Raising Grey: Chapter 56—Back In The Saddle

This is my five-year anniversary on WordPress. That means that five years ago today, I decided to take my readers and get the hell off FanFiction and leave all their haterade behind. I lost a few readers since then, but I’ve gained more. Thank you all for hanging on for this wild ride with me.

There most likely will not be a chapter next week as I’m splitting my time between preparing to publish and updating, and I have to work next Saturday. We’ll have to play those working weekends by ear.

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 56—Back In The Saddle

CHRISTIAN

“It came this morning,” Alex says, placing a bottle of 1964 Glinlivet Winchester single malt scotch on my desk. I’m just getting into the office on Friday morning and this is what greets me.

“It’s been scanned, and the bottle has been chemical-tested and tamper-inspected. It’s clean and intact.”

“Who’s it from?” I ask. He twists his lips.

“You should probably read the note. It’s been tested, too.” He hands me the note and I’m remiss to take it. He lays it out on my desk so that I can read it.

Mr. Grey,

I am not a man of apologies and I hope you can understand and respect that. I will concede, however, that my employee ghastly misspoke when he met with you earlier this week. You and I want the same thing—to rid ourselves of a certain pebble in our respective shoes. To that end, we are not rivals with nor subordinates to one another in any way.

What my employee was intended to relay is that it would be appreciated if my organization knew when you plan to visit the area. As you know, this problem has escaped solution to date on more than one occasion. As such, an unexpected visit may tend to flush out certain attempts at contact and possibly make an agreeable solution to our shared problem more viable. The notification is only a means to a mutual end, nothing more.

Please accept the enclosed token as a gesture of goodwill along with the sworn promise that, no matter what the prior implications, no harm will come to you or your family at the hands of my organization. You have my word. 

Russo

“Get the fuck outta here,” I say out loud. “So, how good is the word of a gangster?” I say, looking up at Alex. He shrugs.

“I don’t know, but I will say this. Aragon is his gopher—his messenger boy. Maybe a bit more than that, but I think you get the idea. He’s not going to make a move without his boss’ approval and when he left here, he was pissed. If Sunset had given him the go to take you out, he would have come back here and done it himself. I’ll also tell you this. With his organization and ability, he can’t afford attention. He’s got enough of that already. A hit on Christian Grey, billionaire and international businessman?” He whistles. “That’s way more attention that he wants. What’s more?” He picks up the bottle of liquor partially wrapped in high-end paper that previously came in a high-end box, “he’s certainly not going to try to wipe you out with a $25,000 bottle of single malt scotch made 50 years ago, sent with a letter with his signature on it, which can most likely be traced by its purchase. Take it how you want but, in my experience, he definitely means this as a peace offering.” I look at the bottle in Alex’s hand.

“Well, I ain’t drinkin’ it,” I say, looking at the note on my desk again.

“What should I do with it?” he asks. I really don’t know.

“Put it in the safe with the note,” I tell him. “Seal them both in plastic. I don’t know what else to do with it right now.” He nods and takes the bottle and the note with him before leaving my office. I mean really—what are you supposed to do with a $25,000 bottle of whiskey and an apology note from a gangster? What’s the protocol here? I’m not fucking versed on Mafia Etiquette 101.

I suddenly feel the need to watch Goodfellas or The Godfather or Casino or something.

“You got a love note from a gangster?” Jason says walking into my office.

“It appears that way,” I reply. Jason shakes his head.

“You pretty much tell his consigliere to fuck off and get lost and in response, he sends you a prized bottle of whiskey and a letter he personally signed.” He whistles.

“Should that mean something to me?” I ask.

“Yeah, it means that we should keep security tight,” he responds, “not crazy, but tight.” He takes a seat. “You were never in any danger of Sunset. I knew that. His messenger boy, I wasn’t so sure… until now. The way that he spoke to you on Tuesday, he didn’t have any fear of you, but he was upset that you didn’t have any reverence for him. That hothead could’ve taken you down in a minute. That was my concern. Now, Sunset is guaranteeing your safety. You’re not now, nor were you ever, in any danger from his organization. But make no mistake—you’re still in danger.”

“Why?” I ask. “From whom?”

“You’re bait, Boss. That’s what you’ve always been. You took down that asshole’s son. Russo is hoping that he comes for revenge himself. And when he does—when he rises from his hiding place—that’s when they plan to get him. But he knows that Myrick isn’t coming anywhere near you if you’re 50 guards deep. So, he wants you to do what you’ve been doing all along in the hopes of luring Myrick in. You’re in no more danger than you were before, but you are still in the same danger.”

“That’s why I want to find this fucker,” I tell him. “I need this to be over in the worst way. I need this man and everybody associated with him out of my life and I swear to God, the minute I see him coming, I’m going to put one right between his eyes.” Jason examines me.

“I believe you will.”

“Believe it!” I confirm. “He’s a dead man if he comes anywhere near me or my family, so he had better shoot first. Keep security as it is and find that asshole. You military geniuses come up with some way to smoke this bitch out. I’ve had enough of this shit. I don’t care what laws we break just find his ass!”

I knock something off my desk in my anger and begin to count. Jason has left the office by the time I’ve calmed down enough to get my day started.

*-*

I’ve wrapped up a meeting with my M&A team and decide to head down to the cafeteria for a late lunch. I order a grilled chicken sandwich and an endive salad and cranberry juice. When my food is ready, I plan to head back up to my office, but I spot Marlow toiling over some papers.

“What’s got you so perplexed?” I ask as I approach the table and put my tray down.

“The future,” he laments. I frown as I take a seat.

“Care to elaborate?” I say as I take a welcome bite of my chicken sandwich. He shrugs and sighs.

“Truth?” he says. “I’ve finally started getting some kind of social life, but this is my last year of high school, and I really have to start planning what I’m going to be doing. I really wanted to go away to college, but I want to stay close to GEH…”

“GEH can follow you wherever you go,” I tell him after I swallow my food. “We’re worldwide remember?”

“It’s not the same. You know that,” he says. “You’re my mentor. I’ve learned a lot from you and there’s more that I have to learn. I can’t get that hands-on experience that I want and need if I’m at school in Georgia or New England or upstate New York somewhere, but I must admit. Having GEH on your resume makes you look really good to the ivy league schools.”

At least he’s thinking big.

“But I’m finally making some friends… people that don’t look at me funny or treat me funny or try to meet you.” He rolls his eyes. “People who don’t think I’m not black enough… or too black. Girlfriends…”

“Girlfriends?” I ask. “Plural?” He shrugs.

“Nobody steady, just people I see. That’s why it’s plural. I haven’t settled in on anybody being a girlfriend and they know that. I’m no Tiger Woods, don’t get me wrong, but I have a few.”

“I hope you’re using protection,” I say, tucking in to my endive salad. Marlow twists his lips.

“Have we met?” he asks. “Do you really need to ask that question?” I didn’t, but nonetheless…

“Then there’s Mom and Maggie. I’m the man of the house and I’m just not comfortable leaving them alone yet…”

“Scratch that off your list,” I say. “You told me that your mom was seeing someone, and you can’t stay home and be the man of the house for the rest of your life. You’re going to have to be the man of your own home one day. Besides, your mom still has security details since that crazy ex-husband of hers isn’t dead yet.” I take another bite of my sandwich.

“That’s easier said than done,” he says. “Mags is still so young…”

“Stop making excuses,” I interrupt, my mouth full. “Choose the college that’s best for you. Remember this, though,” I swallow my food. “Washington has some good local colleges if you just want to stay in the state. You’ve got U-Dub, Washington State, the directional colleges, Seattle Pacific…” He nods.

“Yeah… I really think that’s what I want to do, for a lot of reasons. I’ll have plenty of time to travel. Now’s just not the time for me.” I raise a brow at him.

“Don’t get too attached,” I tell him. “You’re young, and life is going to take you in a lot of different directions. Working for me is going to take you in a lot of different directions. Your roots aren’t set yet—you have no idea where you want to go. Don’t cling to one thing too much until it’s time… and it ain’t time yet.”

I finish my lunch and talk to Marlow a bit longer about his plans. He knows that he has an ongoing internship here with me, and I’m priming him to do big things in GEH someday, but he’s going to have to decide exactly what he wants to do with his future. He may decide that he doesn’t want to work for me, and that’s fine—as long as he’s successful and doesn’t take any of my trade secrets to other companies.

I’m just getting back to the office when Andrea informs me that Smalls is on line two. I had completely forgotten about Pops’ storage bins until this moment as I was totally preoccupied with getting Windsor over to Aunt Tina’s, making sure that the covert watches were on Kenneth Carter and Roger Servant—yes, I discover that is really his last name—and pondering the “make-up” gift sent to me by one “solar” gangster in the Detroit area. I point to my office, indicating that I’ll take it at my desk.

“What do you have for me, Smalls?” I ask.

“We’ve identified the cars and gotten them all started. I’ve taken better pictures of them and sent them to your uncle at his request. He says that he wants to do a little research on them before sending the deets to you and his brothers. We were able to catalogue the items that were in the storage units with the cars and we’re working on the other two. We’re trying to put the cars in units by themselves, but it may require securing another unit for the extra items that were stored with the cars.”

“Talk to Herman about that,” I advise. “See if that’s something that can be done. How soon before we get the rest of the items catalogued? This is going on much longer than I expected.”

“End of the day, maybe,” he says. “It may go into Monday, unless you want us to work on Saturday.”

“I had no intention of you being here this long as it is. Wrap this up as soon as possible and let us know what’s in those units so my father and brothers can dispose of it how they want.” Money isn’t an issue, but it’s beginning to cost me more than this trip is worth for that crew to be there cataloguing items that should have been done in a couple of days. Now, he’s saying they may be there over the weekend.

“Yes, sir,” he says, noting my agitation. “I’ll get it done.”

“Thank you,” I reply before abruptly ending the call. This shouldn’t be taking this long. One storage bin, then two, then riddles, then four, then cars that won’t start, then six. Now, we have to work through the weekend. Geez, this is ridiculous. Do I have to fly back to that hellhole and get this done myself?

*-*

I’m at my dad’s house looking over his shoulder at his computer monitor. Uncle Stanley asked that we all be together when he called with details about the cars, so I came straight here after work. Williams brought me out to the Manor while Jason went back to the Crossing to have the past due conversation with my wife that he and I had discussed last week. I wanted to go home with him, but he assured me that my presence wouldn’t really help the situation right now and told me to go to my father’s but come home immediately after. He thinks that Butterfly will understand. I’m not so sure based on the report that she’s currently decimating a heavy bag and has been for a couple of hours now. However, remembering a black eye from my first encounter with that delicate little flower and a heavy bag, I take Jason’s advice and go to my father’s.

“He’s being dramatic,” Dad says about Uncle Stan as we wait for his email. “Just send the damn email and let’s get this going.”

“You know Stan,” Uncle Herman says, “Not many opportunities for the spotlight. He’s going to take advantage of this one…”

The brothers continue to rib their youngest sibling when Uncle Herman’s phone rings.

“Stan, come on, man. We don’t have all night,” Uncle Herman answers. Simultaneously, Dad’s email shows an incoming message. He opens it and they begin to examine the contents as Uncle Herman puts Uncle Stan on speaker. Dad opens the email and clicks on the attachment. It’s a PowerPoint presentation.

“PowerPoint, Stan?” Uncle Herman scolds. “This is what took you so damn long?”

“Trust me, brother, you’ll see that it’s worth it,” Uncle Stan says. They start the presentation and pictures of the first car begin to scroll over the screen. The first one is the Mustang—1969 Mach Fastback, cherry red with a white stripe with black leather interior.

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“God,” Uncle Herman says, “that’s even prettier than I thought it would be.”

Picture after picture scrolls over the screen of this classic automobile, completely refurbished. The stats for the Mustang appear on the screen once 16 or so pictures from every angle stop scrolling—4-speed transmission, 4-barrel carb, clean like it was brand new—even the engine. Current value, $28,500.

“Shit,” Dad says. “And there’s four of them?”

“I take it you guys just saw the Mustang,” Uncle Stan says.

“You take it correctly,” I reply.

“Well, sit back, gentlemen. There’s three more.

“Excellent presentation, Uncle Stan,” I say, knowing that his brothers are a bit too dumbfounded to speak.

“Thank you, nephew,” Uncle Stan replies. “I’m glad somebody appreciates my work.”

“Shit!” Dad exclaims. “It can’t be!”

We look back at the screen to see what has Dad all a-flutter. A black cherry classic comes across the screen and I can’t tell you anything about it except that it’s really old.

“Is that a Coup?” Dad says in awe while pointing at the car on the screen. “That’s not a Coup, is it? Is that a five-window Coup?” Uncle Herman looks at the screen and examines the vehicle.

“We have to wait until the end and see,” Uncle Herman says.

“Yeah, Rick, that’s a Coup,” Uncle Stan confirms. Dad puts his hand over is mouth. About nine pictures of this classic vehicle with shiny chrome accessories and black leather scroll across the screen and my dad doesn’t even blink.

1932 Ford Five-Window Coup,” Uncle Herman reads when the pictures are done. “Yeah, that’s what it is.” Automatic transmission in the floorboard, 350-crate engine with a dual carb 671 blower and estimated 600 horsepower. Current value, $78,000.

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“Shit,” Dad hisses and he’s silent for several moments. “That’s the first model car me and Dad ever put together.”

“Really?” Uncle Herman says in awe. “Then it’s yours. Any objections, Stan?”

“None here,” Uncle Stan replies.

Dad looks over at Uncle Herman and simply covers his mouth again. His eyes are glassy, and he’s struck dumb for a moment.

“Thank you,” he whispers when he finds his words. “Thank you so much.”

“I’m certain Dad would have wanted you to have it,” Uncle Herman says. “It’s too much of a coincidence.”

Dad just nods, hiding his face from me and Uncle Herman. It’s no doubt that he’s crying.

“Give us just a minute, Stan,” Uncle Herman says, reaching over to the computer and pausing the PowerPoint. It takes a little more than a moment for Dad to pull it together, but he does, and I can tell that he’s still fighting with his emotions.

“You’re a pussy, Rick,” Stan teases, trying to lighten the mood when Dad stops crying.

“Fuck off, Stan,” Dad jibes back, reaching for the mouse and clicking to continue the slideshow. Next, we see a blue and white, square convertible straight out of American Graffiti.

“What is that?” Uncle Herman asks. “’57 Chevy?”

“Chevy, Herm? Seriously?” Dad chastises. “Dad’s rolling over in his grave.” Uncle Herman raises his brow. I know he wants to comment that Pops isn’t in a grave—I can see it all over his face—but he gets the idea. Technically, he is, he’s just been cremated before he was interred.

“Blasphemy, Herm, it’s a Fairlane!” Uncle Stan chides.

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“A Fairlane?” Uncle Herman laughs. “Do you know I actually thought those cars were jokes?” he adds.

“You’re kidding, right?” Uncle Stan says mirthlessly.

“No. You remember the movie The Adventures of Ford Fairlane? I thought that was just the guy’s name. I didn’t think the car was real.”

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“And you call yourself a Ford man,” Uncle Stan retorts. “Dad really is rolling over in his grave now.”

“Okay, it’s a car, Stan. It’s not the solution to world peace or the cure for cancer. Lighten up…”

As my uncles argue the attributes of the Ford Fairlane, I continue to watch the slideshow until the specs sheet pops up. It’s not as cherry as the other cars, but it’s in amazingly good condition. It’s a colonial white 1959 Ford Fairlane/Galaxy 500 Skyliner with a retractable hard top, original police interceptor 352ci V8 engine with 300 horsepower, and a 3-speed automatic transmission. It has blue tuck and roll seats and comes complete with a white leather steering wheel; red, white, and blue aluminum hub caps, and wide whitewall tires. Current value, $39,000.

Uncle Herman finally cedes the argument to Uncle Stan, informing him that he wasn’t bad-mouthing the car. He just didn’t know that it was a real car. As it turns out, Uncle Herman likes this car more than the other two cars he’s already seen. He says it reminds him of making out in the back seat at the park.

TMI, Uncle Herman.

“Now, that’s pretty,” Dad says. Our attention is drawn back to the computer screen and the final car.

“That’s a T-Bird,” Dad says. “I’d know that car anywhere. That was my first car.” Uncle Herman looks at Dad.

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“Do you think Dad meant for you to have this one?” he asks. Dad twists his lips.

“I don’t think so,” he says. “Look at that car. That’s a kid’s car. Besides, I prefer the Coup.” I look at the pictures of the truly pimped-out Thunderbird scrolling across the screen.

“What makes you think that’s a kid’s car?” I ask Dad, curious.

“I’m not saying a 16-year-old kid, but a responsible twenty-something. Look at it,” Dad says, pointing to the screen. “It’s probably in better condition than when it first rolled off the showroom floor—black exterior so black, it looks like it has six clear-coats on it. Purple lighting kit—purple, gentlemen! White leather interior with purple piping. This car would scream overcompensation for anybody over 40 years old.”

“I have to agree with Dad,” I interject. “I’m a young billionaire, and that would scream overcompensation for me, and not in the penile sense that I’m sure my father means it.

The gentlemen all laugh as we continue to observe the 21 pictures that Uncle Stan compiled of the Thunderbird. Pops must have really liked purple—purple suspension, purple-accented engine, purple trim, and when Dad said purple light kit, I don’t think he knew the light kit is inside and outside the car. To me, this car would scream overcompensation at any age.

“It’s a beautiful car…” Dad says, trailing off, his voice having that but tone to it.

“Yeah,” Uncle Herman says, his voice carrying the same tone.

The specs sheet is way too much to read on this one, but skimming through it, I catch that it’s a 1964 Thunderbird convertible retractable with a 5.0 coyote 430 horsepower upgradeable engine and a 6R80 transmission. There are too many upgrades in this car to even mention and Dad’s right—it most likely looks much better than it did when it rolled off the showroom floor. It’s a classic car, but it’s been completely modernized without losing its classic appeal. Current value, $95,000.

“Hmm…” Uncle Herman says and trails off.

“What is it?” Dad says, examining my uncle’s expression.

“Four cars,” Uncle Herman says. “Four sons.” Uncle Stan makes a disbelieving “pst” sound in the phone. Nobody says anything for several seconds as Uncle Herman drops his head in contemplation.

“I’m not giving him one of those cars,” Uncle Herman says finally. The other brothers know who he’s talking about and they both remain silent as Herman raises his head. “Call me a terrible person, but I’m not giving him a car. That may have been Dad’s original intention, but I don’t think he’d want me to do that now.”

“What do you plan to do, keep the extra car?” Uncle Stan asks. Uncle Herman shakes his head.

“What am I going to do with two classic cars?” He scratches his beard in contemplation.

“Sell it?” Dad suggests.

“No way in hell I’m selling Dad’s car.” He continues contemplation. “If Freeman were to pick one of those cars, which one do you think he would pick?”

“He’d want that T-Bird, hands down,” Dad says. “The other cars are nice in their own right, but that T-Bird—he’d physically fight us to get that car.” Herman nods.

“Then the T-Bird goes to Burtie,” he says. “Any objections?”

“Yeah, Burtie,” Dad says in that “Eureka!” kind of way. “Freeman’s going to piss tar. That’s gonna eat him up! Yeah, no objections here.”

“You got my vote,” Stan says, “but can I keep the Mustang?”

The brothers laugh.

Dad, Uncle Stan, and Uncle Herman wrap up the call and I make a mental note to call Lanie and talk to her about Burt getting Pops’ T-Bird. Once I’ve sent myself reminders to arrange the shipment of the three cars to their respective locations—two to Seattle and one to California—I notice that my father has disappeared. I wander the house looking for him a bit, then find him outside in the backyard on the infamous advice bench. I exit the French doors and begin walking over to him. Even in the dark, I can tell that he’s crying—weeping in fact, as his body is shaking pretty violently.

“Dad?” I say, concerned as I approach cautiously.

“I miss him,” Dad chokes. “I miss him so much. I never thought anything could hurt this badly. God, it hurts so much.” His body shakes with sobs as he mourns.

I sit down next to my father. I don’t know what to say to comfort him because although I’ve filled my time with so many other crises and issues to the degree that I haven’t thought much about Pops, I miss him, too—especially in quiet time. I wipe a tear that has escaped from my eye and sit next to my father.

“I know, Dad,” I say, trying to steady my voice. I hate to see my father cry. His breakdowns have been huge—deep, heart-wrenching weeping and mournful sobbing fits. I saw him cry once before like this—at my breakfast bar at Escala when the full realization of what the pedophile had done to me finally sunk in and he hadn’t done anything to prevent it, not that he could have. He was broken just like he is now; just like he is anytime he has to handle something that deals with Pops. I can imagine that this is how I would be if something happened to him.

I put my arms around his shoulders and try to comfort him. It has the opposite effect. He crumbles into a ball and nearly falls off the bench, his sobs more woeful than before. He’s utterly grief-stricken and I have to catch him before he hits the ground. I sit there, holding and crying with my father on a chilly fall night, as he weeps the cries of the truly broken.

*-*

I’m exhausted when I get back to the Crossing. I don’t know how Butterfly deals with everyone’s emotions all the time like this. Just dealing with Dad has completely wiped me out. Then again, I can imagine that my wife doesn’t fall into crying fits when she deals with people either.

I can tell the house has just shut down. The sink is still damp—Ms. Solomon’s last wipe-down before bed. I wonder how Windsor is doing at Tina’s. I must say that his absence was felt when I came in the door tonight.

I go to the kitchen and retrieve a cranberry-apple juice from the refrigerator. Brandy has been my go-to drink on hard nights and I think I need to lay off for a while. I take several large swallows of the refreshing drink before walking into the dark family room and falling onto the sofa like a sack of potatoes. I’m so tired. Crying is exhausting.

I fire off an email to Lanie with a picture of the Thunderbird, telling her to show it to Burtie and ask if he wants it. She’ll see it in the morning.

I’m just laying my head back on the sofa when the lights come on. I look around the room to find Butterfly in her recliner with the remote to the lights in her hand. Why in the hell is she sitting here in the dark?

“I couldn’t sleep,” she says as if in answer to my question. “You’re late.” She stands from her chair and walks over to me, her face falling as she approaches. “And your eyes are swollen. You’ve been crying! Why have you been crying?” She stands protectively over me, and I simply evade the question.

“I’ve convinced my father to get grief counseling,” I say, “He hasn’t really dealt with Pops’ death completely and it’s becoming too much for him to handle.” She frowns, but quickly recovers.

“I imagine so,” she says. “With Grace’s breakdown so soon after Burt’s funeral, he hasn’t had time to grieve the loss or recoil from it. That has to be pretty rough on him… and you.”

I raise my gaze to her and the light hurts my eyes, so I deflect my gaze and she sits next to me. The truth is… I’m just tired. I’m tired of being the know-all businessman. I’m tired of being the problem-solver. I’m tired of being the rescuer, the righter of wrongs, the “make-it-all-better” guy. I’m tired in so many ways that I can’t even explain how many ways that I’m tired. I’m the fix-it man, the “find-the-bad-guy” man, the “chase-away-the-Boogey” man—and when my Dad started crying, all I could do was cry with him. I feel the pain of loss like he does… but not. I miss Pops… a lot, but my dad is still alive. The great Christian Grey can’t pull out his trusty Amex Black and fix this one. I’m just tired. Some days, this fucking superman cape is hard to wear, and today, I’m just tired.


ANASTASIA

How do you deal with your own crises when everyone else’s crises seem so prevalent? Marilyn, Harmony, Christian, the world… is this innate in my nature or a result of being a shrink? I came home in speechless tears yesterday, wailing on a heavy bag until every part of my body ached, and finally accepted the fact that I’m suffering from PTSD brought on by the shock and pain of Christian’s disappearing act but most likely aggravated by all the bad things that have happened to me—who wouldn’t have PTSD after living with Carla and all the subsequent bad shit that has happened to me? After a long soak in a very hot jacuzzi tub, I go to the family room to wait for my MIA husband and to ponder my situation and course of action in darkness and silence. When he gets home, he looks like shit, and he’s been crying.

Who can ignore that?

Suddenly, my problems which had been consuming all my thoughts seconds before didn’t seem so prevalent anymore. Get him undressed, get him to bed, massage his scalp until he falls asleep. We’ll tackle whatever this is in the morning. It’s too late to deal with it now… though his fingers were tapping madly on his screen in the dark and I’d like to know what that was about. Nonetheless, not two minutes after the scalp massage begins, he’s fast asleep—hard—on my stomach. I fall asleep shortly thereafter.

He’s snoring hard when I climb out of bed and come to check on the children. Keri and Gail are preparing them for their morning bath, and I decide that today is probably another good day to spend with the twins. Jason let the contractor in to get started on the shelves and painting of my office, and I almost instinctively call Marilyn to discuss… whatever, until I remember that she’s off until Monday on a mission to check her attitude. I’ve decided that if she ever gets her shit together, I’ll put her on the task of finding out who’s real and who’s fraud on my family tree. If she doesn’t, well, who the fuck knows what’s going to happen.

I forgot to tell Christian that the contractor was coming to do my office today. It’s just a matter of revamping the shelves behind my desk and doing a little paint. Maybe he’ll be finished before too long. In the meantime, I go to the kitchen and prepare breakfast for us—pancakes, bacon, sausage, eggs, buttery and cheesy grits, coffee, juice, and toast. I load it onto the food cart and go to the elevator.

He seems to be stirring a bit when I open the door. That’s good. I really didn’t want to have to wake him for breakfast. He says that he had planned to go for a run, but upon seeing breakfast, admits that a change of plan never hurt. He’s in better spirits this morning as we eat in bed, telling me about the contents of Burt’s storage units, including four very expensive classic cars, one of which prompted another seriously emotional breakdown from Carrick.

During the course of the conversation, he tells me that he sent an email to Lanie last night about one of the cars, which answers my question about the typing in the dark. He also informs me of the olive branch he received from a certain Detroit gangster. Jason’s theory of the situation, as explained by Christian, put a few of my fears to rest, but still makes me feel quite uneasy about the situation at hand—a situation that really hasn’t changed from a week ago.

“I agree to the current security situation,” I tell him, “but shouldn’t I know what this asshole looks like? In case he approaches me to get to you?”

A visible chill goes through my husband as he agrees that I should be able to identify Myrick.

“I’ll get you information on him before the end of the day,” he says. We finish our breakfast, then indulge in a shower and a midmorning quickie before we go and get our children.

“Jason told me that I have PTSD,” I tell him as Minnie plays with a plush toy in my lap and Christian entertains Mikey on the playmat.

“How do you feel about that?” he asks, raising his eyes to me. I sigh.

“In light of my reactions to certain events and the trauma that I experienced through all this, I tend to think he may be right,” I admit, avoiding eye-contact with my husband. I can feel the air suddenly become a bit thick.

“So… what now?” he asks.

“Right now, we’re going the talking route,” I reply.

“To Jason?” he asks. “Jason’s going to be your shrink now?”

“To anybody,” I tell him, “to whomever will listen when I hear the voice of doom. And I wonder why my shrink didn’t think of this… PTSD, I mean. We could have formulated a treatment plan by now.”

“You know very well why he didn’t approach you with that,” he replies. “You became borderline violent the last time someone suggested that you were suffering from it, and I’m sure you told him about it.”

“Yes, but if that really is what I’m suffering from, avoiding the diagnosis isn’t going to help anything,” I protest.

“So, now, you do realize that the man is ‘damned if he do and damned if he don’t,’ right?” Christian points out. God, I hate when he’s this fucking logical.

“Maybe he did tell me,” I admit, “in so many words, just not outright. He sure didn’t hesitate in calling me suicidal.”

“What?” Christian says sharply enough to make the babies jump. Minnie’s looking at him like, “What the hell, Dad?” while Mikey gives him a “Dude, seriously?” stare.

“Okay, he didn’t say that I was going to kill myself. He just called me a shark’s tooth.” Christian squints his eyes and furrows his brow in confusion. “You had to be there; I can’t explain it. He’s trying tough love on me, but as a professional, I really don’t think it’s working.”

“Is that why you destroyed the heavy bag yesterday?” he asks, pulling his wandering son closer to him on the playmat. I nod.

“I’m not sure if what he was saying really helped me, but it pissed me off. I’m beating myself up enough for not being able to snap my fingers and overcome this situation without also being beat up by my shrink.” He nods.

“So… now you just talk.” It’s a statement, not a question.

“Well, there are two professional treatments for PTSD—psychotherapy and medication. Hopefully, I’m not so bad off that I need medication…”

“Do you think you are?” he asks. “I mean, you are a professional.”

“I’m also not objective. This isn’t happening to someone close to me, this is happening to me. So, I’m not really the one to ask about that, but I’m a huge proponent of psychotherapy, as you already know. So, I’m going to go with cognitive processing therapy and prolonged exposure.”

“Okay, and those are…?” he asks.

“CPT is going to help me understand and deal with exactly how events changed my way of thinking and my feelings. ‘Something bad happened and the Boogeyman is coming to get me’ is not a logical thought process. That’s where prolonged exposure—or talking to whomever will listen—comes in. That’s where I keep talking about situation and about my thoughts and my feelings so that I can gain some control over them and they’re no longer upsetting. I’m going to start journaling again, too, for those times when no one is there to listen.”

“Butterfly, I’ll always be there to listen,” he says somberly.

“No, you won’t,” I say. “What if it’s 11 o’clock in the morning and you’re in a meeting? Or it’s the dead of night and I wake from a bad dream? There are going to be those times when I have to have my journal, and the people around me who claim to love me are going to have to understand that they might be mini-therapist throughout this time. It’s that simple.” He nods.

“You got all this from your conversation with Jason?” he asks.

“I got some of this from my conversation with Jason. The rest I had to get on my own.” He nods but says nothing. “What is it?” I prod.

“I want…” he starts but trails off, sighing and shaking his head. “I want to say or do something that’ll make this all go away. I know I’ve apologized numerous times, but had I known… had I had any idea that this…” He trails off again unable to finish his sentence. He doesn’t look at me while he’s talking. He looks at Mikey, and I’m afraid that he’s going to start crying again. The funny-not-so-funny thing about crying is that once the damn bursts, it’s hard if not impossible to plug it again.

“One thing that useless shrink of mine did make me swallow,” I say softly while stroking Minnie’s hair. “Once something has happened, it’s happened. You can’t undo it and you can’t take it back, but it’s important not to live in it. You have to move on—promise to do better and not make the same mistakes. There’s really nothing else you can do. It’s a tough commitment as memories are hard and sometimes impossible to erase, but sometimes, what’s done is done, and we just have to find a way to let go and move on. And I’m trying… I’m doing my best… You should, too.”

He raises his eyes to me and they’re glassy, but no tears fall.

“I’m sorry, Butterfly,” he squeaks, dropping his gaze again.

“I know,” I say. “I forgive you. Forgive me, too… and yourself.” He doesn’t respond.

Forgetting is the problem, not forgiving.

*-*

I never realized how large my office was until it was empty. It’s pretty ginormous. Apparently, I must have felt the need to fill every bit of space in here when we first moved in, because you would never know that there was so much room in here until it was empty. It could also be that the imposing wood shelves are gone, replaced by a stylish and delicate glass shelving system on a greenish-gray backdrop. The space is brighter and lighter, and I’m glad that Luma and I chose natural textures and fibers to outfit the room.

We spend Saturday with our babies, but Sunday, I spend putting my office together. Between the house staff and some of the security personnel, the furniture is organized in a couple of hours and the boxes are unpacked. I meticulously decide what stays and what goes in terms of décor, books, and accessories. It’s time to get rid of the large, chunky pieces and the books that I never read that can also be donated to the Center.

My office at home is a bit sleeker than the office at work. Although the chunky, space-hogging furniture has been replaced with natural straw rugs, a wicker coffee table and ottoman combination, natural fiber light fixtures and lamps, and a woven basket or box here or there, the glass shelves have been filled with contemporary metal, steel, and glass décor as well as strategically placed books with white or bright earth-tone colors—including my new set of journals. Soft, textured curtains with stylish drawbacks line the bookshelves while Antigua Froth rolling shades allow the light to bathe the room from the floor-to-ceiling windows.

The once almost-mission-style seating area has been transformed with the round wicker coffee table that holds four white incognito triangular ottomans, flanked by two white tufted chairs with a matching chaise across from them. The chairs and the chaise are arguably the bulkiest pieces in the room and would normally look out of place as they are made for a more formal setting. However, the wicker coffee table with the white ottoman cushions help to tie the tufted furniture, straw rugs, and other natural fibers together. The combination is eclectic and amazingly compatible at the same time.

I take a moment or two to admire my work once everything is in its place, and I’m loving the fact that I can have my retractable shades open to half-mast and watch the sun setting over the lake. When it appears that my work is done, I take some time to break in my new set of journals. Meditation and yoga are still on the menu to help keep me grounded, but when I’m floundering, it’s going to take the journals and talking.

I start my first entry by describing how I felt the day I realized that my husband had left me. Even now, I’m not really sure when that happened. I know that he left on that Wednesday night after he found me with Liam in the community room, but I don’t know if I knew that he left me that Friday when he wouldn’t answer my calls after two days of trying or that Sunday when I realized he had blocked my cell number. They were both harrowing days for me. I remember feeling like the bottom was falling out from under my world that Friday, and then actually feeling that bottom fall away that Sunday. So, I elaborate on both days.

I move from my desk onto the floor of the sitting area and use the coffee table to write on. Before I know it, I’m pouring my heart out about the bridge and the window seat in the nursery. I wipe away a tear or two when I remember how I felt sitting in that window and waiting—and hoping—for an Audi. I remember giving up hope and trying to focus on the twins… but not, because I still sat in that window. I still sit in it now sometimes, only I have no idea what I’m looking for when I’m looking out that window, watching and waiting.

I remember losing my senses and driving to that lookout point with a bottle of whiskey. That was truly a dumb thing to do. So many other bad things could have happened and I’m only just now realizing how tragic that whole thing really could have been. Then the whole disaster at the hospital and nearly ending up in the psyche ward. Geez, that would have been a stellar gossip-rag headline! I still don’t know how we managed to keep my fall out of the press.

I keep writing, because I can’t seem to find the appropriate words to describe the pain that I felt during that time—seething, burning, agonizing, unbearable, abysmal, like someone was slowly cutting off my limbs with a dull butter knife—nothing seems to adequately capture the way that I was feeling. It was one of the darkest times of my life. It seems so long ago and yet, it feels like yesterday. That’s why it’s so hard to let go… because it hurt so badly.

A gentle knock on my open office door causes me to raise my head. My husband is looking around the room in awe, and I’d forgotten that he didn’t know what kind of transformation had taken place in this room.

“You did all this in one day?” he asks incredulously.

“It was more like four days,” I say, closing my journal and deciding that there were no more synonyms for excruciating that I would find tonight. “I, um, took a page from Grace’s book… picked my colors, picked a look, and ordered the furniture. It wasn’t as hard as planning my office at work.”

“Your office used to look so… full. Now, it doesn’t. It looks more open and… airy.”

“You’re struggling to be PC. Let me help you. My office was sophisticated—neat, professional—but it was cluttered… chock full of stuff. Now, it looks more relaxing, more inviting.”

“Yeah,” Christian says, still looking around the room in awe. “It’s… brighter in here…”

“Less encumbering,” I assist.

“Yeah,” he replies before bringing his gaze to me. “You missed dinner.”

I figured it was kind of late, but not that late.

“I was journaling,” I admit. “The first entry, it… sets the tone, so to speak.” I arise from the floor and close my journal. Walking behind my desk, I put it on the bookshelf with the others.

“What did you do with all your books?” he asks. Not about the furniture, not about the huge makeover of the bookshelves, the books. He’s searching for conversation.

“I’m donating them to start a library at Helping Hands,” I say, turning around to face him. He nods, still looking around the room.

“Can you do my office?” he asks. My eyes widen. What?

“You want your office to look like this?” I ask, amazed.

“Yeah,” he says. “Well, no,” he retracts, shaking his head quickly like he’s shaking off a bad thought. “My office at work has various colors and a lot of white—sleek lines… it doesn’t look like the space is closing in on you, but that’s because of the corner office and the glass walls. The only windows in my office are behind me, and I can’t really see them. You’ve made it look like Sunday morning in here, literally, and that’s a lot to say after nightfall. My office has all the Oxford-ness—the heavy woods and dark atmosphere…”

Jesus, I don’t think he understands what must be done to lighten that room and still stay in sync with Christian Grey. The room is all dark. The natural lighting is almost nonexistent. He has a large, dark marble fireplace sitting between the only two medium-sized windows in the room. We would either have to rip out the fireplace or cover it with lighter marble. Does he ever even use that fireplace? If we decide that we’re not going to use it, we have to cap off the gas line. Demo, capping, too much trouble.

The fireplace stays.

We would need to get rid of the chunky furniture and the big, imposing chunks of architecture. Keep some of the bookshelves and lose some? The window coverings would have to be pale or non-existent. The bookshelves would have to be painted or completely rebuilt, just like mine. We’re definitely not ripping up that flooring, but there would need to be some area rugs to break up that dark marble.

And light! He needs more light. It would need to be track lighting or recessed lighting, and track lighting tends to look so damn tacky.

Recessed lighting with solar bulbs…

“That’s a massive undertaking, Christian,” I warn. “Your office is completely dark, and to lighten it, the space would end up totally different than it is now. Lighting changes, textures and materials, we still want it to look masculine…”

“You had an idea in mind for how you wanted your space to look. I don’t expect for my transformation to take a week. It’s okay if it takes a month or two—although I’d like to be able to use my space…”

“Which means that no work can begin in there until we have a solid idea…” which is what I did in my office. We could utilize the French Doors between the den and the office to take advantage of the natural light from the den…

“Let me give it some thought,” I tell him. “I’m sure I can come up with something that you like… as long as you give me time.” He smiles.

Take all the time you need.”

That’s exactly what I intend to do.

*-*

“Dad is coming to my office today with Harmony,” Christian says at breakfast on Monday morning. “We’re having a powwow today about the divorce and whatnot.” I raise my brow.

“Do you have some kind of plan in mind for her loser husband?” I ask, chomping away on eggs benedict.

“We’ve got plans, but I don’t know how they’re going to play out just yet,” he says. “This entire thing made me consider all the people who have something to lose—or gain, from Tina’s death. Windsor called me yesterday and apprised me of how the house was run before Roger left. It was… not a happy place to work. He’s finding proof that Roger was skimming off Tina’s money when it came time to pay bills or buy groceries or necessities for the mansion, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. His cash cow is completely dead, and if she so chooses, Tina can totally sue for embezzlement.

“Not only that, but the moment the doctors announce time of death, Tina’s children that currently have no time for her, along with nieces, nephews, and any other relatives who come up out of the woodwork, are going to swoop in and try to clean her house out, if they don’t try to put Harmony out of the house completely. So, we need to do something about that. To that end, Allen will sit in on our meeting and we’re going to Skype with Tina and her lawyer at Tina’s house to come up with possible solutions.” I shake my head.

“Shouldn’t her will take care of all of this?” I ask. “I mean they can’t just come in and start laying claim to her shit if she has a will.”

“Yes, they can,” Christian corrects me. “If they show up at that house and push Harmony out of the way, who’s to stop them from physically taking whatever the fuck they want? They’re Tina’s children, too. So, we’re trying to make sure that there’s a way that we can legally prevent them from doing something like that. Once we get that in place, my security team will take care of the physical part.”

“Geez, what a mess,” I comment. “If our children behave this way when we’re gone, I’m going to come back and haunt them for eternity.” I finish my breakfast and take a drink of my coffee. “I’m going down to my office now, and don’t worry. I’ll be going into Helping Hands a little later today. We have some new volunteers and some interviews that need to be conducted for key positions to get ready for the new semester next spring.” I give him a kiss.

“Since I’ve been deemed your new interior decorator, I want you to think about colors and textures that make you comfortable—or uncomfortable. I’m going to do this how I think you’ll like it, but a bit of your input might help.”

“Do whatever you want, Butter…” he begins.

“Oh, no, Grey,” I interrupt. “You’re not going to put all this off on me. Colors or textures that you definitely don’t want in the office. That’s all I need since the task seems so daunting.” I kiss him again, on his forehead this time, and head down to my office. “Have a good day, Dear.”

Courtney emails me that she and the staff are getting the volunteers sorted while Grace is preparing for the interviews that we have this afternoon. We’re still waiting for background checks on two of the applicants, but we see no harm in getting the interviews out of the way since the preliminary background checks are already done. Security will, of course, be a little beefed up, but not so that those who aren’t in the know would see anything different than usual.

We’ve decided that an inhouse maintenance team is definitely the way to go. So, we’ll be doing a hiring campaign for that. Our cleaning contract with Clean It Up for You is up for renewal in January and we’ll look to be filling positions for a handyman and staff around that time. To that end, we’ll need to review the proposals soon submitted for insurances by the various benefits coordinators that Grace and Harmony spoke with last week.

I must admit that I’m almost excited to let that Sherwood cow know that her days are numbered. As far as I’m concerned, her company never did come up to the expectations they should have after they dropped the ball charging us for areas that they never cleaned. Handing them their walking papers will be one of life’s little joys for me.

Our special airs tonight, so we’re having Vee and Josh over to view it along with Al and James, Val and Elliot, Grace and Carrick, and our usual household suspects. Mia took a pass on the whole “gathering” thing, opting to watch it from home as did Dad and Mandy.

I review the refreshment menu with Ms. Solomon, which will include gourmet chicken tenders, a loaded-potato-wedge bar, a nacho bar, a variety of popcorns, concession stand candies and treats, and a drink bar—alcoholic and non-alcoholic. We’ll be viewing it in the movie room, of course. I watched with such a critical eye the first time that I’m somewhat looking forward to seeing the finished product this time with a more relaxed mindset.

At about 11am, shortly before I’m preparing to head to Helping Hands, there’s a knock at my open office door. I raise my eyes to see Marilyn standing there awaiting permission to enter.

“Come in,” I say, clasping my hands on the desk in front of me. Her stance and demeanor show that I’m not dealing with the haughty woman that was kicked out of my office on Thursday.

“You finished it,” she says, looking around the office in awe. “The whole thing… in one weekend.”

“Yes, I did,” I confirm, with no malice.

“Without me,” she adds softly. “I thought you’d be kind of rudderless without me.” Her voice has a tinge of regret.

“I am rudderless without you, Mare,” I admit, then sigh heavily, “but life has to continue.”

“I don’t know what was going on last week,” she begins. I do—you’re pregnant. “It just felt like the world was closing in on me.”

“Did you take a test?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No… not yet.” So, you still choose to put it off—not my business. I will address the part that is my business, though.

“You have sick time,” I remind her. “You’ve probably accumulated at least a year at this point. I don’t keep up because you never take time off. Take it when you need it.” I pause, and she says nothing. “There’s also this thing called the Family Medical Leave Act. It assures that if you need an extended period of time off for a medical purpose that your job will still be waiting for you when you return…”

“I was a bitch,” she interjects without raising her head. “I know that you would never fire me unless I did some really crazy shit. You promised me job security and I believe you. I was just being a bitch last week… and I’m sorry.”

That’s all that needs to be said.

“And now,” I continue, “you can see that I won’t disintegrate if you have to leave for a while.” We both chuckle. “It’ll be hard without you, but not impossible, as long as I know you’re coming back.”

“‘Only death could keep me from it,’” she jests, quoting Nettie from The Color Purple. Death or motherhood, I think to myself. “Right now, I really need to work.”

“Good, because we’ve got interviews today and new volunteers coming in at Helping Hands. I also have a project for you that could take some time.”

“I could use the distraction,” she says, pulling out her iPad. I really want to lecture her on the dangers of waiting to get medical attention while she’s pregnant no matter what her decision will be. Nonetheless, I decide that it’s still early and we can put it off a little while longer, but not too long.


A/N:I have noticed that on my last three chapters, there was no link to my Pinterest page. I have rectified that situation. My apologies…

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

For those of you who are also muscle-car-heads like me, there is another Pinterest link so that you can get a closer look at those beautiful classic cars. https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/classic-cars-for-raising-grey-chapter-56/

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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

Raising Grey: Chapter 53—Big Brother

I KNOW THAT YOU HAVEN’T GOTTEN AN EMAIL YET BECAUSE I HAVEN’T SENT ONE. I JUST WANTED TO GET THE CHAPTER POSTED BEFORE I GO TO WORK.

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 53—Big Brother

CHRISTIAN

I’ve gone back to wearing my tailored holster. The one I borrowed from the security office turned out to be a laughable failure.

I’m running over all the conversations I had with all the people that I spoke to today as I secure my Glock in its case and step out of my clothes in my dressing room. I’m accustomed to doing a lot in a day, but this has been quite the extended sprint.

Shut down any communication from Aragon and rein in my crazy head of security’s absurd attempts at trying to shield my family from the affects of dust.

Try to figure out exactly what’s in those storage bins. I’m so close on that because I don’t want Freeman to get word of the movement and try to do something to hold things up. I and my father and uncle aren’t there to stop him from trying something, so I’m trying to wrap things up as quickly as I can. I was going to have them try to distribute things from the storage bins. Now, I’m thinking to go with my first mind and ship everything here unless there’s something that’s just too fragile to travel.

Mission accomplished getting Aunt Tina to understand that she needs to cherish these last moments with Harmony. It’s a gift that her daughter will treasure for the rest of her life. As I step into the shower and allow the water to run over my head and face, I recall the conversation we had in her room, the one that brought her relief and caused her a bit of grief at the same time.

“Aunt Tina, Harmony, you don’t have to worry about that asshole getting any of Harmony’s inheritance. He’s not entitled to any of it.”

“I thought he was if I get it while we’re still married,” Harmony protests. “Isn’t it considered assets acquired after marriage?”

“Yes, but inheritances are protected as long as you don’t put the proceeds in a joint account.”

“Like hell that’s going to happen,” Harmony says without thinking. “Sorry, Mom.”

“Oh, thank God,” Aunt Tina says, breathing like the weight of the world has been lifted from her shoulders. “I so didn’t want that wretched man to get anything from my Harmony.” I sigh.

“Now, I have some not-so-good news,” I tell her. Harmony sits up straight, still perched on the floor at her mother’s knees.

“What is it?” she asks. Tina’s attention is now focused on me as well.

“My bodyguard, Jason—he wears an earpiece that keeps him in contact with the rest of our security team. Different frequencies of signals interfere with his earpiece… just like they interfere with your hearing aid.” She raises a brow to me.

“I don’t know what any of that means,” she admits.

“He was fine when we walked into the house,” I tell her. “The closer he got to your room, the worse the interference became. He alerted me of his suspicions and I asked if he could scramble signals.” She’s still frowning.

“Suspicions?” Harmony questions. “Of what, Christian?”

“We think your room is bugged,” I admit.

“That’s preposterous!” Tina declares. “Who would want to bug my room? Why?”

“I don’t know, but Jason warned me that the scrambler would interfere with the signal on the bug and it would interfere with a regular signal from a cell tower, meaning that I wouldn’t get a signal from my phone.” Harmony pulls out her phone.

“He’s right,” she says. “I don’t have a signal.”

“As soon as you said the humming in your ear stopped, I checked my phone and I had no signal.”

“Well, that could mean anything, Christian,” Aunt Tina says. “There are satellite boxes and all sorts of things in this house.”

“You could be right. Aunt Tina, but none of these things interfere with Jason’s communications earpiece.” She’s still shaking her head. “If you would just humor me, I’d like to have a team come in tomorrow and do a sweep of your home. If we find nothing, then all is well. If we find something, then we take action.”

“What kind of action?” she asks.

“Trying to find out who bugged your room and where the signals are going.” She twists her lips.

“It’s worth looking into, Momma,” Harmony says. “At the very least, we can find what’s making your hearing aid hum…”

So, now, Barney and a team of techs will show up at Aunt Tina’s house with an insane security detail with instructions to break Roger’s ankles if he tries to get in their way.

He’s the butler. What the hell is he expecting? Is he in line for some kind of inheritance, too? Luckily, even though Aunt Tina wasn’t involved in any kind of alternative activity, her staff was still required to sign confidentiality agreements upon accepting employment because I have a feeling that his days are numbered once Tina passes on.

I lather my hair and scratch thoroughly, trying to erase some of this day from my memory. It seems like too much happened at once. I don’t do well with death and it’s written all over Aunt Tina’s face.

I don’t know how long I stay in the shower trying to rid myself of all the remnants of this day. It’s somewhere around nine when I get to my office—brandy in hand, hair still wet—and open my laptop. I open my email and begin to respond to and clean up emails as quickly as I can—deleting those that aren’t important and shooting off answers to those that only need short responses. About one-fourth the way through my emails from today, I see one from Smalls simply labelled “Cars.” I click on the email and there are no preliminaries, just several pictures. I click on the first one:

36b707283494f724eda3cdd7676197bb

“Oh, a glove… I get it.” I open the next one.

98c50b5e0e3e66f38daf219a1ed98e11

I have to think about this one. Lives in the light but dies if the light shines on me. I have no idea. I look at the next one.

901f26075134d929053ab138fd13dc03

I totally have no idea. And these are supposed to lead us to the keys and titles to the car? I open the next one.

52ce5fcf1567b1411aeb6d17e0a86bb6

I try to see the logic in each puzzle like the logic in the first. Of course, it’s logical—I know the answer to it already. Nonetheless, I have no idea what the answers are. I open the next picture expecting to find a fifth riddle. I find something quite different.

“Fuck me.”

It’s still mostly covered by the tarp, probably to protect it from the dust and whatnot in the storage bin, but I get a very clear picture of a beautiful classic car underneath. The cover is pulled back to reveal about one-third of the car, and it’s fucking gorgeous.

“Hell, Pops,” I say, opening the next pictures to reveal another… and another… and a fourth. Four presumably fully-restored classic cars. Cherry was right. These cars have to be worth a fortune. Still not too late. I dial Uncle Herman.

“Hey, Christian. What’s up? You’ve got some news about the storage bins?” I suppose that’s a safe assumption. I don’t really call for much else.

“Yeah, Uncle Herman. You remember I told you there was a car in one of the bins, right?”

“Yeah, I remember,” he says.

“Well, I was wrong… there’s four.” Uncle Herman is silent for a moment.

“Four cars?” he says. I nod as if he can see me. “Four damn cars? In storage? Rick!” I can hear shuffling like he’s moving around. I don’t say anything, but I can hear him mumbling something about cars and still calling my father. “You sure, man? Four cars? Shit! Rick!”

I don’t get a chance to answer him at all. I think his questions were just rhetorical.

“I’m here! Keep your shirt on! Where’s the fire?” Dad says, his voice getting closer to the phone.

“Rick, four cars! Four damn cars in that storage facility.”

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

“Dad’s storage facility. In Detroit! There are four cars in there!” Dad is silent for a minute.

“You’re shittin’ me!” he barks.

“I’ve got Christian on the phone. He says there’s four cars in that damn facility!” I hear the phone rustling.

“Christian? Four? What kind of cars are they?” Dad asks me.

“I don’t know, Dad. I don’t know cars like that. But they’re classics, and they’re all restored.”

“Shit! Seriously?” he exclaims. “How do you know?”

“I’ve got pictures… well partial pictures…”

“Send them to me. Can you send them to my phone?”

“Can you access your email from your phone?”

“I’m already there…” I forward the pictures to Dad’s phone. The line is silent for a minute then I hear Dad’s voice again making some kind of strange exclamation.

“I can only see pieces, but these are some cherried-out cars, Herm,” he says to his brother. I assume they’re passing the phone back and forth and looking at the cars.

“I can tell by the frames that these are all Fords,” I hear Uncle Herman say.

“No shit, Sherlock?” Dad says. “I don’t know exactly what the hell they are, but I know Dad’s not going to buy anything else.”

“I don’t either. We should call Stan,” Uncle Herman says.

“It’s midnight in Detroit,” Dad protests.

“So, what? Wake his ass up. This is important! Hold on, Christian…” The line goes dead for a minute and when he returns, I can hear another line ringing.

“This better be important,” Uncle Stan’s sleepy voice says.

“It is,” Uncle Herman replies. “So, Stan, what do ya know about Fords?”

“You’ve got jokes at a quarter to one in the morning?” Uncle Stan replies.

“Take a look at your phone,” he says. I assume Uncle Herman texted him the pictures from Dad’s phone.

“I see riddles,” he says. “You woke me for riddles?” Shit, I forgot about the riddles.

“Riddles? No, look for pictures,” Uncle Herman says. After a few more moments, Uncle Stan comes back to the line.

“Okay, you woke me for old Fords,” Uncle Stan says.

“Not just any old Fords, Stan—classics, four of them, all in Dad’s storage facilities.”

“Are you serious!?” Uncle Stan is awake now. I can see him in my mind’s eye sitting straight up in bed. “These are in Dad’s storage? How long have they been there?”

“If you don’t know, we sure don’t,” Uncle Herman says. “I didn’t even know he had these things.”

“So, what’s with the damn riddles?” Uncle Stan asks.

“Yeah, about that,” I interject. “Hi, Uncle Stan. It’s Christian. So, you can’t move the cars out of the storage because we can’t find the keys. Apparently, these riddles are Pops’ way of leading you to the keys and the titles.”

Uncle Stan and Uncle Herman laugh at the same time and Dad asks what’s funny.

“You missed some files in that email. Here—open these.”

“We’ve got a regular party line going on here,” Uncle Stan jests. “I got the first one. It’s a glove.”

“Yeah, but do you know what it means?” I ask. “My men figured out the riddles for the manifest to find the cars, but they can’t figure these out. So, we had instructions to ‘ask the boys.’”

“Yeah, Dad and his riddles,” I hear Dad say. “You’d think he would have gotten some new ones.”

“So, you know what these mean?” I ask.

“Well, that third one kinda got me stomped,” I hear Dad say.

“Let me see,” Uncle Herman asks. I hear shuffling. “Poison without touching… no clue. I’m getting nothing from this.”

“Yeah, me either,” Uncle Stan says. Well, that’s not helping.

“The last one has something to do with Christmas.” Uncle Herman says.

“Uncle Herman, I’m dying to know how you figured that out,” I say.

“Flies when it’s born, lies when it’s alive, runs when it’s dead—snow,” he says matter-of-factly. “Dad did these with us all the time. It was his way of forcing us to think outside the box.”

“Pops was a smart man,” I say, not really meaning to say it aloud.

“Yes, he was,” Uncle Herman confirms softly. “Now, let’s figure out the ones we know. A glove, snow, and…”

“A shadow!” Dad says. “Live where there’s light but die if the light shines on me… a shadow.” There’s silence for a moment.

“Yeah, Rick, that’s it. A shadow. So, what does this stuff mean?” Uncle Herman says. I can tell that he has now put me and Uncle Stan on speaker.

“Well, the glove would have to either be work gloves or baseball gloves,” Dad says. “I didn’t know Dad to keep work gloves, did you?”

“No, but he kept every one of our baseball gloves from little league,” Uncle Herman says.

“Now all we have to do is find the baseball gloves. That’ll be like finding a needle in a haystack,” Uncle Stan complains.

“Maybe not,” I interject. “We’ve got a manifest of the stuff in storage. We might be able to find some of these things on the manifest.”

“Okay, so we’ve got somewhere to start. What about the Christmas one?” Uncle Herman says.

“The Christmas decorations?” Dad says. “You know we hated sorting those things every year, but Mom loved them, and I can guarantee Dad kept them.”

“Oh, I’m certain Dad kept them,” Uncle Herman says. “We put them on the tree the last year we were in Detroit. I had to help him sort them by myself because certain slacker brothers were MIA!”

They rib each other for a while over the Christmases they had to sort these old-fashioned Christmas decorations—homemade, some with moving parts, strings of lights with the giant light bulbs. I’m certain this is exactly what Pops wanted them to do after he was gone.

“Alright, you slackers, what about the third one? The shadow?” Dad asks.

“Oh, that’s easy. That has to be the silhouette pictures Mom did of us. Is there any other possible thing you could think of?” Uncle Stan says. There’s silence for a moment.

“I’ll go with you on that one, Stan, because I’m drawing a blank,” Uncle Herman says.

“Same here,” Dad concurs. “Now this fourth one, we’re never going to figure this out…” I don’t tell my father and my uncles, but I’m already typing the riddle into Google:

We hurt without moving.
We poison without touching.
We bear the truth and the lies.
We are not judged by our size.
What are we?

When the answer pops up, I already know what Pops wanted. It was never going to happen, and in the end, I’m sure he knew that, but there was nothing he could do about it by then.

“Pops wanted you to work as a team to get these answers,” I inform them.

“We know that. We are,” Dad defends.

“Uncle Herman figured out the baseball gloves. Dad, you got the Christmas decorations. Uncle Stan, you were right on top of the silhouettes… There’s a teammate missing.”

Silence.

“Shit,” Dad hisses. “Well, I’m not calling him.”

“We may have to if we want to figure this out,” Uncle Stan interjects.

“The hell we do!” Uncle Herman barks. “Each one of us may have figured out what the riddles meant, but a different one of us figured out each riddle. We work as a team, we figure this shit out. Fuck Freeman!”

Okay, Uncle Herman is pissed. I almost want to tell them the answer to the riddle, but I have a feeling Pops wants them to do this themselves.

Nobody said anything about hints, though.

“Why don’t you guys try to brainstorm about each line?” I ask. “And try to think like Freeman, if that’s possible.” I hear sighs of impatience from each brother, and the brain-storming starts.

“They bear truth and lies—people?”
“People are always judged by their size. What’s not judged by its size?”
“Oh, shit, that could be anything.”
“Poison without touching. What the hell can poison you without touching—air?”
“I can’t think of anything else, but what’s with the size thing? Air is infinite unless you’re in a vacuum.”
“Think Freeman. He doesn’t bear lies, necessarily, but he’s poison as shit.”
“Attitude? Could it be attitude?”

They go on like this for several minutes and I just want to blurt out the answer. That’s when Uncle Stan brings the conversation around to the right direction.

“Books tell truth and lies.”

That’s it, Uncle Stan, we’re on the right track.

“Dad has a billion books. He wouldn’t put that key in a book. That would be inhumane.”
“Remember this is Freeman’s clue we’re talking about.”
“Well, like I said, he’s poison as shit.”

What does he use to poison?

“Yeah, his mouth gives new meaning to ‘loose lips sink ships.’”

You’re getting there, boys.

“Loose lips… mouths bear truth and lies… but they can’t poison without touching…”

“Mouths can’t,” Dad speaks up, “but words can!”

Everyone gets quiet.

“Dad once told Freeman that his words were venomous. Poison without touching—they bear truth and lies, and kill is a small word with a really big meaning, while infinitesimal means small. And they don’t move, but they can cut you down like a mighty tree.”

Bingo. You got it, Dad.

“God, that’s perfect for Freeman,” Uncle Herman says, “but what does it mean?”

“Uncle Herman, when did you guys first realize that Freeman was kind of venomous with his words?” I ask. “Was it when he lost his girlfriend?”

“No, it was well before that,” he replies. “He would say little snide things that really hurt, even as a kid. Remember, Rick? Dad gave him that book Harriet the Spy?

“Yeah, I do,” Dad says. “He was supposed to learn a lesson from it, but I think the asshole used it as a bible. He’s a perfect example of why the book is banned. He totally missed the…” Dad trails off.

“What’s the matter, Rick?”

“That’s where the fourth key is,” Dad says. “That book was banned from school libraries in the eighties and it pissed Dad off, remember?”

“Vaguely,” Uncle Herman says.

“I always wondered why that one little white book was in Dad’s library with all his leather-bound books,” Uncle Stan points out. “It makes perfect sense.”

“So, now we have somewhere to look. What about the cars?” Dad says.

“I can’t tell what these are from these pictures,” Stan says. “I can’t see the tail lights and most of the cars are covered.”

“Well, get your ass down to that storage facility tomorrow and get a look at those cars,” Uncle Herman says. “You can give the guy in charge the info we discovered and see if they can find that stuff on the manifest. His name is Terry Smalls.”

“Um, I have to work,” Stan protests. “Screw it, I’ll take a sick day. This is more important. You still could have called me at a more decent hour.”

“Then you would have missed the opportunity to take a sick day because you would have been at work already. Goodnight, Stan. Love ya, buddy.”

“Goodnight, ass,” Stan says, and ends the call.

“I’ll text Smalls tonight to tell him to expect Uncle Stan in the morning,” I say.

“Christian, it’s after midnight in Detroit,” Dad protests.

“That’s why I’m texting him instead of calling him,” I say. “Goodnight, Dad, Uncle Herman.”

Goodnight,” they both say, and we end the call.


SUNSET

The black Lexus pulls up to the circular drive at the sprawling estate in Bloomfield Hills. Black Italian leather shoes exit the back seat of the car as Ricardo steps out as strides to the portico. The glass doors open before he has a chance to ring the bell.

“Mr. Aragon,” the butler says as he steps aside. Ricardo walks past him, ignoring his greeting and walking the route he does nearly every day—through the lavish formal living room, past the overly masculine entertainment room, down the hall decorated with ridiculously expensive works of art. The house is a statement in overcompensation, but Ricardo would never admit it.

At the last door on the right, Ricardo Aragon turns the knob and enters his boss’s lair. More ostentatious than the rest of the house, this room is decorated in lush fabrics and imported leathers and textiles, boasts a full service wet bar, and a media section that would be the envy of any sports enthusiast.

“How was your trip?” the lone voice says from behind a luxurious easy chair.

“He refused our request,” Ricardo replies. A hand with well-manicured nails presses a button and silences the many screens on the far wall.

“I’m aware,” the voice says. “You were your usual persuasive self, I presume.”

Sunset“Even more so,” Ricardo hisses as he pours himself a scotch. “Arrogant prick made it clear that he’s not afraid of death.” He throws back the shot. Ricardo’s host turns in his chair, his own scotch in his hand. Ricardo is always amazed by the fact that this guy looks so young to have amassed so much power.

“Hmm, he would rather die than bow,” Sunset observes. “He’s got real balls. I admire that.”

“I think we should teach him a lesson in respect,” Ricardo shoots, not at all pleased that his boss appears to be idolizing the bastard who basically tossed him out of Seattle with his ass in his hands.

“And that’s why I’m in charge and you take the orders,” Sunset retorts. “You put on a good show but I’m the one that gives the command. You don’t chop off a finger because somebody showed you up.”

“He didn’t show me up. He showed you up. I represent you!” Ricardo retorts, trying to incite his boss. Sunset laughs.

“That may be true, Ricky, but you need to understand that sometimes, it takes a gentler hand to catch the big fish. I sent you to Seattle to tell someone to let me know when they come to the city. You failed. Why? Because a goddamn billionaire thinks some thug in Detroit is trying to tell him where he can and can’t go. I could have sent Chev or Mumford to try to strongarm the guy. I knew that wasn’t going to work. I needed suave and smooth, handle with care, and you came strolling in there like fucking Fredo Corleone. It’s a wonder he or one of his men didn’t shoot you on the fucking street! I would’ve reacted the same way he did.

“Now, you want to make an example of him because you sashayed into his city throwing threats and making demands that you’re in no position to make like a goddamn amateur! I’m not trying to overthrow Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, or the Koch Brothers, and I’m sure as fuck not trying to overthrow Christian Grey. I’m looking for one red-headed, big-mouthed, motherfucker and he ain’t him! Keep an eye on him like I told you. I can guarantee you tomorrow he’ll be riding around in a fucking armored truck! He’ll have the goddamn Presidential cavalcade behind him. Ant won’t come anywhere near him now and we probably lost the best decoy we’ve ever had!!

“Let me explain something to you that you don’t seem to understand. Power is nothing more than glorified respect. Your power only goes as far as your respect, and more than 50% of power is imagined. My power comes from the fact that people fear me. They know what I’m capable of. My reputation precedes me, and people know what I can do. To achieve the kind of power and respect that I have, they would have to overthrow me and none of them have the gumption to try because they know that I’ll gut them like pigs.” Aragon swallows hard.

“Grey doesn’t know that,” Sunset continues. “He’s an international mogul with connections and ties that we don’t even know about. He has a dollar just like I have a dollar. He knows people just like I know people, or do I need to remind you about Ratzinger?” Aragon is visibly uncomfortable.

“The difference between his power, my power, and your power is that your power comes from me and he knows that. His power is his own. He took Myrick’s kid down by himself. The Feds just came in and cleaned up the mess. And there are still a couple of hackers and a company informant involved in that job that we can’t locate. They’ve dropped off the face of the earth, and I’m willing to wager that no one anywhere will ever hear from them again.

“I know guys like him. I’ve met guys like him. I’ve dealt with guys like him. I am guys like him. He most likely has no idea whatsoever what happened to those two and he doesn’t get his hands dirty unless it’s personal… and you threatened to go to his house where his treasured wife lives and his babies sleep. You feel like a big man now?” Aragon’s lips form a thin line. He’s not surprised that Sunset knows the details of his visit before he even had the chance to reveal them.

“You told me to make sure he doesn’t come to Detroit without permission. How did you expect me to do that?” he protests.

“See, that’s your fucking problem!” Sunset barks. “I did not tell you to make sure he doesn’t come to Detroit without permission! You heard what you wanted to hear, and you acted accordingly! I said advise Grey to inform us when he’s coming to Detroit as Myrick may be tracking him and we want to be prepared in case he decides to engage—or did you conveniently forget that Grey is not my damn concern?”

“No, sir, I haven’t,” Aragon replies through his teeth.

“This is a business first and foremost and I am a goddamn businessman, not a fucking thug. You want to throw around that fucking gang mentality, go on out in the streets, just don’t ever fucking cross me. I fear no man, but I also don’t pick useless fights. Why would I do that? Bullies only hold power for a minute, Rick, and then they’re shot dead in the street. Is that what you want?”

“No, sir,” Aragon says flatly.

“Good, because you’re valuable to me and I don’t want to lose you. What did I expect you to do? Be the fucking advisor and representative that I groomed you to be. You’re behaving like a common street punk. They’re a dime a bushel and that’s not what the fuck I need.

“Make no mistake, everyone has a target on their chest, Ricky, even you, but I’m counting on that target that Myrick has on Grey’s the pull that rat out the woodwork. His hate for that guy is deep and personal, and he’s not going to go down without taking Grey with him. That’s what I’m waiting for. He’s the first and the last person I allowed to get that much information on me and my business—a crucial mistake. You don’t even have as much info as he does, and priority number one is to take his ass down, not make Grey bow. Like I said, you’re valuable to me, so stop acting so goddamn cocky and act smart like you used to!

“Don’t think for a second that he hasn’t instructed his men to shoot your ass on sight. What do you think Seattle Police is going to do when your body dredges up from a drain on the Alaskan Viaduct or worse yet, the coroner comes and scrapes your remains off Grey’s marble floor? They’re coming straight to me, wondering why my number one guy was harassing one of Seattle’s finest citizens. I will have lost my best man and much less, I don’t need that headache. Don’t forget—your actions all come back to me, Ricky. So, consider him protected, in case you get any ideas.

“I don’t apologize, and your apology is useless right now. Get the fuck out of my face so I can try to figure out some kind of truce to send this man, so he can call off his fucking dogs. Thanks to your performance, I can guarantee you that unauthorized air can’t get to Prince and Princess Grey, let alone some revenge attempt by that little worm.”

Ricardo purses his lips and leaves the room while Sunset presses the button near his hand, and the screens come alive again.


ANASTASIA

I awake on Thursday and Christian is already out of bed. He came in last night, took a shower and went straight to his study. I know he came to bed last night because his side of the bed is rustled and doesn’t have that cold, nobody’s-been-here-all-night feeling. I throw my legs over the edge of the bed and the day’s task start rushing at me as soon as my feet hit the floor.

Decide on a layout for my home office. I have a feeling that I’ll be spending more time there than I planned. Christian is trying to tell me that everything is okay and although I still don’t want a fucking wagon train following me to work, it’s safer for me and the twins inside the walls and gates of Grey Crossing, whatever’s going on. I won’t tell Christian that I’ll be doing most of my work from home, but not willingly dragging my precious babies into unknown peril helps to fend off the Boogeyman feeling a bit. I’m happy with my decision.

Talk to Harmony and Marilyn about their respective problems. I didn’t get a chance to see Harmony at all yesterday and Marilyn acted as if everything was just honky-dory, so I didn’t press the matter. Babies don’t just go away, and if she is pregnant and decides to keep the baby, it’s going to change our dynamic, too. She’s at my beck and call right now, and that’s certainly not going to be the case with her being a mom.

And Harmony… I haven’t heard anything from Al about her divorce case, but I know she’s a nervous wreck with this greedy asshole slithering around waiting for her mother to die. It’s bad enough that she has to contend with her mom’s impending demise, but now this? It’s inhumane.

I don’t watch much television, but last night, I did see one of the promos for our segment on Monday. Looking at it with not such a critical eye, it was pretty good. It gives just enough bait for you to want to see more on Monday if you already know us, and enough to have you chomping at the bit to see the whole segment if you don’t. It brings to mind another task that I should do before Monday.

Release a statement about those sexual misconduct charges levied against me.

Without some kind of prelim, the little bit that we’ve said about the charges leaves a lot to the imagination. I don’t want to come off as some spoiled rich socialite who thinks she’s above the law or punishment. This kind of thing, of course, has to be investigated. However, the way I was treated by that board was completely unprofessional and uncalled for. I’ve touched on the issue in some of my interviews, but I haven’t really delved into anything substantial.

It’s time to call Vee.

Genie pants and a wrap-around today since I’m not leaving the house. My abs seem a little loose, so I’m going to have to focus on them a bit. I’ve been lazy with my workouts since Christian’s escape to Madrid. I need to get back into the routine again. Finding my Zen is great and all, but it won’t help me if I’m 175 pounds and flabby—not a good look for someone barely over five feet tall.

I don’t bother questioning the staff where Christian is when I come downstairs for breakfast.

“Not going in today?” Ms. Solomon says with a frown. I shake my head as I eat my bagel. “Are you feeling alright?”

“I feel fine,” I say. “I’m getting some work done on my office downstairs and I need to make some decisions about it, so I’ll be here today.” I chomp on my bagel and look at the information Courtney forwarded about projected staffing needs. She’s becoming quite valuable to the Center and I think paring her with Harmony might help them both with direction a bit. Courtney has the grit and Harmony has the schooling, so they’d make a great team.

I can’t help but notice Gail and Ms. Solomon whispering to each other. I don’t want to feel self-conscious about it, but what’s with the whispering?

Just in case they are talking about me or something that I don’t need to hear, I gobble the last bit of my breakfast bagel, pick up my gourmet coffee and my phone, and slide out of the stool at the breakfast bar. I make my way down to my office and stand in the doorway, looking at the space. Earth tones are good, but the over-abundance of wood darkens the room and overtakes the beautiful natural light in here. The bookshelves look overpowering and boxed-in. I need to have them ripped out or redone… how long will that take?

I sit down at my desk and start strolling through Google for ideas for my office. I’m sure that the bookshelves are going to have to go, so I text Marilyn to get in touch with the contractor who did my office at the Center. If she’s already on her way to Helping Hands, she can work wherever her butt lands. No use in making her drive to the Crossing if she’s already there.

“I can come to the house, it’s not a problem.” She called me after getting my text.

“I thought you would be at the Center already by now,” I say.

“I’m in my car—a few minutes down the I-5 and across the bridge and I’m there. Do you need anything on the way?” She sounds agitated.

“Um, no. I’ll… see you when you get here.” She ends the call abruptly, causing me to look at the phone like it just bit me.

What the hell was that all about?

Deciding not to spend too much energy on whatever bug is up Marilyn’s butt, I call Vee and explain my concerns about the interview and the topic of my sexual misconduct accusations.

“Ana, the interview covered it fine,” she assures me. “You totally made the point that you needed to make. The charges are false; the claims were made anonymously and not by the supposed victim; the board treated you like shit and then disavowed any responsibility for their actions. You want people to take notice, but anything more is going to be overkill. Leave it like it is.”

“If you’re sure,” I say, still not certain that we’ve covered enough ground on the topic.

“I’m positive,” she says. “This is what I do. If it doesn’t pick up momentum all on its own, which I suspect that it will, we’ll revisit it, okay?” I sigh. She’s the expert.

“Okay, fine,” I cede. “Can you transfer me to legal? I want to talk to Al.” She’s silent for a moment.

“May I ask about what?” What the fuck?

“Um, since when do I have to have your clearance to speak to my best friend?” I nearly bark. “Or to my head of legal?”

“Ana, no! Don’t take it that way,” she interjects. “You were just talking to me about the interview and the sexual misconduct charges, then you immediately turned around and asked to speak to Allen. I thought the two were related and since one of those is a media situation and I am the head of PR, I thought it was something I needed to know. Nothing more.” I shake my head.

“I’m a little wired, Vee,” I tell her. “Christian’s acting strange. Jason’s bumped-up security, which is something he never does lightly. So, I know something’s going on and if you know, you can’t tell me because of your NDA. I have a friend of the family who’s having some trouble—which is why I want to speak to Al—and my assistant is acting all snippy. The whole thing is irritating me and it’s really starting to mess with my Feng Shui!” Vee is silent for a moment.

“I’m… sorry… I’ll get Al for you.” And she’s gone. Jesus, this negativity all around me has to fucking go! It’s driving me absolutely crazy!

“What’s up, Jewel?” Al answers. “Vee says you sound a bit perturbed.”

“I’m fine,” I nearly hiss. “Any word on Harmony’s situation.”

“What about it?” he asks. Et tu, Allen?

“I asked you if she had any recourse against her snaky husband trying to wait out Tina’s death so that he can weasel in on her inheritance and I haven’t heard anything from you!” I snap.

“Chris didn’t tell you?” he asks. Well, that explains a lot.

“Well, I haven’t spoken to Chris!” I say sarcastically. “I haven’t even seen him since he left for work yesterday.”

“Are you two fighting again?” Al asks cautiously.

“No!” I retort angrily. “He’s just in a mood about something that’s going on down there.”

“Nothing’s going on down here,” he replies. “Nothing out of the ordinary.”

“No, it’s going on—you just don’t know about it… or you can’t tell me,” I correct myself. Al sighs.

“Jewel, there’s nothing going on that I know of. If there were, I could tell you, because you’re one of the owners. Unless there’s information that I’m specifically directed not to share, the NDA doesn’t apply to you…”

“Like when Christian went to Madrid,” I point out. He sighs.

“Yes, like when Christian went to Madrid,” he replies.

“So, like I said, something’s going on down there. You may not know about it, but something’s going on. Now… about Harmony please?” It’s time to change the subject before I start to get angry about secrets.

“Harmony’s inheritance is safe,” he says. “It’s protected assets. Her husband can’t lay any claim to the money unless she put the money in a joint account and comingled it while they were still married. As long as anything she receives isn’t mixed with their marital assets, he can’t get to it. He was probably leading her to believe that so that she would pay him off to go away. And the fact that her attorney was actually working for him explains why she didn’t know this.”

That’s exactly what I was prepared to do, too—pay his ass off.

“So, why did Christian hear about this and I didn’t when I’m the one who came to you with it?”

“Because Christian came to me yesterday and asked me about it. I told him what I found out and he said that he was going to see Tina last night and asked if he could be the one to tell her and Harmony the good news. I assumed he told you, too. I don’t see why he wouldn’t.”

I forgot he went to Tina’s last night, but he didn’t even try to find me when he got home. I could tell that he took a shower, but he just went to his study after that.

“I don’t know what’s going on with Mr. Grey,” I say under my voice.

“Well, I can tell you this,” Al says. “Something’s happening at Tina’s because he took an entire security team over there this morning, complete with IT techs.” I frown.

“IT techs?” I repeat. “What the hell is going on over there that they need IT techs?”

“I don’t know, but him, Jason, and a whole shitload of people and equipment are at Tina Franklin’s right now. He told me to be ready, but he hasn’t said for what.”

“Is Alex with him?” I ask.

“No, Alex is here.” Good.

“Will you be representing Harmony in her divorce?”

“No, Jewel. I don’t do divorce. It’s my understanding that Carrick has agreed to do it, though.”

“Okay, thanks for the info. Transfer me to Alex.” There’s silence.

“Jewel, please don’t harass that man about what’s going on at Tina’s,” Al begs. “I’ll never hear the end of it.”

“I’m not going to harass him about anything,” I say. “Can you transfer me to him please?” Al sighs and I hear the hold music while I’m transferred to Alex.

“Alex Welch,” he answers.

“Alex, it’s Ana. I need some information.”

“What kind of information?” he asks.

“I need a background check and current contact information for someone, but I don’t know his name.”

“That’s a problem,” he says. “I do need to know who I’m looking for.”

“Well, I know who he is—I just don’t know his name. It’s Harmony Franklin’s soon-to-be-ex-husband. I don’t even know her married last name. Franklin is her maiden name.”

“Franklin?” he asks. “The same Franklin whose house we’re combing right now?”

“You’re combing her house? Why?” I ask.

“The boss went to see her last night and J got feedback in his earpiece. That means the house is bugged. We’re just trying to find out where, who, how long, why… you get the idea.”

“Seriously?” I say. “Who would want to bug Tina Franklin?”

“She’s not the only one who lives in the house,” he says.

“Do you think Harmony did it?” I ask.

“We won’t know until we find the bugs,” he says. I shake my head. I hope it wasn’t Harmony, or this campaign I’m about to begin will be all for naught.

“Can you get me the information on her ex-husband?” I ask.

“It might take a day,” he warns.

“That’s fine. I’m in no hurry,” I tell him.

“Very well.” We end the call. I raise my eyes to see that Marilyn has joined me.

“Have a seat,” I say, gesturing to one of the chairs in front of my desk that will soon be replaced. She marches in and sits in the chair like a petulant child. Okay…

“Did you call the contractor?” I ask.

“I just got here!” she replies snippily.

“Well,” I say, gearing myself for battle, “You were standing there in the door looking at me like you were awaiting instruction, and since I had already given you that instruction before you got here, I assumed you already did it!”

“I was in the car when you called. Did you expect me to speak to the contractor while I was in the car when you knew I was already on my way over here?”

What the fuck is this? I told her she didn’t have to bring her ass over here in the first place and now she’s acting like it’s some kind of fucking inconvenience? I don’t have time for this shit! I fold my hands in front of me. She can be snippy on her own time.

“Maybe you should take the day off,” I say, removing my glasses. Marilyn glares at me.

“Are you firing me?” she says in shock.

“Are you quitting?” I shoot back.

“I didn’t ask for the day off!” she snaps. “I’m just asking if you’re letting me go!”

“Take. The day. Off. Marilyn,” I say, slowly and firmly. “In fact, take two and get your shit together!”

She glares at me but knows that if she quips at me one more time, she won’t have to ask if she’s being fired. She stands haughtily, turns on her heels, and marches to the door.

“And Marilyn,” I call to her. She stops. “Take a damn test. You’re pregnant.” She turns slowly to me.

“I don’t need you to tell me what to do with my personal life!” she shoots.

“Or don’t!” I shoot back. “Wait ‘til your stomach blows up to the size of a basketball before you’re willing to accept that you’re with child. Just leave that nasty ass attitude at the door, or don’t bother coming in Monday, either!”

She stands there looking at me for a long time before she turns and indignantly walks out the door.

Well, shit.

I may have just lost my assistant, because if she is pregnant and she keeps it, there’s going to be no working with her like this.

I scroll through my contacts on the cloud and find the name of the contractor who did the work on my office. I could call Elliot, but he’s doing the Miller home and I wouldn’t want to set him back for something this small. I’m not looking for an overhaul. I’m just looking for a fresh coat of paint and to revamp my bookshelves… and I’m back on the phone.

Once I tell the guy what I want, he tells me that he can have the work done in a day if the space is clear.

The space is not clear.

I make an appointment for him to come over this afternoon to see the office, then I call a moving company. I need all the items in my office packed up, and some of them shipped… where? Charity? The Goodwill?

Charity.

Helping Hands. I’ll donate the furniture to Helping Hands.

The soonest the movers can get here is tomorrow. Great. The almighty Anastasia Grey can’t get everything she wants. I call Christian’s office.

Christian Grey’s office. Andrea Fairchild speaking.” Just who I needed.

“Andrea, hi, it’s Ana Grey.”

“Hello, Mrs. Grey.” My teeth grind. I want to say, “Call me Ana,” but I know that years of training will prevent that from happening. “Mr. Grey is out of the office right now…”

“Oh, I’m not calling to speak to Mr. Grey. Andrea, I have a strange request. Does GEH have a temp agency or pool that they use when they need extra administrative help?”

“You mean like executives?” she asks.

“No, like assistants,” I clarify.

“Oh! Well, it depends on who it is,” she says. “If it’s a project that needs extra hands in one of the non-classified departments, we may use a temp agency. If it’s one of the departments that handle more sensitive information, like legal, accounting, or R&D… or Mr. Grey… we commandeer one of the more-trained assistants on site.” I nod. That makes sense.

“I need an assistant for a couple of days.” I tell her. “It may be longer, I don’t know, but for right now, it’s just a couple of days. Marilyn’s indisposed and I pretty much need someone that’s just going to be underfoot, kind of at my beck and call.”

“Will they be coming to your home?” she asks.

“Today, definitely. Tomorrow, maybe. If not, they’ll be coming with me to Helping Hands. I need somebody very professional and very well-trained.”

“I’m sorry to say that I don’t think we have anybody in-house that I would be comfortable sending to your home, Mrs. Grey. Although we have a stringent vetting process, this is the boss’s mansion we’re talking about. No matter how professional, these women… wait a minute…” She pauses mid-sentence. “Luma would fit the bill. She’s probably the only one that would fit the bill.”

“Oh, no, I can’t take one of Christian’s assistants,” I say.

“I’m Mr. Grey’s assistant. Luma is my assistant. I can get one of the assistants in-house to take her place while she’s gone. If it turns out to be more long-term, then we can post a position with our usual recruiters and get you someone… I hope Marilyn’s okay.”

“I’m not at liberty to say. Please find out if Luma is okay with this. I don’t want her to feel like she’s being shuffled about like a board piece.” I can hear her saying something to someone in the background before coming back to the phone.

“Luma’s happy to help. She’s on her way now.”

“Thank you, Andrea. I hope not to keep your right-hand girl for too long.” After a few pleasantries, I end the call with Andrea and begin to pack the books in my office.


CHRISTIAN

“How many?” I ask Tibbs when he comes to me with an update.

“Seven, sir, just in the library, and there’s a feed going somewhere. We picked up the digital transmission—we just haven’t found out where it’s planted and where it’s going. I’m going to have to call back to Barney to get special equipment for that.”

Seven bugs in the library. Seven fucking recording devices. Why do they even need that many for one room?

“Why so many?” I ask. “How big is the library?”

“Pretty big, sir,” he says. “They’re cheap technology—not the state of the art. They would have needed one for every twenty feet or so to get a good transmission.”

“Wouldn’t they have interfered with each other, like they did with Tina’s hearing aid and Jason’s earpiece?”

“Well, keep in mind. Tina’s hearing aid is high-tech, much like Taylor’s earpiece. They pick up sounds and frequencies from longer distances. Comparing these devices with Tina’s and Taylor’s technology would be like comparing a professional singer’s cordless mic to a speakerphone.”

Jesus! If it’s that important to bug somebody, wouldn’t you think they’d spend a little money?

“Could these be decoys?” I ask. “Hide the junk in plain view so that we don’t go looking for the state of the art stuff?” Tibbs shrugs.

“They could, but when it comes to audio equipment, we’ve got the tools to find the jewels and the junk, and so far, we’ve only found the junk.”

“And the visual?” I press.

“We’ll be able to close in on that when I get Barney on the phone.” I nod.

“You may want to consider doing shifts,” I tell him. “I don’t want you all to leave until every device is located.”

“Yes sir.” He goes back to work and I ascend the stairs to Tina’s room. I hear raised voices inside—Harmony’s and Roger’s. I step to the door and open it. Their conversation is so heated that they don’t even notice when I enter the room

“I told you to leave my mother alone with this! You’re upsetting her! You were told to do what I say, and you don’t seem to understand that I can fire you!” Harmony chides.

“Ms. Tina, they’re destroying the house. It’s a complete shambles. You have to make them stop this right now!” Roger is completely ignoring Harmony’s request and Tina looks exhausted.

“Jason, get up here right now,” I say into the earpiece that I’m wearing, now also getting feedback since I’m in Tina’s room. I step inside and make my way over to them.

“I said leave her alone!” Harmony demands again. “And get the hell out of her room. You’re going to drive her to her death faster by stressing her out like this!” Roger straightens his back and faces off with Harmony.

“I don’t have to take orders from you, little girl!” he hisses. I’m behind Harmony in moments.

“That’s a grown woman, not a little girl and yes, you do!” I exclaim. He doesn’t take down. In fact, he’s haughtier than ever.

“Who do you think you are—coming in here like you’re running things, ripping her home to shreds like garbage? Have you no respect?” I move Harmony behind me and step to Roger’s face.

“Get out, now!” I hiss. He raises his nose to me.

“I will not!” he declares. “You can’t make me go anywhere, and I don’t have to do anything you say.” The interference in my earpiece stops and Tina reacts with slight relief. I know this means the scrambler is active. I look over Roger’s shoulder and Jason steps into the room. I look at Roger again.

“Get. Out. Now!” I growl getting right in his face. I could strangle this worm, but I don’t know if there are cameras in here. His fear is now palpable, but he regains himself quickly. Just as he’s about to speak, Jason comes behind him and whispers in his ear.

“I and my men have ways of seriously hurting people that don’t leave evidence.” Roger turns a horrified, pale face to Jason. “Are you going to come quietly, or should we demonstrate?”

“You… you can’t hurt me. There are other people here—downstairs, all over the house. People will see you…” Roger stutters.

“Everybody downstairs works for me or him. Everybody else had the good sense to leave when we told them to, except you. Now are you coming quietly, or do you need persuasion?” Roger looks from Jason to me and then to Tina.

“Ms. Tina…” he begins.

“I think he needs persuading,” I tell Jason. Jason closes in.

“Don’t touch me I’ll go!” Roger retorts, trying to hide his fear. He walks out of the room where another of my security staff is waiting for him.

“Don’t let him out of your sight,” Jason says. “I’ll be down in a minute to chat.” The guard takes his arm and Roger flinches away from him.

“Snatch that arm away from me again and I’ll break it!” I hear him say before he escorts Roger away. I turn to Jason.

“Do you have a scrambler on you?” I ask. He frowns.

“Don’t you?” he says. I shake my head. He takes a small device out of his jacket pocket and hands it to me.

“No cell service while you have it. This is how you turn it off.”

“Good man. This room needs to be swept soon. She spends too much time in here.” Jason frowns.

“That’s going to be very inconvenient for her,” he says.

“How much of the house is done—for audio?”

“Almost all of the first floor,” he says. “We’re trying to get Barney’s second team here quickly because it’s a whole new sweep for the visual.”

“Tell me, what are you talking about?” Tina’s frail voice says. “Are you destroying my house like Roger says?” That fucker. He’s got her all worried when we’re only doing this for her protection. I need to talk to her alone for a minute—even without Harmony.

“Harmony, does she have a nurse here?” I ask.

“I can get one, quickly,” she says.

“Good. Get her one. Have them check her vitals and make sure she’s okay. I’ll sit with her while you go. You won’t have cell service in here.” She looks at her phone.

“You’re right,” she says. “I’ll be right back, Mom,” she says touching Tina’s hand before leaving.

“Aunt Tina,” I say, kneeling down to her, “I swear to you, we’re not destroying your house. Remember we talked about the reason your hearing aid stops humming, right?” Tina nods. “Well, we found seven audio recording devices in your library. Someone is listening to and recording what’s happening in your home. We just don’t know why they’re recording.”

“Oh, no,” she says, forlorn. “This can’t be.”

“Roger’s been jumping around like a bunny on speed ever since my men got here,” I tell her. “He has already damaged two major pieces of equipment, claiming it was an accident, and he’s been up here more times than I know trying to get you to call this off. Is he normally this intolerable?”

“Never,” she says. “It’s like he’s completely inconsolable…” like a kid who doesn’t want you to see a bad report card.

“What about Harmony?” I ask. “How has she been through this process?”

“Calm, for the most part, except when he comes in and starts demanding that I make you all stop what you’re doing. That’s the only time she gets upset.”

“How has she been since she’s been home?” I ask. Tina shrugs.

“Attentive. She’s been… Harmony. Roger’s been antsy. I just attributed it to the fact that he knows that I’m going to die soon, and the house will go to Harmony.” My eyes widen.

“He knows that?” I ask. Tina nods. “How does he know that? Have you revealed the content of your will to him already?” She frowns.

“I don’t recall, Christian,” she says. “I don’t think so. I thought maybe Carl said something to him…”

“Who’s Carl?” I ask.

“My attorney,” she says. I shake my head.

“Carl can’t say anything to him. It’s against the law. When did you last tweak your will?” She has to think about it.

“About a month ago,” she says. “Maybe a little longer. It was right before your sister’s wedding… a few weeks maybe. I just gotten the news about… you know. Harmony was the only one who came back. She had already moved out of the house from her husband—she didn’t have to come back, but she was the only one who did. When I heard that she was coming, I called Carl and updated my will. I think I did it right before she got here. I told Roger that she was coming and to prepare her room. I told him what I was doing… that I was updating my will, but I don’t remember discussing the contents with him. I do remember him voicing some concern at one time about what would happen to the house once ‘that girl got her hands on it.’ Harmony is the only one of my children that he calls ‘that girl.’”

So, Roger knows about the will. Unless Carl is pure smut and broke attorney/client privilege, we know who’s listening to the bugs.

“Where and when did you have this conversation with Carl?” I ask. “In here?”

“Of course, not!” Aunt Tina replies. “A lady doesn’t entertain a gentleman in her bedroom… except now,” she jests, pointing to me and Jason. “No, I always accept Carl in the li… brary. Oh, dear.”

Oh, dear is right. Harmony wasn’t here yet when Tina changed her will, but that library had to already be bugged. Harmony and Roger are like oil and water and unless they’re the best actors known to man, they can’t be working together on this. Yet, Roger knew the contents of her will before she made anything public.

Just as Tina and I are both putting this information together, we hear glass breaking downstairs. I look at Jason, who looks at me and we both make to move towards the door when we’re distracted by Harmony’s small form.

“Um, Christian?” I hear Harmony’s voice in the doorway. “The nurse is on her way to check Mom out, but I think there’s a problem downstairs with Roger… a pretty big one.”


A/N: Fredo Corleone is from The Godfather. Fredo wanted to have the power of the Godfather and felt that he should have risen into the role before Michael Corleone since Fredo was the older brother, but Fredo was weak and irresponsible and his father knew that Fredo couldn’t handle being Godfather. Sunset compares Aragon to Fredo Corleone because of a dumb move Fredo did inviting a bunch of girls to Michael’s room in Vegas when Michael was there to discuss business. Fredo was throwing around weight he didn’t have, and this was the beginning of the rift between the brothers that eventually cost Fredo his life.

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

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 52—Just In Case…

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 52—Just In Case…

CHRISTIAN

“You told me not to talk about it anymore, so I’m not talking about it. However, I am a professional, and my concerns are real, tangible, and valid. That asshole got way too close last night, and you got way too comfortable. You may not see urgency in this situation and you may be right, but I’m not going to take any chances.”

Just as I’m finishing my coffee, my head of security informs me that we’ll have another detail following us today. So, instead of just me and Jason, it’s going to be me, Jason, and two other guards in a separate vehicle. I understand urgency—I felt it last night, but I fucked it out with my wife and I’m fine now. Apparently, Mr. Professional here didn’t fuck it out with Gail, and now I have an entourage.

“Don’t you think this is a bit drastic, Jason?” I ask. “I’m all for increasing security. I totally get it, but three guards in one car for one man?”

“You told a hired killer that you were getting your affairs in order last night. You’re inviting him to do something. You’re testing his hand, basically telling him, ‘Come and get me.’ It’s like you want to die.”

“I don’t want to die,” I seethe, “I’m just not afraid of death.”

“I’m not afraid of death either, Christian, but I’m not gunning to meet my Maker anytime soon. I have a wife, and I have a child, and I’d like to see her go to college, get married, maybe punch out a couple of grandkids for me. I know that my job comes with certain hazards, but I’m not jumping in front of bullets that don’t have to be aimed at you. So, as many times as you warn your wife to be careful, you need to do the same thing because last I checked, you got a couple of nuggets that you’d like to see get through college, too!”

“Does my wife know about this?” I demand.

“She’ll know that security has been increased when she leaves for Helping Hands, but she won’t know why. I thought I’d let you tell her, or if you prefer, I’ll have Chuck do it.” I look in his eyes and I realize that he’s not backing down on this.

“Shit,” I hiss. I stand from the breakfast bar to go find my wife.

I dread having to tell her this, but whenever I try to keep something from her, it causes so much angst between us and ultimately turns out to be a disaster. When I find her, she’s helping to pack up the twins.

“Hey, beautiful,” I say, when I walk into the room. Mikey is already buckled into his carrier and Butterfly is buckling Minnie into her seat.

“Hey, yourself,” she says after she gets my squirming daughter securely into her seat. “I thought you were already gone.”

“About to,” I say. “I need to talk to you about something before I go.”

“Oh?” she asks. “Is everything alright?” I look at Keri and Gail.

“Can you two excuse us for a moment?” I ask. Gail puts a diaper bag on her shoulder and lifts Mikey’s carrier. Keri does the same with Minnie.

“Ah’ll see ya downstehs,” Keri says as she’s the one who always goes to the Center with Butterfly and the twins. Butterfly was talking about getting Keri her own car. We may have to revamp that decision for a while. In fact…

“What’s wrong, Christian?” Butterfly asks.

“Chuck may have to drive you into town for a while… in your car, of course.”

“Why?” she asks. “What’s happened?” I sigh.

“Do you remember me telling you that Myrick made some enemies in Detroit which is why he’s in witness protection?” She tilts her head.

“Vaguely… really bad guys, that I remember.”

“Well, one of those really bad guys came to see me yesterday,” I confess. “He found out that I was in Detroit and decided to fly out here to tell me to get his boss’s permission the next time I decide to travel to Detroit.” Butterfly raises her brow.

“I see… and you said?” she inquires.

“I told him to kiss my ass,” I reply. “I feel like it was nothing more than a dramatic show of bravado for him to fly all the way across the country to try to get me to bow to his will. I was in Detroit for 24 hours. They found out that I was there, but never confronted me while I was there—probably because I was never alone. They would have had to barge into my uncle’s home, an attorney’s office, or a PI’s office to talk to me. Instead, he shows up at Grey House in a black car, his goon opens the door and tells me to get in… fuck you!” I say that last part more to myself than to Butterfly.

“So… did he threaten your life?” she asks.

“Not overtly, but it was easily implied,” I admit.

“Ah… hence the fuck me like it was the last time fuck last night,” she says, a little perturbed. Why is she perturbed? Didn’t she enjoy it? “And that confused look on your face says you don’t have a clue why I’m irritated.”

“Um… no,” I admit.

“What if it was the last time, Christian?” she scolds. “You don’t think I deserved to know something was up?”

So… um… now I don’t dare tell her that I was afraid of her being taken away from me as opposed to being afraid of me leaving her.

“I can only say that I’m sorry, Butterfly, but there’s a condition to that. I’m sorry that I didn’t tell you immediately, but I couldn’t—not because the time wasn’t right, but because I was physically unable to talk about it. It was on me so hard that I couldn’t even think to talk about it. I was too stressed out and I had to release it before I could even approach it. I was going to go to work and talk to our security team and come up with a plan of action. Then, I planned on talking to you about it. Jason beat me to it and beefed up security.”

“So, if Jason hadn’t beefed up security…” she begins.

“I would have told you after we had a plan of action,” I interrupt her.

“What if something had happened before you had a plan of action?” she snaps. I don’t have an answer for her, and I’m getting drawn and tense again.

“I was wound tighter than a dollar store watch when I came into this house last night,” I say, forcing my voice to be calm. “I simply cannot regurgitate everything that’s going on with me when I’m wound that tight. You have to give me time. My options were to fuck you or avoid you, and I needed you so badly…” I trail off and clench my fists, trying to relax and not lose my temper. “I wasn’t fucking you like it was the last time. I was loving you until I could think again, until I could breathe again. And the burden was so heavy that when I finally released it, I could do nothing else but sleep. I would have told you. I just. Needed. To think. I thought after being with me all this time and knowing me and knowing how I handle things…”

“You’re right,” she says, her hands moving quickly to cup my cheeks. She kisses me firmly on my lips. “You’re right. I’m sorry,” she says, rubbing my arms and furrowing her brow. “Boogeyman.”

Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?

“I’m sorry, too,” I say. “This is not the Boogeyman, baby. We’re just being careful, okay? With all my heart, I think this man is all hot air or he would have done something by now. He even said as much.” She sighs heavily and drops her head.

“What do you mean he said as much?” she asks, somewhat resigned.

“He told me that if he meant me harm, it would have been done by now.” She sighs again.

“Well, that’s comforting,” she says sarcastically.

“That’s why Jason has added extra security,” I tell her. “We’re being cautious, not taking any chances.” She nods.

“Okay… what about Marilyn?” I roll my eyes. I forgot about Marilyn.

“We probably want to get another guy on her, too,” I say. “You’ll let her know or do you want me to do it?” She shakes her head.

“I’ll tell her,” she says. “Now, I’m having second thoughts about the exposé.”

“Not that I’m trying to scare you, but you have to know… there’s nothing that the exposé will show that these people didn’t already know. The biggest trump card that I have in my pocket right now is that we have a mutual enemy and quite frankly, that’s all we have in common…” which makes me even more fucking anxious to find Myrick wherever the hell he’s hiding.

“Okay, so… yeah, I better get to the office. I guess the sky is falling for all of us.” She mumbles the last part. I don’t bother asking what she means.

“I need to get going, too, baby,” I tell her leaning down and kissing her on the cheek. “Are we okay?” She touches my cheek again.

“Yes, we’re okay,” she says, but I’m not convinced. “I’m working on chasing away the demons. They don’t leave overnight, you know.” She smiles weakly.

“Yes, Butterfly,” I say, cupping her face. “I know.” I kiss her lips gently, then leave to join Jason. I can’t help but notice what looks like a convention of black suits in the garage. I don’t even bother asking.

“Let’s go,” I say, listlessly while climbing into the back seat and closing the door behind me.

My mind wanders to everything happening right now that requires my attention. The implications of Aragon’s visit and the subsequent need for two men in the car with me; whatever the hell is going on with the storage bins in Detroit—I have to call Smalls. He didn’t call me back yesterday and I can only assume that either Uncle Herman was able to get all the authorizations needed or it was just too late to do anything once and if clearance was given. So, that will be the first thing I deal with when I get to the office. While I’m pondering what other dilemmas will most likely confront me, Jason answers his phone through his earpiece.

“Taylor… fuck!” He snatches his earpiece from his ear and swerves a bit to regain control of the car.

“What the hell, Jason?” I demand, our passenger holding on to the door handle and glaring at Jason as well.

“My apologies, sir,” Jason says through his teeth, his fingers rubbing feverishly at his ear. “It’s your wife.” Well, shit, he doesn’t sound happy. I turn to the other guard.

“Put his phone in the cradle. Put her on speaker.” He really didn’t need to because the moment he picks up Jason’s phone, I can hear Butterfly screaming.

“Shit,” I whisper before Butterfly’s screaming voice is piping through the car speakers.

“Ana,” I say, trying to get her attention. She’s still screaming.

“Ana.” Still no acknowledgement from my screaming wife.

“ANASTASIA!”

“WHAT?” she shoots back at me.

“You know Jason is driving, Anastasia. What the fuck are you doing calling him screaming in his ear?”

“So, he hands the phone to you so that I can scream at you?” she asks sarcastically.

“No, your voice is piping through the whole damn car. Jason nearly killed us getting his earbud out of his ear!” There’s sweet silence, but only for a moment.

“There’s a goddamn caravan following me to work, Christian,” Butterfly complains. “What the hell is that? Is all of this really necessary?”

“There’s no need to be dramatic, Butterfly…”

“Don’t patronize me and I’m not being dramatic! I work at a fucking shelter, for Christ’s sake! You know, sanctuary? The press is going to be all over me!” I throw a look at Jason, who looks everywhere but at me. “What aren’t you telling me, Christian?” my wife demands.

“I’ve told you everything. There’s nothing else,” I say. I see Jason’s posture shift. He knows I haven’t told her everything, but there’s no way in hell I’m telling her that man said that he would come to my house.

“There’s apparently something you missed!” she declares. “I look like the French delegation driving across the bridge. The only thing that’s missing are the damn flags. What’s going on!”

“I’ve told you what’s going on,” I reinforce. “Jason just feels that we should have more protection for a while since that guy came to Grey House last night.” Jason’s shoulders relax a bit. I’m certain he thought I gave her some sugar-coated version of what happened. I told her exactly what happened… except that I told the guy that I wasn’t afraid of death, and that he threatened to come to my house.

“What the hell happened, Christian?” she barks. “There are eight people following me! In the other vehicles!”

“What?” I exclaim, my eyes widening. She’s not exaggerating. That’s fucking ridiculous. “Jason…!”

“It’s because there’s four of you,” Jason interjects impassively. “We’re just trying to keep you all safe, Your Highness.”

“This is bullshit and you both know it!” she says, most likely convinced that I knew the entire Delta Force was going to be following her this morning. I kinda did know. The MIB convention in the garage somewhat gave it away. I just chose to ignore it.

“Jason is just being extra cautious,” I hiss through my teeth, mostly at Jason.

“Well, guess what? I don’t give a fuck how cautious Jason is right now. This is fucking ludicrous! Every time you make some kind of change to security, I go along with it. There are eight fucking people following me! This is outrageous!”

She’s right. It is outrageous, but there’s nothing I can do about it right now. They’re headed across the bridge. It’s not like I can tell them to go away. I guess I was pondering the situation a little too long because the next thing I hear is…

“You know what? Never mind.” She ends the call abruptly. She. Is. Pissed.

“Fuck!” I hiss loudly. I look over at Jason who refuses to make eye-contact with me and we ride silently to Grey House.

*-*

“Fix this. Now,” I say to Jason once I’ve had a macchiato and a glazed apple fritter and calmed my nerves. “What the hell, sticking eight guards behind her? She’s more of a target with all these people behind her than she was before. You must see that.”

Jason and Alex are sitting across from me in my office, a unified front against my demands about this insane increase in security, I suppose.

“She’s got some of our best men around her, sir,” Alex replies. “Nobody’s getting near her and those babies…”

“At this point, I couldn’t get near her and those babies!” I retort angrily. “Don’t you see the problem with that?”

“Sir, Russo is mafia. There’s no other way to put that. This is big time. If he wants you dead, you’re dead. Your family’s dead. Your friends are dead…”

“And if that’s the case, eight guys surrounding my wife and drawing attention to her isn’t going to stop him, now is it?” I interrupt. “I’m not highly impressed with his techniques or intimidated by his reach and ability. He hasn’t presented me Myrick’s head on a platter, yet.”

“Myrick’s in hiding. You’re not,” Jason points out.

“Which further proves that he’s not as omnipotent as both of you seem to think he is!” I snap. “When I had a message for Myrick, I went to Ionia—I didn’t send Jason. When I had a message for Elena, I went to the Washington State Prison—I didn’t send Jason. When I had a message for Courtney after she threatened my wife, I trapped her in the ladies’ room—I didn’t send Jason. When I had a message for Loverboy Investigator, I went to the State building—I didn’t send Jason. Hell, when Butterfly had a message for David before he offed himself, she went to the prison—she didn’t send Chuck. She went to some hick hole trailer park in California to personally confront the bitch that was responsible for her beating in Vegas. She had security, but she went, and I’m supposed to be shaking in my boots from some motherfucker that doesn’t even have the guts that my wife has?

“He keeps sending his consigliere every time he wants to make a point. Big fucking deal! I’m not talking to that guy anymore and I mean that! If Russo wants a war, he can do it, and I can’t win it, but these scare tactics are not fucking going to work with me!”

I’ve had enough of this shit. I’ve had enough of all of it. I know that these men sitting before me can do more than what they’re doing without sending the fucking A-Team around with my wife.

“I want my wife and family secure as much as you do, but this? No. If those bozos in the FBI can keep Myrick hidden and safe, you can keep my wife safe without drawing this much attention to her. You’re doing a fan dance for this fucker and you know it, and I’m not going to play his game. I’ll accept reasonable security enhancements, but this is overkill. Whatever point you’re trying to make, you’ve made it. You’re pissing me off and you’re scaring the fuck out of my wife. Call them off.” Jason finally decides to speak.

“With all due respect, sir, the threat that’s facing us is a real and present danger. I’m not trying to make a point; I’m trying to keep you safe!”

“I don’t think you heard me,” I say crisply. “Call. Them. Off. This is not a request.”

Jason glares at me and I don’t back down. He’s going overboard, and my wife is right. This is ridiculous.

“If imminent danger comes at my wife or our children, there can be ten men coming at her and as long as someone’s got her six, two to five of them will fall at her hand from her bullets. She doesn’t need eight people and you know this. Call them off.” Jason’s lips purse as he visibly prepares his retort.

“Two extra guards, one extra vehicle when the children are with her. That’s it. Make it happen or call them all off besides the regulars. Your choice,” I say.

“Less vehicles means a lower tactical advantage,” he warns.

“It’s all chance, Jason,” I inform him. “You and I both know that tactical advantage won’t mean shit if they really want her.” My words are grave, but true. Everything we do is a precaution. My home is a fortress, but if anyone is willing to risk their life to get to her, they can do it. Jason shakes his head.

“What’s going on with you?” he asks. “You’re usually the most cautious guy I know. Now it’s like you’re staring death in the face like you really don’t care.”

“Oh, make no mistake, I care. If anything happens to my wife, I will personally find whoever’s responsible, shoot them in every extremity several times and watch them bleed out. I can’t very well do that if I’m dead, so yes. I care very much about life. But my wife is teetering on the edge of a proverbial cliff every damn day. We’ve had this discussion. I don’t have time to be meek. And after she and I have both confided in you about her fears and how she’s feeling, I can’t for the life of me fathom how you thought it was a solid idea to trail her with three vehicles and eight damn guards!”

The military man in Jason suddenly slips away and his expression is now unreadable. I have no idea what’s going through his head, but just like that…

“I’ll take care of it,” he says. I know you will. You were bordering on insubordination and I was about to suspend your ass.

“Thank you,” I nearly hiss before turning to Alex. “What’s the word on Myrick? Anything?” He shakes his head.

“The trail is cold, sir. No new leads at all,” Alex replies.

“Well, heat it up!” I say firmly. “Put some pressure on whoever you need to put some pressure on—the ex-wife, the offspring, that kid in the service, the FBI, the CIA, the fucking President, I don’t care! I want this motherfucker out of my hair! Start turning over some goddamn rocks and I guarantee you’ll see some bugs start running! And I never want to fucking see Aragon again!”

Alex’s eyes widen, and Jason sits up straight.

“That’s what I said,” I reinforce. “I never fucking want to see his ass again. Put his mug on facial recognition so that if he shows up within ten feet of my building, this place lights up like a fucking Christmas tree! I will wear my harness and that gun that he seems to think is useless every damn day and I’ll make sure that my wife stays strapped like Calamity fucking Jane, but he gets nowhere near any of us and you don’t need eight extra guards to make that happen. He’s starts shooting, you shoot back! And aim for his fucking head!”

I am totally beyond reason. I want blood, and I want it now. This situation has gone on for way too long and I’m tired of it taking over my goddamn life.

I don’t even think I hear them when they leave my office. I’m seeing red. I know that my station puts me and my family in a position of danger on a regular basis, which is why I want that exposé to air. That’s only a small message to the somewhat little fish that we won’t sit around and be fucked with anymore, but what about the big fish? How do you get that message to them?

Every time Russo sends that fucker out here, he’s acting like a cat playing with a mouse.

“Mr. Grey, if I was looking to cause you any harm, the deed would have been done by now…”

Well, fucking do it, then, you pussy ass bastard, because I’m not running, hiding, or cowering from you anymore.


ANASTASIA

“Turn this fucking car around.” Chuck looks at me in the rearview mirror, bemused.

“What?” he asks, his eyes wide. That’s when I realize that we’re still on the bridge.

“As soon as you can, turn this fucking car around and take me back home. There’s no way in hell I’m taking all this attention to Helping Hands.” He’s silent for a minute.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says, and I’m not even pissed that he’s calling me ma’am. I am pissed, however, that half of GEH security appears to be following me to work. Where are they supposed to stay while I’m working and meeting with residents—on the goddamn bleachers?

I’m fuming. Something’s going on and he’s not telling me what it is. I call Grace and try not to sound too agitated.

“Grace, I’m working from home today. There seems to be some kind of development that I need to get sorted with my husband.” There’s silence.

“I’m not prying but is everything okay?” she asks.

“I’m not sure, but it’s nothing you should be worried about. I’m certain we can figure out what’s going on with the situation. Is Marilyn there yet?”

“I don’t think so. If she is, I haven’t seen her.”

We get to the end of the bridge and Chuck takes the exit and makes to get back on the bridge headed home.

“If you see her, tell her to come to my house,” I say. “I’ve been thinking about something since I had to recruit members of security to help move office furniture yesterday. What do you think about having a full-time custodial crew instead of a contracted cleaning service? I know we would need consider the financial implications like benefits and whatnot, but I think the benefits of having someone in-house would outweigh those of having a service. You know, building maintenance, per se.” There’s a pause.

“I hadn’t considered it,” she says. “Have you done any research on it?”

“Well, no,” I say, “but I was thinking that with the problems that we had a couple of years ago with the cleaning service not covering certain areas of the building and having to inspect their work all the time and renegotiate the contracts, it’s worth looking into for several reasons. There are going to be more people in the building that are not just residents. The classrooms are now going to be utilized. There’s obviously going to be a need to have someone around that can fix things in a pinch—be a handyman, a janitor… Not only that, but having a staff makes people more accountable for the work that needs to be done.”

“Yes,” she says. “I can see where you’re going with that. And we’re going to have to look into offering benefits for staff anyway because we’re expanding. We’re going to be eligible for federal funding and grants now with our accreditation and we’re not as slim as we were before on our donations with the publicity we’ve been getting from your appearances and from the PSA that I’ve learned is still airing in some areas. We should probably put together a PSA of our own once we have the foundation of our programs in place.”

“Oh, that’s a fantastic idea, Grace,” I tell her. “It’s great that we have the Faces of Abuse campaign still airing, but now we’re going to be offering many more services, and we definitely need to get that word out there.”

“When is your segment with Christian supposed to run again?” she asks. “Cary and I don’t watch much television and I don’t want to miss it.”

“It runs on Monday night,” I tell her. “I thought about a little viewing party, but not on a Monday night.”

“Why not?” Grace says. “With a few minor exceptions, we basically write our own schedules. I think a viewing party is a great idea.” I shrug.

“I’ll talk to Christian about it. See what he thinks.” I was so critical in my viewing of the segment before that I didn’t really see it. I was just watching for “bloopers,” so to speak. Our conversation has gotten our caravan back across the bridge and onto Mercer Island.

“Marilyn and I will start researching the pros and cons of a service versus in-house custodial staff and see if we can come up with the numbers for you. Keri’s looking into her teaching credentials in the states, by the way. She informs me that she should have some solid information by the end of the week.” I look to Keri for confirmation and she nods.

“Okay. I’m going to start looking into some benefit packages for the employees of the center. Who was putting together the grant paperwork and request for funding?”

“That would be Courtney,” I tell her. “She’s also supposed to be getting us some kind of presentation by week’s end. She’s been pretty diligent with it and her studies.”

“Speaking of studies, Harmony is here today. I saw that she was here yesterday, too.” I told her to spend time with her mother. She doesn’t have much time left.

“Did she tell you about Tina?” I ask.

“Yes, and her unfortunate situation with that wretched husband of hers,” she adds. “Unfortunately, this is the way the divorce game is played, my dear. I don’t know anything about divorce law, but I know that divorces have held up lives for decades from people who don’t want the divorce and won’t sign the papers. A lot of cases have been won—or lost, depending on which side you’re on—because one party is just tired of fighting and simply gives up and gives in. I’m not sure there’s much that she can do but let him wait it out and give him want he wants short of paying him off to hurry up and sign the papers so that Tina can die in peace.”

“I have Al on it,” I reply. If all that needs to be done is he sign the papers and this is over, I’m not beyond paying this bastard off to go away. Maybe I’m getting too involved, but to me, this is just another way that the Boogeyman is bearing his teeth, even though he’s not bearing them at me. “What’s Harmony doing there anyway? I told her to spend some time with her mom.”

“Tina shooed her away and she doesn’t know how to deal with it. She’s young and going through some things herself right now. Handling two major life changes is taking its toll.”

“What about her classes?” I ask.

“Not until this afternoon.” I shake my head.

“Where is she now?”

“She’s helping Michelle out in the dorms—busy work for the most part.” We drive into the gate at the Crossing.

“Well, keep her busy until it’s time to go to school. I’m sure something’s going to give. Maybe have her help you with researching benefit packages.”

“Oh, yes, that’s a good idea,” she concurs.

“I’m going to touch bases with my husband and have him get in touch with the guy who did the Faces PSA—see if we can get a meeting.”

“Excellent, and I’ll get to work on Project Harmony and the benefits research.”

“Indeed, you know where to find me.” I end the call and text Marilyn to meet me at the mansion before I exit the car.

“Is everything okay?” A frowning Gail is walking quickly through the portico to help get the twins from the car. I gesture to the train of vehicles behind me.

“Imagine this driving up to Helping Hands,” I say. “We’d have news helicopters hovering over the Center!” She looks back at the Caravan of Love while I try not to slam the door after Keri has removed Mikey from the car. Chuck has already unbuckled Minnie’s seat and hands the carrier to Gail.

“Oh,” she says with a frown, looking at the line of Audis. “Why the entourage?” she asks. I shake my head.

“Ask His Highness,” I say, waving my hand disgustedly while breezing past her into the house.

*-*

“I don’t know if I’ve told you, but I’m redoing my office here, too,” I say to Marilyn as she types away on her MacBook while sitting in one of the seats across from my desk. She raises her eyes to me.

“Why?” she asks. “It’s so comfy and pretty.”

21d54a5af21611b9705d7f44ebc4c980

“It served the original purpose, but now, it looks too executive. It’s not Zen enough.”

“Oh… the Zen,” she says, tapping at her MacBook again. “How’s that working for you?”

“Some days it helps. Others, I’m struggling,” I admit.

“Well, you just started. Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know.” Yeah, I know. I just wish the Boogeyman would stop rearing his ugly head at me. I’m fighting him. I’ve decided not to take his abuse lying down anymore. But damn, it’s exhausting! I’m trying not to internalize Harmony’s issue; Christian has the entire Intergalactic Force following me; and I haven’t even bothered to ask Marilyn if she’s taken a pregnancy test. She seems in better spirits, but who knows what that means. I need to talk to Ace in the worst way and I’m trying to wait until my appointment on Friday, but it’s hard as hell. I need some damn guidance.

For some reason, my need for guidance leads me to call my husband instead of my shrink.

“Butterfly… are you okay?” he answers frantically, another reason for me to believe that something more is going on than he’s letting on.

“Why wouldn’t I be okay, Christian?” I ask, keeping my voice even. He sighs.

“Don’t read anything into it,” he cautions. “I just got the word the you went back to the house instead of going in to work and just as I was about to call you, you called me. It startled me, that’s all.” I raise my eyebrow in disbelief.

“Well, I couldn’t take the Observation Committee to the Center,” I say stoically. “It would be counterproductive.”

“Yeah, about that,” he says. “Jason went all commando-special-ops on me and pulled that shit, but I straightened it out. You’ll have a couple of extra details with you, but that caravan shit is a wash. I’m sorry if it scared you.”

It didn’t scare me, it pissed me off.

“We’ll keep the detail to your car and one additional with the usual guards and maybe two others, and Butterfly, it’s just a precaution. You know me—I’d rather be safe than sorry any day, but even I know when too much is too much.”

I try not to react, but I can’t help the sigh of relief I release knowing that Jason was just going overboard and that there was no sniper or something waiting to pick me off at the Center.

“You do still carry your firearm with you, don’t you?” And just when I was starting to relax…

“Yes,” I reply.

“Good, because I had to remind him that you’re a proficient shot and that you stay armed so that he would back off a bit. Hell, you’d probably pick off somebody coming at you faster than any of them would… I’m reminded of a certain Monster Bitch.”

I can’t help but laugh, and the tension is broken again, which I’m sure was his intent.

“I have a purpose for my call,” I say, not noticing that Marilyn has left the room. Where did she go?

“What is it?”

“Well, first, I want to see if you can set a meeting with that guy who did the Faces of Abuse PSA. We’re thinking of doing one for the new services at Helping Hands and we need direction.”

“I’ll give him a call,” Christian says. “And second?”

“I don’t know if you’ve been informed, but Tina Franklin has taken a turn for the worst.” I hear him sigh.

“Really?” he says, his voice deflated.

“Unfortunately, yes. She’s at home on hospice. Harmony’s not doing very well, so this portion kind of has a two and a three.” He pauses.

“I’m listening.”

I tell him about how Tina is pushing Harmony away in her last days. I’m certain she thinks it’s an attempt to spare Harmony the pain of watching her fade away. The problem is that she’s going to need these last moments to cling to when her mother is gone, and Tina is unintentionally taking those away from her. I beseech Christian to go and see her, maybe see if he can talk to her since he knows Tina so much better than I do. When he hesitates, I ask him how he would feel if this were Grace and he was in this position. He sighs.

“I’ll stop by after work,” he says, surrendering.

“There’s more,” I tell him.

“More than this? Sweet Jesus, what else?”

“Harmony’s divorce isn’t final. She had an attorney, but it turns out that the asshole was a spy for her husband. I’ve talked to Al about helping but he hasn’t gotten back to me yet. Her husband is stalling the proceedings waiting for Tina to die. He knows that Harmony is going to get an inheritance and if she gets it before they’re divorced…”

“He may be entitled to half,” Christian finishes. “Yes, the dirty business of divorce. Dad always talked about hating to see two people who once loved each other rip one another apart in court.”

“Isn’t there something that can be done?” I ask. “Can’t the court force that asshole to sign the papers? If not, Tina’s going to die or Harmony’s going to give in and—either way—he’s going to get what he wants.

“Short of busting the guys kneecaps and making him sign the papers, there’s no way around this.”

“Can we bust his kneecaps?” I ask, only half-serious.

“Butterfly…” my husband scolds.

“I know, I know,” I say, “it’s just that this guy has been dirt from the very beginning…”

I tell him the whole story about how the marriage was a farce from day one, the whole time the soon-to-be-ex-husband hoping to get his hands-on Harmony’s money not knowing that the money wasn’t Harmony’s. I explain that Harmony is not a trust fund kid like Tina’s other children may have been; that Harmony is the adopted great-granddaughter that her parents didn’t want and how Tina kept her money out of the snake’s hands when she saw through him. I told him about the guy’s philandering and how horribly he treated Harmony once he realized he wasn’t getting a hold of her money, forcing her to leave to avoid the terrible treatment and infidelity.

“Now, it looks like he’s going to get what he was after all along,” I conclude.

“Well, that explains a lot,” Christian says. “I was wondering how Tina could have a daughter so young. I’m also wondering if all of her children are going to come home now that she’s in hospice, or if they’re all still too busy with their lives.”

I don’t say what I’m thinking… that they’ll all show up after she’s dead looking for their cut.

“So, we have a parasite on our hands,” Christian says, “and short of going the old-school route and giving him the beating that he so richly deserves or making him an offer he can’t refuse, he’s going to get off Scott free with half of Harmony’s inheritance. I’m not buying that. There’s a way around that somehow.”

“I don’t see that there is, Christian, except for Harmony not to get the money… and that’s punishing Harmony for her asshole ex-husband’s actions.”

“I’m a businessman. There’s always a way,” he says confidently. “I don’t mean to rush you, baby, but there’s a ton of shit that I have to get to today and you just gave me a couple of additional projects to add to the pile. Was there anything else you needed?”

“No, that was it. I’ll call you if I think of anything else.”

“Okay… now I’m going to see Tina after work. Unless I can get out of here early, that means I’ll be home late today.” His voice is placating, like he thinks I’ll break—not that I can blame him.

“Okay, that’s fine. I won’t wait up,” I say.

“Not that damn late!” he adds.

“I get it, Christian. You’ll be home later. I’ll see you when you get here.” We exchange I love you’d and end the call. So, the threat’s not so bad that I need eight people following me, but he wants to make sure that I’m carrying my gun. Like he said, Ana, don’t read anything into it.

The whole thing with the adoption has made me think about my biological family—or the lack thereof—and I go to that website I logged into last year. The damn thing’s been charging my account every month for a year and I haven’t even been paying attention to it. I think I remember Mare saying something about it right before the twins were born and I said that I would get to it, but nothing since then.

Nothing from Marilyn anyway.

When I log into the website, it’s full of hits and notifications. Holy cow, Batman! Are these all people who are related to me? Shit, it’s going to take me months to get through all this data and all these people!

I log out of the site. My brain can’t even absorb that shit right now. Is this a box that I really want to open? After nearly 30 years, here comes cousin Ana? And are these people legit or are they just people on the site who may know who I am and are trying to get a piece of the rock?

“Dear Jesus, not now,” I say, opening my email program instead. I see the email from Mia that I’ve been avoiding, the one with the link to her wedding site. I roll my eyes and sigh.

“Might as well look,” I say aloud and click on the link.

The site opens to a background of Mia and Ethan on their wedding day, all smiles and gleefully posing as Mr. and Mrs. Kavanaugh. There are so many links and features that I don’t know where to begin. My first destination is the guest list. I have no idea who put this together, but each person who signed the guest book is featured in this section—pictures with their scribbled names underneath and their relation to the bride and groom, if any. I quickly find the picture of me and Christian. Someone caught us walking into the ballroom together, I have no idea when. We’re very casual and he’s holding my hand. It’s a simple picture of us and I like it—not posed or phony, just me and Christian as we are… well, most of the time.

Most of the other pictures of the guests were either pictures from the photo booths or candid shots like me and Christian. I don’t know if Adelaide will peruse Mia’s website, but if she does, the guestlist will alert her that her granddaughter is still in town, or at least was for the wedding. Her photo is with Vickie, protectively holding her around the waist. Her smile is large and genuine. She looks radiant, and Vickie’s adoration of her clearly shows through the photograph. I won’t alert her that the picture is here. I think it’ll only cause her undue anxiety. She travels in some of the same circles as her grandparents. If it’s meant to be that they bump into each other, then they will.

I get lost in the website, reliving the night through many of the photographs and enjoying the journey. I even get a little miffed watching Marlow dance with his little walking-fart-dress-wearing date. Geez, I hope she’s not a girlfriend. Then there’s the picture of Carrick holding Grace close to him on the dancefloor and planting a tender kiss on her cheek. Elliot and Val didn’t escape the smooch-cam either. And of course, me and Christian. There’s even a picture of Christian placing a tender kiss on Tina’s cheek when she and Harmony were about to leave the reception.

A kinder, gentler Christian Grey…

I didn’t, however, expect to see a video clip of us singing for Mia. I guess somebody couldn’t resist.


CHRISTIAN

I hope I’ve convinced my wife to resume going into the office. I haven’t had a cooking lesson from Gail in over a week and I’m certain that I’ve completely forgotten how to crack an egg… which is ridiculous. I proceed with what I was about to do when my wife called me and interrupted my thought process.

“Terry Smalls here.”

“Smalls, Grey. I’ve been waiting for an update on my grandfather’s storage bins. What’s the news?”

“We’re still sorting, sir,” he says. “It’s like one of those boxes where you open it and there’s another box and you open it and there’s another box and you open it and there’s another box. I think you or your uncle should look at these manifests…”

“Why don’t you just tell me what’s in there?” I ask impatiently.

“Where do I start?” he laments. “We’ve got about five bins full of antique furniture—real quality stuff. We’ve got at least two and maybe three bins of knick knacks, and when I say ‘knick knacks,’ I don’t mean ‘whatnots.’ I mean old fashioned baby clothes, bronzed baby shoes, somebody’s wedding dress—According to the manifest, there’s a collection of Waterford Crystal somewhere in one of these bins. You know they don’t make that anymore, right?”

“Yes, I’m aware,” I say.

“Oh! Yeah, and three more cars.” I nearly drop the phone.

More cars?” I ask.

“Yeah, three,” he confirms. “We haven’t located them yet.”

“Then how do you know they’re there?” I inquire.

“They’re on the manifests,” he says.

“Classics? Restored, like the Mustang?”

“I don’t know, sir. We haven’t found them yet…”

“Goddammit, drop everything and find the cars first! My grandfather was sick well before he died. Those things might have been sitting there for years!”

“Will do, sir.” I end the call and push my hands through my hair. My grandfather was fucking rich, or he spent his money in such a way as to accumulate an array of valuable things that he must have horded for his sons—four classic cars, four brothers. That’s got to be what that is.

I must shake the thought from my head about the cars because there’s nothing I can do about this until I know what the cars are and what kind of shape they’re in.

I spend the morning and part of the afternoon pretending to concentrate on the business of mergers and acquisitions, but it’s no use. I want to know what the fuck is taking Smalls so long to unearth those damn vehicles. Then, I get the news that one of my safe havens is about to fall prey to the worst type of vermin and, like I said, short of breaking his kneecaps, I don’t know that there’s much I can do to help her.

Short of breaking his kneecaps… I’m not beyond breaking his kneecaps, but let’s see what we can get done legally first.

“Well, truth be told, Chris,” Al says once I summon him to my office, “I know about assets and I love a good juicy fight, but I never really got into divorce law.”

“It’s a contract,” I tell him. “It’s the same thing. Think about a merger that’s about to happen. We’ve got assets that we want to hide without tipping off the buyer or the SEC.”

“I didn’t say that I didn’t know what to do. I said that basically, this isn’t my area of expertise.”

“Okay, so get to the point. What does this all mean?” I ask, impatiently.

“Nothing. He can’t touch her inheritance. If they were still in love and planning to be married for life, he still couldn’t touch her inheritance. The only way that he could touch her inheritance is if she intermingled the money together with the marital assets somehow, like if she put the money in a joint account or if it was property and he paid to repair it. Other than that, he can hold the divorce up until hell freezes over. He’ll never get that money.” I just stare at him.

“I thought all money that came into the marriage after the vows was automatically community property,” I protest.

“Nope,” he says. “Even in community property states, inheritances are not ‘his, hers, and ours.’ If that money is deposited into an account that belongs only to Ms. Harmony, Mr. Harmony can’t fuck with it.” Well, I’ll be damned.

“Have you told Harmony yet?” I ask.

“I haven’t had the chance.”

“Let me do it,” I say. “I’m going to see Aunt Tina this evening and I’d love to be able to put both their fears to rest simultaneously.”

“Be my guest,” he says.

That fucker better be glad I’ve discovered that he can’t get any of Harmony’s money. I’m not the vigilante-save-every-damsel-in-distress-that-crosses-my-path guy, but any discomfort I’ve ever inflicted on any woman with few exceptions has been consensual. I hate for men to take advantage of women, especially emotionally and even more so financially, but I hate it even more when a jerk or a crook gets over on the good guy, and that seems to happen a lot.

Hearing the news about Harmony and Tina helps me to relax a bit and I get a little more done during the afternoon than I do during the morning. I decide to leave the office early to go see about Aunt Tina, but not before I touch bases with Smalls. How fucking hard can it be to find four whole ass vehicles?

Just when I’m about to lose my complete patience with Smalls and send someone else to Detroit to get the job done, my intercom comes alive.

“Mr. Grey, I have Terry Smalls on line 2.”

Without even answering her, I pick up line 2.

“It’s late afternoon here, so I know it’s after dark there. What took so long?” I bark into the phone. “They’re cars. What took hours to find cars?”

“Well, sir, all the cars are parked behind packed boxes like the first one was. Knowing that at least one of them has fine crystal in it, I’m sure you didn’t want us to go tearing through them like a bull in a china shop.” His voice is crisper than I would like, but he has been rummaging through storage bins all day. I bite back the urge to reprimand him.

“Oh, you found the damn cars?” I ask.

“Oh, we found the cars. Your grandfather apparently has a wonderful sense of humor,” he says mirthlessly. Watch it, Skippy.

“Meaning?” I say, nearly growling.

“Meaning,” he begins, softening his tone, “finding the cars meant going through riddles on the manifest. We unpacked at least two rows in four bins before we found the last car. One of my guys apparently likes logic problems, so he was quickly able to figure out the last two saving us a massive amount of time.”

“Riddles?” I ask incredulously. “Like what?”

“Oh, God, sir, please don’t put me through that again,” he laments, but continues anyway. “Things like two farmers go to the market to buy wheat one buys 45 bags the other buys 75 bags when they get home they split it evenly between three farmers but only one farmer paid for it and… you get the idea.” He says the entire thing without stopping. “When you solve the riddle, you get the number of a manifest or a storage bin, only we didn’t figure it out until after we found the second car. We’ll be here all night putting these boxes away.”

“You’ve got the boxes out already. Why not work in shifts getting some of that stuff sorted instead of shoving it back into the bins? I only suggest that because it’s got to be a better use of time than to shove it all back in there just to pull it back out again.”

“My guys are tired. I’ll run it by them, but I’m worried about accuracy with an exhausted crew.”

“You’re right. Not a smart idea. What can you tell me about the cars?”

“Well, we can see the cars, but we can’t move them. They’re open, but the keys and the titles are all hidden in RiddleLand again, and I have a feeling these are personal.” Oh, dear Lord.

“Please, explain,” I sigh.

“Well, in the glove box of each car, there’s a riddle. After each riddle, it says, ‘Ask the boys.’” I wish I had more patience for this. I’m not flying back out to Detroit. I don’t care if he finds gold bullion in one of those bins.

“Can you give me an example?” I ask.

“’What has four fingers and a thumb but is not living?’ That one was easy enough, a glove. But what does that mean to me? At first, we thought it meant look in the glove box of the other cars, but there were just more riddles. That’s when we saw the words, ‘Ask the boys.’ So, like I said. I think these are more personal.” Now, I’m exhausted and I haven’t even done any of the work.

“Send me pictures of the cars and the riddles, please. I’ll talk to my uncle. By the way, what kind of condition are the other cars in?”

“Cherry,” he says. “You have to see them. There’s no way I can explain it.” Cherry… that’s pretty ripe.

“Email them, pack up the boxes. Go have dinner and get some rest. I’ll be waiting for your call tomorrow.” My way of telling him that I won’t bother him since I know it’s going to take forever to get the boxes back into the bins.

“Yes, sir.”

*-*

It’s about five thirty when we arrive at Aunt Tina’s. The butler doesn’t recognize me when he opens the door, not that he has any reason to, but at first, he denies me entry or access to see her.

“I know what condition she’s in and she’s a very dear friend of mine. I’d like to see her please. Tell her it’s Christian,” I insist.

“I’m afraid that’s impossible,” he says, his nose in the air. “Mrs. Franklin is not seeing visitors.”

“She’ll see me,” I persist. He doesn’t relent. “Is Harmony here?” His face distorts in distaste. What the fuck is that all about?

“No, she’s not,” he announces. As if in answer to his question, a late model Jetta drives up the round drive. One of the other staff opens the driver side door and Harmony steps out.

“Christian,” she says, recognition setting in as she approaches the door. “How are you? It’s good to see you.”

“I wish I could say the same,” I complain. “I mean to say that it’s good to see you, but I can’t seem to get in to see Tina.” Harmony frowns.

“She’s not doing very well,” she says.

“Yes, I know. My wife told me. She explained her condition to me at Mia’s wedding and she asked me to come by and see her. Here I am, but I can’t get in.” She looks at the butler.

“Roger, what’s the meaning of this?” Harmony says. Roger looks at her but doesn’t acknowledge her. “Let Christian in. What’s wrong with you?”

“Ms. Tina is not in any condition to see guests,” he says snootily.

“That’s not for you to decide!” Harmony retorts. “Are you her doctor, now? Move.”

He says nothing but refuses to grant me access.

“Roger, I know you’ve worked for my mother for many years and you know the lay of this property like the back of your hand, but this. Is not. Your. House!” she hisses. Roger’s lips form a straight line. “Now, step aside, and please allow multibillionaire and mega-entrepreneur Christian Trevelyan Grey into my home!”

She’s glaring at him and he glares right back at her like she’s nobody. I’ve had enough. I shove this fucker aside and step into the house.

“Harmony, where’s Aunt Tina?” I ask, ignoring Roger’s appalled gasps and scoldings.

“She’s upstairs in her room,” she says. I take the spiral stairs two at a time. I don’t know why I feel such a sense of urgency, but I need to get to her to tell her what I’ve discovered and to let her know not to push Harmony away.

“Which room?” I ask Harmony when we get to the top of the stairs.

“Third door on the right,” she says.

“You can’t just go barging in on someone like this!” Roger protests. I whirl around on him in an instant.

“I’ve had all I’m going to take from you!” I hiss. “Now, if you don’t shut up…” I let the words hang in the air. Jason comes casually up the stairs behind me and stands behind Roger. He deflates at the sight of Jason and shrinks back a bit.

“How do you get anything done with him around?” I ask.

“It’s a trial,” Harmony admits.

“Let me guess. He knows more than you do and won’t listen to anything you say because he’ll only take orders from Tina. What’s more is that he walks around with a haughty ass entitled attitude looking down on everybody even though he’s nothing more than the help.” I’m staring at him waiting for a response or reaction from him. I get none.

“You’ve hit that nail right on the head,” Harmony says. Yes, I said the help. Gail, Jason, Chuck—that’s my family that happen to be my employees. They don’t act entitled and they certainly don’t treat my guests like vermin. So, yes, he’s nothing more than the help.

“Does he have any idea that everything he gazes upon and holds dear is going to you when your mother dies?” Roger’s eyes widen and his face pales. Harmony’s eyes widen as well.

“How do you know that?” she asks, surprised.

“I’m Christian Grey. I have my ways.” I say, never taking my eyes off Roger. I don’t know that, but he doesn’t know that I don’t know. “The very reason for my visit is to let you know that I’ve discovered some information about your inheritance and your asshole husband that should put your and Tina’s fears to rest.”

“I… I thought Ana had her friend Allen working on it,” Harmony says. I finally break my gaze with Roger and look at Harmony.

“She did,” I tell her. “Allen’s my head of legal. He’s a specialist in asset law, but he’s not a divorce attorney. No worries, though. I spoke to my father, too. He’ll be representing you in your divorce. But, first, I need to share some news with you and Aunt Tina.” I gesture to her to lead the way. She steps in front of me and walks to Tina’s door. As we’re about to enter, Roger makes to enter with us. I hold my hand up at his chest.

“We won’t need you, Roger,” I say. “Jason?” Jason steps in front of Roger as Harmony and I step into the bedroom.

“Sir!” Jason stops me somewhat urgently. He leans in to me.

“Sir, I’m getting feedback on my earpiece,” he says lowly. My brow furrows and I shake my head. What does that mean?

“This room is bugged,” he informs me. I’m instantly horrified.

“You’re sure?”

“I’m positive,” he confirms.

“There’s no way to scramble the signal?”

“Don’t dawdle there at the door! Come in!” Tina demands, her back to us. I look to Jason.

“I can call Alex. It’ll probably fuck up your cell signal, too.” I nod and put my hand in the small of Harmony’s back.

“Careful what you say,” I whisper to her as we walk across the room to Aunt Tina.

“Mom?” Harmony says softly. Tina takes her hand.

“You just don’t listen, do you, child?” she says sweetly. Harmony can’t control her emotions.

“It’s my fault, Aunt Tina,” I say, emerging from behind the chair. Her face is worn and tired but lights up when she sees me.

“Christian!” she says with excitement. “Are you being a bad influence on my Harmony?” Harmony kneels at her mother’s feet and lays her head in Tina’s lap. She weeps quietly, and Tina gently strokes her hair.

“This is why I don’t want you here,” she says, trying to comfort Harmony.

“This is exactly why she needs to be here, Aunt Tina,” I say softly touching her shoulder. “These will be her last moments with you. She needs every one of them.” Aunt Tina looks up at me and nods, still stroking Harmony’s hair.

“At least do your mom a solid and don’t cry every time you see me,” Aunt Tina says to Harmony, who tries to control her sniffles.

“Yes, ma’am,” she says, her voice soft. Tina shifts a bit in her chair.

“See? I’m not gone yet,” Aunt Tina says. “I just saw a commercial that you’re going to be on that program next Monday—you and your wife. What’s that about?” I look at my phone and I still have a very clear signal.

“We did a segment somewhat introducing ourselves to the world.” Aunt Tina tsk’s.

“You don’t need to be introduced to the world,” she says. “They all know who you are.”

“No, they don’t,” I smile. “They just think they do. Your butler certainly doesn’t know me. And he doesn’t like me either.”

“He’s just protective,” she says. “He’s been with me for a long time.”

“Is that why he doesn’t respect Harmony either?” I ask. Harmony raises her head from her mother’s lap.

“Christian…” She shakes her head.

“My dear, if Tina is the only one he’ll listen to, then Tina is the one that has to let him know he can’t treat you that way,” I inform her. Tina’s frail hand lifts Harmony’s chin.

“Is this true?” she asks. “Is he disrespectful to you?”

“He just doesn’t know me, Momma,” she says sweetly.

“Nonsense!” Tina says, pressing a button on the table next to her bed. Roger bursts through the door almost immediately, pushing past Jason and appearing before Tina.

“Yes, ma’am,” he says, making eye-contact only with Tina.

“Roger are you being a pompous asshole again?” she says. His brows furrow.

“Ma’am?” he says.

“You treat my daughter as if she were me, today and from now on, or you can pack your things and leave this house tonight! Are we clear?” His eyes widen.

“Ma’am!” he says shocked. “Ma’am, I assure you…”

“I’m not looking for any of your English butler-school-taught bullshit right now, Roger. I am looking for a yes or no answer. Are. We. Clear?” He straightens.

“Yes…” he says. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Now, apologize to my daughter for how you’ve apparently been treating her when my back is turned.” He turns to Harmony.

“Ms. Harmony, I’m deeply sorry for my behavior…”

“Your insolence!” Tina demands. Roger clears his throat.

“For my insolence,” he corrects. “I humbly beg your forgiveness and assure you that it will never happen again.” Harmony turns away from him and rests her chin on her mother’s lap.

“It’s my understanding that you were rude to my guest as well,” Aunt Tina says. “I’m appalled, not only because he’s a dear friend of my family but also because you felt you have the right to treat anyone who visits my home that way. I’m dying, Roger, but I’m not dead yet! You should be glad I don’t fire you right now. I’m waiting.” Roger raises his gaze to me and I raise my hand to stop him.

“I don’t want his apology,” I say. Aunt Tina looks up at me.

“Christian, is that the behavior of a gentleman?” she scolds.

“No, ma’am,” I say, “and I don’t feel the need to be a gentleman in his presence.” I turn back to Aunt Tina while he continues to glare at me. “Forgive me, Aunt Tina.” She covers my hand and nods.

“You can go now,” she says to Roger. When he leaves, she opens her mouth as if to yawn. “Ah,” she says.

“What is it, Mom?” Harmony asks.

“There’s almost always a constant humming in my ears,” she says. “It’s gone.” I look at my phone. There’s no signal. Jason has found a way to scramble the signal in the room. I examine Aunt Tina.

“Aunt Tina, do you have a hearing aid?” I ask. I can’t see one, but that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have one. Sure enough, she pulls a device out of her ear that’s no bigger than a fingertip.

“I’ve had it calibrated a hundred times, but it doesn’t help.” I sigh.

“Both ears?” I ask. She nods. “Aunt Tina, I have some things to tell you.”


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

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

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 51—When Sly Calls

I’m going to answer a couple of questions really quickly about Brian and Shawna. Brian does love Shawna—as Shawna, not as Ana, Jr. However, him bringing Shawna to Ray’s house at that time was totally a “Nah nah nah nah nah, you’ve been replaced” moment. Either he was hoping to see Ana, because Ana and Ray were coming from the court, or he was hoping that Ray would tell Ana how much Shawna looked like her. He had no reason to think Christian would do it when Christian first found out.

Also (clears throat) in my defense, y’all know I’m the queen of the cliffy, but those last two chapters were not intended to end on cliffies. I had to cut the story somewhere based on word count and the only place to do it was at the cliff… so I’m sorry (giggle giggle).

I’m going to try to get back into the swing of things. Many of you already know that I had a death close to me and had to fly back to Detroit. Very much still reeling from the effects of the trip—mentally and physically. Felt every bit of the emotional strain my characters feel when they travel to that place and trust me—I took my laptop with me, but they were bone silent from the moment I landed until the time I left out of there. None of the Butterfly Saga juices were flowing at all until I was at the airport in COLUMBUS, OHIO on a two-hour delay. Then, I was able to do a little editing, but nothing more. So, here’s chapter 51. I hope it was worth the wait. 

Before we get started, I want to thank you all for hanging in here with me—seriously, through sickness and health, death, drama, moving, job changes, loving the characters, hating the characters, you’ve been right there with me. I appreciate it very much. Really, I do.

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 51—When Sly Calls

When Sly calls, the profit speaks
When Sly calls, the secret leaks
The sky falls, the dice are tossed
The war is won, the battle’s lost

When Sly calls, it’s thirteen takes
When Sly calls, the summer breaks
The sky falls, the rain begins
And on the box some Leon spins
To insulate me from the icy aftershock I feel each time
That Sly calls.
~~Michael Franks, When Sly Calls (Don’t Touch That Phone), 1983

ANASTASIA

“Grace! What have you done?”

I get to the Center on Tuesday morning and I can hardly believe my eyes. Grace’s office has undergone quite the extreme makeover in five days. I can hardly believe it’s the same space.

“How did you pull this off in the little bit of time that I wasn’t here?” I ask. “It’s exquisite.”

“It was quite simple,” she says. “My space is smaller than yours, but I like that. It wasn’t as much of an overhaul as your office. Wallpaper; we changed out the light fixture; the floor is tongue-and-groove, and I just picked my furniture out of a catalogue and voila! Instant new office.”

“It makes me feel so fickle for toiling over colors and styles and textures,” I whine.

“You were looking for a specific look for a specific reason, and you’re going to get it. Your office is transforming into a virtual oasis. I wanted something more daring, more in-your-face, and that’s what I got. Don’t second-guess; it’s going to serve the exact purpose you need.”

She’s right. What’s left of my furniture and the rest of my accessories should arrive today and my Zen office at work should be complete before I leave. Marilyn will have to help me get my files and personal things organized, and I’m sure that will take all afternoon, but once that’s done, my space will be all set.

Grace’s office, on the other hand, is already set.

A statement in black and white with gold accents, Grace’s office screams “sophisticated professional.” There’s no doubt that this is the boss’s space. Black textured wallpaper with repeating geometric white—or pale gold—designs are a vivid contrast against wide snow-white baseboards, a snow-white ceiling, and white accessories. Large gold frames hold small, simple black and white pictures surrounded by white matting creating dramatic artwork that accents the color scheme. Spherical gold lamps with white shades mimic a spherical light fixture in the ceiling. The lamps sit symmetrically on either end of a black credenza against the back wall which holds and hides the printer, fax, files and various necessary supplies behind black lattice doors.

On the wall between the lamps is a small, round mirror in a large black frame with gold piping and resting on the credenza under the mirror is what looks like just the bust of an ancient buddha—although I could be wrong about the statue—strategically placed on books used as a podium. The design is simple… and genius!

A simple black desk with three gray marble inlaid panels sits on a deliberately misshapen white area rug. Two large leather chairs with silver trim tacks face the desk while a black leather desk chair—also with silver tacks—sits behind the desk. A small glass and gold cocktail table is placed between the two large leather chairs and the oversized window, also painted white to contrast against the black wallpaper, is covered with simple black wooden blinds.

And that’s the whole office.

It’s on quite the opposite spectrum of my large, two-room, earth-toned in search of Zen oasis. I’m beginning to feel like I may have overdone it, but I’m going to listen to Grace and not second-guess myself. I had a concept in mind and I should at least attempt to achieve it before I start shooting it down.

This was truly a long time coming for us both. We sank so much money into modernizing the rest of the areas in the Center to make them not only functional, but comfortable and inviting, that we completely avoided our own workspaces. It wasn’t until I looked around the room and realized that it looked like an office at a detention center rather than a space where someone would want to come and talk and pour out their fears and problems that I understood why even I was so confused in this place.

As my furniture and accessories continue to stream in and I slowly begin to see my office take shape, my fears are calmed as I see my vision coming to life. I was sidetracked by the sleek lines and bold direction of Grace’s office and completely forgot my intention for this space.

Make no mistake—creating a Zen office space is no easy task. You want the room to have the feeling of relaxation, where someone can come and pour their heart out of they need to, or just be able to come in and sit down and shoot the breeze. You want to have a place of solace, where peace and nature meet functional and professional. That’s where the problem lies, because I need a combination of both to be functional in this space while reshaping my life and mind to the place I need to be able to handle the changes in my life.

So…

My office really has become two distinct areas.

I have more room and more flexibility to play with at home whereas here, I only have this space. The office space will be delineated from the gray Zen sitting area by a “wall” of bamboo. However, the pale yellow wasn’t giving me the vibe that I wanted when I stopped by yesterday morning to see the progress. So, I made the swift executive decision to change it to a soft tan with an imitation raised stone accent wall and offered a bonus if it was done fast and right.

They had it finished by day’s end yesterday.

And I love the result. It’s earthier than the yellow and the accent wall is perfect opposite the bamboo “wall” and the gray textured wallpaper on the other side of the office and against the tongue-and-groove bamboo floor.

I went for the minimalist tan furniture in this space, something that makes the space functional but takes advantage of the new openness of the office. I was never at a loss for natural light, but the gray, metal desk and older black leather chair with worn bookshelves and an area rug from the prehistoric era screamed that we were on a budget. Not only that, but the meddling department head and her sidekick investigator who made my life hell are no longer a concern for how money is being spent. So, I don’t have to account for the funds used to deck out my office… even though I’m spending my own money.

The furniture is already set, but I want to adjust a few things to suit me better and I have a lot of little boxes that need to be unpacked. I need to get my files, books, supplies and necessities organized in the credenza, bookshelves and small cabinets…

And where’s Marilyn? She’s usually here by now.

I start by turning my desk around. It’s fairly large with lots of surface space, but it’s nothing more than four legs and a top with a computer stand attachment that I’ll most likely use for books or a speaker or a salt lamp or something since I don’t have a computer tower.

“What are you doing?” Courtney asks from the doorway.

“Arranging my office. Have you seen Marilyn?” She shakes her head.

“Not this morning… Chuck!” she yells down the hallway.

“Yeah?” I hear him call back, accompanied by the sound of his soles clicking quickly down the hallway.

“Slow down, killer, nothin’s on fire,” she says. His steps pause but resume more slowly. “Your boss is in here moving furniture and if she sprains a fingernail or something, Mr. Moneybags is going to be looking for blood. So, can we get her some help?”

Sprains a fingernail…

“You’re such a bitch,” I say to her and Chuck laughs.

“And yet, you still love me,” she says imitating awe before turning back to Chuck. “Help for the princess please?” she reinforces.

“I’m not a princess,” I declare haughtily while brushing off my desk. “I’m a Butterfly.” Courtney dramatically covers her chest and gasps.

“My apologies!” she exclaims. “Assistance for the Butterfly, sir, which is much more significant and delicate than a princess!” she says sarcastically. Chuck shakes his head.

“Give me two minutes,” he says pointing to me, “and don’t move anything else.”

“Sir, yes sir!” I say with a salute. He rolls his eyes and disappears from the doorway. I turn my attention back to Courtney. “Well, since you halted my progress, come on in here and help me organize some of this shit.”

Courtney helps me begin to organize while Chuck and two other gentlemen that he enlists adjust the furniture the way that I want. As it turns out, Chuck is very good at hanging artwork and I have several pictures—some Zen settings and butterflies—that he proceeds to arrange and hang for me. Courtney and I go about the business of opening several boxes of décor including Feng Shui crystals, carved hands holding sodalite and citrine clusters, and Himalayan salt lamps.

There are two bookshelves in my office. One will be reserved for books and whatnot, the other will be filled with the Zen and Feng Shui décor I’ve picked out, along with any other items I acquire, like the bonsai trees that are forthcoming. There are also jade plants and ficus plants scattered around the room along with some clustered bamboo here and there.

We get most of the décor situated and start to clean up the packaging now overtaking my office when Marilyn comes rushing into the room. She doesn’t look like she’s gotten much sleep—and it’s not the I got fucked all night look that she’s sporting.

“I’m…” she begins, pauses, and starts again. “I’m sorry… I’m late,” she says. I know something’s wrong, but I don’t want to out her in front of a room full of people.

“Is everything alright? Are you alright?” I ask, trying not to be too probing. She shakes her head, then nods, trying to wave me off.

“I’m… I’m just late,” she says, not making eye-contact with me. She’s never been late—not once, in all the years that she’s worked for me.

I don’t want to pry, but I‘m gonna… just not in front of all these people.

“We’re just starting to clean up, then I was going to get to unpacking and organizing my files and things.” Marilyn nods.

“I’ll start that,” she says. “Just let me look around a bit… get a feel for things.”

“Okay,” I say, and she begins to examine the area. Courtney throws me a “what the hell” look and I just shrug. I’m going to ask what the deal is, just not in front of everyone.

We get what seems like a million little boxes, packing peanuts, Styrofoam, plastic, and bubble wrap, all cleaned up and out to the dumpster and Marilyn has gotten my books, files, and supplies organized in no time flat. She knows how I like for things to be and it was easy for her to put each thing it its place. She even rearranged a ficus plant or two because she knows that bonsai trees are on the way. I thank everyone for their help and discreetly shoo them out of the room. Marilyn falls into one of the chairs in the sitting area.

“I like the bamboo wall,” she says, pulling her hair out of her face. “Was that a last-minute decision?” I nod.

“Yeah, along with the color-change and the imitation stone,” I say, taking the seat to her right. My Zen area really feels Zen. It makes you want to kick back and sip iced tea or something, and the soothing sound of the water flowing in the Chakra fountain lulls you into comfort and peace.

“Oh… okay, that’s what’s different. It was yellow before.”

“Yep,” I say, trying not to push. She sighs.

“So, I guess I’m going to be your first discussion in your new office,” she says. I don’t reply. “I’m late.”

“We’ve established that,” I say. “You can’t be this distracted about being late. You look like you haven’t gotten any sleep.”

“That’s because I haven’t,” she says matter-of-factly.

“So, you’re late because you haven’t gotten any sleep?” I ask. “It happens, Mare. You’re not chronically tardy. Hell, I don’t even remember the last time you took a sick day.” She laughs mirthlessly.

“No, Ana,” she says. “I’m late because I didn’t get any sleep. I didn’t get any sleep because I’m late.”

I’m frowning. It appears the we have a horse pulling a cart with another horse behind it.

“I’m confused,” I admit. Marilyn leans forward and puts her elbows on her knees.

“I’m late, Ana,” she says clearly. “Not tardy, late… like a week late.”

A week late? What the fuck? A week late for what?

Like a water balloon splatting in your face, I finally get what she’s talking about.

1-11

“Oh, shit!” I whisper. “Wow… um, okay. So… um… what does this mean?”

“I don’t know,” she says, falling back in her chair again. “Like you said, I’ve never been late. Twelve years, and you could set Big Ben by my cycle and now…” She scrubs her eyes.

“Have you talked to Gary?” She nods.

“He’s ecstatic at the very idea of a baby,” she says, but her tone and the fact that she’s not making eye-contact with me speaks volumes.

“But you’re not,” I observe. A single tear falls from her eye.

“I’m 25, Ana,” she says, her voice cracking. “I know this is the prime age for women to start having children, but I don’t even know if I want that. I want to do so much and see so much. Even though I can’t see my life without Gary, we never talked about happily ever after and raising kids. And even if we were to have that conversation, I certainly didn’t want it to happen this soon. We’re so young…”

The Bitch is shaking her head. She has things that she wants to say, but I’m telling her to shut the hell up. It’s truly time for Shrink Ana.

“Could this be a mistake?” I ask. “Stress or something? What kind of contraception do you use?”

“I’m not under any stress,” she answers. “We use birth control pills and condoms. And I’d bet my last dime this isn’t a mistake. I know my body. I know something’s not right.”

This truly seems like a tragedy for Marilyn. Her tears, her defeated body language, her totally broken tone all indicate that this is probably the last thing that she wants in her life right now.

And Gary’s over the moon about it.

“So… I guess you need to decide what you’re going to do about the situation,” I say gingerly. “I mean… have you taken a pregnancy test?”

“Ana,” she sighs, “I can guarantee you that’s just a formality.”

“Women are late all the time for any number of reasons,” I try to soothe.

“I’m pregnant,” she says. “I don’t know how far, but I’m pregnant. I’m not paranoid. I’m not jumping the gun. I’m willing to bet right now that if I pissed on a stick, it would change colors.” I sigh.

“So, why haven’t you pissed on a stick yet?” I ask. She rolls her eyes.

“Foolish procrastination,” she replies, “like if I don’t see a positive pregnancy test, I don’t have to deal with it yet; like I can pretend it’s not true…”

Foolish procrastination is right.

“And you don’t need me to point out the dangers of make believe right now, right?” I say, somewhat scolding. She glares at me. “I’m just saying,” I defend. “You’ve got a decision to make, Mare, and procrastinating is going to make it harder.”

She simply shakes her head and drops her gaze to her fidgeting hands.

“You don’t want to have a baby right now.” It’s a statement, not a question. Marilyn shakes her head. I open my phone and start the voice recorder. Like it or not, this is a session, sweetie. “Tell me all the reasons why…”

Marilyn begins to tearfully rattle off all the reasons she doesn’t want to have a baby right now. She has lots of things that she wants to do that she can’t do with a “kid on her hip.” She loves Gary but, like she said, they never talked about forever and she doesn’t want to end up a single parent raising a child. She’s not ready for any of the mental, physical, or emotional implications associated with being a mother. She never even considered if she wanted to have children because she has so many other plans. All her reasons are solid reasons for not wanting to have a baby, except…

“Have you considered adoption?” I ask, and I know it’s a mistake the moment I say it because even if she had, Gary wouldn’t agree to it. Then, there’s the implications of what this all means for their relationship.

“You’re kidding, right?” she snaps. “Put my body through that for nine months nurture and care for something inside of me for nine whole months to give it away have we met?” And I’ve clearly pissed her off. She said that without even taking a breath. “Are you going to try to shove some pro-life shit down my throat?”

Now, I’m a little pissed.

“I don’t know how to take that, Marilyn,” I retort. “I realize that you’re in a confusing place right now and I’m not trying to make it worse, but the fact that I had my twins because I was ready, I’m married, and it’s a good time for me does not make my decision pro-life shit!” I say those words a little more harshly than I intend, and it somewhat snaps her out of her temporary anger. I take a deep breath before I continue.

“I am 100% in favor of a woman making a decision about what she’s going to do with her body,” I say, my voice softening, “but while you’re in this state of mind, be careful not to throw spears at someone that aren’t necessary. You have a very tough decision ahead of you and I am not the enemy.” There’s silence between us for a moment.

“Now, let’s get back on track. You’ve given me several solid reasons why you don’t want to have a baby right now. Yet, you clearly haven’t made the cut and dried decision to go through with a termination or you would have gotten some sleep last night. So, tell me, what are the factors that are pushing you in the other direction? Her eyes fill with tears again.

“Killing a baby, to begin with,” she says. I could have the medical versus moral conversation with her about the fetus just being a glob of cells at the moment versus the life begins at conception theory. However, I don’t think that would be helpful right now. We’re having a whole ass case in Henderson based on that second concept and my pregnancy with that monster Cody Whitmore, even though I would have gotten an abortion one way or another if I found out that I was pregnant with that bastard’s spawn.

Marilyn tells me about her highly religious parents and her upbringing; the fact that she’s carrying a life inside of her and that she was taught that God is the only one who has control over life and death. This theory conflicts with what she has learned from her secular experiences—that it is her body first and she has the option to decide what she’s going to do with it. Does she ignore “God’s Will” and terminate the pregnancy, or does she follow through with her teachings and have the child, knowing that she’s not ready for one?

And then there’s Gary.

What will this do to their relationship? She loves him, and she knows that he wants to keep the baby. Most of the night was spent mulling over the situation with him looking at or touching her stomach more than once. She could have the baby, but she would be having it more for him than for herself. What kind of mother would that make her? Could she learn to love the baby, or would she be resentful towards the child because she was forced to have it against her will in order to keep her man? And what happens if they break up? There’s the whole custody thing and having to care for a child she really wasn’t sure she wanted to keep in the first place.

I don’t want to sway her in one direction or the other, but the choice seems pretty clear to me.

“I want you to hear something,” I tell her as I end the voice recording. I begin to play it back, trying to find the correct location of our conversation.

“You recorded me??” she asks horrified. I raise my glare to her.

“Stop acting new, Marilyn,” I retort. “You know damn well that I record all my sessions, and this is a session. I’m your friend, but you clearly need my professional help. Now shut up and listen.”

I get to the part where she begins to talk about the reasons that she doesn’t feel like now is the right time to have a baby—the plans that she has, the things she wants to do, uncertainty about the future and her feelings about being a mother. I stop the playback.

“Everything I heard right there is all about you—what you want, how you feel, what you’re thinking about the future, your body. Now, listen to this one.”

With a little effort, I locate the portion of the recording where we discuss not having the baby and the repercussions of that decision.

“Listen to what you’re saying,” I say as the recording ends. “You’re talking about how your parents would feel, how Gary would feel—how he kept cooing at your stomach and that you felt like you would be having the baby for him. The only feelings you identify is probable love and likely resentment. I’m not trying to make your decision for you, but that doesn’t sound like a woman who’s ready to have a child to me.”

“God,” she breathes, “I sound so selfish…”

“And guess what, Mare? It’s okay to be selfish. We’re talking about your future, your life, and how you’re choosing to spend it. If you feel that you’re going to be okay having a child and being a mom, then that’s your choice. But… if you feel that you’re not going to be okay with that decision, that being a parent right now is not for you, that’s your choice, too. No matter which decision you make, it’s going to have to be selfish but consider this.

“When you didn’t know that you were being recorded and you rattled off how you really felt, one of those decisions was all about you, how this would affect your life. The other was all about somebody else—what other people would think of you, how your decision would affect someone else. That will certainly foster resentment in the future. You’re going to sit back and dream about all the things you could’ve done—even things you had no intention of doing whatsoever—will all be that baby’s fault because you could’ve done it before you became a mom.

“I’m going to leave you with final thoughts, because like I said, I’m not trying to sway you in one direction or the other. I’m simply giving you the facts. One, everything you do will have consequences. If you decide to keep the baby, you’re going to have consequences attached to that decision. If you decide to terminate the pregnancy, you’re going to have consequences related to that decision as well. You’re going to have to decide which of those consequences you’re willing to deal with.

Second, you can’t live your life trying to satisfy someone else. Yes, you’re going to have to consider other people’s feelings, but all parties involved including you must realize that you are not the only parties involved.

“And third, make no mistake, Marilyn. I’m not going to sugarcoat this for you. Pregnancy is seven to nine months of hell on your body and mind with a few highlights thrown in. When it’s all said and done, if you decide that you’re ready to be a mom and you go into it with your whole heart, it’ll be worth it. If not, every single little adverse thing that happens to you will be Gary’s fault or that baby’s fault and trust me. When you can’t see your feet, you need help sitting and standing, and breathing sometimes becomes a task, a cloudy day will seem like an adverse thing.” She drops her head in her hands.

“You didn’t help, Ana,” she laments.

“Yes, Marilyn, I did,” I challenge. “I gave you some insight that you didn’t have before and I put your feelings in front of you—in your face in black and white. I just didn’t give you a cut-and-dried answer. You’re the only one who has that. Now, go take a damn pregnancy test. Do you want me to come with you?”

“No, I can manage a pregnancy test on my own,” she pouts. “Jesus, this is just so fucking much…” There’s a knock at my door that interrupts our session. Marilyn rises from her seat and dries her face.

“Good,” she sighs. “I’ve really had enough of this conversation for today.” She goes to the door and swings it open before I can stop her.

“Hi,” someone says from the other side. “I’m… looking for Anastasia. Am I interrupting?”

“No, you’ve come to the right place and you’re not interrupting. You are…?” Marilyn pauses.

“Harmony,” she says. “Harmony Franklin. I was supposed to call, but I was in the area, so…” She trails off. I rise from my chair and go to the door.

“Harmony,” I say, recognizing her from Mia’s wedding. “Tina’s daughter, right?” She smiles.

“Uh, yeah,” she says, smiling. “I was hoping… we could chat.”

“Certainly,” I say. “Come in.” Marilyn opens the door and gestures Harmony inside.

“I’m, uh, going to…” Marilyn gestures outside the door, trying to make a getaway.

“No problem, Mare,” I say letting her off the hook. “We’ll talk later?” She nods and gives me the okay sign before leaving. I turn my attention to Harmony.

“Please, have a seat,” I tell her, gesturing to the sitting area.

“It’s lovely in here,” she says, taking a seat.

“I just redid it,” I tell her. “It looked like a warden’s office before. I used my own money, so we wouldn’t put any financial stress on the Center.”

“It’s very… Zen,” she says. I chuckle.

“That’s what I was going for,” I say. “So, Harmony, let’s chat.”  Harmony sighs.

“Mom is on hospice,” she says, sadly. I gasp.

“I’m sorry, Harmony,” I reply. She shakes her head.

“She prepared me,” she says. “We knew it was coming. I’m trying to be strong, but…” She turns her head away and wipes away a tear. I reach over and take her hand.

“Is there anything I can do?” I say. She nods quickly.

“Give me a task,” she says, her voice cracking. “I’m in school and this stuff is second nature to me. I’ve already quit my job because I thought school was going to be harder than it is. That was only the case because of my asshole husband, which is another problem…”

Her husband is still a problem while she’s in school and taking care of her dying mother?

“Anyway, we just got the news today that… things have taken a turn for the very worst. Mom knows it’s all downhill from here, so she made me swear that I would fill my time and not sit and watch her die.” Her voice cracks even more. I frown.

“Okay,” I say.

“The thing is… I can keep part of that promise. I can find something to fill my time, but I’m not deserting my mother. No matter what she says, I’ll be damned if I let her die alone.” My heart smiles inside and breaks at the same time. I don’t really like Carla, but I don’t want to sit and watch her die, either.

“So, how do you plan to balance this?” I say. “You may know your course work very well, but it’s going to be hard enough trying to concentrate while you’re caring for your ailing mother. You want another task?”

“Nothing too strenuous,” she says. “I don’t want an internship, like Courtney. I think that may be too much for me right now…”

“Well, Courtney’s not an intern,” I correct her. “She just kind of does what she can do around here. She’s a Jane of All Trades, so to speak. If you’d like to come and volunteer, get some insight while you’re here, of course we don’t mind, and when you’re ready for an internship, we can work that out, too. But don’t bite off more than you can chew. Tina’s going to need you right now, and it’s imperative that you make sure that she understands how important it is to you to be by her side during this time. She’ll resist at first, but don’t give up, okay?”

Harmony sniffles a few times and wipes her eyes. I hand her a few tissues from my new tissue box. I bought it at first because it matched the décor—a wooden China box. Now I see I’m probably going to need it. Two people bawling like babies in the last twenty minutes… and the office just got finished!

“Harmony, do you mind me prying a bit?” I ask. She dries her eyes.

“I don’t mind,” she says. “It’s nice to have someone to talk to.” I frown.

“The rest of the family doesn’t talk to you?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“They’re all too busy with their lives,” she says. “Then, when Mom dies, they’ll all be at the reading of the will with their smelling salts and their handkerchiefs waiting to see what their cut of her estate is.” She shakes her head. “I don’t even care about the money, the property, none of it. The only thing I care about is how my lousy husband is behaving with all this.”

“That’s one of the things I wanted to ask you,” I say. “You said that your husband is a problem. I thought you two were divorced.”

Getting divorced,” she says. “He got wind that I came home after I left him to take care of my ailing mother. So, he’s holding up the divorce and waiting for her to die so that he can get half of my share of her inheritance.” My eyes widen.

“You can’t be serious!” I exclaim. She nods.

“I wish I wasn’t,” she reinforces. “It’s not that I want to keep the money for myself. Believe me when I tell you that it’s not important to me—I’d rather have Mom, but he doesn’t deserve any of it.”

And now, I’m sitting here wondering if there’s any way to prevent him from getting it.

“What does your attorney say?” I ask.

“Oh, I’m in the process of getting a new attorney,” she says. “I discovered after I filed for divorce that my attorney and my husband had history—history that clearly made this case a conflict of interest for him, but he failed to tell me. As such, my husband has known every single move I’ve made since I filed for divorce.” I shake my head.

“My best friend might be able to help you,” I tell her. “I’ll ask him. He’s GEH’s corporate attorney, but he was my best friend first.” She shrugs.

“Ana, I’m ready to let the guy have whatever he wants as long as it’ll get him out of my life.” I wag a finger at her.

“Don’t say that out loud,” I say. “If there’s a legal way around this, Al will find it…” and if there isn’t, I’ll consult my husband. I can’t stand it when unscrupulous men take advantage of women in vulnerable positions—or vice versa for that matter. My mind immediately goes to the fucking Pedophile and a gorgeous but misguided 15-year-old Christian Grey.

But I digress.

“My other question, if you don’t mind me asking, is about Tina. Honestly, I was just wondering about… the age factor. She seems a bit advanced in years to have a twenty-something-year-old daughter.” Harmony laughs faintly.

“You wouldn’t be the first person to ask that question,” she says. “It’s a long story, but I’ve perfected the short version. The quick and dirty—I’m adopted. The small detail—I am blood. Mom is biologically my great-grandmother. My bio-mom—piece of shit that she is—was looking for a way to secure the Franklin name. Her intention was to trap my dad—slacker that he is. Obviously, it didn’t work out that way. He wanted nothing to do with her, or me at the time.

“She held out hope that he would see the err of his ways once I was born, but he didn’t. She got her wish with the blood test proving that he was my father, but she wanted more than that, and she didn’t want a baby. So, I got dropped off at the ER just before my first birthday and the Baby Moses Law kicked in. When the powers that be sought out dear old Dad, he went to G-Ma since his mother had since passed away and the maternal grandmother obviously didn’t give a fuck either.

“Long story short, Mom pulled me out of the system before they had the chance to ship me to parts unknown and here I am. Unfortunately, I had “Mommy and Daddy didn’t want me” issues because even though Mom is the kindest and most loving woman you’ll ever meet in your life, bio-Dad wasn’t discreet enough to let sleeping dogs lie and let the cat out of the bag at a family gathering in one of his drunken stupors when I was eight years old.” She shrugs.

“I was a kid, but I wasn’t stupid. My mother was over 70 years old. It didn’t take rocket science to figure it out, but I didn’t need the gory details before I even turned 10.” She sighs. “I made a few bad decisions as a teenager—nothing really horrendous, but enough to cause Mom more than a little grief. In trying to understand why my mother, father, and grandmother didn’t want me, I was constantly looking for love in all the wrong places and eventually fell into the clutches of my estranged husband… who I now discover wants nothing more than a piece of the Franklin rock. Thank God I didn’t have any kids with that bastard.

“All this time, he thought Franklin money was my money. It’s not—it’s Mom’s money. She dictates where that money goes, and she saw through him the minute she met him. I was just fine with her stipulation that he prove that he could take care of me before she releases any of her money to me because I thought I loved him and I thought he loved me. As time progressed and he realized that he wasn’t getting any of that money, he became a real asshole. He wouldn’t touch me, he cheated on me, he belittled me…

“When I moved back home with Mom, he filed for divorce and asked for spousal support. The judge laughed in his face. Not only were we not married long enough for him to make such a demand, but also the money that he was trying to lay claim to wasn’t even mine and never came into play in our relationship. If anything, he’d owe me spousal support had enough time passed because Mom was paying my way through college… I wasn’t even working. So, he and his ridiculous request were both kicked to the curb. As a result, he keeps delaying the proceedings with hopes that Mom will kick over and I’ll get some money that he can lay claim to once she’s gone.” I nod.

“I’ll talk to Al today, see if there’s anything that can be done since we know this is what he’s doing.” I stand from my chair. “In the meantime, I can show you around if you like and you can see what we do. Then you can decide what you’d like to do while you’re here.”

Harmony smiles, stands, and falls in step with me. I show her around the community spaces, where we plan on having our classes, and the nursery where I check in on my babies before I head to the dorms to introduce her to some of the families there.

The day feels like it was never going to end. First, Marilyn and her pregnancy dilemma and now Harmony having to deal with Tina’s impending passing and her rat-bastard of a greedy, conniving ass husband. Al was only too thrilled to talk to her when I explain the situation to him. He’s no divorce attorney, so he has to look into how the law works in this particular situation. He’s fairly certain that there’s something in asset law that protects her, but I’m afraid that the law may be too slow with a resolution with Tina in hospice and so close to death’s door.

I’m so beat down when I get home that I send my babies off with the nannies for their evening feeding and head to my bathroom and a soak in my luscious marble tub. I grab the first bath soap I see and discover upon filling the tub that it’s vanilla cinnamon. No matter—I just need to soak. I drop my clothes right there on the floor and sink into the tub before it has even finished filling.


CHRISTIAN

“Christian! Are you crazy?” Jason declares, throwing all decorum out the window.

“No, Jason, I’m not,” I reply. “I’m in no hurry to die, but I don’t fear death. What I’m not going to do is get in the car with this man so that he can do what he wants, then drop me in parts unknown where my wife can’t even find or identify me. I don’t know why he’s here, but if he wants to shoot me, he has to do it right here in public.”

Aragon examines me and crosses his hands in front of him.

“You’ve got guts, Mr. Grey,” he says. “My employer could have used someone like you in his organization… before you made your billions, that is. But you’re also quite paranoid. I’m only here to talk.”

“You could have called,” I retort. “You didn’t have to come across the country. Did you find that asshole?” I ask, referring to Myrick.

“Not yet, but we will,” he says confidently.

“Then, I don’t see that we have anything to discuss,” I say.

“Oh, but we do, Mr. Grey. If I could have but a moment of your time…”

“Then say what you have to say and leave,” I reply. “I’m already late getting home to my family and I’m certain that I’ll have little if any interest in anything that you have to say unless you’re here to tell me that fucker is dead.” He clears his throat.

“Concise and to the point, I see,” he says, closing a bit of the space between us, his goon close behind him. “Mr. Grey, if I was looking to cause you any harm, the deed would’ve been done by now, and neither that bulletproof vest or that gun that you have stashed inside its holster would have saved you.”

This fucking son-of-a… I know that I should feel some kind of alarm or something dealing with this guy as he fucking followed me all the way back from Michigan, but for some reason, I’m just not afraid of him right now—him or his boss who likes to send severed private parts to loved ones.

“I see that your business isn’t important enough for you to speak your piece. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m leaving.” I turn to go back into the building and see that Alex has joined our entourage, and he looks none too pleased with the development.

“Should I follow you to your home, Mr. Grey?” Aragon interjects as I reach for the door. “Would you be more comfortable discussing the matter there?” Oh, this fucker has real balls. I’m getting angrier and angrier by the second and although I can tell that Jason is trying to tell me something with his eyes, I whirl back around on this fucker.

“Mr. Aragon are you deliberately trying to piss me off?” I ask. “Because that’s all your tactic is doing at the present and nothing to sway me to speak to you.”

“I’m not concerned about pissing you off, Mr. Grey,” he replies calmly. “My only intent is to speak to you, and I won’t be doing it here on the sidewalk. We can do this in my vehicle or in your living room. The choice is yours.” Jason leans in to my ear before I can respond.

“First floor conference room,” he says. Home turf and every possible failsafe imaginable.

“I have a third option, and only at the coaxing of my security team,” I say. “The conference room on this floor of my building. It’s that, or you can follow me home and explain to the Seattle Police why you’re following me. I really don’t care which. Take it or leave it.”

I have a feeling that Aragon and his boss aren’t the slightest bit concerned about the local police, but they would much rather avoid the attention nonetheless. Aragon purses his lips. His business is built on fear and respect and at the moment, I feel neither. I want to know why the fuck he’s at my business giving me ultimatums about speaking to him or he’ll show up at my doorstep. He nods once.

“Lead the way, Mr. Grey.” Without hesitation, I turn around and walk into the building. I don’t look left or right as I stride into the conference room with my security flanking me all around. Since he’s fully aware of the bulletproof vest and gun on my person, I remove my coat and jacket and throw it across the chair—I’m burning the fuck up in this shit.

“Would you mind removing your armor, Mr. Grey?” Aragon says. “It gives an air of mistrust and it’s kind of rude.” He takes a seat at the far end of the conference table. I scoff at him.

“You’ve got a lot of fucking nerve,” I reply. “You come to my business uninvited at the end of the workday and threaten that if I don’t take a ride with you, you’ll show up at my damn doorstep with my family, and you’ve got the gall to talk about mistrust and being rude? I don’t trust you for shit and I don’t give a fuck about being rude. You and your guy have a clear shot between my eyes. State your business.”

His jaw twitches and I can see that he’s getting irritated with me. I’m done sparring with him—say what you have to say. I want you out of here in the worst way.

“Temper can be a deadly thing, Mr. Grey,” he cautions. I don’t respond. I stand there looking at him like I’m waiting for him to get to the point… because I am.

“You should take a seat, Mr. Grey. It will make the atmosphere less tense.”

I still don’t respond, and I don’t move to sit. Get to the point, Skippy.

“You make conducting business very difficult,” he says.

“Is that what you came here to say?” I ask succinctly.

“I would be glad to tell you the purpose of my business if you would kindly take a seat,” he coerces.

“Is that what you came here to tell me?” I ask again. No more discussion, Aragon. Get to the point.

“I have an important message for you and you’re making it extremely difficult for me to deliver it.” And that’s strike three.

“Please get Seattle Police on the line,” I say to the guard standing closest to me as I reach for my jacket. “Let them know that I’m on my way home and I’m being followed by a late model black Mercedes and give them the license plate number.” I put my jacket on and reach for my coat.

“Yes, sir,” he says as he heads for the door,

“That won’t be necessary,” Aragon says firmly. The guard turns around and Jason signals him. He stands by the door. Aragon clears his throat. Having lost the position of power he never had from the beginning of this meeting, he shifts the focus to Sunset.

“My employer would like me to relay to you that the next time you feel so inclined to visit Detroit, you let him know in advance,” he says. I slowly turn my gaze to Alex and Jason.

“Is he serious?” I say, bemused. Neither gentleman reacts. I turn back to Aragon.

“No,” I say flatly. “Anything else?” His brow furrows.

“I urge you to exercise caution in your reply, Mr. Grey,” Aragon warns. “Mr. Russo does not take kindly to rejection.”

“I exercise caution in all things, Mr. Aragon, but one thing that never motivates me is fear. I know that your boss is a very powerful man, and I won’t begin to pretend to wield the same level of power that he does, but I don’t kowtow to threats—ever. If he was so resourceful to know that I was in Detroit, he can be just as resourceful and find out why. However, I am an international business man, and I will not now nor will I ever ask for permission to travel or check in with someone because I’m going to be visiting a town they live in. I’m not on parole, I’m not a part of the syndicate, and I don’t partake in any illegal activities… usually.” I add that part after remembering that I actively kidnapped three men last year and I’m still not aware of their current whereabouts, nor do I care.

“You can tell your boss that whatever microchip he has secretly planted in my skull or whatever Big Brother technology he’s using to track my movements, he can continue to use those. I don’t punch a timeclock and I’m not about to start clearing checkpoints for him.” Now Aragon stands.

“I must implore you, Mr. Grey. Mr. Russo will not be pleased with your response. He’s not a man that you want to make an enemy. In fact, he can be a valuable ally for you,” he adds. “He’s very good at making problems… disappear.” I just bet he is.

“No offense to your boss, but the only problem I’m really interested in him making disappear is that thorn in our mutual sides, and only if your boss sees him first because I will not hesitate to send that man to meet his fucking maker immediately upon identification.” He straightens his jacket.

“Just as he can be a valuable ally, he can also be a formidable adversary,” he warns. I cross my arms.

“I have no ought with your boss, but I owe him nothing, and I’m not going to gain clearance every time I want to come to Detroit.”

“It’s a matter of respect, Mr. Grey,” he insists.

“It’s a way to make me bow, Mr. Aragon, and we all know that,” I correct him. “I’m not in Detroit often because I can’t stand that place or what it represents in my life. However, when I must visit, I will not ask your boss’s permission to enter my hometown. I’m not a mafia boss; this is not a turf war; and I’m not invading his territory. You may say that this is a matter of respect for your boss, but for me, it’s a matter of dignity. If you’re watching me that closely, you know that I was only there to tie up loose ends for my deceased family, and if your boss expects me to kowtow to him for that, like I said, shoot me now.”

I’m done, and I don my coat to show that this conversation is effectively over. Aragon glares at me and walks to the door.

“I’ll relay your message to my employer,” he says, it’s clearly a warning.

“You do that,” I retort, “and I’ll get my affairs in order…” Aragon glares at me, bemused. “Just in case,” I add. He rolls his eyes and leaves the room. Jason immediately starts talking into his earpiece.

“Have you had your eye on the parking structure all this time?… Good, do a scan of all the vehicles. Start with the Fords. Let me know when three of them are clear.” He turns to me. “Jesus, Christian, you gotta be careful dealing with men like that,” Jason warns and Alex nods.

“I was careful,” I inform them, “I just wasn’t a worm, and I’m not going to be, ever. Once you find yourself indebted to or under the thumb of a man like that, you’ll never get out.”

“You were fucking daring him to take you out!” he retorts. “You have a family to be concerned about,” Jason continues.

“Yep, and if he touches my family, I swear to God that I will bring his empire down brick by brick, even if I have to use my dying breath to do it. Now, do you have any more cautions for me or can we go home?”

“Not until we clear the cars,” Jason says. “People who cross men like that end up dead in gutters, Christian,” he insists.

“Or having body parts mailed to their loved ones,” Alex reinforces. And yet, with all his power and resources, he can’t find the one man who could bring down his entire empire and put him in jail for the rest of his life. Excuse me if I don’t share your fear and anxiety.

“Well, then we’ll keep our eyes open and hope that doesn’t happen. In the meantime, I refuse to kowtow to this asshole—not because this is a power play and I’m the great Christian Grey, but because I’m an adult and I won’t ask for anyone’s permission to travel where I damn well please unless it’s a matter of national security. Now, you have voiced your concerns and they are duly noted. This conversation is over.”

“Christian…” Jason begins, and I throw a look at him that indicates that if he says another word about this situation, he might lose his job. He puts his hands up in surrender and silently leaves the room. Alex doesn’t bother continuing the conversation.

“Stay with the boss until it’s safe to leave,” he tells the two guards left behind, who nod at him just as he’s leaving the room.

*-*

I smell cinnamon… and something sugary. Vanilla, I think.

Jason made me leave the vest and the Glock behind when we left Grey House so as not to frighten Butterfly when I arrived home. It was a terrible fit anyway. A good shot could have hit me in the liver and ended it all.

I toss my coat, jacket, and vest into my dressing room and undo my tie. Having commandeered a snifter of brandy before coming upstairs, I take a seat in my wife’s sitting room in the dark and look out the French doors over the lake.

I’m not afraid to die, but I don’t want anything to happen to my wife and children either. That asshole threatened to come to my home and all I could think of was to prevent him from doing that by any means necessary. If the threat of police intervention didn’t work, I was ready for a full-on shoot-out if necessary.

Now, the thought of the entire thing is sobering.

I’m still not afraid, and I’m sure that I won’t kowtow to his kind, but I must consider my wife and kids. I take a healthy sip of the brandy and allow it to burn a trek down my throat. I was being sarcastic when I said that I would get my affairs in order, but do I really want to be breathing my last? I take another swallow of the brandy… then another…

“Christian?”

I turn to see my wife wrapped in a bath blanket, her hair tied up in a bun to keep it from getting wet. Her voice is truly like music right now and the sight of her soothes and excites me at the same time. I rise from my seat and stalk over to her.

“Are you alright?” she asks as I close the space between us.

“I am now,” I reply, my voice husky as I slide one arm around her waist and pull her to me, closing my lips over hers. She groans softly, and I drop the brandy snifter, unaware that there’s still brandy in the glass. It doesn’t break, but brandy spills on the floor and splashes about a bit. She turns to see what fell.

“Leave it,” I command, my voice thick with my need for her as I take her lips once more, probing her mouth with my tongue and undoing my belt and fly at the same time. I back her into our bedroom and lift her onto the bed. Making quick work of everything but my shirt, I remove her towel and crawl into the bed over her.

I’m starving for her, the thought of losing her fueling my need to feel her, to bury myself inside of her until I can think of nothing else. I want to taste her, but I feel as if I don’t have time. My cock is so swollen, so hard, hot, and hungry for her…

I climb on top of her and roll us over with her on top so that her legs fall open on either side of my hips. I spread them wider and my shaft finds its way right to my happy place without any coaxing. She gasps as I breach the opening of her core, her skin still wet from her bath. Fuck, she smells delicious and I could just climb right up into her… which is exactly what I try to do.

I use my legs and my hips to push up into her, slowly and deeply. I groan with each deep stroke and she seems not to know what to do with her hands. I stretch her right arm up by the side of my head and reach across her back with my left hand and grab her left hand, pulling it behind her and pinning her flat to my body.

I’ve got you now.

She whimpers as I taste the skin of her cheek and neck, squeezing her thigh with my right hand and holding it up onto my hip so that I can push as far into her as my cock will go in this position. The friction is so hot and so tight, and my dick is so fucking engorged that I can barely get it halfway into her tight little core, but fuck, that deep, slow stroke is so intense that it even feels good only halfway.

“God! Christian!” she whispers, her body at my mercy. I release her thigh and thrust my hand into her hair, guiding her mouth to mine. She moans low and deep as I love her, kissing her sensually so that she feels it everywhere.

I release her hand and put my hand on her neck, my fingers splayed across her cheek and holding her against me. Her breath quickens, and she turns her head, my mouth now at her ear, but her hand seems a bit wild behind her again. So, I use my right hand to press her left arm down onto her back, simultaneously pressing her pelvis further down onto my cock as I thrust slowly up unto her.

“Mmmmmm,” I moan involuntarily into her ear as I get deeper penetration onto my hard, raging dick. I feel her shiver a bit, so I repeat the move… and again… and again… so fucking good…

I feel her right hand grabbing the sheets over my head; her pussy beginning to produce that arousal that coats my dick. If I release her hand, it’s going wild again. So, I stretch it out and entwine my fingers in hers, bringing it down behind her thigh and using it for leverage to pin her against me and push up into her again.

I didn’t need to.

With her arousal coating my dick, I’m able to slide deeper into her. I hold her neck firmly, my mouth still at her ear and each time I groan my pleasure, she tilts her hips ever so slightly to match my stroke. Fuck it’s intense and so, so good. I’m concentrating for several minutes on how good she feels on top of me, around me, against me, my dick sliding slowly over and over again into and out of her sweet, hot crevice…

“Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!”

It’s a sexy, feminine, primal keen from deep in her chest. She stiffens on top of me as her core pulses around me, and I continue the slow, deep stroke that brought her to orgasm. I couple the strokes with luscious licks and nibbles of her ear, making sensual sounds that are sure to go right to her core. She trembles a bit, her keens sounding a little like weeps.

She’s tender, and I want to stop and let her rest… but I can’t. She feels too good, and my soul needs to be exorcised from the visions of this day.

I roll over on top of her, looking into her deep blue orgasm-stricken eyes as she catches her breath. Still inside of her, I stroke her only intermittently. I bring my face close to hers and stroke, even more slowly, deeper and gentler than before. She puffs out a small breath with each stroke, her hands flat on the bed next to her, looking up at me with her eyes filled with love.

It’s just what I need.

With one hand cupping the top of her head and the other steadying myself on the bed, I thrust into her, so slowly, over and over, never taking my eyes from hers, never closing them, getting lost in the cool blue that rushes over my body and brings me comfort and pleasure.

“Baby,” I whisper, and her legs fall open wider. I use this opportunity to nestle deeper between her legs. God, so deep… so good.

That move allows me to go balls deep so that now each stroke sucks my whole cock inside of her and the curl of my hips gives her clit maximum stimulation. We continue to stare into each other’s eyes while our bodies wring the most immeasurable continuous pleasure from one another.

When I see that sheen of sweat, hear her breath begin to pant, feel her body start to stiffen and see her eyes darken to that unmistakable royal blue, I quicken my stroke only slightly. I’m unable to control myself and her reactions are making me hot and hard and helpless. She whimpers again and again, with each stroke and grind of my hips, and I’m getting harder and thicker, my balls so tight that they hurt.

When her mating cry rips from her chest this time like a shrill yowl coupled with primal growl, I’m nearly shocked from my stroke, but her lustful blue eyes, swollen lips, and sweat drenched face pull me right back in. The sexy sight before me, sexy sound in my ears, and wildly clenching muscles around my dick shoves me violently over the edge and I thrust hard into my wife, releasing out a fearsome cry, every bit of stress, anxiety, and worry draining from my body.

My body is not my own at this moment. It belongs to her. I collapse on top of her, kissing her lips and neck in love and reverence, releasing all the concerns of the day as I sink into her aura and we both drift off into sated sleep.


A/N: Baby Moses Law—Safe-Haven laws practiced in all 50 states that allows a mother who doesn’t want her baby to drop the baby off at a hospital, police station, or fire station and surrender parental rights without the fear of prosecution for child abandonment. They were written to help curtail abortions and because mothers—particularly very young mothers—were killing their unwanted babies or leaving them in unsafe situations, like child trafficking or just throwing them in dumpsters… alive!

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

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

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 ~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 42—Unbreak My Heart

I have to admit that I was surprised to see so many people express a tone of disappointment in Ana’s feelings. I’ve had times and events in my life where I had to get up every day and push myself just to get to the next minute—where I felt like the world was just going to gobble me up, and I couldn’t talk about it. Talking about it gave it life and I was just trying to deal with it so that I could have the strength to open my eyes the next day. I really thought most people would be able to relate to that… to that feeling of, “My God! What else can go wrong in my life? The minute I sit down and get comfortable, something else happens.” I guess I’m the only one, or at least in very lean company. It’s sad that I appear to be one of the seemingly very few that can empathize with that, but I guess it’s a good thing that the vast majority apparently hasn’t had that experience.

So, this is my second to last prewritten chapter, but the Muse is finally stirring a bit, so I wouldn’t worry about the future.

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 42—Unbreak My Heart

ANASTASIA

I spend more time venting and crying with my friends, trying to release the anguish and the hopelessness I feel about the situation. I cry and cry and cry with my best friends holding me for I don’t even know how long. I’m exhausted when it’s all done and glad that Christian didn’t walk in on the display. I’m broken from the self-pity and mourning by the two-way coming to life and telling me that one or both of my children have stirred.

“I’ll go,” Val offers as she stands from the sofa.

“No, I’ll go,” I say, standing behind her and drying my eyes with my sleeve before Al gives me a handkerchief. Those two little bundles of love are the light and joy of my life. Right now, I don’t want to miss a moment with them… even if some evil monster is waiting in the wings to snatch them away from me.

“I’ll come with you, then,” she says with a smile before looking at Al.

“I’ll clean up and put the leftovers away,” he says, his brow furrowed as he examines me. “I’m worried about you, Jewel,” he adds. I smile sadly, my eyes tender from crying.

“I’ll live, Al,” I reply before leaving the parlor.

I’m glad that Keri and Gail didn’t get to the nursery before I did. I really didn’t want to enter into the room to inquiring minds about my obviously red and puffy eyes. We walk in and both children are unsettled. Val gestures me to Minnie’s crib while she goes to Mikey.

“Hey, little man,” I hear her say. “What’s all that noise?” She lifts him out of his crib and quickly checks his diaper before taking him to his changing table. I do the same with Minnie, cooing at her and taking comfort in her beautiful cherubic face with my blue eyes staring back at me under a mop of Christian’s red hair. I had noticed that just in the last month or so, both my children gained their eye color, and Minnie definitely has my eyes while Mikey sports his father’s under my deep mahogany hair. Minnie is happy to get that soiled diaper off her bottom and I let her skin air out a bit before putting another on her.

“Mmm,” Val says, “I love changing diapers.” I grimace as I look over at her and she laughs. “Not the dirty diaper part,” she says. “The part where they’re all clean and you get to use the powder and stuff and they have that new baby smell.” It causes me to chuckle and I welcome the warmth of laughter. As I’m closing Minnie’s onesie, Gail and Keri enter with fresh warmed bottles for the babies. Val throws a look at me and I keep my back to the door. Reading my actions, she takes over.

“Take a break, ladies,” she says, sweetly, heading them off at the door. “We’ve got this watch.”

“Oh,” Gail says in surprise. “You’re fine?”

“Sure,” Val says confidently, “but thanks for the vittles!” The ladies all laugh good-naturedly before Gail adds, “Okay, call us through the two-way if you need us.”

Not wanting to seem rude, I look slightly over my shoulder without revealing my face to them and say, “Thanks, guys,” as normally as I can and attempt to throw them off by concentrating on cooing at my baby. “Is that Mommy’s precious girl? Yes, you are…”

It works.

When Keri and Gail clear the room, I sigh in relief that I didn’t have to convince more people in my life that I’m okay when, in fact, I’m not.

“Thanks,” I say to Val, lifting Minnie into my arms and setting up shop in the window seat with my baby and a bottle since I just had wine. The window seat is what I’m accustomed to, now.

“Don’t mention it,” she says, sitting in Mikey’s rocker and testing his bottle before giving it to him. “Why don’t you come and sit in the rocker? It might help to break old habits.” I look down at my nursing daughter.

“Maybe next time,” I tell her. “I don’t want to disturb Young Miss when she’s eating,” I lie. The truth is that the seat gives me some form of familiarity and comfort now that I’m no longer watching the bridge. I just don’t feel like explaining that to everyone. It would be like telling them that the cliff where I fell is now my favorite spot. It was once, but now, I’ll just be reminded that I could have fallen to my death on a drunken binge.

Val distracts me from my own problems by telling me more about her and Elliot’s Caribbean cruise. I wasn’t surprised that the cruise took them to St. Maarten but not to Anguilla. The boat would probably be larger than the island. She told me about Harrison’s Cave and the beautiful 17th-Century plantation houses and it made me long for our trip to Anguilla. I definitely need a vacation right now to cleanse my body and soul of what’s going on in my life. We had to postpone our Italian vacation, probably until next year since we plan to stay for quite some time. I can’t lie, though. A cruise to anywhere for a week or two would be right up my alley right now.

There’s a tap at the door and Val and I look at each other. It’s one of the men, we already know, but Christian would have just walked in. So, it has to be Al or Elliot. Jason and Chuck would already know that their women are not in the nursery. The door opens and sure enough, there’s my best friend, but behind him is my husband—my tall, beautiful, muscular husband… the cause and cure for my distress all wrapped into one.

“Hey, ladies,” Al says. “How’s it going?” His bad attempt at nonchalance coupled with Christian’s deeply examining gaze on me lets me know that these two gentlemen have been talking… about me. Al is only concerned about me and I love him for it, so I sigh in resignation.

“Better,” I say, unable to hide the crack in my voice from my earlier crying. Christian is obviously uncomfortable looking at me, and I think it’s the window seat. It has definite connotations, and he and Val would much rather that I not sit in it. He stops at the rocker on his way over to me.

“How are you feeling, Val?” he says, placing his hand on her shoulder. She smiles up at him.

“Good,” she nods. “The vacation was fantastic—just what I needed.”

“I’m happy to hear that,” he says to her, genuinely. “You look very well.”

“Thank you,” she says, sincerely and they both turn their eyes to Mikey.

“Hey, Mikey,” Christian says. “Have you been taking good care of these ladies?” Mikey squirms and coos as if in response to his father’s question. Christian gently strokes his hair and turns his attention to me. He walks over to the window seat where Minnie and I sit, Minnie gazing dreamily up at me after being fed and changed. That look would make me move mountains for her. Christian looks intently at me before turning his attention to his daughter.

“Hey, Mouse,” he says, softly, stroking his daughter’s hair like he just did his son’s. He looks longingly at her for a moment before kissing her forehead. Then he gazes at me and does the same, stroking my cheeks where tears stained earlier. He examines me wordlessly before saying, “Al, can you take over? I’d like to talk to my wife.”

“Absolutely,” Al says. “Give me that bundle of pinkness!”

“Oh, no,” Val chides. “You take our godson. I want a little time with our goddaughter. I haven’t seen them in a month!”

“Fine by me,” Al says, relieving Val of Mikey before she comes over and takes Minnie from my arms. I ache a bit when she leaves my grasp but follow Christian out of the room nonetheless as he leads me by the hand. When we get to the hallway and he closes the door, he embraces me solidly and kisses me deeply, catching me totally by surprise. I gasp at the longing, giving nature of the kiss, my hands falling lazily at my sides as his hand flattens against my back, pressing me firmly into his body. My head lulls back and I let him have my lips, my mouth, my tongue—feeding me while he feasts on my kisses. I don’t know if I’m breathing or not, but I bask in the warmth and safety of his arms, the tenderness yet firmness and possessiveness of his kiss… giving and taking at the same time. When our lips part, I can feel the breath between us. I keep my eyes closed to commit the moment to memory—for cold nights when…

“You know how much I love you, don’t you?” he says, his lips only brushing mine.

“Yes,” I breathe, my eyes still closed, drunk and a bit wobbly from his kiss and his presence.

“Good,” he breathes, taking my lips again.

After an intense, but quick impromptu make-out session in the hallway, Christian leads me to our room. I moved back in a few days ago, realizing that it didn’t really make much sense to sleep in the guest room anymore. I still have problems getting to sleep, but it’s getting better. It’s especially easy when Christian finds that I can’t rest and finds some way to worship my body until I’m tuckered out. I can really see that he’s trying. I wish I could just settle into the comfort.

Instead of stopping at the bedroom, he leads me right into my bathroom and lifts me up onto the marble vanity. He turns on the cold water and retrieves a clean washcloth. After wetting the washcloth and wringing most of the water out of it, he stands in front of me, lifts my chin and begins to sponge my cheeks.

Can’t hide anything from Mr. Grey.

I close my eyes and the cool cloth moves to my eyelids. The relief on the swollen orbs is immediate. I hear him moistening the cloth again and this time, he holds my head all the way back and places a compress over my eyes. A few moments later, a second cloth is sponging my cheeks, my jaw, and my neck again.

“Your cheeks are still tear-stained,” he says softly, “and your eyes are red and puffy. You look tired.” I don’t respond. I just sit on the vanity and let the protector and caregiver have his way, savoring these moments and committing them to my mental Rolodex. He let me sit there for several minutes—or at least it felt that way—replacing the compress one time, and letting the cold water soothe the ache from my eyes as he gently sponges my face with the other washcloth. He stops at my lips and sponges them gently. He’s now caressing my lips with his fingertips and the cloth and my breath catches. He adds gentle kisses to the mix and I melt at the sensation. My senses are all hyper-focused on my lips and his lips and his fingers when his mouth softly covers mine again, molding gently into them and against them.

Somehow, I feel this is not enough for him.

His arms move to my waist then quickly up my body, lifting my arms and placing them demanding over his shoulders. I immediately take my cue and wrap my arms around his neck, thrusting my hands into his hair. He gasps into my mouth and wraps his arms around me again, curling his body around mine while taking and giving feverish kisses. My body is alight again as he holds me and kisses me, melding into me and devouring me and I wrap my legs around his hips. He pulls my shirt out of my jeans and caresses the skin on my stomach and back.

My back… the garden.

I blaze like fresh, new embers as my body fires with arousal. My breath quickens and his tongue leisurely and sensuously explores my mouth until I feel that I can’t take it anymore. He pulls back from me and gazes into my eyes. Seeing whatever it is that he needs to see, he lifts me from the vanity, my body still wrapped around him, and takes me to our bed.

Lying me down on my back, he removes my hands from his neck and places them on the bed, holding them down in both of his while he kisses me. I can barely stand it; I’m suddenly so goddamn needy again. His lips travel from my lips to my neck while his hands slide down my arms to the buttons at my breast. I leave my hands by the side of my head. I keep my eyes closed as his lips follow his fingers, unbuttoning my shirt, down my breast, my torso, my belly.

Christian…

That familiar yearning swells up in me and I can hardly breathe. I want him to make it right—take away this feeling of fear and sadness… make it like it once was between us… please, make it like it was…

He unhooks the clasp of my bra between my breasts and pushes the cups aside, gently cupping my breasts while he kisses the mounds. His tenderness is driving me mad. I’m almost dysfunctional with need.

He kisses along the waistband of my jeans as he opens the button and unzips my pants, kissing along the waistband of the hip-hugger panties underneath. I bite my lip to keep from making a sound, taking deep breaths to control my passion and my body. There’s a bit of movement on the bed, and then he pushes his hands into my jeans, grasping the waistband and pulling them and my panties off at the same time, pushing my ballet flats off my feet before my pants and underwear pass my ankles.

There’s a pause for a few moments, but when he climbs back up to me, I feel his skin against mine—his whole body. He’s naked. I feel his erection against my thigh as he lifts me from the bed, kissing me deliciously while pushing my bra and shirt off my shoulders. He lays me back on the bed, his face never more than a breath from mine. He kisses me again as his hands run down my body, caressing my sides and hips until he reaches my thighs.

He pulls them up, roughly opening me to him, his rock-hard erection pressing into my stomach. God, I want him so badly. I need to feel him, need to put another moment in the reservoir—another cherished time… please… hurry.

He slides his arms under mine until he’s cupping my shoulders in either hand, then he nestles his erection between my legs, between my lips. God, he feels so good. I throw my head back as his lips find the valley of my breasts and he grinds the length of his shaft up and down along my lips, my labia, my clit…

Oh, my God… Oh, my God, this is torture.

Neither of us says anything or makes a sound. He just continues to drag his length up and down as he kisses wherever his mouth can reach. When he clamps down on a nipple, then teases it with his tongue, I feel my orgasm building, knocking at the door in no time flat. Just as I think it’s about to blow, he stops and rises off of me a bit. He looks hungrily into my eyes and pushes my legs open farther with his body. Simultaneously, he takes both of my hands and plants them above my head, my arms bent with his fingers entwined in mine, while raising his hips to position the head of his long hard cock at my vaginal opening.

He pauses for a minute, holding my gaze while his hips are suspended in the air. Without warning, he thrusts all the way into me, balls deep, pulling my hands down at the same time for leverage. A searing pain rips through me like I’m losing my virginity all over again, but it’s quickly replaced with the pleasure that left my loins only moments ago. He trembles at the first drive into me, both of us still managing to remain silent through what was obviously a very powerful feeling in our nether-regions. Three strokes later and I’m gasping through my orgasm as Christian pushes slowly and deeply into me, kissing my cheek, my neck, the corners of my mouth.

I’m whimpering out the aftershocks as he settles his weight onto me and begins to make love to me, holding my hands down and pushing into me, his full body lying over mine, his skin rubbing against me as if he needs as much of it to touch as possible. His mouth covers mine and he bestows upon me the most delicious, succulent kisses my soul can take. I’m lost in him and he’s owning me, pushing himself into me—mind, body, and soul. I relish in the feeling, absorbing every stroke and every emotion—the hot, hardness of his dick; the meticulous concentration in his stroke; the possessiveness of him holding my hands down; the luscious kisses that give and take from my lips. It’s only minutes after the first orgasm that the second one begins to creep into my loins. The onslaught of sensations overwhelms my senses and my second orgasm burns against his cock once more, this time leaving lots of juices to coat his erection.

He finally releases my lips and I can feel his gaze on me even though my eyes are closed.

Open your eyes.

I think I heard it, but I’m not sure. Nonetheless, I open my eyes, my gaze no doubt swimming in satisfaction from my prior two orgasms.

You’re so beautiful.

Again, not sure if I heard it, but I see it in his eyes and feel it in his delicious grind. I feel myself rising again and wonder how many times I can come in quick succession. God, it feels so good, and this one decides to give lubrication before it strikes.

“Oh, God, baby,” he says softly in my ear, “your so wet… so hungry for me…”

“Yes, Christian,” I breathe as my third orgasm quickly creeps up on me, “only you.” He raises his eyes to me, never losing his rhythm.

“Say it again,” he whispers.

“Yes… Christian…” I gasp as the feeling crawls through my thighs and up my pelvis, “only you.”

“Again… please…” His stroke deepens, and my pelvis threatens to implode. I throw my head back in sweet agony as it approaches quickly… almost… almost…

“Only… Christian… only you…” He groans, sweet and deep, his face buried in my neck, pushing me so high, so deep, my God…

“Please…” he beseeches me deep from his chest, “… again!”

I can’t withstand it any more.

“Ho… ho…” I try to speak as my third orgasm crashes down on me. I grip his fingers tight to force the words out of my mouth. “Ho… honly… y-you…Christian… only… only you… only you!” I cry out as my orgasm rips through me again, bringing passion and relief that I didn’t feel with the first two. My back arches and my hands tighten as I helplessly repeat the last two words through a climax blasting through my extremities and leaving me helpless to its wrath.

“Jesus!” he bites out as I feel him stiffen and empty hard, throbbing, and thick into me. His teeth grit and the same noise comes from his throat as he presses hard into me, unable to move through his paralyzing orgasm. He squeezes my hands until it feels like the blood flow stops and I lay there, allowing him to use me as the vessel that he needs right now and savoring every moment of it—his weight pressing down on me; his hands painfully gripping mine; his breath caught and held in his chest as his body is pulled taut, stretched like a rubber band and helpless until his passion releases him.

“Jesus… Jesus, Jesus…” he gasps as the orgasm finally releases his muscles. He showers my neck with kisses as he catches his breath, his cock still throbbing inside me, my core still throbbing around him.

“I didn’t…” he begins as he gently massages my hands. “Did I…?”

“No, no,” I silence him as he continues to catch his breath. He still kisses me as he moves to roll me on top of him.

“No, please,” I beg, wanting to feel his weight on me a little longer. He looks down into my eyes and I gaze back at him, beseeching him not to move. He lies back down on top of me, one hand cradling my cheek, the other still holding my hand over my head while he kisses my exposed cheek softly.

“And only you, my love,” he says softly, between kisses. “Only ever you…”

*-*

“This wasn’t my intention when I pulled you away from our children,” he says, caressing my stomach gently in our post-orgasmic haze.

“No?” I say, turning my gaze to him. He shakes his head.

“I really did want to talk… really do,” he replies, “but I saw you in the window and at first, I just wanted to get you out of there. Then, when the light hit your face, I knew that you had been crying. Al told me that you were upset, and he told me why, but he didn’t tell me that you were crying. I just wanted to wash your face and get rid of the puffiness in your eyes… but most of all, I just don’t want you to cry anymore.”

That’s not likely, dear. The fates are even using you against me right now. That’s why I’m internalizing every good moment, every precious and tender moment, every sensual moment, so that I don’t lose my mind when they decide to attack again.

“Jason and Gail want to have another… session with us, if you’re up to it. They were waiting in the den when I came to get you. They’re most likely off doing something else by now. Do you want to talk or would you rather not?” I sigh. Again, I know he means well, but right now, I don’t see that talking will help me.

“Sure,” I concede, wanting to appease him. I move to get up and he stops me.

“Not yet,” he says. “Just a few more minutes.” Fine by me.

“Okay,” I say softly, relaxing into his touch.

As agreed, a few minutes later, we rise and get back into our clothes. He takes me by the hand and leads me to the elevator. He stands behind me with his arms protectively wrapped around me while we ride to the ground floor. We go to his den, intent on calling Gail and Jason, only to find them tangled in each other’s arms, kissing passionately on the sofa. Though they are fully dressed, the distinct smell of sex hangs in the air. Christian stands there frowning for a moment and I’m in stunned awe. They didn’t even hear us come in. Christian clears his throat and although Gail jumps a bit, Jason just looks over at Christian.

“You better not have fucked on my piano,” he says, leading me into the room and examining his piano for—I don’t know, ass marks?

“No, we didn’t fuck on your precious piano,” Jason says. Gail hides her face while I stifle a laugh. “I won’t bother asking what took you so long. You look fresh as a bunny.”

“You should talk,” Christian says, satisfied that there was no coitus on his baby grand. “Don’t fuck in my den, Jason.”

You should talk,” Jason retorts. “Is there any room in this house you haven’t fucked in?”

“Yes, there is, and that’s beside the point,” Christian replies. “I fuck in my den. You don’t fuck in my den!”

“Okay, boys, that’s enough,” Gail says, after her face has turned fifty shades of red from pastel to crimson. “We got in a quickie while we were waiting we’re sorry it won’t happen again!” She spit it all out in one breath without raising her eyes to me or Christian and I’m fighting with all my might not to break out in hilarious laughter. I’m immune to this. Among other things, last year, I walked right in on these Neanderthals settling a bet on whether or not Christian and I were upstairs fucking. I remember leaving Chuck with a visual he’ll never forget. I also won’t embarrass her with the time that I was shoved under Christian’s desk pleasuring him when Jason walked in unannounced and it was my disembodied voice that convinced him to leave. I’m not modest about our sex life, but apparently, Gail is modest about hers.

“You should take a page from your wife’s book about humility, Mr. Taylor,” Christian says. “Thank you, Gail. It’s quite alright. Butterfly and I did take a while. We apologize.” She nods quickly, obviously anxious to change the topic. “As requested, we are here, though a bit detained.”

Gail straightens her clothes and sits up on the sofa. Jason sits up, too, and zeroes right in on me.

“You don’t talk much anymore, Your Highness,” he says, examining me. “Are you afraid that you’ll say too much?”

I shrug. I didn’t realize that I wasn’t talking. I just don’t have much to say.

“I… uh, it’s not intentional. I just don’t have much to say.”

“That’s not the Ana I know,” he says. “The Ana I knew before this whole mess was outspoken and had a lot to say. You’ve turned into a bit of a mute and you’ve missed four appointments with your therapist.” My eyes widen, and I glare at him.

“Are you keeping tabs on me?” I accuse. He looks at me with a surprised, horrified look on his face.

“Um, yah, that’s my job!” he retorts. “I knew what you were doing even when we weren’t here.” He gestures to himself. “Head of personal security? Everybody reports to me? Chuck, Ben, Chance, Rebe, Tate, Lurch… they all report to me?” He’s saying this waiting for me to catch the hint on how ridiculous my question was, which I do… I shrug and shake my head, murmuring my apologies.

“Accepted, but you still haven’t answered my question,” he says. “You haven’t seen Ace and you haven’t seen Dr. Baker,” he points an accusing finger at Christian. “What’s going on?” I turn my gaze to Christian. He hasn’t seen Dr. Baker?

“I see Dr. Baker on an as-needed basis, not regularly,” he defends.

“You don’t think it’s needed?” he asks.

“She can’t help me in terms of my marriage,” he protests. “Butterfly feels that she has a completely distorted view of what’s going on with her and that affects what advice she can give me about our relationship.”

“But what about what’s going on with you?” Jason asks him. Christian frowns.

“What do you mean?” he retorts.

“You thought your wife was cheating on you. You cut her off and ran away to the other side of the world without giving her the chance to explain. You don’t think that’s a problem on your part, like for instance, your trust issues? Your ability to give the woman you love the benefit of the doubt? Being able to control your anger reflex and ‘snap’ response?”

“I’m dealing with those things,” he says, running his hands through his hair. “I admitted that it was the wrong thing to do…”

“But it doesn’t stop it from happening again,” Jason says, interrupting his excuse. I hold my head down and wait for him to tear into me. I didn’t have to wait long.

“And you,” he begins. Here it goes. “You were seeing your therapist weekly before any of this happened. You shocked him so much that he showed up at the door! What gives?” I shrug again, noncommittal.

“I haven’t found the words,” I say, honestly. “I’d be wasting his time and mine.”

“So, you’re just going to sit here and let this thing tear you apart day by day where we can all see it,” he says. “You think I’m the only one who’s noticed that you’ve changed? You are a force of nature, Ana. You have the ability to move mountains with the flap of your little Butterfly wings, but lately, you’ve been as mute as a church mouse and as affective as a drizzle. You’re not talking to anyone, not even your therapist, and you as a mental health professional don’t see this as a problem?”

I don’t know how to answer him. The feelings that I have right now, nobody can fix, and talking about them just lays them out on plane for everyone to see and makes me feel like shit. When I don’t answer, Jason turns back to Christian.

“You say that you don’t need your therapist,” he begins. “What do you say about her not seeing hers? Is everything honky-dory between you guys?”

“I wouldn’t say honky-dory,” Christian admits. “I know she’s holding something back.”

Holding something back… you all want me to release? Fine, I’ll release…


CHRISTIAN

“Things aren’t terrible, but I can still feel a little distance between us,” I say honestly.

“Ana?” Jason prods, “What do you say to that?” She doesn’t raise her eyes.

“I would never want to leave him or anything like that, but…” She trails off.

But? There’s a but?

“But what, Ana?” Gail presses. “You have to be honest or you’ll never move forward.” She sighs and drops her head.

“I’m scared,” she says, softly, barely audible. “I’m afraid that as soon as I let my guard down and try to be happy, something horrible is going to happen. I never would have thought for a moment that something like this would happen between my husband and me. I thought our bond was unbreakable and unshakeable and could withstand anything. I thought that no matter what, no one would ever come between us—that when and if that crucial moment ever presented itself, we would both know that there was no room for anyone else and there was no way that someone would be able to work their way into our space. But when the time did come, I was wrong…”

“How were you wrong?” Jason asks. “That someone did work their way into your space?”

“No,” she says. “Liam never worked his way into our space. My eyes may have been stricken with what I saw, but that man never made it to my heart. Hell, he barely made it to my mind until he was in my sight or unless I was pissed about his presence. He never stood a chance. There was no room for him. So, what? He’s attractive. He’s not the first attractive man I’ve ever seen, and he won’t be the last. Have you met my therapist? My best friend’s husband? My brother-in-law? All attractive men that made me do a double-take when I first met them, but I never ended up in their arms or in their beds.

“When that man made a move on me, I stopped him. I did not see my husband and I stopped him. I didn’t have my arms around him pulling him in for a kiss—I stopped him. And the reward I got was that my husband left me for two and a half weeks and didn’t speak to me. The truth is that I can beat myself over the head for what I could have done differently over and over again, but it won’t mean anything. It won’t do anything. I didn’t meet this man at a hotel or even make a date for dinner. He invited me out to lunch and I turned him down for just this reason… for the speculation it could have caused. I can pick this situation apart more than I already have, and you know what I’ll get from it? The same thing that I already got…

“Don’t step wrong, Ana.
“Look straight ahead, Ana. Don’t look left or right…
“Don’t get comfortable, Ana. The moment you do, all hell is going to break loose.”

“You’re sounding a bit like the martyr, Ana,” Jason says. Butterfly laughs ironically and does a disbelieving nod.

“Of course, I do,” she says, defeat and resignation lacing her voice.

“Don’t discount her feelings, Jason,” Gail defends. “She has a right to her feelings.” Jason turns to look at his wife and back at Butterfly.

“You’re right,” he says. “I’m sorry. Maybe you can help me understand what it is that you’re feeling.” That’s pretty insightful. Butterfly looks up at him with a sad smile.

“I can understand why you feel that way, because if I wasn’t sitting in this body—in this life and mind, experiencing this shit first hand—I would feel the same way. This is one of the reasons why I don’t want to talk about it… none of it. It won’t make a difference.”

“Please, Ana,” Gail presses. “Tell us.” Butterfly shakes her head.

“Every time I got comfortable, something happened,” she says, still smiling. “Every time I thought I was going to be happy and I could sit back and take a breath and relax, something happened. Every single time! I’m a walking tragedy,” she says with a laugh. I don’t see what’s funny, but I think she may be going a little hysterical.

“It can’t be every time, Ana,” Jason protests. She laughs again, this time, with tears threatening her eyes.

“No?” she says, still sporting a wide smile and threatening to cry at the same time. “Let’s review, shall we?

“Right when I thought my mom and dad were happy, my mom suddenly became dissatisfied and left my dad. It only got worse—she ripped us apart deliberately, so set on hurting him for not being what she thought he should be that she didn’t care that she was destroying me, too.

“I was miserable at first, but I coped with it until I was able to settle comfortably into obscurity. Then what happens? The most popular boy in school pays attention to me and I was foolish enough to believe that he liked me… until he raped me. We all know how that turned out.

“Yes, I wanted to die, but I didn’t. Then Daddy came and got me, took me away from the horrible nightmare that I was living and nursed me back to health for a few months. I was right at the promise of tranquility—it was right there in arm’s reach—and they came and snatched me back to hell.

“I finally escape—finally escape—come back to Washington and start my life back over again… from scratch… all on my own. During that time, I meet this guy. He treats me like a princess. The cutest, most considerate guy I had met to that point and what happens? He turns out to be the goddamn spawn of Satan! My already shredded heart was put through such hell that it took years—years—for me to let anybody near me.

“Enter Christian Grey. After a tumultuous beginning, we fall in love only for me to find out that he has a psycho, stalker, pedophile ex-lover and—oh, yeah, Satan’s spawn is hanging in the bleachers waiting for his chance to attack!

“Crazy pedophile wreaking total havoc on our relationship and me and Mr. Grey have a brief falling out. The moment I come to my senses about the cause of the fallout, Satan’s Spawn kidnaps me and his fucking psycho sidekick damn near beats me half to death while I’m cuffed to a bed.

“I’m rescued! Yay, right? Only we go to Anguilla and shit happens where I lose my mind there, too—more than once!

“So, we get back and announce our relationship to the world, and the crazy blonde pedophile continues to wreak total fucking havoc on our lives for months… restraining orders; crashing my father’s wedding; kissing my boyfriend; trying to kill Jason; trying to kill Christian; trying to kill me…”

This is playing out like a goddamn Greek tragedy. If I hadn’t been present for most of it, I’d swear she was exaggerating.

“In between there somehow, I apparently mistakenly thought my wedding was called off and escaped to Montana, rethinking my entire purpose in life, only to return to the whole aforementioned murder-death-kill scenario.

“Oh, and let’s not forget Mommie Dearest!”

Yes, let’s not forget her.

“Once we finally do get married, halfway through our honeymoon, Satan’s Spawn pulls a hole card and we have to come back and I discover the most joyous revelation of my life after vomiting on the prosecuting attorney and passing out on the goddamn stand.”

At least she didn’t mention me having a spy at her bachelorette party.

“Then comes the hacker and the fundraiser fiasco, and immediately after we put those things to rest, I get T-boned by a fucking ex-sub who almost kills me and Chuck! Nearly a year later, I still don’t have all my memories back.

“After more hiccups than I care to count, I finally bring two healthy babies into the world, a joyous occasion that was overshadowed a few months later by Val’s tumor and Pop’s unfortunate passing—not things that directly happened to me, but deserve inclusion due to the fact that a) when Pops’ died, my husband turned into an emotional infant and locked me out of the bedroom that we shared, b) I sat for days wondering if my best girlfriend was going to die after we had treated each other like shit for months and c) they were both cause to postpone our Italian vacation.

“A few months later, I find that all my hard work for Helping Hands is being questioned by a spiteful, vindictive bitch with an ax to grind and then, the last thing… the very last thing I ever thought could happen happened! I feared that maybe one day, my husband would seek something that I wouldn’t be able to give him and might look for it in the company of another, but I never, ever thought that another man would come between us. It was never on my radar, not even in the furthest recesses of my mind. And then…” She holds her head down and shrugs, shaking her head and still chuckling sadly.

“I know I’ve forgotten something, but I think you get the idea,” she adds, still laughing tragically. “I. Am a walking. Fucking. Tragedy. I’m the goddamn damsel that’s always getting tied to the fucking railroad tracks in those badly made, corny, black-and-white silent films. And what a horrible thing to happen—being tied to the railroad tracks and seeing your demise coming at you full speed and hoping and praying that someone’s going to save you because you can’t save yourself. And trust me, the train has run me over more times than I’ve been rescued, yet there I am… dismembered on the railroad tracks, trying to put myself back together again. Those attacks and accidents weren’t even merciful enough to kill me… just scar me forever—physically, mentally, and emotionally—then set me back in this ragtag, patchworked body with my ragtag patchworked heart and my ragtag patchworked mind to fight another day.”

She laughs again, but by now, tears are streaming nonstop down her cheeks. She shakes her head and drops it before she adds, “For when they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.”

Now she’s quoting scriptures? This is really getting bad.

“Ana, can’t you see that this is exactly why you need to talk to Ace?” Gail tells her, leaning in like it’s a one-on-one conversation. “You can’t stop bad things from happening. You might be right, the fates may be cruel, and they may be waiting for things to get great so that they can drop another test on you, but you can’t spend your life waiting for that. You can’t do that to yourself… or your children. What kind of freedoms can they have if you’re always waiting for them to get run over by a bus?”

Butterfly sighs, now fully weeping while listening to Gail.

“I lived in mourning for many years after God gave me a wonderful man and then decided to take him back. We have no children and now, I can’t bear any children of my own. Lo, and behold, another wonderful man happened into my life.” She looks over at Jason.

“He was the worse person for me,” she laughs. “We work together; he has a dangerous job… but those damn fates…” She looks back down at her hands before she raises her eyes to Butterfly.

“He was almost killed, and I thought that destiny was going to punish me again, but he wasn’t. He came back to me and even though it happened in a pretty cruel way, he even brought me a daughter.”

Jason’s gaze softens, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen more love in his eyes… except on their wedding day in Anguilla.

“And then you welcomed me into your family—even against the wishes of my employer…” I drop my head and twist my lips. She’s right. I didn’t want to blur any lines between me and my staff, but Butterfly had different plans from the very beginning. “…And you had two beautiful babies, and I get to help raise them. So, I didn’t get to bear any children of my own, but I sure as hell have a family.

“One thing that I learned from losing my Douglas and living in mourning for all those years before I found my Jason, gained a beautiful daughter, and a beautiful family is that yes, bad times are always going to happen for as long as you’re alive. But think about it really hard… The bad times don’t follow the good times. The good times follow the bad.”

Butterfly raises her eyes to Gail, her lip trembling. She swallows hard.

“I want to believe that so badly,” she says. “It would make all of this so much easier to bear… I just can’t see how to get past this huge, crashing abyss I feel in my soul.”

“I just want us to get back to being us,” I say, disappointed, “but… from what you’re saying, that might not happen.” She shrugs, smiling sadly.

“I love you too much to lie to you,” she confesses. “Give it time. You never know. Maybe I’ll see what Gail is saying. I’ll go back to Ace and maybe… maybe I’ll get comfortable enough to forget this feeling of impending doom.”

It’s not until this moment that I fully realize what my leaving really did to her. It shook her foundation in everything she believed in. Maybe there was too much of her inner security wrapped up in me, but didn’t I make it that way? Didn’t I make her the most important thing in my life, bumping heads with her several times on matters of her security, safety, and well-being? I’m Christian Grey—self-proclaimed possessive and controlling asshole. I must have everything important to me encased in this protective bubble so that I know that it’s safe. She was in that bubble—figuratively and literally—and that’s what she became accustomed to. I took care of her life, her body, and her heart, and she expected me to keep doing that…

And then, one day, I didn’t.

I left her out there in the elements without any shelter and she had to fend for herself against the foul weather. As a result, she got a really good look at just how bad the hurricanes, tornadoes, monsoons, typhoons, blizzards, avalanches, sandstorms, wind and hail could really be. Every bad thing that ever happened to her all came back at     once and all the progress that she had made in all of her therapy sessions went down the drain. A lot, if not all, of her safety and progress was directly linked to me and I took it away in one fell swoop…

I was the one who opened the door to finally finding out what happened in Green Valley.

I was the one who swooped in with my whirly-bird and rescued her from the clutches of the bad guys.

I was the one who held her as she cried when she cut ties with her mother.

I was the one who stood by her side and fought her friends when she was catatonic for several days.

I was the one who was there for twelve days when she was in a coma and waiting when she woke up, even though she didn’t know who I was.

Then, she turned around looking for that safety net at a very crucial moment in our relationship, and I wasn’t there… I was gone… and she fell, and she might still be falling.

I’ll make it up to you, baby. I swear I will.

“I guess I just have to work harder at showing you that everything’s not impending doom,” I say, matter-of-factly, “at making sure that you know that I realize that I wasn’t there when you fell and I’m really sorry for that; letting you know that I know I’ve shaken your trust to the very core and it may take me the rest of my life to get it back, but I’ll fight that long if it means that in the end, you know that I’ll never let you fall again. I don’t care how long it takes… I love you and I want you to trust me again, trust us again, trust life and love again. I’ll do any and everything to restore that trust. It may take a really long time, but I don’t care. You won’t have to forget that impending doom, because I’m going to chase it away. I’m going to spend every day of my life chasing it away until you trust again. I made a horrible mistake, Anastasia. I ran when I should have listened. As a result, everything we’ve built has been destroyed. Please, forgive me. Please, please, forgive me.”

“Not… everything,” she says, her voice small. I raise my eyes to look at her. “I still love you… with all my heart…”

“But you don’t trust me,” I say. “That is everything, but I’m not giving up hope. I’ll do everything I can to make you trust me again.”

I suddenly ache inside. That pull—that connection that we’ve always had suddenly feels stronger than it ever has, and I feel that if she doesn’t come to me now, I just may pass out. She leaps from her seat and launches herself into my arms. She’s as light as a feather and as heavy as lead at the same time and it feels like the wind has been knocked out of me as I hold her to me with all the inner strength I can muster.

“I don’t know…” her small voice begins, her face buried in my neck.

“Sssh,” I soothe, rubbing her back and holding her close to me. “I do…”

*-*

I’m sitting at the breakfast bar resting my face in my hands and watching Gail put the finishing touches on an exquisite homemade seven-layer German chocolate cake. Only moments after our emotionally taxing discussion, Butterfly excused herself and went to take a nap before dinner. I immediately felt that hopeless feeling again and only wanted to make things right in her life… when I suddenly made a horrendous discovery.

“Today is Butterfly’s birthday,” I lament right after she leaves the den. Gail and Jason look at each other and back at me.

“Fuck! It is,” Jason responds, slapping his hand to his forehead. “We fucking forgot. How could we fucking forget?”

“Look at everything that’s been going on,” Gail interjects. “My birthday would be the last thing I would be thinking about in the midst of all this shit!”

“I’ll bet that’s not how Butterfly feels,” I say, pulling out my phone to see if Al is still in the house.

“Yep,” he says when he answers the phone.

“Today is Butterfly’s birthday,” I say into the phone.

“Yep,” he says, with no surprise. I roll my eyes.

“You didn’t think to remind me of this when we talked?” The line is silent.

“Are you serious?” he asks. “Are you fucking kidding me? You’re her goddamn husband and you forgot her fucking birthday? Now you wanna blame me? Seriously?” Oh, shit, I’ve pissed the man off.

 “Look, I’m sorry. There’s a lot going on, okay?” I apologize.

“No shit, Sherlock,” he replies.

“Did she mention anything while you all were visiting?”

“Not a word,” he says. “I think it’s the furthest thing from her mind.” Like Gail said.

“Are you still here?” I ask.

“Yes, but she just went up to bed. I think she’s down for the night…”

“No, she’s not. She’s taking a nap. Come to my den. I need your help…”

I used to sit in the kitchen and watch my mother like this on those few occasions when she would make something special. She was a very busy doctor and she didn’t get to cook much until we got older. She spent as much time with us as possible when we were kids instead of in the kitchen. She’s the reason that I don’t want my children raised solely by nannies. My mom was the best, and even though I may not have acted like she was the world to me, she really was. There was this one time when she made this chocolate cake for me from scratch. It was just for me, and I remember how special she made me feel making that cake just for me…

“I need you to do me a huge favor and I don’t want you to laugh at me.” Gail’s eyes widen as she puts the cake spatula down on the counter and turns her attention to me.

“Okay,” she says, waiting for my request. I sigh heavily and spit it out.

“I want you to teach me how to cook a nice meal for my wife,” I say finally. “I’m not trying to be a master chef. I just want to cook her a nice meal and I’m afraid that if I try to do it alone, I’ll burn the house down.”

I raise my head to look at her and she’s glaring at me like she’s just seen a ghost. I try to understand that this is a strange request but give me a fucking break here. I’m trying to do something nice for the woman I love.

“You want to cook?” she finally says, astonished. I nod.

“Yes,” I reply, already afraid that this will be an impossible task. Gail sighs.

“It takes patience, Christian,” she says. “You’re not a very patient man.”

“I at least want to try,” I say. “I just want to do something nice for her. I buy her shit all the time. This will be different, something I can do myself. It doesn’t have to be a gourmet meal—I know that would take forever, but something nice… and edible.” A small smile plays with Gail’s lips.

“We’ll try,” she says. “When do you want to do this? You all are always home at the same time, unless you don’t care if she knows.”

“No, it has to be a surprise,” I tell her. She nods.

“Sophie has been asking to learn to cook a few dishes. You’re in luck, we’ve only just started. I can kill two birds with one stone if you don’t mind a teenager in your cooking class.” I sigh again. I don’t care who’s in the cooking class as long as she agrees to help me… and Butterfly doesn’t find out.

“Thank you,” I breathe. “I’ll come home early, when Sophie is getting off school. We’ll work out some form of communication so that I’ll know if Butterfly is at home…”

Just like that, Gail becomes my co-conspirator.

Having unlimited resources affords you the luxury of not only being able to put together a birthday party in only two hours, but also to be able to secure the perfect gift that’s not only thoughtful and somewhat extravagant to the average person, but also utterly necessary. As luck would have it—bad luck, that is—I’m the only person in the inner sanctum that forgot it was Butterfly’s birthday. Everyone else had presents at the ready and was only looking for a good time to “engage,” so to speak. So, when Al activated the contingency and managed to get Butterfly’s closest friends to the Crossing on short notice, everyone came bearing gifts. Mine is an Australian cruise that we’ll be taking in December, no excuses or postponing.

At 7pm sharp, I send Val to rouse my Butterfly from her slumber and bring her to the dining room. As much as I’ve promised that birthdays will no longer be a day of angst for my wife, this one was nearly ruined again—this time, because of me. Three birthdays this woman has spent with me and not one of them have gone off without a hitch. Oy vey!

After fifteen minutes have passed and still no sign of my wife, I begin to worry until I see a beautiful vision in sunshine yellow bend the corner around one of the large columns.

“Surprise!” everyone yells. The gathering is small, not everyone that I would have hoped but enough of our closest friends and family.

“Wha…?” Butterfly is stunned. An impromptu Food and Libations with the Scooby Gang and plus ones, the extended family from the Crossing, and my parents made it, too. A small table is set up with the gifts and the German Chocolate cake made by Gail and decorated with large chocolate flowers and the words “Happy Birthday Mommy.” The twins sleep in their Pack-n-Plays on either side of the table, guarding the cake and gifts from possible interlopers. Little Mindy occasionally peeks into the Pack-n-Plays under her mother’s watchful eye. Little Harry had just been put down to sleep and as I am told, has been battling a small cold. So, even though Ray is here, Mandy and Ana’s little brother couldn’t make it.

“I couldn’t let her come down when she first awoke,” Val apologizes. “She looked like she had been attacked by wolves. She never would have forgiven me.” I walk over to my sweet, stunned bride and put my hands on her forearms.

“I want to say that we had this elaborate plan, but we didn’t. We all just wanted you to know how much we love you.” She looks around the table at her friends and the family we could gather before she throws her arms around me and buries her face in my neck.

“I totally forgot,” she breathes in soft sobs. “I love you, too.”

*-*

She had a wonderful time. She spent the evening listening to what was going on in everyone else’s life since it was already known that the last month of her life had been a complete disaster. Having spent most of the summer taking care of Val, then being there for me and my family when Pops died, followed almost immediately by Mia’s wedding then yet another event that we’ll come up with some horrible nickname for, there hasn’t been any time to connect with her friends on the frivolous and fun level that friends should.

After two years together, Marilyn and Gary have decided to move in together. There are still no wedding bells on the near horizon, but they’re both so busy that they don’t spend nights apart at all and, according to them, it makes no sense to pay rent in two places when they most often only stay in one.

So… Courtney and Vickie are a real-life couple. Yeah, that’s news to me. I wouldn’t have been surprised that they were fucking around, but a couple… yeah, I’m surprised. Courtney’s going to school for social work, which is a real shocker to me since she was truly a lost cause a year ago as far as I was concerned. But, I have to admit—Aunt Tina, Mom, and Butterfly were right. She has changed significantly. I don’t think her grandparents would even recognize her now.

Valerie and Elliot will be moving into their house next weekend. The house is ready, but they didn’t want to come straight home and then have to prepare for packing and moving. Valerie’s things are all in storage since she let her apartment go right after her diagnosis and Elliot’s refusal to let her out of his sight. Elliot still has his apartment, but he’s going to be shedding most of his bachelor gear—as is my understanding—for new furnishings in the new house. They should be ready for a housewarming in a few weeks.

Maxine announces that she has decided to open her own practice. She feels that it’s time that she offers her services in a different arena without being under someone else’s payroll. Butterfly encourages her to do that and jokes that she will come and see Maxine should she find herself in need of a job again. A scoff and a dirty look come from both my mother and me to the party’s amusement. Butterfly also informs her friend that she owns an office building downtown with empty office space. I had completely forgotten that I had gifted Butterfly’s office downtown to her and there is currently space for rent. So, Maxine now has the new location of her practice.

There’s no sex tonight. The day was just too heavy, even with the successful joviality at the end of the evening. Butterfly and I watch Disney movies in the family room with the twins in their Pack-n-Plays. She finally falls asleep somewhere after their midnight feeding and I lay in bed with her in my arms staring at the ceiling, thinking how close I came to losing it all over a terrible misunderstanding.

My wife could have died when she fell off that cliff. Chuck saved her life yet again. She may never recover from this impending doom syndrome. I can see it in her eyes. She used to be such a free spirit and now, she’s approaching everything with a level of emotional caution that’s clearly visible to everyone around her. She’s agreed to start seeing Ace again. I’ll give Dr. Baker a call, too. Somebody’s got to help us out of this situation in which we’ve found ourselves or we’ll never be able to get ourselves back.

Having laid awake next to my wife for about three hours with no hope of falling asleep, I slide out of bed and go to my old faithful companion in hopes of calming my nerves enough to find slumber. I stop at the bar in the entertainment room and pour myself a brandy, then stop in my office to get my voice recorder before escaping to my den and my baby grand.

I never know how to verbalize my feelings, which is why I ran my cowardly, selfish ass to Madrid instead of staying here and communicating with my wife. I thought I had come so far during the time that we’ve been together. I’ve come a long way, granted, but not nearly as far as I need to if I can come this close to losing her because of this. I start the voice recorder and just start playing. At first, I have no idea what I’m doing, what I’m playing, or why I’m recording… but I do. I just keep playing, keep recording… and keep singing.

You look at me and I begin to melt, just like the snow when a ray of sun is felt…

She’s so broken, and I broke her. Just like she always does, she put on a good face for the rest of the world, but deep inside, she’s fragile and afraid. Somehow, I—or something else—always exploits that fear and that vulnerability. I have to make sure that she knows that I’ll never be the one to do that to her again. I have to know that I’ll never do that to her again. She can’t take it. She won’t survive going through this too many more times.

And now that your rose is in bloom, a light hits the gloom on the Grey…

Yeah, I know that’s not the Grey the song meant, but that’s how I feel—lost without her and so found when she’s near me. Song after song flows from my soul, my fingers, and my mouth. I don’t really know the purpose. I just sing and play what I’m feeling, what I need her to feel.

And when you smile, the whole world stops and stares for a while…

How I could have thought that for one second her thoughts and heart would stray to someone else is beyond me. Even now, playing the probable kiss over and over in my head, I no longer see her gazing in his eyes. I no longer see him closing in to touch his lips to hers. I only see her hand on his chest, pushing him away, fending him off from our bubble, our life and our love…

I knew I loved you before I met you, I think I dreamed you into life…

I have to get her back… back to the sassy Dr. Steele that I met in that community center, the woman who calls me Grey when she’s cross with me, the woman who cries adrenaline tears when she’s pissed and wants someone to pay for whatever has her feeling that way instead of shrinking into sofas or in fetal positions on the floor—not for myself, but for her… and yes, for me, too…

If ever I believe my work is done, then I’ll start back at one…

She has to know that I love her, what she means to me, what she’ll always mean to me. She has to know that, yes, there will be some bad times—some shadows and some tears, we can’t avoid them—but I’ll always be there to love her and hold her, to make sure that she’ll never feel the way she feels right now ever, ever again. God, I love you, Butterfly. I love you so much. I’ll spend the rest of my life proving to you that I love you and I’ll never let you down like this again… never again…

I never knew what my life was for, but now that you’re here, I know for sure…

I have died every day waiting for you, Darlin’ don’t be afraid, I have loved you for a thousand years…

You make me feel so brand new and I want to spend my life with you…

All of me loves all of you, love your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections…


A/N: Ana’s quote about sudden destruction comes from the Bible: I Thessalonians 5:3

Here are the songs that are referenced in Christian’s midnight serenade.

On the Wings of Love—Jeffrey Osborne
Kiss From A Rose—Seal
Just The Way You Are—Bruno Mars
I Knew I Loved You—Savage Garden
Back At One—Brian McKnight
Spend My Life With You—Eric Benet ft. Tamia
A Thousand Years—Christina Perri
Let’s Stay Together—Al Green
All Of Me—John Legend 

Other songs that were on the recording, not mentioned in the chapter:
Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love for You—George Benson, Glenn Medeiros, Westlife… take your pick
I Will Be Right Here Waiting for you—Richard Marx
Thinking Out Loud—Ed Sheeran
Because You Loved Me—Celine Dion

Not sure if anyone cares, but years ago, I used to watch a sitcom called The Facts of Life. One of the characters—Tootie—wrote and performed a dramatic reading that I never really understood until I became an adult and people were always expecting something of me. When my Muse deserted me (and believe me, y’all, she deserted me—I thought I was going to be wrapping up the Butterfly Saga), Tootie’s dramatic reading came to me. To me, it translated into, “You can’t expect for me to just keep churning out shit when you need it and just take what I can get when you’re ready to give it to me.” 

These last few chapters, my Muse took a beating… and she shut the fuck down. 

Now I know people may look at this and say, “We can’t say what we want to say or she’s going to stop writing.” That’s not necessarily true, but people do need to understand that creativity is a lot of hard work, and I’m feeling what’s being said. As many times as I’ve tried to explain things logically, my Muse—as is anybody’s—is as “at will” as they come. She was like, “I don’t have to explain shit! and took the fuck off. 

For those who think she’s overly sensitive, do me a quick favor. Start from chapter 37, and don’t read anything else but the comments(suspicion started in chapter 33; the “embers” started in chapter 37; the blaze started in chapter 38) . Start from the first comment in chapter 37 to the last comment in chapter 41. Read it first with an open mind, then picture that this was a piece of clay that you worked on months ago for several weeks, and these people are talking about your piece of clay. No matter how thick your skin is, no creative soul can walk away from that unscathed. 

If you’re interested in Tootie’s dramatic reading, it starts at the 15:45 mark and it’s only about a minute long. 

I’m done. I apologize for subjecting you all to my diatribe. I’ve actually lost readers for that. 

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

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

NO EMAIL SENT YET!

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

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

Chapter 33—Just When You Thought It Was Safe…

ANASTASIA

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

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

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

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

Bitch.

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

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

“Who?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Liam's EyesAre those things real??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For this case,” I insist. He pauses.

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

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

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

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

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

So much for breaking the flow of negative energy.

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

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

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

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

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

Drive Christian crazy…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fuck… bad analogy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your babies are here,” she says knowingly.

“Yeah, and I want to get them home.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

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


CHRISTIAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What did he say?” I ask.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Information about what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, sir.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That makes two of us.

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And again, I can’t move.

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

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

And here comes the burn.

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

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

That does it.

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

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

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

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

“You’re unreal,” I breathe.

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

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

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


ANASTASIA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yeah, it’s Marlow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why would I mind that?” she asks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

 ~~love and handcuffs

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

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

Chapter 18—I Can See Clearly Now…

CHRISTIAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you do anything wrong?” I ask.

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you ready?” I ask.

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

“Today?” I bark. “Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“In about an hour,” he laments.

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your apartment?” Deleroy exclaims. “These people have you living alone and you’re only twelve?”

“There’s the word!” I have to catch my wife around her waist to prevent her from lunging at Deleroy, who turns white as a ghost at the gesture. Sophie, however, is not one to let the comment drop so easily.

“No, Mom, I’m not alone here! I’m never alone here. There are people here with me all the time—Momma Gail, Daddy, Mr. Christian, Ms. Ana, Chuck, Keri—and when they’re not here, there’s always somebody else. What you did—leaving me in that house with no food and no phone for three days while your creepy drug dealer kept coming by looking for you right before you tried to trade me off for drugs—that was alone. This is not alone. I’m not alone here. I’m never, ever alone!”

The patio is silent while Sophie faces off with her obviously delusional mother.

“And I realize that I’m not a priority in your life and I don’t think I ever was, but try to keep up, Mom. I’m thirteen.” Though her voice was shrill and angry moments ago, Sophie’s voice is low and cool when she delivers this bit of information. Then, she drops the final bomb on her mother. “Your visit was at twelve. It’s two thirty. You’re late and I don’t want to see you. You can leave now.”

Sophie turns and walks back towards the apartments.

“Sophie!” Deleroy calls after her, but she doesn’t stop walking. “Sophia!” Still no response as Sophie disappears into the jungle patio. “Go get her!” she hisses at Jason. “The court says I still have visitation!”

“Yes,” Jason agrees, “supervised visitation at an agreed time. Your visitation was at noon. You missed it.” Deleroy wrings her hands, looking past Jason as if she’s desperate for Sophie to return.

“I was detained,” she says, her voice shaking.

“I know,” Jason says calmly. “You’re tweeking.”

So, that’s why she’s shaky and nervous. Damn, it’s so fucking obvious, I wasn’t even paying attention. Deleroy narrows her eyes and lashes out on Jason, ignoring his last comment.

“You are not better than me, Jason!” she yells. “I’ve had bad luck and that’s all. I’ve made mistakes, but you can’t hold them over my head for the rest of my life! You move her into this fortress and I can’t even get to her! You and that cow and this prima donna are filling her head with bullshit…”

Butterfly almost got to her with that last statement, but I was fast enough to pull her back… and now she’s furious.

“Goddammit if you’re not gonna let me beat ‘er ass get ‘er the fuck outta my house!” She screams it all in one breath—and I do mean screams.

“You need to leave before my wife kills you!” I exclaim, because I’m a strong man, but holding back a flailing, snarling, scratching, angry cat is not an easy task. I hear some word fly back and forth, but I’m too busy trying to keep my wife from committing a felony. When things seem like they’re going completely out of control, a shrill voice brings everybody to a screeching halt.

“Go! Mom! You’re high!”

Butterfly stops flailing in my arms and all eyes are on Sophie.

“Sophie… baby…” Deleroy squeaks.

“I will. Not. See you. When you’re high! Go. Now!” Sophie’s fists are clenched and I think everyone knows to let her handle this.

“Sophie, I’m not…”

“Oh, my Goooo-ooo-ooodah!” Sophie says in pure frustration. “You’re so full of shit!” she screams. Jason’s head jerks back, but there’s nobody on this patio but Sophia Taylor and Shalane Deleroy.

“I never mattered to you!” she screams. “Even before the drugs, I never mattered! I was a way to piss Dad off, or a way to get more money from him, or in the end, a trade-off for a quick fix! I was a kid, Mom, not fucking blind!”

Gail’s eyes are large and she hisses at nearly every word that comes out of Sophie’s mouth.

“Get out! Get! Out!” Sophie’s screaming, but nobody moves. She looks at all the adults, her eyes glassy and full of fury.

“Do I live here or not??” she screams at whomever will answer. Everybody’s too stunned to reply, so I do.

“Yes, Sophie. You live here.”

“Then, get her out of here!” She’s pointing at Shalane and screaming at Lawrence. “Get her out!” I throw a quick look at Lawrence who immediately turns on Shalane.

“Ma’am,” he says, giving her an opportunity to leave on her own. She looks at him with disdain.

“You can’t make me…”

“Two of the occupants of this residence has requested your departure. You are now trespassing, which is a crime in Seattle. You can walk, or I can remove you. You have ten seconds to decide.”

Shalane looks wide-eyed at Lawrence, then at Sophie, who looks like she will beat Deleroy back across the bridge. With probably one second to spare, she decides that she would rather walk, turns indignantly, and leaves with Lawrence right on her heels. A few seconds after her departure, Sophie breaks down. Butterfly wiggles from my grasp and goes to her, wrapping her arms around Sophie as she sobs. Jason runs his hand through his hair, obviously trying not to hit something.

“I’m… sorry…” Sophie chokes through her tears as every woman on the patio cocoons protectively around her.

*-*

Butterfly and I go to court with Jason and Gail the next afternoon as moral support and witnesses for Jason. Al tried to prepare us, but we don’t know what to expect. Shalane is present with her attorney and she has brought a few witnesses with her as well. We don’t know any of these people, but of course, they all sing praises about how good a mother Shalane is and how well she takes care of Sophie. When they are examined by Al about Shalane’s drug use and attempt to trade Sophie for methamphetamines, they suddenly get the stammers and complete amnesia about these particular incidents. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see through the theatrics and determine that these are not credible or believable witnesses.

Standing against a gainfully-employed father who unwittingly supported this woman’s drug habit through generous amounts of continued child support for several years, a billionaire businessman and entrepreneur, a respected psychiatrist and member of the community who donates her time and professional services to a local community center whose mission and vision is to assist battered and unfortunate families to be self-sufficient and safe—oh, and a police officer armed with an arrest report that this strung-out mother was apprehended in a drug raid with said child in attendance, possibly with intent to trade said child for a fix—yeah… not much ground to stand on, Deleroy.

But our presence wasn’t the poison pill.

Sophie wasn’t allowed to be present during the presentation of the custody case. However, her deposition was taken in chambers with both attorneys present. The judge felt that she needed to be free to express her true feelings. Had they seen this young lady on my patio yesterday, they would have known that this wouldn’t be an issue. The video of Sophie’s deposition is played for us just before the judge renders his decision.

“How old are you, Sophie?” the judge asks.

“I’m thirteen,” she replies.

“And you know why you’re here, right?” she nods.

“You’re trying to decide if I live with my mom or my dad,” she says. The judge nods.

“What kind of grades do you get in school?” he asks.

“I get A’s and B’s mostly,” she says. “I got a ‘C’ in gym though.”

“Why did you get a ‘C’ in gym?” he asks.

“I was losing points because I kept coming to class with the wrong color shorts on,” she says.

“Why did you do that?”

“I needed yellow, green, or gray. I didn’t have any of those colors, so I wore what I had. I told my mom that I needed yellow, green, or gray and she said she would get them, but she never did. So, I got a ‘C’ in gym.” She shrugs.

“You don’t seem to care too much about that ‘C’ in gym,” the judge says.

“Worse things happen,” she says with a shrug.

“Worse things like what?”

“Like not seeing your mom at all for weeks at a time,” she says. “I mean, she was there, I just never saw her. She was asleep when I came home from school, or she was in the room with one of her boyfriends. I had to cook for myself… when there was food in the house…”

“There were times when there was no food in the house?” he asks. She nods.

“Near the end, yeah,” she says. “At first, it was just Mom wasn’t around, I didn’t have her breathing down my neck all the time, great. Then, these guys started coming around and I never saw her. Then, she would be gone for days and I knew she wasn’t there. Then, we started running out of food and I had to make what I could… Is my Dad going to see this?”

Jason sits up straight in his seat and listens carefully to what she says.

“You’re saying that you don’t want your dad to see this?” the judge asks. Sophie shakes her head. “Why not?”

“Because he’s gonna be mad at me,” she says.

“Why do you think your father is going to be mad at you?” She rolls her eyes.

“Because one day a while ago, there wasn’t any food in the house and I was hungry and I went to school and I ate out of the garbage.” Jason’s hand flies to his mouth. He closes his eyes and his head drops.

“Why do you think he would be angry with you for that?”

“Because I never told him,” she says with a sigh. “I was trying to protect my mother.”

“Why would you want to protect her from something like that?” the judge asks. “You were hungry…”

“Because she’s my mom,” Sophie says, like the answer was obvious. “She’s done some really messed-up things, but she’s still my mom.”

Now Deleroy’s head falls. She covers her face and cries.

“So, you still love her,” the judge asks.

“Of course, I love her!” Sophie nearly shrieks. “She’s just… not a good mom anymore.”

Deleroy chokes back a sob. Even for a strung-out, soulless, cold-hearted bitch who tried to sell her 12-year-old daughter, this must be hard to hear.

“Was she ever a good mom?” the judge asks.

“That’s hard to say,” Sophie replies soberly. “I think she was. I didn’t have anything to compare it to until I saw Ms. Ana with the twins…”

Butterfly covers her mouth and gasps. I reach over and grasp her hand.

“Those are babies, though. Everybody likes babies.” Sophie smiles playfully. “But when she thinks nobody’s looking, she smiles at them and she kisses them. She tells them that she loves them and I know they don’t know what she’s saying. You just… know that she would do anything for those babies…” Sophie trails off.

“You didn’t feel like that with your mother?” Sophie shrugs again and looks like she’s searching for her words.

“I’m a little older now than I was when I was living with Mom, and…” she trails off again, sighs, and starts to fidget with her fingers. “Do you know that Momma Gail calls me ‘Pumpkin?’” she says, smiling. “Daddy calls me ‘Baby Boo.’ Mom calls me ‘Sophie’ or ‘Sophia.’ Everybody calls me that. Ms. Ana and Mr. Christian call the twins ‘Minnie and Mikey.’ Isn’t that cute?” she nearly squeals.

“Yes, it is,” the judge agrees, lightheartedly.

“Mr. Christian… he calls Ms. Ana ‘Butterfly,’ and when they don’t think I can hear them, Daddy calls Momma Gail ‘Love’ and Keri calls Chuck ‘Choonks,’” she giggles.

We have to be careful around this little girl. She sees and hears everything.

“I even heard one girl’s mom at school calls her ‘Nooka.’ I don’t even know what that means, but her name is ‘Ember,’ so I know it’s a nickname.” She drops her head sadly.

“What does that mean to you?” the judge asks.

“It means that these people love each other,” she says, sadly. “Mom never had a nickname for me. As far back as I can remember, Daddy called me ‘Baby Boo,’ but Mom never had a nickname for me. Just… Sophie… Everybody calls me ‘Sophie…’” she sounds as if she’s going to cry.

“You don’t like ‘Sophie?’”

“It’s okay, it’s my name… but shouldn’t your mom have a different name for you? I mean, something that nobody else calls you? Like everybody calls ‘Minnie and Mikey’ ‘Minnie and Mikey.’ But Mr. Christian and Ms. Ana might call ‘em ‘Mouse,’ or ‘Little Man,’ or ‘Big Man,’ or something like that… I know I’m not making sense…” she says.

“No, you’re making perfect sense,” the judge says, “but just because your mom didn’t have a special nickname for you didn’t make her a bad mom, did it?”

“No, I guess not,” Sophie says, and now she’s mum on the subject.

“Why don’t we get to the important stuff—why we’re here… where you want to live,” the judge says. “Your opinion is important here.” Sophie sighs.

“Are you going to listen to me or are you going to throw out what I’m saying because I’m a kid?” she asks.

Jason looks back at me and I swear we must be sharing the same look of awe.

“I’m going to listen to you, Sophia,” the judge says. Sophie obviously looks at Allen and Deleroy’s attorney before looking at the judge, then back at her hands.

“My mom has a problem,” she says, her voice cracking. “She didn’t always have this problem, but she has it now. She wasn’t always a bad mom… she really wasn’t. She kept me away from my dad, and that hurt, but she still wasn’t a bad mom…”

Deleroy is weeping now.

“But when she started that stuff, she changed. Everything changed. I was… ten or eleven, maybe… but I could tell things were different. She lost weight, she didn’t wash, she looks old… her teeth in the back are rotting away. She smells different, she acts different… Daddy was sending a lot of money for child support. I know he was, but there still wasn’t enough! Things just got bad and then they got worse and now… Mom might go to jail. What’s going to happen to me then?

“I spent a lot of time with my mom and I was barely ever able to see my dad. I wanna live with my dad,” she says without raising her head.

“Is that the only reason you want to live with your dad?” the judge asks.

“Mom’s not a good mom anymore… I wanna live with my dad,” she says again. “She never let me see him,” Sophie says, raising her head. “When I asked to call him or go see him, she always said he was too busy. For a long time, I thought my dad didn’t want me and she let me keep thinking that. Who does that?” She drops her head again.

“Even after everything that’s happened, Dad’ll still let me see Mom any time I ask him. He’s never kept me away from her… I just can’t be alone with her because she’s on that stuff. And I want her to get better, I really do, but I can’t live with her. I was hungry and unhappy and lonely… I don’t want to live with her…”

“What if she gets better, though?” the judge asks. “What if she goes into rehab and she’s not using anymore? We can make it so that you live with your father for a little while and then go back and live with your mother once she’s all better.”

Jason visibly tenses, but relaxes again when he sees Sophie shaking her head.

“I don’t want to go back and live with my mother,” she says, tears streaming down her face. “I only have a few more years and then I’ll be a grown up. Momma Gail likes me, Ms. Ana likes me, I get to play with the twins; I don’t have to be all by myself all the time. Nobody messes with my stuff. I get to go on field trips at school… and now, I know my dad wants me. I always knew that everything she was telling me about him wasn’t true, but now, I get to see it for myself. He spends time with me and tells me about when he was a kid… even about when him and Mom were married, before they started fighting. I talk to Ms. Ana about everything! She’s smart and she wears great clothes!”

I try not to laugh at her comment, but the rest of the courtroom is not so successful.

“And she gets me. I don’t know how, but she gets me. And Momma Gail… if something makes me sad or I don’t feel good, she’s always there. She has all these different home remedies for stuff and I think she could heal anything!”

Again, we laugh.

“I wanna stay with my dad,” she says her voice breaking and becoming somber. “I wanna stay with Mr. Christian and Chuck and Ben and Keri and… I feel like I got a real family now. I don’t wanna be alone anymore. If you send me to live with my mom, I’m gonna be alone again. I don’t wanna be alone.”

There’s a long moment of silence before the judge speaks.

“Thank you, Sophia,” he says. “Any questions from counsel?” the judge asks.

“No questions, Your Honor,” I hear Allen say.

“No questions,” the other attorney says, and the screen goes black. Deleroy hits her attorney on the arm and gestures to the front of the court as if to ask why he didn’t examine Sophie. He never even looks at her.

“It’s a difficult decision to tear a child from either parent, especially in a situation like this. I know to the layman, this may seem like a cut-and-dried case. The mother is quite possibly facing jail time for being caught in a drug raid. She’s obviously battling an addiction, which always stands to destroy the family and, most of all, the life of the child. There is some question about the intention of the mother to trade the child for drugs on the night of the raid. However, without concrete evidence or an outstanding charge, this accusation is speculation and perception and could just be the interpretation of a very frightened child of the night’s events. In a case like this, I’m driven to consider giving second chances to parents who are on the track of redemption. However, I must also consider the best interests of the child.

“In speaking to Sophia Taylor, I feel that she’s a very rounded, very wise teenager. I’m certain that she’s not easily coerced and I can see right through a child who has been coached. Sophia is craving real love and attention—a healthy home life and familial relationship. Not only does it appear that she has been deprived of this in recent years, but she’s also been deprived of basic companionship and guidance in her life. Her wisdom—such as it is—has been acquired from observing situations outside of hers; from watching the children at school interact with their parents even before she saw the interactions of the Taylors and the Greys. You only saw portions of the conversation that Sophia and I had and the parts that you didn’t see revealed that Jason Taylor went a long way to teach his daughter valuable life lessons and to be an active part of her life long before she came to live with him in March.

“In weighing the parental impact on Sophia of the time that she has lived with her mother and the impact of the time that she has lived with her father and in light of the current circumstances, the pending criminal trial, the mother’s current dependency, and the testimony of the child in question, I believe it to be in the best interest of the child to grant permanent primary custody of the minor child, Sophia Loren Taylor, to the father, Jason Taylor.”

I do my best not to stand and cheer while Deleroy gasps and cries out, “No!” in one of the most dramatic and theatrical displays I’ve ever seen. The judge continues by revoking the current child support order and asking if Jason requires child support from Deleroy. He declines, citing that his suspicion is that his child support was her only source of income, so there’s not much that she can give him. The judge informs him that he is free to revisit the child support order at a later date.

“Mrs. Deleroy, I don’t think you’re completely beyond redemption,” the judge continues. “Take this time for reflection and rehabilitation. Whatever the outcome of the criminal case against you, there’s always hope for recovery, and that’s what you need to strive for. Mr. Taylor, it’s the order of this court that you must make Sophia available for reasonable visitation with Ms. Deleroy. Supervised visitation is allowable and advisable until such time as Ms. Deleroy has successfully completed a medical drug rehabilitation program. In the meantime, I wish you all luck. Court is adjourned.” And the gavel falls.

“All rise.” We all rise except for Deleroy who is crumpled in a mound on the table, weeping bitterly. When the judge leaves the courtroom, she turns and lets loose on Jason.

“You bastard!” she cries. “You took my daughter, you son of a bitch! Are you happy now?”

Jason just looks at her and without a word, exits the courtroom while she’s still screaming profanities.

A few feet down the hallway, Sophie is sitting on a bench with a social worker awaiting the outcome of the trial. When she sees her father, she leaps to her feet, her eyes wide.

“Daddy?” she says, her eyes hopeful. A smile spreads across Jason’s face.

“We’re going home, Baby Boo,” he says as he opens his arms wide. Sophie squeals with delight and runs down the courthouse hallway, launching herself into her father’s arms.


ANASTASIA

“So, Judd Rossiter…”

After I woke from a very peaceful rest yesterday and right before my outside yoga session with Keri, Christian informed me to call a very frantic Marilyn who had called earlier that morning with two shows that wanted me to appear the next day. What the fuck? When I talked to Marilyn, it was Good Morning Seattle and Prominent Pacific, two of the shows that I had been targeting ever since I decided that I wanted to do radio interviews.

Fuck!
Fuck!
Fuck!

“What’s happened?” I had asked Christian. I knew something had to happen for them to suddenly be chomping at the bit to get me when they kept telling me, “We’ll be in touch,” before.

“You mean besides the fact that you’re becoming famous in your own right?” he said. “Somebody turned in another impromptu picture of us at the zoo cuddling under that umbrella.”

“That’s not news,” I told him.

“Oh, and Judd Rossiter is going down for sexual harassment of five women on his job—after you made a stink about that clit tattoo.”

So, that’s it. Juicy gossip about a local radio personality with a pussy on his arm. None of my causes were worth radio time, but the great Christian Grey takes down a disc jockey for flashing cooch at his wife, now that’s news! Okay… I’ll play your game, but you’re not going to like it…

So, Marilyn booked Seattle for Monday morning at 10am and Pacific for Tuesday at the same time. And now, here I sit with Sandra Price on Good Morning Seattle with her trying to get some gossip out of me. I told her when I sat down that I wanted to talk about my causes, and she went straight in to Rossiter.

“What about him?” I ask innocently.

“Give us the scoop. What’s the deal?” she says, leaning in for the kill.

“I don’t know what you want to hear,” I say shrugging. “You know as much as I do about the situation.” She glares at me a bit.

“Oh, come on, Ana. Inquiring minds want the deets. We hear that he’s being sued for sexual harassment by five women at the station.”

“Well, there you have it. What do you need me for?” I ask. “Was this a lead-in for how this relates to my treatment by the licensing board for those fabricated sexual misconduct accusations? Because if it was, we can skip the lead-in and go right to the story.” Sandra glares at me for about four seconds and I smile at her. “Sandra, I think this is what they call ‘dead air.’” She snaps out of her trance and tries to get back on track with the interview.

“I was just trying to get your side of the story, but if you don’t want to tell it…” she taunts.

“I’ve already told it, Sandra. I realize that you’re probably not supposed to listen to the competition, but if you want to stay on top of what’s going on in Seattle, you probably want to listen to that interview.” Tired of beating around the bush and trying to get information from me about the story, she starts asking direct questions.

“Is it true that Christian went down to the station all He-Man and demanded that Rossiter be fired?” she asks. I shrug.

“You have to ask Christian that question,” I say, knowing that an answer in the affirmative or the negative would both be a confirmation.

“Surely, you know if your husband came down to the radio station,” she prods further.

“I didn’t see him,” I answer honestly, and leave it at that.

“Don’t be coy, Ana, it’s not cute,” she quips, still trying to get me off my game.

“Don’t be deceptive, Sandra, it’s not professional,” I retort, and her eyes narrow again. “I love good gossip as much as the next person, but I only talk about what I know. I know that this topic was exposed on another radio station last week and that if you would like the ‘deets’ of that occurrence, you should probably get a sound bite from the radio station like everybody else did. I also know that your people called my people on a Sunday morning to book me for this slot today, at which time, you were informed that I would talk about my treatment by the licensing board after being falsely accused of sexual harassment charges as well as the work that I and my mother-in-law are doing at Helping Hands. Yet, when I get here, you’re asking about something completely unrelated—something that I was not and am not prepared to talk about, and I wonder if you ambush all of your live guests this way.”

Sandra’s mouth flies open. We’re live—she can’t stop me. She was hoping to catch me up in the Judd story, and now I’ve turned the tables.

“’Ambush’ is a pretty harsh word, don’t you think?” she says, in the most non-threatening tone she can muster.

“Oh,” I say, with the same pretentious softness, “I’m so sorry if I misspoke. What exactly are we doing?” Sandra’s eyes cut to something behind me and I look over my shoulder. In the control booth behind me is another woman in a red blazer with her arms folded. She’s glaring at Sandra with a look of death and there’s a man beside her with a large white dry-erase board with instructions in big bold black letters.

ASK ABOUT THE LICENSING BOARD

I turn back to Sandra, who’s still looking over my shoulder. I clear my throat and get her attention. When she turns her glare to me, I point to her microphone.

“Dead air,” I say. She looks down at her card.

“Of course,” she says, “just trying to brighten our dull little lives with a little juicy stuff. You know how that is.” She flashes a phony smile. I retort with the phoniest laugh I can muster to be blasted across the airways. Before we have a chance to start the interview back up again, Sandra’s recorded voice comes over the sound system with,

“We’ll be right back after these messages.”

“Clear,” I hear from the control booth and Sandra suddenly pales. In two seconds, the red blazer storms into the room and gets in Sandra’s face.

“Stick to the goddamn script and cut the ratings whore shit unless you want to end up back on the 4am weather report tomorrow.” Red Blazer says the entire thing through her teeth and Sandra doesn’t respond. She quietly picks up her index cards and stacks them without a word. Red Blazer doesn’t even acknowledge me. She breezes right back out of the booth and Sandra and I sit there for two minutes of total silence. When the control booth calls out “We’re on in five,” I’m almost relieved to hear the intro music start up again.

“And welcome back to Good Morning Seattle. Our interview continues with Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey, psychiatrist and assistant director of Helping Hands…”

And just like that, we did the interview that I agreed to. The person who conducted this interview was nothing like the “ratings whore” sitting in the room two minutes ago. It’s like the body snatchers came into the room and took the first bitch away, replacing her with this professional woman asking relevant questions about my issues.

As it turns out, this had nothing to do with me. Good Morning Seattle really did want to get me into a morning slot because of the exposure that I’ve been getting lately, and they were totally fine with me discussing the licensing board and Helping Hands. It was Sandra Anchorbitch who, like Judd Loser, was trying to get a few minutes of more fame with her “ratings whore shit,” as Red Blazer put it. Honestly, there’s always one. That’s how the sacrificial lamb was born in the first place. They’re not on every show and hopefully, there won’t be one on Prominent Pacific, but we’ll just have to see.

The afternoon is much better than the morning, although I must admit that I didn’t know what to expect at Sophie’s custody hearing. Courtrooms and I haven’t been the best of friends, and I didn’t relish the idea of having to be in one again, much less having to take the stand. The case is very volatile and I have no idea what’s going to come out in the examinations, especially since Sophie will be living in our house if… when the judge grants Jason full custody. People tend to villainize me and Christian at every turn and I expect for this situation to be no different.

I had no idea how wrong I would be.

I don’t know where Shalane found this attorney, but she should have kept searching. If I didn’t know better, I would swear that Jason hired the guy! He made Jason’s point for us more times than not. Shalane’s character witnesses were unreliable at best. I wouldn’t say that they were shady, but they didn’t help her case any. The attorney’s cross examination did nothing to pick apart our testimony. His questions basically only clarified what we had already said.

The most agonizing part of the entire case was listening to Sophie talk about how she didn’t really feel motherly love. She went on and on about nicknames and I don’t know if that meant anything to the case, but it meant everything to me as a psychiatrist. She never felt the special love that a child should feel from a mother than turns your heart to mush… the love that make my voice turn into Alvin and the Chipmunks when I see “Mommy’s little man” or “Mommy’s Minnie Mouse.” She clearly missed out on that from her mother, and although she had a hard time verbalizing it, she did so perfectly.

Shalane can’t see past her own loss. She’s so busy blaming Jason for her problems that she can’t see her own mistakes. When Jason walks out of the courtroom without a word with my husband on his heels, I just watch and listen as Shalane spews profanities at him. There’s no mention whatsoever of being a better parent or taking care of her child, just what he took from her. I stay behind for a moment and watch the temper tantrum. Jason doesn’t even react. He just leaves the courtroom while she’s screaming at him. She finally turns her gaze to me, still sniffling and slobbering.

“What?” she weeps. “You wanna kick my ass now?” she says, recalling our near-encounter yesterday. No, Shalane, you’re doing a good enough job of that all on your own.

“Stop. Thinking. About. Yourself,” I say coolly. Shalane’s anger falls and her face turns to stone. “You are her mother. No one will ever take your place. She loves you. Nothing will ever change that. Get yourself together! She needs you! She will always. Need you!”

I don’t know if I got through to her, but she didn’t rebut. I can only see Carla and how everything was always about her. It wasn’t always that way, but it was that way when it counted. I moved past it, but I’ll never get over it. I’ll never get over not being important enough to my mommy. I don’t want that fate for Sophie.

I glance over at her attorney who gives me a nearly infinitesimal nod. It turns out that he really is one of the good guys.

When I leave the courtroom, an elated Sophie is wrapped around her father and they’re both laughing like they’re at Disneyland. When he walks out hand in hand with his little girl, we’re met by a few paparazzi on the stairs, always looking for a story. The little lady handled like a pro.

“I’m going home with my daddy. That’s all.”

And that was all.

*-*

“Listen, Ana,” Shelby Fisher says as I sit in the preshow briefing, “I want to hear about Judd Rossiter, too. I heard the radio show. I heard what you said to him. The world knows that Christian Grey went down to that radio station, although nobody really knows what happened because the station is mute about it. Judd is talking about it on every slime show he can do and freedom of speech says that he can do that. I’d like to get some inside on it, but I won’t if you say ‘no.’”

I sigh. So, Judd is mud-slinging. It’s not just bar talk; it’s more than that. I nod.

“How much time before we go on the air?” I ask.

“About fifteen minutes,” she says. I nod again.

“Let me talk to my publicist really quickly and I’ll get back to you on that, okay?” She nods.

“That’s fair,” she says. I pull Marilyn into one of the nearby conference rooms and lock the door. I hope nobody was using this room right away.

“Google Judd Rossiter,” I tell her as I dial Grey House.

“Elva McIntyre.”

“Vee, it’s Ana. Listen, Judd Rossiter is apparently running off at the mouth about his stroke of bad luck with the ladies at his job. Do you know what he’s saying?” I can hear her typing away at her keyboard.

“I know he was yapping about it, but so far nothing’s come up about you or Christian. Just sour grapes about the women who are accusing him…”

“Oh, shit,” Marilyn’s voice breaks through Vee’s explanation.

“What?” I ask.

“Seattle Nooz’ live webcast this morning has him portraying you as a prude that needs a good fucking and Christian as the billionaire messenger boy that you’ve got by the balls. He’s basically saying that Christian came into the station after you called him and that because of that visit, the girls making the accusations were planted… and the Nooz is running with that.” I sigh and roll my eyes. This shit happens all the time, but I just don’t need it when I have two major causes that require the spotlight.

“I heard,” Vee says, “and I see. You can’t avoid it. Address it, but don’t focus on it. Don’t stoop to his level. Do it like Ana. Handle it… don’t feed it.” I nod. I know what to do.

“Tell Christian,” I say. “He doesn’t need to be blindsided by this. I’ll be at Grey House this afternoon before I go to the Center.”

“You got this, Ana,” she says before she ends the call.

“Yeah, I got this,” I mumble, before turning to Marilyn. “You’re coming into the booth with me. Find as much as you can…”

“So, what’s the verdict?” Shelby asks. I sigh.

“I appreciate you letting me know that you want to address the issue. Because you asked instead of ambushing me, we’ll devote no more than ten minutes to that discussion, but we must remain professional. I reserve the right not to address something, but I’ll try to answer your questions.” She nods.

“That’s all I can ask,” she says. Three minutes later, we’re on the air. She begins by asking for a short recap of what’s going on.

“I really hate to focus on this situation when there are so many other important topics to discuss, but I realize that it can’t be ignored,” I begin. “Long story short, I brought to light how his behavior was inappropriate. I also mentioned that it probably made other women in the workplace uncomfortable to have to look at that. What happened after that, I can only speculate, but I’m sure that you can relate to the concept of several people speaking up after one speaks up? I can only guess that after I spoke up about the inappropriate tattoo that other women may have found the courage to speak up about their experiences with him as well.”

“He’s painting it as a big set-up from an uptight woman with an ax to grind,” she says. “I have to admit that you have never struck me as ‘uptight,’ so what’s that all about?”

“The entire time I sat in that booth with female anatomy staring at me, I took every measure to remain professional—even in expressing my distaste with his offensive tattoo and suggestive attire, I remained tactful and diplomatic. Maybe he’s not accustomed to that type of response and that’s why he calls me ‘uptight.’ I can actually understand that. If the only thing you’re used to is women diverting their gaze or gasping in horror, I would imagine that you wouldn’t know how to properly describe someone confronting you on the vulgarity of your personal representation in the workplace.” Shelby’s brow rises.

“Wow. Nice,” she says with a chuckle. “What about his comment about your husband? We all know that Christian Grey can make things happen.”

“Well, I’ll say this,” I say. “I know that my husband is very protective of me and for good reason. I’m the mother of his children; I’m the wife of a billionaire, and let’s face it—I haven’t had the best of luck, right?” I say with a shrug. “I’ll repeat what I said on Monday. I didn’t see him at the station, but if he did show up, what husband in his right mind would have the power to speak up about his wife being disrespected and not do it?

“We ask for the manager in a restaurant when the service is bad—not millionaires and billionaires and power players, just regular people who expect to be respected. Yet, my husband is being portrayed as henpecked because he may or may not have defended me against someone’s inappropriate and predatory behavior.  Maybe chivalry is dead where that guy came from, but all the upstanding men in my life defend their women—their wives, daughters, and mothers. So, I don’t really know what else to say about that.” Shelby does a small fist pump in the air and we share a silent giggle.

“What about…” She pauses for effect and to let me know that a big one is coming. “… the claims that the women that are making the accusations against him are planted?” I literally laugh out loud.

“That’s just ridiculous!” I exclaim shamelessly. “I can’t even begin to speculate what kind of planning has to go into executing something so ludicrous! You would have had to know exactly when I was going to be on the show then plant people months in advance as employees to be ready for when I showed up! What’s more, you would have had to know that he would have flashed this thing at me! Do you see how ridiculous that really is?” I say, my voice high.

“Clearly,” Shelby agrees.

“I would really like to know how those women feel about that accusation,” I say, matter-of-factly. “I’d be interested in knowing what the station has to say about it. This is an open investigation on his professional behavior. Seriously, if these women are traumatized enough by this, it could lead to workplace lawsuits and he’s just talking about it everywhere like it’s the weather. He’s got a bone to pick with me because he’s got an open vajayjay in my face and he’s not even thinking about these other women. Then again, he wasn’t thinking about them in the first place, now was he?”

Shelby shakes her fists and looks to the heavens mouthing, “Gold!”

“Oh, my God, vajayjay!” she says, through her laughter, and I just realized I let that out of my mouth. Oh, well… she loved it.

“I’m not going to have a sparring match with this man,” I begin after our laughter subsides. “There’s a character flaw at play when you think it’s okay to display a tattoo like that to women with whom you do not have intimate relationships. It’s that simple. It’s offensive. It’s suggestive. It’s vulgar, and somebody spoke up about it. When that one person spoke up about it, all of the people who felt that his behavior—whatever his behavior may have been—was offensive, suggestive, or vulgar all spoke up about it. When you make a decision to go against the grain, you have to live with the consequences. I’m all for self-expression, but he can’t show up with an exposed naked woman on his arm in the workplace any more than I can show up naked to my job at the help center.” Shelby makes that shrug face.

“I… think that says it all,” she says with a nod. “Thank you so much for addressing that and so eloquently. Now, let’s get to the real reason for your visit. I know you normally talk about the licensing board first, but I’d like to switch it up and talk about Helping Hands. Apparently, your mother-in-law, Dr. Grace Trevelyan Grey is a successful pediatrician here in Seattle and she’s been the director of this organization for many years. I hear that you guys have been doing some great things for the community down there…”

Best interview I’ve had yet. I got to address that asshole, Judd, without going into the gutter and Shelby had really done her research. She painted Helping Hands in the best possible light with statistics and testimonials, even bringing to light the span of services that we’ll be able to provide once the accreditation is complete. I’m thoroughly pleased with the outcome of this appearance and Shelby has asked me to come back for an update after the accreditation goes through.

“You. Are. Phenomenal!” Vee says when I call to check in with her after we leave the station. “You’re going to put me out of a fucking job, you know that?”

“Not a chance,” I tell her. “We need you. As you can see, I need you.”

“He needs you,” she says quietly. “Don’t ever repeat this, but he’s been such a better man since you’ve come along. His image was taking a silent hit that year you showed up—stoic, cold ass businessman with no heart and he was fine with that. Now that you’re here… he just a better man.” I smile.

“Thanks, Vee,” I say sincerely. “Tell that better man that I’m on my way there.”


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

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~~love and handcuffs