Raising Grey: Chapter 89—Still Minding the Monsters

I passed my CE. Now, I get to keep those 44 licenses!

One and a half months…
6 classes…
31 credit hours…
3 days of testing…
My scores: 96, 96, 92, 88, 84, 82

Thank you to all of you who encouraged and prayed for me. I couldn’t have done it without you and I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart.

Thanks to my mommy who, even though she was sick, was encouraging and rooting for me the whole time.

Especially thank you to my Daddy, who catered to my every need while I studied and wouldn’t allow me to doubt myself for one moment!

We did it, y’all! ❤ 

FYI—four more chapters in book four after this one and a new era begins for our couple!

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

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

Chapter 89—Still Minding the Monsters


CHRISTIAN 

I awake in the middle of the night again and discover that Butterfly has left our bed. I go in search of her and find her in the yoga room, sitting on the floor and assembling her Lego model of the Sydney Opera House.

“Why are you awake?” I ask. She raises her gaze to me for a moment, then turns her attention back to the Lego model.

“I couldn’t sleep,” she admits. “I got up and journaled for a while, then I decided to meditate a bit, but I’m still not tired. So…” She gestures at her Lego model.

“What’s keeping you awake?” I ask. “Something on your mind?”

“The usual stuff,” she dismisses. “Nothing and everything.”

So, something’s on her mind but she doesn’t want to talk about it.

“Do you need some help?” I ask.

“No,” she says. “It’s therapeutic, but you can come and sit with me while I finish if you want to.” I graciously accept the invitation, sitting on the floor lotus-style in front of her and the Lego pieces. We had already talked about our day, so we just sit quietly—me watching while her dexterous fingers snap the little pieces into place. It’s not an exact replica, but it’s enough to remind her of our trip.

She put it on one of the shelves in the yoga room, and now I realize that she’s been quite busy in here. The shelves are neatly arranged with paraphernalia from different stages of our lives.

Seashells and souvenirs from our trip to Anguilla, including the dolphin globe…

A picture of me and Gail walking down the aisle on her wedding day…

The picture of us from our first press conference standing in front of the elevator at Grey House…

A picture of her and Marlow—I don’t know from where or when…

Many, many more pictures—Christmases, birthdays, wedding and bridal showers, weddings…

Her promise ring sealed in what looks like an acrylic box… I can’t be upset about it, considering the carats she has on her hand now.

A miniature Eiffel Tower and what looks like a map of some of the ruins from Greece…

A cork from one of the bottles of Screaming Eagle wine from Napa Valley…

A picture of her henna-ed hands over her henna-ed baby bump…

A picture of Minnie and Mikey only hours old in the bassinets in the hospital nursery…

Two dried roses and a few stray rose petals…

“What are these from?” I ask, pushing the dried rose petals around.

“Our engagement,” she says softly, and then I remember the incredible rose ceremony I engineered to propose to her. I turn to her and smile before turning back to examine the many mementos that she has assembled on the built-in shelves.

A picture of us singing at Mia’s wedding…

Her and Allen dancing at his wedding…

A captured shot of her and Valerie in the guest room, talking about God knows what right after Valerie and Elliot moved into the Crossing…

The first ultrasound pictures of our babies… the gender reveal. I take the picture off the shelf and examine it, creepily caressing the point where the technician pointed out Mikey’s penis.

“I was a real jerk when we first got this picture,” I say, looking down at the picture of the first ultrasound, when we found out the sex of our babies.

“I…” She trails off and I raise my head to look at her. “I… only vaguely remember.” I look down at the picture again.

“I hope you never remember,” I lament. “I was a real asshole, Butterfly. We were at odds and I robbed you of what should have been one of the most joyous moments of our lives because I was pissed.” I raise my gaze to her again. “When and if you do ever remember it, please also remember that I’m so, so sorry.” She takes the picture from my hand and put it back on the shelf.

“Sometimes, I feel like the accident may have been a blessing in disguise,” she says, adjusting the picture so that it’s straight. “That I know of, I haven’t lost any long-term memories, and God knows I’d love to shed some of those, but I seem to have shaken some of the short-term memories that I probably didn’t need anyway.” She turns to me.

“I remember you passing out,” she says. “I think it was when you found out that we were having twins, but… I don’t remember a bad reaction to the gender reveal.” I swallow hard and put my arms around her.

“Let’s hope it stays that way,” I pray, “but I am sorry.” She nods and ends the conversation. She smiles faintly and turns away, walking to the French doors and looking out. I don’t ask her what’s on her mind. I have a bit of a sinking feeling that she actually does remember the gender reveal. She’s just letting me off the hook. I move behind her and wrap my arms around her waist, and we watch the stars beyond the trees through the glass of the French doors.

*-*

Butterfly is still asleep when I get dressed. We were up late stargazing, so I don’t bother to wake her. I just quickly and quietly eat my breakfast and sneak out to go to Grey House.

I don’t even raise my gaze from my phone as I walk into the building with the usual “I don’t give a fuck” attitude I’ve been sporting all week. I hear the chatter cease as the crowd silences and in my peripheral, I can see it part like the Red Sea.

Yeah, that’s what I’ve been looking for.

I don’t need to be liked; I need reverence. If having these peasants like me means that my company is going to fail, they can hate me until eternity rolls as long as they respect me.

“You look like a man with his mind on his money and his money on his mind.”

I raise my head to see Josh standing at Andrea’s desk as I step off the elevator.

“Coffee, Mr. Grey?” Andrea asks.

“Black,” I say. I nod at Luma before I walk into my office. “You have information for me?”

“That smokescreen flew up faster than I ever thought it could’ve,” he says following me into the office.

“Details,” I say walking over to my desk and taking a seat while pressing the button to scramble the signals in my office. Jason enters and closes the door behind us.

“Sometimes you have to shake a cage to see what falls out,” Josh says, handing me his tablet. “Just a little bit of innuendo, you can cause a fucking avalanche.” I look at his tablet to see a Google search on Elena Lincoln autobiography. Harmless enough… but not.

“Wow! What the fuck?” I ask, scrolling down the headlines in the search. They range from thought-provoking questions like, “How far up does this go?” to the completely and utterly ludicrous… Lincoln Brings Children from Third World Countries to Staff Her Pedophile Sex Rings.

“Jesus, seriously?” I shoot. “Most of this shit is fucking nonsense.”

“Maybe so, but not to the reading audience,” Josh defends. “There hasn’t been this kind of buzz since the government wanted translation of Heidi Fleiss’ black books.” I frown. What the fuck is he talking about?

“That’s a bit before your time,” Josh says, “but let’s just say that one little woman had a whole bunch of powerful men by the balls, even though we never really found out who they all were. Nonetheless, a whole lotta twigs and berries were in a knot over the Hollywood Madam.”

There’s a knock on the door and Jason opens it to reveal Andrea standing there with my coffee. I gesture her in, and she places it on my desk in front of me.

“Careful, sir,” she says, “It’s fresh.”

“Thank you,” I say, and she turns and leaves the office. “We’re about the same age, Josh. How do you know about the Hollywood Madam?”

“It’s part of pop culture, believe it or not. It’s my job to know… just like the O.J. trial.” I shake my head.

“You wanted a smokescreen, by golly, you got one. My advice would be if you want to get to him first, you better move fast.”

“I don’t care who gets to him—or her or them—as long as this whole thing is shut the fuck down,” I say, scrolling through tagline after tagline of suggestive innuendo about Seattle’s Pedo-Madam and her rich and powerful clientele.

“This innuendo isn’t that discreet,” I say. “I can see myself and a whole bunch of other fucking people in this nonsense. Don’t you think this might be overkill?”

“Is it?” he asks. “Do you know every single person in the Seattle area that practices the BDSM lifestyle? I can guarantee they don’t all know about you. And the fact that there are so many in the smokescreen makes it even better for you, especially since so many people are already in an uproar ‘in the interest of the public good’ trying to find out what she knows.” He does the finger quotes around the public good comment, so I know that it’s a quote.

“But why shine a light on me?” I ask.

“Because not shining a light on you would be more obvious than shining a light on you,” he points out. “To be honest with you, sir, with the way this is being spun, you’re old news. You were splattered all over the headlines when she tried to kill you and Jason last year. They know your story. They want more chapters now—more players. That’s why her book can be so compelling and successful, and that’s why so many men in high places are squirming and demanding answers. Nobody knows just how deep this goes…”

“Very deep, Josh, believe me. Her pedophile activities go back more than a decade just that I know of, and the community… you’d be surprised how many people have something to lose if their involvement in that lifestyle is discovered. There’s a whole fucking lot of people that need this bitch to shut up.”

“And hence,” he says, bowing dramatically, “your smokescreen.”

“Excellent work, Josh,” I say. “Keep your ear to the ground and be as visible as possible in your freelance persona. We don’t want to give away your alter ego.” He nods and leaves my office. I look over at Jason.

“So, it begins,” he says. I nod.

“Apparently. What about Holstein and Lincoln?” I ask. “If the smokescreen is already up…” Jason nods and calls Alex on his cell.

“The boss wants an update on Alcatraz,” he says into the phone and ends the call a few seconds later.

Alcatraz?” I question. “You guys have code names for everything?”

“Yes, we do,” he says seriously, and I just shake my head.

“I guess I should expect it,” I reply. A few minutes later, Alex is in my office.

“So, now that the smokescreen is effectively in place, our friend is going to get a very expensive bottle of peroxide-laced champagne.” I frown.

“Peroxide?” I ask. “Can’t that kill him? I said start small.”

“This is small,” Alex says. “In high doses, it can be fatal. We’re not using that much—just enough to make him pretty damn uncomfortable.”

“What if he doesn’t drink it?” I ask.

“He’ll drink it because it’s odorless and tasteless,” he replies. “Since it’ll be his first… delivery, he’s not suspicious yet. He’s so cocky that he’ll probably think it comes from a secret admirer or something and down the whole damn thing. Once his stomach starts burning and his mouth starts bubbling like Alka Seltzer, he’ll take his ass to the hospital where they’ll most likely try to pump his stomach to see what the hell he ingested. He’ll put two and two together after a rough night.”

I nod. I’m accustomed to just going in and flattening shit like a steam roller. When it comes to the subtle art of revenge, yeah, I can’t do that. I’ll have to leave that to the experts.

“He’s going to receive an untraceable package at his home next week right around Christmas,” Alex continues. “It’ll be a dead fish with a rose in its mouth.” I roll my eyes.

“Oh, dear God, that is so cliché,” I lament.

“Exactly, which is why he’s not going to suspect that it came from you,” Jason says. I raise my brow.

“That’s so ridiculous that it’s genius,” I reply, shaking my head.

“During this time, he’ll get the standard phone calls, messages, little shit like tampering with his car. The real fun starts after the New Year. He’ll be tied up in a nice little bow and most likely out of commission in a month or less.”

“Sounds good. What about Lincoln?” I ask.

“Her punishments have already begun. She doesn’t know where they’re coming from, though,” Alex informs me.

“I thought she had Holstein’s protection,” I inquire. “If he hasn’t gotten any of his threats yet, isn’t he still protecting her?”

“Remember when I told you that it’s easier to get to someone in the pen than it is to get to them on the streets?” he says. “It’s easier to get to someone in the pen than it is to get to them in the streets.”

“So, humor me and tell me what’s going on,” I say, folding my arms and smiling.

“Well, yesterday, she got her hand slammed in a very large door—actually fractured a finger. This morning she took an accidental spill down a flight of stairs, clumsy thing that she is. Nothing fatal, but very uncomfortable. She’s got little mishaps, accidents, and bad luck as well as a beatdown or twelve lined up for her until you say the word that something different happens.” I chuckle deviously.

“Excellent. Let her stew in that for a while. What about Ms. Ellison?”

“Hers has to be very subtle,” Alex says. “For now, she gets to watch. She gets to enjoy her anonymity until we get all the information we need from her. Her apartment was bugged yesterday, but we didn’t get the chance to plant the trackers, keyloggers, and other hacking tools before…” He looks at his phone.

“Speak of the devil,” he says. “She just left her apartment dressed like a bald man, so no doubt, she’s on her way to see Holstein or Lincoln. She’ll find out that Lincoln’s in the infirmary when she gets there and can’t have visitors, so she may talk to Holstein. We’ll get the rest of the equipment into her apartment while she’s gone.”

“How do you know how much time you have?” I ask.

“Do you remember going to Walla Walla?” he asks. I shrug. “Do you remember how far away it is? Of course, you don’t, because we flew. She’s driving. Walla Walla is a five-hour drive. Once she hits the 90, she won’t be back until tomorrow.”

“How do we follow her that far without her catching on?” I ask.

“Drones,” he replies, typing into another phone he pulls from his pocket. “Remember, I have unlimited resources. Once we figure out her comings and goings, there’s nothing she can do to get away from us… especially after the Vashon Island disaster.”

Oh, dear God, I definitely don’t want to think about that. The rest of this situation is moving along rather nicely, however. It’s almost too easy.

“What about the receptionist?” Alex asks. “Do you want us to move on her yet?”

“No,” I say. “Not yet. Let her watch for a while, too. She’ll be wondering what the hell is going on and when her little payback comes, she’ll be pissing herself wondering just how bad it’s going to get.” There’s a light tap at the door.

“Come in,” I say. Andrea sticks her head in the door.

“Mr. Grey, I don’t mean to disturb you, but William Kavanaugh is on hold on line three. I told him that you were in a meeting, but he insists. You didn’t give me any specific instructions on what to do if he calls.”

“Thank you, Andrea,” I say. She turns to leave.

“Oh, and just FYI, Mr. Holstein’s secretary is on hold on line two.” I frown.

“His secretary?” I haven’t started anything on her yet. “Why is she calling me?”

“My guess is that Mr. Holstein has caught on to the fact that he’s going to be on hold indefinitely, so he makes her do it.” That fucker. He’s made a bed that he’s trying to make everybody else lie in but himself.

“Have fun with it,” I tell her with a shrug. “Leave her on hold and hang up at your discretion, every time she calls. He’ll get smart to it and he’ll start calling, then handing the phone off to her. You can do the same thing to him if you like.”

“Yes, sir.” She nods and leaves. I’m not sure why she didn’t use the intercom, but it’s a moot point.

“You gonna talk to Kavanaugh?” Jason asks.

“When I’m ready,” I say, leaning back in my chair. “Holstein is shitting his pants because I tried to contact him and then I went quiet. Now, the smokescreen is up and he’s slowly realizing that he’s about to make a whole lot of enemies if he hasn’t already, and he’s looking for an ally.”

“Do you seriously think he’s trying to find an ally in you?” he asks. “Hasn’t he been trying to reach you for days?”

“Yeah, but I went up there asking for a favor. I’ll bet my last dollar that he’s stupid enough to think that he gets to cash in since he did me a favor. Never mind the fact that he betrayed me, totally stabbed me in the back by siding with her and protecting her. If he were to talk to me now, his conversation would go along the lines of blowing the whistle about our little agreement. The only catch is that he can’t prove anything without throwing himself under the bus. If he’s protecting Lincoln—and anybody with half a brain knows that he is—the powers that be are going to be gunning for him very soon, so he needs a friend in the worst way.”

“Ellison just crossed the bridge headed to Mercer,” Alex says. Mercer… where I and my family live. That bitch might just drive by my house. She had better fucking not.

“You’ll make sure she’s sealed up tight?” I ask.

“As a drum,” he promises. I shake my head.

“Tighter,” I say with no mirth. “Airtight. A fucking submarine 50,000 fucking leagues under the sea tight.” His lips form a flat line.

“Do you really know what you’re asking?” Alex says.

“I know exactly what I’m asking,” I confirm. “It’s the same thing I asked for when we first started talking about this situation, and I’m asking for it again. Can you make it happen?” He looks at Jason who shrugs slightly.

“I can make anything happen that you need. I just want you to be 100% certain of what you’re asking for.”

“Have I ever asked you about those hacker fuckers?” I ask. His face immediately turns to stone.

“No, sir,” he says frostily.

“Have I ever heard from them again?” I ask matter-of-factly. He sucks his teeth.

“No, sir,” he says again, just ask frostily. I cross my arms.

“Do you still think I don’t know what I’m asking for?” I ask. “He just told me that Holstein was getting a dead fish with a rose in its mouth—cliché, but effective. I know what that means and I’m sure that he will, too. This situation needs to be handled delicately, but it needs to be airtight. All I’m asking for is untraceable creativity and I don’t give a fuck about plausible deniability.” Alex raises his brow.

“But you will still have it,” he says finitely, “for the safety of all parties involved.”

“Then once again I say make sure the situation is airtight,” I repeat.

“It will be, sir,” he says, coolly. I nod.

“Now, go on and let me talk to this asshole,” I say. “I need to deactivate the scramblers… unless there’s something else that we need to discuss.” Jason shakes his head.

“I got nothing at the moment,” he says. Alex stands.

“I don’t know if I’m concerned or if I like you better when you’re like this,” he says and heads for the door. “I’ll keep you posted.”

“Do that,” I say. He nods and leaves the office and Jason falls in step behind him. I deactivate the scrambler and push the button for line three putting Kavanaugh on speaker phone.

“Grey,” I say, infusing as much boredom into my voice as possible.

“So, first your new little flunky was chomping at the bit to get a bid in with me, and now he’s not returning my calls. You do all your business like this, Grey?” Kavanaugh barks.

“We don’t have business, Billy,” I say in a condescending tone. “You decided that you didn’t want to dance with me, and I obliged. So, why are you bugging me now?” I take a seat at my desk.

“You know why,” he says. “To be honest, I know that Grey Enterprises is going to be the best bed for this company. Yeah, I was giving you a hard time because I didn’t want to play ball, but GEH with a major media outlet? Think of the possibilities!”

“I did,” I say, leaning back in my seat, “and I’m no longer interested.”

“Come on, Grey, don’t play hard to get,” he presses. “You can name your price within reason.”

“Is that the same line you use on all these women spitting out your babies left and right?” I ask, growing weary of hearing him grovel. He’s silent for a moment. “What’s the deal, Kavanaugh, the media business not paying enough for you to pay off all these skanks you keep impregnating? I suggest you keep your business and build it back up because the way you’re laying seed all over the state, you’re going to need the income.”

“That’s none of your fucking business,” he says, his voice low, “and it has nothing to do with buying the company.” I scoff.

“I know the old saying is that men tend to think with their dicks, but did you shoot your brains outta your cock and into one of your baby mamas?” I ask incredulously. “It has every fucking thing to do with the business. You’re coming to me because everybody that you had your sights set on turned you down, and now you’re desperate. You know me well enough to know that normally I would jump on an opportunity like this. But there’s one problem, Billy.

“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and GEH… well, she’s very sensitive. She doesn’t like the fact that you rejected her advances when she used her wiles on you, that you turned your back on her like she was one of those worthless whores that you fuck and make babies with… you know, those treacherous pieces of trash that don’t respect the sanctity of marriage that are now entrusted with the task of raising a child when they probably shouldn’t be trusted with a goddamn gerbil, but I digress.

“But, GEH… no, she’s not one of your whores. She’s a 20-carat diamond set in a split-shank halo thrice-polished platinum band—priceless, and you treated her like glass. So, no, Kavanaugh, she’s not just ‘playing hard to get.’ She doesn’t want to dance with you. She doesn’t want to be courted by you. She doesn’t want to fuck with you at all.

“And besides the fact that you insulted the lady, have you totally forgotten how media outlets make their money? Or did you just hope that I would be so starstruck with the acquisition that I wouldn’t remember? Your name is shit, Kavanaugh. Your company is shit. By the time I paid $1 for that sinking ship, I would have to pay the sponsors to advertise on any of your mediums before they would ever think to pay me.”

I can almost hear his temper brewing on the other end.

“You’re full of shit, Grey,” he hisses. “You say GEH is a woman, then she’s a fucking tease! She waves her little ass in your face and if you don’t bite immediately, then all of a sudden, she don’t want you, is that it?”

“Call it what you want,” I cede, “but I no longer want any part of your dying empire.”

“What’s the matter, Grey?” he taunts. “What’s the real problem here? You feeling a little inadequate because I can snag ‘em hot and young and you’re stuck with the same piece of pussy?”

He’s not serious, is he? Does he really think he’s some kind of stud dropping babies all over the state? These women are using you as a meal ticket! They don’t really want anything more to do with you once they’ve got the babies except your wallet.

Any other day, I would sit here and spar with this man about how delusional he is about his virility, but today, I don’t have time for it. I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

“That’s the difference between me and you, Kavanaugh,” I say. “You’ve got big resources, but you think small. You built a legacy with your wife, and then you destroyed it with opportunistic whores. Katherine is cunning and intelligent, if she would only learn to use those resources properly. Ethan is a financial mastermind and surprisingly considerate, in spite of his bloodline. You were a corporate media giant, and you allowed the very thing that you had the reins of to destroy you—the media. Why? Because you couldn’t keep it in your pants.

“You have a slew of bastard children running around and what—you expect them to become great and somehow elevate you again? Are any of them even carrying your name or are they all living off hush money? And surprise, Kavanaugh, you’re not at your lowest point; you can still fall further, but even now, when you’re flailing and gasping for air, you’re still walking around like the king of the hill. You’re ridiculing me for being a happy and faithful husband while you’re out there being the epitome of the rolling stone, dropping your seed in any hole that’ll take it, including your daughter’s friend. You’re not even in my league anymore, Kavanaugh. At this point, I don’t think you ever were.”

“Don’t give me your high and mighty shit, Grey,” he seethes. “You’re one broken condom away from where I am right now, so don’t try to play me stupid. Do you want the company or don’t you?”

And apparently, he doesn’t know how far he can fall.

“No, Kavanaugh, I don’t want your company,” I say, honestly. “In fact, I’m dumping all your stock. I thought I was interested in the media, but I’m not. Moreover, I take failing companies and rebuild them—make them well again. I can’t do anything with a company that’s already dead in the water. Your stocks are dropping miserably, your name is being smeared over every media outlet except your own, and your business and reputation has been totally destroyed. Anybody with their eye on the market and even the slightest bit of common sense is dumping your stock as we speak. I’m sure someone can pull you out of this hole, but it won’t be me. I wish you luck.”

I end the call and shoot off an email to Lorenz, Ros, and the M&A research team that all communication with Kavanaugh Media and Kavanaugh himself will cease immediately. Then I send notice to my investment team to dump his stock as quickly as possible. He’s worse than a poison pill. He’s a festering bucket of disease and I’m certain that he’ll infect my company with an incurable ailment if I take him on. I’m already in the process of flushing out corporate cancer and suturing oozing wounds in GEH. The very last thing I need to do is introduce a new bacteria.

“Andrea, get me an appointment with Bastille…”


ANASTASIA

I didn’t mean to sleep this late. I mean, I did mean to sleep late, but not this late. I’m scrambling around trying to get dressed and trying to put my day together at the same time. We’ve decided on our new hires and the members of the cleaning crew are shadowing the maintenance supervisor as needed. Keri’s finalizing the preliminary curriculum and we’ll be presenting it to the teaching staff at the beginning of the year. She’s preparing to test for her American teaching credentials at the same time and…

God, do I miss Marilyn.

Half of the things that I’m scrambling to organize right now she would have had organized before I awoke this morning. Each day without her and without hearing from her is making me lose hope that she might be returning. No offense to Courtney—she’s a great help, but she’s no Marilyn.

No bad hair day today—I put it in a quick messy bun before I run down to the kitchen and grab a cream cheese and jelly bagel and coffee to go. Since I’m only going to be at the Center for an hour or so, I don’t bother taking the twins in with me. I usually never take them in with me on Fridays anyway since that’s the day that I go to see Ace.

Ace… hmm.

I’ve had more success texting and Facetiming with Laura than I have with standing appointments with Ace. And even when Pamela Whitmore called, I didn’t fall into the big, black abyss. She called and she scared me. I cried, it shook me up, but I didn’t fall apart. I pulled myself together and the Boogeyman didn’t show up.

There were no sightings of Chicken Little, Armageddon, or the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The world didn’t end… and I don’t expect it to any time soon.

I haven’t seen Ace in six weeks. I think it’s time for a session.

“You’re not bringing the babies to the Center anymore?” Ebony asks as I pass by the day care sans Minnie and Mikey.

“I never bring them in on Friday,” I reply. “It’s a short day for me.” Her brows raise in acknowledgment.

“Oh,” she replies, walking along with me towards my office. “I just hadn’t seen them for a couple of days. They’re the only twins that come to daycare. I just like seeing how alike and different they are. I love babies at that age. I kinda wanted to have some of my own but…” I look over to her and her head is down.

“But what?” I say, she shrugs and smiles tragically.

“I have bad taste in men,” she says. “It’s kind of a blessing that I haven’t had any children. What kind of life would I give them? I’m on the run from a psycho gang member and his psycho ‘family…’” She does the finger quotes around the word family and I’m aching to do the finger quotes around the word gang member. I think he took her for a ride. We can’t even find the guy.

“When and if the time comes, Ebony,” I say, my voice softening, “you’ll meet the right guy and you’ll have babies.” She smiles weakly.

“Well, I’ve taken up enough of your time. I’ve got other munchkins to look after. I just wanted to see what happened to my two favorite Mouseketeers. I’ll see ya later.” She turns around with a wave and heads back towards the nursery. I feel so bad for her. I really think she’s running from a phantom, but when someone is that scared, you can’t un-scare them. They have to see it for themselves.

Believe me, I know.

*-*

“I thought you may have fallen prey to the shark’s tooth… or some other traumatic experience.” I narrow my eyes at Ace. Needless to say, he’s a bit surprised to see me in his office, but he sure as hell kept that appointment open and kept charging me for it.

“And yet, you never called once to see if I was okay, only to cancel our appointments. Oh, wait… you didn’t call. Amber did, that is, when I did get a call.”

“Well, you’re obviously fine, so there really was no need,” he retorts. I glare at him. “What’s wrong? Did you expect to come in here and I’d be falling over myself?”

I hired him for his straight-shooting and I stayed with him because he doesn’t pull any punches, but this is bordering on disrespect.

“I don’t need your bad attitude or your smart mouth right now,” I warn.

“Then why are you here?” he asks, matter-of-factly. I purse my lips and tilt my head.

“Good question,” I say, standing to my feet and grabbing my purse. With my latest discovery, I seriously don’t need this shit, you smug bastard, I think to myself as I head for the door.

“Ana!” he calls out forcefully, causing me to stop in my tracks without turning around. “I cancelled two appointments with you. You cancelled the rest.” Now, I turn around to face him.

“I have displeasure in enough places in my life,” I tell him. “I don’t need to experience rejection from my shrink.”

“Nobody was rejecting you,” he retorts. “Other people have things that happen in their lives, too, Ana. It’s not always about you…”

“Well, excuse me, Dr. Avery, but I couldn’t tell,” I say finitely. “You basically throw me out of your office the first week, which somewhat pissed me off, but I understood it. The second week, you have Amber call me an hour before my appointment to tell me not to come. The third one, you send me a text… a text, for Christ’s sake. Forgive me if I didn’t feel particularly welcome in your establishment!” He looks a little chastised standing in the middle of his office.

“I see your point,” he says, gesturing to the chair. “Can we try this again?”

I don’t even know if I want to try this again. I’ve had more success without you than I’ve had with you, which is kind of why I’m here.

I reluctantly move back to the chair and sit down.

“I’ve just come back from a week in Australia,” I say.

“I know. Amber showed me the picture of Christian with the snake around his body.” I twist my lips.

“Yeah, well…” I quickly change the topic. “Notwithstanding my husband’s fascination with deadly creatures, the trip was very enlightening in many ways, good and bad.”

“Elaborate,” he says, crossing his legs.

“My first night off the plane in Sydney, I was nearly attacked by bats.” I pause. “I exaggerate, they probably weren’t attacking me. They probably weren’t even concerned about me, but they were swarming around my head and I felt totally attacked. I even milked all over myself.” His brow furrows in confusion.

“I’m breastfeeding?” I say. His mouth forms and “o” and he nods. “That was a scare and kind of funny after the fact, not particularly traumatic.

“I found out that women in general don’t like me,” I continue, “at least the ones that just see the outside. I thought it was just Seattle and everyone who knew that I was one-half of AnaChris, but I’ve discovered that my looks, my shape, my face, the fact that they see my husband, something—I don’t know, but whatever it is, I bring out the bad in a lot of women. And they’re not ashamed to say so, often in public places. I could understand if I had harmed or offended them in some way, but these women just snap for no reason. I’ve decided that although I may bite back every now and then, I’m just going to take the high road, because I have other things to do than entertain petty jealousy.”

“That’s a very progressive and mature way of looking at things,” he comments.

“I’m working on it,” I admit. I’m not being mature at all about Ms. Deanna Bitch and my immediate plans for revenge, but that’s another topic. “My husband and I are taking a deeper look at our roles in our marriage as it pertains to our lifestyle…”

The lifestyle?” he asks. I nod.

“We’re meeting with trusted friends of his that have been in the lifestyle for many years to help us adapt a practice that’s more suitable to us.”

“I thought it already was suitable,” he presses. I shake my head.

“Most of the time, it’s really great, but there are times when he’s really intense and I think he needs a little more so I would push myself further—sometimes a little beyond my limits—and he noticed it on the trip.” His brows rise.

He noticed it?” he asks. “What happened? Were you hurt? If I may ask that…” he adds.

“I wasn’t hurt, per se, but I was really worn out—like if you do too much exercise, and that’s not how it’s supposed to be. There’s a certain amount of exhaustion that comes with the activity, the exertion, and the release, but it’s not supposed to be like that.”

“Help me understand,” he says, shifting in his chair, “You seem to understand so much about this, and yet you were pushed beyond your limits?”

“I pushed myself,” I tell him. “I have safewords when I’ve taken too much, but I won’t use them. My husband was a sadist when he was in the lifestyle before me. He liked to punish women and whip them and watch them squirm and fuck them hard then send them home. That’s how he was able to regain control of himself when he felt that he lost it. From the very beginning, our relationship was different—but even then, I felt like I needed to be more for him when he needed that control. I needed to give more of myself and I needed to take more, and he would give me whatever I would take. But on this trip—and one other time in Anguilla—it was too much for me. Only this time, he realized it before I did.” Ace shakes his head.

“I get the concept, but I don’t think I’ll ever understand the participation,” he says. I shrug.

“Most people don’t,” I say. “That’s why the lifestyle is so secretive, but that’s one of the many breakthroughs I had while I was away. We visited the MONA, a museum in Hobart that has some of the creepiest art exhibits that you’ve ever seen. It caused Christian to become quite reflective about his biological mother. But I think the most impactful visit was when we toured Port Arthur.” His brow furrows again.

“Port Arthur was a prison settlement and has now been turned into an open-air museum. Some of the buildings have been reconstructed. Port Arthur is also the site of a terrible massacre orchestrated by some asshole who went on a shooting spree throughout the town and killed several men, women, and children.

“The place is full of death,” I tell him. “It’s like the hundreds or thousands of people who have died there, the spirits don’t leave. They’re all still there on the island and they emotionally ambush you when you get there. Nothing but anguish and sadness and despair… I couldn’t wait to get away from that place.

“I had to cleanse myself of the demons that I took with me when I left Port Arthur, and in the process, I had to face my own head on.” I drop my head and smile a tragic smile. “It’s amazing how you sometimes don’t want to let go of your fears and sometimes, they have to be ripped from you like a favorite toy.” I shake my head before I raise my gaze back to Ace.

“I identified my Boogieman, and then I faced him. He’s a fairytale, just like he always has been, but he’s very real when he shows up. The rest of my trip was very pleasant and relaxing for the most part, and when I returned, Pamela Whitmore called me at the Center.”

“Who’s Pamela Whitmore?” he asks.

“Cody Whitmore’s fucking mother,” I reply. His eyes widen.

“Cody… why the fuck was she calling you?” he inquires.

“I found that out the next day. I’m going to Vegas at the beginning of the year. One of the fuckers who directly burned me is going on trial, and Whitshit and his girlfriend Madison-Pussy took a plea to testify against him. So, once again, his jailtime and just desserts are my fault.” I shrug.

“How did the call go?” he asks. “I’m certain it had some kind of impact on you or you wouldn’t have brought it up.” I sigh. Here goes.

“I’ve had to hold people up and help them through their crises. I’ve had to battle ghosts and monsters—old and new. I’ve cried and I’ve been afraid and uncertain. I even quit my job—temporarily, maybe, but I still quit. People and things have challenged me, and you know what? I survived. I survived without running to a shrink every week and without having to cry on somebody’s shoulder every few minutes. I still have my journals, and I have my family to talk to if I need to, and I’ve even made a new friend with amazing insight, but I’m stronger now than I have been in a very long time.

“I did what you told me to do. I took responsibility for my own mental health. I took a really hard look at what I was really afraid of, and while some of those monsters are still very real and very scary, I was able to see that bad shit happens all the time. While some pretty fucked-up shit has happened to me, it’s still not the worst that could happen and even if fucked-up shit continues to happen, all the worst of it still won’t fall on me.

“I’ve been holding my friends and family together, being there through their tragedies, fighting for ‘truth, justice, and the American way,’ and the entire time, the only time I focused on my own issues was when it was time to come and see you. Outside of that, I think I may have done it three times. And then it struck me—like a boat out of the blue. If I can be strong for everybody else, why the hell can’t I be strong for myself?

“I’ve dealt with more tragedy than I want to, and if I’ve learned nothing else, I learned that trouble is not convenient. It doesn’t make an appointment to drop into your life—it just shows the fuck up. So, I can either watch the horizon and wait for it, or I can live my best life and work through it when it shows up. Guess which one I choose?

“So… Dr. Avery, if you’ve had some misfortune over the past weeks, I truly hope it has been or will be resolved in your favor. However, the time apart has helped me understand that I really do have to stand on my own two feet. I hope I can call on you in an emergency or if I find the need to speak to a professional, but I’m requesting an end to our weekly sessions.”

He’s quiet for a long time as he examines me. I don’t know what he’s looking for, but I give him a minute or two.

“So,” he finally says with a sigh, “it looks like in trying to take some time off to handle my personal issues, I’ve cut off my nose to spite my face.” I pause for a moment.

“No,” I say, “I would more say that by cutting the apron strings for a while, you made me stand on my own. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, you removed the training wheels, and I had to ride or fall… or maybe I removed the training wheels when I came in here and accused you of not doing your job. But you can rest assured that one way or another, you did your job. I’m standing on my own… for now. And this won’t be the last time you see me. Hell, I’m about to go to trial for the Green Valley cases—I’ll have you on fucking speed dial, but I think it’s time to disconnect the machines… Ace.” He twists his lips.

“Thanks.” I raise my brow at him. “If you had called me Dr. Avery one more time, I think I would have put you out of my office again.”

“Oh, I owed you a few with all the times you called me doctor during our sessions.” I stand. “I think that’s our time, doctor.” I extend my hand to him. He rises and takes my proffered hand.

“Try not to be a stranger,” he says. “And don’t wait to call me when you’re falling completely apart. Keep me up to date, okay?” I nod.

“If I don’t see you before then, make sure I get pictures of the baby.” I smile and release his hand and we head to the door.

“Oh, one more thing,” I say with my hand on the door handle. “I have two beautiful children and a wonderful life. In the midst of all my turmoil, I have no desire to kill myself. Don’t ever refer to me as a shark’s tooth again.”

I make eye-contact with him and wait for a response.

“Deal,” he replies.

*-*

I arrive at the Crossing with plenty of time to get some baby time before Christian gets home. I don’t want to face the bear, so I sleep late on mornings when he has to prepare to be the asshole, then take my chances on an early morning rendezvous after the bear has settled. Other than that, I opt to do what he does… work later, work out when I get home, have a later dinner once he’s a bit more docile, then go to bed early or escape to my office or the twins’ room. This usually means that I do nocturnal wanderings, which is a good time for extra meditations, planning for the next day, or journaling.

I remember lamenting that I would probably have to wait until the wee hours of the morning to get any quality time with my husband without having to worry about dealing with Mr. Asshole CEO, and it looks like that’s inadvertently exactly what I’m doing.

And I’ve effectively fired my shrink.

Was that the right thing to do? I really think that the good that he was doing was barely measurable. He pissed me off more often than not, then after he kicked me out of his office—with good reason—he just started cancelling my appointments without advanced notice or without telling me why. Even though he may have been going through something of which I was not aware, he made me feel unwelcome. He forced me to look at my problems through my own eyes or seek help from someone else. Where did he think that would leave him?

He made me feel like he didn’t want to be bothered, so I said, “Okay.”

I, of all people, can completely understand when real life gets in the way of helping other people. I was kidnapped, hospitalized, and jet-setting several times when I had my own practice. However, when I returned, I reached out to my clients to apprise them of what was happening, assuming they hadn’t already seen something on the news. Not only that, but I don’t remember once ever kicking someone out of my office except Melanie when I found out that she was the videographer of my attack. With our “relationship” being on tenterhooks after that, one would think that my therapist would have handled the next few meetings with a little more tact and consideration, even if it was necessary for him to cancel for personal reasons.

It’s a moot point anyway. I’ll now be using my Friday afternoons to spend more time with my children.

Speaking of which, Minnie and Mikey have just finished their afternoon snacks, and I’ve come to discover that Mikey likes the colorful snacks like strawberry and mushed up mangoes or pineapples. My strange little girl on the other hand likes anything green like kiwi or of all things, broccoli. She prefers the broccoli—can you believe that?

We’ve now cleaned up the colossal mess that my children always seem to make when they’re eating their finger snacks and now, we’re in the family room watching the end of, of all things, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse…

Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggety dog
Now we got ears, it’s time for cheers
Hot dog, hot dog, the problem’s solved
Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggety dog!

Mikey’s clapping in the Pack-n-Play and Minnie has pulled herself up on the sofa and is bouncing while bending her knees. I’ve decided that I’m going to buy or download all of the songs from the various kids’ shows that we watch because my kids absolutely love them.

Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggety dog
It’s a brand-new day, whatcha waiting for?
Get up, stretch out, stomp on the floor
Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggety dog!

Minnie has released the sofa and is now clapping and waving her hands in the air… completely oblivious to the fact that she’s standing on her own. I quickly whip out my phone before the final choruses of the Hot Dog Song finish playing and record my daughter bouncing on her little feet and attempting to mimic the words to the song.

That’s it. The Hot Dog Song is officially my favorite song now… although it’s going to be hard to decide between that and the Outside Song from Bubble Guppies.

“Hod hod hod hod…” and that’s all she’s saying, but it’s music to my ears. Mikey turns in his Pack-n-Play and says something to his sister, and I swear that she understands him, because she bursts out laughing. Then she turns to me and reaches her arms out to me, taking a few giggly and wobbly steps before I drop the phone and she falls into my arms.

“Minnie is a big girl!” I say, praising her accomplishment. I pick up the phone and turn it to us. “Say ‘bye-bye,’ Minnie Mouse!”

“Hod hod hod hod hod hod,” she repeats trying to reach for the phone. Mikey spits out a full sentence of baby gobbledygook, and I turn the camera to him.

“Say ‘bye-bye’ Mikey.” More babbledy-wabbledy and I end the video.

Time gets away from me while I’m spending time with the babies and I hear the mudroom door open and feel the chill of the bear breeze into the house. Shit, I intended to be in my office working or hiding or something when he got home. Instead, I’m sitting here hiding on the floor with Mikey asleep on my chest and Minnie knocked out on the sofa. I had slipped into the serenity of the moment and forgot my mission.

My husband doesn’t even come into the main part of the house. He sheds his outerwear and boots and turns straight towards the elevator. I don’t know whether to feel affronted or to breathe a sigh of relief. Jason comes in right behind him, looking like he’s more than ready to shed the burdens of the day. He comes through the family room and into the kitchen and kisses his wife.

“Hello, Love,” he says sweetly, and I feel a tiny twinge of jealousy at the sentiment. “I see the car—where’s Her Highness?” I don’t hear anything for a moment, but Jason’s purposeful stride tells me that Gail most likely pointed to the family room. Sure enough, Jason peers around the sofa.

“What are you doing hiding down there?” he accuses.

“I’m not hiding anywhere,” I lie. “I was tending to my children until they fell asleep.”

“They’re asleep?” Gail says as she comes into the family room. “Would you like some help taking them to the nursery or do you want them to stay here?”

“The nursery,” I say. She takes Mikey from me, allowing me to stand,  and walks to the elevator.

“What’s up with him?” I ask Jason. He sighs.

“It’s been a day,” he replies, “a… pretty full one.” Enough said. I nod and retrieve my daughter from the sofa, then follow Gail to the elevator. I’ll put the babies down first, then go and do some yoga.

*-*

“Enjoy it while you can, because he’s going to wake up one day and realize that he misses what he had…”

I’m standing at Grey Manor in the backyard by the gazebo. She’s standing there in her usual black funeral garb with that halo of bleached blonde hair and that blood red lipstick that looks like she’s been feeding all night. I know she’s not real. I know she’s locked in that cell in Walla Walla, so why is she coming to me now?

“This is just a phase for Christian. You’ll see…”

These are the same words she said to me that night two years ago on the back lawn of Christian’s parents’ house—the same words that she used to try to scare me away, only then she was frantic and trying to make her point. Now, she’s confident, standing there in a skintight catsuit with her arms crossed and her legs in that stupid Angelina Jolie Oscar pose. 

“You’re nothing long-term or even worthwhile. He’s wasting his time on you…”

She continues to taunt me as she closes the space between us, a sinister smile marring her face. I want to say something back to her, tell her that she’s wrong as usual, but my lips won’t move. I can only stand there as she comes closer, taunting me and exploiting my fears…

My fears…

“You’ll never be enough for him. Face it. You’re just a plaything. And when he’s done with you, you’ll be no more important to him than one of his ex-subs, Number 16…”  

Of all the things that I had to remember word for word like it was yesterday, I fucking had to remember this… now…

“Give it up, little girl,” she says as she stops in front of me. “Playtime is over—literally. You’ve had your fun, now move along. You’ll never be able to give him what he really needs and the more you pretend that you can, the harder it’s going to be on all of you, including your bratty little children.”

I want to swing on her, do anything to shut her up, especially since that last part is new and it’s all a manifestation of my fears, but she just laughs a hideous laugh and walks right through me…

I open my eyes slowly, not startled by the dream, but totally unnerved. It’s about two in the morning, and Christian still isn’t in bed as usual…

As usual…
Only not…

This isn’t usual. It’s only been this way since he’s gone back to being the ballbuster at work that he used to be… before us.

I throw my legs out of the bed and put my robe on. As always, I look in the nursery to see if the children are stirring. They’re not, but I go into the nursery anyway. I look into the cribs at my sleeping babies…

“… Including your bratty little children.”

Christian would never do anything to hurt our children… but why didn’t I first think that Christian would never do anything to hurt me?

I shake my head and curl up in the window seat in the twins room. This is another attempted manifestation of the Boogeyman, I know it. It’s a manifestation of my own fears that I must deal with.

The million-dollar question is… how?


A/N: Hollywood Madame—for those who may not know, Heidi Fleiss was an upscale madame who ran a high-priced call-girl ring in California. When she was arrested, they did everything they could to find out who her clients were in her infamous black book, but to my knowledge, they never did. There was a lot of rumor that Charlie Sheen was one of her clients, but I don’t know if it was circulated by her or by him, or if there was any truth to it.

Book IV will be coming to an end soon and I will have any announcement about how the story will proceed after that. I think many of you will be pleased.

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Raising Grey: Chapter 88—Coming Around the Stretch  

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

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

Chapter 88—Coming Around the Stretch  

ANASTASIA

Of course, something about me would send him into a rage. Was it the tight ass comment, the fact that they said I was holding out on him, or the fact that they were talking about me at all? Either way, Iron Fist Grey was able to flex his iron muscles.

“Excuse me,” I say, deciding to go to the kitchen to see what’s holding dinner up now that His Highness has finally joined us.

“Ana, what are you doing in here?” Gail says, pausing from feeding Mikey his dinner.

“Just coming to see if you all need any help,” I say. “I know that waiting for Christian threw our clock off a bit.”

“Ya fehd Minneh,” Keri says. “We gawt the bebbies. I hep wit da dinnah ef dey need…”

“She’s escaping, Keri,” Gail says, wiping her hands and handing Mikey’s spoon and bowl to a confused Keri. “Come with me,” she says, guiding me into the family room where Jason and Chuck are watching television. They look up at me and no doubt wonder why I’m being led into the family room when we have guests in the dining room.

“You’re going to need to be a tough soldier for the next few days,” Gail says with her hands on my arms near my shoulders. “He’s going to take at least that long to find his center. If it’s too much for you, nobody will blame you for being scarce or hiding out. It’ll be easier for him—and for you—if you can help him ride it out, though. No matter how he tries, he’ll never be able to be the asshole that he once was, but he’s going to give it the old college try, and it’s going to be rough until he finds the formula that works for him. You may need a moment or three to yourself throughout this time, just don’t run away. Remember the Vampire Lestat you found when you returned from Montana?”

I shiver when I recall how dead he looked walking into the penthouse that day. It was the creepiest thing I had ever seen… well, second only to that room where I was chained to the bed for four days. Why the fuck did that come to mind? I quickly shake off the memory.

“That’s who he’ll become if you disappear,” she warns. I shake my head.

“Let’s… just get dinner started,” I say. The dinner guests have opened the floor to Lestat and I don’t think I can take much more of hearing about his day tonight.

By the time we get the chicken cordon bleu and sides plated, the conversation has thankfully shifted to something else. I place his plate in front of him and take my seat to his right.

“You okay?” he asks quietly while everyone else is being distracted by dinner.

“Mm-hmm,” I say quickly, placing my napkin on my lap and preparing to eat my dinner. “Elliot, has Grace said anything about Christmas?” I ask. Elliot shakes his head.

“I assumed that we were all going over there like we normally do,” he says. “Did something happen?” I shake my head.

“I just hadn’t heard anything,” I say, trying not to open a can of worms.

“Are you guys still fighting?” he asks. “Since Thanksgiving?”

“No,” I reply. “We’re not fighting anymore.”

“You made up?” he asks. I twist my lips.

“More like called a truce,” I say. His brow rises.

“Oh,” he says. “That’s why you wanted to know if anything had changed.” I nod.

“Yeah… I wasn’t so sure,” I admit.

“If I know my mom, she expects everyone to be there for Christmas,” he says softly.

“Yeah,” Val chimes in. “She even welcomed me when Meg had control of my brain. I’m sure she expects you to be there.”

I don’t say anything. I get the feeling that Grace is just tolerating me right now because I’m what’s good for the Center. It seems like every time something goes wrong, it has to do with me and her. With everything that’s been going on in my life, it’s a battle that I just don’t have the strength to fight. I’m looking for simple, not more complicated.

“So did Al tell you guys the news?” I say, and I have everyone’s attention. “I’m going to trial in February. I’ll finally be able to tell my story against those Green Valley bastards.”

“Really?” Christian says, looking over at Al. “How did I miss this information?”

“You were a bit distracted today,” Al says unapologetically. “Besides, I knew that we were coming over today and that you would find out about it tonight.” Christian nods and tucks into his chicken. I keep the conversation going on the upcoming trial.

“One of the defendants took a plea last year—or whenever it was—to keep from having to go to trial. Two others—the main ring leaders—took pleas as well to turn state’s evidence against anyone else who comes to trial. So, now, someone’s coming to trial and these assholes get to testify, making good on their plea deal.” I take a bite of my chicken. Mmm, it’s really delicious.

“So, who’s going to trial?” Elliot asks. I look over at Al.

“Vincent Sullivan,” he replies. “He’s…” He clears his throat. “He’s one of the guys who… branded her.”

I don’t stop chewing even though the Bitch is fighting not to hurl. I have to face these people in court. I’m not going to let them see me sweat, so I might as well start practicing now.

“When are you going to Vegas?” Val asks. “When is the trial?”

“February 2nd,” Al replies. “The papers in Vegas are already on fire with the story… and some not-so-flattering assumptions about my girl.” My head pops up. I didn’t know that.

“Assumptions like what?” I ask. Al’s ears turn red. He thought I knew.

“Just people talking shit, Jewel. Don’t pay it any attention,” he says, trying to downplay it.

“You just said Vegas is on fire with the story and now you’re telling me not to pay it any attention?” I ask.

“What kind of shit?” Christian says firmly. Al rolls his eyes.

“The same shit they’re always talking,” he says, “that she’s a pampered princess that’s just trying to get attention and now that she has money, she just wants to get revenge on a group of kids for some harmless teasing.”

Don’t blow your top, Ana. Keep cool.

“Harmless teasing?” Christian nearly roars. “They call what they did to her ‘harmless teasing?’ Are they out of their fucking minds?”

“Oh, good grief,” I say, after swallowing my food. “The evidence is horrendously graphic, and it’ll speak for itself. Let them say whatever the hell they want.” I’m sipping this cranberry spritzer and it’s pissing me off. I want a shot of vodka!

“Okay, so, that’s enough of that,” Val says, quickly sensing my tension. “We came over to talk about my godchildren. Why the hell you two think you’ll kick the bucket at the same time is beyond me, but let’s get on with it.”

“It’s not that we think we’ll die at the same time,” Christian says. “It’s just that we’ve realized that we didn’t have provisions for our children in case something happens to us. We’re certain that no one would fight over the kids, but in the unlikely event that we both depart, we just want things to be… in order.”

“What brought this on, Bro?” Elliot asks.

“Watching Tina’s children act like savages after she died and realizing that we didn’t have a will,” I answer, and I’ve had enough of this damn spritzer. “Gail!” I yell. She comes scrambling into the dining room.

“What? What is it?” she asks, frantically.

“I’m sorry,” I say immediately. “That was a bit dramatic. Please forgive me. Would you uncork a Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc?” She raises a knowing brow at me.

“Coming right up,” she says and walks out of the kitchen.

“Continue,” I say, turning back to my meal and ignoring the gawking faces at the table.

“So, are you saying that whomever gets the kids will suddenly become billionaires?” Elliot asks.

“That’s a possibility,” Christian says. “As you know, our children will be very well provided for, and even though our entire fortune wouldn’t pass down to them upon our demise, whomever takes them on will be pretty much set as their caregivers. There will, of course, be large trusts for when they become adults. But let’s face it, if I were to retire right now and travel the world every day of my life, I would still have money to burn for decades to come. So, of course, I want my children to be cared for if something happens to me.”

“So, what’s the idea?” Val asks. “The children’s care will be written into your will?”

“Definitely,” he replies. “If something happens to me and Butterfly before they reach 18,  definite provisions will be made for their care and custody. And that’s where you guys come in.”

“Well, there’s two kids and two couples, but… there’s no way I would want to split them up,” Val says.

“Ditto,” Al replies. “If something that horrible was to happen, they would already be traumatized enough with losing their mom and dad. They would never recover.”

“So, what do you suggest we do?” Elliot says. Val and Al ponder the situation, and I’m sure that neither of them wants to raise their hand to be first in line for fear of hurting the other. Val comes up with the tiebreaker.

“El and I will have our own bundle of joy soon. I think it would just be greedy for us to ask for first-standing with Minnie and Mikey if something happens to you guys, heaven forbid.” Elliot twists his lips and nods.

“I have to agree,” he says. “It’s not like you’re going to take my niece and nephew and skip town.”

“Are you kiddin’?” Al exclaims. “If something happens to Chris and Jewel, I’m gonna have a little girl on my hands. I’m going to have your ass on speed dial!” he says to Val.

“Well, then that settles it,” Val says. “If something happens to you guys—and by the way, nothing’s going to happen to you guys—Al and James become daddies and El and I will be happy back-ups. Is everybody cool with that?” James and Al look at each other and James nods. Elliot is nodding, too.

“Good,” I say. “I know this is the whole reason we called this tête-à-tête, but I would very much like to stop talking about my demise now… and where’s my wine?”

“It’s here,” Gail says, entering the room with Windsor behind her. “I was just letting it breathe.”

“Good,” I say, noting the large-bowl wine glasses. “Sorry, Val, but I need this.”

“Don’t mind me,” she says, holding up her cranberry spritzer, Windsor pours me a respectable amount in my glass and I almost want to hit him.

“Um, you might want to keep pouring, Benson,” Al says.

“His name is Windsor,” I correct him. “Don’t be a queen, Al.” I turn to Windsor. “Please?” I say holding up my glass. Windsor fills it to nearly 75% and I thank him. He goes to fill the other glasses and Al informs him that only he and I would be drinking the red. The gentlemen would most likely want the white.

“I’m sorry if I offended you,” he says to Windsor. “I can be a jerk, but I’m not an asshole.”

“No offense taken, sir,” Windsor says. I don’t know if he’s offended or not, but he wouldn’t show it if he was, consummate professional that he is.

My glass is empty in no time and Windsor is refilling it before I even ask. Iron Fist Grey, the Green Valley nightmare, and my imminent demise all in one conversation… It’s a bit much for one evening.

“You okay, Ana?” Val asks. I nod without looking at anyone.

“Mmhmm,” I say, swallowing more of my wine. Cabernet is the answer to all the world’s problems and I’m going to sit here and drink until I have answers to mine.

Once the evening winds down, I’ve killed three large-bowl glasses of Cabernet and I notice that people are careful what they say to me if they venture to say anything at all. I say my goodnights to everyone once they’ve had coffee and Christian heads to the door to show everyone out. I head upstairs and don some exercise gear. Before he has the chance to get away from the door, I’m across the house and in the elevator. When I get down to the exercise room, I murder the elliptical until my arms and legs ache and I’m swimming in sweat. I just want to fall into a coma-like sleep and forget this day. Tomorrow is a do-over and I’m hoping that it’s going to be much better than this.

My husband, the asshole—who can’t shed the asshole before he gets home. I know that I’ve understood and labeled the Boogieman, but are we ready for this kind of test?

Once I’ve beaten myself all to hell and my muscles all feel like rubber, I abandon the elliptical and go to my room. I run a bath in my marble tub and climb in quickly so that my muscles won’t lock. It feels really good and I’m hoping to fall asleep the moment I get out of the tub…

“Butterfly… wake up.”

I open my eyes, still in the tub. The bubbles have dissipated, and the water is cold. I look up at my husband, my eyes questioning.

“It’s about 3am,” he says. “You fell asleep. I assume you were pretty tired after you climbed Mt. Rushmore, but had I thought you’d be napping in the tub, I would have come to check on you sooner.”

Wouldn’t you know it? At three in the morning, my docile Christian finally returns after still being a bear at nine at night. So, now what? He’ll go to sleep and wake at six to gradually go into bear mode again? To be that cold soul I had breakfast with yesterday? What should I do—swap my schedule so that I’m awake in the middle of the night to spend some time with the man I’ve come to know?

“What are you thinking?” he asks. Do I tell him? Do I say that I don’t know how to be married to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and that, by the way, I spent my entire college tenure wondering which one was really the crazy one and which one was sane?

“That this water is cold, and I feel like a saturated, useless sponge at the moment.” It’s true. He retrieves a bath towel and opens it. Tossing it over his arm, he extends his hand to help me out of the tub. I drag my waterlogged ass out of the tub, and he wraps me in the bath towel. My hair is wet even though I didn’t wash it and I don’t feel like dealing with it in any capacity right now.

He carries me to the bedroom wrapped in the bath towel, sits me on the bed, and begins to dry my skin. I try to accommodate him, but I’m just too tired to sit up. I lay down on the pillow, wet hair and all, and allow him to finish drying my body. I must have drifted off to sleep because I awake with him gently sucking my nipple. It feels so good, but I’m so tired.

“Christian…” I protest.

“I need you,” he replies, his intense gray eyes meeting my sleepy blues. I surrender and allow him to do what he wants. It’s not like I have the strength to protest anyway.

Mr. Grey works his usual magic, working my body into a fevered frenzy with his hands and mouth before mounting me.

And, dear Lord, does he mount me!

He pushes my legs open and thrusts into me—hard! My upper body rises off the bed and he grabs both my wrists and pins them down on the sides of my head to prevent my escape. He’s grinding and stroking into me mercilessly, with force and purpose. I can’t move anything. My hips are pinned down by his forceful motion and his hands are clasped to my wrists, fastening them to the bed. His eyes are silver fire, staring down at me as he thrusts into me, my ladyparts completely open and at his mercy. I see torment and passion in his eyes at the same time and my entire body rolls with each thrust. I’m helpless to fight him when he says…

“Don’t come yet.”

Yeah, sure.

“I… I can’t… Christian!”

I detonate in orgasm, my entire pelvis flexing painfully. I cry out from the intense pressure and vibration, but he just keeps pounding.

“Christian… please…” but he’s gone. He sees me… but I think his mind is somewhere else. He grinds and rolls his hips and begins to stimulate me again. I groan in my chest, knowing what’s coming.

“Christian…” I breathe.

“Feel it!” he nearly growls.

And feel it, I do. His dick is wide and demanding, and he’s thrusting deep, rhythmic strokes as if he’s digging for buried treasure—forceful and intensive, still holding my hands down and still looking in my eyes. Shit, I feel it in my chest.

“Oh, God,” I groan, the ecstasy and agony almost too much to bear. I feel the force of his weight on my wrists, but he’s using his knees for leverage, occasionally stretching his lips and making primal noises in his throat and chest. His pecks are flexed, and I can see the top of his eight-pack abs, both sets of muscles beginning to glisten with sweat.

I’m wrung out, only able to lie there and take what he’s dishing out. My body is on fire and after several minutes of intense manipulation, the heat reaches into my core again. I think I hear him say something, but the resulting orgasm is ringing in my ears and blocking out all light and sound. I feel myself struggling under his grasp, but not to get away, just from the intensity of the climax.

I’m wheezing when the second one wanes, but the fucking nymph in me just won’t tap out. My body is shattered, wracked from exhaustion and intense orgasms, but the little inner whore is naked, squatting on the bed salivating and cheering me on.

No, hoe, I’m tired!

But neither she nor my husband can hear me. He’s still stroking like this marathon has just begun, and the inner whore is squatting behind him encouraging like a coxswain…

“Stroke! Stroke! Stroke! Stroke…”

Cunt!

“Christian…” I whimper.

“You can do it,” he hisses.

No, I can’t!

The inner whore is nodding feverishly and if I could move, I’d throw something at her head and knock her ass unconscious. Christian must be hearing her.

“Please…” I beg.

“One more!” he commands and keeps stroking into my core. I’m certain that no matter what he and my inner whore says, I don’t have one more in me.

Somebody forgot to tell my pussy.

A few minutes later, my crotch it on fire again. He feels different inside me—not wide, but his ministrations are leaving no area untouched. Dear God, his cock is so hard… so hard and stroking every wall inside me, every secret spot…

“That’s it… give me one more! I need one more!”

He needs it? Why does he need it? It doesn’t matter, because my body obeys his command and gives him the third orgasm he demands. I’m covered in both our sweat as my core vibrates angrily in a final crippling showdown. I can’t scream as the pleasure—and exhaustion—has snatched my voice away, and I can’t move as most of my muscles are locked in the orgasm.

My husband grunts and thrusts and I feel his legs stiffen, but he continues to grind into me a few more times until I hear an inhuman sound rip from his chest. I open my eyes to see him just as he expresses his climax. He stretches his body backward and straightens, his chest and head up like a wolf howling at the moon. My core is still pulsing around him and he jerks with each flex, his entire body stiff, sweating, and trembling.

If I wasn’t so fucking tired, the sight would turn me on again.

My body falls completely limp as he finally drops his head, sweat dripping from his hair and face, panting and gasping to catch his breath, his arms straight, his muscles bulging, his hands still clasped at my wrists.

I’m wiped out while he’s catching his breath, I can’t even keep my eyes open anymore…

When I’m semi-conscious again, he’s coiled around me, spooning me and kissing my back over and over again. I fall back into a deep sleep.

*-*

I didn’t hear him leave. I was worn out from the morning’s exertions and quite frankly, I’d rather not be greeted by the morning bear anyway. I roll over and stretch, trying to pop the kinks out of my muscles. I had a double workout last night—first the elliptical, and then Christian and his trifecta of orgasms. I can barely get out of bed.

I take a quick shower since I smell like sweat and sex and quickly get dressed in something simple—a white button-down shirt with black pants and Chanel suspenders with black and white stilettos. When I look in the mirror, my hair looks like toddlers have been playing in it.

No amount of combing and brushing is helping it, so I put it in two wild and sad looking braids and put a hat on it for the day, Odd for me, but I just don’t have the strength to fight with it.

Strange… I actually look ten years younger.

I stop by the nursery to see that my children are asleep and decide that I’ll let them stay home today. I stop by the kitchen to make myself a strawberry and cream cheese bagel and to grab a black coffee to go.

“Are you in a hurry?” Gail asks. I’m chewing my bagel and looking at my phone.

“I slept longer than I intended,” I say, looking at my watch and noting the time. “I need to get going and make sure everything is moving along for the new semester. Plus, I have some calls to make and some interviews to do this afternoon.”

“Busy day, huh?” she asks.

“Yes,” I reply, eating the last of my bagel, “that’s why I didn’t intend to sleep in so late.” I text Chuck to meet me at the car so that we can get going.

“The twins are staying,” I add as I’m leaving. “I can’t breastfeed for 24 hours anyway. Call me if you need me!” I wave behind me and head out to the mudroom.

“New look?” Courtney asks when I get to the Center.

“Bad hair day,” I admit. “I must have been insane to wear stilettos today. My feet are freezing.”

“Uh, yeah,” Courtney comments. “It’s all wet and slushy. You’re going to ruin your shoes and freeze your toes.” I shake my head.

“What’s on my calendar today?” I ask, stomping my feet to warm my toes.

“You’ve got the interviews for housekeeping this afternoon, and you told me to remind you to call Ms. Sherwood from the cleaning company. Are you going to have her train the new employees?”

“Hell, no,” I say, taking a seat at my desk. “I had to watch that woman like a hawk the entire time her company was here. There’s no way in hell I’d let her train new staff to do the same thing they were doing. Besides, they’re contracted so they most likely wouldn’t do it anyway.” Courtney twists her lips.

“Yeah, there is that,” she says.

“How are classes going?” I ask.

“Pretty good,” she says, “except that there was a pop-quiz in Psych 101 yesterday. Who gives a pop quiz right before Christmas?” She shakes her head and I laugh.

“Welcome to the wonderful world of higher education,” I tease. She shakes her head again.

“Gimme a break,” she retorts. “I’m regurgitating psychology vocabulary in my sleep. My girlfriend’s going to leave me if I don’t stop talking shop when I get out of school.” She changes her voice to mimic a female announcer.

Behaviorism, inhibition, suppression, configurationism, Galton and Freud and Gestalt and dear God in heaven how did you even remember your name when you were in school?” I chuckle.

“Do you regret your decision?” I ask.

“No,” she says, going over to the Zen area to retrieve her laptop from its case. “It’s rough, but I want to help kids, and this is what I need to be able to do that, so…” She trails off after she pulls her laptop from the case.

“That’s a very noble undertaking.”

We’re both caught off-guard by a voice from the doorway.

“Grandmother,” Courtney greets Addie. “H… Hi.” I can tell she’s still trepid about seeing her grandmother.

“Courtney… you look lovely, darling,” Addie says.

“Thank you,” Courtney replies.

“Hello, Ana. You’re looking beautiful as ever,” Addie greets me. I smile warmly.

“Thank you, Addie, and so are you. Won’t you come in and have a seat?”

“Well, I really didn’t intend to stay long. I just came to ask Courtney what her plans were for the afternoon.” She turns to Courtney.

“Um, Ana’s assistant is off sick, so I’ve been helping her. We have to interview some candidates for the cleaning staff this afternoon,” Courtney replies.

“Oh, that’s too bad. We were hoping you would be able to join us for lunch,” she says softly.

We?” Courtney asks. After a short pause, Fred enters the office and stands next to his wife. Courtney’s mouth falls open and she’s stunned pretty speechless.

“Hello, Courtney,” Fred says.

“G… Grandfather,” Courtney says, clearing her throat to find her words, but still finding none.

“Courtney, I can do the interviews alone or have Mr. Collier or Grace sit in with me if you want to go to lunch with your grandparents.” She turns uncertain eyes to me.

“You’re sure?” she says. There’s hope in her voice.

“I’m sure,” I say. “I’ll be fine.”

“Can I leave my school stuff here?” she asks.

“Of course, you can. Go, have lunch with your grandparents.” She raises her brow and sigh.

“I’m… I’ll be right back,” she says to Addie and Fred. “I have to go get my coat and purse.” She smiles and leaves the office. I turn to Addie and Fred.

“Fred wanted to see it for himself,” Addie tells me turning to Fred. “I think he got more than he bargained for.”

“Not really,” Fred replies. “She looks like she’s doing well and she’s trying to turn over a new leaf, but she was always a good actress… a very good actress.” I drop my head and scratch the nape of my scalp. If he gives her that attitude at lunch, she won’t go to lunch with them again because she’s come to learn that she doesn’t need discouragement in her life.

“Ana, what is it?” Addie inquires, noting my change of expression.

“Nothing,” I say, not making eye contact with Fred.

“That means it’s me,” Fred says. I frown and look at him.

“How would you know it was you?” I ask incredulously.

“Because I’m an old dog with a wife, dear,” he replies. “I’ve been married for 43 years and I’ve been around a female or three in my day. Trust me, I’ve been in the doghouse more than a few times and I fully know the meaning of ‘Nothing,’ ‘Fine,’ and ‘Never mind.’” He looks at me knowingly and cocks his head. I sigh and put my hands on my hips.

“I’m not going to try to sell you on your granddaughter,” I say. “To me, her progress speaks for itself. I will tell you this, though, and I’m only saying it as a friend. If you’re taking that attitude to lunch with you, it’s not going to fly. She will Uber her way out of that meal. She knows who she was and that she put you through a lot, but she’s been through some things, too, and she’s not going to allow herself to be berated anymore. I only said it because you pressed, Fred.”

“That, I did,” he says with a sigh.

“And she’s right.”

We all turn to see Courtney standing at the door in her coat with her purse on her shoulder. There’s no sign of her prior shyness.

“I don’t have anything to prove to anybody else anymore but myself,” she says. “I’m a horrible person and I know it… or at least I was. I was so wretched that I don’t expect anybody to believe that I’m not that person anymore, but you know who does have to believe it? Me! So, I love you, Grandmother, and I love you, too, Grandfather, but if this luncheon is to put me under the microscope, I respectfully decline the invitation.”

I can’t remember being prouder of Courtney than I am at this moment—well, maybe when she told me that she was going to school. Now, she stands here before her grandparents with her shoulders squared and her head held high pretty much telling them that if they don’t want to accept her, she’s fine with that. Before, she was self-centered and didn’t care about other people, only for what she could get from them. Now, she’s self-driven, and she has a purpose. She’s more concerned about what she sees in herself when she looks in the mirror than what other people see when they see her.

Addie walks over to her and smiles.

“I want to have lunch with my granddaughter,” she says, “and you will be under the microscope with me, but only because I want to catch up with everything going on in your life and with school. If your grandfather doesn’t want to behave, then he’s uninvited.”

Courtney is nearly pushed to tears, but instead she straightens her back and extends her neck, blinking the tears away. Then she turns to Fred.

“The Uber app is almost instantaneous, Grandfather,” she says. “The moment I feel that either of us is causing the other discomfort, I’ll leave. I can always study or come back and help Ana with the interviews. And if you think I’m acting, then this is going to be an Oscar-worthy performance.” She awaits acknowledgement from her Grandfather, who reluctantly nods. Addie sighs and puts her hands on Courtney’s shoulders.

“So, would you like to go to the club?” Addie asks.

“We can, if you want,” Courtney says, “but there’s a little restaurant not far from here that has the best Mediterranean food… and quiet tables.” Addie tilts her head at Courtney.

“Well, then,” she says, “that’s sounds nice. Lead the way.” The corners of Courtney’s lips rise slightly, and she nods before she leaves with Addie in step behind her. Fred turns to look at me and I raise my brown and tip my head in a gesture that clearly says, “Balls in your court.” His lips form a thin line and he leaves to join his wife and granddaughter. I smile to myself, knowing that Courtney has effectively exercised her independence to her grandfather. I go back to my desk and make the call that needs to be made before month’s end.

Clean It Up for You, what can I do for you?” the receptionist answers.

“Good morning, Anastasia Grey calling for Sonia Sherwood…”


CHRISTIAN

I’ve barely gotten any sleep, which is something that hasn’t happened in quite some time. There’s been a sleepless night here and there, but none of the 2-hours of sleep nights since I stopped having the nightmares. When I left this morning, Butterfly was still in an exercise, wine, and sex-induced coma.

When I saw that Butterfly was on the elliptical after dinner and three large glasses of wine, I thought it best to leave her alone and go to my study and get some work done. I approved the initiation of the random drug testing on 50% of Grey House staff to be done in three waves tomorrow, Friday, and Monday. The results will begin to come in on Tuesday, but I couldn’t get a guarantee that I would have them all for the sake of accuracy.

Ros has taken immediate advantage of her impromptu vacation, which means that Lorenz and I must weed through the findings and analysis of the audit teams while she’s away. There’s quite a bit in a short time—red flags that I asked to be notified of immediately instead of waiting for preliminary or final reports. To be quite honest, my company is a mess. We’re not on the brink of collapse, failure, or bankruptcy, but I was right. Complacency is running rampant through the departments and the ship is nowhere near as tight as it used to be.

That’s my fault.

When I shut the system down somewhere around three o’clock and came upstairs and she was still in the tub, I knew that I had to get her out of there. She was exhausted and shattered and I had every intention of drying her off, braiding her hair, and putting her to bed. Then, she passed out face up on the bed and I knew I would never be able to get that hair braided. I straightened her body and kissed her lips goodnight and the animal in me just suddenly came alive.

I didn’t intend to fuck her. I really didn’t, but when I kissed her neck, the valley of her breasts, and then her nipple just to tame the beast a bit, the taste of her skin sent me into blind passion and I just had to have her. Determined not to fuck her while she’s asleep, I fix my mind to back away… and then she spoke.

And I pounced.

It was like something else completely had taken over me and I was going to turn into a werewolf or the Hulk or something if I didn’t have her! I feasted on her body, touching her in all the right places to get her ready, but when I entered her, the beast was back.

I know what it was. I just didn’t want to admit it.

Dominant Christian was alive and kicking in the early morning hours. Fucking her was not enough, but even in my primal state of mind, I knew I couldn’t dominate her when she was so exhausted, so I had to improvise.

I imagined her shackled to the bed, blindfolded and completely immobilized after a good flogging, with a pair of clamps biting into her nipples. Her breasts were wobbling wildly, dripping with water, sweat, or milk—I didn’t know which—and she couldn’t move, so it wasn’t a far stretch. I fucked her and fucked her and fucked her until my cock burned, forcing three orgasms from that exhausted body until I was paralyzed in ecstasy myself.

Once I came down from my climactic high, I saw that the third orgasm had wrung my wife unconscious and, to be honest, I felt guilty. I wrapped her in my arms, kissing her back and neck while silently begging her forgiveness for being so thoughtless and selfish. I only got a couple of hours of sleep and then quietly got dressed and left the house before she woke.

Now, I’m here in the office, still feeling as aggressive as ever as I continue to comb through my emails and examine the notes of the auditing teams. Word is definitely out that Grey is on the warpath. The elevator was completely silent when I got on it this morning and some people even got off once I boarded. Others refused to get on when they saw that I was in the car.

I don’t care if you like me. Just do your fucking jobs, and do them right or I’ll have you out on your asses before you get the chance to gasp.

I’m a bit irritated when I’m interrupted mid-morning by a knock on my door.

“Sir, a word?” I look up and see Jason standing in the doorway. I gesture him in and remove my glasses. My eyes are getting tired more often. It might be time for another trip to the eye doctor.

“I know this is short notice and I apologize, but I need Monday off,” Jason says. I frown. It sure is short notice, short as fuck.

“May I ask why?” I inquire, coolly

“Well, it won’t be the entire day, sir, just enough time to go to Shalane’s sentencing.” I raise my brow.

“Shalane’s… as in your ex-wife Shalane?” I ask. Why would he want to be there for her?

“Yes,” he says. “I’m not letting Sophie go, but someone has to be there to speak on my daughter’s behalf if they ask.”

I see. I guess that would have an impact on her sentence… if they ask.

“What time is it?” I ask him.

“Ten A.M.,” he replies. I nod.

“Then we’ll both be there.” His eyes widen.

“Sir, you don’t have to… it’s Monday morning,” he protests.

“And you’re my best friend, so yes, I do have to.” If I’m trying to find a balance between asshole and nice guy, I better start somewhere.

“So, it looks like she’s going to be spending Christmas in jail, huh?” I add. Jason nods.

“Yeah, looks that way,” he says.

“How do you feel about that?” I ask. He shakes his head.

“I hate the things Shalane has done, but I don’t hate Shalane. It’s hard to feel any sympathy for anyone that has just proven to be rotten to the core, but I’m not a bad guy. So, I think I’ll just keep my answer to myself on that one.”

I nod. I can understand that. I’m on the opposite end of that spectrum. If I can’t stand you, you’re going to know about it. If I wish you would burn in hell, you’re going to know about that, too.

“Mr. Grey, Lorenz is here to see you,” Andrea’s voice says through the intercom. Did we have a meeting this morning?

“Send him in,” I tell her. “What time is the sentencing again?” I say, turning my attention back to Jason.

“Ten AM,” he repeats as Lorenz enters.

“We’ll be there, then,” I say. He nods, then nods at Lorenz and leaves.

“Something I need to know?” Lorenz asks.

“No,” I respond, “except that you’ll be holding the fort down alone for a few hours on Monday morning. I have an appointment.” He nods noncommittal.

“So, we found out what the big ruckus is about Kavanaugh,” Lorenz says. He has my attention, but only slightly. I have my own fish to fry.

“And what’s that?” I ask.

“The next heir apparent? ‘Baby Momma’ is one of Katherine’s friends.” My eyes widen.

“You’re shitting me!” I respond. This is fucking juicy.

“I’m not,” he says. “The wife found out through a damn text!” he adds. “He’s taking a paternity test, but whether it’s his or not, Mama Kavanaugh has had enough and is taking him to the cleaners.”

“Fuuuuck, really?” I say, sitting back in his chair. “Does Ethan know?”

“I don’t know that he does unless he’s been keeping up with the gossip rags or the specific financial news that deals with his father, but I don’t think he cares. He’s been completely mum about the whole thing.” He probably doesn’t. From what I’ve heard, he got his trust right after he married Mia and hasn’t spoken to his father since. If he doesn’t know, I’m sure as hell not going to tell him.

“What about Katherine?” I ask. It’s more out of curiosity than anything. I don’t plan to do anything with the information.

“Well, she was in Martha’s Vineyard for a while, but now word has it that she and young Kevin are now living in Paris…”

“Paris? How could Kavanaugh afford that?” I ask.

“Well, he can’t that I know of, but she secured employment there with one of the fashion magazines, so… she’s officially a Parisian now.” I shake my head.

“If I were her, I’d get as far away from this shit as possible, too,” I say. “That man has a tribe of illegitimate children now. How many is this?”

“I’m sorry, sir, I’ve lost count. Can I get back to you on that one?” he jests, and I chuckle.

“Have you seen the latest emails from the auditing team?” I ask. He sighs and crosses his legs.

“I have,” he says.

“It’s only been a couple of days. You still think I’m being paranoid?” He shakes his head.

“No, sir, I don’t,” he replies. “I never did, I just thought you might have needed to rethink your approach a bit, but now…” He trails off.

“Yeah, now,” I say, putting my glasses back on and looking at the screen. “I just basically had a meltdown yesterday about our customer satisfaction and retention processes and our internal process quality and then I see these findings? I’m certain that I’m not the only one that sees the drastic change in three years in these areas.”

“No, sir, you’re not alone,” Lorenz replies.

“The only reason we’re not bleeding from the jugular right now is because we have other divisions and operations that’s taking up the slack. I shudder to think what would have happened had I not thought to do something about this now!” I shoot. “So, are there any answers to any of the questions I had yesterday?” He nods.

“Yes, sir,” Lorenz begins. “The drugs from the pharmaceutical mishap have obviously been recalled. This sort of thing happens all the time and we’re looking into the ramifications of it now. Concerning the fire, thankfully, representatives from the EAP were on that as soon as it happened, so we’ve already got damage control and assistance in place for that.”

“And what about the late shipments?” I ask.

“I think client services is putting that fire out now,” he says.

“Don’t think. Know! Find out how often this has happened and if this is a one-off or a regular occurrence. Get some impromptu surveys going to see what the customers are feeling right now. See how many we get back. Get on this! Now that I know for sure that I’m not Chicken Little running around exclaiming that the sky is falling, I want this ship tight as soon as possible, and spare no fucking expense!”

“Will do, sir,” he says, and he stands and leaves my office. Sometimes, I hate that he’s so goddamn cool, but if I’m the hothead, and Ros is getting all sensitive and running off when there’s controversy, I need someone to be the voice of reason.

*-*

“Mr. Holstein is still trying to contact you, sir, and there’s a Herbert Larson on line three for you.” Larson… why the hell is he calling me instead of Al?

“Grey,” I answer.

“Mr. Grey, Herbert Larson here…” he begins.

“I know who it is. What can I do for you?” He pauses.

“You obviously know why I’m calling,” he says, coolly.

“Honestly, I don’t. I thought all of your contact went through our attorney or if not him, through my wife if utterly necessary. You have no reason to be contacting me,” I point out.

“I’m calling because harassment is a serious offense in the state of Nevada, Mr. Grey,” Larson says.

“And I’m not in the state of Nevada, so your point?” I retort.

“Mrs. Pamela Whitmore contacted the police this morning,” he says. “Apparently, several gentlemen have been following her around.”

Good, she knows that she’s being tailed.

“And you’re telling me this because?” I ask.

The gentleman that she described follows closely to the description of the gentleman that accompanied you and Mrs. Grey during your visit and they have Washington driver’s licenses.” I laugh loudly in his ear.

“Well, don’t this just beat all?” I say, with pretend mirth. “It took less than a day for you to finger who you might think is harassing Pamela Whitmore, but it only took the great state of Nevada more than a decade to pinpoint who brutalized my wife.”

The line is silent for several minutes.

“That woman called my wife at her place of business and insulted and threatened her and my family, and you’re calling me about some random men following her because they live in my state? If they’re breaking the law, then I suggest you arrest them, but don’t you dare interrupt my life with any nonsense that you have no actual basis for. You all didn’t follow any hunches to find my wife’s attacker before she came to you with a damn video. Don’t come to me with any half-baked, unfounded accusation. Yes, I will do whatever’s necessary to protect my family, but you do know that we have a restraining order against her, right?”

“I’m just letting you know that Mrs. Whitmore…”

“You don’t need to let me know shit about Mrs. Whitmore unless you’re telling me that you’ve arrested her for harassing my wife,” I say, cutting him off. “Nevada seems to be quite prevalent with going easy on and protecting violent criminals and offering no protection for the victim… that is, until you think those criminals are the victims.”

“You need to know that following Mrs. Whitmore could be considered obstruction of justice,” he points out, ignoring my prior statement.

“Oh, you mean like what that Henderson officer Sullivan did?” I counter. “Both when the incident happened by hiding evidence to protect his brother and by seizing the police report I presented to him two years ago without knowing that I had several copies? Yes, Mr. Larson, I’m very aware of the laws concerning obstruction of justice—that is, when your state deems it necessary to enforce them. By the way, what was the fate of Officer Sullivan? The victim here still hasn’t gotten any word that he’s come upon his just deserts, yet.”

The line falls silent again, and I know that he’s searching for a retort.

“I’m not saying that I’m following anybody and I’m not saying that I’m not,” I continue. “I will say that when you try to accuse someone of something, you better fucking well have enough evidence to do it instead of calling someone and trying to sniff them out. I play chess with multi-billion-dollar companies and more money than you’ll ever see in your life. I don’t have time to bluff.”

“So, you’re saying that you’re not having her followed?” he prods.

“I’m not saying anything,” I reply. “I will say, however, that if she comes anywhere near Seattle and my wife and children, I’ll know before you do.” I can feel his frustration through the phone.

“You’re preventing me from doing my job,” he says, his voice low. “Ever since this started, I’ve been doing my best to bring justice to this situation, and the only thing I’ve seen from you at all is this vigilante attitude like you’re running things, and nobody can tell you anything. Now, I’m warning you, Mr. Grey, if you interfere with this case or its participants in any way, I will have a warrant issued for your arrest!” Wrong move, Skippy.

“Save your goddamn threats for those assholes who beat my wife!” I seethe.

“Mr. Grey, that language is totally unnecessary,” he retorts.

“It’s completely fucking necessary, and if you fucking don’t want to fucking hear it, then you can fucking hang up the fucking phone!”

I’m so pissed at the audacity of this fucker that if I could teleport to Vegas right now and personally beat his ass, I would! I think he gets the hint.

“Good day, Mr. Grey,” he says.

“Fuck you!” I retort before slamming the receiver into the carriage.

One… two… three… four…

*-*

Butterfly isn’t home when I get there. I’m still fuming over Larson’s nerve. The fuck with that guy! I’m watching the cunt who birthed the fucker who raped my wife then had the nerve to call her and threaten her because she knows the trial is coming up, and this sonofabitch has the nerve to call me and tell me that I’m breaking the law by making sure that I know if this hoe crosses state lines. That place has the most backwards system of justice I’ve ever seen in my life, and the people who live there must be as fucked up as their sense of justice.

My wife is raped as a teenager and nobody blinks, not even her damn guardians.

She’s beaten within an inch of her life and her baby is killed, and nobody blinks.

The mother of the fucking rapist and baby killer calls and threatens my wife and our children, and nobody blinks… but then they call me and tell me that I’m breaking the law by following that cunt.

I hate to think I and my wife are flying all the way to Vegas to find out that the entire justice system is so fucked up that the whole lot of those fuckers are still going to get off easy after they’re convicted—if they’re convicted!

I run a punishing rhythm on the treadmill for quite some time before I take to Butterfly’s heavy bag to burn the rest of the aggression from the day. I’m finally starting to cool down—and tire—around 8pm, and I take a quick shower and change into a pair of sweats and a T-shirt.

I look for my wife in the nursery, but find that my children are fast asleep. I check the yoga room, the dining room, the family room—no Butterfly. Where is she?

“Did Ana come home?” I ask Gail. She frowns.

“Yeah,” she says. “She spent some time with the babies and then she went downstairs.” Downstairs… her office or her parlor. “Should I hold dinner or just put something away for you two to eat?” You two?

“She hasn’t eaten yet?” I ask. Gail shakes her head. I go to the elevator and take it to the ground floor. Chuck and Keri are on the patio sitting on the sofa. He has his arm around her and they’re gazing across the lake.

I need to find my wife.

I glance in the parlor as I pass and confirm that she’s not in there, then I go to her office. I’m about to walk in when I hear her talking on the phone.

“I really can’t wait to see you. It’s been a long time.”

Now, I trust my wife implicitly, but walking in on that statement would send a lesser man into terrible suspicion. I stay back and listen a little longer.

“I’m in no hurry to come, but at least there’s one bright side to it.”

That sounds a little crazy.

“No, I haven’t heard anything at all, but who knows what’s going to happen on that front.”

I should really just walk into the room instead of trying to decipher who she’s talking to, not to mention, it’s not polite to eavesdrop.

“No, I’m not going to any of those places. I might see some of the casinos with my best friend and his husband because they’ve never been there, but that’s all. I have no interest in the whole ‘Vegas experience.’ I’ve already had it.”

So, she’s talking to someone in Vegas. I know it can’t be Carla…

“So, I’ll let you know when we finalize our travel arrangements and where we’ll be staying. Hopefully, I’ll get to meet your husband this time.”

This time. That’s her aunt. What’s her name? Cynthia, that was it.

“That would be very nice. I’m sure Christian would like that.”

I walk into the office as she’s finishing her call with her aunt. She looks like a kid! She’s wearing suspenders… and a hat! Over pigtails! I walk over to her after she has ended her call and begins typing into her laptop.

“Fashion statement?” I ask. She looks up at me.

“My hair wouldn’t cooperate,” she says and stretches. “My dad wants to come to Vegas when we go for the trial.” I raise my brow.

“He does?” I ask. She nods.

“I suppose he needs some kind of closure, too,” she says. “This whole thing was so traumatic for us both—going through hell, finding peace, then having it ripped away from us again. I’d say he definitely needs some closure.”

“Well, you’ll get no argument from me. I’ll get a block of rooms so we don’t have to worry about it.” I sit down in front of her desk. “How was your day?” She raises her head again, somewhat in surprise.

“Busy,” she replies still looking at me. “We hired a couple of people for the in-house cleaning staff. They start shadowing Mr. Collier on Monday. I fired our cleaning crew as of the end of January. The head bitch in charge wasn’t happy to hear that, so now we have to keep an eye on them until the contract ends.”

“Were they slacking?” he asks. I shake my head.

“Not since the first time, but we weighed what we were paying them compared to the cost of having a cleaning crew of our own. The costs were comparable, but having someone on staff makes them more accountable to us than having an outside company come in. Plus, we’ll need people available at a moment’s notice instead of just at a certain time.”

“I see you’ve thought about this,” I say, sitting back and crossing my legs. “You’re still working?” She twists her lips.

“No Marilyn,” she says. “Courtney helps as much as she can, but she’s still no Marilyn… and she took the afternoon off to spend with her grandparents.”

She did?

“Really?” I ask. She nods. “Last I spoke to Fred, he wasn’t sold.”

“He’s still not sold,” Butterfly says, “and Courtney’s okay with that. She told him that she knows that she was a horrible person and that if he didn’t want to be bothered to not waste her time.” I raise my brow again. She has changed.

“Larson called me today,” I say. She stops typing and looks at me.

“Why did he call you?” she asks.

“To tell me to call off my security team that’s watching Whitmore.”

“You have a team watching Pamela Whitmore?” she asks. I nod.

“And I want her to know that she’s being watched.” She goes back to typing.

“Figures,” she says. “Serves her right… that backwards ass town. It’s okay to harass the victim, but not the victimizers.” She shakes her head.

“That’s what I said,” I reply, standing. “Come. We need to eat.” I hold my hand out to her. I know that she wants to work more, but I’m hungry and she needs to eat, too. She closes her laptop and takes my hand.


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

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

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~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 87—Exactly Who’s In Charge here?

Taking a break from my studies to commune with my peoples…

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

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

Chapter 87—Exactly Who’s In Charge here?

ANASTASIA

I’ve decided not to go into Helping Hands on Wednesday since the Pamela Whitmore thing shook me up a bit. I send a text to Grace and Courtney that I won’t be in, but that I’ll be available and doing some work from home. Al is in the process of filing a restraining order against Whitmore, and she has officially made it to the “watch list.” I often wonder how the company can keep an eye on so many people at once. It must be a very incredible—and tedious—operation. I’m sitting at the dining table not quite sure what direction my day will take when I see—and feel—a shadow approaching me.

I look up and see my husband, fresh from the shower in a crisp—super crisp—black suit. His hair is neater than usual, but most likely because it’s still wet. His beard is thickening a bit from the usual designer stubble… and he totally looks like he means business. This fresh Master of the Universe look normally causes a little heat in my nether regions, but today, it feels a bit ominous.

“You’re not going in?” he asks as he takes a seat at the table. I shake my head, partially as an answer, but also to break my gaze from him.

“No,” I reply. “I’m working from home today.” I take a sip of my coffee and Ms. Solomon places a plate in front of Christian.

“Are you afraid?” he asks as he loads his fork with eggs. I shrug.

“A little shaken, maybe,” I admit, “but I’ll be fine. Al is getting the restraining order if he hasn’t already gotten it and that cunt doesn’t even have the resources to get within fifty feet of me, unless there’s something I don’t know.” Christian shakes his head as he swallows his eggs.

“No, we got surveillance in place last night. We’re pretty certain that call came from her home and confirmed that she’s there and hasn’t left. She’s going to have covert and visual surveillance. I want that bitch to know she’s being watched.” He takes a sip of his coffee.

“I see you… mean business today,” I say, sipping my own as he tucks into his breakfast. He doesn’t raise his head for a moment, but nearly clears half his plate before he speaks.

“I do,” he says, unapologetically. “I tried something new with my company and it didn’t work, so I’ll go back to the old way of doing things.”

The old way… That doesn’t sound good.

“What are you thinking?” he asks.

“That I miss Marilyn and I’m really wondering what’s going on with her right now,” I say. It’s partially true. The other part is that my husband may go back to the old way of doing things and I might lose him completely.

“When was the last time you heard from her?” he asks, finishing his breakfast.

“Two weeks ago,” I reply. “She emailed me before we left for Australia.”

“And Garrett?” he presses.

“I haven’t heard from Gary,” I admit. “I know he’s alive and I know he’s working, but he won’t speak to me.” I roll my eyes. “We’ve been friends for years—longer than he’s even known Mare and this is really making me feel shitty.” He reaches over and squeezes my hand.

“I know it feels shitty, but you can only do what you can do, Butterfly,” he says. “It’s only been a couple of weeks, right?”

“Yeah,” I say. It’s been three, but it feels like an eternity!

“You gotta give them time,” he says. “I don’t know if they’re going to bounce back from this, but you gotta give them time.” I look over at him and see a hint of the tenderness that I know of the new Christian Grey tucked into the mask of the old. I sigh and pretend to straighten his tie.

“Go,” I say. “Run the world and show them who’s boss. I’ll be fine.”

He examines me and I can see it in his eyes that he clearly thinks I’m full of shit, but he kisses me on the cheek anyway.

“I love you,” he says, looking into my eyes and waiting for me to respond.

“I love you, too,” I reply. I touch his cheek and kiss him quickly on the lips. “Go.”

He glances at me again before standing from the table and leaving to start his day.

I don’t feel like I have any direction today. I appreciate Courtney’s help immensely, but if Marilyn was here, I would truly know if there’s anything that I should be doing that I’m not, anything that I had forgotten about, such as the guest that walks into the dining room as I’m lamenting my situation.

“Fuck!” I exclaim as Harmony bends the corner and freezes.

“Oookay, should I leave and come back?” she asks.

“No,” I say, waving her off. “I totally forgot you were here.”

“Well, that’s easy,” she says. “I wasn’t here when you got back from Australia and we’ve been missing each other the rest of the time. I’ve been taking a lot of time going through my mother’s house.” She sits down at the table and almost like clockwork, here’s Ms. Solomon with another plate of breakfast.

“How’s that been going?” I ask.

“Tedious,” she says. “Sad. My mother loved her kids. She’s kept every christening gown, every award, every trophy, scads and scads of pictures—graduations, marriages, babies being born, track meets, recitals, you name it—and look how they thanked her! I hate selling the house, Anastasia. There are literally lifetimes of memories in there, but I don’t want to keep it. If any of my mother’s children had any kind of heart, I would just give it to them, but they’re all cold and heartless, so it’s going up for sale.”

“Have you heard from any of them?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No,” she said. “They only wanted what they could get from her estate. Once Carl has tended to all of her bills and wishes and everyone gets their cut, I’ll probably never hear from any of them again… except for my father when he needs money.”

I can’t help but think how sad this situation is as I watch her sip her coffee.

“What about all the pictures and the memories and stuff?” I ask. “What are you going to do with those?”

“I’m having them packed and labeled as we speak,” she says. “Each kid can have their respective shit and if they don’t want it, it’s trash. I’ve taken what I want from the house—whatever there is that would remind me of my momma. It’s just a matter of properly disposing of the rest. I plan to have an estate sale the first week of January to see if anyone wants any of that stuff. If not, whatever’s left, I’m donating to charity.”

“That seems so sad that so much of the life that your mother built will be going to strangers and charity,” I say.

“I know, but what else can I do? The mansion has way too many rooms in it. She spent her life decorating it and although the things are nice, they’re quite dated. There’s really nothing I can do with it, and I’m certain that Momma only put the house in my name to keep the Gruesome Foursome from kicking me out once she died. I’m sure that she would be pleased that I’m at least handling things as respectfully as possible.”

I have to agree. There’s no telling what her other children would have done had they been in charge of Tina’s property.

“I don’t cry as much,” she says, “but I’m still sad. I still really miss my Momma, but she’s gone now, and I can’t bring her back. Some days, I can deal with it. I can move forward, and everything is okay. Other days, it’s hard to even breathe. I have to concentrate just to get out of bed…”

I talk to Harmony for a while—something to give me some purpose—and I allow her to vent about losing her mother and her horrid siblings who couldn’t care less if she lived or died. She’s letting the real estate agent handle the staging of the house once she has the estate sale. Inventorying everything is what’s taking so long. Carl also told her that the auction for Tina’s jewelry will be on Friday and informed me that I’m welcome to attend if I want. I don’t know. I’m not sure what I’m doing with today, let alone Friday.

She’s excited about moving into the penthouse once it’s finished. I’m excited for her and I’m just now realizing that Christmas is right around the corner and this will be her first Christmas without her mother. I’m also realizing that with about a week to go, the Greys don’t seem to have solidified any plans either. We all normally go over to the Manor, but this year, we haven’t heard anything.

I really need to know what the plans are, because I have no problem whatsoever having Christmas right here in my home with my babies and my husband. Chuck’s parents are supposed to be coming, too, and I don’t know what the plan is for them when they get here. Were we all planning to get together again? I would certainly love to see Maddie and Nelson. I have a bit more Christmas shopping to do, but I did most of it on Black Friday, and picked up a few things here and there throughout the year.

“So, do you plan to decorate the penthouse when it’s done, or are you going to hire a decorator?” I ask Harmony, feeding her excitement about moving into Escala.

“I don’t know,” she admits. “I haven’t even gotten that far.”

“I recommend hiring a decorator,” I tell her, “because you’re in school. Just don’t give them carte blanche.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. Courtney and Vickie have been really cool about letting me impose on their private time. I think I’ll hang around here tonight instead of going over there. Give them some time alone. I don’t want to wear out my welcome.” I nod.

“Have they said anything?”

“No, but I’m an adult. I know when grown folks need their time.” I laugh.

“Well, it won’t be like you’re in the way here,” I tell her. “We’ve got more room than we know what to do with.” I rise from the table. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I’ve got to get to my office and get some balls rolling.”

“No worries. I’m headed to class. I’ll see you later.”

“Laters,” I say as I head to my office.

I now appear to have emails from nearly every department head in GEH—some of them two or three—about whatever minutia they could email or CC me on. I roll my eyes and shake my head, thinking how too-little-too-late this gesture is. I create rules to send everything from GEH to one folder with the exception of Christian’s and Al’s emails. I don’t know how wise that is since I don’t intend to check it that often. As I’m filtering the emails, I see that Alex has forwarded me some information that I’d completely forgotten I had requested. The sensitive information on Deanna Corman.

Corman—I never knew that was her last name.

There’s delicious dirt in here on her.

She’s a research assistant at GEH, which I already knew, but apparently, she’s pretty damn good at her job. However, she’s been fired from her last three jobs, twice for insubordination and once under unknown circumstances, and she’s only been with GEH for less than a year.

Did they consider this a pass of a background check?

She’s currently cheating with three different married men, hoping that Christian would be the fourth. All of them are well-to-do or wealthy, so she’s definitely trying to sleep her way to riches.

And she likes to party… a lot. She’s been caught twice with marijuana, but not enough to get arrested and again, only during the last year. Once you hire people and do the initial background checks, unless you continue to update background checks or something happens that causes a red flag, you won’t know if something new has arisen.

So, here’s Deanna… two citations for small amounts of marijuana, three episodes of disturbing the peace that went nowhere—two of which involved two of the married men that she’s currently fucking. I need to talk to my husband about who he’s hiring, but for now, I’m calling Alex.

“Mrs. Grey,” he answers.

“Will you ever call me ’Ana?’” I ask.

“Sorry, force of habit,” he says.

“I’m looking at this file that you sent me on Deanna Corman,” I say. “How does someone with this much shit pass a background check?”

“It depends,” he says. “The company isn’t so much concerned with young people fired for insubordination. Nobody’s perfect and no one could besmirch her work ethic, not to mention that there’s only so much information you can get from a previous job no matter how good your resources. The information that we’ve received after the fact is enough to dismiss her, though.”

“No, I have a better idea,” I say. “How did you find out about the marijuana?”

“You asked for a background check with detailed personal information. That requires digging and investigation. She has a tail.” I nod as if he can see me.

“Affairs with three married men,” I note. “That seems to be her flavor. Current?”

“Yes,” he confirms. “It’s not necessarily her flavor. That’s just who wants her. It’s been my experience that single men with money are not interested in hoochies. Married men in unhappy marriages will often take it from anybody who’ll throw it at them, money or not.” That make sense.

“Well, to be bargain basement, she’s setting her sights awfully high with Christian,” I point out.

“No offense, Ana, but as the saying goes, a closed mouth never gets fed. When you have nothing to lose, you never know unless you try.” I shake my head.

“Well, she tried the wrong one,” I say. “Keep gathering info. I’m about to put my plan into action.”

“Will do, Boss Lady,” he says, and hangs up. And I immediately miss Marilyn. I have a few emails to compose.

To: Marilyn Caldwell
Re: Disabled
Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 10:02
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

Hi Mare,

I’m writing to tell you that I’m officially a fish out of water without my right hand. Not pressuring you or anything, and I’m holding on to hope that once things settle in your heart and mind, you’ll be back. In the meantime, I’m completely disabled without you.

I hope you are putting things together the best that you can and that you are finding some modicum of peace in the midst of this mess. I hope you took my advice and got out of the house instead of sitting there being religiously bullied by your parents.

Talk soon… please?

Love, Ana

Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Assistant Director, Helping Hands

The next one is to one prodigal friend that I feel owes me more than the silence that he’s giving me. I had to write it, read it over, and rewrite it four times before I sent it as it started out as, “You troll, you monster, does no one else matter in this but you and your selfish feelings?” and became something with just the right amount of sympathy and the correct dose of venom.

To: Garrett Pope
Re: WTF
Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 10:29
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

Dear Gary,

I’ll start by saying that I hope this email finds you well—as well as can be expected, anyway. I realize this is hard for you and as your friend, I hope your heart can heal from this emotional trauma and that you can successfully move on from it, whatever “moving on” means for you. Having said that…

What the fuck, man?

So, you don’t want to see my PA anymore, and you may never want to see her again. Fine! What does that have to do with me and the rest of your friends? I told you the day that this happened that I had nothing to do with this. I didn’t convince her to do this, nor did I know this was happening until the clinic called me to pick her up.

You may not even read this email since your voice mail is apparently disabled or you’re simply not speaking to me, but my not hearing from you will at least not be from lack of effort.

If you’re still too raw, I get it. There’s no time limit on grief and healing, but at least drop a line that says, “Hey, bitch, I’m alive, leave me alone,” or something. It’s not fair to leave people hanging that care about you… or did you forget the whole ordeal that we had with Val?

I really thought nearly ten years of friendship meant as much to you as it does to me. I’m hurt and disappointed to find that I was wrong. At least get in touch with the others.

Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Assistant Director, Helping Hands

That’s the best I can do. I’m feeling extremely “raw” myself that he would just leave me hanging when I know all the details of everything and could possibly help him even more than Maxie could right now. And the fact that we’ve been friends for so long. Does that mean nothing?

After having gotten sidetracked with my email to Gary, I get my thoughts together and send the third email that I intend to send.

To: Christian Grey
Re: Idea?
Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 10:51
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

Mr. Grey,

When was the last time your company performed random drug testing?

Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Assistant Director, Helping Hands

Since Ms. Corman likes to party, let’s see if we can get lucky.

I volley an email or three with my husband and go over some of the work that I have for Helping Hands when my phone rings.

“Yes, my beloved?” I answer when I see that it’s my best friend.

“Jewel, are you sitting down?”

“Yeess, what’s up? What’s going on? Is something wrong with Christian?”

“Nothing is wrong with Christian. I’m calling about Pamela Whitmore.”

“Oh,” I sigh. “Okay. Did you get the restraining order?”

“I did,” he replies. “It applies to all matters outside of the courtroom.”

“Okay, so why do I need to sit down? Did you call Larson? What did he say about her contacting me?”

“Yes, I’ve spoken to Larson, but I really didn’t need to. I know why she’s contacting you,” he replies. “I got a package today. Jewel, you’ve got your court date.” My brow furrows.

“What court date?” I ask.

“Are you serious? You can’t be serious…”

“Al, I’m losing my patience. What court date?” Al sighs heavily.

“Grab your traveling clothes, baby. We’re headed to Vegas.”

My brain skips for a minute, but then it kicks in. Oh, hell. I completely forgot about that. I mean I didn’t forget, but with all the shit that’s been going on in my life over the last year, I totally blanked out those assholes from Vegas until Whitmore called, and even then, my brain wasn’t focused on the trials.

“Our court date… we got our court date?” I ask in disbelief.

“We got our court date,” he repeats.

“Who’s going on trial?” I ask.

“Vincent Sullivan,” he replies. “He’s fighting this thing to the bitter end, so we’ll have to appear in court for this one.”

Yeah, of course not Whitshit or Madison-Perry. No, those assholes got plea deals, but I’ll still get to look them in the eyes when they testify. They’ll still get to see what I did with their horrible scar. You didn’t break me, bitches. You came fucking close, but you didn’t break me…

“Jewel?” Al’s voice snaps me out of my daydreaming.

“Hot damn, when do we leave?” I exclaim.

Al is talking about getting the jet ready and spending some time on the Strip even though he knows that this is going to be a very serious situation and suddenly, his voice turns into the teacher from Charlie Brown when I note that I’ve gotten a response to one of my emails.

To: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Re: Hey Bitch
Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 11:49
From: Garrett Pope

I’m alive.

Leave me alone.

I do love you; I just can’t talk about this or anything right now.

Gary

Well, fuck. I didn’t mean literally say, “Hey, Bitch,”… but I get it.

“Jewel? Did you hear what I said?” Al says.

“Um, no, I got distracted. What did you say?” he pauses.

“Nothing important, what’s wrong?” he asks.

“I sent Gary an email this morning and I just got my response.”

“Well, what did it say? Or can you tell me?” he prods.

“Hey Bitch I’m alive leave me alone I do love you I just can’t talk about this or anything right now Gary,” I say all in one breath, my voice downtrodden.

“Oh, you sent him the ‘Hey, Bitch’ speech,” Al acknowledges.

“Yeah,” I say, still disappointed. He’s silent for a moment again… clearly a pregnant pause.

“So, dinner at seven, right?” he says, clearly trying to get off the phone.

“Al don’t harass the man. He’s probably got enough on his plate…”

“Yep, and he’s my friend, too, and I don’t deserve to be treated this way any more than you do, nor does he deserve to be going through this pain alone and thinking he can handle it when he clearly can’t. So, Jewel, my love, I’ll see you at seven, but I gotta bust a mission.”

“See ya, Al,” I say, knowing that it’s no use trying to talk him out of whatever he’s about to do.

I look at my phone, then look at the clock. Hearing this news makes me want to call a few people. I dial the first number.

“Sunflower, hey! A little too long-time-no-hear. How was Australia?”

“It was great, Daddy,” I reply. “How is Mandy and Harry?”

“Mandy’s beautiful, but she’s always beautiful. Harry’s getting too big too fast. The time seems to fly, doesn’t it?” he says.

“Yes, it does,” I tell him. “Don’t blink. It’ll be over in a second,” I laugh, just realizing that in about a month, my twins will be a year old. “I have news, Daddy.” The line is quiet.

Are you expecting again?” he asks. I frown as if he can see me.

“Daddy! No!” I whine. I mean, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but I haven’t prepared myself for that yet. I’m still on birth control, for Christ’s sake. “No,” I say, recovering quickly, “but it is good news nonetheless.”

“Well, out with it,” he says playfully. “I can always use good news.”

“I’m going to court,” I tell him. “I get to tell my story about what those bastards did to me in Nevada.” Daddy falls silent and I hear a loud noise like someone dropping a bag of clothes.

“That is great news, Sunflower,” he says, his voice sounding like a continuous sigh. “Finally! Finally, your voice is going to be heard! I’m going with you.”

“You don’t have to do that, Daddy,” I tell him. “You’d have to put your business on hold and what about Mandy and Harry?”

“We’ll work it out, baby,” he says. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world, and I mean that.” I sigh. I know when my father says he’s going to do something, he’s going to do it.

“In that case, I’ll keep you posted. You can fly down in the jet with us.”

“That’s right! You do have a jet, don’t you?” he exclaims.

“Yes, sir,” I say. “You’re little girl has hit it big!” I jest.

“No,” he says, “you may have married a really rich guy, but he hit it big when he got you.” My cup runneth over.

“Thank you, Daddy,” I whisper.


CHRISTIAN

Apparently, my attitude is illuminating around me the moment I hit the building. People bypass the usual sycophantic “Good Morning, Mr. Grey” and scurry around, away from, or to avoid me like roaches. Three people even exited a crowded elevator to avoid having to ride in it with me.

Get used to it, troops. The Iron Fist is back.

“Andrea, what meetings do I have on the books today?” I ask when I breeze into my office and past her desk. Ever efficient, she’s behind me in moments and is probably the only person in the whole building who’s immune to my asshole tendencies.

“You’ve got Ros and Lorenz at noon and the auditing meeting at two. Nothing else that I know of.” I nod.

“Have a fresh pot of black coffee sent up from the cafeteria. I feel the makings of a long ass day ahead.”

It’s time to shave some operations to make room for the intensive audit that’s about to take place in my company. Not keeping my eye on basic housekeeping is what allowed that keystone cop motherfucker to get in the castle and eventually kidnap my girl; a mole to be hired in right under our noses; miscellaneous subsidiaries to engage in human trafficking for God only knows how long; and a sympathizer to give classified information to a couple of fucker hackers, which included the biological son of the only real nemesis that I have in the world. Some of these stagnant mergers and acquisitions are going to have to wait until I can give them the attention they need.

In my Research and Development department, there are five sub-divisions—marketing infrastructure, product safety, operations, program development and evaluation, and research and technology services. Each of these divisions are coming under the microscope severally as well as how they relate to each other division in the department and the company. I decided to start with R&D since they have been in the center of my ire thus far.

I’m doing audits internally as well as employing an outside auditing firm to identify weak spots in my company. The last time I did an overhaul, it seems like there was a lot of hefty talk and not a lot of action. Wait til they see what happens this time.

I’ve already set the stage for the upcoming internal audit and I’ll be meeting with Al, Alex, my accounting department head, and the members of the external audit team this afternoon. I’ve also requested that all executive emails be forwarded to my wife. As half-owner of this company, I can’t afford for her to be completely uninformed even if she doesn’t plan to take part in the operations of the company. I really wish she would, but I can’t force her hand. I do like her way of thinking, however, when I get an email from her today.

To: Christian Grey
Re: Idea?
Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 10:51
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

Mr. Grey,

When was the last time your company performed random drug testing?

Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Assistant Director, Helping Hands

What a fantastic way to weed out a bunch of people that I wouldn’t want in my company anyway! I know for sure that the possibility of random drug testing was introduced in the employment packages of each employee, right along with the NDA’s and releases to perform background checks. My company is zero tolerance, so even though we haven’t had random tests in quite some time, this should come as no surprise.

To: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Re: Idea?
Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 11:17
From: Christian Grey

Dr. Grey,

Capital idea! May I ask what brought about this stroke of genius?

Christian Grey
CEO, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc

“Andrea, can you come into my office please?” I summon through the intercom.

“Yes, sir,” she says. A few moments later, she enters the office and I inform her to close the door.

“Who handles our requests for random drug testing?” I ask. She raises her brow in surprise. Yes, this is going to be exactly what’s needed to shake the company up a bit.

“I’m not sure, sir,” she says. “It’s been a while. I don’t think we’ve had random drug testing since I’ve been employed here.”

“Well, that’s about to change,” I tell her. “Find out who does them for me—the most accurate without blood. I don’t want anything invasive. I think hair will be the best option.”

“Yes, sir,” she says, and she leaves the office. I check my computer and there’s another email from Butterfly.

To: Christian Grey
Re: Idea?
Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2014, 11:39
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey

It’s just a hunch I’m following, but it would surely weed out the unwanted element from the company. And in all honesty, a company your size should have this kind of thing regularly, especially with your zero-tolerance drug policy.

Have you also considered enacting a policy of follow-up background checks just to stay on top of things? You also might want to look into how the yearly evaluations are done. I have some ideas.

Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey
Assistant Director, Helping Hands

She’s right about that. And the fact that Andrea has just informed me that we haven’t had drug testing at least since she’s been here is pretty significant. It adds to the complacency of the staff. However, the follow-up background checks could be a massive undertaking. That would require an entire protocol of reminders and possibly another team dedicated to nothing but that. I know that we have procedure in place in case someone gets an arrest after they’ve been hired, but I don’t think we have anything much more than that. Maybe it’s something I should look into…

“Black,” Ros says when she enters my office. “I haven’t seen black in quite some time.”

“It’s just a suit, Ros,” I reply as she and Lorenz enter the office.

“It has a presence,” Lorenz says, taking his regular seat in front of my desk.

“That’s what he’s going for,” Ros remarks, taking her usual seat as well. “R&D is shitting their pants. The other department heads are turning in status reports as we speak. My guess is that they want to get ahead of the upcoming audits and see what they should concentrate on.”

“Hmm,” I say, opening the file she just sent me from her iPad. “It may be too little too late,” I observe as I scroll through the project titles from the various departments.

“Isn’t that what you wanted,” she says, “to put some fire under the departments?”

“No,” I reply. “I’ve been putting fire under them for the last two years and it hasn’t helped. It’s time to clean. It may even be time to introduce some new talent. I’m all for keeping someone with tenure who has demonstrated continuous progress and improvement in the company, but if that’s not what I’m getting, I’m not going to continue to pay people to sit on their laurels and decide to jump when I start breathing fire. That’s what they always do, and I’m tired of it now.” I minimize her list of projects and go back to the spreadsheet of pending acquisitions I was reviewing when they entered.

“I see that we’re currently courting six companies, we got four on the hopper, and three in negotiations. Tell me what’s cooking with the four.”

“Same thing, different day,” Ros says. “They’re looking over the offer and seeing how it fits into the future of their companies…”

As Ros drones on about the four companies we have approached for mergers, I hear no urgency in her voice. I feel the same complacency that I’m getting from my department heads. I truly hope I’m wrong.

“Drop ‘em,” I say once she’s finished. Her eyes widen.

“Sir?” she asks in horrified amazement.

“Drop ‘em,” I repeat. “I’ve heard nothing that indicates that any of those companies have any real intentions of moving forward. They’re just biding their time to see what I’m going to do.”

“It’s just before Christmas, Christian,” Ros protests.

“Yep, it’s just before Christmas now, and we’ve been doing the one-two step with Hanes and Bristol since just before my grandfather died. What’s that—six or seven months, and no bite? Drop ‘em.”

“And the others, too?” she asks, still horrified.

“Yes, and the others, too. I’ve made serious offers to all of these companies. I don’t have time for them to consult their ancestors to ask what their next move should be.” She shakes her head and types into her tablet. “What about the three in negotiations?”

“Finney has that,” Ros says flatly.

“Firm counter-offers on two,” Lorenz says, “I actually CC’ed you on that this morning. The last one is still giving some ridiculous numbers but is ripe for the picking.” I twist my lips.

“Hmmm,” I ponder. “I’ll take a look at that third one and see if it’s worth the trouble. And stop the courting with the other six.”

Lorenz and Ros both look at me.

“Christian, Veston is prime for acquisition. If we let this go, we may completely miss this opportunity…”

“And there will be another opportunity,” I interrupt Lorenz. “There’s always another opportunity. Right now, I have bigger fish to fry right here on my own front door. Let’s lock down the ones we already have in negotiations. Any others can wait until after the audits.

“Yes, sir,” Lorenz responds skeptically, tapping into his iPad.

“And by the way,” I say, looking through the emails being sent to me and forwarded to Butterfly, “I want executive level emails to be sent to my wife, not all this junk that everyone has decided that they want to send all of a sudden.” They look at each other again.

“Um, how do you suggest we screen what goes to Mrs. Grey?” Ros asks.

“Her name is Dr. Grey, Ros,” I correct. “And you screen it the same way I just did—executive emails only. Keep the junk mail; pass the word—intentional violators will be disciplined. Any other questions on the matter?”

She purses her lips and looks down at her tablet. I know what’s happening with all these random emails. These assholes are trying to prove a point and teach a lesson since Butterfly indicated that she didn’t get a response to her email. All they’re really doing is pissing me off, and that’s something that they really don’t want to do right now.

I go through several more minutes of handing down instructions and deliberately ignoring a barrage of “But, sirs” when Andrea knocks on my open door.

“Sir, I’ve got that information that you wanted,” she says, and I know that she’s talking about the random drug testing. I gesture her in.

“Who’s the company?” I ask, right in front of Ros and Lorenz.

“DISA Global Solutions, sir,” she says, handing me a piece of paper with some information on it. I don’t have to look at my executive team to know that they’ve suddenly become more alert.

“What are the next steps?” I ask.

“We send our specs to them and get a quote,” she replies. I nod.

“Correspond with human resources. Get an approximate head count of the building. I want a 50% sampling of highly reliable testing and if we can get results by Monday or Tuesday, that would be superb. I don’t want this spilling into the holiday.”

“Yes, sir,” she says with a nod and leaves. The silence is so thick in the room you can cut it.

“Drug testing, Christian?” Ros says. “Is that what you think is causing the problems in GEH?” I raise my gaze from my computer screen.

“I know what’s causing the problems in GEH, Rosalind,” I reply, “I am. I’ve been at the helm of a successful company enjoying high profits and low problems for years until I got married. Now, I’m a family man and everyone seems to have forgotten the formula that got us to where we are—myself included. I plan to rectify the situation.”

“Hmm,” she says, twisting her lips. “Rosalind. Okay. Since we’re being frank, I should tell you that random drug testing is simply an unnecessary outlay of funds. And 50%? In three business days? Are you serious? It’s an unnecessary scare tactic.”

“On the contrary, I think it’s very necessary. If I order a 50% random sampling and five people come back with a positive test in a zero-tolerance company, then that’s five people that I can get rid of and replace with employees who will follow directions and remain drug-free. If I order that same sampling, and 300 people come back testing positive, I know it’s time to clean house and I have very well found one of the problems with GEH. One or one-thousand, Ros, this is a necessary operation. The only way it’s unnecessary is if every random specimen comes back completely clean.” Ros huffs loudly and shakes her head.

“Out with it, Ros,” I say. She fixes her gaze on me.

“There are so many other things that we need to be focusing on—operational flaws, problem solving and risk management, flow of information, management and integrity—and we’re deciding to turn our focus to drug testing,” she states incredulously.

“Is there a problem with drug testing?” I ask. “Why are you so dead set against it.”

“I’m not against it,” she retorts, “I just think there’s a better use of the resources, including preventing the downtime of 50% of our staff.” I do the Butterfly bobblehead thing.

“Are we broke and I didn’t know it?” I ask, incredulously. “First of all, no expenditure is too high to ensure that I find any drug-addicts in my company or to ensure that I do not! You know why I have a zero-tolerance for drug use, which is a perfectly logical reason for me to request random drug testing, especially in light of the costly mistakes we’ve had in the past few months. And yes, I do intend to implement and exercise random drug testing across the GEH industries. Now, I’ve told you why I feel like this is a very necessary initiative. Besides the completely irrelevant issue of cost that you keep raising, can you tell me why you’re so against it?”

Ros’ head jerks back like I just hit her. Something I’ve said shocked her and I’m not sure what it is. My points are very relevant, and I’ve supported them with facts. That’s when Lorenz decides to chime in.

“Sir, I don’t see anything wrong with taking a firm hand if the company has taken such a drastic turn. There’s nothing obvious to the naked eye or in the financials that indicates that the company is declining, but again, I whole-heartedly agree with nipping things in the bud—getting behind the problem before it affects the bottom line. However, you don’t want to come off as a small man swinging a big stick because someone broke his favorite toy.” I turn my attention to him and frown deeply.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“One of the first thing you said when we walked into the room was ‘Stop sending junk mail to Anastasia.’ I don’t know what happened between the time you dismissed us yesterday and the moment you walked in this morning, but things have certainly changed. Ros brought up a very valid point yesterday about nepotism that the other department heads are very likely to concur with if the legal department isn’t ripped apart like the rest of the company. Hate it or love it, that’s the truth, and you can’t shoot the messenger.

“If you’re making any decisions that either of us may feel are irrational, we would be doing you a disservice not to bring it to your attention. Now, although we know that the company is going through internal investigations for what appears to be one too many mistakes, a lot of the decisions for measures and guidelines being handed down appear to be personal, and I can’t be ashamed to tell you at the risk of my silence being damaging to the company.”

I can’t fucking win for losing.

I can’t be the ball-buster.
I can’t be the nice guy.
I can’t be the billionaire concerned about his fucking business.
I can’t turn my back for a moment and say, “Hey, let this operation run on its own,” without having to worry about the walls falling down.

What’s more, I can’t initiate a practice or a policy with my own money without being concerned about nepotism, personal feelings, or scrutiny from inside or outside of my company.

Now it’s time to put my foot down… hard.

I straighten my chair and steeple my fingers over my lips, my gaze focused in the space between my two head executives. This is a look that Ros knows well, because it usually means that the next words out of my mouth may have a ripple-effect that reaches from sea to shining sea.

Yes, the asshole is back.  

“While I value your input on these issues, let me clarify something for both of you. I don’t care if I come off as a toddler having a temper tantrum in a sandbox. I’m the one who stands to lose the most if this company isn’t productive. When the ink dries on every audit, every test, every document, guess who’s name is going to be on the lips of every man and woman in the industry if this company is found lacking? Guess who’s ass is ultimately going to be on the line if some outside source discovers that this company—my company—is hemorrhaging somewhere and we didn’t even know it?

“They’re not going to say, ‘Oh, that fucker Finney really fucked up over there at GEH!’ No, they’re going to say, ‘What the hell? Is Grey’s head up his ass?’ And there goes my company, my family and my children’s future, my reputation, everything I built—we built over all these years. Gone—just like that! I could give a fuck less if these assholes think I’m a baby in a crib screaming with a bottle in one hand and a rattle in the other. I’m going to do whatever I feel is necessary to sniff out weakness in my company and eliminate it.

“Can either of you tell me—when you thought I wasn’t listening—the exact cost of the supplies that didn’t make it to our warehouses on time? Can you tell me if it cost us any clients? Can you tell me if anybody reached out to those clients to offer our apologies for the late shipments?

“How about the fire in the New York building? Has anyone reached out to any of the injured parties? Any of the families? It’s my understanding that fire happened while I was in Australia—what was the outcome? Have we offered anything besides health insurance to these people? With this happening right before Christmas, has anybody even made the suggestion to send a representative or to go out to the east coast to see about these people?

“And just how costly was that pharmaceutical fuck up? Do we even have an inkling about that?

“And the piece de resistance, SEEKNID… which has been lying dormant for a whole fucking year and would still be lying dormant now had I not come in the office breathing fire, and we’re really having hissy fits about internal drug testing at my company headquarters?”

“Hissy…” Ros trails off. Her statement is cut short and her body language indicates that I’ve hit a nerve. She looks at Lorenz in disgust and then turns her attention back to me.

“I think I need to take some time off,” she says matter-of-factly. “Christmas is next week and not a lot happens during the holidays. This may be just the time for me and Gwen to get away, maybe see some family.”

She knows that I’m about to implement some changes and that there might be some terminations with the results of the drug test. You want to jump ship, Ros, you do that… but I don’t easily forget.

“I just came back from a vacation and I have no immediate plans of going anywhere else. So, Ros, if you feel that now is the time that you need to make an escape, be my guest. We all need time to reflect sometimes.”

I don’t take my eyes off of her as she raises her brow, excuses herself, and walks behind my desk toward my bathroom.

“You probably don’t want to piss her off,” Lorenz says.

“That’s just it, Lorenz,” I reply. “I don’t care if I piss her off. The name of this company is Grey Enterprises Holdings. I built it from nothing, and although I sincerely value the work, abilities, and dedication of my executive team, I will not now nor will I ever allow them or anyone else in my company to undermine me or disrespect me even if they attempt to do it in a professional or covert manner.

“I don’t want to see my company go belly-up and I’m doing everything in my power to keep that from happening, but this organization can go to zero net profits by day’s end and I’ll still be a billionaire. So, the last thing I need to do is suck anybody’s ass or deal with anybody’s insolence.

“Ros isn’t the only one in this company right now with an I’ll show him attitude, and I know it. And that wasn’t the case two years ago. I get more kickback now from my department heads—all of them—than I have ever gotten since this company began and that’s going to stop right now.

“The heart and pulse—the very life’s blood—of this multi-billion-dollar conglomerate is right here in this building, in the hands of these people. This ship has to be tight, unshakable and able to weather any storm. I cannot and will not tolerate weakness in any area.

“I’m combing through this entire building, department by department, after which I may be doing something similar with my entire organization. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again. I’ll be making sure that we are as close as humanly possible if not spot on with the vision of what I had when I started this company, before everyone became comfortable, complacent, and sloppy. And if I have to shut down major operations for a year to get it done, I’ll do it. My hope is that I don’t have to deal with kickback from my executive team, because that means that the process will just be prolonged, but I’m still proceeding as planned.

“Each one of us will be knee-deep in responsibilities over the next several months and I expect each of us to hold our own as I intend to do just that. If there’s any problem with that, then I will begrudgingly accept resignations. I will say that with that entire dissertation that I just gave about late shipments, injured employees, pharmaceutical lawsuits, and a possible multi-million-dollar software sitting useless on some shelf for over a year, I’m quite surprised that the only phrase that had any real impact…” I turn around and look into Ros’ face as I knew that she was standing there the entire time…

“… Was ‘hissy fits.’”

I glare at her, because I’m disappointed. I tore myself apart most of the night last night, sneaking out to get some time on the piano before Butterfly awoke, pondering how I was going to balance the old asshole with the new family man because my company can’t seem to appreciate the new guy. They need the old me. If that’s what they need, that’s what they’ll get. And if “hissy fitswas the only thing she heard out of that entire conversation, then she needs some time off.

She stares at me impassively for a moment, then marches ceremoniously around my desk, across my office, and out the door.

I don’t flinch. I need her not to quit; I really need her around, but I’ll do without her if I must.

“Lorenz, do you need time off, too?” He raises his brow.

“No, sir,” he says. “Looks like you may have a lot on your plate.” I nod.

“I’m sure that I will,” I say after a frustrated sigh.

*-*

Three other men are in the elevator with me and Jason when we’re leaving for the day. I usually ride alone, but I didn’t put the code in to make the elevator “express,” and they boarded at the 11th floor. They were jesting with each other when the doors opened; now the car is completely silent. The doors open and Jason and I exit on the first floor. As we’re walking to the front doors, the idiots in the car decide to make a crack loud enough for me to hear it.

“Big Dollar Grey is uptight. The wife must’a withheld that tight ass last night.”

There’s laughter in the elevator as the doors close and I stop at the front desk.

“Stop elevator car #3,” I say to the guard. He frowns and looks at his panel.

“There are people in it, sir,” he says. I just glare at him. He’s got about five seconds to stop that car before the doors open and the idiots get out. He makes that “ooookay” face and stops the elevator.

“Bring up the elevator camera,” I say. As he’s bringing it up, the emergency bell from the elevator comes on.

“From left to right, tell me who they are,” I say to no one in particular. Jason immediately goes behind the desk and starts typing into the computer. The bell is still ringing, and Jason looks at one of the guards and just points at it. The guy pushes a button and the ringing stops but a light on the panel keeps flashing.

“Good evening gentlemen,” he says into an intercom. “Sorry for the inconvenience. We’ll have you on your way in just a moment.”

“Seriously?” one of the voices protests. “With all the money this place makes, the elevators are breaking down? What the fuck is going on?” Jason raises his head.

“Last names only,” I say. He looks at the guy, who nods at him.

“Carter, Jenkins, and Pack, in that order,” he says. I nod and head to the stairwell. Jason says something to the guards at the desk and he knows me well enough to know what’s about to happen. He’s close behind me in the stairwell and in a few moments, we’re in the parking structure in front of elevator car #3.

“Open the doors,” Jason says into his wrist, and I clasp my hands in front of me glaring at my reflection until the angry faces of three detained assholes fill my view. I silently stand there glaring at each one of them.

I’m what the fuck is going on, you stupid assholes.

After standing there for at least a solid minute in total silence and probably wondering why the doors aren’t closing, Pack and Jenkins both turn their gaze to Carter, who hasn’t looked left or right since the elevator opened.

That’s called snitching without saying a word.

I lock my gaze on Carter and give him another 30 seconds of the stare game, which really isn’t the stare game at all because he’s blinking madly and starting to sweat a bit. I catch a glimpse of my reflection in the walls of the elevator. I look like Satan at the moment.

“For your information, Mr. Carter,” I begin, my voice menacing, “I get more pussy from that tight-assed wife of mine than you’ve seen all year.”

He swallows hard but doesn’t respond. Jenkins and Pack stand there with their mouths hanging open in stunned amazement.

“Get the fuck out the elevator,” I add. “You’re holding up the car.”

Jenkins and Pack scramble out quickly, maneuvering around me and being sure not to touch me since I’m standing right in front of the elevator and won’t move. Carter is still stunned stiff.

Say that three times fast.

“Are you waiting for a bus?” I hiss, jolting Carter out of his stupor. I see Jason’s reflection in the elevator wall. He shakes his head, his expression disgusted, as Carter scurries out of the car behind his friends. We step into the elevator and ride back to the first floor.

“What are you going to do?” Jason asks as we walk out to the Audi parked in front of the building.

“Nothing,” I reply as I get into the car. He knows as well as I do that the fear and anticipation of retaliation is more affective that any actual retaliation could ever be.

“Diabolical,” he says, closing the door behind me.

*-*

I don’t feel the relief that I normally feel when I arrive home. I feel relief, it’s just not that huge, weight-lifting sigh that I normally get when we get to the garage.

Weight-lifting sigh…

I go to the workout room instead of heading up to greet my wife and children. Butterfly understands when it’s been a rough day and I just need to unwind.

There’s already workout gear in the gym and I quickly change and begin to pound the treadmill.

I was hoping that my wife and I would be the power couple that we presented in that blasted exposé that we did. Unfortunately, it looks like it was all for the cameras. The company is not relating her to me, but they are relating me to her. They’re not seeing her as an extension of me, which is what I had hoped; they’re seeing me as an extension of her—which is a good thing most times, but not in the boardroom. They see me as Anastasia’s husband and Michael and Mackenzie’s father, but they don’t see her as Christian’s wife, a bit of a savvy businesswoman with a keen eye. They just see her as coming in and shaking things up with Daddy. That will never do.

The treadmill doesn’t seem to be burning enough and I’ve got about an hour before our children’s godparents are supposed to be here. This is why I worked out every day and beat submissives every weekend. Even my physique looks different since I got married because I don’t work out as much. Can I be the iron-fisted businessman that I need to be at work and still be the loving husband and doting father at home? Or is this going to be an impossible task?

“Good of you to finally join us, Bro,” Elliot jabs when I enter the dining room after my shower. “We waited so long I thought the chicken would come back to life.”

“Yeah, well,” I retort, and that’s it. I’m still wound a bit tight from the day and I’m afraid that if we get into our usual banter, I might say something highly inappropriate like telling him to stick his head up his ass and inhale.

It doesn’t get by him.

“You alright, Christian?” he asks, and every eye is on me, including my children—as if they understood what Uncle Elliot said.

“Just a fu—… messed up day at the office,” I say, trying to take the focus off of me.

“You wanna talk about it?” Elliot prods, his voice laced with concern, and I can tell by the expressions from everyone else that the concern is widespread. Okay, get it together, Grey.

“Naw, it’s just work shit…” I look at Butterfly, who stops feeding Minnie to throw that glare at me

“Sorry,” I say. “It’s just work stuff. I don’t want to bore you with it.”

“This is your home, Christian,” Val says, “your dinner table. If you need to let it out, this is your sanctuary to do that. You’ve had a hard day—you shouldn’t have to hold onto it.”

Butterfly raises her brow to Val then turns to me and gives me that “she’s got a point” look. I sigh heavily.

“I’m just frustrated with the company… the people,” I begin. “I used to be able to hand down a policy or a command and it was done yesterday. Now, I’m getting kickback from everybody, including my executive staff.”

“What changed?” James asks.

“He became a kinder, gentler Chris,” Al points out. “He goes home at five o’clock; he doesn’t work on Sundays anymore; he gave half the company to Jewel; he changed.”

“It would have been half her company anyway,” I protest. “We’re married, remember? What’s the big fu… freaking deal?”

“Not the corporate assets, Chris,” Al says. “Those still belong to the company.”

“But the company belongs to me,” I point out. “I’m not publicly held, remember.” Al nods.

“I remember, but it’s still a different animal. And even so, a lot of the people in the trenches and even the department heads don’t know that the assets could fall under community property to some extent without a prenup. They just see that you gave your lady 50% of your toy and now, you’re trying to give her the reins, too… or at least one of them. Kinder, gentler Chris.”

“So, basically, when you were a butthole, they all said ‘how high’ when you said ‘jump.’ Now that you’re human, you can’t get anything done,” Val summarizes.

“Basically,” I concur.

“So, no offense, but why not just go back to being an a… a-hole, at least at work?” Elliot said.

“Yeah, did that today,” I inform him. “It’s not hard to sink into that persona. In fact, it can be quite liberating when you need to get things done and people want to treat you like your commands are jokes and you won’t fire their… butts on a moment’s notice. Hell, one of my executive officers announced an impromptu leave because I think I hurt her little feelings. It’s coming out of it that’s the hard part.”

“Her?” Butterfly says, Minnie’s baby spoon suspended in air. “Ros?” I nod just as Minnie protests that her dinner is being delayed.

“Yes,” I say as my wife silences my daughter with a spoonful of food. “We had an entire conversation about issues in the company and the only thing she heard was ‘hissy fit.’ I swear, if I didn’t know that she was married to a woman, I would think she was pregnant.” Butterfly raises her brow at me.

“Were you referring to her when you said, ‘hissy fit?’” she asks.

“Yes, Anastasia, I was referring to her.” Butterfly’s expression changes a bit, from questioning to surprise, then she turns her attention back to Minnie and her meal.

“You’re going to have to find a middle ground, Christian,” Val says, calmly. “If you keep trying to swing from one extreme to the other—one person at work and the complete opposite when you’re at home or with your family—you’re going to have a stroke. Not only that, but that kind of thing never works. You’re going to forget who you are in one place or the other and the results are going to be… less than pleasant,” she adds gesturing her head and eyes inconspicuously towards my wife who pays studious attention to my daughter and her meal.

Shit, what did I say?

“Ugh!” Unable to even remember what I just did that has landed me in what appears to be Silent-Treatment-Ville, I grunt in mock agony and drop my head to the table with a thud that causes the dishes to clatter a bit. I’m certain that I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know how to be the asshole that I need to be at work and then come home and be the family man. I have to start turning the asshole on before I even leave the house for work in the morning. Then as I leave the office, I now have to figure out how to turn the asshole off?

“I’m sure there was a gradual change from asshole to Mr. Nice Guy,” Val says. “You just have to find that medium.”

“It’s too late for that,” I say, my voice echoing off the wood of the dining table. “They only respond to ‘asshole’ and even then, the transition is a nightmare. I’m going to have to go through at least a month of increased sick days, time off, and so-you-don’t-think-fat-meat-is-greasy directives before this company is even slightly back on the right footing.”

“So, what happened in the elevator today?” Al asks. I lift my head and look at him.

“How did you find out about that?” I ask. He shrugs.

“News travels fast,” he says, matter-of-factly.

“Well, that’s pretty fucking fast!” I shoot. That didn’t happen three hours ago, and everybody was on their way home. It’s now that I realized I’ve dropped an F-bomb and moments before, Val dropped the A-bomb. My head snaps over to my wife who’s looking impassively at me. Our children have been removed from the room. Pretty soon, I’ll be banned from them, too. I roll my eyes and… thud, rattle.

“So,” Al prods, “the elevator?”

“When they thought I was out of earshot…”

“We can’t hear you, Bro,” Elliot says. I raise my head and turn to him.

“When they thought I was out of earshot, three idiots from whatever department is on the 11th floor…”

“Telecommunications,” Al says.

“Thank you,” I reply sarcastically. “Three idiots from telecommunications decide to jest about how uptight I am today. So, I stopped the elevator between floors, met them at the ground level and let them know just how uptight I really was.”

“Did you fire ‘em?” James asks.

“No,” I say, “I called them each by name, succinctly made my point, and then told them to get the fuck out of the elevator since they were holding up the car.” The table is silent.

“That’s it?” Val says. “No rolling heads or anything like that?”

“He didn’t need to after he said each of their names,” Al points out.

“I don’t get it,” Elliot says, and my wife still hasn’t said a word.

“He called out each of those jerks by name,” Val says. “They know that he knows who they are.”

“And…?” Elliot says, still not quite catching on.

“All three of them are going to be waiting for the ax to fall, an ax that’s never coming… Am I right, Christian?” James says. I nod.

“You’re right,” I confirm.

“The terror of waiting for what might happen to them is scarier than anything that he could actually do to them. They may just quit or stress themselves out worrying,” Val finishes.

“Especially if I see any of them anywhere and call them out by name,” I say. Elliot shakes his head.

“And… you’re worried about what?” he says. “That’s the assholest move I’ve ever seen.” Val elbows Elliot. “Ow, what?” he asks quietly, but Val doesn’t respond.

“What did they say?” James asks. Oh, shit. I knew this was coming. What the hell? That hole can’t get any deeper.

“’Big Dollar Grey is uptight. The wife must’a withheld that tight ass last night,’” I say. Elliot scoffs.

“Heh, that’ll do it,” he says without missing a beat.


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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey:Chapter 85—Business As Usual? 

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

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

Chapter 85—Business As Usual? 

CHRISTIAN

“I still think you overacted about the snake,” I say coming out of my dressing room while straightening my tie.

“Whatever,” she replies, “be glad I don’t cut you off,” she threatens.

“I’d find a way to make you give in,” I say confidently

“You think so, huh?” she challenges. I raise an eyebrow.

“You want to test the theory?” I retort just as haughtily, daring her to try me and begging her to do it at the same time. I’ll have your pretty little ass clawing at the walls. She ponders the theory for the moment, then turns and leaves the bedroom.

“I thought not,” I say under my breath as I follow her out of the room.

“You’re going back to the Center?” I inquire, noticing that she’s dressed for work as we descend the stairs. She sighs.

“Yes,” she says, “for now. I have responsibilities, but I don’t know what the future holds yet. I still don’t appreciate being disregarded that way, so we’ll just have to see.”

“What will you do if you leave the Center?” I ask. “Stay at home?”

“We both know I’d lose my mind,” she replies. “I haven’t gotten that far yet. I gave some thought to starting my own cause, but… that seems so catty and that’s certainly not my M-O. I just wish she could truly see what she did. It’s unacceptable and I just can’t tolerate it… and I won’t keep talking about it with you because I don’t want you to feel like I’m trying to make you take sides against your mother.”

“I don’t think that,” I say, placing my hand in the small of her back and leading her to the kitchen.

*-*

“Ronald Holstein on the line, sir,” Andrea says through the intercom. “I’ve been telling him all week that you were out of the country and expected back today. He’s been calling every day nonetheless.”

“Whenever he calls, tell him that I’m in meetings until further notice,” I reply. Let his ass stew for a while until I decide what I want to do with him… and we won’t be doing some simple shit like kidnapping his fucking dog, either.

“Yes, sir,” Andrea says.

“I know you’ve got a hundred meetings today, but you’re going to want to hear this,” Josh calls in my office from the reception area before I close the door. I gesture him in, and he closes the door behind him.

“Sir, let me start by saying that it’s not my business what you do in your private life, but I’m sure that you hired me because I’ve always got my ear to the ground and because I’m more insightful than most.” I already don’t like the sound of this.

“I’m listening,” I say as I gesture to the chair in front of my desk.

“Well, the puzzle is falling together, sir,” he says taking the seat. “Elena Lincoln is still talking to whomever will listen, but now she’s starting to say a little more.” I frown.

“A little more like what?” I ask.

“She’s saying things like people in high places are going to fall when her book is published,” he says. “She insinuated these things before, but she didn’t come out and say them. Now, she’s saying them—to other reporters and it’s filtering back down to me. I was going to make another trip back up there to see her, but I really don’t think I need to. Her diarrhea of the lips along with Ron Holstein’s foot-in-mouth syndrome has pretty much given me all I need.

“I should tell you that her conversation is not nearly as cloaked as she thinks it is. I only say that because it wouldn’t be wise to give away her story before publishing, or her book would be worthless. Bearing that in mind, I can only assume that she’s not fully aware of how much information she’s leaking and, sir, anybody with even the slightest inside hook would have no problem finding you in her code speak. What’s more is that they would probably find a few others, too… I did.”

Oh, fuck, this just keeps getting worse and worse.

“Okay, Josh, I need you to give it to me straight,” I say. “I can’t follow any more riddles.”

“Nineteen out of 20 journalists don’t have the background information or resources that I have,” he begins. “They could get it, but it would take a lot of work and even more time. By then, the story would be blown wide open. She didn’t give me the name of her ghostwriter, but she gave me her pen-name—BD Simmons. There’s no risk in giving me that because there’s nothing else published in that name. However, these ladies aren’t as savvy as they pride themselves to be.

“I don’t know what they’re expecting, but I can almost guarantee that Lincoln is counting on the safety of the prison walls, as ironic as that sounds. Her ghostwriter has anonymity on her side. For whatever reason, they’re both underestimating the danger of the situation. Knowing what I know about Lincoln—the public information and the inside information, you should know that it doesn’t take too much ingenuity to figure out what BD Simmons is an acronym for.”

No, it doesn’t. I figured it out the minute he said the name. BDSM.

“So, of course, the first thing I did was check her old haunts, her old sources, her submissives…” Jesus, this is so much more of this conversation than I really want to have with Josh. “The logical paths lead to three of her girls—two still studying journalism and one with a degree in literature. They all have other… interests at this time, according to Alex, but one has been visiting her at the prison, quite freely I might add.”

“And who is that?” I ask.

“That would be one named Greta Ellison. It didn’t take much more than context clues to figure out that she was BD Simmons.”

“Fucking hell!” I hiss, trying not to curse too loudly or crash something against the nearest wall. Why the fuck do I keep letting these people get away and the minute I let them out of my sight, they bite me?

“Get Welch in here!” I bark into the intercom.

“Yes, sir,” Andrea replies.

“You’re sure that Ellison might not be just filtering the information through to her? Like being a liaison between Lincoln and the ghostwriter?” I ask, not wanting to believe that I was gullible enough to set this bitch free instead of crushing her when I had the chance.

“Sir, to be able to stand in a court of law and tell you that Greta Ellison is Lincoln’s ghostwriter, I can’t. To look you in the eye and tell you with at least 95% certainty that Ellison is her ghostwriter, that I can do. No matter what your content, you can’t get a decent feel for the story—for what the real author wants to portray—without a face-to-face meeting. Even with every fact airtight and recited to you, you wouldn’t be able to relay a successful story without meeting personally with the subject, and Ms. Ellison does that a lot.”

She has no other reason to meet with Lincoln. There’s nothing for her to gain from the acquaintance, and I threatened her the last time we met. I let her ass go, but I threatened her…

And she threatened me.

 “You think you’re so much. You’re not untouchable, Mr. Grey, and I’m just the one to prove it!”

This should come as no surprise to me. I remember our first meeting. She wasn’t just an airhead when I interviewed her. She was brilliant. She was perfect. She knew all the right things to say and do to get me where she wanted me and that can’t be taught. She’s wily, cunning, sly, and conniving… and she’s smart. Now, she seems dead set to destroy me and my family by any means necessary. I’ve got to destroy her first.

The gloves are off… all the way off.

“I won’t say, ‘Good Morning,’” Alex says as he opens my office door. “I can already tell it’s well past fucked up.”

“That’s an understatement,” I say coolly, my mind travelling more miles per hour than I can clock. “Close the door and have a seat.” Alex enters and closes the door behind him.

“This thorn is never going to go away,” I say, standing from my chair and walking to the window. “She’s on the watch list. How was it that she was seeing Lincoln and we didn’t know?”

“The same way that she stole Her Highness’s gun, sir,” Alex says. He scrolls through his tablet and hands it to me.

“She’s like Ethan fucking Hunt, sir. She can physically turn herself into anyone, male or female. There’s no way to tell who she is when she leaves her home. We didn’t even know that she was visiting Lincoln until we worked our way backwards and reviewed Lincoln’s visitor logs…”

Do I even want to know how he got access to Lincoln’s visitor logs without Holstein’s cooperation?

“Then we coordinated the people leaving the apartment with the people returning. She hasn’t gotten smart enough to change disguises before she gets home. Then again, she doesn’t need to.”

I scroll through the pictures and see men and women of every nationality identified as Greta Ellison. I even had to turn the tablet around to confirm the person was her a few times. Height and build don’t change. Shape can be masked by clothing, but she’s definitely different people.

“A few times, she logged in to see Ron Holstein, so he’s definitely in on it,” Josh adds.

“Yeah, I figured as much,” I say, still swiping through the many faces of Greta. She’s dangerous—extremely dangerous—and she must be stopped.

“Josh, who have you deduced could also be in this book?” I ask. He twists his lips. He doesn’t want to tell me.

“High-profile officials,” he says. “Some politicians, philanthropists, businessmen like yourself…” That’s all I need.

“Any way to get word to them without totally letting the cat out of the bag?” I ask. “You know, they don’t need to know where the information is coming from and I don’t even need to know who they are… it’s better that I don’t. Just a little tip-off that they may soon be in a tell-all book about their dirty laundry that may make it look even dirtier than it really is.” His brow rises.

“I see what you mean. I may need your help, Alex,” he says.

“I’m at your disposal,” Alex says.

“Then, get on it,” I tell Josh. “I’ll have more questions for you once I sort my rambling thoughts.”

“I’ll keep you posted,” he says as he stands to leave.

“Alex, you stay. I need more information from you.” Josh pauses, but only briefly before he leaves the room. I go over to the desk and flip the switch that scrambles recording signals in my office, even my own.

“She’s a chameleon,” I say, once I know that I’m no longer being recorded. “She’s a fucking dangerous, pestilence ass chameleon that’s not going to fucking go away.” I walk to the window.

“Do you know that I presented her with proof that I knew she was the one that stole my wife’s gun?” I continue. “I had her pinned in a BDSM club between three people that could have killed her with our bare hands, confronted her, threatened her, and let her go and she still came back?” I hiss angrily.

“Yes, sir, I do,” he says. Of course, you do. It’s your job to know. It only takes a minute to ponder what needs to be done.

“Ellison is smart. She’s cunning and she’s brilliant. She gave that gun to a woman that she knew was unstable, delusional, desperate, and had a bone to pick with me. She knew what that woman was going to do with that damn gun, and she gave it to her anyway.”

“Yes, sir,” Alex concurs.

“That woman tried to kill me with that gun,” I say, handing him the tablet, “and had it not been for Jason, she would have succeeded. As an accessory, Ellison tried to kill me.” Alex cocks his head and ponders.

“With the right evidence, a court of law would say that you’re absolutely correct…”

“Fuck the court of law!” I bark. “Because of those two conniving, murderous cunts, my bodyguard and best friend took a bullet for me and that’s the only thing that saved my life and nearly cost him his!” Alex examines me.

“What do you propose?” he asks.

“Get started with Josh to alert the other officials that they’re technically in the hot seat. Between my world-class security team and my extremely savvy PR department, I’m sure innuendo can be circulated to the press without upheaval or suspicion.” Alex casts a knowing gaze upon me.

“You’re creating a smokescreen,” he says.

“I wouldn’t call it a smokescreen,” I reply, “just more people of interest. I was the center of her last trial. The spotlight is already going to be on me. I want to see how many other people we can cast center stage.”

“I know we’re not being recorded,” he says. “I need to know what you have in mind.”

“You know what I have in mind!” I retort sharply. “She’s a thorn, a deadly thorn in my side and she needs to be extracted… and her little dog, too.”

“Are we talking Lincoln or Ellison…”

“We’re talking both!” I say before the words are completely out of his mouth. “But we can’t be sloppy. The minute that smokescreen starts, I need shit to get rolling on the lot of them… Lincoln, Ellison, Holstein, and his haughty ass secretary, too.

“Why the secretar…?”

“Because she pissed me off!” I hiss… and she doesn’t know who she’s fucking dealing with. Alex straightens his back.

“What are we talking here, and in what order?” he asks.

“Punishments for Lincoln begin immediately—subtle at first, but by the time it’s over, she’ll know who it is.” I’ll come up with something creative for her at the end so that she won’t be willing or able to fuck with me ever again. “Save the secretary for last. I just want her seriously inconvenienced, extremely uncomfortable, and if I forget while pursuing the bigger fish, it’ll be your responsibility to make sure those wishes get carried out.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Holstein? Thorough retaliation—annihilation, if possible. My only requirement for him is that he gets to live,” I growl. “His begins the moment the signals start to rise from the smokescreen, so get that going now.”

“And Ellison?” he asks. I only glare at him. Ellison… big, little bitch with too much power, real and assumed. She’s become more than an inconvenience! I don’t know if she’s chasing money, fame, or revenge, but whichever it is, it’s going to cost her dearly. She has no idea how far this woman has taken her down the rabbit hole, if for no other reason but the information that she’s given her, let alone how she plans to use it.

My silence answers his question.

“Duly noted,” he says, rising from his seat. “Anything else?

“I want to be there for every step of what happens to Ellison until I tell you that I don’t,” I say.

“Yes, sir,” he says coolly before opening the door to leave the room. I know that I’ve already missed a meeting and Andrea didn’t inform me. She knows me so well that she probably knew to reschedule with me in a meeting with Josh and growling for Alex. Just as Alex reaches the elevator, I hear something I don’t think I’ve heard in all the years that she has worked for me.

Andrea raises her voice.

“Mr. Holstein, I don’t care who you are or who you think you are, but I am a professional, and unless you can conduct your calls to this office with a little professionalism and decorum in the future, I will disconnect your calls every time I hear your voice. How’s that for a short-skirted, pencil pushing answering machine… sir?

Whoa! Holstein said the wrong thing to the wrong person and Andrea’s giving him what-for on this end of the line.

“Well, if you think you haven’t gotten through to him before, let’s see how successful you are now!” She slams the receiver down and closes her eyes, taking a deep breath. Alex and I make eye-contact before he nods and boards the elevator. When Andrea opens her eyes, I’m peeking around the door jam at her.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Grey, but you don’t pay me enough to put up with the names he just called me.” My face falls.

“More than a ‘short-skirted, pencil-pushing answering machine?” I ask, as if that wasn’t bad enough.

“Much more,” she says, her voice low.

“The next time he calls, put him on hold,” I say. It’s time to put my plans into action for this fucker as soon as possible. I don’t disrespect Andrea and I won’t allow anyone else to do it, either. His dick has gotten way too big for his pants, and I’m about to whack it down a couple of inches.

*-*

Al was two steps ahead of me and conferred with my accounting department about the best way to itemize and categorize my assets for a will. He’s slowly working his way through the process, setting up a trust for each of the children and placing other items in a revocable living trust, and several other terms of mumbo-jumbo that I trust he’ll handle and explain to us when it’s time to sign the final documents. I inform him that we’ll plan to have dinner with him and Valerie and their significant others sometime this week to discuss some of the particulars and to get some things in writing should I and my Butterfly meet an untimely simultaneous demise. We set aside Wednesday for the meeting, pending Valerie and Elliot’s acceptance of the invitation and, of course, Butterfly’s approval.

It’s later than usual when I get home and all I can think is that I can’t wait to be in my wife’s arms. Today was packed full of catching up with whatever work and catastrophes that simply couldn’t be solved without my presence not to mention plotting revenge on my enemies. I didn’t even eat lunch, so I’m hungry in more ways than one. Just as we’re pulling into the garage, my cell rings.

“Grey,” I say without looking at the phone.

“Hello, Christian,” my mother’s voice says. I try not to sigh loudly into the phone. My last conversation with my mother involved her trying to get the inside scoop on what my wife’s plans are in terms of the Center. Now, she has spent an entire day with my wife… and she’s calling me. What is it now?

“Hey, Mom,” I say, trying to sound casual. “What’s up?”

“Is Anastasia home yet?” Why would she call me and ask me that? Why wouldn’t she call Butterfly? And yet…

“No…” I say, slow and uncertain, as I look over at the bin where her vehicle usually is and it’s empty. “Is everything okay?”

“She’s probably just still at the Center,” Mom says. “You may want to go down there and get her. It’s been a long day.” I’m noticing that my mother’s tone is a bit labored, like she’s extremely tired.

“What happened, Mom?” I ask. “Did you two have a fight?”

“No, we didn’t have a fight,” she says, slightly exasperated, “and you said that you were going to stay out of it, so that’s what you should do.”

Well!

“I didn’t call you for that reason, anyway,” she continues. “I called you because, like I said, it’s been a long day and she was still closed in her office when I left, so it might be a good idea for you to go and get her.”

Jesus Christ. This day has already been horrific. The last time I popped up on my wife at the Center unannounced… no, I won’t think that way. Mom says I should probably go and get her, so I’m going to get her.

“Okay, Mom, I’m on my way now,” I say, and Jason looks over the seat at me.

“Okay. Goodbye now.” And just like that, she ends the call. What the hell happened at the Center today? I’m just looking at my phone wondering what’s going to be waiting for me when I get to Butterfly.

“Sir?” Jason says, reminding me that we’re still sitting in the car.

“We’re going to the Center,” I inform him.

“What’s wrong?” he says with concern.

“Nothing that I know of, but Butterfly isn’t here and she most likely still has the children with her. I’d like to go and bring them home.” He twists his lips at me. “While we’re on our way, you can call Chuck and make sure that everything is okay, but my mother just called and told me to go get my wife, so I’d like to see her, okay?”

There. I’m not trying to catch her in anything, nor do I think I would. I just want to go get her.

“Very well, sir,” he says, and starts the car again. As we’re crossing the bridge, he put Chuck on the speaker.

“As far as I know, she’s fine,” Chuck says through the speakers. As far as he knows…?

“Why wouldn’t you know?” I ask.

‘Because she’s been holed up in her office all afternoon,” he says. “She hasn’t come out and when I went to check on her, she called through the door, ‘Leave me alone! I’m busy!’ So, knowing that she’s okay, I did what she asked and left her alone. I do know—through the grapevine—that she and Grace had an intense conversation today and Grace didn’t look happy when she left. She stayed all day, but she was less than pleased.”

“Why are you telling us this?” Jason asks.

“Because I think that’s why she’s still in the office,” he said. I sigh.

“She fought with Mom,” I say. Mom said they didn’t fight. Jesus, the day was at least as hard for her as it was for me and now, she’s hiding out. “Thanks, Chuck,” I say.

“You’re welcome, sir,” he says and ends the call. Jason looks at me, questioning.

“The mission hasn’t changed. Get me to my wife.” I wonder if she’s hiding from me thinking her argument with my mother is going to cause us a problem? I’m even more eager to get to her now than I was before.

Hurry up, Jason. She needs me…


ANASTASIA

“She hasn’t given you any idea when she’s coming back? Or if she’s coming back?” Courtney asks.

“Neither,” I tell her. “She’s never taken a day off in her life that I can remember, not even for doctor’s appointments…” which makes me question when she ever went before the whole pregnancy scare. “Then she takes them all at once. I’m still depositing her check into her account because she has nearly a lifetime in sick time accrued and she only ever used vacation time when I did so…” I trail off.

“Well, I’m certain that I won’t be as efficient as Mare was, but I’ll be happy to fill in for her the best that I can.” I sigh.

“Thank you, Courtney. Every little bit helps. I know that you have your own set of responsibilities here and I won’t interfere with your work, but of course I’ll pay you extra for helping me out. If Marilyn hasn’t decided what she plans to do at least by the new year, I’ll look into hiring someone more permanent.” It hurts to say that.

“I hope everything is okay with her. This is so out of her character. It had to be something really bad, and no, I’m not pumping you for information.” She looks down at her notepad and writes something on it.

“How are things with you and Addie?” I ask. Courtney raises her gaze to me.

“Still a little tense, but we’re talking,” she says. “Grandfather has made it clear that I’m still not getting any money from them and I’ve made it clear that I never intended to see them again, so the last thing I expect from them at this point is money. I don’t think I would want it even if they offered it to me. It reminds me too much of who I was and what I was doing… and how I felt when Grandmother disowned me. No… I think I’ll be happier earning my own way and making a life with Vick, whatever that life may be.”

“I’m glad that the two of you are talking, but you know I had nothing to do with this, right?” She rubs my forearm.

“Yes, Ana… I know,” she says. “Grandmother says you only talked about it after she confronted you. I know you would never betray my trust.”

“That’s what’s most important to me,” I tell her. “I’m all for a happy ending, but I won’t take credit for a victory that means you think I betrayed your confidence.”

“I know better,” she says with a smile. “I knew from the very beginning that it wasn’t you. I knew when I saw your face when I walked into your office. I may have been focused on Grandmother, but you were clearly horrified,” she adds matter-of-factly. “We’ve… got a long way to go. I don’t know if it’ll ever be back the way it was. Maybe it’s better if it’s not. Scratch that—it’s definitely better if it’s not.” She folds her arms around her body. “I… don’t like that Courtney. I don’t know how I lived with her for so long. No matter what happens, I don’t think I could ever go back to being her. For one thing, I’m sure I’d lose Vick. She won’t take any of my crap. She calls me on my shit any and every time I try to pull it, and she supports me in everything I do. What’s more, she knew me when I was that other crazy bitch, and she still loves me. Can you imagine?”

“Your grandmother knew and loved you, too,” I point out.

“No, she didn’t,” Courtney corrects. “She may have loved me, but she didn’t know me. She thought she knew me. She knew the façade. When she saw the real me, she thought that was the façade. When she found out that it wasn’t, she couldn’t take it. That’s why she sent me away.” She sighs and stands.

“I’m going to find something to do now,” she says. “I’ll be at your beck and call of course, but as you know, there’s lots that need my special attention… and I do better when I’m moving around.” She goes to the door, opens it and steps out. I follow her to the door.

“You’re sure this isn’t going to be too much for you,” I reinforce.

“Nah,” she says, hugging her laptop. “Outlook isn’t a foreign language for me. We use it in school for the syllabi and to keep up with our classes. I just have to spend a little time deciphering Mare’s hieroglyphics and we’ll be fine. Plus, I get an up close and personal look into the super-secret life of Anastasia Grey.”

She does a spooky little wiggle of her fingers and smiles before walking away down the hallway. I turn to go back into my office, but a shadow catches my eye. She doesn’t move or speak, but I can see her standing in her doorway, or at least her shadow cast on the floor of the hallway. I say nothing. I just go into my office and close the door.

Now, she’s lurking. She won’t even face me. Yet another reason why I feel this is no longer the place for me. There was a job that needed to be done here—some things that needed to be fixed. I fixed them. I did my job, but the job isn’t completely finished. So, I’m going to finish my job here and then I’m going to find something else to do.

What, I have absolutely no idea. Maybe I’ll get in touch with Josephine Kennedy, our sponsor for Broadmoor. She’ll probably have some suggestions. I don’t need to be in any kind of executive position. I just want to be somewhere that I can do some good and my opinion is valued.

Knowing that I don’t have much time to implement the learning programs needed before the school year starts, I immediately get to work researching the necessary requirements for a learning coordinator. I fire off a text to Keri to meet me in the office as soon as she has a moment.

Every time someone knocks at my office door, I get the willies. I don’t want to talk to Grace at all, to have her confront me about my absence or to rehash why I feel like she should treat me with more respect and consideration. These things should be understood. You hired me to do a job; then let me do it and don’t interfere with it. If you’re going to interfere and do things your way, what do you need me for?

Anyway, this time, it’s Keri at my door.

“Ya wanted ta seh meh, Annah?” she asks cautiously when she enters the room.

“Yes, please, come in,” I say. She slowly walks in and takes a seat. I can tell that she’s nervous, so I get straight to the point. “I need your help.” She looks shocked.

“You do?” she says, her surprise evident. I nod.

“First, I need to ask how the process is going with getting your teaching certificate here in the states. Were you still planning to do that, or had you changed your mind?”

“Noh! I mean, yes! I mean…” She’s terribly nervous. I’ve never called her into my office in an official capacity, ever, and she’s not quite sure how to handle it.

“Keri,” I say, rising from my seat and walking over to her. “Relax. You’re not in any trouble or anything like that. I just… I’m trying to kill two birds with one stone. I need some information and I just want to know what your immediate plans are.” Keri sighs heavily and rolls her eyes a bit.

“Ah’m sawtty, Annah,” she says. “Ah jus feel lak Ah’m bein’ cawled to da ptincipal’s awfice!” She laughs. In effect, she is, but only because the principal needs her help.

“I understand,” I say.

“Yes, I steel plan on gettin’ mah teachin’ cehtificate heyah. Ah cahl de school bohd ahnd dey sey Ah got ta tek de necesetty exams foh residency. Ah alreaty apply foh the exams since mah degtee is enough foh da requyment. So, Ah’m wehtin’ foh dem ta tell meh when da test gwine be and Ah should be okay.”

“They didn’t say anything about your citizenship or anything like that?” I ask.

“Ah’m heh on a work visa. Ah can keep dah sem visa or get a new one if I choose to teach. Ah wold luv to teach, Annah. I miss me bebbies.” I know that she’s talking about her students in Anguilla.

“Have you thought about becoming a resident?” I ask. She shrugs.

“Anguilla ask de sem ding when I cawled for mah recohds an cehtifications. Dey say, ‘ahe ya gwine stey dere in da states or ya come back to Anguilla?’ I tell dem it not my immediate plan ta stey, but don know what happen in de furtah.” I frown.

“You may go back to Anguilla?” I ask sadly.

“Me don know,” she says honestly. “Anguilla me home. I could nevah leave hah forevah. But me heart wit me Choonks. Das wheh Ah mus be.” That’s an enigmatic response.

“Does Chuck know that you’re somewhat on the fence about returning to Anguilla?” I ask. She nods. “How does he feel about it? He can’t be happy.”

“He not,” she says. “He tinks me run out da doh anyday wit mah bags. I tell him, ‘Choonks, don tek it dat weh. Ah jes not wannah lose meh woots, das all. Jes like yah not wannah stey in Anguilla becuz yah home heyah, I no wannah be in Anguilla witout yah, but Anguilla me home, too. Meh woots deyah. I don wanna lose dat.’”

“So, we’re not talking about packing your bags and moving back to Anguilla when your visa is over. We’re just talking about being able to go back to Anguilla as you please so that you don’t forget your roots.”

“Yeh,” she says, confidently. “I noh move back to Anguilla. Lek I seh, mah heart wit me Choonks. Ah havta be wheh he is.” I sigh heavily. It would be a devastating day all around if we lose Keri.

“Well, that’s good to hear,” I admit. “My second question is more detailed. You worked with small children in Anguilla, right?”

“Yeh, all me bebbies primery school, some younga,” she says. I nod.

“I’m trying to come up with a plan of action to get started with our early-learning program when the school year starts. I have some good solid ideas that we presented to get our licensing and accreditation, but now we need to tweak it and get it ready to roll out. I could really use some help.”

I confer with Keri about what direction we should take in terms of curriculums. I know that the subjects in Anguilla will most likely probably vary from the subjects in America, only because of the difference in culture and the direction of the curriculum as it relates to the region, but I’m certain that the basis is the same. I’ve done a little research to get a basic framework, but I’m definitely going to need some help in nailing down the particulars.

Keri turns out to be invaluable. We’re at it for hours fine-tuning our curriculum and learning plans. We’ve already done some interviewing for teachers and tutors, and we’ll have to make some decisions this week, which means that whether I want to or not, I’ll have to meet with Grace.

There’s no use putting it off.

Once I’ve finished with the basic curriculum, I ask Keri to look it over and see if there’s anything else that we may need. I don’t want to present this outline and framework to the teachers and tutors that I plan to hire, and it turns out to be total garbage. Then I send a text to Grace that we need to chat about the teaching staff and to let me know when she’s available to do so.

It was like carving my tooth out with a chisel just to send the text.

Not half an hour after I hit send, Grace is at my door.

“May I come in?” she asks. I sigh inwardly.

“Please,” I say, standing and gesturing to the seat in front of me. She enters and sits down, and I close the door behind her. I jump right in.

“The school year is starting in a few weeks and I don’t want to be caught unprepared like we have these last terms,” I say, picking up the papers showing the progress that Keri and I made and handing it to her. “We already conducted several interviews and with where we plan to start, I would think we don’t need too much staff right now—a few teachers and a tutor or two and someone to act as principal or superintendent just over the scholastic portion of the program…”

I continue discussing what I think would be the best direction for the preschool and tutoring program—afterschool classes, playgroups, and eventually, a possible part-time homeschool, particularly for at-risk families, namely residents in the dorms while Grace looks over the proposals and plans that Keri and I have collaborated on so far.

“You’ve been quite busy,” she says raising her eyes to me. “I’m glad the Center won’t suffer because of our disagreement.”

I wouldn’t say that just yet, Grace.

I continue the conversation as if nothing had been said about our disagreement and make suggestions as well as request input on who would be the best candidates for the positions we would like to fill as we really need to get the ball rolling like right now. Grace gives her opinions on who she thinks will fit the immediate bill and luckily, except for one, they were the same people that I think will work best. I cede to her judgment for the last person, selfishly thinking that if they didn’t work out, I wouldn’t have to be the one to contend with it. She would.

It’s a bit late in the afternoon when we bang out our initial steps and final choices, and I’m more than ready to discontinue the conversation. I’m not, however, ready to pick up the conversation that she wants to have.

“I really feel I did the right thing,” she says with conviction.

“Grace, this conversation is moot,” I say matter-of-factly. The time for us to have this conversation has passed.

“You won’t even discuss it with me?” she asks, her voice rising an octave in disbelief.

“No,” I say finitely. “I don’t want to fight with you or dispute this with you anymore. What you did could have had disastrous results, and if you can’t understand that, there’s nothing for us to discuss.” She sighs.

“Fine. I was wrong,” she says, almost like a petulant child. I shake my head.

“You don’t get it,” I say. “I’m not looking for capitulation. I don’t need you to admit that you were wrong. I need you to see that you were wrong. Courtney had come miles from where she started. Her progress was fucking immeasurable. Addie barely recognized her as the hell that she sent back to her hellhole hometown. What you did could have set her back far beyond her starting point, and what would you have to say had that happened? What could you have possibly said to me—to Courtney—had you, in your self-proclaimed omnipotence, destroyed all the work that she put in to achieve what she achieved?”

“Can’t you see that sometimes, everything isn’t answered by theory and book-smarts? Sometimes—oftentimes—there’s emotion involved, and you just have to go with your gut?” Her voice is beseeching.

“I can see that, Grace, but can you?” I retort. “Logic dictates that the strides made by Courtney should have had her running back to Addie to present her new self—to show her grandmother that she was nothing like the person Addie last saw. The fact that her grandmother felt that she was nothing, she had to prove her wrong—for herself, but in the process, she made it clear that she wanted nothing to do with the source of her uncertainty. When they parted ways, Addie pretty much told her that she was better off dead. She cremated and buried Courtney’s mother this past summer with no pomp and circumstance, and you just take it upon yourself to say, ‘Oh, it’s a good idea to shove these two into each other’s faces!’ If you can’t see what’s wrong with that, just how fucked up a judgment call that was, then you’ll do it again and I can’t tolerate seeing all my hard work destroyed that way. I might as well go back to my practice.”

“I… I… I didn’t know…” she stammers.

“Of course, you didn’t know!” I bark. “There’s a lot you didn’t know! I’m the psychiatrist! I have all the inside scoops on what’s going on in these people’s minds because that’s what I do! And you had the audacity to be offended because I pointed that out! I don’t diagnose the intricate illness of children—that’s your specialty, not mine! But they share their deepest, darkest secrets with me because of my station and I act accordingly! She trusted me! She trusted me with her secrets and her feelings, with her life! And you exploited that! Can’t you see that? Can’t you see that you orchestrated a train wreck that could have destroyed them both and they just got lucky and walked away?”

“I… was just… following my instincts,” she says, resigned.

“Well, congratulations, doctor,” I say, clasping my hands on the table. “This time, your instincts were correct, and in the process, you undermined everything I do. The very basis of my profession is privacy and trust—respecting the rights of the patient. You know the Hippocratic Oath, and you totally disregarded mine, then haughtily walked away smiling when you did it. I can’t work like that. I can’t have someone’s mental well-being in my hands and in the back of my head, constantly fearing that you’re going to make a decision that’s going to unravel the intricate tapestry that I’ve taken months… or years… to create with one of my patients based on your instincts.” I silently shake my head, indicating that this is definitely a no-go for me.

Grace bites her lip and takes a seat, humbly clasping her hands in her lap.

“Can you, for just a moment, see where I’m coming from?” she says, her voice shaking slightly.

“No…” I begin.

“Please… let me finish,” she beseeches without raising her eyes. It’s my turn to be petulant, but I just defiantly fold my arms and sit mute.

“Addie… is my friend,” she begins. “She’s been my friend for a long, long time—even longer than that crazy bitch who victimized my son.”

That kind of stings… and causes me to let my guard down a little.

“You may have known how Courtney felt, but I knew how Addie felt. She felt hurt and betrayed, and that’s what made her say the things she said to Courtney, but most of all, she was heartbroken. She felt that she would die and have nothing to show for her bloodline. She had such high hopes for Courtney, and when she saw those hopes dashed to the rocks…” She stops and swallows.

“I’m not saying that you wouldn’t understand,” she says. “You’re a mother, so you have to know that we only want what’s best for our children. Courtney’s mother was such a disappointment and Addie had her hopes in Courtney even when everybody told her that it would be a lost cause. When she finally accepted that those hopes were destroyed, it was the most traumatizing thing that had ever happened to her. She tried to move on, but she was crushed.

“That’s the reason I advocated for Courtney in the first place,” she adds. “After everything that she had done and all the problems she had caused, I just wanted to help my friend. It was wonderful seeing the progress that she was making, but Addie was still hurting… deeply hurt. We didn’t hear anything about her daughter because she couldn’t mourn her daughter. To her, it was all a lost cause.

“I found out about Adele—that’s her daughter’s name—at Mia’s wedding. I had been trying to indirectly arrange a meeting ever since. I knew Courtney was at the wedding, but by the time I had heard about Adele, Courtney had already left.

“When I say that I was trusting my instincts, Ana, I’m not just saying that I thought it was a good idea. My friend was suffering, and I just didn’t want to see her suffering anymore… and I knew that seeing Courtney—how beautiful she is and how far she’s come—would do her some good.” I roll my eyes nearly to the point of agony.

“Why. Didn’t you. Explain that to me?” I nearly seethe. “Why didn’t you come and talk to me?”

“Because just like you had confidences, I had confidences…” she begins.

“But it was okay for you to disregard mine!” I nearly shout, causing Grace to jump a bit in her seat.

Settle down, Grey.

I take a deep breath and address the situation again.

“The progress that I made with Courtney in eleven short months is more than I’ve done with a lot of people in years, and you could have undone all of that. That’s what I need you to see. This situation is the epitome of that old saying about the road to hell and good intentions. I can appreciate that you saw your friend suffering and you wanted that suffering to stop, but your. Methods. Were wrong. You threw a blowtorch into a vat of gasoline and prayed that it wouldn’t explode, and instead of alienating one person, you could have alienated three—one of which was your very close friend.

“As much as I want to say that the biggest betrayal here was to Courtney’s right to privacy and to Addie’s suffering, I can’t even say that,” I say, and she raises glassy eyes to me. Yeah, this is going to sting, Dr. Grace, so get ready for it. “The biggest betrayal is that you dismissed me. You dismissed my expertise and my feelings. It caused friction in my marriage and discord in my professional life. But you know what’s even worse, Grace? What you probably never even considered even up to this very moment? You. Destroyed. My trust! Did you think about that? Did you think about the fact that I have to trust the person that I work with and I don’t trust you anymore?

“I can’t be effective under those conditions, and I can’t just wave that off. When you’re dealing with the human mind, at any given moment someone’s sanity can be hanging in a delicate balance. One wrong word, one wrong action, can be the difference between a breakthrough and suicide—and I’m not exaggerating.” I immediately think of Ace’s shark’s tooth.

“I should have come and talked to you,” she says just above a whisper, her voice cracking.

“Yes,” I say softly, but firmly. “You should have…” and now, it’s probably too late. Grace takes a deep, shuddering breath and stands.

“Let me know what you decide to do,” she says without raising her eyes to me. “I’ll understand either way.” She turns and quickly walks out of my office. I hear her heels clicking at a quick pace down the hall and just before she closes the door to her office, I hear her begin to weep.

Dear God in heaven, I think to myself as my face falls on my arms on my desk, my hair splayed wildly over my hands and arms like a blanket. What am I going to do now…?

*-*

“Hey…”

My head feels like lead and my eyes hurt from crying. I can only imagine that I look like pure hell from having cried myself to sleep at my desk and when I turn towards the soft, melodic voice, my husband is looking lovingly at me while stroking my hair out of my face.

“Hey,” I barely squeak out. “What are you doing here?”

“It’s late… and Mom called me,” he says. “She told me that you were still in your office when she left and that it might be a good idea if I came to get you.”

“I don’t know what to do, Christian,” I lament, on the brink of tears again.

“Well, you won’t think about it tonight,” he says cupping my cheek. “Right now, I’m going to take you home, bathe you, feed you, and make love to you. Then, you can conquer this in the morning.”

I don’t have the will or desire to fight him. I’m tired of thinking, dreaming, fretting about this whole thing. It’s getting on my nerves. I stand and proceed to leave the building and had it not been for Chuck, I might have left without my children. Mom of the year.

My husband keeps his promise, making sure that I was fed, bathed, and loved. Nonetheless, at 2:49 in the morning, I find myself staring at the ceiling while he’s sleeping comfortably next to me. I don’t know how long I’ve been lying here, but I decide that I don’t want to lie here anymore. I quietly roll out of bed and retrieve the first shirt that I can find. It’s the linen shirt that Christian wore to work, and it smells like him. It’s comforting. I put it on and button it before leaving our suite.

The children are sound asleep and I don’t want to disturb them, so I go to the kitchen to get something to drink. After I fix a spritzer, I sit at the breakfast bar, trying to think of something to do. I look at my phone and begin to scroll through it. Some time between the time I got home and now, my contacts, calendar, and apps had all been moved to the new phone.

When did he find time to do that?

I had already forwarded my calls to the new phone, but it’s probably time to leave the new number on the old message so that I can retire my 4S soon. I decide to take a look at my emails. I had cleared most of them at work, but I hadn’t looked at the junk mail to see if anything had been misrouted.

Sure enough, something had.

To: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Re: Web Presence
Date: Saturday, December 13, 2014, 14:14
From: Laura Kelly

Hey there, Sheila!

Just a little nudge from down under to remind you to finish setting up your social media. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram—but start with Facebook. It’s probably best for social media virgins. I know you said you had to talk to your PR people before you could pull the trigger. Remember what I showed ya!

Jax was a little depressed after visiting his mum’s grave, even more depressed when we got back to the ship and there was no Chris to shoot the shit with. You’ll have to come back and see us sometimes, or we’ll look you up next time we’re in the States.

Look for LauraLee Kelly on Facebook. You can’t miss me!

Missing you guys already!
Laura

Laura showed me the basics while we were on the cruise and we ran around her social media accounts a bit, but we never actually set up an account for me.

Social media. Facebook. Hmmm…

Screw PR. I’ll just create an alias.

I go to iTunes and download the Facebook app. Sign up with an email.

Back up.

I go to Gmail and create an alias email just for this purpose. You can’t be too careful.

First name… Anastasia

Last name… hmmm.

Lambert.

There’s no taboo attached to that name for me anymore. It’s a name that I used to escape, and I escaped, so…

Welcome to Gmail!

Back to Facebook.

Sign up. What’s your name?

Anastasia Lambert.

Hmm… it still feels too obvious.

Mercer Mistress… Hell, no!

Mercer Doctor Lady.

Good enough for now.

Upload a profile picture…

Butterflies!

I do a quick internet search and find a picture of a black and white butterfly that reminds me of Marty.

Perfect!

I download it to my phone, then upload it as my profile picture.

Invite your friends… well, I only have one that I know of on social media…

LauraLee Kelly. I need her email. Nah, I’ll look her up and invite her to be my friend. It’s faster.

I have access!

LauraLee Kelly.

She’s right. I find her quickly and send a friend request. I create the same account with Twitter, then I make the mistake of going to Facebook and Twitter and doing a search for my name.

There are a million of me!

I could make a page with my real name and no one would be any wiser, but no. I’ll hide behind Mercer Doctor Lady. Not very creative or catchy, I know, but it’ll fit the bill. I answer a few questions about books and hobbies.

There’s nothing on my timeline since I don’t have any friends, so I see what Facebook has to offer.

Videos… relationship advice… reality TV snippets… groups that might interest me… comedy…

I like comedy.

I watch several comedy videos and share many of them to my timeline.

I’m dying laughing over Steve Harvey and Family Feud…

Ellen Degeneres, well, I love her. I follow her and Steve on Facebook.

The Real Housewives of what? Where? What real housewives behave this way? And you’re still married? These women need to get a damn life!

“What are you doing down here?”

I’m startled by Christian coming to the kitchen in his pajama pants. I’m even more startled by something else…

Daylight.

“I was just… I couldn’t sleep,” I say. Hell if I’m telling him I spent all night on Facebook. His gaze softens.

“I didn’t do my job, then,” he says, closing the space between us. I put my phone down and sigh.

“It’s not you,” he says, “and I don’t want to pull you into the middle of what’s happening between me and your mother.”

“She said you didn’t fight, but I have a feeling you did,” he says. I look up at him.

“You thought I fought with your mother and you still brought me home and took care of me?” he shrugs.

“She’s my mother and I love her very much, but she went home to her husband. You’re my responsibility.” I wrap my arms around his waist and lean on his chest.

“I love you,” I say, breathing in his scent.

“I love you, too,” he says. I sigh. “You’re holding it in. You have to tell somebody.” I lean back and look up at him, twisting my lips.

“She looked like a broken puppy when she left my office, and I heard her crying,” I say. “She broke us… plain and simple. She broke us as a team. I have to trust who I’m working with. That’s it. I don’t expect you to take sides here, I really don’t, but I have to say it out loud. She broke us. She broke the team, and I don’t know if it can be fixed.”

“Any idea what it would take to be fixed?” he asks.

“Time, for one,” I admit, “and I’m not sure I’m willing to put it in.” She begged me last year to give Courtney a chance and I did, and we built something, and then she tossed it out like trash. Fuck how Courtney was feeling; fuck what Courtney wanted; Addie was more important.

“You’re taking it really personal, baby. Can you tell me why?” he asks.

“Because this could be anybody,” she says. “This could be a scared and battered wife and mother hiding from her abusive husband. I put in the work and get to the core of this girl’s deepest, darkest secrets—get her to where she’s not afraid to fall asleep at night; to where she finally sees that she’s out from under the oppression of her abusive husband and can do something with her life… move forward like Marlow’s mother did. And then Grace somehow brings the abusive father back into the picture. All that work I’ve done for nothing, and her only excuse and reasoning is that she’s following her instincts.

“Yes, that’s more graphic. Addie wasn’t abusive, but Courtney was crushed, crushed enough to never want to see her grandmother again, and Grace disregarded that… disregarded her feelings, disregarded her wishes, disregarded my work as a person and a professional. It’s very personal, Christian. How can I work with someone like that?”

“Then… why were you crying?” he asks.

“Because I obviously hurt her, and I didn’t mean to. We didn’t fight, but I was merciless in my explanations. She put her friend’s feelings over all professionalism and trust, the very basis of my profession. If she’s going to make decisions over my head without any consideration for my wishes, opinions, or input, then why am I there? I feel strongly about that, but I didn’t mean to hurt her—and I don’t know if she was hurt over understanding what she did to me or the concept of losing me.” He hugs me again.

“You’ll figure it out, baby. I know you will,” he encourages, “but doesn’t it feel better to get it out?”

“A little,” I say, sinking into his embrace.

“What have you been doing down here all night?” he asks. I twist my lips and look up at him, then push my phone over to him.

“Facebook?” he says, mirthfully. “You’ve been on Facebook all night?”

“Watching videos,” I say. “I don’t have any friends online.”

“You’ve got one, Mercer Doctor Lady,” he says and hands my phone back to me.

Laura accepted my friend’s request.


A/N: Ethan Hunt is Tom Cruise’s character in Mission Impossible. He was a master of disguise and could make himself or anyone else look like anyone anywhere.

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

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

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 84—Adelaide Antics

More Aussie—get over it.

All other previous disclaimers still apply.

Dedicating this one to Alexis, who sends me a “thank you” email every time she gets a chapter. I may not always respond, but I see every one of them, my friend. You’re welcome, and thank you for sticking it out with me.

Chapter 84—Adelaide Antics

CHRISTIAN

I’m lying on the bed trying to catch my breath and she’s still playing with my cock. She has made it clear that she’s not done with me yet, so I better get my ass and gear and get ready for round two.

I take a few deep breaths to regain control of my body and try to draw my focus away from my aching dick. My wife playing with it before it’s ready is not necessarily a good thing, but I’m not going to tell her that.

It’s time for mind over matter, Grey. You’ve been here before—being tormented after an orgasm. You can overcome this.

My wife is in tune with me, though, even in this pickled state, and she adjusts her stimulation… gently stroking my balls and playing with my perineum like only she’s allowed to do. It gives my tender head and cock a moment of sweet reprieve, but still adds the sweet stimulation of her gentle hands. I close my eyes and absorb the feeling of my wife touching me as my cock recuperates. A few moments later, I sink into the feeling of her hands on me, stimulating my prostate from the outside.

She looks up at me, demanding, opens her mouth wide and descends upon my balls. I take a deep breath and she sucks them into her mouth. My dick twitches a little, but hasn’t yet revived. She rolls her tongue around the skin, tasting it and never taking her lust-filled blue eyes off of me.

Lick, lick, lick, suck… she’s tasting them, savoring them like candy, and after a minute or two, we have liftoff. When she sees my cock respond to the stimulation, she sucks my balls into her mouth, manipulating them like she’s giving them a blowjob.

“Sssss,” I hiss as she sucks them into her mouth, fellating my testicles like two delicious gumballs right before you devour them. It looks insane and feels even better, and it’s not long before Greystone it staring up at me at attention. He seeps a very tiny bit of grateful moisture from the head and settles back into pleasure, occasionally bobbing his applause at her masterful skills.

I gaze into her commanding blue eyes as I push my pelvis down against the hand still massaging my perineum while she gobbles my balls. Without warning, she takes my cock in her mouth again and I hiss in surprise. She bobs down on it and I can’t help but thrust. Then, she’s up on her knees, nothing touching me but her lips and tongue.

“Good God,” I hiss as I thrust slowly and evenly into her mouth, rolling my hips to keep up with her rhythm. She angles her head at just the right moment in just the right way with each thrust to accommodate the mouth fuck. Her mouth is wet and hot and as I stroke into it, saliva falls amply and provocatively from her lips. I swear if she keeps this up, this show will be over a whole lot sooner than we want.

Fucking hell! What was in that wine?

She grants me reprieve and releases my dick momentarily only to zero in on the head once more. Fucking hell.

She licks the head gently, then purses her lips in the most delicious way and sucks it into her mouth. The skin is still a little pliable and oh, so sensitive and it feels so good. Her puckered lips suck the head, the tightness and pressure never relenting, and now I want to crawl up the bed away from her. Her lips never breach the rim and she’s driving me crazy. When she loosens her lips a bit to allow saliva to run over the head of my dick only to suck it into her mouth and clean the skin again, I nearly break into convulsions.

“I want to make you come like this again,” she says, “but I can’t wait anymore…”

She scurries on top of me and drops down on my rock-hard dick, thrusting it so deep inside of her that I think I feel the opening of her uterus. I’m in elated shock as she just sits atop me, her head back and her eyes closed, her hands flat on my chest.

“Yes!” she breathes, as she flexes and contracts her pussy. “Oh, yes…”

Oh, yes is right! I can’t say it because I’m frozen in pleasure, my hands once again gripping the sheet and my mouth open, looking up at this enchantress and panting like a dog. Do what you wish to me… I’m yours… I don’t care…

She rocks her hips infinitesimally, but she may as well be wobbling like she’s working a hula-hoop! Greystone reaches out in every direction to feel her walls and I can barely function. I watch her lick and bite her lip as she widens the stance of her knees for traction and I’m mesmerized. Her mouth is moving but no words are coming out and she looks ethereal, almost like she’s praying—and this feeling in my cock is heavenly. Her walls are squeezing and grinding against my shaft ever so slightly causing this deliciously infernal burn. The light from behind her is causing a “halo” effect around her and it’s either the remnants of the wine or an extreme pleasure-induced haze, but I swear that God has sent an angel to ride me tonight…

Yeah, it’s the wine, but who the fuck cares?

Her grind intensifies just a bit, a tiny bit of roll and a tiny bit of thrust, and I know that she’s finding the angle that’s hitting that spot. I’m not even here anymore. I’m just that body that’s attached to that dick that’s bringing her to her plateau.

Use me, baby. Fucking use me til you scream…

Her hip roll becomes a steady thrust, short and intense, and her nails dig into my chest. The pain ignites my pleasure center, my balls tighten, and I almost lose it. I grunt loudly, grabbing her knees as she continues to ride me.

Yes… touch me…

I don’t know if she said it out loud, but I heard it. My hands travel up the front of her thighs to her hips, pistoning against mine and working Greystone into a fired frenzy.

“Yes!” she breathes, and I squeeze her hips. Fuck that dick, baby. Ride that cock until you’re dripping all over it.

My hands move up her alabaster skin to her breast. I squeeze her mounds and thumb her taut nipples until they pebble.

“Oh, God,” she keens, her thrusts quickening. She moves her hands from my chest and positions them on the bed on either side of my head.

I can’t play with her breasts anymore. I can’t concentrate… too good… too good…

My hands move to her thighs and clench. I have no choice but to hold on for this masterful ride. She drops her head so that her hair falls forward over my face, reminding me of the very first time she caressed me with her hair. It’s longer now, thicker, and it smells divine, and I swear that I’m slipping into a level of subspace where I’m transcending a bit, my shaft and balls being beaten within an inch of their lives as she’s now thrusting with speed and purpose, fucking me…

Fucking me like a man… like a man would fuck his woman, driving into her balls deep with sweet abandon, feeling her wrap around him over and over again as he pursues sweet release. I’m that man, only I have nothing to do with the fucking. I’m being fucked—ridden like a wild animal.

Her breaths are ragged, driven. Her rhythm is fast and smooth. She doesn’t pump and rock me with each thrust, although the bed rocks violently with our movement. No, her motion is smooth, a groove on and off my dick, the only parts of her moving are her hips as she fucks me and her knees as they open and close on either side of me with each thrust, her feet secure under my thighs anchoring her to my body.

Fuck… oh fuck…

She’s primal as she rides me—fucking feral. I can’t see her face through the mask of her hair over mine, but I know that her eyes are closed, her mind and body concentrating on nothing but riding that dick, nothing but feeling it fill her pussy over and over and over…

I grind my teeth and take in a breath as I feel the orgasm quickly rising in my balls again. She’s not ready, and I can’t go until she does.

With her hands flat on the bed, she moves her hips up and down on my cock with a very controlled and rhythmic bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce, bounce. With each silent drop, my cock threatens to blow, but I hold that painful nut, waiting… waiting…

She whimpers. Fuck, she whimpers. The sound of her voice turns me on so much. Don’t come, Grey. Fucking hold it…

I squeeze her thighs harder, trying to hold back my climax banging at my balls and demanding to be released.

She whimpers again.
Fuck, she’s killing me here!

She’s bouncing harder, faster, with purpose, her breathing intentional and ragged… Fuck, I’m not going to make it…

“Come! Come!” she hisses heavily. Shit, I hope she was talking to me, because I squeeze her thighs tight and begin to blow fantastically inside of her. Seconds later, she shrieks and begins to tremble on top of me. I grab her breasts as I’m blasting out my insides, pumping all my hopes and dreams inside of my happy place. Her legs tighten on either side of me, her hands clasp over mine on her breasts, and her head falls back, releasing cries of passion as we both ride out our orgasms.

*-*

Sunday has no particular schedule except to be at the airport at 4:30pm to fly back to Seattle. Even though the session last night was hot as fuck, we managed to get to sleep at a reasonable hour. Butterfly awakes with only a slight hangover—fortunate, but surprising, considering that she probably consumed her body weight in wine yesterday and enamored several people in the process. However, after a steaming hot shower, another round with the breast pump, and lots of water and some ibuprofen for my libation princess, she’s ready to face the day.

We start with some Facetime with our babies with a promise that they will see us tomorrow night. Minnie’s separation anxiety seems to have gotten a little worse and I must say that I’m glad we’ll be home soon. I shudder to think how badly my babies suffered while I was away from them in Madrid. True, they had their mother, but I wasn’t there… and she was suffering, too. God, I can’t believe I was such an insensitive asshole.

Intent on forgetting about the huge fuck-up I made a few months ago after leaving my wife and children with no word if or when I was coming back home, I aim to have fun with my wife for our last day in Australia. So, we have a hearty breakfast and plan to spend our last day at the Adelaide Zoo. However, after talking to the front desk staff, we decide to go to the Cleland Wildlife Park instead. According to the locals, the Adelaide Zoo is nice, but you’re going to spend most of your day seeing more of the common animals that you would see in any zoo. Cleland is a bit more interactive and entertaining on short notice. We’ll get a chance to connect with and observe the indigenous species of the land in their natural habitat.

Once again, Lawrence shadows us while Jason gets us checked out of the hotel and our bags checked at the airport. He’ll meet us at Cleland with a picnic lunch we secured from a local café and then it’s to the airport with us all to return home.

My wife is looking adorably casual in another pair of skinny blue jeans and a cute T-shirt that’s tied in a knot behind her with a caption that says, “Baked in Seattle.” She’s wearing another pair of sneakers today and says that she just wants to be comfortable walking around the zoo and traveling home. I pretty much mimic her outfit in a T-shirt and jeans, although my shirt doesn’t have a caption.

We enter the park through the gift shop and past the café before we exit out the back of the building and we’re on our way to see the animals.

There are a lot of exhibits, but for the most part, many of the animals roam pretty freely so as to maintain the aspects of their natural habitat. So, it’s very easy to just walk up to them and start feeding them. However, there are some enclosures, and what’s the first one that we see?

You guessed it—the reptile enclosure.

“I don’t want to go in there,” Butterfly protests.

“Don’t be a chicken,” I say. “We don’t even know if we’ll see the same things we saw at the zoo. We’ll probably see something more interesting and exotic.”

“I see snakes on the display, Christian. We will see the same things.”

“Well, then, you know that they’re in cages, and I want to see the snakes.” I enter the reptile enclosure to see what types of exotic animals are on display. Lawrence stays with my wife outside as I take a look around.

It’s probably a good idea that Butterfly stayed outside, because some of the snakes are contained in the displays and some of them are not. Granted, they’re not crawling all over the floor, but they are on displays outside of the glass. I don’t know why I’ve always been a bit fascinated by snakes. Maybe it’s because I’ve always considered myself a bit of an unsavory character—unkind, undeserving of love, maybe even a little wicked—and snakes have historically been associated with evil, like the serpent that tempted Eve in the Garden.

There are a few keepers in the reptile enclosure, all near one of the reptiles who aren’t contained. I’m fascinated by the one with this huge greenish snake wrapped around his body. I see that a small child is actually stroking the body of the snake and I walk over to get a closer look.

When I say this damn thing is huge, I mean it’s huge! I have no idea how long it is, but I’m fairly certain that it’s non-venomous if they’re allowing a child to pet it while it’s wrapped around another human being. I’ve only seen two other snakes this big. One is an anaconda and I’m pretty certain this ain’t one of those.

“Is that a Burmese python?” I ask the trainer. That’s the snake that accompanies Selma Hayak’s dance at the strip club in From Dusk Till Dawn.

“Thaht’s a good guess, mayte, but no. This is an olive poython. She can get ta be fordeen feet long and up to 20 kilos in body weight…”

Here’s another example of the varying accents in Australia. He hardly has an accent at all, and not only that, but I also note that he used a metric weight and a standard measure of length.

“Theyse ahr warm weathah poythons that eat really big pry—kangaroos, wallabays, things of thaht soht. This guhl here was actually a breedah for a while, but now she’s here with us.”

She looks strangely majestic wrapped around this guy and I reach out to caress her smooth skin…

“Would ya loike to hold hah?” he asks. I’m taken aback by the question and frown, but I find myself agreeing to hold the ginormous olive python. The keeper shows me how to cradle the snake as he helps her wrap her coils around my body. If you don’t cradle or hold them correctly, they can get hurt, which strangely means that in captivity, we’re more dangerous to them than they are to us.

I’m a tiny bit nervous holding the snake, admiring her texture and how gentle she is, and hearing more facts and statistics about how she came to be in the Adelaide preserve when olive pythons mostly inhabit northern Australia. I’m sort of wishing Butterfly was here with me to take a picture of this, but I’m certain that she’d probably have a coronary if she saw me like this. I don’t know why because it kind of feels like a big hug…

“Christian Trevelyan Grey, what the hell are you doing!?”

Is my mother here?

I raise my gaze to see a tiny and enraged Butterfly glaring at me with her hands on her hips, and the entire reptile enclosure falls silent.

“You have infant twins at home, and you come to Australia and suddenly become Steve Irwin! Have you lost your mind?” she scolds.

“It’s not dangerous, baby,” I say, and I feel like I’m twelve.

“Not dangerous??” she shrieks. “It’s a snake! A very big snake! And I can guarantee that it didn’t get that big by eating mice!”

“Thehr hahmless, ma’am,” the keeper says. “She’s not venomous and she’s gentle as a lamb.” Butterfly throws a glare at the keeper that chills my soul, and I simultaneously throw a glare at Lawrence, who simply shrugs. The shrug says a lot—he couldn’t stop her from coming in, but I’m still miffed at him.

“I thought you were staying outside,” I retort, trying to regain control of the situation.

“You’ve been in here forever,” she counters. “I would like to see the park!”

I haven’t been in here that long… have I?

“Sir,” she says, turning to the keeper, “would you please remove the huge, man-eating reptile from my husband?”

“Yes, ma’am. C’mon, guhl,” the keeper says as he gently begins to uncoil the python from my body and wrap her around his. I can see that he’s unsuccessfully trying to hide his mirth as he retrieves the snake. There’s no use in trying to reason with her right now. She might as well have walked in on me with another woman.

Actually, she did.

She does a military turn to leave and marches towards the door. Just before she gets there, we see a group of children gathered around another keeper. I’m sure we have the exact same thought. What in this room could have children gathered around like that?

She approaches cautiously and stands there, easily able to see over the children and somewhat mesmerized, I must say, by whatever has their attention. I look over her shoulder and the keeper is handling a bearded dragon. I don’t know what has Butterfly so mesmerized, but she is completely entranced. When the keeper asks if she wants to hold it, she extends her hand without even speaking. The keeper places the dragon in her flat palm, and she examines it carefully while the keeper gives us little factoids about it, like the fact that its beard does indeed look like unshaved whiskers and extends fully when he feels threatened.

I snicker at my wife’s obvious double standard and lean in to get a laugh at her expense.

“Mommy, can we keep it?” I whine like one of the children watching my wife, causing them to snicker. It breaks her trance and she looks over her shoulder at me. “You can hold a dragon, but I can’t hold a python.” She sticks her tongue out at me and hands the dragon back to the keeper with a “Thank you.”

“I told you at the zoo that I don’t have problems with lizards. It’s snakes that are my issue,” she says once we clear the door. “And how can you even compare the two? That dragon was twelve inches tops from nose to tail. That snake was ten feet long easily.”

“Fourteen, but who’s counting?” I say, walking past her and looking at the full-sized map since she has the small one.

“You are such an a—ah! Oh, God!” I turn around to see my wife leaping backwards and looking at something on the ground. A large ball of fur is running towards her, and she yelps. And then another. I look at the map and discover that these furry little not-so-adorable creatures are potoroos. Butterfly doesn’t like them too much. As a matter of fact, she could very much do without them.

Potoroos have really long tails and are about the size of a young housecat. When they stand, they resemble very small kangaroos. However, when they run on all fours—which they do more often—they look like very large, really fat rats. They scamper right across the trail as you’re walking by, causing my wife to nearly jump out of her skin when she sees the first one. I’m certain she would have scurried up the nearest tree if she could. Once she sees the first one, she has the displeasure of seeing them scamper all over the park in herds looking for food like giant rats in the sewers of New York. She opts not to feed them, although Lawrence gets a kick out of letting one of them eat from his hand.

A tiny bit of fun never hurt anybody.

A wallaby walks up to us on the trail and Butterfly leans down to feed it. However, a potoroo runs over to partake in the feast and Butterfly is having none of that. So, the poor wallaby has to wait until the next person comes with a treat. No worries, Butterfly. We’ll get a chance to see more wallabies deeper in the park.

Our next stop is the rainbow Lorikeet display. Two of the birds are huddled on the fence together and I swear, they look like their snuggling and making out. The minute one walks down the fence for some room, the other walks right back up to it and continues to rub against the first bird’s feathers.

“Is that how they mate?” I ask Butterfly, who has downloaded the Cleland app to help us identify the animals and get more information on them.

“Maybe,” she says, scrolling through her phone. “They’re mostly monogamous and most of them mate for life. So… these two could be a couple.”

Could be? It looks like one is going to mount the other right here on the fence!

After a quick left turn past the Lorikeets, we arrive at one of three kangaroo habitats—the Kangaroo Island kangaroos. You can walk right up to them and feed them right from your hand. From there we see the swamp wallabies, confirming what I said earlier—that we would get another chance to feed the wallabies without being swamped by what Butterfly so lovingly refers to as “wildlife rats.”

She’ll hold a fancy lizard, but she won’t go near the potoroos… My wife is strange.

Next, we walk through one of the aviaries in the park where we see various species of native birds, water birds, and forest birds and on the other end outside of the aviary, we see the cape barren geese and the emu. I think I remember seeing the emu and some kind of kangaroo at the Seattle Zoo, but I’m not sure. I have to say that I’m getting a kick out of not just seeing the usual suspects as I’m certain we would have had we gone to the Adelaide Zoo instead.

We spend a little time looking at the wombats, but unfortunately, they like to hide in their little dens or holes or whatever you call them. So, they’re not really interested in putting on a show for us. However, it’s a warm day, so the echidnas are out and about on display. They’re these tiny little things that favor miniature porcupines, but when I see them, I swear they remind me of powder puffs—maybe not so puffy, but they still look like powder puffs.

Further into the park are the western grey kangaroos and the yellow-footed flock wallabies. We see the wallabies first, and I mistake them for just more kangaroos, but the locals inform us that wallabies have shorter legs than kangaroos. I only see the difference after they point it out.

A western grey kangaroo with a baby in her pouch comes to eat from my wife’s hand, which is somewhat unusual, we’re told, since kangaroos are extremely protective of their babies. She actually holds onto Butterfly’s hands with one of hers while she eats the feed from her palm. Of course, I must capture that for posterity.

Jason calls us to inform us that he has arrived with our lunch, so we head to the picnic area, intent on saving the Tasmanian Devils and the Koala display for last. More time has passed than we thought as it’s easy to lose yourself in the various species of animals in the park, especially watching them thrive in their own habitat.

“Is it me or does is seem like we haven’t really had any alone time on this trip?” I begin as we tuck into a delicious picnic lunch of Thai salad with beef strips; chicken, avocado, and pesto rolls; a stocked deli and Mediterranean antipasto tray; fruit salad, croissants, sparkling mineral water, bottled water and of course, a bottle of white wine. My wife raises her head slowly and cocks it to the side, gazing at me like a strange animal.

“Well, yes, of course there’s been a lot of fucking,” I acknowledge, “but I just mean out and about.” She begins to load her fork with Thai salad.

“Well, we are in a foreign country,” she replies. “We have to have our security. It’s the nature of the beast—you pointed that out to me. And we’re in a very touristy part of the world. It’s not like we went to a retreat.” She takes the forkful of her salad.

“I know. I guess I kind of expected more ‘gazing at sunsets’ and that sort of thing. Speaking of sunsets…” I pull out the camera and scroll back to the pictures of the sunset that I took at Barossa Valley.

“Christian, these are beautiful,” she says as she scrolls through the pictures, temporarily abandoning her lunch. “Where did you take these?”

“Wine country,” I tell her. “Near the end as we were leaving.” She looks at me and frowns.

“Where was I?” she asks. “How could I have possibly missed this?”

“You were asleep, darling,” I inform her with a smile. The fruits of the land had you knocked out completely. She twists her lips.

“You’re going to rub that in,” she complains, handing me back the camera.

“Not as much as you did last night,” I say before taking a bite of my chicken wrap. The words are out of my mouth before I know it, and I don’t regret it. It’s true. She raises a brow to me and helps herself to some antipasto.

“I made a call a few days ago,” I say. “Remember when I said that I wanted us to have some kind of training when we got back to Seattle?” She nods. “Well, a couple of old, trusted acquaintances got back in touch with me and are willing to set something up for next weekend.” She swallows her food.

“That soon,” she says, picking at her salad. I place my fork on the plate and take her hand.

“Is there any reason why we should wait?” I ask. “We need some formal training.”

“What… exactly is involved in ‘formal training?’” she asks.

“We learn from people with experience how the lifestyle fits into our relationship,” I say, trying not to be too obvious to possible prying ears.

“Hmmm,” she says before turning back to her lunch.

“What?” I ask.

“I’m not sure how I feel about ‘formal training,’” she says. “It brings the Pedo-bitch She-thing to mind.” I twist my lips. I hadn’t thought about that.

“It’s going to be necessary, baby,” I tell her. “We’re going about this the wrong way. We jumped into it with both feet, but we never really knew what the other needed from the relationship. I’m feeling around in the dark for your needs and you’re pushing yourself beyond your limits for mine. That’s totally unacceptable.”

“But… strangers,” she says, trepid, “I realize the importance of assistance, believe me, but the thought of training for something so intimate with outsiders…” She’s shaking her head.

“When you needed guidance, you went to your friend, Michelangelo,” I point out. “This is going to be no different.”

“This is going to be world’s different,” she says, firmly but softly. “Someone’s going to be teaching me how to be a submissive. I remember the BDSM club, Christian, I don’t know if I want anybody to see me like that!”

See her like wha…?

“Whoa! Whoa! Wait a minute. I remember the BDSM club, too. I don’t want anybody to see you like that, either! Is that the kind of training you think I mean?”

Her expression softens, a mixture of relief and confusion.

“I tho… well… well, what other kind of training is there?”

I slump back in the chair a bit, my own emotions a bit of relief and amusement.

“Baby, you’re a psychiatrist,” I say softly, leaning in her direction. “You took human sexuality as part of your required studies. You must know that the biggest percentage of the lifestyle is psychological—what you mentally gain from the experience. The physical is an aid; it’s a means to an end. It’s not the meat of the relationship or the lifestyle. You must know that.”

“Well, yes, but…” Just as she begins her protest, I can see one of those three-second-funnels run through her head with a myriad of scenarios and questions and situations and realizations and in just as much time, she says, “You’re right. My mind is totally blowing past that part because it’s wrapped around the physical portion of it. I don’t know how I could have missed it.”

“Because you’re in it,” I point out, stroking the skin on the back of her hand. “It’s the same thing as being able to help someone else face and conquer their fears, but not being as successful about facing your own. It’s a normal human flaw. But now that I understand more clearly, I can tell you. Our training will be all instructional, informational, and verbal. We may take part in an activity or two if it’s required or we desire it, but I don’t want anybody else seeing or touching that beautiful body any more than you do.”

I stroke her cheek with the back of my hand and she physically relaxes. Geez, if she thought for one second that I would want anyone but me exercising any dominance of any kind on her, I’m extremely glad to dispel that theory. Touch my Butterfly? In a pig’s eye! And some other horny Dom watching me spank or flog her so that he can go impose his will on some pain whore somewhere with images of my Butterfly in his head? I think not!

“Yes,” she says, “yes, I think I would like to pursue this… to see… what we need to do to enhance our relationship and… to meet each other’s needs.” She’s choosing her words carefully. I can tell.

“I want to be a good husband, and a good Dom to you,” I say without hesitation or careful choosing of my words. “I want us to come to an agreement of what works for us instead of you feeling like my will must be imposed upon you. When I’ve lost control, I do want you to help me back to where I need to be, but only to the extent of what you can take, not what you think I need. You’re the perfect Domme for me when the time comes—and with very little training—but I’m definitely not the perfect Dom for you… yet.”

“That’s what we’re aiming for?” she asks uncertain. “Perfection?”

“As fucking close as we can get,” I say, bringing her hand to my lips and pressing a gentle kiss on her fingers. She gives me a faint, coy smile.

“I can deal with close,” she says softly.

We finish our lunch talking lightly about the things we plan to do when we get back home, but I can tell that she’s still distracted by the previous content of our conversation. I’ll just have to show her that everything will be better throughout the course of our training. She’s not some mindless, meaningless submissive. She’s my wife, and it’s important that she knows what she means to me—even in that submissive role… especially in that submissive role.

We’re back on the trail to commune with the rest of the animals in the park before we must head to the airport. Our first stop is the red kangaroo area. The kangaroos stick around in groups of two or three—one, occasionally—especially babies with parents. All of the animals are pretty docile and accustomed to human interaction, and the red kangaroo is no exception. I lean down to feed one of them while Butterfly is feeding another. He lies down on the grass in the shade and gets comfortable, forcing me to walk over to him and squat. While he’s chilling under the tree, I extend my open hand with the feed and he just chomps away. I reach up and rub his head, giving him a scratch behind his ear. The freaking diva raises his chin like a dog as if to say, “You missed a spot.” I hear a little giggle and look over at my wife, who’s videotaping my interaction with my latest friend on the digital camera. I give her a good show and scratch him under his neck, since he so obligingly raised his head to give me a better angle.

We continue through the preserve and arrive at the dingoes den. They have a beautiful coat, and amongst themselves, they’re very playful. However, they’re considered “pests” and as an old tale goes, they like to eat babies in Australia. I don’t know how true that is, but according to one of the locals also attending the park, there is a story from the 80’s that a woman named Lindy Chamberlain’s baby mysteriously disappeared while on a camping trip.

Dingoes, like any other animal in the wild, are opportunistic and mostly eat small animals like rabbits and rodents. At the time, the ranger was touting that dingoes in the area were becoming quite aggressive and due to the eating habits and reputation of the dingo, Chamberlain declared that a dingo had eaten her baby. The story is apparently pretty controversial because some people say that dingoes don’t really eat babies. Yet, she lost her baby and blamed a dingo.

Though the infant’s clothing was discovered mangled and bloody about two and a half miles away from the campsite, the child was never found.

The dingo is a carnivorous canine, likened to a reddish-brown wild dog, with a longer snout and sharper teeth. Whether they attack babies or just eat rabbits remains to be seen. However, the pure dingo is an endangered species because of crossbreeding with domestic dogs, so pest or not, the pure dingoes in this habitat are protected.

We finally get to see some real, live Tasmanian devils. The little buggers are tiny little black things that scurry around looking for food or whatever it is they’re looking for. This being my first time ever seeing a live Tasmanian devil, I try to compare it to the cartoon.

“No resemblance,” I say. Butterfly frowns.

“To what?” she asks.

“To the cartoon,” I reply. She pauses for a moment, then laughs loudly.

“Besides the ears, have you ever seen a rabbit that looks like Bugs Bunny?” she asks mirthfully.

She’s got a point.

Many of these devils are very small, but they’ll only get to be just over two feet long at their longest only about 18 pounds. I would say that all of these are less than ten pounds. They can run pretty fast—about 8 miles/hour—and although he’s not leaving utter destruction in his path, this little guy in the enclosure looks like he’s trying to reach that speed as he runs around and around and around in circles while his friends just sit on a rock watching him. I guess the cartoon Tassy is more of a caricature of what the Tasmanian devil should look like, because I see little to no resemblance whatsoever.

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Now, of course, Butterfly has to have the experience of holding a koala. They’re cute and lovable and right up her alley, and they’re actually very strong. My wife adores them. Had I jokingly asked if we could take one home like I did the bearded dragon, I’m certain she would have agreed and demanded that I find a way for us to have a Koala transported to the Crossing. I could see myself trying to convince her that we are not the Neverland Ranch and a koala is not Bubbles. Oh, the arguing with PETA and animal control and the zoning board for keeping an exotic animal in the area…

And I quickly bring my mind back from the tangent.

We pet them for a while and learn about their upbringing and temperament from the keeper while they feed on sprigs with eucalyptus leaves. Finally, Butterfly gets her much-anticipated opportunity to hold the koala. The keeper instructs us to don a smock that’s very soft like velvet or something, almost like the koala’s fir and the same color. We each get the opportunity to hold the koala in our arms and Butterfly is completely stricken. She gets her picture taken with the little guy and I think he’s as stricken with her as she is with him—he won’t release her when it’s my turn to hold him.

We finally come to a compromise and Butterfly pets him while I hold him. That’s the only way that he would settle in my arms! When he finally does, though, he cuddles into me and continues to eat his eucalyptus leaves. Butterfly stays by my side while I take a picture with it to keep the little guy from squirming. It’s like holding a small child—well, not my kids. My kids are cuter, but this little guy is pretty cute, too. We have to be careful while we’re handling them as they have powerful claws and can scratch you pretty badly. That’s why we wore the smocks.

Butterfly is sad to leave the wildlife park, particularly the koala area, but we stop at the gift shop where we buy lots of trinkets and souvenirs as well as copies of our pictures from the Koala experience. Oh, and she purchased several stuffed koalas, too.


ANASTASIA

Traveling to and from Australia means that you can literally be traveling for about 48 hours to three days, if you count swapping planes and layovers. What I can’t understand is if we could fly from Sydney straight to Seattle after a 1 ½-hour layover—which is what we did—why couldn’t we fly from Seattle straight to Sydney? Since I’m not the pilot, it’s a rhetorical question. And since the flight is already done, it’s also a moot point.

There’s a bit of fanfare at the airport when we arrive—not much, but more than I expected since no one knew that we had left the country. I assume that someone else must have been flying out or arriving at SeaTac, and they just got a bonus capturing the Greys.

Boy, was I wrong!

I’m sad to leave Australia and my fuzzy koala friends, but I’m very happy to be home with my bed and my babies, though I can honestly admit that I didn’t miss the snow. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on those two little pink bundles when we arrive on Sunday evening, and Gail is right on top of it, handing me Minnie the moment I remove my coat and settle in the family room. Once that order of business is complete, she dives right into the next one.

“Did I correctly see you with a giant snake wrapped around your body?”

Christian and I look at each other and back at her.

“What?” he asks incredulously.

“Either someone has some very good photoshopping skills or there’s a picture circulating around the internet of you with a Burmese python wrapped around your body… in those clothes!” she confirms pointing at him.

“Are you serious?” he asks. “That couldn’t have been a day ago! Did you see any paps around?” he inquires of Jason.

“Um, I was retrieving lunch at the time,” Jason replies, “but Ben didn’t notify me of any press when I got back.”

“Then who took the picture?” I ask.

“It says Renee Schuller took the picture,” Gail says, scrolling through her phone. “She was another visitor at the zoo when she heard someone yell your name. Knowing who you were, she snapped the picture and posted it on her Facebook. It went viral in a matter of an hour.” My husband slowly turns his head to me, and I shrink a bit.

“Well, what did you expect?” I defend. “I walk into a reptile enclosure that I didn’t want to go inside in the first place to find my wayward husband who had spent so much time in there, I thought one of the reptiles had eaten him, and when I get in there, he’s got a god… gosh darn snake wrapped around his body that I discover is over twice as long as he is tall! Yes, I flipped the f… freak out.”

“You called out his name?” Jason asks.

“Yes, I was horrified! He had a frag-nabbit python wrapped around his body!”

“And someone recognized him just because you called out his name?” Gail protests.

“She called out my full name—all three of them—loudly, and somebody knew who I was. I was expecting to turn around and see Grace standing there! Instead, I’m standing there being scolded by my wife trying to convince her that the snake is harmless. Even the keeper was laughing at me. Oh! But not five minutes later, she’s holding a dragon!” All eyes snap to me.

“God, you are so dramatic,” I chastise.

“You were holding a Komodo dragon?” Gail asks surprised.

“No!” I reply, a bit perturbed with my husband. “I was holding a bearded dragon, not a Komodo dragon. Komodo dragons are much bigger than bearded dragons…”

“Yeah, like a hundred and eighty pounds,” Jason points out.

“Exactly!” I say. “I was holding a lizard that was about 10 inches long. He was holding a 14-foot python!”

“And it was an olive python, not a Burmese python,” Christian defends.

“What’s the difference?” I retort.

“About ten feet,” Jason interjects. Christian makes that one-up kind of face, and I just want to punch him.

“Fourteen feet, Christian!” I announce. “Fourteen feet of man-eating reptile wrapped around your body! Exactly how did you expect me to react?”

“I didn’t expect you to be there!” he counters.

“Then you should’ve brought your as… butt out of the reptile cage!” I retort sharply.

“What is this thing you’re doing?” Jason points at me with an open hand. “Gosh darn butt freaking frag-nabbit—what is this?”

“My children are almost a year old which means they’re going to be forming more words which means I don’t want any cursing around my babies.” I announce.

“Yet, you’re cursing me out about a flipping snake,” Christian mumbles, deliberately loud enough for me to hear him. Did I curse once? Did I say even one curse word? One?

“I’m going to hit him,” I say calmly to Jason while pointing to my husband. I’m going to hit him really hard and he may need medical attention.

“Remember, boss,” Jason says, “you have to sleep with her.”

Christian twists his lips but quickly gets the point and goes to the refrigerator.

“Hey! You guys are back!” Chuck comes from the area of the elevator, acknowledging our presence. “It’s been dead here without you,” he says, coming over to the sofa and giving me a kiss on the cheek. “How was Australia?”

“It was an adventure,” I say, somewhat dryly. Chuck sits on the arm of the sofa next to Keri.

“You didn’t have a good time?” he asks, curious. I sigh and kiss my yawning baby girl.

“No, we really had a great time—a couple of adventures here and there, but nothing to write home about… except when someone gets a picture of you and posts it on Facebook.” I twist my lips as Christian comes back into the family room with a Budvar, drinking it straight from the bottle.

“Oh, you saw the picture,” Chuck says. “What did you think?”

“I didn’t see it,” I reply. “I was there!” He turns to Christian.

“What did you think?” Chuck asks.

“I didn’t see it either, but I will,” he says dryly, before taking a drink of his beer.

“Ooookay, so, that’s my cue to shut the hell up,” Chuck says.

“Good idea,” Jason advises, “and watch your language.”

“What did I say?” Chuck says, shrugging.

“Hades,” Jason replies. “Her Highness doesn’t want any cursing around the children since they’ll be picking up words soon.” Chuck nods.

“Will you ever stop calling me Her Highness?” I ask.

“Old habits die hard and you started it, so live with it,” he replies matter-of-factly. I twist my lips and turn to Chuck.

“So, Chuck, tell us about your trip, first. How did things go?” I ask. Chuck sighs.

“Well, I got to see Mom and Dad’s house… not new, but new to me. It’s in Rapid City and it’s really beautiful—four bedrooms and three baths. Mom and Dad don’t need that much room, but they wanted to have room when Sunny and the kids came to visit. It’s a beautiful place and I would have loved to share some of those missed years with them, but…” He trails off and clears his throat.

“You know that we spent the days in court,” he continues, entwining his fingers with Keri’s. “Most of the nights we spent in front of the fireplace with good old-fashioned hot cocoa and marshmallows, going through albums and pictures of old times… and things that I missed—birthday parties, Christmases, Thanksgivings. We had good, home-cooked meals. I mean our meals here are pretty great, but there’s nothing like Mom’s cooking. She made this cabbage soup that she used to make when I was at home. I haven’t had it in forever! And the pan cornbread! Keri had three helpings!” he laughs.

“Eet wahs deleshush!” Keri exclaims, her eyes large. “It wahm an wholesome. ‘S like a huhg from de inside!”

We all laugh, and Chuck continues to tell us how his parents connected with him in their home and in their town, how they saw the sights of the city and even visited Mt. Rushmore. We don’t rush him to talk about the trial. We just let him ramble on for a while about reconnecting with his parents and wanting to go back home to visit more often, now that he actually has a home.

“Joe is a miserable bastard,” he says finally, as if he were saving the worst for last. “He sees what he’s done, and he knows what he’s done. He just doesn’t care. He found a way to make himself the victim the entire time. He told the court about my drinking, my terrible behavior—you know, destroying his wedding and stuff—and how he was desperately trying to protect his parents from my toxicity. It was like he had a catalog of every terrible thing I had ever done when I was drunk. If I were on the outside looking in, I would have taken his side, too.”

“So… what happened? Did he win?” Jason asks. Chuck purses his lips.

“We had an uphill battle, me and mom,” Chuck says. “We had to prove that we had lost something besides time in order for it to be an actionable case. Joe spent months preparing for this case. Every bit of my dirty laundry has been aired in South Dakota… the cars I wrecked, the wedding I destroyed, the break-ups I’ve had—if I stole a pack of gum, it’s now on the court record. At first, everybody was looking at me like I was a criminal, but when we got a chance to speak…”

He clears his throat again and has to regain his countenance a bit. It’s obviously hard for him to talk about it, and now I can see why he waited to discuss it.

“Joe talked for the whole first day, which I thought was strange since he was the defendant. He had all kinds of convincing evidence as to why he felt like I shouldn’t be allowed contact with my parents. He looked like the perfect, simple little country boy just trying to protect his ‘maw and paw’ while I went off to the city to live a fast life and get drunk. He even used our accident against me,” Chuck says, looking at me, “claiming that he came to Seattle to see me last year only to find me laid up, busted, and broken after having an accident from driving while drunk. I looked like Satan when he was done. I didn’t even want to take the stand. We went to a restaurant that night for dinner, and they wouldn’t even serve us!”

He shakes his head while Christian and I exchange a glance. He tried to use my accident to gain ground for his selfish actions—that unfeeling asshole!

“I came back to the house that night, and I told Mom that I didn’t think it was worth it. I would be coming back to Seattle at the end of the week and I would never have to see that town or him again if I didn’t want to, but they have to live there. Mom wouldn’t let me quit. She told me that he stole something very valuable from us and that if we didn’t see this through, win or lose, that he would automatically win. Then Keri gave me a pep talk and pretty much said the same thing Mom said. All I had was the truth—I didn’t have a mountain of memories and journal entries to spill in front of the court. I didn’t know how effective I would be.

“We went to court the next day and got the surprise of our lives. With a town full of angry ass people staring at me, I took the stand. Mom’s lawyer asked me questions, and I told my side. I didn’t deny anything he said. I owned up to everything that I did, except I wouldn’t let him use that accident against me. I told the court about the car that T-boned us and that anyone who wanted to know what happened in that accident could Google my name, the date, and that accident in Seattle and get the truth.”

“Did they do that?” I ask.

“Most of the court was on the phone while I was still testifying,” he responds. “That’s when the tide changed.”

Jesus, I’m glad to hear that! I’m sitting on the edge of my seat—literally—waiting to hear the rest of what happened.

“With one statement and in a matter of about a minute, I had established Joe as a liar and even worse, an opportunist. He not only lied about me and the accident, but he tried to use it against me to his advantage in a court of law, which is perjury. To keep him out of jail, his lawyer recalled him to the stand where he testified that he didn’t intentionally lie on me; he just didn’t have all the facts. With my history and seeing me laid up from a car accident, of course he assumed I was driving drunk. The judge opted not to charge him with perjury, but the damage was already done.

“I told the court about my time in rehab and AA; the years of trying to get in touch with my parents and how he destroyed all my letters; thinking that they hated me and never wanted to see me again; doing my tours of duty and coming back and joining a private security force; getting into that terrible accident that almost killed me; only being able to reach my parents because I had a wealthy boss who tracked them down after Joe came to see me asking for money for them and told me that they still wanted nothing to do with me; having an entire family all across the country that didn’t even know I was alive… I’d say the tide shifted pretty strongly.

“Mom had a plan… a big one. Never try to pull one over on your mother. She’ll get you every time.” He chuckles and shakes his head.

“My family came from everywhere!” he says, “not all of them, but a lot of them. They all talked about watching my mother suffer, about the years she spent researching and following dry trails and trying to track me down, waiting for a phone call or something in the mail to tell her something, anything, any tiny bit of hope. Mom had been searching for years trying to find me—trying to get me some help if that’s what I needed—and all the time, I was okay. I was in full recovery and living a healthy life. What Joe did wasn’t just selfish. It was cruel.

“Three days of nothing but solid testimony against my brother—hours and hours of recounting all the stories he told and the lengths he went to in order to ensure that I wouldn’t be able to get in touch with anybody and that nobody would be able to get in touch with me. Christian, as horrible as it was, had that car not nearly killed me, I never would have found my family, and they never would have found me.

“The parade of people that came through that courtroom talking about how my mother suffered, what she went through and what she did—they laid a foundation for her, and she got on that stand and cinched the deal.

“Mom had records—money that she paid for internet searches and background checks—nothing that panned out because she was using amateur resources and by the time she was searching for me, I was already in the service. After I didn’t hear anything from them, I moved on with my life. Jay called me about this great opportunity, I came to Seattle, and that was that… but Mom, she now had to deal with what she accepted as the death of her son and was going through therapy… money trail.”

I see where he’s going with this. They’re suing for slander and defamation of character, but he didn’t want money—he never did. He just wanted somebody to tell Joe that he was wrong, but you don’t get that kind of satisfaction in civil court. There has to be something lost—like I lost wages when David kidnapped me, and I lost money when that Keystone Cop took my credit cards—that can result in a need for restitution and possibly be a catalyst for punitive damages. Maddie produced that loss. Now, they had a real case.

“Joe had tried to make the therapy seem like it was my fault for disappearing. It didn’t float. Even his ex-wife showed up in court talking about how obsessed he was with keeping me and my parents apart even before she left him. In the end, he lost.”

Those were the words I was waiting for.

“He lost the case?” I confirm. “You won?” Chuck nods.

“Mom showed a monetary loss and had records and witnesses to prove it. I didn’t really show a monetary loss except for the stamps on the letters he destroyed. But when I mentioned the wealthy boss who tracked my parents down, there’s an expense that can be tracked… and it was enough.”

“So, what happened?” I ask, anxious to hear Joe’s fate.

“The jury found in our favor,” he says. “They awarded us one of the weirdest settlements I’ve ever seen in my life. Joe has to pay me and my mom a dollar a week… every week… for life!”

“What?” I ask, a bit surprised as well as a bit appalled.

“Yep, and if he misses a payment, he’ll be held in contempt of court and arrested.”

“You’re kidding,” Christian says.

“I’m not,” Chuck replies. “He can’t file bankruptcy to discharge it, because it’s something that he can pay. There’s no hardship. Even if he had other debts that he couldn’t pay, this one still couldn’t be discharged. He is locked in. If he doesn’t make the payments, he’ll be held in contempt of court and then have to do jail time. Then he’ll have to pay fines when he gets out and he’ll still have to pay our restitution. The only way that he can get out of this is to leave the state, but even that has its repercussions. He would still have to make the payments wherever he goes and if he doesn’t and the court finds out, there’ll be a warrant issued for his arrest and he’ll be a fugitive. He’s locked in.”

“How did things end?” Jason asks. “I mean, I know you had to have something to say.”

“I told him to never darken my door again and forget that I’m alive except when he has to write my check. Then I let him know that every penny that he gives me is going to a local alcohol rehab program so that more people can be success stories like me.”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Fifty-two dollars a year—that hardly seems like compensation for what you lost.”

“Can you really put a price on what he did to me?” Chuck says. “To my family? They thought I was dead… my mom thought I was dead. He knew I was alive… and well. He knew I had gone through rehab. He knew I was in the military. He knew, but he was holding this anger for what I did at his wedding, and subsequently somehow blamed me for ruining his life. My mother can’t stand not to speak to him because that’s her son, and I wouldn’t expect it to be any other way, but what he did to us is immeasurable.

“I think the judge did the right thing, because assigning a specific dollar amount would have been an insult. Yet, by saying, ‘Send them a dollar a week every week for life…’ you don’t know when that’s going to end, so there’s no set dollar amount on that. Plus, he’ll never forget. He’ll never forget what he did to us and why he has to pay for it, even if it’s just a dollar. He was wrong. He was very wrong, and somebody in authority confirmed that. Somebody told him he was wrong, and he can’t take out a loan or hock his drawers and pay off the debt and call it even. It’ll never be even. What he did to us will never be even! Yeah, I think the judge did the right thing.”

He takes a deep breath and lets it out while Keri rubs his back.

“Mom surprised me, though,” he says once he’s calm again. “She kissed him in the middle of the courtroom right after the verdict in front of everybody. She told him that she loved him, but that she must have failed somewhere as a mother. She told him that if he doesn’t pay that dollar every week to me and to her like the judge ordered that contempt of court wouldn’t be his only problem. She said that $2 a week was the very least that he could do after what he put his family through, and that if he couldn’t do that, she would never speak to him again. She said that she has unconditionally given the last fifteen years to him and that she was giving the rest to me, and he could be a part of it, or he doesn’t have to. It’s his choice. And then we left.”

“Wow… talk about courtroom drama,” I say.

“I feel so bad for Joe,” Chuck says. I almost hurt myself rubbernecking over to him.

“Why in the he… heck do you feel bad for Joe?” Christian asks

“Don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying he didn’t deserve what he got, but I do feel sorry for him. I don’t know if he has any friends, but he’s alienated his family to the degree that I don’t think it can ever be fixed. I’m his brother. No matter what happened in our lives, I’m still his brother, and look what he did to me. Look what he did to my mom and dad. Nobody’s ever going to trust him again.

“I was under the influence of a controlling drug that I let go of and never touched again. He did this with sound mind and body. He has no excuse. I can forgive him for what he did to me. I really can. I can’t forgive what he did to my mom and dad.”

He shakes his head again and the room falls silent.

“So, on another note, my parents are going to spend an early Christmas with Sunny and the kids, and then, they’re coming here and staying through the New Year. I had a feeling you wouldn’t mind if they stayed here, but they can stay at my place in Bainbridge if it’s an imposition.” His face is alight again with joy, talking about his parents coming for Christmas.

“Now you know better than that,” Christian scolds. “Find out what would make them more comfortable. I’m fine with whatever they want to do.”

“When will they arrive?” I ask.

“I don’t know yet, but I’ll have to get the Bainbridge house cleaned for their arrival just in case,” he says. “Now, enough about me. I want to hear about the trip. I’ve never been to Australia. Jason, what do you think of Sophie’s new look?”

Jason frowns and Gail drops her head.

“Dammit, Chuck, thanks a lot!” she exclaims. I look down at Minnie and she’s asleep in my arms. Mikey is out cold in the Pack-n-Play. Crisis averted. Gail didn’t even notice.

“What new look?” Jason asks. Gail shakes her head and takes out her phone. She swipes the screen and enters something into it. Jason reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone.

“What the fuck!?” he yells.

And two babies are startled and crying.

“God! Thanks, Jason!” I declare and try to get Minnie to settle while Christian retrieves Mikey and gently begins to sooth him. Jason is unfazed, at least by my scolding.

“Gail, what the hell?” he hisses quietly through his teeth.

“She wanted to try something different,” Gail defends. Did she shave her head? Oh, dear God…

“What’s wrong? What is it?” I ask, praying that she didn’t follow Harmony’s lead and scalp herself.

“Purple!” he barks at me. “Her hair is purple! She looks like one of those rainbow horses you used to see in those cartoons! Who’s idea was this?”

0c92ef8bcafa0f5da9440b78ed459cb6And now I’m trying to suppress a laugh. The hormonal, emotional teenage girl dyed her hair purple. Worse things have happened.

“Calm down, Jason. It’s a rinse,” Gail chastises. “It’ll be gone in about three shampoos and then she’ll probably be green.”

“Oh, God,” Jason laments. “Please don’t let child services see her. They’ll probably take her away from me.”

“Um, Jason,” I say, “child services removes a child from abusive and dangerous situations, not because she dyed her hair purple.” He sighs heavily and rolls his eyes.

“This is just a phase, right? Tell me this is a phase. I hope this is a phase…”

“Oh, for God’s sake, man, stop being so dramatic. What are you going to do when she brings home a boyfriend?” Gail chides. I raise a brow and turn to Jason.

“Ugh,” he groans, puts his hand on his forehead, and turns away. Gail and I chuckle quietly, and I just shake my head. She’s already in that stage, Jay. You better prepare yourself.


A/N: The way that this picture was previously labeled in Pinterest made me think I might have made young Sophie’s hair purple before. I don’t think I did, but just in case, someone let me know if I did.

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, 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

The Australia Picture Board can be found here: https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey-the-trip-to-australia/ and the pictures from today’s chapter are in the Cleland Wildlife Park” sections.

And of course, the regular Pinterest board is here: https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey/

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 83—Basking in Barossa Valley

FUN, FUN, FUN!!!

I enjoyed writing and editing this chapter so much that there will be no warnings besides that the previous disclaimers apply. Travelling through the Barossa Valley was so much fun, and I adored the experience more than anything that I’ve written in Book IV so far, and that says a lot. Please, please, please try to follow the pictures on the Pinterest page for this chapter as you read. I guarantee it will enhance your experience immensely. They can be found at THIS LINK and there are eight Barossa Valley subheadings. If you’re a visual person like me, you won’t regret it!

Thank you all for going on this journey with me and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Chapter 83—Basking in Barossa Valley

ANASTASIA

St. Hugo’s was a divine experience. It was almost spoiled by two uncouth cows who pointed me out, once again, as Christian’s bracelet, but he quickly put them in their place without saying a word directly to either of them while at the same time making me feel every bit the beautiful princess.

I still don’t understand what strikes people’s ire so much about us. I guess it’s okay to be young, rich, beautiful, or happy, but not all four. I’m not saying that my husband is a bad person, but in his business dealings, I’m certain that he has pissed off a person or three. I haven’t done anything to anybody! Yet, they come at me with their claws bared for no reason whatsoever…

Because I’m married to Christian…
Because I’m pretty…
Because we’re rich…

I don’t even know anymore. I’m working on my pledge to not let what people say about me bother me so much, but I have to admit that I’m not doing such a great job. I’ve never been able to embrace the concept of not liking someone simply for the cause of not liking them. They either think I’m a gold-digger or a trophy wife. Do they think I’m not good enough? And if not me, then who would’ve been?

What would satisfy the criteria of marrying the great Christian Grey—another billionairess? Then they would have been angry with her for being too damn ambitious and wanting too much.

He’s beautiful and he married a beautiful woman. What if he had married a dog? They would be talking about his taste and her looks.

He’s young and I’m young. What if he had married a cougar? That May-December “romance” would have gotten quite the un-rave reviews!

And God only knows what major shit they would be talking if we had marital problems splattered all over the tabloids.

You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t, so I’m back to the way of thinking that I need to let this shit roll off of me. I just didn’t think I would be subjected to that jealous type of scrutiny in a foreign country where no one knows who we are or anything about us. I guess people are just naturally catty and there’s really nothing you can do about that.

Bearing this in mind, I have every intention of eating way too much food and drinking way too much of the delicious offerings of the region, and anybody who doesn’t like it or me can kiss the darkest, wettest part of my lily-white ass!

Jacob’s Creek is our next stop and it’s so close that we could walk. Nonetheless, I have no arguments with taking the short jaunt in this beautiful classic Chrysler. We’re adding the delicious St. Hugo’s Cabernet to our wine cellar, and we’ve decided to keep one bottle of the Screaming Eagle and one of the St. Hugo for our collection. However, I believe in living and enjoying life and I plan on drinking the rest.

Just like at St. Hugo, we enjoy four tastings from the winery’s cellar door exclusive Heritage wine collection paired with four delicious courses matched perfectly with the wine. I remember the steps involved in the tastings and what to look for—techniques taught to me by my husband on our honeymoon. I’m proud and a bit astonished that I remember these things since these are very specific details and our honeymoon was before the accident that has subdued a lot of my memories.

I combine the knowledge I received from Christian with a bit of my own knowledge and repeat the steps from the tasting at St. Hugo’s…

Hold the glass by the stem so as not to affect the temperature of the wine.
Examine the color and body of the wine. Is it dark and rich or easy to see through like colored glass?

I remember my husband speaking of the dress of the wine—the color. He taught me that that darker the color, the older the vintage. So, while some of our reds are ruby and a bit transparent, the older wines are darker, richer, and more of a brick color.

I swirl the glass and examine the legs. They’re thick and a bit heavy on some, not so much on others.

Cover my nose with the glass and absorb the smell to pick up certain notes in each vintage before I take a sip and aerate the wine to give my tongue the chance to ponder the flavor.

I make the most of the experience. Jacob’s Creek boasts fine wines and delicious dishes to tempt the palate. However, I must say that St. Hugo’s felt more personable where Jacob’s Creek seemed a bit more mass-production-commercial to me. There was even the option to have a picnic lunch on site, but even that seemed more like, “Here’s your box—now go down past the old fig tree to the creek… with all the other people who bought a box lunch.”

John’s keen senses zero in on the fact that I’m not enjoying this experience as much as St. Hugo. I don’t hate it—it just seems like a bit of a downgrade. We don’t dawdle at Jacob’s Creek for too long before we’re back on another picturesque journey to our next winery.

The Charles Melton Vineyard is a bit more my taste. This winery is quaint—the quaintness of St. Hugo, but not such a large scale. At the risk of being considered a snob, I feel that if you’re going to spend the day in wine country riding around in a vintage luxury car and spending $1000 on a single bottle of wine, none of the wineries that you visit should feel like you’re walking into a liquor store.

Charles Melton definitely meets the mark.

This winery is mainly known for its delectable shirazes and grenaches, two vintages that were somewhat unfashionable when the winery was founded in 1984 but have grown majorly in popularity since then, especially in this region. These wines aren’t as pricey as the St. Hugo, but they’re surprisingly delicious. The winery specializes in only a few blends and you get to sample them all. I’m happy to order a case of the La Belle Mere Grenache Shiraz Mataro and the Grains of Paradise Shiraz. The Grains of Paradise boast a complex sweetness reminiscent of sitting in a swing or in the grass in the meadow on a cool spring or slightly cooler summer Sunday afternoon while the Grenache begs to mature for a few years in the cellar to richen the Barossa ripeness and the boldness of the smoky, dark, sweet fruits.

We don’t get the pairing experience at Charles Melton without actually ordering a meal. However, we’re able to indulge in tastings of olive oil and cheeses, and smoked meats from the local butcher between cellar door visits.

I’m beginning to feel the effects of some of the wines by the time we reach the Yalumba Winery, but that doesn’t stop me from indulging in the Winemaker’s Lunch on the Yalumba Signature Lawn. Now, I’m already a sheet or two to the wind, not completely over the edge but feeling mighty fine. This apparently means absolutely nothing to the sommeliers at Yalumba, who for whatever reason feel that you should taste as many wines as your body can possibly hold.

I have officially lost count of how many wines we’ve tasted before we even get to lunch. You taste three to four wines—maybe five—at each winery that you visit. This place has something like 15! Just to taste! This doesn’t include the pairings with lunch. And the wines at Yalumba are devilishly delicious! There are four different heavenly Rieslings in the tasting, and I even like the Chardonnay and the Sauvignon Blanc… and Chardonnay is definitely not my thing unless it’s part of a pairing. I’m very pleasantly surprised by the Eden Valley Virgilius Viognier and the Grenache of Rosé, but I have a feeling that my prior libations may have contributed to my enjoyment of these elixirs.

We sample a concoction called Running with the Bulls Tempranillo—and not even my previous inebriation helped with that experience. That’s a definite no.

The Cabernet/Shiraz mixes make up for that experience, however—the Signature blend as well as The Scribbler blend. I can see some of these making their way back to the States with us.

Somewhere in between the seventh, eighth, tenth tasting, I don’t know, it’s time for us to have our Winemaker’s Lunch. I inform Christian that I’d like a case of the Signature and Scribbler blends. He subsequently decides that he wants the Eden Vineyard Shiraz Viognier and Eden Valley Sauvignon Blanc. So, he arranges for the wines to be shipped. No sooner than he put his Amex Black back in his wallet that I turn around and come face-to-face with the same two cows that we saw at St. Hugo’s walking into the cellar door.

Now, I’m not toasted, but I’ve been officially dipped, and the filter is off.

“Oh, look, there’s second place! Or third… or tenth… or whatever,” I blurt out with a giggle while pointing at them and leaning on my husband who tries and fails to stifle a laugh. I’m sure that if they didn’t get my meaning, he did.

If I’m a trophy wife, they’re way down on the placement list!

“Come, my inebriated Butterfly,” he says, putting his arm around my waist to stable me as we leave the cellar door.

“Bye!” I say cheerfully looking over my shoulder while waving at the cows who were talking about me earlier.

“I love it when you’re like this,” he says, scooping me into his arms once we’re outside, “not too drunk but pickled just enough.”

Live acoustic music is playing on the lawn while we enjoy the sunshine, great food, and yet more wine pairings from Yalumba—Old Bush Vine Grenache and The Guardian Shiraz Viognier blend, both from Samuel’s Garden. Lunch consists of decadent courses ranging from prosciutto-wrapped scallops to lamb, Scotch fillets, and smoked salmon. Tarts, cannolis, and souffles with vanilla bean ice-cream complete our meal and we sit in the sunshine allowing it to digest a bit. After a tall, cold glass of water and a trip or two to the ladies’ room, my high has worn off a bit—not completely, but a bit, and I’m ready to hit the valley again.

I’m sitting happily snuggled in the arms of my husband in the back seat of the vintage Chrysler, smiling widely on the inside and probably on the outside as well, as we once again travel down picturesque streets with rolling green hills lined with beautiful trees. As we approach the more populated areas, we see cozy little houses and then a church, followed by more commercial-type buildings—still a bit of a small-town feel, but more business and commerce in this area… the grocery store, the cheese shop, the post office, the beauty salon.

Once again, it could be all the wine, but I’m beginning to think of John as a personal friend of ours. He has proven to be a wealth of knowledge throughout our excursion, providing entertaining commentary on the history and culture of the Barossa, the amazing wines, local characters that we’ve seen or met along the way, and the culture, architecture, and terrain of the region. It was he who suggested that we sample the cheeses, meats, and wares of the area in between our tastings to accommodate our alcohol intake from the wineries that provided tastings without parings. We quickly learn that our wine-tasting experience is bespoke, and I’m more and more pleased that John is our guide through the enchanting valley.

Our next stop is Penfolds.

We pull up at a tan stucco building in the middle of the city. I frown a bit because I’m expecting more experiences like St. Hugo’s and less like Jacob’s Creek, but even Jacob’s Creek wasn’t this commercial—full asphalt parking lot and the building looks like it could be anything… a factory, a storage facility, a hardware store. There are no vineyards, fields, or trees anywhere, and I just don’t have a good feeling about it.

Apparently, my face said that out loud.

John informs us that the Penfolds Magill Estate Winery and Cellar Door is more than an hour away, and he didn’t want us to leave Barossa Valley without having tried their flagship Grange.

“Give it a chahnce, sheila,” John says. “OI’m cehtain you won’t be disappointed.”

Well, if John says so…

We enter the well-too-lit cellar door and I feel like I’m in a liquor store again. It’s worse than Jacob’s Creek… at least they had the creek!

John tells the vintner where we’ve traveled most of the day and informs her that he thinks we’d like the “A Taste of Grange” and the “Laboratory” experience.

Though the location is missing the ambience and the je ne sais quoi of the other on-site cellar doors, the experience is still wonderful. The staff is unbelievably accommodating, and I think I tasted more wine than I did at Yalumba… and just as tasty! The Taste of Grange experience is fabulous, and our host is just as engaging as John is. We get the opportunity to taste a number of delicious luxury granges from various years. He was right and I feel a little guilty about judging the book by its stucco cover.

Oh, but the experience isn’t over yet. The “Laboratory” experience that John spoke of refers to the Winemaker’s Laboratory, where you get to create your own blend of Penfold’s to take home. I noticed that other wineries have the option available, but John never suggested it and I was too busy tasting the wines to ask about it. We each got our own lab jacket and begin the process of blending the wines to create our own custom vintage. Of course, my husband wants the perfect white blend while I aim for the perfect mixture of dark fruits and full-bodied richness characteristic of my favorite Cabernets.

More blending, more tasting, and we leave this blessed establishment with two bottles each of our custom blend—going in the Chrysler with us and they may make it onto the jet—with a personalized label on each bottle that boasts Christian and me as “Assistant Winemaker” on our respective bottles.

Of course, we can’t leave without the world-renowned Granges of Penfolds. Yes, they boast a hefty price-tag, but they’re worth every penny! We get a mixed case of the Granges including the 2012 Grange St. Louis with crystal decanter, and a second case of the Cabernet. I had to include the 2010 Bin 707, one of the darkest and richest blends I’ve tasted with hints of blueberry and mulberry in a dense black core.

We depart our glorious experience at Penfolds and head to Maggie Beer’s Farm Shop for afternoon tea. I’m more than pleased to see that as we drive toward Maggie Beer’s, the roads are looking more rural and rustic like before. Not to besmirch Penfolds by all means, but this is more what I expected when travelling through Barossa Valley.

How do I describe Maggie Beer’s?

Maggie Beer’s is a produce shop, wine shop, cookery, eatery and pheasant farm tucked back off the road just outside of the city not four miles—or six kilometers—from Penfolds. The entrance looks very rustic, but inside is a gorgeous country-kitchen-type feel on a much larger scale exuding a general store vibe with the extensive line of fresh jams and products.

Birds are roaming free on the grounds—large birds with babies. I think they’re pheasants, but I’m not sure since this is also a pheasant farm… where the pheasants are cooked and eaten. There is, however, an aviary of native birds on the grounds, one of which is a beautiful peacock with a royal blue neck and a fabulous green plume of feathers behind him. At one point, he also finds his way out of the cage and struts around for us, showing off his long, colorful feathers.

Maggie Beer and her husband Colin started the pheasant farm in the 1970’s and became the first breeders of quail and pheasant in Australia. From there, they opened the farm shop and the restaurant and became quite famous in the area. With the success of the restaurant, they started to make pate to sell to the public. They came full circle to sell the pate in the farm shop and the operation just kept growing and growing. Now the restaurant and farm shop are favorites in the neighborhood, and Maggie is famous for her seasonal recipes, condiments, pastes, and marmalades. Many of her cookbooks are sold in the farm shop and I’ve procured a wicker basket which is filled with several of those books right now.

Although we could if we wanted to, this is the one place where we didn’t have any wine. There were too many other things to see and taste. The Eatery is a bustling dining area with yellow chairs that leads to an outside eating area—a brick patio that connects to a wooden deck over the Blue Lake. There are no demonstrations occurring at the time, but Maggie Beer’s has an open kitchen with chairs in front like a small theater as well as a full kitchen with multiple cooking stations for demonstrations and classes.

Christian and I browse the various wares of the shop, tasting homemade jams on gourmet crackers—raspberry pomegranate, Seville marmalade, fig and fennel paste, and salted brandy caramel just to name a few. I’m completely lamenting the fact that there’s nothing like this place that I know of in Seattle, but I’m certain that with the Marketplace there, I can find something somewhere locally that has all the fresh produce, jams, and exotic flavors that I see here… or at least something similar.

As I sip a delicious cappuccino, I’ve passed my basket on to Ben to carry while I look at the various “hampers” for sale. “Hampers” are selections of various jams, flavors, marmalades, etc., combined in a seasonal or flavor group and sold as a package. I choose the Favourites List Hamper, the Maggie’s Favourites Hamper, and the Fine Spread Hamper, making sure that my selections include the delightful marmalades and jams that I tasted today as well as a variety of cooking wines, chutneys, sauces, and verjuice.

We’ve now moved from coffee to pear cider—an indescribably tasty experience—and I continue with my shopping and browsing, being sure to choose gift sets for Gail, Keri, and Ms. Solomon. I’m not sure that the pastes, pates, and jams would be to Keri’s taste, but there’s one way to find out.

As we relax on the wood deck, we watch the turtles swimming in the Blue Lake. While sipping another coffee along with a tall glass of cool water, we enjoy small servings of three decadent desserts—orange ricotta cake, Meyer lemon pie with apricot jam, and dried pear and glace ginger Eccles cakes. As the dreamy confections melt on my tongue followed by the smoothest coffee I’ve ever tasted, I can’t help but ponder how troubled my spirit was not so long ago. This experience seems worlds away from where we were just two days ago—the tragedies and suffering at Port Arthur and the tormented spirits still stuck in that place. How the two places and experiences can be in the same trip, but be so hugely different is totally beyond me.

I don’t linger on it too long as I enjoy my burnt fig, honeycomb, and caramel ice cream. Yes… I must find something like this in Seattle!

I feel very good about my haul from Maggie Beer’s and I’m ready to move on to our next experience. It’s late afternoon and my buzz is dying a bit, which means I need more wine! John tells us that we have one more stop before returning to St. Hugo’s for dinner and then taking our ride back to Adelaide to conclude our trip to wine country.

“You’re playful when you’re tipsy,” Christian says when we get back into the car.

“No, I’m not,” I say, my high from earlier nearly totally abated after the rehydration, coffee, and small amount of exercise at Maggie Beer’s. “I’m logical when I’m tipsy. My mind clears, my thoughts are logical, and my filter’s off.”

“And apparently, that makes you playful,” he counters with a laugh. I chuckle.

“Maybe… under the right circumstances, but you’ve never seen me wine drunk. Usually, if I’m wine drunk, I’m angry.”

“I have seen you drunk,” he protests, his brow furrowed. “On the Slasher.”

“I was Cosmo drunk on the Slasher,” I correct him. “I was not wine drunk. You’ve never seen me wine drunk. I’ve only been wine drunk one time that I can remember during our relationship and that was…” I trail off. No, now is not a good time to bring that up.

“That was when?” he presses.

“Early,” I say, “very early in the relationship.” I still don’t want to talk about it.

“I don’t reme…”

“Let’s… let’s not, okay?” I say beseechingly. “I shouldn’t have brought it up. We’ve been having a great day. Let’s not ruin it with unnecessary and unpleasant memories.” He twists his lips.

“I can’t argue with that,” he says, tightening his grip around my waist.

“Excyuse the intrusion,” John says from the front seat, “but my OI sy thaht from what OI’ve seen, yew two hahve the roight fohmula foh a long and happy marriage.” I smile.

“We’re still working on it, John,” I admit, “but I certainly hope you’re right.”

“I know he’s right,” Christian says softly before kissing my temple. “

Our final stop before dinner is the Seppeltsfield Tasting Room. According to John, this is one of the most distinguished wineries in the Barossa Valley. We had originally intended to stop at the Torbreck Winery, but then discovered that some of the blends from that winery originate from Seppeltsfield. So, why not just go to the source?

Seppeltsfield Winery prides itself on delivering history in a bottle. That’s quite an ambitious goal, to say the very least. In light of this, patrons and connoisseurs frequent the establishment expecting absolutely nothing but the very best. As such, Seppeltsfield strives not to disappoint.

The Seppeltsfield tour isn’t a short one, and certainly not boring. John and our Seppeltsfield host keep us engaged and entertained as we learn about the impressive 163-year history of the winery. The grounds of the winery combine old-world charm in the 18th and 19th century architecture with modern landscaping that ties the old with the new and presents a fabulous backdrop. While wandering around the grounds of this estate, you awe at the glorious modern fountains and endless date palm trees while simultaneously feeling as though you’ve stepped back in time.

Throughout the tour, we see the original 1851 Seppelt Homestead where the Seppelts lived as well as the fully-restored Seppeltsfield cottage, both available for lodging with a reservation. Christian comments about how small the quarters are. Our host informs us that these lodgings were actually indicative of the wealthy in that time, especially since the Seppelts had the bigger picture in mind—farming, winery, village, the whole kit and caboodle.

We also see the Elm Walk, which is a favorite for weddings, and the 1860’s blending cellars. Some of the original equipment used to create and barrel the wines and can still be seen on-site.

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Strolling through the beautifully restored grounds and admiring the gardens and the exquisite landscape, we also see the Dining Hall that was used until 1890, Winemakers Terrace & Chimney, better known as the distillery, used until 1877, and the Laboratory used until 1945. The 19th Century Clydesdale Stables have been redeveloped into the JamFactory Art & Design Studios while the Bottling Hall last used in 1900 is now the home of the Seppeltsfield Cellar Door.

I don’t know that any of the other wineries have one of these as it wasn’t pointed out to us throughout our tour, but the Seppeltsfield has a Gravity Cellar. The Gravity Cellar is built into the hillside on descending terraces consisting of 120 big open top tanks that allow gravity’s natural pull to direct the course and flow of the fruit through the winery, which means less handling of the fruit and a purer fermentation process.

We tasted some of the wares of the cellar door after our initial overall tour of the grounds. Our tasting consisted of a flight of four wines from the Paramount Collection—two styles of Apera, a Tokay, and a Muscat. It’s very easy to see why this is one of the oldest and most distinguished wineries in the Barossa, having an entire village built around and named after it. However, our hosts were strategically saving the best for last.

Our final trip is to the Centennial Cellar. Mere words won’t do justice to our experience in this place. A barrel of the best crops of Tawny from each year dating back to 1878 is housed in this cellar with instructions that it was not to be bottled for at least another 100 years from the date it was barreled. As such, there are several tours with different historical themes that are based on tastings from this cellar. But make no mistake—as this is the crown jewel of the Seppeltsfield Winery, it’s gonna cost ya!

Our tour of the Centennial Cellar includes a combination of the Moments in History experience and the Centenary Experience. For the Moments in History, we taste wine from various times through history—from 1969 and the year of the Moon Landing; from D-Day in 1944; from 1939 and the end of the Great Depression; from 1972, the year the Watergate scandal began; from 1997 and the death of Lady Di; and of course, 1985… the year a Butterfly was born. Oh, and of course, from 1983—the year of the birth of my favorite mogul.

There’s seems to be a strange reminiscent connection to tasting wines from those years, not that you were magically transported to the event because of the year of the wine, but I do feel a bit of connection to the time and year of the occurrences and it does make you think. It seems somewhat… symmetric how different the wines differ from our birth years, even though we’re only two years apart. The most current wine we tasted is the 1997, and there’s no mistaking that the older the wines are, the more powerful the flavor and more distinct the vintage.

I have to say that none were as profound as the Centenary Tasting, where we’re able to taste a 100-year old Para Vintage Tawny. Still in the bowels of the winery where the aromas hypnotize almost as much as the flavors—who am I kidding? I’m tipsy again, but not too tipsy to appreciate this experience.

Our host dips a wine thief into the barrel of 1914 Tawny—much like he did with the many other barrels that we’ve tasted, but a new wine thief each time draws out a sample and fills a small tasting glass. These are not the wine glasses that we’ve been using. These are small, crystal verres à vin—something like a tiny sherry glass.

We watch in awe as the fluid seeps slowly into the glass, oozing down the side before filling the triangular bottom of the glass and rising up the angles. Our host hands us each a glass and I attempt follow the wine-tasting techniques that I’ve learned…

No.

It’s difficult to follow the traditional tasting rules when you experience a 100-year-old wine. The elixir flows out of the wine thief like heavy olive oil. The slowness with which it fills the glass is not theatrical. The wine is thick… rich, dark in color like fresh molasses and clinging to the sides of the glass like a thin syrup.

No smelling…
No swirling…
No aerating…

Just taste.

“That’s remarkable,” Christian nearly purrs as he sips the wine.

“Incredible,” I whisper as the most indescribably rich, full-bodied flavor coats my mouth. I close my eyes and savor the taste of an insanely decadent and delicious wine that I’ll probably never taste again. When I open my eyes, my husband is staring at me… in that way.

“Warren,” he says to our host. “Is there any way that I can get some of this shipped back to America?” Warren already has that I’m so sorry look on his face.

“We don’t reahlly sell the Centennial Collection, sir,” Warren says, “not in volume anywy. We have collectible oitems that ahr avaylable to be ohdehed and pehsonalized. However, thy tayke some toime to bottle, and thy can be vehry expensive and in small quawntities.”

Now, I’m expecting my I-want-it-and-I-want-it-now husband to start waving around his Amex Black, demanding immediate satisfaction. I’m surprised when the suave and reserved Christian Grey appears.

“I see,” he says. “So, can you tell me my options?”

Wow. I try not to let my expression betray my astonishment at my husband’s diplomacy. Granted, he’s not always a bull in a China shop, but when he wants something, he wants it and there’s no negotiating… and I can tell he wants this. I take another sip of the elixir. Dear God, it’s divine.

“Mmm,” I say, letting the flavors coat my tongue again and momentarily floating off to an ethereal experience. When I open my eyes this time, John, Warren, and Christian are all looking at me. I swallow hard.

“Sorry,” I murmur, shrinking a bit. Warren clears his throat and turns back to Christian, garnering his attention.

“The Collection can be ohdehed in 100ml ohr 375ml collectible bottles…”

I stand by quietly and demurely as Warren explains how the Centennial Collection is sold—bottles smaller that an American soda can for nearly $3000 American each… and they take about a month to ship to the States… after they’re bottled. So, it could be six to eight weeks before we even see this stuff.

Noting that Christian hasn’t lost interest at the mention of the quantity or the price of the 1914 blend, Warren continues to explain that the Tawny will be bottled by hand and presented in a Jarrah timber box with a serial number and a certificate of authenticity. I hate to tell you this, Warren, but if I know my husband, that pretty box and that pretty bottle won’t mean anything because my husband plans to sit and watch me drink it. I’m careful not to take the last swallow of the vintage left in my glass until we’re about to leave.

I quickly calculate in my head that 375ml is about a cup and a half. Considering that I’ve taken two sips of the tasting already in my hand and there remains one more healthy swallow, we could get five to six good tastings out of that bottle considering that my tasting may have been about ¼ of a cup—and assuming we can preserve the wine somehow once we’ve opened it…

“Is it at all possible that I could get three bottles?” Christian asks.

Three bottles?? Is he insane? That’s nearly $10,000 for just over a quart of wine! It’s good, but it’s not that good.

“Three bottles?” Warren asks incredibly. “Of the…” he trails off.

“The 1914 Centennial Para Vintage Tawny blend—the 375ml… $2750 each you said, right?”

“Um, yes sir, plus shipping.” Warren appears to be nearly dumbstruck.

“Good,” Christian says. “If we order them now, I may have them by Valentine’s Day.” He looks over at me and winks.

“Capital tour, Warren, capital tour,” Christian says, turning his attention back to Warren. “Lead the way, sir.”

Warren’s face takes on an almost ethereal glow as he collects the tools of his trade, and I finish my last sip of the extra-terrestrial elixir.

*-*

The sun has made its way across the sky and we have arranged for several bottles from the Seppeltsfield Winery to be shipped to Grey Crossing in Seattle—including three bottles of the Centennial Collection—by the time we make our way to dinner. At first, we had planned to return to St. Hugo’s, which would have been nice, but we had already been there—and apparently, John read my expression and deduced that I would much rather go somewhere new as our last stop in Barossa Valley, so he makes the executive decision that our final stop will be on the way back to swap the Chrysler for the Mercedes before we return to Adelaide, but it won’t be St. Hugo’s.

Our drive is only about nine minutes and we arrive at another winery called Artisans at Barossa. I wonder if one of the ways that the Barossa stays in business is by keeping its guests drunk—my buzz from Seppeltsfield hasn’t worn off at all by the time we get to Artisans.

The car has barely stopped when I see the door opening and a gentleman that isn’t my husband standing there holding the door for me.

“Ma’am,” I hear him say in an Australian accent. At the same time, I hear another accent refer to Christian as “sir” as he exits the Daimler. I smile at the gentleman and take his proffered hand to help me out of the car.

He nods once and Christian is by my side almost immediately. I didn’t want to be rude to the guy, but I knew Christian would be bumping him out of the way in moments. Of course, my husband wraps my hand around his forearm and begins to lead me away. I look over my shoulder at the guy still holding the door of the Chrysler, looking a bit crestfallen.

“Thank you,” I say while he’s still in earshot. He raises his head to me, smiles, and nods again. I fall in step with my husband and he raises a brow at me.

“What?” I say. “You swooped in like a lion claiming a piece of raw meat. I just didn’t want to be rude.”

“Forever charming the locals,” he chides gently.

“I haven’t been charming the locals!” I retort quietly… at least not intentionally. Christian scoffs a laugh.

“Yeah, and I didn’t just spend $10,000 on just over a liter of wine because you looked and sounded like you were coming while you were drinking it,” he declares before leading me into the winery.


CHRISTIAN

Three thousand dollars a bottle on 100-year-old wine.

Yes, one of those bottles will be a collectors item, but at least one of those bottles will be part of a Butterfly fuck-fest. I could have fucked her right there on the cellar floor with the sounds that she was making sipping that stuff!

And then this valet or whatever he is comes flying to the door to let her out before the car even stops. Did he fucking smell her arriving? I know she’s sexy, but damn. And I’m sure he nutted himself when she turned around and said, “Thank you.”

So, John has brought us to another location called Artisans since Butterfly hinted that she didn’t want to go back to St. Hugo’s. I’m surprised, because St. Hugo’s was very nice and I wouldn’t have minded having dinner there, but my lady wants to see something else, so it’s something else we’re seeing.

The Artisans of Barossa has a restaurant called the Harvest Kitchen. Apparently, they feed you and feed you—all the fruits of the field and the meat of the land, whatever’s in season—until you don’t want any more all while they’re pickling you in various wines. It’s one flat cost per person for the experience, although I’m not really concerned about the cost. I’m more concerned about my wife. I just want her to enjoy herself.

We are seated at a table for four next to the window with a beautiful view of the deck and the vineyards. The tables are somewhat close, so the other diners in the restaurant are nearly sitting in your lap. I’m not sure that I like that, but I don’t get time to protest as the parade of food and wine begins almost immediately.

There are several bottles—not just glasses, bottles of wine placed on our table. We try to inform the staff that our security detail will not be drinking, but apparently, word travels fast in the Barossa, and I hear a whisper or two about the couple doing the Daimler tour and purchasing cases of wine at every winery, including $10,000 worth from Seppeltsfield. I have a feeling that John may have had something to do with how fast word is traveling, but again, as long as my girl has a good time…

I’ve come to discover that Artisans of Barossa carries several different varieties of wines from several different labels… or sublabels, I’m not sure—such as John Duval and Sons of Eden. In addition to the endless flow of food, we indulge in several John Duval reds and whites, as well as a variety of Sons of Eden Grenaches, Shirazes, Rosés, and Rieslings. The other Artisans include Schwarz Wine Company, Hobbs of Barossa Ranges, Massena, and Spinifex Wines, and the staff is intent that we taste them all!

The food begins and it, along with the wine, just keeps coming and coming. The menu begins with charcuterie and cheese with Schwarz Wine Company Meta Grenache; anchovy on grilled sourdough with basil and tomato; a separate cheese, fig, date, and prosciutto tray with some vintage of Red Muscat that fails me at the moment; and Tweedvale labneh with Ras el Hanout and nigella with two sourdough “croutons” shaped like a butterfly… and Spinifex Muscat a Petit Grains—a delicate and somewhat sweet white wine which, surprisingly, we both like.

My wife begins to draw attention to our table as the food and wine parade continues. She repeatedly asks the staff for information on what she’s eating and drinking, which they’re only too happy to provide since her aura is infectious—so infectious in fact, that other diners nearby somehow find it appropriate to join in our conversation and meal, explaining to Butterfly what wines have been paired with which foods and why. One couple, we learn, is also here from the United States, vacationing from North Carolina. Another is from Vancouver while a third joins us from Hawaii. Butterfly engages everyone like we’ve all arrived together.

Our food and wine parade continues with Sons of Eden Freya Riesling and crispy fried Barossa free-range chicken; fig and stout beef empanadas and Hobbs of Barossa Ranges Tin Lids Shiraz Aria Secca; fried gnocchi with truffle & Parmesan mousse; smoked fish brandade with more sourdough “croutons”; Hutton Vale Farm Merquez sausage with fennel; ancient grain salad with vache curd and pomegranate molasses dressing; and Hutton Vale lamb pide with yogurt, fresh herb salad and pomegranate molasses and two Rosés and more wine—I have long since lost track of the vintages.

For dessert, we have vanilla ice cream with salted caramel and popcorn—the strangest combination I’ve ever seen and surprisingly compatible. I’m quite surprised when my wife—who prefers a Cabernet over any libation in the world—partakes in what one of the staff calls Artisans Riesling Spritzer, made with Freya Riesling with ginger, verjuice and ice. My wife’s a red drinker and she had two of these in addition to all the wine we’re drinking!

The wine and conversation keep flowing and we have now attracted the attention of an older, graying gentleman who was sitting alone at a table near the window at the other end of the room. He asks if he can join us, and the couple next to us—from North Carolina—invites him to pull up a chair. I can see that he has zeroed in on my Butterfly, but I won’t behave like a Neanderthal, at least not yet and especially after all the wine I’ve had… not as much as Butterfly, but I’ve had my fair share.

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I watch his interaction with the group—or lack thereof—and each time my lady speaks, his interest is piqued. He’s good at making it appear that he’s conversing with the group when he’s clearly only engaging Butterfly. Jason and Lawrence are now on alert, but not DEFCON, just alert enough to keep an eye on the situation, as am I.

He’s well-traveled, divorced or never married—my guess is never married—probably in his early to mid-fifties, sophisticated and refined… and he’s French. He’s also no fool. He’s waiting for my reaction to him and I won’t show my hand. Butterfly is sitting across from me and I haven’t done anything to show possession or piss on my territory. He knows she’s mine and he’s setting the table—nothing overt, but sly little signals and subliminal messages, waiting for the gauche American to emerge so that he can come off all suave and sophisticated and show my wife what she’s missing.

I’ve devoured bigger fish than you in the boardroom, Gaston.

In the meantime, she who claims that she’s not charming the locals appears to be making friends left and right with her witty banter even with her limited knowledge of wine. Her ignorance appears to enamor her with the staff and the other patrons of the restaurants, with our uninvited dining companions getting a kick out of telling her what notes she may be tasting in certain wines as she admits that she has had so many that the flavors are all running together. Gaston, whom I discover is named Maxime, decides to test her on that fact, declaring that there is a hint of boysenberry in the John Duval Grenache.

“Hmm,” Butterfly says, aerating the wine before swallowing, even though she had already tasted the vintage several times before during the evening, along with several other wines. She’s still bubbly and smiling, but she’s quite drunk as she tests the spirits on her tongue.

“It could be my pickled brain, Maxime,” she says to her quizzer, “but I don’t taste any boysenberry. Cranberry… or maybe raspberry… but no boysenberry.”

“That is because you are correct, madam,” our French dinner-mate declares. “There is no boysenberry in this blend.” My wife fakes a scoff.

“Maxime, you cad!” she declares, pretending to be affronted, “why would you lie to me?”

“Not a lie, Mrs. Grey,” he clarifies. “A test, and you passed.” He wipes his lips with his napkin and stands. He knows he’s been whipped. I’m not falling into his trap, but that doesn’t stop him from pulling one last trick.

“It has been a pleasure,” he says in his smooth French accent. “You have made what would have been a boring dinner alone quite delightful.” He takes her hand and leans down to kiss it, but pauses before his lips touch her skin and looks at me. I want to tell him to get his paws off my wife, but… I just nod once. He presses his lips gently to her hand before raising only his gaze to make eye-contact with her.

“Au revoir, madam,” he says, his voice low and a bit suggestive.

“Enchanté, monsieur,” my wife replies softly. Maxime places his free hand over his heart before releasing her and stepping next to me.

“She’s exquisite,” he says in my ear before walking past me and leaving the restaurant. Yes, Gaston, I know… believe me, I know. My wife carries on with the tables around her once Maxime is gone like she and this fucker didn’t just share a tender moment—in his eyes, anyway. Right now, she’s floating on spirits and having a good time, holding court with a bunch of strangers with six watchful eyes on her. She knows she’s safe, and she’s glowing with enjoyment. Women and men alike are captivated by her conversation and company at the moment. Who am I to interfere?

The sun is setting over the horizon and although my Butterfly is still having a good time as the Belle of the Ball—even though her Gaston has vacated the premises—she yawns, and I know that it’s time for us to leave. Jason and I leave Lawrence with her as we go to relieve ourselves. We head to the restroom to refresh ourselves before we leave, and I see something that I don’t think I’ve ever seen anywhere ever…

A line at the men’s room!

It’s short, but it’s a line, nonetheless. I look over at Jason, who shrugs and we just wait. There are four guys in front of us and the first two at the door are having a conversation that I can’t help but overhear:

“Aye, ya get a load o’tha brunette in tha puhple dress?” one says to the other. You mean the brunette in the purple dress with the husband that’s standing two people behind you?

“Yeh,” the other concurs. “She’s a real lookah!”

“OI’ll say… gohgeous and sweet. Whehr d’ya get one a’those, mate?” the first one continues.

“OI dunno. She’s gotta be one of a koind. Most Amehricans OI’ve met ahr real arseholes,” the second observes. Jason looks over at me and I shake my head, signaling him not to engage. She’s not here and she can’t hear them.

“Cehful thehr, that bloke she’s been haynging on’ll prob’ly lop ya balls off!” The first cautions. Damn straight.

“No shite!” the second says. “OI would, too. It‘s a real gem he’s got thehr. Whut’s he cahl ‘er… Butterfloy?”

“Yeh. He’s a real goneh, but wouldn’t you be?” the first says.

“In a minute, mate. In a minute…” and the conversation moves on to something else before they head into the restroom a few moments later. I don’t need to be told, but yes, my hot wife is an international sensation.

Once we get inside, I see why there’s a line. Everybody’s wine kicked in at the same time and there’s limited “facilities” inside. Bloke #1 and Bloke #2 quickly wash their hands and leave once Jason and I enter the restroom, the two men before us apparently having run in and run out in record time. As we’re washing our hands once we handled our business, I decide to quickly pick Jason’s brain.

“Jason, by any chance, do you recall the situation Butterfly was alluding earlier?” I ask.

“Which situation, sir?” he questions while drying his hands.

“About her being wine-drunk earlier in our relationship?” His brow furrows for a moment, then his frown is replaced with recognition.

“Oh, yeah, I remember,” he says, tossing his paper towel in the trash. I stand there expecting, drying my own hands and it takes him a second or two to catch on.

“The demise of one Anderson Sheppard tie?” he hints. Tie… tie… oh, the tie! It’s unbelievable to me that that particular thought has occurred to us twice during this trip. Well, once for me and now once for her.

“Yeah,” I say disposing of my paper towel, “I can see why she wouldn’t want to rehash that. Not one of my prouder moments.”

“Indeed, sir,” he says as we exit the restroom.

By the time we’re leaving Artisans, we have eaten way too much food, drank way too much wine, and made good on our reputation to have a few cases of their best vintages shipped to Seattle, including Paul Duval’s Grenache to remind her of her “test” with Maxime, and two of the Eligo Master Class Set from the same vintner. Butterfly is just fine to walk to the Daimler. However, once we get back to our original destination to swap into the Mercedes, she’s out like a light.

She’s going to hate that she’s missing such a beautiful sunset in wine country, but the pictures will have to do as I must carry her from one vehicle to the other so that we can return to Adelaide. The trees and the sunset make you feel like singing the theme to the Lion King.

I thank John for a splendid day and ask him if it’s customary—or impolite—to tip him for a job well done. He declines and assures me that I’ve purchased enough wine to ensure that he’ll be able to maintain his priority standing with the local wineries, and only ask that I give him and the tour a good review on social media.

Social media… hmm.

I shake his hand after I’ve deposited my inebriated wife into the Mercedes, and we’re on our way back to the hotel.

An hour later, we arrive at Peppers and my pickled princess pops up like she wasn’t asleep for the entire ride. She exits the vehicle and strolls carefully into the hotel and to the elevator, then to our suite where she removes her shoes at the door and heads straight for the bathroom. Hoping that she’s not in there paying homage to the porcelain gods, I go to the other bathroom to get ready for bed.

Once I’ve taken care of my incidentals, I come back to the bedroom still in my jeans and I fully expect to see her face down on the bed sleeping off the alcohol—but no. She’s still in the bathroom adjacent to the bedroom, only now the shade is open so that I can see her. She’s gloriously naked and I immediately have to talk my dick down. She’s cleaning her breast pump, signaling me that she has emptied her breasts before coming to bed. Now, she picks up a brush and meticulously begins brushing her incredibly long hair.

Hmm, she doesn’t look like she’s stumbling drunk. She even does that thing where she holds her head forward to brush the back of her hair and she’s not toppling into walls or anything. And I’m just sitting here watching her… watching that glorious naked body preparing for bed, preparing to lay next to me and torment me while she sleeps off the alcohol and I talk my raging, thumping dick down. I’m so mesmerized by her that I don’t notice that she’s staring at me through the glass, still brushing her beautiful hair. I take a deep breath to control myself and stand as she finishes her nighttime grooming before turning off the lights and coming into the room.

“Why are you still wearing those?” she asks when she looks at my jeans.

“I was distracted,” I say. “I’m just getting ready for bed.”

“Well, take them off. I want to suck your dick,” she says matter-of-factly.

Wha…?

My dick reacts, but my brain is slow on the pickup.

“Baby, I’d love to be inside you—especially inside your mouth—but… you’re drunk. That’s something I don’t do. It always has to be consensual…”

“Do I look drunk to you?” she asks. “Do I really look like I can’t give consent to fuck my husband?”

“Uh…” I’m speechless at the moment. I’m standing here with a rock-hard cock disputing my beautiful, naked, horny wife about why she can’t suck my dick.

“I am not drunk,” she protests. “I’m a little pickled, but I’m not drunk. I’m completely sentient, and I said I wanna suck your dick. Now, are you really going to deny me?”

If I didn’t know better, I’d swear she’s stone cold sober when she says that.

“Absolutely not, Mrs. Grey,” I reply.

“Good. Now, shut the fuck up and drop your pants.”

You don’t have to tell me twice. I’m unbuckling and unzipping before she even gets the words out of her mouth. In moments, my jeans are in a mound at my ankles. She pushes me gently and I fall backwards onto the bed. She quickly removes my pants from my ankles, pushes my thighs apart and situates herself on her knees between my legs. She wraps her lips gently around the head of my cock and I already know, she plans to tease me incessantly tonight.

Fuck! Get ready, Grey.

I lick my lips and prepare myself for the orgasm refusal ride of a lifetime, especially after all the orgasms I refused her last night before I finally let her come.

“Damn, baby, you look so good,” I breathe as she looks up at me with beautiful, blue come-hither eyes, her hands at the base of my throbbing cock and her lips and tongue softly and deliciously teasing the head. I have to lean up on my elbows to watch her, which means that I can’t touch her unless I want to lay flat or balance myself on one of the most insane ab workouts I’ve ever done.

She licks and licks and licks, never taking her eyes off mine, until my dick is hot and hard and thumping. The friction from her tongue is insane and I’m fucking losing my mind with need. I drop my head back, unable to hold it up anymore through this damn torment, and I feel my cock slide into her mouth, but then out again, her lips teasing my shaft gently. The fire I was feeling a moment ago is slowly subsiding, being replaced by a different pleasure that slowly rising on the skin of my cock.

What is she doing to me? I lament inwardly. I swear if she had kept up that small amount of friction, she would have gotten a big fountain, but she changed up the rhythm on me and now…

While I’m contemplating my situation, I feel her mouth cover my cock again, but she doesn’t pull back. What is she doing? I try to look down at her, but her hair is covering her head a bit—not completely, but enough to obstruct my view.

But not enough to obstruct the feeling!

“Ah! Shit!” I exclaim as I feel tightening and a little friction on the head of my cock—just the head. What the fuck? I focus my pleasure-blinded eyes and see that she’s deep-throating me, but her mouth is not on my cock—just her throat.

Holy mother of God, this woman is inhuman!

“God! How do you do that!” I hiss, trying not to thrust into her throat. She throats my cock so that I feel the heat from her mouth on my shaft, but not the friction, but I can feel that throat wrapping around that head!

“Jesus! Fuck! Jesus!” I choke, my cock burning and thickening with pleasure. She has never done this shit to me before! I know my wife’s a freak, but she’s a fucking superfreak when she’s had a few drinks in her.

“God! Ana! Fuck!” I groan, and I can’t help it. I grab her hair and lift it away from her face, holding it in the back of her head like a ponytail. I have to see this. I won’t push her head down on me, but I fucking have to see this.

She lets me watch for a few moments—my impressive cock balls deep in her mouth and the feeling of her throat hot and squeezing the head of my dick. I groan, my hand and thigh shaking from trying not to thrust.

Either she needed air, or she knew that I was breaths away from coming, because she slides my cock out of her throat, almost igniting an orgasm. She pauses for a few moments and I find myself anxiously sliding to the edge of the bed so that I can sit up. After a brief break, my shaft is in her mouth again. This time, she’s giving a blowjob. Her head is bobbing wildly on my cock and shaft and her fist is pumping where her mouth is not, following her mouth with every stroke.

“Sweet Jesus!” I hiss, holding her hair as her head bobs on my cock. I have no idea if I’m pushing her head down onto me, but my hand is clenched in her hair, holding on for dear life. My cock is being worked mercilessly and I feel myself rising yet again from the new stimulation. I hold my head back, panting and choking and trying to get air in. Fuck! It’s so good… I’m gonna come…

Her mouth releases my cock with a pop, and I swear my whole body shakes in dismay. Fuck, that was fucking more than my cock could take. I can feel the sweat forming on my chest and back. It hasn’t even been that long, has it? A few minutes, she’s been doing this? I don’t even know.

She pushes me back onto the bed and makes me move all the way to the top so that she can get on the bed with me. She nestles herself comfortably between my legs and takes my shiny, aching, pink cock in her hand again. Now I can see her ass, and her hips, and delicious mouth and tongue teasing my dick, and her eyes daring me to come… and she starts over, massaging that little bundle of nerves as she holds my cock.

Dear God, not again…

I fist the sheets next to me because I can’t be responsible for my actions this time when she denies me this orgasm. It’s rising… slowly… hot, hard, and intense. She licks with purpose, that same bundle of nerves, over and over again. I groan in my chest. If she’s going to stop, I want her to stop before it gets too intense… too painful. I don’t think I can take it this time.

I groan again and grip the sheets. I feel it. My balls are tightening, and the ache of release is coming. Stop, for God’s sake!

I begin to pant. I can’t stop it! My thighs are tightening, and my knees and legs are weak—and she keeps going and going, that delicious stimulation that goes right to the pleasure nerves. I’m gazing at her, beautiful and intent in her purpose.

Please…

Did I say that out loud? Did I think that? What did I do? Whatever happens, she has pushed me to the point where I don’t have control of my body anymore. All my muscles are tightening and I’m about to blow. If she stops at this point, it’ll be for nothing because…

“Fuck! Fuck! Aw, shit!”

As she licks that sensitive bundle on the underside of my cock, cum squirts gloriously out of the head and runs down over my dick and her hand. My shaft is so fucking red and hard that it looks almost painful and I can’t even identify the sounds coming from my chest and throat, but she keeps licking and licking, a new spurt flowing with every stroke of her tongue. I’m gripping the sheets nearly in agony—she made me wait for so long… didn’t she? Or did she just turn me on so much that it felt like an eternity?

I watched her sashay her naked ass around that bathroom until I was hypnotized, and my cock was thumping out of my pants.

Then I watched her do things that made me want to come so badly that I could cry, but I was already there.

It hasn’t been that long. She just fucking made me want her really bad, then she tormented me intensely to make it seem like it was longer than it was. Now, I’m coming so fucking hard and my balls are so full and heavy that I’m certain that even after this cosmic blast, I’ll still be ready to go again in a very short period of time.

When my cock has given all the initial offering that it’s going to give, I fall helpless onto the bed, twitching with every touch knowing full well what’s next before she even speaks…

“I’m not through with you yet…”


A/N: Christian keeps referring to Maxime as “Gaston,” who is the male antagonist from Beauty and the Beast

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~~love and handcuffs

 

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 82—Now, Where Were We?

Danger—Aussie accent ahead. Turn away now.

There are probably some bad attempts at French laced in here, too. Beware, you’ve been warned!

All other previous disclaimers still apply.

Chapter 82—Now, Where Were We?

ANASTASIA

I am on fucking fire.

My body is completely alight with orgasmic release and I’m still trembling for more. I didn’t know he packed toys and I have no idea when he had the time to do it because I packed his bags, but I’m sure the fuck glad he did.

Maybe he picked something up when we separated in the Marketplace.

Who the fuck cares?! Get back to the “alight with orgasmic release” part!
I have to agree with the Bitch on this one.

He’s rubbing my ass and playing with that heavenly butt plug while I catch my breath and come down from a blinding climax. His hands anoint the sides of my body from just under my arms all the way down my thighs to my knees before he issues the command that I hoped I would hear.

“Turn over.”

I roll over onto my back, still blindfolded and mindful of the butt plug still inserted.

“Are you comfortable?” he asks when I’m situated.

“Yes,” I whisper, my hands resting on the bed on either side of my head.

“Good,” he says. I feel him leave the bed for a moment and I wonder with anticipation what he’s doing. I take this time to try to decipher the scents in the room. Lilac for sure… no, maybe it’s jasmine… mixed with…

I hear him come back into the room and feel the bed dip when he returns. I feel a strawberry against my lips, so I open my mouth and take a bite. As I’m chewing, I feel his body over mine and his lips cover my mouth. I open slightly, and cool wine flows from his to mine. I swallow the mouthful of strawberry and wine, totally food seduced at this point. A bit of the chocolate confection from dessert passes my lips and I savor the flavor as his body rises from mine, and moments later, oiled hands anoint my neck and shoulders.

He keeps me alight with sensations, causing one to flow right into the other—the strawberry into the wine into the chocolate and back into the massage. I purr with satisfaction as his oily hands travel from my shoulders down and over my breasts and nipples over my torso and abs and down to my pelvis. He reoils his hands to spread copious amounts around my mounds, my outer lips, the sensitive crevices at the junction of my thighs and pelvis and my top and inner thighs.

His hands travel masterfully all over the front of my body, touching and tempting me. Then, I feel a strawberry at my lips again. I bite and chew and wait for the wine, but it doesn’t come. Instead…

“Ah!”

Gentle pressure closes over my nipple. I bite my tongue and breathe in. It’s not his mouth—it’s a nipple clamp, the adjustable kind. I wait as he secures it, just enough to plump and sensitize my nipple. He doesn’t dawdle. He goes straight to the other one, which has become taunt in the process, and attaches the second clamp. He pauses for a moment, and even blindfolded, I can tell that he’s admiring his handiwork.

I feel him cover my body again, his erection pressing into my leg—and his mouth closes over one nipple and the clamp. I cry out in arousal, pushing my breast up towards him as his hand teases the other nipple in the clamp.

“Christian…” I whimper, so turned on that I can barely think. I keep my hands on the bed next to my head—it’s better this way—and his mouth feasts on my nipple while his fingers play with the other. Then he switches, giving both nipples the benefit of his talented tongue. I have to hurry and swallow the strawberry so that I don’t choke on it from my radical breathing, and the sweet flavor lingers on my tongue while my man stimulates my nipples.

It’s glorious!

He moves away from my nipples and slowly slides down my body, rubbing and planting kisses along the way. My breathing is more controlled when he gets to my feet and starts a gentle massage with the oil again. Yes, that’s jasmine. It’s a favorite scent of his… and mine, along with cinnamon and vanilla. His massage is gentle and firm at the same time, relaxing my ankles, my calves, my knees… and giving my throbbing clit a brief reprieve to recuperate. I know Christian Grey enough to know that the orgasmic stimulation is far from over, and it’s not the butt plug or the nipple clamp that’s giving it away.

It’s the thigh massage. The way that his hands are spread open on my thighs, kneading upwards so that his thumbs run across the crevices gently over my outer lips, he’s about to attack.

He straddles my legs again and there’s a pause in his massage. When he returns, the texture of the oil is different. Even though I can still smell the jasmine in the air, it’s not as strong. It’s not in the oil, and I’m very soon to find out why.

“Mmm… mmm…” I groan. He continues his massage, up the top of my thigh, across those sensitive crevices, over my outer lips, only this time, the tip of my clit is protruding ever so slightly, and his thumb zeros right in on it. He runs his oily thumb up and down just inside my lips with each upward motion of his hand, pressing my clit in and pushing it up, stroking it just so between my lips. I want to crawl off the damn bed as I try to stifle my whimper.

“Let me hear you, baby,” he encourages.

“Ah,” I gasp, the heat so hot and the moan releasing some of the pressure in my chest. His thumbs feel so good, one stroking my clit and the other teasing the crevice between my pelvis and thigh.

“Christian!” I breathe, grabbing my breasts and stimulating the nipple clamps there. I hear him gasp and he continues to rub intermittently, giving me seconds to recoil before I’m squirming on the bed again in ecstasy.

He moves his hands to my thighs and pushes them open—not eagle-spread, but open enough. He puts his hand over my mons, pressing firmly and squeezing just enough to heighten arousal, using the base to open my lips so that the clit protrudes just a little more than it did when he pleasured it with his thumbs.

Well, maybe more than a little more… I feel air on the underside. I can tell that he’s positioned between my legs, on his knees maybe…

“Oh, God,” I gasp deeply as I feel something I’ve never felt before—wet, smooth, soft. He starts at the tip of my clit with a titillating tickle, and I turn my head and bite my lip, sinking into a pleasure I’ve never felt before.

Is it a feather? No, it’s much heavier… thicker than a feather.

It moves from the tip of my clit, slowly down the underside and over the surface of my inner lips. Then it travels back up the same way that it started.

It moves up… and down… and up… and down… up and down… and up and down… flicking over and off the top of my clit just once… then it comes back… starts at the tip and moves down the underside and over the inner lips… then up again… then down… The strange stimulation is sending ripples through my body and even causing my thoughts to stutter—enough to ignite and keep me burning, but not enough for orgasm unless he keeps going and going and going. He’s exquisite in his meticulous movements, back and forth masterfully, like an artist.

An artist…

That’s what it is! It’s a paintbrush!

This has to me the most agonizing, glorious new thing I’ve ever felt! Wherever he got this idea, I owe ginormous homage and he needs to tell me how I can get some, too! This is fucking genius!

My whimpering is almost embarrassing, but this feeling is divine and irresistible. I can’t be silent… I can’t keep still… dear God, my stomach muscles are fucking aching and my pelvis is actually cramping with pleasure! How can that be?

Several moments later, the brush makes its final stroke and I’m panting in ecstatic exhaustion. Every time I’m about to come, he changes the rhythm and stimulation so that it brings me back a bit, not enough to start over, but enough to stop the rise to orgasm. It’s maddening—and magnificent!

Next, I feel cold air on my clit. He’s blowing on it, I know he’s about to dive in and taste the rainbow. What will he do—deep massage with a firm tongue? Fast, tormenting flicks to bring me to a quick release? A deep clitoral suck accompanied by a two-finger g-spot stimulation? Oh, no. Not just yet. Mr. Grey has other plans for me.

He lays his head on my inner thigh while placing his hand gently on the other to spread my legs. His tongue licks lazily over my inner lips and up to my clit, firming a bit when it gets to that fiery bundle of nerves, up and down like he’s casually licking an ice-cream cone. He repeats his lick over and over, his breath panting gently in contentment as his tongue covers all the necessary skin, never missing a spot in a gentle, sensual erotic caress.

“Oui… oui… mon amour,” I breathe as I flex my tightening clit. His massage doesn’t change, though his grip tightens a bit on my thigh, his hand presses flatter on my stomach and he continues to lick… and lick… and lick…

Fire is burning in my chest and my stomach is quivering madly, right where he’s pressing it—not to mention this infernal butt plug is still in my ass and that pleasure hasn’t ceased since the first orgasm! The rhythm syncs with my body and I feel the tightening in the small of my back.

And so does he.

The rhythm stops and he lifts my legs to expose my core and ass. He holds one leg up and commences a circular feast, around and around with a flexible rolling tongue—his entire tongue—as his free hand pushes, turns, pulls, and manipulates the butt plug.

Putain d’enfer, il l’a encore fait!

I whimper, nearly sob, my protest as my core continues to burn, but the orgasm backs away. I can’t take much more of this. The massage is delicious, round and round with his tongue masterfully covering my clit then traveling down to my vaginal opening and back up to madly manipulate that love button. Over and over he repeats the cycle, causing me to tremble and my muscles to clench painfully, but if it rises again and he changes rhythm, I’ll certainly expire.

I need it deep! I want to come!

“S’il vous plaît,” I whisper my plea, my voice desperate. “S’il vous plaît…”

He groans in his chest and situates himself between my legs. He throws my legs over his shoulders, reaches around my hips and cups both breasts, clamps and all.

“S’il vous plaît,” I groan again, more loudly this time, certain that he’s going to deny my again. Even though it’s heightening my pleasure, I can’t take any more. He massages my breasts firmly, causing my nipples to pebble in excitement. He parts my lips with his and proceeds to give my core the deepest, most sensual kiss—no teasing; his tongue, lips, and mouth are purposeful.

“S’il vous plaît, Christian, s’il vous plaît,” I beg. I’m desperate. The massage is so deep, so hot, I’m right fucking there. If he stops me this time, I’ll scream… I’ll cry… I’ll rip his fucking throat out! He can’t stop!

He massages harder, squeezes harder, kisses deeper, licks and sucks wildly, his mouth is watering all over my core, causing a delicious slip-and-slide sensation down there. I clamp my hands over his and squeeze and he moans, diving deeper into my core…

God, don’t stop… please don’t stop…

My back is so tight that it hurts, and when the orgasm starts to creep, I literally sob in my throat. I won’t be able to stand it if he stops.

I feel my legs cramping, stiffening… no…

I lock my ankles behind him and thrust my pussy into his mouth begging him in my native language not to stop and let me come. His kiss reaches down into me and wrenches a painful, merciless orgasm from my loins that has me screaming, still begging him not to stop—literally paralyzed with pleasure and pain as this climax wraps around my clit, these nipple clamps, and that butt plug all at the same time.

I think I’m still coming in my ass when he leaps to his knees, lifts my already elevated hips to his pelvis and thrusts double-digit inches of hard, hot, pulsing meat inside me. I scream at the pleasure. I love his mouth and tongue, but nothing feels like his dick!

“God damn, you’re so fucking hot!” he growls as the plunges into me over and over, like an animal. He thrusts and thrusts and thrusts, mindlessly, before he throws his head back and growls loudly, his eyes squeezed shut and his face twisted. He’s breathing like a bear and I don’t know if he came, but he snatches his rock-hard dick out of me. He tortures my clit with the head of his dick over and over, breathing and grunting like a bear before sitting flat on the bed.

“Turn around!” he growls, his voice deep and hungry. I move very quickly. “On your knees!” he commands. Okay, doggie-style. “Give me those pillows.”

Okay, not doggie-style.

I get into position as instructed. He opens his legs and rests them on my calves.

“Get comfortable, however you have to. Get on this dick and fuck me til you come.”

Til I come? I just came! You sure about that, Grey? I look over my shoulder at him questioning and he glares back at me as if to say, “What the fuck are you waiting for?’

Okay, you asked for it.

I wait for him to lie back on the pillows and I sit down on his pelvis—not on his dick, on his pelvis. I bring my calves from under his knees and open my legs as wide as I can.

This is my damn party? Then, I’m going to have it.

I grab that beautiful rock hard and veiny piece of flesh and stroke gently. The oil from my pussy is coating his skin and he grunts when I grab him.

“Get on with it!” he demands.

“Quiet!” I hiss. “This is mine now.” He forcefully grabs my hips as a warning, and I throw a glance over my shoulder.

“What are you gonna do?” I taunt. “Fuck me?” I glare at him, still teasing the head of his cock with my oily hands. His hips move ever so slightly to match the stimulation as he grits his teeth.

That’s what I thought. And now, Mr. Grey, I’m going to drive you crazy.

I begin to rock my hips up and down so that my open pussy strokes the side of his dick while my oily fist still grips and manipulates his head.

“Shit,” he hisses softly as he grips my hips. That’s right, Grey, just lay there and let me do what I do.

The veins on the side of his cock stimulate the underside of my clit and I lick my lips. Damn, that feels good. I get a little lost in the feeling of his glorious cock rubbing against my clit and I forget for a moment that there’s a man attached to it that’s going to come quickly if I don’t stop. His agonized groan brings me back to the here and now.

How about a little tease, Grey?

I plant my feet on either side of his hips and steady my hands on the bed on either side of him. Using only my hips, I massage my clit with the head and side of his dick—achingly slowly pumping my pelvis so that my clit rides up… and down…  and up… and down… over the slit and pulsing ridge of his head and partially down the side of his shaft.

“Oh, my God, yes,” I breathe as I watch the show between my legs; the head of his dick appearing and reappearing just beyond my mons; the burn of the friction going straight through my core…

“Jesus!” he prays quietly as his hands reach around my body and tease my tender nipples. One of the nipple clamps has fallen off, but both nipples are still hot and taut.

“Uh!” I groan, throwing my head back as pleasure once again shoots from three different directions. I know this has had the same effect on him that his changing rhythm had on me—that he’s still on fire, but has drawn back from “ready to blow.” I slide against that dick a few more times, biting and licking my lips in my own ecstasy until I’m nearly over the edge myself, and then I stop. I need that magnificent piece of meat inside me for this orgasm.

I resume the initial position he requested, situating myself between his legs and my calves under his thighs, causing him to bend his knees and open his legs very wide. With my ass in the air and the ass plug staring him in the face, I reach between my legs and thrust my finger into my core. I momentarily stifle the moan that wants to escape, but fail in the effort when I drag the moistened finger over my throbbing clit and massage it gently.

“Christ, baby, you’re so damn hot,” he breathes forcefully.

Like you wouldn’t believe, Mr. Grey, like you wouldn’t fucking believe.

I reach down and grab his cock and rub the head against my clit two or three times more before I guide him to my hungry opening. There, I hold him in place while the opening and lips of my aching pussy gently and slowly tease the head of his cock. I can feel the ridge just inside my vagina as the release and reentry make that luscious, wet “kissing” sound. I’m insanely turned on by this, so with him watching it, I know that he’s losing his fucking mind.

“Anastasia,” he breathes, his voice tortured, “God, you’re too much…”

“You make me this way,” I reply, my voice steeped in passion like a mindless horny nymph.

A few more vaginal kisses and I slide effortlessly down onto his cock, all the way to the balls. He groans loudly and places both hands on my ass. I start a rhythmic glide with just the slightest directional roll, raising my ass up towards him when I drop onto his dick, then pulling my hips down and forward when I rise off of it. His pleasure sounds are tortured, deep, and sexy, and my core is on fire filled with his thumping meat.

“Christian,” I mewl, “you feel so good… you’re so hard…”

I fight to keep my rhythm now with him filling me wall to wall. I know he’s rising to orgasm because he so thick and wide inside me, and I am once again producing that heat and wetness that’s accumulating on his dick and leaving an arousal cockring at the base near the balls. It would be embarrassing if it wasn’t so fucking hot and I wasn’t so goddamn turned on.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Grey,” I pant breathily. “I’ll come… I’ll come really fucking hard for you.”

“Fuck!” he hisses as he rubs my lower back, and I can feel his thighs tightening with pleasure. He wants to enjoy it, so he’s going to hold out until I blow. I push back onto his dick repeatedly so that I get maximum penetration and he groans again.

“God!” I gasp as I pump harder. His hands are still grabbing my ass and one of them moves and pushes the butt plug.

“Oh, God,” I exclaim, the pleasure so much that I can’t concentrate on my movement anymore. I straighten my body and balance on my knees, still bouncing on that wonderfully, deliciously hard cock. One hand moves to tease the nipple still painfully confined in the nipple clamp while the other shamelessly moves to circle my burning clit. I feel the sensation rise immediately from my feet, taking only a few seconds to overtake my thighs. Just as it begins to tingle and burn deep inside my core, he grabs my hip and pulls the butt plug out.

I scream and detonate into such a dangerously violent orgasm that I can’t even tell what the fuck is going on at the moment. All I know is fire and light and dizziness and trembling and screaming… lots and lots of screaming. My attempt to seduce my husband has backfired and I’m having one of the longest, hottest, heaviest, most mind-numbing orgasms I have ever fucked myself into.

I don’t know how long it is before I come down from that electric display and experience, but when I do, I’m on my knees, my chest flat on the bed with hair sticking to my sweaty face, panting profusely. Once I’m able to breathe a bit, I lift my head just slightly and catch him in the mirror. I didn’t know it was there.

He hasn’t come. I know he hasn’t because he’s still very hard inside me, but he’s smirking at my back—clearly unaware that I can see him.

Mo-ther-fucker, I’ll show you…

I put my hands flat on the bed and curl my back like a cat stretching from a deep sleep. Then, I roll my hips again, like I did in the beginning, only faster… and harder… and faster!

I get another glimpse of him in the mirror and that smug look has left his face. His hands have grasped my hips again, trying and failing to control my thrust as his mouth alternates between biting his lip and clenching his teeth.

“Slow it down, fuck baby, slow it down,” he begs breathlessly. Fuck you, Grey. Come, you cocky motherfucker.

“Uuuuhhhh!” I moan sensually, knowing that the sound of my voice will help to set him off, and partially because I absolutely adore how he feels inside me, even though there’s no hope of me coming again tonight. I lean up on my knees again and thrust my hands into my hair, lifting it sensually over my head, closing my eyes and puckering my lips as I roll my hips relentless and fast over his cock.

“You feel so good,” I mewl truthfully, “so good…” I add a gasp to the last two words and his breathing is no longer controlled. He’s losing it.

“Good… Fuck…” he hisses as he grabs my hips right below my waist and sinks into the bed a bit to angle his cock more.

That’s it, Grey. Give it to me. I’m going to milk you dry.

I fall back onto the bed with a helpless mewl, steady myself on my hands, and bounce my ass on his dick in an intense buns-of-steel workout while clenching my Kegels so hard that it’s a wonder my IUD doesn’t pop out like an orange seed. After a few minutes of bouncing and listening to my own mewling, I glance in the mirror to check on my husband.

His head is thrust back and he’s firmly holding my hips. His lips are moving like he’s saying something, but nothing comes out. After a few moments, his eyes return to our joined bodies and I reach behind me a stick a finger in my ass where the butt plug used to be.

“Oh, fuck!” he growls at the sight and begins to wildly thrust into me, overpowering my smooth, massaging stroke. He pumps into me feverishly, gritting his teeth and grunting and throwing his head back again. When the first cry of orgasm escapes his lips, I rise off his cock, open my ass, and capture his ejaculating shaft between the cheeks. Surprised and impassioned, his eyes open wildly, and his mouth is gaping as he’s gasping for breath.

I roll my still-oily ass over his squirting dick and watch him gaze in amazement as I hold it between my ass cheeks and pump the cum from his balls.

“Fuck!” he chokes. “Oh, God, do that! Do that! Fuck, yes! That ass! Oh shit! Shit! Shit! Shiiiiittt!”

His eyes are plastered to my ass like he can’t believe what he’s seeing—a fantastic stream of candle-lighting shooting up out of my oily ass from his dick. My husband sounds like he’s passing a kidney stone and I’m taking extreme pleasure in watching his haughty ass irk out an orgasm as intense as the one I just had. In fact…

I raise my hips, swivel and drop my pussy onto his still pulsing cock. He screams as I pull and push slow and hard, flexing my Kegels over his dick to mimic the tighten-release-push-pull of an oily handjob on the head and walls of his shaft.

“Gooooooooooddamn! Goddamn! Goddamn! Goddamn!” He’s twitching and trembling as he rides out the aftershocks and I smile to myself as he finally falls limp, breathless, and helpless, his body silently calling for mercy.

*-*

Had it not been for Jason calling to wake us, we might have missed out on the day’s events. As it turns out, a car will be arriving at 9am to take us to the Barossa Valley for a wine tour. The Valley is only an hour away, but Christian rightfully had them coordinate everything with Jason. I’m a bit jealous right now because for all intent and purposes, Jason is Christian’s Marilyn… and Andrea is Christian’s Marilyn. And Andrea has a Luma. Marilyn doesn’t have a Luma. She organizes my life all by herself.

I really miss Marilyn.

As we’re a bit pressed for time, I use the en suite to pump, shower, and prepare for the day while Christian uses the second bathroom. I can’t have another day where I don’t speak to my children, so when I’m done pumping and prepping, I call my babies for a little facetime. Keri informs me that Minnie is becoming a bit crabby and wouldn’t take her bottle last night. I’m certain it’s because she’s accustomed to the changeup between the rubber nipple and the breast—and she’s not getting one of those. This is further driven home by her elation to see my face on the phone and her subsequent displeasure with having to give the phone back to Keri. I can’t stand to hear her anguish, especially since I’m inadvertently causing it, so I hand the phone to Christian and let him get a little baby time while I try to nurse the wounds of my breaking heart.

“It happens all the time, baby,” he says, putting his arms around me and trying to comfort me while I stare out the window overlooking the City of Churches.

“Was she still crying when you ended the call?” I ask, never turning to face him.

“She settled a bit,” he says, pulling me against him… which means that she was still crying, just not as much. I suddenly can’t wait to have her in my arms.

“I’m a terrible mother,” I say, wiping away a tear.

“Don’t be ridiculous. You are no such thing,” Christian scolds gently. “You’re both having a bit of separation anxiety. It’s not the first time and it won’t be the last. Now I want you to stop that ridiculousness right now. It’s not true and I don’t have to tell you that.”

“I just… I shouldn’t have left her,” I protest.

“She’ll be fine,” he coaches. “What are you going to do when she goes to school?”

“Oh, God,” I say, and I’m overwhelmed with emotion. I drop my face in my hands and begin to weep. I hear my husband sigh heavily and I can imagine that he’s totally exasperated with me, and that just makes me cry harder.

“Don’t cry,” he says softly, turning me around to him and wrapping his arms around me. I stand there and weep into his T-shirt for several minutes until it’s covered in colored moisturizer and tears and he has to go and change it, and I have to wash my face and refresh my make-up. I still don’t feel good about leaving my baby, but I feel a little better since I’ve had my cry… I think.

Christian emerges in a white Izod over his jeans, declaring that he has no more T-shirts and will have to have the ones he has laundered since we still have two more days—including today—and the trip back to Seattle. Quite frankly, I like the Izod better.

39f548032e3227319813a69b6ab79224-christian-grey-jamie-dornan

I’m looking very Sex and The City in a comfortable flowy Halston Heritage lavender mini cut just above the knee and a pair of Louboutin Madmonica spiked open-toe cork wedge sandals. We rush down to breakfast so that we aren’t starting the day and an hour-long car ride to wine country on an empty stomach. That definitely wouldn’t be a good idea. My little crying spell and the subsequent cleanup cut our eating time in half, so we have a simple breakfast of eggs, Canadian bacon, roasted tomatoes, toast and juice—something that we can eat quickly, but not too quickly, before the car arrives.

“You were sleeping like the dead,” I say quietly to Christian during breakfast.

“I put in a lot of work last night,” he says proudly. “Bringing your beautiful wife to three orgasms is quite the feat.” He winks at me.

“Oh, really?” I challenge. “And I guess I had absolutely nothing to do with that last one, huh?” I raise my brow at him.

“Well… I… you… um…” Amazing. I’ve brought my husband to a stuttering mess.

“Um-hmm,” I say, filling my fork with food. “Well, while you opted for quantity—which was quite nice—I concentrated my efforts on quality. How do you think I did?” I throw an innocent gaze over at him, full well remembering watching him in the mirror muttering silent prayers while I rode his pulsing shaft relentlessly.

“You…” He clears his throat. “You… um… you did fine.” He quickly takes a sip of his coffee. I smile devilishly at him. I’ll just bet.

“Thank you, Mr. Grey,” I say, eating the food from my fork, chewing and smiling triumphantly. “By the way,” I add once I’ve swallowed my food. “Your choice of music…” I say, trailing off. He raises his gaze to me.

“Did you like it?” he asks.

“It was… a lot of new stuff. Some oldies… I didn’t think you were into the new stuff.”

“I can’t take credit for this song list,” he admits. “I typed a request into Pandora and just let it play.”

“What was the request?” I ask curiously.

“Baby-making music,” he says proudly. I burst out laughing.

After breakfast, a private van picks us up to take us on a beautifully scenic drive through the city of Adelaide and all the way north to the Barossa Valley. The ride will be approximately an hour long with plenty of sites to see along the way.

“Um, ma’am, I nohmally don’t comment on attiyah, but ya moight wanna chaynge ya shoes,” the driver says as we approach the car. Christian glares at him for a moment. He only glances at Christian momentarily before turning his attention back to me.

“It’s… foh ya comfoht, ma’am,” he adds. “There’ll be a lot of walking, ma’am,” he says in an attempt to get me to change my shoes. I immediately see the concern for my feet since I’m wearing wedges.

“Don’t worry about me,” I say with a warm smile. “Heels and I are old friends. I’d be much less comfortable in flats, and I have no problem taking them off if they become unbearable, which is not likely.”

“The touh is mohr than six hours, ma’am. If yoh’re shuh…” he urges once more. I appreciate his concern.

“I’m sure,” I smile. “Thank you for your kindness.” I elbow Christian in the side as he’s still glaring at the guy. “Stop it!” I chide softly. He looks down at me and I cock my head at him as an additional warning. When he appears to behave, I smile again at the driver and get in the van.

“Come on, Christian,” I chide gently to keep him from further harassing our driver. He leans in and sits next to me.

“The first thing he noticed was your shoes, huh?” he says as our security follows us into the van. It’s a late model Mercedes—it seats seven, but I’m not sure of the model.

“He’s probably trained to do that, dear,” I point out. “Can you imagine how many women have come on the tour wearing the wrong shoes and did nothing but complain the entire time?” The driver gets into the car and confirms what I’m saying.

“She’s roight, mate,” he says to Christian. “I don’t know whaht thehy’re expectin’, but plenty o’ sheilas get in wehring six-inch heels and thehy’re miserable halfway through the trip. Imagine how ya’d feel troying to enjoy ya day with blistahs on ya feet!! I always check an’ give ‘em toime and option ta chaynge. I’m sorry… I didn’t mean ta offend ya.” Christian sighs and waves him off.

“Don’t worry about it,” he says. “I’m just… very possessive of my wife, and it’s been an… interesting trip on that note so far.” I chuckle.

“Tell me about it!” I murmur mirthfully. The driver smiles in the rearview.

“Thanks, mate. Roight, then, shall we go?” He smiles widely and starts the car.

The scenery is absolutely breathtaking, including the gorgeous vineyards that lay before us once we clear the city limits. They’re everywhere along the road through the Adelaide Hills, from really small patches of land to huge estates. I’m captivated by the beautiful landscapes, but not so captivated that I can’t tell that my husband is distracted. Is he still pissed off at the driver?


CHRISTIAN

“I wanted to have more information for you before I called you with conjecture, sir,” Josh says as I’m drying my hair. I brought the phone into the en suite with me and it’s a good thing I did. Josh has information hot off “the presses” for me.

“What do you have?” I ask as I begin my grooming routine.

“Lincoln is talking to anyone who’ll listen. She’s a media dream and nightmare at the same time. She’s very indiscreet. She gives enough information to have you chomping at the bit, but it’s not hard for the educated researcher to decipher exactly who she’s talking about—they just can’t afford to speculate without further information.”

“Fuck, I was afraid of that,” I hiss around a mouthful of toothpaste. “How close is she to a release date?”

“She’s aiming for May,” Josh says. Shit, that means she’s got a lot of information already on paper, or at least shared with her fucking ghostwriter. “She’s got a good solid timeline in front of her and nothing between her and the tell-all but air and opportunity.” She picked the perfect time to leak her story—right after our exposé hit the air.

“Did she make you for working for me?” I ask.

“I don’t think so,” he says. “If she did, she didn’t let on, or she just doesn’t care. She didn’t give me the name of her ghostwriter either. She gave me a penname, but at the moment, it leads nowhere. I’ve got Alex looking into some things for me and I’m discreetly chasing a few leads myself.”

“Shit!” I hiss. “So much for nipping this thing at the bud.”

“Don’t lose faith,” he says. “It’s only been a few days. Sometimes, it takes a little more digging to find the buried treasure. That’s why I was waiting to call you…” and I got impatient and jumped the gun.

“She gave me pretty much the same information that she’s giving to any other reporter that comes through there,” he continues. “Everything she said to me, we’ve already read in the papers, but to her, it’s fresh and new information every time she gives it. So, I listen for fresh and new information. I listen for context clues that nobody else would know to listen for. Like I said, I’m chasing a few things to narrow down a few solid theories, but I won’t relay information that sends you in the wrong direction—I have to know for sure.”

“I appreciate that,” I reply with a disappointed sigh. I’ve been literally itching for some information on the crazy bitch, and pretty much… nothing.

“I do have some other information, though,” he adds. “The warden cornered me as I was leaving…”

Oh, now we’re getting somewhere.

“What did he want?” I ask.

He asked who I was working for. I told him that I was freelancing, that I’m hoping to get an angle that nobody else has gotten and I’ll sell my story to the highest bidder. It’s easier to get what you need from a crook if you come off as cutthroat and hungry than if you show any signs of ethics whatsoever.”

“What makes you think he’s a crook?” I ask. He scoffs. “I mean, I pretty certain that he’s crooked. I just want to know what makes you think he’s a crook.”

“Upstanding member of society and leader of industry has been trying to get in touch with you for several days on a matter that you know will directly affect him and you avoid his calls… You’re either crooked or stupid—or both!” I twist my lips. Excellent judge of character.

“He asked if I had gotten any material that was worth printing. I told him that I hadn’t. Everything that she gave me, I already knew. So, he dangles a carrot in front of me. He says the book, the story, and the possible subsequent movie rights are likely to blow the top off the social scene and quite possibly the financial scene. He knows it’s you. He didn’t say so, but he made enough references. I don’t know what Lincoln said, but he knows, and at this moment, he’ll protect her through the screenplay to get his payoff.”

Well, this is just fucking great. She didn’t have to tell him much of anything. Of course, he knows it’s me. I paid his ass off to keep her quiet. Now, he’s avoiding my calls and siding with her, giving her carte blanche when it comes to talking to reporters and her fucking ghost writer.

“He wants to get the profits from the book. She just wants to tell her story, but her story is so sick and twisted, I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to write it. The way she portrays the roles of certain characters, it’s not pretty. Her rendition will implicate people and suggest that they’re pretending to be victims when they fully participated in the activities.” She’s obviously referring to the fact that I became a Dom once I came of age and continued the BDSM lifestyle…

Or at least that’s what I thought.

“The brief description that she gave me made it look like she had a club—a coven, if you will—of pedophiles; that they engaged in consensual sexual relations with minors and that said minors joined the club and continued the cycle when they became of age.”

“Wait a minute… what?” I say, staring horrified into the mirror.  

“I can’t make it any clearer,” he says. “There are underground pedophile sex clubs all over the world. It’s disgusting, but it’s true. It’s a real movement, and there are a lot of people involved… a lot! Her basis from what I can see is that she was part of—or the head or madame of—one such organization. And Christian, she can say what she wants, because she’s writing it as fiction. So, whether it’s true or not, the sensationalism of it will have this shit flying off the shelves. Think O.J. Simpson and If I Did It.

Oh, hell. That’s already a horribly touchy subject. Now, we’re comparing my life and the lives of several other sexually victimized young boys to the story of a man who may or may not have nearly beheaded the mother of his children and her male companion?

And now, I don’t have Holstein’s cooperation because he’s more concerned with a piece of the possible pie. Fine, fuck it. They want to play dirty, then it’s dirty they’ll get.

“And no clue on BD Simmons.” It’s a statement in the form of a question.

“Nothing concrete,” Josh says. “Again, I won’t put flawed information into the hands of the most powerful man on the western seaboard.”

“Duly noted,” I reply. That really wouldn’t be wise. “I need you to keep me posted the moment you do get something concrete. My response to this matter will be swift and sure. Time and discretion are of the utmost essence.”

I end the call and try to pretend that this information has not soured my entire mood.

“You’re not here.”

My wife’s voice brings my attention back to the fact that we’re cruising along a country road on our way to one of Australia’s many famed wine regions. I can’t hide the fact that I’m completely distracted by the conversation that I had with Josh this morning. She’s probably going to be pissed that I called him, but… I have to tell her something.

“Excuse me, parlez vous français?” I say, leaning forward to the driver. He glances in the rearview mirror.

“I’m sorry, mate?” he says.

“Parlez vous français?” I repeat.

“Sorry,” he says, watching the mirror and the road, “not shuh whaht cha sayin’, mate.”

“No problem. Thank you,” I say, turning to my wife to have the entire conversation with her in French.

“J’ai parlé à Josh ce matin,” I say. She sighs.
(I spoke to Josh this morning.)

“Qu’a t’il dit?” she says.
(What did he say?)

“Il essaie toujours de savoir qui est l’auteur, mais Holstein protège Lincoln.” She rolls her eyes in frustration.
(He’s still trying to find out who the ghost writer is, but Holstein is protecting Lincoln.)

“Je le savais!” she hisses. “Je le savais putain! Cela explique pourquoi il ne prenait pas vos appels.”
(I knew it! I fucking knew it! That explains why he was not taking your calls.)

“Ça a empire,” I inform her. “Elle donne l’impression que nous étions un club secret de pédophiles… comme si nous étions un groupe entier cherchant des enfants et les recrutant plus tard dans leur cercle quand ils sont devenus majeurs.” Her eyes widen in horror.
(It gets worse. She gives the impression that we were a secret club of pedophiles… as if we were an entire group trolling for children regularly and later recruiting them into our circle when they became of age.)

“Vous n’êtes pas sérieux,” she whispers incredulously. “Qui dans leur esprit accepterait d’écrire quelque chose comme ça?” I shake my head.
(You’re not serious. Who in their right mind would agree to write something like this?)

“Tu sais aussi bien que moi qu’il y a un public pour tout, bébé,” I reply. “Vous devez juste trouver le créneau qui est prêt à écouter vos conneries.” She drops her head in her hands.
(You know as well as I do that there’s an audience for everything, baby. You just have to find the niche that’s willing to listen to your bullshit.)

“C’est irréel.” she laments. “C’est absolument irréel. Si je n’en étais pas personnellement conscient, je ne penserais pas qu’un être humain puisse survivre avec autant de mal. Je plaisantais quand je l’appelais «démon puant, méchant, sale, visqueux, visqueux, démone pédo-salope de l’enfer», mais que cette horrible reine diabolique appartient vraiment au plus profond les profondeurs du pire tourment éternel jamais imaginable. Il n’y a absolument aucune rédemption pour elle. Elle marche à pied détérioration, damnation et destruction et elle doit être détruite…”
(This is unreal. This is absolutely unreal. If I wasn’t personally aware of it, I wouldn’t think that any one human being could survive harboring this much evil. I was joking when I called her a ‘stank-ass, slutty, nasty, filthy, slimy, Pedo-Bitch She-Thing demon from hell,’ but that horrific, wretched, inhuman, devil queen really does belong in the deepest, hottest depths of the worst eternal torment ever imaginable. There is absolutely no redemption for her. She is walking deterioration, damnation, and destruction and she must be destroyed…)

I had all but forgotten about that name, but Butterfly is right. This woman is pure evil personified, the worst manifestation of Satanic personification—Princess Beelzebub unleashed on this earthly realm, and the world would truly be a better place without her in it.

My wife has completely gone off on a French tangent now. All the men in the car—including the driver—have gone a bit pale and are looking everywhere but at us, and as far as I know. I’m the only one who knows what she’s saying… maybe…

“Do you speak French?” I ask Lawrence. He shakes his head.

“German, sir,” he says. I look at Jason. I know Spanish is his second language.

“A word here and there, sir,” he says, “enough to know she’s pissed.”

“Stop talking about me like I’m not here!” Butterfly snaps. We weren’t… only that last statement, but I’m not going to be the one to dispute her on it. All the men quickly turn their attention to anything else—the scenery, the road, a speck of lint on the carpet, anything safe—while I turn my attention back to one angry little Butterfly.

“I shouldn’t have told you,” I confess, “at least not now. It’s going to ruin your day.”

“No, it won’t,” she says matter-of-factly, “because I know that you’re going to do everything humanly possible to rectify this situation. I know that you’re going to use your endless resources to make sure that this woman is not able to ruin the many, many lives that she could possibly ruin—now or ever again—with this ridiculous undertaking. You’re going to do what needs to be done to put an end to this—or I will.”

Three sets of eyes zero in on my wife and I’m sure it would have been four if the driver could look at her without putting us all at risk.

“Butterfly…” I begin my protest.

“I’m going to let you handle this, Christian,” she says, her voice unwavering. “I’m going to watch, and I’m going to let you handle it. But if for any reason, you are unable to stop this from happening, I want you to remember something—all those boys, their families, my children! I will stop at nothing and no one to terminate this ridiculous pursuit! She wants us to believe she’s crazy? Fine! I’m crazier! She will not jeopardize the lives of my children and that is my final word! And that’s not a threat, Christian, that’s a promise!”

I’m glaring at this woman possessed because I swear, I’ve never seen her before. Al usually tells me which version of “Ana” I’m dealing with when she steps out of herself, and he’s not here to identify this one for me. I’m quickly running through my head all the Ana’s he has introduced me to…

Knife-throwing Ana…
Marine’s Daughter Ana…
First-Blood or Rambo Ana…

Shit, I don’t know. All I know is that she’s glaring at me with the glassiest blue eyes I’ve ever seen, her pupils so constricted, they’re almost invisible. I fucking well better answer her.

“I. Will take. Care. Of this,” I say, finitely. She glares at me for a moment longer before she slowly nods once.

“Good,” she says firmly. “Keep me posted.” She turns her gaze away from me and back to the scenery going by outside the window. I throw a cautionary glance at Jason, who returns my glare before glancing over at Lawrence. A silent conversation ensues between the three of us to not let her out of our sight or she just might hurt someone today. The conversation inside my head is much more detailed.

Get this shit on lockdown or there’s going to be fucking hell to pay.

*-*

Tensions ease once we arrive at our destination. Butterfly has all but forgotten our conversation about the Pedophile, and it’s my job to ensure that her thoughts don’t wander in that direction again. Granted, it’s my fault they wandered in that direction in the first place, but I couldn’t keep the truth from her, especially since my ire and distraction was written all over my face.

“Hello,” a friendly gentleman greets us when we exit the Mercedes. “Ma nayme’s John. OI’ll be yohr touhr goide tahdeye.” I take Butterfly’s hand as Jason and Lawrence exit the vehicle.

“I’m Christian. This is my wife, Anastasia. These gentlemen are my security detail.” John’s brow rises.

“Political official, ahre ya?” John asks. I shake my head.

“No, nothing like that… but perfectly legal,” I assure him.

“Can nevah beh too syfe, eh mate?” he says with a nod before continuing directly to the next topic. “Tell me, whaht’s yohr expehrience with woine?”

Hmmm, how do I answer that?

“My wife is basically a Cabernet woman, but can be easily swayed with smooth reds,” I begin, and Butterfly playfully slaps my arm. “One of her favorites is the Screaming Eagle from Napa Valley. We discovered it on the wine train tours a couple of years ago.”

“Yes, OI’m quite familiah with the Screamin’ Eagle,” John confirms. “Which yeahr?”

“2006,” I confirm. “It’s apparently hard to find, but our concierge was able to locate a dozen and have them shipped to our home.” John nods.

“Have ya had tha pleasah of tha ’92?” he asks. I shake my head.

“I can’t say that I have.” John nods again.

“Extremely rahe vintage, mate,” he says, his voice laced with a bit of awe. “Aged in 60% new oak; it’s mohe puhple than woine colored and has a jammy black currant aroma mixed with hints of oak. Very difficult ta locyte and OI’ve huhd of bottles runnin’ upwuhds of 500,000 Amehrican!” He pauses for a moment. “Sorry thehre, mate. OI get a little carried awy talking about the woines.” I wave him off, playing down the fact that I’m thoroughly impressed with his knowledge of wines.

“Don’t be,” I excuse, “I’m a bit of a connoisseur myself, versatile with a preference to dry whites. I may pick your brain about what exclusive blends the region has to offer.” John smiles widely.

“OI’m yoh goiy, mate,” he says happily.

“I’m afraid we haven’t been able to expand our palates much since our honeymoon,” I add.

“Ah, newlyweds?” he asks. Butterfly giggles.

“Somewhat,” she replies. “We’ve been married for 18 months.”

“Yeah, thaht’s still newlywed,” John says. “Ahr little cornah of tha world hehr is whaht we cahl a woine town—everything hehr is centehred on tha woine.”

“I’ve heard that you have some award-winning Shiraz in these parts,” I coax. John smiles widely again.

“You huhd correct, mate,” he says gleefully. “Did ya do anythin’ special on ya honeymoon? Somethin’ that stuck out to ya, maybe?” I shrug.

“Well, our honeymoon started in Paris, then continued in Greece,” Butterfly says. “To be honest, the entire trip was pretty special, so it’s hard to pick just one thing. We had a tasting at Le Dokhan’s…”

“Ah, Le Dokhan’s!” John interrupts, “worhld-renowned champyne, oldest estahblishment in Pehris. You both must have vehry discuhning palates.”

“We’ve tasted a wine or three,” I confirm.

“Well, in thaht cyse, OI’ve got tha perhfect day in moind foh ya. Fahllow me and we’ll get stahted.”

He walks ahead of us and leads us to a rebuilt and refurbished 1962 Daimler Chrysler. Apparently, this beautiful classic car will be our transportation for the day.

“Ooo, very nice,” Butterfly says as she climbs inside.

John is quite chatty during the course of our tour and I’m very soon to discover why. He’s very proud of the Barossa Valley having lived here most of his life and conducted tours for over 20 years. He boasts having given this tour to dignitaries and wine connoisseurs from all over the world and promises to look me up so that he can add our tour to his updated list of bragging rights. He informs us that our tour has no specific itinerary and that if at any time we don’t like the course of the day to let him know and we can adjust accordingly.

We take a short drive to St. Hugo first. Although my wife was distracted with thoughts of Elena Lincoln’s demise on the trip to the valley, she’s quite attentive as John informs us of the history of St. Hugo. She remembered to bring the camera this time, and she’s taking several shots ranging from the picturesque countryside to quirky street signs pointing in various directions.

At the risk of sounding like the terrible snob that I can be, I’m extremely pleased with the vibe we’re getting from the Barossa Valley, and even more pleased when I hear of the settlement of the area. Most of Australia—particularly the ports we visited earlier in our vacation—was settled by convicts or others who had been exiled to Australia from England. Contrarily, settlers of South Australia and the Barossa Valley came looking for a better life. They were mostly merchants and farmers, those in search of their fortune on the shores and bush of Australia in the late 1800’s. Most prominent in this area were German settlers, and many of the vineyards they planted are still around today.

I’m not ashamed to say that the spirit that my Butterfly is gleaning from this area is much more relaxed and pleasant than the monsters she acquired at Port Arthur. So, yes, the snob in me is much more partial to the Barossa Valley, and I intend to do more research on our excursions in the future.

As we arrive at St. Hugo, John tells us that the current winery is comprised of original structures from the ruins of William Jacob’s winery, which was built over 150 years ago, as well as new additions designed to seamlessly tie in with the old ruins. We travel down a winding driveway with a stunning view of half-century-old cork trees—one of the few plantations of its kind in Australia.

Our tour begins with a short but refreshing walk through the vineyard. We note that some of the vines have been named and John tells us about how some of the names were chosen. One of the royal families came to the vineyard for an exclusive tour called the Sainthood Experience and the row of vines was named after them. Parcels from the vineyard of that row were picked and a custom wine was blended, where it is stored to age for three years and will then be delivered to that family. I don’t bother asking what that experience costs—I can imagine that even I would find it exorbitant.

After the tour, we head into a cozy tasting room, cellar door, and restaurant to literally enjoy the fruits of the field with a few other patrons of the vineyard. It’s easy to see that John is well known in the area. He takes pride in showcasing his knowledge and sharing his personal Barossa friendships and connections. It’s like he’s part of a special club that knows the inside scoop of all the secrets of the land—a wine fraternity, if you will.

Watching the wines being poured into the glasses is almost a spiritual moment. You can almost see the blends flowing out of the bottle and into the glass in slow motion, and your mouth waters with anticipation to taste it. The way the wine washes up from the bowl of the glass and gracefully caresses the sides enhances the experience. It’s almost like you’re watching a vintage being born in front of you even though you know that’s not the case.

Each tasting is accompanied by a very small gourmet entrée to complete the wine-tasting experience—a light degustation, not the complete chef’s experience, but we didn’t want that right now. Unlike the regular practice of pairing the right type of wine with the food, St. Hugo’s chef chooses his foods to complement the wines. After all, the wines are the stars of the show. The dishes are arranged with the wines according to taste—bitter, sweet, sour, fatty, savory, etc. We taste the various wines along with the simple dishes and ingredients and pick our favorites—which flavors we felt went best with each vintage, and which vintages we preferred over others. I’m pretty partial to the signature Shiraz while Butterfly predictably leans to an incredibly decadent Cabernet.

John is only too happy to inform the vintner that we would like three bottles of the 2005 Signature Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon to be packed and prepared to take back to the States. Reminding us of the tax and hassle of getting the wine through customs, he offered to send it directly to our address in Seattle. I wouldn’t have minded the tax on the wine—at $1000 a bottle, it couldn’t have been much for someone like me—but he raises a good point about the hassle of customs, and we may find more wine that we’d like to ship home. In light of that information, I agree to have the bottles shipped and give him our information for the shipping.

Just as I’m finishing the transaction, Butterfly scoffs loudly and indiscreetly. I frown and turn to her.

“What’s wrong?” I ask. I know she’s had a bit of wine, but it’s no more than we’ve had at a normal dinner and we’re just getting started, so it can’t be that.

“I must be one helluva hot dish!” she’s says uncensored. Okay…

“Well… yeah, but why is that a bad thing?” I ask.

“Because people can’t believe for the life of them that we just met, fell in love, got married, and started a family. I just have to be a trophy wife!”

That statement tells me everything I need to hear. There’s only one other group of people in the cellar door with us and they’re standing just to the left of her—two couples about our age examining the wine menu. At least the men are examining the wine menu. The women are looking over at Butterfly. They subsequently divert their gaze when they see me glaring at them.

“You are a trophy wife, baby. Get used to it,” I say loud enough for them to hear. They giggle and Butterfly gasps. “That’s because you’re one hell of a fucking prize. And the next time someone says that about you, just remember that they’re only saying it because they’re so goddamn jealous that they could chew out their own fucking tongues.”

I raise my brow at her and wait for acknowledgment. I get it in the form of her beautiful, coy smile that I know is only reserved for me. I lift her chin and kiss her gently.

“Never get upset about trolls, baby,” I say, still holding her chin, but looking at the cunts who disparaged her. “They’ve got nothing on you and they know it, and that’s why they try to cut you down.” I bring my eyes back to Butterfly’s. “Comprendre?”

“Oui, monsieur,” she replies sweetly. I brush her lips with another soft kiss.

“Let’s get out of here,” I say, taking her hand and tucking it into the crease of my elbow. “The riff-raff is starting to bother me.”

As we pass the couples still standing at the counter, I hear one of the men say, “Geez, what the fuck did you say?’”


A/N: Yes, they’re everywhere!

More music from the special night:
Usher—
Trading Places
Nelly and Kelly Rowland—
Dilemma
Usher—Lovers and Friends
Trey Songz—
All We Do
Slo Mo—
Ride
Jeremiah—
Birthday Sex
Guinuwine—
Differences
Trey Songz—
On Top
K Camp—
Blessing

Putain d’enfer, il l’a encore fait!—Fucking hell, he did it again!
S’il vous plaît”—”Please!”

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, 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

The Australia Picture Board can be found here: https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/raising-grey-the-trip-to-australia/ and the pictures from today’s chapter are in the “Adeliade,” “Peppers,” and “Barossa Valley” sections, and there are a lot of them!!

And of course, the regular Pinterest board is here: 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