Grey Continued: Season 5 Episode 8

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

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

Season 5 Episode 8

CHRISTIAN

The trip to the District Court is… interesting. The I-15 freeway is nerve-wracking to say the least. Traveling down that stretch of road, you just want to close your eyes and pray that you don’t get killed. A six-mile journey takes all of 30 – 45 minutes in rush hour traffic, and we have to hit it coming and going for the next several days at least. I’m silently praying for safe passage. My wife, on the other hand, is sitting next to me silent and stoic.

The courthouse is clean and professional enough, but the distance in between once you exit the freeway reminds me of Detroit. Where Detroit has liquor stores every few blocks, here there are bail bondsmen everywhere you look. Downtown is full of apartments in desperate need of repair and no-tell-motels all over the place—or at least that’s what they look like to me.

At a certain point, you reach the business district that looks like it totally shouldn’t be here—clean lines, high rises, well-maintained streets… which they very well should be with all the construction we kept hitting on the way out here.

The parking is atrocious down here and we can’t afford to get out of town tickets in three rental SUVS, or worse, towed. As such, we have a plan for pickup and drop off at the courthouse. All non-security staff will form a perimeter around me and Butterfly with Ray and Allen in front, James and Mandy on either side, and Vee and Marilyn bringing up the rear. The five members of my security team that won’t be parking the cars will form a five-point star around the eight of us with Jason at the lead, two guards at the rear, and a guard on either side. Butterfly will be duly buried in the middle of several people…

… Which is a good thing.

We can barely get the cars to the curb for fear of running over the Paparazzi’s toes as we pull up.

“Fucking vultures,” I mumble. This is insane and I have no idea how we’re even going to get out of the car.

“Where were all these people when this shit happened to me?” Butterfly blurts out, breaking her silence. “Why weren’t they this fucking hungry for a headline then?”

Oh, shit. She’s already losing it.

Several members of the press have cameras pressed against the glass of the SUV’s, and we can’t even exit the vehicle.

“Baby,” I say, taking her hand and trying to put out the fire before it starts, “remember what we said about the press egging you on.”

“Oh, don’t patronize me, Christian!” she barks snatching her hand from mine. “I’m not out of the car yet! And it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon either! These people have no fucking respect whatsoever. We’re trying to get to court, not walking the fucking red carpet!”

Dear God, somebody save me. I’m in a little metal box with a woman who’s getting more and more irritated by the second and my attempts at reason are only making it worse. What’s more, we can’t get out of the little metal box.

Unbeknownst to me, the city of Las Vegas has foreseen this little problem and has prepared accordingly. I can hear someone on a megaphone saying something, but I can’t quite make it out over the throng of people. As the cameras move away from the tinted glass, I crack the window slightly to hear what’s happening.

“Step away from the vehicle. Move away, or you will be arrested for obstruction of justice. This is your final warning.”

That’s right. Butterfly is a key witness in a criminal case. If they don’t allow her to get out of the car, they’re obstructing justice. I look back at my wife who looks through the crack in the window with stunned awe as the press is pushed away from the car. A few moments later, Chuck and Jason exit the car and another security detail takes the driver’s seat.

The door opens and we see Chuck, Al, James and Jason standing there.

“Are you ready?” Jason asks. I look at Butterfly, whose previous anger has completely deflated. She nods, and Ray exits the car first, then Mandy. It’s everyone else’s responsibility to fall in line once Butterfly exits the car, because she’s running to the door the minute she’s out of the car.

I never understood the concept of the courthouse having fifty stairs that you have to climb to get to the door. What’s the purpose of that?

When I step out of the car, I scan this situation before I let Butterfly out. Every fucking local newspaper in the state must be here. We’ve never had this much pomp and circumstance in Washington, and we’ve been to two trials where each of us was a key witness.

The press is neatly pushed away from either side of the car with Las Vegas Metro Police officers in tan uniforms with batons drawn holding them back from blocking our path to the door.

Now that’s what I call protecting and serving!

The cameras are still flashing, but I expect that much. We can’t stop them from taking pictures, but they have to let us through. I lean down into the car and take my wife’s hand.

“Ready?” I ask. She sighs heavily and nods.

She swings her legs out of the car and her Louboutin stilettos are probably the only picture of her that the press gets this morning. She stealthily stands to her feet and everyone quickly falls into formation as those sky highs take the stairs like Rocky. She doesn’t fall; she doesn’t stumble; she doesn’t trip; and she’s shorter than everyone on the peripheral. So, I’m certain that no one got a picture of her.

When we enter the doors of the courthouse, she doesn’t even look like she broke a sweat.

The police keep the press at bay until we all pass the metal detectors and enter the main hallway. Mac has informed me that only one station—KTNV Las Vegas—will have access to the trial. Because the case is so sensational, several media outlets filed for courtroom media access, but only one was granted. Thank God for small favors.

I’m busy checking on my wife to see how she’s holding up when I’m greeted with the last fucking thing I expected to see at this moment. I prepared myself for everything… every possible eventuality. I didn’t prepare myself for this.

Cholometes! Brian fucking Cholometes!

He’s sitting in the waiting area near the elevators looking straight at us. I glance down at Butterfly and she hasn’t spotted him yet. She’s too busy girding herself for the experience ahead. When he sees us, he rises from his seat and begins his approach. I put myself in my wife’s line of sight and I look down at her.

“Prepare yourself, baby,” I say. “We’ve got company.” Her expression hardens.

“Whitshit?” she spits. I shake my head.

“Cholometes,” I reply. An instant look of horror mars her face.

“What?”

The response comes from Ray. Apparently, my voice wasn’t as low as I thought it was. I look over at him and he’s scanning the room.

“What are you doing here, Brian?” he says before Cholometes even reaches us. He slows his approach at Ray’s tone.

“You’re my friend,” Cholometes replies. “I came to support you… and the family.”

By the family, you mean my wife. She has all the support she can get, Colostomy, she doesn’t need you!

“You didn’t have to come,” Ray says firmly. Cholometes ignores the implication.

“It’s the least I could do,” Cholometes replies, “especially after the events of our last encounter.” His words hang in the air. I take Butterfly’s hand. You mean when you outed our lifestyle in front of all her family and friends? Is that the encounter of which you speak?

“My little girl’s got a rough time ahead of her, Brian. If you’re bringing any drama with you, you can take it right back where you came from,” Ray scolds.

“I’m only here for support,” he responds before looking down at Butterfly. “You have my word.” Butterfly scoffs and rolls her eyes.

“Let’s go,” she says to me. I quickly lead her away from the scene without a word to Cholometes. My main concern right now is protecting her as much as I can.

“He doesn’t get within five feet of my wife,” I say to Jason and Chuck as we walk away.

“If he does, I’ll kick him in the fucking balls,” Butterfly growls under her breath as we walk deliberately towards the elevators. The bell rings that the elevator arrives and when the doors open, our group all stream in in formation—except one.

Sorry, Colostomy, no room.

There’s actually plenty of room, but the glare of at least seven angry men may have persuaded him to catch the next car.

The floor is surprisingly quiet when we exit the elevator. There are a few people in corners chatting quietly about… whatever. Butterfly never raises her head. She quietly watches her feet as we walk directly to courtroom 8A.

And now we discover why no one is in the hallway.

There are several people in the courtroom, spread out on different benches. The two benches behind the prosecutor are conspicuously empty. We all file in, and Butterfly still hasn’t raised her head or removed her sunglasses. Upon hearing us enter, Larson and his colleague turn around. Butterfly takes her seat, but I remain standing.

“Mr. Grey,” he says as he approaches the balustrade between us.

“Mr. Larson,” I greet just as stoically. He turns to Butterfly.

“Mrs. Grey, are you ready?” he asks. She removes her glasses finally.

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” she replies.

“Please, be prepared,” he says. “Sullivan is claiming diminished capacity—not that he was insane, but that he was coerced and intimidated… basically that he was too young to understand or unaware of the full impact of his actions.” She twists her lips.

“Why does that not surprise me?” she says a little too calmly.

“They’re going to show the video, and the pictures of your back. Things are going to get very graphic and pretty brutal…”

“Nothing they say or do is going to be as brutal as what they already put me through, so it doesn’t matter, does it?” she replies matter-of-factly. Larson sighs, no doubt noting the same hostility that I experienced in the car.

“They’re going to make you out to be the villain,” he warns.

“What else is new?” she replies.

“I just want you to be prepared for anything. Expect anything. Remember, we can’t mention the rape unless they do,” he cautions. She sighs.

“Mr. Larson, nothing could prepare me for this, but I’ll do my best.”

“That’s all I ask,” he says, finitely. He glances at me again, then returns to his seat.

We sit in the courtroom waiting for an eternity for the proceedings to start, but it’s clearly only about twenty minutes. We hear more people come into the courtroom, but we don’t turn around to see who they are. There’s a guy sitting at the defense table looking at a notebook in a ledger. Clearly, he’s the defense attorney. After a few minutes, a door opens on the side of the courtroom and in walks some guy in a suit and handcuffs. This is obviously Vincent Sullivan, but I didn’t commit his face to memory. I can’t even remember what his brother looks like at the moment.

Butterfly glares at him, but he doesn’t look our way once. Sullivan is escorted to the defense table where the bailiff removes his cuffs. In both of the other cases we attended, both defendants scanned the room, made eye-contact with us and either sneered or jeered at us, but not Sullivan. He’s been coached. He doesn’t look left or right. He looks down or at his attorney—nowhere else.

“All rise. The criminal session of the Las Vegas Justice Court, Clark county is now in session, the honorable Wilson Bates presiding.”

The court stands to their feet as Judge Bates takes the bench.

“You may be seated.”

Judge Bates looks at the file in front of him and sighs.

“I’m not looking forward to this,” he mumbles, almost to himself. I think he forgot he was mic’ ed. What did he mean by that?

“Docket number 807154C-0404, the State of Nevada vs. Vincent Sullivan. Mr. Sullivan you stand charged with assault accompanied with acts of extreme cruelty and substantial bodily harm, battery with a deadly weapon with substantial bodily harm, battery without a weapon with substantial bodily harm, conspiracy to kidnap in the first degree, kidnapping in the first degree, manslaughter for fetal homicide, and attempted murder. You have entered a plea of ‘Not guilty due to diminished mental capacity.’ Do you wish to change your plea at this time?”

“No, your honor,” Sullivan says after a brief conference with his attorney.

“Is the state ready to proceed?” he asks.

“We are, your honor,” Larson replies.

“Is the defense ready to proceed?”

“Yes, your honor, we are,” the defense attorney replies.

“Very well. Bring in the jury.”

The bailiff leads 18 people into the courtroom and the judge has them sworn in. He begins the somewhat tedious task of jury instruction, and it’s at this moment that we discover that the jury will be sequestered, as well they should be. I expected as much. This case is way too publicized already to have them exposed to outside forces while they’re listening to it. I feel badly for them because this is going to go on for a while.

Once he has completed his instructions to the jury, he announces that Mr. Larson will be presenting opening statements on behalf of the State.

“Thank you, your honor, if it pleases the court,” Larson says.

“Yes, sir,” the judge replies.

“Counsel,” he says to the defense attorney, who nods. Then he turns to face the jury.

“Anastasia Steele was a loner,” he began. “She was a good student, but a stranger in a strange land. She was implanted into the affluent neighborhood of Green Valley at 14, but she wasn’t wealthy or even well-off like the other residents of the community. She had come from humble beginnings—not impoverished or even unpleasant, but humble. She was raised for most of her life in the home of her mother and father in Montesano, Washington. However, as fate would have it, her parents split up, and Anastasia would come to Henderson with her mother to reside in the home of her mother’s future husband.

“The following years would not be kind to Anastasia, and one year in particular, she found herself knocked unconscious, kidnapped, bound, and subjected to one of the most brutal and violent hazing rituals in history—the degradation and branding of another human being.”

Larson handles the opening arguments like a seasoned professional. He paints a vivid picture of a young misfit with good grades in an unhappy home. He makes reference to the rape without calling it that, labelling it as the “incident” that sparked the attack.

He gives a chilling recount of how Butterfly was kidnapped while walking home from school, thrown in the trunk of a car, dragged to the bonfire, and then tortured by a group of teenagers.

He outlines a gruesome picture of a vicious mob and a brutal hazing ritual that left a 15-year-old girl in a coma for three weeks while her attackers went home to their beds and slept peacefully with no concern about the young girl they left for dead.

“That night, an officer happened upon the scene of the hazing, causing the participants and observers to scramble, leaving Anastasia Steele naked, burned, beaten, unconscious, bleeding, and left for dead on the ground. Her unborn child was inside of her, his or her little heart beating its final beats, if it hadn’t stopped beating already.”

Butterfly doesn’t react to the description, but various members of the jury are visibly affected by it.

“Anastasia was rushed to the hospital, underwent several procedures—one of which was to remove the remnants of the dead fetus from her uterus—and she spent three weeks in a coma. Meanwhile, the defendant and their co-conspirators who had executed this horrendous event and even recorded the whole thing on video, all went home to their fashionable houses and their comfortable beds, laid their heads on their pillows and slept, night after night. Anastasia was living the nightmare, but her vicious and brutal attack was reduced to nothing more than locker-room talk and urban legend.

“She was rescued from the hell that Henderson was to her, Green Valley, and taken back to Montesano by her father. She was enrolled in school and ready to rebuild her life until the father of one of the defendants paid off her mother and stepfather to bring her back to Las Vegas, where they could keep an eye on her and make sure that she didn’t spill their secret.

“Their secret stayed buried until a few years ago, when a routine background check unearthed a second name for Mrs. Grey—Anastasia Lambert, and that name led to a second set of school records, prompting an in-depth background check which uncovered the police reports and the horrific pictures you will see today of Anastasia’s broken body.

“Anastasia’s husband-then-boyfriend came to investigate the matter, setting off a chain of events that has led us here today. Simultaneously, Mrs. Grey—then Dr. Anastasia Steele—had begun seeing a patient for dignity therapy who, as it turns out, had recorded the video that you’re going to see today. This young lady was dying of a terminal illness and had sought out Dr. Steele to confess her involvement in Anastasia’s attack before she died.

“The video you’ll be seeing is 37-minutes long. It’s quite graphic and very brutal. It plays out like a horror movie. You must sit through the entire thing. We ask that you please prepare yourselves for the gruesome scene that you’re about to see. If any of you have weak constitutions, we will pause the playback while you compose yourself. However, we will resume playback because the video is evidence and you must see it in its entirety.

“As you are watching the video, ask yourself how it makes you feel. How it feels knowing that this is not a movie—this is not a re-enactment–that this really happened to a 15-year-old girl. Ask yourself how it feels knowing that no one felt that anyone should be brought to justice for this—not even the police. Ask yourself how it feels knowing that this could have been your child. Not one of them felt any remorse for what they did, and they don’t feel any remorse now. In fact, they’re trying to get away with it. How does that make you feel that something like that could happen in this day and time in the United States and no one is called to justice for it for nearly 15 years?

“That’s thirty-seven minutes… thirty-seven live minutes of the most vicious attack on a young girl that you may ever see in your life. Remember that Anastasia Steele’s terror and pain lasted more than that thirty-seven minutes. Remember that no matter what you hear in this courtroom, no matter what pictures the defense may want to paint of Mrs. Grey, of her family, and of the alleged assailants, remember what you see with your own eyes. Remember what the video tells you—what you saw.

“You’ll hear testimony from others that may seem circumstantial, but I ask that you consider it in context with everything else that you’ll see and hear during this trial. Let’s give Anastasia the justice that she finally deserves. Thank you.”

Larson takes his seat. The judge then announces that the defense, Mr. Drake, will present opening statements.

“Thank you, your honor, if it pleases the court,” Drake says.

“Yes, sir,” the judge replies.

“Opposing counsel,” Drake says, and Larson nods.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I remind you of your instructions, that you must weigh this case on the facts. Although you may find yourself empathizing with the victim, although you must watch the cruelty of the action, you cannot decide this case on emotion. You must decide it on the facts. You must decide if Vincent Sullivan willingly and maliciously injured a young girl and caused the death of her unborn child. That’s going to be hard to do once you see the evidence.

“You’re going to be tempted to sympathize with the plight of a young girl who was victimized by a group of vicious teenagers, because that’s exactly what you’re going to see. No one is disputing that. What has brought us here today is Mr. Sullivan’s role in this act. And this is where it’s imperative that your personal prejudices and biases do not come into play.

“For one thing, we get a vivid picture of a poor young girl just trying to survive in the affluent neighborhoods of Henderson. They want you to believe that this poor little waif was an unsuspecting victim of an unnecessary violent act. While I won’t deny that this act was brutal and unfortunate…”

Unfortunate? What the ever-loving fuck? She was raped by a motherfucker who wouldn’t take no for an answer, and then beaten because she was raped! And he calls that shit unfortunate?

“… Don’t be cajoled into believing the ‘victimized nerd’ persona that’s being presented to you. This girl was a promiscuous opportunist looking to trap a young man simply because his family was well-to-do. This was no innocent that we’re dealing with. This was a young harlot who seduced the son of one of Green Valley’s most prominent citizens, lied on him about it and provoked him and his young girlfriend until a group of unidentified people saw through her scheme and put a stop to it. Did she deserve what happened to her? Did she bring it on herself? I can’t say, but I can tell you this. The prosecution has given you his version—his opinion—of what he thinks happened that night. As jurors, it’s your job to apply the law to this situation to determine Vincent Sullivan’s guilt or innocence.”

So, let me see if I’ve got this straight. You don’t want them to look at her as a poor little waif or a victimized nerd because that would be biased, but you want them to look at her as a promiscuous opportunist and that’s not? I’m confused.

“The boy that she targeted was a popular young man, a well-known athlete… and she was a misfit. She wanted to belong, to fit in by any means necessary, even if it meant trying to trap or blackmail one of the most popular boys in school, and she just played the wrong cards. I’m not saying that she deserved what happened to her, but I am saying that when you play a dangerous game, something dangerous is bound to happen.

“The video you’re going to see is dark. Forensics have verified its authenticity, but most of the assailants are hooded; and the key witness and videographer—God rest her soul—is conveniently deceased. Yet, the prosecution would have you believe that this powerful multibillionairess…” He’s pointing at Butterfly, “… just happened on this information—that an ailing woman with a terminal disease wandered into her office after 15 years with a key piece of evidence to put away several prominent members of our community; that we should now look at this suffering soul whose net worth is probably more than all of us combined and say, ‘Isn’t that so sad and tragic. Poor little rich girl.’”

His voice is so condescending that you can hardly believe that he’s talking about this brutally senseless act of violence that occurred to a 15-year-old girl. Yes, she’s a billionairess now, but this act didn’t happen to a billionairess. This happened to a nerdy teenager—an “A” student who wanted nothing but to graduate and get away from the hell that was an uncaring mother and an emotionally cruel stepfather and happened to be unlucky enough to get raped by the most popular boy in school.

Drake is trying to make Whitmore look like the victim. How can he be the victim when she’s the one who was raped and attacked? She’s the one who was beaten damn near to death. Her baby was beaten to death. How is he the victim?

“’People say believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.’ Those are the words to a song that my mother used to play all the time. What you see… You’re going to see a lengthy video of some kids doing some horrible thing to some other kid. And as that video is playing, some of you may become ill. Why? Because this was your first time seeing it and you were not prepared. This isn’t her first time seeing it…” He’s pointing at Butterfly. “But I can guarantee you she’ll vomit, and I’ll tell you why. It’s called practiced regurgitation. It’s what bulimic women do when they want to expel their food after a binge. They can barf on command. Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear.”

He can’t be serious! His opening statement is to discredit her possible vomiting? I look over at Butterfly and she’s looking at him in utter horror. Is this really where he’s going with this? He’s not talking about Sullivan at all or his defense, only that the jury will have to review the evidence and determine if his acts were willful or malicious. The rest—and remainder—of his opening statement involved downplaying the content of the video, making Whitmore out to be the victim, and painting my wife as a wanton harlot out to snag a rich kid.

One of his final statements is to paint our marriage as her ultimate triumph in doing just that and using her newfound wealth to punish the good citizens of Henderson. For the love of God!

We painfully sit through several more minutes of this bullshit before the state’s case finally begins.

“The state calls Anastasia Grey,” Larson announces clearly. Butterfly takes a deep breath and walks to the witness stand. She’s sworn in and asked to state her name.

“Dr. Anastasia Rose Steele-Grey,” she replies and is told to be seated.

“Dr. Grey, what’s your specialty?” Larson asks.

“I’m a psychiatrist. I’m also the assistant director of the Helping Hands charity in Seattle, and I’m the executive director of Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc.”

Yes, sir, that’s my baby.

“I’m sure you’d like to get this over with as soon as possible, so let’s just get to it, okay?” Larson asks. Butterfly nods.

“I’ve called you first, Dr. Grey, because I want to set the scene for what the jurors are going to be seeing. I’ll be asking you several questions about the incident. I need you to be as detailed as possible and as succinct as possible. I know that’s going to be hard, but we must get to the facts. Do you understand?”

“I understand,” she nods.

“Tell us, when did you first arrive in Green Valley?”

“In 2000. I was 14.”

“Where were you before you moved to Green Valley?” Larson asks.

“We lived in Montesano, Washington.”

“How would you characterize your childhood, Dr. Grey?”

“It started out really good when we were in Washington. We had a great relationship, but once we moved to Vegas, everything changed.”

“Changed in what way?” Larson asks. Butterfly shrugs.

“It felt like my mother hated me,” she says. “I don’t know any other way to say it. She told my daddy that she was leaving because he couldn’t provide the type of life that I deserved, but when we left, she treated me like I was an imposition the entire time, like all of her problems were because of me. She was unhappy with my dad during the last year or so of their life together, so I thought that if she moved to a new life, maybe she would be happy, and things would change… but she wasn’t. At least she wasn’t happy with me.”

“So, what did you do?”

“I studied hard. That’s all I could do. My clothes were plain; I was poor. I obviously didn’t belong, and Green Valley made sure that I understood that. I resented it. I was happy in Montesano with my simple clothes and my simple life and my travel books. She said I needed to have more, and she brought me here—and gave me nothing but misery.”

“How was school?” he asks. She scoffs.

“School was school,” she says. “Study, do my work, get my grades, go home. I was teased for not having the things that everyone else had, but I tried to ignore it. Home life was much worse, so school and friends weren’t a big deal.”

“Were you abused at home?” Larson asks. She shakes her head.

“Not immediately,” she replies. “They never hit me, but the mental warfare was brutal. Even now, as a mental health professional looking back on it, I don’t know how I survived it.”

“What about your father?”

“We talked when we could, but she did everything in her power to keep us apart. She even had me saying cruel things to him when he called. She’s a miserable soul. To this day, I still don’t know what was going on.”

“Okay, so we’ve established that your home life was pretty miserable, and school life wasn’t much better. Did you have a plan of escape?”

“I was only 14 when we got here. Escape hadn’t even occurred to me. I was waiting for my mother to get what she wanted and stop treating me like crap. Eighteen was four years away. It was obvious that the only way I was going to college was through scholarships, so school it was. I liked school. I liked learning. It was the people that I didn’t care for.”

“So… at the beginning of 2001, you met one of the popular students in school, is that correct?”

“That’s correct.”

“Tell us what happened,” he says.

“Cody Whitmore offered me a ride home from school.”

“Did he take you home?” Larson asks. Butterfly shakes her head.

“After a… harrowing encounter, for lack of a better word, he left me stranded in the middle of the desert to find my own way home.”

“And after that encounter, what happened?”

“I went home and told my mother and stepfather what happened.”

“And?” Larson presses.

“My stepfather and I went to Cody Whitmore’s house to confront him and his father. My stepfather took one look at that house—all that money—and his whole tone changed. We went inside. Whitmore’s girlfriend was there and denied everything. His father wouldn’t hear anything after Whitmore denied everything, and my stepfather didn’t even raise his voice to fight for me. He apologized for disturbing them and we left. He berated me the entire way home.”

“Why do you think your stepfather didn’t fight for you?”

“Because he didn’t believe me,” Butterfly replies.

“And why do you think that was?”

“I can’t speak for Stephen Morton and he’s no longer with us to speak for himself—not that I believe he would—but I can tell you this. I already told you that my mother couldn’t stand me. He liked me even less. He took one look at that house, all that money, Whitmore’s gorgeous blonde girlfriend, and all I heard all the way home was that there was no way in hell that Cody Whitmore would want my ass. It was awful. I wish I had just kept the entire thing to myself or ran away from home… something.”

“I can imagine,” Larson says. “So, let’s get to that fateful day in March of 2001. Can you set the scene for us?” Butterfly’s expression hardens.

“From the time we had confronted the Whitmores all the way to that day, my life was hell. I was an open target for everybody. They were already teasing me, so I thought it wouldn’t make a difference if they were teasing me some more. I was wrong. If I left early from class, someone was waiting to antagonize me. If I stayed over and waited until the halls were cleared, someone was still waiting for me. It’s like they had assignments to get me and they didn’t even go to class until they got me.

“It was little simple stuff at first like gum in my hair, kicking or pushing me on the way down the hall, knocking my books out of my hand, flipping my lunch tray over… just bullying stuff. So, when they were following me home taunting me that day, I didn’t think anything different of it. I wanted them to stop, but what could I do?” Larson nods.

“What happened next, Anastasia?” he says softly. Butterfly closes her eyes.

“I remember feeling something in the back of my head. It was fast—it was like fire… like a hot knife jabbing into my skull. Then I saw… stars or flashes of light or something. I heard ringing… and then, nothing.”

“And what do you remember next?” he asks. She sighs.

“I opened my eyes and it was cold… and dark. I didn’t know where I was at first, but then… I saw the taillights shine in my eyes, and I felt the movement. I knew I was in the trunk of a car.”

She still has her eyes closed. Is she… regressing? Right there on the stand?

“What were you thinking?” Larson asks.

“I was horrified,” she says calmly, a single tear falling down her cheek. “I didn’t know what was going on.” She opens her eyes and looks at Larson. I’m relieved to see that she didn’t regress, but she’s pale as a ghost and she doesn’t look well.

“There’s only one reason to put a live human being in the trunk of a car, and it never ends well. Here I am—a live 15-year-old girl, bound, cold, and in the trunk of a car.”

Her voice is cold and even as another tear streams down her cheek. She wipes the tears away immediately as Larson continued.

“When did you realize what was going on?”

“Not for a while,” she says, her voice failing a bit. “When the trunk opened, all I saw was hoods. I thought I was about to be a human sacrifice in a Satanic ritual. But when they reached into the trunk and pulled me out, I could see that they were… my age—kids. All I could think was, ‘What the hell is happening?’

“Nobody talked to me. They just grabbed me out of the trunk and started dragging me across the grass. My head was still banging from whoever hit me and I couldn’t see anybody. I had tears in my eyes. I was still seeing spots from when they shined the light in my face. I could see the bonfire, though, and I knew it couldn’t be good.” She drops her head.

“I saw some of their faces because they were all wearing hoods, but they weren’t all wearing masks. The two that were wearing masks—I heard their voices. I knew exactly who they were. I begged for my life; I pleaded for them to tell me what I had done wrong…” She grabs the railing of the witness stand. She’s looking for strength, I can tell…

I’ve got you, Butterfly. I’m here. Be strong, baby.

She takes a deep breath and raises her head again. She already looks spent.

“Go on,” Larson says. She begins to worry her scar.

Come on, baby. You can do this.

She clears her throat.

“She got in my face. She said something to me…” Butterfly says.

“Who did?” Larson asks. Butterfly looks up as if to pull strength.

“The one he calls Carly Babe,” she says. She was searching for her words. “She taunted me, she called me a bitch, and then she slapped me. That must have been the ‘go’ signal, because they all came at me after that. The hits were coming from everywhere. They hit me everywhere… everywhere! I don’t know how long this went on. It just seemed like it wouldn’t stop.

There was nowhere to go,” she says, her voice cracking. “My legs and wrists were tied… I tried to roll away… I couldn’t get away. No matter where I tried to roll, a foot or a fist came at me, and they were peeing on me and spitting on me… oh, God…” She whispers the last two words before thrusting her hands into her hair.

“I couldn’t cover my face or my head or my mouth… I just wanted it to stop; I wanted somebody to help me… I called for my mother, but she wasn’t there…” Her words trail off, and she stops for a moment.

“Dr. Grey…?”

“After a while, one hit just ran into the other,” she says. “I was still screaming when the urinating and spitting started, but after a while, I just stopped. I was exhausted and I couldn’t scream anymore. Nobody was listening anyway. Nobody could really hear me. The smell of piss permeated my senses, and I just prayed to hurry up and die. When I felt that first burn, I was surprised that anything could cause more pain than I was already feeling, but I was certain that I was about to get my death wish.”

She’s never explained things to me like this… ever. My stomach is churning, thinking about this ordeal. I know what happened, but I imagined how horrible it must have been from what I’ve learned, heard, and saw. Even now, it’s worse than anything I ever imagine. Larson purses his lips and nods at her.

“Your honor, I like to introduce into evidence state’s exhibit one.” The judge nods and Larson turns to the jury.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to see the video of the night in question. You will first see the taped confession of Melanie Coleman, a terminally ill woman who confesses to recording the video live. Please prepare yourselves.”

I’m not ready to see this again. I’ll never be ready to see this again.

“Please remember that deathbed confessions are admissible and not considered hearsay,” Larson says. “These confessions often occur because a dying person wants to live their final days free of secrets they have been concealing throughout their lives. Know that Ms. Coleman died days after she recorded this confession.”

Larson somberly takes his seat as the video begins to play. A frail woman connected to oxygen declares her name and that she recorded the video on March 10, 2001. She introduces some of the people in the video, including her cousin—Carly Madison—but admits that she doesn’t know most of the assailants.

Today is the day. Today is the day that we send a message to everybody that doesn’t know just how we take care of things in our town. Today is the day that we show that little broke bitch that she can’t fuck with me or my man and get away with it!”

I watch with clenched fists as Carly Madison-Perry and her piece of shit boyfriend, Cody Whitmore, set the scene for the horror that will change my Butterfly’s life forever. I watch the petite young brunette being knocked unconscious and thrown into the back seat of a car.

Ray clears his throat. Amanda gasps.

They were still at the school. Students were everywhere! Nobody did a goddamn thing! Nobody said a thing! Even after the attack… nobody said shit!

There’s a conversation going on like these girls are headed to a slumber party right before the screen goes black… a fucking slumber party!

When the screen comes back, there are about five girls in the frame looking like witches in black on Halloween. They each say some Fuck with us and die type of bullshit before they take my Butterfly out of the trunk of the car. The camera zooms in on her. She’s been crying and she’s absolutely terrified.

I look over at my wife and she’s not paying attention. She’s holding her head down, even turns it away as the video plays, most likely trying to tune it out as much as she can. She leans her head on her hand, blocking her view of the screen. No one looks at her—they’re concentrating, horrified, on the events happening on the screen.

She can’t watch the video. The last time she watched it, she ended up catatonic for several days—but she lived this horror, and she knows exactly what she’s hearing.

The first time I saw this video, I didn’t hear it, but now I do. It’s faint, but it’s heart wrenching. You can barely hear it over the commotion of the vicious crowd—kicking, beating, and desecrating this poor girl—but when you hear it once, it becomes clear, almost like you can’t hear anything else over it…

“Moooommmiiiiiiieeeee!”

“Moommmmmiiiiieeeeeeeee!”

Moooooooooommmmiiiiiiieeeeeee!”

Jesus, my heart is breaking, and Ray looks as if he could leap out of his seat right now.

The video is nearing the end, getting into the worst part of the attack. Women have begun to cry as they hear her screaming for her “mommy.” I’m getting more and more enraged watching the callous, cold, and unbelievably cruel behavior of these monsters as they torture my Butterfly.

When the searing of her skin can be heard in stereo throughout the courtroom, and her wails of agony rip through my ears and heart, that’s when the vomiting begins, and my Butterfly is not immune. Even after having lived through it, her stomach still can’t take it once the video is played again. I want to rush to her on the stand, but I know that I can’t, and the court has actually supplied barf bags for just such an emergency. Five people lose their breakfast and several others are green in the face watching this display.

It seems like it takes forever for the video to finally end, but it was only a few minutes from the branding to the end of the video. Several of the jurors, the onlookers, and my wife are unable to compose themselves once the video is complete. Sullivan is looking down at the desk and Drake is simply examining the condition of the attendees in the courtroom with a bit of concern.

Yeah, asshole. Just because you can watch that shit without blinking doesn’t mean that every other human being can.

It’s music to my ears when the judge calls a brief recess and the jury is quickly led out of the courtroom.

Butterfly collapses in tears on the stand, having fought to hold herself together as the jury is led away. Why is she trying to be strong now? No one—except that fucking defense attorney—would blame her for falling apart during this time. She leans forward on the railing of the stand and weeps until her body shakes. She did the same thing when she had to identify the people in the video last year. I sprint around the balustrade to get to her taking long strides to get to the witness stand.

“No!” she shrieks, jerking away when I touch her without lifting her head. I’m shocked that she won’t let me touch her, but pretty certain that she wouldn’t let anybody touch her right now. Nonetheless, I turn my gaze—and my rage—towards the defense table. Sullivan still hasn’t raised his head, but when Drake catches my gaze, he immediately turns and begins to confer with his client. You despicable, reprehensible…

“Sir,” Jason says, breaking my gaze from the defense table. He needed to, and I think he knows that.

“Get Alex on the phone,” I say, my voice only loud enough for him to hear me. “I want everything he can get on this guy. This is going to be his swan song.” Jason nods, but doesn’t move. Don’t worry, I won’t kill him. I’m more concerned about Butterfly right now.

“My wife needs ice water,” I say, a little louder, my voice still rugged as Satan, “and a salt packet if you can find it.”

“I’m on it, sir,” he says, and turns to leave.

“I knew this would happen,” the judge says and produces a salt shaker from under his lectern, placing it on the side of his podium. “There’s a vending machine down the hall with water in it.”

“Thank you, your honor,” Jason says and dashes from the courtroom.

“Thank you, sir,” I say. “It’s much appreciated.” He nods and leaves the bench, going to his chambers. I take the salt and wait the eternity for Jason to return with the water. I glare at the defense while my wife weeps in the stand.

“Practiced enough for you?” I hiss at Drake. His brow furrows deeply.

“You’re not supposed to talk to me,” he says finitely.

“Why not?” I seethe. “Court’s not in session. There’s nobody here for your performance now!” No matter what he tries to get the jury to believe, he doesn’t believe that she practiced this reaction any more than I do. There’s no fear in his eyes, but he’s a bit dumbstruck. Sullivan continues to stare at the table in front of him like a good little puppy.

“Chris!” Al is in my line of sight almost immediately. “No,” he says, and that’s all he says.

“Come on, son,” Ray says, walking up next to him. “Let’s check on Annie.”

I’m seeing red. I’m seeing death and carnage and mayhem. I’m so sick of this shit. I’m so sick of my wife going through unnecessary stress and pain, and I’m really sick of Nevada and I’ve only been here for less than a day!

But I have to see about my wife.

I tear my gaze away from the not-so-cocky asshole at the defense table and go over to my wife. I move to the opening on the side of the witness stand to get closer to her, to speak to her before I try to touch her again.

“Baby?” I say, gently. “Baby, it’s me.” She throws her arms around me without looking, sobbing on my shoulder.

“I know, Baby,” I say, gently stroking her back. “I know.” She still says nothing but continues to weep.

“We can ask for a recess until tomorrow…” Larson says approaching us, his voice concerned. I’m just about to agree when my little waif squeaks in my ear.

“No… no… I have to do this… I can’t put it off anymore…” and she continues to weep. I blink the tears back in my eyes and look at Larson.

“She’s going to do it,” I say, just above a whisper. “I don’t know what’s going to happen if I get her out of this courtroom and she doesn’t do this today.”

That’s the truth. I really don’t know what’s going to happen. Larson examines me for a while, then nods.

“If you think that’s best,” he says, and he says it to me. I’m a little shocked. I lean in to my wife’s ear.

“Butterfly?” I say softly. She nods feverishly on my shoulder.

“She says, ‘yes,’” I tell him, doing everything I can not to fall apart myself. He nods and walks back to the prosecutor’s table. Jason comes back into the courtroom with two large bottles of water.

“Baby?” I say to my weeping wife. “We gotta pull it together now, okay?” I say. She nods, still sobbing. I pull her back from my shoulder and give her the water. She looks like hell. Her eyes are all puffy; her face looks like it’s going to explode.

Marilyn and Mandy return to the courtroom clinging to each other with Ray right behind them. They look like they’ve been through the wringer, too. I didn’t even know they had left. Ray was just standing next to me a minute ago… wasn’t he? Al looks like he may have shed a few tears himself, but James is clinging tightly to his hand. None of them have seen this video that I know of, and today, they got to see it on a wide screen.

“Ana?” Jason says softly, handing her the salt shaker. She shakes some in her palm and licks it out, letting it sit on her tongue for a while. Her crying has become sniffles, and I hand her my handkerchief to wipe her face. She dries the tears and her face is very red and swollen. Her eyes are so bloodshot that the whites don’t look like they’re there anymore. Jason removes his handkerchief from his pocket and douses it in water, some of it spilling onto the floor, and hands it to Butterfly. She covers her face in the cold, wet cloth and takes several deep breaths to compose herself.

The bailiffs come through with a garbage can and remove all the barf bags, including my wife’s, while she slowly and shakily pulls herself together. When she removes the handkerchief, some of her color has returned, but her eyes are still red, and she still looks like a train wreck.

“Do you want your purse?” I ask. “Your lip gloss?”

“I don’t care how I look,” she says, tying her long hair in a single knot behind her back, the shorter part falling over her shoulders. I stay at the stand with her while people begin to file back into the courtroom.

“Remember, if you feel like you can’t do this…”

“I can do it,” she interrupts me and clears her throat. “I can do it.” I nod and kiss her hand firmly.

“I love you,” I say, cupping her cheek. She swallows.

“I love you, too,” she replies, looking at me with bloodshot eyes. I wet the handkerchief again and wring it dry before giving it back to her with a fresh, dry one from my other pocket. I’m all out of handkerchiefs now. That’s a first.

I stay with her at the stand until the last possible minute when the bailiff tells me that I need to take a seat. I tear myself away from my wife and take my seat behind the prosecution. The same bailiff walks over to my wife and says something. She nods, and the bailiff walks to the door of the judge’s quarters. A few moments later…

“All rise…”

… And court is back in session.

“Mr. Larson, would you like to continue with this witness?” The judge says.

“Yes, your honor,” he says, and he walks over to Butterfly.

“The video says it all,” he says, with sympathy. She nods.

“That it does,” she replies.

“Can you tell the court which of the gentlemen in the video is Vincent Sullivan?”

“Objection, your honor,” Drake says. “With all due respect, the witness has no way of knowing which assailant is Vincent Sullivan if she’s face down on the ground.”

“If it please the court, your honor, I’m getting to how she can tell us which assailant is Vincent Sullivan,” Larson protests.

“I’ll allow it for now. Proceed, Mr. Larson.” He nods.

“Dr. Grey, did you know Vincent Sullivan?” Larson asks.

“I knew of him,” she says.

“How?”

“He was in my biology class. I saw him every day. He didn’t stand out or anything, but I saw him, so I knew who he was. He’s also right next to me in the yearbook. I’m Steele; he’s Sullivan.”

“The defense is right,” he says. “You were face down. How do you know who the people were who are behind you?”

“I watched that video more times than I would like, mostly because even though it happened to me, I still can’t believe it’s real. I still can’t believe that a bunch of kids who aren’t old enough to purchase cigarettes are capable of doing something this cruel.  Unless someone has given us another video of this event, I’ve watched that boy abuse me more times than I care to discuss.”

“So, once again, I ask you, can you tell the court which of the gentlemen in the video is Vincent Sullivan?”

“Vincent Sullivan is the guy that branded me the first two times,” she says clearly. “He’s the one that backed away when he heard that I might be dead.”

“Your honor, the state is entering into evidence exhibits 2 – 54.” Larson retrieves a folder and reveals several pictures of Vincent Sullivan on the night of the attack—stills pulled from the video along with his yearbook picture from 2001 and his current mugshots. Like Butterfly, the images haven’t changed much.

Larson also introduces pictures of a broken and battered Butterfly along with pictures of her grotesquely and freshly burned back, accompanied by pictures of the current scarring incorporated into the garden tattoo.

“Dr. Grey, I have to ask. These are some pretty graphic pictures. I can’t even see how someone could survive something like this and yet, you’ve indicated to me that you haven’t had any work done. I think we’d all like to know just to be able to effectively link you to this incident, how can this person that we see so brutally beaten turn out to be this person that we see today?” She sighs heavily, looks down, then raises her gaze back to Larson.

“I’m carrying permanent scars on my back, in my mind, and on my heart. I guess God saw fit not to have me wear them on my face, too.”


A/N: Criminal cases in Clark County normally initiate in the Las Vegas Justice Center and then move to the District Court. For aesthetic and creative reasons, I mention the District Court, but the descriptions of the courthouse and courtroom are the LVJC.

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

Pictures from the trip to Las Vegas can be found at https://www.pinterest.com/ladeeceo/grey-continued-las-vegas/

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

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

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

~~love and handcuffs

Fifty Shades Golden: Chapter 13

Wine is a deep and beautiful thing.

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

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

Fifty Shades Golden

Chapter 13

Eric Dane--Chapter 13 Small

TREY

I’ve negotiated the harvesting rights with three of the main eastern hardwood timberland families that supply Lincoln Timber and I’m working on the western softwoods. Lincoln has had harvesting agreements with these families for over a decade and never saw the need to renegotiate or to lock in exclusivity, mainly because these families didn’t fight for a better price per hectare of commercially harvested wood. As a result, Lincoln took advantage of their naïveté and opted not rock the boat as he was basically clearing their land for a song.

This won’t break Lincoln, but it will place quite the strain on his main lines of business as well as dip heavily into the insane profits he has been enjoying over at least the past several years. Raw, treated, or processed, he now has to buy the timber—or the right to harvest it—from me. As I have negotiated handsome compensation with the families—far more than Lincoln was offering but still enough to turn a profit—he would have to do some major reorganizing to make an offer that would meet mine, much less beat it.

With the coup that I’ve pulled in securing the eastern timberland—and the western softwood is pretty much just a formality now—I’m set not only to make handsome amounts of money from Lincoln Timber now having to purchase its main supply from me, but I could also go into the lumber business myself as one of this asshole’s competitors. As it stands right now, this development may not put him out of business, but it’ll make his company pretty fucking uncomfortable and wreak havoc on his profits for the next couple of years no matter what his contingency plan.

Maybe I should look into acquiring some of his expiring contracts…

“Can you tell me why the hell we’re suddenly clawing at Lincoln Timber’s main babies?” Rockford asks when he brings me the finalized contracts for the eastern timberland families.

“Isn’t it obvious?” I respond to my head of legal. “I’m picking a fight.”

“I can see that,” he says. “I’d just like to know why.”

I used to like this guy. I used to like his cockiness, his arrogance, and his balls the size of Texas, especially in negotiations. Now, he’s just irritating as fuck.

“As long as you’ve been my attorney, you honestly don’t recognize a cockfight when you see it?” I ask with a frown.

“Don’t insult my intelligence, Christian,” he retorts, somewhat affronted. “Of course, I recognize a damn cockfight. I just want to know why him and why now?”

Rockford may be my attorney, but the hell if I’m telling him that putting this frosted fucker in his place is another way of paying tribute to my Mistress while getting back at a nemesis at the same time.

“I’m not ashamed to say that it’s somewhat personal,” I say, flatly. “He calls me all cocky and demanding answers after his wife tried to kill me with a fucking concrete flowerpot, and now it’s wafting back to me in social circles that he’s talking about me at parties, balls, and social events.” His brow furrows.

“I haven’t heard anything,” he says, accusing.

“That would be because we don’t travel in the same social circles,” I reply, my voice condescending. It doesn’t get by him. I follow up with another jab. “If you think for one moment that you have your ear to the ground on every little thing that goes on in my life, you’re wrong. You know a lot, Phil, but you don’t know it all.” Hell, you don’t know the half of it. He raises a brow at me.

“Fine, it’s your funeral,” he says, stacking the papers in front of him. What the fuck…?

“And just what do you mean by that, Mr. Rockford?” I ask crisply, trying not to refer to him as the asshole that he’s being right now.

“Why would you want to push the hand of the most powerful timber producer and processor in the country?” he retorts. Who the hell is this pussy standing before me? Careful, Rockford, your slip is showing!

“Are you serious?” I ask incredulously while sitting back in my seat. “Do you realize that with 30 days of intensive negotiation, aggressive acquisitions, and concentrated redistribution of resources that I could be the most powerful timber producer and processor in the country? While Lincoln must constantly stay on his toes to hold his position, I do this shit for fun! I could stop production on the thousands of lines of business and acquisitions that I have my hand in right this very moment and there would still be enough passive income, liquid assets, and capital for my entire living family and three generations to come to live like kings and queens, and you’re standing here insinuating that I should feel some kind of reverence or fear for that glorified Paul Bunyan?”

Rockford sits in the chair across from me, examining me like I’ve just given him a bit of information that he was never fully aware of. Have you been asleep all these years? Exactly how many supposed industry giants and wannabe moguls have you watched fall at my feet?

“For the sake of argument, let’s assume that platinum-haired lumberjack released his worst, most fearsome wrath upon me. What could that be?” I question. “What could he do to me that I couldn’t flick off my shoulder like a worrisome fly? Go ahead, tell me. I’ll wait.”

Rockford clears his throat and loosens his tie. Apparently, he’s forgotten just how cutthroat I can be.

And, so has Linc, but he’s soon to revisit that lesson in spades. Closing those sawmills put a huge cramp in his production for nearly a year. This undertaking will make our last encounter look like a grammar school dance. Once I’m done with his largest east and west coast suppliers, I plan to target his oversees productions next. Sure, he’d be able to make up for the lost American timber with his European sawmills and providers, but not if he doesn’t see the attack coming, and no matter what the strategy, the solution won’t be cheap… or easy.

Having no comeback for my question, Rockford sits mutely facing my desk.

“Have we met…” you sniveling little weasel? “If you strain your little brain and think really hard, you can probably count on one hand the negotiations that were not favorable for me in all the years you’ve worked for me, and not once was any of those failures by any fault of my own. Now, unless there’s something that you know that I’m not aware of about that silver haired, washed-up phantom trying to wield power that he clearly doesn’t have, I suggest that you keep your angst-ridden opinions to yourself, be sure that my transactions are legal and airtight, and continue to make a fortune off me by doing exactly what you love.”

And now, I’m weary of this conversation.

“What’s happening to you?” I ask. “You sat in negotiations with Cross and let a woman show you that her balls were bigger than yours… and I’m not even talking about the attorney. She lopped your dick off and fed it to you! Now, you reach into that imaginary bag of courage on your hip and you have the inkling to confront me about my business tactics while cowering in fear to that washed-up old woodchuck? Who the fuck are you and what have you done with my cutthroat legal counsel?” He looks at me in sincere distaste.

“That’s… um… harsh and unnecessary, sir,” he grovels.

“Yeah, and you’re pathetic and pitiful. Get out of my sight, Phil,” I say, disgustedly breaking my gaze with him, “before I discover that you’ve totally lost your killer instinct, at which time, you’ll be completely useless to me.”

He knows not to say anything else. He knows that I’ve heard enough. He silently rises from his chair and leaves the room.

I’m going to have to secure new legal counsel, sooner rather than later. I toy with the thought of hiring Golden, but I already know that’s a lost cause. I wouldn’t even approach her like that. She wouldn’t want to work for me in that capacity, nor would I want her to. It’s just… not good to mix that kind of business and personal relationship.

*-*

So, I’ve committed myself to giving a speech at the Seattle Businessmen’s Conference this evening and I almost dread the idea of even showing up. With the coup I have in the works, anybody with half a brain and their eye on the boards can see that I’m acquiring the gathering rights to several of the national timber suppliers. It’s been a week since I secured the eastern timberlands and today, I locked down one of the western softwoods. I’m confident enough in my holdings so far that I’ve tiptoed into the Canadian lumber market. This quiet activity has caused small shifts in lumber stocks across the NASDAQ and NYSE with stockholders wondering what’s in the buzz and will it remain a buzz or turn into chopper blades.

Between that and quietly keeping my ear to the ground for new legal talent, the social-business scene is the second-to-last thing on my mind, and the last thing being targeted by some colleague’s young granddaughter looking to snag a guy just like dear old dad… or granddad.

“Hello, Christian.” Her smooth Brazilian voice answers. “I was wondering if you would wait until the last minute to call me. You know I don’t like to be rushed.”

“Hello, Gisela. My apologies. I forgot about it until the last minute.”

“As always,” she says.Uma história provável…”

“English, Gisela,” I scold. “I’m bilingual and Portuguese is not one of those languages.”

“No matter, why do you call, Christian?”

“You know why I call, Gisela,” I retort, using her choppy English. “Are you available?”

“Last minute again. Will you be sending me a gown… and jewelry?” I roll my eyes. It’s a good thing I have these things already in the guest room for just such an emergency.

“Of course, it’s not a crime to call and check with me, you know,” I scold. “You know I may forget, but you always seem to remember.”

“And miss the opportunity to give you a hard time? Why would I do that?” she asks matter-of-factly. “Besides, in my country, the woman does not approach the man; the man approaches the woman. You will send a car for me, no?”

“No,” I say, “I and my driver will pick you up at eight. And Gisela, don’t make me wait. I have to give a speech tonight.”

“Nem!” she exclaims. “How you say, keep your shirt on. You have gown here and I’ll be ready. Tchau.” She ends the call. I call Mrs. Jones with instructions to choose the white gown and emerald jewelry set and have it couriered to Gisela immediately.

Gisela Serra (Adriana Lima), Christian's go-to date for red carpet affairs--Chapter 13Gisela Serra is much like me in many ways. She graduated with a master’s in finance, but instead of going to work for one of the big firms, she invested her own money and became a self-made millionaire. Like me, she knows her shit, has no interest in a long-term relationship, and is always up for a good fuck once in a while. Unlike me, she’s never worked a day in her life and enjoys these red-carpet outings and hanging on the arm of whatever mogul chooses her as a bracelet that evening.

I’m her mogul of choice, however. She’ll wait for me, even break a commitment for me. Once, for the Carpenter’s Guild dinner, Ron Baristol of Baristol, Freedman, and Young requested her company and she accepted. Then I called, and she cancelled with Ron. It was nearly a brawl when we got to the dinner because apparently, she didn’t tell Baristol that she was cancelling with him to attend the dinner with me. When he approached me, I had no idea what he was talking about. When he told me, I couldn’t help but laugh.

That didn’t go over well with Ron.

I stated that I merely asked Gisela to accompany me. I didn’t know that she had prior arrangements or that she had cancelled them. He called me a cocky asshole and took a swing at me. I stepped aside, and he went sailing into the table with the ice sculpture. We were both asked to leave.

Needless to say, the Carpenter’s Guild didn’t get a donation from me that year and I declined their invitation the next year. The president and chairman both showed up at Grey House to ascertain what the problem was and when I reminded them of the mishap that had me removed from the festivities two years prior when I didn’t confront the guy and never raised a hand to him, they apologized profusely and had Baristol, Freedman, and Young removed from the guestlist completely. I can imagine that a similar conversation occurred at the Carpenter’s Guild headquarters when Mr. Freedman and Mr. Young discovered they were no longer welcome at the annual dinner.

I have nonetheless asked Gisela not to cancel any further engagements for me. If I haven’t contacted her by noon the day of an event, which is cutting it very close, I won’t contact her at all, leaving her free to accept any invitations that she may have on ice. Gisela is the only woman who has ever been seen with me on the red carpet—well, except Juliet when we were dating. So, of course, there’s a lot of speculation, but neither she nor I will entertain any of it. She’s beautiful, she’s smart, she’s rich—so I don’t have to worry about her latching onto me for my money—she doesn’t want a commitment, and she’s a great occasional fuck. Who could ask for more?

Me and my Brioni tux show up promptly at 8pm to retrieve Gisela. She’s prompt for once, as I was fully prepared to leave without her this time. I hate being late. It’s tacky.

“You said you had speech to give,” she says. “I only like being center of attention when is good for me. Fashionably late is no good when you are on the program.”

I told you that she was smart.

Dinner was uneventful. They always serve something pretentious at these dinners like lobster tail or filet mignon in tiny little servings, instead of choosing something classically delicious like veal or lamb chops, or even chicken. Hell, I’d even go for shrimp linguini if I knew I didn’t have to stop at a burger joint or something when it was all over to keep from gnawing my arm off! I always signal Taylor a half-hour before I’m ready to leave so that he can stop and get food before I and my date even get in the car.

I’ve made my speech, the usual mumbo-jumbo about responsible business and helping the community and growth through change… blah blah blah. I believe in all those things. It’s just that the conference never wants to hear anything else—like avoiding the common tricks of the market, interpreting trends so that you don’t end up losing your life savings or your business slosh fund, determining a good acquisition prospect from a lemon. I could use the same fifteen minutes that they have me speaking this gobbledygook and hit all three of those topics and probably save at least 50% of the businesses in attendance from making at least one of those three mistakes.

But, they’d rather hear that I’m building up small businesses in underprivileged neighborhoods. Anybody with a dime can do that. I want to tell you how to keep or multiply your dimes so that you can build up more businesses… but okay.

After the food and the speeches comes the networking. Time to hob nob and mingle with other CEO’s, each of us trying to finagle information out of the other about the next big cash windfall. Gisela and I are in a group talking shop with Stan Warren, Arnold Fishburn, and Felix Martindale—all CEO’s of their own companies, and at the moment, my date has the floor.

“Well, while all of the traders were trying to play the bull market, I made a mint on LAM and FDC… buying low and selling high,” Gisela says, sipping her champagne through the mingling and networking time after dinner.

“Now, how do you know?” Warren asks. He’s hanging on her every word. Not only does she look hot as fuck with this elegant gown wrapped around that beautiful ass, but when she opens her mouth, advice from the finance gods spews forth.

“You have to watch the trends,” she says. “You have to be willing to read the charts and look for the candlesticks in the buy-sell cycle…”

“Now, that’s where you’ve lost me,” Martindale says. “This is why I let my broker handle all of that.”

“If that’s so, I hope you don’t plan to get rich off the market. He’s doing that for you and fifty to a hundred other people or more and your returns are mediocre at best. Am I right?” He nods.

“I do alright,” he says, not wanting to admit his mediocre returns. She nods.

“If alright is okay with you, then you’re doing fine.”

She’s further captivating her audience with terms that I would also much rather leave to my broker when I see an ashen-faced beauty heading in my direction on the arm of another of my colleagues. He’s an attractive man, but an older attractive man… and she’s much too young for him. I know this, because I’ve known this woman Biblically.

“Gentlemen,” Reginald Hornsby says as he approaches. “Are we having the same boring conversations that we have every year?” His date clings to his arm and does everything she can not to make eye-contact with me.

“Right now, Ms. Serra is telling us how lousy we’re doing at the stock market,” Fishburn says, and we all laugh.

“I’m doing no such thing, sir,” Gisela says, mocking disdain. “I was just explaining to the gentlemen…” and she goes into the short version of Investing 101 with Hornsby, whose date is carefully avoiding mine and Gisela’s gaze now.

“So, when do you plan on sharing your talents with the rest of us?” Warren says. I know I’m not the only one who caught the double-entendre, but I don’t let on. Gisela doesn’t belong to me—she’s just my date for the evening, and the last thing I want is yet another scene.

“I only watch my own picks, Mr. Warren,” Gisela says sweetly. “I’m successful because I stick with the best and sell the temporary risers. It takes stamina and fortitude, but it’s a small sacrifice for the payoff in the end. I didn’t succeed by putting a little bit in every pot. I concentrated my efforts and shot the big guns, so I landed the big game.” Gisela coyly sips her champagne, having totally understood what Martindale was getting at and simultaneously shooting him down in front of his colleagues.

“I think what Stan was aiming at…” Oh, she knows what Stan was aiming at, “… is do you have any plans on trading professionally so that others can make the kind of profits that you are,” Martindale says.

“I’m afraid not, Mr. Martindale…”

“Call me Felix,” he corrects her.

“Felix,” she corrects. “Focusing on a few lucrative investments is what put me in the position that I am. So, now I don’t have to work for my money. My money works for me. Watching a trend and getting out before it tanks, I can do that for myself. I can’t do that for a group of people. For me, it’s a recipe for disaster. I’d be spreading myself and my own assets too thin and I wouldn’t be able to do other investors any justice.”

“Is that how you got so rich, Grey?” Warren asks. “Taking tips from this little beauty here?” He’s such an ass.

“I dabble in investing, Warren, but as you know, I made my fortune in mergers and acquisitions.”

“Yes,” Hornsby says. “There’s a little murmur on the wire about you and lumber.” And it begins.

“There’s always a murmur on the wire,” I say, dismissing the topic.

“Come on, Grey,” Warren coaxes. “Let us in on it. How about a little insider trading?” Fishburn frowns deeply.

“You’re kidding, right?” he says, distastefully. “You trying to get us all arrested?” And now, it’s time for me to text Taylor about those burgers.

“Come on, we’re just talking shop,” Warren excuses. “People do it all the time. No harm done.”

“Stock tips are one thing, Stan. Inside information is something else entirely. Geez, did Raj Rajaratnam, Martha Stewart, and Angelo Mozilo teach you nothing, man?” Fishburn scolds.

“Oh, for the love of God! Lighten up, guys,” Warren chides. “It’s not like Grey here is working for the SEC. Right, Grey?” He rips the air with a garish laugh and I just glare at him, sipping my champagne. “C’mon, Grey, we’re waitin’… You’re not spying for the SEC, are you?”

He’s still smiling, but his voice is accusing like he’s speaking for the entire group.

“You never know who’s listening… Stan!” I hiss his name before taking a swallow of my champagne. The group falls silent as eyes shoot from me to Warren.

“You know, I don’t know much for a silly little master’s degree holding female,” Gisela says, “but I do know that companies that are pegged as SEC whistle-blowers don’t do well on the corporate scene. That kind of slander can be very damaging to an established corporation.” She takes a sip of her champagne.

“I don’t think that matters to Mr. Warren, Gisela,” I say, still glaring at his now paling face. “He’s already shown everyone present that he has the tact of a goat and the class of a toad. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit to find that he doesn’t have the common sense of a toothpick.”

Warren looks very uncomfortable now and starts to do a little shuffle on his feet.

“Well, look what I’ve started,” Hornsby says. “Excuse me while I go curb my nicotine habit. You’ll be okay?” he says to Caramel. I had forgotten she was among us. She nods and gives him a sweet smile. He kisses her cheek and leaves the group. If he’s her Dom, he’s not acting like it. She would have had to follow him for the smoke break. She watches attentively as he leaves the room as if she’s urging him not to stay away long.

“You all are a bunch of pussies,” Warren says. “One mention of the SEC and insider trading and a bunch of powerful businessmen turn into a bunch of bed-wetting pansies! I’m going to smoke.” And he’s off behind Hornsby. I wonder what that conversation is going to be like.

“Excuse me,” Caramel says, and she leaves the group as well. Maybe she’s decided that she needs a cigarette after all.

“For the record, Grey,” Martindale begins, “none of us think you’re an SEC snitch. He’s full of shit.” I sip my champagne again, bottoming out my glass.

“It wouldn’t do me any good,” I reply. “I have investments in other companies, but GEH is not publicly traded. That fuckface has completely forgotten that in whatever plight he’s on. What would it serve me? I mean really… what?

“Nothing at all,” Gisela says, “Now go on over and get us a refill of champagne.” I look over my shoulder to flag a waiter, but none are close by. I locate the bar and see Caramel standing there, most likely waiting for her own refill. I turn my gaze back to Gisela who gives me a knowing look, raises her brow, and hands me her empty flute.

“Must I?” I say, lowly, while taking her empty glass.

“Yes,” she says with a smile. “Go on.” I roll my eyes and walk over to the bar. I sigh softly and speak.

“Hello,” I say, trying not to startle her.

“Hello,” she replies, finally making eye-contact with me.

“Two champagnes, please,” I tell the bartender. He nods and takes my empty glasses, setting them to one side. “I didn’t know Hornsby…” I trail off. She glares at me.

“He doesn’t!” she snaps. “And he doesn’t know that I ever did, either.” I flatten my lips and nod.

“You know, you not saying anything and avoiding my gaze is more conspicuous than you just acting natural,” I warn.

“That’s easier said than done,” she says and turns away from me. This close to her, I can see a gash near her eye. It’s healed, but the scar looks pretty fresh, and I’m certain that it wasn’t there before.

“What happened to your eye?” I ask, wondering if her new not-quite-Dom likes it rough.

“It was…” She looks around conspiratorially to make sure no one is listening. “It was from Mistress,” she hisses, quietly. “She punished me… repeatedly… when I tried to return.” I frown deeply.

“She hit you in the face?” I sneer. She nods.

“One night while I was on my knees, she slapped me… with her big ring.” She closes her eyes as she remembers. “Blood got in my eye, but she was just disgusted and told me to go to the hospital. I did. They stitched me up, only two stitches.” She points at her eye. “It was so much blood, I would have thought it would have been more. I didn’t go back to her after that.”

“I’m sorry, Car…” I stop myself as she raises her eyes to me. “Tammy. I never meant for any of that to happen.” She drops her head.

“My friends made it seem so glamorous, but it never was,” she admits without raising her head. “Mistress had me crawling on the floor and doing unthinkable things. It’s like she wanted me because I was beautiful, and she hated me for the same reason.” She shakes her head again. “Even with you,” she begins, “you were never physically cruel, but you treated me like just what I was… a whore. Reggie does, too,” she says, looking for her date. “He buys me nice things, he gives me money and takes me places. He just doesn’t know what I used to be. I always dread him finding out…”

“He won’t find out from me,” I assure her. She twists her lips but says nothing. She looks at Gisela.

“She’s not a submissive,” she says with finality.

“No, she’s not,” I confirm.

“Figures,” she says. “I have to go before Reggie comes back. Goodbye… Trey.” She takes her champagne from the bar and walks away. Wow. Elena got pissed at Caramel and tried to disfigure her. That sounds like something that twisted cow would do. I take my two champagne flutes and go back to Gisela. She seems to have loosened up since Warren left with his insider trading and double-entendrés.

“How are you?” I say, handing her a champagne flute. She takes a large sip.

“Can we go now?” I look at my watch. It’s been twenty minutes since I texted Taylor. I look at my phone. Sometime during my talk with Caramel, Taylor texted that he’s outside.

“Yes, we can go now,” I say. She throws back her champagne and hands me the empty glass. I bottom out my glass as well and extend my elbow to her.

“Well, well, well, looks like somebody’s got a hot date!” and Warren returns just as Gisela takes my arm. She squeezes just a bit as a sign of her ire. I roll my eyes.

“Goodnight, gentlemen,” I say. Warren is sharing a private joke with Martindale who seems none too amused. Warren continues to laugh garishly as he stinks up the area with the lingering odor of cheap cigar smoke. He couldn’t even buy the good kind.

“Oh, and Stan?” I say, garnering his attention as well as that of the others in the group.

“You’re an asshole.” His boorish smile turns into a sneer as I lead my date away from his presence.

“Go, Mr. Grey,” she says, quietly, as I drop our flutes off at the bar on our way out.

*-*

Gisela and I are comfortable on the white rug in front of the fire in my apartment. I’ve shed my tuxedo jacket and vest and undone my bowtie and she’s shed her shoes. We feed our raging hunger while discussing the evening’s events and other minutia.

“You have met someone,” she says, before taking another bite of her burger. I raise my brow at her.

“No one that I want to marry,” I admit, “but… she can grow on you.”

“Was it the mulatto woman?” she asks. What mulatto woman?

“Oh, God, no,” I tell her. “She was just an ex-bedfellow.”

“And a bit bitter,” Gisela observes.

“Bitter? I didn’t notice.”

“You wouldn’t,” she says. “She would wait until you are talking and stare with disdain. She would much rather not see you again, much less to see you with a woman on your arm.” She takes another bite of her burger.

“How did you know there was someone?” I ask. “There’s always someone…” A sub, a fuck-buddy…

“Not like this one,” she says after she swallows her food. “The others, they take the edge off. This one, she has found your… key. She is your ground.” I frown.

“My ground?” I ask, bemused. She ponders her words.

“I say it wrong,” she says, and thinks for a moment. “She… grounds you.”

“She grounds me?” I ask incredulously. “She’s a hot little number and I love her company, but I hardly say she grounds me!”

“Um-hm,” she says, taking another bite of her burger. “You have sex with this woman?” she asks while shielding her mouth. Hmm…

“Not in a matter of speaking, no,” I reply. She won’t let me fuck her.

“Let me rephrase,” she says after a moment. “You come with this woman?” Dammit, just how much does she know?

“Yes,” I say, after hesitation. She nods.

“She have your key,” she says. I shake my head.

“What are you trying to say?” I ask frustrated. What the hell does she have your key mean?

“She… know you. She know your combination… she know your buttons…” Goddammit, Gisela!

“You’re trying to say she knows what makes me tick,” I say for her. She waves her hand.

“You Americans and your expressions. You know what I mean.” She takes another bite of her burger. “Our arrangement will soon end,” she adds, her mouth full. I glare at her.

“I’m not in love, Gisela,” I protest. “I enjoy myself, as always, but she’s not different than the others.”

“She is different,” she retorts, “and she makes you different.”

And now I see. Having Golden as my Domme has changed my demeanor in some way. Gisela sees it… and she doesn’t want it. Fair enough.

“Should I call for Taylor to take you home?” I say, gathering my trash to dispose of it.

“What?” she confronts. “Has your new dominant lover now robbed me of my tryst?” She’s frank. “Surely, you don’t think I just turn down dates for your company.”

I raise my brow and extend my hand to her to assist her off the floor.

“You know the way,” I say to her as I gesture towards my fuck room. She saunters to the room like she owns the place, reaching back and undoing her zipper as she walks. Oh, Ms. Sierra, you have no idea what you’ve unleashed. Then again, maybe you do.

I eat that pussy until her brain seeped from her vagina, then fuck it back up into her head again. She’s totally useless when I send her home. Make you think twice about kicking me to the curb, minha querida, but if you choose to do so, then it’s your loss.

*-*

A few weeks later, I’m knee deep in negotiations with the Canadians for softwood when I get a call about a “terrible ruckus” in the lobby.

“Caldwell Lincoln, sir,” Taylor informs me. “It’s to the degree that we may have to call the police.”

Where’s the safest place to meet this asshole? I thought the first-floor conference room would be safe, but his psychotic wife hurled a potted plant at me in there and broke my fucking arm.

“Make sure there are no projectile objects in the first-floor conference room and take his ass in there,” I say. “If he moves in the wrong way, shoot him, and tell him I told you so.”

“Yes, sir.” I have no doubt that Taylor will shoot that fucker before I even get downstairs. Fuck, are there any other precautions that I should take before I go down there? I call Welch.

“Sir,” he answers.

“I need high alert. Linc is downstairs causing a commotion, and I swear I won’t hesitate to drop this fucker…”

‘The police have already been alerted, sir,” he says. “I’m on my way to the first floor.” I end the call. There’s no use in playing with this man. I remove my suitcoat, vest, and tie and leave my office, headed for the executive elevator.  

Jason isn’t the only one surprised to see me enter the first-floor conference in rolled-up shirt sleeves.

“Casual day at the office, Grey?” Linc seethes. He’s certainly locked and loaded, but so am I.

“I don’t need to ask why you’re here, so cut the shit,” I say. “You wanted my attention, you got it, so handle your fucking business.”

“You think you’re fucking big shit,” he hisses. “You don’t think I know who you are? What you do? You don’t think I know that on top of trying to take my business, you fucked my wife?” Old news.

“Linc, I don’t know what you think you know, but more importantly, I don’t care. I don’t care if you think I fucked your wife in your bed,” which I have. “All I care about is that you continually think you have power over me and don’t seem to realize that you have none,” I growl as I shamelessly close the space between us.

“What the fuck are you trying to prove, you stupid piece of shit?” I continue. Are you that fucking dense? You’re a small dog trying to play in a yard that’s way too fucking big for you. You’re too thick to realize you’re out of your league and you need to stay in your goddamn place! I’m a rottweiler and you’re a beagle. You’re in the wrong cage, you Napoleonic fuck!

“Three weeks,” I say, holding up three fingers. “Three weeks, and I’ve secured 60% of your western lumber interests. Do you think you have the capital to match the Canadian government’s softwood lumber regulations? In a month—or less—you’ll be buying your domestic lumber from me. There’s your business savvy, Linc. What’s next?”

“You’re such the big man,” Linc taunts. “You can talk major shit with a whole battalion of security backing your ass up.”

“Everybody step the fuck back—now!” I demand, and the security staff in the room all slowly spread toward the door and windows. “Even if he’s beating my ass, nobody touch this asshole unless he pulls a weapon—any weapon. You all know how his wife likes potted plants.” I turn back to Linc and move to the middle of the conference room with my arms open, waiting.

“You want to take a swing, you old fuck? Take your best shot. You wanna go mano-e-mano, me and you? You go for it. I can guarantee you, none of these men will fuckin’ touch you. I’ll lay your ass out like the geezer you are. C’mon, you old fuckin’ goat. Stop talking that shit, because I’ve already shown that I’m better than you in the business world, so c’mon. Stop talking that shit and bring it.”

He’s standing there staring at me like I’ve already hit him. He didn’t expect this. I don’t think he knew what to expect. He got that corporate posturing that he was expecting, but it was more than he could bite, so this was his back-up plan? And he won’t take advantage of it? You gotta be kidding.

“You need some encouragement, Linc?” I taunt mercilessly. “You need some help on that road? That journey you started and can’t finish? Look me in the eye, Linc. Have I really fucked your wife?”

I glare at him with the carnal knowledge of that once-blonde-bombshell that he once coveted as his beautiful wife and he lunges at me. His move was so predictable that I only have to step out of his way to leave him sprawling past me and into the opposite wall. I shake my head. It’s Baristol all over again. True to my command, the security detail parts and allows him to splat into the wall without touching him. He turns around, enraged, glaring at me and regrouping for another attack.

He lunges at me again, more controlled this time and with a lot of force, but his right cross is wide and wild. I duck and come up with a left to the gut and a right to the side, finishing with a flat kick to the solar plexus with a size-12 Berluti sending him squarely back to the wall he just vacated with a hard “thud.”

“C’mon, Silver Fox,” I say, clenching my fist and preparing for his next move. “You can do better than that.” His eyes narrow and he comes at me full force, his shoulder and all his weight hitting me square in the abdomen and nearly knocking all the wind out of me as he slams me hard against the opposite wall. He gets some good gut and kidney punches in on me—enough to hurt a bit, but not enough to disable me. I clench my fist and clasp my hand over it, bringing it down hard on his spine, which I know hurt like hell, the second hit bringing him to his knees, allowing that same size-12 Berluti to connect with his jaw, producing a satisfying “crack” and flipping him over and onto his back.

He coughs and spits blood onto my conference-room carpet—that pisses me off—but fights to catch his breath and no doubt, gather his wits.

“That’s all you got, old man?” I ask, a little winded with my fist clenched and ready. “You talk all that shit and all you got is a bum-rush and a couple of gut punches? No wonder your wife was fucking me. Is your game as weak as your fight?”

He glares at me from the floor. He wants to retaliate, but his attempts to get off the floor fail.

What? That’s it? I’m just getting started.

“Yeah, that pussy was good once upon a time,” I jeer, “while you were jet-setting the world, fucking young models and getting young Jamaican girls pregnant.” As if it could, his face turns whiter than it already was.

“What? You didn’t think I knew? You don’t think I know everything you do, everywhere you are the minute you leave the states? Your shit is fucking easier to find than ‘Where’s Waldo’ because you’re too goddamn cocky to cover your fucking tracks. Go ahead, Linc, do your worst. Once I’m done kicking your ass, I can guarantee that you, your business and your name will be shit no matter where you turn!”

I can see the defeat when it settles in his eyes. The fight is over—the physical fight and the cock strut, and I barely broke a sweat. I roll my sleeves down and brush the wrinkles out. Stepping right over him, I head to the door of the conference room and open it to leave.

“Say something!” I warn turning back to Linc. “Say something to the cops. Say something to the press. Say something to anybody. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Breathe my name in any direction ever again and I will fucking bury you!” I turn to Taylor.

“Get him the fuck off my floor and out of my goddamn building and get somebody in here to clean up his bodily emissions.” I pull my cufflinks out of my pocket and walk to the elevator. I don’t push the call button since I see that it’s already on its way down. As the elevator rings, I see Linc walking out of the conference room with security walking behind him. I see the elevator begin to open, but I turn my attention to the frosted fuck about to leave my building.

One more thing.

“Lincoln!” I bark, gaining the attention of everyone in the lobby, including Linc.

“Stay the fuck away from Olivet!” I hiss. “You don’t know who you’re fucking with and I can guarantee you that at least nine people of power in this state will bury you… twice. I may or may not be one of them!”

He shows no fear, but that cockiness that he’s famous for is buried behind a swollen, bloody face and somebody’s handkerchief. He walks to the revolving glass door as I insert and snap my second cuff-link. Once he’s out of the doors, I turn around to see Phil Rockford standing in front of the closed elevators.

“Balls,” I bark to him and he jumps at my voice. “Remember those? That’s what they look like. Grow them back… or quit!”

He stares at me for a moment and I realize that he’ll never grow his balls back. I brush past him and get on the elevator.

“Andrea!” I shout, almost before the elevator doors open.

“Yes, Mr. Grey?” she says calmly, no reaction whatsoever to my ire. I hate and admire that at the same time.

“Get in touch with Bonde and Associates. I’m going to need feelers for a new head of legal. Cutthroat—tell them to keep the pussies to themselves.” I breeze past her to my office.

“Yes, sir,” she says, unfazed, momentarily typing on her keyboard. When I look back, she’s already on the phone.

Never shaken.
Never stirred.
Why can’t my head of legal be that way?

I go straight to the en suite and wash my hands. I feel dirty. That fucker bled, but he didn’t bleed on me. I still feel dirty.

I grab my suitcoat, vest, and tie and walk back out of my office.

“As soon as possible,” I hear Andrea say. “We will begin vetting as soon as we get the candidates information.” I call the elevator and realize that someone has called it before me and it’s not waiting for me. I’m irritated again, not that I wasn’t before.

“Confidential, as always. I am your sole contact… Special instructions? Yes, sir. Cutthroat. Keep the pussies to yourself.”

I have the best PA in creation.

The elevator opens, and Taylor moves to step off. Seeing me standing at the door, he maintains his position in the back of the elevator. I get in the elevator and push the button for the parking garage since Taylor’s express key is already in the keyhole.

“Did you make sure that asshole got his ass out of my building, into his asshole car and on his asshole way?” I hiss.

“Yes, sir,” Taylor responds. The remainder of the ride is silent, as is the ride back to my apartment. The moment he pulls into the parking garage at Escala, I leap out of the Audi SUV and into my Spyder. Without a word, I start the car, throw it into gear, and take off.

I pull up in front of the club, my hands a fearsome grip on the Audi’s steering wheel. I can barely contain my anger, visions of Linc’s snarling, smirking face taunting and pissing me off. None of my normal calming techniques are working and I’m certain that working over a submissive won’t work tonight either. I will fucking kill a sub right now. I call Golden instead, almost praying that she’s available.


Briana Evigan Chapter 13small

GOLDEN

“You’re awful limber today,” Kevin says as we hold another of our impossible poses.

“Not as tense as I usually am,” I say, trying to concentrate on my count.

“You get laid?” he asks.

“None of your business,” I retort. It’s time to release and, as usual, he holds me there. “Let me down, Kevin.”

He drops me with a grunt, like he always does—dick still hard, but he’s not groping me. He hasn’t since we had dinner. When I asked him why, he told me that we’d agreed to be friends and he wasn’t going to jeopardize that by being a gropy asshole. He can’t do anything about the erection, though. Holding me in those unreal poses that showcase my flexibility with nothing but dancer’s ass staring back at him is more than he can take. He won’t apologize for the physical reaction, but he can try to behave himself otherwise.

“You hungry?” I ask as I get up from his pounding erection.

“Famished,” he says, and I catch his double meaning.

“Lunch, you caveman,” I scold.

“I know what you’re talking about,” he says, sitting up and drying the sweat from his face with his shirt. “I’ll meet you back here after showers.” I raise my brow at him.

“Why aren’t you getting up?” I ask.

“Because I’m going to sit here and watch you walk away. Isn’t it obvious?” Geez, he has no shame since I sucked his dick. I shake my head and give him the show he’s waiting for as I turn and leave the studio and head to the showers.

We enjoy a late lunch at Dueminuti Pasta, an Italian restaurant on Capitol Hill that specializes in homemade pasta and fresh sauces with ingredients from local growers.

“He did that in the middle of a grocery store?” Kevin asks as he loads his fork with pasta. I nod.

“He grabbed me like they do in those corny romance movies and he kissed me, right there in the store, like I was supposed to swoon when he was done.” I shake my head. “Does that happen in real life?” I ask. “Guys kiss girls and they just swoon and fall into their arms and their beds?”

“It’s never happened to me,” he says, filling his mouth with pasta.

“Well, it wasn’t going to happen to him either,” I reply before taking a mouthful of
Ragu’ alla Bolognese. I love this place. Mom used to bring me here all the time.

“Do you want me to tell him that I’m hittin’ it?” Kevin asks. I frown and swallow my pasta.

“Hitting what?” I ask bemused.

“Hittin’ it,” he repeats over a mouthful of pasta. “He saw us at dinner once. If I tell him I’m hittin’ it, he’ll back off.”

“Oooh! You mean hittin’ this!” I say, pointing to myself. “No, don’t tell him that.”

“Might solve your problem,” he says, before drinking his soda. Silly little man.

“He saw us sitting at a table eating dinner. He walked up and spoke to me like you weren’t even sitting there. He left when he was damn good and ready. When he saw me in the grocery a few days ago, the thought that I might be fucking you never even crossed his mind. If it did, the only thing he was thinking was, ‘How can I snatch?’ He wasn’t concerned that you may have been there first or even that you may be still hittin’ it. All he was concerned about was ‘Can I get in?’ And that may be all he wanted—to hit it once, but he was trying, and you didn’t make one bit of fucking difference. There’s no honor among men. If you saw me and you wanted me, you wouldn’t have any honor for him if you thought he was fucking me, and you expect him to have honor for you?”

“Who the fuck said anything about honor?” Kevin retorts. “He’s a hoe. And if I tell him that I’m hittin’ it and he pursues you, that gives me a reason to beat his monkey ass.”

“Oh, yeah, that’ll help,” I say sarcastically. “You see the really big white guy over there with his arms folded that just scarfed down enough Pomodoro for four people?” Kevin looks over at Jesse. “If Don Juan Jake decides that he wants to fuck with me again, that’s what he’ll be hittin’, or I should say that’s what’s going to be hittin’ him. The only reason he didn’t get pulverized the first time is because I stopped Jesse from killing him.” I smile and eat my pasta.

“You don’t let a guy have any fun,” he pouts.

“I do,” I correct him, “but that’s not the nature of our relationship.”

*-*

“Step back, ma’am,” Jesse says. “I don’t want to have to restrain you.”

“You won’t do a damn thing to me, you gorilla, or I’ll have your ass arrested for assault!”

“You’re trespassing right now, you stupid bitch!” I retort behind Jesse. “He could break you in half right now and be within his rights.”

“You shut up!” she screams. “You shut the fuck up! I don’t want to hear anything out of your goddamn mouth right now!”

“Then why the fuck are you in my office?”

A few days after my lunch with Kevin, I get a text from him just as I’m entering my office to a very unwelcome visitor.

**Elena was here looking for you. She’s pissed. **

“You’re a little late, there, Kev,” I mumble.

“I’m going to wring your little neck, you fucking cunt!” she hisses and attempts to lunge at me. Jesse’s long arm of the law stops her before she can move two centimeters, his large hand pinning her firmly against the wall.

“I said. Step. Back. Ma’am,” he reinforces, his voice low and calculated. At first, she’s appalled and shocked, but she finds her composure and smiles at him.

“Are you one of her submissives, pet?” she says in a sweet, condescending voice. Jesse doesn’t flinch. I’m sure he’s heard worse. She turns her gaze to me. “You need your dog to protect you, you little pussy?” she taunts. God, you have no fucking idea what you’re dealing with.

“Stand down, Jesse.” I say coolly. Jesse looks back at me without moving his hand from her chest.

“Ana…”

“Stand. Down,” I growl. Reluctantly, he moves his hand from Blondie’s chest and takes a few steps to the side. I close the space between us.

“Now,” I say steely, “there’s no Jesse between us, but be careful, Elena,” I spit her name with disdain. “Because if you touch me, what I do to my clients will be a walk in the park compared to what I’ll do to you.”

Her eyes narrow but she doesn’t fucking touch me.

“I’m not one of your fucking toys, Goldie.”

“And I’m not one of your little slaves, Blondie,” I retort with just as much contempt. She reaches into her way-too-large bag and Jesse reaches into his holster. Without looking at him, she snatches a folded piece of paper and thrusts it in my face. I don’t move to take it, so Chanelle snatches it from her hand. She turns on Chanelle.

“What the fu..?”

“Bitch you don’t know me I will slap the white offa’ you,” Chanelle snaps all in one breath while still glaring at Elena. I don’t think anyone has ever said that to her and she doesn’t quite know how to take it, so she stands there in stunned silence while Chanelle examines the document.

“It’s a summons,” Chanelle says, throwing the paper back in Elena’s face. “Your ass is being sued. You must have pissed somebody off.” The paper falls uselessly to the floor as Elena continues to glare at Chanelle.

“Thank you!” she hisses hatefully. “I already knew that.”

“Then why the fuck did you ask what it was?” Chanelle snaps before going back to her seat. Elena watches her walk to the reception desk and sit down, but she doesn’t say anything else to her. I guess she thinks better of going toe-to-toe with a sistah from the hood who just warned her that she would slap her into another nationality.

“What I want to know is what the fuck this is all about,” she spits at me.

“Oh, that part’s easy. This is from your previous clients—women who were rendered damn near dysfunctional from getting services at your infested establishment.”

“My salons were not infested!” she screeches. “I was cleared by the board of health!”

“Well, according to these women, they’ve had nervous itches, some of them for weeks at a time,” I say calmly. “They have medical bills to prove that they couldn’t rest for fear that their homes were infested with bed bugs. They’ve had to pay for costly inspections and exterminations and one woman actually did find bed bugs in her home. There was no other connection except for you and she’s included in the class action suit.”

With such a large demographic, the bed bugs could have come from anywhere, but civil cases just need a preponderance of evidence, not proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Her biggest admission of guilt was her lack of proactive counter measures. The innocent scream it from the rooftops. She kept quiet in an attempt to keep publicity away from her. It worked, but eventually, it backfired.

“You’re such a spiteful little tramp,” she seethes. “I know you were in on this entire thing from the very beginning. I just know it.” Well, you know wrong, Blondie, and I’ve had enough.

“Now, what I want you to do is dig deep into your brain and pull out some of those logic cells that haven’t been bleached beyond use, assuming that you still have some left. Once you find them, I want you to summon them forward to your ears and allow them to comprehend the words that are coming out of my mouth. Are they there? Are you listening? Let’s hope so.

“I. Had nothing to do. With the fall. Of your funky-ass salons!” I say slowly and forcefully. “At the time of your demise, I hadn’t spoken to Christian for several months. I didn’t know anything had happened to your dime-store face-painting and hair-cutting nickelodeons until well after you lost your shit and broke his arm. By the time I saw him again and knew that anything had happened, it was healed!

“Bedbugs? Seriously? Bedbugs? Five-star restaurants have been closed for rodents, roaches, flies, unsanitary conditions. They clean it up and they’re open in a month. And you got shut down for bedbugs—all your salons in the greater Seattle area for fucking bedbugs! And you think I had something to do with that. That’s one of the most amateur attacks I’ve ever seen in my life—and it worked! I’m astonished that it worked, because you’re an idiot.

“If I wanted to do you in, Blondie, you wouldn’t have to guess. You would have no doubt that it was me because I would have left my mark all over it. We wouldn’t even be standing here talking, missy, because you. Would be. Completely. Destroyed. Your name, your license, your reputation, your money, everything! I would have completely decimated you. Bedbugs? Have we fucking met? That’s laughable. If I wanted your ass that badly, when they came to investigate you, they fucking would’ve found something, and it would’ve been more than any goddamn rodents! They would have found shit on you that would have left you unable to talk your way out of a paper bag.

“Damage control, you stupid blonde bitch. This entire thing could have been avoided by damage control, not by throwing a fucking cement pot at Seattle’s most influential citizen! You’re such a fucking fool! You were so busy plotting my downfall that you never saw that I could have helped you! You could have combated this entire thing with just a few strategically placed press releases. Instead, you had your head so far up my ass trying to find some shit that you could use that you couldn’t even see the forest for the trees. You left that door wide open, and your prior clients are taking full advantage of it. Who am I as a capitalist in America to pass up this opportunity?”

I bend down, pick up the summons, and shove it in her face.

This is what I do, Elena!” I say, shaking the summons in her face. “I don’t know or fucking care who all was involved in spreading a goddamn rumor, but this is what I do. I take on cases when people come to me with valid legal issues. You wanna be pissed at me, be pissed about the right thing. Be pissed about this!”

I fling the summons in her face and she catches it this time.

“Now, get the fuck out of my office and never speak to me or come near me again. If you do, I’ll have him shoot you and her beat you Moroccan, assuming I don’t get to you first. I’ll see you in court.”

She stands there for a moment, the three of us waiting for another word to come out of her mouth so that we could draw straws on which of us would get to shoot or beat her. She must’ve seen the killer instinct in one—or all—of our faces, because she scurries out of my office without another word.


A/N: Raj Rajaratnam, Martha Stewart, and Angelo Mozilo all had big cases in insider trading.
“Minha querida”—loosely translated, “My dear.”

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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 25—Actionable Behavior

This is a work or 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 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 25—Actionable Behavior

CHRISTIAN

I had the foresight to retrieve my father’s phone right after the call from Mia. I had a feeling that my mother would try to pester him throughout the night. Even if she wanted to reconcile and apologize, my father deserved a good night’s sleep. I left a note on his nightstand that his phone would be on the wraparound desk in the hallway if he wanted it.

That’s where it stayed all night.

I’m almost afraid to join my family for breakfast. Nobody except Elliot is going into work today and I think we’re all just going to hide out at the mansion… hiding out from Mom. Last night’s call from Mia has everybody wanting to ask Dad what’s going on and I think the only person who has a clear picture of the situation besides Dad is Butterfly—and she’s mum, for good reason.

When I get to the table, Valerie and Elliot are already there. He’s not taking the day off because he wants to make sure their house is finished before Mia’s wedding since he and his wife will be taking a vacation. That blessed and hellish event is just about a month away, so he doesn’t want to let the grass grow under his feet.

“Our house is going to rival yours when it’s finished, Bro,” he says, shoveling eggs into his mouth. “We don’t have the space that you do, but the view is about the same—plus, you have the ‘go big or go home’ mentality. We just want classy and elegant.” I put my hand over my chest in mock insult.

“Was that a shot at me, big brother?” I ask. “Are you saying that I’m not classy and elegant?”

“Please,” Valerie interjects. “Of course, you’re classy and elegant, but our class and elegance is more like little impressive hills and prairies; your class and elegance is more like Mount Rushmore.” She raises an eyebrow at me as she sips her herbal tea. I shrug. I can’t argue with that logic.

“What can I say?” I reply as Gail places a large plate of pancakes in front of me. Oh, this looks like heaven. I couldn’t eat much yesterday and could only peck at dinner since I tried to pickle my insides the night before and into the early morning hours. Now, I’m fucking ravenous.

“What did I miss?” I hear Butterfly say as she makes her entrance. The pancakes taste like life and merry-go-rounds and happy endings, and I’m temporarily separated from the conversation going on at the table until I hear Butterfly mention Freeman’s name.

“What about Freeman?” I say, covering my full mouth as I speak.

“Apparently, he’s not so adverse to having money and being rich,” she says. My brow furrows.

“Oh?” I press, still chewing my food. She nods as she puts warm scrambled eggs and bacon on her plate from under the dome covers on the table.

“It appears that the discovery of his assets for the divorce are falling right in line with a very ill-placed audit,” she announces as she pours juice into a glass from a carafe. I scoff a laugh, drawing attention to myself, but I’m not really sure that I want the family to know that the audit was my idea. I mean, I’d rather the whole thing look like Karmic justice.

“Serves the fucker right,” I say, pretending to declare it under my breath while cutting more of the pillowy pancakes. “How the hell did that come about? And what does any of this have to do with being rich? Is he rich?” I shovel more food into my mouth and maintain eye-contact with my wife. I haven’t lied—I’m just seeing what she knows. She shrugs dismissively.

“He’s not rich like us,” she clarifies, “but from the assets he’s been hiding, he’s pretty fucking well off.”

“Who’s well off?” My Dad’s voice cuts through the room like thunder. We all momentarily look at him like a unicorn, hoping he doesn’t self-destruct, but Valerie is the first person to remind us that we need to act normal, even though having my father at our breakfast table without my mother is nothing close to normal.

“Ana was just telling us about the surprises your brother has been hiding,” she says, taking another sip of her tea.

“My brother?” he says, frowning. He takes the seat next to me and Gail brings fresh pancakes to the table. “God, those look good,” he says.

“Dig in,” I tell him. “Butterfly was just telling us about Freeman’s hidden assets.” Dad’s hand freezes as it hovers over the fresh stack of hot buttery pancakes.

“Hidden assets?” he asks, looking at Butterfly, who’s chomping away on crispy bacon and nodding.

“Apparently,” she begins after swallowing, “Your brother has been very smart with his investments over the years, such that he has much more squirreled away than Nell knew about, including houses and bank accounts abroad.” Dad’s eyebrows rise in suspicion as he puts two pancakes on his plate and pours syrup over them.

“Haven’t the proceedings just started?” he asks. “It takes forever to find something like that in discovery.”

“They didn’t find it in discovery,” I interject. “The asshole is being audited,” I nearly giggle.

“Audited?” Dad says in surprise.

“Yeah, at the same time that Nell’s attorney is in the discovery process,” Elliot adds. “That’s bad luck in spades.

“That’s not bad luck,” Dad says. “That’s Karma.”

“And she’s one beautiful bitch,” I add, then look over at my father. “Sorry, Dad.” Dad chuckles.

“This is one of those times where I have to agree with you, son,” he says, taking a mouthful of pancakes. “Oh, that’s really good,” he says, shamelessly talking with his mouth full.

“Well, it turns it out that’s not all he’s hiding,” Butterfly says, taking another bite of her breakfast.

“Oh?” Valerie questions. “What else?” Butterfly swallows before she says,

“A girlfriend.”

And my Dad nearly chokes.

I’m banging on his back to make sure nothing gets lodged in this throat, but he raises a hand to tell me that he’s fine. After taking a few healthy swallows of water, he turns to my wife.

“A what?” he asks, his voice a bit strained.

“A girlfriend,” she repeats. “He’s leasing a car—a Cadillac or something, I can’t remember right now—and she’s the one driving it around the metro Detroit area. That’s how they found her.”

“Fucking shit, really?” Elliot pipes in. Goddammit, this couldn’t have turned out better had I planted a woman to say she was fucking him!

“He really is a piece of work!” I exclaim, frowning. “Think about it—he’s so fucking sanctimonious about what everybody else is doing and he’s walking around doing this shit?”

“That’s Freeman,” Dad says, digging back into his breakfast. “He can quickly tell you what the hell you’re doing wrong, but can’t see his own flaws for shit.” I can tell Dad is getting bitter—he already spent the night in a bed not his own—so I quickly change the subject.

“So, what’s the plan for the day? It’s clear that everybody except our esteemed brother is hiding out…”

We talk about what we plan to do for the rest of the day. Life and business goes on and none of us plan on shirking our responsibilities. We’re just going to handle those responsibilities from the comfort of the Crossing. Dad will be using my den while Butterfly and I work from our respective offices. Valerie will be making some decorating decisions for their new home and as far as we know, business everywhere else will continue as usual.

At least, that’s what we thought.

“Sir,” Jason comes into the dining room somewhat on alert.

“What is it?” I ask him.

“Sir?” He then turns to my father. “Mr. Grey, your wife is here.”

I roll my eyes before I know it, and Dad wipes his mouth and tosses his napkin on the table. A collective sigh is heard ‘round the room as my father shakes his head. I take a deep breath. He knows that I can’t turn her away. He’ll have to do it, if that’s what he wants.

“Okay,” I say and nod to him. He nods back and leaves the room.

Breakfast is officially over.

“What do you want to do?” I ask him. He twists his lips.

“Can’t hide forever,” he replies.

“Apparently, not even for one night,” Elliot says. We both throw a look at him. He raises his hands in defense. “I’m just saying, okay?” he defends. “I get it, but still… give a guy a chance to cool off.”

“Apparently, you’ve forgotten New Year’s Eve,” Valerie chides gently. Realization comes to Elliot’s face.

“Touché,” he says, and kisses the back of her hand. “I don’t mean to eat and run, but you guys know I have to get to work.” He wipes his mouth and stands.

“Making a clean getaway?” Dad asks him.

“That, too,” he admits. “Love you, Dad.”

“Love you, son.” Just as he thought he would escape, Mom comes rushing into the dining room like she’s trying to catch my father before he leaves. Elliot is trapped, facing off with my mom. She clearly hasn’t slept, even though she has tried to hide her tired eyes with makeup.

“Leaving so soon?” she says, her voice sad. Elliot puts his hand on her arm.

“I have to go to work, Mom,” he says sympathetically, “and even if I didn’t, I’d still be leaving. This is between you and Dad.” He kisses her on the cheek. “Love you, Mom.” He leaves before she can protest. Almost on cue, Butterfly, Valerie, and I all stand and proceed to leave the room.

“I guess I can really clear a room, huh?” Mom says, her voice bruised this time. I don’t have the strength to respond. She sent me into nightmares, for God’s sake. I had to have an emergency phone session with Dr. Baker yesterday. Butterfly, as I can see, is in no hurry to engage either. Once again, it’s Valerie to the rescue.

“We all love you, Grace,” she says diplomatically. “We love you both, but if Carrick wasn’t here right now, you wouldn’t be here either. It’s just like Elliot said—this is between the two of you, so the rest of us are going to leave.”

I don’t wait for the go ahead to leave. I quickly get the hell out of Dodge. Butterfly and I both head for the elevator to go downstairs while Valerie makes her way to the stairs back up to the room she and Elliot share. I think my wife and I both hold our breath until the elevator closes behind us before we shake our heads and look at each other.

“She doesn’t look too good,” Butterfly points out.

“She looks like Dad did when I saw him yesterday,” I say. I was trying not to sound like “Dad didn’t get any sleep and now it’s her turn,” but that’s how it came out anyway. Butterfly sighs.

“This is not a good place for the family,” she says.

“No, it’s not,” I say as the elevator doors open to the ground floor, “but at this point, only one person can change that.” She nods.

“You know where I’ll be,” she says resigned, before kissing me on the cheek and heading to her study.

*-*

As hard as I try, I don’t get much done during the course of the day. Dad came to talk to me after his conversation with Mom and apparently, it didn’t go very well. He says they didn’t argue, but he’s still going to be staying here for a while—how long, he didn’t say, and I’m not going to press him about it. I need a break from my mother, and apparently, my dad does, too, but I can’t help but feel sorry for her. I’m her son, not her husband. Me taking a break from her is a whole lot different from Dad doing it.

Dad has also apparently secured the services of one Dr. Grey, M.D. while he’s staying here. He hasn’t really talked to anybody about his grief… he was depending heavily on Mom for that and now, she’s a bit distracted. He didn’t want to dump on Uncle Herman and now, he has no one else and refuses to confide in a stranger. So, Butterfly, it is. I have to say that I think this football outing is coming right on time.

Speaking of which, nightfall finds the four of us along with two of our security detail—Chuck and Jason—comfortably on the fifty at CenturyLink Field. Jason has assured me that Rossiter will certainly not be in attendance at tonight’s festivities, so Butterfly and I and our fathers settle in to enjoy the game.

The Bears are hustling for sure and they’re certainly quite proud of themselves, but they’re celebrating way too early and don’t hustle enough.

Wilson put a damper on the Bears’ party with two rushing touchdowns and the first part of the game is a display of senseless slaughter—five possessions and the Seahawks score every time. The score is 31-0 by half-time, Seahawks favor. I’m wondering why the Bears even bothered to show up.

But the best play of the night has to be Cutler’s massive fuck up. The Bears’ quarterback is standing there like he’s waiting for a bus while his teammate is calling plays. So, once the ball is snapped to his ass, he’s surprised! What does he do? He sends the ball sailing through the air to the wide receiver, Josh Morgan, who’s shuffling around at the one-yard line. Easy touchdown, right?

Wrong!

Good ole Cutler wasn’t paying attention to the two Seahawks hovering around his wide receiver and when he shoots the ball down the field, Jeremy Lanes effortless leaps in front of the stunned Bear and picks off the pass for a Seahawks turnover.

And the crowd goes wild.

Dad and Ray leap to their feet, yelling like teenagers at Jeremy Lane’s interception right at the Bears’ two-yard line and the subsequent 42-yard run across field. That man does so many fake-outs during that stretch, all I could think was “Sweet Feet.” Even Butterfly got into the fun, screaming at the cornerback to run his “tight ass” up the field. I could get jealous, but why bother? It’s not like she’s leaving me for him. Either way, the Bears did everything they could to stop him, but were left dumbfounded when he leapt in front of Morgan waiting at the goal line for an easy touchdown, and took that pigskin damn near back into enemy territory. Morgan somewhat redeemed himself, taking Lane down at the 43-yard line, but did he have a choice? Either way, Bears fans are cursing all over the country tonight.

I should have known that we weren’t going to get out of that game unscathed, though. Somebody somewhere has a GPS on my colon or something, because if there’s a camera in the general vicinity of me and my wife, it will find us. And what fucking camera finds us?

The goddamn KissCam.

Butterfly just giggles and points to it. When I look up and see that we’re front and center on the CenturyLink Field Jumbotron, I realize that my fucking manhood and honor are at stake and on display for everybody to see. I grab my wife out of her seat, bend her over my lap, and plant a passionate kiss on her lips that has her clawing at my hair.

And once again the crowd goes wild.

After a lip lock that lasts for several moments, I pull away and gaze down into her eyes.

“Showoff,” she breathes.

“Whatever do you mean?” I ask, before closing in on her again. After a few more moments, the crowd begins to chant, and when I focus, I realize that they’re chanting, “Get a room.” I tear my lips away from my wife to see that we are still on the Jumbotron. I laugh out loud and peck her on the lips again, finally letting her up and sitting her back in her seat. The crowd is cheering once again, and I shamelessly stand up and take a couple of bows while my wife shakes her head and hides her face. Dad and Ray are both laughing at my poor wife’s discomfort, and I put my arm around her and kiss her on the cheek to comfort her. She playfully smacks at my chest, scolding my impishness.

And soon, we’re back to watching the game, if you can call it that. The Seahawks score a field goal in the third and the Bears prevent a shutout by scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter, losing the game with an embarrassing 34 to 6 final score. Dad and Ray rise to leave with the rest of the crowd, but Jason signals for us to wait.

“I called for backup,” he informs me. “With the Jumbotron display, I figure the press will probably be present, but we have to wait for a minute. The guys were detained.” I frown.

“Detained? By what?”

“By whom… the cops.” Now he’s got my attention.

“Why? What did they do?”

“Speeding,” he informs me. I twist my lips and he puts his hands up in surrender. “Sir, I’ve had this conversation with every member of our staff. According to Chance, he wasn’t going more than five over the limit. Nobody on our staff ever does. Ben is with him, and he confirms it. So, I don’t know if this is some rookie cop with a bug up his butt or some guy trying to make his quota, but we got a ticket.” I shake my head.

“Just pay the damn thing,” I say. I seem to remember us getting one the other day, but I think we had an emergency or something, I don’t know. Nonetheless, I’m not going to let a stupid fucking speeding ticket ruin our day. “Did you guys enjoy the game?”

“Boy, did I!” Dad says. “It was just what I needed! I haven’t seen a game that great in years. I don’t get to many live games anymore, you know.”

“Maybe we should look into some season tickets, Carrick,” Ray says. “The wife doesn’t want to see the games and I don’t get to see my friend Brian much anymore since I moved from Montesano…” and off our Dads go talking about the game and hoping to secure some season tickets if it’s not too late. I look at Butterfly, who is smiling at her father.

“I know he misses Brian,” she says, sadly. “They’ll always be friends, but it’s just not the same since…” and she trails off. I think she feels guilty for coming between her father and his best friend.

“That’s not your fault,” I tell her.

“Isn’t it?” she says, looking up at me. “I could have tried harder, done something to discourage him before the situation got completely out of hand. True, I didn’t encourage him—I didn’t make him think he had a chance. But I didn’t work hard enough at nipping that situation in the bud—at Daddy’s wedding, when I should have done it. I guess I thought… I hoped the situation would take care of itself.” She sighs heavily. “Nonetheless, it’s water under the bridge now.” She looks at Dad and Ray laughing heartily at some joke or something one has told the other, and she smiles.

“When one door closes, another one opens,” she says softly.

“Here’s hoping,” I confirm.

Ray joins us for dinner at the Crossing before going home to his wife and son and the rest of us turn in for the night. Saturday brings a whole new barrel of issues to face.

“Fucking hell,” I say to myself as I read the latest Google alerts on a certain asshole. I call Jason on his cell.

“Yes, sir?”

“Come to my study.”

“Yes, sir.” I end the call and scroll through Rossiter’s latest interview, if you can call it that. I don’t know if he just started talking shit in a bar or something or if he actually sat down with somebody, but this bit of news has pictures and everything. A few moments later, Jason comes into my office.

“Close the door,” I tell him. He closes the door behind him and crosses the space to my desk. I turn my laptop to face him. He looks stoically at the article where Rossiter details an altercation with Grey’s “goons” to keep him from the football game last night so that my wife and I could “suck face” all over the Jumbotron. This doesn’t look good at all and I need to act fast.

“Can he prove that anybody in my camp touched him?” I ask. Jason shakes his head.

“Nope,” he says. “You don’t want the details, but no, he can’t.” I nod.

“No, I don’t want details, but you’re certain that he can’t prove it—no hidden cameras, no forensic evidence…”

“Sir, he can’t prove it… at all. I can guarantee you, he knows why he was confronted, but he can’t tell you who confronted him.”

“Good.” I dial Allen.

“I take it this is about your friend, Judd,” he says when he answers the phone.

“You’re quick. First thing Monday morning,” I tell him. “I want a lawsuit filed against him for slander and for libel.”

“I had a feeling,” I hear him sigh. “Is he lying?”

“Do you know if he’s telling the truth?” I retort.

“I’m your attorney, Chris, I need to know,” he counters.

“If he was or wasn’t, I wouldn’t tell you over the phone.” He sighs.

“Does Jewel know?” I roll my eyes.

“Again, I’m not discussing this over the phone and I guess I should have just invited you to dinner. How’s five o’clock? Bring the husband.” He sighs again.

“Have my godchildren awake and ready for several sympathy hugs. I mean it.” He ends the call. I sigh.

“I need to tell my wife.” Jason nods and leaves the room. “Activate two-way communications.” Ding. “Locate Anastasia Grey.”

“Ana!” I hear water running.

“Mmm, what’s the likelihood I can join you?” The water stops running. Dammit.

“Nil, my love. I’m just getting out. What’s up?”

“How soon before you’re decent and bringing that sexy ass downstairs?”

“I don’t know, about an hour or so? I was going to grab the twins after I got dressed.”

“Let the nannies grab the twins. I need you to get dressed and come to the study. There’s something we need to discuss.” She’s quiet for a moment.

“Is everything okay?” she asks.

“We have a little development. It’s delicate, and I need you to come down so that I can bring you up to speed.”

“Understood. I’ll be down as soon as I’m dressed.” I know I had to choose my words wisely. The wrong choice of words would have led to a hundred questions. “Delicate” and “bring you up to speed” translated into “can’t tell you over the intercom” and “important business that you need to be aware of.”

“See you in a minute, baby,” I say, trying to keep the tone light. “End two-way communications.”

A few minutes later, Butterfly is sitting across from my desk, her mouth hanging open and eyes wide as I inform her of Rossiter’s accusations and what led to them.

“I don’t know what to say,” she says, standing from her seat and beginning to pace. “I mean, are these guerilla tactics really necessary?” I shrug.

“I got a restraining order against the guy, but I couldn’t get a gag order. We’re going to be doing a prime-time interview pretty soon. We can’t have him running off at the mouth. She looks at the picture again.

“Did they really rough him up that badly or is this picture retouched?” she asks.

“I don’t know,” I tell her. “I told them to send a message, not beat the hell out of him. Maybe this was the message.” She sighs.

“Well, of course I won’t say anything, but I don’t know how I feel about this,” she confesses.

“I just wanted you to know, baby,” I tell her. “Allen and James are coming over for dinner. I’m filing suit against him for libel and slander.”

“But it’s not libel or slander,” she protests. “You did have him attacked.”

“But he can’t prove it, and until he can, he can’t go spouting that stuff off on national media. It’s damaging to my reputation and it’s putting the safety of my family at risk.” She shakes her head.

“You’re treading a thin line, here, Christian,” she warns. I come from behind the desk and gently grasp both her arms.

“Baby, when it comes to my family, I will tread whatever line is necessary. This man sat in a room and subjected you to a very unprofessional and uncomfortable situation and when he was called to task on it, he blamed you for it. Then, he’s been running his mouth to anybody who’ll listen and the first opportunity he got to corner you in public, he did, and subsequently attacked your father. He didn’t know that your father was a Marine and was going to whip his ass. As far as he knew, he was attacking an elderly man in public, and he had no problem doing that and continues to blame you for his behavior. We have a restraining order against his ass and he still won’t shut the fuck up. Tell me again what fine line I’m treading?” She looks up at me with uncertain blue eyes.

“When you put it that way…” she says, her voice trailing off.

“Look, baby, I know you’re being faced with a huge moral dilemma right now. I only told you because I want you to be informed and not to be ambushed by information. You don’t have to carry the burden of the morality of it. I will. Okay?” She looks up at me and sighs.

“No, we’re in this together. If the big ape can’t keep his goddamn mouth shut and his fucking hands to himself, then guerilla tactics it is. My morality is just going to have to deal with it.” I kiss her on the forehead and pull her into an embrace.

“That’s why I love you,” I tell her. “Not all the time, but sometimes, drastic measures are necessary.”

“I know, I know,” she says. “I may have to take some drastic measures of my own with this licensing thing.” I pull her back and examine her face.

“What do you mean?” She sighs.

“This Gloria Felton bitch,” she hisses. “Nearly twenty letters and this cunt won’t budge! And I know that she’s behind this, because I can tell by the personal tone in the responses. One of them even hinted at refusing to do personal favors even for Washington’s elite.” I roll my eyes.

“You gotta be fucking kidding me.” I shake my head.

“I wish I were,” she says. “What this cow doesn’t understand is that she’s hurting the community trying to get back at us. I know that I can easily buy my way into just about anything, Christian, but we’re trying to legitimately make a positive mark on the community while she’s clearly pushing a personal agenda.”

“Well, you know you have unlimited resources at your disposal to push back,” I remind her. She nods.

“I know. I just… I truly want to exhaust every avenue before I go steamrolling into the capitol ‘Grey style.’ It’s so important that our credibility remain intact so that we can be taken seriously. I will not allow Helping Hands to become another one of those socialite, token charities with no value. Although Grace seems to be suffering from a bout of temporary brain damage, she’s put a lot of work into this organization and I won’t let that go to waste.” I kiss her forehead again.

“You’re a good woman and a good person… but you say the word and I can have an investigation crawling up her ass in seconds.” Butterfly shakes her head.

“That’s fuel to her fire, Christian,” Butterfly protests. “She’ll just go public with accusations of expected privilege. That’s why I’m sending the letters. I’m building a case. I have all the documentation that we’ve done every single thing she’s required of us. It’s more than enough proof that she’s not only being unreasonable, but she’s harassing us.” I nod.

“How much longer are you going to wait before you do something?”

“Not much longer. I’ve only got a couple more letters before I get to twenty, and she doesn’t even know that her snazzy responses are just adding to my paper trail. I’ve compiled so much documentation, it reads like a volume of encyclopedias. I have a file drawer with nothing but this shit—not a file, a file drawer.

“Damn.” This is worse than I thought.

“We should have been accredited months ago, Christian. It’s getting out of hand.”

“Well, why don’t we go and snuggle with two little bundles of happiness to try to put us in a better mood? We’ll have plenty to talk about when Allen gets here.”

“I’m all for that,” she says, putting her arm around my waist as we walk towards the door.


ANASTASIA

“So, you did have him assaulted,” Al asks. We’ve convened to the outdoor patio after dinner to get as many particulars as possible. In attendance are James, my husband, Jason and Chuck, myself, and Al, of course.

“I don’t know the particulars and I don’t need to know, but I requested a message be sent to him and apparently, one was,” Christian responds. Al looks up at Jason, who nods.

“He may not need to know, but I do,” Al says. “Everything you tell me is privileged, but I need to know what I’m walking into. We’re filing a suit against this man for telling the truth.”

“We’re filing a suit against this man for defamation of character. I or no one on my team has been arrested. He doesn’t have any proof,” Christian protests. “Let him press charges if he has any proof. Otherwise, he needs to shut the fuck up. He should have shut the fuck up in the first place or he wouldn’t have been in this predicament.” Allen turns back to Jason.

“No way whatsoever he can legally link it to us. He couldn’t even identify who attacked him,” Jason says.

“The whole cloak-and-dagger attack? Burn the clothes when you’re done?” Al describes.

“Pretty much,” Jason confirms.

“Too much information,” Christian protests.

“Chris, get over it,” Al retorts sharply. “You don’t get to enjoy the comfort of anonymity and plausible deniability while I’m getting my arms elbow-deep in shit because of something you ordered! I’ll keep your ass clean, but your hands are going to get dirty, Mr. Grey!”

My friend is getting angry. I shift uncomfortably in my seat. He turns his attention to me.

“Did you know about this?” he asks.

“I just found out this morning,” I confess.

“And?” he prompts.

“And what?”

“How do you feel about it?”

“Conflicted,” I admit. “Do I like the fact that we’ve effectively resorted to uncivilized, goon-like behavior? No, but the guy is a fucking asshole. He’s gone unchecked for a month now, and the longer he goes on, the more brazen he becomes. He wanted attention for that horrible tattoo on his arm—he got it, and now he’s blaming me for the attention. We get a restraining order against him to keep him from physically attacking us in public, but he can say whatever he wants to say without consequence? About me? About my family? My children? Don’t I have a big enough target on my back without this blowhard uselessly flapping his lips and making my existence more difficult?”

The patio has fallen silent while I go on a rant about the headache and inconvenience this asshole’s presence and commentary has brought to my life. I didn’t really realize it until now, but I hate this fucker and I don’t care if Christian and Jason and the rest of the team take turns putting their foot in his ass every day if it will make him shut the fuck up.

“I lied,” I say, folding my arms and crossing my legs. “I’m not conflicted. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and if that fuckturd keeps talking, I’ll go beat his ass myself!”

“Well,” Al says after a long silence, “I guess the Queen has spoken.”

“So… what? She doesn’t get a hard time, but I do?” my husband protests. I can see my best friend folding his arms in my peripheral.

You give her a hard time,” Al challenges. “Go ahead, I dare you. I double dare you.” I raise my eyes to my husband who turns his gaze to me and immediately raises his hands in surrender. “She didn’t ambush me; that’s why she’s not getting a hard time. I’m cuddling with my husband on what I think will be a lazy Saturday morning when I get a call from my esteemed leader telling me that I have a fire to put out from something that I’m discovering on one of the least reliable news sources in the entire state. And then the whole Mission Impossible of the situation tells me that it’s true and you’re sitting here like Sargent Schultz—‘I know nothing, I see nothing…’”

I burst into hysterical laughter as my friend imitates the character from Hogan’s Heroes who always turned a blind eye to bad activity when he was supposed to be guarding POWs. The situation was very much in need of levity at the time, but it very quickly takes on a serious tone again.

“My wife and I will most likely be doing an exposé interview within the next week or so,” Christian continues. “I need that suit filed first thing Monday morning and I need to be on somebody’s camera while coffee is brewing.” I roll my eyes.

“Good God, this is a fucking nightmare,” I lament.

“He’s got all weekend to plant his seeds,” Christian retorts. “On Monday morning, I’ve got to come back with something more than ‘nuh-uh!’”

“We’re doing a full-length, prime-time interview. The lawsuit will be filed, and the gag order will be in place—can’t we address it then?”

“No, we can’t,” Christian informs me. “My silence on this matter is the same as an admission of guilt. He gave me what I needed by going public with what happened. Somebody beat his ass—that’s obvious. He can’t prove that I had anything to do with it and he’s going on media and social media saying that I did it. The responses to his Twitter posts alone are enough to prove defamation of character. I got him! I’m going to let him yap all weekend long and give him enough rope to hang himself. Then, on Monday morning, I’m going to drop a bomb on his ass.”

“He’s right, Jewel,” Al says. “Judd has been nonstop on every medium that can support him, and people are coming back en masse calling Chris names and issuing threats. It’s nothing more than we seen before, but now, it’s directed. It’s someone who has had access to you guys. I may not be 100% in favor of these tactics, but the man is out of control. He caused his own problems, he keeps stirring the pot, and then he refuses to take responsibility for his actions. He’s got to be shut down one way or the other and while I would like for the methods to be completely legal…” He throws a look at my husband, “you gotta do what you gotta do.”

“You’re preaching to the choir here,” I say. “I’m just so tired of cameras. We were supposed to be doing one more interview…”

“Well, don’t worry. I’ll do this one alone. You can stay tucked safely in the comfort of our home and I’ll take care of the big bad wolf.”

“Sounds good to me,” I sigh.

*-*

We awake with the sun Monday morning, and Al is the first soul on the steps of the court house when the doors open. I’m preparing for a long day and just finishing my breakfast when a very flustered Marilyn comes marching into the dining room.

“What’s the matter?” I ask, my brow furrowed.

“We just got stopped by a cop on steroids!” she says, looking from me to Christian and back to me.

“We?” he asks.

“Me and Carol,” she says. “Well, Carol,” she corrects. “I was in front and she was following me. I look up and she’s slowing down, so I slow down, too. She pulls over, so I do, too. I open the door to go to her car and see what’s going on, and I see the cop walking up to her car. He sees me and bypasses Carol‘s car to get to mine. He tells me ‘Move along’ all snooty and shit. I’m like, ‘We’re together.’ He gets all nasty and tells me that I could be cited for obstruction, so I close the door, start my car, and pull forward about twenty feet. I’m on my phone calling Jason, because you guys told me not to go anywhere alone and before the call picks up, this asshole is banging on my window. I roll the window down and ask if he’s trying to break it. He demands to know who I’m calling and he’s screaming at me. So, I screamed back at him that I’m calling backup because he’s got my bodyguard detained and I’m not allowed to go anywhere without her and since he’s in no position to offer me a job for disobeying my employer, he should go on back there and do his, whatever it was. I don’t know what the fuck I said that scared the shit out of him, but he tells me to put the phone down and wait and that Carol would only be a minute. Then, he marches back to the car all ‘Bad Boys’ and a few minutes later, we’re back on our way. Before you ask, I think Carol got a ticket. I don’t know why, but she went to see Jason as soon as we got here.” Christian frowns.

“Were you speeding?” she twists her lips and turns to me.

“Bosslady, was I speeding?”

“Little Old Lady Caldwell here? No. She was probably going too slow.” Christian’s lip forms a thin line and he rubs his chin. “What is it?”

“Either I’m imagining things, or my people have been getting more tickets than usual,” he says. “It could be that time of the month or year and I’m just more in tune to it…”

“Boss…”

Jason interrupts Christian’s sentence with one word and a look. As my husband leaves the room with Jason, Marilyn takes his seat next to me and steals a piece of toast from the small stack on the table. She’s clearly bothered.

“What’s wrong?” I ask her.

“That cop,” she says, chomping on dry toast, “he was a real asshole. He was all, ‘move it along unless you want a ticket, too.’ At first, I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t stop because I was trying to be difficult, Ana. I stopped because I needed another guard. He was downright panic-stricken when he saw me on my phone. I don’t know what the hell he thought was going on, but he scared the shit out of me the way he was banging on my window! I was like, ‘what…’”

Christian comes back into the dining room, his expression intense.

“The ticket was for driving too slow… two miles too slow, and I’m not crazy. Five tickets in five days.” He pauses and pulls his phone from his pocket.

“A ticket a day?” I say, frowning. He texts someone and raises his head to me.

“No, five tickets in five days. Not a ticket a day. One on Wednesday, three on Friday, and one so far this morning. This is not coincidence. Something’s wrong.”

“What do you think it is?” I ask. He shakes his head and looks at his phone again.

“I have no idea. Jason’s looking into it. We haven’t gotten five tickets in a year, let alone five in five days.” He taps a text into his phone again.

“Could it be quotas like you said? Or a gung-ho cop? Mare said the cop that stopped them was really cocky.” Christian shrugs.

“I don’t know. We have to see what Jason finds.” He swipes his phone and puts it to his ear. “Yeah?” He knows who that is. He didn’t answer with his usual, gruff, “Grey.” His face tightens like he just got bad news. Oh fuck, what is it? “Ballsy son of a bitch, isn’t he?” Do I even know what this is about? Marilyn and I both look at Christian, waiting to see what’s going to happen next. “Right here,” he says, after a pause, then takes his phone from his ear and swipes the screen. “You’re on speaker.”

“Jewel?” my best friend’s voice calls from the phone. I frown.

“Yeah?” I reply confused.

“Good. I just want as much of an audience as I can get.” There’s a short pause before he says, “No, you don’t hold the phone.”

“Faggot fucker,” a gruff voice says on the other line.

“You figure that out all on your own, you ugly asshole?” Al retorts. “Now, say what the fuck you want to say!” There’s another short pause before the barking starts.

“Grey, I don’t give a fuck what you think you’re doing with this shit, but you’re not gonna get away with it!”

Judd. Judd fucking Loser. What the fuck?

“I see you’ve met my attorney,” my husband says casually. “This encounter can only mean one thing. He must be serving you your summons and gag order as a result of your weekend activities.”

“You’re fuckin’ full of shit, you fucking asshole!” Loser barks. “You send your guys to rough me up, then you try to sue me for tellin’ the world what the fuck you did?” Christian laughs.

“You should know that all of my calls are recorded, but I’ll tell you this. I don’t know what kind of trouble you got yourself into, but I do know that you’re good at blaming other people for it—just like you blamed my wife for you sitting in a place of business with a pussy in her face; and then, you blamed me for you sexually harassing women at your job. Now, you’re conveniently blaming my staff for some beatdown you got at the hands of God knows who for God knows what. What happened, Rossiter? Did you get caught climbing out of bed with somebody’s wife?”

“Ha ha, keep talking, asshole. If you think it was bad before, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet! I’m ‘bout to make your life a miserable fuckin’ hell—and I can get bodyguards, too!”

“You do that, Juddy-boy, but you should probably know that summons that my attorney served you for slander, libel, and defamation of character comes with a gag order. Violation of that gag order is contempt of court. Contempt of court carries fines and immediate jail time. Not only that, couple that with current and any future violation of a certain protection order, and you’re looking at definite jail time.” I hear silence on the line again.

“You think all that money gives you the right to do any fucking thing you want to anybody in the world, don’t you, you piece of shit?” he hisses. “You probably never made an honest dollar in your goddamn life!”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I’ve got you, asshole. I’ve got you right where I want you, and I’m going to ride your ass all the way to the end. You wanted to be famous, you got it. You picked the wrong piece of shit to fuck with and I’m about to show you exactly what an honest dollar can do.”

“That’s enough of that,” Al says. “You’ve got a press conference in an hour in front of Grey House.”

“Gimme that!” I hear Judd bark. I hear a really short scuffle, then a grunt, another grunt, a muffled buzzing noise, then a thump.

“I said you don’t hold the fucking phone!” my best friend’s voice says from a little far away. “One hour, Grey House,” he says again, closer to the phone.

“Oookay,” Christian says, uncertain. “What just happened?”

“That asshole just tried to take my phone,” Al replies.

“And what did you do?” I ask. “Did you hit him?”

“No,” he responds. “I tased him. I’m not trying to fight that gorilla, but I’m leaving before he gets up.”

“Good idea,” Christian says. “I’ll see you at the office. Drive carefully.”

“I always do,” Al says.

“No. Really. Drive carefully.” Al is outside in the open air now.

“Any particular reason? Something I should know?”

“I’ll tell you when I see you. Just drive carefully.”

“Okay,” Al says before he ends the call. Christian looks at his phone.

“No doubt it’ll be live,” he says, before bending down to kiss me. “Just scan the channels. I’m sure you’ll see it.”

“I’m sure I will, too,” I sigh.

*-*

Somewhere around the 11:00 hour, Keri, Gail, and I are all in the family room with the twins in tow, all six televisions tuned in to news programs and channels—local and national. Marilyn and Chuck are also in attendance—Marilyn on her tablet and Chuck on his Mac, looking for possible webcasts.

“It’s like waiting for the announcement for nuclear war,” Gail says, her voice low. I shake my head.

“Well, it is a declaration of war, so to speak,” I tell her. “This thing has gotten way out of hand. I have no idea what this guy is trying to prove. What was the purpose of his gesture in the first place? All this just to get a rise out of me? And once he saw that this stagecoach was beginning to run out of control, something didn’t click in his head that he should probably cease and desist? What drives you to make the conscious decision to antagonize the wife of the richest man in the state? One of the richest men in the country? The world? What is this exercise all about?”

“Maybe he was hoping to push Christian to the point where he could get some kind of payout from him,” Gail says.

“Yeah,” Marilyn chimes in, “and instead, he finds himself on the receiving end of a lawsuit. How does that feel, Skippy?”

“Showtime.” Chuck’s voice causes a silence to fall over the room and our heads all rise to the monitor in front of us. Chuck subsequently switches the other monitors not showing the headline to the same news channel—the headline being, “Christian Grey Responds to Judd Rossiter’s Allegations of Assault.” It must not be on the wire yet that he has filed a lawsuit against the asshole. Hold on to your pants, America.

There’s a picture of the front doors of Grey House, as I’m certain that my husband plans to escape inside once he’s made his statement to the press. A cluster of reporters stand around what looks to be a makeshift area for the press release. There’s no podium or anything—just a clear space with a few microphones on stands in a small half circle forming a small barrier. Different reporters are giving commentary on the different stations as we wait for my husband to immerge from wherever he plans to immerge and, of course, speculation is running wild about what he plans to say—from a full confession of attacking the asshole to an independent action on the part of someone on his security team with Christian disavowing any knowledge of the action. Nothing along the lines of, “Wasn’t me.” Boy, are they in for a surprise.

I’m nearly ready to piss my pants waiting for him to get on with this thing, but I’m certain that he’s getting some briefing and instructions from Vee. I know that without it, my husband is very likely to get on camera and say, “Fuck you, and fuck you, oh, and fuck you, too. I’ll see you all in court.” Vee is trying to help him say that a little more diplomatically… you know, without alienating the whole of Washington and every member of the press.

After what feels like a damn eternity, my husband finally exits the glass doors of Grey House along with his attorney and several members of his security staff. It looks like he’s changed clothes from what he was wearing when he left this morning. He’s now wearing a solid black suit tailored to fit him like he was sewn into it and a crisp, white linen shirt and a charcoal tie when at first, he was wearing a gray suit with a baby blue tie. Even his hair is tamer than I’ve ever seen it in my life. Part of me is asking, why did he change? The other part of me can clearly see the image he wants to portray, because that look is so sharp that he can cut someone with that suit.

His gaze is fixed and he doesn’t make eye contact with anyone as he makes his way to the cluster of microphones. He holds an unusually large manila envelope in his hand and stands silently, waiting for the crowd to hush as if he’s about to reveal the cure for cancer. When they do, he turns his attention to the envelope and reveals its contents. Cameras flash madly, but only for a second or two. My eyes widen and my mouth gapes and Gail gasps.

“Wahs datta pum-pum?” Keri asks, pointing at the screen. Chuck’s brow is furrowed as he clearly can’t believe what he just saw.

“Yep,” he says, “that was a pum-pum.” My husband just revealed a super-sized picture of Judd Rossiter’s bicep vagina tattoo. I don’t know whether to be impressed or horrified.

“Did you get it?” he asks the now silent crowd. “Did you see it or did you get a chance to blur that? I know that most of you are live. Those of you present, get a good look at it. Do you find it offensive that I have the audacity flash this on television? First thing in the morning while women and small children could be watching? Ladies in attendance, get a good at it. Should I put it away? Should I be considerate of your sensitivities of this display? I should be ashamed of myself for showing you this, right? I should have the decency to consider my audience before I display something like this, right?” He hands the photo to Allen who puts it back inside the envelope.

“Well, maybe one of you in attendance can explain to me why my wife doesn’t deserve that same respect. This entire thing—this whole three-ring circus—is because that is what stared her in the face in close proximity for two hours! I don’t know what he was trying to prove. I don’t know if he thought it was cute. I don’t know if he thought it was funny, but we’re just overreacting, right? It’s her money, right? It’s the fact that she’s wealthy—she’s supposed to get special treatment. Who is she to believe that she shouldn’t have to sit and look at a bare vagina staring at her on a man’s arm? She’s nobody special, right? How dare she think she deserves the common, basic respect of any other woman in the city!”

His undertone indicates that he’s getting a little agitated even though he maintains a statue-like cool. I should have gone in with him.

“Yet, many of you watching think that she should have just sat there and said nothing; that it’s her sense of privilege that made her speak up about the lewd display to which she was being subjected and not the fact that, as a lady, she didn’t deserve that; that even now, we should just shut up and let this man continue to slander and scandalize us every chance he gets simply because he refuses to take responsibility for his unprofessional and explicit behavior.

“You go on social media hiding behind screen names and profiles spouting threats, sanctimonious judgments, and pseudo-opinions about something you know absolutely nothing about, thinking that a dollar soothes all our ills and since we have so much money, we feel no pain—that we don’t feel the daggers that are thrown at us every single day by people who wish us harm simply because of who. We. Are.

“You praise this bully, this predator, this uncouth goon that you should want to keep far, far away from your wives, daughters and sisters. You fuel his fire and encourage his bad behavior, contributing to the theory that because he’s an everyday citizen he should be able to just flap his trap as much as he wants to and we rich folk should just sit back and roll around in our barrels of money and be happy with ourselves and shut the hell up. Well I say no. I say that we deserve to be treated like human beings no matter how many zeros are behind our net worth.

“How many of you have wives? How many of you would stand by and allow your wife to be disrespected, to be treated like a common piece of trash? Would you let some goon sit with this in your wife’s face for hours? How about you? Would you? How about you?”

He points to various people in the crowd as he asks each question.

“I didn’t think so… But I guess I should have, huh? If I had I wouldn’t be standing here accused of attacking some idiot over the weekend. I wish I had attacked him. I wish I could stand here and tell you that had the privilege of personally giving him those black and blue bruises he’s sporting right now for what he did to my wife and for what he continues to do to my family; for what he did to my father-in-law when he was just trying to enjoy a baseball game with his daughter; for the hundreds of death threats on the lives of my children that are being filtered through my office, my emails, my business website; for just generally being a pain in the ass… yes, I wish it was me! But no, I stand here being blamed for something I didn’t even get the pleasure of doing.”

Technically, it’s not a lie. He gave the order, but he didn’t touch him. My husband takes a breath to compose himself and continues.

“Upon discovering that I was being accused of attacking the man who has been the bane of my family’s existence for the last month, my legal team spent the weekend gathering necessary evidence and drafting legal documentation to file suit against Mr. Rossiter. This morning, a summons has been served on Judd Rossiter that I, my family, and my company are filing a lawsuit against him for slander, libel, and defamation of character for an undisclosed amount. A gag order has also been issued and served since this is now an open and ongoing case, and parties will be added to the lawsuit as evidence continues to be gathered—which means either he shuts his mouth or he’ll be in litigation for eternity!” He puts emphasis on the last word. Someone from the crowd just has to shoot a question at him before he gets a chance to say anything else.

“Mr. Grey, Mr. Rossiter never said you attacked him. He said that you had some of your ‘goons’ attack him. What do you say to that?” Christian clears his throat.

“Mr. Rossiter implicated me in his attack. And as a result, my children are being threatened. My family’s lives are in danger now because of what he’s saying, so please forgive me if I fail to get all the details exactly right, Mr. Reporter,” he retorts sarcastically.

“I’m sorry that my facts aren’t exactly up to par as you feel they should be, but I was having breakfast with my wife and my two infant children when I learned on a podcast on Saturday morning that I apparently attacked this man. I’m in the process of dealing with my own family catastrophes when I discover that apparently, I’m at the basis of somebody else’s! Maybe Mr. Rossiter should identify which of my ‘goons attacked’ him so that I can include them in the lawsuit!”

My husband’s eyes are piercing now and he has that look that dares another soul to speak. Another soul does not… yet.

“I’ve already filed a restraining order against this man because he attacked my father-in-law at a baseball game, and now this? I don’t know he’s pissed off now, but all of his woes don’t come at the hands of ‘Grey.’ I’m a businessman, not a common thug, and his defamatory remarks are a direct blow to my character and to my business image and I won’t stand for it. It’s one thing when he’s standing on a self-constructed, imaginary soapbox, spouting ill-conceived opinions about difficulties brought on by his own bad behavior. It’s quite another when he tears an upstanding citizen’s character down by accusing him of illegal activity with absolutely no proof.”

“But isn’t it true that you have an outstanding conviction against you for assault, Mr. Grey?” another reporter states proudly, like he’s pulled some kind of coup.

“Yes,” Christian replies without hesitation. “It’s true that two years ago, I assaulted the drunk driver who ran into my car, pushing me into oncoming traffic and nearly costing me my life. Yes, an officer was present, I was taken into custody, and required to do community service and take anger management classes. That’s a matter of public record.”

Just like that, Mr. Coup’s sails has been deflated.

“So, you’re saying that there’s no truth to Rossiter’s statements that you had him assaulted to shut him up?” someone else asks.

“I’m saying that if he has any proof whatsoever that I or anyone in my camp put their hands on him besides the incident at the baseball game when my father-in-law was defending himself and my team was protecting my wife, then he needs to produce it and it better be in court and not in the media, because I’m going to sue him so hard and so long that if he ejaculates into a condom, his sperm better have representation.”

Oh… that was pretty.

“My infant children are receiving death threats because he got into a barroom brawl or a lover’s quarrel or whatever trouble his big mouth got him into this weekend and now, he’s trying to blame it on me! Exactly how many enemies has this man made? He’s got sexual harassment charges crawling out of the woodwork, and that’s my fault, too, I hear. Apparently, I found various women in the Seattle area and planted them at his job right at the precise moment to say that he harassed, accosted, or acted inappropriately with them. Oh, I must have held him down while he got that tattoo of a woman’s crotch on his arm, too. That was really classy. This is absolutely absurd, and any medium, and news outlet, any high blog that chooses to spread this garbage should be ashamed of themselves, and from this moment on, I have a full legal team and a full research staff dedicated to nothing but sniffing out the libelous and slanderous perpetuation of this crap and taking it straight to litigation. I’ve got money to burn, and by the time I’ve dragged every rag through court for infringing on my family’s peace and safety this way, I will at least feel somewhat vindicated for our pain and suffering even if I lose!”

And there’s Papa Bear Grey again. The crowd falls silent as he marches away from the cluster of microphones, running his hand through his once-neatly-coifed hair, his restraint clearly holding on by a thread. Jason is by his side, shielding him from any other questions as it’s clear that if anyone comes near him, he’s going to snap. I want to go to him, but I know the paparazzi are everywhere and I wouldn’t get to the bridge, let alone to the front door of Grey House.

We all sit there silently for a moment as the reporters on the television clamor to try to get a final question in to my husband. I’m looking for my phone, but can’t seem to remember where I put it. He looked like he was going to blow any second. I know that look. He’s going to break something. He’s going to break something soon. I need to talk to him, to try to calm him… where the fuck is…

Gail slams my phone into my hand from wherever it was hiding and I quickly press the speed dial for my husband’s number. It seems to take forever to connect. The line finally picks up, but he doesn’t say anything.

“Breathe, baby,” I say.

“I can’t come home right now,” he growls. I know what he’s saying in that one sentence.

“I know,” I reply.

“There’s a lot to do,” he hisses.

“I know, baby,” I say, trying to soothe him.

“I… it… FU…” and the line goes dead. I sigh heavily. I already know what’s happened. Most likely, he’s in the elevator, and his phone has met the wall and is now on the floor in pieces. He had to break something… it was the phone. I sit there staring at my phone, waiting for it to ring. A text from Jason, something. Someone tell me that he’s okay.

It takes forever… fifteen infernal fucking minutes.

**He needs to settle. Andrea has already ordered another phone. It’ll be here by the end of business today. I’ll keep you posted. **

It’s from Jason. I have no idea what the hell was happening that it took him fifteen fucking minutes to text me. I want to ask a hundred questions, but I know that it won’t do any good, so I stick to a one-word response.

**Okay. **


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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

Raising Grey: Chapter 19—So Much For Normal…

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 19—So Much For Normal…

ANASTASIA

I don’t know what the big deal is about leaving us the fuck alone. Yes, I’m still looking for a little bit of normal in a whole lot of crazy. Yet, somebody somewhere feels like I’m not entitled to that.

Judd Loser went on a total tirade in the days after the Pacific interview. I addressed everything he could possibly throw at me, so every time he tried to cut me down or retort, they’d just throw a sound bite at him from the interview. It just made him angrier and what’s worse—for him, anyway—even more women came out with sexual harassment claims. One woman at his old job even went past sexual harassment and said he actual physically pushed himself on her. There was no sexual act or penetration, but it was enough to shed a really bad light on the current allegations and may result in some sort of criminal investigation.

There’s been no peace this week. Radio and local television shows are now trying to get me to make appearances, and I know that all they want is to rile me up over Judd in hopes of getting a bad reaction from me. As a result, I’m refusing any new appearances and only agree to do the three that I already had scheduled over the next two weeks with strict instructions that there would be no addressing the Judd Rossiter issue.

Al has kept a close eye on mine and Daddy’s adoption petition and so far, there’s been nothing from Nevada. I know that the court won’t contact Carla, but hell, there’s just no telling what might happen between now and the time that everything becomes legal. I’ve come to hope for the best, but expect the worse in light of everything that has happened to me in my life. It doesn’t matter, though. I don’t care what my mother does; this adoption is going through. Daddy will be my legal father and that’s that.

I’m doing my best to ignore Judd Loser for the weekend. Any time I see his name in the news or someone brings him up in conversation, I ignore it, change the channel, go to another website, or change the subject. In other news, Helping Hands receives some kind of form-letter-cookie-cutter response from the licensing board about the letters that I’ve been sending them—something about the process of approval or whatever the case may be. In response, I send two more letters on Friday with different wording, but the same questions… what’s the damn hold up?

Sunday is mine and Daddy’s big date—behind the dugout at the Mariners game versus the White Sox. Oh, my Daddy and his baseball. He gets quite passionate when his team is slacking, and quite colorful, too. If I wasn’t partially raised with a sailor, I’d be blushing the entire time.

“I’m gonna freeze with that breeze! Hit somethin’ for Christ’s sake!”
“You asshole! The plate hasn’t moved in 100 years and you still can’t find it!”
“Hey Morse, they killed a cow to make that glove! You could at least try to use it!”
“The ball is behind you, fuckhead!!!”

Even the bullpen isn’t safe…

“Shut up! You been sittin’ on that bench for so long, you should have enough splinters to make your own goddamn bat.”
“Yeah, I bet it’s hard sittin’ around for nine innings and twelve games. Stand up and stretch your legs.”

The best one is after a strikeout while gesturing to his torso…

“Just in case you forgot, when the ball comes in this area, you swing!”

It’s really fun to just let loose with Daddy at the game. I can understand his frustration, though. We’re in the fifth inning and the only scoring in the whole game was when a rookie hit a line drive down to left field with bases loaded, allowing the Mariners to score three runs. Thank God it was our team that scored or Daddy would have had a conniption. Just before the bottom of the sixth, I have to use the restroom, but I’m almost afraid to leave Daddy on his own. I nod to Chuck sitting a few rows behind us and he gets up to follow me to the ladies’ room, signaling Ben and Chance to keep an eye on Daddy.

Of course, there’s a line at the ladies’ room and I have to sing songs and think of ridiculous things to distract myself so that I don’t pee on myself. It was a close call, but I made it. After I wash my hands and join Chuck to return to our seats, I swear that I see Judd Loser get a beer at one of the stands, but when I look again, the guy is gone. I assume that I must have imagined it since the asshole seems to be flooding my conscious and my subconscious mind and just go back to my seat.

Of course, I get there just in time to miss the same newcomer knocking in another run for the Mariners. I thought this would make Daddy happy—his team is winning! Instead, he has more heckles for the seasoned players…

“Hey Seagar, rough night? The newbie’s makin’ you look bad.”
“Hey Miller, that’s a $200 bat. If you’re not gonna use it, can I have it?”

I’m in pain with laughter by the end of the game and very happy that the only four runs made possible by a newcomer name Jackson was enough to give us the win. The final score—Mariners, four, White Sox, two.

We stop at the souvenir shop on our way out and I can’t help but buy an 18” Mariners souvenir bat to give to Daddy after the crack he made to Miller. Just as I’m paying for my wares and I’m about to leave, I hear a voice over my right shoulder that I don’t recognize, but it still gives me a fucking chill.

“Wanna see my tattoo?”

I whip around right into the face of Judd Rossiter. I fucking knew it was him at the beer stand. Shit. I gotta get out of here. I turn and look for Daddy, anxious to get away from this asshole as quickly as possible.

“What’s your hurry, doll? That ass looks a whole lot better in those jeans than it did in that get-up you were wearing before!”

Do not engage. Do. Not. Engage. Where the fuck is Daddy?

“Not so big and bad with no mic shoved in your face, huh?”

Oh, this is bad and it’s only going to get worse. Just when I’m getting desperate to find my father, I run right into him.

“Annie! What’s the matter?” he asks, holding my arms.

“We have to go—now, Dad,” I say quietly.

“Aw, Annie, that’s so cute!” Loser taunts. My father raises his eyes to Loser, clearly not amused.

“Something I can do for you?” Daddy says coldly. Oh, shit. This will not end well.

“What happened to your billionaire?” Loser hisses. I can tell he’s had a few beers. “You like ‘em older now? He’s old enough to be your father.” Daddy moves me behind him.

“That’s because I am,” Daddy growls. Loser laughs loudly, drawing attention to himself.

“You should’ve asked for a blood test there, Pops! She looks nothing like you!” His two friends laugh heartily at his tasteless joke.

“Daddy, let’s just go, please?” I beg.

“I make it a point not to allow anybody to chase me from anywhere,” Daddy says, facing off with Judd Loser. He’s taller, bigger, younger, and drunker than my father. Daddy’s going to get hurt.

“Daddy, it’s fine. He’s not worth it, please, Daddy…”

“Fuck you, bitch!” he hisses. “Listen to your bitch daughter and leave, Daddy…” Judd Loser is poking my father in his chest, which infuriates me, but immediately sets off the Marine in my father. Daddy moves so quickly that I don’t even see what he does. I think he grabs Loser’s finger, because the next thing I know, Loser is kind of bent over going in the same direction as his hand, yowling in pain. Once Daddy releases his hand, he recovers quickly and comes back at my father with a clenched right fist.

… And all hell breaks loose.

I don’t know what exactly is going on, but all I can see are my father’s fists flying and two men about to jump him from behind. I have immediate flashbacks of the fight in Anguilla and the drunks jumping my husband in the barfight… and I have a bat in my hand that’s half a meter long. It’s about to go upside somebody’s head.

“Get away from my Daddy!” I scream, pulling the bat back for action. A hand catches my wrist before I’m able to swing.

“Whoa! Settle down, killer! We got this!”

I turn around to see Chance disarming me while Ben and Chuck quickly subdue the two men that were about to attack my father. Daddy has beaten Loser Boy down to the floor and has him face down on the concrete. One hand is holding his neck down so that he can’t move his head. The other hand has Loser’s arm bent in some kind of really uncomfortable-looking submission hold behind him while Daddy’s knee is pressed firmly in the small of his back.

I breathe a sigh of dread as the whole thing plays out before me. Chuck and Ben have produced cuffs from I don’t know where. Daddy doesn’t need them. Somebody’s calling the cops. Everybody here will be detained until they get to the bottom of what happened. In the meantime, Loser is still trying to get from under my father.

“Get off me, you old fuck!” he demands. “You’re hurtin’ my goddamn arm! Get the fuck off me!”

“Son, the more you fight, the more it’s gonna hurt. Wait for the cops,” Daddy says calmly.

“I’m gonna fucking sue you!” he threatens, his voice muffled since his cheek is pressed into the concrete.

“Good luck with that,” Daddy says calmly. “You’ll have to wait until after I press assault charges against you. There are witnesses and surveillance cameras that saw you poking me in the chest and taking a swing at me.” I roll my eyes and take out my phone.

“Ana! What is it?” Vee’s voice is frantic. It should be. I’m calling her on a Sunday.

“Vee, call Al, call my husband. We have a situation.”

“Why did you call me before you called them?” she asks horrified.

“Because the press is everywhere, and they’re going to see it first, so he might see it live.” Vee sighs.

“Give it to me…”

*-*

I’m sitting on the same bench in the same spot at police headquarters that I sat when we came to get Sophie the night that Shalane was arrested. I want to just bury my head in a hole and disappear. I keep my face covered since the sea of paparazzi outside have a bird’s eye view right into the precinct doors. It’s not hard to do since I’m so sick with anguish that my dad is back there in a cell with that asshole that I can’t lift my head anyway.

A commotion at the door causes me to look up and I see an angel burst through the crowd.

Christian. Please hold me. I feel like I’m going to die.

I can’t even find the strength to stand when he walks into the door. Sensing my weakness, he strides quickly over to me and squats down to me, gathering me in his arms. I can’t even speak. I just cling to him like life itself and lay my head on his shoulder, trying to find a way to cope with all this bullshit. My father’s in a cell along with Chuck and Ben and this asshole and his drunk friends who accosted us at the ballgame. A normal day out with my dad has turned into an utter fucking nightmare.

“We had such a great time,” I mutter into Christian’s shoulder. “Daddy was a total nut, and the Mariners won.”

“I know, baby,” Christian says softly, caressing my back and hair.

“He made a crack at Miller about the bat. I just wanted to get him a bat…” My voice is shaking.

“Sssshh,” he soothes. “This is not your fault…”

“It’s totally my fault,” I weep. “If I had kept my mouth shut in the first place, none of this would have happened!”

“I’m not going to even address everything wrong with that statement,” Christian says. “Let’s just get Ray and the guys out of here.” I nod into his shoulder and he reaches into his jacket and retrieves his ever-present handkerchief. He lifts my head and gently dries the tears from my cheek. Even though I’m already crying, I feel the adrenaline rushing through me at a back-breaking speed. I can hear my blood rushing through my ears. It’s sounds like a baby’s heartbeat and just as fast…

Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh!

I don’t know how much longer I sit on that bench while Christian and Chance and Al talk to whomever they talk to over and over and over. Christian had Marilyn call Mandy, but we insisted… somebody insisted… that she stay with Harry while we straighten things out. I’m not weeping anymore, but the tears haven’t stopped falling. And the blood hasn’t stopped rushing.

Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh!

I put both hands on my forehead in pure frustration. Yet another open case in the life of Anastasia Grey. Dear God, will I live to see a year without a courtroom?

“This is getting ridiculous! Should I have just let the guy sit there with the pussy in my face?” I ask aloud to no one in particular. I want to scream. This whole thing is so fucking ridiculous. He was clearly trying to antagonize me and I called him on it, and somehow, I’m the bad guy?

The sun has gone down… and the two guys who tried to jump my father from behind are released. They walk right pass me. They don’t even look over at me. I really don’t think they even know who I am. I wonder how it feels spending Sunday afternoon in jail simply because your friend is a classless, arrogant, uncouth piece of…

“Sunflower?”

I think I get whiplash snapping my neck in the direction of my childhood nickname. The only other time I remember my father looking this good to me was when he showed up in the hospital after the Green Valley beating. My body is moving before my brain and I only remember being on the bench, then being in his arms, squeezing him for dear life and saying his name over and over again.

Daddy… Daddy… Daddy… Daddy… Daddy… Daddy… Daddy…

“It’s okay, Sunflower,” he says into my hair. “I’m okay.”

“I’m sorry, Daddy,” I say softly, my voice barely audible.

“No,” he replies, just as softly. “That blowhard ran his mouth the entire time he was in the cell. There’s no way I’m letting you take responsibility for that. He’s a real piece of work and my only regret is that I didn’t break his jaw so he would shut the hell up.”

“Everybody’s out now,” I hear my husband say. I release my grip on Daddy to look over at him.

“Everybody?” Daddy asks.

“Yes, everybody, so let’s make it quick.” I take the hint and try to walk to the door, but my head starts swimming and I feel like shit. I’ve been crying for hours and the whoosh, whoosh, whoosh has only just now started to calm. Daddy’s on one side of me in a moment and my husband is on the other. Trying to look as normal as possible—as normal as two large men can look holding up small woman—we head for the door.

The flashes light up the night like the first dawn of morning and the questions fly like crazy as Daddy and Christian maneuver me down the stairs and to a waiting Audi. Daddy gets in on the street side of the car while Christian helps me into the back-passenger seat. Just as I sit my butt down on the leather, I hear that loudmouthed fucker projecting from the top of the precinct stairs.

“That bitch is trying to ruin my life! Just because she can’t take a picture of a pussy!”

Christian’s neck jerks in the direction of the voice and before I have the chance to say a word, he has put me in the car, closed the door, and is now running back to the stairs… towards that horse’s ass. The crowd splits immediately, leaving a straight path right to Judd Loser. Fuck! You won’t let us out of the hospital when the babies are born, but you’ll make a fucking pathway for Christian to get up there and kill the guy!

In the mayhem with cameras flashing, I can see a fight ensue in my mind’s eye, one or both men being beaten to a pulp in front of the police station, and my three-second funnel produces the inevitable outcome.

Christian spends the night in jail.

I could barely stomach the thought of my father in a holding cell without vomiting all over the precinct floor, but the idea of Christian doing time is more than I can handle.

The tears start before I can stop them. I can’t take this shit anymore. I have to think fast before my husband finds himself with another assault charge. I leap out of the car with clenched fists. It’s time for another sacrificial lamb.

Me.

“I have had enough of this shit! Christian, get in the goddamn car!”

My sobbing, screaming voice pierces over every sound in what seems like a 50-mile-radius and all eyes are on me… including my stunned husband’s. Don’t lose your nerve now, Steele… um, Grey.

“Nooooooooooooooowwww!” I scream through my tears, shaking my fists like a toddler having an uncontrollable temper tantrum. My husband is horrified and everyone else is frozen in place until…

“Yeah, Christian, get in the goddamn car…” he says in a taunting voice. Christian turns his gaze back to Judd Loser, but before he can move or speak, one of the reporters close to him says,

“You’re a real asshole, you know that?”

I’m almost shocked that someone came to my defense, and like lemmings often do, the others fall in line behind him, criticizing Judd Loser and snapping pictures of his shocked face, but I don’t have a chance to enjoy it. The adrenaline is getting the best of me and I feel myself going down. I don’t know who catches me. All I know is that I see flashing cameras, I feel strong arms, then muffled sounds, then darkness.

*-*

“There she is,” he says softly. I’m cradled in my husband’s arms in the back seat of the slowest moving Audi on the bridge. My head is fuzzy and my vision is blurred, but I feel him stroking my cheek and kissing my temple… and I feel like there are leprechauns tapdancing on my skull.

“Wha…” The word is a breathy sound, and that’s pretty much all I can muster.

“I didn’t panic,” he says. “I remembered… crying or fainting.”

I think I nod, glad that he didn’t waste the rest of the night rushing me to the hospital just to hear that I had one of my adrenaline fainting spells. It’s been a really rough, very emotional, extremely fucked-up day. It’s a wonder that all I did was cry and faint. I wouldn’t have been surprised had I given birth to a unicorn on the precinct stairs. That would have given the press something to talk about.

The press… fuck!

I think I’m going to hide in the mansion for a few weeks. As if reading my thoughts, my husband quickly addresses the issue.

“I think we moved too fast for them to get pictures of you,” he says. “They were too busy taking pictures of the asshole.”

I don’t know what I do after that… I’m too damn tired…

Christian and I had the same idea Monday morning… no work for me. I’m certain the paps are camped at the end of the driveway and I just can’t deal with it today. I won’t stay in bed all day, though, although I’m certain that my husband would like to convince me otherwise.

“You’ll see it anyway, so you might as well see it now,” he says as I join him for breakfast in the dining room. He hands me the paper and who do I see on the front of the local page.

Judd Rossiter. What bullshit is he spewing now?

The headline reads, A Real A**hole. Priceless! This I gotta see…

A stunned Judd Rossiter stood at the top of the stairs in front of the doorway of police headquarters yesterday after a reporter called him out for unseemly behavior. Rossiter allegedly assaulted Raymond Steele—local small-businessman and stepfather of Anastasia Steele-Grey—at the gift shop of Safeco Field after the Mariners game. Rossiter, Steele, two members of Grey’s security team and two other unknown men were all detained at police headquarters after the incident. Pictures below depict a clearly distraught Anastasia waiting at the precinct for her stepfather along with a very caring Christian Grey trying to calm her.

The paps had a field day with the cameras yesterday. The pictures could have told the story without any of the narrative.

Me with my hands over my face sitting on the bench lamenting the entire situation.
Christian squatting in front of me holding me protectively in his arms.
Christian wiping my tears as I sob.
Daddy on one side of me and Christian on the other side, both of them basically holding me up as we leave the precinct.
A not-so-flattering picture of Rossiter taunting us from the top of the precinct stairs—they didn’t even bother to blur out his horrible tattoo.
My husband rushing the stairs.
Me with my mouth open, fists clenched, and screaming—also a very un-flattering picture.
A stunned Rossiter staring into the camera.
Christian carrying me, my head on my husband’s shoulder, my face shielded.

How did he get to me so fast? He was easily half-way up those stairs when I started screaming at him?

Rossiter was charged with assault while the other men face no charges. All men involved were released late last night. Rossiter continued to taunt the Greys after his release, prompting Christian to charge him on the stairs of the precinct. Anastasia clearly suffered some kind of breakdown, screaming for her husband to “get in the g**d**m car” before he tore Rossiter to shreds. Rossiter continued his taunting, prompting a freelance reporter on the stairs to call him out as a genuine donkey’s poop chute. Anastasia lost consciousness after her screaming fit and can be seen here once again cradled protectively in her husband’s arms before the Steeles and the Greys are whisked away in a fleet of Audis, leaving Rossiter to face the angry press alone.

Rossiter and Steele-Grey have an ongoing feud about Rossiter’s inappropriate behavior during a live taping of “Rapping with Rob,” and the subsequent fallout. So far, a total of ten women have come forth with allegations of lewd and lascivious behavior on Rossiter’s part—a situation for which he continues to hold Steele-Grey responsible as she dared to speak up about his X-rated tattoo.

There’s a close-up of the same picture of him at the top of the stairs with a zoom-in of that disgusting tattoo. The photographer—or the paper—had the decency to blur out the woman’s clit, but the rest of it is in grand detail. So, one can easily imagine what the entire thing looks like without even seeing it.

Rossiter tried to defend himself, taking another moment in the spotlight to degrade the Greys and their relationship, but to no avail. For the most part, he just came off as a drunken, cursing buffoon defaming a distraught woman for calling him out on bad behavior. Exactly how many beers did you have at Safeco Field, Judd?

I bet his inebriation is going to be my fault, too.

I fold the paper closed and place it on the table, not even bothering to finish reading the story. I pick up my cell phone and dial Daddy’s number. I’m so hurt and humiliated that he had to be brought into this. The phone is answered on the first ring.

“Hello?” What the fuck? Who the…? Oh, shit.

“Brian?”


CHRISTIAN

We could barely get out of the driveway with the paps blocking the street. I thought I’d get used to this shit after a while, but I have to admit that I was falling blissfully into my wife’s quest for “normal.” So, I’m resenting the presence of the noisy press more now than I ever have before.

“So, when did he get into town?” I ask Alex during the drive to the office.

“As near as I can tell, yesterday evening. It looks like Mandy may have called him once she found out that Ray had been arrested.”

It appears that our friend, Brian Cholometes, is in the Seattle area visiting Ray and Amanda. I can’t say that I blame him. His best friend was being detained at police headquarters, but I still don’t fucking trust the guy. We’ve been keeping an eye on him and his Ana-look-alike girlfriend, but nothing has given us cause for concern… until now.

I just don’t like him being here.

“What’s he been doing since he’s been here?” I ask.

“Nothing that gives immediate cause for concern,” Alex says. “He got in last night and went straight to the Steeles’ home. He stayed there until Ray was released, and then he left about an hour after Ray returned home and went to the Fairmont. He’s at Ray’s office right now. I would just say he’s checking on his friend and he’s no cause for us to be worried, but I know if he’s here and you don’t know, somebody’s head is going to roll.”

He’s right about that shit.

“Let’s hope that’s all it is. Keep your eye on him,” I say. “Is she with him?”

He knows who I mean… Colostomy’s Ana look-alike.

“No,” Alex says, “Not that we can tell.” That means that either he doesn’t plan on staying long or that he’s hoping to get a glimpse of Ana.

“Just keep your eye on him,” I reiterate. Out of respect for my father-in-law and my wife, I will not engage, but I need to know if he tries to. At that point, all bets are off. My next call is to Allen.

“I’m on my way into the office. I want a restraining order on Judd Rossiter. I don’t want him to be able to come anywhere near my wife, me, or any of her family.”

“Do you really think that’s necessary?” Allen protests. “After they massacred him in the news, I don’t think he wants to see any of you guys any time soon.”

“That man attacked my wife and her father in a public ballpark. He continued to harass and taunt us on the stairs of the police station in front of the press after he had been charged with assault. I don’t know if he’s desperate, unstable, or just plain stupid, but whichever it is, you’re getting a restraining order for his protection. I’m ordering my security to shoot to kill if he comes anywhere near my wife or our family again. Hell, I’ll shoot him myself!” Allen sigh.

“’Nuff said. I’m on it,” he says, before we end the call. “Cholometes is in town,” I say to Jason. He sighs.

“Yeah, I got the text this morning,” he replies.

“How soon before he speaks to Butterfly? Any bets?” Jason shakes his head.

“I’ll give it until noon,” he says while pulling into the parking garage at Grey House.

*-*

“Did you know that Brian is here?” my wife says when I call to check on her. I look at my watch. Ten thirty. He didn’t even make it to noon.

“Yeah, I found out on the ride in,” I reply. “How did you discover?”

“I called Daddy’s office and he answered,” she says. I’m quiet for a moment, waiting to hear the rest. “He didn’t dawdle,” she continues. “He asked how I was and about the twins. I told him that we were all fine and he handed the phone to Daddy.” I sigh and try not to say anything about what I think of the asshole. Instead, I just change the topic.

“I’m getting a restraining order against Rossiter,” I tell her. “I don’t want him to come anywhere near you or our family. I shudder to think what might happen if the twins are with you and that guy approaches you again.” She’s quiet for a moment.

“I suppose it’s for the best,” she says. “I would imagine that he wouldn’t have a single friend in the city willing to be seen with him after yesterday’s fiasco, so I can see him feeling the need to settle a vendetta now. My question is why does everybody feel the need to come after us? The things that people do or want to do to us are so damn drastic, I just don’t understand it. I had people who didn’t like me when I was just Anastasia Steele, but nobody came after me. It can’t be the money, because nobody has tried to get any except my mother and Ginger Creepy Guy, so what the hell?”

“It is the money, honey,” I tell her. “They may not want money, but the money makes us a bigger target if for no other reason than that people think that we can buy our way out of any situation. You know, ‘More Money, More Problems,’ ‘With great power comes great responsibility,’ and let’s not forget ‘What’s she got that I don’t.’ The list is endless as to why they want to come after us—we have everything, or we’re capable of having everything—and they’re not. They had one of us or want one of us or want something we have or are upset that we’ve got something they don’t or don’t think we deserve what we have or are angry that we can get whatever we want. Fill in the blank, baby, but trust me… in the end, it boils down to the money.” I hear her sigh.

“I’ve got one last radio show that I’m doing next Monday, then I’m done,” she says. “It’s one of those live shows that runs simultaneously on camera on a local cable channel. I think I’ve gotten enough publicity for my causes for now… I need to let it rest. I need to focus on the accreditation of Helping Hands anyway. The process is taking way too long.”

“I can make some calls if you want,” I offer.

“Oh, God, no, please don’t do that. We already know that Gloria Felton is holding us up somehow. If you get involved, it’ll just throw fuel on the fire. No, we just have to figure out what needs to be done to get this thing moving the right way.”

“But here’s the thing,” I protest. “If you know that she’s holding you up, then the reason is obviously personal and there’s going to have to be some sort of outside involvement or interference, if you will. If this is a personal vendetta, she’s going to run it into the ground. She’s going to wait until you give up or she’s going to hold you back forever.” I hear my wife sigh.

“Just… don’t do anything, please,” she beseeches me. “Being on this side of things, I understand now why Grace didn’t want you to give money to the center. You’re a very powerful man and the last thing we need is the impression that you somehow bought or finagled our accreditation… and believe me. That’s exactly how she would make it look if you got involved.”

I understand what she’s saying, but she doesn’t understand that people with the slightest bit of power and an ax to grind are going to grind it in your ass until there’s no blade left. Whether she knows it or not, at some point, I’m going to have to get involved, but for now, I’ll respect her wishes… and just wait.

“Whatever you want to do, baby,” I say. “So, what’s on the agenda for the rest of the day?”

I listen to my wife talk about what she plans on doing with her afternoon, the entire time thinking about Cholometes presence in this part of the state and the Felton woman that’s holding up the accreditation for the center. I make a mental note to talk to Allen about exactly what’s needed to acquire accreditation and to discreetly look into whether there could actually be a legitimate delay in the approval. We should just wait it out for now, but I want to know first-hand exactly what the delay is.

Now, Cholometes.

I know from experience that waiting to see what move someone is planning to make can often be disastrous. I want to know what his intentions are and I want to know now—how long he plans on staying in town, what he’s going to be doing while he’s here, if he’s really here in support of his friend or in hopes of getting a glimpse of or a moment or two alone with my wife. I still don’t trust him. I’ve seen determination before—I’m the epitome of it. I’ll burn down cities for that woman and so will he. I know he will, and some Ana doppelganger isn’t going to change that. David was living, breathing proof of that.

“Put another tail on Cholometes,” I tell Alex. “Have him conveniently be discovered.” He’s silent for a moment.

“You’re playing with fire, Christian,” he warns, “or have you conveniently forgotten your last encounter with that man?”

“Just do it,” I reinforce. He sighs into the phone.

“Yes, sir,” he agrees skeptically.

*-*

“You’re leaving breadcrumbs again. What do you want?”

His voice is impatient over the phone and even though I engineered his contact, I fucking hate this arrogant asshole and really could do without talking to him.

“I don’t know what you mean, Brian. I’ve kept my eye on you ever since my wife kicked you out of our house and our lives. You’re a wildcard and I don’t trust you, so just like you’re watching me, I’m watching you.” He’s silent for a moment. Yeah, I know, asshole. “So, if you’re just now finding breadcrumbs, you haven’t been paying much attention…” I wonder just how overt Alex made the men I had him put on Cholometes? It’s only been a couple of hours and I didn’t tell them to go and wave at the fucker.

“Are you that insecure in your relationship, Grey?” he asks. “I realize that your world begins and ends with your wife, but here’s a news flash for you. There’s life after Ana.”

Did I mention that I hate this arrogant asshole?

“You could’ve fooled me,” I retort. “You followed her around for years sniffing her ass and hoping she would fall into your arms, even after we were married and she was pregnant with my children, and now you’re going to pretend that you’re suddenly disinterested?”

“And now you’re following me,” he counters, “and what am I doing? It was okay when you thought your men were being covert, but then you stick them right in my face to summon me like errand boys. And now, you’ve got my attention, so tell me, Grey. What the fuck am I doing?”

“Well, right now, you’re hanging out with a woman who looks exactly like my wife. So, while your mouth says you’re over her, your actions say that you’re not. In fact, your actions say that you’re dangerously close to obsession and that you’re trying to recreate a woman that you can’t have. Ana’s important to you and I know that she is,” I continue, “To you and to me. She gets into your blood and you don’t just shake her off. So, don’t try that coy shit, because it doesn’t work with me. I know exactly what you’re doing, and trust me—I’m keeping a really close eye on you and your new girlfriend.” Another pause.

“Is that what this is about?” he says, his voice actually rising an octave. “This is about Shawna? Oh, boy, I could have saved you some trouble,” he chuckles. “I have a type, Grey, just like you. There are things that I find attractive—that I’m drawn to—just like you, and I find Ana attractive. What’s the matter? Your feelers all up in the air because my girlfriend looks a whole lot like your wife?” he accuses. Yes, asshole, that’s exactly why my feelers are up in the air.

“Take a good look at all of your past submissives, you ass,” he continues. “How many of them could be sisters? Some of them twins? Don’t try to find something wrong with me having a relationship with a girl who looks a whole lot like the girl I fell in love with. Sha knows all about Ana, all about how I pined over her for years and was forced to finally let go. We don’t have any secrets. And yes, I know some of your subs changed to fit the bill…”

How the fuck did he know that??

“… But to answer your unasked question, no—Sha didn’t change. She didn’t dye her hair. She doesn’t wear contacts. She’s exactly three inches taller than Ana and she looked like that when I met her. So, stop thinking you have the monopoly on brunettes. Sorry to burst your bubble, but I don’t covet your life, even though I may have coveted your wife at one time, and there are other attractive women in the world that don’t want you!”

I know that’s supposed to be a stab, but for some reason, it’s not. I only want my Butterfly. As long as that sucker isn’t trying replicate her, which can only turn out badly when he discovers that the person he’s connected to is not Ana, I’m fine. He can get as many fembots as he wants. Hell, he can have my ex-subs—all of them, since he appears to know who they are.

“It might surprise you to know that I really don’t care who you fuck, as long as it’s not my wife. My only concern is for the people you might hurt and who might be hurt because of you.” He scoffs into the phone.

“You’re one to talk,” he jeers. “You’ve got one dead sub—because of you, one living in total obscurity—because of you, one off her fucking rocker in jail—because of you, and your wife was almost killed—all because of you, and those are just the ones you know of. If you don’t want me nosing and poking around in your life like I was before, get the fuck out of mine.” That leaves me uneasy. What the fuck don’t I know? “Listen to me carefully, because I’m only going to say this once. You’re harassing me, Grey. Don’t make me show you just how untouchable you’re not. Stay the fuck out of my life.”

“Don’t give me a reason to go nosing and poking around, and I won’t,” I retort.

“Keep it up, Grey, and you’re going to get more than you bargained for!” he ends the call without another word.

I fucking hate it when people hang up on me. It gives them that superiority that they’ve put me in my place. That shit does not sit well with me at all. I call Alex.

“Who the fuck did you put on Cholometes?” I demand.

“Is something wrong?” he asks.

“He just called me basically taunting me for incompetence!” I retort.

“You told me to make sure they were discovered…”

“What did they do—wave a flag at him?” There’s silence for a moment.

“Look, sir, I’m confused,” he begins. “I told you that this was a bad idea before we even embarked on this endeavor. You told me to do it anyway, and I did. I followed your directions exactly as you said and now you’re yelling at me. Did I miss something?”

No, you didn’t miss anything. I’m just fucking pissed! And I want to hold somebody responsible for me being pissed!

“No. Nothing.” I end the call. There’s no use in dwelling on this. I might as well get some work done or this conversation is just going to niggle at me all day.

I manage to forget my conversation with Colostomy and dive into some documentation and projections about a Spanish company that I want to acquire. I spend the better part of the afternoon picking apart the financials and synopses of the company when I’m interrupted by a text from Butterfly.

**Check your email. **

Well, this can’t be good.

I open my email and go to the folder that I have specifically for emails that come from my wife. And there’s a forwarded email:

To: Christian Grey
From: Anastasia Steele-Grey
Date: Monday, August 11, 2014, 16:14
Subject: FW: Curiosity Killed the Cat

Do I even want to know what this is about?

Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey, M.D.
Assistant Director, Helping Hands

—————————————————————————————————

To: Anastasia Steele-Grey
From: Brian Cholometes
Date: Monday, August 11, 2014, 15:59
Subject: Curiosity Killed the Cat

I’ve respected your wishes. I haven’t bothered you. I haven’t called or emailed you. I haven’t even spoken to Ray unless he initiated contact until he was arrested. Tell your husband to stop poking around in my life and my business unless he wants me to go back to poking around in yours.

Brian Cholometes

What the ever-loving fuck? I’m dialing his number faster than I can even think. He answers the call, but doesn’t say anything. He knows who it is.

“You threatened my goddamn wife? Seriously?” I bark into the phone.

“I didn’t threaten her,” he hisses. “I told her to keep you out of my goddamn hair just like I told you and you’re in it again. I don’t want your fucking wife anymore and I don’t give a fuck about you! Ray is my friend. He was my friend before you ever fucking came along and he’ll be my friend when you’re gone. I’m going to see about him when something is going on with him, and you can’t fucking stop that. Now you and I have nothing else to say to each other. Call off your fucking dogs and get out of my goddamn business. I’ve already told you that I’m not going to repeat myself and I’m a man of my fucking word. Don’t push me!”

The call ends abruptly—again—and I find myself at a crossroads. I. Am. Pissed. I want to drag this fucker through the mud just because I don’t fucking like him, but what’s worse is that I hate for people to get the last word on me! And he did it twice in one day!

However, I’m a smart guy. Yes, I’m a hothead, but I didn’t get as far as I am by doing dumb shit. Cholometes has something on me. He’s got information on my past submissives which is damaging enough, but more so, he’s got information about the outcome of a certain hacker situation last year. There are three guys who conveniently disappeared off the face of the earth and I have no idea what happened to them or where they are, but I’m certain that he does. So, even though it goes against every Alpha-male cell in my body, this is one time that if he says that he’s willing to stay out of my life if I stay the fuck out of his, I should stay the fuck out of his.

I sit back in my chair and think about what he said to me earlier. Part of me knows that I shouldn’t take what he said to me to heart, but this time, I can’t help it…

One dead sub…
One living in
total obscurity…
One off her fucking rocker in jail…
My wife was almost killed…
All because of me.

I don’t get it. All I did was fuck ‘em and beat ‘em and that’s the truth. The only tenderness I showed was aftercare. I didn’t show any true emotion until I met Ana. Yes, there was a time when I thought I had feelings for Elena when I was a teenager, but she beat and fucked that out of me, made sure that I knew that it was all about pleasure, pain, and sex and nothing else. I learned. I learned from the best… or the worst, depending on how you look at it, but I learned. So how is it that all these women losing their mind is my responsibility?

And why is it that I feel like he’s right?

I open the file containing the information on my prior subs. One has a Dom. One is a Domme. Four have moved on and are married. Three worked for Elena until she was arrested—not 100% sure what’s going on with them right now. One was chased into obscurity… by me. One hopeful is sitting on the sidelines, most likely losing her mind and plotting my demise as we speak, and three are dead—one as a result of trying to kill my wife. Two of them seem to have disappeared into thin air.

“It was just sex,” I say aloud. “I never promised them anything more. I told them I didn’t want anything more. How is it my fault?”

Is it my fault? Can I really be held responsible for someone wanting more than I could give them when I told them I couldn’t give them any more from the very beginning? Look at Ellison, for Christ’s sake. She went completely rogue and all we did was talk!

Would my wife check out like this if we ever split up? Of course, she would. I’ve unleashed all kinds of sexual, passionate, emotional hell on that woman. She’d go completely out of her mind, just like I would if she left me. It’s a good thing we’ll never find out.

I couldn’t have been all bad. Some of these women have moved on with their lives and forgotten all about me. Others… well…

I really have to know.

I click on one of the names and scroll down to the contact information. This is something I never expected to be doing in a million years.

“Hello.” I swallow hard.

“Hello… is this Charity?”

“Who’s calling?”

“It’s… Christian Grey.” There’s a pause.

“One moment.” I hear her talking to someone in the background before then a door closes a few moments later. “Well, I can’t say that I expected this call.”

“I can imagine,” I concur. “I never expected to make it.”

“Are you looking for a submissive? Because I’m not in the lifestyle anymore…”

“No. No, that’s not why I called. I’m married now.”

“I know,” she says. “The whole world knows,” she adds facetiously. “Christian Grey, married. I never saw that coming in a million years.”

“Trust me, neither did I. I… heard that you were married, too.”

“I am,” she replies, “very happily.” I nod.

“That’s good. I’m glad to hear that.” I really am… one less psycho bitch to worry about. I run my hands through my hair. “I…” I trail off.

“Well, this is definitely a first,” she acknowledges. “Mr. Grey is at a loss for words.” I sigh.

“I wouldn’t say that,” I say. “I just don’t know how to ask this question.”

“It’s the same thing,” she says, and I can tell that she’s smiling. “Just ask it. What’s the worst that could happen?”

You could tell me that I’m a living, walking, breathing, real-life monster and totally responsible for driving these women batshit crazy.

“When we were… together, did I ever give you the impression that I wanted more?” She scoffs.

“Not in the slightest!” she responds, “and for the record, we were never ‘together.’ I was your submissive. It was nothing more. I served a purpose in your life and you served a purpose in mine. When it was done, it was done. When I wanted a relationship, I left the lifestyle because I knew that I wasn’t going to find what I was looking for in that arena. What is this, some kind of ‘come to Jesus’ moment?” I nod as if she can see me.

“Yes, it is,” I admit. “There are several women that I engaged that seemed to have just lost their fucking minds. You’ve seen what happened to Elena. It was all over the news.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t know that you engaged Elena!” she retorts. “That explains a lot.”

“It’s a long story… and like what?” I ask.

“Like why she was always so particular about your girls. Like why she was always around. Like why she fawned over you and pawed at you when nobody else could touch you. She pissed all over you and anybody in the lifestyle knew that getting close to you meant going through her first. Girls were auditioning to be under her just to get to you. Being Christian Grey’s submissive was almost like being a part of this weird ménage à trois.”

How did I not know that?

“Are you still in the lifestyle?” she asks, curious.

“Not as such, no,” I reply. “I’m in a monogamous relationship now.”

“You were monogamous in the lifestyle,” she retorts. “At least that’s what you told me.”

“Well, yes, but you all were contracted… temporary…”

“So, your wife is your only submissive now.” I’m silent. Do I want to answer that question? “Don’t worry, Christian. I have as much to lose from exposure as you do.” It’s strange to hear her call me Christian when I was accustomed to her calling me Master or Sir.

“Yes, she’s my only submissive,” I confess. “I love her very much.”

“Oh, trust me, the world knows,” she replies.

“If that’s the case, then why are they acting so crazy?” I blurt out before I think about it.

“You’re asking me?” she says, puzzled. I sigh.

“I really need the point of view of someone that used to be my submissive,” I say honestly. “I told you all that I didn’t want anything more, and I didn’t offer anything more until I met my wife. So… why the crazy?” There’s another pause.

“I can only explain this from my point of view and from what I think I know,” she says. “You bring out feelings in women that they’re not accustomed to feeling. Your technique as a Dominant keeps a woman on the edge of her sanity, and for those who are already teetering on the edge of reality, that’s a dangerous combination. It’s very easy to topple over the edge and when you go over one of them, you go over them both.

“You were looking for something when you wielded that cane or when you cracked that whip. We were looking for something, too. Some of us are and were not willing to admit that we were hoping that you would fall in love with us. You’re a powerful man, Christian, not just in your money and your position. You’re powerful in every way. You overtake a woman, and when she turns her body over to you, you can best believe that she’s turning her mind over to you, too, and sometimes, her heart.”

“But I told these women,” I protest. “I didn’t have a heart, and if I did, there was no way that I was giving it to them.”

“And then you proved yourself a liar and gave it to Anastasia!” she retorts. “You clearly found everything that you ever wanted in Anastasia. Now, imagine finding that, having it for a period of time, and then being told that you can’t have it anymore. Would it matter when or how many times she told you that she couldn’t give herself to you, that she couldn’t give you anything more? Would it matter that she told you that she was incapable of loving you? How would you feel?” 

“I’m not sure I could imagine that,” I admit. “Anastasia’s ability to love me despite how fucked up I was, is what drew me out. So, if our relationship had been solely physical, I don’t think I ever would have fallen in love with her in the first place.”

“You couldn’t see yourself falling in love with anyone, Christian, so just go with me for a moment,” she counters. “If after you realized that you were falling for your wife, she told you that she couldn’t be with you, would you have been able to just walk away?” I physically shiver at the thought.

“No,” I reply finitely.

“Now, imagine her giving to some other man what she claimed that she would never be able to give to you…”

I don’t only shiver—I actually squirm at that thought. I can feel my teeth grind inside my mouth.

“You and I both know that Dominance and submission is a totally different animal than these flighty ass relationships with these people talking about ‘I looooooove you….’”

She drags the word “love” out in a comical manner to demonstrate her point.

“The amount of trust that goes into a D/s relationship is often deeper and more intimate than some marriages. You were a master, Master, and then you snatched that away from women who were probably hanging on by a thread and told them to just get over it. You told them that you couldn’t give them what they wanted and then they had to stand by and watch while you publicly gave it to someone else.

“I didn’t pine for you, Christian. I just wanted more. If I could have gotten it from you, I might have taken it, I don’t know… but I just wanted more. Not so for other women. I’ve had some before you and a few after you and trust me, you were the best. You can’t turn a woman’s body inside out and expect her heart not to follow. If that happens and she’s rejected and her mind is already fragile, what do you think will be the end result?”

“These women aren’t fragile!” I retort. “They’re psychotic! Possessive of something they never had…”

“But they did have you, Christian!” she counters. “We were your submissives, but you were our Dom… exclusively. That small part of you belonged to them and then you told them they couldn’t have it anymore. You took them on the ride of their lives. Then when it suited you, you stopped the car and told them to get out. I know from experience that some of those women are hanging on to sanity like a rubber band ready to snap, and you cut it. You gave them a drug and then you cut off the supply.

“You’re obtuse and unattainable, but what you do offer is magnificent and completely out of this world. Women would give anything to have it—that kind of passion and devotion, even if it’s not real. A dream is real while you’re in it until you wake up. Oftentimes, when you wake up, you’re broken-hearted that the dream has ended, and when you’re faced with your reality, it’s too much for you. That’s when they snap. That’s when they look for the object of their dismay… or affection. It may not be logical, but it’s true. You leave an impression on women that can never be removed or undone. You have stalkers that have never even touched you…”

Don’t I know it.

“… Imagine what it’s like for someone who has experienced the full impact of your passion or your fury… or worse yet, both. Imagine what it’s like for a woman who’s barely holding on to herself to withstand a Christian Grey punishment fuck, or one of your never-ending infernal orgasm-denial sessions.”

Shit. I remember how that left Butterfly the first time I did it to her in Anguilla. It was almost unbearable to watch her reaction. I had to make her come.

“So, it really is my fault that these women lose their minds,” I conclude. She pauses again.

“Not totally. You can’t take it all on yourself,” she says, “but there is a responsibility when you impose yourself upon someone the way that you do. You’re remarkably superb as a Dominant, but when someone has the skill that you do, it’s not something that should be passed out like a deck of cards. You did it because you couldn’t commit to one person, but with your talent and ability to consume someone the way that you do, with the passion that you have and the seduction that you emit, you did right to get married. You can’t hand that out like party favors and then tell people they can’t have it. In your defense, you took precautions—or at least you thought you did—to avoid attachment or expectation. But fragile or hopeful or even delusional minds can’t see that. They see happily ever after and one day, he’ll be mine no matter what he says.”

“Did you ever see that?” I ask. She laughs, a little sadly, I think.

“Not even once,” she replies firmly. “Which is a good thing, don’t you think?” I nod as if she can see me again.

“Are you allowed to say things like this?” I ask. “That I’m seductive and passionate and the best you ever had… and you’re married to someone else now?”

“I didn’t say that you were the best I ever had,” she clarifies. “I said that you were the best, meaning that you were the best Dom. You were passionate and powerful and you made me feel things that I had never felt before and will probably never feel again. But it was different… much different than it is with Niko and I sure that you know how that feels.” I nod again. She has effectively answered all of my questions, and maybe left me with a few more, but her last statement brings to mind the times that I told my wife that my dick knows “the difference.”

“Yes, Charity,” I say, “yes, I do…”


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

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

~~love and handcuffs

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

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

Chapter 18—I Can See Clearly Now…

CHRISTIAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you do anything wrong?” I ask.

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you ready?” I ask.

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

“Today?” I bark. “Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“In about an hour,” he laments.

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

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

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

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

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

*-*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your apartment?” Deleroy exclaims. “These people have you living alone and you’re only twelve?”

“There’s the word!” I have to catch my wife around her waist to prevent her from lunging at Deleroy, who turns white as a ghost at the gesture. Sophie, however, is not one to let the comment drop so easily.

“No, Mom, I’m not alone here! I’m never alone here. There are people here with me all the time—Momma Gail, Daddy, Mr. Christian, Ms. Ana, Chuck, Keri—and when they’re not here, there’s always somebody else. What you did—leaving me in that house with no food and no phone for three days while your creepy drug dealer kept coming by looking for you right before you tried to trade me off for drugs—that was alone. This is not alone. I’m not alone here. I’m never, ever alone!”

The patio is silent while Sophie faces off with her obviously delusional mother.

“And I realize that I’m not a priority in your life and I don’t think I ever was, but try to keep up, Mom. I’m thirteen.” Though her voice was shrill and angry moments ago, Sophie’s voice is low and cool when she delivers this bit of information. Then, she drops the final bomb on her mother. “Your visit was at twelve. It’s two thirty. You’re late and I don’t want to see you. You can leave now.”

Sophie turns and walks back towards the apartments.

“Sophie!” Deleroy calls after her, but she doesn’t stop walking. “Sophia!” Still no response as Sophie disappears into the jungle patio. “Go get her!” she hisses at Jason. “The court says I still have visitation!”

“Yes,” Jason agrees, “supervised visitation at an agreed time. Your visitation was at noon. You missed it.” Deleroy wrings her hands, looking past Jason as if she’s desperate for Sophie to return.

“I was detained,” she says, her voice shaking.

“I know,” Jason says calmly. “You’re tweeking.”

So, that’s why she’s shaky and nervous. Damn, it’s so fucking obvious, I wasn’t even paying attention. Deleroy narrows her eyes and lashes out on Jason, ignoring his last comment.

“You are not better than me, Jason!” she yells. “I’ve had bad luck and that’s all. I’ve made mistakes, but you can’t hold them over my head for the rest of my life! You move her into this fortress and I can’t even get to her! You and that cow and this prima donna are filling her head with bullshit…”

Butterfly almost got to her with that last statement, but I was fast enough to pull her back… and now she’s furious.

“Goddammit if you’re not gonna let me beat ‘er ass get ‘er the fuck outta my house!” She screams it all in one breath—and I do mean screams.

“You need to leave before my wife kills you!” I exclaim, because I’m a strong man, but holding back a flailing, snarling, scratching, angry cat is not an easy task. I hear some word fly back and forth, but I’m too busy trying to keep my wife from committing a felony. When things seem like they’re going completely out of control, a shrill voice brings everybody to a screeching halt.

“Go! Mom! You’re high!”

Butterfly stops flailing in my arms and all eyes are on Sophie.

“Sophie… baby…” Deleroy squeaks.

“I will. Not. See you. When you’re high! Go. Now!” Sophie’s fists are clenched and I think everyone knows to let her handle this.

“Sophie, I’m not…”

“Oh, my Goooo-ooo-ooodah!” Sophie says in pure frustration. “You’re so full of shit!” she screams. Jason’s head jerks back, but there’s nobody on this patio but Sophia Taylor and Shalane Deleroy.

“I never mattered to you!” she screams. “Even before the drugs, I never mattered! I was a way to piss Dad off, or a way to get more money from him, or in the end, a trade-off for a quick fix! I was a kid, Mom, not fucking blind!”

Gail’s eyes are large and she hisses at nearly every word that comes out of Sophie’s mouth.

“Get out! Get! Out!” Sophie’s screaming, but nobody moves. She looks at all the adults, her eyes glassy and full of fury.

“Do I live here or not??” she screams at whomever will answer. Everybody’s too stunned to reply, so I do.

“Yes, Sophie. You live here.”

“Then, get her out of here!” She’s pointing at Shalane and screaming at Lawrence. “Get her out!” I throw a quick look at Lawrence who immediately turns on Shalane.

“Ma’am,” he says, giving her an opportunity to leave on her own. She looks at him with disdain.

“You can’t make me…”

“Two of the occupants of this residence has requested your departure. You are now trespassing, which is a crime in Seattle. You can walk, or I can remove you. You have ten seconds to decide.”

Shalane looks wide-eyed at Lawrence, then at Sophie, who looks like she will beat Deleroy back across the bridge. With probably one second to spare, she decides that she would rather walk, turns indignantly, and leaves with Lawrence right on her heels. A few seconds after her departure, Sophie breaks down. Butterfly wiggles from my grasp and goes to her, wrapping her arms around Sophie as she sobs. Jason runs his hand through his hair, obviously trying not to hit something.

“I’m… sorry…” Sophie chokes through her tears as every woman on the patio cocoons protectively around her.

*-*

Butterfly and I go to court with Jason and Gail the next afternoon as moral support and witnesses for Jason. Al tried to prepare us, but we don’t know what to expect. Shalane is present with her attorney and she has brought a few witnesses with her as well. We don’t know any of these people, but of course, they all sing praises about how good a mother Shalane is and how well she takes care of Sophie. When they are examined by Al about Shalane’s drug use and attempt to trade Sophie for methamphetamines, they suddenly get the stammers and complete amnesia about these particular incidents. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see through the theatrics and determine that these are not credible or believable witnesses.

Standing against a gainfully-employed father who unwittingly supported this woman’s drug habit through generous amounts of continued child support for several years, a billionaire businessman and entrepreneur, a respected psychiatrist and member of the community who donates her time and professional services to a local community center whose mission and vision is to assist battered and unfortunate families to be self-sufficient and safe—oh, and a police officer armed with an arrest report that this strung-out mother was apprehended in a drug raid with said child in attendance, possibly with intent to trade said child for a fix—yeah… not much ground to stand on, Deleroy.

But our presence wasn’t the poison pill.

Sophie wasn’t allowed to be present during the presentation of the custody case. However, her deposition was taken in chambers with both attorneys present. The judge felt that she needed to be free to express her true feelings. Had they seen this young lady on my patio yesterday, they would have known that this wouldn’t be an issue. The video of Sophie’s deposition is played for us just before the judge renders his decision.

“How old are you, Sophie?” the judge asks.

“I’m thirteen,” she replies.

“And you know why you’re here, right?” she nods.

“You’re trying to decide if I live with my mom or my dad,” she says. The judge nods.

“What kind of grades do you get in school?” he asks.

“I get A’s and B’s mostly,” she says. “I got a ‘C’ in gym though.”

“Why did you get a ‘C’ in gym?” he asks.

“I was losing points because I kept coming to class with the wrong color shorts on,” she says.

“Why did you do that?”

“I needed yellow, green, or gray. I didn’t have any of those colors, so I wore what I had. I told my mom that I needed yellow, green, or gray and she said she would get them, but she never did. So, I got a ‘C’ in gym.” She shrugs.

“You don’t seem to care too much about that ‘C’ in gym,” the judge says.

“Worse things happen,” she says with a shrug.

“Worse things like what?”

“Like not seeing your mom at all for weeks at a time,” she says. “I mean, she was there, I just never saw her. She was asleep when I came home from school, or she was in the room with one of her boyfriends. I had to cook for myself… when there was food in the house…”

“There were times when there was no food in the house?” he asks. She nods.

“Near the end, yeah,” she says. “At first, it was just Mom wasn’t around, I didn’t have her breathing down my neck all the time, great. Then, these guys started coming around and I never saw her. Then, she would be gone for days and I knew she wasn’t there. Then, we started running out of food and I had to make what I could… Is my Dad going to see this?”

Jason sits up straight in his seat and listens carefully to what she says.

“You’re saying that you don’t want your dad to see this?” the judge asks. Sophie shakes her head. “Why not?”

“Because he’s gonna be mad at me,” she says.

“Why do you think your father is going to be mad at you?” She rolls her eyes.

“Because one day a while ago, there wasn’t any food in the house and I was hungry and I went to school and I ate out of the garbage.” Jason’s hand flies to his mouth. He closes his eyes and his head drops.

“Why do you think he would be angry with you for that?”

“Because I never told him,” she says with a sigh. “I was trying to protect my mother.”

“Why would you want to protect her from something like that?” the judge asks. “You were hungry…”

“Because she’s my mom,” Sophie says, like the answer was obvious. “She’s done some really messed-up things, but she’s still my mom.”

Now Deleroy’s head falls. She covers her face and cries.

“So, you still love her,” the judge asks.

“Of course, I love her!” Sophie nearly shrieks. “She’s just… not a good mom anymore.”

Deleroy chokes back a sob. Even for a strung-out, soulless, cold-hearted bitch who tried to sell her 12-year-old daughter, this must be hard to hear.

“Was she ever a good mom?” the judge asks.

“That’s hard to say,” Sophie replies soberly. “I think she was. I didn’t have anything to compare it to until I saw Ms. Ana with the twins…”

Butterfly covers her mouth and gasps. I reach over and grasp her hand.

“Those are babies, though. Everybody likes babies.” Sophie smiles playfully. “But when she thinks nobody’s looking, she smiles at them and she kisses them. She tells them that she loves them and I know they don’t know what she’s saying. You just… know that she would do anything for those babies…” Sophie trails off.

“You didn’t feel like that with your mother?” Sophie shrugs again and looks like she’s searching for her words.

“I’m a little older now than I was when I was living with Mom, and…” she trails off again, sighs, and starts to fidget with her fingers. “Do you know that Momma Gail calls me ‘Pumpkin?’” she says, smiling. “Daddy calls me ‘Baby Boo.’ Mom calls me ‘Sophie’ or ‘Sophia.’ Everybody calls me that. Ms. Ana and Mr. Christian call the twins ‘Minnie and Mikey.’ Isn’t that cute?” she nearly squeals.

“Yes, it is,” the judge agrees, lightheartedly.

“Mr. Christian… he calls Ms. Ana ‘Butterfly,’ and when they don’t think I can hear them, Daddy calls Momma Gail ‘Love’ and Keri calls Chuck ‘Choonks,’” she giggles.

We have to be careful around this little girl. She sees and hears everything.

“I even heard one girl’s mom at school calls her ‘Nooka.’ I don’t even know what that means, but her name is ‘Ember,’ so I know it’s a nickname.” She drops her head sadly.

“What does that mean to you?” the judge asks.

“It means that these people love each other,” she says, sadly. “Mom never had a nickname for me. As far back as I can remember, Daddy called me ‘Baby Boo,’ but Mom never had a nickname for me. Just… Sophie… Everybody calls me ‘Sophie…’” she sounds as if she’s going to cry.

“You don’t like ‘Sophie?’”

“It’s okay, it’s my name… but shouldn’t your mom have a different name for you? I mean, something that nobody else calls you? Like everybody calls ‘Minnie and Mikey’ ‘Minnie and Mikey.’ But Mr. Christian and Ms. Ana might call ‘em ‘Mouse,’ or ‘Little Man,’ or ‘Big Man,’ or something like that… I know I’m not making sense…” she says.

“No, you’re making perfect sense,” the judge says, “but just because your mom didn’t have a special nickname for you didn’t make her a bad mom, did it?”

“No, I guess not,” Sophie says, and now she’s mum on the subject.

“Why don’t we get to the important stuff—why we’re here… where you want to live,” the judge says. “Your opinion is important here.” Sophie sighs.

“Are you going to listen to me or are you going to throw out what I’m saying because I’m a kid?” she asks.

Jason looks back at me and I swear we must be sharing the same look of awe.

“I’m going to listen to you, Sophia,” the judge says. Sophie obviously looks at Allen and Deleroy’s attorney before looking at the judge, then back at her hands.

“My mom has a problem,” she says, her voice cracking. “She didn’t always have this problem, but she has it now. She wasn’t always a bad mom… she really wasn’t. She kept me away from my dad, and that hurt, but she still wasn’t a bad mom…”

Deleroy is weeping now.

“But when she started that stuff, she changed. Everything changed. I was… ten or eleven, maybe… but I could tell things were different. She lost weight, she didn’t wash, she looks old… her teeth in the back are rotting away. She smells different, she acts different… Daddy was sending a lot of money for child support. I know he was, but there still wasn’t enough! Things just got bad and then they got worse and now… Mom might go to jail. What’s going to happen to me then?

“I spent a lot of time with my mom and I was barely ever able to see my dad. I wanna live with my dad,” she says without raising her head.

“Is that the only reason you want to live with your dad?” the judge asks.

“Mom’s not a good mom anymore… I wanna live with my dad,” she says again. “She never let me see him,” Sophie says, raising her head. “When I asked to call him or go see him, she always said he was too busy. For a long time, I thought my dad didn’t want me and she let me keep thinking that. Who does that?” She drops her head again.

“Even after everything that’s happened, Dad’ll still let me see Mom any time I ask him. He’s never kept me away from her… I just can’t be alone with her because she’s on that stuff. And I want her to get better, I really do, but I can’t live with her. I was hungry and unhappy and lonely… I don’t want to live with her…”

“What if she gets better, though?” the judge asks. “What if she goes into rehab and she’s not using anymore? We can make it so that you live with your father for a little while and then go back and live with your mother once she’s all better.”

Jason visibly tenses, but relaxes again when he sees Sophie shaking her head.

“I don’t want to go back and live with my mother,” she says, tears streaming down her face. “I only have a few more years and then I’ll be a grown up. Momma Gail likes me, Ms. Ana likes me, I get to play with the twins; I don’t have to be all by myself all the time. Nobody messes with my stuff. I get to go on field trips at school… and now, I know my dad wants me. I always knew that everything she was telling me about him wasn’t true, but now, I get to see it for myself. He spends time with me and tells me about when he was a kid… even about when him and Mom were married, before they started fighting. I talk to Ms. Ana about everything! She’s smart and she wears great clothes!”

I try not to laugh at her comment, but the rest of the courtroom is not so successful.

“And she gets me. I don’t know how, but she gets me. And Momma Gail… if something makes me sad or I don’t feel good, she’s always there. She has all these different home remedies for stuff and I think she could heal anything!”

Again, we laugh.

“I wanna stay with my dad,” she says her voice breaking and becoming somber. “I wanna stay with Mr. Christian and Chuck and Ben and Keri and… I feel like I got a real family now. I don’t wanna be alone anymore. If you send me to live with my mom, I’m gonna be alone again. I don’t wanna be alone.”

There’s a long moment of silence before the judge speaks.

“Thank you, Sophia,” he says. “Any questions from counsel?” the judge asks.

“No questions, Your Honor,” I hear Allen say.

“No questions,” the other attorney says, and the screen goes black. Deleroy hits her attorney on the arm and gestures to the front of the court as if to ask why he didn’t examine Sophie. He never even looks at her.

“It’s a difficult decision to tear a child from either parent, especially in a situation like this. I know to the layman, this may seem like a cut-and-dried case. The mother is quite possibly facing jail time for being caught in a drug raid. She’s obviously battling an addiction, which always stands to destroy the family and, most of all, the life of the child. There is some question about the intention of the mother to trade the child for drugs on the night of the raid. However, without concrete evidence or an outstanding charge, this accusation is speculation and perception and could just be the interpretation of a very frightened child of the night’s events. In a case like this, I’m driven to consider giving second chances to parents who are on the track of redemption. However, I must also consider the best interests of the child.

“In speaking to Sophia Taylor, I feel that she’s a very rounded, very wise teenager. I’m certain that she’s not easily coerced and I can see right through a child who has been coached. Sophia is craving real love and attention—a healthy home life and familial relationship. Not only does it appear that she has been deprived of this in recent years, but she’s also been deprived of basic companionship and guidance in her life. Her wisdom—such as it is—has been acquired from observing situations outside of hers; from watching the children at school interact with their parents even before she saw the interactions of the Taylors and the Greys. You only saw portions of the conversation that Sophia and I had and the parts that you didn’t see revealed that Jason Taylor went a long way to teach his daughter valuable life lessons and to be an active part of her life long before she came to live with him in March.

“In weighing the parental impact on Sophia of the time that she has lived with her mother and the impact of the time that she has lived with her father and in light of the current circumstances, the pending criminal trial, the mother’s current dependency, and the testimony of the child in question, I believe it to be in the best interest of the child to grant permanent primary custody of the minor child, Sophia Loren Taylor, to the father, Jason Taylor.”

I do my best not to stand and cheer while Deleroy gasps and cries out, “No!” in one of the most dramatic and theatrical displays I’ve ever seen. The judge continues by revoking the current child support order and asking if Jason requires child support from Deleroy. He declines, citing that his suspicion is that his child support was her only source of income, so there’s not much that she can give him. The judge informs him that he is free to revisit the child support order at a later date.

“Mrs. Deleroy, I don’t think you’re completely beyond redemption,” the judge continues. “Take this time for reflection and rehabilitation. Whatever the outcome of the criminal case against you, there’s always hope for recovery, and that’s what you need to strive for. Mr. Taylor, it’s the order of this court that you must make Sophia available for reasonable visitation with Ms. Deleroy. Supervised visitation is allowable and advisable until such time as Ms. Deleroy has successfully completed a medical drug rehabilitation program. In the meantime, I wish you all luck. Court is adjourned.” And the gavel falls.

“All rise.” We all rise except for Deleroy who is crumpled in a mound on the table, weeping bitterly. When the judge leaves the courtroom, she turns and lets loose on Jason.

“You bastard!” she cries. “You took my daughter, you son of a bitch! Are you happy now?”

Jason just looks at her and without a word, exits the courtroom while she’s still screaming profanities.

A few feet down the hallway, Sophie is sitting on a bench with a social worker awaiting the outcome of the trial. When she sees her father, she leaps to her feet, her eyes wide.

“Daddy?” she says, her eyes hopeful. A smile spreads across Jason’s face.

“We’re going home, Baby Boo,” he says as he opens his arms wide. Sophie squeals with delight and runs down the courthouse hallway, launching herself into her father’s arms.


ANASTASIA

“So, Judd Rossiter…”

After I woke from a very peaceful rest yesterday and right before my outside yoga session with Keri, Christian informed me to call a very frantic Marilyn who had called earlier that morning with two shows that wanted me to appear the next day. What the fuck? When I talked to Marilyn, it was Good Morning Seattle and Prominent Pacific, two of the shows that I had been targeting ever since I decided that I wanted to do radio interviews.

Fuck!
Fuck!
Fuck!

“What’s happened?” I had asked Christian. I knew something had to happen for them to suddenly be chomping at the bit to get me when they kept telling me, “We’ll be in touch,” before.

“You mean besides the fact that you’re becoming famous in your own right?” he said. “Somebody turned in another impromptu picture of us at the zoo cuddling under that umbrella.”

“That’s not news,” I told him.

“Oh, and Judd Rossiter is going down for sexual harassment of five women on his job—after you made a stink about that clit tattoo.”

So, that’s it. Juicy gossip about a local radio personality with a pussy on his arm. None of my causes were worth radio time, but the great Christian Grey takes down a disc jockey for flashing cooch at his wife, now that’s news! Okay… I’ll play your game, but you’re not going to like it…

So, Marilyn booked Seattle for Monday morning at 10am and Pacific for Tuesday at the same time. And now, here I sit with Sandra Price on Good Morning Seattle with her trying to get some gossip out of me. I told her when I sat down that I wanted to talk about my causes, and she went straight in to Rossiter.

“What about him?” I ask innocently.

“Give us the scoop. What’s the deal?” she says, leaning in for the kill.

“I don’t know what you want to hear,” I say shrugging. “You know as much as I do about the situation.” She glares at me a bit.

“Oh, come on, Ana. Inquiring minds want the deets. We hear that he’s being sued for sexual harassment by five women at the station.”

“Well, there you have it. What do you need me for?” I ask. “Was this a lead-in for how this relates to my treatment by the licensing board for those fabricated sexual misconduct accusations? Because if it was, we can skip the lead-in and go right to the story.” Sandra glares at me for about four seconds and I smile at her. “Sandra, I think this is what they call ‘dead air.’” She snaps out of her trance and tries to get back on track with the interview.

“I was just trying to get your side of the story, but if you don’t want to tell it…” she taunts.

“I’ve already told it, Sandra. I realize that you’re probably not supposed to listen to the competition, but if you want to stay on top of what’s going on in Seattle, you probably want to listen to that interview.” Tired of beating around the bush and trying to get information from me about the story, she starts asking direct questions.

“Is it true that Christian went down to the station all He-Man and demanded that Rossiter be fired?” she asks. I shrug.

“You have to ask Christian that question,” I say, knowing that an answer in the affirmative or the negative would both be a confirmation.

“Surely, you know if your husband came down to the radio station,” she prods further.

“I didn’t see him,” I answer honestly, and leave it at that.

“Don’t be coy, Ana, it’s not cute,” she quips, still trying to get me off my game.

“Don’t be deceptive, Sandra, it’s not professional,” I retort, and her eyes narrow again. “I love good gossip as much as the next person, but I only talk about what I know. I know that this topic was exposed on another radio station last week and that if you would like the ‘deets’ of that occurrence, you should probably get a sound bite from the radio station like everybody else did. I also know that your people called my people on a Sunday morning to book me for this slot today, at which time, you were informed that I would talk about my treatment by the licensing board after being falsely accused of sexual harassment charges as well as the work that I and my mother-in-law are doing at Helping Hands. Yet, when I get here, you’re asking about something completely unrelated—something that I was not and am not prepared to talk about, and I wonder if you ambush all of your live guests this way.”

Sandra’s mouth flies open. We’re live—she can’t stop me. She was hoping to catch me up in the Judd story, and now I’ve turned the tables.

“’Ambush’ is a pretty harsh word, don’t you think?” she says, in the most non-threatening tone she can muster.

“Oh,” I say, with the same pretentious softness, “I’m so sorry if I misspoke. What exactly are we doing?” Sandra’s eyes cut to something behind me and I look over my shoulder. In the control booth behind me is another woman in a red blazer with her arms folded. She’s glaring at Sandra with a look of death and there’s a man beside her with a large white dry-erase board with instructions in big bold black letters.

ASK ABOUT THE LICENSING BOARD

I turn back to Sandra, who’s still looking over my shoulder. I clear my throat and get her attention. When she turns her glare to me, I point to her microphone.

“Dead air,” I say. She looks down at her card.

“Of course,” she says, “just trying to brighten our dull little lives with a little juicy stuff. You know how that is.” She flashes a phony smile. I retort with the phoniest laugh I can muster to be blasted across the airways. Before we have a chance to start the interview back up again, Sandra’s recorded voice comes over the sound system with,

“We’ll be right back after these messages.”

“Clear,” I hear from the control booth and Sandra suddenly pales. In two seconds, the red blazer storms into the room and gets in Sandra’s face.

“Stick to the goddamn script and cut the ratings whore shit unless you want to end up back on the 4am weather report tomorrow.” Red Blazer says the entire thing through her teeth and Sandra doesn’t respond. She quietly picks up her index cards and stacks them without a word. Red Blazer doesn’t even acknowledge me. She breezes right back out of the booth and Sandra and I sit there for two minutes of total silence. When the control booth calls out “We’re on in five,” I’m almost relieved to hear the intro music start up again.

“And welcome back to Good Morning Seattle. Our interview continues with Dr. Anastasia Steele-Grey, psychiatrist and assistant director of Helping Hands…”

And just like that, we did the interview that I agreed to. The person who conducted this interview was nothing like the “ratings whore” sitting in the room two minutes ago. It’s like the body snatchers came into the room and took the first bitch away, replacing her with this professional woman asking relevant questions about my issues.

As it turns out, this had nothing to do with me. Good Morning Seattle really did want to get me into a morning slot because of the exposure that I’ve been getting lately, and they were totally fine with me discussing the licensing board and Helping Hands. It was Sandra Anchorbitch who, like Judd Loser, was trying to get a few minutes of more fame with her “ratings whore shit,” as Red Blazer put it. Honestly, there’s always one. That’s how the sacrificial lamb was born in the first place. They’re not on every show and hopefully, there won’t be one on Prominent Pacific, but we’ll just have to see.

The afternoon is much better than the morning, although I must admit that I didn’t know what to expect at Sophie’s custody hearing. Courtrooms and I haven’t been the best of friends, and I didn’t relish the idea of having to be in one again, much less having to take the stand. The case is very volatile and I have no idea what’s going to come out in the examinations, especially since Sophie will be living in our house if… when the judge grants Jason full custody. People tend to villainize me and Christian at every turn and I expect for this situation to be no different.

I had no idea how wrong I would be.

I don’t know where Shalane found this attorney, but she should have kept searching. If I didn’t know better, I would swear that Jason hired the guy! He made Jason’s point for us more times than not. Shalane’s character witnesses were unreliable at best. I wouldn’t say that they were shady, but they didn’t help her case any. The attorney’s cross examination did nothing to pick apart our testimony. His questions basically only clarified what we had already said.

The most agonizing part of the entire case was listening to Sophie talk about how she didn’t really feel motherly love. She went on and on about nicknames and I don’t know if that meant anything to the case, but it meant everything to me as a psychiatrist. She never felt the special love that a child should feel from a mother than turns your heart to mush… the love that make my voice turn into Alvin and the Chipmunks when I see “Mommy’s little man” or “Mommy’s Minnie Mouse.” She clearly missed out on that from her mother, and although she had a hard time verbalizing it, she did so perfectly.

Shalane can’t see past her own loss. She’s so busy blaming Jason for her problems that she can’t see her own mistakes. When Jason walks out of the courtroom without a word with my husband on his heels, I just watch and listen as Shalane spews profanities at him. There’s no mention whatsoever of being a better parent or taking care of her child, just what he took from her. I stay behind for a moment and watch the temper tantrum. Jason doesn’t even react. He just leaves the courtroom while she’s screaming at him. She finally turns her gaze to me, still sniffling and slobbering.

“What?” she weeps. “You wanna kick my ass now?” she says, recalling our near-encounter yesterday. No, Shalane, you’re doing a good enough job of that all on your own.

“Stop. Thinking. About. Yourself,” I say coolly. Shalane’s anger falls and her face turns to stone. “You are her mother. No one will ever take your place. She loves you. Nothing will ever change that. Get yourself together! She needs you! She will always. Need you!”

I don’t know if I got through to her, but she didn’t rebut. I can only see Carla and how everything was always about her. It wasn’t always that way, but it was that way when it counted. I moved past it, but I’ll never get over it. I’ll never get over not being important enough to my mommy. I don’t want that fate for Sophie.

I glance over at her attorney who gives me a nearly infinitesimal nod. It turns out that he really is one of the good guys.

When I leave the courtroom, an elated Sophie is wrapped around her father and they’re both laughing like they’re at Disneyland. When he walks out hand in hand with his little girl, we’re met by a few paparazzi on the stairs, always looking for a story. The little lady handled like a pro.

“I’m going home with my daddy. That’s all.”

And that was all.

*-*

“Listen, Ana,” Shelby Fisher says as I sit in the preshow briefing, “I want to hear about Judd Rossiter, too. I heard the radio show. I heard what you said to him. The world knows that Christian Grey went down to that radio station, although nobody really knows what happened because the station is mute about it. Judd is talking about it on every slime show he can do and freedom of speech says that he can do that. I’d like to get some inside on it, but I won’t if you say ‘no.’”

I sigh. So, Judd is mud-slinging. It’s not just bar talk; it’s more than that. I nod.

“How much time before we go on the air?” I ask.

“About fifteen minutes,” she says. I nod again.

“Let me talk to my publicist really quickly and I’ll get back to you on that, okay?” She nods.

“That’s fair,” she says. I pull Marilyn into one of the nearby conference rooms and lock the door. I hope nobody was using this room right away.

“Google Judd Rossiter,” I tell her as I dial Grey House.

“Elva McIntyre.”

“Vee, it’s Ana. Listen, Judd Rossiter is apparently running off at the mouth about his stroke of bad luck with the ladies at his job. Do you know what he’s saying?” I can hear her typing away at her keyboard.

“I know he was yapping about it, but so far nothing’s come up about you or Christian. Just sour grapes about the women who are accusing him…”

“Oh, shit,” Marilyn’s voice breaks through Vee’s explanation.

“What?” I ask.

“Seattle Nooz’ live webcast this morning has him portraying you as a prude that needs a good fucking and Christian as the billionaire messenger boy that you’ve got by the balls. He’s basically saying that Christian came into the station after you called him and that because of that visit, the girls making the accusations were planted… and the Nooz is running with that.” I sigh and roll my eyes. This shit happens all the time, but I just don’t need it when I have two major causes that require the spotlight.

“I heard,” Vee says, “and I see. You can’t avoid it. Address it, but don’t focus on it. Don’t stoop to his level. Do it like Ana. Handle it… don’t feed it.” I nod. I know what to do.

“Tell Christian,” I say. “He doesn’t need to be blindsided by this. I’ll be at Grey House this afternoon before I go to the Center.”

“You got this, Ana,” she says before she ends the call.

“Yeah, I got this,” I mumble, before turning to Marilyn. “You’re coming into the booth with me. Find as much as you can…”

“So, what’s the verdict?” Shelby asks. I sigh.

“I appreciate you letting me know that you want to address the issue. Because you asked instead of ambushing me, we’ll devote no more than ten minutes to that discussion, but we must remain professional. I reserve the right not to address something, but I’ll try to answer your questions.” She nods.

“That’s all I can ask,” she says. Three minutes later, we’re on the air. She begins by asking for a short recap of what’s going on.

“I really hate to focus on this situation when there are so many other important topics to discuss, but I realize that it can’t be ignored,” I begin. “Long story short, I brought to light how his behavior was inappropriate. I also mentioned that it probably made other women in the workplace uncomfortable to have to look at that. What happened after that, I can only speculate, but I’m sure that you can relate to the concept of several people speaking up after one speaks up? I can only guess that after I spoke up about the inappropriate tattoo that other women may have found the courage to speak up about their experiences with him as well.”

“He’s painting it as a big set-up from an uptight woman with an ax to grind,” she says. “I have to admit that you have never struck me as ‘uptight,’ so what’s that all about?”

“The entire time I sat in that booth with female anatomy staring at me, I took every measure to remain professional—even in expressing my distaste with his offensive tattoo and suggestive attire, I remained tactful and diplomatic. Maybe he’s not accustomed to that type of response and that’s why he calls me ‘uptight.’ I can actually understand that. If the only thing you’re used to is women diverting their gaze or gasping in horror, I would imagine that you wouldn’t know how to properly describe someone confronting you on the vulgarity of your personal representation in the workplace.” Shelby’s brow rises.

“Wow. Nice,” she says with a chuckle. “What about his comment about your husband? We all know that Christian Grey can make things happen.”

“Well, I’ll say this,” I say. “I know that my husband is very protective of me and for good reason. I’m the mother of his children; I’m the wife of a billionaire, and let’s face it—I haven’t had the best of luck, right?” I say with a shrug. “I’ll repeat what I said on Monday. I didn’t see him at the station, but if he did show up, what husband in his right mind would have the power to speak up about his wife being disrespected and not do it?

“We ask for the manager in a restaurant when the service is bad—not millionaires and billionaires and power players, just regular people who expect to be respected. Yet, my husband is being portrayed as henpecked because he may or may not have defended me against someone’s inappropriate and predatory behavior.  Maybe chivalry is dead where that guy came from, but all the upstanding men in my life defend their women—their wives, daughters, and mothers. So, I don’t really know what else to say about that.” Shelby does a small fist pump in the air and we share a silent giggle.

“What about…” She pauses for effect and to let me know that a big one is coming. “… the claims that the women that are making the accusations against him are planted?” I literally laugh out loud.

“That’s just ridiculous!” I exclaim shamelessly. “I can’t even begin to speculate what kind of planning has to go into executing something so ludicrous! You would have had to know exactly when I was going to be on the show then plant people months in advance as employees to be ready for when I showed up! What’s more, you would have had to know that he would have flashed this thing at me! Do you see how ridiculous that really is?” I say, my voice high.

“Clearly,” Shelby agrees.

“I would really like to know how those women feel about that accusation,” I say, matter-of-factly. “I’d be interested in knowing what the station has to say about it. This is an open investigation on his professional behavior. Seriously, if these women are traumatized enough by this, it could lead to workplace lawsuits and he’s just talking about it everywhere like it’s the weather. He’s got a bone to pick with me because he’s got an open vajayjay in my face and he’s not even thinking about these other women. Then again, he wasn’t thinking about them in the first place, now was he?”

Shelby shakes her fists and looks to the heavens mouthing, “Gold!”

“Oh, my God, vajayjay!” she says, through her laughter, and I just realized I let that out of my mouth. Oh, well… she loved it.

“I’m not going to have a sparring match with this man,” I begin after our laughter subsides. “There’s a character flaw at play when you think it’s okay to display a tattoo like that to women with whom you do not have intimate relationships. It’s that simple. It’s offensive. It’s suggestive. It’s vulgar, and somebody spoke up about it. When that one person spoke up about it, all of the people who felt that his behavior—whatever his behavior may have been—was offensive, suggestive, or vulgar all spoke up about it. When you make a decision to go against the grain, you have to live with the consequences. I’m all for self-expression, but he can’t show up with an exposed naked woman on his arm in the workplace any more than I can show up naked to my job at the help center.” Shelby makes that shrug face.

“I… think that says it all,” she says with a nod. “Thank you so much for addressing that and so eloquently. Now, let’s get to the real reason for your visit. I know you normally talk about the licensing board first, but I’d like to switch it up and talk about Helping Hands. Apparently, your mother-in-law, Dr. Grace Trevelyan Grey is a successful pediatrician here in Seattle and she’s been the director of this organization for many years. I hear that you guys have been doing some great things for the community down there…”

Best interview I’ve had yet. I got to address that asshole, Judd, without going into the gutter and Shelby had really done her research. She painted Helping Hands in the best possible light with statistics and testimonials, even bringing to light the span of services that we’ll be able to provide once the accreditation is complete. I’m thoroughly pleased with the outcome of this appearance and Shelby has asked me to come back for an update after the accreditation goes through.

“You. Are. Phenomenal!” Vee says when I call to check in with her after we leave the station. “You’re going to put me out of a fucking job, you know that?”

“Not a chance,” I tell her. “We need you. As you can see, I need you.”

“He needs you,” she says quietly. “Don’t ever repeat this, but he’s been such a better man since you’ve come along. His image was taking a silent hit that year you showed up—stoic, cold ass businessman with no heart and he was fine with that. Now that you’re here… he just a better man.” I smile.

“Thanks, Vee,” I say sincerely. “Tell that better man that I’m on my way there.”


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

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

~~love and handcuffs

 

Becoming Dr. Grey: Chapter 80—Grey House of Healing

I have gotten requests to write more about Ana and Christian and the babies and I will, but please remember, guys… no one lives in a vacuum. Our lives are not just what happens to us, but also what happens to the people we love. 😉 

There may be a bonus chapter this week if I can get around to it. I don’t feel like the next chapter is really a stand-alone…

Love you guys! 😀

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 80—Grey House of Healing

CHRISTIAN

Butterfly was only around for the first portion of the meeting with me and Ros to be brought up to date on the top tier of what happens with GEH—the very basics of how we select companies for mergers or acquisitions, for example, and how many mergers are in the hopper right now. I thought it would be boring for her and tried to keep it short. I was amazed at how many relevant questions she had. Just how deep into business management did she go when she minored in college?

She got a call during the meeting about Valerie’s arrival at the Crossing this afternoon and decided that she needed to make sure all the final touches were in order. I told her to go on and I would meet her at Elliot’s apartment once I had concluded the meeting with Ros. She’s the only meeting that we set for today since we knew that Valerie and Elliot would be moving in this afternoon. I’m glad she decided to leave, though, because I need to speak to Ros alone.

“May I ask why there was so much tension in the room?” I say when we’re alone. Ros raises her eyes to me.

“I don’t know what you mean,” she lies, turning her attention back to the papers in front of her.

“Don’t give me that shit,” I challenge. “You know exactly what I mean. Am I going to be facing issues with you because my wife is part owner of my business?” She chuckles, mostly to herself as she didn’t raise her head. What the fuck is so goddamn funny?

“I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with Ana or the fact that you have given her controlling shares of the company,” she says matter-of-factly, apparently thinking her sarcasm has gotten past me. I fold my arms.

“Okay, so that means that apparently, your issue must be with me,” I say. She doesn’t answer. “I’m waiting, Ros,” I press. She leans one hand on the desk, the other on her hip as she raises her eyes to me.

“Nobody’s allowed to say anything to you about how you run this business,” she begins. “It doesn’t matter if your decisions are sound or if we feel like they’re ridiculous, heaven forbid anyone try to dispute something you may want to do.” She drops her head back down to the papers in front of her. “… Which is even harder when you’re barely even present.” The last part was added almost as an afterthought and I’m not sure that I was meant to hear it.

“Excuse me?” I retort, my voice sharp and causing her to raise her head to me again. “Do you have something that you need to say to me, Ros, because I don’t have conversations in mumbled tones.” She stands up and squares off with me.

“I have never second-guessed your decisions,” she says. “Even when you chopped up Fairlane without even asking my opinion, I followed you blindly. You run off to foreign countries; leave without telling me anything. I have to run things without knowing whether you’re in the building, in the city, even in the country! At a moment’s notice, I have to pick up the ball and run with it and try to figure out where you left off! It can be a crazy ass rat race and I’m just trying to keep up. You make huge decisions; you don’t tell me anything; and I find out along with the rest of the department heads if I don’t find out in the news!

“So, what else is new?” I ask in amazement. “You knew that was the deal when you signed on. I could be in Seattle today, New York tomorrow, and Tokyo by the end of the week. Nothing has ever changed. Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc is Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc because for years, I’ve followed the opportunities wherever they took me. When you signed up with me all those years ago, you knew that. Nothing has changed! Nothing’s changed except for the fact that I have a family now—a wife and children. I still follow the opportunities wherever they lead me. I still make snap judgements that make me a hell of a lot of money on one hand and may lose me a bundle on another. What’s different?”

“I could account for that time, Christian!” she snaps. “I could tell my wife that I’m working late hours and pulling all-nighters because my boss is chasing a deal—because he’s in Taiwan charming the pants off some businessman or factory owner trying to get his hands on some patent or textile or real-estate that we need for some subsidiary, affiliate, or merger with the company. I could justify canceling our vacation because a deal that we had put thousands of man hours into still hadn’t come to fruition if I could promise her a vacation later in the year—a vacation, by the way, that never seems to happen…” I put my hand up to silence her.

“Wait a minute,” this conversation just went south. “Are you telling me that the basis of this conversation is that you can’t account for my time?” My anger is hanging by a very thin thread now. “And I didn’t know anything about any vacations. You haven’t said anything to me.”

“You’re never here!” she snaps. “And what was I supposed to do—tell you to leave your dying wife’s bedside so I could take my wife to Boca?” she shoots.

“How the fuck am I responsible for that?” I retort. “And I tell you every time we’re taking a vacation—when I took her to Anguilla, our honeymoon…”

“You just got back from Anguilla. I didn’t even know you were gone!” she accuses.

“That’s because it was a goddamn day trip!” I’m yelling now. “I’m supposed to tell you about a goddamn day trip?”

“Northern Washington, Montana, Oregon, Napa…” She begins naming off trips I’ve taken with Butterfly over the last year or so.

“All fucking weekends!” I interject.

“Yet, I spend my weekends in this office!” she counters.

“I don’t require that of you!” I respond. “And by the way, I’ve spent many weekends in this office or working at home!”

“I don’t have a choice!” she replies. “If you don’t do the work, who’s left to do it? Somebody has to keep this company running. Somebody has to be available! Somebody has to answer the questions! Somebody has to answer the door when the suitors come knocking! They want answers when they want answers, not when we’re available or when we feel like giving them to them. The world doesn’t stop for our troubles or our whims and certainly not the business world. Somebody has to be there to put out the fires, to make the decisions, to answer the hard questions. These things don’t happen by themselves. I put my whole life on hold for this company. No matter what happens, rain or shine, hell or high water, I’m here. I’m always here—the good man in the storm…”

And now I’m pissed. She’s still talking, but I don’t hear her anymore. This little sawed-off female acts like she’s carrying my company on her back while I’m jet-setting around the world, spending all the money, wining and dining my wife, and living the high life. She acts like I haven’t put my life, my family, and my company on the line to find computer hackers, long-lost assholes dead set on my demise, mob bosses out to find said long lost assholes, attorneys who have been plotting behind my back to possibly take my company from me, miscellaneous subsidiaries that included illegal activities that could have landed me in the same situation as Edward David not to mention funding ex-submissives and useless security companies that were racking up lawsuits right up under my nose, poison pill acquisitions set on ruining my business and reputation before the ink was even dry on the contracts, income statements and cash flow statements showing capital gains and net income for 2013 larger than any year GEH has ever seen…

No, I haven’t been doing any of that. None of that had anything to do with Christian Grey. That was all you, right, Ros? You’ve been running this company, making all the tough decisions and losing all the sleep while I’ve been sipping Mimosas on the French Riviera, right?

I have no idea how long I’ve been silently staring at her, nor do I recall the last thing she said. I vaguely remember her singing her own praises about her value to GEH. I guess the look on my face must have told her that she made a mistake, but it’s too late.

I begin to speak.

“I’m fully aware of your value to GEH, Ros, more aware than you know. And while I do appreciate the huge contribution that you make to this company and the autonomy that it affords me, you need to know that I extend a liberty to you that I don’t extend to many people, and that’s the liberty of being able to speak freely to me. That’s not something that I intend to withdraw anytime soon, but make no mistake, Rosalind…” Her eyes pierce at the use of her formal name. Yes, Rosalind, I mean business. “I am still the pulse of this company. This company is still called Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc, and I am Grey. So, while my actions and activities may not fall in line with what others might think I should be doing, at the end of the day, I’m still Grey.

“I don’t now, nor have I ever, discounted your value or what you do for me and this company. But unless I’ve missed something on a background check, you haven’t been through half the shit in your entire life that I’ve been through in the last year. Yet, I still manage to come in here and run my damn company—maybe not to your required specifications, but I still manage to get in here and get the job done, turn a little profit in the process, and catch a couple of bad guys.”

I see her visibly begin to shrink where she stands, not totally noticeably… only infinitesimally, but I see it.

“There’s nothing that I do with this business that I can’t do from a satellite office anywhere around the world. However, I like hands-on—face-to-face interaction. When I can’t be there, you’re my person. You’re the other representation of Grey. Your presence has come to strike fear in most boardrooms just like mine does, as if those assholes don’t show you the same respect that they would show me, they usually find their companies at the bottom of the NASDAQ by week’s end. But please be clear.” I stand up and fold my arms. “While I do value you very much, if you ever take that tone with me again about my company or my personal life, I’ll expect your resignation.”

Ros’s piercing green pupils constrict and she swallows, attempting to remain statue still and almost succeeding except for the bobbing in her neck. She licks her lip, pulling the bottom one into her mouth before dropping her gaze, taking a seat in the chair in front of my desk and folding her hands in her lap. I think she’s searching for something to say. She’s accustomed to giving me what for at any time for my shit, but I just reminded her that she’s still a subordinate, and while I hope this conversation doesn’t affect the candor with which we have become accustomed to operating, she still needs to know where to draw the line.

We sit in silence for several moments while I give her a chance to formulate her thoughts. Her next words are crucial. Hell, her next words could be her resignation. I do have to prepare for that. Ros could virtually name her price after working for me, but if she feels like her position gives her permission to speak to me like that, then maybe it is time for her to move on.

She finally clears her throat and starts to speak.

“I hadn’t realized I had become so comfortable in my conversations with you,” she begins. “There are certain things that are appropriate to say, and certain things that definitely should not be said to your superior. After reviewing our conversation, I can see that I have clearly crossed the line. I hope that you can forgive me for that. It won’t happen again.”

Her words are concise and sincere and she makes full eye-contact with me when she says them. I unfold my arms and take my seat.

“I appreciate your edge and candor when we discuss business matters,” I point out. “It helps in the decision-making process. I hope this won’t affect that candor.” She shakes her head.

“No, sir, nothing will change. I’ll just… temper my comments to more appropriate remarks in terms of more sensitive issues.”

She’s choosing her words very carefully. I know that designates a shift in our relationship, but maybe there needs to be. Maybe it’ll be temporary, like mine and Barney’s was. We slipped right back into the comfortable relationship we had before once I realized what an asset he really was to my company and stopped treating him like the computer geek that hid in the basement. Maybe mine and Ros’s relationship will migrate back to the gentle ribbing that it was before, too, but right now, it’ll be candid professionalism for a while.

“Thank you,” I say. “I appreciate that.”

We continue the meeting with me being brought up to date on what’s going with the major deals in the hopper, particularly our progress on Project Fairlane and how his influence is quickly dwindling in the business world. After I made his poison pill stunt known and Farwell backed out of the negotiations with Thomlinson, most of our deals with mutual Fairlane companies have gone through without a hitch. Others are still trying my patience.

Most of the information Ros and I discuss, I already knew with the exception of a few small nuances. Yet, this discussion has brought to light the reality of the changing dynamic of the two business heads of the company—of the fact that each of us have growing relationships and responsibilities. Although Ros hasn’t mentioned it, she may want to start a family. She has a wife after all. To that end, I’m going to have to start putting my feelers out for another Ros—hopefully, not a replacement, just another brain and set of hands to help us out. But I also must prepare myself for the eventuality that I may be losing my second in command.

That had to be the most stressful meeting of the week so far. When it’s over, I call out to Andrea.

“Come in here for a moment, please,” I tell her. She comes in and brings her tablet. “Close the door.” She frowns deeply, but closes the door behind her. I gesture to one of the chairs in front of my desk and run my hands through my hair.

“I need you to see if you can get Sharice Melbourne on the line.” Her brow furrows.

“The head hunter?” she asks with uncertainty. I nod.

“Yes, I may need her services, and Andrea, I need absolute discretion with this. No one knows about this but me and you.” She pauses only for a moment, then nods.

“Should I… I mean… what should I… tell her?” she asks, hesitantly. I know what she’s getting at, especially since Ros just left my office. I sit back in my chair.

“Tell her that I’m looking for an executive vice-president. Once again, discretion is crucial. I’m not looking to replace Ros—at least not right now and hopefully, not ever, but it looks like we’re going to need a third.”

“A third… okay.” She drops her head and starts tapping into her tablet.

“Something you want to say, Andrea?” I ask, firmly. She raises her eyes but not her head and shakes firmly before returning her gaze to her tablet. “Out with it, Andrea,” I press. She raises her eyes again before resting her hands and tablet in her lap.

“Sir, you and Rosalind have very strong personalities. I don’t know how a third is going to fit into that dynamic. Even if they sign on, I wouldn’t expect to see them last more than six months between the two of you.” I fold my hands on the desk.

“I may not have a choice,” I say flatly. “That meeting was ominous, to say the least. My senior vice-president has given me the indication that she is less than enchanted with the status quo. So, although I have no intention of replacing her, I have to prepare for the possibility.” Andrea nods.

“I’ll get in touch with Ms. Melbourne.”

*-*

“You were quite the busy little bee,” I say when I get back to Grey Crossing. I had intended on meeting Butterfly at Elliot’s to help retrieve some of his and Valerie’s things, but when I called to tell her that I was on the way, she just told me to come to the Crossing instead.

“Elliot called and told me that he’s pushing to get Val out of the hospital as soon as possible. So, I just grabbed some of the staff, went over to his place and basically packed nearly every personal item they owned and had it moved over here. If I’ve missed something, we can go back for it later.”

I nod. She’s changed into another pair of those damn genie pants that fall over her ass so sexy and a wraparound crop top. Even though she’s moving around like the Energizer bunny, I can’t help snatching her back into my arms and kissing her deeply—so deeply that it feels like we’ll meld into one; so deeply that anybody walking by would feel the passion of our kiss in their lips.

I move slowly, meticulously in this kiss, surprising her and snatching her will away such that she’s spaghetti in my arms, hanging there helplessly, her arms at her side and allowing me to devour her. Her surrender is arousing and I take full advantage of it, my lips bruising and never leaving hers until I’ve completely gotten my fill of this one kiss. Her reaction when I stop is even more arousing.

When I finally pull my mouth away from hers, she stands there hanging in my arms. Her eyes closed and her lips parted like she’s still suspended in the kiss. Her breathing is… strange, like she’s deliberately controlling it. The steady rise and fall of her chest is fueling my need for her. I feel heat radiating from her skin and if there was a mating call for my soul, she’s emitting it right now!

“Baby…” Each syllable of the word drags slowly from my mouth, full of all the need and desire I’m feeling for her right now.

“Huh?” she whispers, never opening her eyes. That doesn’t fucking help.

“You have no idea how much I want to take you to our Playroom right this second!” I breathe against her lips. I literally feel her pulse rate and temperature rise against her skin as I caress her bare back and play in the garden.

“Yes!” she whispers, totally forgetting that we’re expecting my brother and his girlfriend to descend upon us.

Fuck, she’s completely dazed… totally at my mercy… That shit is so hot right now. The things I would do to her in this state… the ways I would make her come, push her limits, fill the minutes and hours with mindless pleasure for both of us.

Fuck! Elliot and Valerie will be here any minute… Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! A new Playroom, a totally willing and subspaced submissive who isn’t even in the Playroom yet, and pending guests… a Dom’s worst nightmare.

“Another time, Baby,” I promise. “We’ve got people coming.” I kiss her neck gently. “Come back to me, you sexy vixen. Come on, breathe.” I remove my hands from the garden, but keep them firmly planted on her hips for stability for fear that if I let her go, she’d collapse into a useless mound of goo on the floor. She breathes with me and slowly comes back to herself and I almost hate to see her leave that trance. Damn! Damn! Damn! I don’t know how I got her into it, but I sure the fuck wish I knew how to repeat it.

“My brother…” I begin.

“… And Valerie… yes,” she breathes, swallowing hard. “I… want to make sure we have… something ready for her to eat when she gets here—in case she’s hungry.”

“You’re a good friend,” I say, fighting hard not to grab her and kiss her again. “Go on. I’ll go get ready to greet them. I know they’ll be here any minute.” She nods once and saunters her sexy ass out of the room and towards the elevator. Fuck, my dick is throbbing. This fucking yearning is not going away any time soon. I know this need has partially been brought on by the slip in my control during that meeting with Ros today. I know that she’s under no misconception that she stepped wrong today and I’m positive that it won’t happen again. Yet, I’m facing the very real possibility of losing her, and that’s definitely not an ideal situation for me.

These things happen. Executives disagree all the time and either they get over it or decide to move on to other opportunities. But I must admit that I never pictured GEH without Ros and it’s causing me more than a small amount of anxiety.

Maybe Butterfly is tuned in to that need, like she was the very first time she subbed for me and knew that I needed to regain control… or like that nearly disastrous time in Anguilla, another instance where I had a desperate need to regain control. I don’t know. All I know right now is that her body and demeanor are screaming to me like a fucking siren call and whatever happens, I’ve got to keep this desire on a leash for at least a few more agonizing hours. It’s going to be a long ass night.


ANASTASIA

“I didn’t think I’d ever see the inside of this place again,” Valerie says when Elliot wheels her into the grand entry, “that is, unless I crashed Easter brunch looking for Elliot again.” We laugh nervously, but that slight discomfort will change after she’s here for a while. Christian had a private ambulance bring her to the house and much to our surprise, Dr. Moab signed off on Val’s release right after Dr. Hill cleared her to go home. She’s tired right now because she had today’s radiation treatment before she left the hospital. Her nurse will come once a day in the morning. Her radiation treatments will be right before lunchtime, Monday through Friday. Her first caregiver is set to arrive right after she returns from the hospital and will stay through the afternoon and evening. The second caregiver will arrive in the evening and stay all night. Elliot insists on there only being two caregivers right now as he still wants to take care of his “Angel” some of the time, but concedes that the help will allow him some much-needed sleep.

“I’m glad you were wrong about that,” I tell her as we walk to the elevator. “You’ll like what we’ve done for you in the guest room. You should be really comfortable. If there’s anything that you want, please let us know.”

We’re quiet during the elevator ride up and Val is so tired, her head just lolls off to the side while Elliot is pushing her chair. I want to get her to bed so that she can relax.

“You’ll love this bed,” I tell them as we step off the elevator. “There’s a Sleepnumber store in Bellevue and the hospital supply nearby. So, Christian was able to get them to install the hospital bracket on the side of the bed.” Val smiles widely when we get to the bedroom. We’ve moved a lot of her things from Elliot’s apartment in so that they could feel at home.

“Oh, this is really nice,” she says in a soft voice, “so much nicer than the hospital.” Her voice cracks on the last word, but I think it’s more from exhaustion than emotion.

“That bed is the business,” Elliot says. “You wanna test it out, Angel?” Val nods, so he locks the wheels on the wheelchair while I turn down the duvet. He lifts her out of the wheelchair and places her gently into the bed. The comfort registers immediately on her face.

“So much nicer,” she confirms as she settles into comfort. Elliot removes her shoes and she declines having the blankets placed over her.

“How are we doing?” Christian’s voice booms into the room and destroys my entire train of thought. I immediately remember that kiss from earlier, the one that burned through me and turned my body to mush; dominated me without him saying a word. I can suddenly feel my temperature rise as he crosses the room, closing the space between us. I part my lips to get a little air in, imagining his hands on me, his mouth on me…

“Damn, Montana, do you need a knife and fork?”

Now, it’s Elliot’s voice that breaks my train of thought.

“Huh?” I ask, tearing my gaze from my husband and looking at Elliot.

“Oh, nothing. It’s just that ‘fuck me’ look that you just gave my brother made me think you might have wanted to put him on a plate and gobble him up properly.”

“What in the hell are you talking about?” Christian interjects. “And how the hell would you know my wife’s ‘fuck me’ look?”

“Because I’ve seen it before,” he says matter-of-factly. “Anybody who has ever been within 50 feet of you two has seen it before… the wedding, on Thanksgiving when we walked in on coitus interruptus, any given Sunday—but the most memorable one had to be that day right before you went into the hospital, when Kate sent her flowers. You remember, Montana?” I roll my eyes, remembering the Faint Heard ‘Round Seattle.

“How can I forget?” I lament. The week he nearly starved himself to death.

“That was the week I started therapy. I thought you sent the flowers and I made a comment about it. Apparently, the night before must have been a real doozy or something, because at the mere mention of your name, she drifted off into ‘Bend-Me-Over-And-Do-Me-Dirty’ Land with me standing right there and you weren’t even in the room. That’s pussy control!”

“El!” Val scolds, laughing as heartily as her weakened state would allow. I roll my eyes at him.”

“You’re such a child, Elliot,” I say, waving him off.

But is he wrong?
No, he’s not wrong, but I don’t want to get all flushed and flustered while standing here trying to get my friend settled in.
Um-hmm…

“Why don’t you go do something useful and find me something to eat so that I can talk to Ana?” Val says.

“You tryna get rid of me already?” he asks, gently squeezing her calf.

“Never,” she says softly, giving him a gentle smile. He cups her face and gazes into her eyes.

“I’ll see what I can scare up,” he says, kissing her softly on the lips before he and Christian go to find something for her to eat, leaving us alone. I know that there’s already something prepared for just such and emergency, so I turn my attention to Val as we won’t have that much alone time.

“That hospital room was killing me,” she says. “Whatever help the radiation may have been doing, the depression was killing the effects.” She fixes her gaze straight ahead before closing her eyes and releasing a mournful, anguished sigh. “Six months…” she breathes, “six whole months of my life.” Feeling her dismay, I move around to the other side of the queen-sized bed and climb in next to my friend, just in time to see a tear roll down her cheek.

“I was up for a promotion at work, you know,” she says sadly. “I didn’t mention anything because it was your birthday. I had the best numbers over five quarters… five quarters! I know Stockton was about to offer me ‘partner.’ I’m sure of it.” More tears join the one that fell down her cheek. “I couldn’t have been happier. I had all my friends. I had fallen in love with a great guy. You had just gotten married! And having twins! I was supposed to help decorate the nursery and buy way too many clothes for Mackenzie. I would have had to convince Elliot to buy for Michael. I’m horrible with little boys’ clothes.”

“You’re talking like all of this stuff is over,” I say. “We’re going to beat this. Everything’s going to be fine. Your godchildren are ten weeks old, not going off to college.” She smiles.

“My godchildren,” she repeats. “That sounds wonderful.” She sighs. “But I’ll never get the respect back that I earned in my company. I’m debating not going back to work. Elliot says I don’t have to.” I gasp.

“You love your job!” I exclaim.

Loved,” she corrects me. “I don’t even know if I can do it now.” She pauses. “I need you to help me through this, Ana. I need a professional to help me and right now, nobody can. I can’t even talk to anybody; I can’t open up. I can’t let them in. I tried. I need you, Ana. I need you to help me.” I know exactly what she’s asking me and I shake my head. This is the one thing that I have to deny her.

“I can’t be your shrink, Val,” I tell her. “I’m way too close to the situation. It affected me, too, remember?”

“That’s why I need you,” she says. “I need someone that was there to hear what I was going through and help me work through it, help me come to grips with a few things so I can have some closure. If you weren’t a shrink and I had to see someone else, I’d have you coming to every session with me. This way, I can have the best of both worlds.”

This is why. I always knew, because I’m a professional, but just like I told Ron two years ago when I quit volunteering at the community center. I’m a person first, and I couldn’t really filter or rationalize the professional through my feelings, then or when this first happened to me, when Maxie first dumped me, but I know now. From the other side, I see what she meant. And the very reason why I would be the ideal person for the job is the very reason why I can’t do it.

“I won’t be able to help you, Val,” I protest, “to give you the professional guidance that you desperately need and deserve… I love you too much to be objective, and the pain goes so deep that it’ll cloud my judgment.”

“That’s why I need you,” she says, finally breaking down into gentle, exhausted weeping. “I swear, I swear I’ll go get some help later. I’ll talk to someone and I’ll get all fixed up, but right now… I need my friend, my sister to help me through this. I need the one who knows me and saw me, the one who was there, to help me work through what I saw and what I said and what I felt… and what I did to others. Someone who doesn’t know me, doesn’t love me, can’t help me break through all this. Can’t begin to help me sort this out. I need you. I know this is a horrible thing I’m asking you to do and I feel like shit for putting you through this. I’ll pay you double if I have to.” What the…? I glare at her.

“You heifer!” I hiss. “If you offer me money…” I scold, leaving the words hanging in the air and allowing her to finish the thought for herself. She looks at me with sad eyes.

“Ana… please…”

The words cut through me like sharp, hot steel. Dammit! Dammit! Dammit. For the very reason that I’m not the person for this job, I have to do this job. I sigh. I can’t turn her down. I rub her arm.

“Okay,” I tell her. “I’ll do it.” The sigh that follows is filled with tears.

“Thank you,” she weeps.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I say, trying to make light of the situation so that she doesn’t fall apart. “Of course, you don’t want to start right now.”

“Yes, I do, but in a few minutes… not this very second.” She snatches the scarf off her head. It’s a beautiful scarf. It looks like Hermes. “These things drive me absolutely goddamn, fucking batshit!” she says as I examine the healing scar on her head that looks a lot like a giant question-mark.

Val's Scar

“It doesn’t matter if it’s the softest cotton, the finest silk, or the smoothest satin, it feels like a fucking vise on my head! I can’t stand it!”

“Well, you’re home now, Sweetie, why do you still wear it?” She gives me a look that tells me exactly why she wears it with no further questions. Elliot. She doesn’t want him to see her without it.

“My hair was nearly as long as yours,” she says, her voice full of sorrow. “When they told me that they would have to cut it all off, it gutted me. I made them braid it and cut it so that it could be donated to another cancer patient.” My heart swells.

“Oh, Val,” I say, grasping her hand. In her own time of sorrow, when the tumor had taken her away from us, she was still thinking of others. She had never left us; she was here all along. She closes her eyes and shakes her head, smiling sadly and pushing tears out of her eyes.

“It is what it is,” she says. “It’ll grow back… maybe… after a couple of years or so.” I lay on the pillow next to her and look at her face.

“You’re beautiful, Val,” I say. “I know you miss your hair, but you really are beautiful.” She nods and wipes her tears.

“This isn’t about me feeling sorry for myself…”

“Yes, it is,” I correct her. “It’s about every single thing you’re feeling and you need to talk about every little thing you feel and don’t hold back.” She nods.

“I know what you all said,” she says, “but I promise to make this up to you… all of you. I have to. You’ve all been my family and I feel like I… God, I was so shitty. I know it wasn’t really me, but I still see it. I still remember it. I still…” I hear Elliot’s voice down the hall and watch Val scramble to put her scarf back on. I feel terrible that she’s so concerned about how her head looks at a time like this, but I help her adjust it before Elliot gets to the room.

“You’ve got your own section of the Subzero down there,” he says with an accomplished smile as he enters the room with the rolling Butler covered with an amazing spread of food and service for four. “Nothing but organic fruits and vegetables, special milk products, grain-fed poultry, the whole nine yards.” He takes a plate and starts to load it for her—fruit salad and vegetables to start. “You can have some protein if you can keep this down. I brought enough for you, too, Montana, but you have to help yourself. I need to feed my girl.”

Christian and I load our plates with chicken and veggie kabobs, fresh steamed vegetables and pita bread with fruit salad and cranberry spritzers on the side. Elliot is comfortable on the bed facing Valerie, feeding her fresh fruits and vegetables, then fresh chunks of grilled chicken and pieces of pita bread dipped in hummus. She eats well, not gluttonous, but good and healthy servings that will give her more strength. Christian and I notice immediately from out perches at the bistro table that we had put in this room for meals for Elliot and Val, but he’s quite content just sitting on the bed and feeding Valerie, both of them sharing private jokes and laughing.

Elliot is always the funny man, serious when it comes to his work, but a joke for you almost every time you see him. Watching him with Val, he’s tender and attentive. His love for her radiates from his skin. I’m beginning to believe that part of the fate that is me and Christian is also that they needed to meet… to be together… so that he could help her through this.

Christian and I eat quietly at the tiny bistro table. He and I are enjoying one right now, a quiet meal fraught with some unknown tension while we watch his brother dote on my friend.

I don’t know what’s happening between us or what’s going on. All I know is that earlier, when he kissed me—at that moment, all I wanted to do was be his submissive. All I wanted was for him to take me and dominate me… do whatever he needed to do to me. I didn’t want to think about it. I just wanted to turn total control over to him and allow him to take me on whatever journey he wanted—I knew no matter where we went, there would be endless and unbelievable pleasure.

It was at that moment that I realized I needed my Dom. We had dabbled and played, but besides punishments, we haven’t had any serious playtime since Escala. I needed it—I need it—and although I don’t know how to ask for it, my body and mind responded to my Dom immediately and waited for commands when he showed up. I ache for him now and I have no idea how to show him this is what I need without blatantly saying, “take me to the playroom.” That’s topping from the bottom and won’t work with my Dom.

I found myself gravitating towards him all evening. Wherever he is, I have to be. I curl into him at every opportunity, like a kitten walking between your feet and rubbing against your leg. I don’t make eye-contact with anybody as I do this, not even him. I don’t want to make eye-contact with anyone. I have a yearning to be his right now and I don’t think I care who knows it. Now, here at this table with hardly no space between us, I just want to crawl into his lap or sit at his feet or something.

When he reaches across the table and touches my hand, I suck in a breath, attempting to be inconspicuous. I think I succeed—Elliot and Val don’t react, but then, they’re so engrossed in each other that I don’t think they could. The reaction doesn’t escape my Dom, though. He gently rubs his thumb over the back of my hand and it’s fire on my skin. I have to fight to keep still, to keep from panting, from this tiny little touch.

What’s wrong with me?

I raise my eyes without raising my head and peer at him through my lashes. He swallows hard, his expression dark and hungry. His lips part just a little, the tip of his tongue caressing the tender, wet flesh of his inner lip. His eyes pierce through me, gray slate cutting through my defenses and breaking through all resistance, reaching into that place where his submissive sits, waiting—quietly on her knees, hands spread on her thighs, anxiously awaiting his instruction as he places his hand on her chin and gently lifts her face so that her gaze meets his…

“The only two people in the world I’ve ever seen who can fuck with their eyes,” Elliot says, breaking the spell between.

“Elliot!” Val scolds as Christian breaks his promise gaze with me, leaving me breathless.

“What?” he laughs. “They’re making it easy. Every time I look at ‘em, she’s looking like a man-eater and he’s looking like he’ll gobble her up in one bite. You can’t miss it! He’d mount her on that table if we weren’t in this room!”

He’s right. I can’t deny it. Christian’s dominant energy is flowing through me and consuming me. If he told me to drop trou, I’d do it… right here, right in front of them.

“Are you saying that you’ve never looked at me with ‘fuck me’ eyes?” Val accuses.

“I’ve looked at you many times with ‘fuck me’ eyes, and the same goes for you to me, but then we usually get down to business. We don’t sit there eye-fucking each other. Those two…” He points at me and Christian. “They can have a whole session without leaving that table, right where they’re sitting,” he adds, with a chuckle.

“You’re making my wife uncomfortable, Elliot,” Christian says, sweetly, but in that voice… and I never take my eyes off him. Elliot laughs.

“She doesn’t look uncomfortable to me,” he says, his voice full of mirth.

“Okay, okay, enough of teasing my friend. El, Ana’s going to be my shrink,” she tells him, “my initial shrink. She’s going to help me work through some things that no one else is going to be able to help me through and then, if I still need it, I’ll get help from an objective stranger. So, if you don’t mind, I’m going to need some more alone-time with my doctor and best friend.”

I tear my gaze from my breathtaking Dominant, his pull getting stronger and stronger by the second, then turn to look at Elliot and Val. Elliot’s eyes are unreadable at first, all of the prior mirth now gone from his face, but he says nothing. Christian and I move towards the door, not quite sure how Elliot is taking being dismissed from the room… well, not so much dismissed, but asked to leave nonetheless. Christian kisses me softly on the lips, then again… warming me all the way down to my fucking core, but doesn’t say a word before turning and leaving the room. I swallow hard and try to compose myself as I turn toward Val and Elliot, trying to decide if I should just make a hasty getaway instead.

Elliot gently cups Val’s face, staring for a long time into her eyes before he kisses her forehead, then gently kisses her lips. Without a word, he moves past me and I catch his hand before he gets by me. Is he angry with me for hogging her time? I’m not doing it on purpose. He turns his head slightly to me with red-rimmed, tired, glassy eyes and mouths “Thank you.” I can only nod as I release his hand and allow him to leave the room. I suddenly feel the emptiness and absence of my Dom’s departure, but I refocus and turn my attention to my sister and friend, closing the door so that she can feel more comfortable about opening up.

“Where would you like to start?” I ask, walking back over to the bed. I pull a chair next to her and sit down, giving her my undivided attention.

“I’d like to start at the beginning, but I don’t know where the beginning is,” she says, wearily.

“Are you too tired?” I ask. “We can do this later. There’s no rush…” She shakes her head.

“No, I want to get started now,” she protests. “It doesn’t have to be too in depth, but I want to lay some kind of foundation as quickly as possible.” As she once again removes her scarf and rubs her bald scalp for comfort, I suddenly have a terrible fear… a sickening, familiar feeling from the last time someone wanted to move quickly and looked very much like my friend looks now.

“Valerie,” I say, unable to hide my fear. “This… this isn’t… dignity therapy, is it?” I swallow hard, remember when Melanie needed to rush to get through her words and would see no one but me, right before she gave me that damn video of what happened in Green Valley. Her eyes grow large.

“No!” she says, emphatically. “I mean, I know there’s always a chance, but… nobody told me I was dying!” I sigh heavily, relief flooding my body.

“Okay,” I breathe, “Okay, I’m sorry… it’s just that… Pops isn’t doing too well and I’ve only done dignity therapy twice in my life and… well, never mind… that’s not what this is, so…” Val grabs my flailing hand to halt my rambling.

“I’m not dying, Steele,” she says, using my prior name to ground me. “These radiation treatments are hell, but no one told me that I’m kicking the bucket yet, okay?”

I nod, looking into her sincere blue eyes. Her eyes are a color of blue that mine will never get. Her eyes are powder blue or baby blue, almost silver, even at their darkest. The lightest my eyes will ever get is azure, like the color of a midwinter sky.

“Why… don’t I just let you start?” I say, nervously, now cupping her hand in both of mine. She nods.

“I started feeling different when you were planning your wedding,” she says, dropping her eyes, “after you got back from Montana. The smallest things would irritate me and I didn’t know why. You were the first—the biggest target from the very beginning. I can’t give you a reason… I don’t have one. All I can tell you is what I thought and what I felt, but yeah, it started then.”

I remember that wedding planning meeting we had when I came back from Montana and at Jason’s welcome home lunch when he came back from the hospital. Val was vicious in some of her questions and accusations. Well, vicious may be too strong a word. How about confrontational? Yes, that would be a better description.

“I, um… I remember,” I say. “It was a tense time and some of the things you said were definitely out of character. I chalked it up to the high emotions of the situation at the time, especially since we ‘kissed and made up,’” I say, doing the finger quotes. “You’re saying that you think that might have been the beginning?” She nods.

“At least as far back as I can remember,” she says. “You know how I said that it was like watching a horror film that you couldn’t get out of? Like I was screaming at the screen asking the character what the fuck she was doing?” She shrugs as I nod.

“Some of the shit that was coming out of my mouth, I was like ‘what the hell is your fucking problem?’ As time progressed, I would hear and see little smug comments—even more smug that usual—coming out of my mouth towards you and others, but it didn’t seem like such a big deal. People knew to blow me off, didn’t pay much attention to me… until your birthday.”

I’ve been waiting for months to hear exactly what was going through her mind on my birthday. Even now, even though I know that it was the tumor talking, probably had grown to the point where it was really causing the most damage—I still needed to know what was going through her head when she snapped on me… when she said those horrible things to me. As if she was reading my mind, she pats the bed next to her, a signal for me to join her. I abandon my chair and crawl in next to her. We entwine our fingers like we did in college and she lays her head on my shoulder.

“Everything I said was true,” she begins and I feel a sharp pang in my chest. “Hear me out, please,” she says, clinging to my hand. “You’ve had things that you may have wanted to say to me, but you’ve tempered them because of our friendship. You still got your point across, but your words went through a filter because you love me and I’m not just some random bitch on the street.” She raises her eyes to me.

“Yes,” I say, keeping my words to a minimum, because I want her to do all the talking.

“I remember that entire day,” she says, “the day we broke up. It never stopped playing in my head over and over again. Every time I thought to come and tell you what I thought was really going on, the tumor took over like a demon and convinced me not to do it. Whenever you showed up, the tumor convinced me that you were the enemy, and I lashed… I lashed out to protect myself from you… from the hurt of not having you in my life… from you slashing me with the truth that I was being an irrational, childish bitch even though I couldn’t stop it. There were times when you would walk into the room or you would be sitting somewhere and I would see my friend. I would just watch you and not say anything…”

She did that at Grey Manor last Christmas. I remember seeing her and seeing Val for a fleeting second, right before Tumor Val returned.

“The minute I tried to process the words to come out of my mouth to greet you, they were gone. The feelings were gone, and that bitterness came back.” She sighs heavily.

“I felt singled out because I was the only one in the room who wasn’t married,” she says, even though she wasn’t. Marilyn was there with us, too, but that oversight could be attributed to Tumor Val. “And then the scrutiny I was getting when I said that me and Elliot didn’t want to get married.”

An unknown emotion flashes across her face, but it’s gone as soon as it appears.

“I did think your weddings were large and ostentatious. Max had a double-digit wedding party. You got married in a castle, for Christ’s sake… on the waterfront… and rode away into the moonlight in a classic fucking Bentley! Come on, Steele, that’s as ostentatious as it gets… but that was fine, because that’s what you wanted. You two could afford it; you wanted it; you got it; and you deserved it! I was making the point that it’s not what El and I want or need, but it immediately looked like I was firing off at you and Max, because that’s what you had, and that’s why I said, ‘no offense.’”

I remain silent, nodding while she expounds her tale.

“From there, the whole thing just went downhill. Yes, I felt like you were shutting us out and wanted you to tell me why in the world you and Christian were having problems so soon after you guys had gotten married—what was so bad that caused you to go MIA—and yes, I wanted to know if it had anything to do with cheating since you alluded that Christian was so angry. But there was no way in hell I would expect you to answer that question in front of your mother-in-law and I have no idea why I said it. When you came back about not wanting to talk about it, I saw it as an immediate attack and fled before I said something I would regret.

“When I came back and you were crying, I was livid, and I can tell you that I didn’t know which Valerie was angry. Marilyn had come back to tell me that it wasn’t a big deal, that I could come back and we could just talk things out. But when I saw you weeping and everyone falling at your feet, so to speak, I just felt like ‘Oh, here comes big bad Valerie!’ And though nobody said anything or accused me of anything, I felt like I was the villain that was ruining your birthday. I just needed to leave.”

I remember feeling super-sensitive about what she said about my wedding. Hindsight being 20/20, I most likely contributed to the subsequent blow-up by not knowing that the tumor was fueling the delivery of some of the things that she said. I reached back into the pain that I was feeling from her comments about my wedding when the rest of the conversation was going on.

“I had all afternoon for Meg to talk to me…” I frown and interrupt her for the first time.

“Who… the fuck is Meg?” I ask. She laughs and squeezes my hand.

“The tumor,” she says. “I named it shortly after we discovered it was there. The bitch was the bane of my existence. I figured it deserved an identity.”

I just nod. It seemed logical to me.

“So… that’s the day I think Meg fully took over. It was gradual before that… little things became big things and they would just irritate me. But once Meg took over, I was hearing things that people weren’t even saying to me; seeing things that people weren’t doing; interpreting shit completely the wrong way. ‘Good morning’ meant ‘my day is going fabulous; I bet yours sucks.’ I was so disagreeable, people stopped speaking to me after a while and then I became resentful of that.”

She sighs heavily and I can’t help but hope she gets back to the way she behaved the night we broke up. I had cried for hours, and when I didn’t think I could cry any longer, I had cried some more. This is my chance to get complete closure on that and although I’m letting her talk as part of her treatment, I need this therapy, too.

“That passive-aggressive bullshit I did at the lodge on your birthday…” Here we go… “… that was Meg; that wasn’t me. She niggled my nerve every time your mouth opened and I sighed or heaved or puffed or some other childish reaction. Of course, I knew it would set you off, but Meg didn’t care. And yes, I did feel like you changed… I know you changed, but you had to. The life you’re living, the man you married, all of it required that you change. Logical Me knew that; Meg was like ‘Who does this bitch think she is?’ I know it’s impossible and illogical for you to have lived the same way and done the same things that you did before you became Mrs. Christian Grey.

“And yes,” she admits, “I—Logical Me—felt very slighted that your best girlfriends were being left out of the intimate details of your life. Even now, Logical Me still has to process that not everything is any of my damn business. But Logical Me can process that and still understand that there are some parts of your life that I’m not going to be privy to. Meg… no, just no. This high-and-mighty bitch thinks she’s too good to talk to us now and here we go. Hang out all of your dirty laundry and say the most hurtful things I could think of to say in an attempt to quench Meg’s anger.”

She looks at our hands clenched together and swallows hard, sighing thereafter and stretching her neck as if saying these things is causing physical exertion… it probably is, come to think of it.

“One of the worst things I had ever heard was the next morning when Christian explained what my antics had reduced you to. I’ll never forget that shit. It was like somebody branded the Scarlet Bitch across my chest.”

Okay, I could have gone my entire life without that particular analogy, but I simply must know what brought on that strong a reaction.

“You were gone when I woke. When did Christian talk to you?” I ask.

“He didn’t,” she laments. “He was out by the fire pit talking to Elliot. It had to be about four o’clock in the morning and he was drinking a beer. He didn’t know I was there until… well, until he said everything I didn’t want to hear.”

“What… what did…” I so want to know, but I don’t know how to ask.

“What did he say?” she says, with a sad smile. I nod. “He told Elliot that I had gained ‘Kate status’ with him,” she says, doing the finger quotes around Kate status. “He said he would never forgive me for breaking your heart; that you cried for hours before he forced you to fall asleep, then you woke up all night crying some more and begging him to tell you that you had dreamed the whole thing.” Two tears fall from her eyes, and she quickly wipes them away before she continues.

“He said something about having to force-feed you when you awoke because when you two were fighting, all you did was vomit and sleep and you lost eight pounds even though you were pregnant. Elliot tried to get him to elaborate, but he wouldn’t, saying that you guys only talk to each other about it. When I realized that he wouldn’t even tell his brother and whatever it was caused Grace to stop speaking to you guys, I really felt like shit.”

I had no idea Christian had this conversation with Elliot, and the fact that he didn’t reveal what was going on with us to his own brother even though his mother already knew makes me love him even more.

“Christian was beyond enraged,” she continues. “He was talking about how we fought about your ‘wedding for show…’” Finger quotes again, “… and how I took your worst experiences and threw them back in your face. How I dogged you for having security around all the time when it was something that couldn’t be avoided because of who you were and what had already happened to you. How he planned on taking you away for every birthday after this because every time he plans something, you get hurt, and he thought you would never recover from this. That… that’s when I learned that I was supposed to be the twins’ godmother.”

I raise my eyes to her profile and her face is covered with tears now. She just let them fall while she recited what she heard that night. She starts to weep fully and I take her in my arms.

“Please, don’t cry, Val,” I tell her. “The stress is no good for you. I know you want to let this go, and that’s good—better out than in, but don’t linger, okay?” She weeps a moment longer, then nods on my shoulder and wipes her eyes before straightening herself.

“And so…” she says, pulling herself together, “that’s brings you up to date on Bitchy Val or Tumor Val or Meg or however we’re going to refer to it. Everything after that was like being controlled by puppet strings. I could see what was happening… hear what I was saying… but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t control it. When you ignored me… pretended I wasn’t there, it pissed Meg off even more. I swear there were two people living in my head…” I know that feeling, “… only she was the one with all the control and I could only watch while she ruined my life.”

And there it is, the entire explanation that I’ve been looking for since our break-up last October.

“You know you have to forgive yourself, right?” I say, and she shakes her head. “Yes, Val, you do. We all make mistakes of our own doing, but you didn’t even have control over this. You were severely under the influence and didn’t even have the benefit—if you can call it that—of being drunk or high. We all understand that and we’ve all forgiven you. If you decide to go back to work, they’ll forgive you, too. You have to let yourself off the hook.”

“I’ve changed, Steele,” she says. “I’m not the same person. I want different things… I have different priorities. I’m really not sure I’ll be going back to work. Of course, I have to see what happens with my progress, but…” There’s a knock at the door and then the door starts to open. Valerie gasps and starts to scramble, searching through the covers. I’m wondering what’s wrong and I don’t realize until she covers her head with both hands just as Elliot crosses the threshold.

Elliot’s eyes soften and I can see the transformation from clean across the room… a mix of longing and anguish and need and several more emotions that I can’t name. His eyes are fixed on Val as she sits against the back of the adjustable bed covering her bald head with her hands, her eyes filled with horror and quickly filling with tears.

Elliot slowly makes his way across the room, still gazing at his girlfriend. Her body trembles with a muffled sob, though no tears escape her eyes. Elliot reaches for her hands and grasping them in either of his, he removes them from her head and gently kisses each palm before placing them in her lap. Another shuddering breath escapes her chest as a single tear slides down her cheek. Elliot cups her face in his hands, wiping her tear away with his thumb.

He holds her face up so that her gaze can meet his and stares at her for many moments… many silent moments… and suddenly, I feel like a voyeur.

“Montana? Can you leave now?” he says, never taking his eyes off Val. “I really need to be alone with my girl.”

Without a word, I slide out of the bed and quietly tread to the door. As I’m closing it behind me, I see him placing gentle kisses on her shaved scalp and her scar, her eyes closed in utter bliss.

I stand against the wall and take a moment to remember the time when I didn’t want Christian—or anybody—to see the shaved portion of my head. My hair was still so long, but I felt so ugly and unattractive after losing such a large patch of it behind my ear. Christian massaged, caressed, and kissed it every chance he got. He even bought a shit-ton of accessories so that I could dress it up to make me feel better. Every day, he went out of his way to make me look and feel beautiful, even though I felt just the opposite.

He carried me every chance he got—never breaking a sweat—when I was 894 pounds carrying our twins.

He made the sweetest love to me even when I couldn’t see my feet. Somehow, our bodies always fit together.

He told me and anybody who would listen how beautiful I was, and always made me feel like the belle of the ball no matter where we went.

He’s been my knight in shining Armani since the very beginning, and there are many times I don’t know what I would have done had he not been there to hold me up.

I don’t know how long I stand there, but my train of thought is broken by Valerie’s voice.

“El…” she keens softly, and whatever’s happening on the other side of that door, I need to step away and allow them their privacy.


A/N: drop trou—To lower one’s pants down to one’s ankles, often in a sudden, impulsive manner, thus exposing one’s nether regions; short for “dropping your trousers.”

Three more to go…

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~~love and handcuffs