m getting involved with that shit again.

“Let’s get the fuck out of here. Now!” I say, crawling backwards down the hill.

“Boss, we gotta do something!” Jason hisses.

“You’re right! Get the fuck out of here!” I repeat quietly to his dismayed face. “I’ve got a Glock. So do you. Williams? Cox? I assume the same. What do you think they’re carrying?” I wait for a moment for his answer. “They’re. Moving. People! And I can guarantee you that there’s more than four men in that warehouse and they ain’t packing BB guns. Go! Now!”

He doesn’t want to move, but they all know that I’m right. We climb back down the hill and drive back down the access road to the M-20 with no lights. We meet back in mine and Jason’s suite for a debriefing.

“Did you get any kind of pictures or surveillance documentation?” I ask Cox.

“No, sir,” he laments. “We didn’t have those instructions. We had no idea…”

“I know,” I stop him. “Right now, it’s the word of four trespassers against a local, distinguished businessman who has already moved his inventory.” I push my hands through my hair. “Alex will know who to contact. Unfortunately, I know this from experience. Have him get in touch with the proper authorities and drop an anonymous tip… assuming they’re not in on it.”

Everyone at the table nods and leaves with maudlin expressions, myself included. For the first time in ten days, my thoughts settle on my wife. I want to hold her, and my children, and keep them safe from monsters like this—from a horrible, cruel world with no justice. I take a moment to lament that situation before my mind goes back to that fucker closing in on her about to kiss her…

And the wall goes back up.

While Jason is calling Alex, I call Ros and Lorenz and tell them that we’re washing our hands of the deal because something illegal is going on at that warehouse and I don’t want to get involved in it.

“You’re sure about this?” Lorenz says. “I mean about the illegal activity?”

“I’m positive, and I’ve had my share of dealing with companies that were doing similar shit.”

“This is not going to look good—that we’re just pulling out like this with no explanation,” he adds.

“Oh, I have an explanation, and a valid one at that, but I have nothing to prove to this man,” I say, definitively. “There’s nothing that his company or his factory has that I can’t get somewhere else without the hassle and possible headache that I see landing in my lap if I acquire his organization. ‘Know when to hold ‘em; know when to fold ‘em.’ He’s dirty. We’re walking away.” I hear Ros sigh on the other end.

“Okay. You’re the boss. What about the hotel chain?” she asks, not wanting to show her relief.

“I’ll be paying them a visit on Monday morning. Let’s hope that goes better than this did.”

The next morning after a workout and a shower, I’m sitting in the dining room of our suite going over the protocol of our visit to the hotel with Jason. I must admit that I’m glad that he brought back-up as he and I alone now made me feel at a disadvantage, knowing what Capito is up to. Who knows what kinds of ties that man has? I was joking about the Mexican Mafia, but after this, I don’t know who he’s in bed with… I just know it won’t be me. As I’m finishing my egg-white omelet, Jason’s phone rings.

“Hello, Love,” he says, as he takes a sip of his coffee. He’s quiet for a moment before he stands from the table. “How is she?” he asks, pacing a bit around the dining area. “Geez, are you serious?” He must be getting some news about Sophie, but apparently nothing too upsetting since he’s not having a cow. Only… what time is it in Seattle right now? Like, two or three in the morning.

“Well, why didn’t she ca…?” Whatever the question was, he’s cut off mid-sentence. After hearing his wife’s response, he raises his gaze to me and examines me for a moment.

What?

“Oh, okay,” he says, breaking his gaze with me. “Keep me posted. So, everything else is okay?” he says as he goes into his bedroom, most likely to have to private time with his wife. I shrug off the conversation and go back to eating my omelet and reading the financial news.


A/N: ‘Believe half of what you see and nothing that you hear.’ Edgar Allan Poe’

¿Estás perdido amigo?”—”Are you lost, friend?”

“Eduardo, vamos. Deberíamos irnos,”—”Eduardo, come on. We should go.”

Sal de aquí.”—”Get out of here.”

Although all of the pictures from this chapter are actually in this chapter, pictures of places, cars, fashion, etc., can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 3—Coming Clean

I must not have made this clear, although I thought I did, but I’m going to try this again for anyone who may have missed it over the last 153 chapters of the last three books. 

I write my story for ME! I appreciate that people follow me and enjoy my story and may one day buy my books. I feed on the fact that people have such varying opinions and reactions to what I write. I understand that I can’t please everyone and that a lot of people may even be angry or negatively affected by what I write. That’s all okay. I had one comment of a long-time follower who kindly said “we agree to disagree.” I’m okay with that. This means that she didn’t agree with what I wrote, but she understood and accepted my right to write what I want. 

I won’t say this again–if you don’t like what I write to the degree that you feel the need to become preachy, disrespectful, or abusive, PLEASE LEAVE! No one is forcing you to read this story. Do NOT insult me or my characters or I will delete your comments–just LEAVE! 

People change. People’s lives change. That’s what happening to my couple. They’re going through hell, and there’s going to be more hell before this story is over. That’s real life! That’s how it goes. Nobody’s struggle is exactly the same and nobody deals with shit the exact same way. Hate it or love it, this shit really happens–in D/s relationships AND in regular relationships. Just because it doesn’t happen or didn’t happen YET in your relationships, don’t judge me or my fucking characters. Get over it or LEAVE.

This message is NOT for those who didn’t agree with what happened and respectfully–though passionately–voiced the opinion that they disagreed. This message IS to the preachy “people” who judged and disrespected my characters and my story when I have repeatedly asked you not to do that. I’ll admit that my blog is my testing ground for what may or may not work in my published book, but I won’t tell you again not to be vicious with your analysis. If you all notice, I’m responding to very few comments because I’m looking at what I’m reading and I’m just keeping quiet and letting people have their say. But know that when you come at me or my characters with claws, I’m coming back with fangs, hatchets, and Wolverine blades! 

That is all.

Same disclaimer applies–not all my characters, most belong to E. L. James, blah blah blah…

Chapter 3—Coming Clean

ANASTASIA

Sleeping on the floor at the Mercer house was more serious than I thought. My back is in serious pain and nothing seems to be helping it. Christian has procured every combination pregnancy back brace/support belt that he could find. By Friday morning, I finally settle on one that eases my aching bones.

It’s a good thing, too, because Mr. Grey has lifted the ban on Grey House and wants me to come to the office with him. Grace seems a little chilly over the last couple of days and although I’m not sure exactly what happened, I know that she and Christian had some kind of disagreement. Bearing that in mind as well as the damage that I’ve already done, I opt to wait until Monday to go into Helping Hands since there’s really nothing that requires my immediate attention.

I’m wearing a white, long-sleeved button-down coat dress with black trim and buttons. My style of choice has been the barrel curls over my shoulder since it’s easy to do and to maintain. The support belt holds my back straight and pushes my belly up, so even though it’s easier for me to walk, I look very pregnant. I did opt to retire my sky-high stilettos for three and four-inch pumps. I couldn’t lose my high heels completely as I’m clumsier in flats.

“I don’t know if I want to take you to the office today,” Christian says from behind me while retrieving the clasp I’m struggling with.

“Why not?”

“I almost killed a deal a while back because some assholes were talking inappropriately about you, and today, you look absolutely amazing. I’m not sure that I want to share you.” He kisses the exposed part of my neck. God, I’ve missed this so much.

“Only if you stay home with me,” I say softly, closing my eyes. I’m relishing any attention he gives me as I have been starving for it for so long. He kisses my neck again.

“Are you ready?” I nod and we leave the bedroom.

*-*

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sure that many of you already know, but for those of you that may not, this is my wife—Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey.”

I’m introduced to a room full of people, some of whom I know and some of whom I’ve never met. My attention is immediately drawn to the fact that James is here. Why is James here?

“I’m calling this meeting because it is now necessary to take the next step our operation. The people in this room have all been cleared by my security team and your assistance and attention is needed for a very delicate situation. This is a need-to-know basis only. Staff outside of this room is not privy to any of the information that will be discussed here today. Any potential leaks or security breaches will be sealed with immediate termination and possible prosecution of corporate espionage. Is this unclear to anyone within the sound of my voice?”

What the hell is going on? Various “no sirs” can be heard around the room and I must say, he has my full attention now.

“Good. By now you all know Barney, our head of IT. He’s been working closely with an outside consultant, Mr. James Flemings, on an issue very detrimental to the future of GEH and more specifically, myself and my family. I will turn the floor over to them, now. Mr. Flemings.”

I try not to look stunned while James takes the floor while Barney is in front of a laptop at a table next to him. His fingers are moving madly over the keyboard as James begins to speak.

“I realize that this seems all very cloak-and-dagger, and I’m hoping that I can explain to you all what’s going on.” Christian takes the seat next to me and puts his arm protectively around me. I finally get to know what’s been going on at Grey House. “Lights, please.”

The room goes dark and a presentation shows up on the projection screen in the front of the room.

“Yes, I know this is very elementary, but it’s the best way I could explain what’s going on without losing you all in computer jargon.” There are pictures of computers on the screen and James uses electronic pointers to explain to us how an intruder has hacked into GEH’s network and Christian’s personal email and cell phone and is causing all kind of havoc. It started with running around and letting their presence be known and has now graduated to sabotaging business operations and siphoning money from the company. “Christian and Ros have worked endless hours putting out fires and trying to save the deals that are already on the table. Without knowing who could be trusted, they had to handle all of the dealings firsthand, which is why we are happy to say that we have eliminated this group of people from our possible suspects because we need your help now.”

“Everything that is everything is being highly encrypted until we can pin down exactly what we’re dealing with,” Ros interjects. “This means that there will be additional security measures in place to read even the simplest files. I appreciate that this is going to slow down your productivity, but at this time, saving the company is much more important than speed. With the hours that we’re putting in trying to hold this thing together on our own, I don’t know about Christian, but if I don’t find my way home, my wife will be leaving me by the end of the year.” She looks over at a perky blonde who twists her lips back at Ros as if to say “Yeah, right.” That must be her wife.

“Ditto,” Christian coughs in a not-so-inconspicuous manner that causes nervous laughter in the room. I scoff quietly at him and elbow him gently in the side.

“We’ve been chasing this intruder for about three months now and we’ve been able to eliminate insider activity—current insider anyway,” James has the floor again. “We’ve also determined how the intruder gains access to the network. We can see where he’s going, what he’s doing, and how he’s doing it. Today, we’ve had another breakthrough and we’ve narrowed down his location.”

“Excellent!” Christian exclaims. “What’s our next move?”

“Well, we’ve forwarded the information to the necessary authorities and they should be conducting a raid any moment now.”

“Any moment now like days or any moment now like minutes?” Christian asks.

“More like hours. You know they have to coordinate these things.” James says, and Barney never stops typing. Christian nods.

“Good. Good. I’ll finally be able to get some sleep at night,” Christian says.

“Yes, sir, this is finally very close to being over.” James turns back to the display and starts explaining everyone’s role in the coming hours and days. I’m still trying to process all the information I just heard. I’m trying not to frown like I’m completely out of the loop, but the truth is that I’m completely out of the loop!

“Are you okay?” Christian asks me. He’s frowning deeply at me. I haven’t said anything so my face must be a fright.

“Yeah,” I lie. I’m far from okay.

I’ve probably missed some important information as I completely zoned out for the rest of the meeting and the next thing I know, everybody is rising from their seats… well, almost everybody. Ros’ wife and I are both still seated, no doubt awaiting instruction. Certain individuals haven’t moved, yet, and Christian still has his arm protectively around my seat. Barney is still tapping away at his laptop.

“Sir? Ma’am?” Some guy is addressing Christian and Ros. “Data Central?”

“Ten minutes,” Christian says. I’m mute right now. I don’t know what to say or think. Christian and Ros have a bit of a conversation and then Christian and Jason. Chuck is nearby as well, but once we leave the conference room, it’s just Jason.

I follow them to the bank of elevators and, with the turn of a key, one of the main elevators becomes an express elevator down to “S3,” which I think is sublevel three. Ros and her wife, Christian, Jason, and I all walk down this long corridor to yet another conference room somewhere in the bowels of Grey House. Once inside, we are joined by James and Barney, Alex Welch if I remember correctly, and some other guys that I don’t know.

“Okay, so did anything pan out?” Christian asks as he guides me to a seat and takes the chair next to me.

“A few did, sir,” Barney says nervously. I can tell that he’s kind of remiss to share whatever information that they’re talking about, so before this conversation goes “security level alpha,” I need some answers.

“Am I allowed to ask any questions?”  I ask, raising my hand.

“Of course you are,” Christian says. I nod and take a deep breath.

“This all moved pretty quickly for me, so I… I just want to recap. Did I correctly hear that someone has been running rampant in the company mainframe sabotaging deals and taking money?”

“Yes,” Christian says.

“And you and Ros have been running all of the deals so that no one else could see what was going on…”

“Yes,” he confirms.

“So this team of masterminds that you have working for you have been completely left in the dark because you couldn’t know who you could trust,” I summarize.

“Exactly.” I turn to Ros’ wife.

“Did you know any of this?” I ask her. She shakes her head.

“I stay out of the business,” she says. “I didn’t know what was going on. I just knew that she wasn’t coming home.” I shake my head. The magnitude of what I’ve just learned hit me in a three-second funnel:

The late nights and early mornings…
The storm-cellar fund…
Me acting like a spoiled brat and flaunting my ass for those donors…
He and Ros having to handle all of the business deals first hand…
There’s a hacker in the network who also hacked into Christian’s personal phone and email—our personal lives, our families, our children…
The ultrasound pictures! Leaked to the press… our children!

“Christian, I… think I… need a drink of water…” I feel lightheaded. I allow my head to loll over my shoulder because I don’t think I have much of a choice. The room is doing this topsy-turvy thing, but I’m not losing consciousness. I see people scrambling around except for Ros’ wife. Does that woman ever lose her cool?

“Baby! Ana! Look at me!” I think I roll my eyes around to him, but I’m not sure. My neck really hurts and I want to raise my head, but Christian won’t let me.

“I… my… my babies!” I’m wheezing, barely speaking, panting. “The ultrasound… and the press… that was this…” I’m panting and waiting for an answer.

“I think so, Butterfly,” he says softly. I feel the air leaving my body.

“The money… the fund… that was this…” Tell me, dammit!

“Yes, it was,” he confesses.

“You… were… wha… huh…” I can’t breathe now, let alone form a coherent sentence. “Oh… God… oh… G… God… oh… God oh God oh God!” There’s water placed in front of me and I still can’t raise my head. Christian finally helps me raise my head and brings the water to my mouth.

“You know I wouldn’t let anything happen to you and the beans, right?” he says earnestly as I swallow some of the water. “I would dismantle this company and let them have anything they wanted before I let any harm come to your or our babies.” I shake my head violently then swallow my water.

“No! No! Don’t say that! We can’t think that way! It can’t come to that!” I’m trembling now. Christian cuddles me in his arms and tries to calm me.

“Give me some fucking good news!” he hisses as whomever.

“Well, that eliminates one,” Barney says.

“What?” James asks. “What are you talking about?”

“The FER software… it’s on point with its analysis, but that was true horror. True horror like that can’t be faked,” Barney says. What? Is he talking about me?

“F… faked?” I’m completely confused. “What? Why?” I look up at Christian and he’s just as confused as I am.

“The facial expression software that we were using during the meeting gave us three hits on people who were suspect in terms of the information that was given. Ana was one of them.”

“Wha… what is he talking about?” I’m nearly screaming. What in the blue hell is going on here?

“Today’s meeting was a trap,” James jumps in. “The attack is originating from the inside—but not the physical attack. I introduced some information into the system and to key individuals that wouldn’t have been easily discovered even by an expert. The moment that information was leaked to our intruder, I got a notification. Each of those key individuals were in the meeting today with the exception of the wives. Barney was using facial expression recognition software to record the reactions of today’s participants to see if we could narrow down who our inside culprit is.”

“So you… don’t really know where this guy is?” Jason asks. “The threat hasn’t been identified?”

“No,” Christian says, “the only other ones who knew that besides James, Barney, and Welch were me and Ros. What I want to know is why was my wife a guinea pig in this experiment?”

“She wasn’t,” Barney defends. “Her reaction in the meeting made her suspect. Her expressions indicated that she was hiding something.” What the fuck? Christian looks down at me.

“I was hiding the fucking fact that I didn’t know anything!” Now, I’m screaming. “Ros’ wife is cool as a cucumber; everybody else is sitting there like we’re talking about the goddamn weather; and from what I’m understanding, we’re all talking about my husband’s life work crumbling at his feet and I’m the only lucky bitch who didn’t know!” Okay, now I’ve graduated to shrieking.

“Baby, please, calm down.” Christian is holding my hands trying to calm me. Fuck calm down! I want to throw something! How could he not tell me this? How could he not give me some kind of clue?

“This is my life, too!” and the angry tears start—with a vengeance! “This is my life! You’re my life! How could you not tell me!?” He embraces me firmly and I bury my head in his shoulder, weeping profusely.

“Because I didn’t want this!” he says with conviction. “I knew this would happen; that’s why I didn’t tell you. That’s why I tried to wait until the last possible minute—to spare you from this… but it was destroying us, and I couldn’t keep it a secret anymore.”

I can’t stop the tears that keep flowing from my eyes. I’m hurt and I’m angry and I’m ashamed and just about every other bad emotion that can be felt right now and all I can do is cry.

“Barney…” my husband speaks very slowly and through his teeth now. “If you are quite finished traumatizing my wife and accusing her of sabotaging my company, do you have anything useful for me or should I leave now before you destroy my family completely?” He actually sounds like he’s growling.

“Mrs. Grey… I’m sorry,” he says sincerely. “The software… I was only doing my job…”

“Barney…” Christian growls again and I hear Barney sigh.

“You’ve got two other hits, Mr. Grey,” Barney’s voice has changed. He’s all business now. “Research & Development and Planning.”

“Are they as reliable as the first hit?” Christian growls.

“Christian,” it’s James’ voice now, “however inaccurate the conclusions may have been, the results were correct. Ana was hiding something. The facial expression recognition software didn’t tell us what she was hiding, but she confessed that she was hiding something. Had this been anyone else but Ana, you’d want answers—and we still had to get them from her. It’s not personal, you know that.”

“While I appreciate the spirit of your explanation, I cannot empathize with your logic right now. Can you please tell me what the fuck else we found… please.” He’s grinding his teeth and I can hear him.

“Research & Development was Evans. She just went about the business of removing personal information from her computer—Angry Birds, Candy Crush, browsing history, nothing substantial.”

“I want her reprimanded. Make an example of her. Don’t fire her, but make sure her insubordination is publicly known.”

“Is that really necessary?” James asks.

“Yes, it is!” Christian snaps. “Not only is it unauthorized software on my mainframe which most likely caused this problem in the first place, but she’s also doing this shit on company time. My employees know that’s against the rules and in addition to that, she’s one of the assistant department heads. She should have so much work to do that she doesn’t have time to play Angry fucking Birds!” I squeeze him around his waist to remind him that I’m here… and my adrenaline is dwindling. He sighs. “Who’s the other one?”

“Maurice Dodd… and I think he’s your guy.”

“What makes you say so?”

“He’s made three calls on his cell since he left that meeting—one he made the moment he got on the elevator. We’re trying to identify the third number now, but one was made to a burner. He’s sending information right now on the back-up server, the one you use when the mainframe goes down. We find information slower on the backup server because there’s no reason to access it when the mainframe is operational. When you personally want a secure connection, that’s what you use.” James is still talking. I open my eyes to see that Barney is now typing feverishly on another computer, nearly hiding behind the monitor. He has fallen completely silent and is clearly trying to disappear from the room. I know the behavior well.

I squeeze Christian again to get his attention. He looks down, then leans in closer to me.

“What’s a burner?” I ask.

“It’s a cell phone with purchased minutes. When you burn out the minutes, you throw it out.” I nod.

“Barney’s shrinking,” I whisper. He looks over at Barney, then rolls his eyes.

“I’ll take care of Evans. What’s our next step with Dodd short of wringing his scrawny little neck?”

“Now that we have a possible focus, watch his communications and see what pans out. Check his communications for the last six months to a year. See what he’s been doing in the company. He’s very likely to jump the gun now because he thinks we’re going to come down on his guy in a few hours. It would be great if we could.”

“No shit.” Christian rises from his seat, lifting me with him. “Contact me only if you have good news. I’m taking my wife out of here. When I say out of here, I mean out of this building and I don’t intend on coming back today.”

“Christian…” Ros protests.

“Yes, Ros?” he responds curtly.

“You have meetings this afternoon.”

“Then they can be rescheduled, or you can handle them, or you can delegate them. I don’t care. My marriage, my life, my beautiful wife and children are not going to be a casualty of my company. I’m going to take advantage of this unseasonably beautiful day and take my wife to lunch in the park. I suggest you do the same with yours.” Lunch in the park! That sounds divine.

“Yes, sir,” Ros says with a mock salute. The humor is lost on Christian at the moment. We walk to the door and proceed down the corridor with Jason close in tow.

“Jason, call your wife please and have her prepare a picnic lunch for us. I’ll send Charles to get it when she’s done.”

“Yes, sir.” Jason is on the phone with Gail before we get to the elevator. Once the doors open, I hear Jason say “Crash” before the walls come closer.


CHRISTIAN

Well, this turned out just perfectly! My already very fragile wife was basically accused of corporate espionage the first day I let her back into Grey House right on the heels of discovering that my empire may be in danger of crumbling. Yes, this has been a humdinger of a morning.

On top of that, my flawless head of IT has shrinking issues brought to my attention by my wife. How did I not see this over all the years he’s worked for me?

Now, before I can initiate any damage control on my marriage and home life, I have to revive my now unconscious wife who damn near took a header into the elevator.

I’m sitting on the sofa next to my gorgeous sleeping beauty. I’m stroking her hair that has fallen over her forehead. It’s amazing to me how I carried her in here and just laid her on the sofa, and she looks like one of those beautiful fainting women from the movies, like she’s dreaming of clouds or something. Jason convinced me not to rush her to the emergency room, assuring me that it was most likely the adrenaline crash that left her in a vulnerable state and caused her to swoon. She whimpers a bit and I come closer to her face. Those beautiful, unassuming blue eyes focus and rest on mine as I continue to stroke her forehead.

“You scare me, Mrs. Grey,” I say softly, because she scares me often—twice this week already.

“I’m sorry,” she says sweetly.

“No,” I kiss her lips softly. “No more apologizing. This was quite a bit to take on at once.”

“Yes,” she whispers. “I understand why you didn’t want to tell me.”

“You do?”

“I do… but don’t do it again. It was horrible finding out this way.” I nod.

“I’ll do better,” I promise.

“That’s all I ask.” She gazes into my eyes. “Kiss me, Christian.” Gladly! I gather her in my arms and kiss her deeply. She tangles her hands in my hair and returns my kiss. This feels so good. When our lips part, I breathe in her essence and I’m sure she’s doing the same thing to me.

“Thank you,” she whispers.

“I love you,” I breathe.

“I love you more,” she responds.

“Impossible,” I protest and bury my nose in her neck, holding her close to me.

*-*

Lunch in the park was enchanting. We encountered more than one double-take, probably for various reasons:

A gorgeous couple in business attire having lunch on a blanket in the park.
My beautiful, swollen wife having a terrible time getting to the blanket and rising back up when we left.
The fact that I carried her shoes so that the heels wouldn’t get ruined in the grass.
The way we look at each other.
The way I touched her belly every time I looked at her, held her or kissed her.
The fact that I fed her every bite of her lunch to make sure she’s getting all of her fresh fruits.
The fact that AnaChris is out in public, for those who may have recognized us—who knows?

I’ve made it my mission to make love to my wife as often as possible and never let her be left yearning again. I felt like shit when she said she was masturbating in the bathtub. Her body is her own and she can touch it whenever she likes, but this was out of necessity instead of desire. That’s unacceptable. Last night, after giving her a back rub and massaging her stomach with belly balm, I indulged in that sweet fruit and gently licked her to two orgasms before losing myself in her core and bringing us both to one final thunderous release.

The alarm rings at five A.M. and I realize that I forgot to turn if off. I get to it before it wakes Butterfly this early on a Saturday morning. I’m awake now, so I go to the bathroom to relieve myself. Just as I’m finishing, my phone vibrates on the night stand. The house is so quiet that it sounds like thunder! I pick it up before it wakes Butterfly. It’s Welch.

“Grey.”

“We need to meet somewhere,” he says.

“Now?” I ask. It’s five in the morning.

“Soon,” he confirms.

“Not at Grey House?”

“Out in the open.” Oh, shit.

“I’m bringing Jason,” I inform him.

“I wouldn’t expect you not to,” he says.

“We run in about an hour. Meet us at Freeway Park, by the picnic tables.”

“See you in an hour.”  I end the call and look over at Butterfly. She’s still blissfully sleeping. I change into my running clothes and sneak quietly out of the room. I go into my study and call back to Jason and Gail’s suite.

“Yes, sir.” He’s groggy. I woke him.

“I need to see you in my study. We may have a situation. You’ll need your running clothes.”

“Yes, sir.” He ends the call and I look at my email. After the hacking, I feel like someone is looking over my shoulders every time I open one. There are several meetings next week and I’m trying to figure out how we’re going to handle them. GEH is still making money hand over fist, so this asshole can take about $60 million before he really starts to cause us problems. Of course, I don’t want this fucker to get away with anything, but the experts tell me that we have to let him keep going until we are sure that the trap is set.

“Sir, what’s up?” Jason is in my study in twenty minutes.

“Welch called. He wants to see me as soon as possible, but not in the office…”

“Because it may be compromised,” he finishes my sentence. I nod.

“I figured as much. We need to meet him in Freeway Park in about half-an-hour.” He nods.

“Let’s go, then.”

Jason and I begin our run in silence. It doesn’t take long for us to get to Freeway Park, so we do a few laps until Welch shows up.

“Forgive the circumstances, sir. Anyone tracking us as five AM on a Saturday would be easily spotted in Freeway Park,” Welch begins.

“Any hits?” He shakes his head.

“No one has reported seeing anybody yet.”

“Good deal.” I drink some of my water while Welch is typing information into a tablet.

“We couldn’t meet in the office and you’re typing in a tablet?” I ask him.

“There’s no internet connection on this tablet, sir. Everything is manual. This is simply an electronic pen and paper. This one is for you.” He hands me a tablet—pretty basic. “Until we have these assholes on lockdown… Don’t ever allow it onto any wireless connection and you’ll be okay. Any information that we need to remember and transmit, we remember on these, we transmit in person or to and from one of these.” He hands me a cell phone.

“What’s this?”

“A burner—limited minutes. Not very hard to trace, but almost impossible to tap. Once you figure out who’s calling from what number, they use it and you get rid of it.”

“Good Lord, I feel like I’m living in the 19th Century,” I grunt.

“For a little while longer, you are.” He looks at the tablet. “As you already know, we kept an eye on Dodd. He made calls to three phones. One is still pretty well scrambled, but the other two hit towers in Spokane and Portland. Even though they’re burners, that gives a radius to work with. Any other time, I would say that they would be smart enough to move to a different location before making or taking a call, but they answered the moment Dodd called. So I would say these locations are at least 80% reliable.”

“Well, that’s something,” I say.

“It’s more than something, sir,” he says. “By using the towers as a starting point, we now have a point of reference for the scrambled signals from the computers. We’ll start with any locations hit within that radius. In the meantime, we’ve gotten Dodd’s cell records and now we’re tracking his habits—who he’s been talking to, where he’s been and what he’s been doing. He’s pretty predictable, so we’re proceeding with caution. He could be a decoy.”

“Well, that would be just fucking dandy!” I hiss. “Why would we think he’s a decoy?”

“He’s an easy mark,” he responds. “Either he’s the decoy or he’s the fall guy. If he’s either, he won’t have too much clearance in this little project, but that remains to be seen.” He goes through his tablet again. “You should know that shortly after you left Grey House today, the worms stopped.” I frown.

“They stopped?”

“Yes. This means that Dodd talked directly to the person who is responsible for invading the network or directly to someone else who could get to that person. He’s most likely told them that we’re onto them, so they cut the signal.” I sigh.

“Isn’t that what we didn’t want?” I lament.

“Yes and no,” he says. “We expected them to cut the signal. Either they’re going to tuck tail and run or they’re going incognito for a little while. If it’s the latter, it gives us a little bit of time for a game plan.”

“And if it’s the former?”

“We work with the evidence that we have and hope for the best. Either way, Dodd’s future involves a serious shakedown.”

“Really?” I twist my lips. “I want to be present for that.” Welch frowns and Jason clears his throat.

“Sir, that’s not a good idea,” Jason says.

“Duly noted.” I turn back to Welch. “I want to be present when you question this fucker. Are we clear?”

“Yes, sir,” Welch says with a sigh. “We’ve leaked into the network that we picked up the possible culprit at about midnight. Nothing has come from it, yet, but the moment Dodd sees that someone is in custody, he’s going to let the others know.”

“What happens next?”

“Either their operation is over or they’re going to lay low until they hear that we’ve got the wrong guy. The police have to release a suspect in 24 hours if they aren’t charged with a crime—in this case, we can probably stretch it to 36 or 48, but by Monday morning, we’re going to have to release our pretend suspect. In the meantime, we are referencing and cross-referencing every piece of information we have. I’m sure we’ll have something soon, but sir… once we get any solid information that needs further investigation, we’re going to have to apprehend Dodd. It’s going to get slippery at that point.” I nod.

“We won’t be able to let him go until we’ve caught the others. He could tip them off.”

“Exactly. So at this point, I need to know how far outside of the law we’re willing to go, because it could get pretty far, which is why I would rather you don’t meet with Dodd once we apprehend him.”

“This fucker may be responsible for threatening everything I hold dear. I will be present when you meet with him. As for legality, I trust that you know how to keep me and GEH out of trouble.”

“Only if you follow my instructions, sir,” he reinforces.

“Well, this is one that you’re going to have to work around. You’re a resourceful man and I know that you can do it. Now do what you do best.” He rolls his eyes and looks at his tablet again.

“We were able to trace the money, believe it or not.”

“Now, that’s good news,” I say. I know that no matter where the money ends up, there’s some kind of paper trail.

“It’s almost impossible to see where the money ends up, but our super-team discovered that its final resting place is an account from a Texas-based bank—Comerica.”

“Why not use an offshore account? Aren’t they harder to trace?” I ask.

“More predictable, and not as hard as you think,” he says. “That’s what we were initially looking for. Weren’t you expecting to find an offshore account?” I nod. “Yeah, they counted on that. Once they get the money, one of the officers of the company shuts down the account, takes the money, and runs.”

“Company? There’s a company involved in this?”

“It’s a front. You know how easy it is to get a federal identification number. That’s all you need to set up a bank account.”

“Any hits from the company name? The officers?” Welch shakes his head.

“Not yet. The company name is Daggers, Inc and we’re certain that the officers are aliases—no hits whatsoever.”

“This doesn’t sound encouraging,” I tell him.

“From the money standpoint, no, but from the information standpoint, we’re doing pretty well. We’re a lot further than we were yesterday.”

“So what now?”

“You need to relax, sir.”

“You know me better than that.”

“No, sir, you really need to relax,” he reinforces. “Be seen publicly kicking back and having a good time. This is a good start.” He hands me a local gossip rag with a big picture of me and Butterfly from our picnic yesterday. “It makes them think you’re letting your guard down—getting comfortable because you don’t have anything to worry about anymore. We can’t keep running around like rats in a cage if we want to catch these guys. Go look at baby furniture or something.”

Shit! I’ve been so preoccupied with this shit that I don’t even know if Butterfly has already picked furniture for our children. That’s actually a good idea. Focus on my family for the day…

“One last instruction,” Welch says. “Always answer your burner. Your code name is Henry Walsh. Answer the phone ‘this is Henry Walsh.’ Communicate with us as usual on your regular cell. Classified info on the burners only.” He tosses one at Jason. “You’re Richard Maverick. I’m Oscar Fields. James is Theodore Houston. Nobody else should be calling you on that burner. We will all answer and respond with ‘this is Oscar Fields,’ or whatever your name is. Any other response means something’s wrong.” I shake my head.

“Any other bad news?” I ask.

“Unfortunately, yes,” Welch says. “There’s good news and there’s bad news.”

“Give me the bad news.”

“Once we get past Dodd—and we will get past Dodd—we’re going to need some heavy hands to deal with the other parties involved. These are not going to be your average computer geeks. We’re playing with the big boys now, but even the big boys are pawns, because they are doing the dirty work from somebody else.”

“Why do you know this?” I ask him.

“It’s the nature of the beast. The HMIC won’t get his hands dirty, I can guarantee it. He’s going to put his players on the front lines while he sits comfortably on the throne. We’re going to have to go in and dig him out.”

“So what’s the good news?” I ask.

“I haven’t finished the bad news, yet,” he responds. There’s more? “The kind of resources that we need are going to require a two-man approval—both with my level of clearance. None of my contacts have my level of clearance. We only know one other person that can help me get who I need for this particular job.” Well who the fuck is it?

“What are you waiting for? Who is it?” Welch just looks at me like it should be obvious, and I’m getting more and more perturbed by the moment. Then, suddenly, it hits me like a damn wrecking ball. “No! No! There’s got to be another way.”

“Sir, if you want to get the information we need out of these people once we locate them, this is what I need.”

“No! Absolutely not! You’ve got to be kidding me! Do you realize what I’m exposing us to—my company, my family—if I do this?”

“Sir, you’ll be protected, but I need another approval on my level or we’re going to have to deal with amateurs, and we’re most likely not going to get what we need.” This is fucking great, just fucking great.

“What am I missing?” Jason asks looking from Welch to me.

“He wants me to call Cholometes,” I tell Jason. “He wants me to ask that asshole for his help in saving my company and my family, the man who is just waiting for an opportunity to come in and lay claim to everything that’s mine.” I turn to Welch. “Do you have any idea how badly our last conversation went?”

“Yes, sir, I do. That’s my job,” he says flatly.

“Then you know that there’s no fucking way I can ask him for help right now!” I bark.

“We don’t have a choice. It’s either this, or leave it to the amateurs and risk letting the king get away. Checkmate.” I sigh. This can’t be happening.

“What the fuck is the motherfucking good fucking news?”

“We’ve cleared Cholometes. We know that he’s not the one tapping into your network.”

“Well, that’s just dandy. He’s not the one trying to ruin me this way, but he can certainly swoop in for the kill and take my wife and family if I’m on my ass! I can’t possible see why he would ever decline helping the one who stole the woman that he wanted right out from under his nose!” Welch sighs heavily.

“Sir, people with clearances like mine are few and far between, and there’s a reason for that. You can be guaranteed that when two people like this collaborate on something, shit gets done, because I don’t know two people with this kind of power that are friends.”

“What exactly do you need him for? What are you trying to do?” I demand.

“Sir, I can’t tell you that…”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” I interrupt him. “You tell me everything! You tell me every aboveboard and every low-down, dirty, illegal thing you have to do to find these fuckers. You tell me every little thing or I pull the plug on the whole fucking operation, take my wife and kids and billions, move to a third world country somewhere, build a city called Greyland and keep my money in a goddamn mattress. The only fucking thing I don’t need to know is where you dump the goddamn bodies. Are we perfectly clear?”

Welch’s eyes widen. I don’t think he’s ever heard me talk about illegal activity because I need everything to be above board as so many lives depend on me. However, if I’m done, then the lives that depend on me don’t really matter, do they?

“Did you know what you’re saying?” he asks.

“I know exactly what I’m saying,” I tell him calmly. “I don’t want to see all the blood and gore, but I will talk to these motherfuckers when you catch them. I know that many people are willing to die for a cause, yet very few are willing to die for a dollar. I may not be a trained killer like many of the people who work for me, but I do own a firearm, I have a damn good aim and I don’t have a problem pulling the trigger. If that becomes necessary, I know that I have staff that can make that shit go away. So yes, Mr. Welch, I do know what I’m saying. This is my life we’re talking about. Not just my company, my life. I will be informed of every step taken with this operation.” Welch shakes his head.

“This could get very bad, sir,” he says as a means to try to discourage me.

“Yes, it could, and we’re wasting time, so tell me why you need this and what we plan to do so that we can get on with it.” I’m not taking down. If I lose my company and my family, I have nothing else. So I might as well be proactive. I’m not going down a sitting duck.

“For the information that we need to get from these people, we don’t know how deep they are. If they’re a couple of punks, we can scare them really good. If they’re professionals, we can’t take the chance on just going in there with our men and trying to get information from them. If it’s a sophisticated operation, they’re going to lock down, especially since we now know that there’s more than one of them in this operation. I need Black Ops, sir. I need professionals to get the information I need. I need skills that even the President isn’t aware of because I don’t know what we’re up against. It may be unnecessary, but I can’t take that chance. That’s all I can tell you without having to kill you… and I mean that.” And I know that he does.

“I’ll call the fucker, but I’m not kissing his ass. If he turns us down, I’ll torture these fuckers myself when we find them. If we fail to get the top gun, we’ll send him one fucking loud ass message. And by the way, what the fuck is HMIC?”

“It could mean a lot of things, but it this case, it means ‘head motherfucker in charge,’” Jason says. I look at Jason, then back at Welch.

“Don’t call him that again,” I tell him. “I’m the head motherfucker in charge. He’s trying to be me. Now if there’s nothing else, I think I need to buy cribs or something.”

“Talk to him today, Sir. When they go live again, and they will, we need to be ready to move.” I roll my eyes.

“Fine, I’ll talk to him today,” I say begrudgingly. “Everything, Welch. If there’s an avalanche coming, I need to get my family out of the way and I can’t do it if you’re playing cops and robbers and keeping me in the dark, am I clear?”

“You’re clear, sir,” he answers. He hands me another phone. “Call him on this and then get rid of it.” I nod before turning around and starting my run back home. I need Butterfly.

She’s still sound asleep when we return. It’s just after eight. I strip and get ready for a shower, but her swollen body is calling to me. Maybe if I just hold her…

I slide into bed behind her and spoon her. She snuggles into me and her ass rubs against my erection. I groan at the sensation and try to rub the beans to get my mind off her juicy, round ass against my quickly stiffening dick. While I’m rubbing the beans, my hands brush across her breast and she whimpers in her sleep.

Well, that didn’t help.

I kiss her back and shoulder and resolve to get up before I wake her, but she stretches like a cat, rubbing her whole body against me.

“Fuck, Baby,” I whisper.

“Mmmm… Christian, I couldn’t possibly come again right now,” she protests… but I need to be inside you!

“Okay,” I sigh, trying to pull myself away from her. She looks over her shoulder at me. God, I want her so bad. She reaches behind my head and caresses my hair, bringing her lips to mine. I try not to devour her, but it’s so hard. She shifts a bit, and I feel her leg drape over my hip. In moments I’m inside of her.

“Baby…! Fuck!” I hiss. Oh hell. She’s tight and hot and I’m having problems. She’s grinding against me and she feels so good. “Slow down, Baby,” I warn. I can hardly get my words out.

“You’re so hard inside of me, Christian,” she breathes, still looking at me with “fuck me” eyes. I thought she said she couldn’t come again. “Do I feel good?”

“Oh yes… yes, Baby, you feel so good.” Fuck, I’m going to blow if she doesn’t stop.

“You like that, Baby?” she croons. “Do you like how I feel wrapped around you?” I grab her body and pull her against me. I’m going to come. I can’t control it.

“God, yes!” I groan into her neck as she grinds into me, working my dick to climax.

“Then come for me, Baby. Give it to me!” That’s it. I erupt inside of her and she keeps right on grinding.

“Oh! Oh, shit!” I groan, Euphoria flushing through my body as I pump my seed into her.

“That’s it,” she coaches. “Yes, Baby. Give it all to me. You’re so sexy when you come.”

Greystone is jumping and thumping and throbbing—ecstatic and relieved. She did it for me… just for me.

“You’re incredible,” I breathe.

“Do you feel better?” she says with a coy smile. All I can do is nod. “Then, I’m happy. Now kiss me.” I kiss her deeply, pulling her closer to me and thanking God that she still loves me after what we’ve been through these last weeks. “Now tell me what’s wrong,” she says softly. Shit, I can’t tell her, but I have to tell her something—and it can’t be a lie.

“We’re getting really close to finding out who’s doing the hacking,” I tell her.

“Isn’t that good news?” she asks.

“Yes, but it’s really nerve-wracking because we don’t know what we’re going to find. Is it one jerk? Is it an operation? Is this bigger than me? Do they just want money? Will you guys get hurt?” I shake my head. “It’s a lot to carry, and I’ve been ordered to relax while the trap is set.” She leans up and kisses me.

“I couldn’t have been making this easy for you,” she says.

“No,” I admit, “but I handled it all wrong, and I take responsibility for that.” I sigh heavily. “Let’s take a shower. Then I want to go to our children’s room and see your vision.” She smiles widely.

“What a wonderful idea.”

*-*

This is proof positive that I’ve been spending way too much time at work. I don’t recognize the Mercer house when we get inside. Most of the foreboding columns are gone and the house almost doesn’t look the same. The open space is magnificent; I like it so much better than all that clutter from those pretentious beams. Some of them had to stay as they were supporting beams, but the decorative ones have all been removed.

Our bedroom has been painted a slate gray, but the carpeting hasn’t been installed yet. I don’t bother going to the other bedrooms, because I want to see the babies’ room. Part of me wants to see where my wife spent the night a few evenings ago where she emerged looking like hell.

“Oh. Aaron must have been here,” she says when she opens the door. It doesn’t look as bad as I thought it would. In fact, it looks remarkable. The walls are tan, and there are silhouettes on the far wall of two tall brown trees with just a few green leaves on them. One of the trees has a little girl swinging from a swing and the other has a little boy hanging from his knees. A few woodland creatures run around the other three walls. The ceiling is blue with a light dusting of clouds to make it look like a realistic sky.

“Oh, it’s beautiful,” she says in awe. This isn’t her first time seeing the room, I thought. “What do you think of this carpet?” she asks. “I liked it on the website, but now that it’s down, I’m not so sure.”

“Didn’t you see this the other day?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No, none of this was done.” Well, that explains it. I look at the carpet.

“I don’t like this carpet,” I say. “It needs to be brighter—cream or white, maybe…”

“I thought with the whole woodland creatures theme, the taupe carpet might work, but it seems to be clashing with the walls,” she says. I nod.

“In theory, it should go with the color scheme, but… it doesn’t.”

“White… in the babies’ room?” she asks with uncertainty.

“Well, off-white or something… you know, one of those not-so-white whites,” I shrug. “We’ll, scotch-guard it. It’ll be fine.” She kind of nods and twists her face. “Why is there a skunk in the room? Couldn’t we pick some less—affronting creatures?”

“That’s Flower,” she says. Okay, so she named it. What’s that’s supposed to mean?

“I don’t care what you call it, it’s still a skunk,” I say shrugging. She looks at me like I just missed something really obvious. “What?”

“You don’t know who Flower is?” she asks. I look around the room, oblivious. She does this little gasp, then realization comes across her face and she looks sort of sad.

“Would you like for me to introduce you to the… people in your children’s room?” Okay, my wife is going a little overboard with this decorating thing, but I’ll let her have it. So, I humor her.

“Um, okay.” She points to each character and starts “introducing” me.

“This is Flower. This is Friend Owl. The rabbit is Thumper, and this adorable creature is Bambi.” She looks at me waiting for realization to dawn, I think, but I’ve got nothing.

“Christian,” she speaks softly like she’s talking to a wounded child, “they’re Disney characters. They’re from the classics.” And now I see why she was looking at me so strangely. These are people—people that most children probably know, except me. I didn’t watch cartoons, even after Mom and Dad adopted me.

“Oh,” I say softly. “I… think I’m going to have some homework.” I don’t know what else to say. She takes a deep breath and her expression changes drastically. She looks like she’s going to cry, and then she surprises me by doing just that. What—does not knowing the Disney characters mean that I’m going to be a bad father?

“I’m sorry, Ana. I’ll learn the characters.”

“No, it’s…” She tries to compose herself. “I’ve… There’s so much implication behind the fact that you don’t know who the Disney characters are. I don’t know an adult our age who doesn’t know who the Disney characters are.” Oh. She’s crying because she feels sorry for me. “It’s the pregnancy hormones. Ignore it,” she says, trying to wave it off. I wipe her tears with my thumbs and kiss her lips gently.

“I’ll learn them with our children,” I tell her. She nods and I kiss her again. “I’ll start now. Tell me the rest.” She nods again and I take her hand as she tells me bedtime stories in the middle of the day.

“This is Dumbo. He was a misfit because of his ears until everybody discovered that he could fly.”

“Fly?” My eyes grow wide. I know it’s a cartoon, but an elephant that flies? I nod. “A flying elephant?” She laughs heartily and I feel better because she’s forgetting her tears.

“Yes,” she laughs as she wipes away the rest of the moisture on her face. “There are crows in the story that had the same reaction you did, but I decided to leave them out of our children’s room.”

“Is this a book or a movie?” I ask.

“Both.”

“I’ve got to see this movie.” I look at the little elephant with ears as big as his body. “I thought elephants were afraid of mice.”

“They are, but Timothy Q. Mouse—or more affectionately, Tim—is Dumbo’s best friend. They’re inseparable, that’s why he’s always in Dumbo’s hat.”

“And these?” I point to a bunch of mice in the next picture all grouped together. “Are these Dumbo’s friends, too?”

“No, those are Cinderella’s friends,” she says.

“Okay! I’ve heard of Cinderella!” I make the announcement like it’s a big accomplishment, and it makes her smile again.

“These are the mice that made her dress for the ball out of scraps. This is Jaq, Gus, Bert, Mert, Luke, Suzy, and Perla. Luke is a baby and Bert and Mert are twins. They were just kind of hanging around.” Now, I’m confused.

“Okay, I don’t know this story very well, but I was sure that there was a fairy godmother and a pumpkin involved…”

“There is, but the mice made this dress first and then the evil stepsisters destroyed it.” I nod.

“Yep, a lot of homework… what’s next?”

“This,” she says, pointing to another group of animals—an owl, a squirrel, a cardinal, a bluebird, and two rabbits, “is the group of animals that present themselves to Sleeping Beauty.”

“I’ve heard of her, too!” I exclaim, and she laughs heartily again.

“There’s hope for you yet, Mr. Grey,” she says happily. “This lively group steals the prince’s cape, hat, and boots. The owl acts as the mouthpiece while the clothes and boots just kind of dance around.” I nod and move to the next one.

“Who’s this scruffy looking fellow?” I ask.

“That’s Scuttle. He came later. He’s the ‘human expert’ from The Little Mermaid except that his information was nonsense.”

“Sounds like a few people I know,” I say. We’ve gotten back to the door and there’s another tree there… with a face. “Um, Baby, that’s creepy.” She releases my hand and closes the door. It’s a weeping willow tree. The tree is on the wall next to the door and the branches fall gracefully over the door. There’s a blue raccoon on the ground looking up at the tree and a hummingbird fluttering over its head. The tree is smiling down at the raccoon—an older, friendly face, but it still looks creepy.

“We’ll make sure that you and the beans see Pocahontas so that you’re not creeped out by Grandmother Willow,” she says gently. I roll my eyes.

“I know Winnie the Pooh,” I say, pointing to the adjacent wall. “Mia had a pooh bear when she was a kid. I didn’t know he was a Disney character, though.” Butterfly nods.

“Yes, and these are his woodland friends—Tigger, Piglet, Rabbit, Kanga and Roo, Eeyore, Mr. Owl, and Gopher.”

“There are a lot of owls in Disney,” I point out.

“Yes, because they are considered wise and are used to impart wisdom. Most likely when the characters were talking to one of the owls, there was some type of message or lesson to be learned.”

“That’s good marketing,” I say. She laughs.

“Always the businessman.”

“So who are these?” I say, pointing to clusters of deer, rabbits, chipmunks, birds, and various other creatures.

“These are extras,” she says. “There are always extras in Disney movies. They don’t speak, they don’t have names, but they scurry about and fill in the scenery, except for these two.” She points to the two chipmunks who almost look like twins. “This is Chip ‘n Dale.”

“Chippendales!?” I ask appalled and she frowns at me. What’s with the reference to strippers? Again, she laughs heartily and has to hold her belly for a moment.

“No, no, not Chippendales—Chip ‘n Dale. That’s Chip and that Dale,” she says, pointing to each chipmunk. “They’re just a couple of chipmunks that often find themselves in some kind of mischief.”

“I just bet they do, they’re named after strippers!” I observe.

“No, they’re not,” she corrects me. “Chip ‘n Dale were around about 30 years before Chippendales were. I would hope there’s no correlation between the two since they represent entertainment on totally different ends of the spectrum.”

“I would hope not either. Boy, that’s going to take some major deprogramming,” I say shaking my head. “So, what did you have in mind for furniture?”

“We… hadn’t gotten that far…” She trails off. I was sure that she and the amazing Aaron would have already picked out the baby furniture by the time… My thought is interrupted immediately when the penny drops and rattles all around my empty head.

“You were waiting for me,” I lament. She sighs quietly and nods. I purse my lips and then push my face into a smile.

“Well, let’s go, Mrs. Grey,” I say extending my elbow to her. Her eyes sparkle and she smiles widely as she takes my arm and we leave the room.

We couldn’t decide on the same thing to save our lives. She wants light furniture and I want dark furniture. She wants a rocking chair and I want a rocking horse. She wants a hope chest and a changing table and I want a chest of drawers and stylish footlocker. We finally compromised that each baby will have what is necessary for their comfort and care, but I get to pick the boy bean’s baby furniture while she picks the girl bean’s furniture. The room is huge, so two themes will work out just fine without the room being cluttered. The trip went much smoother after we made that decision.

We’re in some baby boutique downtown looking at accessories for the beans when I notice a sales clerk and what I think is another couple pointing at us and whispering. So much for a quiet afternoon of shopping.

“Butterfly, I think we have to cut it short,” I tell her.

“Why?” she says, her voice full of disappointment. I sigh. We haven’t been out just being us for weeks and now this.

“At my 10… we’ve been spotted.” She inconspicuously looks over my shoulder and sighs heavily.

“I just want to shop for my babies,” she says, disheartened, putting the items she’s gathered back on the racks.

“No, Baby, we can get those things, but you know how this works. The paparazzi will be here any minute hoping to get a shot of the Greys doing ‘normal things.’ We just want to head them off before it starts.” I try to soften the blow.

“Okay. I get it, I just don’t like it. Does this mean we have to cut our whole afternoon short?” she asks, crestfallen.

“We’ll figure something out, Baby. I promise.” I kiss her hand and remove her selections from the rack.

“Excuse me.” The sales clerk has approached us. Butterfly is trying not to glare, but I can tell that she is fairly annoyed. “You’re so much prettier in person,” the clerk says to Butterfly, and she thaws immediately.

“Um, thank you,” she responds, a bit stunned.

“Will you please sign this for me?” she says, handing Butterfly a tabloid.

“Mine, too?” The customer that was talking to her moments before hands me the same tabloid. Butterfly and I look at each other and then at the tabloid:

Rumors of struggles in paradise appear to be false as father- and mother-to-be, Christian and Anastasia Grey—Seattle’s own power couple AnaChris—are captured here walking hand-in-hand into Grey Enterprises on Friday morning. In a real-life Pretty Woman moment, the billionaire and his wife are also captured later that day having lunch on a blanket in the park. Although Christian looks every bit the stuffy Edward Lewis in his gray Giovanni suit, Anastasia looks stunning in a simple white coat dress and could easily give the beautiful Julia Roberts a run for her money. Several tender moments are exchanged between the two as Christian can be seen feeding his wife fresh fruit, kissing her, brushing the hair from her face, and tenderly rubbing her baby bump. It’s very clear that he dotes on the beautiful Anastasia and from the starry-eyed look she’s sporting, the feeling is definitely mutual.

Butterfly bursts out laughing and I’m assuming she’s read the entire article.

“How did we not see this?” she says, amused.


A/N: Don’t really know what to add here as I have probably said everything that I need to say in the beginning author’s note. I hope everybody read it. If not, don’t be surprised when you see your comments come up missing.

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

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

Love and Handcuffs!
Lynn x